Imagination was given to man to compensate for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is. We don’t lose our sense of humor because we get old. We get old because we lose our sense of humor. The problem with humor is often that people you use it on aren’t in a very good mood. And Joey G was cute when he was being humorless…

The skinny guy was about two feet from the top of climbing the 30-foot greased pole. He was part of a team of other skinny guys with tattoos, climbing over each other, groping and hoping to get to the prizes hanging above.

The huge crowd of thousands at South Philadelphia’s sun-filled, jammed, 10-block-long Italian Festival was cheering him and his motley crew on. For no one had succeeded… yet.

Behind them gazed the watchful eyes of the wall-size mural of Philly’s erstwhile Italian mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo. Hizzoner, known by many pejorative monikers during his thunderous reign in the ‘60s and ‘70s, once notoriously stuffed a nightstick into his ample tuxedo cummerbund as he departed a banquet and headed off to crack some skulls.

Hmm-hmm….

Meanwhile, in front of them puffing under the Twin Smoke Shoppe cigar tent stood Joey Gannascoli and ‘me.’ Joey G is the squat, wide-faced 350-pounder who played the gay Vito in the TV mega hit Italian mob series ‘Sopranos.’ Although the show ended over 10 years ago after 6 smash seasons, Joey G still sets folks to squealing, regularly appearing at such festivals to sell signed memorabilia and posing for group pictures.

At one point, while the crowd was oohing and ahhing over the grease pole monkeys Joey G paused his pen and smiled appreciatively their way. And with a nod towards me he simply uttered: “You don’t get many chances in life. You don’t want to waste them.”

At first I thought it was kind of a cliché. And since I struggle to speak the language of banalities I sought to respond something ridiculous. You know, like: ‘Yeah, if your parents never had children, chances are neither will you.’

But, live interaction with a crowd is a cathartic, spiritual kind of exchange, and it’s intensified at a festival. And I think Joey G was harking back to that old Italian expression that goes something like: You can’t sleep on the fame.

Just then, the skinny guy two feet from the top of the grease pole started sliding away. Millimeters, then inches, then foot by foot as he and his crew came slipping and crumbling down. The crowd exhaled its hopeful disappointment.

“Another almost,” laughed Joey G, like it was something personal. “Hey, we’ve all been there… the story of our lives. Some of us almost make it. Some of us think we’ve made it. But most of us just slide away.”

Hmm… so another grease pole becomes another allegory for our lives. Made me want to strike up another cigar and blow some symbolic smoke. But a tall, gaunt Irish guy with long stringy hair beat me to the metaphor.

He strolled right up to Joey G while he was picture-posing for a proud mother with her handicapped child. And not in a casual, but more demanding inquiry, the pained-faced fellow practically insisted on knowing what Joey G was doing ‘now.’

I think Joey G is sick and tired of being sick and tired of such insistent questions. So after his dark eyes scanned across his table of memorabilia, photographs of the Sopranos cast and a bunch of license plates with such Italian urban slang as ‘fuhgeddaboudit,’ he cracked a sardonic pose and replied:

‘I’m into porn now. Sometimes with farm animals.’

Hmm… You just never know, do you?

But I do know a lot of men are insecure about their sexuality – as if you-know-what is actually contagious. And you might have thought Joey G pulled a .44 magnum loaded with hollow points out of his too-long-for-shorts-and-too-short-for-pants zipper. For the tall guy’s facial expression turned all kinds dumb and confounded before he scampered off. Desperately pushing away folks in the overcrowded 9th Street festival like he just seen Godzilla clomping his way.

‘Can you believe that guy?’ a dismayed Joey G said to me. ‘They’re a danger to laughter.’

‘Humor can get lost during an autopsy,’ I teased.

‘Yeah, look who’s talking.’

‘Hey, I’m all into porn with farm animals.’

‘That doesn’t count,’ he retorted. ‘You grew up as a farm animal.’

‘Sheesh. And let me show you how I can squeal like a rutting hog…’

At that a hefty couple of smiling anthropomorphic cows waddled up mooing all about how they just loved Joey G on the Sopranos.

“I really, really love you, Joey,” swooned the wife.

‘You do know he’s gay,’ I joked, referring to Joey G’s Vito character.

Hmm… Apparently it was something I said. Because the rotund husband shot me a look that was like a knee to the only privacy the NSA hasn’t invaded. And then, referring to my collection of butterfly pins on my less-than-brawny chest, he snorted: ‘And how about you?’

‘Oh,’ I offered in a manly tone. ‘Don’t worry ‘bout me.’ And slowly boasted: ‘I am a lesbian.’

That took a few seconds to penetrate as they chewed their cuds of pasta. (That’s the trouble with Italian food – five or six days later you’re hungry again.) And then I chirped: ‘Just give me 11 seconds with your wife.’

And Joey G shot back: ‘Are you cheating on me again?’

Couple didn’t know whether to giggle or wonder if they had wandered into an abattoir. But they still wanted to get their photo with the former celebrity. And Joey G kindly reminded them that if they first bought a picture or video or whatnot he would gladly pose with them.

And ain’t that the business of life — Milking your success 10 years after that sun has set. For, among all the urgent demands and necessities of living, nothing is stronger than dire necessity.

Hmm…

Once more the crowd was cheering for another grease pole climber. This one looked like he was really gonna make it. And like the song goes: …If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

‘Did anyone make it yet?’ Joey G asked aloud.

‘Yeah,” I offered, ‘You do realize it ain’t rocket surgery. One guy so far. A while ago.’

‘I must have missed it.’

“No you didn’t, Joey,” I grunted. “I may have missed it. Most of the folks here may have missed it. But not you. You had your moment.”

“Moment of what?” He seemed genuinely puzzled.

“Success,” I said. “A real hit. Out of the park.”

And just for a moment you could almost see Joey G’s mental gerbil spinning back a rerun of “The Sopranos,” and his Vito.

“That’s more than 99 percent,” I said.

Indeed.

