Collapse Into Now, Or Just Collapse

If you live long enough, everything starts to remind you of something that happened to you earlier in your life. Maybe that is the source of the regular (and unsolicited) wisdom that is shared with younger people. Two things happened in the past week that reminded me of my youth, more exactly of my high school self.

The two things were the epic collapse of my Red Sox and also the announced retirement of R.E.M. There was a time in my life in which these were two of the most important things to me. In the summer and fall of 1986, both the Red Sox and R.E.M. were unusually important to me.

In the summer of 1986 I had just completed my junior year in high school. I was seventeen and pretty certain that I knew exactly how things were going to go for me. Actually, I didn’t have any idea but I was naively confident and just knew that my intelligence would allow me to succeed on my terms. (I wonder how my seventeen year old self would react to what my forty-two year old self would tell him about his future. The living in Europe part would be pretty cool, no doubt.) Anyway, the Red Sox were in the middle of a magical season, their first exciting season since the heartbreak of 1978. Clemens fanned 20 in a game in April and the irrational confidence in New England about our team was higher than usual. In the backs of our minds we all knew that the Sox would eventually let us down, but that didn’t stop us from pretending that year would be different.

In the previous summer, I’d purchased an album called “Fables of the Reconstruction” (or maybe “Reconstruction of the Fables”) by this band called R.E.M. I’d gotten the urge to buy the album after reading a review in Rolling Stone. (That’s how long ago this was.) I thought I’d never heard of R.E.M. although I figured out later that somehow I had seen them perform “So. Central Rain” on Letterman. I still can’t figure out how that was possible. Anyway, “Fables” is probably R.E.M.’s least accessible album from their classic period. (This runs from their LP debut “Murmur” in 1983 through “Automatic for the People” in 1992. Those nine years seem like twenty-nine in my memories.) About “Fables”, I can’t deny that I was disappointed. At the time, I was very into Springsteen and Mellencamp and other classic rockers. With R.E.M., I had no idea what the lead singer was saying, there were no lyrics included with the album (and no internet to look them up on) and the music didn’t fit comfortably into any box that I knew.

Given that there are certain qualities I had at 17 that I still possess, I pretended to be into R.E.M. and asked one of my good friends if he’d ever heard of them. My relationship with this friend was very odd. Decades before “frenemy” was invented, I had that type of relationship with this guy. He was one of my best friends and I was hyper-competitive with him about stupid crap. I was also jealous of him. Naturally, he had been aware of R.E.M. for years, since their EP. (I hated this.) Still, I went on like I was an R.E.M. fan, may have purchased “Reckoning” and “Murmur” and behaved like I was the type of cool person who like bands that weren’t really popular. (Meanwhile, another friend of ours was into stuff like The Replacements and Husker Du. What a jerk I was.)

Being a Red Sox fan in New England is nothing like being an R.E.M. fan pre-“The One I Love”. In my youth, being a Red Sox fan was the easiest thing to become, although it was often difficult to persevere with. It was expected that you cared how the team performed and that you were crushed when the team inevitably failed. It was a badge of honor, like the way New Yorkers feel about the general hassles of that city. You lived and died with the Red Sox and it meant something, something important, about you, about your character and about what it means to be from New England. I haven’t lived in New England in almost twenty years but judging by what I see when I go back, it is probably still the same way.

The Red Sox season officially became special early on, April 29 to be exact, when Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners. In my lifetime to that point, the Red Sox had never had a dominant power pitcher like that. Since the stomach punch of 1978, the Red Sox hadn’t finished closer than 2.5 games out of first, and that was in the strike-shortened season of 1981. In the three years leading up to 1986, the team had finished 20, 18 and 18.5 games out of first. After the Red Sox won on April 29, their record was 10-8. By July 26, the club was 58-38 and we all believed.

I mention July 26 because that is the day that R.E.M.’s fourth album was released, “Lifes Rich Pageant”. Whereas “Fables” had challenged and ultimately discouraged me, “Pageant” was rewarding. From the opening of “Begin the Begin” through the goofy cover of “Superman”, the album delivered. (Coincidence that it was produced by Don Gehman who also produced four classic Mellencamp albums?) The album was accessible, the lyrics were intelligible and they rewarded paying attention. (“I can’t even rhyme”, “It’s gonna fall”, “I believe my humor’s wearing thin”.) Suddenly more classmates turned on to R.E.M. I may have gotten there after my friend but I got there before a bunch of others. When “The One I Love” hit in the fall of 1987, I was ready to recommend “Cuyahoga” and “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” and “Pilgrimage” to the newcomers.

