Archive for June, 2008

Plane With Fire

Friday, June 27th, 2008

I’m going to California over the weekend and I have mixed feelings about it. I love California. I have an exciting new client who’s putting me up in the new Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego and I’m sure Pacific sunsets are just as breathtaking as they always were. I know I have nothing better to do – so what’s the problem?

I don’t like to fly.

Yeh, yeh – I know – flying is the safest means of transportation next to the elevator – blah, blah. I still don’t like it.

My fear exploded in 1975 when I took my first transatlantic flight to France. Flying – over the ocean. Where do they land if something goes wrong? Aren’t they mocking you when they talk about that stupid “floatation device” on which you’re sitting? Is that really supposed to help you when the closest shore is hundreds of miles away?

I thought about this too much before my flight. I was talking myself out of going when some good friends intervened with pharmaceutical assistance. We were having a few drinks at the airport bar when they gave me what they called a “mild sedative” to relax. In fact, (they said) the meds were so light – they would take one themselves to show how mild they were – but I should probably take two for the long flight. Right.

The pills and alcohol had quite an effect. I was more than relaxed. In fact, had they taken me to Seabreeze Park, put me on a kiddie plane ride, and told me I landed in France, I probably would have searched for my Passport.

Somehow, I managed to board the plane and pour myself into my window seat before I passed out. After a time, disaster hit – and it wasn’t a dream. I opened my eyes and FLAMES were shooting from the wings! Really! “JESUS CHRIST!” I shouted. The older woman next to me quickly spoke. “It’s OK, Sir.” she said, “The stewardess said not to wake you. The plane has some minor mechanical problems and we have to land back in Toronto. But before we do that, they have to burn off all the fuel so we can land safely.” Right

It must have been relatively safe because they let people use the rest rooms.  There was a long, long line.


Tie Died

Saturday, June 21st, 2008


Manhattan, 1972. Retail shopping CRUSH-week between Christmas and New Years and every New Yorker thought it his Constitutional Right to exchange every doofus clothing item he got for Christmas – or thought he got for Christmas – or got for Christmas around 1965.

I worked in Barneys, the World’s Largest Mens’ store and the cacophony of customer craziness was mind numbing. “Sir!”, “Sir!”, “Sir!”, “Pardon me, Sir!” “Sir!”, “Excuse me. May I get some service here?” “Sir!”,“Sir!”, “Sir!”,”Hey, Sir!” “Sir!”,“Sir!”,“Sir!”.

I think I can speak for the majority of the 1st Floor Sales Team when I say we hated them – hated every goddamn one of them who waved a crumbled Barney’s sales receipt at us. There were thousands of them – pushing, pleading, whining, yelling, DEMANDING!

The 1st Floor Team had a little pool going to see which one of us would snap first. I was the odds-on favorite and for good reason. The week before, I was demoted from sweaters to ties because I refused to take a return on a smelly sweater the guy must have worked out in. Supposedly, I had embarrassed the guy by announcing my suspicion in front of other customers who, supposedly, gave a damn.

Working in the tie department was a nightmare! Barneys advertised that they had 100,000 different ties. I never counted them but I must have folded that many at least once a day. There were racks of ties – tables of ties – walls of ties – cases of ties – ties everywhere you looked!

It was about 9:40 pm – 20-minutes until closing – and the crowd had gone. I was exhausted and not exactly in a chipper Barneys mood. I was just mindlessly folding ties on the counter – minding my own business – when this businessman walks over.

“Uh, Sir,” he says, “I don’t see the tie I want here.” SNN…..

I slowly and painfully looked up. “Mister, we carry over 100,000 ties. I’m sure it’s here somewhere.”

“Nope. I looked.” SNNNA….

“Well, Sir, if you looked and didn’t find it, we must not have it. I’m sorry.” And then I started refolding my pile of ties. “Would you GO AWAY,” I thought, “JUST GO AWAY!”

“Well do you have any more ties in the back?” SNNNAAAAAPPPPPPP!

“The ties in the back? No – those are our really good ties. We save those for ourselves. We don’t even have to pay for them – and they’re great ties – but you can’t buy one. Sorry.”

“Are you being smart with me? I pay your salary, you know!”

“Really? Great. Can I have a raise?”

