Nostalgia

Every once in a while, Netflix gets it right and they actually add a movie that I want to watch. Imagine my joy when I stumbled across one of my all-time favorite movies, George Lucas’s 1973 hit American Graffiti.

Where do I begin? The cast?
Ron Howard, six months before he would debut as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. Cindy Williams 3 years before she became the infamous Shirley on Laverne and Shirley. Richard Dreyfuss. Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Somers, and Harrison Ford were all in their first big role. Add to the mix Wolfman Jack and you have a heluva cast.

The cars?
John Milner’s chopped ’32 Ford Standard coupe. Bob Falfa’s (Ford) badass ’55 Chevy Belair. The mysterious ’56 Silver Thunderbird with the porthole windows driven by Somers. Steve Bolander’s (Howard) cherry ’58 Impala. Oh man, for a Detroit muscle buff such as myself, it is a veritable wet dream.

The story?
It is 1965 Modesto California. It is a typical Saturday night and the locals are blowing off steam. Typical of the time, looking “cool” was the law of the land and, given the puritanical nature of the time, there was not much else to do except ride around in cars, go to arcades and sock hops, and create a harmless ruckus while driving around. We are introduced to the players; the too-old-to-be-hanging-out-with-teenagers guy with the hot car who is always being challenged to race. The local young people that have menial 9-5’s and live for the weekend. Gangs, car clubs, and packs of teenage girls defying Daddy for a few hours. Add to the mix that this is no typical Saturday night for a small group of teens, for it is the eve of them leaving for college the next morning. Relationships are called into question(should we see other people?), feet are getting cold as one promising student is thinking of not going. They are all grappling with change and fear of what the future will hold. I won’t ruin the ending for you other than the inevitable drag race ends up altering the plans of two of them.

It is a wonderful character study about fear and uncertainty. Of the familiar and the question of whether it is better to be comfortable or to try something new. All against the backdrop of 1960’s America.

And there it is, that is what I love about the movie. The era.

I was born in 1965. A mere 3 years earlier my mom and dad were likely in a similar scene. My dad was a car fanatic and he belonged to a club. He was an amateur stock car driver. He was also a bit of a hellion with that fast Lincoln of his. Cruising the strip, bantering with other drivers with my mom under his arm is totally conceivable. My mom telling him to slow down, not get a ticket or into an accident, and to have her home before her father “grounds her” is also very believable. They lived the movie. The two of them could have been dropped into the set of that movie and nobody would have blinked. The guy in the white tee shirt with the Camels rolled into the sleeve? That was my dad. The girl in the Pencil dress and sensible shoes? That was my mom.

I often fantasize about being a teenager back then. While they may have thought that they were pushing the envelope, we now know that their version is pale compared to today. It can almost be considered tame and wholesome. But they didn’t know that.

They also didn’t know what would happen just a few short years later. Vietnam would escalate. Draft cards were coming. Parents and authority figures, particularly parents, became the enemy as generations clashed. People would be forced to tune in or drop out. EVERYTHING would change soon for the innocent, harmless locals.

But there is always the movie. A reminder of a better time. A more innocent time. A time that ceased to exist not long after. Oh yeah, did I mention the CARS?

In my head

I have been in a phase of self-improvement characterized by an uncharacteristic amount of actual progress. I’m not sure if I’ve ever revealed this fact about myself here, but despite my genuine desire to do and be better, my follow-through needs work. I can attribute this to a few factors. I try to do too much too fast, I can’t undo all those years of bad habits and ingrained negative results, I underestimate the magnitude of the task and get intimidated, and I fail to recognize the power of the biggest obstacle of all, my near-crippling anxiety.

