Grind

In This Air — Dave Fischoff

I’ve developed a strange habit. When I’m riding the bus I’ve tended to listen to the same song on repeat the whole ride, as if looped chords somehow stops time as I travel and the bus ride flies by in seconds instead of minutes. Of course it doesn’t really, but it does feel as though it hits ‘pause’ on my mind and for a moment my mind is free of thought. For those twenty minutes in the morning and evening the endless loop of Dave Fischoff clears my mind and gives me twenty minutes outside of time.

Sometimes, though, I board the bus with my ears open and uncovered (usually when I’ve forgotten to charge my iPod.) It’s these times that can more interesting if I’m in the mood. The bus rumbles along in its deep raspy voice. It vibrates, shudders, spurts forwards, tremelo weaving through traffic, accompanied by its own internal orchestra of voices. Alternately tacet and fortissimo (those loud women on their mobile phones), the orchestra lifts the double bass of bus, gliding along a river clogged with plenty of debris, slowing the flow to a trickle.

Reaching my part of the shore, I disembark and begin the short walk from the bus stop to my office building to begin the daily grind.

Week 1

It’s been one week since I moved back to Los Angeles, and really, everything is going swimmingly. I am getting along with my new roommates, I am proving my worth at my new job, I’m reconnecting with old friends, I’m getting the transit system down, and I’m continuing my good mood and emotional stability. It is as if, as one of my therapists has said, that I live a ‘charmed life.’

Yes, I might have to agree with that. Everything in these past six months has turned out well. Even everything before that didn’t lead to anything incredibly severe, besides the panic attacks (which have completely vanished) and perhaps spending a bit too much money on alcohol. But on the whole, many things in my life just seem to be going right. I’ve always maintained that I’m just not very lucky, but I might have to change my stance on that.

The basic rundown of this week has been fairly simple. Move in, unpack a little, meet up with friends, unpack a little more, sleep, go to work, meet up with friends, repeat repeat repeat. Which is fine with me. I’m enjoying the basic qualities of my routine so far. Going to a new job in a new office (with a fantastic view) and just getting settled again into my adoptive city is really quite comforting.

Someone welcomed me back to LA with these words: “May LA again be all the things you missed and also open herself to discover surprises you never knew she held.”

I think I shall pursue that.

Charmed. Perhaps.

Back

I am, once again, in an airport. I watch the rush of humanity, the people in a hurry to get from point A to point B (or, perhaps, enjoying as I am a brief moment of people-watching.) I’ve always been fascinated by airports. Though I have more flying miles than the angel Gabriel under my metal wings, each take-off is special, as we forge a treaty with gravity to allow us to escape its grasp and fly to places far or near, known or unknown, foreign or home.

This time the purpose of my flight is significantly different than my last, only two short weeks ago. This time I am moving back to Los Angeles.

The interview went well, but there came a snag with the position. Instead of a full-time salaried position, they changed the game and offered me a three-month contract with the possibility (likelihood?) of extension or conversion to fulltime after that. I hemmed and hawed for a while: moving back to LA with only three months’ employment guaranteed? (Or was it even guaranteed? What would happen if my performance wasn’t up to par? What would happen if, even after such a breeze of an interview process, I didn’t fit in with the rest of the team?) I consulted with friends, searched my soul, contemplated the alternatives, and in the end decided to go for it. When opportunity knocks, you open the door. Even if the employ only lasted for three months, I’d be subleasing my apartment (to one of my best friends, Jeff) and would be able to return. I’d likely be able to return to the Obama campaign and continue to have paid work. I’d be able to fit back in with my friends, returning after an extended trip.

But I can’t deny that I’m a little nervous—maybe even a bit scared. I’m moving out with two suitcases of clothing, my yoga mat, my speakers, a scanner, and my computer and its accessories. And perhaps the most important part of ‘marking my territory’—a book from my library. I figured Pooh and the Philosophers was an appropriate book to bring along. I haven’t read it yet but I decided that this flight would be an opportune time.

In case the need to bring along a book seems odd, I’ve had a tradition, since books are such a vital part of my existence. Whenever I get a new apartment, the first thing I do is place a book in it. I must have at least some of my books in my apartment, and the fact that I’ll start out with only one is a little distressing—and almost shameful.

