Sunday, July 25, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

These things happen every now and then. Hopefully, you’re making them happen sometimes. I had a nice one on Saturday that’s worth noting. Saturday was possibly the hottest day of the year here: temperatures in the mid-90s with high humidity. Just the sort of brutally hot New York day that encourages sane people to stay inside and not move. Because you move, you sweat, a lot. It’s been a pretty miserable summer in this respect, with forecasters noting “a cooling period” when the day-time highs drop to the high 80s.

We had a tornado warning Friday night around 8:30 that luckily only turned out to be a nasty thunderstorm for half an hour. Blew right through. I didn’t hear any branches coming down on the street, so I felt all right. Got up this morning, surveyed the landlord’s patio, some minor stuff down from high winds, but nothing horrible. Turned the corner, and saw that one of the dead trees on her property had snapped off near the trunk and was suspended against the telephone wires up above.

Man. This was a mixed blessing. Any time part or all of those dead trees come down, it saves her a truckload of money in terms of not having to get them cut down eventually, which would be a four-figure proposition around here. So it was a good thing that this entire tree had come down in one fell swoop.

It was a bad thing in that someone would have to bring the thing down and clean it up … that someone being me. On the hottest day of the year. I took my clothes to the laundromat and set about doing this in between loads. You can guess that I sweated buckets – looked like I had jumped in a pool with my clothes on, sweat just pouring off my body as I worked on this thing. First move was to push the hanging tree over to the sidewalk so I could then grab the broken-off trunk and pull it down the sidewalk, thus bringing the whole severed tree down. Which I did, with a great bang and crash as 30 feet of dead wood hit the sidewalk and cracked. I jammed my thumb in the process, a similar injury I used to get all the time playing basketball in my childhood. Thought I’d broken it, too, hurt like hell, but kept moving and it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

It was easy pulling off the broken branches and stacking them on the patio. The hard part came in sawing down the trunk, with a small branch saw I have for tree limbs, so I could carry large chunks of it to the patio. This was where the sweat really started pouring. Sun was beating directly down on the sidewalk, just relentless. Got to the point where I had the 10-foot long stump of the trunk to go, still too heavy to drag or carry, with about a 20-inch diameter to cut through. You can’t do this easily with a branch saw. You have to feverishly cut here and there, rotate the trunk as much as possible, keep cutting, and when you think you’re getting close, repeatedly pick up the trunk and slam it on the sidewalk, or position it so you can jump up and down on it and hopefully break it in half.

This sucked. Really sucked. I must have sounded like Mel Gibson phoning his girlfriend. It was taking me forever, close to an hour of fruitless sawing and dropping, and I was losing my mind. I went into my apartment and got Dad’s old hammer, using the claw to chip out the wood I had been sawing at, which was working, until I bent the head of the hammer in half. It was that kind of job.

Had I kept going like this, I’d have eventually won out over the stump, but it would have taken a long, long time. Just then, this older Mexican guy who was clearly walking around the neighborhood collecting plastic bottles from the trash saw me, came over, called out, “Amigo need help?” He immediately took the branch saw and started going at it, which went a lot better with one guy, me, holding the stump down. I’d had the job about 80% done on my own but was losing steam and sanity. This guy came along at the perfect time, when I felt like quitting, and apropos of nothing save being a nice guy, he helped a stranger on a day when fucking nobody was going to help me.

Five minutes later, we picked up the stump and dropped it on the sidewalk. Nothing. Again. This time we heard a slight crack, both of us smiling. But it was still connected. At this point, I started jumping on the stump as it was at a slight incline, and sure enough, I snapped it with my body weight, breaking that piece of shit down into halves that could be carried onto the patio. I was elated. This guy was a saint … and if I’m not mistaken, he hadn’t even broken a sweat. He even helped carry the second huge piece on the patio, heaving it on his back.

I gave him a $10 spot for his troubles, which he gladly accepted, and we shook hands. He asked me if I wanted to take down the other dead tree on Sunday. I said no, wasn’t my call to make, and the landlord didn’t have any more space to put the limbs. So he picked up his plastic bags of empties, bid me a good day and went on his way.

