Monday, July 27, 2009

Halfway to 100

In cricket, a half-century is considered to be a very good achievement. In life, hitting the half-century mark as I do today is definitely a good achievement, considering that I almost didn't make it to 40. Still, it is a number that is somewhat hard to fathom.

50 years old as of today.

I look back on these years, and have to smile somewhat. I'm laughing while thinking of the words of a song by Crash Test Dummies:

"Someday I'll wear, pyjamas in the daytime
Someday I'll have, a disappearing hairline
Oh, oh, oh, afternoons, will be measured out
Measured out, measured with, coffee spoons
And T.S. Eliot."

When I was born, there were no computers, or not at least as we know them today. Phones were big, bulky, black, and operators worked switchboards with a myriad of plug-in cables. I was living in Brooklyn for those first few years, where everyone knew their neighbor, and the local coffee shop was where my addiction for the finest caffeinated beverage on the planet got its start. It's said that I was weaned from the bottle to the coffee cup. My mom, the child of Romanian immigrants. Dad, second generation whose father, was a first generation Hungarian (or at least I'm pretty sure that's where they're from), who was lucky enough to be working in the Post Office during the Depression, and was able to survive better than many other families.

We moved into the projects (council housing for my Brit friends) in Queens for a time. This is when living in the projects did not carry the stigma that it does today. They were designed to be a sort of way station until a family could improve their financial station in life, and hopefully move on to buying a home somewhere, which back in the 60's usually meant out into the suburbs. It appeared as though that was going to be my destiny, as we were looking at a house in New Jersey, when the unthinkable happened; my dad lost his job. We had to abandon the idea of the house, and looked north towards the Bronx, where a brand new private housing behemoth was being built.

October 19th, 1970. We moved up into the Bronx, and this is where I would spent the next 19 years of my life, in the place that would have the most impact on me while growing up. I had my own room, in what seemed like a huge apartment compared to the one we had in the projects, and an unlimited view from the 29th floor. The building was as tall as a Saturn V moon rocket, and the development held 60,000 people from all corners of NYC. It was a "cooperative housing" complex, meaning that one did not pay rent per se, and actually purchased equity, or "shares" as they were euphemistically called.

At the end of the day, it was rent.

It was here that I learned the way the world worked, from having and losing friends, to hanging out in the stairways and running from the local security force that tried to chase us away; to getting my first kiss, and smoking my first joint. Being mugged and fighting back. Learning to drive my dad's 1976 Chevy Nova, and using the back seat for learning about those things that my parents never bothered talking to me about. Going away to college and coming back on vacations and breaks. Hurrying back in 1984 to stay with my mom after my dad had his heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery.

Bringing my then girlfriend Mrs. N. to NYC for the first time. As we drove towards where I lived, she looked at the massive sprawling development and remarked, "You live in that mess???" Ah yes, this was the girl of my dreams.

Coming home after graduating. Getting hired in Brooklyn as a paramedic, where I would stay employed for 11 years. Getting diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease. Learning that my dad, who was getting sick with symptoms I should have recognized, had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion he had during his bypass surgery 4 years earlier. Waking up in my room on that Valentine's Day, 1988 to the my mom crying. Dad died during the night. He was brain dead on a ventilator after going into cardiac arrest a few days before following a bronchoscopy. I should have stayed in the hospital, and was kicking myself for many years afterwards for feeling as though I let him die alone. He was 62.

Getting married a year and a half later, and moving to Westchester County. I was now officially a suburbanite, though still an apartment dweller. Ten years there. Going to England and Scotland for the first time. Going on a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. Getting sicker from my ever progressing liver disease, getting promoted at work, getting my transplant, recovering, having the chance to see my niece, who was born 36 hours before my transplant. Another promotion, and then moving to Rochester.

Working on the organ transplant team for a year, then leaving health care behind altogether, and left with "What do I want to do with my life now?" syndrome. Picking up acting again, and falling in love with it all over again. Starting to write again, teaching myself how to do public relations. Losing Susan, my best friend in the world and fellow transplant recipient. Depression, medication, therapy. Buying a house, dealing with marriage issues, trying to find out who I am now.

A lot to cover in 50 years. As with most people, it is a balance of good, bad, and sometimes horrific life events. I almost didn't make 40, but am glad that I can see 50.

