Penny Bernstein- A Life And Death All Alone

I posted a poem last year called Weird Cousin. It was about my estranged cousin Penny who lived in New York. She’d left Scotland in the early 1960′s and never returned, making her home in the Big Apple and somehow, despite her inability to be congenial to the majority of the people she met, managed to carve out a living as a movie producer. She made a movie, “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang”, which won several Emmy’s and really set her up to live a modestly comfortable lifestyle in a rent controlled apartment just off 7th Ave in Greenwich Village. As I mentioned before, Penny was probably the most abrupt person anyone could ever wish to meet. She argued with everyone, whether it be me, my father, her niece’s and nephew’s and even her sister and brother, never shirking away from an opinion that ALWAYS made her right. She would fight with Taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and anyone she could find who held a position of authority. I know, because I witnessed it first hand for years when I visited her regularly in NY. If she didn’t like you or what you were telling her, she let you know it, and she did it with a certain gusto that could be both intimidating and rude to the point that you either wanter to hit her, or just walk away shaking your head and saying, “what a fucking stupid bitch.” I fell out with her, as most people did, in early 1999. It was a stupid argument, all one way, her way of course, which ended in my telling her she could find another executor for her will and her telling me never to contact her again. I conformed with that wish until 9/11, when I decided to pick up the phone and make sure she was OK. She was very grateful to hear from me, but not grateful enough to ever call me back.

Penny taught me a lot. She was a role model on how NOT to live your life and how NOT to treat people. She was also a loner. My father, who was her first cousin, thought that Penny was the most supercilious person he’d ever met, and he should know because he grew up with her. And so when that call came, early one morning about 6 months ago informing me that Penny had died, living alone in that rat infested apartment surrounded by mountains of junk that she’s hoarded over her years of self-inflicted solitude, my emotions were quite mixed. On the one hand, I was sorry we’d not spoken for so many years, but on the other hand, it had been all her doing so why should I show anything else other than casual remorse and a shake of the head while thinking “she could have had so much more than just loneliness?”

Anyway, it was after this call that the whole situation became quite bizarre, garishly exposing the sadness of a life lived alone. You see Penny was discovered beneath that pile of crap that she’d collected over 45 years by a NYPD detective, called to her apartment because no one had seen or heard from her for weeks. This in itself wasn’t unusual, but the odor that reeked from underneath her front door into that drab dreary stairwell she called home was so over baring that the only explanation, as the Detective painstakingly explained to me later, was that a death had occurred and not recently! They took her to the morgue where she lay awaiting identification. By now, her niece and nephew in Toronto, and her sister in the UK had been informed and between all 4 of us, we were involved in what would eventually become an overly elongated process to have her released for burial. You see, Penny’s remains were so putrified that only dental records would account for her ID and nothing else. She had not too much left of her fingers or face after the rats took their feast and without any other way of ID’ing her, dental seemed the best way forward. Well, it tuned out that Penny hadn’t been to the dentist in 40 years, nor had she ever had any Xray’s taken at any hospital in NY and to cap it all off, she’d never been to the Police, called the Police or been arrested by the Police in all the time she’d lived in the USA. The detective told me this was certainly a ‘one of a kind’ situation, backing up his comments with the caveat of “normally homeless people are the only people we have this criteria with, not respectable citizens who live in their own apartment and are self-sufficient for so many years.” That didn’t help. Penny was in the morgue without any hope of being released until a positive ID could be made. No one, well at least the relatives and I, believed this would take more that a few days, after all, with the advent of DNA and all the other great innovations we watch on TV shows every night, there must be some way to have this process expedited and concluded within a reasonable timeframe in order that Penny’s remains be buried with some dignity? Think again!

It took 5 months, three DNA tests and a lot of grief for Penny to be finally released and buried last Friday. A nightmare scenario if you take into consideration the number of calls my cousin Raymond placed to the coroner, the number of calls he placed to the detective, the number of calls to the burial society and finally, the number of calls he and I had with attorney’s and between each other over this same 5 month period. What would have been a routine situation had Penny been a routine human being, was anything but routine. It dug up old family wounds, it prompted various discussions between people who unfortunately didn’t give a hoot on what happened to Penny and eventually led to a complete breakdown in communication and a possible never-ending family feud between her niece and nephew. So unfortunate and so unbelievable.

