Monday, January 01, 2007
A Year Without Fear
I'm nursing the first hangover I've had in God knows how long today. But I've got the perfect excuse: it was New Year's Eve.
I didn't set out to get drunk--and to be brutally honest, it doesn't take much to get me plastered--but you get into a party mood and then your brain pulls an Elvis and leaves the building.
I started the countdown early Sunday morning at my gym where I sparred with Peter, my boxing instructor at New York's Sports Club. I know we're all sick of the "see you next year" jokes, but honestly, writing about that class now, it feels like it was ages ago, instead of just 24 hours.
Peter is a professional boxer, kick-boxer, cage-fighter, ah, hell you name it--he'd box kangaroos if you gave him a chance. A truly nice guy, Peter is merciless when we put on the gloves. He likes to make jokes at my expense as we suit up.
"My left jab and your nose should get married," he says, "they spend so much time together."
He says that line a lot, actually, to the point where I want to hit him, but, naturally, he always gets out of the way. On Sunday I was talking all sorts of smack as we sparred.
"The ball's going to come down early for you," I said, as he punched me in the head.
"My new year's resolution for you is pain," I shouted, doing my best Mr. T impersonation. None of the trash talk mattered as Peter cheerfully beat me from pillar to post. If you took my wisecracks and his fighting ability, you'd have quite a boxer.
So I get out of there, hightail it back to Brooklyn, and zip down to Lutheran Medical Center to see my father. It wouldn't be right to let the new year pass without paying him a visit. He was not in good shape and I have seen little improvement since he's been hospitalized, but I wanted to wish him the best before I went off to party with my friends.
I hopped on the train and rode out to Flatbush, to see have dinner with fellow writer/blogger, Anne of Ass Backwards fame. I had some doubts about going: I didn't know the neighborhood; it was New Year's Eve, I might get lost, I might be carried off by the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, the usual crap I put myself through.
But I decided for the new year I want to try new things, I want to stop being afraid all the time. I'm starting my fifth goddamn decade on this planet, it's high time I stop holding myself back and have some fun for Christ's sake.
And that's just what happened. I had a blast. Great food, great conversation--the guest list included a producer of documentary films for Japanese television, a soon-to-be-published author, and a reporter for Voice of America. It was fabulous.
I had planned on getting back to Bay Ridge at around 10 p.m., so I could go to my neighbor's party and ring in '07 on the home turf. But I was having such a good time at Anne's, I lost track of the time and didn't wind up leaving until about 11 p.m.
Now, as much as I hate New Year's Eve, I've got to see the ball drop in Times Square or I am just bummed for the next 12 months. Of course the trains were dragging their asses and I missed the N train at Pacific Street. I realized I'd have to run like hell from the train station if I was to get to a TV before midnight.
I finally pulled into Bay Ridge Avenue, and I flew up the stairs. I couldn't help but think of a scene from the Beatles movie Help!, where the villian's severely battered underling is limping across a beach, afraid he's going to miss Ringo's ritualistic murder.
"I'm going to miss the sacrifice," he huffs, "I'm going to miss the sacrifice!"
Well, I didn't miss the sacrifice, but it was close--and a little bizarre. I dashed home, got a bottle of wine and skipped over to my neighbor's house. I rang the bell and waited. And waited. I rang again and I waited some more.
Oh, Jesus. Either they don't hear me or the bell is out of order. Either way, I'm on the outside looking in and it's minutes from midnight. Screw it, I toss the wine bottle into my porch and roar up to the Killarney Pub, a hole-in-the-wall bar on Fifth Avenue where I celebrated New Year's Eve a year ago.
I'm going to miss the sacrifice, I'm going to miss the sacrifce...
I bounced into the Killarney Pub and immediately saw that the crowd was lighter than last year's. There was no band, only a handful of people, including some young Arabic guys playing pool. So what? I made it for the countdown with four minutes to spare.
You know the rest: the ball comes down, everybody cheers, there are hugs and handshakes (not enough of the former for me, but what the hell?) and then things go back to normal. This place was playing country music, which I loathe, but then Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" came on the juke box, and my stomach really started to turn.
"Fucking Barry Manilow?" one of the pool players asked, reading my thoughts.
I started putting away spritzers, which mixed with wine I had earlier in the evening and created a nice buzz. I was reading the captions for a Seinfeld episode--it was the one about the gay guy "changing teams"--when I decided it was time to go home.