I also had my first real girlfriend that summer. I bored her with various tracks from Springsteen’s live box set and repeated attempts to compromise her virginity. (About five years later a Springsteen song, “If I Fall Behind”, became the song for her and her then boyfriend. It didn’t even feature the E Street Band! I think that guy also got her virginity.) To that point, it was the best summer of my life.

Everyone who was a baseball fan in the 80s or knows recent baseball history or was a fan of “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” knows how the Red Sox season turned out. I was watching Game Six in a hotel bar, courtesy of my girlfriend’s mother who worked there. (We were drinking soft drinks.) It got late and we had to get home. We listened to the game on the way back to my place (yes, she was driving) and the Red Sox had the lead going into the last half of the ninth. “Come on in so we can watch the Red Sox win the World Series”, I said. I refuse to take responsibility for jinxing the team as I’m pretty sure I was in good company in feeling confident.

Eighteen years later I was a married thirty-five year old resident of Brooklyn and I finally did see the Red Sox win the World Series. (My ex-girlfriend was married and raising two kids in New Jersey. Not with the jerk from before or with the guy who took her maidenhead.) I’d lost touch with R.E.M. after “Monster” although apparently they released an album that October called “Around the Sun”. Allmusic gives “Around the Sun” two stars making it the lowest rated album for R.E.M. (They also give “Out of Time” two and a half stars, the same as “Monster”. Maybe I can’t take their word for it.) In 2007 the Red Sox did it again. R.E.M. released a live album. I didn’t know about the R.E.M. album until I looked it up on allmusic.

Ultimately sports teams and bands aren’t really like each other. Sports teams last forever and often the only thing that this year’s team has in common with the team from your childhood is the same cap. Bands are finite and eventually breakup or tour in anonymity. But in the movies of our lives that we produce and star in, sometimes a band is playing on the soundtrack of the montage of your sports memories. Losing the 1986 World Series was devastating. It felt like the end of the world. A year later R.E.M. came out “It’s the End of World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”. This year R.E.M. calls it quits after “Collapse into Now” and the Red Sox just collapse. These connections are arbitrary but that’s how memory works.

For the Red Sox, there’s always next year. R.E.M., on the other hand, has gone the way of trying to get to second base, of getting an older brother to buy beer, of believing in an infinite future. R.E.M. has gone the way of my youth.

Wherever I Go, Here I Am

After years of wishful thinking, after weeks of political maneuvering, after days of stress about moving, a dream of sorts came true when my wife and I temporarily relocated to a small city in Europe. It’s temporary because everything is temporary but more precisely because I had an opportunity through work. We are now living abroad, something that we’d hoped to do but which I secretly assumed would never happen.

It’s not an easy thing, to leave New York. We did it once before, leaving New York for Atlanta. Even though that turned out alright, better than alright, in the end, it was a difficult experiment. Among other things, it convinced us that New York was the place for us and that we would never leave again. And yet, here we are.

So what changed? For one, we are in Europe, on the Continent. None of our (now former) friends were jealous when we lit out for Atlanta. All of our friends are jealous of us now. (They will remain our friends if for no other reason than the joy that it will bring my wife and I to see their faces when we talk about our time in Europe.) Everyone, or at least those as pretentious as my wife and I, dreams of living abroad, of learning a new culture and a new language, of being the ones with the exotic accents. And, of course, we all dream of starting from scratch, if only for a little while. Here, no one really knows us and we can create whole new identities, cooler than the ones we leave behind in the states. We may even have the stamina to maintain our facades for the whole year that we’ll be here.

I keep saying we but I have no idea how much my wife feels that same as I do. Maybe she is not plagued by always thinking about her identity like I am about mine. Living here means something about me and I think its up to me to define what it is. If you don’t like who you are or who you’ve become or who other people think you are then it’s always nice to leave and try again somewhere else. Does it matter that I tried this when I went to college and again when I moved to New York and again when I moved to Atlanta and probably numerous times in between and since? I just assume this is what everyone does.

So here I am and I’m so sure that I’m going to leave all my problems behind, that this change of scenery is just what I need in order to become the person I’ve always wanted to be; to finish my novel(s), to update my blog more regularly, to be more thoughtful with regards to my wife.

The truth is that I will either do or not do those things and it won’t have anything to do with my location. I carry all this shit with me when I go somewhere, even though I don’t remember packing it and all I really wanted was to leave it in our apartment in New York. It’s here and I’ll just have to deal with it.

