Jan 7, 2013

Sign O' The Times


On November 30, 2012, I parked my car across the street from my house on Staten Island.  I was about to oversee the house's demolition and move into a new apartment all in the same day.  It was Buttons' birthday.  My traumatized Westie dog would spend the first day of his 4th year on this planet locked up all day in a cage back in Bensonhurst, where we had spent the last month after Sandy had made life on Staten Island no longer liveable.

I stepped out of my car - my 1997 Honda Civic, one of the few possessions I retained after Superstorm Sandy washed herself into my world - and I saw this:


Never Give Up.

Someone had nailed it there, probably someone on my block whose house had also filled up like a fish tank full of salty filth water, whose life had been turned upside down.  Someone who had lost a lot in the blink of an eye.  Someone with more hope than me.  Four weeks earlier, I had placed an orange ROUGH ROAD AHEAD construction sign in my front window for all to see amongst the dumpsters, the dozers and the debris.  My neighbors got a kick out of that sign and told me so.  It spoke the truth.  And we were feeling that truth together - the road ahead would surely be rough for all of us, it still is.

I had swiped that ROUGH ROAD AHEAD sign from the very same telephone pole a few years earlier, soon after my ex-wife and I moved into the house that was now only mine.  I hung it innocently in my basement music studio, thinking it looked cool in there amongst all the musical instruments, my records and tapes - the place I wrote and made music, the place I recorded in and created in.  Because before the hurricane, my creative ventures were the rough road.  My music career was languishing, my record label was barely afloat, my road in the radio industry was long and winding and filled with more than a few dead ends.  There were unfulfilled destinies in that studio, in the home office of Bald Freak Music.  And then it was underwater - all of it.  The studio, the records and tapes, the gear, the office, the merchandise, the microphones and computers.  My old demos.  Every lyric I had ever written in a notebook or on a piece of paper.  All garbage now.

And that's the way it's supposed to be.  That's the way it happened, so that's the way it's supposed to be.  There was no saving any of my stuff short of airlifting my entire house to a mountaintop.  There are no 'What If?'s related to my experience with Stupidstorm Sandy.  It's the most certain thing in my life right now.  It happened.

A month later, on that same telephone pole, I saw the Never Give Up sign.  I snorted at it.  Then I demolished my two-story twelve-room house and moved all my surviving stuff and my traumatized birthday dog to a one-bedroom Park Slope apartment.  November 30th was the day I un-paused my life after 30 days in the Post-Sandy Twilight Zone.

Mr. Dirty
I haven't been back to the house since then.  I don't ever want to go back.  My divorce happened, the hurricane happened.  Other things happened that I would rather forget.  So why would I ever want to go back?  When someone we care about - someone we love dies - what do we say?  "I feel like part of me died."  It's not an outrageous thing to say, nor to feel.  I've felt that way before and you probably have too.  And you probably will again.

When the hurricane destroyed my house, part of me died.  Not only did a lot of my history die, but part of me - part of what's inside me even if I wasn't inside the house when all hell broke loose - drowned.  And I want that part to stay dead.  I need it to.  Because that Never Give Up sign speaks its own truths.

I can't give up.  Ever.

Because there is no solution for me now but to stay hungry.  After the walls came down and I had to decide my next move, I made a tough choice to accept a favor.  I explained that choice to my people: "I don't want to survive this.  I want to defeat it."  The storm is over.  There was no way to defeat that.  But every tragedy - every disaster - has its aftermath.  And that aftermath exists within myself - it's not a battle with an insurance company or with another dude or with a fire-breathing dragon.  It's an internal battle.  I have to be tough.  I told my people this, as well: "The only way I'm going to make this right is to be awesome now."

