I try not to think about it. Yet, it’s always in the back of my mind: I’m dying. Nothing will change that. As it was in the beginning it’ll be in the end, world without end, amen. Hey, wait a minute! My world is ending. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. And honestly, I don’t want to die — I want to live forever! But well, what’re you going to do, right?
I’m losing my battle with COPD. For those who don’t know, that’s Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It’s a long-term respiratory disorder that began as a dry cough, usually absent of any mucous expectorant, or shortness of breath. The two flights of stairs leading up to the landing of my apartment were now a breathless battle. It was not unusual to take a seated pause for a breather before each set of steps. And OMG, I think I’ve reached the point where carrying anything heavy such as groceries is nearly impossible. Today I’d returned with a few full bags after shopping at the local supermarket, and nearly blacked out halfway up to the second landing. My lungs are shot.
Once upon a time, I smoked cigarettes. From the age of thirteen through twenty-nine, I’d battled a tortuously powerful, tobacco addiction. With a lot of help from self-hypnosis, I was finally able to fully kick that dirty habit. Kids, don’t start smoking. It’s probably less addictive than heroin, and even if you had more dollars than sense, you may correctly surmise that quitting smoking could be more difficult than getting off heroin. Why — you ask? If you’re sincere in really understanding the answer to your inquiry, then all you have to do is read on to the next paragraphs.
First off, you rarely see anyone using heroin in public every time you turn around. The 108th mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, launched the most controversial and stringent tobacco-control laws during his first term in office. The result of which had increased cigarette taxes, raised the legal age for tobacco purchases, and most importantly, placed bans against smoking within indoor workplaces. “But, but, but… what about God-given personal American freedoms?” some protested. Oh, just sit back down and shut up, you poor, persecuted, melting, little snowflakes.
He was also NYC’s third Jewish mayor. Oy vey! It’s hard to believe in a town this religiously and ethically diverse and after one-hundred-seven people prior who had ridden herd on the city, that Bloomberg was only the third member of the chosen ancient tribe of Israel to be elected when selected in 2002.
As a result of the Bloomberg tobacco-control initiatives, it became a rarity to get a whiff of cigarette smoke when in public places such as restaurants and bars. On the many unsuccessful occasions that I’d tried to quit smoking, my plan and resolve to do so was mostly scuttled time and time again while in public places and prior to the enactment of those laws. Ask any smoker, the urge to light up becomes strongest after a meal or when having a drink. I would finish eating and then sit back to savor the moment, and from tables nearby plumes of cancer-stick smoke would waft on over to where I was seated to reignite my urge for a ciggie. Come on, I never saw anyone at an adjacent table or barstool who was pulling out their mainlining kit of works to shoot up a heroin fix!
Prior to the Bloomberg smoking crackdown, when performing my music in local bars and restaurants throughout the Big Apple, those places were always shrouded in the fog of secondhand tobacco smoke. When I’d finally managed to successfully kick the addiction, I began to notice when I’d awaken the next morning after a gig and blew my nose or to hock a luggie into the toilet, the mucus was as black as onyx. Gross — such a filthy and unhealthy habit! I still maintain to this day friendships with smokers who buried their heads up each other’s butts and deny that secondhand smoke is even harmful. Some of them claim that’s another far-left conspiracy aimed at taking away their God-given, American personal freedoms. Well, I am not only living proof but dying COPD proof to boot that disproves their nonsensical and meritless point.
During 1990 COPD related deaths numbered over 2.4 million. In 2019 that number jumped like a twitchy Mexican jumping bean to 174.5 million. That’s an 80% increase. Those numbers are not indicators that the Bloomberg smoking laws were ineffective, it means that the effects of smoking had already done their damage. Even impinging upon those who’d never lit up, or the ones who’d managed to beat and win their fight against that habit. In the USA alone, the cost of that damage rose to 49 billion dollars by 2020.
When first diagnosed with the condition, it was during a routine spirometry exam at the end of 2019. That exam was a test to measure lung function, particularly the volume and flow of my inhalations and exhalations of air. The test results used to assess the severity and effects confirmed I was at the GOLD system level of stage 1 of the COPD scourge. Then, after the analysis of arterial blood, it was concluded those spirometric diagnostic findings were undeniably positive. By the time I’d reached the stage 2 level of deterioration sometime thereafter, symptoms of increased shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing had become more evident. Between the second and third stages, the first foreshadowing signs of early emphysema had been added to my list of breathing woes. I was undergoing treatment all throughout that time, but with neither improvement nor recovery. That last diagnosis of the disease’s progress was assessed around the same time as the heroin incident with V and Y had begun. The bad stuff was progressing much more rapidly now and my doctor’s appointments increased in frequency.