At least I can expect some visible envy in the future.

All the Others Are So Much Easier to Bear

We are all a number of different people at the same time. There’s who we think we are, who we want to be, who we want others to think we are, etc. Sometimes these things are aligned but most of the time there are differences between these various parts of ourselves. It is these differences that lead us to form friendships. We all have the need to reveal who we really are and a need for acceptance of that person.

A close friend of mine feels that technology is changing the nature of friendship. She feels that things like Facebook and Twitter are removing the impetus for people to interact face to face, and that losing this interaction makes friendships less meaningful.

When Facebook launched in 2004, I was 34 years old, married and living with my wife in an apartment we owned. I suppose that I was not in the target demographic for Facebook. I was old enough to have grown up in a time in which you didn’t keep people informed of everything you thought or did. I was also (and still am) happily married, so tracking down old lovers was not of interest to me. I don’t need to be on Facebook for business reasons. In sum, I can’t think of a single good reason to get on Facebook while I can think of plenty of reasons not to (including old lovers trying to find me).

Even though its not for me, I do believe in the possibility of friendship through Facebook or Twitter or other social media. A friend is someone you can tell what you really think, reveal who you really think you are. The only consequence of social media is that maybe the boundary between you private and public self is breaking down. Is this a bad thing? After all, wouldn’t we all be better off if we could live our lives as openly and honestly as possible? I think maybe it could be but I also wonder about unintended consequences of all this. I continue to stay off Facebook.

Nothing Can Fix Me

Nothing can fix me. It’s too late. I’m too old. Do you ever feel like that?

As you get older, things become clearer. The good part of aging is that you gain wisdom about things. It used to bother me when my parents would give me advice on something and their basis for the advice was that they were older and they knew the way things were. It seemed a pretty flimsy basis to me. As I have grown older and interact with younger people I see that there are things you understand just from having been around longer. Sometimes things are so clear to me that I can’t understand why the person I’m talking to can’t see it. Someday they will.

The bad thing that becomes clearer as you get older is that who you are starts to solidify. This is not a problem with the good qualities that you have but it is a source of frustration with regards to the things about yourself that you’ve always wanted to change. When you are younger, you always think that there will be time to change. Nothing is forever. I will only do this job for a little while until I pay off my school loans. I will live in this little apartment now until I have enough money to move into a bigger one in a nicer neighborhood.

The biggest surprise to me as I get older is how little personalities change. When I was growing up, I just assumed that my father had reached the level of adult maturity in which you take on the responsibilities of adulthood because you want to, not because you have to. Maybe I was naive, but I assumed that adults no longer wanted the things that they may have wanted when they were younger. I assumed that raising a family was not a burden but was a joy. My father didn’t care about what he had had to sacrifice because what had replaced it was more desirable.

In my twenties, I kept waiting for this maturity to arrive. I kept waiting to not care about the joys of my youth; video games, science fiction and fantasy and watching sports. Two decades later and I still love those things. I still love my freedom. I have been married for over a decade but in many ways I’m still the same person I was back then. Sure I’ve gained knowledge and wisdom but at my base, I’m almost the same.

This sameness is a burden when I make the same mistakes over and over. The things I fight about with my wife are rarely new things. Instead they are variations on the things that have been problems for years. I’ve often reached the point of giving up and just accepting that I can’t be any other way. I think people reach that point a lot from a physical standpoint. You try for years to get back into shape and you are not successful so you decide that you are at your new normal size. You accept what you are. This can also happen to us from a mental standpoint.

Still, I retain hope that I can change. I have been successful over the last couple of years in changing myself physically, shedding some weight and getting down to what I vaguely remember was my college weight. Now I am also working on changing mentally. My goal in this is not some hazy past ideal but progress towards to a hazy ideal that we all carry around inside, how we would like to be if we only could. Maybe we can. I need to believe that I can change and that things don’t have to be one way just because that’s how they’ve always been. We’ll see.

You Can Go Home Again, But Why Would You Want To?

I have now lived most of my life in places other than where I grew up. As the years go by, I feel less and less of a connection to my hometown. Downtown only has a few of the same businesses as from when I was a regular patron. Even the movie theater has a different owner, and seven more screens. There is a new mall outside of town and the old mall is gone. My high school is now the middle school and my grade school is now used for something else. Even my parents have relocated to a different neighborhood. Still, its not really all these things that make it feel so strange in my erstwhile hometown. The strangeness comes from how different I feel from the people that are still there.

