Archive for January, 2012

Mr Funny Pants Gets Inspired

Posted: January 26, 2012 by S. Trevor Swenson in General, Life, Me & Mine
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What?     Too literal?

What? Too literal?

I have been writing a spec script for a TV comedy pilot. I am finally writing something that I plan to actually submit. As usual, my grandiose fantasies of Golden Globe acceptance speeches and being an in-demand (and gainfully employed) comedy writer have been running at break neck speed through my brain. I have very clear visions of a comfy office shared with other friendly people who I love working with as we bang out this week’s story. My dreams all too often get the better of me. There are a zillion and one writers and spec scripts out there. Half a zillion of those writers are every bit as good as I am, if not better, and a quarter zillion have agents and connections and the like. It’s funny how form/rejection letters never seem to materialize in my fantasies. I have to keep reminding myself that in all likelihood this script will not be sold…the gold stretch limo sent by an HBO exec will not be coming to pick me up so we can hammer out a deal right away.

I think my current difficulties in school may have partially inspired me to do this. I desperately need to be doing something that I feel like I am good at (or at least comfortable with). I am failing miserably in my current chemistry class. Failing makes me feel stupid. I don’t like to feel stupid. There are all kinds of impending headaches with my major, my former major, my financial aid, my future etc. so I need this little project. I need the little success fantasies. It took me a fair amount of time, money and frustration to come to the conclusion that I have no aptitude for math and science classes. I don’t feel so great about it, but I suppose in some way it is empowering to have an awareness of one’s limitations. I don’t think I was always terrible at these classes. I think I may have blown them off in high school.

It’s great to be excited and enthused about something. It’s a feeling that has been absent for a very long time. I suppose we have to create this feeling for ourselves. The thing is, starting and doing it is often the biggest and toughest step. Getting up and going to the gym every day is generally tougher than the actual workout.

A writer writes . . . always

A writer writes . . . always

I am slowly developing some better writing habits. I am re-writing and things are coming out so much better. I am actually researching how the big boys do things. I am starting to feel like I can tell people I am a writer and it wont be complete and utter bovine poo.

Chong the cat has been exceptionally helpful. I read the various quips, punch lines and situations to him, and he in turn smiles, repositions himself and falls back asleep. How many people are so blessed with such an easy going audience to bounce ideas off of? He is uncritical and very friendly toward anyone who has mastered the intricacies of a can opener.

Gow has been as supportive and great as ever. She understands all too well my hypersensitivity and gets better work out of me without reducing me to tears. No easy feat. She listens to everything I read to her, and tells me all the annoying things that I keep doing in terms of my writing. (You need to stop writing “and the like” all the time) She has been steadfast, helpful and the like. Lucky me.

Ruprecht, who is a real writer (You know, the kind who gets paid to write something, gets published and that people actually read?) has been a godsend. His practical advice is most helpful and what’s interesting is that he too is very friendly toward anyone who can operate a can opener. Plus, the story of our long friendship is a big chunk of what my spec script is about. Now, according to the movers and shakers I need to somehow incorporate Ashton Kutcher, and explosions into my spec script and I’ll have a hit. If I ever become an in-demand writer, maybe I’ll be able to hold out for the actors and actresses I want to work with…Shatner, Hasselhoff, Lynda Carter and of course Charo.

A very useful skill to have, trust me.

A very useful skill to have, trust me.

An interesting thing about trying to write comedy in this format, is that it doesn’t really read funny. The flow of script writing is not the same flow as stand-up comedy or writing funny stories, blogs or satirical pieces. There are some script writing programs in the media lab at my school. One of the guys who manages the lab has been very cool and helpful to talk to. I had a class in video production last term and he was an enormous help to me. I swung by to see him a couple of weeks ago to pick up a DVD I’d loaned him. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind helping me format my script properly. I’d like to become friends with him, but that’s a little awkward…I’m not so sure that’s how friendships evolve. Maybe if I sent him a note that said “I like you platonically…do you like me?  Circle one – Yes/No”. On second thought, a note such as that kind of screams ‘restraining order’.  Maybe I’ll ask him if he wants to grab a beer sometime instead.

I’ve been so sad lately. Getting busy with something seems to be the best cure.

Yeah? I'm not so sure anymore

Yeah? I'm not so sure anymore

Years ago, before becoming a resident, I visited NYC during an August heat wave. After observing the creatures that inhabit the Port Authority bus terminal I decided that (according to most western religions) this was the place were the worst sinners came to spend eternity.  If you look closely you’ll see people who have a remarkable resemblance to Hitler and Stalin perpetually cleaning the bathrooms.
 
Boston’s South Station doesn’t hold a candle to Port Authority, but this is certainly not from lack of effort as I discovered today while waiting for a train to take me home from visiting my father and step mother. I arrived two hours prior to my train and wanted to use the time to study for my upcoming chemistry exam. I have little to no aptitude for math and science. I read and re-read my chemistry text, but none of it registers in my mind. Most frustrating.
Easy, right? Can't imagine why I have trouble understanding this stuff.

Easy, right? Can't imagine why I have trouble understanding this stuff.

