FYI: I wrote this a few days ago. I didn’t post it at that time. I wanted to post the one about Maple Street and J-Town and give that a few days to marinate first. Happy reading, y’all!
I’ve been wrestling with this idea lately, friends, family and oft times casual readers. Look away if you want to read something mindless ‘cause this little piece of Mental Flatulence will not be. That disclaimer… disclaimed, as a former incarnation of the Mad Chronicler, AKA El Autoro used to say—back when we all lived in and around Oz and no one lived anyplace else—let’s get schazzy.
The idea that I’ve been grappling with is a pretty simple one, folks. Happiness, otherwise known as a mental, emotional and physical state of “chill,” further known as something that, upon closer observation, I haven’t been in a long time. Let me elaborate on that a bit lest a rumor or two about me and what I’m writing about publicly hits my own, subjective universe on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. My lack of happiness? It was not a product of my marriage. In that I was complacent and accepting of my role for a very, long time. And I do not regret that. Nor do I regret the 13 years I spent in it, the children it produced, the extended family I inherited et al. This may be hard for a few of you reading this to believe but guess what? I’m glad for it. It was a period in my life with a number of highs, a handful of lows and a dozen or so “meh” moments. Just like every period that came before it. If you compare it to my state of mind from roughly 1995 through mid-2000 it was, despite how it ended up a f*cking extended vacation. For a good amount of the time that I was in it, I was at peace. And that peacefulness shines through in what I wrote over the years, much of which is viewable in the e-pages of this blog.
But was I happy? That’s the question. And it’s a complicated one to answer despite the fact that the concept of happiness, on the whole is a pretty simple one to grasp. In my life, both family, social, social media, physical, yadda yadda yadda (booyakasha, Seinfeld; Respect), I was. I didn’t become truly unhappy with that until the end which is why… well? It ended. Case closed. But deep down inside of me in those places I don’t like to talk about at parties, I don’t think that I was. There was something missing for me and it was for me, not my partner. Feel free to picture me punctuating that statement by gesticulating madly to myself as I’m writing this. ‘Cause in my slightly warped mind, I am.
I’ve always been a dreamer. Always had the ideal of what I wanted out of my life/what would make me happy in my mind. I’ve always retained that vision of the perfect life. It drives me, to this day. The perfect relationship. The perfect career. My house on the beach beside the ocean with my children, my wife and the thunderstorm. Do you remember that one, friends? It goes way, way back. I originally wrote it while I was working at “Roche Diagnostics, how can I help you?” I re-posted the basic idea on here a few entries ago and you can link it HERE if you so desire to read it. Well? I’ve gone through a number of changes over the past almost year. Permutations. I’ve matured and de-matured in different ways. I’m more practical about my obligations and responsibilities but less practical about my emotions. I’ve dropped about 50 pounds to the point that none of my clothes fit me anymore and yet I’m quickly in the process of going all white and grey up top and in my beard. I quit smoking. I started vaping. I gave up sh*t beer like Coors Light and replaced it with slightly less sh*tty beer like Blue Moon. I feel great physically yet I tire earlier and more quickly. I could go on and on but this is not a blog entry about the State of my State at almost 44 years old. This is about happiness. And I’ve come to realize over the last few weeks and months that my age old, vision of happiness was not an option, and never would have been an option in my marriage. Again, not because of her, but because of me. I set too high a standard for us. It was achievable, but only in short, controlled doses and it was not sustainable. We were simply too different. We wanted different things out of our respective lives. And because of that? It ended. No hard feelings. Seriously, y’all: No hard feelings. I wish her happiness and I know she wishes me the same.
But this… realization? It begs the question: Can my perfect vision of happiness be achieved? Or is it simply a fanciful way of imagining my life as I want it to be, and not focusing on my life as it is and could be? Does that make sense? I hope it does to you ‘cause it does to me. It’s reality versus fantasy, guys and gals. Fiction versus Non-Fiction. The ENDWORLD Series versus Random Musings Version 2.0. THAT’S the crux of what I’ve been struggling with these past few weeks. Because my life has been… upgraded, you could say, and all of a sudden, that question of happiness has returned. I’m once again seeing that scene upon the beach that El Autoro originally came up with a couple of decades ago and wondering if it’s attainable, or nothing more than wishful thinking. I’m also wondering where that beach is but that’s another story… another pondering for another time. Today, I’m here about happiness. And whether or not you can achieve your ideal version of it.
