The Good Times Are Killing Me

Ben said:

“You’re a narcissist. All you write about is yourself.” We argued about this for about an hour before we saw Mad Max. I don’t know how Mad Max is because I fell asleep. Apparently I tried to rest my feet on the gentleman in front of me.

Like any good narcissist worth his salt.

Last night, in the college dorm that is my apartment building, I slept with one of my neighbors. I don’t even know how it happened. All I know is that I landed at JFK, got a bunch of text messages, went to the bar, and ended up with someone in my bed. Shit happens.

This morning she was crying. She and her boyfriend just broke up. Like, right before she got to the bar. I don’t frankly feel bad about it, even though maybe I should. He sounds like kind of an asshole, if her story is true. So, whatever.

“There’s one direction in life, and it’s forward.” I don’t know if I was talking to her or myself. But what else do you say to a person who’s crying in your bed and covering her head with a pillow? “Happy birthday”?

When I convinced her to stand up we went to get breakfast. A lot of people would call it brunch. In fact, it was much more like lunch, considering I ate a chicken schwarma. But since it was my first meal of the day, it’s kinda breakfast, y’all.

She changed clothes in her apartment downstairs, and I hung out with her cat and admired her tits. We drank coffee and she asked me to marry her over and over again, and I felt bad because of course we all deserve that, or something, but I still told her no, that she was mourning, that a fling with me might be a part of that process, that that was okay, but that she should probably think things through a bit.

I left her at a table at a bar after brunch. We were outside and she had decided to ask someone else there to marry her. I couldn’t blame her, except that she picked a shitty bar to find a husband.

Exercise

I sometimes wonder about defeat. As in, “Did it defeat me?” I don’t mean this in a “I’m gonna go off myself way,” because that’s dumb, so don’t, like, worry, Mom. I mean it more as a statement than a question. Yes, it won. There was no chance it wasn’t going to win.

This has to do with life, of course, but of course life is a pain in the ass. And to the extent that we all die, of course, life — whatever we wanna define that as — wins. Even if we blow this place to kingdom come, life’s probably on Mars or something. There’s water there. I dunno. Space is big. Look it up.

I took a walk in Greenpoint today before my meeting with my psych. I sat at a Superfund site and probably got even more cancer than I’m already smoking my way into. That’s not true. It was pretty looking at Manhattan and I didn’t go swimming or drink the water or anything. I just got a little sunburnt.

Or cancer, or whatever. Sunburns and cancer are pretty much the same.

It’s nice there. The first time I went I was on my bike-that-didn’t-get-stolen with a woman I was seeing on and off at the time. It was early winter and windy. Night time. I don’t even think we kissed, that’s how on and off it was.

Today, after my walk, I ate a chili kielbasa and had a beer and went to talk to my doctor. He’s basically just this chill dude who I hang out with once a month, and he gives me drugs that make me able to function. So that’s cool. Thanks, modern medicine and doctor who answered the phone that day when I was desperate.

He asked me how things were going, and I said, Oh, you know. Oh. Fine, great, everything hunky-dory as per usual. Because I don’t think I’ve ever answered that question honestly in my life. He’s in kind of a rush, and we’re just like, oh so you hooked up with your neighbor, and he’s typing, and I’m like, is that on my permanent record now? That I hooked up with my neighbor? Because that’s weird. And he’s all talking about his trip to Croatia, and I’m like, dude, are you getting a side piece while you’re in Croatia, because that’s kinda what it sounds like you’re saying to me? Because he’s all like, oh it’s this lady I met at a conference — also a psychiatrist, and she’s going to take me around the countryside and shit. And he’s also like, no no, I’m going to Vienna afterwards to see my partner and our daughter. And I’m like, internally here, heh, okay, probably none of my business, pal.

But that dude. One thing I like about him is that he’s crazy, too. We all are, of course. The amount of crazy shit enacted by so-called dignified people on a daily basis should be enough evidence for that claim. He simply isn’t afraid to hide it, and maybe encourages you to embrace your own. Of course, I’ve known him for almost two years. We have a rapport. I’m biased.

But you’re crazy.

They say there are five stages of grief. But that’s not right. There are five stages of life. From Wikipedia

  1. Denial — One of the first reactions is Denial, wherein the survivor imagines a false, preferable reality.

This is called childhood. Possibly parts of early adolescence.

  1. Anger — When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, it becomes frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”; “Why would God let this happen?”.

