It’s been almost twenty years since my first visit to San Francisco, a city that has always felt like a second home to me. I was in my early 30’s and eager to start exploring and traveling, something I had seldom done. I had just moved out on my own, got a promotion and started a new relationship… everything was fresh and the air was filled with possibility. Not only was San Francisco an amazing city because of the wonderful energy and history of the place, I discovered very quickly a welcoming community which today, is slowly and literally dying out… old school gay men.
So what are old school gay men? It’s basically a tight knit community who’s members witnessed and experienced the trials of the gay community, back when being gay was considered some kind of mental disorder by many. It’s the men that marched in parades and risked being beaten by police waiting at the end of the route, clubs already in hand. They are the men that attended attended funerals almost on a daily basis, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. They have seen so much progress and are deservedly very proud of it… because they made it happen.
Old school gay men are quick to engage in conversation, a skill they learned when just finding other men that were gay was in of itself a challenge. Decades ago they didn’t have the luxury of being picky, and as such, learned what people were like on the inside… sitting down, listening, and learning your story was something they did on a regular basis. There weren’t any mobile phones with apps to swipe left, or ways to alter your image with digitized abdominals, Humanity was the most attractive attribute a person could have… just being you. They understood that sticking together, and being kind to one another, is very important if you’re going to effect positive change on a global scale.
I’ll never forget walking into a barber shop in San Francisco, and being warmly welcomed by everyone there, absent of the awkwardness I typically experienced when entering an unfamiliar place. I was instantly a family member just because I was gay and it was San Francisco. Waiting was a relaxing and safe experience, feeling like I was surrounded and respected by others just like me. My actual haircut also took significantly longer than it ever did in Miami, because my barber was totally engaged in conversation, telling me all about his current life circumstances. Turns out that’s what you do when you live in a true community, that’s what you do when you care… you share and you listen.
It’s 2021 now and the gay community is changing faster than ever, fueled by a more accepting and open-minded public. Gay marriage is legal, Glee was a thing, and we are even in everyday tv commercials… yet while the country is starting to open its arms, we are turning our backs on each other. There’s a new generation of “it’s okay to be gay” young adults, and they really never knew a world where their friends were disappearing on a weekly or even daily basis. While I’m thankful that our community is now living with HIV instead of dying from it, it’s hurtful to see how the legacy of community is fading away. Division among ourselves is now quickly becoming the norm, since we no longer have a common threat or even an enemy to keep us aligned.
When I look back at all the experiences I had almost two decades ago, I feel grateful that I was able to at least sample the leftovers of what used to be a cohesive family with incredibly strong bonds. Thankfully, you can still find bits and pieces of it here and there… gay chorus events are a wonderful venue for that vestigial sense of community, and there are some battles yet to be won. Still, the numbers are dwindling and what I experienced not so long ago will one day just be a memory. As sexual preference becomes less of an issue for Americans, so will our desire to spend time with those of our kind, and share the memories of how we got there.
It’s been six months since my experience with COVID began, but it has definitely not ended. Yes I’m back in the gym, I’m gaining more lean muscle, and my hair has grown back, yet every day seems to be another struggle to get my life back to normal. I share in the desperation of most on the planet, wanting so very bad to go back to the days of large group gatherings, movie theatres and crowded restaurants, but I also share the experience of having COVID myself… and watching so many still trying to invalidate the very cause of my experience. It’s extremely difficult seeing such a large portion of the population vocally attempt to dismiss your suffering or that of others. The simple experience of seeing an unmasked person in a small ice-cream stores says to me “I don’t care what you went through or how close you came to dying, I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do.” Every day there are countless examples of people that couldn’t care less about my survival, or that they want to help see this end. Every day there are real word interactions with human beings that are self-centered and just plain ugly on the inside.
I read earlier this week that a British study found that survivors of COVID were more at risk for developing all kinds of brain related health issues such as strokes, dementia, anxiety and depression. This actually made me feel good, since scientifically, someone is attempting to explain and validate what I’m going through. Someone is trying to say “We hear and feel you, it’s important enough for us to take a closer look… you matter.” That’s a significant statement since over 70 million individuals made their stance clear during the last election and subsequent events… “We don’t care about what you went through, our personal freedoms are more important than the lives of hundreds of thousands that have died.” And of course it doesn’t help when members of that camp say things like “I’ve had COVID, it isn’t as bad as they say it is…” instead of professing how lucky they were to survive with minimal impacts to their health. Hearing those kinds of words from people you care about is even worse… it’s crushing.
Like I mentioned earlier I’m back at the gym and I’m exercising, trying to focus on something healthy and positive. I quit going to LA Fitness since they were a constant reminder and a prime example of a business that couldn’t care less if you died. The management there being incredibly passive with patrons that decided not to wear a mask, possibly infecting others in a very warm, moist and poorly ventilated facility. Now I at least feel somewhat looked after when an employee at YouFit tells people they need to wear a mask, and are sometimes met with shouting and bursts of anger. Still, these daily displays and self proclamations of “go fuck yourself” hurt deeply. Sometimes I find it difficult to function… after all, if people have stopped caring about human lives, why even bother?
When I was a kid, radio stations across our entire country simultaneously played the song We Are The World in an attempt to raise awareness about a food crisis in Africa. Millions of people sang together, millions of voices collectively saying “We care and we want to help.” Being exposed to that kind of outpouring of support during my formative years made a huge impact, and seems completely contradictory to what we’ve seen here with over a half million people dead in our country alone. People are actively trying to hurt others, in a effort to display their right to do so. And this kind of “Just wait and see how bad I can fuck you over…” has spilled into open displays of racism, xenophobia and homophobia. Where did all the kindness go that I experienced as a kid growing up? Was I just not seeing what was really out there? It also seems like even the movies of the time were about discovering who you were as a person, or self empowerment… not about constant death and destruction.
“Everyone that has refused to wear a mask, voted for a man that did nothing but deny this disease… and propagated his rhetoric, shares a exponential karmic debt for what they stole from me. I curse them in all directions of time and space, and wish nothing but the total despair and grief they have helped spread. They don’t deserve anything less.”
I lost my mom not even a year ago and she was my biggest fan… an actor’s way of saying my best friend. The TV I purchased for her on mother’s day of 2019 now sits in our home, I still remember the movie we watched together in admiration of the incredible picture. We sat and ate greasy burgers, a love we both shared and enjoyed. It would be the last mother’s day we spent together, COVID robbed me of the experience of doing it again in 2020. Eric suggested we make large signs and do a drive by, but she wasn’t strong enough to come to the window and see them. Everyone that has refused to wear a mask, voted for a man that did nothing but deny this disease… and propagated his rhetoric, shares a exponential karmic debt for what they stole from me. I curse them in all directions of time and space, and wish nothing but the total despair and grief they have helped spread. They don’t deserve anything less.
So yeah, this is me after COVID. I’m tired of seeing all the hate, I’m tired of seeing all the stupidity… I’m just tired. I’m tired that the world doesn’t care enough, that humans have trekked backwards in evolution. I’m tired of feeling tired most of the time, trying desperately to feel the sense of energy I had before all of this. My only hope is that a global awareness will help change things in the end, and that my body and brain will repair itself to not view things in such a dismal and dark point of view. It seems like even my spiritual practice has taken a hit, and I’m not as positive or filled with faith as I used to be. I have glimpses of enormous clarity, which can sometimes last weeks… but in the end, it all fizzles away and reveals a planet that doesn’t care much about anything… except the right to do harm to others.
Local governments often tout technology as a way of making life easier for their residents, offering services such as electronic complaints, property database information, crime statistics, etc. Many of these services save the everyday citizen lots of money, reduce the carbon footprint related to travel, and help bring government into the amazing world of the digital age. Automation also helps save taxpayer dollars in regards to staffing, storage of physical records, time in research and others aspects of citizen services that used to require face to face interactions. While many of us marvel at these new and exciting methods of e-government, there are situations where your leaders count on your ignorance of technology and your familiarity with “the old ways” in order to make more money than they could ever do previously. Ignorance may be bliss, but it can be expensive as hell.
If you’ve ever had to pay for parking at a meter, you’ve no doubt encountered the situation where you’ve run out of change and scramble to find a miracle under the seat, or in the ashtray of your vehicle. The ancient sounds of quarters, dimes, and nickels falling into a meter, along with the familiar “zip” of the knob, is something current generations will probably never experience outside of a museum. In the past ten years, we’ve gone from very manual parking systems, meters with digital displays, vending style parking machines, to mobile device applications which take of everything necessary for you to park and get on with your business or beach day. However, much of the actual business process and transaction remains unchanged… you pay for the time you need to park, and if you under pay, you risk being issued an expensive citation. People have been accustomed to this method for decades and decades, and no one seems to question it… except me.
When ever one converts a business process to a digital format, there’s perhaps one rule you should always follow… you don’t re-create the same routine with a computer, you make it better, and you make it more efficient. You take the opportunity to look at the process holistically, and take advantage of the technology to do things that couldn’t be done before. That’s why it’s often referred to as a new “solution.” Otherwise you’re just wasting software to automate something that’s completely outdated, which doesn’t improve the process as much as it could be, or even not at all. It’s like if you made a program to create a digital sun dial, but didn’t include the option to set an alarm, have a calendar, or maybe even tell you audibly what time it was. I know this because I’ve been an information technology professional for over thirty years, and I know a thing or do about deploying new systems, solutions and processes. Yet our parking systems do exactly that, and are counting on your ignorance of technology and everyday citizens simply being used to the tradition of feeding a meter. You think it’s better because it’s on your phone and you don’t need physical coins, but what you don’t realize is that it could be modernized… but that would mean more money in your pocket, and less for those running the meters.
