Gratitude - Part 1

I've been thinking about gratitude a lot lately.

Being one of the more fortunate ones to escape Hurricane Sandy with absolutely no loss at all has reminded me how grateful I am, but I'll get to that.

I was thinking about gratitude before the hurricane hit. It started earlier this year actually. Most specifically, on May 28th.

I had been trying to figure out ways to be more grateful for a couple months. If anybody had asked me at any one time whether or not I considered myself lucky I would say "the luckiest." And if anybody asked me if I were grateful I would respond "very."

I was aware of my good fortune, but it just didn't seem like enough.

Kind of like how it's not always enough to know somebody cares about you, sometimes, or often times, you need to hear it as well.

I felt like the universe needed to hear my gratitude in some way, but more specifically, I wanted a way to be more vocal about it. Not for anybody else, not because I needed anybody else to hear it. I needed to hear it, I needed to hear myself say it.

I just wasn't sure how.

I watched this TED talk earlier this year about a guy named Shawn Anchor who studies Happiness. He talked about an experiment in which they gave people a list of actions to do for 3 weeks and measured their happiness at the end. The participants all stated they felt happier after doing the activities. One of those activities stood out for me.

It was to write down, every night, three things that you are grateful for. He didn't give any rules or parameters, just that you should call to mind three things, and write them down.

I thought about doing it for a while. Too long in fact.

At the same moment, and for an even longer period of time I had been trying to figure out what to do with this book my sister had given me.

It's a beautiful hardcover ruled journal with a quote on the front that says:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone - Neale Donald Walsch

Transient

She gave it to me after my last play, which she came to see on two of the four nights it was up. She gave the book to me as a gift with a wonderful candle that also had a quote on it. It said:

Begin Anywhere.

My sister is very supportive.

The candle was easy to use, the book not so much. It was such a wonderful, substantive piece that I didn't want to just fill it with ramblings and drivel.

And then I had an idea: It could become my gratitude book.

So I opened up to the first page and titled it as such.

And nearly every single night that I have been home and slept in my bed, I have written down 5 things I am grateful for that day.

The study said to write down three, but I am so disgustingly fortunate that to write down only 3 would be to ignore so many wonderful things in my life. It would feel like cheating and I wanted to do this right.

And so I've done it. It's the last thing I do before I turn out the light. Sometimes they come easy, sometimes I have to think a little bit. I try not to be repetitive but it's not illegal. Certain things make the book weekly:

Ice Cream

Hugs

My friends

I like those nights where I spend more time thinking about it. I think because I feel like I am deriving the most out of the activity. I'm not just shaking off what sits on the top of my head, but actually applying thought, evaluating my life, recapping my day, contextualizing what happened.

Often by the time the end of the day comes were are so excited to get to sleep that we turn out the light moments after climbing into bed.

And for good reason. Climbing into bed is an amazing feeling.

I am reminded of that old adage

The unexamined life isn't worth living.

I like quotes.

I don't spend my nights going over every single moment of the day trying to attach meaning and significance where none was. I'm not trying to fake a feeling or superimpose an emotion. I am just looking for those things in my day I have to be grateful for. I do it on good days, I do it on bad days.

On good days it makes me feel blissful. On bad days it makes me feel lucky.

Very, very, lucky.

And while I've only been doing it for several months, I truly love the exercise. I love how it makes me pay attention to my life. I love how if I go back and read it I might have no idea what happened on that day or what I was doing other than the sun was out and I laughed a lot.

However as the months have ticked by, it, the exercise, is starting to feel like not enough. Maybe it's inflation or heightened awareness, the way running a mile every day for a month makes you think it would be no problem to run two miles, or three miles.

I'm noticing this feeling that I could be doing more to... to show my gratitude.

But showing sounds like such a weird word. And I've also felt it hasn't been the right word.

These thoughts were in my mind, though probably not at the forefront, yet present.

And then Hurricane Sandy hit.

To be continued...

On Quitting - Part 2

I heard a quote once when I was younger that vexed me for a very long time.

Don’t be irreplaceable, because if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

I struggled with this quote for the longest time. Was I not supposed to try as hard as I could? Was I to always leave it a little bit left in the tank, not set the bar as high as I could? How could I share everything I had to offer if I couldn’t even be irreplaceable?

I think I mistook the word irreplaceable with being one-of-a-kind.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be original, unique unlike any other. And since leaving college I fooled myself into believing that an office was a good place to do that.

I have learned though that being irreplaceable and being one-of-a-kind are not mutually exclusive, because everybody is replaceable. Sure that substitute may not be as good, or as talented, but I’ve never been able to lie to myself enough to believe that nobody could do what I do in an office with at least a marginal degree of ability.

So I sought instead not to be one-of-a-kind, but to embrace the one-of-a-kindness that I felt within me.

That was hard.

And what is strange is the things that I thought I knew about myself, the seeds that stayed dormant beneath the surface of my soul, were things that others saw readily. They were the elements of my personality and myself that were much more apparent than I had let on. So much so that people came up to me with increasingly frequency and said: “What are you doing in an office?”

I didn’t know how to respond.

Making money I guess. Having a job. Doing what everybody else does.

Rarely do we start off a job in an office and then end up doing something completely different. The phrase “career path” is often a misnomer signifying a series of jobs that corresponded with the first job you just happened to take.

I might have an entirely different life had I accepted the very first job I was offered, to be the personal assistant to Sting’s manager.

That’s not a joke.

While possible exposure to celebrities and summers working from the Hamptons were appealing, hearing my interviewer say that my future boss “just needs a wife” somehow cued up the correct fear within me that this might not be the job for me.

If we are lucky enough to know what we want to do, or what we love, we might find ourselves pursuing a nontraditional life. But the word traditional has come to mean “office.”

I would be in complete shock if anybody has ever been told, “Man, you really belong in an office.”

Who belongs in an office?

The last couple of years I realized, certainly not me. But where did I belong? If I was being honest I had found very few places I felt like I belonged.

A summer camp for second grade boys out in the summer sun surrounded by pretty girls my age… I felt I belonged there.

Behind a bar I was comfortable, but I didn’t feel like I belonged there.

I thought I’d belong at a magazine or a nonprofit etc. But each time I moved I thought I’d feel instantly like it was coming home when really it was just getting me slightly closer to what I wanted to the way I wanted to feel.

I was incrimentalizing, as we all do, accepting marginal gains and victory.

And after many failed attempts at capturing the feeling I have realized: We don’t look for the places we belong, we create the places we belong. Nearly every place we have ever worked started out as somebody else’s thing. And that thing grew and grew until the identity changed, or it didn’t, but ultimately it maintained it’s own identity.

If we are lucky we get to contribute to a part of that identity, but for many of us we do not.

We look for what fits. People are puzzle pieces. Any puzzle has hundreds of pieces that don’t fit together, some that almost do, but only 2 that truly fit together.

And that is just one box. There are far more people in the world than in any one puzzle box.

All of these thoughts and feelings grew within me, swelled, pushed at me, all the while I had no real idea how to breakout of the cage that I was in.

Cage, that was it.

I started to think of chickens. I thought about how whenever I went to the grocery store I looked for the eggs of cage free hens. Birds that had the ability to roam free and produce something that was better because of it.

And then I sat at my desk and looked around my office, at my colleagues, at the other hens. And I realized: If I laid eggs, they would not be the kind of eggs you’d want to buy. I wanted to be the kind of chicken that made wanted eggs.

And so ultimately, I quit.

I’m not quitting a job, or an industry as I have so many other times. This time I’m quitting a mentality.

And that scares me. Scares me in a way I haven’t felt scared in a very long time because while I have a plan, a plan is just a map for a territory you have never explored before.

I don’t know the specifics of what really lies out there. I know the possible highs, and the ultimate lows, but the specifics? Not so much.

However the beauty of a possible unknown is so much more appealing to me than every possible reality I’ve witnessed working in offices over the past 10 years.

So I’m not trying to be irreplaceable, incomparable, or anything like that. I’m just trying to be happy, to do what makes me happy, and to live a life that allows for that.

And at that point, maybe I won’t care about belonging any more.

'Tween Then and Now

My friend Veronica runs concert booking for a small venue in lower Manhattan. It's a job that sends her all over the country meeting with talent and doing other fancy pants things that I am constantly in awe of.

And because my schedule is rarely tame between the obscene amount of projects I involve myself in and business trips for work, Veronica and I typically have a hell of a time trying to coordinate so we can see each other.

We often will put time on the calendar a month in advance just so we can make sure it happens. Several weeks ago we had planned to get together on a random Wednesday in September. A week before that happened she found out she was going to have to put on a short promo concert early that evening.

She invited me to come by and watch the show and we would go grab drinks afterward. I said that was great. I think it’s cool to see what your friends actually do for a living since most of the time we have some skewed unrealistic view of what their day is like.

Like my buddy who works for s consulting firm, I just imagine he sits at his desk all day hating people.

That one actually might be right.

So I show up to the venue 45 minutes before the show. I didn't want to get there too early. I did that thing where the closer I got the slower I walked. As per usual I had dramatically overestimated how long it would take to get there.

I show up almost everywhere early. I am not very cool.

As I got closer to the venue I saw it, a line of little people; tweens.

That magical age of cacophonous crackling voices and pubescent rage that stirs itself into a mass of misunderstood codependency.

They were lined up around the venue, hundreds of them, for a small private show that would last no more than 30 minutes. They were crammed against each other adorned in too many bracelets and way too much eye makeup.

And then there was me. The 29 year old in khakis and a backpack carrying a Hugo boss shopping bag.

I looked like I was online for a yuppie sample sale.

Veronica had told me my name would be on the list at the door and to just let them know. I thought that was fine until I realized I was going to have to jump this line of tweens to get there. Not only did I fear their wrath but I was also extremely embarrassed that I was jumping a line of said wrathful tweens in order to be first into a concert for which I now appeared to be the oldest most out of place fan.

I became even more uncomfortable when I got to the front and saw a tall redheaded girl whose face was soaked in tears choking out some kind of explanation to a security guard.

It was apparent her and I were about to have very different experiences.

I went up to one of the security guards and said

Hi, Veronica put my name on the list.

I cringed even as I said it. I've never been a list guy. I'm never on the list, I never try to get on the list, and the only times I was ever supposed to be on the list, it didn't work out so well. I always end up getting sent to the back of the line or told that’s the wrong list or some other ridiculous thing. I have friends who love the list. They live for the list. But to me it’s like alchemy or the white whale, it exists to function only in theory.

I support all the list can potentially offer but its fair to say in my day to day, I am anti-list.

The door guy checked with somebody else, took my ID and then eventually gave me a bracelet and told me to wait to the left.... behind all of the tweens.

Awesome.