Penny is now at peace, which is more that I can say for the family that remains, all of whom cannot find a way to come together and resolve their differences in an amicable format. I pity those who live alone, I pity those who end up alone, but most of all I pity those who have the opportunity not to be alone yet choose a path that leads to eternal loneliness a loneliness exaggerated by their inability to accept that it’s so much more desirable to be at peace and to have some friends than it is to be argumentative and have nothing.



Weird Cousin


I had a weird cousin once, second hand

She lived in 10024, Manhattan for short

Her persona was west of the nineteen sixties

Dressing up as a retired hippie

Nor knowing what shampoo was, nor toothpaste

Reminding everyone that nuclear bombs kill, surprise!


She lived in a room, yes just one

Cheap, made it hip, acceptable

Cleaning never took place, except facially

Lost, in books and second hand Lena Horn disks

Traveling in a lesser class than cattle class

Spending money, well she never spent she sponged


Argumentative being her middle name, confrontational, her first

Lost in people management skills, there were none

Rubbing more people wrongly than she was rubbed herself

Between bee pollen shakes, she would splutter through brown teeth

Never wrong, always articulate, loud mouthed but correct

Telling her otherwise was a waste of energy


She could be lovable through her eccentricities

Spending much time caring for those who bought dinner

Twenty years my senior, far junior in behavior

A coming together of disagreements ending the volatility

Seven years since my blood pressure returned to normal

No calls and no visits, she must be a lonely soul.


© Alan Zoltie April 04

Scotland Decides – Vote Now

Scotland, Yes or No?

downloadI am being asked the same question at least ten times a day right now. Will you vote Yes or No in the election to make Scotland independent from the UK.

1 I am unable to vote.

2 I would vote NO.

3 Please stop asking me.

4 Scotland will make its own mind up.

5 The politicians on both sides are liars and cheats and have no clue what is best for Scotland.

6 I was born there and should be able to cast a vote.

7 Anyone born outside of Scotland who has resided there for the past 6 months or more is entitled to a vote. Stupid!

8 Anyone 16 or older can vote, providing they’ve lived there for the past 6 months or more. Even more ridiculous!

Scotland is part of a United Kingdom, and in my opinion it will always be that way. If on Thursday the vote is a Yes, then I will be offered citizenship from the country of my birth. The question will be, do I really want it?

So Many Tits And Bums

photo 1They all look the same, yet they are all so different. They come and go, though they really just want to come. They flock in their droves to this place, one place, the only place that matters, filled with clones, and they are just another drop in an ocean that is majestic and never ending. They try hard to be unique, but their individuality is hidden behind a look that says “come play with me’. They are all the same age, give or take a year, but they are mature and immature on so many other levels. They are a hidden gem, an oversight, never an aberration and they are all lonely. They, are the ladies who frequent the history laden streets of Charleston SC, they are the class of 2015, 16 and onwards. They are all stunning, and they are there to learn, to tease, to play and always to be looked at. They seem confused, but they know exactly what they are doing. Frequenting late night libation stops, in gangs, waiting, pondering, flirtatious, nubiles all of them, just wanting a partner, just wanting attention and finally, just getting what they deserve, nothing.  

You see these young ladies are in the majority. They have signed up for four long years at a college where they outnumber the opposite sex by at least three to one. No one knows why this has happened in this particular part of the US, but it’s certainly obvious from the brief time I spent walking the streets of Charleston, and working in the college gym with some of the resident students, that this statistic is an absolute fact and a fact that the male students who are fortunate to come to study in these very same walls, are extremely grateful for. The thing though that I failed to understand and that’s evident from the pictures I’ve posted, is the similarity in the way all the women dressed. It seemed to be short shorts, nicely tailored around well fashioned rear ends, leaving not too much to the wandering imagination of this writer, and very skimpy, almost see through tank tops, worn with braless intentions, just enough to tease and flatter without looking overly pornographic!  All very nice and ‘candy-store’ like, if you’re single and ready to date or single and just want to shag! Every day is a sunny day in Charleston if you’re a hot blooded male, with age never raising any kind of boundary.