Yesterday I was parking in Miami-Beach and while using a phone based app, I tapped on my car’s license plate ID instead of that of my partner Eric’s car. I paid over ten dollars to park in a spot and then realized we were in his car, not mine. When I looked at the app, I noticed there wasn’t an option to change the vehicle I was using so I entered a customer service chat. Immediately a notice is displayed basically saying if you paid for parking and you made a mistake, you need to pay again. To add insult to injury, the representative on the live chat just validated what I just read. So parking last night ended up costing us twenty dollars for something that should have been half as much. But why didn’t the technology on my phone allow me to change the vehicle? It would certainly be a simple database update on active session, but then the city would lose out on some free cash. In essence, it’s the same as paying the wrong meter when you park, and Miami-Beach is counting on your accustomed feeling of permanency and featureless interactions when parking. They don’t want you to even think of the technological ability to fix such an error.
This becomes more apparent when you overpay for parking. In the old days, if you overpaid a meter, you paid it forward with sure delight as the next person parking discovers the meter paid, and their stay is free thanks to you. This tiny gesture surely had the ability to change your day for the better! However thanks to the digital age, if you paid for parking for thirty minutes, and you left after five, the city keeps the remaining funds and the next car starts from scratch. So why isn’t the system designed for you to end a parking session when you leave? Why should you pay for more time than you’re actually using the spot? Are you being penalized for not accurately timing the event accurately for which you parked for? Yup, you are. Of course people are so used to this kind of transaction, they don’t question it in the least. They are oblivious to what technology can offer them, and have been conditioned through the years to accept the loss. Meanwhile, parking operators are laughing all the way to the bank.
Probably the worse example of this kind of digital thievery occurs when you leave one spot, and drive to another location and park again. Now your mobile device displays two active parking sessions, when you’re only parked in one spot. What gives anyone the authority to bill you for something not being used? This is double dipping in the most literal of ways… you are being billed simply for thinking you needed to park somewhere longer than you needed to. Again, the population perfectly accepts this because they’re completely ignorant of the technological ability to convert the old process into a new and more efficient solution. A fool and their money are easily parted, so goes the famous saying… and it’s obviously true.
A parking system designed by me would have the option to create a bank of money within the parking application. You could put $20 in the bank per say, and then use it as needed… similar to the way electronic tolls are billed. When you use a spot, you would start the parking session, but when you left, you would end it. Sessions could be adjusted for time as they are now, but they could also be edited for a different vehicle in case you paid for the wrong one… or even to pay for a friend. This would inherently give you the option of transferring a current session to another spot. The entire point of metered parking is to pay for the spot, so who cares where it comes from, as long as the spot is payed for. This eliminates double dipping… “yeah okay” says the public official reading this. The city or parking company could still make lots of money on interest, holding onto all the money that’s just sitting there waiting to be used, but the consumer wouldn’t pay a single penny more than they had to. It’s a win win.
I had posted this idea in a community forum and I can’t tell how many persons scolded me for it. They were also thinking in terms of the past, completely dismissing technology, and accusing me of being irresponsible with my estimate of time. Seriously? That makes as much sense as denying someone state of the art cancer treatment because ten years ago it was considered a death sentence. If the technology can make something better, shouldn’t we hold our elected officials responsible for making it so? Why should they intentionally re-create the same process, just because citizens are used to it, and then reap the benefits of automation and efficiency? Shouldn’t the cost savings be passed onto the consumer? Apparently not.
I challenge you all to think of ways technology could obviously save you money, but it’s better for business and government to keep you familiar and accustomed to old ways of doing things because it makes them much more money. I’ll give you a head start… a bank charges you extra money for bouncing a check, and then transferring money from your savings account to cover it. You had the money there, it was available, however historically a person had to manually make the adjustment and that took time. Now it’s merely a line of code… an “if then” statement, completely automated and costs nothing. So why are we still be charged so much for the milliseconds it took for software to accomplish this? Think outside the box, people may hate you for it, but you’ll be a lot more the wiser… and possibly more frustrated than ever… like me.
I was looking through my Facebook feed the other day, and I saw a comment from one of my online friends, Mikey Mayweather. He always has something nice to say whenever I post, always filled with love and humor. Mikey lives across the country in California, is a DJ and an artist… filled with amazing energy. He’s also a black man. We have quite different interests and backgrounds, but my life is enriched by his presence, there’s no doubt about that. We both “love” love, so in that alone, there’s enough in common to forge this virtual bond of sorts. I do not know if we’ll ever meet in person, but it’s amazing what he’s taught me without even using words. One recent morning I saw his response to one of my posts, and I thought about how blessed I am that the color of our skin doesn’t separate us in anyway at all… if anything it brings us closer together. I know that he’s got my back and I have his so to speak, and perhaps that’s what we’re actually saying in the few phrases and salutations we do exchange online. The events of January 6th made me realize that so many individuals in our country are missing out on some amazing human beings and the lessons they have to teach us… all because of race. This brought me great sadness, however at the same time, brought to light that my life is truly enriched by embracing diversity… and we all could be.
“Still, there’s a wonderful world waiting for us that dare to acknowledge our inner workings… interactions with a rainbow of peoples and cultures, each and everyone waiting to pass along information that will only enrich our experience on this planet. “
I don’t want to sound self righteous here, that’s not the place this post is coming from. It’s coming from a very happy and joyous awareness, a type of excitement from knowing that the human experience is fully open to me, free to learn as much as I can during my lifetime. I’m also not going to be naïve, I know there are elements in my psyche that still contain racism, we have to acknowledge them in order to work against them. But my openness to explore and address what these feelings have to say, only makes my acceptance of others even greater. I learned that lesson while reading a book called White Fragility, introduced to me by another amazing online friend, Annmarie Slater. Being raised as white permanently programs us in ways that we can’t fully comprehend, especially since there’s so much we’ll never experience, primarily because we’re living as white people in a nation that favors us. Still, there’s a wonderful world waiting for us that dare to acknowledge our inner workings… interactions with a rainbow of peoples and cultures, each and everyone waiting to pass along information that will only enrich our experience on this planet. As someone that lives my life as an up-lifter, I just wish others could share this kind of love with me.
I have photos on my wall in my home office, of people that have inspired me all my life. Most of them are African American woman, as their personal struggles and battles they’ve fought have given me strength to move forward on days where I’ve felt like giving up. Each with their own story, none of which I would have known if I had closed the doors of inclusiveness into my life. As I’m writing this post, I’m looking at the photo of the latest framed addition, that of Ma Rainey. Known as the Mother of Blues, she wasn’t just a strong-minded person, she was ahead of her time as a woman… not just as a person of color. Ma Rainey was also open about her sexuality, and sung about her same sex experiences with her lovers. The positioning of her photo makes it appear as though she’s smiling down at me, separate from the other photographs in the room, just the way she was separate from so many of her time in history. I had seen the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix just the other weekend, and the awareness of her has enriched my life even further. For some reason, her energy fully resonates with me, almost as if I knew her back in the day. Her voice fills the room as I’m writing, her words available to me through the technology of Amazon’s Echo devices. Almost a hundred years after her songs were recorded, they continue to move, inspire… and enrich.
This Christmas will be the first one I celebrate without the awareness that my mom is just a phone call away. I remember last year, when she called me to have Eric and I go to her home, so she could give us the gifts she purchased online. She was always addicted to watching QVC, and the last Christmas gift we would ever receive from her would end up being a food storage container, one each for Eric and myself. We still use them today, I can almost hear my mom explaining how they go straight from the refrigerator to the microwave and how covenant they are. From watching QVC so much, she had learned to sell a product just as well as the hosts she loved watching for hours on end. She would even go as far as to record QVC on her DVR… a very dedicated fan for sure.
“There’s no room to complain this Christmas, we are truly fortunate despite everything and fully aware of what others are experiencing, and there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that level of awareness.”
I also remember how difficult it was for my mom to breathe last Christmas, and how living life day to day become a constant struggle. After she passed away, I had a dream where she came to me and told me how incredibly happy she was, that the body she was in had become so very heavy, and it was weighing her spirit down to the point where didn’t want it anymore. She was so thrilled to be light and floaty, enjoying her new found freedom to the fullest. It was such a happy dream, and it continues to offer great comfort to me. I truly miss my mom, but in no way do I miss her suffering and seeing her spiral into steep decline during the last months of her life.
This Christmas has been one of gratitude, as Eric and I are extremely aware of our blessings and have shared them as much as possible. We have worked with a program called Neighbors4Neighbors, to help families in need, and this has brought home the meaning of Christmas probably more than anything else. There’s also much to be thankful for, as we both experienced COVID19 infections and lived on to talk about it and offer advice when needed. We have amazing jobs and know how so many are without one during this dark time, so we never take for granted the necessity of waking up in the morning to get ready for work. There’s no room to complain this Christmas, we are truly fortunate despite everything and fully aware of what others are experiencing, and there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that level of awareness.
