Tuesday, February 21, 2006

...The Aging Process

Even though I have certain grown-up responsibilities like a house payment, car payment, partial ownership of a small business and a 1 ½ year old son, I don’t generally think of myself as old. Statistically speaking, barring some major catastrophe or unforeseen illness, I still have far more life ahead of me than behind me. Physically, I’m in far better shape today than I was in the “prime” of my life. I spent much of my late teens and early 20s as a regular smoker and in my first few years following college graduation a combination of lack of exercise, bad eating habits and a slowing metabolism caused me to get a little fat. It’s only been within the past 6 or 7 years I’ve really been good about eating healthy, not smoking and exercising regularly.

Still, every now and again I have an experience that reminds me I’m not as young as I like to think.

Yesterday my wife and I were sitting in front of a gas station, the designated halfway point where we were to drop off a friend of my younger stepson from our old neighborhood back to his mother. As we were watching people walk in and out of the attached mini-mart, my wife was commenting on how you know someone is trashy when they go to a gas station for the sole purpose of buying an individual tall boy beer. I was all set to agree with her, until I remembered how in college, when finances were always an issue, my friends and I would buy 40 ouncers quite regularly because they were pretty cheap and you could drink two or three of them and be all set for the night. It must have been the sentimentalist in me, but talking about those memories made me have an intense craving for an Olde English 800, my drink of choice back in those days. I walked into the gas station with the intention of buying 2, since I was sure I would need at least that many to catch any whiff of a buzz, but decided to be more responsible since I still had to pay bills and take out the trash before the day was over, so I only bought 1.

I started in on my drinking as soon as I sat down to pay bills, thinking it might make me feel slightly less depressed about the process of watching my checking account slowly deflate. About a quarter of the way through the bottle I had to confess – I was pretty drunk. Four hours later I was still struggling to finish the whole thing (I wanted to make sure I got my full $2.29 worth), taking the final few gulps while already lying in bed.

This morning I didn’t need any alarm to wake me up – the massive headache that felt as if someone was living inside my head hammering at my eyeballs was enough to do that on its own. If I didn’t have an appointment this afternoon that would be difficult to reschedule because of a business trip to Arizona I’m leaving on tomorrow I would have definitely considered calling in sick. On my drive in I kept looking over at an empty Starbucks cup and wondering exactly how much vomit it would hold if traffic were bad enough to where I couldn’t get off the freeway in time.

All the time I couldn’t help but think, “All this misery just from one beer”. I mean, I realize college is where people tend to do their heaviest drinking and thus is generally the period in which they build up their highest tolerance to alcohol. I remember once doing 14 kamikaze shots in one night with my roommate, a feat impressive enough that an alumnus who was in town starting buying our shots for us he was so blown away by the fact we were still upright.

I don’t expect to be able to drink like that anymore; obviously that would just mean I was a drunk. But I used to be able to go through several 40 ouncers a night and still make it up in time for World Lit without looking the worse for it. It was quite the shock to realize I can no longer even have 1 without a major hangover. What can I say – I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.

Friday, February 17, 2006

...Happy Endings

Occasionally, I worry I’m too negative. Part of the cause for my concern is realizing when I look back at my life, many of my happiest and best memories are not of times where something really spectacular happened to me, but instead are memories of times when something I really didn’t like ended.

I can’t express strongly enough how much I used to dread the month-long stays I had to endure every Summer at Jewish sleepaway camp. With religious services every morning, prayers before and after every meal, mandatory Hebrew and Jewish studies classes nearly every day, swimming lessons in a freezing pool and disgusting food three meals a day, perhaps you can see why this wasn’t the most appealing way for a kid to spend his Summer. But I don’t regret having attended Summer camp, because without it I could have never experienced the euphoria of the camp session finally ending and actually getting to return home to finish off the Summer engaging in the activities I actually did enjoy – watching “Chico and the Man” reruns and catching up on all the pro wrestling storylines I had fallen behind on the previous month.

