Do you know who I am?
Or even more appropriately, Do I know who I am?
Or lastly, who the hell am I?
At least once a week, as part of my routine as a writer, I spend the day in the city, just watching. It’s something that I’ve always loved doing; just observing the world and taking in the people and letting my imagination roam. When I was younger, we used to play this game called, “What’s his story?”, where we would pick out a person, and based on their walk, or their clothes, or their manner of speech, we would make up a story about them. It was great fun, and an excellent training ground as a writer, plus there was also one other fact that made the whole thing interesting.
Everyone has a story. Even though most of the people that we see on a daily basis are just background scenery, they all have a story. I imagine that if you talked to them all, they each would have pretty interesting stories. Unfortunately, I’m not real big on social interaction with strangers. This past week it was even worse.
Saturday and Sunday found me with a low-grade fever and some minor post-surgical bleeding. Turns out that I have a sinus infection, which is not that un-common. But it made for a pretty miserable weekend. I couldn’t take off from work because I would have left them in a bit of a bind, and despite my low morale and complete disapproval of how I’m treated at my job, the inner voice that says “Don’t let them see you weak.” overrides any bitterness I might have. So I went in.
At about 4am on Saturday with the fever starting to heat up in my temples, I decided that I would leave my job and go back to school, get a degree and finally set myself on a career path. I went to the NYU website and started searching their programs and I will say, despite the high price-tag, they have some pretty impressive curriculum over there. I was concentrating on business and law and project management. They all seemed like pretty good career paths with lots of opportunities for employment. I mean, do you know any unemployed lawyers (that aren’t in prison)? I was almost ready to apply when I was struck with a great revelation. – I had no friggin desire to study business management practices of the 21st century. I don’t give a shit what the Six Simga model does to improve manufacturing. I came to the hard realization: I am 47, and I still have no clue what I want to do when I grow up. (Strains of Bono singing Still haven’t found… playing in the background.)
I floated through the next day and a half and continued to wonder exactly what I was going to do with my present, never-mind my future. (And when I say floated, I mean floated. Sudafed and sinusitis have a strange combination that makes the world a little bit hazy.) By Monday morning, I was beating myself up pretty good as I made my way into the city to see my surgeon.
The city is a funny place on a Monday morning. Everybody is in a rush, and everybody is angry. As I watched these forlorn, angry, empty souls as they passed me by on their way to wherever, I wondered… Have they found what they are looking for? Do their lives have meaning?
Every once in a while I will hear someone say… I have my dream job… at first I get jealous, then I usually wonder… what would my dream job be? I never really loved anything enough to pursue it for more than 30 minutes.
A little while ago, I was speaking with my friend Kate. She had just gotten a big promotion at a big firm and I was congratulating her, despite my tiny pangs of jealousy mostly due to my own dire financial matters. When she told me how much work was involved, my jealousy left on the express train. In my moment of complaining, I said “I never wanted to have a career, all I wanted to do since I was a kid, was stay home.” She said, congratulations, you’ve been successful. She was right. All my life I have pursued jobs with funky hours and weird shifts and compressed work weeks, just so I could spend more time home and at the beach then I did at work. I’ve missed out on some advancement opportunities and I’ve missed out on a lot of financial benefits, but I’ve been semi-retired for 15 years. I was able to spend all my late-nights hunched over my computer, writing a book. I left that conversation feeling a little bit better about things. But my life still didn’t have meaning or purpose. I trudged on.
A lot of people I know say that having children has given their lives meaning and direction. I believe them. There were moments when I was jealous of them. I yearned to be a parent. Then their kids grew up. Most of them are good kids, some of them aren’t, but when I see my friends, the ones who are the same age as me, they look broken down and beaten. They smile and they laugh, but they look old.
I’m still beautiful. I don’t want to trade places with them.
Plus I lied, their kids are horrible spoiled brats.
As I walked along Columbus avenue, I watched the hordes with their cellphones stuck to their ears and their wingtips and briefcases. Do their lives have meaning? Have they done one good thing? I thought of my own life, for a minute, it was blank, then I remembered. In 2000, shortly after Roger Clemens threw a bat at Mike Piazza, I volunteered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I made a commitment I met a great kid and we had a lot of great times and we still get together every once in a while. He’s never been to prison. He’s got a job and a girlfriend. I like to think I had something to do with that. But the proudest thing isn’t’ that I volunteered, it isn’t that I did it for years after the commitment was over, it’s that for the first two years, I didn’t tell anyone. I actually did it selflessly. I didn’t use it for accolades, and I didn’t use it to get laid. After a while, word started to get out amongst my friends what I was doing, and then the accolades came, and more than one woman said “wow, I’m seeing you in a different light,” but by then it was ok. I had proved that I did something good, for the right reasons.
As I made my way to the mouth of the train station, a dude in a shiny suit cut in front of me. He nearly pushed me so he could get to the turnstile before me. I’m used to getting cut off in cars, but this was a new one for me: a dude cutting me off so we could get on the same train, in the same car. I was about to say something when I thought about something my brother had said a while ago.
My brother is smart. And funny. Keith is a little smarter than me..not by much, but he’s waaay funnier. After an egregious cutoff by some thoughtless neanderthal, as I was having a near embolism, he said “Dude, you don’t seem to get it. They are starring in their own movie. You’re just an extra.” The whole thought blew me away. He’s so right. Every time I tell one of my friends that, they shake their head vigorously They love the quote. Then I have to give my brother the credit. It kills me, but I hate plagiarism.
The truth is, I’m the star of my own movie too. I’m not as good looking, but I’m a way better actor than Pitt and Gosling. No one sends me a check though, and Eva never calls, but the soundtrack is great. Right now, U2’s One is playing over the closing credits. I’ve found the secret. Its not much, but it helps.
When you get to heaven, all they are gonna ask is… Did you do something good without asking for a reward? And “How did you treat your co-stars and the extras?”
That’s it. There is nothing more. Now go to work and rush home to your kid’s ballgame. It gives life a little meaning.