Sunday, March 25, 2012

Loop, Swoop, and Pull

I am not sure, but I think a significant milestone on the way to adulthood is the day you start untying your shoes when you take them off so the next time you put them on you are not just trying to jam your foot into an already tied shoe.

I can't remember when it happened but sometime after college I started untying my shoes before I took them off. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I was wearing dress shoes to work and trying to slide your foot out of a tied dress shoe is the equivalent to trying to remove your pants by jumping up and down.

For a large portion of my life, unless I had some kind of sporting event, I never untied my shoes. I might have rationalized this by explaining that I was lazy.

Which in hindsight, doesn't seem to make sense since it takes less time and physical exertion to untie and tie a shoe as opposed to hopping around doing a shuffle step trying to beat the system.

This might have made sense had I not known how to tie my shoes. Like those guys who don't know how to tie a tie and just loosen their tie at the end of the day and slide it over their head without taking apart the knot so they can just slide it back over their head the next day.

But this is not the case for me because, and I am not trying to brag here, but I can tie both my shoes and a tie.

However back when I was a summer camp counselor for six and seven year old lunatics boys, there was one boy in my group who did not know how to tie his shoes.

His name was Eddie. He was the tallest in my group of 15 kids. He was also the roundest. He wasn't extremely athletic or coordinated, but he got along fine with the others. He was the type that, if you asked him a question he didn't know the answer to, would just stare off into the distance and make an uncomfortable type of smile that let you know you could stare at him forever.... He wasn't coming up with an answer.

Eddie usually wore Velcro shoes, which was really best for all of us. But he did have a pair of lace-ups which he would wear occasionally, quite possibly when his mother thought we should have a more challenging day. They would regularly come untied and I, or my co counselor, would inevitably have to tie them for him.

This always frustrated me, as I dropped to one knee to fix Eddie’s shoe while he looked around the galaxy completely uninterested in the very simple, very basic, mechanical process I was now engaging in.

Finally I got tired of tying Eddie’s shoes for him and decided to teach him. I believed my role as  an industrious camper, a self sufficient one, somebody with skills and abilities.

This is why I would teach my campers things like:
How to gel their own hair
The refrain to Bon Jovi's "Cowboy"
And how to dance "The Freddy" from Troop Beverly Hills

I was going to teach Eddie how to tie his shoes.

However, teaching Eddie how to tie his shoes proved to be more challenging than teaching him to dance, and just slightly less challenging than teaching him to speak Japanese.

He not only seemed to have no concept of shoe tying, but also, no concept of how to learn something either.

It was like I was teaching somebody how to drive and the minute it was their turn to get behind the wheel, they immediately tried to put the keys in the gas tank.

No no no.

At first I was extremely patient, thinking maybe he just hadn't seen what I had done, missed my demo as it were.

But as we went along me demoing, him attempting but failing miserably, I got less and less patient.

I would clearly and slowly explain the three steps so he could see. And then he would take over the laces just kind of flying them around each other like he was trying to perform some kind of magic trick. Which maybe he thought he was.

Unfortunately he was the worst magician ever.

There are basically two schools of thought on shoe tying, the loop swoop and pull, and the bunny ears. I myself have always been a loop swoop guy. And I remembered being in elementary school and judging anybody who used the bunny ears method. Like it was some sub par shoe tying philosophy.

But as I struggled with Eddie I even attempted to teach him that method thinking, maybe this method might work for him.

Of course it didn’t. His less than nimble fingers just fumbled and succeeded at nothing.

What bothered me even more was his seemingly complete lack of interest in learning this skill. Like he was completely content to have people bow before him for the rest of his life to fix his shoes.

My mind started racing as my frustration rose. I had imaginary conversations with this seven year old in my head:

Damn it Eddie come on! What are you doing here? Do you even WANT to learn to tie your shoes? Because it sure doesn’t seem like it. This is just the beginning. You NEED to learn this. Because you will never get anywhere in this life if you can't learn to tie your shoes! Don’t’ you want to be successful? Don’t you want to have friends? Don't you want to grow up and get married and have a family and a comfortable lifestyle?! Well... Then learn to tie your fucking shoe!

But all I could actually say was “Ok… well Let’s. Try. Again.”

Eventually I just gave up and continued tying his shoes for him. That was ten years ago and I never saw him again after that summer. But I’m pretty sure there’s a good chance he’s still wearing Velcro shoes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Short Leash On Life

I had this assignment when I was a kid in elementary school. We were reading about being a servant in ancient Rome. And to understand the concept, we were given a handout and told to write a couple of sentences putting a value on our own skills and abilities.

I wrote about how I was tall and creative and handy. The name of the assignment was called “What Am I Worth?”

Looking back now it is kind of a funny assignment title to give to a third grader. I still have my assignment but it has been many years since I reread what I wrote.

