I know it may seem a little confusing, but this is really two blogs in one: “Don’t Kill Your Neighbor” and “The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein.” If you want to start at the beginning of the 50 plus episodes of “Coolie,” go back to May and begin at the beginning. If not, just enjoy… and thanks for reading.
Manhattanites are tolerant of great diversity and change. But they are sticklers for categorical things too. When it comes to the weather, it better damn well stay in the typical seasonal bounds, or else it’s just one long bitch fest – from the Upper West Side (hey!) to the Lower East Side.
All those neighbors who never speak – merely nod curtly and move on, stop to commiserate when it’s too cold in the summer or too warm after Labor Day; if there’s too much rain or snow or not enough. We have a fine palate for many things, and we are miffed and distressed when Mother Nature doesn’t cater to that palate.
Yesterday it was in the 80’s. No, no, no! Not at the end of September? Maybe we were all luxuriating in the beneficent rays a week earlier, but now it was a crime against humanity. Hot, unhappy faces grimaced past each other in the street. Meetings at the mailbox in the lobby sounded like workers about to go on strike. What the hell is going on, we all asked each other? What’s with the heat? This is just wrong! Lots of agreement; lots of mutual understanding. Umbrage and outrage were the common thread which had – on this unspeakably beautiful… I mean, disgusting…day – brought us together in a magnificent unity. A raised eyebrow in the elevator was sufficient as a signal of solidarity.
Poop on the sidewalk or sluggish public transportation are lesser evils, not necessarily problematic enough to create the connection that wrong weather brings. Aren’t we an odd lot?
The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 55
It seems that the prime catalyst for the weird confluence of reality and fantasy is most often Brownstein. The first Brownstein (the dog) paid me a visit yesterday, with some human company as well. As we interacted around the essentials of her reality, primarily cheese I see cheese I want cheese, I saw her transmute into Brownstein TTR, superhero, wizard and all-around really smart entity. It went something like this:
Brownstein D (for dog) was standing like a pointer poised near the appetizers arrayed on the coffee table. I was alert to the twitch of muscle that might auger a sudden attack on said table. Beady (but kind) eyes were fixed like two dark lasers on the cheese platter. “No, Brownstein,” I said preemptively. She flicked her eyes in my direction. There was the slightest reduction in muscle tension. But that was just for show.
And then it happened. In my minds eye I say her in her other incarnation. There, in my living room, was Brownstein TTR, a cape adorning her fluffy shoulders. And I knew without the slightest trace of doubt that she could, at will, fly into the air and dive bomb the cheese. If she so chose. It was clear that my “story” was a product of an alternate reality, one where what you think becomes real, and the meanderings of your mind are as true and real as the Rock of Gibraltar.
I then addressed the being I now knew was standing before me: “So, have you seen Coolie lately?” No overt response – except from my daughter and granddaughter who rolled their eyes at each other. Philistines. And yet, inside my mind were both words and pictures that I can only understand as a telepathic message from the great four-legged girl.
On the way to my house, without the awareness of Brownstein D’s caretaker (aka, my daughter), she left the carrier (cleverly replacing her body weight with random debris, so there would be no noticeable change) in response to a strongly felt psychic message from The Cool One.
“Taking a ride on the space surf – Mothership’s invitation. Join? Should be a pickle!”
Never one to refuse a good time, especially an interstellar one, Brownstein D shifted into TTR mode, leaving behind a really vivid holographic sound and visual image of her desultorily chewing on her rawhide bone.
Across the galaxy, taking a short cut via the nearby pre-utilized black hole, the two weirdly wonderful friends arrived at the cosmic playland that DaddythebigDaddywhoseyourDaddy had created, with a gesture, at his love’s request. It was heavenly – well, you know, a little better than that. It was beyond the pale of our mere conceptual ability. There were wind-y, stream-y structures that Coolie and Brown could slide up (no gravitational limitations here) and then sling shot to a planet in any star system they chose. They boinged around for a while (not in time as we know it, of course) and had some great encounters.
The most memorable was when they chucked themselves over to Plaxinatinoni, a purple-based planet circling a star that Mothership referred to as “Little Wimpy” because he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the quadrant.
