Thursday, December 22, 2011

see the blazing yule before us

At this time last year, I had just arrived in India. I vividly remember the first breakfast I had after waking up in a small guesthouse in Chennai (Swami Saradananda had ordered breakfast for me the night before, pretty sure that I'd be awake early): pongol and chai spiced coffee. It was so sweet and delicious, the smells and flavors of cardamom and black pepper in the morning was new, exotic, and instantly captivated me. I was thrilled to be starting my small adventure of spiritual exploration and cultural immersion; far away from busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style - at least the holiday style to which I'd always been accustomed.

Last Christmas eve I visited St. Thomas Basilica, a cathedral that is built over the site where St. Thomas is believed to be interred. For me the holiday was quiet, reflective, personal - all very different from the Christmases I'd spent before. More than a small part of me is wishing I could be having a similar experience this year.

This Christmas eve I'll be going into a locked detox ward of a hospital. I'm going in there to hopefully share a message of hope and recovery with some folks who are probably going to be feeling pretty lousy having to spend their Christmas in a place like that - a lucky few might realize the auspicious gift they've been given, but the majority will most probably be sad, resentful, frustrated, even indignant. I'm looking forward to it; it's the part of my holiday plans this year where I can most easily focus on the spirit of giving and the brotherhood of man. The other stuff, the family stuff, is always more difficult for me - and I'll be doing some of that a few days after Christmas.

In previous years I always brought a big bundle of fabulous gifts; all sparkly and well thought out, hoping to impress with the most well-suited and best gifts - I didn't have to necessarily do anything - I could let the gifts speak for me. I didn't have the luxury of doing that this year. This year, the challenge for me will be to try and bring the same spirit of love, service, and open-mindedness to my often deranged family as to the sick and suffering people in the locked ward. Practicing the principles of honesty, faith, tolerance, patience, love, humility, and forgiveness is easier in theory than it is in practice. Even if I'm willing enough to try, I'll be doing better than I have before. If I can add to those principles a glimpse of the quiet, reflective, and personal Christmas experience I had last year in India, then maybe I can even be a demonstration of good will.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

working with others

Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends - this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

pepper spraying america


Yesterday police mercilessly pepper-sprayed seated, non-threatening UC Davis students, who, in a bitter twist of irony, where there protesting, among other things, police brutality! The escalating violence by police against Occupy Wall Street protesters has reached new levels of viciousness. It is cowardly, unethical, and unAmerican. These nationwide attacks continue to increase daily, and continue to be antithetical to the constitution. Republican candidates have repeated that the protesters should "get a job," and claim that "These people just want a handout," but it's painfully clear that what's going on is beginning to threaten the foundation of the current Machiavellian capitalist machine. As proof, a memo from lobbying firm, Clark, Lytle Geduldig, Cranord warns that there may be political fallout from growing support for the Occupy movement, and offers advice to its Wall Street clients. The banking industry is getting scared, and while it may take a long while to see any legislative differences come to pass, protesters keep getting arrested and brutally attacked by hired thugs (police). Thugs who may very well be only a paycheck away from joining the protesters whose heads they're currently whacking.



This isn't an America I recognize. I'm proud and heartened by the resolve of these brave protesters, but I'm equally disappointed, disillusioned, and disheartened by my country and its leaders. Watching these happenings unfold strengthens my hope in the human spirit, just as it rips away any glimmer that a quality of life in America for the 99% might get better. My support for the movement remains unwavering. I wish the president and legislative leaders would show some integrity, and demand that our police exhibit characteristics befitting of our country's standards.


We can talk the talk, but apparently find it much more difficult to walk the walk:


"I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal."

- Barack Obama - January 2008

Saturday, November 12, 2011

survivor

Like it or not, reality television is not just for television anymore, it’s become a way of life. And, we, the American people, have turned out to be the Biggest Losers. America’s current cultural default setting of voyeuristically watching sordid manipulated dramas unfold before our eyes is proving to have much more far-reaching consequences than anybody could have ever imagined. The phenomenon of commercially produced competition masquerading as 'reality' has become more than just guilty-pleasure-lowbrow entertainment. In fact, it has so thoroughly influenced and oversaturated our cultural identity, that it’s become difficult to differentiate a game show from a political campaign.


A little more than three years ago, a perky, photogenic, flag-waving, self-proclaimed pit-bull with lipstick entered the national media spotlight, and at the time, it probably didn’t occur to most of us to draw a parallel between her specific brand of mean-spirited, attention-grabbing, political backbiting and America's Next Top Model. But, as time has gone by, and as we've watched her carry her Down’s syndrome baby around like a loaf of bread from one political rally to the next, heard her repeatedly misquote the constitution, watched as her chastity championing teenage daughter got knocked-up by the local bad boy, and listened as her rabid rhetoric became more and more malicious, all in the name of patriotism and Christian values, it began to look as if Sinclair Lewis’s prescient 1935 quote might actually come to pass.


"When fascism comes to America,

it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."

Sinclair Lewis


'Real America,' the one of cup holders, mud flaps, and chewing tobacco, was finally getting the representation it had long been lacking, and the grateful middling masses turned up, tuned in, and lifted up their strident and shrill, newfound spokes model with the force of a tsunami – ethics violations be damned!


When the publicity-hungry hockey mom finally relieved herself of her pesky gubernatorial duties, and went on a self-promotional, nation-wide book tour, her supporters didn’t question her deserting her constituents, rather they seemed reinvigorated by her fearless-buck-the-system-confidence. They gathered in malls and town squares crying for smaller government, looser regulations, and called for a firearm in every pocket. They shouted accusations of tyranny and socialism willy-nilly at the current President all to the half-governor's smiling approval. Cameras kept rolling and supporters and critics alike tuned in daily to watch the latest installment of her partisan performance piece.


Political strategists took note of what was capturing the attention of both the media and the discontented voting public, and political contenders acted in kind – loudly courting the far right lunatic fringe with the same strident fear-baiting tenor as the rogue Alaskan. Cable news network pundits, arugula-eating liberal elites, and even old school Republican plutocrats watched aghast as the new rules of campaign strategies took on the character of a Jerry Springer, hootenanny, cage-fight.


