Monday, January 05, 2015

2014: Year In the Rear View

I don't usually write year-in-review messages or blog posts, but 2014 was a particular doozy — for reasons both happy and sad — and I feel compelled to share my thoughts about it.

I came out of 2013 a bit shaken, what with having received news of three friends' passing all within a week near the end of the year, specifically around Thanksgiving. As with all New Years, I hoped 2014 would be better. And so it goes....

The year took off to a white, wintry start. We all were assaulted not only with snow and bitter cold, but a new term: "Polar Vortex." No longer is it an "Arctic blast," or just plain "winter," but a "Polar Vortex" to make the weather forecasters sound cool, and the rest of us to sound like idiots.

Aside from the unusual temperatures, winter was business as usual for me in the taxi; the worse the weather (especially falling snow), the better the money, though the money was never actually good. Better than crap is better, not necessarily good. The month's take on the Polar Vortex did bring me at least one spectacular sight...

Parhelion, a.k.a. Sun Dog, February 9, 2014

Just more treading water. Nothing of note occurred that I can recall.

Early in the month I finally gave up on someone I had considered a friend for about a year prior. I realized that while I endeavored to be a friend to her, she put in no such effort and merely used me. Call it a hero complex, but I had convinced myself that I could coach her through the steps she needed to take to reverse the death spiral that her alcohol problem had set into motion. But, alas, the most important person who needed to believe in her chose instead to stay nestled in the dubious comfort of a bottle, and in the company of those who were happy to keep her drunk. I will confess a physical attraction in addition to the instinct to save, but that only served to make more difficult the decision to break away.

The end of the month was also a time of anxiety, as my sister, Marie, was diagnosed on the 29th with adenocarcinoma of the lung, stage 4. She was admitted to the hospital almost immediately and began her battery of chemotherapy. Her prognosis was not good, but there was a chance she could beat it. She wanted to to try.

In the following two or three weeks, Marie suffered a mild stroke. Doctors said it was due to a disorder that caused her blood to thicken.

Marie was in the supposedly capable hands of her doctors, and was being nurtured nearly 24/7 by her sons, so, at mid-month, I decided to go ahead with a long-desired road trip to North Carolina.

Seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway, somewhere in North Carolina, May 19, 2014.

Down through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and the Appalachians into North Carolina, and then back up through Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains, and Kentucky, I took what felt like a thousand photos and spent way too few hours with friends whose hospitality seemed boundless. During the trip I received word that Marie had suffered a second stroke. Despite her doctors' words to the contrary, her strokes seemed to be direct results of her chemotherapy, as each had occurred shortly after a chemo treatment. Where the first seemed to have momentarily knocked her silly, the second one took a clearer toll, affecting her speech and her vision. An attending neurologist saw months of rehab in her future.

Not long home after the road trip, I received news on June 9 that an Air Force friend, Scott Aubuchon, had died suddenly in his home in Rogers, Arkansas. He had only four months prior celebrated his 50th birthday, and had only three months prior married his love, Jennifer. Plans were made hastily and, at the end of the week, I embarked on my second road trip in as many months, this time for the solemn occasion of Scott's funeral.

During the drive home I received a text from Ed, Marie's elder son, that Marie had opted out of any further treatments, out of any further attempt to save her life. She was going to be moved within a day or two to a hospice facility. She was going to die. I drove on through a blur of tears and decided that I was done planning for some day in the distant future when I would have all of my bills paid and enough money saved and my retirement planned. I accepted in those moments that I will never have all of those things. The last five years of my life have destroyed any serious hope I may have had about retirement. I will work pretty much until the day I die or — much like my father did — until the day my body finally gives out. Until that day, I am going to seize every opportunity I can to do the things I want to do and go see the places I want to see, because we are not promised tomorrow, and waiting to do or to go until the time is just right only postpones them indefinitely because the time is never right. Marie had a pleasant retirement planned, just a few years ahead of her. She was waiting until the time was right to sell her house and move into a quiet retirement community, and to make a trip to Italy, a place she had wanted to visit all of her life.

Marie died on June 18th. She was 59.

Her passing was, in retrospect, like a switch was flipped on my life. Of the many things I want to do, writing and acting are two of them, and the taxi job was sucking the time away from those and just about every other activity I was interested in. A change had to be made, but quitting the taxi — rather, firing myself from the taxi — and collecting unemployment for six months seemed foolish on the boundary of madness. But then I received an e-mail in response to a résumé I had sent — apparently — a month or so earlier. Long story short, I received and accepted a job offer at HR Imaging Partners to be a school portraits photographer.

But the job was only part-time, and they assured me that the fall semester rush would slow down by mid-October, and I would be hurting for work. I shut down the taxi on July 11 and started at HRI on the 14th.

On the 26th, after a surprise Facebook message — an invitation to a event — from a woman I had found interesting and with whom I had traded comments only a few times, I went to the Northwest Suburban Atheists meetup in Cary, Illinois. By night's end she and I had a date set for dinner later in the week! The Wednesday evening dinner at her apartment went well and before I knew it I had a girlfriend!

Just two days later I left for my third road trip of the year, to the Third Annual Wüschheim Air Station reunion, in Las Vegas. It was a trip I had all but decided I couldn't do, but, thanks to the epiphany I had on the road home from Arkansas, I did.

On the weekend of my birthday, September 5, Donna treated me to a very nice birthday weekend, with dinner at Bistrot Margot and a late night comedy show followed by drinks, all in Old Town. Niece Ashley and her hubby Steve joined us. Then we spent the night at the W hotel downtown, riding on niece Katie's employee discount, after which we spent Saturday afternoon sightseeing, and the evening at my monthly karaoke do! It was a fantastic weekend!

