Tom, Get Your Plane Right On Time

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A couple of weeks ago, like two seconds after I emailed my federal tax return, a thought occurred to me that I should make a quick trip to New York,  I popped an Ambien and I stayed up a little late researching flights and hotels.  Many, many times during my year, when I’m feeling blue, I tell myself, if I could just spend two days in NY, it would make everything better. And planning trips to NY are approximately 36% as exciting as being there in person.

I found a flight that sounded reasonable enough. It had my signature redeye departure and ideal midday return flight.  I juggled some things around at work and got a few days. I looked on TripAdvisor for recent reviews of the kitschy, fun and slightly scary Jane Hotel where I have stayed twice before. I fretted over money and what friends I would be able to connect with.  Would it be sad traveling to NY without Eric?  It was my city before it was his, but now, it feels like it’s our city.

I was reading a chick-lit novel at the time about a lost woman in her thirties who inherited a fancy, but broken down Central Park West luxury apartment.  And somehow, this protagonist’s lack of anchor called to my adriftness.  Maybe I could find some truth on this trip, maybe something can lead me in the direction my life is supposed to take. Whatever that is.

IMG_9876I never feel more alive than when I am walking through Central Park and along the West Side Highway and through Bergdorf and sitting at Bemelmans or Barney Greengrass or crossing Manhattan to Staten Island on that aptly named ferry. It’s bliss to me.  And then I come home and pore through my pictures, pore through the memories. I compare the lists, the places I made it to and the places I ran out of time for.  And then I compile a new list, for the next trip. Do you have any idea how many times the Cloisters has been on my LIST?  (And it doesn’t look good for it this time either.) My friends give me suggestions: Thank you Ivy for giving me THE FRICK. Thank you Joel for giving me THE TENEMENT MUSEUM. Thank you Traci for giving us the Museum of Arts and Design and by proxy, one of our favorite watering hole’s Robert on the 9th floor. Thank You Eboni for Levain.

I told my therapist that I decided to go because I’ve been depressed and the thought of planning a trip and looking forward to a trip brought me joy.  I was afraid to tell my parents, would they think I should be visiting them?  And I understand, that’s a risk we take, especially when our parents get older.  But I think about if any two people taught me to love travel, the value of travel,  it was my parents.  Even today, I see an Amtrak or a Union Station and suddenly I am 8 and my Mom and I are traveling in the middle of the night to visit my Grandma and cousins in La Junta.  I taste a pineapple, and I am 12 again, on my first visit to Hawaii, of course, with my parents.  Perhaps a part of them hesitated booking such a grand trip, the costs involved, but ultimately the yes must have been accompanied by the realization that trips mean memories. My Father’s Father joined us on that trip and my parents and I still reminisce about this one week in 1981 that packed so much life into it.  I think I remember every moment, from the confused feelings I felt for some handsome teenage backpackers in the SFO airport, to eating caviar for the first time, to nearly being taken under by the undertow in Maui, the two luaus, feeling like Bobby Brady at Pearl Harbor.  And then the 24 pineapples and many boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts we gave away and dined on ourselves in the weeks after our return to Kansas.

 

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I am a little Ambien-y tonight too. So if my words are slightly muddled, please forgive me.  Or maybe pop an Ambien yourself and my prose might become as magical as Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  But life is hard, I know I’m that guy that is always crying about how hard his life is.  A complainer, a victim, easily crestfallen.  But on vacation, I really do find joy.  I laugh, i have more energy.  I’m even nicer. I feel like a vibrant part of the texture of the world we live in. With the earnestness of a young bride whose colors are blush and bashful, I  go around saying things like, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” New York is my 30 minutes of wonderful. IMG_9818

So, yes, I am going to New York in a few days.  It feels like a risk and also, like something I positively must do. These trips. we always bring something back.  Something useful, be it a mug or pastries or an understanding about the world or about ourselves.  And the older I get, travel, leaving home, seeing another part of the world, meeting old friends, remembering what made us safe when we were 8 or giddy when we were 12 or handsome when we were 26, it feels to me no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity.

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Zest

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It’s not my usual pattern, but two nights ago, I took a shower before going to bed.  (In case you are worried that I do not bathe, I’ll tell you I generally shower in the morning.) Eric had added a fancy new bar of soap to the other 97 shampoos, conditioners, exfoliants and body washes that comprise our bathtub.  I picked up the soap, lathered it.  I liked the smell, it reminded me of something, but it took me a second to place it.

I love soap.  I mean, it’s nice that it cleans a person, but it also can leave behind a pleasant fragrance.  For me, and I don’t think I’m alone, a lot of memories are tied to fragrances.  Like rose water always makes me think of my high school friend Missy. Both chlorine and suntan lotion remind me of long ago summer afternoons spent at the Riverside Park Municipal Pool.  Night blooming jasmine makes me think of those months when I first moved to Los Angeles.  Dolce and Gabbanna cologne makes me think of my first big love, the one I took so many years to get over.

