Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Time to Every Purpose

When in doubt, there’s always the little yellow book.

I’ve been going through a rather strange period lately.

My identity has been hacked, my bank account has been robbed, I’m making all sorts of bonehead mistakes in all facets of my life, and I’m starting to seriously wonder just what in the hell is my mission on this earth.

About the only bright spot in all this grief is that my missing funds have been restored, and I’m incredibly thankful for this.

I still don’t know how the theft happened and so right now my personal computer is in the shop getting a malware check to make sure it didn’t occur on my end. I blame my bank, but then I am pretty angry about the whole situation.

I’m a great believer in signs and portents—fuck logic and facts—am I right, people?--and I’d like to think that this all started a few weeks ago when my cable unit went all schizoid and the repair guy decided that the only way to address the problem was to replace the entire unit without telling me.

I was about five feet away working on the company laptop in my kitchen at that time, so I don’t think consulting with me before taking such a drastic step would’ve been exceptionally challenging.

When I asked him if I still had access to all the movies and programs I had recorded on my DVR he shook his head in the negative. Among other things, I was saving my 2010 appearance CNN when I read my father’s poem about World War II.

“I’m sorry,” he said, sensing my consternation.

I thought I’d be angry, but I was reasonably okay with it. I’d had several of those films for years and I never even thought about looking at them.

Turn, Turn, Turn...

And I’m pretty sure I can track down that CNN interview if I have a great desire to watch it again. If I can’t, well, that would suck significantly, but it would certainly be survivable. Still, I do wish I hadn’t tipped that guy…

I had an extremely rough week on the professional side, and combined with the hacking business I’ve been a bit of an emotional dumpster fire.

Friday, the day I normally live for, was particularly bad and I was quite literally praying on my Rosary beads in search of relief.

I did get some—thank you, Lord!—but I feel like I’m on the verge of a major change and I don’t know if it will be good or bad, but I know things can’t stay the same much longer.


Which brings me to the little yellow book. A while back Fred the Shrink gave me a copy of A Guide for the Advanced Soul, a collection of powerful quotations. The idea is that you focus on whatever is troubling you, open to a random page in the book, and you’ll find an answer.

On one level this sounds perfectly ridiculous and about as reliable as Ouija boards, tarot cards, and the Magic 8 Ball.

But I’ve already expressed my disdain for rationality and so on Friday, when I was ready to run screaming down the street in my underwear, I took hold of my little yellow book, pondered the future, and opened it up.

To everything there is a season,” it read, citing the open line of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Okay, then. Besides being a hit recording for the Byrds, what does this have to do with me?

The passage seems to be about seeking balance, something that is sorely missing in my world right now.

Perhaps a season of my life is coming to an end and a new one is about to begin. Summer is changing to fall as I write this and it’s is a good time to let the old, useless parts of my life drop away like autumn leaves.

I’ll do whatever I have to do to be happy, I’ll always carry my little yellow book, and if I do any screaming I'll make sure to keep my pants on.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Where or When

This is the day that never should’ve happened.

Today is the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, when I stood with a crowd across the street from the World Trade Center and watched life as we knew it go straight to hell.

That day was also my father’s 80th birthday and the day after my parents’ anniversary.

My mother was in Lutheran Medical Center’s intensive care unit at the time, but they moved her in anticipation of a wave of injured victims that never came. On 9/11, it was just the living or the dead.

I recall the horror of that day, the chaos that followed; I remember the flyers, the desperate appeals that papered the city, looking for missing people who would never be seen alive again.

And I remember the smell, how I remember that awful stench that hung over the city like a funeral shroud.

I was listening to the radio on Sunday and Jonathan Schwartz played this fabulous recording of Frank Sinatra singing “Where or When.”

He made that record nearly 70 years ago—on September 11, 1950, the day after my parents got married in Our Lady of Angels Church in Brooklyn.

How different the world was back then. This country had recently emerged from World War II and people knew nothing of jihadists or radical Islam back then. They were hopeful about the future.

I didn’t get to the memorial service at Ground Zero this year, so I listened to the reading of the victims' names on TV. I didn’t stand outside the Brooks Brothers store where I was on the day the planes hit.

Until the Shadows Lengthen

I work from home now and I don’t go to Manhattan unless it’s absolutely necessary. (That sounds awfully lame as I read it.)

I was looking through my strong box for my Social Security card the other day and I came across all these old papers and photos and mass cards that had my crying in no time at all.

And I found a mass card for a young man named Neil who was killed in the Trade Center attacks. I don’t recognize him and I don’t know how this card came into my possession, but I’ll gladly keep it with my other artifacts. We were all family on 9/11.

Neil, who was 28 years old, is smiling broadly in the photo and news reports said he loved to cook and had planned to join his family in Italy in mid-September.


