Yesterday I came out of the closet. I ran into a friend of mine on the Upper East Side and I confessed that I was still grieving for my partner who passed away from cancer last year. I was a little bit embarrassed. You’d think I’d be “over it” by now. But I thought he might understand because he had lost his partner, too.
I mentioned how, because of my real estate job, I now found myself in neighborhoods that reminded me of my partner. When I was in Hell’s Kitchen, it reminded me of his apartment. When I was on the Upper East Side it reminded me of New York Hospital, where he got chemotherapy. When I was on the Upper West Side, it reminded me of Mt. Sinai, where he was also a patient. And wherever I went, it reminded me of all the restaurants we used to go to. Even typing these words brought me to tears.
I guess the reason I haven’t thought about it is because I’ve been too busy. Too busy working or doing Zoom comedy shows even on my day off.
Humans are the only creatures who are aware that they’re going to die and yet we somehow continue to live. Partly it’s through a denial of death (as in the book of the same title) and partly it’s through the fact that it’s taboo to even talking about death or dying.
When you think about it, we’re all in a constant denial of death, whether it’s the death of people, animals, things or even ideas.
The most famous death of a thing was the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. (Of course, 3,000 people were also killed when the building was destroyed.) I remember how, for weeks if not months after it happened, I couldn’t even look in the direction of where the Twin Towers stood. And I experienced a similar grief as if I were grieving the loss of a human being, even though I didn’t know anyone who died in the attacks. I felt like this was an attack on me personally, on my city. I was as angry as I was sad.
But I think part of all of our reaction was shock. How could a building that was supposed to last forever, one of the tallest buildings in the world, be brought down in a matter of hours?
I experience a similar feeling every day as I walk around the city. Just the other day, I noticed that the building that used to house Bleecker Bob’s and Reminiscence, two landmarks of my early adulthood, had been razed to make way for who knows what. The fact that some people reading this may not even know what Bleecker Bob’s and Reminiscence are underscores the impermanence (irrelevance?) of things.
Then there are the more random acts of destruction that occur on a daily basis. A taxi crashes into the Japanese restaurant where I had dinner the other night. A fire destroys my favorite Chinese restaurant. An actress is struck and killed by a man on a scooter. A condo building near Miami collapses. And these things happened in just the last few weeks!
And, of course, we’ve all just witnessed the death of 600,000 Americans and millions more around the world from a pandemic that seemingly came out of nowhere.
And now we may be witnessing the death of an idea, of democracy itself, as Republicans pass laws around the country restricting voting rights.
You may think it’s absurd to connect the death of an idea to the death of a person or wonder why I’m even bringing it up. Is it an act of what I call “performative grief,” to show that I’m a good person? Or is it just to raise awareness?
And how do we deal with such grief? Do we talk about it, even though it’s taboo? Do we take action (in the case of voting rights or gentrification)? Or do we try to block it out with work, drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, TV, working out, etc.?
Some people, when finding out I’m a comedian, say, “How can you be a comedian? You’re so serious.”
And I always respond, “Comedians are some of the most serious people I know.”