Any trip to Olympia means stopping at Old School Pizza for a sit down, slice or three and a celebration of wall to wall 80’s culture. Whether I’m hungry or not. There’s always room enough for pizza, a fountain soda and a few quarters for Pac-Man. And while I usually leave my camera packed away in the trunk of the car. I sometimes bring my phone with me in case I want to capture a moment. Today was the “in case” as I pulled out my iPhone to take a few shots of both the interior and the totally awesome Marvel Comics mural in the adjacent parking lot.
When I called my Mother this morning. In a somewhat puzzled state of mind, She asked me for my address. Being that I’ve told her countless times before and included it with the cards, letters and various mail related items I’ve sent her. I was puzzled as to why she was asking me again. “I your address &#$^@?” she asked.”Yes, that is my address.” “Well, I’m so pissed. The post office returned my package.” I knew the reason before she could even speak. As this has happened several times since my wife and me moved to Seattle. “Did you include the apartment number?” The one I’ve instructed you to always include?” “No, don’t they know you live there by now?” Now, I recall reminding her to do so more than a half a dozen times now, to no avail. However, my dismay or anger had nothing to do with her forgetting mildly important things.
My anger stems from the fact that I started insisting she stop sending me these packages back in 1994. Again, to no avail. Now,when you think about it. That’s almost twenty five years of unwanted, unsolicited packages. Items she’s purchased at places like K-Mart, Wall-Mart and other big box stores I myself, refuse to enter. knowing full well that any chosen package will contain items I will either have to throw out, pass on to someone who most likely think I’m nuts, or find room to store. Each box, envelope or package sent includes a unintentional amount of anxiety. The kind that comes with having things you don’t want or need thrust upon you. Not to mention, the inevitable phone call asking, “Did you get it?” “What did you think?” In the end, I don’t want to be surrounded by things I don’t need or one’s I can’t get rid of without the guilt associated with discarding items gifted by loved one.
My wife and I recently deiced to take one weekend day (usually Sunday) to stay somewhat local and dedicate part of the day to study,. (Or in my case, write.) Over time it’s come to be a ritual I enjoy and even look forward to. Going out for breakfast before seeking out a library, book store or cafe/coffee house to settle in and get some extra work done. Being that I’ve always been and still am inspired by photography. I often find myself thinking as one and wanting to capture a moment. Since moving to Seattle I’ve taken my share of sunsets but often miss the industrial surroundings of the Jersey City condo we so cherished. Finding ourselves at a SODO coffee shop late this afternoon. I was able to patiently wait in my comfortable seat as the sun began to set over the areas industrial backdrop. As the Fall quickly becomes Winter and the days get shorter. My chances to watch the sun disappear will multiply. Still, watching sun set and that glowing orange color overpowering a once blue sky incites child like awe.
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.
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…