Archive | November 2015

Fiction: Sherlock Brett Fights ISIS

Among the things I write that are the most fun are the Sherlock Brett stories. I began writing these quite some time ago when my stepbrothers Brett and Lyle were still very young. As they have grown the subject matter has become more mature. Today there are both college graduates and Brett is a married man living outside Atlanta. They continue to read my stories though I’m not sure they are always happy with how they are portrayed.

In the mid 1990s I wrote a screenplay, Sherlock Brett and the Case of the Missing Ding Dongs. The film began shooting on location in suburban Atlanta but creative differences between

This story I actually wrote for Christmas last year and it was originally titled “Sherlock Brett and the Secret Toast.” However, with the increasing reach and horror of the Islamic State, I believe the subject matter is very appropriate to publish commercially today.

At some point I will publish collections of Sherlock Brett stories in large volumes. These perhaps will survive all of time and begin the mythology for a future age. Sherlock Brett and his faithful, trusty sidekick Watson Lyle will be like the Arthurian legends years from now. One can only hope for such literary immortality, but putting this story on Amazon is an important first step.

Thankful in 2015

Thanksgiving is coming up and there are a lot of things to be thankful for. It is easy to look at the state of the world and feel that our generation got the short end of the stick and that things were better years ago. The human species has a habit of romanticizing the past to a fault. The present always looks lacking to Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular because we are an ambitious people who always see better possibilities.

But if we are living safely with food in our stomachs and a roof over our head, we should be thankful; there are a few billion people who would gladly trade places with us.

Here are some things I am particularly thankful for:

Family. I am lucky to not only have a wife and kids who love me but numerous other relatives and step-relatives who love me also. I can tap into the wisdom of several aunts and uncles, cousins, and my amazing grandmother, the indomitable matriarch who is our rock. My family has demonstrated time and again how to persevere through hardship and loss with grace and strength. I am lucky to be of such strong blood.

Health. No doubt my steady diet of weekend egg sandwiches has left me the worse for wear and my back is a scramble of slipped disks and strained muscles, but compared to many people, I am in very good health. I know too many family and friends who have suffered bad setbacks to take my health for granted.

Employment. While I have known great unemployment and underemployment in my time, I am currently gainfully employed at a stable company. Having worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years, I crossed over “to the dark side” of public relations last year. I landed in a good place with smart, friendly co-workers; a lot of people can’t say that.

Creative Ambition. One of the reasons I am lucky to have the family I do is that I’ve inherited my family’s desire to create. My family is full of writers, musicians, actors and more and I am honored to be among them. Being creative gives you a constant reason to live even when all else looks dismal.

America. While the American Empire is deep into its twilight, the America I grew up with and love is very much alive though casting a cautious eye towards the future. America is the greatest nation on Earth because it is my country. We have a lot of problems, but we have a lot of freedom that many people never see.

New York City. No city inspires as much simultaneous love and hatred from its inhabitants as New York. There is no other place on Earth that is constantly rewriting its own mythology and acts such a magnet for creativity and ambition. New York will outlive us all. As much as we hate to see New York change, we know it will never die as long as the Earth remains intact.

Daily life with neither fear nor apology

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris will see New York on a higher security alert than usual. There will be more armed soldiers and more heavily armed police in some of our transit centers and crowded tourist areas.

New Yorkers this week will go to work as they normally do. The buses will be too slow and the trains too crowded. New Yorkers will continue to secretly and openly hate one another as is our birthright.

But what we won’t do is let savage lunatics keep us from doing what we need to do. We’d love to stay home and watch the news while eating cheese in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in France, but we can’t afford the time off from work.

And, to borrow an over-used phrase, if we deviate from our miserable daily routines, the terrorists have won. Let’s observe a moment of silence for the victims of these horrors, but don’t dare be silenced by fear. Don’t let the fear of terrorism affect how you live your life and don’t let the fear of being labeled or maligned stop you from speaking your mind.

New Yorkers will be divided on what the Paris attacks say about Islam and the Muslim world at large. My social media news feed is filled with people wanting to bomb all Muslims back to the stone age (some are already there!) and people trying to shame us for caring more about Paris than Beirut. All of this is nonsense. New Yorkers care more about Paris because Paris is more like New York and it resonates when people more like ourselves are harmed. That’s not xenophobia, that’s human nature.

The five boroughs are home to as many as 1 million Muslims and most of them are peaceful people we interact with on a daily basis without incident. It’s Muslims who are the biggest victims of Islamic fundamentalists and Muslims who are doing the most to take the fight to these extremists. And it’s also realistic Muslims who will admit that there’s a real problem with Islam today. It’s the religion that has most dialed up the crazy factor something terrible and the Islamic Uma has been home to an ideological war for decades with too many moderates sympathizing with the other side.

New Yorkers are a generally liberal lot and the usual suspects have expressed more angst about possible backlashes against Muslims than about how we go about preventing another terrorist attack. We’re a divided city just as we are a divided country, but after all the hand-wringing and shouting, we’ll still be a buzzing metropolis. We’ve seen terrorism at its worst and we’re still here.

New Yorkers will pause to honor the victims of terror and then keep going to work and coming home every night. We’ve been down this road before. There’s too much life to live here. We can’t afford the fear.

The Queens ethnic supermarket shuffle

When a local supermarket closes down, people scatter like ants seeking safety. Our area of Queens is seeing two stores close down over the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see where shoppers will go before these stores are reopened.

