Monday, July 30, 2012

Do I Have to Feel Guilty About...?

...Going to Manhattan? No I don't, since a supervisor asked me to go to the regional office to take care of something today. It was all the other none-work events that made me question my right to be and exist...

sushi...Liking spicy tuna rolls? I bought a tray of them for lunch, in a high-end supermarket near Washington Square. A million years or so ago, there were activist campaigns concerning canned tuna. Incredibly enlightened people like myself knew to buy only albacore tuna, because commercial fishing for the chunk-light-type tuna fishies caused a lot of collateral netting damage to the dolphin population. It was an easy capitulation for me, since the cheapo chunk light variety has an unsettling resemblance to cat food. I always considered sushi a pleasure though, not a guilty pleasure. But after reading articles like this, I now get this pang (yes, pang) of conscience whenever I feel that insidious yen for raw coming on.

...Wanting a paper receipt for my over-priced purchase? I needed some new tee shirts for the summer, which is a problem. Men's tee shirts have devolved into one of three things:
50 Years of Crappy Tee Shirts
  1. A billboard for a tourist trap, booze, or athletic brand
  2. Cheesy silk-screened photo or snarky comment in VERY BIG LETTERS
  3. Primary colors sold by an underwear brand, with imaginative variations, like crew or v-neck.

An exception I've discovered is Urban Outfitters. For 14 bucks a pop, or the incredible sale price of two for 26 dollars, a guy can have a fashionable tee shirt that doesn't contain glitter, logos or offensive comments, and might actually fit. While I was paying, the hipster cashier batted her eyes and wanly asked, "Would you rather have your receipt just emailed to you?" This intelligent ploy accomplishes several goals for ole' UO....they get your email address (score!) so they can bombard you with sales events; it gives them some eco-cred for trying to save the planet; and of course, it saves them money on paper. Sorry, but I asked for the friggin' receipt. I get enough email, and want to thrust some hard physical evidence in their face just in case I buy the wrong size, or run the clothes over with my car on the drive home.

...Homeless veterans? Back in the Bronx, I had to go to the supermarket again to buy more food tonnage for the three teenage boys currently smelling up my house. I had forgotten what a boy's locker room smells like...

There was a marine or ex-marine outside the store, collecting money for homeless veterans. Shouldn't our government be taking care of these people? I don't want to come off as some kind of red, white and blue hawk, but even a pseudo-hippie like me thinks serving in the military is rather commendable. Maybe instead of planning our next interventional war, our government can intervene here and help the soldiers who've already gone overseas, and served their country. Just sayin'...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Top 10 Things a 50-Year-Old Can Virtually Guarantee.

    Top 10 Things a 50-Year-Old Can Virtually Guarantee
  1. No matter how many pairs of reading glasses you strategically place around your home and in your car, you will be soon be sitting in a restaurant and realize you can't read the menu, because you forgot your glasses.
  2. You will get very bad, costly news from your dentist on an upcoming visit.
  3. You will get very bad, costly news from your children's orthodontist on an upcoming visit.
  4. Those plastic containers you saved from Boston Market will not seal when you try to reuse them.
  5. That hip new cellphone you just bought will accidentally dial: 911; someone you owe money to; one of your kid's coaches that desperately needs an assistant.
  6. You won't look in the mirror as much as you used to.
  7. You won't be able to sleep late in the mornings, no matter how little sleep you got the night before.
  8. You'll think you're keeping up with the latest technology, only to hear your kids comment, "Nobody uses that anymore."
  9. You'll become more cynical about politics, money and the media.
  10. You'll appreciate more the simple gifts of nature, such as immense trees, beautiful sunsets and the sound of the ocean.

Crack smokin' fix-a-flat.

150 East 100th Street, Manhattan.

I lived there from 1986-1990. At that time, anything above 96th Street was known as "North of the DMZ" (DeMilitarized Zone). My street was a good case in point: there were only two other habitable buildings. The others were either abandoned or had been torn down, leaving trash-filled lots. The opposite side of the street contained one long, continuous brick wall, courtesy of the bus depot facing Lexington Avenue. There were no trees, although one day workers with a flatbed truck full of saplings tried to remedy the situation. "Ed Koch, Mayor," read the insignia on the truck. Within a year of planting, all the trees were dead.
east harlem
My building is the black one on the right.

