New York City, one story at a time.
“My life is not significantly different, but it feels like everyone else has changed around me. All my friends are progressing down that heteronormative life stage thing. They’ve gotten married. Or gotten a house. Or had kids. Whereas I’m more in this extended adolescence thing. It’s really changed my social life. I used to be able to rally a group of friends on an hour’s notice. But now it’s like herding cats. You really have to work to get on someone’s calendar. Last month I had dinner with good friends of mine—they’re a married couple. Great people. We wanted to squeeze in a date before their twins were born. My job was to keep their child entertained while they cooked dinner. He’s like two. Wonderful kid. Very nice kid. Only says a few words, but nice personality. Likes to hug the cat. Really cares about the cat. He’s also really big into picking things up and dropping them on the floor. He showed me his box of pencils—even gave one to me, which I thought was really nice. Things were going great. But then came the ‘tired’ thing. During dinner there was a sudden change. He started rubbing his eyes. Lots of throwing. Rice and vegetables began to fly across the table. Then came the screaming. Nobody signaled this was abnormal, so I attempted to plow forward with the conversation. I’d find short breaks in the screaming to slip in a few words. But it got louder and louder. The parents were professionals. Completely unfazed. And I didn’t care. I was leaving in an hour anyway.”
“Driving makes me anxious. I’ve avoided it all my life. Errands only. And I certainly have never left Suffolk County. It was never a problem until my son decided to have a fucking kid. Ellie Rose is her name. Absolute delight. But she lives three hours away. So me, Chucky Bologna—pronounced like the city, not the lunchmeat—at the age of sixty-five, has to drive on the Cross Bronx Expressway if I want to see my granddaughter. It’s a nightmare. I get nervous even thinking about it. The first time I made the trip was right after the birth. I studied the route beforehand. Memorized all my exits. I refuse to use GPS because I can’t handle the lady talking to me while I’m trying to drive. My husband packed the car. We put my dog Lyle in the front seat for emotional support. But that backfired because he sensed my anxiety and started licking my hands. My girlfriend Annette told me: ‘Chucky, you’ll be fine. Just own the center lane. Find the center and stay there.’ So that’s what I did. That minivan was not changing lanes for any fucking reason. Three straight hours. Didn’t even stop to pee. I lost eight pounds of water weight from all the sweating. But I made it. When I got there, I felt so victorious. Empowered. Like I could drive anywhere. But I haven’t, of course. Way too scary.”
“I was at an anthropology field school in Guatemala. I was twenty-two. And I was having a crisis. I had no idea what I wanted to do after college. I remember sitting at a café with my favorite professor, and he told me: ‘If you were my daughter, I’d tell you to go into law. From there you can work on anything: healthcare, policy, human rights.’ So when I returned home, I began to study for the LSAT. I spent four years getting my Master’s in International Law, with a concentration in human rights and environmental justice. Then last year I moved to New York to pursue a job in my chosen field. But that’s not exactly what happened. I’ve arranged meetings with twenty-five different attorneys to ‘better understand the field.’ And I’m always hoping to say the right words to catch their attention. It’s poor form to say: ‘I need a job.’ But at the end of every meeting, I always ask: ‘Do you know any opportunities that I should be pursuing?’ And the answer is always ‘no.’ I do have a job right now, and I work hard at it, but it’s mainly reviewing records and writing letters. It’s not the path I wanted to be on. And the longer you work in another field, the harder it can be to transition. I’ve always wanted to make an impact. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my idol. And I worked hard on this. I studied my ass off, I was valedictorian, I got into a great school, and got great scholarship money. I’ve had a job since I was sixteen. I focused on two or three friends. I didn’t date. This was supposed to be my thing. And now it’s not working out. I’ll never be in my twenties again. Or living in New York. But I’m having a hard time enjoying it because I’m so focused on this one path that’s not opening up.”
“My father was a different person when he came home from Vietnam. He drank a lot. He was never around. So everything I learned about being a man, I learned from my grandfather-- Daniel O’Connell Renehan. He also grew up without parents. When he was two years old, his mother died while cooking soup. The cauldron fell on her. So my grandfather spent his childhood in an orphanage. He never went to school, but he educated himself. He was a voracious reader. Eventually he became the treasurer of a bank on Park Avenue. He was in his late fifties when I was born. But he treated me like his son. We’d watch Notre Dame Football together. We’d go on long walks. We’d sit on an old covered swing for hours and he’d tell me stories about Irish kings. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. My mother did her best, but she was always at work, and there were too many wrong roads to take. So I’ve lived my life by his example. Being a father has always been the most important thing to me. I’ve got four kids of my own now. All of them turned out great. And one of them is named Daniel.”
