Monday, August 18, 2014

What’s in the bag?

(From Two Guys from Garfield)
July 29, 1980

Power warps people.
It makes an ordinary man think he’s God; a common store clerk, a president.
It makes a frustrated wannabe cop security guard unanswerable to anyone into a small Hitler, having his way with the rest of the staff.
Perhaps I should have ducked out of his way the way most of the others do; but I’m not made like that, and I never duck for cover when something strikes me as wrong.
The guard, who also apparently sees himself as something of a secret agent but not the Nazi I’m talking about, approached me on Friday and demanded to examine the contents of my bag.
He said he had been told to search the green canvas bag I carry everywhere – a bag sagging with notebooks and soft-covered books of poetry and literature I carry everywhere.
I actually liked the guy; and he apparently liked me, but operated on orders from the head of his order – who is the real dictator, and not this poor guy, who is only – as he says – following orders.
He promised not to search the bag if I promised not to bring it into the stock room.
I guess this made sense. Management was obsessed with theft, partly because they paid the staff so little, workers couldn’t resist the temptation to pocket things they couldn’t otherwise afford.
After having watched people like this guy’s boss operate in other jobs – which often involved the firing of innocent people – a few choice words came to mind, such as “pig” or worse, any of which might have set this muscle man off and put me in back alley to duke it out (a fight I would not have won).
Instead of telling him off right then, I did what I rarely do in those situations, I waited and let the long weekend cool things off, and confronted not the poor guard, but his supervisor on Monday, telling him I wanted to speak with the big boss – something that made Rich flush red and ask me why.
This was the guy I hated, a half shaved macho monkey with an inferiority complex he tended to take out on defenseless people. The same words I had held back saying on Friday came to mind, but again I resisted the urge to spout them and repeated my demand to see his boss.
It wasn’t the idea of security that offended me so much as the attitude this guy and his pack of henchmen displayed. They lorded over ordinary workers, part of some superior little clique of power that said they were above the rest of us, and I needed to teach them some manners.
They came for me later during lunch, dragging me out of the break room in front of everybody else, a kind of show of force that said to others: “This could happen to you if you make trouble.”
In the office with the big boss, I said exactly what I thought.
Rich went even redder than he did before and told me if I didn’t like it, we could settle matters outside.
I told him I didn’t like imitation cops doing what he did, but I expected the big boss to curb his guard dogs. People like Rich needed to learn his place, and should have a chain and muzzle.
The boss agreed to curb security’s over zealousness, but warned me to keep my bag out of the stock room.
It was not over – at least from the look on Rich’s face – but I had won a round in a fight I knew would not end until I left to go back to college in September.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Spies and spacemen

July 28, 1980

My girlfriend sleeps in the other room in fits and starts, turning frequently as if to wake up, but she doesn’t – only I do.
My nights are filled with dreams, and often not nice ones.
Some of these say too much about how jittery I feel inside, desperation and fear, growing worse on the inside, even when I don’t always show it.
Maybe tonight’s dreams come as a result of the James Bond flick I allowed myself to see, and the awful past such films recall in me.
My dream was just like a James Bond film, although I recall very little about it except my running from something, running the way I did during my spy-crazy days as a kid when I watched too much Man from Uncle, I Spy and James Bond.
I ran from everything, the cops, my uncles, my neighbors, myself.
I don’t talk about my growing up with my girlfriend. She wouldn’t understand the total irrationality of my youth, or the utter desperation that drove me away from the house where I lived.
Or maybe – as super intelligent as she is – she might understand all too well, and that scares me.
Maybe that’s why she’s with me a test case, although we all have our own issues.
Maybe she envies my ability to have broken away at least for a time from the stranglehold families have, and how I laid out the ground work for my own life early on, books about spies and spacemen getting me through those early teen years, taking refuge in my room – or when that would not suffice – the local park, or even the streets until the years hardened me enough to put more distance between me and that trap.
She always escaped into books and knowledge, which is probably why she’s so far ahead of me in that way, and is ahead of the rest of this superstitious and ill mannered world we all must endure.
I don’t know if she is a genius or not – but she’s brilliant, and suffers because most men don’t find intelligent women attractive regardless of how beautiful they are.
Their loss is my gain – although that’s another fear I have, knowing deep down even I can’t keep her, and sooner or later, she’s move on, and I’ll revert to being the loner again, living the life of a spy or a spaceman, struggling to keep secret just how scared I am, and how far out into space I have gone, looking down at a world on which I have no real place, having run so far since I was a kid as to be too far away to relate to anything. That doesn’t last either. Sooner or later, I always come back to earth, but it’s never easy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Return to Never Never Land

Aug. 12, 2014

Robin Williams is dead.
After a month of depression and a life time of drug and alcohol abuse, he took his own life out at his California home.
The fact that he and I are the same age makes this a bigger tragedy for me since his life has many of the same markers as mine, out lives mapped out with the same historical and social events, and shaped by the same powerful forces even though we never met.
I had one brief brush of shoulder in 2005 when he came to the edge of Bayonne to film a move.
Sharon, younger than both of us by several years, however, had more significant contact with him since she attended Julliard with him and other prominent stars of that time including Kevin Kline and the Superman actor I later came close to meeting while I was a reporter.
But actors and musicians tended to live in separate circles even at that prestigious school, and her meetings with Williams and Kline tended to be one of regret rather than celebration since the comics stars tended to work out their routines on unsuspecting subjects – particularly musicians and dancers.
Williams' arrival on TV as part of the Mork & Mindy show was a milestone as significant against the bland backdrop of the 1970s as Star Wars was, although I was never as big a fan as my friends were.
I gravitated to his later movies such as The World According to Garp, Good Morning Vietnam, and Dead Poet’s Society. The Fisher King remains one of my all time favorite movies, and strangely seems to have foreshadowed his later life and his despair. He did not get the same hope out of it as I did, seeing that sometimes small victories mattered more than big ones.
I was less enchanted some of his other movies, including for a time, his Never Never Land remake, Hook, but grew to like the movie over time as it also served as a metaphor of our lives. He really was Peter Pan and in the last hours of his life had to face what we all must face at some point in our lives: the concept of growing up. His mirrored all our aging faces, and the dreams we all ached to have, and while our dreams have not come true, his dead. But clearly, this was not enough.
I went back to The Fisher King and the resurrection that his character underwent, and how love managed to save him and the other characters in the film, even when the dream turned out to be something other than he thought.
I’m sure some day, I’ll meet him in Never Never Land, and as he did in Julliard, he will test out one of his routines on me. And after all this time, it will be a celebration.