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.  


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.


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.

Let’s write about something important today.

I left Atlanta to visit my daughter in Pittsburgh last weekend. Actually we went there together to move her into her new house for her last year, and then I came home. I left from work and met her at the airport. We checked her three heavy bags, just under the limit, and ate at the sky club. I had jambalaya and a Sweetwater IPA with pineapple. The jambalaya was good. She had some mac and cheese and a little salad.

Our Lyft driver in Pittsburgh was less than a year younger than me. I know because he graduated high school in ‘83, and I was always one of the youngest in my class. He also told us that Pittsburgh was as upset when the Falcon’s lost the superbowl as if it had been the Steelers. They hate Tom Brady that much.

The new house had personality, and a great location. I got to meet one of her best friends who had already moved in. She made her room choice which was up another flight of narrow switchbacking stairs. Then we walked up “the hill” to her old place where we stayed the night. Her old place was nice, I had never been. It was well kept and clean, it had multiple bathrooms and a nice well stocked kitchen (there were many containers of gum in the drawer underneath the microwave). She showed me the bed and the chest of drawers that had to be moved, and the desk and the containers in the basement, and I decided to explore what it cost to get help. I found Big James through the U-haul website that I had rented our truck from, and decided to go for it. Best decision I ever made in my life.

We went out to dinner that night, took Lyft downtown to a thai restaurant she really liked, had dumplings and soup and shared a shrimp curry dish. Then we went to Hemingway’s, a bar back near the university where she once tried to get in with a fake ID which they pocketed telling her to, get out.  “Ok” she had said, and then called her friends who were already in there. This time they examined her out of state license for a long time before finally giving it back and letting us in. Despite being named after Hemingway it wasn’t at all like the Twains, or Steinbeck’s or James Joyce bars we have in her home town. We looked for homage to the writer but the closest thing we found was a picture of the guy that does the commercials for Dos Equis. The most interesting man in the world. They had a DJ and it was loud, but I wasn’t the oldest person in the place.  We had two Bell’s two hearted IPA’s which were on special, and yelled at each other for awhile. Then we walked up the hill to her old place. It was 1:30AM. We weren’t sure if anyone else was there (there wasn’t) so we were quiet. I slept on the floor on her sleeping bag. In the middle of the night I realized I needed a pillow and grabbed one from nearby that wasn’t hers (she was just storing it for a friend).

The sun woke us early, though we lied around for a bit. Our plan was to pick up the U haul at 12:30 run around and pick up a desk chair, end table and air conditioner that were for sale, and then meet Big James at 2. We took the bed apart and packed any loose items and were ready for the next step around 10:30. So we called the U-haul, moved our pick up time to 11, got there and waited in line for half an hour, took the truck, bought the used items made it back to the old place, backed ourselves perpendicular to the street into a spot that wasn’t big enough for the van and drove it up onto the sidewalk, and figured we still had time to make a first run, if we hurried and only took the easy stuff.

We loaded quickly, drove to the new place, and moved the stuff only to the first floor living room. We still hadn’t eaten lunch, but we were going to be late, when Big James called to say they were running late, we grabbed a couple of tacos from the stand across the street from her new place. Then headed back to the old place.

I was having trouble parking the van. I had to move a cinderblock while I was struggling to get the van up on the sidewalk. The owner of the house came out to ask me what I was doing.

“I don’t want to get a flat. I can put it back where it was when I’m done, if you want.”

“I’d appreciate it if you put it back when  you’re done.”

“So it’s there for a reason?”

“Yeah, so people don’t do what you’re doing.”


Then we collided with a car that tried to scoot around me while I was trying to park. I told him it was his fault, he asked me about insurance and whether I had any damage, muttered something about Maaco and seemed relieved that I didn’t want to go to insurance, and left.

That’s when James appeared outside the window. It was a good thing we made a trip because the rest of my daughter’s stuff barely fit.

Within two hours we had loaded everything into the new place, even arranged the room a bit and most importantly, got the air conditioner in the window. Then I built the bed while she put things away. Then we went to eat again. We ate at a place I had been before that had perogies and $5 Mules, my 21 year old had the dark and stormy, and I had a long island mule.  Had soup, again, and shared a french dip sandwich.

Then we took the bus downtown and walked across a bridge to the incline, which we took up to the top of Mount Washington for a couple of selfies.

In the morning we ate at a local diner, had some “hotcakes,” that one reviewer gave only one star because they were, in his view, crepes, not hotcakes. But they were good, so who cares what you call them? We also had eggs, and toast and coffee and potatoes. All good.

Had some keys made, and I just had enough time to make it to the airport for my flight.

Everything was going my way. I was the last one on the flight, it was first in line to take off and I even got my pretzels and a club soda before things went south.

