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Have you ever become afraid of a small world? My reputation may proceed-- and to my detriment. Met a new guy, who just so happens to be good acquaintances with a former colleague of mine. We worked together for three years in Boston.
But that was in a previous life.
Things have changed. A lot. For the better, as far as I’m concerned. Meanwhile, I’m remembered for all the laziness, unseen potential and random garbage I laid at his doorstep. Now, I’m afraid we’ll have to cross paths again. But we parted ways so many years ago, why even bother.
The last time I saw her, we spent the whole day together packing her bags. She separated out what she wanted in England and what she needed. Occasionally she’d toss me a book or a poster (Grace Jones, Love Kills). I still have that sculpture.
At the airport she was forced to reduce her five bags to four.
In less than 10 minutes, she made the final rearrangements. Then we kissed and hugged. But the whole relationship was over. Driving home, the college radio station was playing their annual “orgy”. I listened all the way to Midwest post-punk roots-rock bands.
I promised my sister I’d do this. Now, I completely regret it. I paid full price to go and see John Travolta’s movie “Domestic Disturbance”. He should’ve paid me to watch.
What a load.
It filmed in my sisters home town, Wilmington. She’d gotten to meet him, his wife and their children. Fell in love with the man. Wanted me see what her region of the world looks like. I’ve never visited her since she moved. Surely, it would have been better to pay for first-class plane tickets and see Wilmington in person than sit through 90 minutes of crap.
This Yankee-hater is finding it hard to celebrate. Sure, the Arizona Diamondbacks won. Ninth-inning scoring means they upset the dynasty. And after a great World Series-- in general-- with close, suspenseful games. Dazzling pitching and a number of clutch plays.
I gag when I call the Diamondbacks champs.
I just can’t get excited about a team from the desert with virtually no history. So even though those Damn Yankees are knocked off their perch, the new team, in my eyes, is a bunch of losers. They’re the Poptarts of Major League Baseball. Frosted, jelly-filled and void of any redeeming qualities.
We trained for months for just this one meet. Early December, a chance to get best times, maybe qualify for next Spring’s championships. The fun part was we tapered down into the best condition of the year. And we shaved our bodies bare.
Kurt wanted me to see his day-glo pee.
During the meet he was hopped-up on mega-multi’s. High doses of vitamins, especially vitamin C. Kurt was always doing things differently. Biking to the pool. Stopping to study the jet fighters flying overhead. He wanted to fly. Got his chance once he was accepted at the Air Force Academy.
There she stood, all alone in the cleaning aisle. Blue apron, her gray hair buzz cut really short. I think she was stocking the shelves. As the overhead musak played, she silently danced, not knowing anyone was watching. I was, then interrupted the scene with my question.
I don’t know if I want to mop.
The noun and verb. She looked stunned. No man can go a week without mopping. What about those floors? They must be clean. I told her I wouldn’t insult her dancing. Replying that she’d never come and visit or scold me for my dirty floors.
My disappointment was obvious. I completely laid out my heart on the table. She took a hatchet to it. Not cruelly, but rather skillfully like a chef at Benihaha. If it had meant to be, it would’ve happened by now.
But three months earlier, she stayed absolutely silent.
The simple crush hadn‘t been reciprocated. At least not in my e-mail. I hadn’t responded properly. So that day, I went home and reread our correspondence. It was so apparent that my words avoided the subject. Attempt to evade her love overtures. But now I felt differently and she’d already moved on.
It was a busy Memorial Day. It’d been a long time since I’d gone home. It was Jennifer’s wedding: rehearsal dinner, late-night parties and all his family to meet.
This was also the last time I saw my Grandmother.
Memorial Day meant her traditional trek to the cemetery to place flowers at the markers. I accompanied her and learned, for the first time, her birth mother wasn’t buried in the family plot. The next day, we drove to Sterling to see her mom, now dead for 80 years. Grandma dressed in black. Her hat, shoes, gloves and purse all black.
Growing up, I was always disappointing dad. Our attempt to climb Long’s Peak was no different. It’s one of the tallest mountains in the Rockies-- a so-called fourteener. Only forty or so mountains in Colorado reach the 14,000-foot plateau.
But we never did reached the summit.
After hours of hiking and climbing, I was exhausted. We got to the final leg of the trail. It was along a steep face. The path got narrow. The drop-off was thousands of feet. Mentally I couldn’t push on. I was getting altitude sickness. My feet were blistered. I forced him to turn around.
I’d never seen the movie before. Pouty lips, red hair, brilliant smile and pink dress. Only this Molly Ringwald movie was “Sixteen Candles”. We made a promise in August that we’d watch the movies the other one deemed significant and a “must-see”. Doesn’t mean they’re necessary Oscar-worthy-- just memorable.
I remember avoiding all her movies and for good reason.
They’re just not good. She never did anything for me. And when she had Hollywood wrapped around her finger like Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles today or Alicia Silverstone five years ago, it just proves what’s wrong with society. Mediocrity rules.