 
Concentration doesn’t come easily to me under the best of circumstances, but the South Station food court seems to have been specially designed to contain loads of irritating distractions to make things worse. At the slightest movement, the heavy metal chairs make a sound that resembles a marriage between fingernails down a chalkboard and a dentists drill. The floor tiles are marvelous at amplifying this horrible sound. I find myself turning and glaring angrily at anyone brazen enough to sit down or rise from their table. How dare they!!!
 
It occurs to me that Hell is both a very personal and a very subtle thing. I no longer envision Hell to be like the priests and nuns said it was.  It is not searing heat and fire…it is a stuffy, hot and humid room with an air conditioner that breaks down every 10-15 minutes. Hell is not a pit filled with the anguished screams of sinners. It is a crowded subway car filled with ex-girlfriends and the mean jocks I went to high school with. Hell is having only two TV channels; Fox News and a Murder She Wrote marathon.
 
Behind me, a slightly crazy homeless woman is furiously underlining passages in a well-worn Bible.  As people walk past her she accesses them and mumbles this assessment out loud with a well-practiced look of very strong disapproval. 

Two of the songs are "Fire in the Kitchen" and "Blizzard", not even kidding.

Two of the songs are "Fire in the Kitchen" and "Blizzard", not even kidding.

“Jezebel” she says in regards to a woman wearing leggings approximately 8 sizes too small for her jiggling, cellulite ridden thighs. “Sodomites” she growls at two young men walking by her. I like that word. If I were gay, I’d demand that friends and family use that term when referencing me. This woman suffers from what I like to call “Little House On The Prairie Syndrome.”  Allow me to explain.  On Little House on the Prairie, the characters lives truly sucked, and yet they maintained what seemed to me like an unwise level of faith in God and the Bible. I’m sorry, but after the third fire at the school for the blind and the 25th crop destroyed by hail or locusts, I’d have gone out in the middle of one of my fields, carved a 10 acre middle finger pointed up at the Almighty and stopped going to church. This woman’s life obviously sucks too, yet she is embracing her faith. As for the sodomites, I was under the impression that Jesus was a generally well-adjusted and accepting fellow. I thought J.C. loved everyone. I can’t picture Jesus hissing biblical insults at passersby at South Station in Boston. I think Jesus might have bought the sodomites a cappuccino  and discussed interior decorating with them.

 
To my left, a man is sleeping at a table. He wakes up every 10 minutes or so, makes extraordinarily disgusting coughing, throat clearing and nose snorting noises. Then he fishes a pile of napkins from his pocket and blows his nose noisily and abundantly into it, after which, he opens the napkin and evaluates the situation before repositioning himself and falling back asleep.
 
In front of me, a horrible, loud and fat woman sits and barks angrily at her brood of young children. She is angry because her children are … well … being children. She snaps at them while simultaneously trying to break the McNugget inhalation record.  Every time she hisses “Git ovah here”, a shower of chicken byproducts flies across her table and on to the floor. I want to dig through my bag and hand her some of the condoms I always pack, (but never use having essentially the sex life of a monk), but I fear that given her mood and  the rate she is eating I might lose a couple fingertips in the exchange. Why does this woman have so many children? She obviously lacks the financial or emotional capacity to care for them properly. Why is it no one ever photographs families like this for posters to adorn Planned Parenthood offices?  Why don’t hard core “family values” and pro-life politicians ever use these people in their campaign ads?  “I’m Rick Santorum and I approve this message, sadly because these are the very people who vote for me.”
'nuff said

'nuff said

 
There is a train to NYC 30 minutes prior to my scheduled train. I am tempted to ask an Amtrak employee if it would be OK for me to jump on this train rather than wait another half hour. I decided against this when I see the huge line of people waiting to board the 5:10 to NYC. I also don’t feel up to an exchange with an officious and bureaucratic staff member. I can foresee having to explain 4 or 5 times what I am trying to do and getting frustrated and ruining some poor wage slaves day with one of my patented snarky remarks … or worse,  pissing off the wrong Amtrak employee and being 86’d from the train altogether. That would mean a bus trip, which would surely be a disaster. Besides, the extra 30 minutes gives me time to chain smoke outside the station. 
 
I pray that my train isn’t as crowded as the 5:10. I don’t like sitting next to people if it can be helped. On buses, airplanes and trains, I watch as people come down the aisle toward where I am sitting silently chanting…  “Don’t sit here…Don’t sit here…please, oh please, oh please, oh God Don’t sit here.”  Unless there is an attractive young woman boarding, which is when I smooth my hair, sit up straight and chant a new cerebral mantra…”Please sit here, please sit here…this experience could totally be like a bad romantic comedy if only you’d sit here.”  Sometimes I scratch myself vigorously and mutter to keep others from sitting next to me. If they have no choice though, I smile and welcome them. It’s odd being so friendly and yet so anti-social.
 
It is time for my train. Good bye South Station
I have read books like Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction which was written in first person, but from different points of view of more than one character. There were three main characters in the book whose lives were intertwined, yet the reader was lucky enough to witness the dynamic of how others see us, despite what we may think, or know. One would think there would be a name for this format, but Gow couldn’t find one, and the force is strong with her in terms of web searches.  

Gow wrote a piece about her visit to see me during the holidays and it was unbelievable. I have been writing for about 5 or 6 years now and it took me ages to get to the level of her very first piece.  I always thought I was a natural, but from time to time, I get brought back down to earth. Gow and I decided to collaborate on this piece.  Her observations, opinions and points of view are written in black, while mine are in purple. 

