Category: approaching-40

The very last day of the good thirties

I’ve got about 16 hours of my thirties left and that seems rather momentous to me. I can clearly remember my friends and coworkers in the Santa Monica office throwing me a little party ten years ago as I forever left my twenties behind.  And here I am on the cusp of doing the same for my thirties.

Looking back over the first forty years, I note two things that really jump out at me. First, how quickly it has all gone by. In many ways it really goes feel like a blink. Time and memory are funny things. Their very abstractness leads to absurdity. I can, for instance, recall certain moments of my life from when I was seven or eight years old with photographic clarity and they feel as if they just took place. Like it was yesterday. There is a feeling you get with increased age, a kind of clarity that you are ever more rapidly approaching some dark event. I often think of it as a movie you love to watch. Watching it that first time is incredible, you are lost in it, notice no passing of time whatsoever. You realize, sitting there in the dark, that you don’t want the movie to end, and you find yourself glancing at the time to see how much more before the credits start to roll. And when the credits do start to roll, you sit there in awe of how quickly the time had passed.

Second, I find it difficult to believe that I’ve actually been around for forty years. I think that our self-image is a kind of aggregation of everything that came before, and the vast bulk of what came before is a much younger you. We therefore tend to think of ourselves as being forever young and that is certainly the case with me. I don’t feel like an imminent quadragenarian.

In truth, nothing really changes tomorrow when I turn forty. It is like any other birthday, or any other day for that matter, since birthday’s are really just arbitrary milestones we use to mark the passage of our years. Tomorrow, I will be no different than today, just a day older. The movie continues, with its twists and turns, and I keep watching, one eye on the clock, the other looking for who done it.

Or this:

Approaching 40: I was brought to my senses

After graduation, I moved back to my parent’s house. They lived in Northridge, California, but the earthquake earlier that year had forced them out of their house and into a rental nearby while their house was repaired.  I worked most of that summer of that summer doing computer work for the dorm cafeteria at UC Riverside. I would commute out there several times a week. It was about a 90 minute drive, but what made the time go by so quickly was the OJ Simpson murder trial, which was broadcast on the radio, and which was sweeping the nation at that time.

I applied half-heartedly for a few other jobs, but I really had no idea what I wanted to do. With a degree in political science and journalism, the main object would be law school–but I had no interest in that. I’d been doing computer work, and that was interesting to me. There was an ad for a computer specialist to work at a “help desk” at a company in Santa Monica, so I applied to that, not thinking much of it. Eventually, I was called for an interview and I went on my first real post-college job interview on September 7, 1994. It was a grueling, all-day-long interview and included lunch. I think I got to the corporate offices at around 8:30am and didn’t finish up the final interview until 4:30pm. When it was all over, I was wiped out. I didn’t want to talk about it.

And then, nothing happened. It was as if the people I’d interviewed with went into a black hole. For more than a month, I’d heard nothing. I’d sent thank you notes to the people involved with the interview, and I think I might have sent a follow-up or two. It wasn’t until early October that I found out from the people in the dorm cafeteria offices that they’d been called for references. I took that as a positive sign, but still nothing happened.

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Approaching 40: I’ll remember

Sometime in the spring of 1994, the last semester of senior year at college, me and a bunch of friends headed over to the local theater one evening to catch the film With Honors. I knew nothing about the movie going in, but it ultimately dealt with college kids (at Harvard, I believe) and at the end, they all graduated. It was a kind of poignant moment, because our graduation was just around the corner. The song that played in that final scene (perhaps as the credits rolled, I don’t recall) was Madonna’s “I’ll Remember,” and ever since, I’ve associated that song with my own graduation.

My graduation took place in June 1994. My grandparents couldn’t make it because they were traveling, and I was rather disappointed by this. We’d done a practice the day (or perhaps week) before so the entire graduating class knew what to do. UC Riverside was, at the time, one of the smaller of the University of California campuses, but we still had in the neighborhood of 8,000 students and that meant a pretty big graduating class. The rest of my family came down to attend the graduation ceremony. I would just as soon have skipped it. I’m not particularly sentimental and I felt that working my ass off for four years earned me the right to skip out on the insanity of sitting in the baking sun for a few hours, while wearing black. Indeed, this bothered me so much, that I later parodied the event in my first published science fiction story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer”:

The fact that it was summer solstice would, under ordinary circumstances, never have entered my mind. However, it was also my graduation day and the high-noon sun would allow none of us graduates to forget that summer was upon us. The graduation ceremony was like a final exam: one in which we demonstrated that we were smart enough to follow one another in an endless procession, under a blazing sun, draped in black. We sat there baking while the speaker cast his arms about the similarly-dressed audience, praising our individuality. Finally the dean of the school conferred upon us our respective degrees, and we tossed our sweat-drenched caps into the air and plotted our escape.

