Ray, I Hope You Know

  On Sunday, after church, I went to an orientation for people interested in joining the congregation. About 15 of us, we all sat around a table and wrote our names with sharpies for name tags we affixed to our shirts and blouses. 

The minister came in and introduced himself, shared a bit of his life story and asked us all to share our names, what we do, and briefly, our religious history. Not surprisingly, the group was filled with folks like me who had grown up in church and somewhere along the way, stopped going. 

When it was my turn, I shared that I had gone to Bible college, had been a youth minister, and that after I came out of the closet, that was the end of all of it. Also, for whatever reason, in the beginning of 2016, I decided I missed church. So, after more than 20 years, I started looking for a church home. 

After we went around the room, each sharing a bit of their own story, the minister told us about the church, its history, its positions, its outreach. Then he asked the room if anyone had any questions. The room sat quietly for a few seconds until finally, he said, “Surely the former youth minister has a question for me.” Everyone chuckled, I chuckled. “Actually, I do.” Another chuckle. I asked my question, so boring of a question that it doesn’t warrant repeating. 

A few others asked questions, and not much later, he dismissed us. As I left, my friend Richard and I went to shake the minister’s hand and say thanks. 

The minister said, “Ray, I hope you know that you are welcome here. We have many LGBT members.” I laughed because, as I shared in my last blog, at this church,  someone, everyone, is always reminding us, as often as possible, just how welcome every person is. 

I was a little high all that afternoon. And it wasn’t just the welcoming the gays part. But there was something thrilling about being called out for my time in the ministry. The former youth minister. And that somehow, if God had used me before, maybe God could use me again. 

As I was reading a book today, another memoir of a Midwestern gay who moved to New York to make his way, I had a flash of that exchange that took place on Sunday. “Ray, I hope you know that you are welcome here.” My eyes got blurry and I had to put my book down and I started to weep. It had not been emotional in the moment, but now, with some reflection, I thought, I have waited 25 years to hear those words from a church.  I’d actually waited my entire life. From the time I was the little guy in a tan leisure suit and a wooden cross necklace, until the day I left, at 23, I was always trying to turn myself into the straight version of Ray. And here someone, an entire congregation, was offering the possibility, that Gay Ray, could be what God wanted me to be all along. And the idea was shocking, but also, a comfort. I bawled. 

And you know, I must be honest. There is a conflict, because within this joy, this discovery that there is a place for me, after so many years, I can’t help but resent the churches that turned me away in the first place.  And then I wonder, DID they turn me away? Or did I just go away because I was afraid I would hear those words, “You are not welcome here.” I knew the 411. I’d been paying attention every Sunday. Church is no place for the gays. Being gay is something you repress or pray to heal. And if you aren’t healed of it, your faith wasn’t very good to begin with. And your parents are taught in church that if you are gay, it’s because they did something wrong. And your parents, as hard as they try, it breaks their heart that you’re gay. And you go through life, knowing that, even though they love you, you broke their hearts. And their churches don’t offer them comfort and say to them, “You did nothing wrong. You are amazing parents.”

It’s a lot. It’s enough to burden a person’s soul.

I know it must seem like I say the same thing over and over again. I do and I know that I do, but I cut myself some slack because I don’t think I am the only person who has struggled to feel welcome, to feel home. And I know that I have conservative friends in conservative churches that have young LGBT kids in their congregation and it would mean so much to me, if that is you, you could reach out to those kids and tell them how much you are rooting for them. That your church is their home. That they are welcome.

I know that some of you grew up, completely, all the way, house, kids, dogs, vacation home, grew up, but for some of us, childhood never seems very far away. And the people whose approval we wanted most in our youth are the affirmations we seek for the rest of our lives.  And we are all a little broken, all a little weary. And don’t think you can tell someone too many times that they are welcome, because,  maybe the opposite is so ingrained, that it takes a really long time to hear it.

Look Up

  For the second time in two weeks, I have found myself in a church service on a Sunday morning.  It’s hard to say how this all came about and certainly, I don’t have any idea where this new journey of sorts will lead me, but, this seeking, I guess you could call it, has been on my mind lately.

I have found an old church, a congregation that dates back to the 19th century and its current edifice has been around for nearly 100 years.  As you might expect, it is a congregation that welcomes, affirms, and condones the LGBT community.  For the month of February, the pastor’s sermons have been based on the Alice Walker novel, The Color Purple.  So, long story short, it’s very different from the churches that raised me.