However, I have been thinking about that assignment lately. The title of it reverberates in my head. Over and over again I hear it. When I’m silent. Before I sleep and as I walk.

What am I worth?

The question hasn’t arisen completely unprompted. The series of events that have taken place in my life over the past 15 months really do seem to warrant such a question. And the only thing I have been able to come up with in this time is more questions.

Before I knew what I had to offer (which does not exclude this very moment) I thought my offering was making people laugh. Granted it is fair to say that it is also based in a need for attention. I have told jokes, poked fun, and been loud to draw attention to myself.

See? I have something to offer and it is this. Laughter and fun, that is me!

And that is how it has been for years. It is why I frequently joke with people the first time I meet them, it is how I break down boundaries. It is how I make friends. It is how I have presented my public persona even though all along I have known it wasn't all of me. I just wasn't sure how to show off the rest.

Nor did I know I didn't have to show off at all.

There is a quote I found many years ago in some trite little nightstand book about life and such that goes: “One who requires the attention of others has not yet found the attention of himself.”

That quote has always sat peacefully in the back of my brain. I was always just inches short of understanding it, even as I tried to play down its connection to myself, lying to myself.

I have started to reevaluate my life, myself, and the way in which I act. It has something to do with the people I have spent more time around. 

Incredibly driven entrepreneurs who have created successful businesses from ideas, artists who have impacted thousands of people with little thought of failure, writers who have seen their words circle the world taking them along for the ride.

I have succeeded in gradually building up the amount of amazing, interesting, and dynamic people who surround me. And I have begun to wonder. How do I fit in?

What am I worth?

What am I worth? What are my skills? For what reasons do people value me? What is it that I offer? What do I contribute? What am I now contributing? What is it other people see when they look at me, when they talk to me? What do I bring to the table?

I know now it is not just laughter, it can’t be, and I don’t believe that it is. But as that has been my mantle for so long by the time I started asking myself those questions, I realized, I hadn’t really asked myself anything in a very long time.

I spend so much time looking elsewhere for the answers, in books, in movies, in the lives of others. Seeking solutions. Excuses. Failing to find external answers being far easier than never finding an internal reason.

And as I asked myself these questions I have grown confused and (more) insecure. I have felt the layers of myself pull back. Rolling back like dead onion skin. And bare beneath I feel sensitive, hesitant, unsure.


I carry these worries around like sacks on my soul, invisible to everybody but myself. I have created, I have shuffled, I have shipped. I have made noise while I do it, to let the world know I’m here, that I exist, that I should be paid attention to. Never really showing anything worth paying attention to. Never quite knowing why I need others to pay attention to me in the first place.

The reasons why I’m not quite where I thought I would be have always existed in other places. And there have always been reasons.

My mind has always sought the easiest answer and thus the easiest rationalization. I have justified things I don't have by blaming it on external factors I haven't been touched by or a set of experiences different than my own.

When I was younger I believed the reason was money. One day I would have enough money for everything to make sense. When I was a little bit older I thought it was confidence. One day I would be confident enough so everything would make sense.

At a certain point though, I realized it was something else all together. Something deeper, literally. Something that came from inside, more innate and significant that had to do with happiness of self. Something that, if nourished and given time, would manifest itself as the confidence that breeds money and success and all else that comes with it. But knowing that didn't make it any easier to find that thing. The absence or ignorance of which, had thus far defined my 20s.

I have successfully avoided all but the shallowest of internal excavation and introspection, saving my energies to spout reasoning and observations on the existence of others. Never taking the time to understand the insecurities that I have that guide most of all that I do.

I have filled my life with supposed wants, furniture and clothing and things, attempting to fulfill needs far more significant than I could understand.

As I continue to live my life, vacillating between the need for codependent relationships and borderline siloed independence, I am starting to realize, I know it’s neither of those things that I want exclusively. Yet still I struggle to figure out what, since the signposts between those territories are few and far between.

I continue to retread the same thoughts, and worries. Massaging them with my feet. Slow at sometimes. Faster at others. Hoping I am making a difference but never really feeling as such. As the same fears keep coming at me and I can process them at no faster a speed. Walking down an up escalator and calling it exercise.

It has been exhausting. I share this with the people closest to me. With strangers. With anybody willing to listen, hoping that somebody will free me from this suffocatingly thick air.

My close friends don't worry about me the same way I worry about myself. I know this because they tell me so. They tell me they know I will figure it out. That my talents and my spirit will overcome anything that comes my way. They have this incredible faith that no matter what, I will be OK.

It is that faith I seem to have lost somewhere along the way, if indeed I ever had it. Naiveté never deeming it necessary to let me see my own limits. A frighteningly beautiful allowance that has permitted me to accomplish things in my young life that I never could have, had I really understood anything I ever embarked upon.

