Monday, December 22, 2008

I Am Not A Superstar

As I squeezed into rented boots, my daughter G warned, “Papa, stay away from black diamonds with a menacing name.”

The precocious 12-year-old knew her dad and the mountain. She knows me from years of listening to my inane comments. She knows the mountain after hours of studying the Killington trail map on the drive to Vermont. Indeed, trails named “Panic Button,” “Devil’s Fiddle” and “Vertigo” can be menacing to a sporadic intermediate skier with no business attempting steep runs on notorious east coast ice.

Following the longest season in sports, the only real vacation any of us in the industry get is around Christmas. (I hope I can say that word that without offending anyone.) After that, everyone’s preparing for the new season in Daytona. The current season ends, then come the Series banquets, then Daytona looming over your head like a safe dangling on piano wire. A late-December respite in Vermont with my family is the so-called much-needed battery charge.

The day after Christmas, we were enjoying light lift lines. The mercury was hovering at a comfortable 30 degrees. This was my trip to move beyond an “intermediate” level of skiing; I’d have four more days to distinguish myself and get better.

For the proverbial Last Run of the Day, my wife and I came across a black diamond called “Superstar.” Certainly, this name would pass a concerned daughter’s muster: strong and confident with notions of red, white and blue achievement, Wonder Woman, Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps in their USA Speedos.

V is smooth and light on her skis. She describes my style as Jean-Claude Kiley on the green bunny runs and Jerry Lewis on the blacks.

Today, Jerry is absent. I haven’t gone down once. The legs feel good. It’s time to master the elements, move past the fat part of the bell curve for skiing proficiency, and enter the rarified realm of the expert. I am a super star.

I point a pole to the beckoning trail sign: Superstar. V nods, and a bad idea quickly builds momentum with the trail’s steepening decline and slick surface turning into wind-blown moguls. (Are the scary bumps called “moguls,” because they resemble the shape of Donald Trump’s hair?)

My wife is out in front, finding her way down the suddenly icy difficult slope. I pick up too much speed through the bumps, heading left. I try to cut back in a groove between moguls. I’m off balance. The skis hit a rut and pull to the side. The physics are all wrong. My top heavy body surges forward as if launched from a circus cannon. Except my arms aren’t planted stoic at my sides. This is a flailing, out-of-control, agony-of-defeat cartwheel.

NASCAR drivers have said they see crashes happening in slow motion. Wayne Gretzky once explained when he scored a goal, time slowed, the puck looked to be the size of a pizza pie, the goal as wide as the Hoover Dam. None of that for me. The Fall happens fast – an instantaneous, oh-snap blur. I see nothing but a glittering white canvas screaming toward my face. Greg Louganis couldn’t have hit the surface at a more precise 90-degree angle. The snow goes crunch. I bounce like a Super Ball. On the second revolution, my head smacks the rock-hard surface like a bowling ball dropped from your roof. Finally, silence.

It is a sad reflection of our You Tube culture that sitting there, thankfully breathing albeit stunned though reassured my skull was not split like a rotten pumpkin, I wonder if the spastic circus-act flop was captured on video from the chair lift. I’m destined to be an internet laughing stock. Without royalties.

No cameras. No laughing. I’m alone, in one piece. This can’t be that bad. The morning papers said a Manhattan window washer survived a 47-story fall.

All my digits are moving, but I can’t get up.

I realize that initial crunch wasn’t the give of snow. It was a bone breaking.

My wife kept her wits and balance, and had pulled to a stop below. The grade was too steep for her to ascend the hill to help. All is OK, I reassure her with a lefty thumbs up. The right arm is dead. No worries, I’m cool. The covenant of marriage allows you to tell your life partner things you do not believe. She tells passing skiers following her gaze up the mountain, “Oh, he’s fine. He’s just catching his breath.”

All I can do is flash a dumb smile and that thumbs up with the arm I can move.

“Baby, just put your skis on and ski on down!” she urges.

