Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

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I’m reading the short stories of John Cheever right now. Something about his characters and themes taps into traits and inclinations that are at the core of who I am. Cheever had/has a fixation on loss, lost youth, lost money, lost hope.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of his short stories, about a character described, at 40, as a middle aged man, I remembered something I had forgotten.  I am middle aged.  And unless I live to be 95, I am on the downward slope of middle age.  But whenever I get worried about my age, I always think of Sarah Jessica Parker who is three years older than me.  At every age, she is beautiful and fashionable and smart and relevant and the thought of her comforts me.

This morning, I read Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty, about a former star athlete who in middle age has money problems and drinks too much. Again, as I drank my morning coffee and sat on the couch reading, I wondered, are my best days behind me?

I remember that hope we had, I had, in our youth that our adult lives would be filled with an abundance of riches. Not just monetary riches, but certainly including those. We would have many friends, many children, many vacations, many pets, many accolades, many successes.

When I was in high school, I was in forensics, and I was sometimes asked to do monologues or scenes at various womens’ clubs in Independence. A small group of us would assemble in a church fellowship hall and entertain the ladies. My piece was always from God’s Favorite by Neil Simon, always a crowd favorite. Even at 16, I could tap into the Charles Nelson Reilly that was gesticulating within me. We’d put on our little show, they’d feed us cookies and tea and sometimes give us a small honorarium, and then we’d be on our way. I’d drive off in my ratty ’65 Mustang and think this was just the beginning of a rich life. Unlimited promise.

Are all of my best days behind me?

As I walked the dogs a few minutes ago, I asked myself that question. How far back in my memory reserve would I have to go to access a really great day, not just a good day, but a special, think of it for years to come day. Maybe even a remember it on your deathbead, a la Claire Fisher from series finale of Six Feet Under, kind of day.

You can imagine my relief when a fairly recent memory popped into my head, from a mere two months ago. Not surprisingly, I was on vacation. Also, not surprisingly, I was in New York.

Eric and I were in New York but during the day he attended a trade show at the Javits Center. I decided that was the day I would go to Governors Island. I’d never been to Governors Island, when I lived in New York, I do not think it was open to the public.

I took the train to the tip of Manhattan and walked to the Ferry terminal, then took the Ferry to Governors Island. I walked around the island, took pictures, posted pictures to Instagram. I boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan. Took more pictures of both islands. Docked in Manhattan and went to Starbucks and bought a water with a gift card my Mom sent me. I visited a gift store I like where I bought vintage looking dog stickers.

I pondered the possibility of taking the subway back to midtown where we were staying, especially since it was 90 degrees, and also, I developed a stomachache from drinking that water so fast. But I decided I would walk until I got tired and then take the subway the rest of the way. I walked from South Street Seaport through Tribeca and Soho into Greenwich Village then by my old apartment on 15th street. I walked up 8th until about 30th and then I jogged over to 9th Avenue. Somewhere around 23rd, the thought of a flower topped chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe popped into my head. How long it had been since I’d had one of those cupcakes? Ten years? Fifteen? When I got to 9th Avenue, the bakery was not where I remembered it but across the street. Had they moved or had I remembered it incorrectly? I bought my cupcake. I considered eating it at one of the handful of dusty tables, but decided I would take it back to the hotel and eat it there in the blasting air conditioning. I walked up 9th Avenue with the intent to also buy a sandwich at Amy’s Breads but at Amy’s Breads, at 2:30 p.m., the sandwich pickings were slim. So I ambled up and got a turkey sandwich at the French bistro near our hotel. I ate my feast in our room, half interested in an episode of Catfish playing on MTV. I took a shower and Eric texted me to say we would meet for drinks at Soho Grand before our dinner at Balthazar. I had a few hours to kill so I decided to visit a museum on the Upper West Side where an Al Hirschfeld exhibit was ongoing. I walked from our hotel, around Columbus Circle then up Central Park West. I took pictures of some of the more stately apartment building along the avenue. I’d walked by them a hundred times before but I hoped that because I was taking pictures of them now, I would remember the names and the details. Was the Dakota above or below the San Remo?

When I got to the museum, I found that they were closing in less than an hour and admission was almost $20, so I decided not to go in. I’ll never know how many Ninas I might have discovered inside the New York Historical Society. On 81st, I turned to walk west, inspired by the thought that it had been many years since my last visit to Riverside Park. On 81st and West End, I happened upon The Calhoun School, famous because the building itself looks like a giant television. I took a picture and sent it to friends via Facebook. On Sundays, when I lived in New York, I attended a church that had services there. I tagged Yvonne and Tania and Sarah in the picture I posted, I would have tagged Dana but she isn’t on Facebook.

