I Am…

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It was the day before the inauguration.

I found a local gym that offered a month to month membership.  No long-term contract.  And, it was only$49 per month.  Ok, there is no pool (I don’t like to swim anyway and ALL pools have water that, to me, is just above freezing.  “Heated pools” …just a myth.  And, I tend to get water in my ear which keeps me from hearing clearly and forces me to keep poking my forefinger in my ear to clear it out (it never works). And, there is no sauna in this gym, which is fine with me.  My apartment is warm enough and I don’t really want to sit in a tiny room with a few older naked men.

I’m Irish, not Swedish.

So I worked out on a bike for about an hour.  Got my heart rate to about 107 and I left sweat on the arm rests.  I had Spotify on my iPhone and was listening to some modern “Americana” music.

Then I punched the “cool down” button.  I had burned off several hundred calories which I was about to replace a block away at the Amsterdam Ale House.

I went upstairs, without  a shower (remember the above reference to naked men) and pushed the door to Broadway.  I was met by an enthusiastic woman and a guy with a camera. [To get to my gym, you have to enter the lobby of a small off-off Broadway theater.  The gym is down stairs.]

The woman had a sheet of paper.  She asked if I would just say ‘who I was’ and what I was ‘fighting for’.  I misunderstood what she said and thought that I would have my picture taken.  I felt that I looked like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.  I needed a haircut and felt tired and miserable.

A day later I walked into the theater lobby to go down to the gym.  It was then that I saw the papers lining the walls.  The papers I turned my back on.  The sheets of paper that I had declined to write a phrase and a comment.

As I read the sheets, I felt ashamed I didn’t have my own on the lobby wall.

I left the gym that afternoon…not with sweat on my forehead …but with a tear on my cheek.

Read some of these!

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The Man in the Crowd

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[My photo: Not on the night of the party]

I was surprised that the Beacon Bar didn’t just close for night to provide the space for the private function.  Only the bar itself was open to regular customers.  The rest of the space was ‘reserved’ for a party…or whatever it was.  And a party it surely was…except for one man.

No sign was needed to tell me that the such and such bank was opening an office in Mexico City or that Doris, in Accounts Receivable, was retiring.  So, how did I know it was a large group of bankers?  It was simple.  They dressed like bankers.  All the men were in dark suits and the women (alas, only a few) wore dark power suits. A generalization, I realize.  But I have only a limited time to tell this story.

I arrived in time to secure two seats at the bar.  I ordered a Chardonnay for my wife (who was still forty minutes from arriving) and a Greenpoint Pale Ale for myself.  Then the rush of the crowd began.  The front door opened so many times the wind blew my napkin down into the dark recesses of the floor among the purses, shopping bags and boots and umbrellas.

I looked around and the sea of black outerwear made me think I had crashed a convention of funeral directors.  I kept my iPhone in front of me and checked it often…just to look like I had something to do.  Finally, Mariam arrived and began telling me of her day at the office.  Then we both fell quiet, trying to decide if we should order a second round before Happy Hour ended at six or go home and try to stream something on TV…it rarely works and most of the time we’re left to listen to WQXR and Mozart and Vivaldi and Beethoven.  A better way to spend time as far as I’m concerned.

But we lingered.

It was when Mariam leaned down to get her handbag that I looked over her lowered shoulders and scanned the room.  That was when I saw him.  I stared at him for a few more seconds than necessary.  I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was engaged in a conversation of some type…some in groups and more than a few couples.  (Office flirting?  Most likely).

I looked back at the man.  He was alone, sipping a white wine.  His eyes kept darting around the room, looking for a friend or anyone to talk to.  No one was paying him any attention.  At first I thought that he was not part of the party…but somehow, he fit in…with his black trench coat and graying mustache and conservative neck-tie.

Then, like an unexpected wave from the sea of memories, I thought of how I often found myself in similar situations.  At school dances, faculty parties, childhood gatherings and adult reunions.  I’ve never been very good at making small talk.  I often just stood against the wall or at the end of a sofa and pretended I had something very important on my mind.  The only important thing on my mind in those situations, was how lonely I felt.

I looked back at the man.  Still he stood by himself.  Still he kept looking around.  Still he sipped his white wine.  I felt an intense sorrow for the guy.  Then I thought that perhaps he had just fired someone or that he was the office snitch and was distrusted and disliked by everyone else.  But, I dismissed that negativity.

He was simply invisible to the others.

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[My photo: not on the night of the party]

I mentioned the guy to Mariam who turned for a quick glance.  She understood my thinking.

She turned to me: “Why don’t you make your way to the men’s room and stop and ask him what the party was all about?”

I made up my mind to do just that.  I took a sip of my half-empty glass of Greenpoint Pale Ale and turned on my chair to begin my push through the crowds to get to the rest room and to take the opportunity to be the only person to speak to the lone man in such a crowded space.  When I slid off my seat, I noticed he was gone.

