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.

Dining Out

shutterstock-senior-coupleOkay, I hope you’re going to side with me on this one. I’m not ageist, if anything I believe people should be held accountable for their actions at every age. You don’t get a free civility pass just because you’re almost 80. But, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

After seeing Trainwreck at Westside Pavilion yesterday, Eric and I decided to go to Islands for dinner. We walked in as a host was seating a party. The hostess was on the phone and it took a few minutes for her to see that new parties had come in. Following us into the restaurant was a VERY SPRY woman in her late 70s, her husband in tow. She told him to go sit down at one of the chairs set out for waiting guests. He resisted, she insisted, and then he did as she said, probably not for the first time. 

Eventually the hostess noticed the four of us standing (well, most of us were standing) in front of her. I watched to see if the old lady was going to say, “They were first.” And you know me, you know that if she had, I would have insisted, “Oh no, YOU go first. We aren’t in a hurry.” And then all of us could have walked away from the exchange with hope that there are still at least four, five if you count the hostess, good people left in this mucked up world.

As you might have surmised, that is not what transpired. Instead, she SMIRKED at me then launched into her demands of where she and her husband could and could not sit.  The hostess started to take her to a booth and she snapped, “Are you going to close the blinds??? We can’t sit there. It’s sunny!” 

I don’t like people being rude to me but I also don’t like people being rude to people who work in restaurants. And I do have a teeny bit of a soft spot for old people, really I do. 

I interjected at this point, too loudly, if I must assess my own performance, with, “Actually, we were here before they were.” 

“Oh I’m sorry,” the hostess apologized. 

“You have nothing to apologize for, you didn’t know that she cut in front of us. Go ahead and seat her, she clearly has more ‘requirements’ than we do.” And yes, I did make the quote gesture when I bellowed the word “requirements”.

“I DO have more requirements,” she countered. And then she continued her negotiation to get the best table in all of The Russian Tea Room, I mean, the Islands on Pico. 

The hostess and this woman finally agreed on a table and as they exited the host area, the husband, toddling along after her turned to me and offered his own apology. “I’m very sorry.” 

“Sir, you weren’t the one who cut,” I offered in a tone that I hope was not as terse as I remember it.  And then he followed his wife to the table.

I told Eric I was going to the bathroom and while I was in there, I thought  to myself, I’m not finished with this. I’m going to go find her table and chew her out a little more. Why did she think she had the right to cut the line? Because she was old? Because she was white? Because her husband was frail?

I came out of the bathroom and found Eric seated at, truth be told, not the most ambient section in this particular Islands. He was kind of worked up about what had transpired as well. “I’m going to tell her off!! I’m going to go find her at that table and tell her people can’t act like that!!”  (I’ve said it before, but we are a fairly dramatic household. And our dogs are even more quarrelsome than we are.)

“No, you can’t go there.”

“I’m going.”

“Eric, I mean, she’s horrible, but think of her poor husband. He was so embarrassed, the sad way he said, ‘I’m very sorry.’ You can’t.”

And he didn’t. And we changed the subject, moved on to assessing and praising the movie we’d just seen. (15 minutes too long and a little manipulatively sad, but overall, we liked it.) 

And while we praised LeBron James for his comedic chops and complained about how we really don’t like Colin Quinn, I couldn’t stop thinking about this old couple. And by old couple, I mean me, because really, why did an old lady cutting in line at a restaurant make my blood boil like that?

I know very little about her, even less about her husband. Maybe they’d just come from the doctor, received bad news, and the husband said, “Honey, I want one last mai-tai before I die.” And she said, “Mort, sweetie, I’m taking you to Islands and I don’t care who I have to but in front of to make sure you don’t have to sit at a table with the sun blinding you.” Maybe he said, “You know, honey, I do like Islands, but with this dire diagnosis, do you think maybe we could go to Trader Vic’s?” And because she is planning a surprise 80th birthday for him AT TRADER VIC’S, in just two weeks, which after their doctor appointment, she’s realized will likely be his last, she told him wearily, “No, Mort, I don’t have it in me to go to Trader Vic’s tonight, but I promise, we will go there SOON.” And you know, maybe just maybe, a few seconds before they’d walked into Islands, she gave him a soft kiss on his bald forehead and whispered, “I love you, Cuddles.”

