Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

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I’m reading the short stories of John Cheever right now. Something about his characters and themes taps into traits and inclinations that are at the core of who I am. Cheever had/has a fixation on loss, lost youth, lost money, lost hope.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of his short stories, about a character described, at 40, as a middle aged man, I remembered something I had forgotten.  I am middle aged.  And unless I live to be 95, I am on the downward slope of middle age.  But whenever I get worried about my age, I always think of Sarah Jessica Parker who is three years older than me.  At every age, she is beautiful and fashionable and smart and relevant and the thought of her comforts me.

This morning, I read Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty, about a former star athlete who in middle age has money problems and drinks too much. Again, as I drank my morning coffee and sat on the couch reading, I wondered, are my best days behind me?

I remember that hope we had, I had, in our youth that our adult lives would be filled with an abundance of riches. Not just monetary riches, but certainly including those. We would have many friends, many children, many vacations, many pets, many accolades, many successes.

When I was in high school, I was in forensics, and I was sometimes asked to do monologues or scenes at various womens’ clubs in Independence. A small group of us would assemble in a church fellowship hall and entertain the ladies. My piece was always from God’s Favorite by Neil Simon, always a crowd favorite. Even at 16, I could tap into the Charles Nelson Reilly that was gesticulating within me. We’d put on our little show, they’d feed us cookies and tea and sometimes give us a small honorarium, and then we’d be on our way. I’d drive off in my ratty ’65 Mustang and think this was just the beginning of a rich life. Unlimited promise.

Are all of my best days behind me?

As I walked the dogs a few minutes ago, I asked myself that question. How far back in my memory reserve would I have to go to access a really great day, not just a good day, but a special, think of it for years to come day. Maybe even a remember it on your deathbead, a la Claire Fisher from series finale of Six Feet Under, kind of day.

You can imagine my relief when a fairly recent memory popped into my head, from a mere two months ago. Not surprisingly, I was on vacation. Also, not surprisingly, I was in New York.

Eric and I were in New York but during the day he attended a trade show at the Javits Center. I decided that was the day I would go to Governors Island. I’d never been to Governors Island, when I lived in New York, I do not think it was open to the public.

I took the train to the tip of Manhattan and walked to the Ferry terminal, then took the Ferry to Governors Island. I walked around the island, took pictures, posted pictures to Instagram. I boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan. Took more pictures of both islands. Docked in Manhattan and went to Starbucks and bought a water with a gift card my Mom sent me. I visited a gift store I like where I bought vintage looking dog stickers.

I pondered the possibility of taking the subway back to midtown where we were staying, especially since it was 90 degrees, and also, I developed a stomachache from drinking that water so fast. But I decided I would walk until I got tired and then take the subway the rest of the way. I walked from South Street Seaport through Tribeca and Soho into Greenwich Village then by my old apartment on 15th street. I walked up 8th until about 30th and then I jogged over to 9th Avenue. Somewhere around 23rd, the thought of a flower topped chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe popped into my head. How long it had been since I’d had one of those cupcakes? Ten years? Fifteen? When I got to 9th Avenue, the bakery was not where I remembered it but across the street. Had they moved or had I remembered it incorrectly? I bought my cupcake. I considered eating it at one of the handful of dusty tables, but decided I would take it back to the hotel and eat it there in the blasting air conditioning. I walked up 9th Avenue with the intent to also buy a sandwich at Amy’s Breads but at Amy’s Breads, at 2:30 p.m., the sandwich pickings were slim. So I ambled up and got a turkey sandwich at the French bistro near our hotel. I ate my feast in our room, half interested in an episode of Catfish playing on MTV. I took a shower and Eric texted me to say we would meet for drinks at Soho Grand before our dinner at Balthazar. I had a few hours to kill so I decided to visit a museum on the Upper West Side where an Al Hirschfeld exhibit was ongoing. I walked from our hotel, around Columbus Circle then up Central Park West. I took pictures of some of the more stately apartment building along the avenue. I’d walked by them a hundred times before but I hoped that because I was taking pictures of them now, I would remember the names and the details. Was the Dakota above or below the San Remo?

