Hey Graduates, God Bless Your Poor Souls

I’ve had the grave misfortune of being in Times Square during rush hour for the past two evenings. The tourist-strained visits were ameliorated by the fact I got to see my sister and her best friend on the first evening and the second night I attended the Broadway musical, “Rain,” with my producer gratis. On this back to back journey, I came across crowds of graduates in their shiny blue and purple gowns and caps and felt my heart sink. I thought of the impossible job market, the weight of student loans and debt, and the fact this is the first time in a long time that a new generation has it worse than their parents had it. Not to mention that a recent study pointed to young children having a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Cynicism brews when I think at the very least, it means they will have a shorter senior-phase trying to etch out an existence and survive in a world post-medicare, post-medicaid, and post-social security. 

I graduated college at 19, after an alleged full scholarship and many additional student loans along the way. I interned three days a week, took a double course load, and because I was ambitious, rather than being rewarded, I was fined. For every course I took over the standard 12-15 credits, I had to pay. Big time. If I had spent four years in college, I would have come out ahead, but I had dreams and inner musings pulling me beyond the confines of a private college on the Upper East Side. With the disapproval of the school’s dean, the lack of help from any administration, and the financial aid office’s encouragement to take out more private loans, I beat the system. I got my degree in record time. But I also came out of school at the age that some people were still starting college. I was without insurance, married to 36,000 dollars of student loan debt, and on my way to making a living as an artist of sorts. Yet, I somehow managed to prevail, busting my ass just enough to live in Los Angeles and New York without ever having to return home (and I would have championed homelessness in Hawaii before ever living in upstate NY with my folks again). It’s interesting that my post-college and post-retirement plan are the same. I’ll go where the wind takes me and if that leads to destitution, there’s an isolated beach in the Pacific that will call my name. 

My brother, my sister, and my other dear friends haven’t had it so easy. With two technical degrees in far more necessary fields than mine (carpentry and electrician), my brother has returned to our bucolic town and taken refuge in our parent’s downstairs’ bedroom. He works two jobs; the high school job he had at a local seafood restaurant that uses his culinary skills and the rest of the time is working just above minimum wage at Home Depot. Fortunately due to the new healthcare legislation, he has the chance to stay on my parents health insurance. Unfortunately, the financial toll of him being on the policy has become too much for either one of my parents to carry. 

My sister completed her Master’s Degree in Social Work and the day she accepted her diploma, she was issued the student loan bills for her undergraduate degree. Fortunately her field has student loan forgiveness if she doesn’t make the $80,000 (pre-interest) payments that are due over the rest of her young adulthood. But where is this money going? I cannot believe that we, as a society, are not further condemning those who drive in their gas-guzzling vehicles, living the high life, and making money of the backs of our country’s youth. We have failed to realize the cause and effect of our actions and how every ripple affects everyone else. If it were 1950, I would surely be on the red list. I am sickened to nausea when I think of the sense of entitlement that people have for their own personal greed and wealth. And yes, I do think there should be a great incentive, if only on a very personal and self-fulfilling level, to give back. To give back a fucking lot more.

I worked on a big-budget film recently that heralded a great deal of controversy. All over the news, Will Smith was being condemned for his oversized trailer that took up half of Soho’s narrow street and filled the air with constant carbon monoxide and pollution. Eventually the city stepped in and the trailer was replaced with an average sized trailer, as the publicity encouraged vast amount of tourists and New Yorkers, flocking to the tiny cobblestone streets to take photos and stake out the location. For the sake of publicity, the studio obviously made the decision to film in a narrow, highly populated area when there are thousands of options in this city to film in an abandoned warehouse in a less-populated area. I stood for hours at a time on the street, in full 1969-period wardrobe, watching how people fed into the hoopla of such a great star being among them. While my childhood dream was to be a celebrity, to be among these over-rated individuals who contribute to our entertainment, all the while using it as a justification to rape the quality of life of others, I cannot understand the “responsibilities” and “needs” of such an eye-blinding mega-star.

I’ll never forget being on location on Fifth Avenue on a set when a young man before me fell to the ground in a seizure, slamming his head against the sidewalk, and bleeding as profusely as a fire hydrant opened full-gauge.. Beyonce was on the block, escorted by police, security, and blocking the traffic such that it took over twenty minutes for a medic to reach us. While I love the arts and the process of creation, while I thrive when I’m a part of something bigger than myself, I can only shrivel when I see firsthand the consequences of such excess. And we will not vilify these people who make a billion dollars or own fifteen homes and a garage of sportscars because that would be un-American. Instead, we celebrate and envy their material success, all the while living with a falsified imagination that it is possible for any of us thanks to the American dream. Yet the humble, honest, hard-work, approach of the industrious America at it’s prime is now a distant reverie. Because honesty, humility, and honor are not what award us material success in this world.

