Relocation To Portugal (Update on 2019 post)

Photos: the copper cataplana pot is my most recent purchase. I have wanted one since I relocated to Portugal. They’re fairly expensive. I bought this one used and cooked my first seafood stew with it a few days ago. You cook with it on your stove top and serve it in the same pot. The seafood simmers in its own savory juices, providing outstanding results. The marble tabletop was custom ordered a few months ago after being inspired by the Portuguese marble I saw in Alentejo in the middle of Portugal. My neighborhood Catholic church holding outdoor mass (I stumbled upon services while jogging). Paco looking healthy and happy. He’s been with me one year now. Jamie Oliver’s quick pizza recipe, I have come to love. The evening view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean, from my terrace. Lastly, a seaside landscape I will never grow tired of (a weekend trip one hour from home, near Portimão).

I posted a blog at the one year overseas mark. It’s now been close to three years — time to post an update.

Before I begin the update, I want to share a thought:

Millions of people all over the world are dying and suffering from illness and loss due to COVID-19. Like most, I am consumed by this pandemic. My way of maintaining some normalcy is to continue to blog and carry on with the things that I can do to remain upbeat and optimistic. We all deal with difficulties in our own way.

A Brief Overview

I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine prior to relocating to Portugal, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love the United States and will not give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.

Update: When I wrote this two years ago, I was reluctant to make political comments in my blog posts. There were times I didn’t hold back. When Donald Trump became the republican nominee in 2016, I told the people that I loved that I would leave the country if he won. Like many, I couldn’t imagine him leading my country. I have had a few people ask if I will return to the States now that he is no longer in office. My answer is I don’t know. I have decided to allow these kinds of life decisions to come organically. If I later decide that returning to the States is the right thing for me, then I will return. For now, I’m enjoying Portugal and enjoying stability. Stability has been elusive until now.

The Highs (Positives)

I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.

Update: Admittedly, there are times when I wish I had brought a certain something with me. It’s usually a fleeting thought; I quickly remind myself that I have survived for quite awhile without that rug, toilet paper dispenser, or skillet.

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The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.

I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.

Update: I haven’t recently been to Spain due to the pandemic, however, during the summer I was able to travel within the country and I was able to fly to Madeira and see other parts of Portugal I may not have visited otherwise. It’s a beautiful country no matter where you find yourself. If you come to Portugal, don’t just go to Lisbon and/or Porto. Wine country and the coast are absolute must sees.

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The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, very little humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the Iberian south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.

Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York City. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.

The Little things that make a big difference:

  • Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
  • No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
  • The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally (that I know of).
  • Very little crime. I feel very safe.
  • Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the public transportation system, but once I did, it was a right.
  • Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
  • I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
  • Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
  • Furniture is well-made here.

Update: Adding shorter and less expensive flights to Asia, most citizens of Portugal embrace social democracy, and I believe there is a good deal more concern and respect for the environment (my perception). I’d like to also note that when I lived in the States I actually had to step over homeless people in NYC and Maine; I have lived in Faro for three years now and I have never seen a homeless person. When people are unable to take care of themselves, the country provides for them — their fellow citizens do so with pride and compassion.

The pace in Portugal is teaching me patience. Being born and raised in New York City and then spending most of my working life there, didn’t help. I wanted things done yesterday and efficiently; not the way of professionals in Faro — not a criticism mind you, more of an observation. Bottom line, if I want to live here, I have to slow down and accept the more relaxed pace. It’s no wonder the elderly take less medication and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

The Lows (Negatives)

Losing Giorgio (my dog, brought from U.S., 11 years old) to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.

I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated (it’s good to have a guest room with an en suite). It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not yet discovered; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.

I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.

Update: The novelty of Portuguese pastry has not worn off; I love the pastry as much today as I did back then. Even worse, I have found better bakeries. The good new is that my weight has remained about the same. As long as I exercise, I can keep it in check and hopefully, remain healthy. My prostate is giving me some problems, but that’s not surprising. It is looking more and more like surgery is in my future. Prostate surgery is a common procedure, however, COVID-19 will have me waiting for at least a year. In the meantime there is medication that keeps things under control. As the saying goes, “It’s better than the alternative.”

Learning Portuguese has not been easy, mainly because I don’t get enough practice outside of my lessons. The good news is that my vocabulary is more substantial and I can have a decent exchange, especially when push comes to shove. I’m enjoying the learning process and I need to be less shy. I now watch Portuguese cooking shows and read Portuguese subtitles when watching HBO films and series (HBO is only 5 Euros a month here). As I’ve said before, if it isn’t enjoyable than I don’t want to do it, learning a new language continues to be fulfilling for me. Patience.

Paco has helped me deal with the loss of Giorgio and now I find my memories of him comforting. Giorgio was there for me during many difficult situations. I am forever grateful to the animals that have been in my life.

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Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not so great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal and I hate United (still true in 2021).

Did I Make the Right Choice?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are fairly reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable — I never did well with different time zones.

Access to Travel

Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.

Photos:  I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.

Sagres Guide

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What Lies Ahead? (previous blog)

The best is yet to come . . .

I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Update: Time for a bit of truth telling — this virus and its many variants are becoming alarming. Some experts say that the vaccinations are not effective against the variants, some are saying they are. The numbers keep going up everywhere. Lockdown has been extended . . . again. Yesterday I ran into seven police officers checking for non-mask wearers and people who were not staying in their homes, where they were told to remain. It’s been a year! It’s confounding, scary and tiresome. Honestly, I’ve been pretty strong so far, but I’ve been feeling that I’m maxing out on patience.

There is so much more I could say about living abroad, but I fear boring you to death. I have zero regrets, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been, and I look forward to what is to come. I can still see a possible move in the future and I embrace the mystery of where, when, how and why that might happen.

Cuba Update: I was scheduled to leave for Cuba this week, however, the government has extended the lockdown to March 1. The number of COVID-19 cases are down, but the hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with ICU cases. This new wave of cases was a result of carelessness over the holidays. It makes me angry because now we all suffer and the death toll continues to rise. It is astounding how negligent and ignorant human beings can be.

Question of the Week:

Have your feelings about the pandemic changed over time?

It Helps to Know How Tiny We Are

Don’t forget there is a “question of the week” at the end. Thank you.

The Meaning of it All

There are individuals who refuse to consider the size of the universe because it terrifies them. In fact, my thoughts tend to navigate toward the extreme opposite. I am fascinated by the enormity of the universe and where I fit in. Let me start by sharing my belief:

The universe is a completely balanced entity and we are a small, but necessary part of what keeps it that way.

I am not a scientist. I don’t even have a scientific mind. However, I do believe in science. I see constant significant corrections and the impact on my life. How much of my theory about the universe is true? I am uncertain and I am okay with that. I believe that the universe is infinite, vast, and mysterious. I especially love the mysterious part.

The life and death cycle occurs throughout the universe: the stars, planets, galaxies, comets, etc., have a life cycle and it all seems to have a singular purpose and that is renewal. Our sun may not have a heartbeat, however, there is no denying that it had a beginning, a middle and it will have an end. The life of our sun serves a higher purpose for the entire universe, and I for one, am forever grateful. If you examine nearly every aspect of our universe, you will come to a similar conclusion: there is a reason for everything and everything has a purpose. So why would any of us not appreciate that we exist for a reason. Furthermore, why is it so important for us to figure out what that reason is? We are the universe and the universe is us; I can live with that. In fact, I am empowered by this truth.

I choose to go with the “renewal” explanation for my own life. Consider this my spiritual awakening. I am alive for a purpose I may never fully understand; however, I understand life has meaning. My life had a beginning, it has a middle, and it will eventually have an end. What is left of me when I am no longer breathing will also have a purpose; whether it be a memory, a lesson taught, a thought that lingered, dust particles, or to make someone smile, it doesn’t matter — what matters is how I choose to take advantage of life now. From where I’m sitting, life was a gift I was fortunate to receive; random or otherwise.

