T Minus 40: Two Hats

I’m starting to panic

I am not ready.

Who will I let down?

I  can’t beat myself up any more.

I didn’t foresee the difficulties

of the act

of balancing this with that

of wearing these two hats.

 

I fear the failure

of having to, wanting to quit.

There are only so many hours.

I am only me.

There is only one place I can be.

There must be a moment when

I’ll lighten up, I’ll be at ease

The answers will come.

After all, the questions are all mine.

 

T Minus 40: Jingle Bells

I believed in Santa Claus for an embarrassingly long time. Even after I knew Santa was a construct of the holiday, I still believed that some miraculous being or entity provided for deserving people at Christmas. They needed only to truly believe in the magic Santa represented and they would receive it. I believed in the universe. I believed in the miracle.

On Christmas eve of my fourth year my family had gathered at my grandparent’s house in Covington, Indiana for the holiday. The adults were talking, merry-making, and likely enjoying a bit of holiday wassail in the form of whiskey Manhattans served on the rocks. I was the only child in the family then and bedtime wasn’t strictly enforced on a regular day, let alone at Christmas.

As the hour got later and the conversation turned to tales of Christmases past I showed no signs of nearing slumber. The adults would have to do some convincing if they were ever going to get me to sleep. My teenaged Uncle Jon explained to me in no uncertain terms that Santa would not come into the house if there was a child awake.

I remained unconcerned. We had all night, Santa would figure it out. Plus, Uncle Jon liked to tease me, he was probably making things up. My grandmother told me that the sooner I went to sleep the sooner I would wake up to Christmas morning and all of it’s magical gifts and wonders. I knew what she was getting at, but her logic didn’t track. Morning would happen at the same time whether I was sleeping or not. I didn’t want to miss any of the fun, besides they would probably get out the guitars soon.

I know now that they needed me to go to sleep so they could create the magical gifts and wonders of Christmas. They did an amazing job at this. Every year, Christmas morning looked like a toy factory exploded in the living room. The adults would assemble and set up all the toys and games so that it truly appeared to me as if they had been dropped there unexpectedly in the night by magic forces we couldn’t possibly comprehend.

After several attempts to cajole me to sleep it appeared as if they had given up. My uncle excused himself for the night, but I refused to retire.

Shortly after Uncle Jon said goodnight we heard a noise outside that no one could quite make out. The adults paused their revelry, Shhh. What’s that noise? We focused in on the auditory disturbance.

We stayed very still and listened intently to the night sounds outside the house on that cold Indiana Christmas eve. Then we heard it. The sound was unmistakable, sleigh bells. They were getting closer. Their rhythm was consistent with the aerial running motions of flying reindeer. I knew from every TV special I’d ever seen that this could mean only one thing, Santa was in the vicinity.

I felt the bottom of my stomach drop out from the sheer terror of knowing that I may have destroyed any chance at a Merry Christmas in 1980. There might not be presents if I didn’t fix this! I was in a full blown state of pre-schooler panic. What if Uncle Jon was right?

I bolted up the stairs to the bedroom as fast as my footie pajamas would allow. I dove into my bed, pulled the covers up over my head and closed my eyes as tightly as possible. I hoped I wasn’t too late. I was afraid Santa would know I was awake under that blanket and not deliver. I was so mad at myself, I started to cry. How could I be so stupid?, I thought. I’d been warned.

My grandmother came up the stairs to tuck me in and found me utterly inconsolable. She gently stroked my back and told me not to worry. Santa wasn’t mad at me. Everything would be fine. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t more upset. I had just broken Santa Claus’s one rule. He might never come back ever again! She called for my mother.

My mom also told me not to worry. Both women were being very cavalier about what may have been the complete dissolution of my relationship with Santa Claus. My mind ran amok. Without Santa what could Christmas possibly be about? What would be the point of all of the rest of it? The tree is there so he can put toys under it. You make cookies so that he can eat them. Who would I send my list to?

Mom said, Grandad will work things out with Santa, don’t you worry. Of course, Grandad would take care of it. He was good with these kinds of things. He was very important. He wore a suit to work and everything. He would just explain that I’d lost track of time, I meant no disrespect. If there was anyone in the world I trusted with such crucial matters, it was Grandad. My fears were assuaged, I began to relax.

