Missing in Italy

Sometimes I shake my head wondering: did this really happen?

Advanced Italian Cuisine
Alma, an Italian Cooking School outside of Parma, Italy
Education Fee's

I’ve waited for quite awhile to tell this story. It’s a rather sensitive matter, therefore, I will use almost all fictitious names to protect those involved. There are people in this story who were supportive, sympathetic, and brave and then there are the rest. I should start by saying that the entire matter was surreal for me. As I went through the motions and experienced it, I felt as though I was on the set of a movie shoot; none of it seemed real, and all of it bizarre. What I know for certain, is that it happened and it changed me.

Searching for a Needle in an Italian Haystack

It was an ordinary day at The International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York City when I received the call. At the time, I was School Director and Dean of Student Affairs. The year was the early 2000s. I had worked with others to create an Italian cooking training program in Italy. Students would start their training at ICC and then travel to Alma in Colorno, Italy for the final six weeks of their training. I had traveled to Colorno (by way of Milan) several times. Our relationship with the staff in Italy was solid and the student experience was exceptional. I was proud to be a part of a very unique cooking school experience. Most of the students were in the 20s and 30s; very mature and focused.

We did several rotations a year and enrollment was better than expected. I was the administrator-in-charge of the program; however, there were over ten faculty and staff members doing the real work of executing the experience. The cost of the complete course was close to $50,000 and because part of it was overseas, there were many moving parts. My father was born in Italy; in many ways, it felt as if I had come full-circle in my Italian heritage. While I worked with others to create the program, I learned a lot about regional Italian cooking, its rich history, and I got to try every dish taught. In addition, I was a proud judge during finals in Italy on several occasions.

Francesca (her real name) was my contact person at Alma. What we were about to experience created a bond and lifelong friendship born out of a terrifying situation. Francesca’s call about one of our students in Italy, continues to make me anxious all these years later. There are deeply felt emotions that are never lost and never leave us.

“Chris, I need to tell you something, but I don’t want you to worry too much.”

My body tensed and I stayed quiet and I listened.

“One of your ICA (at that time we called the program Italian Culinary Academy) students has disappeared.”

Francesca was not an alarmist and she took care of nearly any incident on the Alma campus, so I knew this was serious. Sal was gone for two days and no one had heard from him. His passport and toothbrush were still in his room and there appeared to be no foul play. Administrators at both schools agreed that he had probably met a girl and he was with her on a sun drenched beach. Sal’s friends and classmates didn’t believe that was the case and this caused great concern. Apparently, there were witnesses to an argument outside of a bar the night before he’d gone missing; in fact, the last time Sal was seen. The argument was between Sal and several locals. Some students speculated that the argument was over a Russian girl from the bar, but no one was certain. Francesca and I agreed that Sal’s parents should be informed. She was also going to call the Colorno carabinieri (local police).

I quickly booked a flight to Milan, packed a small bag, and headed for JFK. Alma had a car pick me up in Milan and I attempted to rest my eyes and calm my brain on the 2.5 hour drive to Colorno. It had been 16 hours since hearing from Francesca and by this time, I imagined all sorts of horrible scenarios. Growing up in Brooklyn during the 60s and 70s made me tough, street smart, and terribly jaded. Film and murder mysteries didn’t help.

Riccardo (head of the school) and Francesca met me at the school when I arrived. There was no news from Sal and everyone was thinking the worst. Sal’s parents were on their way from the States and Francesca was arranging their accommodations. Jet lag was helping make a bad situation untenable; my thoughts toggling between despair about what might have happened to Sal and dread concerning meeting his parents. A living nightmare and nowhere to hide.

Francesca drove me to the police station for a conversation regarding next steps. I sat with several carabinieri officers asking every question I could think of. Francesca was interpreting for me and I could tell she was exhausted and worried. The carabinieri would not confirm or deny a street argument or that there might have been a Russian girl involved.

After hours at the police station and talking with students, I headed for my hotel room to close my eyes. Francesca agreed to contact me with any news.

There was one particular bar not far from the school that was popular with the American students attending Alma. Colorno is a very small town and everyone knows everyone. There were rumors among the students a number of Russian woman were available for hire and that Sal might have owed money to one of the handlers of these woman. Administrators at Alma seemed genuinely surprised to hear that prostitution was taking place under their noses. My mind took me to dark place; imagining Sal buried six feet underground somewhere outside of Colorno.

Sal’s parents arrived the evening of my first day, however, they did not show up on campus until the following morning. By then, I had slept a few hours and I was more prepared to meet with them. Alma was very sympathetic to their anxiety and did everything possible to make them comfortable. Looking back, I was actually quite surprised by their calm and decorum. They too spent time with the local police. They also took several students close to Sal for lunch and tried to better understand where he might be.

At some point at the end of our first full day, we all met to discuss what we might do next — parents intentionally left out. Alma seemed reluctant to contact the press, for fear the school’s reputation might be harmed. I believe we were secretly hoping Sal would turn up on campus behaving as if he’d done nothing wrong.

As time passed, the street argument became more of a factor; all involved were called in and questioned by the police. The carabinieri were convinced that there was no there there. I started to feel as if there might be a cover-up and Sal’s parents were skeptical as well. Although his parents and I were in communication throughout the day during early days of the incident, I felt fairly distant from them; detached. They were understandably frustrated, tired, and concerned.

On the fourth day, none of us believed Sal would just reappear. If he had run away with a girl or decided to bail from the program, he would have taken his passport at the very least. We were all fairly certain foul play of some sort had taken place. The Italian state police were brought in after Alma’s administration began to feel as if the local police were not doing enough. Word got out to the press and just about every local and regional news outlet was covering the disappearance. When word got out that an American student was missing and there was speculation that the Russian mafia might have been involved, a search party was dispatched and the rivers and lakes in the area were dredged. I silently hoped Sal would call us to say that he’d see the reports of his disappearance and wanted to let us know that he was fine and that he was sorry for all of the trouble he’d caused. That didn’t happen, but all I had was hope.

I wasn’t sleeping very well and couldn’t help thinking that this would probably be the last class studying at Alma. One incident, completely unrelated to the cooking experience could threaten the viability of a program we worked on for two years. The pubic relations machine at both schools was working hard to highlight how positive the Alma experience was and that this was an unfortunate one-off situation. Sal’s parents were angry that the Italian police and government were not doing more to locate their son; we were mindful that they alone could potentially raise enough concern to shut us down.

His parents decided that a trip to the American Embassy in Milan might help get the Italian government to take this more seriously. I regretfully volunteered to drive them to the embassy. They sat together in the back seat; Sal’s father consoling his mother most of the way to Milan. Over two hours in a vehicle with someone crying hysterically is not easy for the person at the wheel. I didn’t say much for fear of saying the wrong thing. I tried my best to be supportive and reassuring. I didn’t think the people at the embassy would help, but it wasn’t my son who was missing.

When we got to the embassy it was a well-guarded fortress. I dropped them off as close as I could get to the entrance and parked the car. Just as I arrived they were being escorted in. The guards told me that only the parents would be allowed. I called for Sal’s father and he walked over and apologized. He knew that I would be staying in Milan that night and flying back to the States the next morning. It had been a full week since Sal had gone missing and there was nothing more I could do in Italy. Sal’s father agreed to call me if they needed anything and we said our goodbyes. I felt very sorry for Sal’s parents and I was exhausted.

I recall making a call to Gary, ICA’s president, that afternoon and becoming emotional on the phone. The fear of learning that a dead body was found was becoming more and more real. Gary, as always, was extremely supportive and grateful. He and the rest of the staff at ICC were hoping for the best. He asked me to remain calm and to get home safely. The administration at Alma was also very supportive and assured me that they would do everything possible to find Sal. I flew back to the States the next morning.

Time passed and still no word from Sal. His parents stayed in Italy for a couple of weeks and then returned home when hope of finding him had diminished. They became angry, resentful, and blamed both schools for gross negligence. They claimed that we had placed their son in an unsafe environment. Sal’s brother publicly posted a scathing letter, claiming the school was completely negligent. Threats of a lawsuit were being bandied about. The students in Italy had gone on with their studies hoping to complete the program. I had all but given up hope.

Graduation at Alma was scheduled a few weeks out; I knew it would be best for be to return and attend. When I arrived on campus, the students, whom I had stayed in contact with, greeted me warmly. They all assured me that the ICC was not to blame for Sal’s disappearance. We all wondered if this great mystery would ever be solved. I met with the local and state police for an update — there was none. Still much speculation that there was foul play, however, the guilty party or parties, had not revealed themselves. I returned to New York having lost quite a few pounds and feeling like I’d let a lot of people down.

Thanksgiving came and went. Each day brought less talk of Sal’s whereabouts. My emotions had gone from remorse to sadness to anger; acceptance was not within reach. Then, out of nowhere, shorty before Christmas, a call from Francesca in Italy, Sal had been located. He had joined the French Foreign Legion. Apparently, when you join, you leave behind the material world and those you once cared about; some join to escape their lives. Sal somehow managed to slip a note with his parents telephone Number to an Asian guy who was leaving the Legion and had agreed to make a call. It was the best Christmas gift of my life.

