Monday, February 22, 2016

The Incident At A Lonely Diner, 2AM

2AM.  The phone rings.  That usually means someone died or is in trouble.  I don't react like they do in the movies.  I don't peel one bleary eye open, I bolt upright bracing for horrifying news.  It's Collins which means it isn't anyone in my immediate family.  

"What happened?" I ask.

"How do you know something happened?"

"Because you wouldn't be waking me up at 2am for a pizza run."

"Maybe I missed you."

"But you don't so what happened?"

"I'm in a jam, I crashed my girlfriend's car.  It's really messed up.  I can't even drive it.  She's so gonna kill me.  I really need your help, T."  He was stuttering and agitated.  He wasn't drinking. He stopped for a late night cheeseburger at a diner, he said. 

"Are you okay?"

"Me? Oh, yeah, all square."

"Good.  I hate you.  I'll be right there. Not to worry ", I said and hung up.  He doesn't usually sound this bad.  

I got his location, threw on my clothes and headed out, tool box and stale coffee in hand.   That's the funny thing, isn't it?  A friend calls, no matter the time or circumstance and you go.  I may utter a complaint or two but I always go.  Could be nothing or it could be serious but my old man taught me to always be the one to go.  So I went.  Once I got a call from Harry at 4:30 on a cold winter morning to drive him downtown in a snowstorm to get his car out of the impound.  All I can remember is forgetting my coat and driving a van with no heat in a t shirt and jeans at 2 miles an hour in blinding snow all because he parked in the wrong spot. 
When I pulled up, Collins was pacing around the car pulling on his cigarette like an expectant father.  It didn't look so bad to me.  I expected crunched metal, a bent frame, broken glass, an engine hemorrhaging antifreeze and transmission fluid but it looked fine.  He looked rather pale and ruffled though, pacing and puffing. 

"Oh great, your here.  Look, look at this! Oh God, she's gonna have my head."  He led me to the rear driver's side fender where there was a small but ugly dent, a cracked and bent bumper and the plastic innards of the wheel well smooshed into the tire. 

Puzzled, I asked, "This is what you dragged me out of bed for?  A dent? Where's the glass, the shards of metal, the blood and where the hell is the other car?"

"What other car?"

"The car you wrecked with!"

"I didn't get into an accident like that," he said.  He saw the look of confused anger on my face and continued.  "I uh, I uh, sort of backed into that pole over there.  Really hard.  Really."

"You what?"

"Well it was dark and I was pulling out and I didn't see it."  

"A pole.  You backed into a pole.   

"It came out of nowhere, Tommy I swear!"

"A pole just materialized from the ether!  Right behind you.  Out of nowhere!  Are you sure a road crew didn't just put it there while you were inside because that happens all the time."

He missed the sarcasm for a second.  "Look, you gotta help me, I'm really screwed here.  I can't drive it because that plastic stuff is rubbing on the tire and when she sees this, oh boy, oh boy."  He bent to fiddle with the mangled plastic with all the skill and dexterity of an elephant on roller skates.  

And that's when it happened. 
Between the being tired and the coffee and the cold I laughed.  And laughed and laughed until I coughed, spit coffee and dropped my tools in the street.  

"It's not funny!  How am I gonna fix this?"  

Charlie Collins has this girl, see?  She's very sweet and he loves her like diabetics love chocolate but her car is her baby and she rarely lets him drive it.  However, his car is on a lift in some shop somewhere so he begged and begged until she let him have it.  And now she's really gonna let him have it.  

Still laughing I got on my back under the car and pushed the hanging bumper out and pulled the wheel well innards back under the lip of the bumper and cleared it away from the tire.  Took about 45 seconds.  I stood up and there was Collins looking bewildered, still twitchy and nervous.   

"How'd you do that?  I tried that first and nothing happened.  I swear I did!"

"I have a degree in bumper mechanics, dope.  It's actually all in the wrist", I said.

"Damn, I'm sorry I woke you up for - stop laughing it isn't funny!"

Coughing again, I said, "Oh it is, my nostrils are flaring and everything. It's very funny and I can't wait to see her face, hoo boy!"

Collins went pale again and almost stumbled.  I could see him trying to figure out what to tell her.  Clearly backing into a pole you didn't see isn't going to be as funny to her as it was to me.  I stood there thinking a minute.   