Later in the month I was cast in Northeastern Illinois University's production of Christopher Durang's Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, without auditioning. It's good to be on a director's short list!

was a blur mainly of intensifying play rehearsals and weekends with Donna, with season 5 episodes of The Walking Dead sprinkled in there for variety.

As October tilted toward November, I saw the HRI gigs drying up. My option with HRI was to jump into sports and event candids, but that entailed weekends and evenings almost exclusively, and that was absolutely out of the question. One long evening of frantic Craigslist ad browsing and responding yielded an interview with HealthPark Hospitality for a job as a valet. The job paid shit, but they offered an agreeable schedule — day shift, 40 hours. It was the easiest interview I ever had in my life, almost as though they were looking just to see if I would show up! I turned in my notice at HRI to end on November 7, started training with HealthPark on November 10, and started full-time at Northwest Community Hospital, Entrance 2, on November 17. It is surprisingly a fun job, not difficult at all and, best of all, allows me the time once again to do the things I want to do! acting. Why Torture Is Wrong... opened its seven-performance run on the Thursday before Thanksgiving.

The last month of 2014 was another blur of work and play. THE play, to be specific; it closed on the first weekend of the month. Weekends were with Donna, in what has become the usual. She is a smart, sensitive, sensual, beautiful woman with a soft voice and a passion for wine and a love of cooking! We settled in to each other very quickly, and our time together is usually spent cuddling, laughing, and watching movies. I have never found easier talking to a woman, and her laugh is unrestrained and delicious.

So 2014 was indeed a doozy of a year! Despite the losses of people I loved, I think I got my brain turned around the right way, and my world turned upside down in the best way. I can only hope the trend continues into 2015.

But I ain't holding my breath.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Rapid Undoing

It was near the end of my day. A car pulled up to the doors to Entrance #2 amid a brief flurry of business and I went out to the driver's door with a valet ticket in my hand. "Do you want valet service today, sir?" He was an elderly man behind the wheel of the late model Honda.

"Yes," he replied. "You staying warm?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "This job keeps me moving; I stay pretty warm!"

"It's okay," he said as he gripped the interior handle of the open car door and slowly pulled himself to his feet, "you don't have to call me sir..."

"Oh, I call all men--"

"I was only a sergeant," he said, cutting me off; he hadn't heard my response. "I wasn't an officer." He offered up a handshake. I took his hand in mine.

"Thank you for your service, sir," I said. "Army?"

"Nineteen-forty-two to forty-five." He had read the next question in my mind.

"My dad was in from '42 to '46. Were you in the Pacific Theater or in the..."

"Europe!" His hearing was perfect, now. "I was with General Patton."

"Now, was he First Army or Third?" My father served in Europe during World War II, so I have the smidgen of European Theater of Operations knowledge I learned from him.

"First," he said.

"Ah," I smiled. "My father was in the Third Army." I couldn't think of the general's name who led my father's neck of the war. "Were you in the Battle of 'The Bulge?'" Another thing I had learned about my father's service. (Patton's First Army was in position to the north of the Belgian town of Bastogne, while General Omar Bradley's Third Army was about equally as far to the south of Bastogne. A thinly defended supply line was established between the two armies, and that supply line is where the German Army attacked in an effort to recapture the harbor of Antwerp, Belgium. The American forces along the line fell back westward in an effort to contain the German offensive, thus forming what the press of the time described as a "bulge" in the line.)

The gentleman smiled slightly and nodded.

I laughed. "You may have rubbed elbows with him!"

"How's your father?" he asked me.

I put my arm high up on his arm, near his shoulder, and said fairly matter-of-factly, "He passed away in 2008."

Then the man said, "I'm 91."

"NINETY-ONE?!" I blurted. The really quick part of my brain — the part that never shows itself for any practical purposes other than avoiding traffic collisions and recalling useless information — momentarily thought he was guessing my father's age, because, in that instant, without having to do any math, I knew 91 would have been my father's age this year. "You're doing good! You're doing GREAT!" I patted him on the arm in the same spot.

He hobbled past me toward the entry door to the medical building. "The good lord gave me a great life."

I walked ahead of him to open the door, and suddenly found myself struggling mightily to hold back tears. In that instant, I missed my dad terribly and I wanted desperately to sit down with this gentleman and ask him a million questions. What a tremendous obstacle placed before the men of his generation that they overcame! Most of them, anyway. And the sacrifice and the loss. The fear and the pain. What images must float up in his mind when he says things like, "I was only a sergeant, 1942 to '45!"

And now they're dying off to the tune of hundreds a day; maybe thousands.

I couldn't regain my composure quickly enough, and as he stepped through the doorway and away from me, my wish to him to "Have a good afternoon, now," came out as a wobbly, warbling croak, which I was grateful he couldn't hear.

Choking on the lump in my throat, I walked back through tear-blurred vision and quickly inspected his car for any prior damage, got in and headed to the valet stalls where I parked his car. And I let it happen. It was brief. I wiped my cheeks and my eyes with my hands, and I trotted back to Entrance #2, happy for the flurry of business that prevented me from dwelling on what had just transpired.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Scenes From Entrance #2

I suppose I'm doing this backwards, chronologically speaking, but, with the way these entries post to Blogger, a random, casual reader will read them in some semblance of the right order. This is on my mind right now; I'll get to my "career" ethos in a later post.

With about a month at this new job under my belt, a few thoughts have settled in, and I feel a need to share them. Go get an alcoholic beverage; you may wish you didn't spend time in my brain. The break below this paragraph can last for decades.

