Monday, January 26, 2009

haunted heart

Valentine’s heart box displays abound, filled with delights and memories of my father. If that sounds a bit odd, just read on.

When I was a girl of about 9 or 10, my dad used to take me to work with him. The joy of the day for me began with the commute into Brooklyn from Long Island. Imagine, a whole hour alone with my dad, no little brother. And I could sit in the front seat usually reserved for my mom.

My father managed Miro Container Co., a family owned box factory (today, it would be called a “packaging plant”) in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section. Even then, some 50-odd years ago, it was far from the most hospitable of neighborhoods. But my dad was at home there and I felt perfectly safe.

My “job” was to make up the time cards. I remember sitting in the dingy office at what seemed to me a huge old metal desk. I would laboriously copy the intricate ethnic names on to the top of each Manila card in my best block printing.

When I tired of that, I hung around the switchboard operator, fascinated by the old plug-in-style board straight out of a Lily Tomlin sketch. Looking back, I must have really worn on her nerves, pleading until she let me answer or transfer a telephone call.

My absolute favorite part, though, was when my dad would take me onto the freight elevator, with its metal gate. It was a kick to see the floors arrive and then fade away.

Along the way, he would stop to explain to me about paper, glues, hand vs. machine-made boxes, problems with gold stamping, blistering or the ubiquitous “sloppy corners.” No box in our house ever escaped his ripping apart each corner to reveal to us the “sloppy corners” in other manufacturers’ work.

But to me, the factory was a magical place, with intricate machines slurping up fragrant glues and huge roles of paper spitting out an infinite variety of boxes. Naturally, I felt like the crown princess of this magical kingdom, with my dad the all-powerful king. It was heady stuff.

However, there was one major frustration at my father’s place of business (which we always referred to as “the place,” as in: “Where’s dad?” “He’s still at the place”).

You see, my dad didn’t make just any boxes, he made toy boxes for dolls like Shirley Temple; game boxes, including Scrabble; book boxes and candy heart boxes, like the kind given on Valentine’s Day.

I can almost hear you pondering: “Sounds great, what could possibly have been her problem?” Well, since you asked….

His office was filled, from floor to rafters with the most intriguing collection of games, toys, books and candies a child could possibly imagine – at least at first glance. But as I sadly discovered each time I visited – the boxes were empty, the books blank, not a chocolate was to be found.

And I looked. In all the years, I never really accepted the fact that these were nonfunctional samples. Somewhere in my mind, I believed someday I would find a treasure in that big pile of tease.

Of course, I never did. And if there was a life lesson in that experience, it got past me. But the experience of seeing my dad at work and being permitted to take even a tiny part in an adult workplace has stayed with me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

pacman wars

I should have seen it coming.
Yet the item on CNN the other day still shocked, then disgusted me.

In a Philadelphia mall, the U.S. Army has set up a large recruiting center filled with various “realistic” Xbox type video games, to introduce and entice the young to the glories of war. There are even full sized tanks to sit on while firing.

Life is not like television or Hollywood, people.
And war is NO video game.
Seems so obvious, yet, the place was filled with the young and probably gullible, operating various faux killing apparatus.

For decades, we have been in a continuous state of blurring “lines”
between fiction and non-fiction;
between news and entertainment;
between editorial and advertising.

This, however, crosses the line. And intelligence is no protection. My own son, not lacking in stuff of the intellect, fell for an army recruiter’s line in the waning days of Gulf I. He thankfully avoided combat, but I could have lived a long and fruitful life without knowing my only son could strip an M-16. This young man, brought up without so much as a water pistol.

My own father, having survived WWII, detested guns and taught his children to also. Yes, yes, I’ve heard the drill: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Yet I know that guns make it much too convenient for people to kill people—even by accident.

Back in 1983, long before the realistic avatar-type electronic world our young now populate, the movie WarGames introduced us to the dangers of such a world. In the film, a mischievous teen hacker, played by a young Matthew Broderwick, innocently starts a “game” of Global Thermonuclear War on the side of the Soviet Union, triggering a chain of events that bring the real world to the eve of destruction. (The world is saved, by the way, when the supercomputer in charge is tricked into playing an endless loop of tic-tac-toe against itself. A device Capt. Kirk uses several times in Star Trek. But I digress).

