November 24, 2016

On Thanksgiving, a Special Nod to My Two Oldest Friends, My Two Newest Friends, and My Caregiving Friends

I have more genuine friends today than ever. I had many more acquaintances when I was working, and especially after I joined the AA and gay communities. I have fewer acquaintances today but more genuine friends who are loving and caring and remarkably diverse.

I have elderly friends and young friends, gay friends and straight friends, friends whose families have been in America for generations, and friends from the UK, the Netherlands, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Gaza Strip.

I retired from BNA -- where I worked for 40 years -- almost 22 years ago. I still have good friends from those days.

I've written frequently about my friends, and I'm thankful for all of them. But I want to give special thanks today for my two oldest friends, my two newest friends, and especially my small army of caregiving friends.

My Two Oldest Friends

Jack & Marty
I had lunch last week with my two oldest friends -- Jack and Marty -- and their wives. Jack and Marty would want me to clarify that when I say "oldest" I don't mean most elderly. I’ve just known them longer than other surviving friends.

Actually, my relationship with Jack is the oldest (i.e. longest ). I've known him since 1950 when we were students at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. We were acquaintances then, not really friends.

The real friendships date back to 1957, when we three lived in a house at 31st and Q Streets in Georgetown. The house still exists, but I think it has reverted to what it was originally: a single-family, three-story residence. When we lived there, it had been broken up into three separate apartments, one on each of the three floors of the house.

Our apartment was on the second floor. Two young women (from South Carolina, I think) rented the first floor apartment. Vola Lawson -- along with a strange woman we never got to know -- had the third floor apartment. We were all recent college graduates starting our professional lives in Washington.

The rooms in all three apartments opened onto the three-story central stairwell that was a feature of the house. This layout contributed to our feeling that we were part of a continuing, integrated house party. It was great fun, but it lasted less than two years. By the end of 1958, we had all gone our separate ways.

Vola and I kept in touch sporadically through our career/family years. Then a few years ago, I began a regular bridge game at my house that included Vola, and we rekindled the tight bond we'd enjoyed over a half-century earlier. I'm so glad we did. Marty also joined our bridge group. Unfortunately, Jack doesn't play bridge.

Jack and Marty and I got together for lunch fairly regularly over the years. In our retirements, we became ROMEOs (retired old men eating out). We usually picked the Oval Room, the DC restaurant a block away from AFL-CIO headquarters, where Jack had worked for years

Here's a photo of Marty and Vola and me at the bridge table:

Vola died in November, 2013. She’d been the longtime (1985-2000) city manager of Alexandria Virginia, where she fought for the poor and minorities and challenged the segregationist Byrd machine that had long dominated Virginia's Democratic Party. Click here for my post on "Vola Lawson: Great Friend, Happy Warrior."

A few months ago, a new restaurant opened on Alexandria's waterfront -- Vola's Dockside Grill. The restaurant honors Vola and supports some of her favorite causes. It hosts fundraisers for animal rescue groups, for example.

I intended to take a photo of our restaurant get-together, but I forgot . No surprise there. But as we were leaving, I took this shot of the display customers see as they enter the restaurant.

My Two Newest Friends
I’ve been surprised by -- and pleased about -- my good fortune to have met two people recently who have quickly become treasured friends.


A year ago, I arranged for an Uber driver to take me to the nearby Metro station. When I went out to get in the car, the driver motioned for me to sit in the front seat. He then welcomed me by saying, "You are my first Uber passenger."

His comment prompted me to ask about his background. Well! In the 15 minutes it took to get to the subway stop, I learned that
  • he had been born and raised in the Gaza Strip,
  • his family home had been occupied by Israeli soldiers for five years,
  • one of the soldiers had shot him in the back which resulted in his being treated for months in a Tel Aviv hospital,
  • he attended the summer camp in Maine that Seeds for Peace sponsors for kids from areas of conflict,
  • as a result, he became determined to come back to the US to finish his senior year in high school,
  • he managed to do that and then to work his way through Northeastern University for his bachelors degree, and
  • he had just received his Masters degree (in conflict resolution) from Brandeis University and was in DC looking for work that would get him started in pursuing his goal of helping resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

He was Ubering part-time in DC while he searched for a job that might launch him on his long-term goal.

