AREN’T WE HAVING A LOVELY SPRING?

No, really. When has spring in New York City hung around for more than a minute?

It’s a standard call and response in our burg: “It’s hot already and it’s only April/May.” “What happened to spring?” I’ve said it, you’ve said it, we all have said it, because we are typically cast into the hot and humid before we can inhale more than a little of cool green winter’s over – let’s get ready for summer.

But here we are, week after week of something moderate – a word that is so seldom used in the Extreme Apple. Does this make everyone happy? Are you kidding? We (and I must include myself here) are committed to the fault-finding mission that gives our city life definition. So…what are we complaining about?

– De Blasio (that would be a general heading) and the many things we can blame on him. (He probably deserves it.)

  • There’s the uptick in violent street crime on the UWS. Not very funny.
  • There is the deteriorating condition of the streets: both sidewalk and gutter.
  • There is – of course – the faint and growing stench of corruption. But you know how that is – when a smell is ubiquitous you kind of stop smelling it.

– Too little time, too much to do. (In truth, New Yorkers wear their busier-than-anyone-else-ness as a badge of honor. It makes us all feel special.)

– Can you believe what it costs? (It could be almost anything: we pay through the nose across the spectrum. Another one of our slightly twisted badges of honor.)

I’m sure you can think of a few more things (feel free to share them with me – I’ll add them to the list).

Grumble, grumble. Bitch, bitch. That’s the verbal coin of the realm. When a neighbor greets me with a sunny smile and exclaims over the beauteousness of the day, my first reaction is to wonder if they have had a psychotic break. My second is to smile fatuously in apparent agreement. Yep. I’m a fake, too.

There is a part of me that yearns to break free of the New York state of mind, and revel in the seasons and Mother Nature and the like. (What, exactly, is “the like?”) But even if I could peel off the reflexive whining, I would be hard-pressed to act like a (you should pardon the expression) regular American, and put a positive spin on things. It’s my Brooklyn roots: they would rise up and choke the living breath right out of me, all the while whispering: Whatsamatta wit you? Are you outta your freakin’ mind?

I owe it to my karass to maintain a jaundiced eye, an impregnable bullshit detector. It’s how I am built.

So, yeah, yeah: sunshine, birds chirping, gentle breezes. Whatever.

FYI: my new science fiction novel, RAYMÒN AND SUNSHINE, is available on amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/Raym%C3%B2n-Sunshine-Karen-Krett/dp/0692660887/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461866431&sr=8-1&keywords=krett+sunshine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AS I WALK ALONG, I WONDER…WHAT WENT WRONG…

Whoever gets the above reference wins. Don’t ask me what you win. You just win.

As I walk around the neighborhood wearing the alarming-for-some and confusing-for-others tee shirt with the words: WHO IS COOLIE COOLSTEIN (on the front) and DON’T KILL YOU NEIGHBOR (on the back), I get sidelong glances that disappear if I try to engage them, stone-faced “I don’t see anything” non-looks, and (mercifully) the very rare double look – first at the shirt and then a smile at me. It is beyond rare that anyone says anything to me in response to what they see.

This is Manhattan and most everyone is playing the role of too cool to care. Of course, the irony is blatant. Too cool to notice Coolie? What would Coolie do in a comparable situation?

He would goggle. No, not google. Goggle. He would look with wonder and question in his eyes. He would say (very politely – he is a good boy, after all), “Excuse me. But your shirt says ‘Coolie Coolstein.’ That’s me!! And I would never kill my neighbor. Even if I had one.”

So, why are my UWS brethren and sistren (??) so snotty/snooty/above it all? One word answer: insecurity. It’s the hallmark of the insecure to overdo the cool. The truly cool (like Mr. Coolstein) aren’t afraid of not knowing nor are they embarrassed by their wish to find out.

How did it all come to this, this pretense of know-it-all-ness?

I remember the upper west side in the late 1970’s. It was a little bit like the wild west if the wild west were sort of vacant and burned out looking and a mix of hard-core unfriendly denizens and earnest adventurers from the upper east side.

I used to go to a bar called “Marvin Gardens” where everybody knew your name. I spent many an afternoon and evening hanging out (that’s what we did in the 70’s) with friends – both old and new – coming in and out. Not that much drinking was going on. There was great bar food: burgers and mussels in wine sauce. It was a complete experience.

Had Coolie and the tee shirt existed back then, it would have been an occasion for joy and hilarity. The rolling community would have embraced him/it/us. Yes. I’m doing ‘the good ole days.’ They really were.

