if you could turn back time

Today we turn back time, or turn forward, you get my point. Daylight Savings Time, a wonderful notion given us by Benjamin Franklin to make life and winter a bit more burdensome and confusing twice a year. You can quote me if you want to on Turn Back Time, even Cher it if you want. Sorry, that was bad. But so is she. Ah, I ramble.

Time travel has always fascinated me. If I owned a DeLorean I would use it from Time to Time (Bazinga). As I changed the clocks this morning, the notion again bounced around my tiny cerebellum. I was reminded of a very serious line from one of my favorite movies, Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it.

In the movie, a man, played by a young Christopher Walken, suffers a terrible car accident. Confined to a coma for years, when he comes out he finds that he has the ability to predict the future by merely holding the hand of a person. In particular, he could predict terrible events and ultimately alter the course of history through his gift.

His Doctor, a Holocaust survivor, recognizes the awesome power of his gift and asks him the pivotal question, one that has intrigued me since the day I saw the movie.
“Knowing what you know, do you think that if you could go back in time and alter history, would you?”

On September 28, 1919, Private Henry Tandey, a British soldier serving near the French Village of Marcoing encounters a wounded German Lance Corporal. His rifle aimed at the wounded soldier, Tandey chose to spare the young man’s life. He could not bring himself to shoot a wounded man. That German Soldier was named Adolf Hitler and he went on to become the third most murderous tyrant in recorded history. Had that soldier fired, Nazi Germany would have never existed. Do you think that Henry Tandey would want a re-do after that?

Hitler is but one example. There are so many.

So I ask you, on this lazy Sunday morning, if you could turn back time and reverse a major Historical event that forever impacted World History, or even a small one in your personal life, would you?

Keep in mind the Butterfly Effect as you ponder this. And that, in order to truly alter our/your world as we know it you may be required to murder someone. Could you do it?

Food for thought. I’m curious about your answers.

People Watching

Hey there, I see you. Don’t think strangely of me if we make eye contact. Yes, I know it’s Saturday night and I am indeed in a booth alone. I’m not staring at you, I promise. I’m just people watching. It’s what I do. For a brief moment in time, you won’t even notice, I will simply absorb, perhaps steal a tiny portion of this moment from you. If you let me do my thing, I will move on to someone else in their room and I will steal moments from them.

It’s just one dinner, one cocktail or appetizer on one day of your life. It’s just one moment. But to me it’s more, I’m incredibly invested in it. You may not think of it as I do, but once this moment is gone all you will have is a memory. You may underestimate how precious that memory will be, but I don’t. See, I am not old enough to say that I will never be happy again, but I know that I am old enough that certain moments are forever past, others beyond my reach.  Vicariously is the only way I will experience them again.

I see you, sir. The young guy with the pretty wife and 2 young children. You are having dinner. Your daughter is trying to get your attention for approval on the puzzle she just completed on her placemat. You’re on your phone. I would trade a thousand tomorrows to have one like you are having. Moments when I was a giant to them and my approval was everything. What you don’t know is a lot of the time I also was too wrapped up in what I was doing to pay attention to them. I want them back, all of them. Please, put the phone down. The text can wait. That disappointed look on her face…you can change that. If you don’t appreciate this moment, may I?
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I turn my attention to the young couple in the corner booth, barely able to keep their hands off of each other. Don’t mind me for staring, I’m not a creep I swear. It’s just that I can’t get over the way you are looking at each other. As if one would simply melt if the other left the table. It must be wonderful to be in love…would you tell me about it? You see, I don’t think that I have ever looked into someone’s eyes as you two are now. I want to but I doubt it now. I think we skipped that part and went right to bitterness and resentment. If it pleases you, could you do better than we did? Regardless, can I just enjoy yours for a while?
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I catch the eye of Mr. Successful businessman at the bar. We nod and we then both look away. I see your $1000.00 suit, your Presidential Rolex and the drink that was poured from the top shelf. You clearly are doing great for yourself. Perhaps you are celebrating a promotion, a big close or merger. To your credit, you look like a guy with it all together. I’m happy for you. I struggled with money and success for my whole career. When I finally got close to wearing a smile like yours, I had to stop working. I hope you have something else in your life that makes you happy besides money. She’s a cruel mistress. But still, cheers. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.
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I take a sip of my drink and I zoom in on the happy couple at the other end of the bar. Older, smiling, looking at each other fondly as they speak. You are a couple that has been together for a long time. Your love has stood the test of time. Maybe you had it easy, but maybe you struggled with the marriage-crushing burdens of children, finances and work. If you did or didn’t you look like you made it through. I always wanted a love like yours. I hoped to someday say, in a crowded banquet hall, the words “I have been married to this beautiful woman, my best friend for 50 years” and soak in the applause.  It just didn’t work out that way. I am about to be, on Monday, the first member of my family ever to get divorced. It’s too late for me, but I’m really happy for you. If you look my way I’m not staring, I’m simply thinking about my three favorite things…

Could’ve
Should’ve
Would’ve

Who am I you ask? What am I doing here? I’m harmless I swear. You see, I am the petty thief of your moments. My satchel is full for now and I must go home.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#what if…we turned our thoughts upside down?

