Breakdown: Diamonds, Death, and Second Chances

Breakdown: Diamonds, Death, and Second Chances

by Gregory John DiStefano


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Advance praise for Breakdown

"Breakdown takes the reader on a journey of growth and transformation through an often overlooked path--demonstrating how the shadow side of life can be a vehicle to enlightenment. Extremely honest and personal, it shines a poignant eye on the struggles of a high-powered job in New York's glitz and glamour scene and the darkness of addiction. Through it all, this illuminating adventure offers a fresh and hopeful point of view to the meaning of life in these troubled times."

--Steve Kammon, Editor, Circuit Noize magazine

Greg DiStefano has spent a decade on the fringes of the limelight, brushing up against the famous and the infamous in the shadowy underbelly of New York's nightclub scene. It all looks promising--until Greg's bizarre encounter with the prophetic Spiros forces him to reexamine his perception of reality. Propelled by a string of serendipitous events, Greg and Spiros wind their way across the Middle East and India, interacting with a series of seers, sages, and spiritual masters.

Troubled by America's soulless culture, internal conflicts, and the meaninglessness of his star-studded dream job, Greg breaks down. Stripped of everything that defines his identity, only a terrifying leap into the unknown can save him.

While chronicling dizzying celebrity heights and floor-crawling lows, Breakdown blends elements of religion, philosophy, metaphysics, and sexuality into popular language. A testimonial to the indomitable human spirit, this coming-of-age tale provides hope, deeper meaning, and an opportunity for transformation.

Breakdown... find yourself

Five Percent of the author's royalties will be donated to Hale House--America's best-known independent facility for addicted babies in Harlem.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780595342921
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/28/2005
Pages: 252
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.57(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 5
The Snake Pit

Our experience is composed
rather of illusions lost than wisdom acquired.
- Joseph Roux

Ring . . . ring . . . ring . . . ring . . . .
"You've killed me."
 "You have no idea what you've done to me. I can't sleep." Dad launched in. "My stomach's in knots. This is awful . . . it's just awful."
5:00 AM and Dad was at it again. A routine phone call woke me every morning, for two weeks, during my final semester at college. "Dad, I'm sorry, but it's my life, and I don't want to be a lawyer," I pleaded, struggling to awaken. "I want to be an architect."
 "An architect? You have no idea what you're talking about." Dad had plans for each of his sons to become lawyers like him, as if we were little more than cookie dough he could cut, mold, and bake to his desired consistency. "You'll starve as an architect. You kids never want to listen to me. I've been there. It's a dog-eat-dog world. A law degree is indispensable; it teaches the power of reason."
Dad defined himself by the Great American Myth: success is equivalent to increasing amounts of money, influence, and social standing. It was an unchallenged assumption that happiness and fulfillment were natural by-products of material abundance. Rather than a joyous journey of discovery, life was seen as a Darwinian struggle that one must control and conquer. Our family's philosophy of life was less about pursuing dreams of the heart, and more about deploying the best calculated odds for not only surviving, but accumulating wealth in a cold, ruthless world.
  "I've given you everything you ever wanted," Dad reminded me. "Since you're not thinking clearly, I've gone ahead and filed your application for the LSAT exam, so make sure you're studying. You want to get into an Ivy League law school. Someday you'll thank me for this."
It was similar with many of my life decisions, like what sport I would play, or what colleges I would apply to. My inner voice was invalidated, which perpetuated a spiral of self-doubt. With a storm cloud named future hovering over my senior year, I swallowed my emotions, and it felt like razors nicked at my gut. I was afraid to disappoint my father, afraid of his judgment, afraid of his rejection. Still hiding the sins of my sexuality, I believed that if I was not loveable, then I at least needed his acceptance, which was now in jeopardy.  
Unable to trust my own judgment, I compromised by agreeing to attend Business School, which I viewed as a liberal arts degree on the masters level. I might have pressed harder had I not already squashed the fate Dad had silently orchestrated before my birth. Besides, if I were lucky enough to get into NYU or Columbia, then I would have a legitimate reason for moving to Gotham City, where I could be anonymous and free. It was not exactly my dream, but I knew it was a huge opportunity, more than most people got.
Surely, if I worked hard, wired my jaw into a smile, and adopted Dad's other life motto: Keep your nose to the grindstone, I would achieve the American Dream and live happily ever after, just like my family. 

