Sunday, May 25, 2014

Welcome to Your Life

It was a great day to be me.

I celebrated my 57th birthday on Saturday and by some miracle I was able to put aside all my worries, complaints, fears, resentments and hallucinations and have an absolutely fantastic day.

Of course the fact that I was out with the two ladies I love the most—my sister and my auntie—had a lot (everything!) to do with it.

First we saw Sea Marks, a charming two-character play at the Irish Repertory Theatre, then headed over to Le Zie 2000 for delicious dinners and decadent desserts, and after that we walked along the High Line, a public park built on an elevated freight rail line.

Some people feel compelled to dive out of airplanes or throw lavish parties to celebrate their birthdays, but I felt truly satisfied and grateful for this simple, yet lovely day.

We had great food, a lot of laughs and much love, the key ingredients any truly happy birthday—and a happy life.

And I’m very slowly starting to see the importance being grateful for what you have right here and right now--because you really don't have much else.

I recently started with a new doctor and a few weeks ago he put me through a barrage of tests—blood, heart, EKG, you name it, this guy wanted it.

Now I really love this doctor. He’s knowledgeable and compassionate, a great combination for somebody in the medical field. The only problem is that he’s so popular that I spent a lot of time in the waiting room as he gave his full attention to each and every one of his patients.

The good news is that I got the same attention when it was my turn. And the even better news was that my doctor liked everything he saw in my test results. He told me to check with him in six months and I happily bounced out the door.

So Glad We've Almost Made It

On the way home I walked into my deli just as the Eighties hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” started playing on the radio.

This song hit climbed the charts back in 1985, when I was 28 years old, but to be honest, I wasn’t that crazy about it at the time. But now, after nearly three decades, I was suddenly in love with this tune and happily sang along as I waited my turn.

Welcome to your life. There’s no turning back…

I felt so good I barely recognized myself. But then the dark corner of my mind managed to find something to complain about, whining that I had waited so long only to find out that there was nothing wrong with me.

I stewed over this for a few moments until a voice from the rational side of my brain roared out a simple message.

Hey, schmuck, you’re okay! There’s nothing wrong with you! That’s a good thing!

I’m sure that many of the people in that waiting room would have given their life’s savings just to hear those very words. This was a time to be thankful, not bitter.

The talk show host Tavis Smiley once said in an interview that he doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions, but, instead, does a personal assessment of his life on his birthday—“the day I came into this world.”

I like that approach. It’s more personal than joining the thundering herd of lemmings on January 1 who climb high on a mountain of promises only to dive into a pool of disappointment.

So, welcome to your life. There’s no turning back; believe me, I’ve tried, but I know I’m never going to be 28 again. And I can live with that.

I don’t want to rule the world, I just want make the most of freedom and of pleasure because nothing lasts forever.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

On The Town

I ran to the bus stop on 69th Street in Friday night’s downpour just as the B9 was turning off Fourth Avenue.

Excellent timing, I thought, as I fell in behind a woman lugging a pair of shopping bags. I felt lucky to make the connection, but my traveling companion looked across the aisle at me as soon as we sat down and shook her head.

“Last bus driver wouldn’t stop,” she told me in a pronounced Russian accent. “Driver close door in face!”

It seems she had been waiting for the B64, which had come by a few minutes earlier. The driver of that bus, however, didn’t feel like picking up passengers apparently and left her high and dry—in the pouring rain.

“I bang on door,” the Russian lady told me. “I wave at him. But he don’t stop. I don’t like to curse, but I shout, ‘you asshole!’”

I listened to her story and tried to comfort her. It certainly sounded outrageous and even our bus driver muttered some kind of apology on behalf of his inconsiderate coworker.

I was in a good mood and happy to lend a sympathetic ear. I had a fun evening, which I had salvaged from the gaping jaws of mediocrity.

I had originally planned to do the usual Friday night routine: make some excuse for not going out, after which I would go home and eat supper in front of the TV.

I sat at my desk and trotted out the list: I was tired. I had to go out the next day. I didn’t want to get rundown. I didn’t want to get caught in a storm. And I received the latest Game of Thrones DVD from Netflix.

It would be a great night to stay home and take in some tube.

But I knew that wasn’t true. If I went back to my apartment, I was certain that I’d end up sitting in my living room kicking myself for staying at home. I was tired of slamming the door in my own face.

Then at about 4pm, I got my weekly email from the event-planning duo of Gemini and Scorpio. These women have a knack for tracking down some of the freakiest events in town and I saw something in this week’s edition that I had to investigate.

There was a show called The Dream of the Red Chamber being performed at the Brill Building on 49th Street. Described as “A Performance for a Sleeping Audience,” the show actually invites people to come in, stretch out in a bed, and, well, go to sleep.

