September 11, 2020

Never forget.


On 9/11, I was in midtown Manhattan.  When the first plane hit, word got around the office primarily via word of mouth – so no one really understood immediately what was really going on.  My co-workers and I went down to the lobby of the office building, where NBC had a small ground floor studio with TV-lined walls.  We were all standing there, stunned…and watched as a second plane hit tower 2.  At that moment – we all knew we were under attack.  Trains were shut down at this point, so the only way to get anywhere was by walking.  Masses of humanity made their way to the bridges on foot, me being one of them.  As I walked over the 59th street bridge on my way to Jackson Heights, Queens (where my in-laws were watching my daughter), fighter jets flew directly overhead every 1-2 minutes – the sheer noise broke windows on York Ave. apartment buildings. 

In the weeks that followed, the memorial services began.  Every day it seemed like we were going to a different church to pay our respect to people we knew from prior positions at different firms, people at broker-dealers that we transacted with daily, and classmates from my old high school.  On the island that I was born & raised (City Island, in the Bronx) – MANY of our neighbors were cops and firemen – three of them were lost that day.

One thing came out of all of that, though: never in my life have I experienced the level of strangers helping strangers than right after 9/11.  People tripped and fell as they crossed the 59th street bridge due to the sheer noise and fear…and strangers would immediately help them up and ask if they were ok.  People shared water and Gatorade as we migrated eastward.  People leaned on each other in the days after 9/11, and they did so willingly. 

The tougher things get, the stronger we all respond.  That’s really the long-term take-away from this, 19 years later.

September 9, 2020

Like I’ve said a few times before, this blog is all about being positive about things. At least, that’s what I’ve tried to do with it since its inception. Today, I need to go back and review a bunch of the posts I’ve drafted over the years, because I’m not feeling very positive at all. My daughter’s Abuelo – my former father-in-law – passed in his sleep this morning in Miami, Florida.

He was – in a single word – FUN.

Think about that word for a moment. FUN. Three little letters, but they mean an awful lot. Bernardo Hidalgo was FUN.

What do I mean when I say this? Well I’m glad you asked.

He was born and raised in a little town called La Union (forgive the gringo spelling – I got C’s in Spanish over the years), and made his way to New York City through hard work. As an immigrant, Spanish was his primary language, so his migratory path landed him in Jackson Heights – a section of Queens that demonstrates just how amazing of a melting pot the Big Apple truly is. One block would house families from Columbia, the next block would be the home turf of Salvadorians, the next held families from Brazil… get the idea. Needless to say, it was THE PLACE to be during the World Cup, as people from all walks of the Earth would be decked out in their colors, providing a kaleidoscope that can only be found in the city that never sleeps.

He worked on his English enough to get a custodial job with Al Italia, and then with the Brooklyn City courts. However – let’s face it – those jobs didn’t pay much, and he wanted to provide his family with as much as he could…so he always had a second job (or a side hustle, as we so colorfully say in the 21st century)…and those jobs provided some of the fun stories. He once had a soft-serve ice cream truck that he’d drive around Queens, playing that Mr. Softee music like the pied piper for kids on warm days. He drove a gypsy cab (what would now be called Uber or Lyft). He helped his wife “import” (and I use that term VERY loosely) hundreds of pounds of Salvadorian cheese for local distribution to local Spanish restaurants…the list goes on and on. Bottom line: he worked his ass off to give his family every opportunity to move forward in life. Those efforts allowed him to become a home owner, and give his daughter an opportunity to go to a good college in the hopes of one day following her passions in life to their fullest. As Lin Manuel Miranda wrote in the the wonderful Broadway musical, Hamilton: “…immigrants: we get the job done.” Bernardo was the PERFECT example, in some ways, of being able to come to this country with the clothes on your back and create a life for yourself through sheer hard work.

OK – so I just went back and read those last two paragraphs….that doesn’t sound like much fun. That, instead, sounds like a stressful, tough life. Well yes, it was. It was a very tough life. But he never complained. He never whined about his “lot in life”. He never cried “poor me, poor me”. Nope. He just worked harder. Day and night. And that level and volume of hard work taught him a very important lesson: when you have a day or two off, fill it with fun.

He was the kind of guy that knew how to appreciate the blessings he was given – the two biggest ones being his grandchildren. God, did he love his grandkids. I watched over the years as he embraced the concept of becoming a grandfather with both arms – which is not the easiest of things because it brings our own mortality closer into the light. He loved being an Abuelo. He treasured it – and I can tell you for sure that he made it VERY clear just how much he loved my daughter.

He leaves his family with tons of stories. Tons of fun memories that each of them can call upon whenever they need a little smile here or there. Years from now, my daughter will look back on her grandfather’s life and the experiences she had with him with and they will warm her heart. I know….thoughts of my grandparents have warmed mine for a very, very long time.

He was the guy that taught me how to curse in Spanish, and would get “mad” at me when I didn’t do it with enough gusto. He was the guy that was there for my daughter when she was very young, helping care for her so that I could balance work and being a parent. Sometimes, we didn’t see eye to eye – and that was OK, because he had a simple mindset that I admired: respect everyone, grovel to no one.

He was the guy that loved to dance with exaggerated movements at family barbecues , just to make others around him laugh. He was the life of any party he was invited to. He could tell a good story. He knew how to suck the marrow out of life.

I wasn’t expecting his passing to hit me the way it has – but it did. Big time. Trying to help my daughter through this morning has not been easy, because she loved him so very much that the suddenness of his departure from this Earth was a shock. Tears at this moment are a sign of respect for the fallen – and they flow freely here.

From each and every life, a lesson can be extracted. Here’s what I’ve learned from the life of Bernardo Hidalgo:

  1. Treasure your family. Look out for them when they are younger, and they’ll look out for you when you get older.
  2. Life is celebration – so treat it as such. Dance with your whole body. Don’t be afraid to laugh – and when you laugh, laugh so loud others turn to you and want to know why.
  3. Work fills up many, many hours of the week – so treat the hours you have for yourself as the valued treasure they really are.
  4. Mistakes are made. Everyone makes them. Own up to them. Forgive others, and ask for forgiveness when you really blow it. And forgive yourself as well – that’s a key.
  5. If you work hard enough, anything is possible.
  6. And last but not least:every day is gift. You may be having a crappy day at work. Maybe you’ve lost some money, a project didn’t go the way you had hoped, or someone else got the big promotion. These things don’t matter – not in the grand scheme of the cosmos. All of these negative things can happen to you, yet the day itself is a gift…so treat it as such. For in the end, we are not measured on our wins and losses…we are measured by the way we handle both.

Each day – as Whitman wrote – “the powerful play goes on, and you might contribute a verse…” Well Bernardo Hidalgo added a verse or two….and they are really catchy, too. Verses that were made to be sung loudly, for others to hear. Verses that may have a Spanish curse word or two thrown in there. Verses that, when sung, should be danced to in such an outrageous way that everyone around you joins in and collectively laughs at themselves. Verses that will be remembered for a long time. Verses that are….FUN.

Adios, Abuelo. Vaya con Dios, y no te preocupes.