Friday, October 28, 2005

The Story of My Life

When I lived down in South Jersey, I went from job to job, and usually I didn't have one. I was just out of college and was trying to figure out some kind of direction for myself. One month I worked in a hotel, the next in a resturant... then a whole Summer doing landscaping. Man, that was a long Summer.

I'd get up at 6am, ride my bike from my house in Brigantine to my boss's house in Margate. We'd drive around all day long, mowing lawns and trimming hedges, and finally I'd ride my bike home around 5 or 6pm. I remember one morning I woke up and it was raining... and I started riding. I got down to the Circle Tavern and stopped in to get dry and call Dennis, my boss. He told me to wait awhile and see if the rain stopped, so I sat at the bar and ordered a brandy. The reason I ordered a brandy at 7 in the morning is that I had the romantic idea that it would "warm me up". It tasted like cough medicine and I passed out at a table in the bar. No one woke me for five hours. When I woke up it was noon, the rain had stopped, and I rode my bike to work.

But the real story of my life can be boiled down to one incident during this period, the one I call my "wandering years". I remember it was a very sunny day, and I was outdoors for my regular constitutional, when I stumbled upon a very large TV set.

The set, which was about as big as a very large coffee table, was an antique from the early 80s. It was about 250lbs., encased in wood, and smelled of raccoon piss. I only knew this: I wanted it. It felt like an opportunity--if I had a job this would never have even happened. I had to take advantage.

I ran up to the house and knocked on the door. The old lady inside assured me that the TV was color, fully functional, and free. That was all it took to convince me. I found a wheelbarrow in some neighbor's yard, stole it, and ran with it down the street, probably also laughing maniacally. With some effort I managed to drag the monstrosity into the wheelbarrow, and got it all the way home.

This probably took me all day to do. When my roommates got home, they were astounded and horrified. Astounded to see a gigantic dinosaur of a TV blaring cartoons in their living room, and horrified by the smell of pregnant raccoon urine that somehow permeated the deepest recesses of the house. Delightedly, I announced that the TV worked perfectly and that we were lucky to have it.

Rick and Blake grudgingly allowed me to keep the TV for a few days, but as time wore on, so did their patience. But it was no matter at all--after a few days of enjoying my new, free, awesome TV, I was ready to enact the second phase of my plan: to profit.

Rick, who worked for the Atlantic City Press at the time, could get classified ads placed for free. Bam! Just like that, I was set to make a killing. I put the ad in, offering Old Betsy up for $100 or best offer. Almost certainly, I was set to clear some major dough.

Days went by, then weeks. A few people called, one couple visited... and then all the hoopla really died down. I was pretty disappointed, because my burgeoning career as a junk dealer was beginning to look pretty much over. Finally, I was all set to get rid of the thing once and for all, when I got a desperate phone call from deep in the heart of Atlantic City. It was from a very desperate sounding father, whose kids were screaming in the background. He needed a working TV, and he needed it right away! But there was a catch--he didn't have a car. And I certainly wasn't going to transport this hulking monolith of glass, wood and metal all the way to Atlantic City in a stolen wheelbarrow.

But then it occurred to me to hire a cab. The desperate man agreed to pay for the extra cost, so the deal was struck.

When the cab arrived, me and the driver got to work hauling The Creature into the car. It wouldn't fit into the backseat, so we tried cramming it into the front....

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Burning Airlines Gives You So Much More


But I'm lucky. A lot of us on the stand-by list didn't make it. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't mean much, just that I'm a winner and they're losers. And they need to remember that.

When I woke up from my recurring dream, my ears felt like they always feel when I'm flying. I don't know if its cabin pressure or what, but there's something about flying that makes my ear canals feel like they're being stabbed with flaming needles. Then I usually say something to the person sitting next me, like, "Man, they really need to adjust the cabin pressure in here. Can you feel that?" And my seatmate will usually nod and agree without asking what the hell I'm talking about. It sounds like I know what I'm saying... but really I have no idea how I came up with that theory.

I'm like, totally heading to the bathroom when I notice that this plane is a lot tinier than most. It's like a 727 or a 717 or something. So the aisle is narrow and there's nowhere to go when someone is coming from the bathroom and trying to get around you. I felt a moment of panic when I realized this, until I saw a little alcove around the corner and I leapt into it. In the alcove I noticed a door with a big red latch on it. For a moment I fantasized about yanking on the latch and letting the door fly open. It's the same feeling I get occasionally when I'm in a car that's going really fast, like I want to open the door and allow the chaos to ensue. I imagine I'd be a really terrible astronaut or submariner.

