So my birthday has come and nearly gone again, I am at the apogee of my next year, the furthest point from the next time this day comes around again. For the most part I haven’t done a lot today. I visited with a friend, opened an unexpected present, and hung out with my son. We munched on cherry cheesecake and walked Umbrella Academy season one. I also got my free coffee at Dutch Bros. today.
The funny thing about free coffee this morning was they all asked me what I was going to do for my birthday. I even woke up this morning to a text wishing me happy birthday from someone I spent time growing up with long ago. She hoped I was having adventures today. Honest, today was so sedate, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Really I had no desire to do much. With everyone still on lockdown and forced to wear masks anywhere you turn, hot springs still closed down until further notice, and not even a movie theatre open, my options were limited. I could either stay at home or spend money on food. I stayed at home and sliced up a sirloin roast and marinaded it to make beef jerky.
I am a wildman.
I might get some writing done tonight before I go to bed. I might not. Today was just sort of a stay at home and be lazy day. Maybe this is a symptom of the overall malaise everyone is going through these days, or maybe it’s just a part of being more comfortable in my own skin. I haven’t had FOMO for a while, mostly because nobody is really doing much to miss out on, and I’ve been busy with writing and figuring out my life these days. Letting things go.
I think back to last year and how I was just beginning a wonderful journey with the woman I was dating at the time. We spent all afternoon and most of an evening in Glenwood Springs in a hot spring listening to New Age music and then devouring an entire pizza together on the drive home. It was a great birthday, and enough to shut me up for a while about how “Nothing good ever happens on my birthday.”
The year before basically marked the end of another relationship. That was hard. It was more in line with how things had been. High expectations for a wonderful day and then the rug jerked out from underneath me. On my birthday, I have been fired two different times, had the flu as least a dozen times, been stood up for my birthday party, and any number of things that generally sucked. I’ve had some good ones. Last year, my 40th, my 21st (where the girl I was dating gave me a kilt), and a few other really good ones.
This year was neither phenomenal nor disappointing. It was peaceful, and I didn’t even have the urge to run out and get myself a gift. I was content with everything that I have. I think about those kids at Dutch this morning and that need to run out and celebrate. Maybe last year was the final time I feel that urge? Any day can be a day to run out and celebrate. Any day is the day that you can make your own.
Throughout the day I got notifications on Facebook from friends and family wishing me a Happy Birthday. It was nice to hear from everyone. It made me feel appreciated. Remembered. I sometimes thing of the past and those who are no longer in my life, and though I miss them, I can enjoy the good times and that brings me joy. I wonder if they thought of me today. I thought of them.
Tonight is not a melancholy night. No, that might happen later when I write. But for now, I am Clinton. I live. I burn with life. I love. I slay and am content. Today I became 45 years old. I’m just hitting my stride.
On a good day, I can happily say that I have brushed my teeth more than once, if at all. It’s not just me either. Just about anyone I talk to lately hits a point in the conversation where they just break out of character, pause, shake their head and say, “This whole fuckin’ thing is weird, man.”
Weird doesn’t begin to cut it. The whole planet is fighting depression whether you care to admit it or not.
This last week, I was not as productive as I should have been. I had assignments to write, which got stacked up to the end of the week. Three days, I blew off completely. I can’t even remember what I did. The rest of the week, I was writing. I got quite a bit of writing done too on the books. It felt good. One night I had a run where I wrote a thousand words before dinner and then almost two thousand more before I headed to bed at 2am. My brain was still writing, however, and I didn’t fall asleep until 4am. The sun was already beginning to come up.
My life is so weird these days with no set writing schedule. When my son is around, I tend to write better late at night after he has gone to bed. During the rest of the week, I kind of stick to those patterns too, but it drives me a little crazy to be filling up my day with chores. The heat is a little much already this summer. I have never slept well in the Summer in the Front Range. Sleep when the house is 80 degrees is an exercise in futility.
