Monday, January 29, 2007

The recurring dream

I had the recurring dream again this Sat. while napping the afternoon away after a very late outing in Brooklyn on Fri. night. The dream is never quite the same, but the dilemma is: the dead body that I've been hiding behind my couch is causing me some inconvenience. I've had this dream a couple times now and every time I've awoken from it, I've been disturbed enough by both the content and the vividness of the dream that I've had to reassure myself momentarily upon gaining consciousness that it was only a dream. This time the dream seemed to have been inspired by some time I recently spent playing with my niece and nephew. They've become fascinated with my record collection at my parents' house--they like picking out records, mostly because of the colors of the sleeves, putting them on the turntable, and pushing the buttons and working the volume. They don't have much patience for listening to a song all the way through though. It's mostly the picking the records and pushing the buttons that interests them. Anyway, in the dream there are a couple kids running around my apartment (I'm pretty sure they weren't my niece and nephew) and climbing on my couch which is in the kitchen for some reason. I'm aware that there's a body of a man behind the couch and I'm doing my best to steer them away from it. At one point I get a peek of the decomposing body's face. It looks a little like a man who worked in a deli I used to frequent except for his eyes. His eyes are strange looking. It didn't occur to me until right now, but his weird eyes may have been inspired by this article I read recently on the internet. I'm successful in steering the kids away, but I'm also thinking I've got to hide the body better (at one point I check under the couch to see if there's room to shove it up there). The kids run off and the dream ends with me still pondering how I might dispose of the body (in a garbage bag? walk him out as if he were a drunk friend ala Weekend at Bernie's?). Before you start offering the obvious interpretations, you should probably know that it is never acknowledged that I am responsible for the man's death. Usually the dream picks up after the fact and the body is a problem for me more because of its inconvenience than because I am personally responsible for his death.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Every once in a while my stomach throws a revolt. Certain foods set it off and normally I can wait out the preliminary rumblings. But occasionally all hell breaks loose within a couple mouthfuls of my meal (tomato sauce and Chinese food are the chief instigators). Last night a new tomato sauce I liked (Classico's Sausage, Peppers, and Onions) got things started as I began to chow down on a plate of spaghetti. I hadn't eaten very much when I was rushing for the bathroom. It's happened enough before that I wasn't particularly alarmed (even as recently as last November in a Chinese restaurant on my birthday). A quick upchuck of the offensive matter and I'm usually good to go to finish my meal (it sounds strange, I know, but I generally feel pretty good once the episode has passed). Last night was a little different. The retching was quite intense with more gagging than I'm accostomed to. At one point, I couldn't resist, I had to see what effect all this was having on my face. A hideous visage stared back at me from the mirror above the toilet, I was red verging on purple, eyes bulging, with tears, snot (I have a cold), and drool mixing freely while running down my face. I remembered thinking for a moment that this must be what it's like to choke to death. Am I choking to death? Is that what's going on here? What a stupid way to go? Fortunately, the retching ended. Or so I thought. After sitting back down to my spaghetti (I certainly wasn't going to let it go to waste!), I found myself racing back to the bathroom for a second round. This time it was so sudden, I didn't think I was going to make it. With my hand clamped down firmly on my lips, I could feel the pressure of the vomit building within my mouth as I dashed across my kitchen. Well, this is a new twist, I thought. With a headlong lunge, I made it in time, and the retching was indeed less intense this time around.

I'm happy to report that the rest of my meal was uneventful.

Bad boys

While flipping stations the other day, I actually heard a woman refer to her breasts as "bad boys." It was one of those reality dating shows and the woman in question stated matter-of-factly that her potential date would be no challenge once he "got a hold of these bad boys" (and then she swung her tightly bound, probably surgically enhanced breasts toward the camera). It's one thing when guys do stupid shit (I kind of expect it), but when women follow suit, it's always a little more depressing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Our fatal flaw

