Trapped and Terrified in A Lift

What would you do?

Old Elevator Buttons Against Wooden Panels Inside A Vintage Elevator
This might be too modern a depiction of the elevator I was stuck in

I have to set the scene for you; although this happened 46 years ago, the experience is as fresh in my mind as it was the day it happened. I apology in advance for downplaying the fear I experienced then and continues to resonate. This is the first time I am retelling this story.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Like many teenagers in Brooklyn, I worked at a grocery store. It was a good job for a 16 year old; it taught me many lessons about life I might not have learned otherwise. Little did I know, that on one particular brutally hot summer day, I would learn a lesson of survival.

Delivering groceries to neighborhood people was hard work, but when I laid on the charm and kept my clients happy, I could do pretty well financially. My earnings paid for room and board, clothing, and my education — we paid our own way in my house as soon as we were able. I either hustled or listened to my mother piss and moan about poverty and what it was like to raise seven kids on her own. She had a point.

My siblings would argue this self-assessment, but I recollect that I was a fairly happy-go-lucky teenager — especially when I was flush with cash. Tips were a good way for me to make money because I could hide a lot of it from my mother. I figure she was a waitress and practiced similar deception. That late morning in August, I was rode my delivery bike about two streets east to an old building I had visited often; truth be told, every building was old in Ditmas Park. When you’re sixteen and you think you know it all, old and rundown is not cool. I took the elevator to the 8th floor and dropped off the groceries; after awhile, you spend your time thinking about everything else than what you’re actually doing; I believe she was a regular customer, a detail that’s fuzzy.

I recall it was so humid, my clothing was soaked through and I was lethargic from the heat. I entered the noisy old elevator; you know, the ones that go clunk, clunk, clunk when they move. I pressed the button for the first floor. The door slammed closed and the elevator descended a few feet and stopped abruptly. I did what any human would do, I pressed all the buttons, I pressed them over and over again, thinking somehow, my persistence would restart the lift. There was an alarm button, a rather loud alarm I might add, but it felt like I was screaming help in a padded prison cell and no one was listening.

Thinking, this can’t be happening, doesn’t make it go away — this was a living nightmare. I took a deep breath and felt like I might cry. Perhaps my brain knew that crying would use up too much of my water supply, instead I stomped my feet and banged the walls. Clearly, there was no one anywhere near this piece of shit machinery. I sat down on the dirty elevator floor hoping an escape plan would come. I’m pretty sure I was close to panicking by this point. I’ve never been fond of small spaces; this elevator was tiny. In addition to that foul odors easily make me nauseous. This particular building had a gag inducing stench. I screamed “help” as loud as I could. I screamed repeatedly hoping someone in the building would come to my rescue. Could it be possible that the entire building was empty? And where was the lady I just delivered groceries to? I had watched way too much Twilight Zone for my own good. In my mind one of two things was going to happen: the elevator was either going to crash to the ground or I would die of heat exhaustion; neither would be a good way to go.

A good chunk of time passed before I starting screaming again. I was convinced my co-workers would miss me and someone was being sent to check what had happened. I would alternate between stomping and screaming and bargaining with God — whom I don’t believe exists by the way. Funny how that happens when you’re in a life threatening situation. You go through this, if you really do exist please help me — I’ll do anything, I promise, dialog in your head.

Dripping wet, long past the point of heat exhaustion, seeing double through pools of sweat, no voice, no help, and no hope; I recall at a certain point I began to enter the acceptance phase of my own impending death. At some point, I made the decision that being horizontal might save me some energy. The elevator floor was dirty and sticky, but I’m not sure it mattered much at that moment. Flat on the ground and feeling defeated, I believe I closed my eyes for a few minutes, the silence was deafening and my heartbeat was finally slowing a bit. I glanced at the ceiling and noticed an exhaust fan that wasn’t moving. Next to the fan was a panel. It was too high up for me, but offered new hope. I stood up in order to assess the situation and realized that I might be able to step onto the side rail and push on the panel. Desperation fuels hope — there were not many other options to choose from.

I jumped up with one foot on the rail and was able to touch the top of the elevator car. After a number of tries, I was dislodged the panel; quite relieved that it was not bolted down. I was able to eventually pop the panel off and push it over to the side, allowing me to see that I was only feet away from the elevator doors on the floor above the car.

It might have been more than an hour or perhaps only minutes; at this point I was pretty delirious. I faintly heard someone walking on the floor above and I shouted for help. The man walked up to the doors and called down to me.

“Is someone in there?”

