Thursday, February 17, 2011

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Blow

I was walking Ty the dog through the falling snow late at night last week and when I got halfway through what I assumed to be the sidewalk, I noticed a well made snow angel. I stopped to admire it as it cut an impressive image in the middle of the virgin snow fall. All of a sudden it started to move, which shocked me as I realized there might be a frostbitten homeless man being buried in his own tomb by falling white grave dirt (of course my initial, less eloquent thought was really more like “holy shit”.)

I started removing the snow that had enveloped him and turned him over. His face was covered in dirty snow and I leaned him up against a nearby mail box. When a huge snow bank begins to dissipate from a Manhattan street, what’s left behind is the remnants of the discarded cigarette butts, random pieces of trash and dog crap bags that were tossed into it as the snow developed and formed various layers of crud between the snow. It’s a New York City version of an uncovered igneous rock formation.

As I began to wipe the groggy, but surprisingly alive man’s face clean, I lifted up his slumped-over head. I imagined myself on the cover of the Post with a headline: “Hero Stays Cool, Saves Freezing Man,” or better yet “Snow Angel of Life.” My dog was starting to join in on the excitement at the prospect of witnessing the visage of Murray Hill’s mystery man and began to prance back and forth like he was a daschund mixed with horse instead of terrier. Of course it could have been because he was discombobulated due to the lack of scent from any other dogs in the snow and didn’t know where to unleash his paint brush on the pure white canvas.

The man began to cough or possibly snore as I dried his face with some Kleenex that I always keep in my jacket pocket to prevent the awkward one-hand-over-the-face walk into the grocery store after a sudden sneeze attack that would momentarily reduce any man to Timmy Lupus status. I leaned in to ask him if he could talk and his hair looked like he had tiny brown dreadlocks from the caked-in snow. I noticed he was a white guy, probably in his mid-40s and that he didn’t smell like a homeless person.

He gave off a distinct odor I had smelled before and tried to pinpoint as I waited for his labored response. And then it hit me, it smelled like the Glade Angel Whispers candle my roommate bought (OK, I bought it, but only because I noticed in the store that it captured the essence of a stripper without the feigned interest and avoidance of eye contact) and then it really hit me.

This guy reeked of stripper perfume. I mean, it was coming out of his pores and was seeped into what looked like a silk shirt he was wearing under his coat. As I glanced at Ty, I noticed him staring silently at the man with his head turned and what appeared to be a quizzical look on his face. Suddenly, the disheveled, but well dressed man shook his head violently (kind of like what a cartoon character or Pauly Shore in one of his early 90s films might do after being hit in the head with a frying pan) and kicked me in the shin as he opened his eyes wide momentarily and his besotted brain regained semi-consciousness.

There are a few things an adult can pretty much count on not having to deal with after graduating from the childhood world of purple nurples, noogies and wedgies and getting kicked in the shins is one of them. When your wife finds a condom wrapper in your coat pocket, she doesn’t kick you in the shins; she calls you a scumbag, checks your blackberry for female names she doesn’t recognize, and then whips it at your 42-inch HDTV screen while shouting at you to get the fuck out as you try to explain that someone at work put it there as a joke. That would be one of many expected outcomes to a situation that an adult might get into. Having an inebriated stranger with a likely penchant for women named Amber kick you in the shins, is unexpected.

Getting kicked in the shins, for those of you who also had forgotten the painful stinging feeling is somewhat akin to when you would get snow under your gloves as a kid while out playing. The sudden rush of pure, unadulterated cold against your wrist would spur that quick hsssssss sound as your mouth closed and grinned simultaneously in pain. Except, I let out a quick high-pitched shriek that was somewhere between Michael Jackson on top of the car at the end of the “Black or White” video and a 10 year old girl bumping into Justin Bieber on her way to homeroom.

As I clenched my fist and the pain began to subside, I realized that this guy was wearing black Ferragamos that cost more than everything I possessed in the tiny bedroom of my walk-up apartment. I figured he was some banker type who pissed off a stripper he had paid to go home with him and was kicked out of a cab for being too much of an aggressive shitfaced A-hole to waste a night on. I felt like punching the ungrateful bastard but had another image of a Post cover act as my conscience, except this one was titled “Jerk punches drunk.”