I wonder about Neil and all the other victims, what their lives would’ve been like had they been allowed to remain in this world.

I think of the children that were never born, the relationships that never happened, the great vacations, the wonderful memories, the incredible ideas, the good times, all brutally cut short.

The front of Neil's mass card bears the image of St. Francis, restorer of lost things and the Prayer for Holy Rest appears on the back.

Oh, Lord,” it says, “support us all day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done, then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.

Amen to that.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Urgent Appeal

I saw this loser heading my way as I prepared to take a picture of the Tower Bridge in London.

He was hairless, like yours truly, but nowhere near as gorgeous, of course.

His eyes were bugging out of his head as he walked in front of a guy aiming his camera at the bridge and flipped the two-fingered salute—a variation of the American middle finger.

I was on vacation and didn’t want to deal with freaks, but I realized that all big cities have their lunatics.

I didn’t make eye contact as he walked by me—I am a New Yorker, after all--but I watched him until he was gone.

To be quite honest, the incident paled in comparison with the belligerent costumed characters and aggressive desnudas who stalk Times Square on any given day.

But a few days later I saw a poster outside my hotel with the douchebag’s face under the words “Urgent Appeal.”

City of London Police have released a CCTV still of a man they are looking to speak to in connection with a number of harassment incidents in the vicinity of the Tower Bridge,” the flyer said.

I don’t know if the cops ever found this bum, but I feel like I’m battling with his twin brother somewhere out in cyberspace. I went to my bank last week and learned that the hack of my account was much worse than I thought—much, much worse.

I don’t want to give out any numbers, but it seems this prick has been syphoning money from my savings account since July. Yes, I should’ve been more aware of my finances, but clearly my bank was asleep at the switch too.

Tower Treasure

I sat in one of the cubicles while one of the bank executives showed me a list of fraudulent transactions. This is where my mother used to sell life insurance, where I used to visit her or call her when I lived out of town.

This place used to be a sacred place to me, but now it felt more like a hellhole.

The police are involved and today I spoke with a detective who says it’s a case of grand larceny and he intends to subpoena my bank—soon to be ex-bank.


I’m getting welcome messages from various financial institutions that think I’ve opened an account with them and I’m contacting them to say I most definitely have not. 

I have to give a super-secret password every time I call my bank, while the goddamn hackers can walk around my savings account like it’s a public men’s room.

I’ve spent over $100 on security software for my computer because the bank claims I’ve got some kind of malware in my computer—even though I believe this is horseshit. So, far I’ve found nothing.

And I’ve been losing my temper with the bank, the software company, and myself for getting neck-deep in this misery. All my attempts at anger management have gone straight down the crapper as I've yelled, screamed, and screamed some more.

After the meeting, I staggered toward the bank’s exit door. I stopped at the place where my mother’s desk used to be and I prayed to her, asking for strength and courage to get through this disaster.

I felt like crying and running away, but that’s no solution. And I know my mother wouldn’t want me to do that. She’d want me to stand tall, face my problems, and give them all the two-fingered salute.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Trial and Travel

Well, that was pretty stupid, wasn’t it?

I pulled a first-class hayseed stunt last week when I returned from my vacation in London—a move so dumb I still can’t believe it.

So this is what happened: I get off the plane at JFK after a 7-hour flight and switch on my phone to call a car service to come pick me up.

This was the same company that had taken me to the airport 9 days early so I knew I could trust them.

But the dispatcher had put this bug in my brain when I called them earlier in the week and asked for a car.

“Call us when you land,” he told me. “If the driver has to wait too long we’ll double the fare.”

Double the fare? I had run into this problem once before at JFK when a driver threatened to double my fare because I had supposedly kept him waiting too long and it took a lot of screaming on my part to turn things around.

I guess that ugly little scene was on my mind when I walked out of the terminal and was approached by this young African man. He offered to give me a ride for 50 bucks and, wanting to avoid any drama, I readily—and quite stupidly--agreed.

Yes, yes, I know, how could a native New Yorker possibly be this dumb? This was such a blatant hick reaction that I should’ve been wearing overalls and a straw hat. And I ended up getting more drama than a year’s worth of soap opera episodes.

“I’ve got to pick up some more people,” my driver said and ducked back into the terminal.

More people? This is a cab, not a Greyhound. What people are we talking about here? Convinced I’d be murdered and dumped in an empty hanger, I took a photo of the guy’s medallion and emailed it to myself so my next-of-kin could ID my killer.

It turns out this yo-yo was trolling for bodies and he had me waiting in his cab for nearly an hour before he pulled in a family of four who were quite surprised to see me in the front seat.

Abandon Ship!

“Who’s that?” the father said, speaking as if I were a wax dummy.

