Next Stop Willoughby

“Next stop Willoughby”.

The sleeping man woke to the conductor’s voice. “Excuse me, did you say Willoughby? That stop isn’t on this route.”

“It most certainly is, sir.” The conductor replied.” Just look out the window.”
As the train screeched to a stop, the man looked through the faded window to see men and women, dressed in fancy clothes from the last century, carrying umbrellas and carefully wading through a crowd of excited children scurrying around the gazebo in the center of town. He watched as the scene began to move as the train slowly left the station. He sat back in his seat and closed his eyes, taking a mental picture of what he had just seen.

“Stanton. Next stop Stanton.” The conductor again woke him as he walked down the aisle. The man captured the attention of the conductor. As he approached the man asked him about Willoughby. The conductor gave him a puzzled look.

“Sir, I have never heard of Willoughby.”

Confused, the man gathered his coat and satchel and exited the train.

He enters his beautiful home and greets his attractive wife. Her looks couldn’t detract from the contempt in her eyes for him.

He begins to tell her of his terrible day. How his boss had demeaned him in front of the entire office. He told her he wished that life were simple, how he was tired of the cutthroat business world and the way in which he needed to behave in order to survive in it. He explained to her that he was really just a nice guy, too nice to be a part of it.

His tale of woe was not met with sympathy. Instead he was told how he must compete, must continue on course and to stop thinking in such a way. She needed him to keep providing so that they could maintain the lifestyle that was killing him.

He was done. Washed up. Burned out. All he could think about was the lovely, if not odd town of Willoughby.

The next day he goes to work only to have another confrontation with his boss. He goes to his office and calls his wife. He tells her that he is leaving his job. Quitting and coming home to her. She tells him not to come home if he quits his job. He leaves and gets on the train home. He rests his weary eyes.

Again, he is wakened by the conductor’s announcement of the stop of Willoughby. This time, he jumped out of his seat, grabbed his coat, left his briefcase and stepped off of the train to check out the town.

He was found dead.

Shocked men stood over him, wondering why this stranger had thrown himself off of a moving train. They would never know that he was dreaming, dreaming so hard for a new life that he died in pursuit of it.

Some story, wouldn’t you agree? I wish I had written it. It’s actually an episode of The Twilight Zone from 1960 entitled “A Stop at Willoughby”. I watched it in deep fascination on the SyFy New Years Day Marathon. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I could have been that man, yet it was written 5 years before I was born.

The correlations to my own life are nothing less than staggering.

At one time I owned a house in a nice town, in a nice neighborhood that we didn’t belong in. It was out of our league. Because we somehow managed to pay the mortgage we kept the water level below our noses. But we were in way over our heads. Our children went to school with a lot of wealthy kids and we clothed them accordingly. All activities were A la Carte and we did our best to find a way to enroll them. What we didn’t have, we charged. My wife wanted a lifestyle that was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. I tried to protest, to voice my concerns over our mounting debt but it fell on deaf ears. In hindsight I should have protested louder, but it’s too late for overthinking that. I lived by the mantra “happy wife, happy life.” What I didn’t know is that I would never have either.

For a while, the pace of my career kept pace with the increasing burden of my lifestyle. I kicked and scratched my way up the professional ladder and I did what the situation dictated. I worked long hours, competed with some cutthroat players and managed to come out on top enough times. I definitely engaged in tactics that were not my style but stopped short at the unethical. Like the sympathetic character in Willoughby, I was a nice guy. Unlike him, my career benefited from that very reputation. I was known as honest, reliable and good at my word and I am proud of that to this day. But the toll to my health was immeasurable and devastating. Kidney disease causes Hypertension, as did my career in sales. The rush-hour traffic, the constant looking over the shoulder, the high intensity of negotiations, the nights before the big phone call letting you know you got the contract, and the stress of failure took years off of my life.

