Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Tuesday is Recycling Day
I'm still keeping quite a bit to myself these days.
I figure the best way to combat the overall sense of sadness and emptiness for what's recently been lost in my life -- torn away from me, really -- is to keep things here as upbeat as possible. Gallows humor has always worked for me in the past, and besides, no one wants to have to witness an uncomfortable daily drone of maudlin soul-searching and the public begging of questions that simply have no answers.
But just because I'm not expressing the hurt doesn't mean I'm not feeling it. So, maybe as a way to pay homage to the reality of what's going on in my life right now -- the uncertainty and heartbreak, the fear of what's still to come, particularly concerning my daughter (which I actually will delve further into at some point, just because I know I'll have to in order to keep myself from going crazy) -- I'm resurrecting two related pieces this morning. They were written within days of each other back in late 2007, when Jayne and I were on the verge of breaking up the first time around. Looking back on these columns, I'm glad I wrote them, since they expressed how I felt at the time. But I have to issue a minor disclaimer before rerunning them: In retrospect, I allowed myself to take too much of the blame for what had gone wrong in my and my wife's relationship. I'm generally very hard on myself and tend to dramatically self-flagellate, mostly because I'm hyper-aware of my own faults and insecurities. Still, it often takes two people to doom a marriage, and while many of the personal qualities I willingly assign to myself in these pieces were legitimate, particularly the harsh assessment of the first column, I was at a disadvantage when I wrote them. I wasn't aware of all the facts on Jayne's end. I took the full blame for our problems because I believed what my wife was telling me at the time and never bothered to trust my own feelings -- feelings which told me that there was slightly more going on than met the eye.
Once again, though, I'm glad I said what I did. I feel like so much has changed in my life and in my behavior and personality over the past few years -- changes made for the better. But I needed to confront a lot of bad habits and face some hard truths before I could move forward.
Being honest with myself allowed me to do that -- I hope.
"Life's What You've Made It" (Originally Published, 10.2.07)
A Side: The Psychedelic Furs -- Love My Way
B Side: The Plimsouls -- Oldest Story in the World
A couple of years back, my wife Jayne read a novel called The Frog King.
In case you've never heard of it, the book is author Adam Davies's seemingly semi-fictional account of a young would-be writer and menial-media-job holder's attempts to both eke out a living in New York City and forge an at least respectable relationship with the woman he's in love with but to whom he refuses to admit as much.
These efforts unfortunately are hampered by the fact that the character in question is an asshole: he's severely damaged, typically selfish, willfully misanthropic, he hates his job and he drinks too much -- qualities which are, contrary to his own delusional beliefs, not, in fact, invalidated by the excessive amount of intelligence and charm he wields.
Obviously, Jayne "suggested" I read this book about two seconds after turning the final page.
I finally got around to it last week. Suffice to say, I wish I'd read it earlier instead of making the requisite excuses involving a backlog of reading material on my nightstand and/or some sort of general malaise; as my grandfather used to say, I mighta learned somethin'.
There are of course several big differences between the nominal protagonist of The Frog King and myself: For one, he works at a publishing house, whereas I work in television news. Also, his name is Harry.
It's a disconcerting feeling on par with having those naked pictures turn up on the internet to know that a complete stranger has written a book which nails your entire existence in such an impeccably precise manner. The similarities are indeed uncanny: Harry fancies himself a writer but -- mostly out of fear -- never gives it the full push that might get him noticed; the love of his life meanwhile is a bright, beautiful, funny, supportive, upwardly-mobile and preternaturally tolerant young woman, who also happens to suffer from an acute and extraordinarily painful case of endometriosis.
Despite a big heart and genuinely good intentions, Harry is constantly making all the wrong moves and all the wrong decisions. Even the densest of readers can understand that he needs to grow the hell up, stop taking his soulmate's seemingly bottomless reservoir of love and forgiveness for granted and begin putting his talent to good use instead of using it to ridicule everyone he believes to be beneath him.
For awhile, there's something almost noble about Harry's willingness to assume the role of the loveable but difficult eccentric; as the story progresses though, he becomes intolerable, insufferable, and by the time it's all over -- in more ways than one -- he comes to the sad realization that everyone else came to long ago: he's the one thing he's always despised -- a stupid, worn-out cliche.
Harry believes himself to be in the right in his relationship because he's always there during the bad times -- to hold Evie, his love, during her excruciating endo attacks; to ride in like Gallahad and save the day when there's a crisis. He knows nothing if not the art of the passionate statement or sweeping gesture.
His favorite chant of exquisite praise: "Viva la Evie."
Harry never asks himself if such histrionics are enough to sustain a truly adult relationship, and it's this nescience which leads to his inevitable fall from the grace of Evie's favor.