I think it's official: I'm a people person. Fourteen years ago I can pretty confidently say I was not. When I took the job at Directions AV, Inc., I was pretty vexed at my agreeing to approach strangers with a video camera and encourage/cajole/plead for their participation in videos as a requirement of my job. But approach them I did and, if I have to say so myself, I became pretty damn good at putting together sight gags and short skits with no scripts and with randomly chosen non-actors. The unexpected by-product of that eight-years-and-change experience is that I can now approach and talk to just about everyone and be my wacky self as though I've known them for years.

Laid off in 2009, and feeling a little desperate after five idle months, I took what I now realize with clear 20/20-hindsight was an ill-advised taxi driving occupation. Despite the money-, time-, and mind-draining aspect of it, I also realize that it further developed my people-person skills. It is in the taxi that I actually realized that I can talk to just about anyone like an old buddy.

The taxi was killing me slowly, and I knew I had to get out, so I did that in July, accepting an offer at an imaging company as a school portraits photographer. There I realized that I can talk to almost anybody. Kids? Not so much. Honestly, it wasn't the talking that I had a problem with; it was the tolerating. Plus, all of the things I mentioned in the prior post.

In the preliminaries to being offered this job, the interviewer — who happens to be the owner of the company — seemed very pleased with my professed people-person skills that carried over from the taxi business. It may be the only reason they hired an old fart like me for a job where they expect their people to run to retrieve the parked cars.

But I digress. In the four and a half weeks that I have been functioning as a valet/parking attendant at this local hospital, I have greeted and welcomed already several hundreds of people. Some of them are repeat visitors, and others are one-timers. It is the repeat visitors who I think about the most. Some aren't visitors at all, but employees of the hospital. They're not our customers, but we are expected to treat them with the same respect and enthusiasm with which we treat the visitors, and enthusiasm is what I have felt since the start. Inside the building, beyond the doors where I am stationed, many of our repeat guests come in for surgery, and some come in daily for various and sundry cancer treatments. Some surgery patients are in and out in a couple of hours, while some go in and spend days in recovery. Cancer patients come in for chemotherapy, radiation, and even laser excision of cancerous skin cells. One gentleman, apparently in his fifties, arrives so precisely every morning that you could set your watch by him: 6:55. One woman was a regular visitor for my first three weeks, and she gleefully told me one Friday that it was her last day of treatment. Another lady — to whom I refer as "the lottery lady" — comes in every morning wearing her fleece skull cap (it's cold outside ...and she's bald!) announcing which day of her treatment today is, and how many days of treatment she has left. It's those numbers she plays in the Illinois Lottery Pick Three or Pick Four game and delivers the ticket she bought for me: day nine of treatment with 19 more to go, so she plays 919; day 12 of treatment? She plays 1216 and brings me a ticket. Today I was a winner, only not in the Lottery. She brought in for me and for my door coworker each a miniature holiday Bundt cake.

Some are very old, some are very young. Some have been preparing for surgery for weeks, while some were admitted under urgent circumstances. I see family members escaping from soulless waiting rooms to the cold freedom of fresh, outdoor air and a cigarette; some quietly shed tears of stress or worry while a loved one breathes upstairs with the aid of complicated electronics and machinery. I hand cancer patients their valet claim tickets and then enter their car and a cloud of lingering cigarette smoke, able when I park their car in the lot to escape the prison of their addiction that they cannot.

It dawned on me a few days ago, a sad realization, that probably half of these cancer patients will not survive that for which they are receiving treatment. The lady earlier mentioned who was so gleeful that she was finished with treatment told me practically in the same breath that, if the treatment doesn't prove successful, she could be looking at hospice in a matter of a few weeks; this was her last hurrah, her Hail Mary pass for big yards. Lottery Lady is happy to mention her forward progress, but she never volunteers how she's doing.

So much hope. So much fear. So much defiant dignity in the face of unpredictable odds, all in brief pauses between the entry vestibule doors.


Monday, December 15, 2014


For years, now, I have lamented about how my occupation(s) has cramped my writing time, and how I need to find a way to put more time back into my life to give to writing. I finally got out of the taxi in July of this year, walking away from it ...and right into a sporadic, stressful schedule of school portrait photography. At the beginning of the school year I was busy, and the hours were all over the map, clock ...with some days requiring me to leave my apartment at 4:30 am, and other days to leave at 9:00. As the fall semester wore on, the schedule lightened up, and the "part time" nature of the job that had me working sometimes 50 hours a week at the start made itself more evident.

Waning hours — and pay — aside, I remembered soon after I began the job that the part I had really hated about the video job I'd had from 2001 to 2009 was the lugging-around-the-heavy-cases-and-setting-up-so-much-crap-all-the-time part, which was exactly what I was doing again with the photography job. I was promised with the photography that, as the portrait photography aspect slowed down, the sporting event and candid photography aspect would pick up, and I would continue to have somewhat steady work. However, since the other thing I wanted to get back into my life after leaving the taxi behind was acting, I didn't want the sporting event and candid photography to take up my evenings, which is when theatre commitments occur.

I had to find something else.

One evening of feverish and reckless Craigslist searching netted me an interview with HealthPark Hospitality/Advantage Valet, a company headquartered in Barrington, Illinois, a mere hop and a skip from where I live. I never knew I wanted to be a valet; fact of the matter is, I never did want to be a valet, but, in the dark hours of that evening it seemed like a swell thing to look into.

They touted full-time work, steady, regular hours and choice of schedule. The bonus is that the property where the position was open is a hospital a mere ten-minute drive from my apartment. BONUS! But I think I already wrote that.... I started with HealthPark Hospitality on November 10, and — despite how primitive-brain valet work may appear to a reader, I'm having a blast with a job I get home from at the same time every day, that I don't have to bring home with me, that I don't stress over the night before, that I don't have to carry anything to or from, and that there is no expensive equipment for which I am responsible on a daily basis ...if you don't count the occasional $150,000-ish Mercedes Benz I have to back into a parking stall between two other cars.