That random act of kindness had me thinking all day. It’s hard to find friends when there’s hard work to be done – I’ve found this to be very much true. You can generally count those people in your life on one hand. I try to be one of those people because I know how hard it is to do stuff like an apartment/house move, or shovel snow, or clear a yard of debris, or anything that would be hard as hell on your own. Even if I don’t know you that well, I’ll clear time to do something like that. On one hand, I simply like doing that kind of work in small doses. On the other, this is what you do for people you know … help them when you can.

Of course, it’s not all that rosy and self congratulatory. I have people in my life I’ve let slide. People with bad problems. In most cases of their own doing, but sometimes a combination of things: sliding off the map AND having something catastrophic occurring to deepen the bad luck streak. And I find myself strangely distant in these situations. More accurately, I make myself strangely distant and don’t make much of an effort to bridge the gap.

It’s a guilt thing with me – I feel bad about this handful of bad situations in my life. Won’t get into specifics or name names. But it does bother me that I’ll bend over backwards to give you any sort of physical help you need but will hedge on the emotional variety at times. In each case, I have to note, situations where the person spent years burning down the house in some sense: drinking, drugs, carousing, etc. These aren’t bad people, but they’ve had issues that have gone on for decades. And I guess it offends me in some spiritual sense that the message (stop doing this shit) didn’t sink in after the first warning shot. Or the second. Or the first radical failure. Or the second. Or the third. And so on.

I know the cause of their decline shouldn’t matter, but it does. So much of how I see the world now can be traced back to the winter of 2004, watching Dad pass away. When you see someone in your life like that get pile-drived by a disease and slammed into physical failure and then death, it has a profound effect. In other words, I saw someone I care about a great deal have his health destroyed by circumstances beyond his control, watched him fight these circumstances to the best of his abilities, and lose.

That experience turned me ice cold towards people who throw their lives away. Some who are friends and acquaintances, too. I wouldn’t say I’ve given up on these people. Haven’t even read a single one of them the riot act. People are going to live however they want to live, and I’m not going to stop them. But after watching my father have the shit kicked out of him in a hospital bed, I get fucking angry when I see people willfully put themselves in harm’s way in any sense. As you get older, you see, some people push themselves into a downward slide, repeatedly, over and over, year after year, willfully making the wrong choices, in the mistaken belief that their youth, wits and guile will get them through, like they have in the past. Not realizing how much they’ve eroded their reserves of youth and luck. Much less the good will of those around them who’ve spent as long a time putting up with this stuff. Bad shit catches up to all of us, and much faster if you entertain it.

So I can rationalize my inaction on that part, but still recognize there’s a person there I’ve known for a long time, decades or much of my life in some cases, and I’m letting the person down. I’m not writing this as some sort of emotional pep rally to get back into these situations – I’ll probably go on doing very little to nothing in each situation – but I am aware of it and can acknowledge it. Which counts for very little here. But I’d rather see this larger picture of myself than focus in on my desire to randomly help people when they need it. Life gets tricky like that. Or maybe it just gets more clear. When you’re younger, you tend to focus on your positive qualities because that’s how you want the world to see you. But you get older, you see it all within yourself, the good and the bad, hopefully can acknowledge both, and understand your shit truly does stink just like everyone else’s. If you’re like me, you’ll spend the rest of your days doing good and bad things, and wondering how it all pans it out in the end.

Still, what that guy did for me today was great, and it registered, will surely influence me to do the same in situations where there is no personal gain for me, save to help someone having a rough time. Be a saint when you can, because it’s not as hard as you think it is. No one bats a thousand, so there’s no harm in hitting one out of the park every now and then to counter-balance those times when you strike out using a corked bat and blame it on the ump.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Steinbrenner’s Inferno

George Steinbrenner passes on at the age of 80 on July 13, 2010.

Moments after his life ends, he feels himself gliding through a long, dark tunnel. There’s a light at the end of it, and he feels irreversibly drawn to it. Only it’s not a golden light: it’s a red light. A burning red light. As he grows closer, he can see it’s a raging inferno, like a neighborhood in the Bronx burning down in a riot.

He slides out of the tunnel and finds himself dumped in a room that looks like a major league baseball clubhouse. It’s empty, save for a card table in the middle of it. “I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" by Hank Williams is echoing from the PA system. An old-fashioned Coke machine with bottles hums and sweats in the corner.

At the card table sits a being who is obviously Satan, just as depicted for centuries: a large, red man with yellow eyes, black hair, goatee and horns sprouting from his forehead. He has a tail, cloven hooves and is swathed in a long red cape. The only strange touch: he wears a New York Mets cap jauntily arranged to keep his horns showing.

