Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Forensic Files

October 6, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 8

I almost didn’t live to see my father die.  He almost survived me by about 38 years.  I think, at least.  It was on a pretty cold night, probably in the fall, and my next oldest brother and a good friend of his and I walked down into the darkness at the bottom of the driveway to throw eggs at cars, which was a fairly common custom back then when you lived in sleepy Greenwich, where nothing ever really happened.  I don’t know if it still is.

     That was certainly the kind of thing kids were doing back on October 30th, which people in my area called Mischief Night.  It was also known as Doorbell Night because kids got their kicks out of ringing doorbells and racing off.  As I was saying, things could be pretty uneventful back then.   That was until they stopped becoming uneventful, like on the night of October 30th, 1975. That was the day Martha Moxley got bludgeoned to death with a golf club, a six iron, in one of the most high-profile murders of the end of the 20th Century. The act was performed so violently that the perpetrator literally split the metal stick in two.  Then he plunged one half into her neck to ensure she was dead.  It was another one of those coups de grace, I guess.  People can be so merciful at the strangest of times.  It would have been a perfect story for Forensic Files.

     The night I was talking about was also chilly.  I remember this because I was wearing a brown winter coat whose collar I used to suck on all the time and which possessed a feature I originally thought was a good one, but it didn’t turn out that way in that particular instance.  Let me explain.

     We were half-hiding behind the white wooden fence mounted on a stone wall.  Further protected with bushes and low trees, it was impossible to be seen.  A car came up the Clapboard Ridge Road hill from the right side and was now heading down towards the triangle where you could turn left or right onto North Street.  I stood and observed the expertise of the older boys as they led the ambush.  I think it was my brother’s friend Eric who landed a direct hit.  An enormous thud echoed out even louder than the car’s engine and the vehicle screeched to a halt and started to back up.  We bolted up the driveway.  My brother and his friend were much faster than me and I couldn’t keep up.  The minute I felt the car lights sliding along the dark trees and shining up in my direction, I dove to the side behind one of the big gumball trees that lined the driveway.  Then I lay on my belly and flattened my body as low as possible, like a lizard on a desert highway.  Part of the reason was that, if I didn’t, there was a chance I would get caught because parts of my dark brown coat, otherwise suited for the occasion, were reflective orange.

     The man was livid and he vented his anger the only way he seemed to know how, though I wish he had opted for something pacific: he wielded a baseball bat and used it to bash the lights that partially illuminated the road up.  Not a single lamp was spared, and, to the best of my knowledge, neither would have been my head, should he have ever found it.  But that did not occur.   It came close.  For a few seconds I had lost sight and sound of the man on the rampage.  That meant he could have been anywhere.  Then I finally detected his footsteps returning towards the car, but not before staring right in my direction and growling, “I’m going to fuckin’ kill you!”

     Just think that I can still recall it lividly.  The I was close to death.  At least that was the only one I can recall.  Maybe there were more that I was unaware of.  There must have been.

     The driver returned hours later to talk to my parents.  He was from the family which owned a gas station near the library.  Now it’s a bank or something like that. It turns out he had been struck in the head, the kind of thing that would have moved me to smash to smithereens a dozen street lamps.  My father defended my brother saying he was sure he done nothing, though my little sister, deciding to take justice into her own hands, shouted out from the fridge door, “Dad, there are no eggs in the refrigerator!”

      But my father still believed my brother.  All the same, we stopped taking our car there for repair work…just for good measure.

Forensic Files

October 5, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 7

If I had to guess, I’d say it had been approximately twenty years since that many siblings of us actually managed to get together at once.  Seven out of eight…that’s pretty impressive.  In Spain, this is inconceivable and I have engaged in many a conversation with perplexed citizens of this countries who just can’t quite fathom how a family doesn’t manage to be together more often…like four or five times a year.  I often use the excuse of the size of the country as a major factor.  It kind of works, but it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

     Another brother, the oldest, and another sister, the youngest arrived late on the day before and we gathered in the hospital room next to our father.  I knew this happen. We did.  Someone once said something like this would have to happen before we finally convened.  I guess you kind of wished it wouldn’t be that way, but it shouldn’t be that surprising.  What surprises me is how surprised people are.  Personally I find cutting off the head and hands of a twelve-year-old girl so that she can’t be identified to be rather astonishing. My situation was relatively innocuous in comparison.