It took me a second, but I realized this soap reminded me of the soap my grandfather always had in his house, something called Zest. Remember Zest? I mean, I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. It was Zest, Zest in the kitchen, Zest at the bathroom faucet, Zest in the bathtub. Always Zest.

In the house where I grew up with my parents, I remember using a lot of soaps: Irish Spring, Dove, Dial, Ivory and sometimes Zest. If I begged enough, my Mom would buy me Coast. Coast was my favorite. I don’t know why I loved Coast so much, I just imagined that it was what people who spent a lot of time on yachts smelled like. I did not love Zest, nor did I hate it. Zest just was. And like I said, Zest is what always was at my grandpa’s house.

I really only knew two grandparents growing up. My mom’s father died when she was a baby and my dad’s mother died when I was not yet two. And while I always felt a kinship to my mom’s mom, Grandma Sue, a bond over Scrabble and books and reading and writing letters, my Grandpa was always a mystery.

He was a farmer. When we’d visit, he’d let me go out to the garden with him. He’d pull up young carrots and wipe them off and let me eat them fresh from the garden. I’d ask him how the watermelons were doing since they were my favorite fruit but it seemed we always had to wait almost until the end of summer before the watermelons would be ready to eat. I used to have a tomato scented candle and I loved it because it smelled like my grandfather’s garden.

In the years before I was 7, when we moved from Kansas City to Independence, in part so my Dad could be closer to Grandpa, we would drive down to the farm for weekend visits. I remember my Grandpa would fry us hamburgers for supper and on Sundays, my aunts and uncles and cousins would convene at Grandpa’s for a roast beef dinner. Tuesday night, after my shower, as I was trying to fall asleep, I wondered who prepared the roasts for those feasts. Was it Grandpa or did Aunt Kay leave church early to get a head start on the meal? I don’t know, I just remember running around in the yard, climbing the septic tank and after eating, all the men (and boys) going fishing.

If my math is right, my Grandpa was about 64 when my Grandma Avis died. When he died, more than once, I heard my Dad say that he didn’t think he ever got over losing Grandma. He never remarried, never started a new life with another woman. Tuesday night, as I lay in bed, I wondered if I had solved the mystery of the Zest. My first thought was that he bought it because that’s what she always bought. And then I went just a bit further, maybe he always used Zest because it reminded him of the good times, when the children were young, before Avis got sick.

When I looked up the definition for zest, the first one I came across was “great enthusiasm or energy.” Of my grandfather’s 7 grandchildren, I am the only one too young to not remember him in the years before he was a widower. While I only remember a stoic, serious man, maybe in his life before, enthusiastic and energetic could have described him. I don’t know.

I do think energetic and enthusiastic are words that could be used to describe me. It’s part of my undiagnosed mania. My life is always either wonderful or terrible, nothing in between. I’ve never been called stoic even once in my 46 years. Sometimes, I think, oh man, I’d KILL to be stoic, which, you know, is a very unstoic thing to think or say.

Last night, I lay in bed, still thinking about my Grandpa Carl and my Grandma Avis, their love story. When I was little my Dad would always say the best fried chicken he’d ever had was his Mom’s. If it bothered my Mom that he would say that while we were eating her fried chicken, she gave no indication. These were the handful of years right after Avis had died and I suppose it was my Dad’s way of saying, “Boy, I miss my Mom” without having to actually say it. My Dad inherited more than a little of his father’s stoicism.

I wonder what my Grandpa would say if I told him that modern version of Zest in my bathtub cost $20 a bar. (In its defense, it’s a big bar.)

There is something of my grandfather in me. I hope so, anyway. He’s been gone for nearly 25 years now, all I have is old pictures and memories and the stories my older relatives share with me. I try to make the connections.

I mentioned briefly an ex I had that, once we broke up, it took me years to get over him. There was a point when I truly thought that I never would. But I did, eventually.

I know that in the culture we live in, there is a lot of value placed on moving forward, starting anew, evolving. I suppose that is for the best, all things considered.

But I have to say there is something beautiful and touching, albeit, heartbreaking about how my grandfather never started anew. My Grandma was a ghost who was always there in that house, a ghost who always clung to my Grandpa. She was never far away. Every hymnal in the pews of the country church our family attended bore the inscription, “Provided by the family of Avis Barnhart, in loving memory.” She was everywhere. When I was 12, my parents and I went to Hawaii with my Grandpa and although he had a good time, it was said and it was understood, this was a trip he should have made with Avis. And it was also understood that, in a way, she was there with us.

