The Cusp of Now
Will he jeopardize all he has and bravely stare into the tyrannical face of fear? Will he reach down deep and challenge half truths and lies falling upon his ears? Or simply nod and wink, have another drink and sort of comfortably while away the years?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Nothing done, no need to explain. Flying under the radar, biding time. Learning to unthink, retraining the mind.
Will he roll over, fall back to sleep or jump out of bed and take another leap?Courage! Jeopardize!
A fleeting moment, sadly, sometimes lost, before we’ve truly known it.
When the train finally arrived and it looked like I would make my appointment I breathed a major sigh of relief. Now we boarded fairly easily and quickly and I found a seat next to a woman who looked to be in her mid thirties. “Is this seat taken?”, I asked. “Does it look like it is taken?”, she replies with a friendlier half smirk than her words implied. “I’m sorry”, she smiled as she spoke, “Sit down, please. You look a whole lot more pleasant than the oaf I had to sit with from D.C. to Wilmington.” She had an easy manner. Well dressed in business attire. Suit jacket and skirt, light brown hair longish and neatly coiffed. She said that her name was Lorraine and effortlessly uncovered that mine was Sean. I was not really interested in talking but she had such an easy manner about her it made me relax and willingly join in the conversation. First she told me about the guy that sat next to her earlier. He was rather large and overweight smelling like a combination of body odor and stale cigarettes. His arms, side, and butt spilled generously into Lorraine’s seating area. “He should have to pay for part of my ticket”, was her thinking. She tried to be grown up and relax, then she caught a whiff of this guy and had to stand up, excuse herself and squeeze by Mr. Hygiene to look for another seat. Unfortunately there was standing room only and she couldn’t possibly stand the whole way to New York City. She was not shy so she walked back to her seat and asked, “Excuse me sir but would you mind sliding over to the window seat?” “Oh no!” he quickly replied, “I am claustrophobic and I can not possibly sit on the inside, very sorry, but no way”. Lorraine said ,” You, sir, are making me claustrophobic and unless you are willing to pay for the half of my seat you are taking up, you are going to have to move to the window seat”. He protested but she finally convinced or should I say, cajoled, him to move over by getting louder and louder and more and more insulting. “When was the last time you took a bath Pal”, “Have you heard of a toothbrush”? “Jesus!”, he finally said as he struggled to stand and switch seats, “take the goddamned seat lady”. She placed a folded newspaper between her and the oaf so as not to come into direct contact and sat down.
As she was telling me this story I glanced down several times to make sure I wasn’t encroaching upon her space. I am leaning towards five or so pounds overweight, since hurting my leg and taking a break from running but thankfully I was surely within the boundaries of my seat. At just under six feet I feel slightly cramped in a typical train seat. Lorraine, several inches shorter, slim and fit looked quite comfortable in her reclaimed window seat now. The conductor stopped by to punch my ticket and lingered a little longer than necessary looking at Lorraine’s legs. “Seriously?”, she said glaring at the conductor. “Oh sorry Ma’am I was daydreaming, been a long day”.
I was actually planning to review and organize my thoughts to prepare for my interview, but I was enjoying the distraction. She was very different than many of the people that I have known. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I am not a great judge of character so I wondered what my wife would think of her, what my brother would think of her. Assertive but not pushy, relaxed in her own skin, unlike me. I measure every word I say. The filter mechanism is so ingrained I don’t even realize it is happening anymore. When or why my guard went up I’m not sure. My brother who is almost ten years older than me, always maintains that I was a most spontaneous and care free adolescent. According to him I would sometimes blurt things out that would embarrass myself or others but mostly I unabashedly spoke my mind, revealing my feelings. He asserted that around thirteen or fourteen I became quiet and contemplative. Right or wrong I disagreed, I feel it was more gradual, one brick at a time, until I was surrounded. Throughout my years I’ve been trying to remove the wall but it is an even slower more incremental process than building the wall. Instead of panicking I’m starting to use breathing techniques and meditation to keep me sane through the process. The fleeting times when I’ve felt so incredibly alive were experienced with my wife especially when we first met and were inseparable. I had never felt my heart pound, like it did, with the anticipation of waiting to see her, the total and complete abandonment to passion and unselfish pleasure when we wrapped in each others arms. Then later, the other side of the coin, my blood rushing to my head in jealousy when I found out another was pursuing her. Well, the point is, I guess, if there ever is an actual point to anything, I began feeling emotion again. It was kind of an emotional new beginning. Still in most aspects of my life I was living in a most guarded way.