When I got to the museum, I found that they were closing in less than an hour and admission was almost $20, so I decided not to go in. I’ll never know how many Ninas I might have discovered inside the New York Historical Society. On 81st, I turned to walk west, inspired by the thought that it had been many years since my last visit to Riverside Park. On 81st and West End, I happened upon The Calhoun School, famous because the building itself looks like a giant television. I took a picture and sent it to friends via Facebook. On Sundays, when I lived in New York, I attended a church that had services there. I tagged Yvonne and Tania and Sarah in the picture I posted, I would have tagged Dana but she isn’t on Facebook.

From there I kept walking and as I crossed Riverside Drive, I remembered an episode of Naked City that was filmed there. How could the street look almost the same 50 years later? Has there ever been a city as unmoved yet everchanging as New York? I walked into the park. It’s no Central Park, I thought to myself. But I walked south until I discovered the Seventyninth Street Boat Basin. I considered stopping for a glass of wine. I remembered that I’d actually woke up a little hungover that morning. Too much bourbon at Bemelman’s and Robert and the Ritz-Carlton the night before. So I kept walking. I walked down the parkway along the Hudson River, marvelling at the stunning views of the water and the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. I thought about how growing up (in Kansas) I always pictured New Jersey as an ugly, undesirable state and obviously, now I knew how wrong I was. I grew to love New Jersey decades ago.

I walked south to a new park with a fancy, sophisticated walkway and then I headed back to Columbus Circle. It was 5:30 and after my industrious walk, I was sweaty again. I decided to go back to the hotel to take another shower.

I was a little late to the Soho Grand, but Eric and our friend were enjoying cocktails and Sriracha-coated peas when I joined them. Believe it or not, I did not order a cocktail.

From there we had dinner at Balthazar, which was good. And then I can’t remember what else we did. Did we walk around Rockefeller Center and then up 5th Avenue? Did we go for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton again, then along Central Park South back to our hotel? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Years from now, I might remember it incorrectly, that we hopped into a cab and sang songs around the piano at Marie’s Crisis or that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. And if that’s the way I remember it, that’s okay. No reason to getted bogged down by the facts.

Besided the hangover, the stomach ache, the pervasive heat, the not getting to see the Hirschfeld exhibit, I also had to contend with moments of melancholy and anxiety throughout this special day. Like a Cheever protagonist, melancholy and anxiety, and self-absorption for that matter, are part of who I am in my core. And yet, I will always remember this day fondly, importantly.

I walked 23.58 miles that day. I know that because I tweeted it that night when I got back to the hotel. I was proud of what I accomplished. I take my visits to New York very seriously, but you already know that.

Already, Eric and I are planning our next visit. I have to wrap this post up in a speedy manner or else I will be late to work. Forgive any mispelled words or dangling modifiers, maybe I’ll go back to fix my errors when I have time.

So off to work, I’ll go. Sometime during my day, I’ll check Kayak for flight and hotel deals. I’ll remember a museum that I wanted to make it to in August and I’ll go to their website and see what exhibits they’ll be showing at the end of January, beginning of February. Maybe I’ll finally make a reservation for us to eat lunch at The Four Seasons or Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. Still planning a bright future.

We must do what we can to prove that our best days are before us.

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.

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.

 

Secrets of the Closet

The author, age 23.

The author, age 23.

The gay press has been floating around a story about a pastor in Michigan, Matthew Makela, who recently resigned from his position at St. John’s Lutheran Church because it was exposed (mild pun intended) that he had an active Grindr profile. He is a 39 year old husband and a father of 5 children. It has also come to light that one of the young men in his congregation was told by the pastor he “might as well kill himself since he was gay”. The young man told a local news channel that he had considered taking his own life over the reception he received from his pastor.

Obviously, it’s a sad story and I have compassion for the young man who came forward with his experience. I can imagine being a high schooler, afraid that no one would accept me if I shared the secret of my sexuality because I was one. Not that I ever told anyone at that age, I was too afraid. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s, 22 to be exact, before I told anyone that I thought I was gay.

In one interview, the young man, Tyler Kish, said that he has found compassion for Makela because he realized that “everything he told me, he was, kind of, telling himself too.” And I don’t doubt that that is true. If I can relate to Tyler Kish, it must be acknowledged that I can relate to Matthew Makela as well.

