A Hazy Shade of Back When

There was one thing I could say about my time in high school, college, and my days in New York: I was pretty miserable through a lot of it. I was frequently anxious and frequently depressed, and I imagine that being my friend or lover was a major challenge. But here’s the thing about that. I can’t remember why. I mean, I know now that it was my bipolar disorder getting me on downswings, but the individual things that were depressing me or causing me anxiety are a mystery to me. I know that I constantly wanted to be in a relationship with a woman, and I was broke, but was that it?

I guess I’m wearing a thick pair of rose-colored glasses about the past, because I remember when it went well. I recall the parties and the hanging out and the getting to know people and the long walks and the joy of exploring the world. What keeps these glasses from becoming delusional, however, is that I am well aware of how unhappy I was at the time. I don’t want to go live in the past because the peace I feel in the present from being myself and being by myself is probably my greatest achievement.

It’s funny, though, the selective editing in my head. I may not have fully enjoyed my life at the time, but I fully enjoy my history now.

The Ghost of Anniversaries Past

I said I wasn’t going to spend any extra time thinking about this day, but I can’t seem to ignore it. I’m doing so well. I’m happy, and, while I’m not exactly eating healthily, I am mostly healthy. I’ve written five and almost finished with a sixth novel in the intervening year. I have a real, full-time job now that has promised me they’re not going to lay me off in the midst of the pandemic. I’m financially doing extremely well, and I’m making plans to take at least one vacation once the crisis has passed. The last year has been good to me.

It’s been fifteen years since April 30 has simply been the last day of the month. And what I’m feeling now is not nostalgia for the marriage. I do feel that sometimes, and it comes and goes like a song that gets stuck in your head. What I’m feeling is nostalgia for this day meaning something. It was a day when my wife and I would have a nice dinner together (usually steak because she’s a Nebraska girl), and I would compose a Facebook post that summed up where I was in the relationship. Sometimes she’d take the day off, but mostly she didn’t (she took all of the pagan holidays off, and I think she didn’t want to push it). I’d tease her about all the times she told people that our anniversary was April 31 (i.e. the last day of April). It was a low-key holiday, and I’m programmed to recognize it when it comes up.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. My predictions last year that I would by now haven’t proven true. Maybe I’ll just defy what I’m supposed to do and recognize the day as a kind of trophy to the fact that I was married once, for a really long time, and I’m the man I am today because of it. That I can remember that part of my life without bitterness or longing, but as a part of me, as much a part of me as my six years in New York or my four years in college or my two years in Qatar or my ten years with an on-again-off-again drinking problem.

It’s who I was. It’s who I am.

The Cat Came Back

What many of you may not know about Henry the Cat, my roommate’s companion who shredded my arm yesterday, took full control of the couch last week, and rearranges the art on my wall when he thinks it’s time for breakfast, and basically rules this apartment with an iron paw, is that he used to be my cat.

One morning in the spring of 2014, I was living in Doha, Qatar, and, while making coffee, I heard someone crying. I ran to my front door, and there was a little black kitten, scared to death. I took him inside, gave him some food and a safe place to sleep, and he was a mellow kitty, and Kate and I decided we would quarantine him for a little bit and let him join the family. He was mellow because he was malnourished and underslept. Fed and rested, he turned out to be made of springs and destruction. Also, he was a really smart cat, and smart cats are the worst.

He was introduced to the house, and he got along pretty well with Newcastle, and Magik ignored him successfully, but Andrew was not okay with this. He started to lose weight and pee all over the house, and since Andrew had lived with Kate for fourteen years by that point, the new guy, who we had named Henry, had to go.

We took him to the vet to be fostered out, and they put him in a cage, and he screamed in the cage, nonstop, until they had to give him back to us. We tried fostering him at other houses in the neighborhood, but he was too much to handle. One place they locked him in the bathroom, and he just let himself out. We couldn’t take him back, but every other day someone would return him to us. He couldn’t live with us, not if Andrew was going to be okay. We had three options. We could let him back out on the streets of Doha, where life would be nasty, brutish, and short. We could put him to sleep, which hardly seemed fair. Or we could pay over two thousand dollars to ship him to the United States to live with some friends who fostered animals. It wasn’t even a choice.

When he arrived at our friends’ home, he proceeded to be the cataclysm he was for everybody else, but they were made of stronger stuff than the others in Doha. They really couldn’t wait to get rid of him, though. Enter Nicole, the cat whisper, who instantly bonded with him on a visit. She got a new apartment, specifically for him, and brought him home.

There has never been a better animal/human match in history. They are obsessed with each other. When Nicole has to spend the night elsewhere because she’s dogsitting, she FaceTimes with him. And when she was seeing a guy and brought him home overnight, he went into a fit of jealous rage. (Said the guy, “I think he likes me!” Said Henry, “I’m going to stab you in the face.”) We braced for the worst when Newcastle and I moved in, but the two little guys really love each other (they get jealous of Nicole’s affections, though), and Henry tolerates me.

And once again, he’s my problem. I say, “Remember me, Henry? I rescued you from the streets!” He replies, “Give me treats, or I’m going to smash your favorite coffee mug.” So I give him treats.