Some things I try to do fail and I’m forced to make a second attempt. A couple of weeks ago I made a half-ass try at re-seeding the back lawn. During the summer a brown spot started to grow, and grow, and grow until it covered a patch that couldn’t go unnoticed.
So I spread my seed across the yard.
And nothing really happened. Reading the directions again (directions for grass?) I realized I hadn’t done a thing according to their instructions. So today I was out there again, doing it all over again and this time following the rules.
I yelled at by boss today. Not exactly my boss, but the person that oversees my work. My “supervisor”. And today was my annual evaluation and performance review. Something that corporations love what the rest of us loathe.
On a scale of one to five, this was a crock of shit.
We have a fundamental disagreement on how to treat my vacations. I actually argued for doing more work to cover my time off. Work in advance and make it the best I now how. The alternative was to have some moron replace me for those days. No f’n way.
The toys I loved as a child: My flying turtle. A red wagon which was the fastest on the block. A yellow Tonka dump truck I colored with Crayola crayons. Trinky helped me decorate it.
We had a big blue beanbag chair the cats finally destroyed.
Dad built us stilts, but I’m too uncoordinated on land to be able to walk in them. We also hooked up some kind of pulley between trees and rode a wheel between them. There was that gyroscope type handheld game and “clackers” before they were banned. Laura had a purple set with silver sparkles.
I learned to drive on a stick shift. I still love driving manual, but early on I had a few rough spots. Probably the worst was in my sister’s yellow convertible Bug.
I stalled in the middle of a busy intersection.
Rock Road and Central. The VW wouldn’t restart. Lights changed, people honked and cursed. Another light cycle. I broke out in a sweat, frantically cranking the car over and over again. Cari got out of the passenger seat and pushed it the corner gas station. First try, the attendant got it started. I never again drove through that intersection.
One of my last drinking days ended with me passed out in the apartment complex’s basement laundry room. I woke in the middle of Saturday, wearing nothing but pink boxers and a lock & chain around my neck.
It wasn’t pretty for me, or my neighbors.
I’d locked myself out of the apartment. Even in my stupor it was immediately obvious to me that I shouldn’t have shut the apartment door behind me. At 5 am, I tried waking the superintendent. I think he chose to ignore my knocks. Saturday noon, he laughed at my skinny body in pink undies.
She never liked visiting the vets. Judith made every attempt to avoid seeing him. He always had prying hands, sharp needles, cold thermometers and bloody instruments scrapping the tarter off her teeth. Her brother, Declan, never made it easier. He fought with open claws. She recognized his panic.
This time Judith had no choice.
I was moving cross-country and the airline required vaccination proof. I got Judith wrapped in a big fluffy towel and took about five steps on my shoveled walk. That’s when she lunged from my arms and landed-- with a powdery thud-- into two feet of snow.
I’ve always enjoyed driving. Done it cross-country five times. Made road trips around the eastern half, watching baseball games at every major city. Don’t even mind commuting, it’s time away from everyone and everything. Just me, the radio and my crazy mind.
So what was I doing driving to the airport on a Saturday night?
That’s the only place where there’s a 24-hour post office. I needed to get some invitations in the mail-- immediately. All the way I listened to “This American Life”. Something about a haunted mansion in Freedom, New Hampshire. Made me nostalgic: rural east coast living.
Sore throat. Mucus flowing like Niagra. I ache. Dropped my regular coffee run and started up with tea. Soothed it with lots of honey. As much as I try and deny it, I’m getting sick. But damn it, I’ll battle this every possible moment.
That flu shot didn’t make me invincible.
She told me on Saturday that she’d been ill. I’ll have to blame her contagious self for spreading those germs to me. But I hadn’t put in my calendar anything resembling an illness. My schedule’s not equipped to handle itchy noses and long pauses trying to re-focus my brain.
What happened to Mike? Three of us arrived to pay off a stupid bet. The weekend before, the Trojans blanked the Bruins. A humiliating loss for those that cared. We didn’t. We were at the pool, at 5 in the morning, to challenge ourselves, while Mike paid off his debt.
But Mike was nowhere to be seen.
So suddenly the proposed six-mile workout was without our emotional leader. What was going to be a fun challenge turned bitter. We made it through all right, but an hour later, the resentment raged when Mike finally showed up. He couldn’t apologize more.
That was even a large number for Denny. We sat twelve around the table and the special guest. Not Judas. It was another of Julie’s birthdays. She has one every year or so often. Brian, Denny, Jo Anne, Shannon, Carl, Mathew, Sarah, Barbara, Esther, Jason, Chris and me.
Then the bill arrived and there was stunned silence.
The total even made Denny double check his wallet. The man’s made of money. He couldn’t believe we’d enjoyed a meal that was that expensive. Add up the bottles of wine, soufflé desserts, seafood specials. That’s what you get. One pricey birthday gift.
The sky had a quality I thought only painters could see. It was something I’d seen at MoMA or the MFA or in Chicago on Michigan Avenue. Where I can’t remember, but the setting sun painted an orange glow across the lingering clouds. Clear blue sky framed the scene and the shadows were a thousand different shades of gray.
