Friday, October 19, 2012

Confessions of a Crossing Guard - Soon to be A Major Motion Picture

I was a crossing guard in elementary school, entrusted with life and death "street-crossing" powers over my fellow students. And if some snotty 7 year old got out of line, well, it was my job to show him the error of his ways. My name is nycityman, and I wore the belt and badge. 

“We met as classmates on Staten Island
We left as inmates from an asylum
And we were sharp, as sharp as knives
And we were so gung ho to lay down our lives”

In recent weeks and months “… and several butcher’s aprons” has gratefully gained a substantial increase in readership. For the neophytes to this on-line font of tomfoolery you, no doubt, have correctly concluded that the majority of posts here are dedicated to the comedic advancement of liberal ideals while stoically satirizing the agenda of the right. But, on occasion, senseless silliness succeeds and so, for a much needed change of pace, we take a momentary respite from partisan, progressive politics, Romney-railing and Mitt-mendacity unmasking to remember those friends and compadres from treasured childhood days, where lore and legend reflects not necessarily reality, but jaded memories, exaggerated and embellished with the passage of time. This comic confection is not new, having originally been posted about a year and a half ago, but to most of the current audience it will be as fresh as a failed fall NBC programming offering, jubilantly aired and then embarrassingly pulled, unviewed, but a scant fortnight later. This particular piece is being specifically rerun and revived at this time as the fortunes of Facebook have recently reconnected nycityman to many former fellows from “good old golden rule days,” who should find some familiarity in the following frivolity.

I came from a proud crossing guard tradition. My older brother was a crossing guard, captain of his squad. My father was a crossing guard before him. And my grandfather, he was a horse and buggy guard. For generations my family has bled white. (No racial overtones implied, white was the color of the safety patrol belts.)

It was the turbulent 1960’s. Across our great land, college campuses erupted in social upheaval. Radicals seized the day. America’s young people were experimenting with illegal mind-altering drugs. The situation was no different on the seemingly tranquil grounds of Staten Island’s PS 55, home to some of the most militant toddlers in the lower 48. It was our sworn duty to keep things under control. We had many names – crossing guards, safety patrol officers, safety monitors, bulls, the man – most just called us “sir.”

Ours was a loyal legion, a band of brothers - me, P.J. Clark, Frank Schmidt and Tim Beraud (the names have not been changed to preserve the glory) and it was an honor to serve in their company - each man trustworthy and true (well, each fifth grader trustworthy and true, anyway.) We were a wall of white (once again, not a racial allusion but a reference to the color of our safety belts, however, as this was Staten Island, we were, in actuality, a wall of white as well.) As is the case with all great fighting units we had our motto, our rallying cry – “We Came. We Saw. We Ran Home to Our Mothers.” In retrospect it doesn’t seem particularly inspiring, but then again, we were just rug rats at the time. If you took on one 10 year old, you had to take on all of us; and when we stood on each other’s shoulders, over-sized overcoat, stogie and ersatz adult raspy voice in place, as in classic “Our Gang” mode, than it was as if we were two battle-hardened 20 year olds. We were trained, we were tested, and we were combat-ready. One just doesn’t get to be a safety patrol officer. It’s not something that’s handed to you by accident of birth or family affiliation (are your ears ringing, Mitt Romney?) You had to start small and prove yourself. I began as a door monitor, valiantly and oft-times physically, refusing entrĂ©e to any undesirable and potentially treacherous intruders. And only then, having demonstrated gallantry and courageousness under-fire was I even considered for the coveted post of crossing guard. Unfortunately, we were the last of a dying breed, the Greatest Generation. Eventually they had to give our jobs to adults - to Moms. They just weren’t making kids like us anymore. The newer youngsters who followed so poorly in our footsteps couldn’t stomach it, couldn’t handle it, they froze like Michele Bachmann taking the American History Regents. At one elementary school after another, all across these United States, terrified students, lives in grave peril, were dodging conveyances like George Bush dodging tossed Arabian footwear.

You may think I speak in exaggerated tones, titillate with tall-tales literally told out of school. But I humbly submit that there are few malevolent miscreants more malicious, mischievous and unmanageable than a 6 year old hopped up on Pixy Stix and Yoo-Hoo (curse you Yogi Berra and your damned chocolate energy drink.) If I had a nickel for every Mary Jane, every box of Good and Plenty, every Razzles I’ve ever confiscated, I’d have more Republicans in my pocket than the Koch Brothers. And very often the impounded plunder went far beyond the relative innocuous nature of such candied comestibles. I’ll always recall Paul, who from 4th grade on was permitted full access to his father’s Playboy collection. On occasion, much to the delight of us all, Paul would sneak an issue or two into the classroom. As any precocious and curious child would, I looked forward to those days and that rare opportunity to sample the taboo, the forbidden, and the inviolable; but as a responsible safety patrol officer answerable for the welfare of the younger children, keeping morality and their emotional and mental health utmost in mind, I had my sworn and solemn duty. Did excessive force ever come into play? Perhaps, but these were difficult times, and ultimately we were respected for what we did and how we kept the peace. Judge me if you will, but do so after you’ve skipped a mile in my PF Flyers.