During today’s physical exam, real life lowered the boom. Now at the last and final leg of my battle with COPD, it was confirmed I’d moved into stage 4, also known as the end stage for sufferers. My death sentence had been meted out and would most likely be served up to be executed within a year. I had precious little time left, and with each tick of the clock, the countdown to my demise was barreling precariously nearer to the end. According to chest x-rays taken after this stage 4 diagnosis, a dark spot was visible on my left lung, possibly indicating cancer. Adding to the addition of the lung cancer to my existing litany of factors and ills that had exasperated and increased the progression of my breathing problems and this ever-shortening of lifespan, as any medical specialist would put it, and in their highly technical terms would access, I was really f*ed.
The only good reason to get old is to avoid the grave alternative. Well, there are some things in life you may only avoid for so long. My last will and testament had been completed a few years back. All that I’d accumulated and owned, my business partner would inherit everything, even my entire entertainment promotion and marketing company. Why not, over the years of our work collaborations he’d been equally responsible for a large share of what was earned. Anyway, I really had no one else left in my life to give anything to. For a while, during the time Y, V, and I throupled, I’d considered amending my final will in order to leave them something to help out after my death. But before I’d made that change, the wheels to our throuple-mobile had fallen off, and we’d totaled our three-way affair during the narcotic train wreck.
When I began my life I was a confused and lost kid who saw the reason and logic of working hard to further my dreams. Thus I did. Over the course of that life, I’ve had more regrets concerning my personal missteps than those related to business. Well, I could at least claim I was good at something, right? Even so, if you asked anyone who had just been handed their death sentence what they’d wish more than anything, the nearly unanimous consensus would certainly be for more time. More time to make more mistakes, miscalculations, and missteps, along with all the other wonderfully unexpected good and bad things that happen along the way. I was no exception. And as I shared earlier with you, time’s an S.O.B.!
Years ago when I became sexually active once again I’d resolved never to hit on anyone working for, or related to, Court Street. What’s that old saying about what birds should never do in their own nests? And why blow a good thing? Out of respect for the members of the Court, and from social self-preservation, I’d allow nothing to jeopardize the warm welcome I’d come to appreciate at my chosen hangout on 6th and Court streets. An establishment I liked to think of as my preferred place of more mature adult recreation.
Whereas, the Madd Hatter was somewhere I enjoyed frequenting when I was in a more frat boy frame of mind. In other words, when I’d feel especially frisky and desired some female companionship. So, whenever I got the itch to do a little wild game honey hunting, the Hatter was my fertile hunting ground for those sexual safaris. Call me silly, but I knew which side of the toast was buttered, and I never wanted it to fall face down and soil the floors of the Court. See, I do maintain some boundaries, babe!
But I wasn’t dead yet, was I? Hearing the Madd Hatter had now reopened after the fire, I’d decided to make a return visit during the second weekend of this August. To sit outside basking in the sun, have a few iced white wines, and dine on a salad or shrimp cocktail, while enjoying watching some exceptionally fine examples of womanhood stroll past my table on that section of Washington Street I’d rechristened the Hot Honey Highway, and most especially, to feel alive. I also began feeling rather frisky.
The waitress attending the table that afternoon was a new addition to their staff. While still tableside, I inquired, “May I ask your name, if you don’t mind?” It was M. M was tall, attractive, and well proportioned. In addition, she appeared to be a kind and caring person. This suspicion was confirmed when I asked her what she keeps busy with when not pulling a shift at the Hatter. M worked as an ER nurse in a Newark hospital and loved that job. The waitstaff gig was a part-time situation to supplement her income.
As we amicably chatted on and off, another waitress arrived to begin a shift. N was someone I’d interacted with before, and upon recognizing my face, the young woman came over to say hi. She told me it would be her last weekend working at the restaurant because the pre-grad girl was returning to Delaware to complete her senior year in college where she was majoring in psychology. After graduation, N planned to enroll in graduate school to pursue a degree in clinical psych. As with the other young lady, she expressed that her desire to provide healing was motivated by a deep sense of care for those in need.
That afternoon, when the realization struck that I was already in the care of some angels, I made the decision to just let go and to allow events to unfurl as they may. Oh, and unfurled they did. They kept slipping complimentary wine refills my way and entertained me with their chatter for nearly two more hours. Noticing I’d already baked enough in the sun for one day, M suggested I move to an empty table beneath the establishment’s awning and away from any more potentially harmful ultraviolet rays. Well, who am I to argue with the angels? It was also a table much closer to both girls as they worked the remainder of their shifts.
