The Snow Miser Reloaded

I used to live in Nebraska. It wasn’t for very long—only four years, or less than one-eleventh of my life. At Hastings College in January, we had what we used to call “Interim,” but is now called “J-Term” (the latter which feels like a racially charged insult of some sort, but I’m not in charge of marketing for Midwestern liberal arts colleges, so what do I know?). I have a lot of memories of the time I spent in Hastings, some good, some bad; but Interims, with their university-like focused classes and more spare time than we were used to, really stuck out. I bonded with people I’d never really spent any time with before, I’d had a lot of adventures, I played a metric shit-ton of Doom II in the computer lab, and most of all, I froze.

I lived in Indiana for another four years later in my life, and I spent long January and February weekends in Upstate New York. I loved winters in New York City, as I often had a girlfriend at those points, and there was a lot of cuddling under the covers to keep warm. Also the city seemed so much more electric at that time of year, sometimes because of Christmas, and sometimes it might have been that the cloud of air in front of your face that invigorated everyone. Of all these places I’ve lived, nothing has measured up to winters in Nebraska, where once, as I walked across campus to get to my dorm, a gust of freezing wind caught me and slid me back about a foot on the ice.

Winters in New York were impersonal, dropping in because they had a job to do and leaving as soon as was polite in March or April, only to return again later in the year. Winters in Indiana brought ice storms with them, which were just kind of mean. Mostly what I remembered of the winters in Upstate New York, as well as those in my hometown of Gallup, New Mexico, was the slush, which felt like the season just throwing in the towel. Winters in Nebraska, though, were brash yet cozy, like that relative who was just going to stay over a few days and ends up using up all the hot water and eats all your food. It got into your bones, and even when you were sitting in front of a roaring fireplace in a cable-knit sweater over a set of long johns, you just can’t get warm.

Winters in Virginia and DC, however, have been nothing short of mild. They’re actually pretty wet. Sure it gets cold every once in a while, like when it was in the low 20s (-4° Celsius) last week, but within a few days, it was almost 40° again (4°). And we never, ever get snow. Well, we got snow this year. It was like somebody dumped a big bucket of it on the region. I thought this was great. Winter doesn’t start in DC until mid-January, and on the rare occasion we do get snow, it happens later in the season. Therefore, a major winter storm on January 3 means we won’t get one in February (this is not remotely how meteorology works), and hopefully spring will come early.

I’m thinking about winters in all the places I’ve lived, especially Nebraska, because this morning, when I woke up, it was 16° (-8°) out, certainly not the coldest I’ve ever been, but the coldest I’ve ever been in a long time. I opened the front door to stand in it for a minute and remember what it felt like to absolutely freeze to death. It was not as fun as I remembered. Also on the horizon is a snowstorm that is supposed to be as bad as the one two weeks ago, but with freezing rain to add to it, and I’m like, what am I, in the Midwest? We still haven’t gotten rid of the last snow.

Weather’s not the same as when I was a younger, and that is 100 percent because of manmade climate change. Where weather that approached 0° (-18°) used to be pretty bad in the Midwest, thanks to polar vortices, temperatures far below that are frequently gripping the Heartland and bringing it to its knees, which is a particular hardship given the shoddy American infrastructure—which tends to be worse in states with Republican governors. This is the way it is now.

I don’t know if DC’s recent run of actual winter in the winter is a result of climate change, but I do know that this morning, I stood in the doorframe, my breath visible, wistfully remembering what it was like to bundle up and brave the outside, as well as curling up under a blanket with someone special, sipping hot chocolate and watching through the window what looks like stars, slowly drifting from the sky and resting peacefully on the ground with all of the rest of the stars in the universe.

The Muffled Man

A friend recently made a post about how she feels out-of-sorts with her bipolar meds. She’s not depressed, but that’s really the only way to describe her mood, “not depressed.” She has no motivation to do anything. It got me thinking about my experiences.

