Earlier today as I was waiting for the elevator, a man who closely resembled a healthy mix of my Dad and a mafiq hitman who is either on his way to execute a contract or preparing for a life in witness protection . Though I didn’t mention either, his striking look and mannerism seemed enough to get us past the usual “How are you today?” or any mentions of the weather.
Though memories of Just Jake’s, Depot Square, The Meatlocker didn’t immediately roll off the tongue. My long time friend, Mandy did. Having lived in New Jersey for over a decade, Montclair, with it’s little downtown always offered something to eat, drink or do. No matter the draw of the town, it was always the time I spent with my longtime friend that made everything seem so much better. Her laugh, her smile, her kindness and positive attitude always inspired me in enen the darkest times. Despite our geographical locations and the fact that we are almost polar opposites, we’ve managed to stay close friends for over thirty years. Now, with her now living in Europe and me residing on the West Coast, it hard to say when we’ll be able to sit in the same room together. However, with tools such as Skype and social media, I’m sure we’ll be able to keep in touch for years come. If you’re lucky enough to find someone, anyone who loves you unconditionally and not only accepts you for who you for who you, but reminds you how special you are to them, be sure they know how much you appreciate and cherish the fact that they’re a part of your life. Thanks to that dude by the elevator for jogging my memory.
John was good, very talented soul. A tall red-headed gentleman with a gifted voice that could carry you to the moon and quick sense of humor and that would send even the most cynical asshole into uncontrollable tears of laughter. Like many good souls. John had his demons. One’s he would keep to himself throughout his life. His way of dealing or not dealing with these unresolved issues was drinking. On the occasions where he did hit the bottle. He would often drink to excess and to the point of no return. In the end, it was his addiction and love for guns that would lead to his suicide.
While on many occasions John’s drinking and gun play would end with a few gunshots and random bullet holes in his family’s home. His wife always seemed to perfectly time her departures and calls to the local police. During what would turn out to be John’s last implosion. Instead of firing some shots into the home’s interior. He pointed the gun at his head. Threatening, “You don’t think I’ll do it.” “You don’t think I could.” Pleading for him to put the gun down while gripping their young, screaming child. She reached out to him as he pulled the trigger.
Hearing the news, even years later in a conversation about my Father’s history of drinking sent shock waves, though never intended on my Father’s part through me that would echo for years to come. Less than a year later, I would be hospitalized for panic attacks and anxiety related issues. John was more than a friend to my Father, Mother and myself. He was part of our extended family. I still have the pictures from me and my Dad’s first visit. The pictures of him and Stallone on the movie set. As well as visual memories of the Queens garden apartment he shared with his soon to be wife. Though recalling his suicide was painful. Thinking of him brought back memories, many good ones, I had either buried or forgotten. Little adventures and excursions to the local parks and fields with our dogs. His great big smile, barreling laugh and infectious sense of humor. My fondest memories of John will always go back to when I was a very young child and both he and my Dad had city jobs as bus drivers with Tri-Borough Coach. As a kid growing up in an imperfect world with it’s own problems and imperfections. He was somewhat of a super hero to me. Someone I loved and looked up to. He never revealed that dark side to me. Which, for better or worse. May have been a reason why I took the news of his suicide and underlying issues so hard. News that brought on some pretty intense panic and anxiety attacks. Looking back , I’ve learned from experience, to remember people for all the good they did and the many positive impressions they left on you. Focusing on one negative incident or action will never impact you in a positive way. Though it’s taken me years to fully realize that. I’m happy to recall so many of the good things John and many others added to my life. Acceptance and forgiveness go a long way when it comes to finding peace of mind and closure.
As I was going through years of medical records that included but were not limited to CAT Scans, M.R.I.’s, and visits to the emergency room. I began to feel overwhelmed and somewhat depressed. While I understand that medical, W-2’s and tax returns don’t tell the true story of the lives we’ve lived and led. Seeing much of your experiences and struggles on tax return or hospital discharge can be quite the mind fuck. So when I found this envelope resting within years of hundreds of files deemed “important”. It was the life preserver that kept me afloat emotionally. While I often beat my chest about my disdain for living in the past and preserving memories by constantly reliving them. I am quite an archivist.
I have a couple of books filled with everything from published articles to concert ticket stubs to notes passed to me in the eighth grade from my first big crush. My decision to keep or discard often come down to how these things made me feel originally or their importance to a specific time or experience. For christ’s sake, I still have the hollow point bullet my Dad gave me when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure there was a life lesson attached, but for the life of me. Neither myself nor my Father can remember. In no way am I a hoarder. I’m quite neat and organized. Often taking time to purge the less important things. Still, I’m often amazed by the amount of moments I’ve managed to save.
I was sitting with my friend going over the weeks sessions when I half jokingly said, “You’re going to put me in the poor house.” The remark was in response to his pointing out the next expensive item I needed to invest in. Being that the last six or so months had seen me purchasing a new camera, a lens, photo software, a sturdy tripod, new umbrellas and a studio light to name a few. It seemed a proper reaction. Then I thought about the education he’s been giving me and I suddenly found myself eating my words.
As I took a moment from my mason jar of home-made tea. I thought about how much time and effort has been invested in bringing me back and making every studio session better than the last through honest critiquing and continuing building blocks. And I continue to book shoots and regularly use the tools and knowlege given. My confidence builds, allowing me to have more creative control and in the end, satisfaction. For now I’ll keep my “thank you’s” to a minimum and use my time to listen, learn and appreciate. 感謝、私は残っています。
Last week I dropped by unannounced on an old friend with nothing but a smile and a case of beer. It had been years since I last saw Gary, but the memories and appreciation for this old friend had never wained. I first met Gary when I was sixteen, maybe seventeen years old. At the time I had just met and had begun dating his daughter Casey. At the time I had already perfected the “Meet the Dad” thing and had developed quite the silver tongue. As I sat there in his living room. Gary popped the top on his can of Budweiser and the conversation began. As we spoke about our common interests such as Hockey, power tools and of course his daughter Casey. Gary leaned back in his chair and breathed in before saying “Listen James, I like you. You’ve got a good line of shit.” It was a strange moment. One that I remember vividly years later. The man was honest and forthright. A gritty, no holds barred kind of man. A union guy who got his hands dirty at work, just like my step dad. Since that day Casey and me remain trusted friends and I’ve kept in touch with Gary through family events and unannounced visits. Till this day, he’s still as honest and forthright. A hard worker who, despite retirement, keeps himself busy and his hands dirty. Years may pass without a visit, but he welcomes me every time with a smile and an offer to stay as long as I like. He reminds me that, as we get older we learn to appreciate the little things in life and cherish the people we invite into it. My appreciation for Gary, the way he welcomed me to the family in my teens and the way he still welcomes me in to his life and home goes a long way. As I get older, I’ve grown to appreciate these little moments and exchanges more and more. Whether it’s reaching out to a stranger or dropping in with a case of beer on an old friend. These little things can make a difference in someone’s day and even their life. It sure goes a long way to make my own better.