  If my mind had a tendency to wander at church when I was 10 and 15 and 22, one shouldn’t be surprised to learn that my mind still wanders (and wonders) when I am at church.  I love looking up at the high, majestically high, ceilings of the sanctuary.  I think about the men who built this church.  It’s the kind of thing I think about when I visit historied, grand, ornate, towering churches.  I thought about it when I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Church of St. Mary the Virgin on my recent trip to New York.  I look at the ceilings and think how men risked, and probably sometimes lost, their lives, creating these works of art, how some probably took great pride in their efforts. This will be my legacy, they might have thought.  For others, the work might have been only a job, maybe not even a well compensated one.  I don’t know.

This morning, as I sat in my pew, occasionally looking up, I marvelled at the beauty of this church.  I thought about how its current state was the sum contribution of many people with many stories.  Some believers, some doubters, probably even some heretics.  And then I looked down, looked around me, at the other people filling the pews.  Maybe these parishioners are not all that different from the men who built this church all that time ago. Believers, doubters, heretics.  Maybe, I went so far to imagine, we all have belief, doubt and heresy in varying amounts, in all of us.

When I started this blog, a couple of years ago, I really had no idea how much I was going to talk about religion and God and Christians.  Several times, in emails and Facebook messages, people from my midwestern past have asked me what I believe about God and Jesus and Heaven and Hell.  And I usually just avoid the question because the truth is, I don’t know what I believe.

  For a long time, I thought that my questions or disbelief were a reason to keep me out of church.  Why go if you don’t believe?  But, somehow, in the last couple of months, I started wondering if maybe, those questions might have more value than I realize. And maybe a church is the best place to take one’s questions about God. Makes sense actually. 

  I don’t really know where any of this is leading.  While a part of me feels that I should know what my intentions or goals are, the louder voice tells me to just be still and listen.  So here I am, listening.  And for what feels like the first time in a little while, looking up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Darkness of Our Souls

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One of the mostly darkly comic moments of my high school career was the day of officer elections for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It was my junior year and I had been very involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) since my freshman year. I went to every meeting, every weekend retreat, every Tuesday night bible study. I wasn’t really an athlete, but I sure was a Christian and I had every Amy Grant cassette tape to prove it.

If you are a person that remembers high school, you might remember how some clubs were a little nerdier than others. FCA was not a nerd club. I’ll never forget my freshman year, going to meetings, spellbound by the devotions given by junior and senior club leaders, popular boys and girls, who talked about how their relationship with Jesus really helped them get through the day. And also, to win games.

By my junior year, FCA was the one club I was most involved in. Many of the people I considered my best friends were also in that club.

When officer elections came up that year, I knew that I really wanted to hold some kind of office during my senior year. I aspired to be that upperclassman giving devotions, inspiring freshman about how Jesus really makes your day better. So I signed up to run for every office: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer. I think there was even something called stu-co rep that I threw my name into the hat for. I was sure that with all that putting myself out there, something would pay off. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

The day of elections, my first clue of the tragicomedy to come was that every FCA member in the school showed up to vote. While FCA boasted a large membership, meeting attendance was never mandatory and often not heavily attended. That day was the exception, every lumbering football player, towering basketball player and Aqua-Netted varsity cheerleader showed up to vote for officers that day.

The first office that we voted for was president. I don’t remember how many candidates there were, I don’t remember who won. I just remember it wasn’t me.

I won’t drag this out for you the way that afternoon dragged on for me, but each election bore the same result. Each time my fellow FCA members had an opportunity to vote, they voted for the other candidate. By the time we got down to stu-co rep, there were snickers that travelled through the auditorium when my name was announced as one of the candidates. Like Carrie at the prom, in the moments after that pigs’ blood fell on her head, I realized that whatever it was that I wanted from these people, boys and girls I considered my peers, I was not going to get it. By a show of hands, the vote took place. Someone other than me won.

That afternoon, after the calamitous election, I went home and took to my waterbed. I don’t remember crying specifically, but I probably did. What I most remember is laying there, heartbroken and embarrassed. In all my years of living in Independence, I don’t think I ever felt so alone.