How do I feel? Good question. Excited, frightened, nervous, anxious, panicky, anticipating, antsy… the whole gamut of emotions I could feel at making such an extreme change. But on the whole the major emotion I’m feeling, the most important emotion, the trump card is: content. I feel contentment and hope that this new assignment in life will turn out well and lead me further down the path of the happiness I’ve started to develop these past six months. I’ve really made an about-face, a one-eighty, a complete turnaround in my life since moving to Chicago, it feels. I tore myself from the rut of LA, threw myself into intensive therapy, reconnected with old friends, re-entered the fulltime working world, aced an interview, and above all felt happiness—or at least contentment— for the first time in years.

What does this mean? What does this hold for the future? I feel as though I can tackle anything now… any situation thrown at me. Perhaps not with flying colors, but I can do it. I’m not worried about falling back into my rut as I have a job that, ostensibly, is not as toxic an environment as my last. I have Jon’s assurance that it’s a good work environment, as he recruited me and wants me to be there by his side, the counterpoint front-end to his back-end development.

I think I can do it. No—I know I can do it.

Celebration can happen in many forms, but I think the unexpected are perhaps the most rewarding. Unexpected celebration: flying first-class from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. As I had conceded to staying with my parents for two days before returning to LA, they agreed to purchase my tickets using their frequent flier miles (of which they had more than god himself.) Out of luck and availability, the second leg of my flight, from MSP to LAX just happened to be first-class. We love it. Actually being fed, drinks and food on real plates and glasses, free wine and other adult beverages, exemplary service, enough arm room to actually type on this laptop instead of squinching myself into a tiny area in which to try to recount my stories, as the last trip afforded.

A small perk. I told myself I was celebrating and I am. Soon I will be back in the arms of multiple loved ones for months and things will be good. Granted, they were good in Chicago… but things can always be better, no?

Fly Me Back

Thirty days. It shouldn’t be surprising that one’s entire world can change within a month. It may not be to the proportions of forty days and forty nights, but any life-altering moments can yet have the same sense of legendary shift. Our lives are so governed by this idea of the “month,” thirty definable, distinguishable, delineated days. Everything from our pay cycles to our rent charges to our credit card fees to our bodies revolves around these crazy lunar cycles that so happen to not only dictate tides but are so much a function of this earth that our very basic biology is synched with them. This periodicity of thirty is quite convenient as a mentally graspable quota/quotient/quorum of effects and affect that it’s been engrained into ourselves, from the mundane, like ‘thirty days to break a habit,’ to the profound, like the life-continuity of women’s cycles. As we get older, the months fly by and one year blends into the next and suddenly we’re wondering where the past ten years have gone… and it all starts out with a single day, week, month. Twelve distinct periods into which to divide one’s life and to continue the human trend of classification, distinction, and categorization are just so conveniently provided by this calendar based upon the idiosyncrasies of the period our planet happened to choose vis-à-vis the period that this random mass of rock called our moon happens to deign to orbit this wacky planet we call home.

And within just over a month my entire life has changed.

When I first began having panic attacks last March, my entire life was put on hold. It took me months upon months and medications upon medications and hours upon hours of therapy to overcome them. They started out of the blue and I had no idea from whence they came nor how to control them, so I just did what I could. I couldn’t work, I could barely sleep, I could barely leave my house, I could barely see people, I couldn’t cook… my entire life was as if god himself has pressed the pause button. For several weeks all I could do was sit on the couch, watch TV, and shake as if I had Parkinson’s. But gradually, things got under control. Eventually, my mental faculties began returning and I was able to freelance and function. Things still weren’t perfect… there were enough issues and problems and loose ends and so I decided to leave Los Angeles and move to Chicago in order to break myself of this rut I had been in. Four months passed by without anything of note, besides a lot of therapy. And then….

After a year of merely freelancing and panicking, I have been working full-time for over a month.. As I gradually got over the panic attacks that paused my life last March I felt much more prepared to re-enter the conventional working world. Slowly by slowly my life seemed to return to normal. My intention in coming to Chicago was indeed to get my life back on track and rejoin the world of the living, instead of the world of those in a holding pattern. Slowly by slowly things became clearer, more focused, sharper, more defined.

One of the changes that made this possible was a change in psychiatric treatment. We switched around my medications and within weeks I felt a discernable change. I was able to concentrate for more than just a half-hour at a time. I was able to get out of bed at a reasonable hour in a reasonable time (only one hour of snoozing rather than two to three.) I was able to finally make major decisions on the path of my life and my attitude towards living.

