Of Work Outs, Things Working Out, and Pete For Pleasure
I once heard a quote that “Time is God’s way of keeping everything from happening all at once”. Lord, could you please google the author of this and slay them?
For Shelley and I, everything seemed to come at the same time, like a choreographed orgy of eruptions.
For us this winter, only the weather was mild.
First, there was the fact we had to move, which would have certainly been enough.
Then her 30 year old son suffers a meltdown, entering the hospital for psych meds and perhaps losing his marriage in the process, and hands Shelley his Blackberry so she can handle his business affairs just as she’s in the midst of packing up the apartment.
All this while I’m receiving increasingly frantic emails from Michele, the therapist who holds the lease for our Manhattan office, out of which I’ve been seeing clients for years. The lease is expiring and she seems unable to get it renewed. The last week of February, we learn we all have to be out by the end of the month.
And in the middle of all this, Shelley gets a letter from her union saying, “Your short term disability payments are now complete. Also, the rest of your union benefits.” In other words, no more health insurance coverage for either of us. This means we have to start paying about a thou a month for COBRA.
And right about this same time, I get sick with a terrible case of Bronchitis that kicks the shit out of me.
During all this, I find myself alternately ducking for cover; finding some grace to deal with it all, and then losing it; and also struggling with faith: Is this some kind of test? I keep praying/envisioning: Thank you Lord for having it all work out. But it seems God is mishearing me: What’s that? You say you want me to give you a workout? So I just keep trudging, bleary eyed and wind-burnt, head down into the storm. Every now and then I call a man on my team for support, but mostly I find myself stoically determined to just put one foot in front of the other, and I don’t look up much for help or relief.
Except for Pete. He helped.
I finally have Shelley show me how to work her Kindle, that little hand-held saver of forests and destroyer of bookstores, and download into it “A Drinking Life”. All through my 20s and 30s and beyond, I read Pete Hamill in the Voice or the old Post, the last of a dying breed of working class intellectuals, men’s men who boozed and brawled and wielded their typewriters to excoriate the hypocrites, bigots and warmongers of the right.
A Drinking Life is his memoir of growing up in the 40s and 50s in a tough and gritty working class Irish and Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn called Park Slope. His depiction of 7th and 8th Avenues at the time stands as a startling reminder of how much has changed in our town, and how fast. So I clutch the Kindle and snatch a spare moment here and there and bite off a few pages like a delicious snack.
Our actual move, it turns out, is rough. To save money, I gather my own help, getting the word out via email, and rustling up five young men for the day. By the time it’s over, two of them quit. Before this, they get my mother’s dining room breakfront, our best piece of furniture, down 3 flights of stairs, only to have it keel over, right there on the street, from a 50 MPH gust of wind. Further, our huge, 7’ by 7’ bookcase stubbornly refuses to leave the house. (Everyone keeps asking me, “Are you sure you didn’t assemble it up in the apartment? How did anyone ever get it up there?”) In the middle of all this, Shelley hangs up from a conversation with her son and comes to me sobbing hysterically because he seems to be unravelling before her eyes.
On top of this, the amount of stuff we’ve accumulated during 122 years of living —
Stop right there! I can hear Shelley say. Your stuff, Charley! Accumulated over 62 years. Leave me out of it! I’ve been cleaning my stuff out for the past six months! It’s your books; your newspapers and magazines; your CDs; your records and file cabinets…
Ok ok! Mostly my stuff, and during moving day it keeps getting excavated like so many archeological layers. Two loads in the 16-foot Penske truck we rent can’t schlep it all, and some of us have to go back the next day to finish the job. At this (st)age, I really can no longer abide all these…things, but I always somehow feel like a traitor, a betrayer of something, whenever I throw anything out.
Arriving in our new place, there’s such an overwhelming amount of stuff that the following Monday morning I’m about to go to work and find myself in a panic – where’d we pack my hat? Oh- over here! And where are my office keys?! And where’s my belt? Oh oh…no belt today! And my good shoes? Oh oh again.
….all while I’m frantically emailing and on the phone trying to scare up a new office in time for March. Hoping Michele can keep our old place; keeping a very sweet therapist on extended hold for days about a cave-like office tucked into the back of 80 E. 11th Street, a building so old, Abraham Lincoln slept there. And in the meantime I’m checking out this better office in a professional suite in a doorman building, on 5th Avenue and 14th Street, that’s promising but the lease holder is unsure if he can give me the days I need. And besides, when that space gets vacated, they’re taking the file cabinet with them, which turns out to be noteworthy.
So how does it all turn out?
Well, tonight, I find myself here in our new home, after my first day at my new office — on 5th Avenue and 14th. By coincidence (a skeptic’s name for God) it turns out that, while the surprisingly below-market rents charged for our new apartment and my new office are not the primary reason for taking either place, the savings add up to within a few dollars of what we’ll be paying each month for COBRA.
And the day after the move, Roy from my men’s team comes over to remove the broken doors and filigree from the dining room breakfront, and it looks better than ever.
And Shelley’s son came by yesterday to help out a bit, having seemingly regained his balance, and determined to set things right for himself.
Last Saturday night, we walk up Cortelyou Avenue and discover restaurants and bars and there’s just so much to explore. And every morning, I wake up to just a little less of a Where AM I? feeling.
Finally, I visit Ron, my therapist, and there, in a box, is a file cabinet. “It just came but it’s not what I want. If you can use it, I can sell it to you for cheap.”
Sometimes, change comes in storm clouds that burst and thunder and flash and pour themselves all over you. You get wet. And eventually, they go away. What can you do, except what you gotta do to get through?
So it’s all working out, I suppose. But then again, how am I to know whether my work out is over?