I hope that everyone reading this post receives a blessing… or even a Christmas miracle if that’s the path you follow. In truth, the only thing we have in life is each other, and it’s important to stick together regardless of the issues which kept us apart in the past. We need to help one another whenever possible, and always keep the spirit of unconditional love in our hearts, no matter what spiritual practice we follow. This Christmas I hope that people realize the true concept of the holiday, and look way past the artificial lines of division society places on us… in the end we all have love and humanity in common.
May you be blessed by your creator in ways you never dreamed possible. Blessed be. XOXO
Note: The beginning of this post was written while being treated in the hospital for COVID-19 and subsequently finished back at home.
I’ve never been in a hospital longer than an emergency room visit or outpatient procedure, so my current hospitalization while writing this post is a completely unique experience for me. I’m definitely not used to the isolation, the unanswered questions, the not knowing when I’ll be allowed to go back home. Although the level of care I’m receiving is outstanding, insecurities and uncertainties are doing their best to invade my psyche and chip away at my sense of positivity, something that so many identify with my personality and who I am as a person. I decided to share these feelings and my experience with COVID-19, since at the moment I have plenty of time on my hands while sitting in my hospital bed, and the days and nights are bleeding into one another like some amorphous expression of consciousnesses. Left alone to my thoughts, maybe there’s something constructive I can do with this journey, maybe someone can benefit from my story. With over seven million infections to date in our country, maybe someone out there will get the boost they need knowing there’s someone else out there that feels exactly the way they do.
My partner Eric and I always took great pride in doing the right thing during this pandemic, following instructions regarding masks, social distancing and not hanging out at large events. We didn’t want to be part of the problem and it was working. While part of the nation decided it would refuse to wear masks as some ultimate display of loyalty towards our president and a symbolic gesture of freedom, Eric and I wanted to make sure we were saving lives and helping to prevent the spread of this disease. Especially since my mother was gravely ill with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis when COVID-19 first made headlines, and infection would surely mean a death sentence for her. So we followed the rules and did our thing, finding tiny ways to make life employable while the world seemed to be shutting down and shifting into what seemed at times, utter chaos. We were trying to be the good guys for sure, and it seemed to be working.
On September 26th, Eric received the news that a co-worker of his had tested positive for the virus, and although initially concerned, I wasn’t super worried because everyone at his job was great about social distancing and following COVID-19 protocols. Eric would of course need to get tested the next day, and he proceeded to do so on Thursday. Out of an abundance of caution, his work site closed up shop until they had more answers. Since Eric works in the financial sector with a steady stream of customers throughout the day, they didn’t want to run the risk of further exposure to others. The process of initially locating a rapid testing site was a bit confusing, as there are are many locations, some of which are commercial, and everyone offers different kinds of tests. Eric settled on a MDNow location for his initial test, and then drove to a public testing site for rapid results screening. While there, Eric decided he just might as well do all the tests they offered just to be sure about his results. Not too long afterwards, Eric received notification that his rapid test was negative and we were very happy with the news, almost celebratory even. A nice take out meal would be in order to enjoy the evening together and take in the sense of relief.
While Eric and I were enjoying our dinner in our cozy living room, he received a call from the MDNow clinic, the caller id displaying part of the full name, MDNowUrgent, almost as if to warn about the impending news. Eric nervously answered the phone and after his information was verified, Eric discovered his rapid test was actually a false negative, and that he was actually positive with COVID-19. The surreal nature of the moment wasn’t lost to me, but it was somewhat anticlimactic at the same time. We knew so many people could test positive without serious symptoms, and only time would tell what course the disease would take with Eric. We at least had statistics on our side, and that offered some uneasy comfort to us both. I would also have to get tested, but again the level of concern wasn’t huge, just guarded as it were. Even when Eric started to feel run-down later that evening, we were wondering if his symptoms were actually from COVID-19, or possibly an overreaction to the news we received.
The next morning it was clear Eric wasn’t getting any better and his health obviously started to decline. I went to get tested myself at MDNow, and decided to make some chicken soup in anticipation of Eric’s ordeal. I have never made home made chicken soup in my life, but I took on a kind of instant pride of being Eric’s caretaker, and I was going to heal him the old fashioned way… with lots of love and lots of spoiling. I channeled my mother’s spirit for the ingredients to her soup recipe, and even heard “you forgot flat leaf parsley” while thinking of what the ingredients might be. Everything seemed to be falling into place, and I figured this would end up being just a nasty bug for Eric. I was in the zone for sure and we were gonna make it through this will little effort, if any.
Eric symptoms gradually got worse and he was miserable. I was waking him up on a regular basis, reminding him to take in fluids and serving him broth from what ended up being the most delicious organic chicken soup, if I must say so myself. Eric basically slept all day and I was happily playing nurse and loving the opportunity to help him during his time of need. I’m a giver and a caretaker at heart, so this experience was pushing all the right emotional buttons, reminding me of my mom and how she’d take care of me while I was sick as a child… and even not so too long ago after surgery in 2013. My COVID19 test came had come back negative, and although it surprised me, I figured this was the Universe letting me know I’d be taking care of Eric for the long haul, and that’s how it would simply play out. So far, so good, balance and harmony at work in the energetic fabric of time and space.
The following Monday I started not feeling so great and Eric seemed like he was starting to recover, the worse of his symptoms lasting only several days at best. I decided it was in everyone’s best interest to get tested again, so I made an appointment at a public testing facility. Initially my symptoms were mostly feeling like I was coming down with a nasty cold, similar to what Eric felt, and I was also feeling tingling in the gums, a sensation that always precedes some kind of illness with me. I think driving up at the public testing site was the first out of many of times, that I would notice an awareness in some people that they were doing something very important, and took pride in knowing they were possibly saving lives. Their energy and courtesy instantly made me feel great, and went through the several lines in my car with ease.
As the day went by I began to feel increasingly under the weather. My sense of taste began to diminish, and then disappeared entirely. I felt like I had a fever but my temperature was low, actually below normal. I didn’t feel like eating, and even drinking water or juice was a pain. I began to lose interest in basically everything, but what I also noticed was really starting to concern me. Everyone in my family knew Eric and was sick and they were constantly reaching out to me to find out how he was feeling. Of course this sense of family and caring being extended to my partner meant the world to me, not too many gay men can claim they’ve experienced that. However, I could tell that my family didn’t think I was sick at all, and that my recent negative test was proof of that, and most likely I was literally “making up” the symptoms subconsciously. It was subtle at first but then I noticed my sister texting things like “So you’ll live in other words…” and that really felt horrible as my symptoms progressed. I was being asked over and over by my siblings “Do you have a fever?” and when my answer was no, this just reinforced their hypothesis that my condition was “sympathetic” at best to Eric’s diagnosis.
Nighttime had become extremely difficult and on one instance I found myself shivering as if I was dying of fever. At times the shaking was so intense, it felt like a seizure, and I was wondering to myself “When do I call 911?” With no fever still, I was feeling extremely concerned, thinking that perhaps I even had sepsis from cutting myself while shaving. These increasingly bizarre thoughts and insecurities would be common place as I would soon learn during my infection. Through the recommendation of a co-worker the next day, I decided to use a tele-health service offered by our local hospital, and that changed everything. I didn’t feel like some little kid who’s family thought he just wanted attention, no…. I was sick and this was textbook COVID-19. The doctor validated my concerns about my testing scenario and said I would probably test positive later that day, but some people take much longer to convert. She also said the fever would come and now was the time to prepare my body by taking in fluids, vitamins and resting… much in the same way I did for Eric when he resembled a bedded zombie.
As the days continued to progress, and I was on about day five of my symptoms, Eric began to show great strides in his own recovery. He was full-on taking care of the dogs and I had become the zombie. I started to experience nausea and had started throwing up what little food or liquids I could handle. My fever hovered around 100.1, something that my prompted my sister to respond with “Is that even considered a fever?” Her Trump leanings are sometimes very evident, and it was sad that even during this time and seeing what was happening to me, her skepticism, however small, was making little trips to the surface for air. I had now tested positive for COVID-19, but the general attitude in the family was that it would be a four day sickness, something that didn’t gel with the general feeling of foreboding I had in my gut. By the weekend my cough worsened and there was blood in my sputum. I was in great pain that shot through my body, and the pulse-oximeter I purchased was showing my blood oxygen levels in the low 90’s. Something wasn’t headed in the right direction.
I think it was Saturday when my friend from work texted me to see how I was doing. Karla found out I was sick through the grapevine… we are a very tight knit department, so when I tested positive the news spread rapidly, not to mention I had visited our office only days before Eric’s test results. Since March, most of the department has worked from home as a safety precaution, however I needed to get my laptop upgraded and that meant dropping it off to a technician in our building. My positive test meant sending anyone I interacted with home (verified through security video footage) and conducting some very thorough sterilization procedures. As I was texting with Karla, I told her about the blood in my sputum and she immediately responded with “No!!! Call your doctor. Coughing blood is not normal.”
Thankfully I decided to take Karla’s advice and contacted my primary care doctor first thing Monday morning. The blood in my sputum had increased, and my O2 level wasn’t the best, hovering around 91 and 92 percent saturation. They scheduled an appointment for Tuesday morning and I was good with waiting one more day, even though the coughing was getting so much worse, sometimes extending into fits which made me like I was going to pass out. Needless to say I was looking forward to getting some much needed attention for my symptoms, COVID-19 has this way of making you feel very disconnected and of course the added confusion I was experiencing wasn’t helping much either. I was really in a scary place, feeling as though my health was in a rapid decline, and also feeling like few in my family were taking me seriously. Talk about feeling completely alone and not having all your faculties together.
