Sunday, May 20, 2018

Laurel and Yanny Go to Texas

There’s a scene in the 1919 French film J’accuse! where soldiers who have been killed in battle rise from the dead and begin marching on the living.

I’m not sure why I’m thinking about that film now.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we had yet another school shooting in America, this time in Texas, with the tragically familiar TV footage of parents, teachers, and children sobbing and hugging each other while SWAT teams storm the building.

Maybe it was something to do with a sobering Washington Post story that said more people have been killed in schools this year than have died serving in the military. Or at least it should be sobering to anyone who isn’t dry-humping a firearm.

Or maybe it has something to do with an interview of one of these weeping children in Texas, who when asked the idiotic question “was there a part of you that was like ‘this isn’t real, this would not happen in my school?’” bluntly replied, “No, there wasn’t.”

“It’s been happening everywhere,” she said. “I always kind of felt like it would happen here eventually, too.”

Naturally she and fellow students were promptly accused of being “crisis actors” by the Trump loving media because, hey, that’s what real patriots do, right?

This time the victims included a Pakistani exchange student who was scheduled to go home next month. Her heartbroken father told the Associated Press that he thought she would be safe in America, though God knows why anyone would think that after all these massacres.

Fire Fight

I think it was Tuesday morning when I was out for my morning walk and I thought, honest to God, “we haven’t had a mass-shooting in a while, have we?” And, lo and behold…

I feel like we’ve crossed a line with this latest shooting, that we’ve come to accept these man-made nightmares the way we tolerate heat waves, air quality alerts, and snowstorms.

It’s just something that happens.

I’m feeling a kind of battle fatigue as I see the latest photos of the smiling victims, listen to their grieving loved ones, and hear about the dreams that will never come true.

But then why worry about mass shootings when we have much more important matters to deal with like the great Yanny vs Laurel debate?


And there was the royal wedding, which is being billed as a fairy tale romance, though the real fairy tale is this pathetic belief that politicians actually give shit about our children, or that they’ll do anything to change the gun laws.

I’ve taken some hope from the students from Parkland, Florida, who rallied after their classmates were senselessly slaughter to challenge gutless politicians and gun-loving lunatics.

And a number of companies have severed ties with the NRA and investors are dumping gun manufacturer stocks. But I still feel the gun crowd is winning.

So, by all means, watch the royal wedding, argue over the dress, and debate if the cat is walking up or walking down the stairs. Maybe the only way things will change is if the shooting victims rise from their graves and march on Washington.

And here’s a newsflash for you: the voice isn’t saying Yanny or Laurel.

It’s saying “you’re fucked.”


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Please Be Seated

I came flying through the doors of P.S. 170 at the end of the day and ran straight toward my mother.

I had just created an incredible rendering of an apple tree in my kindergarten class and I couldn’t wait to show it to her.

I had drawn plenty of pictures, of course, but this time I had really outdone myself.

However, things didn’t go according to plan. As I was handing my work of art to my mother, an evil gust of wind blew the drawing out of my hands and right under a parked car.

Naturally I started crying and I’ll never forget how my mother bent down and tried to retrieve my drawing from underneath that damn car

We never did get that drawing back, but my mother was grateful beyond measure notwithstanding and did everything she could to console me.

I thought about that incident this morning, on Mother’s Day, and naturally I started crying all over again. She’s been gone nearly 16 years now, but that image of her desperately trying to find my drawing cut right through me.

I’ve been going some tough times recently, many of which are self-inflicted, and with them has come this crippling guilt as I tell myself what a lousy son I was.

Fred the Shrink has been advising me to talk to my mother—really talk to her as if she is actually here. I’ve been promising to do this for quite a while and I thought this would a good day to give it a try.

So, I sat at my kitchen table, looked at the empty chair across from me, and started talking. I told my mother how much I missed her, I told her how sorry I was for all the times I let her down, lost my temper, or broke her heart.

I mouthed off to her in ways I wouldn’t dare do with my father because I knew he’d put me through the nearest wall. And I apologized for my cowardice.