The scene in the Waldbaum’s on 20th Avenue in College Point, Queens was a sad one. More than half the shelves were empty. Where abundant displays of vegetables once stood were now vacant. Everything was on sale. Products in the aisles were consolidated onto a few shelves. As I was checking out, a woman asked if she could have my shopping basket when I was done; she couldn’t find another one anywhere.

Local supermarkets throughout Queens are being sold or closed after the A&P, which owned several supermarket chains, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. The local ones near where I live are supposed to be reopening. The Waldbaum’s will reportedly reopen as a Shoprite later this year. The Pathmark near our home is supposed to reopen as a Stop & Shop. Both are closing down in the meantime leaving people wondering where they are going to shop.

Food shopping, like much else in New York City, is a generally ethnically segregated affair. There was a Key Food in the shopping center right behind our home. It closed and is now Good Fortune, a grocery store that mainly caters to Chinese shoppers. All the announcements on the PA are in Chinese and many of the people who work there speak no English. Some of our neighbors refuse to go but it’s not a bad store. If you’re looking for fresh fish they have a lot of it, and they even kept a real deli, but if it’s too early in the day and the deli person isn’t there, none of the multitude of Chinese workers will help you other than to tell you in the best broken English they can that you are shit out of luck.

One thing I noticed when I first visited Good Fortune is that there is no cash register #4. The cash registers skip from register #3 to register #5. The Chinese believe that #4 is bad luck. The word for the number four is similar to the word for death in Chinese, so Chinese will go through great lengths not to have the number four in their addresses or phone numbers. Similarly in western cultures there is often no 13th floor of an office building because of bad luck associated with that number.

A few blocks down the street is the H-Mart, a Korean grocery store. It’s smaller and does not have a wide selection, though on Fridays you can go through there and practically eat an entire lunch’s worth of food in the form of free samples. This supermarket also has odd sections of electronics and other things you don’t normally find in a grocery store; maybe that’s a Korean thing. Their selection of non-Asian foods is pretty dismal and we rarely go there. A few years ago supermarket union workers protested outside of this store asking people to boycott it because it had no black or white employees. I haven’t seen these protesters in a while. I don’t normally go to this store but I’ve never seen a black or white employee there to this day.

So some people are not going to shop at the Asian supermarkets and they’ll soon get the chance to shop at their old stores, renovated and under new management. Some have taken to shopping at some of the smaller stores in Whitestone and some will shop at the nearby Target.

New York’s ethnic cauldron will continue to boil and churn. Luckily I don’t mind shopping among the Chinese and will stay well fed.

The mad carnival that is the New York City Marathon

My wife’s cousin Erin ran the New York City Marathon and several of us planned to go meet her along the route. Erin had arranged things so that friends and family would meet her at several points along the 26.2 mile run. We were scheduled to meet her about halfway through the run in Long Island City, Queens.

Taking two toddlers onto the 7 train is one of the most torturous mass transit experiences you can have. We gave them munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts and that sated their hunger but made them thirsty. We had no water for them, only giant coffee drinks that they couldn’t have. They cried and tried to wrestle free. Where on the 7 train they intended to go we had no idea, but they cried and screamed to be free of us.

Time slows down when you are the couple who brought crying children on the subway, but we eventually reached the Vernon-Jackson stop on the 7 train in Long Island City. Not wanting to take a double stroller onto subway, we brought backpack baby holders to carry them around in, but we had to hustle off the train to have space on the platform to wrestle the girls into those. We emerged from the subway stop into the cool November air. The weather was perfect for the race, and the marathon was close by and well under way.

The New York City Marathon is a somewhat of a crazy carnival. People show up with funny signs and runners often jog by in odd costumes. People show up to push their own causes: people handed out pamphlets for Bernard Sanders and solicited donations; the Jewish group Chabad had a space set up with a PA and hospitality to cheer on the runners.

There were a plethora of inspirational signs: ‘You CAN even!’ and ‘Run like the METS Depend on it’ were two of the more clever ones on display in Long Island City. A few held up signs that read, ‘Welcome to Queens!’ A few groups had enlarged photos of their friends and loved ones in the marathon. A couple near where we were standing had two large neon-colored Ls, their daughter’s initials. She gave them big hugs and was moved by their presence.

The runners reflect the city’s diverse patchwork of oddities as well. There were lots of runners dressed in the spirit of Halloween. I saw one competitor wearing a sheep suit and many more dressed superheroes such as Superman or Iron Man.

The runners are also an inspiration and represent all that is good about New York. They showcase the perseverance of the human spirit. There were runners that looked like they had to be in their 60s or 70s, including one elderly runner hobbling along with forearm crutches. One marathon runner was blind and was being helped along by some guides.

Lots of runners had their names on their jerseys and it was easy to root for them by name. More still had ear buds in their ears and were listening to music and so shouting encouragement to them was in vain. I decided I would shout, “Vive La France!” at French runners. They seemed to appreciate my support.

After tracking her via smart phones, our family group saw my wife’s cousin Erin as she approached us. She was in great spirits and chatted with us for a bit while waiting for her running partner. She munched in a snack, gave us hugs, and was off again. She finished the race in good time.

Here’s to all the marathon runners and everyone hitting the pavement and chasing your dreams.

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