But that belief, that trust, that everything is going to be OK no matter what is hard for me to reinvest in myself.

I have turned my eyes to the universe and its storied past of infinite wisdom. And I will attempt to put my faith in it. That no matter what happens, no matter how I feel about my own life, and regardless of whether or not I believe in free will, that as long as I continue to try, the universe will permit, predestine or allow for the creation of, a path through this life bringing me into the person I want to be.

But even that is a passive course.

So feeling at a loss for actions, behaviors, and ideas I have been grasping at everything. At metaphors. At reasons. At significance. Anything I can hold on to. To send my fingers out around and back again to my palm to let me know that I am safe. That the relationships, and life lessons, and life purpose worries that swirl within me are not completely unique. That I am secure. That I am OK. That I am normal.

Because for a while now, I haven't felt that way.

That assignment I did so long ago still exists somewhere, in a box, in my parents house, buried in the garage like a time capsule. But if I had to write it today how would I respond? What would my answers be? I can honestly say I don’t really know.

So I try to connect. Offering myself to friends. I don't know what my skills are or who I am. But take me. All that I am and all that I have to offer. I give myself to you. Lovingly. Openly.

Gratitude. That is the one thing I know I can control. I can be thankful and grateful and go out of my way to express that to the people around me. I can derive value and self worth from that. I can establish myself as somebody who is appreciative and lets it be known. Because I have so much to be thankful for.

And giving. I can be giving. I can give to my friends.

I will focus on gratitude, and I will focus on giving as much as I can to the people I love and the people that love me. And I will do that as long as I can, until I can figure out what it is my life is supposed to be.

And then I will do it some more.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Your Best Shot

I have been playing Golf since I was a kid and I have never gotten a hole in one.

Granted I play about six rounds of golf a year and spend most of those rounds wandering through the woods looking for my ball like I am lost on a jungle expedition.

But regardless of whether I play one or twenty rounds a year, and despite the fact that it is one of the rarest possible achievements in any sport and requires a perfect confluence of factors to even be possible… every time I step up to the tee box on a par three it is all I can think about.

I tee up my ball, take my practice swings, take a deep breath and set my stance.

And then my mind goes bat shit.

Hit it go hit it hard smash it come on hole in one here we go come on man they are looking at you what the hell are you waiting for?

And that is why on most par 3s I end up hitting the ball 40 feet, or into the water, or somewhere I will never be able to find it.

I’m not sure I will ever play golf regularly enough to have a legitimate chance at a hole in one, or if I will spend the rest of my life praying that I just don’t embarrass myself.

My father on the other hand, plays golf several times a week now that he is retired.

And this past Wednesday, just a week before his 67th birthday, my father got his first hole in one.

It was in the seventh hole of the course he plays every week with his buddies. It is a hole that he has played dozens of times, wide open with swirling winds and a seemingly innocuous yet somehow magnetic lake along the left hand side that collects way more golf balls than it should.

It was a beautiful 73 degree day in South Carolina. He had already played very well on the first 6 holes of the course this particular day.

My father is a pretty cautious man when it comes to his golf game. He knows his tendencies and the bad habits he can fall into. He doesn’t overestimate his swing or his strength, and always takes maybe a little bit more club than he should. He’s practical. Not flashy.

His approach to his golf game is not unlike his approach to life.

The winds that day meant he would need some extra club so he pulled out a 5-wood which might seem like way too much club to some people. But again, he was being cautious. And while I can hit the ball farther than my father when I’m playing well, there are really no rewards that come from hitting a ball into somebody’s backyard, which is what I tend to do.

Sometimes their front yard.

But he stepped up to the tee box, kept his head down, and it happened.

He didn’t know it at first. It wasn’t until one of his buddies put his arms up in the “touchdown” signal that my father realized what had happened.

After some celebration my father’s group moved onto the next hole and continued, what turned out to be, one of the best rounds of his life.

Had he played a crap round full of deep divots and shanked shots, he could have chalked his hole in one up to luck, a fortunate turn that saved an otherwise lost round.

But that wasn’t the case. This was a great round, a phenomenal one, something he'll never forget. So it makes sense that his hole in one happened during this particular round.

Standing on the tee box I often feel myself wanting a hole in one just for the sake of being able to say I go a hole in one. I have never played well enough to warrant it but man do I crave it.

Like life, where I might crave a promotion, a prize or some other kind of incredible reward without having really earned it, I hope for that one moment, an unprompted panacea.

Sure you could chalk my father’s hole in one up to luck. I'm sure there are people who have shot 130 with a hole in one tossed in.

But this was a perfect hole in a fantastic round, a phenomenal shot on a tough hole that came as a result of the correct club selection and an undeniably perfect swing.

