10 Life Lessons from a Grandma – Today is Everyday.

Lord knows nana Nellie wasn’t a looker.

At 40 she looked 70. She was always old.

Nana was the “custodian.” at my Brooklyn, New York public school.

Custodian: Fancy word for janitor.

It embarrassed me how she cleaned toilets.

I would look to avoid her in the halls.

As I get older, I realize the impression she made on me. 

Grandma’s life lessons.

Random Thoughts:

1). Screw Stereotypes – Nana loved people for who they were, not their appearances. She would provide food to families at the school who were having difficult financial times and hold fundraisers for the less fortunate. And she was one of the less fortunate.

2). Be Nurturing to Children – Nellie would dress as Santa every year, walk down  school halls and hand out pounds of candy to the kids. They loved her. I was so embarrassed. Odd. Imagine someone dressed as Santa delivering candy at a public school today? That is grounds for dismissal or perhaps – arrest.

3). Be Proud of Who You Are – Nana was nana. She dressed like crap but had a heart of gold. She would wear this hideous battleship gray and white school uniform that made her appear more matronly than she really was. I rarely saw her dress stylishly. And people could care less. Neither did she.

4). Make a Killer BLT – Nana was a good cook but her BLTs were something to die for. I know her secret to a mind-blowing BLT sandwich and will take it to the grave.

5). Smile & Say Hello – Nellie’s bedroom window faced a busy street. One of her favorite pastimes was to sit there and watch the people go by. She always would call out a hearty hello and smile. Even when people didn’t return the courtesy.

6). Save, Save, Save – Grandma was a Depression baby. Nothing went to waste. She wasn’t a hoarder, but found a use for everything. My grandfather abhorred how she would have him pull over because she would notice a salvageable treasure in a neighbor’s garbage, out by the curb. One year she found the coolest red wooden Santa’s sleigh complete with ornate wooden carved reindeer. We dragged it ten blocks to her house.

7). Forgive Your Kids – My dad was always out with some hot girl two decades younger than him. He would tell grandma he was coming by and not show. Or he would cancel on her for a hot date. She would shake her head and say “that’s my Benny!” smile and move on. She told me once – “you can’t control what others do. Only what you do.”

8). Encourage - Grandma was always telling me I could do what I want. I was smart enough. I could attend college. She had owned multiple businesses in the 1950s – A laundromat, a delicatessen. It was rare then for a woman to take the bull by the horns. I think unfortunately, grandpa killed her spirit so she relented a bit and gave up the businesses.

9). Be a Good Friend – Nellie was loyal and loved her friends. And she had many.  She was there to listen, support, engage.

10. Today is Everyday - I believe this was nana’s shot at philosophy. She wasn’t educated, yet she was wise. This life lesson is still the most challenging for me – If I talked about my future or I was frustrated by my situation Nellie would advise me to make the best of it, learn from the experience.

Then give me a hug.

And a BLT.

On occasion, a hug, a sandwich (made with love) and a memory is all you need.

To get by.

To make it through the school of life.

BLT

Gatsby’s Greatest Mistake – Avoid Death Through Eternal Hope.

I never met a man with such hope. I doubt I ever will again.” Nick Carraway.

Mr. Jay Gatsby clearly didn’t thrive on this plane. He was bigger than life, above earth, to many who knew him. Knew of  him. Men, women, actors, senators, commissioners, vagabonds, freaks, all ages, all shapes, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the pimple-faced kid who delivered the freshest produce every mid and end of week who stuck around a bit too long to catch a glimpse of mystery.

Clearly, everyone was aware of Gatsby, or at the least, the image of the man formed over years of discipline, sacrifice, study, focus. Amazing, blinding focus. The thousands who entered the masterful iron gates of his 40,000 square-foot mansion on weekends, who took advantage of the endless flow of hospitality, each one, had a story.  To Nick, Gatsby seemed like a soul ready to dance on the edge of tragedy.  Stripped of protective barrier, Gatsby was a mere boy playing adult games. There was a story which circulated, cut deep through the heat of party goers and the lights. So much light. It blinded Nick.

“I heard he even killed a man.”

Gatsby never belonged in the present.  His closest friend, if Gatsby held a real friendship, observed the inner distraction, perhaps a bordering on obsession.

Nick was convinced: Something outside this world was eating Gatsby alive.  At least that’s what he believed.

Looking down, Nick observed Gatsby’s rich leather shoes. Always polished.  He laughed. It was his way of knowing Gatsby existed in the physical realm. One day Nick would imagine, he’d look down and Gatsby’s feet would be hovering about a foot off blue lawn, like a spirit ready to speed off to another planet. A Godly mission perhaps?

Nick wondered:  Where did Gatsby’s heart rest?  Standing majestic, always dressed for perfection, looking into him, Nick would observe, feel the distance, beyond the deep blue of Gatsby’s eyes. Who was Jay Gatsby anyway?

A spy? A killer? A hero? Did he even remember?

Nick asked himself repeatedly – “Who owns and chains Jay Gatsby’s soul?”

Nick noticed how Gatsby would uncomfortably shift to and from the current.  He was much like the white water which ebbed and flowed along a lush, personal beach.

Nick was fascinated. There existed a beautiful sadness, a breathless longing, a waiting in a smile that caught itself before completion.  There was true genius here. An honesty, a passion locked deep. He knew things you didn’t. You didn’t want to know.

Depending on the conversation, Nick could release the child-like innocence who was Gatsby. Gatsby before all the trappings. The hungry one. The one who felt.

gatsby

Behind wispy delicate beauty purchased from wealth, lived a man awaiting release. Or redemption. A better life. Completion. Forgiveness, perhaps. Nick would write feverishly in his journal – “Heartbroken. Distracted. Innocent.  Mysterious spirit. Dangerous.”

“Yet hopeful. Always amazingly hopeful.”

Immersed in overly decadent trappings of the richest mahogany and purple-blue carpet which felt like crushed velvet under foot, Gatsby was a polished, preserved shell draped in the finest light linens and deep silk vests designed solely to fit his swimmer’s body, snug. From the calloused fingers of artist-immigrant tailors at Herbinger’s of New York City.

Stuck rich between youth and maturity, estrangement and engagement.  Waiting for a bridge to be built between past and future – One vital piece remained untethered for the polished yet raw of Jay Gatsby.

“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

Every reserved step, each over-the-top party, the plethora of salt breeze which swirled over Long Island Sound direct through his open balcony door, sought to embrace him. It felt best not to touch. The salt-air felt thick, solid – yet it played teasingly gentle with billowed drapes. Silk flown in directly from Singapore, woven by hand, wrapped Gatsby in the future of a dream not yet realized. He raised a manicured finger. Lowered his head. Sandy hair once coiffed, now tussled by wind. Breathing in and out.

Pointed forward. Eyes closed. The pain of her. Her absence radiated from deep his chest.

Traveled on emerald bright.

A salvation: His salvation.

Where the woman, a human light, who held his soul captive like a seirene, for half a decade now.

Danced gleefully behind the green light. Where she lived.

Little did Daisy know when she spun on the dock like a little girl, with the green light as beacon, Gatsby felt her. He felt nothing deep except her presence.

The lights from his mansion across the water,most of the time launched in Technicolor, was designed to capture an elusive star. The music, the crowds, the fireworks. All for her attention. A tactic designed to push a love, Daisy, back to where they started. It was five years. To Gatsby, it was yesterday. Everything stopped unless Daisy was part of the equation.