The morning of my video appointment with my primary care was tough. I was coughing up more blood in my sputum, a nice bright red which meant it was pretty fresh, and I was feeling like total shit. When I finally connected with my doctor, it didn’t take him long to tell me I needed to visit the emergency room, that he was concerned I could have a pulmonary embolism. Holy shit, those were some tough words to hear, I knew I was getting worse, but I didn’t realize it was that bad. My doctor told me he would forward orders for a CT Scan and chest x-ray, and I needed to go as soon as possible. I got up from the computer and I walked over to Eric, still trying to process everything the doctor told me. When I explained to him that I could have an embolism, the look of fear quickly washed over his face. I wanted to take a shower but he recommended we leave right then, and so we did.
Walking into an emergency room with full blown COVID-19 is a very strange experience. You’re not only feeling extremely ill, but you feel as though everyone is staring at you, like they know already you’re carrying a contagious disease which has killed over a million people. As I walked through the automatic doors of Baptist Hospital’s emergency room, a triage nurse was stationed right there to make sure people like me didn’t walk around everywhere looking for assistance. I immediately told her I was COVID positive, and that my doctor sent me here for diagnostic testing. I was somewhat comforted by her response to me, clearly she had dealt with others in the same situation, and as such, was very calm, relaxed and extremely professional. I was directed to have a seat in the very large waiting area, where chairs were widely spaced… what seemed like at least ten feet apart.
I don’t think I sat there for more than a few minutes before I was put into a wheel chair and taken to a bed within the ER. Interestingly enough, my memory of what happened next is sort of fragmented, which makes complete sense because my oxygen saturation levels were quickly declining. I know I was almost immediately put into a gown and placed on oxygen. They placed electrodes on my chest and then not long afterwards, I started into a coughing fit. My perception of the following events is somewhat different than Eric’s. While I was coughing and gasping for air, it seemed like an eternity before someone showed up… turns out not being able to breathe makes time move pretty slow. On the other hand, Eric was super impressed with not only how fast they came to assist me, but that the decision was made almost instantly to move me to a negative pressure room where I would be given a breathing treatment of albuterol. It goes without saying that this would be one of the many times during my stay at Baptist Hospital, that I would be blown away by their preparedness to handle COVID-19 patients even though it was a relatively new disease.
Albuterol is a drug that opens your airways, my mom used to take it daily to treat her pulmonary fibrosis. It’s administered in an ultra-fine mist that you breathe in… and also exhale the excess. Because the mist is so fine and it’s been in your lungs with your new best friend Mr. 19, it can infect others in the room as it floats around. A negative pressure room is basically a designated room in the ER with a door, and a large floor to ceiling machine with white duct work. It has a very bio-hazard look to it, and it’s loud while it sucks out all the air from the area along with any contaminated albuterol mist from my lungs. Once the treatment begins, everyone has to leave the room as a safety precaution, and that alone is pretty unnerving. I think maybe it had been 30 minutes since I walked through the doors of the ER and I was already in this strange looking area, all by myself, getting a treatment so I could actually breathe.
After I had finished with the albuterol, I would be wheeled back into my original room in the ER feeling much more alert than before. It’s amazing what a little O2 can do for your brain. A nurse walked in an introduced herself, she was so very kind and funny, even telling me some pretty cool factoids about her scrubs to lift my spirits. Being a former docent at a zoo, I loved this kind of information and it really put my mind at ease. Turns out her scrubs, glossy pink in color, were made from the same material as air bags so they would be more anti-microbial than the traditional cloth ones we’re used to seeing. Of course, the scrubs weren’t the only thing different about people that came to interact with me. They also wore black rubber masks with purple respirators… like a gas mask that didn’t cover the eyes. Speaking of eyes, they wore protection that looked much like the goggles you wore in chemistry class in high school. Clearly the safety of the staff tending to me was also a huge priority for the hospital. The only problem was that almost everyone looked the same to me, and it was hard to tell the difference between the many amazing nurses that took care of me during my stay, so I started notating their names on my phone.
A couple of hours had passed since I arrived at the emergency room and by then I had a chest x-ray, CT-Scan and lots of labs including a blood gas. The gentlemen that performed the test was an expert, and I honestly didn’t feel a thing despite a needle being stuck deep into my wrist with a needle. He had given me some lidocaine first, which really helped make the procedure completely painless. Not too long afterwards I was given a small lunch, told I was being admitted and that my room was nearly ready and waiting for me. I was really blown away at the speed which everything seemed to be happening, and I sensed this was partly due to my diagnosis and condition. I would be brought to the COVID-19 area of this hospital… called 4 Tower, something I was familiar with since I volunteered there for a couple of years as a teenager. Before I knew it I was being wheeled into my room, a little scared and wondering how long I would be there. It was then that a nurse looked at me and said “Oh look, it’s my new patient!”
You’re not allowed to have visitors when you have COVID-19, the only people you see are heavily masked, gloved and covered up with fancy scrubs. It’s hard sometimes to understand their words because of the personal protective equipment (PPE) they’re wearing, but I noticed something almost immediately… these layers of rubber and synthetic materials didn’t affect their desire, disposition or level of care I received. This made all the difference since I would have felt like a lab rat with all the needles, hoses, injections, IV bags and machines around me. There was so much I didn’t know or understand… I felt instantly cut off from my friends and family, feeling almost as if I was there against my will. I started thinking of the show Orange Is The New Black and suddenly felt the need to hold back tears. I didn’t want to lose it and cry, these people were here to help me and I needed to focus on the intention, not the perception of the information my senses were picking up. I would later call this feeling of fear and confusion “COVID on the brain. “
I slept a lot the first day I was in the hospital, the cozy and comforting kind of naps you associate with your couch and rainy days. I was exhausted from what I had been going through at home, and my body totally needed the rest. As I began to wake up I coughed a little, and then some more… and then more after that. I had entered a full blown coughing fit and it hurt like hell. I could barely catch a breath between coughs, so I picked up my hospital bed control thingy to call the nurses station. It’s the weirdest sensation knowing all you have to do is press that button, but the instruction to cough is queued up in your head multiple times. It’s like you have to wait for those commands to be processed until your finger finally presses the button… and then you wait for someone to respond. Fortunately a nurse answered quickly and I had to summon the strength to get the words “I can’t stop coughing!” out of my mouth. When the nurse arrived to my room, she saw the situation I was in and immediately ordered more cough medicine with codeine in it. Relief came eventually, but not fast enough… I started to develop anxiety just thinking about the next coughing fit, which of course would come.
Nighttime came and the loneliness really starts to set in. There’s some comfort when dinner arrives, Baptist Hospital is known for their great food and they lived up to their reputation. Eric called me via FaceTime and it was great to see him, but it also saddened me. I could see how scared he was and I didn’t want him to be afraid. I wanted to be there to comfort him and I couldn’t be. He had left the emergency room after I was taken for my CT-Scan… we have three dogs at home that needed walking and he wasn’t allowed to come up to my room… so he drove home, called his parents on the way… and cried. Eric laughed about it during our FaceTime chat, but I could tell he was still very concerned about my well being… and so was I.
“These strangers also got sick with COVID-19 and decided to use their experience to possibly save the life of another… my life.”
Sleeping in a hospital is never easy. I had done it before while staying with my mom and even once my dad. However as a patient it’s completely different and I would soon learn that you’re basically woken every couple of hours to make sure you’re alive, to draw blood, take your blood pressure or inject you with something. If a human doesn’t wake up you, a machine will, as it complains in a digital fashion with a variety of beeps. Having slept most of the day, I found it really difficult to sleep at night. I was anxious and started to feel agitated about everything from the phone that was tucked by my side, to the oxygen tube running up my nose, and even the noises coming from other rooms. I didn’t know it then, but I would soon discover that much of my emotions were being heightened by the steroid dexamthasone I was being administered on a daily basis. It also would make it nearly impossible for me to sleep during most of my stay.
The next few days would bring about a variety of revelations, one of which was kind of a surprise to me. No one really tells you how long they’re going to keep you in the hospital when you have COVID-19, and being that insurance companies are involved, I thought this would be kept to an absolutely minimum. I was pretty taken back when I think on the third day I asked how long I would be there, and was basically told they couldn’t even think about that until my oxygen saturation improved. I was on three liters of oxygen at the time, and often couldn’t maintain a saturation above 92/93 percent. That news pretty much solidified for me that I was in pretty bad shape, and had I not gone to the hospital when I did, I would have not survived. This was made even more evident when I was told that donor plasma was being ordered for me, and I was being given one of the same experimental medications the President was being treated with, remdesivir. Basically they weren’t taking any chances with me… I wasn’t a mild case, I needed all the help I could get.