     My sister, mother and I started the day with some oatmeal and some waffles.  The latter was another favorite of my father’s.  Waffles are originally from Belgium, and the Brussels style was brought to that country mainly through a man named Maurice Vermersch.  It was back in 1964, though Americans had already come up with their own version decades before.  I don’t know how Vermersch died…probably like all the rest of us did, do and will.

     It was a Sunday and I dropped my sister and Mom off at the door and then went to park without leaving it off at the valet service, figuring that I could save us the $15 plus the $5 tip you pay the guy for performing his job correctly, the way he’s supposed to, the way he’s paid to.  Anyway, I received a little flak for that because I guess you’re not supposed to complain about these things when your father is deathly ill.  Incapacitated.

     We were all there with Dad telling stories about how badly we would behave, and how our poor father would have to put up with it or give into the pressure.  Dad was a lawyer and he didn’t always have a chance to disconnect when home.  Litigation was an ever-present possibility.

     One time I had a party in the wintertime and the cars parked up and down the driveway.  The next day when I woke up, I saw the tire tracks all over the lawn as if a car rally had been there.  I shoveled in the tracks and said a prayer and, lo and behold, from through the wicked, naked branches of the trees came gust after gust of wind that erased every last vestige of vehicles.  The interior of the home was cleared of any evidence; swept, mopped, wiped and sanitized to the best of my abilities, and under imperfect circumstances known as a hangover.  With nothing broken and the absence of a CSI crew on the property, we managed to get away with it.

      Not so three years later when we attempted to repeat the act, but this time you could say that we had pushed our luckto beyond its limits.  It happens to most good delinquents.  Pride and cockiness got the best of us.  It was summer and with it came one of those dense rainy summer days where the air becomes so thick and the vegetation so waxy dark green and laden with atmosphere that you would half expect reptiles to appear from amid their leaves at any minute.   The precipitation left the ground so soaked in moisture that inches of soil gave beneath the weight of your average teenager, and even more land ceded to the pressure of the sum of many.  Before two hours were up, our enormous gathering had managed to establish a well-trodden footpath around the backyard which, under normal circumstances, would have required a hundred years and several generations of feet to form.

     Dad’s face got all red as stared out at the backyard and fought to contain his anger.  He felt we had violated the law flagrantly though we did have an argument to hang on to.  Mom had mentioned we could have a few friends over, which we took advantage of to such an extreme that we essentially raped the very spirit of her intentions.

     “Did you really give them permission?”

     “Yes,” admitted Mom almost sheepishly.  “But I didn’t mean it that way.”

     “But don’t you see, Sheila?  You left a loophole?”

     Oh, don’t you know that you are a superstar…don’t you know.

Images of Spain

October 3, 2015

Imágenes de España: La Factura

Tags: , ,

Últimamente he estado haciendo algunas traducciones para una empresa que se dedica a vender su propio software, lo llaman solución en el sector, no sé por qué, y cuentan que una empresa puede perder ahorrar hasta un 30% de su gasto mensual, y por tanto, anual en telecomunicaciones y energía.  Dicen que uno de los problemas principales tiene que ver con la falta de interés por parte de los usuarios y clientes en vigilar bien las facturas.  Es decir, se nos escapan mil detalles, como tantas veces en la vida.

     Yo cumplía con la tarea casi inconscientemente, pero su duración y la repetición de las frases empezaban a calar las noción de que a lo mejor me pasaba lo mismo a mí. ¡A mí!  Y a ti también.  Sí señor, no sería de extrañar que en algún momento nada sospechado los números que aparecen en ese papelito tienen poco que ver lo que uno espera.  Y eso que por lo menos te lo mandan por escrito.  Los cachondos de Movistar, antiguamente conocido como Telefónica, ni eso.  Y, para mí, y siempre para mí, la razón se trata de aprovechar que la gente no se fija en los detalles.  La gente no se molesta.  Muchos de nosotros no nos molestamos en comprobar las facturas, aun cuando el total es una barbaridad.  Para proporcionar un poco de perspectiva….¿acaso cuando compras leche si te cobran 1,50€ en vez de 0.90€, no dices nada?

