Free Concerts & Costly Consequences

15 October 2010

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (if you’re not, what’s keeping you? – a list of reasons you should are the post-script to this post) know that I spent a decent amount of my Tuesday afternoon listening to a homeless man play trumpet. I was just sitting outside one of my usual coffee-haunts when out of nowhere the steady hum of the urban landscape was delightfully, amazingly pierced by the wail of a horn playing Giant Steps. My musician friends tell me that playing the lead for a saxophone driven piece on a trumpet is no easy feat.

I was transfixed from the very beginning of the familiar opening phrase. Before he had finished that musical introduction, I was so impressed that I went to the ATM so could drop a twenty spot on him. I wrote then that he was simultaneously “lifting my spirits while breaking my heart.” I don’t know if I’ve ever penned truer words. This man – who I presumed to be homeless because of his attire and the bags that carried too many possessions – infused each note with a sadness that I can only describe as haunting, yet played so beautifully that I was simply mesmerized.

My favorite versions of our National Anthem are the superlatively soulful offering from Marvin Gaye, and the unquestioned genius of Jimi Hendrix’s left-handed guitar. This homeless man followed Giant Steps with a rendition that became number three. Perhaps it is the heart-wrenching poignancy of a man who’s country may have failed him having the ability to play Our Song, or just my own patriotism being stirred, but I stood to listen because I didn’t know what else to do.

This homeless virtuoso returned to Coltrane with Niama, but he immediately and seamlessly transitioned into a playful version of Pretty Woman when a striking brunette came into view, and just as easily went back to the jazz ballad without a breath. I wanted to applaud just like I would any seemingly impossible bridge at any ordinary concert.

The Prince classic Kiss was interrupted by the vulgarity of car horns from the hands of impatient drivers. Ordinarily I glare at the offending vehicles for interrupting solitude for the sake of their self-absorption and wish the DC Police would enforce the law against non-emergent uses of the horn. That day I wanted them arrested for this crime against civility and music.

For 30 minutes, I needed to go to the wash-closet – I held it. I wasn’t going to miss a single note of Kinda Blue, Sir Duke, Girl from Impanema, or what proved to be the closing number, Fly Me to the Moon.

I was slightly miffed with the people who didn’t find something in their pockets to give this man, but in a tough economy, I gave them all the benefit of the doubt. I was out-right angry, however, with the people that didn’t pause to acknowledge the beauty of the moment; and I was plain furious at the people who hurriedly passed with cellphones against one ear and a finger to the other as if this was some sort of inconvenience rather than one of the incredible bonuses of urban life.

Most of my scorn was reserved for our country – not for the predicament of this one homeless man, who knows what he’s done to arrive here.  When the wealthiest nation in the world has allowed homelessness to reach epidemic proportions, we deserve the scorn. I rarely talk politics in this space, and this will not be an exception. As much as homelessness can be a political-football, it is not a political issue. This is a question of our very humanity.

How is this not a national embarassment? How is this staggeringly large problem not a clarion call to action? How can we even consider the concept of American Exceptionalism without addressing this festering sore on the body of our compassion? Homelessness is about two heartbeats away from catastrophic proportions, yet somehow, the country that invented the internet, placed a man on the moon, and is so proud of its greatness is largely, consistently ignoring it.

 

**********

 

Post-script / A Whole New Post – Just call It a Twofer:

Reasons to Follow Me on Twitter / How I (the reluctant Twitter) Think the Medium Should Be Used

  • I will only tweet that which I consider to be truly funny, important, poignant, curious, interesting, etc. In other words, I actively avoid the banal, the vapid, the over-sharing of the aforementioned.
  • The most tweets I have ever sent during a single day is seven – not to diss the more frequent tweeters, but I will never send eight tweets on the same subject that should probably have been combined into one blog post.
  • I do not link my tweets to FourSquare (maybe a valid use for some – helpful in knowing which places to avoid) so you won’t learn through my feed that I am randomly sitting at some coffee-haunt/bar/Metro Station/Ass Waxing shop.
  • I refuse to abuse the English language through annoying (to this Luddite) abbreviations.

