Now that I have your attention let me ask you this question: what makes you happy?
I'm reading a book now called "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion" It's written by that well known atheist Sam Harris. While I don't consider myself an atheist (I cannot say with certainty that there isn't a Greater Power), I do consider myself a Spiritualist (or whatever that is).
I just started reading this book a few days ago and I am not promoting this book but Mr. Harris did make some statements that hit home with me to wit:
"Some people are content in the midst of deprivation and danger while others are miserable despite having all the luck in the world."
Coincidentally I just finished reading a book about Johnny Carson by his former lawyer. Like so many celebrity biographies I read, I am always amazed at how people gifted with good looks, talent and luck struggle to find true happiness. The new book I am starting to read is a biography of Marilyn Monroe. Of course we all know how that story ended. There was Marilyn, one of the most beautiful women in the world. Talented, gifted and adored by millions but unsatisfied and despondent.
Now okay, I'm going to make a quick turn and make this about me (it is my blog after all). I grew up in poverty. I know many of my readers also grew up in poverty so I'm not saying I was a special case or am I eliciting sympathy. "Just stating the fact ma'am" as Sergeant Joe Friday would say.
I didn't grow up in extreme poverty but I do remember being hungry (not starving) for most of my childhood. One summer I got into a lot of trouble with my father after I had returned from a two week sojourn in the country with relatives. He was angry at me because I had told my hosts "Oh eggs! I never have eggs at home for breakfast." I didn't say that to embarrass him but only because I was excited to have eggs for breakfast. At our $22 a month, roach infested second floor apartment at 122 Washington Avenue in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, "Pop" was the only one who got eggs for breakfast. And meat? Like bacon, sausage or ham? You got to be kidding. However, we did get scrapple (look it up).
When I returned home from my stay "in the country" one of the first things I heard was "What's the matter with you?! You make it sound like we starve you!" Umm . . . well YOU do get the eggs and bacon and we get (the kids, me and my two brothers) the margarine (Pop only got the butter at our table) and saltine crackers.
Oh folks, again I am veering way off the subject as I often do when I talk about "Pop" and growing up. The point I want to make is that even though my childhood wasn't a "Father Knows Best" or "Leave it to Beaver" childhood, I did have a happy childhood. I had my little friends and I had my little adventures. In fact, I have often mentioned to friends of mine if I had a choice of any childhood, I would do mine all over again.
One thing about my father, he didn't beat us. Well, not too much anyway. Just the usual belt strapping for misbehavior but nothing over the top and definitely no scars like he carried with him on his back for his whole life when his father beat him bloody with a belt.
But to me the biggest disappointment of my childhood (and maybe something that I would like to have a do over) was being told by my Mother that "We're not going to send you to college. If you want to go you'll have to do it yourself." Of course at that time I had next to zero self-confidence, having being raised that I was "stupid, weird looking, and lazy." When you grow up in a small town and are constantly put down by your emotionally distant father, you tend to believe what he says. There was NO POSITIVE reinforcement as to my self-worth. NONE. NADA. ZERO.
I may have mentioned this before but it bears mentioned again, I was so self-conscious when I left home at age eighteen to join the Army (I had no other options at that time), I kept looking down while riding the Trailways bus from Philadelphia to Fort Dix, New Jersey to begin my basic training in the Army. Why was I looking down? Well, when you're called "Beak" by your father you're quite conscious of your nose. I thought I had a deformity and didn't want the other guys on the bus making fun of me. Much to my surprise non one did. And by the time I arrived at the Reception Company (another whole story) at Ft. Dix I saw I had plenty of company of similarly scared to death young men who were very self conscious. Eventually, my self awareness of my "deformity" receded in the background as I attempted to adjust to my new life away from home.
A pause here, boy did I ever stray from my original intent in this blog posting. Let me try to get back on track.
Growing up as I did, with all the disadvantages (as many of you had also), there were two things always paramount on my mind, my survival and finding happiness. Again, my goals weren't all that unique, I'm sure many of you also aspired to those same two goals. Of course I had an extra challenge because I was "different" (gay). I had that burden too if I was going to survive.