Where My Thoughts Go and How That Has Changed Over Time

At a certain point in your life you realize that you have lived more of your life than you have left to live. This realization can be quite sobering. If you sit with it for awhile, your thoughts will visit various places; some dark and some encouraging. You might ask what could be encouraging about knowing you have a limited amount of time left to live? Well, I’ll share my point of view:

First, it forces you to take stock of your life. If there are things that you long ago decided you wanted to do, well then, you ought to get to it. You must consider variables such as physical limitations, priorities, whether you want to do something alone or with others, and so on. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it forces you to consider what you need to do in order to make certain things happen. For example, if you want to climb a mountain, you’d better make sure you’re in the right shape to do it or that you can travel to said mountain. If one of your life dreams is to have a home on the beach, you may need to save a bit more or choose a different beach.

I recently had a revelation that helps me in sorting all this out. It occurred to me that if my life ended, I probably wouldn’t be regretting what I didn’t get done. Oh come on, it’s not morose, it’s realistic.

How Knowing What I Know Helps Me to Cope

I don’t want to sound preachy or too philosophical. I prefer when others share their personal story or history, rather than telling you on how to live your own life. After years of psychological therapy and a good deal of reflective thinking, I cope by being true to myself. Living for others or believing what others tell you to believe, robs you of your own life. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Take advantage of that knowledge and go your own way — oops, a bit preachy. If this isn’t how you roll, toss my words aside and live whichever way you choose; just know that personal fulfillment is just that, personal.

What If I’m Wrong?

I don’t think much about alternative explanations for my own existence. ‘What if’ games are for worry warts and I tend to worry more about the people I love than myself. I figure that if I’m wrong and there is life after death, well then, I’ll be pleasantly surprised (shush). I strongly believe that all living beings possess a soul and it is our soul that makes us all unique. Most people tend to have their own truth; hopefully, that truth brings you comfort and guidance. And if you truly believe that I don’t spend a great deal of time worrying, I have some property in the Florida swampland to sell you.

Medically Assisted Death

When I resided in New York, I belonged to a “Dying With Dignity” group. Our purpose was to advocate for laws that would allow individuals to decide when it was time to end life. Physician-assisted suicide at the end of one’s life should be a human right. I am referring to an individual with a terminal illness, where there is little to no hope for future quality of life. I am not in favor of being hand or machine fed until my heart stops beating. I accept death as an imminent aspect of life. I truly believe that death can be as beautiful and as meaningful as birth. I don’t see New York changing the law anytime and I believe that is unfortunate.

In the News: The Portuguese parliament has approved a law authorising “medically assisted death” which would make the Catholic country the fourth in Europe to legalise euthanasia should the new law come into force.

Lawmakers approved the final wording for legislation allowing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill and gravely injured people.

It is expected to become law in the very near future.

Resources:

The Complete Life Cycle of the Universe. This piece has some excellent references; although scientific, it is easy enough to comprehend.

1: Artists conception of a star life cycle. It shows the life cycle of the star birth from Stellar Nebula to its death at White Dwaft/Neutron Star/Black Hole (courtesy: NASA).

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THE MEANING OF LIFE — An excerpt

From Great Issues in Philosophy, by James Fieser

Home: http://www.utm.edu/staff/jfieser/120

Copyright 2008, updated 1/1/2021

• Does life have a purpose?

• What kind of life is worth living?

• How can I overcome despair?

• How can I achieve happiness?

• Why do I exist?

• Why should I exist?

• Do my life activities have any lasting value?

Each of these questions focuses on a unique point. The first, for example, asks whether there is an over-arching design or goal to human existence that might clarify our place in the grand scheme of things. The second asks whether some approaches to life are better than others. All of the above questions, though, presume that something’s not right with life as we currently experience it, and we’d like a solution to the problem.

           Not everyone is plagued by questions of life’s meaning, and a good test for determining the grip that this has on you personally was suggested by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900). In ancient times, philosophers from many cultures around the globe entertained a concept called the eternal return. On this view, the universe that we live in now is just one in an endless series of universes that occurs one right after another, each being identical with the others, right down to the tiniest detail. With our present universe, there are fixed laws of nature that determine how it unfolds, including everything about my own personal existence, such as how tall I am, who I married, the job that I have, and every word I ever uttered. Someday this universe will be destroyed by cosmic forces, and from its ashes a new universe will be formed. It too will be shaped by exactly the same laws of nature, and thus all events will unfold in exactly the same way, including my own life. This cycle of universes will continue again and again, forever. Whether you believe the theory of the eternal return is not important. What Nietzsche asks, though, is how you would feel if it was true, and for eternity you would be reliving the exact same events in your life, over and over, in each successive universe. If you would be OK with that, then likely you are not especially bothered by problems of life’s meaning. You are happy with this life, and you would be content living the identical life over and over. However, if the notion of the eternal return sounds like a nightmare to you, then maybe you have serious issues with the meaning of life as you experience it right now.

           Philosophers are not the only ones interested in questions about life’s meaning. Psychological studies tell us that happiness declines in our 20s and returns around age 50. That’s a long period of personal struggle for each of us, and today’s self-help industry has jumped in to address our problems. While many of these involve specific concerns, such as relationship issues or alcohol dependence, others are more general in nature. A mid-life crisis or a “spiritual” crisis, for example, will often involve larger questions of purpose and fulfillment. Philosophical discussions of the meaning of life are not meant to compete with self-help therapies. The main appeal of philosophy’s contributions to this issue rests in the puzzle itself: here is a timeless problem that touches the core of human existence. What exactly is behind the problem and which, if any, of the standard solutions are plausible?

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Question of the Week:

What is your view of the life cycle?

May be an image of text that says 'FOR ALL, WHO MAY BE HAVING A BAD DAY.. It Can Always Be Worse.'

Surviving Another Lockdown

Can it be too quiet?

[If you’re too busy to read, scroll to the end; I need your help with answers to weekly questions.]

The Current State of Affairs

A friend of mine who happens to be alone a lot because of his work, had this to say about quarantine:

“I’ve been practicing how to isolate my entire life.”

I can relate to that. I’ve been living alone for eight years now and it’s been pretty quiet and more peaceful than I ever imagined. So much so that I cannot imagine it any other way. Still, it’s different when you choose to be alone versus having the government enforce it. And for you partnered folks: if living with someone works for you, I wouldn’t want you to change it; just presenting alternatives.

I guess there was always the possibility that the government in Portugal would decide a second lockdown was necessary. I saw it happening in other European countries and it was only a matter of time. So here we are again: big infection rates and more deaths than we can handle. And as you’ve heard, a slowdown in vaccine production and delivery.

Intellectually, I get it. I’m constantly imagining what it must be like for people losing family members and close friends. And believe me the last thing I want is to be in hospital in a foreign country hooked up to a respirator. I’m living in Portugal where I have new friends who care about me, but who wouldn’t be able to see me in hospital anyway. And then of course there is my dog Paco; it’s been just the two of us for a year now. I’m convinced that without Paco, I would be a slug with a big bag of chips, on a too cushy sofa, rewatching Netflix originals and endlessly surfing Youtube videos.

The Right Head Space

Attitude is a huge part of a successful lockdown. If you spend a lot of time thinking about what you cannot do and where you cannot go, you will become bitter and filled with anxiety. On the other hand, if you remind yourself that lives are being saved by staying put and it’s temporary, coping becomes easier (at least for me).

I also purchased a tiny little fireplace for 30 Euros on Amazon. It runs on ethanol and it’s very safe. So when I’m wrapped up in a quilt with Paco curled up next to me, I now have a fire to add to the peaceful ambiance. Make your space comfy and cozy so that you never want to leave.

Routine

I’m finding that routine helps me feel better about the situation I find myself in. I go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, spend time journaling and blogging in the morning, take Paco to the dog park (where I can also socialize from a distance), do some stretching and walking, learning Portuguese on Memrise, cleaning up a bit, cooking new dishes, going to the market (allowed), reading, watching a bit of news (not too much, I find it depressing and the media sensationalizes everything), Facetime or whatsapp family and friends, etc. If I do all of these things, just about everyday, time breezes by and I feel fulfilled. I have also discovered the art of napping. Closing your eyes for 10 to 20 minutes in the middle of the day, can be quite rejuvenating and there’s no guilt attached.

Newish Hobbies

I’ve always been at a loss for dreaming up new and interesting hobbies. Like most people, I’ll try something a couple of times and put it down. Pre-COVID-19 I discovered that I enjoyed croquet; bought an expensive new mallet and everything. Now I hang my jacket on it. The point is, I found a passtime I enjoyed and now I know that I can do it again . . . hopefully in the near future.