I sold cars for a long time. I was very successful, a top performer every month.  My customers appreciated my honest, straightforward and knowledgeable approach. I actually had a customer tell me that I changed the car-buying experience for them, that I was the “anti-salesman.” I have never done a job that came more naturally to me than selling cars. It was almost gratifying. Some people treated me like a schmuck, which is tough for the alpha male that I am, but I’m not a schmuck and I handled them like I did everyone else. With courtesy and professionalism. One of my fellow salesmen nicknamed me “the magic man” because I kept turning the impossible customers into the possible. It’s not a Vulcan mind trick, it’s a matter of reading people and controlling your body language.

Unfortunately, the negatives outweighed the positives. The income was very up and down, paying monthly bills could be challenging if you were living check to check. You have to be a strong saver. My wife hated the ups and downs, which eventually drove me to seek more “stable” employment. Loosely translated, she would rather have me make less money but know what the envelope contained as opposed to letting me earn more, which I was certainly capable of. I’ll never understand that mentality.

Another negative to car sales, and I won’t list them all, is controlling the green monster we all know as envy. Much of car sales is luck, sometimes you meet a guaranteed sale, sometimes you meet one that if you work hard enough it may happen, and sometimes you get a giant waste of your time. Having been one of the top dogs in the dealership I rarely had a bad month. I had the occasional dry spell and I would like to tell you that I weathered it well and remained positive. But I would be lying. There were times when I couldn’t catch a break. It almost always worked itself out but it feels like an eternity until it does.

I genuinely want people around me to succeed. I also feel bad for people, at least those that try but need help. I was always willing to share a sale or hand one off to someone who needed it more than I did. I was never greedy. I offered to help new or struggling employees to make them better. I genuinely was in tune with those around me. And some of them absolutely hated me, for no other reason than that I was good at what I did. To those that aren’t successful, a slump is frustrating and when someone around you is killing it, it’s easy to be jealous. Even wish for them to fail.

At my last job, before I became really ill, I took another position selling cars. I was not successful. The reasons aren’t important, there were people and forces that would make it impossible for me to succeed, but it had nothing to do with my personality or technique. I struggled badly, began to doubt myself and began to feel hostility towards those who were doing well. I didn’t want those around me to fail, but their success angered me. I was facing a side of me I didn’t want to and had to ask myself Am I a hypocrite? As the saying goes, I  needed to “check myself before I wrecked myself” and change my mindset. But I was alarmed.

Hence today’s “what if?”. What if we turned our thoughts around.?

If I had to decipher the energy I feel around me I would say it is overwhelmingly negative. Social media, the news, late-night talk shows, talk radio and Network news are flooded with hate, bias, and vitriol. We are hopelessly divided, all sides wishing for the others to fail. Each telling the other how wrong they are.

We wish failure on those who disagree with us. We treat them as enemies and engage them in a war. We are so very well versed in what we differ on. Yet we know little of what we share in common. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on what we agree on or have in common? Isn’t it better to stand in unity than to sit in protest? Isn’t the sharing of ideas the basis of growth, or has remaining silent and holding back because it is not “along party lines” the new protest?

We can want what we want without wishing bad things on others. Our success lies in the number of people we can unite, not alienate. Promotions should be awarded to the most qualified, games should be won by the team with the most heart, respect should be given to those worthy of it, and we should wish the best for each other. Things will inevitably go the way it should. If you can’t wish someone a nice day then wish them the day they deserve. And let Karma sort that shit out.

“Be kind to those that you meet, for each is fighting a hard battle.” I live by these words, I regret the times that I have waded into that pool of negativity. I will never again. I wish everyone well and I want everyone to succeed. The road to happiness is not paved with the broken dreams of my fellow man. As I try to live this way, I have an inner peace that is practically struggling to burst from my chest.

I wish you well, because you deserve it. This is who I am now, and this is what I do.

 

 

 

 

 

#What if…installment 2. If I could do High School over again?