Don’t judge her because her pet name for her husband of 60 years is Cuddles. What makes you think your pet name for your significant other is so great?

And maybe, there is a greater lesson about judgement for me, because who really knows what was going on there? Did she cut in line? Well, yes, but maybe she just did it for love. Also, maybe she’s just a really selfish person. And maybe she’s been badgering that poor guy since Eisenhower was in office. Who really knows? Not me.

What I do know is that, in 30 years, if Eric and I are still kicking and still together, I hope the most ambulatory of the two of us will do everything in his power to attain the nicest table for our dining adventures, whether on 57th or Pico, or any Marie Callender’s in between. There are many things that reveal love and I’d say that is one of them.

Guest Blogger, Hilary Hattenbach: One L or 2?

I want to thank each person who has written and shared their “bullying” story. (And please keep them coming.) It’s been an interesting endeavor because everyone’s story is different and yet, of course, there are common themes.  I think feeling like an outsider and seeing others as being more included are both just part of the human condition. Even now, I think of my bullies and marvel, did they ever feel like outsiders too? At some point, they must have.

9 year old meMy friend Hilary, a cookbook author and blogger too, shared a childhood story and sent it with the qualification, “it’s wasn’t exactly bullying per se.” And well, I can kind of seeing how it might not be bullying PER SE, but it does seem to be needlessly cruel. And not to give away the ending, but a little mysterious too.

I asked Hilary if she had a picture of herself from around that time and of course, that is the picture that accompanies this story. Just a sweet little girl, trying to figure it out, trying to make new friends in a new situation.

One L or 2?

When I was nine-years-old, Ma married a nuclear physicist. Shortly after that, we abandoned our beloved, long-in-tooth West Hollywood rental for a boxy, personality-free apartment in Beverly Hills. I’d been attending Rosewood Elementary, a public school where I loved all the teachers, had a diverse mix of friends, and often stayed after school as a teacher’s helper. Up until that point, I was a relatively happy-go-lucky kid. We were broke, my parents were divorced, and my dad was barely in the picture. But I was a big “bright-sider,” often telling jokes, drawing, and trying to cheer up Ma who struggled to raise two kids without child support. Despite how difficult things were, they never seemed that bad. That is, until we moved to Beverly Hills. 


Right around this same time, my ten-year-old brother, Chris, realized that his lengthy campaign to get our parents back together had gone down the crapper. “I’m moving in with Dad!” he announced. 


“Fine. Go live with your father. You two deserve each other!” Ma said.


And thus began our wildly divergent Prince and The Pauper-type journeys. I was enrolled in Beverly Vista, a foreboding, brick structure of a school where every kid got dropped off in a shiny, foreign car. Chris went to live at Pop’s studio bachelor pad in West Hollywood and stayed at Rosewood. I got stuck with a bunch of spoiled, rich, nine-year-old a-holes while Chris palled around with juvenile delinquents and only went to school when he felt like it. At the time, it seemed like he got the better end of the deal. In retrospect, not so much. 


On my first day at Beverly Vista, I met another girl in my homeroom named Hilary. It was a bit like meeting a unicorn. Back then, the name was pretty rare, akin to “Apple,” “North,” or “Latte” now. And this Hilary was fancy. She rolled up to me in a white rabbit fur coat, brown hair cascading down to her shoulders like a mini Charlie’s Angel. A couple of her friends stood behind her for backup. “One L or Two?” she asked.


“One,” I said, hoping that she had two because everyone knew that two L’s was the pedestrian spelling of the name, Hilary. My mom told me that. Even if I was wearing plaid hand-me-down knickers with Snoopy knee socks, the superior spelling of my name surely trumped her flawlessness. 


“Me too.” She flipped her hair and flashed a knowing smile at her friends. 


Since it ended up being a draw in the L battle, I thought we had bonded. Two Hilarys with one L in the same class! What were the odds? We’d be the best of the pals.