My holiday panic attack had been just enough to exhaust me into dormancy and soon I was soundly tucked in. Christmas was back on track for the adults.

The next morning went off without a hitch. I was so giddy with commercial Christmas delight, the previous evening’s terror seemed like a distant memory. We were even able to laugh about what a close call it had been. I vowed never to push the limits of bedtime on Christmas eve again.

Years later in retelling the story, my grandmother revealed that Uncle Jon had been the one shaking the bells outside that night. I had kind of figured that out by then, but I don’t think anyone expected my reaction to be so dramatic. Most kids would have just gone to sleep, but I’ve always been a little type-A.

T Minus 40: Fight! Fight! Fight!

I’ve been in three physical altercations in my life. One of my three skirmishes was a win, one was a loss and one was a draw. Only one is a story worth telling. I’m not counting the time my grandparents’ neighbor’s kid punched me in the nose, after which I was rewarded with a swing set.

In 1989 there was no such thing as a cyber bully. The bullies back then had to bully you right to your face. I was in 7th grade and had been playing the violin for a third of my life. I took it seriously. When I moved to Floral Park from Bayport the year prior, I made friends through playing in the orchestra at school. We stuck together when we graduated to Jr. High and migrated to a new building (which housed grades 7-12) for school. We were excited by the new musical opportunities that middle school offered. Some of us were even chosen to play in the chamber ensemble which rehearsed after school as well as occasionally during our free class periods.

Once during a midday rehearsal, a big (and I mean big), mean 8th grade girl from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks happened upon us in the band room. Her name was Kim. We had seen her before, she knew one of the girls in the ensemble through their moms or something. She decided what we were doing was deserving of much ridicule. I thought, yes, we know, practicing classical music during study hall when you could be outside learning to smoke cigarettes or making out with boys isn’t cool.

I told her she was interrupting and she wasn’t talented like us, so she should leave. She stayed and taunted us, not at all impressed by my self-righteousness. She made fun of our instruments, called us names and wouldn’t go away and let us concentrate on the Brandenburg Concerto we had been practicing. I decided I would be our champion and ordered her out once more, this time acknowledging her zoftig build with a well spit lard ass to punctuate my request. I may also have suggested that she return to her remedial classroom and leave the smart kids alone.

She responded by telling me she was going to kick my ass using a rotational neck movement that caused her head to make very wide circles around the area above her shoulders. It was a classic display of attitude.

I responded with mocking and a similar movement, Why do you move your head when you talk? (apply Long Island accent).

That’s it, after school, 3:00 – I’m gonna kick your ass!

Whatever. I figured she was full of it. Girls don’t kick each other’s asses. They might say it, but they don’t do it. She stormed off, determined.

My initial confrontation with Kim happened during 4th period and by the end of 7th period word had spread that there was to be a fight. It was orchestra nerd vs. poor outcast white-trash girl. It was going to be epic. Really, we were both nobodies, so I didn’t think there would be a crowd gathering.

By 9th period I was nervous, I wasn’t admitting it, but I was. I’d been hearing about the 7th grader who was going to get her ass kicked all day and though I was a heavy weight smart ass, I had never been in a real fight. I didn’t even know what I supposed to do.

I made a plan. I would run out of my last class, grab my books and hightail it out through the back hallway to the bus.

When the last bell sounded I shot out of social studies like a prized thoroughbred. I ran to  my locker. I opened the combination lock in record time and grabbed every book in there, lest I waste precious time figuring out which subjects I actually needed. When I slammed the door to my locker and spun around to sprint to the door, Kim was there. Older, meaner and right in my face.

Let’s go, she said.

I’m not going to fight you, so good luck with that. I was making a last ditch effort to rise above it.

What are you, scared?

No! (YES!)

C’mon!

Then she pushed me, hard. She sent me straight into the metal wall of lockers, shooting a sharp pain from my shoulder down the length of my arm. I looked around to see if there was someone to run to or scream to or tattle to. There wasn’t. As I suspected, our fight had failed to draw a crowd and my string posse was no where to be found.