Thought across the water, he would focus on the only shine that mattered to him. The green. The calm. The pure of color messaged him. It was code to his soul not yet released. His heart to join past and present rode on a wave of robust hope.

He created an elaborate stage – a world of players he observed but never touched.  Except for Nick. There was a difference about him. He reminded Gatsby of a brother he left a life ago.

And for all Gatsby appeared to his those he played to, his foundation, his emotional as well as financial footing was shaky. Perhaps we love this timeless story because perfection is born from imperfection.

However, you can never run from who you truly are. As well as you dress, as elegant as you speak, there’s something tragic about all of us. Gatsby couldn’t touch the imperfect. It was a realization how truly flawed he was.

Daisy Buchanan was smart enough to accept her station. Her willingness to party, her vacuous nature, was truly who she was. Gatsby tried to acquire her. He created an inner image of her. An image he could control. And wanted so badly to believe. Who he loved wasn’t Daisy. It was his wish to save her, perhaps possess her. A projection. A feeling lost he needed returned.

“I KNOW. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything…Sophisticated – God, I’m sophisticated.”

Writer’s note: Daisy was a pompous twit. But she knew it. Admit when you’re a pompous twit, people will hold a greater respect for you. 

Everything Gatsby built, everything Gatsby sought, everything he had become, born of incredible focus. (Was. For. One. Person. And. It. Wasn’t. Him.)

Ostensibly it killed him. Death after going so deep, was the only answer. It was the only conclusion F. Scott could have come to. Gatsby was so mired in his dream, so far gone, only death could release.

So what can we learn from this classic?

Random Thoughts:

1). Gatsby’s parties and trappings were a horrible return on investment. If the elaborate wealth was bankrolled by Prohibition then what would happen when it all ended? And Prohibition did indeed, end. Gatsby surely spent more than he took in.Only a matter of time before Daisy being as spoiled as she was, would depart. As soon as the cash ran dry. I have no doubt Gatsby as a fighter,  would have found another way to build a fortune. To recover. Unfortunately, his true focus for it would have long exited. And possession should never be every reason to acquire wealth, especially when it comes to the acquisition of a heart, love. A feeling. Gatsby loved how he felt around Daisy. He was willing to pay anything for that feeling. He was paying with his life and she really wasn’t concerned. If Gatsby was able to spend more time in the present, he probably would have figured this Prohibition thing was going to conclude. He held enough contacts to uncover this information and ostensibly work to protect his wealth.

2). Gatsby suffered from abhorrent emotional and cognitive biases. First, he lived in the past. Only the past. I’m sure hindsight bias troubled him. I’m sure he obsessed over past investment mistakes because in hindsight, he knew they were going to fail or do well. He needed to control so much of his projection, his journey, his capture of a love that died a long time ago, he could have never admitted he was wrong. As Nick wisely told Gatsby: “You can’t bring back the past.” Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can, old sport!”

“He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.”

Writer’s note: His love for Daisy was the love he lost for himself.”

Gatsby was inflicted by regret aversion. He held on to lots of “losers,” much longer than he should have. All his party goers, the people he provided a “respectable front” for business dealings, DAISY (biggest loser as it cost him his life). Don’t hold on to losing investments thinking the’ll recover. Forget holding on to feelings, or hope that someone you loved will return. A bullet in the chest and a float in the pool are the results. 

“They are a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.”

3). Find and then appreciate your Nick Carraways. The true alliances, the objective financial partners who will provide truth even when it hurts, those who make up your inner circle. The ones who listen, care, the ones who truly feel your pain. So much it changes them. And you. Those who embrace who you are now. Learn to love the Nick inside you, too. For some odd reason, Nick was Gatsby’s true salvation; he just couldn’t make the pieces fit. Your human outliers, the ones who think outside the box, but are pure of heart are worth more than any Gatsby-like fortune. Write down who those people are. Call them. Write. Tell them now what they mean to you. Cherish. Thank them for sharing the brutal, beautiful truth. These people provide clarity.

“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

4). Understand Gatsby was dead before he hit the water. The bullet was merely  release. A method to move on. Forced by the hand of another. We, on occasion, are moved forward by the force of another. Harsh realization from a past love, an illness that sets you back, a business failure (which is not a defeat), depression, an inner disappointment. Let’s face it. Daisy wasn’t going to return to Gatsby and for him, it meant all he built was false, mere illusion. It was time for him to deal with the demons. And they were powerful. He made them so. Death was a good way for Gatsby.Majestic. Full of story. Bigger than life. It’s not yours. Remember the bullet that caused you to move forward, bleed, then drown. Time to emerge. Remember what you’re made of. Some dreams are not fucking healthy. They hold you captive. Daisy wasn’t going to call. She was long gone. Years back. She knew how to work the Great Gatsby.

Gatsby Daisy

“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”

5). Know when your light goes from green to red. To much hope will blind. The blinking beacon, your overwhelming focus, will trick you. The light you seek should always be green. The light inside you should be red. Somewhere between is where reason should  flicker. You’ll then know when to change the path to the green light. Or perhaps you’re focused on the wrong dock. The wrong light. There’s more than one green light out there. Find them all. Know when to change the bulbs, change the focus, move to other docks.

The phone will ring. You’ll attempt to exit the pool, complete the illusion.

And that may be the worst possible outcome.

Gatsby died with hope, from eternal hope.

Create life through hope. It’s healthy in doses.

Realize when hope is not enough.

Run faster, stretch your mind, move past your comfort zone, stretch your arms.

Know when hope creates illusion, self denial.

Because then you’re in the pool.

And going under.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning-”

The Lives you Sever to Save your Own (and Others).

“Are you done yet?”

I was kneeling. Looking up. At a shell. A skull with eyes. At ninety-seven pounds, mostly bones. Slumped in an ornate, chipped wooden chair I still own and stare at today. He still commands it. Owns it.  I can’t sit in it. After all these years. The chair frightens me.

dark chair

When he spoke, I remembered happily. I recalled the power. His presence. His flair. How strong he was. Even after cancer took 70 pounds away. Like a thief. Draining him. He was in a three-piece suit four sizes too big. We couldn’t alter clothes fast enough to keep up with the weight loss.

Yes,” he said. along with a tear. His. “I’m done.”

Water rolled down his face. Landed on our joined hands. I put my head in his lap. He stroked it. I told him I loved him. I didn’t want him to go. How can I convince him to stay. To change his mind. I would do anything. Anything. Wasn’t my love enough to keep him here?

Told me “it’s no big deal. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Huh? I wasn’t going to be “fine.” I couldn’t “see.”  It was tough to ask the question and receive the answers I knew I was going to hear. But it was nothing less than I expected. I then understood how I needed to be strong. To help him move forward. Because I knew he wasn’t “done.” He had more to do in this life. It was a time. A snapshot of sweet surrender and acceptance. Still. Quiet. Like God was taking a photo of a moment for me. There was nothing else we could do. And surrender and acceptance are on occasion, not easy. Sometimes surrender and acceptance rips your heart out.

Through life you’ll need to sever lifelines to those who hold power over you. Those you love more than anything. Yet, they’re not there. Or here. And you can’t move forward. And last night I had a dream about dad. What he said to me that day in 1993.

His one last thought. Because he always had the last thought.  One lesson I’ll never forget.