Well, I did survive. Basic training was close at times (I boloed - didn't pass the rifle qualification). But I did survive. One of my biggest surprises years later (and disappointments) was my Mother casually mentioning "You know Ronnie, Pop was always surprised that you made it through Basic Training." WHAT? I was shocked at her statement. I asked her "Did Pop think I would fail?" She said "Yes." I told her "(which I almost was once when I mishandled a hand grenade). And then there was the time I went berserk and tried to kill a bully who was tormenting me through my first four weeks of Basic Training (a story for another blog posting, if I haven't already posted it).
In my mind there was no way I would fail. It never entered my mind. Just as it never entered my mind that I wouldn't someday find true happiness.
Oh sure, there are conventional ways of finding true happiness. I tried those ways (monogamy) but it didn't work for me. Just as I tried to follow my spiritual path and "go to church" (as dictated by our culture). That didn't work either as I sat in the pulpit and listened to a Pentecostal pastor go purple in the face and literally foam at the mouth as he screamed at his congregation "You're all sinners! You were born in sin and you'll die in sin!" He was enjoying himself way too much spewing out his hatred of everyone and that's when, right then and there (I was twelve years old) that I decided organized religion ("man made" I call it) wasn't for me. For you? Fine. I don't discriminate but for me? No way. I don't need that hatred and hypocrisy.
The three years I was in the Army I "came out" so to speak as a gay man. Nothing sexual (again, going against the prevailing cultural assumption that all gay men who "come out" are swinging from the chandeliers in bacchanal sexual orgies). No, I made gay friends (non-sexual). I came into my own being and gradually gain self-respect when I realized I wasn't as bad as my father and the church told me I was. I was "normal", or as normal as a tall, skinny, non-college trained, big nosed, still lacking a lot of self confidence, kid could be.
When I got out of the Army I moved to Pittsburgh. Two reasons, one of my friends in the service (he was in the Air Force and had gotten out a few months before I did) lived near Pittsburgh (Elizabeth). Also, I wanted to come out (find someone to fall in love with) but not embarrass my family. I stood more chance of that happening in a big city like Pittsburgh than I did in a small rural town thirty-seven miles west of Philadelphia.
My friends Sal and Howard took me to my first gay bar in a small town right outside Pittsburgh. I cannot remember the name of the bar nor the name of the town (it will come to me) but I definitely remember my feeling when I first walked into that establishment and saw men dancing . . . together. I felt like I had finally come home. I was . . . happy.
|Pittsburgh, PA at night|
I got a job in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel) and a small, one room furnished efficiency apartment (for $8.00 a week!) I did meet somebody in Pittsburgh but I was so untutored in the Ways of the World that I eventually left. It seemed that everyone I met wanted to go to bed, not just hug and kiss and be together (little did I know . . then).
|Street in Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA where I lived in 1963|
I returned home to Downingtown. Got another job at a steel scrap yard (Lipsett Steel Products in Coatesville, PA) as an accounts payable clerk. I would work the week and once a month (all I could afford), my friends Ed and Ron (Ed from high school and Ron from my Army days) would pick me up for a trip to look for Mr. Perfect in the Philadelphia gay bar scene. I had a goal, I was looking for love and happiness.
It took me a little over a year (from April 1963 to July of 1964) to meet my Prince Charming. Of course that would be my spouse, life partner, buddy and very good friend Bill (who is only a few feet away from me as I type this putting a puzzle together).
It wasn't an immediate connection between Bill and me. As a mater of fact I wasn't attracted at all to him from the first time he sent me a drink across the bar via his good friend Jerry the Bartender. I had seen Bill in the bar (The Westbury at 15th and Spruce Streets in Philly) many times, playing Skeet Ball with his pals and hangers on. For you see Bill was Mr. Popularity in those days and I wasn't about to become yet another notch on his holster.
Over the course of the next three months he would send me drinks (gin and tonic - .85 cents - those were the days) across the bar. Little did Bill know that my friends Ron and Ed and I would mock him at his foolishness in thinking I was that "easy." Then came the night I was in the bar by myself. It was a rainy Saturday night. Bill sent The Usual across the bar via Jerry the Bartender. When Jerry placed the drink down before me (I never expected it nor actually wanted it but I was on limited funds so I didn't reject the drink) I looked up and nodded and smiled in acknowledgment. Bill smiled back.