At the same time as the moose-hunting-pageant-walking-hockey-mom-media-bus-tour and jamboree was gathering momentum in the nation’s heartlands, our ultra-right leaning Supreme Court weighed in on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. From here on out, there would be no limits on corporate campaign contributions. Essentially, Walmart can now buy the presidency! Of course, this was potentially great news for an uneducated public who believes that Walmart and its ilk are prototypically American. They haven’t been reading the fine print that explains how Walmart has outsourced American jobs to third world nations where cheap labor can be exploited under even slacker regulations than our own. They’re not concerned that Walmart’s produce is flown in from Chile and Costa Rica at the expense of local farmers, and they’d long ago forgotten those mom and pop stores that had to close up shop when behemoth corporations opened their doors with prices that mom and pop couldn’t compete with.


Since then, we've luckily managed to avoid bearing witness to a Trump campaign. Apparently the Donald felt that his real reality television responsibilities outweighed the public's call for his run for office. Instead, however (along with a pack of other irate wingnuts, all clamoring for the Republican nomination), we've got an angry, media hungry Georgia business man, who's made a fortune from a mediocre pizza chain. And if mediocre pizza wasn't enough to substantiate this man's patriotism, his self-righteous, uncompromising insistence that there would be no room for a Muslim in his cabinet, his indignant claims that government regulations inhibit free market advantage, and his hardened no nonsense tone has struck a chord with a certain disgruntled conservative constituency during an economic crisis.



Despite all odds, Cain has managed to stay in the running amid the more seasoned darlings of cable news and talk radio, even grabbing the spotlight away from such legendary lunatics as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum. In the past weeks, however, four women have come forward with accusations of sexual harassment against the pizza man. With all his bobbing and weaving around the accusations, it's hard to remember that republicans claim to be the party of 'personal responsibility.' Of course, even with all the accusations of Cain's sexual inappropriateness, he continues to use dismissive and misogynistic language; joking about Anita Hill and referring to former Speaker of the House Pelosi as "princess Nancy." One would think that this brazen demonstration of insensitivity and denigration of women when his character is in question would be detrimental to someone in such a public arena, but in the last month the Cain campaign has raised nine million dollars!


Perhaps this may not be so surprising after all when one considers that Cain's attitude seems to fit directly into the groove of the current anti-woman agenda that the Republicans have been so relentlessly pushing forward. It might also make perfect sense in light of the fact that the folks he's appealing to are the very same folks who cheer executions, call for the death of the uninsured, and boo soldiers.


I don't have the interest or energy to expound upon the foolishness of the pizza man's 9-9-9 tax plan (a tax plan shockingly similar to the one that the inhabitants of video game SimCity live under), nor do I care to blather on about the irrationality and idiocy of his proposed immigration reform plan other than to say that it includes not only an electrified fence, but also a moat filled with alligators all along the U.S.-Mexico border (I wish I was making this up). But what I would like to point out is that in his closing statement for one of the Republican debates, Mr. Cain said: "A poet once said, 'Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it's never easy when there's so much on the line."


Actually, the poem that the pizza man chose to quote really isn't a poem at all, it's the theme song from a Pokemon movie! Yes, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the President of the United States of America is quoting Pokemon. Kudos to Mr. Cain for taking our already twisted reality television culture one step further, and entering it into a world of bizarre performance art.


This is what these recent years of championing ignorance and spectacle over intelligence and substance has brought us to.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

gut yontif!

I don't usually like to use this space as a venue to vent my frustrations, but, please, just bear with me for a minute.

For those of you who don't know, this week is Sukkot (
or sukkos). I'm not an expert on these things, and there's certainly no shortage of more qualified people to explain this to you, but Sukkot is a Torah mandated festival that involves an outdoor structure that looks like a walled booth with some kind of plant material covering. This structure is called a sukkah, and it is meant to represent the makeshift dwellings that the Jews lived in during the exodus from Egypt. Sukkot also includes repeating specific prayers and blessings, recited while holding a yellow citron (called an Etrog) and a date palm frond (called a Lulav).

Now, if you live in New York City, you are most definitely aware that during this one week of the year there are both stationary and mobile sukkahs strategically located around town. Seriously, who doesn't love a sukkah-mobile? And accompanying these multiple sukkahs are young orthodox Jews carrying Etrogs and Lulavs. Personally, I think it's terrific that these young guys are so committed to their traditions and practices that they wander around town wanting to share the joy of this sacred festival with others. I don't know exactly how it's phrased in the scriptures, but because it is mandated for Jews to take part in this festival, these young orthodox guys ask passersby, "Are you Jewish?" This would be fine too, but several times when I've been asked, "Are you Jewish?" and I've responded, "No." The guy just turns around and goes hunting for the next potential Jew.

Seriously?!

Dude! If you're going to be asking people if they're Jewish, there are most probably going to be a number of people who are going to say, "No." In this case, I would suggest that the appropriate and polite response might be, "Okay, enjoy your afternoon." or "Very well, thanks man. Have a great day." or "Sorry for disturbing you." or "May the love of God be with you." or possibly a handshake and a friendly nod. But somehow me being a non-Jew qualifies me for immediate dismissal. Call me sensitive but this REALLY PISSES ME OFF!

This very scenario happened to me earlier today, and when the young Jew dismissively turned and walked away from me, I wanted to chase the guy down and say, "Hey, haven't you been taught about the teachings of Rabbi Hillel? About how he said, 'That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbors?' What part of that very simple interpretation of the golden rule do you not understand, Putz?