I’m on a ludicrous amount of lithium, and the side effect of that is that I’m pretty numb all the time. In fact, I feel exactly like my friend. I tell people I’m happy, but I’m using the word “happy” as a synonym for “content.” My life is good, I type, stretching out my hands and arms because my cat is sleeping between myself and the keyboard, but I’m not happy. I don’t even know what happiness feels like. I had an incredible time last month at my work conference, but it didn’t really affect me long-term. Likewise, I have moments of disappointment (my dating life) or despair (that really bad review I got), but never any actual pain. I’m like a Nerf ball: you can put a dent in me, but I’m back to my old shape in moments.

What’s the alternative? Well, I’m bipolar 2, which means I’m depressed most of the time. Depression, with a capital D, is brutal. It’s not just a mental affliction, but a physical one. When I had a bad depressive episode after Robin Williams died, my joints hurt, and I couldn’t walk without pain. Depression turns you into a selfish asshole who sucks the joy out of everything. Nobody knows what to do with you. And when I’m not depressed, I’m manic. Here’s the reason a lot of bipolars will stop taking their medication. Being manic feels like you do after you’ve had a couple of drinks. You’re lucid, better looking, funnier, more charming, and a royal douchebag. Whenever I had a manic episode, it climaxed in some intense behavior, and I would crash instantly into the lowest depression imaginable. What triggers my manic episodes? Unadulterated joy. No wonder I want to be numb all the time. It’s just safer.

What keeps me from becoming a zombie who sits in front of his iPad watching Netflix all day is that I have found the thing or things that bring me joy, and I hold onto it for dear life. I have Doctor Who, as I proved when I spent hundreds of dollars on merchandise in December. Seventeen-foot scarfs and a complete set of Doctors isn’t enough to give me something to feel. My real anchor, which you must have guessed by now, is writing. Making up stories, making up people, and currently, crafting a screenplay (I call if “crafting” because there is a science to drafting a screenplay; i.e. you can’t just make it up as you go along) are the first things I do in the morning, and I can’t wait to go to bed the night before to see what I will cook up tomorrow.  

I’ve lived my entire life like this, and five years ago I finally found the cocktail that works. The side effect is that I’m kind of toned down. I can tell you now that it is 100 percent worth it.

All fourteen Doctors, or the world’s largest doo-wop group?

Post-Countdown Countdown

I wanted to wait until 2022 to get all this down, just in case the universe has anymore surprises to throw at us (Betty White), but now that it’s January 1, I feel like I can safely look back. The one thing I dread every year between Christmas and New Year’s is the pile-on about how terrible the previous year was. Everyone is falling all over themselves to condemn it the hardest, and a quick look at your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr (which is still a thing—I just checked) reveals the accepted wisdom that 2021 was a terrible year. So was 2020, and 2019, and 2018, and 2017, and so on. I have very, very rarely looked at a social media post stating that the year that passed was a good year in all the time I’ve been on social media, and I had a Friendster account. Honestly, the news was pretty bleak this year, and I have several friends, one in particular, whose December was a terrible nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, much less someone as kind and generous as she is. But the thing, the news is bleak every year. That’s how they sell news. And while I watch the rise of fascism, income inequality, and disease in my own supposedly clean, democratic country with a sense of dread, I had a pretty good year.

I am not a trend-maker, and I cannot convince anybody to do anything, no matter how much I think it’s a good idea, so I don’t expect this to catch on, but I would hope that maybe in the future that people will look upon the passing year with a little nostalgia. This seething hatred and disgust for every year that passes cannot be healthy for us as a society, and neither is this hope for the next year that will be dashed completely a few months in. I’ll go first, and I’ll do it in meme form.