Lockdown has forced me to cook more and that’s a good thing. I’m enjoying watching Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson on Portugal’s mixed Portuguese and English food channel, 24Kitchen. Not just for enjoyment (most of the Food Network these days), these are shows where you can watch, listen and learn. I’m having fun duplicating recipes with my own twist. I don’t write them down, I wait a day or two, let it churn in my head a bit, and then give it a try. I’ve come up with quite a few very satisfying meals. I’m not photographing most of them — something I’ve discovered about social media: most people couldn’t care less what I cook.

I’m occasionally enjoying a virtual meal with my friend Gina. It’s not the same as sitting across from her, but it’s fun for the two of us to plan a menu, pull up a laptop, and chow down together.

The Quiet

There is a high school with hundreds of students very close to my apartment. Students hangout at a café at the base of my building, pretty much all day. A few weeks ago the government decided that all of Portugal should stay at home except teachers and school kids. So for the first few days, when the second lockdown began, I continued to hear the chatter of high schoolers from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admittedly, I resented it. Even the owner of the café was concerned about the pile-up of young people on the sidewalk. They were maskless and all over one another (well that’s what you do when you think you’ll live forever). I guess their infection rates went up and the kids are back home. I miss the chatter. It was a reminder that there is life out there in the world. Quiet is grossly overrated.

My Perspective

It helps to have a place to breathe. The view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean from my terrace never gets old. Some days the temperature goes up to 70 degrees (21C) or higher. If you’re going to have to stay home, the Algarve isn’t a bad place to be.

I’m legally permitted to exercise close to home. Long walks with earbuds and music was no longer satisfying, so I have started listening to podcasts. Wow, if you want to pass time and be stimulated while you’re doing it, this is the way to go. You have to sort through the bed stuff to get to the good ones, but once you find a few you like . . . it’s like my outdoor Netflix and they’re free on Spotify (with occasional ads). Modern Love, The Counter Chronicles, The Daily, The Daily Zeitgeist — all very interesting. Short spurts of listening are not a problem. Audio books next?

Eat. Sleep. Isolate. Repeat.: Funny Self Isolation Notebook Journal.  Quarantine Humor for Coworkers and Friends. Social Distancing Sarcastic  Quotes.: Press, Twisted Journaling: 9798639563256: Amazon.com: Books

Question of the Week:

How has lockdown changed the way you think about life?

Why Winning Might Not Be So Important

Just about everyone I know is living through relationship difficulties during this divisive time in our country’s history. In my house any conversation was fair game at the dinner table. We fought over politics, race, religion, and just about anything you can imagine. In the end, there was so much love between us, it never got in the way. Maybe that’s why despite our political differences, I am still very close to several of my family members.

Our homes are not always reflective of the rest of the world. When I was a young and I attended dinner parties, it was made clear that certain topics were taboo. My guess is that the host did not want to deal with yelling and screaming at the table, people possibly walking out, and even worse, some people never coming back. People are often hellbent on winning arguments. We’ve all been to at least one of these epic dinners.

For many of us, it’s all about winning. It’s one of those things some of us were taught growing up: “Winning is everything.”

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”

George Steinbrenner


“The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything.”

Mia Hamm

It’s Okay Not to Win (here comes the list):

  • When you’re having an argument with your boss
  • when you’re playing sports with your child
  • when you’re playing for a charitable organization and it’s more to do with making a donation
  • when make-up sex is on the horizon
  • when you have a disagreement with someone who care about
  • when you may never see the person you disagree with again
  • when getting to a win will cause health issues
  • when winning means losing your integrity
  • when you would have to lie in order to win
  • when winning means losing a friend
  • when winning means cheating
  • when losing means keeping your humility

I have this little voice in my head that tells me: winning comes at a cost and that thought stops me from doing many things — good, bad, I’m not sure.

When Winning is Fun

Winning is fun when you’re enjoying yourself; when it’s not life and death or having to go to prison for the win. I love winning a game of cards. I love when my party wins an election. I love winning at the blackjack table. I love winning a bet. I love winning a scratch-off lottery ticket. I love winning board games. I love winning a big Supreme Court Case (eg., gay marriage). I love when winning is followed by a celebration. It’s true, I love winning.

A Personal Story (I apologize if you’ve heard it)

When I worked for Dorothy Hamilton, owner of the French Culinary Institute, we used to enjoy playing Scrabble; obviously not at work.

Dorothy invited me to her Connecticut estate for the weekend. We sat by a warm fire for several hours playing Scrabble. I was a better player, but I held back because I knew how much Dorothy liked to win. Although I am very competitive, there are times when winning must be less important. About halfway through the game she misspelled a word. I looked at it and thought it best not to challenge her.

It was getting late and we had plans to go out to dinner. Dorothy excused herself to change for dinner. She told me that a friend of hers would be joining us and to answer the door when she arrived. A few minutes later the doorbell rang and when I went to the door, it was the actress Christine Baranski. She was gorgeous and gracious; it took every ounce of restraint not to gush. I welcomed Christine into Dorothy’s home. She asked me where Dorothy was and walked over to the fireplace where our Scrabble board was set-up.

Christine Baranski - Wikipedia

“Playing Scrabble?” She uttered.

“We are,” I replied.

“Well, one of you spelled a word wrong.” Christine pointed at the board and sucked her teeth.

I told her that I knew that it was misspelled; however, I requested that she keep it between us. She asked me why and I told her that I didn’t notice it until it was too late and besides, “I work for Dorothy.”

Dorothy called Christine’s name from upstairs and runs down to greet her. It didn’t take long for her to confront Dorothy.

“Dorothy, you spelled a word wrong and Chris is afraid of you.”

I kept my mouth shut and Dorothy looked at me and said,”Why didn’t you challenge me?”

I lied and told her that I didn’t realize it was misspelled while we were playing. I’m fairly certain she didn’t believe me and she teased me about it for a long time. About a year later we were at a Manhattan restaurant and she brought it up.

“Are you afraid of me?”

“Yes,” I said, “you can be intimidating and besides, you’re my boss.”

I promise you she said the following:

“It’s okay with me if I intimidate you.”

I believe that sums her up. I stand by my decision to sometimes allow Dorothy to win.

By the way, Christine Baranski was charming, funny and great company. I believe she kept Dorothy honest and that was a good thing for the rest of us. (A tragic car accident took Dorothy a few years ago.)

An aside: Joan Rivers joined us at our table at the restaurant that night. I loved Joan Rivers, so that was a huge thrill. I just have to say, in person Joan’s plastic surgery made her pretty scary to look at — her face like a porcelain doll; the rest of her old and wrinkled.

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Travel

I am booked on a trip to Cuba beginning February 18; five days in Varadero and four days in Havana. I’m not sure the trip will actually be a go, but it’s insured, so I’m not too concerned. It will require that I take the COVID-19 test a minimum of three times, but I think it’s a small price to pay. I’ve been trying to get to Cuba for quite awhile. Now that I have a Portuguese visa, I am able to go. “If not now, then when?”

Planned Trips: Toulouse in April, the United States in May, Lyon in June, Bristol in July (rescheduled from March), a Mediterranean cruise in October, and five Asian countries in January 2022 (rescheduled from January 2021). Sometimes I choose to fly to places that I can get to on one plane from Faro. I’ve been to Toulouse and fell in love with this city — the UK is easy to get to from here and never disappoints. Asia is elusive. For some reason it is taking me ages to get to this part of the world. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that maybe I’m just not ready. I do love a carrot and I know it will happen soon enough.

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Requires Your Participation

From now on I will end each blog with a question. Your responses will help initiate future blog topics.

This week’s question:

What is one thing that weighs heavily on your mind these days?

Feel free to mention more than one thing if you like. Send it privately if you’d prefer.

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COVID-19

I woke with a bad headache today. Of course I believe I may have the virus. Don’t dare read a list of symptoms. Very early on, perhaps last February, a friend of mine said, “Before this is over, half the world will get it.” I thought to myself, how ridiculous! Now I believe she may have been right.

Gay Life in New York City in the 80s & 90s

Photo by FransA on Pexels.com

I asked and you told me: this blog request comes from a good friend. Patrick asked me to write about being gay in NYC in the 80s and 90s and so here goes.

