Chocolate Surprise

9 05 2015

My conversion with the Cardinal reached many levels. It was a moment in time.

We spoke of the Church and its role throughout history, a dark role, particularly when it came to priests who had abused — in some cases, sexually – young alter boys. I found this part of the Church disgusting. The Cardinal acknowledged a medevial element to the Church and its archaic ways of only men serving in the priesthood and the elaborate outfits they wore and the fact the could not marry or have sex.

We also talked about AIDS and the disease that was taking a horrible toll in Africa and globally. He was working on a film project, a preview of which was presented following the mass we attended in Mayfair. In the film, many Church patrons and clergy speak of AIDS and tell their story of living with the disease. In Africa, sadly, there are many stories.

Some even produce tears.

I left the Cardinal’s flat and returned to the Underground, Oyster Card in hand and minding the gap. On the train back to Victoria station, a young man wearing a American Navy jacket sat across from me. He was younger than I and smaller. On his brown leather jacket was a patch identifying his fleet assignment. I wrote the number down and did the research. They were docked in southern Italy.

We parted ways at the Victoria station. I power walked down the Strand in order to meet JB at King’s College for our scheduled appointment. His office has an incredible view of London with an impressive collection of books and a detailed map of Europe that was distracting to say the least. We walked down to the ice skating rink and discussed Paris. It was cold but the spirit of the holidays made for a cheerful spirit, not to mention we were close to the theatre district.


On a previous visit, JB and I had enjoyed the musical Avenue Q, puppets and all. There was no budget for such a luxury this time around. I was reminded just how poor I was when we entered the Burberry store and none of the sales staff would look my way. Eventually, I was able to engage a young lady about the cost of a signature Burberry scarf. She quoted something absurd in pounds which prompted JB and I to depart rather quickly, JB with a subtle shot as we left.

“That’s half the cost of your airfare, John,” he grinned.

We joined Chris and David for drinks that night at the local cocktail bar in Bloomsbury. I explained to Chris the fascinating party I had attended in Paris as the guest of a Moroccan man. There were thousands of men inside the building and I had been privileged to a small sampling of how arabian men enjoy the nightlife. I was guarded with the details as this had been an entirely new experience for me and I was still unsure of what it all meant. I was, however, grateful for the hospitality Chris, David and JB had shown me during my visit to London.

In the morning, I would hop on an American flight back to Miami. First purchasing a gift for Mom at the Harrod’s in Heathrow. I had it wrapped by a local charity in purple colored paper and bows. In Miami, Homeland Security asked what the box contained.

“Truffles,” I said.

“What are those?,” he asked.

“Chocolates,” I replied.

Yes, the holidays in Alabama this year would be much sweeter.228




A Houston Connection

28 12 2011

I first met Bjork in Houston, a year of my life I have tried to forget. Things did not go so smoothly during my time in the sultry Texas metropolis, but Bjork was a bright spot that I chose to keep with me and I’m glad I did.

He arrives at week’s end for a long overdue visit. Bjork is a quiet man, whose wonkish demeanor fits all the stereotypes one would expect in a college professor. He was teaching at Rice University, a prestigious private school neatly tucked away inside the sprawling Houston city limits, when we first met. I was holding down two jobs at the time, intent on making my mark in a big city far from home and Bjork, a lifelong city dweller was trying to adjust to driving a car on a full time basis.

We spent most of our time together going out for dinner and sharing philosophical discussions about our backgrounds, which were vastly different. Bjork received his undergraduate education at Georgetown University in the shadow of our nation’s capital, but despite his formal training was unaware of Troy State University and all it had to offer until our paths crossed.

He seemed intrigued by my small town upbringing and big city ambition and I likewise was drawn to his nerdiness. At Rice, Bjork taught European history and would often visit the Borders bookstore where I worked. We could talk for hours about international affairs and politics and usually did. Later, when Bjork moved to England, he would run up phone bills while I ran down the Bush administration.

“You know, John,” he recalled during a recent conversation. “You were pretty radical back then. I was starting to worry.”

Radical and stupid. I did a lot of stupid stuff in Houston. The allure of the club scene was strong for a newcomer fresh from the Alabama backwoods. Bjork didn’t participate in the long nights and early mornings of the Houston club scene, but was always eager to listen to my dating experiences. If you can call them that. I kept a diary at times, but destroyed the evidence after moving away from Houston. Again, I was naive, innocent and stupid which can be a deadly combination in the big city.

It was a miracle I escaped alive.

That was almost a decade ago and since Bjork and I have shared many trips. Not long after we both had left Houston I went to visit him at his new job at Colgate University, making my first foray into the cold winter of upstate New York. It snowed terribly during my visit and the campus seemed unusually stuffy even by preppy, private school standards. Bjork, remembering my love for sports, arranged for a day trip to Cooperstown, the home of major league baseball’s hall of fame, but it was the snow that I will always remember.

I was still regaining my health after the year in Houston and the blizzard of 2003 presented a challenge. I remember roaming across the snow covered Colgate campus in shorts and tee shirt, I suppose to prove a point to myself and display a sign of strength. It was also during this trip to see Bjork that I would reveal more of my inner self to test our friendship… And the professor passed with flying colours.

Holiday Hibernation

13 12 2011

I’ve been sleeping a lot lately. Much more than even I am accustomed to. I’ve always had a passion for sleeping, which has aggravated my mother to no end.

“You’re sleeping you’re life away!, John!!,” she would declare when I would come home from college and stumble downstairs around two in the afternoon.

One year I spent the holidays with my aunt Tammy and uncle Doug in Montgomery, Alabama and took a job at the neighborhood Winn-Dixie, working the “graveyard” shift. I was part of a stocking crew that would arrive at the store as they were closing the doors to the public. We usually worked from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and, as I remember we had a supervisor who was a real joy to be around. Sarcasm fully intended.

Looking back, I can understand why he was such a jerk to me. I was the college kid, working a few months to have some spending money for the next semester. And he was a small man in stature, and having found a smaller person to boss around was surely a delight for him.

I do not remember his name, only his chain smoking habit and coke bottled glasses. This will be the last I write of him.

So after working the graveyard shift, I would come home and eat breakfast and then go to bed. This seemed to aggravate my aunt Tammy, who was pregnant at the time and experiencing the lonely housewife blues.

My uncle Doug even gave me the nickname “Rip” — short for Rip Van Winkle.

When people often remark how young I look for my age, I usually credit the complement with my many years of sleep.

“I’ve slept a lot,” I tell them.

And it is the truth. The last two months, I’ve no doubt been horizontal much more than I have been vertical.

David calls it a destructive pattern. He’s probably right.

I’m over living in Panama City, I’m over being unemployed, I’m over being broke and I’m over fighting losing political battles.

So I have gone inward and slept. And slept. and slept some more. Each day waking with dwindling hope for the future.

I realize only I can break this behavior and, thankfully, there is incentive. David and I will spend Christmas in Port St. Joe with my parents and little brother who is bringing his young and growing family down from Alabama. Being around his new baby girl should brighten the holidays.

And then there is a blast from the past arriving soon.

Bjork, a longtime friend, from my Texas years, is coming to visit at the end of the month. He lives in England now and is a college professor. We haven’t seen each other in nearly five years and it will be exciting to catch up as Bjork has arranged for a short sidetrip to New Orleans, providing a refreshing change of scenery.

And I shall be well rested for the occasion.