A cricket team or batsman can score 50 runs in an afternoon. I scored my runs one birthday at a time. Here's to another half-century.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Willy Wonka be damned!

Jay, over at thedeppeffect posted this the other day: a chocolate themed post, including Mr. Depp, of course. My mind immediately shot to the last piece of Cote d'Or that was sitting in my fridge. It was an anniversary gift from a dear friend of Mrs N.'s who had just returned from Belgium. I still marvel at the differences between American and chocolate from Europe, especially Belgian and Swiss chocolates. I truly have come to prefer the European variety, as ours seems to be just too sugary. I mean, sugar in chocolate is fine, but overdoing it just destroys the taste of the chocolate. I think I got my first taste of this type of chocolate when I was in England for the first time in 1989, and snacked on a Cadbury over there. I then came home, and really tasted the difference between the Cadbury that we would have here, and what I tasted over in England. Big difference.

So, what is your favorite chocolate indulgence, and what do you prefer? Very sweet, not so sweet, or bittersweet?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lions and tigers? No, just bears...oh my!

As those of you could tell from my last two posts, I was not in the best of health for the last two weeks or so, but fortunately the right antibiotic came along and I am back in good shape. I still have a slight cough, but this is not unusual to have something like this linger around for a while. I have talked with several other friends that seemed to have been battling the same thing over the past month or so, and they all commented to me that their cough hung around for several weeks after all their other symptoms went away. At least I'm not hacking up a lung like I was earlier.

There was a small hitch though: The antibiotic that my doctor prescribed, Avelox, caused an allergic reaction consisting of hives and itching so bad that I wanted to take a razor blade and peel the outer layer of my skin off just so it would stop. I stopped after one dose, and he gave me azithromycin (commonly referred to as a "Z-pack") instead. I was on this once before back in 2001 for bronchitis, and did very well on it. I just finished it last night, and it worked its magic again.

The really weird thing is that I have never, ever been allergic to any antibiotic in my life, so this was definitely a first for me.

I did get well enough for Mrs. Nighttime and I to go away to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. This was something we had planned for a while, and we chose to go to a cottage near Canandaigua Lake. It is part of a grouping of cottages called "The Quiet Place," which you can check out here. It is in the area of the Finger Lakes known as South Bristol, and has some of the most gorgeous scenery in the state. It is also very secluded, and smack in the middle of the woods.

We got there Thursday afternoon after having lunch at an orchard we like to go to normally for apple picking in the fall. They were having a luncheon with an all cherries theme. This is a family owned orchard that had been in the same family for about 150 years, and you can check them out here.

We got to the cottage at around 6, and basically just relaxed for the rest of the night. Friday, we went to two places in particular, The Wizard Of Clay Pottery, and the New York Wine And Culinary Center. The pottery shop was incredible, with all handmade objects of various sizes and designs. We picked up a round mirror with a glazed frame as a housewarming gift for my niece. It was pricey, but as all the selections there are handcrafted in their pottery shop, (for which wew got a tour of) it was well worth the investment. I can't show it to you, as it already has been gift wrapped.

For dinner, the owner of the cottage recommended The Brown Hound Bistro, which was in nearby Bristol Springs, and I (both of us, actually) had the best restaurant meal in a very long time. From the grilled seafood bisque, to my steak, (which was as good as anything I have ever eaten at some of the best steakhouses in NYC) and all the side dishes that came with both our entrees. The chef is French, trained in France, and the care that goes into his dishes is evident. We got to meet him, and complimented him copiously.

Driving back to the cottage, we pulled into the driveway, and as you can see here, there is a stone pathway that leads to the entrance above and ot the rear of it. As we pulled up, we saw a large adult black bear standing on the steps, his rump facing us. Now, as I grew up in the Bronx, the only bears I ever saw were either the Yogi Bear cartoon, or those kept at the Bronx Zoo. This was a close encounter I wanted no part of, and I told Mrs. Nighttime (whose car we were in) to, quite bluntly, GET US THE FUCK OUT OF HERE NOW!!!!


