Archive for March, 2012

MALARKEY, PHOOEY, BS ! These Days Nobody Is Honest…Even With Themselves !

| March 31, 2012 | Comments (0)

 

Dear Readers, today I am in a rapier-like mood. Perhaps it is the dreary drizzle  that renders this Saturday  a sunless day without joy impelling me to slash and puncture, poking holes in what I feel is false and phoney. Anyway, here goes !

You have already met my good friend, Rose, in these august pages. She of the Swingers’ Orgies where she learned not to be afraid of rape or people whose origins were other than Caucasian , even crossing over to same-sex fun and games if the mood was right.  A truly liberated person.  An independent female who struck out on her own after an exploitative marriage to an uncaring male chauvinist. A strong, lusty woman is Rose, a highly intelligent, tell-it-like-it-is broad whose advice and perspective I have always valued even though I may not agree totally with everything she says.

Alas !  Times have changed and, of late,  so it seems has Rose. No longer the clear-thinking, liberated, in-your-face  woman who wears the shoe if it fits, Rose has fallen victim to that 21st century social virus, a form of “malpractice” if there ever was one, where we refuse to take responsibility for our faults and short-comings, shifting the onus from ourselves  for our bad habits and even criminal acts to an alleged emotional/medical condition that seemingly absolves us  of all blame for our wrongful deeds.

Rose has a problem that she refuses to face and deal with in a solution-oriented manner: she is a bad speller. But her bad spelling is limited to mis-spelling ONE word – my last name. Spelled correctly the name is OGLESBY. It is of Norwegian origin where the syllable “ogle”, or an appropriately Nordic, guttural version, means ‘owl”,  with the suffix ” by” signifying the word “village.”  Owl Village or Hoot Town, if you prefer. During our 30-year friendship which has included the exchange of scores of letters,  and in more recent years, emails, Rose has NEVER once mis-spelled ONE word of the texts she writes to me. A school teacher and  skilled trainer of teachers, she is a writer of the highest quality, succinct but eloquent; her syntax, grammar and spelling are spot-on EXCEPT when it comes to writing my name. She has, over the years, rendered it variously as OLGESBY, OGLESKY, OLGESBIE; the mutations have been endless, distracting and  maddening. Once in twenty times she will get it right with OGLESBY, but then recidivism sets in with a vengeance.

After putting up with these mutilations for more than twenty years, I gently mentioned to Rose in a phone conversation that she might want to pay more attention to how my name is properly spelled, recalling her own fit of peak at my mis-pronunciation of HER  surname – Montblanc – when I rendered it clumsily as MOUNTBLANK rather than the more frenchified sounding MONBLAN which she preferred. I was given a lecture on-the-spot about the importance of honoring one’s heritage and ancestors  and showing respect by pronouncing and spelling a family name as it should be done.  But apparently when the shoe was on the other foot, it didn’t matter ! OGLESBY kept flying off in all sorts of orthographically unorthodox directions.

My campaign for correctness having failed, I decided not to “sweat the small stuff”, as we used to say back in the Army, and just forget about it; why should something so small bother me ? But it DID bother me. So several years later as the mutilations continued, I addressed the matter once again with Rose only to be told FOR THE FIRST TIME, that she was dyslexic and that her mis-spelling of my last name was NOT her fault and was beyond her control.

Rose’s form of dyslexia must be the most specialized in the world – limited to ONE word, my last name. And, indeed, a very recent discovery on her part, to say the least. In any case, Rose’s dyslexic  “problem” has largely been solved because she and I are no longer in contact. Not because of  her klutzy spelling mistake; there are other reasons. We may address them in a future posting which I will entitle “Trimming.” Get the picture ? ! ?

Before we dump Rose in the trash bin of former friends, I must invoke her name in connection with two other “medical” cop-outs. The first involves Rose’s boyfriend, Reggie, whom I must describe as an unmitigated jerk…and that’s putting it mildly. Reggie is loud, opinionated, ill-tempered, narrow-minded, selfish and super-spoiled. Rose recognizes these traits in her one-and-only, but excuses him saying he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Hmmm… To me, Reggie just has a case of bad manners and a biased, it’s-all-about-me mentality. But who am I to judge? There’s no accounting for taste, is there ?

