OK so this is another entry that really has nothing to do with perfume. Frankly I'm not certain just what ithas to do with exactly but it certainly has to do with something...
Last evening about seven, I was sitting in front of the computer finishing up for the day. Nothing unusual there - this is how it is every day the gallery is open. I was going over the books, going through the mail real & virtual, answering what needed to be dealt with immediately and making notes on the rest. Simultaneously I was writing checks, entering things in my calendar and chatting with a friend via the internet. I suppose thisis what they call "multi-tasking" and I was in my usual end of day rush mode since I wanted to get this stuff done so I could be off to dinner and relax.
Suddenly I realized that I hadn't taken my evening herbal/vitamin supplement which, according to the bottle, I'm supposed to do half an hour before each meal. I'd begun taking them about two weeks ago as part of my ongoing self-renovation program but I have a tendency to forget to take them. The recommended dose is 2 capsules containing a "special blend of herbs & vitamins" that are supposed to boost the metabolism encouraging muscle tone & shaling off excess fat. Frankly I'm not yet certain if they're working or not but I figure what the hell.
So in my distracted state with one eye still on the computer screen, I opened the bottle, shook out 2 capsules into my palm and tossed em down the back of my throat as I reached for the bottle of water that routinely sits on my desk. This was no big deal as I've done this with pills of all kinds countless times in my life.
But suddenly I realized one of them was stuck.
And in a split second I became aware that it was not stuck in my throat but in what I believe is technically called "the windpipe". Then I began to choke and very badly at that. At this point, a series of images and scenarios began to flash through my mind mostly on the theme of "ok what do I do now?". Drinking water was out of the question because I was coughing so hard I couldn't swallow and would simply blow it up all over the floor. The coughing itself did nothing to dislodge the pill - I could still feel it firmly wedged where it shouldn't be. I knew I had to get it out of there fast before the gel coating of the capsule dissolved and released the powdered blend of herbs & vitamins into my right lung. I had no idea what the effect of that might be but I didn't think it would be good.
Now I'm a Pennsylvania Dutch boy and we don't easily ask for help. This is how we're raised. We have absolutely no hesitation in instantly caring for others over the slightest sneeze or paper cut but when it comes to our own ailments, that's a different story. Physical ailment or injury is only considered "serious" if it involves actual unconsciousness or phenomenal loss of blood. In rare cases, a temperature above 105 might warrant attention as well. But in my present case, I realized I was getting dizzy from lack of air and might pass out and that "unconsciousness" here may well lead to the more serious complication of "death". I needed assistance.
Fortunately one of my assistants was still working downstairs and I managed to stagger to the door, kick it open, and gasp out "please come NOW". This took a bit of time because there was a major coughing fit between each word and I could barely breath. When he arrived running, I still had enough breath left to ask if he knew the Heimlich maneuver because it was now crystal clear to me that that was exactly what I needed and pronto. He didn't.
Now at this point, I was no longer able to speak. I'm gasping for breath and coughing so hard the tears are pouring down my face rendering my glasses totally useless. It occurred to me from boy scout first aid classes, that one of the key indicators of very serious choking is the victim's inability to speak. I must say that made me more than a little nervous. "Terrific," I thought to myself. "Seriously choking and blind as a bat. Very sweet."
What followed was a rather frantic mime wherein I tried to demonstrate to Lars how to do the Heimlich while he shouted suggestions about pounding on the back or questions about calling 911 after which he grabbed me from behind and began pumping the diaphragm. This probably would have been hilarious if seen in a film but live in person it was all a bit too exciting...
I tried to relax my gut & let him force the air and hence the pill out of my lung. This wasn't easy. Every time he tried to pump me, I naturally tightened the abdominal muscles which naturally didn't help at all. Regular yoga and trips to the gym have given me a fairly strong core and it seemed natural to tighten every time he tried to Heimlich me. Eventually though I was able to let go a bit so we could try to dislodge that damn pill.
After a bit I finally felt the capsule shift slightly to the point it seemed to behalf in my throat & half in my windpipe. Then I felt the gel coating dissolve and the powder release- half in my throat & the other half somewhere else which I assumed to be my lung. It burned like hell and my whooping redoubled. Very fortunately by this time I was able to gasp out a few words so I was able to let Lars know what happened. He told me to drink milk to coat the throat and luckily there was some we keep for tea in the studio fridge. I had a good swig of that which helped although I was still coughing so hard it felt like I was on the verge of blacking out.
But after a while the whooping diminished, I was able to get down more milk and keep it down and by 7:30 was able to wipe my eyes, clean my glasses and feel mostly normal again. My chest still burned a lot although not nearly so bad as before but I was still concerned about what the effects of the vitamin mix would be on my lung. Would I have a stroke? A heart attack? Or might it just cause an infection which could lead to pneumonia...? Supplements are designed to be absorbed by the digestive system NOT by the respiratory. Lars told me he would stick around for a bit as he had work to do and I should call if I felt strange. I thanked him sincerely, sat down and began to think.
In a life packed with incident, I've never considered my own mortality before. Never once. Not the time the tree fell on my head or the day I fell off the bridge at New Caledonia State Park or even the time a crazy man pulled a knife on me at 2 in the morning on 8th Avenue as I was on my way home from the deli. I didn't think about it back in the fall of 1997 when I had a throat infection that was so bad that in another century it would certainly have killed me.