Just as I regained my balance, she pushed me again. Slam! Right into that damn locker wall. This time I used the momentum from my ricochet to spring myself forward and further down the hall. I started to run. I was an orchestra nerd with asthma, but I was faster than her.

I made it to the back doors where two older boys stood, they must’ve been at least juniors. One of them opened the door for me and as I ran through it I pleaded with them not to let her pass. Just give me enough time to make it to the bus. It was right there, on the bus I’d be safe, but as I turned around to check my back, I saw the boys pull the double doors open. They let her through.

Crap, I’m not going to make it, I thought. I slowed down too much trying to form an alliance with those guys and they just want to see a fight. 

Then she was on me. I was too slow. Before I could think, I felt her fist slam into my right temple. It fucking hurt. I’d watched people get punched in movies thousands of times and it didn’t look like it hurt this much. I’d even taken that nose punch when I was 5, but it was nothing compared to this. She was angry and powerful.

As I tried to figure out how to make a fist, she hit me again. Right in the same spot, harder. Tears came out of me so quickly, I thought they were blood. I thought my face must look like the third act of Rocky. She shoved me one more time for good measure. I fell to the ground, right onto my knees, tearing a hole in my jeans. With that she was gone. She had proven her point, there was no reason to stick around.

I walked the rest of the way to the bus stop drenched in tears and shame. Everyone on the bus had seen. Everyone. I was physically hurt and so embarrassed.

No one on the bus said a word. It was mostly Jr. High kids that rode it. My friend Jen let me sob silently in her lap until we got to her stop, she assured me my face was intact. When I got home I called my mom. She called the school.

The next day I had to go to the assistant principal’s office and tell my side of the story. Kim was walking out as I was walking in. She looked even angrier than she had when she was punching me.

That was the last time I saw her. She was expelled the next day. Apparently, she was already on some kind of list. A list of bad kids? She had behavioral issues and had a couple of prior incidents. There were no more chances for her. I was glad she wouldn’t be around, but I couldn’t help feeling a little bad for her.

I survived my loss. I took a couple of punches that ultimately bruised my ego more than my face. I was still a heavy weight smart ass, but I chose my battles more carefully after that. At least I got my first 15 minutes of High School fame out of it.

I wonder how Kim did at her next school, if there was a next school.

 

T Minus 40: Shortcake

IMG_0808 (1)

Strawberry Shortcake bicycle

You’re the most beautiful gift ever received

Your pretty pink basket, berry-covered seat

And lush flowing streamers

Make you the girliest girly bike on the street.

 

I wish I knew how to ride you, Strawberry Shortcake bicycle

Without your training wheels

The other kids are not afraid

It would be nice to know how that feels

I’ve been told the task is easy

Once you get the hang

Another few weeks of trying

And I’ll be part of the gang.

 

I’m sorry Strawberry Shortcake bicycle

For leaving you behind

But I’m thankful for the moments

that we shared when you were mine.

I hope the kid that took you treats you with respect

and doesn’t tear your streamers off

or beat you all to heck.

 

I thought I saw you SSB

Outside in someone’s yard

On the way to school today

I shouted from afar

Hey that’s my Strawberry Shortcake Bicycle!

But nobody could hear

Maybe I’ll get you back one day

When Santa Claus comes here.

 

 

T Minus 40: Oh Baby!

One of the upsides of turning 40 is that people will stop asking me when I’m going to have kids. They will, right?

A few years ago I was sitting at a table in Southwest Florida with my mother and my grandmother enjoying a cocktail. Yves and I had been married for a couple of years and my mom brought up the subject of kids. She said, you know, I’m not one of those women that’s afraid of being a ‘grandma’. I think she was half joking, but as I was preparing to tell her that her grandchildren would all be of the canine variety, my grandmother preempted my speech.

Leave her alone. If she doesn’t want kids, she doesn’t have to have kids. People have kids for the wrong reasons all the time.

I’m 39. I have a solid marriage to an amazing man who is a great father to his son and I do not want any children of my own. I’ve always known that being a mom was not something I wanted in life. I made the decision at a very young age. It doesn’t sit well with people.