The show was running from 5pm to midnight on Friday and then again on Saturday from 5pm to 6am Sunday morning.

It was just too nutty to ignore. And better yet, it was free.

Sleep It Off

However, a friend of mine, Louise Crawford, was hosting a reading in Park Slope and I wanted to go to that event, too. But that wasn’t until later and it was in the opposite direction. What should I do?

I tell you what I did—I went to both of them.

Amazing. I was just minutes from doing nothing with my evening when I turned the whole night around.

I think one of the reasons for this change of direction comes from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class I’ve been taking at the Interdependence Project.

Last week our instructor, Emily, asked us why we chose to sit in the same spots every week. Most of us—myself included--had the same answer: This is where we sat every week.

And that’s when Emily had us get up and go to a totally new location in the room. As soon as we got comfortable, Emily had us move yet again.

The point is that doing something just because you’ve been doing it all along doesn’t mean you can't change.

The Red Chamber was pretty bizarre. I walked through a gauntlet of fuzzy-screened television sets to a large basement area, where I took my shoes and got into one of several beds that were positioned around the room.

The actors walked around pretending we weren’t there, while their images appeared on video monitors mounted on the walls, and weird tonal music filled the air.

I watched for a little while before nodding off and I really don’t think I missed much.

If I had seen this show as a young man, I know I would have denounced the whole thing as pretentious bullshit and stormed out. But now I’m a little older and I understand that every center needs a fringe and that what was considered bizarre at one time ended up being part of the mainstream.

TheTimes actually covered this event, so for the first time in my life I was ahead of the curve.

I woke up from my nap, slipped on my shoes, and bounced down to the subway. I got to Park Slope a little bit late, but I caught most of the readers.

The rain started as I walked back to Atlantic Avenue and the skies really opened up by the time I reached Bay Ridge, where I met my Russian friend on the B9.

She was still pretty upset as she got off at Colonial Road. I wished her well and then rode the empty bus down to Shore Road.

The rain was pouring as I walked to my apartment and my umbrella was crumbling in my hands, but I didn’t mind. I had changed directions, did some wild stuff, and I still had time to watch Game of Thrones.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Baby Mine

I usually hate the sight of graffiti, but today I spotted a message in the subway that looked as if it had been written just for me.

I was riding the N train and as we pulled into 36th Street—one stop short of my destination--I looked out through the open door and saw two words crudely painted across a pillar.

Love yourself.”

That’s it. Just a simple phrase, scrawled in black ink on a mustard-colored girder. But I felt like I had discovered the secret of life.

I paused for a second because I really wanted to get home and enjoy the sunshine, but I didn’t want to leave those words behind, not on this of all days.

So I jumped off the train, took out my smart phone and lined up a shot…

I thought I could get through Mother’s Day without any kind of emotional turmoil, but I wrong. Even though my mother has been gone for nearly 12 years, I still feel the pain of losing her.

It started earlier in the week when I walked into a Hallmark store near my office to get a birthday card for my sister and found myself gaping at three aisles full of Mother’s Day cards.

I was so overwhelmed that I actually grabbed the side of my head to steady myself. How I held on long enough to buy my sister’s card I’ll never know.

Sometimes I wish that we who have lost our mothers could have filters on our inboxes to block the emails advertising Mother’s Day specials; controls on our remotes to silence the “just right for Mom” TV commercials, and special blinders to keep us from seeing all those goddamn cards.

But I know that this is unnatural, that the pain is part of the gift we get for having our mothers, and that love and loss are inseparable.

I fear I’m becoming the Ebenezer Scrooge of Mother’s Day. I heard someone on Houston Street today call out “Happy Mother’s Day” and it was all I could do to keep from turning around and shouting, “shut the hell up!”

Guilt also plays a leading part in this day’s drama, as I tear into myself for not being a better son and vainly long for some way to undo all the stupid things I ever said or did to my mother.

Don't You Cry

This is a day for a memories and one of the strongest goes back 30-odd years when I was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue. It was a little incident I came to call “The Dumbo Affair.”

At the time I was unemployed, so hideously sick I could barely move, and so filled with self-loathing I hated the sight of myself in the mirror.

My mother and I were sitting in the living room watching, yes, Dumbo, the famous Disney cartoon about a flying elephant.

I thought it might distract me from my illness, but I quickly discovered that it made matters much worse as I thought about how that, with my failing career and worsening health, I hadn’t progressed much since childhood.

I was trying to hold myself together, but when the song “Baby Mine” came on, when Dumbo’s imprisoned mother tries to comfort him, I fell to pieces and began sobbing uncontrollably.

“What’s the matter?” my mother said, obviously shocked at this outburst.

“I feel like a kid!” I wailed.

