Sunday, January 28, 2007

Another Shopping Pet Peeve

If there is one thing I hate about food shopping, apart from the other customers who happen to be in the store when I am there, is when I find out that a particular product I happen to like is discontinued.

Several days ago, I went to the Trader Joes® grocery store near my house to buy a couple of containers of their Chocolate Soy Milk in the dairy section. It had been a week since they last had any in stock, and I figured maybe they were just delayed in getting in a new shipment. My daughter and I both love to drink chocolate soy milk, and the Trader Joes® brand is cheaper than the Silk® brand sold in Shoprite, not to mention that Trader Joes® is just a few minutes walk from my house. But I was again disappointed to see that the chocolate soy milk was still not in stock. Grabbing a box of soup crackers, I went to the register to pay for it and inquired of the lady about the chocolate soy milk.

"Oh, that's been discontinued," she replied with a twinge of sadness. She added that her husband liked it too.

Why did they have to discontinue it!?! I was buying it. Other people were buying it. While I like to shop at Trader Joes® from time to time, it seems as if they always end up discontinuing the products I specifically go there to buy. The chocolate soy milk joins a growing list of items, including the Salmon Chowder soup, the Shiitake mushroom sauce, and some kind of chocolate chip cookie that was the best chocolate chip cookie I ever had.

One of the virtues I always hear touted about the free market system is that it is supposed to provide us with the things we like. If people like a certain product, someone will sell it. Well, I liked the chocolate soy milk and the salmon chowder soup and now they are gone dammit! But of course, I have to remember that it is not all about me. I know that at Trader Joes® headquarters, a bunch of number crunchers and analysts are constantly reviewing sales figures and profit and loss statements, and after reviewing the data, they make a decision whether or not to continue selling a particular product. I just wish they could have consulted me first. :-(

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Traitor to the United States

Well, the Reverend Briggs certainly makes me feel welcome in my own country.

I came across this while visiting Lindsay Berenstein's blog Majikthise.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What About Bob? The Conclusion

Even before the incident that arose with my brother when my mom was admitted to the hospital, I had considered writing a series of posts about him. But after the episode with him being incommunicado while taking my mom’s car without permission, it took on a sense of urgency for me.

The purpose of this series, even colored as it is by the anger and distress he recently caused be during a time of crisis, is not to bash my brother Bobby. Admittedly though, writing about it all for my blog has provided me with some measure of catharsis. Rather, what I had set out to do was to raise a series of questions about people like Bobby. When I began the series, I did not know how many posts it would take, but I felt that I had to write as much as possible to provide the reader with a sense of context within which to raise these questions. For all I have written, with the exception of the posts dealing with the events of the last several weeks, I have barely skimmed the surface, and for all that I can know, there is more that I know little or nothing about.

For those of us who have family members like my brother Bobby, we are all invariably faced with a big question. At what point, in spite of all we try to do to be of help, can we say that we have done enough? To reiterate from the paragraph above, I have barely skimmed the surface of the tumultuous life of my brother, and that includes the numerous times that my parents, or more precisely my mother over the objections of my father, provided Bobby with monetary help. With all of the help he has received, Bobby is almost 44 years old and still unable to make ends meet for himself. When my father died due to complications from surgery last May, my mother lost his generous monthly police pension. All my mom has to live on is Social Security, a meager pension she receives from her union for the years she worked at the deli counter in Waldbaum’s, and the interest she gets from her savings in a money market mutual fund. My mom is not poor, but while the money she gets every month meets her needs in good times, it would not be sufficient if she had health problems that required expensive treatments and drugs that were not covered by her insurance. She would be unable to provide Bobby with any significant financial support even if she wanted to without the risk of leaving herself seriously vulnerable. Though she did allow Bobby to stay with her in her apartment in days before she had to be admitted to the hospital, she lives in a senior community and beyond a certain period of time it would be against the regulations to allow Bobby to continue staying there.

In tandem with the question I asked above, how much help does one owe a family member when continuing to provide assistance can itself cause one harm? Before my mom got sick, she was showing real progress after the death of my father. For months after he died, my mom would spend many days lying in bed, too depressed to want to leave her apartment to spend time with friends or family. She would even call me up frequently to drive down to her apartment and take Kiki for a walk because she could not muster the energy to do it herself. In the weeks before Christmas, my mom was showing an interest in being active again. She spent more time with friends, made weekly trips to the beauty parlor, began to cook, and was even paying her bills by herself. The pneumonia, which she likely caught from Bobby, and the injury to her right leg from falling, has undone weeks of progress.

I would argue that for my brother Bobby, the time has long since passed by where one can say that enough has been done for him. As painful as it is to accept, I feel that it is time to build a wall between mom and I and his problems. I would not go so far as to argue for shutting him completely out of our lives. But it is quite clear to me that neither my mom nor myself possess the resources necessary to save Bobby from himself. He has conclusively demonstrated that he is incapable of taking care of himself in how he conducts himself and how he manages his affairs. As I wrote in response to a commentator in the comments section for Part 7, if I were a wealthy man and I could afford it, maybe I would pay Bobby’s rent for him for the rest of his life so that he would at least never be homeless, regardless of whatever else he does. But alas, I am not wealthy, and it would be irresponsible to devote my financial resources to helping him when I have bills to pay and my own wife and children who depend on me.

And that leads to the next question. In debates about the role of government in society with respect to welfare, a good conservative can be expected to argue that families should take responsibility for their own so that the poor and the irresponsible do not become public charges. In many cases I would agree with that. But what about when the needs of people like Bobby exceed the ability of families to help them, particularly if continuing to do so causes the helpful family members to risk impoverishing themselves? Do we as a society at large owe some duty of care to people like Bobby? Or rather, to word it differently, is there a compelling rationale for providing some measure of programs or aid for people in our society who seem incapable of taking care of themselves?