One of these days, when my son has grown up and left the nest, I’m going to go live in a cabin someplace in the mountains. As long as I have wifi, it is doable. Maybe I’ll get a dog or two. Spend days hiking in the shade of the forest, and evenings writing. It is a dream I have. About ten years off, but that will be here sooner than I probably would like.
Friday, I got all of my mandatory writing done. I had cancelled with friends to hang out so I could do it and at around 8:30pm I found myself suddenly free from my desk chair. I hopped in the car and drove to Old Town Ft. Collins. In the summer, this has been my favorite pastime since I was in my 20s. To hang out in Old Town and just watch people. A few weeks ago, I attempted this and was left feeling lost. There were only two places open. The rest were pretty much boarded up. Friday…well, that would be the part of the conversation where I pause and mention how weird everything is.
People were EVERYWHERE except inside bars and restaurants. It was just as crowded as any other night in Old Town only it was weird. About half the people were wearing masks, and of those who were wearing them, most of them just had them pulled down like cowboy neckerchiefs or sporting some kind of chin bra with the surgical masks. I watched people pull their masks down to smoke weed. Out in the streets, clusters of people were sitting close, hugging hellos, shaking hands. You could tell they were making a point of physical contact. Hive fives, fiddling with facemasks, taking a drag off a cigarette.
These are the cool kids who just do what they want anyway, and the idiots like me who stayed at home get to emerge long after to find that the table for the geeks like me isn’t anywhere near the lunchroom anymore. We are eating behind the gym in a mud puddle. In isolation, I was just doing what I was supposed to, I can say, but really, I never really fit in anyway. Writers are always on the outside looking in. It’s a chicken vs. egg thing at this point.
Inside the bars, only a few tables had people. The setup was almost solemn. The young women who normally got decked out all had the same oily skin from hours of wearing facemasks. Mostly everyone had put on some weight. The guys giving out the bro grabs looked like they had just been splattered by a mud puddle for the next ten minutes, as though they were purposefully ignoring the billions of viruses now crawling all over them.
It was almost refreshing to be amid this many people, even though only one person even spoke to me, and that was the guy asking if he could light his pipe at least ten feet away. Sure, pal, it’s your lungs. It’s not like there is a respiratory-based pandemic going on.
I could see what was happening though. People are hard-wired for connection, and for the last couple months we’ve been told this will kill us. Folks, it’s been killing us since the first people were around for various reasons. But it was like watching the early stages of herd immunity. In spite of Dr. Fauci and all the media induced panic, people were just doing what they do when they get over any wave of bullshit that infects communities. They were exposing themselves in small doses.
But I did see something else this reminded me of. In a weird way, it was like they were an old couple who had just been through some shit. Maybe someone had cheated, maybe they had lost a child, maybe they were just tired. Either way, everyone had gone out, and they had that same stunned look in their eyes. The one that says “If we do things the way we used to do them, things can go back to how they once were, right?”
No. They probably won’t.
It won’t ever be the same. Not like you once knew it anyway. The only way this changes is to start over, preferably with someone else. We’ve seen it before in our history a number of times. A year ago today, I went to the 1940s Ball and one of the things I always hear people say is “Wouldn’t it be great if people still got dressed up like this?” or “Man, I love this music! People actually had to learn how to dance too!”
But there’s a reason why we no longer get together and do the Lindy, why the Roaring Twenties are relugated to movies and books, and why no matter how hard we try to make bell-bottoms a thing, the era in which they were born is finished. All of those things came together and were unique to those times. They ended because something shook the world up. The 40s ended because millions of young men and women came home from war and understood now that you could vaporize a city with one bomb.
The 19-teens ended with the War to End All Wars and the Spanish Flu. Gone were the Gibson Girls, bowler hats, horsedrawn wagons, and along came radio and phonographs. And Nazis.
The Roaring 20s ended because everyone lost their jobs and wind storms destroyed much of the food. People starved to death on the California border because the locals there didn’t want anymore “goddamned Oakies” coming in. Read your Steinbeck if you don’t believe me.