The next major life change occurred simultaneously to the medication changes that restored vibrancy to my world. I was tapped by a former graphic design classmate to work for the Barack Obama campaign. Now, as I hadn’t been working fulltime for a quite a while, I was slightly apprehensive about throwing myself into a position where I’d be pulling long hours seven days a week for incommensurate pay. But at the same time, I’d be putting my design skills to use assisting the potential nomination of the person I support for President.

I was a bit apprehensive for the interview, as the first panic attack I had was on the job, so the whole working world was somehow colored by what had happened. Yet… the interview was simple. It was mostly me talking my game, which was exactly what they wanted to hear, as my skillset was perfectly suited to the work they were doing. When it came time, I wasn’t even nervous, neither the day before nor in the moment. The fact that I have programming chops as well as design chops has opened a number of doors for me, and this was one that was wide open. I had brought in my design portfolio, but they didn’t even bother to review it; the only person who wanted to see it was my classmate Scott (the creative director) who figured he might as well since I brought it. The next day, he asked when I could start. Two days after that, I was sitting in Obama Headquarters, downtown Chicago, in front of my laptop somewhat incredulously IMing my friends that I was literally in the heart of the campaign.

The work has proven to be not so taxing, apart from some tedium of repetitive tasks and a bit of banging my head against JavaScript. The daily grind is pretty much just that, though quite a bit more relaxed than many jobs (as would be expected from the Obama campaign.) I’ve watched more TV in the past month than in six months: there are TVs strewn around the office and we watch the speeches and the returns on them, everyone gathering around one of them. (Of course, this being the season it is, it’s frequently possible to see college basketball juxtaposed with CNN and CSPAN in the main bank of six TVs.) In general, each day is like the next, save a change in what I’m doing for work. One day, however, I saw a tall man in a baseball hat walk past me (my back is to the door.) He started shaking hands, and as many of our freelancers or volunteer developers do this, I assumed him to be one of those. I was working on a rather tedious, repetitive project so I was wondering if I could pass work off onto him. When he turned around and extended his hand to me, it took me a second to register the fact that I had just met Senator Obama. And then I sat down and started programming again.

Work. What a concept. Apart from the payment aspect of it (we all have to make rent somehow), it seems to be a vital thing for my life. Though I enjoyed my time freelancing while I was recovering from my nervous breakdown (well, after I stopped having panic attacks at the thought of firing up Photoshop), I knew I was the type of person who needed more—who needed an office environment in order to thrive. My therapists agreed: working strictly freelance at home was isolating and I was a person who needed to be around other people during the day. But for me, in the field in which I am in, it’s more than just the companionship of co-workers; rather, it’s the creative synergy that occurs when multiple designers converge in a single locale, offering advice and critique on each other’s projects. I must confess that while I believe that my programming skills are much better than the average designer’s, I yet have much to learn about actual, formal graphic design. This is something I have been receiving at the Obama campaign. My classmate, as the creative director of the campaign, is one of my supervisors and often gives me critique to adhere to a better grid structure, be more beautiful, refine my type. (Ok, I suppose my type skills are above par but there’s still the process of getting adjusted to house style.)

The best part? The satisfaction of knowing that I’m working on a campaign that’s making history—not just via its incredible grassroots organization and fundraising, nor the fact that it’s for the first African-American presidential candidate to make it to the primaries and have a very significant chance of becoming the next President of the United States, nor for the incredible young voter turnout we’ve inspired. No, rather the reason that this campaign is going down in history is geeky: it is, by far, the most thought-through, cohesive, elegant, professionally branded political campaign in history. Already the design blogs are writing up Scott’s choice of Hœfler & Frere-Jones’s “Gotham” as the primary typeface for the campaign (my own contribution to the blogosphere was my design of an LGBT-centered ad. It wasn’t so much discussed in the design blogs (which made me sad, because it had some beautiful typography) but rather in the queer blogs to inform the populace outside of Texas and Ohio that Obama was a supporter of our civil rights. I believe he stands for equality more than Hillary or (obviously) McCain.)