But you could also witness a fleeting sadness in his eyes. Almost a shadow of a passing cloud. In that wink of a moment you could see that for Joey G ‘once’ was not enough. He yearned for another hit at it. He needed it, for all the reasons we all seek it. We all possess the same desire — one more turn in the barrel.

So, to snap him back to the day-to-day grind of life, I offered up to him: ‘Did you ever hear the one about the Jewish Prince?’

‘Which one?’

‘Well,’ I continued, ‘this one called up a Jewish Princess and asked her to marry him. She said no… And he lived happily ever after.’

Joey G, laughed appreciatively, as I admonished him: ‘Lose your mind, Joey, but keep your sense of humor.’

Hmm…

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Just as there are doctors who help people who have done bad things, there are lawyers who defend bad people. People do not win fights, lawyers do. Everyone thinks defense lawyers must believe their clients are innocent, but that’s seldom true. Most of the time they are guilty as O.J… yet Trev also got his client off — mostly…

Trev collapsed into the cushy chair and exhaled a long satisfied pillar of smoke from his cigar. And while it formed a cumulus cloud of contentment over his exhausted, shaved head he simply uttered: “Well, I did my job…”

When a lawyer says something like that, after a ‘successful’ week-long trial, fire drills generally go off in my head. You know you gotta wonder: Who got screwed? Like the old joke about some guys eyeballing a tall leggy woman sashaying down the street, and declaring: ‘I’d like to screw that.’

And the lawyer retorts: “Outta what…”

Hmm…

Needless to say, by and large, I disdain these venal, vapid, vile legal representatives. They seem to spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke. Not to mention that the rule of law in the U.S. has become the unbearable rule of lawyers. You know: The trouble with the law ‘is’ the lawyers.

They think because they are successfully making good money they can do nothing wrong. They set the lucrative, yet contradictory rules. They set the fees. And, unfortunately, what many people forget is that judges ‘setting’ on the bench ain’t nuttin’ but lawyers wearing robes.

But I know Trev. We are cigar buddies. And to tell you the truth he works hard. And undeniably the former Philadelphia assistant DA turned defense attorney is, like most of us, rather human – unlike many of them.

And no matter what ill feelings some of us may harbor towards these scoundrels – especially those of us who have lost even more than the house, the cars, the kids and our clean underwear — it is unfair to believe everything bad we hear about lawyers.

Indeed some of it may not be true…

For the truth is in today’s world nothing important is done in the United States without lawyers.

Damn! Forgive me for admitting that. I’ll have to recite three Hail Marys and pledge my next paycheck to trees in Israel.

But it’s reality, salient, the truth and nuttin’ but… And the truth is, if bad and devious folks didn’t lie, cheat, steal and murder there would be no need for lawyers – good, bad or otherwise.

Hmm…

But as Trev unfolded his just completed murder case to me, I have to admit I was having a few personal, layman issues — moral, ethical and just plain-old-simple-common-sense wise. On the other hand, common sense ain’t so common no more. Especially when lawyers are involved.

You know, it’s as if someone kidnapped justice and hid it in the law.

But I was also getting the feeling that even Trev, skin-deep or down deep in his marinating bones, might have thought his client was guilty, guilty, guilty…

Then again, as some crusty old lawyer once espoused: Justice has nothing to do with what goes on in a courtroom. It’s what comes out of a courtroom.

It turns out Trev’s client was found both innocent and guilty. The jury found him guilty of the robbery, but innocent of the murder.

‘But he was there, at the scene,’ I wondered.

‘Definitely,’ offered Trev. ‘There is no doubt about that. The prosecution had two corroborating witnesses.’ Although Trev did point out that he had managed to trip up one of the plea bargainer’s stories in about thirteen or fourteen contradictions.

‘Was anybody else charged?’

‘No, they never found him.’

‘Okay,’ I said in pursuing the obvious, ‘then who fired the shot that stopped the dead guy’s heart from its Timex ticking?’

‘I don’t know,’ postured Trev, while leaning forward with a furrowed forehead. ‘But what I can tell you… the most pertinent piece of evidence…’

‘Oh-no!’ I snorted before he finished getting it out.’ Is this where the Mother jumps up hysterically sobbing in the courtroom, swearing that it wasn’t her sweet son’s fault. That he was psychologically scarred when he failed to make the high school chess team because of his height.’

Trev offered a tired smile and leaned back with an exhale of smoke in my direction.

In continuing, Trev said the gun was never found. But forensics determined the bullets used were the wrong caliber for the apparent 9mm murder weapon. I think he said the bullets were on the order of .380s. And that they became distorted from being fired in a 9mm.

Hmm… I donno, that’s above my non-union marksmanship.

However, Trev went on, 13 months almost to the day that very same gun with the same wrong bullets was used in another robbery. The victim was shot but didn’t die. And the crème de la crème was that Trev’s client was in jail at that time awaiting trial.

Hmm… the client didn’t get a trial for 2 years?

“No bail on a murder charge,” explained Trev.

‘You mean no bail for the poor. Not Trump’s friends.’

Trev waved away my jaded remarks like bothersome smoke.

So I merely offered: ‘Ah-ha! The plot sickens.’

And in the end, as Trev noted, there was reasonable doubt. Or enough for the jury to be out for two whole days. That was good. He knew they were thinking that something was amiss in the case.

Yeah, like what stupid idiot would use the same wrong bullets in the same wrong gun to do practically the same wrong crime?

On the other hand, Trev said his concern was that “if the jury was only out a few hours I knew it would be bad.”

Or perhaps, as I posed, ‘they were out so long because they wanted another free lunch. After all, what do jury members get? Something like a dollar an hour – to usurp divine providence?’

Hmm… And it is my distinct understanding that lawyers get paid much, much more to keep their client’s neck from the jury’s noose.

“The family did pay me,” intoned Trev.

Indeed.

In the end, Trev’s client got sentenced to 8 years, with two already served.

“But he could have gotten life.”

At that, I pointed out, somewhat smugly, he also could have testified.

“No way,” insisted Trev. “No way.”

But of course!

As we all are aware from ‘Perry Mason’ to ‘Law & Order’ there are many misdirections and strategies a lawyer pulls out of a hat in the courtroom. Not allowing a client to testify is often, simply, to prevent cross-examination where he might say or reveal something really-really stupid.