He said: “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

I literally carried him down the stairs. He let me. I know that was tough for him. Tough on his pride. But he let me. Because he knew I needed to. He spent years being the strong one. Carrying me. I rested him on the couch. The vigil began. He wanted to die at home. I made sure nobody would dissuade me from the mission. I held his hand as he slipped into a coma.

On a frigid, gray February day before he spent 48 hours dying on a couch, dad severed his lifeline to save me. Made me feel ok about his inevitable exit. At least he tried. He even worked a full day at the office before coming home and slumping in that damn chair. The death chair. Like it was no big deal. Close some car deals. Drive home. Die.

“I don’t want you to be done.”

But sometimes love isn’t enough. And you always want love to be enough.

Random Thoughts:

1). Some lifelines get severed carelessly. Why must they? What the hell stands in the way of happiness? There are people we should engage as friends, lovers, mentors, yet sometimes love isn’t enough. Respect isn’t enough. Something unspoken hangs like a deep cancer you can’t cut out so you decide to cut off. It’s easier – but is it the right move? Do you sit in the chair and say “I’m done?”

2). Some threads need to be severed so both parties can survive, move forward. And it’ll rip your heart out because you know the sever feels wrong. You lose a part of yourself when it comes to this cut. This one is gonna hurt. It’s going to take time to heal. But sometimes, love isn’t enough and it needs to be done.

3). On occasion the attempt to sever causes reflection. Do you really want this person out of your life? Is there an illness, an internal hemorrhage that can be healed? Is there some feeling other than love which blossoms health and unity? Or do you allow release? Do you move a person you love to another plane?

4). Be prepared to sacrifice yourself, go out on a limb, be cold. For resolution, or severing you’ll need to “prep” the area. Not easy. What is the catalyst that gets you to this point? It’s different for everyone. Dad knew when it was time. After all, it was going to be fine. No big deal, right? At least that’s what he said when I know it tore his soul to say what he did to me. He appeared strong, almost defiant, flippant? Just so I would have the balls to move forward. An ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love is enough?

5). Don’t sit in the death chair. Until you’re ready. And you may never be ready. Surrender isn’t easy. Acceptance is worse. Understanding you have too much debt, or you suck at saving, or you can’t handle investing in stocks, or you got duped by a financial professional promising unrealistic returns, is a good first step. Accept and improve.

It was 1am. Dad woke out of his coma. Briefly. He moaned. The whites of his eyes turned blood red. He spoke to me one last time. He said – “you’re going to be great.”

I whispered in his ear. I had all these memories I need to share.

“Remember when my green Schwinn with the banana seat was stolen two hours after you  bought it for me? You came home and bought me another one.”

He grimaced. Maybe he smiled. Then he was gone.

He stopped breathing. I could still see the movement in his chest. It was his heart.

It was still beating. Fighting to stay. His body moved with the rhythm of it. Because of it.

He was strong that way. He needed to leave me a lasting impression.

I told him his love was enough. It was time for him to go.

Then the world stopped.

But I didn’t.

heart light

He wouldn’t accept it.

A Folded Cardboard Holiday. Four Ways to Stay Alive at Christmas.

I dislike Christmas. Not in a funny, green “Grinchy,” way either.

grumpy christmas

The holiday has clearly lost some of its sparkle for me, especially now, as cherished people I believed would be around for longer than a memory, decided to bail quickly from my inner wonderland. Clean gone. Like the three wise men who get misdirected by Apple Maps to the birthplace of Cee Lo Green instead of the second coming of you-know-who.

The problem with Christmas is it stirs ancient thoughts and the mental bias of anchoring. I dare you to gaze at a tree ornament you’ve unpacked this year, every year over the last ten and not recall “the moment.”  A vivid memory of  how you felt when you received it, who gave it to you, where you bought it. The weather that day you hung it from your fake Christmas tree. The eye color, hair color, smell, of the person who bought the cheap holiday trinket for you; now the damn thing has a life of its own, it possesses a wealth of memories you would sooner forget.

And for most of the year you do. Until..

You resurrect the decoration from the plastic tomb stored in the garage. From a container marked “CHRISTMAS CRAP.” Then you “go back,” or anchor to “the moment,” again and usually it isn’t good. But you can’t throw this plastic memory bank away, so you sullenly hang it from a tree branch this year. Again. Relive the pain.

Stab me with candy cane every year, it’s ok. I can take it. This year after exhuming a memory, I lost track of time and space. It was silly when I realized I had been sitting on the dusty floor of my garage for an hour and a half. Lost in space, lost in time, lost in “the moment.”

santa slay Awww

Even cardboard can push the past into the present. The other day at a friend’s house, a collector of vintage kitsch, a flood of memories washed over me. There in the corner, looking as new as the ancient day it was originally folded out was a Christmas adornment I haven’t seen or remembered in years. Yet, when I noticed it, I went back in time immediately. I went speeding through time, a return to 1972 when I first received my very own cardboard and electric (what a lethal combo)

cardboard fireplaceFireplace!!!!!

It was a lousy Christmas that year. My mother after a binge of booze and pills came home from God-knows-where, focused on the fake Christmas tree I just finished decorating, picked it up from the middle like some form of petite, brunette elf weightlifter and flung it out the third-floor living room window.

I think there were like 6,000,000 lights secured around this thing. In fact, there were so many light sets attached that when the plastic pine cliff diver advanced from the window, one of the light strings got caught on the way down causing the tree to temporarily swing about 10 feet from the ground like some type of evil holiday pendulum.

Then two days later, on December 27, a favorite cousin visited. A savior of sorts. He brought the fireplace along with small, wrapped gifts I never expected. On December 27, I had Christmas revisited thanks to Michael. We unfolded the fireplace, secured the lightbulb behind the fake flame. It might as well had been the real thing. The warmth was the same. A cousin saved my holiday. I never forgot.

Random Thoughts:

1). Tell People you Love them. Now. Today. Even when they don’t feel the same. Even if they walk away. Even if they don’t respond.Today is the day to tell them exactly what they mean to you and you’ll be there for them because your heart and soul can’t change. It won’t change. Don’t compromise.

2). Christmas is not a day, or a holiday, it’s a mindset. The harsh glow of bad memories are ok even if they pierce you like extra-pointed ends of holly. The rotten ones are tough yet you must look behind them and work hard find the lessons that move you forward. Embrace what was and analyze how it made you the person you are today.

3). In times of despair, who will save your holiday? Be open to the signs. Be open to those you’ve been closed to before. You never know the lessons they’ll teach you, the memories they’ll create for you when you unpack the ornaments next Christmas.

4). Now is the time to tie up loose ends. With people. With money. Step back. Sever or foster ties with those who create energy, and cut away the ones who take it away. On occasion, you’ll be the one who’s cut and never truly understand why. There’s a humility, a frailty to being cut. It feels hopeless. Like a Christmas tree cast from upper floors. Then, out of nowhere – hope emerges.

At the end of the year, it’s a good idea to double-check the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. It’s also an opportune time to decide how you’re going to increase your contributions to retirement plans or work to pay off credit card debt in the new year.

My middle name is Michael. I demanded my mother have it changed after that Christmas. She obliged out of guilt. It was a way to always keep a special cousin in my heart.

After losing contact with my favorite cousin years ago, I found out last year that Michael died in 2008. Alone. From AIDS. In a motel room in upstate New York. He was dead for a week before they found him.

I wasn’t there. I never knew.