More serious is the matter of Rose’s niece, Riponsill, who now languishes in a women’s prison in upstate Pennsylvania. Responsill, after years of lucrative grifting, was caught red-handed, involved in  a number of criminal scams and dispatched to jail where she is now near the end of her incarceration. Rose, who cares deeply for her niece and wants to help her turn her life around, ends up by copping out, concluding that Riponsall is “bi-polar.” So what she did is not her fault; the blame has been shifted to a “condition.” Risponsall is not responsible for her actions.

While I do not deny there are legitimate cases of dyslexia and manic depression, a line must be drawn somewhere delineating  bona fide conditions from bad behavior. We must ask ourselves if too many people are not taking the easy way out,  excusing themselves for actions which are more the result of bad judgment and corrupted moral values than a medical condition over which they have no control. And for which a type of drug or drugs is mistakenly believed to be the answer.

All said and done, Riponsall may be better off having had a vacation “inside” courtesy of you and me, hard-working taxpayers.  When she entered the “facility”, Riponsall was a mean-spirited 300-pound spectacle of grunge.  Today thanks to the inedible quality of prison cuisine, Riponsall has shed half of her former self and has emerged a tall, slender, beautiful young woman. For the first time in  her life, she is not ashamed of what she looks like. She has gained that most important of traits – self-respect – and appears ready to face the world “outside” with new resolve to live a life that enjoys freedom instead of  abusing it. Bi-polar ? B-LL SH-T !

But little Tommy is the saddest case. A six year-old, his parents inform me they are worried because  he is hyper-active. They tell me they have consulted doctors and that Tommy will soon be put on medications to “stabilize” his condition. His grandmother and I both believe  what the boy needs is an occasional tap on the wrist when he does something wrong and lots of positive enouragement when he behaves well. His parents don’t agree with this “old-fashioned” approach. They both work and don’t have much time to spend with Tommy. “The doctors know best,” his mother says.  So this little boy is being sacrificed to the higher Altar of Double Income and will in all likelihood become addicted to medications for the rest of his life. The pharmas must be happy with this news !

Sorry,  readers, for my saturnine mood today. Perhaps I need  medication. But from time to time we must tell it like it is. Hello,  Zombie Nation !

 

 

 

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THE PONCHO CHRONICLES – Depravity On A Rooftop

| March 26, 2012 | Comments (1)

The hightlight of our recent trip to Merida in Mexico’s Yucatan was not the magic of the town’s old zocalo at sunset when the spires of the ancient cathedral glittered pink and gold, or the trip back in time to a hacienda where we rode on a tiny narrow-gauge train through cactus fields, then languished, caudillo-like, on the verandah of an ante bellum manor house with frozen margaritas in hand; it was the moment on a crowded thoroughfare  when we saw Horace  and his rock.

It was when I looked up from my  plate of quesadillas that I spied Horace,  standing under a street lamp a few feet from our curbside cafe,  hand on  hip, a cigarette dangling from his lips. Well over 6 feet tall, weighing upwards of 250 pounds, Horace was forty-ish, a bottle blonde, squeezed into a Hawaiian shirt, snug to the point  of  buttons ready to pop. So tight was his attire, the mid-section had stretched revealing a fleshy navel;  a pair of enormous love handles gave him a decidedly bell-shaped silhouette. But the piece de resistance was the 50-carat amethyst ring he wore on his wedding ring finger. The enormous stone glittered at us as Horace waved his enormous paw, fanning away with distaste at the smoke billowing from the taco vendor’s cart next to where he had positoned himself. 

As he crossed the street returning to the curbside table next to ours, tequila-brave,  I  grabbed Horace’s hand, exclaiming, “What a fabulous ring you’re  wearing!”  Thus began our New Year’s Eve celebration with Horace and Bernie, his  partner.

Bernie and Horace are from Savannah, Georgia. Bernie, a  5′ 2″ accountant and dedicated body-builder; Horace, hair-stylist to the stars, including the late Anna Nicole, hinting but not actually stating that he was responsible for her funeral coiffure. Settling in next to me at our table, Horace explains that he and Bernie have been together twenty years. Bending close in an attempted whisper that ends up  a thick-tongued shout, he confides they are having a fight and that he is thinking of leaving Bernie  before their love turns to hate. Don’t you adore people who, minutes after meeting you, spill their guts and tell you their life story in a flash, especially if it is soap opera-tawdry?. These are my kind of  folks.

