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A charming little Magpie whispered this disclaimer into my ear, and I'm happy to regurgitate it into your sweet little mouth:

"Disclaimer: This blog is not responsible for those of you who start to laugh and piss your pants a little. Although this blogger understands the role he has played (in that, if you had not been laughing you may not have pissed yourself), he assumes no liability for damages caused and will not pay your dry cleaning bill.

These views represent the thoughts and opinions of a blogger clearly superior to yourself in every way. If you're in any way offended by any of the content on this blog, it is clearly not the blog for you. Kindly exit the page by clicking on the small 'x' you see at the top right of the screen, and go fuck yourself."

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Andy Rooney Angry

My wife is over there at the sewing table leafing through a catalog of kid toys. There's a two page spread of fire truck/construction vehicle toys and there's boys playing with said toys. On the next page, there's a two page spread of fairy wings and kitchen sets, and there's girls playing with said toys.

Surprised? I'm not. Indignant? Not me.

I don't know what has come over me lately, but I don't care-- about a startlingly high number of things that, maybe, one day, would have got me outraged enough to... um.... I don't know. Write a blog post?

I used to be what might be called an A.Y.M. (Angry Young Man). I got really hot and pissy at the drop of a hat, and I'd write A.A.L.'s (Angry Ass Letters). I'd sit at the computer and pound out a fire-breathing letter to a company, an organization, an editor. My letters were often answered, or published-- I guess my words aren't so easy to toss in a bin or insert in a shredder, and maybe I take some amount of comfort or pride in that. I like my words. My words with friends.

These days, it takes a lot to get me A.R.A. (Andy Rooney Angry). Maybe I'm more mature, maybe I'm more depressed, maybe I'm more consumed and more draggin' the wagon. More... tired. Maybe I've realized that getting angry only raises my pulse and my blood pressure. Generally speaking, my anger does very little for and to other people, it hasn't created much social change or more world order.

My anger got a plaque replaced on the Ben Franklin Boulevard-- but that was years ago. In 1970, a police sergeant named Frank Von Colln was talking on the phone at a small guard house when someone burst through the door and shot and killed him. Von Colln's holster was empty-- his revolver cold and useless inside his desk drawer.

Years later, a small park on the Ben Franklin was dedicated to him, and a wooden plaque was erected proclaiming that this small patch of ground with a ball field was to be known as Von Colln Memorial Park. But the years hadn't been kind and it had fallen into disrepair, it was falling apart. Maybe it had been vandalized, or just weathered-- I don't know. Still, the end result was the same: the sign looked like shit, and wasn't exactly a fitting tribute to the man whose name was etched into the wood.

So, I wrote a letter-- I think it was to the director of the Philly parks & rec department. I tore him a new asshole, ripped into him for allowing such a sacrosanct thing to go to hell, though I'm sure even this guy had never even heard of Von Colln Memorial Park. For good measure, I searched through newspaper archives and found a photograph of Von Colln, lying on the floor by his desk, riddled with bullet holes, the telephone receiver beside his body, and I paper-clipped the picture to my letter. A little gratuitous-- maybe. Three weeks later, I received a letter of apology (Apology? To me? Who the hell was I?) and a couple months later, there was a new, beautiful sign up. Money well spent.

Years earlier, while I was still in college and had just published a book honoring fallen police officers, I was on the phone with the daughter of slain NYC Patrolman Waverly Jones. Jones and his partner, Joseph Piagentini were killed on May 21, 1971 as they walked back to their patrol car together after answering an unfounded call at a housing complex in Harlem. Jones, black, was shot from behind four times and killed instantly. His white partner was mercilessly tortured as he lived through being shot thirteen times. He died on the way to the hospital. Jones's daughter, now a grown woman, told me that there were two trees planted outside the 32nd Precinct to honor her father and his partner, and that her father's tree and plaque had fallen into disrepair, while Piagentini's was clean and beautiful.

