Sunday, January 01, 2006
A Clean White Page
Just for today, do not worry.
Just for today, do not anger.
Honor your parents, teachers and elders.
Earn your living honestly.
Show gratitude to every living thing.
—Dr. Mikao Usui
When I was a student at Our Lady of Angels School in Bay Ridge, my third grade teacher, Sister Mary You're-Going-To-Hell, would give us new assignments by telling us to open our notebooks to a clean, white page and begin our lessons.
Now I hated Catholic school as much as the next man or woman unfortunate enough to go through that nightmare, but that phrase, that image of a pure white piece of paper stuck in my mind. And on this first day of 2006 it seems quite appropriate to think about it.
It's a new year, a fresh start, a chance to begin again. Yes, those words are pretty tired by now, especially if you've seen enough New Year's Days come and go. But what is the alternative? Nothing changes, no new beginings, same old, same old? Sorry, but that's not doing it for me.
So I'm going to start anew, put the past behind me and look forward instead of looking in my rearview mirror.
Yeah, I've made these promises before and didn't do so well. But every year I get another chance to get it right and I gladly take it.
As much as I love the idea of New Year's Day, I loathe the concept of New Year's Eve with a mind-bending passion. What is the point of acting like a drunken idiot merely because we cross over from one year to the next? It should be a time of quiet reflection, but good luck telling that to the Times Square crowd.
This was damn near one of the worst New Year's Eves of my life. Once again I found myself this year streaking toward Dec. 31 with no party plans. I know my social life needs work--a major project for 2006--but, still, it shouldn't be this difficult to find a party when the whole earth is getting down.
My sister very kindly invited me to join her and her friends for the evening, but that didn't appeal to me. I love my sister and I get along with her friends, but I knew I would feel like a tag-along if I joined them.
I answered an ad on craigslist for a dinner in Brooklyn Heights, something I did last year and thoroughly enjoyed, but the woman who placed the ad this time sent me an e-mail saying she had not gotten enough responses.
I even posted my own ad on craigslist, basically asking for someone to do something with me around midnight. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.
Okay, don't panic. There's a bar just two blocks from my house, the Killarney Pub that I've been threatening to check out for ages. It looks like an old-timer, blue collar working guy's kind of place filled with the people I like to write about, but really don't spend enough time with.
But my sister said I'd probably have a better time with people my own age and she had a point. It would seem unlikely I'd run into anyone with similar interests at a place like this.
Fine. I belong to a social group that does all sorts of things around the city and one of the members posted an event on the group's site about New Year's Eve bash at a bar in downtown Manhattan, just a few blocks from Ground Zero.
I didn't like the idea of riding the subways on New Year's Eve, and the location wasn't very exciting, but being alone was even less appealing. So, ever the slave to commitment, I clicked "Maybe" and sort of planned to go.
Pity the Fool
I got all dressed and ready to out when my dad walked by me on the way to the bathroom and I got that unmistakable odor telling me that my father just had one of his "accidents."
All right. I told him to get undressed, took all his clothing and chucked them in the washing machine. Then I put on a pair of old shorts, got my father into the shower, and hosed him down.
I could have gone the "why me" route, saying stuff like, look what I'm doing on New Year's Eve! Everybody else is going to great parties, having fabulous dinners.
They're wearing tuxedos and gowns, they're pouring Champagne into towers of crystal glasses in the finest hotels, falling madly in love, and dancing until the break of dawn. And here I am hosing down this old guy who just crapped himself. Where is the justice?
But self-pity has never gotten me much and I knew in my heart that everybody wasn't having a great time. A lot them were suffering something fierce, without food or shelter. My father needed help and it wasn't like I was racing to make an 8 o'clock curtain. There was no sense in making a bad situation any worse.
I got my father into bed, hung the wash, got re-dressed, and out I went. I got to the bar on Chambers Street at about 9:45 p.m. It was a loud, neighborhood place with a lot of young people and no sign of my group. One fellow looked something like the organizer, whose photo is posted on the group's site, but I wasn't certain.
He was sitting at a table with a three other people--a woman and another couple. So even if it was him, I had no urge to pull up a chair and play the fifth wheel concerto.