There are several takeaways from this life event that are forever etched in my brain. First, Sal’s family never apologized for their treatment of the two schools. They blamed us for Sal’s disappearance for months and when he turned up, not one of them came forward to acknowledge they were unfair and had hurt several good people. Lastly, when Sal left the French Foreign Legion he did not contact me to explain himself, apologize or thank me or the ICC for trying to find him. Oddly, I didn’t care. It bothered others at the school and it made several people in my life angry, but I had something far more important to me, I had peace-of-mind and Christmas that unfortunate year.

Disclaimer: This incident occurred over ten years ago, therefore, I cannot swear by every detail outlined in my accounting of the story. Due to the seriousness of the situation and my own personal involvement, I can only vouch for my own recollection of what took place.

Flag of legion.svg
The French Foreign Legion Emblem

The Pitfalls of Entitlement

The World Owes Me Nothing

I have to preface this blog with some very strong feelings: I write from a place of disgust. The number of wealthy Americans is greater now than it has ever been. I believe in capitalism and I think money is a legitimate incentive for working hard and being productive. My issue is with greed and what it does to people.

About 7,647,278 US households earn $2 million or more, covering about 6.07% of American households. 4,665,039 US households earn over $3 million or more, covering about 3.70% of all US households (Spendmenot).

We all view the world from a different lens. The haves and the haves not dilemma has been debated since the beginning of civilization. I have some very strong feelings about extreme wealth and what that means; however, the purpose of my rant this week is more about entitlement and how it plays out in society.

What is Entitlement

entitlement: the fact of having a right to something.

  1. the amount to which a person has a right.

2. the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.

It is #2 that I am addressing today.

What I Observe

As I navigate through life, I have observed entitlement at its ugliest. Unlike others who believe it is worse now than it ever was, I believe it has been a big part of American life for a long time. Because I’m traveling more now, I do witness it quite a bit. Fortunately, I live in a place where I see more equality than anything else (Faro, Portugal). The premise of social democracy is that all human beings have the right to fulfillment of their basic needs: food, shelter, and medical treatment to name a few. To me this translates to compassion, empathy, and the sharing of resources. The “every person for themselves” mentality is dangerous and divisive.

How Some People Live With Themselves Keeps Me Up at Night

Extreme greed and the thinking that one person somehow deserves special treatment over another, rattles my core. I understand the concept that money buys certain luxuries and I believe that hard work should enable a person to enjoy the good things life has to offer. However, that does not mean, for example, that the rich should have the first access to a COVID-19 vaccine or that they should go to the top of a list for an organ transplant.

What Can Be Done About It

This is obviously a very complicated problem because it involves human beings. People are not going to suddenly stop believing they are entitled to certain privileges and the businesses and corporations providing these privileges will continue to do so. Unfortunately, I don’t think this issue is going to go away, but we as individuals can do something about it. The every “man” for himself mentality does not sit well with me and I can’t help feeling badly for those who struggle to put food on the table while others worry about what’s in their goody bags.

What I’m Doing About It

Assessing who we are and how we interface with the world should be a constant consideration. You’d have to forgive yourself for being subjective, after all it is your life you’re judging. It is for this reason I occasionally check-in with people I trust. For example, after a night out with friends I might ask what they thought about my interaction with wait staff at the restaurant or what I was like with a new person who just joined the group. I preface the question by telling them that I am working on my communication skills. I think in this situation, most friends or close family members will be honest; sometimes brutally honest. I was once told that I was way too chatty with people I didn’t know. “They don’t have time for your banter Chris.” I wouldn’t call that entitlement and I don’t believe it’s something I can change (or want to change).

Another thing I’m doing that is somewhat more delicate: calling out people around me that are behaving as if they are entitled. I am going to generalize here: people who behave as if they have a God given right to special treatment or privilege are usually the very same people who blame everyone but themselves for all of the issues in their lives or often, people who cannot understand why they are not well liked or respected.

For My Part:

I can afford to do some things that would put me first in line, but because of what I stand for, it’s best for me to keep the money in my pocket:

  1. I do not pay to use the first class lounge at the airport (if it is given to me, I’d use it — does it make me a hypocrite?).
  2. I do not pay for Fast Track security or boarding at the airport.
  3. I do not try to jump the line no matter where I am.
  4. I make reservations whenever possible.
  5. When in line to exit a highway, I do my best not to allow others to exit before me. There are people who never wait in line, they attempt to muscle their way right to the front — drives me mad.
  6. If I see someone trying to jump the line, If I can, I speak up.
  7. I do not participate in entitlement programs.

There are some incentive or enticement programs that are harmless and legitimate; programs that do not impact other people.

This Happened Recently

I was staying at a hotel in Madeira this past week and this happened: At the hotel bar ordering a cocktail and the menu was open in front of me. I was asking the bar person if she made non-frozen Margaritas, because the menu only listed frozen Margarita. The bartender was about to answer my question and a gorilla stepped up:

“I know what I want, can I have a Shirley Temple?”

It’s five days later and I still cannot believe this happened. Even if I was taking time to make up my mind, which I wasn’t, I still cannot imagine someone having that much nerve. To the bartender’s credit, she told the guy to, “please wait.” Can you imagine what he is like everywhere else? I’m sure I was red in the face, but since the bartender set him straight, I kept my mouth shut. I decided then and there, that there was no helping this man.

Having scruples and doing “the right thing” is absolutely a good thing, but I find myself way too caught up in it — thinking about it way too much. It seems that being empowered to do what I can as a individual is my only recourse, but being righteous has its pitfalls too.

Life Advancer on Twitter: "Just Pinned: Self Entitlement Quotes. QuotesGram  #lifeadvancer #quotes | Please ReTweet This | via @lifeadvancer… "

My thoughts are with the family of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; a woman whom I and many admired and respected. May all that she fought for not be in vain. I’m hoping her passing inspires many of us to be our best selves. A toast to you Ruth: a truly magnificent human being.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Consumer Frustration

You Can Either Win or Give-in: Choosing Win

Always remember that your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come.

Anonymous

At first I thought: are you really going to start pissing and moaning about anything other than our collective health and well-being? The answer is: yes I am. Keep reading if you are a frustrated consumer:

I consider myself a demanding consumer. I worked hard for what I was able to put away and when I’m spending money, I deserve nothing less than what I am paying for — whatever that may be. I’m going to address the way companies are handling customer service during the COVID-19 crisis. What was it like pre-virus and what is it like now? How are small businesses handling customer service? What has changed for consumers? What will this lead to? Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? How you can come out on top.

I write this piece as an older (not old), middle income consumer. I do not have the luxury of spending without giving thought to value and price. I’m not sure all that really matters; when you’re purchasing, you deserve a fair and reasonable response from the merchant or business you are dealing with, when something goes wrong.

Corporate Customer Service

Corporate culture in the U.S. centers around entitlement and political favoritism. If you follow the money, you’ll easily determine why they’ve been getting a pass and who gave it to them. Tax breaks, deregulation, Super Pac money, and corporate donations, all point to greed and screwing the consumer. How do you fight the big guys (yes, they’re mostly men)? All we have today is social media. Mainstream media is in the pockets of big business, making it difficult to rely on calling them or holding them accountable in the news. In truth, big business knows that they can lose millions in a 24 hour period if an embarrassing misstep were to occur. Consider posted videos in Walmart, Target or KFC, for example. Use social media to your advantage. I’ve gone so far as to send corporations a draft of what I might post or blog. It doesn’t always work, but it can be very effective.

Two short stories:

  • First: EasyJet cancels my flight and offers either a refund that you have to formally request or you can take a full credit voucher and an in-flight Bistro voucher (value $5) as a “thank you” for choosing the voucher. You get the credit voucher and you cannot book on-line, you must speak to a representative. You get the in-flight voucher; however, in order to redeem it for actually in-flight Bistro credit, you have to print out a form, complete it and then wait 30 days for the in-flight Bistro credit. I’m sorry but this is bullshit. When the airline cancels a flight, you should get an automatic refund and . . . if you get a thank you for taking a credit voucher, you shouldn’t have to fill out a form. Taking a voucher keeps the cash in the companies coffers. You should get the bleepin’ in-flight Bistro credit as soon as you use your credit voucher. I assume EasyJet expects most people to look at the form and delete it. Why would anyone want to fly with EasyJet again. After all this ranting, I have to say they’re still better than RyanAir. I may or may not complete the form for the inflight credit, I go back and forth; after all, it is my money.
  • Second: I contact Hotels.com because an IBIS Hotel in France cancels my reservation due to COVID and then IBIS informs me that I can only get a credit for future nights or wait for a refund (see below). Hotels.com tells me they cannot help me. I try to re-book my nights through IBIS and they are now up 40%. I don’t know why, but I thought they’d honor the original price I’d paid. They refuse to do just that, so I tell them I want a refund. They send me a regulation from the French government which dictates that they can refund me my money within 18 months of the booking; yes you read it correctly 18 months. Who the #@&*%! cares what the French government dictates, I want my money now. Companies demand to be paid at the booking to hold a reservation, however, you’ll take 18 months to return my money to me? I guess they’re hoping I die before the 18 months are up and the credit card I used to book is no longer valid. Why would I ever book IBIS again? As a side note: Hotels.com chat line is a quick and easy way to resolve issues and their reps are very understanding . . . for the most part.
From IBIS:

With reference to the French government order 2020-315, known as the “heritage order”. We must offer a voucher for all reservations canceled between March 1 and September 15, 2020. This voucher can be used for 18 months. At the end of these 18 months, we will refund you if it has not been used. We cannot refund you now.

