Five Lessons from an Urban Supermarket.

Damn you Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Detectives: Damn you all to hell!

heston damn you

The first/best “DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!” ever. The original “Planet of the Apes.” I believe Hollywood has had the balls to remake this film like three times. 

Eckhart Tolle, known as the “father of inner peace” should be arch nemesis of this Google invasion of privacy, but I’m thinking he’s way too self-actualized to even sweat the effort. I can hear him – “who needs this Google you speak of?”

To arrest a mind troubled by the lambasting of ego, an individual must seize the now, the present. Today. This moment.

I’m sorry ET – I’m a work in progress. Always evolving. BUT THAT DAMN GOOGLE.

Tolle ego

Allows me, so easily, to scope out the physical landmarks from my history. It tempts me to unlock doors I prefer remain closed. Behind that granite-like barrier in my mind is a location I refer to as “deep past.” Thoughts, wispy remnants of a world I knew, longer than 15 years ago. An intellectual shelter cordoned off and dark. There’s much mental mist surrounding this space in my brain. It’s unfortunate I can still dig so deep with a shovel Google provides.

Structural artifacts for the most part, still stand: The apartment complex in Brooklyn where I was raised (allowed to run free), even looks better than the shithole it was when I was a kid.

A sycamore tree that I loved, in the front courtyard of misty memories of urban home, is now three times the size it stood in the 1970s. I recall how focused my stare toward the top of that tree, its beautiful colors in fall, robust leaves in summer. I’d imagine I was somewhere else, anywhere else – clean, less populated, not drowning in dog shit. Quiet. Surrounded by blue sky and leaves. I’m glad the tree is still there, healthier than ever. I wonder if anyone else used it/uses it as a symbol of freedom or release. A living monument to better futures.

The businesses, restaurants I frequented have different names, yet the outlines of these structures haven’t changed much. Businesses have new paint, different tenants, yet the memories remain entrenched.

Several buildings have been razed, making way for high-rise, condo progress and it makes me sad. My grandparent’s house on Kings Highway is gone. In it’s place a multi-story brick and smoked glass monster tower. Cold. The family warmth has been replaced by business, but not in my heart or a place deeper. Warmth lives. I can still smell nana’s cooking. How her recipes took the edge off cold NY winters.  I’ll never lose that aroma. It stays with me. In times of stress I seek to inhale the garlic, robust spices in her rich tomato sauce.

And the damn epic-center of my childhood pain and embarrassment once located on East 4th Street and Avenue U in Gravesend Brooklyn, is nothing but memory. The structure built on its dust is now a multiple family residence. The supermarket from hell can probably raise itself from construction death, overtaking the residence. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Spinner’s Supermarket:  It was all the rage. It was all we had. Aged but clean. Wide aisles, well stocked. I can still see as clear as yesterday, the florescent gleam off shiny floors so strong, the smell of wax in the air.

More on Spinner’s later but what about that damn Google again? It’s disruptive to the progress of a human mind.

Who knows what this Google is really up to as it infiltrates neighborhoods. It’s too easy to scope out locations, utilize technology to puncture the present, the NOW and go back even though you shouldn’t.

The house where a father died, the first lesson about the value of hard work, the Italian restaurant frequented in high school. All so tempting to discover how these locations have weathered the decades.

Now..

I was happy and sad that Spinner’s was gone. Like it was yesterday, I can remember walking up to the electronic door entrance, placing the soles of my Pro-Keds on the black-ribbed rubber mat which triggered entry. I can still see the tan brick structure and the name SPINNER’S, outlined in blood-red large block letters across the front, above six large plate glass windows.

It was the place “the list,” from mom came to life. Along with the food stamps to purchase what was on that list. I was so incredibly embarrassed to use food stamps. I’d wait, sometimes up to an hour, for a check-out line to clear out so I can use them without anyone behind me.

On the list. Standard fare – milk, Italian bread.  Necessities. Then there was the horrifying stuff, written in the bowel of the list  - the mental strain part. The beer and tampons part.

Bread – check.

Kotex – check.

Old Milwaukee – check check. 

Wishing I was dead – check check check.

Bucky the manager always felt bad for me. Tough to see a nine year-old give up pride at such an early age, I guess. 