Maybe an expert skier could do that. I’m just an eternal intermediate, forever checking that middle box on the rental line, a reckless overachiever who flirted with bragging rights beyond his proficiency and has paid the price. As the commercial says, I’ve fallen and can’t get up. I’m not a senior citizen yet, but should have Life Alert. Why couldn’t the run have been named “Devil’s Emergency Room” to scare me away? I try to stand, but the shoulder is shot and powerless, and I slide on my ass across the slippery surface, faster and faster down the hill, ah shit, I am picking up speed, until I can dig boot heels into the ice.

I catch my breath. The slope is quiet. I crawl, inches at a time, across the mountain, toward the woods. Isn’t that where animals go to die?

A ski instructor waves his poles and calls down from the lift. “Do you need me to radio for help?”

On those lifts, I’ve looked down at the powerless humiliation of the injured, the daring, the clumsy, those unfortunate skiers who are strapped in and carted away on the Red Cross snow sled stretcher. Yeah, call it in. Now I’ll know how it feels to be present for your own public funeral procession. Like driving a stock car at the track in Charlotte, I’ll check off another bucket-list experience.

V says they closed Superstar after my crash. Too treacherous; some intermediate from New York City took the black diamond and nearly got killed on the lower moguls. My fast-fading manhood is revived. It was the ferocious mountain, not me. Mother Nature won today’s battle, the war is mine. I am a superstar. Of course, V was probably conjuring a well-meaning fib, something a married woman says with the best of intentions but not a shred of truth.

The doctor examining me says he’ll take x-rays but it looks like a broken collar bone. “What do you do for a living?” he asks.

I’m with NASCAR, I tell him. He makes eye contact for the first time and asks if Jimmie Johnson is going to win a third championship.

I see in the mirror I basically have no right shoulder. Its disappearance is a sickening sight. My arm is dangling low like an ape’s, the shoulder completely gone. I want to puke.

“This looks pretty bad. Do I need surgery?”

“I don’t think so,” he says. “I want to know this. Earnhardt moving to Hendrick: is that going to change the competitive balance in the sport. I mean, Dale Junior, Gordon, Johnson – that’s like a Murderers Row or the Purple People eaters. What a lineup! They’re gonna dominate!”

I’m in starting to shiver, slipping into shock maybe. The pain is starting to spread to my chest. I’m wondering if they’ll screw rods into my body, and I’ll be limping around like Evel Knevel.

“Do I have to stay in the hospital?” I ask.

“We’ll fix you up here, and you’ll be out in just a few. You did hit pretty hard. How about those HANS devices and new softer walls? They really have made NASCAR much safer, haven’t they?”

“Doctor, I’m on the first day of a five day vacation. Do I have to go home? We can get back to New York in about five hours.”

“It’s up to you. Frankly, you’ll at first be uncomfortable wherever you are. You can stay in the lodge. Hey, speaking of New York, is it true that track’s not going to happen?”

This dance goes on for a few more minutes. The doctor gives me a Velcro controlled sling and a bottle of horse pills for the pain. He tells me to see an orthopedic surgeon back in New York. As I'm walking out the door he asks if I'll be in Daytona in February. I keep walking, looking forward to the first handful of pills.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three-Peat

I have a question.

Why is it when Tiger Woods wipes the golf course with the hapless buttocks of every other competitor, it's just a massive he-man feat of sweet beautiful domination, all hail Tiger, bronze that next Sports Illustrated cover, heck bronze HIM, bronze Augusta, bronze his entire hometown and the pizza joint he ate at as a kid, let's all uniformly declare a national moment televised by CNN to Genuflect to the great Tiger Woods and only hope his next Nike commercial is as good as the last one, but when Jimmie Johnson dominates the very challenging and highly competitive NASCAR circuit to astoundingly win back-to-back-to-back Championships, the press says it's all so boring, can you feel the air rushing out of the NASCAR balloon, the thrill is gone, there's more drama in a second-rate afterschool special, NASCAR management should all be lined up and marched to the woodshed, Fargo-style...after they change all the rules because how can anyone win three in a row, this is America what kind of sport is this?

Can anyone answer that? Can someone help me understand this?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Halloween Story

Once, on Halloween I had to retrieve my car, which was parked at the pier on the west side, because a spot in my "trendy" neighborhood is about equal to the cost of a sunny one-bedroom apartment in Kansas City. Thank you, Robert DeNiro and all your sushi chef friends.

