Take A Breath

breathI’m not afraid to die. I used to be frightened of the transition. But I’m not afraid to die anymore. Maybe it’s my age. I don’t know.

I had three large fears: death, failure, and being alone. Failure? Maybe that’s my age too, but one day I realized cash wasn’t the pot of the rainbow. Contentment was. So that left the fear of alone.

Well not anymore. Because I realized there is no alone. One day I realized there are other people on earth too. 7 billion of them. The people who stand beside me are here too. So I force the words past my pride and I say hello. We’ve been gathered together; synchronicity.

See I learned, once you’re emotionally unzipped, you’re free. You’re free to be truthful. You’re free to be authentic. The pressure that presses on your ribs is relieved. You can breathe with enlightened lungs. You can. Now, you’ll need to take deep breaths. But there’s a benevolence of breath. It isn’t contained by fences or borders or countries or continents. The man who walks beside you breathes alongside you. Two people standing side by side sharing the same sighs. Exhaled. Inhaled. Each taking turns. It’s as intimate as sex. Sharing body fluids. Not liquid but breezes that fluidly pass from lungs to lungs. Your breath is carried through my blood. Your hushed is in my heart. What you’ve breathed, I breathe.

Together we’re breathing Africa.

Together we’re breathing Asia.

Together we’re breathing Ireland.

Together we’re breathing Brazil.

Together we’re breathing Puerto Rico.

Together we’re breathing France.

Together we’re breathing Las Vegas.

We’re breathing hope. We’re breathing fear. We’re breathing love. We’re breathing war. We’re breathing terrorism. We’re breathing injustice.

Caught breaths and whispered worries and secondhand sorrows. Shared. We share the same aspirations; peace and love and justice and full and safe and trust and triumph. We must share those aspirations aloud. We must take a deep breath and wind those words. We’re standing here together. We’ll call it mouth-to-mouth recitation. You tell me what you’ve learned and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. And together we’ll inspire and aspire.

Not Saying A Word

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You know what? I love being a man. Every aspect. And I have many healthy friendships with men. I’ve written a play about men. So. I know men.

And you can take my word for it – Harvey Weinstein’s  buddies knew. I know which of my buddies have traveling dicks. I know which of my buddies treat their wives like shit.

I know which of my buddies embarrass themselves to waitresses. I know which of my buddies do the cock walk. I know which of my buddies have dick envy. And I know which of my buddies keeps it zipped.

Weinstein wasn’t doing it with kids or boys. So he talked. He didn’t say he forced it. But he boasted the number and flaunted the advantage. He felt his intelligence entitled him.

And his buddies knew. They knew when he didn’t say what he’d been up to. They knew by all the things he didn’t say.

Fuck them. They knew.

(Photo courtesy of The New Yorker)

Divided In Half

downloadHalfway through the run of UNZIPPED and today I missed my friend Roger Kachel.  Roger was my best friend in high school.  He was a dancer and one hell of a nice man.  He fulfilled his dreams.  He danced on Broadway.  He triumphed when he danced the role of Mungojerrie in Cats.  His obit ran in Playbill magazine.

While in college I acted in a production of The Bald Soprano at The O’Shaughnessy at St Kates.  Roger flew in to see it.  I felt stunned.  What a kind act. But that’s the way he was – a gentle and kind man.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to share this new experience with him?

I wrote about him.  I include it here:

Whenever I travel, I calculate how far I am from home and I approximate how long it will take me to get back again. I’ve done that most of my life. I enjoy traveling. I do. I like meeting new people. I like seeing new things. But I’m quite fond of my familiars.

My friends and I play a game while we’re out and about. We compete to see which of us recognizes the most people. I find I play that game even while I travel alone. I look for familiar faces at fairs. I scan for a semblable soul at the sites. I canvass the crowds in the cities. I’m ardent in the airports. And eventually I encounter friends.

Last week I traveled to Chicago. Now you’re probably thinking I’m going to write about some encounter I had with a classmate or a neighbor. But I’m not. I had to catch my flight at Midway Airport so I arrived a couple of hours early and found the security precautions didn’t consume a lot of time.

So I walked around the concourse to forge for food. As I turned down the “A” corridor I looked the length of the hall. I saw the pastel painted rocking chairs and I thought how terrific they’d be for toddler tranquility. I spied the businessmen with their laptops and the airport staff in their uniforms. I contemplated a new briefcase and I noticed my shoes needed a polish. I’m terrified to fly. I hate it. So I spent my time with scattered staccatoed streams of thoughts. I prayed. I cringed. I swore. I trembled. I fortified. I vowed. To distract myself from my impending horror, I started to play the game. And then my heart broke.

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My best buddy from high school died last year. We hadn’t kept up over the years. Parts of his personality conflicted with parts of mine and geography made it easier to part ways. 

Years later I stumbled over his email address. I started to write but couldn’t think how to begin. I closed the screen. Yet I read his obituary and sat stunned. We’re young. I wasn’t anticipating it. And honest to Christ, although I hadn’t considered him in years, I was emotionally unprepared for his death.

I don’t know why I thought of him in Chicago. I looked down the hall as far as I could see and I realized I wouldn’t see him. The horizon held a completely different perspective. I realized at that moment that it didn’t matter which corridor I traveled or which hall I traversed because he wouldn’t be there. I thought of people I might possibly see. And I thought of the people it was impossible to see.