I missed my chance to tell him how much I loved him. How much he saved me that day. I sent a thought to him, as I stared at a friend’s cardboard fireplace. I asked Michael to forgive me. I thanked him for what he did for me.

Don’t miss your chance.

Today’s the day..

Your day to unfold love, gratefulness, blessings.

A day to find your fireplace. Your hearth.

Do it.

The Life In The Mirror. 3 Ways to Save It.

I bolted. Ran out the door. Down three flights of stairs. 3am. Screaming. For a Brooklyn street it was eerie quiet. Dark. Street lights out. A desperate sprint. In pajamas. To the only pay phone close by. Would it be working? It had to be the most vandalized pay phone in the city. Odds weren’t good.

Directly across the avenue from Harold’s Pharmacy.

Neon beacon in the night. Still around.

It was a shabby three-room apartment in a pre-WWII three-story walk up.  But it was shelter. That’s all I cared about. It was my world for a time and to me it felt big when things were good and amazingly small and cloying when things were bad.

Lately it felt as if I was living on a pin and the head was about to run out of room.   For an old building, the steam heat worked amazingly well. New York cold was occasionally harsh, so I was grateful. Turn the valve for the first time and the radiator clanked and clunked loud like an old car starting up after a long hibernation. Steam heat smelled good to me. Like a change of season coming. Only because there were summers. Rough summers. Rough seasons overall. This summer was a scorcher. Hotter than usual. It was ready to crescendo to one of the most memorable electrical blackouts in New York City history.

Two weeks before it felt as if I leaped from the heat right into the fire. A life or death decision flare up. A three alarmer. I wasn’t mentally ready to play God, but God didn’t seem to give a shit. I was in the intense heat of a crossroad on fire. I needed to make a move. Otherwise someone was gonna die. I remember thinking: “I’m too young to be dealing with this shit.”

Is it really worth growing older? I ponder this question.

Mom & I alternated use of the only bedroom (for sleeping. Me anyway.) One night couch (no sleep), next night bed (sleep). There was this full-length mirror. I recall dad cursing, fighting to secure the clunky structure to the hall-closet door. It was his good deed. Got mom off his back. And he wasn’t very good at chores around the house.     If  the closet door was open just right, I could get a full view of the kitchen as it reflected into my line of sight. From the bedroom.     Since mom always seemed to gravitate to the kitchen especially late, the reflection in the mirror of her her pacing back and forth would always wake me.  Prevent me from staying asleep. My habit was to wake, look in the mirror, turn over. Eventually,  I was forced to get up and close the door so I couldn’t see what was going on. Back to precious sleep time. It was my turn to have the bed, dammit!  The night before she destroyed the red trimline phone. The entire phone right down to the wall. And beyond. R.I.P. trimline.

10pm: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. More beer I was sure.  Midnight: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Heavy drinking binge. Turn over. 2:30am: Wake up. Turn over. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Again? Or Still? Weird.

I was mad. So mad. Until I saw. Mom on the floor. On her side. Tangled in the phone cord. Her head literally inside the bottom shelf of the fridge. I picked her up from the shoulders. She was so cold. Her joints were stiff. She was a 100-pound human accordian who wouldn’t unfold. I thought this was how rigor mortis started. Yet she was alive. How could that be? Stll breathing. Her breath was far from normal. Shallow. Her tongue shriveled. Mouth open wide. Lips colorless, perhaps light blue.  I was in a panic. Half asleep. My mind reeling.

Then suddenly, I was overcome with calm. I sat on the floor. Staring at her. Thinking. I watched mom’s small chest closely as it went still for longer on the exhale. Then her machine started up again. I was waiting for stillness. Perhaps hoping for it. I was at a crossroad. I knew I was. It was the power to make a decision that would change everything.  An inside voice was talking. One I never heard before. It kept asking. Slightly teasing. The repetition of the query felt forbidden. But it continued.

Does she live or die?

Would it be humane but inhuman just for me to return to bed? She had lived such a horrible life so far. Mom was 35 but looked twice that age. Especially now. On the floor. I sort of understood the weight of what was unfolding in front of me.

I knew my path, my karma, my thought process would be shaped, or changed forever perhaps in a way I wasn’t sure I could live with.

I rose. Moved strangely calm, to the hall mirror. Stood there. Staring at myself. So many questions rolled through my head.

Would I look the same in this damn mirror tomorrow if I decided just to leave her there? She would most likely be dead in a few minutes. Was I supposed to find her? Was there a higher power guiding me? Was the mirror the conduit for the message?

What if I woke up just 5 minutes later? Then I wouldn’t need to deal with a choice like this. And why was this even a choice for me?

Was the phone, now ripped from the wall, dead, a sign? Why was I given the responsibility of dealing with this situation? I never asked for this challenge.

Random Thoughts:

1). Seek Out Your Mirrors. When up against the wall, at a crossroad, what decisions will you make? Would you be able to live with them? How would you go on? I’ve trained myself to ask tough questions and imagine how I would respond. What if I had a life-threatening illness, lost a leg, lost a loved one to tragedy? How would I appear in the mirror. My actions would shape my image.

2). Be Open to Reflection. Never question why a challenge, a person, an illness, an opportunity, a setback gets thrown in your life path. It was placed there from an energy source  you’ll never be able to explain or fully understand. Signs are all around you if you just let go of skepticism. Stay open minded.  What does your life mirror reflect upon? Whose life remains in the balance once you open your eyes, mind and heart to the signs?

3).  Own the Decision of Life or Death. Don’t let family members, children, parents, friends, be forced to make a decision that concludes your life. Who would make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t make them? What kind of medical treatment would you want, or don’t want if faced with a terminal illness? It’s not fair to place this burden on others, especially without notice. Go to www.agingwithdignity.org and complete the Five Wishes exercise.  Five Wishes is changing the way America talks about and plans for care at the end of life.  More than 18 million copies of Five Wishes are in circulation across the nation, distributed by more than 35,000 organizations.  Five Wishes meets the legal requirements in 42 states and is useful in all 50.

Five Wishes has become America’s most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness. I was required to make the life or death decision for close family. It’s not a good feeling-It will change forever who you see in the mirror.

I ran. I bolted. The pay phone was working (a sign I made the right choice at least to me). I called 911.

It took mom 6 months to recover. I stayed out of school nursing her back to health. And then one day she noticed. Puzzled.

“What happened to the mirror?”

“Don’t you remember? You broke it the night you fought with what’s-his-name?”

She didn’t remember. I didn’t share the truth. I never did.

The hall mirror and its reflections were best left buried.

I wonder if it’s still in the ground?

I’ll never share the location.

That’s a decision I can live with.

Happily.

Don’t Go Crazy on Purpose – 3 Ways to Understand the Power Inside You.

1974: “She went crazy on purpose because she had you!”

1959:  The same Long Island Rail Road schedule followed every week. Sundays. When most people were asleep. When humans of the mainstream were hiding under bed covers to escape personal asylum, he embraced discomfort. He ventured out in it. He traveled on the fringe of time. Early. On Sunday.

Like a soldier who accepted and knew his duty. He carried on. Tired. Only one name compelled him to tremble. It was rarely spoken. Except for Sunday. Sunday was different. Her name was all he could think of. On the long trip he tried to remember what her voice sounded like. He worked hard at this. At times, he was upset with himself because he felt her voice slip away deep into the past.

