A brother’s pride and joy

the-brothers-and-the-sea-smallCredit: Artist – Jenny Armitage

One day, a man’s TV broke.  It was a nice high def TV that he had for only 6 years.  The original TV was about $1,800.  It wasn’t a top-of-the-line TV but it was very good quality.  He called the local shop where he bought it, and also called the manufacturer, both of whom said it couldn’t be fixed.  The man was upset, really upset.  This was just one more thing that had gone wrong; one more thing in a line of things that overwhelmed him.  At the time he bought this nice TV, he had the money to do so.  He no longer had resources that afforded him the luxury of buying luxury items when he wanted them.  He borrowed some money from a very good friend to buy a new TV.  Not exactly what he would have bought under different circumstances just something relatively affordable that he could afford to pay back to his friend over time.  It may seem strange to feel you need, or are entitled, to own a television.  For this man, after living a comfortable life for many years, now faced with staring at a broken TV that he couldn’t afford to replace, was a constant reminder of his failures.

At the same time, in another place, a much younger man had a brother who was recently married.  This young man didn’t have much money to buy his brother and new sister-in-law a wedding present.  He was a bit distraught and for several months was trying to figure out a way to give the newlyweds (but especially his brother) something nice; something that they could use; something they didn’t have and couldn’t afford to buy, something he could afford.  That’s a tall order to fill.  But this younger man was patient.

The older man who had the broken TV, and the younger man worked at the same company.  The older man, having back trouble, asked the younger man to help him carry his new TV up the many stairs to his apartment.  The younger man, always eager to help anyone in need, was quick to say yes, that he would be happy to help.  When the younger man brought the TV up the 39 stairs to the older man’s apartment, the younger man asked what was wrong with the broken TV.  The older man showed the younger man how the TV picture was all messed up, and told the younger man the story of the TV being irreparable.  The “experts” said that the problem was the “T-Com” board (whatever that means), and the manufacturer didn’t even sell those boards anymore, hence why it couldn’t be fixed.  The younger man mentioned that he liked to tinker with electronics and asked that if it was OK with the older man, he’d like to take the broken TV, if for no other reason than to take it apart and see how it worked.  The older man was wondering how he was going to get rid of the old TV so he was pleased that the younger man wanted to take it.

About a month later, the younger man arrived at work one day and asked to speak to the older man.  The younger man wanted to tell him about the old TV.  Surprise cast a shadow on the older man’s face.  What was he talking about?  The younger man said that he had struggled with the old TV for a while.  But, after a few attempts on Ebay he was able to find the right T-Com board for the TV.   The younger man was a very curious and tenacious person.  He liked to learn about electronics.  The first T-Com board he bid on and got on Ebay, was the wrong one.  It took him a long time to find another possible fit.  So he bid on, and won the bid for, another T-Com board.  When the younger man had first installed the second T-Com board into the TV, the picture was blinking and flashing and wavy – not viewable at all.  But after powering it off and back on a few times, the old TV came back to life and was working perfectly.  It seemed similar to adding new hardware to a PC.  You need to give the PC time to recognize the new hardware and make the proper adjustments.  The younger man then told the older man that he had a brother who was recently married.  The younger man had fretted, and worried, and was very frustrated that he didn’t have a “proper” gift for his brother.  The younger man loved and respected his older brother very much; it would be source of pride and accomplishment if he could figure out how to give his older brother a wedding present.  After fixing the old high def TV, he sneaked into his brother’s house one Sunday when he knew his brother and sister-in-law would be out.  He setup the new/old TV in his brother’s home.  His brother did not have a TV and couldn’t afford to buy one.  The younger man wrapped the remote control to the TV in a box and gave it to his brother when the brother returned home.  The younger man was so proud, and happy.  When the brother opened the box he said “what’s this” and the younger man said “go inside and look”.   The brother did and to the brother’s surprise, in his house was, to him, a brand new big flat screen TV.  The brother stared in awe, not even knowing how to thank the younger man, let alone figure out how the younger man had pulled this off.