One thing I was totally not prepared for, would change me in ways I’m still trying to figure out. I experienced an immense outpouring of love and support from friends, family, co-workers, FaceBook friends and people I have never met. My phone was blowing up with text messages and emails from so many individuals, some of which I have always respected and admired, but had no clue the feeling was mutual. Part of my duties at work involved Zoom video support of a local LGBTQ Advisory Board, and I was touched deeply when their Program Director and Chairwoman were texting me daily. Then to top if off, my extremely loving co-worker Ana tells me the entire board said a prayer together for me… heart chakra explosion… tears… just amazing. If that weren’t enough, the online spiritual groups I belong to just went all out with announcements, prayers, energy healings… you name it. Just when I thought I couldn’t handle anymore expressions of love, care packages began to arrive from my sister and several very dear friends of mine, crowding my small hospital room. If you’ve listened to my podcast, you might have heard my co-worker Pauline speak about her experience as an African-American woman in information technology. However, during this entire ordeal, she was like a mom to me, calling twice a day to ask how I was feeling. I can’t describe how much this meant, and I will never forget this expression of love and kindness.
Even with all this love being directed at me, the days began to gradually bleed into one another, day and night having no real meaning. I became so used to the routine of getting blood drawn at 4 AM, getting my anti-coagulant injection in the stomach, and having my blood pressure taken every three hours, that I could literally sleep my way through it. The exception was one late evening, when my donor plasma arrived shortly before midnight. They have to check up on you constantly while it’s being transfused, going as far as to sit outside your door the first 30 minutes to make sure you’re not having an allergic reaction. Once again the commitment to care I received was absolutely incredible, and the nurse performing this procedure was not only amazing, she was making me laugh. The floor was extremely busy that night and there was lots going on, but she chatted with me about how her evening was going and what she needed to do with the plasma. I actually felt like my care was more of a partnership at that point, she wasn’t just treating a sick patient, she was involving me and it was awesome.
While the plasma slowly emptied from the bag and into my body, I couldn’t help but to look up at in and get lost in what was happening. I looked at the clear brownish liquid and took a moment to thank the person or persons it came from. Here I was, sick in the hospital receiving treatment to save my life, and it was in the form of a complete desire to help others and nothing more. These strangers also got sick with COVID-19 and decided to use their experience to possibly save the life of another… my life. As I’m thinking about this completely selfless act, another thought enters my mind, the awareness of people that won’t perform the simple task of wearing a mask which could also save a life… or even end one should they decide not to. No needles in the arm, no traveling to a location to have someone collect your blood… just a simple piece of fabric over your face, that could have the same end result as this huge bag of plasma. These thoughts continued to ruminate in my head… amazing people donating their time and life supporting fluids, compared to those that make the choice to possibly infect others in order to show allegiance to some political party or ideology. Seriously how did this extreme duality even come about in the first place? Was our society always this way? Or has it manifested itself through current leadership? Whatever the answer is, I was completely terrified by this realization. Finally the large bag of plasma finally emptied around 2:30 in the morning, which happened to be my nurses’ lunch break. She stopped eating her meal and came in to ask me how I was doing and silenced the IV machine which was loudly complaining. After disconnecting the empty vinyl pouch from my line, she said goodnight to me and I drifted off to sleep wondering why some people could be so kind and caring, and others could be so careless and cruel.
Examples of kindness continued to make themselves known as each day went by and I started to fight the urge to fall into a depression. The staff of Baptist Hospital kept me going each day, their dedication giving me the will to deal with yet another day of crappy cable television, coughing fits and mostly sleepless nights. One nurse in particular, treated me as though I was her son during her shift. Her motherly energy radiated outward, and this reminded me of my own mother whom I lost only several months earlier. Here was someone up in the middle of the night instead of at home, covered in bulky PPE equipment, taking care of a complete stranger with a contagious and potentially deadly disease, and she did it with a level of compassion and understanding that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. To top if off, she was an older African American woman, and had no doubt experienced the exact opposite from white men like me during the course of her lifetime. This awareness of her humanity moved me tremendously, and I was saddened to see her go in the morning when her shift ended.
It was day five of my stay that I was told that I would be doing a six minute ‘O2 Walk” through the hallways of the floor. This would be done without the aid of oxygen and would help determine not only if I was going to go home soon, but if I would qualify for portable O2 at home. Memories of my mom and her oxygen machine flooded my head, and I become somewhat emotionally distressed at the prospect of having my own unit, as if somehow our fates would be the same. Not too long afterwards, a nurse entered my room with my very own airbag scrub outfit, and I got to see how it was to actually wear something that looked so uncomfortable. Turns out, they weren’t all that bad… at least for the six minutes that I was walking. The verdict was that my oxygen stayed between 92 and 94 while I was walking, and that wasn’t bad at all for someone being treated for a nasty case of COVID-19 pneumonia. I became very excited when the nurse mentioned the possibility of me actually going home the next day, which would end up being the sixth and final day of my hospitalization.
“COVID-19 was a blessing of sorts to me, the perspectives I have gained have been truly life changing, and I want to make sure I don’t lose site of them.”
The day finally came when I would be discharged and sent back home. As Eric was driving me back to our condo, I couldn’t believe it had been six days since I was admitted. It all seemed like a blur, like it was just one of those dreams you have that seem to last all night and make you extremely restless. I was so happy to be going home, but at the same time, felt somewhat disconnected. I don’t know how to describe it really… perhaps part of it had to do with the various steroids and other medications that were in my system. Our dogs didn’t even seem that excited I was home, almost less excitement than usual. I took a much needed nap back in the guestroom where I continue to sleep, over a month since being tested positive. Even though Eric was the source of my infection, I didn’t want to risk re-infecting him, something that was recommended to me by the various doctors that treated me and continue to do so. Hopefully by Tuesday of next week I will be cleared to be a part of the general population, and Eric and I can enjoy dinners outdoors on Lincoln Road once again.
The strangest and most spectacular thing happened to me the next morning, something that I wasn’t even expecting. I woke up for the first time at home in almost a week, and everything was completely different. Every single aspect of my awareness was a blessing… the sun coming in through the window, the person talking about wood carving on public television, greeting Eric after he woke up, a glass of milk… it all seemed to radiate like magic. Every single moment… every second of every minute, was something to be celebrated. I was alive and that was everything. I felt as though I knew why we were all here, what our purpose was, and I fully understood it. It wasn’t complicated at all, it was to enjoy the very essence of being on this planet and to live it to the fullest. It was almost as though I wondered why everyone wasn’t celebrating all the time. This feeling didn’t go away rapidly either, it stayed for hours and hours until gradually subsiding. It was truly a spiritual experience, and I journaled about it in great detail so I would be able to hang onto this sense of appreciation for as long as possible, for the rest of my life even. I never wanted to forget this feeling of gratitude and appreciation, not just for my life, but for everyone else around me and their contributions to my life.
While my awareness of my continued blessings seem to lift me to cloud nine, and familiar kind of anger creeped back in. Just as I did while hospitalized, I became hyper aware of those persons on this planet trying to do good, and those who blatantly refuse in order to prove a point. It was a stark contrast to the people I had seen in the hospital, everyone trying with great effort to treat those infected with COVID-19, while a quick look out my window at home revealed those who couldn’t care less. And there was lots of them. I wanted scream at people without masks from my balcony, and let them know this wasn’t fake, it was completely real. In fact, my first FaceBook post, while overwhelmingly filled with positive, loving and much appreciated feedback, yielded a response from someone that said they were glad I was better, from “whatever it was I had.” This stung big time… there’s nothing worse than someone trying to take away ownership of your pain, and on top of that, making it about themselves. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. Twitter offered much of the same in even greater frequency, people with a completely warped sense of reality, countering my attempts to raise awareness. At first I thought about blocking them or taking my post down, but then I realized it’s important that others see how dangerous an unchecked political ideology can be. Science goes out the window, and the words of a bankrupt reality star become gospel. Scary times we live in.
So this is me now. I am almost fully recovered, still coughing but that will remain for some time I’m told. I monitor my oxygen saturation levels on a daily basis, and I do lung exercises to help improve my breathing. Every now and then I get out of breath, and I have to use a rescue inhaler. I also have an extremely low tolerance for anyone that doesn’t want to make this world a better place. Simple as that. If you don’t want to help others, uplift them, make them feel great about themselves, lend a hand when they need it, go the extra mile for your fellow human… then I don’t want to know you. It’s not my job to make you feel better about yourself, because clearly you are one miserable person. If you can’t wear a mask because you think it violates your rights, then you must think you have a right to needlessly endanger and possibly kill others. If you are assaulted by another person you go to jail, microbial assault is no different. The human thing to do is to prevent this from spreading, not to encourage others to cause harm through your words and actions. I just don’t have the time to deal with people like this, because the energy it takes to do so must be directed at the good human beings of this world that truly need our help. That’s where my resources are going from now on, supporting those that support others. COVID-19 was a blessing of sorts to me, the perspectives I have gained have been truly life changing, and I want to make sure I don’t lose site of them. With everything going on right now in our country, things may seem like a total shit show, but there are still good and wonderful souls out there, trying to making a difference and succeeding… just like they did for me.