The Sunday ritual should have been comfortable. Or at the least, accepted by then. Nineteen years of the same routine, facing the same distant stare from a bed. His wife. His Josephine. It starts all over again. Every week. His journey to the silent. The only women he ever knew and loved. Gone for 19 years but still breathing. A shell.

Two hours from now he would enter a tiny room, lead painted white, half battleship gray. Eternally cold. Even in summer. At least that’s what I remember. Joseph told me so. He was solemn as he entered a world that would remain silent. He respected what he couldn’t understand. Perhaps it was out of respect. Out of loss. I know he screamed a lot inside. He told me that, too.

Kings Park Psychiatric Center was Josephine’s home for close to two decades. Immediately after she gave birth in 1940, something happened. Something bad. She suffered a stroke as soon as the baby was delivered. By the time the baby, a new daughter, was cleaned up and presented, Josephine could barely speak or move her arms.

Joseph lost it too. He was an immigrant from Italy, his English broken,  but he was able to clearly mutter two words. Again, from what he told me. From what I remember.

My God.”

Allegedly, Kings Park was haunted. I believe it.

This Sunday, 1959, November was different. Joseph was able to borrow his boss’ car. A Buick. The Kings Park doctors were going to allow Joseph to take Josephine on a road trip to Brooklyn. Her daughter was going to be married in a few weeks. Josephine was aware, sort of aware. Partly in this world, one foot in another. She couldn’t speak any longer. No voice at all. She knew she had a daughter, however. Josephine sort of knew her mother was raising the child as her own.

It was to be Joseph & Josephine together again. For a road trip. For an introduction. The cover was going to come off, blown off, a family secret.  Revealed to an 18 year-old girl who was told her mother died during childbirth. And now at a pre-wedding party she was to be told the truth. In front of family. Two weeks before her nuptials. At a party.

Joseph purchased Josephine a new dress for the visit. It took him a month to save for it. He stocked food shelves for a small store in downtown Manhattan, lived in a tiny apartment close by the store. Never remarried. His daughter lived in a nice house with his mother-in-law, raising his only daughter. A subway ride away. In Brooklyn. His only real family. And he lived separated. As I mentioned: He existed on the fringe. For his wife and daughter. Oh, the in-laws adored him. His sacrifice. His dedication. But it wasn’t the same for him. He spent all his free time (for what it was) with Josephine and his only daughter. He was always traveling. A life on trains. He told me.

Joseph bought me a battery-operated aqua-colored locomotive that puffed real smoke. It was 99 cents. He told me that’s what it cost. I never forgot. He told me about all his time on trains. His thoughts while sitting. I felt how tortured he was. I heard the despair in his voice. I hugged him. I wanted to take the pain from him. I felt his chest sob. I still remember his tears on my forehead.

“Passion and love can cause tears.” He said that. I remember it. He was right. As I get older I realize how truly spot on grandpa was. I didn’t understand at the time. For a grocer he was the the most intuitive man on earth. He wasn’t ashamed to cry. I bet he cried a lot.

Random Thoughts:

1). Words Mean Everything. What you say to others counts. I imagine each word immediately gains 100 pounds when it leaves my mouth. I can feel the heaviness on my tongue. A sentence weighs a thousand pounds. Don’t say what you don’t mean. Mean what you say. Mean it deep. Last month, I received a twitter message from a person I haven’t spoken with in 15 years. She told me how words spoken by me changed her life for the better. Then I got to thinking: What have I said to others in the past that may have changed lives for the worse? I was a friend who provided sincere encouragement at the time. Remember your words weigh heavy. Screw all this “actions speak louder than words,” bullshit you hear.

2). Words Mean Everything. What you say to yourself counts. If you speak to yourself negatively, good things won’t happen. On occasion, bad things will. If you tell yourself you’ll be financially secure, your mind will work toward it (even without you knowing from a conscious level). If you say to yourself that you will be better – physically, mentally, it will happen. Never underestimate the power of words.

3). Words Written or Spoken Lead to Self Discovery. The more you communicate, the more you weigh the words, the more you shape the tone of those words, the more people can see you mean them (and they will) the more influence and power you’ll possess. The right people will love you more. The wrong will hate you more. I used the word “more,” more on purpose. Deal with it.

1974: “She went crazy on purpose because she had you!”

I screamed those words at her. Mom. She was pushing my buttons. Hard. She was drunk. She hit me. I hit her back. There was blood everywhere. From her nose. My nose. I meant it too. Josephine went insane because she saw your future, mom!! She saw what a miserable human, horrible mother you were going to turn out to be and the disappointment was too much!!

She sat there. At the edge of the bathtub. Bleeding. She said: “I’m sorry.” That’s it. I stopped her in her tracks. My words hit harder than a palm against her face. I knew they would.

Grandpa Joseph told me about his mistake. He saw a change in his girl. When he wheeled in Josephine and introduced her to his daughter. He said the words he knew changed his daughter forever. But it was too late.

“This is your real momma, honey.”

I barely remember what Grandpa Joseph looked like. I can’t recall his voice at all. But I remember the words he spoke to me. I remember what he told me.

Like it was yesterday. I remember the words I said to mom. Like it was yesterday almost 40 years ago.

Who will remember your words?

Today.

40 years from now.

Will those words comfort you or drive you insane?

You choose.

The Babysitter Chronicles. Will you Embrace or Break Free from the Watchers?

Rich, watch us. You like it? C’mon, look up!!”

Don Kirshner you changed my life.

Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was the musical variety show of the 70′s. Don Kirshner was also one of the greatest rock music promoters of all time.For me, DK wasn’t as threatening as the other Don: Don Cornelius of “Soul Train,” fame. It had nothing to do with skin color, either.I just wasn’t as afraid of the pink bubble-gum groups DK promoted like The Archies, or The Monkees compared to the primal writhing artists featured on “Soul Train.”

It was going to be another late night which meant Gloria, my babysitter, needed to watch over me.

To salvage what was left of a  a disastrous marriage, my parents hit the town almost every weekend. Mom would dress in a burgundy velour jumpsuit. Her hair now platinum blonde (hair color changed monthly).  Dad (you can tell) performed this weekly ritual painfully. The last place he wanted to be was in a casual environment or a tryst with mom. Who could blame him?

I loved Gloria. She let me stay up late. This allowed some serious G.I. Joe Adventure Team action to pursue deep in the night. No doubt the late-night embers were going to  burn in the G.I. Joe Headquarters this Saturday night.

I also loved Gloria because despite her horrific name (Gloria?) she looked to me more like a Sandy or a Stacy, she paid attention to me. She was attentive unlike mom and dad at the time.

Butt-length brown hair parted in the middle. Terrific blue eyes. I watched her carefully as she did little things to stay occupied like paint her toes or read a book, even do her homework. I felt comfortable when it was just the both of us.

Although one night it was Gloria and a friend (name I cannot recall) and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert was blaring from the television, louder than usual.

The G.I. Joe Headquarters was a plastic paradise.

There was lots of dancing. Two girls apart. More dancing. Now two girls as one. A sweaty teenage semi-nude body tangle. Then there was kissing. Did girls do that?I tried desperately to crawl into the map room of the headquarters. At least mentally. I had no idea what was going on. One of my favorite fuzzy-bearded Joes lost his head because I squeezed too hard.

“Rich, you like this? Look up!”

I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Well, I did. My glances were now darting eye dances. I tried to not move my head. But then I was up. Kidnapped from my world of male dolls. Engulfed. Taken. Gone.