Like our hero, I was also afraid to voice my concerns over the nature of the work I needed to do to maintain our address. The few times that I did, I was also told to stay the course, that we were committed. And sadly, if I were to come home after a bad month, I wasn’t met with empathy or a “you’ll get ’em next month”, I was chastised for failing to do “my end”. Or worse, I would get the silent treatment accompanied by a disappointed scowl. Many times I tried to tell her that shit like that wasn’t helpful, she didn’t care. I almost became afraid to come home for fear of the reprisal.

At my last job I achieved the most security I ever had. A strong salary, a achievable bonus plan and decent hours were a welcome respite. But alas, there was a catch. I worked for a megalomaniac. 85% of the time he was a very nice man. But his dark side was abysmal. I would learn that he had to be right; I was to be good at what I do but not better than him; I was never to talk to his boss about anything because of his paranoia and love of the “chain of command”; and I was to be his puppet and totally devoid of independent thought. If I violated any of the above tenets I would be subject to a minimum of a one-sided rambling lecture and at the maximum a violent and irrational episode. Once he actually challenged me to a fight. I put up with it. Why?
Because I had to.
I had a family at home that needed health insurance, a roof over their heads and most importantly, a childhood. A man supposedly never walks away from a fight. This one did, because a man also doesn’t make his family homeless over his temper or pride. But to stand there and be called the names that I was called, spit flying into my face by a irrational, butt-reaming asshole who was wrong on 10,000 levels took every last drop of restraint that I had. Not hitting him may be my best career accomplishment.
Still, when I got home it was all about the paycheck.
If I had called home and said “Honey, I’m done. I can’t do this anymore” I would have been told not to come home. So I dealt with it. I was forced to dream of the day when life was simpler, more honest and manageable. Where I didn’t have to claw, scratch and claw for every inch.

I wanted my own Willoughby.

I know that in my heart of hearts that if I rode a train and I was woken to the vision of a town 100 years in the past where simplicity reigned over technology; courtesy over competition; a handshake over a notarized document; family over clients; ethics over business, love over money and simplicity over chaos…I would jump off of the train as well. If the fall killed me, so be it. I would still escape the lifestyle that I loathed. The risk would be worth the jump.

I wish I had found my Willoughby, and to find that it wasn’t a dream after all.

Smitten

For the last 3 weeks, I have been going into “town” for blood work at the local hospital. It’s a short 25-mile commute that’s only enhanced by its inconvenience. My doctor had told me 3 weeks ago that I was anemic, that I needed to get monthly blood work and a shot for the anemia. This wasn’t welcome news, it was towards the end last time that I started receiving these shots so these shots and I have a history. But I’m a good doobie so I went.

I had my labs done, checked into the oncology/infusion center and waited for the labs to come back. I scanned the room and evaluated the mix of sick people, bustling administrators, and nurses of all ages and *cough cough* body type. Hey, it passes the time. My bloodwork came back and yay, I was indeed anemic. But not enough for the shot. The real good news is that my BP was through the roof. I was asked to come back next week.

And I did. I was none too happy about it but I hauled myself out of a warm bed, stepped out into subzero temps and drove to the hospital. Again, I navigated the designated coughing and hacking area known as a waiting room, had my blood drawn by a humorless tech and headed over to oncology/infusion again. My lackluster mood changed instantly when Lisa opened the door and ushered me in.

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The sign above the door could have said “das Gas Chamber” and I would have followed her in.

Lisa introduced herself to me, said a whole lot of things and asked a whole lot of questions but all I heard was a choir of angels ringing in my ears.
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She offered me a coffee, I thought better of asking for an ice pack for a swollen area, and she was off. I took the time to compose myself.

Superman has been in a long, painful dry spell. Obama was in his first term the last time I saw a naked woman that wasn’t on my TV screen. The tight parking space I squeezed into on the way in was the most action I’ve had in years. But those years of isolation have made me numb also, and I’m rarely taken back by even the most wiley of charmers.