In my youth I felt that something was wrong with me as I stumbled around trying to find out who I was and what made me tick. I didn’t feel I was good at anything I tried to do music, drawing, poetry. These arts eluded my abilities yet I was intensely drawn to them, especially creative writing. Sadly, it seemed, I was more skilled in the practical arts, like fighting and stealing. These skills came in very handy growing up in South Philly, but looking back I wonder if it was just more bricks in my growing wall. I must say I came to life and felt every fiber of my being and tingled with emotion when I was in a fist fight. Fear and bravado converged in a stance, a stare, a sneer, a violent flurry of punches, stepping in, stepping back, swinging, ducking, blocking, landing the upper cut. Laughing, standing victorious shaking as the violence dissipated out of every pore. Or as sometimes happened, even laying in a bruised heap, on the ground in defeat, beaten and spent was an emotionally charged event. Looking back I am so embarrassed and ashamed by the way I was. How the streets began to take hold and shape me into something so reprehensible. This is what sometimes happens to inner city kids without fathers or structure or discipline. With psychological gaps waiting to be filled by whatever city life had to offer a poor kid. The streets can have much sway and can fill any empty spaces with booze, drugs and crime, but I digress.
She asked what I did for a living and without much effort found out why I was going to the “big apple”. I told her about my job interview. She got uncharacteristically quiet and listened intently while I sketched for her, in general terms, how I ended up next to her on this train to NYC.
Part II of a short story I am working on
When it went up on the board that my train would be delayed even longer. I began to become more anxious. I spent several minutes following the flow of my breath and repeating my mantra and it actually started to calm me down.
I was new to all of this and after several weeks of mindfulness training I was having mixed results. I was taking the training because my doctor sent me to talk to a psycho therapist to see if they could help me overcome my new invisible companions; anxiety and worry. He didn’t think it was a good idea to continue prescribing anti-anxiety medication. It was giving me headaches and making me sleepy not to mention that I was averse to taking any kind of pills.
I never had a moment of anxiety or worry in my life and now at the grand old age of fifty four I couldn’t shake it. Seemingly, I had gone through my years ignorant of the panoply of subjects to worry about. This all changed one winter night when I was laying in bed and for the first time ever could not fall asleep. First it was too hot, then I worried about the heater, then wondered if I paid the bill. Changed the oil in my car? What if I die, how will my family get along? What if my wife dies? What if my kids die? This thought shot me out of bed and onto my feet. What the hell was I thinking this kind of shit for? I walked around the house for a few minutes trying to shake the feeling and at the same time not wake anybody up.
The train arrivals and departures started flashing and scrolling on the screen behind the main desk like a video game gone beserk. When the letters and numbers settled there was another fifteen minutes delay added to my train. I approached the reception desk and walked up to a short stubby man in an Amtrak uniform who was trying his best to ignore me. “Excuse me sir, why are so many trains delayed this morning?”, I tried to hide my aggravation and politely asked. “There’s an issue just north of Wilmington”, he grumbled. “What kind of issue”, I asked “do you expect it to be straightened out anytime soon?” “I’m really not at liberty to say sir and I have limited information. Seems to be a mechanical problem. Everything should be getting back to normal soon”. Looking at me like I was an great aanoyance he turned away again. He was acting like I wanted to extract one of his teeth rather than a little information about my train.
I shrugged resignedly, walked back to my bench and sat down heavily. Breathing in and breathing out. Paying close attention to my breath, trying to concentrate only on my mantra and following the ebb and flow of my breathing. Noticing my thoughts but letting go of them as I refocused my attention to my mantra. It sounded easy but my mind kept going back to the train being delayed and how this job interview was really important to me. My brother told me that I should go up to New York City the night before so I didn’t have to worry about being late. I reminded him that the interview was at 1:00pm and that I planned to catch the 9:00am Amtrak and would have plenty of time. He said I was being cheap and even offered to pay for my hotel room. Of course I got mad and told him to shove his hotel room. No doubt, if this train doesn’t roll in soon, as usual, he might be proven right. With less than $5,000.00 left in my bank account and a family counting on me I calculated I was approximately three months from financial collapse. I didn’t think it was a luxury I could afford. I will have plenty of time. I insisted that easily, by 11:30, I will be comfortably seated at a Starbucks a few short blocks from my interview. At 12:45 I will pack up my laptop and head across the street and do my best to impress my prospective employer. I had already sent samples of my work and they liked them, otherwise, I would not even be invited. It didn’t hurt that I had several good references from top people in the industry . The company I worked in was moving to Austin, Texas and closing it’s Philly location. They were consolidating there territories and mine was being swallowed up by a southeast tech rep from Atlanta who had more clout than me. Being the son of a company big shot was all the clout he needed. I didn’t like Jason much, his knowledge of lock hardware and master keying systems couldn’t fill a small teacup and his ego and braggadocios personality couldn’t be contained by Madison Square Garden. I burned some bridges pretty well with his father when I found out that his son was getting my territory in the shake up. I would be out of a job in two weeks because I refused to uproot my family and become a tech rep in the midwest. It would have been a lateral move and my wife would never leave the area because of her tight knit family and my kids were in school, well established and thriving. It would be too traumatic for all of us and the battle would just not be worth it. Telling a VP to go fuck himself is never a good idea, especially when it would create a gaping hole in my resume. Fortunately I had some others inside the company who would quietly give me high recommendations. There weren’t many openings for master keying specialists and there was intense competition for any that opened up anywhere in the country. There had been so much upheaval and so many traditional jobs lost in the hardware industry as a result of the digital age. Computers have become center pieces everywhere and lock technology was no different. Technicians who were losing their jobs to attrition and worse were older guys like myself and the people coming into the field were more computer hardware and software specialists. People like me who understand how hardware actually works and can communicate with end users about high security key systems, card access, retina and fingerprint readers were still invaluable to the manufacturers.
