Freudian Slips: January 2006

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

January 31, 2006

Nocturnal Admissions

Quiet! Dreams in progress.

Understanding dreams is not an exact science. It is an inexact art open to interpretation that even the greatest minds cannot master. As the master architect of my own dreams, the plot often unfolds like a mystery before my closed eyes. My personal dreams are chronicled by mystery, heavy dialogue, and recollection. What the characters say in my dreams come like gift-wrapped surprises. As I interact with the characters in my dreams, my creativity takes shape. I make puns and play on words. I am surprised by my dream witticism because I use words in clever ways that I never imagined. Like a sleeping comic, I wake up each morning with new joke material to take into the day or use here in Freudian Slips. The imprint of my nocturnal dreams on my waking self makes me believe that I own a strong subconscious mind. If that isn’t strange enough, my subconscious recently broke through to the other side of midnight to confide in me. I would classify this unlikely communiqué as a bizarre and convoluted experience. Bare with me before you throw away the key.

Back in September 2005, I was working on a rough draft for this very blog posting about dream sequencing. I remembered the humor that transpired, and awoke to new joke material that my subconscious created. I wondered how I could invent new material in my dreams while asleep. Without a plausible explanation, I hashed out the skeletal framework of the story which appears before you. In order to complete a witty post about dreaming, my dreams said I couldn’t sleep on the job!

Meanwhile, I was also drafting the post Natasha Ryan, The Necromancer but it was too stiff to yet post on Freudian Slips. Writer’s block miserably injected into my veins. Lacking noodles forced me to put down my doodles. In a dreamy sleep that night, my subconscious changed the blog post title, added better keywords, and an intriguing angle that I had not thought of. Why didn't I think of that? My subconscious instructed me to get off the snide and finish both my Natasha story and my dream post in the works. I woke up, tweeked the Natasha Ryan, The Necromancer story, and published it on October 4, 2005.

Following the instructions of my subconscious, I returned to work again on my earlier blog post about dreaming. I felt satisfied with my writing and cued it up for publication. When I went to bed that night, however, I had no idea the post would continue to be edited while sound asleep so far from a keyboard.

As if according to some master plan, I woke up to remember everything told to me in my sleep. I couldn’t believe it! Incredulously, my subconscious made a condescending dig at me. How dare he, me, I? Why did my subconscious mind play a joke on my conscious mind at my expense? It was weird enough when I just seemed surprised by what others said in my dreams. This is so deep on so many levels. I don’t know what else to make of it all. I am open to suggestions from readers and qualified shrinks who want to take on some pro bono work. I do know that the more writing I can get done while I slumber, the better chances this blog stands of carrying on. I hope this is the gift that keeps giving. You gotta love the presents of mind with open arms.

A nocturnal admission if you will, here is what I remember saying to myself that fateful night during my sleep no less:

“Joe, remember this laugh line when you wake-up. I want you to close the dream post with the following line. ‘Your subconscious will always be funnier than your personality ever will.’"

So let it be written. So let it be done.


January 29, 2006

The Numb in Numbers

-redemption as a twenty two-year-old

While driving to the mall in 1984, I inherited a strange notion to look to my immediate left. My sight locked onto a 7-Eleven convenience store. Its triteness made me wonder why I even bothered to take my eyes off of the road. As I passed the 7-Eleven, however, one of the more unusual experiences of my life took root. A voice in my head shouted out a three digit number. The voice spooked me because it wasn’t mine. It was a disembodied male voice. He spoke with an authoritative quality, as if every number mattered. Every hair on my body stood at attention. Call it the numb in numbers.

I turned the car around to investigate the immediate area and any significance to the three digit number. Was I going crazy? Driving myself to a mental hospital seemed like a future sentinel event. I reasoned that the voice couldn’t have been a ghost because it took place in my head.

Nevertheless, I parked the car in front of the 7-Eleven store to observe my surroundings. I started to feel at ease which did wonders for my mental health. The loony bin would wait but I still needed to unravel the mystery. While patrons came and went in ordinary commerce, the LOTTERY sign in the window drew my attention. For all intents and purposes, it seemed to be a personal marker and not just an advertisement for the general public. I turned away to view other things in my environment but my gaze kept settling on the lottery sign. Since my mother had recently been receiving winning lottery numbers through osmosis, I decided to test second generational luck. I waltzed into the store and approached the cashier behind the counter.

“I normally don’t do this sort of thing.” I admitted.

“What spend this much money?” wisecracked the snickering cashier.

“I meant play the lottery.”

I went out to a bar later that night to wager the medicinal effects of alcohol on a rattled psyche. Bar side, my thoughts occasionally returned to the voice. For all the mental energy I exerted, I still couldn’t make sense out of the X-File incident. When I left the bar short of inebriation and broke, the lottery ticket remained the only parcel in my wallet.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned that the lottery number hit in the exact order that I received them. Hocus Pocus these numbers weren't bogus! For reasons I’ll never know, a voice from beyond made me several hundred dollars richer. Even stranger, I have never heard that strange voice again. Whenever I am short on money, I actually long for that voice to resurface to scare the bejesus out of me. Hell, I’d take Adolph Hitler’s voice if he could cough up a Swiss bank account.