So, I picked up the phone and called the Precinct commander. Miraculously, the desk sergeant transferred the call and the commander picked up. I told him who I'd just spoken to and what she'd said, and I shared how disappointed she and I were in the department-- adding that the inequality with which the memorials to these two men were being treated smacked of the very racism that a black-and-white patrol partnership in Harlem in the 1970s was trying to betray. I said that the "New York Daily News" would probably be very interested in covering that angle of the story, should they happen to hear about it from someone.

A few months later, I was invited to a re-dedication of the trees and plaques. Both patrolmen's families were invited, there would be pipers, and a Catholic police chaplain would be there to bless the trees and the plaques, I was told. I declined the invitation, probably because I was still Andy Rooney Angry.

Looking back on who I was, I miss being angry, because it got things done. It strikes me that this post might strike you as self-congratulatory but, it's not-- it's just a bit of story-telling of a bygone era in my life, when I was different-- wound up and pissed off. Nowadays, it seems like everyone's getting angry-- it's suddenly fashionable when, ten years ago, I felt like I was doing that dance by myself. With Facebook, though, people get angry and they make a status update, they post a link to a polarizing article, they sign an online petition by clicking a box, they say something snarky about a Republican candidate in a sweater vest. If they're REALLY angry, they'll change their Profile Picture.

And I get it-- we don't have time to get all panty-twisted about every injustice in the world. Brad Pitt can't build affordable housing everywhere. If we spent all our time activisting, who'd wash the dishes and feed the marmoset? But maybe we can do more, if we really care. And, if we don't really care, why pretend? Because we want to look good for our "friends"? Maybe we should wait until we're Andy Rooney Angry, or risk looking disingenuous, or H.C.P. (Holden Caulfield Phony).

Sometimes I wish I was still an Angry Young Man. But usually I don't. It's just too damn hard.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Over Retarded

In the space of approximately the last eight months, my Check Engine Light (CEL) has come on six times.

That's too many times.

Some people, when their CEL comes to visit, ignore it for as long as they can. "The only sign that it's time to take the car into the shop is smoke pouring out from under the hood," these folks might reason. I don't subscribe to that particular theory. I'm a mechanic's wet dream. As soon as that light comes on, I'm on the phone with Soly, my sixty-nine-year-old Israeli mechanic. I've been taking cars to him since I was sixteen years old. Eleven different cars. Everything from a 1989 Volvo 240-DL to a 2001 Volkswagen New Beetle done up as Herbie the Love Bug. I'll never forget the first day I drove into his shop behind the wheel of Herbie. He stared at it, suspiciously eyeballing the 53 on the hood and he looked at me.

"I don't understand it," he said, shrugging indifferently.

Now I drive a 2002 Volvo S-40, and the Check Engine Light just keeps coming back-- like a dog to its own vomit, or... herpes. It's pugnacious, and I admire it in a way. Every time Soly runs the diagnostic to see what the fault code is, it's always the same:

That's just a portion of what the fault code says. The whole thing reads "CAMSHAFT POSITION TIMING OVER RETARDED BANK ONE".

I didn't know something could be over-retarded. I thought that was the whole point of being retarded, that that particular situation is more under... than over.

But what do I know? I don't even know what a camshaft is, nor do I care what its position is. It was pointed out to me by Jack, Soly's Chinese assistant, that I have twin camshafts in my car, just like I have twin babies downstairs in my pack'n'play, but, more than that, I don't understand.

Soly has been saying, "The next time this happens, we'll replace the position sensor," for the last four times I was at his garage. Each time, he turns off the Check Engine Light, tells me not to worry about it, and sends me away without any money changing hands. This time, yesterday, he told me the same thing, and I said, "Look, I'm tired of this, can we just replace the fucking sensor already?"

"Sure," he said. He walked away to get a pen so he could write down my car's VIN number so he can order the part, and my phone rang. It was my father. He said the hospice nurses just told him that my sister's husband probably won't make it through the night. My parents went to see him the day before-- wasting away to nothing-- you can see tumors all over his body, through his skin. It's a horror movie, it's a nightmare. It's Hell.