Maybe she’d let me borrow her fur jacket and show me how to get the frizzes out of my hair. I imagined the hilarious hijinks that would ensue any time the teacher called on “Hilary”


“Which one??” we’d say in unison and break down in hysterical laughter. But alas, that initial confrontation was the last time I ever exchanged words with Fancy Hilary. She continued her reign as the only true “Hilary,” ignoring my very existence as did most of the other kids at the school. And when I think back, ignoring someone is probably one of the cruelest types of bullying that exists because it renders one completely invisible. 


For the first time in my life, I felt utterly alone. At Rosewood, my quirky, artistic persona fit right in with my classmates. Most of us were being raised by a single parent and money was scarce. At Beverly Vista, a school that reeked of privilege, I felt like I’d crash-landed my broke-ass spaceship on a hostile planet. 


Then one day, in my giant and immaculate homeroom with large windows spraying LA sunshine on the backs of our heads, the teacher led the class in a calligraphy lesson. Yes, part of the fourth grade curriculum was to learn the very useful fine art of Japanese lettering. I noticed a quiet Japanese girl in front of me essentially crushing the assignment. She flicked her wrist with ease, creating beautiful black brush strokes on the parchment. I craned my neck to look at her paper and commented on how amazing it was. Her name was Yuko. 

Yuko, a perfectionist who never had a rumple on her pressed cotton pants, became my first friend at Beverly Vista and quickly introduced me to her bestie, Kanae (pronounced Can I – emphasis on “can”.) Kanae was heavier-set and more of a gabber like me. In a sea of white faces, Yuko and Kanae, were the oddballs, the outcasts. We quickly bonded over our similar plights and became inseparable. The three of us all freaking loved Sanrio. We traded stickers and admired each other’s collections. We went sticker shopping, ate lunch together, and gossiped about other kids at school. Having a couple of friends made life in Beverly Hills finally bearable. But then something changed.


I came to school one morning and Yuko wouldn’t talk to me. Later, when I saw Kanae on the playground, she marched ahead as if she couldn’t see me. In class, I tapped Yuko on the shoulder. I called her name. But she just sat staring forward, her perfect posture rigid in her wooden chair. I stared at her short ponytail, waiting for it to turn but it never budged. It was like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As if somehow I’d never been born and life as I knew it had completely vanished. At recess, I approached them, I asked them what happened, and I was sorry if I had done something wrong. But like Jimmy Stewart desperately shouting at the people who can’t hear him or see him, the two friends acted like I wasn’t there. They just talked to each other until I walked away. I tried for days to get them to forgive me for something I didn’t even know I had done but they never came around. And so after a few days, I gave up. 

At home I sat in the closet in my room and cried. For hours I sobbed and tried to replay everything I had done and said to Yuko and Kanae to make them suddenly hate me. Ma called me for dinner and when I didn’t answer, she sent the physicist to look for me. He opened the closet door, saw me sitting there in the dark and shouted, “She’s in the closet.” Not knowing what to do, he awkwardly shuffled off, leaving me there to sulk. 


I remember this time as my first foray into total inconsolable sadness. It seemed that Yuko and Kanae had broken my heart though it was probably intensified by the veritable trifecta of Ma getting remarried, my brother moving away, and starting at a new school where everyone hated me. I never made another friend at that school. When the year mercifully ended, we moved to a new house in the valley and my brother came back to live with us. I made friends easily at the new school and normalcy returned. 


Unfortunately, my stepdad got transferred a year later and I had to once again start at a new school. It was something I did over and over again as kid and I can only say that after Beverly Vista, I honed my ability to recognize “my people.” I never had another Yuko and Kanae experience. I did have some thuggish guys push me in the school cafeteria but it was nothing compared to the psychological warfare waged on me by a couple of nine-year-olds. Their unflappable ability to completely freeze me out still haunts me to this day. It’s something I’d never wish on anyone.