I remember being in my office on September 11th, 2001, and my co-worker Fred saying a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. At first this didn’t strike me as anything big, I remember hearing about a small plane hitting them before, and the damage hadn’t been that significant. Fred decided to pull out his small portable TV, and we all huddled around to watch it unfold. I will never forget seeing the images of the first plane hitting and the explosion that followed. It was completely surreal. At the time no one knew what was going on, it appeared to be some kind of freak accident for sure. Our small group then decided the television set in our training facility was much larger, and would allow us all to see what was going on without being cramped into a small cubicle… standing shoulder to shoulder around a four inch screen. So we ran down to the 11th floor and watched in dismay, as the building burned. We watched in absolute horror as the scenes unfolded… and then absorbed the news that our country was under attack from terrorists. I had to run to the bathroom and on the way back to the training room, I saw my co-worker Karla nervously running out of the room with a frightened look on her face, telling me she was going to get her kids. Trying to hold back tears and clearly panicked, she quickly uttered “They just attacked the Pentagon.”
One by one the towers fell and more reports came in about other government buildings being attacked. The decision was made to send us home, and I remember my close friend Tania telling me she would drive me home. With her toddler Anthony in the back seat, we took back roads to avoid the chaos of drivers trying to reach their families, just as we were. The news on the radio was grim and frightening, so much was going on and there was much misinformation about what was actually happening. After Tania dropped me off, I logged onto AOL to see how the online world was reacting and what they were saying. Smartphones didn’t exist back then, so life “connected” was usually experienced in the privacy of your own home, something I had been doing for over a decade at the time. I had found some friends and they were freaking out like everyone else, wondering if people they knew were safe. As the day progressed more reports came in, and we mourned collectively as nation. We didn’t know what the world was going to be like the next day, and everyone went to bed that night with a certain level of uncertainty.
The next couple of days saw our nation rallying together like I hadn’t witnessed since the Gulf War. People were grouping up on street corners waving flags, holding up posters and cheering on drivers all times during the day or night. We were helping and supporting each other, looking past any and all differences to demonstrate that as a united nation, we were unstoppable. Many people initially wanted to turn the middle east into a “parking lot” or a “sheet of glass,” as descriptive examples of nuclear warfare littered conversations. However, many people realized that doing so would make us no better than our attackers, and during this time of crisis, we needed to make sure we targeted only those responsible for the pain and suffering so many had experienced. I remember interfaith services in the lobby of my employer’s headquarters, people hugging, crying and consoling each other. We were making promises to never forget and to remain united and strong for all time. Still, many found it very acceptable to demonstrate hatred and rage towards people of the Muslim faith, while at the same time professing unwavering patriotism.
Friday marked the 19th anniversary after the September 11th attacks. I started to write this post and suddenly decided I needed to re-experience the events of the day by watching it on YouTube, almost as a way to honor those lost… and the day we all joined hands. It doesn’t take a college professor to realize that September 11th changed us a country forever. We began to torture our captives to get answers and information about possible threats, while our freedoms and rights to privacy were attacked by our own government in exchange for perceived safety. Hatred was given a license to operate by many, and that permission has grown exponentially… all in the name of patriotism. The horrible events of September 11th had been burned into the collective psyche of so many, that any demonstration of anger or resentment to our own country or people, was akin to being a traitor. I remember this kind of mentality even inserted itself into my own consciousness for a while, after becoming so incredibly upset during a phone conversation I had with a guy I was courting online. I was literally scared that his anger towards the United States would cause him to be flagged by law enforcement, and I quickly found myself avoiding him at all costs. I considered him to be radical, and in retrospect, he was simply being truthful about our nation’s involvement overseas. His remarks weren’t any different from what many commentators and journalists say on the news today, it was literally just “too soon. “
I find myself feeling angered at times when I see younger people posting about geopolitics online, and what we should or shouldn’t be doing about certain situations abroad. I know it’s not fair to them, but they’ll never know what it’s like to be so aware of the events of September 11th as they unfolded live almost twenty years ago. Many of them were still watching Saturday morning cartoons and knew more about brands of cereal than they did about the names of countries in the Middle East. They will never know about how our country used to be like, how it was to walk your family members directly to the gate of an airplane, and kiss them goodbye with your shoelaces still tightly secured. They will never know how unified we were, and don’t realize the hatred they spew towards flag kneelers has part of its roots in that awful day. Their version of “freedom” is not the same as mine, and they’ll never know the world used to view us as one of the good guys, and not just a military power kicking ass everywhere. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’ve learned when they say to “never forget” September 11th, it wasn’t about holding a grudge towards a certain faith, it was about how we felt the day after… a nation undivided.
In the early morning hours of June 9th, I found myself almost sitting up in bed, my arms reaching out into the darkness, trying to grab, or even hold onto, a female presence. I didn’t know who she was or what she looked like, only that something was concluding… a dream of some kind maybe. I didn’t put much thought into it and fell back asleep. I’m often visited or have interactions of some sort while sleeping… sometimes they are subtle, just an awareness of someone watching me or present… sometimes it’s a loud voice yelling, sometimes a whisper. Strange as it may sound, I’m seldom frightened and usually tell who or what ever it is, to just “go away, I’m sleeping.” I still wonder if the interaction that morning was actually much more than it seemed, perhaps it was even my mom… saying goodbye.
I was working from home when I noticed the phone call from my brother in Atlanta. He usually texts me, so immediately I knew something had to be wrong. I instantly thought of my mother, recent events having me somewhat anticipating this call. I wasn’t thinking of what happened much earlier that morning, but I had known for some time my mom was giving up on the battle against the lung disease that would claim her life. For over six years she had been tethered to an oxygen machine of some sort, having been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis… basically scaring of the lungs. Little by little breathing had become more difficult for her, while her desire to live less and less. About a month before her passing she had shared my post on FaceBook, probably the first time she had done so, about my Uncle Joey that died in World War II at the age of 21. “I remember the day you picked me up from school…” she had written, and I immediately knew what she actually was saying. It was like I could translate her words into some kind of higher meaning, and I began to sob at the dinner table the evening I read it. My partner Eric became extremely concerned and asked me what was wrong. I explained to him that my mom’s post was actually her way of asking her brother to come pick her up once again. I sobbed and expressed my sense of knowing she wouldn’t be around much longer.
My brother’s voice on the phone was very caring and at the same time almost professional sounding. Being a minister for a large hospice organization, he had done this many times before… although never for his own family.
“Where are you right now?” he asked with almost a quiver in his voice.
“I’m at home, I’m here.” I responded with an escalating level of anxiety as the sensation of deep concern and loss began to build up inside of me.
“Mom has passed, Bibi found her on the floor. She’s on the other line.”
My heart sank so very low. The moment my sister and I had dreaded since we were young children had finally arrived. The knowledge of how it would occur, where we would all be… it was all known in the present moment, part of my awareness… and part of my life forever. My brother connected my sister to the call and I could hear her sobbing loudly and painfully. The memory of it brings me to tears as I can clearly hear her voice… and the pain, with amazing clarity. I doubt as the years pass it will ever dull, become less loud, or become a whisper as so many memories often do. I became choked up and called to my sister, speaking about how much I loved her, how sorry I was… and that I would be over there soon to be with her. My brother began giving me instructions and for some reason, I can’t hardly remember them. He wanted my sister’s children to be able to see their grandmother one last time, but that would mean removing her body from the floor and placing her in bed. The wise decision was made to leave my mom where she was until the police could arrive an conduct their investigation.
After hanging up the phone I immediately called my partner Eric and told him what happened. The memories of calling others to pass on the information of my best friend’s death over twenty years ago came flooding back to me. This was a horrible but necessary action, one that would potentially become more frequent as I got older. Eric was completely shocked, the emotion in his voice easily recognizable. He said he would immediately leave the office and meet me at home. I ended the call and jumped into the shower… the first ever without the awareness of my mom being alive and just a phone call away.
When I arrived at my mother’s home with Eric, there were a couple of police cars outside and a female officer standing under a tree in the parking area. As I approached the front door, a neighbor approached me, masked and keeping her distance, as most concerned people do during the COVID19 pandemic. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mom, I loved her very very much.” It was easy to see the expression of sorrow in her eyes, even though she was speaking through a facial covering. I felt bad I didn’t recognize this neighbor as I was somewhat in a state of confusion. I thanked her and walked inside, immediately catching a glimpse of another officer standing by my mother’s bedroom door which was shut. My sister immediately ran up to me and we hugged, sobbing as we embraced each other. My brother Gary and his wife Ana we also there, and after embracing them as well, we all sat down, having the conversations one does after losing someone unexpectedly. What happened… who saw her… who didn’t want to see her… did she look bad and the like. It was such a bizarre feeling and at the same instance, a time of coming together and knowing this was a part of life, and that we weren’t experiencing it alone. Yes my father had passed away decades before of cancer, but the experience was completely different in every way… this was our mom, the matriarch of the family.
I don’t think two days had even passed when Eric came up with the idea of heading back to the Florida Keys, and enjoying Key West together as a family. Eric and I had taken my mom there in 2014, and she so enjoyed the drive and the food. The keys was actually a favorite place for her, having taken many road trips there with my Aunt Olga and Uncle Gene. It also wasn’t uncommon to take my mom to the Keys for spontaneous lunches or Mother’s Day, she loved looking at the water and she absolutely loved seafood. My entire family embraced the idea with a level of enthusiasm never seen before. It would be such an appropriate tribute to my mom and the very first time ever… yes ever… that we would all be together for a period longer than a few hours. It seemed like my mom’s spirit was thrilled as well, to have most of her kids together at the same time. The only possible exception would be my eldest brother Jon, whom I hadn’t really spoken with or seen in over ten years. A complicated history of family trauma, hurt feelings and anger had been keeping us apart. The question in everyone’s heart’s and minds was whether my mom’s passing would be the spark of love we needed to begin healing… in more ways than one.