     Una visita visual a una factura en España no hace más que confirmar nuestra repulsión ante la idea que mirar uno por uno los ítems de los gastos desglosados.  Es más, hacen estremecer.  Es una bofetada en la cara de los que preferimos pasar la vida con el lema “ignorance es bliss”.  En parte porque no sabes qué hacer.  No sabes si estás siendo estafado y te sientes jilipollas por no intentar hacer nada para remediarlo.  No sabes si, aún peor, te están estafando y resulta que es legal.  O fuera lo que fuese, en caso de descubrir la verdad, no sabes cómo empezar, a quién recurrir, y si verdaderamente merece la pena luchar por la causa.  Nadie, os digo, nadie quiere sentirse así.  Mucho menso un viernes por la tarde cuando, durante unos minutos, la vida tiene sentido.

      Claro está, si eres capaz de comprenderla en primer lugar.

     Mi factura de gas para los dos últimos meses y la de luz para este mes fue 177€.  Gasté… y

      Veamos la de gas.  Según la empresa, no he consumido nada.  Es mentira, pero solo porque no me han pillado en casa para comprobar el medidor de gas.   También podían haber puesto el famoso gasto estimado, pero ni eso.  Pone: Consumo: 0.  Traducido al euros: 0.  Factura de gas: 30,27€.

     Veamos por qué.  Me cobran 8.89€ por el término (me restan un 60% de descuento, no sé por qué), otros 2,55€ por el alquiler del contador, y 24,16€ por algo que llaman un canon, que es una cuota que hay que pagar por la instalación (esto ocurrió hace mil años) y mantenimiento de la receptora de gas instalada en la finca.

     Veamos si lo mismo pasa con la electricidad.  Además de los 77€ de consumo, hizo mucho calor este año y tenía el aire puesto a toda máquina, hay que incluir el alquiler del contador de este servicio, la cuota del término de potencia, un impuesto sobre la luz, que viene siendo uno de esas tasas ocultas, y el IVA, un 21%.  Luego un par de servicios que se suponen que tengo contratados pero que no consigo averiguar lo que hacen ni para qué sirven, además de empobrecerme.

     En realidad, no pago por el uso del gas ni del de luz.  Me sale casi regalado.  Todo lo que cuesta es ajena a mi vida, a mi entorno, a mis movimientos, giros, pasos, y lo demás.   Veamos.


The Eye of the Hurricane and the Navel of the World

Tags: , , , ,

The weekend is in full swing and it looks like the United States is going to be spared of a major hurricane, the change in outlook being the result of one of the most spectacular hurricane forecasting debacles in recent times.  I am fully aware of the complications involved in accurately predicting of the weather, and tropical storms are notoriously shifty creatures, but what made Hurricane Joaquin  especially befuddling was the fact that these guys couldn’t even get it remotely right with 48 hours of the actual events. It was as if they had their eyes glued to the computer screens but forgot to look out the window.

     The storm was supposed to stay as a harmless tropical storm and roam far from any land, except for maybe Bermuda, but that’s pretty far from any land anyway.   But it turned straight south all of the sudden and more or less came to a crawl over some sparsely populated islands in the Bahamas.  Those poor people went from thinking a menacing storm would float well north of them to becoming enveloped in one of the worst systems of the season.  And instead of taking on a few hours of pesky light hurricane forces, the cyclone quickly intensified into a only major hurricane this year.

      Then, instead of making a hook shot at the Eastern Seaboard, the way most models foresaw, the storm is now slipping further away from the coast just a two days before it was supposed to arrive.  The meteorologists were off by a mile.  A 1,000 miles to be more precise.  America’s weather technology took a shellacking almost as bad as the Caribbean itself.  Most of their models even remotely saw the storm turning into anything, and they completely missed the correct path.  These are our storms.  We’ve been dealing with them since the dawn of formal meteorological forecasting.  Ironically, it’s the European and the U.K. models which time and time again gets it right.  One avid fan of these storms claimed they look at a larger picture rather just key one a few features.  They listen to the whole orchestra to see where the music is going, not to just one clarinet player.

