Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The one where Greg loses his job, just before the holidays


Here's this: Greg lost his job Friday.

Here's this too: He lost it from Apple, one of the most secretive companies this side of the military-industrial complex. So I can't blab about it the way I do most things. For once, I'm gonna practice discretion. All I'll say is, it was a terrible choice, his coworkers and managers are still upset about the choice, and Greg didn't take it well.

He's better now. Friday was bad, but his final projects for school kept him busy. Monday was a day in limbo, more or less. Conversations with now former coworkers, now former managers, emails sent out to various connections he'd made over the past three years. Friends stepped up to offer jobs--any jobs--and support. Family, removed, did the same.

Greg had bought tickets a few weeks ago to see John Waters deliver his (meh) Christmas monologue at (ugh) B.B. King's place just off Times Square, so we went tonite. A sold-out show. We'd debated selling the tickets because, well, money, but we didn't sell the tickets. We decided, come shit or shinola, we deserved to indulge. It's the holidays, Greg's fired, we already bought the tickets--just go.

We went to the John Waters thing, and had to be present 2 hours before Mr. Waters wandered onto the stage. We had to be present because it was general admission--first come, first seated. Who wants to stare at a thin aging (but fabulous!) man in an orange suit--for two hours--100 feet away, from bad seats? Show up two hours before curtain, and you get to see him from 10 feet away... but you have to kill those two hours.

We got a decent seat, stage right, at a table for 12. All tables. Cabaret seating. Greg and I were as close to the stage as we could get without purchasing VIP seating ("includes a meet-and-greet with the star after the show"). Greg and I realized we had two hours to kill. We would have To Talk. Not that we don't Talk; but now we had a Talk of some importance hovering over us like a sword dangling from a string. Greg was sad, and I hate it when he's sad. Greg kept apologizing to me, and while I usually like it when he apologizes, because I'm a terrible person and think everyone should apologize to me each chance he or she gets, this time--this subject--this job-loss thing--I didn't like it. I wanted him to be happy, I wanted him to enjoy the show absolutionphilia-free.

Like I said, Greg bought the tickets to the John Waters show himself, a few weeks back. Greg seldom buys tickets to things, which is how I knew he was looking forward to the show before he got canned. After he got canned, he saw the show as a needless, stupid, irresponsible purchase. So, we sat at the table, 1o feet from the stage, and waited on the other seats at the table to fill up with the other audience members who'd made their own needless, stupid, irresponsible ticket purchases. And we each mulled over, in our heads, The Talk that we were gonna have to have, because two hours is a long time.

Added bonus: the hostess, when seating us, had placed two menus on our table, and helpfully pointed out the $10 minimum, per person, sign on the table. It wasn't surprising, but it did add to the tension. More money needlessly spent. More reasons for Greg to feel guilty.

Oh, also, just before going into the place, Greg and I took a walk around the block. Doors weren't set to open til 6, Greg and I had arrived (separately--me from work, Greg from the apartment) 15 minutes too early, a slow walk around 42nd Street and its environs seemed the best course of action. Kill time. On the walk, Greg was sad. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what's the best choice. I've emailed [anthropology friend] and talked to [computer tech friend]. " And some other stuff, which, as I said, I'm trying to be discreet about. Give me props for this discretion, because I'm not known for it.

"I don't know," Greg kept saying as we walked around the block. And the first thing he said at the table in B.B. King's was, "I don't know," only he was talking about the menu, not his career.

"I'm not hungry," I told him.

"I'm sorry." He wasn't talking about my appetite.

"I don't blame you," I told him, also not talking about my appetite.

Then we were talking about appetite, and looked over the menu, weighing our options.

There wasn't much light at B.B. King's. I mean, there was light, but it was a sort of manufactured natural light, coming from two enormous digital screens on either side of the stage, flashing ads for the acts coming to the stage in the coming weeks. And candlelight. And some overhead lights, which were dim.

Greg was across from me, and looked gloomy from both the light and the situation. I kept thinking of how happy he'd been a few weeks earlier, telling me he'd gotten these tickets, and said, "We're here. So let's just enjoy it."

"I'll enjoy it. We should've sold the tickets, though."

"No way. Unless you wake up with a dead hooker, covered in blood, you should enjoy where you are. And we're here." And no, I didn't actually say that. But what I did say meant essentially just that. Unless you wake up with a dead hooker, covered in blood, you should enjoy where you are.

Greg never really buys into my hokey fix-all platitudes, btw, which is one reason I love him. He cheered himself up (no thanks to me).