King of Griffith Park

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This is something I’ve been pondering for the last week, ever since Eric and I went to an open house last Sunday.  We are not in the market to buy, but Eric found out that a Los Feliz Modernist house, built by his favorite designer, Jock Peters, was coming on the market after 60 years.   So, we went to see the house.  The house was built in 1933 by Peters for Academy award winning cinematographer Alfred Giks.  Peters, who is also famous for his interior design of iconic Bullocks Wilshire Department store, passed away at 45, in 1934.  Eric’s obsession with all things Bullocks Wilshire related is what ultimately drew us to the open house.

Now, I think it’s been established, but I am a curious person and I found myself wondering about the lives of the person or people who lived in the house.  The real estate agent reminded us that the property had been owned by the same family for 60 years, that the owner had passed away recently at the age of 98.  At one point, the agent told us the man’s name, Sol Shankman.  “You might have heard of him, he was kind of famous for walking in Griffith Park everyday for 35 years.”  The agent pointed out unique features of the house, including an incredible mural in the master bedroom that had been commissioned decades ago.  But as much as Eric was interested in the bones of the house, I found myself wondering about the people who had lived there.

The second we got in the car, I Googled Sol Shankman.  You can try it yourself, if you Google “Sol Shankman King of Griffith Park”, THIS is the article that will come up first. I found the picture of the nonagenarian Shankman, in 2008, being honored by friends and family at a park ceremony.  And then I read about how he really only started walking Griffith Park in the late ’70s, about the time his wife Elizabeth passed away.  According to the article, he’d never been much of an athlete, but then, he started walking.  He was around 60.  Maybe he walked to ease the pain of losing his wife of four decades, maybe he walked because he wanted to try something new, reinvent himself.  Who knows, the point is he started walking and didn’t stop.

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He’d been a chemist, a son, a husband, a father, a business owner, a humanitarian and finally, he became a walker.  And the real estate agent was right, it ended up being his claim to fame.  His obituary ran in the Los Angeles Times, Tom La Bonge was at his memorial, his obituary called him a civic institution.

And I thought about Sol and his house and his life all week.  I’m a walker too, it’s really only been in the last few years that I’ve taken it up as sport, but I love putting in my earbuds, turning on my playlist, and hitting the road.  I love walking my neighborhood or the beach or downtown or New York or San Francisco or Kansas City or the little town where I grew up.  I like traversing main streets, bridges, parks, residential neighborhoods.  I love looking at a house thinking, I wish I lived here and appreciate looking at another one thinking, I’m glad I don’t live there!  What a gift these legs and feet of ours are.  It’s like God said, “Here, take these, see the world.”

This morning, I thought about Sol because for the first time, I went for my own walk in Griffith Park.  I mean, I’ve been there, you know, to the Observatory and to see Amy Grant at the Greek, but I had not walked it.  So I parked and I followed some people in workout wear and started a trail.  I really didn’t know where it would take me, but I wasn’t surprised when I realized I was headed to the Observatory.  And up and up I climbed until I made it to the top.  I took pictures, but the pictures didn’t do the view justice.  It was just so beautiful and, well, I know it’s a hokey word, but it was inspiring too.  It’s nice to try something new, whether you’re 22 or 46 or 60 or 93.   And I know that the title doesn’t belong to me, for, really, there can only be one, but in that moment, on this day, I felt like the King of Griffith Park.

The Differences

 

 A couple of days ago, I spent the afternoon with two friends from Bible college, Heidi and Greg, who were visiting Los Angeles with their teenage children. We walked around Hollywood Boulevard and the Chinese Theatre and eventually made our way over to the La Brea Tar Pits. It was a joy to catch up with old friends and show them around my city.

Now, I know how my blog posts have a tendency to unfold. I tell a story and I say, either the people I am talking about are in the wrong or I’m in the wrong or we were both in the wrong. I’ve read the back log, I know the pattern. And especially when I write about any interaction between the gays and the conservative Christian community, I have a history of pointing fingers. Sometimes my diatribes are late night rants that I second guess in the morning. Other times, it’s something more thoughtful, a gentle nudge of “hey, let’s just look at this, how can we do better?”

Well, let me start by saying, that is not the nature of this particular blog. The hours that we spent together were lovely. I never felt a judgement from Heidi or Greg or their children about my life. The words “lifestyle choice” never came up. 

