Friday, December 19, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Recesssion and depression

I feel like the rest of the world just got in sync with me philosophically. After making and spending lots of money, its kinda like "OOOK, is that all there is?" Which lead me first to recession in that I receded from the whole rat race for a while because it didn't make sense. Then to depression where I feel like "What is the point of this whole (capitalist) world?" With the rest of the world now following, I actually kinda feel more connected and sympathetic.

I appreciate that more wealth as a society is a good thing if it prevents people from being hungry and homeless. But the aritificially created "boom" of the past 25 years did not. The poverty rate is basically what it was 30 years ago.

For the majority of Americans the whole "boom" resulted in both parents working, for longer hours, with less job security and no retirement benefits . Yeah, we bought more and bigger things but most of that was on credit. Yeah, we got 401Ks but most Americans are now worse off than they were with guaranteed pension benefits which came with the stable, working class job that paid a living wage.

So who won? The rich, those who focused on making money for money's sake, the egotists (Ayn Rand) and the randomly lucky.

It took a huge implosion for anyone to care about the declining standard of living of THEMSELVES. We were distracted by "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and "The Simple Life" from the reality of our economic situation. This (self) deception was masterfully facilitated by the predatory credit card/mortgage industry which allowed the average person to have the life they saw on TV without the money. And now we get the surprise at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box - bankruptcy.

So I feel united with the world for the first time in a long while. We are going to dig ourselves out of depression and learn from it lessons that will make ourselves and our society better, happier and more fulfilled.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hope

I can’t stop crying today. I didn’t expect it. But, last night, watching Obama cry – or more accurately, shed tears – talking about the death of his grandmother unleashed a torrent of bawling. Then watching the Obama family cast their votes in Chicago this morning, I choked up again.

I know I’m naturally sentimental but it still confused me. I don’t understand where this wellspring of emotion came from. I think it may be the realization - after 8 years of feeling that the majority of people in this country are mean-spirited evangelicals who believe in punishment rather than helping one another - that hope is worth holding onto, that the world isn’t such a cruel and heartless place, that people do care about each other and that our country does have the ability to be a transcendent beacon of possibility for a better world.

Maybe it is also the realization that the long, tortured journey that I started in the 1980s to live the life I wanted and to be accepted by society is coming to an end. An end that I hadn’t thought possible except for a brief period in 1992 when Clinton was elected – and before it was eviscerated by the reaction to his attempt to eliminate anti-gay discrimination in the military.

I know I’m setting myself up for the same disappointment I had 3 months into the Clinton presidency but this time it seems more real and sincere. No matter what happens next, the fact that the majority of America can vote for someone as human, sensitive, smart and liberal as Obama gives me hope and makes me reevaluate my cynical view of the world. I feel the desire to contribute again. I have hope that my efforts can create change. It may take 40 years and a lot of pain in between, but change can happen. It wasn't linear, its not perfect, but the dreams I had of who I wanted to be and what I wanted society to be have come pretty damn close to reality.

Hope is worth holding onto.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Where to now?

Hitting the big 4-0 has been a real shakeup for me. I’ve always viewed 40 as the end. Not in the youth-obsessed, “I’m too old” way. I just have always bargained with God/Fate to just let me live to 40.

It started when I was 16 and coming out in the mid-80s. I assumed I would die from AIDS. I just wanted to have some life first. For years, I assumed I had 3 years to live because I never got an AIDS test. I just assumed I was positive because I had done stupid things – being a repressed, horny teenager with access to the backrooms and baths of Philadelphia but without the self-esteem or self-control required to be 100% vigilant about safe sex.

Then after the miracle drugs came out, I had various family members get cancer around 40 so I was able to sustain the fear of an early death. This was coupled with seeing my Dad work 16 hour days his whole life and then die before he could enjoy retirement or relaxation.

It shaped my life. My life plan was to work and make some money early so I could take a “retirement” by 35 and enjoy my last years before I died. Kind of like a compacted life. I told myself that if I could have that “full” life experience, I could die happy.

And I can. I feel like I’ve had a wonderful, full life and have done most of the things I’ve wanted and am grateful that I’ve lived this long.

Now the question is “what do I do next?”. I know that I now need to save for the real retirement at 65-70 and that kind of terrifies me. What if I live to 80? How am I going to pay for it? I want to do something that I enjoy so my days are not spent in the misery of Wall Street working for nasty, vicious people. But I also know that finding a job will get increasingly difficult in the next 2 decades. So I need to make money while I can.

I would like to work for 30-40K a year and have minimal stress. But what happens when I’m laid off at 55? I will have saved no money and getting any job will be difficult.

The cruelty of life after 40 is settling in. And I’m appreciating why money becomes so important. Without it, there is no safety net.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cityfile

Cityfile is the new Gawker. It gets to the heart of what people liked about Gawker but without the silly bullshit about nobodies like Julia Allison, Kristian Laliberte, etc. I get enough of those annoying, egocentric, spoiled brats wandering around the West Village.

Cityfile is the real deal because it talks about the people New Yorkers really care about – people with money and power who are not necessarily household names. Like the obscure hedge fund titans who you never hear about but who are more essential to NYC than Tinsley Mortimer.

Gawker is a clique of self-referencing, self-promoting, incestuous trust fund kids. Cityfile has the potential to be a class-warfare tool - assuming it isn’t shut down or neutered by lawsuits from the high-priced lawyers that the profile subjects will undoubtedly sic on it. But kudos to Remy Stern for kick-starting the backlash against the new aristocrats. Viva la revolucion!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

San Francisco

So I just returned from a week in San Francisco (and the Redwoods). I used to go every year, but took a 3 year hiatus as I dealt with life issues. Thoughts:
  • Beautiful. Sun, ocean, mountains. Truly one of the most beautiful places in the world.
  • Old. I was shocked how much older everyone seemed than NYC. The average age of guys in the bars was probably 55 with a range from 32 to 82. I don’t remember it being so old but I guess it’s the same people who were there 18 years ago just older. It made me feel less over-the-hill than NYC which was nice but also made me contemplate what gay old age will look like. Which brings me to…
  • Lots of drinking. I was amazed at how much people drank (and I’m no teetotaler). When I went to Starbucks in the Castro at 9 AM, the bar next door was already full. At 2 PM, most of the bars in the Castro were happening. And the same people were there at 8PM.
    It seems like many of the barflies are retirees without much to do. And I guess there are PTSD issues from AIDS and growing up in a pre-gay era as well as the absence of any role models for what to do when one is no longer young but still a gay horndog. But it did make me think about what I will do with my free time when I no longer have to work and many of my friends and family have died. I need to find healthy hobbies that will keep me from spending my golden years chasing momentary pleasures.
  • Meth. I forget how prevalent it is out West. I don’t see it as much in NYC. But in the Castro, I must have seen a dozen people in a bad state. In one bar, this meth-crazed 25 year old kept bouncing from person to person to try to get sex. It was sad, disturbing, awkward and annoying. It made me remember that San Francisco’s focus on pleasure, beauty and indulgence can be toxic for young gay men. Its much easier to lose focus than NYC where you always are kept in check by reality.
  • Leather bars are the Knights of Columbus of gay men. It seems like they keep trying to keep the leather bars going despite sparse attendance and absence of any sexual activity. I went to the new Chaps II and there was one 75 year old guy in full leather regalia who told stories (like my 80 year old uncle-slow, rambling, and wholly unconcerned with the listeners level of interest) about the “old times” which made me realize how specific the leather thing is to an earlier era. Wearing full leather now is like wearing a circle skirt and a bouffant in the 70s. As interesting and fun as leather can be, young gay men don’t see themselves as purely sexual animals anymore. They like to envision themselves as just another Ozzie and Harriet couple blending in with the straight culture. I grew up on the leather bars of Amsterdam so I have a great fondness for them. But I’m beginning to accept that it’s a dated concept from a different gay era.
  • Life is the same regardless of the backdrop. Yeah, its nice to have a view of the hills and ocean and temperate weather, but eventually you stop noticing the same surroundings you saw yesterday and focus on life - relationships, job and health. Perhaps it would be nice to wake up every morning and look at flowers instead of concrete. But then my shades are closed and my sole focus is the first cup of coffee. And the thing I most want to see in the morning is my lover next to me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mothers Day – Ambivalence

I spend a lot of time trekking down to suburban Philadelphia to see my Mom - almost every weekend lately. So even though it was Mothers Day, this weekend’s trip was standard procedure.

