Copyright of the Soul

In addition to buying car seats, bassinets, clothes, carriages, thermometers, infant tubs, diapers, mobiles, blankets, toys; thinking of names, going to birthing classes, finding pediatricians and gaming daycare scenarios, another issue is pressing on my harried consciousness – will I take pictures in the delivery room?

Many people, including my wife, think this is a no-brainer. Of course you will! But I’m not so sure.

It has nothing to do with propriety. I wouldn’t dream of snapping pics from the obstetrician’s vantage point. That’s a good way to get choked out by a hormone raging spouse. But do I really want to spend the first seconds of my child’s life, a time that will never come again, trying to figure out the exposure settings on a camera?

I’ve never been one to take pictures. I got a digital camera for Christmas but never used it. Now it sits in megapixel obsolescence in a desk drawer. I’ve also never liked having my picture taken – a fact that aggravates my wife to no end. If you look at snaps of me as a child, I’m withdrawn, even fearful – as if I was some pygmy in the Amazonian jungle fearful the alchemy of light and celluloid would somehow capture a piece of my soul.

As a result, much of my adult life went undocumented. I have few pictures of my time in seminary, vacations went unrecorded and I’ll be damned if I can find a single picture of my time as a waiter. The obvious exception was all the publicity photos and vids when my books came out. For the most part, I’m a figure lurking in the background of other peoples’ photo albums.

My wife, Annie, however, is a ferocious photographer. She owns a very expensive digital camera and can do wonders with Photoshop. Whereas you could stick all the pictures I’ve taken on half a single memory stick, her multi-terabyte collection requires a server farm. She gets the urge to record things, I do not. I guess opposites do attract.

Sure, I’ve taken pictures of my dog, my wife standing on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, but those are exceptions. When I see something I want to remember I just look at it. I think scrambling for a camera interferes with the memory making process. Today, with camera phones, Instagram, You Tube, Facebook, Pinterest, and Flickr people are photo archiving their lives. Do we really need to take pictures of an entree in a restaurant? Do we need a slick video production of a baby’s first steps complete with a cutesy soundtrack? We’re offloading our memories onto the Internet and, as some studies suggest, we are weakening our natural ability to recall the very memories we seek to capture.

There have been times in my life when I saw something and realized that image would be in my mind until the day I die – a meteor storm while camping in the mountains, a naked girl lying in the moonlight, The Twin Towers burning, my Dad in the recovery room after heart surgery, my dog snoozing in his favorite chair, a woman’s face when I told her I didn’t love her, my wife in her wedding dress, a person dying of AIDS, the skyline of New York shrouded in fog, watching seals play in La Jolla, gondoliers on the Grand Canal, the seductive evening sprawl of Vegas, rocketing down Laurel Canyon Boulevard, my wife running up the street because she was late for our second date, our first kiss, a woman dying in front of me, getting a toy firehouse for Christmas, monks chanting the Hours, a boy I punched, the dark eyes of a violent psychopath, my nephew only an hour old, my friend dying of cancer, eyeball to eyeball with a majestic buck in the forest, Mom making paper hats and the raucous crowd at the first ball game my dad took me to in 1974. All these images and more are seared into my brain, no camera needed.

Of course, people who eschew photography can be as annoying as those media snobs who say they don’t own a T.V. or only watch PBS. I’m well aware of photography’s ability to capture beauty and pathos, to shed light into dark corners and literally change our view of the world. It is an art form to be respected – and something my wife does extremely well. But I wish people would just stop clicking their iPhones for a moment and see reality unadulterated. Enjoy dawn in the Piazza San Marco with your camera in its bag. Give that gustatory delight its privacy. Capture images with your mind – a place where the NSA won’t find them, Facebook can’t sell them and they’re copyrighted with your soul.

Oh don’t worry, they’ll be plenty of pictures of my little girl, but not in her first moment, the font of all her moments to come, Some things are too sacred for pictures.

That moment is just for my wife and me.

This Is News?

These texts greeted me when I checked my cell-phone this morning.

“You’re all on the internet!! For your Biden’s blunder about the Superbowl! Caught it on Fox News last night!”

 “Way to make the VP look stupid, bro. LOL!!!”

Groaning I go to Google News, search for “Biden and Superbowl” and am rewarded with headlines reading, Joe Biden Isn’t Sure How the Superbowl Works and Biden Doesn’t Know Location of 2014 Superbowl. Just great.