The residents of Plaxi were charming in their way. They were obtuse triangles with seven tiny feet on the long side, and between four and six somewhat longer arms (depending on their status) on each of the other two sides. There was a great deal of jumping and waving as part of their language. At one point, Brownstein got tangled in a great gaggle of Plaxi arms and legs. But their touch was gentle, so no harm done. Aside from their distinctive shape and limb count, these small beings (about two feet high fully grown) were great singers. Brownstein – who was a natural tenor and could follow along in the Plaxi language with ease – joined them. Coolie did a soft shoe, which the Plaxis immediately imitated – with a very bizarre, frenetic and chaotic outcome.
Back in the present of my known universe, Brownstein, that cheeky girl, finished her tale by doing a back flip, then flashing me a toothy smile.
Mixed feelings about that. Really? you ask. Here’s why…
The day in question is the one where all those screen-freaks we (read, “you”) have come to take for granted, agree to have chips implanted so they can be in instant communication all the time. Except for me. And a few other hardy souls who have resisted the mass impulse to chat or read each other’s chat every waking moment.
As I write, my partner in crime has whipped out his iPhone (has to be that, of course) and is checking on his virtual world – having been out of the loop for a good 35 minutes. OMG!
Yesterday, I sat with a trio of family members: one so-called adult, one adolescent, one pre-, who compulsively and continuously texted, checked and received what must have been the great words and thoughts of western civilization, during 90% of the visit.
Fie on them all, I say.
So, when chip-day comes, I expect most of my community to say, “Yes sir, please sir, may I have two sir.” Naturally, every sci-fi writer worth his or her salt (myself included) has anticipated a wireless, mind-connected future. But judging by the slack focus of the minds I already see around me, this is more of a dystopian than utopian outcome.
Will there still be chip-free enclaves? Will it be something like witness protection? To choose freedom at the expense of the loved ones (in theory) one has lived amongst?
I’ve always wished to live forever. Yes. I’ve even asserted that I would. Don’t get the net quite yet. It was based on my observation that in my lifetime, life expectancy kept extending. I, therefore, extrapolated that it would continue to do so – infinitely. Okay. End of that digression. I think I would now prefer to take a sidestep into some alternate universe (see how I’m hedging), rather than live in the valley of mindless linkage. Well, let’s see how it goes, shall we?
As I passed a beautiful German Shepherd today, I was moved to ponder: What is the difference between dogs and us? [This is going to seem a little gratuitous or maybe just “who cares?” But, stay with it…]
They have four legs; we have two. They have fur; we have to borrow ours from some other species. They are consistent and loyal; we are devious and prone to betrayal. But there was another difference on my mind; one that didn’t necessarily tip the scales to the dog side…or does it?
If you accidentally touch a dog in a painful spot, it will reflexively bite the living shit out of you; if you do something similar to a human being, she might say, “Hey! Why did you do that? Or bark (I mean, yell). Now that isn’t always the case because sometimes we revert to our non-human instinctual roots.
I really wanted to pet him, but an old memory sprang forth to intercede. It was at least forty years ago. I was looking for an apartment in New Jersey (yes, really!) There was a vacancy in a garden apartment development in North Plainfield. Midge (double yes, really!!), the rental agent – who would become my neighbor and friend, was showing me her place. It was the “after” to the “before” of the vacant identical apartment across the hall. She had a well-groomed, handsome Shepherd (canine variety – not “the Lord is my…” version. The Pope is in town so I thought your minds might be drawn away from my story-line.)
My lifelong relationship with dogs was free from fear, so, without hesitation, I bent down and petted him on the back. He, without hesitation, bit me on the upper arm. His jaws were such that despite the heavy wool winter coat I was wearing, I was bruised and bleeding. The awesome pressure of that singular clamp of teeth on arm was shocking. But he was just protecting himself.
When a human bites us – whether it’s done with words or teeth or a gun, we react in an array of ways. We do or don’t understand the motivation. We do or don’t decide to react punitively or in kind. We do or don’t conclude that the person is insane. We do or don’t condone or condemn the act. When a dog does it we are fully outraged. Even though we can dispassionately understand what happened, our idealized sense of our favored pets leaves us with a far greater feeling of betrayal.
The dog is talked about as having “turned” and many times that leads to a decision to “put it down,” a strange term for capital punishment. We have no tolerance for dogs that act like animals. We have a great deal of tolerance for people who act like animals. What does that say about us? I leave this one to you to continue to ponder.