The younger man had, against all odds, repaired the old TV given to him by the older man.  The younger man was so happy that he finally had a present for his brother.  And the younger man’s brother was happy that he received a gift that he wouldn’t have been able to afford on his own.  The brother had no idea how the younger man accomplished this.  The two brothers loved each other very much.  It was important for the younger man to have something of value to give to his somewhat older, married brother as a wedding present.

As for the older man,  at the time, buying a new TV seemed insurmountable and he was angry at the TV and the manufacturer; he was mad at himself and the world.  The older man had limited resources, but he did have a job and a way to pay back the price of the new TV he bought (thanks to a very generous friend).

But the older man was happy, too.  When the older man found out what had happened to his old TV – that is was miraculously fixed, and that it ended up in the possession of someone who could not afford such a nice TV, and given to him by a young man who wanted nothing more than to get his brother something for a wedding present, the older man’s anger over his TV situation seemed so small.  He let the anger go.  And he thanked the younger man for letting him know what had happened to his old TV.

The older man realized that sometimes, things do happen for a reason.  While the older man no longer had the resources to buy luxury items, he certainly had more options than the younger man, or the younger man’s brother.  So in perspective, the older man felt blessed.  He realized his petty wanting of material goods was all just so stupid.

The older man was me.


It can be argued that nobody “needs” a television.  And I’ve heard many in the media (OK, right-wing TV and talk radio)  talk about poor people on government assistance who somehow have a flat screen TV.  Well, the bottom line, to me, is that first, you can’t buy anything other than a flat screen TV anymore.  And by flat screen I mean high-definition TV – that’s all there is.  All new TVs are high-definition flat screen, whether it’s cheap or expensive.  Have you seen a “picture tube” television in a store lately.  I doubt it.  Secondly, television is what most people use as their connection to the outside world.  Something as simple as the news, or the weather – you get that from your TV.  Even if you don’t have cable TV, you can still use a high-definition TV (known in the pedestrian world as a “flat screen”) with rabbit ears just like in the old days.  Television also provides basic entertainment regardless of whether you are rich or poor.  You can even have a TV without actual broadcast or cable stations – just a TV with a VCR or DVD player, and use that as your entertainment.

So television is an important part of people’s lives and of the American culture.  Not having one because you can’t afford one makes you feel like a failure as a human being.  Society has taught us that we are.

But, having said all of that, it’s not what this story is about.  This story is about counting your blessings.  It’s about realizing what you have, even when you might not realize you have it.  And it’s about the fact that no matter how badly you might feel or how much self-hatred you may feel over something big, or something small, there is always somebody out there with a story that is more significant than yours.  But mostly, it’s about the love between two brothers.  Brothers who don’t count their blessings in dollars, but rather in sense.  I don’t believe in something called god.  But I do believe that these two brothers have very good parents who taught them well.  I have been reminded, through this experience, about what’s important.  I hope you do, too.  I am happy that through a series of rather strange events, my old TV made its way to a happy couple, just married and starting their life together.  I picture them sitting in front of the big high-def TV at night, snuggled up, watching a movie together, enjoying each others’ company, and always thinking how cool it is that someone in their family gave them this beautiful TV.

On one final note:  I thought for a moment that I should have bought the TV back from the young man so he could buy his brother something new.  Then I realized that all the tinkering and trying, the sense of accomplishment and the laser focus on a single purpose, the joy of giving a gift that came from the heart – all of that would not have happened if I bought the TV back.  I would have robbed the younger man of his pride and of is joy.  It all worked out just as it should have.


Birthdays, Diabetes, Underwear, and Skyscrapers

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.

Gym Class Heroes

Bennett Junior High School, 1976

I stood there alone staring at the slats of the huge hardwood floor.  I was aware of the others in the room but I was trying desperately to be invisible.

I knew that there were two groups of people staring at me.  It was dead quiet, except for the far-off sounds of other kids doing whatever kids do in the quad of a junior high school.