That was not far from the truth of my own graduation day. It was baking hot out. My family sat in the bleachers somewhere while I sat down among the graduates, lost in a sea of black, indistinguishable from anyone else. I was hot and the sun was making me hotter. Halfway through the endless ceremony I began to grow restless. When it was my turn to head up to receive my diploma, I made a decision. I walked onto the stage, smiled, accepted my diploma, shook hands, and then proceeded back down the aisle toward my seat as instructed. Only, I didn’t stop at my row. I kept going. And going, right out of the ceremony area, and indeed, right off campus and back to my apartment, where I lay down on my bed in the cool breath of the air conditioning and napped until my family found their way back.

I think it was a little difficult to believe that I actually graduated. College had simply sped by. I felt like I’d just gotten through with my high school graduation ceremony and here I was four years later, with a college degree in my pocket.

Of course, that was not really the end, but the beginning. Now that I had a degree, I was done with school. I’d been in school as far back as I could remember. Now it would be time for me to start looking for a job. I had no idea what kind of job I would look for, or what I would be interested in doing. I’d been doing some computer work for the office administrators of the dorm cafeteria and that, at least, I could continue through the summer. But at some point, I’d need to find a job. And in the summer of 1994, the job market was not great.

Approaching 40: Lost for words

Senior year in college zoomed by. I was playing catch-up, taking extra classes in order to make up for some of the slower semesters in my sophomore year. I took 16 units first quarter of senior year, 20 units second quarter, and, with special permission from the Dean, 24 units my last quarter. I was also working plenty of hours at the dorm cafeteria. Looking back on it, I have no idea how I pulled it off. I do know that I was moving around a lot, my days were a jumble of activities.

I’d recently obtained Pink Floyd’s latest album, The Division Bell, and for a time, I’ve go from place-to-place with my Walkman headphones on my ears, listening to that tape over and over again.

The song, “Lost For Words” reminds me of those times. It seems to me that my schedule at one point was particularly hectic. I had an early breakfast shift in the dorm cafeteria, after which I went to classes for most of the day before returning to the dorm cafeteria for an evening custodial shift. I’d listen to my Walkman wherever I walked. Walking from the dorms to campus in the morning was pleasant and it is that walk that I am reminded of when I hear “Lost For Words.”

Much of the rest of that time is a blur. I really don’t know how I did it, but I look at my transcript and the grades are there. Somehow, I pulled it off. Of course, I was a lot younger and with a lot more energy back then. And I really wanted to graduate in four years. That probably helped.

Approaching 40: Try not to breathe

My first two years in college were a kind of on-the-job training at independence. I wasn’t very focused on the actual classes in my sophomore year and my grades suffered to some extent because of that. In the summer that followed my sophomore year, however, my and two friends got an apartment just off campus. We decided to spend the summer working in the dorm cafeteria and I decided that my grades would improve the in the fall. I’d changed majors at the end of my sophomore year and would be a political science major.

Sometime early in my junior year R.E.M.’s album Automatic For the People came out. Listening to that album reminds me of the early days of my junior year, but I have a very specific memory of the song, “Try Not to Breathe.”

I spent that entire summer working hard in the cafeteria, but also trying to figure out how to become better at studying. I put what I learned to use as soon as classes started in the fall. I had a new method for taking notes, for instance. I developed a kind of short-hand for taking my notes. Each evening, I’d type all of my notes up into a file for each subject, using Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS–the single best word processor Microsoft ever managed to produce. I’d do something similar for my reading notes. When it came time to study for a test, I’d use the “index” feature in Microsoft Word to highlight keywords in the notes file and have an index of all of the keywords (in alphabetical order) generated, with a reference to the page or pages where they’d show up in the document. I’d think print out the notes, turn to the index, read a term and see if I knew what it was all about. If I didn’t, I had the page reference to my notes on the subject right there.

Whenever I hear “Try Not to Breathe” I think of studying the notes for my first political science mid-term. I believe it was a European Politics class. A friend of mine was taking the class as well (as an elective) and we studied a bit together the night before. I remember sitting at the dining room table in the apartment, working my way through my notes, with the R.E.M. album playing on the stereo in the background.

I went to class the next day and took the mid-term.

The following week, at the end of class, we got our midterms back. I thought I’d done okay, considering how much of an effort I put in, but I was a little nervous because I was essentially testing out an entirely new method of studying. The professor handed me my test: I got a perfect score.

