Archive for February, 2011

Notes from a Reykjavik Sidewalk: A Father’s Love.

Feb. 27th 2011

When traveling, I tend to wander places where the average visitor tends not to wander.

Having an affinity for fine- feather-friends and animals that cuddle in your lap (then often leave you an unexpected gift. Oops), I landed up in a pet shop in Reykjavik, Iceland.

I admired the birds. I looked at the rabbits with longing. How I wanted all of them to find a home filled with love and laughter.

I noticed a man in the pet shop. He looked slightly sad and distressed. I said hello, then wandered around the store looking at pet supplies, trying to read Icelandic. With my very, very, very limited Icelandic, I overheard he was looking for a specific pet.

Why not strike up a conversation?  Pets are often a universal gateway to conversation; pets and grandchildren.  We briefly chatted.

Then I stepped outside the store. Snow was fallling. He followed. He turned to me once more and asked about my knowledge of hamsters. His English was impeccable. This is true of many Icelantic citizens. I told him hamsters are quite lovable. One keeps them in a cage–or they will land up in your heating ducts or forever lost in your basement. I informed him hamsters enjoy endlessly running around on a stainless steel wheel placed in their cage. Hamsters delight in exercising. Exercising is #931 on my list of “delights.”

I should be a hamster. I could use a good workout.

 I mentioned hamsters like to burrow in sawdust. Who does not like to feel comforted in all things soft?

The next sentence from him broke my heart. He said the family pet died last night. This is where I witnessed pathos and sorrow sweep across his rugged face. He said the shop could not help him. He walked away pet-less.

I suggested there may be other pet stores in Reykjavik, yet Iceland is a country of far less than a million citizens. Chances seemed slim.

I am now back in the USA. I thought of this man today, living thousands of miles away in Reykjavik, Iceland. I hope he found a new pet to bring happiness and joy to his family.  

 A father’s love. To go out into the snow and cold, the day after the death of a pet,  to bring life back into a household.  

Brendan Ben Feeney

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“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” notes Joan Baez.

Feb. 12th 2011

I stopped everything yesterday and tuned-in live, on the Internet, to witness the latest developments in Cairo, Egypt. Rock hurling turned to jubilation in Tahrir Square.

Instantaneous visual images of current world events were not available to my parent’s generation. You’d have to wait the next day to read important news from newspapers or wait until you mustered 10 cents to view a double feature at the movies—and watch Newsreels with current evnts projected before the featured  films were shown.

Even though it is the day after the departure of a dictator, people are STILL dancing in the streets of Egypt. In some major Unites States cities  there were spontaneous gatherings, like one at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The event began as an information secession—then morphed into a communal show of solidarity for all those who respect freedom, democracy, change, and say NO to living in a state of fear and intimidation.

Three days ago, as I watched the protest in Egypt on the Internet, thoughts turned to Tienanmen Square, Beijing, China.  Would history repeat itself? Would a bloodbath ensue? History does trends repeat itself like an old 45 RPM record—skipping and crackling.

Many in our fast-paced society have short memories. Many school districts have stopped offering geography and civic classes and have a teach-to-a-state-graduation-requiremeted test mentality. There is often NO time to discuss current events and  earth-shattering world events. Many ask– whereIS Cairo on the map? Heaven forbid if one is not precisely at US I Standard 12.8. 4. 1.  Never deviate from what is to be taught at a specific time, on a specific day.  

As Egypt moves forward, my hope is for a more stable African and Middle East.

One can boil spaghetti on a stove and turn the gas off when the spaghetti is cooked. One may drain the water, and a meal is served.  If you leave a pot on a hot stove, cooking past its allotted cooking time, the pot hisses and begins to boil over. The metal pot cover rattles and shakes. It is a distressing sound. The hissing of water when it hits a gas flame grows louder. No one likes burned food. No one likes their kitchen reduced to ash.

A favorite spiritual/protest song of mine is Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.  I like this spititual/protest song made popular by Joan Baez because it places power in the hands of people. Fear and imitation cross our path–and yet we often walk into, and through, the pathway of danger.

Blessed are the righteous. Praise goes out to those who stood up to injustice in Egypt. Reverend King stood up against injustice in  Birmingham and Selma. He would be proud of the events in Egypt. Mohandas Gandhi with his Salt March to the sea would be beaming if he  knew what the people of Egypt did to change the political, social, and economic direction of their nation.

