Sunday, January 18, 2015

Live and Be Well

Dr. Joel raised his right hand to me in a gesture of farewell.

“Go and enjoy life, young man,” he said. “Stay out of doctors’ offices.”

Now there’s two great bits of advice—enjoy life and steer clear of doctors.

And I really liked that “young man” bit, but I felt compelled to gently inform Dr. Joel that I’m turning 58 this year and that perhaps “young” wasn’t the most accurate adjective he could use.

“You’re younger than I am,” he remarked.

So be it.

Dr. Joel is my gastroenterologist but I’d think he’d make a terrific rabbi. He’s just so caring and knowledgeable.

I had gone to him for a second—third?—opinion about surgery for the internal misery that drove me to the hospital in November.

His answer? A decisive “No!”

He believes that the incident was a flare-up in my colon that has since righted itself, and thus there is no need to cut me open. Dr. Joel showed my CAT scans to one of the top surgeons at Maimonides Medical Center and he also nixed the knife.

He actually told Dr. Joel that operating on me would be malpractice. That’s about as definitive as you can get.

Obviously nobody wants to get surgery. It sucks to get cut open and have several inches of your colon removed. But I would do it if there were a serious and immediate threat to my health.

However, if it’s not critical than it pays to be conservative. In addition to the scalpel, I’m also concerned about the anesthetic.


Freedom Awaits

I’ve had the so-called “twilight anesthesia” for colonoscopies, but I’ve never done the fully sleepy. And I ain’t in no hurry to try.

I sat in Dr. Joel’s office for a few more minutes until I realized that I was free. And then I gathered up my belongings and got the hell out of there.

Of course I’m relieved that—please, God—I won’t have to go back into the hospital. I’ll monitor my health and since I now recognize the scary symptoms of a colon attack, I’ll haul-ass to the nearest hospital at the slightest sign of a flare-up.

The only risk here is that something could go wrong when-and if-I’m nowhere near civilization. But since I hadn’t planned any canoe trips down the Amazon or excursions to Antarctica, I should be okay.

So now comes what for me can be a bit of a challenge: enjoying life.

My late father once told me that I look for things to worry about and he was spot on.

As soon as I get some bit of good news, I waste no time in finding some other form of grief to fret about. Dr. Joel would not approve.

Luckily I got an important message this morning that has reinvigorated my zest for life. It seems that the one, the only Precious Zamba wants to meet me.

Hi,” her email began, “am Precious Zamba by name, a female never been married, i have seen a lots of profiles but am very selective, you are one of my selection, please kindly write me on my private emailaddress so that i can send you some of my pictures and introduce my self to you.

Isn’t that precious? I suspect it may also be bullshit, but it’s nice that someone cares, even though she doesn’t exist. Hi, am Rob by name, a male, never been married, and, judging by my inbox, I’m clearly not selective enough.

Still, as I long as I'm able to stay out of doctors’ offices, I’m going to zamba until the cows come home.

I’m only following doctor’s orders.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ten Years After

So have I really been at this for a decade?

It’s hard to believe, but 10 years ago today I sat down and cranked out the first post of this blog.

I had no idea what I was doing and it showed. I rambled, ranted, and shared far too much information.

I’m still doing all of that today, come to think of it, but at least I’m trying to keep the posts a little shorter.

There have a lot changes in that time, including the death of my father and the sale of our family house.

There are other changes in my life that haven’t happened as quickly as I would’ve liked, but I don’t see any reason to give up.

While I’ve threatened to post more often, it’s been hard to break the weekly routine that I settled into some years back. I have all these projects bouncing around my imagination that make more frequent blogging pretty close to impossible.

For a while I thought about giving the blog up when I reached the 10-year mark. That’s plenty of time, I reasoned, put it aside and devout more time to fiction.

Yes, I probably should do that, but I don’t want to. I’ve made some incredible friends over the last decade, enjoyed the work of some very talented writers and photographers, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.

I think blogging has made me a better writer and a better storyteller, and I believe it’s helped improved my fiction as well. I’m getting better at finding stories in routine events, as opposed to waiting around for something big to happen.

There may come a day when I truly don’t want to do this anymore and I’ll bring down the curtain, switch off the lights, and walk out of this blog. But today ain’t the day.

I look back at all those long posts I've done, but today I don't have a hell of a lot to say other than thanks so much for sticking around.

I wonder what’s going to happen next.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Get A Grip

I grabbed the pull-up bar in my grammar school gymnasium and started lifting myself up off the ground.

I was in the sixth grade and not in the least bit interested in athletics—a sharp contrast to the aging gym rat I am today.

Behind me, Mr. Keating, the gym teacher, and my classmates, watched as put my chin over the bar once, twice…

And then I let go.