It was the first time since starting college that I got a perfect score on any test.

You can’t imagine the confidence that filled me with. My method worked! Indeed, for the rest of my time in school, I scored mostly A’s, with a few minor exceptions, and in the very last semester of my senior year, while taking 24 units (with special permission) in order to graduate on time, I received straight A’s. And that despite working in the dorm cafeteria as well.

Approaching 40: Mercy street

In between all of the classes and the work in the dorm cafeteria that freshman year at UCR, there was some occasional recreating. The first fraternity party to which I ventured was a KA party somewhere just off campus. My roommate drove there and there were three or four of us in his car. Out in the back of the frat house was a keg of god-awful Coors Light that was watered down to nothing. Still, it managed to be enough for my roommate. I can’t remember how long we were there but when we were getting ready to leave, we decided that my roommate was too far gone to drive. His car was a manual drive shift on the column car, and the drive back to the dorms was hilarious for two reasons. First, watching the other fellow try to drive the old-fashioned stick-shift was funny. Second, my roommate began to get queasy and to prevent throwing up in his car, he shoved his keys in his mouth.

There was a kind of horseshoe drive that pulled up to the main entrance of the dorms and when the car came to a stop, my roommate dashed out the door and stuffed his head into the nearest trashcan. By that point I was on the ground laughing.

There were quieter times, however. I had an IBM 286 and occasionally, we’d play some games. One of the games that me and my friend Rich would play was Stunts. It was a racing game in which you could design your own tracks. We could play that for hours. What I remember best is sitting in my dorm room playing Stunts with Rich while Peter Gabriel’s So album played in the background. Sometimes we’d design these tracks with long straightaways that lead to be jumps. There was a desert background to them. To this day, whenever I hear “Mercy Street” I am back in my dorm room, dimly lit, sitting in front of the computer racing along one of our newly designed tracks, the car speeding down a long straightaway.

Those were some good times. Far better than the KA parties with the terrible beer.

Approaching 40: All this time

When I think of the early part of my freshman year at college, there is only one album that comes to mind: Sting’s The Soul Cages.

In June of 1990, I graduated from high school. After graduation there was a big party at one of my friend’s houses and even one of our well-liked teachers showed up to celebrate. I think perhaps he was just happy to be rid of us. That summer sped by. I worked at a neighborhood pharmacy during the day and hung out with my friends as much as I could at other times. I got a bicycle as a graduation present–something that would be of particular use at school–and I recall driving out to a bike shop in Westlake Village to pick it up.

Before I knew it, though, the summer was over and my parents and I (and my little sister, too, I think) made the 90 minute drive out to Riverside, California where I would be living for the next four years as a student at the University of California, Riverside. I remember unloading my stuff from the car and getting it setup in my dorm room. I remember saying goodbye to my parents. My parents didn’t buy sugared cereals at home, and for the first several weeks in the dorm, I think I ate nothing but Fruit Loops–four bowls at a time–for breakfast lunch and dinner. In part, I think it was a kind of personal rebellion; but in part it was a sign of new-found freedom.

Not long after I started, I got a job in the dorm cafeteria–a job that I held for the duration of my stay at the school, even when I moved into an apartment. I started in the dishroom, but by the time I graduated, four years later, I was doing computer work for them.

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Approaching 40: Hold on to the night

The Cleveland Humanities Magnet class of 1990’s class song was Richard Marx’s “Hold On To the Night.” I had nothing to do with the choice. But the song does remind me of senior prom and that leads into the topic of school dances. Since that dance way back in seventh grade, I was never a big attender of school dances. Until senior year that is. During my senior year I had a girlfriend and she went to a different high school, so I had the great good fortune of attending several dances at my own school and a few at hers, and not one but two senior proms.

Those dances seemed like a very big deal to me at the time, and yet reflecting back on them, there was a fair amount of hobbledehoyishness to them that comes with the inexperience of the age, I suppose. There was the novelty of dressing up in tuxedos and seeing your girl dressed up in fancy dresses. There was the novelty of being escorted in a limousine. (At one of the proms I attended, our Limousine driver looked exactly like Hulk Hogan.) There was the novelty of being in a fancy hotel for a banquet. But beyond that, what did you really do? There was food but I seem to recall being too nervous to eat. Nervous about what I’m not certain. You danced, of course, and the songs that were played were packed with just enough nostalgia for the three years you spent at the school to make you feel both sad to be leaving and grateful to be escaping. “Hold On To the Night” is a perfect example, I think. What senior class does not attempt to freeze the moment in time just before graduation? Not only are you a senior at this point, but you’ve already been accepted to college. Your grades don’t really matter. Summer is just around the corner. Of course it seems like an idyllic time.

