Now That I Think About It

I took a life lesson the other day while watching, of all things, a re-run of Jersey Boys. I had seen the Broadway production years ago and found myself more emotionally impacted than I could have possibly foreseen. As the cast and band closed out the show my eyes began to fill up, and as moving as the moment obviously was the strongest emotion I felt was the surprise I experienced at how affected I had been. At the time I thought I was hit by a simple wave of generalized nostalgia. During the ensuing years I had come to focus on Frankie Valli’s aside delivered at the induction of The Four Seasons into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When asked what was the high point of their time together, he replies “… four guys under a street lamp, when it was all still ahead of us… that was the best.” For a long time I believed that for me the weight of the moment was in his recall of the joy of discovering how good they could sound together; an instant when their contemporaneous present was so perfect it obviated the need to waste time thinking about an uncertain future. That fundamental excitement at finding what it was that they had been born to do was for me, then and now, an unrealized dream of quixotic proportions. I didn’t (and to a lesser extent still don’t) have any real sense of what I was really here for. I always assumed that the bittersweet impact of this memory on me was a reflection of my own lack of a similar experience to call upon. Watching the end of the movie the other day I came to the unavoidable conclusion that I got the whole thing wrong. The movie is in many ways a filmed version of the show, and as such left me a little cold. Nothing terrible, mind you, just not as commandingly engaged as I was when I sat in the balcony of the August Wilson theater over a decade before. The less than rapt attention I was paying allowed my mind to wander a bit. When Valli delivered his soliloquy I was underwhelmed enough to reconsider it’s initial weight in a more dry-eyed fashion. I believe that what I was really (if subconsciously) reacting to was the thought of what my world looked like in the late 1960’s, when I had yet to set foot in kindergarten, no less get wrapped up in some existential morass concerning my role as an insignificant if not invisible speck in this world. As best as I can remember, my first exposure to The Four Seasons came in my parents kitchen. When I hear their music I can see myself as a very young child sitting at the table, waiting for dinner at the end of a summer’s day. The house would be (if we were lucky) slowly cooling off, and the power falsetto of Francesco Castelluccio would drift out of the tinny AM radios of the passing vehicles into my parent’s home through our open windows. As sweet as that setting might have been it’s what was missing that I suppose generated that unheralded bout of tears. Those evenings were spent in a warm, gentle quiet as opposed to the alternating heated screaming and icy silence that would become the standard soundtrack of that building before I finished middle school. It’s possible that things between my parents were already unpleasant but I don’t have any specific reminiscence to push me in that direction. What I am left with is the faint sound of “Rag Doll” changing frequency as the source of the song slowly rolled through my neighborhood and my mother calling everyone to supper when my father got home. And everything was just fine.

As the credits rolled I began to wonder how many times I had been absolutely sure of some remembrance that turned out to be a mistaken impression or an interpretation altered by the pressing needs of my more current self. As it turned out I didn’t have to work too long or hard to think of an example. Just a few days before watching the film I had been to dinner with the two men I have known longer than anyone else I am friends with. Danny, whom I’ve written about (Oh Come On: The Conversation Is Over, Hate Crime Legislation: Criminal Minds?), and Neil have each been a part of my life for close to forty years. The brothers I never had growing up, they have seen me through all that one could imagine. Our lives no longer enjoy geographic convenience but we still get together whenever we can. Like many a group of aging friends with lives that are, on a temporal level, comprised of more responsibility than reward we have a tendency to walk through our shared history at any opportunity, and that last meal together was no exception. As is almost always the case the conversation found it’s way back to the first time we had all life guarded together. At some point during the evening, by way of our conversation I came to the realization that a central element of our history was in it’s own way a complete, if subtly so, inaccuracy. The three of us have spent the better part of the last four decades telling any poor soul who was drinking with us that we worked with each other summer after summer, and you know, that’s not exactly what happened. Two weeks into July, 1983, Danny returned home from a trip to Israel and came to work at Brightwater Towers, the apartment building pool that Neil and I had been at for a few years. We spent the rest of the summer working together. That’s it. Those seven or so weeks are the entirety of the time that the three of us were all at the same place through the close of business on Labor Day. Which is not to say that we fabricated the rest of what we love to bullshit about. We all continued to work for the same company (Trident Recreation) for another few seasons, but were never together at that pool again. Trident had the contract on other apartment complex pools in Brooklyn and we each ended up working at all of them from time to time. Two of us were usually at the same place. On rare occasion the third one would join the other two for a day or two, but never on anything but a very temporary basis. Not that I blame our boss for keeping us apart. Part of enjoying our time together was definitely a function of not bringing out the best in each other. There was never any conscious decision to run it all together in the re-telling. It just happened. But as I thought about it I began to gain a little insight into the impetus for the way things got confused in the fullness of time. Danny has always been close with his parents. For Neil and I that wasn’t really the case. For us 1983 got bigger over the course of our lives because it was a beginning of sorts for us. That was when we got the family we wanted instead of the ones we were missing.

