That’s quite a title; 4 seemingly unrelated topics……..
Today is September 11, 2012. It’s a gorgeous Tuesday morning here, just like it was on September 11, 2001. I turned 37 years old that day. Today I turn 48.
I don’t know if having a September 11 birthday made what happened that day worse for me or not. What I do know is that “celebrating” on my birthday since September 11, 2011 has been difficult. The horror of that day is ingrained in me, as I’m sure it is for everyone. I’ve held a special connection with that day because it all unfolded on what was formerly, to me, “my day”.
When I’m asked in conversation when my birthday is, invariably, when I tell them it’s September 11th, I hear “oh, I know someone with a September 11th birthday, too”. It’s someone’s aunt, or husband, or sister, or nephew, or friend that has the same birthday that I have. They say it flatly. No excitement, no melancholy. They simply say it. And I think I’m supposed to understand what that means. It’s the unspoken feeling of those with a September 11th birthday, and I do understand.
I seems, although I have no scientific proof, that September 11th has more birthdays than other dates, although statistically, it can’t possibly be true. I do believe, however, that I am one of the very last “baby boomers” ever born. From 1946 to 1964 (they say) is the baby boomer period. It all ended about 9 months after JFK was shot on November 22, 1963. After JFK’s assassination, America was scared, and no longer in the throes of the post-WWII euphoria. I don’t know if it was couples clinging to each other during a time of great crisis in this country or not, but I can imagine that to be true. People who wanted babies wanted one last chance before the world seemingly went to hell.
So, as I say again, unscientifically, there are a lot of birthdays on September 11, and in September in general It’s a popular month for birthdays. In my family alone, with 6 children, three of us have September birthdays, and one more on August 31.
OK, so that’s the background. I’m going to change topics a bit, but I promise I’ll bring it all back around.
When I was younger, people thought of me as a clothes horse. To people who didn’t know me, I guess I can understand why they thought so. I was young, gay, and seemed like a stereo-typical 80’s gay kid. But to me it wasn’t true. As an overweight gay kid (those two things alone paint a picture of the real ostracism, bullying, and borderline hate crimes that I was subjected to) I have never felt comfortable in my own skin. My own family (you know – the people around whom you are supposed to feel loved and accepted) made fun of me for my weight. I’ve struggled with weight and body image my whole life. There were times when I was not overweight, worked out all the time, and looked good (and for me to say I looked good is quite a rare occurrence). But more often than not (and I find I do it still today) I can’t walk into a crowded room, or a room with just a few people, or a store at the mall, or the mall itself without looking down at the ground like I did in high school, hoping to god that nobody notices me. If they don’t see me, they won’t call me names and throw spit balls at me. If they don’t notice me, I won’t die a little more inside and waste time hoping that someone will rescue me from hell.
After I turned 40, and realized that I would probably be single for the rest of my life, I sort of gave up. I live alone; I stopped taking care of myself, and had a heart attack at the age of 40, just two weeks before my 41st birthday. By the time I turned 47 I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I felt, and looked like hell. And I pretended that I didn’t care. That was the persona I tried to put forth to the world. “Screw it – I’m going to die too young, just like my father, and I don’t have anyone special in my life to love me and that I can love back. So who cares if I’m not here anymore”. I didn’t wish for death, but thought that one day, as my body decayed, eventually I would be thin enough to be accepted.
Something changed, and I don’t exactly know what. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I couldn’t imagine having to inject myself with a needle to control my insulin. Enough was enough. I immediately turned to a hero of mine “Dr. Atkins” who is no longer with us, but whose legacy lives on. I had lived the Atkins lifestyle back in 1999 and continued it, very successfully for several years. But like all things for me, when the depression takes over, I gave up and didn’t care anymore because no matter what I did, I didn’t love myself, couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, especially naked, without turning away in disgust. I know that if you don’t care about yourself, you probably won’t find someone special who will care about you as well. So I turned back to Atkins not only to lose weight, but to gain control of my Diabetes. After one long year, almost to the day after I was diagnosed, I had new blood work done. As a result of Atkins, my numbers were phenomenal. I don’t even take medication for diabetes any more (and haven’t since about 3 months after being diagnosed). I lost about 40 or 45 pounds. Everything from my cholesterol to triglycerides to my blood sugar levels were within normal ranges or even well below. My primary care provider is a bit perplexed at how I was able to do what I did. I could write an entire post just about Atkins and the destruction caused by empty carbohydrates in the American diet, but that is for another day.
