A Little Perspective

At least the sun is partially out on this post-apocalyptic day in 2000…

Rummaging through my hard drive this Xmas evening, I came across some old blog postings from a now defunct blogging website I ran called “We Left Buffalo” 4 years ago. I felt they were worth sharing. All from 2004 and early 2005, they are listed from most recent. I am MUCH happier now, with a beautiful wife and son (and beautiful home and job that I love). And I have finally grown roots-a much easier feat in warmer climes. So kindly refrain from an intervention: I am NOT standing on a ledge… 🙂

Bay Area Dating (or lack thereof)
Meeting people here is still as difficult as ever. I recently swallowed my pride and placed a personal online (nerve.com-the supposedly hip personals site) and have found that while there is absolutely NO shortage of single, attractive women here, they are mostly in San Francisco.
Of the 5-6 I pinged in that city, the one who did respond told me that people there generally don’t venture south of Redwood City (in a nutshell, 10 miles). Unlike the north which is more rural (i.e. wine country), there is a sense that all south of SF is “ghetto” (which is absurd-like calling Amherst, West Seneca or Williamsville a dump).
I think specifically, they think this of San Jose. This is not the first I have heard of such sentiments: I was made aware of this phenomenon when I first arrived here 15 months ago.
There’s a very practical consideration of distance: San Francisco is about 45 miles away from San Jose. I guess I would think twice about dating someone from Ellicottville, were I still in Buffalo. But dammit, I am getting bored with myself.
Not surprisingly, many women here have no qualms whatsoever about being blunt in their ads:
“Please have a full head of hair.”
“Please make at least 100k/year.”
“Please be at least 5’11.””
“Please be a liberal.”
“If you voted for W, don’t bother.”(This one is popular.)
(Oddly, one would think that being apolitical and NOT VOTING AT ALL would be more repugnant than voting our much reviled Commander in Chief to a 2nd term. At least that would show conviction. But I strongly suspect that such people would find abstention more palatable. Personally, I would have more respect for an ad that said, “If you didn’t vote, it won’t work.”)
I was hesitant to reinforce California stereotypes, but I doubt you’ll find any such personals from WNY women. I was told long ago that the “plastic people” stereotype was confined to Southern California (LA, in particular), which Northern Californians consider a separate state. While there are many things I like about this world’s 5th largest economy, I would argue that the entire state is a separate country altogether. Anyway, if I AM ever to be paired with another (marriage or otherwise), I have serious doubts about finding that person here. My ex, my reason for being here in the first place, was like a needle in a haystack.
Next stop: Yahoo! Personals. Maybe I’ll get my finger pricked there…

Mixed Emotions
I returned home for the second time since relocating to the Bay Area for Xmas. (The first time in June was not voluntary: It was the death and burial of my father. Needless to say, I was very preoccupied then.) This time, despite a similar frantic pace in a shorter time span, I covered more bases than on the previous visit.
I was fortunate to see people I haven’t seen in 20 years. Among these people were the family of my good friend, the late Paul Hoeflich. Paul had only recently passed in October, a truly tragic and untimely death. It was the first time I met Paul’s children, who are beautiful kids. I hadn’t planned on seeing them and was approaching the house with great apprehension: What do I say to these poor kids and his wife to ease their pain? I entered a jam-packed house-full of family and friends. Despite, the undercurrent of sorrow and loss, the cohesiveness and strength of the family shone through. It was so inspiring.
It turns out I didn’t need to say a thing: our presence there was enough. Anyway, I hope my appearance was as healing for them as it was for me.
I spent the rest of the six day stay visiting and last minute Xmas shopping. I was so busy I had no time to indulge in my favorite Buffalo culinary sins: La Nova pizza, Jim’s Steakout steak tacos, and/or Mighty Taco anything. A brief break to run into Manhattan Bagel on Delaware made me realize once and for all that Noah’s New York Bagels (a chain here) has them beat by a mile. (On a related note, I have lost 15 pounds since living here. There just isn’t enough fast food here to my liking. And I actually cook 5-6 nights a week.)
So I arrived home in the midst of zero degree temps, many babies born, seemingly universal hatred of Joel Giambra (and Tony Masiello), plummeting property values in South Buffalo, the ominous cloud of library closings and a sales tax increase, a new downtown deli serving the residents of multiple new lofts, a Bills home stretch surge, and the Bass Pro Shop in the old Aud a done deal. I leave it to the reader to assign positive or negative values to each.
I attended a great party on the 23rd where I spent quality time with many friends, including at least one fellow Buffalo expatriot. I was struck (during the entire visit) by the general consensus regarding both of our departures: Though we were both sorely missed, they were glad we “got out”. Well, I guess that’s the way I’ve always thought of people who left prior to me. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. Technically, I was “rescued”. (I left for love.) What also shouldn’t surprise me is that upon hearing about the Bass Pro Shop, many Buffalonians’ first thoughts mirrored mine: How long do we give it? Six months? A year? Rich K will likely chide me here. But I think defeatism is part of the collective Buffalo psyche (which has, in part, followed me here).
A defining moment on my visit came that same Thursday night (23rd). I went looking for EVR at Home of the Hits, forgetting he told me he was no longer there weeks ago. The girl there told me he WAS still spinning records at the Old Pink. So off I went later that night to the place where I would surely run into more people I hadn’t seen in years. It was around 3AM Friday at this point. Well, he wasn’t there either. But the same two people were at the far end of the bar seemingly like clockwork, looking as miserable as ever. M told me Eric was at Mohawk. L, as usual, said not a word. Yup, same old Pink. Buffalo in a microcosm.
When I returned here the day after Xmas, to my surprise, I was relieved and (dare I say?) happy to be back. I STILL miss Buffalo. But I feel just a tad less rootless today.

