A Gift of Platinum and China

I struggled for a year about what I should do for the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The most obvious thing to do would be to go to New York and be there for it, but I really can’t. It’s not because of money or finding a place to stay or anything but because it’s not my New York. My New York is trapped in amber from 1998 to 2004 when subway fares were $1.50 and the Freedom Tower hadn’t even been conceived yet. My New York doesn’t exist anymore, just like the Jeremiah of 2001 doesn’t exist anymore either, and that is a mixed blessing. I thought of myself as a New Yorker for years after I moved on, but not anymore. I’ve lived in the greater DC area for thirteen years (minus the two-and-a-half I lived in Qatar), far longer than I lived in New York, or even New Mexico, which I consider my home (I won’t be going back there either). I made the decision I would stay home for the anniversary of the day the world ended.

New York has always been a city in flux, so it’s not only unrecognizable from 2001, but it’s also unrecognizable from 2014, the last time I was there. I think that really showed itself in the weeks following September 11, 2001. The Twin Towers had dominated the skyline for decades, looking like, as Donald Westlake described them, an upside-down pair of trousers. Suddenly, it was gone, and all that was left was wreckage that was still recognizable as the World Trade Center. After we finished running away, screaming, and when the dust settled, we had to return to our lives. There was an updated subway map on September 17. By September 24, I was back to work a block and a half from a smoking crater, having to take a ferry there from Hoboken because the PATH train went directly into the World Trade Center. We got used to the Towers’ absence really quickly, and life went on.

Except life didn’t. I was in a relationship at the time that was irreparably damaged by the events of that day and limped along for another five months out of sheer inertia before falling down and dying. The problem was she was shaken to her core by the attack, and she needed comfort. I was unable to give it because I had shut down my emotions to get me through that day, and they didn’t come back on for a long time. It didn’t help that I was drunk and high constantly for the two weeks following the incident. Not dealing with it was how I chose to deal with it.

As a sidebar, I met someone who would become one of my most fondly remembered friends as a result of that day. At the end of the month, someone threw a party for all the September birthdays that didn’t get celebrated that year, and I met this really cool young woman and wanted to be her friend right away. She was celebrating because 9/11 gave her the kick in the pants she needed to divorce her terrible spouse. As with everything, there were good side effects.

The vaccine-denying, election-overturning, polarized hate-fest that is modern America has a lot of roots in this day. There are a lot of milestones on the road to where we are now—the nomination of Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, the ascension of Newt Gingrich to Speaker of the House in 1995, and so on. However, as a result of being president on one of the worst days in American history, George W. Bush, who was well on his way to becoming a one-term president, became a two-term president, and the Republican Party really got the hang of hateful polarizing tribalism. Rudy Guiliani would have been a footnote in history had he not stood on the rubble and started barking orders. Do you remember flag pins? Do you remember what would happen to you politically if you didn’t wear one?

On the twentieth-anniversary year, we finally left Afghanistan, the country we destroyed in retaliation for the attack. When we first invaded in 2002, the Taliban was in control. In 2021, the Taliban is in control. As much dread as I feel for the people stuck there under this oppressive regime, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder what the fucking point of all of it was.

Osama bin Laden has been quoted saying he wanted to bankrupt the United States, not conquer it. People who were watching American troops loot Saddam’s palace a year and a half later were thinking, “U! S! A! We won! Take that, bin Laden!” But we have gone trillions in debt occupying countries and not actually helping anything. All of the precious freedoms President Bush said “they” hated were being signed away by the PATRIOT Act and other bits of legislation. Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton robbed the off-the-books budget and didn’t even pretend they weren’t doing it. Osama bin Laden wasn’t a stupid man. He accomplished his mission.

September 11 is a formative chapter in my life as a young man. I’m not a young man anymore. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush and Al Gore fought like gladiators over prescription-drug benefits for seniors. The summer of 2001, the most front-page headlines were about Gary Condit, a U.S. Representative who was suspected of killing his aide. America has not been young for a long time, but in 2000, 2001, the stakes seemed a little lower. We can’t go back to those days again. I can’t go back to those days again. I could go to New York, but it will be as foreign to me as San Francisco was when I went this summer. It would be like going back after a while to that coffee shop you frequented until you left the neighborhood, and the barista who knew you by name doesn’t recognize you anymore. In fact, we’re going to let Pearl Jam play us out with a little number from 1993, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”

I seem to recognize your face
Haunting, familiar yet
I can’t seem to place it.
Cannot find a candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me

The Spirit of The Post

I used to work at the New York Post as a copy editor. I was only part time, and I only worked two days, then one day a week, but it was still a big part of my life that shaped me. I had a great boss, and if he wasn’t a surrogate father figure (I had a father, and he was doing the job nicely, thank you very much), he was, at the least, a surrogate uncle who really cared for me and looked out for my well being. I was a floater, so I took the desk of anyone who wasn’t working the particular day I came on, and, on Sundays, that put me on the other side of the cubicle from Dominick Marrano.