And now the cows have come home to roost to put the money in the proof pudding where my mouth is. Or something like that. Translation: time is what I wanted; time is what I did this for. It's time to start getting my brain focused again on writing. I was doing so well — at least exercise-wise — prior to the taxi and Facebook. Fucking Facebook. But now, with what little writing discipline I had when fate dumped me into a taxi all but lost, I find myself struggling to get it all back in gear, to observe life and formulate a topic, to concentrate on that topic and to whip words into a coherent pattern to make that topic interesting to a reader, even if it's something about a long-neglected avocation. And then there are the writing projects I long to get back to which have sat on the proverbial shelf for way too long, regardless of how much or how little writing I have done since 2009.

Since 2009. Jeesh. Five years. What the actual fuck?!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ghost Post: Psycho Analyzed

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

Psycho Analyzed
Date of original composition April 5, 2013

Well, Thursday night was a pretty strange night, as they go for me.

Around 9:30 I picked up a young couple from Harry's, a bar in downtown Arlington Heights. The woman came out of the bar first and waited for her boyfriend to pay their tab. I wanted to comment to her that she resembled Mare Winningham in her prime — as I don't know how Ms. Winningham is looking these days —

(Mare Winningham)

but 1) she's too young to know who the hell Mare Winningham is and 2) she was too drunk to care if I said she looked like Steven Tyler.

(Steven Tyler)

A few minutes later her boyfriend got in the taxi seeming a little more sober, and talkative.

I entered their destination address into my GPS and drove off. On the way the boyfriend asked if I could go a certain way so that he could stop at a liquor store to pick up a six-pack of beer, as he was going to continue to watch the Chicago Blackhawks hockey game at home. I obliged.

The girlfriend made herself comfortable by lying down, to boyfriend's protests. She responded, saying, "I'm not gonna do anything," which made me wonder what she though he thought she might do. There. In the back seat of my dark taxi.

It was only a small chatter of words, but I began to think this girl was maybe a bit on the wild side.

We arrived at the liquor store, and boyfriend said, "I'll pop in and pop right back out."

Girlfriend started scooting across the seat to go out the door with him. "I'll pop right in, too. I have to pee."

"No!" said boyfriend. "You can't go pee." Of course he meant that the store management wouldn't let her use the bathroom, but girlfriend apparently heard a challenge.

As soon as boyfriend closed the door, girlfriend said aloud — but, apparently, not to me — "I can too go to the bathroom. You'll pop right out that door, and I'll pop right out this one..." She opened the left rear door and got out. I had first assumed she was just going to enter the liquor store defiantly and press her luck with the clerk, but no. She stepped to the rear of the taxi, hiking her skirt up along the way. I got a shocked glimpse of her bare ass cheeks around her thongy panties as she disappeared into a squat behind the car!

Yup. The wild side.
Psycho Analyzed

About three hours later I received a dispatch to pick up at a local Red Roof Inn. The order indicated that it was a party of 1, but two people came out and got into my car. Mitch and Charli wanted to go to Dick's River Road House, hoping it would only cost them around 15 dollars. They asked me how much it would cost, but I couldn't give them an accurate answer, as I don't know the address of the place (which would allow me to get the mileage from my GPS, which would, in turn, help me figure out the fare). Then Mitch said he needed to stop at an ATM so he could pay me.

They had gotten into the car in reverse order to what Mitch needed in order to use the drive-up ATM, so he opted to walk to the machine, leaving me and Charli alone for a couple minutes. Did I mention she was drunk? She asked me my name, then asked if I spell it with a 'Y' or an 'I,' and then explained that she spells her name with an 'I,' so that's how I know. She told me she's originally from southern Indiana.

I asked her what brought her up here.

"Well, mainly," she drawled mildly, "all the men there are gray."

I pictured her being chased around by a bunch of 60-ish men and getting frustrated.

"But the men here are black and white, you know what I mean?"

I don't, I nodded.

She pointed past the windshield at her man. "Like him! He's black and white. That's my Mitch. I'm gonna marry him!"

Mitch got back in the car and we headed toward Dick's, about a 15-minute ride. They chatted privately for a few minutes. "The machine wouldn't let me get a thousand," said Mitch. "I punched in a thousand, but it wouldn't do it. So I could only get five-hundred."

Yup. And he wanted the ride to cost only fifteen dollars, like they're strapped for cash.

Then they started talking to me. Individually. Two separate conversations. Simultaneously. Charli was right behind me and closer to my ears, so I mainly heard her side of our conversation.

She hit me with a fusillade of questions: when's my birthday, what's my mother's maiden name (I had to double check to make sure they didn't have my wallet!), did I have any sisters, what are their names... She claimed — and Mitch confirmed — that she could "read" me, so all these questions came from that.

This was actually the second time in a week that I had been "read" by a woman, the first ending in the assessment that since all Virgos are assholes, that I'm an asshole. So I had low expectations for myself this time.

Then Charli made a few fairly accurate assessments — one easily deduced: I'm in a sucky job and it affects my attitude. The second: my attitude defeats my ability to get women. Not entirely accurate... my entire being defeats my ability to get women, but okay, I give her half a point. Then she asked me what it was when I was a kid that I liked to do most; what was my passion. I came up with a couple of snarky answers that I didn't voice, and then she said, "Was it sports?" No. "Was it music — do you play an instrument?" No. "Comedy?" Holy shit!