I had wiped most of the snow off his 6 o’clock shadow but it still looked like he had a thin white goatee. He came to life again, this time slower and almost in a cute way like a baby awakening from a nap as he stretched his arms out slowly in front of his face. I watched him lick the white stuff surrounding his lips and he smiled widely, and spoke clearly when he said “Hey man, this sure is pure snow.” That’s when I realized it wasn’t a banker, it was Charlie Sheen. It all made sense now, the smell of stripper, the silk shirt, the $500 shoes; the ability to sleep off a high on a sidewalk as snow blankets your limp body. I guess I didn’t expect to see a celebrity in a snow storm on my block, but hey, this is Manhattan.

“Having a rough night,” I say. “Oh my head,” he says, while shaking the icicles out of his hair.” Where am I? Where’s Candi,” Charlie mumbled. “I don’t know any Candi. It’s 1 in the morning and I found you passed out in the snow on my street in Murray Hill,” I replied calmly. “Who the fuck are you and who's Murray? What happened to Candi”, he growled while checking his pockets.”

I clenched Ty’s leash a little tighter and say “I’m Jeff Finkle. I live on this street. We are in the section of mid-town called Murray Hill. I don’t know who Murray is. I’m guessing he doesn’t live here anymore since nobody under the age of 60 is named Murray and no one under 30 lives in Murray Hill. I’m actually 40 and I didn’t move here until I was 32. I’m a writer and I’m kind of a late bloomer but it’s a long story and you probably want to get back to your hotel Mr. Sheen." He then loudly blurts out “Jafinkle” repeatedly as if it was one word for about five seconds and starts to laugh as his saliva parachutes out of the whiskey-stained ashtray that is his mouth and lands onto my jacket sleeve.

I lift him up and he leans back against the mail box to prevent himself from falling over. I tell him I’m going to hail a cab and to stay where he is and he points at Ty. “He’s got a white line on his chest, just like Candi did.” He was referring to the white stripe of hair on Ty’s chest that stands out like a tie in his surrounding black fur. Ty is still staring at him in silent judgment, except now he tilted his head to the other side. A tear begins to slide down his cheek and he pulls me close. “I really do miss Candi. Get me out of here please,” he whispers in my ear.

I hold him up with one arm and with the other loosen the leash on Ty (apparently, I can only multi-task in times of need) and walk him to the street. I have my arm raised as snow is falling on my head, Charlie Sheen is leaning on my shoulder like I’m his date and it’s after midnight on New Year’s Eve; and Ty is behind us trying to find a garbage bag under the snow. I see an on-duty cab at the light and wave frantically, even though it is the only vehicle on the road and we are the only people on the street.

“Thanks a lot kid, Charlie says.” “Actually, you know you’re only about 6 years older than me," I say. He turns his head and grins. “Really. Dude, you don’t look a day over 28. What’s your secret?” “I have been using facial moisturizer since I was 18,” I say with a smile.” “Me too”, he quickly retorts. “And, I’ve never been married,” I say as I open the taxi door and help him inside. “Well, you got me there,” he says with perfect timing.

As I turn my head to tell the driver to take him to the Plaza hotel, the driver’s eyes light up. He wags his finger at us and says “Two and a Half Men” in an Indian accent, as if he just guessed an answer on a game show. I realize he thinks I’m Jon Cryer and I have a sudden flashback to being called Ducky for a week in high school by an unusually short wrestler on steroids with a Napoleon complex (he forgot about me once he discovered a freshman who had a stronger resemblance to Lucas.) This prompted me to imagine another Post headline. One that read “Sheen and Cryer caught with two and a half ounces.”

I shook Charlie’s hand and told him to take care. He nodded his head and said “Good night Alan,” before slumping over in the seat. After some pleading, I signed one of the driver’s receipts “To Salil: Stay Safe. Watch out for bumps in the road. Your pal, Jon Cryer.”

As the cab headed uptown through the winter wonderland that was a perfectly angelic New York City snowfall, I let Ty off the leash and watched him jump through the fresh snow back to our apartment. He enjoyed the soft mounds of white powder like a kid in a candy store.