Satan is playing poker with a rail-thin, dark-haired, middle-aged man in a mustard-stained tank top, a pair of white boxer shorts with hearts, stirrup socks and baseball cleats. The man has a cigarette in his card-holding hand, and a can of Billy beer in the other. It’s Steinbrenner’s old friend/nemesis, Billy Martin.

Billy: (blows a smoke ring and glances over at Steinbrenner on the floor) Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.

Satan snickers and wags his tail.

Steinbrenner: Billy, what the. I was just napping in my hospital bed a few minutes ago. What in the hell is going on here?

Billy Martin: You got it. Hell is going on here. You’ve gone to hell, George. I’ve been waiting for you.

Satan: So have I.

Steinbrenner: What do you mean “hell”? This can’t be hell. I like the clubhouse. I can even live with the Mets hat.

Satan: This is hell. You own this place. The clubhouse. The team. The stadium. If you walk around outside, it will look a lot like Pittsburgh. You now own the Pittsburgh Pirates. Any good players you have came up through your farm system and leave once their contracts expire. You can no longer afford to buy the best. Your family owns a string of kielbasa restaurants in western Pennsylvania. Your team lost tonight to the Houston Astros, 7-2. Attendance was 8,531. Billy is your manager, and you can’t fire him.

Steinbrenner: Christ. This really is hell.

Satan: Come. Sit at our table. We can deal you in on the next hand.

Billy crushes his beer can and throws it over his shoulder.

Billy: Christ, I can’t stand this shit. It’s warm as piss, too. Can’t you ever get Budweiser down here?

Satan: You know warm Billy beer is part of your hell. We save the Budweiser for sinners who love good imported beer. Besides, you have the same name.

Billy: Don’t remind me. I got drunk with that asshole once in Texarkana in 1979. There was something weird about that boy. He smelled like turpentine and had his own Secret Service agent. Kept chasing my dog around the yard. Shit, Satan, give me the Belgian beer for once, you know the only beer I like is Bud.

Satan smiled at Billy, knowing who ruled here. Just then, Richard Nixon came through the clubhouse door.

Nixon: George! Old buddy, how are you?

Steinbrenner: Oh my God. Dick. Dick Nixon! You’re here, too?

Nixon: Where else would I be? All politicians go to hell. Well, in reality, all lawyers go directly to hell, and most politicians are lawyers by default.

Steinbrenner: But we were good men in our lives. We did so much good for the world.

Nixon: Don’t I know it, George, don’t I know it, but not everyone can see things the way we do. I never got to thank you for the campaign contributions in ’72. I know you caught hell over those, but I’ve never forgotten.

Steinbrenner: You showed them, though, didn’t you, Mr. Nixon. Crushed McGovern and all those hippies. The day you won that election, I put right up there with any of my World Series wins. What do you do down here?

Nixon: Well, I, uh, don’t like to talk about it.

Satan: He’s Bella Abzug’s campaign manager and sex slave. She’s down here, too.

Steinbrenner: (grimacing) Oh, dear lord. Oh, that’s so harsh. Mr. Nixon, I don’t know what to say.

Nixon: Don’t say anything, George. I don’t want to talk about it.

Steinbrenner: What do we do here?

Satan: This is it.

Steinbrenner: What do you mean “this is it”?

Satan: Some sinners get chased around lakes of fire by one-eyed demons. Some roll boulders up huge hills only to have them roll back down and crush them for eternity. But for our special sinners, like you, we give you a special kind of hell. When you’re here long enough, we allow you to walk around and be part of other people’s hells. So you know you’re not alone.

Billy: George, I lose to the fuckin’ Astros 7-2 every night then get puking drunk on Billy beer.

Nixon: And Bella beats her Republican opponent in New York state every night, then makes passionate love to me in the coat room at the campaign after party. Believe you me, it’s no picnic for her either.

Satan: Mr. Nixon, you know full well you earned your place in hell.

Nixon: So I took a few short cuts.

Steinbrenner: Don’t you do stuff like sit in a theater and watch the movie of your life play out?

Satan: Even I have a heart. That would be hell for everyone. You don’t realize how much time you spend on the toilet and sleeping. You really want to sit in a movie theater and watch that? My ass gets sore if I have to sit and watch a three-hour movie, much less an 80-year long one. Yours does, too.

