Around the Corner

  For a play that I claimed not to love, I certainly thought about The Humans for days and weeks after my trip to New York. There is a line that I’m sure I’m butchering in my memory. I’ve probably actually recreated the way the character said it. But at some point, someone said, something like, “You can go through life lonely alone or lonely with someone.” And the way I remember it, the line got a laugh and a bit of a tear. Like, either way, we are all a little lonely. I was a lonely kid, a lonely teen, a lonely adult, and now, as a middle aged man, I am still lonely. And you know, I have a partner, dogs, great friends, but I’m still, like Lenny Kosnowski, a lone wolf

Granted, I like being alone. And maybe I even like being lonely. 

After my friend and I left the play, that Friday night in NYC, we went our separate ways. Michael asked me to go to Joe Allen with him and his college friend, but I wasn’t up for it. Eric was back at the hotel. That morning, he woke up sick, so sick that it threatened to ruin the entire vacation for him.  

We really needed this vacation. Our work lives had been frustrating in the weeks before the trip. There had been health issues with one of our dogs. In a two week period, every day, something bad descended on our little home. A dog bite that became infected. A betrayal from people I thought had been our friends. Money woes. If we could have backed out without the money we spent on plane tickets, we would have.

Anyway, after the play, I took the subway down to the Lower East Side to visit my friend Jon who was bartending. The teeny restaurant  was packed with New Yorkers, young and oldish, all glamorous, enjoying their Friday night. Jon poured me a drink and let me stand off to the side of the bar. His co-workers were all gracious to me, but the whole time, I felt like I was in the way. Also, that if it weren’t for the fact that I was in the way, no one would have even noticed my presence.

I finished my drink and thanked Jon and headed out. Contemplating a bus or a subway, I opted to walk awhile. I walked north, up 1st avenue and turned left onto 6th street. I passed a building that seemed to be the architectural embodiment of what I was feeling. Old, sad, weathered, crowded in by happier buildings all around. Garbage piled in front, on top of the melting snow. Twin porch lights flanking the door way. 

Had I ever walked by this building before? I couldn’t remember, but probably I had. Probably I had passed by and not noticed. 

This time I took a picture. I googled the address hoping to uncover significant history, like maybe Eliza Hamilton died there. (She did not.) I started to Instagram the picture, playing with filters and shadows and saturation but each time, what I captured didn’t seem Instagram-worthy. 

I walked a little further north and grabbed a slice of pizza on 14th street and sat in the corner and charged my phone. After, I got on the 6 which went to Grand Central. I got out at Grand Central and walked through the terminal, then up a couple blocks back to my hotel.

The next morning, miraculously, Eric felt better. I’m glad too, because I didn’t want more nights like the lonely one I’d endured. If my favorite time to explore Manhattan solo is early weekend mornings, late weekend nights, is the worst. As I walked by every crowded bar and restaurant, gay, straight, mixed,  I expected to look through the windows and see 20-something me, standing in a corner, alone, hoping someone would come up to start a conversation. 

Sometimes it seems I spent the first half of my life trying to make friends and then the second half, trying to keep a safe distance from relationships that have asked too much of me. 

As I said, the next morning, Eric felt better, and with our friend Michael, we packed weeks, months, into our few days in New York. Roosevelt Island, Central Park, John’s Pizzeria, The Met, Gramercy Park, Eataly, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island Ferry, Shake Shack, Flaming Saddles. 

Every day, I posted Instagram pictures and went through my phone’s camera roll, deleting certain shots from the trip, #latergramming others. Again and again, I would return to the picture of the loneliest building in all of the lower East Side, maybe the entire isle of Manhattan. I couldn’t bring myself to post it,  nor could I delete it either.

And maybe you get this, maybe you don’t, but every time I look at that picture now, months later, it is a source of joy, no sadness at all. Well, maybe a happy sadness. Like somehow, as if appearing magically, on a crisp January night, when everyone else was light and gay, this lonely old building saw this lonely old soul, turning a corner, lost on his way home and shined the light to guide his way.