Some people crawl out of the closet, some burst out, others start with a toe; I did it out of desperation. I have regrets, who doesn’t. This post will be more about what life was like for a gay man in NYC during the time of AIDS and paradoxically a good deal of sexual freedom. I should state up front that what I am writing is my very subjective perspective on what life was like during this time in my personal gay history. I’m going to begin by making a confession:

I apologize for holding back some of what I experienced and witnessed. Although I have been honest in my blogs, I firmly believe that some aspects of one’s life are meant to be kept to oneself. These truths about my past are not shameful, criminal, or up for debate; these truths are my truth. What I choose to share is my business and should be respected.

New York City

NYC has always been a place for decadence and tolerance. I feel fortunate to have been raised in such a place. Having done my undergraduate studies and master’s degree in the south, I returned hyper-aware of my newfound freedom. Like a kid in a candy store, I overindulged. Being who I am, I was also fairly reserved. We’re all very complicated and I am no exception. Just a few stories about the gay 80s and 90s from my perspective:

Wigstock on the Christopher Street Pier

This will not be a history lesson; therefore, I cannot tell you how Wigstock started or why it came to be. It is a dragfest. I believe it still exists, however no longer at the Christopher Street Pier. Lady Bunny, the past MC, always wears a very big blond wig and I believe she is one of the founders. She’s a rather large drag queen with a funny voice. She was and is self-deprecating and playfully cruel to just about everyone. I loved her then and I love her now.

The Christopher Street Pier was known for being a hangout for gays, drug addicts, and the people of NYC who live on the fringe. I was drawn to the place, but only during daylight when I felt safe. Wigstock allowed you to go to the Pier and express yourself openly, no matter who you were. Wigstock usually took place in the hot, humid summer, rendering all homosexuals and their allies, shirtless; often showing off defined torsos. I’m a shameless voyeur; therefore, I never missed it.

One particular year stands out: I was in my 20s, in fairly good shape, and super curious. I’ve heard that men give off some sort of scent when they’re in heat; I must have reeked. I assume this what happens when you quash your sexuality for a long time. I had overalls that I dared not wear because farmers were frowned upon in the big city. What possessed me to darn them for this event I do not know. Not only did I put them on, but I wore them commando; nothing underneath. My memory on this is weak, however, I do believe I had been dating someone who gave me some lame excuse for not being able to attend. Truth be known, he preferred his freedom over a date with me that day. He once casually informed me that he could not be with me 24/7. Had I known better, I would have dumped him then and there.

So there I was at Wigstock in a sea of sexually charged gay men, feeling resentful and vulnerable; I wanted revenge. What better way to get back at that jerk than to attract a far more fetching suitor. I arrived at Wigstock unfashionably early — not uncommon for me. I believe there may have been some sort of leather festival the same day. I wouldn’t swear by it because I tend to mix-up my gay events. No matter, I do recall lots of men in chaps showing off my favorite body part. There has hardly been an exposed derriere I have not admired.

This one fella caught my attention about an hour after I had arrived. He was young and fetching and I felt bold in my revealing overalls. I introduced myself to him after a few minutes of shameless flirting. He was friendly enough, but also somewhat aloof; typical gay man in New York City — you could say hello, perhaps even share a few moments of intimacy, but beyond a first name and country of residence, you dare not get too close.

Knowing he could quickly disappear into the crowd, I suggested we go to my place. He agreed; however, making it clear, 30 minutes tops was about all he could spare. This was a tenuous hook-up at best. As we walked on Christopher Street I noticed his eyes and thoughts were elsewhere. I stopped and asked him if he was certain that he wanted to do this. He hesitated for a few seconds, hence I knew this wasn’t meant to be. I made an excuse about forgetting my roommate would be home and he shrugged. Disgusted with him, gay men in general, and the whole fucking world, I went home. I dare say, this sort of thing happened to me repeatedly.

Out at New York University

Two situations of significance occurred while I was studying and working at NYU. I was a full-time Resident Manager in the 90s and I was completely open about my sexuality. At the time I was dating and enjoying NYC gay life.

The Associate Director of my department was gay. He pretty much had a stick up his ass and not many people liked him. I mostly avoided him and hoped that he would avoid me. At the end of resident assistant training, we would have a celebratory party with skits from each residence hall, eating and non-alcoholic beverages. The staff from my building were mostly film or theater majors; very creative and very bold. We planned a skit where I would play a female role. I honestly never felt comfortable in drag; I thought I was way too masculine to pull it off. I agreed to do it if I could wear a colorful wig and no makeup. We performed, got lost of laughs and that was that. The next day I was summoned to the Associate Director’s office (I’m not using his name because I believe he died a tragic death a few years ago). He was angry about my performance. He said it was one thing for undergraduates to behave this way, but completely inappropriate for a professional to perform in drag. I stayed very quiet for fear of saying something I would regret.

When I asked him if we were done, he said, “How can I help you find another job.”

I will never forget those words because they cut through me like a sharp knife. I had never been asked to leave a job in my life (since then I have one other time). I got up from my chair and walked out. He never brought it up again and I remained employed for Residence Life at NYU until I decided to move on. I think he was jealous of my legs.

The second situation was harder for me to swallow. After six years of doctoral study, it was time to complete my dissertation. My study looked at tolerance and exposure to homosexuals. My random sample were a percentage of freshman undergraduates from each school at NYU. I had to write to the school Deans in order to get permission to send out a questionnaire to their students. Every school except the Stern School of Business agreed to the study. I was devastated by this decision and went before my dissertation committee with the news. Apparently, the Stern School was concerned that their students might be offended by my survey. My committee was angered and disheartened, however, not surprised. They approved the student sample without the students from Stern. The whole ordeal just made me more determined to succeed and prove to the Stern School that none of the students (over 300) involved were offended by my questions. At the end of my study I was happy to report that there had not been a single complaint about the survey. In the end I failed to prove that exposure to homosexuality made one more tolerant. My committee agreed that had I been able to track students throughout their undergraduate studies, I would have proven that the longer one is exposed to homosexual individuals and a gay lifestyle, the more tolerant that individual would be. I learned that working on a dissertation is more about learning how to do research than proving your hypotheses.

Hard to believe we are talking about the 90s in New York City. Young people today have no idea what life was like just a short time ago. Just as I have no idea what it was like before my time. In some parts of the world, there is still little or no tolerance; this makes me sad and angry.

The Bar and Club Scene

First let me say there were lots of choices. Depending on where you were in the city, you could choose a fairly close gay bar or club. Many of the bars had a drag night or several drag nights. I always found the crowd to be friendlier when drag shows were scheduled — perhaps it loosened people up. There was one very large and contemporary bar near Union Square that stood out among the rest; they had a large stage where they featured beautifully sculpted men showering. I imagine that they sold a higher volume of cocktail when these shows were going on.

These places notoriously had back rooms where gay men were known to have fun. AIDS changed all that for gay men. Unsafe sex was killing thousands of New Yorkers and had to be prohibited in public places. I had moved back to NYC during the height of the devastating effect of AIDS. I witnessed a robust bar and club scene practically come to a halt. As AZT and protease inhibitors were introduced, the scene slowly re-emerged, however, it was and never will be what it was in the 60s and 70s — I will not comment on morality or blame, perhaps another blog.

The NYC Population in General

New Yorkers are a very unique and special sub-population of the world. I think it has a lot to do with cramming 8.5 million people from all over the world into a tiny space. If you did not or do not develop a certain amount of tolerance for different cultures, you were and are most certainly not at home in NYC. That doesn’t mean that homophobia did not exist in the 80s and 90s. There were certain parts of the city that were considered unsafe for gay people. There were reported gay bashings where gay people were killed or seriously injured. I was careful; going to and from a nightclub in the wee hours of the morning, could be scary. I never carried more money than I needed and the only jewelry I usually wore was a cheap watch.

To be honest, most of the time I felt very safe and somewhat invisible. New Yorkers were busy people going about their daily lives. I don’t think they paid much attention to me; my sexuality, where I was going or what I was doing. I never before felt that kind of anonymity and freedom in the south and I certainly do not feel that way now in Portugal. New York City draws people from all over the world; people who want to be themselves, without fear of ridicule or persecution. That is how it was then and that is how it is now. There is no city anywhere like it. I was born a New Yorker and I will die a New Yorker. Most of my fellow New Yorkers feel the same way.

