Monday, May 26, 2008

One of the Greatest Gifts

"There is nothing better than birthday cake. It's like a slice of concentrated love with butter cream frosting."

--Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata

When I was in my early twenties, I was always so worried about my career, or the lack of one, to be more precise.

I was convinced that I was doing something wrong, that I should be successful, instead of struggling at some crappy office job or standing on the unemployment line.

I whined to my mother that I was going nowhere, life was passing me by, and that I had no future whatsoever.

“I’m almost 30 years old!” I wailed.

“Oh, now,” she said, smiling, “if you look at it that way, you’re almost 50 years old.”

I turned 51 years old on Friday and that conversation with my mother has this dual existence in my mind, where it seems like it happened yesterday and still manages to feel like ancient history.

I'm whining about my career and all those big dreams have yet to materialize. And my mom's not here to listen to my bellyaching. But I'm still thankful for what I have.

Unlike last year, where I threw the big five-oh shindig and nearly had a nervous break down in the process, I kept things low key this year. I just went to the theater with my sister and aunt follow by dinner at my aunt’s house.

It was a good day. The weather was nice, there were tourists and sailors all over the place and I could enjoy myself without having to play host.

This is interesting time of life. People keep telling me that I’m not old whenever I start griping about my age (some things never change, right?) and yet within three days recently I received a membership offer from AARP and a brochure from a cemetery in Queens offering a good deal on a plot.

Please, people, one at a time.

One of the greatest gifts you can give to those you love is a sense of security,” the cemetery brochure says, “the knowledge that you have taken care of everything.

The cemetery says it’s one of the few in New York with available property and encourages future corpses to “seize upon the rare opportunity to choose exactly how you wish to be remembered.”

I don’t see how buying a hole in the ground is going to have any impact of what people think of me. God knows I’ve tried to influence people’s thinking while I’m still breathing and it doesn’t work.

People will think whatever the hell they want to think about you, no matter how spiffy your grave is, but, hey, I’m old, so what do I know?

The cemetery says it offers "a variety of other options, including graves, niches and cremation."

Can I have all three? That should give those I love a real sense of security. And I will have finally found my niche.

I wonder if that variety of other options includes immortality. That would sure give me a sense of security.

I started the celebrating on Friday by going to the gym for a couple rounds of boxing. My instructor is in his forties and he just knocked a guy out in a kickboxing match, but I'm happy to report that he went a little easier on me.

I was riding home on the train that night when a homeless man I had seen before got on at Union Square and started his spiel.

"Within in a few weeks," he told us in a loud wheezing voice, "by the grace of God, I will by 67 years old. Sixty seven years old! But lately things haven't been going to well for me..."

Dance With Me, Henry

He proceeded to ask for anything, a nickel, a quarter, food, whatever. I realized that I had heard this routine before, that this guy was always turning 67 in a few weeks and that "lately" was pretty much a permanent state of affairs for him.

But I gave him a buck anyway. At least I had a home to go to.

My bud Paula treated me to dinner in an Italian place in Downtown Brooklyn that night and then I was off to the Three Jolly Pigeons to hook up with people from my Bay Ridge Friends group.

People were buying me drinks and wishing me a happy and no one made me go up to the stage for karaoke, praise the Lord.

The funny thing is, the more I drank, the more I felt like singing. I seem to recall swaying and mumbling along with "Margaritaville" though that could be my mind playing tricks on me.

I was out with this group a few weeks ago and we wound up at another place in the neighborhood called the Salty Dog.

They have dancing there after 11 pm and though it took a while, people started coming out on the floor.

The music wasn’t my style—you call that crap music?!?—so I stood on the sidelines and watched as the younger folks did their thing.

I love watching women dance because they just love to dance, whereas the male animal only dances so he can get close to the women.

There was one young woman who made quite an impression of me. She was petite, with bare shoulders and a tattoo on her right arm that I couldn’t quite out, since she never stayed still.

She danced with such exuberance, such joy,I could barely take my eyes off her, and it wasn’t just lust—honestly.

I wanted to be with her in some way that I can’t quite describe, even though I knew the age difference--and her boyfriend with whom she was dancing--would make that quite impossible.

Of course, even if we were the same age, I don't think I'd have a shot at her anyway. And I’m sure if I saw her in the street I’d walk right by her, but on this night, she had some kind of magic it was happening all over me.

It’s probably for the best that she exists only as a fantasy figure for me. Reality can be such a killjoy. But at least I can learn from her willingness to embrace life and be happy.

I did give myself a nice gift on Saturday. I have this habit of tearing into myself, putting myself down and condemning everything I do or fail to do.

I caught myself doing that on my birthday and I decided I would take a day-long break from this self-abuse. I was declaring a truce is this seemingly endless war in my head.

There was an incident during World War I where German and British troops held a truce at Christmas time. They didn’t wait for the generals or politicians, these soldiers, who were all living in trenches like animals, just decided they would stop killing each other for a short time.

I decided that for one day I’m give myself a break. All those lines like “I should have” and the “why didn’t I’?” and “What’s wrong with me?” got a one-day furlough to leave me the hell of alone.

It was strange not beating up on myself every waking moment. I actually had time to be relax and enjoy my life, and be thankful for my friends and family and for my time on earth.

I want to do this tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. I want to keep having one-day truces until I reach an armistice with myself.

Okay, now I've got to see a man about buying a grave.


Calamity Jen said...

Happy belated birthday, Rob.

Your series of one-day truces sounds like a wonderful idea. Stick to it and you might be surprised at what happens.

Rob K said...

Thanks, Jen.

I've really got to remind myself about this or I slip right back into the old patterns.

It ain't easy.

Mrs. Motley said...

That was a great post. Is it wrong that the cemetery plot thing made me laugh?

Anyway, I've only known you a short time and I think you are a remarkable human being. Funny, thoughtful, smart, friendly - what's to beat up on yourself about? You should definitely make that truce permanent.

Happy birthday, Rob. I hope this year will be the best one ever. You deserve great things. Dream big, and remember - jump, and the net will appear.

Rob K said...

Oh, thank you so much for birthday wishes.

I must say that meeting you has been such a fabulous experience and I wish all the best to you and your family.

I don't think it's wrong to laugh at the cemetery plot--you either laugh or scream.

I'm going to take your advice about jumping and hopefully the men holding the net won't be wearing white coats.