"I don't suppose she's gonna believe you were carjacked or abducted."    I scratched my head while Collins finished the rest of my stale coffee and said, "Tell you what, we'll tell her I did it."

"She's not gonna go for that, Tommy.  How do we explain you driving it when she doesn't even want me driving it?" 

"Simple," I said.  "Tell her you had a few and you called me to bring you home and I didn't see the pole.  This way you look all responsible and whatnot and I look like a clod for a change.  What's she gonna do, yell at me?"

"Yeah, maybe.  But better you than me.  Thanks for this.  I owe you one."

"You don't owe me nothing," I said. "Except fries. I think I want some fries and since we're already at the diner..."  He loosened up and smiled.  "After you then," he said, bowing like a waiter.  

We strolled in from the cold, sat at the counter and wondered just how bad she was going to let me have it.  

And that's what you do when you get the call at 2AM.  You go. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

On The Compromise Of Giving Up

For this discussion, let's talk about two types of people, those who fight for their dreams and those who give up on them.  You are one of these people.  So am I.  There are others, those who prefer mayonnaise on hamburgers and those who prefer mustard but that's a different essay. 

Some people seem to get what they want with ease while the rest of us look on baffled that life didn't  throw a Buick at them to screw everything up.  For others, it seems no matter what we do, we can't get from dream to reality.  Think about how many famous actors you can name compared to how many there actually are.  You can probably name a few dozen actors but according to the Screen Actors Guild, the union for movie stars, there are currently something like 130,000 members.  Can you name 130,000 actors?  Now imagine how many actors aren't in the guild that you will never hear of.  Think of how many will give up when it gets too difficult to continue.  

Maybe this will resonate with you;  I have many interests and talents.  In time, I've pursued them with differing degrees of enthusiasm.  I dreamed of being an actor, a rock star, an brilliant author, an amazing doctor and painter and comedian and carpenter etc, etc blah, blah, blah.  But in each there was a point where it occurred to me to give up one and pursue another.  Because it got too hard, my expectations weren't being met, it was no longer fun, it took too much time or money to see it through and whatever else I used to justify it.  I found myself sitting among the debris of grand ideas none the wiser.  All because it occurred to me to give up. 

But why? 

If you pursue a dream you know it will take its own time and effort and it may not happen but you trudge on because there's a love for it inside you somewhere.  At least that's how it's supposed to be. 
This has come up in my life over and over.  I remember my father telling me "There's no such thing as Can't.  I don't ever want to hear that from you."  Why do I, and maybe you give up when we've been told again and again that we can be anything we want?  Why do I quit and fail when all my heroes are those who didn't quit and won?  Did I take nothing from their example? 
Quotes abound about life, the beatings you take and the need to push through to get to the other side.   Here's one I like from the recently departed Harper Lee from her juggernaut, To Kill A Mockingbird: 

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

That's really profound because no matter what thing you begin you are always already beaten.  At first.  Everything new has a learning curve and you start from zero and run.  No one dreams of the intense practice it takes to become a professional musician.  They dream of playing the great stages of the world with thousands of adoring fans and maybe a Ferrari.   No actor dreams of the thousands of fruitless auditions and frustrating classes.  They dream of accepting an Oscar and maybe a Ferrari.  No gymnast or dancer dreams of aching burning limbs.  They dream of the grace that befits the best of their profession. And maybe eating an actual full meal.  

Is that what true passion is?  Maybe it isn't doing the things you love because they are easy.  Maybe it's doing the things you love despite the fact they are hard.  Because when these people are at their breaking point when all they want is a warm blanket and a long nap, they don't quit, they remember their love of the result.  If you try you may fail but you may not.  The only thing you guarantee by hitting the pillow is making sure you fail.  

Here's another quote from Dorothy Parker, poet and satirist;

"I hate writing.  I love having written."

That's a sweet bit of perspective that applies to everything anyone has ever tried ever.  Go ahead, apply it to your circumstance.  I hate (insert thing you hate about what you love).  But I love having (insert thing you love). See what she means? 

Here's another quite from another recently departed hero of mine, Lemmy Ian Kilmister, musician who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the band he started, Motorhead (not everyone's cup o'joe) who said some years ago; 

"I played in the same horrible band for sixteen years thinking no one is gonna wanna see us but people keep cueing up.  The easy way to survive is you don't give up, right?  It's just as simple as that.  I never considered giving up."

