The Guest House

I was away on the weekend so didn’t get around to my usual blog posting. Some old friends invited me to the dedication of their baby daughter,  the most gorgeous thing ever. (Alice, if you’re reading this when you’re much, much older — if you still have that smile of yours, well… mankind lies at your feet!)

The poem The Guest House by the Persian poet and mystic, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, was read by her dad at the church and it reminded me a little of “On Joy And Sorrow” by another Persian poet I like, Khalil Gibran. This got me thinking again on The Beauty Of Sadness, more so later that evening when I received sad news about the untimely death of an old schoolmate. Perhaps you too can find some meaning in their words…


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Rumi



Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentime filled with your tears…
When you are joyous, look deep into
your heart and you shall find it is only
that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been
your delight.

– Khalil Gibran

The proper authorities

I spent the night at a friend’s place the other night, and we left for work together the next morning. It’s been a while since I’ve had to do this kind of journey, having surrendered my 90-minute slog from Surrey, just over a year ago, for a two-mile stroll into work every morning. You might think I’m crazy, but riding the London Underground every morning used to provide me with quiet pleasure. Since work is pretty close to the end of Met Line, I usually always had a seat. I’d grab a copy of the Metro, or get out a book, plop down, stretch my legs and kick back. By the time I’d finished with the paper, I was at my stop. No waiting to change lanes, no dickheads blaring their horns, no stressful left turns at busy intersections. I just zoned out, caught up on the news and before I knew it, my ride was over. It was quite nice.

A lot of it depends on what line you’re on, though. A mate lives way out east in Becontree, Essex, and his trains on the District Line can be notoriously unreliable. Sometimes the trains will run smoothly, and he’ll be at work in 45 mins. More often, the underground traffic jam gnarls, and his overcrowded carriage will be filled with grouchy commuters, sardined shoulder-to-shoulder, sweaty and cramped, for almost an hour-and-a-half.

The middle-aged women are always the worst. If you’re between them and an open seat, they have no qualms with elbow and shoulder-tackling you to get that seat. They’re sometimes even swearing and belligerent, with a rather frightening don’t-fuck-with-me scowl. It makes me worry about all the future of my female friends. Middle age, I suspect, is not kind to women.

This particular morning, I was running late. My friend kept me company. We had a few things to discuss and I was glad she was there. Sometimes the Tube is too quiet; I’m not the only one who likes to zone out. We hopped on at Woodside Park and swooshed downward, through Finchley, past Highgate, next stop Camden Town. We had talked and argued and laughed the whole time. We were in a good mood.

Like anybody else on the train, the man hadn’t caught my attention. It takes a lot to get me to notice you on the Tube. Usually, you have to be making some unnatural noise, maybe shouting, fiddling with your mobile, snoring maybe. The man was doing none of those.

He made a step toward us, an unusual movement. The train was not crowded, and it was a some way until the next stop. It was a measured, purposeful move. My head instinctively turned away from my friend and looked in his direction. There was nothing remarkable about him. Mid-thirties, light brown hair, slightly balding, wearing a brown trenchcoat, a pressed white shirt and tan tie. He was holding an umbrella, which tapped along the carriage’s floor, like it was a cane. Not a walking stick cane, mind you; he held it like a prop in a silent movie, tap tap tap, as if he were about to toss it into the air and break into song. But he wasn’t smiling, and he certainly wasn’t about to start dancing.

He took another step toward me and made eye contact. You’re not supposed to make eye contact on the Tube. Just one of those things.

As he came close, I noticed he was taller than I thought he was. But, honestly, that was pretty much it. He looked like every other guy on the train, a nondescript nothing, just more background fuzz. He kept coming toward us, focusing on me. It appeared he needed something, likely directions. I’ve been riding the Tube for more than a decade and take a good deal of pride in my mastery of the elaborate calibration of the London Underground system, so I’m probably a good guy to ask.

He stopped over us, a little too close. His eyes narrowed, his lips pursed, and he spoke.

“I want to talk to you about the law. What you’re doing is criminal. You should be arrested. You should know that I will be contacting the proper authorities.” He then shifted slightly to his right and lurked backwards slowly, almost floating, his eyes locked on us, his disgust and fury palpable. He stopped about five feet away, but his glare did not waver.