She came back and said that my labs weren’t done yet. I wasn’t complaining. We made small talk. Turns out she is married with two little ones. Not surprised there. She is also a former MA resident and we knew where each other was from. She was very nice and down to earth, which only complimented the fact that she was cuter than a duck wearing a hat. She took my blood pressure, it was really high again. Turning on the Super Charm, I motioned to the older, larger significantly less attractive nurse behind her and said: “have her take it and we’ll see if it goes down.” I was told to stop because of how “terrible” I am.

Alas, I still wasn’t anemic enough for the shot. But I didn’t mind this visit so much. She escorted me to the door and I remarked that she had to be about 4’11. She corrected me, her clogs were 2 inches and she was 4’10. I lamely exclaimed, “it’s a shame you’re married”. Her only answer was,

“with 2 rugrats”.

“I love kids, that doesn’t scare me off”. I was again told how terrible I was. I gladly made an appointment to come back the next week. “Ann, what’s your earliest appointment?”

I was back there this past Friday and Lisa didn’t greet me at the door. I was seated in a different area than last week. I put on my best disinterested, cool face and scanned the room. She was nowhere to be seen. And then, as I opened my book to kill some time she appeared. With a huge smile, she said, “you shaved your beard!”. Smooth as silk I replied,

“Oh, you noticed”. She’d better have I did it for her. She really seemed glad to see me and during the course of my stay she checked in on me often and I made as much small talk as I could. Wouldn’t you know that I was STILL not anemic enough and I have to go back this week?

I’m smitten. I’m GAGA. It’s also a fantasy. Even without my beard, I would have to hope she has Daddy issues and then learn what kind of cologne her father wore to even stand a chance. I’m also going nowhere with this. She is married and I would never touch a married woman out of respect for the husband. It’s guy code. It was just exciting to have an attractive woman pay any attention at all to me. There was just enough flirtation from her to make me feel alive. It also illustrated just how little it takes to turn me on. So many years of living with an ice queen and I have lost any swagger I may have had.

Superman needs some lovin’. I think it’s time to refine my lines. Get back out there. Maybe use the illness to my advantage. Something like,

“I may not be healthy, but I’m grateful!”

“I’m not going to be around in 10 years so there’s no chance of a long-term relationship”

“It’s been years, how long can it possibly take?’

“I’m Superman, I can ‘go around the world’ before you know it! And if it’s really bad I’ll just reverse time”

Do you think I have a chance?

the Genie in the bottle

You know the story. You’re walking on the beach, you stumble on something in the sand, you look down and you see what appears to be a vase. You unearth it and instinctively know to rub it. Suddenly a wisp of smoke escapes from the uncertainly secured cap. You drop it and POOF, before you stands a Genie.

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He offers you 3 wishes. There is a time limit and once a wish is made it can’t be reversed. What do you wish for?

I often toss silly situations like this around in my mind. The what-if is a harmless exercise to entertain different scenarios. Middle-aged guys often joke about harmless stuff like “if I wasn’t married I could probably shag that hot waitress at the Tilted Kilt”. In reality, unless she has “Daddy issues” and you were lucky enough to be wearing his favorite cologne he would likely be rebuffed with great prejudice. The what-if is also dangerous if you are like me and spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The 3 wishes scenario is a fun one based purely on its implausibility. Considering that it’s already implausible, why don’t I make it more interesting by doing a then and now?

First of all, do I take care of myself first or do I think of others? 20 year old me would jump at the prospect of free wishes and would immediately think of himself and ask for a large sum of money. After all, isn’t life all about money? Cars, electronics, a big house and nice clothes make the man. Even 30 year old me would have bought into that to some degree and 40 years old me would sure want the house if nothing else.

The current me would also think of me first. I have to. Before I can help others I need to secure my own mask. But the current me is not all about money. It took losing everything that I have to take away the allure of the glimmering pile of gold. 25 years of keeping up with the Jones’, and living check to check in jobs that paid well but robbed me of my soul has taught me the concept of enough. I did enough to give the children the childhood they deserved and held on as long as I could. A bankruptcy, a foreclosure and most of my kidney function later I am embracing enough. Maintaining wealth is too much work. I want a  house with lots of wood and animals lying on the many sofas with sunlight streaming in. I want a nice truck that will tow a boat and a couple of snowmobiles. Enough in the bank to not worry about money anymore, but not enough to consume me.

