Tom, Get Your Plane Right On Time

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A couple of weeks ago, like two seconds after I emailed my federal tax return, a thought occurred to me that I should make a quick trip to New York,  I popped an Ambien and I stayed up a little late researching flights and hotels.  Many, many times during my year, when I’m feeling blue, I tell myself, if I could just spend two days in NY, it would make everything better. And planning trips to NY are approximately 36% as exciting as being there in person.

I found a flight that sounded reasonable enough. It had my signature redeye departure and ideal midday return flight.  I juggled some things around at work and got a few days. I looked on TripAdvisor for recent reviews of the kitschy, fun and slightly scary Jane Hotel where I have stayed twice before. I fretted over money and what friends I would be able to connect with.  Would it be sad traveling to NY without Eric?  It was my city before it was his, but now, it feels like it’s our city.

I was reading a chick-lit novel at the time about a lost woman in her thirties who inherited a fancy, but broken down Central Park West luxury apartment.  And somehow, this protagonist’s lack of anchor called to my adriftness.  Maybe I could find some truth on this trip, maybe something can lead me in the direction my life is supposed to take. Whatever that is.

IMG_9876I never feel more alive than when I am walking through Central Park and along the West Side Highway and through Bergdorf and sitting at Bemelmans or Barney Greengrass or crossing Manhattan to Staten Island on that aptly named ferry. It’s bliss to me.  And then I come home and pore through my pictures, pore through the memories. I compare the lists, the places I made it to and the places I ran out of time for.  And then I compile a new list, for the next trip. Do you have any idea how many times the Cloisters has been on my LIST?  (And it doesn’t look good for it this time either.) My friends give me suggestions: Thank you Ivy for giving me THE FRICK. Thank you Joel for giving me THE TENEMENT MUSEUM. Thank you Traci for giving us the Museum of Arts and Design and by proxy, one of our favorite watering hole’s Robert on the 9th floor. Thank You Eboni for Levain.

I told my therapist that I decided to go because I’ve been depressed and the thought of planning a trip and looking forward to a trip brought me joy.  I was afraid to tell my parents, would they think I should be visiting them?  And I understand, that’s a risk we take, especially when our parents get older.  But I think about if any two people taught me to love travel, the value of travel,  it was my parents.  Even today, I see an Amtrak or a Union Station and suddenly I am 8 and my Mom and I are traveling in the middle of the night to visit my Grandma and cousins in La Junta.  I taste a pineapple, and I am 12 again, on my first visit to Hawaii, of course, with my parents.  Perhaps a part of them hesitated booking such a grand trip, the costs involved, but ultimately the yes must have been accompanied by the realization that trips mean memories. My Father’s Father joined us on that trip and my parents and I still reminisce about this one week in 1981 that packed so much life into it.  I think I remember every moment, from the confused feelings I felt for some handsome teenage backpackers in the SFO airport, to eating caviar for the first time, to nearly being taken under by the undertow in Maui, the two luaus, feeling like Bobby Brady at Pearl Harbor.  And then the 24 pineapples and many boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts we gave away and dined on ourselves in the weeks after our return to Kansas.

 

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I am a little Ambien-y tonight too. So if my words are slightly muddled, please forgive me.  Or maybe pop an Ambien yourself and my prose might become as magical as Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  But life is hard, I know I’m that guy that is always crying about how hard his life is.  A complainer, a victim, easily crestfallen.  But on vacation, I really do find joy.  I laugh, i have more energy.  I’m even nicer. I feel like a vibrant part of the texture of the world we live in. With the earnestness of a young bride whose colors are blush and bashful, I  go around saying things like, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” New York is my 30 minutes of wonderful. IMG_9818

So, yes, I am going to New York in a few days.  It feels like a risk and also, like something I positively must do. These trips. we always bring something back.  Something useful, be it a mug or pastries or an understanding about the world or about ourselves.  And the older I get, travel, leaving home, seeing another part of the world, meeting old friends, remembering what made us safe when we were 8 or giddy when we were 12 or handsome when we were 26, it feels to me no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity.

