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Robbed

August 13, 2014

Dear Robin,

You were probably the brightest star in our generation’s galaxy, a supernova always shining somewhere in the sky. You were perhaps the only man in the cosmos who could make the good Lord giggle.

Today I was walking around in a state of shock. I felt close to you, and loved you as much as I could any man I hadn’t personally met.

My very image of reality is shaken like a photo taken from a train. Sure, stories of depression, alcohol and cocaine abuse, rehab and 12 Step groups, that’s almost normal for a celebrity. But actually choosing to end it all? With all you had inside you? That’s just heartbreaking.

And it leaves me to wonder: With a mind that could out-ricochet a bullet in a mine shaft, were all your frantically-snapping synapses mere devices to divert your attention from a bleak inner abyss?

It’s as sad as it’s scary. What other demons lurk beneath the surface of any public figure? Or in people I personally know? Or in me?

What agonies are we hiding from each other in plain site?

We live – I live attempting to enjoy the everyday ups and downs of life, and I have had so many joys I’m writing a book to celebrate. But sometimes the veil lifts, and I am suddenly naked and hollow before a relentless, bitter wind that in too short a time blows us all away.

The truth is, it’s hard just to be alive sometimes, especially if you keep yourself awake through the process. It’s scary and it hurts, and Robin, it seems you just couldn’t take it anymore.

I’m simply disheartened today. Hurt that you would choose to end yourself.

Robin, on Monday you robbed us of you, but only after having given us so much. You were like the one friend who could always cheer us up. For this we remain so grateful, and so sorry that in the end, we couldn’t do the same for you.

The Man From Beacon

January 29, 2014

Down with the cult of personality!”  shouted the old bearded man.

And with that, the crowd stopped applauding him.

He had just given a free concert at South Street Seaport and we were wild with grateful appreciation and love for the man. But Pete Seeger didn’t want that. What he wanted was for us to love the songs, and the sound of our own voices singing them. To feed off the communal power they infused in us, and to channel the passion of possibility they sparked in us. He wanted us not to listen to him, but to sing with him. He wanted us to appreciate and applaud ourselves, and to know our ability and birth rite to control our destiny, to revolutionize the reality that was foisted upon us like a decree. To take over. 

In spite of his wishes to not be any kind of hero, I will never forget him, and will always love him. I will always be grateful to his spirit that still for me serves as a living inspiration to who we all are, and what we are capable of when we break out of our individual prisons and find freedom by throwing our lot in with the whole rainbow race.

Me, I’m still hopelessly an individual. And I still love the idea of the cult of personality (as long, that is, as that cult is formed around my personality!)  I will probably die never beginning to measure up to this great man. But having inhabited the same world and much of the same time as he, I’m better for it, and will always have before me the horizon he stood at like a Beacon (the name of the upstate town he lived in) , beckoning us forward to what we still, God help us, we still can do together.

He will be missed.

pete-seeger[1]  

 

Year- End Update (or Scuba Living)

January 1, 2014

This is a quick hello. A way to come up for air. How long have I been under?

First off, I miss you terribly. Miss talking to you, and sometimes hearing back from you. This blog has also been a way for me to take stock of myself and take a deeper cut from wherever I stood right then. A way to mark the moment, imbuing it with an extra layer of meaning, as if what I do, think and feel matters. Otherwise, the days wash by and all I get is wet.

I don’t know what to say about the past year. For me, parts have been not quite what I expected or hoped for. One of those How-to-make-God-laugh years (you know, by telling Him your plans?).

What was good was that I began two very worthwhile creative projects that feel like culminations of lifelong passions. One is a film documentary on men {working title: Brooklyn Men}. On this, I found a collaborator, a terrific young man (any guy under 40 is young to me) who volunteered to handle the tech end. We got seven interviews completed, with all sorts of different men, young and old; tame and wild (actually none of the former).

The second project is the book I quit this blog to focus on. One that reveals parts of me – a whole spectrum of experience – I’ve kept hidden from the world for too long. And I’ve interviewed some extraordinary people for it. Now on my second draft, I feel like I’m doing something brave and adventurous.

But then life intervened around summertime. First off, my practice started to demand more of my attention. Who knew, back when I started practicing 25 years ago, that one would need to continuously revise and reinvent one’s internet marketing strategy to keep people coming through the door? And the way such a successful online strategy actually works, changed from the time you began reading this post. So I’m trying to keep up. 