So I’m standing in line behind all of the tweens starting to feel more insecure about this whole thing. Nothing says wrong like the guy who shows up to the concert with a shopping bag. I kept waiting for one of the tweens to turn around and ask me;

What are YOU doing here?

I texted my friend to let her know I had arrived and she came out to find me.

Thank god.

She brought me into the venue and introduced me to some adults. I started feeling better instantly.

As I sat there though, I realized there was an amorphous gaggle of tweens pressed up against the window behind me. I didn’t turn around because I could feel there superhormonized eyes boring a hole in my back. I feared turning around and being lured into some silent pantomime conversation with a bunch of kids who would give anything to be where I was at that time.

It was then that I realized, 15 years ago, I would probably have been one of those tweens outside the window who would give anything to switch places with the guy with the shopping bag.

And I realize now the irony of the situation is the guy with the shopping bag didn’t  know a single thing about the band and cared more about seeing his friend then he did the music.

But I also realize now that showing up anywhere with a shopping bag makes you look considerably less cool, especially a concert.

The Bagel Shop

There were bagel shops in every major intersection where we grew up on Long Island, but my dad always had his favorite. Good bagels are a source of pride for people from New York. Bagels and Pizza, there is never a reason to have a bad one of either.

Since my dad was the one who woke up early and left the house to get the bagels on Sunday mornings, his favorite place became the whole family’s favorite place.

There have been several different bagel shops over time, but the first one I can remember was a place on the far west side of town. Every Sunday without fail he’d bring home a dozen bagels. It became such a part of our routine that we’d even stop on early morning road trips to the outlets or vacations.

Once in a while, when my sister and I were still very young and our father was out of town on business, my mom, sister and I would go and actually eat breakfast at the bagel place. It wasn’t a restaurant by any means, just a place with some booths and an irreplaceable smell.

We’d give our orders to our mom (poppy seed for my sister, and an egg bagel for myself) and she’d place the order at the counter while my sister and I had worldly conversations in the booth.

I remember one December morning we were hard at work on a choreographed dance set to a record of The Nutcracker that we were going to perform for our parents on Christmas morning. We had been rehearsing every day after school, and by rehearsing I mean jumping around on the furniture pretending to be dancing dolls.

My sister and I were heavily entrenched in conversation and planning when our mother returned with the bagels. We both stopped talking immediately, which was obviously suspicious. I panicked, not knowing what to do. Instead of trying to lie or coming up with a good excuse… I just started giggling hysterically. At this point my mother got curious.

Mom: What are you laughing at?

Rich: Ummmm

Mom: What?

At this point I put my hand aside of my mouth and tried to whisper to my sister.

Rich: Psst, we can’t let her know about the C-R-I-S-T-M-A-S dance.

My mother just paused, raised her eyebrows, and said, “There’s an H in Christmas.”

Foiled! How had she figured out my secret code of spelling out words? Further proof I wasn’t a bright child.

That same bagel shop was also the location of one of the first great emasculations of my life.

My sister mother and I had just finished breakfast on a rainy Sunday. My mother was using the bathroom while my sister and I waited for her. To entertain my sister, one of my favorite things to do growing up, I was dancing around on the sidewalk in the rain, jumping up and down, doing some kind of silly dance.

It was at that point that a man walked out of the shop took one look before barking:

Act like a man!

My sister and I looked at each other shocked for a second before bursting into giggles.

Several years later a bagel shop opened closer to our house. This coincided around the time my father started taking morning walks. So he started walking to that bagel shop instead. Not quite a dozen bagels anymore but still a poppy seed bagel for my sister and an egg bagel for me.

But then she left for college and it was even fewer bagels but still an egg bagel for me, until I left for college.

My dad continued his walks on Sundays, just getting bagels for him and my mother.

It was on one of those Sundays during my freshman year in college that he ran into John Kelly, a guy I had played little league baseball with when I was 12 and whom my dad probably hadn’t seen since. John was a sweet kid with a good heart, but had been somewhat misguided and hadn’t had some of the same opportunities.

Hey Mr. Boehmcke!

My dad turned around and saw John but took a moment before responding, the way you when you’re trying to buy time when you don’t know somebody’s name.

He shook his head subtly in embarrassment, knowing he know John from somewhere but unable to place where.

It's me John Kelly, I played baseball with Richy.

Oh yea of course, John, how are you?

Good, how's Richy?

Oh he's good, finishing up his first year at Arizona State.

And John paused and kind of turned away slightly before speaking again.

Oh man… I wish I'd gone to college.

It caught my dad off guard. He wasn’t sure what to say. After a moment, he just wished John well and they parted ways.

He told me that story when I came home later that year. I felt sad and grateful all at the same time. I had always like John, even when he fell in with a different crowd. I never thought he was a bad kid.

That moment in the bagel shop became a strange sort of foreshadowing as John found himself in some really unfortunate trouble a couple of years later.

The bagel shop had become a kind of institution in my life, if not the location itself certainly the regularity it provided. It became the kind of welcome routine you smile back on in your memory, sad but understanding of the fact that life moves on and some things get left behind.

And while I have always thought back fondly on the different shops we used to visit regularly to pick up our bagels, I'd never looked at it as a place that some of my friends would never have the opportunity to leave.

29

I turned 29 today.

I'm not really sure what that means - quite possibly, it means nothing.

I am at the front end of a generation that is readily criticized for it's vocality, a vocality that can often be mistaken for self awareness. So claiming to have any sort of insight on to what this milestone in my life means would probably not be met with open arms.

But I am fascinated with the idea of aging, the idea of seeing one's self evolve, or try to. Of being able to look in the mirror and note a change, even a slight one, as a denotation of a life lived, or life in the process of being lived.

There have been so many changes for me.

Some have been obvious.

The grey hair started in college as random of assortments of one or two, but that now populate my head, most specifically the sides, in rapidly increasing gangs.

There are the bags that started appearing under my eyes in the last year when I didn't get enough sleep. There was a time when not getting enough sleep was a private fact, suddenly, it was public knowledge.

Then were the random things, the dry skin that appeared under my arms. I don't know if it suddenly appeared or I just suddenly noticed it, either way my dermatologists response when I brought it up was remarkably unremarkable.

He just laughed. And followed it with

Ahhh you're getting older.

I was suddenly aware.

Then there were the not so obvious signs.

Some signs are ones that I only think I see, lenses over eyes that have now been colored with the faintest shade of wisdom, as only experience can provide.

I know I look older, though I still look young. What defines my older though I’m not quite sure. It’s a subtle shift for sure. But much like Pirsig’s thoughts on quality, while I can’t describe it, I know it when I see it.

But perhaps what I actually see is my experience, a person who is perennially at the end of a constantly expanding timeline.

Perhaps I see growth.

I think about the number.

29.

What does that even mean?

Before they occurred I had deeply ingrained suppositions for all the major numbers. 21 meant freedom, 25 would be my peak, 30 my defining year as an adult. Perhaps marriage, kids.

But as they happened the ages were much less defined. 21 seemed significant at the time, but 22 to 25 were very much a blur. Certainly by the time I hit it, 25 didn't feel like any sort of peak. Had it actually been my peak, I'm sure I'd be depressed right now. 28 became a rebuilding year, a time to reorganize the bricks of my life that, I thought, had been organized into a steady foundation.

It's amazing how a how a house of cards can pass for a house of bricks.

So as the weeks prior to the last year of my twenties turned into days, I felt not anxiety or dread or anything that caused my heart any extra movement. Instead the most significant sensation I felt was curiosity. What did this age mean?

Me, myself, at 29 years old.

A broad look at my life brings certain things to mind. In many ways I feel calmer, more at ease, more comfortable with myself than ever.

Yet at the same time I feel more impatient and anticipatory of the things I want to fill my life with.

Those things aside though, when I look in the mirror, I see a man I almost don't recognize. For as much as I presupposed the life I would have at older ages, I don't really think I ever accurately conceptualized the idea of 29 year old me.

In some ways, I find it almost impressive. Like owning a car that continues to run after decades.

And in some ways it's terrifying. When I take a close look at my life, as I make great effort to on my birthday, I am always reminded of how incredibly fortunate I have been.

Fortunate actually seems a trivial iteration of the word Fortune, yet that is what I have. A Fortune. A wealth, a bounty of good luck and wonderful people in my life who, when in the same room, make me wonder how I managed to find so many of them.

And whenever I think about how lucky I am, I am reminded of a quote I first read in high school.

Watch out when you're getting all you want. Fattening hogs ain' in luck.
-Joel Chandler Harris

The hog writing this post grows fatter and more paranoid every day.

Because for as much as I want, as much I crave, or I strive or complain, I have no need or want for anything. If I never made more money, friends, or had more experiences than I do today, I would still be one of the luckiest people alive

So I can't help be paranoid that this 29 year old me is always one poor mistake from losing it all.

My therapist would tell me that is my anxiety kicking in. And then she'd have me read one of the sizable chapters in the even more sizable "Anxiety Workbook" she encouraged me (successfully) to purchase.

And in many ways she is right.

Because in some ways the anxiety is unfounded.

But I look at my life at 29, at the people around me, at the air that I am privileged enough to breathe, at the absurdly incomparable good fortune I have had, and marvel at how anybody with a modicum of self awareness wouldn't also worry that all could be lost in an instant.

But being grateful and paranoid is not really a thing one is. They are emotions, feelings that one experiences. And I would be saddened if those were the only two things that defined me at any age.

I had a great writing teacher once who gave me this axiom:

Whenever you can, do not sum up.

So if I were to end this by saying where I was and who I am, well, it would be a lie and also go against a pretty great axiom.

The good news is I don’t have enough information to sum up. I know I am excited to be this age, at the things ahead of me, at the year I have already embarked upon.

And while I’ll possibly never be sure of where I am, perhaps it is the confidence in where I’ve been that will help me keep every age I am, in perspective.

The Selfish Asshole


I’m a selfish asshole.

Hear me out.

In exactly two weeks I’m going be 29. And in 29 years of living (plus 9 months in the womb where I didn’t accomplish much) I have never really had to ask for much.

I grew up in a loving household full of people who (while they may not have always understood me, and frankly, who can blame them) always supported me.

I have written before about I have such an abundance of things in my life that I regularly have to purge my life of material possessions. It’s a position that so few people ever find them in, a position I try to remember whenever I feel myself wanting for something.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday I like to take stock of my life. I like to spend some time contemplating, thinking, and comparing where I am now to where I was a year ago. It can be challenging as I constantly find myself coming up short of the places I’d hoped, or expected, to be.

In addition to reflection my birthday usually involves celebration. Typically there are two types of gatherings.

I will do a birthday dinner with a small group of my close friends at a really nice restaurant. We make toasts, we laugh, and we eat incredible food. And then I will set up a get together for my larger circle of friends, something where people can come in and out of at their leisure, stop by, celebrate for as little or as long as they’d like.