January 26, 2006

Jerry Springer & Audience Participation

I went to a fight and a Jerry Springer show broke out.”
-Joe Tornatore on the state of television.
A troubling story in the news confirms my perception that the value of the Jerry Springer show can be derived from the mentality of its audience. Shannon Cook, a twenty-five year old Illinois mother, left her children home alone so she and her boyfriend could attend a videotaping of the Jerry Springer show. The aspiring mother abandoned her three toddlers, who are all under the age of four, for five hours. If there is ever a reason to leave your children home alone to fend for themselves, Jerry Springer isn’t it. Her children knew better. They had enough sense to knock on a neighbor’s door for help. The police were called. No Cinderella story here. The mother was arrested when she returned home after midnight.
I can’t say this is behavior unbecoming of the stereotype of Jerry Springer audience members. This show has entertainment value only. Without drawing stereotypes, the Jerry Springer show may be a live indictment of the fall of society. It is tart imitating life. Just by attending the taping, the mother was writing the script for the next show. The mother’s actions are like a warped alternative definition of audience participation. Not to be overlooked, the boyfriend is no role model either.
Shannon Cook pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment. Her explanation for her lack of parental supervision in this regrettable incident lacked insight.
“I didn’t think I’d be gone that long.” explained the guilty party.
Can the court stenographer please read that testimony back for the record? My ears did not deceive me. In this mother's eyes, fault rested with the length of her absence and not the mere absence itself? Talk about rationalizing remorse. She was issued a thirty day jail sentence and her children were placed in foster homes by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
I guarantee you the children didn’t expect their mother would be “gone that long” either. If there is any justice in the world, the children won't be raised to watch the Jerry Springer show at their foster homes. I wouldn’t want to see my mother whooping it up in the aisles while watching a donnybrook of hatred on stage. The day I learn that my mother willingly left me for that would be...heartbreaking. To borrow a television cliché, it would be time for an encouraging word from my sponsors.


January 24, 2006

Bungee Grumping

-a second seat belt? Whatever for?

I am enjoying the unseasonably mild winter weather for two reasons. Not only is it keeping the home heating costs manageable so the family can afford food but my driver's side door has acquired a nasty habit of sticking in cold temperatures. I am not talking about the locking system and what a little hot breath or de-icer could remedy. It is not that simple. My drivers side door occasionally won't close after it has been opened. I nearly killed myself on the first day this unorthodox situation presented itself. Important safety tip. Never negotiate a traffic circle with a driver's side door ajar. I almost fell out of the car and put myself in an unenviable position of running myself over. I could hear the television news commentary:

'Frumpy social worker dies by running himself over with his car! Grisly film of stupidity at eleven.'

When I finally got to work in one piece, I needed to come up with a safer means of travel other than catching a public bus. Alas, this is a picture of me hooking up a bungee cord across my torso. By no stretch of the imagination, consider a bungee cord a passive restraint. I had to stretch the rubber from the driver's side arm rest across my body to hook onto the metal frame underneath the adjacent seat. I felt like toggling my hazard lights on and hanging the bumper sitcker, CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE. I endured constant farting and became a shallow breather under the circumstances but my car door remained closed. Ah, the bittersweet smell of success!

This public service announcement was brought to you by the letter "M" as in S & M. If the temperature stays above 25 degrees, my bungee cord will be able to stay in the trunk until I can get this fixed. How CORDial that would be.

January 22, 2006

Ziggy and a Stardust Memory

A few years ago, I received a needy client on my caseload. Ziggy is a good-natured fellow but he had a knack of getting emotionally attached to his social worker. Ziggy exacted unrelenting high maintenance. He always needed to know your schedule just in case he wanted to reach you at a moment’s notice. If I told him I had an appointment in the Arizona desert, Ziggy would find me in a driving sand storm. The inventor of Caller ID had a guy like Ziggy in mind.

Servicing a client like Ziggy, who lived only two miles away in my small hometown, is an even greater challenge. If I even hinted to Ziggy where I lived, he would think nothing of showing up at my doorstep at supper time like an awkwardly funny scene straight from the movie What About Bob.

When I got Ziggy on my caseload, he already outlived a string of social workers. I sensed the clear and present danger just reading over his file before I met him. Keeping Ziggy at arm’s length seemed not only an objective but practical survivor skills. So I promised myself to discourage co-dependency by setting boundaries and not divulging personal information.

My first scheduled field visit to Ziggy’s home convinced me that he and I lived entirely too close. Forget about it being eight thirty in the morning, Ziggy stood out on the porch waiting for my arrival.

“Is that your car?” a voice asked. “How long have you had it? Do you own two cars? I have seen a car like that around town. Maybe I saw your wife riding in it. You do have a wife don’t you? Never mind I see the wedding band. Congratulations.”

“The one and only Ziggy R. Palpatine I presume?” I greeted while stepping onto the porch. “How do you do? My name is Joe Tornatore.”

Always friendly and gracious, Ziggy invited me inside. Wee children scampered around the modest house in various stages of dress and play. Ziggy had enough children to cover the infield of a baseball team but there were questions whether he and his wife could raise an only child. After giving me fair warning that all the children have head lice, Ziggy offered me an open spot on the fabric couch to sit down. I respectfully declined his hospitality. Over the next thirty five minutes, I stood stationary in the same spot. I discussed relevant issues in Ziggy’s life to his satisfaction. When we started to only regurgitate the same topics of conversation, I felt it appropriate to end the house call. Ziggy, however, never understood the true meaning of goodbye.

I explained, “Listen, I got to head to my next appointment in Swedesboro. It was glad meeting you and your family. I will contact the school nurse about the kids.”

“Are you sure that you gotta go now?”


Truth of the matter, I had no such appointment. I felt the need to keep Ziggy off balance so he didn’t get used to my routine. Instead, I headed directly back to my satellite office to shuffle paperwork.

About two hours later, the ring of the phone had a different tone to it.

“Joe Tornatore.” I answered the phone.

“Man, you made good time. This is Ziggy. I thought you said you had an appointment.”

“Never mind. What is up?” I asked.

“Ugh, I spoke to the school nurse and good news. She said the children could return to….”

“Glad you worked it out on your own, Ziggy.” I interrupted. “Kids need their schooling. Sorry to cool your jets but I am heading out in the field now. Got to roll. Goodbye.”

I must have left Ziggy holding the receiver in his hand. I hopped in the car and traveled thirty one miles east to my main office. About an hour into a staff meeting, the phone rang off the hook. A colleague left her seat to answer the phone. She issued me a head nod that the phone call was for me. Phone calls are usually held at the front desk during staff meetings. Walking to the phone, I started to worry about an emergency on my caseload.

“Joe is that you?” a familiar voice asked.

“Who is this?”

“Ziggy, silly. Who else? I took a chance that you might be at the other office. You weren’t answering your other phone, you know, the one I talked to you at this morning.”

“I remember Ziggy. I remember. I’m in a meeting now. I trust that your reaching me is important.”

“Joe, I forgot to mark it on my calendar. What day did you say you would be coming back out to my house?”