I have many, many examples of ridiculous corporate shenanigans; I’m certain you do as well.

Small Business Customer Service

There is a special place in my heart for small businesses. Many are struggling these days and most have struggled in the past. Getting a business going is a huge risk and the hours one must put in are anywhere from 60 to 100 hours per week (firsthand information). I do whatever I can to support small businesses if and when I can. There are small businesses working hard to cash out and sell to large businesses; these businesses are less appealing to me. It’s usually the founders hoping to get rich and leave their employees fending for themselves.

Pricing is currently out of control in the States due to less competition in the marketplace. Consumers have fewer choices and they are forced to either pay more for less or get less for more.

I find customer service friendly and more accomodating with small business. There is more at stake and you’re usually not too many degrees away from the owner of the company. Often, if you can get to the owner, you’re more likely to resolve your issue. I don’t want more than I paid for, I want exactly what I paid for.

The risk of the company going out of business, is greater for small companies. Before you make a purchase, review their track record and read what other buyers have to say. The same is true for the hiring of small business professionals (e.g., accountants, lawyers, doctors). The more you take control and the more research you do, the more likely you are to come out a winner. I hired an attorney here in Portugal a few years ago who charged me five times the going rate for his services. It’s my fault because I paid it, but I will never refer him to anyone.

Frustration and Reaction

As you know I travel quite a bit. Years ago when I was in my twenties traveling to Europe (pre-Hotels.com) I noticed that a majority of the hotels I stayed in had twin beds. Sometimes they’d push them together for you and sometimes they would tell you they could not; sometimes they’d even make them up as a king (here they call this a double bed, in the U.S. a double bed is smaller than a queen, 54×75 to be exact). The truth is I hate twin beds. I’m 6′ tall and I weigh 200 lbs., a twin bed is much too small. When I sleep in one I feel like I’m 10 years old again. The first thing I do when I book is look to see if they have queen beds; fortunately more and more hotels are offering a queen. When I book a double bed, I often write the hotel to confirm. The following are the replies I usually receive:

  1. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to honor your request. When you check-in we will check availability.
  2. All special requests are subject to availability.
  3. You are confirmed for a double bed.

#1 & #2 are ridiculous. How do you put a man my size in a twin bed, especially when I am paying the same price for the room that a couple is paying. I noticed that boutique hotels are much better about either offering a queen bed or confirming a double. The point I’m making is that in 2020 with Airbnbs and other types of accomodations doing so well, hotels need to be stepping it up and offering excellent mattresses in the right size. And what’s with the crappy pillows?

I was with friends at a hotel is Vila Viçosa last week. They upgraded to a suite and their bed was so squeaky they had to move it onto the floor the second night — that’s just not right.

Choosing Win

It’s not rocket science; we all want to come out on top. In today’s world, if you do not speak up for yourself and demand excellence, you will be forced to settle for less. You have to go into every consumer situation with the knowledge that you may have to fight for what you’re paying for. This seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? We should always assume that will be be getting a quality product, excellent service, and the desire to keep a customer (loyalty). I’m afraid, for the most part, those days are over. There is so much competition for your dollar, you have to be at the top of your game. I always find it empowering to take on the big guns and win. Good luck and stay strong.

A Blind Date I’d Rather Forget

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

There were so many things that drove me crazy about my mother; wanting me to be partnered was one of the big ones. She would constantly nag me about finding the “right guy.” One day, some thirty odd years ago, I gave in to her constant badgering.

Blind dates

I was in my late 20s, visiting my family in Salisbury, North Carolina. If you have never been to Salisbury, you’ve no reason to go. I lived there in my late teens for a couple of years, and visited family after I’d moved away. I have blocked most of my time there from my memory. This memory I cannot shake.

I was sitting at the kitchen table with my relocated northern momma. It was 110 degrees with 100% humidity and my guard was down. Mom was describing her gay hairdresser and insisted that he would show me a good time. Mind you this is before camera phones; actually most telephones had a 30 foot stretchable cord. She didn’t have a photo and I had an idea that Lou (mom) was overselling. I was beaten down by the heat and mom’s insistence and finally agreed to a blind date with Beau, the hairdresser. His name made him sound sexy. Careful not to fall into that trap.

Mom made all of the arrangements . . . I dreaded night fall. She assured me that Beau had fun plans and that I was in good hands. I couldn’t imagine which Waffle House he would choose or if the local drive-in allowed Yankees in — oh yes, in the south, in the 80s, I was a Yankee. I’m cynical now, but in my 20s I was much more so and a bit rebellious.

If you know anything about my mother, you will know that she always had an ulterior motive. Sure she wanted me to be happy, but she also knew that if this set-up worked out, she’d have free dye jobs for life. Mom had four daughters who went to beauty school (that’s what they called them back then); at the time one lived in New York, another lived in Tennessee, one was estranged, and the last didn’t do the kind of dye job my mother appreciated; I’m being kind. I was fairly outspoken back then and I almost shared my suspicions about her motives. She would have just laughed and said I was right.

Beau showed up right on time. You would have thought he was my mother’s long lost son the way they gushed over one another. I won’t lie, he was handsome. He was also smelled of cigarette smoke and if I’m going to be honest, that just didn’t sit well with me. Admittedly, I came really close to claiming to have suddenly fallen ill. I even thought about sending my mother in my place.

We said our goodbyes to mom. She insisted we drive carefully and she even said, “Y’all don’t run off and get married.”

I almost had to remind her that she was born in Brooklyn, not the deep south. Why couldn’t I have had a mother who rejected my homosexuality. But seriously, I jest. I was tickled that she cared enough to set me up with her favorite gay in Salisbury. Beau hugged and kissed her and promised to get me home safely. All the while I’m thinking, two hours tops.

Beau was peppier and more southern than I would have liked. By “more southern,” I mean that he truly worked his drawl. He told me that we were going to a barbeque and that I was going to meet some of his redneck friends; he didn’t actually say “redneck.” I didn’t get the sense that he was interested in me; however, he was friendly and seemed harmless. I looked forward to meeting other gay people — Salisbury is a small town and the gay boys had been elusive.

For me, a barbeque means hot dogs, hamburgers and outdoor picnic tables; this barbeque, not-so-much. We got to this double-wide mobile home and there were three guys slouched on a torn-up sofa. They were either high or drunk and hardly noticed that people had joined them; southern hospitality my ass. I waited to be introduced, but clearly I could tell Beau’s manners were nowhere to be found. I walked over to the sofa and extended a hand. Only one of the three acknowledged my introduction; the other two were indifferent. Beau left the room to put the beer he’d brought into the refrigerator.

Have you ever been somewhere where you wanted to leave the moment you arrived? I was uncomfortable and uneasy. This wasn’t New York City where I could just make excuses and hop on the subway. I was in the middle of nowhere, before cell phones and Uber. I looked for a clean spot to sit down and I tried my best to blend in with the furniture. Beau had either forgotten that he brought me to the party or he had begun partying without me. He finally did walk into the living room with two beers. He offered me one and made no apologies for his rude friends.

I stayed seated hoping that people would arrive and liven up the party. At one point, I leaned over to ask Tim, the one who had spoken to me when I introduced myself, if he was from Salisbury.

“Yes, we’re all from here; we went to high school together.”

I wondered if he was going to inquire about where I was from, but he didn’t. In fact, the conversation ended there. I patiently sat on that disgusting sofa waiting for the party to get started . . . it never did. At one point it became clear that Beau wanted nothing to do with me and his friends were indifferent. I stopped wondering about their sexuality two minutes after arriving; there was nothing appealing about this crew. The anger I felt toward my mother for putting me in this situation still resonates. Someone had to take the blame for this.

An hour in, I decided enough was enough. I had not seen so much as a potato chip, the music was a cross between heavy metal and pots and pans clanging, and the smell had me gasping for fresh air. I walked around the house searching for Beau. I finally found him outside smoking. I approached him with a smile, hoping to disarm any resentment he may have felt for having had to drag me along.

“Would you mind taking me home?” I asked.

“What? We just got here. Relax man.”