I sunk down to the ground and responded with tremendous relief. Yes, I’m here, please help me get out.

“It’s the super, I’m going to shut the elevator down and start it back up.”

I don’t think I answered him. I may have thought it was in my head.

An eternity passed and the lift gave a jolt. It started moving but only about four feet. At this point the car was partially on the fifth floor.

“Give me a minute, I think I can pry the doors open.”

The super pushed the doors open and I could see him; I could breathe again. I expressed my gratitude and I told him I’d been there a long time. He apologized, his thick Spanish accent, more a part of my consciousness than earlier. He said something about being out of the building all morning. He asked for my hand, hauled me up, and I quickly crawled out onto the fifth floor. I don’t think either of us was thinking about the danger of what we were doing at the time. He could see I was dripping wet and he asked me if I wanted some water.

Please, I said and leaned my body against the wall.

He told me that his apartment was in the basement. He asked me if I could walk down the steps and I told him that I could. When we got down to the first floor he asked me to wait while he went to get some water. I thought he was kind. He returned with a tall glass and I drank the water in one gulp. I thanked him and left.

When I got back to the grocery store, I realized I had been gone three hours. None of my co-workers seemed to notice that I’d been missing. I walked over to Bob, the owner of the store, and found words almost impossible. He asked me where I’d been and I shared what had happened. He shrugged and told me he was glad I made it out of the lift. I thought he was matter-of-fact about the whole thing, but how could he know what I’d been through.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Years later I was watching the news and there was a story about a woman who was on an elevator in a Manhattan hi-rise. The elevator stopped a few feet below the floor she had entered on. The elevator door and the door to the floor opened, she panicked and hoisted herself up. As she was crawling out of the elevator, it started back up and cut her in half. When the door opened to some people who had called the lift, they saw the severed lower half of her body. The news only showed the bloody car, but it didn’t take much imagination to see the gruesome scene in your mind’s eye. Apparently, there was some sort of glitch in the system that caused the lift to malfunction. I believe they have put new measures in place to ensure an elevator car could never move if any of the floor doors are even partially opened.

I will never shake the image of that woman’s severed torso and what her final moments must have been like. I’ve also thought about my own situation and how I was fortunate to get out of the lift I was trapped in. I should have asked the super to call the fire department; I wasn’t thinking. The events that took place that day in my 16th year, taught me a great deal about who I am and how fortunate I have been. I treat elevators with great respect and carry water with me whenever possible; you never know when you might need it.

I still wonder where all the residents of that building were that day? Why didn’t the woman I had just delivered groceries to, hear me? And why didn’t my co-workers notice how long I’d been gone?

____________________________________________________________________________

Hot dogs are one of my favorite foods and until recently I was convinced that a good, natural casing frankfurter, did not exist in Portugal. I was happily wrong — they sell them frozen at IKEA and I’m good now.

Trapped Under Ice

60 Seconds of Terror

Photo by Tembela Bohle

Completely submerged, I pounded the ice with my fist while panicked boys above me screamed for help. Weighted down by boots, a winter coat, and fear, I could only think of Dana. I was certain that if I didn’t find a hole in the ice I would never see my dog again.

My Scouting Days Were Limited

To say that I was a reluctant boy scout is an understatement. The thought of camping and eating dehydrated packaged foods was repulsive. I went along with the idea to show my aloof step-father that I was not a sissy. Our scout leader’s thinly veiled plan was to have us boys slip flyers under tenement doors in order to earn enough cash to leave the city for greener pastures. I’ll explain the scam later. This charade meant giving up Saturdays, for how long, I don’t recall; all for two insufferable nights with miserable scout leaders intent on showing us how to be real men.

I didn’t mind summer camping so much. Well that’s a lie, I hated the mosquitoes and I despised my pumped up, so called, leaders. But in the summer, I didn’t freeze my ass off and I could at least go swimming. When the leaders announced a winter trip, I asked my mom if I could sit it out. My mother was always concerned about my desire to spend more time in my room than out and about. She insisted that I go and demanded that I have fun. It doesn’t really work that way, but back then, kids did what they were told.

The Trip

We arrived at the campground in Alpine, New Jersey. It couldn’t have been more than an hour from the city; rural, desolate, and way too far from Brooklyn for my liking. I’m going to say, all in, there were around 15 of us. We got there on an old school bus; the same yellow jalopies still on the road today. The bus was damp and cold and you felt every bump to the point where it hurt your teeth. I’m not a delicate flower mind you, I just didn’t see the point in such nonsense.