Then a novel thought entered my head. Why not thank him? My friends weren't with me to make fun of me. I could get away with polite (which was my nature) and at least thank him. But believe me, I had NO intention of anything else. For you see, Bill wasn't MY TYPE. Good-looking? Asolutely. Popular? Absolutely. But I was attracted to smaller guys (5'8" to 5'9" and in the 140-150 lb. range - oh I know, I am SO subjective). I also didn't like the Mr. Popularity Guys who got anything they wanted. I was looking for a guy more like myself; humble, self-effacing yet cute, witty, sense of humor and not aggressive. That wasn't my initial impression of Bill.
So I got up from my usual seat at the bar and would my way through the mid sized crowd on that rainy Saturday night in July of 1964 and walked up to Bill. He saw me headed his way and was waiting for me, with a smile on his face. I thought "Oh sure, you think you reeled one in" but I did want to thank him for his generosity over the past three months.
I said "Thank you for the drink." He smiled at me and said "You're welcome." And much to my surprise he wasn't all over me as had so often been my experience in a gay bar before when I attempted to be civil with someone.
Long story short, I found Bill to be a most pleasant gentleman. Not at all the onerous person that I thought he would be.
We became friends that night. I had taken the train to Philadelphia that weekend and was staying at the YMCA ($14 a night - those were the days! That location is a fancy hotel now charging a LOT MORE than $14 a night). He wanted me to go back with him to his apartment in Pennsauken, New Jersey. He said he would drive me home to Coatesville the next day, sixty miles away. And for the next six months he would pick me up in Coatesville (one hour away from Pennsauken, New Jersey) and drive me to his apartment for the weekend and drive me back the following Sunday. SIX MONTHS.
He wanted me to move in with him. I demurred because he wasn't the Prince Charming I was looking for. He wasn't MY TYPE. Then came the one Saturday we were sitting in a restaurant and I told him that I couldn't move in with him because I wanted to "be free." He said "You move in with me and you can go out as often as you want, just be discreet." And that my friends and faithful followers is how our relationship has lasted these past fifty years.
Oh sure, there have been a few speed bumps on my Road to Happiness but overall, the journey has been wonderful, exciting, exhilarating, and sometimes painful but well worth it. I have survived and,I think, achieved a measure of happiness that has eluded so many people. I have found that fame and fortune doesn't guarantee happiness. I have found that even God given,incredible talent doesn't guarantee happiness. What I have found that no matter what your humble circumstances, if you have respect for yourself, and are true to yourself and treat others as you wish to be treated, happiness will come your way. And that happiness doesn't always include having that certain someone in your life. What that happiness, I believe, is that you live in the now and appreciate everything you have. Don't live for tomorrow or in the past. While you can appreciate the past and relive fond memories, and look forward to the future, your life is now and that's what you should live to achieve happiness.
As I have said many times before in this blog, if I should become deathly ill tomorrow and begin my final suffering before I depart this earth or even if I should die suddenly I will die happy (as long as those pain killers are taking effect.)
My life's journey has taken a very interesting path. Some detours and some wrong roads taken but overall, after a lifelong pursuit of happiness, I have found that Road to Happiness. And the funny thing is that it was here all along. I just didn't know it. I hope you, my dear reader, find that same road. And for those of you who have found that road, isn't it great?
So one doesn't have to be a fabulously talented, rich and beautiful movie star or a rock star to achieve happiness. The person of the most humble means, both in talent and money, can achieve happiness. Look around you, isn't that what everyone is looking for? To be happy? So if you're happy with your cats (or dogs), children, spouse, friends or your job; live that happiness in the moment which is now. This is it folks. There is nothing else after we depart (my opinion of course) so make the most of it.
After I'm long gone, and surely that day will come, someone will read this blog posting that I am posting on this day, december 27th, 2014 and say "That Ron Tipton, he sure did know what he was talking about." And indeed, I do. One happy guy here.