But I didn't. I had a moment. I stopped. I breathed. I remembered that justified indignation is rarely a good idea, and, truth be told, I'm glad that I live in a city where Jews are celebrating this ancient and joyous festival all over town, and encouraging others to join them. So I was able to shift my focus from one of anger to one of gratitude. Seriously, I love seeing a sukkah-mobile working its way down an avenue, and most of all, I love New York.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

99%


The occupiers have been camped out downtown in Zuccotti park for thirty four days. There doesn't seem to be any end in sight, instead the movement is only escalating and gathering momentum. Earlier today, I saw online that #OccupyWallStreet had planned a march from Washington Square park to Times Square. The marchers were scheduled to arrive at Times Square at five o'clock. I was home this afternoon working on some homework, so I walked my dog at around quarter after four, then I headed out the door, and down to Times Square on the subway. As soon as I got above ground at forty second street, I could feel that something big was going on. There was just an electric buzz in the air, I don't know how else to describe it. I crossed from the west side of Broadway over to the other side of forty second, and then I saw them; thousands of protestors marching up seventh avenue from downtown, many of them carrying banners and signs; young people, older people, some with children on their shoulders, some made up as zombies, veterans, union members, nurses, Teamsters, students, thousands of people as far as the eye could see, all gathered to express their grievances and discontent with corporate greed and economic disparity - all gathered at the crossroads of the world beneath blazing electric corporate logos; a brilliant metaphor of we, the people versus them, the gleaming corporate machine.

I was quickly ushered by a cop into a penned off area in the middle of the street between police barricades. I slowly inched my way uptown, trying to get further into the heart of Times Square, but I could barely move because so many people were jammed into the penned in area. Thrilled and excited to be part of this movement as it gathered momentum, I snapped photos and chanted with the crowd, "the whole world is watching!, the whole world is watching!" and "We are the ninety nine percent!, We are the ninety nine percent!" I got bumped into and jostled, and began to feel a little claustrophobic and concerned that I might get caught in the middle of the crowd, so I continued to inch my way uptown. It took me about a half an hour to go the single block to forty third street. Once I got to forty third street, I quickly shot east to sixth avenue to go uptown a few blocks so I could maneuver myself back into the thick of it. Walking up sixth I could see the police presence that I couldn't see when I was in Times Square. The whole avenue was lined with cop cars and cops on motorbikes and a few paddy wagons. There were also countless police on foot, some in riot gear, others with plastic hand ties, and orange crowd control netting.



I turned left onto forty sixth street and started heading west toward the big plaza in the center of Times Square, but about three quarters down the block, I saw that the crowd was so thick that there would be no crossing. I didn't want to get trapped in the middle of it like I was earlier. I got as close to the intersection of Broadway and forty sixth as I could when the police started calling for the crowd to get on the sidewalk. Helicopters could be heard overhead, and still the unrelenting cheers and chants from the people, "We are the ninety nine percent!" The sky was beginning to grow dark, and on the diagonal corner across the plaza, a Bank of America sign blazed brazenly red, back-lighting the impassioned scene below and in between.

The police continued to call for the crowd to get onto the sidewalk. I jostled for position at the curb, craning to watch the action, still trying to take pictures though it was getting too dark for my camera. There was a handsome young cop right in front of me, Officer Campanelli.

Me: "Any idea of how many people have shown up for this? It looks like there's about four or five thousand police here."

Officer Campanelli: "Yeah, there's at least that many of us here. No, they haven't said how many protestors they think are here."

Guy from the crowd: "Where's the Mayor?"

Officer Campanelli: "I dunno. In the Hamptons, eating a steak dinner."

There was some more friendly banter with Officer Campanelli. He told a couple of us how he wasn't supposed to be working tonight, and he'd rather be at home eating dinner. I chatted with a few other people around me too; a guy from Australia who said he fully supported what was going on and that protests have started down under too. I chatted a little with a nurse who was standing next to me, a middle aged Asian woman, who held a hand-written sign that said, "Nurses against corporate corruption." I also spoke with a young Latina, who told me that she's been going down to Liberty Park after work a few days a week since the protests have been going on to show support and solidarity for those who are camped there. She also told me that she wants to go down this week to hear Poland's former President address the crowd (Lech Walesa has said that he supports the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is coming to New York to speak to the protestors!). Then police in riot gear approached from down forty sixth street, some holding their clubs, others with their hands poised atop their pepper spray nozzles. They stretched the width of the street, shoulder to shoulder, and began moving slowly toward the plaza. I noticed police on horseback across the plaza, silhouetted by the Bank of America sign. I silently cursed my camera, knowing it wouldn't read in this darkness. Other cops were walking beside the cops in riot gear, carrying orange police netting, and it looked like they were getting ready for something. I had the horrible thought that the police might start pepper spraying the crowd - it was then that I decided it was time for me to leave.

I knew that there was no way I could make my way through the crowd and get to the subway, so I walked back toward sixth Avenue, and walked up the block to forty seventh through a small plaza between some office buildings. Forty seventh street was also lined with police cars, but I saw no riot gear and no lines of police readying themselves for aggressive confrontation. I walked toward seventh avenue, stopped at the blocked street and looked down from the corner at the crowd. Signs, banners, cheering, people, horses, celebration, madness, mayhem, hope, revolution; all of it perhaps signaling the beginning of the change we were promised and never got. I sidled up seventh avenue, crossed over to Broadway when I could, still constricted by the massive crowds, and made my way to the fiftieth Street subway station.

I'm encouraged by the huge escalation of this movement, and I'm optimistic that this will make some difference. I know that as long as bought politicians continue to decide legislature, nothing can or will change. I'm proud that this movement began in my city. I'm proud of my countrymen and women, and I'm filled with respect and gratitude for the occupiers and their dogged determination and commitment. I can't help thinking that if I were a little younger, or a little braver, I'd be camping out in the street downtown too.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

i took the subway to the revolution


Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Libya, Wall Street; The United States should be set to experience the same sort of grassroots, youth-driven uprising that we’ve recently seen surge in other nations. Yesterday, police led protestors onto the Brooklyn Bridge, penned them off, and then arrested more than 700. This happened just one week after explicit videos of police brutality hit the Internet, showing an unprovoked police captain pepper-spraying a group of young women, as well as numerous excessively violent take-downs of peaceful protestors. While these videos have stirred shock, anger, and allegations of excessive force, they’ve also, I believe, dissuaded older, more middle-of-the-road, and even conservative leaning concerned citizens from joining the fray. People are pissed off. There are distant, and not so distant sounds of underground rumblings getting ready to erupt, and in my view, these numerous unwarranted arrests along with the use of excessive force on peaceful protestors are all part of a systematic strategy to deter people from joining the cause.