I've lived in New York City for nearly 30 years and have never been concerned about personal safety. I drove a taxi on the night shift, walked through Central Park at four in the morning and regularly through the East Village at night during a time when people were routinely killed by crazed drug addicts. I've never been run down by buses or bad drivers. I've avoided psychos, muggers, bashers and AIDS. I even managed to avoid being brained by a falling air conditioner that hit the sidewalk behind me so close I could feel the breeze on the back of my neck and bits of plastic zing off the back of my head.
But last night I realized that if things here had been slightly different - if perchance I had been alone - I might well be dead today. The simple act of taking one little pill, one mundane daily occurrence and I might very well have bought the farm. This time, that shook me.
I think this has something to do with age. I've never in the least been concerned about growing older - in fact I revel in the process. I take pride and pleasure in exercising myself physically and mentally. I go to the gym regularly and try to walk as much as possible. I eat well and don't often indulge is excess fat, sugar or carbohydrates. I don't drink very often and apart from cigarettes (which are an entirely different story and which I'm well aware must stop) I have no addictions nor am I tempted by recreational drugs. I take classes in things that interest me and try to learn as much as possible. I read, look and listen to keep my brain as sharp as can be.
I make very little effort to conceal my age as anyone who can do a little math can figure out. If one of my perfumes is called "At the Beach 1966" then it goes without saying that if I can recall Rehoboth Beach from that era I am clearly not in my 30's as many assume (although I am pleased when they do). I have no hesitation in telling tales of dancing on a box at Palladium, seeing Grace Jones in the men's room at Studio 54, going with friends to the Pyramid Club when it first opened or attending the first New York screening of Diva. There is so much to tell about my life in New York and the people I have been so fortunate to encounter. But many of these things obviously happened quite a long time ago...
I am very glad to have done these things but more to the point, I delight in the wisdom that such experience can bring but which can only come with age. There is so much more I can understand about life and how it works now than I possibly could when I was 22 and I know as I grow older, that wisdom can only expand.
And I've reached the point in my life where at least one of my roles has changed. When I was young, I had many friends who were in their 40's. I loved hearing them tell of meeting legendary people, attending brilliant plays or seeing Maria Callas live at the Metropolitan. I could share my world with them, the world of New Wave, but they could give me something much more and I loved them for it. Now that I myself have reached what the French call "that certain age" I have become that man who seems to fascinate certain of the young. I've become a mentor figure to several young friends and I must say I enjoy that very much indeed.
But I confess though that it can make me sad sometimes to hear those in their 20s express their views of Life, the Universe and Everything. They often know so much but understand so little. The thing that makes me sad about that is that I realize full well that intellectual understanding counts for nothing and there is no way to share experience. One can tell or advise but these children still have to figure it out for themselves. Only then can they really understand. Sometimes that can be painful to watch but I remind myself that I survived my youth and so will they. I was the same way then that they are now.
OK back to last evening's near death experience. I think it was the full realization of my present age that shook me. Of course my life has had its share of hardships and disasters and portions of it have been deeply and bitterly painful despite outward appearance. Deeply loved friends and relatives have disappeared never to return and I miss them constantly and keenly. But on the whole I have been extraordinarily lucky and my life is very good. I have accomplished much and I sense that there is still a great deal to come. I am a long way from being finished yet on this planet. But I realize now,for the first time in my life, that my time here is limited. I've got to get cracking if I want to get everything done.
So handing in my dinner pail over something as insignificant as a vitamin pill would seriously interfere with my future. That is not the way I'd wish to go and this is not in my plans. I have no intention of clocking out - not yet. A fortune teller once told me that I would live a very long life so I always imagined I'd be struck by lightening or something after my 90th birthday. Or perhaps I'll wander out into the woods in the middle of a blizzard to quietly freeze and they can find me in the spring. This actually happened to a local old woman in Pennsylvania and while it was certainly very sad I thought at the time it was quite beautiful as well and that's how I'd choose to go myself. Or maybe, as one of my mother's very elderly patients did, I might one day gather my loved ones, announce my intention to leave, bid them farewell and then tuck myself into bed and be gone by evening.
But I also realize, now more clearly than ever, that these are not things we can choose. It's over when it's over and there are precious few who are lucky enough to choose that moment of departure. So, to borrow a favorite phrase from the Chestnut of the Month Club, it is vitally important to make the most of all the time we have.
And that, Ladies & Gentlemen, Boys & Girls, is probably my New Year's Resolution for 2009. I realize this year it came a bit late but whatever. It's time to start Living Fully. It's time to get over the petty worries and fears and Make the Most. Go All the Way.
I know this is hardly an original idea but still it's an important one and one I wish to share. And that's why I've spent the better part of this morning writing all this out instead of getting on with making the perfume. But now that I think about it, the point of my perfumes is really all about capturing certain experiences of life and to do that I must fully explorethem. Which in fact I realize is just what I've been doing with this near-death one by writing it out. To me, Scent is Life but to be able express that life one must live it, reflect on it and understand it. That's the key.
It also occurs to me that my life is rather like perfume. Its story unfolds slowly over time presenting constantly changing experience but at some point it must fade away leaving only a memory behind until in time that too fades. Life is like perfume in that both must be experienced NOW because they will be gone.
So perhaps today's entry might have something to do with perfume after all. I'm still not quite sure...
Time will tell.