As I stood in the gymnasium, a hulking brick building that made up one side of the quad, I wished I was out there.  I wouldn’t feel any more welcomed or part of something out there than I did right here, but at least I wouldn’t be trying desperately not to cry and end up making this situation far worse than it already was.   In my mind I was pleading with some unknown force to save me.  I don’t know who because I knew nobody would help me.  I tried to believe in a god who, even if I believed existed, had betrayed me over and over again, so my hopes weren’t high.

The two groups of boys in their regulation blue gym shorts and white T-Shirts started to stir and mumble.  The gym teacher, Mr. Freeman, was a big, tall, hearty, white-haired man.  He had two personalities – gruff or laughing.  Most of the time he was gruff – all business, but when he laughed, he did so with his whole body.  He had capped teeth and a smoker’s laugh, which, at the time, I thought odd for a gym teacher.  But this was in the 1970’s.  You could still smoke inside parts of hospitals. On this day, like most, he was in a gruff mood.

I wasn’t afraid of Mr. Freeman.  He always treated me with respect, although I have no idea why.  In fact, most teachers treated me with a great deal of respect.  I was never really afraid of adults that I wasn’t related to.  In fact, I felt more comfortable with adults than with kids my own age; or any age.  I related more to adults.  Most of the time I felt like an adult trapped in a kid’s body.

In those last moments of studying knots in the wood grain of the hardwood floor. I heard Mr. Freeman clear his throat, and then I heard him say, “Do you ‘captains” have any clue what you are doing’?.  The two teams of boys who had been picked by the aforementioned captains, and the captains themselves, shifted uncomfortably.  I don’t recall how the two team captains were selected.  I don’t recall getting a vote.  But two had been chosen and the age-old, archaic ceremony of picking whom each wanted on their basketball team for this gym period, went on as they always do. The pecking order was well established.  The athletic kids and buddies of the captains were picked first. Then that middle group, who were not so popular but in some way acceptable in the school’s hierarchy, was selected for a team.  And then, in the final, gut-wrenching moments, as the “remainders” were scoffed at, and as the captains begrudgingly pointed and waved over a few to his respective team, the remainders weren’t staring at the captains or at the floor anymore.

We were staring at each other.  We were pleading with each other.  We were imploring someone in this group of misfits to honorably accept being the last one picked.  We had sympathy and empathy for each other.  It was also an intellectual fight to the death. We were terrified.

I was one of those remainders.  And on this day it turned out that there were an uneven number of boys.  So when the picking got slim, the remainders all knew that someone would be the final one standing with no hope of having an obvious home among the two teams of boys.

That’s where I stood in that moment – fixated on the hardwood floor, when I heard Mr. Freeman clear his throat and ask the team captains if they knew what they were doing.

I didn’t know what Mr. Freeman meant and I don’t think the captains did either.  As Mr. Freeman waited those few seconds after his question, I don’t think he really expected an answer.  And I stood there, trying desperately to block out who I was, and where I was, and what was going on around me.  I fought desperately to hold back tears.  I ran through different scenarios in my head at lightning speed as to how I could flee, and hide.  I accepted my fate, once again, and the humiliation and abject terror on not being wanted by anyone.  I tried to make my eyes and my soul as dead as possible, hoping that nobody would see the fear.

Then, I heard Mr. Freeman’s voice again.  “If I were you, I would have picked Steven first, and do you know why?”


What the hell was he talking about?  I lifted my eyes from the floor, up toward him and he was looking back and forth between the two team captains.  Mr. Freeman continued:

“Before we picked the captains and picked the teams, what did we do?  We practiced shooting baskets, dribbling the ball, passing the ball, just a little warm-up, right?  Well, did any of you notice that Steven here has one of the best senses of rhythm and timing I’ve seen in a long time?  Did you watch him run down the court while dribbling the ball in front of him, or at his side?  Did any of you, and especially you team captains, take an honest look at the field of players, or had you already decided which of your buddies you wanted on your team.  Timing and rhythm is an essential part of being a good basketball player and if I were you, I would want him on my team.  He should not be standing there because nobody picked him.”