Lest I lead you astray, the existence of a 5th grade crossing guard did have its benefits. Of course there was the thrill, the excitement, the daily rush of living on the edge, never knowing what the very next minute may bring. There was the ceaseless gratitude and respect of the entire school population, as well as the eternal admiration of the faculty. And need I bother mention the attention of the ladies? The ladies, yes, the ladies (well, eventually they’d be ladies.)

If you’re the type who thinks - children, they’re so innocent, so truthful, so open-minded, so honest and trusting – well then, you’ve completely blocked out your own childhood. We were petty, manipulative, selfish, egotistical, evil, miniature monsters disguised in cute little packages, like Gremlins or Chucky Dolls, always on the ready to annihilate any tot considered even slightly different from what our little un-experienced, under-developed minds perceived as the norm. Every school yard is Darwinism played out in real time right before our eyes, with the strong devouring the weak. And we, my friends, were charged with keeping all that aberrant behavior somehow in check.

“And we would all go down together
We said we'd all go down together
Yes we would all go down together” – Billy Joel

Although I speak of events that occurred some four decades ago, a crossing guard is always sworn in, on call, on duty, always alert. Wherever there’s an elderly lady struggling to traverse a thoroughfare, wherever there’s a child not looking both ways, wherever there’s a 20 year old, scantily clad coed, un-attentive to the traffic patterns as she gossips on her bedazzled smart phone – we’ll be there. When our country calls, we serve and we go where we’re needed.

The Few. The Proud. The Safety Patrol.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mitt Romney - Class Pictures

Worth a Thousand Words 6: Beyond the Valley of a Thousand Words

“If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell” – Gordon Lightfoot

On rare occasion, the Gods of Comedy descend to Earth from Mount Olympus, or Mount Catskills or Mount Airy Lodge in the Poconos (for those keeping count of lazy writing, this makes two successive blogs with two Mount Airy Lodge references, something one is very unlikely to see outside of the romantic resort’s very own webpage) or from whatever brick wall, custard pie, seltzer bottle laden paradise in which they dwell, to bestow upon a chosen mortal a scarce, priceless and invaluable gift rife with comedic potential. In the humble opinion of this observer, those deities of the double-take are very likely named Groucho, Harpo, Chico and even Zeppo, reigning alongside the members of the Python troupe, even the American one with the very strange hybrid accent. For this particular posting we have been presented with a peculiar picture of wannabe leader of the free world and insomniac’s best friend, Willard Mitt Romney. The origin of this unusual image is unknown. The actual actions of the universally unpopular in Massachusetts, job destroying, tax evading, corporate conquistador, man of a thousand contradictory opinions and no convictions ex-Governor are a puzzlement. The reason for the reaction of the girl is a guess. But when you have the Great Equivocator, the Prince of Prevarication, the Viceroy of Vacillation in your comedy line of fire, the tee-hee trigger must be pulled with the hopes of making a belly-laugh bull’s-eye. Let’s hope that among this multiplicity of captions applied to but one solitary pictorial moment, we have achieved greater success than that of the average unfortunate former employee of any of Bain Capital’s take-over companies.

Note: Of course, all submissions can be enlarged with but a mouse click for easier reading.

We close with Gordon Lightfoot and a live performance of, “If You Could Read My Mind.” For any younger readers, I’m sure someday, someway “… and several butcher’s aprons” will conclude with a song and an artist that you may at least be vaguely familiar with, maybe. But until that far away day, I highly recommend giving this man and his composition a listen.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taking the Debate Bait – We Won’t Get Fooled Again

The debate left many confused
Virtually every time Mr. Romney spoke, he misrepresented the platform on which he and Paul Ryan are actually running.” – The New York Times

“I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
No, no!” -  Pete Townsend

