Three A.M.

Awake at three in the morning. It’s a contradiction of human existence, I guess.

I’m awake right now because I was having a weird dream. In the dream, Mel Brooks asks what if Buddha had been a nice Jewish boy from Queens?

Siddhartha the Buddha, or as his mother called him, Siddhartha the Bum.

She says to him, Sid, Sid, why don’t you get a job? Your brother Marty has a nice job on Wall Street and what are you doing? Sitting under a tree eating plums!

I woke up laughing.

I tried to go back to sleep but Mrs. Gautama kept talking.

Why don’t you get a job, she says, and he says, Ma, I’ve got a job. I’m a teacher.

She says, that’s not a real job, you know why I know it’s not a real job? If you had a real job, you could afford to go to the Hamptons for the summer instead of sitting under a pear tree eating plums. That’s no vacation from a real job!

He says, Ma, why would I sit under a pear tree eating plums? It was a fig tree and I was eating figs….

I don’t care if they were Avogadros! she interrupts. You could eat any number of Avogadros and I wouldn’t care.

Then she starts in on him about grandkids. When are you going to get married? If you were married, you would have to get a real job and get me some grandkids? Your brother Marty, he can’t because he’s got that thing, his Exeter is too narrow.

His urethra, Ma.

His ureter, he’s not going to have kids but you could get married…. Are you gay? You can tell me…. If you have some nice boy you’d rather marry you can bring him by…. What’s his name? Steve?

Ma, I’m not gay, Sid says.

Maybe you and Steve could adopt? Marty can’t adopt because his wife has that conviction from when she was a prison guard.

Imogene Coca was playing Ma, Sid Caesar (who else) as Sid, with Howie Morris as Marty and Terry Jones as Mrs. Finkelstein nextdoorsikeh.

At which point, I got up again and wrote this all down. 🙂

The Melton Ring

Everyone is familiar with a Moebius Strip, a length of paper glued to its own end with a half-twist so that a line drawn down the middle of the paper goes twice around before meeting itself.

But a strip of paper is a real three-dimensional object. Imagine instead of being flat and thin that this paper has a thickness equal to its width. Now the Moebius strip has two edges, one with a line drawn down the middle and one without.

Now imagine that the cross-section of this object were five-sided instead of four-sided before the line was drawn down the middle. Now the line drawn down the middle goes five times around before meeting itself.

What if the object had seven sides? Nineteen? Six hundred and forty-one?

What if it had an infinite number of sides? In other words, a circular cross-section.
And you gave the ends a twist that was irrational to the circumference of the cross-section before gluing the ends together?

Now if you start anywhere on the surface of this object and draw a line perpendicular to the cross-section, that line will be a closed loop infinite in length before it comes back and meets itself. Furthermore, that line will touch every point on the surface.

Do you have a three-dimensional object with a one-dimensional surface? If not, why not?

Songwriting

For the last few months I’ve been working on some songs with my friend Bob Winter. He has three of the ones we’ve worked on together at his website: Notes in a Bottle.

It’s quite a kick to hear someone singing something you’ve written. How this goes is that I write the words and sing (badly) a version of the tune for Bob to hear. Then he works on making it singable and providing chords and harmonies and doing the production. Since I’m a terrible singer, it’s amazing to me that he can come up with a tune that is so very like what I can hear in my head.

Also, my rhythms are often clumsy and Bob smoothes them out and we work on changing lyrics together to get the phrasing right. 🙂 It’s a real collaboration and a heck of a lot of fun.

Real Estate

Another story based on a dream I had.

Real Estate

The old man eating lunch in the park didn’t seem to be interested in his sandwich. Sitting on the grass nearby, a taller, younger man in dirty clothes watched. The old man sighed for about the fortieth time then stood and carried his uneaten sandwich toward the trash can, frowning.

“If you’re not going to eat that, can I have it?” asked the young man.

The old man stopped and turned to look. “It’s salami and tomatoes on Italian,” he said.

The young man could not stop the visible rush of saliva to his mouth. “Sounds great.” He stood up, wiping one hand across his face.

The old man nodded and held out the meal, still mostly wrapped in the deli papers. “I’m Thomas, I’ve seen you here before.”

