Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Real Dick Clark

You see a lot of celebrities in New York, but the one I remember best was Dick Clark, even though it was a long time ago. I was standing in front of an office building at 40 West 57th Street waiting for a group of friends who I was going out to lunch with.

Down the sidewalk came Dick Clark with a stunningly beautiful young woman who was obviously a model and most like an aspiring actress as well. Three teenagers coming in the opposite direction noticed him and called out his name. He could have gotten away with a polite nod, or a quick hello; but instead he stopped and talked to them. He really had a conversation with them, and not in  some condescending  celebrity style.  He asked about what kind of music they liked who their favorite artists were, where they went to school, what kind of sports teams they followed.

The model looked very annoyed. She was undoubtedly used to being the center of attention wherever she traveled; but Dick Clark and the kids were engrossed in their conversation with each other.

There were no press people with Mr. Clark, and no one filming him, so he wasn’t trying to put on a show for T.V. He was just genuinely interested in talking with the kids. After they finished speaking he shook hands with each of the teenagers and thanked them for saying hello to him. They continued down the sidewalk chattering excitedly with each other, one of them literally jumping up and down from excitement.

Dick Clark and the model continued on their way to whatever meeting or luncheon they were going to. The model still had a scowl on her face. Dick Clark, on the other hand, was smiling from ear to ear. The happiest man in New York.

The Strangest Sound in New York

It was the sound of six or seven hundred people all inhaling their breath in shock simultaneously. Most writers would call that a gasp. But that’s not what it sounds like in real life. No one actually says “Gasp!” or screams out or cries. There is just the sound of air being sucked in as people try to comprehend what they are seeing.  I didn’t understand what was causing it until I looked up and saw the man in the air.

It was a beautiful summer’s Friday and I was rushing down the sidewalk on Park Avenue trying to get to Grand Central to catch the train after a very hard day at work.

The man was about 55 years old and was wearing an grey suit and was still holding on to the handle of his expensive leather briefcase. The cream colored BMW that hit him had probably been traveling about forty five miles an hour. It was a hit-and -run and the BMW was a half a block away while the man was still in the air.

He seemed to pause in mid air and then came crashing down to the street. I could swear that he came down faster than he went up, although I know that’s not possible.

The BMW did not get very far. It was rush hour in New York on a Friday afternoon.  The BMW reached a line of stopped traffic and the driver hopped out only to be surrounded by a crowd that had witnessed the accident. The crowd did not approach the driver, but continued to surround him while many phones called the police.  The driver was a man about twenty five in a sharply cut suit who seemed to be simultaneously crying and talking to himself while he paced around in circles. The hit pedestrian was lying on the ground and still moving also surrounded by a circle of people on phones.

Those of us outside either circle stood helplessly for  few minutes and then one by one wandered off. If we walked quickly enough we could still make our trains.

The Way Way Back – movie review

If you missed this comedy when it came out in July 2013, it is worth seeing on-line or via DVD. It is the story of a 14 year old boy Duncan (played by Liam James) who has to endure going on a summer vacation with his divorced mother and her new boyfriend (played by Steve Carell).

Steve Carell is noted for playing very likable characters such as his roles in “Date Night” and the T.V. show “The Office”. That’s why it will come as a shock to see him as a character who is basically  nasty with no redeeming features.

The movie accurately captures the overwhelming awkwardness of the average 14 year old boy. Too many comedies about high school students show them as completely self-assured and suave. Duncan, on the other hand is shy, tongue tied around girls, and easily embarrassed.  In one scene they all go out on Carell’s boat and Duncan is forced to be the only one to wear a life jacket which is mortifying for someone trying to look cool for the girls.

Duncan eventually gets a job at a local water park with the double entendre name “Water Wizz”.  The laid-back manager (played excellently by Sam Rockwell) takes him under his wing and together with the other park employees is able to change Duncan’s way of feeling about himself.

This is a feel good movie that will leave you with a smile, while also making you remember that the days of being a teenager weren’t really all that great.