I mean, lawyers are, after all, the first refuge of the incompetent. Most of them, at least. And whether we agree or not is irrelevant. You get what you pay for. It’s a magic show. And, undeniably, a lawyer’s job is to defend his client with every trick up his very long sleeves.

In any case, from their first day in law school lawyers learn only how to win. They are not there to solve problems. As a result, unfortunate as it may seem, and whether we like it or not, trials are no longer about freeing the innocent, punishing the guilty, and making restitution to the injured. They have devolved into a contest over who will win.

Likewise, everyone thinks defense lawyers must believe their clients are innocent, but that’s seldom true. Most of the time they believe their client about as much as O.J. Or less.

Which brought me to asking Trev, straightforward, if he thought his client was guilty. Or, at least bears a lot of responsibility for his actions.

Trev twisted slightly in his over-stuffed chair, tipping off a fit-body language that more than suggested he thought his client was as guilty as my father of siring me. And as I was about to posture – perhaps more than a tad sardonically — that it is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one, Trev offered:

‘I don’t know if I really believed my client. I have serious doubts… He wasn’t exactly innocent… But he did get 8 years… I just did my job…’

Absolutely. For it was just a job. And done well – at least considering his client’s limited options. And, all in all, that’s how jobs go. Just as grass grows. Birds fly. Politicians lie. People dig graves. Cattle get slaughtered. Victims get killed. And lawyers… well lawyers defend bad people, and other clients.

Or, at least, do what they’re supposed to do.

Hmm…

And, as our smoke drifted away with our thoughts I offered a bow to Trev: ‘He was
lucky to get you as his attorney. You must be good.’

And Trev, with a composed smile, offered back: ‘I like to think so.’

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Mother’s Day can be a torment, especially if your mother’s been dead less than a year… Men are what their mothers made them. And my mother was slightly insane. She told us baked potato skins were bad for us – so she could devour ours. Hmm… I write a mental letter to my mother every day… and apparently so does my brother…

The other night with all the Mother’s Day promotions stuffing my email inbox I sent my brudder-duh-heart-doc in San Francisco a short note.

I know, I know… I must be getting old. But I do have my rare moments of human kindness.

“Hey, try not to go too existential,” I wrote, “but I’m sitting here in the dark. Thinking. First Mom’s day without Mom… Life is life. It’s nice to know that people don’t really die until the last person who remembers them dies too… It’s a melancholy thought. But a delightful one. And so life goes… and goes… and voila, then it’s gone.”

And my older brother, the brilliant dork who got all the brains while I got the mental maladies, and who’s never shared more than a tablespoon of cod liver oil with his little, pain-in-the-buttocks, doofus sibling, replied:

“Interesting that you wrote this note, as I was thinking of Mom today also. But then again I think about her often. So many times during the day I think what Mom might’ve said about certain situations. Every time someone talks about my gray hair, I think of hers. Instead of forgetting about her, I think I am thinking more of her.”

Hmm… there’s nothing like the scars of age to soften two old warriors. It’s what becomes of the broken-hearted.

But even more interesting was the link my brother attached to an article he had penned a couple of months prior.

It seems that these two women, in their mid to late 60s, had presented themselves at his hospital weeks apart. And each of them was in the midst of a serious heart attack that had destroyed about 50 percent of their heart muscles.

But what was unusual was that their attacks weren’t caused by their arteries being clogged by cholesterol, preventing the flow of blood to their hearts, which then causes the death of heart muscle. Their heart attacks were caused by a spasm and constriction of normal arteries. And my brother surmised that their spasms may have been the result of certain people being quite susceptible to the release of adrenalin provoked by fear and anger.

And as it would happen one of the women was still severely distressed and angry that Trump had won the White House. (Do I need to remind you that this was in California?) And the other woman was all contorted about the Standing Rock oil pipeline controversy in North Dakota.

It turns out that both ladies had a rare variety of a heart attack known as Takotsubo – often called the ‘Broken Heart Syndrome.’

And my brother conjectured that as far as he knew these were the first reported cases of a Broken Heart Syndrome type of heart attack induced by a political event.

Hmm…

Obviously my big brother doesn’t get out much. He should have tagged along with me in West Africa. And Russia. And Southeast Asia.

Needless to say these two women survived nicely. But all I could think was that a broken heart is a very pleasant complaint for such women in San Francisco, especially if they have a comfortable income. Because next week they’ll be stressing themselves out on something else – like the burnt coffee served at ‘Starbutts.’

Anyway my interventional cardiologist brother wrote on, to something that read like philosophy 101. That if the country wants to heal we’ve got to communicate more and understand each other better.

Hmm… No shit…

“Only then can we heal our broken hearts and divided country,” he espoused.

Obviously he doesn’t drink enough, either. Or he needs much bigger hearing aids.

But I wrote him back:
“Nice article… but never forget the old song: Only time heals a broken heart… So just don’t run out of time… tick-tock… tick-tock…”

You know, like Debbie Reynolds dying the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, succumbed. And my successful farmer and businessman Dad suffering a stroke that wiped out his mental motherboard not long after he finally and reluctantly sold the farm.

Such as it is. For in matters of the heart nothing is true except the improbable. We seem to forget that at the heart of the matter our cardiovascular monster only wants our blood.

And if my mother – who, like most mothers, was an instinctive philosopher — was still alive she probably would have smacked those two broken-hearted women a couple of teeth back.

For no matter what she seemed to be, big-breasted Mom was, for better or worse, as conflicted and whacky as the rest of us. Her rowdy laugh roared before sunrise; her heart bled from a thousand wounds, and her simple, straight–talking mind could easily foresee the future, because she gave birth to it in her children.

Her steeped philosophy was that there’s nothing you can do about the weather, so smile.

And indeed it was her smile that always greeted us that I was picturing that day, about a week after last Thanksgiving. Family and scores of friends had all gathered for Mom’s memorial service. It was at my brother’s grand-windowed house on the high and windy hill, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge straddling the glistening San Francisco Bay.