 Horace further explains that he had left  the table and escaped across  the street to cool off, fearing that tiny, meek  Bernie might get “physical” if he didn’t remove himself from his presence.  Shout-whispering again, he confides this would not be the first time Bernie had laid a hand on him, and him, Horace, with a severe heart condition. To prove his point he peals back the Hawaiian shirt to  show me a bruise on his fleshy torso, a bruise that isn’t there. At which point Bernie pipes up saying, “I suppose he’s showing you his abuse mark ! Well, I NEVER hit him ! He was drunk and bumped into a sharp corner of  the refrigerator!” Horace slumps into a  pouty slouch, puffing furiously on a Newport lit by one  just crushed under his size 13 shoe.

Horace rues the lack of American female fashion savvy. Rolling his eyes skyward he lashes into US womanhood for wearing their clothes too tight. “I mean WHEN will they learn to think SIZE-appropriate ! REALLY !” His hand flies and the amethyst blinds me with its brilliance, this little discourse ending when Horace’s highly-abused Hawaiian shirt lets out a resounding rip as it shreds at the armpit. A garment’s not so silent protest about size-appropriate.

Switching topics, Horace informs us  that they have been coming to Mexico for twenty years, but see no need to learn  spanish. It just muddies the waters when gringos try to go native, he says. When I ask what they do when nobody around them speaks English, he admits that he does know “nada mas” and that is enough to get anybody through even  the most difficult situation. This avowal of linguist know-nothing-ism endears me even more to the pair. Several hours later as we ring in the New Year with our new friends, I am on the verge of asking my partner if we couldn’t sell our house in New York City and move to Savannah. You just don’t run into folks like Horace and Bernie every day. As we part Horace advises me NEVER to get an amethyst as big as his because “it scratches my Kindle.” Adios Amigos !

Now that we have parted company with Horace and Bernie, I’ll turn to my neighbor, Poncho. Over the past year, I’ve chronicled what I see as Poncho’s rapid descent into deadend nothingness. Here is an extraordinarily bright – indeed brilliant – movie star handsome young person who at 22 years of age has no desire to do anything but drift in a haze of welfare-supported nihilism. When I first met Poncho three years ago, I was attracted to this charming neighbor and decided I would “help” him – finish school, find a job, get his life in order. Mentor Supreme that I fancied myself, I knew I had all the answers for Poncho. Well, you know, something ? Some people DON’T WANT to be helped. They hate kindly advice and helpful suggestions. They want to live their lives the way THEY want !

So I have shifted gears. My new m.o. with Poncho is to put on my writer’s hat and simply chronicle his descent into ruin. A grim, fascinating journey we have embarked on.

In a recent encounter when I invited Poncho over for coffee, I averred that I felt I didn’t  know a person or feel that I could be really be a friend until I visited their house and experienced their hospitality, explaining this was my New Orleans background where people are always invited home if you like them. Poncho seems to pick up on my cue. Before I know it, we are in a gypsy cab heading uptown to his place in the North Bronx.

Poncho and his “family” have recently moved to a new place, a “Section 8” apartment provided by the City of New York for low income people. There are five members in his “family”, his 34-year old “girl”, her 15 year-old daughter and an eight year-old son by a previous liaison, Poncho’s two year-old boy – Poncho Jr. – and Poncho. The apartment is small but nice enough and has three bedrooms, a newly refinished kitchen with a glistening granite counter and cherry wood cabinets, a living area and a bathroom. Poncho explains that nobody is home now. His girl is in hospital having just delivered   their second child, another son, and the other kids are at his Mother’s or somewhere “hangin’ in da hood.”

When he  opens the apartment door I am confronted with piles of  Chinese take-out food containers and dozens of MacDonald’s burger wrappers strewn across the floor. A  open can of Chef Boyardi spaghetti sits directly over a gas burner on the stove. Seeing me eyeing it, Poncho laughs and says, ‘Dis da way we cook here.” My silence elicits further explanation from him  telling me that their diet consists exclusively of take-out – Chinese, Dominican and MacDonald’s. Looking in his face, I wonder how such a glowing, seemingly healthy complexion can be possessed by a chain-smoking, alcohol-guzzling consumer of fast food.

