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.
I 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.
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.
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.
At 4:00 a.m., I wake to two big brown eyes staring at me in the dark. “Are you okay?” I ask, then I rub my dog Millie’s ears. She doesn’t say anything, just continues to stare. I’ve written about her seizures before and while (knock wood) she has responded remarkably well to the medicine we have been giving her for the last several months, I’m always a little fearful when she wakes me up in the middle of the night.
She doesn’t seem particularly agitated, she just stares at me. She really does have the prettiest eyes, even in the dark, even at 4:00 a.m. I ask her if a treat might help her sleep. No response, but when I get out of bed and walk into the kitchen, she and her brother Rick clamor into the living room, assuming their treat stances on the couch.
“Thank God you have the stamina to eat, Millie.” I’m kidding, but it’s a prayer too.
The three of us return to the bed, Eric trying to sleep through the commotion. We are, none of us, quiet souls. Ricky circles twice and settles into his spot between Eric and me. Millie sits regally, still staring at me from the foot of the bed. I lie in bed, unsettled, alert.
I hope that Millie will settle like Ricky, but she doesn’t. I get up, walk into the living room, turn on a lamp, grab the book I am reading. Almost immediately, I hear someone charging into the room, onto the couch. Millie plops herself into my lap. Seconds later, Ricky joins us, gluing himself to my right side.
For several chapters, I read my book, a memoir, another person telling me their story. Trying to illuminate their journey in a way that will illuminate mine.
I’m not complaining, but it’s not the easiest task, reading a book while petting two dogs at the same time. Turning pages is a trick and sometimes, one of the dogs actually rests their head on the book. Any port in a storm. If I pet Millie but not Rick, he glares sadly. If Ricky moves closer, Millie tends to snarl or even snap at him. Poor Rick. So the best thing is just to pet them both at the same time. Stop petting both when I have to turn the page, resume petting.
No one said life is easy.
I didn’t have to work today. As I read my memoir, in the middle of the night, hoping to get sleepy enough to return to my slumber, it strikes me that all in all, it isn’t the worst of situations. These (mostly) sweet puppies keeping me company, this book, my couch, my apartment, the saint in the other room, my life.
I nod off mid page, then jump. After that happens twice, I get off the couch and return to bed. Millie and Ricky bounce onto the bed. Ricky circles twice then settles down. Millie roots between the blanket and bedspread then burrows herself not far from my feet.
Relieved that Millie is now sleeping, I lie in bed, pondering my life. I hate my job. Not every aspect of it, but enough. I do like the people I work with and I’ve been in the work force long enough to know that counts for something.
I guess a few jobs are like this, but I sometimes marvel that my co-workers and me, we often see people at their very worst, their most unkind. Some days it’s staggering. I do not see people as intrinsically good anymore and there was a time that I did. And I wonder if I will ever turn a corner and see the good in people before I see the bad.
Anyway, after some tossing and turning, I get up again and I return to my couch, return to my lamp, return to my book. This time, only Ricky joins me. I hope everyone reading this has at least one soul, human or otherwise, who loves them as much as Ricky loves me.
The sun has started to rise by the time I return to bed. I sleep for a few hours, get up to give Millie her pill then sleep for an hour more. I get up and drink my coffee, already made. Besides making the coffee, Eric has also walked and fed the dogs. Then I go to church.
If I were to ever write a memoir, I don’t think those hours on the couch with a book and two dogs would ever make it past the first edit. It’s not really a story. But maybe it is. Maybe its the story of my life and I don’t even realize it.
I’ve stumbled into a conundrum at work and I don’t know the best way to get out of it. Or even if I need to get out of it. Or even if I want to get out of it.
As you might know, I am back at Barneys. There is a new parking system, one that was developed in the year that I was elsewhere. We now park our cars tandem style with an attendant who directs us. It’s a pretty thankless job because no one really wants to park in front of or behind another person. The parking attendants are all saints, every one of them.
On one of my first days back, one of the attendants, asked me my name and I told it to him. He wrote my name and where in the store that I worked and placed it on my windshield in case he or another attendant needed to locate me to move the car for the person in front of me.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a revelation from my friend. I don’t know his name and obviously, I should know his name. He is my co-worker and not just any co-worker, one who always greets my kindly even though his job is, like I said, completely thankless. Actually, it’s worse than thankless because most of us grumble that we don’t want to park tandem style to him as if all of these parking arrangements had been his idea in the first place. That being said, it feels too far along in our working relationship for me to, out of the blue, ask him his name.
Anyway, here is the conundrum: he thinks my name is Jeff. On the slip he puts on my windshield, he now writes Jeff and that I work in the restaurant. As I park in the morning and say hello on my way to the elevator, he says, “Thanks, Jeff, have a great day!”
And I’m really torn. On one hand, he should probably know my name. If they need me to move my car and he calls the restaurant looking for Jeff, it might be a while before the deductions are made that I am indeed Jeff.
And I don’t want to say, “Hey, I’m actually not Jeff, I’m Ray.” I’ve never been good at delivering those messages without sounding like at the bare minimum, passive aggressive, and at worst, well, let’s just say “jerk”. Did I mention he’s probably the nicest guy who works in the whole store?
Every day, when he says, “Have a great day, Jeff,” I wonder when and if I’m going to break the news to him.
But I don’t think it will be any time soon, because, between you and me, I get a certain thrill when he calls me Jeff. When he calls me Jeff, I am not Ray. Ray is fine, not horrible, but Jeff seems so rife with possibility.
I really want to be Jeff. Even though, obviously, others think Jeff looks like me, I see Jeff SIMILAR to me, but better. Brown eyes, brown hair, yes. But Jeff weighs 15 pounds less than Ray, he’s also an inch taller. Also, he’s 36. He looks like James Wolk from Mad Men and he has a killer smile and when Jeff walks by (or just parks his car) people always comment to themselves, “Man, I love that Jeff.”
Like Ray, Jeff is gay, has a significant other and dogs at home, but Jeff played high school football. (He wasn’t so great, but everyone loved him.) Ray and Jeff both drive the same car, obviously, but Jeff keeps his Jetta a little neater than Ray. There aren’t about 25 parking passes from the pool at Park La Brea strewn about Jeff’s Jetta. Also, Jeff washes his car every other Sunday morning, whether it’s his day off or not.
Jeff is midwestern like Ray. He’s super excited because his memoir about growing up in the midwest is getting ready to come out soon. (Simon and Schuster, if you can believe it.) He wonders if, when the book comes out, he’ll be able to stop working a day job. Either way, it’s all good. Everything always works out for Jeff. He’s super grateful to have corporate health insurance again.
Jeff is mostly perfect. His one flaw, if you can even call it that, is that he’s always posting motivational sayings on his Instagram. “We get it, you’re totally glass half full, Jeff,” his friends say, kidding, but they still adore him. Can’t stay mad at Jeff!
I could go on, but you get the point.
You see, it’s been kind of a big summer for Ray. There were some sad things that happened, some great things too. I took a risk leaving a job that I hated to go back to Barneys and, while no job is perfect, I am truly glad to be back and to have corporate insurance again. I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to and now I’m kicking myself a little because I’m feeling a little rusty now. I went to New York in August and ached before I went and ached after. Will I ever love a city more than I love New York?
And you know, here I am, trying to wrap up a simple blog about social etiquette that has morphed into a confession of being at a point where I’d just like to have a little bit more. Be a little bit more. Perhaps you can relate.
Don’t we all just want our life to be a little more awesome?
Unless you’re Jeff.
Well, maybe even if you’re Jeff.