Adolescence. Yep.

  1. Bargaining — The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Other times, they will use anything valuable against another human agency to extend or prolong the life. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.

Late adolescence through… Many people will stay here their whole lives.

  1. Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the individual becomes saddened by the certainty of death. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.

Here I am.

  1. Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.

When I mentioned this to my doctor — not verbatim, of course, but in broad strokes — he was writing my scrips and I didn’t really care if he listened. But he perked up a bit and said that he didn’t think I was depressed, actually. I asked him why I cry almost every day, and he told me that it was because I enjoyed it. Which I guess I do.

I watch a lot of stand-up comedy, too, guys.

At one point you either accept that you’re just as crazy as the rest, or you doom yourself to a life of smug satisfaction. A good friend of mine and I met this Spring in Portland for the first time in years and years — and this is a guy who used to work at a group home for a developmentally disabled community with me — and I think we both recognized that we were both batshit insane, no more stable, perhaps less so, than the people we used to take care of at work.

The important part about step five, above, is the implicit idea that just by playing you’ve already lost. You cannot lose if you do not play.

I think I stole that from The Wire. If so, gratitude to David Simon. Or whoever he stole it from.

Yeah, I just Googled, that’s totally stolen from The Wire.

Can you deal? I cited my source.

Here is the paradox of losing, which is also the paradox of life: Losing is the only part that makes winning worthwhile.

Here is the paradox of winning, which is also the paradox of life: You don’t.

Firestone, Oregon

I found a comment today, almost certainly written by a friend of mine, on a site I frequent for my career. If I’m being honest, I only realized it was her moments ago, and that’s because we exchanged so many emails over the past several years that I identify her as someone who doesn’t use contractions much. Does not, I mean, use contractions much.

She and I don’t really talk anymore. I called her the other week, got her voicemail, said, “Gosh, gee, it really would be nice to say hello, but I fucked that up so I understand.” She didn’t answer, is my point, and I really didn’t say that. But I did. Or I may has well have. What I really said was closer to, “Hey you, I hope everything’s good. Blah, blah, words. I’ll talk to you soon.”

It’s as close to an admission of guilt as I could get.

And I’m not really guilty, which is the shitty part. My violations of her trust have come because other people violated mine. Please, and for the record: I am responsible. Full stop. I fucked up. That’s life and you live with it. But in the same way she’ll never trust me again — again, I wouldn’t if I were her — I feel slightly less shitty knowing that I didn’t deliberately sabotage anything. I’m simply an idiot.

It’s nice, though, stumbling across something that she wrote. To see that old fire, that fresh voice, the one I agree with so fiercely.

It’s nice, too, to remember that even if it isn’t coming back, it once was.

Time for

Things I thought as I followed Google’s directions instead of Hertz’s:

“I’m not going to take a left here.”

“No, I’m not going over the George Washington Bridge.”

“The Holland Tunnel is right there — why are you telling me to turn around?”

“Please, Hertz, allow me to turn this thing off. I know what I’m doing.”

“NPR should be louder.”

“I should turn up the volume.”

“I know where I’m going now! I put you in the ‘off’ position! Shut the fuck up, please!”

And so on.

The other problem with Hertz’s GPS system is that you can’t hide the GPS unit itself — throw it in the glovebox or what have you. It’s screwed into some holster with fucking wires and shit and weird dodecigonical (if that’s even a word, which it isn’t) screws that you can’t undo for the life of you, and so, when you arrive home well over an hour and a half after Hertz has closed, you have to figure out how to mask the fact that your vehicle, in a sorta sketchy neighborhood, has an object ripe for the stealing plainly visible to anyone who walks by.

Which, let’s face it, this is New York.

After much deliberation — during which time, you “hide” the immovable GPS unit by draping it with your sports coat from the week — you opt to explore the nearby 24-hour deli, figuring, “If I park here, the 24-hour deli acts as a disincentive to stealing the GPS unit.” You also exchange the jacket for a ratty old hoody, figuring, “If they’re gonna steal the GPS, they’ll steal the jacket, too. Plus! The hood on the hoody can more believably mimic the SHAPE of an immovable GPS unit to a prowler.” This whole time you’ve been obsessed with making the cover on the immovable GPS as convincing as possible. A sweatshirt is both 1) more convincing for the sloppiness of the placement, and 2) better suited to the job of covering up odd shapes — ESPECIALLY WITH THE ADDITION OF THE ARM THROWN OVER THE TOP OF THE HOOD COVERING THE GPS UNIT! IT JUST HAPPENED THAT WAY, OKAY?!?