“I had three bottles of wine on election night. I got in bed after Pennsylvania, and stayed there for a week. I’d only get up to use the bathroom and get more wine. I’d have left the country by now if it wasn’t for my elderly mother. I’ve weaned myself off Xanax, but I haven’t recovered. I still watch MSNBC all the time. I’ll spend entire days on the couch. I’ll wake up with Morning Joe and go to sleep with Brian Williams. I’ll get on Twitter during the commercials and search for any hint that somebody’s going to be indicted. I know way too much. I know the name of every congressman. I know their district. I know what percentage of the vote they got. Before 2016, I hadn’t purchased a book in twenty years. Now I buy all the political ones. The scarier the better. I even got the Omarosa book. Nobody else wanted to read it so I thought I’d take one for the team. I went to DC for four different protests. And a few weeks ago I drove down to Mexico to see for myself what was happening on the border. I’m obsessed. It’s not healthy. Recently I was able to cut myself off from politics for about a week. But then here comes Brett Kavanaugh and I’m back on the couch for three days.”
“We’d been married for four years. We had two young daughters. Everything seemed normal. He never stayed out late. He was a police officer, but he was always home on weekends. And we had a robust sex life. He was my best friend. Sometimes we’d stay up all night talking-- no TV, just talking. Then one morning I tried printing something out on our office computer, and it just kept printing out the same page. It was a picture of his naked body, combined with the profile page for a gay website. He said it was nothing. Only porn. Then a few months later I found the same picture in the ‘unsent messages’ folder of our Outlook account. He’d been trying to send it to a transgender woman named Gabby. That’s when I went through his Internet history and found thousands of jpegs of transgender porn. He denied being gay. He said it was nothing but a porn addiction. But then a few weeks later I was reviewing our credit card statement, and saw that he’d gotten tested for HIV. The next day he brought me to church. He sat me down with the pastor. And he confessed that he’d been having sex with transgender prostitutes throughout our marriage. We didn’t immediately divorce. I tried to make it work for our daughters. He tried going to an addiction treatment center at Johns Hopkins. But I felt like I was married to a stranger. It drove me to the edge. On Super Bowl Sunday of that year, I was sitting in my bed, crying, heavily medicated, when I heard him on the phone downstairs. He was laughing like he didn’t have a care in the world. That night I checked his phone, and saw that he’d been talking to Gabby. He’d been texting her every day for months. The last one said: ‘My wife is getting suspicious.’ That’s when I kicked him out of the house. I haven’t spoken to him in years. He does call my daughters a couple times per week. I just tell them that things between Mommy and Daddy didn’t work out. He seems to be doing fine. He has a new family now. And he’s a minister.”
“My dad brought me here at the age of seven. My mom stayed back in Jamaica, so it was just me and him. He was very strict. It was cultural, mostly. He’d served in the military back home. So he controlled all areas of my life-- school, sports, socializing. Nothing was ever enough for him: not the first place medals, not the honor roll, nothing. He tried hard to break me down. He’d wake me up at 3 AM to go running. He’d make me kneel on the floor all night. And he’d never let me speak back. He intimidated me into silence. I left the house when I turned eighteen. I got a job as a pharmacy tech. I got my own apartment, but I still lived nearby. One day I was driving to work, and I saw him walking to the bus stop. So I pulled over and picked him up. The ride was only ten minutes. But there was a different energy. He actually talked to me. And he let me talk back. He told me things about his life. He talked about how stressed he felt. Things got better after that day. I’d occasionally drop by the house. I introduced him to my girlfriend. He’d tell jokes and laugh. We were beginning to form a relationship. On the morning he died, I actually drove past the crime scene without realizing it. My phone was turned off because it’s not allowed at work. When I finally turned it on, I had several missed calls from him. Each time he left a voicemail: ‘Alex, pick up,’ ‘Alex, please come get me,’ ‘Alex, I need a ride.’ The only time he didn’t leave a voicemail was the very last call. He’d been shot in the neck while walking to the bus stop. I always wonder if the last call was while he was bleeding out. The next few months were surreal. I felt like I was sleepwalking. And I felt responsible. He’d called me for a ride and I’d been right around the corner. I ended up quitting my job. I went to a recruiter's office. And I punished myself the same way he’d have done it: I joined the Marines.”
“Last I heard he was arrested for buying large amounts of cocaine. My mom let me know. She called me one day and said: ‘I don’t want you to find out by Googling your name.’ It wasn’t a huge surprise, actually. It explained a lot of his behavior. He promised to pay for our school—then didn’t. He never wanted to pay child support. He started calling less and less. I haven’t heard from him in years. But I have a really, really great stepdad. I just call him Andrew. My first memory of him was when I was ten years old. I just thought he was a nice older guy at the New Year's Eve party. But my mom got hammered, and the whole ride home, she kept saying: ‘Isn’t he so great? Isn’t he so cute?’ Two years later he moved in with us. He never tried to discipline me. He’d leave that to my mom. He always had the attitude of: ‘I’m not your father.’ But he was another adult in the house that I could rely on. And I’d never had that before. He’d cook meals for us. And he’d really work hard on them. And he’d drive me places. I think 95% of my needs at the time were cooking and driving. Even today, I could call him if I need a ride anywhere. If he’s not able to do it himself, he’ll pay for a cab. Or he’ll figure out another solution. It’s the kind of attention that makes you feel like you’re deserving of someone else’s time. He’s far from perfect. He works too much. He snores. He doesn’t do his laundry. But when I think of the qualities of a good man, or dad, or just person—Andrew’s got them.”