Earlier this year, Long Island newspaper Newsday reported [“Cops thwart husband, wife bank robbery duo,” January 4] about Patrick and Robert Kegel, a “homeless husband and wife who turned to robbing banks for food, shelter and alcohol [who] were caught after they struck at least four Nassau banks since early December.” Patrick Kegel’s mom “threw them out of her West Hempstead home because the couple refused treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.” Newsday quoted Kegel’s mom saying “He has a wonderful family who tried so hard to help him. We thought he was accepting the help, but he wasn’t.” While I do not think my brother Bobby would ever resort to anything desperate like robbing a bank, the Kegels are an example of what can happen when a family has reached its breaking point in trying to help loved ones who simply cannot or will not break away from their destructive habits.

Then there is the real collateral damage, the children who are the offspring of parents with alcohol and substance abuse problems. As I mentioned in previous posts in this series, my brother Bobby has an ex-wife and three children currently living in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. The eldest son Sean, who will turn seventeen years old next month, is currently in a juvenile facility, where he was placed after being arrested for selling drugs last year. Chris, the ex-wife, who has custody of Krystal and Bobby Jr. was apparently evicted from her apartment that same fateful day when I had my mom admitted to the hospital. And as much as I have addressed the damage cause by Bobby in this series, Chris has her fair share of the blame for irresponsibility too. And what becomes of the children in situations like these? Are my nephews and niece fated to lives of economic and social marginality at best, or criminality at worst because of the appalling conditions in which they live? And what steps, if any, can we as a society at large do to prevent that? There have been moments when I have considered trying to get custody of the youngest Bobby Jr. From a triage perspective, I believe he is the one who has the best chance of being saved. But I do not know how feasible it is for me to do so, and it would not be possible at all if I could not get the consent of my wife.

As I wrote in the first post in this series, probably everybody knows at least one person like my brother Bobby. While I cannot extrapolate from that how many people there are in our country in similar circumstances, I would probably not be wrong to argue that there is a segment of our population that is simply unable to function in our society. Through their own personal flaws and problems, they are unable to afford to pay for a roof over their heads, pay their bills and manage their financial affairs, nor raise their children in a loving and secure environment. Are there steps that we as a society can do to address this in a constructive way, or are people like Bobby or the Kegels simply the price we have to pay in order to live in a free society?

Monday, January 15, 2007

What About Bob? Part 7

When I discovered that Bobby had taken mom’s car, I had decided that I would not say anything to my mom about it. I wanted her to focus on getting over her pneumonia rather than trouble her with bad news. Besides, as of Sunday afternoon she was still disoriented and rambling incoherently most of the time. As I drove to the hospital, I was pondering what to do about Bobby. One thing I knew I could not do was to let him continue to stay at mom’s apartment.

As I entered mom’s hospital room, I saw Bobby hunched over her and feeding her pudding with a spoon. “Oh please!” I thought to myself as I watched him playing the role of a dutiful son. I walked around to the other side of the bed and placed my hand on mom’s right leg as a gesture of reassurance. Mom looked up at me and began to speak. “Thomas,” she said weakly, “I understand there has been a dispute.” I glanced over at Bobby with daggers in my eyes. While I had hoped to shield her from all of this until I felt she was ready to hear it, Bobby had used his time alone with her to make a preemptive strike and try to undermine me by getting her forgiveness.

Mom mumbled something about giving Bobby a second chance. I looked over at Bobby and said sternly “I would like to talk with mom alone for a few minutes.” Bobby’s blue eyes glowered at me from behind his weathered visage. “What for?” he asked. “Look,” I replied, “you have had her all to yourself for the last two hours. Now it’s my turn.” He took a deep breath, nodded, and walked out of the room.

I began to explain to my mom that on Friday night, Bobby’s priority was himself, not her. If I had been delayed in getting home from Manhattan, she would have been alone for much longer and if she had tried to get up again to walk, she might conceivably have fallen again and hit her head on the night table or the dresser. It was because of me that she was in the hospital getting the medical attention that she needed. Furthermore, it was easy for her to be in a more forgiving mood because it was I, not she, who was forced to deal with him taking her car. Bobby returned to the room after a few minutes and we stayed a little while longer. I told Bobby we had to leave because Dawn and Michael had a New Years Eve party to attend shortly.

After mulling it over, I came to a decision that while not entirely satisfactory to me, would achieve my primary goal. From all of the history books I had devoured, I remembered that when civilized states found themselves plagued by barbarian tribes raiding their frontiers and the states were too distracted to deal with them militarily, they would resort to buying the barbarians off with tribute to make them go away. I told Bobby that I would put him up in a nearby motel for two nights at my expense and at the end of those two days we would take it from there. He grumbled about it at first but then became quiet, asking only that he be allowed to go to mom’s apartment to get the rest of his things. After that I dropped him off at the Days Inn motel near mom’s apartment and told him I would call him the next morning when I was ready to go back to the hospital.

The next evening, the night before he was to check out of the motel, Bobby mentioned nothing further to me about where he would be staying the rest of the week. I guess he sensed that I would not budge on mom’s apartment. The next morning he was scheduled to work on the construction job in the city. He said that when he checked out, he would leave his bags with the front desk and I would come by later to pick them up when I formally paid for the room and got my security deposit back. With my wife having the day off, my son back in kindergarten and my daughter back in day care, I looked forward to an easy day. But when I went to the front desk at the Days Inn and inquired about Bobby’s things, the girl behind the counter said she did not know anything about it. She called Bobby’s room and said “Your brother’s here.” She then turned to me and said “You can go up.” I sighed wearily. “Now what?” I thought. When I got up to his room and he opened the door, he looked like hell. His room smelled almost as badly as my basement did the night he slept there. “What happened?” I asked. He told me he was sick all night throwing up and that he hardly slept. As it was still several hours before check-out time, I told him to go back to bed for a while and get some more sleep while I attended to some errands. So much for a peaceful day.