So now a flight attendant started looking out the window one row in front of me and across the aisle. Another flight attendant came and they all seemed like they were trying to look out the window. Then they pulled the cart back. I asked the guy sitting there what he saw. He said he didn’t see anything. Then the pilot comes on and says that they have some indication of a mechanical problem with the plane and will be diverting to Knoxville, and the next thing you know we are descending fast. We landed hard and there were fire trucks outside. They told us to stay put while the fire personnel did a once around, found nothing and we pulled up to the gate. A mechanic came on board and this is when we found out that the flight attendants weren’t looking out the window but they were leaning in because they thought they smelled smoke.

The woman in the row blamed it on her husband’s new french cologne. He asked her to stop saying that.

We deplaned and were told they would check out the plane and either we’d leave on the same plane, or they’d send us a “rescue” plane.

After a couple of  hours we got on the same plane and headed home. The couple that had been sitting in that row had apparently rented a car and finished their trip that way. Meanwhile I found out that they had examined the plane top to bottom, had removed all of the panels for multiple rows, found nothing, but had talked to the couple that sat in the only row where anyone thought they smelled anything and the couple admitted that they had been to a bonfire the night before, and had “changed their clothes,” (I guess that implies that they had not showered), but that everything they had still smelled like smoke.

How about that?

So, good weekend, and an exciting finish.

An Ordinary Life

I think everyone should write their autobiographies. Each person should write everything they can think of about their lives, how they felt about the things that they did and what happened to them, the minutia, and the tragedy and the glory, if there is any, the truth, as they see it when they are writing it, and as they see it later when they write it differently, everything. The length should be unlimited. And then each of these people should edit it down, and edit and edit and edit, until their lives seem worth having lived and maybe worth reading about, but not necessarily.

I forgot to write last Friday.  Just forgot. And I kept blowing off writing for this week, because, I broke my streak.

I went to Bogota, Colombia for business.  Left on Tuesday, came back on Friday, came into the office worked for an hour and then drove to Lake Hartwell, in South Carolina, where I joined some other dads and their sons, mine was already there, for a weekend of tubing, wake surfing, swimming, jet skiing and poker. I won again, but not much, and only at the end.  The trick to poker is to save your winning streak for the end of the night. My friend describes lake Hartwell as the blue collar lake, but to me, it feels like I have friends with money.

I didn’t realize that I had completely forgotten about posting on Friday until Monday when I was back at work.  I could have worked on something in the evenings from Colombia, but I forgot.

So, I’m writing this without any editing, straight into wordpress at the last minute so that I don’t neglect it on purpose this time. I can’t use the same excuse this week. I’ve  been thinking about it every day, but watching TV instead: Turn, which is ok, my wife likes it, and I finished off Merli, that Catalan show about a high school philosophy teacher, which I liked, and an episode of a Colombian telenovela called Without Breasts There is no Paradise (literal translation).  And I slept in, when I might otherwise have been writing.

My daughter wants to collaborate on a screenplay about her grandfather, my dad, who is somewhat famous/infamous in specific circles. I’ve always wanted to collaborate, cause I just can’t get it going on my own, so I am somewhat amenable to being driven by her on it, even if I’m not completely sold on the idea. I told my employee in Colombia that she should meet my daughter, because they are close in age and my daughter has a Latin soul.  “Like you?” she asks.  “More than me,” I said. I’m not sure I really have a Latin soul, but my daughter loves Latin America and actually learned Spanish, unlike the 40 years of my trying that has not born fruit . My employee describes Latinos as very enthusiastic, and that fits my daughter. She can get so excited about something she just makes you want to do it. She can also stress herself out with all of the things she wants to do, but she gets a hell of a lot done. She is driven. She can push you. She wants it all. I encourage her to try. Because I don’t want her to give up, like I do.

Good Karma

I sold an old Camera for some good karma. I was going to sell it for money. I justified the purchase of the new one by telling myself I could defray the cost by selling the old one. But by the time the money was spent and the cost lost in the budget of an expensive vacation to China, where I broke it in, it seemed like the need to defray the cost had passed.

I bought my “new” camera on Ebay, along with an old manual focus lens and some other accouterments but I was a little disappointed at what people were getting for my old camera, well reviewed sellers, and then you have to figure in ebay’s take and shipping costs. And I didn’t have any reviews by which buyers could find it in their hearts to trust me.

I found a better deal on Amazon – they wanted to buy it, as long as it was in the mint condition I said it was and had all of the original packaging. I had about 80% of the original packaging but I added an extra genuine Nikon battery and lens filters, which I pointed out in a note. I sent it all off with the understanding that I would not entertain a lower price and that they would send it back if they didn’t agree with my assessment, which they didn’t.