That I was quoting Demi Moore at all, it should have been apparent to anyone who knew me that I was gay. I was a youth minister in a small town in Missouri, just out of Bible college. My only friends were the kids in my youth group, every other 22 year old in town was long gone, ready to build their lives in larger towns and cities like Springfield and Kansas City. St. Elmo’s Fire was one of my favorite movies and to anyone who would listen I would affect Demi Moore’s husky lament, “I never thought I’d feel so old at 22.” It was the refrain for that year in my life and I am sure that weariness is one of the things that got me on a Greyhound to New York not long after turning 23.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I went to Bible college to try to not be gay. You also might know that I had lived in New York a few months before I really began my journey out of the closet.

Allegedly, Matthew Makela has been living somewhat of a double life. He was a pastor with a wife and children, but also maintained a rather provocative Grindr profile. There are pictures and screenshots of conversations that are now public knowledge. I’m sure more about Makela’s secret life will be revealed in time.

I’ll say this up front because if you are reading this, it’s a valid question, but I never had sex with a guy when I was a youth minister. I never so much as kissed a guy. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have my secrets.

I don’t remember now how I acquired a list of gay bars in Kansas City, I think I must have found one of those gay travel books in a bookstore and written the places down on a piece of paper. I remember the first night I drove to Kansas City to do a bar crawl. I went to about 5 or 6 places, all in the downtown area. This was the early 1990s and I was confused that most of the places had no signage to tell me I was in the right place. I don’t remember every detail of that night, but most of the places I visited were dark and run down and the customers were old. I’d enter, do a tour of the joint, and leave immediately. There was one place where I stayed about an hour. It was large and there was a dance floor and the crowd was pretty cute. I didn’t order a beer or anything, I was a Christian after all, so I just kind of stood there looking around. A tall, handsome, slightly effeminate man smiled at me, I smiled back. We started a conversation, I told him it was my first time in a gay bar, that I was a youth minister. I probably told him that I wasn’t even sure I was gay. He told me he was an antique dealer and lived in Iowa. The dance mix of Amy Grant’s Baby, Baby came on and I asked him if he wanted to dance, we did. While we danced, I wondered if this guy and I might share a kiss or more. I also wondered if Amy Grant knew her song was playing in a gay bar. And if so, what would she think? I don’t remember the details but the antique dealer let me know he wasn’t interested in me. As he went off to pursue someone else, I hung out for a while, then feeling slightly rebuffed, decided to leave and go home. I remember rolling down the windows on that late night 90 minute drive to my little town, the wind tunneling through my car. I was elated and scared and titillated and ashamed and hopeful and fearful as I steered my way home. I think I had a couple more of those KC gay bar crawl nights before I eventually left the midwest, but that first night is the one that sticks in my memory.

You might remember those 900 numbers were big in the early 90s. Somehow I had found a couple 900 numbers that were geared for men looking to meet other men, by telephone. I only did it a couple of times because each time, though it was advertised as something like $2 a minute, the charge on my phone bill was $150. Twice, after dialing 900 numbers, and furtively talking to a flirty stranger for a couple of minutes, I received my bill and was shocked and scared to find $150 charges. I only made $250 a week and I didn’t know how I would pay off a $300 phone bill, but I did pay it in increments. I was afraid that someone, somehow, might find out the secret of my phone bill, but if they did, they never said anything.

That I received the International Male and Undergear catalogs should have been a pretty obvious clue what was going on, too. One of the church members was the town postmaster. It was a small town. Did he notice my catalogs? During my time there, I always wondered if he might share my secret to the church board or worse, his children that were in my youth group. Looking back, I’m sure small town postmasters know quite a bit about people’s secrets.

At one point, I decided to put a personal ad in the Springfield newspaper. It was very simple: “22, masculine, brown hair, brown eyes, GL, bicurious looking for similar.” (Well, I DID have brown hair and brown eyes.) I remember driving to pick up my responses at the paper’s office. I received a large manila envelope filled with about 25 letters from various men in the area. That night, I sat down on my living room floor and sorted the letters from definite no’s to maybe’s to yes’s. I ranked them all and called the first few ones that appealed to me most. One guy was a bagger at a Dillon’s grocery store and for some reason that sounded hot. We talked on the phone a few times and he was in the closet too so we had something in common. I don’t know why, but I pictured him looking like Ralph Macchio. In the end, we never met. One guy was ranked 5th or 6th on my list but we ended up talking on the phone on a Friday night. He convinced me to drive to a town an hour away so we could meet in a Wal-mart parking lot. (That sounds safe.) Before we met, he told me he’d been living in Texas and had started the process of coming out and he encouraged me to do so myself. We told each other what kind of cars we were driving and when we met, he was not what I hoped. Too chubby, too pimply. I didn’t even get out of my car. I think he was disappointed that I didn’t want to get to know him so he coldly told me, “You’re gay. You can act like you aren’t, but you are.”