To be honest, I didn’t expect him to instantly agree to cart me back from wherever the hell I was. I asked if there was any food and he said another friend would be there with pizza soon. Although by this point I was starving, pizza in Salisbury was inedible and there was no way I’d eat it. I started feeling anxious and self-conscious. Perhaps I was the problem; entitled, stuck-up snob that I was. I decided to try to make the best of it and use my Sociology degree to study this group of four southern men — I just observed.

It was oppressively hot and humid outside, so I decided to go back into the house where it wasn’t much better; a little less buggy if I recall. I negotiated a time limit in my head. Another hour and I was calling a taxi; that’s if I could get one to pick me up in bum-fuck nowheresville. I considered calling mom, but that would have been way too comical for this party crowd and my brother worked the night shift at the cotton mill,so he was unavailable. Perhaps Beau would start to feel sorry for me as the night wore on. I sat with a second beer and prayed for a reprieve. A reprieve never came.

I can’t say if it was close to midnight or after midnight when I had finally had enough. Food never arrived, Beau’s friends never warmed up to me, and the party goers were all baked and enjoying a different stratosphere. I asked Beau about a taxi, but he shrugged me off. It was clear he was not going to take me home or help me get home. I saw a phone on the wall, however, the address where we were was still unknown to me. I approached Tim, the one guy who would speak to me, and asked if he knew the address. He told me we were on Deer Run Road, but he didn’t know the house number. I walked outside and saw the number on the house and decided to call a taxi. I dialed information (remember when that was a thing) and got the telephone for the only cab company in town. I had to memorize the number because there were no pencils or paper, within plain view.

I miraculously got the taxi company on the phone. The dispatcher was nice enough, but he said he only had one driver that night and that he was on his way to Charlotte airport and it would be an hour or more before he could get to me. It was one of those this can’t be happening to me moments. I again thought about calling mom, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew Deer Run Road led into town and I knew we couldn’t be more than a couple of miles outside of town because of how long it took us to get there. I decided to walk; a decision I will always regret.

I left without saying a word to anyone. They didn’t deserve a goodbye and I knew a confrontation would be fruitless. I began walking in what I thought was the right direction. I walked for a long time without a single car passing me. After a while, I knew that I was headed in the wrong direction. I looked at my watch and it was after 2:00 a.m. I turned around and headed the other way. The road was dark, but the stars offered enough light so that I could see a few feet ahead . I stayed close to the edge just in case a car were to come by. I feared a car might plow me down, but I also hoped one would come and stop for me. It was hot and sticky and I walked for hours until I reached town. Downtown Salisbury is not that big and I knew where the taxi office would probably be.

First a stop at the Waffle House for a cold drink. I was hungry, but food would not have stayed down. By this point I was beyond exhausted and sort of in a state of disbelief; relieved to be out of that horrible situation and knowing I would soon be in my bed. After rehydrating and a few minutes of rest, I found the taxi companies base and had their lone driver take me to my mother’s house.

She wasn’t waiting up and I wasn’t surprised. I showered and crawled into bed. As I pulled the sheet up to cover my head, dawn was breaking. Fortunately, my mother had a loud window unit in the spare bedroom and I knew it would drown out any noise my mom would make. For a brief moment I wondered if the rednecks I left, had noticed I was gone. I vowed to myself that I would never again go on a blind date and that I would take note of where I was going when headed to a new location. This was never going to happen to me again, but cell phones have taken care of that.

I walked into Lou’s kitchen sometime after noon; she had that Cheshire cat smile she often wore. I’m not sure why I had made this decision, but I told myself that nothing good would come from telling her my date story. I waited until she was in her early 70s to share what happened. By then we had dealt with any issues that came between us throughout our lives. She was of course shocked and angry with me for not telling her back then. She told me that she would have given Beau what for.

I said, “That’s exactly why I didn’t tell you.”

We laughed and she actually asked me if I’d been attracted to him. I guess if I’m going to be honest, it was one of the things I loved about Lou; she genuinely would have been happy if it had worked out. My sexuality was not a problem for her, but being alone was.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor
Mom (Lou) with my stepfather Frank, about a year before she passed

Paco Update:

My adopted pooch has been with me for six months now. He is healthy and happy, save for a strange skin issue. As you know, I have no idea how long he lived in the woods before he was found. I know that he had numerous bug bites that pestered him long after he was rescued. I think that even though these bites have healed and he no longer has any skin issues that I can detect, he still believes something is there or biting him. He doesn’t casually itch a spot, he jumps up and attacks the area. It seems to be getting a little better as time goes by. When I see him irritated this way, I usually rub the area and reassure him that there’s nothing there. The vet tells me that Yorkie’s are prone to phantom skin irritations. Our bond is strong and the love we feel for one another is deep. I am grateful to have had a quarantine companion and a furry friend for life.

Paco the hipster

The Tough Questions

It’s so easy to push those negative thoughts down or out or cover them up with pretty frilly things; things that distract, hide, conceal. The hard questions are just that, hard.

About eight years ago my doctor and good friend, sat me down and laid it out for me . . . if I continued living the life I was living, I would die sooner than later. He prescribed Xanax and gave me very clear instructions on how much to take and when to take it. I’ve always hated taking any kind of medication; therefore, I found this to be extremely upsetting and unsettling; I argued and resisted and refused them at first; eventually caving.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The thing is, I was exercising almost daily, eating healthy foods, seeing a therapist, and talking to close friends. So why was I still so stressed.

“You can play it safe, and I wouldn’t blame you for it. You can continue as you’ve been doing, and you’ll survive, but is that what you want? Is that enough?”
― J.M. Darhower, Sempre

Because I had been in therapy for years and did not feel my life was changing (the way I’d hoped it would), I hired a life coach. Therapy was helping me figure things out and cope with my past, but it wasn’t helping me to see how I might change my current situation.

My life coach helped me to ask the big questions concerning what I wanted in my life and how to get from A to B. She didn’t just ask questions; Betsy was engaging. It was less about figuring out why I am the way I am and more about what I did and did not want out of my life. She was extremely supportive and non-judgmental. Perhaps I could have pulled myself up and out on my own, but the investment in my own wellbeing, paid off.

Questions We Need to Ask Ourselves

  • Am I happy?
  • Am I where I want to be?
  • Are people treating me the way I want to be treated?
  • Are people treating me with respect?
  • Am I being true to myself?
  • Is _____________ good for me?
  • Can I change the things I’m unhappy about?
  • What is stopping me from being my authentic self?
  • Is it worth whatever discomfort __________ causes?
  • Does it matter? Does he/she matter?
  • Is there something troubling me?
  • Is it time for change?

Quick Story

I was involved in a toxic relationship about 20 years ago. It was on and off, more off than on. I kept telling myself that he would change — the lies we tell ourselves. I’m sure you’ve been there. One day I was struggling with the stupid little shiny objects that distract us from the truth. I was sitting in a Starbucks hating my burnt coffee, my stale lemon pound cake, my life. A stranger sat next to me and started up a conversation. She was young and pretty and way too happy.

I kept thinking she would go away and let me get back to my misery, but alas, she was determined. I realized after a few minutes that she was a student at the school where I was the Dean of Students.

At one point while engaging in the usual social niceties, she saw someone walk in and she said,”I thought I just saw your wife.”

I was sort of stunned and bewildered. I questioned her about this and she responded, “Doesn’t your wife work at the school.”

After revealing my sexuality, the two of us had a good laugh. I had no idea that the students thought I was married to a staff member. It got me thinking about perception and forced me to ask myself:

How do you want to be perceived? The truthful answer I gave myself changed my life. I wanted to be perceived as an openly gay and confident man. I had a lot to work on and the questions I had to ask myself to get the work done, were challenging.

I committed to doing the work and although I admit to sometimes going backward before going forward, for the most part, I have been doing the heavy lifting for awhile now. It has been worth the effort, because although life is not perfect, I am where I want to be and I am in a good place emotionally. One can only get there by asking the tough questions.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Questions I’d Like to Ask You

Many of you contact me privately, which is fine; whatever makes you comfortable. I would like to pose a couple of questions — please answer any or all of them. I ask that you comment on my site so that others can see your response. Many will relate I’m sure. Of course I understand if that makes you uncomfortable and you choose not to. Nothing worse than feeling coerced.

  1. Does fear get in the way of making life changes?
  2. Am I putting off life goals for another time?
  3. Are these issues that worry me life and death matters?
  4. Do you feel empowered to make major changes in your life?
  5. Do you feel that you know yourself?
  6. Are you too comfortable to make a change?
  7. Is looking in the mirror just too painful?
  8. Are you making excuses?

And then there is the question I didn’t ask . . .

Goodbye Brother

My brother Anthony and me shortly before his passing

Brotherly Love

You have to have a brother to truly understand the bond between brothers. My brother Anthony was a royal pain in the ass. He was confused, angry, reckless, often the victim, funny, loving, and he was my brother. Although not diagnosed as such, we are fairly certain he was bipolar and clinically depressed. We lost Anthony over twenty years ago (June ’99) and the “what ifs” and “if I’d known” still creep into my conscious mind quite often.