In my 20s, all I heard was, you’ll change your mind someday or wait until your 30s, you’ll see things differently, as if my choice was not a valid one. Like having kids was a prerequisite of my femininity. It always pissed me off, but everything pissed me off back then. I was so hot-headed in those days that I probably could have remained childless for spite.

In my 30s, I waited for my “biological clock” to kick in, but I never heard it ticking. Not once. I used to joke that it was digital or that I had forgotten to wind it, but I never changed my mind. I wondered if the baby fever phenomenon was legit. I wondered if my choice made me selfish.

People assume that I hate kids and I may have even played into that stereotype when I was in my 20s, but I do not hate children. I think children are beautiful and magical and funny and should be raised by people who really want them, people who want to devote their lives to the care and education (both in school and out) of another human being. Children aren’t accessories and they shouldn’t be just another item on life’s to-do list. Parenting is hard, it’s a full time job and it’s not for everyone. I am awed and impressed on a daily basis by my friends who are parents. I watch their kids learn and grow both on social media and in person and it is amazing. I’ve watched my stepson grow from a handmade-stick-sword swashbuckling toddler to a handsome, witty, responsible young man and I’ve enjoyed whatever small role I played in his development (I hope I wasn’t a bad influence). I still don’t feel like I’m missing out.

Families come in all forms and attitudes have changed quite a bit in the last two decades. Society is beginning to accept that there are different lifestyles and different life models. Still, when people ask me if I have kids and I say no, they always ask if and when I plan to have kids. When I tell them that’s not a part of my plan I often receive a blank stare in return.

The last time I got asked the kid question I answered with a comment about my age. Figuring that revealing my near-40 status would solidify that I was childless by choice. Instead, I was offered fertility advice and an anecdote about a woman who had her first baby at 45. I’m happy for her, but her tale failed to wind my clock.

People have kids for the wrong reasons all the time. 

It felt like the truest sentence ever uttered and it came from a woman who has always loved babies. At that moment, at that table, with that simple statement, my grandmother (mother of two and grandmother of three) supported my choice. I felt validated for the first time in my life. I wasn’t being selfish by choosing a childless existence, if anything I was being selfless. Deciding to have a baby just so there would be someone to take care of me when I’m old would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

I sipped my drink and promised my mother that if I ever “changed my mind” she would be the first to know, but in the meantime she could pet my dog.

 

T Minus 40: Goodbye

Maturity, step one: Don’t be so hard on yourself, learn to let it go.

I’m getting really tired of thinking about my birthday. I gave myself this assignment, this challenge to explore my thoughts, memories and feelings for these pre-40th forty days and I’m already sick of thinking about what 40 means to me. It means what it means, which is different every day (or hour, lately). So, screw it.

I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to throw a party, not because I want to hide in shame, but because I don’t want the responsibility. I’ve been slowly building a good guilt trip to lay on Yves in the hopes that he will handle all of the preparations. I think it’s working, but can control-freak me really lay back and let my husband handle all of the details for Aim-a-Palooza? (That’s just a working title I’m playing with).

I can’t help thinking of a song I wrote about two lifetimes ago that is sort of about today’s “screw it” attitude. If only I could really find the courage to “kiss it all goodbye” when it comes to self doubt. That’s one of those things I thought I would have conquered by this age. It’s cool, I’ve still got 27 days to go…

Goodbye

I was hoping for a Sunday afternoon

She was looking like she left the bar too soon

All of that’s inconsequential

She was walking like she couldn’t stand her shoes

I was wondering why I’m always so confused

All of that’s inconsequential

All of that’s inconsequential, today.

 

The sun still rises and the clouds still roll on by

Today’s the first day that I haven’t questioned why

The strings that held me up have all just come untied

Since I kissed it all Goodbye

 

I was dreaming of the covers on my bed

She just stood there while the yellow turned to red

All of that’s inconsequential

She was trying hard to whisper every word

So I pretended that I hadn’t overheard

All of that’s inconsequential

All of that’s inconsequential today

 

The sun still rises and the clouds still roll on by

Today’s the first day that I haven’t questioned why

The strings that held me up have all just come untied

Since I kissed it all Goodbye

 

I’m taking a long vacation

From all my deprivation

Engrave my invitation

I regret I won’t attend

 

The sun still rises and the clouds still roll on by

Today’s the first day that I haven’t questioned why

The strings that held me up have all just come untied

Since I kissed it all Goodbye

I kissed it all Goodbye

 

 

T Minus 40: Open Call

No matter how much training or preparation you undergo, you are still you.