I've been reading about the Vietnam War in James T. Patterson's Grand Expectations, a great survey of American history between 1945 and1974, which only seems appropriate considering every thing else that's been happening in my life. A description of a conversation between President Johnson and Robert McNamara in December 1965 really struck a chord. When McNamara told Johnson that he doubted the public would support the war for the long time that would be required, Johnson asked, "Then, no matter what we do in the military field there is no sure victory?" McNamara replied, "That's right. We have been too optimistic." This got me thinking about our endeavors in Iraq and whether this may be another instance where our optimism has gotten us into trouble. As good as our intentions may be, it seems we are always stepping in it when confronted with a culture that doesn't share our optimistic, can-do spirit. Maybe it's time we tempered our never-ending optimism with a more existential approach.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What I've learned from my association with alcoholics

They wear you down with their repetitious behavior. And their apologies that are only good until the next time they screw up. And their promises to stop drinking that are just as meaningless as all the apologies. Ponderous, it's all so ponderous.

They also don't seem to be governed by the same clock as most people. So, a phone call at 4:45 a.m. or ringing someone's doorbell like a maniac before 7 in the morning isn't unusual (actually, I was expecting that one--a lot of alcoholic behavior is very predictable--in fact, I had been thinking for a while about how I might confront this particular maniac. Rip Torn and I seem to have had similar ideas for the use of the hammer--fortunately, I didn't have to wield mine).

Worst of all is that it points to a significant problem in me, that I've allowed it to continue for so long and still don't have a clue how to end it (or even worse, that I know how to end it, but don't seem capable of doing so).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Every once in a while I catch myself questioning the spelling of some easy word. Not a good thing considering it's important to what I do for a living. I don't think I'm letting misspelled words get by, but I do find myself reaching for the dictionary more often for reassurance (I just needed reassurance for "reassurance"). Today the word "listen" tripped me up. It just looked wrong to me. There's a "t" in the middle?! Really?! Why?! That doesn't make any sense at all! Maybe the English language is one of those things that retains its mystery even after you think you've got a handle on it. Or should that have been "gotten"? See what I mean? It never ends.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Jersey

I'm a big fan of The Jersey Journal, the local newspaper for most of Hudson County. How else would I know that most of my fellow citizens (or at least most of the riders who get picked up on the Light Rail without a ticket) have warrants out or that someone is being busted just about every other day at the Rite Aid for shoplifting razor blades? Without the Jersey Journal I wouldn't know about the mini-riots that break out with alarming regularity when a bar brawl spills out into the street and the police are called in. And when did young people become so brazen? Almost every one of these mini-riot stories ends with some young person (usually a woman!) spitting at the police. Drunk drivers also seem to be everywhere, falling asleep behind the wheel and at stop lights or plowing into parked cars. Thomas Hobbes famously noted that the life of man is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." A regular reader of The Jersey would be hard-pressed to disagree.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The sign

To paraphrase Thoreau, "Most residents of Bayonne lead lives of barely contained anger and go to the grave with the fury still in them."

I walked by the house where I saw the sign last night. I was hoping it was still planted in the patch of grass beside the curb. Unfortunately, it wasn't. I had seen it shortly after Christmas on my walk to the Light Rail. It was a white piece of plastic attached to one of those wooden spikes people use for gardening. Scrawled across it in black magic marker were the words, "Please pick up your dog shit" and below the words was an arrow pointing down to a considerable pile of shit in the grass. I have to admit, the sign made me laugh. I recognized in it immediately the mad rage that went into its construction, a rage that had surfaced on a few occasions when I had been confronted by the incivility and utter stupidity of my neighbors.

It's probably unavoidable when so many people are living in such close proximity to one another and feeling the pressures of living from paycheck to paycheck (Bayonne still feels more working class to me compared to the tonier parts of Jersey City and Hoboken). There have been several incidents where I've completely lost it with my neighbors and, similarly, my neighbors have lost it with me.

