The littlest things that take me there

Image

In case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, the titles of these posts are lyrics from songs I like that may or may not be pertinent to the writing that follows. 

Now then. 

A few months after I graduated from college, the summer before my freshman year of life, I was in a place of great uncertainty. Like most of us, I assume. I had gotten a Bachelor of Arts in the ultra-employable double major of English Lit and French. No, I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I’d sort of grown up around show business and had a brief flirtation with moving to LA to work at an agency that had just opened there, but I let that one go. I was living more or less alone in the house I’d grown up in in the suburbs, a house that was an albatross for my parents until it finally sold some years later. I commuted up and down the West Side Highway (I drove!) to a job as a production assistant on a short lived talk show hosted by Dr. Ruth. The show was called “Never Too Late” and each episode featured guests who had changed the courses of their lives well into their adult years. It wasn’t about sex, yet somehow it managed to often be about sex. My job entailed things like reading “People” magazine and tracking down the world’s oldest waterskier, babysitting Al Roker’s daughter in the green room, ironing Rue McClanahan’s skirt – it was a glamour job. It would be over at the end of that summer and then I had no idea what was next. I felt lost between a college I’d never really fit into and a completely uncharted life whose purpose was a mystery to me. 

A childhood friend hosted an annual end-of-August party, and that year I had a long conversation with the host’s college friend, who was (is) deaf, very smart, and excellent at reading lips. We talked about what we were doing now that school had ended and I expressed my fears and uncertainties – they hadn’t yet manifested in the bout of depression that would take hold a few months later. I remember this conversation well. The friend – Josh – told me his philosophies on life, one of which has stayed with me over the decades. He said, “I define good days differently than most people” – this was in part, he said, because he’d had more to overcome than many people he knew. He said, “If I have a good conversation with a friend, it’s a good day. If I get to be outside in the sun, it’s a good day.”

In the spirit of Josh’s wisdom, this has been a good day thus far. I finished a draft of my dark and weird short story. I set up a few work-related meetings. I got a response to a query I put out about a project I’m sort of working on (vague enough?). Louie and I took a walk and ran into an old friend and her 1 1/2-year-old son. I drank coffee and read the paper. I had a good conversation with my sister. I gave directions to a lost tourist (it’s the little things!). I did an important errand, and … I got a library card.

A library card! Remember those?!

I can’t recall the last time I had one, but they still give them out. The little branch of the NYPL on my street, the Muhlenberg branch, has about as many books as I do, but I found some good ones and checked them out FREE and I get to keep them for three weeks. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’m in a big reading phase right now so it makes sense. This is one of those things that the interns in my office probably have little to no concept of, like postage stamps, landlines, and albums — record and photo. 

This past weekend I climbed a mountain – to me it’s a mountain, to others it’s a gentle slope – and considering my lifelong fear of heights and of scaling cliff-like things, this is quite an accomplishment. I also went apple-picking, which I’d never done before (I know!). At the end of each calendar year, I make a list of things I did for the first time over the preceding twelve months. A few years ago the list including salsa-dancing in the street and snorkeling in the ocean. This year’s will include the aforementioned, as well as: attending a music festival, visiting Budapest, submitting a book proposal, keeping plants alive for more than a month, and making a quiche. Three more months to add to that list. Three more months of potentially good days. 

I’m in love with that song

1370279_10151922645619903_867569584_n

Yesterday on the street I passed someone I knew another lifetime ago, someone I hadn’t seen since I moved from 9th Street. She is part of the fabric of this town, a lifelong New Yorker now in her 80s with stories and secrets whose surfaces I only skimmed during the five years I knew her. She was an integral part of Louie’s first few years, and she helped me immensely during a very difficult time when I couldn’t always find the energy to take care of my dog. For this I will always be grateful. I didn’t stop her – she was doing her thing, we had somewhere to be, and I’m not sure how much catching up we really need to do. But it was strange and comforting to see her still thriving in her very unique manner of thriving.

Last week, or maybe the one before, while Louie and I sat on the bench outside Joe’s and drank our (my) coffee, a gentleman sat down and struck up what seemed an innocuous conversation. The dog, the weather, the neighborhood. In the thirty minutes I knew him he told me a lot — strangers do this with me. Stranger is not the right word. He’s in Chelsea only temporarily while he waits for his apartment on the east side to be renovated; it was destroyed in an electrical fire almost a year ago. He divides his time between his friend’s place in Chelsea and his home in Hartford, Connecticut. He inherited this home from his now-deceased partner of several decades; they met in a gay bar in the West Village in the late 70s. They built a life together, alternating between the city and Hartford, where his partner was an architect and adjunct professor at the university. His partner died of a heart attack a year and a half ago, while my momentary friend was on the train heading up for a visit. He told me how hard it is knowing that he’d taken his time, that he might have been able to save him, that he didn’t get to say goodbye but was the one who had to identify the body and call his love’s children and ex-wife. He told me his love was a packrat, a borderline hoarder, and now he doesn’t know what to do with all the stuff. Everything has meaning; he remembers where they bought it and why, how they acquired it and when. He apologized for burdening me. I asked if he minded my follow-up questions and he said he appreciated them. I assured him that he was absolutely not burdening me, explained that I’m the “feeler” in my immediate family — not that the others are cold or unfeeling, but they aren’t comfortable with talking about the dark side of life, death being the darkest side of all. I have had to become comfortable with it because I’ve had to become all too aware of it – nothing I would wish for, certainly, but ignoring it doesn’t really allay my fears or expedite the grieving process. Some people, like this man (James), want to be asked about their departed loved ones, want to talk about what happened and how they feel and what they’re going to do next. If one believes these things, and I do, there’s a reason we got coffee at the same time and the bench was free when it was and the weather was such that we had something to talk about beyond what a good looking guy my dog is. I served a purpose for those however-many minutes, and I am grateful that I did. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger whom you’ll likely never see again about the things that matter. I guess. I need to talk to the people in my life in order to feel like what I have to say matters.

Beautiful weekend this past one was, combining some of my favorite things – travel and music and good food and new friends and comfort and weather and light. And love, in all its many, many manifestations.

May the bad times be fleeting, et laissez les bons temps rouler.