For a moment that lasted longer than I would have liked it to, I did a little internal inventory. Had I engaged in any criminal activities recently? Was I engaging in any of them now? I looked at my friend, whose look of confusion — not shock, legitimate confusion — presumably mirrored my own. I could tell she was doing her own inventory. She realised about the same time I did that, no, as far as we knew, we were not doing anything illegal.

We were silent for about 10 seconds. Then she spoke, in a whisper: “He’s still looking at us.”

And his umbrella was tapping… slowly.

Not that I’d ever been faced with a situation like this before, but it seemed like the wise thing to do was to carry on as if nothing had happened. I found myself chuckling, as if she had just said something funny, or as if a friend we hadn’t seen in a long time had just played a silly joke on us, ha ha, gotcha. I didn’t dare look over at the man. Out of the corner of my eye, however, I could tell he was still staring.

We began to quietly try to make some sense of what had just happened. She pointed out, with a bit of alarm, that this well-dressed man didn’t appear to be joking at all. I tried to minimise the situation, make her feel more comfortable, let her know she was safe with me. “He’s clearly a nutjob, obviously,” I said. I’m not sure that helped. Either of us.

I was getting off at King’s Cross, but her stop was Camden Town, the next one. We needed to formulate a plan. She suggested we both get off at Camden, and I could catch the next train, but even in my shock, that wasn’t feasible for me. I was running late already. I told her to go ahead and get off like she always would, and if he made a movement to exit the train, I’d follow. As if in a vice, his head remained stationary, fixed on us.

Her stop arrived. I said goodbye, with an eye on the man. He did not budge. She escaped unharmed. I theatrically took out a book I’ve been reading and pretended to study it intently. Stand clear of the closing doors, please. Off to King’s Cross. The umbrella continued to tap.

I had a plan of my own. I was carrying the rucksack I take with me everywhere, full of random notebooks and work stuff, and I stealthily unzipped the pouch where I would ordinarily store the book. The scheme: Make it look like I was staying on the train, then, at the last possibly second, throw the book in there and bolt through the exit doors. I’m a London Underground veteran. I knew exactly how long those doors were open.

The train stopped. Commuters filed out. The man did not budge. 3… 2… 1… now. With a flash, I dashed through the doors, onto the escalators. Halfway up, I got stuck behind two chattering students. I twisted my neck just enough to glance behind me. There were four people looking annoyed by the delay up the moving stairs… and then him. He was looking downward now, but, as if sensing the movement, his head snapped up.

Quickly now. I passed the students on the wrong side and whisked up the rest of the stairs around the corner. There is a Costa on the international station concourse and it was a bit crowded. I ducked in and feigned an intense interest in the dairy section. I idled there for about 15 seconds and turned around.

The man was gone. I loitered a bit, then ordered a coffee and left. Looking a bit suspicious, hunched over, paranoid, I shuffled back to escalators to get on the Met Line. My mobile rang.

It was my friend. “Oh, God, you’re OK. What the hell was that all about?”

I had no idea, I have no idea, but I can assure you: the next time I have to commute to work, I’ll be leaving on time, from now on.

Game on!

There was chaos at the small flat just off the corner of Brighton Road and Lansdowne Road in Surrey the other night, and the people causing the ruckus were lucky nobody called the police.

If you stood outside the door, or in the hall of the floor below, or even out on the street, you could hear them. At first it seemed like they were laughing and having fun, talking shit to each other, being jestingly competitive. But then it escalated. The couple’s voices started rising. Then they were screaming. You heard stuff being thrown across the room. You heard the dog howling for quiet. The floor shook as they jumped up and down.

It all ended with a loud, violent “MotherFUCKER!” and a piercing wail of “You know what? Fuck this stupid game! I’m sick of it!” Then another loud bang. There was no weeping, not yet anyway, but the pain was evident. This couple was ruthless, vile, twisted. Whatever mess they were in, they were in it deep.

Mercifully, the neighbour decided she couldn’t take this anymore, not when it was already after midnight, no way. She walked across the hall and rang the doorbell, nervous that she was about to become a witness to some gruesome bloodbath, but still undeniably (and understandably) irritated. Someone had to say something. People were trying to sleep, you know.

