As a young gay male, there was nothing more desirable to me than to be in a relationship with a man that was really muscular. Looks didn’t matter so much, the major requirements being incredibly smooth muscle paired nicely with ripped six pack abs, the stuff of Muscle & Fitness magazine covers. Of course since you want to attract that kind of man, looking somewhat similar would definitely be to my advantage. And so my original intention in the pursuit of bodybuilding (before realizing the health benefits) was to look like what I was seeing in magazines lining store shelves… the best free porn ever invented for those counting the days before they would reach their 18th birthday. Eventually, through tons of hard work, dedication and previously failed attempts at online dating, you meet your first bodybuilder and think it’s going to be heaven on earth… and it totally sucks. Your expectations hit rock bottom and rather than associate the experience with bodybuilding, you think it must be the person, and you continue trying. Well I’m 51 now and consider myself to be in a very happy and fulfilling relationship with my best friend, and now looking back I can identify a pretty interesting pattern…. bodybuilders kinda suck.
Before I go any further, let me just say I’m still into bodybuilding and being inside a gym continues to be a part of my life as it has been for almost 30 years now. The experience has changed somewhat though, and I have to honestly say that I do it mostly for me and as I’ve already alluded to, it hasn’t always been that way. Many people from both sexes, orientations and identities, are guilty of trying to look a certain way for the purposes of attracting a mate. This kind of behavior is not unique to humans, and can be seen all over the animal kingdom. Looking good, healthy and strong, is anthropologically a huge button pusher for those seeking to pass on their genetic material, and bodybuilders often look like they’re on their A game when it comes to this. Unfortunately what’s on the surface is literally only skin deep and more often than not, bodybuilders, especially the gay ones, are often hiding a plethora of insecurities and unhealthy habits directly proportional to the amount of mass they carry around. To say they’re high maintenance is a total understatement.
I will never forget meeting my dream fantasy man on a gay cruise once… he had to be at least 6’4″, 250+ lbs of solid hairless ripped muscle, complete with a shaved head and a mean look on his face. I met him on the dance floor and it’s a little known fact that huge muscle guys often like little muscle guys… so at 5’5″ and 185 pounds I was good to go and all I needed was a handle to become his carry-on baggage for the evening. He was French and didn’t speak a word of English, however as gay men, we understand fluent dog and words aren’t necessary. I soon discovered reproductively he totally matched his stature, and could shame your favorite ungulate. Something weird happened that night though, because what I thought was going to be an incredible time was in fact, largely mechanical and lacked any kind of passion. How could this happen? How could Mr. Right… I mean Monsieur le Droit, be so wrong? I was determined to find answers and so I set out on a five year mission to seek out even more bodybuilders and boldly go where every bottom had gone before… but with a clear mind for observational purposes.
“…the minute I heard “Can you put the peanut oil dressing on the side?” I knew there wouldn’t be a second date.”
My findings? Well I’ve discovered that many body builders rely entirely on their looks and physique, and forget the subtle nuisances that make any sexual experience or relationship wonderful and engaging. They often frame their perspective in such a way that you are incredibly fortunate to experience muscles so huge and as such, what more could you possibly ask for? Gay bodybuilders are so often focused on physical aspects of themselves, they forget about the other person and what their…. dare I say, feelings are. Eventually this becomes super annoying, especially when you meet one that looks like they fell out of a magazine and are so concerned about their dietary requirements, that watching them order a meal at a restaurant is like a nightmarish crash course in nutrition with an emphasis on carbohydrates. Been there, done that and the minute I heard “can you put the peanut oil dressing on the side…” I knew there wouldn’t be a second date. Sometimes I wonder if his jaw is still so perfectly square? Did he move to West Hollywood where that kind of thing is perfectly legal and encouraged? Sorry, I digress.
The other thing about gay bodybuilders is their health. Looks can be incredibly deceiving and social media platforms like Instagram only illustrate this point… people are getting more and more massive, yet actually living shorter lives in the process. I am proud to say I’ve never injected any kind of steroid into my body, and unfortunately that’s pretty common in a sub-culture that has also seen its share of substance abuse. In fact, a study at Baylor college indicated that among bodybuilders that started out young, the average age of death was 47 years old for the 597 men studied. If you managed to make it past 50, the numbers started to normalize. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that massive quantities of muscle require massive amounts of blood to keep it alive… and a good heart to pump it. Most bodybuilders avoid cardio exercise like the plague since it also burns lean muscle, and when combined with an alphabet of synthetic metabolic substances… look out. The awareness of this kind of health issue becomes amplified when you’re involved in social media circles focused on bodybuilding. The posts regarding the sudden and unexpected death of a fellow body builder often from a heart attack, are surprisingly frequent when so many look so healthy.