How did this all come about? I was invited to participate in an online Q&A session with the VP about immigration sponsored by Skype and Bing. Since I don’t get to talk to the Vice-President everyday I jumped at the chance. Of course, I flubbed my lines. You’d think after sailing through interviews with Oprah and Matt Lauer I’d have my media shtick down cold. But those people aren’t a heartbeat away from getting their mitts on the nuclear launch codes so I guess I was a little star-struck. But I recovered and finished asking whether a guest worker program for restaurant employees was feasible.

After the co-participant, Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, finished answering my question there was a bit of awkward silence. Being a seasoned politician, Biden stepped in to fill the gap.

“I think she just answered the question old buddy,” the VP said. “What part of New Jersey are you from?”

Most people don’t know Jersey’s geography so; when I meet strangers I tell them I live next to Giants Stadium. It’s about a mile from my house and lets people know I live in the NYC area.

“Right by Giants Stadium, Mr. Vice-President,” I said, using my go to answer. “Home of the Superbowl.”

“Home of the Superbowl?” the VP said chuckling. “All right, maybe not this year. We’ll have to talk about that.”

The Superbowl IS at Giants Stadium this February and now the news is proclaiming the VP a football ignoramus and the Twitterverse is in full Biden bashing mode. For the record, I was not trying to trip up the Vice-President of the United States. But I’ve got to ask – is this really news?

A few hours later I discussed this dust up with my friend Anton, a guy who’s so conservative that he thinks Pope Francis is a Communist. It’s safe to say he’s no fan of the Vice-President.

“Jesus,” Anton said after I showed him the video. “The guy’s just talking about how the Giants suck. He’s not talking about where the Superbowl is being played.”

“So if this was some regular guy we were talking to in a bar,” I said, “We’d know he’s saying the Giant’s chances of getting into the Superbowl are infinitesimal, not that he didn’t know where the Superbowl was being played.”


“So why do you think this blew up?”

“Because, Steve,” Anton said. “The news isn’t news anymore. It’s all about titillation and making people look stupid. And they do that on both sides (Of the political spectrum.)”

I’m not defending the Vice-President. He’s well known for his propensity to trip on his tongue and has made sports related gaffes in the past – but this is not news. If a super Republican like Anton can understand what the VP meant, why didn’t all the crowing bloggers, reporters and Twitterers do a little digging and realize the Giants are a sad 5-8?

Because they don’t care. They didn’t take the time to consider that Biden might have been referring to the Giants’ abysmal record, not where the Superbowl was being played.  They just wanted to make noise and get noticed.

News organizations are a shadow of their former selves. Reporters have been laid off en masse, investigative reporting budgets have been slashed and true news stories – the stuff of Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamil and Mike Wallace are hard to come by. Now we have shrill talking heads, paid and unpaid bloggers competing for page views and multi-billion news conglomerates that get their headlines from Twitter. The dumbest shit stands out and gets reported. The media is always on the lookout for content to fill their pages, often without vetting it.

That’s messed up. When I watch Daniel Tosh skewer people about their online antics, I understand its entertainment. Heck, when I watch TMZ I understand it’s just another version of the National Enquirer. I’ve been the recipient of the media’s largesse in the past, and I’m not certainly a hard-hitting news story – but when I see this kind of crap in mainstream news outlets, I just want to puke.

I asked Biden if the Administration could do something to protect the thousands of undocumented restaurant workers who are overworked, underpaid, fired for getting sick and subject to the maniacal wrath of exploitative restaurant owners. Whatever your views on immigration are, I’m sure you don’t want to see your fellow human beings treated like cattle. That’s news, folks.

This shit is not.







Ten Thousand Shaves

It’s late Monday morning when I finally hit the shower. After the usual battle of soap versus stink, I towel off and start shaving.

Ever since I switched to an old-fashioned double edged razor, I’ve developed a bit of a shaving fetish (Not that kind, you perverts.) and now the bathroom shelf my wife installed for her stuff is lined with a varied collection of shaving soaps, creams, aftershaves and a stand for my razor and silver tipped badger hair brush. Marriage is compromise.

I whip some shaving soap into a lather and use the brush to rub it into my beard. Once I’m satisfied the lather’s not too runny or dry, I start shaving. Assuming a normal life span, I will spend approximately six months of my life performing this task. One website said a man will shave 20,000 times before he drops dead. I started shaving when I was sixteen so, discounting the time I sported a beard, I’ve shaved about 10,000 times. I’m halfway there.

