22 July 2020

The Mindful Asshole on Donald Trump

“Please hold for Mr. Trump.” It was a soft woman’s voice that came out of the phone speaker three of us sat around. There were a number of other voices, all men, coming thru the speaker as well. I imagine what they must all look like. Dark navy suits. Polyester red ties from Macys with the bosses name and ‘Made in China’ on the back. A giant floor long suite somewhere in Trump Tower.  

Chicago winds flex the plastic glass of the Hancock building on the 20th floor as we wait to speak to Trump about his condo tower going where the Chicago Sun Times is standing.  It broke my journalist wanna be heart that the Sun Times was fleeing the city for cheap rent but that it was being replaced with a Trump Condom was salt on the wound.   

Trump comes on and his voice is pleasant and cheerful. I sit next to Matt in front of Dana’s desk. Dana seems impressed but Matt doesn’t. I don’t know what I look like but I’m not impressed. Trump gives us basic info on the the Builders Risk and tells us about the contractors. His voice drops a bit, like he’s sharing a secret, and complains that it’s tough to find competitive bids in Chicago for such a premier project.  Matt asks why and Trump complains they are too high.  “I just don’t get it,” Trump says. “I could do better in New York. I thought Chicago would be easier and a whole lot cheaper.”  

I get the sense Trump is feeling us out for referrals since our office writes a lot of contractors. Trump goes on, “I tell these guys their bids are too high and they tell me they can’t go lower and make a profit. So I tell them, like I do in New York, that they should be willing to do the job for a loss because the publicity they will get for doing a Trump deal will more than make up any loss.”  Matt and I turn to each other and smile. This isn’t how Chicago works.  But Dana is with Trump a hundred percent and I wonder if he’s just kissing Trump’s ass. “I think we can find contractors that would understand that strategy.” says Dana as Matt and I look at him in disbelief. 

What a show. It took Trump 10 yrs to tear down the Sun Times and replace it with what many in Chicago know as Trump’s, “Penile Implant.”  I think about that call a lot. Over the years, I heard about Trump’s reputation and that of his buildings. It was no secret.  But why, I wonder, if you have all that money do you ratchet the folks down who are doing the work and then stiff them on top of that.  But, that was before mindfulness came into my life. 

An incredibly abusive father, a missing mother, hidden family origins ( claiming to be Swedish when they were German), phony family legends, sibling rivalry and lots and lots of money. I think of that and Mary Trump’s book and I understand. I really do. What would any human being be like growing up in such a warped environment?  Pretty fucked up, say a lotta people who treat the mentally ill.  

Every human being has a story and we never know the whole one. So we judge and say they’re morons or worse. Today, its easier to do than ever with the anonymity of social media. I try to remember we are human beings and some of us are luckier than others. Being wealthy is no guarantee for anything other than paying your bills on time. With this amazing look at the Trumps, I don’t think paying your bills on time means anything...anymore. 

13 July 2020

Mondays are for The Mindful Asshole

“I haven’t always been mindful, but I’ve always been an asshole...and that’s okay.”

I’ve been practicing mindfulness now for about five years.  The more I practice, the easier it gets.  “Let it Go,” is a mindful expression for saving oneself from frustration and anger. However, ‘letting it go’ is not that easy.  This is usually where the experts tell you to, “keep at it, you mustn’t give up,” because the pay off is huge.  

About three years ago, maybe four, I discovered a short cut. All you need is a little imagination and a smattering of empathy for this hack and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you too will be able to, “Let it Go.”

For instance, at present, I’m in India going on five months. No idea when I’ll be able to leave. India is a loud country. There’s a lot of horn honking, loud talkers, loud arguments, morning mooing cows, and slamming doors. The door slamming started a couple days ago when a new tenant moved into the apartment next to me. Every morning he slams his door leaving and every night he slams his door coming. He also slams his door when he leaves and returns from an errand. Usually the liquor store. 

This door slamming can go on till very late and as hard as I tried to understand the annoying exits and entries, I was nowhere close to, “Letting it Go.”  Until I remembered my short cut. Here’s how it works:  

I asked myself, why does he slam his door?  I came up with two theories, 1- He’s deaf.  Or, 2- This is the first door he’s ever used.  1, was ruled out because I saw him in the parking garage ordering Take Away on his cell phone. Mindfully, I gave the second theory serious thought. This is where an imagination helps. 

Living in a tent in Jaipur is not unusual. And tents have doors but they’re made out of canvas and impossible to slam. It’s more of a ‘whiff’ or sometimes a zipper.  Both impossible to slam. Suddenly, my empathy kicked in and I thought how wonderful it must be for this man to finally have a real wooden door that opens and closes and yes, even slams. That has to be a wonderful sound after years of whiffing and zipping. And who am I to get upset about it?  I feel happy for my neighbor and suddenly, ‘I let it go...’ because I understand and feel like I know my neighbor a whole lot better. 