Weeks passed and the news was suddenly flooding the group text chat on our phones… something we had done for several years, with an occasional lapse in participation mostly by me, in an attempt to assert my individuality and or importance. Being the youngest of five children isn’t easy at times, and I’ve often felt like an afterthought in the grand scheme of family politics and social interaction. Still, recent revelations had brought us all together with one exception, my brother Jon… and we were all missing him tremendously. “Jon and Michele are coming to the keys!” one of my brothers, I can’t remember which one, texted in a joyous excitement that could be felt in the illuminated characters on the screen. We all became instantly excited, not only because we would see him and his wife again, but the prospect of being all together for the first time in a very long while. Of course the prospect of being a family again was also on our minds, something my mom would be credited with as one of her final accomplishments. The knowledge of all this coming together with such ease and a minimal amount of effort could not be overlooked. Our family was absolutely horrible to plan anything with, and in the time frame of just a couple of weeks, had managed to locate an open resort in Key West during a pandemic, charter a sail boat for my mom’s memorial service, and reunite with my brother Jon and his wife Michele. Truly amazing, and clearly a miracle of divine proportion and design.
“Holding back tears himself, he described how my mom brought us into this world through our birth, and in her death, brought us all back together.”
I so love walking down Duval Street in Key West, it has a unique energy that has this kind of charm to it. It’s within a part of the island called “Old Town Key West” and it’s perfectly named since so many of the buildings look the same as they did a century or more earlier. As Eric and I were walking this particular Friday afternoon, I received a text message that my brother Jon was with the rest of family walking in our direction. I had a mixture of feelings… apprehension, excitement, even a little bit of anxiety thrown in for good measure. As we turned a corner, there he was, looking much the same as I last remembered him. He smiled and approached me with love and open arms. I gave him a huge hug and started to tear up with emotion, holding onto him tight and letting him know I didn’t want him to ever leave my awareness again. Michele, Jon’s wife, was there too, complete with her infectious smile and a welcome equally as warm. It was the first of many miracles that would occur during our time in the Keys together, one that I know my mom extremely was proud of. Her spirit and energy was readily felt during our entire stay, and at times I found myself looking for her as if she was somewhere to be seen.
The next day we all boarded a beautiful sailboat that my brother Gary had located online. My sister had chartered it for the late afternoon going into sunset, a perfect ending to my mother’s journey in the physical. My father’s ashes would join her too, having been stored for years in the garage and even lost at times. We had never settled on a time and place to honor him, and this seemed like the perfect place for my mom and him both. In retrospect it almost seemed like their spirits planned this from the start, as a kind of perfect farewell. My father being an avid fisherman (even commercially at one point) and my mother loving the sea, made this all seem like a carefully orchestrated event. My brother would deliver a beautiful service, dressed in his ministry robes as my mom would have wanted… and been so proud of. Holding back tears himself, he described how my mom brought us into this world through our birth, and in her death, brought us all back together. The words couldn’t have been more appropriate as we gathered together once again as a family, our bonds stronger than ever. As my mom’s ashes went into the water, the winds on the ocean picked up fiercely, as a very dark and ominous thunderstorm approached… black massive clouds against the backdrop of a beautiful orange and red Florida Keys sunset. My mother’s spirit couldn’t have felt more present, she might as well have been there in the physical, as my memories of that evening seem to reflect that very notion.
The weekend continued onward with countless expressions of gratitude from every member of my family… my cousin Barbara and her husband Tom had even joined us, and even though their religious and political alignment are in stark contrast with my own, there was no shortage of love and compassion. My mother would have wanted no less, she was such a firm believer of forgetting the past and loving everyone for the person they are. She loved my cousin Barbara very much, often recalling how she took care of her and her sister Debbie when they were babies. I guess being the little girls of her own sister, they both had a very special place in her heart. Of course this gathering had to end eventually, and we found ourselves hugging and saying goodbye that Sunday afternoon after lunch. Although something was very noticeable… we were all very different people from when we arrived to these chain of islands in the Atlantic and Gulf waters… we were a family once again with he awareness and responsibility that goes along with it. Vowing to never be separated again, we parted ways looking forward to the next time we would all be together.
Today would have been my mom’s 83rd birthday, and I could see no better tribute than to publish this account of our journey. As I put my final words together, tears are running down my face, reminding me of the love that I felt for my mom. They aren’t tears of sadness at all, they are a reminder that special people exist in our lives and when they’re gone, their memory holds a special place in our heart. As human beings we are never perfect individuals, we make mistakes as we learn and continue to grow until our very last day on this planet. My tears reflect not only the memory of my mom, but the joy of knowing what it is to be a family once again. There could be no better gift to give my mom for her birthday other than the emotion of complete gratitude… for my life and for those that surround me today because of her.
Had some left over mashed potatoes and was wondering what I could do with them. Came up with this recipe that’s quick, hearty and easy. You can even add mushrooms, celery or even cheese to it… especially as a garnish.
1 Large Onion (sweet or white) 1 Chicken Bouillon Cube or 2 Cups Free Range Chicken Broth 2 Cups Left Over Mashed Potatoes 2 Cups Water (omit if using broth) 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil 4 Slices of Humanely Raised Bacon Salt and Pepper to Taste
Saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent, add salt and pepper. If using bouillon cube, add two cups water, bring to a simmer and then add cube. Cook five to ten minutes to allow the onion to soften further.
While mixture is simmering, cook four pieces of bacon in the microwave. Drain grease and chop into pieces, add to mixture.
Add the left over mashed potatoes, stirring often until thick, soup like consistency is reached. Use immersion blender to combine all ingredients.
Serve garnished with chives, shredded cheddar cheese, sour creme or all three!!!
When I make this again I will take a nicer picture. OMG this was soooooooo delicious!
When I first made the decision to pursue acting professionally, I was very blessed with great timing. South Florida had become a mecca for film and video production, all sorts of movies were being shot here, and it wasn’t uncommon to have road closures or witness planned explosions and other pyrotechnical effects. I was taking a TV commercial class in the heart of Miami Beach, with other students eager to break into the field. My instructor, Anna Panaro, taught us everything we needed to learn to become successful TV actors… how to audition, how to find agents, how to find work and even how to make sure you didn’t get ripped off. While taking the class, an opportunity was presented to me to be an extra on the set of “Random Hearts,” a film starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas. It would be the first movie set I would be on, and an amazing way to start me off in the right direction. Although the pay was only $75 for over a twelve hour day, what I learned and the memories of the experience will last a lifetime.
If there’s one rule in acting, it’s probably “be on time.” Next time you watch a movie, make sure to watch the credits and see if you can count how many people are listed. There are often hundreds, sometimes close to a thousand names on the scroll, and every single one of them is being paid. Extras like myself aren’t listed, so there’s even more people involved in the production than is actually shown. Being on time is crucial when so many people are waiting for so many people (the repetition is intentional and true) to be a part of a very intricate and well planned event. Every aspect of film making is meticulously thought out, and when so much money is on the line, the production can’t afford to have people showing up when they want to. It just can’t succeed that way. Our call time that day was 6 AM, pretty much standard for anything, be it a commercial or film, and when you arrive there are already people on-set waiting for you. Finding my way around, I quickly located the sign-in table for extras and my amazing day was about to begin.
My friend and co-worker Tiffany was with me that day, as were a couple of others from the office. While Tiffany and I wanted nothing more than to be career performers, the rest desired to be part of the excitement, and of course a shot at the possibility of meeting the leading man, Harrison Ford. We were told how to dress… bright colors, shorts and t shirts, and it couldn’t be more perfect since the day was sunny and cloudless. “Season” as it’s known to actors and the tourism industry, is the time of year when it hardly rains in South Florida, the humidity is low, and the temperatures are mild. This was most certainly a perfect day for filming, the location known as Watson Island, was a little tiny piece of detached land in Biscayne Bay, hardly used for anything at the time. Basically just a wide open space with some patches of grass and lots of concrete. A beautiful set, which looked exactly like a market place, was constructed complete with fresh fish and Latin food, all considered props and not to be eaten or touched. The term Hot Set is used to describe such a place… in other words, keep your hands off of everything and don’t mess with it.
I’m really great at taking direction, and know my place in a production. You basically don’t move a muscle unless you’re told to do so, and that’s really hard for some people to keep in mind. You need to have this kind of mindset when you’re hired for a gig, and you need to know your place in the ecosystem of the film industry. As an extra, you’re basically on the bottom rung of the ladder, and you don’t have creative freedom or a say in anything. You’re there to perform a service, which is doing what you’re told, and that’s it. As it was described to me that day, “Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.” And that pretty much sums it up perfectly. While there’s no reason to be treated with disrespect, I have found that the bigger the budget, the nicer you get treated as an extra and an actor in general. The lower the budget and the amount of extras needed, really affects how your day is going to be. You should be prepared as an actor for this, and never take it personally unless some serious lines are crossed… it’s Hollywood after all.