And I think there is so much to learn from that. In that for as much we may spend our whole lives thinking about something incredibly occurring, many times, that incredible thing doesn’t happen until the absolutely perfect moment. We can’t control when it happens, we can only hope to be present if it does.

The summary for the golf course describes hole number 7 as such:

This medium-length par three can be visually intimidating from the teeing ground. An elongated green, sternly protected by a long bunker and water on the left, makes proper club selection and flawless execution a must.  A missed shot that travels long or right of the green will leave the player with a very difficult pitch.  Bold tee shots played to the back left flag positions are risky endeavors.  A ‘3’ always looks good on the scorecard.
Yea but you know what looks even better?


Happy Birthday Dad.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Meeting a Baby

I don't meet many babies.

I see a lot of pregnant people, women mostly. I work with them, I see them on the train, but I don’t really interact with their babies.

I see a lot of babies out in the world, all the time actually. But as a result of my lifestyle (single guy with no close friends with kids) I don't encounter many fully formed baby people with whom I spend time with.

And even when somebody I do know has a baby, I usually meet it when it’s fresh and just kind of hanging out. It stays in the stroller. I don’t usually volunteer to hold the baby or pick it up because, well, I mean what if I drop it?

People ask me if I’m ready to have kids, hell I’m barely ready to hold them.

I held my former boss’s baby about 5 years ago. It was a very strange experience. The baby just kind of hung out and stared at me. Her eyes were wide open and she was hot like she’d been in an oven. I wasn’t really sure what our interaction was supposed to be like so we just stared at each other while I sat in a chair.

The next time I held a baby was about 2 months ago. My friend had a football playoff party and this nice couple brought their boy baby. The baby’s mother asked me if I wanted to hold him.

I thought for a second before responding that I was OK.

I was curious about holding the baby, I was interested in potentially holding the baby, but want? I didn’t feel a want to hold the baby. So I didn’t.

Well a couple of weeks later we were all at the same apartment for a Super Bowl party and the baby was back. His mother asked me again if I wanted to hold it and I said yes.

I figured if I said no again she’d start to believe I thought there was something wrong with her baby. And I didn’t want her to think that, it seemed like a perfectly good baby. It didn’t cry. It didn’t yell. It just hung out. Kind of like me.

And so I held the baby. And we stared at each other.

And that was pretty much our interaction for the half hour we hung out together.

Two babies in five years and the interaction had been nearly identical. I had no real expectations; these were basically stranger babies that I wasn’t going to ever see again.

But I was about to meet a baby I actually wanted to know. And this baby was older, a full year. It was somebody who probably had favorite foods and colors and a personality. It probably had a blanky and it’s own set of tips and tricks.

It wasn’t until I was actually en route to the brunch where I would meet this baby that I realized…

What if this baby doesn’t like me?

There are plenty of adult people who don't like me. I have kind of gotten used to it, which is not to say I've accepted it. It drives me crazy. But usually people who don’t like you will just lie to your face or ignore you.

But babies typically aren't good at lying. At least I don’t think they are. I really don't know. Like I said I don't know many babies. But I have never had a baby lie to me. If a baby doesn’t want to be held it just cries. If my friends don't want to be held I think they just humor me.

But I want this baby to like me. I NEED this baby to like me. After all, I'm crazy Uncle Ricardo.

You see, a couple of years ago my friends Josh and Marissa got married, and we were talking about the kids they would one day have. Marissa then told me that when they did have kids they would call me Crazy Uncle Ricardo.

Now Crazy Uncle Ricardo can only be one of two characters. Crazy Uncle Ricardo who lives in a tee pee, has a collection of magnets and builds ant farms. That's the Crazy Uncle Ricardo almost nobody wants to be.

But then there is the Crazy Uncle Ricardo that bursts into song and tells funny stories and shows up with donuts and stuff like that. That is the one I want to be.

How could I do that?

The answer was clear: I would bribe the baby.

So I went to the Disney Store to pick up something to make this baby like me. Since I don’t regularly shop at the Disney Store I did not know the store hours and I ended up waiting outside before it opened.

Thank god there was a family with an actual child who got there before me. I felt really strange waiting outside the Disney store. I became very aware of the fact that I was wearing a black coat and sunglasses which also seemed conspicuous.

When the store finally did open I was very glad I was not the first person in the store because Disney a whole big key opening ceremony every single morning. And it involves a procession, a magical lock, and a lot of questions. And the person who actually gets to open the gate is the first person in the door.

I felt a little panicked worrying that this whole shebang would make me late.

Can we just hurry this up? I have a baby to bribe.

But I kept my cool, the ceremony (which was actually pretty cool if you’re a kid) only took a couple of minutes and I was off in no time.

As for how the meeting went?

Well, it went very well. As I found out something like this works like a charm.

Score one for Crazy Uncle Ricardo.