It was quite warm, just a beautiful balmy late-October day.

Quiet anticipation grew as the city got ready for the famed Halloween parade in Greenwich Village.

I decided to run to the car.

I couldn't find anything summery to wear, except tight silky shorts. Hadn't worn them in a while. Short ones, maybe were once in style. Bobby Brady could have fit in them.

Actually, I'm not sure when exactly they'd have been in style.

But the tiny shiny satiny shorts were in my drawer. The looked clean. I put them on, with for unknown reasons, tube socks. I didn't even know I had tube socks. Wore them high. Found a tank top, too tight as well. My hair was really bushy at the time.

Sixth Avenue was closed. New Yorkers were three deep behind the police horse barricades, waiting for the famed Halloween parade. I decided to run up Sixth -- an infrequent and very cool chance to jog an empty Manhattan Avenue during daylight.

As I was running past the crowds, checking out the costumes, enjoying life, a young girl squealed, "OH MI-GOD! LOOK! HE'S GOING AS RICHARD SIMMONS!!"

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Wife is No Friend on Facebook

For the longest time, I resisted Facebook, believing it was merely a modern day-device for hooking up with teenage girls.

I don't need a social-networking Web site to do that. My daughter's now 13. I only have to walk into the living room, join the wii game and start sharing with her friends limericks about the man from Nantuckett.

Not that I do that.

Though it seems a better way to seduce a teenager, if you wanted to engage in that sort of behavior, versus picking another password, registering, and uploading a bunch of crap to set up your personal page on Facebook.

I'd ignored incoming "be my friend" Facebook invites from colleagues, acquiantances., strangers, and actual friends. (The sincere-sounding woman from Nigeria who personally knows the king and wants to give me all that money if I'd only set up a private bank account in our names hasn't contacted me on Facebook, only e-mail).

Another reason for blowing off Facebook invites is after joining networking sites like LinkedIn and Plaxo, I now receive e-mail alerts that Joe Blow's birthday is only seven days away. I don't give a rat's ass if it's Joe Blow's or your birthday. The older you get, the more birthdays suck. They're a stark and unnecessary reminder of stress tests and body cavity probes you keep putting off. These days, I hear the word "birthday" or even see a pair of latex gloves, and my sphincter tightens.

Then one day, from the royal blue heavens, comes a Facebook invite. From my wife. It took me about 12 seconds to join.

I was thrilled to be connected on line to the love of my life. (Read: This is the world's greatest invention for checking up on her during the day. I check because I love.)

During ordinarily miserable times of the day like conference calls and mortgage refinancing applications for that stupid adjustable I took, I found myself clicking on Facebook to check out my wife's burgeoning list of friends.

First, I wanted to remain sure I have more online friends than her. Having more friends than Viviane is more important that you can possibly imagine.

B, I wanted to see who her friends were. My wife is not supposed to have any friends, and if she does, they should be confined to a group of plain, unattractive women with adult acne, dull lifeless hair, and bodies the shape of a gourmet grocery store pear.

I was relieved to see she'd befriended not a single teenage boy. (She watches every single movie on Lifetime featuring a Meg Ryan type falling for a buff twelfth grader who cuts their lawn and should be with her daughter.) No, there were no young boys, but there was that slick tan Frenchman who surrounded himself with young Gucci-clad Eurotrash in a different club every night and insisted on changing his topless bare-chested photo from the latest Mediterranean vacation every three hours. Talk about being in love with the sight of your own nipples.

I'd commented about all this over dinner. I didn't sound EXACTLY like a stalker, but it became pretty clear I had a pretty good idea who my wife's new friends were, along with their religion, political slant, alma mater, relationship status, and number of nipple-bearing photos.

Later, after dessert, when I logged onto the laptop, Viviane had already "removed" me as a Facebook friend. Cold.

My wife claims this is essential to our marriage. She has to stay mysterious, she says. "If you are fully let into my life, all the steaminess will escape from our romance," she explained. "I need to be a mystery to you. Therein lies the spark."

The question is: Can two people share a bed, a life, a destiny, a checking account without being Facebook friends?