*

Not only is the spot I had eyes for open, I’ve been given room to get as close as possible to my 24-hour deli. My guard dog.

*

I put the hood of the hoody over the immovable GPS unit. Crossed an empty arm over it. The rest is on the dash, as if I just finished a run and nonchalantly threw it off when I parked. And did I mention that it’s directly across from a deli that never closes? Or did I mention the cameras?

Those are there, too.

Point of the story — if I’d just let the thing get jacked, I’d be able to 1) spend most of the workday tomorrow on the phone with bosses and insurance people, etc., 2) I am a responsible and considerate employee, 3) I am paranoid, 4) That whole parking it in front of the 24-hour deli was pretty good, right?

*

I saw a friend of mine yesterday. We hadn’t seen one another in years. He’s doing his PhD at an Ivy, and we had a drink or two, and he told me to go to a waterfall, and so I went. This morning — an hour diversion, but I’d worked from 7 AM to 8 AM, so I didn’t feel bad when I left at 8:30.

I took photos of the waterfall and thought about Heraclitus. Then I spent most of the day driving, thinking about rivers, occasionally hitting my wipers, radio, cigarettes, Snapple, Powerade, coffee. No beef jerky, though. A major oversight.

Nor sunflower seeds.

Next time though.

One Last Cup of Coffee

In nine days, he will be dead.

Today, of course, He is dead. But he is not yet dead. That will come in another nine days. Until then, understand that a cigar might be confused with a hot dog. As in, from the hospital bed in my parents’ living room, “Tommy, can you get me a hot dog?”

“Sure, Dad.” Hands dying father a cigar. Lights it for him. Sticks around to ensure he doesn’t start a house fire.

I think that I’ve inherited his obsession, if you want to call it that, with the concept of the wallet. As we left the house on Pickett Street that last day, him barely coherent, the rest of us knowing that the ambulance ride he was about to take would be his last, he asked me, fervently — if somewhat incoherently, a la hot dogs v. cigars — if I had his wallet. I assured him that I did. I stand now on the subway home from work, the 4/5, the most crowded line in America, occasionally bending my right knee, to press my ass cheek to my thigh, just to make sure that my wallet is still there.

Christ didn’t rise again, but Christ, I wish my father would.

Last days are difficult. Hell, last months are. I remember sleeping in the attic of my parents’ home, my father bellowing for me to come down and empty his dehydrated, orange piss cup. One of the nurses told us to give him ice chips at the end. To quench his thirst with a straw as he slowly lost his mind to all of the cancer inside.

My mother told me that my father said he was scared. Anyone on their deathbed has a right to say that, but he never told me. Stoic and dispassionate until he’d come undone completely. “Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

The irony of the Shakespeare there is that it’s supposed to have come from a charlatan, Jacques. Much like Polonius’s famous advice to Laertes is meant both as a knock on cliche and a ridicule of a fool, Shakespeare had a way of giving his most ridiculous characters some of his best lines. After all, “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any other man,” is pretty fucking good advice.

I knew, when he couldn’t even finish a PBR, that he was done for. I was glad that we got time to smoke some cancer-joints together and chat. But he was no longer true to himself. He was oblivion.

My father was Irish-American, and in this regard he kept most of his advice to himself. My mother recently told me — angrily — that we, as a people, don’t air our dirty linen to the rest of the world, or some such Irish aphorism. So my father is not the kind of person who would ever have a blog. He was the kind of person who would read yours and then one night, at dinner, after a glass of wine or five, tell you that your travel writing was “better than most of the goddamn travel writing I’ve read.”

And maybe that would be the most sacred compliment you’d ever receive from him. Even if you were your father’s son.

We had a few conversations in those last days of coherence, before he started calling cigars “hot dogs,” that I’ll both never forget and never remember. I’ll never forget them because, aside from a few other instances in my adulthood, we’d never been so frank with one another, and I’ll never remember them because they’re mine as I decide to shape the memory of them. They are mine. I might tell you almost everything, but that’s because it’s almost and not everything.

One more thing, though. I didn’t want to become an adult. I didn’t ask for any of this. My father gave it to me. It’s a gift. It’s a gift I would give back in a heartbeat, but it’s a gift.

In three days He will be risen. In nine days, he will be dead.

