In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Memory on the Menu.” Compared to recent memories, I’ve always very much preferred the long ago kind. In an episode of “The Odd Couple”, Oscar Madison reminds Felix Unger of Dorothy Parker’s claim to have hated writing but loved having written. That’s the way my understanding of life is. I see time as being divided into three parts. The future is pure theory. There is, to a certain extent, no point in bothering to think about it. The present is one big responsibility. Even the good things have their share of annoyances. The past, though, from this point of view, is the nicest. Each of us is able to see it, as he can see the present, but he’s not obligated to deal with the hard parts. The recent past still has entirely too many memories of all its annoyances. Life during my school days, or during the times when I was working at some long-lost job, was no more interesting then than my current life is. What makes it so interesting for me to reflect upon those previous times is the very fact that I can’t possibly have them back. I can’t possibly control my past. What is done cannot possibly be undone. Anything left undone cannot possibly be done. I can, however, control it in my imagination. There’s no point in bothering to take such an approach to the immediate past, but it works well with much earlier time frames. There’s quite a significant reason for my having used a picture of a Good Humor ice cream truck instead of a currently commonplace vehicle. Last night I attended the first night of the annual fair at St. Mary of the Isle Church in Long Beach, New York. That truck was there. For me, Good Humor is a perfect example of the best of nostalgia. It was prominent long ago and has been hardly ever seen during current and recent times. That’s the kind of memory that has always truly piqued my interest.
I haven’t noticed any person like properties in any of the machines I now own, though my computer can be as temperamental as anyone. Since I’ve only recently started driving my father’s 2001 dark blue Saturn it’s still kind of hard to tell. I still technically own my 1992 blue-green Saturn SC even though it’s entirely out of commission. In its day it was quite the distinctive character. It was an exceptionally nice sports car and had a sleek appearance. Perhaps it’s because I kept it for long that my imagination started playing tricks on me, but it was like an old reliable friend for me. I first got it in January of 1996 and went everywhere with it. It started falling apart around five years ago though. Over the years it became a perfect trademark for me and people always associated me with that car. It was so quiet and subtle, exactly the way I’d really like people to be. I spent so much time driving it back and forth to work, school, my Knights of Columbus council and everyplace else I wanted to go. Often I’d just hang around in the car, in parking lots, reading and thinking. Since I’m so compulsively punctual I spend a lot of time waiting for things to get started, after I’ve arrived somewhere. All throughout the time I drove this car I spent countless hours sitting in it, merely hanging around and keeping busy. During its last few years unfortunately it got quite seriously nasty. There was a leak in one of the windows and the thermostat didn’t work anymore. Over the course of its heyday, though, my car got me through absolutely everything whatsoever. Maybe more in a passive way than actively, perhaps more in my imagination than in reality, my Saturn SC, took on a life of its own.
Although I’ve never been able to stand Jane Fonda, or trite inarticulate cliches either, the concept of “no pain no gain” has quite a lot of merit to it. Anyone who’s ever tried to do something exceptionally well knows quite well, after only a very short time, that nothing comes easily. Whether it’s getting a job, playing a musical instrument, exercise or anything else of any significance whatsoever, all important things require strenuous effort. At the church I attend, St. Mary of the Isle in Long Beach, Father Brian Barr recently told us about the time his nephew graduated from junior high school. His other nephew, the graduate’s brother, asked him what the word “commencement” meant. Father Barr told him that it referred to finishing something. The nephew who was on the verge of finishing school told him that it really was about beginning something. That’s what all of life in general has always been about. Nothing can be begun without something else’s being given up. Life is a series of beginnings and endings. All of life is a series of obligations and opportunities, and to try to avoid that combination would be a false dichotomy.