The following year, Hollywood served up "The Last Starfighter," starring Robert Preston as the desperate alien recruiter combing the universe for pilots as an unending conflict has eliminated those of his planet. He targets great, teenage, video game player and tricks them into being a pilot in a real intergalactic war.

Does any of this have a familiar ring, folks?

Since 2001 we have been harangued with the message that we, too, are constantly at war. This message is suppose to help keep us safe. I don’t buy it, my friends. Reaching back 26 years ago to WarGames, the film ends with the supercomputer concluding "the only winning move is not to play.”

Can I hear an “Amen.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

One singular sensation

That’s what I’m after this year folks – one singular sensation. The sensation of happiness, that deep in the gut feeling of “aw right, now.” And I do mean NOW.

That is my only determination for 2009. We Buddhists call resolutions, “determinations” and although we make them all year, the New Year is also a special time. Many of us take the list of yearly determinations. Seal them up and store them sight unseen until year’s end.

But I’ve tossed my list this year and substituted this: I am determined to be happy. Now. This very second. Without losing an ounce, pleasing my boss, accomplishing one goal (or setting one for that matter) lifting one weight, or rewriting a single page of my dormant book.

I will find a way to be happy, just because... without earning it. Shocking, I know. My happiness will not longer be on lay-away, to be parceled back to me as it is paid for.

We are trained and bombarded,especially this “New Year’s New You” time of year. Be unsatisfied. Push the envelop. Make a plan. Take control . Get moving. etc, etc.

I’ve had enough. I have no more patience. I will wait no longer. The siren sound of happiness calls, like Bali Hai. Whether I ever lose another pound, publish another piece, make a decent living, attract another lover...I’m gonna be happy.

By deciding to.

It’s not that radical an idea, I freely admit. It is even the cornerstone of the Buddhism I practice: Absolute happiness. In other words, an inner happiness not dependent upon conditions, or as you may put it “reality.” Oh, I can just see my son shaking his head at his ditsy out-of- touch mother. Sorry, Jamie.

I am going to search out reasons to be happy every chance I get. Even if it’s only the contrasting taste and texture of bacon and eggs; the warmth of my comforter as I smuggle down to sleep (alone).

I can hear it now: That’s all fine and dandy, if maybe somewhat corny. But all the good thoughts in the world amount to nothing without action. Maybe. But I’ve taken a lot of action in my life and precious little of the important stuff has changed.

I want to emphasize what this is NOT.
It’s not about giving up on my dreams, resigning, compromising, passivity and the like.
Feeling good shall be my activity.
Ready, set go. Sing out loud and strong.
“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands...”

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The street where I live..

I suppose I could call this piece "in the hood," but that smacks of us old folks trying out now out of style street speak. But I've been pondering this area where I now lay my head, of late, since I've been home with some kinda thing for the past week. Not my favorite way to transition into a new year.

When I moved to Sarasota from the Jersey Shore 7 years ago, I entertained a fantasy--as it turns out--fueled by myths about how inexpensive it would be to live in the Sunshine State. I saw myself living in a small condo downtown, working part-time and devoting myself to my own writing.

I ended up fairly close to town, on the "wrong side" of the tracks, a decidedly long walk downtown in a working class area. As you know by know, I work full time in retail and squeeze the rest of my life around that.

It lacks the shimmer, convenience and pace of downtown, but also the hefty price tag, even with the real estate collapse. However, I have come to appreciate the shabby chic of this old style Florida neighborhood, even with its rough edges. It kind of grows on ya.

Until the crash, in fact, my main worry became "redevelopment". I feared that as pressure grew to expand downtown, we would be ripe for a change in zoning that would lead to more high rise condos. And we would be displaced. In fact, as prices rose, some people put so much cash into fixing up these condos, I worried the complex would become too upscale for my undersized income. That too, has been paused.

The 40 condos in the Jefferson Club, as it is called, are quirky. You quickly learn, as repairs become needed, that there is no standard between the units, as if separate contractors did the work. And often not very well. Some of the electrical switches, for instance, were installed backwards. I heard a great story after I moved in, that it was built in the 1970s by mobsters to house their girlfriends. A colorful tale, for sure, but it would explain the freestyle construction. I confess to enjoying the off kilter charm. It fits.

When I first moved in, I could walk to a real Mexican restaurant, in which no one even spoke English. Unfortunately, it's been replaced by the standard Chinese take-out. A more pedestrian form of redevelopment.

Oh, well.