I returned around noon to pick him up. As he was flat broke, I took him to a Chinese take-out and got him a cup of wonton soup and dropped him off at the hospital, as I still had other things to attend to. To cut to the chase, when I returned to the hospital again the evening after having picked up my children and bringing them home, mom was again babbling about forgiveness. Bobby left the room at some point and again I reminded her that it was easy for her to be forgiving because she was not aware of what had happened when it happened and that I was the one who was forced to deal with the situation. When Bobby returned to the room, I told him it was time for me to go home. I asked him where he wanted me to take him, and he said the Hicksville train station. He told me he would spend the night in Penn Station. Maybe he hoped I would take pity on him and offer to put him up in a motel room for the night, but to his credit he did not ask, nor did he mention mom’s noises about forgiveness. As I pulled into the parking lot, he asked me if I could give him some food money as he was not due to be paid until Friday, three days later. Because I happened to have a lot of cash on me at the moment, I threw him $50, which I figured would last him until he got paid. I resolved to myself that he would not get another cent from me.

I saw him the next evening, January 3, when I stopped by the hospital with my children. He again left the room to allow me and the kids to be alone with mom. Because my wife was working that night, and I had to feed and bathe the kids for school by myself, I had to leave after a few minutes. I did not notice Bobby sitting on the couch in the lobby as I walked by, but he saw me and called my name. I told him that I had to take the kids home and said goodbye and left. Thus far, that has been the last time I have seen him or spoken with him.

(Coming next: The Conclusion)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What About Bob? Part 6

Immediately, I knew that Bobby had taken the car. All through his life, he was always taking things that did not belong to him because he needed it at that particular moment. Just a few days earlier, Mom and I had been talking about Bobby and she mentioned one time years ago when she woke up one morning and her car was missing from the driveway because during the night Bobby had taken it to visit his then girlfriend Vivian. I also remembered in October of 1994, while my parents were down in Florida, I had took part in one of those Civil War battlefield tour groups at Gettysburg. The morning after the night I returned home, when I had gotten into my car to drive to work, I noticed that the license plates had been removed from my mom’s car. It seems that while I was away for the weekend, Bobby decided he wanted to go fishing, so he took the plates and put them on a car he was using and proceeded to get into an accident in Wantagh.

I tried to call Bobby, the call went straight into voice mail, whereupon I left an angry message. Based on his past behavior, and the fact I had not heard from him since I spoke to him on my cell phone at 8:30 the night before, I decided to call the police. He did not have a driver’s license and he had no authorization to drive mom’s car. If he were to get into an accident with the car, it could create a bad situation for my mom. But when the police officer arrived and I explained the situation to him, he said there was not much they could do. Since I told him that my mom was in the hospital and incoherent, she was not in any position to say that Bobby was not allowed to use the car. He said he would drive past a few bars in the Hicksville/Levittown area and speak to Bobby if he found the car. By this time I was really riled up and decided to drive around a few of the bars he had frequented in the past. My search turned up nothing and after making one last drive by mom’s place to see if the car had been returned, I drove home.

All the time I had been thinking about where he might have gone with the car and what he might be doing. A bad thought occurred to me. Earlier in the week, a notice for Bobby from the Nassau County Family Court had been mailed to my house. I brought it to him on Christmas Day and after he read it, he told me that it was not good news. Apparently Chris had filed a petition claiming Bobby was not making his child support payments. I did not know if Bobby knew where Chris lived in the Poconos, but I had this terrible thought that if he did know where she was, perhaps he might have gone there to confront her about the petition she filed. I tried calling the numbers for her in my mom’s phonebook, but one number was disconnected and the other rang and rang without anyone picking up. I recalled scenes from countless movies where the police or a loved one tries to call a possible victim to warn her that the killer might be coming after her, and as the phone rings, the camera cuts to her apartment and as it pans across the room you see blood spattered walls and a body sprawled on the floor while the phone continues to ring.

The next morning I spoke to my uncle about the situation, and he reminded me that I had a Power of Attorney enabling me to act on mom’s behalf in the event that she was incapacitated. I fished it out of her accordion file and called the 8th Precinct again. This time, after meeting with another police officer, I was successful in getting a report filed. I also called mom’s car insurance policy to report the incident so that in the event there was an accident, mom would not be held liable. Between the fatigue and the stress, I was in a very frazzled state and thought I was going to be sick.

Around 1 p.m., after dropping my wife off at the train station to go to work, I drove with my kids to the hospital, My cousin Dawn and her husband Mike, who had gotten married just a couple of weeks earlier, where there. Before arriving at the hospital, Dawn and Mike had gone to mom’s place to change the locks on her door in the event that Bobby had the keys to her apartment. A few minutes after I arrived, the hospital staff had to perform some procedure on my mom, so we all went down to the lobby area to hang out until it was okay to go back up to mom’s room. No sooner had we gathered there then guess who walks in?

“Where the hell have you been?” I asked Bobby sternly. Bobby got all defensive and told us that his cell phone had died out Friday night. Michael offered to take my kids to a nearby McDonald’s while Dawn and I went outside with Bobby and unleashed a double canister on him. He said that he had spent Friday night at the place of some woman in Queens he used to go out with. I asked him why he did not try to call me using her phone, and he claimed he did not have my phone number memorized. (As an aside, while I will not repeat my phone number here, it is one of the easiest phone numbers to remember that I know of) He argued that since mom seemed fine that Friday morning before he left for work, and the fact that I told him Friday night that I was going to see her, he did not see what the big deal was. When I chastised him about the car, he conceded that he should not have taken it, but that when he went to mom’s place after getting off work the day before, the door was locked and he did not know how to get in touch with me. I found this hard to believe given that my house was only a couple of miles up the road and all he had to do was park the car in front of my house and wait for us to return. When I asked him how he got hold of mom’s car keys if he was locked out of the house, he told me that he had gotten mom’s mail Thursday night and had forgotten to take the keys out of his pocket. The mail box key was on the key ring but not the house key.