Of course if you try hard enough, you WILL eventually find that bodybuilder that is well balanced, not conceded, and looking to live a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. However, I strongly believe those kinds of persons are much fewer in numbers in the population of gay men than one might imagine. And while all these men are busy searching for an archetype that doesn’t really exist, they pass up potentially wonderful relationships and experiences with people that aren’t as muscular or maybe lack a six pack. These people look at themselves objectively, and are genuinely interested and concerned about how they treat and interact with others. In other words there’s an untapped market… go seek it out and find yourself a good man. He may not have the body of your fantasies, but his heart will be real enough. Just remember, there’s guys you f—, and there’s guys you marry.
Growing up as a gay kid in school was probably one of the scariest experiences of my life. Going far back as elementary school, I knew something was very different about me compared to other kids, and I did everything I could to avoid confronting the realty that awaited me. I wasn’t great at sports, I didn’t like girls, I wasn’t even into the same music or cartoons as other children my age were. I couldn’t relate to the rowdy boys that pretended to be soldiers at war, or the ones that talked about He Man – Masters of the Universe… I just wanted to learn about science and watch the Smurfs. I wanted to hang around girls and enjoy the bond they seemed to share with one another, to experience being shameless about being creative and good at sewing. I just wanted to be myself… and I was terrified to do so. I was so frightened to let anyone see the real side of who I was, else run the risk of being bullied and ridiculed. It was bad enough that when it came time to form teams for group sports, I was ALWAYS the last one picked, always the one person in the class to endure the longest session of public humiliation. One by one, as each person was chosen and the available pool of students became smaller and smaller, the unspoken became increasingly obvious… I was not wanted, I was not good enough. With each new sport played, the process was repeated… month after month, year after year. Through a cruel election of my peers, through the visual display of fingers not pointing in my direction… I was not wanted, I was not good enough.
Junior High eventually came around and a new horror was brought into existence, we had to change clothes in front of other boys in the locker room. Suddenly I was immersed in the reality that if my eyes should accidentally look in the wrong direction, I would be called out and even worse, pulled from the closet that had protected me for so long. I found a false sense of safety by changing with other “nerds” that weren’t good at sports and engaging them in conversation. At least we had the appearance of being normal, of just two guys getting ready for physical education class, but even that proved to futile in preventing episodes of outright personal assault. I can remember my friend Raj being picked up while still in his underwear and thrown into a trash can, clearly singled out because of his ethnicity and the color of his skin. On another occasion, still fresh in my memory, we were surrounded by a group of at least 20 while we sat with our backs against the wall next to the outdoor eating area. There was no where to run while a tall male student stood over us, thrusting his hips back and forth while repeatedly telling Raj, “go ahead, suck my dick… go ahead, I know you want to.” His vulgar actions provided a show for the other students, and instead of anyone running to our aide, we were laughed at and mocked… the crowd only dispersing after a teacher noticed the large group huddled around the wall. Indeed, physical education class provided an open arena for bullies to do their thing, largely unsupervised.
Going into the 10th grade and fastly approaching the darkest years of my life where I no longer had the desire to live, I absolutely refused to experience this kind of repetitive harassment again. In the beginning of the school year I approached my physical education coach, someone the other students nicknamed Mighty Mouse because of his short and muscular stature, and told him I wouldn’t be attending class because I was working on getting a note from my doctor to exempt me from taking the course. I explained that I would be in the library until this could be finalized, and he could find me there if need be. My coach accepted this reasoning at first, and would issue me daily passes to go to the library. My mother went to our family doctor to get the necessary documentation, however the amazing school board of Dade County, Florida, had decided to treat those not wanting to attend physical education class like an adult trying to obtain disability payments. Suddenly there was a process to be followed with all kinds of assessments of my abilities, and what I could and couldn’t do… something that a kid / family without health insurance could not afford. I kept asking for hall passes until one day Mighty Mouse asked me “So what are you going to do when you get married? Is your wife going to give you a hand job or something?” Yes, apparently at Miami Sunset Senior Highschool, it was acceptable to say those kinds of thing to students in the 10th grade and thankfully, I still had some fight left in me. I informed my home room teacher of the situation and she became livid, telling me she would get to the bottom of it. The next time I would see Mighty Mouse he verbally questioned my masculinity by asking “Are you a sissyRobért?” So yeah, being bullied by teachers is also a thing kids experience in school.