Advertisements

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.

Happy Endings

betty-draper-coca-cola-mad-men.pngI’ve fallen into a pattern. In the last few months, I sit down to write a blog, write a few paragraphs, sometimes several paragraphs, and hit a wall. I go back and read what I’ve written and shake my head. Whatever it is I am trying to say, I can’t say it. So I save the draft and tell myself I will revisit it and then, of course, I don’t.

I started a blog on Sunday, before the Mad Men finale aired. I wanted it to serve as a prediction of sorts of how I thought the series would end. I had a title, Happy Endings, but again, whatever it was I tried to say, it did not come together.

The last few days, I have been sick and also I have been embroiled in the Mad Men marathon AMC hosted in the days leading up to the finale. I DVR’d every episode and had finished about 45 of the 92 before the finale aired. There was something about my feeling under the weather and my compulsion to binge re-watch these episodes that sent me into a bit of a downward spiral. In the last few days I have been rendered unable to talk about anything other than the lives of Don and Betty and Peggy and Joan and Pete and Trudy and Sal and Lois and Meredith and Miss Blankenship and well, you get the idea. And I’m not sure, but until this morning, I thought I’d lost my sense of smell forever.

My friend Linda texted me on Sunday with commiseration about Mad Men‘s end. She added that we needed to get together because it’s been awhile since we’ve hung out. (She lives 1.5 miles away from me.) I said, “Yes, let’s hang out soon.” But all I could think was I can’t make plans with people until I’m finished watching these 92 episodes of Mad Men. You know, priorities.

I could talk about the ending of the show, what satisfied me, what disappointed me, what confused me. But, you know, there is that chance that you haven’t seen it yet. Also, you’re not reading this to get my review. But I will tell you what I was thinking about when I woke up this morning, after I’d had a night or two to sleep on it.

On Sunday, between Facebook messages and texts, I had several conversations about how the series would and should end. I enjoyed hearing the theories, the hopes, the emphatic declarations of love or hate for Don or Betty or Joan. (Although, seriously, who could hate Joan?) I was in a Mad Mania and I loved it. Two of the people I communicated with on Sunday were friends from high school.

I’ll call them Bob and Emily. Now, I think it’s already been established, but it took a very, very long time for me to ever feel like I was more than just a Nick Carraway in someone else’s story. I’ve always felt like one of the Watchers sitting around watching the Do-ers do. I had been friends with Bob and Emily independently for several years when they got together sometime during high school. In true Nick Carraway fashion, I probably had a crush on both of them. Okay, not probably, I did have a crush on both of them. They both were emblems of everything I ached to be: good looking, intelligent, slim, funny, popular. Of course, there was something else about them that made them special, and it’s the kind of thing I never identified until I was in my 20’s, but, simply put, they always seemed to be in cahoots. Like there were a million things that made only them laugh and they could try to explain it to you, but it wouldn’t make sense. It was just between them. And while other high school couples might have been more glamorous or photogenic or romantic, Bob and Emily were what my high school picture of love should be. I’d go to sleep dreaming that my Bob or my Emily would come into my life. And we would be that couple. In cahoots.

Of course, Bob and Emily broke up when we were all in college. They each moved on, as far as I know. But for me, the Nick to their Jay and Daisy, and because I’ve spent little time with either of them in the 30 years since high school, I always see them together, whether they should be or not. Like Don and Betty, forever intertwined. I didn’t say that to either of them. These are not characters in a tv show or a novel or a movie, these are people.

In watching the early seasons of Mad Men these last few days, I was reminded of something that I had forgotten. We rooted for Don and Betty for a long time. For nearly three seasons, we all hoped that they could work out their differences. It broke my heart Saturday night to watch that scene where Don weeps about his childhood after Betty shows him the box. She rests her hand on his shoulder for comfort but you see in her eyes, it’s too late. She can’t love him anymore. And I sat there on my couch, weeping, because their love was real and it was never coming back. And, okay, small spoiler, but in the last episode, when Don called Betty and in the midst of their conversation, he called her Birdie, I lost it. It was the end and I, I don’t know, it just made me so sad.

