Saturday, July 11, 2009

So long! Farewell! Auf Weidersehen, Goodbye!

As some of you have pointed out, it's been a while since I last posted. To be honest, I've more or less decided that it's time for me to move on from Crankster. I started this blog when I was hitting my mid-thirties, living in southwest Virginia, and seriously afraid that I was turning into an old man. It was a place to put those worries, talk them out with the world, and generally stop my slow descent into middle age.

In the last three years, a lot has changed. I've moved to a new city and been bombarded with all sorts of new irritations, challenges and experiences. I've done some new jobs, gotten going as a professional writer, and generally complicated my life in all sorts of bizarre ways. Along the way, my sister has gotten a liver transplant and my daughter has transformed from a baby to a toddler to a little girl. One cat has died, but the other is still thriving; Bagheera remains a daily source of joy and anguish. My wife and I are still chugging along, disturbingly happy with each other, and surprised that our fifth wedding anniversary is coming up.

Over the past three years, I've also met a lot of cool people, many of whom were kind enough to comment on this blog. I've even met some of my favorite writers, like Pickled Olives, the CEO, and Cranky Franky.

Long story short, I'm no longer worried that I'm becoming old or falling into any sort of routine. A large part of this process has been my blog and, through it, my interactions with you. I've been very lucky to have a group of loyal readers who regularly checked in and pushed, prodded, and encouraged me to do new things and go new places. You have helped me to become a better writer and a better thinker, and I owe much of my current writing success to you. I'm sorry for neglecting you over the last few months, but I want you to know that you've been in my thoughts.

I don't want to turn this into some sort of promo for other efforts, so I'm going to hold off on talking about my professional projects; on the other hand, if any of my long-time readers are interested in checking out the websites that I now write for, please drop me a line and I'll send you the urls. In the meantime, I'm working on a new blog, Bruce and Mr. Boston, in which I'm documenting my ongoing attempt to expand my cocktail-making horizons. It's kind of a fun, personal, pet project. If you get a chance, please drop in.

Again, thank you for everything!


Friday, July 10, 2009

Mister Smith's, Rest in Peace

As I was clearing out my blog, I came across this old post. I think I held off on running it because I wanted to tell a much longer story. In retrospect, though, I think it gives a good glimpse of the meeting of a few bloggers.

I feel like Lee gets short shrift here, to which I can only say that meeting her, both on this day and on other days since, has been a huge joy. She's a pretty amazing lady.


Being a philosopher, my wife has a lot of pet theories. One of them is that everyone has a superpower. For example, she proudly calls herself "Restating the Obvious Woman" for her ability to...well...restate the obvious. I, on the other hand, am "Sums Everything Up in Ten Words or Less Man."

Some people have really long superhero names. My friend John, for example, might well be Captain "Knows Every Bar in the Greater DC Area, Most of New York, and Significant Portions of Baltimore." All kidding aside, John is a walking encyclopedia of urban watering holes, and not only knows the names of pretty much every dive, but can tell you its major attractions, primary clientele, nearby restaurants, drink specials, and various legends and lore. Although John occasionally gets a little "Rain Man" on his favorite topic, he is incredibly handy to have along, and adds excitement to a night on the town.

My knowledge of DC Metropolitan geography is limited to a few key locales, so when I was planning a meeting betwixt Lee, the CEO, and myself, I brilliantly deduced that DC would be the perfect meeting place. After all, the CEO lives in Maryland, Lee lives in Virginia and DC is somewhere between the two. Luckily, the CEO, one of whose superhero names is probably "Has a Way Better Grasp of DC Geography Than Either Crankster or John" Man, was wise enough to suggest Tyson's Corner, which probably shaved twenty minutes off everybody's travel time.

Now that we'd chosen a locale, John's superpower kicked in. He had only the sparsest of information, namely that we wanted a low-key place that was not too expensive and was located in the Tyson's area. Within seconds, his preternatural grasp of the local dives had identified two bars that would perfectly suit our purposes. The first was Mister Smith's, which John described as "the apotheosis of the fern bar." According to John, Mister Smith's was locked in the world of mid-1970's swinger bar culture. For those of us who grew up watching Three's Company, this real-life "Regal Beagle" was hard to pass up. Besides, I'd been to this one before and had really enjoyed it.