Last week, I went downtown to #OccupyWallStreet to see if I could take some pictures, and even show support for the cause. What I found hanging out in Liberty Park was a bunch of mostly young grunge-y looking folks who looked like they might be leftovers from a Lollapalooza festival; shirtless women, pot-smoking kids, boys banging drums, girls braiding one another's hair, etc. The crowd almost immediately erased any feelings of significance or urgency, and gave the whole movement an amateurish, disorganized impression. That was last Sunday, the day after the pepper spray and violent arrest incidents, and the systematic operations of the NYPD seemed to have accomplished their goal of stripping the demonstration of its legitimacy.


At first, I wondered why the police; hard working union folk who make roughly fifty grand a year, would side with the establishment over the principles of the demonstrators. Then it dawned on me that the police work for the Mayor, and the Mayor is a billionaire, who, while perhaps partly responsible for a decrease in crime, is also mostly more concerned with tourist revenue than with the city’s public education or transportation departments. Also this last week, it has come under some public scrutiny that JP Morgan Chase donated an unprecedented 4.6 million dollars to the NYPD, the largest donation in their foundation's history, so it should come as no surprise that the po-po are working for the man rather than the people.


The occupation of Wall Street has been going on for twenty two days now, and it doesn't seem as if there's any end on the near horizon. Even if the police have managed to intermittently make the crowd look like a bunch of disenfranchised misfits, the fact that the Teamsters Union, the New York Transit Workers Union, and even United Airlines pilots joined the protest is compelling evidence of the demonstration's equilateral message. The ramifications of corporate greed, social and economic inequities, and this country's current political oligarchy are worldwide - no one is invulnerable to its consequences. This relatively small movement downtown is only the beginning. It seems that the revolution has started, and this time it will be webevised.



Sunday, September 11, 2011

memorial


I had to turn it off. Family members are reading the names of their loved ones lost exactly ten years ago this morning. The nation continues to be compelled by this defining moment of our time, as it should be, but I feel the need to resist diving into what seems the somewhat manufactured sentimentality of the moment. Each network has specially designed logos for this week, each news magazine a commemorative cover story - across the board there is a strong encouragement to "remember" - as if what happened could ever be forgotten. Forgive me if this reads as somewhat cynical, but I can't help thinking that the great machine that is our nation's media, economy, war, everything - somehow benefits by the persistent fear of its constituency.

I had been awake only a short time after just a few hours fitful sleep, still reeling from days of endless drug use and little rest. I was watering flowerbeds beside the house on Hollis Street, a block south of Japantown in San Francisco. The bedroom window on the second floor opened, and my boyfriend leaned his head out and shouted down to me, "Hey, come up here. The World Trade Center's not there anymore!" The sun was only just beginning to light up a clear blue sky, and every station on TV was playing footage of the planes flying into the towers over and over.

We had been in the process of moving to an apartment downtown on Sutter Street. In the weeks that followed, I remember sitting on the floor of the empty apartment at dawn, cradling him in my arms as he shook and cried, terrified and convinced that the sounds of early morning garbage trucks were airplanes crashing down the streets of San Francisco. We had both spent the past few years destroying our minds with drugs. The attacks on the towers and the tragedy in New York was calling me home.

I'd been living in California for ten years. Within six months I would be back in New York. I dragged him with me. The country, the city, the two of us, everyone was on high alert. We fought, we lied to each other, cheated, drank excessively, were angry, and were both very unhappy. He didn't stay, he couldn't, I didn't understand it then, but I do now. In a swift clandestine move, he arranged his overnight departure and was gone. He left me in debt, unemployed, unemployable, hurt and confused. I continued to drink and drug for a few more months, spiraling downward to what I've heard described as pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. How obliged I am to that utter humiliation as it gave me the gift of desperation. An acronym that was working in my life when there was nothing else.

In the same way that my life imploded and crashed down, I've been rebuilding at almost the same rate as the site downtown. Wreckage, debris, trauma, grief, illness as a result of the fall - my personal relationship to that day a decade ago stands as a metaphor of my downfall and recovery. Careful and slow rebuilding, brick by brick - each passing day a little more healed - each day a little better.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

what's your name?


Perhaps you've had this experience when ordering a beverage in a crowded Starbucks; you tell the counter person what you'd like to drink, then he or she asks your name before ringing you up and relieving you of your three or four dollars (depending on how fanciful your thirst). Then he or she scribbles your name on the side of a cup, and sets it in its chronological place next to a frantically milk-steaming and syrup-squeezing barista.

When this name-asking business started happening a few years back, and I'll admit, I was going through a rather angry period, my thought process was "Fuck you! This is just another invasion of my privacy. It's none of your fucking business what my name is!" and then I'd resentfully tell the counter person that my name was Mario, or Hezekiah, or Duke. But as this name-asking began to happen on a more regular basis (which also happened to coincide with my angry period merging into my having a more all-around accepting attitude of most things) I started to see that this what's-your-name-system made pretty good sense, in order to avoid any kind of beverage identity confusion when they all wind up sitting there on that little elevated beverage shelf at the far side of the espresso machine, huddled together in their steaming, half-caf, sweetened and unsweetened, non-fat, soy-chai succulence, just waiting for their parched owners to claim them and delicately sip at their deliciousness. So I reluctantly conceded to giving the counter person my name. But after doing this a couple of times, and after hearing my name mindlessly shouted out into the store by the barista, I thought "Not only is it not any of their business what my name is, but now everybody in the store knows my name too!" This indiscriminate announcement of my identity undercut my comfortable sense of New York anonymity to the core. So I started giving the counter people different names, and I noticed that the funnier or more unusual the name, the more they would make eye contact, or smile, or be momentarily taken away from the monotony of their quotidian and mindless money-taking, coffee-making responsibilities. Not only would the initial name exchange elicit a smile or pleasant response, but when the barista read it on the cup, he or she would smile or giggle, and when they shouted it to the store, it was an opportunity for others to smile as well. I don't know that I have the power to make a great many people happy at any one given time, but this miniscule opening may be an opportunity for me to lighten peoples' day, even if just for a moment. I see it as a kind of selfless-service to working folks who might not otherwise be able to get a break from the tedium of their day.