“You know kid, we can’t take food stamps for dose items,” he would say in his heaviest, authoritative Brooklyn accent.

Then he’d nod his head once toward the cashier. A store manager’s blessing. An act of permission for the inappropriate use of government assistance. A ghetto “let the kid pass,” executive decision as store manager.

I understand he was being kind but I wish, just once, he would have been less of a “softy.” Stood his ground – “NO kid. And tell your mother, we can’t take food stamps for beer and shit that absorbs body fluids.” At least the blood, beer monkey would have been off my back. I could have healed. Not in the cards. It’s now just Spinner mist below the foundation of an urban high rise.

So Spinner’s? Center point of shame. I’m glad you’re gone. Bygones. Ashes to ashes, Frankenberry to dust. 

Frankenberry

Yea Bucky, you were so thoughtful. I know you died in 1982. I’m glad I say, glad.

Random Thoughts:

1). How does your past help you or inhibit you now – in the present? I created a handwritten list. In blood-red ink. Past Helps, Past Hurts. My list totals about even – help vs. hurt. I’ve got work to do. Don’t mess with me, Google!

Now I’m working on crossing off items on the Past Hurts list. I’m mentally building the bridges, sweating the textures that connects long then to right now. Then burning those bridges, ripping the textures. And it’s working. The exercise is helping me understand who I am, why I make mistakes.

I do the same for investments I’ve sold too soon that turned out to be big winners. What kind of past financial/investment mistake patterns do I take ownership for? How can I change those behaviors. Already, being aware of the shortcomings has helped me achieve greater performance for me and clients I’m responsible.

2). Is the soul you own, the essence of who you are in the present, been improved from what it was in the past? I call this seasoning. As you age, sharp edges dull a bit. Sometimes out of empathy, on occasion, illness. Shit, you mellow out. There’s nothing wrong. Do you see your own weaknesses in others? Are the people you’re attracted to mere projections of the past, a way to make peace with what once was or never came to fruition? People who remind you of your past represent the worst parts of yourself: Extract them, cut them, remove them from your life. Today.

3). Who was/is your Bucky? Are you bucked-up? You know Bucky. An adult from your past who was just trying to be nice but should have been more forceful to teach you or others a lesson. Passive Bucky. Or perhaps your Bucky was an adult, close to you, who just didn’t get involved even though they knew you were hurting. Insensitive Bucky. Or your Bucky was a jerk who threatened you like a Bully Bucky.

The planet is full of too many fucking Buckys. Forget this global warming, let’s talk about containing the Buckys.  If I see an injustice against another, I’m going to speak up. If witness an organization abusing its authority, I’m going to call them out. I don’t care how powerful the Bucky is either. The internet, social media empowers one person to communicate a message to the masses. Fuck off, Bucky society. Although, if you do decide to fight be prepared for war, otherwise don’t bother. Also be prepared for self-inflicted damage. Think of injury as battle scar.

4). The past is a behavioral drag but a great teacher. Do you know most retirement plan investors lost money through the greatest stock bull market in history? Why? Because humans are recency animals. Long term perspective for most is clearly impossible. So, when the media hype began to frenzy about technology being the new “paradigm” in 1998, investors began to pile in to tech stocks at the top of the market cycle, driving up price/earnings to impossible levels. They basically ignored stocks from 1982 (the beginning of the bull market) until 1998 (close to the top/end of the bull market) thus suffering great losses in 2000. Professionals also got fooled, so don’t feel so bad.

When it comes to investing, it’s actually worthwhile to study history. The nature of our beast doesn’t change. Fear, greed, boom, bust. What goes up dramatically in price will eventually return to earth. What looks beat up should be bought. Good luck doing that on your own.

“The perennial refrain from critics is: You just don’t get it. Internet stocks / housing / energy prices / financial stocks / gold / silver / bonds / high-yield stocks / you-name-it can’t go down. This time is different, and here’s why.

But this time is never different. History always rhymes. Human nature never changes. You should always become more skeptical of any investment that has recently soared in price, and you should always become more enthusiastic about any asset that has recently fallen in price. That’s what it means to be an investor.” Jason Zwieg, columnist. Wall Street Journal.

Cut out the above and tape it to your bathroom mirror. Kill the portfolio underperformance Bucky. 