The gentrification of the UWS bleached out much of its charm and energy. Now it’s merely a shadow of it’s former self, with the occasional fleeting waft of spunky grunge that was the heart of the neighborhood once upon a time.

 

Death of Coolie: Coolie cooling his heels. Can it be?

The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 80

In the interspacial gap since the last time we saw Coolie (on his way – so to speak – to Askersund), much has happened to our favorite boy. Let’s get right to it, shall we? He crossed the great divide; he shuffled off the mortal coil; he bought the farm; he joined the invisible choir; he kicked the bucket. Crossing, shuffling, buying, joining, kicking: a busy boy, no?

I can hear the sobbing. The choked sounds of, “Say it isn’t so, O’ Karen.”

Okay. It isn’t so. But Coolie has had an experience that – you will soon come to understand – is confusingly similar to dying.

Let’s talk about Askersand a bit. This is a spa unlike any you’ve heard of before. They have a radical approach to health. As Swedes do now and again, they approach things in a unique way. For them, life and death must always be conceived of in tandem. “No death, no life (Ingen död , inget liv),” is the saying that every little Swedish girl and boy learns beginning at the tender age of one year old, in förskola (pre-school). There’s a sophistication, heavily tinged with melancholy, which pervades the Swedish psyche.

So, when Coolie arrived at the spa (accompanied, of course, by Mickey, Blue, and the ever-popular Brownstein), he was immediately “steered” into the Cooling Room. How appropriate, he thought, as Brownstein whispered the translation of the sign, KYLRUM, in his right ear. The rest of the gang was left to wait on the hard wooden benches generously placed in the anteroom. The magnificent and always-capable Brownstein slipped – like a wisp of steam rising from the blocks of ice in the Kylrum – under the slab of oak that served as a door.

“What’s the key, Brown? Give me the key to dealing with this extreme coolness,” Coolie managed to say through his chattering teeth.

“It’s all in the heels. Follow my instructions and you will become one with the cold. This will work, I promise.”

All Coolie could do at that point was blink his eyes. Nothing else was moving.

“Breathe the cold in as deeply as you can. No. Do it! Yes, it will hurt a bit. But just for a moment. As you breathe, think the word ‘DOWN.’ That’s all you have to do.”

Only because of their long history and the absolute trust Coolie had in the wizardly canine, did he go along with these fakakta instructions. Almost at once (but not before he felt the sharpest zap of hot/freeze running through his body), there was a sensation in his heels that built rapidly.

Coolie’s lips and jaw immediately loosened up and he said, “Is this what cooling your heels means, B?”

He couldn’t quite hear the answer because all systems shut down for a full minute while the corrective cooling measures took their toll.

Brownstein shape-shifted into a goose-down comforter and wrapped around the young – but technically dead – Coolstein. In that aperture intervening betwixt life and death, there was an unexpected infusion of something very foreign to Coolie J. It was a quick succession of cosmic sheets of knowing. The perceived form taking its cue from the blanketing effect Brownstein had created.

Yes. All is interconnected and – you could say (if you were prone to saying such things) – all is one.

That was, in fact, the sum and total of the new knowing which now found its way into Coolie’s formerly fragile grasp of reality.

Coolie’s eyes shone with the new groking (yes: Stranger In A Strange Land).

The new, improved, once dead, and now living more fiercely than ever before, Coolie Coolstein was back, baby.

(Sorry, George, for using your “baby.”)

 

Walking in the cold spring

Out for a meandering walk on an unprogrammed Saturday. The cherry blossom trees on my block were oblivious to the 32-degree temperature on this April day. That both cheered and confused me. Nature knows, right? Or is there a disconnect that will lead to a bad frozen end for these lovely blossoms?

My attention was immediately drawn away from this natural quandary to something far less ambiguous. A tall mid-thirties man was walking toward me with a sprite of a toddler girl on his shoulders. She was imperious, queen of all she surveyed. As we passed, I looked up to her greater height and said hello. She acknowledged me with a regal nod. A smile was not bestowed.

Thoughts of my father came rushing in. While I don’t have any specific memories of being carried in a similar way, I recalled his wish for me to be at the top of my ability in all things. Toward that end, he taught me to swim when I was just a tadpole. In the ocean. If you can swim there, you can swim anywhere.

A frequent thought these days, as I wait not too patiently for winter to give it up already, is of the July in Fire Island plan that is in place. Just thinking about that favorite spot on earth calms me and makes the path to summer seem straighter and shorter.