My mate Richard opened the door. “Oh, shit, ma’am, I’m so sorry,” he said in his best oh-so-polite voice. “We were just playing a game in here, and it was a really close game, and we got a little carried away. I’m sorry, sorry. Won’t happen again.” I was glad he answered the door (upon hearing the doorbell, I immediately hid under the bed); I was still too fired up to carry on a normal conversation, particularly one in which I needed to look remorseful.

He closed the door, I crawled out from under the bed and we met at the sofa. “Shit, we were kind of loud, eh?” I said.


“Maybe we should try to keep it down?”

“Might be a good idea.”

“Well, I don’t care how good he is, it’s just … there’s no way Messi should be getting four straight goals with Vidic right in his face. No fucking way!”

“What can I say? Leo’s the man!”

And then we sat back down, took the PlayStation off pause and proceeded to have Richard’s Barcelona team wipe the floor with my Manchester United Red Devils. Then we made a note of the score, and played again. Quieter this time.

Readers, you shall be the first to whom I admit it: I am a recovering video game addict, specifically a recovering EA Sports FIFA addict. I have successfully and steadfastly resisted buying a PlayStation, X-Box, Wii or anything like that and I’m quite proud of myself. I have even weaned myself off pretty much all the various video games on which I wasted so much of my youth. But when I visit any friend who has FIFA, it can still be a real problem. I try to drink, talk, read, write, ponder, mull, pontificate, masticate, abdicate, but I always end up in front of the TV with the damn game machine on.

It’s all Richard’s fault. We used to be neighbours when I lived in Surrey and we initially bonded over our support for Manchester United, in real life and on the PlayStation. Of course, back then we lived about 10 feet away from each other, as opposed to over 10 miles now. So it was out of control. We spent almost every waking moment when we were home at the same time, and there wasn’t a live game on that we could watch down at the pub, with the damn PlayStation on. We even spent many Saturday nights just sitting there, listening to music and playing until 3 a.m. We were lucky enough to never be interrupted by girls calling.

I’d always been inclined to this kind of addiction. My parents wanted their son to have a well-rounded growing-up experience, so they held off buying me a Nintendo. This just meant I would find kids in the neighbourhood, usually younger and more easily pushed around, who had one, and I’d commandeer it to play Pac Man, Frogger or Metroid… or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Later on, I spent a lot of time after school, and a lot of my allowance, in video game arcades, playing all manner of shoot-’em-up, martial arts and car racing games. In the past, I have also have been taken in by trivia games, ranging from the high-tech (those bars that have those interactive games where you compete against fellow drunks) to the just plain nerdy (those insert-a-quarter contraptions you find next to the dart board at hole-in-the-wall dives).

In fact, it’s kind of funny how the games and my drinking went hand-in-hand. Last week, my mate Matt and I decided to grab a drink and get caught up on matters. We ended up at this sports bar, which, lo and behold, was running a World-Cup style PlayStation FIFA tournament where you could battle it out with fellow patrons over vodka and tonics. We sat there for about three hours, drinking and playing, before being eliminated in the second round. All the while, the sun shined vibrantly outside.

Rich and I, as you’ve probably gathered, can be intensely competitive in our showdowns. In fact, to be entirely honest, I’m quite likely to be heading off to Surrey next weekend to fire it up again. And the trash-talking shall ensue: “Oooh! Look at that shot, bitch! You like that? Do you? You want some more? Yeah, take that, I’ll give you some more! Who’s my little bitch now?”

I’m sure there’s no way anyone overhearing us in the hall would draw any wrong conclusions.

Parents rule!

My parents celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary just before Christmas. Now, obviously, that’s a figure that blows me away. 41 years. Ignoring that I haven’t been on earth that long, and ignoring that I’ve never even been married, just simply let that roll through your brain for a while. 41 years! My parents were married during Watergate, the Thatcher years, and during many more momentous times.. And yet when I see them together today, they’re the same. Mum’s making fun of Dad, he endures the good-natured ribbing with a shake of his head and a grin, and at times they’re just like a couple of kids so comfortable and enamoured with each other you feel like you stumbled across them on their honeymoon.