Everyone else:

Me: In 2021, I self-published 10 e-books and one print book, and I got pretty good reviews (and one really bad review) on a couple of them. I jettisoned an unhealthy relationship that was draining me dry. I lost twenty-five pounds in the spring and summer (and gained back six in the fall). I (kind of) learned how to play tennis. I got a promotion and subsequent raise at work. I went on my second business trip ever, and I had a wonderful time and met some really amazing people doing it. There was another Matrix movie, which may have been fan fiction, but was still welcomed with open arms by me. I went to San Francisco and had a much more enjoyable time than the last time I went and got to go on the So I Married an Ax Murderer tour I so desired. I entered several novel-writing/screenwriting/movie-pitching contests and advanced to round two in some of them. I rediscovered classic MacGyver. I befriended my neighbor, who is a treasure. I moved to a better apartment. I went wild and bought all fourteen action figures they made of Doctor Who. I tried dating (which didn’t really take), and I met a lot of interesting people in the process. I went to a movie in the theater for the first time since January 2020.

Again, I know that I have very little influence on what people do, but I still highly recommend doing this for yourself. If I push the flaming dumpster fire that contains things like the January 6 insurgency and both Delta and Omicron—as well as the negative review my TV pilot got or some of the fights I got into with my roommate—off the cliff and never speak of it again, what would I do with all these victories I racked up? Times are hard for America and the world, but they were good for me, and I’ll bet, if you try hard enough, you can come up with some reasons 2021 wasn’t that bad.

If you’ve ever listened to a thing I say, make it this: Live your life. Enjoy the good parts as much as you can. Don’t be hating every moment that passes, or you will die a miserable person.

The One That Got Away

The love of my life, my biggest regret, is engaged to be married. The idea of her ever leaving her perfect life with her long-term boyfriend and his kids and ideal career and so on for me is as much as fantasy as anything in Lord of the Rings. But it was my fantasy, and I’m crushed.

Life wasn’t perfect with her. We’d broken up four times, and I still don’t think she’s forgiven me for the last one ten years ago, but when I think back on my life, she was one of the biggest parts of it, second only to Kate. I first met her during my first month in New York. We broke up. We came together again shortly after, a little more established in the city and sure of ourselves. We broke up. I was pretty sure that was it for us.

We somehow found each other again, as friends, after over a year and change apart. She started hitting on me, and I knew she was doing it, but I didn’t appreciate it, and when she directly asked me out, I told her no. I stayed at her apartment overnight because she lived about as far away from me in Manhattan that she possibly could, and I changed my mind about her. I was a different man then, much more confident, and much more fun. Together, we enjoyed the best New Year’s Eve of my life. We went to concerts.

Someone recently asked me what my best memory was. Without thinking about it, it was a cold winter’s day in New York, early in the morning, getting off the train that we took downtown together. We were about to part ways, and she kissed me. It was a small peck of a kiss, just a quick goodbye, but it was the first time she had done that. It felt natural and cozy. It’s one of my most vivid memories, even now, twenty years later.

We broke up.

Years later (while I was married, but open), we hooked back up and had a romantic week together for Christmas that I will never forget. I heard her sing, and until I did, I had no idea how much I had missed it. We tried to video chat when we could, and we texted constantly. And therein lies the problem.

When Kate wanted to open up our marriage, she meant that she wanted to sleep with a bunch of men, but I shouldn’t be able to sleep with women. When the love of my live and I reconnected, Kate was insanely jealous and hid it from me. She made it impossible to carry on a relationship with her, and her behavior led her to think that I was cheating on Kate, not that I had her blessing. A year later, I met another woman, and Kate pulled the same thing. My relationship with the love of my life has never recovered.

That’s not why she is my biggest regret. What haunts me about this colorful relationship I had with her was that I’d never told that I loved her. Of all the people I’d told I loved them (except for maybe Kate), none deserved it like she did. She’d told me. I never reciprocated. I always thought I’d have more time with her to kind of ease into it, but then we would break up again. There’s no way I can tell her now. She’s engaged to be married. She has two stepkids she loves like her own. She’s got the ideal job and a number of side interests that keep her occupied. How would it look if an old boyfriend made that kind of declaration to her? It would look terrible, that’s how it would look. So how I feel about her will have to remain my secret.

I can still wish and hope that someday she’ll find me again, but I know that she hardly ever thinks of me. She might even still be mad at me for “cheating” on my wife with her. I send her a Facebook message every year on her birthday, and the next year, I’ll note that 365 days have passed since the last message exchange we’d had. Life goes on without me, as it should.