I’ve been fooled. Many have been fooled. Many educated, attacked as elitist, progressive political thinkers have been fooled. Mitt Romney, his advisors, handlers and hair-colorists proved far shrewder than almost anyone had given them credit for. Once removed of the faux-Latino, spray tan epidermis, heretofore camouflaged cunning was, clearly and without qualification, despondently on display during the premiere presidential debate. The unpredictably, wily resident of  five home states and six palatial manors, pater to five identically cloned progeny, the pro-Vietnam War protestor who avoided service by successfully seeking sanctuary and refuge in the rough and rugged environs of Paris, France completely dominated the electoral event. He bullied, berated and lied, lied, lied and lied as our President, in regrettable non-response stood there head down, or nodding in supplication and agreement, as  ostensibly defenseless to the unrelenting onslaught of prevarication and browbeating, as Mark Sanchez is to any team’s defense whenever alighting upon the grid iron. It mattered not that Obama had truth, facts and an estimable record on his side, nor did it matter that every oration of the challenger brought forth an untruth or a policy, stance or belief entirely foreign to those expressed before, because for some strange and undetermined reason, perhaps known only to the President and his god, Obama did not challenge Romney on a solitary, far-fetched, feckless falsehood. It was a sorrowful and inexplicable performance and certainly an inappropriate way to commemorate two decades of wedded bliss to the inimitable and marvelous Michelle. We have underestimated the enemy, and perhaps even as Pogo said so wisely, many a year ago, “we have met the enemy… and he is us.”

What exactly transpired on that dark, dreary depressing night of Wednesday, October 3rd?  Has Willard Mitt Romney been playing possum, playing the fool, playing the jerk-card all this time only to be purposely lulling those of us who deem ourselves of superior working thought processes, we of lefty loyalties? Was Romney setting us up, as well as shrewdly and skillfully perpetrating the same swindle upon the entire Obama re-election team throughout the protracted length of this campaign all for the purpose of the unexpected, quite convincing, and embarrassing trouncing he placed upon the current sitting President - the intelligent, thoughtful, concerned, quick-thinking incumbent, the admirable individual who is in many ways the living embodiment of the oft-times fictional and fantastical American dream? Is Willard in reality an evil genius? Is he the Lex Luthor of the LDS? Each fresh sunrise seemed to bring with it the latest news story of yet another gaffe, another mistake, another ill-spoken statement, another released tape never intended for release, another hound atop a Honda, another effeminate student beaten and bullied, another putdown of the common man, another hidden cache of tax-free riches, “another hundred people just got off of the train and came up through the ground. While another hundred people just got off of the bus, and are looking around…” only to find themselves brusquely removed from their livelihoods and retirement savings while their companies collapsed or their enviable employment was dispatched far across boundless oceans. Every rotation of the globe revealed another example of a Mitt misunderstanding of his fellow homo-sapiens, an outwardly endless litany demonstrating, day in and day out that same old voodoo following him about, his utter and disconcerting and discomfiting lack of sympathy, empathy, compassion, humanity and even intelligence or forethought. Is it even a vague possibility that some or all of that was purposeful?

As surprising as the debate feat was for the ex-Governor of the Bay State, maybe Mitt’s managed even more chicanery. As prognosticated by pundit and politician from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the formerly moderate Mitt pirouetted to the Far Right for the Republican Primaries, presenting a furtive figure just somewhat more “severely” conservative than Jefferson Davis. Also, as anticipated, now in the heat of the general election he has less than smoothly segued toward the middle. But despite this blatant and obvious tactic to win the hearts, mind-less and trust of the red, white and blue populace, the deliberate deception of this cynical strategy may actually be one that results in a win for Romney and a loss for our country, its people, the global community and the brotherhood of man (we are the world, we are the children.) The initial assessments of the world’s watchmen and wise elders was that the road to victory could not possibly be paved with such a foundation of relentless, persistent and ever-changing mendacities. Conventional thinking was that people would see through Romney like Sue Storm startled in a bubble bath. Additionally, and as we well know, there is the existence of hours and hours of video tape, easily available and accessible here on the World Wide Web, documenting each and every flip flop and flagrant falsehood - and therein lies the possible virtuosity of the Romney campaign, they may have realized from the get go that none of that matters. Mitt’s four year lease to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is held in the uninformed mitts of the undecided voter. So again, Romney primarily plays to the Tea Party, John Birch, Ku Klux Klan, Junior Sample wing of the GOP to secure the Republican nomination, and then meanders a modicum closer to moderation. Those on the extreme may be miffed with Mitt, but no matter the behavior, actions or policies of Barack Obama - he could make Sarah Palin the Secretary of the Department of Lurnin’, he could replace all their tattered confederate flags with brand-spanking new ones or even make it legal for siblings to betroth - nothing would cause those on the fanatical fringe to cast a misspelled ballot for the black man in the White House. Romney therefore retains the Right, and can attempt to capture the unapprised, undecided constituents in the middle; for at this point, if voters have yet to discern distinct differences between Obama and Romney, they evidently don’t really care enough to try and have not been paying needed attention, leaving Willard free to continue his merry ways of fudging, fabrications and falsehoods. Those un-attentive undecideds now see naught but the new debate-born fictional characters that Romney has created of both himself and Obama as genuine as they have yet to be exposed to the previous prevarications and propensity of positions. Romney lies like a 9 year old caught sneaking a peek at his Dad’s Playboys and Barack placidly and passively allows it while he prepares to hand over the keys to the kingdom.  