R comes with me most weekends. I know it ain’t fun for him but he (usually) is willing to help me through it. Plus he gets to do laundry at her house so we don’t have to deal with the Laundromat across the street that sporadically catches on fire if you put more than 2 minutes on the dryer.

But this weekend, I realized I’m burning out. She just wears me down after a while.

Conceptually, I appreciate her. I know she has sacrificed a lot and would do anything for me. And I feel obligated to take care of her.

Yet, the thought of ever having to live with her full-time terrifies me. She is way too high maintenance – even though she tries not to be. She is who she is and that can be really wearing at times.

Like this weekend. When we arrived, she was cutting hedges. Which in my mother’s passive-aggressive communicating style, is a request for me to cut the hedges. She knows that I am unable to let my 73-year old mother who has a lame right hand cut the hedge with the electric hedge-clippers.

So after driving 2 ½ hours, I had to get out of the car and immediately start cutting hedges. Even though the hedges are only about 1 inch too high - in spots. God forbid a leaf should grow out of line.

Then, after cutting and cleaning the hedge, we have tea and she launches into part 2 of the “get Michael to do as many chores as possible” campaign which constitutes weekends with my mother.

She just was so curious that she had to pull up a corner of the wall-to-wall carpeting in the upstairs bedroom to see what the floor looks like. And it looks OK - though there is a “little nothing” nailboard around the entire edge where the rug can be stapled to the floor. Should we look at it? No, no, no not now…Finish your tea… Well, do you want any more tea? Are you sure? OOOK. Welll….

Finally I break down and go upstairs to look at the goddamn rug. She gets down on her hands and knees and starts to crawl into the corner where she pulls up the corner of the rug. And sure enough there is a medieval looking 1-inch strip of board with nails sticking up adhered to the entire perimeter of the room. I tried to explain it’s a big job. She says “Really? You think? I think it would come up pretty easily”

I try in vain to point out the 100s of nails that attach the nailboard to the floor, the imperfections that will remain after the rug is removed, the possibility that this task could be done next week. I know its futile. She is like a waterfall that just pulls you down until you go with the flow.

At some point, its like she just doesn’t even hear what I’m saying – which is possible since she is apparently losing her hearing. Not that I’m supposed to know. I realized that she surreptitiously had a hearing aid put in when, while hugging her hello, I heard loudspeaker-type feedback coming from her head. She never mentioned it. And neither did I.

So, I give in and start the process of rearranging the furniture and pulling up the rug. All the while she circled energetically, moving things that she could and otherwise acting like a mosquito buzzing a cow.

I understand how she got this way. And I empathize. But it doesn't make it any less challenging.

Born on an island in the middle of nowhere, her dream of big city life was fulfilled when, in one of many cruel twists of fate, her father died at 11. Her mother, unable to provide for her 7 children, sent her and one sister to live with her father’s brother in New York. Though it allowed the girl from an island on civilization’s edge to escape to the island at the center of civilization, the abandonment has left scars.

One of which is an obsessive case of domestic pride – an attachment to the idea of home which, having once been lost, is now the most important thing in her life. Another of which is the fear of anything smelling remotely of poverty or want – like an old rug or overgrown hedge.

So I do my duty. Out of love. And guilt. And gratitude. But not without a little griping.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Birthdays and Friendships

So went to my friend Rich’s birthday get-together at Splash last night.

Yeah, Splash. But, you know, it can be fun even if I have been there a thousand times since 1991. Not that I feel particularly nostalgic when I’m there since it has been renovated multiple times and now has a dance floor which, I guess, is kind of nostalgic in Footloose-era NYC. It feels familiar yet stimulating in that it is gay, gay, gay in an increasingly mixed world. The density of gay men, gay entertainment and gay cruising make it comfortable while also providing plenty of eye candy and social frisson.

The party was a reunion of friends who I don’t see as often as I did, or perhaps should. I get grief for not keeping in touch which, admittedly, I am horrible about. But then I also think “The phone works both ways”.

I know I should make more of an effort to keep in touch with friends who I consider my gay family. But in daily life, I’m more likely to just go out with R instead of calling friends to hang out. Which I guess is laziness. Or perhaps shyness. In either case, I know I need to make a concerted effort to keep in touch with my network of friends. They are a key pillar to a happy life along with family, lover, health and career. The challenge is to juggle them all. But I tend to lose sight of one or two pillars at a time as I focus on the others.

I remember my father, who was even less of a social being than me, making a big production of calling one friend each Sunday night. It always struck me as strange that it was such an effort and drama. But now I think I might need to adapt that model. In busy adult life with a partner and family and career, maintaining contact with friends can be a challenge. But just as my father was always a happier person after he made those Sunday night phone calls, I think I would be a little more content and balanced if I rebuilt some of those friendships that I’ve let decay in 8 years of coupledom.

When I got to the party, it was a little awkward since I only knew Rich and one other person. In the past few years, Rich has developed a new network of friends who I don’t really know. So for the first hour I talked to Rich a little and made some small talk with another guy. And watched the videos as if I was really interested (which is what I love about video bars). But mostly I reminded myself how much I hate social situations.

Eventually, our mutual friends showed up. It was good to see them all though everyone was a little awkward since, at this point, there were about 20 people all crowding around a small table and surrounded by a growing crowd.

We had a few drinks and everyone relaxed and had a good time. We shared the ups and downs of work and boyfriends and the fears of aging. We pretended to be the hip, pretty, young clique that we were in our 20s. If only for a night.

It was like recharging a battery. Renewing and tending friendships can be so invigorating. It reminds me that everyone is struggling. Everyone has their own busy, challenging lives. But we still remain friends. I remember I have shoulders to lean on and ears to bend other than R and my family. Which takes the pressure off of them and makes me feel less constrained and alone. We’re all in this same struggle but we have each other. Even if it is only once a year for our birthday.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Barbara Walters – Greed and Sexism

So Barbara did another press junket for her new book. This time on her own station with people she knows (and can presumably control in some form).

Interesting highlights:

1) She only now feels financially secure, at 79, after making what I believe is close to $100 million (she was making $1 million a year by 1976 and has made huge profits from The View for 11 years)

Issue #1:
To only feel financially secure after making close to $100 million belies a dependence on and assumption of an extravagant lifestyle. I think the average person would feel pretty secure after making $1-2 million. Even in NYC, most wealthy people I know have a goal of $10 million to kick back and enjoy.

Which says to me she is kind of greedy and believes that lots of money (beyond basic sustenance) is necessary and good. The need to make $100 million to feel financially secure is kind of greedy and ignorant. Yeah, everyone has the right to make money. But I have to agree with, of all people, the Pope (?!?!) that excessive wealth is a crime against humanity. The need for excessive wealth can only be ascribed to greed, willful ignorance and absence of empathy for other people. It says to me she is an overly pampered celebrity who doesn't realize how much she has been given and has no clue how normal people struggle just to pay the rent and get food on the table.