Steinbrenner: I see your point. But why not a highlights reel?

Satan: Because, Mr. Steinbrenner, hell is not This Week in Baseball, and I’m not here to please you. You work for me here. And I don’t take requests, unless they’re to make some other sinner’s time here more harsh.

Steinbrenner: I’m not the kind who takes orders from anyone!

Satan: (laughing) Oh, I’ll never give you any orders. I’ll just give you this illusion and make you repeat it for eternity. Yell and scream if you want. Make threats. Try not to do it. But you will do this every day and night here. Your office only has a beat-up window fan, and it’s always 87 degrees with 75% humidity. You thought Billy gave you a hard time in New York with a great team? Try it in Pittsburgh with a team batting average of .241 in a stadium where you can hear drunks in the upper level shouting obscenities in Polish at the players.

Steinbrenner: Right off the bat, I have to ask. How do I get to heaven?

Satan, Billy Martin and Richard Nixon erupt in a blaze of laughter, doubling over and slapping each other on the back.

Steinbrenner: What’s so funny?

Billy: George, man, don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter what we thought of ourselves when we were alive. Even Hitler thought he was a great guy. You’re here for a reason. Probably a lot of reasons. I know I am. And you have all the time in the world to think about them. After awhile, it all sinks in.

Steinbrenner: No. This can’t be. There must be some mistake.

Nixon: Take it easy, George, we’re not going to pull a congressional committee on you. We’re not here to judge. We’re all just doing our time. I have no idea what heaven must be like.

Satan: I do. It’s over-rated. Why do you think I left?

Steinbrenner: Well, if it’s so over-rated, why not let me go there instead?

Satan: Mr. Steinbrenner, understand I rule down here. But I’m not running the whole show. Much as I hate Him, I answer to God. We all do. He sent you here. All I did was open the door and let you in.

Steinbrenner: Can I talk to God? You know, I talked to Him all the time when I was alive. In prayer. Or just when I needed help. I know He was listening.

Billy: Well, you must have called Him an asshole or something, because here you are.

The PA system starts to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band. George gets a glimmer in his eye and sits down at the card table with Billy Martin, Richard Nixon and Satan.

Steinbrenner: Satan, I have a proposition for you.

Satan: Wouldn’t be the first one I’ve heard or the last. Go on.

Steinbrenner: What if we had a poker tournament, right here, right now, and if I win, you let me talk to God.

Satan: And if one of us wins?

Steinbrenner: You decide. Make me go to Woodstock for eternity. Give me the Cleveland Indians to run, and make Abbie Hoffman the coach. I don’t care. Just give me the chance.

Billy: Satan, don’t listen to him. The man’s a born liar. I know you’re good, but you might lose.

Satan: Billy, you know I never lose.

Billy: That’s the truth. Only thing I think about when we play is how close I can get to winning without it ever happening.

Satan: I’ll take you up on this wager, Mr. Steinbrenner, but understand you will lose. I’m not even worried about introducing you to God. It won’t happen. And even if I did, more than likely, He would tell you why you’re here and be done with you.

Steinbrenner: Just keep your word, Satan. If I’m lucky enough to beat you, you let me worry about God and what to say. If I can sit in a conference room with Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin screaming their heads off and come out on top, nothing scares me after that.

Billy: (burps, opens another Billy beer) Fuckin’ A.

… the scene fades out as Nixon and Steinbrenner pull up their fold-out metal chairs to the card table and Satan shuffles the deck of cards.

… fade back in through a white cloud. A celestial choir. Through the mist, Billy Martin appears, dressed as he was in hell, save he now wears a Yankee’s cap. He’s sitting at a small rectangular white desk on a cloud, in front of large set of silver gates. He’s drinking a can of Budweiser. An elderly woman appears through the cloud and approaches Billy.

The Woman: Who are you? Am I in heaven?

Billy: Who the fuck are you? That is the question, mama. Who the fuck are you?

Disembodied voice: Billy! Language! You know not to speak like that to angels.

Billy: (mumbling) California fuckin’ Angels, should have kicked Jim Fregosi's ass when I had the chance.

The sound of footsteps. It’s George Steinbrenner, in a white suit, and he appears through the gates behind Billy Martin, opening the gates.

Steinbrenner: You’ll have to forgive, Billy, ma’am, he’s still a little rough around the edges. I just traded Mother Teresa and St. Peter to Satan for Billy, $500,000 in cash and a soul to be named later. He’s still learning the ropes here.