I don’t want this to be a eulogy or a lesson in dealing with loss. I don’t want it to be about what was or might have been. I certainly don’t want it to be about me. I want this to be about human failure and where it takes us. How do you learn to forgive another and yourself for just being human and why is that so difficult.

Anthony died of a drug overdose. He had been clean for a long time prior, however, a major life setback sent him out on the streets to purchase a lethal dose of heroine. My sister Grace found him lifeless, needle in arm. Nobody saw it coming.

Seven years prior we were walking on the beach in Puerto Rico; a conversation that shook me to my core resurfaces periodically. My brother was about to become a father. He had been clean for a number of years and he was very much in love with his wife. He was hopeful, excited, and cautious. Toward the end of our walk he asked me to make sure that his child was well taken care of if anything happened to him. I was a bit angry that he would even suggest that his passing was a possibility. He had worked so hard to stay clean and he was my best friend. In retrospect, I can’t help but think that Anthony knew he would not live to be 40. I was dismissive, but agreeable; never thinking I would have to honor that pact seven years later.

What a Brother Knows

Your brother knows what’s in your head better than just about anyone. I’m not sure I can fully explain it. It’s a combination of sharing the same history, the same space, the same biology, similar thoughts, and love; most of all love.

My brother played by his own rules. He was always in some sort of battle — with himself and everyone else. We were as different as night and day, but we understood one another. There was a good deal of chaos and pain around us at home and we processed it differently. I shared my feelings and frustrations and Anthony kept it all in. I would say the wall is blue and Anthony would say it was green and then we would fight about it until we were too exhausted to keep fighting. I was two years older with strong opinions and most of the family on my side (or at least I thought). Anthony was probably stronger physically, however, his respect for me outweighed his strength. When he got angry, things were destroyed. We shared a bedroom up until our teenage years; the damage from his rage could be seen throughout the room. My mother seemingly ignored it and my father paid little to no attention.

Sibling Rivalry

Anthony and I were competitive in different ways. I was determined to do well academically and Anthony loved sports; he lived for it. Not only did he excel, but he was the envy of most boys we grew up with. Everyone wanted Anthony on their team and no one wanted me. My brother was aware of the bullying I was subjected to. He would fight my battles when I was out of sight. I later learned that he did not want to embarrass me because he was younger and smaller. Fortunately, I learned this early on and I could express my gratitude and appreciation while he was alive. The older brother is the one who should be doing the protecting.

Seeing Yourself

Looking at your brother, is like looking into a mirror. In Anthony, I saw my own distorted self-esteem and misguided rage. One cannot help but see similarities in the way information is processed and although you see differences as well, strong character traits have an overshadowing effect.

How can you not be shaped by the traumatic death of a sibling? One moment you are laughing and sharing life’s secrets and the next moment they’re gone. You can examine your sibling’s life and find meaning in their choices, their successes and failures, their laughter and their pain, and their love. You can learn from them and love more deeply by fully embracing their faults and failures — you are a better for having shared space on earth with them. Your brother can help you to see who you are and accept your own humanity; even after they’re gone.

Lessons Learned

Losing my brother taught me more about my own life than just about anything else I have ever experienced. Mortality is a huge slap in the face. You can temporarily ignore it, however, in the long run, you are forced to examine it. You ask yourself the big questions like: why I am still alive, does fate play a role in my future, what did he leave behind that I can learn from, and can I be a better person in his memory?

They say a parent should never have to experience the death of a child. My mother was a strong woman; drama and hyperbole were her go to responses to just about everything. She used my brother’s death as another way of getting attention. It would have been easy for me to call her on it and push her away, but cruelty is not one of my personality traits. I was patient and attentive, hopeful that the impact of his passing would ease. She eventually came to accept my brother’s death; however, the self-blame and remorse never ended and followed her to her death. She lost my sister Grace a few years after Anthony passed, but for some reason, she saw that death as a merciful one. As one can expect, losing two children made her paranoid about losing other children. I had to constantly reassure her that I was not using drugs and being safe. I was very much aware of the fact that my own death would kill her. As it is, she was a young 78 when she died and I was certain she hastened her own death in order to gain some peace.

My brother Leo and I became closer as a result of Anthony’s death. We have scolded one another for reckless behavior a number of times. Neither one of us wants to lose another brother. Our shared love of Anthony and his memory, have forged an unbreakable bond. We can never fill the void Anthony left in our lives, but we can try our best to love and enjoy our lives as a way of honoring his memory.

Anthony left behind a seven year old daughter. She is now a woman with children of her own. It would be unfair to comment on the impact her father’s death had on her life. As her Godfather, I hope life provides the answers she needs in order to understand the hows and whys that allow us to move on.

My Brother’s Presence

A number of years ago I was riding a mountain bike in a Mexican forrest. At one point as I picked up speed and became lost in the moment, I felt my brother’s arms around my waist. His strength fueled my momentum and bathed me in hope and joy. I know it was only moments, but it felt longer. That was the embrace of a soul I was fortunate to know and love. Anthony was with me that day and has been with me since the day I meet him in his bassinet 59 years ago. It is a brotherly bond that can never be severed and I am a better man for it.

Anthony to my right and below that, Anthony to the left of Leo.

Loss of Son  Sympathy Gift Father Brother or Friend  image 0

Terror in Turkey

One Horrific Night in Istanbul

An early morning nightmare I wish I could erase from my memory.

A few years ago I was presented with the opportunity to visit Istanbul. One of our French Culinary Institute graduates was opening a cooking school in the center of the city and I was invited to stay at her home and take a look at her school. I had often dreamt about traveling to Turkey and what better reason could there be to make the trip.

Whenever I travel to a city I haven’t been to, I check out the gay scene; if there is a gay scene that is. I knew of course that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and it is essentially against a Muslim’s religion to be intimate with someone of the same sex.

[The Quran narrates the story of the “people of Lot” destroyed by the wrath of God because the men engaged in lustful carnal acts between themselves.[1][2][3][4] Some hadith collections also condemn homosexual and transgender acts,[5][1][6][7] prescribing death penalty for male homosexual intercourse.[8] Homosexual acts are forbidden in traditional Islamic jurisprudence and are liable to different punishments, including the death penalty, depending on the situation and legal school.] (Wikipedia)

This knowledge should have been enough to squelch any desire I might have had to explore the gay culture in Istanbul. Truth is, I can be way too curious and extremely stupid sometimes. Hence the night I came close to losing my life in Istanbul.

This was a few years ago and I couldn’t find anything about a gay community on-line prior to traveling to Turkey. I thought I’d inquire once I settled in. I was shopping at the Grand Bazaar on my second day in Istanbul and finally met a young, friendly, English speaking man, who was working at a spice stall. I had the notion he might be gay and so I delicately approached the subject of gay culture in Istanbul. He basically informed me that it was underground, not wildly popular and not easy to find. He was aware of one particular club, but not sure about others in the city.

I should note that I did not think it was appropriate to question my host about this matter or inform her that I would be going to a gay club. We had not been friendly prior to my visit and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing personal information. For the most part, I was scheduled to be on my own in the evening.

It was Friday afternoon and I thought it might be fun to venture out and find this club while there was still some daylight, so that it would be easy to find that evening.  After walking around the vicinity of where the young man said the club would be, I found it sort of tucked away on a side street near the centre. It was closed and there were no hours on the door. I wasn’t even sure that what I found was a club. I figured I’d go at about 10:00 p.m., hoping to find it lively. When I arrived that evening, there was just one person at the door and the bartender. The bar was sparse and not at all enticing. I asked the bartender what time things got going and he just shrugged his shoulders acting as if he had no idea what I was talking about. I believe he spoke English, I wasn’t really sure.

Two hours later, a few others began to arrive. What I experienced at the club that night I have never experienced at a gay club prior. It was a pleasant enough space, one large room with a chandelier and some colorful club lights. There was a small dancefloor; unused that evening. There appeared to be one couple and then maybe three or four guys just standing around hugging the wall. I don’t recall any laughing or smiling, just guys looking very serious and holding their drinks. I’m not sure why, but I was intimidated and intrigued at the same time. At one point I questioned why in the world I was sticking around. A part of me thought that things might liven-up. I had been to clubs before that didn’t get going until 1:00 a.m. and so I thought that perhaps the culture in Istanbul was a late one.

I was dead wrong, it never got better. I decided to leave the club at about 2:00 a.m. I had not had much to drink due to the circumstances. I walked outside to find a taxi and a young gentleman followed me out. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from New York and visiting Turkey for the first time. He then asked me if I would like to walk for a bit. The streets were very quiet, in fact, they were eerily deserted. I was curious why he had not spoken to me at the club, but instead, waited until I left the bar. His English was not great,but we understood one another. He told me that he had not said hello to me at the club because he was afraid I would reject him. He appeared shy and said that he had been working up the nerve to speak to me. He also apologized for his English. I asked about the gay culture in Turkey and I could tell that he was reluctant to go there with me. He started to become agitated as I probed, and so I apologized.