Turbulence book review

Turbulence by Samit Basu published in 2013  is a fun science fiction novel set in modern day India. After taking the long plane ride from London to Delhi, some of the passengers discover over the next few weeks that they have developed special powers. The individual powers vary tremendously and have to do with whatever they happened to be dreaming about while sleeping on the plane.

Predictably, they end up splitting into two groups depending upon whether or not they want to use their power to help people, or for their own selfish ends.

This is a good book with a lot of action sequences, that never takes itself too seriously. The most interesting part is seeing what types of powers the people have developed. One of the more dangerous characters is a little girl who can take on the power of a T.V. anime character.  She is frightening since she does not realize how deadly she really is. There is also an aspiring  actress whose new power is that everyone she meets immediately likes her. It does not seem like much of a superpower, but turns out to be one of the most useful powers of all in a crowded urban environment.

This is a fast-moving fun read.

 

 

 

The Big Crowd -book review

The Big Crowd by Kevin Baker – published in 2013 is a historical novel set in New York City in the period just before and after World War II. It combines real and fictional characters. The main character is the flamboyant mayor Charlie O’Kane. He is closely based on the real-life William O’Dwyer who was New York City’s last Irish born mayor.

The book accurately portrays the energy and contrasts of New York at that time. Right after World War II, the Mayor of New York was theoretically the most powerful person in the most powerful city in the most powerful  country on Earth. But despite the supposed power, this was a time when the city was also run behind the scenes by other groups of  men. Union bosses, mobsters, and  policemen with their own agendas all vie for power against the likes of the real estate developer Robert Moses and Catholic Cardinal Spellman.

The book is told mostly from the perspective of Tom O’Kane the mayor’s brother. Tom loves his brother, but is concerned with the people who seem to be getting left behind in the great city’s progress. The longshoremen, the Negro population, the people in the Bronx who happen to be living where the new highways are going all have no place in the New York of the future.

The book contrasts Tom, who cares deeply about the underclasses, but can never do much for them, with the mayor, who argues that to make a change you first need to get the power, and to do that you have to make deals with a lot of different devils.

The author states that, “my goal was to depict New York in all the gaudy glory of its postwar heyday, and to sift to the bottom of what today remains some of its worst and mysterious public scandals.” In this well written riveting tale of New York, he has succeeded.

 

 

 

The Windup Girl – book review

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi – was published in 2009 and is a science fiction novel set in the future. The Earth’s polar ice caps have melted completely and the balance of power in the world has shifted to the Far East,  and the kingdom of Thailand is now the most powerful country. The world’s oil reserves are completely depleted, and people are back to relying on animal power, or even energy stored in specialized devices such as metal springs to run everything.

With the ensuing chaos countries fight each other with biological weapons that destroy not people, but the enemy countries crops, leaving most of the world’s population with not enough food. The source of Thailand’s power comes from the fact that their scientists have found ways to protect its crops against the biological plagues.

The hero of the story is an American who has been sent to Thailand to spy and try to find out the Thai scientists secrets. There he meets and falls in love with the beautiful  “windup girl” She is a genetically engineered being. In many ways she is superior to regular humans, but moves in jerky motions unless she moves very slowly. Thus, she often seems like a life-sized windup toy.

The mark of a good science fiction writer is being able to create a completely unique environment and yet have all the characters and situations within that environment seem believable. Paolo Bacigalupi has done this in an excellent work of science fiction. You not only believe in the characters, but come to like and care for them and what happens to their futuristic world.

 

The Big Grey Cat of Tribeca

If you live in Tribeca you can see him early in the morning sitting on the sidewalk watching the people rush by on their way to work.  He comes out of an open metal door that leads down to the basement of a store, and sits watching the people.

He doesn’t meow or look like he is waiting to be petted. He is simply watching. At that time of day everyone is too busy working or rushing to work to even notice him. Large men lift heavy crates off trucks  and struggle down the steep metal stairs to deliver the  food to the basement of the store. Beautiful, tall young women in fashionable outfits stride by in impossibly high shoes on their way to work in the stores of SoHo.  A couple of young investment bankers in black suits zip by in the other direction, trying to flag down a taxi to take them to Goldman Sachs. A woman in a jogging outfit sprits while simultaneously checking her pulse and looking at her watch.