One of the things you have to understand about Bobby is that he has this way of arguing that makes him out to be the victim in just about any situation. If he had excelled in academics and gone to law school, he would have made a hell of a trial defense attorney. No matter what I said, it just did not seem to sink into him that what he had done was wrong. In a broke and homeless state, my mom had taken Bobby in to give him a chance to recover his strength and be able to save up some money to afford an apartment of his own. The pneumonia that struck my mom down she in all likelihood had caught from him. With mom being very sick not only from pneumonia, but also having limited mobility from a fall, Bobby’s priority that Friday night was not to be there to help take care of her but rather to get laid. When I had spoken to him that Friday night before his phone battery died out, he never said a word to me about not spending the night at mom’s place. He had so many options he could have taken to avoid the mess that ensued. He could have written down my phone number so that he could call me, knowing that his cell phone battery would soon fail. He could have asked this woman with whom he intended to stay the night to make a drive by mom’s place to make sure she was alright before committing to spend the night. He could have left a written note in my mail box about taking the car so at least I knew what was going on. Instead, by being conveniently unreachable, he left me with no option but to assume a worst case scenario.

I took the keys to mom’s car from him and told him that he would not be allowed to stay at mom’s place anymore. He vehemently protested and argued that mom had said he could stay there until the 15th when he planned to move into a room he was intending to rent. I told him that was out of the question, because if mom was in a lucid frame of mind, she would have been very angry with him because of his taking of her car without permission, and that what he had done was a betrayal of trust. I then said that I had to go to the 8th Precinct to have the charges against him dismissed, as the detective told me over the phone that the charges could only be dropped in person. Dawn said that she was going to meet up with Michael and my kids, leaving Bobby alone at the hospital. When I sat down in mom’s car, there was a rectangular white box on the passenger seat containing a Marine hunting knife. Visions of Chris’s blood spattered apartment briefly returned to me, but I had spoken to my brother John earlier that day and he had heard from his ex-wife Lisa (that’s a whole other story by the way, but one not nearly as interesting) that Chris had gotten evicted from the apartment she was staying on Friday.

After taking care of business at the 8th Precinct, I drove to the McDonald’s to meet with Dawn, Michael and the kids. They kindly offered to watch my kids at my house while I went back to the hospital for a decisive encounter that I was too exhausted to want to face but which I knew could not be avoided. Little did I realize that Bobby had one more card up his sleeve.

(Coming soon... Part 7 and The Conclusion)

Denial on the Island - Updated

Attention visitors from Google, after reading the post below, click here for the latest news about Santhosh Paul.

I thought I would take a break from the What About Bob? series to blog about the latest criminal drama on Long Island. For those of you who are not from Long Island, we’re the people who brought you Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco. Besides, I have to drag out the suspense that is building up for Part 6. Ha ha!

Shortly before this past Christmas, an Indian-American man named Santhosh Paul, age 31, was arrested for trying to hire a man to kill his wife Tina. Little did the Bellmore resident know that the man to whom he offered $200,000 was an undercover cop posing as a hit man. Mr. Paul came to the attention of the police after he initially approached a friend about killing Tina, but the friend declined and secretly reported him to the police.

According to the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, Mr. Paul took his three year old son with him to meet the would be hit man at a McDonald’s in Uniondale. Mr. Paul told the undercover detective that he wanted his wife dead “before the holidays”. According to [“Cops: N.Y. Man Seeking Wife‘s Life Insurance Hired Hit Man for Pre-Christmas Slaying”, Dec. 21], Mr. Paul “gave the detective a photo of his wife, a business card with her address, her license plate numbers and her schedule and told him to stab her through the heart.”

Members of the Indian community from Kerala, according to Newsday [“Arrest for alleged plot to kill wife stuns many”, Dec. 22], were shocked, shocked that Mr. Paul could do such a thing. You see, Mr. Paul was very active in his Pentecostal Church!!! He served as treasurer of the Pentecostal Youth Fellowship of America and later became its president. How could such a good Christian man do such a terrible thing as to try and arrange for the murder of his wife?

Well, according to an article in the New York Post [“Pal: Devil Has Hold on ‘Hit’ Hubby”, Dec. 23], Mr. Paul’s friend Bejoy Samuel has fingered old Satan himself as the culprit. Mr. Paul, explains Samuel, “is a leader in the church. There’s always a demonic force against people in positions like that.” Gee, I wonder why the Catholic Church didn’t use that line of defense in the pedophile priest scandals. “You see your honor, I am not in the least bit attracted to adolescent boys, but one day I was alone with Timmy the altar boy and the devil possessed me and forced me to take Timmy into the confession booth so that I could comfort him with my rod and my staff.”

But the case gets even more interesting. The intended victim in Mr. Paul’s plot, Tina Paul, refuses to believe the charges against her husband! Newsday reported on Friday [“Wife stands by husband charged in murder plot”, Jan. 12] that Tina “and several relatives came to Nassau Supreme Court to support her husband” and that she “insists she believes her husband is innocent and should be allowed to return to their Bellmore home while awaiting trial.” A December 26 article in the New York Post [“Jailhouse Shock”] reports that despite being told by prosecutors that they have hours of videotape of her husband, she insisted that she felt “they were setting him up. I know him - he would never, ever do something like that.” In spite of this, the same Post article reports that when she went to visit her husband at the Nassau County Jail, he “flew into a rage and started screaming at her across the partition.”

It is very sad that Tina Paul refuses to believe that her husband tried to hire a man to kill her. The misanthrope in me says that if the Pauls did not have a child, that Tina Paul should be allowed have her husband back, and if he still goes ahead and kills her then he can be arrested for the crime and there will be two fewer nitwits in our society instead of one. Perhaps, coming from an immigrant community, there is some cultural issue at play here (and if anyone who visits here can provide any insight into this, please do) with respect to marriage in the Kerala Indian community. Possibly, Tina Paul feels that in some way it is her fault that her husband wants to kill her and that unless she publicly supports him and proclaims his innocence she will have brought shame upon herself and her community. Alternatively, in Tina Paul’s cultural background, there might be a lack of trust in the police and governmental authorities because of corruption and venality in the government back in Kerala.