The worst was probably the time someone had clearly backed out of a driveway and hit the driver's side of my car that was parked on the street, denting it enough so that I couldn't open the door. I was pissed! So pissed that I immediately began haranguing a couple of old ladies sweeping up leaves in front of a house next to the driveway. When they failed to acknowledge who might have been responsible, I began to pound on the door to their house (in my rage, I was convinced they were covering for the true culprit who cowered within). I demanded justice and wasn't going to leave until I was satisfied. Eventually, I had to leave, but I wasn't going to do so without a dramatic flourish. "You better do the right thing here. If you're decent, you'll find out who hit my car and come foward. I'll be back, so you better do the right thing." Of course, all I got in return when I inquired a couple days later were looks of incredulity. I might as well have been some schmuck from the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Other times I've exploded against neighbors include the time I went off on a couple jerks who sicked their Rottweiler on me while I was walking down the sidewalk (the idiots didn't think I could hear them in the alley when they said "Get him"--they called the dog off at the last second before it could sink its teeth into me). I even called the police after that incident. The police told me no one answered when they knocked at the address I provided and that was that (I never knew it was so easy to elude the police--it's a wonder anyone answers the door when the police come knocking). Then there was the time I gave a neighbor an earful on the phone when she was responsible for me getting a couple parking tickets (I had had the audacity to park in the spot in front of her house that she felt was reserved exclusively for her). Recently, I came close to blowing up when a guy behind me decided he wanted to use every loud power tool he owned early one Saturday morning. In succession, he mowed his lawn (really just a small patch of grass), blew a few leaves around (when I peeked out of my window he was actually using the leafblower on his building! To what purpose, I have no idea. Maybe he didn't like cobwebs.), and then, just for good measure, he got his power saw out and began cutting up what looked like broken lawn chairs (he clearly wasn't making anything, just cutting things into smaller pieces). But because he was wearing those goofy long shorts thuggish types are fond of I backed off and let him continue making his racket. And just a couple weeks ago I began mentally composing nasty notes I wanted to leave on cars intentionally taking up more than one parking spot on the steet (regardless of the fact that they were depriving me of a good spot--their selfish action was enough to set me off). I didn't do it this time, but I'm not so sure I'll be able to suppress the urge the next time.

Parking often acts as a spark in these incidents. I've been yelled at (and yelled back) a few times by homeowners who felt I was infringing on the sacred borders of their driveways (I recently saw a news article about "Parking rage" in San Francisco--Bayonne's been experiencing "Parking rage" for years). One guy yelled at me late at night from the window of his house. Apparently, he had nothing better to do than sit in the dark watching his driveway. Another time an elderly man who lived in the building adjacent to mine called the police to complain that I was playing my television too loud. That was a headscratcher. I think that guy went a little crazy shortly after that, so I never held it against him.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

That smell

I gotta agree that NJ got a bum rap in the rotten odor thing on Monday. Without any substantial proof, Bloomberg pinned the blame on Jersey. Who did he consult with to come to this conclusion? A bunch of hack comedians? And yet, more people complained about the odor in NY. If the smell originated in the swamps of Jersey, wouldn't it have cut a considerable swath through northern NJ on its way to Manhattan? And yet only two people checked into hospitals with complaints in NJ compared to twelve in Manhattan. I'm no expert, but anyone who's ever farted knows that foul odors disperse with distance, not the other way around. Or maybe the New Yorkers who are always reminding us how "tough" they are just proved that truly, deep down, they're really just a bunch of dainty dilettantes.

I didn't smell anything unusual on Monday. Or maybe having lived in Bayonne for many years, downwind from a rendering plant in Newark, I've become immune to foul odors. Actually, it's been quite a while since I last detected the tangy, Kraft macaroni and cheese mix-like smell (it went so well with the perennial orange night sky) that often wafted over the bay to give Bayonne its distinct odor. Sometimes it was so strong you would swear you could taste it! How many other towns can boast of both familiar sights AND smells? Well, Staten Island for one, but that's because half the borough is a gigantic dump hee hee hee hee hee!

Friday, January 05, 2007

God's lonely men

I don't have a lot of friends in the town where I live. In the nearly fifteen years that I've lived in Bayonne, I can count the number of people I know in town on one hand (and some of those, it could be argued, I would have been better off not knowing). It's not that I'm anti-social, it's just that most of my friends I either grew up with or met through jobs or other friends. A half-assed effort to meet other people in bars in Bayonne blew up in my face several years ago and I've never looked back (I learned that it's all right to bring friends to a bar in Bayonne, but making friends there is a whole other story).