I never imagined that my heart and mind would change with such a fervor and unguided determination. That in lieu of great success on the silver screen, I could find my utmost joy alone at a piano with a glass of dirt-cheap Muscat wine. Or that an evening spent in the Riverside Dog Park at sunset with my chihuahua would be the highlight of my most recent memories. Or that my desire of millions of dollars and a hit song have been replaced with a desire to pay off my student loans so I can be free from any financial shackles that reward the likes of Well Fargo and Citibank, which in my mind have received enough “rewards” over the course of economic bailouts. As American Idol plays in the background, with tonight’s artist shaking her booty with five back-up dancers, singing mono-syllabilic lyrics about her body with the message of stripper desperate for a few extra bucks, I cannot imagine ever wanting to reach “success” if that is what is entailed. And I sit here wondering, why are we so easily transfixed and appeased, rather than burning bras in the streets and raising hell as former generations have? Why are we existing in this reality, supporting these “superior” existences, and buying into all this brainwashing. I found a few fine lines under my eyes and thought my life was over. Then I stepped back, took a deep breath, and thought of why such a ridiculous thought of fear and self-loathing would ever enter my mind. And I realized, this is not my American dream.

The Real Signs He Really Loves You Pt. 2

A four-year journey from the original, not-so-loving, “Top 16 Signs He REALLY Loves You

1. He shows up, consistently. He honors his word and cares about your happiness as it’s integral to his own.

2. He agrees to ride a 13-hour bus to Niagara Falls because you scored two tickets for 50-cents, even though he gets motion sickness and hates traveling.

3. When you’re terrified of a decision to get a puppy and have a freak-out moment over this dream (and responsibility) becoming real, he assuages your fears and helps you commit to the dream and even offers to help clean up every now and then.

4. He hates to dance in public, but spends two hours dancing and spinning you around the dance floor at your mother’s 50th birthday because it’s what you want (and meeting all your hick relatives takes away the threat of humiliation after already being labeled a “Metro-Sexshhoooouuuuhhl.”

5. He offers to make a salad for dinner, even if he’d rather country-fried steak and mashed potatoes.

6. He downplays the assholes in your life, mocking them to the point of muting the obsessive thoughts you couldn’t otherwise abandon.

7. He lets you cry or laugh in excess, even when it’s slightly annoying to him. 

8. He goes on the late night walk with the dog, or music show, or random party, even though he’d rather be at home, reading in bed.

9. Even when he finds himself in financial uncertainty, he courts you and makes you feel appreciated.

10. He lets you ramble about past men from time to time and doesn’t take it personally when you need to vent.

11. He sings the corniest love songs of the 70’s and 80’s, directing their sanguine messages to you every single day.

12. He wears the ridiculous t-shirts you give him without protest, if only just around the house.

13. He brushes your hair, even if he feels it goes against his bad-ass, masculine image and could be considered gay.

14. He sits through a c-rate horror flick or overpriced 3-D version of “A Christmas Carol” because it’s your turn to choose the film, even when it’s the last thing in the world he wants to see.

15. Everyone in his tight circle of family and friends remarks on how enamored he was after first meeting you.

16. He poses for photos when he hates being in front of the camera and you just have to capture your birthday brunch at Balthazar.

17. He may not say it often, but words aren’t needed to know his intention and feelings are legit.

The Real Signs He Really Loves You Pt. 1

Four years ago I wrote a sarcastic, eye-opening list of the “Top 16 Signs He REALLY Loves You” as a reaction and book-end to a seven-year romantic entanglement that left me empty, depleted, frantic, and foolish. It was the end of a passionate era of heartache for me with a man I had idolized and admired, who had no option but to fall painfully short of my expectations and desires. Everyday, new readers or returning bloggers read that list and I can only imagine the doubts they must be having to conduct a Google search for signs of love. It wouldn’t be the end of heartache in my twenties, and I should’ve run just as fast from the next fellow who came along, greatly admiring the honesty and awareness in that loveless list of signs. He bonded over my heartbroken, torrid blogs with their finger-pointing and blatancy until the day came when he revealed his self-centered, asshole nature and became my blog-venting target. Suddenly the man who longed for some attention, wanted nothing of it, positive or negative, fearing any connection to me would foul his impulsive political ambitions. And all the while I dealt with cowardice and foppish actions betraying proclamations of dedication from weak men, there was a dude who became a dear friend and pen pal to me. We vented and emailed of our dating adventures and I counted myself lucky to have another new friend, as I was always a magnet for great male friends and poor male lovers. But never once did I allow myself to consider anything further would develop, as we lived in opposite sides of the country and long-distance entanglements had left me unhinged from years of false hopes that something would work out in similar setups. Yet, here, I ended up in a healthy relationship approaching the two-year mark of dating.

This past weekend I found myself sucked into two romantic-dramedies, “Love and Other Drugs” and “No Strings Attached.” They provided a reflection, a look into two beautiful 20-something girls who were opposed to being labeled a girlfriend, called “darling” or “baby,” and kept themselves guarded and protected, all the while these loyal, grounded, loving men pursued them. It caused me to reflect on the journey to here and the sheer determination of the man who has won my heart. His modesty and shyness would singlehandedly erase this blog from existence and have most often kept him out of my blog-status updates- and any other Internet musings. Since we live together in a matchbox-sized apartment, I’m sure the last thing he needs is more of me, so perhaps his own blog-avoidance can spare him the shades of red his face would turn uncovering this blog. Lately I’ve teased that he never wrote me a love letter and needs to do so. And then I began to pull up past emails and holiday cards, speckled with words of dedication and determination, honesty and self-deprecation, and an absolute authenticity that compromised his ego or pride for the long-lost art of being direct and sincere. This dude made it clear from the start that he was smitten and respected me and from the utterances of those words, every single action aligned with his verbose correspondence. And it was only in time that for the first in my life that a man meant what he said and did not shy away from my coldness and detachment, or my trepidation or battle wounds from my tumultuous past. At the time I didn’t register the intent, since every other fool had stepped up to the plate, promised a rose garden, and delivered a sewage treatment plant. 