Once offered the second wish, the former me would request Time. Time to work, time to drink after, time to party and not need sleep. A 36 hour day. He had places to go, people to meet and booze to drink. If it was possible to wish to never need sleep, he would have wished for that.

The current me would also ask for time. Not to party, not to drink, not to work. I’ve done that. I want lost time. The time that I spent working late for ungrateful assholes that dangled the carrot of career advancement in front of my nose. The time that I spent stuck in traffic on the way home. The time that I spent on my ass with swollen legs, cramping, and fatigue, drinking beer and watching television. Instead I want all that time back in the form of bedtime stories, tossing the football in the yard, Saturday morning Soccer games, family dinners that I never made it home for. Time spent patiently listening to the rambling stories of an excited child glad to see his/her father. Time to recognize the signs that my wife was struggling and that I was losing her. If possible I want to go back in time, but that’s truly a fantasy.

Now comes the third wish. I know the younger me still had a heart for those around him. He would broadly wish for world peace. He was a good, if not misguided soul. He tried to hide it for many years but for those few that he showed his true self to, he cared.

The current me would also make a wish for the betterment of others. As my third wish I would ask for the validation of Karma, that there be a bus dedicated to it and that I get to be the driver. I would love to personally ensure that all of the good people that put such positive energy into the universe receive it back tenfold. That the kind, the generous, the selfless and the humble are rewarded. And as for the killers, the liars, the cheaters and the greedy…well that’s why the Karma bus has reverse. I need to know, if only for one day that there is some justice in the world.
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It’s a nice fantasy, but I know that no matter how many times I walk on the beach barefoot there is 100% chance that I will step on a stingray or HIV infected needle before I do a bottle.

Still, it’a cool to think about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The elephant in the room

 

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It’s time to address https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/26/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-26th-2018/ the 800-pound elephant in my living room. This Superman shit is getting out of hand. It’s a real thing (obviously, it’s the name of my blog), and it’s getting in my way and clouding my judgment.

There is good Superman. Like the time I was driving my daughter’s friend home. She and my youngest were in the back seat, we were in traffic and when the light turned Green the horns started blaring. Cars started going around the lead car and I realized that the car was stalled. My youngest elbowed her friend and said “watch this’ as I opened my door, in traffic, ran over and helped push the disabled car to the side of the road. After I knew the driver was all set for a tow I got back in the car. I asked my daughter what she had meant by her comment and she said: “I knew you would help that car.” I pointed out to her that no one else did and she said, “Dad, it’s a good thing.”

There have been many of those. I won’t apologize for them. Then there is the “bad” Superman that takes on too much and sacrifices his own health in the process. I have been guilty of that as well. Would you believe me if I told you, and I can’t be more honest than I am at this moment, that I really don’t think about what is good for me? I’m not looking for a cookie like some deadbeat Dad on Springer. I really don’t care what happens to me. The only pleasure I get out of life is helping others.

When my health was deteriorating severely pre-transplant I managed to put up a serious fight. To not worry my kids, to keep my job and continue to support my family I pushed myself too far. My boss praised me, my wife chastised me. Bad Superman was born. I like how it worked out. Denial wasn’t just a river in Egypt, it was a great way to get to the end zone. I found mental strength in the absence of physical.

As I came out of the fog of anesthesia post-transplant, my eyes strained to see a doctor hovering above me. He asked me when I had last worked. I asked what day it was. Tuesday night? I responded that I worked until noon the day before. He asked if I knew the criteria for dialysis (which I stubbornly refused to do). I did not. He informed me that I was ten times over the limit for dialysis and he was amazed that I didn’t have a heart attack. That explained a lot but I didn’t really care, I was alive now right? The doctor left the room shaking his head. He wasn’t impressed. He thought I was just an irresponsible jagoff. He was probably right, but again, it worked for me.