The Best Days of our Lives

My current novel is a Young Adult novel. That means I have to get into the head of a social outcast in high school, and that’s fun, I guess.

Here’s the problem: thirty years later, the stakes aren’t as high. If I woke up in high school tomorrow with forty-four years behind me, and some pretty girls in the hallway started whispering to each other while keeping their eyes on me, I’d just say whatever and keep walking. I wouldn’t even be able to work up the energy to make a jerk-off motion with my hand.

But back when I only had fourteen years behind me, the ground would tremble, fissures would open in the floor, and skeletal hands would grab me and drag me into eternal suffering. My life would be OVER.

And let’s not underestimate the amount of influence the contamination of going through puberty affects the point of view.

So, yeah, I’ve got a great story to tell, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to properly communicate the URGENCY of the experience.

A Reunion but Sideways

And now, here’s a Hollywood comedy moment that actually happened to me. 

From about 1999 to 2000 Katie was my best friend. I don’t know if I was hers. She had come to New York to be an actor, which didn’t work out, much like my having moved to New York to be a writer. At the time, though, we dreamed big. I liked her because she was funny and weird and larger-than-life, and together we could enjoy the full effect of New York City while not having a penny between us. Life, for me, was simple back then.

We grew apart for various reasons, the least of which was the new romance I got wrapped up in. And because life, for her, was not simple, she left New York to return home. But she was, and still is, one of my favorite people in the world, and when she was going to return to the city for a visit during the Christmas season, I couldn’t have been more excited.

Katie wasn’t a punctual person, but I was, and I arrived at the Union Square Market and waited as the minutes clicked by. There she was, in a shop selling something quaint, and she hadn’t noticed me. I missed her so much, I was going to sneak up and give her the World’s Biggest Hug. And I did.

But it wasn’t Katie.

My victim would have been well within her rights to mace me, but she was quite gracious and good-humored about the whole thing. I turned to escape, only to run into Katie, who thought it was hilarious that I was a sputtering, blushing mess, even if she didn’t know why.

That wasn’t the last time I ever saw Katie, but it is kind of funny that my most vivid memory of her post-move was of someone else entirely.

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter

I’m thinking of a guy I used to know in New York, for most of the time I was there, and he’s one of the few people from my past that I don’t know what he’s doing. I’m Facebook friends with most of my old friends and exes (and friends with the friends of the exes in the cases where they don’t want to have anything to do with me), and while most of the people on Facebook are hardly on Facebook, I know they’re there, and I have at least a tangential connection to them.

But not him. I’m not even friends with his friends so I can’t get in touch with him secondhand. The aol email address I had for him is defunct. He’s completely gone.

He stopped talking to me the day Kate and I decided to get married. When we made the decision, I called my parents, and then I started to call friends. He was second on my list. In the five minutes it took me to hang up the phone after I called the first person, do something quick, like go to the bathroom or get a glass of water, and then call him, the first person had told their friend who told him. When he picked up the phone, he was furious that he found out about through a rumor. I can understand why he got upset, even though I didn’t do anything wrong, and I wouldn’t do anything different, even though calling him second resulted in me losing my friendship with him forever.

He considered us best friends, though, when I think about the six years I spent there, he’s rarely in my thoughts. I remember clearly my girlfriends, I remember clearly the women I wanted to be girlfriends, I remember clearly my drinking buddies and the guy whose apartment I would hang out in every Friday, getting stoned for several months before we went our separate ways. But I barely remember him.

And that’s weird because we hung out nearly every single weekend since the day I met him at a party in August of 2000. I enjoyed his company, even if his verbal filter was faulty and he was a little problematic (he identified perhaps too strongly with Rob from High Fidelity—the book and the movie). He was a songwriter who didn’t write songs, but my persistence in writing inspired him to get out his guitar and invite me to his apartment so he could show off. I recall, as vividly as I remember anything, one day, as we were walking underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side, seeing a pair of really old men sitting together on a park bench like an old couple and thinking that was where he and I were going to be in fifty years. We didn’t last five.

Every other person in my life has become the bones behind a character I’ve written (that’ll encourage my friends to read my writing, to see if they recognize themselves). And then there’s him. All that time and experience together, and all that time and experience apart, and I don’t miss him. What does that say about him? What does that say about me?

But now that I’m thinking of him, I want him to be happy. In fact, the only thing standing in the way of his happiness at the time was him, and I hope he finally defeated himself. I hope he grew up to be as cool as he’s always wanted to be.

Who Asked You Anyway?

Classic Doctor Who Will Always Be Superior to New Who: A Thesis in One Episode 

I was recently discussing the Classic Who serial, “The Stones of Blood,” with my sister Rachel. The villain of that adventure is Stonehenge. I don’t mean a extra-dimensional monster that exists in Stonehenge. I don’t mean the Space Druids who built Stonehenge returning to fulfill its nefarious purpose. (Both of which would make excellent episodes of Doctor Who.) I mean the slabs of rock that make up Stonehenge, eating people. And the stones didn’t shoot lasers or fly or have big teeth. They slid along the ground at a speed of a sloth on Dramamine stuck in molasses. 