A simple question that carries a relatively simply answer, at least for me. And that answer is YES. You can. Whether you get there or not remains a question but the process of going after it? Striving for it? You can do that, and while there may be as much probability as lightning, striking me right here where I sit writing this right now as actually having that exact scene from my alter ego El Autoro’s vision play out in the really, really real world, you can try. Getting there on your own, though, is a monumental task but when you have two, three, four… however many people rowing in that same, general direction the probability of it actually happening as you wrote it up “back in the day” becomes more and more… probable. Favorable. But it can’t be a blind search. You can’t be, all of you rowing in the fog, hoping blindly for some clarity or direction. The weather needs to be favorable. The goal needs to be consistent across the minds of everyone, assembled in said boat. The conditions need to be perfect. But it’s doable, y’all. I truly believe that.
Yet here’s the thing: You can’t get down on yourself or despair whilst you’re trying to get there. So you need to… temper your ideal a bit for the NOW, not the ONE DAY TO BE, i.e. the future. So am I happy? I think that I am. It’s not that perfect version of happiness that I’ve been writing about in this little, piece of Mental Flatulence but it is A version of it. I still have anxiety. Concerns. Bills to pay, children who need food as Billy Joel so aptly sang in “Downeaster Alexa.” But as tempered ideas of happiness are concerned, it’s a pretty good one. I haven’t lost sight of my beach and what has yet to transpire upon it. I may be no closer to it than I was a year ago. But I’m… Content. I think that’s the word I’m looking for. There’s a bit of peace inside of me for the first time in a while and while I know I have a ways to go… while I know that there’s a lot of water left between where I’m rowing currently and where I’m going, it feels a bit closer for the first time in a while. Another way of putting it is that I think I’m back on the path. MINE. The one I lost sight of sometime ago. Instead of diverging (sorry Robert Frost), recently? A couple of roads did the opposite and converged, not in a yellow but in a green, lush wood and though it still may be the road less traveled? It’s surprisingly familiar and that, in and of itself is enough to make me grateful. So thank you for that. End slightly vague but likely transparent to certain folks reading this rant.
I know this isn’t a typical blog entry friends, family and oft times casual readers. I think this is how I cope with the desire to write a poem for the first time in a couple of decades but the incapacity to rhyme, or find the appropriate words to express myself. Maybe that’s just rust. Or maybe… just maybe it’s the fact that much of what I wrote back in those wayward, dark and twisty days of 1995 though mid-2000 was just that: Dark. Twisty. I had another name back then, in addition to Frank Marsh, Mad Chronicler and El Autoro. It was a name I gave myself. I was the Lunatic Lover and I lived by the credo, “chaos is a friend of mine.” Booyakasha, Ozzy; Respect. As those wayward days of my late youth/early adulthood passed into memory after that, so did my poetry. Happiness of a sort… peace took over my life and there was no need for that guy anymore. I think the greatest testament to how I’m feeling presently is the fact that the Lunatic Lover has remained silent in my mind (we’re all mad here, folks!). That speaks volumes to me. Perhaps it does to you, as well. There still may be a poem or two in this but it won’t be something steeped in sadness. It’ll be something hopeful. Optimistic. And I promise I’ll share it when and if I write it. You can decide for yourself if you want to read it. I’m cool with it, and you either way.
That said? I think I’m done. Disclaimer disclaimed and mischief managed. I’d like to thank all of my alter egos for continuing to get schazzy with me on this weird a** ride called “life.” I’d also like to thank Seinfeld, Roche Diagnostics and the entire Accu-Chek line of blood glucose testing supplies for saving a ton of lives and keeping me employed during my dark and twisty phase. Further thanks to Billy Joel, his daughter Alexa, Ozzy Ozbourne, chaos in general, Robert Frost and anyone that’s helping me row the proverbial boat right now. I know we’ve still got a ways to go but see that? Yep. That’s a seagull. And that purple lump in the distance that you can see every time a swell passes? Yep. That’s our destination. So don’t give up. Keep going. It’s closer now than it was a year ago.