The Republican assumption that we as a society are better off taking care of our individual interests is, to me, the essence of evil. I reject the extreme individualist philosophy of Ayn Rand (“The Foutainhead”). Capitalism without socialism is evil. As is socialism without capitalism. We can’t think in black and white terms. We need to allow individual success, with limits. We need to provide a social safety net, with limits.

The accumulation of excessive wealth is, I believe, one of the great moral challenges of our era. As the top 1%-10% become increasingly wealthier beyond all rational need, the poor are starving and the middle class have to send both parents to work 60 hour weeks to maintain the lifestyle that my father provided with one working class job.

So Barbara, you’re part of the spoiled, greedy, uber-wealthy who fail to see that they have enough because they have so little understanding of or empathy for the suffering of the world and have been given encouragement by their society at large to accumulate excessive wealth without end.


# 2) All the anchor men they interviewed and the interviewer himself, Charlie Gibson, made various comments about her looks, her legs, sleeping with men to get to the top and “flirting” with interviewees.

Issue #2:
The questions and comments from the male anchors were sexist. Pure and simple. Would a woman ask a man about his love life as a primary question? Would a woman tell a man because you had a relationship with a co-worker after you were hired that you had “slept your way to the top”? Would a woman tell Sam Donaldson or Dan Rather that one of the main reasons they got to the top was because of their legs (or chest or ass)?

Feminism is dead. It is now OK to refer to the sexual characteristics of a woman as their primary asset and reason for success. Its as if Paris Hilton is the new feminist role model and female sex appeal is the only weapon available to make it to the top.

Hillary Clinton is the perfect example. It amazes me the vitriol directed towards her for displaying characteristics inherent in any male politician. And what’s amazing is how women are part of it. Like Muslim women, they seem content to be criticized, downplayed and marginalized and to attack their own for not being feminine enough (i.e., Maureen Dowd). The comments include “she looks old”, she’s cagey, she’s too ambitious. Um, the Republican is McCain who is 73 going on 80. Do we really think politicians are direct and honest people (Bulworth was a movie)? Has any President ever not been too ambitious (OK, maybe Bush 2)?

Yeah, yeah – I know its PC. But political correctness is Republican wordplay for empathy and mutual respect. In the past 15 years, the attack on any sensitivity to others has been relentless and blind. Its as if the whole country has taken desensitivity training. Maybe its my Quaker education, but it seems to me that “political correctness” is a noble goal in that it strives for understanding, respect and empathy for others’ struggles

So Barbara, you’ve just shown the world that we’re not that different from the Muslim world, except instead of forcing women to dress up in a hijab, we insist on a short skirt and low cut blouse.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hillary – The Ongoing Saga

So, as expected, the pundits are saying Hillary is done because she lost North Carolina and only won Indiana by a small margin. Which was totally expected but these guys make it seem like it was a big revelation.

My argument remains that she is the only one who can beat McCain and end this Republican tyranny. But the idealists and Hillary haters still want Obama because he has more Democratic delegates (though not enough). Which is as fraudulent as saying that Hillary has already lost. Why is everyone ignoring Florida and Michigan and pretending they don’t exist? Why don't people focus on Hillary's proven ability to win key swing states? Why don’t they care that polls show Obama will lose to McCain?

Its consistent with the whole Obamaites head-in-the-sand approach to this election. St. Obama is the Chosen One. Even though he’s not really – he barely has more than 50% of the popular vote. “We can, we can” but, ummm….polls already show that he can’t beat McCain and Hillary can.

I’m beginning to accept that the pundit bias, the blind allegiance of Obamaites and the technically deficient delegate process will result in Obama getting the nomination. So once again, I’ll be standing on the sidelines as the country elects another Republican President. And the high-and-mighty idealist Obamites who should take the blame for forcing upon us another 4 years of Republicanism will blame Hillary for fighting too hard.

And I’ll feel hopeless and powerless and depressed like I have after the past 2 elections. And I’ll begin to disconnect from politics because its just not worth the agita. I should stop caring so much and focus on taking care of myself – gee, I sound like a Republican.

An Apartment in the West Village

In 1991, as I finished grad school at NYU and the lease was expiring on the apartment I shared with 3 guys from school, I began to look for my own apartment. Having to share an apartment killed the joy of living in NYC - especially with 3 straight boys from Wall Street to whom I wasn’t out. Even back then, the financial reality of Manhattan was a bitch.

Fortunately, I had started dating a real estate broker. Yes, he was 38 and I was 22, but it wasn’t all about the real estate. I kind of liked older men growing up. In part because in my late teens/early20s, pretty much all the guys were older. And it was just easier being with someone who was more mature and comfortable in their skin when I definitely was not.

Anyway, I had the good fortune of:
1) dating a real estate broker who had been in the business for a while, knew NYC and managed the rental department of a shady real estate management company.
2) looking for an apartment in the early 90s which was the nadir of the real estate market in the past 25 years and before the skyrocketing gentrification of the Far West Village

With that in my favor, I remember seeing a lot of crappy stuff which was all under $1000 but looked it (which would be $3000 today). I considered the Upper East Side and the East Village, but I knew I ultimately wanted to be in the West Village.

I almost took a studio on the top floor of a 5-story walk-up on Gay St. (Un)fortunately, I was just coming out and my gay panic set in and made me question if I wanted to tell all my coworkers, family and friends that I lived on Gay Street. So I waited another two weeks until my boyfriend found a small 1 BR on West 10th Street - FAR West 10th Street.

FAR is relevant because in 1991, “the Village” for straight people was east of 7th Avenue. The FAR West Village hadn’t been fully gentrified and was still considered a “gay” neighborhood. It also wasn’t particularly hip in a straight sense.

The 5-story building was at the corner of 10th Street and Hudson. Though it wasn’t the prototypical tenement building (having been built in 1945 with an elevator), it had all the characteristics you would associate with a tenement –all studio or 1BR units, a front door of battered steel with a small chicken-wire window, an abandoned ground-level storefront with bricked-over windows and metal grates on the apartment windows.

It being 1991, crime was an issue. Not that it affected me particularly, but it was constantly in the news which created a sense of paranoia (that Giuliani capitalized on so well). So one of my concerns about being so far west was the relative desolation and frontier-like neighborhood. In retrospect, this is exactly what I miss most about the neighborhood – walking around deserted streets and derelict piers that no one else cared about. But in 1991, I found comfort in the presence of a police station down the street.

The way I got my apartment was as follows:

  • The building was in bankruptcy (due to the crashing real estate market).
  • The bankruptcy court trustee appointed my lover’s company as the managing agent.
  • Two men died from AIDS and their apartments became available.
  • I paid $2000 “key money” to the owner of my lover’s company. “Key money” is basically a bribe to get the under-market lease.


I thought at the time that I would stay here one or two years until I started making more money or moved to San Francisco. Almost 18 years later, I’m still here. Which is a little depressing if I compare it to my dreams of the future when I was 22.

But what I’ve come to appreciate is that I don’t need a lot. I did get a big loft in Soho for a few months, then a bigger loft in Williamsburg and then an even bigger house on lots of land in Connecticut. But all that really changed was my monthly bills. Yes, it was nice to live in a big space. But you adapt to your environment. After a few months, coming home to a 2,500 square foot loft didn’t give me the high it once did. Those 4 walls were the same 4 walls and it felt kind of lonely. And it required a lot more maintenance. And a lot more furniture. Which meant staying in a soul-sucking job on Wall Street. The only real satisfaction came from having parties there. But that satisfaction was more about impressing people than enjoying my everyday life.