5). Don’t sell (yourself) what’s expired. Bucky was a master of merchandise rotation. I remember purchasing expired Boo-Berry on numerous occasions because it was moved to the front of the line of cereal boxes. Who would have thought this manufactured, chemical breakfast mix could expire? And who checked? He was an inventory management king.

boo berry

Are you selling yourself stale thoughts? Are imprints of your past interrupting your present? And who created those thoughts? You did, dummy. Your ego can’t let go of what came before. Release the Boo Berry! The ghost that haunts. Camouflaged by sweet, marshmallow goodness designed to seduce. I know you Boo Berry. Bucky sent you.

Spinner’s – you’re history.

Bucky  - you’re worm food for close to thirty years now.

Mom – you and your lists are long gone.

Me – I continue to stock up on lessons. From new supermarkets, bigger aisles, fresher merchandise.

Just ring me up.

No beer and tampons for me today.

Or ever.

The Colors, The Times, of Your Life – Will You Remember?

We were free. Moving quick in a white hot breeze. 1977. When the world flew by in lime green.

Slit through a black bowel of public housing. Deep in the middle of the aged carnival colors of blueviolet, aquamarine and bisque. Coney Island. A narrow way forged between the metropolis, slick brown with rot. The summer New York heat penetrated, bounced from dead, white alley cats forming a yellow haze floating neon pungent sluggish slow in still heat. Bright orange, with a burst of unhealthy steel-gray around the edges, like a healthy pink hue that hesitantly abandoned its soul, was there too. Cats and garbage rotted just that way in July. In 1977. In Coney Island. I remember.

The odor scorched the outer part of our pink nostrils until they flared red. But we didn’t care because this moment was designed to be fleeting. The clear blue of escape from a place we should not have been, was near. And as long as that moped motored us out  in one piece, alive, all the Sunday ritual – staring at the newly-painted off white walls behind the rich, marbled altar of St. Simon & Jude’s Church would have been worth it.

Until.

black out NY

Boom! Black.

The lights went out. A deepest black seeped in from the edges. Beige smoke rose above. From everywhere. It suffocated us like a color. Purple maybe. Stopped us dead. Frozen.

Then.

Restless white noise. Muffled sounds of agitated souls. Blood-red anger.

Frenzied, white round bursts of bright. Scattered. Flash lights cutting through, getting closer, like silver shards.

In the dim gray mist of yesteryear, when lapels were wider than a McDonald’s Happy Meal and Mayor McCheese still held power over us.

“We need to get out of here. In there,” I pointed. And kept pointing and she knew what I was pointing to. What I meant. Like she could see through midnight blue.

“Fuck no,” she said. A spanish, italian, puerto-rican fire mix of black-coal eyes, deep brown bouncy curls in red spandex and cherry-red heels.

“If you don’t get in the dumpster you’re getting raped and I’m getting robbed,” I said. Heels off. She moved. The color of imminent danger was crimson with dark-red daggers.

We dove boldly into the acrid stench of the mix. Eggplant in color, wet, with sticky blotches of yellow green. The lime-green Puch Moped that was to take us into the wild blue now secured behind the jungle-green metal coffin for the discarded muck public housing didn’t  want. Too much green. We puked. The gagging color of cloying hot crimson arose in our noses and throats.

A city summer. In a blackout. 1977. I remember the shades of memories. The colors brought me back to an alley. When looters almost discovered a boy, a moped and a girl’s saturated skin with Love’s Baby Soft (always smelled cotton-candy pink to me). All this clear vision from a lone lime-green bicycle I barely noticed. In a driveway. Yesterday. In Houston, Texas. A million miles away – faded into a lemon chiffon of time.

love's baby soft

Oh the colors, the colors. Perfect.

Colors have the astounding ability to anchor you back to a time and place for as long as you live. No matter how far to the past you venture. Colors are seeds that blossom the past to the present, immediately. Sort of like songs. Sort of like a person you love, or cherish. If you remember the colors, you’ll know what you feel about a moment is true. And real. Even when others doubt you. Even when you doubt you. The colors make it true. And true is slate blue.