No. No. No. Oh God. No.  Please don’t look at me.  What was he talking about?  Was that true?  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  I’m not good at sports.  I’m not good at anything.  Why is everyone looking at me? I don’t have anything special about me, or anything someone should take notice of.  Nobody has ever said anything like that before.  I’m just the overweight, non-athletic 12-year-old, trying to get through the 7th grade without anybody seeing me.  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  PLEASE don’t involve me.

I looked back and forth between the two team captains, yeah, two “fellow seventh graders”, and I implored them silently not to believe Mr. Freeman and without words, gave them permission to continue looking down on me.  I was nothing.  Nothing to see here.  Go about your business.  I can handle the humiliation.  I’m used to it.  I’m comfortable here.  Let’s just forget all of this and go about our business, separately.

While my eyes shifted back and forth between the captains, and occasionally back down to study the grain in the hardwood floor, there was mumbling, and whispers that I couldn’t make out.  And Mr. Freeman may have said more things but I had tuned him out, too.  And then my internal turmoil was interrupted by Mr. Freeman nudging me from behind, gently, not forcefully.  It was more like an encouragement.  I came out of my haze and the two team captains were saying “I’ll take him” and the other one said “No you had the last pick, I’ll take him”. And they went back and forth a few times until Mr. Freeman nudged me far enough along and he decided which team I would play on.

I don’t remember a single thing that happened after that.  I don’t remember whose team I was on.  I don’t remember a single name of any of the kids that were there.  But as I sit here 35 years later, I still remember the smile on Mr. Freeman’s face when I stood with my “team”.  He looked at me.  And I looked at him.  We never spoke about it.  Not during that day in gym, or ever again.  And from that day on, I do remember that every day in gym class when it was “basketball” day, I wasn’t picked last anymore.

Some kids were afraid of Mr. Freeman, many simply didn’t like him.  He had some measure of silent joy in being able to intimidate kids.  He was loud and unrelenting.

I wasn’t one of those kids.  I understood him.  What I didn’t realize is that he understood me.  Because of that day 35 years ago, and for every day since that I am reminded of him and what he did for me, he is my hero.

Time to rid yourself of Christmas guilt – 2010 Edition

The current economic climate has brought about the perfect time to reassess what Christmas is about.  I recently read this posting that I wrote almost 2 years ago.  I decided that now is a good time to republish it.  The following has been edited and updated for this year but the message is the same.  I even fixed some misspellings, and rewrote some poorly constructed sentences.  I hope this post gives you something to think about.


Christmas means different things to different people.  At its core, Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ.   It is a Christian holiday.  I  believe that unless you are devout in your celebration of this birth then you have no business celebrating Christmas.  Otherwise it’s no different than celebrating Hanukkah.  You may as well.  You’re guaranteed eight gifts that way.

I have not forgotten the magic that Christmas can bring, but from where does that magic come.  We are often more prone to charitable gifts during Christmas.  So to some less fortunate child, or family, a Christmas miracle could be one toy, or one meal.

Many of us get emotional during the holidays, mostly due to the memories of our childhood.  Some never had a Christmas. Some never had a happy Christmas.  I”m not sure which is worse; never having one, or never having one that lives up to the hype.

A few years ago, I had my own economic downturn.  Giving gifts that year wasn’t within the realm of possibility.  Yes, I could have given home-made gifts.  But, I would have felt inadequate and guilt that comes from NOT giving.

So I decided to take a different approach.  No Christmas presents?  I approached the people with whom I normally exchange gifts and told each one  the truth (do people tell the truth anymore? – I’m used to it, but I find that many struggle with it).  I told them I can’t afford to buy presents and I would appreciate it they didn’t buy me a present either.  I can’t pretend I have the money to do it, and if I spend money on gifts, I won’t have money for Rent, or Food, or to put gas in my car.  And I don’t want to feel the guilt of getting a gift when I don’t have one to give.  I don’t believe that my “plan” was received very well, but I had no choice but to move forward with it.