The big grey cat feels the cool  breeze as it ruffles his fur. He sniffs the air and notes the change of the season, and sees a solitary red  leaf as the wind pushes it along the sidewalk.

The cat continues to sit, and unlike the rest of us, enjoys the morning.

Laurence O’Toole’s Missing Heart- an Irish Mystery

If you visit Ireland, be sure to see the Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. It was originally build by the Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin, Sitric “Silkbeard”, and rebuilt in 1186.

However, the most interesting part of the tour is what you won’t see – the preserved heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole. He died in 1180, and while the rest of his body was buried, his heart was preserved and placed in a wooden box.

His body was stolen sometime in the 16th century, but the heart remained locked behind an iron cage in the cathedral. That is until March 4, 2012 when it was stolen. A lot of people did not like the idea of the Christ Church having this relic. You see, this church had switched from Catholicism to become affiliated with the Anglican church during the time of King Henry VIII. Even more insulting is the fact that the  Anglican church  (and the affiliated Church of Ireland) does not believe in saints. Many people in Ireland think that a conservative Catholic group took the heart to restore it to its proper location. Where that secret hoard of religious relics may be remains a mystery. Still; waiting from King Henry’s time until 2012 seems rather extreme.

When you step outside the cool stone walls of the cathedral you are immediately thrust back into the modern world. The cathedral is in the center of downtown Dublin and bordered on all sides by busy streets full of rushing traffic. But don’t let the veil of modern society fool you. The currents of history still run deep in Dublin and there are struggles beyond the comprehension of the average tourist.

As William Faulkner said, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Lawrence O'Toole's Missing Heart

Lawrence O’Toole’s Missing Heart

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death -book review

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston  published in 2009 is a mystery thriller. The hero is an ex-school teacher named Web who  has a job most of us don’t want to think about. He works for a company that cleans up after crime scenes.  Murders, suicides and  mass shootings leave a lot of debris behind that has to be disposed of once the police and the forensic teams have finished.

Web comes in and as the title indicates, “erases all signs of death”. By the time he is finished there is no way of knowing that the tragic event ever took place. However, there is a danger is possessing such a specialized skill. What if Web were to use his skills at a crime scene before the police and forensic experts ever showed up? That is exactly what he is asked to do when late one night he receives a frantic phone call from his new beautiful and mysterious girlfriend.

I will not give away the rest of the story, other than to say that the choices Web makes entangle him with a number of bizarre characters and a shipment of almonds (yes almonds – cocaine is so last week).

This is an enjoyable and fast read. In addition to the main story there are a number of good sub-plots; one of which involves the mystery of why Web voluntarily left the position as a good teacher to do this type of disgusting work. There is also apparently a lot of competition in the death removal business and some of the competitors are not very happy about having a new boy on the block.

 

The Honey Thief – book review

The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman published in 2011 is a book of traditional folk tales and original stoies from Afghanistan.  More accurately, it is a book of stories of the Hazara people of Afghanistan.

Najaf Mazari was a master rug maker who emigrated to Australia to flee the Taliban. There he met the writer Robert Hillman, who was interested in the stories  Mazari would tell of his homeland.

The book describes how the stories handed down for generations are important for holding the people together. It points out that “in Afghanistan we have very few universities and very few professors. The history of the Hazara is told in the fields, in our tents, in our houses.”

Of the original ones, my favorite  was “The Snow Leopard”. It is a about a wealthy Englishman who  came to Afghanistan and hired a local guide to try to photograph the elusive snow leopard. They travel high into the dangerous mountains finding tracks and becoming close friends in the process but find the snow leopard always just out of reach. The Englishman returns to Afghanistan often although sometimes he cannot come for many years due to various wars. The original guide dies and the Englishman continues the quest with the guide’s son.

They never find the snow leopard, and on the last day set the camera to take an automatic picture of the two of them together standing as friends in front of their tent high in the snow covered mountains.

When the man returns to England and looks at the final picture, he sees that  lying on cliff ledge just slightly above their tent, the snow leopard was curiously looking down on them while they smiled for the camera.

You cannot help but think that the snow leopard is perhaps a symbol for Afghanistan itself. Foreigners come and go and never really understand what they are looking at. Never really seeing the beauty that was right there all the time.