It is our hope that others will smile, laugh and enjoy this piece as much as we enjoyed working on it. 

I have been happily working at the same company for more than 18 years. I have five weeks of vacation time that I have trouble taking every year. Not that I’m a workaholic or anything, just that I’m not big on vacations. Not long ones anyway. I’m a fan of the three or four day weekend. Sometimes I can even do those without taking any time off of work. I am something of a creature of habit, I’ll admit that. I find comfort in my routines and don’t always enjoy being out of my element. Then there is also the little matter of there not being many people on the planet I want to spend 24 hours a day with for any stretch of time, but we’ll just ignore that bit, for now, OK? Let’s just say that I like tossing a few things into a bag that I don’t have to check, hopping a flight to somewhere I enjoy and leaving before I’m really ready to go. 

I’ve been working with the same company for 4 months now. Yay Me!  Prior to this I was with the same company for 17 years. I haven’t had much in the way of vacations, which is not to say I didn’t have a large chunk of time off after giving my former employer the one finger salute for douchebaggery above and beyond the call of duty. The last thing I had that resembled a vacation was a 5 day trip to visit my step brother in Newport RI last summer. His wife was leaving him for a football player (a female football player) and he needed someone to drink with for a few days. He originally asked me to come up and help him with some yard work, which he was going to pay me for. We ended up doing less than a full day of planting, digging and landscaping and spent more time listening to Tom Petty and John Prine break up music. I played with my step niece and nephew, drank lots of beer, ate well and listened to my poor brother vent. The whole affair stank to high heaven. He’s a good man, a good husband, son, brother, and from what I saw, an outstanding father. It was one of those cases of doing everything right, and things still didn’t work out. Regardless, it was the closest thing to a vacation I’ve had in ages. I had a great time boogie boarding, chasing women with my brother (we didn’t “catch” any) and drinking too much. My brother tried to give me money for the work I had done, but I was having none of it. I can’t even begin to imagine how much he spent on my visit without batting an eye.

Of course, like most people, I spend Christmas with my family every year. But, this year we’re scattered over a few different states and some of us just can’t travel for various reasons, so we all agreed to just sort of “skip” Christmas this year. No gifts for the adults, just buy for the kids, and no travel. Sort of a blessing and a curse, if you get my drift. Everyone hates the stress and madness of the holiday family get together, but that’s also where most of the good stories come from and at the end of the day, those are the people you love and it’s good to spend time with them.

Christmas is all about the little ones. I got some toys for the children of some of my friends. I just wish they were around so I could watch them having fun in the time honored ritual of “The Breaking of the Toys”. I have mixed feelings about children and I hate brats and oblivious parents, but my friends are all pretty amazing moms and dads raising good kids. Last year I did a “de-cluttering” and mailed some of my old toys that I don’t play with anymore to my friend Nicolai’s kids. I felt a little bad when Nicolai made them write me a “Thank You” note.  Of course it’s the right thing to do. I just remembered how annoyed I was as a kid when my mother made me write them. To my 10 year old mind, I’d already said thank you to Aunt Jackie for the pink and brown mittens she got me. (Sized for the Elephant Mans hands and guaranteed to earn severe beatings from the less well-adjusted neighborhood kids)

Completely coincidentally, days before my family agreed to the skippage I was trying to work out a trip to see my blogger over there, Mr. Swenson. We’ve generally managed to see each other once a month and it had been almost two months since we had worked out our schedules enough for a visit. I was about to purchase tickets for the weekend before Christmas when I had a rare moment of forethought and decided to make sure I wasn’t working that weekend. (I have to work every 5th or 7th weekend, depending, so it can be hard to keep track) Sure enough, I was working that weekend and very glad I didn’t purchase the non-refundable tickets. When I told him, he said “Well, come the following weekend then.” “But, that’s Christmas weekend.” I said. “Aren’t you going home to see your family?” He wasn’t and things seemed to be working out just swell. I was a little worried about telling my family I wouldn’t be around for Christmas this year, but that quickly became a non-issue. Sweet!

I visited my dear mother in mid-December at her Den of Disapproval…Casa de Guilt. We had a nice holiday visit. I watched a Patriots game with her; we had a nice dinner, saw a movie and exchanged gifts. To be perfectly fair, I turn my mother’s life upside down on my visits too. I’m messy and can be crabby. I made a special effort to be a nice boy and to be helpful around the house. As a result we got on pretty well.

We made plans for a stereotypical, touristy Christmas in New York weekend. Carriage ride in Central Park, visit to Rockefeller Center, FAO Schwarz, etc. We had other not so traditional plans as well. Go see Young Adults (a new movie co-starring one of our favorite comedians Patton Oswalt) and maybe the new Muppet Movie. The Hairy Monk to watch the Patriots game, go to The Comic Strip, our favorite Thai restaurant, etc. It was shaping up to be a fantastic 4 day getaway for the Little Gow.

I had also wanted to take her to see the Dueling, drunken Santa Claus’ competing for the prime bell ringing real estate. “This is MY corner Muthafucka…”  (Santa please, think of the children.)

I had Friday off of work, but he didn’t, so I booked my usual Friday night flight. Friday morning, I get up and turn on the news and it’s all about how this is the busiest travel day of the year. Great. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s too late to change my travel plans now. As I was driving to the airport I was gearing up for long lines, frustration, crowds and hassles. But, as my luck seems to have been lately, I sailed right through the check-in process and security screening and boarded my on time flight with complete ease and utterly hassle free.

