Monday, August 28, 2006

Now I'm a New Yorker

The old saw is that you're not a New Yorker until you've lived in the city for ten years. My anniversary passed last November 1st, while I was on a train from Naples to Venice.

The most obvious change is my impatience with the slow moving people on the subway platforms in the morning. Jesus, why can't some people move? Thank God I don't drive.

But last week I received the strongest symbol of my new persona. I had an anxiety dream about not being able to get a cab when I needed one.

It's official. I am now a New Yorker.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Turkey Club = Gift From God

I've started going to church again. Yes, I can hear all my non-believer friends (who are legion) groan, roll their eyes and shake their heads. Okay, I can't hear them roll their eyes or shake their heads, but you get the idea. I remember once when my friend Bob was talking about a poll that revealed most Americans believe in God. He was offering the poll's results as proof of how alienated he and his friends are from the mainstream. "I don't know anyone who believes in God" he concluded. I sheepishly (though not in the "Lord is my Shepard" sense) raised my hand. I explained that my belief varies from day to day. Monday; peaceful existentialist. Tuesday: hopeful mystic. Solomon Grundy has nothing on me.

My return to church is not due to a spiritual reawakening but rather to a matter of honor. I am my nephew Eric's godfather, which, in the Catholic Church, isn't just an honorary title but a commitment. I agreed (without knowing it at the time) that I would bring up Eric in the Catholic faith should anything happen to his mother or father. Since Eric's mother and father are both alive, this is a fairly easy obligation. The only time it is a problem is when Eric is of age to receive any of the sacraments. Then his Godfather is expected to be a Catholic In Good Standing, complete with a letter from a priest testifying to the fact.* When Eric was to be baptised, I had to go to the priest at the groovy multi-faith center at American University (where I was in grad school) and ask him to write a letter on my behalf. Basically I lied. When he mentioned that he didn't recognise me from services, I assured him that I was a faithful member of the parish. He wrote the letter, and proof that I was a true Catholic, I felt very guilty about it after the fact.

Within a year or two, Eric will be Confirmed in the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Faith. As his godfather, I hope to "stand" for him, and towards that end, I have begun going to church again to establish my Catholic credentials. I just don't feel like lying to a priest again.

I found a church in my neighborhood that has English-language Mass on Sunday's, albeit with an accent I can't quite place. I've gone the last few weeks and while it's not as satisfying as the church in Spanish Harlem (which had a congregation of Hispanic families that would pack the hall, overseen by a fiesty Irish priest who made a point of commemorating the 20th anniversary of AIDS and its victims, as well as writing angry letters to city councilmen about the rat problem in Spanish Harlem), it is not as soul-draining as the church I grew up in. I like it. It's peaceful...and while I was walking to church this past Sunday, I found a $20 bill on the sidewalk! Proof that the Lord rewards those who honor Him/Her. After mass, I rewarded myself with a turkey club at a local diner. God it was good.

Now, that would be the end of my "do well and you will be rewarded" theory, but tonight, while I was walking home, two girls asked if I would help carry their heavy tv up two flights of stairs to their apartment. I said sure. We then had to wait for them to ask another unsuspecting guy walking down the street. She had asked some guy sitting on the stairs to his apartment building, but unconvincingly said that his back couldn't take carrying a tv up a flight of stairs. I suspect the real reason is the he was an asshole. Even if he had carried the tv upstairs, his striped rugby shirt (which no man should wear once they're old enough to attend a prom) would have signaled him an asshole. Happily, a pleasant gentleman soon wandered down the street, and before long, he and I were soon lugging the tv up to a second floor apartment.

I think one of the main reasons I was so willing to help out was that I was once in a similar situation. When I bought my present tv (flat screen, beautiful image, heavy as lead), one of my neighbors (who I didn't know) volunteered to help me carry it up to my third floor apartment. So it was the golden rule in reverse: do unto others as others have done unto you.

After lugging the tv upstairs, one of the girls thanked my and pressed $20 in my hand. Despite my protests, she insisted I take the money for helping out. I fough the temptation to wave it in front of the face of the stair-sitting, rugby-shirt wearing asshole. Instead I reflected on what seems to be a new spiritual law: Do the right thing for other people, without any expectation of reward, and you'll get $20!

And to think some of my friends don't believe...

*Happily, stigmata is no longer a requirement.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Immortality Is Mine

That's a panel from my friend Bob's new book Recess Pieces which you can buy here. I'm mighty flattered to have a character named after me, although the character based on Bob gets to ogle a dirty magazine and is later kissed by a girl, whereas I get beaten up by the school bully. Hmmmm...

Recess Pieces is best described as Little Rascals meets Dawn of the Dead, or Peanuts trapped in an old EC horror comic. Bob got the idea during a conversation he and I were having, talking about how contemporary horror movies are just a series of elaborate set pieces demonstrating clever ways to kill people. The audience is primed to enjoy the victims' deaths rather than feel any empathy or horror. The real subversive horror movie would make you care about the victims so that when they died, you would feel sick. "Yeah" Bob said. "It would have to be about monsters threatening someone that no-one wants to see hurt, like little kids and puppies." You could almost hear the click go off in his head. "Yeah...monsters attacking little kids and puppies..."

So it's been cool watching the book grow from his initial idea. Every time I went to his apartment, Bob would have new pages done and I got to see the story shift from nostalgia about the horrors of grade school to real horror at a grade school. Now it's a book. A pretty gory book, I should point out. Zombies eat people, and that entales lots of entrails.

Why a boy scout? Well, I was late meeting Bob for dinner once because I was literally helping an old lady cross the street. I was walking through the East Village, she asked for help and I was happy to oblige. However, it took her so long to cross the street (I have never seen an upright person move so slow) that I was noticably late for dinner. Bob had mentioned that he was going to name one of the kids in the book after me. When I told him why I was late, he said "Then your character will be a boy scout!"

Congratulations, Bob. Looking forward to a sequel.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Subway Anomaly

While riding the packed L train last week, I noticed a guy wearing a ball cap that depicted a stick figure with cartoony large hands and feet. "Big hands...big feet...You do the math!" it said above the stick figure. After rolling my eyes, I noticed that the man wearing the cap didn't have particularly large hands - in fact, his hands were on the average to small size. So what exactly is his hat trying to tell us?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Coney Island

Coney Island, land of abundance where nothing is real, except for the condom that I found floating on the surface as I got out of the water. I'm pretty sure that was real. It was not one of mine.

Many Homers, lots of Patricks. We saw a cop eating three hamburgers, one after the other. We saw not one but two little girls who got separated from their guardians. Giant hamburgers, "alive" chimps, Miss Coney Island under glass who, for a quarter, will dance to "If I Fell" by the Beatles, and a display where past and present mingle and olde-timey beach goers ride swings, cheerfully oblivious to a human sponge on his back, staring at the sky.