While I’m afraid of pain, I’ve never been very afraid of death. Once I shuffle off my mortal coil I’ll either be singing with the seraphim or reduced to an oblivious pile of atoms. Any way you cut it, my problems will be over. But now, as I watch my wife burgeoning with new life, I have a new fear. How many shaves do I have left?

If I make it to the 20K average, my child will be almost thirty when I die. That bothers me because I’m 45 and still have my parents. I’d have made it to ninety to see my child reach the age I am now. That probably won’t happen. What’s worse, I could die while my child still needs me. Standing in my bathroom, I can hear the ticking of life’s clock.

As I remove the whiskers under my nose, I remember that this could be my last shave. That’d be a disaster. Looking at recent fatalities among people I’ve known, I could might get eaten up by cancer at forty-seven, felled by a heart attack at fifty-five or stroke out at sixty. If those fates befall me, I’d leave my child too soon. I guess it’s time to buy life insurance.

I reapply shaving lather and set my face up for a second pass. The area under my jawbone is problematic and requires a steady hand. Last night I found out a deranged man I recently dealt with had hidden a razor blade under his tongue. He could have whipped it out and cut my throat before I had time to react. Forget natural causes of death – there might be a knife, bullet, car, fist, iron-pipe or bomb out there with my name on it.

As I listen to my whiskers scrape off, I tell myself I’d take living to eighty. My child will be thirty-five then. Family longevity suggests I can make that number. C’mon. Let me live an extra 1800 shaves; let me be with my child 1800 more mornings. Great, now I’m bargaining with the cosmos over the bathroom sink.

Now I’m working on my third pass, when I shave against the grain for a baby smooth finish. My wife likes that. As the last of my whiskers fall beneath my blade, I think of Death’s scythe mowing down everything that ever existed. If I have a son, will I get to teach him how to shave? If I have a girl, will I get to warn her about boys who do? I might be a lump of matter moldering in a grave by then. Or maybe I shall watch this kid grow up from my perch in Elysium.

I rinse off my face with cold water, pat it dry and then splash on some bay rum – an old masculine scent. My possible daughter might fall for a guy who wears bay rum one day. Odds are good she’d fall in love with an older man. Freud wasn’t always wrong.

As I look at myself in the mirror, I see the grey threatening to overtake my hair. My children will know me in the autumn and winter of my life. If I spend my days anxiously looking at diminishing pages of the calendar, I will screw them up. That’s one of the challenges I will face. How will I handle it? I have no fucking clue. I’ll just have to deal with life as it comes. I just hope who I am will be enough. It had better be.

I rinse out my brush and razor and put them in their stand to dry, praying my baby gets to see me shave ten-thousand more times.

Big Data?

My driver’s license is about to expire so I grudgingly head over to the most feared bureaucracy in New Jersey – the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV. When I get there, I discover the line just to get into the building is a block long. The book I brought almost manages to kill the two hours I spend waiting. Almost.

“Number 142!” the clerk calls out. “Number 142!”

“Here,” I say, almost running towards the counter.

“ID and proof of residency, please,” the clerk says, not looking up from her terminal.

I hand over my passport, social security card, old driver’s license and a copy of my electric bill. Satisfied I am who I say I am, the clerk punches some numbers into her computer and says, “Okay, stand in the box to get your picture taken.”

Freshly shaved with a new haircut and wearing a nice shirt, I take up position in the box and smile.

“Take off your glasses, sir,” the clerk says. “And you can’t smile.”

“Why not?” I ask.

The clerk taps a sign next to the camera that reads “Facial Recognition System.”

“Are you kidding me?” I say.

“If you smile it throws of the computer.”

“Jesus. Talk about Big Brother.”

“You want a license or not?”

I know the moment my picture is taken, it will join millions of faces in a system accessible to law enforcement personnel. The rationale behind such programs is to root out identity thieves and insurance fraudsters, hunt down Al Qaeda operatives and catch bank robbers who forget to wear a ski mask.  I also know it will enable the government to track every move I make.