I visited Gow in Orlando once, and I had a great time except for the TSA on the NY end of the trip who were useless, rude and obstructive. I’d like to go back at some point, but money is tight. I made the Gow take me to Bass Pro Shop so I could watch rednecks but she drew the line at taking me to the Creationism Theme Park (aka The Holy Land Experience), despite my begging. I really wanted to see Jesus riding a dinosaur.

So, I arrive right on time Friday night and get all settled in and caught up. No snow yet, but I’m still hoping for a light dusting for our carriage ride on Christmas Eve. Saturday morning, we got up and got all decked out in our football gear and headed over to the bar to watch the Pats game. The place wasn’t too crowded and we got a good table with a nice view of the biggest screen TV. They had one waitress working the entire bar and dining room, so the service wasn’t great, but it wasn’t so bad that we stormed out either. Before half time, he tells me he’s not feeling well and would like to go home. His wisdom teeth have been bothering him for a while now and they picked this weekend to really kick it into high gear. So, we leave the bar, go home and miss the big Pats comeback for the win which I know he would have loved to have seen. Oh, well. Maybe we’ll catch the highlights later.

I had been feeling out of sorts on the way to the bar. I had that too-much-coffee-not-enough-food anxious kind of feeling, coupled with my wisdom teeth beginning to grumble more than a little bit. The bar was cold, and the poor waitress/bartender was doing the job of 3 people. I may have had a low fever or slight infection from the wisdom teeth as normally the cold doesn’t bother me much. I felt a little better after having a so-so burger, but the Patriots were playing abysmally and we left at halftime. I couldn’t even finish the beer I had ordered. On the way home Gow remarked that if the Patriots came back to win this game I would forever think of The Hairy Monk as a bad luck spot. She’s probably right in that respect. I am, like many others, a superstitious sports fan. I have lucky t-shirts and the like. Sadly though, I didn’t care for the bar much, even if it was a New England bastion deep in the heart of hostile Jets country. I should probably give it one more go next October when there isn’t a holiday.

He took some Ibuprofen, had a nice nap and seemed much better when we headed out for the carriage ride. I agree with most of the reviews I’ve read about the carriage rides. It’s something everyone should do . . . once. It’s overpriced, a little smelly and not as picturesque as the movies make it out to be, (especially when it’s not snowing as requested) but still it was a very nice experience to have . . . . once. We scrapped the plans we had for after as he was in a bit more pain now and just wanted to go home.

The horses name was Issac, and like most of the carriage horses around Central Park, he looked like he had seen better days. I don’t think the horses are mistreated, I just think they are working well into their retirement. I felt a little guilty as I wasn’t feeling well and it’s hard to even pretend to be cheerful with a toothache. This was a pretty big deal for Gow and I would be damned if I was going to blow it for her. The driver played Paul Simon music on a small boom box and kept bringing our attention to uninteresting points of interest. “Over here is a statue of Samuel Morse.” Really? You mean that statue of the guy with the big “MORSE” written on it?  Thanks professor.

By the next morning, Christmas morning, he was pretty much in agony. Awesome timing, teeth! Thanks so much! We were able to find a walk-in clinic (in Manhattan, where we had already made two trips) and they gave him antibiotics and stronger pain medication, but it was clear that those babies had to come out ASAP.

The walk in clinic was awesome. In and out, a nice doctor, good magazines, and lo and behold….drugs!

Monday morning we go to the oral surgeon (guess where) for a consultation and to make an appointment for the big extract. When they started talking about how he would get home after being sedated and the post-op instructions he would have to follow, I made a snap decision to stick around awhile longer. I texted my boss to tell him I wouldn’t be back until the new year. Thankfully and as expected he was fine with it. He even asked if there was anything he could do to help. (I love my job and the people I work with and for!) After I got the go-ahead from him, I jumped online to change my plane tickets and was thrilled to find that it only cost $35.00 this time, the least amount I’ve ever paid to make such a change.

The oral surgeon came highly recommended on yelp.com. He was a young, muscular Asian fellow who looked a little bit like a token Asian guy in a movie gay bar scene. He “explained” the “procedure” to me. “So you’re going to go in my mouth and take the painful, miserable little bastards out?”  Thanks, Doc.

Tuesday it seemed that the antibiotics and pain medication were finally doing their thing and we were able to make the movie, do some laundry, fill his other prescriptions and generally prepare for the surgery. Nice day all around and we weren’t getting sick of each other’s company yet, which was good since we still had a few days together ahead.

Did I mention they gave me drugs at the doctors?

I brought my camera on this trip which is something I don’t normally do, but I wanted to take pictures of this cheesy adventure of ours that we had laid out. I hadn’t taken too many pictures thus far, for obvious reasons. I started snapping away in the oral surgeon’s waiting room just before his 9am appointment and I don’t think he was too terribly pleased. No idea why. Maybe it was the fact that he wasn’t allowed even a cup of coffee before surgery and 9am to him is way too early under the best of circumstances.