And a few of my favorites tweets that you’re clearly missing and you’re life would be all the richer if you saw (ok, not really, but just follow me anyway):

  • if you’re seeing this, you’re not the duplicitous harpy so incapable of decency that she’s no longer welcome to my scotch or tweets#blocked
  • Only in 2010 would a “pre-dating” agreement contain a clause agreeing to joint custody of a bar; in other news, yes, I’m seeing someone now.
  • me: howzabout we watch baseball and drink wine while I condescendingly explain the game to you? her: sounds lovely.#Shegetsmyjokes #smitten
  • With the week I’ve had, it’s fitting that I’d be out of cream for my coffee too. With the week I’ve had , it’s ok to use Baileys instead.
  • I know that she lacks both the physical and cognitive dexterity for it to have been intentional, but I think a 1yo just gave me the finger.
  • Dear Food Network, I’d rather eat Top Ramen for a week than watch a SemiHomemade marathon with that hair-twirling fraud Sandra Lee.
  • her: whatcha doing tonight; me: drinking with a woman of loose morals and questionable character; her: so clearly every pot does have a lid
  • buckets of rain have me stranded in a bar. thank you, mother nature, how’d you know I needed a beer?
  • From a Craigslist post: put the rear adapter assembly on my tranny-possibly transfer case / #accidentalhumor http://tinyurl.com/27pdekb
  • reasons morning drinking is ok: vacation, never stopped from the prior night, thanksgiving, grand slam tennis sundays. where’s my champagne?
  • bible study meeting just broke out around me at my coffee shop. i’m taking it as a sign from god that i should be at the bar.
  • Listening to Yankee Fan argue with Sawx Fan feels like witnessing a debate between Hitler and Gengis Khan. #shootmenow
  • Me; I’ve been lobbying for 10 yrs for cocktailing as olympic sport; My Friend: but Refugee, you lost your amatuer status years ago.#Truedat
  • just learned that really cute stranger at my coffeshop table & reading the SAT Prep book is a teacher. DirtyOldMan crisis averted.

 


Struggling with Instinct in the Pale Moon Light*

6 December 2009

“I love the new look” was the salutation from Juliet, a woman I’ve know for several years.  The greeting wasn’t strange in light of the fact that I had recently shaved the goatee I’d worn since grad school.

“Thank you; I have to admit that I’m still on the fence about the change” I replied.

“Trust me, you need to keep it off… I mean you looked great before but now there’s nothing hiding your lips.”

As soon as the words were out, I could see the holyshitdidIjustsaythat look fall across her face.  It was the wee small hour part of the night and she had been at the bar for a few beers more than me.

Alcohol is the lubricant that often pries difficult truth from the mind

Gentlemen don’t revel in a lady’s embarrassment, so I changed the subject with a “So how was your holiday?”

We continued with the worst kind of cocktail conversation for another few minutes but that look never left her face.  She went back to her friends and I went back to crafting the menu for a Cajun Holiday dinner I may or may not be preparing in a couple of days.

Minutes always seem to move faster the closer you get to Last Call and this night was no exception.  As I hate being in a bar when the lights get brighter and everyone get a little less attractive (myself included,) I started packing my things before that moment.  Just as I’m buckling the straps on my briefcase, Juliet came over and asked “Refugee, you mind walking me home?”

I’d done it at least a dozen times and I was happy to do it again that night.

On the sidewalk, Juliet slipped her arm inside mine like she always does.  It was one of the first really cold nights of the season and I enjoyed having proof of my exhalations.  Two blocks later, we’re in front of her building and said our usual valediction as we hugged.   She took a few steps toward her door and made an abrupt about face.

Juliet closed the distance between us so quickly that I didn’t realize she was going to kiss me until her lips were already on mine.

It was a lusty, hungry kiss, the kind you’d expect from a woman who deserves to be kissed, and often, and by somebody who knows how, but hasn’t been.

I started to speak but Juliet placed a gentle hand to my lips and said “I’m sorry; I’ve wanted to do that for a very long time and since I obviously told you that earlier, I figured I had nothing to lose.  Your lips are softer than I imagined and I wish I could date you, but I have height issues… and I know that their mine but…”

I cut her off with “I understand and you don’t need to say anything else” mostly because I didn’t want to hear any more.  I am not a bitter short guy – well I am bitter with the doctors who told me as a child that I would be at least six-two and I do want those extra five inches – but this does get tiresome.