My only consolation was that someday I would leave Independence and leave Kansas and show them all. I would have a wildly successful adult life and when I came back to Independence to visit, everyone would clamor around me, wanting to get close enough that my stardust might rub off on them.

And while I have left Independence and left Kansas, my life is just kind of a life. Not too glamorous, barely any stardust at all.

Did I have any idea, on that lonely spring afternoon, as I pouted in my bedroom, how many times I would think of that day in the 30 years to come? I don’t think I did.

On that afternoon, I decided I was not going to be a member of FCA my senior year. I would not be sharing my athleticism or my Christianity with people who did not appreciate it. And I held to that resolution. Instead, my senior year was filled with rehearsals and performances for four different plays.

It’s no wonder I loved being on stage, acting in these plays. The thought of becoming someone else is what I’d spent 17 years dreaming about.

One of the plays I did in that busy senior year was written by William Inge.  The play, A Loss of Roses, was Inge’s first big Broadway failure, the first of more than a few.

Inge wrote quite a bit about his hometown, my hometown. In his adulthood, he did not spend a lot of time in Independence. From what I’ve read, I don’t think he liked visiting. An overly sensitive man, a success who never stopped feeling like a failure, I think his visits home dredged up too much pain.

It’s always a little embarrassing to write about one’s pains, one’s sensitivities. Inge did it beautifully, but now, now that we know how much sadness he bore his entire life, it’s heartbreaking. Lola, always ready to play the victim, but stronger than she realizes. Rosemary, on her knees begging a man she may not even love to marry her because the loneliness is killing her. Millie, overshadowed by her beautiful sister, defiant that one day she would leave Independence and live a successful, decorated life.

Sometimes I worry that I am in a downward spiral, that the trip to the Menninger Clinic that William Inge and Deanie Loomis took might be in my future too. There are days that I am overwhelmed by my sensitivities. There are moments when I wonder, am I the only person bothered that no one stops at stop signs in Los Angeles?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning with the fear that everyone in my entire home town hates me now. Over something I wrote about in a blog yesterday. And then I fretted over that fear because who really thinks that way except for the delirious and the paranoid?  And then to try to make sense of it, I sat on my couch and typed all this out into my little phone. And then, later, I’ll go back to reread what I’ve written and judge it and decide whether I’m willing to share it, the ramblings of my overtired, oversensitive, quite possibly delusional brain.

Of course, you know I published it. You know I took that risk. It’s what we writers do, we risk revealing the darkness of our souls. Even us failures, especially us failures.  And vultures that we are, we all take solace in being reminded of others’ failures, because they are not our own.

A Big Announcement

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Well, I have big news.  We are moving to New York.  Rhinebeck, New York.  I hope I can spit out all the details before those 1.5 Xanaxes I just took render me unable to type sentences. Enjoy these typo-free first paragraphs now because it’s liable to get a bit sloppy.

Yes, Eric and I are moving to Rhinebeck. Nevermind that we don’t have jobs there, nevermind that we don’t have a place to live. Also, nevermind, for the moment, that I haven’t yet told Eric about my plans for our little family.  Actually, he sort of knows, we talked about it briefly over dinner at the Cheesecake Factory at the Grove last night.  We sat on the balcony, overlooking the trolley route.  It’s views like that that we’re really going to miss when we are living a simple, but fulfilling life just miles from the Hudson River.

It might sound like a pipe dream to you all, but I want you to know that I spent over an hour looking for jobs and apartments and even houses on hudsonvalleycraigslist.org today.  I found a 1 bedroom for $750.  I wish I could say that it was some “Washington slept here” old Colonial, but I have to admit, the 1980s was totally a good decade to build apartment buildings, too. Also, a Friendly’s and two “family restaurants” are hiring servers right now.

Nevermind that I’ve only been to Rhinebeck once, for the wedding of my friends Michele and Stan. And nevermind that I was drunk 40% of the time I was there and really insanely, open bar at a wedding drunk for the other 60%. Alcohol brings out our true selves and my true self loved all those little towns like Rhinebeck and Staatsburg and Hyde Park and Peekskill. Also, just the idea of living that close to where Blair and Jo and Natalie and Tootie lived really appeals to me. Does that sounds like a creepy thing for a 47 year old man to say about a group of 15 and 16 year old boarding school girls? (Don’t answer that.)