We’ve got this.
Today, I watched with joy as my minions ended the 2018-2019 school year, were “promoted” to Fifth and Second Grade respectively and collected a little end of year hardware. Mind you, said hardware was, in each case a certificate, specifically an award. Cara received the Art Award for her homeroom (a Marsh winning an Art Award? It’s UNHEARD of, sarcasm fully intended) and #NatNatBoo received the Effort Award for hers. To say that I was proud of them, and remain proud of them at this late hour is the understatement of the year on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, in my subjective reality. To have gone through what they went through this year and still achieve what they achieved? I remember what it was like for me when I was Cara’s age. The year my mother and father separated? I was a wreck. The one after that, as well, and the one after that. I think, after that things started to get better but I honestly don’t remember. Jeez, guys and gals, that was over 30 years ago. I can barely remember what happened to me last week!
I’ve spoken at length this eight months or so, after I went public with that was going on in my life about their resiliency, and how amazed I was at their capacity to adjust, and overcome. We’ve had our moments since I relocated to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania but for the most part? It’s been status quo. Business as usual. Pick your poison or in this case, your favorite cliche and roll with it. It applies. They’ve made adjusting to this new life easier than it could have been… Hell, SHOULD have been and for that? I love them. Sh*t, I love them anyway but if it’s possible to love them a wee bit more than I already did, I do. That said, I’m not popping by Random Musings tonight to extol the awesomeness of my progeny (though admittedly? They are pretty awesome and I could write about them all night). I’m actually here for another reason and that one? It’s loosely related to them finishing school for the year. It’s not about what’s passed, but what’s ahead. Specifically? Summer. It’s officially summertime again! Insert Happy Dance HERE.
The idea of Summer conjures many a memory for many a denizen of my subjective universe on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Swimming pools. Pick-up baseball games ala “The Sandlot.” Shore trips. Trips to the mountains. Lying out in your backyard getting a tan or, in my case, a really nasty sunburn. Barbecues. Patriotic celebrations. Fireworks. Catching lightning bugs. Sh*t friends, family and oft times casual readers, I could go on and on for paragraphs. Summer means something different to everyone but to me? It has and always has had a singular meaning. A memory that I’ve been unable to shake since I was a young’in. I find myself pondering it every year at this time and surprisingly enough? I’ve rarely written about it in the e-pages of this blog or my previous one, Random Musings Version 1.0. That memory? I touched upon it when I wrote about the Mayor of Maple Street a few years ago but that piece was a eulogy and this? This is not. Though it does involve a certain street, in a certain town that has been popularized in modern television and Hollywood to the extent that writing about it NOW doesn’t feel like it has the same, universal heft as it did 10 years ago. Yet I still feel the need to write about it ’cause once upon a time, someone told me I had to. They told me that our story? It was mine to tell. And for some reason, I feel like it still is. Whether anyone will read it now that we have The Goldbergs and Bradley Cooper is a mystery, but somehow… someway? I still feel like it’s my baby. My tale to tell. So I guess I’m going to tell it and we’ll see what happens.
I am, of course, referring to that little street, in that once-little town that is still called “Maple Street” and the town? It’s J-Town, otherwise known as Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. What follows in the pages of this blog is the story of us. The kids turned adults I grew up with. The things we did. Our experiences and guess what? I’m not going to put a price tag on it. I’m simply going to embrace the idea… the concept of writing for joy and not profit because I did the published author thing. Hell, I’m still doing it. Telling you this tale is not about money. It never was back then and it isn’t now. We were lucky if we had fifty cents in our pocket to go buy Tastycake Fudge Bars at Lena’s Deli (to say nothing of Cheese Fries; to wit, Lena’s Cheese Fries were and still are the best f*cking thing to ever pass my lips in my almost 44 year existence on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence). No. This is simply my way of saying “thank you” to the friends I grew up with, the families that accepted me into their homes and a place… THE place that I never really left. Welcome to my own, personal Summer Project. Not chronological or structured. Just the stories I want to tell.