I also corresponded with a guy, a couple of years older than me who had grown up in Stockton and now lived in Springfield. He had been a ballet dancer, had trained in Russia. He might have been getting his master’s degree, I can’t remember for sure. We went on a date to a Mexican restaurant and then to see a touring production of A Chorus Line. It was not a perfect date, but that was the night I decided that somehow, some way, I was going to go to New York. And a few months later, that’s exactly what I did.

When I was a youth minister, I wondered how the long term burden of holding in my secret might affect the rest of my life. I mean, I really thought I was in it for the long haul, a lifetime of ministry, but I wondered if I might marry a woman, have kids and still have this secret life. I imagined a scenario not unlike Matthew Makela’s where one day, my secret would be exposed, and I would embarrass myself and all who loved me. And I don’t know Makela, but I can’t imagine his beginnings were all that different from mine. One day you’re a confused kid turning to Christ to make sense of your biggest burden and you blink and 20 years later, you’re on Grindr, looking for a man to man massage.

I look back on things I said as a youth minister from the pulpit and in classes and counselling situations and I wonder about how judgemental I was. In my gauzy recollection, I THINK I was a pretty compassionate pastor, but I’m sure I had my moments.

I know this, I’m grateful for that tubby guy in the Wal-mart parking lot who told me I need to wise up and accept the fact that I was gay. I didn’t take his advice immediately but he was one of the many who pushed me out of the closet into the life I lead now.

Like Tyler Kish, I have compassion for Matthew Makela. I remember how damaging the closet was for me at 22 and I can only imagine what it must feel like at 39.

The fact is, no matter who you are, no matter what your burden, there is something of Makela in all of us. We’re just trying to figure it all out. Like my friend Vanessa said about Don Draper recently, we make decisions sometimes that take us in the wrong direction from happiness.  I don’t think Matthew Makela will ever see this, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say to him.  First of all, you’re gay, you can act like you aren’t but you are.  But also, more importantly, you will get through this.  There are hundreds, thousands of men and women who have had similar experiences, similar journeys, we have survived, and so will you.  Peace be with you.

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.

Have a Great New York Week…

3109783051_a8973ac6ce_o-760x576I had a fun drunky, New York moment a few weeks ago. After dinner at Eataly and drinks at Gramercy Park hotel, Eric and I walked our friend Sue, also in town for a visit, to her Union Square hotel. Sue had wanted to extend the party and find a karaoke bar, but Eric, curmudgeonly or pragmatically, refused, “Absolutely not. No karaoke.” Sue and I consoled ourselves by singing I’ve Never Been to Me as we walked around Gramercy Park.

But I interrupted our duet to tell Sue about this walking tour of Gramercy Park that I’d just listened to on the flight from Los Angeles to New York. I tried to tell the story of the lady with connections to Croton Resevoir who attained Egyptian artifacts when they tore down the resevoir. I tried to tell Sue about Edwin Booth and The Players Club. Did I get all the details correct? Unlikely. But still it was a sweet moment and it was enriched by this new discovery I’d made, this wonderful Bowery Boys Podcast.
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Like I said, I only discovered the podcast, by chance, really, a few days before our most recent New York trip. I downloaded a few episodes, and listened to them on the plane and during the trip. But I must say, the real love affair began when I came home. For the last three weeks I have binge listened to over 40 episodes. Driving to and from work or walking the dogs or while I do dishes, The Bowery Boys Podcast has been an almost constant presence.