The pure thought that this campaign’s visual identity has been given is perfectly akin to the branding of a global corporation. Instead of just a poorly typeset white-on-blue sign (à la Hillary), we have a logo—and not just one, but variants on it for various demographics, so each person of any religious, political, sexual, or racial persuasion can feel included in the campaign. We have specified typefaces for specified uses, and use them consistently to proclaim that this something that we have done. We have taglines formally set in official typefaces with official colors, used on signs and flyers and websites and who-knows-what all round the web, in order to allow people to be feel more involved and included in the campaign. We have a beautiful, well-thought-out, dynamic website—much more robust and content filled than Hillary’s or McCain’s. And from what I hear, we are the only campaign with full-time designers—not just one or two but four. (And that doesn’t even include the rest of the New Media department, working on everything from programming to YouTube. I’m not even sure where my department starts or ends. There are at least fifteen to twenty people focused specifically on Obama’s internet presence, content, and design.)

This campaign has, so far, been the single most rewarding design experience of my career. Granted, my work has been small and unremarkable in end result, but my coworkers find it remarkable in execution and speed in most cases. In general it’s been behind-the-scenes design and programming that I’ve been doing, however it has provided me not only with the happiness of returning successfully to the land of the full-time employed (plus the weekends, which is wearing me out) but the land of the mentally healthy. I think it’s a combination of meds plus doing valuable work that’s gotten me to this point, but who can really say which is the primary cause; it’s the chicken or the egg all over again.

Yet… I’m considering leaving this job that has offered me so much. And why is that? It is because as I write this I am on a flight to Los Angeles to interview for the position of Senior Front-End Web Developer for American Idol. At this point, my chances of not getting it might be miniscule compared to my changes of getting it. I was basically recruited for this job. My former coworker Jon, with whom I’ve done some freelance work as well, sent me the job posting and asked if I knew anyone who fit that description. It described me, almost to a ‘T’. I responded that I didn’t know anyone with my skillset in LA. Not-so-subtly, he said, “They’re willing to pay for relocation.” And so began my dilemma.

This job would be the single smartest move of my career. Instead of a dead end company or a toxic work environment or even a great experience making history, I’d be diving into the Big Show… into a land where work has real responsibilities, where a misstep has serious repercussions… and where the compensation is more than commensurate. Don’t get me wrong—money isn’t the end-all be-all of my life. Rather, it’s tended to be a secondary factor in my life. But one must admit that a senior-level position at a company as large as Fox would be an amazing experience. Or even any position at Fox would have to pay properly.

But yet… moving back to LA, after only six months in Chicago? What would it mean? Could I keep up my mental health? How am I going to make my way around town without a car (I’d have to save up for one.) Would I fall back into old patterns and old coping methods? So many questions and so few answers. I don’t know what would happen; all I know is that the move would be a serious bitch. I’ve acquired some better (and a greater amount of than previously) furniture in my short time in Chicago, and moving it will certainly take professional movers shipping it halfway across the country. If I get the position, they’re going to want me there within two weeks—insane. How would I really make the transition and move so quickly? I’d need a lot of help, certainly, from my friends. Luckily, the company is willing to pay some relocation expenses as well, so that wouldn’t be as much of a concern.

I’m torn. I’ve already decided that if they offer me the position I will take it. However, I still have lingering doubts and uncertainties about the wisdom of uprooting myself yet again, even though back to familiar soil. I question the betrayal of leaving the Obama campaign for something materialistic and unimportant in the world. It would be a significant step up, but what would I be gaining? I would regret leaving my large circle of Chicago friends for… what? Money? Career?

But when it comes down to it I can’t think in this manner. I have to remember that I have my friends in LA too… I have a truncated life perhaps waiting for me. As I left town, I even said to people that I didn’t feel that LA was done with me and that I’d be back. What is it that remains for me there, the town that gave so much and then took away more than it gave? What can I possibly still learn from a city that, even as it shelters, cuts you into infinite pieces, Osiris without Isis to help find your pieces to sew you back together? It’s a city of dichotomies and superficiality, but if one scratches the surface you can find genuine people, with a genuine desire for friendship and companionship. If you scratch the surface you find, as you will the world over, people who defy the stereotypes so easy to place upon a city or a group of people. You will inevitably find the golden core.

Maybe all places are like this a bit. Sometimes we need to fly away in order to really see it. And then we can fly ourselves back to where we belong.

We’re in our final approach to Los Angeles. The crew is singing “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” It’ll be in my head all day.