     To make matters worse, the only reason this was news was because of the threat to American interests, but hardly anyone even mentioned the fate of those sparsely populated islands, though populated all the same.  Hurricanes tend to barrel through violently, but it doesn’t take them long to move on.  Thank God, because no one would want that kind of wind around for a long time.  Buildings can withstand terrific wind speeds of 125 mph.  They just might not fare as well if they have to do the same for twelve hours.  Or 24 hours, for that matter. And no one should have to ever endure that kind of horror.  Well, that’s what those poor souls down there populating those sparsely populated islands have done, and I, for one, fear for their fate, even though hardly anyone in the media does.

     After all, when the Navel of the World is just a few hundred miles away, being in the eye of the hurricane means nothing.  You might as well be flicked off the surface of the body life some unwanted bug.

Forensic Files

September 22, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 6

As I see it, there were three reasons why I woke up at four in the morning.  One was that I had jet-lag and in Madrid-time that was about ten in the morning, and I don’t recall the last time I had slept to ten in the morning.  That was due to the second reason, which was because I was a parent and once you become one, that’s to say, once you have children, you never recall what it’s like to have sleep late or long again.  You say to yourself, when I get older, everything will go back to normal, but it doesn’t.  You never recover that habit of sleeping endless hours in a state of unconscious bliss.  That will only happen when you are dead.  And that was due to the third reason, which is that when you get older, you don’t need to sleep that much anymore.  I think I read that Kissinger used to get something like three hours of sleep a night when he was Secretary of State.  That’s all he needed.  And that was before the days of cable television.

    Most Americans don’t appreciate cable television anymore, which is a shame because they don’t know just how engrossing all that crap TV can get.  Most people like to say they are repulsed by all that’s on, but I think they are lying because they are afraid. I think that’s why a lot of people lie in general.

    When I was growing up in the 80s, we had about forty different channels.  Now the digital TV companies provide hundreds.  Frontier is a firm which is based out of nearby Stamford, Connecticut, and it had just bought out AT&T’s service in the state in 2014. My parents have done nothing but complain about it since then, though Dad doesn’t do much complaining now.  I don’t think it mattered much to him, anyway.  Except for an occasional movie, he was content watching FOX News, and that channel never seems to go.

     Mom couldn’t stand the change.  But that might have been because she against change in general.   She says that TV hasn’t been the same since Frontier took over.  Now it’s a mess.  I bet the people at Frontier wouldn’t like to hear that.

     I wanted to give the offer a good look, so I flipped through about two hundred channels when I finally came to one that featured crime shows, especially true ones.  I have an affinity for these shows but I’m not really sure why.  Maybe it’s because I’m afraid too.  Maybe.   There are a lot of shows on this subject I guess because a lot of people have been murdered in this country, and just about every way and every motive has been used.  That night Forensic Files was on the agenda.  Each episode lasts about half an hour including the frequent commercial interruptions, which I am normally freed of in Spain.

     Peter Thomas’ unwavering narration kicks off the forthcoming story.  Thomas is 91 years old and has been around the voice-off business for five decades, which means he didn’t even start until he was forty.  When he was born, Coolidge was our president, man had yet to cross the Atlantic in an airplane, and it would be three years before The Jazz Singer, the first feature length talkie, would be released.   Yes, a lot has happened since then.

     Thomas is three years my father’s senior and he still makes a living recounting some of the most heinous crimes that have ever rocked this country’s rather rich of history of brutal violence.  He calmly discusses the dismemberment of a 25-year-old woman and then probably spends the afternoon making paper flowers with his great granddaughter.

     One episode talked about a guy who kidnapped and killed a teenager girl and her half-brother.  The perpetrator was a rather confused dropout from the town who everyone knew.  He shot the boy in the head.  The girl ran out of the car and into the woods.  So he chased after her, caught up and shot her in the back.  Seeing that she wasn’t dead yet, he walked up to her and shot her in the head to finish her off.  They call it a coup de grace because it’s supposed to be some kind of show of mercy.  Then he left and returned a little while later to decapitate her and cut off her hands.  He threw those parts into a lake.  They caught him and sentenced him to death because they found several notebooks he had written about how much he liked to kill animals and lop off their heads.  The day they executed him, he said sorry for what he had done and that he promised the two kids didn’t suffer.  He asked the family for forgiveness, but I don’t they ever granted it.