Perhaps our President went into the evening neglecting proper preparation. Perhaps in the light of recent polling and the long string of Mitt Romney’s Bloopers, Blunders and Practical Jokes, Obama was a tad overconfident. Perhaps he believed his frequent catnaps wouldn’t be caught on camera. Perhaps he and Michelle indulged in a premature flute of celebratory anniversary Dom Perignon. Or perhaps, relatedly, his mind was otherwise involved with visions of anticipated activities in the heart-shaped tub at the Mount Airy Lodge, as Al Green melodies wafted through his cerebellum. Whatever the rhymes or reasons for this unfortunate evening, I have no desire to spend another such night, stomach churning, shouting out unheeded instructions to my wide screen LCD. Whatever damage might have been done, almost nothing in politics is unforgiveable or irreversible (I think I spied  Anthony Weiner sizing up some new campaign attire at Men’s Wearhouse just the other day) so President O, carry on, be steadfast and strong, and don’t get fooled again

Monday, October 1, 2012

One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor: Reflections on a Life Lived in a Box

An Over-Dramatization of Apartment Living in the Big City

An Essay with a Couple Too Many Subtitles

“Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise. There’s one thing I hate, all the noise, noise, noise, noise!” - The Grinch

“It's just apartment house sense
It's like apartment rents
Remember: one man's ceiling is another man's floor!
One man's ceiling is another man's floor!” - Paul Simon

Note - With the great, good fortune of a vast increase in audience blessing this blog in recent weeks, and the current celebratory mindset upon surpassing the 50,000 view milestone, I thought it might be fun to re-post a few earlier essays in thanks and appreciation, and with the hopes that newer readers who had not been previously exposed to them might enjoy a peek at a presentation of "best ofs."  Thanks.
(Originally posted October 21, 2010) 

Saturday, October 9th, 6:30am - I am awakened by loud rhythmic clapping and the repeated top-of-the-lungs shouting of the single word, “Yankees!” First pitch of the game is scheduled for 8:37pm, some 14 hours later. Welcome to life in a densely populated New York City apartment building. 


There will probably be nothing particularly unique here for many of you. Unless you grew up in Wasilla and have no real worldly experiences of your own, or any realistic perception of how the majority of your fellow citizens exist (got that out of the way quickly) there’s a good chance that you’ve lived in an apartment building at one time or another. But, like Oscar and Felix before me, I’m a more mature fellow still persevering in the world of monthly rent checks (alas, I have yet to locate my Pigeon Sisters) and find myself mostly surrounded by callow, rosy-cheeked, fresh-faced neighbors still in the embryonic stages of life’s long journey, and what they primarily appear to bring with them to this, their post-matriculation phase, are those things that they learned within the confines of the frat house. But soon enough, if they wish to survive and prosper, they will hopefully ascertain that there is more to life than the drunken exuberant screaming of the f-word, the 3am sounds of wall and floor shaking thumping bass and the smoking of the demon weed on my fire escape. Along with other more sober neighbors I have spoken with these children across the hall, have slipped notes under their door, discussed them with the Super and on one particularly extreme party night, even alerted the gendarmes, who failed to arrive. On any type of special occasion - a birthday, a 3-day weekend, a holiday (they really kicked it on Arbor Day), a major sporting event, an awards ceremony, Emo Phillips’ birthday, a day with the letter “y” in it - it’s simply best to just seek shelter elsewhere, even the Port of Authority would be preferable. These rowdy boys, keepers of the half-Delta House, half-Limelight lifestyles, are close cohorts of the landlord and accordingly feel impervious to any possible consequences of their actions. With no obvious kryptonite to play, one considers the crossbow, the catapult or the commando team but, legally and economically, those options are very likely unrealistic.