Pray to God.

On Pittsburgh

I wanted to say, “Thank you for your vigilance” to the TSA woman who went through all of my dirty underwear in my roller bag with some bomb-detecting wand, or whatever, only to discover sunblock and eczema cream. She had me hold the eczema cream in front of her as she tested the vapors with what looked like a popsicle stick — “Don’t squeeze,” she said. Me: “I’m not” — but I think that my initial comment when she was just doing the outer pockets of the Questionable Bag —  “That’s a flash drive.” — is what annoyed her enough to subject me to a more extensive search than otherwise might have been planned. I also wanted to say, “By the way, you guys missed the moisturizer in my carry-on,” but why taunt a federal employee?

*

Bill gave me his card when he dropped me off at my hotel in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t the company card, it was personal. We had enjoyed the normal “Oh my God, I’m exhausted, please talk to me” banter that sometimes accompanies your millionth cab ride from an airport to a hotel. Bill said, “We don’t exactly have a lot of cabs around here.”

I kept the card.

On my last day in Pittsburgh I called Bill and he answered. Gave me a ride to the airport. I saved his number in my phone as “Pittsburgh Bill Cabbie,” because I try to reward good service, and he’s a hell of a cabbie. He gave me a Jehovah’s Witness flyer with my receipt when we got to the airport.

Who knew Jehovah’s Witnesses were such good cabbies? Bill did.

*

I sat at the bar at Hemingway’s and nursed a beer reading my RSS feed on my phone. MLK day. I vaguely listened to the conversation to my left, because it wasn’t interesting enough for me to really invest serious eavesdropping time into.

I ask the three black dudes who are in the bar talking about a march where the march is and when, and they tell me that it’s right over there and that it’s soon. I say, “Cool, I’m gonna go grab my hat,” which I really, really, really am glad I did, “And then I guess I’ll see you there or whatever.”

Of course, the march is pretty big, 1,000 or so people, so I don’t see them again, but it doesn’t really matter. We walk slowly for two and half miles from the big Pitt building in Oakland to the City County Building. Whose streets? Our streets. Even if I don’t live there. Many people speak when we reach the end of the march, and it’s important, and powerful, because they’re people saying shit that needs to be said, shit that has always needed to be said, but rarely ever is.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it on the cover of the next day’s paper. According to the story, we outdid Boston. And by we, I mean Pittsburgh. Because for at least that day, I was on Pittsburgh’s team.

*

Pittsburgh Bill Cabbie, of course, was right — there are no cabs in Pittsburgh — and since I didn’t know how public transportation worked in Pittsburgh, instead of catching a cab after the march on MLK day, like you would in any real American city (ahem, New York), I walked back to my hotel.

*

I went to the United counter and asked what the situation was for getting on an earlier flight. The nice gentleman at the counter informed me that there were two people ahead of me on standby. I asked if status would come into play should I register as the third and another person were to come after me and request standby as well. The nice gentleman at the counter informed me that it would. I went to smoke two cigarettes and nap very uncomfortably for two hours.

A friend of mine recently told me that she didn’t understand why I disliked hotels and airports so much. It’s one of those things you can’t really get until you’ve done it. Another friend asked me why I’d opted for an AirBnB instead of a hotel for a conference in Toronto. I said, “I dunno, come be a traveling salesman for a while.”

To most people a roller bag, an airport, a cab to or fro, a hotel — all of those are luxuries. To me, they’re “every other week.”

*

The librarians at both Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon explained hills to me. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. Just that Pittsburgh is hilly. And the elevators are consequently screwy. And their explanations were actually really helpful. The point of the story is that there are ups, there are downs. I’m going to spell this metaphor out for you. Hills = life. Going up = yay. Going down = oof.

And all you can do, really, is keep breathing. Assuming you can still breathe.

The Poconos

In the 21st century, you sometimes think about what your friends and family might think about the last text you sent. In my case, had I died this morning in the Poconos in the middle of a snowstorm, having left my Brooklyn apartment at 5 AM, the texts would have been as follows, between a woman I’ve been seeing on and off.

Me: You’re late.

Her: Well I just realized I can’t see… because I left my glasses. Keep them safe, hopefully I don’t die on my two block walk home

She called me and I missed it and I called her back and she said, “It’s no bother, I can deal without my glasses,” and I said, “It’s not a big deal, just come back and get them,” which she did. I kissed her goodnight/good morning, showered, shaved, dressed in pretty much the same clothes I’d been wearing the day before, and got into my rental.

