For as long as I can remember and probably before. I’ve always been drawn to gas stations and junk yards. From a very young age I could often be found snooping around the gas station on my corner of 83rd street and Astoria Blvd. or tagging along with my Dad to collect from many of the gamblers who worked at the junk yards outside of Shea Stadium. Drawn perhaps, by the smell of gasoline, barb wired fences, guard dogs and random car parts. These places served as the keys to some of my earliest adventures.
So when my wife pulled in to the parking space across from Central District Ice Cream. My excitement regarding a sweet weekend treat was doubled by the site of an abandoned / out of business gas station. Between the antique cars parked in the lot to the hose-less gas pumps. It was all goosebumps and fist pumps. Once again, I was reduced to using my cellphone. I snapped a few shots before joining my wife for ice cream across the street.
As for the ice cream. My wife had a cup of Peanut Butter & Plum Jam. While I indulged in a waffle cone of Coconut Cantaloupe. Great stuff and highly recommended on our part. As I get older, I take a lot of satisfaction knowing that the smell of old gas stations and the taste of freshly scooped ice cream still bring a smile to my face.
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.
For close to a year now, my doctors, therapists and my wife have urged me to open up about my health issues and the issues that accompany them. Knowing full well that trying to protect myself and loved ones from worrying about me and or thwarting their insistence on helping me, has only hurt me. Hasn’t helped in any way, form or matter. My attempts to hide symptoms and an overall fucked up long term outlook have only made me angrier and wasted much of the time I could have better invested elsewhere.
The hardest part by far has been trying to keep my parents at a safe distance. When I first arrived in Seattle. I had already been experiencing symptoms that my primary doctor of close to ten years had pretty much reduced my mounting issues as post brain tumor, post stroke relate issues. While numerous blood tests were ordered and performed over the years. Little more was ever suggested or done. It wasn’t until I went out on my own and booked an appointment with a nearby neurologist that my issues were properly addressed and tested, that I found out I had a meninigioma brain tumor. Not a threat to my life, but something else to worry about and keep track of.I was angry at my doctor for his lack of action and insight, but I also couldn’t help but blame myself for trusting him for so long.
Fast forward a few months, my symptoms worsened. I made connections with the right doctors and hoped that removing the new brain tumor would right the course. Further tests were including an MRI and CAT-Scan followed. The results were nothing I ever expected or be prepared for. I was told that alarming amounts of calcium had massed on my brain and I had a rare neurological syndrome/disease I had never heard of. One that had no cure and no known treatment. One that was progressively erodes your motor skills while wrecking havoc on your speech.
I was given a referrals to speech, a physical therapist and a social worker, My requests for a drano cocktail and a handgun were turned down and taken as a sign that I might be a suicide risk. (Note. New York humor and Washington State humor are very different.)
Since that October meeting. I found a great physical therapist just a few blocks from me. My social worker (One I really appreciated having.) moved back to her home town of Minnesota. I’m on my second walker, one which I need to get around with and one that keeps me from falling down and injuring myself. And while I’m being mentally prepared for a future in a wheel chair. I am doing everything in my power to remain active and positive. I’m boxing, lifting weights, going to the gym, writing and traveling as much as possible.
In the end, the hardest part has been opening up and struggling not to internalize my feelings or blame myself. I know what my friends and family went through during other life threatening episodes in my life. Because of that, I’ve tried to do everything in my power to shield and protect them from any pain, worry or complicate things any more than possible. I’m already feeling an immense pressure trying to keep my family at bay, while keeping them as informed and updated as possible. Opening up gives me the chance to breath again and say “I’m alright.” “Just give me the space and time I need to deal with things. I’m not writing this to worry anyone or look for sympathy. I won’t be starting any “Go fund me” bullshit. I’m just hoping for some acceptance and understanding. Below are some links that I thought would be helpful.
Web MD Brain Tumors
Virginia Mason Hospital
Renew Physical Therapy
Every time I sign in for my appointment at Virginia Mason. I’m asked for my name and date of birth in order for me to check in and direct me to the right floor and pavilion. With a date of birth and birth weight that are exclusive to the number seven. I’ve more than become quite versed in the inevitable follow up “Oh wow. You must be the luckiest man alive. You should play the lottery.” Well, in the gazillion times I’ve heard those words.” I’ve smiled awkwardly, before advancing to point B.