A Heaping Slice of Humble Pie

This is quite possibly my roommate’s favorite story about my youth. In high school, there was a guy who loved to argue. He’d argue about anything, and he was never wrong. In his eyes. He was my friend, despite the massive headaches he gave me, and he stayed my friend for a long time. One thing that never changed was his insistence that he was always right, despite the evidence against his point. It should come as no surprise that he grew up to be a proud Republican who I can no longer talk to.

One day, I’m pretty sure this was senior year, he came to the group of nerds and misfits in the Gifted And Talented Education program, and he told us that we were pronouncing manicotti wrong this whole time. It wasn’t man-ih-COHT-ee, it was man-ih-CUHT. He’d know because he was Italian. This was, in my opinion, the stupidest thing I’d heard in quite some time. None of the nerds and misfits were swayed by his argument, and we all had to endure it whenever the word manicotti came up (which to be honest, was pretty rare) and he corrected us. He was ready to die on this hill.

One day, toward the end of our stretch in high school, he sheepishly came to the group of nerds and misfits in the Gifted And Talented Education program and confessed that he found out that it was indeed pronounced man-ih-COHT-ee. He had his bib and his fork out, prepared to eat a shitload of crow, and our reaction was only, “Yeah, we know.” The journey he went on had no effect on our lives in any way whatsoever. In retrospect, I wasted that moment. I should have treasured it because, in his forty-five years of life, this was the one time in history that this guy, this fucking guy, has ever admitted to being wrong about anything.

Also, Nicole and I pronounce it man-ih-CUHT now because that’s how much we love a good story.

Mixology

In 1996, I cobbled together the most awesome, ambitious mix tape for myself. It was four sides, two ninety-minute cassettes full of my favorite songs at the time.

I can’t describe how much care and attention I went through to document the length of every song so that I could cram every one into each forty-five-minute side while minimizing the amount of dead time at the end of the tape.

I had to consider tone—the last thing I wanted to do was put a kick-ass rock song next to a gentle love ballad, unless the juxtaposition was my conscious goal.

When finally doing the actual recording, I had to sit there and play every song from beginning to end, making sure I didn’t accidentally include some of the next song in the album.

I also had to write out every song and artist on the paper insert in the tape case, and I had to make it perfectly matched the other cassette in my series.

And finally, I decorated each side identically with inappropriate stickers my friend Jeff had liberated from the pharmacy where he had worked.

Those mix tapes, as well as the mix tapes I made for other people, were a work of art, and I have never felt the same level of accomplishment or satisfaction with any CD I’ve burned or any of the dozens of playlists on iTunes I’ve put together as an adult.

I wish I knew what happened to those tapes (or the tapes others have made for me).

Carbon Dating

When it comes to the things I swore I’d never do again, I changed my mind last month when it came to dating. I hadn’t been on a date with a stranger since 2004, so I was curious to see how it looks out there. I’m not really very serious about it, but I am devoting time and money, so maybe I am a little bit serious.

It’s been a mostly mediocre adventure. The app I use (the one I’ve had the most success with) doesn’t allow men to make the first move, so I’ve had to impress them with my profile. There’s an art to making a good internet-dating profile, and I haven’t the slightest idea how it works. I know I need to take better pictures of myself. Other than that, I have no clue, so I’ve just sat back and waited. The women on this app aren’t really my type, and my potential relationships with almost all of them will last only until she sees the two Doctor Who-toy bookshelves in my bedroom. However, the occasional off-center one will come knocking at my door.

From there, it’s the messaging. Since you have to wait for her to write the first message, I almost always start out having to answer a question. One woman asked me what my ex’s Amazon review of me would look like (Kate would generously give me 3 stars). Most women who’ve reached out to me don’t make it past that first answer. Other women I’ll be enjoying will stop messaging me suddenly, and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out where the conversation took a turn. If we really like each other, we can move onto a video chat, of which I’ve done a couple, or a physical date, on which I’ve been on two, as of yesterday.