It started snowing the night before we left for Alpine and I recall arriving at camp hoping that the cabins were buried so deep we’d have to turn back — no such luck. Upon arrival, we were told to put our things on top of our bunks and return to the dining hall (I use the term loosely), for further instructions. All the boys had boatloads of energy and were anxious to be outdoors; our leaders seemed just as anxious to coax us out. They told us we could play, but that we should stay close to the cabins and return before lunch. They were to remain in the dining hall so that they could map out the rest of the weekend.

My scout peers and I ran into the great beyond, not far from our home base. The snow was over eight inches deep and blanked the camp. Most of us were testing the snow to see whether or not could make snowballs with it. In fact, it was perfect for packing — we were all ready for war . . . boys will be boys. I started running toward the center of what I thought was a wide open field and I felt the ground beneath me crack open; in fact it was a lake, not a field. I was pulled into the frozen water, weighted down by my winter boots and a heavy wool coat. I must have started screaming, but this part is all a blur. I later learned that as soon as I took the plunge, a couple of the boys ran to alert our leaders.

Completely submerged, I frantically searched for an opening in the ice. It was dark under water due to the fallen snow. It felt as if I was moving in slow motion as I listened to frantic screams and tried to swim to the surface; my clothing was soaked through, weighing me down. After what I’m certain was a very long time, I heard splashing nearby. I moved toward the sound and found an opening in the ice. Each time I tried to hold on, the ice broke off. The other boy who had fallen in was thrashing two or three away. I heard panicked voices pleading for the two of us to stay calm, “Help is on the way.”

By the time our scout leaders arrived, we’d broken through quite a large patch of ice. I’d gone under numerous times. The men quickly laid across the ice, creating a human chain, and pulled the two of us out of the lake. We were carried back to the leader’s cabin and placed in front of the fire. My clothing was quickly peeled off of me and I was wrapped in a large blanket. I’m sure my lips had turned blue and I was shivering so badly I feared I would never stop. Looking back, I’m certain our leaders were more fearful of a lawsuit than hypothermia. I recall deafening silence as they attempted to warm us up. I was given a cup of hot chocolate, but I couldn’t stop shaking long enough to get it down.

A decision was made to cancel the weekend and take us all home to our parents. I don’t recall hearing the reaction of the other scouts. One of our leaders grabbed my backpack and took responsibility for getting me home. I didn’t know him very well, I didn’t like him, and I didn’t trust him. In the car, he questioned me about how I fell in the ice. I shared with him what I was certain everyone had told him, that I ran onto what I thought was an open field and fell into the lake. He just nodded and assured me that I’d be home soon.

When we got to my house my mother was anxiously waiting at the door. I didn’t realize they had called ahead and she was crying and obviously angry. She hugged me tighter than usual. I’m was pretty sure that it was all a show; drama was my mother’s specialty and this was a situation that called for plenty of it. The scout leader asked if he could come in. My brothers and sisters all stared at me as if I had some sort of rare disease. I was still bundled in blankets because my coat was soaked. My mother asked the scout leader to have a seat.

I recall her repeating, “How could you let this happen,” several times.

She made it clear that I would never be allowed to go away with the boy scouts again and threatened a lawsuit. This news made me very happy; almost making my submersion into the frozen lake, worth it. My scout leader told her about the snow covered lake and the human chain, but it fell on deaf ears. They spoke for a few more minutes, he apologized again and left. I wasn’t used to see him humble. Once he was gone, my mother reverted back to her old ways and sent me to bed; not before making it clear that falling into the frozen lake was all my fault and that I was lucky to be alive.

I never returned to the boy scouts after that incident and there was no lawsuit ever filed. It wasn’t because my mother didn’t think she had a case, it had more to do with the effort she’d have to make it happen. I have stayed away from fields covered in snow and never once, regretted leaving the scouts.

Prologue

The flyers work our leaders had us do, was a scheme to line their pockets. Arrests made local news and there were indictments. I recall feeling vindicated. To this day when I see flyers being slipped under doors, I have a visceral resentment for those boy scout “leaders,” and their intention to teach us how to lead.

fear quotes courage knowing what wisdom

São Miguel is less than two weeks away and if all goes well, I’ll be back in the States for a visit, by mid-May.

Question of the Week:

Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes? What did you see?

Smile Blog Revisited

Coping With Lockdown

The Western Algarve Coast

This blog is more for me than for you. I recently learned that the Portuguese government will extend lockdown until early April. On top of that, my vaccine is months away and the two jabs could get in the way of travel. It’s been a difficult year, however, I have come to realize that there are several things that I now do and can do, to make lockdown more tolerable. I made a list which I believe is best left in my journal.