“I didn’t say if or when I would be back, Ziggy. I’ll talk to you later about that. I’m busy now. Don’t call me back today. I am working late into the night.”

“Is it that Swedesboro situation?” asked Ziggy on a need to know basis.

I crisply hung up the phone.

Six hours later, life found me in the snack aisle of the neighborhood ACME. I was on my own time trying to accomplish some food shopping. Straight ahead of me, Ziggy and his kids wrestled for control of a bag of pretzels. I kind of did a double take hoping this might be a mirage in that Arizona desert. The encounter is the stuff Freudian Slips is made of - irony, spice and everything twice. Ziggy sees me before I can even invent a stealth escape route. The unbridled expression on Ziggy’s face proved to be a forerunner to his commentary. His beady eyes put the range in range rover.

“Still working, huh?” related Ziggy. “Joe, you’re going to make life tough on me. Westville, Swedesboro, Clayton, Hammonton, all in one work day. Man, you’re all over the freaking map. I’m never gonna be able to keep track of ya!”


January 19, 2006

Timber and Plenty of It

-a sampling of our majestic yet anxiety-provoking backyard treetops.

The howling wind that dominated Tuesday night and interrupted my sleep, reminded me of something ironic from a couple of years ago. Let me explain the situation before revealing the circumstantial irony. We live on a wooded property that is no stranger to soaring trees. How this land with 100 foot grandaddy trees could once support a small private airport, I have no idea? So anytime high winds race across the landscape, I fret about a tree leveling our house. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, it remains there for cleanup.

After moving into this home, there were a couple of trees closest to the house that we wanted to have cut down to shed direct sunlight on the wood deck. We were able to squirrel money aside for this purpose. I got contractors to come out to the house to give estimates. Recommendation after recommendation included additional suspect trees beyond my plan of correction with prices rivaling a king’s ransom. Wood you believe that I grossly underestimated the cost factor and what a labor intensive job it would be? The estimates for the work were beyond our picayune savings. There was something about the associated cost that forged my sense of conservation. I decided to leave the trees be for now. In fact, another year would pass before we finally contracted the job out. In a reshuffle of priorities, I used the nest egg of money to purchase new carpeting for our gymnasium, home to a few rarely used workout machines and a lonely shower. Sprucing up a home’s interior while ignoring the outdoor danger is counterintuitive. The same problem solving tactics damn an ostrich.

Be that as it may, the weather was inglorious on the day the carpet got delivered. The wind gusts whistling through tree branches exhausted my wind chime. This ostrich could care less about the wind with his head stuck in the sand. Two carpet installers carried the roll of carpet around back for a backdoor entry. As they lugged the carpet roll, I could not help but think of lumberjacks wrestling a tree trunk. I stood by the workers as keeper of their handsome tip. As they were lugging the carpet, one of the carpet guys looked towards the woods. My eyes followed his. Our eyes followed movement. We witnessed a tree falling in the woods. Only medium sized, the tree still landed with a whoosh sound and kicked up dead leaves in its wake.

“Did you see that?” asked the carpet installer to anyone who would listen.

I replied, “Ugh, I’m afraid so.”

“Timber! Yuk. Yuk.” cried the installer who did not see a thing.

“You better get somebody out here to take care of that?” overstated the witness to my nightmare.

“Know any lumberjacks for hire?” I chuckled.

The morale of the story is that sometimes an ostrich needs the very sand hiding his head to quake before dealing with an issue head on.


January 17, 2006

Ready, Set, Grow Project

-my firstborn watching picture-in-a-picture video of herself

Ready, Set, Grow Project By Joe Tornatore

Thanks to modern technology expectant parents can see vivid imagery of fetal development inside the mother’s womb. If nothing else, the imagery shows how quickly human beings develop. Once a baby is born, the window of opportunity to capture those moments on film is smaller than most parents might imagine. Like many fledgling parents, I purchased my first camcorder when my firstborn arrived on the scene. Wanting to capture every magic moment, I began to make countless video diaries. With my creative juices flowing as a wily cameraman, I stumbled upon an interesting alternative to ordinary videotaping. I would like to share how to make a video growth chart of your child.

Ultrasound images of the fetus make a wonderful state-of-the-art starting point. Otherwise, take a minute long tape of your newborn. Concentrate your video efforts on close-up full-bodied images. Minimize background noise when filming so that the only audio comes from your baby. Set the video aside. Mark your calendar at six month intervals so you know when it is time to film another segment. Time flies when you are slinging diapers.

At the six-month marker, place your infant in front of a television set that has playback capability. Play the taped footage of your newborn on the television set. Film another short clip of your infant in front of the television. For optimal results, utilize a tripod to video record from the same angle. Set the updated video aside.

After another six months, play back the infant tape while taking additional live footage of your toddler. In time, use the toddler tape as playback before taking more live footage. Interrupt your parenting every six months to repeat the process. Always use the most recent footage for your playback image on the television set. You get the picture.

A chronological picture-in-a-picture growth history of your child will emerge in a matrix. Your heart will burst watching your child develop from emitting coos to babble to emerging speech, from laying to crawling to standing all in a single frame of reference. Ready, set, grow!


January 15, 2006

Bill Cosby,

-Bill Cosby, a stand-up performance sitting down.

Thanks to a patron saint, my wife and I were comped tickets to see comedian Bill Cosby perfom live at the House of Blues in Atlantic City, NJ this past weekend. I have always wanted to see Bill Cosby perform because I respect an act that can shine without a single expletive.
The 68-year-old icon shows no signs of slowing down mentally. Physically, however, Bill Cosby looked tired and weathered. Pot-bellied now, he sat slouched for the entire performance. The irony of a stand-up comedian sitting down on the job did not escape me. In many ways, Cosby looked no different than the average grandfather, a role he has reluctantly accepted and almost exclusively parodied for the 90 minute routine. Hey, hey, hey! My words are intended to be descriptive and are not meant to be unkind. If I even get to Cosby's age, I might be battling the earth's gravitational pull and Fat Albert's obesity!
While his appearance and perspective on life may have changed, Bill Cosby is still naturally funny. He can tell a homespun family yarn with the best of them. That alone is celebrate.