I am not at my best before noon o’clock, especially without coffee or yums. I will say I was a brave, reasonably cheerful, well behaved little soldier going in to the oral surgeon’s office. We had a friendly Sikh fellow from a local car service drive us into Manhattan. He was chatty and pleasant and I felt a little bad about grunting at him in monosyllabic replies. I told Gow later and she assured me that I wasn’t “that bad”. When we arrived, I had a final cigarette outside the doctor’s office and then a Halls honey-lemon cough drop to cover up the smell. Gow seemed as nervous as I was. I was determined to act like a big boy and promised myself I wouldn’t start crying or shaking uncontrollably in the waiting room. 

The surgery was supposed to take about an hour and I was supposed to use that hour to go to FAO Schwarz to buy him a Lego toy for being such a brave little soldier. Unfortunately, I didn’t go the right way down 5th Avenue and after walking for 30 minutes decided I needed to head back since, obviously it would take me 30 minutes to do that. When I got back, it had been an hour but he wasn’t quite ready to go yet. I asked to use the ladies room which was in the back and I had to walk past the exam rooms to get there. I walked right past him, sitting up and looking loopy and swollen. He didn’t recognize me as I waved at him and has no memory of seeing me at all. I missed a golden opportunity for some fun there. LOL

The hygienist or nursey lady called me into the room where I sat in the dentist’s chair which was covered in plastic wrap that I kept slipping in and out of. I was told to roll up my sleeves and a blood pressure monitor was strapped around my arm…and left there until my arm began to hurt. I asked the nice nurse lady when they would take it off, and she said “When we’re done.”  I was then left alone in the room to play with my new music thingy that Gow gave me for Christmas loaded with 3500 songs and room for many more. I searched for the perfect wisdom teeth extraction playlist….let’s see-eee-eee…Bobby Darin? Check…Jay and The Americans?…Check…Butthole Surfers?…Not so much. I was waiting for what seemed like a long time and I was starting to get annoyed; well annoyed and scared…I was “Scannoyed”.  I looked at my blood pressure reading on the little machine I was hooked up to and my BP was low. I have never understood my perfect or low BP every time I visit a doctor. I smoke, I drink, I have panic attacks and generalized anxiety. It must be the Flintstones Chewables that I have been taking. 

Finally the doctor arrived, and he was very nice. The last time I had my wisdom teeth out (I had the left side taken out years ago, also under IV sedation) that doctor gave me Demerol and Valium with a laughing gas chaser. It was pretty pleasant and in a small way, I was looking forward to the same cocktail. This doctor gave me a shot, or hooked up an IV, I’m not sure which as I can’t look at that sort of thing, and….nothing. Then he put on the little laughing gas mask, and I was still wide awake. The doctor reached toward his little table of instruments and tools, which I also had no interest in seeing, and I began to panic. “Hey, I’m still awake here.”  “Don’t worry.” He said. “Yes, but I am STILL awake…” I said. I started to flail about saying  “Still awake…I’m not out…still awake…I’m not out.”  The doctor told the nurse to turn up the nitrous oxide gas…Now we’re talking doc!

“Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.” the doctor told me. “Yeah, you..ha-ha quack, but I’m still heeheehee, awake you quack…snort  hahaha, I wanna see your credentials…hahahaha  heeheheehee, and I wanna crayon too…” I pressed play on my new music thingy and Jay and the Americans took me to the magical kingdom “In a little cafe, just the other side of the border….” 

“I’m going to put this in your mouth while we work on you Scott” said the doctor placing a rubber stopper in my mouth, similar to the ones you see used for electroshock therapy in the movies…  “OK butshh ew av to eye ee inner hursht” (Translation: OK but you have to buy me dinner first)

“OK we’re done.” said the doctor. I didn’t remember him starting. The nurse lady was taking the laughing gas mask off of me. I offered to give her a dollar if she gave me some more. She laughed, but didn’t oblige me.

I was left alone sitting in the slippery chair for some time. As is my custom with doctors who have kept me waiting I began scanning the room for things to steal. I grabbed the vial of sleepy juice he had shot me up with, and one of those teeth cleaning, weapon looking things they have and jammed them into my pockets. In retrospect I should have gone for more stuff, as the staff would have laughed at my antics in my medicated state. Damn, I should have worn my big jacket and stuck the nitrous tank in there. 

Gow was waiting for me in the lobby and we grabbed a cab home. On the 59th street bridge I began pulling out my ill-gotten booty and showing her proudly.  “Look what I got.” I said. I think she might have laughed, but I’m not sure.

I got him home and settled into bed with the lukewarm cup of chamomile tea that he requested in advance, but he was still hell bent on that toy I had promised and failed to obtain. (“A promise is a promise Lt. Dan Little Gow.”) We had previously looked for toy stores in Astoria but couldn’t find any, so trip #5 into Manhattan seemed to be on tap for me.

I felt a little bad as I had requested the tea, and then never drank the whole thing. It reminded me of the customers I wait on who ask for water when I am at my busiest and then don’t drink it. We had gone to the site of a former Toys R Us in Astoria, and my plan was to regress to a 9 year old, run amok and see what I could get Gow to buy me via cuteness or out of sheer exasperation. If I am feeling particularly childlike, shopping with me can be a less than pleasant experience. I had to take things up a notch at Wal-Mart while visiting my mother as she has grown accustomed to my old shenanigans. I used to point at all the customers whom I literally could not tell if they were mentally retarded, or just really, super low rent white trash desperately in need of a clue. Then I started having my mother paged over the stores intercom system.  “Mrs. Linda Swenson…we have your little boy up here at customer service and he seems very upset….Linda Swenson to customer service, please.” She just ignores these outbursts now, so I resorted to filling up her shopping cart with Depends undergarments when she wasn’t looking and yelling loudly ”Are 8 boxes enough ma?” and “Do you need one right now ma?”

