A Blind Date I’d Rather Forget

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Isolation

“Isolation is a way to know ourselves.”

— Franz Kafka

I am certain I could not write about anything else this week. There is the kind of isolation I have experienced since moving overseas and then there is this. As I have said in the past, I am a introvert, therefore, I enjoy my alone time; the difference is choosing to be alone versus having the choice made for you.

 

My Concern

There are many people in the world who need social interaction in order to survive. I had a very intense conversation with a U.S. based recovering addict yesterday. I learned about a support system for addicts I was not aware of. Apparently there are group meetings by phone, sponsors, and other ways of reaching out. That made me feel a little bit better for Americans in quarantine. I’m not sure the same support system exists in Portugal or other parts of the world, although family ties in Portugal are very strong; I have observed a great deal of support for family members in need since I arrived. You also see a lot more elderly people living with their children. Somewhat of a thing of the past in the U.S.

I’m also concerned for individuals, non-addicts, not connected to any social network. These individuals would normally be able to go the mall, a bar, or to their local coffee shops; in some places this is not possible at the moment. I went out today and I was happy to see some of our coffee shops are open. People were sitting far, however, still interacting. [They have  been ordered closed by the government.]

I realize that we need to focus on the deadly virus; however, there are those in the fallout who are not sick with the virus and should not be forgotten.

Personally, I’m fine. I’ve lived alone for quite some time. I love the quiet of the early morning when I wake and the stillness of the night when I drift off to sleep. I’m strong enough to endure isolation for a very long time. A cell or windowless room would do me in, but fortunately I have a view of water, trees, and Paco sleeping in his comfy bed. As long as my internet doesn’t go down; I have many on-line interests. Fortunately, Portuguese television is more American than Portuguese. The weather is springlike and my terrace flowers are blooming. I have no right to piss and moan.

 

An Observation

Compassion and rage . . . I’m seeing a great deal of both right now on social media. I guess it is to be expected considering the times. This is the first time in my lifetime that I have ever experienced a global crisis. This crisis leaves no one behind.

I’m very concerned about the number of unstable people in the U.S. with access to dangerous weapons. If the economy continues to go south and people do not have money to eat, no telling what some will resort to. I’m hoping the 1% who have 90% of the wealth will see fit to share a portion of it with those who truly need it; I believe some are already stepping up. Perhaps the threat of death will help some individuals see that they do not need billions to live a good life. Maybe Trump should be an example to others and make a massive donation? I know.
AND ALSO…THIS
What’s seen a rise…
Hate groups. Earlier this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the US grew 55% since 2017. The SPLC attributed the increase in hate groups – and associated attacks – to President Trump’s rhetoric, using terms like “invasion of illegals” and saying there were “very fine people” at the 2017 deadly rally in Charlottesville. But it also mentioned that in the last year, the FBI has made racially motivated violent extremism a “national threat priority” and placed it on the same level as combating ISIS. (source:  the Skimm, 3/20/2020).

 

I witnessed masses of people come together for 911, maybe something similar can happen now. And do we ever need it.

Some of the late night hosts are filming from their homes. It’s actually much more intimate and natural — I’m enjoying it, but I would prefer things the way they were.

 

What We Can Do or What I’m Doing

These are some of the steps I am taking in order to make this easier:

  • I am contacting all of my friends that may be home alone
  • I am contacting any of my friends who have an illness
  • I am changing my reservations (two out of three of my trips for the next two months have been cancelled)
  • I am cleaning some areas that I usually don’t think about (closets, ceiling fan, the bottom of my pots)
  • Journaling more often
  • Baking and freezing
  • Reading more
  • Catching up on Netflix shows
  • Long walks with Paco
  • Meditation
  • Spending more time on preparing dinner
  • Discovering BroadwayHD — oh my, if you can’t be there

 

Where I Am

I’m getting lots of telephone calls from friends and family. Fortunately with Whatsapp, Facetime, Facebook, Skype, you can be made to feel as if you’re right there in the same room. And people seem more comfortable remaining on the phone a bit longer; not rushing off to work or some social gathering.