Going back to the Amy Fisher case, Joey Buttafuoco’s wife Mary Jo for a long time afterwards continued to insist that her husband had not slept with Amy and that he was in no way involved with Amy’s plot to murder her. Eventually she wised up and divorced Joey. Hopefully Tina Paul will wise up soon, disavow Santhosh Paul and find a good husband who will love her and help her raise her child. Just as long as that man is not Bejoy Samuel.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What About Bob? Part 5

The beginning of last December began on an uncharacteristically positive note for Bobby. One night while I was at my mom’s place taking her dog Kiki (a combination Shi tzu and Maltese) for a walk, Bobby called me on my cell phone. Klaus had taken him to a union meeting and there Bobby spoke with someone who had a big job in Manhattan to start later in the month For the first time in many months, Bobby would be working on a union job again. The work would be steady and Bobby declared that it would give him a chance to afford his own apartment and get on his feet again instead of paying $350 a week on motel fare. While I was glad to hear the news, my cynicism tempered my optimism.

On December 16, my wife, my mom and I were attending my cousin’s wedding reception. Around 9:30 p.m., I felt my cell phone vibrating in the inside pocket of my suit jacket, and when I took it out, I saw the babysitter’s cell phone number in the caller id. She assured me that everything was alright with my two kids, but that my brother Bobby had called from a gas station pay phone saying that he had no place to stay and that he was freezing cold. The babysitter told him that she would call me and that he should call her back in a few minutes. I instructed her to tell him to take a taxi to my house and that the taxi could be paid out of money out of the cookie jar in the kitchen (don’t any of you people get any ideas!) and that Bobby could spend the night on the couch in our basement tv room. About a half hour later, the babysitter called me back and informed me that everything was going to plan.

I broke the news to my mom while I was dancing with her and we all left shortly afterwards. Mom wanted to stop at my house before going home because she wanted to see Bobby first. When we got there, nothing prepared me for the awful smell of that hung heavy in my basement. It was that eau de hobo odor that one normally only experiences when stuck in a NYC subway car with a homeless person sleeping on one of the benches. In addition to being homeless and smelling badly, Bobby was very sick as well.

Mom told him that after spending the night with me, he could stay at her place (an apartment in a senior citizens complex a couple of miles down the road from me) for a few days so that he could get well and save up enough money from work to get a room. The next morning, while I was laying in my bed half awake, I heard my children come running down the stairs from their bedroom on the second floor. Hearing the television on in the basement, they must have assumed that I was down there, because they opened the basement door and descended the stairs calling out “Daddy!” Then, after a moment of silence, I heard one of my kids go “Ewwwwwwwwww!” They had smelled their Uncle Bobby.

Later that evening I drove Bobby down the road to my mom’s place. He told me that he was coughing up blood and gunk in my slap sink in the basement laundry area all night. When I got home later and looked in the slap sink, I could see dark spots and chunks of things I could not identify and did not want to lodged in the drain. During the course of the week, Bobby’s health marginally improved and he managed to drag himself up to go to work in the city every morning. On Christmas Eve, the following Sunday, mom treated my wife, kids and I to dinner at the Red Lobster while Bobby rested at her apartment. Mom was supposed to come over to our house for Christmas dinner the next day, but the next morning she called and told us that she was sick and would not be able to attend. I stopped by to pick up the ziti, meatballs and sausages she had prepared, and while she was clearly congested, she was still active.

On Thursday the 28th, Bobby had left a message on the voice mail of my cell phone. While he was getting ready for work that morning, he found that mom had fallen. When my train home reached the Hicksville station, I drove straight to my mom’s house. She was lying in her bed, very congested and looking awful. I did a cursory exam of her legs and bent them and determined that nothing was broken. I mulled taking her to the hospital, but decided to give her another day of rest to see if her condition improved. On Friday evening, while I was still at my office, I called Bobby’s cell phone, assuming he was back at mom’s place after a day’s work, and got his voice mail. I left a message and then tried calling my mom’s phone number. The phone rang without answer, which told me two things, Bobby was not there and my mom was not in a condition to answer the phone.

When I got to Penn Station at 8:30 to take the 8:42 train home, Bobby called me on my cell phone. He told me that he had just left the check cashing store and was waiting to take a bus to Walmart to buy a couple of pairs of pants. I thought it odd that he would do such a thing with mom being home alone sick and bedridden. Bobby said that mom seemed better in the morning and that I did not need to worry. Nevertheless, I told him that I was going right over to see mom when I got to Hicksville to make sure that she was alright. I assumed that he would return to mom’s place after he purchased his pants.

An hour later, I drove over to mom’s apartment. Bobby had not returned. Walking into mom’s bedroom, I was horrified by what I saw. Mom was laying half on the bed on her back, with her legs dangling over the side. She was wheezing terribly and was barely coherent. She told me that she wanted to get up and use the bathroom. Because of her weight, it was very difficult to lift her up. I called Bobby’s phone and got his voice mail again and left a message. Slowly, I was able to assist mom to the bathroom. I called my uncle, her brother, and informed him of her condition. He agreed with me that mom needed medical attention. Because it was hard enough just to help her across the bedroom to the bathroom, I did not want to take the chance of walking her by myself to my car outside to drive her to the emergency room, so I decided to call 911 and have an ambulance take her to the hospital.