From there I kept walking and as I crossed Riverside Drive, I remembered an episode of Naked City that was filmed there. How could the street look almost the same 50 years later? Has there ever been a city as unmoved yet everchanging as New York? I walked into the park. It’s no Central Park, I thought to myself. But I walked south until I discovered the Seventyninth Street Boat Basin. I considered stopping for a glass of wine. I remembered that I’d actually woke up a little hungover that morning. Too much bourbon at Bemelman’s and Robert and the Ritz-Carlton the night before. So I kept walking. I walked down the parkway along the Hudson River, marvelling at the stunning views of the water and the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. I thought about how growing up (in Kansas) I always pictured New Jersey as an ugly, undesirable state and obviously, now I knew how wrong I was. I grew to love New Jersey decades ago.

I walked south to a new park with a fancy, sophisticated walkway and then I headed back to Columbus Circle. It was 5:30 and after my industrious walk, I was sweaty again. I decided to go back to the hotel to take another shower.

I was a little late to the Soho Grand, but Eric and our friend were enjoying cocktails and Sriracha-coated peas when I joined them. Believe it or not, I did not order a cocktail.

From there we had dinner at Balthazar, which was good. And then I can’t remember what else we did. Did we walk around Rockefeller Center and then up 5th Avenue? Did we go for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton again, then along Central Park South back to our hotel? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Years from now, I might remember it incorrectly, that we hopped into a cab and sang songs around the piano at Marie’s Crisis or that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. And if that’s the way I remember it, that’s okay. No reason to getted bogged down by the facts.

Besided the hangover, the stomach ache, the pervasive heat, the not getting to see the Hirschfeld exhibit, I also had to contend with moments of melancholy and anxiety throughout this special day. Like a Cheever protagonist, melancholy and anxiety, and self-absorption for that matter, are part of who I am in my core. And yet, I will always remember this day fondly, importantly.

I walked 23.58 miles that day. I know that because I tweeted it that night when I got back to the hotel. I was proud of what I accomplished. I take my visits to New York very seriously, but you already know that.

Already, Eric and I are planning our next visit. I have to wrap this post up in a speedy manner or else I will be late to work. Forgive any mispelled words or dangling modifiers, maybe I’ll go back to fix my errors when I have time.

So off to work, I’ll go. Sometime during my day, I’ll check Kayak for flight and hotel deals. I’ll remember a museum that I wanted to make it to in August and I’ll go to their website and see what exhibits they’ll be showing at the end of January, beginning of February. Maybe I’ll finally make a reservation for us to eat lunch at The Four Seasons or Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. Still planning a bright future.

We must do what we can to prove that our best days are before us.

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Guest Blogger, Dayna Williams-Capone: First Job at Riverside Pool

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As summer sadly slips away, I can’t help but remember the Augusts of my youth, when I tried valiantly to get in as much swim time as possible before Riverside Pool closed for the season, boarding up with its concession stand and basket room, my hopes and dreams of becoming the next Rowdy Gaines or Steve Lundquist. Of course, my friend Dayna Williams-Capone, sister of guest blogger Joel Williams, was one of the lucky ones, she actually worked at the pool. A few weeks ago, I asked her if she had an interest in writing about those days, and she graciously agreed. So, please enjoy this account, you can almost smell the chlorine, watermelon Now & Laters and iodine laced baby oil with every sentence.

First Job at Riverside Pool

Ever since Ray and I started talking online in early June about our hometown I have been thinking about my first job and how I view that experience today in comparison to my image of myself and feelings about that job when I was 15. It was fun getting in touch with a couple of people I worked with back then and by doing so I realized how differently each one of us remembers (or forgets) a past shared experience. Thanks Ray for giving me a chance to share this.

Riverside Pool in Independence, Kansas is a place I remember with a sense of excitement and contentment. Opening day at the pool was what I daydreamed about during those final May days of school. It was the place to meet friends and be a bit more independent. Starting in about 5th grade, my mother would often drop me off at the pool on her way back to work from lunch and pick me up at the end of her work day.

The summer I was 15 I got a job at the pool working in the concession stand along with a good guy friend of mine. It was a perfect first job as I would spend my mornings and late evenings playing tennis at the courts next to the pool and then head over for work. It was a not so perfect job as I spent my time waiting on bratty children trying to decide if they wanted a Chick-O-Stick or Tangy Taffy while the lifeguards flirted and paraded around in their latest swimsuits.