*Sting, if you ever read this blog – yeah, I know it ain’t likely – I hope you’ll pardon my paraphrasing your brilliant lyrics.


Are You Faking or For Real – What’s the Deal Dapper

27 October 2009

One of my most frequently googled posts led to the post in which I make the argument that Sexy comes in all shapes and sizes.  It is a belief to which I have fervently cleaved and embodied throughout my adult life.  The corollary notion that I am primarily attracted by intellect and words in equal or even greater measure than one’s luck in the genetic lottery is also a long held concept.  Like many other personal ideals, it can fall short when tested.

As I write this from the patio of my regular coffeshop, a woman sitting a few feet to my left is testing it.  I see Dr. Bly here all the time.  We became fast friends about a year ago when we shared a table because all others were taken.  Over the course of all those months we’ve had countless coffee dates both planned and unplanned, and I have found her to be brilliant, wickedly funny, a scintillating conversationalist possessed with a healthy dose of snarkasm*, love for wine and baseball**, and a terrific flirt.  By any reasonable measure of people, she’s aces over aces.

Dr. Bly also happens to be, according to scientific definitions she helps write and her own admission, morbidly obese.

When we don’t find someone attractive but others think wee should, or we wish we did, the lack of interest can be rested on absence of the indefinable spark.  I can’t do that because intellectually we spark.\; the chemistry exists and it is mutual.  If the fates were to realign and place her into a size 2-20 body, I would cross six lanes of traffic to ask her to have drinks with me, but this day, like every other day our paths have crossed, I choke on the invitation before she leaves.

I am not certain that the superficial demons on my right shoulder have shouted down more enlightened angels on my left; but I don’t like what it says about me either way.

 

_________________

*the evolutionary cross between sarcasm and snark

* her love of baseball is substantively mitigated by the fact that she is a Red Sawx fan


Dating – the Triumph of Optimism Over Experience

22 September 2009

Our start wasn’t exactly rousing, but there was some energy in the room.  Allison, my blind date or as my friend, who tends to date zygotes because of the comparative ease called her “my latest reason to tell a story at the bar,” and I acquitted ourselves well by reaching the one hour mark of a blind date before we had approached the quintessential DC question –  “what do you do?” It was a place we found organically in conversation.  When she said cryptically “I work on The Hill,” wattage was lowered by her obfuscating tone and I should have moved to another topic.

Due to an exceedingly high degree of political dorkdom, I enquired further until learning that she is “senior staff for [redacted name of one of the most conservative Senators.]”

“Do you find yourself politically aligned with your boss?” I asked without judgment.

“You’re a liberal aren’t you?  This happens to me all the time in this city – I meet someone, things are kinda going well and then we have the inevitable political conversation.  Suddenly what was going OK goes to hell in a hand basket because he’s on the left and I’m on the right.”

There was more venom in her words and tone than I had expected, especially considering that I thought the evening was still salvageable.  I tried to deflect – “So you mentioned that you’re thinking about moving Uptown; what areas are you considering?”

That dodge worked for a minute or three before Allison coolly stated “So what’s your problem with my boss?”

“I am not going to pretend that politics aren’t important to me.  I’m not going to sit here and suggest that whomever my ideal partner might be she wouldn’t lean more towards the left, but I don’t think that we need to have this conversation. I’m suspecting that we have some differences and they’re substantive in both of our minds.  Why don’t we change the subject… or call it a night.”

As much as I am always eager for a principled and civil political debate (stop laughing, I know who you are,) I wasn’t looking for one this night.

“Since you’ve obviously decided this is going nowhere, why not tell me the problems you have with my boss?” Allison asked again.

There were a couple of more attempts to change the subject, and a couple more insistences from her, until I eventually sacrifice optimism and respond:

“I could get into the hypocrisy of his lip service to smaller government, or his opposition to gay rights a.k.a. civil rights, or his insane opposition to health care reform when his state is in possession of some of the worst health outcomes in the union, but really if you need any other reason than the fact that he believes that people with penis’ have business telling people with vaginas what to do with them, then you’re really correct – we have nothing to discuss.”