Nevermind that the first thing out of Eric’s mouth when I suggested our move was, “Millie would hate the cold.”  He’s probably right.  The one time I took her to my parents in winter, while there was snow on the ground, she did not pee or poop for four days.  Not outside, anyway.  I figure if we load and leave by this weekend, we’ll get to our new home in upstate New York early enough to give her time to adjust to the new environment before the first snowfall.

I have to be honest, Millie is part of the reason we are moving.  About three weeks ago, we came home from Marie Callender’s to find Millie’s little butt bleeding.  It was a scary, uncertain thing to witness so we bundled her up and took her to the 24 hour vet clinic.  They informed us almost immediately that she had an abscessed anal gland.  I won’t go into all of the details of the last three weeks, but it’s taken a bit longer to heal than we expected.  And now, we are at a point, that even though she seems on the mend, I can’t stop worrying about her.  I look at her butt about 40 times a day, checking to see her progress.  When I am at work, she is all I think about.  When I am home, I am never at ease.  Even now that her energy level is pretty much back to normal, I can’t turn the worry off.  That’s where those Xanax come in.

It might seem whimsical, even impractical, to decide so capriciously that we are moving to Rhinebeck, but I made a big decision like that once before.  For years, while I lived in New York, I toyed with the idea of moving to Los Angeles, but the moment I decided was sudden and irreversible.  I was standing in front of a mirror with a breathtakingly handsome guy I was dating, our arms snaked around each other. Though we stared at each other through our reflections, I knew in that moment, that he really didn’t like me as much as I liked him.  I doubt that I will ever recall what we even talked about but I’ll always remember that epiphany. I thought to myself, I am moving to Los Angeles. 45 days later, I did.  I packed everything I owned into 5 boxes and two suitcases and I moved west.  I did not and do not regret it.  I might always be wistful about Manhattan, but I made the right choice.  I love Los Angeles and every blessing she has brought me.

Of course, as you might suspect, 45 days from now, you probably won’t find Eric and me, walking Ricky and MIllie down main street Rhinebeck, looking like a gay L..L. Bean print ad.  We’ll still be here in LA, same apartment, same jobs, same friends, same lives.  To be honest, most nights when I dream the occasional dream that I am moving to another city, my first thought when I wake is, I’m so glad I don’t have to do all the unloading and packing and yard saling and giving away of the stuff I’ve accumulated in the 21 years since I moved here.  Long past are the days that all my cherishable possessions could fit into 5 boxes and two suitcases.

That’s not to say that we will never move. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t move.

But I think it’s really okay, comforting even, to spend an hour or two thinking about what life would be like somewhere else.  Because as long as it’s a fantasy, the new chapter will only bring a great job, a beautiful home, neverending pet health, boundless creativity, a consistent exercise regimen, the ability to be filled up with just one slice of pizza or just a bite of chocolate cake.  I am 98% sure that in Rhinebeck my favorite meal will be salad without dressing, merely tossed with a squirt or two of fresh lemon.

Maybe in Rhinebeck, I will be so overwhelmingly happy, I won’t have need or desire to close my eyes and let my imagination run wild.  But for now, I am here, not completely miserable about being here, but still, wondering. Drowsy from the Xanax and tired from so many days of worry, soon, I will stumble into bed and drift to sleep.  I wonder what dreams await me.

That’s What We Do

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September 11, 2015, is a day I do not think I will soon forget. Obviously, every year, on that day, I am reflective about the world we live in and the heartaches that occur and the way we, all of us members of the human race, are there or not there for each other.

On Friday, we here in Los Angeles were in the middle of a heat wave. In my job, one of my daily assignments, in fact my biggest daily assignment, is to find tables for guests that make said guests happy. My restaurant is mostly outdoor space and on most days, most guests want to sit outside. But on heat wave days, most people want to sit inside.

Wednesday and Thursday had been taxing and we all knew Friday would be tricky as well. All inside tables had been allocated by 11:00 a.m. which meant that if a guest had requested outside when they made the reservation, it was going to be next to impossible to find them a table inside.