To this day I cannot break free from the babysitter. How she dressed, the way she looked. I’ve noticed how my secret (or not-so-secret) crushes resemble in some form – The babysitter. She’s an overseer.

Even after all these years. It’s amazing how memories watch over you. Stick around. Guide you. Imprint you. Follow you. Walk alongside you. Walk within you. You have these memories. We all do. We’re plagued by them. Some are so tiny. They can fit on the head of a pin. Others remain as large as the tallest structure. Yet in every case, size doesn’t matter. Impact does. The impact always seems to be strong. Strangling.

You’ll be amazed, are amazed by, regardless how brief the experience, how the impact of the moment can permanently change the direction of your life. Perhaps the lives of others. Others you haven’t met yet. Others you created.  Was Don Kirshner responsible?

How you allow these memories, the watchers, forge your future actions requires constant monitoring.

Random Thoughts:

1). How does your past currently affect your future? Your mental images are time and location stamped. Occasionally you’re damaged goods. What 3 actions have you taken recently good or bad over the last 6 months that have been a direct result of a good or bad imprint? How will you tilt the odds in your favor right now? How will you change?

2). How have memories of money past affected your financial future? My parents disrespected money. Blew it. Spent it frivously. They never prepared for the future. No life insurance. Massive debts. Welfare. I felt as a child that my foundation, security was fleeting. The shame and stress of it all turned my behavior 360 away from their negative behavior memories. Others I know followed similar negative paths as their parents and today are in a shambles, financially. The ripping at the fiber of our financial system in 2008 took many over the edge and a frightening number of household balance sheets are more toxic than ever before.

3). How will your memories affect the future of those you love? Especially people in your inner circle. The ones who exist in the space closest to your heart. The ones who hold the deepest red, the blood, the air, the strongest ties. Is your influence positive or negative? First, be honored if you do influence others. It’s a great responsibility. If you have sent someone off on the wrong path let them know. Admit you were wrong. Apologize. Be humble. Grow more aware of memories who watch over you.

4). How will you break away from the seductive dance of the babysitter?  Do you even want to? Can something positive come from a bad experience? Perhaps you need new memories. Memories that encourage you to go on. A mind is so powerful when focused. Select the best thoughts. Be open to future interactions that will improve your life path. Do your watchers add to or subtract from your life?

5). Can you alter the image of the babysitter? Do you have the will to do so? First, understand who the babysitter is (was). Only from that point can you decide on the sitters you seek to keep around. Decide on the watchers you embrace or set free. And don’t kid yourself. You had a babysitter. A temptation. A demon. A god. A person who changed how you view life, forever.

I never played with G.I. Joes again. I found a new hobby. In human doll form.

The babysitter was around a long time. She was a teacher. My mother fired her for reasons unknown.

How did your babysitter impact you?

Another bad parental decision memory I need to work through.

Just great.

Regrets that Rip You Apart. 8 Ways to Learn from a Machete Maniac.

“What are these crescent marks on your homework, Richard?”

What will leave a mark on you? On your work? On your soul?“The paper came like that. I have no idea,” I said (as non-chalant as possible).

Hell, I knew what those odd marks were. I wasn’t going to tell my teacher, that’s for sure. Smearing my #2 pencil math and causing me to lose precious points.

“Look he’s a good boy. He works so hard, then he sits here and does his homework,” she said.

“He’s going places.”

Not then. Certainly not at that age. I sat at the corner of a circular bar late in the afternoon. After school. With a Coke. Lots of ice and french fries to get me through.

I looked up. Susan was wearing much of nothing. I loved and still remember how the bottom of her perk-hard breasts curved higher and her nipples were always erect. She told me it was an affliction or genetic or something I can’t recall. Either way, I focused on them a lot so I know she knew what she was talking about.

She would peek down. Hair hanging close enough for me to smell the Prell. She’d grin and point to me like I was the man (boy). I noticed I was the only person she would point at. I was special.

A couple of nights a week she would let me sleep on the couch at her place. I thought she was old. Susan couldn’t have been older than 22 but to a 13 year-old, 22 is damn near ancient. She had been on her own for a long time that I knew. She appeared older because inside she was.

Her face was perfect and clean except for some light/dark circles under her eyes. Yet they were the most perfect brown eyes. Her dark hair was big-wave curly most of the time, longer than shoulder length. She barely wore make up (I remember because I cleaned her bathroom).

To earn my keep I completed various chores which included select personal grooming. Pedicures (bright-red polish I bought at Duane Reade’s for 59 cents), deep hair conditioning, run bath water, cook, vacuum (my favorite for some reason) and other responsibilities I’ll refrain from print.

Susan was a pseudo-mom, occasionally a big sister, frequently a guardian and all the time, as she strut her stuff on that bar for strange men, she was my overseer. A mentor in size 6 black heels. Always black.

I rarely saw her happy. When I told her about my good grades at school, she did smile. Genuine. Her eyes would brighten. She would hug me. It was at those times, she appeared much younger. I felt older than her when she smiled. It was that kind of innocent. In some way, I took her pain away.

“It’s important you stay in school, Richie.”

I hated Richie but it stuck for years. Even now I cringe if people call me that. Most important was what she taught me, how she truly cared for me, took on a roll a mother abandoned for a time. I could see in her eyes how much she loved me. If I was older I think she would have married me. I questioned why I should bother to stay in school, what was the point?

We could live together and go on like this forever and instead of laboring over homework and studies I could get a real job. I worked in the place she did. I cleaned tables, put aluminum foil  and mirrors up on dank walls, filled the cigarette machine and I was grateful for the money but for Susan I wanted to accomplish more.

She inspired me in a world that was several bottoms less than inspiring. Was it romantic love I felt? Not sure. I loved her but couldn’t forge the feelings correctly in my head. They only went so far. My life experiences then were too limited to put the pieces together properly.

I’m saddened (tortured) even today,  how I never asked her why she cared so much, why she bothered. What was her past like? I don’t recall any family discussed, any photos hanging on the walls of the studio apartment above the Salumeria (Italian deli). Who influenced her? I regret not asking. Not caring for her more. I took out a big knife with rusty edges. I…

                                           Wondered what happened to her?

I saved this photo months ago. Best resemblance to Susan I could find.

Bonds you extend to others, those they extend to you, are (I’m convinced)  laid out by a higher power. I have no clue what the power or energy is. Is it God? Not certain. Are these bonds darker and do they hold more DNA than blood? Yes. In that I AM certain.

Sometimes people you extend the bond to sever it. And not surgically. Some will use a machete and whack at it in such a terrifying manner and so quickly, you are not sure you could ever extend the bond again.

There’s too much of your own blood spilled. You need a transfusion from someone. Something. Who the fuck is listening?

But where? Who? I know. It happened to me recently. It’s happened to you. And I’m not clear on my ability to bond again for the first time in a long time.

                                 I raised the machete to Susan many years ago.

I was cut by beauty & intelligence. Never again. Never again?

And after several decades, the regret of what happened then and today resurfaces like a beast. A demon I thought was slayed, returns. Much stronger.A greater malevolence than I ever imagined was (is) still thrives within. And I regret every moment of what (who) unchained it. It was Susan. A Susan doppleganger.

Every moment of happiness, every dinner, every discussion, I regret.

But I say, in the blood is the lesson. Because that’s where lessons are born. Oaths are taken.

In blood. In the blood of interaction, in the blood of intimacy, in the blood of vulnerability, in the blood of stupidity, trust. In toe-nail polish.