Leading me from the kitchen through a door  to the largest space, Poncho explains that this is his room. Furnished with a new fold-out sofa, a huge flat screen  TV and a maze of electronic equipment, he says this is where he plays his games, his X-Box, and that nobody else, especially the kids, are allowed in his lair. Another smaller bedroom, furnished with two mattresses on the floor, is occupied by his girl, her son and Poncho Jr. A third tiny room is where his 15 year-old step daughter sleeps.

We return to Poncho’s room and I comment on the ashtrays brimming with butts of rolled cigarettes, obviously marijauna from the smell clinging to the walls, and the numerous empty Hennessy brandy bottles scattered about the floor. Again, taking the cue from my silence and sweeping eye motion, Poncho tells me that he and his step daughter had a little party the night before and that he passed out at some point and hasn’t had the chance to clean the place up. Pressing him for more details, he describes how their “hangin’ out” included sex. So here we have an able-bodied, unemployed  22 year-old with no prospect of or interest in a job, living off his “girl”, having sex with the “girl’s”  teenage daughter while the “girl” is in hospital having his second son.

I have seen alot in my life and can say that I am shocked by almost nothing, but this visit to Casa Poncho and the revelations of my friend,  render me speechless and more than a bit bewildered.

I take my leave of Poncho who seems not to have a care in the world. The next day I read his Facebook page and learn that his “girl” got home from hospital with their new son, Roberto, but that she was med-evaced back due to an acute asthma attack and is now in the ICU ward. He writes that he is on the roof in his deck chair, ear phones on “bumpin’ to da sounds of  the rapper Wiz Kalifa , smokin’ a blunt, havin’ some Henny…” and it’s only 2 in the afternoon.  

I’ll leave you now, dear reader, having shared  with you my friendships with Horace, Bernie and Poncho. What can I say except: It’s a sad, mad world out there. Beware the Ides of March or what is left of them!

 

 

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LOO GRAFFITI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE AND HEARING AIDS – What the Hell is This All About !!

| March 21, 2012 | Comments (0)

Among my wide and far-flung circle of friends and acquaintances, I count people of all persuasions and talents, many multi-lingual, some hardly speaking any language intelligibly. These friends come in all sizes, shapes and colors. I have no strict requirement or standard for choosing friends. Unlike some people who only hang with latte liberals or right-wing conservatives, I can get along with any political stripe.

I remember when I lived in Bologna, Italy and was skinny and wore tight giglolo suits and orange socks, most of my friend were Communists; but then there was Franco. I adored Franco who happened to be a Fascist. Franco had two proclivities that fascinated me. He could not bring himself to use a public toilet and he worshipped the late dictator and loud mouth, Mussolini. On the matter of his aversion to public conveniences,  this presented grave practical  problems for Franco because he  could only succeed in relieving himself at home in the privacy of the family restroom. Since he worked at a pizzeria in the Bologna central train station and lived on the outskirts of town, there was a serious logistical  challenge to being on the job and heeding the call to relieve himself when nature beckoned.

Needless to say, Franco did not last long in his train station pizza job or any other position for that matter. Which left him more time for his weekly pilgrimage to Mussolini’s home town of Predapio where Mussolini’s widow, Dona Rachele still lived, existing very nicely, thank you, on her widow’s pension, the annuity given her for being the wife of an Italian civil servant, Il Duce.

But I do stray from my point which is: I like ALL sorts of people, the more unusual they are, the better. My penchant for off-beat folks often lands me in the bin with a bunch of eccentrics  some of whom might be considered loonies. I have one friend who is actually a rather brilliant writer but is mad as a hatter. This friend goes by the handle of Tonio Witters and loves practical jokes.  Some months ago, I began  receiving a spate of calls from heavy breathers, people I did not know, who proposed that I engage in unspeakable acts with them in louche venues like the Port Authority Bus Station Men’s Room. Acting on a hunch, I confronted Tonio Witters and he admitted, doubled over in gales of laughter, that he had written my name and telephone number on a number of public toilet walls advertising my willingness engage in the “sporting life.”  This reckless act of his put me in a great farouche and I did not speak to Witters for quite a long time. But I eventually forgave him because he is not boring. That is the one cardinal sin I cannot abide by: being boring.

Well, now that we have made crystal-clear what kind of people I like to hang with – and their association with toilets has NOTHING   to do with my liking them –  let me turn to a topic that IS boring: growing old and trying to cope with the slings and arrows that accompany decrepitude.