Of course, I wasn’t just sad for Don and Betty. I was sad the show was ending. I was sad for Sally. Sad for myself because it had been a week and I was still sick. (Do I have lung cancer?) I was sad that couples that I thought should always stay together were not together anymore. Also, at that point, I was sad and worried that we were 20 minutes into the last flipping episode and Don was still in California.

I texted Linda later to tell her that she and a handful of my other good friends all came into my life the same summer that Mad Men did. We all met in a class. So much has happened to me since the summer of 2007. Most significantly, of course, I met Eric, who is a little bit Don, a little bit Peggy, a little bit Roger, a little bit Betty, a generous dollop of Joan and even a dash of Sal. And our relationship is as complex, imperfect, and on some days, jet-set, as any that Matthew Weiner has ever created.

Okay, this is the point where Don would make Peggy stay late, even though it’s her birthday, and they would drink and smoke and fight until they got the pitch for the meeting, until it all came together. You see, whatever it is I am trying to say here, it’s not exactly cohesive at the moment. It wasn’t cohesive yesterday when I worked on it either. Maybe I need a mouse (or a rat) to dart through my office for this to come together.

But just maybe I learned something from Mad Men. Maybe a neat ending is not always necessary, maybe sometimes it’s not even possible. Maybe, like in a phone call, I could just close by saying I’m really going to miss Mad Men. And you’re on the other end of the line saying, “I already knew that. Me too.”

What My Dog Taught Me

One can learn a lot from one’s pets, and not always in that cute Marley and Me way either. Oh how I wish this was a story about how smart and evolved my dogs are, but sadly, the dogs in my household have as many Achilles’ heels as the humans with whom they share their lives.

A few weeks ago, we gave Millie a plastic toy that was shaped like a Christmas present. Millie has not generally been a toy lover, but for some reason she fixated on this particular piece. And she looked super cute in all the pictures we took of her, holding the present in her mouth. It was a little too big for her and watching her try to carry it around the apartment made us laugh, not AT her of course, WITH her.

But this week, I had a realization about Millie and this brightly colored cadeau. It brings her no joy. She obsesses over it, stands guard, licks it occasionally, and worse, growls whenever Ricky or Eric or I get too close to it. Not once has Millie wagged her tail over her gift, the way she always does when it’s supper time or she’s going for a walk. I wake up in the middle of night, wonder where Millie is and I’ll look under the bed. There she’ll be, alert when she should be resting, her big eyes scowling at me, “Don’t take my present! It’s mine!”

Not to beat anyone over the head with the symbolism, but it was a big reminder to me to enjoy the gifts, tangible and otherwise, that I have been given. I think we all have a tendency to take things for granted or not appreciate, but the hope is that our gifts bring us joy, that wagging our tail kind of happiness.

I’m not particularly known for my optimism or even my gratitude. But one gift I receive every year is a chance to push the reset button. A chance to say, this is a new year, today I start becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.

As for poor Millie, I don’t think she can change who she is. She’s just a dog, an old one at that. So, it’s been discussed and today, the gift goes into a drawer. No doubt, she will soon forget about it and it won’t be a source of torment any longer. Don’t feel too bad for her, she’ll still have the the things that do bring her joy: wrestling with her brother, cuddles with her Dads, walks in the sunshine, treats.