Give 'Em the Chair

Then I really started crying. My shoulders were heaving as I wailed and tore through a mound of tissues. I started thinking I had made a terrible mistake, that conjuring up my mother wasn’t allaying my pain; it was exacerbating it.

This is therapy? I thought. The next time I see Fred the Shrink I’m going to sock him so hard he won’t know Sigmund Freud from Ziggy Stardust.

Eventually I calmed down and I felt physically lighter from all that crying. There’s no such thing as a miracle cure, but, as painful as it was, I do feel I got something positive from this experience.


I often call up memories of my mother just to make myself sad.

There’s this dark side of my mind that feeds off negative emotions—anger, worry, resentment, fear, and grief.

Normally I hate it when people presume to speak on behalf of the dead, but I know my mother really wouldn’t want me spending my days feeling guilty and ashamed.

This evening I was washing the dishes, stealth-dreading the start of a new work week, and I started on the downward spiral about how I had made so many bad decisions, how I should’ve taken more risks, and somehow reached the demented conclusion that I was a terrible son.

This time, though, I refused to accept that hateful thought. It wasn’t even remotely true, and its only purpose was to pull me down even deeper. Not this time, buddy.

I’m not sure if I’ll do this chair experiment again, especially seeing as how it hurt so damn much. But I’m glad I tried it because reaching out to my mother helped look inside myself.

I may have lost that apple tree drawing, but I feel like I’m painting my masterpiece.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Lockdown

Okay, so I’ve got the keys, I just have to figure out how to use them.

Last week I described a dream I had where I was trapped in a runaway car with my late parents that ended with me pulling the key out of the ignition and avoiding disaster.

I interpreted this dream as a message from my subconscious mind that I can take control of my life.

Well, apparently, I didn’t get my own message because while keys figured prominently in my life this week as well, it was no dream and I was definitely not in control.

It had been a rather stressful few days, and when I say “stressful” I mean I completely overreacted to any problem that cropped up and made them much worse than they really were.

Things got so bad that one night I came home from the store and found I had locked myself out of my apartment.

Please note that I didn’t forget my keys. I had them right in my hand and I went through every single key on the ring. But none of them worked.

This was impossible, unless, of course, malevolent elves had snuck into my apartment during the night and swapped my regular keys for an ersatz set. This seemed highly unlikely as I don’t tend to interact with elves, malevolent or otherwise, during my normal course of business.

I’ve lived in this apartment for five years now and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve locked and unlocked this door I could use the Hearst Mansion for a toolshed.

And yet I couldn’t get in. I tried each key again, slower this time, while my breath grew short and my head started to expand. Still nothing.

I could feel the panic rising up through me. I had to get in there. I had work to do, I had to catch up my DVR recordings, do some reading, and, oh, yeah, have my dinner and go to bed.

Key Lame

I had Chinese food the other night and one of my fortunes read “constant grinding can turn a steel bar into a needle.” At the rate I was going I could’ve turned the Golden Gate Bridge into a toothpick.

Still, I had enough sanity left to know that I couldn’t force the key to work. Years ago, I was having trouble getting into the garage at my family’s house.

I had to get my car, I was running late for work and I got so angry and impatient that I twisted the key as hard as I could—and promptly snapped the key in the lock.

I eventually had to call a locksmith who charged me almost 90 bucks for a five-minute job. And I was really late for work.

Standing on the landing of my apartment, I was determined not to repeat that fiasco.


I finally walked down one flight to my landlady’s apartment and asked to borrow her spare key.

Naturally it worked on the first try and now, with the pressure off, I found the right key on my ring and it worked perfectly.

So, what happened here? I flipped out so seriously that I rendered myself incapable of performing a routine action.

It’s particularly disheartening since I really believe I’ve been making some progress in managing stress.

My darker nature also worries that this could a warning sign of more serious problems as I feel like I’ve been more forgetful lately. A talk with a specialist wouldn’t hurt.