There was no where to run while a tall male student stood over us, thrusting his hips back and forth while repeatedly telling Raj, “go ahead, suck my dick… go ahead, I know you want to.”
When I reached 11th grade I was tired of fighting. I was tired of fighting the truth of what I was, I was tired of fighting with others telling me how wrong I was. I was tired of going to my friend’s grandmother for some kind of consolation, only to be told “You have a demon inside of you Michael.” I was tired of my Uncle Gene seeing how depressed I was and one day telling me that he’d always love me, no matter what… “as long as you’re not a god damned homosexual.” I was tired of my cousins being so incredibly kind to me, letting my guard down as result, and then randomly blurting out some bullshit like “I just pray for you so much Michael, because I don’t want you to go to hell.” Because nothing says I love you like telling someone they’re going to hell with a smile on their face. I was tired of seeing my entire church youthgroup, a church that I CHOSE to be baptised in at the age of 14 in front of an entire congregation, turn their back on me when a bitter girl I wouldn’t kiss decided to tell everyone I was gay. I was tired of my own brother handing me a loaded gun and telling me to go kill myself in front of him, while his closeted Baptist Minister twin lectured me on morals…raiding my porn collection for his own use when I wasn’t home. I was tired of my sister calling me a faggot because she knew how much I hated it, and my only retalitory response was to call her a fat cow. Upon which she would cry and go running to my mom… and yeah, you guessed it, I’d be the one to get into trouble. I was so tired… I was tired of hate and just wanted nothing more than to die. I couldn’t experience another day of the constant fear and blatant two faced love by relatives in the name of religion.
Writing this was harder than I expected… I realize now there is so much anger left inside me. There is much pain associated with those memories and looking back, I have no clue in the Universe how I made it through. I used to think kids had it easier these days in school… after all, there are shows where being a gay teen is wonderful and accepted. However now there is a new evil out there, an evil that seeks to take back the years of work and progress that we as a community, have made in the fight for equality. There are those in the highest levels of Government that want children to know they’re not normal, and are validating the hate that some of their fellow students feel. A door has been opened that can not easily be shut, a door that once held back the darkness and told people it wasn’t okay to hate others and commit acts of violence against them. Somewhere out there, in the State of Florida, there’s a little skinny Michael experiencing the exact fears, emotions and inner conflicts that I did, and on top of that, now has to deal with someone like Govenor Ron DeSantis making it against the law to address those issues through education. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law is sending a deadly message to gay youth, and it needs to be repealed.
My high school counselors saved my life… period. A female counselor whom I’ve tried to remember her name for years, and a social worker named Mike Miller did the work with me to get me functioning again. Together they showed me how to respect and love myself, to be proud of who I am. Had this happened today, chances are I wouldn’t have even made it to the counselors office that day my aunt forced me to go. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the hate coming at me from all sides, including the government itself. I would have taken my life, exactly as I intended to do when I realized I was gay.
It’s not really surprising to see the recent actions of our government, De Santis didn’t want to protect our children during COVID, so why would gay youth be any different? Watching so many high school students marching in yesterday’s pride parade made a huge impact on me… however the darkness of the reality that awaits so many still rings true. I wonder who the next parent will be to suddenly discover that their child, the bright light that carried them through the darkest of times, the person they brought into this world, the person they watched grow into a remarkable human being, the one they loved more than life itself… was gay,
… through their suicide note.
To anyone reading this going through something similar, trust me, it gets better. Don’t let fuckers like DeSantis win. There’s so much life to live, and as hard as it may seem, I got through it and so can you. We need you alive to help continue to the fight… until we don’t have to.
In one month, almost to the day, it will be four years since I traveled to Orlando Florida with my amazing friend Kim, to partake in something we had only learned about the year prior. It had been an interesting journey for the two of us, rapidly growing and learning about “Law Of Attraction”, or how some have come to know it, “The Secret.” We had high hopes and even higher expectations. I was certain I was going to get picked to be in the infamous “Hot Seat” and get my opportunity to speak with Abraham, my only concern being the actual question… because I had none really. Finally the time came when I would notice a strange energy about the room, and an awareness in Abraham’s words… did they have some special meaning encoded within them? So with my question in mind, I raised my hand and was chosen to speak with “infinite intelligence.” This was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget, but did it change my life in anyway?