There was a woman who was the first in a reservation for four to arrive. The person who had made the reservation had requested an outside table. She said they wanted to sit inside now and we told her that we would try our best. I told her that I had one high top table that we’d brought in from outside because of the dire heat and that we would be happy to let them sit there. She declined, but after a few minutes, she came to me and said she would take the table. So we sat her there. Forgive the cliché, but sometimes you are just dancing as fast as you can and this was one of those days. I sensed that she understood I was trying to help. Her party came a few minutes later and the rest of the party did not like the table. Two of my co-workers and I tried to explain the scenario as patiently as possible. In the middle of our conversation, a woman at a table inside found out that her guest had cancelled and with that news, she vacated her table. We told the ladies that we could move them to that table and all seemed pleased. They thanked me. I said, and I truly meant it, that I wished I could just magically make it be 74 degrees every day and everyone would be happy. They laughed.

A few minutes later, another party came in and though we had allocated a table inside for them, we offered them the option of an outside table.  Some people were sitting outside and we hoped that them going outside would open up a table inside for someone else. They opted to sit inside.

And as my co-worker went to seat this party, the woman who had made the reservation came to me and abruptly asked, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME?” She told me that she and her friends had overheard our conversation, that this was a special occasion and they wanted to know why I had given them such a bad table. I apologized immediately and told her I would speak to the manager. She told me that I had embarrassed her in front of her friends. I found the manager, she intervened, they moved the party to a more agreeable table and that was that.

I had not been the only person at the host stand, but I was the one this woman zeroed in on. I wondered why it had been me that she blamed for all of this. Perhaps, she focused on me because she sensed that I was the one who had been trying the most to help the table, as strange as that might sound.

They went about their meal, I continued to work, seating people. But in that instant, the energy of the day shifted for me.  Before it had been a little fun trying to make the pieces fit, like a jigsaw puzzle.  Now, I had been called out, shamed even.  And not to be too theatrical, but the whole time, to any co-worker who would listen, I only said things like, “I am truly broken. I will never get over this.”  Dramatic.  I know.

I considered saying something to the ladies as they left, but I wondered exactly what it was that I wanted to say. I work in a very corporate environment, that’s been established, and really, I’ve seen the most innocuous conversations between guest and employee escalate into alarming consequences. After they finished, as they walked to the elevator, I walked over to them. Before I could say a word, they thanked me for moving them.

I said to them, emotion already rising in my voice, “I want to apologize.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” the woman offered.

“No, I do. I am glad that (my manager) was able to get you a better table. The bad thing about me is that I really do try to do my job well and this time I failed.  I won’t forget this day, I won’t forget this moment and, AGAIN, I truly apologize for everything.”

They did not see me cry, but they could see that the tears were close. They reached out to console me, but I knew that I needed to step away from the floor. I turned to my co-worker and told her I was going to take a break.

I found a stairwell in the bowels of the store and sat down and burst into tears. You see, the thing that had stung the most was that I had been trying very hard to accommodate these ladies. I understood their desire for a better dining experience, but I was doing my best. And, at that moment anyway, I felt that I had been attacked because I cared.

A friend and co-worker found me in the stairwell. “Nobody cares!” I bellowed. “You bend over backwards to help people and then they all s#$% on you.” And this person that I was talking to, I know how much they care about me. I continued, “I mean, I know you care. But in the end, nobody cares. Maybe in the end, only three people really truly care about you and that’s it.”

And instead of placating me with a positive platitude, my friend merely offered, sadly, “You know I think the older you get, the more you realize, that’s the truth. You’re right.”

I shed a few more tears and then I wiped them on my sleeve and then I went back to work. Another co-worker who had witnessed my apology said that after I left, the ladies lingered and she sensed that the woman felt bad about what had happened. Either way, I survived the day, damaged, but mostly intact.

That night Eric and I went to dinner with friends. We talked about the day’s events and they all commiserated with me. Everyone at the table knows that I am too sensitive for my own good. On the good days, I think it’s my sensitivity that makes me special. On the bad days, I just see it as a victimizing burden.

But the good news is we had a dynamite meal. We were at an old school French restaurant that our friends have gone to for years. We all had roast chicken and pomme frites.  At one point, I raised my glass of Maker’s Mark and drunkenly toasted, “This is just what the doctor ordered.”

Our server was something special too: professional, efficient, knowledgeable, amiable. One of us ordered a shrimp dish that came with a delicious, impossible to dissect sauce. Amongst ourselves, we tried to figure out what it was in it. Oregano? Thyme? Peppercorns? When our server came to the table we asked for clues to the sauce’s secret ingredients.