We handed out many of Mom’s hundred-or-so large, colorful, theatrical clip-on earrings. Joked that while most Thanksgiving turkeys taste even better the day after, Mom’s tasted better the day before… she cooked it in beer. And admittedly we were a tad disappointed that none of the gray and blue-hair lady friends had sashayed in wearing one of Mom’s signature, over-sized, pastel hats.

But the laughter all ceased when I stood up after my much taller brother to say a few words. I had just started to utter something about how we get old too soon and wise too late when I succumbed to the moment. And burst into a bottomless grief of tears.

What was happening to cynical, sarcastic me? Even my brother’s son, standing next to me, also an interventional cardiologist, was surprised. Here was his wise-ass, hard-hearted ,stabbed, shot and, worst of all, assaulted-by-editors uncle bawling like his newborn son.

What duh hell, what duh heck was this about, I could only wonder. The only other time I could remember sobbing this way was nearly 23 years back. It was immediately after I had to make a final, life and death, mid-surgery decision for my month-old, younger son, born with every congenital heart and lung problem known to science.

Now, a moment later my big brother slipped over to me and whispered softly: ‘I never told you it was going to be easy.’

Hmm…

No shit.

But how could I have known?

And that’s the thing about the death of your mother, or anyone else you love: You can’t anticipate how you’ll feel afterward. People will tell you; a few may be close to right, but none exactly right.

None.

No matter how many Mother’s Day come and go.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one up. In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to love… but us ‘old men’ turn to painting the house. I may not be perfect, but I am avid – about not giving a damn. After all, as I told my mammoth, cigar-puffing, Italian landlord: Look what ‘youse’ guys did to that last Jewish carpenter…

My landlord warned me.

Then again, my over-sized, South Philadelphia, Italian landlord and I have a rather pedestrian relationship. That is, as long as I pay the rent, he allows me to live where I live. And enjoy breathing.

Which is probably why he warned me… to be careful. No doubt because he doesn’t want to lose one of the few good tenants he’s got. That is one who pays rent. On time. And takes care of the place. That he lovingly built. And lived in for 10 years. Before he got married. And moved across the river to New Jersey. And now has a ‘second job’ trying to have a second kid.

Hmm… Who would have ever thought that having another kid would require so much work. Especially at something you used to enjoy working overtime on. While taking so many precautions to defer the midnight feedings and predawn, aromatic diaper changes.

Life can be such a conundrum… And rather screwy. Or, in my landlord’s case – exhausting.

Nonetheless, last week I informed the oversized galoot, who throws around hundred pound sacks from his restaurant supply business much more easily then I can toss about air guitars, that the second-floor, wooden and glass French doors badly needed revitalizing. Not to mention the broken doorbell, and the front stoop.

And Big Anthony squeezed out a big give-a-shit smile, with some of his cigar smoke and uttered:

‘Did you get that notice of the rent increase?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I wiped my ass with it.’

Such is the grandeur of our cigar smoking relationship.

At that I exhaled and shrugged: ‘I guess I’m going to have to do it, so the doors don’t rot away. And I’ll end up freezing in the winter.’

‘Be sure to be careful with the polyurethane,’ were his parting words. ‘Keep the doors and windows open while you’re using it. And don’t forget to sand the doors down, first.’

Hmm… He didn’t need to remind me not to forget to tape around all the windows in the French doors – all 20 of them!

But of course!

Did I happen to mention that I’m no good with this manual labor stuff. The closest I’ve come to working with my hands the last 30 years has been pounding on my computer… and blocking punches from outraged readers.

Indeed, I am avid. I am willing and eager. But I was the guy in that once-a-week high school shop class who everything that I made ended up being an ashtray.

I remember a bloody time with one of my future-ex-wives. I was carving out some perches for our bird cage. And just before I sliced my left index finger nearly off she had already gone to the kitchen to fetch paper towels.

‘How did you know?’ I wondered as she was driving me to the emergency room to be repaired with 8 stitches.

‘You never fail,’ she said, and began to laugh hysterically. ‘You’re terrible with your hands.’

‘At everything?!’

‘Pretty much.’

Hmm… I wonder what she really meant by that? Perhaps some day I ought to ask if Ed, my ex-best friend in Carolina, and her next, was any better with his hands. Then again they have stayed together the last 35 years.

No doubt I should have been handier.

But I am what I am. Like a puppy… panting, willing, excited, anxious… but has no bloody idea if he’s supposed to chew that stick… or stick it up his ass.

So I walked to the paint store. And after an hour of scouting about bought the sandpaper, brushes and polyurethane.

“Anything else I need,” I asked the youthful clerk. “Anything special I need to do?” The kid shrugged, like I was interrupting the only two thoughts guys that age have – tits… and ass.

His only disinterested response: “Cash… or credit card?”

It took me a good hour to sand the flaking crud off the heavy wooden doors. And well over an hour to tape around those 20 beveled windows.

Over an hour of taping! What-duh-hell-what-duh-hell…what duh-f-k am I doing?

But like my dear ol’ bourbon sipping Pappy used to preach to his two indentured servants – my brother and me: ‘Preparation is the key to success!’

What he meant, as we often learned, was that if we screwed up that he was prepared to plant his size elevens where duh sun don’t shine.

Hmm…

Then I began slapping on the first of four coats of the polyurethane. And even though I was completely outside, standing on the second floor balcony, the toxic aroma of the polyurethane immediately started smacking me up alongside my pathetic little brain.

The second coat got my lungs to begging. The third blew up my head like a beach ball. And by the fourth I was heavy into bourbon, beer and a shot or two of brandy.

Sheesh… the stuff is worse than an ex-wife.

Okay, perhaps I should have said: at least as bad as having ‘perfect’ me as your husband…

Then again, one merely kills you, while duh utter demonically tortures you until you welcome death. In front of a speeding Mack truck. (I’ll let you sort that out.)

Hmm…

And while I was leaning over the balcony, assuming a sickly position, Jo-Jo, who owns the car detailing shop across the street shouted up: ‘You should be wearing a mask!’