*   *   *

I officially moved to New York to attend the MBA program at Columbia University. My ulterior motive was because I was gay, and closeted, and frustrated, and wanted to meet others like me. Maybe I could discover who I really was. 
It was 1988, the roaring eighties, when the upper middle class became the lower upper class, and Nancy Reagan had long since dusted away any wholesome crumbs Rosalyn Carter left behind. Who cared if ketchup were to be considered a vegetable? Americans voted in champagne, caviar, and gold cards.
My parents drove me to school in late August. When we cut through Times Square, I was exhilarated by the never-ending swarm of humanity, the skyscrapers, and the billboards and theatre marquees emblazoned with Broadway show tiles. The lure of money, sex, and imminent danger hung in the air. Seedy-looking characters with angry eyes slouched against exhaust-stained walls. Neon-buzzing lights promised cheap peeps and other thrills while dense, dungy smoke spewed from cracks in the buckled, filthy streets. Armor-eyed, briefcase-clutching gladiators muscled past homeless people; their lives bundled in rickety grocery carts. And shady-looking storefronts hinted at businesses and economies that Columbia would never teach me.
Not only was I one of only two entering students fresh out of college, but I had gone to the radically liberal Brown University, where politically correct students on hunger strikes, like Amy Carter, chained themselves to buildings to defend their values. And so I was decidedly more idealistic than my business school peers, who knew exactly what they wanted. Their creed was single-minded: make money at any cost, period. 
Like circling sharks they fed each other's egos at the men's room urinals: "The starting salary of a Columbia grad is over a hundred grand!" From my na�ve, ivy tower perspective, this collective, tunnel-vision ambition appeared primitive in its ruthlessness. I pictured slick cave men fighting it out for the biggest stick. "People who make partner rake in at least five mil a year!" Ethics and values were given lip service, but no serious classroom consideration. Heart, soul, or conscience was for the weak. To me, it was a snake pit. 
I soon discovered that not necessarily the best or brightest, did, in fact, go on to Wall Street glory. Instead, it was a certain mentality more than aptitude that defined the club. It was an extension of the jock/fraternity/sorority syndrome. Those who conformed and played by the rules, whether they agreed with them or not, reached the top. It was 'the old boy network,' 'the club,' and those that subscribed to it sacrificed their individuality for membership and material rewards. Their celebrated battle cry: He who dies with the most toys wins.
Although the average student age was over thirty, the school's social highlights included cafeteria keg parties and monthly 'bar crawls,' where participants hopped from one bar to the next. The sophomoric game continued until the last one passed out. This was not the New York I had envisioned. A closeted gay liberal in a sea of conservatives, my orientation was diametrically opposed. 'The club' represented everything that repressed and invalidated me, and so it became a force against which I needed to free myself. An outsider, an outcast, a reject-like I was eleven again.
I only knew what I didn't want. Desperate to find my special life path and to avoid the meaningless destiny of Wall Street, I majored in marketing instead of finance. My hope was to unleash my creativity, which was straining inside me. Conventional opportunities, with huge, faceless behemoths such as Procter & Gamble or General Mills, awaited me. But that was a fate too depressing to face. Convinced that securing material comfort just could not be the goal of existence, I struggled to define success. I liked money, adored it, but making it was not my primary motivation. I had somehow managed to believe that it would come as a natural by-product of following my heart's desire, which I was not yet able to articulate. Yet, here, I found myself with predators whose only desire was money itself, no matter how bloody the fight to secure it.
Be it altruism or vanity, but I wanted my life to mean something. Maybe the gay thing, the thing I did not talk about, did not acknowledge, the minor little annoyance, gnawed at me. I knew I would not spawn a traditional family, would not continue the family name, and would make my mother avoid questions about me at social functions. Without a wife and offspring, I would not matter. I would be nothing, irrelevant, invisible, just taking up space. "It's too bad," I could hear whispered by my brother Mike's friends. "What a waste."
So if I couldn't have the traditional life to define me, I had to discover the replacement that would tell me I mattered; that I existed. 