The most important gift in the world, in my opinion, is your time.  I wanted to spend time with the people I love.  Laughing, relaxing, telling stories, playing cards; all of those things that we rarely have time for.  Since most of my friends and family aren’t consistent church-goers, we weren’t celebrating the birth of the Messiah. No, in previous years we weren’t celebrating anything, and giving each other mounds of presents because of it.

In as little as one day after opening gifts, maybe less in some cases, most kids can’t remember who gave them what.  They were already bored with the toys, and the adults usually think “thank god that’s over”.   How sad is that.  Such a build-up and in a flash, it’s over.  Some are happy it’s over.  Some are disappointed that they didn’t “get what they wanted”.

In recent years many of the people I know were ready to take down the tree and decorations by the evening of Christmas Day.  And as we reflected on Christmas, we realized introspectively that we spent too much, probably went into credit card debt, and even if you got great stuff, something was missing.

After the time when I stopped giving out Christmas presents I didn’t feel that way anymore.  Christmas had taken on a different meaning.  As I said before, the gift of time, and laughter, I think, are such valuable commodities.  What an incredible relief it would be, don’t you think, if you never had to worry about the traditional gift giving aspect of Christmas?  I know people who say that they truly like the chaos of shopping for Christmas gifts.  I think they are lying to themselves.  I think they are trying to recreate a fantasy that is unattainable.   The magic of the perfect childlike Christmas is unattainable.

To me, it’s not that gifts shouldn’t be exchanged anymore, just not gifts that come with a receipt.  I have always believed that birthdays are special.  That is one person’s special day and that should be the day they get all the attention and a gift or two.  And I also believe in buying people things that you happen upon and give for no specific reason.  I bought a family member a certain gift,  just because I knew they liked it, not because it was their birthday or Christmas or any other holiday.  Those, to me, are real gifts.  The unexpected act of kindness.  But giving wrapped gifts is NOT necessary at Christmas.

So I am asking you to participate in a new kind of gift giving for the holidays.   Stay out of the stores and off the online shopping sites.  Make a promise to yourself, and to those you love, to spend time with them during the Holidays.  Why do we keep perpetuating the myth that a “present” equals “love”.  And if you decide to spend more time with the ones you love playing cards, relaxing, enjoying food,  and most of all laughing, then maybe you will begin to see what is really important.  You will be able to see it because your mind will not be consumed with guilt over whether or not you spent enough money on so-and-so, and “oh I hope he likes it, I don’t think he’ll like it” or “maybe I should get her something else, or something more”.  Rid yourself of that Christmas guilt and put your energy into memorable, intangible, important things.

We need to stop buying into Corporate America’s idea of Christmas;  the kind of Christmas that makes Corporate America rich.  They wait all year for Christmas because it makes up something like 60 or 70 percent of their profits for the year.  And you wouldn’t believe how they try to get into your head, and your heart, so that they can get into your wallet.  Stop the insanity.

If you believe in God, then you should know that God doesn’t keep track of the presents you give;  God only cares about gifts you give that can’t be wrapped.  If you don’t believe in God (nobody says you have to – I don’t) then all of this should make perfect sense to you already.

I welcome your comments.

Superbowl abortion commercial

Apparently, some former “mass of tissue” is going to star in a TV commercial that speaks out against abortion.  This “mass of tissue” is glad his mommy didn’t have an abortion.  I’m not so sure.  I say, when in doubt, ABORT, ABORT ABORT.

I hate to break it to you son, but your Mom wasn’t strong, she was weak.  She gave in to her conscience.  Some may think “Hey, had this woman aborted her mass of tissue then the mass would not have grown up to become a football player”.  I say, “all this football player did was grow up and try to divide the country, culturally, on one of few days in a the year where the country comes together to watch a sporting event”. 

I don’t think the left wingers should be mad and I don’t think they should protest.  I think they should run their own ad on Superbowl Sunday with a picture of the “mass of tissue” and the copy should say “if you don’t have an abortion, this is what you’re going to get.”

Getting stabbed in the front

White House senior advisor David Axelrod was on “Morning Joe” this morning.  At one point he relayed an expression he had heard.  It went something like this:  An associate of his who was struggling with Washington politics said to him “I’m going back to Chicago, at least there, they stab you in the front”.  This is obviously a comment about Washington politicians who stab you in the back.  And while Chicago politics is tough, at least they don’t blind side; they come at you fair and square from the front.