I Know / I Wish

19 September 2009

I know your boyfriend is an asshole and I haven’t even met him yet.  I wish I knew you well enough to say.

I know you don’t like me and that I wouldn’t trust you to make oxygen into carbon dioxide.  I wish that you would stop pretending.

I know that we’re back on friendly terms, can bend an elbow together even, but I’ll never be with you again.  I do wish that I could bottle that look from the first time I rejected you.

I know that you and your fiancé are happily ensconced in your life and you know that I love both you and her.  I do wish that you and I still had our great friendship.

I know that you mostly mean well when you keep offering me that gig.  I wish that I could take you seriously.

I know that you’re married and I am no threat to you, your husband, or your marriage.  I do wish I didn’t enjoy being around you quite so much.

I know that you’ve loved me since before I was born.  I wish you didn’t have such a fucked up way of showing it.

I know you’ve been sober for five years now and your sobriety is more important than our friendship.  I wish the two weren’t mutually exclusive.

I know that you’re a gentleman and a stand up guy.  I wish you hadn’t placed me in a position that asked me not to be too.

I know that I am a deeply flawed man.  I wish I spent more time trying to fix the fixable flaws and made less excuses to place flaws in the non-fixable column.


Ain’t Nothing but a Family Thing

8 July 2009

It was a charmed evening until I got the call.  My favorite date and I had lingered over a couple of cocktails and a cigar on one of my regular patios before cabbing a mile north for dinner at a frequent dining haunt.  It was a bit embarrassing as my out of town companion watched far too many people say hello to me before we could even get to a table (it’s just an industry thing.)

We had made our way through a couple of small plates and then I got a text message from my sister: Dad in the hospital with a blood clot behind the knee, call me, call him xxx-xxx-xxxx.

I excused myself as politely as anyone who had received that message could and went outside to call my old man.  We don’t talk often, and our conversation leaned more towards the clinical.

“What has the doctor told you?”

“How are you feeling?”

“What is the course of treatment?”

I say goodnight with the comfort that this is a “serious but routine” condition and that the drugs are the logical treatment.  I am distracted through the rest of dinner, my mind occupied with thoughts of Dad’s illness and how much it is going to cost me (you want to talk about the health care crisis in this country, bring it; because it’s draining my portfolio faster than I can make fun of Rachel Ray.)

Later the next morning, I get the call from a doctor informing me that “the clot has started to move; the pharmaceutical option is no longer feasible and we’ve scheduled emergency surgery for later today.”  I am assured that, just like the blood clot itself, the surgery is serious but routine.

I’ve woken from surgery to an empty chair next to me.  It’s more painful than the site of your incisions, and scarier than any demons I’ve faced.

As inconvenient (and unnecessary according to the docs) it was, I wasn’t going to let him wake alone.  As awkward as it was going to be sitting in a hospital room with a father with whom I have not had a good relationship in a more than a score of years, I had to make the drive.  As much as my feelings were conflicted, my choice was made.

My father was alone, and scared and wanted to be neither.  I was present and emotionally drained and didn’t have a choice about either.


Sanford and His Sons

29 June 2009

There are few universal truths in this world: Murphy’s Law, Occam’s Razor, Surliness of CVS employees, and the cruelty of children are among them.  I have been thinking about South Carolina Governor, Mark Sanford, and his indelicately handled affair in light of that last truth.

Click me for a timeline of indiscretion and malfeasance for those living under rocks for the past week.

The governor is father to four school age sons each of whom will most likely be subjected to additional cruelties at the hands and mouths of their classmates and peers.  Their father’s careless indiscretions are to be blamed for each taunt.

I was nine years old when I learned of both my parent’s infidelities.  My largely carefree existence was shattered – most fourth graders lack the ability to differentiate the shared aspects of parenthood versus the private acts of the parent.  In breaking faith with each other (and allowing me to learn of their breaches,) my mother and father broke faith with me too.  For the first time in my life, when either told me the sky was blue, I had to go outside to confirm it.  I became withdrawn, sullen, and refused to discuss the matter – not that either parent tried.  Friendships faded as I couldn’t embarrass my parents, my family with such disclosures. I picked fights to vent aggression.  It was a dark period in my life and one which still colors my parental relationships long after forgiveness came.

