Friday, July 31, 2009

Taking advantage of the home field

By the time you read this, I will have kissed the New Jersey Parkway. I will have walked a beach and stared across the Atlantic to the horizon. I will have eaten a handful of the best cranberries in the world.

I am home. New Jersey. The Garden State. ‘Jersey.

For the record, no one I know from here says the line made famous by "comedian" Joe Piscopo: “I’m from ‘Joisey. Are you from Joisey?" There’s more to the state than The Sopranos, the oil tanks and chemical refineries along the northern corridor of the Turnpike, the crook politicians (Illinois, you've got nothing on the Garden State in that department)...

If you’re an out-of-stater, believe what you will. New Jersey has enough people anyway. Stay wherever you are. The mob or the smell might get ya!

I’ve always loved New Jersey, but I have not lived here since the mid-1980s. However, in my fight against sarcoidosis, I have made a tactical decision. I need and want the home field advantage. In sports, the homies have followed their team for years and the crowd is always loyal. Even when they are booing you for doing bad they are waiting for you to do well – and then they cheer loud and hard.

The hometown crowd’s support can spur a team to victory. It can inspire a battered boxer to get off the ropes and dig deep into his reserves to knock out his opponent.

Right now, I need my biggest cheerleaders, my mom and dad. They were eager to have me close so they can monitor my progress and help me in anyway possible. I am grateful – no, I thank God – for my parents. Not everyone has a rewarding relationship with his or her parents. Some folks have no one at all.

I began thinking about this in March after a 10-day hospital stay to deal with flaring pulmonary and cardiac sarcoidosis. I flew home so my folks could see that I was OK.

Everything about my ‘Jersey stay felt right. More than right. It was invigorating, rejuvenating. For the first time in more than 20 years, home was more appealing to me than the open road and new places to live in and see.

I'm tough and have always been able to handle life's challenges. Isolation, illness, pondering career options. Handling each problem on its own? No sweat. Bundle any two together, Bring ‘em on.

The three together? No thanks. Too much. It took me a while to realize it, but there's no shame in needing help and letting folks know it. Especially when you have people who are waiting for you to say the word so they can get involved. Word!

Now, I am no more than an hour or two from my loved ones in the Tri-State area. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with everyone. New York City and Philadelphia are an hour north and south of me, respectively. Greater New Haven, a 2-1/2 drive along tree-lined highways (Take the Garden State Parkway, go across the Tappan Zee Bridge and grab the Hutch north. Don't take the New Jersey Turnpike-Interstate 95 if you can avoid it. Ugly).

I lived in Chicago for the past year. My friends there, especially Megan Cottrell, Felicia Yonter, Steve Barrett, Tyler Via, Tim Yager, Fernando Diaz, Adrian Uribarri, Peter Sachs, Alex Parker, Kim Barrett, Matt Schad, Patrick Boylan (there are others but I hate Academy-award style thanks-yous, so thanks to everyone!) helped me during the most challenging time of my life. I was terrified, confused and alone in March when my sarc went berserk. My friends in Chicago checked on me daily and kept buoyant my spirit. Some drove me around when I could not drive myself. Some made me laugh.

They encouraged me to walk when I wanted to sit and sulk. Especially Megan and Felicia. They made me walk my ass off. I am definitely better off because of that.

They inspired me to recommit to my fiction and this write this blog (but my mom had the idea first, I must say).

My Chicago peeps, I am forever indebted to you and I will be back to visit as often as I can. I want you to visit me, too. The door is always open. You'll always have a place to crash.

But I am excited to be home. I liked kissing the New Jersey Parkway. I like hearing, seeing my mother and father at ease.

I love being home. I feel 10 years younger.
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