"I think we're going to be alright," he told me. "This is hard but it's not necessarily bad."

"I've got this degree now," he told me. "I've got more options."

"I think I'll have the lemon meringue Martini," he told the waiter, when the waiter finally stopped waiting and decided to take orders. (I ordered a Scotch and soda, because that's what I usually order, and the thought of drinking a lemon meringue nauseated me.)

During The Talk, Greg, perhaps helped by the Martini, was more optimistic than I'd seen him in a while. I'm a sucker for cockeyed optimism. And maybe his dour demeanor over the past few days was more from the sudden job loss than from a loss of future.

Whatever. We'll see. We ordered food, we chatted with our table-mates, we drank our drinks (two for me, one for him--but it was a very potent one for him, and included Pop Rocks on the glass rim and Danny DeVito's Limoncello), and watched the show. We thought about the dog, at home, and took offense when John Waters said, "I don't have a dog. You know, because I'm not lonely." Then forgot we were offended a few seconds later, when he said, "The way to attract a man is to be nude and to install a bar beside your bed."

Greg laughed. Often. He leaned back so far, sometimes, to let his laughs out that he bumped into the woman behind him. She didn't seem to mind. She readjusted herself, moving back sometimes, or sometimes leaning forward to Greg to laugh into his laugh.

Job loss. It's sometimes funny, sometimes serious, hopefully never terminal.

Monday, December 14, 2009

End of the decade, part 1


So we're nearing the end of 2009, which while not technically true is also the end of The Decade. Whatever--the sooner we bring this decade to a close, the better.

Here's the thing: it has been a terrible 10 years. Miserable. Awful. There is not much, from a reasonable American's POV, to suggest otherwise. From the largest terrorist attack in the history of the nation, to Katrina, to the collapse of the financial system (which, to those of you non-Americans, is called--somewhat optimistically--"capitalism"), it's been a dreadful 10 year stretch.

But hey, at least I'm American and not Icelandic, because, shit, they don't even have a country anymore.

The Boston Globe has some nice pics up documenting this single year of the end of the decade. I don't think they do it justice, but whatev.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The hazards of learning how to shoot a gun from rap videos


Greg told me an interesting story today when he got home.

He was in the shower because it was a rainy day, and he didn't have an umbrella, and he smelled like hot wool. The dog was running up and down the hallway, excited or bored.

"Hey. Babe," Greg said from the shower, sticking his head through the curtains. "I've got a story you're gonna like."

Skeptically, I called out from the kitchen, "Okay. I'm listening."

"So, I told you about the guys who work as security guards at the store, right?"

"Yes." I was cutting vegetables up. Waffles was running up and down the hall. The shower was pouring out water. My knife sliced thru a cucumber, making a shnick sound, then a solid shthunk as it hit the wood of the cutting board.

"They're all either men serving in the military or as policemen."

"Right."

"So I get to work today, this morning, and there's a huge crowd around [Eddie], right. He's one of our guards. See him all the time."

"Okay." Schthunk.

"And he's mid-sentence. He's saying, 'So I took out the magazine before the fucker could use it.' So I'm like whoa-whoa. What? Turns out he was one of the guys who took out that guy in Times Square earlier this week."

"Wow." Schthunk.

"Yeah. His partner is the guy who shot the fucker."

I stopped cutting and moved into the hall, dodging the dive-bombing dog, who was still running up and down the hall with some sort of nihilistic abandon. "Really," I said to Greg's face, framed by the shower curtains.

"Really. Yeah. Here's what happened:"

And here's what Greg said happened:

[Eddie] and his partner were in Times Square, in plain clothes, checking out reports of an intimidation scam. For those of you who don't slog your way thru Times Square on a regular basis, here's what the most common intimidation scam is: A guy comes up to you and asks your name. When you tell the guy your name, he scribbles it on a cd, tells you it's now your cd, and asks you to pay him 10 dollars. If you refuse, some of the guy's buddies surround you and accuse you of ripping the guy off. If you're not used to this sort of thing, you are intimidated into giving the guy the 10 bucks for the cd.

Right. So. The guy shot dead last week in Times Square was doing that sort of scam. His brother was one of the intimidating seconds, and so got to see his little bro shot down by cops on Broadway. In front of the Marriott Marquis, the pussiest hotel in Times Square.

(And I'll just spoil the payoff for this story now by saying that as I stood in the hallway, dodging the dog and listening to Greg, a mouse was devouring all the vegetables I'd been slicing up. There. That's out of the way.)