I'm having a hard time with this. Now, in the long run, we are all dead. In the more immediate future, sure, I will be all right. At first I was afraid, I was petrified. But I will survive.

If you are familiar with both Viviane and me, and we're "mutual friends" on Facebook, you know what's next. You have to choose. It's time to take a side. No more of this Facebook "mutual frend" bullcrap. I'm counting on all of you current "mutual friends" -- especially those I've brought to the fold -- to immediately remove my wife as a Facebook friend. After all, she's catching up to me on number of online friends, and hers are showing their nipples.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Toothless in the Hamptons

Outside of the occasional low-rumbling hum of big-bellied prop planes on training flights from Gabreski Air Force base, it's quiet and peaceful here on the beach. Desolate, too. I barely have to move to pee. Just dig a little hole, do your business, and cover it up. Viola, as my Belgian mother in law says.

She's coming out this weekend, bringing my daughter, who loathes the Hamptons. Out of respect, I make a mental note to put in the fake tooth when we pick them up at the Westhampton Beach train station. The tooth -- a pink retainer the color of healthy gums with a fake chicklet fused on -- has been sitting in a pint glass in the kitchen since my wife and I arrived last week. For all I care, it can stay there when we return to Manhattan after Labor day.

My cynical daughter has taken to Marilyn Manson and poetic utterances. She calls this place "clich├ęd landscape" and looks down on "the materialist suburban souls."

I didn't look down on much when I was 13. I was generally happy to be alive with sneakers. But more than 30 years later, I also harbor limited affection for many of the people who drive their foreign SUVs and sometimes helicopter to the dunes of Eastern Long Island. They're all flash and nasal pretention. Madonna can be a jerk but at least she feigns an English accent. These women mimic Fran Dreschner.

I'm here solely for the wondrous white sand, the timed roar of slamming ocean waves, the breezy company of perfectly aerodynamic soaring white seagulls, most underrated bird in the animal kingdom.

If Dr. Phil pulled a beach chair next to mine, perhaps he'd say traipsing about town with a giant hole in one's smile is a childish act of rebellion against the out-of-balance importance Hamptonites place on looks and appearance, and of course, money. Because if you're gonna make a comment to trash someone for being trash, "toothless" is probably a defining term in the insult.

The TV shrink may have a point. I feel warm and Christmasy shuffling about town in my well-worn "NASCAR Nextel Cup 2005 Race to the Chase" t-shirt, sporting a large expanse of blackness where a maxillary central incisor once stood.

My daughter wears a black Marilyn Manson t-shirt that says, "If only I had more middle fingers." With no tooth or shame, I order croissants. In my new family, the apple didn't fall far from the tree, it's still stuck on the branch.

But going around in a dentally incomplete stage is not solely a hostile reaction to the rank excess - physical and otherwise - of the Hamptions. I've left the fake tooth home or stuck it in a pocket for chunks of the past two years, took gappy smiling photos at various landmarks, consciously downgraded my appearance, and openly flaunted a physical deformity for reasons likely beyond the pay grade of any TV shrink.

Teeth are what separates mammals from other living creatures. Other animals have them, but they don't floss. Teeth make us feel human. Everyone has a different reaction to lost teeth. I happened to cannon-ball off the high board into the deep end. Conversely, I'd imagine higher-income individuals are more prone to freaking out.

This type of disproportionate dread occured with one of my dentist's patients. She became very depressed at the prospect of wearing a "flipper." He actually requested I send him a few of my preening photos sans tooth taken in various American cities. He e-mailed them to the patient to provide hope and cheer. I felt very mecidinal.

Indeed, after a few drinks just about any night, and on Halloween in particular, talking out the flipper can bring down the house. I have discovered, the more drinks, the harder the house came down.

And, or course, I am a hit at kids' parties.

All good things must pass, and I am nearing the end of dental hell. Yet, at one point, I nearly left the hole in my choppers unfilled. Not because I'm a pussy about the pain of these various surgeries. Or because I'm a cheap bastard, weary and beaten from anemically battling a faceless insurance company which stubbornly maintains this is totally cosmetic and therefore not covered by "the plan." (Yeah, like I WANTED an infected nerve forming dual speedbags of puss in my gums. Like I relished bone pulled away with the yanked tooth, necessitating epoxy grafts, then a metal tube inserted into the newly upholstered jawbone.)