In analyzing this fiasco, I can see how I often conflate all of my problems into one hideous monster.

I had a number of setbacks during the day, but instead of reacting to them individually I created my own private Godzilla.

So, I’ll be more attentive to the warning signs. I’ll apply the various stress-relief techniques that I keep in my emotional toolbox. And I’ll label my goddam keys so I don’t have to run through each one of them until I find the winner.

Okay, we’ve got that settled. Now give me another cookie.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dream Machine

I sat in the back seat of my parent’s car while we raced down a dark country road.

My mother and father, long since gone from this world, were sitting up front as we drove through an incredibly dark forest.

This was a dream, of course, and it was about to turn into a nightmare.

I haven’t dreamt about either one of my parents for a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt about them together.

I used to travel a lot with my parents when I was younger, so the image of me sitting in the back seat of their car is definitely rooted in reality.

During this dream ride, the only thing I could see was the twisting road ahead dimly illuminated by the headlight’s beams.

I don’t know where the hell we were, but wherever it was, I could sense that it was cold, remote, and dangerous.

And it got a lot more dangerous when my father keeled over behind the wheel.

I could see his head rolling from side to side as the car started flying all over the road and I heard my mother screaming—and I’m sure I was doing a fair bit of screeching myself.

Now this is the point where most of my nightmares end: something horrible is about to happen and then I wake up yelling and waving my arms in the dark at all sorts of imaginary ghosts and ghouls.

But this the dream kept going—and so did the car, faster and faster. Finally, I leaned over my father’s shoulder, pulled the key out of the ignition, and the car came to a stop.

And then I woke up.

So how to interpret this? Well, there’s certainly the fear of losing control and taking the ignition key suggests that I was taking hold of my life and breaking free of my childhood.

Situation Well in Hand

Hell, I’m 60 years old so maybe this is a good time to finally say adios to all that kid stuff.

“You saved the day,” Fred the Shrink told me when I shared the dream with him. “Be happy with that.”

Oh, I’m very happy with that. I’m going through some difficulties right now and I’m a bit nervous about the future. If nothing else, this dream may be a pep talk from my subconscious that I can save myself should my life spin out of control.


My father was a World War II veteran and whenever I was upset or worried about something he would remind me of his army division’s motto: Fortior Ex Asperis, which means “stronger through adversity.”

It’s a shame that I’m only starting to appreciate much of the advice my parents gave me now that they’re gone.

But then I’m sure wanted their encouraging words to live on after them. It just sucks that I can’t thank them for all they’ve done for me.

This army motto is particularly meaningful in light of my accident and surgery.

The recovery continues and this week I’ve been walking about two miles every morning to build up my legs.

I’m not going to set any speed records, but this is a vast improvement over using a walker or trying to move with those awful leg braces.

On Thursday I ran into a friend from the neighborhood whom I hadn’t seen in months. She was walking her dog on Shore Road and I told her about my accident. Well, it turned out that she was on the disabled list, too, after falling down in February and breaking her wrist.

She went through the surgery and rehab routine, too, and she’s just getting back to the world. And to top it off my auntie is in the hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery.

There are a lot of damaged people out there and they’re heading down some rough roads. But if we can grab those ignition keys, then we can end up being stronger through adversity.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Spring Awakening

“Where have you been?”

It’s a question I’ve been hearing a lot lately as I slowly make my return to civilization.

This latest inquiry happened on Saturday as I was walking up 69th Street near Colonial Road.

The woman who runs the Hot Wok, my local Chinese food place, was crossing the street when we spotted each other.

“I had an accident in December,” I said, giving her an abbreviated version of the slip in the snow saga that has dominated my life for the last five months.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.

“I’ll be back soon.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “I’m just glad you’re better.”

Yeah, me, too. I walked away feeling a little more human, a little more connected to the real world.

April in New York has been too goddamn cold for my liking. I’m still doing my stairway climbs, but it sucks when you have to bundle up at a time of the year when you should be listening to the birdies chirping.