History has not been kind to us. In the 1960s a man in his forties became President. He had a great head of hair, and more or less buried a tradition stretching back a few hundred years of men wearing hats. So when you see someone wearing a fedora and say, “That’s classy, how come men don’t wear fedoras anymore?” You can thank Jack Kennedy, who was likely assassinated by the mafia in Dallas in 1963.
Dresses diappeared when they were considered a part of the systematic oppression of women. Then pants as physically tight as you could get them became a symbol of liberation and equality somehow.
Each generation has its stop gap. The 90s (and the latter half of the 20th Century) died when hijackers crashed two 747s into the World Trade Center, and of course two other targets where people died, but nobody ever seems to mention.
We’ve been living in fear for the last 20 years. Fear of more than 2oz of liquids per container in our carry on luggage, pocket knives, nail clippers, “Sekrit Mooslim”Presidents, our Declining Moral Values (research the Roaring 20s to see what your great grandparents considered “morality”). Up until recently, the concerns were that gender lines were diappearing, draconian laws about smoking a flower, fixation on global temperature fluxuations, and that unvisited elephant in the room of “I really like my smartphone, so I’ll just ignore the fact that it is mass-produced by state-organized slave labor on the other side of the planet. Like OMG! SELFIEEEEEE!!!!”
With more information at their disposal, people are now dumber than ever. Maybe the reason we all stop and say, “This shit is just weird” is because it doesn’t make any sense for a large number of reasons.
But rather than address the whys of that, I will just say this. We just watched the end of an era. You can tell your grandkids you remember the summer that X stopped being a thing. In the next several months to a year, we will all know what didn’t make the cut. My guess is it will be large crowds of people. Especially since things like concerts, movies, and other venues are where people get together and start sharing ideas, whether it’s through music, standup comedy (Looking at you, Dave Chappell–thank you for 8:46), or even the formation of things like Republics.
It’s safe to say it isn’t fedora hats and watch chains. Cigarette girls and wars for noble causes. Those are not coming back. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be mumble rappers. Infectious narcissism. Or teeth whitening. I would suggest Defund the Media, but if you have been paying attention for the last twenty years, there is no such thing as the Media. It’s a bunch of private companies making stories that fit between ads for toothpaste, erectile dysfunction medicine, and car manufacturers. Gil Scott-Heron was right when he said, “The Revolution will not be televised.” The companies bought up all the air-time. What you are seeing now is a lot of shit the lowest scabs of journalism who are still around are producing to get your attention. We lost Journalism in around 2008. This is the best they can come up with now.
Maybe what we could start over with is a better appreciation for our other humans, and not relying on media induced fear to sway our opinions anymore. Use that phone, that social media account, or your voice to ask hard questions, to tell your stories and be heard. Because, this whole thing is fuckin’ weird.
Colorado got smacked by the icy hand of Winter this week. Well, most of Colorado anyway, the town where I live got just enough snow to suck. But I did have a snowday from work on what is perhaps the most pointless week of the year. Thanksgiving.
At a University, which is where I work my day job, Thanksgiving is a week with two days of classes and the majority of offices being down to a skeleton crew because everyone just doubles down with the time off so they can get a whole week off where nobody actually does any work anyway.
Why didn’t I take off any time? Because I had pneumonia all through September, and I’m running low on days off. It’s not a bad week to be at my desk. Like I said, it’s usually pretty quiet anyway, unless other bored workers come in to visit with anyone who happens to be in the office. Granted, today, I have been working my butt off. This is a busy time of year for me, but eventually you hit a choke point where the other people you need to work with to get jobs completed are out on vacation.
So I’m off on vacation. Involuntarily. And sitting at my desk. Also involuntarily.