When I smell anything gardenia fragranced, whether it be a soap or a perfume or a candle, I remember my two trips to Hawaii. It’s always so bittersweet because a fragrance can bring back some wonderful memories and also make you ache for what is no more. But I like the idea, and really, I know it’s just an idea, but I like to think that that Zest might have kept the memory of Avis alive to Carl. That on days after working hard on the farm, he’d come inside, lather up with his Zest and momentarily at least, get whisked away to the happiest days of his life. And when his hands were clean, all the dirt washed down the drain, he’d go about fixing a hamburger or two for himself. And trust me when I tell you, those hamburgers were the best hamburgers I’ve ever had. I can smell them now.

One Hundred

photo-34Three years ago today, I was on a plane to Hawaii.  I’ve written a little about that trip on this blog before here.  Yesterday, I was looking at pictures from the trip because I wanted to post a fun one on my friend Kim’s Facebook wall for his birthday.  What I wrote about the trip a few months ago was how the illness of my pet dog, Mandy, was a sad memory woven into that trip.  I will never think of that time without thinking of her.  But looking at the pictures I’d taken, I also remembered something very happy about the trip.

A couple weeks before going to Maui, I met a guy and started dating him.  His name was Eric and from our first date at Damon’s, there was something special about him, but also, something that felt like this relationship was going to be substantial.  It had been a long time since I’d had a boyfriend, probably a few years.  My life was full with friends and dogs and spending game show winnings, but truth be told, I was a little lonely.  But we met and, well, he made me laugh.

Our courtship was very new when I went to Maui and today, I thought about how electric our phone calls and texts and emails to each other were in those few days.  Michael and Kim would tease me when he’d call and I’d go outside so we could whisper sweet, yearning words to each other. And for some reason, I thought about the end of that classic John Hughes film, Some Kind of Wonderful, where after Eric Stoltz gives Mary Stuart Masterson the diamond earrings, he says, “You knew you were going to get these.”  And she says, “I didn’t know, I hoped.”  And then he tells her again that she knew and she admits, “I had a feeling.”  And then Lick the Tins (whatever happened to them?) start singing the best cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” that anyone of my generation has every heard.  

All this is to say that I didn’t know if Eric and I would become a couple, move in together, raise dogs, build a home. But I hoped.  I had a feeling.  A few weeks ago, we celebrated our three year anniversary, at Damon’s, of course.  And when I think about my trip to Maui, I feel like he was there with us, with me, because, in a way, he was.  And when I have a little vodka in my system, I’m apt to tell people that Mandy somehow sent Eric into my life because she knew how broken-hearted I’d be when she was gone.  It’s possible.

I titled this post One Hundred because it’s my 100th blog post.  It’s been a fun, challenging, emotional, humbling, ego-boosting, humbling again, educational six months, but I’m glad I started Easily Crestfallen and I’m thankful for people like you who’ve read, shared, commented, clicked “like”, etc.  I don’t know what the next 100 posts will look like, but I’m enjoying and learning from this journey.  

And I’m also thankful to Mandy, or Whoever it was, that sent Eric into my life. I couldn’t imagine the last three years without him and hopefully, we’ll have one hundred more together.

Storytelling

179892_142463809146815_2502641_nI had a storytelling show tonight.  I just got home a few minutes ago.  I do these shows every couple of months and some go better than others.  Tonight, I talked about one of my blog posts, The Forgiveness Machine.  The goal with these stories is to be funny, but also share a real experience from your life.  From the beginning, I was a little off my game.  I was more nervous than usual, I didn’t feel like I had a strong opening to the set.  The arc of the set was supposed to be tell something funny (me being drunk at a luau in Hawaii) followed by something sad (talking about my dog Mandy’s last few days) then wrap up with something funny again (me overreacting to some stupid things I did a couple of days ago.)  Halfway through the show, before I hit the stage, a group of drunk people came in to watch their friend perform.  They sat at a table in the main room and talked during their friend’s set.  Then the emcee made a point to tell the room to be respectful of the performers and the people listening when he introduced the next performer.  They talked through his set anyway, despite people around them ssshh-ing them.  Then I got up.  Toward the top of my set, I heard them talking and I said from the stage, “Hey just so you know, there is a room in back where you guys can talk.  You don’t have to be in this room.”  They stayed in the room.  I got into my set, I couldn’t quite hit my groove, but I got a few laughs.  Then I launched into the sad part, talking about dealing with Mandy’s death. I heard that group laughing.   And that’s when I did something I have never done on stage before.  I went off.  I bellowed, “Shut the f@#% up. If you don’t want to be here, go in the back room.”  The ring leader responded, “I thought this was supposed to be a comedy show.”  And then the emcee said, “Actually it’s a storytelling show, it can be funny or serious.”  And then the guy muttered something and then I wrapped up my set, omitting parts of the story that may or may not have paid off anyway.  I got to my closing sentence about how we want forgiveness to be something instantaneous, but in reality it’s a process.  I got off the stage and decompressed while the next and last comic performed.  