The anticipation builds. After five hours in LA, bumming around with a couple friends from “the good ol’ days,” I headed to the Fox Plaza for my interview. My ex Gabriel drove me to the Century City office building where Fox Interactive Media is housed (for the moment… apparently they’ve been moving around a lot.) The drive there was pure silliness: we were reciting, recounting, singing all of our silly little stories, memoirs, and songs that we had come up with during our time together. It was really quite the perfect setup to an interview. Instead of being nervous and dwelling upon what was to happen within an hour (i.e., the dictation of my career and life for the foreseeable future) I was instead pleasantly distracted and occupied with twenty minutes of bellylaughing as we weaved our way down Santa Monica Boulevard from West Hollywood to the Avenue of the Stars. A few twinges of nervousness hit me during the ride, but overall I was calm, collected, and ready (and laughing hysterically.)There were minor snafus in finding my way to the correct floor of the forty-plus story building. My HR person had written suite 900 on my itinerary, which was not so correct. I arrived there and all the Fox finance people looked at me (decked out in black pants, black shirt, and my favorite Triple Five Soul screenprinted blazer) and told me I was most likely in the wrong place. I worked my way back down to the lobby and finally they directed me to the twentieth floor, where Jon was waiting for me. The first person with whom I’d be interviewing had actually gone down to the lobby to look for me (which would have come in handy fifteen minutes earlier) so after a minor delay waiting for him to get back upstairs my interview process at Fox Interactive Media began.

This person, John, was the same with whom I’d had a short phone interview the previous week, so the ice was already broken. Most of the our time was spent trading amusing geek stories or commiserating over past clusterfucks or heartily agreeing with each other as to the inadequacies of (insert one or more per anecdote: programmers, designers, content managers, advertisers, bosses, programming languages, and/or web browsers.) This phase of the interview process sailed by without a hitch. After he was done with me, he passed me off onto the person to whom I’d be directly reporting, the head of the department. Without knowing formally who he was, I was already a bit more nervous. The interview process was escalating, and it seemed to be going well, and the pressure was mounting. I think I may have misstepped a few times during this phase of the process, as some of my game-talk wasn’t quite as convincing as it could have been. There were indications that due to my experience and responses they might reduce me from a senior-level position to a standard, which didn’t bother me (as long as the pay would still be around what I was expecting.) From there I chatted briefly with the art director, from whom I’d be receiving the material that I would translate into a functional website.

After all the interviewing was done, I talked briefly with Don, the boss, again and received the impression that it would be within a day that I would know whether to begin packing or whether to continue working the political web angle. I stole Jon downstairs for a slight debrief and received the information that all signs were pointing to yes, from HR to Recruiting to what his colleagues were saying over the previous few days.

As I rode in the cab back from the Fox building to West Hollywood, passing by familiar sites and streets, I couldn’t help but imagine that I had never left. It all felt the same—even the weather was the same as when I’d left, as it was fall when I left and it now was spring. (LA, with its two-season weather, is fairly predictable on a six-month cycle.) Sure, there were a few new stores, a few new construction projects, a few different sights, but it was easy to imagine that I only noticed these because I was in an area to which I hadn’t been in months (as is often the case when living in a large city.) Everything felt… fit, like slipping into a pair of your favorite old shoes after a long day in brand-new dress shoes. We were going a quarter way across the city, but I could direct the cabbie turn-by-turn. Every place we passed had some memory attached to it, big or small. It felt like a favorite sweater, long lost in the back of the closet.

The evening passed as if it were a moment of déjà-vu—because, in a way, it was. Dinner at Anarkali with Brad, Greg, Steve, and Gabriel. A few drinks at the Abbey. Crashing at Gabriel’s place, cuddling just as if we were back together.

Now I am sitting at LAX, waiting for the flight to take me back to Chicago. There was a security alert earlier that resulted in shutting down the terminal, so instead of getting on my flight within 15 minutes of getting to the airport I’ve been stranded here for a couple hours. I may make it on the next flight that goes out or I may have to wait until this afternoon. The time has offered a unique opportunity. Waiting in line is incredibly mindless and thus my mind chose to fixate upon its strongest preoccupation: my feelings leaving Los Angeles and going back to Chicago.

Honestly? I have no strong feelings either way. Perhaps its because I’ve already written off Chicago; perhaps it’s because I have a strong feeling I’ll be back to LA soon; perhaps it’s because I’m comfortable in both locales; perhaps it was because it was 7:30am. I’m attempting to cue into myself and get in touch with whatever I may be feeling about this potential move… and I feel fine. I will be happy either way.

I need to see if I’m going to make this flight standby or if I’m going to be waiting here all day. Perhaps if I end up waiting here for most of the day I’ll discover my destiny waiting at Gate 3, Terminal 1, Los Angeles International.