She turned the car around, and we headed to the main house, where the cottage owner lived. Making sure the bear was staying where he was, (he seemed entranced by the bird feeder on the tree adjacent to the steps) I hopped out and ran to the house. Taking some deep breaths, I knocked on door, and calmly (with my pulse racing) told the owner of our unwanted guest. She calmly called her 19 year-old son over, explained what was going on to him, and then he grabbed a baseball bat and started over towards the beast.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Mogul, the owner's 12 year-old white Great Pyrenees dog had run over to the bear, and got promptly booted down the steps. He didn't appear the worse for wear, and I'm sure that it could have been worse. He earned the treats we gave him from the treat jar that was located in the cottage.

The bear got spooked by something however, and ran off into the woods. I was told that the bears in this neck of the woods (pun intended) were still afraid of humans, unlike in other areas of the state, particularly in the Adirondacks. We were instructed to keep the porch light on just for good measure, but more than likely, it wouldn't come back, especially since she took down the bird feeder.

We settled in for the night, and got up early Saturday to go to Letchworth State Park, to see the Lower Falls. Mrs. N. started taking painting classes a few years ago, and recently completed a painting of the Lower Falls from a photograph. This is a photo I took while there:

and this is Mrs. N.'s painting.
(The original photo that she used to paint this view from was shot with a telephoto lens, hence this view.)

These are some more pics from the park, including the Upper and Middle Falls.

(Lower Falls, closer view.)

(Upper and Middle Falls)

Prior to going to the park, we had breakfast in Naples, one of the major wine producing towns in the Finger Lakes. A lovely local diner, Bob and Ruth's served up a great breakfast with enormous pancakes that we delicious.

After going through the park, we headed back north for home, and crashed with a good movie for the rest of the day. Oh, I would be remiss however to recommend yet another good Malbec. Luigi Bosca Reserva, 2006.

All in all, a nice way to spend our 20th anniversary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It's not the liver. The respiratory infection I had simply did not go away completely, which is what I was leaning towards in the first place. The first antibiotic didn't get everything, so I'm on a more powerful one now.

I still feel like garbage, and will be taking it easy tonight. No work for me...

Round 2.

Whatever I had is back, only this time, my fever is spiking at 102.5, and the left side of my chest is hurting again. Tylenol is controlling the fever, but I am off to the doc tomorrow morning, and hopefully my transplant team won't stick my ass into the hospital.

I'll keep you posted as I can, if possible. I don't know if my transplant hospital has wifi, if that is where I end up.

This really, really sucks. I went through something similar two years ago, and had such a bad infection, it almost killed me.

Cross your fingers that this is something that some better antibiotics can help.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Evil spirits come OUT!

I've finally been able to mostly exorcise myself of the demon virus that so willfully and mercilessly attacked me on the shores of Robert Moses State Park beach about 10 days ago. I mean, there I was, enjoying my time with my old paramedic cohorts, recalling past days, and marveling at how much some of us have aged (in a good way). It seemed to creep up on me at first, a little tickle in the throat, some sneezing and coughing, and then the next thing I knew, my voice had bailed on me. It wound up staying away more or less for about four days, causing me to miss some work, and making me feel generally miserable. I finally broke down and went to the doc, though I had actually started feeling better at that point. The problem was a productive cough that would not go away, and phlegm that was looking a little suspicious in my book.

As it turns out, I probably had a small, underlying bacterial infection so some antibiotics were prescribed, and I'm doing far better.

Now, as for the NYC trip: It was a grand time. We got down there on Thursday, and spent most of that day with my mom. She made dinner for myself and Mrs. N., and we just chilled a bit, especially after a 7 hour drive. We left a little later than planned, and ran smack into NYC rush hour traffic. Oddly enough, I was okay with it, took it in stride, and didn't lean on my horn. The only thing I had to adjust to, as is always the case when I drive down there, is that I become more aggressive in my driving. It's like riding a bike. You don't forget how to cut the other guy off with aplomb, and give the finger to the asshole that cut you off, all at the same time.

Friday was a great day. We met two friends, Ben and Susan, that moved to NYC about two years ago from Rochester. They live in Brooklyn, in an area I'm familiar with, in a brownstone building. Susan is a web developer with a small company near the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, and Ben is an audio/video exhibit designer at the American Museum Of Natural History on Central Park West. We met Susan for Lunch at Yatagan, the small but wonderful Turkish kebab house in Greenwich Village. I have been going there since about 1978, a little hole in the wall with wonderful food. As Susan is a vegetarian, there was something for all of us there. She was head over heels with the food, and as we left to go meet Ben at the museum, I showed her some of the other eateries that line MacDougal Street between Bleecker and West 3rd St.

