This blog is not FDA approved
The plan was to become a miserable old man in a roach-infested hovel in the who-cares section of New York City but things didn’t work out for me.
New York is transient city. The shelf life is usually about five years. After that, the dirt, noise and expense—the very elements that gave the city its dark, poetic panache when you first arrive—suddenly become wearisome and began to grind you down. If you’re astonishingly successful and wealthy, you get a nice place in one of the tony neighborhoods. Life becomes a dream. An endless, silvery, Gershwinesque thread of sparkly nights and romance. You ride it straight up to the heavens.
I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street
If you’re a person of modest income and have a normal, healthy constitution, you see your five years in New York as a youthful frivolity and you look outside the city to begin your next chapter. If you don’t make enough money to afford a nicer place and feel that all you deserve in life is a roach-infested hovel, you dig your heels in and start that long, hard slog to miserable old man.
Every apartment in Manhattan has one resident who’s been there for 30 or 40 years. Most buildings are gentrified and filled with trust fund kids who’ve hired architects to gut their apartments. But because of tenant protection laws, there’s always one miserable old man still there. He resents the newcomers because they coasted in after the junkies and thieves alighted for the outer boroughs. His apartment is a dump because he can’t afford a new bath with Porcher sinks. They, in turn, hate him because he won’t exchange pleasantries in the elevator. They’re afraid of him because he doesn’t have any friends. His next-door neighbors wants him dead so they can take his apartment, knock in a wall and expand. That miserable old man was going to be me. That was my plan.
* * *
My father shouldn’t have had kids. The pressures of raising a family destroyed him. He couldn’t drink (thank God) because his constant worrying gave him a bleeding gastric ulcer. Throwing alcohol on top of it would’ve torn his guts apart. Instead, he’d guzzle buttermilk to sooth the pain and seethed. He was a butcher by trade and didn’t make enough money to support four kids. Every night when he walked in the door at 7:15 he looked down at us, the constant reminders of his failure.
In the attic of the house I grew up in, you could lay on the floor by a heating duct and hear conversations in the dining room. When I was about 12, I heard him tell my mother that I would never amount to anything. There was no malice or anger in his voice. Just certainty. He finally gave up on us and left when I was, I think, about 15. He gave my mother $25 per child/per month until we turned 18. I can only recall having a handful of conversations with him over the course of my life.
* * *
I got wherever I was at any particular moment through happenstance, not a grand design. A twisty route led me to New York City. It’s the City of Broken Toys. It takes a certain amount of psychological damage to tolerate New York and, baby, I had damage in spades. It was the place for me! The song goes, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” The fact is, some of us make it there because we are incapable of making it anywhere else.
Women walked in and out of my life. When they liked me, I’d push them away. It was so easy! I’d just stop calling. They figured it out sooner or later. What a man I was. For a long time I was like that old Woody Allen joke; I didn’t want to join any club that would have someone like me for a member. One day, someone I was dating sent a dozen white roses to my workplace. She was staking her claim. Someone I worked with saw that as a call to action. That someone is now My Bride. She was everything I was looking for. Plus, she didn’t want children.
Of one thing I was certain; I was ill equipped to raise kids. I had no parenting skills and had no desire to acquire any. I experienced first-hand what parenting did to a man and I wasn’t having any of that, thank you very much. I couldn’t stand when people shoved baby pictures in my face and cringed when I heard a child crying in a restaurant. Take that shit to the suburbs. I thought I’d found the right woman.
Marriage elicited a chemical reaction in My Bride. The desire for a child welled-up inside her. I love her very much and wanted her to be happy. Plus, I didn’t want to be my father: a man who never did anything for anyone other than himself. I was old to have a child. My friends back in Ohio had children in middle school already. Like Dante, I found myself in a dark wood, with no clear path through.
The child came. A daughter.
The baby years were torture. I wasn’t prepared for her relentless need, need, need. The simplest tasks were akin to planning a military maneuver. All the accouterments. The expense. I derived no satisfaction from it. I am my father’s son.
One night I sat in the rocker with my daughter in my lap. I reached down, picked up a book, opened it and began reading.
Goodnight stars, goodnight air.
Goodnight noises everywhere.
She stopped squirming. Nestled in. Listened to my voice. Books became our refuge. A calm place. This is where I found solace. This is where I built my home with her. It was like a wet, gray fog lifting.
Another daughter came. This time I knew the game. As they got older, they became precipitously more enjoyable to be with. Today, I find myself having quasi-adult conversations with my 11-year old. She recommends books to me. Ha! It’s tremendously gratifying. Why couldn’t my father have seen the simple joy in all this?
The night before I wrote this I was upstairs and I heard My Bride tell my delicate, petite, 7-year old daughter, “Stop that howling! You’re making the dog bark!” The girls excavated the humanity that I didn’t know existed. The howling stopped.