When you put it all down on paper, it’s a full life. Last year I read interviews that were done with elderly people close to the end of their lives: when asked, “Is there anything you would have done differently?”, they overwhelmingly responded that they would have worked less and spent more time doing the things they enjoyed. For the most part, I’m doing the things I enjoy, in and out of lockdown. Excellent life lesson, especially for someone who believes that we get one shot at making it count.

I should add that I am acutely aware of those all over the world who are far less fortunate; gratitude helps keep things in perspective. I must admit this all seems a bit trite considering the current condition of humanity.

Spring has arrived here in the Algarve; it’s warmer, greener, and hope is in the air. That makes me smile.

“ALWAYS WEAR A SMILE BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHO IS WATCHING.”

Gracie Gold

I want to smile more. I do. One would think that this would be an easy goal, but trust me, if you’re not inclined to smile, deciding to do so, just like that, is a difficult objective. I was born cynical, but coming up in my world, how could I not be. I also believe this is one of those nature/nurture arguments. Was I cynical because of my genetic makeup or did growing up in a tortured household make me cynical. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call it a draw and say that both factors are the cause. The point is, I have to work at smiling and how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

“Love yourself for who you are, and trust me, if you are happy from within, you are the most beautiful person, and your smile is your best asset.”

Ileana D’Cruz

Some Ways/Places to Practice Smiling

  • Tell yourself to smile every morning. You can do it when you’re brushing your teeth. It won’t take any more time out of your busy day. Soon it will be as routine as brushing; you won’t even think about it.
  • Add a little caveat to practicing your smile:  make it so that you cannot smile unless you add something you’re grateful for. For example:  this morning, before I brushed my teeth, I thought about how grateful I was that I slept well and then I smiled.
  • Practice while you’re doing something mundane — like when you’re on the treadmill at the gym or while you’re riding in a bus or on the subway.
  •  Look straight into a mirror and keep smiling.
  • Practice with a friend or family member. Let them tell you what they think of your smile and accept the feedback. Is it genuine? Too broad? Too big?

Be Your Own Motivator

I have a friend whom I met at a gym in Portland, Maine. He was struggling on an abdominal machine near where I was working out. He saw me watching him and asked me if I knew how to use the machine. I hopped on and did a few reps (gym lingo for repetitions just to show you how cool I can be). Chomba is from Zambia, he studied in Europe, he’s in his 20s and he’s quite a specimen; naturally I was pleased to show him how to use the machine correctly. Like any normal man, I preened and walked away triumphant. A few days later I saw him using the same machine and he was smiling ear-to-ear. Honestly, Chomba has the most genuine and beautiful smile I have ever seen. I noticed him using the very same machine on a regular basis. I finally approached him and asked him if he used any other equipment at the gym. He shared a big laugh and thanked me for showing him how to use the machine. I said, “Chomba, because I always see you on this ab machine, I am naming it the Chomba Machine.” From then on I when I would see him I would ask if he had done his ab reps on the Chomba machine that day.

Weeks went by of just saying hello in the gym and I thought it was time to become friends outside of Planet Fitness. I approached him and invited him over to my place for dinner. I was having a dinner party and I thought he’d be a great addition to my guest list. Chomba was delighted and came to my place with a nice bottle of wine. Everyone at party fell in love with him. He’s the kind of person who lights up the room and makes everyone feel special. That night I learned that he was a motivator working out of Boston. His firm was hired by companies to motivate their staff (Chomba if I’m getting this all wrong I apologize). What I loved more than anything is that he did not boast about his work or his life. We had to poke and pry before he came clean. Chomba is a modest fella. By the way, Chomba models now (lives in Portland, OR — fairly new) and always stays in touch. I’m grateful for his candor, his loyalty and his beautiful smile.

What Chomba has taught me is invaluable. Essentially, you can be your own motivator. You can do what he does, but in your own head. You can get yourself charged-up and energized whenever you feel yourself needing a little boost.

Experiment

Having been a sociology student in college, I often love to go back to my roots and do human interaction (behavior) experiments. I occasionally spend the day smiling all day just to see how people respond to it. I also enjoy seeing if it affects my mood.