It’s been a long time since I last saw you but I still can recall how you took my heart and you tore it in two You left me high and dry for another man Now you are back casting a shadow on my life again
For you love is Catch As Catch Can but you won’t catch me being your fool again
You left me high and dry for another man Now you are back casting a shadow on my life again
For you love is Catch As Catch Can but you won’t catch me being your fool again
Now you say you’ve changed and I can see that it’s true What you don’t see baby is I, well, I’ve changed too The lines cut deeper across your face That old magic is slip slidding away
For you love is Catch As Catch Can but you won’t catch me being your fool again
Written by Gene Halloran Catch As Catch Can©
Recorded at Foss4UsMusic
Gene Halloran Guitar/Lead Vocals Gary Gerace Lead Guitars/Backing Vocals/ Recording Mastering/etc Rob Hermans Bass/Backing Vocals/ Sound Engineering/etc Alan Schwartz Drums/ Backing Vocals/etc
On my way to the train station the Uber ride was beginning to lull me into a trance. The driver was talking but I’m not exactly sure what he was saying and he stopped. I let go of my mantra and against my better judgement I began to think.
What makes me tick? What makes me strong? What makes me sick? What makes me right? What makes me wrong? What gets me stuck? What gets me going? Putting one foot in front of the other until I find my way. What makes me worry and run for cover? Closing my heart to discovery instead of opening up my mind to whatever is waiting. My true self is still a true mystery after all these years. It’s hard to believe that it always comes back to that basic question. I know my name and what I like and don’t like. I know what brings me joy and brings me sadness, but who am I? Who am I? Why am I here?
After finding out my train was going to be late I tried to get comfortable on the wooden benches at 30th Street Station. A homeless man approached me and asked for money. I didn’t have much but I gave him a dollar anyway. I guess that wasn’t enough because he then proceeded to ask for a cigarette. I told him I didn’t smoke. He went away grumbling something about me being cheap. Laughing to myself, I half surrender, because my brother always tells me I’m cheap. I don’t necessarily agree with him, it’s not that I’m cheap, I just never have much money. I tried turning my attention to my breath and began repeating my mantra but it just wasn’t working for me today. My thinking continued and continued and continued ad nauseum. Mantra be damned.
I want to be happy-go-lucky, care free instead of stressing about one thing or another. Feeling good about myself, my life, my world is a luxury that is more often fleeting than not.
I’m not as good as a saint, not as bright as a genius but I feel there is something inside that wants to be, needs to be, expressed. Something worthwhile to be spoken or written, painted or composed. I wish I could write a symphony. It would be a glorious piece starting with low bass drums rumbling through half then quarter notes and joined by a brooding group of contra basses finally the tension being relieved by a swelling chorus of cellos, violas, and violins answered by French horns and trumpets into a rousing crescendo telling the trials and tribulations of a minor Greek god, named something like Titaneous, seeking his rightful place among the stars. I can hear it but I can’t write it so it goes unwritten and Titaneous is forgotten to history.
I try to bring myself back to my mantra but I have to pay attention to the announcements to see if my train is to arrive soon or will be delayed even longer.
I’ve lived a great life but somehow I still feel incomplete and no matter what I do, what I accomplish, this void remains unfilled. I read some philosophy books in my younger days that made it clear that part of the human condition is feeling incomplete and insecure. That no matter how good things are, there can be a deep feeling that something awful is about to happen or that something is missing. I think some try to fill the void with work or play, god, money, drugs, booze, books, music, art, a crusade against the left, a crusade against the right. Insert your own void filling pursuit, but all are in vain because of the way we are wired. We are wired among other things, for self preservation. The big fish eat the little fish. The strongest caveman gets the most food, the most desirable mate, and so on and so on. Is this all true? If so, how have things changed. Powerful armies stood ready when democracy was born in ancient Greece. I have it so good that my pressing questions are “who am I”, “why am I” instead of “what can I eat”, “where can I sleep”. There were probably no alarm companies monitoring caves during the Neanderthal Age but maybe there were alarms. Dogs? Bats? I don’t know.
But…”Who am I” “Why am I here”? Maybe what I do defines who I am. Maybe what I do is determined by “why I am here”.
Maybe the only truly noble pursuit is in helping our fellow humans in whatever way that we can. I am much too selfish and self centered to devote my life to others, but deep down I feel that is the right thing to do. Like many people, I am just a couple of paychecks away from a cardboard box home on the sidewalk. So I work, making sure the money keeps coming and I keep the city steam vents at bay.
Work may be our lone salvation. Finding something to do that you love and doing it will hopefully provide a sufficient income to keep a roof over your head, the pantry stocked the bills paid and if you are very lucky a little left over for retirement and some fun. Sounds simple but it is not always as easy as seems at least not for some.
This is is where I say I have had a good life and am even spoiled by my circumstances, because even though I may not love my job as much as I would like to some people spend.. …..to be continued….