Now, I’m back where I started. I sometimes wonder if this apartment is preventing me from moving on with my life. But the freedom to live my life without a crushing financial burden, yet with the pleasure and privilege of living in the West Village, means I’m not likely to walk away anytime soon.

Especially since I just found out the apartment below me is renting for 5 times what I pay. I’m too cheap to ever give up such a good deal even if it is a little small for two grown men and a cat. I’ll end up one of those crazy old Village people who are carried out on a stretcher at 80. But it will have been a life well lived in a place that I consider home.

Barbara Walters on Oprah

How could I not watch? Two alpha females - savvy, headstrong, controlling and accustomed to getting their way (aka, divas).

Barbara is out the box. Partially due to being old and maybe just not giving a shit anymore. But hard to believe that its not strategic in some way.

Especially since she started by dishing dirt on Star and Rosie in a way that deliberately made her look like the saint. Star was "so obese she could barely walk onto the set” and “was lying to our audience” about how she lost weight. Rosie has rage issues because “you know her Mom died when she was 11” and “she suffers emotional issues, she’s said in her book she has depression”. Meow.

Oprah was not happy with someone being negative about other people on her show. She was looking at Barbara like “you really need to stoop that low?” She even said to Barbara “But don’t you think these are small issues?”

In reality, Barbara said, she wrote about Rosie and Star and is talking about them because that’s what people, including Oprah’s audience, want to hear. Which is honest and less hypocritical than Oprah asking her to dish then getting righteous when Barbara does.

But in the second half Barbara was more honest about her own shortcomings, though still defensive. She talked about how she dated a married man – defending herself by saying the marriage was a sham. Then about her sister who was autistic, who embarrassed her and whose death she missed because of work.

The underlying message was that Barbara felt guilty for having ambivalent feelings towards her sister and bringing about the end of a politician’s career. She “had to support” her sister all her life but she was “embarrassed” of her. Which is what made her ambitious and driven. And she couldn’t feel purely good feelings towards her.

Which makes sense. And is honest. We all feel ambivalent about family, friends, lovers. That is because the world is not black and white, good and evil. We all have positive and negative feelings and qualities. To deny them is escapism. When we say we love, it doesn’t mean we always feel positive things about that person. As was said in a classic 40’s film whose title I’ve forgotten “I’ve hated him often, I’ve even wanted to leave him at times, but I stay because I love him and that never changes.”

So it seems Barbara should be given credit for exposing some truths about herself. Self-awareness from ambitious, powerful people is such a rarity that it deserves to be noted. But kind of disturbing that she attacked Rosie and Star in such a harsh, bitter way based on weight and childhood trauma issues. I think that’s where old age comes in. She just doesn’t try as hard to be politically correct. Which makes for great television.

The interview was also a reminder that the ambition that fuels success is borne of pain and insecurity. I think most “successful” people prioritize external accomplishment because of deep-rooted issues. People who are happy with who they are and what they have don’t need to prove to the world that they are worth something. Having the intense ambition to be hugely “successful” is not the blessing the American Dream implies.

Barbara said her book title is “Audition” because she has always felt that she was auditioning. For all the accomplishment, how sad to live a life never realizing that your moment on the stage is now and that the curtain could come down at any minute.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Los Angeles

I’ve become increasingly attracted to LA – LaLa land, home of broken dreams and fabulous housing. I always preferred San Francisco since I was a teenager. I like the relaxed vibe, the cool, foggy weather and, most importantly, the wide open unpopulated northern coast to which San Francisco provides easy access.

But in the past few years, I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time in LA, largely due to the diaspora of many Manhattan friends to LA. And I’ve begun to appreciate the attraction. It seems to combine some of the benefits of San Francisco (nature, more relaxed) with the benefits of New York (size, jobs)

First, its slightly more affordable than NYC and San Francisco. At least you get more for your money. Instead of a cramped, dark, decrepit studio, you can get a sun-filled, newer one bedroom that actually seems livable.

Secondly, the natural beauty of parts of Los Angeles can not be compared to NYC. Being able to watch a sunset over the ocean, jog on the beach or hike in a canyon is a huge stress-release and life-grounding that you can’t get in NYC.

Finally, there is something to be said for the (admittedly superficial) pleasantness of everyday experience. Not quite the hippy-hugging love fest of San Francisco, but you’re more likely to encounter a certain new age-y friendly vibe that you just don’t get in NYC. There is a lot to be said for a friendly hello rather than the “get the fuck out of my way” hassle of NYC. In NYC, everyone wants to look busy and angry and overbooked. In LA people try to act more calm, relaxed and casual which helps to minimize reflected stress.

The downside, of course, is the car thing. Though I guess you can survive somehow without one, it defeats the purpose of being there. So a car is an extra cost and kind of a hassle. But the benefit is you get to drive to the ocean for sunset, go hiking in mountains, and shop at a grocery store.

The other downside from my perspective is the pressure to have more – a better body, a bigger house, a nicer car. The conspicuous consumption of LA can make you feel unaccomplished and unsuccessful and wanting more. In NYC, you can ignore a lot of it because the fabulous apartment or expensive restaurant is hidden behind a bland brick building. In LA, its hard to drive through Beverly Hills and not desire that wealth.

But you can also isolate yourself from both the too much and the too little. You can live a life that is filled with simple pleasures not centered around work.

Which is why I think age has something to do with it. I’m less concerned with quantity (of clubs, people, opportunities) and more focused on quality (of life, friendships, nature). While I’ve always considered that I might retire to San Francisco, LA seems like a happy medium between having opportunities and maintaining a simple life. Kind of a bridge between the hectic pace and excessive stimulation of NYC to the smaller town, know-your-neighbors, watch the sunset life of San Francisco.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Budgeting and Spending in NYC

I’m an obsessive budgeter. And kind of a tightwad. “Kind of” in that when I had money, I spent it. But now that I don’t, every penny spent is like childbirth.

Which is how I’ve managed to live without working for 4+ years. But it probably isn’t the healthiest approach to living. Penurious, cheapskate and tight ass are all apt descriptions about which I am somewhat ambivalent. Fortunately, I have a lover who is the exact opposite but still appreciates this trait – for the most part.

So, after a financial meltdown in March and lots of money anxiety, we decided to track everything we spent this past month. And we did better than the budget though in totally unexpected ways.

While we spent much less on dinner because we ate in (read: ordered) almost every night-a huge savings- we spent money on parking tickets, doctor visits and prescriptions which were not budgeted.

Of course, when I do budgets, I try to be conservative so I get the (un)expected thrill of beating my goal at the end of the month. But it seems like there is always a surprise that justifies the budget-padding that I do.

The harsh reality: living in NYC is expensive no matter how hard you try to save money. When I lived in suburban Philly, you couldn’t spend money unless you got in a car and drove somewhere which required conscious decision-making. In NYC, you HAVE to go out and spend money because you’re cooped up in a small space all day and it seems like life only happens “out there”. You feel guilty for staying at home when you can hear and see people on the street “living” life while you troll the internet.

Which is an elaborate excuse for the amount of money we spent on drinks. Though we don’t go out every night and we try to go to places with cheap happy hours, we still spent $600 on drinks!!! Which makes me feel like I need to just stop drinking altogether. But then 6:00 rolls around and I’m tired of being cooped up all day and want to just go out and enjoy life a little. And if you break it down, it is only $10 per day per person – a small price to pay for sanity in NYC.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Philadelphia for Tourists

Though growing up in Philadelphia felt claustrophobic, I have a newfound appreciation for it having returned to live there (part time) 20 years later. Following are some of my opinions as an insider/outsider.