     This and other tales kept me occupied before until the day’s light arrived.  Lots were about spouses doing each other in for insurance claims.  Others retold events concerning parents, children, siblings, and other members of the extended family inflicting some of the most unimaginable acts of violence on each other for some of the most inexplicable reasons.

    I came to the conclusion that if you were having issues with your kin and money was at the root of the problem, your life expectancy forecast dropped dramatically.  I made a point of it to be extra nice to everyone while Dad was still alive. And even beyond.

     Only cable TV could teach you these things.


September 20, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 5

Dad wasn’t a huge pizza fan, he preferred burgers, but he was known to chomp down a good slice when the opportunity arose.  My brother Pat had decided to get two pies for home since no one here was in any real mood to start cooking.  Eli’s, seemingly the only real decent restaurant around Hamden, as far as standard American fare went, provided the goods and got the job done.  I really love American pizza.  It’s the dough, I think, or the cheese.  It’s so thin.

    I was snacking away at a triangle of sausage pizza and listening to mom as she told me how dad stopped talking for ever.

     He was reading to her a book called the Tudors.  I think it was more historically accurate than the show on TV which captured so much audience thanks to its gratuitous sex scenes.   Dad was asking her to lie down so he could go back to reading.  I can’t recall what part of the book they were in.  I can’t recall her ever telling me.  Maybe she couldn’t recall either.  Then he suddenly just stopped talking.   And he looked at her with begging eyes.  And gripped her hand.  They called one brother and then a sister and both insisted they call 911.  Call 911. The ambulance didn’t take very long to come, apparently, I wasn’t there to greet it or its occupants.  My mom and sister were anguished because they felt they hadn’t acted quickly enough, but I don’t know.  I think they did a fine job. Couldn’t have been more expeditious.  The stroke performed to T, too.  It just operated faster.  Sometimes there’s really just nothing you can do.  There really is nothing you can do.

     Then she went on to tell the story about another brother wanting to go to the Getty Museum in California because we had some cousin who was curator there, but it turned out he had left the position in 2000, or some 15 years before, and I figured that chances were he wouldn’t be available.

     Maybe it was the jetlag.  I hadn’t slept for nearly thirty-five hours and facts and figures were becoming blurred in my head.   My father stopped talking.  All of a sudden.  That’s all I could remember.

     I let those thought stew in my head as I finished off my fourth slice of za.  Why couldn’t they make pizza this good in Spain?  They make lots of it.  It just ain’t the same.  Eli’s didn’t start out making Italian food.  Across the street, the flagship restaurant catered to your usual notch-above burgers and a island bar lined with TVs for sports lovers.  There’s a sense it’s there to entice students from the local university, Quinnipiac, but my guess is that the prices don’t match the target customer. The pizza joint covers that department.  If I had to guess, I’d say that the owners chose the name because their establishment is on Whitney Street, one of the main arteries leading out of New Haven to Hamden and beyond.  That road gets its name from Eli Whitney, former resident of New Haven and inventor of the cotton gin, a machine designed to separate the cottonseed from from the fluffy material itself…apparently one of the most painstaking tasks in all of agriculture.  It was also extremely time-consuming.  So much so that plantation owners were beginning to abandon the use practice of forced human slave labor, not out of moral disgust obviously, but rather because it was no longer cost efficient.  Whitney’s cotton gin changed that, unfortunately.  While still in need of a great deal of perfecting, it did boost the production of clean, seedless cotton by tenfold, thereby giving it the breath of fresh air it needed to resuscitate.  Instead of free labor, it intensified it.  To this day, Whitney’s invention has been cited as one of the reasons the South continued to defend the horrid custom, which led to a war the caused the death of some 600,000 people.  Certainly not something you’d like to put on your résumé.  Whitney, by the way, came from one of the oldest families in New England.  He died in New Haven, at the age of 57, of prostate cancer, though I don’t think much of the medical world could actually determine that at the time.  Back then, they probably just said he died.

