The Unbearable Banishment: August 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I watched a man unravel

Four months ago they hired a consultant to do the same type of work that I do. Consulting is the new normal in these parts. He was super-efficient and knew the software. His work was clean, fast and accurate. But because he was such a quiet guy, I didn’t get to know him very well. He disappeared into the background like wallpaper. Not rude or standoffish. He exchange pleasantries and made shallow conversation. The "how-was-your-weekend" type of banalities. But he never really engaged anyone.

At work yesterday he was agitated. Perhaps it seemed more pronounced because of the juxtaposition between his normal quiet self and this suddenly aggressive demeanor. Instead of crawling inside his work as usual, he walked up to people, stood in their personal space or stepped a little too far into their cube, and asked pointed, personal questions. He was sweating a lot. I wish I had a more elegant or medically accurate term for “crazy eyes” but that’s what he had. Anger radiated like laser beams.

The girl who sits next to him got up and moved to a desk on the other side of the floor because he was mumbling incoherently to himself. Eventually, he walked over to my desk, stood over me and said, “The disparity between rich and poor is getting worse. Am I wrong?! AM I WRONG?!” He told me his mother bought the shirt he was wearing for him and that she instructed him to try and interact with people more.

He was scaring the shit out of a lot of people so someone told management. The Managing Director of Marketing and Communications (my boss x 3) called him into his office and closed the door. He came back to his desk about a half hour later and seemed even more agitated than before. Now he was talking out loud to himself. We work in an open-architecture environment so we all just sat there and listened to him fall apart.

He cornered me in the break room. All I wanted was my goddamn afternoon tea. He was sweating profusely and directed his anger at our boss. He started shouting, “You know what? FUCK ADRIENNE and her fucking file-naming conventions. FUCK HER!” Adrienne is one of the sweetest women I’ve ever worked for.

Because I’m a hopeless coward, I thought of going into the men's restroom, locking myself inside a stall and picking my feet up so he couldn’t see me. He was called into the Managing Director’s office a second time and this time when he came out he gathered his things and left. On his way out the door he came up to me and said, “I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off because (this part loudly) SOME PEOPLE are really trying to PISS ME OFF TODAY.”

After he left people were making jokes. But I think the jokes were born from nervous energy and were not an effort to make fun. Four days ago, a former disgruntled employee shot a co-worker to death just outside the Empire State Building. The story had been in a constant loop here. We were all waiting for the worst to happen. His ID was immediately deactivated and IT wasted no time in wiping his computer clean. It was scary.

I don’t know if this episode was narcotic or psychotic. I feel terrible for the guy. He woke up this morning with nowhere to go. I know what that's like and it’s the worst feeling in the world. But when it happened to me, I had a story to tell. Morgan Stanley laid me off. What’s this guy’s story? What’s he going to tell a potential employer? At work, it is, of course, the main topic of conversation. People lead such dull lives and now they have something unusual to talk about. They're a bunch of busybodies.

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Take a look at this fat bastard. He's been tormenting me all throughout August.

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His body alone is about half the size of your thumb. Every night he builds a gigantic web on the basketball hoop post, right next to where I park my car. I leave work at 5:30 in the morning and if I'm in my usual stupor and not paying attention, my arm will snag it. Have you ever walked into a gigantic spider web? It's like an invisible hand grabbing your face. 5:30 in the morning ups the creep factor x 10. That usually wakes my ass up pretty quick. One day, Mrs. Wife is going to come out of the house to fetch the Asbury Park Press and I'm going to be hanging upside down from the basketball hoop wrapped in a web.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rasslin' with my dad

One of the few places my dad took my brother and I when we were kids was the professional wrestling matches in the old, now demolished, Cleveland Arena on Euclid Avenue. The Cleveland Area was the site for Alan Freed's Moondog Coronation Ball, which is considered to be the first rock and roll concert. The show was oversold and ended in a near riot (of course).

 A snowy night at the Cleveland Arena

The Arena might have had historical value, but by the time we were going to wrestling matches there, it had become a broken down hulk of a building in a terrible neighborhood. One night, we saw some poor guy get hit by a car that must have been going 60 mph down Euclid. It happened right in front of us. He was knocked high into the air and was spinning with his arms and legs spread out like a pinwheel. He was carrying a box of popcorn and he never let go. He hit the street and the popcorn flew everywhere. My dad said, “Do you guys want to go have a look?! We said no thanks, dad. I knew he wanted to.