Now, you might think I’m going to be pithy in this column, a Pip-like Londoner full of cute little snide comments about my West Indian family, how they don’t get it, how they’re getting old and crotchety. But no. My parents are normal, sincere, hard-working, straightforward people who have set an example for me that often sends off internal alarms any time I feel I might be betraying it. In December 2010, I flew back to the Caribbean with my US-based sister to join the rest of our siblings to celebrate their 40th anniversary, and the whole trip served to remind me why I think my parents are so great.

Four examples that immediately come to mind, out of the thousands:

They recognize and enjoy that they have interesting, and sometimes weird, children. A couple years ago my mother was telling me about a conversation she had with someone. She was telling them about her son in London, and her daughter in America, and her other kids,  the paramedic, the teachers and journalists.  Her friend’s response was something along the lines of: “You have such interesting kids. You raised them well and they’re really living their lives.”

I could hear my mother positively beaming down the telephone line when she told me that story. She couldn’t have been more proud if her friend had told her we should run for President. My parents never blinked, not once, when I told them I wanted to be a journalist; they never panicked when I walked away from a steady job to help start up a new newspaper with no guarantee of success or income, and they never blanched (at least not openly) when I decided to move to London, following what must have seemed like a senseless flight of fancy. My parents have never really ever pressured me to do anything other than what I believed in, unless you count eating black eyed peas. Talking to many of my peers, pushed and pressured to become doctors and lawyers and accountants, I gather this is a rare, rare quality in parents. I’m not sure my father has yet worked out how to send a phone text message, but I often feel he has supported this mad dash of mine since before I even knew it was what I wanted.

They’re really just mother lions. As a kid growing up, I could always count on a clip behind the ear from a giant paw when I stepped out of line (which was often!), but if you really want to see my parents’ fangs and claws, just mess with one of their children!

The night before I left, we went out for dinner. A friend of mine showed up who, coincidentally, happened to know an ex-girlfriend with whom I’d not had a very amicable split. This fact was brought up to them, and they, simultaneously, squished their faces as if they’d just stepped in dog manure. “It’s a good thing I never saw her afterwards,” my mum said, “because I would have had a few choice words for her.” To this day, the mere mention of her name draws their ire, far more than it does mine. I don’t even think about it much anymore (really), but they never forgot how much that break-up gutted me, and they likely never will.

They never fail to tell me how much they care, but don’t embarrass me by actually saying it. I don’t think we are a hugely lovey-dovey, touchy-feely family, and I wouldn’t want us to be. I know my parents love me, and vice versa, so we don’t need to go on and on about it. They always pick the right times to show it.

On my surprise trip for their 40th anniversary, heavy snow in London had forced all the major airports to close. They were still closed a few days before my return to London (I was flying back before Christmas), and I was desperately hoping that I might get stuck out in the Caribbean for another week. I could tell my parents were secretly hoping the same and my mum looked quite crestfallen when we realised that flights had resumed just the day before I was due to leave. I was quite gutted myself.

My friends can’t believe they’re as old as they are … and they’re not even that old. My parents married young and they both still take care of themselves (and each other). Unlike me, my dad has all his hair and I probably have as many or even more grey ones than he does (I am SO thankful for L’Oreal MenExpert!) Dad still occasionally gets mistaken for an older brother and Mum has a face at least 10 years younger than she really is. My parents are not decrepit old people; it’s like they insist on remaining as young as possible, and by doing so, they keep me young too.

I am getting to the age now where some of my friends have lost their parents. It makes me so sad, just to think about it. They’ve done their best to fill that cavernous gap, and they haven’t done it the way I suspect I would – depressed months and years of aimless wandering. How? I can’t even begin to imagine. I would be so lost without both my parents in my life. I know that’s dopey, and certainly not very hip. But I love my parents, and simply the privilege of knowing them, let alone being able to call them my parents, is my boundless good fortune, and it’s one I will never take for granted.

Happy anniversary, guys. May you have 41 more. Please.

New Year’s Resolution

I am known by some of my friends, among other things, as a guy who places far too much importance on New Year’s Eve. It has always been one of my favourite days of the year, one on which my natural inclinations toward drippy nostalgia are not only rewarded, but also expected.

