Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Panda in the Rain

Had a weird the other Saturday while cleaning up the landlord’s sidewalk. It was a crappy day weather-wise: a steady, soaking rain falling through the afternoon. I wasn’t really sweeping, but picking up any stray trash deposited on her sidewalk, which is always a given. As I moved down the sidewalk, I saw that someone had left a large stuffed panda wedged against the front fender of a pick-up truck.

It had a face like the animated pandas from that recent movie. Not quite sure what it was doing there, a stuffed animal left against a car bumper in the rain. This is what you call junk. No one was leaving it there to pick it up later. There’s a night club a block over, and I gather that late in the night, when that place clears out, people who are parked over here come back to their cars and sometimes leave odd shit behind. Predictable stuff usually – used rubbers, empty six packs, cigarette butts and those little clear plastic packets that held ecstasy, crank, speedballs or what have you. Assholes go to nightclubs, at least around here, not good people.

I knew enough not to leave it out there. That’s the kind of thing that some wise-ass group of kids heading to the basketball courts would most likely kick, or beat, knocking the stuffing out of it, making a bigger mess. When I picked it up by the arm, I saw something weird underneath it: a $1.00 bill. This is the first time I’ve ever found money out there, so that made my day. I grabbed the bear by the arm, which made me feel weird, like a kid, and dragged him back to the big hard-rubber garbage bin I keep on the landlord’s back patio. The damn thing was heavy, too, as it was water-soaked.

The bin’s nearly full after a few weeks of putting stuff in the there. Stuffing the panda in there … now I know how Tony Soprano felt when he had to dispose of a body. It wouldn’t fit. Should I cut its arms off? Its head? Legs? I had to dispose of this thing. No way was I keeping it. But stuffing it into a black garbage bag in a bin literally felt like I was trying to ditch a corpse. The quizzical panda face looked back at me as if to say, in Jack Black’s voice, “Hey, buddy, why you doing this to me?”

I stepped on his head a few times, and that made enough room. But it got me thinking about the stuffed panda’s backstory. What happened to deposit that panda on the front fender of a pick-up truck? These things are meant as presents for kids. Was someone trying to hurt a kid by stealing the panda and dumping it on an anonymous sidewalk in Queens? What I’m trying to say is what kind of person would dump a stuffed animal on the street in the rain? I’m taking it they’re not giving out stuffed animals as prizes for Biggest Guido over at the nightclub. I often ask questions like this in Queens, as there’s a surly attitude way too many natives seem to carry around with them like a cap gun, under the mistaken impression that they’re armed with a .44.

That panda had bad vibes about it. I expected it to animate itself early Sunday morning, crawl out of the garbage bag, bust into my apartment, and kill me with a carving knife. But I wasn’t the one who left him, so I slept easier on that knowledge.


Another Queens note. A few weeks ago, I made the leap and got “Go Green” bags from my local supermarket. Actually, they were giving them out as a special promotion, one per customer, so I tried it. And I came to a stark realization. Grocery bagging really is a huge waste of cheap plastic. When I come out of that supermarket with plastic bags, each bag a double-bag because these things are so cheap, I’m carrying at least 12-14 of these things. Just totally useless. And it occurred to me that using one of the more sturdy green bags was just easier. I didn’t have a few dozen pieces of rumpled plastic digging into the creases on the insides of my fingers. I walk about 300 yards back to my place, up a hill, so it’s a bit of a trek.

The next week, I bought one for a buck or so. I have two arms. I only need two bags. I’m not really focused on the environment. This is just easier. And the cashiers, instead of bagging with me, let me bag myself since they can’t reach over into my cart, thus I get a good, balanced weight in each hand. So, I look like a pussy toting these bags up the hill to my place, but what the hell, they work better, so I’ll keep on using them.