So the guy was running a scam, and the plainclothes cops were moving in on him. To get evidence, they sent one of their own up to the guy--a cop who spoke Italian--and the cop pretended to be a tourist. The guy scammed him, the cop paid him 10 bucks, and the other cops moved in. Like with Al Capone, they didn't try to get him on theft or anything; they asked to see his tax ID.

Because, you know, to buy and sell shit in NYC, you need a tax ID number.

The guy pretended to search for his tax info for about 2 seconds, then bolted. He ran down 7th Ave, into the heart of Times Square, then doubled back on Broadway. The cops pursued--according to [Eddie], they were all familiar with the guy, having arrested him for various reasons before this incident. Tourists got out of the way, and, while talking, Greg lost his balance in the shower, slipped a bit, and tugged hard on the shower curtain.

Waffles came to a dead stop and stared into the bathroom. (And I presume the mouse looked up, in the kitchen, from his hearty meal of broccoli and carrots, the little shit.)

"So they chased the guy, and then they got to the taxi area in front of the Marquis, right. [Eddie] said this all happened in slow motion. The guy pulls out a Mac 10 from his coat. [Eddie] and his partner are less than 10 feet away, right, so you know, they're both fucking dead as far as they know. Point blank, right." Greg uses his hands, dripping from water, to reenact the story. He points a dripping forefinger at me, cocks his thumb up. "The guy shoots off two rounds at [Eddie] and his partner, and [Eddie's] like, he says, he's like praying, right. He gets off a quick fucking prayer, and is thinking of his wife and his kid, and he knows, right, he's also thinking about all the fucking people in Times Square who are about to die. Because one body doesn't stop a bullet from a Mac 10. The thing has 30 rounds, and one bullet can pass thru a body like nothing, and hit someone else."

"Jesus."

Waffles, losing interest, starts to chew on his own foot. The mouse, by now, has probably started its poop phase.

"Yeah. You've heard Bloomberg, right?"

"Yeah. He's still pissed that people can buy guns so easily in other states. This is why you need a federal law--"

"--because Virginia, where this fucker got his gun, doesn't have to worry about fucking Times Square."

"Right."

"So. [Eddie's] staring down the barrel of a Mac 10, in Times Square, and he's praying and thinking about his wife and kid and the tourists that are about to get shot. He and his partner are whipping out their weapons. But the guy, the shooter, he gets off two rounds, right. The shots go wild."

Yes. The shots did go wild. I've seen pictures of the windows in Times Square those shots landed in. Pretty chilling when you think about those shots hitting flesh instead of crappy merchandise.

"Then the Mac 10 chimney stacks." (Or smoke stacks or something--I don't remember the word Greg used, but the end result is that the gun locked up on the maniac shooting it).

"What does that mean?" I asked Greg.

"According to [Eddie], the guy held the gun sideways. Stupid fucker had watched too many rap videos."

Greg turned his hand sideways, so that his thumb was pointing towards the wall instead of ceiling. Which, I gotta say, looks totally bad-ass.

"Yeah. [Eddie] said what happened was, in the Mac 10, which is a terribly designed gun--who knew?--if held this way" Greg pointed his thumb to the ceiling "can do a lot of damage. But if held this way" Greg pointed his thumb to the wall "the bullets don't have the right support, and end up going vertical or something. Anyway. 10 feet away, trying to draw their weapons, they hear the click. Failed shot. [Eddie] stops praying, and his partner gets his weapon out. The guy starts banging on his gun, and [Eddie's] partner brings his own gun around and BLAM!"

Waffles jumped.

"I didn't know this," Greg said. "[Eddie] said both he and his partner put their arm over their hearts." Greg crooked one wet arm over his chest, his elbow roughly covering the spot where his heart is. "They're trained to do that. It gives them some shielding."

Good to know. Next time I'm being shot at, I'll be sure to crook my arm in front of my chest. It's like going into the basement of the Paris Opera House.

"So BLAM!" Greg repeated. Waffles jumped again. I don't know what the mouse in the kitchen did.

"As soon as his partner shot, [Eddie] dove on top of the guy. And he said he felt all wet and shit, and thought 'This motherfucking piece of shit just pissed himself and me.' He tried to get the Mac 10 out of his hand, but the fucker had too strong a grip on it, so he slid the magazine out of it. And when he did, he saw his hands--totally coated in blood. Not piss. Blood."