I’ll never forget the pure joy I felt after completing my last final exam my Senior year of high school; knowing I was done with the monotonous 5-day a week, 8:00AM-3:00PM public school schedule forever. Four years later I was equally ecstatic when I graduated from college, realizing I would never again have to deal with homework, essays or the constant stress of knowing there had to be *some* kind of studying I could be doing.

After working in sales at the same company for six years, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such an immense sense of relief as I did the day I gave my notice after accepting a position with a competitor. One of the most frustrating parts of working in sales is that there are always so many outstanding issues surrounding you on a daily basis – unhappy customers, products on backorder, projects gone haywire, etc. When one problem finally gets resolved there’s always another to take its place right away. While the other job didn’t ultimately work out and I actually found myself crawling back to my old company on hands and knees within a few months, the feeling I had that one day of an immense burden being lifted off my shoulders, finally having a clean slate after years of having the same nagging issues constantly haunting me is something I’ll always remember fondly.

When I got married, sure, I was happy to commit myself permanently to someone I was wildly attracted to and to have finally found someone who accepted me and loved me despite all my faults and weaknesses. Yet I have to confess I think I was equally excited knowing I would never again have to spend such an exorbitant amount of time strategizing how I was going to get laid next.

Finally moving into our new house this past weekend after a nearly 10-month wait for construction to be completed was a wonderful moment. Not because it is truly *our* house, not one that has been already lived in by several families before us, not because every last detail of the house from the flooring to the window coverings to the countertops were all personally picked by me and my wife (as opposed to inherited from the previous owners) and not because it’s twice the size of the home we’ve been renting or the starter home we owned previously so we no longer feel cramped. No, it’s because for the foreseeable future, I will not have to go through the tortuous, miserable, backbreaking process of moving again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

...Honesty: Is It Really The Best Policy?

One of the more interesting aspects of human behavior is the way we tend to protect each other from hurt feelings by intentionally failing to tell the whole truth a lot of the time. I’m sure everyone has had the experience of going out on a date with someone who you have no desire to ever see again. But rarely do people actually say, “Frankly, you’re just not good-looking enough for me” or “You know, you really have one of the least interesting personalities I’ve ever come across”. Instead people generally come up with a more polite, if far less honest, generic excuse like, “You seem nice, but I’m not looking to get into a long-term relationship right now” or some similar response intended to dull the sting.

I do this myself instinctively sometimes. As I was walking out of the grocery store the other day some guy approached me trying to sell a newspaper subscription, to which I immediately responded that I already received home delivery. A total lie, but I figured this way it would make him feel less personally rejected than if I had just told him I had no interest.

On my blog, I’ve always been amazed at the fact the comments I receive in reaction to my posts have been overwhelmingly positive. Sure, when someone who used to comment a lot stops showing up I can guess maybe they’ve lost interest in my writing or when a particular post receives far fewer comments than normal, maybe it wasn’t my best work. But never has anyone actually outright said, “Your writing pretty much stinks” or “That attempt at humor really fell flat”.

Because we tend to protect each other with flowery language and doublespeak, it comes as quite a shock when we are spoken to bluntly. Such as today, when after I had completed a sales demonstration to a group of teachers at a local school, the department head who arranged the meeting said to me, in no uncertain terms, that in his opinion our demo pretty much sucked.

Another interesting aspect of human behavior – Upon hearing this, instead of thinking, “I really need to reevaluate how we can present this product more effectively”, my first thought was, “That guy is an idiot”.

Monday, February 06, 2006

...Living in the Moment

Besides a bigger than average nose, the most stereotypically Jewish thing about me is my bundle of neuroses. The ability to look at every situation from a “worst case scenario” point of view. This probably explains why I’ve always been a big fan of Woody Allen movies – I’ve always been able to relate to the main character.