Talking to dogs in my doorway

Growing up we always had a dog. Sometimes it didn’t last long – there were some fairly dire end games…

There was the day I came home from school to discover that Toasty, the Boxer we had adopted when the relative for whom she had been a present could no longer keep her, had fully manifested her anger at being left alone. She had ripped asunder the down pillows that had been on my parents bed; she had smashed to small bits the very extensive collection of 78 and 33 and 1/3 rpm records my mother and father had collected over many decades. There were feathers and plastic from ceiling to floor. Toasty was immediately relocated to a farm in Pennsylvania.

The first dog – when I was just a toddler – was Black Mike. He was a Spaniel and he had a great appetite. One evening my mother was called away for a moment, just as she had turned the steaks in the broiler. She left it open. She was going to be right back. Black Mike was like a ninja: he swiped the steaks and devoured them before she realized what was going on. There he was, in the corner, licking his chops. Bones were the only evidence.

The next dog was Taffy, she was a Cocker Spaniel. Sweet of disposition, and lovely to look at, she had many admirers in the neighborhood. One warm spring day my parents and I were outside. My father was okay with taking Taffy off the leash – she was playing with one of her four-legged friends. The two dogs chased each other in an ever-widening circle. Just as that circle expanded to include the gutter (that’s what we call the street in Brooklyn), Taffy was hit by a car; it couldn’t brake in time. She died instantly. I am told that I ran into the street and fell sobbing on her still warm body. I don’t recall. I don’t think I want to.

I often think about getting a dog, but I haven’t been able to get past my reluctance to scoop up poop – which is the law of the land in Manhattan. There are many dogs in my building and, because my apartment in on the lobby floor right next to the elevator, I have frequent canine encounters. Often, when I open my door to let in a patient, there is a pooch standing there. I always say hello. They always put a nose across my threshold. There’s quite a variety and I have my favorite: the big, soulful blond Labrador Retriever. I’m also partial to the crystal-eyed Husky. And there’s a Bernese Mountain Dog I admire greatly.

The dog that recently stole my heart is not a resident, however. One of my patients brought her French Bulldog to session (dogs and babies are always welcome). This was a seriously robust no-nonsense animal, whimsically named Potato. It was hard not to just pet the dog; I had to give myself a stern talking-to in order to stay focused on the therapeutic work. I have always felt that the dogs that visit during a therapy session function intuitively as co-therapists. Potato was no exception. He exuded calm and his owner was demonstrably more centered in his presence.

 

Loose lips and politics

We are in the midst of a dangerous season. It will last at least until November. The danger is not to the nation or to the geopolitical well being of the world. No. It’s a danger lurking within and without all relationships: family, friends, and even those special close ties that you trust will last forever.

Perspective leaves town for the duration as we take political positions that are not necessarily well thought out or even really our own. We drink the Kool-Aid of our cohorts and the media; we apparently rouse ourselves from our typically narcissistic existences and take a “stand.” Of course, this year we have such a fine selection of choices. Now I’ve offended everyone! At least I’m an equal opportunity offender.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the decades that your relationships have lasted. Like a pin pricking even the largest balloon, one stray unedited word can lead to a collapse that can bring down the mightiest structure. You might think you’re just joking, but there is a sense of humor virus attacking a huge swath of the folks out there. Your “light” comments can quickly and literally become an outrage.

I urge you all – in order to survive this thin-skinned time – to consider your words carefully. If in doubt, leave it out. That would be the mantra to live by. A jesting or clever retort may feel good in the moment, but – if you are hurting the feelings or insulting a person you care about – it is better off suppressed.

I’M THE SMOKING MAN

There is a character in the series The X-Files. Among other things, he was an unpublished author. He had a room papered in rejection letters from would-be publishers and literary agents. Me too. I just haven’t put them on the wall.

The process of submission of a work of fiction or non-fiction is not for the faint of heart. One must be able, like an aspiring actor, to take a lot of rejection. I’m a very organized person (read: a bit overly-zealous in that realm). I keep files with copies of the letters of submission and the responses for the five books I have written (so far). Why? In a strange way, in order to move forward and not succumb to hopelessness, I need to keep track of the process.

I am now face to face with something new. That, you might think, can only be good. Well…objectively, that’s true. My most recent book, Raymòn and Sunshine, a future-based science fiction story about the relationship between an autistic man and a female android, is about to receive some serious publicity. Great. Exciting. Can’t wait. Yep. All true, but so is: Oh, no! What if I get I have wanted for so long? How will my life change? How will I change? Can I change? And then there’s the inchoate fear of the much-yearned-for unknown.