And I won’t lie; at both affairs I usually don’t pay for a thing. And I’ve never had a problem with it. I mean on your birthday you should be able to get whatever you want. At least that’s been my mentality.

But for some time now I’ve been feeling a weird strange cloud drifting over my soul. I’d be lying if I had said it was a recent phenomenon, but it is only recently that I have started to pay more attention to it. It’s a feeling that I’m not doing enough.

For the past 4 years I’ve lived alone. For the past 6 I’m floated in and out of jobs that I thought would bring me the things I’ve wanted. I’ve received raises, title changes, and new responsibilities.

In that same time I’ve traveled. I’ve had incredible experiences in places around the country and around the world. I’ve taken up hobbies that have occupied so much space in my mind that others can attest I am sometimes less present than I should be.

More than anything, I have had opportunities.

When I’ve wanted something, the thing I have wanted is so far above the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy that he would probably be baffled that one person could possibly want for so much.

My highs have been higher than I could have possibly imagined, and my lows, while sad and challenging and life changing, have always been something I could eventually work my way through.

There has always been a road. And while that road may have been concealed, or bumpy, or long, there has always been a road. I have never been without a road. But for so many others, that has never been the case.

And I know this. I know it the way people know war and famine and poverty exists. They are the kinds of things we may try to remind ourselves, but never too often so as not to make ourselves feel sad. After all, there is only so much we can do.

Right?

Here’s the thing. I don’t do anything.

When disaster strikes a far away country in the form of a tornado or a tsunami I give money to the Red Cross. When my friends do a marathon to raise money to fight cancer I give money to their cause. I have situational generosity. But I never really give anything that requires anything.

A handful of years ago I went to work at a nonprofit thinking that would give me the feeling of generosity and altruism I had hoped would at some point infuse my life.

But for a myriad of reasons, those feelings never came. I wasn’t more generous or giving towards those in needs while I worked there, I was just more awareness. But awareness without action is like a kite without a string.

So I left that job to pursue something I loved. And I was a happier employee than I’d ever been and for many moons that feeling of wanting to give back remained held at bay.

I think we all kind of wait and hope for that moment when everything changes. We expect that moment of clarity, that single instant when our worlds come into focus, our worries fade away and the single most important clear and obvious needs of the universe come into focus.

Though for most people those moments never arrive. It seems silly to admit that I have been waiting for a moment like that when my life has been supersaturated with such moments.

So after two weeks spent on the west coast spent socializing, contemplating and interacting in different cities with different people over different issues, I’m done waiting.

And that is why on the eve of my 29th year I’m “giving up” my birthday to raise money for a cause that takes every single cent it raises and uses it to bring clean drinking water to those in need.


The facts of how clean water can change the world are truly overwhelming. And if you’re interested in reading about them you can find them at Charity: Water.

So what does this mean?

That means this year I will be passing up that small gathering at the fancy restaurant to celebrate me.

That means this I’m not having a party where people come and buy me drinks. Sure I'll still get people together, but the drinks will be cheap, and nobody is allowed to buy me a single one.

Even as I write this though, even as I tell you that I am proud to be committing to raising $1,000 dollars for this incredible cause, I am also aware what a copout it is.

Sure I’m “giving up” my birthday this year but what am I actually giving up?

I’m not giving $1,000 out of my own pocket. I’m asking my friends to help me. I’m asking people instead of buying me drinks on my birthday, to take 29 bucks and put it towards something that actually matters.

While I have no idea if I’ll reach my goal, I do know that it already feels good to want something that will help somebody who deserves it, somebody to whom the words ‘want’ and ‘need’ are exactly the same.

What I Shouldn't Have Not Done

Growing up, I often thought the role of adults was simply to confuse me.
It was about the same time I realized my parents didn't have the answer to everything, which I realized, adults in general didn't have answers to a lot of things.
But as an adult you can't just not have an answer, you have to say something. Hence why I think oftentimes adults just make some stuff up, or repeat something they heard somebody else say. Maybe they will bring something out of their "my parents used to say this" handbook.
I suppose it also comes down to the fact that at a certain point, you just run out of things to say. I know for a fact that as a child I was always talking… actually that hasn’t really changed. But I can’t imagine my parents had a response to everything I was saying, also I can’t imagine they listened to everything I said.
Whatever the reason, as a teenager I heard some very confusing things.
Like after I sneezed my parents would say gazzazablatz. To this day I have NO idea where the hell they got that term. And any time I tried to use it out of the house it was met with confusion.
Gazzablaztz!
What?
It means bless you.
In what language?
Um… Boehmcke?
I still say it to this day but I’m much more aware of the face that it is in fact a very niche saying.
My sister and I were frequently accused of inactivity, which looking back seems a bit ridiculous considering I felt like for the first half of my life I was always in motion.
But when I stopped moving, or more specifically, when we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing my parents would bust out this gem:

You’re j sitting there, like a bump on a log!
A more vague and generic statement I have never heard. I understand what this means but I also feel like it was a bit unfair. Sometimes, even as a teenager, I was very tired. Had I accused my parents of being bumps on logs I most likely would have been sent to my room.
But the term itself is so devoid of any character. You look like… a thing on… another thing! Bump on a log, lump on a frog, chunk on a dog; none of it really makes any sense.
Sometimes though I think my parents would have preferred I be a bump on a log than the frenetic, 50 question, “can I, may I, would you mind if I,” type of kid that I was.
Whenever my mom was tired of answering my questions, or I didn’t really care specifically about what I was asking, she would say to me:
Knock yourself out.
I found this one to be particularly hilarious because as a child there was a very good possibility of this actually occurring. Whenever they said this I had this image in my head of wearing gigantic red boxing gloves and giving myself an uppercut to the chin, knocking myself unconscious.
And while that never literally happened, the similar equivalent almost did. Like that time I ran out onto an icy path but slipped and went nearly horizontal into midair before landing on the back of my head.
I didn’t knock myself out, but it’s really a miracle I didn’t.
I suppose the opposite of knocking myself out would have been being “bent out of shape.” This was another one of my parents’ favorites. I was a kind of oversensitive kid and even now, I still kind of am. But whenever I would get really upset or frustrated about something that my parents didn’t feel was justified I would be accused of being bent out of shape.
This, to me, always conjured up an image of some metal man all twisted and curved walking all crazy because of his literal imposition.
The other problem with being called bent out of shape is there is no real good come back.
I’m not bent out of shape! I’m… in shape! I’m bent into shape!
I didn’t have a lot of good comeback when trying to refute accusations from my parents.
But when it comes down to the ultimate opposition silencer, that honor must go to my high school band teacher.
He was a really nice guy one on one, always really friendly and personable, somebody you might like to have a dinner party… if you were prone to throwing dinner parties in the 10th grade.
But when he lost control of a room of 100 teenagers he would lose his cool and dish out what is still the most confusing statement I have ever heard:
WHY AM I NOT THE ONLY ONE TALKING?
He said this every day.
Every.
Single.
Day.
I guess we were a chatty group. It’s tough being a nice teacher, kids frequently mistake kindness for weakness. And anytime we stopped focusing and digressed into chatter he would come out swinging with that confusing statement.
WHY AM I NOT THE ONLY ONE TALKING?
And I would always stop talking immediately, mainly because I was trying to figure out what the hell he was saying.
I’d start making sentence trees on my sheet music.
Why am I the only one talking?
Why am I not talking?
Why am I (not) the only one talking?
It was like a math equation wrapped in words and put to music.
Every time he said it I would instantly become lost in a 15 minute haze of wonderment, trying to figure out why on earth he chose such a confusing statement.
Maybe he did it on purpose. Maybe that is the best way to deal with teenagers is just to confuse them until they shut up. It apparently worked for us.
Sometimes I think about that teacher and wonder how he came across that statement. Did his parents used to say it? Did his band teacher say it to him?
Who knows what he’d tell me, but whatever his reason, I’d probably say the same thing to him.
Hey if it works, knock yourself out.

Sumpin Good

It was called the sump.

Quite a name huh?

It was this reservoir/murky water/sewage area enclosure between the big town park and the driving range. I actually didn't know it was called the sump until I got to high school. The only reason I knew it was called the sump was because apparently, that's where teenagers would go to drink and smoke and do god knows what else.

And those stories always involved the sump.

I say god knows what else because I never found out… because I never went. Just like I never went or did a lot of things in high school. Not that I was a sheltered kid. In fact I would argue I had a more robust high school experience than most people. However, my experience consisted of things that did not happen in a sump.

I was never a part of that kind of crowd. Looking back you could probably have picked out the "Sump" crowd in 4th or 5th grade.

I might have had some casual acquaintance with pre-sump people back then, but that was it. I remember hanging out with my friend Jeff one day when he ran into a couple of his slightly older, slightly more nefarious friends. Pre-sump types. The types that left at each other's jokes but seemed to never hear mine. No matter how many times I repeated them.

Well Jet and I and the pre-sumpers were just walking around one day when we all went in to the local drug store. They all bought large cans of Arizona Iced Tea. I didn't particularly want one but I figured this was what cool people did. So I bought one too.

We then walked behind the bank and sat on the curb of the closed drive through teller drinking our iced teas. Like it was illegal or something. I distinctly remember stepping outside myself to observe us sitting against the backdrop of white washed brick and thinking "Is this what being cool is about? Sitting behind the bank and drinking Iced tea?"

It was merely a foreshadowing for years later when alcohol and cigarettes would replace ice tea and tires, broken glass (and possibly sewage) would replace white washed bank walls. Teenagedom was a far cry from adolescence.

People started referring to the gathering at the sump as "Sump Parties."

It seemed a strange pairing of words even back then. Like, Manure Fiesta or Compost Celebration.

But when you are a teenager with no privacy and nowhere else to go, I suppose a sump is the equivalent of a local Tijuana.

There might have even been a donkey at the sump, who knows.

I never went to the "sump parties" for several reasons. The first was, IT WAS AT THE SUMP. The idea of lying to my parents to hop over a fence into a park, to sneak through another fence, to scramble down a disgusting trash filled hill in the pitch black of night so I could hang out around of bunch of people I couldn't see smoking cigarettes just didn't get my joy meter spinning.

I was far more interested in staying home, watching Friday night television about idealized versions of high school and cramming things like waffles, ice cream and as many sugar based toppings as possible into a bowl in a sundae that probably should have come with a full medical and dental plan.

The other reason I never went to a sump party was because, well, I was never invited.

Now I'm sure most of the people who went weren't "invited." Ninth graders aren't known for sending out hand written invitations to partake in illegal activities. I'm sure most of the people just heard from somebody who heard from somebody else. They probably didn't need to say more than "alcohol, sump, night" to spread the word.