Just recently I made arrangements for my family to spend a week this Summer at the Disneyworld Resort in Orlando. Instead of eager anticipation of what should be an incredibly fun and memorable week with my family, all I’ve been doing is worrying, as I do every time I’m required to travel by aircraft, about how in the world I’m going to handle two 4 ½ plane flights within the same week. I’ve always had a healthy fear of flying – I remember being 8 years old, and getting ready to go on a family trip to Israel. I figured it was unrealistic to expect to actually make it through such a long, trans-continental flight, so when I prayed to G-d I didn’t ask for us to have a safe trip, I made what I thought was a much more reasonable request that we not crash until at least the final leg of our flight, from Paris to Tel Aviv, so we could at least prolong our lives for a few additional hours.

Come to think of it, the first sign of my anxiety disorder may have come a few years prior to this, as my family still teases me about the time we were driving up Mt. Diablo and I spent the entire trip telling my dad “May the force be with you” as I peered off to the side of the road and saw the very long fall ahead of us should our car veer off the side of the cliff.

I’d like to think I’ve become more rational with time, but, if anything, my paranoia has only gotten worse. Just ask my wife, who I’m sure had second thoughts about her choice of a spouse on our honeymoon flight to Cancun, when despite a Xanax I spent the entire flight fighting off panic attacks by tightly shutting my eyes, gripping my armrests for dear life and drinking, literally, 12 bottles of water (thank heaven we were seated right next to the lavatory) due to the fact my intense fear tends to cause my throat to close up and drinking water is the only way to assure myself I can still swallow properly and won’t suffocate to death.

During one of the Summers I spent at sleepaway camp as a pre-teen, my counselor informed me that my parents had contacted the camp to rearrange my return schedule, letting me know I was to take a different bus than originally planned. Despite receiving a letter from my father confirming this change in itinerary, I nevertheless couldn’t help but imagine the possibility of being stranded at a strange location with nobody there to pick me up and take me home, a fear that disturbed me to the point I woke up in the middle of the night and barfed all over my bunk.

I remember successfully begging my dad to take me to wrestling matches the first time the WWF came to the Bay Area in 1983. Once we got to the arena, the first thing I did was ask my dad if we had to stay the whole time, suggesting we leave prior to the main event. I figured the chances of some sort of riot occurring were high and seeing as how my dad got us front-row tickets I thought we’d get trampled for sure.

A little over 8 years ago I purchased my first car, as in the first car I picked out myself and paid for with my own money. While there was some initial excitement - I distinctly remember yelping out a pretty loud ‘WHOOOOOHOOO!” on the drive from the dealership back to my apartment - this elation quickly turned into intense regret. Not that there was anything wrong with the car (which actually lasted me until this past Summer), but because I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world I let myself agree to a car payment that was sure to put me in complete financial ruin. By the end of the day I was one step away from curling into the fetal position and weeping myself to sleep.

At the hospital where my son was born, their policy is to give the baby time alone with his or her parents following the birth, as opposed to immediately taking the baby away to be weighed and measured. Which was nice policy in theory; I’m glad the first moments of my son’s life were spent being held by me and my wife as opposed to shoved onto a scale. But they took a really long time coming back to the room to take his measurements, so instead of having joyful remembrances of my son’s first night on the planet the majority of my memories are of me stressing out, pacing back and forth, constantly peering out of the room to see if anyone was headed back in our direction, bugging my post-partum wife by asking her over and over again, “Do you think they forgot that they haven’t taken his measurements yet? Do you think I should call the nurses station to remind them? Well, do you? Do you? What do you think?”

Less than a week away now from moving into our dream house after nearly a years wait, I’m finding that whatever possible joy I’m supposed to be feeling is being usurped by nagging fears. Immediate ones like, “Will everyone who agreed to help us move this weekend remember to show up?” to more far off ones like, “What if I screw up painting the inside of the house and end up getting paint stains on the carpet?” or “When will we have the money to properly landscape the backyard, preferably with a pool?” I'm sure someday I'll have a proper perspective and will realize how wonderful what I'm going through right now is. But I'm guessing not anytime soon.
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