I was chatting with a friend on messenger last night. She is yet another addition to the growing list of people I have reconnected with from High School via FB. She is also on a shorter list; people who I have become close friends with that I thought didn’t know I existed in HS. Nancy and I have become great friends through our chats. We talk at least 3 nights per week about our lives now and flashing back to HS. The problem is that I don’t remember being friends with her in HS. I knew her, but don’t remember her ever giving me the time of day. She vividly recalls memories of us, of my offbeat sense of humor and comical antics. I don’t remember any of it. Until last night, I hadn’t brought myself to tell her that. I reluctantly told her that I don’t remember most of it, that I have largely blocked HS out of my mind, that I was an emotional mess and very mixed up. She said, “I never would have guessed that.” I was stunned.  How could she not know? I thought everybody knew!

My memories of High School are as pleasant to me as Church in the 80’s is to former Altar Boys in Boston. It makes my ass hurt. I remember HS as a blur of being bullied, cliques, being nonexistent to the fairer sex, having very few friends, an average student, a sullen misfit who longed for school holidays and vacations. I hated getting out of bed in the morning, I truly dreaded going to school. So why do so many people remember me as a fun, independent kid?

The only explanation is that I got it wrong. I clearly didn’t maximize my opportunities. I didn’t see what other people saw. I have accepted my life for what it is and I don’t dwell on the past and I don’t want a do-over, High School was hard enough the first time. But I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I were able to correct some critical errors I made in my younger, foolish years.

I carried the weight of HS well into adulthood. I declined invitations to my 10th, 15th, 20th, and 25th HS Reunions. When I declined the 25th, I was asked by the coordinator to give a little quote about what I had been doing. I wrote,

“For years I tried to find myself, then I realized I was me all along.”

I was surprised at how fast I came up with that, it just flowed off the tongue. I stored it for later. Maybe it was a sign that I was beginning to let it go. Inspired by my new clarity, I dug a little deeper and found myself finally able to ask the big question, Is it possible that it was me and not everyone else? That is one of those questions that, even if asked of yourself, is a pretty big Matzo ball if you’re not ready for it. But Bingo, it was me. My entire HS experience sucked because I let it. So what did I learn?

Fight back. Against your situation, against your bullies, against your fears. I was a passive kid. I was an artist, a reader, a lover of music. I didn’t get mad, I retreated to my safe world of drawing album covers and reading books. Had I just once pushed, shoved or punched one of my tormentors I would have at least been left alone. Bullies want it easy. If you make them work for it they back off.

Stick with sports. When I think of it, I dropped off of the baseball team before tryouts were over because of the shit I took from some of the kids. But I was a pretty good baseball player. Now I’ll never know. I dropped out of Soccer because I was being made fun of by guys that I hated. They made fun of my cleats, they were cheap because we didn’t have much money. Instead of fighting back, or just ignoring them I quit. I wasn’t a bad player. I ended up running track. Chalk lines can’t mock you and you’re basically competing with yourself.

Embrace what I was good at. I was a good artist. It got me into college. But it wasn’t cool to be an art major. I was in the band. I love music and I was a good Trumpet player. But like art, being in the band wasn’t cool. What my dumbass former self didn’t realize was that I wasn’t cool either. Who am I trying to impress? And who cares about cool?

Try a little harder. After I was stuffed into my locker for the 100th time in 9th grade I was pretty much done. I became shy and withdrawn. It would affect more than my social life, it also affected my academic life. I didn’t participate in class. I began to be called stupid. I began to believe it. With the exception of classes that I really enjoyed I was a C student. Had I really applied myself I may have done a lot better.

Look at people as people, not at the groups they run with. Cliques, the eternal divider. I now know that the best kids in HS were the ones that got along with everybody. There are “jocks” that hung out with the “computer geeks” and there were “band fags” that played sports and there were “burnouts” that partied with the “jocks”. Life shouldn’t have been so compartmentalized. You can be the same person across multiple groups. I want to believe that the Breakfast Club could be real, that those kids somehow leaped an insurmountable hurdle and would walk into school Monday morning as cross-clique friends.

As I said, it was me. I can’t go back. I don’t want to. What’s in the past is in the past. It doesn’t matter now, only the lessons are intact. They served me well raising my children. I was able to give them sage advice through hard experience and I am so happy that their HS experiences were much better than mine. Had they endured what I had, it would have been much harder for me to make peace with my past.