The second joint, simply named "Pub," also sounded pretty wild. It was an English-style pub with dart lanes and pool, attached to "a pretty good Chinese restaurant," and was "a hangout for CIA types." I ran these options by Lee and the CEO. Both of them, oddly enough, had been to Mister Smith's before, which made it the ideal choice. We agreed to meet there at 5PM.

John and I rushed to make it to the strip mall in time for the meeting. However, as we drove past the storefronts, we realized that something was wrong. Mister Smith's was no more. Bemoaning "the end of an era," and wailing "that it shall never be forgotten," I decided to hang out near the now-defunct Mister Smith's and try to find Lee.

Now, while I'd read Lee's posts for months at this point, I had only the slightest idea about what she looked like. For this reason, I was eyeballing every asian woman who could possibly be an artist. Aimless, staring at random women, and wearing a huge black overcoat, I have no doubt that I looked like a cross between Silent Bob and a molester. After a few minutes, I noticed a slim asian woman in a red jacket. She seemed confused, as if she was looking for someone. She seemed surprised, as if she was angry at Mister Smith's for closing. She wandered into Starbucks. I followed.

Keeping a discreet distance, as I didn't want to bug her if she wasn't Lee, I got in line a few spaces behind her. She pulled out her cell phone and pushed a few buttons. My phone rang.

"Hi, Crankster! This is Lee!"
Smiling, I neared the woman two spaces ahead of me in line. "Hi, Lee. Are you wearing a red jacket?"
Lee sounded confused. "No, I'm not there yet."

The woman in line chose this point to turn around as the bald guy in the Uncle Fester toggle coat stopped walking towards her, flashed an embarassed smile, and shuffled out of Starbucks. Blushing madly, I gave Lee all the key information about Mister Smiths and we agreed to meet at the coffee shop. Hopefully red coat lady would be gone by the time Lee showed up.

She arrived a few minutes later, and we decided to go to Clyde's. I was excited because I'd never been to the Tyson's Corner Clyde's, but had seen it in Best Friends, a Goldie Hawn/Burt Reynolds movie from the early 1980's. Lee, I think, was ambivalent, and John was somewhat disappointed, as he had worked at this Clyde's, and had no real desire to go back. However, given that the CEO was en route, we decided that simplicity was ideal, as we didn't want him wandering down various back streets looking for the elusive "Pub."

We staked out territory in the bar area and admired the beautiful carved wood and stained glass. We'd barely gotten our drinks before the CEO arrived with his wife and we got down to some serious talking. It would be about four hours before we left and, to be honest, we probably could have gone for four hours more. John and the CEO's wife were both very kind, putting up with the meandering geekiness of the bloggers.

Rather than attempt any sort of transcript, which would be hopeless, I'll try to tell you about the two wonderful bloggers I spent the evening talking to. The CEO looks like a character out of The Godfather, the kind of guy who would throw Luca Brasi over his knee for talking out of turn, or maybe Clemenza's playful younger brother. True to his online persona, he is immensely playful, caring, and interested in people. As the evening went on, I would sometimes catch him looking at all of us. He would disengage from the conversation, watching it continue around him, pleased with the idea that he'd brought this meeting into being.

Since that day, I've noticed that Monty's blog does the same thing. This guy is a professional appreciator, and one of his greatest pleasures is passing on his favorite things. He loves to watch the people he cares about as they enjoy the things that he's brought to them.

And, while Monty was watching us, his wife was watching him. Alternately challenging and extremely caring, it is clear that the two of them are deeply in love. I can only hope that my marriage lasts as long, and is as filled with love, as theirs is.

Better Crackhomes and Gardens

This is another old post that I came across. It highlights some of the burned out places in my neighborhood. Since we moved in, however, all of these old houses have been demolished, leaving behind vacant lots.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mrs. Palin, are you trying to seduce me?

This picture appeared in the New York Daily Post today. Yes, those are Sarah Palin's legs and that is, indeed, a young Republican.