Contrary to many people’s image, it’s a beautiful city - well, certain parts of it. And that’s the key. It has a split personality perfectly summarized by the nickname “Bostroit”. It is about the size of Boston and Detroit combined and has a historic city center with educated, affluent professionals surrounded by neighborhoods that are the epitome of urban blight.

Center City Philadelphia (the original city laid out by William Penn in 1683) has beautiful colonial and 19th century architecture, quaint cobblestone streets, great museums and restaurants and an urban density that makes it one of the most walkable cities in America.

However, it is surrounded by some of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in America. Which is the image that tends to be displayed in the media – Killadelphia, the murder capital of the United States.

The average tourist never sees Killadelphia. The hotels, historical sights, museums and nightlife are all in Center City. You can spend a weekend at a Center City hotel and walk everywhere you want to go and never see the murder capital of the United States. The only hint of the poverty, despair and urban blight for which Philadelphia is known is the occasional aggressive panhandler or cracked out homeless person on the street.

It makes for an excellent weekend trip (and a week may be a little too much). The best way to experience it is just walking around. Yeah, you should go to the museum(s) and maybe take a tour of Independence Hall. But the joy of Philly is its streetscapes and architecture as well as its restaurants and nightlife. Walk all day, eat a nice brunch and dinner and have a few drinks.

Center City is generally considered the area between the Delaware River (Front St, equivalent to 1st Street) and the Schuylkill River and Spring Garden and South St.

Society Hill
The essence of Philadelphia, home of most of the historical sites, and the oldest (preserved) section of Philadelphia. The main tourist area (including Independence Hall) is Chestnut to Walnut from Front to 6th St. The nicer area, in my opinion, is between Walnut and South. Its like a living, breathing Colonial Williamsburg and is much less touristy. Possibly the nicest section of Philadelphia, it has beautiful blocks and alleyways filled with well preserved colonial homes. Perfect for an afternoon stroll.
– Chestnut to South St. from Front (1st) to 6th St.

Old City
Old City is considered the “Soho” of Philly. The title is a little misleading since this area tends to have later 19th century architecture (with the exception of Elfreths Alley, the oldest residential street in America and the early 18th century Christ Church). Art galleries and furniture stores abound. It is also a (straight) nightlife hub on 2nd and 3rd Streets just south of Market.
– Chestnut to Vine St. from Front to 6th St.

Rittenhouse Square
Centered around the Square itself, this area contains grand 19th century architecture, high end restaurants and shopping. Generally considered the most exclusive section of Philadelphia. My favorite stroll is Delancey Place between 17th and 21st Street, a quiet street of elegant townhouses. Walnut Street between 15th and 18th has the best (and most expensive) restaurants and shopping in Philadelphia.
– Chestnut to South St. from Broad St to the Schuylkill River


Art Museum
Benjamin Franklin Parkway, designed in the early 20th century as a grande boulevard, leads from City Hall to the Art Museum. A wide street with fountains and museums but without restaurants or shopping. While the “Art Museum” area is north of the Parkway and contains 19th century townhouses (newer and less grand than Rittenhouse Square), more worthwhile is Boathouse Row and the beginning of Fairmount Park on the other side of the Art Museum.
-Benjamin Franklin Parkway to Fairmount Ave, Broad St to the Schuylkill River


Washington Square West / Gayborhood
The best combination of quaint streets, restaurants and nightlife. Though it is the gayborhood, it has a lot of straight nightlife and restaurants and is increasingly an alternative to the hyper-straight Old City or high-end Rittenhouse Square (similar to Dupont Circle in Washington).
- Chestnut to South St from 8th St to Broad St


Avenue of the Arts
A nickname for Broad Street south of City Hall (the dividing line between Washington Square West and Rittenhouse Square), it contains the Kimmel Center, the Academy of Music and various theaters.
-Broad St from Market to South St



Other neighborhoods:
There is a lot more to see in Philadelphia if you have more than a weekend. Some interesting areas bordering Center City which are gentrifying, thanks to the real estate boom and increased interest in urban living, include:

University City - 30th St. to 40th St.
home to University of Pennsylvania and Drexel

Queens Village/South Philly - south of South St, east of Broad St.
the Italian Market (grocers market and Italian food) and Pats/Genos (not the best but the most popular cheesesteaks) are both on 9th Street. There are also some good newer restaurants and historic blocks of townhouses.

Northern Libertiesnorth of Spring Garden, Front to 5th St.
The gentrifying, hipster neighborhood with good live music venues though a little sketchy after dark.


[More to come, including a guide to the gay bars]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Coming Out, Philadelphia, 1984

Having grown up in suburban Philadelphia, I realize in retrospect how lucky I was to have access to a gay scene. A lot of my friends never came out until their 20s because they lived in the middle of nowhere and never met another gay man.

Which is not to say that I just walked by and went in. A lot of suburbanites (in Philly or NY or Boston or other big cities) never go into the city. Especially in the 70s and early 80s, cities were considered dangerous, foreign places (eg., Death Wish series).

At 15,with considerable stealth, I got the number for the Philadelphia Gay Hotline and called from a pay phone at the local mall.

With a deep, faux-mature voice, I said “Hi…um… I’m new in town and was wondering where the gay bars were”.

The guy on the phone seemed pleasantly surprised. Being 1984, I guess a lot of people were calling in a panic about AIDS, so my call was relatively benign.

With a friendly, comforting voice (probably sensing my newbie status) he said,
“Well, were you thinking of going out tonight or…”

“Yeah” I responded too quickly, my heart and mind racing in panic.

“Well, on Tuesday, Equus is pretty busy” he said.

“OK” I said. “What’s the address?”

“Hang on……um.. its 254 south 12th street”

“Great, thanks a lot. Goodbye” and hung up, feeling like I had just escaped a serial killer but elated and sexually charged.


As I didn’t get my drivers license for another month, I couldn’t take advantage of this valuable piece of information right away. The next month was interminable.

Finally in April 1984, on a Friday night at 6PM, I got an opportunity to make the trip to Philly in my Chevette. After cruising around the block a few times, I finally parked. With determination to look older and more confident than I was (being only 16), I braced myself and went in.

How disappointing. I had assumed that there would be men having sex or, at least, falling all over each other to get someone to have sex. I thought I could just walk in, have sex and leave. Wrong! It was my first realization that being gay wasn’t the perpetual orgy that I had imagined.

There were maybe 6 people in the bar, all of whom turned and stared at me as I walked in. Still determined to act cool, calm and collected, I walked to the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender looked me up and down and asked for my ID. Though I was tall, I was innocent looking and looked 17 or 18 at most. Of course, being a good Catholic high school student, I had a fake ID. He served me the beer.

As people continued to stare at me, I realized that this kind of sucked. As a shy person, social interaction of any kind was difficult. Add to that my terror of being in a gay bar and I was a mess.

But I played it cool, drank my beer and eventually started to check out the crowd. It wasn’t pretty. But as a horny 16 year old, I was crawling out of my skin - thrilled that these were men who would want to have sex with another man. It was the first time I had ever met a gay man (if you exclude the pervy priest from 6th grade) .

After about 10 minutes, I noticed men were going to the bathroom down the side hallway. I thought “That’s it! That’s where they’re having sex”. I got up and walked to the bathroom. When I opened the door, the 2 men turned and looked at me as they peed at the 2 urinals.

Again, disappointment. Why did this have to be so complicated?

After waiting for one of the men to step away from the urinals, I stepped forward. The guy next to me was maybe 30-35, a little gut and bleached blond hair wearing one of those Esprit brightly colored sweaters. In retrospect, not someone who I would have ever found attractive. But I was 16 and horny and the fact that this guy had a dick was all that mattered.