Then, by all accounts, the tourists in Times Square exploded in applause. Which, fine, okay, not a big fan of the NYPD, but I'll give the boys and girls this: when they do their job well, they deserve the applause.

Greg said he went up to [Eddie] later and told him, "You know, thanks man. It's people like you who keep me safe."

And [Eddie] said back, "Thanks man. We don't often get thanked for what we do, so it means something when it happens."

And here's the moralizing part of my story: All you fuckers in gun-crazy states really need to start thinking of the good of the country. Take care of your fucking guns, get some goddamn control over it, because no one wants to take your guns but we damn sure would like to have some sort of, oh I don't know, logical way of dealing with them. Maybe documentation, a waiting period, a background check.... If guns were your daughter, would you just let some random guy run off with her?

But if any of you gun nuts want to do something useful, please come up here and shoot this goddamn mouse.

That is all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day that will live in infamy


So yeah, I share a birthdate with a national disaster.

Lots of people do. There are a lot of people in this country, and a lot of national disasters. I once dated a guy born on 9/11, for instance; it was years before 9/11 became a national disaster, and he was Muslim.

I can't help but think of him when the remembrances and the tributes start up. Nice guy. We broke up gracefully. He doesn't deserve to have all the 9/11 baggage on his birthday--turning a year older is baggage enough, as is his religious affiliation.

There's a difference between being born before a national disaster that happens on your birthday, and being born well after the disaster occurred. I never owned 12/07. It was always Pearl Harbor Day. I'd wake up on my birthday, and hear FDR's speech about how this day--my day--was a date that would live. In. Infamy. Really, I was probably one of the few 4 year olds to know what 'infamy' meant. I grew up associating my birth with a national disaster. Most kids think of cake and presents when they think of their birthday. I thought of sinking ships and dead soldiers. Instead of ice cream, I thought of bombs. Instead of pinched cheeks, I thought of the Bataan Death March.

My great-grandmother, Ruby, lived just down the alley from a man named Buford when I was a kid and she was alive. Buford shared my birthday. He also served in WWII. Buford once owned 12/07. Then one day he didn't own it anymore. He told me, "Rough stuff. I wasn't there but I served with men who were. I was having a party when it happened. I haven't had a party since."

Here's what happens on my birthday, usually: Everyone in the media talks about death. There are reverent anecdotes about fallen soldiers, harrowing recreations of the Japanese attacks, and brief synopses of the whole of WWII. Pictures of burning bodies/buildings/cities. Shots of mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (heh, we paid'em back real good). All day, politicians weigh in with their "thanks to the soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Buford never paid the ultimate sacrifice, obviously--he was alive several years after WWII to tell me about it. He said of WWII, "I hated it."

He also said of our shared birthday: "I wish I'd been born a day later." Which was fine, of course, because he wasn't a Beatles fan. I was. And I knew that if I'd been born a day later, I'd have John Lennon's death to deal with.

Anyway. So. To those of you who must share a birthday with a national disaster, I understand your ambivalence. It's weird, always so weird, to wake up on the day that's supposed be your day, your one special day, the one day you own, and hear about tragedy and upheaval and absolute, no-going-back change. If you were born after that day of national disaster, you get used to it. But if you're like Buford or the Muslim guy, and had a few years of owning the day before it came to mean something else entirely... well, I almost understand what it must be like. At least you had a good run.

Also, there's this: I was born in December, near Christmas. My brother was born in March, near Easter. Mozart died on the fifth of December. Delaware became a state on December 7th, 1787. John Lennon was (of course) shot on December 8th, 1980. The first person to die by lethal injection bought the farm on December 7th, 1982. Willa Cather was born. Cicero died. Thornton Wilder died. And Buford was born at some point, and it was a day that will live in infamy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What a drag it is getting old

The old woman was stooped at the shoulder, like candy cane, watching her own feet shuffle along the carpet of Barnes and Noble, toward the checkout line. In her left hand was a walking stick--not a cane, but a gnarled heavy wooden stick about four feet high. It thudded hollowly against the carpet as she shuffled along like an ancient wizard, her weight shifting uncertainly to the right with one step, then confidently to the left with the next. Since she was wearing a long moss-green coat and had wild, thin, grey-red hair, I couldn't make up my mind if she looked more like a troll or a mystic.

When she made it to the line, where I was standing, she glanced up. The way she would look up to check her progress was she'd bend a bit backward from the hip and lift her chin just enough to take in her surroundings. Long face, sharp blue eyes mostly hidden behind the falling-curtain of her eyelids. Canyons instead of wrinkles all over her face.