The Frog King is subtitled "A Love Story." It is, but it's an absolutely heartbreaking one.
A Side: U2 -- A Sort of Homecoming
B Side: The Smiths -- These Things Take Time
Last weekend, I went to my 20 year high school reunion.
The experience was as surreal and mildly unnerving as you might expect; simply coming to terms with the fact that it's been two decades since my high school graduation required an extra hit off the Wellbutrin pipe. Seeing my teenage classmates in their late 30s seemed just fucking preposterous on paper, even before my arrival at the Palms Hotel on Miami Beach; actually taking it all in for three hours last Friday night was far beyond my powers of worthwhile description.
On the whole, the Pace High Class of 1987 aged surprisingly well: A receding hairline here, an extra couple of pounds there, but otherwise my old friends didn't look all that different from how I remembered them from back in the days when we camped out on a sidewalk for Pink Floyd tickets and likely played a substantial role in driving at least one teacher to drink himself to death. The women especially looked not only exceptional but by and large better than they did as kids; the girls who were once cheerleaders or simply the mental kindling for many a teenage boy's bathroom masturbation ritual retaining their allure in ways which seemed slightly supernatural.
But really, when push came to shove, there was only one woman I was interested in seeing; the girl I chased for three long, psychically catastrophic years; the girl who changed everything about the way I would deal with women for years to come; the girl I hadn't laid eyes on in two decades.
To say that I had a crush on Suzy during high school would be like saying that the Khmer Rouge came up with an effective solution to Cambodia's population problem. I was utterly smitten with her. She occupied center stage in my mind and heart from the moment we first ran into each other outside of school, at the Immaculate Conception carnival sophomore year. I dreamt of her. I burned for her. I was her willing but ultimately frustrated lapdog for most of our high school career. I would've sold my soul for that girl.
So, you can imagine what it would be like seeing her after all this time.
It's probably right about now, by the way, that I should mention that Suzy -- despite professing a love for boys during high school -- eventually turned out to be gay. (Don't ever let it be said that I don't know how to pick 'em.)
It goes without saying that this little infatuation set the stage for the seemingly endless cavalcade of absurdly Quixotic endeavors to come throughout my lifetime.
I noticed Suzy the moment she entered the bar area where our informal re-meet-and-greet cocktail party was being held. I happened to be across the room at the time and worked my way over to where she was standing, pushing through the heavy crowd until it birthed me directly in front of her. Her eyes widened. Somewhere an ancient electrical switch covered in cobwebs was thrown. We smiled and pulled each other into a warm hug. It was, admittedly, wonderful to see her.
A little while later, we found ourselves camped out on a couch in the hotel's lobby -- with its tempered lighting and cool music -- talking about the ghosts of high school past. We reminisced not about specific events but about overall feelings and emotions.
She told me that I was the only man she ever truly loved.
I told her that I regret having been at her disposal for three long years in a misguided crusade to win her affections.
And that's when something dawned on me: At face value, she and I had vastly different views of what happened between us all those years ago; my memories involved heartache and suffering; hers involved good times spent with someone she considered her best friend. It was a reminder, however trite this may sound, that two people can look at the exact same relationship in completely different ways.
It took only a moment though for me to realize -- and maybe this is simply the benefit of years of emotional padding -- that her view was, if not completely without fault, at least a "better" one than mine. She remembered something that I'd stupidly allowed myself to forget -- that we were as close as any two people can be at that age. We loved each other dearly, regardless of the secret agendas and occasionally underhanded machinations that may have come into play during our time together.
I loved that girl, and I understood her -- and what's more, the feeling and understanding was undeniably mutual.
It was a couple of hours later that Suzy suggested a handful of people continue the party at the high-rise apartment she shares with her partner.
I was looking for an excuse to relive my Miami Vice days anyway, so I piled two friends in the Audi A4 convertible I'd rented and sped along the beach back to Suzy's place -- and it was a gorgeous place indeed, the kind about which a New Yorker like myself can only dream: two bedrooms, a big kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, an incredible view of the beach, and a rent that's about three hundred less than what Jayne and I pay for our Manhattan Matchbox.
We each had another drink before my Chased Amy once again sat down on the couch with me -- this time though, the topic of conversation was life after graduation.
It was as revelatory as it was utterly tragic.
I told her about my recent personal troubles and my sad history of broken relationships.
She told me about her self-destructive tendencies and inability to believe that love can fully heal her.
I spoke softly as I voiced my wish that my wife could be with me at that moment.
She pulled down the waistband of her pants and showed me a tattoo of a zero with a line through it. Literally, nil -- nothing.
"How did we get this way?" I finally asked. "What happened to us?" There wasn't a hint of humor in my voice; I was all-but-begging her for the answer I'd been looking for for years.