Because the house is just a soggy bad investment that needs to be sold off.  It's already a lost cause and it needs to be someone else's house now.  If not now, then eventually.  It's a stock that went sour.  It's Marvin Gardens on the Monopoly board, it's nothing more than that to me.  It doesn't carry any sweet memories.  Most of the memories inside were ruined, lost forever.  The love I shared within those walls is tainted, the filth and the mold merely added another layer of muck.  It's time to cash out.

But Ron, it sounds like you're giving up.

I've learned recently that "giving up" means many things.  And often, giving up is the best thing you can possibly do for yourself.  It just depends on what it is you're giving up.  Giving up doughnuts if you're diabetic, for example.  Doughnuts have never been my problem.  I wish it was that simple.  For me, it has always been much more.  And the events that transpired in my life in 2012 - all of them - have led me to giving up on the things I need to in order to get better.  In order to be awesome.

Being in my new apartment was the start.  I needed a launching pad, and I have it.  I am very fortunate, very lucky in that regard.  I am where I want to be right now, where I can properly heal.  I didn't want to run away, I didn't want to hunker down in some basement apartment in the fetal position waiting to move back into the past.  I don't envy those that have to.  I want to thrive, not just survive.  I want to feel powerful.

And I feel that here in Park Slope.  I was already my own island on Staten Island, and in many ways, I still am.  Because the closest people to me in my world are wrapped up in their own lives.  That was the way it was when I got divorced, and I felt very alone.  My partner was gone, and most everyone else was still partnered up.  I still believed in love, still craved it, pursued it - but it didn't stick.

On Staten Island, I was already healing.  I started dating and I started running.  The former only made me feel more lost while I found myself embracing the latter.  Here, I've fully embraced both.  I run around Prospect Park with and without my dog and I feel empowered.  There is a big running culture here, a big dog culture.  It's nice.  I am still getting used to apartment living, it's been nearly a decade since I've lived alone in an apartment - since I remembered that if you saute baby bok choy in your apartment kitchen - (a) the smoke alarm will go off; (b) your entire apartment will smell like baby bok choy; (c) the entire hallway will smell like baby bok choy.

Happier Times (?)
Buttons is having a harder time.  My dog has full-on separation anxiety now, and I've resorted to doggie daycare.  On December 31st, he wouldn't let me leave the apartment.  I was going on a date - just a cup of coffee in the new neighborhood - and he wouldn't let me leave, wouldn't stop barking up a storm from inside his crate.  I left in spite of his protests and waited in the stairwell by the elevator bank to see if he would stop.  I had a little breakdown in that stairwell, hearing my dog wail from down the hall for 15 minutes straight, hearing one of my neighbors come out and ring my bell.  I slumped to the floor, already 20 minutes late for my date, and I started crying, pleading with a dog who couldn't hear me to please just please stop barking.

So now Buttons has a full-time babysitter.  He no longer sleeps in the bed with me.  He runs 5 miles with me twice a week in all sorts of weather.  I sprinkle Valerian Root into his dinner.  A new friend recommended Comfort Zone, a pheromone-releasing plugin that reduces anxiety in dogs, and I'm trying that, too.

Later that night, on New Year's Eve - the last waning hours of the shittiest year of my life -  I tried to go out again, to a small house party, and Buttons was having none of it.  I was back in the stairwell, hopeless, desperate and alone.  There was no way I was staying home on New Year's Eve, a damaged hurricane victim with his damaged hurricane victim dog.  Not after what I've been through.  I couldn't bear it.  I called a drummer friend who was going to the same party and asked him if I could store my looney dog in his basement studio a few blocks away.  He obliged me and it worked out, a temporary fix for my poor, crazy furry friend.  I can't give up on him, not before I try everything.

Gym That Allows Dogs = Win + More Leg Lifts

I spent my first few hours of 2013 kissing a girl.  Buttons and I returned to my apartment a little while later and as I entered, a bug crawled out from under my heating vent.  I squashed it without hesitation.  2012 is over, but there are still signs everywhere.  It could have been the worst New Year's Eve of my life, but I knew it wouldn't be.  I wasn't around anyone I was super close with and that somehow felt right, being distant from normalcy, from the normalcy I thought I knew.  It was time to put all this shit behind me, time to forge some new relationships.  It was time to turn the aftermath from something terrible and taxing into something amazing and stimulating.