When you’re first trying to get work a an actor, you go on a lot of open calls. They suck. They suck out your soul, they remind you that you are not special, and most of all they are really, really boring. In 2004 I saw one such call listed in Backstage (the go-to newspaper for casting notices in NYC). They were seeking extras for a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, The Interpreter. I knew it would be a long boring day and the call was open to all types, so I made Yves go with me.

We had a photo shoot in the apartment the night before. I snapped what I thought was a pretty decent headshot for Yves considering I had relatively no photography skills and was using a digital camera with only one megapixel. It was like the dark ages.

The morning of the casting we headed south to The Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Columbus at 60th St. The call was being held in their huge rec room on the lower level. By the time we arrived the line was already down the block, so we queued up and proceeded to wait. For an hour.

There was a woman on line in front of us who looked to be between 35 and 45 years old. I could tell that she’d been doing this for a while without much success. She just had a tired and slightly pissed off look about her. It seemed as though she was annoyed that she was even there. We all stood still for about 30 minutes before the line moved up and we got close enough to the front to see the doorway. They were obviously taking people in smaller groups to deal with the overwhelming response to the ad.

Yves and I had been laughing and talking the whole time. We weren’t taking the whole thing too seriously. I had just turned around to say something to him when I heard a very definite “plop” sound. When I turned back towards the front of the line I saw immediately that our fragile and already annoyed line buddy had been shat on by a passing pigeon. Her expression tightened immediately. Her mood was palpable as it shifted from mildly irked to completely exasperated. The look in her eyes said Why me? How the fuck did I get here?

I pulled a tissue from my bag and offered it to her along with a bit of folk wisdom someone had passed along to me once. They say that’s good luck , ya know.

She shot me a wordless look that spoke volumes. She was not amused. She attempted to clean the bird feces out of her hair half-heartedly as she choked down her rage and rising tears. Then she slung her bag over her should and stormed off. I felt bad for her, but inched right up into her spot in the line. There was now one less actor to go through to get the gig. The show must go on, lady. I wondered later if I had witnessed the end of her dream of an acting career.

After about another 30 minutes outside we made it into the building. We had our polaroids snapped and then we were separated by type. I got lined up with the bland-white-girl types and Yves got sent to the other side of the room to hang with the potential terrorists. Apparently the camera doesn’t care if you’re a Muslim or a Jew, you just have to look middle-easterny.

I stood around with the white girls for a while before the casting assistants thanked us and let us go and then I went to find Yves and the terror squad. I located him, but we couldn’t leave. The assistant casting director wanted Yves to wait for a minute so he could talk to the casting director himself. Um… what?

I waited with him for about another 15 minutes and finally he was called over to the table where the casting director sat reviewing headshots and polaroids. I watched from across the room as they had in depth discussion about something. When Yves returned, he informed me that he had been asked to return for a call back the next day, and had been instructed on how to dress more like a terrorist. They thought they could use him.

What the fuck? What a fickle business!

I had studied for years, I had a professional headshot with a real resume attached to it (ok, some of it was made up) and I got sent away, all white and sad. Meanwhile, my Jewish boyfriend got a call back to be an Arab terrorist in a major motion picture on his first ever casting call. AND to add insult to injury, the casting director gave him feedback on his headshot. He suggested that his face was not framed properly in the shot and maybe he should try working with a different photographer next time. Way to kick a girl when she’s down, casting douche.

Yves never bothered going to his second audition.

Fuck you, hollywood!