Let's see. What else.

Her coat was unbuttoned, so I could see the limited length of her: a bedazzled sweatshirt full of rhinestones; spindly legs covered by sweatpants, with the pantlegs tucked into bright red socks; sandles on her feet.

In her right hand, clutched in a liverspotted talon, was a large cofeetable book about dogs. A satisfied pug was on the cover, sitting on a silk pillow amidst vases of roses and daisies. When she got up to me, she held the book out and said, in a Ruth Gordon voice surprisingly strong for such a weak-appearing old woman: "Hold this for me will you honey."

I took the book from her. She immediately started passing her right hand in and out of the pockets of her coat, removed her wallet.

"You like dogs?" she asked me, staring at the floor--only not staring really, since it was the natural direction of her gaze.

"Yes. Just got one."

"I've had one my whole life, honey, and they make it all worth it." We both shuffled forward with the line. I tried to hand her book back to her but she lifted the cane in her left hand, waggled the fingers clutching the wallet in the right, and made a shrugging motion. "Hang on to it til we get to the checkout will you honey? Thank you very much."

Here's what I learned from the old woman in the five minutes we spent in line together: Her name was Lola (and I realized she looked more like a 'Lola' than a troll or a mystic; maybe she had been a showgirl, even...or a man), during her life she'd had at least three dogs at all times, replacing each fallen dog with a new puppy like a stock boy refilling grocery shelves, and she'd recently lost a dog--Petey. Petey had made it 26 years with her. The two canine survivors missed Petey a lot, as did Lola. Lola and her two surviving dogs moped around her 88th St. apartment. "Not even my cats can cheer us up," she said wanly. "And I'm too old to get a new one, you know. I keep hoping to win the lottery so I can afford to pay someone to help me with a new pup but that's not likely is it honey."

So I got Lola to the cashier, then helped her out the door onto the sidewalk. Watched her shuffling away, slowly, stooped, banging her walking stick against the concrete, and I wondered how the hell the old and infirm of the city manage to get around in the winters. I wonder this all the time, especially when I'm climbing the mounds of plowed snow to cross a street, or falling on my ass when hitting an icy spot on the sidewalks. If I'm still in this city when I'm 80, someone please shoot me with a tranq and ship me off to Florida.

There's Josie, of course, the elderly woman who lives below us. Just today, I was coming into the building as she was going out. Or preparing to go out. Cold, rainy day. As I approached the front door, I saw Josie standing just inside the lobby, using her frail frame to prop open the heavy door. She was wearing a raincoat, with a plastic hood tied around her head, and she was fighting with an umbrella, trying to open it. A guy living on the first floor was behind her, and I could hear him saying, "Mamma, where you going?"

"Help me Irish umbrella," she told him. She held out the umbrella.

"Okay, but where you going mamma? You don't need to go out today."

I stood outside, my umbrella now closed. "You going out, Josie? It's nasty out."

"Irish."

I looked at the guy. "I guess she wants to go out," he said.

The past week hasn't been good for Josie. I don't know what's up with her, but just a few days before, I'd come home from work, made my way up the stairs, and heard a lot of loud sharp voices on the second floor landing. The Dominican women in the apartments surrounding Josie's were there, as was Josie, and as I slipped past with a small "Hello," Josie had grabbed my arm. "Can you do something about that light?" she asked me, pointing up to the light above us. I looked up. The light was on. The light was fine.

"What do you mean?"

"The light! You don't see it?" Josie peered at me with her hard black eyes, waiting.

One of the Dominican women touched my shoulder, then gently pulled Josie's hand off my arm. "Fine, light fine," she told me. "Josie, the light is fine. Okay." Then to me. "Okay. Light okay."

Now Josie was trying to go out into a chilling drizzling rain. The guy asked her as he tried to figure out her umbrella: "Where you going, Mamma?"

"The corner to look at the trees," Josie answered.

"Oh okay," the guy said.

I offered my umbrella to her. Her's was clearly broken. She took it. The guy took it back and handed it me. "Thank you," he said. "I'll watch her." And then he shook her umbrella hard and it exploded open, a metal spoke shaking free from the canvas so a bit of canvas flapped loosely in the wind. "Come on mamma, we'll go look at the trees."

He folded her arm into his, and helped her down the stairs while holding the umbrella over her head.

And oh--I guess that's the way the elderly get through the winters in the city: they become the goodwill projects of the building, in a respectful, courteous way. Not all of us end up like Brooke Astor.

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