50 Stories of 50 Friends
I Often Wonder, What's Up with the Good Doctor
I've always had more than one bar I'd call my local on the go at anyone time. As a matter of fact I have always had at least four or five locals on the go at any given time. Just the other day, I realized I had become a regular at a grimy little Irish bar at 23rd and 1st Avenue; a wee little beautifully dingy hole in the wall corridor bar, goes by the name O’Connel's. I'd become a regular there simply as it so happened to be right across from the NYU Dental Center. Since I'm there once a week these days, why wouldn't I have a "hey how ya doin', how are the teeth treatin' you today ol' chum?" local to check into before and outta after these weekly trips to the dentist?… And, the good folks behind the corridor of a bar at O’Connel's offers me up a free shot of Jameson when I pop in post-op condition; face swollen and stuffed with cotton... (don't tell my dentist I'm suckin' on a straw 5 minutes after... you know, dry socket n' all).
But, this little ditty isn't just about the locals; it is about one of my most favorite locals, a truly wonderful friend we all call, Doc; a finer Irish-Bostonian you'll likely never meet just below Midtown Manhattan, near the Madison Square Park, Flatiron district if you'd like to be exacting.
Another of my locals in Manhattan, a place called the Swan, has been a Manhattan local for over six years now. My original New York-ex-girlfriend introduced me to the place mere moments after I had met her, just before I considered I'd moved down and well before I had a permanent address in The City. So, I’ve been swinging from The Swan's German taps, been a local since well, before I was even a local myself (hey, that's kinda sweet). Sadly, I frequent the Swan less and less these days, I mean, it’s not the at least twice a week plus once for a month or so for their Saturday Night Tanny-Parade as it once was… These days I frequent the Swan… primarily to see Doc.
Doc’s is an older gentleman and to be certain, the term gentleman survives today specifically to describe gentlemen like Doc. He’s older, but not that much older than the oldest fella I call friend; I believe he’s 69... let’s get these facts straight and the stats out of the way already... Doc is 69, he’s a Vietnam Vet, he has been awarded both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star [for my Canadian friends, the Bronze Star is the third highest decoration one can achieve in US military service]… He’s a Vet, he’s a retired New York City plastic surgeon, he’s gay, oh and (shhhh) keep this to yourself, he is the finest Republican I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, to date.
Doc and I had struck up our ongoing conversation long before that disastrous day in the city Ken Burns' brother Ric calls "The City on the Edge of Tomorrow"… Doc and I became very good friends to some extent on the basis of what some idiot might call a courageous, non-homophobic ability to kiss him directly on the lips each time I saw him, just before we'd say hello; and a shared ability to carry on a conversation that went way beyond the limits of Rush Limbaugh into the nether worlds of what another idiot might call the extreme right-wing. These nether-worlds where Doc and I would meet on the great plains of democratic enlightenment, (non-partisan, small "d" democratic to be sure). Doc is the true American argument…
I mean, c’mon think about it for a moment. He’s not only gay, a very-decorated Vietnam Vet, a Republican; he’s also from the neighborhood from which that cursed family tried to hoodwink this country into the belief that a bunch of booze running, far too rich Irish locals, a bunch of loud mouthed to good for their own good… eh hem, I'm sorry; my apology... Doc is from Boston Massachusetts (a state I cannot not pronounce, cannot spell nor truly figure out).
The brief history of Doc as I have managed to glean from those rare moments he'd talk about himself, reveal those secrets far worse than that he is… a Republican.... He was born to a working class Irish family, up there in Massachusetts, in other words, he's from Boston. And, he has a weird accent to prove it. Haven’t heard all much of his childhood story, we'll just assume it was everything we'd seen in the movies about, being from… a working class neighborhood Boston, adding on the clichés of being a gay child in a working class neighborhood may afford our imaginations. Doc got himself through med-school in particularly patriotic fashion, perhaps peculiar for the times. It was back in the sixties; being from the working class neighborhood, he knew, he'd have to serve his country. An old college professor of his who was stationed at some camp down in South Carolina, got him assigned to the medical core. When that sheltered assignment was up… he might have been re-assigned to say infantry in Germany, or logistic in Korea, but he requested to go directly to Nam, specifically to continue his medical education… and to serve a country he once loved more than he may do so today.
