Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Year According to Me

Well, I certainly can’t deny that 2009 was interesting. Perhaps the most interesting year of my life. And when you think about my life, that’s really saying something.

I began the year watching my finances collapse around me. Yes, the rest of the world was in the same boat, but that didn’t make it any easier. Within the space of a few months my debts substantially outweighed my assets. All because the last flip house I worked on never sold. (And I mean never. I still own it. It’s tied to a very long rope that’s steadily dragging me down to the bottom of the river.) My timing was impeccable: it officially went on the market two weeks after Lehman Brothers imploded. Oops.

Very quickly I realized there would be no fiduciary white knight riding to my rescue, so I swallowed hard and looked for a job I could earn a living wage at. In upstate New York. I know, I know… hysterical, right? There may be work around here but my ex-pat friends and I are stumped as to what that might be. And let’s face it; I wasn’t looking for a career job, I wanted something to pay the bills until the flip house sold. ‘Twasn’t to be.

My spirits drooped like an over-ripe, unpicked tomato in late summer

Craiglist came a cropper as far as hourly wages went. Well, heck! I figured if I was going to have to work for gas money it might as well be at a job that might mean something to me.

Enter the Albany Damien Center.

The little community HIV center wanted something called a “peer advocate” for $10/hour. It was a 35-minute commute, but what were my options? I submitted an application, had an interview and got the job. Twenty hours per week. Oy. Wouldn’t exactly pay the bills. Didn’t exactly boost my spirits. I was feeling mighty low.

And there was light. And it was good.

On one of my first days on the job I was talking with a newly sober young woman with a one-year-old baby who casually mentioned that when she was pregnant her water broke when she was stoned on heroin. In jail.

“Oh, poor me. My second house won’t sell!” OK, dammit, you win, Heroin Mom: I guess my story ain’t so Sad Sack as all that. So within hours of starting my new job I found it impossible to feel sorry for myself about my financial situation. That’s not to say it wasn’t getting worse by the minute, but I gained a perspective from that job that would make a de Chirico painting seem positively flat. Of all the line items on my curriculum vitae my time at the Damien Center is in many ways the most fulfilling position I’ve ever held.

Now, as fate would have it, when I checked my e-mail the very morning I was heading out to my first day at the Damien Center I found an invitation to spend the summer on a little island in the Caribbean called Saba helping with minor construction projects friends of mine had in mind for the hotel they ran.

Um, let me give that some thought for about 1/10th of a second. Yeah, sounds good.

Meanwhile, back at the cabin, my plumbing was acting up. I won’t bore you with the whys and wherefores but it was not terribly pleasant living here. Did I mention I had another house sitting empty? Furnished? So I moved. It’s a nice, comfortable house but I wasn’t emotionally invested in it because I had already decided to high-tail it outahere (meaning: this part of the country) ASAP. But where? How?

Enter the Canned Ham.

Barnyard down the road… abandoned camper… $100… we’ve been over this already. The harebrained scheme was successfully hatched and evolved to the point where when I was on Saba I would write some patter to fill in the gaps between songs on the accordion. Surely the house would have sold by then? By this point it was clear that I was for all intents and purposes bankrupt, in actuality if not formally. I decided to wait until my return from the Caribbean to file the papers.

I bid a sad farewell to the folks at the Damien Center and headed to the azure waters of the Dutch Antilles.

We’ve been over this bit already, too, but you can always click on the previous entries links to your right. As brief as my visit was, it will be one of the major landmarks when I look back on my life. Suffice to say that my two months on the island was nothing short of perfection. In every way. Including not spending three months there, as originally planned.

And that is partly due to the fact that the “patter” I had written for my “bar show” I was going to travel the country with turned out to be a real play with more substance than I had imagined. And that meant more rehearsal, revision, staging, etc. I spent the remainder of the summer working on all that.