And, yes, this is photojournalism at its finest.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Thesis, Article, Movies, and My Stern, Stern Daughter

It's been a really good day. Early this morning, I got an e-mail from an editor who wants to publish the first half of my Master's thesis in a journal. Granted, it doesn't really pay, and I'm not really working on climbing the academic ladder anymore, but it's still kind of nice. I'm thinking of sending a copy to the jackass second reader who made me jump through a few flaming hoops during the final days of my Master's program. While I'm at it, I might send a copy to my advisor, who told me to give in on everything because she didn't want to bother defending me.

Boy, I'm really glad to be out of academia!

In other news, I just got an e-mail from an editor at Time Out New York. She's contracted me to write a 500-600 word piece on walking through the Botanical Gardens and Fordham. It's my first piece in a "real" magazine, and I'm pretty excited!

I also got a new gig writing for New York Indie Scene, an independent film blog. It doesn't pay a whole lot, but it is the first non-AOL blog to hire me and I get to put up fun little posts about old, influential movies that I think are must-sees. Good times.

I recently found Georgia scolding the cat for eating bugs. She was saying things like "Do you understand?" and "Say you're sorry." The kid perfectly copied my cadence and tone, and I had a frightening moment in which I saw "Bruce the disciplinarian" through the eyes of my child. Then I started laughing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Latest

For everyone whose been checking in, thanks for visiting. As I imagine you can guess, things have been a little hectic of late. I'm still working on making the freelance writing thing pay, and we're still living in the Bronx. In an interesting surprise twist, my sister Ella has left Pennsylvania and is now shuttling back and forth between my sister Sue's place in Connecticut, my sister Jen's place in Brooklyn, and my place in the Bronx.

Ella is doing as well as can be expected. She currently has two drains in her liver and is seeing doctors at Columbia Presbyterian, the hospital where Malcolm X died. After extensive work by the folks at the Geisinger Clinic and by her Columbia doctors, it's clear that she will need a liver transplant. Unfortunately, her liver itself is in great shape; the only reason that it doesn't work is the extensive bile duct damage and scar tissue. This means that she will probably receive a very low transplantation score, and will probably end up getting a live liver transplant or a grade B liver. However, as with everything else, we're going to cross that road when we get to it.

In other news, Georgia is great, although she's started to develop a habit of speaking in ghetto English. Right now, one of her favorite words is "nasty," as in "Ooh, thass naaasty, mama!" It's taking a little getting used to!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dona Nobis Pacem

The wonderful CEO, a great soul if ever I knew one, sent this to me yesterday:

Best wishes to all of you and to everyone you love.


Monday, June 02, 2008

A Sense of Proportion

Sometimes I'm amazed by the things that upset me and the things that don't.

A couple of weeks after I moved to the Bronx, my sister Ella drove my old Mustang up for me. It was a 1990 LX convertible with high mileage, a scarred paint job and a missing back window. In spite of its shortcomings, it drove well, and I was hoping to sell it for a thousand dollars or so. I put an ad in Craig's list, lined up a few prospective buyers and looked forward to a quick influx of some desperately needed cash.

The morning of the first potential buyer, I got up with my wife and got her ready for work. While I was still waking up, puttering around the kitchen and whatnot, my cell phone rang. It was her. I was surprised, as she had just left, but figured that maybe she was sending me her love or missing me, or something like that. I answered the phone, a smile on my face.

"Hey, honey." I yawned.
"Hey. Have you gone outside yet?" Her voice was serious.
"No. What's up?"
"Somebody got to the car. It's bad."
"What did they do?"
"The top is torn, the windshield is shattered, it looks like they slashed the tires. I think it's totaled."
Given that my car had a bluebook value of about $600 and that the price of four new tires and a new windshield was more than that, she was probably right. I sighed.
"You okay?"
Surprisingly, I was. "I'm fine. I'll deal with it. Are you all right?"
"I'm...okay." She sounded like she was about to cry.
"Hey, hey. Take it easy. It's just a car."