Currently, I am listening to the mellifluous sounds of a Section 8 woman who at times resides in Bellevue and at other times lives in the hovel directly across the airshaft from me. She spends much of her waking hours engaged in strident and boisterous squabbles with herself. On occasion, her dog does join in on the deafening disagreements but, much to my disappointment, rarely adds anything of value to the debate. When she is about, one must be wary of the glimpse through the levolors as a likely result would be to spy her naked in her kitchen window cooking at her stove top - in my eyes a somewhat dangerous activity to be engaged in when unclothed. Now normally, the chance voyeuristic peek would be a positive happenstance but not when, at first glance, the subject of the naughty nude-view appears for all the world to be Oscar winner and beloved Hollywood icon, Ernest Borgnine. And while maybe he momentarily did it for Ethel Merman he doesn’t really quite boil my cabbage. Interestingly and very strangely, when encountered on the street she’s the embodiment of sunshine and roses and, here’s the kicker, acts as though we are enjoying a relationship and, of course, a romantic one at that. “There you are!” she sing-songs cheerily in my direction, a large Joker-like smile terrifyingly lighting up her face. I wonder how much danger I’m in from this situation. I see a bickering couple accidentally happening upon my lifeless body in a Law and Order opening as my future.

Have I mentioned sex yet? Obviously, I mean not my own sex, as I prefer that the discussion remain in the realm of the realistic rather than delve into the world of the fanciful. No, I speak of the sexual stamina of the dynamic downstairs duo whose ceiling shared a plane with my floor. The promiscuous pair whose bedroom lay directly beneath my very own. They have since moved on but their amorous actions, while here, will dwell forever in my memory. Their frequent and vociferous expressions of shared affections appeared to occur in a very deliberate and scheduled manner - twice a day, everyday. It eventually became part of my daily calendar to be aware of exactly at what point the carnal carnival would commence, and even more disturbing, at what latter time, based on the speed, rhythm and pacing, said passionate performance would reach its conclusion. At that juncture I was free to attempt slumber once more. When I would run into them in the hallway handshakes were never in order as I knew precisely where they had just been.

Then there is the banging (pardon the inadvertently lowbrow segue, I refer to noise) in populous, old New York apartment buildings you are assured of hearing banging. Constant banging. Incessant banging. Never-ending banging. Ever-present banging. Non-stop banging. Morning, noon and night, 24/7, forever and always, sunrise-sunset, night and day, day in and day out, summer, winter, spring and fall of my life, come rain or come shine (sorry, I’ve wandered into Frank Sinatra’s discography now) banging! If you’re not getting my gist, if you‘re puzzled about what exactly I‘m trying to communicate to you, I’d say it’s that there’s a lot of banging. Be it someone hanging a picture, someone repairing something, someone constructing their Ikea hutch, the heat coursing through the ancient pipes or the enraged neighbor venting his or her ire through recurrent and constant contact of fist on wall – there’s almost always some form of banging sound. If you’ve ever daydreamed of living in a fantasy musical theatre world, congratulations, you’ve made it into Stomp. I would imagine if one has to exist within the parameters of a show, Oh Calcutta might be a more enjoyable choice.

There’s also the rehearsals of all the, not quite Brian Stokes Mitchells or Bryn Terfels, Broadway and Opera wannabes who surround me here in the theatre district of Manhattan. And the never-employed lady above me who somehow can afford to live in the same apartment building subsisting only on her daily collections of cans and bottles which she drags up the stairs in metal carts numerous times everyday. It’s Marley’s ghost and the chains he forged in life, but I get it nightly, Scrooge only had to deal with it on Christmas Eve. As Ebenezer discovered, it can be quite a frightening and alarming sound when jarred awake by it in the wee small hours, whether you’re wearing a nightcap or not. There’s the choir group that regularly works on new harmonies at 1:30am, and the roach problem which has morphed into a bedbug problem, and the something that’s always leaking whether it's your toilet tank, the kitchen sink or the pipe in the wall that eventually causes a ceiling collapse in the apartment below - luckily the aforementioned frisky couple were not involved in anything of an intimate nature at the time. Is it at all a natural existence to live in a cluster of rooms piled on top of each other, sharing our musical tastes, our cooking aromas, even our vermin - our roaches, rats and bedbugs? As a rightfully rejected Devo song might have asked, are we honey bees or are we men? As I posed the questions, I too will answer them. Yes, and I’ll go with honeybees. I love Manhattan, I love my building. And I love my, desperately in need of a paint job, apartment in which I’ve resided for over 15 years. I’m a little more ambivalent about the Google Earth shots of me exiting it, but that’s a matter for another day. When all is said and done, please give me a little box surrounded on all sides by other little boxes in the heart of amazing Manhattan, and not some  little box on the hillside made of ticky tacky anywhere else.