I wasn’t tired or in pain. There was nothing wrong with me physically, but emotionally I was done.

I had decided that I wasn’t strong, I wasn’t a jock, like some other kids in my class, so clearly I couldn’t—or perhaps shouldn’t--do anymore pull-ups.

In other words, I quit.

When I hit the ground, I turned to see the shocked expressions of Mr. Keating and all the kids in my class.

“Why did you let go?” Mr. Keating demanded. “You could’ve done more!”

He was right. I could’ve done at least two or maybe even three more pull-ups. But subconsciously I elected to get by rather than excel.

I had no answer for Mr. Keating and I still can’t explain why I to this day I will often hold myself back in both my professional and personal lives.

It’s often been that way with relationships, where I either avoid getting together with women I liked; or when I do get together with them, I found some way of torpedoing the relationship. And then I’d whine about not having a girlfriend.

What’s particularly upsetting is that I only recognize my self-destructive behavior after the fact, when it’s far too late to undo my needless denial. Oh yeah, I should’ve done this or I should’ve done that, but I chose to do nothing.

I was feeling a bit down this week so I tuned into to some self-help guru’s webcast on developing an abundance mentality.

Hope You Guessed My Name

I’ve listened or attended a number of similar kinds of talks and typically they’ll give you a little taste of what they have to offer and then try to sell you the secret for a reasonable price. Of course, you’ll have to act fast to get the special discount.

It’s easy to see why these self-help types are so successful. They’re selling people what they already have—their untapped potential.

They promise to show you how to tear down the walls you’ve built between yourself and the person you could be. Get a better paying job, start you own business, meet the person of your dreams. Do more pull-ups in Mr. Keating’s class.

I usually tune out when the sales pitch starts, but this time it was different. There was something about this woman’s voice and my own fragile mindset that had me wondering if maybe I shouldn’t get out my credit card and sign up for this program.

Logically, I have to wonder if what she’s offering is any different from the stacks of self-help books, CDs and DVDs that I have around my house—many of which I haven’t read, listened to or watched yet.
I just want to stop holding myself back. The prizefighter Randall “Tex” Cobb once talked about how great fighters can keep on going when things are going bad—when “you can’t get out of your own way,” is how he put it.

That’s what I want to do. I want to get out of my way because despite all my promises, resolutions, and meditations, I still think there’s so part of me who doesn’t want to move forward because that means taking risks.

I recently saw an Off-Broadway play called “Pocatello” where a character at one point says, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” Critics complained that it was a hackneyed line, but I was intrigued.

Clearly the character meant that she was hurting, but I wonder it’s not such a bad thing to be confused about who you are.

If you identify yourself as someone who can’t get ahead, someone will never win, and will always be struggling, then perhaps an identity crisis is just what you need. It might not be a crisis at all.

Maybe you’ve held on to a warped, unhealthy version of yourself that is better off forgotten. Perhaps you could let go of that person you think you are, the one who holds back all the time, and find out you’re somebody much better.

I still haven’t decided if I’m going to sign up for that abundant thinking course yet. It seems wasteful to pay someone to tell me something I already know. But then I’m not changing, or at least not as quickly as I would like.

Ultimately no one can make you change. You have to get out of your own way, grab hold of that bar, and pull up all by yourself.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Last Train to Willoughby

I stretched out on my couch Thursday morning, soaking in the beautiful winter sunlight, and journeyed into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.

Yes, this was the Syfy Channel’s annual New Year’s Twilight Zone blitz and I was happily traveling to that fifth dimension beyond which is known to man.

I’ve seen most of the episodes scores of times, but that doesn’t prevent me from unlocking that door with the key of imagination.

Twilight Zone is my comfort zone.

I caught several of the classics, including “The Howling Man,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and “A Game of Pool,” arguably my favorite show of the series. The episodes often feature such notable performers as Robert Redford, William Shatner, and Jonathan Winters early in their careers.

And on this particular morning I was enjoying another gem, “A Stop at Willoughby.”

It's the story of Gart Williams, a harried New York advertising executive who can’t handle the high-pressure corporate life. Gart seemingly spends his days going from his hard-hearted boss at work to his cold-hearted wife at home.

One night on his commute to Connecticut, Gart falls asleep and wakes up to find the train has stopped in an idyllic 19th Century town called Willoughby.

This is a "peaceful, restful place, where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure.” It's a beautiful summer day, a band is playing, and kids are going off to fish.

Last Stop

As I sat in those warm, healing rays, I could see my reflection on the TV screen, as if I had melted into the episode and was free to walk around Willoughby myself.

Cue that famous theme music…

We can all sympathize with Gart’s situation—at least I know I sure as hell can, give my somewhat turbulent work history.