     I finished my pìzza and announced I was no longer available for conversation, as I would soon be falling asleep.  It was time for bed and I settled down to a long summer’s night of cable TV.


September 12, 2015

A Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara

Hace varios años yo pertenecía a un grupo de élite en el cuerpo de enseñanza al ser un profesor nativo de inglés con magisterio.  Vamos, estaba más solicitado que George Clooney en Alegoría un sábado por la noche.  Pero últimamente, con tanto extranjero consiguiendo el título universitario necesario pasar impartir clase, me he convertido en un chico del montón.  Para colmo, este año estoy dando lengua española a chicos nativos del español.  Hay que ver.

       En fin.  A veces pienso que más que instruir sobre morfemas deritativos, estoy enseñando morales delictivos.   Veamos el ejemplo del primer tema, que se titula igual que este post.  La unidad esta llena de referencias sobre cómo ver las cosas del lado positivo.  Y para ilustrar semejante idea, incluye un extracto de la novela “Tom Sawyer” que habla de la famosa escena de la valla en la que el niño travieso consigue que todos sus compañeros hagan el trabajo por él, con el añadido que le regalan algo para poder hacerlo.  En resumen, les estafaba, haciéndoles creer que estaban haciendo una cosa divertida (es decir, realizar una tarea que le correspondía a otro, sin cobrar) e incluso dar algo de propiedad a cambio.   ¡Joder!  Me dije.  Como la mismísima vida aquí en España.  Ya lo pillo.  Es que llevamos todos estos años educándolos así.

       Encima, Tom debería sentirse orgulloso de haber sido capaz de cambiar de actitud y convertir una situación desesperada, como puede ser tener que pintar una valla de treinta metros por dos metros de alto, en un éxito total, palabras textuales, mediante una genialidad llamada “la picardía”, española, añaden algunos con orgullo.  Solo al final se nos invita a reflexionar y decir si Tom lo podía haber hecho mejor.  ¿En qué sentido?  ¿Ayudar?    No me jodas.  ¿Qué te parece si cumple el castigo solito, en vez de conseguir que sus amigos lo realicen por él (con numerosos beneficios materiales)?  El problema es, la mayoría de las estafas, siempre que estén bien hechas por supuesto, son genialidades.

        Pues nada.  Dentro de 30 años cuando uno de mis alumnos se encuentra delante de un juez declarándose inocente ante las acusaciones de haber embolsado 33 mil millones de euros de los contribuyentes para comprarse un chalet en los alpes, un bungalo en Bora Bora, por no hablar del asunto de unos amigos que tienen una constructora que acaba de hacer un aeropuerto en Cáceres, alegando que será el perfecto lugar para turistas que pretenden viajar entre Portugal y Madrid.  Todos lo delitos han sido obras de arte, obras maestras, fruto de la imaginación y genialidad.  Antes no tenía ni un duro, y acabó teniendo una fortuna.  Antes de ser arrestado, por supuesto.

         Ese mismo hombre dirá, “Pero, señorilla, en mi clase de profe Brian, me dijo que Tom Sawyer supo poner buena cara a mal tiempo.”  A que reconocer que sería un alumno bien atento y aplicado.

Forensic Files

September 10, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 4

Dad looked great, for a guy who could only survive on life support.  If you managed to block out the breathing tube entering his mouth and descending into his windpipe, he didn’t look bad at all.  His cheeks were full, not puffy, and his skin color healthy, as if he had just enjoyed a fine Sunday breakfast.

    I can’t really say what I was expecting as I went through the wide halls of the intensive care unit on the 7th floor at Yale-New Haven Hospital, passed the reception desk and zig-zagged around machines and computer screens where the nurses could monitor the different patients, but past experiences had prepared me for the worst.  My mom looked dreadful before she had her mitral valve replacement 15 years before.  That’s because she was in a dreadful state.  But she survived…she still does.  Roger Ebert spent his final years looking like a Francis Bacon painting, or perhaps a Munch.  Just that awful.  Some might find that offensive, but I’d like to think he’d appreciate my candor.  You know, as someone who had been frank all his life.