Regrets can rip you apart. Yet in a way, you will eventually emerge from a cocoon more beautiful than ever before, a diamond with an additional imperfection which can only make you more valuable to yourself and others.

Random Thoughts:

1). Cocoon. You must heal. Assess what you will and won’t do again. Create your machete protection program but be careful. To live, you must be cut. You decide for how much and how long. Feel bad for yourself. Live with the demon a bit. It’s ok. I’m doing it. Demon has been stealing my socks for a couple of months.

2). Spend money. On anything that will make you stronger physically or emotionally. An exercise class, martial arts, a book on self-improvement. Indulge a bit. It takes time to heal from a machete attack.

3). Listen to.  Music. So many studies that show how music can help your mind, your healing. Find music that relates to your situation. Listen to music that allows happier memories to emerge. And stick.

4). Don’t listen to. People-who try to give you guidance right now. Fuck them. What do they know about what you’re going through?  Only you know. Be polite, but…

“Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying, Only the echoes of my mind. People stopping staring, I can’t see their faces, Only the shadows of their eyes.”

Thank you Harry Nilsson and “Midnight Cowboy,” for the encouragement.

5). Learn to.  Ask people why they love you. Why they hate you. Why do they care so much about you? Be sincerely interested in others that higher powers throw in your path. Everyone has a story. Perhaps you’ll learn something to make you better in the long run. But DO IT AFTER YOUR COCOON PROCESS HAS CONCLUDED.

6). Pray. To yourself. To the healer inside you.

7). Downsize. Get rid of the baggage, toxic chemicals and material crap that makes you a slave. Free your mind from excess. For example, I stopped drinking and my regret demon hates it. It reminds me in the shower of how much it hates my abstinence.

8). Mind your mentors. They are all ages, all forms. Some are smarter, others not. You’ll love them, you’ll hate them. Susan was a mentor. Susan’s double was too.

Susan walked on my homework. I have no idea. Perhaps it was her stamp of approval. I never asked why she did.

The crescents were the bottom of her tiny heels.

When I was 16 I severed ties with her. I felt I was too good for her. She was a low-life stripper and I was going to be successful. She tried to find me. I told her I would meet her for coffee and I watched from across the street as she went into a luncheonette in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She sat there for an hour and a half and waited for me.

Ten years ago she died from a drug overdose. Alone. I still had time to thank her, to ask, to tell her. To explain. To be there.

But I didn’t. And I wasn’t..

And so I must live with this regret.  Learn to cage it again. It’s a lot stronger/bigger this go round.  Who will unleash it next?

I pray it isn’t you. And you know who you are.

Life & Money Lessons out of Asphalt – The Parking Lot IS the Paradise.

Who watch is that?”

This dude is askin’ for trouble.

He came out of nowhere. Kept asking me about my wrist watch. Where I got it. Who made it. Too much focus on the watch.I knew what was coming. Why were criminals compelled to ask a bunch of questions before they violated your  already-diminished faith in humanity?

I guess it was sort of nice how muggers tried to warm you up for the kill back in the 70′s. At least that was my experience.

Today? No small talk. It’s right to eating your face. Everyone is under a time crunch. I mean everyone. At least another person was taking an interest even if he wanted to kill me.

I always wondered if this questioning technique was effective. I guess it did indeed work as I was ready to turn over a watch I knew I should have never worn to high school even before I recognized a six-inch stiletto blade ready for action.

It was my late grandfather’s gold watch, too. It was the first time I  wore it. I had enough sense to keep it home all this time but  sorrow got the best of me. Gramps died six months earlier and I was missing him.

I was late to class this particular day and to save time I cut through a paved parking lot (now more littered with broken glass, used condoms and tall weeds that eminated a foul odor).

He rose from behind the stink. The hurry in my step took my defenses down, my blinders were off and this time, the one time, it was a big mistake.

“Who make watch?”

Oh I don’t know. I think it was Timex, really. Most important was the person who wanted to make sure I owned the damn timepiece when he was gone. Now it was almost on to new ownership by a toothless bastard who badly needed a heroin fix.

Even I could tell and I never took a damn drug. Good for him. Wait until he tried to sell this thing. He thought he was twitching in the parking lot. Wait until shaky mugger was told by Mr. PawnBroker that it was worth $8 bucks. Maybe.

Yet to me, it was priceless. The days granddad came over after slaving hours stocking shelves in a grocery store. He reached out to hug me with that arm. That hand.  He was left handed (like me). The watch. I noticed. The fresh italian bread he cut, buttered and handed to me. The watch was on that arm. I noticed. When he took my hand to cross the street for ice cream with that hand. The watch. I noticed.

I did. Should have worn the button over the watch? Stupid.

This wasn’t my first criminal rodeo. When it came to muggings this was seemingly going to be my fifth go round.However. This time was different because I was going to adjust the outcome. I was going to see how this ended before it ended.

I was going to take control. In a parking lot loaded with more semen than I had in my little scrotum (and it was very little).

The parking lot became a “high-noon,” moment.

I asked Mr. Shaky with shaky knife: “Are you planning to take my watch?”

His face changed. The toothy grin was gone. The change was frightening actually. There was a demon in front of me. Even the shaky bakey stopped.

“Hands it over.”

Mr Knife made an appearance. Surprisingly pointed. No jitters.

“I have a hard time getting it off,” I said. All the time staring at him in the face-blood shot eyes.

He grabbed at it. Dropped the knife. I raised my arm, my right hand as steady as it can be (I was again, a leftie, so it wasn’t easy) and uppercut him with my bookbag. He fell.

On his back. He was shaky again. I got on top of him. I took an old condom and shoved it in his mouth. I took dog shit and shoved it in his mouth. I closed his jaw and then pushed his teeth together with my palm. Right until I saw (felt) him swallow the mix.

Now his blinders were down.

I took the knife. Thought about what I was going to do next. I was ready for anything. Someone was going to pay for the others who were able to mug me before. Before this. Before I possessed the will to fight for what was important. I held it to his throat and began to press. Now I was shaking.

                                                           Grandpa can you see me?

Some of your best lessons will occur in places you least expect.

Random Thoughts:

1). Learn anywhere. There are lessons in the rhythm of the world. Everywhere you go. Can you see them? Every day as I drive the toll road I pass a huge parking lot. It’s a place where automobiles are stored before they’re spidered out to car dealers. In late 2007, during the early stage of the financial crisis, this huge lot was EMPTY. It was then I realized the world had changed. The entire world stopped buying cars. I helped clients take action to protect. I watch that lot every day. It’s 25% empty now. I’m concerned.  Is your financial advisor truly watching what’s going on? Ask him or her. Ask for an opinion. Not the opinion of the firm they work for either.

2). Fight for what you believe in. The people you believe in. I will do what I can to promote my friends and mentors. I don’t care for anything in return yet I get everything in return. I will fight to keep the people I love even when they don’t love me and they try to stay away.  What or who will you fight for today?

3). Don’t let the status quo take your watch. When I reported my incident to NY’s Finest they advised me that I should have never worn the watch to school. I also should have never gone through that parking lot. Thanks. How helpful.  Who is stealing what you cherish today?

4). Don’t be afraid to move to ground level to survive. When you fight for what you believe in and it comes down to a good old gutter fight, I’m willing to pick up used condoms and dog crap with my bare hands. How will you get your hands dirty for what you believe in today?