But there are always things that sour those moments, and I’m afraid I was guilty of one such faux pas at my senior prom. My prom took place on a boat that cruised around the harbor of Los Angeles. My memories of much of the evening are a blur, but I do remember spending a fair amount of time outside on the deck, leaning on the railing and watching the sea and the stars. Sounds pleasant, and perhaps it would be if it were not for the fact that I was ignoring my date. Not intentionally. I just didn’t get to be out on the ocean at night time very often. The sky was unusually clear for L.A. and I was captivated by it. By my date was not. She was furious and the long, silent car ride home was abysmal. I knew I’d screwed up but I didn’t know how to fix it. We eventually moved past it, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I managed to smooth things over. I always felt terrible about the way I behaved and for many, many years, when I heard Richard Marx’s “Hold On To the Night,” it was that night that my memory seemed to hold on to.

Approaching 40: What It Takes

During my senior year in high school, I went to my first concert.

I wasn’t as good as I am today at keeping track of things back then. But the concert had to take place on either March 3, 5, or 6. That’s when Aerosmith played at the Great Western Forum as part of their Pump tour in Los Angeles.  I went with my friend Eric. We had seats that faced the left side of the stage (if you were facing the stage as opposed to the audience). Skid Row opened for Aerosmith and we were very familiar with both bands. It was crazy and it was loud but mostly it was fun.

Skid Row played a bunch of their songs, including “18 and Life.” Then Aerosmith came out and played just an awesome show. Their really big hit from that album was “Love In An Elevator” but the song I really liked was “What It Takes.” The song not only reminds me of that last year in high school, but also of my first concert and the great time I had. I found sets lists for the three concerts at the Forum and I still can’t recall which show it was we saw. Maybe Eric can help. I do seem to recall that someone famous came out onstage to sing one song with Aerosmith, but alas, my memory fails me there as well.

I look back on that concert as a big step toward my own independence. For a while, I wondered why my parents were willing to let me go. I didn’t think they would let me. But they did. The concert was in early March 1990. I was a few weeks away from my 18th birthday (for which my parents and friends gave me a big surprise party) which is an important milestone itself. I was graduating in a few months and would be attending the University of California, Riverside. In short, I was growing up, becoming an adult. I’d be on my own at college and being able to go to the Aerosmith concert was symbolic of my growing independence.

It was also one heck of a show.

Approaching 40: She’s like the wind

I absolutely hate it when I know that I am right and no one else believes me.  I hate it.

During my senior year of high school, I was still working at the stationary store in the early part of the school year and was heading into work with friends. I was sitting in the back seat of the car as we drove. The radio was on and “She’s Like the Wind” came on. I said to everyone in the car, “You know Patrick Swayze sings this song1.” The looked at me as if I was nuts and pelted me with instant denials. Well, I knew for a fact that he sang the song but nothing I could do would convince my co-commuters. They not only denied my claim, they scorned it with contumely. I fumed. There are few times I remember being angry, especially over trivialities, but this was one of those time.

Some time later, weeks, months maybe, the song came on again in the presence of everyone involved and the D.J. announced it as “Patrick Swayze with ‘She’s Like the Wind.'” I began to jump up and down excitedly. “See, I told you. I told you Patrick Swayze sang that song!” My friends looked at me as if I was nuts.

“What are you talking about?”

“That day in the car,” I said, “when the song came on. I told you it was Patrick Swayze and you guys denied it and told me I was crazy.”

The looked perplexed. “We did no such thing,” they said. “You never told us that Patrick Swayze sang that song.”

I think at that point I must have turned purple and fainted dead away. I don’t remember anything thereafter.

The strange thing is, one mellows as one gets older. Intellectual battles I fought in high school and college, I know merely smile knowingly at and move on. I don’t get sucked in as easily. I think it is an air of self-confidence you develop over the decades that you simply don’t have as an 18-year old. If I know I am right today and others deny it, I simply smile and say, “Okay.” This drives Kelly nuts on the rare times that it happens. But why push the issue? I know I am right and I don’t need anyone else to validate my own opinion. This has helped keep me sane.

The one exception–the only exception–is that damned Patrick Swayze song, “She’s Like the Wind.” On those rare occasions that I hear it, I am suddenly transported to the back seat of that car, face red, pleading with the people inside, yes, yes, it is Patrick Swayze. My heart beat quickens, my pulse rises, my face flushes. A well-trained doctor or amateur passerby who caught sight of me might think me on the verge of cardiac arrest.