But of course!

And Mark, my neighbor to the south, who is a contractor, snorted: ‘You should have picked a cooler day!’

And then Vinny, my South Vietnamese neighbor to the north, who always looks like he’s scowling, shouted up: ‘You should have gotten my son to do that!’

What I should have done was heave my digested, gurgling beer, bourbon and brandy all over them.

But after another hour slumped on the deck, while my sickly sweat evaporated, I eventually pulled myself enough together to finish my other two ‘honey-do’ jobs: Fixing the doorbell without electrocuting the entire neighborhood. And repainting the front stoop that I somehow managed to construct without killing myself nearly 4 years ago.

At last I proudly stood out front, pointing out my day of accomplishments, in grandiose detail to everyone passing by on their way to the local pub. I didn’t care if they were deaf, blind or just dumb they were going to hear my braggadocio.

Most folks smiled politely, but then seemed a little nervous when I kept ringing the doorbell, and pointing up to the balcony doors practically glistening in the late afternoon sun.

Finally Adam, my ‘honest’ Jewish attorney stopped by. And after I rang the doorbell and pointed out my ‘excellent’ work on the front stoop and balcony doors, he offered his usually terse and honest assessment.

“You do remember what they did to that last Jewish carpenter, don’t you?”

Hmm…

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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I don’t do guilt. I definitely don’t embrace collective guilt when we should be implementing collective responsibility. Guilt is like bondage. It is a thief… it robs from your life. It doesn’t garner my sympathy, especially because ‘sympathy’ in my dictionary is located between shit and syphilis…

I have more than a wee bit of trouble with people who just refuse to listen. Like in politics, or with bad spouses.

I mean, no one is as deaf as a person who will not listen. As if they don’t believe what I am actually saying unequivocally. You know, they agree while simultaneously not agreeing. Constantly emphasizing with a pointed finger, while repeatedly uttering the equivocation:

“Yeah… but!…”
“Of course… but!…”
“Absolutely… but!…”

It seems I am greatly misunderstood by a bunch politically correct ‘butts’ doing brilliant impersonations of the flatulent asses over-stuffing the first 50 rows of a WWE wrasslin’ match. It’s seems to be the latest fashion.

They’re like the folks in a cemetery. Their mental gerbils died at the wheel. And Helen Keller is their translator. For some reason necromancy comes to mind.

How many times do I have to say:

I don’t do guilt. I gave it up. For Lent. Or was it Passover? Probably for the neighbor’s tattooed wife. For-ever…! I have no guilt about any of my pleasures. I don’t have any gnawing guilt over contributing to any unhappiness suffered by my wives. They were as much to blame as I was. I harbor nothing Freudian, even if my parents did have sex like a hog hollering contest… etc…etc…

I just don’t understand guilt – particularly guilt without responsibility. You know, unearned guilt. I am not Adam. Nor Eve. I’m not my ‘Injun’ shooting great grandmother. Nor my dear ol’ bourbon sippin’ Pappy. Nor anyone named Beauregard.

Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like punishing yourself before G-d doesn’t. I know some of my Catholic friends can’t drink the guilt out of their original sin. But I tell them no one holds a grudge for thousands of years. And if G-d, or Yahweh, or Allah can’t get over it, then He or She or He/She or It just gotta drink higher octane.

But still these dismal souls persist. And dolefully inquire:

‘How about the Armenian Genocide?’
Not guilty.
‘The American Indian?’
Not guilty.
‘Slaves?’
Not guilty.
‘The Amori in New Zealand?’
Not guilty.
‘Aborigines in Australia?’
Not guilty.
‘Rwanda?’
Not guilty.
‘Stalin?’
Not guilty.
‘Mao?’
Not guilty.
‘Khmer Rouge?’
Not guilty.
‘Germans?’
Not guilty. But I should add here that a thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased.

Hmm…

Anyway, I don’t know what these guilt mongers want from me. They can’t help themselves. They are tormented by guilt to the point that if they don’t ‘feel’ wrong, they don’t feel right.

I mean I feel sad for the past. I understand. But, apparently, nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt.

But I’ve got serious problems with unconditional sympathy. Especially when sympathy appears in my dictionary between shit and syphilis.

There’s just no point in waking up and feeling sorry for yourself or for others. Hell they don’t want your pity. Pity is the final indignity. What people want is for us to correct our mistakes. You know, instead of being part of the problem, provide some solutions.

In other words, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, go out and help change a bad habit. Feeling sorry for yourself is the most useless waste of energy on the planet. It does absolutely no good. We can’t let our circumstances or what others do or don’t do control us.

But we can decide to be happy regardless.

I mean, there’s guilt about our treatment of native peoples in modern intellectual life, and an unwillingness to acknowledge there could be anything good about Western culture. And even in America with some of its abhorrent past. After all, we’ve also done lots of good stuff.

I remember listening to a professor espouse: ‘For better or worse, we live in possible worlds as much as actual ones. We are cursed by that characteristically human guilt and regret about what might have been in the past. But that may be the cost for our ability to hope and plan for what might be in the future.’

Now there you go.

Guilt is like bondage. Guilt is a thief… it robs from your life.

It’s a negative emotion. Even though negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.

So instead of reducing ourselves to collective guilt we should be embracing collective responsibility.

Always remember to never forget…. Armenians, Rawandans, New Zealand, Jewish or American genocides. We cannot go into denial. There is nothing I can stop to prevent what has already happened. I can just endeavor to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself… Which it often does.

In other words, we all carry the baggage of our forefathers. We cannot vanquish the sins of our great grandfathers, nor hate our grandmothers. As a result our lives become a complicated dance. I mean, we can’t just denounce the people we’ve grown up loving. We may know them well, but love them anyway.

Life isn’t like a movie… you can’t write your own ending. And I’m not always going to keep waiting for a fairy tale finale where in the end we throw down our crutches and walk. It is what it is. People are what they are. The past is what it was. If you want me to feel guilty about something, then make it something I pretend to ignore. Something I can do something about for the future.

All I can say is that a hard beginning often makes for a good ending.

Happy endings.