 

 

 

 

Gezelligheid

The key to Dutch culture is “gezelligheid”. It has no direct translation, but roughly means the “coziness” or “togetherness” to which all Dutch people aspire. As a small country with no natural resources and surrounded by powerful neighbors, the Netherlands has been successful only by its people working together. But is it more than a management strategy. Gezellig is a philosophy of life which leads to a general contentment in the country.

View from a N etherlands train

View from a Netherlands train

Many Americans visit the Netherlands briefly while travelling through Europe and never actually see it. They spend a day in Amsterdam visiting a marijuana coffee house in the daytime, and stop by the red light district to gawk at night before continuing the tour to another country.

The best way so see the real Netherlands is by train. The trains are fast, clean and efficient. The entire country is only half the size of Scotland, and you can travel across the whole country for less than 50 Euros. There is a main train station directly under Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. You can get off the airplane and take an escalator directly down to the trains.

Thirsty Dutch cows

Thirsty Dutch cows

Last Spring I took the train from Schiphol to Weert (which is in the south and pronounced “vert”). It was startling that just outside Amsterdam the country abruptly changed from city to rural, with the lush green grass of hundreds of small dairy farms stretching off to the horizon. The Netherlands is completely flat with very few trees, so it feels like the farms stretch to the end of the Earth. It was an unusually sunny day for a country known for rain, and the brilliant light shined on the black and white cows grazing contentedly. There were no fences, since the farms were separated by small canals rather than barbed wire.

Peaceful Dutch countryside

Peaceful Dutch countryside

The train itself was filled with teenagers going to a concert at an arena which is one of the stops on the line. Most were dressed in costumes which were types of hand-made togas and fake gold jewelry. They were all very excited about the event. Coming down the aisle was a young man wearing a large metal backpack.  The backpack turned out to be a container holding the coffee, tea and soup he was selling. It looked impossibly heavy, but he carried it with ease.  The soup was very popular among my fellow passengers, but I did not feel adventurous enough to try eating soup from a backpack. The soup seller seemed to love his job, and joked with all the riders.

In addition to the teenagers, there was a group of senior citizens (who really loved the soup). There were also about fifteen very large Dutch soldiers in full camouflage gear.  All the different groups interacted and spoke to each other in a way you just don’t see Americans do. Instead of staying isolated in their separate groups they actually mingled and  spoke at length to each other.

The teenagers got off at the arena, and a few stops later the soldiers got off at Eindhoven, which ironically had been the site of a famously bloody World War II battle. By the time we got to Weert, it was dark and the only people on left on the train with me were the senior citizens. When we all got off in Weert, the senior citizens, in true Dutch fashion, got on their big heavy metal bicycles, and peddled off into the night leaving me standing alone in front of the train station.

That was when I realized I had no idea which way the hotel was, and there were no taxis. I stood for a long time outside the station with my rolling suitcase trying to remember the directions. Then a woman crossed the street towards me. I have to admit I was very suspicious that she might be a prostitute or a thief. In perfect English she asked me if I was lost, and gave me walking directions to my hotel. I thanked her and started to my hotel, feeling very guilty about my initial suspicions.

The night had turned quite cold,  and I was chilled by the time I reached my hotel.  Opening the door of  the hotel, I could hear the crackling sounds from the warm fire in the lobby fireplace, and smell the aroma of roast beef coming from the dining room.  Two young Dutch women with gold hair greeted me from behind the desk.

I stepped in from the cold night into the warm lobby, happy to be part of the gezelligheid.

 

 

Another Earth – movie review

Another Earthwas released in 2011 and is listed as a science fiction movie. However it is really a psychological drama. It is the story of a brilliant and beautiful  young high school senior, who has just been accepted into MIT as an astrophysics major.

On the day she learns about her acceptance to MIT two things happen. The first is that astronomers discover  there is a planet the exact duplicate of Earth which is close enough  to be reached by  spaceship. The second is a sudden tragic event that intertwines her life with that of an accomplished music composer (played by William Mapother).