Now imagine trying to manage all of that on a public stage.  Imagine that all of your classmates, teammates, coaches, teachers, and playmates know your father is a philandering poseur.

Elected officials opt into a certain amount of public scrutiny, an easy choice to make for oneself.  However, they also make that choice for their children and in so doing ought to be committed to a higher standard or at least not getting caught in contradiction.  I will not comment about the damage Gov. Sanford has done to his marriage or to his wife – they are both adults and thus I consider the matter private.  Nor will I comment on the political/hypocritical elements as this has rarely been a political space*.

Governor, your meandering public apologies have been all over the news, but I hope you understand the damage you have done to your children.  I hope you understand how long of a shadow you’ve cast over their lives.  I hope you understand that your carelessness (in getting caught) has exposed your boys to trump leveling taunts from which there is no recovery.  Governor, I hope you know that all of their conversations can be ended with the question “Do you know where your daddy is?”

Where you gonna be, Governor?

P.S. Keith Olberman, you know I am generally a fan; but would you please stop appearing to enjoy this so much.

* Yes, I understand that there was a certain level of commentary inherent in the phrasing.


Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame…

19 May 2009

For the record, I am high as a kite as I write this.  I am hopped up on pain killers and under the influence of chemicals for only the second time in my life (besides CH3CH2OH which is also known as booze to you non-science geeks – apparently I feel extra clever when I am high.)  This is the conversation I had with my doctor to get the Percocet:

 

Doctor: So what seems to be the problem?

Refugee: I have been having severe lower back pain, most acute in the morning, since I woke on Sunday.  It eased a bit through the day but returned yesterday and this morning.

Doctor: How severe is it?  Tell me the most painful thing you’ve ever felt and use that pain as a ten and then rate it on a 1-10 scale with a needle stick being 1.

Refugee: In college, I tore my ACL, PCL, and Meniscus playing football.  I’d say that was ten and this is about a seven or eight.

Doctor: Where exactly is the pain?

Refugee: It’s concentrated on the right side but it’s there on the left side too.

Doctor: You said it eased as you went through the day, did you do anything specific to try to make it go away?

Refugee: This is going to sound silly but I went to WebMD.com and they said that most lower back pain can be eased with warm compresses, some stretching and a little movement.  So I tried that and it worked enough for me to continue with my day.

Doctor: Same thing yesterday morning?

Refugee: Yes… well mostly the same thing – stretching, warm compresses and some walking.

Doctor: OK, lay on your stomach and I am going to poke around a bit.  (Starts kneading my back like pizza dough)  Does this hurt?

Refugee: like hell.

Doctor: Did you have any physical activity the night before the pain started?  Lift anything heavy? Play any sports?

Refugee: sort of… I mean not really.

Doctor: I see, so what exactly do you mean by “sort of, not really?”

Refugee: Ummm, there was some physical activity, punctuated by some sleep, and then more activity.

Doctor: OK, so this is a sexual injury?

Refugee: Look, Doc, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a cold fish, but it wasn’t exactly acrobatic either.  I only mention it because… well because I know what can happen when you don’t…

Doctor: …You don’t play tennis for a couple of months and suddenly you do and your muscles get really sore?

Refugee: Exactly

Doctor: and it had been a while?

Refugee: do you have this conversation often, or something?

Doctor: More often than you might think.  So, uhhh, how many sets did you have that night?

Refugee: three, I think and a few the night before too.  But, this doesn’t feel like that kind of injury; and like I said there was nothing overtly acrobatic about it.

Doctor:  You can sit up now.  Here’s the thing, from what you describe, it appears that you tweaked something in your back.  Your injury isn’t skeletal, it’s muscular.  You probably just pulled a muscle.

Refugee: Tweaked it?  Really eight years of med school and you tell me I tweaked it?

Doctor: That’s the term they taught me at the med school in Grenada.

Refugee: I’m going to assume that you’re joking about that Grenada part.