As I thought about this concept of “being stabbed in the front” I had a completely different interpretation when I applied it to my own life.  I recently reconnected with my very best friend in the world.  And he’s been in my life longer than anyone I know.  Although we were out of contact for a while, we have the kind of friendship that is unconditional and non-judgemental.  I didn’t like that we hadn’t spoken for so long, but it wasn’t because we were mad at each other.  I don’t think we’ve ever been mad at each other.  We’ve gone for somewhat long periods of time without contact but when we finally get in touch, it is as if we just spoke the day before.  No pretense, no judgement.  Just understanding and an honest love for one another that transcends time.  He’s the one person to whom I can always tell the truth.

So for me, the concept of being stabbed in the front means something different.  To me, it means that my best friend will tell me the truth no matter what.  And I am not hurt by it because it is not meant to hurt me.  True friends can be truly honest with each other, they know when to tease, and they know when to listen.  I believe that few people in the world have ever experienced a friendship like I have with my best friend.  I know I am not completely alone.  I know other good friendships are out there.  But they certainly are not as common as they should be.

Maybe it sounds strange to some to compare “getting stabbed in the front” to a great friendship.  But it makes sense to me.  From the front, there is no fear because you see it coming, you know it might hurt but you know the intent.  And the best thing is that when you are about to be stabbed from the front, you can step aside, just a little, and avoid the stab completely, and just give a hug.

To my best friend, thank you for all the years of laughter.  I hope we have many more.

I am the last Baby Boomer a.k.a “things I learned while blogging”

In looking back at the posts I have written over the past 2 years, the first thing that comes to mind is that I can’t believe it’s been 2 years.  When I look at the titles and subjects I see a lot of anger.  There have been a lot of people I’ve been mad at over the past 2 years.  I think that finally I’m at a place where either I’ve matured enough not to get angry, or I’m too tired to get angry.  I”m not sure which, yet.

All through the 2008 Presidential campaign I had a lot to say — mostly about right wing republicans with their head up their collective asses.  But I also wrote about family, pop culture, entertainment, baseball and just plain human interest stories.

The second thing I think about is how different my life is today from what it was when I started this blog.  I had just been fired from my job, and didn’t know why.  Finding a new job seemed impossible.  I’m not a writer by trade, as you can tell, but I do have other marketable skills; at least I thought I did.  After 18 long, no, very long months of confidence-crushing job searching with nothing to show for it, I had a lot of time to build up my anger and needed an outlet.  So I took to blogging.  I had way too much time on my hands.

I had no idea what I was doing when I started blogging, still don’t.  I receive a lot of hateful comments from people who troll the internet looking for someone to hate.  I call these people “republicans”.  I receive a lot of  “hate” comments from people who  so afraid of liberal ideas, that they would do, and say, anything based in that fear, in order to squash progessivec ideas.  And I received a lot of “support posts” from people who seek  out opinions of others with whom they can agree.

I don’t believe for one minute that my writing, or anybody else’s writing,  can actually change a readers opinion.  Let’s face it.  It takes years for us, as human beings, to change; change out minds, change our tune, change our outlook, change our opinion, change our politics, etc.  Even if we want to change it doesn’t happen overnight.  So for those of us who don’t even want to change, or don’t think we need to change, reading blog opinion pieces will only inspire the co-conspirators, or anger the detractors.  There’s just not a lot of “re-thinking” going on.

I’ve done my share of reading both mainstream blogs, and personal blogs like mine.  I don’t find there to be much difference between the two.  It’s all just personal opinion, some with agendas, some with butterflies & unicorns.  None if it really matters.

Here are just a few of the things I learned in the last two years.  Some of it I learned about myself, some of it about others:

I hate people who say “at the end of the day”.  It is the most overused, and least meaningful expression in generations.  It is verbal filler, not unlike most of what today’s talkers have to say.  Whether it be a blog or a cable news pundit, it’s all just verbal filler.  What are all these political talk shows but blogs on TV.  It’s white noise that in a week, or a few days, you won’t remember.  And that’s the real problem.  None of it is memorable.