It’s only been a few days, but I can see that this will get old. I’m just grateful that I have Paco; walking him and seeing neighbors do the same with their dogs, is very comforting. And I am ever grateful that you can still buy food.

 

Why I Chose to Move to Portugal (reblog)

I will be rewriting an update for my almost two years living in Portugal for next week’s blog.

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Magnificent architecture in Faro:  Moorish, Roman & Gothic throughout the city.

When you make a big and unexpected decision in your life, people are curious about why you went in a particular direction; it’s a reasonable curiosity. I’ve spent a bit of time on why I moved to Portugal in previous blogs; however, I thought since I am frequently asked this question, I would answer it thoroughly.

One of the most important things I learned throughout my career is to question “why” before you do anything. You want to start a business? Why? You want to get married? Why? You want to move overseas? Why? Asking this important question and answering it thoroughly and honestly, will help to insure that you are doing whatever you are doing for the right reasons — well most of the time.

So when I started to feel that U.S. politics were the cause of a good deal of my anxiety, I asked myself why I was wallowing in pity rather than working to change my situation. I had done some letter writing and personal campaigning for Hilary and then of course, I blamed myself for not doing enough. After a lot of soul-searching, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just that Hilary lost the election, it is the direction politics in general is going in, in the States. I’m not going to do a deep dive into politics; however, the big issues for me are gun control, healthcare, taxation, greed in Washington, and the negative perception Americans have of democratic socialism, www.dsausa.org/what_is_democratic_socialism. The conclusion that I came to was that I had to move to a country where the values of the government and the people more closely matched my own. In other words, why stay in a country where values will not be changing anytime soon.

Some “Why” Questions:

  1. Why am I leaning in this direction?
  2. Why is now the right time?
  3. Why is my heart telling me to do this?
  4. Why am I struggling with this decision?
  5. Why not?
  6. Why am I questioning the status quo?

 

Why Overseas?

Politics in the U.S. has become more conservative over the past few years. Some say it happens whenever you have a power base in office that leans in a particular direction (surprise, I lean left), the majority will tend to swing in the opposite direction the next election — that certainly is what happened in November 2016. This is likely to occur in any democratic society; however, in many European countries liberal policies and attitudes have a strong foundation, therefore, the bar is set higher.

The other reason I decided to move overseas is that I have never resided outside of the United States. I tend to agree with those who believe that life is not a dress rehearsal; this was an opportunity I may not have had again.

 

Why Portugal?

I have considered many other countries over the past few years. At one point I was certain I’d end up in Concon, Chile. I had been there a couple of times and fell in love with the coast and the lifestyle. Well then they had a big earthquake and read that there would be others. Sure enough, a short time later they were hit with a second large earthquake. I thought I had tempted fate far too many times to buy a condo in a high-rise there. I’ve thought about Italy because it is my father’s birthplace. I love visiting Italy; however, the instability of Italy’s government and economy concerns me. The Caribbean is too humid and has those pesky, life-threatening hurricanes; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark make it very difficult to reside there; and frankly other places were too expensive or too risky.

I had read a good deal about Portugal and decided to check it out. I’ve been told that it is dangerous to decide on relocating to a place having only visited once. Knowing that some advice is sound advice, I decided to do my homework. I read articles about retiring in Portugal, I joined a couple of expat groups on Facebook, I had several conversations with individuals who have made the move, and I returned to spend more time here.

 

Why Faro?

Most expats who decide to live in the Algarve DO NOT choose Faro. I discovered on several trips prior to moving to Faro that there are expat communities in many towns all along the coast; however, most people see Faro as a place to land or switch trains. I do not mean this in a disparaging way, so I hope no one takes it that way:  I did not want to be in the center of a tourist destination. Don’t get me wrong, tourists visit Faro; however, compared to other towns in the Algarve, Faro is not overrun. In fact, there are very few Americans in Faro.

The following are some of the wonderful things that drew me to this beautiful city:

Culture — music (Fado), theatre, festivals, food, ceramic tiles, history and art.