I was on Adderall until the national shortage ended it for me in December, 2022. It was quite a move for me to start taking it, I am staunchly anti any mood- altering medications. Short of diagnosed schizophrenia, I will insist that the world deal with me in my actual state, as fucked as that may be. Deal with it. But I was informed by my PCP that a low dose of Adderall has anxiety-reducing effects on some so I tried it. I was pleased with the results. It wasn’t a massive change, it just slowed my overthinking down a bit and got “out of my head” somewhat. The shortage ended that, and now that I am not working in an office setting I’m giving it a go without the med.

I am so much worse now. Now, I’m becoming the guy I’ve always feared. The one who avoids situations because of all of the gremlins that lurk in all scenarios. From daily activities or making plans to avoiding the possibility of beginning a relationship for fear of being rejected or hurt, I procrastinate when I can and often experience dread and even fear at the prospect of doing things that are normally comfortable for me.

Today, I did 2 things I do every Spring. I rode my motorcycle to my mechanic to get my yearly service before riding season starts. I was tentative to get on my bike, my mind was toying with my confidence and flashing images of crashing in my mind. What? I LOVE riding my motorcycle and I am very confident in my skills. I got there no problem, I was comfortable and competent. But I invested way too much mental angst. It threw me.

My second task of the day was to do my first detail of the season. I enjoy cleaning cars, it is very satisfying and I also find that I do some of my best thinking while doing it. But today, and for days preceding, I was concerned that I didn’t have the stamina, that it would be too tiring, that my back would bother me. What? I’m in GREAT SHAPE right now. My stamina is fine as is my back. And yup, you guessed it, it went well and I feel fine.

I hope that the Government never forces me to go back to work full-time. I can’t even begin to imagine what actual responsibility with consequences will do to me.

Or, I could see my doctor and find out what the actual fuck is happening with me. I don’t like this and in conformance with my new mindset; I want to do and be better.

On associations

Even when I’m doing a good job of not dwelling on the past, it still rears its ugly head. If I had to guess, it is almost always in the form of association.

I came across the movie Johnny Dangerously on HBO MAX today. There really aren’t words to describe how much I love the movie. It’s just the slapstick, parody silly shit the doctor has always prescribed. I know every line. Of course I watched it.

So where does my mind go? Ernie.

Ernie is not his real name. I wouldn’t give up his real name. It’s a nickname and a funny one at that. His premature receding hairline and oddly shaped head gave him a striking resemblance to Ernie of Ernie and Bert fame. He was a good guy and, like everything else in his life, he rolled with the nickname. He never had it easy. Girls eluded him, he never got his shot at Stand-up Comedy, he lost his brother to a tragic suicide soon after High School, his relationship with his family was very complicated.

I was there for all of it. We were, after all, best of friends. After High School, we both attended the same College. I was a year ahead of him so I spent my Freshman year without my sidekick but once he arrived, goofy smile and Pork-Pie hat in hand, we were inseparable. When we weren’t in class, we were in the cafeteria, smoking, drinking coffee, and socializing. If we weren’t in school we were probably playing hooky and underage drinking in our favorite bar down the street.

I shared my difficult times with him also. When my relationship with my father took a bad turn, I stayed at his house many nights. I was very close to his family. They treated me as another son.

We leaned on each other and got through those times. Often with the aid of laughter. Never underestimate the power of a warped sense of humor. Comedy specials on HBO, cartoons and movies were our refuge. We shared a love for Bloom County. I think the lovable oaf Opus the penguin was a relatable character to us. We could quote both the cartoons and the movies line for line. And we did that a lot.

Johnny Dangerously was our favorite. Now, it brings back the sense of loss of how we drifted apart for so many years. Of not seeing him, along with the rest of the guys that I spent all of my time with in my late teens and twenties, since we all went the married with kids route.

And,of course, the shock and heartbreak of learning that he was recently arrested for sexually abusing his own son. My friend (can I still call him that?) is going to spend the rest of his life in jail.

Between the shock, disgust, anger and countless other confusing emotions, I still cling to the memories of a better time. Thanks to associations. Silly movies, in this case, stand for the good and the bad times alike.