I had a five room, two-bedroom apartment for $540 a month, unheard of in Manhattan, unless you lived somewhere like I did. It was a five-story walkup with a solid steel front door. The building had a street-level social club that blared salsa music until three or four am on the weekends. Labeling the bar a "private social club" was a vaguely legal maneuver to avoid paying for a costly liquor license.

All my neighbors in the building were latinos, including Juan, the super. He was awe-inspiringly obese and always seemed to be in a good mood, with a broad smile. He worked in the sewer system for the city. Whenever the plumbing broke (which was often), I would go knock on his door downstairs. There were never less than 8-10 people inside; I could hear and smell food frying in the kitchen. He would slowly make his way up to my apartment, sweating with his toolbox, bringing one or two of his children. On his first visit, a little girl of about eight looked around and asked, "Where's everyone else?"

I owned a second hand Datsun 280zx (remember t-tops?) that I was stupid enough to try to park on the street. I couldn't afford to keep it in a garage, and had to move the damn car every day to comply with parking regulations. It was a stripped down model: three-speed automatic, no fancy rims and no radio (with corresponding NO RADIO sign in the window). Golfing one day in Pelham Bay, I found a little furry monkey headcover on the fairway, and put it on the gearshift. Two days later, someone threw a brick through the passenger window to steal it. Cost of replacement window: $280. One Saturday morning I arrived to find blood all over the driver-side window and hood. God only knows what happened on the street the night before.

One night after moving the car, I was walking back to my apartment, when I realized I had left a book I was reading on the passenger seat. I doubled back to fetch it, crossing the street this time to return. As I approached my apartment building, I passed two guys sitting on the steps of an abandoned building, sharing a crack pipe. I looked at them, and said "Hey" as I walked by. One of them nodded to me.

abandoned buildings
Photo of my sideview mirror. Social club has plywood patch in background.
"We thought you were afraid to walk by us, man."
"We saw you park your car, and it looked like you were afraid to walk by us. We were saying how that was fucked up, you were judging us. But then you crossed the street again and walked here right in front of us. So it's okay, man. We were wrong about you."
"I wasn't avoiding anybody, I just went back to get a book."
"You got a nail in your tire."
"Your car got a nail in the front tire, man. I work in a fix-a-flat, and got this habit of looking at car tires all the time now. I can pull it out for you if you want."
I glanced back at my car across the street, focusing on the tires. A silver nail head, the size of a dime, reflected back at me.

"Where's your shop?"
"The shop is closed. I can fix it right now—I got tools with me. If you wait ´till tomorrow, the tire will be flat."
His logic was unassailable. "Okay."

He had a black satchel at his feet, which I hadn't noticed until then. He pulled out a tire iron and some kind of widget; it looked like a cross between a large wine opener and a wing nut. The tool screwed into the tire, with an empty, interior cavity that encircled the nail. The wine opener part pulled the nail out, with the rest of the tool still embedded in the tire. He placed a sort of rubber licorice stick into the cavity where the nail had been extracted, and screwed that back in. When it held fast, he extracted the entire tool. The tire looked perfect again; it hadn't even lost air. He tossed the nail at my feet.

"That was fast," I said. "How much do I owe you?"
"Nine dollars, sixty-five cents," he said.

Where the hell he pulled $9.65 out of, I can only guess. It was probably what they charged at the shop he worked at. I gave him a 10 and told him to keep the change, but he shook his head, dug in his satchel again, and gave me the thirty-five cents back. I guess tips weren't allowed at his shop, either.

"Thanks," I said.
"No problem, man."

I looked at him expectantly, but there was nothing more to say; our encounter was over. His buddy commenced to light up another rock, and I continued on to my apartment.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Poverty Is Relative.

When we lived in Spain, my wife often told our kids that they couldn't have (fill in whimsical desire) because we were poor. I didn't like when she said that. It was true that we never seemed to have any money. Most everything we owned was from a town-run second hand shop called Dexailles. We couldn't afford to go on vacations, and there were entire years when we would buy clothes for the kids, but not for ourselves. Most of my sweaters had holes in them.

My dad gave me the best definition of poverty I've ever heard, which I still use as a yardstick: you're poor if you don't have enough to eat. Growing up during the depression, he said his family was never poor, but my mother's family was. He said she always worried about money, even though my dad's butcher shop provided them with a comfortable income. All I knew as a kid was that every Christmas I received more toys than I asked for.

spanish soup, neckbone soupWe always had enough to eat in Spain. I learned to stretch a whole chicken into four separate meals, but they were good meals: first night was roast chicken with rice, second night was leftovers (okay, not so good), and the last two nights were chicken soup. I learned that lamb shanks and neckbones added a lot of flavor, and were pretty cheap to buy.