A little empathy and some imagination are all you need to avoid anger, resentment, frustration, and upsetting a neighbor who is 30 pounds lighter and 40 years younger. This compassion enables me to access the peace in my heart and I transform my world by transforming myself. Not completely... which should be obvious, but I’m working at it. 

Next Monday, The Mindful Asshole considers Donald Trump and a phone call I had with him about 25 yrs ago. 

07 April 2020

“I Think We Lost Him”

I wanted to say I was hiding behind the refrigerator but instead, I opened my eyes, looked at the EMT and said, “I’m meditating.”

“Oh, sorry. You go on ahead.”  I closed my eyes and breathed slowly. I wasn’t in pain anymore because of the fentanyl and the ambulance seemed to be taking it’s time as it cut through an early Saturday morning fog. “Sir, when we get you in the emergency room, things are gonna move very fast.”  The EMT was young, fair haired and reminded me of myself when I was about 25. We were backing into the entrance of the hospital and the fair haired EMT along with his partner, a unsmiling and stern looking woman about 30, stood up in a crouch from their seats and unlocked my stretcher.  

Ambulance doors opened and I saw what I’ve seen in the movies so many times it’s like a cliche. The POV of the patient’s view of the EMT faces, then blue sky and finally the long tracking shot down a hallway and into a small room with about 30 people.  I wasn’t worried until I saw all those people. Doctors, nurses, spectators... I never did find out who they all were. They took my clothes off, stuck a lot things on my body and I heard a man say, “Alright, people. I’m gonna elevate this.”  My partners face appeared and she said I was going to be alright. I was wheeled down another hallway tracking shot into the Cath Lab. Cath for catheter not Cathy. A nurse shaved my pubic hair and when she finished I announced that I could finally be in a porno film.  There was a laugh or two but mostly there was a loud groan and a nurse responded with, “Too much information.”  

As I was being picked up and moved from the ER stretcher to the Cath lab table, my heart stopped. For about three seconds. I didn’t see a bright shining light but I did see a warm white glow and I was falling into it. As I got closer, it looked like a white parachute and it felt wonderful as it enveloped me. It didn’t seem like three seconds. It felt like there was no time. I heard voices and was back in the Cath Lab looking at the cardiologist standing over my groin and pushing the stent in somewhere between my right testicle and leg when all the lights went off and the room went completely black. I said, “Aren’t I supposed to see a bright shining light?” The lights came back on and the cardiologist looked up, pointed a finger at me and said, “You don’t know how close you came so shut up!”  That’s how I got another year of life the morning of April 6, 2019...but it’s also how I died trying to do stand up or lay down comedy in a cath lab.  

I was able to give a nurse who was taking her daughter for a weekend in NYC, a restaurant recommendation (Gramarcy Tavern). She was so grateful and I said it was a good thing I didn’t die and she laughed and with another nurse pushed me out into the hallway. We talked about New York as the tracking POV shot continued and my partners face appeared again. She looked at me and smiled and touched my head. “You’re glowing,” I saw her sister appear behind her and said hello.  The sister smiled and looked at me with some surprise. We all chatted for a while. About the stent in my heart. My 100% main blocked artery and another artery that was 55% blocked so it didn’t need a stint and about the wine list at Gramarcy and then down the hall again to an elevator and finally a room in ICU. 

It took all of 45 minutes I was told. No opening of the chest or pacemaker. Just a stent. It’s been a year and I am not ignorant of my luck. Many things could’ve happened and I wouldn’t be here. I told my doctor that if I had been alone, I would’ve taken three Tylenol and gone back to  bed. He said a lot of men do that with unhappy results.  It was my partner who insisted on calling an ambulance. Especially when I told her the intense pain in my left arm traveled to my left jaw. So many little things turning an event into a nonevent. Although, that white parachute has stayed with me. It provides me with comfort and a sense of peace. Because now I know... it’s okay. 

26 March 2020

India with Dad

Dad and friends 

Back when I was working in NYC, I dated a woman who was a numerologist. We met at the first and definitely the coolest party I was ever invited to. A small apartment building in Manhattan, all four apartments on one floor were open. One had the food, another the drinks, the third a jazz quartet complete with upright bass and the fourth was where I met the numerologist.  

It was the mid-eighties and consequently it was a fast romance. After the party, we were kissing on her couch when she pulled her head back and said stop. I was about to apologize when she took me by the hand and lead me to her bedroom. Since then, I’ve used the same tactic with surprising results. Not all good. 

The next morning, we had breakfast at JG Melon and began to introduce ourselves. I was a park ranger at the Statue of Liberty but had higher ambitions. Acting, screenwriter and if that all failed, at least I could work for an ad agency.  I wanted to be Don Draper long before there ever was one. 