I often dream about my ideal spot in this world, ranging from Los Angeles to San Diego to Sydney, Australia, and several places in between. It seems to be pretty much anywhere but my current location.
The idea of escaping to a simpler, more innocent time and place is irresistible, and the world has only gotten crazier in the 55 years since the episode first aired.

It’s also impossible. Gart pays dearly when he tries to enter this Currier & Ives painting and we see that the road to Willoughby is quite literally a dead end.

Tomorrow I return to work after a four-day weekend that went by entirely too fast.

I’m also returning to my gym after a nearly two-month layoff due to medical issues that haven’t been entirely cleared up, and naturally the weather is expected to take a nasty turn.

And while I made a point of keeping my New Year’s Resolutions incredibly simple, I’m still feeling that early January pull to wipe out my to-do list before the end of the week.

Has anyone seen my fishing pole?

But that’s not the answer. I don’t intend on making any swan dives off my bus ride home. You have to work at making your dream real. Fantasy doesn’t count for much anywhere…except in the Twilight Zone.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Never Let It Rest

All right, this is about as simple as I can make it.

It’s a New Year and rather than rattle off a list of resolutions that will probably go belly-up before Presidents Day, I’m whittling my 2015 aspirations down to one single word.

Better.

Yep, that’s it. Better. Pretty hard to screw that up, right?

I want to eat better, work better, think better, and live better. I want to be a better friend, a better companion, a better worker, a better brother, uncle, nephew, and cousin.

Hell, I just want to be a better human being.

I’m not making any grand declarations of spectacular change; I’m not vowing to embark upon some brutal exercise regimen or undergo a massive spiritual conversion. I’m not ruling any of that stuff out, mind you; I’m just not making any promises.

Better keeps it simple.

My mother used to recite ditty to us about self-improvement that went, “good, better, best, never let it rest, until the good is better and the better best.” That should keep me busy for quite a while.

There are number things I want to do this year, but I’d much rather do them than bloviate about them. I want to tell the world what I’ve accomplished, rather than what I plan to do.

And I didn’t wait for January 1 to adopt this mindset. I got started a few weeks ago so I could beat the resolution rush.

I can change my way of thinking any day of the year and, in fact, I believe New Year’s Day can create a psychological burden that can be too great overcome.

Sole Man

I prefer easing into change. It’s…better.

I am forever in search of signs, symbols, and portents to guide me on my journey through life and this year is no different.

First, I taped photos of a chained Houdini to my refrigerator, the wall of my computer room, and my bulletin board at work to remind myself how important is for me to break free of the toxic emotions that have been weighing me down for far too long.

I’ve locked myself within the axis of misery formed by anger, fear, and worry and now it’s time break free.

The image of Houdini proved invaluable this very morning—New Year’s Day-while I was making breakfast and I let some reflex anger crawl through my mind.

As I closed the refrigerator door I suddenly locked eyeballs with the Great Man himself, handcuffed to hell and back, and ready to escape.

On New Year’s Eve I saw another sign—literally—during my morning commute. The city was eerily quite on this last day of 2014 as many people had decided to take their vacations this week.

As we came up Church Street, I looked at the signs in the window of a neighborhood shoe repair store. I’ve been going by the place for years now, but only yesterday did I find a message in the two words spelled out vertically in red neon.

The first word was “Repair” and the second was “Shine.” Talk about starting the New Year off on the right foot. (Ugh, sorry about that.) This is a time to repair the damage of the past so we can shine.

I spent New Year’s Eve joyfully doing nothing. Earlier in the day I was getting a little bummed about having no plans for the big night, but my recent health woes have put the whole holiday season in the background. And it was just too goddamn cold out.

Today I had a delicious Chinese dinner with my sister and auntie and now I’ll enjoy a nice long weekend.

I don’t think Houdini could do any better.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

In Between

I was walking home on Christmas night when I saw a young woman carrying her little daughter into a house near 71st Street.

I’d never seen her before in my life, but as soon as the mother and I made eye contact, I smiled and wished her a merry Christmas.

“Merry Christmas,” she replied.

And, as I was walking by them, this adorable little girl called out after me.

“Merry Christmas!”

It was a perfect ending to a fabulous day. A little snow and we would have had a Hallmark movie moment.

And then the sun came up.

I was one of the few people in New York apparently who had to work on Friday and I managed to have a spectacularly awful day at the office.

Every single thing I put my hand on went straight to hell, I made all sorts of bonehead mistakes, and after a while I was afraid to come out of my cubicle. It was a miracle the soda machine didn’t blow up when I dropped in my change.

What’s really frustrating is that I hadn’t planned on being in the office on Friday.