January 12, 2006

R2D2, What Ales Ya?

I couldn’t believe the news! The news reported that Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2D2 in the original trilogy was found guilty of drunk driving. The verdict aside, I didn’t know even a wee bit that there was an actor sardined inside that tin. With all of the cutting edge computer animation available, I didn't think Lucas Films would need to stuff a human being into a tin can for realism. Since I’m a huge Star Wars fan, sincere apologies are in order for the vertically challenged actor whose name I overlooked in the credits.
I can understand that anyone small enough to wedge themselves into the same beer keg for epic length Star Wars movies might have an urge to drink straight from the can to get tanked now and again. That is a given. Speaking from personal experience, let's not underestimate the duress of uncomfortable wardrobe on movie sets. But drunk driving is a serious offense so I don't want to make light of it. Nonetheless, I can’t help but digress when I conjure up visual images of pint sized R2D2 climbing up a step ladder in order to chug beers barside. My mind returns to the famous cantina scene in Star Wars, where an intergalactic band plays music to a cast of high-strung suds seeking misfits. Before we get too far with this story, there is no truth that a lubed up C3PO was involved in this incident and Boba Fett’s pack’em on ice bounty hunter services weren't needed.
After being pulled over, I wonder if the police stop went something like this. For parody purposes, picture Kenny Baker playing loveable R2D2 and the law as a packing Storm Trooper. R2D2 is sitting slouched on a modified booster seat barely higher than the dashboard itself. As the Trooper approaches, R2D2 is jamming to what else but heavy metal music.
The Trooper asks, “What is your name, rank, or serial number?”
“Move along, Trooper. You have the wrong droid?”
“Not so fast, shorty. Your bulbs and whistles look glassy. I have been following you since you left that geekadroid space cantina. What planetary system are you headed for?”
“A nebulae just south of the….ugh,…San Diego zoo.” R2D2 would impatiently slur. “What ales ya, Storm Trooper?”
“Twenty five light years per hour in a Volkswagen Revenge of the Jetta. Not to mention reckless driving.”
“I guess I had one too many cans of beer, Trooper. I’m feeling depressed about my acting career. With Star Wars over, I’m having trouble getting another small part.”
“Too bad. Could you remove your pilot’s license and registration? Thank you. Now step out of the ship.”
The Trooper assists R2D2 out of his vehicle then wonders how he is going to get a droid to complete a sobriety test. The Trooper instructs, “Okay now. Be big about it. Put your best wheel forward. Roll forward as straight as possible.”
“I’ve been diecast and typecast, you don’t know who I am?”
“Roll Forward or I will have you towed to the junkyard.”
R2D2 moves in a haphazard sidewinder motion unbecoming of a machine. “Stop right there.” The Trooper instructed. “You’re squeaking, creaking, and you damned near rolled out into oncoming traffic. I suspect that alcohol has polluted your 10W 30 motor oil. I have no other choice but to give you a breathalyzer. Any ideas where I can insert this breathalyzer for an accurate reading?”
"Up yours, Trooper!"
Back to reality. The readings came back over the legal limit. A remorseful Kenny Baker was fined and he lost his driving privileges for one year. Kenny Baker was quoted as saying that he is now looking to hire a "2’6” female chauffer". If she happens to be a Star Wars junky and a fan of frequent oil changes, sparks may fly. It sounds like a tall order, even if a traveling carnival happens to be in town!


January 10, 2006

Sanford and Son

Christmas has to be the worst time of the year to have a car break down. My car leaked oil so bad that the burn onto my engine block had me driving through plumes of gray smoke. My car was scheduled to go into the repair shop the following day for what I anticipated to be a costly repair. As for the moment, its usage was up and back to work only with sincere apologies to the ozone layer. As the smoke distorted the road in front of me, I tried to figure out where to pool the money to best offset the financial pinch. Flanked by trash cans and rubbish curbside, a multi-piece black leather sectional caught my attention. In making a U-turn to get a better look, I left a cloud of cautionary smoke behind me. My second pass garnered further inspection from the least likely of sources, a car in need of engine repair.
So I raced my smokestack of a car home, switched vehicles with my wife, and returned to the trash pile. The sectional was made up of three separate pieces. I found a manufacturer’s tag certifying the furniture as genuine leather. The frame and cushions appeared in superb condition. Black leather was my color and material of choice for the spot I intended it for. Other than the mangled metal frame of the sleeper sofa, I had no idea why the rest of the furniture had been kicked to the curb. I began admiring the middle piece. The wedge boasted a beautiful soft rounded contour U back that qualified it as a stand alone piece.
Smoky engine block aside, things started to really heat up when I heard a loud muffler behind me. I turned. With no shoulder on the country road, a pick-up truck parked at my feet. Two wide-eyed men got out. They looked to be a father and son team. I can best describe them as hungry.
“Are you here for the furniture?” inquired the older Sanford.
“Yes." I nodded. "I have no interest in anything but the furniture.”
I thought to myself. Who do they think I am? I’m a trash picker with high standards. I don’t climb into dumpsters or root through Rubbermaid can refuse. In a subculture of trash pickers, I would be considered upper crust not plain old crust. So I got that going for me.
“Ugh, us too. The furniture.” agreed the younger Sanford.
Now that it had been established that we were all present for a single-minded purpose, they begin fondling my furniture.
“Hold up guys.” I interrupted. “Surely, you guys have heard of Sanford and Son.”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“If that TV show taught us anything, it's the Finders Keepers Losers Weepers mentality that keeps salvage operations civil.”
“Well, do you want the furniture or not?” asked the younger Sanford in an authoritative tone. The older Sanford continued a bloodhound’s scowl.
“I only have use for the center section, the wedge.” I answered. “You guys can have the rest.”
Another pickup truck pulled up to the curb. I heard car doors slam. This was quickly becoming a rally point for free loaders. If the newcomers had an appointment, we were going to need a police officer to settle this matter.
The older Sanford chides me. “Do you really plan on breaking up the set?”
“What set?” My arms motioned back to the trash pile. I almost laughed out loud. “Remember, this is trash we’re talking about. This sectional might have been sold as one unit but it is being salvaged as parts.”
The older Sanford continued leaning into me. “My son Angelo just got an apartment. Angelo say hello to the man. Yeah, we were out shopping for some furniture. There are some nice homes around here. This is nice furniture. The kind we were looking for.”
I concurred, “Genuine leather no less.”
I live in one of the “nice homes” he mentioned only two miles down the road. My sense of enterprise would not be seduced by the guilt trip. By now, Sanford and Son had successfully wedged the sleeper sofa frame back in its stowaway compartment. They were sizing up their take. That’s when the situation got personal.
“Are you by yourself?” asked the older Sanford.
“By myself.” I confessed to being in buisness for myself.
He further probed, “Is that your minivan?”
“Yes. Don’t get any ideas. It’s not trash.”
I soon realized the operational breakdown. Moving this furniture was meant for two people with the right mode of transportation. I was a heartbeat short of bringing it home and these guys didn’t have the heart to lend a grubby hand carrying what still could be their furniture. I don't blame them. The other problem was that my minivan could not fit the smallest wedge of furniture. Both sets of trash pickers slyly surveyed the desperate moment. I felt that the situation could turn at any moment.
“Angelo, did you hear that? This guy is all by his lonesome. He’s not going to be able to transport the goods in that minivan. Let’s wait him out.”
"Yeah, we were here second."
Now they conveniently adopted the Finders Keepers Losers Weepers universal rule of thumb. Statements like that only make me more determined. I walked the cushion over to the minivan and tossed it inside. Admittedly, it was the easier of the prerequisite steps but the important one in establishing rightful ownership of discarded property.(refer to Sanford and Son episode 14)
After summoning the Greek Gods of Atlas and Hercules, I picked up the center sectional over my head and carried it to the minivan. What I was going to do with the furniture if I got it to the minivan remained to be seen. Freudian Slips would call it either the seat of the problem or a moving experience. The closer I got to paydirt, the more it became apparent that it would not fit in the cabin. I stood on my tippy toes and lifted the furniture atop the never used roof rack. A few deep breaths later, I fell behind the wheel. I enacted the hazard lights and slowly rolled my minivan with cargo past my disbelieving acquaintances. I waved adios to the crowd. You had to see their faces.
This concludes the story of how a beautiful piece of furniture came to offset an untimely car repair bill. And yes, my car bill totaled the price of one leather loveseat.
- actual piece of furniture now in my basement. It seats two people rather comfy.