The younger man took the food from his hands, his face intent on the prize. “I’m Chris. And yeah, I uh, sort of live here.”

Thomas walked slowly back toward the bench. “Sit, eat,” he said nodding toward the other end as he sat down.

Chris sat, smiling briefly toward Thomas before he began eating. He treated the partially wrapped sandwich with care and almost reverence as he extracted a cut third of it from the papers.

Thomas watched him eat and his own face changed. By the time Chris had finished the first third with a bit of tomato dripping from his chin, Thomas smiled. “Glad to see you like that,” he said. “There’s a couple of napkins.”

Chris nodded, wiping away the ruby red remnants from his stubbly chin. “It’s good. And I’m not just saying that ’cause I hadn’t eaten since yesterday, the guys at Two Fat Italian Heroes know how to make a sandwich.”

Thomas smiled but it seemed to pain him. “They do,” he said. “I wish they were better at making the rent.”

“Huh,” said Chris. “How do you mean?”

“I’m the property manager for this block of shops.” He gestured toward one side of the park. “I collect the rents and turn them over to the owners. I take care of problems like roofs and sewers and dealing with police and building inspectors. But Leo and Gio are late with the rent, two months in a row. And short both times, besides. I have to tell the owner.”

Chris chewed his way through the second section of the sandwich and neither of them said anything for a while. Finally, Chris said, “You don’t want to do that.”

Thomas shook his head. “I don’t. But it’s my job. If they are short three times, they go on a list. From being on the list to getting evicted if you don’t make up everything you missed, takes about six months.”

Chris nodded. He looked at the last third of the sandwich, about four inches long and nearly as wide. Salami, provolone, tomatoes and onions with a light coating of olive oil and vinegar filled the bread to overflowing. “You want the last piece?” he asked Thomas.

Thomas looked at the remainder of the sandwich. He hadn’t wanted it at all but now that he had said something to someone, he felt a bit of hunger. It was his lunch after all and he had forced Leo and Gio to accept payment for it by leaving the money on the counter. “Maybe half?” he said, his mouth watering.

Chris carefully tore the sandwich in two and offered his choice of halves to Thomas and they both ate with obvious enjoyment.

“Good sandwich,” said Chris when they had finished and used the napkins to clean their hands and faces. “Thanks,” he added as he threw the trash into the can.

“They do make good sandwiches but hardly anyone is willing to pay eleven dollars for a foot-long hero anymore when there’s a chain sandwich shop on almost every block,” said Thomas.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “They have a nice corner location though, they ought to be able to grow a clientele if they can get through a year or so. You think?”

Thomas nodded. “Probably.”

“But if they go under in six months, the storefront is likely to be empty for a year or so?”

Thomas nodded again.

“That can’t be good for anybody on the block. Not good for the owners or you either.”

“No,” said Thomas. The small part of the sandwich he had eaten sat like a lump in his stomach.

Chris belched. “Pardon. So, what if you went to everyone on the block and asked them if they could help the sandwich guys out with rent for a while. And put it like a package deal to your bosses, reduced rent for a year while Leo and Gio get on their feet?”

Thomas gulped. “That just might work,” he said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Too close to the problem, maybe?” suggested Chris. “It’s worth a try, anyway.”

Thomas started away, his face showing his optimism in the new solution.

“Hey,” said Chris. “You got any work for me? Run errands? Sweep up? Haul away the trash in the alley? Anything?”

Thomas blinked. “I’m not doing so good on the thinking things through bit today. Yeah, I probably do have some things for you to do.” He smiled at his new friend.

Chris smiled back. “I knew it couldn’t hurt to ask,” he said.

Mini-Golf

God, an IRS man, a priest, and a rabbi are playing mini-golf. After six holes, the IRS man is leading with 21, God at 24 and the two clergymen tied at 26. It’s a good tight game and everyone is playing well.

The priest has been trying to get up his nerve to talk privately to God and he finally manages to ask what’s been on his mind. “God, he says, I’ve been a good man, I’ve tried to help my flock and follow church teachings and abide by Your Holy Word. What I want, well, what I want to know, what I’d like is some assurance that I’m going to Heaven.”