We were walking without saying much for about ten minutes, when he asked me if I was interested in going back to his place for a coffee. I told him that I didn’t drink coffee at that hour, but that it would be nice to see his place. I was very curious and he was attractive. We found a taxi and went to his apartment; it was a five minute ride at the most.

When we arrived at his apartment, I began to be concerned. His demeanor changed abruptly. I wasn’t sure if he was having second thoughts about inviting me to his place or if he was possibly dangerous. When you walked into his apartment there were three guys playing some sort of game, and whatever they were smoking filled the entire apartment with smoke. He did not introduce me and took me into his bedroom. Honestly, I’m not sure we ever exchanged names. The room was small, dark and very unpleasant. This is when I began feeling very threatened. I told him that I wasn’t feeling right about the situation. I didn’t share this, but I had gotten a bad vibe from the guys in the other room. He dismissed my discomfort and told me not to worry.

The next bit came as quite a shock. He asked me for $100 dollars. It was then that I knew I was in trouble.

I said, “You should have told me that you were working. I’m not interested in paying for sex.”

He became angry with me and told me that I had to pay him because I should have known. He was insulting and incensed. I was very frightened at this point. I asked him to please just let me leave.

“No, you cannot leave without giving me $100.”

I told him that all I had was $20 (in Lira) and that I needed it for a taxi. He said he didn’t believe me and I had to empty my pockets for him. He saw that I had my ID and bankcard. He said that if I didn’t pay him, that he and his friends would beat me. At that moment, I believed him. I told him that we’d have to find an ATM machine. He agreed that we would go to a machine with one of his friends. I know that I was shaking and close to tears.

We found a machine near his apartment. I made a couple of attempts to withdraw money, but it wasn’t working. His friend kept telling me to hurry. I tried to explain that it wasn’t working, but they said that I was lying. I asked them if we could try another machine. This was my first attempt at using an ATM in Turkey. I brought Lira with me, but I left most of it in the apartment where I was staying. I have never liked carrying a lot of cash. They took me to another machine a few streets away. I was looking for the police as we hurried through the streets, but I saw no one.

I had the same issue at the next machine. I thought that I might have been so nervous that I was using the wrong pin. At this point both men were very agitated. I tried to explain that it just wasn’t working.

I pleaded, “What if I give you what I have in my pocket and my watch as well?”

They just shook their heads and said they wanted the money. I took the money out of my pocket and handed it to one of them. I tried to give them my watch, but they refused to take it. At this point they were both screaming at me in Turkish. I threw my watch at them and ran. They chased me through the streets and all I could imagine was that I was going to be brutally killed in Istanbul. I was running marathons at this point in my live and fortunately, I was very fit. I ran toward a taxi I had spotted and begged the driver to allow me to get in; he refused. I ran a bit further and I saw another driver standing on the side of his taxi.

“Help, these guys are going to hurt me.”

The driver opened his door and I jumped into the taxi. The two Turks chasing me were pounding on the window as the taxi drove away. I thanked the driver several times, but he spoke no English. I tried to tell him that I did not have money, but that I would get some cash for him when we arrived to where I was staying.

When we got to the apartment I tried to tell him again that I had no cash on me. The driver was very angry that I was not paying him; he kept repeating something in his language and pointing to his hand. There was a military soldier standing with a rifle near the house where I was staying. This was a very wealthy neighborhood and there was a soldier on almost every corner. He spoke a little English and I explained my situation. He then spoke to the angry driver. He told me that I could go in and get the money. I quickly went in to retrieve some cash and I brought it out to pay him. He angrily grabbed the money and drove away. The soldier said nothing. I often wondered if he knew what had happened to me that night.

I showered and shivered for who knows how long. Sleep was elusive. The evening kept playing in my head on an endless loop. I crawled out of my bed a few hours later and spent the remainder of the day trying to forget what had happened. I told no one. I called my bank and I was told that I had not informed them that I was traveling and so their policy was to block my account.

Let’s be totally honest; what I did was dumb, insane, ridiculous, naive, and immature. At the time, I was a young man in my early 40s and I had put myself in dangerous situations more often than I care to admit. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and that’s all I’ll say. I wish I hadn’t been so stupid, but then, who knew I’d be chased through the streets of Istanbul at 3:00 a.m. You live and learn and I learned the hard way.

“I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.”
― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

The Ups and Downs of My Relationship With Food

Who Am I Kidding, I Feel Fat

 

 

 

Eight weeks into quarantine and no surprise that my weight is weighing heavily on my mind. Apparently, one of the by-products of quarantine is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Out of nowhere you can become all weepy or conversely, elated. This week I was sitting on my sofa and suddenly I was crying. I just let the tears flow and I felt better when it passed. I guess the absence of social human contact is taking its toll.

Eating dulls the ache. With food as a major focus, I have become hyper-aware of my weight. I refuse to get on a scale, however, I know from the tight fit of my pants, that I have gained weight. Yes, I have to wear pants when I walk Paco or go to the market.

I have one full length mirror in my apartment. When I walk past it, I look away. I’ve developed that “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” attitude. I guess it’s a defense mechanism or perhaps complete denial?

I think quarantine is playing tricks on my mind:
Is “walked past” or walked passed” grammatically correct …
Passed” is a verb which is the past (heh) tense of “pass“. So you could say either “walked past” or “passed“, but not “walked passed“. … Walked is a verb. Past is an adverb (we walked past, she drove past).
 

Body Type

I have written about this before, so I apologize for repeating myself. Naturally human beings have different body types, the reality is that some of us will never be thin and some of us could never be fat. Unless I’m very ill, I will never be skinny. All my life I have dreamt of being skinny. I wish I knew why; I don’t necessarily like feeling this way, but it is what it is — the grass is always greener . . .

There have been a few times in my life where due to surgery or stress, I have dropped a good deal of weight. During those times, although psychologically I was happy to be thin, I looked terrible. My face is too long to be thin, my frame is too large and wide; therefore, without meat on my bones, I look sick. One would think that having this knowledge would be enough to settle my mind and I’d just be satisfied with a “healthy” look. One would think.

I have my father’s body and I seem to have a weight my body comfortably settles into. I know I have some control over how big I get, but I also know that my body type is genetic. So when will the mental agony end?

 

The Media

We all enjoy blaming the media for a lot of our issues. We have been looking at beautiful people in magazines and on screen for so long, the ideal body type is ingrained in our psyche. By now we all know that what the media might see as the “ideal” body type is not a representation of how most of us look.

Sit at an airport lounge when things get back to normal. You will see every type of shape imaginable. The vast majority of people in our world do not look like the people in magazines. There has been an effort in recent years to change that, however, it’s a slow process and we’re a long way off. It is a known fact that seeing a likeness of yourself depicted in the media, helps you feel more comfortable with your own body type.

A piece on body type worth looking at.

I loved it when I started seeing bald male models. Unfortunately, overweight middle aged male models are a long way off; probably not in my lifetime. When you do see it, it’s Joe Middle America in a sad sitcom or a reality crime show.

 

Health/Exercise

Good health is linked to good eating and exercise. I embraced this fact many years ago and I attribute my excellent health to living a lifestyle where nutritious fresh food is paired with daily exercise; providing for a better quality of life. However, because I am human and because I have weaknesses and character flaws, I often veer off course. This pandemic has been a good excuse to sit or lounge a lot more and therefore, gain weight from being sedentary. And then there is the baking . . . just because. I am exercising several times a week, but not moving nearly as much as I usually do. The age factors in and metabolism is the enemy. Cookies and cake and ice cream and rich savory dishes and trips to the grocery store as my only activity; all leading to weight gain. It’s a downhill spiral with no end in site.

People all over the world are experiencing the same problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Please allow my gym to reopen soon.

 

Letting it Go

Often, when you share these thoughts of being overweight or out-of-shape with friends or acquaintances, their first reaction is to say the following:

  • “You are not overweight.”
  • “You are the healthiest person I know.”
  • “Are you kidding me?”
  • “Are you fishing for a compliment?”
  • “You have nothing to worry about.”
  • “You should see a professional.”
  • “We all feel that way.”
  • “Have you looked around these days.”
  • “You know it’s not true.”
  • “You look great for your age.”
  • “This is a temporary situation.”
  • “Just buy new jeans.”

What people do not always understand, is that in no way do any of these statements make you feel better. You might be flattered for about three seconds, but the reality is, if you feel overweight, than nothing other than weight loss can make it go away.

 

Mind Games

Talking yourself into believing something, is common practice. I tell myself that everything in life is a trade-off. If I’m going to eat the things I love, I’m going to have to deal with a few extra pounds. I also tell myself that at my age, being slim and toned is not as important as it was in my 20s and 30s; after all, no matter what I do I will not have the body I once had. To be honest, I give up on dating at least 100 times a day.