Over the course of at least my entire adult lifetime I’ve always been notoriously incapable of getting any significant amount of sleep. I always tell people that I haven’t slept five minutes since the presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon. This can be quite an advantage whenever I have either a job or some other unavoidably necessary responsibility to which I must attend. Being wide awake for its own sake though is much more of a have-to than a get-to. I don’t usually bother to peek out my windows in order to see the sun. Most of the time I just lie back and relax. It’s an especially good feeling being able to rest before the main part of the day has to kick in. A while ago, when I worked at the postal service in Bethpage, I usually worked the overnight shift. It was such an interesting feeling being able to drive home on the Southern State Parkway while the sun was coming up. All that peace and quiet, combined with quite a perfect view, made me quite happy. Occasionally I’ve been known to stay up voluntarily, for things like high school reunions, parties and other occasions. It’s not a habit I should like to get into though. When I don’t get enough rest there’s always the very serious risk of migraines. Ultimately I thoroughly enjoy always being up so early each day. Even though I don’t bother to pay attention to the rising sun, I can enjoy all the perfect solitude. Peace and quiet are unavoidably necessary for me. It’s the rest of the day that really gets on my nerves.
If ever I could count on the unquestioning service of a perfectly obedient robot that could be available at all times to relieve me of only one nightmarishly awful chore, I should very much like to have one that would shovel snow for me. When it comes to difficulty all other chores very much seem to pale by comparison. This is made especially true by the fact that it’s always outside in miserable weather. Bad weather in general has always bothered me. Snow and ice get me crazy. I’ve never been known for an abundance of physical strength and shoveling is one of the things that require quite an exceptional degree of endurance. By definition a robot doesn’t have to deal with frustration and exhaustion. All it needs is either a plug, battery or some other power source. Unlike me it will never complain about hypothermia or boredom. I should only need it for part of the year anyway, although winter, when it gets here, seems so unbearably long.
The woman in the middle of this picture is a middle aged harried wife and mother, about forty years old. Her attendance at the Memorial Day parade each year is quite legendary by now. She was born and raised in Amityville where she attended the local public schools. She and her husband, long time residents of Long Beach, are raising a family of three teenagers, two sons and a daughter, on his meager salary as a bank teller and hers as a schoolteacher. They’ve been married for practically twenty years. They’re very active in Republican politics as well as in their church, school and civic organizations. He’s a fourth degree member of his Knights of Columbus council and she’s involved with their ladies’ auxiliary. Neither of them smokes and they only drink a little at parties they occasionally attend, though they’re constantly drinking coffee. All her life she’s been both an avowed Deadhead and a die hard Yankee fan. She attended many Grateful Dead concerts throughout the country during her youth, and has never missed a Yankee game for as far back as she can remember. A bit of a neurotic and somewhat too far toward the superstitious side she wears a variety of specific kinds of clothing whenever they’re playing in order to make sure that her team has the very best chance of winning. Her parents both died several years ago and she’s only somewhat close to her extended family, mostly out of a sense of civility. They’ve deliberately hurt her entirely too deeply over the years to be worthy of any respect whatsoever but she feels a sense of obligation to play the game for the sake of her husband and kids. She broke her left leg in the fifth grade because of a roller skating accident and frequently uses her lifelong limp as a source of much humor on her good days, and sarcasm on bad days. Her students and all the other people at her and her husband’s jobs, and her kids’ friends, consider her quite an admirable character though she has a nasty temper at times and can be seriously impatient when frustrated. Her kids are good, suffering from only the average traditional adolescent troubles, and so far haven’t given her and her husband any reason to complain, though they’re extremely careless about their homework and study habits. Ultimately her life so far has been very good to her. She has all she could possibly want or need, considering all her hardships and disappointments. Hers has been a well rounded life, with quite a share of both joy and sorrow.