Dom intimidated me at first because he’s pretty much central casting for Brooklyn Mafia (so much so that he attempted to try out for the Sopranos when they were doing a casting call in New York), but I quickly learned that intimidation was the wrong reaction to have to him. He’s friendly, kind, and generous, and most of all, full of mirth. He’s laughing in all of the pictures I’ve ever seen of him, and that’s perfect because that’s how I remember him.

Probably my most vivid memory of Dom I had was one day when the pagination printer next to his desk was on the fritz, and it kept letting out this horrible beep/squeal noise. I muttered, “I think it’s backing up.” Dom heard this and thought it was the most hilarious thing because he told anybody who passed by his desk what I said. He’s louder and more boisterous, so if that joke was going to spread around the newsroom, he was going to be the one who did it. And here’s the kicker: every time he told that joke, he made sure to give me credit for it. He was big that way with not stealing. Him delivering my jokes to a wider audience than my shy self would reach was something that happened a few more times during my evenings there.

Dom passed away on Sunday after a long battle with lung cancer and emphysema. The New York Post page I follow on Facebook, as well as his friends and coworkers making the announcement on my feed, have been inundated with comments of mourning and praise for this man. He retired twelve years ago, but he hasn’t been forgotten. I barely knew him, and I’ve been sad all week. He was always there the six years that I worked at the Post, and even his retirement came as a shock to me. I guess I just assumed he always would be there.

I don’t know what you believe about the afterlife, but I like to picture him somewhere comfortable, drinking a coffee, maybe the alcoholic beverage of his choice, and laughing. He taught me that things are hilarious, and you need to embrace that.

Goodbye, Dom. I miss you.

Fat Load of Good

You can’t tell because I don’t put pictures of myself online, I put on an incredible amount of weight since the divorce. It all came down to diet, I just ate garbage, and a lot of it, three meals a day. I was actually pretty active, taking a 2.5-mile-or-more walk six days a week. That’s where the problem started. I started getting a burning pain in my legs as I went longer distances. It got worse and worse, until finally, in January, I couldn’t just suck it up anymore, and I called a doctor. They told me it was a vascular issue related to obesity, and I immediately got rid of all the garbage and tried to eat better. I’m pretty sure I lost weight in this period, but I hadn’t weighed myself since 2018, so I have no way of knowing.

In April, I physically went to the doctor, and she told me that my ideal weight shouldn’t be my age plus 200 pounds, so I downloaded a calorie-counting app and hired a weight loss coach. This was mid-April. I’m happy to say that I’ve lost 20 pounds in the past two-and-a-half months, but I’m still quite fat—I can’t see the difference in the mirror yet. However, I’m within spitting distance of my weight goal (when I hit that goal, I will set another, but for now, I just want to be 200 pounds again), and for the first time in a really long time, I feel like I don’t have to look like this forever, and I can’t begin to tell you how good that feels. I have felt repulsive for a long time, but oddly at peace about it, accepting that this was the way it was going to be forever.

The reason I’m sharing this today is that the last day of the month is weigh-in day, and the scale gave me the great news that, despite some slip-ups, I’ve lost eight pounds in June. I honestly can’t believe the kind of shit I used to eat, but that’s behind me. I’m feeling lighter and ready to go.

This Didn’t Have To Happen

Someone I know just died from COVID. We weren’t close friends—she was someone I knew from when I was wrangling editors at Author Solutions twelve-to-fifteen years ago. But she was one of my top editors. She was efficient, accurate, as well as friendly, funny, kind, and a little flirty. We’ve been Facebook friends since I left, and when I tried, unsuccessfully, to reignite my freelance editing career a year and a half ago, she was there to walk me through it to the best of her ability, even though we really hadn’t talked in an incredibly long time.

I don’t know the details, like, at all, but I know she came to the United States to visit someone, a friend or family, and she got sick and died. She was at risk, so it didn’t take long.

I’ve been taking this outbreak pretty seriously for the past six months (the first month, no so much), and I’ve been horrified watching the infection rate and the death toll rise while our populace walks around like nothing is happening. I haven’t been personally affected by it while some of my Facebook friends have been infected and recovered—as much as it’s possible to recover from this disease. But I’ve not seen anyone I know die, especially not someone I really liked.