The cab rides to Manhattan were adding up and they can be a little scary as well. I had a Metro Card in my wallet from who knows how many trips ago and decided to use it. I’ve never taken the subway alone before and I hadn’t really paid much attention when taking it with him since HE knew where he was going, why did I have to? Luckily for me it was a straight shot from point A to point B and I easily made it back to 5th Avenue where I had wondered about just hours before. This time I found FAO Schwarz without a problem. The problem was that there was a line around the block to even get IN the place. Really? I mean, Christmas was over! I hadn’t expected that kind of crowd, but I was also in no position to go hunting down other toy stores and I was in no particular hurry as I was sure that Chief Holesinmouth was zonked out and not in need of immediate care. So, I stood in the outrageously long line listening to the tourists jabber in interesting dialects and accents. I wonder why banal and inane conversations are only entertaining to listen to when they are conducted using accents.

The cab rides were really adding up, and I am proud of the Gow for successfully navigating the NYC subway system. It took me a long time to figure it out myself and this is coupled with the half a million micro annoyances that a subway trip entails. It’s a pity that FAO Schwarz was so crowded for the holidays, as it really is a cool store.

Once inside, I just wanted to get my damned Lego toy and get the hell outta dodge, but I could barely move. It was wall to wall people and narrow aisles and about every 20 feet there was another employee with a microphone doing some kind of promotional spiel. Luckily, there were signs around pointing me to the Legos which I was finally able to inch my way to, right next to “The Big Piano”. Another employee with another microphone doing a little shtick about the movie Big and letting kids in four at a time to jump up and down on “The Big Piano”. Yes, it was very loud, but at least it was horribly annoying. I got one of The Pirates of The Caribbean box sets and headed to the cashier. The line wasn’t too long, but of course, the person in front of me had a zillion questions, no American currency and no concept of the fact that there were people in line behind her.

I have tried writing to my congresswoman to get a bill passed into law that would segregate retail lines by IQ. Forget 10 items or less. I want the room temp IQs over there, and the fast, efficient retail gunslingers in my line…preferably behind me. It’s decidedly unfair, costly and frustrating to make those of us with a clue wait behind the ignorant, crazy, oblivious or just plain stupid.

Toy in hand, I made my way back to the subway station and almost broke my arm patting myself on the back for NOT taking the first train that stopped. It was an R and I needed a Q. Yay me! I was even more filled with pride or pomp when a couple of stops into my trip a lady got on the train and realized just a moment too late that it was the wrong train. She asked everyone within earshot if this train was going to Brooklyn, because she didn’t want to believe the first person who said “No, Queens”. Now I was so full of confidence that I got off at a different station than the one closest to home because I needed to stop and get squishy food for my patient. I got off where I thought I should, made it to the bottom of the stairs and realized I was right by Key Food where I wanted to be. Wicked awesome, maybe I was paying more attention that I thought! I rock! This whole public transportation thing isn’t so tough. pffttt.

I picked up all the soft and squishy stuff that he had asked for and a couple of other things as well and headed for the florist to get a balloon. As I walked out of the florists with three balloons, the toy and the groceries it dawned on me that I still had quite a walk ahead of me and the wind had really picked up making the balloon carrying a little challenging. It was a decent walk with all that stuff, but not a very expensive cab ride, so I decided to go that route. As the saying goes, there’s never a cab around when you need one and I spent a couple of blocks walking one way while looking the other in hopes of a little yellow savior. A gypsy finally came by. I got in and told him where I wanted to go, but he didn’t know where that was. I tried to explain that there were literally NO turns involved here. Just go straight. That’s it, Abubu. Go straight and I’ll tell you when to stop and let me out. He was jabbering about how this street doesn’t intersect with that street, yadda yadda, and I just kept saying, whatever dude. . . just go straight down this road. So, naturally he turned right at the first opportunity. I tried arguing with him, but I suck at it. I eventually got close enough, got out and gave him a crappy tip.

While the Gow was out toy and food shopping I was sleeping like a baby. Chong the cat kept me company and was affectionate. I think really good housecats understand when their humans are sad, or under the weather. I was slightly groggy, but the pain wasn’t bad. I was enjoying the warm glow of the pain killers, my day off, the holidays and having evicted the noisy neighbors in my mouth. I kept biting down on the gauze the doctor had given me (or maybe I stole it, I don’t recall) I’d take it out every half hour or so and replace it as it turned bright red from the blood. The bleeding slowed throughout the day and eventually stopped altogether the next day. Gow came back later with balloons, nice yummies and a toy for her big brave boy. I felt so very lucky. 

So, back home I gave the now relatively coherent but still looking a little Godfather-esque with gauze packed mouth man his gifties and soft foods and we watched some DVDs whilst he recovered nicely. And, my little weekend adventure that turned into a week was over the following evening when he went back to work and I flew home.