A message to to present-day dictators of the world. You cannot push people around. Like that pot of spaghetti  boiling on the stove, the lid must  and will come off.

To bullies of the world. You may shove—yet now the world no longer tolerates your foolish belligerence and pushing. Bullies beware. There is a movement at hand to stop your mindless hate and intimidation.  

Now that the Egyptian people will hopefully experience a free press and freedom from tyranny, aint’ nobody gonna turn them ’round.

Do you think King Jong Il or Raul Castro are quaking in their spit polished, imported European leather boots—-shined by a servant tonight?

Brendan Ben Feeney

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Paging Cupid….Paging Cupid. Come in Please!

Feb. 5th 2011

Remember when “Pop Songs” were catchy and didn’t have  ONE  sanitazed radio version and an SECOND Parent Advisory CD or non-edited download version?  Beep….beep. Bleep…bleep.

Sing along if you remember this song…………..
Cupid, draw back your bow, and let your arrow flow, straight to my lover’s heart for me…”

Today, some would interpret this lyric as an act of violence. Shooting arrows.

Look at the state of the world today. Rocks are flying in Egypt. A congresswoman is shot in the head. A motorist killed at an intersection over an incident of road rage. Tempers flair at grocery stores over who was first at the Deli Counter. People. You all will get your cold cuts and sliced cheese— eventually.

 Roberta Flack sang a duet with Donny Hathaway in 1972…….Where is the Love?”

Where is the love in 2011?

In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day I see all sort of faux sentimentality.  Boxes of heart shaped chocolates; cupcakes at upscale bakeries made with yummy butter-cream frosting. |Think beyond chocolates and cupcakes.

 Offer a kind word to somone lonley. This is an act of love. For those living in the snow belt, shovel a neighbors driveway. This is an act of love. Turn to the person behind you at the counter at your local coffee shop and say…”coffee today is on me. No strings attached.” This is an act of love. Forgive. This is an act of love.

Many people think of love in mushy gooshy, kissy-wissy terms.


Love comes from the soul.Love is an extension of self. It is being kind. It is giving with no expectations. It is doing. Sharing. A hug. A smile. A hand on a shoulder. Words of encouragement. Connecting with others.

So Cupid. Get busy. A lot of people, nations, and factions can use your love.

And please, when aiming your arrow, do not shoot me in the ass. That hurts.

Brendan Ben Feeney

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This Is MY Castle….. Like It?

Feb. 2nd 2011

Our encounter began over music, close to midnight in Grand Central Station, New York City. January, 2011.

I was scurrying to catch one of the last trains out of Manhattan to Stamford, Connecticut.

Strike that.

 I was RUNNING, out of breath, with inhaler-in-hand for the train wearing uncomfortable fashionable square toe dress shoes.

Those who know me, I sometimes sing in public. Here I was whizzing through Grand Central Station, singing, as the infamous Pumpkin Coach was about to turn to goosh and melt at the stroke of midnight. Great. I am about to scrub the marble  floor of  GCS if I didn’t make my train.

Wait. I meet a man standing tall next to his worldly possessions in a white plastic bag. He wears ear buds. Our paths cross in the Grand Hall next to my Track Number entrance.

I quit rushing. I ask the gentleman wearing ear buds, “What are you listening to?” I sometime ask this to people wearing i-Pods. 99% of the time my questioning  pisses people off. I’m curious. That’s all. Inquisitive by nature.

His reply breaks my heart….”Nothing Man. They stole the back of this thing.” He shows me the broken music player. It’s not an i-Pod.  “It’s mean here on the street. People steal. People take your stuff. That ain’t right. That ain’t right, man.”

“You are right. That was mean. Real mean for someone to do this to you. ”

Here is this man, with one eye permanently closed due to an untreated eye ailment, and the other eye wide open, perceptive to the world. He was listing to nothing, yet enjoying the experience of listing to something in his head.

I then said, “Since you have no music coming from that thing, let me sing you a song.”  I dug deep into my library of lyrics  and sang an old school Motown song. The the two of us spontaneously danced.