As both dates and I went our separate ways, I muttered under my breath, both times, “I had a splendid time! I’m never going to see that woman again as long as I live!” Because there is a way of saying good-bye that clearly communicates, “I had fun, I really did, but this is going nowhere,” and I clearly heard it from them. I’ve wondered what about me that didn’t inspire a second date, but it could be anything. Because I spent my thirties in a non-conventional marriage without kids, I’m not where most people my age are, financially, employment-wise, or in maturity.

My recent “Weekly Update” project reminded me again that, if this were twenty years ago, I would have been devastated by these results. But forty-five-year-old Jeremiah is saying, “I got to spend an hour or two with an exciting woman I never met before and answer a lot of questions about myself while learning about the life of a stranger.” I didn’t get into this dating thing to find love; I got into the dating thing to go on dates. I want to meet people. I don’t need a relationship, I just need a conversation with someone.

However, if I do find love and/or a relationship, I’m not going to brush that off, I’m just not looking for it.

In conclusion, on the quest for romance, this has so far been a failure. But on the quest for somebody to talk to, even if it’s just through messaging, this has been a roaring success. Is it worth the subscription fee? I’m not sure, to be honest. So I’ll just stick with it and look forward to meeting the next interesting person.

An Autopsy of my Nostalgia 

I finished my typing project. I was only going to do 2002-2004, but I kept going backward, all the way to April 1999. I typed up a total of 162 entries, and there were only about a dozen between 1999 and 2001.  It turned out to cover almost my entire life in New York, give or take a few months here and there, and what a journey it was.  

Things I learned. 

1) I was really smug at times, and it was kind of hilarious, like watching a fourteen-year-old in his dad’s suit. 

2) My life in New York wasn’t some solid stretch of time. I went through several different phases where I was a different person throughout: a fish-out-of-water, a lonely single guy, a boyfriend, a rock ‘n’ roll bar fiend, and those all break down into subcategories.  
 

3) I had no idea how good I had it, particularly during that party guy stretch at the end. I had a solid, diverse group of friends, a city that was wide open with possibilities, and a comic book to illustrate. And I was so unhappy. It just goes to show that you don’t appreciate it until you don’t have it anymore.  

4) There are some friends who were real rock stars in that period of my life, some of whom are on Facebook, some of whom actually log into Facebook every once in a while, and one who is not on Facebook or really anywhere on the internet (I tracked down his email address a week ago and sent him a note, but he hasn’t responded, so that’s one door that’s thoroughly closed). If you’re one of these rock stars, you will likely be hearing from me soon; please don’t mind me, I’m feeling nostalgia.  

I don’t want to say I peaked twenty-three to seventeen years ago. As I mentioned above, I was pretty unhappy through all of it, looking for romance and not being satisfied when I found it. During my marriage, I traveled the world and properly treated the mental illnesses that plagued me, becoming a much happier person overall. I never want to go back there again. However, New York was a vibrant, exciting time in my life, and, as I approach retirement and the weeks kind of bleed into each other, I don’t think I’ll ever have that much fun again. What’s nice about these updates I’ve found is that I go into such detail that I am finding about dinner parties that I have no memory of, as well as the discovery that I went on TWO dates with that unusual girl I met at another party, not just the one, and just how much of a jerk one of my ex-friends could be.  

This was also a nice break from writing novels, which I’ve been doing nonstop for four years, and a little bit of inspiration for my next one. If I had to grade this little project, I give it an A+.  

Back in the Day

If you’ve been paying attention to me, you’ll recall that I’ve stopped writing for a while to work on my current project, typing up the “weekly” updates I wrote to my friends across the country from 2002 to 2004, and hoo boy is it making me nostalgic. I’m under no illusions, however—I know how utterly miserable I could be at that time in my life, and it really bleeds through onto the updates. Obviously, I was bipolar the whole time and I didn’t know it, so my pattern was a few months of hypo-manic behavior, when I was about what most people would consider normal, if slightly tipsy (i.e. you know how you think, after a drink or two, that you’re particularly charming, funny, good-looking, and the coolest person in the room, even though you’re clearly not?); followed by a deep depression that was on the verge of crippling me. I could see this pattern in the writings I’ve gotten through so far—I’ve been working my way back from the last entry in April, 2004, and I am currently in November, 2002.