I did quite a bit of volunteer work to help the LGBT population further the cause and gain the rights that we justly deserved; however, I was not an activist. I have no regrets about this, we all choose our own paths. Because I was immersed in the world of academics, I personally knew scholars, literary giants, speakers, and journalists who were activists and moved the needle for gay rights in this country. For this, I am grateful to have lived during this time and I feel fortunate to have resided in New York City.

Articles

High Jinks and Hard Knocks: New York in the 70s, 80s, & 90s: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2018/feb/27/new-york-70s-80s-and-90s-carrie-boretz-in-pictures

The Queer History of NYC

New York Narratives: How NYC’s LGBT Scene Changed One Queens Native’s Life

One of the writers/scholars I was happy to know and work with (on Amazon):

Has the Gay Movement Failed?

by Martin Duberman | Jun 8, 2018


Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary

by Martin Duberman | Sep 8, 2020


Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community

by Martin Duberman | Mar 13, 2009


Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America

by Martin Duberman | Jun 4, 2019


The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988

by Martin Duberman | Mar 6, 2018

I was also privileged to know and spend time with Larry Kramer, whose work is much more difficult to digest.

Laurence David Kramer was an American playwright, author, film producer, public health advocate, and LGBT rights activist. He began his career rewriting scripts while working for Columbia Pictures, which led him to London where he worked with United Artists. Wikipedia. Born: June 25, 1935, Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States Died: May 27, 2020, Manhattan, New York, United States. SpouseWilliam David Webster (m. 2013–2020). MoviesThe Normal HeartHow to Survive a Plague.

The Normal Heart changed how I viewed the world and gay culture.


Quieting The Mind

I don’t know about you but I have a brain that just doesn’t shut down. I have discovered a few ways to help quiet it down:

  • meditation — there are several methods. What works for me is to allow my mind to go wherever it wants to go for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • journaling — moving it from my brain to paper is very effective
  • talk ideas/concerns/frustrations through with someone else
  • walk or exercise
  • read a novel
  • play time or quiet time with your pet
  • a good film
  • listen to music
  • focus on positive thoughts
  • volunteer work

So long as you do not judge me, I’ll tell you where my crazy thoughts go when unmonitored or bridled:

  • Trump and the damage he has done (continues to do) to the world
  • In some ways I am more concerned with those who believe Trump’s rhetoric and support him.
  • people who disappoint
  • family that claim that they want nothing to do with me because of my politics. I know it has more to do with the fact that I stand by my truth. Oh how I wish I could name names.
  • money
  • COVID-19
  • climate change and what we are doing to our planet
  • people who do not recycle or pick up their dog shit
  • people who live in my building and refuse to pay their condo fees . . . and get away with it
  • arthritis in my shoulders
  • prostate (especially at 3:00 a.m.)
  • what happend at the Capital this week kept me up all night

You can see why I would rather stay focused on positive thoughts. I imagine you might have similar demons.

Resources:

Tasting Page piece (click for article) — 17 Ways . . .

https://www.tastingpage.com/blog/how-to-quiet-your-mind

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Future Posts

I’ve been thinking about where I intend to go with my blog in 2021. I tend to mix it up: lessons I’ve learned, past experiences, and fictional stories. If you can let me know if you have a preference, I would appreciate it.

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I was interviewed by Agatha Khishchenko, a podcaster out of Brooklyn (on Spotify); check it out here:

A couple of corrections: my first professional position at Hofstra University was Coordinator of Student Activities in Residence Life (not Director as I stated in the interview). Also, I taught classes at Hofstra and Marymount Manhattan College (not NYU where I did my Ph.D.). I want to make sure my answers are correct.

Just Fantasy

Let’s Play a Game, Shall We?

It is the end of 2020 and the start of a new year. I seldom allow my imagination to take over; it’s a control issue. Considering my sudden willingness to play this little game with myself, I thought I’d see where it goes and I’m hoping you’ll join me:

A Little Background Information

I’m 61 years old, single, gay, living abroad, Ph.D.in Higher Ed. Admin., sort of retired (I blog), childless, divorced (married to a woman for five years), mostly male, 6′ tall, 195 pounds, healthy, and well-traveled. I share these facts more as a reminder to myself. If I am to play this game, it’s important that I am acutely familiar with myself. I know, get to the darned fantasy.

Fantasy defined:

1.the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things (Google dictionary).

This exercise is more about stretching the mind without too much concern for where it might take me — it is fantasy after all. There are all sorts of restraints and rules we impose upon ourselves; for today at least, I am ignoring all of them.

The Fantasy

Set-up

I am healthier than I was at age 60, 50, 40 even. My mind is sharp. Although not religious, I am spiritual. I do believe we possess a soul. My conscience guides me. Human beings are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for, and so, I allow myself to dream big. My strength and determination are powerful traits I consider personal commodities. I am loving. I am sentimental. I feel tremendous disappointment. I am often angry. I am not superior. I am not always honest with myself and others — that’s about love and self-preservation. Laziness has prevented me from realizing my potential accumulative intelligence. I am silly at times. I am often humorless. I am overly cautious to the point of suffocation. I get in my own way. My perceived flaws are my obstacles. In other words, I am human.

For the purpose of this exercise, only my strengths, skills, and positivity, prevail.

Plunging Right In

Sorry this took so long, many powerful inner voices urging me not to go further. Here goes:

The year is 2021 and I am standing at a river’s edge in a beautiful French city. The clouds are white and fluffy, the sun is shining, it is warm, but not hot. There is little to no humidity. A slight, pleasant breeze makes the leaves flutter and drowns out the sound of cars and dogs barking.

I took this photo in Toulouse, 2019

My mind is free of all thoughts, save for admiration for the beauty I am witnessing. My breathing is slow and purposeful and I feel very much alive.

A man approaches. He is smiling; you know the ear-to-ear smile that is real and conveys common sense wisdom. He looks straight into my eyes and says, “Bon jour.” He radiates maturity, yet he seems young at heart. I don’t know why I trust him, but I do.

I smile back and say, “Good morning.”

“You are American,” he remarks without judgment.

“I am. Is that a bad thing?”

He laughs and tells me his name, “I’m Peter.”

“Not Pierre?” I’m schoolboy nervous and I sound silly. “I’m Chris.”

He subtly lets me know that he is trying to make me more comfortable. We chat for a bit. Each of us trying hard not to seem too eager or stupid (me). Peter is in his late 40s, about four inches shorter than me, thick salt & pepper hair, fit, and handsome; not classically handsome, but confident, impeccably groomed handsome. I am smitten and I cannot hide it.

Pierre asks me if he can walk with me for a bit. I suddenly have no plans for my immediate future and I boldly respond, “Yes, please.”

There are two things I notice immediately: the first is that he always waits for me to finish a sentence; he is a great listener, and second, he sees me. I try my best to be just as courteous and present. After about 30 minutes of getting to know one another better, Pierre asks me if I’d like to join him for a coffee at nearby café. He is taking the lead, I like that. He tells me that this particular café has the best croissants in all of Toulouse. And now I know that he understands the importance of excellent food. Pierre chooses a table on the end, a bit removed from the rest; I like that too. He is soft spoken, but his English is good and I understand him perfectly. I am no longer nervous. I am also not self-conscious or cautious. I feel comfortable and content.

I decide that I need to somehow let him know that I do not want this day to end just yet. I ask him to join me for dinner at a restaurant known for its Bouillabaisse. Of course he knows the restaurant and agrees. Before we part, he asks me if I would join him for a pre-dinner cocktail at 6:00 p.m. I’m thinking something must be wrong because that’s early for a Frenchman.

He sees the quizzical look on my face and laughs, “I know that’s early, but I’m usually in bed by 10:00 p.m.”

This seems too good to be true. I don’t tell him that 10:00 p.m. is also my bedtime, instead I say, “Perfect.”

Saying goodbye to Pierre is strange. I feel as if I’d known him my entire life. Perhaps that’s what happens when you meet your soulmate. Perhaps I dreamt of him a thousand times. Perhaps it was written that at this time, on this date, our paths would cross. We both very naturally go in for a hug and hold each other longer than customary. We agree on the bar and Pierre tells me how much he is looking forward to it. I just smile and nod.