The straw

I have to hand it to you. You’ve done something that few have been able to do. You’ve brought me to a place that few have made me go.

I once called you my best friend. That is a lot for me to say because I don’t let many people into that inner sanctum, that place close enough to me where I become vulnerable. You earned my trust, my loyalty, and the status of being beyond question. “True Blue” if I recall correctly. So I didn’t worry about you. When we were in a room together I knew that there was one that had my back.

Boy, do I feel foolish now? You were holding the biggest knife.

Looking back, I don’t know when it started. But I sensed the vibe. But there was no incident of note, no regrettable conversation or words wished unsaid. Yet we drifted apart. Still, we always had the fraternity. We were Brothers after all, and that is an unbreakable bond.

When it was your turn to assume the Big Chair, it was left to you in flawless condition due to my efforts. Because it meant that much to me that you succeed. I delivered a charge to you in which I praised you as a friend and wished you the very best.

You in turn took the moment for yourself and left me with an extended and unshook hand.

I wish that was where the indignities had ended. I hoped beyond hope that it was an oversight. That perhaps, the moment had overwhelmed you and it was and you were unaware of how you offended me. But as you progressed upon your path, the animosity towards me and ambivalence to your flock continued.

The vibe became a distinct and profound “fuck you.”

Well, your last request, should I call it a decree, told me that I was at a crossroads; do I continue to absorb the disrespect or do I finally say enough?

I say enough. You cannot count on me for support. You may not ask me for assistance. You may not expect my loyalty to the fraternity to supersede my own self-worth.

I have a hell of a line. But you, my former friend, have crossed it.

Takeaways

I’ve been back from Florida for 8 days and this is the first time I’ve made an attempt to journal.
I wish I could neatly sum up what and how I have been doing since my return from my hiatus/break/retreat/mental health break/run-from-my-problems trip to Florida. The only thing(s) I can accurately report is that I like the weather there much more, and that my problems were still here waiting for me.
And that’s ok.
It was silly of me to think that, despite all of the soul-searching and Zen moments I created/experienced while away, I would return as a significantly different person.

One thing I am sure of is that I learned enough about myself to lay the groundwork, a foundation if you will, of how to accomplish a life well-lived. I narrowed it down to 3 very simple principles that I know I am capable of adhering steadfastly to.
1) Stop caring what others think of me.
Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Don’t we all know those people that pound their chest in a Bluto-esque display of Bravado and say “I don’t care what others think of me!” Problem is, I don’t believe 90% of them. Sure, there are people who really don’t but it’s a small number. But I’m now in that percentage. At this point in my life I have to be me and people are going to have to deal with that. I have learned that it’s not so bad to be me.
2) Forgive myself.
I have wasted so much time dwelling on the past. It’s truly wasted time to dwell on it because I can’t change it. I vow to treat everything in my life pre-today as a lesson in either how or how not to do something. That’s all it can be. I’m done beating the shit out of myself.
3) Don’t chase.
That may sound like an odd one but it’s huge for me. I take it real hard when I am rejected. I should be used to it but it has always been a problem. Friends, family, and women alike have abandoned me over the years and I spend an inordinate amount of effort fixating on it. Not to say that I have no fault in any of it, instead I am saying that I am not chasing after the fact. If you choose to leave my life, and I have made all appropriate efforts to make things right, then you are free to leave and I will just have to make peace with it.

That’s what I came up with in Florida. Now, as I return to life I am going to do what I told my clients as a Case Manager; instead of returning to an old life, I will begin a new one. As often as I need to in order to get it right. Any and all decisions that I make as I work on the many areas of my life that need improvement will be guided by the three principles stated above.

Starting today.

A jury of his peers

The fragility of freedom                

A friend of mine was acquitted by a jury of his peers on Thursday. It was the correct verdict in my opinion. The jury apparently agreed, given that they deliberated for less than an hour. Considering the gravity of the charges, his ex GF’s young daughter accused him of some very inappropriate acts, the jury must have found them as unlikely as I did.