I have been blessed to have heard some amazing spiritual leaders speak in person, Eckhart Tolle, The Dalai Lama, a number of pastors that seemed totally tapped into some loving force… but seldom do you get to chat with one in person, while a thousand or so people watched. I had fully expected my interaction with Abraham to be life changing, but in what way? Would I suddenly manifest great wealth and a beautiful home? Would I win the lottery? Would I suddenly become enlightened in a way only few have known? Well to answer simply, yes…. and also no. I think my biggest surprise with deep diving into LOA (Law Of Attraction), was that while I was truly manifesting amazing things into my life, they happened in ways that were completely unexpected, and sometimes downright magical. At times it almost felt as though things were manifesting too quickly, and I wanted it to slow down. While at other moments I felt completely stuck, like I must be missing something, like I was almost there.
I got my huge lightbulb moment about LOA about a year after seeing Abraham in person. I had actually stopped listening to them at one point completely, ignoring my great desire to hear the many YouTube videos of their sessions that are available free of charge. It wasn’t that I was turned off or angered by them, on the contrary it was because I truly believed I was learning from them. And perhaps if I was vibrating as “student” and not in the sense of applying this knowledge, maybe that meant I wasn’t vibrating as “ready.” So I said to myself “This isn’t rocket science.” and I went on my merry way of applying what I had learned, instead of just listening to more and more examples of what to do. I actually felt this really moved me into the right direction, until the moment when I kind of felt like I needed more instruction, because obviously I wasn’t doing something just right enough. So I started listening again and that’s when it happened.
I was taking a break from the office on a beautiful sunny day, and found myself walking on a tree lined pathway not far away. The sky was so blue, the air was clean and the heat wasn’t oppressive as is often the case in Miami. I was listening to a track on YouTube and Abraham was talking about using day dreaming as a tool for getting yourself where you needed to be vibrationally. Since I was born a day dreamer, this was an easy task, but there’s something that most people do, including myself, that ruins what they called “A perfectly good day dream.” In addition to not feeling sad during your day dream because you don’t have what you want (because that just emphasizes and vibrates lack), many people also try to figure out how they’re going to accomplish what it is they’re actually dreaming about. And there lies the problem… or as Abraham put it “Why ruin a perfectly good day dream by trying to figure out how you’re going to get there… that just adds clutter and resistance.” And the light bulb suddenly went off. While Law Of Attraction is so much more than just day dreaming about what you desire, perhaps this was the one tool that would help me move to where I needed to be vibrationally. I felt so close as it was… maybe this would bring me past the finish line.
At first, I didn’t notice anything huge manifesting in my life, although there were some small things here and there that seemed to be working for me… after all, I already considered myself to be a very blessed individual. However, it did seem like my perspective had in fact changed somewhat… I just felt really good most of the time, and although I was far from being where I wanted, I was feeling pretty enthusiastic. I seemed to always have this sense that “Everything is always working out for me.” When my partner and I vacationed before the Spring, things really started to change… in the most peculiar of ways. The cruise we had planned was upgraded to a beautiful suite, something we had never experienced, and then because of a leaky pipe the first day, we were offered a %10 percent voucher for a future cruise, which turned into %15 percent when we received it. The entire trip was incredibly memorable, and as the months went by, more and more events began to occur with incredible solutions that followed. My car was on its last leg about to die, but the dealer gave me almost $7,000 for it when I thought it would barely fetch $2,000… engine light on, no A/C, etc. Indeed it seemed like everything was truly going my way… and it didn’t stop there. Unexpected sources of abundance seemed to just flow to me, despite fearing bankruptcy only months earlier.
“Why ruin a perfectly good day dream by trying to figure out how you’re going to get there… that just adds clutter and resistance.”