On what other day are you guaranteed, no matter what, to remember what you were doing exactly one year ago? Christmas, maybe. But you often do the same things on that day every year, usually spending time with family and gossiping about that uncle who’s been married four times.

By contrast, New Year’s Eve is a social animal, and your plans change every year. Since there is no real tradition around New Year’s Eve, other than that you’re supposed to do something, it’s a new experience every time.

That we make New Year’s resolutions is one of the most charming traits human beings have. For no other reason than our dogged earnestness and naiveté, we actually believe that we get a new start. We believe that somehow — this time, this year — things are going to be different. They never are, of course, but for one night, we believe. That’s the beauty of New Year’s; it’s not a clean slate, exactly, but it’s close enough for us.

I hear people complain about New Year’s Eve, that it’s always made into a big event that ultimately disappoints, that they feel pressured to have some kind of momentously fun time. These people are sad, really, incredible dullards and whiners. Pressured to have fun? Hey, I’ll take that kind of pressure every time, no problem. I wish I was pressured to have fun every day, rather than pressured to pay the bills, pressured to hold on to my job, pressured to keep my head above water.

If you can’t relax and have fun on New Year’s Eve, well, you’ve got more problems than this blog can solve, so there is no hope for you here.

Anyway, I had this feeling that New Year’s Eve 2011 was going to be a great one. I was hoping that it would somehow involve a particular lovely lady and was already working out in my mind how the night in Camden would turn out. I figured if craziness was going to ensue, there would be no more likely place than there and the stimuli would likely be so much that either I’d have enough material for four books and an opera, or my head would just explode as my body burst into flames. Either way, it would be quite a story.

As it turned out, my mate Matt, the first person I had asked to come along, was the only one to accept. So much for my designs on the lovely lady!

Then two things happened: First, I went to America for Christmas and spent way too much money (things are so much more cheaper there, you see). This made my New Year’s planning financially inconvenient — or, to use one friend’s more efficient terminology, “fucking crazy” — and somewhat irresponsible. Still, that wasn’t enough to stop me.

What was enough to stop me was Matt. I won’t get into too much detail about Matt, since he always gets mad at me when I bring him up in my blog, but let’s just say he’s kind of, well, a paranoid recluse with tendencies toward mania (that shouldn’t offend him).

He called earlier in the week and shared his growing feeling that something horrible was going to happen in London on New Year’s Eve. Namely, “Someone’s going to release nerve gas or something. We’re all going to die.” (Cast no aspersions and draw no conclusions on Matt here, but I’d like make an observation: Anybody else notice the amount of alarm someone has over things like these is directly proportional to the amount of weed they smoke? Just a thought.)

Matt said he didn’t want to go. I attempted to talk him into it — I mean, it was just a few days before New Year’s Eve, and time was a-wastin’ — but he wouldn’t cave, so eventually, I did. I thanked him for his persistence in making me believe he was going to go and, with a sigh, began to fucking freak out about what I was going to do on the night.

I considered just going down to the Embankment to watch the incredible waste of taxpayers’ money on the release of tons of fireworks (and possibly nerve gas) that could only serve to remind London’s homeless why they’re so bloody poor. But no, I was bound and determined to have a good time, and that wasn’t good enough.

So I called Kate. My friendship with Kate is one I haven’t written much about here, since it’s a fairly recent development, pretty complicated and, well, she doesn’t want me to write about her. Kate is a nurse I first met at my birthday party just over a year ago. (I first wrote about her in Happy Birthday To Me) She’s a wonderful person, kind-hearted and loving toward her fellow human beings — I’m curious why she hangs out with me. She was going to be working until 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, but we nevertheless made plans to meet up after her shift and head to the bash in Camden, for which I now had an extra ticket.

It is a matter of great poetic irony — or at least something that kinda sucked — that David, Mr. New Year’s Eve, wouldn’t even start his celebration of the New Year until 11 p.m. But those were the circumstances, and I had to roll with them.

I had a few early drinks at a neighbour’s, then set off towards the city. The goal was to find a pub, quietly have a couple of drinks by myself, then head over to the hospital. We simply had to get to the party by midnight because I’d be damned if I was going to ring in the New Year while stuck on the Tube.