Hmm… Even if, as I’ve mentioned a time of two before, they’re mostly in porno films.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Life is beautiful but people are crazy. It’s just the way we are. Of course I’m crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. And that’s what Louie-duh-too-sane-lawyer was trying to explain to crazy-Ian…

Louie-duh-lawyer isn’t the only one over at the Twin Cigar Shoppe who is absolutely certain that Ian is insane — even for this planet. Which is why we dub him ‘the alien.’

Apparently Ian thinks mostly when he’s squatting on the john, which is no doubt why his thoughts smell mostly shitty.

Among other things he is propounding, of late, is that Zeus is the devil; that a mother-ship has been snatching entire families of hikers out of shady mountain forests; And that the Jews are at fault, about most things, even the Russian invasion of Crimea and the continuing Afghanistan debacle. But that I am the exception… as long as I am willing to bullshit him a good recommendation for something he’s been allergic to in the 7 years I’ve known him – a job.

But then again, I think Louie-duh-lawyer, who is always abstaining to keep his body fat too low, his physique too fit, his blood flow too healthy and his diet too tasteless is absolutely a tad too-too-too rigidly sane.

You know… brittle.

I mean, just the other day a hot young woman tried to pick him up in one of his well-fitting, upscale, lawyer suits outside the courthouse. She said he looked like he belonged in the men’s fashion magazine ‘GQ.’ Even slipped him her phone number.

And naturally, Louie told her, sorry but he had to go work-out.

After all Louie had only been to the gym five days (and nights) that week. Obviously the man has some dumbbell issues.

And then again, I shouldn’t talk. There was that woman with the bawdy laugh I woke up with the other morning. Would you believe she had the abject, ineffable audacity to accuse me of forcing her to drink too many potent cosmopolitans. Then of locking her in my bedroom-without-a-door and having my 11-second-way with her – yet again!

And then she proclaimed that: ‘You’re not crazy enough, D.I!’

Who, moi?!

Hey, I’ve been strapped to a bed in a drooling academy. Then again, even my psychiatrist – finally! — was able to convince my insistent brother-duh-heart doc and his wife-duh-lawyer that I wasn’t really crazy enough to be put away there — forever! But it doesn’t seem to bother them much, now… now that my mother’s will, that my sister-in-law ‘assisted’ in formulating, was finally probated. Including the part that disinherits anybody — no matter how little I’m getting — who attempts to sue.

Hmm…

Actually I don’t get upset if people think I’m crazy. If you go to a mental hospital and someone calls you a name, would you get upset? Of course not. Well, that’s the way I think about the world. They don’t know any better.

In other words: You can’t control all the crazy stuff that happens to you. All you can control is the way you handle it.

And you wonder why I don’t own a gun!

But of course!

We all be crazy… it’s just a matter of degrees. Like many of my fellow cigar puffers in the South Philadelphia Twin Smoke Shoppe.

Like Petey, who is anal about getting his overly groomed, short-short-hair cut every, single week. And the other hazy Petey who is always slapping himself in the crotch. And the in-heavy-debt Little Anthony who perpetually claims he’s going to start saving money, but then goes out and buys yet another car. And all-of-650-pound-Frankie who gobbles up every cheese doddle, pastry and box of chocolates in the shoppe, except for the very last piece. And way-over-Grizzly-bear-size Freddy who after hibernating all winter still moans and groans daily that he’s tired. Or Keith the bartender, who after another overnight of tequila shots swears again he ain’t drinking no more…

Hmm…

But in Ian’s case, I have to admit there ain’t no 6 degrees of separation. In fact he’s the f-king mayor of crazy town. He’s the blind man in a gun fight. And did you ever notice that crazy people don’t sit around wondering if they’re nuts.

And, in truth, I like Ian… most of the time… kind-of. When he isn’t overly animated, proselytizing in a domineering tone that even penetrates my deaf left ear.

Admittedly he can be interesting. Even impressive. He’s got a photographic mind that
can recite long poems by Keats and Byron — verbatim.

After all, I’ve always accepted that craziness and madness are a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. However, you should never, ever forget that ‘crazy’ is a term of art; ‘insane’ is a term of law. Remember that, and you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

I perpetually remind Ian of that… even to the point where I poignantly explain the difference between stupidity and genius:

Genius has its limitations, I tell him again… and again… and again.

But I’m wasting oxygen. Even when I repeat over and over that the object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

But this time Ian even got me rankled. Perhaps because I was too sober. And perhaps Louie-duh-lawyer, who is always too abstemious, continually seems to need to engage, to lead Ian to the light — of an oncoming freight train. And I don’t just suspect – but know! – that Louie would have a better chance of convincing the venal bar association to embrace ANY ethics. Or at least lower their legal fees… down to retail.

Hmm…

Anyway…

During one of our grand, recent, sunny afternoons we were blowing smoke and chawing with a new cigar rep. He was a big-ol’ Texas boy with a ponytail and muscles who waxed easily about spending his impressive years with that notorious oxymoron – Military Intelligence. Or was it Home Security. Or Special-Ops…

Whatever… But I did notice his feet were bathed in handmade Italian cowboy boots. And he was just the right combination of charm and bullshit that made you immediately like him.

But then gangly, tall Ian popped into the shop, booming with his high-pitched interruptions. And I warned the cowboy — in the midst of one of his tales how-the-Russian-KGB-couldn’t-torture-a-confession-outta-him — to hold on because he was in for a bumpy ride. So he grabbed onto his Texas-size belt-buckle and settled in for the stampede of neon-Ian.

And Ian started out giggling impishly about Trump dropping the (MOAB) Mother Of All Bombs. And like Trump, was confused about whether it was detonated in Iraq or Afghanistan. But geography didn’t stop him from another upending peroration.

And then after eyeing the new cigar rep Ian shifted immediately into how he (Ian) is undoubtedly the only guy who understands the cigar business. And lectured the new guy how he is doing everything wrong even if his cigars are already in 40 states… and this is what he should be doing.