Portuguese — A majority of the people living in Faro are Portuguese or immigrants from struggling countries. I recently learned that when the European Union decided how many migrants each country should take based on their population, Portugal said, “We’ll take double that number.”

Faro is not as much a tourist city as say Lisbon, Porto or other parts of the Algarve. I’m happy about that.

Restaurants — I can find traditional Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Turkish, Indian and several other ethnic foods and the quality and value is outstanding.

The Market (Mercado Municipal) — in a huge open space (indoor) close to my apartment, it is probably the gift I will never take for granted.

Walking city — I can walk to just about every place I need to go.

Access to everywhere else — Faro is the capital of the Algarve; therefore, the airport, trains, buses, and highways, can get you just about everywhere and quickly.

Architecture — Preserved, historic, eclectic, and beautiful. Everything is understated.

Government offices — all of the Portuguese government offices I need to deal with are here in Faro.

What more can I ask of a city?

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Catholic Cathedral in Old Town — a short walk from my apartment and where the outdoor market is on Sundays (stock photo)

 

I took these photos when I was walking to the ferry yesterday — beside Faro Castle. This is Old Town, Faro and it dates back centuries. It’s a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I come here often to read, walk and eat. Some of the remains are from the 9th century.

And by the way . . . that blue sky is real (no touching up or color added). There is no smog to speak of here.

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There are several islands off the coast of Faro that offer spectacular beaches.

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Farol Island’s lighthouse is just a ferry ride through the Ria Formosa. A 5 Euro round trip ferry ride is a great way to go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Less Cynical/Shiraz Has Arrived in Faro

This week, I would like to explore the topic of cynicism.  I hear this out of Chris Cuomo’s mouth as I type, “You are so cynical.” He’s talking to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. They’re in the middle of a playful repartee about the impeachment trial. I turned up the volume to hear what they had to say. Two intelligent and refreshingly sane men, talking about the current state of political affairs in the United States. Americans, people in general, have always been cynical, however, it feels as if cynicism is currently at an all time high. I’d like to explore my own cynicism and how I might become less so.

sky clouds cloudy earth

 

This is a difficult time for many of us. Sorting through truth and lies is never easy, but it seems as if conflicting news dominates the airwaves. Listening to individuals you thought you could trust, spin lies, makes it difficult to believe in justice and honesty. Trying not to be political here, because in truth, I’m not certain this is about politics. I think the problem is systemic and I can’t help feeling like we might be headed for the moment in time when it all comes to a head. I ask myself if what I am feeling is cynical or mistrust and what is the difference.

cynical
/ˈsɪnɪk(ə)l/
adjective
  1. 1.
    believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
  2. 2.
    concerned only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted standards in order to achieve them.

I cannot help feeling that a lot of what I’m hearing from our leaders is rhetoric which promotes a personal agenda. I don’t want to believe this; I want to see the best in people and believe they are sincere.

Image result for cynicism quotes

 

Why I Care 

When people say derogatory things about me, they probably say I’m controlling, opinionated, way too liberal, stubborn, talkative, dismissive, and possibly that I am self-indulging. I’m not sure I could argue about these character traits when they are applied to me. I’m being honest with myself; it’s not cynicism, I know who I am and I know that I can be controversial. People cannot truthfully say that I am cynical and I’d like to keep it that way. And I don’t mean occasionally cynical; there is a difference.

I am concerned about my own health and wellbeing. Doubting other people’s intentions stresses me out. It causes worry and anger and none of that is good for me. When I erase these doubts and tell myself that people are inherently good, that we all go adrift or make mistakes, I tend to feel better. It’s obviously a defense mechanism, but we possess these tools so that we can work on ourselves and be happier people.

When I start to think unpleasant thoughts about friends or family members, it changes how I feel about food, drink, travel and the rest of the things I love — my taste buds are soured and all things become tainted. I’m not as profoundly affected when I’m cynical about politicians; these days I almost expect them to lie and push their own agendas, no matter what the cost.