I was coming from a benefit reception for The Doug Varone Dance Company hosted by a delightful couple who live on Central Park West. Here I am in my black designer trench coat, bow tie, pressed 100% white pima cotton shirt, cuff links, and god-awful square top shoes, jamming in Grand Central Station with a man who has a soul bigger than Manhatthan and nothing in his pockets.

Embarrassment? Why be ashamed to sing and dance in Grand Central Station? New York is New York—- full of energy, vitality, and life. Sing. Dance. Be.

I look at my watch. I have 10 minutes to catch my train–yet I linger.

The gentleman asks me……..”You like Charles? What about Carmella? Buckingham Palace?  Man!”  His  discourse was rapid-fire.

My reply…….”The nerve of that CHARLES, who is next in line to be King,  cheating on Diana. Hiding in the trunk of that big ass Rolls Royce, being whisked away by bodyguards to hook up with THAT Carmella–that is not right. Married man. Cheater. What’s up with that? Then the Queen Mother. Mean to her daughter-in-laws. What’s in that big ass pocketbook of hers? And the hats. Don’t get me started……”

He replied….”Uh, ha. Amen. You down with it.”

The gentleman in the train station said, “What about the wedding? The big wedding. Who he marrying?….. Kate? Yeah, I think she Kate.”

I had  to think.

Kate……… Kate…………. 

I was at Joe’s Barber Shop in Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts 6 months ago and read PEOPLE magazine while waiting for Joe to cut my thinning hair. I think  Kate is the royal bride-to-be. I believe he is correct.

This gentleman is up on his royalty. Yet I found there was a reason for this later in our conversation.

I answer. “England is broke. The US is in a economic depression. This royal wedding is going to cost a fortune. The money for her dress alone would feed us all for a lifetime. Wedding dresses, flower girls, place cards, engraved invitations, Ladies in Waiting. Gifts. Money out the window.”

“I hear ya.”  is his reply.

Then he says, “Got any money? I’m hungry. Haven’t eaten in a day. Damn.”

I open my wallet. The clock is ticking. In 5 minutes my train leaves Grand Central Station. I give him $3 dollars. Then I ask (more like lecture) “You are not going to drink or drug this money–are you?”

“No, man. I am gonna get fried chicken. Yes. FRIED chicken.”

A look of pure delight swept across his face. ” He named the EXACT place where he would find affordable fried chicken on Lexington and some cross street. I thought, $3 dollars is not going cover the cost of a hungry man’s  fried chicken dinner, so I slipped him a larger bill.” He did not take the money and run. He invited me to dinner. He said……..”The 2 of us. Let’s have us some fried chicken.”

3 minutes and my train departs.

I was weened on Southern California television game shows. This was my Monty Hall moment. Do I take the train, or go with a person living on the streets of New York and have a fried chicken dinner?  Have you noticed life tosses us dilemmas? If you have not noticed, let me inform you,” life tosses us dilemmas.”

I so wanted to buy this man a workable i-Pod or music player. I so wanted to eat chicken and learn more about his life, and share my life story, yet the “LAST CALL TO STAMFORD!……..LAST CALL TO STAMFORD!” announcement reverberates throughout the close-to-empty cavernous Grand Central Station.

I told him, “I must get back and take my train. I will take a rain check. When I’m in  New York againthis winter, I will look for you. I promise. My word is my word. I will look for you.”

He then said something utterly profound.

“Like my castle?  I love my castle.”

He was referring to Grand Central Station.

I looked above at Grand Central Station’s Robin’s egg blue painted ceiling with twinkling stars and zodiac symbols. I glanced at all the marble, chandeliers, and 2 grand descending staircases.

His perception of his living space was “spot on.”

 To the average person passing him, he is a homeless man living in a train station. To me, he is a king. Royal. He was dealt a bad deck of cards, yet surviving in one of the world’s largest cities.

I think of him often. I think  how he views his universe. I think what a shame that many homeless people suffer from mental illness. In the 21 century, mental illness still has a stigma attached to it and is not  fully acknowledged as a medical condition. Where is funding for mental health research? Where is funding to stop the systemic problem of homelessness in America—the land of plenty?

Goodnight my King of New York City. I hope you find warmth, in a corner of Grand Central Station, on this cold winter night. What tune will lull you to sleep amongst the clattering of trains and the static afflicted public address system announcing LAST CALL FOR STAMFORD!

Brendan Ben Feeney

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