A resigned and bittersweet "I don't know" was all she could muster.
A Side: Depeche Mode -- Everything Counts
B Side: Howard Jones -- What is Love?
At the end of The Frog King, Harry loses Evie.
He screws up badly. She leaves him for a recently established author whose career she helped launch. She gets a big promotion and enters a new stratum, a place to which she's convinced he simply cannot follow her. Despite a heartfelt attempt at redeeming himself -- he writes the basic outline of a manuscript which centers around her and their relationship, then shows it to her -- she tells him that she just can't do it anymore; she reached her "saturation point" and has moved on.
In one final grand gesture, Harry dresses up in a frog costume (one of Evie's friends refers to him as the eponymous "Frog King" earlier in the story) and crashes a New Year's Eve costume party to confront the love of his life and plead his case.
When finally face-to-face, he reminds her of all the wonderful moments they shared; all the times he took care of her; all the times she took care of him; all the love they gave each other.
Except that Evie doesn't remember it that way.
Evie's memories are laden with pain, difficulty, uncertainty; all the times Harry wasn't willing to commit; all the times Harry hurt her.
To her -- there's nothing worth trying to get back.
Two people, seeing the exact same relationship in completely different ways.
Before walking out of his life forever, Evie insinuates to Harry that the true test of a partnership has less to do with being willing to swoop in when things are critical than it does with being strong and steadfast when things are thoroughly mundane.
It's security she craves -- something she believes he can't provide.
On the final page of the book though, Harry takes a deep breath and the first step in the journey toward becoming the person he needs to be -- the person he's always wanted to be, even if he was never willing to admit it to himself.
Viva la Evie isn't a life plan.
Neither is Viva la Jayne.
"Things You People Wouldn't Believe" (Originally Published, 10.15.07)
When I was 12 years old I enlisted, of all people, my grandmother to drive me to a theater in Miami and sit with me while I excitedly took in a movie which would eventually be considered a masterpiece: Blade Runner.
The irony of course is that, as with films such as 2001, Psycho and Citizen Kane, Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi landmark was at first met by reviews that could at best be described as lukewarm. Most critics admired its abundance of style, but panned the movie overall, claiming that it was slow, pretentious and downright silly. It would be years before Blade Runner's cyberpunk aesthetic and astonishingly prescient themes of globalization and genetic engineering -- as well as its masterful production design by Syd Mead and Laurence Paull -- were heralded as brilliant and groundbreaking.
When I was 12 however, I paid little attention to the opinions of critics; I allowed Blade Runner to wash over me, giving myself to its world completely and, as such, leaving the theater believing that I'd just seen something bordering on genius.
10 years after its brief theatrical run, Ridley Scott released a special "Director's Cut" DVD, which removed both the blasphemic narration track -- designed to aid the more obtuse within the audience and essentially provide clarity to a storyline which was never intended to be completely concrete -- and the studio-approved "happy ending," while adding a dream sequence, the aim of which was to suggest that Harrison Ford's character, Rick Deckard, may himself be a "Replicant."
I own that DVD and have watched it more than a few times, even asking my wife to sit through it recently -- as it's the kind of film that she, despite her excellent taste, might have otherwise overlooked. Her thoughts after viewing it echoed mine -- that even with 25 years of advances in special effects and camera-work, the movie has a beauty and power that defies antiquation -- that it's as good now as it likely was at the time of its release.
Except that it's not.
It's actually better.
I now know this because last week, on a cold and rainy day here in New York City, I grabbed a cab to the legendary Ziegfeld theater in Midtown and relived a part of my childhood by seeing a new cut -- the supposed "Final Cut" -- of Blade Runner on the big screen.
The new edition adds little in the way of unseen footage -- although a scene in which Replicant leader Roy Batty kills his maker, Dr. Tyrell, is considerably more gruesome -- but the cleaned-up and remastered print is pristine, allowing the audience to enter into the world that Scott created like never before. The already lush production now seems exquisite and flawless; the effects as gorgeous today as they were all those years ago; the soundtrack by Vangelis, moving in a way that's nothing short of otherworldly.
Once again, I fell completely under the film's spell.
This time though, it was the story that affected me most. Given the recent difficulties in my personal life, the concept of one man desperately craving more time, and another who may eventually be forced to face the reality of his very nature rang especially true for me. There's been considerable debate throughout the years as to whether or not Deckard is, in fact, the very enemy he's chasing. He is. The new version, with its crystal-clear print, allows the audience to see unequivocally his eyes glowing orange for a brief second. This revelation lends an extra sense of satisfaction to Tyrell's already smug smirk when he meets Deckard, supposedly for the first time, earlier in the film.
Deckard has no idea who and what he really is, therefore he has no idea that his time may be running out -- as Replicants weren't built to last.
