It occurred to me earlier today, drinking bubble tea in the little shop by the laundromat, that more than likely, I’m going to be leaving all this in a few weeks. Not like leaving paradise. Leaving a place I’ve been living temporarily while the place in Astoria undergoes restoration after the fire (which is going full gun right now).
As you could guess, drinking bubble tea, reading a book about The Faces and Rod Stewart on the Kindle, between laundry loads, I’ve learned to relax and make-do with the situation. You live in any place long enough, you get used to it. And it’s not hard to get used to a place people aspire to live in, the suburbs basically. I’ll never get used to the insane commute, or the shitheel driving styles around here (just no need for anyone to drive as selfishly and recklessly as people do around here, ever, for any reason). But people around here know me now. Say hello to the guy down the block walking his bulldog. On first-name bases with the people in the tea shop and diner. Joke around with the Chinese children whose parents run the laundromat, fun kids. Banter with the people waiting for the bus in the morning. Even see the same familiar faces on the way home.
I looked at this whole endeavor as a holding pattern in my life, but have since realized it’s just life, going on as it always does, until it stops. The people who live and work around here will go on doing so, while I go back to my neighborhood and take my rightful place in the apartment I’d been living in for nigh on 12 years. It occurs to me that my life back there isn’t much different from what it is here, save I have more furniture back there, and internet/TV access with my cable!
I don’t know if that’s a troubling or comforting thought – probably a little of both. The reality of living in a city for most people is that they get set in routines, between work and whatever else they have going on, that, believe me, is easy to replicate just by picking it up and moving it five miles in any direction. You feel weird and alien at first. Then you adjust. Then your mind attaches feelings of “home” – however faint or temporary they may be – to the place, and you create a bond to it. There weren’t 10,000 family members and friends I was leaving behind in Astoria. Hell, most people I know in the NYC area, we’re so spread out and busy with our own shit that even if we lived two blocks apart, it would be an ordeal trying to pull something together. I used to think that was some sort of travesty or failing on my part, but have experienced it enough times to know, it’s just how things are here. I try to make myself available as possible, but even I’ll close ranks sometimes and get too zeroed in on my own shit.
What a crazy year. Some years, it’s like being on an amusement park ride, where all you can do is hold on, convinced that what you’re experiencing is not real, but is somehow, because you’ve chosen to get on the ride, and the belts and buckles probably aren’t going to snap, but you’re still being safely whipped around at high velocity in ways that suggest danger, but are fairly controlled. I resigned from my job back in June due to a luke-warm review (after busting my ass for a few months solid leading up to that point) … and am still working there after management turned up a few dead ends on various candidates. Believe me, after the fire in August, I was grateful to have steady work anywhere. But I go on there, knowing that sooner or later, they’ll land someone for that spot, and I’ll move on. At that time, I had visions of taking the summer off, relaxing for a month or two, and then trying to feel my way into something else. I just didn’t want to haul off and get the same job in a different place. Still don’t. Which is why I’ve never been one of these “planning my escape” people. I’d rather cut something off cold, go through a few weeks of laziness, and then come up with something else. Not a formula for latter climbing! But I’m not worried about that.
I’m not worried about much of anything, to be honest. Lived through a fire, rendered temporarily homeless, set up in a temporary apartment, which has been a blessing, as otherwise I’d probably have bounced from one high-priced sublet to another over the course of the past few months. Picked up my usual routines. About all I haven’t done is cook, opting for a steady diet of Hot Pockets, pasta and canned soup, rather than getting into my usual winter rituals of chili and various soups, which would take up a Sunday afternoon in preparation. And I’d rather let that go for now, gives me something to look forward to when I get back to my place and feel more at home.
Some of the changes I’ve gone through in the past few months have been good. I was watching way too much TV with cable, and who knows, maybe I will again when I get it back. But I’ve been reading more, writing a lot, too, listening to much more music, even listening to local college radio, which has been surprisingly good at times. I always appreciated the routines I had back there and will gladly get back into them. I’m left with the realization that you could lose it all in a minute, and when you've lost it all, all you can do is simply gather your resources and start over again. Feel like an asshole for awhile. Feel wounded. Feel like the world owes you something. But sooner or later, you align yourself with the hardness of the world, and jump back into the freezing cold stream of life where, ultimately, the only person who’s going to keep you treading water is you.
Not to say I haven’t appreciated the support over the past few months. Friends have been good, landlord’s family has been very helpful, crucial in terms of getting me set up with a new place to stay, and I suspect most people have either forgotten what happened to me, or quietly filed it away in the “shit that happened to Bill in the near past” file. I don’t dwell on it much now these few months later, so I sure as hell don’t want to make other people dwell on it. Everyone always asks when I’m getting back there, a few minutes of bitching and moaning about how long it’s taking, but rest assured, wheels are turning now, and I can see I will be back there soon.
I don’t picture any huge emotional revelations. I’ve gone back there a few times to gather things, winter clothes, some DVDs I was thinking about, and the place has been forlorn, dirty as the windows were knocked out for so long, the yard a mess with unraked leaves, all my furniture and belongings packed into one part of the floor so plumbers could tear out a small part of the ceiling to get at the pipes, little off-kilter things like that, as we all waited for work to begin.
My landlord, I suspect, will be weeping when she gets back, tears of joy, probably pain, too, over things she lost in the fire, as she lost a lot more than I or the upstairs tenant did. She’s lived there since the early 60s, started a family and made a life there, so I know the emotional attachment she has to the place is much larger than mine. I can only hope she spends the rest of her days there in peace, never going through anything this harrowing again, as it’s a shit experience at any age, much less in your 70s at a point where you think life is going to even out and let you take it all in before darkness falls.
And I can see, one day I’ll have to move on, a proposition that scared the hell out of me before all this. But I’ve seen – living a few months in another neighborhood – it’s not such a bad deal. You move somewhere else, pick up a few new tricks, learn a little more about the world, and go on doing whatever you do. World doesn’t end. I hope to stay in that apartment a few more years, at least, but I’ve seen with my own eyes, there are other neighborhoods I could handle in Queens (Manhattan and Brooklyn, forget it, too expensive, Bronx I’ve done and not going back, Staten Island, another country). I’d hardly call it a sense of freedom, more like being exposed, against my will, to other neighborhoods, and realizing people live there, too, just as I do in mine!
So, it was a strange, unsettling year that, I guess, should have left me rattled and battle-scarred. But in reality I feel a little more weightless, surely a little harder, which is what happens when bad shit like this gets thrown your way. There’s the famous saying, “That which cannot kill you makes you stronger.” But I’ve learned this year, that’s bullshit. You expose yourself routinely to things that have the capacity to kill you, sooner or later, they will sap your strength and take your life. You get these things in small doses, a house fire, once in a lifetime, you can pound your chest and bellow, “I’m stronger for all I’ve been through!”
But, man, if that shit happened to me routinely, I’d be a wreck right now. We can’t pick and choose some of our crises. They pick and choose us. As noted, one at a time, once in a blue moon, you can ruminate on them, take strength in the fact that you lived through them and have found your way back to normalcy of some sort. But if this shit happened every other day, like bombs dropping, it would destroy my life. Yours, too, no matter how old or young, how weak or strong you really are.
Things to think about for the new year! Things to think about as you get older. I hope I’m sitting in my apartment, this day next year, and thinking, “Shit, nothing happened this year.”