My brother and I were big wrestling fans. We watched Championship Wrestling on channel 43 and Big Time Wrestling on channel 61. Going downtown to see our heroes do battle in the flesh thrilled my tiny 12-year old bones to the very marrow. I had NO IDEA the fights were fixed and the outcomes predetermined, and I was embarrassingly old when I finally realized it.

Bobo Brazil


A massive black man. A face. (That‘s what they called the good guys.) During one match we attended, Bobo’s head was smashed into the turnbuckle by the heel. (That‘s what the bad guys were called.) While he was shaking his head and regaining his senses, the heel snuck a metal folding chair into the ring and smashed Bobo over the head a few times. (The ref didn't see the chair. That should have been my tip-off that something was up.)

A huge black woman sitting right behind me started crying hysterically. Real tears and weeping! She stood up and started screaming at the top of her lungs, "Git up Bobo! Git up!" Our seats were so far away that there's no way he heard her.

Of course, Bobo got up. (They always got up.) And, boy, was he pissed about the metal folding chair. Every wrestler had a signature closing move that got him out of a jam and Bobo's was the Coco Butt. It's an exotic name for a head-butt. He applied a few Coco Butts to the heel and the woman behind me started laughing and shouting, "That's RIGHT Bobo! That's RIGHT! KILL him! KILL HIM!" It was fantastic.

This hairy bastard was Wild Bull Curry.


A heel. During one match at the Arena, someone about 20 rows up held up a big, cardboard sign that said, “BOOOO! FAKE!” I was incredulous. What do you mean fake!? Wild Bull was even angrier. He climbed out of the ring, ran through the crowd, up into the stands, grabbed the sign and ripped it to shreds. I suppose it was a plant but it was real drama to me at the time.

This was may favorite heel. Pamparo Firpo, the Wild Beast from the Pampas.


When he appeared on TV, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He had a voice like gravel and would punctuate his sentences with, “Oohhhh YEAAAAHH! He would drool and dribble all over his beard. He would taunt his opponents while petting a shrunken head (shown above). His closing move was the Claw Hold. He would clamp his big hand on the top of his opponent’s skull and squeeeeeze. His opponents would howl in pain. God, I loved it.

This was Johnny Powers, The Man of the Hour. He was the biggest face in Cleveland. A pretty boy. A star.


His closing move was the Power Lock (shown above). He’d get his opponent’s legs all twisted up and they’d be in so much agony they’d slap the mat and end the match. But then disaster struck. A heel (I forgot which one) discovered a COUNTER MOVE to the Power Lock. (You roll over.) It was a sad Saturday afternoon when that happened.

Power’s arch nemesis was Reginald Love. He and his brother, Hartford Love, were The Love Brothers.


They were the heel’s heel. They dressed in hippie beads and psychedelic wrestling tights. I later discovered that in real life, they weren’t actually brothers. And Reginald and Hartford weren’t even their real names! They said they chose those names because they "wanted to sound like snobs."

Once on Championship Wrestling, Powers was admiring a wristwatch that had just been presented to him for his birthday from the Cleveland chapter of the “Johnny Powers Fan Club.” Reginald walked into the studio, made fun of the watch and called Powers "a donkey." Powers said, “I have something you don’t have…fans.” Reginald countered with, “Well, I have something you don’t have…A HAMMER!” He took a hammer out of his back pocked and smashed the watch to bits. They started wrestling on the studio floor. Excellent! I read in a Powers interview years later that he had no idea Reginald was going to do that. It was completely unscripted. He really was angry that the watch had been smashed.

This was more than a decade before Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and all those pussies. It lost something for me when it became stadium-spectacular. The only wrestler from that era worth a damn was Brutus the Barber Beefcake. His closing move was to knock his opponent out with a sleeper hold and give them a really shitty haircut before reviving them. That took balls.