The response time for the Nassau County ambulance and police was commendably fast, and when they took mom away to transport her to the hospital, I made another call to Bobby’s cell phone and left a second message informing him of what had happened. I left the door to mom’s apartment unlocked because I did not know if Bobby had a key for the door. After bringing mom’s dog Kiki to my house, I drove to the hospital and remained there until 3 a.m. to make sure mom was being adequately cared for. I was informed that mom had pneumonia. The next morning I went to my mom’s apartment because the hospital asked me to bring in her bottle of Paxil. When I got there, I saw no evidence that Bobby had been there, and there were no messages from him on my voice mail. I did not know what had happened to him but I knew he said he was supposed to work that Saturday to make up for Christmas. However, as I could not leave my mom’s apartment unlocked all day, I locked the door behind me when I left for the hospital.

Since my wife had taken the week off for vacation, she was able to stay with the kids while I returned to the hospital again that night after we had spent the day doing some shopping and eating out for dinner. Mom was coughing badly, but even more worrying to me, when she tried to talk to me, nothing she said made any sense. She did not seem to comprehend where she was or why, and she frequently tried to get up out of bed to go to the bathroom. I had to constantly remind her that she had IV’s hooked up to her along with a catheter, and that the hospital staff could bring her a bed pan as needed. Around 10 p.m. on the night of the 30th, mom seemed to finally be settling back to sleep. I decided to take another drive by to her apartment to check on things before going home to what I had hoped to be an early and good night’s sleep. There was still no word from Bobby. As I drove up to her apartment and was about to turn into the guest parking spot next to the parking spot for her apartment, I noticed that her car was not there.

(Don't worry, we're almost at the end!)

What About Bob? Part 4

Despite the animosity between Bobby and Chris, my mom and I still kept in touch with her and the kids. Mom felt bad for the plight of her grandchildren and would chip in money sometimes to help out. By the summer of 2001, my son Andrew was born, and my free time was constrained, but I would try to be a positive figure in the lives of Bobby’s children when I could. I was most concerned with Sean, who as the oldest of the three had witnessed and endured the most of the trauma and abuse. Every year I would take him to see The Lord of the Rings movies, but he was a quiet kid and difficult to reach.

In late 2002, faced with the prospect of being evicted from the house in Babylon, Chris agreed to let Bobby take the kids to live with him at an apartment he was renting in a house on Jerusalem Avenue on the border of Hicksville and Levittown and enrolled the children in the Levittown public school district. Bobby’s latest in what had been a series of revolving door girlfriends was a woman named Louisa. Upon meeting her, Louisa struck me as a feisty and strong woman, but I was soon to find out that my first impressions were wrong. The catalyst for it all was when Chris begged to be allowed to stay at the Jerusalem Avenue apartment, as she had no place else to go. At some point, there was a violent confrontation between Louisa and Bobby and Chris and Louisa forged some temporary alliance. Then Louisa and Chris turned on each other. In a repetition of an all too common pattern, Chris ended up taking over the apartment and keeping the kids, just as she had with the house on Prince Street. Bobby and Louisa stayed for a while at a cheap motel, with my mom helping to pay the tab so that Bobby could “get on his feet again.” Louisa had turned out to be an hysterical nut case. When Bobby and Louisa went their separate ways soon afterwards, no more was ever heard from her again.

By 2004, Chris had gotten evicted from the apartment on Jerusalem Avenue and she and the kids ended up staying with her sister in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. While I am ignorant of the details, at some point Chris and her sister had gotten into a fight and Chris and the kids ended up in a welfare motel. As for Bobby, who had turned 40 the year before, he hooked up with an older woman named Laurie, who was a bleached blonde with a raspy voice. They rented the ground floor of a Levitt house on Spindle Road in Hicksville. It was quite obvious that as much as Bobby claimed to adore her, he really saw her as a means to provide him with a roof over his head. It also confirmed a prediction that I had made earlier that as his looks began to fade with age and his financial prospects worsened, the quality of the women he could attract would concomitantly diminish. By this time, Bobby had also abandoned any pretense of returning to sobriety.

By early 2006, the situation for Bobby, Chris and the kids deteriorated even further. Bobby and Laurie lost the apartment on Spindle Road, primarily because Bobby did not keep up with his share of the rent. While he was an excellent brick layer, he suffered from frequent absenteeism due to drinking and from bouts of illness. Furthermore, masonry work is ever dependent on the weather. One day of rain or snow here and there is hard but bearable, but when a job site is shut down for two, three or four consecutive days, that can be fatal to a mason whose financial situation is marginal at best. It also meant that Bobby was not making regular child support payments to Chris in Pennsylvania. Laurie went back to living with her mom, while I allowed Bobby to store the bulk of his possessions in my garage while he drifted from one friend to another’s every few weeks or so. In other words, Bobby was essentially homeless.

To add to the misery, during the spring, my nephew Sean along with a couple of his friends were arrested in Pocono Hills for selling drugs out of Chris’s apartment. I recently read a police report and in it Sean justifies the activity by claiming they needed the money. Chris claims that she knew about the marijuana but that she did not know that Sean was selling it. When told of the strong odor of marijuana in the apartment, Chris replied that she did not realize how strong it was because she said she must have gotten used to it. Sean was placed into a juvenile facility and Krystal and Bobby Jr. were put into foster care.

By this past fall, after bouncing around from one person’s house to the next, Bobby began making noises to me about going on Craigslist to find a room to rent so that he would have a place of his own again. But he never seemed to find the time to come over to my house. In November, he started staying at the same motel in Westbury where he had shacked up with Louisa several years earlier. On Thanksgiving Day, I had Bobby and my mom over for dinner (my dad had died from complications from heart surgery six months earlier). After I drove mom home and returned to my house, Bobby asked me if I could charge a week’s worth of motel fare on my credit card as he was short of cash. From past experience, I knew that he had no intention of paying me back, so I offered instead to give him enough cash for two nights. Subsequent events would confirm the wisdom of my decision.

What About Bob? Part 3

In December of 1997, I moved into the Queens apartment of my girlfriend, the beautiful and wonderful woman who would eventually become my wife. But even though we would not be married until June of 1999, we were essentially already husband and wife in all but name. As an added bonus, since I worked in Manhattan, I would no longer have to take the Long Island Rail Road in to work anymore. I also found it ironic that my parents grew up in Queens and moved to Nassau County and I grew up in Nassau County and moved to Queens. I would still go out to Hicksville on weekends to visit my parents or stop by Bobby’s place on Sunday afternoons, but my visits were less frequent.