I don't seem to be alone in my predicament. Two other, middle-aged, single guys who live in my building seem to have found themselves in the same situation. Well, maybe not quite the same. J. works for the sanitation department in the city. I'm pretty sure he's got mental problems (I've never flat out asked him). He's a good guy who, I'm sure, would be willing to help you if you ever needed him in a pinch (although I suspect he probably would draw the line if you asked him to bail you out of jail-- but, then again, so would most people). For obvious reasons, J.'s loneliness probably runs deepest. It's gotten so bad that he's taken to listening to the radio in his car parked on the street at night rather than face the loneliness that must weigh on him more heavily in his apartment. At least on the street there's the chance someone he knows might pass by and he can jump out of his car and have a conversation. He's startled me a number of times by doing this. He also goes out of his way to say "hello" to every woman who passes him on the street, old or young, whether he knows them or not. Obviously, this strategy hasn't panned out for him, but who am I to judge considering my strategy has produced the very same results.

J.D. lives on the first floor of my building. We moved beyond head-nodding to each other as we passed when someone stole his new Sirius car radio (for some reason he left it unattended on the front stoop of our building and someone must have walked off with it). It was then that I became aware of his very severe stuttering problem. I've met and had dealings with other people who have stuttered and it is always awkward. As much as you'd like to help, there's really nothing you can do as they struggle with their words (something I can relate to since I often become tongue-tied in trying to be precise when speaking). To his credit, J.D. doesn't seem shy in a social setting. I often run into him at a restaurant down the block. With a few drinks in him, the stuttering seems to abate and he can be quite gregarious. But even in this relaxed setting the guy can't win. When I noticed a couple bartenders conspiring to pull a prank on him, I got a sense he may not be one of their favorite regulars. And when he informed me that he likes to run his air conditioner even when the temperature is in the 60s (I heard it running one night and couldn't believe it), I understood that he was, like me, in this bachelor thing for the long and lonely haul.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

You never know

The couple who live across the hall from me have split up. "Split" is putting it mildly. Apparently, the husband took a razor to his wrists unsuccessfully around Thanksgiving. I was out of town when the bloody scene took place. I didn't learn about it until a couple weeks later when I heard unfamiliar voices in the hall and popped my head out to see two policemen waiting for the poor bastard to pack his bags.

I felt bad for the guy. I didn't know either of them very well, only to say "hello" in passing, but when I did see them, they were usually together and seemed happy. The husband, a taxi driver, had given me a ride to the airport when I went to Las Vegas last year. It was the first time I had ever really spoken to him at any length. He seemed nice enough, although he couldn't help expressing some dissatisfaction with living in the United States (he and his wife had moved here from Poland several years ago). He was driving a taxi, he explained, because a co-worker screwed him at his previous job (I don't know what that job was, but I had occasionally seen him on the bus from New York late at night--I also heard him, like clockwork, climbing the stairs to his apartment when he got home from work). Besides this conversation, there were no other signs that trouble was in the works. Unless it only happened when I wasn't at home, I can honestly say I had never heard them fighting in their apartment (it's sad to say, but they've probably heard more noise coming from my apartment).

Well, there was another sign. One morning, a couple months prior to the split up, the husband flipped his lid. A single mother who lives in the apartment below makes quite a racket getting her young daughter off to school each morning. The mother's screaming can be heard throughout the building. I really feel sorry for the kid. She really drew the short straw when she got that lunatic for a mother. Anyway, they were going at it as usual when the husband burst out of his apartment to shout, "Shut up, you stupid bitch!" Not the most polite thing you can say to a neighbor, but things were noticeably quieter for the next several days.

That was probably a sign that things were gradually becoming unraveled. Last night I saw the inevitable letter hanging from the lobby mailbox with the note "Return to sender. M. B. no longer lives at this address" scrawled across it.

The neighbor who filled me in on what had happened on Thanksgiving said alcohol was involved. Ah.

Is this how it starts?

An intermittent, dull, throbbing pain in the nuts. Is this how it starts? It was different for a friend. In his case the pain came on sudden and sharp and by the end of the day he was minus a ball. Better minus a ball than minus a life, I guess.

Am I the only one who thinks that there's a very real chance I won't make it through the day alive? When did that start? Oh, I know, but after nearly twenty years you'd think thoughts like that would diminish. They didn't. In fact, they're more intense than ever now that I'm on the other side of middle age. Well, when it happens, no one will be able to say, "He never saw it coming" hee hee hee hee hee.

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