Tonight? I’m going to write about how the denizens of Maple Street spent their summer nights. And I’m going to start at the beginning, in the same place where my minions started their respective summers earlier today. I’m going to start with the walk home from school after commencement. After Mass at the now defunct Immaculate Conception BVM School and still functioning Church. After all the awards had been given out. After all the buses had picked up their allotment of children and sent them home, screaming and cheering out their open windows. There we were: Marshes and Rings. McCreaveys and Breslins. Lyons and Cooneys. Harmers, Hungerfords and Scharnikows. The whole lot of us, walking south down West Avenue, past McGolderick’s Funeral Home and the ancient, tree-lined properties that lined the street. Maple Street was, and still is one past Cedar Street in that direction.
As neighborhoods go, it wasn’t particularly well-off compared to some of the other areas of J-Town that have been popularized in pop culture. Very blue collar. A hodgepodge of twins and single family homes. If I close my eyes I can still see us ripping our ties off, untucking our shirts (both girls and boys), unbuttoning our top buttons (mainly the guys, but maybe one or two of the girls that wanted to catch the eye of someone other than me but always ended up catching mine, whether they knew it or not). And plotting as we walked. Synchronizing our mental and physical watches. Home to eat lunch. Get changed. Chill for a few. Watch a little television. The Transformers (now known as Generation One), GI Joe, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Jem and the Holograms et al. Eat dinner–generally something grilled–before reconvening at our predetermined time, usually at the Rings since they had the biggest yard at roughly the middle point of the street.
I remember that the sun was always dropping in the sky, bathing the world in “an eerie, golden red iridescence.” Sound familiar? It should. In ENDWORLD, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD and eventually, HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD I wrote/write about it, along with time. Specifically a lack of it. In case you were wondering where those ideas came from they came from my childhood. Specifically those timeless, late, summer nights spent playing Spring or Doors or Ghosts in the Graveyard or Freedom or WHATEVER you call the games we played as children and the ones our children play now. Depending on where you are and whose playing the names change, but the concepts remain the same. Two teams. Sometimes three or four depending on how many kids were in town and out, how many came over from Cedar or Hillside Avenue and occasionally, “The Alley,” how many stumbled out after dinner into the teeny, tiny world we inhabited that was a child’s version of Utopia in microcosm and our parents’ version of Heaven. I was always one of the last ones picked. Me, the goofy little pear-shaped, non-athlete that loved reading and fancied himself an artist and later, a writer. But I didn’t mind. Because I generally ended up on Billy Ring’s team.
I’ve written in the past about Billy. He’ll feature prominently in this chronicle. Billy was the most popular kid at IC and, in truth? Arguably the most popular kid in J-Town and DEFINITELY on Maple Street. Tall. Lanky. Athletic. The polar opposite of me and I’m not ashamed to write about how much I looked up to him as a child. No matter what I endured as a kid–and there were moments; let me tell you–Billy always had my back, even when he was smacking it and causing a bruise. Was he my best friend? Maybe. BFs didn’t really exist back then. But he was as close to one as I had early on. There would be others, later, and I’ll write about them, as well, but it all started with him.
Thereafter, the games started, and progressed long after the sun had dropped behind my house and the streetlights had turned on. If I close my eyes I can still hear it: Crickets chirping. Cars driving past on West Avenue. The occasional rumble of thunder as a storm passed by or hit us, briefly drenching us before moving east toward the city. Children yelling, laughing and occasionally crying. Parents talking politics as they sat upon their covered porches, smoking cigarettes, drinking iced tea and the occasional “adult beverage” and watching us run as the first lightning bugs of the season started blinking in the darkness. Scolding us on occasion if we did something “mean” but never chastising us or ordering us to retire inside. Because kids, they reasoned, needed to be kids, black eyes, scabbed knees and all. The concerns that we face now as adults and they faced then never made an appearance. Those arguments and moments of despair occured behind closed doors. They, the adults, our parents… They kept us in the dark ’cause all they wanted us to worry about was being children. They knew, as we do now that our respective worlds would eventually grow to encompass the wider one. But those warm, summer nights? They were OUR time. Free. Happy. A peaceful cacophony of immature wonder.