I thought about taking another run at my neighbor's house, or using a ladder and climbing up to his apartment like a medieval invader, but as soon as my butt hit my favorite chair in the living room, I knew the evening was over.
I picked up the remote and began channel surfing...New Year's parties, a CSI: Miami rerun, Rocky Two in Spanish (I liked it better this way), and The Honeymooners marathon, where I came to rest.
I zonked out pretty quickly and woke up to see the episode where Ralph decides he's going to be a success. He's angry because he never continued his coronet lessons, "never hit the high note", as he puts it, and his words sounded depressingly familiar.
Like Ralph, I don't finish things. I get all excited about something and then the great plan seems to fizzle. He decides he's going to list all his good points and bad points so he can strengthen the good ones and eliminate the bad ones.
In the end, Ralph doesn't get the big promotion he was seeking, but Alice says he's made great progress and tells him to apply for the job again next year. She also threatens to bash him with the coronet if he goes back to his rotten ways.
It was a good show to see on the first day of the year, one of several signals I've been getting in the last 24 hours.
I went to visit my dad this morning--same condition, I'm afraid--and while he slept, I nodded off and for some reason, I thought of an episode from the old Superman show, where this bogus witch doctor on some island someplace has got everybody under his spell.
One woman is wearing paper chains on her wrists, but the villian has her convinced they're actually made of iron and her body sinks as he tells her this.
The Future Is Now
Why in the hell I recalled this particular episode I don't know, but as crappy as that show was--and let's face, it was a dog--that story shows the dangers of letting other people have too much influence of your life. Another important lesson for January 1.
I ended the day having a delicious Chinese dinner with my friend Xiaojing, a filmmaker who is editing her first feature-length work. I met her through a Meet-Up group and was immediately impressed with her determination to be successful (you hear that, Ralph?)
Xiaojing is an artist, but to me, she is also a work of art herself. She is beautiful, intelligent, out-going--I kind of talk with her and watch her at the same time, so it's like a conversation and a performance.
"Buddha told me to call you today," she said.
Hey, tell him I said thanks. We traded stories about our departed love ones, with Xiaojing telling me about her nanny's late husband, whom she came to love like her own father, and I told her about my mother. And soon we were both blubbering all over the place.
"This won't do for the new year," I said, blowing my nose. "Our loved ones would want us to be happy."
So we tried to cheer up. I got my fortune cookie and got yet another message: It is better to attempt something great and fail then to do nothing and succeed.
All right, this is yet another thing that is holding me back in so many areas. I'm afraid I'll fail, I'll look bad or stupid in front of...whom, exactly? My friends will support me win or lose, and my enemies will tear me down no matter how successful I become.
I told Xiaojing about the scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where Jack Nicholson tries to lift a heavy water fountain and hurl through a window. The thing is huge and doesn't budge. Exhausted, Nicholson steps back from the fountain and glares at his fellow inmates.
"At least I tried," he says and walks away.
My shrink advised me to skip making resolutions and just do things. Instead of making all these declarations that are stand a good chance of failing, just do whatever you have to do and let the world judge the results.
I'll tell you, it's hard not to be cynical about resolutions, especially when I look at what I wrote about them last year:
I'll organize, I wrote a year ago today, 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.
That hasn't exactly happened, but I'm getting a little closer. I have a better handle on my bad habits, if I haven't gotten rid of them entirely.
However, I do like the idea of starting off fresh. There's a great editorial in today's Times in defense of New Year's resolutions by Pascal Bruckner.
"Knowing that you can change your behavior, even by an iota, is essential for holding yourself in esteem," he writes. "We’re often cynical about how resolutions are never kept, but we shouldn’t be. Resolutions are perhaps lies, but they’re lies of good faith, necessary illusions."
So I'll tell a few lies of good faith for the new year: I will finish my various projects. I will hit the high note in whatever I do. I will live in the present and not wallow in the past. I will take care of my health in both mind and body. Bulging biceps are of little use if your psyche is a 98-pound weakling.
I will cut down on the net surfing, something that has really eaten a lot of my time recently. I like to tell people I don't look at TV, but parking my tail on You Tube isn't any better.
And I will try to live without fear: I will do new things, go to new places, meet new people. Being afraid hasn't made me any happier so there's no need to keep it up any longer.
Happy New Year to one and all. Let's make this one our best.