His nemesis meanwhile, Batty, is well aware of what he is; he's tortured by it. He knows that his life will soon be over and he can't come to terms with it. No amount of prosaicism will convince him that his end is something to embrace or even to celebrate. Tyrell attempts to console him with platitudes: "The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long," he says -- as if this will provide comfort to a dying man.
The film ends in an unexpected way, with a startlingly quiet moment between Deckard and Batty. It's during this scene that Batty -- resigned to his fate -- delivers a sad monologue recalling all that he's seen in his all-too-short lifetime.
"All those moments will be lost in time -- like tears in rain," he says.
A man longing for more time -- for life; for love; for redemption -- speaking to a man who's unaware of his true identity, and unaware that he may one day face the same fate.
It's the definition of tragedy.
Aren't You the "Good" Man?
In the days following my 20-year high school reunion, held a few weeks ago, my old friend Suzy and I continued to reconnect. Once again, I was reminded just how well she understands me, even now, after all this time. It's somewhat startling to realize that although experience, success, loss and time in general may change a person, somewhere buried under all those layers of life is still the foundation -- that earliest and most lasting incarnation. Know someone during those formative years and you'll know him or her for life.
My old friend read through the virtual pages of this site -- my little experiment -- and listened to me talk about the painful difficulties now facing me in my personal life; she paid close attention and responded not only with love and kindness, but with surprisingly intuitive advice and several pertinent questions for me to answer, not for her but for myself.
"What's your identity? Who are you?" she asked during one phone conversation. "Do you even know?"
"What do you mean?"
"I read the blog. I see what you've created there -- the image you've created -- but is that how you really see yourself?"
I said nothing, unsure how to respond. She continued.
"I mean, do you consider yourself an ex-heroin addict, an asshole smart-ass, damaged beyond repair, someone who's defined by his past? Because that's what it sounds like."
"I guess I'm not really sure."
"You don't deserve to torture yourself like this. You've made some mistakes -- taken your knocks -- and you've definitely paid for all of it. You've done your time -- let it go."
She was -- she is -- absolutely right.
So who am I really?
I'm not what everyone thinks, nor what anyone would suspect. I can occasionally offend, but my intentions are never to do outright harm. I'm secretly an idealist and believe that good can overcome evil, we just need to try harder. I love with everything inside of me, and sometimes that's to my own demise. I've lied on more than one occasion throughout my lifetime, mostly to keep the peace, but I realize that that's not a valid excuse and am both genuinely sorry for my actions and am working hard to change the behavior which led to them. I've endured life experiences which would seem a dream to some and a nightmare to others -- regardless, they've made me who I am today, and that's not so bad. I can find more beauty and passion stepping outside my front door than some find in their entire lives; this has made the world wondrous to me, but also caused me excruciating grief. I admit that I've spent a good portion of my life looking for something "more," and am only now learning the pure joy of quiet contentment. I'm tired of upheaval. I believe in family. I love my mother and father and understand that without them, I likely would've been dead a long time ago. I'm not aloof as much as I am shy -- a situation that's led me to be, as trite as this sounds, sorely misunderstood. I believe that love can last, despite so much proof to the contrary. I believe that, yes, there's something bigger out there -- although I also believe that no religion is even close to understanding it. I simply believe -- and will fight for those beliefs. I'm often an exposed nerve. I'm grateful to those who care about me and my well-being. I accept that I haven't always done the right thing, but likewise I've paid enough penance for my sins to where I can finally forgive myself. I forgive others far more easily. I'm not perfect and never will be, which gives me something in common with every other human being on the planet. I can find humor in just about anything. I'm occasionally high-strung and have a quick temper, a situation I'm working harder on than I ever have before to rectify. I know my faults better than most. I'm not always easy to live with, but I hope that the immense benefits are worth the risks. I'm learning to finally let go.
I've been wrong all this time: I don't, in fact, want to be normal.
I am normal.
An Itch You Can't Scratch
The morning after I went to see Blade Runner, I did my own kind of running.
I pulled on sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt to protect me from the cold and headed out to run around the reservoir in Central Park. The city was beautiful -- with heavy, low clouds severing the tops of the buildings and absorbing the usual cacophony, and a chilly mist being whipped along the jogging path by a light wind. I pushed myself hard. I listened to the hypnotic slap of my feet into the soft mud and allowed the thoughts I'd tried to contain for so long to break free and swirl around my consciousness. I let the memories of my time with Jayne come.
After awhile, the path ahead of me began to blur. The cold sting of water on my cheeks became warm. I realized that I was crying.
I cried for a candle that burned twice as bright, and not nearly as long.
I cried for all those moments that will be lost in time.
Like tears in rain.