The funny thing was that I wasn't just being brave. Truth be told, I had already decided to get rid of the Mustang, so it was just a car. I was bummed about the loss of cash, but that was that.

A few minutes later, Ivan, my building's super, called out to me through the kitchen window: "Hey, Bruce!"
"Hey, Ivan."
"Bruce, somebody fucked with your car."
"Yeah, I know. My wife just told me. How bad is it?"
"It's bad. I think it's wrecked."
"Yeah, that's what she said. Thanks for telling me."
"No problem, man."

When I finally got outside, the car was as bad as everyone had said. I felt a little anger, but I couldn't bring myself to be really furious at the people who had done this. Ivan told me that the perpetrators were probably some kids who didn't even know that I was the owner. They'd seen the "For Sale" sign, noticed the run-down condition, and had decided that the car was expendable. After I realized that the vandalism had nothing to do with me being the block's token gringo, I mostly felt bad for the kids. After all, this was it for them. This was what they had to offer, and this was the extent of their recreation and their creativity. This was their big contribution. Their mindless anger was sort of pathetic.

One of the guys in my building, Jose, was really upset about the vandalism and more or less told me that he would join me in any kind of retribution that I chose to pursue. Since there was no way I could find the actual vandals, any response would probably be against an innocent victim. I thanked Jose, but turned down his offer. I think that I disappointed him; ever since then, he's seemed a little doubtful of my manhood.

The next day, I convinced a local scrapyard to give me $250 for the car, a sum that completely surprised Ivan, who thought I'd have to pay to have the Mustang towed away. In the end, my only real regret was that I hadn't just given the car to my sister.

About a month later, I was walking home from the subway when I saw a guy huddled in the windbreak near my front door. We live in a basement apartment with a long walkway between our door and the front of the building. The neighbors call this our backyard, but I tend to think of it as a little courtyard or plaza. It has a concrete floor, a nice stone wall, and you can see the next door garden through the fence atop the wall. The greenery makes it look like a private little grotto.

To keep this "backyard" safe, there's a mesh-enclosed front gate that juts out like a box into the sidewalk. It's about eight feet high, three feet wide and two feet deep, and has a locking door on the front. Often, people huddle between the mesh box and the wall of the next door garden, as it's a good place to light a cigarette. When I got closer to the man huddling beside my door, I realized that he wasn't lighting a cigarette. He was peeing. On my home.

I was livid. Unable to decide between running for the cops and beating him over the head with the nearest blunt object, I decided to yell at him: "What the hell are you doing?"
"I had to go to the bathroom." He started to do up his pants.
I couldn't believe my eyes. This guy couldn't wait for a couple of minutes? I screamed "I live here! You're pissing on my house!"
"Sometimes you just gotta go, man," he whined.
"Tell me where you live. I'll stop by for a piss."
He finished fastening his pants and ran away.

Over the next few weeks, I couldn't get the man out of my head. There was something about the image of a guy pissing on my home that left me incredibly upset and enraged. My wife and I swabbed down the front area with bleach and water, but the memory still stuck in my head. I thought of what to do the next time it happened and had long, obsessive conversations with myself: Should I have hit the man over the head with my umbrella? Maybe I should have opened the gate door and imprisoned him by fastening it to the garden fence. My belt would have worked as a lock. And then I could have called the cops. Better yet, I could have pissed on him. Yeah, that would let him know how it felt...

About a week later, my friend John got attacked on a subway. He had lived in the Bronx all his life and had never been mugged; suddenly one day, a lady and her family tried to start a fight so they could sue him. He wasn't really hurt, but the whole event had jarred him. The police said that they probably chose John because he dressed well, worked in Times Square, and looked somewhat weak.

Like me, John couldn't stop thinking about what had happened to him, and we talked about it regularly. Finally, I told him my story. I expected him to tell me to man up, that this was minor, but he didn't. In fact, he seemed just as enraged as me and, as I mentioned the way that the peeing man still haunted me, I could see that he understood. Talking to him about it, I realized that we needed to let our anger go. If he held on to his rage, the people who had attacked him would win; if I held on to my rage, I would probably end up assaulting someone, or at least peeing on them. It was time to let it go.