Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day one thousand five hundred and ninety six . . . The meaning of life

It's raining here.

Last couple of years we had droughts. It got so bad they put a ban on excessive water use for gardens and car washing. I never noticed too many dirty cars, though. And the grass is always kind of mottled around these parts so I don't think any lawns knew what was going on anyway.

But the clouds have come in force. It's been like this for a long time it seems.

I like it. The rain, that is.

But despite the water--the food for plants and animals alike--there sure has been a lot of dying going on.

I rarely believe adages and I'm not superstitious. That said, I always knock on wood if I happen to elicit an overly positive proclamation. It's easy here in New England. This place was built with wood.

But, man, oh man. We're having some dying going on.
I just attended a funeral for a friend last week. He met a sad end for such a happy person. And I say that he was happy, but my last conversation with him was at least twenty years ago. We were in a band together. We dreamed of stardom together. We learned how to expand our minds together. We had some of those life-changing laughing sessions where you almost can't breathe together. We worried our parents sick together. 

And then we moved away and both got swept up in the rigors of adult life and the seemingly never-ending process of procrastination. 

And now he's gone, and dammit do I feel like a jerk for not keeping in touch. But I guess when you're both in your forties there's a semblance of that bullet proof-ness that remains from your twenties. You kind of forget there's a clock ticking in the background. And either you just don't think of them or you do, now and then, and before you pick up the phone you say, "maybe he should call me," when you think how long it's been. You say that until either you break down and call, you meet by accident, or they finally cave in and call you.  

Or you get a phone call from one of their friends with the bad news. 

Johnny, you were a great guy. I loved you very much and I wish I could have helped you. You will be missed.

There are the recent deaths of celebrities: Maurice Sendak, Junior Seau, Adam Yauch,  Carl Beane, Levon Helm, and Vidal Sassoon. That last one doesn't even seem real because he was just kind of one of those names you think are made up out of thin air. There can't be a real Vidal Sassoon.

But I guess there was and now there's not anymore.

I have never had the pleasure of getting close to any celebrities. I don't have any childhood friends who became internationally famous yet. So those deaths usually kick off a thought process that goes something like, "Hmm . . . that's sad. Did I like them? If I liked their work had it run its course? Was there any more to come from them that I wish hadn't been cut short? Did I ever see them live? Was it good? Did they do this to themselves? Will this change the course of entertainment?"

And that thought process usually takes all of about fifteen seconds, and then I check Facebook for clips for their life's work.

This is how life goes by now. It's different--very different--than when I was younger. But I didn't turn 42 right from 18. It happened little by little over a long, long time.

And I turned 42 just yesterday. 

I had an amazing birthday. Jodi made sure of that. I had breakfast in bed like I remember from my earliest days as a kid when my mom would bring me in eggs and toast, milk and juice, with a candle and a little present and sing me Happy Birthday and Sto Lat, the Polish birthday song. Jodi did this for me because she knew it would make me supremely happy. This is one of the many reasons I love her so. 

Her and I spent the whole day together, like we do most days. But today was a little different, her stealthily hiding a present right in plain sight every few hours so that I would turn around and legitimately exclaim "Wow!". And then we'd have a special few moments together while I opened it up. 

My mother, Judy, had a way of building suspense by insisting on using scissors to carefully cut the tape at each corner and on both sides of every package. 

Recently, I--much to Jodi's dismay--have adopted this way of building suspense, as it were. It's more of a tribute to my mom than me actually changing my ways. But you should have seen me when I was five. Total mess of paper, tape, bows and ribbon shreds. Like a wrapping massacre. 

The "Happy Birthday" on this plate in this picture is spelled out in chocolate chips. The "A" and the "Y" of "Birthday" are being held on with frosting to combat the curvature of the plate. 

I love this so very much. But I can't admit to eating all the chips. We're on a diet at least sometimes. 

Later in the day I found an old picture of me from a birthday past. I think it's from about 1975, and I would be all of five years old. I may have been the only kid in Fall River, Massachusetts to have chosen to wear a giant, psychedelic bow tie with a brown and white striped polo. But my mom always told me that I picked out my own outfits. It was her way of dealing with my usual question later in life of "how did you let me dress like that, Mom?"

