Sunday, May 24, 2015

Big Wheel Keeps On Turning

“This life is a master novel, written by God, and man would go crazy if he tried to understand it by reason alone. That is why I tell you to meditate more. Enlarge the magic cup of your intuition and then you will be able to hold the ocean of infinite wisdom.” --Paramahansa Yogananda

I turned 58 years old today and so many thoughts are running through my mind.

I’m thinking of the shocking passage of time, and how I’m quickly closing in on the 60 year mark.

I’m thinking about my late parents, and my grandmother, who shared a birthday with me, and how I miss them all very much.

I’m also thinking about a couple of kids I saw in Shore Road Park last weekend. (That may sound awkward, but please bear with me.)

These two boys went racing by me as I sat on a park bench. The older one was on a razor scooter and he was pulling ahead of a younger boy on a bicycle. The little guy was having a hard time with this.

“Stop doing that,” he yelled. “Stop it!”

But the older boy kept on going, leaving the younger one behind, and finally the little guy pulled over, sat on the ground and started crying.

Yes, kids cry every day and then they get over it and go back to having fun, but this incident really upset me. I felt so badly for this kid.

I wanted to tell him that it’s better to find your own way then chase after people who don’t care about you and that you shouldn’t get upset over something as trivial as a race with another kid.

But, of course, it wasn’t trivial for him. This was a terrible blow in his world and I was happy to see the boy’s father come along a few moments later to console the little guy.

Then on Friday it was my turn.

Waterworks

We got out of work early due to the Memorial Day holiday and, having failed to make any firm plans, I decided to go home.

Big mistake. As soon as I got home I realized that it wasn’t even 7 PM yet and I had pretty much tanked the evening.

I’m in kind of rough patch right now as my future is a bit overcast. I’m trying to remain positive, focus on the good things in my life, and express gratitude, but it can be very hard some days.

I was feeling out of sorts so I decided to call my aunt just to talk, but I felt so tired, so fearful, and so goddamn lonely that my voice started to crack.

“Honey…” my aunt said, anticipating the deluge.

Then I lost it, weeping and wailing like my buddy in the park. I know that a lot of this comes from concerns about what’s going to happen next, but I couldn’t seem to rein in the tears.

Finally I calmed down and assured my aunt that I was okay.

I felt guilty about unloading on her, since she’s dealing with some serious health issues, but my aunt—just like my mother--can see right through me and there’s no way I can hide my fears from her.

Now that I calm I can see really appreciate how lucky I am to have people as loving as my aunt, my sister and other friends and family, who can listen to my problems and talk me down to earth. That’s a great gift indeed.

Today I will be going to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with my auntie and sister and then we’re heading off to Wing Hing, a fantastic Chinese restaurant, where I intend to eat everything on the menu and then menu itself.

I’m taking a day off from thinking about my problems, worries, and disappointments. This is a day for gratitude and celebration.

Like my little friend in the park, I see that sometimes the only thing you can do is pull over, sit down, and cry your eyes out.

Then you wipe away the tears, get back on your bicycle, and start pedaling.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fire Walk With Me

And now comes the time when I have to let go of the old and prepare to walk through fire...

I’ve been going through some difficult times lately and today I treated myself to another fabulous energy session with my healer Kathryn.

This was the culmination of a tremendous weekend where I met up with an old friend on Friday and made some new ones on Saturday.

I've had more positive excitement in the last few days than I've had in the last few months and it felt good to put my troubles aside for a little while.

I’ve been worried about my life for so long and so steadily that I’ve gotten used to the tension. Except of course when I’m irritable and exhausted and then I realize that I’ve been wearing this burden like a hair shirt. I decided I needed a treatment as soon as possible.

Once again Kathryn had me stretch out on her table and then she put her fabulous hands on me. I had been worried that we wouldn’t be able to match the power I felt during our first session, but as usual, my worries were completely unfounded.