No, I'd choose not to replace the tooth as a sweeping social statement. Going gap faced would be a communal bond to the less fortunate, those salt-of-the-earth human beings dealt a lousy hand keeping them in life's steerage compartment, unable to pony up thousands for necessary dental refinements. With my every cackling grin, it would be an endless show of solidarity to the poor and disenfranchised.

And why not? My employer is cool with my enamelly-challenged smile. I've strolled around the office for two years looking like a Depression-era Appalachian transplant and the paycheck still arrives every two weeks. (Someone has to make everyone feel better about themselves.)

The lack of an upper incisor has other benefits. A threatening homeless man in TriBeCa approached me for money. He may have lacked cash but he had a helluva nice gleaming set of pearly whites. I generously offered him a broad toothless smile and said, "Doeth thith wook like the kind of perthon who can give you money? I can't even afford a tooth."

Fortunately, I havent found it necessary to stoop low too often.

On the romantic front, I'm happily married to an attractive woman who works with wealthy clients whose daily propositions she turns down. She could be on a yacht living a rap video high life but chooses to stay with a toothless guy in a three year old NASCAR t-shirt. A full set of anchorman-white choppers and Charlie Watt's spiffy wardrobe is not a prerequisite for our continued union. I reckon she feels not an ounce of shame walking with yours truly into dainty Southampton shops selling overpriced European handbags. Special lady. I am indeed lucky, outpunting the coverage, as they say.

But after years of secretly relating to young children on elevators, clown time is over. For me, the big step in preparing for an implant and permanent chicklet required creating a bigger foundation of bone. A bone graft was needed.

It was to be “like a normal dentist visit,” the oral surgeon said.

Oral surgeons are lying sods. This was a routine dental visit…if the average patient is Dustin Hoffman in “Marathon Man.”

In the chair, it seemed Dr. Mengele was using crusty old shoelaces for stitches.

To add insult to injury, the assistant propping my mouth open sported long fingernails under thin latex gloves that managed to jut into the one piece of gum unnumbed by six big needles of local.

To earn a living, I sit at a desk as opposed to working in a truly manly place like an assembly line or national forest. I do a lot of my work with a blackberry as opposed to wielding a jackhammer or Stratocaster. (It's not a real job if you can do it on the toilet, and that's where most of my best work goes down. Literally.)

I feel soft and inadequate most of the time, particularly when passing contruction workers at lunch. Perhaps that is why I tried to tough it out as PR guy, answering the mobile phone with a mouthful of bloody gauze while still in the surgeon's recovery room.

I was trying to place a story and a reporter about as elusive as Osama bin Laden had been calling. I wasn't about to lose a great story due to a numb mouth and a row of stitches in my reeling, pissed off gums.I hit answer but didn’t know what to do. My yapper was completely out of commission.

“Ah, hello, Andrew? Andrew are you there?”

Yep, I can hear his voice. It’s definitely not bin Laden.

“HERROW, TOM,” I say slowly and loudly. “SAWRRY. I JUZT HAD ORAL SERGERRRY AND CANT WEALLY TALK SO GOOD. CON JEW EMAIL ME? I HAVE MOY BRACKBEWWY”

I sound like Steve Buscemi in Fargo after he got shot in the face and then went ito the wood hipper.

I have to repeat myself several times. But our ink-stained friend gets it. He’s amazed I’ve answered the phone immediately after surgery. I want to explain there is no rational, comprehensible reason, except that if a man worked in a coal mine or drove a freight train, he likely wouldn’t need to prove his toughness and grit by answering a call from the arts and leisure section with blood dripping down his quivering chin.

I can’t say that or anything else the reporter can understand. We pick up the conversation on email. I tap into the blackberry while walking down Madison Avenue, bloody gauze doing a half-assed job of halting the wound. It’s like a sucking a bargain brand paper towel that’s been soaked in the fluid from old leaking batteries.