The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 54
Now that swoops were no longer an issue, it was time for the book tour. “What book tour?” you say. The one to promote Coolie’s book, Cooling in the USA (ergo the title); the one that was “ghost” written by Brownstein. She, being the selfless and miraculous entity that she was, needed no acknowledgement for her profoundly central role in the writing of this wondrous tome.
The Book (and we shall be referring to it this way – in keeping with its profundity) was a lucid but somewhat lengthy course in how to be cool anywhere in these United States. Even in Ratshaker, Louisiana. (You just looked it up, didn’t you?) Naturally there was a “ten steps” section (mandatory, if you want the easy-listening audience) and it went something like this…
- Never let them see you sweat.
- Don’t sweat.
- Eat a lot of ice cream
- Never travel without backup…ideally transgalactic or wizardish.
Now I must pause to comment on the last entry. You would expect readers to balk at this demand for them to connect to something/someone outside their sphere of possibility. But, no. Instead, it created – almost overnight – a new business that was beyond flourishing. Calling itself The Transgalactic and Wizardly Travel-buddy Rental Agency, it was quickly franchised and became as ubiquitous as Mickey D’s. Unemployment among a specific type of psychotic was also favorably impacted. If you think you are, then you are, became the T&WTBR’s motto. End of digression…
- Ask not what you can do for your county but what your country can do for you.
- Take small risks (like eating blue food). Never take big ones.
I’m not going to list them all. I’d rather you buy The Book.
The tour was a complete sell-out, except for Santa Rosa. No one there felt the need. They were already as cool as you can get. On the road, which was going to be the title of Coolie/Brownstein’s next book (yes, yes, it’s been done, but who cares?), the best buds had adventures that ran the gamut from extremely magnificent to mildly disturbing. (Remember, they only took small risks).
One of the best things that happened was in Butte, Montana. There was a small audience (large as a percentage of the Butte population). One of the 34 cowboys and cowgirls who showed up hooted out what sounded very much like an extremely loud beer burp. It must be mentioned that Butte is one of the few cities where possession and consumption of open containers of alcoholic beverages are allowed on the street. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) Being somewhat bored with the same old spiel, Coolie asked her (he thought it was a “her”) if she had another bottle. Well, this turned into a drunken beer fest, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since 1876 in Stuttgart.
Even Brownstein partook. And no one remembered what happened. Which was for the best.
An only child idealizes the experience of a sibling. I have always yearned for a sister; but what does “sister” really mean to me? I can riff on it: “weak sister” comes first to mind – that denigration which has no male counterpart, no “weak brother.” By invoking it, it puts all women in their “place.”
Of course, there is also a “sob sister.” You know, an overly sentimental woman. Overly sentimental, a notion that has at its base the lack of male emotionality – given as the norm.
And for me, there is also “Sister Corso.” Now that requires a special explanation. Growing up in a three-family house in Brooklyn, owned by the Corso’s, I knew the eldest Corso daughter only as Sister Corso. I don’t doubt that she had a first name, but I never heard it. No, she wasn’t a nun. But her designation was ironclad. She was the sister.
And speaking of nuns, the Sisters are – even to a little Jewish girl – exceptional human beings. Somehow, their sacrifice and sanctimony translate across religious lines. I’ve only ever met one nun, and she was in camo – no habit. When I discovered that the pleasant woman I had been talking to was a Sister, I felt the overwhelming urge to cross myself…not something my forebears would take too kindly.
In my deepest reverie, I still wish for a girl who would be connected to me by blood; someone who could share my experience of parents and family and history and place…and gender. I can’t possibly paint this fantasy with a realistic brush, although I certainly know many people who are less than fond of their sisters. My fantasy is too old, too cherished for that bit of objectivity.
The closest I have come – and ever will come – to the experience of “sister” is my best friend, Carole. In most ways, except for the early history and the “blood” part, she is the sister of my heart, the one with whom I can be all parts of myself, the one who is always there. The one I love most of all.
The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 53
I’m sure there has been much concern about Coolie’s recent silence. Well, you were all right to be worried. He’s had a time.