Still, more pitter-patter, chitter-chatter, and free iced wine were shared. They told me both of their workdays ended at five and they were planning to have an after-work drink together at, as they described, “Any place else but here!” They then asked if I’d like to join them. Why not? The unintended pun of, “I was dying to!” was wisely not chosen by me to be uttered. Ergo, I suggested we head over to The Far Side on 6th and Washington for further refreshment. Along the walk there I shared a vape pen loaded with a live resin cartridge with N. M declined, citing as Y once had, that it’d only make her sleepy. N also told us she’d smoked two joints during her drive to work earlier that morning.
During our one leisurely drink, they revealed some interesting behind-the-scenes gossip about the Hatter and their other work colleagues. Perhaps what I found most interesting about the spilled tea they were sharing is that much of it pertained to me. Just about every single member of their bar and restaurant staff had not only read the complimentary copy of ALICE I’d left with the business’s management as a courtesy but had commented on how much they’d enjoyed it. Especially, how it had included many subtle details only and easily recognizable by those employed there. That was a pleasant and very nice thing to hear.
“Well, everyone’s always saying how nice you are,” continued M.
“And you’re not like the guys our own age.”
“What’s wrong with the guys your own age?”
“These days they all play mind games with us. Their backhanded compliments are always double-sided, phony, and full of big buts,” replied N, “like, ‘you’re looking kind of good, but should lose some of that junk in the trunk…’ or ‘you could be really pretty if…’”
“Why would they do that?”
“Young guys can just be so dumb.”
“Now you’re making this blue-eyed, bashful, bemused, and often bewildered boy from Baltimore blush…”
“You have any dinner plans tonight, G?” M wanted to know. “If not, join us if you want. N’s coming over to my place tonight and we’re tossing some salad and throwing chicken kabobs on the ‘barbie for supper. It’ll be fun.”
“Sure,” I responsed.
It did sound like fun. Along the short drive over to M’s place, N smoked another joint. Although it was offered, I didn’t take a hit of the burning bud. In my respiratory situation, the occasional vape pen use was bad enough without the additional irritation to my lungs of the carcinogenetic, tar-heavy smoke. Besides, this was getting very interesting and I wanted to keep a clear head for what could ensue. During the trip to the apartment, both N and M sang along loudly and lustily to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s 2020 smash hit single, WAP (Wet Ass Pussy) as it blared from the speakers of her car’s radio.
M’s place was situated on the first floor of an older brownstone building. She excused herself to change into a swimsuit to take advantage of what was left of the last few hours of sunshine. The backyard afforded a comfortable amount of privacy, so once outside, N asked if we’d mind if she stripped down to bra and briefs to also indulge in a bit of sunbathing. Not a single protest of objection was heard or had even been anticipated. I liked the direction this hang was heading.
Have any of you ever heard of the fabled way Clark Gable’s life ended? It was falsely claimed that at the height of The King of Hollywood’s career he died in the arms of a seventeen-year-old lover as his yacht bobbed atop the waves of the Pacific. My, what a gallant and swashbuckling way to go, right? No, in reality, it wasn’t. According to some research on the internet, Gable actually died at the Hollywood Presbyterian Center on November 6, 1960. He’d suffered a heart attack after filming of some final scenes with Marilyn Monroe on that legendary movie The Misfits had wrapped up. At the respectable age of fifty-nine it was a far less-than-glamorous end of a starry, starry life that had been bandied about in the tabloids.
Now, I may not have been a celebrity movie star like the Oscar award-winning Mr. Gable, but I now knew however my final days would end I would meet them head-on, living my life feeling very much alive. I would cherish and live what little life I still had left in me as if every day would be my last. Because after all, it’s not only how you live out your time, it’s your attitude about the life you’re living.
Remember how iconic buddy-film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid drew to a conclusion, the two cowboys engage in their last, barbed conversations. Looking from the high cliff they’re perched on at the rushing river far below; Butch says something like, “No, we’ll jump.” Sundance protests: “Like hell we will.” Butch reassures: “No, it’ll be okay – if the water’s deep enough, we don’t get squished to death. They’ll never follow us.” Sundance ponders: “How do you know?” Butch reasons “Would you jump if you didn’t have to?” Sundance draws the red line intended never to ever be crossed: “I have to and I’m not gonna!”
What can I say to those of you who have fitly and faithfully stuck with me on this journey to the very end? I’ve led an interesting, long, and full life, blessed with the privilege of occupying a comfortable seat at the raw bar of existence as I dined throughout the years. And I wasn’t going to just give up and pass away passively lying down on the ground — I wanted to go out with a last shot or two of blazing, blasts of glory — FUEGO!