It all started back in the early 1970s when I was in my prime and hadn’t seen a doctor since my childhood tonsil removal. (Now a week doesn’t go by when I am not in some quack’s office here in New York City; the podiatrist, the urologist, the ENT clinic; the cardiologist, it just never ends.) And hadn’t saved a penny either. You must know that mindset governed by the insouciance  of youth when we never get sick and never think about money.

I was in South Thailand on a  field trip and was put up by the kindly Technical Advisor  whose project we were visiting. His bungalow was in the middle of a rubber plantation – our project was assisting the Thai Government in cultivation of that crop – and he was a Brit and his wife Chinese. Childless, they took a shine to me and treated me like the son they never had. Part of this affection took the form of giving me advice. On that particular evening after dinner, the topic was my need to plan ahead. As an example, Dr. Blencoe scooped up a copy of National Geographic Magazine from the coffee table, saying, “Samuel, you should plan AHEAD ! Take for instance this fine magazine. Did you realize that today you can start a lifetime subscription by paying a few hundred dollars and you will get a copy every month for the rest of your life ! That’s what we call PLANNING, my boy ! ” Despite my lack of attraction to a magazine that considered topics of little interest to me – re-creations of what dinosaurs must have looked like ten million years ago and photos of South Sea Island pygmies  engaged in rites of puberty – I expressed my gratitude for this sage advice and wrote a check on the spot, tucking it into an envelope with the subscription form. That was forty years ago and I have been receiving illustrated accounts of pygmies and dinosaurs on a monthly basis ever since.

Recently I have also been  receiving friendly queries from the administrative offices of National Geographic Magazine asking me how I am enjoying their publication. At first I was flattered that they would want my opinion about their august publication. Then I read their communication more carefully and noted the rather insistent tone that shouted at me from between the lines of their letter – get back to us because we want to know if you are still ALIVE ! We don’t want to waste  our magazine on a fucking corpse ! No, they didn’t use those words, but I got the message.

So I wrote back to them saying how much I enjoyed those pygmies and dinosaurs and how I hoped to keep reading about them for  MANY MORE  YEARS  TO  COME,  THANK  YOU! Ever since I started receiving these “are you enjoying our magazine” letters my vision of  National G has changed. When copies used to hit my doorstep every month, I perused the latest offering about pygmies and dinosaurs – or pirhanas and pirates – and thought of a magazine staffed with safari-suited explorers toting Haselblad cameras, negotiating treacherous rivers, confronting canabalistic primitives. Now I see them as narrow-eyed nerds poring over actuarial charts, following  graphs with red lines dipping towards the end of the diagram with projected  end-of-life-expectancies.

So much for those ghoulish nerds. I have consulted with my partner who is nearly twenty years my junior and we have agreed that I am NOT going to die. When I leave this life, as it were, he will continue to reply to queries from the National G Ghouls. saying that we are delighted with the continued coverage of pygmies, pirates and whatever creatures they will be featuring. Perhaps one day, fifty years from now when I will be 120 years old, they will be so amazed at my longevity that they will come to the South Bronx and do an article on me. We’ll deal with that scenario when it happens. In the meantime, life-long subscriptions pose no problem because we NEVER die !

The same thing goes for my pension. I receive a modest allowance from my former employer for suffering the slings and arrows of the work place for nearly 30 years. Annually, my employer sends me one of those hateful slit open along the dotted lines mailings. I am supposed to sign and return it to prove I am still alive, eligible to receive my pitiful stipend. I am instructed, if I am unable to actually sign it, that I can affix my fingerprint in the designated box. Next year I am thinking of trying something new. Instead of signing the damned thing, I will press my cat’s  paw to the page and imprint her consent to keep sending us the hand-out. Well, why not ? It pays for her food too.