"Fuck," I said, "okay. I love you."

"I love you, too, Mummy," he said, and hung up.

We say, "hang up" still, but these phones we use these days don't have receivers and cradles anymore. Funny.

Just as I was about to leave Soly's garage-- the part will be in in a few days-- he chanced to ask me how my brother-in-law was doing. I told Soly what my father told me on the phone and Soly clenched his jaw and looked away.

"Goddamnit-- he.... you know, it is-- this world-- I don't know. You call it luck or whatever-- it's. It's not luck, it's... it's shit."

I looked at this man-- this man who was educated by nuns in Egypt, who ran through the desert to fight for Israel in the sixties, the same time that my father did the same thing, this man I've seen scream and curse at customers who have accused him of ripping them off, and I watched in astonishment as his nose started to run, and two tears got lost in the depths of his thick, gray and black bristled goatee. He wiped his nose with an immaculate white handkerchief that emerged somehow pristine from his grease-covered work pants.

"Tell your sister from me that I am sorry for her, and that she has to be strong-- to take care of her son. She has to."

We stood there in his garage bay and looked at each other for what seemed like forever. Neither of us knew what to say. I don't know if I was embarrassed or awed or in love or depressed or what-- probably ashamed, though, that I had not been able to shed any tears for this man who married my sister and fathered my nephew-- this man I barely knew, and, frankly, never really wanted to know. But I expect my tears will come a plenty in time, when the shock of the moment has worn off, and the reality of what this man's untimely passing has done to our family and our lives has cruelly set in.

"I'll call you when the part comes in," Soly said. And I got into my car, turned the key, and the Check Engine Light was gone, but my camshaft is still over-retarded, and the world is still upside down. This morning, I texted my sister-- my brother-in-law made it through the night. How many more-- who knows? Who knows anything anymore.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Purportedly Preposterously Impetuous

Recently, a friend of mine decided that he's going to buy himself one of these:

He told me he was going to do so on Facebook, so I know it's true.

He lives in Florida, he's married, he's a father, a Monty Python lover-- kind of like me. He's a mason, and, a while back, he stumbled upon this blog because he initially thought, due to the title, that my blog must have something to do with masons, or, at least, masonite.

Boy, was he wrong.

But he stayed, because he's not just about being a mason, he's also, apparently, about peurile, offensive, thoughtless jaw-jacking. And I respect him for that, same as I respect you for that.

He's kind of a cool guy, this friend of mine-- but I didn't realize quite how cool he was until he told me he was going to buy a VW Thing-- and not just buy a VW Thing, mind you, but he's planning on painting it L-87 Pearl White, slapping some 53s on the hood and the doors and running red, white and blue stripes all along it.

Herbie, a beautiful Thing.

So, okay, I used to just think he was cool. Now it's turned into kind of a man-crush.

People ask me all the time about what it's like being a father of twins. And I typically answer something trite and/or stupid, because, really, there's no answer, and the people who ask don't really want to know anyway. It's just something to ask, like, "How are you doing?". No one actually cares. And it's refreshing, though, to answer the "what's it like being a father of twins" question, because it's at least a break from "Getting any sleep these days?" which honestly makes me want to jam my thumb in a motherfucker's eye-socket till the ball bursts.

Being a father of twins is interesting. It's different. It's weird. Sure, there are times when it's wonderful, like when my daughter stares at me like I'm made of cotton candy, rainbows and Jesus-flakes, or when my son giggles impishly for no reason at all that I can discern. And there are also times when it's horrible, like when they're on the changing table and they're vomiting and coughing and shitting, right after you've just struggled to put a brand-new diaper on.

If I had to put my finger on something that I miss, it's that impetuous side of me that seems to be no longer ticking-- not that the pre-twin me would necessarily go out and blow $5,000 on an antique Volkswagen (I mean, I've done that about a thousand times in my head, at least this year) but there's a fire that's definitely been doused somewhat, or at least, the fire fighters have the blaze under control. And maybe there's too much of me that's under control, and not enough spark waiting to turn tinder into ember.