The Y and Why I Can’t Dive
I remember going to the YMCA on Abbott Road (now the Irish Center) as a kid. It was an “intervention”, so to speak, to keep me out of trouble. There was a social worker who used to visit us and hooked me up with the Y. His name was Fran. I remember him consoling my mother one day (can’t recall what she was upset about). But I remember him hugging and kissing her. Even at that young age, I thought that was strange and unprofessional.
There was an older retarded guy (probably mid 20’s-a man to us) named Vinnie. One day in the locker room, he began tearfully going on about some guy (who he named) who made him put his mouth on his “thing”. We kids were silently mortified. I even remember the alleged molester’s name, though I had no idea who he was.
That’s where my fear of DEEP water began. The swim instructors grew impatient with my fear of the diving board. So they forced me to jump in (couldn’t get the diving technique down) and watched me flail about in mortal terror for about 10 agonizingly long seconds before rolling their eyes and rescuing me. I can relate to the “tough love” technique. Unfortunately, they seriously underestimated the depth of my fear, and my already burgeoning distrust of people. They never thought for a second that I might think they would let me drown. Yet, that’s exactly what I thought. I didn’t want to swim for a while after that.
Actually, I didn’t actually learn how to really swim or tread water (in DEEP water) til the summer of 1986. That was the one good thing to come from my first fatal attraction episode: my psychotically dependent girlfriend taught me how in a pond in Central New York. Though I still can’t dive, I trust people a little more these days.

Shunning the Embrace
I was fortunate recently to make the acquaintance of a fellow Buffalo ex patriot, Tim, here in the Bay Area. He’s a true salt of the earth Buffalo type. Last night I attended a party (theme: trailer trash) with him and his girlfriend in Belmont. I only knew a few other people there from a previous party at Tim’s.
The night started off on the wrong foot for me: Due to a foggy memory on the directions, I missed my exit off I-280 and drove all the way to San Francisco. I guess I am not as directionally astute as I thought.
Friday night traffic is not pretty in/near that city. Every street seems to be one way only. Add to this that I DON’T LIKE San Francisco, especially the hilly terrain in a stick shift car. I ended up finding the interstate in a reasonable amount of time, narrowly avoiding crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I ended up being about an hour late, apologizing profusely to Tim and his girlfriend. They were not bothered, of course.
This particular party marked my fourth social gathering here (since the big breakup). And as nice as everyone has been at every one, I cannot shake the feeling that I am hovering above my body while my corpse below is responding, glassy eyed, with monosyllabic words. I simply cannot shake the feeling of floating and being occasionally caught in a strong gust to nowhere. People here generally seem to embrace me. And I am grateful for it. Yet I cannot bring myself to reciprocate. That is, in the truest sense of the word. Maybe I’m just lazy.
Even the short jaunt to the party from Foster City to Belmont filled me with a mild sense of dread. Just seeing yet more unfamiliar, characterless terrain made me even more homesick. All I could think about was that slow crawl along Elmwood Ave on a Friday or Saturday night, with CFNY or BNY playing on the radio and a friend and I trying to decide on the Towne or Pano’s for a late night snack.
On the advice of a counselor, I am giving it another 6 months here. It’s very difficult to imagine me changing my basic opinion though.