But I had never gone to an event that I wasn't invited to. We had these "float making parties" in 7th and 8th grade where a bunch of kids would get together to fold tissue paper flowers to go on the floats. But those weren't the kinds of parties that everybody wanted to go to.

Hey guys, who wants to do some manual labor?

But there were girls there, often lots of girls. So needless to say, I went. There was usually a healthy amount of pretzels and soda and that was good enough for me.

That wasn't a real party type of party with cool kids and sketchy goings on. Those were the kinds of parties that like... moms invited to me to. In fact looking back, I'm almost positive I was invited to more social gatherings by mothers of my friends than by my actual friends.

And that formalized invitation, which expressed interest in having me partake in a social function was something significant for me. I was invited and so I attended.

This inability to understand social gatherings would follow me into my college years when people down the hall said, "Hey we're going to a frat party." And my first thought was "were you invited?" I had never really gone anywhere I wasn't directly invited before. I always thought that the only people who were supposed to show up were those directly told of the event.

I've come a long way since then considering when I plan my own birthday I usually end up telling my friends "Tell anybody who might like me they should come."

Needless to say I haven't typically had epic turnouts at my birthday.

But then again, I've never had my birthday at the sump.

Do As I Do


I took my father to a baseball game recently. I have done it once a year for three out of the last four years. It is hands down one of my favorite days of the year. Just my dad and I eating pulled pork sandwiches and watching the Mets lose.

We went on a weeknight this year when the Mets were playing a less than stellar team on a night that should have poured but ended up perfect. The stadium was empty.

We sat on field level on the first base side. The row in front of us had only two people in it a couple that appeared to be anything but in love. The woman was sitting closer to home plate and watched the game at almost a right angle to her significant other. He practically watched the game over her shoulder.

They didn’t hold hands, they didn’t laugh, and they barely looked at each other. And when she did turn to look at him it was almost disdainful. Like when she yelled at him for overtipping the guy who sold him a soda.

It was one of those interactions I had a hard time looking away from, nor did I have to as I was afforded the luxury of anonymity, watching them from behind.

I couldn’t get over how completely unhappy they seemed to be. Perhaps they had just had a fight, or maybe something more severe was taking place, but I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to spend their time like that.

But as I watched them not be in love with each other I started thinking other things. And the thoughts fell like dominoes.

How could anybody tolerate being in a relationship like that?
I don’t want a relationship like that.
I want to truly enjoy the person I’m with.

And then the couple I have watched interact with each other more than anybody else popped into my head; my parents. I thought about how they might sit together at a baseball game. I thought about how I’ve seen them sit together on a bench, out to dinner or anywhere else.

I realized I never saw my parents sit like that couple at the baseball game. They were always enjoying each other’s company, always affectionate with each other, subtly but consistently.

Now I am lucky to be the child of parents about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. I know that puts me in the minority in so many ways. It is a minority I am very lucky to be a part of. And as all things go in my life, I am suddenly understanding lessons from many many years ago. Lessons I hadn’t even realized I had learned.

The first vacation I ever took with my college girlfriend was months before we actually started dating. We were best friends at the time, spending all our time together, laughing and driving her car around Arizona. At the end of our sophomore year we decided to take a weekend road trip to San Diego.

In my memory the trip is colored by the beautiful innocence that exists between two people when they have unlimited time, tremendous capability and a healthy ignorance of all future responsibilities.

We ate, we experienced, and we laughed. We grew closer in new ways.

On our last day there, on a morning soaked in stubborn fog we said goodbye to the beach and started back to her car. She stopped to tie her shoe while I was looking in the other direction and I didn’t notice until she was already ten steps behind.

I slowed my pace as a sudden affection came over me. Wanting to express something but unsure of how to show it, like a giraffe learning to nuzzle, I did something for the first time that also seemed strangely familiar.

While slowly walking still looking straight ahead and with my arms at my side I reached the fingers of my right hand open wide, wiggling them slowly, as though stretching. And without a word exchanged, or even a glance, by the time she caught up with me her palm found mine.

It hadn’t been something I’d thought about in advance. The action of it almost seemed foreign to my body, something I couldn’t control. It wasn’t until her fingers were laced through mine that I realized why it seemed so familiar.

It's what my father did. It’s what he always did when he held hands with my mother.

I had seen him do it many times before. Walking side by side with my mother he’d open his hand wide and her hand would find his. I can’t remember specific instances, this memory comes in bulk. But it’s there in the cells of my being, a built-in example.

It seems silly to say that I am regularly learning things my parents taught me decades ago, but I suppose that is how it goes. The knowledge never matters until it does. The experience is kept on the shelf until it’s needed. And hopefully, the familiarity of it all isn’t lost on us.

As I get older I inhabit more of my father’s mannerisms than I can count. Some of them seem insignificant, simple gestures, motions that indicate nothing else but uniqueness.

But there are some gestures that have come naturally to me and embody much more just an action. They embody a mentality, a personality, and a way of being. They are things that connect me to my father.

They are effortless yet significant, spontaneous yet important, and most warmly unexpected.

Like two hands finding each other for the first time.

The Housing Crisis - Part 2


I am waiting at my apartment for this brain genius rocket propulsion human species wizard home inspector to show up at my apartment to tell me what apartment is worth.

I am waiting, and he is ten minutes late.

I call him but he doesn’t answer, so I leave a voicemail. He calls me back.

Oh geez I gotta tell you I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve been here for 25 minutes, there is just nowhere to park, I mean I can keep trying but I just don’t know we might have to reschedule this.

First of all, we are not rescheduling. I don’t care if I have to drag his car up to the roof with a rope made of spit and licorice rope I will make sure this idiot gets into my apartment.

Second of all, we are not rescheduling.

I will keep trying. That’s what he said. Trying. Trying is not a word one uses to describe finding a parking spot. Looking is more like it. Basically he was just driving around the block with his eyes open, which is how almost all people drive.

Ten minutes later he arrives at my door having apparently managed to find a spot.

I open the door and see before me a kindly old gentleman which makes all of the hate and anger I have saved up for him hard to apply.

He walks into my apartment and starts asking me questions which I am trying to answer as best as I can because this guy apparently holds the key to whether or not my apartment is worth what its supposed to be worth which shouldn’t even be a question because I own it.

Bah.

Would you call this a living room slash dining room?

Dude, I would call this a living room slash dining room slash Turkish bath house slash discotecca if I thought it would help me refinance my mortgage faster. So yes, call it whatever you’d slash like.

How many square feet would you say this is?

Um, 27,000. He fathoms a guess but I raise his estimate.

Yea, I can’t check because I don’t have my measuring stick.

Measuring stick? You were going to get the square footage of my apartment with a 3 foot piece of reject wood? It’s no wonder this guy only works 10 hours a week, if I only had a stick to measure with I wouldn’t want to work more than 10 hours a week either.

I maintain a pleasant demeanor though because again, I don’t want him to leave and tell the bank that my apartment is worth 14 dollars. After five minutes he is gone. As he leaves he tells me he will send the documents to the appropriate people, which, I don’t even know who that is anymore since I am dealing with so many different idiots.

Like the guy at the bank who was processing my refinance who calls me and says:

Hey Rich we need you to send in those forms.
What do you mean? I sent them in last week.
You did? You sent them here?
Yes, I sent them where you told me to send them.
Oh Ok, my partner didn’t tell me. No problem.

Well, not no problem entirely but why don’t you go ahead and take your partner out for a coffee or something and get your shit together because if you come back and tell me the refinancing of my motorcycle went through I’m going to walk into the bank and just start doing karate.

And I don’t even know karate.

But amazingly the process continues on to the next step where I have to get the board of my condo to approve my refinance. Because that makes sense. The building in which I own an apartment needs to approve of me spending less money every month. I don’t even know how to get in touch with my board so I call my broker; another space genius prodigy mind-winning superhero.

I ask him how to get in touch with the board. He tells me to email the management company. I email them. What follows is the EXACT email conversation that took place.
           
I really wish this were an exaggeration.

Dear Bob and Joe,

Gentlemen, I am currently refinancing my mortgage and need to send over the paperwork to be approved by the board. Can you let me know where I need to send it? I have it ready.
Thank you.
Best 
Richard

One minute later

??? What property is this for?

The so and so apartment building in Queens

Send it in

Please tell me where to send it.

Here

Bob I don't have the address please send me the address where you would like me to send this.

Joe please deal with this request thanks.

Can either of you please tell me the address of your company so I can send this in? I'm not sure what the issue is here.

They don’t respond. So later that day.

Bob and Joe,
Please give me the address of where to send in my paperwork for my apartment so the board can sign off on it. I am concerned at this point at the lack of professionalism in responding to this email. Can you explain to me what the issue is?

By the time the conversation ends I am in such disbelief I am looking around my office like I am on candid camera. I feel like annoying 14-year-old girls from the valley runs my apartment complex.

I want to quit my apartment and the process. I want to buy an RV with cash and park it on a deserted beach outside of Tijuana. I cannot believe that other people have managed to successfully refinance their apartment without ending up in a homicide trial.

I become convinced everybody I have encountered in the process is a complete and total moron. I want to pick them in a room filled with one way mirrors and watch them interact like baboons, which aside from the ones I've met, I am not sure they aren’t.

When I began the process I stupidly hoped I could get it done in a couple of weeks. I was mind blown when they told me it would be many many weeks.

The process is still not done though I am pretty sure the end is near. Either the end of this process or just the apocalypse is looming. Either way I am never refinancing again.

Unlikely Women I Could Potentially Marry - Part 2

When I first started working in Manhattan, I worked for a magazine publisher. Actually that's not true, my real first job was working for a company in sales. I was so unhappy I quit after seven weeks.

I gave my two weeks notice to go and work for the magazine publisher. When I got there I was suddenly a part of a big corporation with different departments with a myriad of responsibilities.

One of the departments I regularly had to deal with was Finance.

Now when one thinks of Finance and Manhattan one probably thinks of slick high powered businessmen in 5,000 dollar suits talking about bulls, bears and foreign currencies.

But Finance in my company was an office that dealt with payouts, with reimbursements and paychecks. It was also an office filled with somewhat unintentionally hilarious Filipino women.

I didn't quite understand how four quiet reserved Filipino women all ended up in the same department, but I suppose it was no more unique than four white people working in my department.

When I first started I didn't know the women in Finance that well. But as my job progressed I had to spend more and more time working with them to figure out specific issues and challenges.

Often times, I would need things from them.

Now there is an unspoken rule in businesses that she who controls the money controls the pace of business.

Since I needed things from Finance, payouts and author checks and such, I would do my best to charm the ladies. I usually dressed up for work in a tie or a vest or cufflinks or some other aspect of snazzy. This, I found out, made it easier to charm them.

Gradually these tough Filipino females softened to my presence. They would engage me in conversation and laugh at my jokes, giggle when I asked them if they wanted to hang out that weekend.