Since I had rented out my flip house (the one I had moved into) I had no choice but to return to the cabin. Wonder of wonders, five months sitting idle had—apparently—solved the plumbing situation. While I worked on the structure of the show I also got back to work on my personal structure: I needed some publicity photos for the show and since we all know why the folks would be coming to see me on stage, the pictures were going to be, uh, revealing.

Things were falling into place: the script was shaping up, I was shaping up, a buzz was starting around the show. I got a gig with the Advocate magazine writing a column about the show. Everything looked bright except my dang financial situation. I wasn’t too worried about that because I would soon be hitting the road with the show and making some money. And the magazine column would bring in a little. Enough to fill the propane tanks on the camper, anyway.

The show was received very well when I did it in New York. But it was immediately clear that it needed to play in theaters. And that meant the bookings would be coming in next year rather than in the next few weeks. Which meant I’d be sticking around for a while. With bills to pay. And no job.

Oh, did I mention the flip house never sold? Did I mention The Advocate is undergoing some sort of restructuring and I’ve never gotten paid for those columns? Did I mention I have been unable to find a job, even bartending or waitering? Did I mention I went on food stamps last week? And HEAP heating assistance? Did I mention that I’m now officially a poor person? (And did I mention that if I had a pitchfork I’d be down there with it at Morgan Stanley while those execs inside are threatening to quit if they don’t get their bonuses this year?)

BUT… (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there?)

The show will be going out on the road at some point. And I will get some kind of job somewhere. As they say, it always works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end. And here’s the real thing: I was diagnosed HIV-positive on February 26, 1993 (Google the date: interesting coincidence…) and did not expect to live to see 40. Well, I just turned 49. So those problems and headaches I’m dealing with? I’m alive to have them, so bring ‘em the fuck on.

And there we have Tom Judson’s 2009. As I said, it’s been amazingly interesting. Things I never anticipated in a million years threw themselves in my path. Several times in my adult life I’ve sat with a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve without a clue where I’d be or what I’d be doing six months hence. I’ve never before had two of those in a row, but this December 31 the future is as blurry as ever.

I live for moments like that.

(Time for a quick poll: do you think Johnathan is more confused or more pissed-off right now that I haven’t mentioned him yet?)

But, of course! Of all the unexpected and remarkable things that happened to me this year, the most unexpected, the most remarkable of all is that I fell in love. I had pretty much written off the chances of that ever happening again. Without regret, I hasten to add. But there he was at the gym, reading his goddam Kindle between sets and looking just as cute as cute can be. That was three months ago. And yes, I’m almost twice his age. (For now, anyway; that proportion changes in my favor every day.) All my previous boyfriends were born within five years of my birthdate. Dating someone born after E.T. came out does present unique challenges; there aren’t a whole lot of pop culture references being dropped these days. But it’s fun and I’m happy and it’s keeping me young. (Although—and don’t tell Johnathan I said this—of the two of us, he’s much more the Crotchety Old Fart type.) I’d go on about how great he is but it would just make him impossible to live with. And you know how those old farts can get.

So, there’s my last twelve months in a nutshell. I can’t deny that at this point I’m feeling like, let’s just get this one over with and get 2010 underway.

I wonder what’ll happen?


  1. Merry Christmas, Mr. Judson! Here's to a fantastic New Year!

  2. I like the ending the best! And the loose-shirt pic.: mmm. Merry Christmas Eve Eve, Mary! You were pretty unexpected and remarkable yourself! 143, old fart.

  3. I now have another name to add to the very short and exclusive list of guys younger than me that I find attractive.

    I sincerely hope you have many, many more years as interesting (though perhaps not as financially frustrating) as 2009. And with your new fella around I imagine that will be the case.

    Happy Holidays!