On recovery, I was consumed by the need to get back in shape and pay back the gift I had been given. In that order. I worked out like crazy, I even did P90X. My Transplant surgeon said, “Kidney transplant patients don’t do P90X”. I said, “they do now.” Once I felt good, I began to help other people. I volunteered, I led kid’s mountain bike expeditions. I joined the Freemasons to really put a stamp on my commitment to be a better person and help others. I was a better father, friend, coworker and overall person. I tried to be a better husband, but that ship had sailed already. In the midst of this quest for purity of the soul, I got lazy about my medications and I had a rejection episode. A hospital stay and enough prednisone to kill a stampeding Rosie O’Donnell later I was down about 15% kidney function. Bad Superman. Lesson possibly but not likely learned.

Here and now, in the present, I have found a day that I can’t save. I’ve finally found my true Lex Luthor. My wife. Since we agreed to divorce, she has been noticeably depressed. Her best friend, who my wife famously “picked” over me as her confidante and number one, is telling me that something is wrong with her. While highly tempted to tell her, as the anointed yin to her yang, to fix it herself I am instead terribly worried. Her living situation really does suck. She lives with the best friend, the household is a real disaster. Between the lack of privacy, the new and increasingly frequent arguments with each other (which my wife is completely unequipped to handle), and lack of money she really is slipping into a depression. I saw just how bad it was Wednesday night. At my daughter’s 16th birthday of all places.

Instead of a “sweet 16” party she deserves, with a hundred guests fawning over the wonderful, sweet, caring and amazing girl that I would actually die without, we had a small gathering at the aforementioned house of horrors. I hate it there but I gladly drove 2 hours there. I wouldn’t miss it. My 2 oldest were unable to make it and I walked into a true shit show. My wife was livid, she was fighting with her friend and for some reason barely talking to me. I managed to get her alone for a minute and stupidly asked her if she was ok.

“Fucking great, living the dream.”

I fumbled a bit and then told her that I am used to her not being happy, but I’d never seen her depressed. I told her I was worried about her. She told me that there is nothing that I can do.

We tabled it for the moment and went on to celebrate my daughter’s special day. God bless her, she managed to make the most of it. She’s used to being disappointed I suppose. I showed her the blog post I wrote for her the other night (in confidence). She cried, in a good way. In the absence of material things, I made the gesture of words and she appreciated it. When I left, I gave my wife half of the measly earnings I had made this week. She gave me a weak thank you, a half-assed smile and I left.

“There’s nothing you can do” echoed through my head the entire ride home, haunted me in my sleep and was waiting for me when I awoke. The fact is, there is something that I can do. I can go back to work. It is very likely that I will be offered a full-time position in April. If I get a good enough offer, it may be time to cancel the SSDI claim, take care of myself and hope for the best. I would be able to give my wife enough to get a place of her own, or at least make her situation better. I would be doing something, instead of resigning myself to accepting things the way they are. I just have to determine the cost. It could be up to or in excess of the limitations of my body.

I have known my wife for 29 years. Married for almost 23. She raised four amazing children. Despite some notable wrinkles, she has been a good wife for the entire time. I can’t leave her like this. I know I’m not well. but when has that ever stopped me? As a man of integrity, the right way is the only option and I can’t help but feel that I am not doing all that I can.

Is this the true test of my lack of concern for my own well-being? I know that at least one of you out there is going to agree with this…in order to save others, I have to put my own mask on first.

Dammit Superman, what are you going to do now?