Also, my tech guy entered a personal rough patch, and this resulted in me redirecting more of my energy to the book. I’ve started about half a dozen books in my life, and have completed none of them. This time I’m committed to do so.

But hey, kids, that’s not all!

As the weather grew colder, I came down with the bronchitis I often get. Damn! Three weeks of coughing, shortness of breath, antibiotics. But then, some weeks later, it returned, only with worse symptoms: headaches along with a persistent fatigue. More antibiotics. Slowly the symptoms lifted…except for the fatigue. And then some more terrible headaches.

WTF?!

I’d feel better, work a normal day, but then my body would balk.  The past several weeks I’ve slept 8-10 hours a night.

And then there was this strange and painful swelling around my knee.

One day last week, Shelley and I were talking about these symptoms and suddenly it hit me: I went north three times during the fall. Twice upstate, and once to…northern Connecticut.

Holy shit.

So I went for a blood test and in a few days I’ll know if I have Lyme disease. I almost hope I do, because then this will all make some sense, and I can get treatment. Because if I don’t, I donno what the hell is going on.

Actually I happen to feel better the past couple of days, as if maybe whatever it is, is lifting. (Though people warn me that Lyme can “hide” a while. Alas, no rest for the catastrophizing.)

But there’s a lesson in this. My body and mind have been at odds, with my mind insisting on cutting time to the bone, barely a moment each day to brush my teeth and shower, kiss Shelley goodbye, run to the train, work on the train,  see clients/do errands/work on the book/work on the website/exercise/meet with my men’s team/eat with Shelley and debrief our days/see my shrink/prepare for the next day/gulp down 3 meals/then get almost enough sleep if I have the time. Saturday? Errands. Sunday? Do everything I didn’t get done during the week.

But my body has a mind of its own. It’s saying – yo! What you think I am, 40? I NEED MORE DOWN TIME. And if you won’t give it to me, I’ll steal it and down you’ll go!

And so it has.

And that’s why I’ve felt with this fatigue like I’ve been scuba diving through the past month: Breathing and walking in a slow motion dream-like state under water.  I found myself thinking, So this is what it feels like to grow old, eh? An encroaching, insidious decline of vitality, a reduction in mobility and narrowing of view, as if the circumference of my days is growing smaller. Often recently, I’ve come home, collapsed and plopped like a lox on the couch, and watched too much television and felt like a person only less so.

It scares me to think that this may have been a dress rehearsal for future decrepitude, a preview of how windows (of energy, mobility, opportunity) may inexorably be closing as my time goes on. And this forces me to think how to make the best of the time remaining, and how to focus my reduced beam of energy like a laser to cut through the day’s fat and do only what’s essential. 

These are skills I may need when I’m 74 or 84 and beyond. Life may grow smaller, simpler.

Hey I know this isn’t what you expected or signed up for when you started reading this post, is it? Now you know how I feel about 2013.

But actually I’m not as downcast as I sound. I’ve got far too many blessings for that!

Meantime, Shelley has really hit her stride as a retired person, knitting me a gorgeous matching wool scarf and hat just in time for winter.

This past year we chose to enjoy a staycation, booking a small hotel in midtown right next to where my grandmother lived when I was a child. One day I’ll tell you how Shelley and I spent that time, and what we discovered about the city.

Thanks again for listening. I’ll be back again another time.  

Happy New Year!

What It Feels Like To Be In The Times…Again

October 13, 2013

Whoa — what a ride! Today’s article on Shelley and me in the NY Times is almost overwhelming. Thrilling of course, and a bit more flattering than I deserve, but it also includes an embarrassing piece of misinformation (at least in the print edition). 

The Times covered our wedding in the Vows section seven years ago because they liked the story of a psychotherapist that was also a dating coach finding the love of his life. 

The current piece is an update that includes our roller-coaster ride with her health, and to follow up on our marriage seven years down the line.

And it’s true, like the piece says, that I focus more now on couples counseling (although I still do a lot of date coaching) but I wish they had mentioned my website — so I’ll mention it now! www.TheRelationShop.com .  

I’m also glad they mention some of my ideas about what makes for healthy relationships, like the importance of a support system, and of being grateful for one’s blessings, and of not taking each other for granted. 

Speaking of which, I’m so grateful this piece really gives Shelley her due, as this woman has inspired me to no end from the day I met her.