This week, I’m driving up to visit my parents in the cold and frozen Rocky Mountains. I don’t relish my visits there in the Wintertime. The scenery is strikingly beautiful, with mountains newly glazed in crisp, stark, white ice and snow. And not much else to do up there. I’ll probably be helping my dad replace the fuel pump in my stupid jeep. Just the other day, I rolled down the window to order some coffee and the button crumbled when I tried to roll it back up again. $150 later, I wondered what price would be too high to pay to make sure the windows went back up when a 6-10″ blizzard was on its way. Apparently $150 wasn’t the limit.
It’s cold up there, and I don’t miss it. The winter generally starts in October and often holds on until late May. This year, it finally stopped snowing at the end of June. The town has changed and hardly anyone I knew up there remains, or we have lost touch. Seeing my folks and letting my son get to know them is important, but generally once the snows start I don’t want to be up there. Too many winters of being snowed in for days on end with only a tiny grocery store full of overpriced food to supply the town. The bitter cold wind coming out of the North, howling like some demonic wolf from Hell, sculpting miles of snow in all directions into non-euclidean forms. A town at the nexus of highways that lead to other places.
But I am trying to be Thankful. It’s a time of year we are supposed to count our blessings, but today, I’ve been in a funk and I’m not feeling it. I think of next year and about how I would love to switch it up. I want to fly somewhere and spend Thanksgiving on a beach, watching the waves roll in one after the other, messing with sea creatures in tide pools, fruity beverages at poolside.
Work has been difficult this year. There were layoffs in March and now there is grumbling that “we need to do more, because cuts are coming.” The economy is the best it has been in decades, except at my University, where upper administrators used this place as their personal piggybank and rampant overspending left us lifers with “doing more” to fix the problem.
I don’t know if I’ll be on that beach next Thanksgiving. Honestly, I don’t know where I’ll be. I do know that I have both of my parents, and my son is getting to know them and love them. I’ll take the cold and miserable wind and snow as long as he gets that. My mom’s gallbladder was gangrenous back in August. A few more days of shitty doctor diagnoses and “wait and see” and she might not be here this year. Last year, I was losing sleep, feeling lonely and rejected, poor, overwhelmed. I was getting sick from exhaustion, which went into my lungs. Depression. This year, I just don’t like snow.
I’m thankful for that too.
I met a wonderful woman in June, (1945ish) who really, truly gets me and most days I hope I get her. She has reminded me of how good things can be and what it feels like to really be appreciated; I can only hope I return the favor. I get to spend the afternoon playing video games with my son, high-fiving or taunting each other, I get coffee regularly and visit with the kids who work there who always brighten my day. I have my health. I have hope. I have my faith. I am much better off today than I’ve been in years. I have traveled on my own and learned so much about myself. I have reached a point where I have become comfortable in my own skin, met challenges with aplomb and did exactly what I said I was going to do, though it might have been twenty years too late. I have hit rock bottom and lived to tell the tale.
I have been writing. Lots. I have smoked cigars, enjoyed good whiskey, and laughed until my ribs have hurt and my jaw ached from smiling. I have taken the waters at Bath and soaked my bones in Glenwood Springs. I have lost some people along the way. Some of them might be back, and others are probably gone for good. Some of them thankfully so. I try not to get too worked up about any of it. Good boundaries allow good people to come into your life and bad ones to show themselves out. I’ve read a lot of books on Boundaries too. I’ve done a lot of healing and a lot of reflection.
If the most irritating thing in my life right now is some snow and a car that insists on new parts every time I turn around, things aren’t too bad. They’ve been much worse. I’m thankful I don’t have much to complain about, and grateful that I still get to complain and people will listen. I’m thankful my dad is willing to help keep my Jeep on the road with his mechanical expertise.
I’m thankful my son still sleeps with his stuffed animals and doesn’t ask for too much from Santa. He’s a good kid with more kindness and compassion in his heart than most people will ever know. I learn things from him every day.
It’s things like that which will warm your heart more than a summer afternoon, and brighten your day more than a sunset on the beach. Winter sucks, but I have faced worse. There have been perfect days that fell flat and left me feeling hollow and alone, and there are miserable days with snow flying in the air where I have laughed about silly things until I had tears in my eyes.