Thursday, July 26, 2012

They Don’t Make Journals Like This on Wall Street

Two revelations:

(1) For years, I’ve kept a detailed journal that’s now about 1,000 single-spaced word-processed pages long.
(2) I have the kind of memory that makes people uncomfortable.
If you tell me something (or if I hear anything about you), as long as I was paying attention during the information’s delivery, I’ll remember it, quick-recall style, for the rest of my life (at least until the senility kicks in). I had a fourth-grade acquaintance—whom I haven’t seen, heard from, or heard about since fourth grade—whose birthday falls on February 15th (or so I overheard, at age 9). To this day, every February 15th I find myself honoring her with a moment of silence.
On account of the not always paying attention, and my not being perfect or a robot, there are things I do forget. That’s where the detailed journal comes in. If I’m asked why I became standoffish with a specific someone during Presidents’ Day weekend 2009, and I can’t fully remember why off the top of my head, all I have to do is turn on my computer, pull up the journal file, do a “Find” search, and there’s the answer, all laid out, chapter and verse.
My latest “Find” search exhumed an entry alluding to an afternoon shopping trip in London during the summer of 1998. While I waited for a friend to come out of a bathroom in Harrods, a man sat next to me, waiting for his wife. He was an American too, and we had ourselves a grand old time reminiscing about the Motherland. By the time our people came out of the loo, this guy and I were giving Frick and Frack a run for their money. He asked my friend and me what we were studying in school, and we told him we were pre-law. “Women lawyers, huh?” he said, after a long pause, shaking his head in genuine revulsion.
If it hadn’t been for my trusty database, this unabridged history would be lost forever. I’ve always remembered the friendly back-and-forth with an older American at Harrods, but I forgot about the sexist stuff.
I think everyone, even those who don’t like to write, should regularly update a journal of some sort. One that nobody else can see. If it keeps you half as honest as it’s keeping me, staving off senility might turn out to be less of a challenge.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

To Sum It All Up

When I was asked for my “short bio” this week, I reviewed a few of the bios I’ve released in the recent past. They each have a different shtick, depending on who the audience is, and none of them will work this time.

Since they’re completely self-generated, these bios are actually autobios. Drafting them is an image-conscious exercise. Who am I/what have I done vs. how do I want this particular set of people to perceive me/which of the things I’ve done do I want them to know about?

What I won’t do is mislead or drift into the short fiction-writing realm. I’ve read so many subtly shady bios of people I know that toss in exaggerations or the names of titles and awards that mean nothing, but sound like they could mean something to those who have no way of knowing any better.

Awhile back, Ani DiFranco took issue with a magazine’s characterization of her as a self-made mogul. Technically, she is one. But she avoids thinking of herself in those terms, and doesn’t want to encourage others to view her in that light either. She said that instead of “ani d., CEO,” she’d prefer to be known/remembered as a “songwriter, musicmaker, storyteller, freak.”

Here’s my real, substance-conscious, “short bio”: I’m resilient, I’m not afraid of hard work, and I won’t flake out on my loved ones. I don’t take the days of my life for granted, I’ve owned up to and accepted the consequences of every mistake I’ve made, and I laugh at most all of my own jokes.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Which Way to the Water Slide?

In the span of one hour, an 11-year-old and I took Midtown Manhattan by storm. We rode side-by-side on the Bryant Park merry-go-round, rolled through Times Square, sat down for a street artist’s charcoal sketch. If we had more time and I wasn’t such a tightwad, I would have taken us to a matinee performance of Evita. Everyone should see Ricky Martin get busy live at least once.

When I first toured an extensive swath of Manhattan as a kid, I was younger than 11, and remember equating the experience to being in the middle of a theme park. It still feels that way, if not more so, twenty years later.

During the stroll from the Nasdaq board area to the charcoal-sketch artist’s easel, we bypassed a group of kids getting their pictures taken with an adult-size muppet character. These muppets also routinely set up shop along several blocks of 6th Avenue during the holiday season, and I had a big problem with them, and the sidewalk congestion they create, until a few months ago. I’d been sitting on a bench near 42nd Street, cooling off from something that had just happened, and a defeated-looking middle-aged man (who might be somebody’s doting young grandfather) appeared by the bench behind me, fumbling through a huge bag. We exchanged sad smiles and I forgot about him until he left his spot at the bench to slowly walk toward Times Square, wearing a full-on Elmo costume.