When I was a kid all I knew about being an adult was that adults go to work instead of school and that most of them are married with children. That’s the general rule. Of course jobs are hard to find. I’ve never been lucky enough to meet a nice girl and get married so naturally I have no kids. Being an adult means no one makes any excuses for me anymore. That’s not entirely true though. Occasionally someone will try to humor me a bit but it’s always with the assumption that it’s officially not supposed to be that way. People indulge the very young because a kid is still a work in progress. As a kid, even though I never have liked change, I could always count on being more capable of dealing with it. The older someone gets, though, the more deeply ingrained all his habits become inevitably. The average kid may think he gets to have significantly fewer restrictions on his behavior once he’s grown up. Unfortunately the rules, for an adult’s life, are still in force. They’re just different. Adult life is no better or worse than being a kid. I should like to think I have a bit more maturity and somewhat more of a sense of responsibility because of all the experiences I’ve been subjected to over the years. Unlike my young days, I can no longer be fooled into thinking I can trust someone if I can’t really trust him. I know understand that liberalism is absolutely and without question mankind’s single ultimate evil. Little did I know, as a kid, that this would turn out to be so important a problem. There are quite a lot of distinctions between young me and adult me. It’s like what Dostoyevsky referred to as having eaten the apple. There’s never any possibility of turning back. I have quite a different understanding now of the passage of time than I did back then. My physical appearance hasn’t changed significantly. Everyone I knew in my very early days still recognizes me when he sees me for the first time as an adult. I should like to think my general personality and outlook on life have undergone the same kinds of changes. There’s a lot more mandatory self-regulation now, and I don’t necessarily get too much of it right. Crying still happens occasionally. Coffee and liquor are quite enjoyable. Those are drinks that are symbolic rites of passage into adulthood. I still read kids’ stories but I now understand the point of them. There’s even a C.S. Lewis line about how no kids’ story is really good unless it’s good for adults too. Adulthood is filled with disillusionment, disappointment, pain and dull ordinary chores and realities. It must serve some kind of a purpose though because it happens, at least chronologically, to one and all who remain among the living long enough.
Throughout my life, I’ve never been comfortable with conflict. Over the years I’ve often noticed that there are many individuals with whom I simply can’t possibly even try to get along. As far as I’m concerned, once I notice that kind of problem, I virtually wash my hands, to whatever degree it’s permissible, of someone like that. Perhaps I tend too often, unfortunately, to engage in a passive aggressive approach to conflict. There’s a very significant chance that when I know I’m in the wrong, I can be counted on to procrastinate for the sake of avoiding having to face up to my just deserts. No one likes to get into trouble and I’ve always been the absolute master of avoiding the moment of truth. The most anyone can possibly expect do, though, is to postpone his inevitable comeuppance. I should like to think that all my moments of sullenness, bitterness, resentment, hypersensitivity and any other kinds of aberrant behavior I’m capable of exhibiting are infrequent and temporary. One of my most notorious character defects has always been my mercilessly brutal temper in the face of someone who shows me absolutely no respect whatsoever. On the bright side, I tend, under relatively normal circumstances, not to go overboard. There should be absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone
to expect me even to think of being inordinately nasty without extreme provocation. As a general rule, I must have been doing something right under most circumstances because my track record doesn’t give any indication of my being any worse than anyone else. Throughout the time I went to school, and at many jobs I’ve gotten as an adult, there’s always seemed to have been someone in each crowd who’s felt entirely too free to push me around. That’s when my truly creepy side has always come out. The internet world provides people with quite a convenient way of avoiding trouble when there’s a conflict. Unlike real life circumstances, when two or more people get into an altercation online, each of them can very easily dismiss its significance merely by focusing his attention elsewhere. The kind of trouble that happens in person is much more annoying because there’s nowhere to hide. The best I can say is that under normal circumstances I’ve always been quite reasonable and agreeable. My major flaw is a result of the fact that things don’t always work out very smoothly and that in the face of extreme pressure my emotions too often tend to take such nasty twists and turns.