Eventually? Big Bill’s aforementioned whistle from “The Mayor of Maple Street” would shatter the darkness and bring the night to a close. We never questioned it. We heeded it like we heeded the vengeful, Old Testament God in Religion class, said our goodbyes and headed home, exhausted, but smiling. Sleep came quickly after we washed up. And all of us Marshes and Rings. McCreaveys and Breslins, Lyons and Cooneys, Harmers, Hungerfords and Scharnikows rested and dreamt the peaceful dreams of youth, only to wake up the next morning and realize that the moment was not a fleeting one. We had days, weeks and months of the same to look forward to.
THAT was Summer on Maple Street in J-Town, folks. Maybe your experiences were similar. Maybe not. I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for me. Us. The same ones that tasked me to write it all down one day. To those of you reading this that remember, I’m sorry it took me so long. I needed to be ready. And now? I think I am. Because?
Simple. Because today I watched my minions finish their Fourth, and First years at another school. Not IC but Saint Anastasia’s. Not in J-Town but in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. And as I hugged them outside and celebrated their awards before returning to work, I saw the joy, emblazoned across their young faces at the prospect of the warm, summer nights ahead. Their memories will likely be a bit different than mine. The world on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence has changed much since I was their age. But their smiles? They are the same as mine. And if I close my eyes for a moment, I can still see and hear those carefree days of my own youth. Contentment follows. After months of turmoil I can finally say that yes. I am happy. And I am ready.
Thank you for reading. And Happy Summer. Winky emoticon. Simley face.
All my long, sometimes INSANELY long 43 year life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence I’ve believed in something. The something in question has changed at points throughout depending on where I was mentally and, to be honest? What I was smoking, and if you DON’T KNOW what I mean by that then… well heck, you don’t know me. And that’s okay because I don’t expect everyone reading this to know me or my history, despite my inclination to constantly write about it in the electronic pages of this blog that I’ve been maintaining for 100+ entries now (no sarcasm whatsoever intended).
The bottom line? I’ve ALWAYS believed in something. And my current state of belief is a synthesis of… basically everything I’ve ever believed in since I was a child, starting with my earliest days, attending the now defunct Immaculate Conception, BVM Catholic School in good ol’ J-Town, PA (booyakasha, fellow Jenkintownians. RESPECT). Were I to classify my belief system now I would say that it’s a healthy share of Roman Catholicism, mixed with a little Agnoticism and Buddahism, “What Dreams May Come,” The Force and my own, personal hot take on spirituality which, if you read the Endworld books, you know and have seen; I call it “The All” and it’s… well, just that! Everything, every reality, everywhere. Basically? My spiritual belief system is a Mutt. Kind of like my ancestry. Primarily Irish, English and Scottish allowing me to–piss poor punchline alert–always be at war with myself. Roll snare drum.
I can hear you groaning over here in my corner of this, our shared subjective reality and that’s… OKAY. Winky emoticon. Smiley face.
When times got tough–and I’ve my share of tough times over the years–I rarely lost hope. On occasion yes: I’ll admit that I did. There were moments, one in particular that involved a third floor balcony, an almost finished bottle of tequila and yet another, lost relationship that I got very, very down on myself. My own, personal version of rock bottom. But even then–as I drunkenly stared what I thought was a quick departure from this world in the eye and would have likely ended up being nothing more than a couple of broken legs–I was buoyed by… SOMETHING. The feeling of something… someONE watching over me, and assuring me like a “coldly rational” voice in my head (sound familiar, Endworld readers?) that I should not quit. That this life… this world and universe had a deeper purpose for me… a destiny. So I finished my bottle of tequila, went back inside and crashed on the floor of the little, two bedroom apartment I was sharing at the time with four other people. And FUN FACT friends, family and oft times casual readers: There is a scene in CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD that is highly reflective of this moment. You’ll know it when you see it.
Quick parenthetical aside: If you’re reading CHILDREN, I hope you’re enjoying it. And if you’re starting late/just now reading ENDWORLD – A Novel to get caught up, I hope the same. You know who you are. Yes, you. I’m looking at YOU. And smiling. Thank you.