I did attend my 30th reunion. I walked into this one relatively comfortable in my own skin but extremely nervous. Despite having a kidney transplant 8 months earlier I had been working out a lot and I actually looked in half decent shape but inside I still felt like that awkward, gangly teenager that walked down the halls not making eye contact with the same people that I was about to come face to face with. I walked up to the registration table and was greeted by multiple people who I barely recognized. Apparently, the news of my surgery had gotten around and I was a story. I exchanged pleasantries and went inside. The first person I ran into was my longtime friend Marc. My “sitting in the basement listening to music” buddy. I hadn’t talked to him in 28 years. He was genuinely happy to see me. We went inside and hit the bar. I talked to a few people, other than that the same people who didn’t talk to me in HS didn’t talk to me then as well. But it didn’t matter because the final lesson had occurred to me as I raised a glass with Marc…

It doesn’t matter how many friends you have, it’s the quality of the friendships. Less can be more. Quality over quantity. Seeing Marc made the whole reunion worth it. The rest of it was just facing a dragon. I emerged unscathed.

#what if? installment 1

This is my first installment of what I hope is a series of blogs on the what-ifs of life. Having addressed the topic of “If” in a previous post; “as if”, “if when”, “if only” etc., I realized that there were so many directions I could go.

Once I decided to explore this further, I mulled a bit over where to start. Given my heavy heart today, I will start with

“what if” we never got married?

I saw you yesterday. You look sad. That smile that once lit up a room is nowhere to be seen. Your best friend told me she is worried about you, that you may do something drastic. That’s not your style.

You are stuck on a rough patch. You are largely supporting yourself and our 2 youngest children. Money is tight. I’m not much help. You live with your best friend, the one that you picked over me as your number one many years ago. Despite her generosity in letting you live in her home, and despite your love for her, you have begun to fight with her and you are extremely unhappy. Without the scent of sour grapes on my breath, I ask you; shouldn’t she be the one to talk you off of the ledge? Yet she is calling me to tell me you are not doing well.

This may surprise you, but I never wanted this for you. I hate that you are struggling and I would do anything within my means to make this better for you.

It is bittersweet to think that I actually gave you an out before we began dating. Surely you remember the night we sat in my Mustang, staring at the lights dancing across the pond, just talking. We were about to start dating, openly talking about all of the complexities. I told you that I had personal demons, health issues, and limited earning potential. You didn’t care. You cared so deeply for me, there was so much pressure on me not to hurt you. It was a big step. Simply put, I told you, for your own sake, that I wasn’t good for you. I gave you an out. Do you ever wonder what it would be like if you took it?

Sometimes, when angry at you, I asked myself if anyone else would have married you. That is not to say that it is any great treat to be with me, or that you are not great in many ways. But you are difficult. You have admitted that you are bipolar, yet refuse to seek treatment for it. You are quick to anger, unreasonable and stubborn when you want something, and completely inflexible on some things. It’s fair to wonder how well another man would handle it.

As for me, I was no prize either and not sure I would have ever married. I was broken when we met. Reeling from a breakup, recovering from an accident, on “hiatus” from college and a functional alcoholic. I was stuck in a nowhere job, my vision extended no further than my next day off. Other than the occasional fling with a waitress, I wasn’t dating at all and didn’t want to. If I hadn’t met you for all I know I would still be there. You pushed me to finish school, supported me as I worked full time and carried a full class load. You saw potential in me. You thought I was smart and you believed in me.

Despite your youth, you were a little broken for your age. You had a contemptuous relationship with your mother. She was toxic in her lack of support for you. Despite claiming to have your best interest at heart she criticized all of your choices and no one in your life was ever good enough for you, and let’s face it, for her as well. I swear you married a pizza cook just to get back at her. You still have the same relationship with her today. It has always been a hard thing for me to watch.

Had you married someone else would you have a bigger house? A nicer car? Non-material things like fidelity, passion, honesty, fun, and laughs? We had all of those things once. Having had and lost is surely better than never having at all.

Had I married someone else would I have gone as far in my career? I pushed myself to the top of the heap out of financial necessity. but I still made it much further than I would have ever expected of myself. Or would I still work in the kitchen, stuck in a nowhere job that I didn’t know was nowhere until you pointed it out to me.

I don’t know if you would have had a better life had you not married me. I promised you that I would do the best that I could, but I was never able to assure you that it would be enough. It is of small comfort that I tried.

“What if’s” aside I do know that without our union, the world would be less 4 great children who are destined to do great things. 4 caring, smart, compassionate kids that, like me, are worried about you and want you to pull out of this. Even in divorce, I will never abandon you. Even though you have asked me for nothing in divorce except a promise to help if needed, I will always be there to give you whatever I have to see that you are provided for. “What if’s” aside, we did get married, I did promise to take care of you, and I will always want the best for you.