Usually, after a show that does not go the way I hope it will, I have a tendency to beat myself up.  I replay all the missed laughs in my head over and over again.  For lack of a better word, I can be unforgiving. Tonight however, I felt exhilerated by what happened.  I’ve had people talk or heckle during my shows before, but it’s the first time I ever addressed it from the stage.  I was giving them the full Julia Sugarbaker and I kind of liked it.  

After the show, several people came up to me and told me how rude they thought that group was.  They were rude, but you, and by you, I mean I, you have to be ready for events like that to occur when you step up on that stage.  It’s what you’re signing up for.  Also after the show, the drunk ring leader came up to me and asked if he could have a minute of my time.  My friend Linda was there and as I stuttered with “uhhh” she told him that whatever he had to say, he could say right there to all of us.  Then he started to launch into something about how my words from the stage made him feel.  And then, Linda cut him off and said, “Minute’s up, you’re done.”  And then his friends pulled him away.  

I realized as he was standing there, that I wasn’t mad at him at all.  He hadn’t ruined my set, it wasn’t great to begin with.  Also, as I said, I was proud of myself for shouting out, in essence, “I don’t want to be treated like that.”  My daily life is filled with experiences where I have to nod and say yes when I want to say no, where the person I’m talking to deserves to be told no.  But tonight, it went a little differently. And somewhere in the midst there is a lesson in forgiveness, forgiving myself and forgiving others. Sometimes, usually, it’s a process, and every once in a while, it is instantaneous.

The Forgiveness Machine

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The artist Karen Green has written a book called Bough Down about her grief over losing her husband, writer David Foster Wallace. In a review of the book I recently read, there was talk of an art piece that she built and exhibited in 2009 called The Forgiveness Machine, which is pictured here. Basically you write down something you want to forgive or something you want to be forgiven of and you place it at one end and a vacuum sucks it into the machine and it comes out shredded at the other end. What I read piqued my interest so I googled “Forgiveness Machine” and found a few interviews with Green where she talked about how she came to build the piece and the response people had to it. Of course, the first thing I thought was what would I write on that piece of paper. What would I want to forgive? What would I want to be forgiven of?

In November 2010, I was on Maui with my friends Michael and Kim, on my last night on the island, we treated ourselves to a luau at one of the fancier resorts. Now there are two things you should know about me:
1. I love a Mai-tai and 2. I love an open bar. We had a glorious evening under the stars, watching the show, eating poi and pulled pork, and drinking free Mai-tai’s. I had a few, more than a few. I don’t remember all the details, but at the end of the night, as we were walking to our car through the hotel lobby, I said, “This hotel is so pretty, let’s sit here and talk about what a beautiful night it’s been.” 30 seconds later, I was weeping convulsively. Kind of like an Oprah’s ugly cry, but darker. Uglier.

A few days earlier, hours after landing in Maui, my neighbor who had offered to care for my dogs called to tell me one of them, Mandy was not well and did I want them to euthanize her while I was gone. Mandy had been suffering from cancer, a fatal tumor in her sinuses and I knew her time was coming to an end. I had vacillated between going on the trip and canceling. My neighbor knew Mandy was sick and because she’d had her own elderly and frail dogs through the years, I knew she’d keep a watchful eye on her. I was not prepared for her phone call and I did not know what to do. I thought about coming home immediately. She ended up taking Mandy to her vet, he said that the end was near, but he gave her fluids (she’d become dehydrated) and a cortisone shot, which perked her up a little. Even though I had taken Mandy to my vet just a couple weeks before and she’d assured me that Mandy was in pain, but not so much pain that it was time to put her down. I still felt like I let her down, in fact, just reading these words, I still feel like I let her down.

All of these emotions flooded my rum-soaked heart that night when we were sitting on that couch in the hotel lobby. I started crying and I could not stop for 20 minutes. I was sad that Mandy was dying and sadder because I had failed her as her caretaker, as her father. Michael, who does not drink and Kim, who’d drank less than me, both offered support and hugs. If they were embarrassed by my display of emotion they gave no indication. I’m sure it’s not the first time someone’s cried their eyes out at the Kaanapali Beach Hyatt Regency. Eventually, the three of us pulled me together and we headed to our condo, stopping at another ABC store to pick up chocolate covered macadamia nuts for my plane ride home the next day. A couple days later, after spending about 48 hours with Mandy, I did decide to put her to sleep. It was a sad day, to say the least.

If I could go back in time and do things differently, I would. But I can’t go back. Something people told me during this period is that we make the best decisions we can at the time and just hope for the best. I understand why The Forgiveness Machine resonated with so many people. With it’s bright colored gizmos it presents forgiveness as something convivial and instantaneous. It’s neither, but we wish it was. Forgiveness is not a machine, but rather a process.

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