As you can clearly see, I am of the belief that he was not capable of the acts he was accused of. As a character witness for the defense, I was not tasked with offering platitudes regarding his character or my opinion on the veracity of the charges. I was only asked to describe the household when I was renting with him. I wish I had been afforded the opportunity to offer up my understanding of Steve as a decent, virtuous guy who treated the young lady, the accuser, like his own daughter and acted as the only father she had in the prolonged absence of her own.

And I’m also a bit relieved that I wasn’t asked to do that. Because at the end of the day, despite how unlikely I believe the alleged behavior to be, I could never say for sure that it didn’t happen. I just do not know. Having said that, the prospect that I may in some way either help a predator go free, or discredit the testimony of a possible victim is a terrible position to be in.

Let’s say the jury got it right and the truth is out there. It’s also safe to also say that the truth is my friend could have spent 10 to 20 years in State Prison, where he would have probably been killed in the first year. It’s also the truth, as proven by the accuser’s mother (the ex) on the stand that her daughter was coerced into pressing charges by her friends in order to “save face” from being caught in a lie. It is important to know that this child has a long history of troubled behavior ranging from promiscuity at a very young age to lying frequently.

To think that they would allow the charade to continue when it was clear, even to the jury, that it was a face-saving situation, sickens me. The man has already lost everything. His job, future prospects and most of the relationships he cherished. When an accusation of this magnitude is made, it doesn’t matter if you did it.

Everyone thinks you did.

Waiting on a verdict

the accusation and the path of its destruction

I testified as a character witness today, via WebEx, for a friend accused of a terrible crime.

I learned about the accusation in 2017, when he asked me if I would be a character witness. I was on the spot and, despite my reservations and a desire to think about it first, I agreed. I would come to regret not thinking it through before answering. I was sickened by what he was being accused of. Inappropriate sexual conduct with his girlfriend’s daughter.
Would my testimony play a role in possibly setting free a predator, or worse, would I discredit a possible victim? Neither choice appealed to me.

The plan was to hope that it somehow would not go to trial and that it would go away on its own. I think we all know that ignoring a problem or hoping that it goes away seldom works. Imagine my reaction when I got the call from the public defender’s office 2 weeks ago. Since then I have been so very torn over what will happen, and of course what, if any, impact could my testimony have on the outcome.

When I spoke with the PD yesterday, as they prepped me for my testimony, it became clear to me that I was only required to answer questions about the time frame in which I lived with my friend. That time period was before the “incident” occurred. There would be no tricks, and it would not be as portrayed on television and in movies. I would merely testify to his character.

Today I did just that.

I heard the case they have prepared. It’s weak, there is no evidence, and I find the accusations completely inconsistent and unbelievable with what I know of his behavior.

I talked to him tonight. He was thankful for my testimony. He expressed gratitude for my friendship. He then told me, in no uncertain terms that he is hoping to see me soon. That is, of course, unless he is convicted tomorrow and brought directly to State prison. A place where he is certain he will be killed.

If he is convicted, and this sounds bizarre, I sure hope that he did it. Because his life is over already. He has lost everything over this accusation. There is simply no full recovery from this, even if found innocent.
The stakes have never been higher. It’s all on the line. His entire fucking life.

I guess we’ll know tomorrow.

Jeremey

A story of addiction, recovery and a friendship for the ages

I got a text today from Jeremey.
Hey buddy, just wanted to let you know that I’m doing great. Love you and appreciate you.
It warmed my heart to hear from him. It also served to remind me of how much I miss my job. Two things you need to know here:
I took a hiatus (possibly for good, I just don’t know right now) from a job that I love.
Jeremey is letting me know that he is doing great not only out of friendship but over an incredible bond that we formed when I was his Case Manager at a Drug/Alcohol Recovery Center. Affectionately known as a Rehab.

When I met Jeremey he was not great. Anything but. I met him at the lowest point of his life.