I have to say that I get pretty amazing results:

  • People almost always smile back.
  • It sometimes feels like you’re waking someone up and suddenly they seem to come alive.
  • It makes me feel lighter.
  • The results make me want to do it more often.
  • Sometimes it makes strangers laugh; especially when I smile really big. I’m thinking, they must think I’m crazy, but who cares.
  • There is a reason for the saying “A smile goes a long way.”
  • I am in the middle of a very frustrating experience with an upgrade to my apartment. The person responsible for getting the work done has been slacking off and it’s sort of driving me crazy. The project began 14 months ago. I decided to give him an ultimatum knowing that he might walk away from the job. Instead, when I saw him I smiled. It appears that is not what he expected and I believe he may be close to finishing the job. Yesterday, I received a call from a man who will hopefully complete the job this week.

Current Mood

One of the interesting things about blogging is how your mood and thoughts change as you work through a particular thread of thoughts. I woke today in a non-smiling mood. You may relate to what I’m feeling, except that I don’t quite know what I am feeling. What I do know, is that I don’t feel like smiling. I had an interaction yesterday that was troubling and it’s still on my mind. I’m pissed to put it bluntly.

I am going to work through these feelings and thoughts by forcing a smile and see where it takes me.

The next day:  the left home for a bed & breakfast about 90 minutes away. Sometimes it helps to be away from your familiar environment. I found myself smiling just as soon as I boarded the train.

Smiling is one of those things you can do to brighten your day and/or someone else’s day, and it cost nothing! Nada! Zip! Zero cents! In fact, studies have shown that it’s good for you too.

Image result for is smiling good for your health
Why Smile?

http://www.waynedentalarts.com The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. … The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well (4). This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.Jun 25, 2012

There’s Magic in Your Smile | Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge…/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

There’s Magic in Your Smile

Surprising Health Benefits of Smiling

Two things that help me smile: Giving when I can and volunteering my time. Never underestimate the power of compassion and charity.

Question of the week:

What makes you smile?

You Can Go Now

I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done. I held my mother’s icy cold hand and I whispered, “You can go now mom.”

Mom and me. I know, I’m working that stache.

“Why don’t you feel good about this? Wasn’t it the kindest thing to do?” If my intention was to have my mother pass in order to end her suffering, that would have been kind; however, that was not my intention. In truth, I thought it was wrong to keep her hooked up to a respirator and I knew she’d try to hang on for as long as she could; mom was fiercely stubborn. We had a complicated relationship and I was tired of the drama; I was done. Before you start hating me, I’d like you to consider a few facts. For one, my mother had been in and out of hospital for several years and near death numerous times. She was resuscitated and even though she told my stepfather that she did not want to be, he went ahead and ordered it anyway. She had not completed the paperwork in hospital, no surprise to me or my siblings.

When I say that my relationship with my mother was complicated, I believe an explanation is warranted. In many ways, throughout my youth and twenties, I was the parent. My mother was a heavy smoker (even during her pregnancies), a gambler, cheated on my father, a thief (insurance fraud and groceries to name two), and she did psychological damage to all four of her daughters. Three out of four of my sisters had eating disorders due to my mother’s unhealthy weight obsession. I was constantly reminding her about the hazards of smoking, begging her to cut back on that and gambling, and soothing a great deal of her self-inflicted pain. So when I said, You can go now mom, it was after many years of shame and disappointment, as well as a strong belief that modern medicine was prolonging the inevitable. Some people will say that I judged her harshly; others will say that it does not matter how awful she was, I should not speak ill of her. You can be certain that my living siblings would attest to my account of our upbringing and the chaos she rained upon us as adults.

When she was alive she would actually say, “I know you’re going to write a book about me when I die.”

That was her way of telling me to wait. The irony is that I loved her. When family members would scorn her, I would jump to her defense. But deep down I believed that she was selfish, disingenuous and should probably not have given birth to children. True, she had an abusive father and she got pregnant when she was 16 years old, but that does not excuse the poor mothering; she knew better. I’m certain she knew better.

So when I told my mother that she could go, she had a week prior contracted an incurable blood disease in hospital, and she was in a medically induced coma. My niece was with me in the room and witnessed my mother’s reaction. Nicole was close to my mother, her grandmother, and she agreed that my mother would be better off letting go. Being that mom was in a coma, I expected her to continue to lie still; what I was to tell her was more for me than for her. After I whispered, “You can go now mom,” my mother violently shook her head from side-to-side. I’m not going to lie, it was unexpected and scary.

We shared this with her doctor, who shrugged and said, “It could have been an involuntary reaction or she could have been in the middle of a dream.”

Nonsense. My mother heard me and she was letting me know she didn’t want to die. The whole damn affair was extremely frustrating. Frank, her husband, had been ill for quite some time. He had dementia and other issues and he was in no position to be making decisions about mother’s life. The hospital was concerned about liability and nothing else. My mother remained in a coma for two more weeks until my stepfather gave the go ahead to pull the plug. Frank was not my favorite person in the world and considering how much he supposedly loved my mother, it was ironic that he spent most of her memorial service flirting with a younger blond.