Then I heard through the grapevine that a cousin of mine (once removed) living on the west coast had recently become smitten with photography. I asked her if she wanted it and sent her some sample pictures I had taken with the camera. I actually did such a good job selling it that she offered to pay me something, but I stuck to my guns and gave it to her for good Karma.  

A picture I took with my old camera

She was excited to receive it and sent me a nice thank you note, which made me feel good enough, but here’s where the coincidence occurs.

I like to think this was the universe’s way of giving me something back, something merely commensurate with the deed which I don’t pretend to be any greater than it was. I know I didn’t solve the world’s problems. I gave a girl a camera. But I like to think that little things count and what I got in return counts.

So on the same day my cousin posts a picture of herself with her new camera

Kate with her Camera
Kate with my old Camera


a facebook friend posts an old picture from 1985 crediting the black and white to a mutual friend who I hadn’t seen or heard from in 33 years. Our friendship was short lived as it was, I met her and then shortly thereafter transferred to another college.

But there was one day that she and I spent together to buy our first 35mm SLRs. I had already decided on mine, having done some research, an Olympus OM1N, I believe it was, and I had an opinion on what she should buy as well. We went into Manhattan together and I recommended to her what was probably my second choice – I always felt a little worried that maybe I pushed her into the this camera because I wanted it, recommending to her a different camera than mine because I was unsure of my own choice. But she took my advice and bought a Canon AE1. Then we hung out in central park and she and I took our first pictures with our new cameras. I remember in particular there was a middle aged black man, probably about the age we are now, maybe even younger, dressed a bit formally. I believe he was leaning up against a tree, with one foot on the ground and one foot on the tree trunk, reading. I could be remembering this completely wrong, but suffice it to say it was a great character shot, the kind I would take surreptitiously with a telephoto lens, if I had one. She asked the man if she could take his picture, the right thing to do, and he said, “no.” 

I visited her page to see what is public and googled her, while my friend request was pending, not creepy, and discovered that she still shoots with Canon, and majored in photography and is now a professional photographer.

So within a day of planting a seed in the heart of my younger cousin with her first interchangeable lens DSLR (the modern equivalent of the film cameras we bought in 1985), I find out what became of an old friend by a photograph that was taken with her first camera which I helped her buy.

I realize that she may not remember it the same way. Maybe she doesn’t think I helped her at all. In fact, I know from past experience that sometimes when I think I help a person with advice or a good deed, that the event does not resonate as significantly with them. If I remember it, it may be because it helped me to realize something about myself. I still nurture a love of photography, after all. Maybe she’s the one who helped me. But it still feels nice to see that there is a tree that grew from a seed I may have helped plant 33 years ago. The re-acquaintance with an old friend is a gift, but the knowledge that something I did helped someone in the long run, that’s good to know too.

Fe at CP
Fernanda at Central Park 1985

I thought she’d remember me, but I wasn’t sure. I will always remember her because she had a way of making sure of it. She was from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I don’t know if this was a Brazilian thing or if it was unique to her, but she would initiate you into her circle of friends in a way that was funny as shit to me at the time. She’d saddle up behind you when you were in a group, focused on talking to someone and she would lean down behind you and actually bite you in the ass. You, of course, would jump and everyone would laugh. In fact she was known for this, and on another occasion I was with the woman who introduced us, the one who distracted me so that I could get my ass biten, and we were in Manhattan purchasing a gift for Fernanda, a custom made T-shirt that had a picture of a spider on it and the words “ass biter.”

She accepted my friend request and answered my message telling me that I had a good memory because I remembered what kind of Camera she bought.

I remember more than that, ass biter. Hope all is well.  Keep taking pictures.

Fe and me on the day we bought our cameras
Fe and me the day we bought our cameras


Time Flies

My mother turns 80 today. I remember when she was in her 40s, that’s younger than I am now. Before that I’m not so sure what I can remember. We would be celebrating, but she and my dad when to France, like the Kranks, skipping out on what should be a grand celebration. It’s later there, so she got an early start. She’d been waiting all her life to get to 80 and needed to put it off 6 more hours. so she had to go to Strasbourg. Hey, do what you want on your birthday. She will return and she will still be 80 so we will have our chance to celebrate.

Me and my brothers/sister flirted with the idea of flying there to surprise her. Many things appealed to me about this idea. Automatically gets a bump for being just crazy enough to talk about for the rest of your lives. And for such a milestone event, something greater than dinner seemed in order. It would be a trip the likes of which we have never done and likely will never do again. It would involve flying, renting a car, driving together, we could fight like old times, surprising mom, and then do the same thing but in reverse, all in, like, a day.

But it would be expensive for such a short trip, and not really worth it unless we could all do it. Plus there’s this slight possibility that Mom went to Europe to avoid us. In any case, we couldn’t make it happen, so we’ll do something later. Dinner, probably. We’ll make it special.