Did I mention I had a little bourbon in me? Of the four of us, I was, by far, the most strident. “Please tell us a few more ingredients,” I pleaded each time she visited us. And I thought it was all good-natured, I thought she was having fun with our (MY) enthusiastic questions. And maybe she did enjoy our exchange.

Anyway, after dinner, as we were leaving, as the busboy and a nearby hostess thanked us for coming in, I looked for our wonderful server, to thank her. She was at the bar, talking to the bartender. I stood there a few moments, hoping she would look over at us, so I could wave a final thank you, but she did not. Maybe she saw me, maybe she didn’t.  I’ll never know.

This morning, during my morning swim, I thought about the events of that Friday. What had been done to me and also, the possibility that I had been obnoxious to our server. I could not blame her for not turning to thank us as we left because, sometimes when you have an unpleasant customer, your only recompense is to act like you don’t see them as they walk out the door.  Speaking from experience.

Also this morning, I had the idea that I would write about these events. Does the weight of accumulated cruelties harden us as we get older?  Do I care less about people than I did 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?  I wonder.

I was paying for gas at the AM/PM this morning when a frail, elderly African-American woman walked into the store and asked the attendant a question. I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy writing THIS masterpiece in my head. As she left, the attendant shook his head and gave me a “can you believe she asked that?” look. I think my response was a non-committal blink.

As I drove away, I saw the woman walking slowly along Olympic. I wondered if perhaps she had Alzheimer’s or dementia. I’ve been watching a lot of Friday Night Lights lately, and I was thinking about Matt Saracen’s poor grandma, Lorraine. I considered stopping, but I drove on. She’s someone else problem, I thought.  Also, maybe she’s fine and knows exactly what she’s doing.

But a block after driving by, I turned the corner, trying to find this woman, to make sure she was okay.

I found her and rolled my window down. “Are you lost, ma’am?”

“No, but which way is Wilshire?” She pointed toward Wilshire a few blocks north and asked if Wilshire was that direction.

“Yes, it’s that way. Do you need a ride home?”

“No, I’m just trying to find a Sunday paper. He said they don’t sell them at the gas station anymore. He said maybe 7/11 but I don’t know where 7/11 is so I’m walking to Ralph’s.”

“Do you want me to drive you to Ralph’s? I’d be happy to.”

She hesitated, but said, “No, thank you though. I’ll walk, but that’s very sweet of you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, thank you, have a nice Sunday.”

The second I drove off, I decided I was going to find her a Sunday paper. Driving down La Brea, I saw a Starbucks and pulled in and bought it for her. I raced back to the street she’d been on, wondering if I would even find her.

I did find her, a couple blocks closer to Ralph’s than where I’d left her. I put my car in park and rolled down my window and showed her the paper. It took a moment before she remembered me but then she broke into a grin.

“That is so sweet of you.”

“Well, I got to thinking that if my Mama was looking for a Sunday paper, I’d be grateful to the stranger who found one for her.”

“Can I give you a hug?”

And then we hugged, right there on the corner of Detroit and 8th.

“Are you sure I can’t give you a ride home?”

“Well, it IS pretty hot.” And then we both laughed a little.

I got her situated in the front seat, I turned up my A/C and she told me where she lived, not far away.

On the ride there, I asked how long she’d lived in Los Angeles and she said she grew up here. She told me her name, Anna. She had lived many places, including Japan, because her ex-husband had been in the military. She now lived with her youngest son, her oldest son died 7 years ago.

“What year were your sons born?” I asked. She told me that her oldest had been born in 1968 and her youngest, in 1978. I told her that I was born in 1968, too. That seemed to please her.

Not much later, we arrived at her home. “This is where I live.”  I helped her out and she thanked me again.

“That’s what we do,” I told her. “We help each other out.” We hugged again and both of us, as if we had known each other a lifetime, said to the other, “You made my day.” And then she added, with a giggle, “We said it at the same time.”

“It’s true,” I said, holding back tears, not for the first time in the last 72 hours.

“Well, you made my week,” she countered and sauntered away. I watched her walk up her step, hoping she was okay, trusting that she was.

I might have helped her find her way home, but the same could be said for what she did for me.

That’s what we do.