“I’d like to see your manager. NOW!”

“Oh sure, I’ll get him. He’s in the back with the good ties.”

I walked to the back of the store and kept on walking. The A-train stop was only half a block away. I never even bothered to go back.


I’m Just Not the Tripe Type

Thursday, June 19th, 2008


I’m meeting a business associate for lunch on Tuesday at an Italian Restaurant – for tripe. The restaurant, Rockie’s, is supposed to have the best tripe in the city. I’ve never had their tripe. Actually, I’ve never had anyone’s tripe which is cow stomach, nor scungile which is octopus, nor snails which, of course, are snails. I’ve never eaten lobster in anything other than bisque, clams outside of chowder, squashed sardines, nor oysters when they lay dead in their shells. I won’t eat liver pate or any other way.

I don’t eat chicken legs, pig knuckles, or turkey drumsticks. I’ve never eaten a chicken’s wing, a duck’s breast, rabbit, or a partridge hanging on to its bones. I’ve never had for dinner a pheasant under glass, frog legs, turtle soup, blood sausage, nor anything that even resembles sushi. I’ve never been to a pig roast and I’m always wondering what happens to pig snouts, eyeballs, lips, brains, testes, and tails. I know I don’t want to know.

I’m not a vegetarian by any means. I love steak, cheeseburgers, boneless chicken, bacon, and I make the best chili (with steak, Italian sausage, & Merlot – no beans) that you’ll ever eat. I just can’t eat anything that looks like anything. I never could – even as a kid. My imagination was too big and I couldn’t switch it to ‘disassociate’ like most people. I still can’t.

It always amazes me what different cultures will – and won’t – eat. Indians don’t eat cows but we will. We don’t eat dogs but Koreans eat a certain breed. Monkeys might be dinner in some African countries and I wouldn’t even shop with a client in ‘Snake Alley’ in Thailand. It is, however, reassuring to know that all cultures will not eat a certain animal – people. I guess it’s just too hard to disassociate us.


Remote Out of Control

Thursday, June 19th, 2008


Do you watch a lot of TV? I’ll bet you’re like me and many people. You don’t exactly sit down and watch it – it-s just on in the background as you live the rest of your life. Someone called TV the “electronic fireplace.” My parents didn’t care what you called it – they just knew the OFF switch was ‘on’ during mealtimes and most other times too. Had any of us kids even asked to turn the TV on during dinner, I’m sure Mom and Dad would have looked at us like we had grown another head.

Yet over the years, the constantly-on TV has seeped into my life. Usually it’s on a news show or a talk/news show like ‘Today’ – but the sound is down and I only pay attention when it shows something in which I’m interested – which is almost never.

The remote, of course, is the machine that makes possible all of this volume and channel changing. A few days ago, my remote started working intermittently which is maddening. I reprogrammed it two or three times and it still misbehaved. I even put in shiny new batteries. Nada. So last night I gave it one more chance. I shined up the battery contacts, reprogrammed the four digit code, put on a happy face, and pushed the power button. Nothing. So I calmly threw it as hard as I could through the open terrace door where it met the concrete wall and smashed into countless pieces.

Tuesday and Wednesday were quite impressed. After looking back at me to make sure I wasn’t going to fix anything else, they trotted out to the terrace to sniff the small remnants of destruction.

And I didn’t buy a new remote today either. I’m thinking that any action I perform in life should be worth the effort it takes to get out of my chair, walk three steps, bend over, and push a button. If it’s not worth that effort, I can probably live without it.

The TV hasn’t been on all day.


“Waddaya Want? Another Medal?”

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008



“She’s Alive, Franco!”

Saturday, June 14th, 2008


Jake loved his old dog, Heidi, as much as I loved Sunday the Cat. N was a new friend with whom I was trying to share some benefits. I was photographing her before we went out for dinner.

The phone rang. It was Jake crying drunk and slurring, “We had to put Heidi down today, Franco – she was suffering so much. It’s killing me! A few of us are at the bar having a drink to her memory; I brought in some pictures. Can you come over?”

N stayed in the apartment as I went to Heidi’s “Memorial”. Of course Jake was a mess telling Heidi stories and showing her pictures. I bought a round or two and left in about an hour.