The cake is topped with a crazy bird marionette. They were the style at the time, all kooky and googly-eyed. The cake is sponge cake--my favorite--and I'm certain my mom made it for me. And on top of the cake are these very unique candle holders. Camels, tiny birds, and little rosettes. I've never seen anything like them before. Around the edge of the cake are other little animals in various colors as well. Very cute and special. Because my mom never did anything just plain. Everything was special. 

I also like how my hand is on the fork, ready for the flash to go off. Because that boy right there is a hungry boy. Doesn't matter if we just ate a big meal of spaghetti, Ragu and boiled hot dogs (my favorite). I was never fully full. 

So, I posted this pic on my Facebook page. Even made it my profile pic for the day.

It got a lot of comments.

After I put up the picture we went to the spa and got pampered. I got my free birthday facial and languorously allowed a student esthetician to exfoliate my skin. We got my free ice cream sundae from Herrell's ice cream shop. We had coffee downtown. We came back home and Jo surprised me with more presents. Then we went to dinner for spaghetti and meatballs--the Wednesday special which I've watched climb from $2.99 in 1993 to a wallet-busting $5.50 today--and they even gave me a free cannolo. And when you've been to Italy you can come back and call it a "cannolo". Let the rest of America ask for the plural "cannoli" when they really just want one and see who laughs. Well, nobody laughs, really, because this is America and I'm actually the one who looks silly. So I guess they just laugh at me. It's fine. I don't really mind. 

Then we came home and I listened to the last birthday song my mom left on an old answering machine of mine in 2006. I saved the micro cassette, thank God. And while it is one of the most heartbreaking two minutes of audio I can ever imagine owning I'm ever so glad I have it. It's pure emotion. Happy, sad, terrified, hopeful, eternal, love.

I'll listen to it every year and then I'll put it away in a safe spot. I have more of them now than ever. Safe spots, that is.

I was politely asked to leave the room and went upstairs. I heard the rustle of paper and the clink of plates. I was asked to come downstairs, and as I made my way down the short flight I swear I could hear the running of an old Super 8 camera. I even thought I saw a flash of the light from the beast of the old movie machine that used to blind me every Christmas, Birthday, Easter and Halloween. But the flash was really the candles on the cake. And the candles were lit for me. The candles were lit for me and placed inside . . .  tiny candle holders made out of camels, tiny birds, and rosettes.

They were the same exact ones from 1975.

And while I had randomly selected the picture from hundreds of birthday pics from over the years, it just so happened that the last time we were back at my mom's old place Jodi found a small bag of these special candle holders amidst the multitude of items saved over the years and brought them home to use for my birthday.

And though it may sound gross they even had tiny bits of cake left on them from 37 years ago.

I have no idea how these things happen, I'm just glad they sometimes do.

We had our cake. I opened a few more presents. We watched American Idol curled up on the couch. We brushed our teeth, Jodi wished me Happy Birthday one more time and then we went to bed.

It was a very good day.

But people around me are still dying.

And though I woke up to the rain, it did go away for a while. It's supposed to make a comeback for a bit tonight and then it should leave us alone for the weekend. This is good, because we're going back to where Jodi is from--West Seneca, New York--for Mother's Day. I'm really looking forward to it and so is she.

Oh, and I realized what the meaning of life is.

I know it sounds strange, but I think I figured it out.

And it's really different for everybody, of course. But, at least for me, the meaning of life is only revealed when it's all over. And that's not to say that we are granted eternal consciousness. We don't get our wings or horns and then an instruction booklet. No, what I mean is that as we develop and grow though our time on earth we make choices and experience the fickle hand of fate. And the sum of all of these happenings are averaged out at the end of the equation and our answer is unique to each and every one of us.

We become people from nothing. 

We develop an identity. 

We meet people and make connections and change through the course of time. 

We acquire items and we sell or give them away. Sometimes they're stolen, sometimes they're won; sometimes they're lost forever . . . and sometimes found after years of indifference.

We send out cards and buy presents. 

We write thank you notes. 

We ask for favors. 

We make friends. 

We make enemies. 

We have great periods of self-consciousness. 

We have moments of daring--unrivaled and ferocious. 

We run screaming. 

We run, arms open, into each other. 

We laugh at ourselves. 

We laugh at each other. 

We laugh because crying won't come anymore. 

We get beaten up. 

