Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year of the Rat?

I had lunch today in my favorite diner. There was a woman patron a few tables behind me who was talking at-length about exterminating rats and how problematic it was. It’s a small diner, by the way, and she was loud—very loud. If I could hear her, so could everyone else in the place. I thought: How could a person be so unmindful and inconsiderate to discuss doing away with rats in an eatery? But, really, why should I have been surprised? We live in an oblivious and insensitive time.

Yes, another year is just hours away from being consigned to yesteryear. Another year, that is, in the Age of Unreason that we call home. I typically avoid political subject matter—for obvious reasons—but after reading the president-elect’s Happy New Year’s greeting, which referenced his “many enemies,” the teeny-tiniest scrap of hope, which I tenaciously clung to, vanished. I was hoping against hope, I guess, that the Orange Man—soon to be the President of the United States—might not be as narcissistic and unhinged as the previous mountain of evidence suggested. Hope doesn’t always spring eternal. Rats!

Forty years ago when I was a youth, a “Russian Mission Residency” opened its doors in the nearby neighborhood of Riverdale. Riverdale in the Bronx was, and still is, upscale by the borough’s standards, and I recall residents vehemently opposing the Commies coming to town. As memory serves, the city gave Riverdale denizens something of an ultimatum: Accept the Russians or get a public housing complex instead. It was whispered that the community swallowed hard and opted for Red over Black.

We were in the midst of the Cold War back then, which now seems—strangely—like the good old days. When contrasted with the garbled present, it was a pretty cut-and-dried period. Taking sides was easy. Fast-forward to the waning moments of 2016 and the president-elect, a Republican no less, criticizes the sitting president for being too hard on Russia, and tosses verbal bouquets to an autocratic thug. What a difference four decades make. Ronald Reagan no doubt is spinning in his grave.

Funny, but there’s this fellow who grew up in my old neighborhood. He—like countless others—has found a soapbox on Facebook. There are legions of his kind who have been empowered on social media. You know: Men and women whose ravings were—not too long ago in the scheme of things—confined to the local drinking hole or the workplace water cooler. And, I might add, it’s folks of all political persuasions who rave at the drop of a hat with a keyboard at their disposal. But this particular guy recently opined on Facebook that anybody who voted for Hillary Clinton was guilty of treason. Treason…really? Now that’s painting with a pretty broad brush, I’d say, and a rather harsh indictment of millions of people, including many of his hundreds of “friends” on Facebook.

In waning hours of 2016, it seems to me that virtually everything is turned upside down and—alas—not likely to right itself in 2017. And it’s not merely the political landscape that’s bizarre and ugly. It’s everyone everywhere staring obsessively into their myriad devices—checking out Facebook, texting, and babbling on their cells. The world at large is unlikely, I fear, to become a better place in the new year and rats will still be a problem.

(Photo three from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I’m Not Dreaming of a White Christmas

I have a particular holiday snapshot lodged in my memory bank. I’m out and about at Christmastime with Johnny, my boyhood best friend—yes, we went out and played in the early 1970s, regardless of the season or temperature. My mother is putting up the outdoor holiday decorations, which included green and red tin foil squares cut to fit each window of our front French door and, too, my grandmother’s adjoining one. It is on or very close to December 15th, which was, unofficially as I recall, the earliest date that we—and many others in the neighborhood—decorated for Christmas. Now it’s before Thanksgiving.

Anyway, as if Christmas coming wasn’t enough joy for us to process, it began to snow. My buddy and I were ecstatic. A White Christmas—snow on the ground—was in the offing. Or so we thought. Snow has a habit of vanishing pretty quickly during New York City Decembers. Erratic temperature swings and rain are not uncommon. And I believe that snow from four decades ago, which wasn’t very much to begin with, disappeared well before December 25th.