I was going to take the day off, but I used up my remaining time off for last month’s hospital stay so I had no choice.

I have to make some massive changes in my life very soon. I feel like I’m in a ditch, physically, emotionally, and professionally. I just don’t know what the hell to do next.

Would anyone mind if I just ran off to the South Seas?

Disc Jockey

Perhaps that’s not realistic. Only a children and immature adults think that good times should go on forever.

Every moment is new and no one knows what’s coming next.

Things got a little better on the weekend. My sister and I made our annual pilgrimage to Dyker Heights on Saturday night to see the incredible Christmas decorations. For those of you who have never experience this annual orgy of blinking lights, it's quite a trip.

People blanket their homes in all kinds of holiday-themed paraphernalia. Traffic is backed up for blocks as cars and crowds crawl around the streets and I'll bet the neighborhood is visible from outer space. I wonder what the aliens think of all this.

It was such a nice night that my sister parked her car a few blocks away and we walked around the neighborhood—along with hundreds of other people.

I hadn’t planned on going to the display this year—especially after the Friday fiasco--but I’m glad I did. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Lights of Dyker Heights.

Today I got one brutally intense massage at Heavenly Body Works as a young lady literally walked up and down my back like I was a human surfboard.

Apparently I had requested this abuse, but I suspect this was actually a result of a language gap.

“Strong?” the masseuse asked just before she started.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, not knowing what she meant. I quickly found out as her feet dug into my back. Now I know what those two metal pipes positioned over the massage table are for.

But the payoff for the torture was that I feel better now. So there might be a message in the massage. Change can be painful, but when it’s over you’re likely to be a better person.

I look back on my life and see large stretches of time when I chose comfort over change, even when the “comfort” was making me miserable.

That attitude has to go out with the old year. I need to clean up my messes, sharpen my vision, and face my fears.

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll send you a post card from Fiji.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Look Down from the Sky

This was no a way to spend Christmas Eve.

Usually on the night before Christmas I like to go out on the town. Check out the holiday displays in Manhattan, take in the crowds of tourist that flood the city, and then hit a few bars to spread the good cheer…better known as getting plastered.

This year, however, I sat in a crowed waiting room at Lutheran Medical Center hoping to get an audience with the surgeon who has been monitoring my condition since my trip to the hospital last month.

I hated hanging around here on the day before the big holiday, but it was such a struggle to get this appointment that I couldn’t give it up.

So I grabbed an empty chair and hoped someone would call my name sometime before midnight. The place was cramped and stuffy, and since this was a hospital, I fretted about all the horrible germs that were just itching to pounce on me.

There were a number of people with kids and one couple wheeled around a frail elderly woman in a wheelchair who just had a few wisps of hair on her head.

One man, who was clearly emotionally disturbed, suddenly slammed his puzzle book to the floor and shouted “tu madre!” at a woman sitting across from him. She had been swinging her legs back and forth for several minutes, which had apparently infuriated this guy.

His companion quickly rose from his chair, spoke soothingly in Spanish to the angry fellow and encouraged him to change his seat.

Oh, God, I didn’t want to be here with…these people. Yes, I’m ashamed to say that I actually used that phrase…these people. I thought I was a better person than that, but clearly I have a long way to go.

All Ye Faithful

And who were they exactly, these people? They were the poor, non-white, non-English speakers who had no place else to go for healthcare. The kind of people whom Jesus—the birthday boy--loves so dearly.

After all, Christmas tells the story of a poor, homeless family of non-English speakers who are forced to spend a freezing night with animals in a manger. All of a sudden that hospital waiting room didn’t look so bad.

Yeah, I didn’t want to be here, but then none of the people around me wanted to be here either. In many ways, this place was as holy and blessed as any church. Maybe even more so.

I keep saying that I’m not feeling the Christmas spirit this year due to my medical worries, but this is where you’ll find the real meaning of the holiday.

Not in a mall or some rowdy saloon filled with drunken twits wearing Santa hats—but here, among people who are broke, ailing, and frightened.

It turned out my surgeon had worked an emergency shift the night before and wasn’t around.

I spoke briefly with his replacement, who, being the second stringer, didn’t know much about my case. I went home, feeling somewhat annoyed that I had waited for a guy who wasn’t even in the building.

I didn’t realize until much later that I had received a fabulous gift by spending time in that waiting room.

The city is still reeling from the senseless murder of two police officers. A tornado ripped through Mississippi on Tuesday killing four people.

Tragedy doesn’t look at the calendar before it strikes and it never takes a day off, so I feel truly blessed to have spent the day with my dear auntie and sister.

The real magic of Christmas is being grateful no matter how bad things are, being able to open your heart to others, and always remembering that those people are really our people.

And to all a good night…