When we met, they had just come from a tour of Paramount Studios and they told me they got to meet Dot Marie Jones from Glee on the lot and Greg took a picture (or 3) with her. I thought to myself, good for them for wanting to take a picture with not only an out lesbian, but also someone playing a transgendered character on television. I honestly don’t know that every conservative Christian would jump at that photo op, but of course, it honestly moved me that these old friends did.

At one point in our afternoon, Heidi pulled out her ticket from the tour. She wanted to give the ticket to me because the quote on the ticket, credited to Cecil B.Demille, said, “The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” There was a bit of awkwardness because I wasn’t really sure she was giving me the ticket or just showing it to me. And then she wasn’t sure if I really wanted the ticket. And then the ticket became a running joke throughout the rest of our afternoon, a punchline really. 

Heidi was one of my best friends in college. I know this won’t translate, how could it, but Heidi and another friend Sheri and I once went to a weekend conference to Lake of  the Ozarks (as glamorous as it sounds) where the entire time we kept singing this three part harmony song called “I don’t know.” All we did was sing “I don’t know” over and over and over again. Like Michael Row the Boat Ashore with significantly less lyrics. I KNOW, I told you the story wouldn’t translate but it made us laugh all weekend. It made us laugh for weeks and months and years after, too.

While I had friends in high school, I never felt like I was part of a tribe until I went to Bible college.  I just wasn’t skilled at making friends until my time at Ozark. And even though I don’t see life exactly the same way as most of my former classmates do, I still feel a connection to them. 

Tuesday night, even from the moment we said our goodbyes and our cars took us in opposing directions, I felt a little sad. I couldn’t quite name it, we’d had a great time, laughed a lot. There was still a connection, I concluded. We still have things in common. They are still the loving people I remember and I could tell, they are raising their teenagers to be loving, interesting, sharp-witted adults, too. I didn’t feel like their icky gay friend. (Note to self, HBO series pitch or perhaps just a great Katy Perry song: My Icky Gay Friend.) 

So, if they didn’t do anything wrong and FOR ONCE, I didn’t do anything wrong, why did I feel melancholy? 

It has occurred to me before, that I have spent my entire life feeling I need to explain myself. When I was a fervent, Evangelical high school and college student, there were always people who asked, “Why are you such a Bible beater?” When I came out of the closet, for years, I had people question why I would choose to be gay or choose to live the gay lifestyle. Even still, I get asked versions of that same question. I assume that, to some extent, I will contend with that for the rest of my days.

As I drove home, and later that night, I imagined the conversation Heidi and Greg might have had about me. That it was great to see me (I hope), that I’m not so gray or wrinkled or overweight that I’m no longer recognizable as the Ray they remember. But also, I imagined a sigh, and then, “He’s so special, I just wish he still loved Jesus.” In my mind, I did not imagine a judgement, merely a wish that I might still be a part of the club, or even better, the tribe, they are still a part of. 

As much as we will always have things in common, there will also, always, be differences. And that’s okay. Really, it is.

I’ve thought about that Paramount Studios tour ticket a lot since Tuesday. I did keep it. It sits on my desk now and when I look at it, I smile. This morning I saw that Heidi posted a pic of us with it, joking about my tepid reaction, and it tickled me. Nearly 30 years later, she still makes me laugh.

I always wonder how people see me, too much so.  I know. But I have to remember to think it without overthinking it. That maybe Heidi doesn’t think of me as gay or Christian or not Christian or lost or found, forgiven or I don’t know. Maybe she just thinks of me as a storyteller.

And she is part of my story, as I am part of hers.

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.

For Whom The Bell Tolls

bell-tower-viewIf the rumors are true, there is a woman dying in my building. She is neither an old lady or a young girl, rather a woman roughly my own age. She has been ill for a while and, from what Eric heard, is being attended to by hospice. For the sake of this story, I will call her Callie.