The name I usually give the counter people in this situation is, Pickles. There's something about the silliness, or the incongruity of that name that always makes people smile. "I have a grande Americano with extra room for ... Pickles! (tee hee)."

It works every time.

Today I went into a Starbucks, ordered my beverage, and the young woman behind the counter asked my name. I was a bit surprised as this Starbucks wasn't very crowded, but it was kind of loud, and there were a few people waiting for their drinks to be made. "Pickles," I said. She blankly looked across the counter at me, and paused for a moment before scribbling on the side of the cup. I found this a bit odd, but thought, Oh well, maybe she's just having a bad day. Then, after waiting for a little while with the few other folks at the far end of the counter for our drinks, I noticed that the barista wasn't calling out people's names, he was just calling out the different kinds of drinks that he was making. He called out the name of the drink that I had ordered, and then he placed it on the elevated beverage shelf. I took the drink, and as I walked over to the cream and sugar island against the wall, I read the side of my cup, and it said, Nick.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

sweet jesus in the land of corn

I've been trying to ignore the yammering asshats in the media lately, take it all in stride, and let their drivel roll off my shoulders, but my disillusionment, disappointment, bewilderment, and anger has been magnified to un-ignorable levels this past week with news from Iowa, and of the band of blathering, rabid right wing lunatics vying for the Republican Presidential nomination. As if political news this summer hasn't been disturbing enough, what with the whole debt ceiling fiasco and the new "super congress" appointed to reduce the deficit, the winner of the Iowa Straw Poll, and the driver of the Republican clown car this week, is none other than Tea Party favorite, Michele Bachmann. Bachmann leads the conservative fringe’s furious call to “take back our country!” (From whom? I wonder.)


Yesterday on “Meet the Press,” she gave America an idea of what a Bachmann Presidency might look like. Here’s a snippet:

Also this weekend, Texas Governor, Rick Perry has announced that he's throwing his cowboy hat into the ring for the Republican nomination. This exciting news (can you detect my sarcasm?) comes just one week after his much publicized prayer rally, where he and 30,000 of his flag-waving, God-fearing supporters asked Jesus to fix the nation's economy (take that separation of church and state). So along with Bachmann and Santorum, it seems that we now have a third candidate who claims to get his political direction from an imaginary sky-friend that talks directly to him.


(For some essential reading on Rick Perry, click here.)


While it might embarrass me to admit to anything that could align me with Bachmann, Santorum, Perry or the like (or any of their supporters), I must share that I admire, respect, and attempt as best as I can to adhere to the teachings of Jesus. I'm fascinated by the parables, the altruistic underpinnings of His philosophy, the etymology involved, the history and the poetry of the library which is the New Testament, and I am challenged, on an almost daily basis, to find personal and practical applications in my life of the principles that Christ taught.


With such a surfeit of accessible low-hanging fruit, it would be easy to embark on a diatribe about the golden rule, doing unto others, etc., the basis upon which most all the major world religions are based, and then compare that to Bachmann and her twisted view of people with a different sexual or gender-perspective orientation than hers. I'll even refrain from going off on her husband, Marcus, his Paul Lynde-like patois, or even the hypocrisy of his mental health clinic, which practices "pray away the gay" therapy, and has received annual Medicaid payments totaling $137,000 since 2005, in addition to $24,000 in federal and state funds. (Bachmann has vociferously denounced the Medicaid program. You can read more about it here.)


If you've followed my blog for a while, you'll certainly have noticed that I sometimes have a tendency to wax philosophical about Jesus, Christian values, religious principles, spiritual practices, etc., and then counter that with examples of political deceit, dishonesty, corruption, and hypocrisy. One of the things I find exceedingly interesting is what Jesus is reported to have said about the poor. I wonder how these ideas put forth by Jesus are justified in the minds of those public figures who claim Him (or their followers), and how those justifications correlate with the agenda of those neoconservatives whose commitment it is not to raise taxes on the super-rich or corporations, and to simultaneously cut social spending for the disenfranchised who benefit from such programs.


Here are just a few examples of what JC had to say about the poor:


Matthew 19:21


Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”


Luke 14:12-14


Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”


There's also that much repeated bit about it being easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.


It makes me wonder: are these politically-conservative-big-talking-frontrunners living by the same principles outlined in the same texts that I've read from? Or is there yet another set of fundamental regulations and bylaws of which I am unaware, that also fall under the category of "good Christian ethics?"


Poppycock!


The bottom line is that these ruthless and unscrupulous fanatics are pandering to an audience of almost exclusively white evangelical conservative Christians, and they are feeding them exactly what they know they want to hear. If division, voter suppression, demonization of anyone foreign or with brown skin, corporate tax loopholes, eviscerating women's reproductive rights, and ensuring wealthy-white-entitlement is paraded around under the guise of religiosity, then so be it. How is that any different from bigotry and xenophobia being paraded around under the guise of patriotism? It's not. I want to believe that these people are stupid, but I'm not so sure about that anymore. These people are, however, crazy and mean and competitive and driven by personal advancement at any cost, even if that means they need to do it in the name a Jesus whose principles they've thrown under the bus long ago.


It becomes too much for me to grapple with. I'm flustered and I'm tired. I tend to get too ruffled by these nefarious nutters and their hateful shenanigans, too invested in outcomes, and I find I need to blow off steam, or just zone out in any way that I can. For me, the best things that have come out of Iowa this past week (aside from deep-fried butter on a stick) are the embarrassing photos of the aforementioned wing nuts. Perhaps in a few weeks' time there will be a photo of cowboy Rick Perry double-fisting a wiener into his pie-hole. Until then, please enjoy these two priceless moments captured forever in time:



Friday, July 15, 2011

o baby!