Another 1

The story is not about the science fiction aspects, and it has no special effects. It is about the capriciousness of life and the choices we make. Does a duplicate Earth mean there is a chance to correct past mistakes? Is there really such a thing as redemption for past sins, and if there is do we deserve such redemption?

Another 2

To tell you any more of the plot would be to give away too much. I will say that this is a beautiful and moving story.

Another 3

The high school girl is played by Brit Marling who also co-wrote the story with the director Mike Cahill.  It is brilliantly written and directed and it has our highest recommendation. Please let us know if you enjoy it as much as we did.

We give this movie our highest rating of Five Stars *****

I Am Not A Serial Killer – book review

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells – Is a short novel (271 pages) first published in 1977, although it has be re-printed and you can still find it in the book store or through Amazon.

It is the story of a high school boy who is obsessed with serial killers. Other kids talk about sports figures, rock or movie stars, but his interest is serial killers. The hero of the story (John) can spout off statistics about serial killers the way other kids can tell you about batting averages for major league baseball players. Number of kills, cities where the murders took place, exactly how the bodies were dismembered; John knows them all.

His obsession, of course, is a great cause of concern to his mother and his high school teachers. It doesn’t help that John’s family owns the town’s only funeral parlor, and that he works there after school helping prepare the bodies.

Then the unthinkable happens. An actual serial killer begins striking the small town. And no, just so you don’t get the wrong idea, John is not a junior version of Dexter.

About half way through the book the story turns from a  mystery about a high school boy into a sci-fi/horror story. While it is exciting, I do sort of wish it stayed with the pure mystery theme throughout.

I highly recommend this book. It is fast-paced and a quick read. If you read it while riding public transportation like I did, be prepared for some very strange surreptitious glances from your fellow passengers. For some reason they seem to feel uneasy seeing a stranger on a subway with his face buried in something titled, “I Am Not a Serial Killer.”

 

 

 

The Last Connecticut Gentleman

It is always strange to see your teacher outside of school, especially when you are in middle school and the teacher is someone everyone is afraid of. His name was Merritt K. Sawyer. He was a scary-looking old man. Mr. Sawyer always wore a black suit and a white shirt, and walked with a pronounced limp. He was not a large man, but he had a certain presence that immediately made anyone in the room pay attention to him.

Mr. Sawyer lived in a scary house too. It was  an old, dark green Victorian, with the yard perpetually dark due to a forest of huge, untrimmed oak trees crowding every inch of the property. Instead of a garage he had a full sized red barn with the boards sagging so much it looked like it would collapse any second. In the barn was his ancient Dodge Dart. Unlike everything else on the property, the car gleamed like it had just come out of the showroom.

King Low Heywood Thomas School Logo today

King Low Heywood Thomas School Logo today

The worst part was that Mr. Sawyer’s house was directly across the street from mine, although I never had any interaction with him outside of school. That is, until King School decided to save money by eliminating as many of the school buses as it could. Students who lived near teachers were told they would have to ride to school in a teacher’s car.  That’s how Jimmy Sachs and I ended up riding in a shiny Dodge Dart every day with the most feared teacher in Connecticut.

Since it was his car, Mr. Sawyer got to choose the radio station, and all he every picked were news stations. National news, local news, business news. I had no idea all those stations even existed. And he insisted we all discuss the stories after we heard them.  “It is important for a gentleman to be well informed,” he used to say.

Gentleman. It’s a word he used to say a lot. He seemed to be living in a different time period from the rest of the world. Jimmy and I didn’t want to be gentlemen. We wanted to be cool. How much more un-cool could you get than riding to school in an old car with an old teacher every day. But Mr. Sawyer wanted us to be gentlemen. When were  not listening to the news he lectured us on what it meant to be a gentleman. A real gentleman had to be intelligent and brave. You had to be physically strong and stand up for what is right . A gentleman is always polite. Not because he is subservient to anyone, but because he has the strength to be polite, when a lesser person would be rude or angry.

Now that we all car-pooled, Mr. Sawyer seemed to take more of an interest in the neighborhood. He started turning his lights on for Halloween, and my parents made me go tick-or-treating there. He had two kinds of treats you could choose from – Saltines or pennies (for UNICEF). People don’t believe me when I tell them this, but that is actually what he handed out on Halloween.