And there it is;  Never consider giving up.  So I thought about my experience, my father and his constant pounding about "No such thing as can't" and how it sounded so stupid.  Then it hit me:  Whenever I got frustrated with anything he'd get more frustrated, push me out of the way and finish it himself.  He never let me just trudge through the hard part.  I never experienced the rush of solving it for myself, of seeing it through because he taught me to always consider giving up.  This hit me like someone dropped an airplane on my head.  I needed a nap.

 If this is all making sense so far then imagine what your life could be if you never considered the possibility of giving up.  Oft stated as, "There is no Plan B" which is easy to dismiss when dinner is Ramen Noodles yet again.  However, look at your heroes and you'll probably find that somewhere in an interview, they never considered giving up.  Every single one of them suffered some catastrophic set back.  Every one of them woke up one day asking themselves why they are putting themselves through all this pain when nothing comes of it.  

The answer for them, me and you is simple; because giving up means absolute failure - you will never get there from here.  

Here is my challenge to you, fellow traveler, dreamer and quest companion; when it gets too hard, when you're ready to try something else or walk away remember three things; Why you started this in the first place (what you love),  what could happen if you took a breath and pushed on (what you've always dreamed of being) and most important for this discussion, pursue your dream with the simple mindset, I never considered the possibility of giving up.   Since I've programmed this into my noggin life has become markedly different.  

If you're currently struggling with the, "Why am I doing this?" syndrome, it gets better.  I promise. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

On The Pedigree of Creatives

It was handed to me recently that artists don't really matter.  The government and society in general don't place high value on the arts.  We provide, for the most part, disposable entertainment.  Granted, Wall Street runs the machinery.  Finance and labor drive economies.  Life in the creative arts is difficult and very few of us will win that lottery or get over that wall.  I frequently hear things like, "You should have gotten an education" or  "I don't feel bad for musicians and other artists.  They chose this life instead of choosing a job with security like everyone else".  
This whole thing got my hackles up, which isn't easy to do these days.  I took a breath, straightened myself up and in my best James T. Kirk said the following; 

Well, first, I do have an education.  I have two college degrees, one doctorate and countless hours of clinical practice in which I've helped innumerable people, thank you.  So do many people in creative fields.

Second, we didn't choose this life, it chose us.  Something inside compels us to create every day.  No, at first it isn't a secure or safe life.  We struggle with money problems, self-worth issues and the opinions of those close to us.  Sometimes they believe in us and sometimes they shake their heads at us.  Sometimes we want to throw our hands up and say, "Yeah, you win, where do I sign?".  But we can't.  We would love a measure of security and for some of us it will come but we do it because that's how whatever god is running this show made us.  And you'd better be thankful for it.
Forgive me for sounding arrogant here but...

We, people like me (and maybe you)  make everything beautiful for everyone else.  Everything painting or photograph your walls, every image on your expensive TV and tune from you sound system, every book on your nightstand, every sheet on your bed, every fancy amenity in your car, every play, ballet or performance you pay to see comes from us.  Everything that makes this life beautiful comes from some artist somewhere who was compelled to create because they have to, not simply want to.  Don't tell me we aren't important or we are disposable.  

Every one of us is descended from Hemmingway, Picasso,  Warhol,  Beethoven, Descartes, Milton Glaser, McQueen, Kerouac and Balanchine.  Their blood is our blood, their pedigree is ours.  We come from that clan, guild, tribe or whatever you want to call it and without the contributions of all these people, my people, right down to the child who's macaroni art is stuck to your fridge, your life would be a lot more monochrome.  So go ahead and call us irrelevant but remember where everything beautiful in this life comes from.  Every painting, song, story or dance and every little thing that brightens your day comes from people like me, my family, my blood. 

By now I was almost shouting and the room grew rather silent.  I sat and composed my Kirk and settled in.  But I stand by my statement no matter how much of a tin-plated blowhard I sounded like. 
If you're a Creative and that little voice in you calls you a failure, remember who's blood flows through you.  Remember you come from Michelangelo and Tchaikovsky and even David Bowie.  That's you in there and this world needs you, me and every single one of us who endeavor to make the mundane beautiful, the grind tolerable and finds beauty in the things most would never see. 

It's because of you.