During the summer of 1998, Bobby celebrated his fourth year of sobriety. As for me, 1998 was proving to be the best year of my life to date. I had achieved my most important goals, meeting the woman that I would marry and becoming engaged, getting a job in the field that I wanted, and finally moving out of my parents’ house and having the greater freedom that went with it. I was pondering these things late afternoon on New Years’ Eve of 1998 when I collided with another car at an intersection on the Grand Central Parkway service road as I was driving out to Hicksville to meet my parents for dinner. When the air bag deployed and smothered my face, for a brief moment there was darkness and I thought that I had died. My car spun around and backed into a fire alarm pull box at the south-east corner of the intersection. I was not terribly injured by the accident, I suffered really nasty whiplash pain the next morning that lasted for several days, and it took a while for my back to recover. But my car, a 1991 white Ford Taurus, was totaled, and I was without transportation.

A couple of months later, February or March, I can’t remember which, my fiancée and I went to a Honda dealership to shop for a new car. I called my brother Bobby and we had made plans for him to pick us up and my fiancée and I agreed to watch his kids so that he and Chris could go out to dinner for the evening. When he pulled up and we got into his car, I sensed something was wrong with Bobby. While I could not smell it on his breath, by the way he was talking, I could tell he had been drinking. He was spouting about how when his son Sean turned 18 Sean was going to have to get a job and stand on his own just like he had when he was 18. I could barely keep myself from laughing at such revisionist bullshit. This was a guy who perpetually had a beggar’s cup in his hand, figuratively speaking. But what really angered me was that what I thought was just going to be two or three hours of staying with Sean, Krystal and Bobby Jr. turned into an all night affair. It was not until 1 a.m. that Bobby and Chris finally walked through the front door, and it was obvious they were both feeling happy, if you know what I mean. Not only was I upset about how late they made us stay there, but it was now quite clear that both of them had fallen off the wagon and that things were going to change for the worst again.

Things did indeed start to fall apart for Bobby and Chris as my wedding in June drew near. Before Bobby had started drinking again, I had asked him to be my best man. The night before the wedding at the rehearsal dinner he was drinking heavily and I feared he would do something stupid to ruin my wedding. But he managed to fulfill his ceremonial role and as the wedding night came to an end, I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief. It is not clear to me to this day what went wrong for Bobby and Chris. Maybe it was the strain of having three kids and struggling to make ends meet. My late father told me that their vacation to Jamaica during the winter break in 1998 was the catalyst, meaning that they started drinking again while they were there. Whatever the cause, within a few months after my wedding, Bobby and Chris had split up again. Chris retained custody of the kids and remained in the house on Prince Street in Hicksville, while Bobby ended up renting a furnished room in another part of town.

At some point, as my memory is foggy about certain dates and events, Bobby did start attending AA meetings again. As he had during past crises in his life, Bobby went into a born again religious mode, carrying around with him a paperback copy of the New Testament. I distinctly remember him once at my parents’ house telling me that it was too bad he would not get to see me in heaven, with the clear implication that he believed he would be going to heaven and I, because of my atheism, would not. All I could do in response was to guffaw with laughter. Of course, his born again phase and his commitment to sobriety did not last. Like an old house with termite ridden and rotten timbers, the structure of Bobby’s life continued to collapse, save for brief pauses when he would take a stab at getting things back on track. Chris and the kids got evicted from the house on Prince Street and in another moment of irony, ended up renting in a house in Babylon that was directly across the street from the house where she lived when she was on welfare after her first separation from Bobby. What was becoming painfully evident was that their three kids were becoming collateral damage in the destruction of their lives.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What About Bob? Part 2

When Bobby returned to New York to live with us again, my parents insisted that he find some means of employment so that he could make a living. Before he joined the Marines, Bobby had grown close with the father of his ex-girlfriend Vivian named Klaus. Klaus was a mason and Bobby had done some work with him at times to make some extra bucks. A hard drinking but good hearted man, Klaus struck me as a more good natured version of Robert Shaw’s memorable character Quint from the movie ‘Jaws’. I think it was his work and friendship with Klaus that inspired Bobby to take up masonry. He enrolled in a masonry program and upon completion became a union bricklayer.

Bobby continued to live my parents house, as I did. My brother John had been married since 1987 after he and his girlfriend Lisa had a baby girl born that summer. During his stay with us, Bobby got into a stormy relationship with one of Lisa’s girlfriends. While their relationship was in its last throes, Bobby started working on the refacing of what was then a department store called Sterns at the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, where his attention was caught by a blonde haired woman named Chris, who worked at a travel agency just a stone’s throw away. Bobby and Chris had actually been acquainted with each other during their teenage years. The two of them started going out and as with my brother John and his girlfriend Lisa, Bobby and Chris decided to get married after he got her pregnant. They got married on New Years’ Day of 1990 in a small ceremony conducted at the church of a pastor who lived across the street from my parents’ house at the time. While Chris had a friendly personality, I never warmed up to her the way I had with Regina. Chris had a face that vaguely resembled Uma Thurman, but she had these bugged out looking eyes that made it difficult for me to maintain prolonged eye contact with her when I would speak with her.

Their first child, Sean, was born in February of 1990 while I was spending a semester in Albany, New York as an intern in the New York State Assembly. They rented the upstairs of a house in East Meadow and my mom would help them out with watching Sean for them and chipping in for formula and diapers. A second child, a girl they named Krystal, was born in 1993. But Bobby and Chris’s marriage was not exactly a paragon of stability. They both drank and did drugs and they argued frequently. In another apartment they lived in in Hicksville, when mom, dad and I visited, we were disturbed to find several holes in the wall that were created by Bobby’s fist during one of those arguments. They ended up separating, either in late 1993 or early 1994, my memory failing me on that point. Bobby got into some kind of trouble with the law and was told that if he did not undergo treatment for alcoholism, he would go to jail. Bobby opted for the alcoholism treatment program.