The night before I’d texted a co-worker.

Me: I just set my alarm and I’m about to set like 30 on my phone.

Her: See now I’m going out on Friday night, making him drive, then sleeping at his place. Because I’m sensible.

Me: See I just cancelled my hotel reservation because of a “family emerency” and because I’m Hilton Diamond they aren’t charging me

Her: Ha.

Me: Gotta love status. And sensibility.

Neither of which, status nor sensibility, matters much in a snowstorm in the Poconos, when you’re half convinced you’re going to die. I’m 31 years of age. In the past few of them, I’ve noticed a serious deterioration of my night vision. So the idea of spending the first half of my trip in the dark and with limited visibility due to snow and terrible road conditions wasn’t really appealing. On the bright side, I hadn’t checked the weather, so I had no idea what I was in for. If I had, I would’ve told my client I had another “family emergency” and stayed home with the naked woman and the prospect of sleep.

***

I told the librarians that I had just endured a harrowing drive through perilous conditions and that I’d been awake since the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t actually slept the night before, too busy with fucking and so on. But I prefaced my presentation with this because 1) the science lab in the library didn’t have an HDMI cable for me to plug my computer into, rendering my product demos impossible to perform, and 2) I was nervous. Put me in a room with 30 librarians where we’re all seated around a conference table, and I’m golden. Put me in the same room with ten, in front of a podium, winging a presentation due to technical difficulties and I’m a bit nervous.

My voice was shaky and my mouth was dry. I drank water. I found my rhythm, but it was too late. I faced silly questions from people who clearly didn’t understand what my role was at the company —  a deficiency that I can’t entirely blame on them. Though I’d explicitly delineated the various silos in which the business functions at the beginning of my presentation, I had also begun the whole thing with an air of annoyance that I’d been thrown completely off-script. Improv is fine when you expect it, when you’re planning for it, etc. It’s not fine when it happens moments before your hour-long prepared presentation is effectively gutted.

I did my best. I tried to make jokes, liven up the room. The lab was set up in such a way that, with three monitors for the librarians to view the presentation, three tables around those monitors, I had very little actual eye contact from people sitting ten feet away from me. Instead I saw their backs as they looked at some stupid back-up Powerpoint presentation projected on monitors about the room.

Which is a fascinating technological advancement, those monitors. I guess HDMI cables come next year.

***

It occurred to me a number of times on the drive to central Pennsylvania in a snowstorm that I was risking my life for my job. I’ve risked my life for all sorts of things, of course. Pleasure, education, travel, novelty. Hell, even just some of the experiences I’ve had that I haven’t yet written about that I want to one day write about — that’s all been acceptable. My aunt told me one Thanksgiving that she really liked my blog, that one day she was sure I was going to “burst,” and as much of a compliment that seems like, it’s also an unbearable burden. Because what if I don’t? What if I die in the Poconos?

***

The trucks pass on the left in a lane that’s barely visible. Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t actually driving in the breakdown lane. They, perhaps, have not driven to Montreal as many times as I have in snowstorms, with 18-wheelers flipped over on the side of the highway. I hate them. I hate everyone who’s passing me. They should all be slowing down.

I forget if it was Matt or Mackenzie who told me this story, but I only remembered it after one of them did. They were dating at the time, and we were all driving back to Montreal from Boston in the middle of a blizzard. At one point I apparently interjected to suggest that I take over driving duties (N.B., this squares with another story from those times, which I actually do remember the exact details of, when I got a ride from a dude on Craigslist who almost got us killed six times before we reached the New Hampshire border and I “offered” to take over driving duties, which I did for the next five hours till we hit Axel’s spot in Mile End.)

At any rate. Apparently this happened. I remember the drive, just not the volunteering. In a blizzard with no plows and no salt, you find one good line of pavement and keep half your vehicle on that, and you’re probably okay.

And so, driving through the Poconos, I did that. I found my lines and stuck to them. I kept a safe distance from vehicles in front of me in case shit went down. I talked aloud to myself about my own life history, both to keep myself awake and for entertainment. I thought about the last of my text messages, hoped that, were I to perish, my family would be able to retrieve everything. I sang songs I made up. “Driving through the Poconos/Don’t you know that bridges freeze before roads/Trucks driving past with goods to be sold/Driving through the Poconos/Driving through the Poconos.”