*   *   *

Desperate to break out of the Lilliputian-sized, cinder-block apartment I shared with three, computer-assigned roommates from India, I started fleeing the cage at night. As the rest of 'the club' jockeyed for top-of-the-class status, I migrated from the depressing cold nights of Harlem. Lured toward downtown's hot, bright lights by the promise of forbidden pleasures, I prowled neighborhoods I was warned to avoid.

"I want to suck, and I want to fuck," screamed an elephantine prostitute as I headed back to my dorm after a night of bar-hopping. She was propped up by a crutch and wore, despite the artic temperatures, just a bikini and one spiked high heel, her other leg in a cast. 

I was discovering an underground world that awoke after midnight and vibrated with scandalous, carefree people, impassioned by the need for self-expression. Men that were women, men that looked like women, and women that looked like men. I had never seen such a spectacle. Even more emancipating, there was not a topsider, blue blazer, or duck print fabric in sight. More film noir than Eden, it was paradise to me and I was hooked. 
"I got an interview with Goldman Sachs. Did you?"
"Solomon Brothers asked me back for a third time. I'm in."
As graduation neared, the atmosphere strained with the greed-crazed desperation of a gambling casino. My classmates, addicted to excitement of the monetary kind, sat, sweating blood in blue-buttoned uniformity outside of the interrogation chambers, disguised as interview rooms. Their wobbling smiles and trembling hands betrayed the Faustian bargains they negotiated.
Paralyzed with indecision, I heard Dad's voice echo in my mind's ear, "You're rudderless. When I was five years old I decided I was going to be a lawyer and stuck to it." But all I could do was watch, refusing to sell my soul to a huge corporation in exchange for the opportunity to market breakfast cereals or laxatives. Surely, there must be other roads, a more artistic detour, but where was the exit?
The pursuit of anything less than a traditional, high-paying career was neither acceptable nor understood by my parents. I grew up believing that if I wanted to be somebody, I needed to play 'the game.' But as an outsider, I was never interested in 'the game.' Beyond a means of survival, the conventional avenues seemed pointless, intended for no greater design than material security. 
Without a job prospect in sight, graduation (and unemployment) loomed less than a month away. Then a temporary solution presented itself. After speaking during a school marketing presentation to a Citibank executive, I was approached by the starry-eyed vice president. "Citibank would love to hire someone with your marketing insight," she said. Desperate, I accepted her proposition, about to become everything I never wanted to be.