But soon they began engaging me. As soon as I would start talking, one woman in particular, would say, "You're so handsome!"

This was a wonderful thing. Especially when I started hearing it on a regular basis.

But things quickly got out of hand.

Like the time when one of the women brought her daughter to work. As soon as I walked into Finance on that day, the ladies started whipping out cameras like a horde of Filipino paparazzi.

Go, go stand with Richie, take a picture, he's so handsome.

There is probably nothing more embarrassing for an adolescent than being forced to take a picture with a gangly 23 year old her mother apparently has a crush on.

I was extremely uncomfortable. When I had dreamed of being rich and famous, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

I don't know if anybody was more upset than the Finance ladies when I left that company.

I moved onto another corporation, also with a Finance department. While also all women, this department seemed to be made up of women from only island nations. Again, strange, but perhaps not that strange.

One day, the middle-aged women of this finance department were having a spirited debate about the correct pronunciation of my last name. To settle it they took to the Internet. At this point I had already started my blog and was well into publishing regularly.

While looking up my name they came across my picture from my blog. I know this because I walked into their department in the middle of this process. I saw the headshot from my blog up on one of their screens.



Richie, Richie, how you say your last name?

I told them that in English it was Bem-key but in German it was Boomka

Ohhhhhh.

And that's when they started comparing me to a guy that was on a semi popular cable show about a former spy.

He look like that guy from Burrrn Noootice.
Don't he look like that guy from burn notice?
Boomka, you look like that guy from Burrrn Noootice.

I couldn't really agree or disagree.


That day really opened up the relationship I had with the ladies of that department.

I would chat them up and try to be friendly because, once again they controlled the money, and I often needed their help.

I even brought a special bottle of booze back for one of them when I went away to South America.

It's kind of easy to chat up middle-aged married women as a 24 year old. It's about as nonthreatening as it gets.

However as I poured on the charm and faux flirtation inside the office, I did not anticipate it being reciprocated.

I grew a beard at this time. And many people know my beard is red. Well one day at an all team meeting one of them ladies of finance tapped me on the shoulder before it started. I turned around.

Hey Boomka why is your beard red?

Oh, I said, my Dad has red hair.

Ohhh.

Pause.

Does the carpet match the drapes?

For those of you unfamiliar with that phrase I will just say they she was specifically inquiring if my facial hair was the same color as, well, it was probably not an HR appropriate comment.

It was the LAST thing I expected to hear from her. But since I was so caught off guard I did what I always do, I went into full out panic mode and made a ridiculous joke about it in the spur of the moment.

Oh you know, that's between me and the 100 or so ladies I've been with.

Jokingly. I said that JOKINGLY! Hyperbole. Exaggeration. Ridiculousness. These are my things. But the lady from finance reacted like I just told her I had a Ferrari, and I could swear the look she gave me was one of... pride. And she said;

Ohhhh alright now. Ok. Good for you!

My relationship with her was sufficiently tainted from that point going forward.

Fortunately, I quit several monthly later.

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on whether I actually look like that guy from Buuuurrrrrn Noootice.

Unlikely Women I Could Potentially Marry - Part 1


While I haven't always done well with all women, there are certain groups of women I have always seemed to be popular with. These women are almost always considerably older than me, and often... Married themselves.

Like mothers of my friends for instance. Even from a very young age I was able to turn on the charm (whatever charm a 10 year old can have) to make mothers like me.

But as I got older, I started noticing what some might call a trend. Different groups of seemingly very different women would take a strange liking to me. It was something that came out of nowhere, and at this point, I think it has happened enough to call it a phenomenon.

The first time I noticed a strange interaction with a new female audience was when I started donating blood in college. Blood donation vans would regularly be parked on different sites around campus. My friend and I would go a couple of times a year because we wanted to do a good deed. And also, it was college... We didn't really have anything else to do.


We would climb into the cramped bus full of overworked nurses who were exhausted from the ridiculous questions kids would ask. Such as the one we heard a kid ask once:

Hypothetically, if somebody did drugs, like, recently, like… can they still donate blood?

I believe the answer ended up being yes since that kid stayed on the bus. Which was interesting because I am almost positive what he meant by ‘recent’ was ‘immediately before getting onto a blood donation bus.’

My friend and I would make jokes with the nurses who largely ignored what we said, not paying attention enough to realize we were much funnier than the other silly and squeamish college kids who distracted them from their needle wielding responsibilities.

I will talk to pretty much anybody, and if I am going to be lying in a chair for an hour while vital nutrients are sucked from my body, I like to strike up a bit of a rapport with the person who is initiating and implementing that process. Most of the time said nurse was a woman.

I would joke and ask questions, receiving one-word responses, not really breaking through. Nobody would really refer to what I was having as a conversation.

That is of course, until the nurse told me to roll up my sleeve.

At which point the response would almost go something like this:

Woah!

And suddenly I was in. It was like I had been flirting with her unsuccessfully until I accidentally let it slide that I was a billionaire. Except by billionaire I mean, I had good veins. Suddenly the nurse was all about me, awake and alert as to what I was saying, telling me how most people's veins were hard to find, and often they would have to prick somebody three or four times.

I tried to ignore that terrifying image and instead focus on the newfound attention the nurse was lavishing on me.

Before disinfecting my arm for 30 seconds with an iodine soaked scrubber that felt like punishment by exfoliation, the nurse would push on my vein several times making little noises to herself saying things like,

Ohhh what a juicy vein!

In fact several DIFFERENT nurses have used that same phrase on different occasions while examining the middle part of my arm.

I didn't even know this was a compliment you could receive! In fact, it’s probably a compliment you really shouldn’t even give as in any other setting it would make you sound like a vampire.

My veins had never received this much attention. There was one time in Junior High when a girl I had known a couple of years saw my arm hanging over the desk in 8th period Italian and suddenly said:

Oh my god you have such good veins, I love that.

I was completely baffled and excited at the same time. I looked at my arm.

Really?

Here I was, three years into picking out my own clothes, cultivating a humorous personality, and using near record setting amounts of hair gel to attract the attention of the opposite sex, and the thing that finally garnered me the attention of an attractive female was... My veins?

I tried to figure out new ways to show off this sexy feature of mine but there are very few ways to showcase one’s veins without deliberately and very obviously flexing one's forearm directly in front of someone else's face.

And the opportunities for such a performance continue to be quite rare.

I was left with few options outside of just... Not wearing sleeves.

That aspect of my life retreated to become once again unknown until the blood donation nurses brought it back to my attention.

It isn't just blood donation nurses; it is any nurse responsible for taking my blood. I go from a nobody to someone of great gravitas the minute my sleeve rises above my elbow.

This left me thinking that if I ever fell on hard times, or had trouble meeting somebody, I could always try and meet a blood donation nurse.

So… do you extract blood from strangers here often?

I thought it was just a freak occurrence that an entire group of people would find me so desirable. That is of course, until I started working full time and met another group of ladies I apparently could do well with...

Middle aged women who work in Finance.

To be continued...

Unaffected Pie Eating


Where I grew up, the Junior High and High School were in the same building. There was really nothing that differentiated being in 8th grade versus being in 9th.

My school had plenty of events to generate spirit; pep rallies, dances and such. There was one event that was held just for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. It was a class war of sorts put on by the upper classmen.

I remember the one we had my first year, when I was in 7th grade.

It happened one evening in the fall after school in the gym. The events were all absurdly fun things that required no actual skills, unless you were the kind of person to pack a suitcase full of clothes, run down the block, put on all of those clothes and run back home on a regular basis.

There were hula-hoops and traffic cones, jump ropes, balls and many other fun elements.

The evening capped off, however, with a pie eating contest. A representative from each grade was chosen (or more likely volunteered) to consume as much of a pudding filled pie as possible in the allotted time.

The selected volunteers were given garbage bag ponchos and were lined up in front of a table, one pie per person. An upper-class girl, somebody who was already in her Senior year, instructed all participants were instructed to put their hands behind their back. All eating was to be done by thrusting your face into the pie. There would be no cheating tolerated.

The senior girl counted down 3…2… and the pie eating began.

As was expected it was a sloppy ridiculous hilarious mess of people making fools of themselves for… class pride? Whatever it was, we all loved it.

The competition ended and everybody was told to step away from his or her pies, or what was left of them.

One of the kids still had a mouth full of pie and didn’t know what to do with it. He looked around frantically for a garbage can, which, of course, was not to be found. He looked panicked.

And then the senior girl walked over to him, put her cupped hand in front of his face and said as sweetly as one could imagine saying such a thing to a person with a mouth full of pie:

Spit it out

The boy shook his head, embarrassed, but the senior persisted.

Just spit it out, it’s fine.

Eventually he did. Releasing a clump of pudding and crust into her hand, which she then left with, in search of a trashcan.

I remember being amazed, kind of confused, but for one reason or another, I just remember feeling impressed, though I wasn’t really sure why. In fact it took me a while of mulling it over in my brain to get to a point where I could understand why I was so connected to that moment. Why I… why I loved it so much.

I realize it was that senior girl’s complete lack of concern, her inability to be grossed out, and her sincere concern for this other kid. It does make sense, as a death from choking would have put a serious damper on the pie-eating contest.

But it wasn’t until later in my life, having seen similar moments, or experienced them myself that I started to tie them back to that pie eating contest.

As I have grown up (kind of) and evolved (barely) I have become fascinated by people who are unconcerned with trivial matters. I am so interested in the people who manage to see through nonsense to the core of the matter, like they’ve been through it before.

I think it’s the opposite of blowing things out of proportion. I see the same things in mothers of young children. They are so used to spitup and snot, that the appearance of it doesn’t make them freak out, it’s just another grouping of seconds in an otherwise normal day.

I have seen that same quality in my friends who completely keep their cool when I seem incapable of regaining mine. I have seen it in the people around me who seem nearly oblivious to the things that seem to constantly embarrass me. When they have questioned me as to why I was embarrassed, I have blanked.

I don’t know really, I guess just… because I always have been?

It is perhaps, in time, easier to distill the significance of moments, or lack thereof. But when in that actual moment it is far more challenging. At least it has been for me. And I will constantly be impressed by those people around me who are able to accept the passing events of life as completely expected and normal, even when others may not.

The pie-eating contest happened over 15 years ago, but the moment is still as clear in my mind as it was when I watched it happen.

I think about it a lot. It’s not a tremendously impressive story, especially since I watched it from the sidelines, but in many of ways, it is my favorite story.

I tell it to people once in a while, trying to get them to see the series of events the way I see them, the things that I love about that moment. Many times though I fall short in this endeavor. For whatever reason, the people I tell this story to just don’t see it the way I do.

And that’s probably fine, since sometimes my storytelling is devoid of crucial elements, like my understanding of why the story should be interesting in the first place.