People who don’t like what you have to say will call you every name in the book.  They will write a degrading comment on your blog telling me to stop degrading people.  I don’t get it.  And they don’t understand “hypocrisy”.

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An open letter to Kris Allen

Dear Kris:

I know.  Who cares what I think.  But I wanted to congratulate you on winning American Idol.  The look on your face when you won was priceless.  And how great it must be to have a friend like Adam Lambert close by who was obviously and genuinely happy for you.

I first noticed you when I checked in on American Idol right before the time of the final 13.  I picked you as the winner back then.  I don’t know exactly what it was.  For the first time this year, I actually went to iTunes and downloaded American Idol music and it was yours that I downloaded.  I actually have “Falling Slowly” and “To make you feel by love” on a CD in my car right now and play it quite often.  I must admit, as a gay man, I thought you were adorable.  Your kind and gentle soul was evident even through your shyness.  I often thought you were the kind of guy I could take home to my family and they would love you too.  So I have to be honest and say that I totally have a crush on you.  But why wouldn’t I.  Or anyone else for that matter.

That’s part of the package, you know.  Both women and gay men will think you are adorable and be vocal about it.  Speaking for myself, I would never cross the line and maul you if I saw you in person.  But you sort of have to get used to that kind of attention whether or not it is welcomed.  Gay men are fans too.

You have been blessed with beauty and grace.  You have been blessed with talent.  And most of all you have been blessed with a warm and loving family.  I envy the bear hug you got from your father on your visit home.  That is something that I never had from either parent, even though I grew up having both parents. My father died when I was 19 years old, before I was officially “out”.  As a result I have so many unanswered questions about whether or not my father actually loved me.  You don’t have to walk through life with those doubts so I hope you feel lucky and blessed.

Maybe you’re not shy; maybe you’re just humble.  Humility is an honorable trait to have.  You are inspiring to many in the way you pushed through that “thing” whether it be shyness or humility, to become an artist comfortable on stage in his own skin.  Again, that’s another thing about which I envy you.  I can barely walk into a crowded room, even if it’s just family, without suffering from severe self-confidence issues.

Back to the music.  As emotional a person as I am, it takes a lot for a song or piece of music to get to me.  In the words of “To make  you feel my love” you sang “I could offer you a warm embrace, to make you feel my love”.  That song, and the story it tells about giving of yourself and your unconditional love to another human being, in the way you sang it with just honesty, brought me to tears.  It still does when I listen to it.  And when I do listen to it I picture you singing it.  To me, that is the difference between you and Adam Lambert and the reason why you won American Idol.  It’s not that Adam is not a good looking guy.  But let’s face it, the world of music is based upon love songs.  It’s your gentle manner, your honest belief that love is so important, that raises the bar on the music you choose to interpret.

I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Adam in the open letter I wrote to him.  If you can, meaning if the almighty American Idol machine will let you, now is the time to think about what you want to do musically.  If you are going to experiment and collaborate, do it now while the iron is hot.  I think too many American Idol winners get pegged early on as “this” or “that”.  Prove them wrong.  Spread your wings a bit.  Do a duet with Josh Groban or Celine Dion.  That superstar pop-star thing may be out of your comfort zone.  But if you try stuff like that, we’ll be behind you.  You can’t sing “No Boundaries” for the next year and expect to have a career at the end.  In my opinion, you shouldn’t sing that song at all, but you are contractually obligated.  I only hope you can convince someone to let you do it your way.