*  *  *

Summer humidity sealed my suit to my body like a straight jacket. My tie like an inverted noose, I arrived for my first day of work at the bank's new gleaming, green glass tower. It sat alone, with great indignity, across the East River in a desolate, wind-swept neighborhood of Queens. 
With a sinking sensation, I stepped inside. Despite the walls of glass, the somber marble and chrome lobby resembled a tomb. Conformity was the name of the game. Thousands of anxious, obedient workers in a sea of blue and gray suits scurried to and from like ants, careful not to stand out in any way. It felt like a high-pressure funeral parlor.
I found men in banking boring. After all, they devote their lives to stretching a dollar while out-maneuvering one another for advancement. Most women of rank were anything but feminine. Defending their turf like rabid she-wolves, with fingers on the trigger and tempers short of fuse, they'd shoot at the slightest provocation. Hierarchy was king. Like the church, it was the best politicians who advanced to positions of power. I felt the knife in my back at every turn. Apart from my effervescent boss, I had never encountered a more miserable, resentful assemblage of people in my life.
After no more than a week on the job, I was asked to schedule a meeting which required the attendance of a certain Vice President-a title with little distinction since it was dispensed to thousands of employees in lieu of proper cash compensation. I dialed her extension. 
"Yes?" she said, as if a dragon had just breathed through the line.
"Is this Belinda Hocklander?" I hoped it was not. 
"Who is this?" she said, as if this were suddenly a confrontation.
"My name is Greg DiStefano. I'm in Melanie's group, and she asked that I call you to attend a meeting on the college communication program-"
"This afternoo-"
"This afternoon?" she screamed. "Do you have any idea how busy I am? Do you even know who the hell you're talking to?"
"Eh, yes, I do-"
"Well, if you had any idea who I was, you'd never call me to attend a meeting on the same day."
"I'm sorry, but I was only following Melanie's-"
"Well," she said. "You tell Miss Melanie she'd better get her act together."
"I . . . I will. If you can't join us today, then we're meeting again on this topic next Wednesday in our conference room."
"In your conference room!" She exploded. "How dare you call me up and suggest that I come to your conference room. I bet you're new, aren't you?"
"Well . . . yes, I am-"
"I thought so," she said. "Listen, Mr.�what did you say your name was again?"
"It's Greg DiStefano."
"Well, Mr. DiStefano. Let me make one thing clear. Don't you ever think about calling me up again with that attitude. I can end your career here with just one phone call. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes. I think I do."
"Good then. And I'll be speaking with Melanie about you." Click. She was gone.

I pounced at the first chance to flee. The bank was laying-off thousands, following the late 1980's bust. When I realized I would be eligible for six months of severance pay plus months of state unemployment, I realized I couldn't afford to work. Even more intriguing, I would be free to explore what Gotham City held in store. 
The big boss was appalled. "You can't volunteer to lose your job." She gasped as if splashed by icy water. "Thousands of people are desperate to keep theirs." 
"Well, exactly," I said, knowing she had just provided the rationale I needed to start my new life. "Let them keep their jobs, and let me go." And so it was. After fourteen months in the cooler, I was a free man.

Table of Contents

Part I  Bright Lights, Dark Shadows
Chapter 1 Revelation in the Garden of Gomorra   
Chapter 2 A Glimpse Behind the Veil      
Chapter 3 New Worlds Awaken      
Chapter 4 American Dream Family      
Chapter 5 The Snake Pit             
Chapter 6 A Test of Faith                          

Part II  Along the Yellow Brick Road 
Chapter 7 Search for the Holy Grail           
Chapter 8 The Dark Ages       
Chapter 9 A Daliesque Encounter     
Chapter 10 Face to Face      
Chapter 11 A New Dispensation        
Chapter 12 Science of the Soul          

Part III  Long Night's Journey into Day
Chapter 13 Land of the Living Dead     
Chapter 14 Return to Darwin's Crucible     
Chapter 15 Seduced by the Fruit       
Chapter 16 Dizzying Heights of Denial     
Chapter 17 A Fallen Angel       

Part IV Out from the Chrysalis
Chapter 18 Up From the Ashes        
Chapter 19 A Student Is Ready        
Chapter 20 Mission Clarified        
Epilogue New Beginnings       

Questions for reflection and discussion

Bibliographical Reading List 

What People are Saying About This

Andrew Cohen

A dramatic and inspiring post-modern adventure story.
—(Andrew Cohen, author and founder of What Is Enlightenment? magazine)

Will McCaughey

Will McCaughey, former Editor-in-Chief, Vatican Radio Five Percent of the author's royalties will be donated to Hale House-America's best-known independent facility for addicted babies in Harlem.
A modern day Dante's Inferno.

Carter Phipps

"Breakdown is a spiritual odyssey as contemporary as they come-a fascinating chronicle of the author's journey through sexual decadence, manic ambition, Indian gurus, drug enhanced rave party awakenings, and ultimately self-transcendence and a triumphant recovery."
Senior Editor, What Is Enlightenment magazine

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