The Brutal Truth

It is an effort to write these days, and I am not good with effort.

I have never been good with effort. It’s why I didn’t become an actor or a drummer or a writer (in that order). It’s why I couldn’t effectively do all three. It’s why I switched my major from lit to math. It’s why I left Bard College.  It’s why I quit the band I was in because I was overwhelmed with the prospect of doing more than one thing at a time.

It’s why I still don’t speak Spanish, or any other language. 

It’s why I settled for a career in accounting (quitting math too). Accounting takes an effort, but not more than I can muster as long as I’m getting paid for it, and when it’s the only thing I do well.

But this is what I need to remember.  “The nuts always win.”

This is when you’re playing cards and you tell yourself that in order to win, you have to have the best possible hand.

Now, maybe sometimes you decide to take a chance on the 2nd or 3rd best possible hand, or maybe less if you feel like bullshitting your way through a situation, but the goal, the path to success, is to expect the best.

Our goal should always be to have everything we want. We don’t have to figure out what our limit is, it is our limit. We can’t go beyond it.

But we should pursue everything we want to have. The more we try, the more we achieve.

We should do it because we are happy when we have achieved something, even if we are not happy when we are working towards it. We are not happy when we don’t try, so we might as well try. We’d just be doing something, instead of nothing, while we are unhappy. Something, at least, can lead to that miracle of all miracles.  

Happiness.

Do you ever find that you say to yourself, “how wonderful life is?”

“I’m glad to be alive.”

“Never in my wildest dreams….”

I don’t.

Sometimes I avoid bread to be happy. I could eat right, exercise, lose weight, compensate in many ways for the fact that I am not proud of myself, and it may work to some degree, I may have moments where I feel good. But when I achieve things, if I were to achieve anything, I can eat bread, and I still feel good about myself, even if I feel physically sick. There is no substitute for doing

I don’t believe that I’m the only one who has accepted that being “so happy” is just an unrealistic fairy tale. But why? Because it’s impossible? 

It takes effort. It takes effort whether you’ve eaten bread or not (or whatever is your habitual nemesis). 

To be happy, we have to achieve our potential. Except we think of potential as something we don’t have to achieve, never guaranteed, a long shot. We give ourselves excuses, let ourselves off the hook. Kids are loaded with it, of course, and we know how few realize theirs as adults. We have no reasonable expectation, I tell myself now, that we achieve our dreams.

Bullshit.

Our potential is what we can do, it is, by definition, what is within our abilities. We have an obligation to ourselves, and to society and to God, if you believe in God (I don’t, really), to fulfill it. What we shouldn’t hold ourselves accountable to do, is that which is beyond our abilities. But if we don’t do what we can, that’s a sin, if there ever was sin, a crime, at least, maybe the birth parent of all crime. 

If you do everything you can do, that you dream of doing, that should be done, you will be proud of yourself and you will be happy.

I haven’t proven this theory, mind you.

I have a family. I work and make decent money. I have friends. I meet the standard for success. If I tell people that I consider myself a failure, they argue with me. Most people pretend at least to be happy with as much. If we aren’t satisfied, and say so, then oftentimes people feign as if they do not understand why you are so ungrateful, or at least you fear that this will be their reaction. At best, they don’t know how to help you, so you keep it to yourself. But there is nothing wrong with expecting to be the best you can be. And those of us who enjoy the luxury of being able to complain about not being happy, we have an obligation to challenge ourselves and lead. It is not ungrateful to want more. We owe it to society to expect more from life, and to give what we can give, because we are in the position to do so.

It is failure to settle. There’s no shame in it. No one wants to fail. It’s not about judgement. But that’s just the brutal truth.

Keep In Touch

We always said that. We wrote it in our Jr high school yearbooks in 1979, and in our high school yearbooks in 1982. Sometimes there was a phone number beside it that I never called. Maybe we believed we would, but we soon came to know that we just did that to avoid the big goodbye. We would never see these people again.

