Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I had another ghost sighting today. I had just finished a late lunch with a friend in the Chelsea Market and was looking around some of the food vendors when I noticed that the man buying vegetables next to me was someone I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years. Years, hair loss, and medications have rendered me relatively unrecognizable from what I was back then, and, though it might be generous to call this a mixed blessing, today I was grateful for it. He had aged dramatically, yet I recognized him immediately. I was fairly stunned. The years had not been kind to him. I began thinking about time, mislaid years, and aging. Lost in my head, I tumbled around in a brackish muck of self-pity and remorse - I tried to find my way back out but couldn’t.

I didn’t mention any of this to my friend and tried to simply shrug it off, but the memories kept coming back. I was shocked at such disturbing, visual evidence of the passing of time. I continued to stare straight ahead and walk through it as though nothing had happened, unaffected.

My friend and I climbed up to the High Line and we walked. We chatted, and we looked at the river, and we walked. We looked at the passing boats, and we talked about how we did or didn't like certain new additions to the skyline, and we walked. We noticed tourists and we stopped to take the occasional photo. I was still fighting the sour ball of melancholy that had lodged in my chest. The sun was hot and bright, and we stopped under one of the overpasses while my friend took a few photos of some building or other. I turned and saw another familiar face - this one much more recent and kind of famous. I took two steps forward.

“You are fabulous” I gushed.

I actually couldn’t help myself, the gushing kept bubbling forth, unstoppable bilious froth.

“My name is _____. I just saw you in "The Bacchae," and I also saw you in "Hair" last year. I think you are just fabulous”

“My name is Jonathan, Hello and thank you.” He took my hand in one hand and rested his other hand on my shoulder.

“Oh, I saw you in "The Singing Forrest" too!"


“I think you are just terrific, really. Congratulations on your success.”

He smiled, he may have said thank you again, I’m not sure.

“The world is your oyster and you should enjoy it.” Perhaps he thought I was a mad stalker; luckily he seemed sincerely moved.

It was only after the encounter ended that my friend, who witnessed the entire thing and needed to be told who he was, assured me that he did, in fact, seem genuinely touched. She then told me that New York Magazine’s Matrix had just trashed his performance as Dionysus in "The Bacchae" and that the show had just been horribly reviewed in today's New York Times.

This might have been a very difficult day for him. I’m not worried that it will last long for Mr. Groff - er - Jonathan rather (we are on a first name basis). This is a very talented kid with a huge rising star. This Friday, Ang Lee’s "Taking Woodstock" is opening and he is in it! "The Bacchae" is closing Saturday and by this time next week Jonathan's cute but awkward Dionysus and the accompanying bad reviews will be history.

If this was a difficult or lousy day for him perhaps my few moments of gushing brought some light in an otherwise dark afternoon. It certainly relieved me of the sour, disquieting feelings brought on by my earlier sighting. Sometimes not being able to edit might be a good thing.

Friday, August 14, 2009


in the city - I love it. While others complain of the oppressive heat and try to stay inside climate controlled spaces to avoid roasting I can’t help but think about the brittle, crackling cold that is only months away. I've been trying to spend as much time as I can outside. I slather my tattooed arm with sunscreen (sun exposure is the only thing that can damage tattoos) and I walk. I spend a lot of time walking around the city. I walk and I sweat, I stop to eat fruit and drink water and then I walk more. Different neighborhoods, parks, across town, by the river - I walk down blocks I think I’ve never been down before and all of a sudden I’ll see a familiar building or an intersection - visual triggers that trip specific recollections. In these past few warm weeks memories have been flooding my consciousness relentlessly. I’ve been visited by things, situations, times, and people that I haven’t thought about in years. It’s as if I’m caught inside a kaleidoscope of repressed experiences where colors and shapes flash by and let loose a cascade of forgotten moments and feelings: rolling waves, without space or reason, long absent sensations and emotions, rush and recede.

Sometimes it’s little things; an exchange with a stranger, the touch of a hand, the smell of popcorn or pizza fresh out of a wood burning oven, standing on line for a movie, I don’t remember whom I was with but I remember the movie, I remember the weather, I remember the time of day.

Names come rushing back - they wash over me: Hank,Tony, Todd, Karen, Nino, Bill, Barbara, Stephen, Sean. And, of course, countless faces I no longer have names for. What happened to them? Where are they now? Did they go on to have careers and families? Did they move away and create comfortable lives for themselves or did they make poor choices? Perhaps succumb to disease, addiction, or some other misfortune, as so many others, and pass away too soon?

The other day I passed a street corner and remembered seeing Tim Kramer on that corner. Tim Kramer was a tall, blond, sexy, sun-kissed, surfer-type, gay porn star of the 1980’s with a pouty, bad-boy smirk, mischievous eyes, and tousled, flaxen hair. He was one of the early casualties of the AIDS epidemic. I saw him on the street and we had lingering eye contact on that very spot where I was standing, maybe twenty-five years earlier.

I know that close friends who have passed on remain with me: their laughter, their touch, the knowing looks that friends give one another. I feel them, they somehow still remain; they're here.

What about strangers?

New York City is truly a melting pot year round but walking around the island of Manhattan in August, I’ve become especially aware of visitors from far reaches of the globe. Midtown in August - the pot simmers and bubbles to produce an especially concentrated, international reduction; just in the distance of one block one might hear Italian, Hebrew, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Korean. Sometimes I’ll hear a conversation in a language that I can’t identify and I’ll walk alongside till I can either identify the tongue or give up. The clacking of foreign tongues, their diverse cadence and inflection, car radios, sirens, games being played in the parks, all add to the rhythm of the city. In August, even the heated traffic sounds different. I walk in an escalating tempo and notice that I'm keeping time to the beat of the summer street.

I came back from visiting my sister the second week of July to learn that a kid I have been trying to help get sober for the last 9 or 10 months, I call him a kid but he’s 30 years old, had gone out on a two week cocaine binge. He suffered some sort of a psychotic break and in order to escape the imagined boogeymen coming after him, jumped, naked, out of his third story bathroom window. He suffered three broken vertebrae, two broken legs, and was all cut up, as he actually went through part of the window. He has had five surgeries, titanium rods put in his left leg, repeated surgery on his back, and was recently moved to a physical rehab where he’ll likely stay for the next few months.

Being witness to this kind of senseless, self-inflicted suffering stretches the mind in unexpected ways. Being able to show up for him and his family, to sit through the awkward hospital silences and uncomfortable feelings - to watch everyone involved struggle through the consequences of drugs, alcohol, and bad choices reminds me that I really am one of the lucky ones. How is it that I managed to escape a similar episode? Is there such a thing as fate or is life experience just the luck of the draw? What is the difference between chance and grace?

I know that I am not alone. I guess I've not yet done what I've been put here to do and so I keep walking. Those who have gone on before me and those who are still here, they walk with me; they benefit from, and are all a part of, that same thing which allows me to walk in this continued unmerited favor.