I try to instill in my kids the idea that they should be happy with whatever they have, but it hasn't gained traction yet. If we're driving on the highway, they'll point to a shiny SUV or sportscar and say, "C'mon dad, admit it. Don't you wish you had that car?"

My trusty Subaru station wagon is 15 years old, and runs like a top. It's the most reliable car I've ever owned, hands down. I tell them that the goal of an automobile is to get from point A to point B; $5,000 or $50,000 gets you to the same destination. That doesn't wash with them.

suburbia, white-bread, generic house"But don't you want to look cool?"
"I don't have to look cool...I am cool."
"Yeah, okay, dad..."

On one of those occasions, we were driving up to see my best friend, Tom the Fireman, who also has kids. They live in a rural area 70 miles north of the Bronx, in a comfortably bucolic, two-story ranch. A few years ago Tom finished his basement; he picked up a couple of comfy sofas and a large-screen tv. There's a beautiful pool table down there as well--a fireman friend of Tom's won it in a raffle, but it wouldn't fit in his house.

My kids were amazed at the seeming opulence. "These people are rich, dad. How come we can't live in a house like this?"

Two short weeks later, my son had a friend over at our "poor" house in the Bronx. After the boy left, my son told me, "He asked if we were rich, because I have an X-box, a Playstation, my own computer and my own room. Can you imagine?" The boy lives in a small apartment with his parents, sharing a bedroom with his younger brother.

inner city, NYCHA, ghettoToday I had to do Census fieldwork, in a part of the Bronx that frankly, I detest. There is a square swatch of real estate a few blocks east and north of Yankee Stadium that's far from any highway; there are no parks,  private homes or cultural attractions. It's basically a bleak, barren, inner city landscape of projects and apartment buildings, run entirely by the New York City Housing Authority. If I stop in a local store, people first stare at me, then the ID badge hanging from my neck. Maybe they wonder what type of employer or agency would send a white guy there.

Some of the surveys I do actually ask the respondent if they have enough to eat; I'm always shocked when the person says no, although I never show it. I hate to admit it, but I walk back to my car faster here than I do in other neighborhoods. It's not that I fear for my safety; I just can't wait to escape the hopeless, dead-end vibe I'm surrounded by. It's like I'm afraid I'll get trapped there somehow, or the penury will rub off on me like a contagion. I often turn up the volume on the Subaru's radio when I drive away, trying to block out any sensory osmosis that might endanger my own comfortable existence.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Angst! I'm in my fifties...

This post was inspired by  Fuck! I'm in My Twenties

floating in the ether

The Desert, Within and Without.

Reading this article in today's New York Times brought back some memories. The desert is a strange, fragile place, not ideally suited for all mentalities and temperaments.

I remember my first visit to Joshua Tree National Park very well. I drove from my LA apartment in Venice Beach into typically clogged Valley traffic, forcing me to inhale the worst air pollution in the nation. By the time I reached the park three or four hours later I had a terrible headache, and was hot, sweaty and stressed. Entering the park environs, I couldn't believe I'd driven so far to witness a landscape that was nothing more than a pile of rocks and some scrub cactus.

I set up my tent as quickly as possible to escape the blazing sun and midday heat, and fell asleep. When I awoke several hours later, the sun was setting. Previously nondescript grey boulders had coalesced into the loveliest shade of magenta I'd ever seen. A few lingering clouds were manifesting a sunset reminiscent of the Dawn of Man. Suddenly, it seemed like every single coyote in the park started howling simultaneously. Just as suddenly, they all stopped. It was eerie.
boulders, desert
I woke early the next morning to the sunrise, with a thin fog or mist rising off the ground. The flattened landscape and twisted Joshua trees graced the plains with a strange, primeval ambience; I half-expected a dinosaur to saunter over the horizon. I ate some gorp for breakfast and did a five mile hike before the scorching sun forced me back into my tent.

It took two full days for my biorhythms and body clock to slow down to the pace of the desert. Once synchronized, I started to relax, even sensing a sublime, interior peace. I met a woman who said she went to Joshua Tree to fast, drinking nothing but herbal teas for three days. I asked if she was tired or light-headed; to my surprise, she said fasting energized her. Wasn't until many years later that I tried it myself...