Sitting there feeling like a fool, I realized I had about thirty minutes before my wife and I would eat, leaving me ample time to get in a little more brooding on the subject. Not wanting to miss out on opportunity to darken my mood I began to think about a long standing peculiarity of my mom’s in which I had probably recalled the facts without error but drawn the wrong conclusion anyway. My mother is now in a nursing home in Florida. Fortunately my immediately older sister works at the facility and has kept an eye on her. More than a year before she entered the home she underwent her first medical exam since Reagan was the president. No foolin’. She simply refused to go to a physician. I have accepted that my mother has suffered with a variety of neuroses for not less than all of my life, and I would imagine all of hers as well. As I got older I just ascribed her pathological aversion to the doctor’s office to her overall shaky mental well being. I was also aware that she had lost her own mother at age thirteen. Three weeks after being diagnosed with leukemia she was gone. Somehow I managed to avoid connecting those dots. Shame on me. Not that the causal relationship was that starkly drawn. She had gone to our family physician (it used to be a thing) when I was a kid. But around the time she was the age that I am now (55) her paranoia began to creep up on her. I can only imagine that she convinced herself that availing herself of the services of the health care profession would be like inviting disaster, if not actually signing her own death warrant.

I’m under no illusions as to the likelihood that this event will lead to a life changing commitment to re-examine every longstanding belief I have. I don’t think I have any profound proclivity to misconstrue the happenings of my day to day life. But I would be a liar if I said that this episode hasn’t left a small mark on me. I think most of us understand how time has a way of softening the edges of our memory. We can all remember that we forget things. It’s so much harder to keep in mind that even the moments we recall with vivid sharpness are not really memories until we put some thought to them. And then think some more.

4 thoughts on “Now That I Think About It

  1. What do they say Marty? Hindsight is 20/20.
    Everything I do or see is now tainted by memory, and what was one thing is really another.

    I see things in my boys that I know were and are traits of their grandfathers and grandmothers, and the funny thing is that they really never met them. So that brings to question where dod these traits start from, and I can only look at myself. But is it really from me? I’m don’t believe I have some of my father’s traits and though my mom and I are close we share more differences then similarities. Yet I do find myself re-examining behavior on my part. Are we destined to react similar? And if so why?

    I’ve never believed that we share the same similarities. We are our own person. Events, friends, family, and geography sometimes shape our own personalities. So the question is nature or nurture? I’ve always believed a bit of both. But it is possible to break from those traits. Examples of addiction can be cited. Not all addicts spawn addicts. On the contrary they may just do the opposite, and why is that?

    Because we are individuals that are very complex. We are always learning. We are always observing. This all makes us fascinating works of art. I see in my mom now things that I didn’t see in the past, yet I do see in myself. I see it now because I remember her more when she was my age now. We begin to connect the dots and a bigger picture emerges. Nostalgia is a big drug. It clouds things. Makes the past a bit fuzzy and thereby we think of the past in happy and joyful terms when it may have been neither. Funny the way things work. It’s what I call an ah-ha moment.

    The cure to these self reflection moments is not to dwell on them. Times were different, situations change, and what was then may not be now. Move on. Live your life. Smile that you’re here in the first place because no matter how we try we all owe our existence to our parents. Whether they were good parents or not is a mute point. You are you. You are the man or women you are despite your parents. Remember that and move on. I can say that you are a very charismatic, intelligent human being who is very supportive to your friends and loved ones, and in an era where there isn’t much of that to go around I’d say you are just perfect the way you are. Keep on writing my friend. I enjoy these conversations very much. Hope to see you soon. Be well.

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    • Hi Karl. As always thanks for taking the time to read and write. It’s remarkable to me, just how much my recall has held steady while my understanding has (hopefully) grown. The more I release the past the more it yields to me. Nostalgia. That’s when we remember all the things we never really did and try to forget all the things we should never have done in the first place. I still owe you a great meal. Let me know when you’re ready to collect.

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      • My whole grown life all I reflect on is the amazing times I had shared with my 2 friends Marty and Dan which I would call the trident years… that was my family!!!
        How 3 young men plus the any other we could bring along to share in our antics , could rule the world, well in our eyes anyway!
        I had my family and no big issues to talk about, they were there for me and loving and caring for sure, but not close.
        So with that there is the need to look for, the for is comfort, laughter, acceptance, a sense of freedom, and just the old “IVE GOT YOUR BACK, GO FOR IT “
        The trident days were my gang days , we ate drank worked and played hard together, almost 24 hours at a time some weeks
        To look back at this feeling of invincibility growing up without a care in the world knowing my friends were there made me say I can do fine without my family. These 2 guys were my family
        But how unsettling it was for Labor Day to arrive and end it all for another 8 months.
        The back to the grind feeling we all have now, trying to stay ahead keeping our now new family together and just hoping to have a get together with an old friend.. yes the days are gone and we always wanted Marty to make a film about our trident days , well to me that would be a way to re live my most memorable moments, because I can watch the movie till the end credits role knowing that I can rewind and watch it again.
        Because that’s what the best part of my life was, a Oscar of movie .. no regret. Just a way to move on and stay positive and focused now till I leave this world,, and remember , my dear friends, Marty and dan, I want to be stuffed and put on a rolling chair with moving limb hinges if I go first, and remember the talking box to add with my brilliant sayings , if I die first btw
        I love you guys
        Always did
        Always will
        Friends and brothers forever
        Drinks soon boyzzz

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