I don't know.

It's times like these where I can't help but feel silly, and selfish, and, well-- I guess silly and selfish covers it. I used to like being silly and selfish, ridiculous and impetuous, and I'm not sure how much I like being the opposite, if indeed that is what I've become, by force or by choice. Or both.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty, when my friend purchases his antique VW and it proudly dons its 53s, I hope to at least be in the passenger seat, which is most likely where I belong.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Can I ...Touch Them?

It starts when you're pregnant. I've seen it. People come up to you and touch your belly. Maybe the first person who does it is someone you know, maybe intimately. A relative. A gas station attendant. Next, it's some Hagitha McSaddlebags in the dairy aisle at the grocery store. It's a Christian Scientist out for a walk with his Havanese. It's a traffic cop. It's a wildlife activist. It's the Gorton's fisherman.

They're touching your fucking roundness. Palming your womb's exterior. They're running their hands over your newly-outed innie. Ingratiating themselves on you. Molesting you. They might as well be thumbing your buttonhole.

And these people, these Chester Molesters, they know they're doing something wrong-- they know it-- but they can't stop themselves. You know, like the molesters you see on "America's Most Molestery" with the moustaches and the back-parting and metal eyeglass frames from the 1980s and everything.

Want to know how I know they know they're doing something wrong? It's the way they ask, and they always ask, before they do the dirty. There's a hesitation, and it always comes after "I".

"Can I... rub your belly?"

I mean, just look at the question-- it's sitting there on the line above this one. Just look at it.

Can you rub my fucking belly? WHAT?! Are you a fucking doctor? Are you looking for tumors? No, you can't rub my fucking belly. Can I snake-finger punch you in your goddamned Adam's apple?

Here's what I want to know-- who was the first pregnant woman in the history of the world to have been asked that question, and who was the incredibly twisted baboon-perv who asked? It must have been incredibly strange for both of them. Now, of course, it's been normalized, though I can't figure out why. I mean, I get it-- some of us are a gaggle of hormones when we see a pregnant chick and we want to feel her up. That's nice. But most human beings have this thing called impulse control that reins us in when we want to touch the distended abdomens of random women or slap a congressman or put our penis inside a beehive.

Believe me, there's plenty of things in this world that I want to touch, but I don't. Because it's not normalized. Because I have impulse control. Why isn't it normal to see a pretty girl waiting for the train and walk up to her, stare at her pretty pertty nummy breasts and say, "Can I... touch them?" Today, at a craft fair, some sloppy beast was cooing at our twins, and the cooing suddenly wasn't enough stimulation for her. She looked tentatively at my wife and I and said,

"Can I... touch them?"

No. You know it's wrong. You know people go to jail for a very, very, very long time for... touching other people's children. And then, even when they come out of jail they have to wear those little ankle monitoring things and register for the offender list and move into group homes that are such-and-such miles away from school zones and playgrounds. You don't... touch people's children. And yet, there we were, at this craft fair, with this random loon-basket fondling our daughter's feet-- which is great-- a pedophile and a foot-fetishist in one go. Talk about a deal.

Can I... touch your Mercedes 300-D?

Can I... touch your pewter candlesticks?

Can I... touch your IRA and 401-K?

Can I... touch your cashmere sweater?

Can I... touch your blog?

I'm glad that there's no comparable experience to being pregnant for a man. Everything that we experience as we get older is repellent, not attractive-- especially to strangers. Can you imagine anyone coming up to me in twenty-odd years and asking if they can... touch my bald spot? Or my paunch? Or what about my jowls? My vine-like nosehairs, maybe? Maybe my comely seat-mate on some train trip in the year 2035 will want to braid them for me. I kind of doubt it though. Especially if she's pregnant.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Sabbath Elevator, Part II

Remember this post of mine?

I do. (Vaguely.)