Jeff

LONESTAR: Set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, Robert/Bob Allen (newcomer James Wolk) is a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can’t break free in LONESTAR premiering this fall on FOX. ©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Bill Matlock/FOX

I’ve stumbled into a conundrum at work and I don’t know the best way to get out of it.  Or even if I need to get out of it.  Or even if I want to get out of it.

As you might know, I am back at Barneys.  There is a new parking system, one that was developed in the year that I was elsewhere.  We now park our cars tandem style with an attendant who directs us.  It’s a pretty thankless job because no one really wants to park in front of or behind another person.  The parking attendants are all saints, every one of them.

On one of my first days back, one of the attendants, asked me my name and I told it to him.  He wrote my name and where in the store that I worked and placed it on my windshield in case he or another attendant needed to locate me to move the car for the person in front of me.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a revelation from my friend.  I don’t know his name and obviously, I should know his name.  He is my co-worker and not just any co-worker, one who always greets my kindly even though his job is, like I said, completely thankless.  Actually, it’s worse than thankless because most of us grumble that we don’t want to park tandem style to him as if all of these parking arrangements had been his idea in the first place.  That being said, it feels too far along in our working relationship for me to, out of the blue, ask him his name.

Anyway, here is the conundrum: he thinks my name is Jeff.  On the slip he puts on my windshield, he now writes Jeff and that I work in the restaurant.  As I park in the morning and say hello on my way to the elevator, he says, “Thanks, Jeff, have a great day!”

And I’m really torn.  On one hand, he should probably know my name.  If they need me to move my car and he calls the restaurant looking for Jeff, it might be a while before the deductions are made that I am indeed Jeff.

And I don’t want to say, “Hey, I’m actually not Jeff, I’m Ray.”  I’ve never been good at delivering those messages without sounding like at the bare minimum, passive aggressive, and at worst, well, let’s just say “jerk”.  Did I mention he’s probably the nicest guy who works in the whole store?

Every day, when he says, “Have a great day, Jeff,” I wonder when and if I’m going to break the news to him.

But I don’t think it will be any time soon, because, between you and me, I get a certain thrill when he calls me Jeff.  When he calls me Jeff, I am not Ray. Ray is fine, not horrible, but Jeff seems so rife with possibility.

I really want to be Jeff.  Even though, obviously, others think Jeff looks like me, I see Jeff SIMILAR to me, but better.  Brown eyes, brown hair, yes.  But Jeff weighs 15 pounds less than Ray, he’s also an inch taller.  Also, he’s 36.  He looks like James Wolk from Mad Men and he has a killer smile and when Jeff walks by (or just parks his car) people always comment to themselves, “Man, I love that Jeff.”

Like Ray, Jeff is gay, has a significant other and dogs at home, but Jeff played high school football.  (He wasn’t so great, but everyone loved him.) Ray and Jeff both drive the same car, obviously, but Jeff keeps his Jetta a little neater than Ray.  There aren’t about 25 parking passes from the pool at Park La Brea strewn about Jeff’s Jetta.  Also, Jeff washes his car every other Sunday morning, whether it’s his day off or not.

Jeff is midwestern like Ray.  He’s super excited because his memoir about growing up in the midwest is getting ready to come out soon.  (Simon and Schuster, if you can believe it.) He wonders if, when the book comes out, he’ll be able to stop working a day job.  Either way, it’s all good.  Everything always works out for Jeff.  He’s super grateful to have corporate health insurance again.

Jeff is mostly perfect.  His one flaw, if you can even call it that, is that he’s always posting motivational sayings on his Instagram.  “We get it, you’re totally glass half full, Jeff,” his friends say, kidding, but they still adore him.  Can’t stay mad at Jeff!

I could go on, but you get the point.

You see, it’s been kind of a big summer for Ray.  There were some sad things that happened, some great things too.  I took a risk leaving a job that I hated to go back to Barneys and, while no job is perfect, I am truly glad to be back and to have corporate insurance again.  I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to and now I’m kicking myself a little because I’m feeling a little rusty now.  I went to New York in August and ached before I went and ached after.  Will I ever love a city more than I love New York?

And you know, here I am, trying to wrap up a simple blog about social etiquette that has morphed into a confession of being at a point where I’d just like to have a little bit more.  Be a little bit more.  Perhaps you can relate.

Don’t we all just want our life to be a little more awesome?

Unless you’re Jeff.

Well, maybe even if you’re Jeff.