Fast forward to the present. I woke up this past Saturday morning to find two to three inches of snow on the ground. Suffice it to say, it didn’t bring me the level of joy that snowfalls did in the Decembers of my youth. In fact, the sight of it in the here and now brought no joy whatsoever. All I could think about was what has become the new normal for me. I would have to both shovel the stuff and walk in it—with a prosthetic right knee. And slips and falls in the great outdoors are something I wish to avoid at all costs. But winter weather increases the likelihood of that happening. So far, I must say, I’ve been pretty lucky on that front. A couple of winters ago, I shoveled up in excess of fifty inches of the white stuff and navigated the highways and byways on foot without incident. But snow stress is all too real nowadays, and something that—once upon a time—was entirely foreign to me.

While on the subject of Christmas and the outdoors, I nearly got run over by a grandma yesterday. A motorist came to a complete stop at a stop sign, which was the right and proper thing to do. So, I decided to cross the street. Pedestrians supposedly have the right-of-way. I was approximately half way across when the formerly motionless car accelerated and whizzed just past me. It was then that I noticed its driver—an elderly white-haired woman. And she didn’t flinch. Granny was clearly unaware that I was very nearly in her path. Had she mowed me down, she would have been none the wiser—and, I have no doubt, her Stop & Shop grocery expedition would have commenced as planned.

So, I lived to tell. And I’ll tell you, too, about some local Christmas tree sellers. I like patronizing the little guys if at all possible, but these little guys left a lot to be desired. They wouldn’t quote a tree price until they saw the tree in its full flower. Despite the tree barks being colored for height identification, the prices—evidently—weren’t based on height. Instead, they were determined on the smarmy whim of the holiday equivalent of used-car salesmen. When I spied these same entrepreneurs today, they were comfortably ensconced in their plastic enshrouded lean-to and playing loud music—and not Christmas-themed. There were a lot of unsold trees there. I can’t imagine why.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

December Ramble

Submitted for your approval: a December ramble. Another holiday season is upon us all. And I know full well that there are still twenty-four hours in a day and three hundred and sixty-five days in a year. Those certifiable facts of life haven’t changed since the day I was born and some time before that. But, really, it seems like only yesterday that it was Christmastime here in the Bronx, and that my steadfast mailman was delivering the mail in his summer garb—postal shorts, plastic safari hat, and sans a jacket—on Christmas Eve. The temperature was in the seventies that day, and summer’s annual plants hadn’t yet been done in by a frost. That’s seventy degrees Fahrenheit, by the way. In the early 1970s in St. John’s grammar school, I recall being introduced to the metric system and its system of weights and measures. We nine and ten year olds were instructed that our United States would soon be joining the rest of the world and would be jettisoning its quarts, pounds, and miles. Although I have purchased a liter of soda pop in the ensuing forty years, I still wouldn’t walk a mile for a Camel, and this morning’s temperature—according to my AOL page—was thirty-something Fahrenheit.

Time, in scientific reality, may not be accelerating, but in every other reality it is. And what a difference a year makes. It was inconceivable a Christmas ago that a tweet-obsessed, peculiarly haired, uber-wealthy businessman could win a major party’s presidential nomination, let alone the White House. But such is the strange, new world that we call home. All bets are off for 2017 and beyond.

With the holidays, a new and very different kind of president in the offing, and a bout of the runs this first week in December, also came a life lesson. It’s actually an ideal meme and the byproduct of me being inadvertently poisoned by long-expired bacon. The poisoner, I suspect, was a well-intentioned oldster, one who fervently believes that bacon—as long as its package hasn’t been opened—can last forever. Conversely, she feels that a fresh vegetable, like broccoli for instance, must be cooked immediately because it will go bad toot sweet if left for a day or two in the refrigerator. The life lesson and meme material that unexpectedly came to me is this: It’s okay to have the runs while sitting on a toilet. Indeed, as somebody who has suffered from both the runs and serious constipation—from an awful prescribed pain narcotic—I’d take the former anytime. It is after all forward movement. And that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Forward movement, even when it’s accelerating, as it is now, into some bizarre and unknown next chapter. Nevertheless, I don’t suspect my mailman will be wearing his plastic safari hat this Christmas Eve.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)