There was a period of my life that I wanted to be a standup comedian, but I was thwarted by a serious disability: I'm really not very funny. But, WOW. That one hit close!

I didn't acknowledge Charli's accuracy — I couldn't get a word in edgewise —



Ghost Post: Road Rage, a Short Story

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

a short story
by Tony Gasbarro

(November 25, 2013)

The light was red. Victor Trachtman saw in his side mirror the man from the other car approaching him, anger hunching his shoulders and squeezing his fists. Vic's foot trembled on the brake pedal. His window was open. Panic seized his mind as it replayed the earlier few seconds of his life, and froze his hands from closing the window.

Vic had signaled his intent to change lanes as he waited for the white Dodge minivan to pass on his right. He had checked the right lane in his right-side mirror. All had been clear. The minivan had cleared Vic's front bumper, and he had accelerated slightly and leaned his steering wheel to the right to take the lane. A sudden screaming horn had startled Vic, and in a brief spastic moment he had punched his brake pedal, jerked his steering wheel to the left, and seen in his right-side mirror the sleek grey Lexus — its headlights flashing and its horn blaring — rapidly closing in on his rear bumper.

The man pounded his fist on the trunk lid of Vic's car as he closed the distance to Vic's open window. Vic could feel his heart's rapid beating in his throat.

Vic's first instinct had been to swerve back into the left lane, but in the split second before doing so, he saw that his acceleration had carried him past the rear bumper of the Yellow VW Beetle. So he had accelerated more and eclipsed the speeding Lexus. To make matters worse, the white minivan had then slowed to turn right, into a shopping center parking lot, and Vic had braked hard in order not to collide with the van, thus causing the Lexus to nearly crash into him from behind.

The man was now in his window, in Vic's face, screaming profane insults at him, his own face nearly purple with rage. Vic heard the man's voice, but the throbbing in Vic's ears garbled the man's words. At first, all he knew was the man's rage, and that the man's mouth was inches from Vic's ear.

And then the words started to catch hold onto Vic's psyche. "...cking moron! Didn't you see me in the lane, you stupid motherfucker? HAH? You need a fucking telegram before you move your stupid piece of shit car in front of someone's fucking way?"

Vic's panic began to give way to anger. The lane had been clear. He had signaled his intent. The Lexus had come seemingly out of nowhere. "I had my blinker on," Vic said, his voice tentative at first. With his next breath Vic felt his own rage rise. "You knew I was changing lanes. You need to slow the fuck down, pal!"

In an instant, the man from the Lexus flipped from rage to insanity. "The fuck...!" He reached a hand in and grabbed at Vic's face. "You don't tell me what to do, motherfucker!"

Vic's own hands went up to fend off the man's grappling at his face and shirt collar.

The man pulled one hand free and started pounding at Vic's face and neck, and screaming. "I'll fucking kill you! I'll fucking kill you!"

Vic threw his arms up to cover his head, and reached out to push the man away from him, shoving at his face. He felt the man seize his arm and start pulling at it, and alternately landing fists on Vic's neck and jaw. "Get out the car, motherfucker! GET OUT THE CAR!" Vic pulled back, gripping his steering wheel with his right hand for leverage while his fastened seat belt anchored him to his car.

Each time the man pulled on his arm, Vic's other hand yanked on the steering wheel to pull back, and deep inside Vic's survival instinct was a calm area experiencing a mild frustration with the steering wheel turning under Vic's fight to stay in the car. A slow reasoning started to build that Vic was going to lose this fight under the raging man's terms. The man had the advantage and all the leverage, with his legs beneath him and his feet on the ground. Soon, the solution to Vic's problem became clear in his mind: he must knock the man off his feet.

In a frantic moment, as danger for his life felt imminent, Vic's right hand pulled the top of the steering wheel to the left and around again until he felt it stop at its limit. Then he slipped his foot off of the brake pedal and onto the accelerator, and his car lurched to the left, knocking the man from the Lexus off balance. The startled man now gripped Vic's arm for leverage rather than advantage, but released it all together as he fell under the heaving automobile.

Flight was all Vic could think of, now, and the sensation of the car riding up, and the sickening yelp of the man's voice as its tire rolled over him only came back to Vic when his senses returned to him while he sat in his car in his garage at home.

"Oh, shit, what have I done?" Vic said aloud. He began to tremble Every sense in his body told him he should call the police, turn himself in. "But HE attacked ME!" Vic said, again aloud, but this time in response to an imaginary interrogator.

His mind's eye pictured, as though a third-person eyewitness, his car running over the man from the Lexus, its tires riding up over the man's hips. He feared the man would never walk again. Or was he dead?

"Maybe," Vic thought aloud, "nobody saw it. Maybe," he hoped, as he realized that it was a busy intersection — EVERYBODY saw it — "they saw what an asshole he was, and nobody reported it."

Vic knew that the right thing — the only thing — was to go to the police station and turn himself in. "But how do I explain to them why I ran away? Or — shit! — why I ran him over?!"

"Somebody must have taken down my license plate number. They'll find me."

He waited for nearly an hour in his garage, waited to hear a knock on his door, or to see the door fly open as the police kicked it in, or used one of those battering rams he had seen used in those reality cop shows on TV. But nothing happened. Not even in the next hour.

Vic left his car and went in the house. His fine house. What would happen to it if he went to prison for running over the man from the Lexus?

In the bathroom, in the mirror, he saw some bruises forming on his jaw where the man's fists had landed. There was a small cut on his neck. Vic trembled again as he relived in a second the whole incident. "What's going on there right now?" he asked his reflection. "Do the police have crime scene tape blocking the corner? Do they do that only if it's a murder?"