The Woman: Is this heaven?

Steinbrenner: Yes, this is heaven. When you pass through these gates, you’ll transform to the best you ever looked in your life, remember only happy times and be reunited with everyone else here that you knew in life. This is heaven!

The Woman: (weeping) Oh, thank God!

Steinbrenner: And me, too, George Steinbrenner!

The Woman: I wasn’t expecting anyone famous to meet me here.

Steinbrenner: Well, I’ve only been here a few days.

The Woman: But you died a few weeks ago, didn’t you? Where were you?

Steinbrenner: Well, long story short, I went to hell. I didn’t like hell. Hell was the worst thing you could imagine for yourself, repeated for eternity. I don’t want to talk about it. But when I was in hell, I challenged Satan to a game of poker with the stipulation that if I won, I could talk to God. Well, we played for two weeks straight, and in the end, I had Satan down to a pair of underpants and an IOU for a ’57 Chevy. So, he got mad, and made a lot of noise, but in the end, he let me talk to God.

The Woman: Have you seen God?

Steinbrenner: No. No one ever does. But you can talk to Him. And up here, He’ll answer you. So I talked to Him. Explained my situation. That I had done a lot of wrong things in my life. Really turned the game of baseball into a mess. Treated many of my underlings with extreme disrespect. But at the end of the day, the good outweighed the bad. And I should have gone to heaven, not hell, there must have been some kind of mistake.

The Woman: And what did God say?

Steinbrenner: He said no.

The Woman: So, why are you here?

Steinbrenner: Well, we kept on talking, and God was pretty straightforward in telling me He was tired of running heaven by Himself. Needed some help in the logistics: concessions, budgeting, the ability to shift around key personnel to suit their skill set. I told Him that if He let me run heaven for a year – not the heavy stuff, just the numbers – and it worked out, I could stay and not go back to hell. I could also trade souls with Satan at my own discretion, as He had heard of my acquisition skills and greatly admired them.

The Woman: You’re not going to trade me to Satan are you?

Steinbrenner: Oh, no, I’d never do anything like that.

Billy (whispering to the woman behind his hand): You better get that in writing.

Steinbrenner: Billy, open the gates. Let this kind woman in. She’s earned her way into heaven. Come on in.

The gates swing open, and the old woman enters heaven, magically transforming to a beautiful, raven-haired woman of 23 in a white robe. The heavenly choir breaks into “New York, New York.” In the distance a silhouette appears behind a cloud: the outline of Richard Nixon.

Richard Nixon: Checkers! Here, Checkers! Come here, boy. Pat, help me find Checkers!

The gates swing shut, and Billy Martin is left alone with his can of Bud. He lights another cigarette and stares off into the distance.

Billy: Fuckin’ Satan was right.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Angelo's Gone

I’ve learned that most of our lives are rituals. Probably always knew this, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate it. 9/11 went a long ways towards opening that door. Those few days after that were devoid of ritual in New York, a dark gray haze of slow passing time, and all I know is that going back to my normal schedule felt heavenly in comparison. Same with Dad passing on – the ritual of going back to work a week later felt all right, after days of darkness. The darkness didn’t magically disappear, but you learn, it never does. Ritual means you’re moving forward in some sense, even if it feels like the exact opposite.

Sunday mornings, I go out boxing. My regular instructor is on vacation, so I always worry about his temporary replacement. Turns out it’s a younger white guy, really leans hard on the calisthenics, but overall, entirely acceptable, so I’ll keep going for the next two weeks. The big ritual when I get off the train in the early afternoon is to grab a newspaper, some bread, some ice tea, all at Angelo’s Food Emporium on Ditmars. Head home, kick back, take it easy for a few hours, usually until I make that big Sunday meal that will feed me for the next few days.

The reason I’ve gone to Angelo’s is because Angelo is a good guy: an older, bespectacled Greek with a kind face who welcomes everyone into his store. Most delis, I walk in, and it’s business as usual, shopkeepers who don’t seem particularly warm or friendly, selling the basics. Angelo sells the basics, too, but he’s always been unfailingly kind and friendly, from the first time I went in there to the last. So why not give him my money?