My smart brain (as opposed to my dinosaur brain) says: Bring it on. This is what I need and deserve. But hiding under the covers seems equally valid.

COOLIE IN THE SPRINGTIME

The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 79

Where has that boy been? I know you’ve been asking each other. Sorry, if I’ve caused any anxiety.

Coolie has been getting ready. And that takes some doing, since – by nature – he is an in-the-moment kind of guy. But, at this time of year, Coolie takes stock. He tries to get a running start. He inhales (and exhales too – not to worry). What’s he getting ready for?

SPRINGSUMMER

That’s how he thinks of the seasons that are warmer and greener and friendlier to his sweet spirit. Now, he wouldn’t say a bad word against winter or fall. Never. He’s too nice for that. But, if we ask Brownstein (who always knows what our lad is really feeling, and will often be the daring voice of forthcomingness -I just made that word up, thank you), he would tell you that Coolie feels chilly toward the cold.

Blue and Mickey have been getting in gear for the season, too. It looks like Blue is going with a new hair color (something in the bombshell blond tone) and Mickey got a new pair of high tops. It’s a Friday, and it’s April Fool’s Day, so the crew felt animated to go out into the world and have some fun. Brownstein, ever the voice of reason, is also the instigator of tricks. He whispered in Coolie’s ear:

“What would Sylvie and Morris think if you redecorated the apartment while they were out grocery shopping?”

“I think they would go gaga. I’m not sure if that would be in a good way or not, but it seems like it would be fun to find out.” (Here we have a rare look into the devilish side of the cool one).

And so, at about 1:45, when Coolie knew the weekly marketing would be underway, he stealthily entered the somewhat dusty apartment. The furnishings – which had been new in 1964 – were (to put it kindly) well worn. With just under two hours to complete the transformation, Coolie gave the other three amigos some time warp tea. Now time was (you should excuse the expression) their bitch.

First, the five spacious upper west side rooms were completely cleared. Everything was moved down to the basement where the always friendly super was happy receive the goods. Next Brownstein did a little wizardly painting – no one could actually see him do it, but within a few minutes the rooms were glowing, glossy and colorful: a red kitchen, a lemon yellow dining room, a lovely scarlet bedroom and a teal one, and – la pièce de résistance – a Barbie-blue living room. Oh, and the bathroom was a nice bright orange.

Mickey knew someone who knew someone in the wholesale furniture business, so he procured some very sleek and modern furniture. The clean low lines of the new couch and chairs screamed “au courant” – not something that was typically in the Stein lexicon. The kitchen table and chairs were highly polished wood and also very spare in their design. In the bedrooms, replacing the saggy beds and scratched dressers, were deep, firm mattresses with multi-colored bedspreads which picked up the wall colorings. New dressers and lamps were set up and Morris and Sylvie’s well-frayed clothing was neatly folded and put away.

Brownstein offered to be lookout and just as the final touches were completed Coolie heard a telepathic bark which he easily translated as: “They’re here!”

With a giant anticipatory grin, Coolie opened the door as his human parents got off the elevator, schlepping four big bags of groceries.

“We’ll take those,” he said giving Mickey a little shove in their direction. “There’s a big surprise for you.”

The terror immediately filling Sylvie’s and Mickey’s eyes went unnoticed (except by Brownstein, who thought, Uh oh, this isn’t going to be exactly what Coolie is expecting. I’d better be ready to rescue him at a moment’s notice.)

 To say the Stein’s were speechless doesn’t begin to tell it. They exclaimed and “oy’d” quite shrilly and for quite a long while. Sylvie kept running from room to room saying: “Where is my…” “Oy gevolt, my things, my things…” Morris, on the other hand, stayed still. He was under the coffee table, which was quite a feat, since it was just a few inches from the ground. He flattened himself out to a remarkable degree and there he lay, yelling aloud every few seconds: “Help! It’s all over! Someone help me! I can’t breathe!”

Well, it was true that his chest was compressed and it must have been hard to take a breath. Coolie stood watching and absorbing for a few long minutes. He turned hurt and confused eyes to Brownstein TTR who said simply: “In life, young Coolie, even the most heartfelt gifts are not appreciated. I think it’s time to fly…”

And, with that (and with Mickey and Blue each holding one of his hands), Brownstein raised the living room window and they all flew out. Next stop would be some serious recovery at a little know spa in the Swedish town of Askersund. A health and well-being team was waiting for them.

TBC