Vic vehemently deflected thought of going back there to see. "The suspect always returns to the scene of the crime." Crime?! Was he a suspect? "Oh, Christ! WHY did I run away?!"

The news. "The news will know." He looked at the clock. The evening news was on when he ran over the man from the Lexus. That was three hours ago. The nighttime newscasts wouldn't be on for another hour.

He couldn't eat. He didn't want a drink. "I'll just wait."

The phone rang. He stared at it on the wall for several seconds. Its ring seemed surreal, as though its meaning was detached from the phone. He picked it up. He put it to his ear.


A hollow silence on the other end. Vic had never hoped for a telemarketer before, but if the caller was selling something, Vic vowed in that moment he would buy it.

"Yes," said the deep voice on the other end. "I'm trying to reach a Victor Trachtman?" He pronounced the "ch" like in "church" instead of the correct "k" sound.

"Speaking," Vic said slowly, his mouth dry.

"I'm Detective Bob Gonzales, Bradley PD, Metro division."

Vic closed his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh.


Ghost Post: English Seeking

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

English Seeking
Originally composed January 30, 2013

Last summer I made grand announcements on Facebook of an impending change of direction, of the start of a new chapter in my life and yada, yada whatever other cliché phrases one can conjure to imply an attempt to crawl out of a rut.

On July 9, 2012, I began a 12-week, part-time course at Australia-based SEA English Academy to acquire a Certificate IV in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). After a week or two of my classes — in which I was the only student — the course administrators sat down with me and told me that they were going to accelerate my pace to catch up with the class that had started a couple weeks earlier. They felt I could handle it. I already felt slightly overwhelmed because I hadn't been in any kind of a classroom environment for quite a few years, and it seemed my ability to retain the information they were imparting to me was quite rusty. However, the quizzes and tests bore out their assessment that I was having little to no problem grasping the concepts.

Through mid-August and into the first week of September I got the feel of teaching real English students — non-English-speaking adult and elderly immigrants who were attending free classes in their communities (because, honestly, who would want to pay bumbling, fumbling teachers to throw vaguely coherent lessons at them?) I went from serious stage fright — which, going on 35 years as a ham actor, I hadn't felt in years — to a genuine feeling of "HEY! I can do this!!"

After the last practicum teaching session there was a graduation ceremony, and then it was time to start assembling "papers" — renewing my passport, submitting my fingerprints to FBI for a background check, revising my résumé to reflect my English teaching in the foreground of my experience — and to start sending out applications.

I want to go to Western Europe. I have wanted to live there for quite some time, now, inspired by my time in Germany while I was enlisted in the US Air Force.

My list of desired places, in order of preference:





Czech Republic

There's a problem, though. As I have been told and — even more importantly — as I am learning on my own, Western Europe is pretty much closed off to job-seekers without European Union passports or without some sort of "in" to a company or school already.

Europe is a beautiful, epically historic place. I recommend to anyone who has never been there to visit soon. But in the summer months. Not in winter. Europe is a bitch in winter. Except in the southern reaches of France, Spain and Italy, I guess.

But I'm a Chicagoan. I'm used to that which Mother Nature can dish out along these latitudes. Europe is the goal.

But, what to do to get there?

Fall back and punt. Common theory is to find somewhere else to go, to teach, to get some good experience under my belt, and then, perhaps, work my way closer to where I wish to go. I have no desire to go to the Far East, to places like China, Taiwan or South Korea. Nor do I care to go to the Middle East, to places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar or UAE. Paradoxically, those are the places with the most readily available jobs. Go figure.

Through most of the first decade of this century I had a job for which I traveled extensively, and one of those destinations several times was Hawaii. I don't know of any American mainlander who has gone there and not thought — even if only briefly — "I want to live here!" I admit the thought crossed my mind.

But they already speak English in Hawaii.

So, my plan: I'm willing to take what Western Europe can dish out because that's where I want to be. But if I can't be where I want to be, then I'll try to go to a "paradise" destination and tough it out there until I can worm my way into Europe!

In the past few weeks I have been researching the countries of Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, places I never cared to go before. I have found job listings only for schools in Thailand and Indonesia, though I do need to use more search resources that may offer a wider view.

I do still keep my eyes open for, and send applications off to opportunities in Europe, because you just never know when someone may think I'm the bee's knees. So far I've been turned down by companies/schools in central Germany and Paris, France.

I received a regrets message from a school in Thailand last week.

But today I received a nibble from a school in Jakarta, Indonesia! In response to my application, they wish to set up a Skype interview. I've sent word to SEA English Academy for advice or insight to both the school which has responded, and to the city of Jakarta or the nation of Indonesia as a whole, to see if there are any red flags there or in the wording of the application.

It's a first nibble. It may not pan out, or I may ultimately not be interested, but I think it calls for some excitement...which I've expended on writing this post.


Obviously, the life arc has changed. More on that later....


Ghost Post: Gun Control

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here continues a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

Gun Control
Originally composed January 14, 2013

There is no other way around it: something needs to be done about gun violence in this country. I don't believe an all-out ban on guns is the answer, as a gun can be a useful tool — yes, weapon — in skilled, responsible hands. That doesn't mean everyone should be allowed to own one. There are people — and not just the mentally unstable — who should not own a gun.

In the "gun control" debate, I have heard several people clamor for parity with proposed gun control. "Cars kill more people every year than guns! I want car control!"

We have car control. One needs a license to legally drive a vehicle; licensing requires a specified number of hours of training; the license can be revoked for repeated infractions or for single egregious ones. The government regulates driving with imposed speed limits, turning restrictions, lane demarkations, one-way streets, and laws to enforce the proper use of them all. The automobile industry makes new strides every year to make cars safer and smarter, and doesn't resist at every turn new pushes by the government or the public to make them even safer. The gun industry provides for woefully few such safety measures to reduce death and injury to gun users and the people around them.