As I’m walking away from Pierre I have this feeling of complete security. There are no doubts that his intentions are good and that he will show up. I know the next few hours will feel like an eternity, but I am giddy with anticipation. I decide to indulge in an afternoon of pampering; I want my skin to glow and I want to smell fresh and clean. I feel younger than my years. I also feel taller and leaner. Of course I know that these things are not true, but I don’t really care.

I wear a crisp white shirt and navy trousers. I have my black shoes shined, I shave as closely as possible, and I imagine all sorts of possibilities. Feelings that are foreign wash over me and it feels right.

When I walk into the bar Pierre is sitting there waiting. He takes my breath away. He is happy to see me and says so. He orders two Belvedere martinis with olives. I don’t even second guess how he knows what I drink. We toast our chance meeting. He leans in to say something. The power of his whisper almost knocks me off my barstool.

“You’re making me crazy,” he says.

Before he can move away I take in his scent. He is not wearing cologne, but he has a fresh scent with a hint of jasmine. Pierre asks a lot of questions; they are not probing or offensive. More than anything he is interested in my hopes and dreams for the future. He takes in everything I say, nods and smiles. When I try to ask him questions, he tells me that we will get to him later. He quest to know me is insatiable.

We slowly walk to the restaurant where we will be dining. He frequently points out architecture and everyday things I might not have noticed. At one point he grabs hold of my hand and comments on them.

“Big strong hands, I like that.”

I thank him and offer him the other hand as well. He laughs and accepts my offer. I’m tempted to ask him if he’d prefer to skip dinner and go straight to my hotel room. But don’t go with my impulse, instead, I tell him that I am excited to dine with him. I want to watch him, see how he orders,drinks and eats. I am thrilled that he seems to love food and drink as much as I do. I can tell that I can learn from Pierre and I want to learn.

After dinner Pierre tells me that my restaurant choice was excellent and thanks me for one of the most delightful evenings he’s had in a long time. He asks me if he can pick me up in front of my hotel in the morning. I wonder out loud what he is proposing and he suggests that I wait and see. I am surprised that I am not disappointed about parting until morning. I retire to my hotel room feeling excited with anticipation; anticipation about morning, about the future.

Come morning I am standing on the sidewalk expecting him to walk up to me. Moments later a Mercedes convertible, pulls up in front of me. It is classic navy blue with tan leather seats. He pats the seat beside him and I smile and jump in. I am youthful and dizzy with excitement. He drives off and tells me that he slept better than he had in years; I say the same. Pierre seems to know what I want, when I want it. He speaks and listens. He occasionally gently lays a hand on my thigh. Nothing matters save for this moment.

We come to a field covered in lavender. There are mountains all around us and I no idea where I am. He tells me the name of this small town; it is his birthplace. He reaches in to the back seat of the Mercedes and pulls out a covered basket and a blanket. He lays the blanket on a patch of lavender and motions for me to join him. “Pierre, are you courting me?” He just smiles and opens the basket. He covers the blanket with all of my favorite French delicacies. The night before he got me to share my favorites without my noticing.

While we devour lunch, Pierre tells me that he’s never met anyone like me and that he wants to know everything about me. I tell him I feel the same way about him. He occasionally goes from being very attentive and serious to revealing his more humorous side. His stories tell me more about who he is. Pierre is open; he has clearly seen and done enough to know the ways of the world. There is a soft, unjaded presence that I find refreshing and rare. The more I see of him, the more I want him. We occasionally reach out for one another, it is tender and sweet.

Pierre clears off the blanket and rests his head on my chest. He says nothing for a long time and I relish the silence. Words are not always necessary, volumes are shared without them.

Our second day is coming to an end; I propose a way for us to spend more time together. As I am getting out of Pierre’s car, I suggest we fly to The Maldives. He agrees, however, he has one stipulation: we are to purchase one way tickets.

The following morning when we arrive at the airport, Pierre lets me know that there is something he’d like to say:

“Christopher, I haven’t known you very long, but I know that I have waited a long time for us. Let’s enjoy our time. We can decide today, that today is all that matters, and that tomorrow will present itself to us tomorrow.”

I squeeze his hand and reach over to kiss his sweet and tender lips. It is our first kiss, the first of many.

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I know this fantasy is very cliché, but it is my fantasy after all. I have learned so much about what I want and who I am from this exercise. I don’t know where or when I heard the following, but I believe it can be manifested:

“If you can see it, you can have it.” I can see it.

By the way, when he pulls up in a car, it doesn’t have to be a Mercedes. Play along, create your fantasy.

Happy New Year. Let’s make 2021 phenomenal.

Realistic Fantasy, Or Fantastic Reality?

I reach to grasp, my hands pass through.
The words evade, they are but smoke.
Thought has escaped, it is far gone,
My witless mind can work no more.

Past is slowly slipping away,
Future melts into the present.
I cannot know what this may mean
For reason wanes as does my mind.

Reality fades, disappears,
As fantasy takes brutal hold
Of weakened state, then recreates
The world which I will know no more.

Colors replace the sordid grays
That stood so long in des’prate hope
This day would come, to whisk away
The mind which held me prisoner.

Anne Rhitak

Anger, Pain & Joy

Most of us feel anger, pain and joy; it’s how we navigate our emotions that makes a difference.

How many emotions can we handle at one time? One moment? One day? One week? The answer of course is many. A number of years ago I decided to begin the day by taking inventory of the many things in my life I am grateful for. Well you know how these intentions work, sometimes I stick with that goal and other times I allow other things to get in the way. I want to discuss why it is so important to stick with goals and how we can control our emotional state of being.

Why Goals Matter

“Always remember your focus determines your reality.”

George Lucas

Getting all caught up in minutia is normal and in some ways a defense mechanism. Our brain tells us that the big things in our lives (i.e., health, finances, relationships) are too big to handle, so we allow ourselves to get bogged down in the little stuff. This week I spent way too much time trying to get a refund from an airline. The Asian flight that was cancelled was a little over $100 and the airline was making it difficult, if not impossible, to get a refund. I did a little research and learned that the airline is filing bankruptcy. Chances are I will never see that money again. I thought about it when I woke-up in the morning and before I went to sleep at night. Why? I told myself that it was the injustice of it all. If I look at all the things that are important in my life, I have to wonder if it’s worth my time and energy. Letting go is a huge goal for me.

How to Stick to Your Goals

  • It’s always easier if a task (goal) is routine — same time everyday or every other day
  • Don’t make it impossible to achieve
  • You have to truly want to achieve that goal
  • Write them down
  • Review your goals often
  • Try to imagine the outcome: If you can see it, you can have it
  • Set reminders (I use Alexa)
  • Have someone close to you remind you
  • Be prepared to walk away from a goal at anytime

What Really Matters

This is tough because we often forget what really matters. Remind yourself constantly. I remind myself that what matters to me are: relationships, my health (mental, physical, spiritual), Paco (my dog), my home, and a sense of purpose. The latter being what I struggle with most.

When I look back at times in my life when I had doubts or emotional pain, what seemed most difficult to navigate were thoughts that my life might not matter. Of course on an intellectual level I know that it matters to those who love and care for me. I guess what I mean is “matter” in the larger scheme of things. Is there are reason for me to be alive? What am I here to accomplish? At the end of my life, if I get the chance to look back, will I be satisfied with what I accomplished?

What’s Next? General End-of-the Year Thoughts

You can just create goals and stop there. Once you achieve your goals, you need to come up with new ones. Evaluate your goals often: are they achievable, how am I progressing, do I need to revise my goals? Difficult questions because it means facing reality and reality isn’t always pretty.

Pushing down medical issues is dangerous and sometimes deadly. When you have symptoms you do not recognize or health related signs that something isn’t right, you cannot ignore them. It’s always better to find out what it is and then deal with it.

I have a lot of prostate cancer in my family. I’m at the age where if it’s going to be a problem in my future, therefore, I have to monitor it now. When men ignore the signs (i.e., problems urinating, blood, pain in the groin area), they may be setting themselves up for more health related difficulties in the future. It doesn’t make sense that we ignore these issues, but we often do.