We far exceeded the progress that we made during that initial get-together and the experience was nothing short of astounding.

I honestly don’t understand exactly how this energy business works, but I’m perfectly comfortable with that.

I can accept Kathryn’s help and acknowledge her tremendous skill without having a detailed explanation of her actions. I just know that it works and I’m very thankful.

As Kathryn worked on me, she said she could feel some ancient family energy in my body that had to be released.

“Give it permission to leave and go into the Temple of Light,” she said gently as she held on to my shoulders.

And I did just that, with all kinds of blessings and love I sent this old power that no longer serves me to a better place. This wasn’t an exorcism or a violent emotional eviction, but a gentle acknowledgement that it was time for me and this old stuff to part company.

Step into the Light

Naturally I started crying, but Kathryn assured me that this was an important part of the process, akin to washing my face—only I was washing my soul’s face.

“Your higher self needs a change,” Kathryn told me, which probably explains this disruption I’m currently going through.

I’m turning 58 next week and I had always hoped that I would’ve been in a better frame of mind at this stage of my life. But Kathryn explained that the spirit ages differently from the body and by that reckoning you’re not an adult until you reach 60.

I always breathe so deeply and slowly during these sessions and I’m so relaxed that I don’t recognize myself. Usually I’m bouncing off the four walls, talking in a rapid-fire delivery that even I have trouble understanding.
Toward the end of the session, Kathryn had me remove this barrier in my brain that separates my physical side from my spiritual self and allow the light flow through my body. It was glorious.

We talked about the struggles I may be facing in the coming months and Kathryn advised me to get in touch with my inner master, so I could walk over the hot coals of life like a firewalker and not get burned.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me—no one does. But at least now I’m feeling more relaxed and less fearful.

As I left Kathryn’s office, I actually had to steady myself against the wall while I walked down the stairs. I was weak, but in a good way, drained of all the misery that I’ve carried for so long. I felt like a toddler taking his first steps.

When I got outside, I crossed the street to go to my local deli and the owner greeted me from behind the counter.

“How you doin’, buddy?” he asked.

There was absolutely no way I could describe what was going on inside of me so I just smiled and settled for the simple response.

“I’m doing fine,” I said.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Love You All Up

"God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers." ― Ruyard Kipling

I have this distant memory of getting into a terrible fight with somebody in my family.

I forget nearly everything about that day—whom I was fighting with, how old I was at the time, or what it was all about.

I just recall sitting on the living room couch fuming, so righteous in my anger. My mother was sitting next to me, trying to talk some sense into me—a lost cause if ever there was one.

I had decided that I was the injured party, I had been thoroughly wrong, and I demanded satisfaction—from somebody.

And then I fell completely apart, weeping and wailing while my mother put her arms around me and said, “Mommy loves you all up!”

Chronologically, I was well beyond the age when I should’ve been crying on my mother’s shoulder. Clearly my emotional state was another story.

The story comes back to me on this Mother’s Day as I work my way through a personal and professional crisis. My mother isn’t around anymore to wipe away my tears and, as my shrink tells me, “you have to become the parent as well as the child.”

Yes, that’s true, but some days I really don’t want to be.

I’ve had these terrible thoughts during my unguarded moments, when all kinds of toxic emotional sewage leaks out of my subconscious to destroy my happiness. I start thinking about my mother and how I am a disappointment to her. I never married; I never gave her grandchildren; I caused all sorts of heartache and aggravation.

It can get pretty awful if I don’t grab hold of my mind and rein in these hateful emotions. At a time when I should be showing myself some serious kindness, I’m unleashing all sorts of misery upon myself--and falsely signing my mother’s name to it.

I take some solace in the fact that I’m beginning to recognize this hideous thinking—or lack of thinking, but I want to get to a point where I don’t have these terrible thoughts in the first place.

The truth, of course, is that my mother would never tell any of us that we were a disappointment to us. She’d never complain about not having grandchildren and she wouldn’t care if we were multi-billionaires or shoveling French fries at McDonald’s.