I also got lost out there. Somehow I veered off a trail without realizing it, which wasn't hard to do; most trails weren't well marked. I found myself at the bottom of a canyon, constrained by rising cliffs on either side. It suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't seen footprints in some time; only faint impressions from rodents, snakes and birds. I also hadn't spied a rock cairn or marker for the last mile or two. The only way to get a bearing would be to climb one of the rather steep cliff faces. If I fell, I'd be in big trouble; no one on earth knew where I was. My roommate and I were both freelance production assistants in the film business, working on commercials. He had left several days ago for a shoot in Utah; I was still new to the industry and wasn't getting that many calls yet. I had simply thrown my camping gear into my car and driven out to the desert on a whim.

I didn't panic, and thankfully, didn't fall. Scrambling to the top of the rocks, I saw a highway far in the distance; I was also able to surmise where I had entered the canyon. I tracked the ridge line and eventually found the original trailhead that led back to camp. I had been gone for about six hours, with about half of that time being lost. It was enough to shake me up a bit.

I always registered my hikes after that day, at trailheads or park offices. I also started to carry some rudimentary emergency gear, like a cheap compass, mirror, flashlight and matches. Lastly, the experience inspired me to write one of my first short stories. The Canyon was about a contract killer who follows a female hiker into the desert, murders her, then falls and breaks his ankle, confronting him with his own mortality. The story itself taught me a valuable lesson: writing from experience doesn't have to mean transcribing a literal event onto paper. It's more about externalizing a kernel of flesh--a visceral emotion or impression and expanding on it. It doesn't matter if all the surrounding events and details are fictional; if that original, organic emotion shines through, the story will ring true.

If experience were simply comprised of the physical places and timeline events we've checked off while trudging through life, our psyches would be little more than travelogue brochures. It's always about how we felt--how we laughed, cried, loved or were moved...and ultimately, about how those events helped us grow as individuals. If by chance or circumstance there was a life-lesson learned, that's the stuff of wisdom...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Slot Machine Miasma.

one-armed bandits
About once a month, I head up to Yonkers for field work. Invariably, I pass by Yonkers Raceway; a few years ago they added the Empire Casino. My older brother, once a Yonkers local, told me they upgraded the whole facility. He said it wasn't a bad place to go for a drink or a bite to eat. I wasn't hungry, nor am I much of a gambler, but there was some time to spare before I made my next stop. I decided to check it out.

The casino only has a license for electronic games, mostly slot machines. 5,300 machines, according to Wikipedia. Upstairs are electronic roulette and craps games. For me, the whole appeal of a game like craps is the interactive aspect; someone physically tossing two dice down the length of a table at least gives the illusion that there is some sense of control, some element of ability or Lady Luck involved. Not so with the electronic version; the gamblers watch a virtual croupier and animated dice. After watching the dispirited faces of the men and women placing bets for a minute or two, I took the escalator back to the main floor.

Walking through the cavernous hall, I heard the same monotonous drone I'd experienced in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos: a lilting jingle that lulls the discerning senses into a vapid stupor. If someone were to put music to the experience of being blindfolded and slowly spun around in circles, it would sound exactly like this.

I'd never played a slot machine, and was wondering if there was some kind of preordained knowledge required to play. After five minutes watching the action at various machines, I determined that if you're able to push a red button, you can play a slot machine. Slot machines were legal in bars when I lived in Spain, but there seemed to be a bit more strategy involved; you could restrict certain reels from re-spinning, while "bumping" others forward, to try to get a complete row of lemons or bars or whatever ersatz symbols appeared on the dials. Not so here in Yonkers; the only variable seemed to be how much you wanted to lose on each spin. I also thought it interesting that most so-called "penny machines" had a minimum bet of at least 30 cents.

I checked my normally empty wallet, and remembered I had visited an ATM the day before; I had about $60 on me. I pulled out a $5 bill and fed it into an eagerly awaiting machine; the bill slot nearly sucked my fingers in as well. The wager options on the machine ranged from 30 cents to $1.50, with the assurance that a larger bet would engender all kinds of wonderful pay-off multipliers. Since I had absolutely no expectation of winning, I bet the minimum; I just wanted to push the big red button as many times as possible to see what would happen. To my surprise, all kinds of little half-matches and convoluted symbol combinations sprang up, briefly nudging my credit total into the positive column. Eventually though, those little profit rivulets dried up; I watched my life blood drain away, until I had a 10 cent balance. I dipped back into my recalcitrant wallet, feeding another $5 into the waiting machine. My mechanical benefactor seemed to sense it had a sucker in its grasp, and dispensed with the small payoffs this time, quickly depleting the balance to 20 cents. I hit the payout button to cough up my receipt. Spying a long line at the payout window, I headed for the exits, wondering how much money the casino pocketed from these little unpaid odds and ends.