As you can see, I haven’t been able to just shrug-off the experience at her deathbed. It’s been almost 10 years and I still see mom shaking her head violently. Perhaps I remember her obstinance more than her actual reaction. These demons we carry around are quite strong and they show their potency at times when we are most vulnerable.

Despite my resentment and anger, I miss her dearly. She gave birth to me and mothered me for over 50 years; if I didn’t have strong feelings, I’d be an amoeba. I miss how she eagerly took my calls, how she put up with my badgering about the past, her unapologetic sense of humor, her ability to make strangers feel better, her fighting spirit, the happiness she would always try to portray, the grace in which she dealt with losing two children, when she worked as a bartender until 2:00 a.m. every night to ensure there would be food on the table, her support for my education, the way she dealt with my sexuality, her reputation for being one of the best poker players in North Carolina, and her sloppy, but well intentioned cooking.

Perhaps I did want her to leave us peacefully and without guilt, perhaps that was my intention after all.

I dream about her a lot — another sign that her life and death matter. I do forgive my mother, but I have not forgiven myself. The takeaway for me: dream of her for the rest of your life, that way she will remain with you. And for you: None of us should throw stones, especially when personal perfection is so far from reality.

____________________________________________________________________

Nothing like homemade pizza. Two tips: 1)pizza freezes well and 2)use parchment paper on your pizza peel and you won’t have to worry about the dough sticking to it — remove parchment halfway through the cooking process.

Lockdown continues in Portugal. I’ve given up guessing how long this will last. Most planned holidays have been scrapped or rescheduled. Cuba in April is precarious; hoping the U.S. in May sticks.

Question of the week:

Does something from your past haunt you? How do you cope with it?

Admitting Your Own Mistakes

Image result for mistakes quotes

This is a tough one :p

This will be a short blog. Not because I haven’t made mistakes, in fact, I’ve made many mistakes. The reason this blog will be brief, is that I am working on being more positive. Weeks and weeks of lockdown can send you down a dark rabbit hole and I’m choosing an upward path.

Objectivity is way more challenging than most of us care to admit. For me, everything is always personal. The former president signs an executive order to ban immigrants from several Middle East countries and I take it personally. It’s not terribly healthy, but I recognize the mantra, “It’s not about me,” is worth repeating often . . . very often.

Big Mistakes Versus Tiny Ones

I often say regrets are a waste of time; therefore, rehashing bad decisions would be futile; except in at least one circumstance: if you can learn from your mistake.

For example, and I’ll avoid a personal recounting for a change, you purchase oysters and put them in the refrigerator. You plan on opening the oysters that evening, but something comes up and you tell yourself you’ll shuck them the next day. Life happens and the next day comes and goes. On the third day you remember the oysters sitting in the refrigerator. You think about the $26 you spent on them and you wonder how long they sat in the fish market stall before you bought them. You ponder their freshness for another 30 seconds and then you say, “Oh, heck, I’m sure they’re fine, I’m going to have Harry shuck them.” That night you and Harry end up with food poisoning that almost sends you to hospital. I think it’s safe to say that you will never make that mistake again. And who the hell is Harry?

Big Mistakes

For me, the biggest mistake one could make would involve badly hurting another person. There are so many examples of this: having an affair, killing someone (accidentally or on purpose), pinning a crime on an innocent person, driving drunk and paralyzing someone for life, and more.

Hard to fix a big mistake, in fact, in many cases impossible. You end up having to live with the mistake and live with yourself. So why do we make big mistakes? No easy answer here; however, there is something we can do to preempt big mistakes:

  • NEVER drink and drive
  • When you get so angry you want to use your physical power against someone, walk away
  • Play the worst case scenario game and if the outcome is dire, don’t go with that plan, choose another
  • Ask friends for their advice
  • Write a pros and cons list (my favorite past time)
  • Use protection prior to sex with someone you don’t know very well

Small Mistakes

Small mistakes are quite different. We make small mistakes nearly everyday. Beating yourself or someone else up over a small mistake, is a waste of good energy (as are regrets). Instead, why not apologize to someone or use it as a teachable moment. No major damage was done and a lesson might be learned. Repeating bad behavior is inexcusable.