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Imagine You Are on a Beach

I was on death’s door this afternoon. With a lump on my tongue and swelling in my glands and a raging headache, I made an appointment with a doctor. 

I couldn’t get in to see my doctor so they sent me to another doctor in my network. 

The nurse brought me into a room and started to take me blood pressure and pulse. “I have white coat syndrome,” I whispered.

She stepped back. “Okay, don’t look at me, I won’t look at you. Imagine you are on a beach.” 

I tried to do what she asked because I really liked her and she reminded me of Niecy Nash’s character in Getting On.

“What, do you think you’re running a race?” she asked. 

“I told you I get nervous. What was my blood pressure?” 

“150 over 82.” (High, obviously.)

“If you take it in a few minutes, it will go down.”

“Have you felt depressed, down or hopeless in the last six months?”

“Yes.” As in, hasn’t everyone?

She handed me a questionnaire, to gauge my depression, downness, and hopelessness. I scored ones (occasional depression, not frequent or constant depression.) 

“I’m not suicidal or anything, I just don’t feel very good.” 

For some reason, good or bad, she moved me into the room across the hall, the only difference, the new room had a window with views of the Beverly Hills flats. If I squinted I could see the building that used to be Loehmann’s.

The doctor came in, skeptical. Since this was our first meeting, I tried to explain that I am a hypochondriac who is deathly afraid of doctors. I hoped this would be our ice breaker. It was not our ice breaker.

He asked me about my symptoms.

I told him about the bump or lump in my throat. I told him that my Dad had oral cancer twice. He looked at it and poked it with a tongue depressor. “This?”

“Yeth.”

“That’s a taste bud.”

“Oh. Well, my glands have been swollen.”

So he felt my glands.

“Your glands are not swollen.”

“Oh, can you look under my tongue? It feels like there are weird spots.”

“Looks fine. Nothing unusual.”

“I was thinking it might be oral thrush.”

“Oral thrush was white spots, you  don’t have oral thrush.”

“Long dormant oral gonorrhea?” 

“Unlikely.”

“What do you think is causing my headaches?”

“Has there been anything in your life that has caused you stressed lately?” 

“Yes, my job, you see—” 

“Well, work could play a factor.”

“You see, Doctor, I am a very sensitive person.”

He nodded. He told me I looked healthy.  I asked him if he could still write a doctor’s note since I missed work. He said he would.

“But don’t tell them nothing’s wrong with me.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll just tell them you have oral gonorrhea.”

I thought, he likes me, he really likes me.

He then checked my blood pressure. 120/80. Then he left the room. 

Niecy Nurse came back to take my blood since I needed that checked for my blood pressure medicine. 

“120/80, so I guess it was you all along,” I bragged.

“You’re really going to say that to me before I stick a needle in your arm?”

We laughed. Old friends laugh.

She drew my blood. I survived. 

I asked her my favorite question, “Say you go home today and there is an envelope with $10,000 that you must spend on a vacation and you must leave tomorrow, where would you go?” 

She told me that she just returned from where she grew up, in South America, and that she would love to take her three kids back there for another trip. 

I asked what country she was from and she told me Guyana and we talked about the massacre that happened there so long ago. 

“I’m surprised you remember, no one remembers.”

There is a silence, unacknowledged, but I know we are both thinking of what transpired this weekend. 

I also thought how could anyone ever forget the Guyana tragedy?  It was probably my first introduction to the evil that exists in the world. Nowadays, we have a Jim Jones or a Sandy Hook or a Columbine or a Virginia Tech or an Orlando, every few months.

Clearly, all this sadness takes an emotional toll, but perhaps there is something physical that happens too. And my connection to this particular atrocity is simply that I’m gay, just like most of the victims. That I am a person who has danced in a gay club, thinking, this is home, this is life. I didn’t know one person that was at Pulse on  Saturday night, but the stories that come forward, I can’t shake them. I don’t want to shake them. 

So I sit down and write a story about my trip to the doctor where I try to see the funny, because you know,  life can be funny.  And it’s important to laugh, especially when all you want to do is cry.