Still, people die in car wrecks or car/pedestrian collisions every day. Yes, some of those deaths are intentional; the human mind is resourceful and inventive, and can find ways to weaponize just about anything when focused on harming another human being. The major difference in the argument that "cars kill people, too," is that they're not designed as weapons, they're not designed to kill. Weigh the annual road death toll against the use of cars. I don't have statistics to quote, but I believe it's safe to say that there are upwards of 150 million cars driven on US roads every day, cars used for their intended purpose. Some of those cars will be involved in wrecks, and in some of those wrecks some of the cars' occupants will die. The ratio of road deaths per car in use is dramatically low.

Guns, on the other hand, are generally not used every day. Most are tucked away in cabinets or drawers, or behind retail counters, or in holsters for the relatively unlikely event of a holdup or robbery. Perhaps as many are safely locked away in dedicated gun storage cabinets, and used only for hunting during certain periods of the year.

It is all too prominent a statistic that there are many accidental shooting deaths each year, though I would wager that the ratio of accidental shooting deaths is much lower compared to deaths by intentional use. My point, though, is the ratio of deaths by gun to number of guns in use is much, much higher than the deaths per use ratio for cars.

A car in the hands of one bent on doing so can be used as a weapon to kill people, though its intended purpose is safe, peaceful transportation. A gun that is fired, resulting in the death of a human being — whether accidental or intentional — has fulfilled its intended purpose.

But how many of the most horrendous mass murders of the last thirty years were facilitated with a car? Only one, and the vehicle — a truck in this case — was used to deliver a payload of explosives — which did the actual destructive work — to the Alfred R. Murrah government building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

No. When bent on massive casualties, the would-be murderer defaults to firearms.


Ghost Post: Pure Atheist

Though I have been remiss in posting to this blog, I have not been so remiss in writing for the blog. Here begins a series I shall call the "far·ra·go Ghost Posts," entries intended for publication during my posting drought that I never got around to posting because sleep. And Facebook. Yeah, okay, mostly Facebook. Some entries will be incomplete, as I obviously didn't finish them at the time of their original composition, and I have since lost the gist of the original direction in which I was headed. And so it goes....

Pure Atheist
Originally composed May 24, 2012 (or that's the most recent update to the file since writing it...)

I wish I was a pure atheist, one who never knew what it's like to have felt a duty to a god or a church and their corresponding patterns of behavior. Because those things have left a mark on me, on my cerebral cortex, my instinctive brain. I often call religious indoctrination "brainwashing," and this is why; the trained instinct of belief. It's brainwashing because - despite the rational, reasoned thought that tells me there's no magical, invisible entity holding the universe in the palm of his hand, who knows my every thought and that of every other thinking being in the universe - in unguarded moments I still catch myself thinking of my mother "in heaven," or my father "looking down on me" and approving or disapproving. It's brainwashing because - despite years - decades, now - of consciously brushing off those ideas into the dust-pile of fairly tale - I still can't unthink the thoughts that swim up from the depths of my childhood indoctrination.

Yes, to be free of that ready, instinctive compulsion to regard an active, populous spirit world would be refreshing. To have never felt beholden to a god, a prophet and that guy behind the screen every Sunday would be liberating. But those childhood memories are also responsible for the warm feelings I still get at Christmas time, for the anticipation for Christmas day, when it seems as though the world goes quiet; for the warmth I feel when I hear the songs - reverent or secular (one has to admit, whether a believer or not, that the concept of the nativity of Jesus Christ has inspired some great songs!); for the comfort of the closeness of family and the anticipation of the great food and lively conversation in their proximity.

I guess it's pointless to wish for the things I'll never have, or to be what I can't be, for they're things done that can't be undone. Not without a frontal lobotomy, anyway. And, now that I think of it, I guess I've had the best of both worlds; to a kid - the kid I was - the magic, the fantasy, is real. With age, reason ruled out, and I'd hate to imagine myself a slave to that kind of doctrine, but, with a head still full of those magic moments, looking back has a magic all its own.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Huge, Self-Effacing, Public Apology To Netflix...

...If Only They Would Navigate to My Blog and Read It

Over the past several months I've been having a terrible time with Blu-Ray discs on loan from Netflix. Many of them have had a tendency to glitch during the main movie — never in the previews or during the credits, for some reason — and ruining my mood for watching. Several weeks ago I called their customer service number and complained mightily to the person who answered the phone. She was polite enough, and she immediately offered to send me two extra selections from my DVD queue — I have the maximum program, at three discs out at one time — which would put five discs in my possession. I told her that extra discs wasn't going to solve my problem; I'm spending nearly 30 dollars a month for movies I have to send back because they don't play properly, and if I don't get some answers, I'm going to cancel my Netflix subscription! She suggested that, perhaps, my Blu-Ray player was in need of a firmware update. I told her that, according to the Samsung website, my firmware was up to date.

Granted, what I told her was actually information about a year old. The last time I had checked prior to the phone call, I did see that the most recent Samsung firmware update was dated 2011, which was when I last updated my player. But, in my defense, the only firmware-related issues I had ever seen with my player was when a certain Blu-Ray disc wouldn't load due to out of date firmware. Playing one-third of the way into a film and then breaking down into hiccups and glitches seemed more of a crappy quality-control issue — the discs were leaving the Netflix distribution centers with scratches and schmutz on them, and it was affecting my viewing pleasure.

So, the pleasant woman on the phone assured me that she would pass my complaint along to the Department of Those Who Could Do Something About It, and wished me well in whatever I decided about cancelling my subscription or not.