And then there is the pickled finger option. A bit drastic, to be sure, but infinitely more foolproof  than tabby’s paw. It’s like this: a friend of a friend of a friend who lives in a not-to-be named Pacific Island nation that was once a Spanish colony and then a possession of the US, had an uncle who  worked for a certain international organization. Uncle Sancho retired, drawing a healthy pension that supported him and his extended family, which was most of his village. He lived to a ripe old age, but was eventually called to his maker. His great-grandchildren  mourned  his demise, but were even more depressed by the prospect of  the end of the pension gravy train.  But not to worry! Uncle Sancho’s clever third wife had forseen the need to validate his annual certification of still being VIVUS. Not one to dabble in such illegal chicanery as forging his signature, she hacked off his left thumb (he WAS left-handed, you see) and deposited the digit in a bottle of formaldehyde. Each February when the form letter arrives in the barrio, Uncle Sancho’s thumb is fished out of the bottle, tenderly dried off with a towel, brushed with  trace of blue ink – these days finding ink is not so easy ! who writes with an ink pen in this age of  ballpoints and  laptops ! – and pressed into the small square on the form designated for such  attestations. Now tell me – is this a clean-cut solution to a problem… or what?

And finally, before I sign off I want to inform you that I have been judged a “candidate.” A suitable candidate for a hearing device. “Candidate” is the current euphemism for: you ole fart, you can’t hear, you need a bloody hearing aid ! It may not surprise you to know that I am not  keen about hearing most of what is being said these days. Do you read me, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum !

So I have prepared for my loss of hearing in what to me is the most satisfactory way. I have developed a kindly half-smile and a knowing nod. When people speak and I don’t hear them I put  this body language in motion and add  a murmur  or a cluck that might sound good.  How’s “Hmmm…!” to keep everybody happy !

 

 

 

 

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FAITH, HOPE, CHASTITY…And Let’s Hear It For CERTAINTY !

| March 16, 2012 | Comments (2)

When I was a youth back in the mists of time, many of the girls I knew and went to high school with had up-lifting names like Faith and Felicity, Hope and Charity. There was even one young redhead named Chastity. Her fullname was Chastity O’Toole, if you can believe that !

 She taught me how to jitter-bug and wore a cologne called White Shoulders that drove me crazy. Well, that was long ago when we were fifteen.  Lots of water under the bridge since then, for sure ! But let’s fast-forward a few decades and talk about another friend of mine named Certainty. A really good friend, so reliable, always there when you need him…or is it her ?

Here’s how I came to know Certainty. It’s like this. We were in the Dominican Republic, my partner and I. We had just finished our week-long package tour at Punta Cana Beach. One of those Club Med  holidays, everything included, really everything, even unlimited cocktails by the beach or around the pool.  Everywhere you’d go, something tempting and free was just an arm’s stretch  away. And the food!  Delicious meals with buffet tables a mile long ! It all added up to lots of indulgence.

On the last day after our final lunch, we checked out and waited in the lobby for our airport van to materialize. While cooling our heels, we bumped into a Canadian we had met the night before from Winnipeg who had regaled us with  tales of  his prowess with women,  confiding that success in the bedroom depended on finding that “sweet spot” whatever that was. While he replayed his previous night’s conquests with a local lady he had met through the  hotel bellhop, I found myself going glassy-eyed and needing a siesta. Then suddenly as his tale reached a climax, so to speak,  I felt an abdominal eruption, so violent, sudden and uncontrollable that I found myself drenched in my own fluids, a victim of Trujillo’s Revenge at the worst possible moment imaginable ! 

Without going into gruesome detail, I will conclude by saying, ten hours later, I found myself at home in the South Bronx, having somehow managed to get on the flight, but not without suffering  stares of revulsion and people suddenly moving as far away from me possible. Talk about the  Biblical miracle of the parting waters; when I approached a crowd in the airport, passengers scattered like those pesky jungle bwanas being chased by pre-historic creatures in Jurassic Park !

In the safety of my snug Bronx row house, always near the restroom, I reflected on my Dominican adventure and concluded I had entered a new chapter in my life, a chapter that included a new companion called Incontinence. Laughing ruefully to myself, I recalled numerous visits to Duane Reade Pharmacy when I would mistakenly enter the aisle  containing shelves of adult diapers with names like DEPENDS,  shaking my head and thinking, “Poor, pathetic things who need those unspeakable items.” Now here I was shopping for those very things !

Eschewing DEPENDS because the name implied a reliance I hoped  I could somehow avoid, I selected   a lumpy container  labeled CERTAINTY. Heaving a sigh of relief, I pulled a package of 20 down from the shelf, feeling I had met an old friend who was about to lend me a helping hand. Guide me across the street, as it were, or lead me up the stairs in that dark foyer with the burnt-out lightbulb.