The point, guys and gals is this: Belief helps. Believing in something can sustain you through the tough times. Whether your chosen belief is one in God, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddah or yourself/science… Whatever, don’t lose sight of it. Don’t think that what you believe in has abandoned you because he, she or it hasn’t. And if you believe in nothing? That’s cool too. I honestly have a lot of respect for people that trust in no providence but their own, their only belief in that of science and the law of it dictating everything from the tiniest, sub-cellular interaction to me, typing these words out on my phone, in my mobile WordPress app. I’ve even dabbled in it a bit myself–my oft mentioned in these blog entries, many moons ago “recovering Roman Catholic” phase–but for me? As much as I dig science there’s simply too much order in the universe on this, or any side of the proverbial wormhole of existence for me to chalk it up to a synthesis of numbers and equations. It’s the artist in me. Art recognizes art and when I look around me, I see things that must have been painted, sketched or molded by someone, ones or someTHING. Even the most universally derided areas maintain a sliver of beauty. A bean sprout, struggling up through the cracks in the sidewalk in the inner city. Or a tree, long deprived of life standing sentinel over a deserted beach in Cape May, NJ with the words “Voodoo” and “Tree” carved into either side of it’s split trunk. Yes, that was another Endworld reference. My apologies to the uninitiated.
Why am I writing this tonight? I honestly don’t know. It just felt like something I had to write. This last year plus has been a bit difficult (sarcasm, directed at the “bit” part fully intended this time) and there have been times when I have felt a tinge of abandonment. Not by my friends and family. Never them. They have been and remain blessed constants in my life that I am forever grateful for. Old friends, new friends, old friends renewed and new friends I never saw coming. But despite the inclination to lose faith and stop believing I never did. Because I know, deep down inside that everything that we go through in life, good or bad is moving us forward in a direction. Toward our purpose. Why we’re here. Call it destiny if you want. I prefer to call it “The Why.”
This week? I got to be a part of something monumental at the job I get paid consistently for, not the one I do in my free time. 10,000 hours invoiced. 10,025 to be exact, a whopping 166 of which was mine. “10K Hours” has been a constant mantra at my new place of business since I got there. It had never happened previous to this week and for the first time since I entered the world of staffing almost six years ago, I felt like a part of something… Transcendent. Monumental. When I started there I believed in what we could accomplish and we did. Belief. Not just belief in becoming a famous author which, at times, borders on imagination but belief in achieving a practical goal.
Belief drives us, folks. Whether in self or a higher power it is necessary and if I have any message to convey tonight it is this: Don’t give up. Don’t stop believing. Don’t lose faith no matter how difficult things get because there is always a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. You may not get there right away. Sh*t, I’m not there yet. But stay focused because eventually, the tough times will end and the good times will roll like you always wanted them too. I hope. I believe. And I promise.
And that? That’s it. A couple of quick shoutouts. To the Jenkintownians. Always. To God, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddah, Richard Matheson, George Lucas and everyone or thing that has contributed over time to my personal, Mutt-like system of belief, a spirituality that is always at war with itself but maintains some kind of whacked out sense to me and the characters that inhabit Endworld. To the good times AND the bad because both contribute to make us who we are. To the people who have read or are reading The Endworld Series right now (you know who you are). To the rest of my team at work for fulfilling the “10K Hours” mantra and to everyone, everywhere that has had their respective moment, standing upon a third floor balcony 10 sheets to the wind that remembered that it’s okay to despair, but you… None of us are ever alone. That believed in a better tomorrow and stumbled inside, intent to pass the f*ck out on the floor and wake up the next day, hung over as Hell and continue. Continue what? Just continue. I can neither confirm nor deny if that statement, or a version of it appears in CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD but when you get there? You’ll know it.
Goodnight, all. Have a terrific weekend. Winky emoticon? Smiley face.
A little something from the Endworld website for all my Random Musings readers. Feel free to follow me over there, as well! Maybe one day I’ll take both websites and combine them into one, big, super-duper website. But for now? Here’s the link.