We hopped on the subway at the West 4th St. station, right under what was the old Waverly Theatre, home to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, when it first came out as a movie in the mid-70's. We rode uptown to the museum, where Ben secured us tickets to see a show at the Hayden Planetarium/Rose Science Center, which is part of the museum. It was all about cosmic collisions, and it was the first time I have been to a show at the Hayden in quite a while. I have very vivid memories of going down there on Friday nights back in the late 70's with my friend Cliff, smoking a few joints in the park next to the museum, and then going to the Hayden for the Pink Floyd laser show. (Wait, I can remember those times? Obviously I didn't smoke enough!)

After the show was over, we met Ben, and he gave us a guided tour of some of the new exhibits in the museum, especially those he was involved with designing. As it was about quitting time for Ben, the four of us hopped over to a wine bar that was nearby, Riposo72. Not a big place, but lots of atmosphere, and an incredible wine selection. We shared a bottle of Septima Malbec, and a large plate of assorted fruits, cheeses and bread. We stayed for close to 2 hours, talking and then started walking back downtown towards 32nd and Broadway, where Mrs. N. and I were going to meet my cousin and his wife for dinner at a Korean restaurant that Mrs. N's hairdresser recommended.

We strolled down Broadway from the 70's on down, and for a brief moment, I began to wonder why I why I ever moved away from here. I sheepishly admitted to myself that I missed the energy and drive that New York generates. As we walked closer to Times square, the mass of people seemed to double, then triple within just a few minutes. For a time, I felt right at home again, but then I realized that while I was enjoying the moment, it was not something I craved as the everyday anymore. I just soaked in the energy and the moment for what it was. Just at Times Square, Ben caught this great pic of 42nd Street, looking west at sunset. It had been raining just a short time before, a torrential rain, and the sky was left as you see it here:
Rather recently, within the last few weeks, a portion of Times Square on Broadway was made into a pedestrian walkway. No cars coursing through the vein-like, snaking thoroughfare, that is one of the oldest in the city, if not the oldest. There is only a small break where 7th Avenue crosses Times Square, then the pedestrian mall starts up again, down to at least 40th Street. It is an eerie sight, with folding chairs that the city has provided there for the pedestrians to allow for relaxation if needed. It is an interesting idea, but we'll see how long it lasts, based on what effect it has on the traffic flow.

We get to 32nd, and make the left turn off Broadway, and right there is our restaurant. it's strange how you can live in a city your whole life, and not know that there are pockets of ethnic fare and businesses in a particular area. As it turns out, the area of 32nd St. between 5th and Broadway is known as "Korea Way." Who knew? Certainly not me, and I grew up in NYC. It's all Korean businesses and shops and restaurants.

The restaurant that was recommended to us was Kum Gang San. I have to say, that it was without a doubt the best Korean food I have ever tasted. The portions were plentiful everything was very fresh, and the staff were terrific. It's also open 24 hours, so if you have a craving for kimchee, Bul Go Ki, or marinated beef short ribs, (which are to die for ) then this is the place for you. It is also incredibly reasonably priced for a Manhattan restaurant.

We had a nice time with my cousins, and they graciously offered to drive us back up to the Bronx, especially since it was on their way home. They parked more towards the east side, so we took a leisurely stroll down 32nd St, and found their car near 2nd Ave, and made the 30 minute trip back up to the Bronx.

Tomorrow, the tale of the reunion, and demon that made me speak in whispers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I'm not ignoring you...

...I'm just taking it easy. I want to tell all of you about my great time in NYC, but it will have to wait another day or so. Seems as though I picked up something while down there. I first thought it was allergies, but it is becoming apparent that I picked up some sort of upper respiratory infection. I lost my voice for 3 days, and it is still wobbly. I am hacking up a lung, and was feeling better today, but it seems to have turned back and sucker punched me again.

My mom called today and told me that she now has what I have, so that sort of confirms that this was not from allergies.

Off to the doc tomorrow.