“I started selling when I was seventeen. I didn’t even have to look for customers. A bunch of my friends were squatting in an empty building near my house. And they all smoked. Plus they had people coming over all the time. Everyone came to me. It was the first real money I ever had. I didn’t even know where to start spending. I could buy real things: game consoles, clothes-- all the stuff I’d never had before. I got some $400 Jordan 9’s and only wore them twice. The police don’t even care about it anymore. An unmarked car stopped me while I was skating home last night. They were searching for somebody who got in a fight. When the detectives asked if I had weed on me, I told them ‘yes.’ And they weren’t even worried about it. They let me go. But I want to stop dealing soon. I’m almost twenty-five. I’ve got ten grand hidden under my bed. But that doesn’t even seem like much money to me anymore. I could make more, but I don’t want to start growing it. I don’t want weight in my house. And I don’t want to sell to people that aren’t my friends. So there’s nowhere to go. And I’ve wasted a lot of time. The money made me complacent. I’ve been dealing for six years, and I’ve got nothing on my resume. All I did was work at Macy’s for two months during the holiday season."
“I began using coke in high school, and I never really stopped. But it was under control. I’d use it maybe once a month. I was successful. I worked as a commercial real estate broker. But at the age of 42 I started drinking again. At first I was just entertaining clients, but I began to flood into bad habits. I was attracted to the underbelly of the city. One night a prostitute in Brooklyn offered me a hit of crack, and I accepted. Immediately I began to use against my will. That year a $250,000 bonus was dumped into my bank account. I did manage to pay the bills for the house, but all the rest went to smoking. I became a horrible employee. My family thought I was going to work every day, but I spent all my time bouncing between hotels and crack houses in Brooklyn. My teenage son would leave me voicemail after voicemail, begging me to come home. It was an ugly, dark, scary place. I hit rock bottom in 2013. One night I was having an orgy with two girls and a dealer, and my heart seized up. I just kept hitting the crack, hoping for a heart attack. I went to rehab on Christmas Day that year. I had a few relapses, but I’ve been clean for four years now. Recently I was taking some clients to a restaurant in Brooklyn, and as soon as I got out of the car, I noticed a woman coming toward me. It was the girl who’d gotten me started. She looked like Rihanna when I met her. But now she looked horrible. Her body had shrunk down to nothing. Instantly I told her: ‘T, I have no money.’ But she spent fifteen minutes begging me and offering sex. I told her that I couldn’t help her. I felt horrible, but I couldn’t risk my own recovery by getting involved. I remember that when we used to smoke, she’d always say: ‘Someday I’ll get clean, someday.’ But she never had a chance. At the end of every night I could drive away. I could go back to my phony fucking life in suburbia. I could disconnect. And when I decided to get clean, my neighbors and friends from the good side of life circled the wagons to help me. But she had nowhere to go. She had no one to help. She lived in the insanity.”
“I was only sixteen when I got pregnant. I was so disappointed in myself. I thought I’d end up like one of those pregnant teens on Maury. I did finish high school – I will say that. But afterwards I had no good options. My family didn’t have money. My son’s father wasn’t around. It was on me to do something. So I joined the Navy. I was basically gone for the next six years. I had to leave my son with my parents. It was an extremely hard decision. But anything I did was going to look bad—if I had stayed behind, I would have just been a bum ass ‘project girl’ with a kid. I had to provide. And I was still a kid myself, so I needed experience. When I came home for good, my son was seven years old. He lives with me now. We’re working on it. I’d love for him to be a ‘mama’s boy,’ but in a lot of ways he’s still closer to my parents. He gives them random hugs and kisses. I have to ask for mine. So we’ve still got a ways to go. But I used the GI Bill to get a bachelor's degree. And I’ve got a job where I make real money. I’m proud of myself. I work in a place that I never could have imagined when I was sixteen. I have ‘work friends.’ I spend my day with people who are motivated to be better—not just in work, but as people. I’m doing well. And considering how I started— that’s an amazing thing.”
“I had the idea for a book right after I graduated from law school. It’s a series of novels about superhuman professional fighters-- like what the UFC would look like in the Marvel Universe. I’d love to create an entire world like Tolkien did for Lord of The Rings. But right now it’s mostly just notes on my phone and computer. I’ve had goals in the past, but not like this. I’ve never sunk so many hours into something. It’s become a very core part of my identity. It’s like an application that’s constantly running in the background of my mind. Everything I see-- I apply to the story. The bridge behind me reminds me of the entrance to the main stadium, which is a sculpted archway of past fighters climbing over each other. The book gives me a reason to explore more. I'm taking long walks. I’m looking deeper at things. And I’m especially paying closer attention to other people. It’s the only way to create believable characters. I have to think hard about the lives of people I meet, and the circumstances that made them who they are. So even if nothing else comes of the book, it’s made me a better person. Just having the goal has forced me to grow.”
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