This was starting to seriously suck. The juke box was blasting country music (!?), the young men were shouting louder and louder. And then I saw this man, who seemed to be about my age, walking by with a cardboard sign around his neck reading "Pity the Fool."
I pictured myself with that sign around my neck, begging for people to like me, to invite me to join their group and celebrate with them.
It was time to go.
Killarney In My Dreams
But go where? I couldn't bring myself to call my sister and ask to meet up with her. My best buddy was at a concert at a Lower East Side club, which was probably packed to the gills.
I got on the subway thinking I'd find a local place in Bay Ridge, but I really think I was looking for an excuse to go the hell home.
I walked down my block and I see one of my neighbors is having a party, which was filled with people I grew up with. Sounds perfect, so close to home and filled with people I know.
But I hadn't been invited and I hadn't been in contact with these people in a long time and showing up now so I could welcome the new year in a crowd seemed wrong. It's not right to use people.
I was set to switch the TV and watch Dick Clark ring in 2006 all alone when I forced myself to put on my jacket and go out the door. I walked up to the door of the Killarney Pub, but then I pulled back.
I can't go in there now, I thought. I can't just walk into a strange bar like this. They'll boot me out on my keester.
As I stood there in the cold, I figured this would be good time to change, to lose my fears of trying new things. I have a crippling fear of failure, but what would failure mean in this context? The bar sucked? The people were ugly? I've been through that many times before and lived to tell the tale.
Walking away would mean I was giving in yet again to my insecurities, that I was choosing comfort, even if that "comfort" was making me miserable, over something new and possibly better.
So I went in.
The Wild Colonial Boy
I worked my way through the small knot of people at the door and found myself a seat at the bar. The woman next to me smiled and wished me a happy new year. Immediately I felt at home and I figured I had made the right decision.
Yes, the place was full of strangers, many of whom were a bit older than I. But I wasn't a tag-along here, I wasn't somebody's friend or brother desperate to find a party before midnight.
I chose this place. I was part of a crowd enjoying a band of middle-aged men and one younger woman work their way through a bunch of songs by the Stones, Elvis, and the Beatles.
The TV was switched on to one of the New Year's Eve specials, but the sound was off, so while some forgettable pop star sang mutely on the small screen, with twirling dancers gyrating through lame aerobic steps all around her, I listened to the Groove do a rousing version of "I Saw Her Standing There." And I felt quite satisfied.
Midnight came and we all shouted "Happy New Year!" For just a second, I imagined myself experiencing this moment alone at home in front of my television. I shuddered and banished the image from my mind.
I shook a few hands, no kisses, but that's all right. I want a relationship, not a quick hit on New Year's Eve. After things quieted down a little, the lead singer of the Groove did a belly dancing number ("rock-a-belly" I believe was her term) which was quiet hot, actually, and I kind of wish I had gotten a kiss from her.
I left just before 1 a.m. and walked the two blocks home. It was a happy new year indeed.
Prayers From A Stranger
A wrong number got me out of bed at about 8 o'clock this morning. I was all set to give whoever it was a piece of my mind, but I stopped before picking up the receiver and reminded myself that this was the first day of a new year. Let's give the hostility a rest, shall we?
Turns out it was a woman in some prayer circle and I believe she was attempting to contact the people she was praying for. She apologized profusely and I assured her it was no problem--and I meant it. And this stranger, this voice on the telephone, wished me a happy and a healthy new year. I should get more wrong numbers like that.
I don't know about making resolutions this year. One self-help guy I read says resolutions are a waste of time, that you should set goals for yourself, which has a much more solid ring to it.
I think my most important goal/resolution for this year will be to organize, since so much flows from that. My room looks like someone blew up a Salvation Army clothing store. I can't find anything and I've probably wasted years of my life looking for stuff here, getting angry and frustrated in the process.
So no more. I'll organize--my room, my thoughts, my emotions, my vision of myself. I'll budget my time so I can work on my various projects and ditch this negativity I have worn around my neck for so long.
I saw a sign on the subway the old day that told passengers "No Diversions Planned" for the weekend. Life doesn't tell us about diversions ahead of time, unfortunately, so we have to handle them as they come.
Let us all now open to a clean, white page and start again.
Happy New Year.