And Gary-duh-good-looking-cop-who’s-never-seen-a reflection-of-himself-he-didn’t-adore tried to change the subject to a local missing person story. But Ian lassoed in the Texas rep with long dark tales of the shady mountain forests where entire families have gone completely missing.

Poof! Without a trace.

No shit! Please, take me!

And while Ian continued to ignore my pleas that roared into screams to give the new guy a break: “We want him to come back again!” Louie-duh-lawyer tried to veer the topic off to missile launching North Korea.

Oy-vey! Oh-no! More ammunition. Cock and load! Batten down the hatches.

Ian, of course, insisted he was against any intervention anywhere. He had already forgotten that he started his mad-mad-world of mad moments gleefully about Trump dropping that MOAB somewhere to the mid-east of us.

Ian was even against our intervention over 60 years ago to hold off the crazy communist at the 38th parallel.

At this point, perhaps I should point out that Ian is a product of that Korean war… which, you may remember,wasn’t a war, but a police action that still cost 54,000 American lives. And at least twice that number who got their brains frozen in time.

It seems that Ian’s Italian father met his Korean mother in between combats there. And brought her back to South Philadelphia. And conceived Ian.

And when Louie pointed this out, that our intervention (at least this time) helped formed a prospering country, a loyal ally and brought forth Ian himself, it didn’t seem to register any more or less than an illegal immigrant.

“Isn’t that something,” insisted Louie. “Isn’t that something wonderful?”

Hmm… Lou had me and a lot of others, going there. At least until that last point: That Ian was initiated in a moment of passion.

And look, I have to admit that I am more than a tad reluctant to intervene, and especially shed American blood in another country’s squabbles. However, when their refugee problem becomes our immigration problem I draw more than a line in the sand.

Arm the nuclear warheads.

I mean, there are times when crazy is not so crazy. Or at least, it’s the safest place to be. You know, somewhat like Ian – over the edge. Although you may agree that there is no honest way to explain the edge because the only people who know where it is, again like Ian, have long gone over it.

Louie, however, went almost apoplectic that Ian couldn’t grasp the obvious. And I pointed out to Lou that sometimes that’s the precisely the way I feel when I’m talking to him. That is, Lou. Mister arch-conservative. Wears nothing but Catholic black. And can’t fathom how the world doesn’t operate ‘According to Lou.’ And the Wall Street Journal.

And I am sure, I informed him, that he demonstrates his tolerance when he thinks I proclaim something that’s crazy by merely smiling and saying: ‘That’s nice.’

Hmm…

And don’t we all.

But at this point, thankfully, Ian received a phone call from his mother ship and scurried out the door. And the cowboy cigar rep, made his excuses to escape and go find the nearest shot-and-a-beer bar.

And as everyone departed I leaned back, chuckled, and exhaled a few oversize smoke rings. And while they drifted across the open spaces of the newly renovated Twin Smoke Shoppe, I got to wondering:

Am I, or is it everybody else, that’s crazy?

Hmm… then again, if we weren’t all crazy, we’d just go insane. It’s just the way we are.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Plans are wasted; but planning is everything. And in a troubled world where we are paying more but getting less, we are pissed. But the real problem is we are lying hypocrites. We feel entitled. We pray on Sunday morning then rage on the road driving home. And United Airlines and Wells Fargo merely did unto us what we do unto others…

I don’t know how my father learned how to be the boss in starting and running his little chainsaw factory that, at times when contracts were due, employed a hundred men and women in those post-war labor-intensive days.

Perhaps it was because he was on his own, without anyone to lean on just after the Great War, with both his parents dead. Or, due to years of farming his many hundreds of acres and learning that: if you don’t nurture your crops, their bounty won’t yield. That if you abuse the cows, they won’t produce your milk. That if you don’t protect the sheep the wild dogs will kill them. That to get the most out of your farmhands, during their dawn to dusk toils, you had to be both firm and fair – to lead without being bossy.

In other words, don’t beat and smack the hired beast-of-burden… like he did his sons.

Hmm… but that’s a story for another day.

Today I am trying to figure out how my father, with only an engineering degree, managed.

He didn’t have an MBA or other professional pedigrees so mandated in this modern, soulless, business world. He wasn’t possessed with artifice or big on sophistication. His sense of humor was constricted. He couldn’t deliver a joke. And admittedly in his early years he fumbled his way through.

I think his only concern was building a great product, whether it was the budding one-man chainsaw, or the incipient riding lawnmowers.

Indeed, he was a cantankerous, backhand-and-forehand SOB to my brother and me. But in business and with his employees, as well as former fellow farmers down on their luck, I think he was a definition of toughness but goodness…

After all, goodness is about character — integrity, honesty, generosity, moral courage, and the like. But more than anything else, it is about how we treat other people. You know, the fallow Golden Rule that’s ‘misconstrued’ these days on Wall Street, Main Street, the Boardroom, Congress, Big Business, as well as the guy giving you the finger down the highway: To do unto ‘dem’ others before dem others do it unto you.

In basic street terms it’s refined down to: Go f-k yourself.

But apparently my bourbon sippin’, corncob-puffing Pappy was more conflicted. Certainly my brother-duh-heart-doc and I witnessed only his dour side. That is, with us he was implacable. We failed miserably at any attempt to please him. And, to say the least, he was hazardous.

We may have thought he was a truculent, raging high-tempered, pugnacious maniac who punished swiftly, severely and stridently. But with his customers and workers in his manufacturing plant there was a magnanimous uprightness.

And the factory responded. Even though it is said that the only time some people work like a horse is when the boss drives them.

Hmm…

Now I bet you know damn well where contemptuous, cynical me is going with all this.

But of course!

Then again… with folks taking a break from pornography to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft week, you may have missed the ‘naughty-boss’ and ‘corporate-bad-boy’ stories raging in the news these days.

But for those of us who noticed, we are just indignant! Aghast! Even more appalled than at the horrifying Syrian abomination (though Putin claims it is ‘fake news’ from a country absolutely positive there were WMD’s in Iraq) of al-Assad sarin gassing and killing his own fellow men, women and children.