But that silly moment, where a seventh grader spit pie into the hands of a 12th grader on a random Friday night in October, sits in the middle of my memory as both history and guide. It is a moment that might never mean anything to anybody else.

But it’s something that will stick in my memory the way my favorite parts of my life do. And I will always revel in how I loved that moment before I understood it, and for a long time after I did.

People I Don't Look Like


I am in 10th grade sitting in my “Health” class, perhaps the most generically titled of all my high school classes. I am sitting in the first row, second seat from the back when the kid who sits across from me and one seat ahead turns around to look at me and say "You look like Dan the gay model from The Real World."

I am not quite sure how to respond. I am pretty sure this isn’t a compliment. I am almost positive I should say something to combat his statement yet "Thanks?" is all I am able to say.

My high school arsenal of witty and cutting comebacks was pretty limited.

Everybody sitting around us starting laughing, as they tend to do at high school buffoons who say outlandish things without prompting or logic. I panicked. If I laughed too would they think I was gay? I had only seen a couple of episodes of The Real World so I couldn't even really formulate a solid opinion on the matter.

The moment eventually passed and I never heard that comparison again. It as easily the worst comparison I had ever received.

Well, that and the time a coworker told me I looked like Fred Savage from The Wonder Years. In addition to being completely wrong, it was also pretty awful.

The comparisons I have heard haven’t always been bad though. In fact, earlier in my life they were quite good.

When I was about 10 years old a movie called Rookie of the Year came out. It was about a kid my age who ends up on a major league baseball team.

I looked exactly like him. People would tell me so all the time. It was the first time I had ever been compared to somebody famous. I was on a local television show at the time, and the cast got to go see the movie and meet the star.

Naturally I was sick that day.

But they brought me back a signed picture

To Richie

All the best. God bless.

Thomas Ian Nicholas

I don’t think I have that picture anymore.

Eventually I grew out of the resemblance and into the one I still get to this day.

Ferris Bueller.

Perhaps it is my penchant for dancing in parades and giving shower monologues to cameras that shouldn’t exist, regardless, I readily embraced this one. Ferris Bueller has always been cooler than I will ever be.

Sometimes people just skip over the character and just tell me I look like the Matthew Broderick. Though I hope they still mean in his earlier years, as being compared to somebody 21 years older than you doesn’t necessarily make one feel good.

Once a mother of a friend of mine told me I reminded her of a young Alan Alda. She is the only person who ever told me that. I am almost positive it was a compliment.

Once in a while I will meet somebody new who after a while will say to me:

You remind me of my friend. He is hilarious!

I like hearing that but I would kind of rather hear them tell me that they have never met anybody like me and I am far an away the most iconoclastic individual in the free world.

I am still waiting on that one.

However I do hear from people:

You remind me of this kid I used to know, he was such an asshole...
But I like you though!"

But at that point it’s too late. I am already fuming about the a-hole out there benefitting from his similarities to me.

I also have a hard time understanding why anybody would tell a completely normal friendly complete stranger that they bare resemblance to a crap human.

Apparently insults are the new complements.

I have also been compared to Ben Affleck by no less than 3 people over the course of my life.

Stop laughing. I am not finished.

It started when I was 14 and while it doesn't happen often it did happen again recently. A friend send me a text that said:

You look like Ben Affleck. Maybe it’s the hair.

Two days later the same friend texted me again.

You remind me of Lumière from Beauty and the Beast!

Lumière, for those of you without a solid background in Disney film, looks like this.


I had gone from Oscar winning writer/director actor, to.... flaming French candlestick.

Oh how the mighty fall.

I was outraged. A cartoon? And not even a normal cartoon, a table decoration. My friend tried to rectify the damage done by explaining to me why I resembled Lumière. She tried to make it seem like it was a compliment, that it was a good thing. That many men would be happy to be compared to a singing dancing table decoration.

None of this helped.

It was at this point I realized I probably don't look like Ben Affleck. And also... I no longer trust my friends.

While I’d like to believe I’m evolving, apparently I’m just evolving into different characters.

Through all of this I have learned that everybody reminds somebody of somebody else. I am guilty of this too, comparing people I’ve met to other people. But I’ve realized just because it might be true, it does not mean it is worth verbalizing.

It is far better to believe that we are all original unique snowflakes than risk being compared to somebody we may not like.

I imagine one day down the line somebody will say to somebody else "you look like Rich Boehmcke" and that person will laugh it off, having a ball with everybody else while in their head they think to themselves:

Who?

Loop, Swoop, and Pull


I am not sure, but I think a significant milestone on the way to adulthood is the day you start untying your shoes when you take them off so the next time you put them on you are not just trying to jam your foot into an already tied shoe.

I can't remember when it happened but sometime after college I started untying my shoes before I took them off. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I was wearing dress shoes to work and trying to slide your foot out of a tied dress shoe is the equivalent to trying to remove your pants by jumping up and down.

For a large portion of my life, unless I had some kind of sporting event, I never untied my shoes. I might have rationalized this by explaining that I was lazy.

Which in hindsight, doesn't seem to make sense since it takes less time and physical exertion to untie and tie a shoe as opposed to hopping around doing a shuffle step trying to beat the system.

This might have made sense had I not known how to tie my shoes. Like those guys who don't know how to tie a tie and just loosen their tie at the end of the day and slide it over their head without taking apart the knot so they can just slide it back over their head the next day.

But this is not the case for me because, and I am not trying to brag here, but I can tie both my shoes and a tie.

However back when I was a summer camp counselor for six and seven year old lunatics boys, there was one boy in my group who did not know how to tie his shoes.

His name was Eddie. He was the tallest in my group of 15 kids. He was also the roundest. He wasn't extremely athletic or coordinated, but he got along fine with the others. He was the type that, if you asked him a question he didn't know the answer to, would just stare off into the distance and make an uncomfortable type of smile that let you know you could stare at him forever.... He wasn't coming up with an answer.

Eddie usually wore Velcro shoes, which was really best for all of us. But he did have a pair of lace-ups which he would wear occasionally, quite possibly when his mother thought we should have a more challenging day. They would regularly come untied and I, or my co counselor, would inevitably have to tie them for him.

This always frustrated me, as I dropped to one knee to fix Eddie’s shoe while he looked around the galaxy completely uninterested in the very simple, very basic, mechanical process I was now engaging in.

Finally I got tired of tying Eddie’s shoes for him and decided to teach him. I believed my role as  an industrious camper, a self sufficient one, somebody with skills and abilities.

This is why I would teach my campers things like:
How to gel their own hair
The refrain to Bon Jovi's "Cowboy"
And how to dance "The Freddy" from Troop Beverly Hills

I was going to teach Eddie how to tie his shoes.

However, teaching Eddie how to tie his shoes proved to be more challenging than teaching him to dance, and just slightly less challenging than teaching him to speak Japanese.

He not only seemed to have no concept of shoe tying, but also, no concept of how to learn something either.

It was like I was teaching somebody how to drive and the minute it was their turn to get behind the wheel, they immediately tried to put the keys in the gas tank.

No no no.

At first I was extremely patient, thinking maybe he just hadn't seen what I had done, missed my demo as it were.

But as we went along me demoing, him attempting but failing miserably, I got less and less patient.

I would clearly and slowly explain the three steps so he could see. And then he would take over the laces just kind of flying them around each other like he was trying to perform some kind of magic trick. Which maybe he thought he was.

Unfortunately he was the worst magician ever.

There are basically two schools of thought on shoe tying, the loop swoop and pull, and the bunny ears. I myself have always been a loop swoop guy. And I remembered being in elementary school and judging anybody who used the bunny ears method. Like it was some sub par shoe tying philosophy.

But as I struggled with Eddie I even attempted to teach him that method thinking, maybe this method might work for him.

Of course it didn’t. His less than nimble fingers just fumbled and succeeded at nothing.

What bothered me even more was his seemingly complete lack of interest in learning this skill. Like he was completely content to have people bow before him for the rest of his life to fix his shoes.

My mind started racing as my frustration rose. I had imaginary conversations with this seven year old in my head:

Damn it Eddie come on! What are you doing here? Do you even WANT to learn to tie your shoes? Because it sure doesn’t seem like it. This is just the beginning. You NEED to learn this. Because you will never get anywhere in this life if you can't learn to tie your shoes! Don’t’ you want to be successful? Don’t you want to have friends? Don't you want to grow up and get married and have a family and a comfortable lifestyle?! Well... Then learn to tie your fucking shoe!

But all I could actually say was “Ok… well Let’s. Try. Again.”

Eventually I just gave up and continued tying his shoes for him. That was ten years ago and I never saw him again after that summer. But I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance he’s still wearing Velcro shoes.

My Short Leash On Life


I had this assignment when I was a kid in elementary school. We were reading about being a servant in ancient Rome. And to understand the concept, we were given a handout and told to write a couple of sentences putting a value on our own skills and abilities.

I wrote about how I was tall and creative and handy. The name of the assignment was called “What Am I Worth?”

Looking back now it is kind of a funny assignment title to give to a third grader. I still have my assignment but it has been many years since I reread what I wrote.

However, I have been thinking about that assignment lately. The title of it reverberates in my head. Over and over again I hear it. When I’m silent. Before I sleep and as I walk.

What am I worth?

The question hasn’t arisen completely unprompted. The series of events that have taken place in my life over the past 15 months really do seem to warrant such a question. And the only thing I have been able to come up with in this time is more questions.

Before I knew what I had to offer (which does not exclude this very moment) I thought my offering was making people laugh. Granted it is fair to say that it is also based in a need for attention. I have told jokes, poked fun, and been loud to draw attention to myself.

See? I have something to offer and it is this. Laughter and fun, that is me!

And that is how it has been for years. It is why I frequently joke with people the first time I meet them, it is how I break down boundaries. It is how I make friends. It is how I have presented my public persona even though all along I have known it wasn't all of me. I just wasn't sure how to show off the rest.

Nor did I know I didn't have to show off at all.

There is a quote I found many years ago in some trite little nightstand book about life and such that goes: “One who requires the attention of others has not yet found the attention of himself.”

That quote has always sat peacefully in the back of my brain. I was always just inches short of understanding it, even as I tried to play down its connection to myself, lying to myself.

I have started to reevaluate my life, myself, and the way in which I act. It has something to do with the people I have spent more time around. 

Incredibly driven entrepreneurs who have created successful businesses from ideas, artists who have impacted thousands of people with little thought of failure, writers who have seen their words circle the world taking them along for the ride.

I have succeeded in gradually building up the amount of amazing, interesting, and dynamic people who surround me. And I have begun to wonder. How do I fit in?

What am I worth?

What am I worth? What are my skills? For what reasons do people value me? What is it that I offer? What do I contribute? What am I now contributing? What is it other people see when they look at me, when they talk to me? What do I bring to the table?

