Cruising the Green of Second Avenue

Wild Child Publishing has issued the second volume of short stories in Cruising the Green of Second Avenue. The tales take up where Vol. I left off — bringing back Klein the Biker, Straight Charlie and Sammy the Madman while introducing new characters stumbling over life’s difficulties in the late 60s. Vol. II is an e-book published by Wild Child Publishing that you can download, save as a pdf (Adobe) file and print. Read both volumes and see that life isn't all that serious. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online book sellers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Toughest Assignment: College App Essay

College app essays are TOUGH. Tried my hand at one as a writing exercise yesterday, on my granddaughter's behalf. It would guarantee her application never saw the light of day. First part goes like this....

Reunion with classmates, garrulous friends, geekie book wonks and nondescript hallway passersby equated to anticipation. Anticipation felt by the one-time Rutgers student formerly known as M--, class of '15. It was both a gleeful countdown to a birthday party and furtive calendar glances at an approaching dentist appointment. The year clicked over to 2025, then marched downward to June, zeroing in on an appointment with her return to New Brunswick. It was Au recherche du temps perdus with no petities madeleines.

Was there no way to stop the clock, tear up the calendar and hold back the moon?

The M-- who showed up at the meet-and-greet was nonplussed. The room exuded an eerie, surreal quality, like being in Chicago and finding House comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 8:00. The air was scented with cocktail franks and cheese plate hors d’oeuvres, the hum of chatter and buzzing conversations were akin to the sound of a dentist’s drill. What had she been thinking?!

“So you’re M--,” a man said, squinting at her name tag. Or was he staring at her breasts? Half a container of gel made his hair glisten like nose hairs after a sneeze.

“Formerly M--,” she said. “I’m incognito, masquerading as an alumnus.”

“Alumna,” he corrected her. “I remember you from…oh, who was that professor who kept looking at the clock, waiting to get out for some mysterious appointment? Our class in history, archeology. One of those old things.”

“And you’re…” She squinted too. “Frank. Let’s be frank, Frank. What are you doing now that you’re not throwing water balloons?”

He flinched. Just a bit, a tightening around the eyes, as if he had bitten into a jalapeƱo pepper and didn’t want to cry. “Real estate. I do condos. Make ‘em, sell ‘em. Land is the only thing they’re not making any more of.”

“Never end your sentences with a preposition, Frank. But enough about you, what about me?” Frank was growing on her like he was a colony of E. coli and she was room-temperature hamburger.

Drop me a line if you want the rest of this exercise in academic futiliy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

People As Distinctive as Parking Meters

At last I know what ails me. It’s prosopagnosia, or the inability to recognize faces. Faces just don’t register in my mind, or with about 2 percent of the population. I’ve been called stuck up and standoffish, but really, I’ll sometimes pass right by close friends without recognizing them. It’s partly why I have to call my wife when we’re in the supermarket and ask what aisle she’s in.

Prosopagnosa sufferers recognize their problem and ask people to wear a carnation (figuratively). It’s not a disaster, like Capgras Syndrome, when you believe your spouse or sibling is an imposter. Those people totally disbelieve there’s anything wrong with themselves.

Years ago, I worked for Western Electric in Kearny, New Jersey. This vast, 19th century factory had more than 10,000 employees. My job, among other tasks, was to interview employees heading into retirement and sum up their expectations in 50 words of copy for the employee newspaper I edited. I found that after talking with one – any one – I might pass him in the hall two hours later and totally fail to recognize him. They wore gray suits. White socks. Brown shoes. Had short hair. They all seemed to be department chiefs, a kind of limbo classification whose work took over when their dreams were cut short. All seemed uniformly gray-skinned. All said they were going to spend the next month at the Jersey shore, and then putter around their gardens in Toms River.

My problem was that unless I associated each person with a mnemonic clue – a scar here, a missing finger there, a VFW pin in the lapel – I couldn’t recognize him in passing two hours later. (The women were different. Though all of a class, their curves and hairstyles made them individuals.)

Apart from my prosopagnosia, another horrifying realization soon hit me. In six months, I was also writing their obituaries. My job was to chronicle both departures. These people not only looked alike, they subscribed to the same short destinies.

There’s a story in here somewhere.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Packing for the Big Trip

With all the new adults trekking off the college for the first time, I thought it’d be interesting to show you what my School Shopping List looked like in 1957. I was going off to Grinnell College (Iowa), and ready to say goodbye to the parents at Grand Central Station before beginning a 1,200-mile cross-country journey. Alone.

All summer long, personalized mailings from Wanamaker’s, Macy’s and Gimbels advised the class of ’61 that every boy needed at least one dark suit and one sport jacket, so my parents dutifully drove me into New York City to shop. The houndstooth jacket came from a discounter on 23rd Street (down the street from Dad’s office and adjacent to the shop selling “Horehair petticoats”) and was hideous. The suit was a Macy’s blue serge.

Also needed was a sturdy cardboard mailing box so dirty laundry could be mailed back to New Jersey for Mom to wash. (That exchange lasted six weeks before I went to a Laundromat and discovered “whites” and “colors” should be separated.) Grinnell, for its part, advised freshman to talk with their prospective roomies so everyone in a threesome at Smith Hall didn’t arrive with a giant 32 watt stereo. And, I was reminded, males were required to wear coats and ties for evening meals.

Into the footlocker (which I still have) went my Olympic portable typewriter, desk lamp and a leather notebook with my initials in gold (the latter was Mom's gift). The brown Samsonite suitcase was filled with T shirts (white, no ads or logos), dress shirts (button down), and khaki (with belts in the back). My education began in sartorial splendor, lasted a semester, and then the bluejeans took over. But I always remembered: separate colors from whites when doing the wash.