Doctor: Yes I am.  Listen, you’re at the age when the back just starts to get cranky every now and then.  You played football in college, right?

Refugee: Yeah

Doctor: well two things: one, you know that kinda pounding takes a toll on your body; and two, after a long time away from exercise, you know enough to stretch first, right?

Refugee: you want me to stretch before being intimate with a woman?

Doctor: I know it sounds funny, but would you rather do that or have to tell a woman that she Broke You?

Refugee: Funny, that’s what she said.


Lessons from the METRO and Sprint

2 May 2009

Saturday was a whirlwind of activity for me.  It started with a meeting to review a writing project on which I am assisting a friend, moved to a boozefest disguised as a barbeque, smoking more cigars with a friend in town from NYC.  Despite all of the implied and explicitly stated drinking throughout the day, I was very much in command of my faculties when I hoped the subway for the 25 minute ride home about 1am.

Metro had a different plan for me and the amount of time required getting home.  The first train experienced some unannounced malfunction and was off loaded after just two stops.  The replacement train arrived 15 minutes later and an apparently impatient conductor closed the doors before even half the people on the platform could board.  My final chariot home arrived almost twenty minutes later.  Upon boarding, I discovered that I had lost my cell phone somewhere during that odyssey.  I blame METRO for the loss.

My shiny new phone arrived in the mail on Thursday. 

I’ve changed my phone number before as a mechanism for pruning my list of contacts, but I still had the same names, numbers, and potential for trouble stored in my phone.  This time I had to compose an email and consider the people who’s number I wanted to have.  My list was shorter than I thought it would be.

I am sure that I missed a person or three; and I hope that over the course of time those unintentionally slighted people will call me.  The thing that struck me, however, was the degree to which I prefer to be disconnected from this increasingly connected world.  I am not sure if the question is about my space or about the old habit of pushing away those that get too close.


A Phone Call from My Father

6 April 2009

Phone calls when I am catering a dinner are normally ignored, but when the caller ID said Refugee, Sr. I decided to answer.

“Hey, I was just watching the Final Four and thought about you.  We still have to go one of these years.”  My father’s deep even for a bass voice is unmistakable, even as he offers another hallow promise.

During my vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers fourth Super Bowl Refugee Sr. promised my 8 year old self that he and I would one day watch the Super Bowl, the Final Four, and the World Series together.  Since I had not yet discovered my father to be a fallible man I believed with the unbreakable veracity of a son trusting his father’s promise.

“It’s good to talk to you, Pop” I replied.  It took me years to say that statement truthfully.  The dagger of timing was sharpened because it was basketball we discussed.

My father was a three sport star in High School but only had the time to teach me two of them before he and my mother split.  I waited for him to teach me basketball.  I waited for the weekends when he would come home and take me to the basketball court – weekends which never came.  It was an early harbinger or future behavior.

“Pop, I can’t really talk at the moment – I’m doing a dinner for twenty people by myself.  I just answered in case it was an emergency or you needed something important.”

By the shift in his tone, I knew that he got the slightly passive-aggressive note I used and for which I was only mildly sorry. 

“No, Refugee, I don’t need anything.  I was just watching basketball and thinking about my son, so I thought I would call.  Is that all right with you?”

As I grew, so too did the promises (implied and explicit) and the accompanying disappointments.  As my mind matured, I began to question the logic of fatherly wisdom.  I no longer got excited about a new business venture.  I no longer cared to meet a new friend.

“Of course, Pop. It’s just that I have a million things on the stove – this was a last minute client and I am working solo.  Can I ring you later or is there something else on your mind?”

“Well… I did want to talk to you about my chess set.  I have to get rid of a few things for my new place, and wanted to know if you want my chess set?”

I love my father.  I love all of the things that he taught me, most of which I learned in those first eight years.  Among the more important lessons: Always give more weight to people’s actions over their words.  I learned that lesson too well and our relationship has suffered as a result.  His greatest lesson is still in progress and unintentionally taught – don’t become him.

“I’d love the chess set, Pop.  I’ll come up for a couple of days soon.  l love  you, but I gotta go.  Bye, Pop.” 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers