March 2008

Since the age of about 13 I have had on and off bouts of depression. It is easy to chalk a lot of this up to heredity as my mother, father and two siblings have had depression, two grandparents and even a great-uncle of mine committed suicide here in Albany in the 1930’s.

Depression is of course a physical illness, but it is also an illness of the spirit and one that if it is not caused by negativity is certainly strengthened by it.

Along with the miles I run and walk, I mark my overall mood each day on a calendar. A smiling face means a good day. A sad day is frowning and a day that fits somewhere in between is marked by a pursed look.


Part of living mindfully is accepting the things that cannot by your own will be changed. It is with this knowlege that I arm myself whenever I venture to walk down Central Avenue, Albany’s main strip or any other part of the decaying corpse that we live in.

In my heart, I love this city, but it is because I come from this area and close friends and live here.  Otherwise, I have no strong attachment to the Capital City on the Hudson, whose time has long since passed. It is likely that I will move out of this area altogether to a warmer place at some point.
When my grandfather was a teenager in the 20’s and 30’s, Albany still had some of its character as a clean and thriving small city. The seat of government, the city was also a place for railroad and shipping. As many as 130,000 folks lived here. Now that number is about 93,000. Albany has changed in my lifetime, but it has absolutely transformed in his lifetime.

Central Avenue was once not just a thoroughfare for downtown traffic. It was actually a place for storefronts and business. So many of those businesses are gone, moved out to the suburbs where the car can better travel and closer to the homes of expatriate Albanians.

I will write more about Central Avenue but for now I can only say what I know, which comes from my eyes. The road is simply for the bus lines now. There is no economic life to it. Demographics and insipid urban poverty have crept along the North and South sides of the pavement. Like many other thoroughfares in urban America, Central Avenue is dead. It is a home to broken windows, boarded up storefronts and booted cars. What remains are the remnants of a depressed inner city economy; cellphone stores, barber shops and hair braiding businesses, one hardware store, and a whole lot of fast food.

Our Lady of Angels, once a thriving Franciscan community, has been closed. Reflective of the demographic shift and the shrinking Catholic population, it is now a Pentecostal church. Nevertheless, the structure is still very Catholic, with a tile-mosaic of Christ with the Sacred Heart and a Friary that looks anything but Prostestant.

Although there are some decent and affordable restaurants along Central Avenue, it is much easier to get a Big Mac with an order of fries or greasy Chinese takeout than something healthy. One organic food cooperative can be found hidden alongside a dollar store.

There can be no greater image of the economic malaise of Albany than Central Avenue. Although the surrounding suburban communities do well for themselves, there is nothing to entice a shopper do this stretch of road that they couldn’t get in their own town.

I often think that Central Avenue would look quite nice with stores and businesses, but I know there’s just no practicality in it. The malls in Guilderland and Colonie are much easier to get to and park in. The poverty of many of those who live in proximity to the street is prohibitive. Central Avenue may likely never be what we’d like it to be.

Just as documentarian Michael Moore has made his hometown of Flynt, Michigan something of an emblem of the death of blue collar America, so Central Avenue embodies the changing economic climate wherein those with money have abandoned the small cities, taken with them their spending power and heading for the suburbs. As the car has made it easier to commute into cities, it has also gutted commerce from them.

Ironically, a portion of Central Avenue towards the city line is dotted with auto dealerships, mechanics and parts suppliers. The Avenue houses a large element of its destruction.


I don’t know exactly why,  but I felt lucky a few times this week so I bought Lucky 7’s scratch off cards from various convenience stops.

Each time, however, I was surely mistaken, as I got nothing.

Sure enough, I hate the lottery and rarely play it, particularly scratch-offs, but I figured I’d take a shot. Now I’m $3 shorter and New York State has an additional $3 bucks for it’s schools (or so they say). But hey, maybe if one scratch off wasn’t lucky and neither two or three, then four will hit the jackpot!…I think I’d have better luck being hit by a lightening bolt!

It sounds a bit crazy, I think, but after more than a year-and-a-half of dating girls I’ve met through friends or social networking sites and finding no chemistry and them finding none as well, I’m willing to try mos tthings short of a Russian bride.

A New Age friend of mine suggests visualization. To find the right person one must attract the qualities that they seek. I thought about this concept for a while before realizing in principle that it makes  a great deal of sense. If we can focus on what we want out of life, it makes it easier to acheive those things.

Skeptical and lacking confidence that this theory works, it took a little extra energy to put together a list of qualities that I am looking for in a woman.

1 Confidence: I like a girl who is assured of herself, mentally and physically. I prefer women who don’t defer to what others may think of them as their soul guidepost of how to be.

2. Sense of humor: I enjoy laughing at and finding humor in the crazy world in which I have no choice but to live. A partner in whom I could share the ability to joke around iss essential.

3. Compassion: Any woman I would want to be with would have in herself a concern for tohers. Her compassion however would not be overextended, but instead meaningful and well-placed. It would not be exploitable. In other words, a woman who is not a sucker.

4. Motivated: It is great to be around people who want to be out and about in their daily lives. A partner who liked to hike, walk, rollerblade, go outdoors, see movies, take day trips, travel and go out to eat would be good.

5. Strong: I would like to find someone who I felt wasnt’ lookin for someone to solve all their problems or to fulfill an obligation to simply have someone because that’s the way she feels adult life should be. She should have interests.

It took some effort to put that list together. What you’re supposed to do is see yourself with that person and it will make it easier to find them and be with them. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, and I’m sure it requires quite a bit of discipline, but it makes some sense to me. I’ll see, I guess.

I snapped the picture below this morning while I walked to the bus. There was no particular reason for taking it and most of the images that I grab with my digital camera are quite random. Nevertheless, when I looked at it, it provided me a more profound thought than I anticipated.

Ever since I moved into my apartment here in Albany, for as long as I can remember there hangs outside of a barber shop around the corner from me, a broken barbers pole. Not too many barber’s have them anymore and I’m not entirely sure anyone really thinks about them, but the image of one of these contraptions will certainly always conjure up for me the thought of an old man with scissors in his hands, shaving cream warming on a counter and from a radio somewhere in the shop Glenn Miller.

An middle aged man from my parish runs the place on my corner and although he seems to do steady business, the candy-striped pole has never been fixed. It is shattered and its colors faded. I’m not sure its of any importance to him to ever have it fixed. Who does one call anyway for that sort of thing? Are there barber shop pole repairment? Parts dealers?

Personally, I don’t care if it’s fixed or not, but I wonder if the man says to himself that he’ll get around to fixing it. It’s like that with so many things from broken windows to fences in need of mending and buttons on jackets. We seldom get things done on time it seems. Instead, we procrastinate or simply put things at the bottom of our priorities. Making money is tantamount to this barber staying in business and before he replaces a contraption that will undoubtedly raise his electric bill, he’s gotta make the bottom line.

In the last three weeks I have neglected to clean my apartment as I should. I have been busy at work and organization of the place I live has taken a back seat. Who knows when I’ll pick myself up and do it. So many things never get done.

So much of what we think about ourselves is actually shaped by our perception of what others think of us.

Although there are people who are narcisstic and vain, most folks generally speaking rate themselves lower than others when it comes to looks, intelligence and overall competence.

We have all been dumfounded I think by the seemingly has-it-all-together person who confides in his or her own lack of self-confidence or their stated displeasure with how they look.

It always amazes me when I see a beautiful girl who is concerned about her weight although it doesn’t appear why she should be. It must be hard to live in such a self-criticizing state.

Certaily, I fit the mold of an own worst critic. Throughout my life I have really borne the brunt of false or overvalued ideas about my self and how I appear to others. I have scarcely acknowleged that I can be a good-looking man at times and at times when I look at myself in the mirror, I feel displeasure that colors my mood for hours.

In recent months I have lost more than 20 lbs from diligent exercise and smart eating. Where I thought that a weight loss would be a cure-all for some of the feelings I have, instead I have come to realize that confidence in ones appearance and abilities is about more than looking in the mirror and seeing the things you like, but more so accepting your limitations, flaws and mistakes while factoring in that we can never really know what others think or feel about us.

I’ve never regarded myself as handsome. I suspect that to some people, I am and to others I’m anything but. If it were were a poll and 90 percent of Americans thought I looked like a burn victim and USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the New York Times detailed the results, in the end it would be my reaction to the findings that caused me displeasure, not the findings alone.

It is our reaction and our patterns of thinking that prompt us to feel one way or another. It is our choice to feel that way.

Certainly, I am not George Clooney when it comes to looks, but I am also not Sloth from The Goonies. In fact, were I to find myself in between, I may be closer to Clooney than to sloth. Regardless, perception of perception is a lost cause. One person can hold their feelings in, while others are blunt. Some say one thing but have a different view inside of themselves.

What attracts people–particularly a lover–is confidence and building confidence is not easy. I suspect there is practicality as well as the metaphysical to consider and right now, I’m on my lunch break and can’t delve into it. After all, my hair needs a little straightening, my tie some adjusting and if I do it just right, I may be able to tuck this now oversized shirt in enough so it doesn’t look like I’m fat.

I have found that only shackle in adult life has been my capacity to think–actually overthink–things tot he point of frustration and confusion. It’s perfectly acceptable to have any manner of thought and quite normal to have bizarre, nonsensical and illogical thoughts. The problem is in knowing when to tell yourself that they’re just thoughts and can be discarded like business reply mail.

Thinking is an automatic process. Introspection, on the other hand, is deliberative and mindful. The mind is a field with precious stones. Most of what you find is just dirt and rocks, but sifted properly, can bring peace and great joy in the present.

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