I know now it is not just laughter, it can’t be, and I don’t believe that it is. But as that has been my mantle for so long by the time I started asking myself those questions, I realized, I hadn’t really asked myself anything in a very long time.

I spend so much time looking elsewhere for the answers, in books, in movies, in the lives of others. Seeking solutions. Excuses. Failing to find external answers being far easier than never finding an internal reason.

And as I asked myself these questions I have grown confused and (more) insecure. I have felt the layers of myself pull back. Rolling back like dead onion skin. And bare beneath I feel sensitive, hesitant, unsure.

Afraid.

I carry these worries around like sacks on my soul, invisible to everybody but myself. I have created, I have shuffled, I have shipped. I have made noise while I do it, to let the world know I’m here, that I exist, that I should be paid attention to. Never really showing anything worth paying attention to. Never quite knowing why I need others to pay attention to me in the first place.

The reasons why I’m not quite where I thought I would be have always existed in other places. And there have always been reasons.

My mind has always sought the easiest answer and thus the easiest rationalization. I have justified things I don't have by blaming it on external factors I haven't been touched by or a set of experiences different than my own.

When I was younger I believed the reason was money. One day I would have enough money for everything to make sense. When I was a little bit older I thought it was confidence. One day I would be confident enough so everything would make sense.

At a certain point though, I realized it was something else all together. Something deeper, literally. Something that came from inside, more innate and significant that had to do with happiness of self. Something that, if nourished and given time, would manifest itself as the confidence that breeds money and success and all else that comes with it. But knowing that didn't make it any easier to find that thing. The absence or ignorance of which, had thus far defined my 20s.

I have successfully avoided all but the shallowest of internal excavation and introspection, saving my energies to spout reasoning and observations on the existence of others. Never taking the time to understand the insecurities that I have that guide most of all that I do.

I have filled my life with supposed wants, furniture and clothing and things, attempting to fulfill needs far more significant than I could understand.

As I continue to live my life, vacillating between the need for codependent relationships and borderline siloed independence, I am starting to realize, I know it’s neither of those things that I want exclusively. Yet still I struggle to figure out what, since the signposts between those territories are few and far between.

I continue to retread the same thoughts, and worries. Massaging them with my feet. Slow at sometimes. Faster at others. Hoping I am making a difference but never really feeling as such. As the same fears keep coming at me and I can process them at no faster a speed. Walking down an up escalator and calling it exercise.

It has been exhausting. I share this with the people closest to me. With strangers. With anybody willing to listen, hoping that somebody will free me from this suffocatingly thick air.

My close friends don't worry about me the same way I worry about myself. I know this because they tell me so. They tell me they know I will figure it out. That my talents and my spirit will overcome anything that comes my way. They have this incredible faith that no matter what, I will be OK.

It is that faith I seem to have lost somewhere along the way, if indeed I ever had it. Naiveté never deeming it necessary to let me see my own limits. A frighteningly beautiful allowance that has permitted me to accomplish things in my young life that I never could have, had I really understood anything I ever embarked upon.

But that belief, that trust, that everything is going to be OK no matter what is hard for me to reinvest in myself.

I have turned my eyes to the universe and its storied past of infinite wisdom. And I will attempt to put my faith in it. That no matter what happens, no matter how I feel about my own life, and regardless of whether or not I believe in free will, that as long as I continue to try, the universe will permit, predestine or allow for the creation of, a path through this life bringing me into the person I want to be.

But even that is a passive course.

So feeling at a loss for actions, behaviors, and ideas I have been grasping at everything. At metaphors. At reasons. At significance. Anything I can hold on to. To send my fingers out around and back again to my palm to let me know that I am safe. That the relationships, and life lessons, and life purpose worries that swirl within me are not completely unique. That I am secure. That I am OK. That I am normal.

Because for a while now, I haven't felt that way.

That assignment I did so long ago still exists somewhere, in a box, in my parents house, buried in the garage like a time capsule. But if I had to write it today how would I respond? What would my answers be? I can honestly say I don’t really know.

So I try to connect. Offering myself to friends. I don't know what my skills are or who I am. But take me. All that I am and all that I have to offer. I give myself to you. Lovingly. Openly.

Gratitude. That is the one thing I know I can control. I can be thankful and grateful and go out of my way to express that to the people around me. I can derive value and self worth from that. I can establish myself as somebody who is appreciative and lets it be known. Because I have so much to be thankful for.

And giving. I can be giving. I can give to my friends.

I will focus on gratitude, and I will focus on giving as much as I can to the people I love and the people that love me. And I will do that as long as I can, until I can figure out what it is my life is supposed to be.

And then I will do it some more.

Meeting a Baby


I don't meet many babies.

I see a lot of pregnant people, women mostly. I work with them, I see them on the train, but I don’t really interact with their babies.

I see a lot of babies out in the world, all the time actually. But as a result of my lifestyle (single guy with no close friends with kids) I don't encounter many fully formed baby people with whom I spend time with.

And even when somebody I do know has a baby, I usually meet it when it’s fresh and just kind of hanging out. It stays in the stroller. I don’t usually volunteer to hold the baby or pick it up because, well, I mean what if I drop it?

People ask me if I’m ready to have kids, hell I’m barely ready to hold them.

I held my former boss’s baby about 5 years ago. It was a very strange experience. The baby just kind of hung out and stared at me. Her eyes were wide open and she was hot like she’d been in an oven. I wasn’t really sure what our interaction was supposed to be like so we just stared at each other while I sat in a chair.

The next time I held a baby was about 2 months ago. My friend had a football playoff party and this nice couple brought their boy baby. The baby’s mother asked me if I wanted to hold him.

I thought for a second before responding that I was OK.

I was curious about holding the baby, I was interested in potentially holding the baby, but want? I didn’t feel a want to hold the baby. So I didn’t.

Well a couple of weeks later we were all at the same apartment for a Super Bowl party and the baby was back. His mother asked me again if I wanted to hold it and I said yes.

I figured if I said no again she’d start to believe I thought there was something wrong with her baby. And I didn’t want her to think that, it seemed like a perfectly good baby. It didn’t cry. It didn’t yell. It just hung out. Kind of like me.

And so I held the baby. And we stared at each other.

And that was pretty much our interaction for the half hour we hung out together.

Two babies in five years and the interaction had been nearly identical. I had no real expectations; these were basically stranger babies that I wasn’t going to ever see again.

But I was about to meet a baby I actually wanted to know. And this baby was older, a full year. It was somebody who probably had favorite foods and colors and a personality. It probably had a blanky and it’s own set of tips and tricks.

It wasn’t until I was actually en route to the brunch where I would meet this baby that I realized…

What if this baby doesn’t like me?

There are plenty of adult people who don't like me. I have kind of gotten used to it, which is not to say I've accepted it. It drives me crazy. But usually people who don’t like you will just lie to your face or ignore you.

But babies typically aren't good at lying. At least I don’t think they are. I really don't know. Like I said I don't know many babies. But I have never had a baby lie to me. If a baby doesn’t want to be held it just cries. If my friends don't want to be held I think they just humor me.

But I want this baby to like me. I NEED this baby to like me. After all, I'm crazy Uncle Ricardo.

You see, a couple of years ago my friends Josh and Marissa got married, and we were talking about the kids they would one day have. Marissa then told me that when they did have kids they would call me Crazy Uncle Ricardo.

Now Crazy Uncle Ricardo can only be one of two characters. Crazy Uncle Ricardo who lives in a tee pee, has a collection of magnets and builds ant farms. That's the Crazy Uncle Ricardo almost nobody wants to be.

But then there is the Crazy Uncle Ricardo that bursts into song and tells funny stories and shows up with donuts and stuff like that. That is the one I want to be.

How could I do that?

The answer was clear: I would bribe the baby.

So I went to the Disney Store to pick up something to make this baby like me. Since I don’t regularly shop at the Disney Store I did not know the store hours and I ended up waiting outside before it opened.

Thank god there was a family with an actual child who got there before me. I felt really strange waiting outside the Disney store. I became very aware of the fact that I was wearing a black coat and sunglasses which also seemed conspicuous.

When the store finally did open I was very glad I was not the first person in the store because Disney a whole big key opening ceremony every single morning. And it involves a procession, a magical lock, and a lot of questions. And the person who actually gets to open the gate is the first person in the door.

I felt a little panicked worrying that this whole shebang would make me late.

Can we just hurry this up? I have a baby to bribe.

But I kept my cool, the ceremony (which was actually pretty cool if you’re a kid) only took a couple of minutes and I was off in no time.

As for how the meeting went?

Well, it went very well. As I found out something like this works like a charm.



Score one for Crazy Uncle Ricardo.

Leave Off the Last S for Scoliosis


My mattress is trying to kill me.

First I thought it was my yoga teacher. When he said through his thick accent:

Now we do easy peasy.

Easy peasy? I thought he was just making stuff up. It wasn’t until the third time he said it I realized he was saying “Easy Pigeon.” If you are unfamiliar, easy pigeon is a move where you sit on the floor and bend one leg under the other so you form a… oh what does it matter, I can’t do it anyway.

Never mind the fact that I had never seen a pigeon bend into the position I was now failing at.

But I thought it was yoga that was causing my back pain. Then I thought it was my desk chair. But after 4 days in a hotel I realized it might be my mattress. I started to wonder how long one should go before getting a new mattress.

I polled my friends on how long they keep their mattress fully anticipating that I knew the answer.

Apparently ... The correct answer was not 15 years.

Not even close.

Most people said around six. Some people said as long as ten. One woman said she gets a new mattress every other year. That seemed excessive. The only new thing I get every single year is a new bodily ailment.

As soon as I realized the problem was my mattress and that I should have gotten rid of it around the same time I graduated from college, I tried to fix the situation.

I flipped and rotated my mattress, which, I realize now, flipping a Queen size mattress is a two-person job. I almost knocked every single thing off my walls while simultaneously trying to avoid a hernia and being pressed to death if the thing fell on me.

After a couple of nights of continued back pain I went info full out panic mode. What could I do? For some ungodly reason I thought it might be best to sleep on the floor.

A note about my sleeping habits.

My favorite sleeping position is what I like to call the iceberg. My head is outside the sheets on the pillow on the right side of the bed, while the rest of my body cuts a 90-degree angle down to the lower left corner of the bed. This will ultimately be a problem if I end up marrying a woman taller than 4 foot 3.

The floor space next to my bed does allow for the iceberg position. It doesn’t allow for much at all.

I set myself up on the rug next to my bed, trying to give myself enough padding so as not to immediately regret my decision.

I roll out a yoga mat, a blanket, and lay out my duvet. I get onto my make shift bedding and then fold the duvet over myself so it looks like I am sleeping in some kind of flat bread sandwich.

Which I’m sure, if possible, would have been a better solution.