The sexual revolution has long past. This was sex, pure sex, displayed without the usual government waring signs that normally appear on our TV screens before such flagrant displays of naked flesh. This was enthralling, certainly from the point of view that these young ladies bore little shame is their flamboyant willingness to explore their sexuality in the face of every tourist and every dirty old man who decided to look their way. This was an experience on an unprecedented magnitude, watching live, Playboy’s finest, cruising up an down streets where Anthony Ashley Cooper, William Moultrie, MLK and many others from our historical past, walked, often in desperation, often in hope, but never with eyes wide open looking at too many tits and bums. They would probably roll in their graves if they could witness this scene in 2014, or perhaps they would just do what I did, sit back, enjoy the view and then put pen to paper and write in their diaries that today, of all days, had been an extremely pleasant one and one that will be repeated every day into the future until fashion changes or these young ladies discover some modesty.

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Cigar That Cost A Bullet

downloadWhat price a cigar? It seems the cost is just unimaginable. No matter who is wrong and who is right, how can it be possible that a young man gets gunned down in cold blood over a simple theft, if indeed he did steal the items in question?

How can this death lead to so much gratuitous violence and why can’t people just get on?

When I grew up in Scotland we never had situations that resembled those taking place in Ferguson. Well, maybe we did, but I was never made aware of them and the media was certainly a silent partner in reporting them if they happened. We had no guns, the police had no guns and the only racial tension could be found on Saturday afternoons at football matches where Protestants and Catholics could be found singing their way into a frenzy of hatred and dislike. It rarely spilled over onto the streets, and when it did, it was over in an hour and that was the end of the matter.

I am blown away by the ferocity of the hatred and the angst that is to be found in Ferguson and no matter who is wrong and who is right, a mistake was made, a life was taken, and now it should be the responsibility of those who began these unfortunate events to sort it out and return this town to the peace and calm its residents deserve. To continue with more senseless violence and looting is just fueling the fire of those who live for this unrest. Yes, there are professional inciters, they can be seen all over this country when the ‘race’ card is played in any of the 50 States that make up our country, and it’s shameful that this small minority can be given so much power to disrupt the lives of those who just want to live peacefully. The time has come to stop all this nonsense. It matters not if the death is white or black, yellow or brown. A death is a death. Guns kill people. People are all human beings. Guns do not discriminate. Yes, I was never a party to the human rights and race violations that plagued the United States in the past, but I am the future as much as any of you are. Stop all this violence. Sit down, take heed and reflect on another life lost to a bullet. It’s just not worth the trouble to make everyone’s life miserable when that misery affects all the goodwill built up over decades. I sympathize greatly with those who are suffering, those who have lost and those who feel neglected. I have no time however for those who steal, those who incite and those who choose to ignore the calls for peace.

Fascinating New York

IMG_0724What is it about NY that makes it so fascinating? Is it the unashamed directness of the populous that inhabit Manhattan? “Excuse me” says the man who has just begun his walk down 5th Ave, “Can you tell me the way to the Statue of Liberty, or should I just go fuck myself?” Is it the food? Every second store front is selling some kind of sustenance that is either regarded as ‘the best on the planet” or “world famous”! How many secret recipes can there be? According to my simple math after walking down 8th Ave this week, probably tens of thousands, and each one claiming to be better than the other. Is it the tourist attractions? New Yorkers can be found dressing up as Elmo or Mickey Mouse in Times Sq and threatening every 5 year old boy and girl that walks past them and doesn’t tip after requesting a picture? Is it the constant heat and humidity at this time of year, made all the worse by the uneven overly populated concrete sidewalks that carry more smelly human beings than any European sauna?   Or is it just the continual putrid smell of urine wafting through endless tunnels where a never ending and confusing stream of sweaty locals are transported daily from one end of the island to another?