Another evening on the way home we stopped off at the L&K Diner for sundaes. My dad started flirting with the much younger waitress. She asked how he wanted his coffee and he said, “Blonde. Like you.” and he winked. I was embarrassed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bring me the head of Buzz Lightyear

The latest tourist shakedown is to dress up in popular animated character costumes and stroll around Times Square. The kiddies insist on having their picture taken with them and the parents surrender a few bucks. It must be lucrative because they're all over the place. Lots of Sesame Street characters. Dora the Explorer. Hello Kitty.

They aparate out of nowhere and roam the streets. I was passing the 42nd Street subway station and stumbled upon a guy preparing for a hard, hot day inside a costume.


Apparently, there's a team of assistants who help out.


I don't begrudge them. It seems like an honest way to make a living. It's probably no fun to be cooped-up inside a costume during this unusually hot summer. And the kids are genuinely thrilled. Big happy smiles.


He was annoyed that I was taking pictures and stopped walking up the stairs. He wouldn't move until I left, so I did.


Another hidden facet of the city that I know nothing about. Wheels within wheels.

*     *     *

I met a friend for drinks last evening. Interesting guy. The grandson of iconic American director/ screenwriter/ producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He always has good stories to tell. We met at a casual outdoor venue but as soon as we got there it started to pour rain. A biblical deluge!

We dashed into the closest indoor bar, which happened to be in the Bryant Park Hotel. It's not my scene but it was convenient. Lots of after work suit-and-tie corporate types. Thumping club music. A bit of a meat market. And crazy expensive. A round of drinks for the two of us was $33.75 (before gratuity). We were drinking premium liquor and eating free hot bar appetizers, but still.

As we sat talking, a guy walked in and sat a few tables away. Upper management, from the looks of his tailored suit and manicured nails. Probably in his late 50s. Not fat but kind of soft around the edges. Average looks and aura. To shamelessly borrow from Bukowski:

there he is:
not too many hangovers
not too many fights with women
not too many flat tires
never a thought of suicide

not more than three toothaches
never missed a meal 
never in jail
never in love 

7 pairs of shoes
a son in college
a car one year old
insurance policies
a very green lawn
garbage cans with tight lids
he'll be elected

Ten minutes later he's joined by a stunningly beautiful Asian woman. Early 30s, if that. She sits next to him—not across the table. Peck on the cheek. Chat-chat-chat. He reaches down and produces a small, elegant shopping bag. She opens it, takes out a pretty box. It's a watch. He liberates it from the stubborn packaging and slips it onto her delicate, porcelain wrist. Kiss.

This struck me as the oldest dance steps from the oldest book ever written. I wish them well and hope they find happiness. And if it doesn't last, perhaps they can find some moments of peace and comfort in each others' arms.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Unbearable Summer Film Festival

I'm full of lazy, late summer ennui and since I don't like spilling the dreck of my soul all over my nice clean blog space, here are a few fun videos that have been littering my iPhone. Each is only a few seconds long. It's quality! Not quantity! Ironically, if you're reading this post through an iPhone, you can't view any of the videos. In that case, scroll to the end for a David Sedaris reveal that took me by surprise.

Ultimate Squeak Toy Attack

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We only hire the most ambitious, energetic and driven balls of fire that New York City has to offer. People with a sense of purpose and a clear goal in mind. Eyes on the prize. For instance, this spark plug who works next to me.

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Sitting not ten feet away is a bevy of squeaky-clean summer student interns who are highly caffeinated and are incessant note-takers. Our every utterance is carefully recorded. Give them 20 years. They'll be napping, too.

Wrong Direction in the Lincoln Tunnel on a Hot, Rainy Night

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:23 Seconds in Central Park

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Can you see the tiny waterfall? Nice. If you walk just three minutes south of this scene, you'll be in one of the most congested, crowded, tourist-swollen areas of Manhattan. Taxis are zig-zagging in every direction with horns blasting. Sirens are screaming at you to get the hell out of the way. You could get run over by an MTA bus or a hansom cab if you're not careful. It's pretty amazing. To me.

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I bought David Sedaris' first book Barrel Fever when it was published in 1994. Prior to its publication I was in a writing workshop with him and the stuff he read in class was far superior to what everyone else was doing, so I knew the book would be great. And it is.