We fight for our lives. 

We're late for the five hundredth time. 

We show up early and make others feel like they're late. 

We dress up. 

We dress down. 

We can't find our clothes.

We sleep all day. 

We stay up for three days in a row. 

We pass. We fail. We cheat. 

We cancel plans. 

We get stood up. 

We make up stories. 

We become legends. 

We have too much to eat. 

We get so hungry it hurts. 

We go to jail. We go to church. 

We get married. We have children. Sometimes they outlive us, but not always.

We visit. We talk. We shrug our shoulders and wonder if so-and-so will ever change.

We get sick.

We have visitors. 

We get healthy.

We leave balloons in the corners of rooms.

We go home. 

We live on fumes for weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds.

We die.

And then we are remembered.

And I believe that everything is revealed in that process. The meaning of life for each of us becomes apparent in how we are remembered. Because not all people are remembered fondly. Some people who are very bad people cause happiness when they leave this mortal world. That is a sad way to go but it happens all too often.

There are plenty of people who die before they've lived much of a life. I don't have an answer for that one. I can only speak for the way I feel about the experiences I've had. And up to now I've had enough to realize that if one makes it past certain benchmarks then things may start to make sense. 

And they're making sense to me amidst all of this death because I'm remembering the people I knew who have gone. I'm remembering the people I knew of who are gone. I'm reliving the works of artists I liked who have gone. And I'm thinking about what the hell I'm doing and what I've done.

And this idea--my idea of it all--is pretty oblique. It's not fair, that's for sure. Because if you can only truly know why you're here after you're gone then it's tough to gain any perspective of how you're doing. It's hard to look into your life and see what color it is. It's maddening to think that I may have cleaned up my act over the last few years, but to somebody who I insulted in 2003 who may not have known me after that point may someday--when I'm gone--have only that memory of me and not know what progress I've made. 

But none of that really matters. All that really counts is that it's not over until it's over. And having a definitive end is all one can either expect or hope for in this life.

My mom's 71st birthday would be this coming Monday, May 14. She had a definitive end, though I wish it hadn't come so soon. But she lived her sixty five years of life making each event singularly special, whether it was a new book she bought for me which she would ceremoniously cover in contact paper or finding a new place for lunch that gave out free carrot cakes with the bill. 

She was the best person in the world. I can safely say that now that her life has been over for a few years. Looking back and remembering her gives her life meaning for me even though I was such a big part of it. This is what I mean when I say the meaning of life will come when it's finally all over.

Some people have accused me of being overly accepting of myself. I have often done a job poorly and then chalked it up to just the way it went. I freely admit that. It's the way I am. My clean and sober self has fully come to terms with it.

And I think I am this way for a reason. 

I am this way because I never stop believing that that thing that didn't go so well will be forgotten about in time. Because the next thing that happens will be new and different and potentially life changing. Because the fire that burns in me has such a short attention span that while it may light an errant curtain aflame, it will surely be doused with the water from the rain storm that just came through out of nowhere. 

And if I can juggle all the hazards that come with an acceptance of everything then maybe I won't feel so self-conscious. 

Maybe I'll discover the next great thing. 

Maybe I'll just take a nap.

And so it goes into another evening. The dust got a break today. I just couldn't find the time to clean.

The camel, little bird, and rosette candle holders sit in a plastic bag in the other room shocked at the use they found after 37 years. They've even earned a couple more smudges of cake which I think I'll leave on.

The pictures Jodi printed of the two of our lives together are carefully stacked on the table. They'll find their way into a scrapbook soon. The colors and shadows from them make it look like clips from a movie. But it's all real. These pictures don't imply, they proclaim.

We'll scramble our things together and get ready for the big journey out West tomorrow for a nice weekend with the family--my new family, and a beautiful one at that.

And the furniture will sit on the uneven floors. The refrigerator will keep the food comfortable. The newspapers will stack up in our box and give us the straight scoop of our little town while we go to another one where the accents are different, but in equal measure to mine. 

And the meaning of life keeps changing for me every day.

It gets clearer. It gets foggy. It gets scribbled over. It gets a rewrite.

It seems like it goes on forever.

And then . . . it does.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Happy Mother's Day, moms.

I love you, Jodi. Today, tomorrow, forever.

All the best,