I had an in for the job as my dad and the pool manager were friends who both taught at the local community college. Having my friend to keep me company and knowing the manager were a big plus because I found the older and cooler lifeguards and the jock who ran the basket room (where you checked in your towel or extra clothes) to be intimidating. Those 2 – 3 summers at the pool taught me a lot about people and self-confidence and what it meant to be or not to be one of the cool kids.

The lifeguards were at the top of the social ladder at the pool followed by the jock in the basket room and bringing up the rear were us kids in the concession stand. Our job was to look the other way when the lifeguards came in to pilfer Zero or Snicker bars out of the refrigerator or to be their audience as they discussed last night’s party, a new boyfriend or how sunburned they were getting. The biggest compliment to receive from the lifeguards was to be dragged out of the concession stand and thrown in the pool. It didn’t happen often, but it meant they really liked you. Those summers I was the sounding board and observer to unrequited love, hangovers, an unplanned pregnancy, engagements and leaving home for college.

The most exciting event during my summers at the pool was the year I was invited to the end of summer party at one of the lifeguard’s rental house. I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be a part of the cool kids club and how was I ever going to have this experience without letting my parents in on all of the somewhat questionable things that might happen there. There was going to be beer and purple cold duck in those little glass bottles. People would be smoking who knows what and they had driver’s licenses and cool sports cars.

I went, I saw, I drank enough beer to have no effect. Afterwards I spent the night with my close friend and I’m certain we dissected all my adult experiences. My friend who had a menthol smoking older sister with a wild side understood my need to experience this party, but also the uncomfortable feelings of not quite knowing how I fit in.

Looking back on that party it was more of an opportunity for everyone to prove to everyone else how worthy they were. Each person was there to show off his/her gifts. It could have been the gift of making great ice cream, telling the best jokes, drinking the most beer, being the most daring by having the illegal contraband, being the best dressed or having the cutest date. Because of our youth it all became a competition, we weren’t ready to appreciate each other’s gifts, to overlook faults, to build each other up.

At 15, fitting in was important and it was very difficult to be the person I was growing into. Sometimes in our adult lives our 15 year old selves emerge and bump into each other. Experience and wisdom sometimes help mitigate our feelings of inadequacy and competitiveness. Other times it’s easy to fall back into old habits. I’m much happier now than at 15, but still enjoy remembering all of the interesting and difficult things I experienced in that small town in Kansas.

Vintage Independence

Unknown-1I have to be honest, when I found that vintage postcard of Monkey Island that I used in yesterday’s blog, The Least I Could Do, I was pretty proud of myself.  And then I wondered if I could unearth any more vintage postcards starring my hometown.  I found a few, all of them very cool.  So I decided to make a little album and share them with you.  And if you have an old Independence postcard that would fit nicely into this album, by all means, send it to me and I’ll add it to the rest.  

The Least I Could Do

monkey-islandA few days ago on Facebook, a friend of mine from home posted this article about the preservation and safety improvements made on some of the slides at Riverside Park in my hometown of Independence, Kansas.  The article made me happy, because I remember those slides, I loved those slides and I’m glad those slides will be there for years to come to bring joy to the next generations.  Reading the article, it hit me, probably for the first time, just how much of my youth I spent at that park and zoo.

I have seen a lot of parks in my day, some of them pretty spectacular, like Central Park and Golden Gate Park, and Griffith Park, and Hyde Park, and Gosford Park(just kidding), but the thing is, I don’t think I could love a park more than I love Riverside Park. Of all of the parks mentioned, I don’t think any of them formed me, the way Riverside Park formed me. It’s where I took swim lessons every summer and now, my daily swim is one of the most important parts of my day. It’s where I’d climb on a retired airplane and dream of flying off to see the world. It’s where I’d get nervous in the outfield at t-ball practices because I knew that if anyone hit the ball to me, I’d never be able to catch it. It’s where I’d run to clear my mind while listening to Amy Grant or Michael W. Smith on my Sony Walkman. I could go on, but in a way, memories are boring unless they are yours. And if you are from Independence and you are reading this, I’m sure you have your own memories.

After reading the above article, I decided I wanted to send a little money to FORPAZ, which stands for Friends of Riverside Park and Zoo. In fact, I became a member. Anyway, if you are reading this, and especially if you are from Independence and you have your own special Riverside Park memories, I encourage you to take a few minutes to write a check (any amount would be welcome, I’m sure) to support a worthy cause. Make checks payable to FORPAZ, INC., PO Box 9, Independence, KS 67301. I know how lucky I was to grow up playing in a park like that and I’d like to do what I can to insure the same for others.