Nothing Painful

high_tea_palm_court-3Here is the synopsis of a screenplay that I always think I’m going to write. It’s called Nothing Painful and it’s about a 40-something gay man who is deeply depressed. He decides he wants to kill himself. He does not have enough money in his retirement fund to actually retire but he has enough that, once he cashes it in, he can afford one last luxury vacation. In some versions, he goes to New York, a city where he once lived in his 20’s, when his life felt full of possibility. In another version, he goes to Paris, the city he’s always dreamed of visiting.

Our protagonist checks into his hotel, the Plaza, in the New York version and whatever hotel Carrie Bradshaw stayed at in the Paris version. As he checks into the hotel, he sees an attractive couple, his age, with photogenic children checking in at the same time. He looks longingly at the children. When he was young, he thought he wanted to have children of his own.

The next two days are active but dour. He eats baked goods at pastry shops, walks the city’s streets and parks, visits museums. If our budget is grand enough, there will be a scene where he walks through the galleries of the Met (if it’s New York) or the Louvre (if it’s Paris). After the Met (or the Louvre), he visits a thrift shop. (Do they have those in Paris? I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been.) At the thrift shop, he finds a simple, but evocative painting for 20 dollars or 20 euros. The shopkeeper asks if he wants to buy the painting. Our protagonist hesitates, sadly. Obviously, he has come to New York or Paris to end his life. Who needs a second or third or fourth hand amateur painting? But he has the money and it calls to him, so he buys it. He walks down the streets of New York or Paris with the brown papered parcel in his hands, back to his hotel.

Shoot, I forgot to say that we know early on, before he even lands in New York or Paris that he has decided to take pills to kill himself. He had studied suicide strategies on the internet and he’d settled on pills because he wanted “nothing painful.” When he returns to his room, he unwraps the painting and leans it against the bureau. He takes off his shoes, maybe strips down to his underwear if the guy we cast is handsome enough, and lays on his bed and stares at the painting. He falls asleep.

The next day, his third day in New York, or Paris, he takes afternoon tea in the hotel lobby. (Do they have afternoon tea in Paris? Do I need to switch this to London? I think they must have tea in Paris because weren’t they having tea at the hotel in Sex and the City when Carrie met Petrovsky’s bitchy daughter?) Either in the Palm Court, or Paris’ Palm Court equivalent, our protagonist sits alone at a table with a view of the entire lovely, ornate room. With resignation, he orders high tea and champagne.

The family he witnessed at check-in, is also in the Palm Court (or Parisian Palm Court equivalent) at the same time. I forgot to tell you that earlier, after check-in, but before this moment, our protagonist saw the family either in the hotel or on his travels in the city and he witnessed unsavory behavior from all four of the children. Not ordinary, those darn kids stuff, but that brat from The Slap territory. Times four. He grimaces when he sees them.

His tea comes, as does his champagne. He stares listlessly at the bubbles. Meanwhile, the four terrors have unleashed their evil on the entire dining room. Lots of “I don’t WANNA!!”‘s and kicking adults in the shin and overturned pastry carts. Our Joe, his name is Joe, he is just that average, becomes more and more nervous and upset. This is painful. He thinks, these hellions are ruining my last trip to New York! (Or, these monsteurs are ruining my first and only trip to Paris!) He looks around the room, the juxtaposition of a historic, elegant hotel, decadently decorated pastries, cute tea sandwiches. And then he looks at the kids and the horrible parents who have allowed the melee. And he picks up his champagne glass and channeling his inner Susan Hayward, screams (or maybe whispers, which do you think would be more effective?), “I WANT TO LIVE.” (If he whispers, it’s more like, “i want to live.”) And he laughs, yelps even because he realizes that he doesn’t want to die after all. Sure he’s depressed, who isn’t!?!?

And then he has a Scooby Doo zoinks moment where he bellows, “I can’t afford this hotel! I gotta get out of here.” Cut to slapstick hotel room packing scene with Abba song in the background, just to, you know, remind the viewer that Joe is gay.