 

Hold Your Babies

sc009c7364As I lay in bed last night, waiting for the Ambien to kick in, ruminating about my poverty situation, I heard sirens. They sounded close so I looked outside. Something down the street. I went back to bed, more sirens, then also saw helicopter spotlights spilling into our bedroom. 

I looked out the living room window, with a view of the street we live on and suddenly there were over 10 fire trucks about a block from our apartment. Under the street lamps, I could see smoke vapors.  I put on my shoes and went to the fire escape, with a better view of our street. Sure enough, a building was on fire. Which one, I didn’t know. 

I asked Eric if he wanted to go check it out with me. He declined. I put on a t-shirt and grabbed my phone.  Neighbors were spilling out onto our street, it was like a carnival: flashing lights, flurry of activity, confusion.

Once on the street, I saw there were 20, maybe 25, fire trucks, dozens of firemen focused on one task or another.  Probably 100 residents gathered and walked the street, now completely closed off by policeman. I conversed with folks I knew. What happened? I don’t know. Which building is it? 

By the time I was on the street, all flames had been extinguished. There was still residual smoke. Also, it appeared that firemen were continuing to evacuate people from the 3 buildings in close proximity to each other.

The Gladys Kravitz in me was in heaven. So much drama. I took picture after picture. I took pictures of the fire trucks and the helicopter and the people watching.  I felt like Diane Arbus. I am documenting the SHIT out of this, I thought to myself.

The entrance of the building across the street had a high staircase so I climbed to the top to take more pictures. Better view. Two guys stood next to me talking. 

“It looks like the firemen are trying to give CPR to a dog over there,” one said to the other.

“Dog?” I interrupted.

“Yeah, it’s too small to be a person.”

Sure enough, I looked in the direction he pointed. 8 large firemen were huddled over something, what, I could not see, and they pumped away.

I moved to get closer, trying to get a clear view. I could see the men but I couldn’t see what they were working on.   If it is a dog, I probably know this dog, this is my neighborhood, I thought.

They worked for several minutes and finally another fireman brought a white sheet over and covered whatever it was. I was surprised and heartened by how vigilantly they tried to save this creature. 

The high that I experienced when I first stumbled onto the scene was gone. I know this probably is going to sound bad, but if you are a dog person, you might be forgiving: I wondered if I felt worse or better knowing it was a probably a dog instead of a person. (Can I blame this on the Ambien?)

I walked back to the house. Eric and the dogs were sitting on the couch, watching a Guthy-Renker infomercial. I relayed all that I’d witnessed. I hugged the dogs a little extra. 

“It was so sad,” I told Eric. He agreed. Eric went to bed, as did the dogs. For some reason, I felt compelled to Instagram a few pictures I’d taken. (More Diane Arbus illusions.). Eventually I made my way to bed, and finally, to sleep.

This morning my friend Glenny texted to see if the fire she heard about had been near us. She’d heard that a dog had died. I looked up the news and sure enough, it was the fire on my street. A woman was injured and her pet dog was not able to be saved.

I was glad that I knew what happened, how the story ended, but of course, I thought about the woman and her dog all day. Perhaps more details will be revealed, at this moment, I don’t know the name of the woman or her dog. I have concluded, perhaps incorrectly, that the woman was older and that she lived alone. A family of two.

Before Ricky and Millie, and of course, Eric came into my life, for a while anyway, I was a family of two. The first dog I got in my adulthood was a spaniel mix that looked like a caramel sundae. In fact, when I drank, I called her my little caramel sundae. Her name was Lucy. In the years before I adopted Mandy, all we had was each other. We walked to Larchmont Village together almost every morning. We took road trips, she loved visits to the beach. She was something special. I love all my dogs, my boyfriend too, but sometimes I think I might have loved Lucy most of all, because she was my first and the one I needed the most.

If you’re reading this, maybe you had a Lucy. Or a Mandy or a Millie or a Ricky, or even an Eric. (How lucky I am to share my life with a person who takes it as a compliment to be clumped in with a bunch of dogs.) Family is family, whether it’s big or small, human or otherwise. So tonight, I say a prayer for my neighbor, a woman I know little about but can’t help but feel a connection to. I am sorry about the passing of your dog, your Lucy. My prayer for you is peace and that the good memories will be a comfort in the days and weeks and years to come. God bless the beasts and the children and those of us who’ve loved them, too.