Down to the Last Bite: Trick or Treat

It was a day like today. The leaves had already changed and the trees were nearly empty. There was a crazy little stir in our bellies which would only happen once in a year. There was something to this day called Halloween. There was something about the scary movies and the long list of candies which were readily available except, of course, when there was the stirring little fears of danger because (and I’m sure this must have happened somewhere but . . .) there were always tales of someone tampering with candies or putting pins in chocolate bars. But I never saw anything like that.

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Down to the Last Bite: Here’s a Little Ditty Called ‘Self-Care’

Like anyone else, I am simply another human in this world. As a human, I’m one of those humans whose weight has gone up and down. This means my body has gone through changes. I’ve aged some and my healing process is not what it used to be.
Neither is my metabolism for that matter.
I am not here to appeal to anyone for sympathy nor judgment. I am fine; in fact, I’m improving on a daily basis. However, rather than appeal to anyone for unsolicited advice; instead, I am here to expose myself as a regular person who’s been both up and down on the scale.

I’d rather normalize the concepts of eating, or should I say not eating properly. I’d like to do this without shame or without disguising this as something else. No, this is a simple text from a used-to-be skinny kid who could eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted; then one day, age decided to show up.

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Down to the Last Bite: Breakfast Time

I have always been a fan of background music. Perhaps you’ve noticed this with some of my previous entries, especially when I describe music as a necessity to set the stage and improve the atmosphere.
I use music to help me navigate and move around. I might not be listening to every word or every lyric but somehow, the music can almost put me in a state of auto-pilot. I might not even notice the song playing at the surface level of my thinking but I can hear everything. I can feel the rhythm and I can feel the change in my chemistry. I can feel the music which, to me, is the exact intention. This is what music does; it helps us invoke a feeling or somehow, music puts rhythm to our thoughts that cannot be explained.
I don’t need the volume to be loud so much but in fairness, I do enjoy the loud volumes. I do admit that certain driving music can result in me pedaling faster, so-to-speak. But then again, different music inspires different emotions and different emotions respond with different changes in our chemistry. 

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Down to the Last Bite: South of the Border

I want to know what it means to face the sea from the west coast. I want to be south of the border, maybe in Baja or perhaps somewhere else in Mexico. More to the point, I want to be someplace where time takes a vacation. The world takes on a tropical appeal and all else is simple and easy, like an offshore breeze through the palms along the shoreline. I want to face the blueness of the Pacific and search myself for a moment of calmness. All the while, I could be soaking in the sun – and the waves could tumble into the surf, the world would be behind me and I would be miles away, detached from all the hustling cars and cabbies, and light years from the loud intrusions of a place otherwise known as civilization. 

I want to find myself elsewhere and cloaked by the sun and covered with the scent of suntan lotion. I could see me this way, standing in my best tropical pose; a pair of sunglasses pulled up on my head to hold the hair from my eyes, a tan glow to my skin, and maybe there’s a nearby hammock for me to rest upon with a little coconut to drink out of – and of course, this would come with the obligatory chunk of pineapple, a tiny drink umbrella that perches from the top of my coconut drink and ah, that would be nice.

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Down to the Last Bite: The Benefits of a Bagel

I was somewhere around the age of junior high school crushes at the time. I was living through this so-called thing called teenage life while eagerly looking for experimentation. I was trying to find myself in the sense that me as I was, a young man, smaller than the rest of my class, and puny to some degree; I knew that I needed an edge. After all, everyone has an edge whether it’s a sense of humor, charm, a new toy or something bright to stand out – everyone has something about them.
I wanted to find my way across the bridges of popularity and be at least somewhat cool. I can remember looking at the others in my social surroundings. I looked at those who were seen as popular or the so-called popular. I noticed where they sat and who they sat with and I wondered what was it about them that made them different from me – or better yet, what made them different from anybody or everybody else?

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Down to the Last Bite: A Dream/Hopeful Life

Up until now, I have 50 summers in my pocket. What this means is I’ve spun around the sun at least 50 times. I’ve done this with hopefully more to come. I have seen things and heard things. I have smelled things and tasted things. I have lived.
I’ve smiled and laughed. I’ve learned to stand after falling down. I’ve heard the great rainfalls that crashed against the rooftops and I’ve seen the snowstorms that have blanketed my surroundings into a scene of total white.  I can say that I have not seen everything but I have seen beauty in its fullest splendor.

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Down to the Last Bite: A Simple Marinade

The definition of a good marinade is a seasoned liquid with spices and oils to which we soak meat, fish or poultry. Then again, there are thoughts we have which we allow our mind to step in, like a marinade, and one that alters our flavor and the way we taste life on a daily basis.
To be clear, I don’t say that anyone and everyone can cook. I don’t say that everything is easy. For some people, cooking or baking might not be their strong point.
To be blunt and to the point, there are people who overcook or over think their recipients. There are some people who could burn salad, if that’s a thing.
But me, I’d rather enter this in a way that provides a basic exchange between people and express the meaning of what it’s like to break bread with people who you love and care for. Or to add color, I’d like to address the elephant in the room and discuss the people who we don’t love or care for and are no longer involved with our life.