I read on line, just today, the flurry of opinions regarding who won and why.  Some tried to bring everything but the kitchen sink into the conversation.  Religion, politics, homophobia, Red States versus Blue States, the Christian vote.  Believe me, none of that matters.   I think you know that.  You can tell a lot about what is going on in American culture by observing the gay community.  I read many stories and comment on blogs from gay men who voted for you.  They did not vote AGAINST Adam.  They voted FOR you.  One might think just the opposite would have happened.  I don’t know for sure if Adam is gay, but he’s certainly “gay enough” to have attracted the gay vote.  But gay men are usually well educated.  For me, it was your introspective manner and your desire to tell us who you are through your music that was so honest.  And that, my friend, is something that the gay community responds to very much.  Honesty.  It doesn’t matter if we agree about politics, religion, art, nature, sex, love, God, or anything else.  Real gay men respect those that are true to themselves.

I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing what directions you take, musically speaking.  I’ll always have a little crush on you.  And I will always get just a little emotional when I hear you sing “I could offer you a warm embrase to make you feel my love”.

How to survive the holidays

I haven’t written anything on this blog in ten days.  I haven’t really been focused on politics, current events, or pop culture.  While I no longer participate in exchanging gifts, I have been concentrating on the holidays.  They are an especially difficult time for me and each year I try to survive them the best I can.  Christmas is a very emotional time for many.  I believe it stems from looking at your Christmas tree late at night with just the tree lights on in a quiet room.  How can you not think about Christmas past.  Yes, there were good times, but bad memories are easier to conjure up in your mind.  There will always be the gift you didn’t get when you were a kid.  The one gift you wanted so desperately.  There will always be memories of what was going on in your life during a particular holiday season.  There will always be people missing from your life that were there during one Christmas, but are no longer. 

I would like to dedicate this posting to my friend Sarah.  In addition to her insight, she has been a kind ear to listen to my pinings.  She is a soft place to land as I feel the harshness of disappointment and lost love.  I must say that this Christmas is better than I remember Christmas being for a long time.  This year I have so much to be thankful for and luckily, didn’t forget it this year.

It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t tear free.  But I enjoyed the holidays this year because I felt more like myself, more inner peace, than I have in years.  I have talked with a few people who know me well and I talked to Sarah who doesn’t know me all that well.  Her interest in other people’s stories opened the door for me to tell my story  to her.

To me the Christmas season should be about giving thanks, just as much as Thanksgiving is.  I am hopeful that since sales were down this year, some people have learned that you can celebrate and be happy at Christmas time with less “stuff”.  They may have sweated and toiled over what to buy and how to buy with less money, but in the end maybe they realized that Chirstmas spirit has nothing to do with “stuff”.  It has to do with the people you love, being there for them, and them for you.

So next year, maybe the world will spend even less, regardless of the economic conditions.  You can’t put a price on kindness.  I’d also like to thank my family for welcoming me back into the fold this year.  The last 2 years have been very diffucult times and I wasn’t the same person during that time.  Many didin’t recognize me at all.  But luckily family always foregives, if it works out right, and this year it did.

Thanks again, Sarah, my jewish friend who helped this gentile make it through a difficult time.  My Christmas wish to everyone is that they have someone to share their successes and failures, their pain and joy; a soft place to land, all without judgement from anybody. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

California Proposition 8 – the “anti-love” law

Whenever somebody sits down to write a law, or propose an amendment, or legislate anything at all,  the first thing he or she should do is put away the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, “Dianetics” by L. Ron Hubbard, or any other book that skews basic human rights based on somebody elses interpretation.  The reason is that in this country, America, we have what is called a separation of church and state as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.  And religious arguments against same-sex marriages just don’t hold any ground if you consider conflicting scriptural passages like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  But nobody can explain it with the passion and fervor that Keith Olbermann did on last night’s “Countdown” through a Special Comment.

Known for his “Special Comments”, Olbermann put into words the things many of us think about but can’t seem to verbalize or put into cohesive buckets.  Olbermann, last night, was at his best explaining why nobody should be denied the legal right to love another person and cement that love through marriage.  I watched the video below live, as it happened, and could not hold back the tears.  This from a man who is not gay, comes from the sports broadcasting world, and said he struggled to find someone in his own extended family who was gay for whom he could speak.  He could not find one but that did not temper his firey and poignant diatribe that, in my opinion, everyone should hear before they pass judgement on gay marriage or any other kind of discrimination.