I’m Not Robert Redford

          I worked at a small optical shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with Larry, the owner’s brother, and Paulo, the optician.  Larry was a pharmacist who got caught dealing narcotics illegally out of his pharmacy.  He was still on parole, and was now stuck working behind the eyeglass counter for his baby brother, Michael.  This wasn’t the most ideal work situation for me, but one that fitted at the time.  I just moved to the city and needed the extra money.

            They had a weird camaraderie, with Larry’s interest in sports and girls and Paulo’s interest in neither, the only thing they had in common was being Jews from Brooklyn, a not uncommon thing in New York. 

            When I first told Paulo and Larry I went to church they assumed that I had a thing against Jews.  I tried to reassure them that I wasn’t raised that way.  Growing up in Buffalo, no one cared about what race or religion you were, just as long as you wore the right kind of jeans.  Here in New York, people cling on to their ethnic and religious identities much more strongly.  Native New Yorkers have this efficient way of sizing up people outside their clan by which borough and neighborhood they’re from.

Paulo asked one time, “So do you like your priest?”

            “I’m not Catholic, I’m Protestant.”  I tried to explain the difference, but Paulo could never keep it straight.  Either that or he wasn’t at all interested.  He would rather discuss more important things, like gardening and Barbra Streisand.

            Paulo and I shared a passion for musical theatre and saw Broadway shows together from time to time.  One summer evening after seeing “Gypsy” we took a stroll up Broadway and headed east past Trump Tower and crossed Fifth Avenue to the front of the Plaza Hotel.

            “Let’s reenact the last scene from ‘The Way We Were,’” Paulo bobbed up and down.

            “You mean you want me to be Barbra Streisand?”

            “No, I’m Barbra.”

            I was confused.  “So I’m Robert Redford?”

            He looked at me with a wistful nod.

            “Uh, this is a little weird for me, Paulo.  Much as I’d like to help you out.”

            He sighed, and resigned to the fact that he was stuck with a five-foot-two Asian girl instead of a tall, square-jawed handsome blonde.  He turned one last time to me and searched my eyes like Barbra’s character did to Robert Redford’s character named Hubbell.

            “Oh, Hubbell,” Paulo murmured as he wisped my bangs away from my forehead, exactly as in the last scene from the movie.  I wondered if any of his other female friends had to do this with him.

            And that’s the way I came to see him, as a girlfriend.  We would giggle together at the crazy customers that would come into the store.  We would share recipes and talk about our favorite TV shows.  We even planned a fall foliage trip together.  A “Sound of Music” fan, Paulo picked Stowe, Vermont as our destination because it was the town where the von Trapp family settled after they fled Nazi Europe.  I decided that we should leave after work and make the six-hour drive during the night.  That way, we could wake up first thing in the morning at the inn and get in a full day’s worth of sightseeing.  We ended up getting to the inn so late that there was only a single room left with a queen-size bed.  Paulo freaked out more than I did about sharing the same bed.

            “You promise to not take advantage of me tonight?” Paulo asked as he climbed into bed.

            “I promise,” I mumbled, tired from the drive up.

            I’m glad that we were joking with each other again after the seriousness of what Paulo told me during the long drive.  I really wasn’t paying attention to the beginning of the story, as I was concentrating on the road, but after awhile, I realized that he was telling his story about how he found out that he was HIV positive.  I didn’t know what to say.  I was never good at forming consoling words.  He obviously told me to get a reaction out of me, but I didn’t know what kind.  Should I burst into tears and hug him?  Should I tell him that everything will be OK and that he’s going to beat this?  I don’t even remember what I said, something like, “Well, there are better drugs out now that prolongs one’s life.”  The subject never came up again, and we went on with our simple friendship.

            I eventually left that job and we quickly lost touch.  I e-mailed him recently, just to see how he was doing.  It took him two days to e-mail me back.  He said everything was fine and was getting ready to go on a gay couples’ cruise in a few days.  I was happy that I received a reply back and that he was doing OK.

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Hunger

I’m hungry.  My eating habits have become so sporadic.  Can you become a diabetic by lack of eating? I’m thirsty all the time, I’m tired all the time, I’m angry all the time, I can’t focus.
I haven’t eaten all day, well that’s not true. I had a Korean taco from a food truck for lunch, it was pretty good but that was almost four hours ago, and it was tiny, and I’m still not as skinny as I want to be.   My parents are coming to town next week, and the last thing I need to hear is my mom saying how much weight I’ve gained since the last time I saw her over two years ago.
I’m thirsty.  I ordered a glass of wine last night because I thought it would be the right thing to do in a fancy restaurant, and I was sittting at the bar on a high stool.  I thought I was going to fall.  My heart didn’t even beat that loud, though, and my face wasn’t beet red like it usually is when I have a few sips.  I like wine enough, but I wish my tolerance was a lot better.  Maybe I should have had a beer, but, seriously, $35 for a bottle of the local brew?!?

I love foodtruck food- it’s tasty, small, and you’re helping out the poor guy who’s selling food out of his truck.  Food should be eaten this way.  Forget real plates and silverware, especially when you’re alone.

Compassion

Matthew 9:36

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Mark 6:34

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
I assumed that we are supposed to be kind and compassionate to others because it’s not nice to be mean.  It’s common decency to be nice who are poorer than you, or are foreigners, or disadvantaged minorities.  I was taught that and took it from the liberal stance:  Because they didn’t have the advantages that you had.  Because they were born into poverty.  Because they were denied the opportunity.
The liberal view is the totally wrong way to look at it, because it assumes that everyone has the exact same ability and decent disposition, that everybody has the same sense of self worth, and most importantly, the same amount of intelligence.  Well, sadly, they don’t.
And we should have compassion on them because of this, not because of the circumstances we find them in.  You see how liberals get it wrong?
But once I realized that not everybody has those things, my view and my compassion for them was discovered.  As I changed my expectations about them, as I realized that they do not have the inherent ability to see things the way that other people do, then, and only then, did I understand what true compassion is all about.  Because, as it says in the above bible verses, we are sheep without a shepherd.
Do you know what a sheep is?  It’s one of the dumbest mammals on the planet.  It will go wandering off lost forever, it will follow anything to any place.  That’s what we all are, and we need to follow Jesus.
Its’ never about ability with Jesus.  It’s about faith, and since this is God-given, everybody has it.  I no longer assume that people have a decent amount of intelligence, and therefore, no longer get angry when they don’t.  Through the liberal lens, it would seem condescending, but it’s the truth, and we must accept the truth.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       I am much happier now that I know why and where my compassion is coming from.