It was touch and go. Would he make it? Would he return? And, if he did, would we recognize him? Scary! Shocking? Encouraging you to read more?
The day had started off innocently enough; just a tromp through the City with Brownstein occasionally flying off for a little kamikaze practice. Then it happened.
A Swoop descended on the two caballeros. What’s a Swoop? Well, I’m not sure you really want to know. Yes, of course, I’m going to tell you. There wouldn’t be much of a story if I refrained.
A Swoop is a semi-animate entity that is partly constructed and partly born on the seventh star of a solar system on the far side of the known universe. Side. Yes, that’s not a representational term. But, you know what I mean, right?
Back to the Swoop. It’s part of a hive mind that has a long history of anti-social acts in the service of alleviating boredom. Sort of like the kids you might find hanging out in the projects. Only these “kids” are 83% hi-tensile morgonium (you can’t scratch it with a diamond), and are completely devoid of empathy. They are driven by their collective directive which, on this particular day, could be summarized with one word: capture. Who or what was not particularly delineated.
So the Swoop in question (we might think of it as 438 of 67 million. Think “seven of nine,” in case that’s confusing) barreled through the various intervening galaxies, on it’s mission. It was attracted to a singular entity on the third planet from the sun in the eight-planet solar system in the Milky Way.
You know who was so cool that he was detectable from anywhere in space. If the Swoop could think (as we know it), it would have thought: Oh, you’re so cool; let me see if I can uncool you. I bet I can. But the Swoop didn’t really have that capacity; rather, there was the echoing awareness that was the joint mind of the hive.
Before Brownstein could actually take note of the danger approaching, it was a done deal. The Swoop swooped down and enclosed both Coolie and a seriously pissed off pooch in its 15-foot-long talons which it then retracted inside its impermeable body.
What the hey! was never said in a more heartfelt manner. It was dark inside the Swoop and Coolie was feeling only the barest trace of his stock coolness. He was starting to sweat. Brownstein (can we hope for TTR?) was in mental fast forward mode, trying to figure a way out. Time passed. Or rather the perception of that which is merely an illusion passed. A whole long lot of it.
Both Coolie and Brown were aware of something that was a cross between a sound and a smell. We could call it a smound…but that would be really dumb. Anyway they sensed it. And “it” was coming for them. That was a certainty. Brownstein was able to do a quick diagnostic on the smound (I didn’t say I wasn’t going to use the dumb term) and could identify its caustic and fully toxic nature.
“Oh, shoot, my friend. We are gonners in about 13 seconds at the present rate of the approaching smound. I mean we’re toast; we will buy the farm; we are over; we are caput.” It was unlike Brownstein to become hysterical, and Coolie realized that for once it was up to him to save the day. If there actually was to be a day to save.
He dug down. Down past the cheeseburgers they had stopped for after breakfast; down past his wonky elbow that had been occupying much of his attention; down past the reverie about to continue to be or not to be President of the US of A. Down, I say. Deep down, into his coolness reservoir. And there, in a moment of cool clarity, he saw the answer.
Tickling. When you can’t appeal to the mind, and you can’t overwhelm the body by force, what’s left? Tickling.
Brownstein, of course, received the message and immediately groked that it was their only potential salvation.
The Swoop hadn’t bothered to bind them in any way – since it was not concerned about these puny beings’ capacity to cause any harm – so their ten fingers and four paws were free to begin the most serious ticklefest that ever took place. Gently, they cautioned each other.
In the illusion of time, what would have been four minutes and sixteen seconds late, the Swoop started to twitch; then it was definitely writhing. The tickle tactic was an act of genius insight on Coolstein’s part, since it is the ONLY physical thing that Swoops can’t abide.
So, 438 began to freak out as only a Swoop can – zipping hither and yon (and I really mean yon) until it experienced the moment before overload. The hive mind messaged: RELEASE RELEASE, and it expelled our heroes with interstellar alacrity.
But they weren’t exactly in their neighborhood. No. They were in deep space (whatever that means) at the edge of a black hole.
“Here goes…” said Brownstein thoughtfully, as they were pulled into a non-oriented place-time dis-continuum.
In unison and at a pitch that occupied that special frequency which no one can fully explain, they cried out: MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!
