Monday, April 6, 2009

I Loved Those Sunglasses

I loved those sunglasses. Prescription Ray Bans. They were stolen a few months later when my car was broken into.

The summer of 1989. Five months before this picture, I was passed out on the bathroom floor of a room in the Las Vegas Hilton. Five months later, I had moved to the Lower East Side and onto some new adventures. During the time of this picture, I was in psychoanalysis. I was working in Elizabeth still, driving the last car I ever owned, a 1979 Grand Marquis, an 8-cylinder gas guzzling Sherman tank of a vehicle. Every Monday, I drove that boat to 110th Street, the Columbia University neighborhood, and spent an hour talking with Dorothy, a clinical psychologist, about my favorite subject, me. Going over events and figuring things out. Anxiety, depression everyone gets it and I was in psychoanalysis for about five years or so. One of the smartest, most beneficial things I have ever done.

This wasn’t some Hunter S. Thompson thing in Vegas, not some result of a rowdy bachelor party or some such. Forget about the movie you’re thinking about. I was at work. Trade Magazines have been the career. Covering an industry, business to business advertising. Kind of dying these days. Trade Magazine journalists go to trade shows and sooner or later, if you go to trade shows you wind up in Las Vegas. Been there dozens of times, for some periods, several times a year. All for work. The trade show issue, called the Show Issue is one of the biggest publications of the year and so there’s a month or so of intensive work filling up these massive publications. Then you go to the convention, talk about the magazine, talk to people attending the convention to buy and exhibiting at the booths on the trade show floor to sell. The task is to promote the magazine while also writing stories and taking pictures for future issues. At night, you party.

Gambling bores me; I just never got into it. Too many numbers to remember. Everybody else at the trade show loves it, which is why they are held in Las Vegas. You do not know tedium until you hear grown men discuss black jack. After some chit chat about the industry, economy, and what not, there would be the symposium about when to double down.

I was with my friend, Bob, who was older and a trade magazine veteran. Advertising Sales. We were colleagues. The owner of the company was as cheap as they come and we had to share a room. We both smoked. We had beer and vodka in the room. I was in my late 20s. I went away to college, had a great time and came back to the Regan recession, no job prospects and broke. Living at home. About two years after college I got this basically minimum wage job at this trade magazine company. I could write, but I didn’t major in journalism. Philosophy & Economics (minor). So, I spent much time being mentored, read some journalism text books on my own as well as three newspapers a day, magazines, just to get the style. I had been writing for school newspapers since Grammar School. I’m curious and like to ask questions and remember what people say. I’m a natural reporter. In about five years I was named Editor and was finally making a decent salary. My salary quadrupled in that time, which only verifies how low the entry level fee for my services had been. I was in a relationship with this woman, Donna. She could be nice, was sexually uninhibited, an excellent cook and often fun loving. But, Donna was essentially an evil person and compulsive liar, an alcoholic and sometime drug addict, and crazy—she was eventually institutionalized—and we sort of lived together. She worked with me, for a time too. My father had died—sudden. Aneurysm. And a month after his death, Donna decided to ended it. Finally, I had made something of my post-college life and the man who I needed approval from most is gone and the woman I loved with every cell in my body calls it off.

The break up—I’ll go into the landmark arguments some other time—happened about a week before this Vegas trip. I had basically what I have come to realize was a nervous breakdown. A mild but extended panic attack. I could focus on work; otherwise, I was spiraling through sadness and confusion.