As I was getting out of the car, overwhelmed by his story, I asked for his phone number and email address. I said I wanted him to meet my friend Marione, who had written a book about growing up as a Jew in Hamburg, Germany, and surviving both the Holocaust and the Allied bombing that leveled Hamburg. The three of us met for lunch, the first of many get-togethers I've had with Yousef this past year.

We'll get together next week so I can meet the headmaster of Utah's Wasatch Academy, where Yousef's US education began. The headmaster will be in Washington on business.

Earlier this year, Yousef returned to Wasatch Academy as guest speaker at an assembly of the student body. Here's a video of that event:

Click here for an earlier post about Yousef's story. Here's another one I posted, which juxtaposed the experiences of Marione -- the Hamburg Jew -- and Yousef, the Gaza Strip Arab.

Okay. Time to shorten these narratives.


The listserv for my Palisades neighborhood often includes messages from local people who operate small businesses or provide services. Earlier this year, I signed up for an exercise trainer and a masseuse. Both women -- Esther, the exercise trainer and Marianne, the masseuse -- turned out to be excellent service providers and quickly became my good friends.

Esther has returned to her native Switzerland, but Marianne and I continue to get together frequently. Lately, I've switched from getting a weekly full body massage to getting one that concentrates on my legs and feet, of particular concern in light of my Parkinson's. But we get together for other reasons, too. For instance, she was my companion on a recent all-day tour bus expedition to the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. Click here for my report on the trip.

My coming out as a gay man had an excellent "side effect": making it easier for me to develop close friendships with women. That certainly has been the case with Marianne.

My Small Army of Caregiving Friends
For an 87-year-old man who's had Parkinson's for at least ten years, I'm doing pretty well. For that, I can thank the following people who are both good friends and talented caregivers.



Here is my driver, shopper, gardener, and all-around handyman. I've known Joey for about 15 years. He was hired as a caregiver/helper by my neighbor Barbara whose husband had Parkinson's. When Barbara's husband died, she kept Joey on to walk her three large dogs and work around the house and garden. But Joey has a good bit of free time. So, with Barbara's permission, I enlist Joey to drive me to doctors' appointments, my weekly Parkinson's support group meetings, lunch dates, etc.  He also takes care of my garden, my backyard pond, and other projects that crop up.

From his years of caregiving Barbara's husband, Joey has lots of practical experience on making life easier for people with Parkinson's. I'm also reassured to know that Joey's wife is a nurse at our neighborhood Sibley Hospital, now part of Johns Hopkins.


That's Leon Paparella doing what he loves -- leading Parkinson's support groups. Our group meets on Fridays at the local Iona Senior Center.

A highly skilled and experienced group therapist, Leon also has had Parkinson's for nearly 30 years and seems to be in great shape -- physically and mentally. His condition reassures our members, particularly those newly diagnosed.

These meetings have been central to my well-being since November, 2009, although it makes me a bit nervous when I realize I'm now the group's senior member.


People often compliment my blog's writing. That credit goes to the man on the right of this photo. That's my pal Daniel, who's been editing my miserable copy almost since the start of this blog. I'm frequently amazed at the transformation that takes place between what leaves my computer and ends up on the blog.

Daniel and I have been best of friends for over two decades now. We've shared season tickets to the Kennedy Center's ballet series for at least 10 years. We have traveled together often and easily, since we both like a lot of independence on the road. The photo above shows us on a boat on the Bosphorus, heading north toward the Black Sea from Istanbul, Turkey.

Daniel is near the top of the list of people I am thankful to have in my life.


Last and certainly not least.

When I first met David nearly 30 years ago, he was Executive Assistant to Jim Graham, then the executive director of the Whitman Walker Clinic, the GLBT health clinic that was in the forefront of Washington's efforts to combat AIDS. Then he became Executive Assistant to Paul Wojcik, when Paul was on its way to becoming president of BNA (the employee-owned company where I worked for 40 years). Next, David became Executive Assistant to Michael Kaiser, then president of the Kennedy Center.

Now David has the most important job of all: volunteering as my Executive Assistant. Every Sunday, David shows up at my house and spends about three hours solving whatever problems I might be having. We usually shop at our neighborhood farmers market. But most of the time, David's taking care of anything that needs fixing.

David and I have exchanged emails just about every day for at least 20 years. Nobody could be better prepared to deal with my issues and quirks.

David and I always have lots of laughs, often at ourselves.

No comments: