Friday, March 8, 2013

When I'm 34

I turn 34 on Sunday.

I have had a bad attitude about this. It's kind of been like this in my head:

Split screen, SIDE 1: me with, like, snot running down my face as I bike through a hail storm, my shoe falling off and some Navy dude beating me over the head with it and falling into the Elizabeth River, where its tangy juices melt me instantly, the last words I hear being the student loan debt collector suggesting I donate an eye to pay them.

Split screen, SIDE 2: Me and some beautiful brown haired wife and these rad kids (one adopted, obvi) riding their house-trained miniature horses around our loft in Brooklyn Heights, and then I get a call and it's the President asking for sex advice and I tell him my best trick and then everyone eats perfectly toasted bagels while reading my column in the New York Times.  

Expectations are a path to disaster, like seeing a hole in an icy mountainside and squeezing your way through it. So I'm being dumb. I get that. But now that I sit down with the purpose of writing a little life narrative for myself, a decision I made a long time ago is racing back to the surface, an epiphany narrowly eluding the bends:

This was the plan the whole time. I have lived a silly, meaningful, soul-searching vagabond existence, financed primarily by student loans. It was my little trick, a rig of the system: I would keep moving, keep getting degrees, take out a little off the top from the private loans here and there, defer defer defer, and basically ride it as far as I could, at which time I would be forced to get a job where pants are not just encouraged, but expected. The trick would pan out, I reasoned, because by the time I reached the edge I would have a jam-packed resume, setting me up to find a meaningful pants-demanding job.

(To be honest, I was kind of hoping that I'd fall backwards into Split Screen 2. But that hasn't happened. Peanut butter and jelly is still cheap, I can do yoga for free... life is still pretty good.)

ANYWAY. The point of this blog was to write a little life narrative to help me see my situation as part of a bigger plan, and not just a semi-sucky moment. So here goes. 

Born in Danbury Connecticut, a town known for a hat factory that no longer existed. My dad an Italian tough from Far Rockaway, Queens. My mom a smart Jewish girl from the Midwest. Sweet little sister who I would torture by antagonizing into hitting me, knowing my blocking her punches would hurt her more than me (yah, I was that older brother at one point). Super cool older sister who would antagonize me by putting me in a shopping cart and pushing the shopping cart down a hill. My dad had a lock and alarm business that did well--he told me he put the alarms on submarines, which sounds crazy when you say it outloud. But he said a lot of crazy things. He also claimed to have been part of the team that invented the contact lens, that his dad was a character in Good Fellas, and that he was an all state full back who got a scholarship offer to Harvard. So who knows. But he did well enough that we moved to yuppie Ridgefield, an NYC commuter town on the Harlem Line. The house looked like a castle. Growing up in poverty my dad was a complete dummy about money. Cocaine, I would later learn, was his gumba, which helps explain the car crashes and random street fights he'd get into from time to time. But I was one of the first kids to get Nintendo. He took me to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Even though he was scary as a loose jackal as a Pop Warner football coach, I loved that he was my coach. Maybe my absolute top memories as a kid are with him and the other dads and coaches at the diner in town, Nina's, figuring out the plays with salt and pepper, the syrup at quarterback and mouthfuls of pancakes, New England fall proof of God out the window.

We'd go to St. Louis for Thanksgiving and during the summers and hang with my mom's family. East coast Jews transplanted. My grandpa was a World Warr II paratrooper and traveling bra salesman who would lead my sweet little grandma through the department store by her neck. But I loved my grandpa. He was smart and fair, engaged and engaging. The quintessential Grandpa Hilly: He made the effort to take us kids to Six Flags, but on the way back, while everyone else was asleep, he made me cry giving me the Don't Do Drugs tough love you-won't-be-my-grandson-anyore lecture. I was 7. My grandma looked like a movie star to us. She taught us all to swim and to love to read. I will never *like* anyone more than her. G+G. My cousins and uncles out there were great, too. It felt like a family.

At some point in my childhood the bottom dropped out of my parents' financial situation. Cold showers. Moves in the middle of the night. Food stamps. Yelling, fighting worse. The story goes on and on and on and on.

Fast forward through middle school (three of them) and high school (three again).

Spent a summer in Yosemite reading and shooting hoops and hiking and washing dishes. Read Kerouac for the first time. Read Kerouac for the first time. Read Kerouac for the first time. My friends All Star and Mose and I got drunk and snuck into the stables to ride the horses and I was so fucking happy right then, even moreso after a jump in the river, could have swam down to the center of the earth and made love to the dinosaur mermaids if we wanted, we were so powerful. Tried to hitchhike out and made it halfway through the desert in Nevada before getting a cheap hotel, a Greyhound ticket, and Gidgeon's bible to help with my revival. Spent the next summer down in Florida with my sister. I taught little kids to swim. She led a gator tour on an airboat through the swamp. Come September I transferred from the Jesuit school I was going to in St. Louis back to my state school, the University of Connecticut, an action capitulated to the anti-satori: That school was costing a lot of money that it wasn't worth.

Studied abroad in Florence. Fell in love for the first time. Went to Sicily for Carnivale. Had a knife pulled on me, walked away, remembered who my Italian grandpa (theoretically) was, and went back and slammed the guy to the ground when he pulled it again. Went to Paris and discovered how beautiful man's earth can be. Went to Amsterdam--I think. Made out with foreign women, including a girl from Malta, a country I had not heard of before. Couldn't stand sitting in class so I'd take hour long bathroom breaks, gambling with the crooks in the market, hitch-hiking, figuring out European train schedules and the view of the Alps out the window, the art, the art, the art, and the people, man. I got a place in my heart for any American who hasn't lived among Europeans. It's a whole 'nother thing over there, this society thing.

Spent a summer staying at a friend's parents' condo in the Hamptons. We got jobs as interns at the local paper--I wrote a story about how a hurricane was going to break up Long Island into four pieces that summer (it never did) we got promoted to managing editor of the smaller paper in Montauk. The next summer lived on the Hill in DC, teaching little Korean children how to speak English by watching Annie and talking about kittens and laughing too much the other teachers gave me dirty looks. Graduated college. They send Jewish kids to Israel for free. Met my first serious girlfriend in the salt baths--a wonderful girl who I am proud to report is still cute, who happened to live in the next dorm over back at UConn. Worked at ESPN for a little bit. Got a master's degree. Had to keep moving moving moving so applied and got into NYU for another degree. Lived off Washington Square Park. If a person is a Trivial Pursuit game piece, I got the yellow in Yosemite, the red in Europe, and neon in New York. Fell in love with a South African ballerina. Followed her to Jo-burg. Asked her dad if he was cool with it, he said Maaaaayyybe... No. Came back to New York. Fought for her fought for her fought for her. Started a production company with a childhood close friend. Made a documentary about table tennis. Did some work for ESPN. Made a documentary series for BET about the band and football team at Grambling St. in Louisiana. The ballerina and I broke up and she went home. She came back to fight for it. She got deported. I followed her again. I couldn't be in New York without her so I moved back home to Connecticut. Couldn't do that any more so I drove and drove and drove until the car couldn't go any farther.

San Diego. Surfed. Did yoga in a yurt. Sat around the coffee shop. Taught at a charter school. Surfed. Did yoga. Wrote for the local paper. Hitch hiked up the coast. Got incredibly depressed thinking about the girl. Quit my jobs, gave up my apartment, sold everything I could and bought a ticket to Cape Town. Wandered. Almost took a job cleaning penguins mauled by oil. Volunteered at a home for young men. Helped run a mobile soup kitchen. Realized how lucky I was. My mom called me one morning. 'Your dad had a heart attack,' she said. 'And he didn't make it.' Flew home. Fog. Vapor. An imaginary place between my body and the air where I lived for 6 weeks, 2 months, I don't know how long. A Dutch friend from South Africa invited me to be the mate on his ship. Sailed for a while in Holland. Couldn't understand the wind. I wasn't allowed to hook up with the female guests until these German riot cop dudes arrived, one pretty girl among them, and my cop hating Dutch friend gave me the nod. Got fired. Found my way to Ireland. Couch surfed. Hitch hiked. Worked on an organic farm. Worked on a goat farm with a nudist. Worked at a hostel on an island. Got offered a scholarship to go to a school in Norfolk so went there.

Almost left immediately. Met a crazy girl I couldn't resist. Stayed around. Got on board with a local magazine. Showed 80s movies at the old theater. Did public art projects. Saw some things wrong in the city and worked to help get them changed. Chose the business over the girl (mutually). Met another girl, a yoga teacher who helped me see who I really am. Ran for city council. Had surreal things happen like a poem from this blog becoming scandal in the paper. An insane man terrorized me online, came after me outside a courthouse, then got his head shot off in a Rite Aid. Published a lot of art and journalism and community building words I was damn proud of. Helped make an arts district in the smack dab center of the self-proclaimed military capital of the world (pending).

My attitude is getting better. I wrote this for me but I appreciate your time.