The embarrassing part was the article’s subtitle in the print edition, no doubt put in there by an editor, which could give the impression we were in worse financial straights than we were or are.   (Jane Gordon, the author, gets it right in the piece, however).  Further, Shelley’s heart is not actually weak. She has CAD: Coronary Artery Disease, which means that some arteries around her heart are blocked — hence the stents. But her heart itself is fine — which is why we can dance together to 60’s rock (with a little Lady Gaga thrown in). Anyway, these are small prices to pay for such a lovely article! 

And am I really that philosophical?

Well, let me think about that. Let’s see…on the one hand… 

Finding True Blood

September 10, 2013

My family has always been pathetically small. Today, besides Shelley and my two step kids (it seems to be a wide step) I feel close to my brother Richard and one of his three kids; plus one cousin who falls flat on his face somewhere on the autism spectrum; another cousin in Florida, one in Michigan, and two female cousins whom, if I never called, I would never hear from.

For me this lifetime, family has been a DIY kind of thing. I’ve made it up as I went along.

I remember one warm spring Sunday in New Jersey, I must have been about thirteen or so. We were visiting our relatives – my aunts and uncles and cousins. Joyce and Gary were about my age; Joey was around Richard’s age. We always liked hanging out. Looking back, we all were hanging around Gary, a charismatic kid who was, although only six months older than I, the closest I ever had to a big brother.

That night, before we had to leave and go back to Long Island, someone – Joyce I think – suggested we go to a Met game together that spring. And as I was sitting in the back seat while dad was driving along the LIE, I felt that cozy Sunday family embrace turn to shivers as we crossed the border into Great Neck, where Monday morning would mean the bus to Junior High and a social minefield of privileged, entitled jocks and locker room bullies, not to mention hundreds of girls studiously ignoring me.

And that moment in the back seat I was wrenched by a prolonged pain of nostalgia for what never was: a family that would make a point of having fun together and that would have each other’s back and be a buffer against the cruel world.

I knew something was amiss the day I stood on the corner of Baker Hill Road and Colgate with David Kapalko, and he was talking about his grandfather.

“He did a lotta cool things” David declared. “He told us of how he once flew a plane upside down!”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah – pretty cool, huh?”

“Nah, sounds like your grandfather was a big liar!”

Next thing I knew I was on the business end of a hundred sudden knuckles raining down upon my head at once.

I was stunned.

“What was that for?” I asked.

Kapalko gave me an are-you-from-Mars? Look. “Because you called my grandfather a liar.”

I stumbled back home that day pondering this…You mean when somebody insults a member of your family, you’re supposed to fight them?  This was a new concept – one that had never been taught to me. In a family, you’re supposed to stick up for one another? Not in my family.

It was never spoken – the deepest family mores are always transmitted silently – but we were always supposed to be a group of individuals. We weren’t completely on our own, but there was no sense of team. And a protective feeling? Or sticking up for one another, or the sense that we were on one another’s side? These things were just not there.

Joyce and Gary never did come to town for a ball game. In a few years, Cousin Gary would join the Hari Krishnas. And me, I’d be in legal hot water at college, because we’d taken over the Administration building in a protest, and the cops came and arrested all of us. When our parents were called to a meeting by the school’s president, they all lambasted him for busting their kids. All of them except my dad, who told him to keep us all locked up and to throw away the key.

Ah, but there at Queensborough Community, I had met Judi and Oded. We were each estranged from our strange families, and we quickly became each other’s refuge.

And the day I had them over to meet dad and Richard, and they sat there, as young lovers do, in each other’s arms, and later that night, after they’d left, and my father instructed me to never let them back in the house, for they had been far too affectionate with each other, and he didn’t want Richard, who was 12 at the time, to see this, that was the day I realized I was living in my father’s house, and not my own, and this was when I began to plot my escape.

We were all of us then – at least those I came to know — on our own, together. All of us,  refugees who’d found each other and started our own family. We called each other brother and sister, and we damn well meant it. Everyone else in the world called us hippies. We didn’t mind. We were home.

Nowadays I have a client who’s about 23 years old. Her parents sent her to me to fix her, but she was never broken to begin with, just different, different from them. She also came from suburbia and also was privy to its biggest gift — the certain, empirical knowledge of what money cannot buy. In time, and partly with my help, she woke up to realize any craziness she’d exhibited had been the result of trying to survive within a crazy family culture.

And in time, she also has found her way. Today’s cultural descendents of hippies are called Burners, and she has just returned from her first Burning Man gathering. And this edgy, arty, partially drug-induced, and radically off-the-grid culture has become her refuge. Soon she may leave town forever and take off for parts unknown, secure in the knowledge that wherever she goes, she will find brothers and sisters along the way, and they will take her in.