Random Thoughts:

1). How will colors conjure up the past? Today I re-lived the memory of a first dinner. I smelled the thick tapestries of dark & tomato reds. The rich browns of hair and delicate tan of lines, of form, of grace. I’ll never forget the fire-brick colors of what ignited in mind and heart. The reams of gold in the conversation. I re-live those pigments every day.

2). Red & green are the colors of money. When stock markets are green, as they have been since the fiscal cliff (version 1) concluded, I use green to trim growth and profit. When there is red again, a trickle of crimson in the streets, I’m motivated to buy. Use the reds & greens to make smart financial decisions.

3). How will today’s colors form your future? Be careful with the colors you use today to form the thoughts that move you forward. Today I’m staring at coral, firebrick, and forest green from my windows. All soothing, positive colors to me. I’ll make it my business to avoid true dark shades today.

4). What colors will propel you to thank someone today, love someone, be grateful for a communication, a note, one positive word. Close your eyes. Think of those colors. Shamelessly relive the good memories tomorrow of how you changed someone’s attitude. For the better.

Like it’s 1977.

Because times were good.

Because we lived to escape.

The blazing yellow sun eventually showed us the way.

To the blue.

Back on course and lime-green.

Once again.

Like you.

And your memory.

Lime Green Puch Moped

The Life In The Mirror. 3 Ways to Save It.

I bolted. Ran out the door. Down three flights of stairs. 3am. Screaming. For a Brooklyn street it was eerie quiet. Dark. Street lights out. A desperate sprint. In pajamas. To the only pay phone close by. Would it be working? It had to be the most vandalized pay phone in the city. Odds weren’t good.

Directly across the avenue from Harold’s Pharmacy.

Neon beacon in the night. Still around.

It was a shabby three-room apartment in a pre-WWII three-story walk up.  But it was shelter. That’s all I cared about. It was my world for a time and to me it felt big when things were good and amazingly small and cloying when things were bad.

Lately it felt as if I was living on a pin and the head was about to run out of room.   For an old building, the steam heat worked amazingly well. New York cold was occasionally harsh, so I was grateful. Turn the valve for the first time and the radiator clanked and clunked loud like an old car starting up after a long hibernation. Steam heat smelled good to me. Like a change of season coming. Only because there were summers. Rough summers. Rough seasons overall. This summer was a scorcher. Hotter than usual. It was ready to crescendo to one of the most memorable electrical blackouts in New York City history.

Two weeks before it felt as if I leaped from the heat right into the fire. A life or death decision flare up. A three alarmer. I wasn’t mentally ready to play God, but God didn’t seem to give a shit. I was in the intense heat of a crossroad on fire. I needed to make a move. Otherwise someone was gonna die. I remember thinking: “I’m too young to be dealing with this shit.”

Is it really worth growing older? I ponder this question.

Mom & I alternated use of the only bedroom (for sleeping. Me anyway.) One night couch (no sleep), next night bed (sleep). There was this full-length mirror. I recall dad cursing, fighting to secure the clunky structure to the hall-closet door. It was his good deed. Got mom off his back. And he wasn’t very good at chores around the house.     If  the closet door was open just right, I could get a full view of the kitchen as it reflected into my line of sight. From the bedroom.     Since mom always seemed to gravitate to the kitchen especially late, the reflection in the mirror of her her pacing back and forth would always wake me.  Prevent me from staying asleep. My habit was to wake, look in the mirror, turn over. Eventually,  I was forced to get up and close the door so I couldn’t see what was going on. Back to precious sleep time. It was my turn to have the bed, dammit!  The night before she destroyed the red trimline phone. The entire phone right down to the wall. And beyond. R.I.P. trimline.

10pm: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. More beer I was sure.  Midnight: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Heavy drinking binge. Turn over. 2:30am: Wake up. Turn over. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Again? Or Still? Weird.

I was mad. So mad. Until I saw. Mom on the floor. On her side. Tangled in the phone cord. Her head literally inside the bottom shelf of the fridge. I picked her up from the shoulders. She was so cold. Her joints were stiff. She was a 100-pound human accordian who wouldn’t unfold. I thought this was how rigor mortis started. Yet she was alive. How could that be? Stll breathing. Her breath was far from normal. Shallow. Her tongue shriveled. Mouth open wide. Lips colorless, perhaps light blue.  I was in a panic. Half asleep. My mind reeling.