I’m finding all kinds of weird, sometimes life-changing adventures I had that I have no memory of, like one I ran into recently about how I went to the apartment of “Prince Nabi II of Persia,” who thought that I was a “beautiful man” but was not hitting on me. I’m also finding adventures that I lived through that I documented fully and in rich detail, such as the one I’ll know as “The Love Pentagram” (ask Barry about that one sometime). I’m also finding moments in my life that I will never forget, like the one where I’m pretty sure I got alcohol poisoning at a Halloween Satanicide concert and passed out on a friend’s couch and coated it in vomit, but I devoted maybe a paragraph to them. This has been quite the ride.

I’m seeing friends whose influence in my life I’d underestimated, and I’m seeing friends who were important to me being unrepresented entirely. There’s one in particular who was a really good friend during that period, and I’m not in touch with him anymore, at all. My attempt to reach out to him has been met with crickets, so I’ll just have to let that go. The other friends I have this unshakable urge to reach out to, and I may get to that, we’ll see. There’s one person I really want to say hi to and tell her how important she still is to me, but I know full well she won’t appreciate that, so I’ll have to let that one go too. This is nostalgia, folks.

What it took a while for me to notice was that, if you’re basing your idea on what you read in these updates, I quit smoking forever in November of 2002 and never looked back, when, in reality, I went right back to smoking by December of that year and kept on until May 2007.

Not to mention the drinking.

Imagine the kind of energy it takes to a commute the better part of an hour, work full day, then have an early dinner and drinks with a visiting friend or relative, then catch a movie (with or without a companion), then go out to drinks with another group of friends, then go to a rock concert in a bar with yet another group of friends, then ride the trains home longer than it took you to get here, and smoke a bunch of marijuana before going to bed. That’s the busy end of my schedule, but that kind of thing happened enough times that I’m exhausted just reading about it. Some weeks, I’d be out five days with people, eating and getting drunk. Add in the six months in 2002 and 2003 that I had a girlfriend, that was another person to spend time with. Seventeen-to-nineteen years was a long time ago. These days, I’m going to a Hall & Oates concert this Saturday, and I’m anticipating spending most of Sunday recovering from being out past my bedtime.

In the end, I have to say that I am extraordinarily grateful that I did these updates. They may have annoyed a lot of people who received them back then, but this was a brief, important part of my life, and I’m getting the chance to relive it. After April 2004, my next journal entry (when I started my Livejournal) was in September 2005, and it wasn’t very consistent after that. I didn’t blog or email about my move to Indiana or my wedding ten months later. I don’t really pick up any sort of regularity again until 2013, when I moved to Qatar, and, even then, I don’t really start doing it frequently until December 2018, and we all know what happened then.

I don’t know if this has inspired me to write more about myself—I’m not a very interesting person anymore—but it’s got me appreciating more what I have written and has encouraged me to relive my live at various eventful points and reminds me that I have lived a very exciting life. It’s dull now, but it doesn’t have to me. Maybe I’ll start looking it through that lens that I was wearing almost twenty years ago. Yeah …

I can go for that. (Getting worked up about tomorrow.)

A Gift of Platinum and China

I struggled for a year about what I should do for the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The most obvious thing to do would be to go to New York and be there for it, but I really can’t. It’s not because of money or finding a place to stay or anything but because it’s not my New York. My New York is trapped in amber from 1998 to 2004 when subway fares were $1.50 and the Freedom Tower hadn’t even been conceived yet. My New York doesn’t exist anymore, just like the Jeremiah of 2001 doesn’t exist anymore either, and that is a mixed blessing. I thought of myself as a New Yorker for years after I moved on, but not anymore. I’ve lived in the greater DC area for thirteen years (minus the two-and-a-half I lived in Qatar), far longer than I lived in New York, or even New Mexico, which I consider my home (I won’t be going back there either). I made the decision I would stay home for the anniversary of the day the world ended.