And it doesn't happen overnight.  But I see the signs, I still believe that they're real.  I still believe that awesomeness awaits, just as long as I do my part.  And I'm doing it now - all that bullshit I went through pushed me, set me straight.  I run with a passion - running has made me tough, it has invigorated me.  It's made me more appealing to others and more appealing to myself.  I have confidence, and I'm finally learning to accept compliments even if they seem a foreign thing.  I'm finally learning to use all the anger and disappointment I feel to fuel me instead of turning me into someone I'm not.  I do a hundred pushups a day thinking of some knucklehead tough guy's face.  I make lemons out of knucklehead lemonade.

And I still have the desire to create.  That's who I am, who I've always been.  I went to Staples last week to start rebuilding my business and I got depressed.  Walking down each aisle, I was reminded of the record label I created that was now a waterlogged memory.  The business that prompted this blog and all this writing, I reminded myself that it still exists, it's just different now.  It was tiny and modest and it lacked in many ways, but damn if it wasn't a fully functional facility before Sandy fucked it up.

But I have my workplace to continue that passion, that desire.  I have my piano.  I stay late at work sometimes and just play, just write.  I'm getting the blood flowing.  It feels good to not rush out of the one place that oddly embraced me through these tough times - my job - to be closer to it now.  To feel grateful for being there, to be making a great living working in the industry I always dreamed I would work in.  To feel obliged to my boss and to the people that have helped dig me out of this hole, to want to kick ass and conquer all this because of the help they've afforded me.  Kicking ass is the first step towards being able to give it all back - to them, to myself, to others.

I'm in a hotbed of New York City culture surrounded by fellow bohemian idiots with beards and big dreams.  I go to the Farmer's Market every Sunday morning and stock up on aromatic baby bok choy.  I buy wine and hot cider.  I grill steak and veggies on my terrace.  I socialize.  I smile at people who smile at my dog.  We go on long walks to beautiful Prospect Park.  I have prospects even if I don't quite have peace of mind yet.

I feel determined.  I feel good, I feel free.  There's a monkey off my back, and for the first time in awhile, I feel like it will stay off forever.  I still have work to do in other areas of my life, but it had to start with that damn dirty ape.  It always had to but I was always too weak.  Even if I still feel a little lost, even if I still feel disappointment in the way things have gone, I don't feel weak anymore.  I no longer engage in destructive behavior.

I see all the signs now but I don't read into them too much, even if they're interesting to me.  Because ultimately, I'm in control.  I still believe in karma, in destiny.  I still believe that you have to fight for what you want before you can get what you want, that nothing is ever truly presented to you for no good reason.  I'm merely 7 days in to this new year and I've been getting unexpected offers in all walks of my life and I have the power to accept or reject them, whether occupational or creative or romantic.  My time is my own and I'm finally spending it wisely.  I'm being patient, I'm not rushing into anything.  I'm breathing.  Whatever happens happens - all I can do is my best and do it all of the time, and I'm resigned to that.

Never Give Up.

I recognize that these are tough times, but it's tough times that either make you dead or make you tough.  And I'm living, man.  This is the way it has to be for me to be awesome, I realized that before the storms came, before my heart broke again.  I just needed a push.  We all need a push sometimes.  And pushes come in all shapes and sizes, in all forms.

This is my push.  It could get worse, and I don't take that for granted anymore, either.  But not now.  Life is a series of peaks and valleys, and I just bottomed out.  Now I just have to decide how high I'm willing to climb, and most important of all, what I'm climbing towards.  Whatever it is, I still have a feeling it will be something great.  You just have to be tough, you have to be ready for anything.

You have to stop looking for signs and start making your own.

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