I can recall two terrifying events from my childhood that may explain my morbid curiousity with the doors of fast moving vehicles. They both happened around the same time because it was the Summer that my parents car-pooled with a few neighbors for Day Camp.

[Note: For most of my childhood I attended a Day Camp over the Summers that I believe cost my parents $75 for three months. The counselors were so poorly paid that they staged regular fights between the campers and bet on the outcome, thus satisfying their proletariat rage and supplementing their incomes.]

So, the weak link in the car pool was some outsider that my neighbors had found somewhere. The first incident involved his daughter, who tried to get out of the car while it was still in motion... maybe she was leaning on the door and it flew open or something. She tumbled out at 30 or so miles per hour and got pretty banged up. The next event happened shortly thereafter, when Hell Dad piled me and my neighbor Colleen into the hatchback of his Honda and decided it would be a more exciting ride if he left the hatch open while driving down the highway going 65. I'll never forget seeing the road no more than four feet away from me, the air rushing in and out of the open car, and the feeling that I'd be sucked out and bouncing on the pavement any minute. Colleen gripped my hand tightly, and we gazed into each others eyes with sheer panic.

That was the final straw for Super Dad. He was out of the car pool, which was just as well because his daughter was recuperating from her injuries and hadn't been attending camp anyway.

The plane ride from LaGuardia to O'Hare is blissfully short. It took me longer to get to work yesterday (there was a fire on West 4th and the A, C, E, F and V trains were all dead) than it took to get to the good old Cold and Windy. So, soon enough I made it there, in one piece and not on fire, without having destroyed everyone on board or being sucked out of the plane somewhere over Ohio. Thank god they took away my lighter in the security area.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cars and Planes and Things That Go


The dream is always the same... I am driving a car, but my feet can't quite reach the pedals. I slowly lose control of the vehicle... with a lot of effort, I can still keep from crashing, but its just a matter of time.

I'm on the plane. It's just that simple. One minute I'm at the counter, asking the Boarding Lady if she has any gum, and the next I'm boarding a plane to Chicago.

...and I'm asleep, and I'm moaning about how there's a Dunkin Donuts at the next exit, and how, if I manage to stretch just enough, I may be able to lurch the car over there using all of my weight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Desperation is a Stinky Cologne


I don't make the 9am, and I'm starting to wonder what's going to happen to me. It's raining outside, there's a bomb scare in the city, it's 8:45 in the morning, and I'm just not getting along with the Boarding Lady.

She says, "You probably won't make any of the stand-by flights." She's typing furiously into what I can only imagine to be some kind of sucker analysis device. "I can guarantee you a seat on the 11:00am to Chicago, but it will cost you $200."

I say, "There's nothing I enjoy more than a little levity in the morning. Why don't we say $500. I'll throw in this gold Rolex I bought at auction and then you can punch me in the stomach as hard as you can."

"It's $200," she says. "And I'd rather punch you in the heart."

"That is my least vulnerable spot," I reply, and I whip out my credit card like it was a batarang.

The card is from Strawbridge & Clothier, has a $100 limit, and has been expired for seven years. I keep it in my wallet to provide a stable backing for the picture I clipped out of a magazine of Whitman Mayo, which reminds me of my humble origins as an old black man that lived in a second-hand junk store.

"Are you sure you want to pay instead of waiting to see if you make the stand-by list?" she asks me.

"What the effin' ess?" I exclaim. "Didn't you just tell me I had no chance?"

"Well, most people don't want to pay if they don't have to."

"Do most people want to stand around in an airport all day, shooting the bull?"

"Fair enough. That'll be $200."

"Bill me." I say, and I go on over to the gate designated for the 10am flight. I figure the 10am Boarding Lady can't be any worse. Maybe I can even start a bidding war between them, I note whimsically to myself, because I am whimsical and happy-go-lucky like that.

As I make my way over to the next gate, I notice that I have a bit of a prance going on, something that shows up every once in a while when I'm faced with a small amount of adversity and am confused as to how to best proceed. I like to call it the "desperation shuffle". It starts kind of slow, like a little hitch in my step. Then it builds to a nearly skipping, hopping, side-stepping crescendo. I arrive at the gate with a leaping flourish, my arms outstretched, and I announce myself with a confident, "Aha!" as I land the tricky maneuver, legs all splayed akimbo.