Callie was here when I moved into this building. She introduced herself in my first few weeks, nearly 17 years ago. She was a constant presence in the building, often doing laundry in one of the building’s two washing machines, often smoking cigarettes on the stairway, her smoke emanating throughout the building. She always had a hello, even if it was followed by a complaint about other tenants. Callie was a modern day Gladys Kravitz and I should know, it takes one to know one.

If Callie and I were friendly, we never became friends. I have thought so much about her in the last few weeks. She is too young to die; she is my age. What haunts me, I guess, is how, we have lived steps away from each other for the last 17 years, saw each other daily or weekly, known certain details about each other’s lives, and yet, there was not much of a connection. If I were to be honest, I would have to admit that I didn’t like Callie very much. I do feel guilty about admitting this, but it is part of the story, it even adds an extra layer of sadness to it all.

I will say this about Callie. She loved my first two dogs Lucy and Mandy. When both of them passed away, within a few months of each other, she offered condolences about each and I didn’t doubt that she meant them. My current two, Millie and Ricky, are not as friendly to people in the building as Lucy and Mandy were and I sometimes wonder if it’s related to the fact that I don’t like most of the people in my building either, now.

One of my first blog posts was about my building, this big, old brick building with hallways like the hotel in The Shining. Before I moved in, I dreamed of living here every time I drove down the street. And I felt so lucky when my friend Ted, who lived in our friend Russell’s old apartment, told me there was a vacancy. And then I got the apartment and then I adopted Lucy and then I moved to a bigger apartment, with french doors in the bed room and views of my historic street. And then I adopted Mandy. And the three of us would go for leisurely, amiable walks, we had leisurely, amiable relationships with all our neighbors. Some of my best friends were people in this building, maybe you are reading this now and you know I am talking about you.

But, for many, Los Angeles is a transitory town. Apartments are by nature transitory too. People move away, people die. In the last few weeks, I made a rough count of the number of people who lived in this building who have passed away before their time, and it’s been jarring, haunting actually.

And speaking of haunting, when I first moved in, I was told by several sources to be on the look out for ghosts. One neighbor once told me that she woke up in the middle of the night to the feeling of someone sitting on her chest, attempting to strangle her and that when she came to, there was no one there. For 17 years, I have been waiting for my ghost moment or moments.

As I said, people move away, people die. Also, though, some people move away, and then they die. My friend Ted, who is the reason I am here, passed away after an illness several years ago. I know it was several years ago, because I remember waking to the phone ringing in my old studio apartment and answering it and one of our mutual friends calling to say that Ted had died. And I remember him telling me that the thing about folks being at peace at the end is really not always the case, that even in his last moments, Ted was clawing and screaming for more life. Which makes me sad, but a little comforted too, that that is how much he still wanted to be here.

It’s silly, but I’ve been tempted in the last few days to run up to Callie’s apartment and knock on the door and ask if I can come in, to spend a bit of time with her. Maybe thank her for always being nice to Lucy and Mandy and patient with Ricky and Millie, to acknowledge what we shared. We lived, not identical, but parallel lives, for 17 years. Of course, I will not and should not do that. I would only be an imposition, an annoyance.

I wish I weren’t so narcissistic. You don’t have to be a therapist to know that part of the reason Callie’s illness has burrowed into me is that I am eternally cognizant of my own mortality. I know that Callie had more things she wanted to see, do, accomplish, as do I. This town is full of people who transition from renting apartments to owning homes. Did Callie dream of a house, with or without picket fence? Is there something wrong with me, is it my failure, if I live in an apartment for the rest of my life?

I do wish Callie peace in her transition from this world to whatever is on the other side. I know she loved her family, she loved her friends and I know that she was loved in return. I hope that love is a comfort to her and to them.

As for myself, I don’t know why I say that I’ve never experienced ghosts in this building because that couldn’t be further from the truth. The dead are still with me, the friends I made here who’ve only moved away to just below Pico or a house in Echo Park, are still with me too. Lucy, Mandy, Ted, I think of you three every day. Every day. You are all my ghosts, you all haunt me. But I want you to know that while there is sadness in your absences, there is a grace, a solace in knowing that how lucky we were to, for a time, at least, roam these halls together.