I was pretty aggressive (again thinking that all gay men just wanted to get their rocks off).
“You wanna go somewhere” he said.
“Uhh…yeah” I said.
“Follow me. I’m meeting a friend here in a little while, but I know of this place around the corner where we can go”

We walked to a bookshop 2 blocks away. Though I don’t remember the conversation, he tried to make small talk. I’m sure I seemed as nervous as I was, but nothing was going to stop me from having gay sex.

We went into a booth. He gave me a blow job and I came in about 30 seconds. In his mouth.

And I knew I was gay. It felt awesome.

We zipped up and walked outside.

The next thing he did I will remember forever. He started spitting - repeatedly and emphatically. As if his life depended on it. Which, in 1984, was a logical conclusion. People were just becoming aware of AIDS, but no one knew exactly how it was spread. So he spat and spat and spat some more.

We said goodbye hurriedly and I went back to my car.

And I was calm. Because I knew - REALLY knew - after years of conjecture, denial and confusion, that I was definitely, absolutely, certifiably gay.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

West Village Gay Bars

Having lived here for a while, I’ve cycled through most of the gay bars in the West Village. When I travel, I’m always reminded how lucky I am to have an abundance of gay bars at my doorstep.

Each one has held my interest at some point. A few have closed, but a surprising number are still here 20 years later despite the insane increases in commercial rents in the West Village. For now, at least, the gay bars don’t seem to have fallen as quickly as most of the other long-time retail establishments.

Christopher Street's survival is due, in part, to its reputation as a gay mecca around the world. Every spring and summer, you can see the European and Asian gay tourists walking down the street with their gay guide books looking for the “hot spot” that doesn’t really exist.

Christopher Street’s survival is also due to gay minorities who have replaced the white Manhattan queens in a lot of the bars. Even when I moved here in 1990, Christopher Street was changing from THE place to be gay to an historical gayborhood populated by minority kids and tourists. Most of the young, trendy gay men went to Chelsea, even if they lived in the Village. When Splash opened in 1991, it was indicative of the mass exodus of "mainstream" gaydom to Chelsea.

But I still prefer the Christopher Street gay scene to Chelsea and Hells Kitchen. Its more diverse and less pretentious and preening. And somewhat cheaper if you’re smart about where and WHEN you go.

So here’s my round-up starting at the top of Christopher Street at Sixth Avenue.

Pieces -
Tacky, sweet, surprisingly busy, with a mix of twinks and older men. Though its popularity is due in part to its location as the first bar on Christopher Street, its also due to its friendly vibe, attitude-free bartenders and pretense free scene. They have lots of special nights and Liquid Brunch (until 8PM) on the weekends with $3 margaritas, mimosas and bloody marys. Definitely a drinking crowd who can occasionally get messy but a nice change of pace from the Chelsea scene. And people actually hook up here unlike a lot of the other bars.

Julius
One block off Christopher on 10th Street and Waverly, its known as the oldest gay bar in NYC and looks it. The quintessential dive bar with older men drinking at noon, burgers and beer and a bar that looks its age. Which is what makes it fabulous and entertaining. Its starting to get a lot of trendy Gawkers mixing with the old-timers. Not always comfortably, but generally they won’t turn away your straight friends. Also some hustler action with the meth-head hookers who cruise the corner. A great blast from the past and an escape from the glitzy new West Village. But at risk of becoming a zoo for “cool” straights to condescendingly watch the old natives who can no longer afford to live (or drink) in the West Village.

Stonewall Inn
The museum of gay history bar. Without exhibits. Though a lot of tourists come here to see where it all began, its primary customers are regulars who have been coming for a long time. But in addition to the messy 70 year old who has had 5 too many, it also gets after-work suburban gays and non-scene city guys getting together with friends. It’s recently changed hands and the new owners are trying new things to keep it alive including new, friendly bartenders to replace the surly long-timers who seemed irritated by customers (though in truth they need to be a little rough to deal with some of the hustlers and homeless addicts who often wander in off Sheridan Square). Some of the new events include “Stonewall Sensation” (a gay American Idol), ethnic nights and porn star appearances upstairs. 2-for-1 happy hour 2-8 PM.

Duplex
A piano bar on the ground floor and performance space on the top floor. But my favorite is the second floor bar. It’s mellow with really nice, no-attitude bartenders, good $3 draft beer (yeah!) and $4 well drinks until 8PM. A good place to go to have a conversation without a scene. Mostly NYC locals not necessarily on the cruise, but open to meeting people. Combined with the social bartenders, it makes for a good place to meet new friends. Later in the evening when the shows start, the piano bar downstairs is more active with a mix of gay and straight people who love karaoke and cabaret.

The Monster
Kind of bi-polar. Older, cruisy gay men upstairs where you can look out the windows or sing along with the piano man. But downstairs, when its open, is a dance floor with a younger scene and great dance music. One of the most diverse crowds in NYC with a mix of young hip-hop boys, old school dancers, tourists and the occasional Chelsea boy. Sunday night Tea Dance is my favorite. One of the few places where you can dance in a low-key environment with a low or no cover charge. To me this place epitomizes the difference between the West Village gay scene and Chelsea/Hells Kitchen. Nightly, not so great, drink specials on mediocre beer and mixed drinks.

Boots and Saddles
Weird and small but good draft beer. Its been here forever, but recently changed hands. They tried making it new and hip and changing its name to BSNY (as in SBNY, aka Splash), but its too small and old school to ever be a hip trendy club. So I think they’ve accepted their clientele and are just going with it. Middle aged, social gay drinkers who have been coming to the Village for years and some locals. Embracing their demographic, they now have a go-go boy on a platform in the middle of the floor. Which is weird because the whole place is the size of a studio apartment so the go-go boy’s platform takes up a significant portion of the little available standing room and your face is almost in his crotch. But the crowd seems pleased as they stuff the straight go-go boy’s thong with dollar bills (or as I witnessed the other night, take out a bag full of sex toys and engage in a one-on-one conversational interaction with the go-go boy who is apparently on a first name basis with John). On the plus side (for me), they are one of the few gay bars with draft beer that includes some good dark imports. And they have 2-for-1 happy hour.

Tys
the classic Christopher Street bar that doesn’t try to change to keep up with the times. Wood floored, brick walled room with windows facing the street. You can easily imagine yourself being in the 1970s (though without the sexual carnival atmosphere). Low-key, not overly friendly or mean, mellow place popular with bears. Relatively attitude free and I’ve met a lot of random people here including tourists and locals. Generally middle aged but with younger and older guys mixed in. Not necessarily hard core drinkers or cruisers – more “have a few beers and see what comes along”. No great drink specials, but not expensive either.

The Hangar
the only “modern” bar on the strip, though its been here since the early 90’s. Pool table in the back. Mix of outer-borough gay men, tourists and locals. Pretty diverse crowd and cruisy. Nightly, pretty good, drink specials. Has a window to look out on Christopher Street.

Chi-Chiz
African-American bar. The only one left after the closure of Two Potato down the street a few years ago (the original One Potato at 10th and Hudson closed in the early 90s). Not particularly welcoming otherwise. But if you’re white and want to know what its like to be an African American in a Chelsea gay bar, you should check it out.

Dugout
the (in)famous bear bar that only gets a crowd on Sunday for their Beer Blast. Otherwise its pretty consistently empty but for a few older regulars, some tourists and random Christopher Street hustlers. But cheap draft beer for happy hour and Beer Blast. Bartender is either a sweet queen or a nasty dickhead. Nice on Spring and Summer Sundays when it occasionally spills out onto the street (though thanks to the new NIMBY attitude, this happens less frequently). And you can meet a lot of other bears (and the occasional blogger).