Then suddenly, I was overcome with calm. I sat on the floor. Staring at her. Thinking. I watched mom’s small chest closely as it went still for longer on the exhale. Then her machine started up again. I was waiting for stillness. Perhaps hoping for it. I was at a crossroad. I knew I was. It was the power to make a decision that would change everything.  An inside voice was talking. One I never heard before. It kept asking. Slightly teasing. The repetition of the query felt forbidden. But it continued.

Does she live or die?

Would it be humane but inhuman just for me to return to bed? She had lived such a horrible life so far. Mom was 35 but looked twice that age. Especially now. On the floor. I sort of understood the weight of what was unfolding in front of me.

I knew my path, my karma, my thought process would be shaped, or changed forever perhaps in a way I wasn’t sure I could live with.

I rose. Moved strangely calm, to the hall mirror. Stood there. Staring at myself. So many questions rolled through my head.

Would I look the same in this damn mirror tomorrow if I decided just to leave her there? She would most likely be dead in a few minutes. Was I supposed to find her? Was there a higher power guiding me? Was the mirror the conduit for the message?

What if I woke up just 5 minutes later? Then I wouldn’t need to deal with a choice like this. And why was this even a choice for me?

Was the phone, now ripped from the wall, dead, a sign? Why was I given the responsibility of dealing with this situation? I never asked for this challenge.

Random Thoughts:

1). Seek Out Your Mirrors. When up against the wall, at a crossroad, what decisions will you make? Would you be able to live with them? How would you go on? I’ve trained myself to ask tough questions and imagine how I would respond. What if I had a life-threatening illness, lost a leg, lost a loved one to tragedy? How would I appear in the mirror. My actions would shape my image.

2). Be Open to Reflection. Never question why a challenge, a person, an illness, an opportunity, a setback gets thrown in your life path. It was placed there from an energy source  you’ll never be able to explain or fully understand. Signs are all around you if you just let go of skepticism. Stay open minded.  What does your life mirror reflect upon? Whose life remains in the balance once you open your eyes, mind and heart to the signs?

3).  Own the Decision of Life or Death. Don’t let family members, children, parents, friends, be forced to make a decision that concludes your life. Who would make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t make them? What kind of medical treatment would you want, or don’t want if faced with a terminal illness? It’s not fair to place this burden on others, especially without notice. Go to www.agingwithdignity.org and complete the Five Wishes exercise.  Five Wishes is changing the way America talks about and plans for care at the end of life.  More than 18 million copies of Five Wishes are in circulation across the nation, distributed by more than 35,000 organizations.  Five Wishes meets the legal requirements in 42 states and is useful in all 50.

Five Wishes has become America’s most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness. I was required to make the life or death decision for close family. It’s not a good feeling-It will change forever who you see in the mirror.

I ran. I bolted. The pay phone was working (a sign I made the right choice at least to me). I called 911.

It took mom 6 months to recover. I stayed out of school nursing her back to health. And then one day she noticed. Puzzled.

“What happened to the mirror?”

“Don’t you remember? You broke it the night you fought with what’s-his-name?”

She didn’t remember. I didn’t share the truth. I never did.

The hall mirror and its reflections were best left buried.

I wonder if it’s still in the ground?

I’ll never share the location.

That’s a decision I can live with.

Happily.

The Babysitter Chronicles. Will you Embrace or Break Free from the Watchers?

Rich, watch us. You like it? C’mon, look up!!”

Don Kirshner you changed my life.

Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was the musical variety show of the 70′s. Don Kirshner was also one of the greatest rock music promoters of all time.For me, DK wasn’t as threatening as the other Don: Don Cornelius of “Soul Train,” fame. It had nothing to do with skin color, either.I just wasn’t as afraid of the pink bubble-gum groups DK promoted like The Archies, or The Monkees compared to the primal writhing artists featured on “Soul Train.”

It was going to be another late night which meant Gloria, my babysitter, needed to watch over me.

To salvage what was left of a  a disastrous marriage, my parents hit the town almost every weekend. Mom would dress in a burgundy velour jumpsuit. Her hair now platinum blonde (hair color changed monthly).  Dad (you can tell) performed this weekly ritual painfully. The last place he wanted to be was in a casual environment or a tryst with mom. Who could blame him?