Happy New Year to all! Every day, but especially today, the possibilities are endless. May 2015 be filled with all the things that make your tail wag.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/c4b/50569732/files/2015/01/img_3237.jpg

The Morning After

1425719_10152094998587755_185085023_nI’m usually the first to hear it, especially if it happens in the middle of the night.  I am not necessarily a light sleeper, but in the years since Millie started having these episodes, these seizures, there is a part of me that, even when sleeping, is always listening for the tell tale signs.  Last night, around 1:00 a.m., I woke up. hearing the sounds, sensing the vibrations, of Millie stirring awkwardly in the bed.  I found her at the foot of the bed and sure enough, she had started having a seizure.  Eric woke up when I started talking to Millie, telling her she was going to be okay.  “She’s having one,” was all I needed to say and Eric was beside her too, also holding, also calming her.

Millie’s seizures, which started in February 2011, are unique, just like she is unique.  She does not lose consciousness, her eyes do not roll back, she does not foam at the mouth, but merely salivates more than usual.  She shakes, her paws clench.  If we were to put her on the ground, she would try to walk, but stumble about.  These seizures have happened enough that we know what to do, or at least we think we do.  We hold her and tell her that we love her until the episode passes.  Usually, it lasts about 10 minutes, and once she’s out of it, she’s still not 100% Millie for awhile.  Even this morning, the morning after, she’s quieter than usual, more reclusive.  When I walked her and her brother Ricky a few minutes ago, she did feel impassioned enough to bark at another dog on the sidewalk which, under normal circumstances is annoying and embarrassing, but today was a relief of sorts, an indication that she’s getting back to normal.  

Eric does better when she is having her seizures than I do.  In fact, the way he is in those moments, is probably Eric at his very best.  He becomes the chief Millie holder, the coddler.  I have to run into the closet to grab a towel in case she wets herself, I have to run into the kitchen to take a Xanax, but the whole time, Eric lays there on the bed and holds her, kisses her, tells her that we love her and need her.  As my mind runs away with the worries, he is calm and present for her.   When she appeared to come out of the seizure last night, I ran back to the kitchen to get her a little treat, to see if she would eat it.  She nibbled on it gingerly while Ricky hopped and moaned and pounced.  He has some compassion for his sister, but when treats appear, he becomes quite single focused.

After the treats and the hugs and the “you’re a good girl”‘s, we settle back into bed, Millie at the foot, in the same place where she was when it started and ended.  Ricky lays on his pillow in the middle of the bed and Eric, on one side, me on the other.  Eric’s joke is that the two of us are always sleeping on a celery stick because of these two.  They are our little bed hogs and we love them.  As I lay there worrying about Millie and how we need to go to the neurologist and how the seizures have picked up frequency in the last few months and how are we going to pay for an extra vet bill, extra medicine and on and on and on, I hear Ricky and Eric snoring.  Millie looks at me and I look at her.  What is she saying to me? I don’t know.

And this is the morning after.  There is a glow that comes from surviving a crisis.  Eric is at work, but told me to keep him posted.  Ricky is sleeping on the couch.  Millie is napping under the bed, also known as, her hotel suite.  And here I sit, typing away, trying to make sense, trying to ease my pain.  We survived another storm, weary and shaken, but happy to see the sunshine of a brand new day.

Lobsters

Ross-and-Rachel-ross-and-rachel-31487773-700-700To me, they were Ross and Rachel.  They seemed destined to stay together forever, a perfect fit, lobsters.  That’s why, for the sake of this story, I will call them Ross and Rachel.  They were among my first friends when I moved to LA.  They were and are creative talents.  They had been high school sweethearts from someplace else who moved to LA with the same dreams I had.  Jealous type that I was, I thought how much easier it must have been to move to LA with a support system already in place.  

Several years ago, they announced to their friends that they were separating.  It appeared amicable, but eventually Ross and Rachel decided to divorce.  It seemed that their friends were more heartbroken than they were because whenever we all were together, they still seemed, if not a couple, at least, united.  Ross and Rachel-ish.