I also think one of the managers there is trying to hit on me. Female, thankfully. Not a bad looking girl either, curly blonde hair, pretty, svelte. Every time I go there, it seems like she finds some reason to talk to me or make some kind of contact. This last time, she hustled over and tried to bag for me (clearly wasn’t bagging for anyone else), but I told her, no, I got my own bags, but thanks anyway, blah blah blah. The one drawback. I’m older now, and one of the things I’m really aware of with women is how other women view them. When this woman casually makes contact with me, figuring out an excuse to talk to me or what have you, I notice the looks on some of the cashiers' faces, and I’m getting the vibe they don’t like her (which could just be a boss/employee issue). Some of the cashiers, as nice as they are, and actually pretty good at their jobs, are pretty homely. Good people, for sure, but not erection inspiring. Still, when I spot the eye roll, or one of them makes eye contact with me as if to say, “I know you’re not falling for this” … it makes me wonder. Ugly women tend to have pretty solid bullshit detectors.


The other day, a new girl at work asked if we had a company softball team. Of course, the place I work is so cheap they wouldn’t even put out for a checkers team, much less the few hundred dollars it would cost to register a team with a league, buy a few bats and balls, and budget a post-game beer kitty. But it got me thinking about my adult softball days, playing with the team from my smallish (about 60 people) ad agency, which for me lasted from roughly the ages of 25-28.

All these leagues in Manhattan are in constant struggle to find playing fields, as there’s just so much free parks space. You’d think Central Park would be the gold standard, and surely is in terms of location and that New York vibe, but the cold reality was playing there sucked. The fields were often uneven, pock-marked with holes in the outfield, and the infields nothing to write home about. They were also crowded as hell, with overlap. I recall once nearly getting into a scuffle with a teener league team from Spanish Harlem holding a practice who wouldn’t give up a field, although they had to. Kids acting like surly creeps, at the behest of their idiot coach. All their empty saber-rattling lasted about 15 minutes before a parks commissioner one of us ran to get came by and threatened them with a permanent ban, and the coach with arrest. I recall a lot of “we’re going to get you” mumbling and such, but the general vibe was adios, douchebags, this aint your block.

We played on artificial turf a few times, at a public park on the upper east side, called Asphalt Green, I think, an odd name for sure. As with most Manhattan fields, two games over-lapped each other on each end of the park, thus if you hit one to the outfield, chances were pretty good you’d have at least a triple as the outfielders would have to contend with balls and players coming from the other direction. The strangest game we played was at a small park by the United Nations, in which there was an encampment of homeless people in right field. Made things a bit awkward. They weren’t moving for anything. Any time a ball came into their encampment, they’d simply throw it out to the nearest person – they knew the drill. But imagine being homeless and having softballs line-shot at you every other day in the summer! Obviously, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but such is life in Manhattan that people often work around odd scenarios like this.

But most of our games took place on Ward’s Island, the ass end of Randall’s Island. (I understand both islands are joined by a landfill, and aside from softball fields, you’ll find an insane asylum, a fireman’s training school and a few stadiums/small venues for musical festivals. I saw the Fleadh there a few years back, and had a blast.) If you played on Ward’s a lot, you got the vibe your softball league wasn’t premier. Which was fine by me. The team I was on sucked for the most part (although they’d catch fire a few years later, with the help of ringers, and go up against the much larger ad agencies, with their crews of ringers, and win).

There was a softball bus, a yellow school bus, that would pick us up at some appointed place along Madison Avenue, and drive us out to Ward’s, all the teams inter-mingled on the bus. Co-ed, so there were plenty of hot advertising chicks along for the ride. It was such a relaxing thing to do after work. The concept of getting on school bus and going to an island to play games … it was like being back in grade school. My main memory of those games would be, in more quiet moments, turning towards the East River and seeing Manhattan laid out like a jewel in the summer evening, a light breeze blowing off the river, and thinking, this is paradise.

The games themselves were a lark for the most part. Even when we were serious, we were joking. I’m a bit leery of grown men who play team sports in a deadly serious fashion in their leisure time. It’s fucking tiresome to be around guys like that – let up already, dudes, you missed the boat in high school, get over it, the rah-rah attitude should have ended with intramural sports at college. I attended nearly every game, simply because I knew how much fun it was. One game, I distinctly recall, we were getting our asses handed to us, and I was playing third. A guy named Tom on the business side was in leftfield – Tom rarely came due to being stuck late at work. A hard grounder was hit my way and got through – unless I had dived, which I could have, I wouldn’t have stopped it. Tom sees my lack of effort and flips out, yelling incensed, dive, Repsher, dive, at the ball! All I could think was, eat me, douchebag! Tom was generally a nice guy, but he had a prick sheen about him, too, that would come out sometimes on the job.