    But Dad emanated a restful air about him.  He was peaceful.  He was always such a calm man, barely ever riled.  It took the best we eight children had in us to get him to bark out some kind of angry response.  Otherwise, he approached life quietly, unruffled and unbothered.  That was the way he was approaching death, from what I could tell, though there was no word from the doctor.   He was waiting for me to arrive…not because he was waiting for me in particular, but because I was the only one from out-of-town who was arriving early enough that day.  Two other brothers and two sisters, a couple of sister-in-laws and a nephew and niece were already there.  We hugged and talked about what had happened, and then spent some time talking about our summers, the way people do when they are in uncharted territory.

      The doctor sat us down in a conference room and rolled in a computer on a cart.  With this he was going to explain to just what had happened to Brian S. Murdock, esq.  But he didn’t stop there.  First he gave us a crash course on how the brain works.  I happened to have little trouble following him because I had recently become a primary school science teacher based on the qualification that I could speak English, not tell you the difference between an angiosperm and a gymnosperm, but I did brush up on my basics and knew enough about the functions of the brain keep up with the man.  stem, which included control over breathing and consciousness, to realize that .

    My father had suffered from a stroke, which is a very broad term that refers to afflictions which are almost opposite in meaning.  In basic understanding, a stroke can be anything from a brain hemorrhage to a clotted artery which blocks blood from flowing to the brain.  In my father’s case, it was the latter, more specifically known as BOA, Basilar Artery Occlusion, not Bank of America.   The problem with this type of cerebral “heart attack” is that its effects are often devastating, with brain tissue dying, or necrosis, within minutes from the commencement of the attack, due to lack of oxygen. This is called infarction.  The damage is irreversible.  Like time itself.  It’s a disparaging word, that.  Irreversible.

    The doctor tried to unclog the the blockage by inserting a very fine wire in the artery to remove whatever it was that was in the way.  Had this been the Simpsons, it would have been Homer with a burger stuck inside.  But I never found out what had done Dad in.  The surgeon told us the obstacle was so large, there was nothing she could do.  In fact, most of the neighboring minor arteries around there had been destroyed years ago.  Nothing had been going anywhere for a long time.

      It was like the Van Wyck Expressway on a bad day.


September 9, 2015

Files, Feuds and Funerals 3

Whenever I arrive in the United States, I am never really sure just what kinds of changes I will encounter.  I’m sometimes afraid I will return one day and hardly recognise this country at all.

     I have to admit, however, that I am comforted by the assurance that there are certain aspects of life here that will never, ever change for as long as the troposphere allows people to survive on the planet.  One of the most persistent traditions in the New York area is the traffic jam on the Van Wyck Expressway.  I guess the term “expressway” was coined to convey intent rather than actual confluence.  Yes, the vehicles come together…but then they stop.  This 14-mile stretch of road has been home to fifty years of continuous backup. While there are times when I have been known to exaggerate a point or two, in this case I shit you not.  It’s like watching decades of Blade Runner. I can’t recall there ever being a time when my car didn’t have to come to a complete standstill at least once.

    The driver of the car that came to pick me up, a friendly man from Uruguay who had lived in America since the 80s and was planning on returning in October for a wedding, and it was stop and go, for a half a mile or so, while we exchanged impressions about the heat, which had been horrendous in Madrid that year.  At least it was dry, I told him, and he agreed it was better.  Somehow, though, he managed to thread us through much of the sluggish transit without too much delay.  Then, as usual, we picked up speed and coasted by Citi Field and the New York Times.  The Lincoln bobbed up and down over the potholes with muted thumps, another timeless piece of local music.

    Once we got to the Whitestone Bridge, I looked left because the span affords one of the most magnificent views of the New York skyline that a person can have.  Expecting to find the usual cutout of a string of concrete, iron and glass mountains at the lower end, capped by the the new World Trade Center, then blocks of foothills before the Empire State Building crowned the lofty middle of the island, I was struck by the presence of a needle-like stick towering above what I would guess to be Central Park.  Towering above the city.  Towering above the Empire State Building.  It was so skinny, it looked as if it would blow over in a breeze.

    “That wasn’t there last year, was it?”  I asked in Spanish thinking he might appreciate my effort.