January 08, 2006

The Burning Bush

-the spirit of Christmas was much like a burning bush.

I felt like a burn victim living with pyromaniacs this past holiday season. I carried with me an impending feeling about accidental fire even on Christmas Day. I do not know what sparked this ominous emotion but I started to act hyper vigilant around flame. For those of you keeping score at home, my remarks did not win any affection from loving family members, who perceived me to be a kook.

December 17, 2005. My daughter had friends over to the house. They were using a portable space heater to stay warm in the basement. I lambasted my wife that the heater could cause a fire and it shouldn’t run constantly by carefree teenagers without adult supervision. The heater stayed on. Score: wife 1 husband 0.
December 18, 2005. I found my son innocently tending to the burning wood in the hearth of the fireplace. I overzealously questioned my son whether he was responsible enough to interact with the element of fire. After checking with my wife, the fire burned. Score: wife 2 husband 0.
December 24, 2005. I observed my son emptying hot candle wax onto a paper plate to create a cleaner burn for the wick. Before I asked too many questions, I barked that paper products should not be a receptacle for hot wax. My overreaction got nowhere with his mother, who overruled me. The candle burned on. Score: wife 3 husband 0.
December 25, 2005. The family is gathered together over my in-laws to exchange gifts. About 9pm, the raw shouts of “Fire!” could be heard. A lit candle overturned onto a side table and ignited a wreath. The burning bush was tossed outside on the rain-soaked ground to prevent further spread of the fire. The bad feeling, which I harbored inside me, finally went away.
When safety is on the line, trust your intuition even when it isn’t a popular decision among family members.