After a long, enjoyable dinner, N and I came back and the answer machine light was flashing. I hit ‘play’ and immediately heard a very drunken Jake.

“Franco! HEIDI’S ALIVE! She’s alive, Franco! What a dog! Franco – HEIDI’S ALIVE!” Click. N and I stared at each other. Uh-oh. Seemed Jake took the 10:10 to Crazyville. It was too late to call back but too weird not to. Jake’s wife answered. “He’s passed out, Franco.” Then she told me the ‘real’ story. It wasn’t even half as good as the one I imagined – they never are.

It seems Jake and Wife took Heidi to the vet’s to be put down. Both were distraught but Jake was worse – much worse. So Wife told him to say good-bye and she would stay with Heidi. Jake left – she broke down. Vet decided neither was ready yet and he gave the dog something to make her more comfortable for a few days. When Wife brought Heidi home, Jake wasn’t there so she waited and fell asleep.

Reality is so dull. That’s why they invented drugs and alcohol.


Functionally Punctual (FP)

Thursday, June 12th, 2008


I’m ‘on time’ more than most clocks you’ll ever own. I’m ‘on time’ almost every time – and I expect you to be too. But these expectations are too high for most people. They were WAY too high for one of the first women with whom I lived, D_____.

D_____ was late for everything. EVERYTHING! So D____ and I knew we had to work something out to live as a couple. D____ couldn’t drive and I had a car, so our agreement was simple: she got to CHOOSE the time when we left – and I drove at THAT designated time. What could be more fair?

It was a steamy, mid-August afternoon – you almost had to push the air out of the way when you moved. D____ and I had to attend some miserable outdoor function that should have added ‘100% Boredom Assured’ to it’s program. I finally dragged her away from this local version of ‘Night of the Living Dead’.

Halfway home she decided she needed to go to Wegmans for a few things.

“Oooooh,” I groaned.

“C’mon! It will only take a few minutes! We’ll use the ‘Car Leaves’ rule”.

Once parked at Wegmans, the car clock read 2:45 pm.

“Just 15 minutes.” D____ said. “Departure time will be 3:00pm – promise!” I watched her as she shut the car door. Wow did she look great in a dress and heels! I leaned back and turned on the radio. Then, 2:50, 2:54. “Damn!” I thought, “I knew it!” 2:58 – 3:00pm. “OK, that’s it,” I said to myself. I backed out of the space and slowly started for the exit.

That’s when I saw her in the rear view mirror. She had a paper grocery bag in each arm and was running very well for a tall blond in heels. I had forgotten she was on the track team in high school. And she almost made it!

The phone was ringing when I got home. I had a pretty good idea who it was.

D____ and I no longer live together.


Death is a Cliché

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008


My friend killed himself the other day.  Put a loaded pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  Very decisive – no ‘cry for help’ there.  I can’t say he did it for attention – but I can’t say he didn’t do it for attention either.  He shot himself in his car – in a public parking lot – in the daytime,  I doubt if the “blame bullet” was aimed at any one person – or a lot of us –  or even at  himself.

When I heard the news, I had the same cliched, dumb reactions everyone always does.  “Why?  What if…? Could we have…?”  Dumb.  All dumb fantasy and make believe.  So I said to myself, ’fantasy and make believe’ is a world in which I am a citizen of good standing. So I went to that place to settle this thing in my mind.

I drifted to a dark bar where my friend was sitting, drink in hand, smiling at me.  My drink was already on the bar.  I sat down and picked it up.

“You’re an asshole, you know.” I said.

“Of course I’m an asshole!  You  knew that Franco – so did everyone.”  We both laughed and sipped our drinks.

“A lot of people are hurting tonight, Friend.  They think they could have…”

“Oh, shut up, Franco – this wasn’t about anyone but me!  You know that.  All my friends loved me.  They did everything they could for me!  But it was time to go.  It was just time  to go…”  Long pause.  “…while I still had some dignity left.”

“Yeh…I thought pride had a lot to do with it.”

“Of course, Franco.  Failing at jobs and relationships.  Health shit. Drinking and drowning.  Friends taking me in – doing everything they could for me – God bless ‘em – but sometimes you’ve just got to say, enough’s enough.  I was tired of people looking at me with pity – like I was a loser.”