New York has always been a city in flux, so it’s not only unrecognizable from 2001, but it’s also unrecognizable from 2014, the last time I was there. I think that really showed itself in the weeks following September 11, 2001. The Twin Towers had dominated the skyline for decades, looking like, as Donald Westlake described them, an upside-down pair of trousers. Suddenly, it was gone, and all that was left was wreckage that was still recognizable as the World Trade Center. After we finished running away, screaming, and when the dust settled, we had to return to our lives. There was an updated subway map on September 17. By September 24, I was back to work a block and a half from a smoking crater, having to take a ferry there from Hoboken because the PATH train went directly into the World Trade Center. We got used to the Towers’ absence really quickly, and life went on.

Except life didn’t. I was in a relationship at the time that was irreparably damaged by the events of that day and limped along for another five months out of sheer inertia before falling down and dying. The problem was she was shaken to her core by the attack, and she needed comfort. I was unable to give it because I had shut down my emotions to get me through that day, and they didn’t come back on for a long time. It didn’t help that I was drunk and high constantly for the two weeks following the incident. Not dealing with it was how I chose to deal with it.

As a sidebar, I met someone who would become one of my most fondly remembered friends as a result of that day. At the end of the month, someone threw a party for all the September birthdays that didn’t get celebrated that year, and I met this really cool young woman and wanted to be her friend right away. She was celebrating because 9/11 gave her the kick in the pants she needed to divorce her terrible spouse. As with everything, there were good side effects.

The vaccine-denying, election-overturning, polarized hate-fest that is modern America has a lot of roots in this day. There are a lot of milestones on the road to where we are now—the nomination of Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, the ascension of Newt Gingrich to Speaker of the House in 1995, and so on. However, as a result of being president on one of the worst days in American history, George W. Bush, who was well on his way to becoming a one-term president, became a two-term president, and the Republican Party really got the hang of hateful polarizing tribalism. Rudy Guiliani would have been a footnote in history had he not stood on the rubble and started barking orders. Do you remember flag pins? Do you remember what would happen to you politically if you didn’t wear one?

On the twentieth-anniversary year, we finally left Afghanistan, the country we destroyed in retaliation for the attack. When we first invaded in 2002, the Taliban was in control. In 2021, the Taliban is in control. As much dread as I feel for the people stuck there under this oppressive regime, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder what the fucking point of all of it was.

Osama bin Laden has been quoted saying he wanted to bankrupt the United States, not conquer it. People who were watching American troops loot Saddam’s palace a year and a half later were thinking, “U! S! A! We won! Take that, bin Laden!” But we have gone trillions in debt occupying countries and not actually helping anything. All of the precious freedoms President Bush said “they” hated were being signed away by the PATRIOT Act and other bits of legislation. Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton robbed the off-the-books budget and didn’t even pretend they weren’t doing it. Osama bin Laden wasn’t a stupid man. He accomplished his mission.

September 11 is a formative chapter in my life as a young man. I’m not a young man anymore. In the 2000 election, George W. Bush and Al Gore fought like gladiators over prescription-drug benefits for seniors. The summer of 2001, the most front-page headlines were about Gary Condit, a U.S. Representative who was suspected of killing his aide. America has not been young for a long time, but in 2000, 2001, the stakes seemed a little lower. We can’t go back to those days again. I can’t go back to those days again. I could go to New York, but it will be as foreign to me as San Francisco was when I went this summer. It would be like going back after a while to that coffee shop you frequented until you left the neighborhood, and the barista who knew you by name doesn’t recognize you anymore. In fact, we’re going to let Pearl Jam play us out with a little number from 1993, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”

I seem to recognize your face
Haunting, familiar yet
I can’t seem to place it.
Cannot find a candle of thought to light your name
Lifetimes are catching up with me