Of course, that flight was full. We’ll see if SW410 at Gate 11 has more luck.

Finally, the saga ends. I was expecting to hear from them very shortly after the interview, but apparently my background check took awhile… and in the process, the name of the game changed. Since it’s towards the end of the season, they’re re-evaluating their staffing needs (and finance also might have gotten involved) and thus they changed it from a full-time position to a three-month full-time contract with extension or conversion to full-time possible after that.So, I shall indeed be moving back to Los Angeles, after six months away. This may be temporary and it may be permanent (well, as permanent as anything in my life ever is.) I’m still not quite sure quite how I feel. I’m very excited to get back to the warm weather of LA and reconnect with my old friends. I’m disappointed that I won’t be at the Obama campaign long enough to see it through to its completion, whatever form that may take. But I’m optimistic that this job will open some serious portcullises in my career. Whether or not I’m at Idol past the contract period, having it on my résumé (with glowing reviews, hopefully) will be nothing short of a coup.I can’t help but still have a touch of disbelief that I’m trying to suspend; perhaps it’s because I haven’t signed on the dotted line or perhaps it’s because I haven’t actually started yet, but it still doesn’t seem real. Of course, when do such things ever feel real before you’re in the thick of them? (And even then, sometimes they don’t.) I need to be out there within two weeks, a time period that will be spent frantically packing, frantically trying to find a sublet in LA, frantically cleaning so my friend Jeff doesn’t have a heart attack when he arrives to sublet my place here, frantically finding a flight, and frantically doing everything else in my daily life as frantically as possible.Now I am poised to begin a new chapter in my life—one ruled by Simon, Paula, and Randy.

Romantic—Angel Gabriel

A song by my ex in LA. http://myspace.com/gabrielspace

I wanna bring you flowers to your door
And serenade you like a troubadour
I wanna get all fuzzy and traditional

I wanna step outside my comfort zone
Where I am safe but still remain alone
I wanna take a chance and get emotional

And I know
How I feel
Yes I know
How I feel

I want
To see you everyday
To kiss you everyday
To love you everyday
Da da da da da da
I wanna be romantic

I want
To show you everything
To give you everything
To be your everything
da da da da da da
I wanna be romantic
I wanna be romantic

I wanna open up my heart and pour
Forget the fact that I’ve been hurt before
And for a moment maybe not be cynical

I wanna take the safety net away
Jump off into your arms and come what may
I’ll be okay if I let myself be vulnerable

And I know
How I feel
Yes I know
How I feel

I want
To see you everyday
To kiss you everyday
To love you everyday
Da da da da da da
I wanna be romantic

I want
To show you everything
To give you everything
To be your everything
da da da da da da
I wanna be…

Romantic
And shameless
Romantic
And fearless
Romantic
Like I know I can be

I want
To see you everyday
To kiss you everyday
To love you everyday
Da da da da da da
I wanna be romantic

I want
To show you everything
To give you everything
To be your everything
da da da da da da
I wanna be romantic
I wanna be
Wanna be
Wanna be romantic

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No One Else Around—Angel Gabriel

A song by my ex in LA. http://myspace.com/gabrielspace

The running late
The traffic rush
The endless day
That gets too much
I shut down

The long delays
The waiting lines
The men in grey
The flashing signs
That spin round

They fade away..

When life gets crazy
I close my eyes
And I think of you
And my heart is quiet
Now there’s no-one else around

When I get shaky
I go inside
And I see your face
And my world is fine
And I need no-one else around
No-one else around

The calls to make
The rent to pay
The deadline date
Was yesterday
I just frown

There’s nothing else
That gets me through
It’s all about me
Having you around

I drift away..

When life gets crazy
I close my eyes
And I think of you
And my heart is quiet
Now there’s no-one else around

When I get shaky
I go inside
And I see your face
And my world is fine
And I need no-one else around
And I’m okay
Yes, I’m okay

I’ll Catch You—Get Up Kids

From Something to Write Home About

can you sleep as the sound hits your ears one at a time?
an unspoken balance here,
unabridged for so many years
that i should stare at receivers to receive her isn’t fair
don’t worry i’ll catch you
don’t ever worry
your arms in mine, anytime
i wouldn’t trade anything
you’re still my everything
to my surprise, before my eyes, you arrive
don’t worry I’ll catch you
don’t worry I’ll catch you
don’t ever worry
i’m still breaking old habits, habits when you pulled the wool over me
i can see everything, everything remembering “jinx removing”
don’t worry i’ll catch you
don’t worry i’ll catch you
don’t ever worry
no need for reminding… you’re still all that matters to me

New Life

Colden Harold Friedman. Colden Harold Friedman. Colden Harold Friedman. I keep repeating his name to myself to make him more real. I’ve seen pictures, talked to the proud parents, but he’s still just an abstract concept to me. On the evening of February 7th, my best friend’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and my life is forever different.