We take off and the traffic is horrible, the driver is blasting some hideous music that’s still ringing in my head, and finally the father gets fed up and demands the driver stop dead in his tracks and leave them all on the side of the road.

“Come on,” the driver pleaded, “I’m African, you’re African…”

The logic behind this statement escaped me as well as the guy in the back seat.

“I don’t care if you’re African,” the irate passenger said, “I don’t like how you do business.”

I didn’t like it either--and I’m not even African.


We finally got to Brooklyn, I bailed and thanked God I wasn’t floating in a river.

It wasn’t until the next day that I learned my brand, new Sapphire credit card, which I had specifically gotten for my trip to England, had been hacked by some scumbag who had used the thing to buy tickets to a British amusement park on the same day I was taking in a play in London.

And I found out my bank account had been hacked again, so nearly every night this week I was on the phone with my bank shrieking at some idiot “service” worker in the Philippines about the atrocious service I was getting.

Being Catholic I reasoned that God was punishing me for my stupidity at the airport by sending hackers to swipe my credit card. This is a staggering lapse in logic, of course, as ridiculous as trusting a cab driver merely because you both come from the same continent.

I’ve learned my lesson about getting into strange cabs and now I’m taking on the hackers. I hope my bank can do something to help me and if they can’t, they can just pull over and leave me on the side of the road.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

‘See You in London’

My finger quivered on the mouse as I moved the curser over the “Cancel Vacation” tab.

One click and I wouldn’t have to go anywhere or do anything. I wouldn’t have to dig out my passport, fly on an airplane, or rent a hotel room and exchange currency.

One click and I could stay in my nice little comfort zone eating wonton soup and watching DVDs.

That was me about 10 days ago just prior to my most fabulous trip to England, where I was so stressed, so nervous, so freaked out that I was ready to scrub the entire mission and stay hidden under the blankets for a week.

I was worried about my job, my health, the plane going down, terrorists, alien invasions, and a whole slew of nameless emotional gargoyles lingering on the rim of my subconscious ready to bum-rush my brain.

But I couldn’t give into the fear. I had told just about everyone I knew that I was heading to the U.K. and it would like pretty ridiculous if I suddenly bailed on the whole shebang. And I had people to see, including fellow bloggers in London and a guy in Manchester who friended me on Facebook a few years ago called Rob Lenihan.

Yes, that’s right, we share the same name. I don’t know if we’re officially related but Rob and his family are such wonderful people that I consider them family regardless of what the DNA has to say.

In addition to Rob and the rest of that lovely Manchester crew, I also met up with one of my official cousins, Keir, and his family who were in London for a brief stay before moving on to Ireland and Barcelona.

The Chimes of Big Ben

Early on in the trip I had a fabulous meeting with Mario, the genius behind A Cuban in London, at a tea shop on Portobello Road. I also managed to visit Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park, which was just across the street from my hotel.


It was incredible meeting Rob and Mario and so many others in the real world after years of communicating via the Internet.

The only disappointment was the fact that I could not meet up with the lovely and talented Jay of The Sparkling Synapse, who was suffering from a terrible flu attack.

That was tough, frankly, but I vow that I will meet this wonderful woman in person in the near future.

London is a great theater town and I saw Connor McPherson’s The Girl from the North Country and Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, both of which were incredible.

I’m also becoming an old hand at riding the Underground and I was impressed with how knowledgeable and courteous that staff were—at least the ones I met certainly were.

I realized how resistant to change I can be and traveling to a different country can cure you of that particular ailment in a hurry. You either adapt or sit around your hotel room all day.

So, yes, I’m really glad I didn’t give into temptation and cancel this trip. I met up with great family and friends, saw some terrific sites, and enjoyed some great theater. That beats a bowl of wonton soup any day of the year.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Day in the Park

I couldn’t stay in the house one second more.

It was late Saturday afternoon and I was losing my mind.

I had spent a good part of the day either at the bank or in front of my computer as I prepared for my upcoming vacation and I still hadn’t knocked off several important items on my to-do list.

I was angry at myself for blowing two hours on a Netflix detour and for failing to make plans for the day or evening—but the weather report said it was going to rain all day and I figured this would be a great time to get my chores out of the way.

Then my computer starting slowing down and my blood pressure starting climbing and, once again, I found an excuse to get angry over nothing.

When the sun finally came out at around 5pm, I grabbed a book, bolted out of the door, and made for nearby Shore Road Park where I could read, relax and rejuvenate.

And that’s when I met Jacob.

He was nine-years old and he walked right up to me, giggling and clutching a plastic ray gun. His father was right behind him and we both watched Jacob pick up a piece of cardboard that someone had left on the bench.