“I just want you to be happy,” she’d tell us over and over.

And she meant it, right down to the bottom of her heart. That’s the person I want to honor and remember today, my real mother, not my subconscious mind’s twisted version of her.

I chose to remember the woman who loved us all up.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Verses in the Sky

I took one look at Deno’s Wonder Wheel on Friday night and told myself this ain’t happening.

I had journeyed all the way out to Coney Island to attend Parachute Literary Arts’ Poem-a-Rama, which included poetry readings on board the famous 15-story thrill ride.

Yes, on board. Participants were cordially invited to get into one of those little cars that looked an awful lot like cages to me and then slowly climb 150 feet into the air while a poet read his or her work.

This was taking art to new heights. (C’mon, you knew that one was coming…)

Now given my, ah…issues with high places, I suspected that this event might present a problem for me, but I promised to do more of those funky things that you can only do in New York and this one really seemed to fit the bill with a vengeance.

It was just five years ago that I had taken my life in my hands and my heart in my mouth to ride Coney’s legendary Cyclone roller coaster. How could I possibly walk away from a chance to take on the Wonder Wheel?

I came awfully close, I must confess. As I looked at this massive machine rolling up through the clouds, I heard this fearful inner voice—the one I give into all too often—telling me to scram, get the hell out of here, take Michael Jackson’s advice and beat it!

You’ve come this far, the voice of defeat said. That’s enough. You’ve got nothing to prove and a hell of a lot to lose—like your life.

But I knew this was a lie. As frightened as I was, I didn’t want to come all this way just so I could stand on the sidelines and watch other people enjoy themselves.

I was prepared, packing my last Xanax tablet, the breakfast of champions for those of us who fear flying.

So I popped it into my mouth, said a silent prayer to Saint Martin, and got into a car with the extremely talented poet Brenda Coultas.

Poetic Just Us

Then we started to climb.

I cranked my head around so I could listen to Brenda reading her work and ignore the fact that we were leaving Mother Earth behind.

I could hear all sorts of gears grinding and groaning but I did my best to focus on the words, not my mounting terror.

Brenda’s voice is so soothing and her work is so magical that even when we stopped dead at the top with the biting winds whistling through the cage I didn’t have a panic attack or scream for my mommy.

I’ve been to poetry readings many times in my life, but never did I have the artist all to myself. It was as if she had written these poems just for me.

As we came back toward earth, I grew more animated and talkative. Shucks, that wasn’t bad at all, I thought. It was child’s play.

And then we came down to the bottom—and kept on going.

What the hell? I tried to explain to the ride’s operators that I had done my bit for art, but then we were clanking back up for a second crack at the stratosphere.

Apparently I had signed on for a double feature.

“Why don’t you read something else?” I asked, fighting to keep the desperation out of my voice.

Brenda willingly obliged and this time it seemed the ride was slower, the winds were harsher, and the people down below—for the brief second I looked—were even smaller.

At least the Cyclone was a faster form of fear.

Finally, we clattered back to the ground and I made sure to stand up and wave to the attendants to please get me the hell off this goddamn thing right this very freaking minute.

I thanked Brenda profusely for the personal poetry reading, stepped out of the car, and praised God for not only letting me live through this experience, but for giving me the courage to attempt it in the first place.

I had beaten back my irrational fears, met a talented artist, and finally took a ride on the Wonder Wheel after all these years of looking at the thing from afar.

There’s something rather poetic about that.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Last One Out

I took my last walk down Reade Street on Thursday.

For the last four years I’ve been taking a bleary-eyed stroll down this quite block to attend a 7AM boxing class twice a week at the New York Sports Club’s Tribeca facility.

There was a time when getting up so early for such a brutal workout was absolutely unthinkable to me, but I gradually got used to it and now I actually prefer the dawn patrol routine.

The people in the class are great and you once you’re done, you’re done for the day.