And I suspect, at times, they’d be right.

But just in case you needed any further proof, this:

Where was the Internet back in 1990?

  1. Not only did he sing it, he co-wrote it as well.

Approaching 40: (Everything I do) I do it for you

Do you remember the last drive-in movie you went to? For me it was in the summer of 1991, although I would have bet real money that it was during my senior year in high school. This is one of those instances where my timeline is off and my memory has failed me. If I hadn’t checked when I started writing this post, I would be here now insisting that this took place sometime in early-to-mid 1990. As it is, I’m a year off.

As I remember it, me and a bunch of my friends headed out to the one remaining drive-in theater in the Valley to take in the recent Kevin Costner film, Robin Hood. We didn’t really go to see the movie, but to hang out in an interesting environment. The movie kind of seeped in through osmosis. The drive-in we went to no longer exists and hasn’t for a very long time. I may have been there a few times to see a movie now and then, but this most definitely marked the last time I was ever at a drive-in movie–now more than 20 years ago.

Of course, Bryan Adams had a big hit with the theme song for Robin Hood, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” and whenever I hear that song, I’m reminded of that night at the drive-in, hanging out with my friends. It wasn’t quite like that scene in Grease, no one was wandering in front of the screen singing “Stranded at the drive-in / branded a fool / what will they say / Monday at school?” But I think the associations are similar. We had a good time watching a mediocre movie.

And I still think that this happened in high school, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. The only explanation I can come up with is that during high school, we did go see a movie at the drive-in and there was a similar association and the two have been confused in my aging brain. If I concentrate really hard, I can vaguely recall going to see Young Guns II at the drive-in. In that movie, it was Bon Jovi singing and not Bryan Adams, but a quick check online tells me that Young Guns II was most certainly in that senior year in high school time frame. Maybe that’s what I am really thinking of, but I’ve never been reminded of the drive-in when I hear “Blaze of Glory” and I’m always reminded of it when I hear Bryan Adams’ song. Go figure.

Approaching 40: In your eyes

Eleventh grade was a rather remarkable year. Not only did we experience the two-week bliss of the Los Angeles Unified School District teacher’s strike, but our humanities magnet program experimented with a “school without walls” program that allowed us to spend a fair amount of time on the campuses of Cal State Northridge and UCLA. It gave us a preview of what college life might be like. That summer was a busy one, too. I was working in a stationary store and I met a girl there with whom I would end up spending a good deal of time with. I spend several weeks that summer visiting relatives in Utah. And of course, when school started in the fall, I would be a senior in high school: the top of the social food chain.

All though high school, it seems to me, I was never part of any particular clique. I had my friends and we hung out together, ate our lunches together, and that was that. I didn’t notice (or don’t recall) much in the way of social stratification throughout those years. But being a senior was a big deal. It was something you earned, in its own way, and it meant that you were on the verge of graduating and heading off to college. For me, that was still a fairly abstract idea. I was simply enjoying myself.

When I returned from Utah, and a few weeks before school started (as I recall it, anyway), there was a party at a friend’s house and all of my friends would be there. I remember that pool party fondly. It was a typical late summer southern California day, hot and dry and the pool felt so good. I don’t remember how many of us were there, but there was a radio playing in the backyard. Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” was a big hit that summer, thanks to its appearance in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. That song has a refrain that goes:

All my instincts, they return
The grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

What I remember best about that day (aside from telling my friends about the girl I’d met) was several of my friends jumping off the diving board while singing, in exaggerated fashion, the last line from that refrain: “I reach out from the inside!”

I’ll tell you, I have been incredibly fortunate in the friends that I’ve made over the years, especially those friends I made in high school and my first year in collage. I cannot hear Peter Gabriel’s song without thinking of that pool party and the people that were there, many of whom I am still close friends with (and one of whom was here at my house today for brunch, some 23 year after that late summer day in the San Fernando Valley). We are somewhat spread apart now. A few of my friends from high school still live in the L.A. area. One lives in Albany, NY. Another lives right here in the DC area. But whenever I see them or talk to them, it’s as if they’ve been there all along. We were thrown into a social situation some 25 years ago and ended up choosing each other as friends for whatever reason and those have to be among the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Our senior year in high school would be a busy one. We were preparing for college. We were learning to be independent. I don’t think I would have gotten through it as well as I did if it were not for my friends. It was for them that I enjoyed showing up at school my senior year. And it was bittersweet. For at the time, I assumed that once we went away to college, that would be it. I wouldn’t really see them again. I am so glad I was wrong in that respect.