In 1970, the legendary Joni Mitchell wrote and performed a song titled “Big Yellow Taxi.” It was one of my favorites growing up. I don’t know. It was full of whimsy. I don’t give a shit about the message about hugging the environment or whatever.

From Wikipedia. Where would we be without Wikipedia I mean really.

Mitchell got the idea for the song during a visit to Hawaii. She looked out of her hotel window at the spectacular Pacific mountain scenery, and then down to a parking lot.

Joni said this about writing the song to journalist Alan McDougall in the early 1970s:

I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song.

A well-known line from the song: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.” For me, the parking lot was (is) the paradise.

I tossed the knife. As far as I could. I was out of energy. I did the best I could. The cheap watch was toast. Busted. The mugger was wide-eyed and still. Not blinking. I took what was left of Grandpa’s legacy and stuffed it in his shirt.

I got up. Went to class.

I realized the most valuable possession wasn’t the watch. I just didn’t realize it until I was late for school. On the day I cut through a parking lot.

I learned a valuable lesson, Joni. I’m sorry.

The world needs more parking lots.

I’m convinced.

Mental Images you Live and Die For.

The natural light, prismatic through stained glass was the strongest I can recall. But then I hadn’t stepped foot in a church in such a very long time. Perhaps it was just me that Saturday morning-inspired, taken, soulful, as I watched early morning sun embrace the face of  big wooden Jesus up on a cross behind the pulpit.

I stood 20 feet from an angel. She was standing center aisle, close to a row of seats nearest the front. It was a graduation morning. Garbled tones rose and carried from a thousand voices blended as one. The acoustics were amazing. I heard nothing as soon as I spotted her.

The floor was a sea of people. Most dressed in black and white at least from my point of view.  She stood there. Talking. Shaking hands. In red. Straight. Her erect posture noticeable. It never failed as long as I’ve known her. It was her way of standing up to the pain and kicking the ass out of the shit she endured in life. Her above-the-knee length designer dress color was bright, yet as deep as blood. The diffused light captured her big smile. Dimples still intact. Check.

At one point she stared. Dead center towards me. Yet, I could tell deep inside-she was looking directly through me. No connection. Even though there was a very strong bond a few short years earlier. I felt the most invisible I ever had in my entire life because indeed, I truly was invisible. I was in a house of God and he told me so.

Perhaps she didn’t notice me. Felt better to tell myself that.  Maybe her memory had blended me into the gray stream of the past where people’s faces customarily blur and dissolve.

I felt myself dissolve into a pew.

I remembered the funny things we did. How she laughed at my jokes and shook her head at my awkward gestures. All good. I walked toward her personal space. The closer I got the darker the red became. I felt sick to my stomach. There was much heat now. My face felt flush. I was dizzy. She was sitting now. Close to end of the aisle.

I can see clearer her other children there to witness the graduation of the eldest daughter, sister from high school.

Directly next to her was the fiance. I made my presence known. Quick. I wanted to get this over with.  I reached over the new guy. I didn’t introduce myself. He knew who I was I’m sure.  He was sort of thuggish in appearance. Chewing gum in a manner I found disrespectful for a church. Until that moment I had no idea what the hell that meant. The thought just popped into my head. A more well-mannered way of comparing penis size I guess (I would have lost for sure).

“I’m so glad to be here for ________ graduation. _________ invited me,”  I said because I believed I needed a valid excuse, possibly a notarized certificate of some sort, to be in attendance. The graduate did indeed invite me.

But it was strange. Afterall,  I was sludge from the past puncturing through the purity of her present and in a house of worship no less.

“Thank you for coming,” she now smiled. Right through me too. Close up. Shook my hand. Thank you for your patronage. All the while, gum chewer was watching me. I said nothing. I noticed the velocity of his chewing picked up. Loud now, or at the least-noticeable. I sort of liked that I shook up his cadence. I revel in small victories as I age!

I walked backwards away. Gone for good now. Fade to black or something darker.  I sat in the back of the church and experienced an incredible young lady graduate. Actually, I watched much youth overly excited about life. New adventures. Gave me faith.

I experienced the slight twinge of God again. Deep inside. Like a spirit sparked to life. I coughed because the feeling startled me. Was that wonderful spark now attempting to leave? Not sure. Not yet. Not here.

Random Thoughts:

1). Daily you die. Understand this now. Maybe it’s some asshole who cut you off in traffic or somebody left your life. You thought he/she cared but never really did. You feel like a jerk. Don’t know maybe you got the runs from a late-night drive through a Taco Bell. Whatever it is remember death to some degree is going to happen. You will stop breathing today. Face it. Recognize when the life light goes out. There’s going to be a setback. Some may shatter you, others provide a mere inconvenience. I’m not here to judge your obstacles. They’re all serious to us.

2). Light the spark as soon as humanly possible. If you go months, years, decades, before moving on it’s going to take much longer to ignite the positive spirit inside. I know. My spark has gone out many times. Hell, my pilot light has been obliterated a few times too. Try like hell to light up utilizing positive actions. What nurtures you? How can you work today towards re-building the warmth, the fire again? Is there one small step inside you?

You must nurture your spirit or it will exit. Permanently.

3). Be attentive to your relationship with money. If you overspend, only live for today, take on too much debt, you are killing yourself financially. Perhaps it’s a money imprint. You watched your parents make stupid decisions, you were never taught the basics.Maybe your parents were incredibly frugal and you’ve been fighting subconsciously  to detach from their habits (even if their good). Believe me I’ve seen this behavior many times.

Ask yourself: What is your money habitude? What type of money decisions, good or bad do you make over and over again?

Check out www.moneyhabitudes.com and order Syble Solomon’s Money Habitudes Cards. A modest expense. No, I don’t work for Syble nor am I rewarded financially by your purchase. I’ve used the cards. I complete this exercise with people on a regular basis.

From the website:

Although it’s fun and feels like a game, Money Habitudes tackles serious business: helping people talk about money, understand financial psychology and explain their money personality type. As a result, the innovative, hands-on tool  is used in a variety of ways:

Start great conversations about money and finances. Money is one of the most difficult subjects for people to discuss. As a fun and engaging conversation starter, Money Habitudes makes talking about money easy and approachable.

Provide AHA! insights regarding finances, relationships, career and lifestyle choices. Often, we don’t know why we do what we do with our personal finances. Money is the number one reason why couples fight and is frequently the reason people stay in dead-end jobs. The financial personality quiz aspect of the tool provides important insights about money issues.

A versatile tool. They can be used as a quick ice breaker or conversation starter, a standalone activity or as a class module in a class, workshop, or seminar. They are used by individuals and couples on their own, but are also trusted by financial, relationship and career professionals such as financial educators, financial planners, therapists and career coaches. And because the cards do not require deep financial knowledge and use broadly applicable statements, they are used across the age, income, and education spectrum.

Ok, that’s enough. You get it. Live again through smarter money decisions.

I smiled when I realized: I had died and lived again. All in a morning. In a church. Although I believed I didn’t belong. Out of place. It happened.

I left the graduation ceremony before it ended. I didn’t belong to that special moment when this girl now a grad, was ready and eager to embrace a new world. That was space reserved exclusively for celebration with current family and family-to-be. Not me. And I always knew (know) my place. It was ok.

I halted at the first step outside. Looked back. Winced up at the steeple. I thanked God for the moment. A mental image to live and die for.

I was convinced the day was going to end better than it started.

And that was a true blessing.