For as far back as I can remember I’ve always been a bit of a square in certain ways. I’ve never felt sufficiently comfortable with either new people or new experiences. I’ve always referred to my big move from Jackson Heights to Lindenhurst, at twelve years old, as the perfect example of how hard it is for me to deal with change, though I’ve gotten much better at it since then. Because I’ve never liked sports or animals, and I’ve never been married or had kids, that leaves me with a shortage of things in common with others. It always helps, when meeting someone new, to be able to establish a common bond. In my dealings with new people I’ve always been strictly a speak-when-spoken-to kind of guy. If someone wants to say hello to me, I can handle it but I tend to shy away from making any attempt at an overture. I’m at my best in a classroom, workplace, bowling alley or any other environment where people are forced, by definition, to associate with each other anyway. It always helps when one’s sources of conversation are intrinsically built into his circumstances. A common responsibility is just as good as a common interest in forging new friendships. Another major advantage is when I get to meet someone who’s already a friend of Mary Anne’s, Steve’s or of one of my cousins. I’ve always been good with those collaterally connected characters. Do former classmates and teachers, when they come back into one’s life, count as new friends? Someone like that isn’t new because I already knew him long ago. At the same time, though, he’s entirely new because of our having yet to establish a current relationship. As I said earlier, it always helps to have something in common. That’s why I always like to try to keep my eyes and ears open just in case someone either is left handed, went to Catholic school, dreads left turns or is somehow otherwise in cahoots with something I can identify with. By now I’ve grown quite comfortable with both my supposed lack of popularity and my feeling of discomfort with new people. I’ve learned to attribute things like that to my always having been such a distinctive character. For obvious reasons I never even think of presuming to unleash entirely too much of my colorful side on someone new. My obnoxious habits, and distinctive tastes and character defects require quite a lot of preparation. Long ago I learned to save them for only the people who’ve already gotten quite accustomed to having me around. To a large degree my attempts at making new friends are at their best when I go about things with a sense of moderation. It pays not to go too crazy. I know what all my strengths and weaknesses are and can easily recognize all the things I shouldn’t do in the company of someone new. Things always work out reasonably well for me anyway. It’s just so terribly annoying for me to have to deal with the beginning of anything.
Unfortunately over the course of my lifetime I’ve always tended to be somewhat too disorganized. Jo Anne, one of my oldest friends from Jackson Heights, reminded me a while ago that when we were kids in St. Gabriel’s she and my other friends from our neighborhood used always to have to wait an inordinate length of time at the end of each school day for me to get ready so we could go home. For as far back as I can remember I’ve always been a bit on the sloppy side. I’ve also tended toward a lifelong habit of procrastinating. When I was in school, though, I always made sure I got all my homework and studying done and everything was handed in on time. As an adult at work, at each job I’ve ever gotten, I’ve also done things the same way. It takes a lot more effort and concentration, though, for me than for just anyone. One good habit I’ve always adhered to is my compulsive punctuality. To my sorrow I’m absent minded. Although I can remember entirely unnecessary things from decades into the past, as well as all sorts of profound abstract intellectual concepts, I frequently forget unavoidably necessary things that must be done right away. In order to avoid any more trouble than necessary, I’ve done absolutely everything I possibly can to develop certain good habits. I always try to put everything I need, in advance, into a certain place, and to make sure it’s in precisely the same place each time, in order that I won’t ever have to be bothered with wondering, at the last minute, where I may have left it. It’s very easy for me to lose track of things. I’m simply not the type of individual who can get away with letting his guard down. I also make sure I specifically write things down whenever necessary. I do this because if I leave it up to my memory to keep track of all the details I have to deal with, I shall have nothing but trouble to show for it. I always make sure I go to bed very early at night and get up very early each morning in order that I can count on having a clear head during my day. When I was a kid in school my teachers always said that when a student took notes it helped him to remember the subject matter better than if he merely trusted his memory. There have been quite a lot of studies done that have proven that this is a fact. As far as I know I must always have done something right because I’ve never gotten into a significant amount of trouble, either in school or at work. I’ve even occasionally been commended for above average performance. My problem is not that I’m thoroughly lacking in a sense of responsibility. It’s that I’m naturally prone toward carelessness, inattention to detail, and other bad habits and must put up quite a fight against those character defects.