I pass a group Con Ed guys breaking up the street at 52nd, really whacking the crap out of the asphalt, and I’m wailing away on an email to the reporter, like Jimmie in Monterrey, and we are all Men at Work hauling home the bacon.

Wound up being a great story. The reporter then gleefully told the newsroom about the PR guy who got the ball rolling by taking his call right after mouth surgery.

And that's when it really hit me as to why I don't use the fake tooth.

I'm a big fat giant Martyr.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Michael Phelps is a Skunk

Weather and beer can incite memories. Last night both were crisp and clear.

At Fordham, a quarter century ago, I lived in a horseshoe-shaped dorm called "Martyr's Court." Only a Jesuit institution could bless a dorm name with connotations of crusading swords and spilled blood.

One cool night, early freshman year, finally away from home, full of potential, full of fear, full of rage, I got blind-eyed drunk. (It was all too easy with the alcohol-happy Jesuits, but as David Carr's happy accountant says, we can't escape our pasts). Returning from the Irish bars on Fordham Road, I spotted a big fat skunk on the grassy knoll of Martyr's Court. Most boys, first time seriously away from home, are trying to get laid. That pursuit doesn't register on this clear Bronx night. I'm on a quest to catch a skunk. It's of course a doomed cause. In the hazy liquor-filled swooning confidence, I proceed anyway, dancing on the light, happy feet we had in those golden days of indestructible youth. I run hard toward the animal, all cocky and blissfully trashed, and stutter-step the skunk into the bushes of Martyr's Court. Way too easy. He's absolutely on his way to being cornered. Nowhere to go. Haha. Asshole. I slow down with small, dirt-kicking steps, enjoying the up-close view of the now confused black and white animal, and believe, foolishly, I've won.

Of course, the carnivorous weasel has the upper hand, has been in the driver's seat all along, from the moment I spotted his furry slink across the already-dewy late night turf.

The skunk composes himself, slowly lifting his head with unmistakable dignity to peer at me, dead on. Beady eyes can't say much, but these mockingly say, "Hey white boy, are you seriously attempting to f-ck with me?"

The tail goes up. Uh-oh. Millions of years of evolution have created a perfect smell bomb assault machine, accurate to 15 feet. Working highly refined muscles to pinch powerful anal scent glands, the fat weasel unleashes with a hissing blast, like a long exhale of steam in an old prewar building in the dead of winter, and it is clear I am totally irretrievably screwed for the next few days. Dickhead move, trying to corner a skunk.

I stunk with the tart musky rotten-eggs burnt-rubberish skunky smell you come across on a country road, only a hundred times worse when you've been personally blasted into a human stinkfest. Damn skunk. Had to throw out my clothes and shower for hours on end. There was no tub of tomato juice to fix the problem nor Ruben Kincaid to beg for donated clothes. I stunk for quite some time.

Try to beat a skunk, and the skunk always wins. He is the Michael Phelps of tail-spraying animals.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Miss America's Fallen...and She Can't Get Up

Over at the Olympics, President Bush heard Russia invaded Georgia. He immediately sent tanks into Alabama and Mississippi.

But our Cheerleader in Chief having a blast in China is not what I want to talk about tonight.

The E train lacked AC earlier, and a pungent homeless man entered the car. As the seeping stench permeated our brains, the decline of America hit like a ton of bricks. Or, an unfortunate guy's odor.

The signals of our waning national condition are blaring. To wit:

1. Two Miss Universe contestants in the past two years have fallen on their faces. We're talking "America's Funniest Home Video" flops. BOTH women were from the US of A, formerly the world's most sure-footed country. Miss Kazaskstan can walk in a ballgown and stay on her feet. Miss Zimbabwe sashays like Ginger Rogers. If she'd been at the pageant instead of choosing not to risk a stoning for donning a skimpy two-piece suit with heels, Miss Iran would have glided across the stage like jello on Crisco.Miss USA? She goes down like she just slammed 10 shots of Jaeger and a whippet.

Two freaking years in a row, America's girls go down. An irrelevant metaphor for the sinking State of Things? I reckon not, particularly when you consider...