On the flight home, of course, the family from the hotel is on Joe’s plane. While they wreak havoc on the entire aircraft, (flight attendants tied down in jump seats, there is rifling through passengers’ carry ons, overturned drink cart), Joe smiles. He has learned that pain is part of life, part of his life, part of everyone’s life. In a more mischevious version, he might offer the bottle of suicide pills to the mother or father on the plane, “My gift from me to you,” he might say with a creepy Zachary Quinto smile. (Full disclosure: I am OBSESSED with The Slap.)

Our last shot is Joe in the airport terminal, LAX perhaps, he stares ahead, thrift shop painting in one hand, suitcase in the other. We see the bright sunshine, through the revolving doors. Joe stands still, the conveyer belt moves him toward those doors. Life itself is propelling him home. Fade to whiteout.

Is it morbid or worrisome to admit to having a suicide fantasy? This morning, when I woke up early and couldn’t fall back to sleep, I thought, I am so sad, I just want to be happy again. I knew the pain, in that moment, was not suicide-inducing, but when it gets dark, I always wonder, what will I do when it gets darker? Will I someday reach a point where I truly want my life to end? I mean, I don’t know.

I suppose it’s a healthy sign that even my suicide fantasy ends with me choosing life. (Here’s a twist you didn’t see coming: Joe is based on me.) The other thing I thought about this morning, truly, is that if at some point I plan to end it all, I should really try to spend a bit of my 401K money before I do it. And the fact that I can fantasize about a fancy trip to a luxury hotel (checking in before I check out) is heartening.

This day ended up so much happier than it started. Sure there was the return to the blog and the return to Facebook, which were not insignificant, but more than that, I just had a really nice day. I went for a swim, then lay in the sun for a few minutes before going home. I made an amazing salami, provolone and arugula sandwich. Eric and I went to a museum we’d always talked about visiting, went to Starbucks, drove through Chinatown, went to dinner. Just a strand of beautiful moments. And those moments are woven into other beautiful moments, and also some painful moments, and they all come together to make the fabric that is my life.

As we were driving down Wilshire, I read, on Facebook, that a friend of a friend died this week by his own hand. Because I am obsessed with all things death related, I went to his page and read the tributes his friends and family wrote. He was loved, and yet, he is no longer here with us, here with those who loved him. And I looked out the window, away from Eric. I shed a tear that I didn’t particulary want him to see. As we headed west, the sun setting, I wondered if I was weeping for my friend’s friend or for myself.

But I know, and I suspect that you know, too. I was weeping for both of us.

Melancholia

7006539265_f36a2da67f_zYesterday, when I was perusing one of my favorite websites, New York Social Diary,  (I’ve written about it here before) I came across the story of Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts.  She was a prolific painter and co-founder of the Concord Art Association which still functions today.  I’ve posted a few of her works here.  From a wealthy Philadelphia family, she decided at 15, inspired by Mary Cassatt, that she would become a painter.  She did become an accomplished painter and her contemporaries included John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Cassatt, Daniel Chester French (he sculpted the statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial), Childe Hassam and George Bellows.  

When she was in her fifties, she was diagnosed with “melancholia.”  In 1925, her doctor told her it was in her best interest to stop painting.  Not long after, she hanged herself.  She was 56 years old.  Hey, who doesn’t suffer from at least a mild case of melancholia?  I’m sure the doctor or doctors had reasons for recommending Elsie retire her paintbrush, but it seems to me, that they failed her.  Would she never have killed herself if she kept painting?  I don’t know.  I’m aware of the frustrations that arise from exploring our art, like hating what you’ve created or feeling that your art has been passed over or even creating something so great that after the crescendo, there is an emptiness and a question as to whether you’ll ever create something you are proud of again.  But my position is and probably always will be, we need our art.  It is what carries us through the hard times.  

So maybe today, you’ll do your art and think about Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts.  She knew your melancholia, it was hers, too.  And if someone encourages you to stop creating, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think you should listen to them.