It was a cold December morning when I made the 1500-yard trek to the Detox building to meet the new client assigned to me. I walked in, shook the cold off of me and went to the common area to find my Client. I called out the name and a man about my age weakly forced himself out of the deep cushion of the sofa and slowly trudged his way towards the chair I motioned for him to sit. I was amazed at the effort it took for him to get to it. Then he spoke. Over the course of the interview, as I explained our program, my role as case manager and his expectations for treatment, I must have asked him to repeat almost everything. He was too weak to speak clearly and with any volume.
What he was able to say was nothing but pure denial and resistance. The broken man before me was utilizing all the strength he had to fight me on whether he needed treatment or not. He wanted to leave after Detox, I politely suggested that a full program would do him better. I didn’t fight him. At the Detox level, that is not atypical. As they say, De-Nile (denial) ain’t just a river in Egypt.

This went on for days. Despite my requirement of seeing a client twice a week, I met with him every day. As his strength grew, so did his insistence that he didn’t have a problem. Recognizing that I had a challenge, and a chance to do some good I pushed back. Day after day. Finally, he agreed to stay for 2 weeks. This was a victory. This one became, against all judgment, personal for me.

Jeremey would fight me on everything for those 2 weeks. I dug in and challenged him. I couldn’t work harder on his recovery than he was willing to, but I really wanted to see him get better. 3 weeks became 4weeks. He began to buy in and just when I thought that the therapy sessions and meetings were working, after 4 weeks he made a huge push to leave. I worked with him more, throwing everything I knew about the model of addiction I had to have discussions. I paired him with other clients that were where I was hoping he would get to and he still wanted to leave. Finally, everything combined wore him down. He finished the program.
And in the process, we became wonderful friends. It evolved to the point that when we saw each other we would hug and often he asked how I was doing before I could ask him.
On the last day of his 9th week Jeremey left our care. The man who was too weak to speak, a disbarred lawyer and 25 year career-alcoholic whose most recent memory was waking up in his brother’s recliner (he was homeless), vomiting on himself in front of his 2 nephews, swigging a beer and passing out again, was leaving with a reservation at a Sober House, a job (we coordinated interviews while he was in rehab) and an entirely new outlook on life.
I was so proud to have been a small part of such an amazing story.
So back to the text.
We parted as amazing friends. He made a commitment to check in with me periodically, knowing that my failure to hear from him may indicate that he may have relapsed. I hadn’t heard from him in a while. To get that text means that he is still doing great.

That’s why I became a Case Manager. To become part of something like that.

To Love again

That’s what I want…I think

I’m beginning to think that I am going to be alone for a long time, maybe forever. I’m conflicted at times, oddly at peace with it others. It comes down to reality vs. want and I will come down on the side of reality more often than not. The reality of it is that I have a very unremarkable and disappointing history of relationships and I’m not interested in adding to the heap.

But part of me still wants to be with someone.

The negative guy in me could say that my lack of success in relationships is my own fault. After all, it makes sense that the immaturity and character flaws that negatively affected every other aspect of my life would certainly affect my relationships. I was, and perhaps still am, a very mixed-up person. But it was not all bad. I had some amazing relationship moments that I will always cherish. Also, it isn’t fair to myself to assume that my relationships didn’t work only because of me.
It’s not always me.
But unfortunately, in the absence of answers, my nature is to blame myself.

Now that I am in a forgiving phase of my life, I am able to take a hard look at the possible reasons that I am single and without prospects. I am capable of taking an honest look at myself and dealing with what I come up with. So I ask myself…why am I single?

Physically, I have some challenges. Should a woman actually take a look at me I look old. I shave my head because if I don’t my hair grows in like the infield of a little league baseball league in August. I have a goatee that is not even gray anymore, it’s white. I wear glasses and hearing aids. I am a bit overweight. That is what the world sees.
Should a woman look past those things and want to learn about me they will then find that I am not financially independent and do not have my own place. These things, along with hair, matter. How do I know? I have been openly rejected on dating sites for those very reasons.