New York City’s taxis and their drivers…you gotta love ‘em, despite how difficult they make it to do so. It dawned on me recently as a Sikh gentleman drove me home from Penn Station upon my return from Casa de Guilt and a visit to my mother’s. I was half surprised that I was able to get a taxi to begin with. It was raining lightly, and it is the middle of the holiday season. People flock to cabs in the rain and other disagreeable weather. For some reason, the cab drivers delight in driving around with the “Off Duty” signs lit up during these weather conditions, as hopeful New Yorkers and tourists alike stand out in the road desperately waving their arms and getting soaked. My theory is that this is a form of revenge by the drivers for what they have to endure from their less than polite or well behaved passengers day in and day out.

The Sikh gent didn’t disappoint. He did everything a cab driver can do to further annoy the weary traveler arriving in NYC. I gave him the cross streets of my destination. I said “please” and “Thank you”…I was nice. He immediately pulled Plan C from the Irritating Cab Drivers Manual. “Which way you want go?” he asked. He wasn’t concerned with which way I wanted to go. They never are. He merely wanted to tell me of the lack of wisdom in my choice of directions. “Ohhhhh” they will tut tut. “Oh, much traffic that way, very busy.” Why do you ask the passenger which way they want to go? Seems to me that they put up with enough impatience and verbal abuse without throwing in segues for more. Cab drivers are supposed to take you any route you wish. It says so in the most ignored document in the universe. It was named “The Passenger Bill of Rights” by the comedians who came up with it to make it sound important and relevant. Here is the Bill with additional commentary.

  • driver who has and uses E-ZPass at all toll crossings that accept it, and who charges passengers the discounted E-Z Pass rate; (this is a moot point as the driver will not take you out of Manhattan without a bribe, threat or both)
  • Pay for your ride with credit/debit card; (“I’m sorry, machine is broken my friend”)
  • Go to any destination in NYC, Westchester, Nassau, or Newark Airport; (Yeah, sorry…aint gonna happen)
  • Direct the route taken: The most direct route or one of your choice; (After being argued with. God help you if you don’t know where you’re going “Brooklyn? What is this Brooklyn?”)
  • A safe and courteous driver who obeys all traffic laws; (Hahahahahahahahaha)
  • A knowledgeable driver who speaks English and knows City geography; (Heeheeheehee surely you jest)
  • Air conditioning or heat on request; (This is true. Heat in Mid August and AC in February)
  • A noise free trip: no horn honking or radio; (Noise free save for Kasey Kasim’s Bangledeshi top 40, and a driver yelling at other cab drivers via cell phone)
  • Clean air. smoke and scent free air; (You’ll notice month old funky driver BO didn’t make the list)
  • Working seat belts for all passengers; (Your mission: Find Them)
  • A clean taxicab: interior, exterior and partition; (I’d love to get a lab to analyze the partition’s surface)
  • Be accompanied by a service animal; (In a vehicle that smells like an animal)
  • A driver who does not use a cell phone while driving (hand-held or hands free); (It took several fatalities to get this little gem in the Bill of Rights)
  • Decline to tip for poor service; (That’s right, no quarter for you Habib)

It’s amazing the deep and intense hatred the driver and passenger can develop for each other in a 20 minute drive. The passenger is convinced that they could get out and push the cab faster than the driver is driving it. In the back seat, we mutter to ourselves, roll our eyes and make passive aggressive commentary. We become such racists that a Klansman would tell us to tone it down upon hearing our remarks.

The driver will ask whatever god they pray to what they did to deserve this lot in life. Or they hearken back to their lives in whatever third world cesspool they came from and think “Was Sudan really that bad?”

Drivers have lots of nickel and diming tactics they use to jack the fare by .30 cents. They turn into red lights rather than going through the green ones. I’m sorry this sounds really awful but it is 100% true. There is a certain nationality to cab drivers who have always, always tried to give me a dollar or two less than what I request…after I have tipped them. “Oh, ha-ha, I thought you said “thirteen” dollars my friend.” Yeah, ‘eleven’ does sound an awful lot like ‘thirteen’.

Cab drivers are, in theory, supposed to pick you up and take you where you want to go within NYC, Westchester etc. They have the option of taking you to NJ should you negotiate a fair price for their time. Another maddening ploy by the drivers is to drive around on peak hours on weekend nights when the bars and clubs are letting out with their doors locked and “off duty” signs on; so they can decide if they want to take you or not. The most money for them is to relay people within Manhattan from clubs to other clubs, to bars, restaurants, drug dealers penthouses and then to late night restaurants so they can drunkenly torment waitresses, busboys and waiters. A nightclub patron could take the subway of course, but weekend evenings are when the track workers get paid union double time to stand around, hold shovels and look annoyed. It is also safe to say that the super cool and edgy outfit you chose to gain entry to that chi-chi nightclub will get you beaten up on the subway…”Ey check out da fag in da purple tuxedo an top hat ovah dare.”

The cabbies pull up, roll down the window and inquire “Where you going, my friend?” Since my philosophy in life is that it takes as much time to be a jerk as it does to be nice, I reply. “I’m going to get in your taxi, and you’re going to take me wherever the fuck I want to go.” Then I reach for the door which will be locked and the driver drives off laughing and cursing me out in a language that sounds like an out of tune banjo. This process repeats itself until a driver will agree to take you to Queens or Brooklyn, but their tires are bald so they will need to go via Pittsburgh to avoid bridges, tunnels and potholes. By this time you’re purple tux is starting to chafe, and you just want to go home and email the pretty girl who gave you the fake number and email address at the club after inhaling the 6 $15 drinks you bought her, and leaving with her friends without saying “Thank You”… Yes, I’m bitter… Deal with it.