I walked in the drizzling rain along the outskirts of the track to my car; several jockeys were slowly making the rounds on their trotters, apparently warming up their horses for an upcoming race. I'd never seen that, either.

These were living, breathing animals, as opposed to the jangling, clanging machines inside. The damp, freshly-groomed dirt track had a certain beauty in the fading mist, combining with the bucolic clomp of horse hooves. The idea that all this existed in time and space for the purpose of gambling took on an incongruous, bizarre quality. I experienced a similar sensation in Atlantic City--escaping from the bracing noise and noxious lights of Caesar's Palace onto the boardwalk and beyond--beyond being the placid peace of Atlantic ocean waves, gently rolling into shore.

endless sea, peaceful sea, horizon
Dichotomies like this hit me especially hard; I have no "money genes," for want of a better term. I feel like I'm standing on the sand in the dark, alternately staring at the casinos, then gazing at the sea. Knowing I can't reach the inky darkness on the sea's horizon by swimming, I want to walk on the water, with purposeful strides. Somewhere out in the deep blue I'll be released--from the grip of all that man wishes to seize and remake in his own alienated, estranged image.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Strapped In.

I went to the beach with my best friend Tom last week. I've been friends with him since I was seven. When we were in our twenties, we didn't talk politics much: he was very conservative, I was very liberal. As the years have gone by, we have both moved closer to the center; him a bit more so than me. I enjoy speaking with him about politics, since he's not tied to an idealogy; his ideas and philosophy are practical, grounded in experience and common sense. He caught me unawares on one topic, though. We were talking about traffic on the way to the beach.

"I don't believe in the seat belt law," he suddenly declared. "If I want to get killed in an accident, that's my business. What do you think?"
"I believe in the seat belt law."
"You were a biker...what about the helmet law?"
"I think it's a good law." I reflected for a second, then confessed. "Although I used to go over the border to Connecticut sometimes, just so I could ride without it."
"Do you think there should be a law about how big a soda you can buy?"
"What's the difference?"
"The difference is that drinking a large soda won't kill me or anybody else."

That pretty much ended the conversation, but I kept thinking about it. Maybe he was right. There does seem to be too many laws, too many restrictions. When I first moved to Mallorca, there were no helmet laws, few markings on the road, and even fewer cops. Now it looks like America...the roads are well paved and demarcated, traffic circles or stoplights are everywhere,  there are paid parking lots, and traffic officers writing hefty tickets everywhere you look. There are now laws about drinking and smoking in public, right of public assembly, and just about everything else. Just like here.

I woke up this morning to the news that a gunman in Colorado shot up a movie theater, killing a dozen people. No matter how many times events like this occur in America, I find them shocking. They also make me realize that in a perfect world of responsible citizens, laws (such as anti-gun) wouldn't be necessary. But we don't live in a perfectly sane society. Some people don't look both ways when driving through intersections, and some people have psychoses that drive them to execute innocent people.

I wish I could be a libertarian. But the world we live in doesn't allow it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Facebook: More Comments I wanted to make, but didn't.

My comment: And what kind of man lives his life based on tired cliches?

My comment: All generalizations are laughably inaccurate.

Heading: CIERRA TUS OJOS, DOBLA TUS RODILLAS (Close your eyes, bend your knees)
praying child
I had such mixed feeling about this photo, I didn't know what to first reaction was, "Indoctrination starts here" or "You can write anything on a clean slate," but how callous is that? This is really a photo of Innocence incarnate. If a God exists in some way, shape or form, surely her prayers will be the first to be heard... 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Some People Never Evolve.

Bronx rainbow. Rare, but they do occur...
My dad was a simple, unremarkable man by most standards. He immigrated to America with his parents at the age of five. His parents pulled him from ninth grade to work in their grocery store during the depression; not finishing high school was his biggest regret in life. WWII got him drafted and sent overseas, where he served without incident; that was how he obtained his citizenship. My mother, also an Italian immigrant, got her citizenship when she married him.

In the sixties, my father believed that a woman's place was in the home. When his daughter and millions of other women became career-oriented, he understood the inherent logic, and changed his opinion. Raised as a Catholic Italian, he thought his children should marry within their faith, of their own kind. When his daughters married Irish and German, respectively, he realized it wasn't so important. Later on, he met Jewish girls I dated and told me that if I liked them, that was good enough for him.