In February, we got a huge unexpected wet snowfall which looked like it might collapse the roof of Mr. Sawyer’s home. Jimmy and I were walking on the sidewalk when suddenly we heard Mr. Sawyer calling to us. There he was up on a flat section of his roof limping about with his bad leg and trying to push the snow off with a plastic broom. He looked like he would fall off any second.

When Jimmy and I went over with snow shovels, Mr. Sawyer met us at the door, thanked us profusely and invited us in. It was the first time either of us had ever seen the inside of his house. It was a beautiful house, with polished hardwood floors and lovely red curtains. Everything was spotlessly clean. He took us to the upstairs gust room, which had a large window from which we could climb onto the roof. The bed had a large, thick American flag draped on it. The type they put on the coffin of a soldier and then give the family. We were dying to ask about the flag, but of course did not. Was it from a family member? Had he been in the war? Is that why he had a limp?

After the day we had saved Mr. Sawyer’s roof from the snow, he seemed to loosen up on the morning drive a little. Sometimes he even let us choose a music station, although he could not help but comment on how bad our taste in music was. It was a long daily drive to the school, all the way from the beach section in Shippan Point  where we lived, to the country in the hills.

The old Connecticut was dying  and it was obvious even to us kids.  There were still working farms, but every day a few more of them got sold and turned into tract housing developments. Each day we passed a an especially beautiful farm with rolling hills, and a lovely white farm house. On a particularly sunny spring morning I happened to say, “That’s a beautiful farm.” That was when Mr. Sawyer surprised me by revealing the only piece of information I was ever to learn about his past.

“Yes it is,” he said, “When I was a boy my father almost bought that farm; but he died about a month later so we never got it. A little boy sure misses his daddy.” It seemed so strange. It was the only emotion I had ever seen from him except for anger (when the kids at school were especially loud, or late for an assembly).

One of the few remaining Connecticut working farms

One of the few remaining Connecticut working farms

My morning rides with Mr. Sawyer ended when I graduated from middle school. Of course he was still my next  door neighbor, and so I saw him outside raking leaves or washing his Dodge Dart. By the time I was a senior in high school, it was time for Mr. Sawyer to retire. Rumor was that he didn’t want to retire, but was being pushed out. The teachers and parents were having a retirement party on Saturday night for him and were going to present him with a rocking chair with a Princeton logo.

My parents had gone to the party since they had donated some money to the school. As usual, I was sitting at home doing nothing but watching T.V. when the phone rang. It was my father with an order for me. He sounded very angry and said, “Go over to Mr. Sawyer’s house and see why he isn’t here. We keep calling his house and there’s no answer. There are three hundred people here and that old fart hasn’t shown up!” He gave me a phone number and I promised I would call him back.

Mr.  Sawyer’s house looked as dark and scary as I had ever seen it. I was afraid I was going to find him dead. It was a cold night with no moon, and the clouds were blocking any stars. I walked up the old wooden porch and rang the bell. Mr. Sawyer opened the door looking very old and tired.

“Gregory,” he said. “How nice of you to come by. Please come in.”

I followed him into the living room. Mr. Sawyer mas moving and speaking very slowly, almost as if he were in a daze. I followed him into the living room and he motioned for me to sit in a plush red chair. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a cheeseboard. “Please have some cheese and crackers and soda.”

The phone rang while he as pouring a 7-UP, and Mr. Sawyer ignored it while it rang twenty times before it finally stopped. As gently as I could I leaned forward and said, “I think that is the school. People are worried that you did not show up at your retirement party.”

“No they are not,” he replied wistfully. “They just want me out. And then what do I do? What do I do?” He had a look of real fear in his eyes. He was not the mean teacher, or the frightening man with the limp in a black suit. He was just an old man with no family worried about what would come next.

Mr. Sawyer and I sat drinking 7-UP and eating sharp cheddar. Every once and a while the phone would ring and we would ignore it. Then he walked me to the door and shook my hand. “Thank you so much for dropping by,” he said solemnly.