She worked in an office as a secretary but numerology was her passion. I had no idea what she was talking about and being horrible at math, assumed she loved it. She explained and asked for my numbers. We were not finished with breakfast when it started to rain. She asked that I hurry because we had to get back to her place because nothing was better than doing it while it rained.  Every time I’ve walked by JG Melon’s I think about rain. 

On our next date, she explained the results of my numbers. She said I was prone to talk too much and that combined with a good hearted honesty, my career would be a failure if I didn’t keep my mouth shut. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s just what she thinks of me.”  But she was right. So dead on right, I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times I was fired for ‘speaking my mind’ over the past 35 yrs since her reading. 

My father had the same problem. A lot of people thought he could’ve made general were it not for his... correcting of superiors. Or, what he called, “The perfumed princes of the Pentagon.  Actually, he’d have been better off staying in Special Forces where that kind of contrary nature was popular. But he even pissed off the Green Berets by saying they were all show and no go in Vietnam. In fact, the gate over the entrance to his SF camp had a large sign over it that read in Vietnamese, “We are only what we say we are and not what we do.”

There’s a black cow that loiters about my Jaipur residence every night with four or five other cows. When I first saw her, she stared at me - - Watched my every move while the other cows ignored me. That was the first night I stepped in cow shit. There were two other times I misstepped, and that black cow was always there staring at me.  I’m not superstitious but I think that Black Cow is my Dad trying to tell me something. Or, maybe he isn’t and just likes roaming around Jaipur, completely safe as a sacred cow, and shiting all over the city. That would be my Dad and maybe me. I wonder what the numerologist would think? 

25 March 2020

India Lock Down

My napkin at the table

Rather than knock, many Indians turn the locked door knob back and forth as a way to let you know they want in.  It’s unsettling when it first happens. Especially when you open the door and three strange men are outside with the apartment manager who looks very uncomfortable. In fairness, he always looks uncomfortable. Whether he waves good morning or trying to tell me in his limited English the elevator ain’t working. 

The three men want to see my apartment.  One man points at his eye and says, “Look, look.”  It’s almost 8pm and I’m saying to myself, “this is not good.”  Well dressed terrorists comes to mind but I scratch that and looking at their height assume they’re cops. I let them in. They look around quickly, exchange a few words amongst themselves in Hindi and leave. 

I found out the next morning they were prospective buyers of the the apartment building. Suddenly, memories of countless real estate agents knocking on my various apartment doors reminds me that people are all the same.  The good and the bad. 

There are pigeons outside my bathroom window who coo, purr and squak.  They drove me crazy for the first week. The window is frosted and I can only make out their shadows as they flap against the window. I take my four minute shower because that’s how long the hot water lasts and while using bottled water to brush my teeth, I hum The Beach Boys, Don’t Worry Baby.”  I spent a glorious summer with a girlfriend in Florida having sex everyday and listening to The Beach Boys afterwards, a cool breeze blowing thru her bedroom window and landing on our naked bodies. That was the Summer after I graduated high school. 

This is Spring in India. And the pigeons, still outside my window, don’t make a peep. Every morning I hum a Beach Boy’s song and they keep their mouths shut.  It’s my 23rd day in India and I’ve sung to pigeons, had my four minute shower, an orange, some honey and a malaria pill with bottled water for breakfast. 

I’m invited to the home of my host for lunch, as I have been almost every day.  His wife, parents, sister, two children and cook along with a caretaker are in serious discussion. While it’s Hindi, I can tell something is wrong. I kick off my shoes by the door and greet all with a poorly pronounced Namaste. Their reply is with smiles but they’re wooden and tight. I sit at the table and all discussion continues in Hindi. I want to ask, “what’s up?” But I don’t.  I assume my host will speak with me privately and so this lunch drags on while they speak quickly in a language that sounds Italian one minute and Japanese the next.  I hear ‘American’ buried in the rapid fire Hindi more than once. 

I push flat bread into a pile of potatoes that look just like hash browns. With thumb and index finger I clamp the bread around the potatoes, pick it up and stick it my mouth dropping a couple in my lap. I’m the only one at the table who uses a napkin because I’m not good at eating with my right hand. I also remember I forgot to wash my hands but figure pushing buttons on a elevator and opening two gates isn’t going to kill me. Or will it? I’ll find out in 14 days. 

These people are warm and generous and sitting at their table, I am aware they’re just like everybody else I’ve ever had a meal with. They have the same problems as everyone in the world right now and I feel the 7,599 mile difference for the first time.  I really am on the other side of the planet and it makes me feel lonely. And then I think of The Beach Boys and the pigeons and the lyrics of Don’t Worry, Baby.  And I feel better...just as slices of chilled mango are piled on my plate.  Who in the world doesn’t like mango.