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Down to the Last Bite: It’s More Than a Dish!

There are medicines that help the body heal or ease the pain. There are also methods we use to help the heart and soothe the soul. There are homemade remedies and little tricks to help alleviate the symptoms from some of our daily ailments. Then again, there are homemade remedies that are equally as healing. These special offerings, such as a bowl of Grandma’s soup, are effective. There are little meals that help the heart and, of course, there are dishes that only Mom could make.

I can tell you about the time I was bullied or about the time when I found out about the Tooth Fairy. I can tell you about the times when I was sad or when my anxiety was high because school was my main stressor. No matter what my issue was at the time, there was always something about Mom’s cinnamon toast that made things better.
Maybe it was the way Mom spread the butter and mixed a little sugar with the cinnamon. Maybe it was the bread that Mom would buy. Maybe this was a case of all the above. Or maybe this was something that only a Mom can do.
Maybe this is a Mom’s intuition or maybe it’s the way Mom served this to me on a plate with an understanding hand and a certain touch.
Maybe this is what made all the difference. But who knows?

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Down to the Last Bite: Sunday Breakfast

There was a big room in the rear section of the shelter which, if I want to be true to this entry then I have to say this here, I had never been to a homeless shelter before. I’ve spent time on the streets and needed places to crash in my youth. I have experiences with financial hardships and misfortunes. But to compare my story to others would be an injustice and to say that I understand would do people a disservice because I’ve never had to live in a homeless shelter before. 

Perhaps my preconceived ideas and the pictures in my head were intimidating enough. So, it was safe to say that I was nervous. Safe to say that I was intimidated by the invitation and feared that I would be a flop. Not to mention, this was early in my new idea of a career change and consequently, my anxiety was high. My social fears of speaking in large rooms and in front of large groups of people was enough to stir my stomach and leave me nauseous which, by the way, no one ever believes me when I talk about this.

I have panic attacks before I speak. I have breakdowns before my presentations. In my head, there is an old voice that is a remnant of my cognizant past which fears the exploitation and the exposure of me being a fake, a lie, or found out that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

However, without digressing any further, after speaking in front of a roomful of law enforcement officials, I was invited to speak at a Northern New Jersey homeless shelter. This was a result of my involvement with a legal initiative that supports recovery instead of the typical arrest and process routines. The operation was created because arresting and processing is something that typically does nothing more than lead to the revolving door and more of the same.
However, I only mention this as a means to provide a background. Going forward, I admit that I was new to this process. I was a rookie here with a lot to learn. I was not young by any means; however, I was young to this new concept that I might be able to find my purpose and build a new career.
I was about to learn things that showed me how little I knew and how much more I needed to understand. I was about to learn about boundaries and how important boundaries are in a professional setting. In no other way to explain it, I was afraid yet hopeful and captivated. However, I had so much more to learn. As for the homeless, this was a word that acted like a mark which was no different than the terms junkie or bum.

I suppose that stigma is part of our culture. I suppose that I expected to see people in the shelter who talked to themselves or people with plastic bags on their feet. I mention this in full-disclosure because I want to be honest about this. I also want to be clear about how wrong I was and how I endured my first lesson of cultural biases and diversity.

The room was large and clean. In fact, everything was clean. Of course, it would be inaccurate to say that no one in the room had struggles with mental illness. It would be inaccurate to say that everyone was clean or that no one fit the stereotypical or distinguishing marks of street life.
But in the same text, I am someone who struggles with mental illness. On either end of the table, whether it be on the side of help or the opposite side and in need of help, I have always been a part of the mental health world.  I have my own scars and marks of shame. So therefore and sincerely, perhaps this was a time where I realized my levels of status and pedestals or the way we sensationalize people as “better” or “worse” was in need of revamping.

Would you like to know what I saw?
I saw people. I saw people who identify as women and people who identify as men. I saw people who identified as trans and those who refrained from identifying at all. I saw mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. People who you would never know about their situations if you passed them on the street. In fact, you would think nothing other than hey, they’re people.

Everyone there had a story. Then again, everyone has a story which includes you and I, the neighbor next door and the house down the road. We all have a story.
We all have a background; however, in the case of someone who has earned the term of homeless, no one ever looks at them and thinks about their story. It is seldom that people recognize them and consider how this person was someone’s child once. This person lived, loved, laughed and learned, not unlike anyone else in this world. 

So, in short, the first thing I noticed is that I saw people. I did not see “homeless,” but instead, I saw people who were in need of assistance or support.
I was invited to speak in the cafeteria and tell my story and talk about what I was doing at the time. I was invited to tell them about my experiences with deployments to emergency rooms and to discuss the opiate epidemic.
I was to tell about my experience as a person in long-term recovery and to show that people do recover if they have the capacity to work an understandable program and improve without looking back.