I have no idea if this is normal. From a very young age I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t like most other people in my town, especially my family. I was also aware, early on, that I didn’t want to be like these people. Of course I wanted to be accepted by my family and the people I interacted with, but I wanted them to accept me on my terms. I believed that there was something better that could be found somewhere else. I couldn’t express what it was but I was certain that it existed.

My biggest fear growing up is that I would never leave my hometown. I was worried that I’d end up in a job that I hated, married to a woman that I had to settle for, raising children that I felt obligated to have. Now I didn’t escape the job issue but I did get out of my hometown and did marry the woman of my dreams and we did not have any children. The life I live now may have been unusual if I’d stayed but in New York you can be anything.

So I became someone that my parents didn’t understand. I became the type of person that my parents never liked. If I wasn’t their son I’m sure they wouldn’t like me. Even as their son, some days its a close thing between like and dislike. My going back home is a reminder of why I was so anxious to get away. My family is a reminder of what I never wanted to be. I’m sure my parents know how I feel and there is an uneasy detente between us, neither side wanting to say or do the wrong thing.

I go home less and less as the years pass and I’m not sure if things will ever change. Maybe I need to accept that I will never be the child that my parents want. Maybe I need to not have a chip on my shoulder about it. I decided long ago that I would no longer make decisions based on what they wanted or thought was best. But if you can’t be yourself when you go home then why bother?

Another City in Another Light

When you have a job that you don’t like, you begin each day thinking about lunch, each Monday thinking about the weekend and each week thinking about the next three-day weekend.  And during this time of year, you start thinking about when you are going to be taking your vacation. In a lot of places in corporate America, you need to pick your days for the year in January. They won’t be set in stone but it is important to identify any scheduling conflicts with co-workers as soon as possible. Who is going to have to work the day after Thanksgiving? Who is taking the days before Christmas? The days after Christmas?

Vacation is probably my second favorite thing about my job. (The paycheck is first.) I get four weeks plus a couple personal days and I think, in general, that is pretty good. I’m pretty sure that I would take a worse job if they were offering six weeks vacation. For eight weeks vacation, I would consider taking a pay cut.

Soon after selecting my vacation days, I start thinking about where to go for my main vacation. A lot of my vacation days will be taken up here and there, day trips and family obligations. But each year the wife and I like to go away for a week somewhere. We haven’t decided where to go this year.

The choice is usually between someplace we’ve already been and loved and someplace we haven’t been but may end up loving. Do we choose Paris, with the great food and the pleasant people or do we take a chance on Croatia? Do we go back to Ecuador or is this the year we finally go to Peru?

I’d like to go back to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United, but I’m not sure I want to go back to England. We could combine the trip to Manchester with a visit to Ireland. Unfortunately, unlike in Iceland where we went last year, Ireland can’t devalue its currency and make the trip more cost effective.

The only problem with always looking forward to the next relief (lunch, the weekend, vacation) is that these things take on too much importance in your mind. The best lunch can never be as good as what I’ll hope it’ll be when I imagining it at 9:01. The weekend disappears in a flash and before I know it it’s Sunday night and I’m getting anxious about having to get mentally prepared for another week of work. And the dirty secret about a week of vacation is that you are twice as busy in the week before you leave and when you come back, all the things you hoped would be taken care of while you were gone are still there.

I know its churlish to complain about things about which other people may wish they could complain. Still, we can only manufacture problems out of the circumstances of our own lives. No doubt I’ll be complaining later this year that the water pressure in the hotel shower was inadequate. I just need to decide where that will be.

All This Has Happened Before

I have started off most of the last forty-something years with good intentions. “This is the year when I will accomplish something meaningful.” ” This is the year that I will look back on as the one that changed everything.”

My resolution this year was to start a blog. Check. Why? Because I can’t spend all my time watching TV and playing video games. At some point I have to try and use my brains for something else. Reading is still a favorite activity of mine but it’s a solitary activity and I want to do something that is a bit more social.

Facebook is not an option for me. Maybe it’s ego, but I just assume that there are people out there who are checking periodically to see if I’m on it. I’m not running from the law or a child or anything like that. I just want to control with whom I’m in contact.

So I’m not sure what this blog will be about. I’m not really interested in doing something very structured, like keeping track of how I spend the extra money in my paycheck thanks to the tax compromise. (It paid for this website.) I don’t want to have to do something in here every day as there won’t be something worth talking about every day. Maybe this blog will die a slow death.

I’ve started plenty of years with good intentions. All this has happened before. Let’s see how it turns out.