If you are a history buff or a New Yorkophile, you will love this podcast. You can download episodes for free on Itunes and there are 177 episodes. If you thought it was fun to binge listen to those measly 13 episodes of Serial, you’re in for a treat with The Bowery Boys.
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The hosts, Greg Young and Tom Meyers, are funny, punny, smart, curious Midwesterners who moved to New York around the same time that I did. In what I believe is the Gramercy Park episode, one of them told a story about working at a video store in the ’90s and delivering videos to famous Gramercy Park residents like Julia Roberts. When I lived in New York, any time I was in the area between 14th and 23th, 5th Avenue to Lexington, I always had my eyes peeled for a Julia Roberts sighting. Her sister worked at a restaurant named Zip City (I think) and I would always stare in when I passed hoping to catch a glimpse of either sister.

But I digress. And I admit, it is not unusual for my memory to wander off into my own memories when I listen to The Bowery Boys. Just yesterday, I listened to a recent Little Italy episode, and when they talked about Ferrara Bakery on Mulberry, I couldn’t help but remember my first visit to New York when my BEST FRIEND AB and I ate cannollis from there. And that bakery became a stop I introduced every visitor to when they came to see me. That bakery, even still, is a must every time I’m in town myself. So, basically, I am a part of Little Italy history too.

That’s what I love best about this The Bowery Boys, how when I listen, I feel like New York is still mine, that somehow I am part of her history.

Also, while I was in New York, my friend Eboni and I had brunch at a restaurant, on 7th Avenue, not far from where I used to live. “What restaurant used to be here?” I asked the bartender. He replied that he had no idea, but he asked the manager who was standing right there. “Uh, we’ve been here for a LONG time, since 2002.” And let me say, of course, I get it, 13 years is a long time for a restaurant in the ever changing Manhattan business landscape, but you know this town did exist, for a few years, before the year 2002. It was kind of like this bartender and this manager thought that Manhattan was created the moment their airplane landed or their Greyhound pulled into Port Authority. I probably thought the same thing when I was that age.

Anyway, all of this is a rather lengthy invitation to check out my new favorite thing. Here is the link to the website. http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/ The website is a great companion to the episodes because they often post pictures that complement the content of the podcast. As I said earlier, most episodes are free, but I am sure ordering a t-shirt or donating a little money to their paypal account would be greatly appreciated too.

177 episodes, and counting. If I’ve listened to about 25% of them so far, that means there is a lot of New York to still uncover, still discover. I am driving to San Francisco tomorrow and I know what I’ll be listening to the whole time.

When I listen, I imagine different Bowery Boys fanatics throughout the world, people who live in New York or used to live in New York or maybe folks who always dreamed of it, but have yet to set foot on the island. I’m not the only wistful NewYorkophile, pining from under my palm tree. But when I listen to these guys, I am there. Graciously, Tom and Greg close each episode with “Have a great New York week, whether you live here or not.” And, you know, because of them, I do.

A Whole New World

IMG_3731Eric and I returned from New York a couple of days ago. It was a cold, action-packed 6 days and as much as I enjoyed the adventure, I’m glad to be home. I might fantasize about living in New York again, I probably will for the rest of my life, but, first, I really enjoyed swimming in the 70 degree California sunshine the day after our return and second, our dogs would hate living in cold weather and probably try to pick fights with people and other dogs on their daily walks. Eric and I always marvel that we never see or hear barking dogs when we are in Manhattan. What’s the deal? Is it the water?

Anyway, Tuesday night, our last night, Eric and I tried to stuff as much into an evening as humanly possible. We had burgers at the Shake Shack in Grand Central, then drinks and clam chowder at the Oyster Bar. We walked up Lexington to 58th, popping into the various hotels along the avenue. I wanted to check out the East Side Marriott, formerly the Shelton Hotel, that was once the tallest hotel in the world as well as Georgia O’Keefe’s home from 1925 to 1936. The day before, we saw the painting East River from the Shelton Hotel at the Met and I read about the Shelton and wondered how I’d never heard about the hotel or O’Keefe’s inspired, lengthy stay there. Either way, the hotel is still glamorous and stately, even if a bit Marriott-ized. From there we walked into Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s shop where I could get one last spritz of my favorite perfume, Maison Francis Kurkdijan’s BG exclusive, 754. On every trip, I try to visit every day to spray a little. On Saturday, an employee, perhaps resentful that I wouldn’t try the fragrance she was trying to hawk, sneered at me, “That is a ladies’ fragrance.” “Oh, what’s going to happen to me?” “Nothing, I just wanted you to be aware of it.”