She was sitting a few feet away but her voice sounded so far away as she--like Dumbo’s mother did for her offspring--tried to comfort me.

I eventually calmed down, got hold of myself, and limped off the bed. But I knew I had upset my mother terribly and that just made me feel worse.

The next morning my mother came into my room to see how I was doing. I told I was I feeling a little better. As she walked toward the door, she turned back to say something.

“No more Dumbos,” she said softly.

No more Dumbos—no more abuse, no more toxic guilt, no more self-inflicted misery.

In other words, my mother was telling me to love myself...

I got my picture and hopped back on to the N train just as the doors were closing. The conductor was probably annoyed, and rightfully so, but I had to preserve the message.

This will always be a tough day for me and for all of those who have lost their mothers. If your mom is still with you, then hold her close, tell her you love here, and thank God for every second she’s here.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Another Direction

I thought doppelgangers were the stuff of legend and horror movies.

It just didn’t seem possible that anyone else out there could look as stunningly handsome as yours truly.

But then there was this time in my life when I applied for job in Honolulu and now I’m not so sure.

Yeah, seriously, Honolulu: sunshine, luaus, ukuleles, Steve McGarrett, the whole Hawaiian fantasy.

Now let’s all pause for a moment and try to imagine me, a lifelong Brooklyn knucklehead living in the Aloha State.

I went to Hawaii on vacation a few years ago and loved it. So when I saw ad for a job that matched my skills, I sent in my resume just as for a laugh. I never thought anyone would ever get back to me.

Well, they did. The editor of this particular publication shot me an email within days of my response and we set up phone interview.

We talked for over an hour and I have to say this interview was more intense than many of the face-to-face job encounters I’ve had with prospective employers.

The editor asked me every conceivable question about writing and reporting. It was challenging, but I was grateful for the experience. I hadn’t had an interview in years and it felt good to be back in the game.

The editor told me he would go back to his supervisors and get back in touch with me. And then he had one final question.

“Are you still interested in the job?”

“Yes,” I said, almost truthfully.

I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to be honest.

Hawaii sounded fabulous, but I wasn’t sure if the job would be a good fit for me.

I spent the next several weeks in a semi-dream. What if I got the job? Could I really move to the other side of the world and live happily in the land of pineapples and Do Ho?

Every time I walked into one my local stores—dry cleaners, fruit stand, supermarket—I wondered if this would be one of the last times I ever came here?

I've made hating winter into a secondhand religion and now here I was about to escape the frigid temperatures forever and it actually bothered me. Complaining about the cold weather is such a large segment of my life—could I survive without it?

And what if things—God forbid—didn’t work out? I’d be on an island in the Pacific with no place to go.

Tiny Bubbles

But while I was going through all this self-inflicted misery, the weather changed, I got sick, and then I started thinking, you know, maybe this Hawaii thing ain’t so bad after all.

The only problem was the editor had disappeared. I waited a month before writing to him and he wrote back saying “we’re still going through the process.”

Fine. I could hold out. I had waited this long, what’s another week or so? Then another month went by and still I heard nothing. I didn’t want to piss the guy off, but I wanted to show him that I was still interested. And I also wanted to wrap this thing up, quite frankly.

So I wrote to him again and found out that I had been worrying about absolutely nothing.

“We decided to go in another direction,” he wrote.

Now I can handle rejection, I really can. It was my best friend in high school.

But so much of rejection depends upon the other party’s choice of words and a line like “going in another direction” pushes me into “Psycho” country—screaming violins and all.

Being from Brooklyn my first inclination was to point down to my crotch and say, “Hey, I gotcha your direction right heah, buddy!”
I would’ve preferred if the guy said drop dead, we hate you, and we hope you contract a horrible fungus on your unmentionables. At least that would’ve had some emotion to it. Another direction sounds like a busted GPS unit.

But at least I had an answer. I could go to my dry cleaners without having to hug the owner goodbye.

Then one day I made the mistake of looking at the publication online to see who had gotten the job and I nearly fell off my chair.

The guy was my fucking clone.

He had a shaved head and he came from the East Coast—just like me. The editor never saw me in the flesh, but I still wonder if he didn’t hire the wrong guy by mistake. Or maybe he thinks all hairless white guys are interchangeable like spark plugs.

I’ve got half a mind to fly out to Hawaii, take a seat at this guy’s desk, and see if anyone can tell the difference.

I ranted about this incredible injustice online to a friend and she wrote back a simple question.

Why are you looking at a publication that your aren’t working for?

Well…yes, there’s that. I really should move on, forget the past, and go in another direction.

It would’ve been very painful leaving my family and friends. And I’m not sure I’d be happy in a place so different from New York.

But I still can’t help but wonder how it all would’ve worked out if I had gotten the job instead of my doppelganger.