Mothership, who was fortuitously in the vicinity (see how I can make things happen?) heard their call and cruised over to their exit point. “Now, you kids, what have you been up to? No, don’t tell me, I can see Swoop all over you. Haven’t I ever told you not to play with those bad entities?” She was reenacting a scene from her favorite old television show, Mother Knows Best.
Within no time (we’ve got a theme going here) she reinstalled a feeling of safety in them, fed them a nice meal, and deposited them outside She Shop on St. Marks Place.
“Love you. Be good.” These were here parting words and she warped away. She was a good mother, but a minimalist.
My favorite place on Earth is Fire Island. I’ve been to beaches around the world (doesn’t that sound fancy?), but they all fall short for me. Because they are not Fire Island. There’s something about the combination of the wide expanse of beach and the ferocity of the Atlantic ocean; the charm of the cottages and the natural flora; the ferry ride there and back and the lack of commerce (in Fair Harbor, my preferred town, there are just two stores). It all works perfectly for me.
So, because this has been the only beachless summer in memory, plans must be made asap to lock down some beach time for next year. Long, luxuriating time without have-to’s and shoulds – unless you want to call “I should really take a walk by the water” a should.
Sure, it will be a long winter, but the promise of a season by the sand dunes eases the chill and the inevitable feelings of being trapped. As it is said, next year in Jerusalem. My Jerusalem is a small strip of water-lapped heaven, a barrier island parallel to the south coast of Long Island. Cars are not welcome, but people are.
The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 52
It was the dawn of a new day for Mr. Coolstein. Eyes still closed – because he liked to prolong the illusion of sleep for as long as possible – he scuffed his bunny-slipper clad feet in the direction of the Stein bathroom. Ablutions performed, he shlunked down at the table where a cup of tepid coffee was waiting. Sylvie was all bright-eyed and “Morning, Son!”
“Relatives coming today, remember?” Relatives was the all-purpose word used when anyone from her side of the family was being mentioned. If they were related to Morris, she would just say: Morris’s sister or cousin or aunt. Relatives was meant to induce a state of obligation, ie. Stay here and visit (like a good son).
Our boy was wearing a pair of youcantmanipulateme earplugs (a new product he was test-driving before offering for sale in The Shop. The way they worked was to proactively block out any words that formed a guilt-inducing or pressuring phrase. So, what Coolie heard was: Morning, Son…today.
He opened one eye to half mast and muttered, “Morning, Sylvie.” Which was not how she like to be addressed. It was “Mom” or most preferably, “Mommy”. (He could add the “dearest” if he was so inclined.)
“How about some nice scrambled eggs?” Sylvie smiled sweetly, as if she were unaware of the ultimately inedible nature of the poor unborn chicken product she was about to concoct. She wasn’t, you see. Remember the sadism factor.
This produced the reality-based gag reflex it always did and, all at once, Coolie was wide awake and fleeing the scene of the crime-to-be.
“Whew!” said Brownstein, who had been sleeping in a hammock slung across the width of Coolie’s room, “You dodged that bullet. The scrambled egg massacre of 1994 is still fresh in our minds, isn’t it?” It was in the autumn of that year that Sylvie decided to volunteer to be a line cook at a men’s shelter on Thanksgiving. And yes, you might well ask, why would anyone be cooking – or eating – scrambled eggs on Thanksgiving? Sylvie has powers to befuddle and guilt even strangers. So about thirty guys added a dollop of her slightly green eggs (no ham) to their holiday plates. They were dead within twenty minutes, but the coroner was never fully able to point the finger at the sweet lady who was crying and wringing her hands and had to be escorted home.
But Morris knew immediately – as did anyone who had ever eaten at the Stein residence. “WHAT DID YOU DO? NOT THE EGGS! YOU HAVE TO BE STOPPED!” were the words he spoke before he lost his fix on where and who he was. For the next six days, he mewed like the cat he probably really was, and lapped milk from a dish on the floor.
Brownstein had gotten Coolie out of the apartment tout de suite.
There was one thing you sort of had to admire about Sylvie: She never gave up. Of course, the nefariousness of her true endeavors was bone-chilling…but still admirable.
After a pit stop at the diner around the corner, and a heart warming plate of pancakes and sausage (just a fruit cup for Brownstein), the two set off to see what adventures the day would cough up.
Something good was coming.