God smiled on his priest. “Sure,” He said. “You’ve been a good man and a fine priest and if you continue as you’ve been doing, your place in Heaven is assured.” Much relieved to hear that, the priest thanked God, praised Him and moved away to smile happily as he prepared for the next hole.

Seeing the priest had spoken with God, the rabbi stepped up, too. “Sir,” he said. “We Jews don’t necessarily believe in Heaven but we are promised a reward if we keep Your Commandments. I think I have done so, I have certainly tried and I would like to receive the sort of assurance You gave the priest that my life has pleased You.”

God smiled down at him. “And aren’t you one of My Chosen People? You keep the Commandments, you have done mitzvahs as you should. And yes, you will be rewarded for being good and kind and faithful.” And the rabbi also moved away smiling.

Seeing the other two so happy to have received God’s blessing, the IRS man approached the Presence of the Deity. “I’m a humble man, God. I don’t have the knowledge the other two have of what I should do. I have a terrible job and I know that I have made other people unhappy. But wasn’t Matthew also a tax collector? I guess, what I’m asking is if there is going to be a place for me in Heaven, too.”

God frowned down at the tax man and the sky seemed to be a little less bright. “I hate to tell you this,” said God. “But if you keep hitting eagles like you did on the last two holes, you’re going to Hell.”

Wisequackers

I dreamed about working on a comic strip again.

This one was called “Wisequackers” and was about a little boy and a little girl trying to run a farm by themselves with ‘help’ from the animals, all of whom could talk.

The particular sequence I was working on involved the little girl trying to get two enormous sheepdogs to round-up the sheep and keep them out of the corn. The dogs were watching Ren and Stimpy on TV and had no interest in this job.

“Besides,” said one of them, “we’re Great Pyrenees sheepdogs, not Border Collies. We protect sheep, not corn.”

So the little girl says, “It’s GMO corn and the sheep might eat it.”

The dogs look at each other horrified, jump up and charge out of the house to save the sheep.

The Inevitable Surprise

She fell.

Through the quiet darkness with the moon over her shoulder, she fell.

Toward the sea below, and the rocks, toward the foaming maelström between them, she fell.

She pulled her hands and arms into a point above her head, or rather below it, steering with her legs in the wind of her own passage.

Down and down and faster and faster, her breath tight and painful, not because she was holding it but because it came so fast that it could not be held.

She fell toward the water, silent except for the pounding of the wind and the roaring of her heart; she fell, not by accident but on purpose; she had jumped and she had not been pushed.

On the cliff above the men watched her fall, knowing that she had chosen escape into death rather than let them catch her, touch her, find out who she was, stop her from living to tell anyone what she had seen.

She struck the sea at the last, at the very end of her fall, the inevitable surprise at the bottom of every dive and she knifed cleanly through the water the way he had taught her and she knew that to the men above she had simply disappeared because she made no splash and hardly a sound at all, not one they could hear anyway though to her it sounded like the crash at the end of a world.

But, she lived.

Another Christmas

Another year ending,
Another Christmas come and gone.
We learned some sad songs,
And some glad ones, too.

And that’s why I’m sending,
To all my friends near and far,
Wishes for a joyful Christmas,
And love for the year that is new.

Another day dawning,
Another song we have learned,
A new world turning,
Its face to the sun.

And now night is yawning,
Its rhythm still young,
There’s joy even in sadness,
When we know our day is done.

Another year learning,
That Christmas always comes,
We can sing the glad songs,
And some sad ones, too.

And that’s why I’m yearning,
That all my friends near and far,
Enjoy a wishful Christmas,
And love in the year that is new.

The Benefits of Doubt

Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If you think someone has deliberately offended you, think a second time — what if you’re wrong?

Of course you’re sure they were talking about you even though they did not mention your name, but what if you’re wrong?

Certainly, everyone knows you can read minds…but what if you’re wrong?

Always give everyone the benefit of the doubt because as sure as shit smells, you are going to need it back sooner or later.

I know this is true because I get bit by it over and over. Being ready to forgive is not just being nice, it’s a strategy of self-defense in the long run.