Penned in the heady autumn of 2009-- before I was thirty. Before I was a father. Before I could no longer string together a cogent thought or coherent sentence secondary to the exhaustion that comes with becoming a diaper-changing machine.

I read this old post of mine with a mixture of intrigue, apathy, and amusement. Such vitriol spewed forth from me. Such offensively pulchritudinous platitudes.

Such piss. Such vinegar.

Sometimes I think I've mellowed out, now that I'm thirty-one and the father of two ardent squishies. Other times, though, I think I'm probably just getting warmed up.

I thought, when I read the infuriating "New York Times" article about the bizarre concept of the Shabbat elevator three years ago that I would write my blog, express my rage against my upbringing, my faith, my fellow crazies, and that would be that. The "New York Times" would move on, My Masonic Apron would move on, I would move on, the Jews in their insipid, self-congratulatory perpetually-motioned elevator would move up and down and up and down and up and down and the world would keep spinning on its charming little axis.

Unfortunately, as I thumbed around on my Blackberry's trackball on (shitty mobile edition) I realized that we're not really moving at all. We're quite assuredly standing still, though the elevator numbers of life continue to rise and fall with oh such cunning deception. My weary eyes glazed over the headline and my heart fell:

March 6, 2012

"On Jewish Sabbath, Elevators Do All the Work"

And all I could do was shake my head. And, no, I didn't say, "Oy," but thanks for asking.

We're still talking about this? Really? Part of the reason I stopped blogging hyperactively in the first place was because I felt like I was repeating myself, and here is the "New York Times" writing about this subject matter as if they'd just discovered it? Maybe the "New York Times" should throw in the towel, too.

When I last wrote about the Shabbat elevator, I was angry-- angry about hypocrisy and illogical practices and self-righteousness. Three years later, I feel the same way. I'm angry about the same things, I'm angry that Judaism's absurd inanities are fodder to entertain businesspeople on their iPads on their way to work on the subway. I can't imagine the "New York Times" would allow one of its staff writers to pen an article titled,

"On December 25, WASPs Don Ridiculous Sweaters and Sing Cloying Songs in the Cold"

But it's more than that. I'm not really angry at the Times, though I do kind of think they're beating a dead (Jewish) horse, I'm angry at Jews. Yeah, my peeps.


We're immigrants. Foreigners. Outsiders. We came to this country in droves prior to the turn of the 20th century, and then again after World War II. My father came with a few of his hooligan, Jewfro'd friends in 1972 to get into textiles, never dreaming that it was perhaps an unwise choice. And I remember the line from "Cool Hand Luke", "What we got here is a failure to communicate."

Maybe what we've got here is a failure to assimilate.

Assimilation is often said and viewed as a poisonous word-- the dilution of culture and pride and faith-- but I posit that a little bit of assimilation is necessary for survival. It's healthy, it's normal, it's... well, okay. When I read about Orthodox Jews requiring special elevators to accommodate the Jewish requirement that you "not make spark nor fire" on the Sabbath, I guess that just makes me feel a little hinky. I mean, when you see a bunch of Jews crowding into one elevator and the rest of the world getting into another one, does that... I don't know... remind you of anything in particular?

WHITES ------------------------ COLOREDS

And ne'er the two shall meet.

Segregation is segregation, whether it's mandated from without or within. I think it would benefit the people who utilize these elevators to think about the message it communicates to the rest of the world-- and "the rest of the world" is something that I don't think Orthodox Jews give much thought to on a regular basis-- and that communique might be "we're special", "we're different", "we're... chosen." And I wonder, chosen for what? Chosen to be ostracized? Chosen to be identified and looked at askew and to be regarded as queer or suspicious or funny or weird? Chosen to be pondered over in America's most significant newspaper as an oddity, as something quaint or strange? I wonder about that. And I wonder, too, how the Orthodox Jewish community would feel if their special elevators were identified by a big yellow star, inscribed with the word "JUDEN".

You know, just to make them easier to find.