It didn't help Netflix's case when the two bonus discs they shipped arrived to me broken, and I called back with my hair on fire (I know. It's only a manner of speech. (Yes. I know I'm writing)). They assured me they would have a discussion with the US Postal Service about the handling of their property, and that two replacement discs were already on their way.

A week or two later, after the replacement discs had come (one of them gave me fits anyway, and it just so happened that the film was available for download on the Netflix "Instant Queue" feature) and gone, I decided to look once again at the Samsung website to see if maybe there was a more recent firmware update for my Blu-Ray player, circa 2009. After a sufficient amount of clicking and hunting, I determined that the latest update was the last one I had loaded in 2011. It would appear that my five-year-old Blu-Ray player had been rendered obsolete by its manufacturer sometime within the past three years.

I still refused to believe that simple, seemingly random glitches in playback could have anything to do with the machine's playback software, but rather that there must be some kind of flaw in the playback surface of the discs I was receiving. After all, they pass through hundreds of hands each month, right? I mean, some of the discs I've received appeared to have had someone's lunch served on them! But doubt crept in.

Then, last week I suffered from the frustration of two consecutive discs failing for me, first with Abduction, and then with Cowboys & Aliens, the second of which caused a minor meltdown during which I signed up for AmazonPrime, their premium online streaming service. Netflix was DONE.

But I like Netflix. Their DVD-by-mail service is top-notch, and they have obscure films no one else offers. Their streaming selection SUCKS, though.

SO, I elected to conduct a potentially expensive experiment. I decided last Friday to make a weekend run to Best Buy to pick up a new Samsung Blu-Ray player to see if it could get through Cowboys & Aliens, the defective disc of which I had not yet sent back. Expecting to deepen the debt wound by a couple hundred dollars Saturday, I was very pleased to discover that Blu-Ray players are frightfully close to "dime-a-dozen" territory! (Five years driving a taxi, being poor, and not buying shit does that to you.) I returned home that evening, went through some wiring contortions, got the new, TINY by comparison player talking to the other Samsung components, and loaded Cowboys & Aliens. It rolled right up to the point in the program where it had glitched in my older player ...and ...nothing.

It played flawlessly right through the section in question.

So... imsorrynetflixiwaswrong.

There. Done.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Abduction ...Of My Precious Time!

Abduction (2011, Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins)

Ugghh. It becomes apparent from very early on that this film by director John Singleton is aimed squarely at the teen set, what with supposed heartthrob Lautner — of the Twilight series fame — starring as a high school senior with troubles. But please! Give the world's teens a little more credit to appreciate real dialog and plot! From the first scene the film is about as flat as a sheet of plywood, and Lautner's performance is even less interesting. His facial expression — through the discovery of the real identity of his parents, to witnessing their murders, to escaping his would-be captors, to facing his foes — never waivers from a mild sense of confusion and having just caught a whiff of an unpleasant odor.

Lautner portrays Nathan, a privileged teen with no apparent problems, even though the script alludes to some that Lautner's perpetually blank expression doesn't convey. He has a seemingly brutal father who routinely (it would seem) kicks the crap out of him in full-contact style boxing bouts, but who also seems like a swell guy. Nathan discovers a web site that causes him to suspect that he may have been abducted as a toddler, and that his parents really aren't his parents. Suddenly people show up and kill his parents, and Nathan is on the run with his across-the-street neighbor and would-be girlfriend, Karen (Collins). Nathan is eventually surrounded by — and surrenders (albeit momentarily) to — a cadre of CIA agents, led by Agent Burton (Alfred Molina), and cleverly listens to Burton spell out every detail about Nathan's surrogate parents, about his birth parents, and about why so many people are after him. Then, in a subsequent moment of astounding clarity, Nathan realizes aloud to Karen that his father, in duking it out with him regularly, was preparing him for the situation in which he finds himself. Hello. We were there 35 minutes ago, Nathan. Another moment of brilliance, in a later search for his birth mother, Nathan deduces, since the directions to the address he has for her have led them to a cemetery, that she is dead. As Nathan is chased by two sets of spies vying for information they think he possesses, the plot reaches its height(?) at a Pittsburgh Pirates home game at PNC Park. If that's not ironic metaphor for lameness in film making, then no such thing exists.

The plot is about as clever as a coloring book maze, with dialogue seemingly written for the "Dick and Jane" set. Even veteran actress Sigourney Weaver — whose casting here suggests she must have lost a bet — as Nathan's therapist (or IS she...?), delivers her lines so deliberately that recent stroke victims would be shouting at her to spit it out.

Michael Nyqvist, who also portrayed affable good-guy Michael Blomqvist in the excellent, original, Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo film trilogy, shoots himself in the foot as the villain Kozlow. Perhaps he earned too warm a spot in this film goer's heart as Tattoo's Blomqvist, but he is neither convincing nor fearsome in this effort.

Nothing in this film appears to have been done by anyone who was trying very hard. The editing appears as though done by someone in an extreme hurry, perhaps to move on to his next film while quietly forgetting to include this one on his résumé.

In fact, the only thing this film actually earns is its rating of 2.0 on the Numb Butt-Cheeks® scale.* Even if it's free, spend money on something that might actually be worth your time, instead.

*The Numb Butt-Cheeks® scale of zero to ten: a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of zero indicates such a disregard for the film that one could get up to go to the bathroom at any point without worry of missing anything exciting or important; a Numb Butt-Cheeks rating of ten indicates there is no way one would get up and leave, save for a distinct tearing of bladder tissue.


As Though Back From the Dead....

Yes, it has been a while. No point in belaboring the fact; I'll just get down to business....