I think it could be all of the above, but frankly speaking, and after many visits to the city over the past thirty years, I am at a loss why anyone finds New York attractive.

I’ve written about this before, and I’ve received countless responses from some who chastise me and others who just applaud my candor, but seriously, is there anything in that city other than great food that can be worth chasing? The cab drivers are rude and incompetent. The pizza is $20 a slice. The museums are amazing, but does anyone in this instantly bored generation give a damn? The subway is a mess, the shops are expensive, the people are just permanently sour, so why bother?

I just spent three blissful days in NY.  Blissful? Yes, because I stayed in Hoboken New Jersey, located just at the other side of the Hudson river, 10 minutes on the Path train to Manhattan and as serene as any holiday resort I have every stayed at. The place itself is small, but its character is huge. It’s feel is New York but without the madness. You can sleep at night and never hear a single car horn or police siren. You can walk the streets with the absolute certainty that people will be nice to you and you can run outside on the waterfront without ever smelling one ounce of pollution. All in all it was paradise in comparison to Manhattan, and all in all I was delighted to tell my friends that at last, after all these years, this was the place to stay when a trip to NYC is required. I ate well, slept well and returned to CA so much more refreshed than wherever I had stayed on the opposite side of the water. It’s only 20 mins to Newark airport and the nutters, as depicted above, seemingly do not exist in Hoboken. The view of the Freedom tower was to die for and the general consensus was positive.

So no matter how bad the smells is in NYC, no matter how rude the people are, no matter how expensive the food seems to be, Hoboken offered a refuge that was quite unexpected. Except for the thought that each day I had to venture across to the other side, I was happy to spend my time contemplating just what other people’s fascination about Manhattan really is! The answer? I have no fucking clue!!


Interesting Stats

Iraq is imploding once again. Here are some interesting facts from the ‘war’ we raged in that particular country.

Amount spent fighting the war $742 billion.

Number of US service men and women killed 4,489.

Number of US soldiers injured/ wounded 32,021

Number of Iraqi civilians killed 500,000 plus, and that’s only an estimate.

Simple facts, and simply put, what was it all for? Now that bloodshed is running rampant again, Sunni’s killing Kurds, killing Shia’s, who are then killing each other, in a vicious circle of violence without one US soldier to be seen, one has to ask, what the fuck?

$742 billion goes a long way. We could have re-built aging infrastructure here in the US, replacing roads, rail and schools, underground pipelines, upgrading airports, bringing employment to those who don’t have, to name but a few handy items that would have been crossed off our government’s ‘to do’ list. That’s A SHIT LOAD OF CASH, cash that should have been used for the improvement of the United States, and not squandered on a meaningless war, a war that we were often told, had to be fought.

38,000 killed or wounded. At what cost?? Ask their families, their loved one’s. Ask those who cannot walk, cannot see, cannot speak. Why were they there? To improve the safety of those who live here? I don’t think so. Though they fought hard, they are dead now and wouldn’t they have been better left to live in peace? And now, as soon as they have come home to rehab or even be buried, look what’s happened! The inevitable, more war! An internal combustion that we, as an invading force, were never going to stop in the first place. They all hate each other, yes, those in the very same country, those of ethnic decent, those of Sunni blood, those in that self-proclaimed state of Kurdistan, they hate one another with savage intensity. We were destined to lose our pants in Iraq and no one saw it coming other than those of us who see only common sense.

I don’t think my borders are any more secure now that my country fought a war that was supposedly to make them so. I don’t see any difference in my day-to-day life, but I see a huge difference in the lives of the families of the killed and wounded. How would you like to be in their shoes, and again, I repeat the obvious, for what??

I take my hat off to those in our government and in our media who can spin this disaster into a positive. There are no positives, just a whole line of negatives and an even larger line of dead.

Give me my money back. I would like to spend it in a more efficient manner. I would like to give to those who need, not those who need me to give.

Tomorrow there will be hundreds more innocent dead in Iraq, and millions more spent trying to stop it. You can’t stop it, you can only sit and watch as hatred runs riot, as it has done for thousands of years and will continue to do so for thousands more.