Understand, we weren’t total losers. Our record would usually be about 4-6. And some of those losses, as noted, were sure-fire shellackings going up against agencies with literally 10 times the number of employees and that much larger a talent pool to draw from. Sure, we had the mailroom guys. You had guys like me who were coordinated and could still play, but were no great shakes. You had one or two guys who played softball in more competitive leagues and were really good. And one or two girls who were pretty good, the rest just showing up for the hell of it, which no one minded at all. The overall gist was to go out after work and have a blast …

… which would happen AFTER the game. That same yellow school bus would come rolling down the dusty roads around the baseball diamonds just before sundown, and we’d all pile on, this time with one destination for everyone, some sports bar whose name I can’t recall on the Upper East Side. And, believe me, that’s where we won. The beer allowance was generally about 3-4 pitchers, and we would get shit-faced with the other teams, often making nice connections with people who were pretty much in the same boat mentally and work-wise. I can still recall K.D., our jock team captain, having two girls from the recording company next door to us (who played on our team quite a bit) “dance” with him one night, which meant grabbing his cock through his shorts and whispering “we know you have a hard on” in his ear. I got touchy-feely with another girl from over there who loved Led Zeppelin and stole my Reading Phillies hat – a mutual attraction going on – save she was on the verge of getting engaged to her lawyer boyfriend, and things never quite got off the ground, despite getting very friendly.

Getting laid was not the norm, but we got plastered in lieu of this, and in general, got to know our coworkers as genuine people. You get that with sports and drinking, seeing people on a whole different level … which is why I like sports and drinking! There’s a woman in my boxing class I saw on the street the other day, and didn’t recognize until she tugged my arm. “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” I said … meaning work clothes as opposed to the skin-tight hot pants with the word “Angel” written across her wonderful ass cheeks, and a sports bra top, which is how I normally saw her in class. She laughed, because she knew just what I meant. It was the same with softball – I got to know people in a way that was much more different than work. Part of that was being in my 20s and seeking out those kind of connections (which I don’t do nearly as much anymore), but part was simply letting the guard down and trusting people enough to get blasted with them.

Getting home to the Bronx from that bar was always a bitch. One thing I’ve learned: if you drink a gallon of beer, which isn’t hard to do over the course of 3-4 hours in a bar, it’s a good idea to take piss breaks, particularly one before leaving. If I didn’t, man, my bladder would be bursting by the time I got home. Trains run later at night, thus I could wait anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes in the station, and then take a roughly half-hour ride back to Kingsbridge Road, at which point I had a brusque 10-minute walk to my place. There were times I pissed in the street like a lost dog marking his territory. I just couldn’t hold it in. We’re talking the Bronx – not too many people were keeping score. I wouldn’t pull my penis out and go right on the sidewalk. I’d scout out some quiet spot between buildings, or slip behind a dumpster, and let loose for upwards of a minute. At that time of night, probably around midnight, the streets weren’t exactly teaming with people.

Never puked, from what I recall. But at the very least, stumbled home, feeling pretty fine after an evening of softball by the river, hanging out with some cool people (one of the few benefits of advertising), eating pizza, getting hammered on cheap beer and commiserating over our lots in life in one of the most over-rated industries ever created. Most nights, I could barely even remember who won or lost, or who screwed up on the field. Advertising parties in general, and there were a lot, got way too wild – too many people doing coke in the bathroom and such, and too many uptight upper management types either being too stiff or getting too strange. The creative people would be even worse, manic depressives already blown out on the fact that they weren't famous artists and writers, doing hard drugs and feeling like failures despite making fortunes. The softball crowd felt just right – not too stiff, not too crazy, no Van Gogh's cutting off their ears. “Even the Losers” by Tom Petty could have been our theme song. We kept a little bit of pride and got lucky sometimes.

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