After 5 minutes on the floor I start to regret my decision. I try some mental calisthenics to convince myself this is good for me. I think of research I have never read. I think about my friend Sophie. 

She slept at my apartment the night before she ran the New York City Marathon. “I'm a floor sleeper she kept saying.” “That's not a thing!” I would reply.

I stand by my argument.

However, I wake up the next morning for work, not feeling like I was kicked in the back by a large donkey. Instead I feel like I received a series of soft kicks from a collection of very tiny donkeys.

As I got up and examined my bedding situation I saw that it looked like there had been some kind midnight sleepover thrash dance. Which, seeing as I can’t watch myself sleep, there might have been.

It was at that point I realized I couldn't continue sleeping on the floor.

But when I got home the next night I couldn’t bring myself to lay in my bed. It was like doing something I knew was bad for me. But it was sleeping! I had to sleep! When I eat 5 donuts in a row there’s no need biological behind that. Sleep had to happen. I couldn’t just not sleep.

So I slept on the floor again the following night. This time with an additional blanket under me which made absolutely no difference.

I was at a loss.

My bed, my best friend who had been through everything from puberty, through adulthood had suddenly become public enemy number one. I couldn't bring myself to sit or lay in it. I had gone 15 years with never a thought of a new mattress and suddenly it was all I could think about.

I found myself just staring at my mattress. It didn’t look bad. It looked fine. And when it was naked from sheets it looked new. Nothing about it said “donkey kick” yet that’s what it was delivering to me night after night.

I had planned to use my tax return for a vacation abroad but instead I was going to have to spend it on killing the donkey that kept kicking me in my sleep. I was going to have to buy a new mattress, one of the most enjoyable and confusing endeavors.

To be continued…

Everything That's Wrong With Me


My dermatologist doesn’t want to see me anymore.

I don’t know why. I used to love her. She was great to me. I thought we had a nice rapport. But in October I got a letter from her that said she would be closing her office, moving out of state, and not keeping in touch. She left no forwarding address. Her letter said this would all happen on October 14th.

I got the letter on October 15th.

The whole thing was very suspicious. Was she deported to another state? Did she lose her license? Did it turn out she didn’t know what she was doing all along? Was it me? I think it's a bad sign when even your dermatologist doesn't want to see you anymore.

Just, just leave me alone OK? Take your retched skin somewhere else!

Is my naked body really that atrocious? I mean I know it's a bit… reflective, but still. 

Luckily I found a new dermatologist. Which is good because I need a dermatologist on call. Especially in the winter when my epidermis pretty much just quits. 

If I don't moisturize my hands every 2 hours in the winter they crack and shrivel like a pair of sun-dried tomatoes… except not as delicious

So I find myself applying hand lotion regularly, in the morning, at night, several times throughout the day. However it is almost always right before I need to turn a doorknob or open a jar. So I look like a terribly stupid weakling with no grasp (literally) on modern technology.

Hey can you help me with this door?
Why is it stuck?
Oh… no.

At least I knew what to do about my dry useless hands. But then I noticed I had dry skin under my arms, both of them.

Great.

A new skin disease I had to worry about.

You see the dermatologist who left me kindly informed me last summer that I had psoriasis on my scalp. Silly me, I thought it was just a normal person problem like dandruff. No, it was something way more annoying.

My dermatologist told me I had two options for managing this awesome new addition to my life. My first option was an odorless steroid mousse that I would need to use twice a day for a week. She said that it would probably work.

Oooh steroids, maybe I'd get some muscles. But then I realized I hadn't worked out since ‘09 so that probably wasn't going to happen.

The other option was to put this incredibly stinky… stuff on my scalp every night for a week and sleep with a shower cap on. She said it would definitely work.

Having a medical professional tell me to sleep with a smelly shower cap on would probably be something that would make my wife laugh at me, something that would bind us together in embarrassment, and something that only my wife could love me for.

But I don't have a wife. Which just makes this another embarrassing addition to my private life. This would be really fun to tell to women.

Hey do you want to come back to my place? By the way I sleep in a shower cap that smells like the devil and I have armpit dandruff… More wine?

Sigh.

So aside from my lame scalp, and my deficient hands, I thought the dry armpit skin might be due to my deodorant. So I switched to a "24 Hour Natural Deodorant.” I now realize that is a phrase that should be banned by law.

When I took off the cap it smelled like lemons and maple syrup. Awesome, I support that.

However shortly after applying it I realized the label should have said "2 Hour Natural Odorant; Guaranteed to make you self loathing before lunch."

Which by the way, I looked up the meaning of the word “odorant” and it said:

An odorous substance; especially: one added to a dangerous odorless substance to warn of its presence.
And that sounds about right.

Hey guys do you smell that? Oh my god it’s Rich, RUN!

I caught a whiff of my own scent halfway through the day and almost punched myself in the face for being so stupid. The “deodorant” didn’t just quit, I think it switched sides. As though the task at hand was just too much for it.

I don’t think I can suppress this… but wait… I can make it worse!

Thank god my company supplies spray deodorant, which I then applied liberally while still wearing my shirt because I didn't want to be the guy standing topless at the company bathroom sink.

But applying spray deodorant with your clothes on is challenging. And it’s difficult to aim. So I’m pulling my shirt away from my body with the same arm that I’m trying to elevate so I can point this industrial can of aerosol stink remover at my dilapidated armpit. Naturally people walked in.

Hey Rich what are you doing?
Oh just… fumigating my shirt.

By the time I could finally get to my new dermatologist to tell him about my scalp, and hands and armpits I was exhausted. I fully expected my skin to just fall off one day like a snake’s.

I told my dermatologist about all of my issues, he gave me suggestions and solutions for all of it. Then I told him about my armpits.

He laughed and said

Ahhh, you’re getting old.

That’s not really the answer I was hoping for.

He told me that this happens at my age (28 is not that old people) and it’s due to the winter when it’s very dry and people take very hot showers. So he advised I take showers that were not as hot and moisturize under my arms.

Yea derm, twice last week I forgot to zip up my fly before I left my apartment but I'm definitely going to remember to put some lanolin in my armpit twice a day.

Sigh.

Maybe I should just see if there's some armpit mousse.

The Year of Incredible Focus

There is a box of mismatched Legos sitting on the second shelf of the entertainment center in my apartment, they are the ashes of my childhood, pieces of my life leftover, significant but otherwise unused.

When I first moved into my apartment, while I waited for my furniture to be delivered I came across them. As I wiled away the hours and hours waiting for the furniture delivery guy to never show up I played with those Legos, making vehicles and forts, building the same way I did when I was a child.

When it came time to put them somewhere I couldn't bring myself to throw them out so I just put them in a sealed box on my shelf. Once in a while I peek in there to take a look at them, check up on them I guess. But otherwise there they sit, undisturbed.

One of the first blogs I wrote, the fourth one to be exact, was about how I had inherited all of my parents dishes, bowls, cutlery and glassware. As a single man living by myself it was far too much for one person. Nearly 4 years later it is still too much for one person. I have more glasses than I have friends. That might concern me if I didn't have enough glasses to break one every single day for the next 2 months and still have enough for a house party.



When I first moved in to my apartment the goal was stuff. Get stuff. Acquire stuff. Display stuff. And that I succeeded at. My apartment quickly went from barren to overstuffed. It's embarrassing to note that it was two months after my apartment was robbed before I realized my sunglasses had been one of the things stolen.

And speaking of, it is just over a year since my apartment was robbed. Looking back now it is very easy for me to say how lucky I was. I was not home, I was not harmed, I lost many material possessions but nothing that I couldn't ultimately get over. Between the insurance payments and an incredibly superfluous outpouring of generosity from my coworkers, I was able to continue leading my life, continue with my trip to Fiji and move on.

The toll the robbery took on my psyche was much greater. I bought a security gate for my window. I used to laugh when somebody would come into my apartment and immediately lock the door behind them. Now I do that every time. The unique creaks and noises of my apartment that used to endear the building to me now reminded me of the robbery. Every time the trees outside brushed against the fire escape, or the people in the apartments next to mine made the floor creak, my heart momentarily stops. I realize I will never feel as safe as I did before my apartment was robbed.

After the robbery I felt angry at myself for being so connected to my material possessions. Did I really need so many watches? Did I really just say I "loved" that watch? How did I let myself get so... materialistic?

I know it wasn't intentional. When I left college with no real idea of what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be, I concentrated on the only truly tangible goal I had, having my own apartment.

So the two years I spent working two jobs to get my place were spent daydreaming of the kinds of things I would fill it with; the art, the books, the dishes. The sheer amount of time I spent thinking about dishware at 23 should have let me know it was time to find some new goals... or at least a hobby.

It was an easy, specific, tangible goal. Get enough stuff to fill my apartment and then I would feel whole.

Having had a year to think about the events of that night, the things I lost, and how it all affected me I realize that the sheer idea of having my personal space violated by a stranger has done far worse things to me than losing any of that stuff. And while I'm sure the robbery's effects on me will never entirely go away (though I can hope) I do have control over something else: my attachment to my stuff.

I am not about to make a claim that I am going to give up all of my stuff and live a monastic life. I love having nice things. But I can limit their importance in my life.

On the verge of a brand new year, and a year in which I will be closer to 30 than ever before, and following a year that rocked me in so many ways I could never have expected, I am suddenly aware of how scattered my lifestyle has been.

I have spent my days chasing new projects, new distractions, new experiences, things that are better, more unique or exciting, all without any real thought with how they were contributing to my overall story. As a writer I am also aware of how exhausting it can be trying to tell 9 different stories at the same time. And I have been focused too heavily on cramming my life full of stories, events, and experiences, that I have paid little attention to the story I was actually trying to tell.

I do know that I don't want my story to be the one of the guy who acquired too many things and had a bunch of experiences but never really ended up where he wanted to be. Now I know it's impossible to know exactly where you will end up when you begin, writing has taught me that too. And I'm not trying to do that either.

I simply seek to reduce my life down to more elemental things. Fewer, quality pieces. More significant relevant interactions with friends. And more focus when it comes to the things I want to do. While it was fun to write a huge play that I never produced, then write 6 episodes of a web series that got put on hold, and then write and shoot a short film that ended up in limbo, and then write and direct a play which actually went up, I always felt like I was at the whim of my life experiences and my own boredom. And the combination of the two was exhausting.

So in the next year I seek to do the following:
  • To clean out my apartment of those things that are not extremely necessary to who I am and the life I want to lead.
  • To limit the amount of things I do merely to distract myself, even if that means subjecting myself to sitting still and thinking about my life... my least favorite thing.
  • To focus my attention on the projects that I am in love with. To stop trying to do everything, all the time, in the fear that not doing means I am wasting away.
And those Legos on my shelf? Well, I will package them up nicely and donate them. Maybe the ashes of my childhood will become the seeds of somebody else's.