January 06, 2006

Dear Great Grandchildren

I previously posted a rough draft of my short story called Dear Great Grandchildren. After meeting, consulting and teleconferencing with my ‘senior editor’ for many hours, I realized how rough of a draft it was. Thanks mom for the countless hours of constructive criticism to improve the trimmings of the story. Where you made my ears ring, I now feel proud to be able to leave this as an heirloom to my great grandchildren.
Dear Great Grandchildren,
As your late great grandfather, Joseph Tornatore, I am writing you this letter at the age of forty three. Even though people live longer with each passing generation, I expect to be ashes thus missing out on our opportunity to meet. If that is God’s will, I wish to describe the world during your great grandfather’s time because it’s changing at such a spellbinding pace that I barely recognize yesterday.
In 1962, I was born in the commonwealth state of Pennsylvania, United States of America, arguably the greatest country on the planet. My arrival occurred during an era heralded by space exploration and tribulation over the civil rights movement. Ergo human beings enigmatically lack the unwavering commitment to fix things on Earth before branching out into outer space. I never understood the objection of unilateral civil rights in a free country but once upon a time abolitionists staunchly opposed slavery. The plight of human beings is the reason your great grandpa became a persona non gratis social worker and why I never looked to the stars as an astronaut.
My personal arrival on the planet coincided with the public outcry over Marilyn Monroe’s fatal drug overdose and the mourning of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Martyrdom aside, no generation has solved either the rampant drug problem or the ramparts of violence. A Just Say No slogan sounds imbecilic but it remains our nation’s iconic advertising campaign to combat the war on drugs. It seems illogical to teach abstinence in the depths of addiction because most people can’t say no to chocolate. The cycle of violence in our society forces rogue street gangs to organize in order to stay in bloody business. Gratuitous vats of violence miserably dwarf gracious acts of kindness. The nightly news reminds audiences that life is tenuous for everyone and not just movie stars and Presidents.
In 1973, our nation passed the Endangered Species Act to protect vulnerable animals. The American bald eagle, an emblematic creature for our country and currency, topped the list of creatures in danger of extinction like symbolic crimson stain on our nation. As entire species disappeared forever from planet Earth, homemakers became endangered too, as they started hanging up their aprons for work outside the home. Gender roles became convoluted but the women’s liberation movement isn’t defending the caveman and home economics can no longer afford the luxury of stay-at-home-moms. After each working parent brings home the bacon, somebody must cook it. Although parents delicately balance priorities with quality time, childrearing is now graded with an inherent learning curve. But what happens in the cave thankfully stays in the cave unless the government has enacted laws for the greater good which infringe on personal freedom.
Try to remember your great grandfather as a dreamer. I once envisioned that the greatest invention of my lifetime would be the digital picture frame. It eventually arrived but not before the birth of microwaves, remote controlled television sets and cordless phones. I watched video cassette recorders and bulky seventeen pound camcorders fly off storeroom shelves of now defunct department stores. The standard of living has vastly improved for most Americans but the rich and poor have never been further apart.
Meanwhile, theologians and scientists cannot agree on uniform standards for the inception of life. I’m not the smartest man alive but maybe life from the beginning was never fallible man’s argument. Alas, man now creates seedless watermelon and it manages to reproduce. As I chew on the origin of the species, will man’s infinite wisdom remove both the chicken and the egg from the argument? In 1986, the first test tube baby arrived via in vitro fertilization. Scientists experimented by cloning farm animals like sly wolves making sheep’s clothing. Stem cell research is in its embryonic state but the moral and ethical considerations resemble a Roe vs. Wade crucible for the 21st century. I don’t know where we are headed but I deduce that left to our own devices, it is with these devices we tinker. As I feel the rising and falling of my breath, I speculate whether the miracle of life is losing its awed reverence in the swill of the beaker tubes.
In 1986, our beloved Statue of Liberty celebrated her 100th anniversary but she needed a facelift. While Liberty stands still, America is getting her own make-over. A liberal interpretation of the law of eminent domain is reshaping the landscape under the political guise of progress. Eminent domain is no longer enforced solely for the expansion of roadways, airports, or schools. Mom-and-Pop stores and farmhouses owned by multi-generational families are being seized under the pretense of the public’s good. The names of sponsors should be painted on the wrecking balls because the destruction they rein becomes a façade for corporate gain. I looked up eminent domain in the dictionary and what I found sounds awfully like imminent domain. I wouldn’t be surprised if we insert a team picture of Native Americans next to the expanding definition.
From Native Americans to the blind man crossing the street, I have instilled in your grandparents to respect all walks of life because the truism that all men are created equally isn’t always evident. We could all stand to love thy neighbor with more spoonfuls of sugar from Gaylordsville, Connecticut to Nigtown, Texas to Frankenstein, Missouri. This recipe of goodwill calls for inspecting the similarities while respecting the differences. Once upon a safer time in America, idle homes could be left unlocked. We now live with a false sense of security and poor judgment undermines even leaving automobiles idling in broad daylight. Some houses need iron bars for protection all within a country with nary a barrier for border.
Convinced that we live in a precarious place, I started to bring children into this world in 1990. Securing affordable single family housing in New Jersey became a monumental undertaking. I managed to keep a mortgaged roof over our heads but soon owning prime real estate anywhere in the country became my generation’s gold rush. Right before real estate prices skyrocketed, moguls and entrepreneurs capitalized by stockpiling property like cardboard Monopoly deeds. The mortality of the middle class may face an impending doom if the American dream of land ownership fizzles. If more people looked beyond their backyard, we have succeeded in going forth and multiplying from sea to shinning sea. The world is expanding at such an alarming rate that we may eventually exceed the resources to support its occupants.
This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land became a folk anthem but the lyrics remind me of seven billion consumers playing hot potato with a pirated globe. New Jersey became the first state in the country to mandate a recycling program. Environmentalists applauded burgeoning conservation measures but I wondered what took us so long to simply drag another stinking trashcan to the curb. Maybe all the empirical data is in now but our best scientists are still debating global warming as if it were water cooler conversation. Industrialized nations rely on gasoline powered cars beyond the availability of comparable technology. If not for the depleting ozone layer, hybrid cars might still be in our distant future. There is complacency regarding environmental issues as if we are waiting for either a revelation or revolution. Perhaps only apocalyptic locust storms or sunbathing Polar Bears would reverse our wayward course.
The calamitous weather alone should invoke lighter footprints on the planet. Recently, a half million people drowned in a catastrophic tsunami in Southeast Asia. When the ground trembles, an earthquake is almost certainly swallowing unsuspecting human beings. Every decade Mother Nature unleashes hundred year floods on the land and her subjects. Befuddled weathermen recently exhausted the list of hurricanes names and had to resort to using Greek letters. Venice, Italy has been sinking for hundreds of years but Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans underwater in a day. Destructive tornados are no longer confined to Tornado Alley as they now barrel through unexpected locations and the Midwest right up until Thanksgiving dinner.
Children are our most precious planetary asset yet they clutch to their bosom a sense of entitlement without appreciation for family or the ways of the world. When planning parenthood, couples seek genetic testing to identify DNA markers to fingerprint the family tree. In my younger days, couples actually started families without genetics. People sewed their wild oats before newspapers gave print to an opportunistic sexually transmitted disease that incestuously kills its host. HIV AIDS still ravages millions across every continent because there is no cure for this insidious disease. Without a cure, AIDS has the potential to abolish humanity and make the Black Plague look like a runny nose. I retain highly irrational fears of sitting on public toilet seats yet I am reminded by potty-mouthed children it is they who shall inherit the world.
A dear child long out of the cradle asked me why nobody plays wire ball anymore. I barely had the heart to tell the youngster of an antiquated sport needing telephone lines on the poles in a world that had yet to go wireless. A great majority of America’s youth won’t play ball without a team uniform. Meanwhile, idolized professional athletes are breaking unthinkable sports records. Nobody can officiate the re-writing of the record books in the wake of alleged steroid use by athletes. Performance drugs are altering bodies in ways I cannot be sure God truly intended. The violent velour of football has replaced perennial baseball as our national pastime. Baseball remains a game of storied tradition but I wonder about the egocentric moniker World Series when nearly every country in the world has made a habit of beating our best Little Leaguers.
As a sports-minded boy, my summer times were enjoyed outdoors. I could wander unsupervised far away from the house from breakfast to supper. The outdoor activity kept my body strong and allowed me to eat without weight gain. A study in contrast, I’m met with passive resistance from your grandparents coaxing them off of the couch or away from the computer. Not surprisingly, Americans are losing the fight against obesity. Fast food chains and all-you-can-eat buffets have become convenient staples in the saturated American diet. The Surgeon General warns that our health is being compromised. Instead of taking responsibility for our lifestyles, we turn to the local pharmacy to keep us alive on a litany of prescription drugs. If the abundance of food and advances in medicine in our society sound remarkable, then it must undoubtedly be indigestible for the emaciated people in third world countries; those dying of starvation and lacking basic medical care. In kindergarten we are taught to share with others, but as a grownup, I learned that the distribution of wealth mostly begins and ends at a country’s border.
The technological revolution continues to revamp modern life. As a boy, I was enamored with a Fisher Price View-Master which offered a slideshow through cheap plastic binoculars. While the View-Master defies logic as a commercial toy 65 years later, two billion people tote hand-held futuristic style voice-activated global positioning communication devices that can screen calls or take messages, produce streaming video, pixel perfect photography, organize life, play games and surf the net. I can only imagine a future that makes our times appear prehistoric. Similarly, I confess to my purchase of a battery operated desktop Rolodex for my first professional job following college. Powered by six fresh D cell batteries, its only function was to scroll paper index cards to the corresponding handwritten phone number. If you find this gadget unbelievable and cumbersome, then you can imagine my disbelief when my parents used to spout outlandish tales of walking to school before buses came along, emptying the outhouse latrine, and cooking on a wood burning stove if there was food available. It is to be remembered that people once entered the workforce without the assistance of computers, internet browsers, email, facsimile transmissions, scanners, palm pilots, and jump drives. Now the technological revolution has made everyone so damned conditioned and dependent to the ease of electronics that nobody can work…or live without them.
Thus, we are forced to change with the times or be left behind because even state-of-the-art electronics products become tomorrow’s obsolescence. The first computer was a monolithic structure that had to be warehoused in a large building. Now the same sized building can be filled with thousands of lightweight personal computers and the life events of a centenarian can be impersonally stored on a DVD disc in seconds. Consumer Report magazine rates functional products I never knew existed! In 1995, Google was born as an internet informational search engine on computers. Google evolved into an able resource tool of the trade, a verb in our language, and a public company able to be traded on Wall Street. Completing even a cursory Google search, you might identify the name of Rosa Parks’ bus driver or locate the descendents of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves. Ebay is a perpetual on-line yard sale where you can buy anything anywhere in the world from raccoon excrement to a grilled cheese sandwich resembling the Virgin Mary. Great Grandpa has no fascination with animal waste and I remain a Doubting Thomas that virgins on fried food are sacred. Nevertheless, the Internet and the boom accomplished bringing the world closer together without anyone ever leaving their homes. The only tangible cost to us seems to be the virtue of our privacy. It is euphemistically apropos that we now publicly view private life through transparent Microsoft Windows founded by Gates.
With all of this intercommunication convenience at our fingertips, not even Nobel Peace Prize winners have figured out a foolproof way to help keep peace in a troubled world of competing interests. There have been no World Wars in my lifetime but Vietnam and the Gulf wars interrupted peace. Foreign countries hosted our atrocities and they did not invade The United States of America for decades. As a matter of fact, I almost reached my fortieth birthday before terrorism squarely hit our soil with the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Considering our topnotch armed forces and intelligence agencies, most Americans felt disbelief over this tragedy but terrorism may have adopted a new home. We are not adored by many countries yet the fiber of the United States of America is a melting pot of all cultures. Despite our superpower status, never before has our nation become such an international target. Our sovereignty as a nation is objectionable for unfathomable reasons to those that do not covet freedom as an inalienable right of every human being. Without a lid for borders, the stew in the pot stirs to a slow boil. Brothers now resemble enemies and profilers must envy early retirement.
If this were my last breath before becoming a particle in the light, I humbly report no formulary in circulation to cure society’s ills. Nay Sayers predicted a doomsday scenario that the world would end at the turn of the previous century. Even with a swiftly tilting planet, we are five years into the new millennium and the world has not ended but evolved for better and worse. So children, my advice is salt of the earth. Honor God in whatever religion you choose. Thank the stars above for the wondrous miracle of life never letting the present moment be a passing thought. Love your parents. Understand that charity makes one richer not poorer. Live a purpose-driven life in order to leave the world a better place.
If NASA ever discovers a habitable planet and declares eminent domain for the purpose of colonization, shuttle a copy of my letter on the next flight out. If the world has got to change, let it change for the better…with one giant step for man, in space, the final frontier.
With transcending love, Your great grandfather, Joe Tornatore