From Bergdorf, we walked along Central Park South to Robert in Columbus Circle. We had drinks in a lounge area that overlooked Central Park and the Upper West Side, specifically Broadway. We took pictures and Instagrammed them, talked about some of the highlights of our trip, the traditions like Barney Greengrass and Central Park and the Met and Mary Ann’s in Chelsea. We talked about the new experiences, discovering a great, new to us, hotel, The Roosevelt and seeing John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, from the second row, no less. We talked about the cheeseburgers at J.G. Melon. We talked about how much we enjoyed the snow. We talked about how much we missed the dogs, or as we call them, the babies.

After Robert, we took the subway down to Grove Street, to Marie’s Crisis, the iconic Greenwich Village piano bar. Several years ago, I did a show where I talked about visiting Marie’s Crisis with my best friend Michele and her new husband Stan. It was a fun, special night and because it’s on YouTube, the evening has had an enduring glow for Michele and me.

When Eric and I walked into Marie’s Crisis on Tuesday night, it was to the accompaniment of 15-20 Broadway loving souls singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses, an apt welcome. We ordered a couple of drinks and found a wobbly table to sit at and enjoyed taking it all in. There was a shift change and the early evening piano player was replaced by a pretty, zaftig woman named Franca who, we came to find out, was enjoying a bit of internet celebrity because a few nights earlier Jimmy Fallon made a drunken, passionate, raucous visit and several people had posted videos from the evening.

There were men and women, gays and straights, young and old. There were boys in their early 20s belting out show tunes and I couldn’t help but think of my own 20 something self. I never went to Marie’s Crisis. I didn’t have the confidence to stand at a piano and croon Corner of the Sky, but I wanted to. Instead, I would frequent Uncle Charlie’s or Splash and stand in a corner and suck in my stomach and wait for someone to come up to me and introduce himself.

Of course, I thought about those nights as I sat there with Eric. It could have been the bourbon, it could have been something else, but I felt an ache for those days of my youth. That ache comes and goes. It’s probably, at this point, directly proportionate to my weight. When I visit New York, and walk down 8th Avenue in Chelsea or 7th Avenue in the Village, I just don’t feel as visible as I once did.

The song after Corner of the Sky was from Aladdin, A Whole New World. I know I don’t write about my sex life here, but I think that even if you are super conservative, you have deduced, at this point, that I am no longer a virgin. Still, if you are related to me, in any way, please skip the next two paragraphs. Don’t get tempted to disregard my plea, just scroll down. I don’t want to think about you having read this while we are feasting on Italian sausage and spaghetti at the next family reunion.

The first guy I ever had sex with was a guy I met at the 23rd Street YMCA. We met and he asked me back to his place and we fooled around and it was very vanilla and after, the two of us lay on his bed listening to music. Aladdin had just come out and the song was getting a lot of radio play. Before we went to his apartment, I had told my new friend, I’ll call him Milton, because that was his name, that I was very new to all of this. As Peabo purred, “I can show you the world, shining, shimmering splendid…”, Milton turned to me and said, “This certainly seems like the perfect song for this moment.” And it did.

My body might have been at 2015 Marie’s Crisis, but my heart was in that one bedroom apartment with exposed brick on one wall on 18th street between 7th and 8th, circa 1993. I knew before we tumbled into bed together, on another snowy New York day, that Milton was not going to be the person I would grow old with, but what he was, still is, actually, was my first. I wish he’d been cuter, I wish I’d been more attracted to him. Because of my upbringing, I suppose there is still, over 20 years later, a part of me that wishes that my first had been my only. But alas, that is not the way the years played out. And that’s okay, probably for the best, really.

After the A Whole New World, Franca played and everyone sang I Dreamed a Dream and I remembered another boyfriend from those early years, an Israeli atchitecture student who was only in New York for one summer. Then, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, then another song from Pippin, Morning Glow. And then, Eric and I decided to call it a night.

Eric and I splurged on a cab to our hotel and I asked the driver to let us off at 6th avenue and 41st, so we could walk around Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. We went to Duane Reade to buy some water and bedtime snacks. And as we walked back to our hotel, bundled up in scarves and hats and gloves, carrying our booty with us, one of us said, “The babies.” And the other said, “I know, I can’t wait to see them.” And we walked on and on, sideways and under, on a magic carpet ride.