(Instead of showing you a blitzed photo of Charlie Sheen, I figured I'd end this story with the image of a young Jon Cryer in the forgotten 80s film "Hiding Out." I couldn't grow a beard like that if I stopped shaving for 20 years.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

40 is the New 23.

Being out of work I can handle. Being out of work at 40 and writing freelance articles about high school bowlers I can handle. Being a freelance writer who rediscovered his talent for writing in his 30s and is trying to break into advertising while simultaneously getting people to read my blog, I can handle. Being 40 without so-called true love in my life or a cute little newborn son who relatives I barely know, say has my ears, I can handle.

Being a freelance writer and sitting at a coffee shop while a woman sitting behind me asks an acquaintance with an obvious stutter and minor palsy to keep repeating himself while telling a story, I can handle. Being a freelance writer at a coffee shop and being constantly distracted by the barista who looks like a 21 year old college guy and sounds eerily like celebrity Chef Paula Dean while chit chatting with customers about the weather and recommending the yummy Pumpkin Pie Chai tea, I can handle (he was right about the tea.)

Being 40 while living in a 5th floor walk-up in New York City, I can handle. Being recently laid off with everyone else in my office that was shutdown and realizing that the job had already stopped challenging me  and now trying to get work as a freelance writer and having to read on Facebook about people who only post about the good things in life and seem to have jobs that allow them to vacation constantly and do things like go to wine tasting events in the Napa Valley, in March, I can handle.

But (come on, you knew there would be a but), although I can handle being a recently-laid-off-and-currently-single freelance writer at 40, living in a 5th floor walk-up next to a depressingly old shut-in neighbor whose very existence is like a scary Ghost of Christmas Future, what I could not handle was noticing the dog pee for what seemed like two minutes in the living room as I stood in the kitchen watching my take-out lasagna rotate in the microwave.

I stood there helpless and too stunned to react as he relieved himself on the floor like an old Jewish man at the movie theater urinal after 3 hours of Schindler’s List and a mini keg of Diet Pepsi. As he was releasing onto my floor, I was filling up with rage. I shouted an incoherent curse word that sounded like “Faaargh” and I felt like Charlie Brown if Lucy had pulled the football away from him and then proceeded to kick him in the balls. As I cleaned up the mess on the floor and the dog rolled around on my bed without a care in the world, I broke a piece of the mop off as the frustration level rose in me like the steam in my bedroom heat pole that keeps my room a Tucson-like 90 degrees and dry in the Winter time.

I was a moment away from putting a hole in my closet with my foot and muttering to myself for an hour while rocking back and forth on the floor, when I imagined Rob Lowe bursting through my door to calm me down with the story of St. Elmo guiding sailors with flashes of light, before revealing to me that it was a made-up tale to get them through tough times. In order to get the image of the young Rob Lowe in a half shirt, playing the saxophone out of my head, I briefly imagined myself as Kevin (Andrew McCarthy’s character in the film St. Elmo's Fire) finally getting to have sex with Ally Sheedy in the shower. As I pictured myself ravishing Ally Sheedy while trying not to knock her pearl necklace off her neck and down the drain, I began to smell the lasagna from the microwave.

I had forgotten about the lasagna that I had started re-heating as I watched the dog do his outside business inside. You don’t have high hopes for lasagna at a bagel cafĂ©. I walked in looking for my usual chicken or baked salmon salad and was intrigued by the lasagna behind the glass counter looking freshly made, as if it was prepared by a guy named Sal, instead of a mensch named Saul.

The aroma of the lasagna reached my nose as I sat on my bed and I followed it into the kitchen. As I began to devour my comfort food, I noticed that it did just that. All the stresses of being a 40 year old freelance writer, who wasn’t satisfied with his life in its current state, began to melt away. You try not to let the little things in life drive you nuts but it can be hard when the little things seem to blend into one big thing. Sometimes, a little thing like ricotta cheese blending perfectly with meat sauce in layers of ribbon pasta, can pull you back from the edge.

In the post-post-college coming-of-age film that is my life I know there’s a happier ending than lamenting my lost 30's while mopping up piss on the fifth floor of my walk-up apartment building at age 40, I just haven’t finished the script yet.

Cue John Parr.

Ok,I kind of wish that was me singing. I thought that was kind of awesome. For you John Parr fans, here's the real John Parr in action.