So here we are, four years after the Hot Seat and five since I started being aware of Law Of Attraction, and my life has totally and completely changed. I’m in a place now in my life where I’m not only incredibly happy, but the sky is truly the limit. I started to love my job again and won three awards, I feel like I’m in the relationship I was always meant to be in, and I’m incredibly excited of what and how the Universe will surprise me with next, because I’m not afraid of the unknown. While at the gym late last year, I received an incredibly strong “impulse” to start my own social media platform about spirituality (think Facebook only with nice people), and that project manifested itself almost “automagically” as we say in the IT world. Digitalsoulspace.org is a reality, and I believe we’re already starting to make a difference in people’s lives, if only because we are here and waiting for them when they need us. This is a very exciting time to be me and I’m loving it, so yeah…. The Hot Seat… it’s a good thing. I’m excited about the future, I no longer fear it, and that in itself is worth the price of admission. 🙂
Click HERE to listen to Mike’s experience with Abraham Hicks
Mike Robert is the science loving owner and creator of the The Geek With Muscles Blog and Podcast, Digital Soulspace, an independent online spiritual community, aquarist, a life long volunteer, social / community activist, body building enthusiast, naturalist, animal lover, conservationist, videographer, former actor and beekeeper, and an IT Professional of over 35 years. When he’s not doing any of the previously mentioned activities, he’s at Michael’s shopping for new ideas and hobbies for which he has absolutely zero time for.
Growing up as a kid the holidays were known to be a time for family to come together and celebrate the season, and of course each other. It was “supposed” to be a special time of the year, filled with hope and happiness, where ideally, being “together” was valued highest among all other things. Of course life happens, parents get divorced or separated, relatives and good friends leave this Earth, and the dream is sometimes crushed… often with a lot of pain associated with it. Then one year, sometimes after a lengthy pause, the season becomes special again and we celebrate with great joy. Somewhere during my upbringing, the knowledge of my sexuality threw a new variable into the equation and instead of feeling like I was a part of something, I began to feel alone… even though I was surrounded by people. Not having someone to connect with… someone to share with, while the awareness of couples and family was everywhere, was a bitter pill to swallow. Since most LGBTQ+ people experience some degree of intense isolation and fear during their lifetimes while becoming aware of their sexuality, the holidays can be a nasty reminder of darker times, especially when there’s no one special to call your own.
Thanksgiving is just days away, and although I’m in a happy longterm relationship of almost eight years with my partner Eric, the memories of being gay and single during the holidays are still fresh in my mind. I thought it would be helpful to write about this from my current perspective, not only to let others know they aren’t alone, but to validate that life is constantly evolving. Your relationship situation will most likely change eventually, but even if it doesn’t, we can focus on ways to make the holidays special for person number one… yourself. I’m almost certain that my painful desire to feel unconditionally loved and to “belong” while I was discovering who I was, makes this part of the year extra difficult at times.
“Since most LGBTQ+ people experience some degree of intense isolation and fear during their lifetimes while becoming aware of their sexuality, the holidays can be a nasty reminder of darker times, especially when there’s no one special to call your own.”
I can still remember the first New Years I spent alone after ending a relationship of almost ten years. The year before I was standing on a dance floor alone at Midnight, while my partner tried unsuccessfully to acquire champagne from a bartender. The lines for drinks were super long, and I came to the realization that while his intentions were admirable, he didn’t understand how much his presence by my side meant to me, and that the champagne could have waited until after the stroke of 12. I knew our time together was wrapping up, and the following year I found myself on the couch with my dogs, bringing in 2013 alone.
You might be visualizing this scene as tragic and dark in your head, with light of the television being the only source of illumination in the room, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Every light in the place was on, I had a bottle of champagne with a cheese plate to snack on, and I was treating myself like the king… or queen, I knew I was. I made the conscious choice to celebrate the occasion as an opportunity for new hope, opportunities and abundance, and not to wallow in self defeat. I was loving myself %100 and it felt amazing, and most importantly, empowering.
Now I would be lying if I said I never experienced a dark and lonely holiday, alone in my living room with an empty wine bottle next to me… with the only light in the room coming from the television, because I have. So I get it, I know what despair feels like… all too well. But we can also choose not to let it overpower us and bring us to our knees… because I have made that choice myself and I speak from experience. Even when things seem utterly hopeless, we can choose actions that don’t reflect what we are feeling inside, as a way to keep us afloat. This applies to any holiday you may be dreading… make the choice to do something contrary to your emotions, no matter how hard it may seem.