The chick behind the counter is duly impressed. She digs creative movement and expression. Lucky for me (six years of tap, four of modern jazz). I gracefully swing my hips into position and give her a roundhouse theatrical bow. It practically breaks her heart. This woman is melting in front of me like mozzarella cheese and tri-color peppers on a Triscuit cracker. I know I can do anything to her now. I've wowed her, she's vulnerable.

"I need to get on this flight," I state commandingly.

"That's probably not gonna happen," she replies.

"Aha!" I say again, because at heart I am irrational, and demonstrate this with elegant absurdity.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Flight Risk

And, I'm off. I hustle my way down the line, murmering a little ditty about how Mama's Little Baby Loves Shortenin', Shortenin', Mama's Little Baby Loves Shortenin' Bread, and I'm chuckling to myself because I'm carefree; I'm a free spirit and I love life. To the outside observer it appears that there's something wrong with me... something seriously wrong, because I'm still bleeding and there's toilet paper trailing out the front of my pants and I've already taken off my shoes and belt in preparation for the x-ray machine.

I'm giddy as the screener manhandles my goods. I tap dance down to the gate, and politely inquire as to when I'll be allowed to board. Of course, I can't board. My 8:30am flight boarded 15 minutes ago, and they gave my seat away. Of course. But I'm a child of nature, and I take it as it comes. I offer the Boarding Lady $25 to seat me right away and flash two singles, a piece of dental floss, and a receipt for a roast beef sandwich from Hardy's at her. She doesn't go for it. She puts me on standby for the 9am flight. I stand by.

At some point while I'm standing by, the Boarding Lady tells me that I'm number four on the list. But she also says that its early yet, and that I have a Super Economy Sidewalk Flea Market ticket, and that anyone who has purchased a ticket in an even remotely legitimate way will be placed before me on the stand-by line. So I'm like, "damn." And she's like, "uh-huh." And I'm like, "Should I just go ahead and buy another ticket?" which is a pretty brazen attempt at a bluff, because it should be obvious to anyone who takes a look that the only thing I have of any value is the Ozzie Guillen rookie card. And there's no way in hell I'm parting with that.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Separation Anxiety

As many of you know, I dislike the constraints of society, the unspoken "rules" that come from living with people. So naturally, I wasn't eager to "join the crowd" and get to the airport on time. Sure, let's all "go along" and join the faceless mass of carbon copies who show up to stuff "on time" and "get things done in a timely effin' manner". Please.

So, I missed my flight. Just to stick it to the man. Haha, man. You suck. Ziiing!

Of course, sticking it to the man has its price, as I soon relearned for the infinity x 1,000th time. I wound up at the airport with 16 minutes to spare... so I was like, "let's go people, get the hell out of my way--I'm on VACATION!", and pushed a midget into an old woman who tripped over a double-amputee who spilled coffee all over his lap, which fell off... and caught on fire.

I don't carry a government issued picture ID anymore, since losing it when falling down a flight of stairs six years ago, so I knew I'd need those precious 16 minutes to fast-talk my way into the gate and rush into the arms of an overweight 21-year old TSA screener with a tazer-gun, for what I like to call my "security massage". I'm always screened extra-carefully because I'm usually wearing an inappropriately tight t-shirt that says "This shit is B-A-N-A-N-A-S" (because it is). I also get anxious before a flight, so I end up shaving my face too close when getting ready in the morning, and I sometimes have too much rum with my ice and coke for breakfast. The t-shirt also has a picture of a banana on it.

So I get to the counter, my face raw and pink, my breath sour, and my shirt offensive. I whip out my MTA card, a piece of gum, my work ID, a business card, an Ozzie Guillen rookie card, a piece of string, and the fortune paper from a fortune cookie that says, "In any situation, you always know who you are," because I feel I can use that as backup.

The Counter Lady doesn't know what to do with me. She's like,"Your work ID is expired, you can't use it." I'm like, "That's not an expiration date, it's the date I was fired." I show her my Social Security card, and the little rectangle that my fortune is printed on that also contains my lucky numbers and how to say "kneecap" in Chinese. I lean over the counter and am about to deliver a crushingly logical explanation of how I must be who I say I am and not some imposter, when a spurt of blood arcs through the air from my chin, spraying all over my ID, the Counter Lady, and my yellow t-shirt. I quickly dab it with a scrap of toilet paper I keep trailing out of my front pocket for just such an instance.

The lady gets real quiet, her eyes bulge, and she gives me my boarding pass, just like that. She backs away from the counter slowly and deliberately, as if for the last time... like she's never gonna be anywhere near it again.