When I was young, he called Afro-Americans "colored." When they demanded to be called "black," he said he didn't understand the reasoning behind it, but adapted soon enough. My dad wasn't prejudiced in any way that I can remember. When he retired, he went on a cruise with my mom; at their table every night was a gay couple. "I tell you Charles, they were the nicest people."

The same couldn't be said of our Italian neighborhood. It has since integrated somewhat, but when I was young, potential buyers or renters had to be interviewed by the neighborhood "Association" first. If you were a minority, you weren't moving in; it was that simple. I saw an organized protest down the main street only once. Blacks and latinos were marching and chanting, signs in their hands. Police paddy wagons simply came and carted them away, like so much trash.

I heard the worst racial epithets you can think of when I was a kid, saw terrible acts of cruelty and violence...maybe one day I'll write about them. I was in my twenties when the Howard Beach incident occurred. Some black youths had their car break down in a white neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were beaten with bats; one young man ran into traffic and was killed by a car. I was fresh out of college, living in Manhattan, dating an older black woman. Because of my relationship, it was all very personal to me, and somewhat surreal. With my naive idealism, I could no longer understand racism, even though I had seen it when I was younger. It had all but disappeared from sight when I moved into the city. I figured people had finally realized how ignorant the concept was, and now it was gone. I thought the world had moved on.

Obama becoming President was obviously a big milestone; I guessed that only isolated, backwards pockets down south or in rural areas wouldn't vote for him based solely on his color. Then I went to my grammar school reunion last week.

I saw people I hadn't seen in 36 years. Some had become successful, some had not. We had some 'bad' kids show up, as well as 'good' kids. Two of my classmates had rented the backroom of a restaurant; there was food and a DJ, spinning music a bit too loud. I saw some of the men having a smoke outside, and figured I'd get some air as well. One of them was talking about how the neighborhood had changed. He bemoaned the fact that the Association no longer had any power, and then unleashed a string of racial vulgarities that I hadn't heard since I was 12.

I quickly walked away, unable to listen to another word. I was utterly shocked; one part of me couldn't believe the words I'd heard. Another part of me time-tripped instantly: a mental slingshot 40 years backward in the blink of an eye, to a terrible world of bullying and mindless hatred. How could someone still hold the same ignorant beliefs after 35 years, after so much had changed in the world around them? Is it possible to drown out all reason, all evidence of an evolving society, to emotionally castrate oneself against a greater good for mankind?

Apparently so.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Girl's Room Is Her Castle.

We did a favor for some people in Spain...they were sending their son to the New York Film Academy downtown, and asked if the boy could stay with us in the Bronx until they found him a dorm room. He liked our house, food and cleaning services so much, he asked if he could stay the whole semester. We said no problem. Because we are chumps, we said we wouldn't dream of accepting any money...this 18-year-old is 6'6" and nearly ate us out of house and home. He was polite with me and my wife, but didn't get along with my kids (they said he was mean, and a snob). The kids had other reasons to be unhappy: my son had to give up his room and move in to my daughter's room. You can imagine the fights that ensued.

The boy left in June, but is coming back next week to submit his final project. His mother also called and said her sister gave her nephew a birthday present: a ticket to NY for a week. Could he possibly stay with us as well?

Dont pee on the floor, I am sooo not gonna miss you!
My wife said yes, because she won't even be here: she leaves for Spain with my daughter the same day. My son flipped out: he had just got his room back and was losing it again. To soften the blow, I told him he could stay in his room; the two other boys would take my daughter's room, which would be vacant. When she learned the news, she freaked out; she left a parting note, though...

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Poor Basil...

pesto, basil, bugs, insects, cayenne pepperI know bugs gotta eat too, but there's lot of other foliage for them to choose from. I sprinkle cayenne pepper on the leaves to keep them at bay, but the sprinkler system or a rain shower washes it off, bringing the leaf munchers right back.

I was eating pesto (or green spaghetti, as my brothers and sisters called it), way before it became popular in this country; my mother is from Genoa, where the dish originates from. She would chop it up with a 'mezzaluna,' a sharp, semi-circular blade with a wooden handle; it was a lot of work. When the electric blender was invented, she called it a Godsend.