So, instead of falling apart, get my mind off it all. Have fun. The mind has a way of staying on things you think you’re avoiding. Bob and I made plans to have a real night out on the town. Let’s go to Tony Romas for Ribs, go to those funky casinos like the Four Queens. Okay, just calm down, he said. I did my showering and was in my hip clothes—Frye boots, black jeans and a silk shirt. I was hitting the Absolut. I drank it at the time with ice, sometimes a hint of club soda. Party! The thing I liked about Vegas was the lounges, where you can actually hear some great music. Talented working class musicians. I remember this one group that would do Motown and Bob Seger. Always tight. I usually hung out at the lounges listen to the musicians while my colleagues deposited money at the tables. A night of drunkenness and digging on the lounge acts. What a fabulous idea—I love this town! I need to forget about Donna. Might as well get properly lubricated to full appreciate the lights and desert air. I had finished nearly all the Absolute in about an hour. Bob was dressing when I went to the bathroom. I remember hearing his voice a few times, knocking. I was too busy puking and after puking I was sprawled on the tiles. Eventually, Bob went out to the casino in the Hilton, had dinner some where, came back. I woke up sometime in the morning. We went back to work. He gave me the name and number of his wife’s shrink.

About two days or so, I was in her office. I figured I would get a prescription for Valium, and just numb myself until the blues faded. I was not unfamiliar with a broken heart. In about three minutes, I was sobbing, explaining the story of my life to her. She handed me a box of tissues. No, I am not a physician, I cannot prescribe drugs. Once a week, we’ll talk. You will not get better right away, but you will get better.

I had to learn how to function. She diagnosed my situation. I was stuck. She told me some great things. Whenever I feel depressed, ask what are you angry about. I was afraid to be me. The things I liked to do, and wanted to do, I was always afraid to do because of ridicule, from my friends, family, lovers. She told me these words, Let Tim be Tim.

It’s funny how therapy works. I liked lying on her couch. It was just a regular couch, but I liked to lie down, stare at the ceiling, talk. A mix of things, what was going on in my life, sometimes a dream or two, then memories. All the resentment I had piled up in three decades about how I was brought up, the family dynamics, all came out. I had very intense grief over the death of my father. I needed to work that through too. The grief was all intertwined with resentment about him and how he treated me and for the approval that I thought I deserved, that I desperately needed, that I only got in dribs and drabs and even then, likely too late to make a difference. Then you feel guilt about the resentment which only intensifies the grief. Everyone experiences extraordinary levels of anxiety at certain periods of life. This was mine.

Slowly I was able to reconcile, move forward. I started saving money. I did some things I always wanted to—took a yoga class, went to these meetings of the Bergen Community Poetry Society, which were like workshops and readings. Even started to go to Mass once in a while. I had never taken a vacation, so I actually did that, bought tickets to this singles resort thing in Jamaica—I was really into Bob Marley and Peter Tosh at the time. I bought a pair of prescription sunglasses.

Actually, the trip to the Jamaica wasn’t that great. I was not the type of guy to go to a singles resort. But, I did yoga on the beach in the morning, rode horses which I used to like to do in College, at dude ranches, nothing like a serious equestrian thing, but it was fun. Riding horses along the Jamaican beaches seeing fishermen with nets. Really some beauty to be seen, clean, lush, like a Dali painting.

I was on the Beach listening to Ascension by John Coltrane on the Walkman and reading Flannery O’Conner and figured out how to change my life. I wanted to get a job in a New York Magazine and move to Manhattan. This was July or August. By November or so, I was working as a Senior Editor on Park Avenue (south), which wasn’t really a promotion but the magazines were more prestigious and the money was much better. Disappointment would set in eventually but at the time, a pretty big deal, something to feel good about. Soon after the holidays, I had a moving van and me and my buddy Danny loaded up with my meager belongings, about seven cases of books was the size of it. I had bought some furniture at the Salvation Army in Paterson, as well some dishes and things. People were at the houses, my sister and her friends, neighbors walking over. They couldn’t believe I was actually moving out and they couldn’t believe anyone would move to the city. Dozens of folks waved good bye as we pulled out of the driveway of the house where I grew up and left Paramus.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. A truism for sure. The thing of it is though, it doesn’t happen over night, the getting stronger part. The killing you part happens quickly, sometimes at a moment’s notice. The getting stronger part, that takes time. God, I loved those sunglasses.

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