MLK day tribute

jjj-2018

A message from Dr. King

 

I had a dream

with the world I shared it

that we’d embrace our difference

not run scared of it

please explain it to me

I have nothing but time

how ending the lives of each other

honors the memory of mine

I fought without fists

anger or spite

I called for equality and love

not to spill into the streets and fight

I reached out in peace

extended my hand

hoping to set an example

that would ring throughout the land

yet still we fight

we hate and we label

to see beyond the color of skin

we seem hopelessly unable

I left this earth 50 years ago

but I still watch from above

as my dream remains just that

in the absence of brotherly love

Come together as one

hatred is cowardice

labeling a man by his skin

does not do him justice

it’s never too late

to right this wrong

may we walk and live hand in hand

that will be my victory song

https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/15/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-15th-2018/

 

 

 

 

 

the power of music

 

I did some work for a guy the last couple of days. It was a nice opportunity to dabble in my old profession, make a few bucks in the process. It put some wind under my sails to do it again. The only drawback is that I had a 3-hour drive ahead of me. It’s not too bad, I can do that drive non-stop if I have my faithful companion Spotify with me.

I strapped on my seatbelt, made sure the lid on my coffee was on tight and opened the app. I was about to select one of my new Playlists (I have been a Spotify junkie this past year with all of the driving) when I saw an option for “Your favorites for 2017”. Wtf, I put it on shuffle and promised myself that I would listen without skips. How would I know that my drive would end up not as a tedious straight line between 2 points, but instead an emotional, unflinching, and cathartic journey of my last year in song.

The music took me away. I went down to the River with Bruce only to find that it was the River of Dreams by Billy Joel. I waded in looking for answers, found none and on the way out Stevie Nicks warned me that taking my love down would cause a Landslide.

I gathered my strength to climb the embankment and took a breath, which was painful, I have been thinking about my wife and the pending divorce, feeling bad about it, and Rascal Flatts didn’t hold back from reminding me of What hurts the most. Dave Mason softened the blow a bit by pointing out that, at the end of the day, We just disagree.

Hoping for a break the next song delivered with a jam session as the Allman Brothers took me Southbound, I jammed on the dash like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles doing the Messaround by Ray Charles. I got to thinking about how much the world misses John Candy.

mess around

On the theme of days gone by, Al Stewart brought me back in time to the Year of the Cat. A simpler time indeed. Tom Petty would then tell me all about his American Girl, and then make it impossible to drive the speed limit when he offered up You wreck me. The wailing guitar and the pounding drums urged me to go faster, faster you son of a bitch! But alas the car in front of me didn’t see the urgency or hear the song.

After I slowed down a little, the Indigo Girls brought me a little Closer to Fine but I was in a funk.  I again thought of the failed marriage and the Eagles were there to remind me that, at the end of the day, I gave her the Best of my love.

Nearing the end of my journey, I found myself teary eyed, reaching towards the heavens, while trying to drive of course, hands to God as Mondo Cozmo powerfully, with vocals and harmonies that filled my car and and the world around it, implored God to Shine his light down upon us. An emotional wreck, I pawed at my eyes and Journey had the nerve to ask me Who’s crying now? It’s me, alright? You got me.

Fortunately, Michael Franti, my barefoot Brazilian Messiah, took it to a metaphysical level and asked all of the right questions, said all the right things as he explained why It’s good to be alive today (my blog URL btw).

Then I pulled in my driveway. My physical journey over for the day, my emotional one only beginning. This playlist was my year in review. It nailed it.

I’ve had love and I’ve lost it.

I’ve sung and danced, and I’ve drummed with delight and cried my ass off on the same steering wheel.

I know what I need to do just not how to do it.

I’ve been to the River and found nothing but dirty water.

I’ve reached to the sky and found heaven right in front of me.

And I’ve gotten behind the wheel, gotten the urge to go somewhere and God help the bastard in front of me if they don’t let me pass them.

It is good to be alive today.

 

 

My favorite addiction

jjj-2018

 

 

I wake up craving you

I want you tall

I like you hot

I want to take you orally

black is awesome

your Brazilian is my favorite

you warm me

wake me

I tremble without you

strangers meet over you

I get a headache without you

I can’t get enough of you

but if I try

I can’t sleep

You are coffee and I fucking love you

https://lindaghill.com/2017/12/27/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2018-rules/