Anyway, I know the friggin' insects don't know what pesto is...why don't they eat some yummy grass instead?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Facebook: More comments I wanted to make but didn't...

confucius, buddha, jesus, muhammad, universe
My comment: First I was told to never forget the Holocaust, then never forget  9/11. Now I gotta remember is getting way too complicated for me.

My comment: Also fingerprint them. Take hair follicle samples for possible DNA testing. And a voice recognition recording. Take some blood as well. And a stool sample. 

Reality Bites...

A comedy about love in the 90s
Saw this film for the first time this evening. Was good, but left a strange taste in my mouth thinking about my own life.

Found it hard to dredge up much sympathy for a bunch of attractive, young 23-year-olds having trouble finding careers, making rent or deciding what people to sleep with. Somehow it'll all work out for them, even if they have to slum it in retail, fast food or screwing the wrong person for a few months. Still plenty of time to find their way.

Not so much time anymore, a bit more pressure with the career when you're double that age, with teenagers soon to go to college...

Big mistake.

At Jones Beach with my daughter and her friend, sans my son.
I told them all week they could invite a friend, but also that at 9:30 am sharp I wanted to leave the house (parking fills quickly). My son's friend cancelled last night. I reminded him several times we had to wake up early; it was the last thing I said to him before I went to bed.
This morning, my daughter and I woke up at eight; I started making blueberry pancakes for breakfast. At 8:30, I told my daughter to roust my son.
This was my first mistake; I should've went myself to wake him. She returned, saying he had told her, "I don't have to get up."
Now I was angry; we had already fed the animals and still needed to prepare lunch, pack the cooler, get the beach stuff out of the garage, plus get the towels, lotion, etc.
I ran up to his room to get him; he was sitting up in bed. As usual, there were no sheets on the bed. I should've overlooked this, but since I was already annoyed with him, I started yelling about how we could wash his sweat out of the sheets, but not out the mattress. His reaction was to lay back down and ignore me.
By 9:15, my girl and I had everything ready. My son was in the bathroom, and wouldn't answer when I banged on the door.
At 9:30, he sat down to eat a bowl of cereal. I told him he had exactly 5 minutes to get ready. He gave me a casual look and announced he wasn't coming. I said, "fine" and went to the car. My daughter looked unhappy. I knew this had gone all wrong, and would ruin the day. I took a deep breath, went back and told him my son just that; also that I was sure I wouldn't be hating on him by the time we got to the beach.
He simply said, "I'm eating my breakfast, and I'm not going."
I tried a second time. "I'll give you five minutes to finish. Let's go." But the anger and aggression were still very much in my voice; it sounded more like a threat than an invitation.
"I choose not to go."
So we left without him, but not before I ruined his day: I unplugged the whole Verizon system, even pulling out the emergency battery pack. He had no tv or internet. I doubted he'd figure out how to reconnect it.
I kept waiting for my phone to ring, with him panicking about the cut off. It suddenly dawned on me I had cut the phone service as well. I started to worry about a terrible accident, or him deliberately setting the house on fire in his rage, but shook the idea out of my mind.
The worst is yet to come; I can't imagine the war this will start.
Plain and simple: I failed. I wanted the three of us to have a fun day at the beach, and that didn't happen.
No, my son didn't get up this morning as I asked him to do. But I'm supposed to be the adult and not sweat the small stuff, to make sure that our family has a nice day.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wasting My Time Cooking.

One thing I can do fairly well is cook. I took an interest at 22, after I moved out of my house. My roommate threw elaborate dinner parties; I discovered it was an easy way to lure girls to the apartment. I later found out my roommate had some serious alcohol problems, but that's another story.

wasting my time cookingAs an Italian American, I was raised on a reasonably healthy diet to begin with; there was always a a big bowl of fruit to snack on during the day; every night we ate salad, a starch and a green vegetable, besides whatever meat my mom prepared. She was a good cook, and the fact that my dad was a butcher guaranteed good cuts of beef.

I succeeded in getting women into my bed when I was younger with an elegant meal and a nice bottle of wine, but that wasn't my sole motivation. I like to eat well, and derive enjoyment from preparing the food as well. Some fresh seafood, good music, a glass of wine, and some company--I find it fun to make dinner.

My son is finicky, but I know kids a lot worse. My daughter is much more adventurous, with a broader palette. All the food I buy is fresh, nothing processed. I wish I could buy more organic, but I can't afford it. Because I'm doing the single parent thing for the summer, I cook every night--no biggie. I just hate making an effort for nothing.