My point here is that even with all of that good news, I still see myself as an overweight kid, and always will. I don’t buy clothing very often because I hate having to try things on that might not fit because I’m too fat. No matter how much I actually weigh. I can’t look at or touch my own body. I can’t put sun tan lotion because I would have to touch my own body. I don’t like stooping over to pick up something I dropped because when I do, I might feel my own flesh touching another part of my flesh. I don’t go to the beach or the lake (where two of my family members have homes) because I can’t bear the thought of taking off my shirt or wearing a bathing suit. If I can’t do it when I’m alone, imagine how terrifying it is to face it in full view of other people. I am a prisoner of my own mind.
And that’s how we get to my love affair with underwear. Nice segue, huh? When you’re not feeling good about how you look, buying/wearing underwear (and I mean good quality underwear) can’t make you feel sexy. Feeling that way doesn’t come easy to someone with a poor self-image or body image issues. I bought boxer briefs from Banana Republic and Calvin Klein, and many other major brands. Sometimes retail, but more likely at discount places like Marshalls. I liked them and wore them with pride. Nobody ever saw them, but I knew I had them on and it made me feel good. Strange but true. But I was looking for something more, something different. When I started to lose weight and feel just a little bit good about myself, I realized I don’t need to wear XXL or XL underwear, and I wanted something new.
I don’t remember, now, how I originally found out about Andrew Christian underwear. Andrew Christian is a designer based in LA. who came into public awareness during a stint on Bravo’s “The Fashion Show”; a reality show with a clothing designer theme. He turned that notoriety into a full-fledged fashion industry, based on (but not limited to) the highest quality, most innovatively designed men’s underwear.
His underwear and clothing lines aren’t inexpensive if you compare them to what you might find at Wal-Mart or Target, but they are actually quite affordable. I decided to try a few items, and on each payday, if I could afford it, I bought one or two pairs. And I LOVED it. Andrew Christian underwear is truly unique. His has various design elements never seen before in mens underwear. I have touted the benefits of, and demanded that my underwear be, 100% cotton. I never thought in a million years I would be swayed into thinking about it differently. Not that A/C doesn’t have 100% cotton underwear, but that’s not what their big sellers are (from what I can tell). I won’t get into the entire line; you can check that out for yourself at http://www.andrewchristianshop.com .
At one point, I had an issue with one of my purchases and wrote a scathing email to Andrew Christian himself via Facebook. I think I was just having a bad day, I don’t know. But whatever the reason, I was extremely unhappy with a purchase. That email was answered by a man named Gregory who is in customer service. Gregory explained a lot of things to me including a more detailed explanation of the Andrew Christian return policy (which is liberal, but not quite explained as well on the site). He not only quelled my distaste for the company, he literally turned it around and made me a fan by how well he (and Mr. Christian) handled the situation. I was truly amazed at the customer service I received, even after I was poised to write awful reviews of this company and wanted to sever all ties with them as a customer. I realized then, that Andrew Christian wasn’t what I thought it was. They were instead, a company of integrity. And I am now a happy customer, again.
But, A/C doesn’t just sell underwear. On one of my earliest visits to the Andrew Christian web site, I saw a necklace that I really liked. I don’t really wear much jewelry, at least not conventional jewelry like a watch. I do have two toe rings on one toe, I wear two stainless steel rings on one finger, and recently got both of my ears pierced (body piercings – not the staple gun at the mall). That sounds like a lot for someone who doesn’t wear jewelry and actually, it is. But these items have significance to me that I won’t get into now. I don’t wear them as a show piece for the world. I wear them for me.
So I saw this necklace on the A/C website and it was hard to discern exactly what it looked like up close. I thought it was a long flat bar of metal with three dots engraved into it toward the bottom. I only saw it briefly that one day on the web site – then it disappeared. In my emails with Gregory at Andrew Christian a few weeks later, Gregory he told me the necklace was no longer made but he described it to me and gave it a name. It was called the 3- Squared Skyscraper Necklace”. It is literally an elongated, square box with three windows carved into it. It’s an amazing piece – so simple, but beautiful, and it immediately reminded me of the World Trade Center. I don’t know if that was the intention or not. But interpretation of art is in the eye of the beholder.
OK – so now we’re ready to go full circle.