And I had flying in front of me a hawk and hummingbird.
Unaware of each other, the smaller one sucked the juice from my garden. The hawk squawked his entrance to the valley. Gliding effortlessly high above. Scouting for more food.
Pittsburg Kansas eighty, Hutchinson Kansas eighty-one, Pittsburg Kansas eighty-two, Binghamton New York eighty-three, Pittsburg Kansas eighty-four (sister engaged), Youngstown Ohio eighty-five, Baltimore Maryland eighty-six (80 sticks of gum), Brighton Massachusetts eighty-seven (big fat ass), Back Bay Boston eighty-eight (pizza and football), Brookline Massachusetts eighty-nine.
Brookline Massachusetts ninety, Peterborough New Hampshire ninety-one (sober), Cambridge Massachusetts ninety-two, Acton Massachusetts ninety-three, Antrim New Hampshire ninety-four, Antrim New Hampshire ninety-five (food orgy), North Hollywood California ninety-six (food orgy), North Hollywood California ninety-seven, North Hollywood California ninety-eight, Sherman Oaks California ninety-nine.
Sherman Oaks California two thousand, Sherman Oaks California two thousand and one.
It has been exactly ten years.
No booze. No drugs. Clean and sober for 3650 days and few more because of all those leap years. Probably just as many meetings, therapy sessions and long cries. It’s hard to say which is crazier: my last few weeks of abuse or accomplishing ten consecutive years.
It seemed utterly impossible in the beginning.
But I hadn’t a choice any longer. I’d blown all my chances. Lost a slew of friends along the way. There wasn’t anywhere else to turn.
And today, I celebrate ten years. Next week, with new friends, I party again!
I go through these things in my mind. How many apartments have I lived in? I don’t move that often, but enough. Lugged milk crates from place to place, even across the country. Unplug, schlep and plug back in the stereo.
So, what were the places I once called home?
530 Beacon during school. 45 Harvard Court with Margaret. 20 Cummings with Sean and Gene. 12 Commonwealth Avenue during Tufts. A loft at 49 Melcher. Utterly alone at 1949 Commonwealth. Mary at 62 Elmwood. 4950 North Laurel Canyon with Kathryn and Dork. On my own again at 6637 Fountain Avenue.
When will the day come that I won’t ever have to speak my coffee order? I’m in a routine. Swim, shower and drive Colorado to the coffee joint. The same, kind woman is behind the counter. She smiles and waits for me to order. It’s the same every morning:
A large, black coffee to go. Please.
She always asks, “Would you like room for cream?”
This has been going on since July. It’s the same order every time I’m there. And she always returns with that question. Even the other guy behind the counter notices. He smirks as I grimace.
Panic sets in before the party. It’s just me, alone, planning this shindig. If it was only me as a guest, I’d expect a few chips. Maybe coffee on the pot and lets hang out in the kitchen. Chat about nothing and everything at once.
But two dozen of my friends will be spending an evening at my home.
I’ve got to get the whole place in decent shape, decorate and decide what to do about food. Any chance to hire a temporary nanny-- for me? Drive me on my errands. Do the laundry. Pamper me when I’m feeling bratty?
The gifts are arriving. Mister UPS is visiting daily. I only thought mom and dad were going to shower me on my tenth. I wasn’t ever expecting goodies from Laura, who gave me a coffee table book on the fifty greatest baseball parks. Chris sent The Baseball Abstract new edition. I’ve got a White Flower Farm gift certificate from Sara.
All this for not drinking. One day at a time.
Obviously, I’ve been handed larger gifts along this path. Miracles line the road I’ve traveled. It’s just those are harder to identify in a moment’s time. They never come gift-wrapped.
Funny thing it is trying to be Martha Stewart. Or am I more a Katie Brown type? It doesn’t really matter, I still don’t know how to make a Christmas wreath.
I spent the morning chopping at my overgrown Juniper bush.
Trimmed the branches and wired them together. Measured out a 2-foot diameter on my flat bench downstairs. Even made an effort to make both sides look gorgeous. When I thought I was finished, I lifted up my creation to marvel at its glory. But it was so heavy, it sagged under its own weight as the perfect “Christmas oval.”
The taper has begun. I’ve trained for six months, every weekday and a few weekends. It’ll all pay off as I relax the workouts. Expend less energy, going faster, over shorter distances. My body is in the best shape it’s been in since I biked every day in Boston. Better since I’m not smoking.
And all this for three days in December in Long Beach.
The only meet I’ll swim this year. It’s a chance to gauge my progress before nationals. The goal is travel with the team in May to Hawaii. The paradise islands for a week of pleasure.
Look at the Moon. (A favorite song from Trip Shakespeare, a CD that disappeared from my collection years ago and I can’t find the culprit-- But I digress). Look at the Moon.
Full, bright, cool and on display just for me.
That’s how I like to think of full moons. I’m always aware of its phases. From little slivers waxing to big round early-evening rises and waning down again to nothing but complete darkness. They say there’s a man on the moon, I call it a she. She keeps order in my chaos. She makes me focus on her beauty.
The Tip Jar