2. A Belgian company has purchased Budweiser, the great American "King of Beers." A company from BELGIUM (known for what - waffles? WAFFLES DON'T GO WITH BEER) has bought BUD. (My lovely wife is from Belgium, as is Jeff Gordon's lovely wife for you readers of US Magazine, so it can be established there are truly outstanding exports from this little country on the brink of disintegrating from ethnic inflighting, but, c'mon, taking over Bud, Are You Kidding me??)

3. The Arabs have snapped up the Chrysler building...while the other major American carmakers' financials have only been worse during the Great Depression.

4. Speaking of which, US banks are failing at a rate not seen since desperate sad-faced men in baggy suits sold apples on street corners, and when the fruit wasn't moving, sometimes leaped from windows above.

5. US Air pilots bought a full-page ad in "USA Today," declaring management is mandating they fly with minimal fuel to save money. Any pilot who balks could get fired. The pilots say this edict is totally unsafe. They took an ad to tell us they are invoking the "Captains Order" to put more fuel in the tanks. (Even oil man T. Boone Pickens is saying we can't drill our way out of this one.)

You could go on and on with this cranky BS. And, yeah, you could also, in glass-half-full mode, list all the reasons all night long why this country is the greatest and only place to live, including beating the little speedos off that French smug team, I mean swim team last night. Instead, I'll open the fridge to look past the half gallon of milk just purchased in Manhattan for $6.99 and root around in search of some good cold American beer. Good night.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Funny Face

Outside St. Patrick’s, a middle-aged European man stopped me, just bounding out of nowhere, urgency in his stride.

He declared with an accent thicker than the humidity, “You are lucky.”

I said, “Uh….why?

“You have a funny face,” he remarked.

Is it better not to question when someone leaps into your life outside a mystical Catholic Cathedral to proclaim you lucky? (Especially a foreigner carrying Euros and therefore more powerful? Even when he may be disparaging your looks?) In the shadows of St. Pattie's, do you just goeth forth with it, as if he's the Pope undercover, to create a self-fulfilling prophecy accepting your funny face and making your own luck and good fortune?

Curiosity can take over. It doesn’t get more personal than your face. There are magazines in New York City currently splashing Madonna's mug on the cover, asking just what type of high-priced, high-tech work she's getting to create a softer, heart shaped look. I naturally craved an understanding of what he meant about my own face. Was my mug funny in a ha-ha, Jim Carey sort of way? Or funny in a disturbing, train-wreckish, Elephant Man, you-have-no-choice-but-to-look-because-it-is-so-grotesque kind of way?

Mostly, I don’t do sudden stop-and-chats with hard-to-understand strangers in odd footwear, because, well, when does the opportunity present itself? Plus, one of this odd man's surprisingly smooth and cool hands, like porcelain made human, was shaking mine, but the other was rigidly fixed in his pocket as if cradling a box cutter. That model Marla something who dated the guy who wrote Bright Lights Big City then faded away turned her incredibly horrific face-slashing into fame and fortune. I just don’t have the cheekbones for that. Nor the sense of introspection. I’d never make it to Oprah’s couch. I’d wind up spending my full waking hours on less cushiony seats in Irish bars like Foley's, where I just had lunch. Nobody wants to enjoy your face, but everybody knows your name. Things could be worse.

Man, in that fleeting instant, on the hot glistening pavement surrounded by tourists and students out of school, cops and construction workers and mailroom clerks and overpaid businesspeople, I wanted to hear what exactly made my face so conspicuously funny. Had I been sucking on the back of a (leaky) felt-tipped pen and strolling about town with blue lips? Did I again forget to take off my telephone headset before venturing outside, looking like an escapee from the Burger King drive thru? Did I again forget my fake tooth in the glass next to my computer? If not, if all things were normal -- as routinely ordinary in an unmarked state as my own face can be -- perhaps I should have asked, “Do I ah-MYOOS you?” in a nasal menacing south-side-of-Chicago Joe Pesci voice.

But I was no match. The hand in pocket was quivering, and the stranger’s eyes were widening in loony intensity, like the gloriously evil face of Charlie Manson when he get gets a chance to go on Dateline every 10 years.

Curiosity only goes so far.

“Wow, terrific, thanks,” I muttered. I let go of the stranger’s hand, and walked my funny face back to the office.