This time however, Perhaps due to the nature of my visit. Or the fact that I had yet to partake in my morning coffee ritual. I couldn’t help but respond with the first thing that came to mind. I leaned in and smiled, as the words “I’m checking into a fucking hospital. How lucky should I feel?” rolled off my tongue. While not well thought or intended to have even the smallest hint of meanness. It felt good. As if I had been holding back a sneeze or postponing a celebratory jiz. Quickly adding “Besides, have you ever heard of someone winning the lottery using a succession of the same number?” I felt a sense of release and satisfaction. A heaviness left me chest as if a curse had been lifted. “Sorry kid, I had to test these guns before I declared war on the rest of the small talkers.” The next time someone hits me with a “God is testing you.” I’ll hit them so hard, their words will be lying in blood two miles down the road. Until then…
As we were celebrating my brother’s 21st birthday over a couple of tasty lobsters yesterday. I wanted to share with him the little wisdom I still had to offer. For the most part, we talked about school and the new baby our other brother had welcomed into the world just a day earlier. Though I wanted to speak as few words as possible and listen to the words of someone in the throes of becoming a unique and very intelligent adult. He seemed more interested in the city I grew up in years before he was born. My brother’s curiosity and curious nature had me on the hot seat.
Speaking in the most positive way this old coot could muster. I explained that much of the city I grew up in was gone. Yet my own personal experiences and stories kept it alive in my heart. How, while the drastic changes to the both the cities landscape and overall chemistry did not appeal to me. There was no reason they should deter him from finding his favorite corners, nooks and destinations. Change is inevitable and an integral part in our growth process. Without movement and change, we become stagnant. For me, or anyone else for that matter, to expect things to remain the same would not only be selfish. It would be downright foolish. And as much as I find myself shaking my fists at tourists and the franchises that have replaced many of my old haunts. I’m finding new and exciting things that appeal to my senses.Later that day, just blocks from the Bleeker St. corner where we enjoyed our meal. I came upon some pretty eye-popping street art. A convenient reminder how change brings possibilities. As I get older, I’m coming to realize it is not healthy to live in the past or worry about the future. To live in the moment. To enjoy the now. That’s my happy place.
Every now and then we need to be taken out of our comfort zone,.Shook up like good cocktail and have a little in your face with someone about something. When I look back on today’s little war of words. To be honest, with all the off the grid shooting I’ve been doing over the years. I’m surprised it hasn’t happen more often. Especially with some of the chances I’ve taken of late.
It was today’s little exchange however, that both caught me off guard and left me a little rattled. As we were returning from an Easter breakfast at one of our favorite upstate farms. We stopped along the side of the road to get some fresh vegetables to add to the days take. As my wife parked the car and headed towards the farm store. I crossed the road to get a closer glance of an old and (What I thought was abandoned barn.) As I began to cross the road I noticed two women walking towards me looking quite agitated. The younger one asked me what I was doing. I respectfully replied “I apologize If I’m on your property. It’s just that I was intrigued by that barn.” “Oh, that’s just an old broken down barn. I don’t mind if you take some pictures.” The offer seemed a bit back handed and she went on to note that the two dogs that accompanied her and what could have been her mother or the towns crypt keeper. So off I went. Moments later, that same woman was riding towards me on her bicycle armed with enough anger and spite to fire a mouthful of teeth straight into a vital organs. “This is private property! I didn’t say you could get close!” Jeezus, I thought she was going to pull out a pistol and shoot me dead. To say the very least, the exchange was so heated. I was expecting everything from a visit from the police to an updated version of leather face emerging from the barn. At the time. I didn’t feel I was in the wrong, but in retrospect. Maybe I just wore out my welcome. Lesson learned. Tread lightly, I suppose. I did manage to get a few shots without ever stepping inside. There was enough useless garbage stored inside the fuel a full season of Hoarders.
In my last post “Sometimes it’s better to go it alone.” Here. I mentioned going it alone when operating as a street photographer. While that thread may ring true in many cases. It can’t go without saying that she is both my greatest inspiration and a damn good lookout and second set of eyes. Often watching my back when I’m shooting in more risky areas. While also serving as a second set of eyes when it comes to security related entities.
Where as today was scheduled to be a very laid back day with a short trip to Ikea for an area rug. We spent much of our day exploring much of Newark, Elizabeth and Harrison. While not dangerous by any means. Select areas might have been a bit private and or restricted. So to my wife, a hearty thanks for being my lookout when it came to shooting and our late lunch in East Newark. I really enjoyed sharing a seat at the counter and getting to know some of the regulars.