I tell myself that what matters now is that I remain healthy so that later in life, when my body continues to age, I will maintain a good quality of life. For example, if you exercise and stretch your muscles, they will continue to help you move without pain and discomfort. Healthy lungs, a healthy heart, a stimulated brain, and so on, will all insure ease of movement and a sharp mind later in life. I’m not in a hurry to experience this, however, it is a motivator.

When the elderly are asked what they would have done differently, they often say the following:

  1. They would have worried less
  2. They would have exercised more
  3. They would have taken better care of themselves

 

An expert speaks:

Older people who smoked, didn’t exercise or became obese were regretful about it, but the issue wasn’t only about dying.

“Many people will say to themselves, ‘I enjoy smoking’ or ‘I don’t like to exercise’ or ‘I just like to eat — who cares if I die a little sooner?’” Pillemer noted.

“The problem is in this day and age is you’re not going to die sooner; you’re going to be stuck with 10 or 20 years of chronic disease as modern medicine keeps you alive.”

Their advice: Pay attention to your health and change your lifestyle if it’s making you unwell, otherwise the incredible burden of chronic disease will make your life miserable.”

Follow A. Pawlowski on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

I just keep telling myself that this will end soon and life will go back to normal. The truth is, because of my lifestyle and my love of rich foods, I will never be thin and that has to be okay. I’m grateful that I’m not diabetic, not obese, not addicted to sugar, not lazy, and not an alcoholic. I do consider that any of these issues could become an unwelcome reality.

 

Ina Garten is one of my favorite television personalities. She has been overweight since I started watching her cook. She wears clothes that are flattering, she never apologizes for her weight, she has a beautiful genuine and hearty laugh, and she seems to truly enjoy life. When she had the gourmet food store, The Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons, New York, I would marvel at her magnificent displays and incredible food. I always wanted to buy and eat everything. If I could spend a day with any celebrity, it would be Ina. She made a quarantini on social media recently, and it went viral — everybody loves Ina.

Growing Up With Broadway

Too shy to be on stage, but happy to watch and dream.

​​”I got a feeling there’s a miracle due gonna come true, coming to me. Could it be? Yes it could. Something’s coming. Something good, if I can wait.” – West Side Story

I was watching an interview with Dame Judi Dench, an actor for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. She was asked about her favorite medium and she replied, “The stage.” When pressed for a reason, she explained that it meant a great deal to her that in order to see her perform on stage, people had to actually go out and purchase a ticket and then they have to actually go to the theatre. She wanted to perform her best for these people because they truly made an effort — makes a great deal of sense to me. Watch Dame Judi perform “Send in the Clowns,” and you’ll see and hear why she’s a national treasure.

60 principais fotografias e imagens de Judi Dench - Getty Images

 

The Impact Theatre Had on My Development

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York with Broadway as my playground. My father was an Italian immigrant with a blue collar job, but he loved the theatre. My mother, on the other hand, barely tolerated it. Her indifference made no difference to me.

There was a time when I would have chalked my infatuation with Broadway up to my sexuality — that was societal brainwashing. Obviously, people of all sexual orientations, ages, races, and cultures have an equal love of the theatre and for good reason.

My first Broadway show was The Wiz. It is an all black version of the Wizard of Oz. My father took me to see it for my ninth birthday. Stephanie Mills played the lead and she was brilliant — a performance I still consider to be one of the best I have ever seen. The show blew me away; over 50 years later and I still hear the songs in my head. I believe my life lessons mainly came from theatre. The visual spectacle helped me to escape the reality of my own unfortunate childhood.

The second play I went to see was A Chorus Line. There are a dozen themes in this play and each of them spoke to me. I may have been 12 years old when my father took me. I remember my father wiping tears from my eyes during the performance. He had huge, strong hands and I loved when he did that. “At the Ballet” hit me hard and I was never good at holding back my feelings. I wonder to this day if my dad realized I knew I was gay and how ashamed I had been; I hope he knew.

Dozens of shows seemed to have been written with me in mind; at least that what I thought. What it said to me was simply that there were more like me out there and for that I was and am, grateful. It was a lonely world, but at the theatre I felt safe and understood; I still do.

While other teens were saving their money for clothes, video or baseball games, I saved for the theatre. Back then TKTS was a real bargain. I recall seeing Broadway plays for less than $10. It’s unfortunate that young people today, for the most part, cannot afford Broadway theatre tickets. I know there are programs designed to expose young people to the theatre; however, like most things these days, theatre is big business and only the elite can afford it. Fortunately, there are regional theatres all over the States that are much more affordable than the Great White Way (Broadway).  —

In my early twenties I met a New York City couple who attended Broadway shows weekly. They were members of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). As educators, Ann and Aaron were able to purchase a group of ten tickets at a large discount. Their circle of friends included dozens of people who would buy tickets from them on a first-come first-served basis. It took a lot of time and energy to organize the selling of these tickets and they did it without taking a dime for themselves. We had mutual friends who brought us together often and over the years we became very close. Aaron passed away at age 95 not too long ago. Ann has dementia, but we had a Skype call a few months ago and there were moments where she was her old self; funny and smart. My friendship with Ann and Aaron started at the theatre, however, it extended far beyond that for over 30 years. The common denominator was our love of the theatre; for a long time our lives revolved around shows and eating out. I’m fairly certain I would have only seen a fraction of the shows I saw had it not been for Ann and Aaron; two of the loveliest people I have ever known.

 

Times Square in the 70s and 80s

70s times square | Tumblr

The Theatre District (Times Square) in the 70s and 80s was a pretty scary place. In fact, when I was a teenager, a stranger pulled a knife on me only because I was walking in his path. There were sex shops everywhere and drugs sold on every corner. However, that’s where the Broadway theatres were and nothing could keep me away. I would get a ticket for a show and tell my mother I was going to a friend’s house for dinner. It was a secret world I was reluctant to share. I worked hard for spending money and I didn’t want my mother to know where my money was going; unfortunately, she often took money from me, charging me for room and board when I was a teen. I guess it taught me to be fiercely independent and for that I am grateful.

Times Square today is not what it once was, it has lost it’s grit and unique appeal. I’m afraid Disney has cleaned it up and made it shiney and safe for middle America. It’s probably for the better, but I can’t help being nostalgic. It’s become overcrowded and commercial and no longer appealing to me.

 

Meeting a Famous Composer

The following is a secret I’m not sure I have ever told. I haven’t shared this because I was closeted for many years and I was ashamed of the life I lived prior to coming out. Today, I am way past worrying about being judged.

When I was a young man I went out on several dates with a Catholic priest named Peter — I often wonder what became of Peter. I was a minor, but I knew exactly what I was doing at the time. There may have been an element of the forbidden fruit, but I’ll leave that for another blog. This priest led a double life in New York City and some of his friends were famous in the theatre world. Peter was young, attractive, and flirtatious. He knew how much I loved Broadway musicals and he surprised me by taking me to the home of a world-renowned, Greenwich Village composer. I remember walking down to this composer’s sub-street level apartment and shivering from head-to-toe. I knew at the time that this would be a memory I would hold onto for life. There is a part of me that would like to be more innocent and less jaded.

Peter knocked on the door and this larger than life man invited us in. I recall a large piano in the center of a small living room. There were Broadway show posters everywhere and most of them were his shows. I’ve had natural highs many times throughout my life, however this one, sent me soaring. I could not speak for fear of saying something stupid. I accepted a glass of wine and blushed over his shameless petting. Up to that evening I had never had a stranger show me that much attention, let alone someone famous. Peter knew it was harmless and he knew that he was the one who’d be taking me home.

 

And Then There Was This:

Stephen Sondheim

I had the great pleasure of meeting Stephen Sondheim when I was working in Student Affairs at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. He is, hands down, my favorite composer. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without his music and lyrics. This is not hyperbole, I mean every word of it, he is like no other songwriter alive or dead. The MMC theatre department brought him in for a Master Class. I normally do not approach celebrities because I know that no matter what I say, I’m going to sound stupid and behave badly. But in Sondheim’s case I made an exception because of the direct impact he had had on my life.

I asked one of our professor’s to introduce me and she said she’d be delighted. I shook his hand and I said, “Thank you for the many times your music has spoken to me and brought me joy.” Sondheim held my gaze for a moment and said, “It’s been my pleasure.” If there is a God, he resides inside the heart of that man.

Many songs featured in musicals were moving and played a role in my life; however, none as much as “Being Alive.” Raul Esparza played the role of Bobby and sang it in the 2007 Broadway production of Company. These are the lyrics:

Being Alive
Someone to hold me too close.
Someone to hurt me too deep.
Someone to sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.
Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.
Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.
But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.…

Coincidentally, a 90th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim aired a couple of days ago. What a gift to all of us; you can watch it on Youtube:  #Sondheim90Concert 

 

Theatre’s Impact on Me Today

Broadway and the West End, by way of musicals and dramatic productions, will a destination for me for as long as I can travel. It’s like a dangling carrot I can never imagine going away. These plays speak to me in ways no one can. It’s as if the writers are inside my head and my heart. Whether it is a time of happiness or sadness, I turn to lyrics and dialogue for hope and consolation. It seems unfair that there are many people in the world who will never experience Broadway the way I have. I have to assume that people in other parts of the world have their own Broadway; it is in that truth, I find pleasure.

www.astep.org — A not-for-profit organization designed to introduce and connect underserved children to the arts.