I actually felt guilty about a year ago when I started buying mixed nuts from a competing deli down the block on the other side of the street. The place opened up with a more “European imports” vibe about it, no doubt aiming at the new moneyed gentry with their selections, and I blew it off for weeks when it opened. But I saw after awhile that they had a pretty substantial nuts and dried fruit section at the front of the store. And I found that it’s a killer selection of stuff, fresh, reasonably priced, much better than Angelo’s ho-hum selection of cashews and such. So, every few weeks I stock up there, but give Angelo the vast majority of my deli visits.

The last few times I was there, Angelo seemed uncommunicative – tired, sitting in his folding chair at the end of the counter and not really talking to anyone, a glum look on his face. He let the young Mexican guy he has working there run the show, and I get along fine with that guy, too. But I had to wonder what was going on with Angelo, as I saw this routine three or four times over the course of weeks, which was unlike him.

Well, last two Sundays I’ve been there, Angelo’s gone. His signage is still on the front of the store, but he’s not. Last week, I was hoping maybe he’d just gone on vacation or something, and he had friends helping him out. The guy there now is another older Greek, with his wife and what appear to be their son, and don’t seem to be bad people. But not Angelo. The young Mexican guy is gone, too.

This week, I don’t know. I started noticing re-designed looks to the store’s layout, a lot of the Greek sundries Angelo had on the counter removed. Different kinds of ice tea in the coolers. The worst part: they fucked up the Sunday paper two weeks running. The paper had the right outer wrap, but last week there was no “news” portion of the paper (just the arts guide), and this week, they stuffed the Saturday edition of the paper into the Sunday outer wrap … which really pissed me off. I could handle the weird vibe of Angelo not being there, but knowingly selling me a shit copy of the newspaper two weeks running without a word of warning is one of those “dealbreaker” things I won’t put up with from a deli.

But, of course, the worst news for me is Angelo appears to be gone. Dead? I doubt it. There would have been candle memorials in front of the store. Gone back to Greece for a month? Possible … but why the sudden minor store re-design? As noted, his signage is still on the store, so I have to wonder what goes on there. I’m afraid to ask! Because I suspect what happened to Angelo is what will happen to most every small business on that main drag: once the 10/20/30-year lease comes up for renewal, the new monthly rent will be astronomically unaffordable, and the original owner will have to leave, usually after decades of catering to a working-class Greek/Italian neighborhood that’s turning more yuppie by the minute.

That’s the most logical explanation. But usually when this happens, there’s a warning, the owner let’s you know he’s leaving, there’ll be signs stating as much, and the store front goes dark, around here, for months usually as no one in his right mind is willing to pay the cut-throat newer rents local real-estate barons are charging for these places. And eventually, a Dunkin Donuts or such will move in.

I have to believe the man is gone. Where, I don’t know. Hopefully, he made enough over the years to be ready for something like this. I’d have no idea how much a deli owner makes in an outer borough of New York. I doubt Angelo was getting rich doing what he was doing. But he had such a feel for his customers. Spoke Greek. Hired an even-keel Mexican kid because he could relate to the Spanish-speaking customers, and Angelo spoke Spanish himself. I remember going into his deli when we had a deep-summer blackout for a few days, only because I wanted to give him some of my money, and his first words were, “My old friend, how are you doing in this hell? How can I help you?” And he wasn’t joking about hell – this post covers those few days. Going without electricity in a major city in 90-degree heat for days on end aint no joke. Angelo's freezers were shut down, his meats were gone, and he was only selling canned goods and bread.

What does it mean? I’m not sure. But Angelo should know, if the store he runs is no longer there in any real sense and he’s gone, that he will be missed. Things like this seem so inconsequential until they happen. It’s just a deli. I only walk in once a week in general, unless I’m desperate for some Bounty or mineral water. I never hung out there for hours, exchanging stories and bantering with other locals. I’d walk in, chat with Angelo, buy my shit, and walk out.