I loved Gloria. She let me stay up late. This allowed some serious G.I. Joe Adventure Team action to pursue deep in the night. No doubt the late-night embers were going to  burn in the G.I. Joe Headquarters this Saturday night.

I also loved Gloria because despite her horrific name (Gloria?) she looked to me more like a Sandy or a Stacy, she paid attention to me. She was attentive unlike mom and dad at the time.

Butt-length brown hair parted in the middle. Terrific blue eyes. I watched her carefully as she did little things to stay occupied like paint her toes or read a book, even do her homework. I felt comfortable when it was just the both of us.

Although one night it was Gloria and a friend (name I cannot recall) and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was blaring from the television, louder than usual.

The G.I. Joe Headquarters was a plastic paradise.

There was lots of dancing. Two girls apart. More dancing. Now two girls as one. A sweaty teenage semi-nude body tangle. Then there was kissing. Did girls do that?I tried desperately to crawl into the map room of the headquarters. At least mentally. I had no idea what was going on. One of my favorite fuzzy-bearded Joes lost his head because I squeezed too hard.

“Rich, you like this? Look up!”

I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Well, I did. My glances were now darting eye dances. I tried to not move my head. But then I was up. Kidnapped from my world of male dolls. Engulfed. Taken. Gone.

To this day I cannot break free from the babysitter. How she dressed, the way she looked. I’ve noticed how my secret (or not-so-secret) crushes resemble in some form – The babysitter. She’s an overseer.

Even after all these years. It’s amazing how memories watch over you. Stick around. Guide you. Imprint you. Follow you. Walk alongside you. Walk within you. You have these memories. We all do. We’re plagued by them. Some are so tiny. They can fit on the head of a pin. Others remain as large as the tallest structure. Yet in every case, size doesn’t matter. Impact does. The impact always seems to be strong. Strangling.

You’ll be amazed, are amazed by, regardless how brief the experience, how the impact of the moment can permanently change the direction of your life. Perhaps the lives of others. Others you haven’t met yet. Others you created.  Was Don Kirshner responsible?

How you allow these memories, the watchers, forge your future actions requires constant monitoring.

Random Thoughts:

1). How does your past currently affect your future? Your mental images are time and location stamped. Occasionally you’re damaged goods. What 3 actions have you taken recently good or bad over the last 6 months that have been a direct result of a good or bad imprint? How will you tilt the odds in your favor right now? How will you change?

2). How have memories of money past affected your financial future? My parents disrespected money. Blew it. Spent it frivously. They never prepared for the future. No life insurance. Massive debts. Welfare. I felt as a child that my foundation, security was fleeting. The shame and stress of it all turned my behavior 360 away from their negative behavior memories. Others I know followed similar negative paths as their parents and today are in a shambles, financially. The ripping at the fiber of our financial system in 2008 took many over the edge and a frightening number of household balance sheets are more toxic than ever before.

3). How will your memories affect the future of those you love? Especially people in your inner circle. The ones who exist in the space closest to your heart. The ones who hold the deepest red, the blood, the air, the strongest ties. Is your influence positive or negative? First, be honored if you do influence others. It’s a great responsibility. If you have sent someone off on the wrong path let them know. Admit you were wrong. Apologize. Be humble. Grow more aware of memories who watch over you.

4). How will you break away from the seductive dance of the babysitter?  Do you even want to? Can something positive come from a bad experience? Perhaps you need new memories. Memories that encourage you to go on. A mind is so powerful when focused. Select the best thoughts. Be open to future interactions that will improve your life path. Do your watchers add to or subtract from your life?

5). Can you alter the image of the babysitter? Do you have the will to do so? First, understand who the babysitter is (was). Only from that point can you decide on the sitters you seek to keep around. Decide on the watchers you embrace or set free. And don’t kid yourself. You had a babysitter. A temptation. A demon. A god. A person who changed how you view life, forever.

I never played with G.I. Joes again. I found a new hobby. In human doll form.

The babysitter was around a long time. She was a teacher. My mother fired her for reasons unknown.

How did your babysitter impact you?

Another bad parental decision memory I need to work through.

Just great.