 

“So much of me Is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me Like a handprint on my heart.”  — Wicked

A Wicked Story

A number of years ago I was in a relationship with a Spaniard living in Zaragoza, Spain. Alejandro would travel to New York to see me as often as he could. Alex’s plan was to move to New York to be with me when he finished med school. We shared many things in common, however, one of the many things we joked about was his disdain for musical theatre. I would tell him that I was seeing a musical and he would just laugh and tell me to have fun. I have a good friend who invested in Wicked and she invited me to the opening on Broadway; certainly one of the most exciting nights of my life. We attended the after party at Tavern On The Green in Central Park and I got to sit alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, Carol Burnett, Michael Hall and many other big stars. I was euphoric, star struck, and in many ways it felt magical.

I called Alex to share the experience and he said, “Honey, if it’s that good, you have to take me.”

A couple of months later, Alex told me he’d be coming to New York for his birthday and to spend some time with me. I was able to get center orchestra seats for Wicked on his birthday. I made a reservation at a restaurant I knew he would enjoy and kept it from me until the day of the show.

When I told him over dinner, Alex was excited because he’d heard a lot about the show and he knew how much I had enjoyed it. I was fully conscious of his feelings about musicals, but in my heart-of-hearts, I knew this musical would bring him over to my side. Throughout the performance I would glance over and see Alex smiling from ear-to-ear and every so often he’d squeeze my hand or bump knee. His tears and laughter throughout made it even more special for me. During a long standing ovation, Alex whispered in my ear that this was the best birthday of his life. He grabbed my head, turned it with both hands and planted a big kiss on my lips. I was out of my mind elated.

As we continued to stand and applaud, a woman sitting behind me with her ten year old daughter, tapped me on the shoulder and screamed above the applause, “My daughter did not have to see that.”

Of course I knew she was referring to the kiss. Understandably curious, Alex asked me what she’d said. I told him and that’s when I saw his Latin temper unleashed. He held nothing back; letting this woman know what he thought of her and her biased, toxic rage over a kiss. I said nothing. I watched and listened to this man defend our love to this vile stranger. I knew that I loved Alex, but that moment, that night, that unbridled valour, sealed the deal forever.

 

Times Square Today

Caring Too Much or Too Little

Developing a balance between empathy and good health is a formidable goal and this is a good time to work on it.

 

65 Compassionate Empathy Quotes (2019)

 

I have always been a bit too sensitive. I was bullied as a child because I cried easily (and I liked playing with girls . . . and I hated sports). I get the crying part honestly, my dad wept without shame. The problem with feeling intense empathy is that you often feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Managing these feelings and mitigating your health and well-being are essential.

 

What it Feels Like

I have been reluctant to look at the number of deaths around the world due to the Coronavirus. Denying a problem exists or refusing to acknowledge it, has long been a defense mechanism. However, in this case I believe empathy matters. I need to be able to experience what is happening all over the world so that I can do my part to help. I’m forcing myself to look at the numbers and think about what people are going through. It’s surreal, it’s painful, it’s difficult and it’s morbid, but it’s necessary. We’ve been told what we can do and we need to listen, learn, and hold ourselves accountable. Doing your part helps you to be empathetic without drowning in sorrow.

A brief story of too much empathy — very recent and still fresh:  When I adopted Paco in January, he had only been found on a country road two weeks prior. He weighed just over five pounds and his bones were protruding everywhere, his fur was extremely matted, and he was deathly ill from a virus. When I saw him for the first time, I wept. Each time I thought about him fighting for his life, alone and abandoned in the woods, I wept. Admittedly, this extreme sensitivity went on for weeks. This is the reason I had to leave my volunteer position at a pet shelter; I had too much empathy. Learning how to compartmentalize my feelings and thoughts was and is, necessary. By the way — Paco has fully recovered and he’s out of danger. I still worry, but it’s under control. The crying has stopped.

 

 Family

The reality of family members who are not as strong as I am or who might be struggling with emotional and/or financial issues is ever-present. How much of their worries are my worries? How much of their suffering can I or should I take on? What can I do to ease the anxiety I impose upon myself? There are a number of considerations when discussing problems with family members. First and most importantly, in some cases, they have families of their own. Therefore, when you get involved, there may be others in your family that are also affected and that complicates matters further. There is a risk of alienating family members who may be embarrassed or who may see things differently.

Most people prefer privacy, even if it means not sharing with their own family. This could be the topic of a whole other blog. I’ll leave it at this:  there are times when it is best to keep family problems at arm’s length. You may have to be clear about that when approached. “Sue, I think it would be better to discuss that with Greg; your husband is my brother-in-law and one of my favorite people in the world, I don’t want him to be angry with me for taking sides.” Sue doesn’t exist. Just an example of the language you may have to call upon when communicating. Remember, most people prefer candor and authenticity. Those who don’t may not deserve your time or energy.

There is always the advice that is unwelcomed. Family members who are not ready or willing to face their problems will sometimes push you away and resent you for getting involved. In these situations, you have to be either willing to handle the confrontation or in some cases ignore the radio silence.

 

Friends

Our friends are our chosen family. We love them dearly and sometimes that love might cause us great pain. When you see a friend in trouble and you cannot help them, it can tear you apart. Two of my friends are alcoholics. One of these individuals will no longer speak to me because I tried to help and he does not want to acknowledge his problem. The other is in treatment and doing well so far. The only way I can live with myself in situations like this (be it a friend or a family member) is to try to help in some way:  support, resource, friend, caregiver, etc. Doing nothing makes me feel useless and more like a failure. On the other hand, if I reach out numerous times and the friend refuses my help, I have to be able to accept that I’ve done all I could do and walk away. Speaking from experience, I’m not insinuating this part is easy; in fact, it may be one of the more difficult things in life you will have to do. Friendship is like any other relationship, empathy is imperative and it must be conveyed delicately. People who are suffering emotionally cannot always handle empathy when you’re feeling it, they may need time to process and prepare. As a friend, you need to understand boundaries and know when it’s the right time to help.

 

Our World

We live in complicated circumstances with over seven billion people inhabiting the planet.  Unfortunately, 734 million of the world’s dwellers are considered to be living in absolute poverty (wikipedia); that’s a lot of people. Horrible reality like this can keep you up at night. The number of people with cancer and no access to care, the number of people in abusive relationships, the number of children without food, the number of refugees without a home, self-serving politicians, and on and on. It is important to consider the difficulties all around you and do what you can to help; however, it is equally important to consider all that you have to be grateful for.

 

How to Manage it So that it Doesn’t Take Over

Meditation is a self-help practice I mention regularly. People often think of it as a waste of time or new agie. For me, it is a way of keeping things in perspective. Sometimes I make life too much about me and I have to remind myself that it is not at all about me. At other times, the weight of everything around me is so difficult to manage, I have to shed some of it by logically thinking it through.

Exercise is one of my top three ways of sorting through life’s difficulties. When you’re overly concerned about everything, you have to have a way to balance the gravity of all of these concerns or it will consume you. Exercise is like a release valve. There is no doubt in my mind that I have developed an addiction to working out. Exercise and chocolate are the only two addictions I can honestly say I embrace without guilt or self-punishment. I do not often give myself a free pass to indulge; therefore, I am grateful for the freedom to just enjoy these two gifts.

Volunteering your time is not a panacea for solving the world’s problems. However, it is a way for you to feel empowered. Everything you do to help will yield rewards.

“Volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

— Sherry Anderson

 

You know as well as I, that no matter how thoughtful you are or healthy you may try to be, your emotional state of mind (mood), often determines how you feel. You might have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling so much better than the night before. On the other hand, you might do everything right and have a restless night’s sleep and wake up angry at the world. I have learned to just go with it. If you try to push it away or sweep it under the rug, you are likely to either experience it with greater angst or have it rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time. If you breathe and treat yourself kindly during these difficult periods, you will come through the difficulty with less collateral damage.

 

Talk Through it With Someone You Love and Trust

For some, talking through your worries is a learned behavior. Some of us are hesitant to burden others with our problems or confused thoughts. We’re quick to want to help others, but when it comes to our own issues, we retreat and suffer in silence. I’m a big fan or running things by people who are not directly involved and I believe, can be objective. Be sure to ask if it is okay to share. Do not judge or dismiss an individual’s thoughts. You can be certain that if you disrespect a generous listener, you will never be able to solicit advice again.

 

 

“Empathy is the medicine the world needs.”

— Judith Orloff. M.D.

 

Resources:

How to Be More Empathetic (NY Times)

Importance and Benefits of Empathy (Very Well Mind)

 

I hit a milestone with 100 blog posts last week. I wish I had been aware of it, I would have celebrated sooner.