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January 03, 2006

Self-Motivational Notes on Social Work

In anticipation of a challenging year on the job, which carries with it uncertainty over relocation and reorganization, I decided to collect my thoughts. I am posting these notes at my desk as a source of strength.
Self-Motivational Notes on Social Work by Joe Tornatore
  • Social work is a journey of a million miles taken one step at a time. Walk the walk regardless of distance needed to travel.
  • In crisis intervention, people sometimes take weeks to completely fall apart. Realize that you might not be there on the day they really do. Then be there.
  • The travel into a human heart starts with open eyes. Fall asleep at the wheel and it becomes a dead end to no means.
  • The employment of one common denominator can erode a multitude of differences. Do the math then hire within.
  • It is not in our job duties to care but its value can be found in human nature. Avoid not having a care in the world no matter what your job is.
  • There are core values in teaching tough love – toughness when you have to be, love when you ought to be, and valuing the difference.
  • A willingness to bleed for a cause may put you in battle with those who don’t want to even get dirty. Commitment conquers.
  • Social work is a calling. Answering your telephone late on a Friday can help your conscience sleep at night. Go tell any insomniac who has never worked late.
  • Embrace ethics and be true to yourself. Feeling good in your skin is better than feeling bad in cover up.
  • It is easier to make a person laugh than cry. Take the easy way out in interpersonal relations.