I know the feeling. And for some of us these days, family is more than something you’re born into, the prey of fate. It’s something you make up as you go along. It is said that blood is thicker than water. But in this world we’ve been thrown into, finding communities of common values that we hold in our core can be like finding our own blood flowing in those around us.

 

 

The Tilt Towards Eternity

August 27, 2013

Normally at this time – the inexorable demise of summer – I begin to feel sad. The most verdant part of the year has peaked and we’re slowly tumbling towards whatever surges the sea or sky may have in store, plus a deep freeze or two.

New York will suffer its annual de-greening as it’s stripped of its natural garments, until the Empire State has no clothes.

As a result, our muscles and minds will constrict and contract even more beneath microfiber and goose down.

There’ve been times at this turning I’ve felt it all the more so because this slow decent corresponds far too well with my own: I’d like to hold onto whatever’s left of my summer, but I know it’s my fall.

Patients enter the office and note where we are in the cycle: “Summer’s almost over; it’s sad!” But from where I sit, I’ve seen so many summers and winters come and go that lately I feel I’m observing more of an annual swirl than a cycle of seasons. (Is time speeding up because I’m slowing down? Or because, at 64, a year = only 1/64th of my life?) I almost feel like I’m bidding my patients a Happy Valentine’s Easter of July. Enjoy your Labor High Holy Day, and a Happy ThanksChristmas to ya!

So actually, from over here, summer’s ending isn’t throwing me so much this year. I know how fast even a NYC winter will pass.

Another such way time is playing with me is when something I thought happened last week happened a month ago. And something I’m sure happened a little ways back happened way back.

I blink and suddenly I’m Rip Van Winkle waking to another world gone by. A small example is yesterday (or was that last week?) I read a piece online mentioning Rosie O’Donnell, and how her daytime show ended…back in 2002. Nah. I know I saw a promo for the show just a year or two ago. Another time my wife showed me a photo on Facebook of her niece’s kid, who’s now…five?! That can’t be him. He was just born!

I can peg whether a song is from 1966 vs. 1967, but music after that, and especially past the 70’s, is another matter. I recognize a great new Madonna song and then learn it’s not new at all. I take my eye off the road or the rear view mirror a moment, and that scene I thought I was just passing is now far out of sight.

I think that thing inside that’s observing all I see and do and all the time I move through is called my spirit. It resides in a fixed location inside me, like a camera posted on the back of the inside of my skull. It records holographic images which depict my whole life: I’m 5, 18, 64 and 84 all at once. But the man it resides in and observes — he’s a seasoned personality with an ageing body. This is one reason I hang with younger people: not just to feel younger, but because, from my spirit’s POV, I am younger. I’m young and I’m old and long gone. I’m between incarnations (almost wrote, “between incarcerations”) and busy choosing the next one as we speak.

But when the mirror shows me what time it is from my body’s perspective, I sometimes get startled into a sense of existential urgency. Exactly how many good days have I left? (Without physical pain or debilitating stresses, I mean.)

Fats Waller’s tagline pops to mind…

             

Fats Waller

          ONE NEVER KNOWS, DO ONE?

That’s when I attend to the tilt towards eternity. Towards the growing mound at the bottom of the hourglass. Towards having known, soon, more people who have gone than are still here.  I think of my first love Debby, and of Andy and my slightly odd and remarkable psychic friend Gerri Leigh, and Irv Elias, my old neighbor on West 72nd Street, and my old comrades with whom I shared the time and the times — Abbie and Jerry and Allen and John (not to mention Albert, Tim and Terrence) and my parents, aunts and uncles and the ever-increasing number of stories only I can tell.

I was six years old when I read a children’s book about a kid who is visited by another kid from outer space somewhere, who lands right in his backyard one night. No one else would know, as they instantly swear a lifelong friendship. Soon the space traveler has to leave for home, promising he’ll return one day. But in his planet’s years, this could be so long, and will they ever see each other again?

And the kid on earth, he grows up, and old, and lives his life feeling like he never really belonged here. The knowledge that he has one true eternal friend out there brings him such solace. And he faithfully waits for his compadre to return.

Every night when the sky is clear, straight through to the end of his life, he peers up through the folds of sky, back to the mouth of the river.