That’s not the way it is anymore. Because social media. This generation keeps in touch. It’s easier than it used to be. Only the Luddites lose touch. And the privacy hawks, who like to live off the grid, or at least pretend they are, by shunning facebook. I have nothing against those people. I respect them. I miss them.  Because most of us are back in touch with each other again, even those of us who had accepted that we were never going to be keeping in touch. Social media has allowed us to find each other. If you ask me whatever happened to Dan Cherubin, for example, I can tell you that he died. I know, because though I hadn’t seen him in 33 years, ever since I left Bard College, I heard from him as recently as last week. He was going back into the hospital for a post op infection and now this vibrant, friendly, loving, funny, influential friend of everyone he ever met (well, maybe not those neo-fascists) is gone. It was only a year ago he made the dramatic decision to leave NYC, gave up his rent controlled apartment (that’s not easy), and learned to drive (he’s not the only native New Yorker I know who never got a driver’s license) so he could take a job in Connecticut.  I know these things about him. Then he got cancer, but “the little fucker,” he called it, was removed, and the prognosis sounded good. Thank God for health insurance. That’s what Dan said.

I know a handful of people who have died, who I grew up with. Dennis, Veronica, Adam… Dan. Every time it happens, I think about weather I liked them, and how I wish I had made an effort to know them better, to see them more (or at all). Except for facebook, I can only think of them in my mind as the young children I last saw, last heard their voices, their laughs. It seems even more tragic to me, as if they never got the chance to grow up. But they lived. There were a couple who went earlier, but Dan did have a much fuller life than I know. There is comfort in that, for me, that he had a chance after I knew him, when we were mostly potential, and that he became something, and by all accounts grew into a good man.  And yet, I know that may not be enough for those who were still in his life and knew better how much more he had to offer.

We’re in our 50s. Old enough to have had a full life. As old as the age at which our great grandparents regularly died. Lucky to have gotten even this far, I suppose.

Did he do what he was supposed to do? Was he supposed to do anything? Did he influence people enough? He had an effect on me, a small influence, which I will remember. I knew him once. I can hear his laugh. I feel his warmth of spirit. And all I can say now is, Dan…  keep in touch. 

Going Home

Going home, to the apartment my parents still live in which I grew up, in New York City, in Chelsea, always feels like worlds colliding for me. The person I was vs the person I am vs the person I thought I’d be.

The New York that isn’t like New York anymore, just like I’m not like I was anymore.

My parents were out of town so I took six of my friends there. I did this a couple of years ago with two friends. Both times I learned to appreciate something new about the city.

It’s not easy hosting six other people, when they consider you the tour guide, and of course I haven’t lived there in twenty-five years. Then they don’t want to do what I suggest because they have their own ideas, and they all have different ideas, then we do what they want and they ask me all kinds of questions.

“I don’t know, this was your idea.”

It wasn’t like I was getting paid. So at times I thought it might have been more fun if we had been on neutral ground.

Some of the things they wanted to do, I didn’t want to do. Some of the things I wanted to do, they didn’t. I pushed them into something that turned out great. They did things I wanted that weren’t as good as I expected. They pushed me into things that I didn’t want to do that also turned out great.

Like citibikes.

When I was growing up, there were no bike lanes in the city. I used to ride my bike in the streets, like bike messengers, right in the middle of the road, to avoid double parked cars, and pretty much matched the speed of traffic. It was hairy, and I wouldn’t have taken a bunch of tourists on such a ride.

My family was not for Mayor Bloomberg’s push to take away car lanes and create bike lanes. We said, “this isn’t Europe, we can’t retrofit NYC, there already isn’t enough room for cars,” etc.

But my friends had done the bike thing in other cities, and they wanted to do it here, so, ok, whatever.

It turned out pretty damned easy and pretty damned good. I’m converted. And as far as cars are concerned, you really shouldn’t drive in New York anyway. So, as we say in New York, “fuck ’em.” 

One of my guests did get yelled at. “Watch out, citibike.” Part of the experience.

Also, I grew up in Manhattan. People who grow up in Brooklyn know Manhattan. People who grew up in Manhattan don’t know Brooklyn.  Goes for the other boroughs too.

Brooklyn, like Manhattan, isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t really know what it used to be, so we went to Brooklyn.  Walked the Brooklyn Bridge, found a good pub, picked up some more citibikes and even rode to Adam Yauch Park to pay my respects to the late founder of the Beastie boys, who I knew, and jammed with, even though I never particularly liked the Beastie Boys.

I love Brooklyn. 

Gotta move forward, I guess.

But still, lots of memories. It’s almost as if I didn’t want to be myself then, I wanted to move away, pretend I was someone else. And when I go back I’m sometimes mad that things have changed, and I wonder what happened to New York. I wonder what happened to me.

You know what I discovered? The best way to find out is to show others where you came from.