A guy who used to work for the Port Authority told me that when I drive into the Lincoln Tunnel, cameras are not only reading my license plate and comparing them to a list of wanted automobiles, but are also capturing an image of my face. “The cameras are so good,” he said, “They can count the change in your cup holder.” So, even if I leave my EZ-Pass at home, rip out OnStar and take the battery out of my cell phone, the government’s electronic gauntlet will still detect me going into the city. Not that I want to do anything nefarious, mind you, but does the FBI need to know I crossed the Hudson to grab a $26 burger at Minetta’s Tavern?

It’s a brave new world. Credit card companies can count the change in my pocket, Google Maps has a picture of my house, for-profit companies dissect my forays online, the post office scans my mail and, thanks to Mr. Snowden, whatever you think of him, I know all my phone calls and Internet searches are stored in some kind of vast database. Now Uncle Sam knows I have an affinity for MILFs in cheerleading outfits. Just great. But if I want to drive legally I have to acquiesce yet again to the power of The State.

“Take the picture,” I tell the clerk, and the results are monstrous. I’m usually told I look younger than my forty-five years, but the grumpy guy on my new license looks sixty – and has been absorbed into an NSA/CIA/FBI biometric super snooper program to boot.

Depressed, I go to my local cigar shop where I strike up a conversation with the local police chief.  ”Steve,” he says, after I tell him about my run in with the burgeoning security state, “In five years, you will have no expectation of privacy anywhere but your home.” After hearing that, I wonder if noon is too early to start drinking.

As I puff on my Maduro, the television news starts squawking about Anthony Weiner and his affinity for posting his penis online. For some reason, men love sharing pictures of their dicks with the world. I’ve never done so and I’m not sure what dark corner of male sexuality powers the compulsion, but if you look at sites like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snap Chat, you’ll realize the Web is veritable sausagefest.

Then an idea free-associates with my paranoid mind. If facial recognition is going to be part of our daily lives, why don’t we have penis identification software? Cockidentifcation?

Men already think their penises are special, but I’m sure the phallus of the human male had enough biometric identifiers that make it as unique as a fingerprint, iris or strand of DNA.  So if we analyze the data I’m sure there’s enough variances in length, girth, lack thereof, tapers, angles, shapes and bends to assemble a searchable database of dicks. Obviously, we’re talking about cataloging erect penises here. Flaccidly and shrinkage would only confuse the system – like glasses and smiling flummoxes facial recognition now. So how do we get all this tumescence online?

We already have an impressive collection of dick pics lurking on the world’s data servers. Putting names to those penises might be a start. Perhaps aggrieved females could put names to the unwanted cock shots they get and forward them to some future government agency. On second thought, I can see this being abused by pissed off drunken women nationwide. “Don’t call me back will you? I’m sending your prick to Guantanamo!”

I’m afraid we’d have to mandate some kind of cold and clinical nationwide dick inventory. Of course we’d have to use machines – no busty nurses with analog tools like tape measures, sorry. Too many dicks, too little time.  Maybe when a young man signs up for Selective Service, he’ll have to go to full mast for his country and stick his unit in the Federal Wangometer and register his johnson. Perhaps future trips to the DMV might involve porno mags and dropping your shorts. Or we could finally put those detested full body scanners in airports to good use. I’ll leave the logistics to others.

So what’s the benefit to this system? What’s the value of having every guy’s dong digitized and searchable? Glad you asked.

1. If you’ve ever used a dating website, you know that people send misrepresentative pictures all the time. If you send a picture of a penis that’s not your own to impress some woman on a sex hook up site – the computer will label your fraudulent weenie and boot you out of the system. That’ll prevent a lot of female dissatisfaction.

2. National security. Terrorists are invariably perverts. Remember all the porn they found in Osama’s bunker? Two minutes after these guys wrap up their You Tube rants about miniskirts and Western decadence, they’re spanking it to Girls Gone Wild. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine them posting pics of their dicks. Well, once the NSA’s penis sniffing algorithms spot a terrorist schlong getting Tweeted from an IP in The Hindu Kush, time to send in the Predator Drones. That’s what I call a hard target. Whacking tangos was never so much fun. Oh I could go on forever……

3. Could be used as an alternative ID – a guy never leaves his penis in his other pants. Maybe it could even be used as a passport. Like being able to pee standing up, just another advantage to being a dude. Who knew Visa stamps could be so kinky?