I often work in the late afternoon/early evening, then come home and prepare dinner. The children have been sleeping and breakfasting late, then eating a late lunch, which breaks the rhythm for dinner. I refuse to prepare lunch for them during the summer, and keep telling them to make a sandwich themselves, but they're too lazy and just eat whatever is available, especially if there's snack food laying around (while ignoring the ubiquitous bowl of fruit).

Tonight I specifically told my daughter at 5 pm not to eat anything while I was gone, and told my son to walk the dog and play his baritone. When I returned at 7:30, I started boiling fresh Chinese soba noodles, while sauteeing a pesto, sour cream and cherry-tomato sauce. My daughter wandered over to the stove, and informed she had eaten all the leftover chicken wings from two days earlier, and wasn't interested in dinner. My son took about three bites from his plate and said he wasn't hungry. After flatly stating three times that "I'm just not hungry," he finally admitted that he ate a quart of strawberry yogurt after I left. Wonder how many days that empty yogurt container will sit in his room now... I also discovered he's been jury-rigging his computer to stay on after the five-hour time limit expires, which I've warned him not to do.

So I blew my top and screamed at both of them. They asked me what the big deal was, and told me to calm down. The big deal is that even when I specifically ask or warn them not to do something, they do it anyway, as soon as I leave the house.

Makes me want to not cook at all, and let them fend for themselves.

Ecosystems are living, breathing things.

Read both of these quotes today, direct from my PC World newsfeed:

"Google Glass serves to stretch the technology ecosystem to even greater lengths."--Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

"Google, Amazon and others may not be perfect at keeping malware out of their stores, but the risk increases dramatically outside of their ecosystems."--Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor, Sophos Canada.

Brittanica Online defines an ecosystem thus: The complex of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space.

 I resent the fact that analysts and technogeeks are attempting to take an inanimate concept like technology and try to make it more organic, more tenable and natural. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Zucchini plant climbing the
hurricane fence in my yard.
I have a few more of these, along with climbing pea plants, in a raised bed in my garden. To say that these plants are climbing "instinctively" is an insult to Nature and displays the limitations of empirical thinking.

There is no such thing as instinct. Every living organism is conscious, and all "decisions," even on the cellular level, are just that: intelligent decisions that either further propagation or actively move further from it. The idea that an organism needs a brain to act intelligently is another narrow viewpoint that science itself will one day repudiate, as advances on the nanophysical level are made.

 I would go further and say that all physical matter is conscious as well, but I'll save that for another day...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bag a' Crap.

pooper scooper law
New York has a Pooper Scooper law, which I firmly support and uphold. I make sure that a supply of litter bags are always attached to Coco's leash, and unfailingly clean up after him.

There's only one unpleasantry: carrying that bag of steaming crap around looking for a quick trash can disposal. By now I pretty much know the location of every visible trash can in my neighborhood, but there are a few streets with gated driveways that leave no readily apparent options. To make matters worse, my small dog takes huge dumps, due to the untoward amount of food my daughter feeds him. So much so that he'll occasionally unload twice on one walk. The last time this occurred, his first dump depleted my litter bag supply. Mortified at the thought of leaving dog poop on someone´s finely trimmed grass, I found a discarded grocery bag on the curb and picked it up. When I put my hand inside to scoop up Coco´s Beneful recycling, guess what my hand encountered? Dog feces, left discarded by another owner. Thankfully it was old and dried up, but still, not exactly pleasant to encounter.

Apparently, this other dog owner liked the idea of carting around fresh dog crap even less than I do.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Beer, my faithful companion.

foamy beer, tasty, beer is my friendBeer has been a remarkably reliable beverage for me. It was my first alcoholic libation, at the tender age of 15. I abused my friend many times when young, with the end result of upchucking violently a short time later, and paying a heavy price the following morning. But beer always welcomed me back with open arms. Not so with crueler liquors like Southern Comfort or gin, which  poisoned my body to such an extent that I swore them off for life.
But not my faithful friend beer....

Bored? Have a beer. Watching the ballgame? Beer is waiting. Your friend says he or she will be a few minutes late to the cafe/bar/restaurant/funeral home you're waiting at? By all means, have some suds...everything is okay, or at least not so bad, when you've got a tasty brew in front of you.

I'm sure there are people who feel less stressed, sleep better at night or have a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing they have a stockpile of arms and ammo in their closet, an ample nestegg mix of stocks and securities in their portfolio, or just sigh with contentment watching their small children sleep peacefully in their little beds.
Me? If I have a 12-pack on ice, I'm good.