But the last two days have been more spring-like and everyone outside of an insane asylum is hoping that the warm weather has finally arrived for keeps.

I’m writing this on a bench in Shore Road Park and I can see—and hear—a couple of kids throwing themselves around in the grass. People are out, the sun is shining, and yes, the birds are chirping once again.

Behind me a city bus is loudly proclaiming “Caution, bus is turning” in a female robot voice to anyone within earshot.

Another Day in the Park

One of my neighbors greeted me when I returned home and ask my condition. I happily pointed out that I am no longer wearing leg braces.

“That’s great,” he said. “Keep getting better.”

Oh, I surely hope so. I was forced to put a substantial portion of my life on hold for the last several months and I want to get back on track with my goals. If nothing else, this disaster has shown me that there are no guarantees in this life.

Last week I started doing my stair-climbing routine on 74th Street when a heavily tattooed young man named Mike came out of one of the buildings and started talking to me.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’m just recovering from a bad fall.”

We talked a little more and I learned that he had been a construction worker, but back problems have been keeping him away from work.

“Have you thought about acupuncture?” I asked. “It might help with the pain.”

“I’ll give it a try. I’m not afraid of needles with all these tattoos.”

Mike told me his grandfather had been a veteran of World War II and I explained that my dad had fought in the same conflict.

Part of my wanted to continue my workout but I thought it was more important for me to keep speaking with this young man. I could use the conversation, given my lengthy housebound status and I suspect that Mike really wanted to speak with someone too. The world can be a lonely place.

Finally, I had to leave, but Mike insisted on giving me a bottle of vitamin water even though I was three blocks from home and hadn’t broken anything vaguely resembling a sweat.

Still, I knew better than to refuse his kindness and I gladly accepted a bottle of this pink stuff.

“I’ll pray for you,” Mike said.

And I’ll pray for you.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Step On Up

It was like Rocky…only in slow motion.

I took my act on the road this week, or at least on the street, when my surgeon finally gave me the okay to walk out amongst humans without leg braces, walker, or cane.

“I think you’re ready for just about anything,” he said Tuesday morning.

Ready for just about anything. I have been waiting to hear those words since mid-December when I first hit the snow-covered deck and wrecked both my knees.

Every morning when I went lumbering to rehab with those awful leg braces I told anybody within earshot that I was going to be walking every day by spring.

This latest was much more optimistic than the original estimate, when my doctor thought I’d be out of commission for 18 flipping months.

I walked home from the doctor’s office that day, both out of a desire to use my legs again and the fact that I’d had a brutal shouting match with a local car service driver and dispatcher earlier that morning after they left me hanging outside my house for 20 minutes.

“Why are you screaming, sir?” the dispatcher asked repeatedly.

I wasn’t aware that I’d been screaming, but I think the definite lack of a car might have had something to do with my consternation. My doctor’s office fills up very quickly and if you don’t get there ahead of the crowd you can kiss your schedule goodbye.

I confess I overreacted, as usual, but these people weren’t very helpful either. I’ve had a couple of battles with the neighborhood car services now and at this rate the only way I’ll be able to get a ride is to dive into a trash bag and wait for a garbage truck.

Going the Distance

On Thursday I hiked a few blocks down to Bliss Park, appropriately named on this day, when I was feeling quite happy. It’s a very hilly area, which is good for the quads, and there’s some playground equipment where I got to do some pull-ups.

Then on Friday morning I went for the big one. There’s a flight of exterior stairs on a dead-end street near my house and, though I’ve climbed them many times in the past, they now looked like Mount Everest with bannisters.

If I had been wearing cymbals on my quaking knees I could’ve started a one-man band, but
but I knew I had to attempt an ascent.

Up I went, 12 steps and then a landing, followed by 12 more and then the final dozen. I was charging to the top just like Rocky Balboa running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art—if Rocky had been 60 years old, hairless, and recovering from double knee surgery.


I turned right around, walked down to the bottom, and then headed back up. I did this routine 7 or 8 times before going the hell home.