In his story Parade, he imagines a series of loving relationship with a bevy of clearly heterosexual celebrities. During his fling with Mike Tyson, he and Tyson buy a Persian/Himalayan blend kitten and Mike insists on naming it "Pitty Ting." For some reason, this struck me as being deeply funny. I laughed about it for weeks and weeks. I'd be walking down 6th Avenue, think about the absurdity of Mike Tyson calling a kitten "Pitty Ting" and laugh out loud. It's 18 years later and I still remember that one line! So clever.

I just finished a book of short stories by Southern writer Flannery O'Connor. I've heard about O'Connor for years and I know she's influenced a lot of writers so I thought it was high time to look into her work. I thought she would be a demure lady author telling grand old tales of the sweet life in the South. It turns out that her stories are full of murders and darkness and horrible hillbillies who will cut your throat and steal your artificial leg.

In her short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" (as horrific an ending as you're ever likely to read), there's a chatty old grandmother who has A CAT NAMED PITTY SING. What the fuck! Sedaris stole that, right?! There's no way that's a coincidence.

It's really not that big a deal. Hardly worth a blog post. But I kinda wish I'd never known.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

No, they should not.

Do you remember my story last year about the book I published for Nick Hornby and Bruce Springsteen? It had a happy/sad conclusion. After several years of fits and starts, it was finally printed, bound and sold. The end result was very satisfactory little letterpress chapbook and a check for nearly $16,000 for a school for autistic children in London. The sad part was that it annihilated the great friendship between myself and the printer.

Flash to now. We had reconciled via email at the beginning of 2011. This week, he visited New York. It was the first time we'd met face-to-face since the Thunder Road kerfuffle. Miraculously, (or, perhaps, not so miraculously) it's as if nothing bad ever happened between us. There were no aftershocks. Nothing! We picked up our conversation right where we left off and spent the day yammering like two old hens. What a relief. What a gift!

I put on my tour guide chapeau and we spent the day scouring the museums, art galleries and rare bookstores of Manhattan. I don't know anyone who has a deeper knowledge or greater passion for printing than this guy. His enthusiasm is infectious. We visited the Morgan Library where there are printing samples ranging from Egyptian stone scrolls through to a Gutenberg bible, a Shakespeare first folio, to handwritten letters by Hemingway where he liberally drops the "F" bomb and concertos penned by Mozart.

We saw the Weegee exhibit at the International Center for Photography and after a walk on the Highline we ducked in and out of a dozen art galleries in Chelsea. I was wondering how I could parlay a day like that into a lucrative career. Here's a small sampling of what we stumbled across in the art world. [Sorry, iPhone users. You'll miss out on some terrific film clips.]

This piece of brilliance is BIT.FALL by German artist Julius Popp. A stream of water is released in once second intervals. As that "section" of water falls, a word is projected onto it. The text is generated by a statistical algorithm that randomly pulls words from the current stream of news on the internet. The illusion is that solid words dissolve into nothing.

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There's some deeper meaning about the impermanence of cultural information but, honestly, I don't care about that stuff. This is simply a very clever, fun piece.

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This summer's outdoor public art exhibit at Madison Square Park is Pet Sounds by California-based artist Charles Long.


The candy-colored sculptures look like great globs of silly putty that drip off rails, tables and benches. They also have a very effective interactive feature.


If you smooth your hand over the surface...


...the sculptures vibrate and emit weird, spacy, other-worldly sounds.


Each sculpture makes its own, unique, sound. You might have to turn the volume up a bit but I was able to capture the "pet sound" as I caressed it. It also vibrated as I ran my hand down its back. Probably not the most sanitary exhibit I've ever seen but if you're frightened by germs, then this city probably isn't the place for you, anyway.

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From the sublime to the ridiculous. We saw this mess at one of the galleries in Chelsea.


I don't know the name of this piece, nor the artist who did it, but it's nothing more than what you see here; a carrot leaning on an avocado sitting on a wooden shelf next to a chain. I inquired about the price, because I had to, and you can buy this for $4,000. This is why some people find modern art off-putting. You can probably pick up a copy of ArtForum and they'll explain to you in an incomprehensible language what this piece means, but I think it's just lazy junk, especially when compared to the above.