45 Forgive Yourself Quotes | Self Forgiveness Quotes images – FunZumo
Sure, easy for you to say

A mistake I made this week: I walked into the dog park in my neighborhood with Paco. Please keep in mind that I have been going there with him for seven months and there has never been an issue. I asked the two people in the park if it’s okay to take Paco off-leash. We were all three wearing a mask and the two individuals were fairly far away from the entrance. I believed I had been given the go ahead. Unbeknown to me, one of the two women, is tried to tell me that she didn’t believe our dogs would get along. I didn’t comprehend this until Paco charged her dog and attacked him. The owner screamed and lifted her dog off the ground with his leash. Paco grabbed his tail and he was literally swinging off the dog’s tail. I pried Paco off and tried to grab him, but he was angry and rabid. I held the woman’s dog high in the air so that Paco could not harm him and she managed to put Paco on his leash. I learned that this poor woman has heart problems.

I anguished over this mishap for several days. I have since learned that you cannot not expect a neutered male (Paco) to play with or interact with a non-neutered male (her dog). Lesson learned and I hope it never happens again; it was extremely scary and could have ended in the spilling of blood or even the death of her beloved pet.

Side note: There was an unneutered male dog at the park yesterday and his owner assured me that there would not be a problem. She was right, Paco played beautifully and happily with this dog. She told me that it is not the neuter factor, but a scent that dogs give off. It is this uncertainty that concerns me. Is there a clear cause and effect answer?

Recommend an excellent podcast, Obama and The Boss

Question of the Week:

I’m getting some great feedback on and off-line and I want to let you know how much I appreciate it.

Have you done something in the past that haunts you? Is it time to let it go?

The End. Period.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Is there someone else? When did it start? I should have known you’d cheat, you bastard; who is he? How did I not see it. I didn’t want to see it, I was blindsided . . . or so I thought. The truth is, there were weeks and weeks of deafening exchanges, changes in patterns, and forced smiles. Back then I thought I was the cat’s pajamas, the guy who could pick and choose. Why would anyone walk away from a guy who can cook?

In total, we broke-up nine torturous times. Each time I swore to the gods that I would never go back. How many times can you smash your head against the wall before you realize it may cause permanent damage?

When you force a conversation, please talk to me, tell me what you’re feeling, tell me what’s wrong, and this is what he tells you:

“I don’t know.”

You don’t know? I ask.

“I don’t know.”

Time to walk away, except for some reason you will never fully understand, you stay. You stay and allow yourself a daily dose of torture; sometimes two or three doses. That’s called low self-esteem and it’s time to build it back up, but not there, not with him. It took a good deal of heartache and losing a couple of friends, before I had finally had enough. I was fortunate that the tipping point arrived before I’d hit rock bottom. I know too many people who stay and regret it years later. Sound familiar?

Side note: When someone says, “I don’t know why I treat you so badly,” it’s because they are afraid of saying the one thing that might make you say, “Fuck you, get out and don’t come back.” As hard as we might try, we cannot change people.

—————————————————————————

What’s Your Story

Many of us have ended relationships. For some, it’s as easy as snapping your fingers; for others, it feels more like passing a kidney stone. For me, I’d have to say it depends on who it is and the circumstances.

We never really know what another person is thinking or feeling. They can tell us or we can guess; however, the truth can be elusive or distorted. Here’s what I mean:

You’re dating an individual who may have very few faults or imperfections. If you’re like me, the tiniest issues reveal themselves very early on. You find yourself tormented by the idea of ending the relationship because you might not see it going anywhere. Sabotage is alive and well in my world. Communication is essential, without it, you have a wobbly foundation. With a solid foundation, you can address nearly any issue. Still, some problems are insurmountable and if your eyes are wide open, you’ll see it.

The Kinds of Endings You Might Contemplate:

Love Relationships — I am the last person to comment on ending love relationships. There are only two things that I know for certain: 1) Sex after a break-up will not make you feel better or help you get over him, and 2) Until you decide it’s over, it will not truly be over. If your gut tells you it’s not working, listen to your gut.

Friendships — Ending a friendship, long or short, is not easy. However, not unlike a love relationship, once a friendship becomes toxic or unpleasant, it’s time to consider cutting your losses. In the end, it’s about what you think of yourself. If you value your self-worth and quality of life, walking away from a friendship — as difficult as it might be — may be the best thing you can do. I think this rule applies to any friendship, long or short.