I believe it’s possible to set so many goals that you become bogged down with things you are trying to achieve. I’m learning to allow the future to present itself organically. Recent events (i.e., the pandemic) have shown me that you have to be flexible and adapt to change. On the other hand, some things require planning (i.e., travel). It’s all about balance and knowing how far you can push yourself. The key for me is a certain amount of discomfort. If I become too comfortable, I begin to accept mediocrity. I become lazy and complacent. I lose the joy I long for and desire. We cannot allow that to happen for obvious reasons.

I have made myself a list (love lists) of things that I cannot allow to happen. Knowing these things to be true for me, helps me to stay on the “correct” path:

  • I cannot give up on my dreams
  • I cannot turn a blind eye to the less fortunate
  • I cannot give up on learning Portuguese
  • I cannot stop writing
  • I cannot skip the gym
  • I cannot rest on my laurels
  • I cannot allow what others think of me to hold me back
  • I cannot walk away from loving relationships
  • I cannot use alcohol or any other substance as a crutch
  • I cannot allow my love of food to lead to an unhealthy weight
  • I can never lose my integrity and self-esteem
  • I cannot allow my ego to control me

A list of the “must haves” in your life is good as well. This being human thing is not an easy challenge. We all know that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worthwhile or as satisfying.

Goodbye 2020

I was watching a documentary film this morning. It’s about a doctor who does surgeries on women to save their unborn babies. He was inspiring and worthy of paraphrase (The Surgeon’s Cut, first episode):

“It’s not the length of your life that matters, it’s how fulfilling your life is while you’re alive.”

I know others have said this, but sometimes someone says something that stays with you. This is a time of uncertainty; in fact, life is always uncertain, it’s best to live your best life today and not wait until tomorrow. Despite how awful this year has been, I am optimistic. I learned many things about myself in 2020 and I am feeling grateful for so many things. We’re all experts when it comes to fulfillment, if it works for you, it may work for someone else. Share your successes, ideas, and your failures with others. It’s a great way to affirm your truth and live with intention.

I Thought it Was the Scotch She Wanted

17 years old, naive and eager to please. Pimping myself out on the streets of Brooklyn for tips and a piece of pie.

Before you judge me, read my story. I claimed to be 18 years old, but I’m pretty certain Mr. Park knew I was lying. Back in the 70s you could sell and drink liquor at age 18. Back in the 70s there were a lot of things I could do that I cannot do now. I wasn’t quite 18, but I would be soon enough and I wanted the job badly. I altered my baptismal certificate by changing 1959 to 1958. Desperate measures . . . I was moving out of the house and I would have rent and college tuition to pay. Mr. Park said he’d give me a chance to prove myself; however, he’d made it clear that one slip-up and it was over. I’m certain he was fully aware of my actual age.

One would think that my mother’s all night poker games in the basement and the endless parade of drag queens and alcoholics, would have made me a jaded teenager, but in fact, I was quite naive; dense even. Bensonhurst was far enough away from Manhattan, that what went on globally was clearly not happening in Brooklyn. The only thing driving me at the time, was the desire to get out of Brooklyn.

The neighborhood liquor store was across the street from the subway station and although not hidden, it was somehow safe territory for the local alcoholics. The Park’s were Korean, very friendly, and way smarter than the rest of us. I recall Mrs. Park schooling her husband on how to talk to customers. I pretended not to understand, but I was intrigued by their culture and language and at times, I felt more a part of their family than my own. And to be truly honest, the meals they brought me were delicious.

My job was to stock the shelves and make deliveries. Having delivered groceries in the neighborhood for two years, I knew the streets and the people fairly well. I was the kid from that huge family on Marlborough Road. I was polite, shy, and fortunate to have inherited my father’s charm. In early days, I kept my head down and my mouth shut. I was surprised to learn how many customers wanted booze delivered to their door. I imagine some people didn’t want to be seen going in and out of the liquor store on a regular basis and others just didn’t want to carry the bottles home. Still others I came to learn, were clearly shit-faced when I arrived with their refill. I would imagine some started the evening thinking they’d just have a shot and ended up clearing out their liquor cabinet. I encountered a good deal of binge drinking and abuse, not me, the alcohol.

There were a few characters I delivered to several times a week and others, nightly. The only day we were closed, was Sunday. Trust me, if it wasn’t against the law in New York State to sell from a liquor store on Sunday, we would have been open. Thinking back, it didn’t make sense that you could open a bar and not a liquor store. There was this one customer, I’ll call him Mr. Taylor, Mr. Taylor ordered a bottle of Smirnoff vodka every night of the week. He was very quiet and always tipped me 50 cents (often a 50 cent piece). I suspect he was a raging alcoholic and afraid that if he ordered more than one bottle, he’d drink it all. I’m not judging, but that’s a lot of vodka. I worked at the liquor store for several years and Mr. Taylor seldom if ever, missed a delivery. Then there was Miss Greene. Miss Greene opened the door wide enough to stick her hand out, grab the vodka, pass me two dimes and then close the door. The stench from her apartment always made me a bit dizzy. After a year of delivering to Miss Greene on a regular basis, she offered me money to do her a monumental favor. More about that later.

There were these two very friendly men who lived in the same apartment, but they were never there at the same time. One of the two flirted with me quite a bit and once even answered the door wrapped in a bath towel. I looked up, but avoided direct eye contact. He was a big tipper, his partner was not. I always hoped the flirty one would be there to accept delivery, unfortunately it was mostly the bad tipper who usually showed up at the door. There was clearly either trouble in paradise or they had an open relationship, I’ll never know the truth.

I had dozens of regulars, but I think it was the Flannagan’s I most enjoyed. Very few customers invited me in. With most, niceties and a quick handoff was the norm. The Flanagan’s were different. This Irish couple considered me part of the family. There was usually a snack offered up and always a sweet kiss from Mrs. Flanagan. They were in their sixties, always laughing and carrying on and genuinely interested in my day. I knew they drank a lot because I kept inventory. They loved scotch, but oddly only Mr. Flanagan smelled of alcohol; Mrs. Flanagan smelled sweet (over 40 years ago and I can almost recall her scent). Mrs. Flanagan always answered the door. Mr. Flanagan was usually in his Easyboy. I remember seeing him fairly bruised-up a few times; he’d clearly fallen, inebriated and broken most of the time. Sometimes there was a third person, usually a man, usually drunk. I would be introduced as “the son.” Keep in mind this all took place in the matter of minutes, I had always other deliveries to make. I knew when they’d cashed their social security check because my tip was always doubled.

As months went by it became clear to me that Mrs. Flanagan was developing quite a crush; her lips often lingered on my cheek and her hands sometimes wandered to my chest. I would squirm away from her clutches thinking it was all very innocent; however, there was one time when she went too far. On this particular delivery, Mrs. Flanagan was more pissed than usual. It might have been during the Christmas holidays, as if she needed an excuse to imbibe. She came around her kitchen table and moved toward me. I backed myself up against the wall and put my hands up in front of me. She pushed herself on me quickly and before I could stop her, her tongue worked its way into my mouth. Mr. Flanagan warned her to back off, but she persisted. I did not say a word, pushed her off of me and ran out, this time without a tip.

I waited days for the Flanagan’s to place an order. I didn’t feel threatened by Mrs. Flanagan because I was clearly stronger and I knew I could resist her advances. I did feel guilty. I thought that perhaps I had led her to believe that I wanted her affection. When the door opened, it was Mr. Flanagan standing there with cash in hand. He said hello and quickly passed it to me. I started to reach into my pocket to give him change and he replied, “Keep it,” he then closed the door in my face. I didn’t see or hear Mrs. Flanagan that day. The tip was five and change; way larger than usual. Future deliveries to the Flanagan’s were mostly transactional. Mrs. Flanagan usually came to the door; kisses and invitations to enter were a thing of the past. I was both relieved and saddened by the state of affairs. I guess that $5 tip was guilt money.

I would often return from a delivery later than usual and the Parks would want to know why it took so long. Mrs. Park especially loved gossip and she’d try to squeeze information about our customers out of me. I made it a game. I’d be cagey at first, tease her a bit, let some time go by, perhaps a couple of deliveries, and then when I’d see she was about to explode from anticipation, I’d share a bit; perhaps what a customers apartment was like or who answered the door, Mrs. Park was jealous that I got to see a small part of their lives. I never did tell the Parks about Mrs. Flanagan, that was my secret, never to be told — until now that is.