Somebody pitched this at the writers’ table, and the showrunner (Douglas Adams, I think) said yes, make this dream a reality! 

The ability of a monster to be convincing on Doctor Who rests on the ability of the actors, especially the one playing the Doctor, to sell its menace. Do you think Jodie Whittaker or Peter Capaldi or even David Tennant could face down a foam boulder on wheels being pushed by two key grips offscreen and be terrified? Tom Baker could. Nowadays they show off an actor in a fortune’s worth of makeup or an artist’s rendering of what the CGI is going to look like, and the Doctor barely has to try. Back in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, they had a hundred bucks and the wizardry of imagination constrained. Nowadays they have a pretty good idea of the formula and what worked. Back in the seventies, even after the show had been on for over ten years, they had no clue what they were doing, they just knew it was working. 

I love the new show. I bought season 12 on iTunes for a lot of money, and I haven’t regretted it (even after that resort episode, yuck). The monsters could fit I to any sci-fi/fantasy show, and the most exciting plots of New Who are like last Sunday’s episode, fully self-referential to its own mythology. Arguably, the most exciting plot of Classic Who was that the Doctor meets an art thief who was actually an alien whose ship visiting ancient Earth was split up into a dozen or more selves linked psychically over the centuries who convinces Leonardo da Vinci to paint seven copies of the Mona Lisa so he can steal one and sell all seven at top price so he can finance his time machine to go back to his space ship and keep it from exploding but that explosion is literally the first spark of Earth life and if it doesn’t happen, humans won’t exist. What’s more fun, the revelation that the Doctor’s past may be a lie, or the Doctor wandering into an adventure that has no idea what genre it is? 

In conclusion, New Who lacks the sheer audacity of Classic Who, and unfortunately, as the audiences are more sophisticated and TV is being considered art, we’ll never see a show like that again. 

And a Happy Jew Year

While I lived in New York, I never had family or girlfriends in town for Christmas, but I always had a wonderful time. I usually started out December 25 by braving the bitter, slushy cold to go to a movie with my friend Joshua, and from there we would go out for a Chinese lunch. In Chinatown. Where they didn’t serve chicken with broccoli as much as things that were reminiscent of that racist dining scene in Temple of Doom. From there it was off to The New York Post, where somebody had to put out the December 26 edition, and the job fell to the Jews like Copy Chief Barry and those of us without presents under the tree. They always served us a buffet of turkey and stuffing as a reward for missing our holiday (we weren’t really missing anything, though) while we rode out probably the least eventful news day of the year.  

I love my family, and I love the time we spent together watching movies in front of a roaring fire, wondering what we were going to do with all this wrapping paper, but for me, my real nostalgia will always be for Christmas in New York. 

Check It Out

For most of my three-year run at The Container Store in Reston, they made me a register jockey, which I came to resent. This was mostly because it was a pretty boring job most of the time, since you were chained to a small area, and there wasn’t much to do when the customers weren’t around. Also, there was this strong, pushy emphasis on signing people up for the Rewards Program that stressed me out even though I was pretty good at it. And mostly, it’s really draining to interact with that many people every single day. When I trained to be an Order Processor, I found a job that I really liked, and it drastically reduced the amount of time I spent up front, cashing people out. And later, when I moved to Washington, DC, they signed me on to pretty much be exclusively an Order Processor, which I was thrilled by.  

But occasionally, about once a month, I have to do a shift at the register. And I’ve found that I kind of like it. At this store, business is pretty steady, so I’ll show up, sign onto the computer at 6:00, and within what feels like a half an hour, they’re making the announcement that the store will be closing in a few minutes. Since I have stopped caring about the Rewards Program, there’s no pressure, and I still do fine signing people up. But mostly, what I’ve found is that it enables me to have conversations with people, and I don’t have to do the work associated with that. Interacting with people is exhausting, but I can make people laugh, I can chat about the weather, and I can repeat the same dumb jokes, over and over again because they’re going to be gone in less than five minutes and I’m going to have someone new replace them immediately.  

Before a Register shift would drain me, but these days, it charges me up a little. Please don’t tell my bosses that, though, because it only works when it’s three hours every four weeks. Doing it more than that will take the shine right off of it. 

The Night the Lights Went Out

I just had a random flashback. This happened during the great Eastern Seaboard Blackout of August 2003, and the lights had just gone out. They dismissed us from work because, really, what was the point in otherwise? I knew that I was not getting back home without electricity, so I did the only thing I could: I stopped in a bar and proceeded to give my best effort to keep their beer from getting warm. After I did all I could, I headed out, and through a series of coincidences and good timing, I ended up on the world’s most expensive ferry to Jersey City, and from there hopped on a bus home.

When I arrived, I found my upstairs neighbor and my roommate (the normal one, not the crazy one) smoking cigars on my front stoop. My upstairs neighbor asked me what I did when the lights went out, and I told him that I stopped for a drink. My roommate handed him five dollars because my upstairs neighbor was so sure that the first thing I would do in this situation would be to find alcohol that he wagered money on it.

That’s who I was back then.