On Wednesday, July 13, at 10:35 am, my youngest sister gave birth to a baby boy. He was four weeks premature, but still weighed in at 6 pounds 8 ounces. His head was turned the wrong way during birth, so he was kinda stuck, and after three difficult hours of pushing, just as they were getting ready to take my sister into the OR for a C-section, they tried one more time with a suction vacuum device, and he arrived; his head a little bruised from the vacuum device, but healthy, very loved, and beautiful.

I don't have any children. This is the first child in my immediate family. I've always felt very protective of both of my sisters, especially my youngest sister, and as I was watching the baby yesterday; introducing myself to the spirit of this brand new little person - watching my sister hold him and feed him, and watching the baby's daddy do the same, I wanted so badly to somehow insure that nothing bad would ever happen to him - to guarantee that no hardship or evil would ever befall this new and beautiful creature. I want to protect him from sickness and disease, from pollutants, from artificially manufactured industrial foods, airborne toxins, and poor environmental conditions - from bullying, from crime, from hurt feelings, from a broken heart, from poverty, from anger, from alcoholism, from unjust legislative decisions, from natural disasters, from indifference, from stupid people.

How vulnerable. How perfect. Perhaps my awe about this whole newborn baby thing might seem naïve or overly romanticized to any of you who have had children, or who have gone through this numerous times, but seeing this little guy, knowing his family's history, understanding the potential for inherited family conditions, and having had extensive personal experience with the maelstrom of family drama and all-around bullshit that he will inevitably have to learn to maneuver through and endure, I want so badly to protect him - to somehow do everything within my power to filter it out so it isn't able to trickle down to him in its full potency.

I will be the best uncle I can be. I can hardly wait to spoil him, educate him, play with him, drag him through museums and amusement parks, bring him to musicals and concerts, give him delicious treats for his belly and his brain and his soul. Whatever else this kid may have, he will also have me to run to, to talk to, and to be with whenever he wants or needs, and it will be my pleasure and my privilege to introduce him to an abundance of things that most ordinary people find it unnecessary to know anything about. If knowledge is indeed power, then I will insure that he has access to an arsenal of knowledge. Yes little one, welcome to the world, I'm your Auntie Mame!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

equality

It's hard to describe the feelings I'm having this morning; joy, relief, satisfaction, disbelief, justification against denial and censure, justice, and surprisingly, even a little melancholy. Last night, after tedious delays and endless yammering on about religious exemption amendments, the New York Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act with a vote of 33 to 29. This ground-breaking and momentous event makes New York the sixth and largest state in the nation to legalize same sex marriage, and ultimately transforms the gay marriage debate nationwide.

The timing is quite serendipitous, as tomorrow is New York's Gay Pride Parade. And as the parade marches down Fifth Avenue, I can only imagine that this year tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of joyful and proud LGBT New Yorkers and their supporters will celebrate like never before.

For the last couple of years I've avoided the parade as the over-sexualization, product placement, celebration and encouragement of unhealthy life choices (drugs, alcohol, prostitution, etc.) presented as an accurate, all-encompassing representation of gay life has made me more than a little uncomfortable. While the Pride Parade has always been a good excuse to don one's feather boa or black leather harness and hot pants, I remember the Pride Parades in the 80s, when it was much smaller and acted more as a showplace for the bravery and pioneer-ism of the community; gay cops, firefighters, teachers, PFLAG, AIDS organizations, etc. And while those groups have never fully disappeared, they seem to have taken a back seat to the more visually sensational groups of leather men, rent boys, drag queens, go-go boys, celebrity DJs, etc. However, my guess is that last night's victory over statewide legislative discrimination will likely bring some political urgency back to the forefront of the festivities.

As for the surprising and nagging melancholy, I can't help but think of those who have been lost over the years, those who weren't even able to see this fight take shape, let alone witness its victory. Those previously mentioned boyfriends, for example - what might they have thought of this historic legislation? And what might it have meant for us as young lovers had the idea of marriage been a possibility at the time? What measure of profound difference would it have made had the state given our relationship the kind of legitimacy that would've allowed us to be viewed as full citizens, whole people. Bittersweet memories mix with pride of country and hope for future generations.

Monday, June 13, 2011

deconstruction

Almost every morning just before eight, a woman rides her bicycle through Riverside Park with a Siamese cat on her shoulder. This morning she rode slowly by me in the rain, and as she passed, the cat turned it's head; its blue eyes fixed on me as they continued north round the path, and disappeared.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am as a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.

Love of art -
Or of nature or of food or of style or of form or of goodness.
Is it enough?


I'm guilty of often entertaining a romantic notion of what my life might've looked like had those contemporaries who left too soon still been here to share it with me. Perhaps we'd have drifted away from each other with either indifference or bitterness. Or maybe we'd have grown closer - our mutual fondness increasing with time, even as we recognized in each other the inevitable wear and decay of our earthly vessels - remembering fondly what we once were; taught, virile, urgent - loving what we had become despite age and physical deterioration.

I never got to see Tom with a potbelly or receding hair, nor was I allowed to make amends for the selfish behavior of a youthful fool. I never saw Greg go grey or watch the skin around his eyes go slack and wrinkle - never was able to tell him how much I loved him; too afraid. I never imagined there wouldn't be time. (I miss showering with him. Holding hands. Talking.) They left too early - them and others too. They will always be young - always beautiful. Lucky to have missed their own physical degeneration - unfortunate not to have experienced their own maturity. I'm lucky to hold my youthful loves forever as they were - hapless not to be able to hold them as grown men.


Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I ask to be useful - that my experience might help others. I ask to have my difficulties lifted so that I may be of service. I am willing for this to happen. Sometimes it happens - often it does not. I allow the willingness to wash over me just as I allow the discomfort to wash over me. I sit with it. I walk through it - discomfort, sadness, doubt; a hundred forms of self-pity and self-delusion. I endure it knowing all things pass. This too shall pass despite feeling that it will go on forever. What seems insurmountable will undoubtedly prove frivolous with time. Tuesday - Thursday - February - June.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:

The cat's blue eyes burrow holes deep into me as it recedes into the rainy distance on its mistress' shoulder. All-knowing opals; able to see behind the layers of make-up that's taken years to apply.
"I see you, you self-centered fuck. There's no hiding place down here."

Still, fruitless, I wait with an adolescent appetite for a vampire kiss. Bite me, suck me in and govern me. Always a top, never in control. Swallow me. Steal me. Own me. Bridle my potential as you see fit. Make me all that I could never imagine for myself, all that I am not. Good. Whole. Change me. Not gentle; no time for gentleness - the wait has been too long for gentleness. Times a wasting - swing your partner-dosey-doe. Too much has gone unused, untapped, impotent. Open, willing, unable to manipulate any longer, I've surrendered. Take my hand before it crumbles to dust. The sadness and promise of everything that could have been chokes me with remorse, with loss. Without loss I fear I am nothing.

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

In tongues of angels and demons and bicycle cats, I blather on the noisy gong, the insistent clapper of a recalcitrant bell. Hear me, hear me, I somersault the antiseptic halls, the blue
institutional day rooms and settle in grace. Grace that allows me to be accepted as I am, not the person I imagine myself to be. I may fail more than succeed - again and again and again. I may be weak, messy, irritable, unhappy, sloppy, intensely human. I remain, nonetheless, cradled in the hollow of God's hand - swaddled in unmerited favor. Flawed and forgiven. Encouraged and protected.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

rupture

The rapture didn't happen. As far as I am aware, there were no major intercontinental earthquakes, and if Jesus did come and take people away, he didn't do it on a very large scale.

And so the world goes on, and as it does, I still sometimes find it hard to understand even the simplest things. I often ride the subway and notice young men with wedding bands on, and I think to myself 'how does something like that happen?' I look at their clothes, their build, the thickness or thinness of their wrists, their haircuts, shoes, and I wonder how people get into, and then stay in relationships? When did they make that decision? What does it take to want to share one's life with someone else, and how does anybody negotiate the kind of terms that that kind of arrangement would require? I imagine the kind of person that they're married to, or how long ago they might've met. I wonder if they're happy, if they communicate well and talk freely, or if they are uncomfortable when they go home, and perhaps even feel trapped, stuck, locked into a kind of melancholy existence; committed to staying with someone that they've grown apart from - in sickness and in health, till death do them part. Indebted to their word; to an idea of what they believe they should be.

I imagine their families and their in-laws, and what holidays look like for them. Are there children? Are there pets? I picture them in their pajamas eating breakfast, or checking in with their wives from the office, or making love in the shower. I imagine that they're probably so used to each other that they can anticipate one another's movements and physical responses, even finish each other's sentences, and it is all just beyond my comprehension. It's not just one particular type of person that I notice that makes me think this way, but all different types from every different classification of imaginable socioeconomic background - good looking ones, homely ones, well-dressed ones, fat ones, young ones; it just seems foreign to me - alien - not like something that other people have access to that I don't (which I guess is true, it is still illegal for me to be married in most states), but actually something that I just don't understand - like calculus - I know it is real, I know that there is probably a practical application for it somewhere, but I can't for the life of me figure it out.


It's not as if these young men are people I imagine myself being with, it's not like that, I'm not sexually fantasizing about them (not usually anyway), or even envying their position, it's that I can't wrap my head around how people work out their lives in this manner; married, sharing everything about themselves, intimate - for me it is implausible, mind-boggling. It's like people who abuse their children or their pets - I just don't get it. Certainly I can understand frustration and anger and lashing out at those closest to you, but only as the occasional, shameful, and much regretted, wrongdoing or outburst, not as a daily practice. For me it's the same thing with marriage, I understand it in theory, but not in practice. And of course, the fact that it happens to most people makes me feel very different and apart from. Even when I'm in a good mood, contented and happily going about my business and enjoying my day, I can see a guy on the subway, notice his wedding band and this thought process starts, and I begin to feel isolated and withdrawn.

Many married people that I know are unhappy, or are at the very least troubled and challenged in their relationships with their spouses. I find this puzzling. Happy marriages are certainly not something I'd ever had as an example in my childhood (apart from my grandparents, who were from an entirely different generation, and who were married to each other almost a hundred years ago). Successful and happy marriages are not even something I've seen a lot of in my adult life, and yet this paradigm of legally and religiously sanctioned pairing-off continues to be the social norm for most everybody despite relative proof to its success being improbable.

Do these observations suggest that I'm depressed? Possibly. Do they suggest that I'm cynical? Probably. And while difficult and often uncomfortable, this introspective, pensive, downward and darkening spiral encourages me to seek spiritual guidance and comfort. These dark questioning moments strengthen my relationship with an ever elusive Higher Power. Interestingly, it is often in these dark spots that I am most reassured of the intangible existence of that Power. It's easy to say that I am being carried and protected when all is light and effortless, but being brought through darkness with an unswerving knowledge that I am cared for and safe, regardless of my recurring feelings of separateness and isolation, strengthens my spiritual connection. In the same way that beauty can be found in what may be dark or disturbing, I often find grace in times of isolation and doubt.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

rapture

Well, this is it. The apocalypse is nigh and it just doesn't really feel very different from any other day. In fact, after having a couple of cups of coffee, walking the dog, checking my email, looking at the latest updates on facebook, logging into an online dating site, checking the Huffington Post, taking a few phone calls (all regular morning stuff), the idea of being lifted away in the never ending and loving arms of Jesus seems like a really nice thing.