I’m not trying to make this about me. It’s about her family—both genetic and adopted, who will most certainly miss her because she was one of the most sparkling editors I’d ever met (and editors aren’t people you’d really describe as “sparkling”).

But I feel this bubbling inside, and I apologize because I try my hardest to avoid using language like this in my feed, but fuck you, coronavirus for everything you’ve done to us this year. Fuck you Donald Trump, along with everyone else who doesn’t take this seriously/thinks it’s a conspiracy. If you’re one of those people, please unfriend me. Don’t say goodbye, don’t drop in and tell me why I’m wrong about COVID-19, just go. My country is a plague state that killed this incredible woman, and it’s all your fault.

And good bye, Karen. I know we weren’t close, and we weren’t really a part of each other’s lives, but now that you’re gone, I really miss you.

Sweet Smell of Success

As you know, I’ve had my self-publication of my baker’s dozen of books on my mind. I’ve contacted three artists about covers, received two amazing ones back, and am looking into getting a real webpage. I’m not expecting to make any money on my books, and everything I’m sinking into covers is a luxury, not an investment. I don’t want to do what I’d have to do to to really sell myself, i.e. become an active presence on Twitter (Ugh) and shaking hands. I want to write. That’s all I want to do.

I’m a member of this FB group that makes me feel awful about myself. The focus of the group is how to make a living being a writer, and they insist on putting way more work that I’m ready into marketing and such, and if your book doesn’t sell a lot, then you’re a failure. Today someone made a post where he listed his mistakes when he started out writing, and the #1 and the most important was that he wrote for himself, not to market.

That really got to me. Because, in my mind, what’s the point in writing if you’re not writing for yourself? Nicole suggested I write to market, and the amount of not-being-able-to-motivate-myself-into-doing-that cannot be overstated. How do I measure my success, by having a webpage of thirteen (and counting) books with sweet covers that nobody will go to? Or by canvassing Twitter so I can retweet a bunch of authors whose books I may not have read and writing books so they’re exactly like every book out there? I’ve obviously found the FB group for the latter, but is there one for the former?

He Who Hesitates

I’m ordering a book cover, with more to come next month (Newcastle is going to the cardiologist this month, so my funds are limited in October). I’ve looked into some easy ways to do some marketing that won’t break my bank or my sanity. I am at peace with the fact that I won’t sell that many copies (I’m doing this for myself, not because I want to get rich). I will probably be good to go in January.

So the question left is, will I actually start in January? Will I be able to stare into the yawning chasm of Amazon and just throw myself in there? Or will I simply hold my breath and promise myself I’ll do it when I’m ready? Will imposing failure hobble me (I said I was at peace with not selling many copies, but I’m not going to like it)?

I’m running out of excuses.

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter

I’m thinking of a guy I used to know in New York, for most of the time I was there, and he’s one of the few people from my past that I don’t know what he’s doing. I’m Facebook friends with most of my old friends and exes (and friends with the friends of the exes in the cases where they don’t want to have anything to do with me), and while most of the people on Facebook are hardly on Facebook, I know they’re there, and I have at least a tangential connection to them.

But not him. I’m not even friends with his friends so I can’t get in touch with him secondhand. The aol email address I had for him is defunct. He’s completely gone.

He stopped talking to me the day Kate and I decided to get married. When we made the decision, I called my parents, and then I started to call friends. He was second on my list. In the five minutes it took me to hang up the phone after I called the first person, do something quick, like go to the bathroom or get a glass of water, and then call him, the first person had told their friend who told him. When he picked up the phone, he was furious that he found out about through a rumor. I can understand why he got upset, even though I didn’t do anything wrong, and I wouldn’t do anything different, even though calling him second resulted in me losing my friendship with him forever.

He considered us best friends, though, when I think about the six years I spent there, he’s rarely in my thoughts. I remember clearly my girlfriends, I remember clearly the women I wanted to be girlfriends, I remember clearly my drinking buddies and the guy whose apartment I would hang out in every Friday, getting stoned for several months before we went our separate ways. But I barely remember him.

And that’s weird because we hung out nearly every single weekend since the day I met him at a party in August of 2000. I enjoyed his company, even if his verbal filter was faulty and he was a little problematic (he identified perhaps too strongly with Rob from High Fidelity—the book and the movie). He was a songwriter who didn’t write songs, but my persistence in writing inspired him to get out his guitar and invite me to his apartment so he could show off. I recall, as vividly as I remember anything, one day, as we were walking underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side, seeing a pair of really old men sitting together on a park bench like an old couple and thinking that was where he and I were going to be in fifty years. We didn’t last five.