My time was not too long but my discussion was impactful enough to create a large round of applause. This was noticed by the directors and administrators who explained that, to date, no one had ever received a round of applause.

I waited around to speak with the people who lived in the shelter. I sat with a few people and, in all honesty, there were people who looked to dodge the system and looked to pull a scam. I say this to paint an honest picture and I mention this because the directors and administrators treated them fairly and equally.
There were people who literally opposed my presence and who quite clearly and forwardly approached to say they wanted nothing to do with life in recovery.
But, what they did say afterwards is that they appreciated my story and shook my hand with a means of support. 

I was more like a passenger on a trip at this moment. There were people of all kinds who approached me to discuss different ideas and talk about different ways to get ”out” or find housing. 
If I am thinking correctly, perhaps this was my second public presentation and I was petrified that I would say something stupid or do something wrong. 

A woman sat with me as she ate her pie for dessert. She began to tell me how she was also in recovery and how this was where she lived.
We talked for a while about her life. Then she asked me a few questions about mine. Next, she asked if I knew why the guests of the shelter gave me a round of applause.
“Do you know why that happened?”
I answered, “No.”
“It’s because you spoke to us like we were people,” she said.
“And not like we’re homeless or poor, like a bunch of diseased freaks.”

There are times when I see myself and my efforts. There are times when my game was faulty. In moments of insecurity or fleeting moments where my internal narcissist rears its head, I can see where I lost myself. I can see my faults and flaws and dare I say this, I am no better or worse than anyone else. I am not above or beneath anything. In fact, I am capable of making life-changing mistakes and doing inappropriate things.
I can see where there were times when a wrong decision cost me more than I considered. I can see where my mental challenges and emotional hang ups, or my insecure bullshit, or egocentric, or ego-driven needs and manias got in the way of me and my best possible self. I can see what addictive thinking does and where instant gratification comes with irreparable causalities.

I can see where there were times in my life that I had quit without quitting by self-sabotaging and why? The answer is because at the moment, I was not at my best self. I was operating on behalf or responding as a result of something, which in my head was misinterpreted or like a child – I threw a tantrum because I was not getting the right attention. I can see this.
I can see where this impacts a person’s behavior, including my own.
I can think back to times of personal and financial crisis. In fact, it was only by luck (and a good bankruptcy attorney) that I was able to reframe my financial outlook and maintain my housing situation.

Nevertheless, I had the benefit of standing before this community in a cafeteria and speak with people who were simply this: people who experienced loss, tragedy, family deaths and physical ailments. I met with people who lost their way due to bad healthcare. I met with people who were in a humble surrounding and who were there to seek help, find housing, and get back to a life they’d rather be living.

This was the birth of a group known as Breakfast with Benny, which still goes on and still has an impactful touch on me as well as the people who arrive and talk openly about their lives. 

Had it not been for this opportunity, there are so many things that I wouldn’t have in my life today. Namely this, I have a better understanding about the inaccuracies of stigma, a wealth of friends who have changed my life and Sunday morning coffee time with an extended family whom I love nearly and dearly.

I think about the alterations of our fate and how somehow, almost cosmically, our paths change and intertwine with purpose and reason.
I think about every moment that has led me up until now which goes back to a time before the moment I sat with a woman as she ate her pie at the shelter.

I think back to the time in 1998 when I put on my apprentice uniform and entered into the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 94, and where this has led me since my apprentice days at 909 3rd Avenue.
I think about the ideas I had about my future – or should I say, I think about the wonder I had for my future and the worries I had about what my future would look like.
Every twist and turn, downfall and resurgence has helped me to create this moment. As I mention this moment, I have to end this here because it’s Sunday morning and in a few moments, I’ll sit with my family at Breakfast with Benny – because we’re still running strong!

Life is meant to be lived with your eyes open –
Not closed and wishing you could see something else.

Down to the Last Bite: Mental Note – There’s Good Things Going On

Before you read this, I would like to offer this entry not as a justification or an explanation of who I am, what I see or where I stand; but instead, I offer this as a humble gesture that good things happen in this world. There are good people everywhere you turn. Trust me on this one.

Now, I know that we’ve spoken before about my ideas of driving out west on an open road. I doubt that I am alone with the idea to head out with no restriction, no obstructions and no distractions. We’ve talked about my rides of visiting small, quiet or unknown towns where little festivals take over the neighborhood for a weekend.
I can imagine these places, wholesome and quaint, friendly as ever, and welcoming as ever too, as if even a stranger is welcome like family. I can envision the small roads and the little houses in the towns and I can picture the openness that takes place between people who live by the golden rules and honor their neighbors as they would themselves. I’d like to see this.
I’d like to see this for myself and experience a journey that takes place in our modern day and age and find a place where I can sit for a while and enjoy a cold glass of country-style lemonade or maybe find a peach cobbler or a slice of warm apple pie.

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