I had a totally different post planned for this week. Then Jeff Franklin, who produced Something Like Paisley, my old CT band, sent this recently unearthed photograph, taken during one of our recording sessions.
And it hit me hard. I think it’s the eyes. They just seem so … sad.
Ain’t no mystery. I was a sad fucking kid. Even now I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, every Monday I replay the past and my shrink tries to pin it down. Beyond the very-tired (and played out) “Daddy didn’t love me” card, I’m not sure we are any closer to the answer.
It’s become a bit of a running joke, now, my miserable disposition, and I am a card-carrying curmudgeon. I sneer at laughter, hate gestures of good will; I loathe the idea of fun. But mostly because I hate people so goddamn much. Not the person. In fact, almost to a man, I like everyone I meet. Which I suppose makes me a Republican. (They say that a Democrat loves humanity but couldn’t care less about his neighbor, whereas a Republican doesn’t give two shits about the world at large but will bend over backwards to help a friend. Like George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham, I stereotype; it saves time. And if I am a Republican, that explains the self-loathing.)
We become comfortable with persona and perception, and I really do grunt any time I move, because it fucking hurts. The motorcycle accident left me with so many broken parts and so much chronic pain that whenever I sit down I feel like Ed Norton after a shower in American History X. Overall these days my mental state is pretty good. I don’t rah-rah much, but I’ve never been a cheerleader. I’d rather be alone, working, making art, being productive, than out at a party. The thing is, I don’t suffer the existential angst anymore. At least not in the weight-of-the-universe-crushing-my-soul sense. When a light bulb goes out, it doesn’t feel like my life is over. I change the fixture. I move on.
Not sure when it happened. I know I still carry the anguish, and that strife is visible in my countenance. (In grad school, I remember Campbell McGrath explaining the concept of American Male Despair, a distinctly American brand of burden, ardor and woe, and someone in class shouted out, “Oh, like Joe Clifford!”) I don’t mind being perceived this way or that, especially when I am the one who perpetuates the idea. But, fuck, I am tickled giddy that I am not that guy in the picture anymore. Even if I can still feel it.
Like recollecting any distant bad dream or memory, its sensation dulled, though the raised ridge of scar remains. I’m glad Jeff sent the pic–I don’t have many of them; my history fits in a shoebox–but it makes me want to shake the shit out that kid. Toughen up, son. Knock some sense into his dopey face before he heads down that dark path.
Life has turned out pretty fucking OK for me. In fact, I am not sure I could’ve imagined a better outcome (the lost ’90s notwithstanding). Sure, there’s the chance of being a Leonardo-like movie star, or the next Mick Jagger–I could’ve won the lottery. Hell, maybe even banged Kate Upton. But those are one-in-a-million shots, and considering the number of people miring in despair, the quiet and not-so kind, I’ll take the long straw I drew. Most would. I do what I want every day. I have a gorgeous, loving wife and darling, delightful son. I write books. They publish the books I write. I hurt, but not for money. Life is a pretty sweet fruit.
I suppose it’s natural to want to do it all over again. I am 43. There’s no way around it. Best case scenario, half my life is over. I have to get up to take a piss six times a night. And, yeah, I am still good looking. But for how much longer? I can already see the wrinkles, the gray (the dark circles have always been there). My hair? Brother, I’m on borrowed time. But, shit, I’d like another crack, even if I couldn’t do much better. I want to try. Maybe this time I’d have confidence with the ladies, wouldn’t awkwardly stare at their shoes and mumble. Maybe I’d avoid the drugs and heartache. Maybe this time my mom would be able to stick around long enough to see my kid. Maybe I would, I don’t know, enjoy it more. Take more chances. Dance. That kind of shit. I want to try again even though I know I’d probably end up with the same hat; and I’d be damned lucky if I did.
You see a picture, like that one where I’m 18, and you can’t help but to feel a modicum of regret. If only because you didn’t realize how precious youth was when you had it. You waste so much time on the inconsequential, the bitching and complaining, wishing instead of doing, that you miss the good parts. At least I did. And now that I can recognize them, I am too damned broken to truly appreciate them. And my prostate is the size of a grapefruit.
Reminds me of that Baz Luhrmann song.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never-mind.
You will not appreciate the power and beauty of your youth
until they’ve faded. But trust me, in twenty years you’ll look back
at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now
how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked….
Ain’t that the truth, brother.