The Story So Far…
In June of 2003, my life was forever changed: I met the woman I was sure would be my wife. For the first time on this planet, I was absolutely certain that I had found “the One”. Marriage would be a mere formality. For the first time in my life, everything seemed to fall into place. The story is interesting and deserves at least SOME elaboration…
About 12-18 months prior, I had been contacted by a prospective client in California (who found me on Google) about doing some multimedia work. (I was still in Buffalo.) She hired me and I ended up staying in fairly regular contact with her, entirely through email. Unbeknownst to me, she was forwarding my emails to a friend, with whom she thought I had a lot in common. (She was right, and wrong, in the end.) Finally, the client (Linda, name changed) “introduced” us virtually in June. I received an email from Rhonda (name changed) that was so intriguing, I simply replied with a request for her phone number as I just HAD to speak to her. Well, we were both pretty much smitten after a 5 hour conversation. We were both in agreement that fate seemed to have drawn us together: Google, Linda, a new (Verizon) flat rate long distance plan, and other miscellaneous factors which now slip my mind.
I visited her in California in July and August. She visited me in September. After that, I decided it was time-time to take that great leap into the unknown. I sold all my superfluous belongings, sent miscellaneous things I needed ahead of me, and packed my Honda Civic with all it would hold. I left in early October. I drove, seemingly non-stop, on the biggest high of my life: For the first time, everything seemed laid out before me: love, marriage, fulfilling employment, (maybe) children, nice house, etc.
To this day, one of the most sublime moments of my life was when, after driving for about 16 hours straight from Las Vegas and collapsing onto Rhonda’s bed, she came home from work to brush the hair from my forehead and plant a kiss on it. No amount of money can buy the comfort I felt at that moment. It was as if I had awakened from a long nightmare and there was a loving face to assure me it (my previous life) was only a bad dream.
Fast forward to July 15th, 2004. It would take far too long to describe the plateau and descent of our love. But on that day, owing to a number of factors in my life (including the recent death of my estranged father and a scheduled vasectomy I did not want), I suffered a minor nervous breakdown, culminating in my breaking up with the woman I thought I would grow old with. In a note she left before leaving for her mother’s (while I moved out), I was given 48 hours to remove all clues of my presence there. Anything left behind would be put to the curb. By breaking up with her, I also broke up with any semblance of a local support system I had here: my friends were her friends, my family was her family. The reliable support system I had spent the previous 37 year building was 2000 miles away.
I cannot even begin to describe the utter terror I felt at that time. (It is only by the grace of God that I am not balled up in a corner in a quiet room on Elmwood and Forest.) It was coupled with a crippling sense of guilt over hurting someone I really cared about. For all our incompatibilities, she is by far, THE most genuinely beautiful and good human being I have ever met on this earth. Four months later, I am still in counseling, still cry almost daily (80% guilt, 20% fear/loneliness), and am staring the real possibility of medication in the face. (Something I am not above, have done before, but would like to avoid.)
So here I am, in a state with zero sense of community, a dearth of decent architecture and topography, a glut of strip malls, too many Starbucks stores, and people consumed with status and money. I have never felt such an utter sense of isolation and rootlessness. (Icing on the cake: the mostly Indian neighbors won’t even make eye contact, much less say hello. Indian, as in the sub-continent.)
So why do I stay (that is, not return to Buffalo)? Well, first, I’ll need about 5k to move all the “stuff of living” I’ve acquired since moving out on my own. At least that’s what they told me at UHaul. Second, most of my good friends have left Buffalo as well. The last of my “inner circle” left not long after me. (I think I inspired him: He’s prospering in NYC.) Third, I am making 230% of my previous salary here. Even for Silicon Valley, a damn good living for a single guy. Fourth, going back now after being on my own for only 6 months (when my lease expires) would mean double failure: the relationship and my newfound career. And last but not least, Rhonda refuses to acknowledge my existence and I feel no sense of closure. Actually, as much as I hate to admit it, this is probably the main reason I stay-knowing full well I may NEVER have closure.
I know I’m whining and I know I need to get a grip. But both Catholic and secular guilt have a stranglehold on me. And I’m letting them both choke me for a while until I feel I have done my penance.
As for Rhonda, I wish I knew how she was: she returns none of my attempts at communication, many of which contain profuse apologies and appeals for forgiveness.
So I DO consider myself lucky that such a relatively small thing is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. And I count my blessings daily. Certainly, there ARE worse things in life than a breakup.

The Great Storm of 2000
I was 11 when the Blizzard of ‘77 hit. I guess my tolerance for cold was higher and my love of school snow days greater. Surely I wasn’t alone on those winter mornings listening to Dan Neaverth go down that very LONG list of school closings. If you caught him in the middle, you had to wait in suspense for him to start from “A” again…
I mention this as the images of the Great Storm of 2000 stick with me more…
“Little Boy” and “Fat Man” Do Winter
I left my job in Lockport at the usual time of 4:30. The normal commute time back to Linwood and Bryant Ave was 30-35 minutes. Five hours later, I was inching along on Chapin Pkwy. It wasn’t terribly cold, so I had my window rolled down to catch the mumblings of the steady stream of pedestrians flowing on both sides of my car. The silence was incredible: Except for the crunching of their boots in the snow, there was little other ambient sound. No one seemed to be talking. It very much resembled the aftermath of a war zone. (It was what I imagined Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been like in the aftermath of Little Boy and Fat Man: people walking around in stunned silence, unable to comprehend what had just happened.) I would love to have had my videocamera at the time. Such surreal moments need to be seen to be believed.
At 10:30PM, I somehow ended up on Elmwood Ave just south of the Lafayette intersection. At that point, I finally gave in and did what most people had already decided to do: abandon my car and hoof it from there. I wasn’t more than a couple miles from my apartment anyway. Then I saw another amazing sight: young people walking down the middle of Elmwood Ave with coffee dispensers and cups. (I think they may have been from SPOT.) They were dispensing free coffee to anyone who wanted it GRATIS. I certainly will miss the camaraderie such events foster in the Queen City. (sigh) However, I won’t miss these “events” by a long shot.

One Comment on “A Little Perspective”

  1. Wow, a cool glimpse into the mind of an escapee… I could not remember Paul’s last name, for some stupid reason I was associating him with piano, and kept thinking Paul Schaffer, but I knew it was wrong. How did he pass away? He was also very funny and talented. So how was your baby’s first xmas?

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