Yes, my routine can become a little numbing, but lately I'm actually happy with what I've been doing. I'm glad that I'm able to be helpful to others, that I get to play a role in other people's recovery. I went to the Tombs last night, and the men there were grateful that I took the time to bring a meeting to them. I'm currently working with a newcomer who is as scared as he is enthusiastic. I'm also working with a recurrent relapser; frustrated, scared, and teaching me so much. Showing up for these guys allows me to feel useful, gives me a sense of purpose, and feeds my self-esteem. And while I'm not anxious or discontented, I am tired, lonely, desirous, frustrated, and I wonder if I'm ever going to feel like a settled grownup; a responsible adult with healthy relationships. I can understand how fanatical religiosity could be a welcomed reprieve from the disenchantment of daily life.

Last week I got together again with the fellow I mentioned in an earlier post. The tall, muscular, semi-regular sex partner with an awkwardly handsome nose who I was wondering if I might get closer with. We had our usual urgent and voracious romp, and then in the comfortable afterglow, he began opening up to me in a way that he never had before. He began telling me about himself, his feelings, etc. I welcomed it, but I also noticed myself shutting down. I was scared. And then, he began talking about other sex partners. A clear and loud mixed message of 'I like you but don't get too close.' Is this what I do? It was like a mirror. A painfully fragmented and cracked mirror. No, I don't talk about other sex partners with people I'm romantically interesting in, but I'm certain that I push people away in any number of other ways. Seriously, I'm a middle-aged man who feels like an adolescent (and often acts like one), and finally all this self examination is beginning to pay off. It would really be a shame if the world ended today right when I feel as if I'm on the precipice of some kind of personal transformation or breakthrough. Of course I know that this is all just practice preparing me for the next thing. I just hope that after all this laborious and painful work that the next thing isn't oblivion.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

american exceptionalism


It's been two days now, and finally some of the fever pitch hoopla over Bin Laden’s demise has quieted a little. Of course, the media frenzy will continue for quite some time, but at least the shouting and dancing in the streets has stopped. I’m very glad that some closure has been brought to a very difficult chapter in our recent history. I'm proud of our President, our country’s intelligence agencies, and our brave servicemen and women who have struck a defining blow against terrorism. An undeniably evil man has been eliminated, and I guess that that’s as good as a rabid animal being put down. But the euphoric celebrations, and the righteous grandstanding have made me a little uneasy.

National pride, quiet contemplation, and prayer are not mutually exclusive. A sober and mindful reverence for all that has been lost might stand as a greater example of American exceptionalism than triumphant celebration.

So while I understand the knee jerk reaction of singing “ding dong the witch is dead,” I also know that hate begets hate, and rejoicing in the violent death of anyone, even an evil mastermind, might very well highlight the basest of human conditions among us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

dancing with myself

This morning I’ve been reading about the Ryan budget proposal, the President’s response, reality television celebrities posturing for Presidential bids, tornadoes ripping through North Carolina and all other matters of newsworthy events. I might have something to say about any, or all of these things, but I’m feeling more inwardly directed and self-centered today. Really, do my political musings make the slightest difference to anyone or anything anyway? Does anybody even read this stuff? It usually just feels like letting off steam, but that shouldn’t, and doesn’t matter. The strange and beautiful thing about a blog is the false sense of security and simultaneous presumed anonymity in a forum for public self-expression – a paradox of deceptive concealment and full accessibility.

And so, here it is the third week of this, the cruelest month. I sense the brewing and babbling of lilacs, and the unfulfilled promise of desire. Fruit trees are bursting forth with flowering new life, my steps lighten slightly, and my eyes are certainly quicker than my brain (something not exclusive to spring months). Romantic hope springing eternal, however, has previously set me up for disappointment. Just recently I’ve felt especially burned by my own desire and expectation. True, my choices have been... um... questionable at best – to keep doing the same thing and expect different results could be called insane – but I can’t help thinking that something may change, or that I’ve changed, so the results of such folly should at least vary.


I’ve been having an intermittent, ongoing sexual encounter with someone for a while; a dashing, tall and muscular chap with an awkwardly handsome nose, and a seemingly inexhaustible libido. We’ve met maybe once a month or so for the past year. That we’re sexually compatible is irrefutable, and the last few times we’ve been together there has been easy, fun and playful talk. For me, as far as casual sex things go, this should be considered highly successful. But, as rousing and enthusiastic as our meetings have been, I’ve been finding myself hoping that there might be more to explore with this fellow - perhaps something not so casual. Regrettably, the last time we connected, he made it clear (not in so many words) that things are just fine the way they are, and that he’s really not open for anything more emotionally investigative. Alas, a disappointment to be sure. But as fragmentary and emotionally frustrating as our intermittent romps may be, their excitement and animal passion are just too much for me to discard completely at this time.


Acknowledging this lack of emotional involvement has prompted me to turn my attention to the idea of dating rather than hook-ups. Now as one who has never had any success in this arena, the prospect is startling. The stakes are so much higher! If a hook-up goes wrong, you can just stop and say, “Ya’ know, this isn’t really working for me” and then you each go your own way, usually with no hard feelings. But dating? Oh boy, I just don’t feel like I’m prepared for that kind of potentially devastating rejection - all before there’s even been any evidence of a payoff. I realize that this is probably a very modern-male perspective, but considering that our society has been frantically rolling forward on the model of some kind of quick-edit-amazing-race-immediate-gratification-how-to-handbook, it’s really no surprise that I just want to find myself in a loving and successful reciprocal relationship without having had to do any of the footwork to get me there. That sex is so readily available doesn't make wanting to stretch my dating muscles any easier either.


And so, again, here I am in this cruelest of months, my birthday month, single, libidinous, slowly aging, lonely and longing for more. I'm not quite ready to give up the easy fix of the non-committed occasional romp, but I am now, more than ever, willing to risk some emotional investment and start learning how to date, even at this more advanced stage of my career. So I'll keep you posted. In the meantime I'll try to enjoy the newly lightened step and the quickening eye. And, as April showers fall, and the city's parks begin to bring forth a bounty of floral loveliness, I'll try not to slip too far into morbid self-reflection. Who knows? with all this blooming new life I may even find some new life of my own, rise to this new challenge, and surprise myself.