My hesitation had made me miss out on making a complete stranger feel that someone noticed him.  Something I wished had happened to me…all those years ago.

 

Remorse And A Frozen Bottle Of Poland Springs: My Dinner With Chuck

Perhaps some of you remember a rather obscure film from several decades ago called My Dinner with Andre.  It was a really intense movie about two guys who have a conversation over dinner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

A two-hour movie about two guys talking over dinner…’nap time’, you may think…but the film was brilliant (and nobody gets blown up or vaporized and there are no zombies).

What follows are a few recollections of My Dinner with Chuck:

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I was sipping a Greenpoint IPA at the Beacon Bar on Broadway and 74th St.  I looked at my iPhone…twenty minutes to the end of happy hour.  I was waiting for my old friend, Chuck, from my home town, Owego, NY.  I saw him last at our 50th class reunion in September of 2015.  Before that, perhaps we crossed paths at a less significant reunion (although I believe all class reunions are significant life events)…I couldn’t remember.  The bottom line is that I haven’t really had time to speak with my friend in fifty years!

He lives in one of the Carolinas now…as do many of my class mates who moved to the south and mid-south to escape the rigors of New York State winters. His son (who lives in New Jersey) had scored tickets to the biggest hit on Broadway right now...Hamilton.

It was a matinée and Chuck said he’d love to meet up with me while I was in the City.  He had lived in the “hood” back in the 1970’s, so he knew the Beacon Theater and the adjacent bar.

I took another sip on the IPA.  I looked into a mirror on the column in front of me.  I see two guys walk in.  Heavy set…like Mafia hit men.  It was Chuck and his son.

We moved to a small table and chatted until my wife joined us a few minutes later.  Chuck looked great for his age and his son looked a Hollywood actor…like a young Jude Law.  Funny, but his son is a lawyer (Jude Law?? get it?).

Chuck’s son made a call and soon a female friend of his appeared.  She was a dentist.  I tried to show her my infected back molar but my wife stopped me from peeling my lip back too far.

The lawyer and the dentist went off and the three of us went to pick up a half-dozen slices of pizzas from a nearby joint.  We went back to our apartment and had a dinner of pizza and beer.  It wasn’t My Dinner with Andre, but we talked about so many things from so many years ago.  We discussed one important detail: who was the prettiest girl in the class of “65…we decided it was…(do you think I’m an idiot to tell you?…that’s our secret).  We never sang the Alma Mater but we recalled and exchanged memories that we had both forgotten…each in our own way.  We laughed and had several hours and several really good slices of pizza.

Chuck kept saying how great it was to get together…I agreed.

His son called and said he was busy for the night. Luckily for Chuck, we had an extra bed in the downstairs room.

We stuffed two pillows and found a duvet.  We sat at the top of a very scary spiral staircase and talked before I sent him down stairs for a good nights sleep.

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I went into the fridge and found a bottle of frozen Poland Springs in the freezer.  I figured it would thaw in about twenty minutes and Chuck would have nice sips of ice water before he fell asleep.

Later, I sat up in bed…I had given my fine old friend a block of ice…it wasn’t going to thaw for an hour.  I felt guilty. I felt I let my friend down on one basic of hospitality…a drink of cool water.  A few minutes later I put my head back on my pillow and hoped he get up on time and connect with his son and get back to New Jersey.

He did.  He emailed a thank you note but didn’t mention the frozen bottle of water.

Will I ever do anything really right?  I fell asleep think of the way he described how delicious the cantaloupes were back when we were in high school.

Memories…old friends…these are the things that drive me to sit and write this at 1:30 in the morning.

My First Two Weeks Back In New York City After Five Years Of Living In The Far North Country

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[Say what you want…this comes with the apartment]

Okay, It’s maybe three or four weeks now since we’ve left the cold and hostile fields of the North Country for the Cold and hostile streets of the Big Apple.

So, you might ask, How are we doing?

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[Across the street from out building. A line waiting for cookies.]

I’d say just fine.  It isn’t last year like Florida…that’s for sure but it beats the forty or fifty times I’ve already shoveled the path to the garage and the way to the road back home at Rainbow Lake.

Am I sorry we’re spending the winter in slushy New York?  Am I sorry we’re sub-letting a great apartment near Lincoln Center?  No.

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[The famous Ansonia Building…just steps away.]

Do I miss the beautiful snow falls and the freezing lakes?  Not really.  I just had an injection in my lower back which would have prevented me from skating on anything other than my front deck.

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[The view across the street.]

Do I miss the shoveling? No. I’ve mastered that skill years ago.  I don’t miss the two feet of snow…It’s my back remember?

I’m remembering all the great nights and days that Mariam and I had in the 20+ years of living on the Upper West Side.  Yes, I miss the quiet snow falls of the North Country…but it’s not forever.  We’ll be back when the Black Flies begin to surface and the Canadian geese have returned to Ontario.

There’s so much to do there.

There’s so much to do here.

I’m a conflicted guy.