I never did learn the first names of most of my customers. I guess an invisible wall existed between them and me. I supplied them their poison and they were grateful, but protective; grateful for my service, but protective of their privacy. So I rode my delivery bicycle through pounding rain, freezing wind, and heavy snow and they rewarded me handsomely. I made enough money part-time to pay rent and utilities, buy groceries, and save for tuition. Of all the events that shaped my experience for those couple of years, the time I spent with Miss Greene outside of her apartment was the most memorable.

Miss Greene suffered from severe agoraphobia. The idea of leaving her apartment terrified her and made her a prisoner in her own home. When she asked me to take her to the bank I had no idea that she was struggling with this affliction; nor did I know what I was in for. She offered me $20 which was surprising because she was a terrible tipper. I picked her up after school, eager to get the deed done.

I must admit I was pretty cavalier about the whole thing. I honestly thought it would all be over in 30 minutes and I’d be picking out a new sweatshirt at Korvettes. When I got to her door it was slightly ajar, which was never the case. She had on make-up which I found shocking, and a long heavy overcoat; it was early June and fairly warm. She asked for my arm and told me that she had called car service. When she grabbed my arm, I noticed her nails were long and dirty. I had to remind myself that I had a good tip coming. Miss Greene was shaking from head to toe, her lips quivered, and her nails were tearing at my skin. The walk down the two flights of stairs took over 20 minutes and at times, I was fairly certain she was going to collapse. I was strong, but I feared she’d fall and I wouldn’t be able to pick her up. When we got to the front door of the building she began to gently weep. I offered words of encouragement. I honestly wasn’t sure we could pull this off, in fact, I was certain we’d fail.

The car service driver noticed our struggle and came toward us to offer a hand. Miss Greene clutched onto me even harder and wouldn’t look at the driver. I winked at him and he seemed to understand. He asked me if Miss Greene was my grandmother and I told him that she was — I believe at that moment, she could have been my grandmother. We made it into the car. Miss Greene remained quiet and stared down at her feet. I cannot describe my feelings as all this was going down. I was filled with dread, fear, and pride. I worried for her; her fear was visceral and she seemed so tiny. The pride I was feeling had to do with the trust she had in me. I was only 18 years old, but on that day I was a man.

From start to finish, it took two hours to get the task done. The bank manager agreed to allow us to remain in the bank after closing. Everyone around us seemed to understand her pain. Up until that point in my life, I’m not sure I had witnessed that kind of empathy. The day did not get easier for Miss Greene. When we got to her door she was drenched in sweat and clearly spent. I lowered her onto her sofa, repulsed by the horrible smell in her apartment. Her sister peeked out of the bedroom door and retreated when I saw her. Miss Greene thanked me and gave me $40. It was the largest tip I ever received from one of my customers. I tried to refuse it, but it was important to her that I take it. I knew that I would never be the same. My arm remained black and blue for a week, but my pity for Miss Greene stayed with me a good deal longer. I kept my deed secret for a long time, never sharing what I had done with the Parks. When I arrived late for work that afternoon, I lied and said that I was held up at school. I felt no guilt, only sadness. Miss Greene continued to order vodka and increased her tip from 20 cents to a quarter. Her demeanor never changed and she never mentioned our afternoon at the bank. I have thought of her often since that day. I imagine her liver must have failed her at some point. I wondered which one of them went first, her or her sister, perhaps mercifully they died at the same time. I also wonder how many Miss Greenes wake up a prisoner in their own homes each day. My problems seem so small in comparison.

When I see a young person working, I imagine they might be learning the kind of life lessons I learned working for the Parks. I think, good for them, and I’m grateful for having had the experience. Life lessons are plentiful when we’re young and naive.

The truth is, Mrs. Flanagan wanted the scotch and I just happened to be there that day.

Not Everyone Has a Guilty Conscience

And Why Does That Bother Me So Much?

Which one is you?

I once wondered how some people slept at night. I would consider a monster like David Dukes for example, preaching white supremacy and inciting violence and death. It was difficult to imagine someone like him enjoying a good night’s sleep. I wanted to imagine him tortured and tormented by his own thoughts and guilty conscience. Unfortunately, he likely sleeps better than most of us.

A person that does not feel guilt or remorse would have no reason to find themselves at fault for something that they did with the intention of hurting another person. To a person high in psychopathy, their actions can always be rationalized to be the fault of another person.
Guilt (emotion) – Wikipedia

Thinking Of Others (Empathy)

Not sure, why but as I get older I seem to be paying more attention to the notion of empathy. I’m assuming I was more self-centered when I was younger and I’m pretty sure that’s normal. There do seem to be people who think of others a great deal. I’m sure it’s a combination of genetics, parenting and the environment. There has been a good deal of public discourse about this lately because of the Pandemic and U.S. leadership. I don’t believe people as a whole are any more or less empathetic than they once were.

A couple of questions to consider:

  1. Are we born empathetic?
  2. Does our compassion for one another change over time?
  3. Can a person begin to feel guilt over time?
  4. If a person does not feel guilt, what does he or she feel in place of guilt?
  5. Can you push guilt down so far that you cannot detect it at all?
  6. How are family members affected by the lack of a guilty conscience in one of their own?
  7. How can we function knowing these people live among us?
  8. How do we repair the damage done by someone who only thinks of themselves?

Thinking of Oneself

We all know people who never think of anyone else save themselves. Call them selfish, narcissistic, self-absorbed, vain, or whatever label you want to put on them; labels these people often deserve.

Portugal’s social democracy is a reminder to me that the desire to care for those who cannot care for themselves or do not have the same advantages, is a very noble way to live. The middle class is much larger in Portugal than it is in non-social democracies. It’s not that wealthy people do not exist, it is just a fact that there are fewer extremes: wealth and poverty. Does that mean that Portuguese people care more about other than Americans do? I don’t believe that is necessarily true. The country went from a dictatorship to social democracy. People in Portugal and other dictatorships (i.e., Spain and Germany) were ready to embrace the idea of more equity and services/programs provided by the government.

I don’t want to get into a debate about what is better for society. What I do know is there are fewer homeless, everyone has access to healthcare, no one has to go hungry, groceries are more affordable and therefore, people have easier access fresher and healthier foods.

I like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but I assumed neither would be the democratic candidate because the U.S. is nowhere near ready or open to socialism. Tribalism and an every “man” for himself attitude is pervasive in the States and it is only becoming more the case as each day passes. I don’t have an answer for it, however, I do believe a catastrophic event could change people’s attitudes. The Pandemic does not appear to be that event.

Is it Possible to Change?

I think it’s possible. I believe that someone who never felt guilt or empathy, can start to think and feel beyond their own lives. What I’ve noticed thus far is this: there almost has to be a catastrophic event in a person’s life in order to shake them up to the point of change. For example, a guy who has been selfish and self-serving who meets a wonderful woman who is willing to overlook all of his flaws, falls deathly ill. She has a horrible cancer that kills her slowly and she suffers with pain she cannot hide. This man watches the person who loves him unconditionally, waste away. During this time he can either play the victim and blame God or everyone else, or he might slowly realize that he is losing, or has lost, the one person who would tolerate his flawed character. He might miss her to the point of finally recognizing that the good in her could possibly save him from himself. I know this sounds far fetched and unrealistic; however, I’ve seen a glimpse of hope on a couple of occasions. The question is, would it last for that individual? Sometimes I guess it might.

My Wish

I stopped being Pollyannaish a long time ago. It’s a sure-fire way to set yourself up for disappointment. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be optimistic and realistic. What I want is a slow and steady move toward a better world for all of us — now and in the future; a world where humanity as a whole considers the well-being of all of humanity.

Climate change is a big one for me; I think about the planet and what we are doing to destroy it. Many of us would not be affected by future catastrophic events, but that shouldn’t matter to any of us. What we are passing down to our children and their children, should matter. Those who are in denial who deep down think it will not effect them personally, are the worst among us.

Resources:

Why Do We Feel So Guilty All the Time?

Are There People Who Feel No Remorse?

Why Shame and Guilt are Functional for Mental Health

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