When we first met I was dressed in a white lab coat, working at a Legal Tech conference, nursing wounds from a recent “break off” (not even substantial enough to qualify as a “break-up”) and was hired to encourage vendors to come up to a private suite to be wined and dined while my bosses pitched their services. Apparently the lab coats symbolized that we could fix the problems with legal service providers. It made little sense. The job was as dreadful as could be, with long shifts and a neurotic client. But this one guy and his colleagues kept returning, for what I presumed to be the free beer and legs of lamb.

A heavy set, boisterous theatre actress sporting the same ridiculous lab coat pulled me aside and said, “That guy is really into you. That’s why he keeps coming back, but you can have him. He’s too perfect for me and looks like a Ken doll.” I just laughed, overtired and turned down the numerous offers to grab drinks after the show from this Ken doll. He resided in Austin, and as I was without a place to stay for the upcoming South by Southwest festival, I inquired about crashing at his place in lieu of the shady highway motel I inevitably ended up at. Because in my direct and naive way, I had learned it’s easy to crash at a nice dude’s place and not be taken advantage of. He was hesitant, as he was concerned he may be more seriously involved with someone back home by the time I arrived and that would complicate his life. I didn’t care about that. I just wanted to crash in one of the two bedrooms his great house allegedly contained. 

We never connected until almost a year later, while he was visiting his dad in New York for the holidays, newly single just as a week after I was recovering from yet another “break-off” that had me on my knees in despair, as it was the last drop before the glass completely overflowed. The best answer was to go on a date with someone attractive, funny, and new. We had a night of dinner, drinks and bar-hopping, and side-splitting laughter that left me in a pleasant (for once) pain the following day. And then we returned to our normal lives, serial dating and detailing our adventures in long-winded emails. He returned a few months later for the same legal conference and thanks to a dreadful economy, I was spared sporting a lab coat and painfully boring hours at the show. But every night he would call and invite himself over, shameless in insisting that we spend time together and go out. His candor was welcome and by his fifth and final night in town, I had to abstain from seeing him and he promised (and lived up to it just once) that he wouldn’t call me. I was incredibly fearful that another night would make it very hard for me to say goodbye. We continued to touch base, and not a month later he was laid off from his corporate job and took to being a rambling gambler in Texas, playing poker and regaling me with his exploits, affairs, and occasional bouts of loneliness. I continued to serial date, from rich older eccentrics to younger, optimistic chaps, promising myself I would never tie myself down again (and secretly admitting that I had always wanted a strong relationship). And then in August he invited me to spend a week with him on Fire Island, to provide the sole female diversion from the gay crowds that stayed at his father’s B&B. 

We spent five days in perfect weather on the beach, my most loved earthly pleasure, and he continued to tease me about breaking his father’s heart, who insisted that his son should be with me but that he felt he could never have a girl like me. Once again it was very hard for me to say goodbye, knowing how many broken hearts amounted from temporary goodbyes that turned into forever goodbyes with the shift of a wind. The experience was too much like deja vu, here I was falling for yet another man who lived far away and was seemingly in no place to be in a relationship with me. And then I received an email and with certainty he declared he would be moving to New York and to not feel any pressure that he was doing it for me or would want a relationship. Of course this email was subsequently (and nearly immediately) followed by his determination to want me to solely date him and be his girlfriend. In the four months that followed, with my bitchy code of self-protection, he consistently showed up and patiently (sometimes impatiently) let me be myself until I was ready. We’ve been together ever since.

It’s of late, that the wholeness of this relationship has begun to make it’s impact on me. Relationships have their own tides, ebbing and flowing in ways we may not understand, but lately I am awash with appreciation and love for what I have in my life. I have fought my internal battles, disappointed my ambition and drive have taken a backseat to living in the moment and acknowledging the beauty in the simple and small. But with this has come an internal glow and happiness, a sense of fulfillment that may, at the end of this life, carry more weight than what I once thought should matter the most: career, fame, and fortune. I understand the fragility of relationships and the ever-changing desires and motion in the modern world. I recognize that nothing will necessarily last forever and we can’t always be certain of longevity. But even still, this time in my life has resonated that even though relationships may be fleeting, self-worth doesn’t have to be. And after the blessing I have been given with such a great man, no matter how life may twist and turn, I will never be sucked into the tornado of sacrifice with no return as I once was. That is sweet clarity.

And as an addendum, thank God I didn’t end up with any one of those assholes that chipped away at my wild heart. The journey was worth it’s current pay-off.