    “No, it wasn’t,” he replied in English.  I guess he didn’t share my enthusiasm, so I returned to my native tongue.

“It’s not something Trump is building,” I furthered disparagingly.

“Nope. Not this time.  It was built for the Russians.”

    I was supposed to be going to Russia the very next day.  Only something extreme, like my father suffering a stroke, could have changed that.

    “What do you mean it was built for the Russians?”  Hadn’t we just sent our latest and most sophisticated warplanes over to Europe to make Putin tremble in his shoes, why would we be dethroning the city’s most famous landmark to cater to their whims?  That couldn’t be right.  And it wasn’t, really.  47 Park Avenue, as it has been plainly dubbed, has become the tallest residential building in the United States, and apparently the third highest overall.  The reason the Russians are implicated in this all is that they are supposed to be the only ones who can afford to pay for the astronomical prices being listed, especially for the upper floors.  Apparently, one flat per story.  And one story per flat.

     “I can’t believe anyone would even allow that to happen in that part of New York.  I don’t even think Trump would be so sacrilegious.”

     What Trump was doing instead was build a golf course on top of an old dump. You can see it right next to the Whitestone Bridge toll booth.  It’s called “Trump Links”.  Every time I think of links golf I think of Payne Stewart, the player who wore knickerbockers, a vest and a cap.  In 1999, Payne’s learjet depressurized with him and four others on board.  They all died, but the plane kept going in the same direction until it ran out of fuel and nosedived into a remote field in South Dakota.  That’s a fairly far away place for anyone to perish.  Thank God he was already dead. I guess.


September 8, 2015

Forensic Files, Family Fueds and Funerals 2

If someone were to stop any mother or father on a street and asked them just what they considered to be the most important innovation in travel, most would probably say seatbelts, airbags, and individualized entertainment screens on long distance airlines.  As a result of their creation, childcare suddenly ceased to become an issue since children no longer looked to you for onboard entertainment.  Nor did they look to each other for nonstop bickering to help them pass the time.  Everyone’s needs were tended to and one could safely say that a certain sense of harmony reigned throughout the cabin.  Only the most unsuspecting advances in technology have made the world a better place.

     I actually came upon my first personal IFE screen on an Air France flight I took all by myself, without my daughters, that is, so I couldn’t fully exploit all of its benefits.  Iberia was sorely behind the times in this department and it seemed that its only in-flight entertainment they were offering was a chance to watch the duty-free cart get pushed up and down the aisle.

       It wasn’t until a Delta flight, just like the one we was on now, that this dream was fully realized.  In part.  My girls were ecstatic about plopping on their headsets and crossing the ocean to the joy of watching endless episodes of Glee.  They could barely contain their emotions.  Neither could I.  We hugged each effusively, but for very different reasons.  Then, came the “in part” part of the story.  It turned out that some of the individual systems weren’t working so the flight attendant announced they would be resetting the system to see if all would return to normal.  I could immediately sense where this was taking us all.  I wanted to stand up and scream “Don’t do it! This isn’t a goddamn bowling alley!  Resetting doesn’t do anything!”

       But I was wrong.  It did do something.  It turned off all the screens…for the remainder of the flight.  There were seven and a half hours left.  It ended up being one of the longest flights I could recall.  The plane moved forward so slowly, it thought it was going to have to stop to refuel in Newfoundland.  And, what was worse, not only were my daughters left with their personal IFE; they were pissed too.

        This time, there were no unpleasant surprises.  Everything pretty much worked the way you’d expect them to, except for maybe the fact the tactile screens were not what I would call particularly sensitive to human touch, and you had the feeling you were poking the person in front of you in the back of the neck.

         Aside from that, things went smoothly enough.  I picked up a few inspirational tips from TED TV, futilely tried to reign as champ of the in-cabin trivial game contest, and then settled down with some long documentaries.  One was about the eccentric managers of the Who, another told the story of a celebrated group of California sessions musicians in the 1960s known as the Wrecking Crew, and the last took us through the life of the now deceased film critic, Roger Ebert, who departed from this world after a long, painful, losing bout against cancer.  In the end, he couldn’t even speak.

           By the end, he couldn’t even speak.  I think, and I could swear this, the plane arrived before I had finished.