 

How Do I Prevent Myself From Becoming Cynical

If I have learned anything since I relocated overseas, it is that I need to be patient with myself. With good intention, I’d like to think that I can be a better version of my former self, if I truly put my mind to it. What it takes is practice and patience. When you repeat a behavior or practice over and over, it will become part of your automatic, natural reflexive, go-to, inventory of responses.

For example:  I’m at a dinner party and a friend announces that she is going to organize a fundraiser for children with cancer. She talks about a grand venue and the “who’s who,” who will be invited, the table centerpieces, etc. My mind might go to the reason she is planning this event. One might cynically believe that she’s doing it to make herself look good. It’s unfortunate that this is where your mind might go. In truth, does it really matter? If the end result is that a million dollars will go to help those children and their families, how you got there (as long as it’s legal) is irrelevant. I’d like to instead, go straight to the positive and praise her for her good work. We never truly know what motivates people, so why not think the best of them in all most cases.

 

Next Steps

Mindfulness — awareness of a problem or issue is a huge part of correcting the problem. Now that I am aware of my unintentional cynicism, I can work on moving toward a different way of being:

  1. Identify the pattern that causes a cynical thought or response (e.g., questioning another’s motives).
  2. Break down the cause. Did you ever discover that someone you cared a lot about, had self-serving motives? Did those motives affect the final outcome?
  3. Explore your feelings. Not as easy as it sounds; it means facing your skepticism and demons.
  4. Try out alternative responses and find one or two that serve you better; cause you less heartache or discomfort. Create a toolbox and learn how to retrieve those tools.
  5. When you immediately go to cynicism, push that thought away and use one of your new tools or thoughts. This tool is extremely effective — give it a try.
  6. Practice this over and over again until you go in a positive direction without having to think about it. Practice, practice, practice.
  7. Take inventory of your responses every so often. Sometimes we take two steps back without realizing it — as you well know, old habits are hard to break.
  8. Consider how your positive outlook and behavior has influenced others. How has this new way of looking at life affected your health and well-being? How has this affected your relationships?
  9. Celebrate your success.

If you have another way of dealing with this issue, I’d love to hear about it.

 

When People Are Just No Good

Sorry is that sounds cynical. Seriously though, there are people in this world that are just plain evil. I’ve come across a few in my life. When you discover this to be the case, my advice is walk away and don’t look back. We are sometimes cynical for good reason. Bad actors usually show their true colors over and over again. Cynicism can be a useful mechanism for defending yourself against these individuals.

 

Shiraz Has Finally Opened and You’ll Want to Visit

Shiraz Restaurant in Faro, Portugal (Pre-opening visit previously blogged)

Just a reminder that I am not a food critic and that my intention is only to promote good food.

I love the food in Faro, however, I often complain that there is not enough variety here. Prior to eating at Shiraz, I had never eaten Iranian (Persian) food; or at least I don’t believe I have. I have eaten dishes from that part of the world; however, as you well know, each country has its own unique cuisine.

Shiraz adds another interesting dimension to the Faro food scene and that makes me very happy. When the Portuguese locals experience how good it is and see for themselves the number of tourists eating at Shiraz, they will be more open to other ethnic cuisines coming onto to the scene (e.g., Korean, African, Malaysian, Turkish — to name just a few).

Shiraz has been plagued with issues that prevented an on-time opening. I have heard that it’s difficult to open a new restaurant in Faro:  work permits, old infrastructure, contractors, etc. Mr. Thomas, owner, persevered and I belief his tenacity will pay off. He recently shared that it took him three years to make it happen. I only met Mr. Thomas a few months ago, however, I find his patience and positive attitude refreshing. He is pleased to be working with Chef Ram.

Chef Ram specializes in Kababs and there are several to choose from on the menu. There are a few different preparations and meat choices featured. Simple dishes such as basmati rice topped with saffron are delicious and beautifully presented. I had a Kabab Negini (pictured below) which is made with chicken and grilled tomato sauce. The Baklava, which I learned is made with 21 layers of puff pastry, was the best Baklava I have ever tasted. Toasted almonds, pistachios and a caramel sauce made this delicacy a standout dish.

Chef Ram is extremely talented and has a smile as big as his heart; stop by the kitchen and say hello.