After a while we were escorted onto the actual set, and placed into positions by production assistants. It doesn’t take long for you to figure out if you’re going to be in a shot, or if the camera is facing the opposite direction. Some extras have a huge problem with this, and go out of their way to be in scene, which can hurt the continuity during editing. Like I said it’s really important to listen and follow direction, so I just stood where I was told, and was placed not in front of the camera, but right next to an amazing director, the late Sydney Pollack. Sitting elevated behind the boom camera and smoking a cigar, he looked so like the traditional Hollywood you often think of. I was standing right next to the line of usual folding set chairs, custom labeled with each director’s name on them. One of the directors asked me if I needed sunblock so I wouldn’t burn, and I thought that was exceptionally kind of him. The atmosphere on the set was super nice and everyone was in a great mood which I’m sure had lots to do with the weather. The day went on and I watched the filming process patiently, and was eventually placed in front of the camera, in my “first position,” a term used to describe where you’ll return to after the shot is completed.
There’s nothing like your first time on a movie set and I was on cloud nine. I felt like part of an amazing team, and it’s awesome to hear those familiar words shouted.. “speed… background… action!” While we were being moved and placed around under the hot sun, Harrison Ford was no where to be seen. He had a stand in, an actor his height and weight, wearing the same costume, standing and sweating in the sun, while the real actor was in a trailer having their makeup and hair preserved for the shoot. Of course, there’s a part of this that has to do with personal comfort as well. Then we saw him… the star, walking onto the set and all the extras started whispering stuff like “It’s him!” and “Oh my God, there he is!” I’m really not a star struck kind of guy, and so I didn’t say or do anything, not to mention that I believe it’s incredibly unprofessional to do so on a set. Yet there he was, looking somewhat different than I had remembered, very much human and very very quiet. The scenes we would film that day did not have him speaking, he was supposed to just walk through the marketplace, his character keeping to himself while re-tracing the last steps his departed wife took. The awareness that I was literally “working” and being paid with Harrison Ford started to sink in, and that was for me, the moment that really made me light headed. It only got worse when I returned to my first position after a take, and a makeup artist walked up to me and patted the sweat off my forehead. “We can sweat but we can’t drip..” she said in a very sweet voice. Holy shit, this was Hollywood, and that was the real deal.
During the morning shoot many of us were given props… plastic cups with ice and watered down Kool-Aid in them. We were told not to the drink them, but as we socialized between takes, some of us started sipping on them without even realizing it… and finishing them. Production assistants started running around shouting “Don’t drink your drinks!!” and started re-filling them. I quickly started to make friends with the extras around me as the sight of seeing Harrison walking around became very normal, and that in itself was pretty cool. Like you were just on a movie set with Harrison Ford and yeah, it was no big deal, it was a gig as they say. Since the mood on the set was a nice one, which is not the norm as I would discover in the not too distant future, everyone was having a wonderful time and we were getting the hang of resetting to first positions, knowing what to do and not to do, getting the feel of what the director was doing… it started to seem so very natural.
Lunch time came and we had seen “Harrison” walking up and down the market place more times than I could count. That’s what they called him on-set… Harrison. Not Mr. Ford, not some nick name, just Harrison. We were told not to speak or bother him unless he did it first, and it annoyed me when I saw people not following that rule. I didn’t know what was on the menu for lunch, but we were escorted to an area, past a huge BBQ setup, to find a place to sit and enjoy our meal. The food was amazing for an extra gig, it was BBQ pork and chicken if I remember correctly, the “talent” on the set had a different area, which was mostly filled with thick steaks, etc. Still I wasn’t complaining and in retrospect, was the best meal as an extra I had ever received. During lunch I had the opportunity to sit and speak with other extras, some also aspiring actors giving me advice on who to get my head-shots done with. “Bob Lasky… he does everyone..” an actress sitting next to me explained. I was totally living in the moment, taking in every aspect of this entertainment world, where even the conversations seemed to be different. Eventually lunch flew by and we were back on the set, eager to see what we’d be doing next.
“It only got worse when I returned to my first position after a take, and a makeup artist walked up to me and patted the sweat off my forehead. “We can sweat but we can’t drip..” she said in a very sweet voice. Holy shit, this was Hollywood, and that was the real deal.”
Back in the general area of where I was orginally standing, the camera would be facing opposite me, so we had nothing to do but watch and see people walking around as if by random… Harrison silently walking and doing his thing, uttering not a word. Then something suddenly changed and the camera was going to shoot something very new. A tighter shot of Harrison walking, and for that, they would need extras directly behind him… like six to eight feet behind him. “You, you and you, follow me.” a production assistant said while pointing straight at me. I was like floored, how did this happen? I was just picked out of hundreds… what would I be doing? Turns out my job, along with my newly discovered friends Jorge and Barbara, would be to follow Harrison as his background, for the remainder of the afternoon. Yes, follow Harrison and be in the shot! Holy fuck! I was so excited because this would guarantee I would be seen in a motion picture! And I had just started as an actor! WOW WOW WOW!!! So take after take, we followed Harrison, only feet away, chatting with other as we were told to do, pretending he was just another guy in the street while we enjoyed a market place in the South Florida sunshine.
I had always seen people talking in the background in films and I wondered if they were actually saying anything. And you know what? Sometimes they are! Jorge and I, along with Barbara, were talking about our lives, what we do, basically everything while following our leading man. It was amazing and so much fun, however I could literally feel the jealousy of those actors standing around. Some people wanted so badly to be in the shot, they crossed the entire set and walked right in font of us, almost pushing us out of the way. Jorge got super upset and said “What the hell?!” and the scene was cut and reset, the offenders told to get back where they were supposed to be. We continued to do our thing, and eventually we got a ten minute break while they reset the camera. Jorge suggested we check out the rest of the set, and Barbara and I agreed since we were feeling super confident with our position following Harrison. We walked to the areas we hadn’t seen, marveling at the detail, and just taking in this surreal moment. Jorge was very handsome, and being a single gay man, was starting to hope he would show some interest in me as well. Although that never happened, I will never forget both of them and the experience we all shared that day.
As we were walking and making our way around the set, we noticed Harrison was walking straight toward us, and that awkward thing began to happen when you’re trying to avoid hitting someone and you’re both making the same movements to avoid the other… and BAM, we smacked right into Harrison Ford. “Oh my god, we’re so sorry! We’re so sorry!” we said loudly as we nervously anticipated his response. “Oh no, not at all.” Harrison politely responded as he continued on his way. Mind you those were the first words we heard him speak all day, and suddenly I realized I smacked into Hans Solo. It was him… the voice, the inflection…. all him. We must have all had the same realization because we started laughing under our breath as Harrison walked away, whispering to each other “Oh my god, we smashed into Harrison Ford!” Soon it was time to return to our positions, and follow Harrison some more, without the fear of other extras trying to steal our spot. For the purposes of continuity, we had that secured and no one could take it or interfere. We were golden, at least for a little more, as the sun started to sink low in the sky The day was over and it was time to leave.
I met Jorge and Barbara in the parking lot and he asked me if I was going to film the next scene, they had asked for some volunteers with cars to work some extra hours. I was so tired and since the day was already so perfect, I told Jorge I would skip it but thanks for offering. I shook his hand and I never saw him again. As I drove off the bridge of Watson Island and saw the City of Miami skyline, I was experiencing the biggest natural high ever. I was literally a paid actor, coming off a movie set after spending the day with Harrison Ford. Yeah that was me. I started to recite our TV commercial actor affirmation that Ms. Panaro had taught us, she was always big on positivity and I even created my first vision board under her tutelage. With my window down and the wind blowing, I began to shout out to the beautiful Miami skyline “I’m a good and natural TV commercial actor….” As I recited the words of the affirmation, goose bumps covered my arms and I felt the Universe was listening to me directly. It was one of the most incredible feelings of my life and the experience of that day will live inside me forever.
When the film finally completed post-production and was out in the theaters, my friends and co-workers had to see it on opening night. We ended up taking an entire row in theater, and people sitting next to us overheard our conversations and asked us if we were in the film. We shared our experience, and they were equally as excited, asking us the number one question anyone ever asks… “Is he nice?” As the movie played, Harrison’s character talked about the market places his wife went to, and there were scenes of him walking on South Beach, with extras placed behind him… the same distance as we were. I couldn’t believe I was about to see myself on the big screen, I was almost getting a panic attack. However the scene never came, and I learned a very important lesson about acting…. the cutting room floor. During the editing process, so much is removed, and there’s a really good chance you’ll never be seen or spotted as an extra. A couple of years later I found the DVD of Random Hearts in an airport book store and purchased it after seeing “Contains Deleted Scenes” printed on the label. Yet apparently the market place scene wasn’t even good enough for that, as it was excluded even on the DVD version. Oh well, that’s Hollywood I guess.
As I’m writing this, I glance over to the shelf on my right and see the light blue notebook from my television commercial acting class, something I hold dear to me. It’s an example of following your dreams and being able to accomplish anything you want to, no matter how strange or far fetched it may be. After completing my course, there were lots of auditions, I had a couple more experiences on movie sets, one of which was spending a day shooting with Andy Garcia on an HBO film. I was also a principle in a couple of commercials, and did camera and radio work for local news and government. I made the choice to step away from that path momentarily, knowing it would be there if I decided to return. If anything, my experience as an actor taught me nothing is impossible if you want to do it. Just do it, plain and simple, and don’t listen to anyone that says it’s too hard. I actually made more money as an actor than I put into it, but that’s not even the point. The experience and journey are priceless, and I can literally say “been there, done that.” And of course and that I worked with Harrison Ford. 🙂