“You are SUCH an asshole!” I said. “Your friends remember the good times – the crazy times!  They remember you as a friend who was always there.  They remember how easily you laughed! They remember how you took care of your Mom – how you opened up the AT on Thanksgiving to give a dinner to all the lonely people….”

My friend was beginning to fade away.  But he had a smile on his face – “Really, Franco?  That’s what they remember?” He started to fade faster….

“YUUUH!  We remember how you loved Heidi so much……”.  He was smiling and faded to darkness.  Too quickly.

I slowly started to walk away.  I was able to smile again – just a little for now.  I felt something in my hand and looked down.

The bastard left me with the damn check.


“Any sign of the trapped miners yet, Captain?”

Sunday, June 8th, 2008


June 9, 1999 was my 49-th birthday. It was also the day I was diagnosed with Stage II – probably Stage III – Colon Cancer. There are only four stages of the disease and by the time you hit Stage IV, it might be a waste of money to buy green bananas.

I knew whatever I had was bad – I just didn’t know how bad. I’m very perceptive about these things. It only took me two, maybe three months of bright red blood in the bowl to figure it out. For over 20 -years of “complete” physical exams, I signed a form releasing my doctors from responsibility because I refused a common procedure of the most invasive kind.

So there I was, dressed again, sitting alone in the post- colonoscopy room successfully resisting the temptation to pick up a copy of GUT Health magazine from May, 1996. Previously I had read a few books on cancer so I knew the diagnosis was not going to be pleasant.

Dr. Joseph Hsu walked in with a folder and a grim, sad look on his face. I LOVE Doctors like Dr. Hsu – they don’t even pretend to be medically objective. I’m sure he’s different with other patients – but he knew from a pre-procedure interview I didn’t want to hear any medical happy horseshit. I’d prefer to deal with straight facts and expected the worse.

Dr. Hsu sat NEXT to me – instead of in the ‘Doctor’ chair facing me. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “no more green bananas.”

He seemed to find it hard to begin. He looked at the closed folder on his lap and took an audible, deep breath. I quickly interrupted.

“Pretty bad, Dr. Hsu?” He looked at me and sadly nodded his head. I half smiled and nodded my head to let him know I understood and was prepared for it.

“Large tumor – distal margin too small for surgery?” I smiled again to reassure him and let him know I understood what he was “telling” me. He looked down and nodded again. God was he taking this hard! How tough it must be to be a Doctor who actually cares about his patients.

I touched his shoulder and smiled. “It’s OK, Dr. Hsu.”

We both stood up and I extended my hand. He shook it formally. “Thank you, Dr. Hsu,” I said as I looked into his eyes. I was completely, absolutely sincere. His head nodded once, almost like a bow, and then he turned and walked away.


“I Wanna be a Writer.”

Friday, June 6th, 2008


At least two or three times a month, someone will tell me she wants to be a writer (and yes, it’s usually a woman.)

“Great!” I say feigning enthusiasm. Silence – her turn to speak.

“Uhh, but how do I begin?”

“Now this is going to sound dumb,” I say, “but – you’ve got to write.”

She frowns. Then, “I write a lot of poetry.” Expectant look. My mind groans.

Me: “It really depends on why you want to write. Writing poetry is fine but there’s not a big market for it. Writing is good to organize your thoughts and express yourself – but it’s almost impossible to make a living at it.”

She: “Do you write everyday?”

Me: “Oh yeh – almost every day.”

She: “How do you sell it?”

Me: “Actually, I sell very little of it. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get a client who needs a speech or article but mostly, I write because I love it. I write in a blog almost every day, I write in a political forum three or four times a week, and I write a lot of e-mails and sometimes letters. I just love to write.”

She: “Do you think you can help me get started?”

Me: “Of course. I’ll give you the same offer I’ve given to people for years: write three sentences a day and send them to me. I’ll read them and make constructive suggestions.”

She: “Just three sentences a day – on anything?”

Me: “Three sentences on anything you want – every day.”

She: “Wow. That’s pretty simple. I just might take you up on that.”

You’ve probably guessed the ending. Out of the dozens of people to whom I’ve made this offer, not one has ever sent me a sentence. Not one.