We were best friends. There was a time in my life when I considered him hourly. There was a time I considered him daily. And there came a time I didn’t consider him at all. We split our first bottle of vodka together. I hung my head out the passenger door of his 1978 two-toned tan Dodge Duster at the Vali-Hi Drive-In.  He hung his head out the passenger door of my 1970 two-toned blue and white AMC Hornet. I smoked my first cigarette from his pack. He was the last man to punch me. And I deserved it. He was so right that I didn’t even retaliate; I just apologized.

My God do you remember when we were young enough to tell our best buddy everything? It was the last time we were allowed to speak of insecurities and intimidations aloud. We talked school. We talked women. We talked ambitions. We talked interests. We talked about everything. We talked about nothing. We spent hours on album covers and minutes on things that should have mattered. But it all mattered. It was just in the proportion of youth.

The last time I saw him (in 1982) we met at an all-night diner in Minneapolis. We sat for hours and talked. We both sat with our backs against the wall, our feet up on the seats, and our cigarettes dangling from our mouths. I think he smoked two packs. I know I did. I knew we wouldn’t be friends anymore. He knew it too. We walked away. And then I drove home. And we weren’t friends anymore. But I still have years and memories of great moments that somehow include him.

Isn’t it astounding that memories are nearly as memorable as the moments we now make? And as I traveled the moving walkway at Midway, I thought how amazed I was that someone who mattered so very much to me for so long, so soon didn’t matter to me at all. And I was saddened by his death, but I was devastated that I didn’t care more.

It seems apropos that the airport corridor is lined with the rocking chairs. You hold the ones you love so closely while they’re little. You rock and you sing and you soothe. And you sit and you remember and you try to hold on to their memories when you’ve aged. The rhythm of the rock is like the tick of time. Time passes. We pass our pasts. I won’t see my friend in any corridor anymore. But I’ll see him when I remember.

My mother believes the earth should pause for a moment each time someone dies. She taught me to see the majesty of God and His idiosyncratic creations. She taught me of the splendor of the encounters of humanity.

I know I’m supposed to end this essay with some comment about how I’ll see my friend “on the other side” or some bullshit about how “we know he’s happier now.” I can’t judge where he is now. And I can’t know how he feels now. But I know how I feel. I’m sorry that I didn’t keep in contact with him and I’m sorry that I’ll never see him in the halls. I liked him. He mattered to me.

Rest in Peace Mr. Kachel.

 

Recapture

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It’s the helplessness. It’s the less of control.

That’s what disease does. It strips your supremacy. Your body assaults you. Stealth. Without threats. One day you’re a prisoner of a war captured by a new reality: impotence.

One day you can’t. Each day the can’ts accumulate. And soon you’re surrounded by the couldn’ts. I couldn’t for more than a year. I couldn’t ride a bicycle or walk a block or lose the weight or heal the ulcer or breathe without labor or say consecutive sentences or risk the heartbreak or control my coulds.

And my will withered.

This weekend I compelled myself. I willed myself erect. I willed myself engaged. I willed myself to accomplish. I stood up, I spoke up, and I achieved. It was difficult standing on that stage. But I did it. I recovered my remains. And I resurrected my hope.

I resuscitated my dignity. I reclaimed the reign of my dominion of myself.

After a performance, I stood beside one of my closest friends. One of the circle who matter most. And my illness attacked me while I was the most vulnerable. I suffered the third most humiliating moment of my 55 years. I spoke my horror aloud and my friend soothed with a simple, “fuck it.” And at the moment – he rescued my pride. An exhale later I reclaimed my control.

I can’t control the attacks against my heart. Congestive heart failure is an insatiable beast. But I can control my reply.

This weekend I replied.

 

Photo courtesy of www.quora.com

Autumnal Leavings

autumn_leaves_PNG3601Tonight: dress rehearsal for UNZIPPED. And yet, it’s not. I don’t have dress rehearsals anymore. I’m too sick. Now everything is a performance. I’m pushing all my powers to perform my necessary tasks.

Yesterday I had lunch with a buddy. As I walked down the hall to the restaurant I grew afraid. I’d never felt so ill. I slid onto the stool and I steadied myself. I considered what I should do. I knew I should go to the hospital. But – I have a play this week. Too many people are counting on me. Too much money is at stake. Coupled with medical bills? Too much debt to incur. I excused myself and walked to the restroom. I balanced each palm on the porcelain and I looked at myself in the mirror. I prayed aloud, “Please don’t let me die.”

An aside about side effects: now I have short term memory loss and sweats so thick it’s like goo. An actor who’s having trouble with his memory on the eves of his performances. And the script isn’t even  horror. An understudy? I’ve overstudied. I’ll perform. I’ve learned how to endure. I’ve endured the last year of heart aches.

At the sink I splashed the coldest water to cool my clammed skin, and I steadied my feet. I walked back to the restaurant and I resat on the stool.

I’m living with a pulse that hovers in the 40s. I can’t lose weight and my body is weighted with the physical weary until I must pace to advance. Chair to chair. Step to step. Task to task.

I’m pushing myself until October 18. Please God – a successful procedure.

Please God a successful play.

I remind myself of O’Henry. I hope this isn’t my last of my leaves. I’ve always wanted to leave my Mark. I just never thought of it all so literally.