If you’re too upset or angry to do so immediately, walk away and think about it before you hit that angry reply–that perfect angry uppercut of a comeuppance–that rant about the unfairness of SOME people….

Walk away and think…

What if you’re wrong?

Doubt is a small coin, spend it freely.

Dustman

Sometimes I dream about doing something I would really like to do. The following was from a dream I had about working on a daily adventure strip called “Dustman”. It was set in New York City, a place I’ve never lived but like all Americans, I have a substitute familiarity with. The artist had a skritchy but cinematic style, as if Will Eisner had been inked by Jules Feiffer. My job was to work on plot and dialog.

Below is more or less the outline of the story we told in the opening arc of the strip. I really wish I were working on this project.

Dustman

Leon Martenson is a rookie detective assigned to investigate the tales of a vigilante operating in Lower Manhattan. Stories among street people are circulating about a mysterious man who lives on rooftops and patrols streets and alleys to protect the homeless, prostitutes, children and ordinary working people from thieves and extortionists.

One street patrolman tells of having confronted a guy he thought was the vigilante after having seen him break up a purse snatching by somehow creating clouds of dust to separate the victim and assailant.

“Who are you?” the cop had demanded, seeing someone watching the scene from the roof of a five-story block of storefronts and offices.

“I’m nobody, I’m nothing,” the mysterious watcher replied. “I’m just the wind, I’m smoke, I’m dust and leaves in the wind. I’m dust, man.” And then he had disappeared.

The patrolman had run up to the roof as quickly as he could after calling for backups but no one could find the “witness” the cops started calling “Dustman.”

Martenson’s partner, veteran Detective Arlyn Washburn, refuses to have anything to do with the investigation. He’s convinced that Dustman is just an urban legend and that the incidences reported by people are lies, hoaxes, hallucinations, mistaken identities and perhaps even copycats using the Dustman legend to get back at their enemies or just make headlines.

A young woman named Bonnie Lincoln who writes a news blog called “Below Manhattan,” about life in NYC, also is doubtful that Dustman really exists but she and Leon are intrigued and interested with each other.

Sightings of Dustman have ranged from the Bowery to Morningside Heights but more frequently witnesses place him south of Midtown, often in or near Soho and the West Village. In an age of cellphone and security cameras, numerous, more or less crappy, photos exist. Two of the clearest show a figure that could be Dustman looking down from the top of a building.

Bonnie and Leon use their various sources to collect evidence about Dustman’s methods and existence. Bonnie fills her blogs with anecdotes about Dustman saving this or that person from a mugging or other robbery. Leon looks for more tangible proof.

He has fragments of balloons once full of dust and used as weapons by Dustman. “How does he get them to burst when he throws them?” he asked the police lab but no one had a good answer.

From various photos, the police artist creates a composite image showing a tall man wearing a khaki raincoat, blue jeans or slacks, sneakers and either a brown wool cap or a battered looking grey Stetson. From the testimony, he could be an olive-skinned white man, or a light-skinned black man. The patrolman who spoke with him thinks he was white but isn’t too sure.

Martenson, with Lincoln’s help, leaves messages with people offering to meet with Dustman and suggesting times and places where the detective or reporter will wait for a meeting. But after two weeks, Dustman has not shown up.

While Leon and Bonnie are finally having a romantic interlude that started out as another discussion of Dustman, Washburn calls his partner to tell him, “We’ve found your guy.”

The body in the alley in the Meatpacking District did fit the description of Dustman in most particulars but no one had ever described the mystery man as having a pencil-thin mustache. Still, the police tentatively close the file. But two weeks later, the word on the street is that someone wants to meet with Martenson.

Leon goes to the meeting spot, feeling guilty that he hasn’t told Bonnie, Near a statue in one of the little pocket-size fenced parks in Soho, an hour after dusk, someone speaks from the shadows.

“I’m not dead,” says a dry-as-dust voice. “While your people think I am, I’m going to take a little vacation. I’ll be back.”

“How do I know it’s really you, really Dustman?” asks Leon.

“When I’m gone, look behind the statue.” And then the voice answers no more questions. Dustman has disappeared.

The detective looks behind the statue and finds three balloons half-full of dust and covered in a thin layer of clear ice.