While I’m hoping the person reading this never has to go at the holidays alone, if you are, know that others have walked this path before… more than once. As dark as things may be, as painful as they may feel, times will eventually get better and you’ll experience joy again. Nothing in life is permanent, the Universe sees to it that everything is constantly in motion. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, just because you can’t see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. If at all possible, summon up the strength to throw yourself a gala of one, or at the very least, draw courage from happiness you will most certainly enjoy in the not so distant future.
Last week I was placed in an unexpected situation that put me in a horrible mood for days. I’m still feeling the emotional hangover associated with all the different feelings I was experiencing… confusion, sadness, anger and even bewilderment. What caused such an emotional roller coaster? It wasn’t what you might have expected from such a broad range of human experience… it was a visit to my primary care physician. I guess it wouldn’t have sucked as much if I thought she wasn’t a good doctor, or if she was a bitch… on the contrary, she has amazing energy, is beautiful, and brilliant. She isn’t anything like the doctor I stopped seeing almost a decade ago, whom I never saw again after she loudly screamed “I don’t give a fuck what you think…”(someone even noted the screaming session in YELP). No this doctor is super kind, professional, and made me feel well looked after when I had COVID last year, when I met her during a tele-health appointment. So what made me feel the way I did? Like I didn’t feel seen? Like a statistic? Like a text book exam? Like huge assumptions were being made based on the way I look?
I’ve fought a battle with depression almost all my life. I can remember being depressed as a young child, and certainly very depressed when confronting my own sexuality in my late teens. As an adult, I had learned many coping mechanisms to deal with depression, and one of them was medication during a period of my life when I certainly needed it. I thought I was about to experience another one of those situations in 2013, when depression had gained a foothold in my life and I was being prescribed different meds… and being yelled at, by a doctor that was clearly wrestling with her own demons at the time. That was when a friend of mine suggested I get my testosterone levels checked, and sure enough, they were really low for someone my age. I found a urologist and was put on a Hormone Replacement Therapy regimen, or HRT, and it changed my life in a matter of days. Suddenly it felt like a fog was lifted, and I was seeing colors I’ve never seen before…. life was amazing. I was incredibly surprised since being pretty muscular, I thought my testosterone was just fine. I didn’t realize you could be jacked, and have messed up hormones at the same time.
Almost ten years has gone by since that day, and I continue utilizing HRT as a part of my daily life. I get blood work done every six months to make sure I’m addressing any of the inherent risk factors associated with HRT, and so far so good. Which is why it came as a complete shock to me that my primary care doctor suggested I stop HRT, abandon all the associated benefits with it (people with low testosterone can experience a variety of health issues), and go on anti-depressants. Seriously? I mean what the fuck? I was shocked because she even suggested in running my testosterone blood work again last the time I saw her, when I said I was often experiencing fatigue… also a sign of low testosterone. After my blood work results came back with a number of 125 (with not taking my medication for two days), which is well below the testosterone scale starting point of 300 for men according to the American Urological Association, I thought she would consider consider possibly changing the transport method of the medication. Nope. Instead she explained that I was getting older, and I needed to consider the possible side effects of such a medicine. Oh wow… yeah she said it… “you’re getting older.” Even more oh wow because she just prescribed me Crestor, which has death among an entire list of potentially serious side-effects… like a shit load of them. Holy shit I felt like I was being put out to pasture… I’m 50 now and there’s no reason I need testosterone… here’s some big pharma drug with its own issues… I might as well be put on happy pills with additional side effects, because it doesn’t matter that what you’re doing now is actually working for you. Yeah, it’s actually fucking working for me. I wasn’t even sure why she ordered the labs in the first place if she wasn’t going to do anything about it.
“I’m just tired of feeling like I need to stuck up for myself every time I see a doctor… it shouldn’t feel like a war, it should like they’re on your side. You should be a part of the team that’s evaluating you, not feel like someone being looked at through aquarium glass and being told what’s best for you.”
I was just blown away and in the worst mood for days. I felt old, I felt endocrinology insulted, I felt like as a man, someone was trying to take away my penis… seriously it fucked me up. Then my partner Eric brought something up to me that made a lot of sense, he wondered if she thought I was abusing the drug because I am a pretty muscular guy… and that made complete sense. Okay so news flash PCP, I’m the size of a fucking hobbit… I’m like Mike of the Miami Shire… in other words, I’m short as hell. It’s soooooooo easy to build muscle when you’re short, and I’ve been accused of taking roids for decades now. My first urologist ever even plead with me to come clean about steroid use because he said the insurance company wont pay for the test if my blood work comes back high. When I told him I didn’t take steroids, he told me again and again, so you see, that’s how I’ve always looked. Of course I’m gay too, so that doesn’t help… because many gay men take roids in order to look just like their super hero crushes when they were young. The entire thing just pissed me off and I realized part of the reason I was so pissed, is that I’m tired of having to advocate for my health so fucking often. Where are the doctors that actually have your back?