He honestly hasn't told me too too much about being a warrior-medic, come doctor. He’s mentioned that he saw action, a lot of action. He once told me, somewhat later one evening a bizarre story, that time of the evening when our stories became more bizarre, about setting up camp near some beautiful cove. He and his buddies would often swim off the day's battle strewn blood stains in the cove… he'd alluded to how he had once rescued a small boy from the currents and the sharks in this cove. How he stitched up the little boy after the boy had been bitten (or cut on the rocks, it was never quite clear which). I would noticed how Doc's eyes would well up a bit each time he told me a newer fresher version of the story he never did finish telling me. Just another unfinished story from Doc, told over the bizarre later hours... Perhaps one day he'll finish that story and just how and why he was awarded the Bronze Star, another of Doc's deep-darkies. We do have an agreement that he will one day get to these...
Indeed, it's all a bit sketchy, but he did return from Nam, eventually alive and as intact as anyone else who arrived back from that story... and skippity-skipping past whole whack of stories I have only had the pleasure to partially hear; Doc gotta a get into med-school-free veteran education, located in NYC and became quite the renowned plastic surgeon in this one place outside of say, LA where plastic surgeon-ing is renowned and most definitely quite financially rewarding. I won't tell Doc and mine's secrets, but I can report, on the proof upon seeing his old apartment, he was indeed living the lifestyle one might imagine a 1960's through 70's gay retired plastic surgeon could be living... yappy little dogs, his living room, wall to wall to wall mirrors, little glass figurines, a warhol there, another fabulously ugly 1970's piece of way too valuable for how it looked piece of art over there. Kind of a Halston-esq museum cum shag-rugged dream palace.
For those unclear, Halston was in many circles the King of NYC in the late 60’s early 70’s, his fashions and scents put him leapfrog years above that silly white haired boy who lived in a loft he called the factory down in what Doc would simply snub as the heroin ridin dirty part of town they called… the "Art World" (in reality, just a couple of blocks from mine and Doc's local). For his time, Halston was NYC and Doc’s old apartment, every inch n' detail of it stank sweetly of a Halston enriched interior design scent… more mirrored walls in the bedroom, zebra print bed sheets, red shag deepest of the deep pile carpets and did I already mention those hundreds upon thousands little glass figurines… everywhere. The only sad thing in Doc's happy place, were those prerequisite two cute yappy dogs who seemed to have survived to this day from the 70's, but were likely descendants of the originals, were all yellowed, mangy and mottled at their ripe old 16 and 18 years of age.
Doc once told me a story of how he'd been pulled over by cops in Toronto while breaking red lights in his big old solid gold colored Rolls Royce… Niagara Falls and Toronto had been one of the regular trips he and his pal Trudy, the widow of the scientist who invented the no more tears formula and sold it to Johnson and Johnson would take together. I can only assume he'd met Trudy in his plastic surgeon-ing chair. Another regular trip he'd take with his good friend Trudy was to Villa Desta (along with Donatello et al)… They were once a year winter regulars, I guess locals at the Bermuda Beach Club… Doc introduced me to Trudy once, and to many other of his very good friends. One fella an un-named Restaurant chain magnate who gets chauffeured around town in classic, 70’s era stretch Mercedes Benz limo. Doc has told me all these stories along with many others I'd listen to while eating the leftovers off his plate at the Swan, our local. AND here's one thing, maybe the best thing I love about Doc. Not in any one of these introductions did I ever feel belittled, subrogated to a lower class; Doc introduced me to his friends all in a manner (a true gentlemanly manner) where I described simply as his friend, a good friend. And Doc, my dear friends, as much as many another friend of mine, knows the value of a friendship… and I shall leave it at that, as Doc might say himself.