When I got home and ripped open the package for my first fitting. I was pleasantly surprised to find a “garment” that was not only well-designed and functional, but dare I say it, rather attractive and fashionable in its own coy way. With no indication either on the panty or on the container regarding gender specificity – were they for men or women ? – I got an extra frisson of progressive satisfaction thinking they were cutting-edge unisex undergarments, good for everybody. More than a little passing thought had been invested in the design appeal of these mini-culottes; they had a lacy quality bordering on kinky if worn by a man; donned by a woman, they would certainly take on a butch, assertive  aspect that could well be asthetically and sexually pleasing to the right person!

And they fit like a dream even though the “medium” size specified a waist span of 28 to 40 inches !  Although I do not wear them all the time everywhere I go, I tend to  use my CERTS (my affectionate nickname for them)  when I feel there might be a challenging situation I’ll need to cope with.  That is, a lack of “facilities” within easy distance. I have my Manhattan routine down so pat that I know almost every loo in most of the city’s postal codes. And which ones tend to have long lines (Starbucks) and which  are more readily available (Grand Central Station lower level).

Now back on the home front, my 17 year-old diva cat,  Miss Putri, has developed a condition similar to my own and I  spend a good part of my waking hours following her around removing  various spots of incontinence that the poor old lady deposits on my most expensive Kilim carpets.  But there is a certain coziness in our commonality, her incontinence and mine. I thought of fitting her out with a little garment, a feline version of Certainty, but she would have none of it.

So here we sit, me near the John and Putri near her litter box.  Isn’t life grand ? And aren’t the nicest things in life all about sharing?

 

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TWO BIRTHDAYS, TWO LIVES…So Similar, So Different

| March 13, 2012 | Comments (0)

Lilly and Esther are two little Asian girls who both turned seven on Saturday, March 10th. They both had birthday parties attended by family and scores of friends. But there the similarity ends.

Lilly lives in a grand dwelling in Westchester County, New York. Actually it is more of a manor house, set on several secluded, wooded acres reached by a long, winding landscaped driveway lined with Victorian -style gaslight lamps. There is a three-car garage that houses two shiny, new SUVs and a collection of children’s bicycles, skateboards and other expensive toys, impeccable model cars from FAO Schwarz that Lilly and her  two brothers  can sit in and peddle around  the tarmac  in anticipation of the time, not too distant, when they will have their very own adult cars to take them to the Mall and other places  where little princesses and princes go.

The house itself boasts five bedrooms and four baths, not counting at least two powder rooms off the great room and the vast country kitchen. The floors are carpeted wall-to-wall, deep pile,  each room a different, restful hue of earth tone. Furniture is tasteful, expensive and minimal, suited for a household peopled by active youngsters who are apt to cartwheel over a sofa or jump up and down on an easy chair.

Esther lives in a tiny, dark basement in a mostly Asian section of Queens, not far from the raucous crossroads of Jackson Heights’ ethnic melting pot; Little India  gold shops and curry restaurants cheek-by-jowl with Colombian gay bars and Arab kebab stands, a neighborhood of new arrivals, not yet prosperous, still waiting to catch a ride on the American Dream train.

Directions to Esther’s home include “just next to the parking lot”, actually an automobile graveyard enclosed by a forbidding chain link fence surrounding expanses of crab grass and the carcasses of rusting vehicles. The “house” consists of three rooms, created from carved-up basement space divided by plywood partitions that serve as makeshift walls. Several naked light bulbs affixed to the ceiling provide minimal illumination, giving the place a permanent twilight look.

As honorary Godfather to these two little girls, I am invited to TWO birthday parties. Luckily, the events don’t conflict, allowing me to attend both celebrations.  Lilly’s party is set for 11Am and is being held in conjunction with a house-warming for the grand new home her father just bought as part of his relocation  to a new job and a big promotion. We are all proud of Allen, who barely thirty-five, has reached the rarified rungs of senior executive-dom and must now live the part by residing in a property fit for a CEO. I have known him since he was Lilly’s age when he and his family were poor and struggling to get out of Burma. 