Joe Tornatore



January 01, 2006

Taken To the Cleaners

My son stared at the sizeable clothes pile by the front door. “What are all those clothes doing in a pile?”
“They are waiting for me to take them to the dry cleaners for your mother.”

Jimmy asked, “Why isn’t mom doing it?”

“Your mom no longer does business with the $1.47 Cleaners.”

“You could have fooled me. They are mostly mom’s clothes.” He said confused. “I don’t understand. What is the difference who drops off the clothes? Mom’s clothes are still being cleaned there.”

I took a deep breath. Nothing in our house is ever clean, cut, and dry cleaned. I explained, “This is complicated. Your mom had a disagreement with management over destroyed apparel so she is not allowed back. That doesn’t mean me. Your mom has solicited my involvement to exploit the little known fact that we maintain different last names. Instead, I am schlepping her clothes back to the same store. Your mom is generously paying for my dry cleaning if I go in her stead. All I got to do is sneak the clothes in under the name of Tornatore. They will never know the difference. He-he.”

Jimmy continued probing. “If they ruined mom’s stuff, why don’t you just go someplace else?”

“Excellent question. Your mom says that would be too expensive.” I scoffed.

“Besides, the way your mom remembers it, she wasn’t evicted. She chose not to use them. In a way, your mom is just changing her mind. That leaves me to do the dirty work, to pardon an expression.”

“Ha-ha. But what if they recognize mom’s clothes?” asked Jimmy quizzically.

“Not a chance. Kid, you worry too much. I’ll put one of my suits on top. It will be fine.”

I walked back into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. Familiar with the sitcom Seinfeld, I should have guessed Jimmy would add to the folly.

Jimmy was right behind me when he added, “Remember the dry cleaners episode on Seinfeld?”

I chuckled. “Yeah, this sounds a lot like that episode.”

“Joe, don’t let Uncle Leo blow your cover.” chided my son.

Four miles down the road, I arrived at the economy dry cleaners store to drop off the clothes. Slinging the clothes over both arms, I had no idea how much I had taken myself to the cleaners. I realized that in my 43 years of existence I have never done drop off at a dry cleaners. Playing the unwitting part of Jerry Seinfeld, I entered the business. A strong chemical smell permeated the air.

An oriental woman greeted me with a tight smile from behind the cash register. She patiently waited for me to put the clothes on the counter only I didn’t know her expectation of me. Being a fast learner, I plopped the clothes down and waited further instruction. She spread the clothes across the counter, raked her fingers through them, then counted nine garments.

“Sir, what is phone number?”

The woman did not start by asking me my name but I reckoned that to be her follow-up question. I paid no mind. It wound up costing me.

“555-555-1234.” I recited.

As I spoke, she punched my telephone number into a desktop computer. A few seconds later, the woman’s face shot back an ogre’s scowl. I put on my best poker face but realized that my cover might have been blown. Uncle Leo equaled my home phone number.

She pushed the pile of clothes back to me. “No washy-washy, no dryee-dryee.”

“Why not?” I asked.

She pointed to a computer screen that I couldn’t see which must have had a silent alarm I couldn’t hear. Other customers patiently waited behind me for pick-up.

The worker asked, “Wife’s clothes?”

“Ugh, most of them. Why?”

“Wife not permitted here. Wife complain. No service. Bye-bye.”

English as a second language was hanging me out to dry. I nudged the clothes back her way and began shrewd self-serving negotiation. “Okay Okay. I’ll separate my clothes from my wife’s clothes. Just do my clothes.” I removed a silk shirt and two dapper suits from the vagabond group. “See. No problem. Just do my suits.”

She defiantly folded her arms. “Same phone number. Same house. No service. Out!”

Our banter attracted a male manager, who came over to assist her employee.

I summarized the impasse. “If you are in charge of this Gestapo, you’re doing a bang up job. You’re willing to discriminate against me because of something my wife may or may not have said? You have no beef with me. I got dry cleaning for you.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” ordered the manager, who pointed to the front door from whence I came. “Right now. Get out!”

As my son predicted, this turned into a Seinfeld episode after all. I decided to quote directly from the popular episode.

I joked, “I’m not asking for a 10% discount, just dry cleaning.”

“Same phone number. No dryee. Out!”

I scooped up my clothes and removed myself from the premises without a police escort. I got to say I was embarrassed but I could not figure out exactly what for. I threw the clothes across the backseat of my car in complete frustration. Now that I had just been taken to the cleaners, it was off to the bank to deposit a State of NJ Treasury check into my bank account. Both my name and my wife’s name appeared on the front of the check. Both signatures endorsed the back of the check. Idling at the drive-through window, I sent it through with a whoosh from the courier system. A few minutes later, a static voice over the bank’s intercom interrupted my mental replay of the folly at the cleaners.

“Who is this other name on the check?”

“That would be my wife. We have different last names, I am sorry to report.”

“Is your wife in the car?”

Apparently my wife was a wanted woman in these parts. “Not at the moment but I happen to have her clothes with me, if that will do?” I held up a nice blazer that my wife looks absolutely hot in.

“The clothes don’t mean anything.” replied the baffled teller. “She needs to be with you?”

F$5k! Diane couldn’t be with me at the dry cleaners but she had to be with me at the bank. “Ugh, my wife has stepped out of the blazer for the moment. She is at work. Honestly, we are man and wife, and wife signed over the check this morning.”

“I am sorry but her name is not on your bank account.”

“Come on. Work with me. It is for Deposit Only.”

“I am sorry sir. If you have no other transactions, could you please pull up?”

I recalled the critical common denominator from the dry cleaners. “If I told you we have the same phone number, would that make a difference?”

I couldn’t launder clothes or money. I couldn’t get my dry cleaning done with the same freaking telephone number as my wife but yet I couldn’t deposit our money into the bank with her wet signature. By day’s end, my best interpersonal conversation came from the
Nazi postal worker.


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