The first three bars I attempted to duck into all had expensive pre-planned celebrations going on, so I grumbled to myself as I walked away from the presumably riotous jubilation inside. Finally, in desperation, I stepped into a Walkabout that had free entry before 9 p.m. For those cultured people who don’t have Walkabouts in their cities, it’s a chain of Australian-themed saloons with little seating and minimal décor, where the floors are always sticky and breathing is often difficult. It was, to say the very least, not where I had anticipated spending New Year’s Eve, but at this point in the night, it would have to suffice.

I walked in — I always feel like I should say I “sauntered” in when I visit places like a Walkabout — and found immediately that, surprisingly enough, it was not nearly as packed as I’d expected. I guess they were on Down Under time, which meant the start of 2012 had already come and gone. But I won’t complain too much, since one of the girls behind the bar was very nice — she even gave me a free New Year’s party hat and blew a kiss at me when I left. And it was soon time to go, and fast. The night wasn’t what it could have been, but there was plenty of time left to salvage matters. I just had to hurry.

I flagged a cab — I was lucky to get the first one I waved at — and we sped off toward the hospital. 11:05 … 11:10 … look out there, drunk pedestrian … 11:15 … we’re here. I sprinted out the car door — at first forgetting to unbuckle my seat belt, causing a bit of unnecessary strain — and screamed toward the automatic doors at the hospital. I peeled through the hallway to the lifts, almost knocking a guy with a walker into the unrelenting path of an oncoming wheelchair, and pushed the up button about 35 times, bang, bang, bang, pounding my fist into the wall for it to reach the fucking first floor already, Christ. Ding. Push the button for the third floor, bang, bang, bang. Door closes, bang, bang, bang. Door opens. Third floor.

Scrambling, I feverishly asked the first nurse I saw if Kate was there, my eyes full of fire and determination. Thirty-five minutes to go.

“She’s down in room 235. You can go down there if you want.”

Not even pausing to thank her, I left skid marks as I flew past. I looked in the room, and there was Kate, talking to a patient’s daughter. She had a look of calm and empathy, as if the frickin’ year didn’t have just 30 minutes left in it, but the daughter was more distraught. I noticed tears in her eyes, and she released a choked-off “thank you” to Kate as she left the room. Kate had been as worried as I was about missing the clock turning midnight, but when she exited the room and noticed me, a symbol of her life away from the ill, she was as placid as could be.

“Oh, hi! Listen, I’ve got a couple more patients to check on, so just go ahead and wait at reception. I’ll be out in a sec.” She then walked down the hall, to room 237, or 243, or something, someone.

And just like that, my tension was gone. Making it to some silly bar for some silly song that no one understands the words to, it all seemed, well, it all seemed as stupid as it actually was.

The New Year is a big deal for most of us, who have the choice of heading to London for chaos, looking for wild orgies in Newcastle, or just having a quiet night at home. But for these people — our sick, our dying — spending New Year’s Eve in the neurological ward of a hospital, December 31, 2011 was just another night, a night you pray for resilience and search for any remaining strands of hope. The residents of room 235, or 237, or 243, didn’t have a disappointing New Year’s Eve; they had no chance at such luck. All they could do, with fluid draining into their bloodstream, as they breathed through a tube in their neck, was gather a small amount of family members to circle around a smelly bed in an antiseptic room and celebrate the fact that they even had this moment.

Only the healthy, the spoiled, the fortunate get to decide which fun place they’ll ring in the New Year at. Not here, not in room 235.

I know this would be a better story if we never made it out of the hospital, if I rang in 2012 by holding the hand of a crippled child and singing hymns. Well, sorry, but we eventually made it to Camden, with 10 minutes to spare. We counted down the last 10 seconds with some band called Stir, we all rocked to an unoriginal but still fun rock version of Auld Lang Syne, and I even had somebody to kiss. But if you ask me how my New Year’s Eve was, I’ll tell you it was the most fulfilling and most memorable one I’ve had in years.

Spent in a hospital, musing about room 235, thankful I had the freedom to celebrate at all, thankful I have friends and family to celebrate it with.

And I didn’t even have to avoid any nerve gas to do it.