The Election – Pennsylvania

OK. The first of many posts on this election. Starting with my home state of Pennsylvania. Which is schizophrenically split between Philly (hardcore Democrats) and the rest of the state (hardcore Republican) with some gray areas around Philly and in Pittsburgh. A good indicator of America in that it has urban, affluent, progressive areas offset by great swaths of land where people struggle to make a living, go to church religiously, own guns and don’t understand gays (and yeah, they are kinda bitter).

And it went for Hillary in a big way. And that’s just the Democrats. A critical swing state along with Florida, Ohio, maybe Michigan, it shows how she is the only one who appeals to the average Joe/Jane (aka, Reagan Democrats and centrist Republiacns).

Yeah, the Democrats are kinda split and leaning slightly towards Obama. But what matters at this point is WINNING the general election and getting rid of the Republicans. I’m so sick and tired of losing to Republicans and living in a country run by people who seem like aliens to me.

Yeah, I think Obama’s great and in an ideal world where everyone is a progressive he could be a great leader. But its far from an ideal world and we have to accept that a majority of Americans are not overly informed. thoughtful or aware when casting their votes. That’s how we got 8 years of Bush.

So now is not the time to be electing one the most liberal, inexperienced Senators in America to run against an old, semi-centrist war dog. We HAVE to win. And if there is a choice of an experienced battle ax who has proven she can win the only states that matter versus the classic liberal Democrat (like it or not thats how he comes across to all those people who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004), we have to go with the one who can win.

In 2012 or 2016, we can elect Obama. Who will still be incredibly young. But now we need a centrist who can win Republican votes in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania (because honestly, the blue states are not going to suddenly turn Red at this point). And the only one who can do that is Hillary.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The American Dream - Cold Calling

In 1989, after my junior year in college, I decided I wanted to live in New York City. I had been here a couple of times, but wanted a chance to LIVE here and be gay. Though I ultimately wanted to be in San Francisco after I graduated, NYC was easier because it was close to Philly but still had a thriving gay scene. I also wanted to get away from working with my father who would have kept me enslaved all summer cutting lawns and painting the slums he owned as he had for the previous 10 years.

I found cheap summer housing at NYU and shared a dorm room with 3 other guys - a 32-year old Parisian taxi driver, 20-year old Bernard Tisch (as in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) and a 21 year old Israeli NYU business student who was taking classes to graduate a year early so he could start making money as quickly as possible. A fascinating group of people with whom I had nothing in common (though when the Parisian taxi driver offered me some cheap weed he had scored in Washington Square, I did finally find some common ground)

In NYC in 1989, there were still some remnants of the 1980s “Bonfire of the Vanities” culture. That summer, I worked at a Wall Street penny-stock broker making cold calls to rich people from a list of rich people some company had created. I worked with two classic, Queens-born NY strivers (one Irish, one Jewish) who epitomized the outer borough middle class kid come to Wall Street to hit it rich. They had more ambition than intelligence but played at the slick Wall Street broker game with determination. The slick-backed hair, the suspenders and the cufflinks barely camouflaged the middle class kid with the New Yawk accent and big-city provincialism whose life-long dream was to move to Manhattan. Tony Manero on Wall Street. It was the end of the era that started the whole myth that anybody can hit it big on Wall Street if they worked hard enough and really, really, really wanted to be rich.

In fact they were shucksters, confidence-men like most of the successful guys on Wall Street. “Churn and burn” was the motto. It dispelled for me the notion that stockbrokers were analytical, thoughtful stock pickers who lived the upper crust life that I so yearned to attain. It was a hard, depressing, desperate life. But at least they weren’t working outside on a construction site in the freezing cold and sweltering heat. Or, like my father, in the warehouse freezer of a meatpacking factory with little hope of ever striking it rich.

So I arrived every morning at 8 AM at the small office that I shared with the two of them and started dialing from my little corner table. I would use my innocent, educated voice and manipulative skills to try to get past the secretary to the “big fish” who had money to invest according to the “list of big fish”. Surprisingly often (maybe 20% of the time), I did actually get through.

At the point where I got through the to big Kahuna, I yelled at the Sherman McCoy wannabes “Go!” and they would pick up the phone and start their spiel. It amazes me how even wealthy people could be so ignorant as to put money in the hands of these guys, but America is full of blind optimists.

I did this for 9 hours a day for the entire summer. I finally just couldn’t do it anymore and left 2 weeks earlier than planned. But it allowed me to experience big city life and was an awesome resume-builder when I started to look for a “real” job the next year. In fact, I could say that its the reason I ended up in NYC instead of San Francisco.

Even though I realized I didn’t want to get stuck doing this for the rest of my life, I also wasn’t as appalled by it as your average Ivy league student. That’s because in high school, I was a professional cold caller for Evergreen Lawns. It was a ChemLawn type service that sprayed chemicals on suburban lawns to make them greener and more weed-free than their neighbors.

Again, I wasn’t as disgusted by this job as most suburban Philly teens because I was just glad not to have to work with my father cutting lawns as I had done since I was 11. The freedom from my father’s dictatorship was satisfying in itself. Yeah, it was kind of slimy. But I had an innocent voice and realized that if I just kept dialing new numbers (at dinner time and early Saturdays when people would most likely be home), eventually some people would say “Yes, I would like a free estimate on my lawn done by one of your lawn care specialists”. It always kind of shocked me and made me realize Americans are suckers and will buy pretty much anything.

I eventually was promoted to Office Manager. Which was an honor, but had its drawbacks. I am not a born manager. Especially of my friends and other teens who were my co-workers now turned subordinates. But because I was a pretty nice guy and lead more by example than demand by working harder than anyone else, they gave me respect.

The summer after high school and before I started college, the CEO tried to woo me into staying on, selling me on all the opportunities that lay ahead as an employee of Evergreen Lawns. Someday I could even be his right-hand man. I listened to him politely and feigned sincere interest, but I could see clearly the pathetic life that would lie ahead of me clearly exemplified by the adults who worked there. I was smart enough to realize you don’t stay in a $6 an hour job instead of getting an Ivy League education. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and start my new glamorous life as a pampered student of a high-class institution that would forever distance me from the possibility of living the decidedly unglamorous life of a working class peon.

Of course, after 4 years of college and my stint on “Wall Street”, I realized that life wasn’t going to be so effortlessly glamorous and would require humiliating servitude in corporate sweatshops. But it was still more exciting and possibility-filled than my life at a chemical facility in working class Philadelphia.

And I realized that the American Dream is a myth. There is never a completely fulfilling “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. There are only more rainbows with promises of even bigger pots of gold. Happiness comes not from the money we have but the people we love.

Turning 40 in Reality

How coincidental that just as I’m turning 40, a new reality show starts called the “Big 4-0” documenting people turning 40. Sort of like “My Super Sweet 16” for old people. And if the first few episodes are indicative, it shows that Americans don’t really grow up. They just keep trying to pretend that they’re young like those “relevant” people on TV and advertisements who are all under 30. Its seems to be people who never had a blowout “Super Sweet 16” and now, with a little more money, are recreating their childhood.

Being born post-“baby boomer”, I never thought of myself as a part of a huge demographic. But I guess the Gen-X’ers are the first generation to be part of the whole “Real World” reality TV phenomenon. So now, even in turning 40, I can feel like I’m less important and more boring than the average person my age and that my life is a little less exciting and over-the-top than most other people.