A few weeks ago, after scouring the Internet, looking for someone who had one of these necklaces to sell, I had absolutely no luck. There were a few sketchy European web sites that supposedly had some but these sites were not what I would call reputable and I’ve never bought anything from an overseas company and then had it shipped to the US. I had no idea how that would go and honestly thought there was no way I would ever get what I paid for. Right or wrong, I just didn’t want to do it that way.
I wrote back to Gregory at Andrew Christian and asked him if there was any chance they would release that necklace again. I explained about my birthday being on September 11 and how buying the 3-Squared Skyscraper necklace for myself, for my birthday, would be a great symbolic way for me to honor those who died on that day, and their loved ones, while taking back a little piece of that day for myself. I believe then, as I do now, that symbolically I could finally celebrate my birthday without detracting from the nation, and me, as we mourn and remember that day every year.
I received an out-of-office reply from Gregory. But I had dealt with him before and knew he would get back to me when he could. Around September 6, I received an email from Gregory letting me know that he got my email, and that while the chances were very slim (to none) that Andrew Christian (the company) would release a new batch of that particular necklace, he would see what he could find out.
And that was it. I waited to hear back, hoping that eventually I would be able to buy one.
Yesterday, September 10, I got home from work at about 7:00 PM. It had been a long day and I had a bunch of errands I had to run after work. All around – it was a crappy and tiring day. I don’t normally check the mailbox very often at the entrance to my apartment building because it’s just bad news anyway. But something made me check it last night. It had been at least a week or more since I last checked it for bills and junk mail. I saw a package in a Fedex envelope. I picked it up and honestly thought it was a registered letter of some sort. The package was from Andrew Christian (the company) in Los Angeles. I couldn’t remember ordering anything so I just scooped it up with the other mail and went upstairs to my apartment. When I opened the package and dumped out the contents into my hand, three small black pouches fell out. I was confused for just a second and then I thought “It can’t be”. It was.
I received not one, but three “3 Squared Skyscraper” necklaces. I opened each one and literally had tears in my eyes. It was the night before my birthday, a day I have come to dread, and I get a package from someone who doesn’t know me and lives on the other side of the country. We’ve never met; we’ve only exchanged a few emails. But somehow, Gregory (and I don’t know yet if anyone else was involved) reached out to me from a place of pure empathy and humanity and gave me a gift for which I can never repay him. I wrote him a thank you email, and had difficulty doing it because my eyes were so filled with tears.
Today is September 11, 2012. I turn 48 today. And I’m wearing two skyscraper necklaces on one chain to symbolize and remember not only what happened on 9/11/2011, but also that today is my birthday. I finally found a way to reconcile the two. I finally found a way to celebrate, and yet remember, all at the same time. And it all happened because I really like underwear, because it’s my birthday, and because Gregory at Andrew Christian has an amazing heart, unflappable intuition, and endless human kindness for someone he doesn’t even know. See – I told you they weren’t unrelated topics.
I don’t know how to say thank you for this. There’s nothing I can say that truly expresses what I feel. So I decided to write this piece to try to put some perspective on it so that Gregory, Andrew Christian, and the world (if they read this) will understand the power that an unselfish act of human kindness has.
This is America. For all of the partisan bickering and the endless cable news, self-induced panic about how our nation is divided and falling apart, the real America is made up of people who care about each other, who are more than willing to work together, and are kind, decent human beings.
If you can, I’d like you to support the Andrew Christian company. They are a fine example of the American dream and a company who truly has the customer’s best interests in mind. While some may not be drawn to some of their marketing, I can guarantee you this: it’s just marketing. They sell exemplary products, stand behind them, and love their customers. I want to make it clear that I do not work for the company. I am only a customer, and only for a short time. I don’t know if Gregory or Andrew Christian even want anyone to know what they did. There was no note in the package, and no name on the package to indicate who it was from or why. For all I know, Gregory could have passed along my story and someone else, even Andrew Christian himself, could have sent me the necklace. But in my heart, I know Gregory was involved. (update: I have sinced heard from Gregory after a few days of radio silence and her confirmed what I suspected, and he read this blog posting).
Please visit them at http://www.andrewchristianshop.com. They really do make a great product, the best in fact. But more than that they are good people.
And thank you Gregory. From an overweight kid, with a 9/11 birthday, who struggles with body image issues and being a single gay man for a long time, thank you for making this birthday the happiest I’ve had in at least 11 years, and probably the happiest birthday I’ve ever had.