When Marc told me they were to have a human child to add to their family in addition to their puppy children, I was ecstatic. Marc and I have been close friends for over twenty years; I was the best man at his wedding, as he will be at mine (if that ever happens.) Our time together is sporadic, as we haven’t both lived in the same part of the country since college. But as lifelong friends do, when we’re together it feels as if no time has passed. It’s so comforting to have a friend who has stood by you through thick and thin, years upon years, and who knows you almost better than you know yourself. We can make references to our imagination games we had when we were young, our friendly competitive rivalries in high school, the college days when I traveled up to Macalester from Iowa State to visit him.

It’s kind of funny. When Marc said he and Kendra would be married, I was slightly surprised. I had secretly thought they’d be that couple, in their 50s, who finally decide they should sign some paperwork and be officially married. They’d been together for years so of course it wasn’t actually much of a surprise. In keeping with their style, the wedding was very nontraditional. It was held on a nature preserve in September, ripe with flowers and complete with camping and an outdoor ceremony officiated by Kendra’s boss. The ceremony hearkened back to ancient times, with an invocation to peace and love, sharing of wine, simple rings, and hand-binding. It was, simply put, beautiful. As I expected, I promptly began tearing up as I saw the happy couple, now forever bound, leaving the clearing as husband and wife. At that moment our lives were changed: now instead of having a best friend, I had a second best friend as well. Kendra is now an integral part of our lives, and my heart spills over to think of the joy that has entered their (our) lives.

To see them together reminds me of what I want in my life. They glow. It’s not necessarily that I feel I am incomplete without a partner, but I must admit that in some way I do feel that way. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince that love isn’t gazing at each other but looking together in the same direction. I’m such a creature of companionship, as evidenced by the fact that most of my friends have been in my life for years, that having someone with whom to share every experience would be… in a word, comforting. I’m definitely a relationship-minded person: random hookups don’t do it for me. Waking up next to the same person day after day is wonderful.

Imagine my joy when I learned that my life with them would be expanded to include a little one. Their two puppy children, Lola and Sammy, were practically like my virtual nieces, but not I’d be a virtual uncle for real! That’s kind of how I feel: a virtual uncle. I’ve said before that my friends are part of my family, so it’s a fitting analogy. I wish I could live closer to them so I’d be in the baby’s life more, but I suppose I have the knowledge that my sister-in-law is pregnant with twins, so I’ll be a real uncle soon enough.

Once again, the pregnancy was very their style. They didn’t find out the sex of the child, so all their family and friends were on tenterhooks of curiosity. She was a beautiful pregnant woman… again a glow. The medical interactions were limited, relying more upon their midwife. They opted for a home water birth as well. I was worried something would go wrong and that she’d have to be rushed to the hospital (Marc’s father the doctor was also worried and tried to get them to change their minds.) But of course, Kendra did spendidly and gave birth to a very healthy baby boy.

I can’t help but wonder how this will change my life. The eons of childbirth and parenting have made it fairly obvious how the parents’ lives will change. But the circumstance of a best friend’s relationship to a child is somewhat less defined. I honestly have no idea how this will change our interactions on a very fundamental level. The propensity to (mild) debauchery will of course be gone. For years now their lives will be filled with diapers and waking up at early hours of the morning to a crying baby. Then to crawling, then the first day of school, then graduation, then letting them fly free on their own wings as they leave the nest, inevitably. Our lives have been touched by the magic of birth, but I can’t help but wonder… just how will this change us? I have no worries we’ll grow distant or that anything major will change our relationship, but it’s still a curious thought to know that they are a bigger family now. I’m sure the first few months will lead to some decreased communication as they deal with the responsibilities of caring for a newborn, but that will change. I know that no longer do they think in terms of ‘a couple’ but now ‘a family.’

And my family is now plus one.