Though, as in all of the reality TV shows, I wouldn’t want to be them. I think the whole reality TV thing is based on the idea that the viewer can feel morally and intellectually superior and thereby feel better about themselves.

But I hate having to compare myself so directly to other people. Its been shown that it’s the root of unhappiness. Its less important how much we have, than how much we have relative to those around us. Which is why living in NY (or LA or any other above-average income town) is a guarantee of unhappiness. Because someone always has more - more money, bigger house, hotter boyfriend, better job. That is the source of unhappiness – wanting what you don’t have and in most cases don’t need.

In reality, the only way I can be happy about being 40 is by not comparing myself to other 40 year olds or to what America says I should be or have at 40. No, I don’t have a job, or own a home, or have kids. But I have a roof over my head, food on the table and the love of the most wonderful man in the world (which, if I lived in Egypt or Iraq or Afghanistan, I could only dream about).

In fact, I have fulfilled my childhood dreams. Maybe not as rich, but I also don’t have a wife and kids which, like so many dreams force-fed to me in childhood, needed to be tossed out the window when I learned who I am and what real happiness is. And that, in reality, is the joy of turning 40 – ignoring what the world says you should be and having the wisdom to know who I am and what brings me happiness.

The Eagle on Sunday

Went to the Eagle last night for their Beer Blast rooftop party. Possibly my favorite place in NYC. Normal looking guys who are my age in a relaxed environment conducive to talking. Delicious, cold, Red Hook draft beer for $3 which in NYC is a steal (and a great find since good draft beer at a gay bar in NYC is a rarity.) And I LOVE being able to be outside, drink beer and walk outside to a deserted street to smoke.

Got there at 5 and planned on staying for 2 hours and having 3 or 4 beers. Then our friends Mike and Kurt texted us at 7 and said they were coming. So we had another 3 beers and didn’t leave until 10. Waay hungover today-which is weird since I usually don’t get a hangover from beer. But I just found out that Red Hook has an alcohol content equal to Colt 45. And I had 7 (!!!) so I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.

When we first got there, we were the only ones on the roof. Then some kid (28-30) came up and just kind of stood near us, glancing at us occasionally. He was acting so shady and weird I thought he was on meth or something even though he looked normal. But I’ve learned from prior interactions at gay bars that my preconceived image of a meth head - scrawny, gap-toothed and bug-eyed – is simplistic and na├»ve. At least in the early stages of addiction.

After about 15 minutes, he turned and said “Well, may as well do it now”.
I immediately went into my “Lets pretend this person doesn’t exist” defensive social anxiety mode.
This was followed by a 10 second silence while he stood there and looked awkward while I tried to pretend like he had never said anything and wasn’t even there.
Then he reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a stack of 3x4 pieces of paper and I thought “Oh great, a Jesus freak who’s come to a gay bar to try to convert people”.

He says “I was told by people in my group this would be a good place to come”
OOOOOO K ? My crazy-person detection and defense system kicked into high gear.

Then he brings my paranoid backstory crashing down by saying “I don’t know what your status is but I run a support group for poz guys” and hands me and R one of the flyers from his stack.

It was one of those experiences that reminds me I really shouldn’t be so defensively anti-social. Turns out he was just recruiting for his group at a place where there are probably a good number of poz guys.

We talked a little and turns out he was a really nice kid. But I was left feeling a little sad and shocked that this young, shy kid who looked like he just got here from St Louis was positive. A reminder that HIV is still prevalent and pervasive in the gay world of 2008 NYC even though we live in this state of denial.

Like most gay men I know in NYC, I think of HIV as something from the past that we escaped and is no longer a threat. We believe that kids today, because they have so much information and awareness of HIV, don’t still contract HIV. But we’re wrong. The stats are there in the little annual blurbs that appear in the gay blogs. But its easy to read the reports, think “that’s horrible and maddening and stupid” and then forget about it. We go to the gay bar where everyone looks healthy and assume we live in a post-AIDS world. We don’t. And its good to be reminded of that.

So Chris, thanks for being out there and having the balls to do what you’re doing. And sorry for judging you before I even knew you.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Life and Death

I’m a 39 year old gay man who grew up in the Golden Age of the 1970’s, then came of age during the Plague Years of the 1980s. So just happy to still be here. Never thought I’d reach 40 since it seemed that most gay men died in their 20s and 30s when I was coming out. I remember praying to reach 30 and was convinced for most of my adult life that I only had 5 more years to live at most (the average time between diagnosis and death in the early days).

Then I reached 30 and the “death sentence” of AIDS began to evaporate and I allowed myself to live a little more slowly. For the first time, I began to consider what a regular life lasting 70 years might be like. And began to worry about maintaining my health, caring for my family, saving for retirement, finding a boyfriend.

But its still hard to shake the fear that I might die tomorrow. Its almost engrained in me since I spent so much of my life assuming I would die young. (In addition to the specter of AIDS, my Dad died from cancer when I was young and my sister was diagnosed with aggressive, Stage IV cancer at 38.) So I still believe in living for today and not counting on tomorrow. But I’ve tempered that with preparing for a longer life that I might need to pay for.

My fear of dying young (and a soul-sucking, life-absorbing job) lead me to stop working at the age of 35 with the intention of taking a year off. I just didn’t want to die before 40 without ever having lived life on my terms. My father put off all happiness until retirement but then never made it there.

Almost 5 years later, I’m unemployed and living off savings but I still think I did the right thing and would do it again. I’ve had a chance to LIVE life without the sociopathic, soul crushing stress of modern corporate life and to be truly who I am.

I’ve been able to care for my sister as she struggled through a death sentence, poisoning by chemotherapy, and a nervous breakdown; to protect my nephews as they evolved through the demanding and impressionable first years of their lives; and to comfort my mother as she aged and dealt with the potential death of her firstborn child. These are the most important things I have done in my life.

And if I died tomorrow, I would be happy. I’ve had more life, love and happiness than I ever expected. Everything else is gravy.

Why Blog?

So why do I want to do a blog? Well, duh! Become an internationally famous writer with legions of fans hanging on my every post who think I’m the most insightful, erudite, lovable guy they have ever met in cyberspace.

But seriously, I just need to write. Whether anybody ever reads this or not, I just need to write my thoughts down. I love playing with words and editing my thoughts. And the possibility that someone might read it makes it waaay more fulfilling and meaningful than just writing in my diary.

Oh… and I’m unemployed and have way too much time my hands.

My inspiration is Joe My God because he seems wise, humble, insightful and succinct. Though I admire his writing, I can’t promise any of these qualities since I have limited self-discipline.

I also much prefer textual interaction to actually having to meet and talk to people. Its been “diagnosed” as social anxiety which is a good description since any type of social setting creates anxiety for me. But more simply stated, I’m just shy. Always have been, probably always will be, even though I’ve spent years in therapy and tried various pharmaceutical products to get rid of it. The only drug that seems to work is alcohol, but we all know where that leads.

So I’ve just learned to accept that I don’t enjoy social engagements and stopped punishing myself too much. Trying to find a happy medium of maintaining contact with the world, while not creating stress by trying to fight who I am. Coming from a long line of farmers who lived in relative isolation and only had to see people once a week at church, I feel like I’ve made huge strides just by living in a people-packed metropolis and having a relatively “normal” modern urban life.

With that said, I’ve avoided working because of the stress of dealing with people. Which brings me back to on of the reasons I started this blog. I’ve got time on my hands.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Beginning

Well that was bizarrely easy. I've been planning on starting a blog for 2 years but assumed it was going to be overwhelmingly complicated for a non-tech savvy guy like myself. It took me 30 seconds. No wonder every thomas, richard and harold has one.