While this was going on, my parents were spending the winter of 1994 down at their condo apartment in Florida. I don’t remember where John was at the time, but I did not see much of him that year. Thus, when Bobby checked himself in for an alcoholism treatment program at the Nassau County facility in Plainview, I was basically the only family member who was around to support him. I visited him often and we started to develop a close bond that I never really had with him before. After his rehab program ended, he began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly and he shared the first floor of a rental house with his AA sponsor. Even though I was an atheist, I would sometimes attend AA meetings with Bobby in a show of support and I participated with him in the AA bowling league that would play on Friday nights at the bowling alley in Plainview.

By 1995, Bobby’s AA sponsor moved out and Bobby reconciled with Chris. She and the kids moved in with him at the rental house in Hicksville. Chris herself, having been on welfare for the past year, was studying to be an LPN as part of a program to get off welfare. However, she would end up dropping out of the program as she got pregnant with a third child, another boy named Bobby Junior, who was born in 1996. Chris had also cleaned up her act and was drug and alcohol free at the time.

The mid-1990’s proved to be a halcyon era for Bobby and our family as a whole. We often would have family dinners during the holidays at their place and in the summer months Bobby loved to demonstrate his prowess at cooking steaks and burgers on the grill. During football season I would spend Sundays over at Bobby’s place watching the Jets and the Giants while munching on buffalo wings and playing the role of uncle with my two nephews and niece. Life was still hard for Bobby and Chris, and at times they had trouble making ends meet. Bobby also still displayed that famous temper of his. But each year that passed by with Bobby staying sober seemed to confirm that his drinking problem would remain a thing of the past.

To be continued...

Monday, January 08, 2007

What About Bob? Part 1

Finally, my first post of 2007. As some of you may have read in one of my remarks in one of the comment threads, my mom was admitted to the hospital a week and a half ago for pneumonia and injuries sustained from a fall in her apartment. Naturally, this has made it difficult to find time to prepare the next installment of my “Chosen People of the Supreme Being Test” series. However, I am happy to report that my mom has improved greatly over the last few days and I hope that she will be home soon. Unfortunately, as if the stress brought on my dealing with my mom’s medical problems during the New Year’s weekend was not enough, the situation was exacerbated by the actions of my eldest brother Bobby, to whom I dedicate this multi-part post. It goes without saying that this is a very deeply personal post, but by the time you reach its conclusion, you will see how my story about Bobby and the title of the post fits into a larger social context.

Everyone likely knows or is even related to someone like my brother Bobby. Standing at 6’ 5”, my brother, who is six years older than me, has been an imposing and volatile personality since as long as I can remember. It seems like he was always getting into trouble and at an early age it was burned into my psyche not to grow up to be like him. One of my earliest memories of Bobby was from around the time I was 4 or 5 years old. I was standing outside the door of his bedroom and he must have done something really bad, because my father was on top of him yelling at him and wailing on him. Since I figured Bobby had done something to deserve having my dad on top of him like an angry gorilla, I reached into the hallway closet and tried to hand my dad a belt so that he could whip Bobby with it. “Tommy, what are you doing?” Bobby cried when he saw me in the doorway holding the belt in my outstretched hand and calling to dad to take it. Bobby, along with middle brother John, was more often than not a frightening and intimidating presence in my life. I was often tormented by both of them when mom and dad were not around, and so I would resort to tattling on them when they did things behind mom and dad’s back because it was the only way I could get back at them.

Coming into his teens during the mid to late 1970’s, Bobby got caught up in the rock n’ roll scene of the era, with bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Van Halen. Bobby strutted around town with his shoulder length hair, denim jacket and denim jeans. His teen years were filled with booze, drugs, fistfights and run-ins with the law. With his good looks, blue eyes and charming personality, he was always a hit with the girls. His charms even worked their magic on my mom, who often pleaded on his behalf to my stern New York City police officer father. This quite frequently led to fights between my parents. Eventually, Bobby was sent upstate to a juvenile home for troublesome boys called Lincoln Hall and for a year or two I only saw him when we drove upstate to visit him.

The next big change in Bobby’s life was when he decided to join the Marines when he was 19. But even the night before he was to ship off for boot camp at Paris Island was filled with tumult as my dad called the police when Bobby insisted on spending the night partying and getting drunk instead of staying home and being prepared to wake up early the next day. As with his stay at Lincoln Hall, I saw little of Bobby during his time in the Marines, except for once or twice a year when he got to come home on leave. In 1984, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, when he met and married a young lady named Regina. Bobby brought her with him to visit us that summer. A sweet and petite woman with a Natalie Wood face, I took a liking to Regina and looked forward to having her as a sister-in-law. One morning, the whole family went out to breakfast together at an IHOP. I cannot remember what it was that Regina said or did, but in front of all of us, Bobby angrily snapped at her. Regina managed to retain her composure for a moment, but she could not hold it, and she began to break down into tears. Mom rebuked Bobby and he became all sheepish and apologetic. I guess none of us saw it as a portent at the time, because when their stay with us was over and they returned to California, little did I know that I would never see Regina again.

Within two years, Bobby would be out of the Marines with a General Discharge (which is not as bad as a Dishonorable Discharge, but is still not something you would put on your resume) after repeatedly being AWOL and insubordinate, and his marriage with Regina ended in divorce. Bobby was reduced to living out of his truck and he begged mom and dad to allow him to come back home to New York. My father was vehemently against it, as the $10,000 that he had given to Bobby and Regina for a house was essentially flushed down the toilet. But my mom, who always had a soft spot for Bobby, prevailed, and in the autumn of 1988, Bobby made his way back to New York to try and patch his life back together.

To be continued…