Rachel threw a big party for a milestone birthday.  And though they were divorced, living somewhat separate lives, Ross was in attendance.  I remember tons of people, tons of alcohol, tons of food.  Not long after midnight, I found myself talking to Ross and Rachel in the kitchen, just the three of us.   It had been a great party and we were all three feeling the effects of a great party, so to speak.  I don’t really remember what we were talking about.  Rachel wasn’t at her most lucid, but hey, it was her birthday.  One minute, she was sitting at a chair around the kitchen table, nibbling on a chocolate chip cookie, the next minute, she vomited onto the entire plate of cookies.  And as I stood there shocked and grossed out, Ross immediately went to her aid. He pulled her long hair back until she stopped throwing up.  He wiped her face, cleaned up the mess on the table.  I tried to help by cleaning up things that had not been hit directly, but Ross had no such boundary issues. As I pretended to straighten the kitchen, Ross lovingly put Rachel safely to bed. In this moment anyway, she was still his responsibility, and he was going to get her through this crisis, just one of many that they pulled each other through in their many years together.

Relationships are hard and things go on in private that others don’t know about or need to know about.  I don’t really remember how Ross and Rachel ended up on Friends. Wasn’t it a little fuzzy as to whether they would get back together or stay together?  I remember thinking that they weren’t going to grow old together, at least not in the traditional sense.  But like lobsters, there were going to be bound to each other in certain ways.

My Ross and Rachel never got back together, either.  They both moved on with their lives with great success, and as far as I know, remain amicable.  It’s a happy ending.  But I will always think of that night, how they reminded me that love reveals itself in many ways and it’s often more expansive than we realize.

By the Time I Get to Phoenix

spritle_chim-chim_trunk2On Sunday night, I went to a Cabaret open mike. I love a piano bar. That’s been documented before. At one point a duo sang a very bluesy cover of Glen Campbell’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix. I enjoyed it, but to me, it did not compare to his version, which is a song I remember listening to from the back seat of my parents’ car when we’d go on road trips. I have a soft spot for old Glen Campbell or Ray Price or Merle Haggard songs. When I hear one, I’m five or six and it’s late at night and we’re driving from Independence to Colorado and I’m half awake, but listening to my parents’ adult conversation in the front seat and I feel really safe and cozy. And I probably have about 3 or 4 stuffed animals huddled close, mostly definitely my #1 stuffed animal, Chim-Chim whose wardrobe was sewn or knitted by my mother and grandmother.

So, that is one of the things that I thought about when these two were singing By the Time I Get to Phoenix on Sunday night. And when I listened to the words of the song this time, it broke my heart a little because it’s a real tearjerker. Maybe it was the first time I really heard it.

And then an elderly bespectacled gentleman got up to sing a song about hoping to find love. (I wish I could remember what song it was.) He was probably in his 70s and quite spry for his age, and the way he plaintively toyed with the hem of his shirt, there was something very youthful about him. I got the feeling he probably looks in the mirror and thinks, my goodness, just yesterday, I was 18. I’m 45 and I do that, and I’m realizing I’ll probably always do that. Time flies.

And then on my way home, I listened to the Glen Campbell original (I know, it isn’t THE original) and I thought about love, my own loves, my heartbreaks. How it’s sometimes tricky to navigate relationships. And yet, there’s a line in the song where Glen says that he’s tried to break up with his girl “so many times before” and I’m left with a little hope for them that maybe he’ll turn the car around and head back to LA. (He is driving from LA, right?) There’s always hope.

I don’t know very much about my old friend on stage singing wistfully about finding love. Obviously, I hope that he has a lifelong partner that he goes home to and they watch Gloria Swanson movies and drink Manhattans and talk about their trips through Europe together. Maybe he has that, I hope he does.

And as I write this, I think about how I want to tie every thing up in a neat bow. Maybe Glen should keep driving, maybe his true love is in Oklahoma and they haven’t even met yet. And maybe my friend is single and likes being single. And maybe the truth is messier, sadder than that. I don’t know.

These are the days that I want to be six again, whispering secrets to Chim-Chim, my Dad expertly commanding our ’73 Buick as it sails across the plains of Kansas, Glen Campbell in the background, singing about a road trip of his own.