On Saturday morning I walked 10 blocks to my favorite fruit and vegetable store, which I hadn’t visited in months and that night I went on my first big outing, as my sister and I ventured into Manhattan to see the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Conor McPherson’s production of The Seafarer.

We took yet another car service to and from the theater and I managed not to scream at the drivers either time.

It was so nice to be out and doing things, instead of parking myself in front of the TV or the computer. And this morning I went shopping at my local supermarket, after weeks of calling in the orders and having them delivered.

I intend to keep on walking every day. It builds up my leg muscles and, given my luck with car services, it may be my only way of getting around.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Forgotten Dreams

There was a time back in Seventies when I couldn’t wait to watch the evening news.

I wanted to know what was going on, of course, but I was especially interested in the sign off.

During its weekend broadcasts, Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate, would show nighttime footage of New York City during the closing credits while playing this lovely, soothing music.

This was well before, the Internet, DVRs or YouTube, where you can now access just about any kind of recording any time you want.

Back then I had to make sure I was sitting in front of our old Motorola at 11:27pm or I would miss it.

New York was in pretty rough shape back then, so these relaxing few moments provided a nice break from the wall-to-wall mayhem that seemed to follow us every day.

As crazy as the city was, this mellow music seemed to tell you it was okay to slow down a little bit and look forward to the morning. It was a little melancholy perhaps, but it was also a soundtrack for hope.

My mother loved the music as well and she often hummed along with it. And there was this one night when she, my brother Peter, and I were all watching TV when the Channel 7 began its sign off.

“Oh,” my mother sighed. “I’d love to find out the name of this music.”

Now my brother and I were teenagers and thus certified smartasses who looked for all sorts of ways to be annoying. On this evening my brother decided to give our mother a hard time.

“I hope you never find it,” he wisecracked.

This comment did not go over well with my mother and she didn’t hold back her feelings.

“You…scumbag!”

Yes, that’s right, my sainted mother, who hated foul language with like a temperance leader hated hooch, had just dropped the S-bomb.

What I remember most about the next few minutes was my brother’s reaction, as he put his head back and roared with laughter.

She Said…What?

Meanwhile my mother sat there with this confused and embarrassed look on her face.

“Is that something bad?” she asked quite sincerely.

Poor thing, she honestly didn’t know that the word “scumbag” was a swear word. I can only recall a few occasions in my life when I heard her let loose with the profanities and each time she had the perfect excuse.

“I was provoked,” she would solemnly declare.

And she certainly was that night. Naturally my brother tortured her with his rendition of her verbal misstep for months-perhaps years-after it happened.

Channel 7 eventually changed the closing credits on its weekend broadcasts and we pretty much forgot about that lovely music.

But then years later, while living in Connecticut, I learned that the name of that piece of music was “Forgotten Dreams,” and it had been written by a man named Leroy Anderson, who had once lived in nearby Woodbury.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Leroy Anderson was also the composer of several popular tunes, including "The Syncopated Clock,” which CBS used to introduce The Late Show, “The Typewriter Song,” which used an actual typewriter as an instrument—Youngsters will have to Google “typewriter” to understand what I’m talking about--and the holiday classic, “Sleigh Ride.”

It’s hard to believe that one man was responsible for all this fabulous music. Upon learning his named, I zipped up to the local mall and somehow got a copy of his greatest hits, which included “Forgotten Dreams. “

My family was having a get together at my aunt’s summer home in the Berkshires that particular year and I prevailed upon my brother to bring his portable CD player so I could play “Forgotten Dreams” for my mother, some 20-odd years since she that fateful night.

Her search was finally over and she didn’t even have to hurl any expletives.

I have no idea whatever became of that CD, but I’m glad I was able to help her. For some reason came back to me last week and this time I found it after a quick web search.

I invite you to listen to “Forgotten Dreams.” I’m confident that you’ll enjoy it as much as we all did.

And, if you don’t, well, my mother has the perfect word for you.