Now whenever the street muppets wave at me, I wave back.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Coming Down Is the Hardest Thing

Fifteen minutes into an Appalachian Trail hike, I was riddled with second thoughts.

I probably wouldn’t have been so skeptical if I’d been properly dressed. I expected an uphill nature walk in the deep, dark woods, along rough-ish terrain – not a climbing-over-jagged-rock-ledges course that’s better destined for the REI-poles-and-backpack breed of hikers. Had I known this was an Outward Bound-caliber trail, or had I remembered that it rained the night before, I would have worn thicker shoes. And a pair of socks.

More than one individual has told me that I’m the most stubborn person they’ve ever met. Quitting doesn’t come easy to me. I climbed up one set of rocks, and then another.

In spite of the country-bohemian attire, it’s possible I could have gone all the way up and come back down, yelling and cursing from start to finish, without much incident. It was all about the gamble.

The now well-publicized notion of “do[ing] something that scares you every day” is a noble concept, but even nobility has its boundaries. Nobody needs to be a hero all the time. Selective heroism is more gangsta.

Prematurely turning around and gingerly scaling down those two sets of slick, mossy rocks was sketchier than propelling myself to the top of them had been. It wouldn’t have taken much for a seasoned klutz to slip and fly down the adjacent ravine that most likely wouldn’t have offered much to grab onto during the freefall toward the forest’s floor.

I’ve made it out of the woods, once again, in one piece. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

An Upside to Dirty Laundry

The first half-dozen times I glanced through the windows of a below-street-level building in my neighborhood, I thought it was a deli-cafeteria and wondered how long it might take them to fix me an iced coffee.

When I started to consistently see people wheeling bundles of blankets and clothing on their ways in and out, it hit me - I was face to face with my new and improved laundromat, where you can find a loving family of four having Sunday dinner at a lopsided table as they wait for their clothes to dry; or chance upon a soft-spoken, furtive dialogue that includes: “Yeah I know, but man, why do you have a naked picture of your cousin on your phone?”

I wasn’t happy about needing to do an enormous, long-overdue load of laundry this past weekend, or having to push my huge cart across busy streets in the sticky 93-degree heat. My mood dramatically lifted within minutes of my sweaty, pink-faced arrival at the laundromat that rarely disappoints. Two families with early-elementary-school-age children surrounded me. One featured two very pretty little girls. The other family’s pair of boys wildly ran around the premises in their underpants and sleeveless undershirts, and I was the only one who was absolutely elated by the sight of it all.

I sat down to read Anna Quindlen’s new book at a table in the back of the room. The two girls and their mom sat across from me, with some snacks.

The elder underpants boy really had the hots for the younger girl. I caught him checking her out during one of his lawless laps around the washing machines. Once the parents cleared out of the seating area, and it was just us kids, the mack was on. Or the attempted mack, as – surprise! – tighty whitie has no game.

He bounced over to her, much of his handsome face hidden behind those oversized geek-chic glasses that are all the rage with the hipsters, and asked how old she was. (As socially unsophisticated as it may be, I applaud the idea of establishing the age difference straight from the get-go. There’s no joy in suddenly learning that you’re 11 years older than the guy you’re on a third date with.)  He followed up with an interrogation about the snacks.

Underpants: You’re eating lunch now? [It was sometime between 3:45 and 4:15 p.m.]

Sweet Little Girl: No.

Underpants: So that’s your dinner?

Sweet Little Girl: No.

Underpants: It’s your supper?

Sweet Little Girl: What’s supper?

He told her that supper was a combination of lunch and dessert. That’s when she got noticeably weirded out.

Underpants: Why are you eating at a time when you’re not supposed to be eating?

Sweet Little Girl: Why aren’t you wearing clothes?

The parents returned, the kids clammed up, the underpants boys segued into a good-natured wrestling match on an elevated platform, and not having laundry facilities in my own building presented itself as more of a privilege than a problem.