Every other person in my life has become the bones behind a character I’ve written (that’ll encourage my friends to read my writing, to see if they recognize themselves). And then there’s him. All that time and experience together, and all that time and experience apart, and I don’t miss him. What does that say about him? What does that say about me?

But now that I’m thinking of him, I want him to be happy. In fact, the only thing standing in the way of his happiness at the time was him, and I hope he finally defeated himself. I hope he grew up to be as cool as he’s always wanted to be.

Three Hundred Sixty-Five

I’ve tried putting it out of my head. I’ve grown a lot since then. I’ve lived a pretty exciting life in the past year. I’ve reconnected with of people, I’ve had a lot of laughs, I’ve been really honest with myself and others. I’ve had a number of milestones on my journey to reflect, and I don’t need another one. But this date is there, it’s seared into my mind, it’s forever a part of me. 

It was a little after 4:00 in the afternoon a year ago today that Kate told me she was divorcing me, and that I had two days to move out, and then walked out of the room with no explanation, never to be seen again. About an hour and a half after that, I had to sit with my General Manager at the break room at work and try to explain what happened when I still wasn’t sure what happened. She was the first person I told. A year ago Monday, I pet two cats I’d snuggled with for fourteen years for the last time, ever. That morning, I left my home and my life, and no one would tell me why. 

I have a new home now. I have a new life. I’m happy. But this day …  

After everything, I didn’t expect it to still hurt. 

Memories Fade, Part 2

I hate this day. I hate it so much. In August, I usually start dreading it and wondering how I’m going to feel this year. It’s been eighteen years. 9/11 is old enough to vote. It doesn’t haunt me most of the time, it doesn’t drive me to drink. I hardly think of it anymore. But I’ll never forget. And still that date rolls around. 

It’s just a normal day anymore, with the exception of Twitter and Facebook remembrances (like this one), but I want the world to stop. I don’t want to go to work. I don’t want anybody to go to work. I don’t want people to have Meet-ups or dates or parties. I don’t even know what I want people to do instead, I just don’t want them pretending that nothing happened today. 

Maybe it’s because I was there. I took the train to the World Trade Center stop only a half-hour earlier. I heard the plane crash into Tower 2 and carried on stuffing envelopes like nothing happened. I evacuated my building and looked up at the double-landmark I knew and trusted as my compass in New York City on fire. I was almost hit by a smoldering cell phone case that someone was likely wearing on their belt when they died. I thought the world was coming to an end. 

But it didn’t. And here we are. We got revenge on the people who caused it (as well as a whole lot of people who had nothing to do with it). Presidencies were won and lost. The Right went back to hating New York for being a bastion of moral depravity. The city rebuilt. And September 11 is just a normal day anymore.  

This anniversary makes me feel so lonely. It doesn’t seem like anyone else feels as intensely as I do about today, not after almost twenty years. And how would anyone know how I felt? I’m pretty good at hiding it. Most of the people I’ve met over the past ten years have no idea what I went through that day. I don’t have anybody to talk to about it, and even if I did, I don’t know what I’d say. I can’t even write a coherent blog post after counting down to today working on it.  

It’s been a long time. Never Forget. 

Memories Fade, Part 1

I don’t want to be the guy who dwells on bad news and trauma, but this is something I’ll never forget. Part of it is because I literally watched it happen, and eighteen years isn’t enough to erase those images and those smells from my memory. I don’t think of it often as time has gone on, but on this date, I always do, and I feel really lonely anymore.  

Nobody checks to see how I’m doing whenever this day comes around, a day I start feeling the dread for around late August. (Although, to be fair, hardly anybody I’ve met over the past ten years knows about my experiences with it.) (Also, I’m willing to bet that the people who are aware of it don’t know what to say or assume that I don’t want to talk about it.) I’d be happy to talk about it, but that’s not the kind of thing you can just bring up, especially given how complicated the emotions are attached to it.  

And suddenly it arrives, and it’s nothing. There’s not a lot about it on social media anymore, and on the news, it’s mentioned pretty casually, before moving onto the next dumb-ass tweet from our president. But this was the defining event of twenty-first-century America. This mess we’re in right now directly ties back to what was planned in that cave almost twenty years ago. (September 11 led to the Iraq War, which was responsible for the election of Barack Obama, which was responsible for the election of Donald Trump and everything that has come with him. That’s just simplifying it.) Three thousand people died that day. Three hundred police and firefighter ran into the buildings I was running from, and they paid the price for their bravery. How do you forget that? 

I’m sorry. I just hate this day with a passion, and it’s just weird to me that it’s no big deal anymore.