4. Pervy pols will get busted way quicker. “Eddie Escapade my ass! We know that’s you Anthony!”

5. Scientists could crunch the numbers and finally tell us if all those ethnic/racial stereotypes are really true.

6. Monetize the Internet for regular Joes. Why should porn sites, Google and You Tube make all the cash? If someone clicks on your penis pic, you get a micropayment. Micro might be a poor word choice, though. Perhaps a sliding scale. Hmmm.

7. Aid in prosecutions. Think how much faster the Bill Clinton thing would have gone.

8. The FBI would have a 10 Most Wanted Dicks Poster. And you wonder why your girlfriend always volunteers to buy stamps?

9. Market research. Condom makers will know why those Magnum sizes aren’t selling briskly. Maybe Madison Ave will find a guy who can cover the space between those two bathtubs.

10. It would make life easier for porn producers. “Jimmy Wad’s got the flu. Check the database for local talent!”

Like all sensitive information, a national dick database will have to be protected. God forbid the government uses it for illegal purposes. Cops will need a warrant before doing any search and uh, seizures, but let’s face it; the FISA court will find a way to pervert the Constitution. And I’m sure some whistleblower wannabe will get a job with the Federal Penis Data Initiative to “see what’s really going on,” steal the information, release it to the press and then seek asylum in Russia. Putin. What a dick.

An hour later, my cigar has gone cold and I finish typing this post on my iPad. I’m exhausted from thinking about so many synonyms for wieners. “What are you writing?” the police chief asks.

“Chief,” I say. “You don’t want to know.”.

The Hero’s Song

I was surfing the internet when I found a trailer for the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel. When I was done watching it I realized I had tears in my eyes.

As I get older, I find myself choking up more at things – just like my father. But it didn’t take much to figure out why my emotions were stirred. Yeah, I’ve always had a soft spot for The Supe, but it wasn’t just the thought of a guy in a cape generating sonic thunderclaps as he soared though the clouds – though that was wicked cool. No, it was something older, sacred and powerfully wrapped up in the DNA of world culture – the idea of a champion. The superman. The One.

The Song of the Hero.

The literatures of the world abound with tales of strong men tested to the limit but whose virtue remains unbroken. Religion is filled with prophesied figures that defeat death; free the oppressed and spread hope to the living. It’s an ancient archetype that Joseph Campbell explained better than I ever will.

Whether we admit it or not, we all yearn for a protector. We’re always on the lookout for a savior. The Hero is one of our oldest myths and it resonates throughout the human experience. And like all myths it developed from peoples’ need to assuage their greatest anxieties on a communal level. Stories have always been how we cope with our deepest fears and express our greatest hopes. We yearn for someone who is incorruptible, who can boldly go where we fear to tread.

Yet as we get older we realize we are weak and corruptible. We stumble and fall. Religions burn us, politicians lie to us, love withers and we become too jaded for our own good. We stop believing in people who are good for goodness’ sake. All motives are mixed and somebody’s always on the take. An overgrown Boy Scout running around in a costume looks ridiculous and naïve. That’s for children. That’s not how the world works.

But as I watched that clip, I was reminded The Hero is unstoppable. He has always been there for us. He has a thousand faces and his story has been told in a multitude of tongues. He is the personification of the best of us in spite of us. We all need to listen for his song.

We’ve heard that song when astronauts launched into the heavens and walked on the moon. We heard it when men raced into burning towers to save their fellow man and when a girl got shot fighting to educate her sisters. We’ve heard his call watching someone dive into a river to save drowning boy, staring open-mouthed at an athlete scoring an impossible point or when a scientist changes how we look at the world. Sometimes the song is a quiet one – a couple struggling to take care of their children, a person finally learning to forgive and move on.

Far from being a kid’s cartoon, The Hero calls us into the fullness of adulthood. He inspires us to follow his lead – to face our fears, grow up and, most importantly, to be of service to others. He prods us to accept the great dictum of life – that living for others is the only way to truly live.

When I have kids of my own, I know they will put a red towel around their shoulders and pretend to fly around the house. That’s because at bedtime I will have sung to them about a hero who is faster then a speeding bullet, more powerful and a locomotive and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Of course, when they are older and I am dead they’ll know it was only a story – but a good one. One they can turn to when the going gets tough, when they need inspiration to sing their own song.

I hope my children will always look to the heavens, secretly trying to catch a flash of red and blue thundering through the clouds. I hope they will always believe a man can fly.