Enough of my ranting about the drivers, as much as some of them may deserve it. These guys have an incredibly difficult job and one that I wouldn’t want. NYC cab drivers and their lot in life have become a film and book cliché. Holden Caulfield had several interesting and familiar run ins with cab drivers in The Catcher in the Rye. Travis Bickle spoke of a “Real rain coming to wash all the scum off the street…” someday in Taxi Driver.

Archie Bunker drove a cab part time on weekends to make ends meet on All in the Family. His encounters included giving mouth to mouth to a 300 lb female impersonator and picking up Sammy Davis Jr, who presented Archie with a generous reward for the return of some property left in his cab. In addition to the reward Sammy planted a big kiss on Archie’s cheek in a photo. Archie’s encounters rank around a 3.5 on a 10 point scale compared to some of the stories I have heard. New Yorkers love cab shenanigan stories almost as much as we love bragging or complaining about the great deal or crippling rip off that our apartment is.

The old crusty and grizzled cliché cab drivers from the movies are all but gone and have been for decades. NY cabbies are from everywhere but New York these days. Most are from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, with some from Eastern Europe, various parts of Africa and the Middle East. There are a few from Haiti as well. Most Latino cab drivers work for car services I have noticed and these are some of my favorite to talk to. I like the high energy of their radio stations, and have noticed that the Spanish language drive time and morning disc jockeys are just as obnoxious as their English speaking counter parts

Many of the cab drivers have advanced degrees and were high level professionals in their home countries . . . doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers and the like. It must be a slap in the face for them to be condescended to and insulted by rude, ignorant New Yorkers on an hourly basis. They also never get a break from the city and especially the police. When a cab driver is pulled over it is almost always a case of guilty until proven innocent and even guilty after proven innocent. I was once in a taxi that got pulled over for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. The poor driver was terrified of the cops and begged me to stay with him. Either he had some very bad experiences with police back home, or with the NYPD or possibly both. I felt bad for the guy.

I’d like to think I am a fair story teller. I’m pretty good with accents and voices and I can generally make people laugh with the sagas of the NY cabs when I try to. In closing I thought I’d share a few of my favorite gems.

A Russian/Ukrainian driver dropped me off at home after work. He’d been playing games with the fare and route so I tipped him poorly (or rather I gave him the standard good tip in addition to the bill I usually gave, his scenic tour of NYC ate up most of this amount) He counted the money and looked at my angrily. “This is it?” he asked. “For doing your job…terribly? Yeah that’s it.” I replied. As I walked away, I think he meant to call me a “Mother fucker” but his English language skills weren’t so slick, so instead, at 3am, he yelled across Queens, “I am fucking your mother!!!!!!”

A Haitian cab driver, with me in the back, had picked me up and proceeded to cut off another driver on the West Side Highway. The other driver; an African fellow pulled along side and they engaged in a heated argument at 85 mph. it should be noted that I am quite possibly the biggest nervous sissy passenger in the universe.

“Hey, where the fuck you learn to drive?”

“From your mother!” (Ah, NYC once again comes shining through)

“You stupid-son-of-goat-fucking-bitch. I kill you.”

“Suck my dick.”

“Yeah? You pull over and I suck it!”

After 20 minutes or so of this I meekly piped up. “Um, maybe you could just drop me off over here, I can walk the other 40 blocks.”

Perhaps my favorite story is of a driver who picked me up in Manhattan to take me home to Astoria, Queens. Where I lived was a slightly confusing neighborhood of avenues, streets and drives with similar street numbers. It was a maze of one way streets and dead ends, and unless you knew the exact route you could be circling for half an hour to get to my apartment building. I got in the cab and gave the driver the address and cross streets. I then (politely) asked “Do you know how to get there or do you want directions?” As I said not only was my neighborhood a little confusing, but often cab drivers will just start driving around and a $20 fare later will ask you how to get to your destination. The driver didn’t answer me, so I assumed he didn’t hear me. I started to ask him again. “Do you know how to get there or….”

“IF I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO GET THERE, OBVIOUSLY I’D ASK YOU!” He barked back at me. We rode in uncomfortable silence all the way to Queens. After he missed the first one way street he was supposed to go down, I smiled to myself. I was going to have the last word and laugh in this little exchange. Another wrong turn and the driver started to look slightly flustered and embarrassed. Now I started to have a little fun. “What’s wrong?” I asked with mock concern. “I though you knew how to get there. You aren’t lost are you?” We pulled within a couple blocks of my house and the fare had reached $19.80. I told him he could let me off here so I could give him a $20 bill and a nice parting shot for his rudeness.

I slammed the money into the tray and said “Maybe if you weren’t such an asshole, you’d get tipped.” Please with myself, I exited the cab. “Hey!” the driver called after me. I turned around quickly anticipating a fist fight. Fine by me. The driver was standing there; blank faced holding my money in his hand. It was a $100 bill rather than the $20 I thought I had given him.

Ooops. I tipped the man after retrieving my $100 and walked away sheepishly