Call me Ishmael.
It was a dark and stormy night.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Every good story needs a good opening line. Something that grabs you; that sets the tone; that establishes the tenor of all that follows, forecasting all the creativity, drama, success and adventure to come.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the opening line to my life.
“It’s Thursday, I’m tired, and tonight I’ll eat a hotdog.”
Welcome to The Big Book of Me.
Books are supposed to have introductions, and story arcs, and conclusions with character development and resolution.
Some books have complex storylines, and subplots about spys and illicit love and marvelous adventures.
My book is like Doctor Seuss without the rhyming. Just a mundane story about a guy who likes ham, and not at all poetic.
Chapter One: Childhood.
I was an only child. What that means for most people is too much attention, no sharing, and all the toys. For me, it meant both my parents had already been divorced, and lost their kids to their spouses. They both had complicated lives with too many kids in too many places, and I was about as lonely and average a kid as you could be. I went to school. I had a dog. I collected spiders and lizards, I listened to Mac Davis, pined for the Principal’s daughter, and wrote horrible poetry. When it was over, I was glad. I thought entering puberty was a good thing.
Little did I know.
Chapter Two: High School.
High School was easily the most horribly mismanaged series of opportunities any one person has the right to throw away. It was unremarkable, transient and unimportant; they were the beige Pillsbury Doughboys of years. I had the body of a man, and the complexion of an aggregate driveway. I was at the height of my sexuality, and scared to death of girls. I was independent, and paralyzed into inaction. I lived to get laid, and I was not getting laid. When it was over, I celebrated.
Chapter Three: That thing that comes next.
Being a young married expectant parent at twenty years old is the fastest way to bring the moderate momentum you’ve established to a screeching halt. No twenty-year-old friend of yours understands why you can’t pick up and take off for a drink, or a pizza, or a road trip. I loved my wife, and my children, and being married, and being a father, and yet I fought becoming whatever it was that it seemed to be inexorably leading to with all my fiber, and extended instead my irresponsible and unremarkable adolescence right through the childhoods of my offspring. Not funny, just true. Luckily, they were in their first chapters, and likely never even noticed.
Chapter Four: Middle Age.
The children are gone, I’m single and free, I’ve been laid by now so I’m pretty sure I know how to do it, I make way more money than a teenager, I can buy booze and cigarettes and porn, and I can stay out as late as I want. There is the potential for an exciting new chapter, a twist in the plotline, a sequel of unprecedented success.
Unfortunately, they call it middle age because that’s where you age the fastest – in the middle. It hurts when I walk, it’s hard to bring the porn into focus, and I have difficulty staying up for Letterman. Rather than newfound freedom and adventure, my life consists of going to work, working, and going home from work to recuperate. I have no exciting stories from my youth, no adventures to reflect on, no great political or artistic laurels upon which to rest.
The deal is, I’m a stalagmite. In the early years, time drops little lumps of crap on you, and slowly over time the crap adds to you. It makes you taller; it adds to the bulk of you, and you grow. You get more stable, one hopes, with time, while you simultaneously reach for the heavens.
Then, eventually, you’ve reached about as high as you can; you’ve absorbed all the crap you can, and the crap reaches its angle of repose. Any new crap that drops on you no longer makes you taller; it just rolls down the sides of you, making you wider. Thicker. It’s just more crap, and it doesn’t matter very much.
That’s my future. Wider and thicker. No more reaching for the sky … no more altitude to be had. I am, at this point, just absorbing the crap. The best to which I can aspire may be to eventually connect to the thing that drops the crap on me; to become one with the source of the crap.
Oh sure, I’ve endured, I have history, I’ve raised smart and funny and loving children, I’ve paid my bills and fulfilled my obligations and participated in society in my own banal transparent way. I have made the most out of my crap that I could.
So therein lies my story. No fiery conclusions. No O. Henry twists. No poetry. Welcome to The Big Book of Me. The best-laid plans of mice and men do often go awry.
I guess I have my closing line.
I should quit while I’m in the middle.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.