That hurt a bit.

It’s a shame that character doesn’t matter in the transactional dating world of today. If it did, then someone could see that I am loving, affectionate, caring and loyal. I have no problem with monogamy. I like it. Because I’m honest. When I find something I like, I don’t look for something else. It’s too bad that doesn’t matter anymore. If it did, someone would also learn that I have a very youthful attitude and the sex drive, and prowess, of a much younger man. I know how to work the equipment. I’m in the Union.

All that aside, as 60 approaches, it appears that I may be alone. I can make peace with that. I’m just sad that I have to. I’m a romantic at heart. I feel a tug when I see happy couples in real life. I want to live the moments portrayed before me on TV and movies. I want to hold someone’s hand, yet all I have to hold is the remote. I want another chance at being in love. At living my life with someone else. To have my heart skip a beat when I think about someone.

Maybe it isn’t in the cards for me to have another shot. Maybe I’ve had all the second chances In life. Maybe I don’t hold the appeal that I think I do. I can, and likely will make peace with that. I may have to. After all, who says that I deserve anything? I may have already been given my one and only and screwed it up.

I think the best course of action is to let the universe do my bidding for me. I’ll see if Love finds me when I’m not looking. After all, that is how the many blessings I have been given have occurred. Why not another?

Fairness

The other day I overheard a young woman loudly state, while involved in a heated conversation with what I can assume was her mother, that she deserves to be happy. She followed it up by emphatically stating that it is her “Constitutional right” to be so. I wanted to jump in so badly and offer that the pursuit of happiness is mentioned only in the Declaration of Independence and nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, that the only promise implied was the pursuit, and that it was only meant as an assurance from a young Country that it was committed to freedom for all individuals, without persecution, to pursue God-given (inalienable) rights, one of them being happy, which in and of itself cannot be guaranteed.

But common sense and experience prevailed. I inferred her age and concluded that not only would I not make any kind of meaningful impact on the conversation, but also that it is not entirely her fault. She was a twenty-something, a member of a generation that has been raised on validated feelings, cancel culture, banned history, and soft truths delivered in a manner as not to offend delicate sensitivities. I kept to myself, knowing that while I meant well, I would probably come across as an old fart dishing out unsolicited opinions. I could see how the conversation would go. I could even see the ending, the introduction of the concept of fairness.

This is where my concerns for today’s generation lie; the expectation or assumption that life is fair. In the great quest for equity on all fronts, somebody made the bold assumption that all things, including happiness, would be evenly distributed. They want life to be fair.
Newsflash: LIFE.IS.NOT.FAIR. Don’t expect it to be and you will never be disappointed.

I have had a hard life. Many challenges have risen to meet me on the road of life, and I have had my share of hardship. My life has been a struggle to say the very least. But that does not mean I haven’t experienced happiness. I have had many moments that I can recall, and they are etched in my brain. But they were brief and fleeting. In between those moments was everything else that I, and countless other people have to do every day.
Such as dealing with people and things that I did not want to but had to.
Working jobs that I hated because people depended on me and there was no plan B if I lost my job.
Biting my tongue and not punching the fucking shit out of somebody because I either worked for or with them, or I feared going to jail.
Facing the truth even when it was painful.
Allowing my children to feel hurt and sad because I knew that by fixing their problems for them, they wouldn’t learn anything.
I’ve had heartache, illness, financial problems, and relationship issues. There are so many examples, but I’ve made my point. I and countless others have survived all of those things and so much more and didn’t develop a victim mentality or lament the lack of fairness. If you get how life works, you do it because that is what life is: survival. Getting through all the crap in order to enjoy something, anything, that makes you smile…that’s happiness.

Chase it, create a healthy definition, and appreciate it when you have it. Know that you are not entitled to it. And don’t expect to be happy. Because life is not fair.