  4. Your entry proves as fascinating as any other-- though you need to add the hot air balloon ride. Who would have thought 2009 would be such a year?! My very best wishes for 2010! xo

  5. Best of luck and wishes for 2010 Tom!

  6. Just described you to my friend as "One of my great influences in deciding that, as I approached 40, it was never too late to make a big change in my life."
    I know things are scary, but, as Mr Sondheim Might put it, "I got through all of last year, and I'm here!"
    Well done, Tom, and many many good thoughts, best wishes and blessings for the future.


  7. HELLLLLLO...I didn't see any mention of the facebook tour that blew through New York in late July 2009 and included a fabulous lunch and titilating conversation at the Viceroy...I would like my shout-out too...xoxo

  8. I've been an "accidental fan" of yours since I came across one of your movies in my roommates room. Not a fan of those flicks but I liked you. After a little internet research I was plesantly surprised to find that you were a VERY well rounded person. You took me over the top with your turn in Starrbooty. I was so happy you responded to my post/request on Facebook. When I saw the title of your post yesterday I got piseed b/c I thought you were checking out (I had a friend TRY and fail on Christmas Day) by the time I finished reading your entry I was slack jawed. The honesty and ability to keep your head up through everything thrown in your way this year made me rethink some things, quit feeling sorry for myself & be 500x's more thankful for my blessings than I already am. I dont have to tell you to keep your head up but I will say thank you for the honesty, it was one of the best gifts I got this year from my new "Facebook" freind.

  9. The first part of your blog read like an intro to your own personal version of "The Grapes of Wrath." Out of work, financial collapse; a particularly bad "annus horribile" was on it's way. But midway through we learned of your restorative trip to the Caribbean, the success of your one-man show, and a very special new relationship. "Lemons to Lemonade" should be the title of your Biography. Looks like the end of the year turned out pretty damned well!
    Happy Holidays, Tom!

  10. Hi, Tom! Who doesn't look back in time this time of the year?! I also had "material" problems in 2009, but like you: I fell in love too (but my lover is only 14 years younger). A fact like this makes everything okay, doesn't it?
    P.S. I wonder if the Damien Center is called after Father Damien who helped people suffering from lepra on the Molokai Island Hawai). He was born in my region in Belgium.
    Bye for now and my best wishes for 2010.

  11. Hey, Tom,
    Years ago on your old blog, the photo of you playing your accordion at a tender age was adorable. But let's have more like the shirtless one above, but maybe even more revealing. Curious thing about accordion players--they can be a little nerdy (think Urkel), or erotic as hell (a young Dick Contino and YOU)! We need more pix of you letting it dangle--or dare I say it?-- stretching it out! :-)

    Best wishes for a better new year.
    --A fan from way back.

  12. I was about to scratch my head and was thinking "what about Jonathan" myself, before the fake ending was unmasked. You do love your drama.

    How odd is it that I too am several months into a relationship with a young man half my age? Very glad that you have this buoy (pun intended) in the current rough seas you are navigating. Wishing you the best for 2010.

  13. You've been silent for a very long time, Tom. Are we ever going to hear from you again? Miss ya!

  14. Gus may sit on our face anytime!

    (Mrs Patrick Campbell)

  15. I just came across your blog via Datalounge (a nasty site but hey, it amuses me) and I just wanted to wish you all the best. We are similar in many ways (age, some circumstances) and I admire you for being up-beat despite adversity! I'm in the UK but should you ever get to Brighton on the South Coast I' love to meet you for coffee!

    Al the very best, Lee

  16. Hi, Tom, I am looking forward to your next column! Grtz, WR

  17. will you be posting on your blog? I am glad you are doing well

  18. I was also told I had HIV in 1993 and didn't expect to live this long.By the Dr's account, I should be dead by now. But, I'm still here, and now, after 20 years of being with my husband, he's now going thru stage 4 cancer and I know that he'll beat it. If I can survive all my friends, I know he can too. We were dealt a shit card, but those of us who survive can work to help others. Keep being a great person and I know you'll find happiness. I happened by this blog by accident, and I know it's a few years old, but I just wanted to let you know that there are others dealing with the same things out there.