T Minus 40: Nammy

Dum de dum de dum de dum

Her gravelly voice whispered

the soothing, staccato lullaby

dum de dum de dum

the vibration in her chest eased my pain,

my fear, my worry

dum de dum de dum de dum

her scent, a mix of Carlton 100s and

Elizabeth Arden was home to me

dum de dum de dum

as she held me close

I was as safe as I’d ever be

dum de dum de dum de dum

the gentle motion of her antique rocker

would lull me off to sleep

dum de dum de dum

she couldn’t sing a song for me

but dum de dum

was all I’d need

curled up in my grandmother’s love

the world outside would fade away

dum de dum de dum de dum

T Minus 40: Downward Facing Scotch

Sometimes you just know that you’ll be together forever… real friends rule!

I met up with Liz for the sole purpose of going to a our favorite vinyasa class at that place on Amsterdam and 78th. The spot where we inadvertently took a class with Cynthia Nixon once. It must’ve been before she moved to Brooklyn. The late spring weather was cheerfully bright and sunny and I had recently left my job managing my stepdad’s recording studio in Times Square. Digital recording technology was on the rise and in the wake of September 11th people wanted to stay close to home, so by 2003 the studio business had changed forever.  I didn’t see my place in it anymore.

I was trying to fill my days with endeavors that would help me get back to acting, which I had put on hold at some point while wearing the career woman hat. I had taken yoga as movement class during summer session back in my Tisch days at NYU, so I figured it would help me keep loose (and sane) as I navigated through the painful process of auditioning in New York. I was also taking acting classes at HB Studios in the village. I was still singing with a wedding band in Jersey on the weekends, but it had been over a year since my last performance at The Bitter End.

Liz was living in Inwood and working as a bartender at Friday’s in Times Square. I was still living on West End Avenue and 94th street and was about a year away from my first job behind a bar. Our routine was to meet outside the 94th street entrance to the 96th street station at Broadway and walk together from there. So we met on the corner, mats in hand, yoga pants on.

Liz has been my best friend since we met Freshman year. We just clicked. Sarcasm, brown liquor and the New York Yankees were our shared loves. She’s always been there for me. She let me cry in her lap the morning my dad called to tell me he had moved away without saying goodbye and she was the first person to whom I could admit that I was in love with Yves. When we roomed together sophomore year, our room was so small that our beds were less than five feet from each other and we had the majority of our classes together. Our place was always a mess, but it was our mess.

One time when I was particularly broke, Liz came home to find me doing my laundry in the tub and instead of getting mad she laughed at me. With me? No, probably at me.

We’re still not sure which one of us broke my giant light bulb pendant lamp during our indoor volleyball tournament. I loved that lamp.

We shared one computer and took a class together that required that we each write a 30 page paper on the 1960s. We had the whole semester to do it, but we (of course) put it off until the last week of fall term. We spent over 72 straight hours typing in shifts at the computer. We ordered food in. We subsisted on pizza and peanut M&Ms. One pizza in particular was on the floor of our dorm room for like two days. We just went to the box and grabbed a slice when we were hungry. Breakfast, dinner, whatever – it didn’t matter to us. On the third night of our write-a-thon we began an M&M war. Pelting each other from across the room with the colorful chocolate treats until we got bored and ultimately started chucking M&Ms at passersby from the window of our 4th floor cell. We would chuck one and duck and crack up laughing. I think we may have been on the verge of insanity. While she slept I typed and vice versa, until the due date. If you find a friend you can get along with under those conditions and still have a blast hanging out and goofing around with, you hold onto them forever. She is the closest thing I have to a sister.

That gloriously unclouded morning we greeted each other in the usual way, but I instantly knew there would be no yoga.

I am so not feeling this today, I’ve been working my ass off since I quit working, was my greeting.

You want to blow it off? I worked until 5am, I could skip.

Liz is a very go-with-the-flow kind of person. I knew it wouldn’t take much convincing to get her to ditch class. We had learned how to listen to our bodies from practicing yoga and today our bodies were telling us to take a break. I’m not sure if one or both of us were hungover from the night before, but we decided that day-drinking would be the course of study for that sunny Wednesday.

We made our way east to Amsterdam through the matrix of nanny-led baby strollers and dazed and confused restaurant workers that littered the streets of my rapidly gentrifying Upper West Side neighborhood.