But, of course, I am talkin’ bout those latest of the latest ‘impious,’ corporate ‘sins.’ Those of Wells Fargo Bank and United Airlines screwing its very own customers.

Ouch!… Am I hurting you, babe?

Tsk-tsk! Imagine that. And with Big Business – especially airlines and banks – already ranking just ahead of ‘dead-last’ Congress in the Gallup polls of institutions Americans love to hate.

And, with the ‘Orwellian’ misspeak by the CEOs of Wells Fargo and United fueling the public’s fury, should I also mention here that: Between 1978 and 2015, as the country’s average worker’s pay increased by a mere 10 percent, CEO pay rose by more than 940 percent.

Good-golly-Miss-Molly!

But please, don’t get me wrong here. So tamp down your adjustable-rate of petulant, self-righteous exasperation. Let he who is without sin quit casting bullshit. Afterall your pension plans and 401Ks, mortgages, investments, and lots of utter stuff has lots of skin in this game.

In one way or another we are all complicit here.

Let’s just admit that we share in the blame. So don’t be two-faced and embolden yourself with a holier than thou false impression. Especially in the money mirror. No amount of pancake make-up can disguise that we are all prostitutes and whores, whether to the boardroom, the big stockholders or to the boss who signs our minimum-wage paychecks so that we can pay down our overloaded credit cards.

Hey, those lowly 5,300 ‘fired’ Wells Fargo employees falsely opening up millions of fake bank accounts in trying to meet those unmeetable demands by their big-bonus bosses, well understood what they were doing ‘unto others.’

But it’s just like you pray and beg while rolling the craps dice: ‘Lordy… Lordy… Lordy… Baby-needs-a-new-pair-of-shoes!’

And don’t try to convince me that you were just following orders. Or that you think your boss was absolutely stupid. The fact is you probably wouldn’t have had a job if he was any smarter.

Hmm…

And meanwhile, where were those good Christian-Muslim-Jewish Samaritans on that United flight out of Chicago the other night?

If they really ‘believed!’ that the 69-year old Doctor, shockingly being dragged and pummeled from the seat he paid for, absolutely had to get back to his patients in Kentucky then why didn’t they stand up. And demonstrate some of dear ol’ Pappy’s good old-fashioned leadership and goodness.

You know: make that imperious, belligerent United supervisor a deal the bitch couldn’t refuse – especially on behalf of the unfriendly skies, reaping record profits while literally ‘squeezing’ every indignity out of customers.

If United unquestionably needed 4 seats to transport crewmembers in order to get a United flight out of Louisville, then inform this haughty airline fascist that: In return for the 4 ‘favors’ you pay us each $1,000 and immediately Uber us the 300 miles to Louisville.

Sound good? Then ‘come-on down!’

Look we know we’re bending over to get screwed from Wall Street, to Main Street to the washed out whores down the street. And, for the most part, we’ve long surrendered and are just relieved those O’hare airport security guards in Chicago weren’t knocking out ‘my’ teeth.

Afterall, it’s not as if we haven’t seen this before – last week, last month, last year. United and Wells Fargo are merely the latest distressing twits caught on Twitter, e-mail paper trails and cell phone cameras, documenting the rampant bestiality in our nation of sheep.

All too soon another crooked politician will be reelected just before being sent to jail. It’s no secret we live under the thumb of banks too big to fail and airline monopolies that are given the only routes to get us from here to there.

We are controlled and manipulated by the same corrupt credit rating agencies that fraudulently kept providing triple AAA’s to Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns as their toxic derivatives sent an entire country – not to mention Western civilization — into despair.

Hmmm…

Everybody lies. And, for the most part, most of us would too if it comes down to who benefits – them or us. I mean, businessmen will claim that what they do is for the public good, but you know they’re just doing it for their personal greed.

And it’s done, mostly, all over the world in the same manner, way and means – give or take.

When someone falsely chirps: It ain’t duh money, honey, it’s the principle… it’s the money, honey. Your money. Your kids’ college money. Your Mom and Dad’s retirement money. Your insurance money. And, once again, even your pension money invested in their stock portfolios.

The point is that if all you expect from people is disappointment, how can you ever be disappointed? And most of us have got to wonder how it is we cannot be disappointed in ourselves. Which no doubt keeps the booze and drugs flowing.

What really is saddening is that we are such cheap f-ks. And always were. It all comes down to the same 30 pieces of silver — which scholars have determined that in today’s money amounts to somewhere between $90 to $3,000.

Hmm… obviously, ‘cheap’ ain’t just a marshmallow Easter candy.

Or do I mean, Peeps?

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. The truth is we are all greedy in our DNA. We feel a sense of entitlement. And we hate to be inconvenienced – particularly with inconvenient truths. You know: Deny, deny, deny – until you settle out of court, without admitting your guilt.

And if you’re still surprised that we live in a world where our service leaders are worried more about their stock and dividends than they are about service, then you must be swallowing too many corporate slogans. Like at Wells Fargo where they promise the customer ‘comes’ first.

Yeah… but only in porno movies.

But was it good for you, too?

Hmm…

Meanwhile, there is one last point to note. Most of the information about Wells Fargo and United and duh rest of the ‘who’s-sorry-now’ corporate disasters, was brought to us via information — from long investigations by major newspapers, and snapshots by social media.

It is too soon to tell if these incidents of abject malfeasance will give rise to a movement to reform and regulate these de facto monopolies; or, if these episodes were simply the latest shimmering objects to catch the public’s attention.

But the real problem seems to be the uncivilized way we treat each other in general. If we can do this to a random person on a plane, or to a hallowed personal bank account, how far are we from being able to fatally screw each other over nothing?

It makes us appear as if we really are less than human and more like sheep… nonchalantly munching away, ignoring the wolf munching down on the ewe right next to us.

Our political ‘leaders’ do nada, no matter what federal committees they’re on. Only after they read-all-about-it, or hear the news about what they should have been doing, do they come charging down like the cavalry to assault the wounded.

But only, of course, if the TV cameras are rolling.

Think about that next time the Gallup Poll surveys you about who do you trust. And try to remember that a good leader, as well as a good follower, takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit.

Hmm…

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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