 

Eternal City of Now

August 13, 2013

I. I Remember It Like It Was The Day After Yesterday

As a hippie I traveled across 1970 America, all thumbs, entering cars to the soundtrack of We’ve Only Just Begun, Our House, Out In The Country, Snowbird. I spent nights on Salvation Army cots or on dewy ground, or at the home of a fabulous furry freak brother whose VW van snatched me that day from the jaws of red-baiting rednecks fueled by booze and envy.

I wrote a song then called, “Movin’ Over This Land While I Can.” Because I knew I couldn’t be doing it for long. (I thought at the time the world was coming to an end, but it was really my youth).

Now again, I’m movin’ through this town while I can. Because one day, I can’t.

So in the meantime, I’m experiencing a nostalgia for now.

 

II. From The Ferry

As I watch the sun set as a blurry yet still red rubber ball (remember that song, written by a native?)…

 

 

…I feel a swell of Wo! I’ve been here a long time!

I’ve seen so much change, yet stay the same. I feel all of my 64 years, along with the privilege of still being here to tell the tale.

Just the Battery of Manhattan alone has changed so much, so fast. It’s wider than when I first stepped around there. Perfectly sturdy brick and stone structures have had to make way for gleamy skyticklers, glass and steel salutes, strutting Sequoias.

This city was here before me, will go on without me when I’m done. It embraces me like a shop window — in a fleeting glance it knows and forgets I’m here.

In a few days I will do one of my Walkabouts, this time with a dear friend. I like re-exploring parts of Manhattan. I turn around, 20 years have passed, it’s a new town. Half remains; half replaced.

This is the city that never creeps.

 

III. Walkabout

The level of intensity between these two old quirks is something to see. Cassady and I together total about 120 years, yet are, we proudly note, still young rascals at heart. He and I can talk about anything – the sign of a true friendship. We’re both a bit edgy, but together we’re more great than grating. I know it sounds funny, but we share a high level of depth.

Today we start our journey like I always do, by hopping over the Brooklyn Bridge. Then, sneaking up on Chinatown, we each have a craven plan. First, Cassady wants to pull me down and up stairs into “Backrub” parlors to suss out their less-than-legitimate-massage potential. Likewise, I’m pulling him into all sorts of Chinese Herb stores to try to cop some Ma Huang.

This entails moseying into each establishment and asking a series of circumspect questions. First, for him, we enter these little storefronts.

“How late are you open?” Cassady asks as his eyes dart around like a sexual gangster casing the joint. Back on the street, he confides, “I look for a woman at the desk, and closed curtains.”

Then I’m shuffling us into Chinese Pharmacies.

“Anything for asthma?” I ask, knowing the herb I seek is an ancient Chinese remedy, albeit one that happens to have…..other qualities.

“I look to see if they have any fresh stems or powder; that’s the best,” I tell him.

Each time we leave empty handed – or, in Cassady’s case, maybe to return in the hopes of getting full-handed.

As we turn off Mott, we find ourselves on, or in (the aptly named) Canal, suddenly awash up to our eyeballs in a sea of humanity. There among hormonal undertows, and riptides of eye candy, we wade through waves of wrinkle-less faces waving existential bye-byes at us, ‘till we finally body surf our way up to Lafayette.

We take the subway…

Blog 8-13-13 re NYC 001

 

…up to 42nd Street, and walk to the river, and then go south from there. Soon, the city would be at our feet, as the highlight of the day is when we head towards the High Line. When we turn onto West 30th Street, we walk right into a tour about to begin of an outdoor sculpture show — up there! — on the unopened, still raw leg of the Line.

 

Blog 8-13-13 re NYC 004

 

By 2015 this stretch will be paved and sanitized. But today, we catch a sun setting over a black Jersey, and a darkly sparkling Hudson….

Blog 8-13-13 re NYC 005

 

…  Vegetation erupts like a slow green prairie fire overrunning the old tracks

 

Blog 8-13-13 re NYC 003

 

 

Industrial ghosts of grit haunt the old LIRR train yards, the city above them bashfully lighting up as if it just had illicit sex in the tunnels .

 

QUIZ: Was this a view from the Highline? Or something else?

Blog 8-13-13 re NYC 007

 

IV.So Long

Come to think of it, I am much like those tracks up there on the old High Line: I move people from here to there. I offer a view. I’ll eventually be shoveled aside and forgotten, yet will somehow still remain part of things.  This to me is The Eternal City. If it ever dies (“Everything put together falls apart” – P. Simon) it will be my final burial.

 

 

 

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