On Amsterdam Avenue between 94th and 78th streets there were no less than 300 bars. That may be an exaggeration but, point made. We ambled down the avenue, offering each other running commentary on our fellow Manhattanites for several blocks before we chose. We didn’t want a spot where we might run into any of Liz’s work friends or people we knew from the neighborhood, so we chose the darkest, saddest, most Irish looking old man bar we could find. The Snug.

As we walked in we knew we found the right place to disappear for a couple of hours. Mayor Bloomberg’s historic smoking ban had recently been enacted and the smell inside the average watering hole had gone from bad to worse. A combination of stale beer, vomit and an ashtray full of Marlboro butts was what greeted entrants as they crossed the threshold of a bar in the early days of the ban and The Snug was no exception. The stench made you wonder if this new “clean” air was actually more damaging than the second hand smoke. I was still a Camel Light addict in ’03 and often had to split my time between the inside the bar action and the completely different world that existed in “smokersville” on the street. Entire relationships unfolded out there. We were a brotherhood. We had been forced out, evicted from our bar stools, punished for our admittedly disgusting habit.

There were exactly three patrons inside The Snug at 11:30am and they were actively ignoring each other. They were mainly focused on the OTB feed and their brown liquor. Each of them was old enough to be our grandfather. One of them may actually have been a ghost. As we approached the bar one of the old men half looked up at us, but then went right back to betting and drinking. The bartender greeted us wordlessly. I ordered a Jim Beam on the rocks and Liz went for her favorite old man drink, a Rusty Nail. We chose two stools near the middle of the bar and settled in.

I don’t remember feeling guilty. I was 26 and things were in transition. It felt so good just to play hooky from life for a day. We sat in that old man bar for a few rounds talking about our latest exploits, wins and losses alike. We managed to bring some lightness into the joint, although we didn’t intend to.

We may not have made any progress down the path of the righteous, but the road to enlightenment is clearly not a straight, flat, superhighway. It’s a back road that meanders through the countryside. It’s good to have a friend that doesn’t mind taking the long way.

T Minus 40: One Month Out

Honesty remains the most important virtue to me and the most elusive, for honesty is more than just telling the truth. It’s a state of being. It’s a way of life. For a writer, I believe it is of paramount importance. It is what makes the job hard.

Today I woke up pissed off. I don’t even know why. I blamed Yves, of course. Then I thought, I’m out of ideas, I’m tired of trying to figure things out, of trying to assign a deeper meaning to every event in life. I’m sick of the struggle. I don’t want to be 40, no matter how cool they tell me it is. 

As a kid I thought life would steadily build and each phase would have it’s own set of achievements. One after another they would begin to amount to success. Every step would be forward. High school leads to college which leads to career which leads to relationship which leads to marriage which leads to home which leads to happiness. All of the effort I put in would come back to me, immediately. Imagine my disappointment in discovering that that’s not true.

No one ever told me what I was supposed to do when life forced me to take a step backwards. Every time it has happened it felt like the end of the world, but it never was. It seems silly to me now that I ever thought that every decision I made would belong solely to me. Life doesn’t work that way.

Last night I was on the phone with my grandmother, she’s 85. She said, don’t believe that “life begins at 40” crap! I laughed, but when I hung up I was like, what the fuck, Nams? I thought your wisdom was supposed to put me at ease. Lie to me, for God’s sake. 

Today is August 22nd. There is exactly one month left to my 30s and it really feels like an ending. It’s like there’s a door in front of me and it’s closed and it has no window in it and I just can’t bring myself to open it yet and see what’s on the other side. I figured by 40 I’d have shit figured out. I guess that’s just as false a concept as a life that moves only forward, because every time I think I’ve got it down life throws something new at me and I have to start over. I’d love to see the door as an entrance, as a beginning, but I’m having a hard time closing off the past. I’m sure I’ll get there, I have no choice.

Until then I’ll stay the course and do my best to be real about the whole thing. Some days it seems like no big deal, but on days like today I’d rather just hide out. I’m trying to not pre-judge the things I do in a way that will censor me. I’ve held myself back in the past by worrying about what other people think of me, which is not fair to me and not honest to others.