I have the worst luck with medical providers… there’s fellow hobbit angry lady (at least I didn’t have to look up at her), homophobic Christian Coalition former military doctor that said I have an STD, puts me on Herpes meds and then tells me “…sorry they’re just common fever blisters in your mouth…” after test results return, a pill pushing psychiatrist that was angered I wasn’t filling my Xanax scripts, a dental assistant that grabbed my arm and squeezed it painfully while scolding me and saying “Don’t scream, you raise your hand, there are other patients here!” (she actually ended up fracturing the tooth and it had to be pulled, she thought it was a crown and didn’t check the xrays), homophobic doctor at Baptist Hospital ER that didn’t want to treat an accidental HIV exposure (a lab tech even whispered instructions to me and emphasized the need for treatment), and then my last doctor…. who was so fucking amazing she got promoted and now I can’t see her anymore (she looked fabulous with her hair blown out… like Dr. Torres in Grey’s Anatomy). I’m just tired of feeling like I need to stick up for myself every time I see a doctor… it shouldn’t feel like a war, it should feel like they’re on your side. You should be a part of the team that’s evaluating you, not feel like someone being looked at through aquarium glass and being told what’s best for you.
So now I have a dilemma… should I keep my current doctor and explain my feelings and somehow invest in a medical relationship built on trust? Or do I look for someone else, like a male doctor that knows how to treat a prostate infection (angry hobbit did not). Do male patients need male doctors? In such a time of gender fluidity, is that even a real concern anymore? The problem being is that as a gay man, I’m not comfortable with many male doctors, having the experience I did with church going navy doc in my early 20’s. I just want someone like…. Dr. Beverly Crusher!!!! OMG Where the fuck is the present day equivalent of Beverly Crusher?!?! Seriously do I have to wait 400 more years? It’s getting harder and harder to find virgin males as it is. I just don’t have a clue of what to do next… I’m very open to advice in the comments please.
“One to transport Jordi, I need a full medical diagnostic please.“
I was walking my dog the other morning, and by chance, ran into my friend Alex while he was also walking his dog. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Alex, and his little Yorkie was doing what little dogs do… barking at my two dogs with a combined weight of 140lbs. Alex’s Yorkie is the second dog he’s had in the 16 plus years since I first met him, right after our neighboring condominiums had just completed construction. We seldom get to spend the time we’d like with each other, and as countless times before, made a commitment to visit with one another soon. Although this promise seemed somewhat different this time… it had much more energy and sincerity behind it. Before we parted our ways and pulled our very curious dogs away from each other, I told Alex that if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we need to stay in touch. Heading back home I realized that while there was much truth in my statement, the larger awareness came with my 50th birthday seven months ago, and wondering where the time had gone. Suddenly career opportunities have turned into retirement seminars and workshops, and the friends that used to date like they were renting cars, are now grandparents. The awareness of my age is everywhere, and I’m trying to make some sense of it.
I think one of the first things that’s really starting to kick in at 50, is how cool my life has been. While I had my own version of a mid-life crisis, it didn’t seem to last all that long. Yeah, it was very real and significant to me, and I felt like I was seriously running out of time, but it also seemed to end as fast as it started. Just yesterday I was thinking of starting my acting career up again, and how I would feel totally comfortable being 80, and accepting an academy award… it was like suddenly it was time for Life 2.0. This concept of “re-booting” my reality isn’t new to me, I’ve felt it before and not that long ago, however this time it feels completely different. There’s much more momentum in these daydreams than ever before, and how cool is it that I can even make a statement like that? How totally cool is it that I’ve been on movie sets, I know what it’s like to audition for film and television, I know what it’s like to have an agent…. fuck that’s totally cool!! And while acting has been a really wonderful and educational experience for me, it’s just one of many that I feel incredibly blessed to have lived. Why stop now? I’m gonna age regardless of what happens, so I might as well be doing something fun while the time goes by.
“…the only thing I’m absolutely certain about, is that I don’t have all the answers.”
Mike Robert – A totally cool dude.