Invisible

I’ve done it hundreds of times. I think maybe we all have. Sometimes I stop and give them change, a cigarette… most often I just walk by them. I always see them; or rather, I don’t see them at all. They are the ghosts, shadows, the ignored conscience of a city. Especially if there are many in our own neighborhood (as was in my corner in Los Angeles) their presence is ignored and forgotten. If I give one person spare change, I am not likely to give them more the next time. They are the homeless, the panhandlers, the dregs of the city always reminding us that there are others in more dire circumstances than we are.

My corner in LA had its fair share of the homeless. Whenever I visited Santa Monica (where there are apparently laws against the police shooing away transients) I came face-to-face with them over and over. There are many types of homeless, from the high-functioning ones just down-and-out and those who are so lost in their own mental disorders that, sometimes, I think they don’t even realize what their life is and don’t even realize that they’re homeless. These are the ones sleeping in the doorways, mumbling incoherently, barely able to realize they should be asking for handouts in order to continue their lives and not starve to death. But what do they really mean? How can I be touched by their lives and come out unscathed without literally giving them the shirt off my back in order to assuage the unreasonable guilt that I have for the have-nots when I am more-or-less a have. I have a roof over my head, money to spend on food and beer, the ability to survive the elements without worrying about survival.

I haven’t seen any transients in my neighborhood in Chicago, a stark contrast from my time in LA. I think perhaps there’s an inherent difference separating the homeless of LA from the homeless in more intemperate climes. My friend Jeff, who used to live in New York City and then Los Angeles, said there is a fundamental difference between the homeless in each city. In Los Angeles, they tend to be a little baked by the sun: the elements don’t weed out the most dire of cases. They are a bit more dangerous… a bit more likely to inflict violence. Apparently in NYC they are much more apt to just be needing mental health care because the really don’t understand where they are and what their lives have become. He said that since the sun of California doesn’t kill and weed out the most unfortunate, the sun only serves to increase the mental instability of the transients.

But when it comes down to it, I think they show me a metaphor for my own life. Since bipolarity is classified as “severe mental illness” I find myself constantly fearing that someday I’ll snap, lose all semblance of reality, and end up on the street, joining other homeless without a clue as to what reality really is. I think that’s why I tend to be good to the homeless, whether spare change or a smoke. I can’t forget that, for the fortune of life, I could be one of them.

I think my opinion of the homeless comes from having grown up in an Indian household and traveling back to India so many times. As we drove in the taxi, with children at every corner begging “Pisay, pisay” (money, money) my heart broke a little each time. These are my people, the roots of where I came from. When I was small, I looked out the window once and saw a boy about my age, stark naked, urinating into the gutter in front of his cardboard hovel. When a kind teacher of mine in high school expressed an interest in going to India to learn more about the culture, I warned her that since she was such a bleeding heart, she wouldn’t be able to stand the stark difference between those middle-class or above and the pure, unadulterated poverty that strikes the majority of the Indians. She paused, processed, and understood that I was coming from a place of truth and nothing that I could say would erase the fact that she would be unable to fully accept, process, and forgive the world for the pain it’s caused upon so many millions in the country of my origin.

I remember the first time I saw a beggar in my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. When you grew up in a city of about 110,000, one doesn’t expect to see the homeless in such proximity to one’s own home. He held a cardboard sign that said “Will work for food.” I was a passenger in the car with my sister driving, and we both felt such incredible compassion for this man sitting at one of the most major intersections, simply wanting to live. We passed him and then turned around. We had just bought food from McDonald’s, and we turned around and I handed him my burger and my sister handed him the spare change in the car.

Quite an awakening it was. This was before I had lived or visited many major cities, apart from Mumbai and foreign cities where we’d stop off on our journeys to India. It was heart-wrenching to experience poverty three blocks from our house.

But at the same time, don’t the homeless give us a little strength towards the cruel world? I look at them and think that if they can do it, I can too. They appear to have nothing to live for but survival, and I’m mired in my emotional problems while I have food, clothing, shelter… the basic survival necessities of life. When I see a homeless person, hanging on with such incredible tenacity to life, I have to remember that, really, my life is blessed. I regain hope that my life will get better and that at least I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. They give me faith that my life will work itself out and that I can overcome the issues that I have.

Faith that no matter what, I know that I’ll at least have a roof over my head. And it’ll work itself out.

Pieces about my life and other thoughts, for better or for worse. Mostly for worse.