I called back my father and said that Mr. Sawyer had a real bad stomach virus and would not be able to make the party. He had not answered the phone since he was in the bathroom most of the time. My father was still angry, but there was not much he could do about it.

After he retired, I continued to see Mr. Sawyer around the neighborhood driving in his perfectly maintained Dodge Dart. He still handed out Saltines and pennies every Halloween. One Spring the town had a junk pick-up, and I noticed that Mr. Sawyer had thrown out a rocking chair with a Princeton logo on it.

Once and a while I would drop by his house to see how he was doing. If the weather was warm we sat on the front porch of the old Victorian having cheese and soft drinks. We never spoke about the night of his retirement party. I still listened to all the news stations, so we conversed about world events while we looked out at the huge oak trees shading his yard. Just two Connecticut gentlemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SoHo Instinct by Gregory Farrell

Maya and Charlie loved the  mornings in SoHo. They lived in an illegal apartment above an overpriced art gallery. For a monthly envelope of cash the manager of the gallery had given them the keys to what was zoned for an upstairs storage room.

Every morning they would get up early and walk up Greene Street while the store owners hosed off the slate sidewalks. Maya and Charlie had opposite personalities. Charlie was big and outgoing and friendly. Complete strangers would often smile and say hello; a real accomplishment in New York City. Maya, on the other hand, was shy and petite. With her small build and shoulder length auburn hair she looked younger than her 23 years. Sometimes she felt as if no one even noticed her unless Charlie was with her.

One day in late October, Maya just happened to wake up about an hour earlier than normal. It was just starting to get light , and the streets were still deserted; but Maya was full of energy and wanted to go outside. Charlie was always full of energy and of course insisted on coming along. They strode along side by side and Maya was swinging the little Louis Vuitton purse with the super long strap that her father had given her last Christmas.

They were just passing a construction site on Spring Street when the attacker struck. He ran up behind at full speed, pushing Maya down with one hand and grabbing her purse with the other. She fell forward and screamed as her head hit the cobblestone and began to bleed.

That’s when the change took place in Charlie’s brain. He was big and friendly and lived in an apartment, but in the far  far past his ancestors had been wolves. And after that, for thousands of years dogs had developed the instinct to defend the humans they loved.

When Maya fell she dropped Charlie’s leash. The attacker was running away fast, but a human in a pair of Nikes is no match for a 120 pound dog at a sprint. When Charlie reached full speed he leapt into the air. Dog’s don’t fight to win points or to apprehend a suspect. Their instinct is to kill. Charlie’s teeth sunk full force into the attacker’s neck and the two of them went crashing to the ground without Charlie letting go. When they landed Charlie held onto the neck with his teeth and shook his head back and forth in that incredibly fast motion that people think is so cute when dogs do it with a bathroom towel. The real purpose of the shake is to snap the neck of whatever animal the dog has its teeth into; and that’s exactly what happened to the neck of the animal that attacked Maya.

The attacker was dead long before the police arrived. Maya was taken to the hospital and Charlie to the animal shelter, where like any dog that had killed a human,  he was scheduled to be euthanized.  It would have ended badly except for the fact that a television commercial was scheduled to be shot on Spring the following week. The director was on the street early that day to get a good look at it before all the traffic and the people obstructed the view. He heard Maya scream and pointed his tablet camera in that direction and started filming. He captured most of it, and brought it to the T.V. station. When it was shown on the news that night, the public fell in love with Charlie; especially the part where Charlie ran back to make sure Maya was all right.

When the public heard that Charlie was to be put down, the Chief of Police actually received death threats. The Mayor did not really care about dogs, or the Chief of Police for that matter, but he knew if he allowed a hero dog to be put to death, then his re-election was in trouble. They Mayor made sure that when Maya and Charlie were reunited the Mayor was right in the middle for the T.V. cameras. There was even a great shot of Charlie licking the Mayor’s bald head.

Maya and Charlie still go for a walk every morning in SoHo. Charlie is still the main attraction, but sometimes people now ask Maya how she is feeling and if she needs anything. At the end of the walk Maya sits on a bench outside the coffee shop drinking her vanilla latte, while Charlie looks up at her with complete unconditional love.