Actually, no maybe I won't… Here’s a story of good friendship. Last Christmas, I wandered into the Swan in, let's simply call it a forgettable state. Doc gave me the greatest gifts any friend could give another… and a compliment I've held dear ever since. I had a very big pile of problems on my plate… I wandered into the Swan and went through these problems, in a friendly non-complaining way with my good friend Doc… Gordon, he said, you don't need to be in such a state, or seek therapy… you don't have a problem, he said, you just have to do what I do and take time off whenever you're feeling out of control. His kind advice on one what I had begun to imagine the bigger of the problems I was to simply describe. On another he...
"Gordon", he said, "go to the NYU Dental center (across from my vet), on first Ave, they're cheap and they will fix those problems in your mouth…" "Gordon" he said, "...you and Jennifer (my then original NYC-ex) will remain good friends…" "...and, you'll meet someone soon..." That night we actually did something quite rare and left our local together. We walked as we talked, up Park Avenue, stopping at what could only be assumed were other people's locals. Him drinking too much, me holding him upright as best I could. It was one of those truer almost beautiful moments in a friendship; him spending a bit of extra time with a friend that was a bit blue... around Christmas time.
The compliment came a bit harshly at first. He chided me (as gentlemen with manners sometimes do): "Gordon", he said, my more Scottish name rolling and broiling through a by now far more pronounced and way more working class Boston Irish brogue... "...the nicest thing about you is that you do not present your problems as problems… things you'd like to be solved by your friends.. You do not have drama, you have small issues; and issues are so much more easily attended to by your friends". I took this compliment, stuck it in my heart and promised myself I have stuck with this manner of addressing my problems, er "issues" with my dear friends until this day... (I think).
Doc has issues himself; he presents them to me as issues, I discuss them with him rationally, and while I am with him, I refuse to express the concern and dread that I may actually feel at the moment he describes them. I offer a fresh bit maybe even a full dollop of empathy, at least as much as I might, depending on the problem. Doc and I are more often than not found smiling at our problems... Then, I give him a kiss on the lops, walk out of the Swan and onto the L train… with just enough said about that.
I've now only a vague memory of the many things I wanted to get up in this story about Doc when I started to write it. I may have wanted to write about those non-arguments over politics and the general state of the Union he and I loved to have (over which Doc and I have buried hours). He’s a Republican, I'm a Canadian and we'll leave it at that... In the end we do see eye to eye on about 90% all issues, and share both 2 of our 3 most favorite Presidents… we argue only at the point where he believes in a more Gomorrah-Interpretation of these United States of America where as I still see a country, an empire, a new epoch, not yet truly beginning to take it’s true shape in the beautiful history of mankind… Funny thing is Doc and I will argue intensely while holding almost exactly the same point of view... and talk happily while disagreeing vehemently... friendship.
I wanted to write about these conversations, instead though, perhaps I've begun to realize, that although the stuff one “talks” about with his friends may be important. It really is the beautiful opportunity to just sit and talk with your friends, share the shit, the luck of the Irish. Having someone close, dear and on more or less the wavelength of the day is what makes it all have it's own particularly special and spectacular meaning…
[Original Postscript: I take pride in giving my younger friend bits and pieces of dare I say wisdom yet, AND I revel in the advice and examples of their lives, their bits of living they give me… My older friends, the Docs, the Paul, the Charlies to name but a few... I am honored, truly honored, blessed to have their friendship, and to have access to what I see as their most definitely appropriately called... wisdom… I am beholden to passing the wise advice they give me onto these younger friend of mine, maybe someday I'll be old enough to deliver it correctly]
Meanwhile, I continue to live as, or like an Irish… Potato..