The special feature of Allen’s house-warming is the Sun Chwae, the blessing of the new residence by Buddhist monks and the prayers, chanting and ceremonial feeding of the bonzes to make the home a  safe and happy place to live in. Allen has brought the two monks from their small monastery in Queens. They are youngish and handsome in their robes, one in saffron-colored cloth, the other draped in a deep maroon  habit, more typical of Burma and northern Thailand. As they chant, I feel a wave of peaceful resignation wash over me, and, duly relaxed, I am pleasantly surprised that my Burmese language has come back to me, flowing effortlessly after all these years away from the Golden Land. I speak wih the monks and promise to visit their monastery. After  prayers and chanting, the monks bless my Chiang Mai Buddha talisman and we take our lunch; home-cooked Burmese food, spicey  bits of pork floating in rich, fragrant oil; balachaun condiment, rare to find outside of Burma. I eat so much that my hostess, Allen’s wife, prepares a doggie bag for me to take back on the train for my dinner when I reach home.

After a perfect morning among good friends and gentle monks, I make my way back to the city, a dreamy half smile on my face as we rattle over the rails back to Harlem.

My next birthday appointment is set for 8 PM at Esther’s house in Queens. I am always at a loss as to what to give children today. The last gift I brought Esther was a Christmas present,  a Doctor Seuss book which I love. Esther took one look at it and pronounced it to be  a “SILLY BOOK !” This time I’ m playing it safe and bringing her a 200-piece glitter puzzle which I am told is popular among little girls her age. Lilly got one earlier in the day and seemed happy, but Esther is, aside from being the most beautiful child I have ever seen, extraordinarily bright and unpredictable.

When my partner and I approach Esther’s door, we are greeted by the sounds of hymn music and voices singing. Esther’s parents, Roger and Nanny, are Indonesians from Menado, that part of the archipelago nearest the Philippines and equally  fervent in their embrace of Christianity. So I am  being treated to a religious double-header – Buddhism for lunch and Indonesian Protestants for dinner. After waiting for prayers to finish before we ring the doorbell, we enter the confined space and are greeted by 30 or more guests. A special genius of Southeast Asians is to fill a room with more people than you could ever imagine being squeezed into such a place, in this case no more than 400 square feet, and not feel the least bit cramped.

Everything is very organized and we are handed a program. At the far end of the room I see a sumptuous buffet table, but that will have to wait a while.  I scan the pages of the program  and note that we have lots of prayers and hymns ahead of us before the “ramah tamah” (party) part of the program. I roll my eyes and settle in for a long haul of preaching and pull out my Kindle e-book. My partner gives me a frown and I tuck it back into my pocket, resigning myself to an hour more of “God is great.”

Praising God and thanking him for his beneficence seems, to me, almost a cruel joke in this house. Roger, forty-four years old, recently suffered a massive  stroke leaving  his left side dead, making him an unemployable vegetable. After arriving in the US  fifteen years ago and staying on as an illegal, working at various jobs, including busboy in a Chinese restaurant in New Hampshire, he landed a laundramat delivery-boy position in Manhattan and was making enough money to support his new wife and their infant daughter, Esther. Now stricken,  his future, their future, is bleak. I grow angry and nauseous as the priest continues his long-winded peroration, thanking God for being so kind and loving to Roger and his family. Bullshit! Hog wash ! Unadulterated crap !

Tempted to bolt from the place, but restrained by not wanting to hurt the feelings of the flock who had gathered supportively around Roger, I begin deep breathing, a technique I learned years ago to ward off panic attacks. After what seems like a century, I hear the word “Amen !” and give my own kind of private thanks that we are returning to the real world.

I smile at Esther and struggle to hold back tears when I gaze into her beautiful, childish face. She saves me from emotional meltdown by dragging me to an open area on the floor, leading me into an impromptu game of hopscotch over the square linoleum tiles. As we leave, I slip Roger a hundred dollars and give Nanny a bottle of expensive Chanel cologne, gift-wrapped at Bloomingdales. Nanny is shy, a bit homely with slightly bucked teeth. Nobody pays any attention to her. She stays in the background, seeming to always be near the stove. But tonight she takes flight and speaks eloquently to the guests, thanking them for their support of her and her family. I now realize that this congregation is keeping Roger, Nanny and Esther alive, both spiritually and financially and, atheist that I am, I do see the value of organized religion. There is a good side to it.

As we head back to the Bronx on the subway, my head  is of full of thoughts about my two little goddaughters and what the future holds for them. I also laugh to myself. Attending TWO birthday parties for two seven year-olds in one day is a sure sign that I, as a 73 year-old, have entered my second childhood !

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