But he made it clear to me, every time I was in there, that this was his store, that was his name on the front, and he wanted you to know, with every fiber of his being, that this is what he stood for, this was his life, and he cared that you were in there putting money in his pocket. So that’s what disappears when someone like Angelo is gone. Someone who gives a shit about something and let’s you know it. I don’t like seeing people like that getting shit-canned for any reason. That’s why I went there in the first place. The Indian deli just up the block, the first time I walked in there, the girl behind the counter glared at me and barked, “In the future, please pay for your newspaper BEFORE you pick it up outside.” I can’t recall exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of “There is no future. Keep your fucking newspaper, asshole.” In fact, that might have been the first time I walked into Angelo’s, that day, when I was so incensed to be treated like a jackass by someone with zero sense of customer service. (And not to knock Indian store merchants – most of them I’ve dealt with here have been just fine, with a few just as friendly as Angelo. That particular one happened to be an asshole, and Angelo would often tell me he suspected they’d steal his bundle of newspapers if he didn’t get there early enough in the morning. Come to think of it, that’s probably what’s happening now with Angelo gone!)

This bothers me, much more than I thought it would. It also doesn’t help that we’re in the midst of a heat wave, temperatures above 90 most days last week, with the daily high set to never fall below 85 for the upcoming week. It’s “mumbling to self like homeless person” type weather that really wears on your average New Yorker, me included. Just too fucking hot for this sort of nonsense.

I guess this thing with Angelo is like any situation where someone goes missing. It reminds you of your own mortality, if not in that final life/death sense, then in the sense of your lease coming due one day, too. Most of us who’ve been in Astoria for awhile are either going to get priced out one day or pay way too much money to hang around an ever-increasing population of careless douchebags pining for a Trader Joes to open up here and complete the gross suburbanization of this neighborhood. That desire is like a freight train that doesn’t stop for anything or anybody. I fear it just ran over Angelo, but I’ll be sure to glance in his store window over the next few weeks, against all hope, that maybe he just went on vacation. In a better world, a man with that sort of dignity and dedication would have the chance to call his own number, instead of getting mowed-down in a sleazy numbers racket that benefits very few people in this town. Or world, for that matter.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Paypal Button: Hands Up

Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen ...

Anyone who's used the New York City subway system for a long period of time knows that line ... it's what every homeless person says upon entering a train car and launching into his spiel to get subway riders to part with their change. Cup in hand. Raspy voice. Making eye contact with everyone possible. Stories of burned-down homes, time spent in prison, children in need of operation, can you help a vet, I'm not stealing, etc.

Money for nothing but the asking is a nice concept that doesn't go over too well with most subway riders, me included. Nor am I too crazy about people who "perform" for their money, the teenage kids with beatboxes doing their incredibly annoying street dance routine on a narrow subway car, blind guys with accordions, the homeless black guy doowop groups, etc. You get on a subway, all you want to do is sit down and be left alone until you reach your destination.

I decided to put a Paypal button on the site as an experiment. To this day, I have no clue how many people read this and don't want to know. Probably not a lot, otherwise I'd be getting deluged with responses from people who do nothing but respond to websites with Twitter-syle gibberish. Then again, to avoid getting my ass spammed off, I make people sign in to leave comments, which surely dissuades a huge bulk of that sort of random response. This is like a newspaper -- you should have balls enough to state who you are, or at least present some sort of identification, to leave a comment. Most people do who respond here, I like it that way, and all responders are surely welcome here, even if you don't like me.

Advertising is out of the question -- it would make no sense with a site like this. Those Adsense ads respond to subject matter and catch words/phrases. I write about whatever I want, so I'm sure any ads placed on here would be utter gibberish based on a one-off catch phrase used in a line of text. Besides which, I hate advertising and never click-through when I see it on websites ... so why would I make people suffer through the same blinking, annoying crap?

I don't "need" the money per se. Yes, we all need money, but I have a steady job, make reasonably good money, live sensibly, save. I write this thing because I love writing, always have, always will, would be great to make money at it, but it's not the driving force. Still, why not put a discrete Paypal button on there, let people drop in some money if they feel like it. If they don't, no big deal either. I guess I'm shooting for that one unhinged reader who's so touched by something here that he/she drops in $10K in one shot ... before tracking me down with the chloroform hankie to take me back to the brick-walled pit in the basement of a dilapidated Victorian home in a rural town in Ohio. I know you're out there! And I got no problem putting the lotion in the basket!

So, go on reading, nothing else will change, don't feel put upon, my only expectation is that you read along. And give me all your money. Because the plate in my head is picking up AM radio again. And my crack-addicted love child needs new shoes. And that carpentry job my brother-in-law promised in Schenectady fell through. And I had a rough time, fighting for this great nation in Grenada so we could all be free. And that new state sales tax now has a carton of cigarettes costing more than crystal meth. Brother, can you spare a dime for a cup of joe?