But like so many other businesses in the city, the Reade Street gym got muscled out of existence by Manhattan’s stratospheric rents.

The building’s owners jacked the current fee from $21,000 to forty grand a month and the NYSC front office elected to shut down the gym down rather than fork over the dough.

It was a surreal experience having the class on that last day of the gym’s existence.

The place was sparsely populated, the young woman at the desk didn’t bother checking our IDs and I had to ask her for a roll of toilet paper. Luckily she had a spare behind the counter.

We’ll be moving our class to the nearby City Hall gym, which is actually a little closer for me. But it’s going to be strange after all that time at Reade Street.

My company is also on the move, relocating from our fabulous building at 195 Broadway to a new location across the river in Hoboken. It means a longer, more expensive commute, of course, but the company will be saving money and that’s all that matters.

And 195 Broadway is being overhauled. The vast lobby that dates back to the early Twentieth Century, the former headquarters of AT&T, is going to have a high-end sushi restaurant and some other retailer built within that beautiful space.


Pack It In

I thought the city’s landmark preservation laws would’ve prevented this kind of thing, but it looks like I was wrong. It’s so infuriating because that spacious lobby was a part of the architect’s vision—it’s supposed to be empty.

But today’s real estate piranhas only see dollar signs when they lay their greedy little eyes on empty space and they must build, build, build.

This is a very challenging time for me. I’m due for a sharp course correction in my career and my life and it’s liable to be a very painful one.

There’s so much change going on, and while I know that change is inevitable, it’s still a bit unnerving. I find that far too often in my life I’m not an agent of change; I’m a victim of it.

I’ve been far too cautious and fearful for far too long. So it’s time to let go out of all these worries that are strangling me.
My father used to say “scared money never won,” and I know he was right, but I have to confess that I’m pretty scared right now.

However, I also know that fear only blots out the light and that leads to desperation.

I went to the NYSC club in my neighborhood on Saturday morning and I walked by the Middle Eastern grocery store where I used to buy walnuts and almonds.

But it’s closed now and the lovely elderly couple that ran the place chose to shut down and move to Philly to be with their son’s family rather than pay higher rent. A Norwegian specialty store on the next block shut its doors back in January after being in business for 30 years, another victim of climbing rents.

I did a cycling class to help cut down on the stress and depression and I did feel better, at least for a little while.

On the way out of the building I passed a young father and his little girl who were coming up the stairs.

“I’m scared,” she said as they reached the second landing.

“You won’t fall,” the father said soothingly.

No, she won’t. And neither will I.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Let It Ride

Brace yourself for a shock, but I actually chose to miss my bus the other night and I’m so glad I did.

This may not sound like a big deal to you out-of-towners, but usually New Yorkers will ruthlessly trample children, little old ladies, foreign dignitaries or any other hapless son-of-a-bitch who comes between us and our manic desire to get to some place other than the one we’re currently occupying.

Most evenings I come out of my building on lower Broadway and either speed walk or flat-out run up to the X27 bus stop a block away. The urge to sprint is almost impossible to resist.

If the bus is leaving, I’ll stand outside the door with my pathetic puppy face on and silently beg the driver to open up so I can get home right now—as opposed to waiting 10 whole, agonizing minutes for the next bus.

But last week I decided to give my Pavlovian instincts the night off so I could stop and smell the exhaust fumes. And it paid off big time.

I’d had a shockingly bad day at work—worse than usual if you can believe that—and I limped out onto the street wondering if I should just swan dive into the nearest sewer.

Yes, the day sucked that much.

As I walked up Broadway, I saw an X27 pulling in to pick up passengers. I was still a good distant away, but had this been any other night I would have broken into a demented dash and flailed my arms manically in a desperate attempt to get the driver to wait.

But I was so emotionally worn out that I couldn’t have run for that bus if had been filled to the rafters with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.