Many of us view the end of a friendship as failure; for some of us, failure is not an option. So we remain and allow it to slowly rot bits and pieces of our core. I had a 25 year friendship that ended about 10 years ago. I contacted this former friend on her birthday a few years back and she was very angry; she hadn’t let go of the bitterness that tore us apart. I realized that nothing and changed. In some ways that revelation can be a good thing, it helps gives you closure and affirmation. We reach out to one another on our birthdays now, that’s about all the contact either of us can tolerate. Not going to lie, every once in a while I find myself missing this person, but then I recall why it went south and I am relieved that I called it quits when I did. At the end of the day, your integrity is all that matters; and your sanity, that matters as well.

There are those who believe that when you end something it’s best not to revisit it. I’ve had situations when I can’t recall why it ended in the first place and some people do evolve, don’t they?

Business Partnerships — I have a friend that hated his business partner. It got so bad he’d drink himself to sleep at night. If have to ask yourself if it’s worth the pain and suffering, your answer is right there in front of you. Talk to anyone who ended a business relationship that was poisonous; nine out of ten times they’ll tell you they bounced back and came back stronger. When you take care of yourself, you not only fix the problem at hand, but you also end up mending a lot of other broken parts happening simultaneously. Your courage and strength carries over to all other aspects of your life.

Family — This is kind of break-up has hit close to home recently and it is still somewhat raw. If I write about it, I’ll get a bit of backlash and it’s not worth it. I will say that as difficult as it might be to walk away, there are situations that are so distressing, remaining in touch can do physical and emotional harm. In the end, your choice should be to protect yourself. Exhaust every avenue to fix what is broken before you say goodbye. The harder you know you have tried, the less you will regret your decision.

If you don’t end up sad and hurt by the loss, you are either uncaring or way too guarded. Having an open and loving heart has its pitfalls, but I’d rather be sad and hurt than live through life feeling nothing. Or even worse, being angry all the time.

Employment — This break-up variety is every bit as onerous as any other. You add money and fear of failure to this equation and you have quite a lot to consider. One of the things I did that I found helpful, was to make a list of the pros and cons. I also played the worst case scenario game, which I always find helpful. When you’re going through the hardship, you’re thinking I will never survive if this ended. In truth, we always survive. On the other side of abuse and unappreciative supervisors/owners is something better. Remember there is only one direction you can go when things get that bad. If you’re dreading going to the office or meeting with your boss, that’s a pretty clear sign that it’s time to move on. When my doctor prescribed Xanax so that I could sit in the same room with my ex-boss, I knew it was time to go. Don’t let it get to that point.

Image result for a quote for when it's time to quit a job

One of my favorite ending a relationship quotes:

“I thought I was strong, holding on to you, but I was stronger when I was letting you go.”

Cuba postponed to April 22. I will hopefully get to finally go. Back to the States to see friends and family in May (we’ll see). I’m accustomed to the uncertainty.

I’m still in lockdown here in Portugal. The police are out checking for face masks, ID, and for those who might be illegally leaving their municipality. I’m not sure how much more surreal this whole experience could be. It seems like there may be a light at the end of this tunnel — stay strong and healthy.

Question of the Week:

Do you have a successful break-up story to share or advice you might like to convey?

Why Winning Might Not Be So Important

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

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

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

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

George Steinbrenner


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

Mia Hamm

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

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

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

When Winning is Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Baranski - Wikipedia

“Playing Scrabble?” She uttered.

“We are,” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you afraid of me?”

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

I promise you she said the following:

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________________________________

Travel

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________________

Requires Your Participation

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

This week’s question:

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

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

__________________________________________________

COVID-19

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

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

Photo by FransA on Pexels.com

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

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

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

New York City

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

Wigstock on the Christopher Street Pier

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out at New York University

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bar and Club Scene

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

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

The NYC Population in General

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

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

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

Articles

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

The Queer History of NYC

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

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

Has the Gay Movement Failed?

by Martin Duberman | Jun 8, 2018


Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary

by Martin Duberman | Sep 8, 2020


Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community

by Martin Duberman | Mar 13, 2009


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

by Martin Duberman | Jun 4, 2019


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

by Martin Duberman | Mar 6, 2018

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

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

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


Just Fantasy

Let’s Play a Game, Shall We?

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

A Little Background Information

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

Fantasy defined:

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

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

The Fantasy

Set-up

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

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

Plunging Right In

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

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

I took this photo in Toulouse, 2019

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

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

I smile back and say, “Good morning.”

“You are American,” he remarks without judgment.

“I am. Is that a bad thing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re making me crazy,” he says.

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

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

“Big strong hands, I like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

Happy New Year. Let’s make 2021 phenomenal.

Realistic Fantasy, Or Fantastic Reality?

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

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

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

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

Anne Rhitak

I Thought it Was the Scotch She Wanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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