“Hey, buddy, how’s it going?” I asked and Jacob just giggled some more. “What’s your name?”

“His name is Jacob,” his father told me. “He’s non-verbal.”

Jacob’s dad, Carl, was accompanied by his wife and Jacob’s younger sister, who was about 5 years old and very interested in a butterfly that was flittering around the nearby bushes.

Usually this is when I start internally whining that I just want to be left alone, but this time I felt I really should put aside my anti-social tendencies and talk with these people.

That piece of cardboard could be folded into a bank and Carl began putting it together while Jacob laughed and tried to snatch it away from him.

Carl told me that he had moved to Shore Road a few years ago, that his family was Norwegian and we talked about how his people once ruled Bay Ridge.

Is This Seat Taken?

“We still have the Norwegian Day Parade every May,” I said. “It was a big deal when I was a kid. The mayor used to come and give a speech.”

“Yeah,” Carl said, “but it’s much smaller now.”


Carl told me he was 56 years old, apparently thinking I’d be shocked, but then I told him that I’d just turned 60 in May.

By now Carl had finished the cardboard bank and he handed it to his son, who began tossing it at my head. Carl was trying to get him to stop, but I assured him I didn’t mind—and I really didn’t.

As they walked away, Carl nodded to me.

“Thank you for your patience,” he said.

Patience? In my six decades of existence no one, and I mean absolutely no one has ever thanked me for my patience. I thought of that grouchy nitwit who was cursing at his computer just a short time ago.

And I thought of Carl and his wife, the kind of patience these people must have to handle Jacob—from the very second they open their eyes in the morning they have to watch him to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.

They’re not a young couple—this could be a second family for both of them—so it looks like they’ll be taking care of Jacob for as long as they live.

I’m trying to actually learn something from this experience about life, devotion, and yes, patience, instead doing my usual routine of bashing myself in a coma with a guilt-studded club, which doesn’t do anybody a damn bit of good.

I didn’t get much reading done on Saturday, but that family had given me a story I will never forget.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Under My Umbrella

At least the umbrella lady was nice to me.

My identify theft woes continued this week when my bank sent me an email asking if I had authorized some yin-yang called Jorge Osoria to use my credit card, which of course I hadn’t. So, I had to dump another yet another credit card.

This latest bit of misery follows my recent run-in with cyber-cretin Ruth Dingfield, who taunted me via email and whom I would cheerfully ding with a frying pan and bury in a field of skunkweed.

The bank security woman told me that it’s probably some malware in my computer that could be reading my actual key strokes. (If that’s the case, Jorge, tell me what this says: “F-U-C-K-Y-O-U!”)

I had already done a malware search and turned up nothing, but I downloaded a new program which took nearly eight hours to review every scrap of information in my computer and do you know what it found?

Absolutely nothing. So, however these humps are getting to my account, it ain’t happening on my end.

Things got even worse on Friday when I got this feeling my checking account was a little low. And it was low for the very simple reason that some scum sucking son-of-a-bitch was taking money out of it.

Naturally I freaked and called my bank screaming like a loon. They shut down my account and refunded my money, but I don’t really see this misery ending any time soon. Clearly there’s a breach and no one seems to be able to stop it.

Now I have to go back and have all the automatic payments and deductions—like direct deposit and my credit card and cable TV bills—and set them up with the new account.

All that summer we enjoyed it...

I feel like I’m the criminal here, trying to hide what is rightfully mind, while some misbegotten mole rat with a keyboard merrily wipes his boots on my privacy.

And I feel stupid, convinced that, despite what the virus scan says, this is all somehow my fault. As a reporter, I’ve done plenty of stories about cybersecurity and now I’m the one getting nailed. It’s not a good feeling.

Which brings me back to the umbrella Iady. After all this grief, I was in pretty serious need of a kind gesture and I got it Friday as I was trying to leave my gym in the middle of a monsoon.


I thought the rain would have eased up by the time I finished my workout but I called that one wrong, too. I stood in the gym’s lobby watching the deluge while time slipped down the drain.

I had neglected to take my umbrella because I couldn’t find it and even if I could I’d be embarrassed to use it since it’s falling apart.

There’s a CVS right next store to my gym so I thought this would be a great time to finally deliver on my promise to get a new bumbershoot.

I was about to make the mad dash out the door when a cleaning lady who works at the gym told me to stop. She didn’t speak English very well, but she indicated that she would let me share her umbrella with her.

It was such a kind offer and the timing was perfect given all the online agony I was living through.

Out we went into the deluge and she laughed when she realized how short my walk actually was. But it’s not the distance, it’s the decency that counts. I thanked her profusely, entered the CVS and promptly purchased an umbrella big enough to protect the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Now if I could only get something to keep Jorge Osoria out of my life...