It wasn’t easy, I must confess. As the bus lingered to pick up the last few people, I felt like a heavyweight champion taking a dive. What self-respecting New Yorker refuses the challenge of a commuter run?

No, I told myself, you’re a human being, not a Greyhound. Just relax and get home in one piece.

Step to the Rear

And to be brutally honest, what’s all this headless chicken running ever done for me?

I’m supposed to race home so I could be miserable and alone in my apartment a few minutes ahead of schedule? No, thank you.

So the bus left, I got on line, and tried unsuccessfully to forget that the entire day. I was slipping into a standing stupor when I heard someone call my name.

“Rob!”

I turned to see this young Asian woman on line behind me. She obviously knew me, but I was drawing a blank on her identify. I know I’m not getting any younger, but I didn’t think my brain cells had gotten this stale.
Then she mentioned something about the boxing class at the New York Sports Club, which I go to on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I instantly remembered her—this was Connie, who used to go to the 7 AM class at Reade Street.

Connie was a great athlete and, even though she’s physically small, she’s a ferocious puncher. Whether pounding on the heavy bag or doing mitt work with Abby, our instructor, you always knew when Connie was in the house.

She fought out a crouch and packed a lot of power into her punches and whenever I watched her working out I was always so glad that we were friends.

I had not seen Connie in such a long time and I wondered what had happened to her. Well, it turns she’d had a baby, God bless her, and, not surprisingly, didn’t have time for much else.

It felt so good to see her again. We chatted briefly before Connie’s bus, the X28, showed up, and she got ready to leave.

This brief encounter had done a lot to make me forget the horrendous day. Connie, of course, had no idea how much our chance meeting had done for me.

“I’m so glad I missed my bus,” I blurted and she smiled and wished me well.

My bus came moments later and as I got on I realized that I had been given a tremendous gift in the last few minutes, but I hadn’t missed a thing.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Soldiers, Old and Young

The young Marine stood in the alley of my family’s house on Senator Street and told me all about his haircut.

His commanding officer was very strict, he said, and demanded that this young man get a most severe crew cut.

The Marine was friendly, happy to tell someone his story. I listened and nodded politely as he spoke.

None of this was real, of course. I no longer live on Senator Street and I don’t know any young Marines. This was a dream I had a few nights ago.

The scene shifted, the young Marine disappeared, and I was inside my family’s house, tending to my elderly father, which I did up until his death in 2007.

However, unlike reality, there was none of the stress, worry, and anger in the dream.

Instead I was calm and in control and my father was cooperative—all the evidence you need to show that this wasn’t happening in the real world.

I was getting my father his breakfast and he said he wanted to go outside.

“Put on a jacket or you’ll catch cold,” I said, sounding an awful lot like my mother.

Now I think it’s pretty obvious that the Marine was a stand-in for my father as a young man.

Some part of my mind was trying to remind me that my dad was once a young man with hopes and dreams who was suddenly thrown into the middle of World War II. The life he wanted to live had been brutally derailed.

And that mellow breakfast scene with my elderly father was a bit of revisionist history that I believe was intended to put the bad old days to rest.

That was such a difficult time in my life. My father was suffering from dementia and I was feeling trapped, hating myself for not doing more with my life. As bad as things were, I did my best to make them even worse.

I had this dream on the day I had gone for my energy session, an incredible experience that drew all this tension right out of me.

I was feeling so relaxed, so free, that my subconscious apparently wanted to keep the good will going after I went to sleep.

I know that it’s important to put the painful memories behind me and I think a lot of the resentment I feel is just a reflex action. I’m so used to being pissed off about one thing or another that my mind doesn’t react well to tranquility.

That’s why meditation has become so important to me. Each morning I set the timer on my smartphone for 20 minutes, give myself permission to relax, and put aside any and all angry thoughts.

My mind does wonder and I do slip back into my old hostile habits. But I believe the mellow moments are getting longer and my heart is slowly opening up to the idea of making peace with the past.