I’ve noticed recently that turning 50 has made me appreciate art in ways that I haven’t ever before. All kinds of art, from poetry to painting, to sculpture to videography… I’m so much more aware of the effort and process involved in creating, even though I’ve personally tried them all. It just seems like there’s this heightened sense of the pureness in one’s art, and I’m totally digging it. It’s like discovering that fries dipped in a Wendy’s Frosty are pretty damn amazing, and all your friends are like “you just figured this out?” This past June I volunteered to videotape a poetry reading, and I was pretty amazed during the editing process, how much I enjoyed the material itself… the poems, the soul of the work, and the perspective of the author. Today, just hours ago, I had another poetry experience while listening to NPR in the car. I was totally into it and felt the once familiar sensation of visiting San Francisco, and being immersed in a city that seemed to appreciate all aspects of creating. Listening to the show was inspirational, and the reason I decided to finish this blog post I started earlier in the week. Because you know, like the poet I was listening to, I’m also a writer and couldn’t resist to feel like one once again. How cool is that? I’m a writer!
The biggest change in my awareness has to be what I already alluded to in the beginning of this post…. the importance of friends and family, and acknowledging the contributions they have made to my life. I have always been a people person, but it’s so completely different now. I find myself thinking about how blessed I am to have had a singular conversation with a person at one point in time, and how much that interaction meant to me. It doesn’t matter if they were a close friend, a mere acquaintance or someone I barely knew, I just find it so important to tell them that I appreciate the awareness of them in my life. Of course for people that I have regular communication with, I have had to hold back for fear of smothering them… at times I just want to shout out loud “Thank you for being in my life!!!” And that would be completely awkward to say the least. Still, the desire to acknowledge others continues to grow within me, and I am finding creative ways to let people know they are amazing, or that I love them, in one way or another. However, this newfound appreciation for elevated communication also seems to include speaking my truth, so I’m not opposed to telling others “fuck off, you’re an asshole” when it’s absolutely deserved.
Spirituality plays a huge part of my 50 awareness, as I’ve become increasingly comfortable about letting other’s know that I am an intuitive. Yeah, I’m basically a psychic and I’m not ashamed to discuss or talk about it any longer… and I’m pretty darn good at it too. Through my adult life I’ve been blessed to have attended talks hosted by spiritual leaders, and mostly by chance. Very little planning if any went into these chance occurrences, many of them were as simple as answering an invite, as if to see a movie. I’ve been blessed to have seen the Dalai Llama, Eckart Tolle and even shared the stage with Abraham Hicks. In fact my entire life seems like it’s been one spiritual journey after another… I explored being a Mormon as a pre-teen, and then chose to Baptized as a Southern Baptist when I was 14. I started reading Angel Cards over 20 years ago, and now consider myself a mixture of almost every religion, but identify mostly as Neo Pagan. So going to Church for me is a visit to the Florida Everglades, and I’m incredibly aware and sensitive to lunar and solar cycles. I have never felt more connected to the Universe than I do today, and at times my world is a never ending conversation with energies through signs and interactions with fellow intuitive peoples. Each and every day is a new experience and I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride. People often come to me with lots of questions, but the only thing I’m absolutely certain about, is that I don’t have all the answers.
I guess turning 50 was a pretty fabulous thing, I’m suddenly thinking about what to do with the next phase of my life, and that’s pretty exciting. I can’t believe that I’ve managed to amass so many different and unique experiences up until now, and I’m confident that I will enjoy what’s to come with even greater enthusiasm. I’m living more in “the now” than ever before, so I’m finding delight in little things like the way the sun hits the branches of Oak Trees as I’m walking the dogs in the morning. The smile of a stranger walking by brings joy to my day, and I’m looking for increasingly more things to appreciate on a daily basis. I’m also still working on the aspects of myself I’m not too proud of, so the good news is, arrogance hasn’t found its way into my heart… I hope it never does. My life long struggle against depression is still very real, and I hope these words give me strength when I need them, knowing someday I most certainly will. In the mean time I’m just trying to live my best life, help others when possible, and looking forward to the days and the weeks ahead. As my former boss and now dear friend once said to me, “Happiness is a choice…” and that has never resonated more with me than it does today. I know it sounds cliché, and I may have referenced it before, but it’s the honest truth and yet another aspect of growth that I’m enjoying immensely.
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.
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.
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. 🙂