Like most things, in my life, it started with me looking at my phone.
It was a long day.
Even though I had decided before my trip to France that I would let things crescendo at the holidays before picking up at a more serene pace upon my return, I found myself swept into more and more action upon my return to New York City.
It was good, as my father would have noted to me. I like that, the sweep of activity, finding myself thrown between class and performance and work and friends, finding myself exhausted at the end of the night to wake up early with a purpose.
But I guess it all felt both welcome and sudden and sometimes I just found myself tired.
This was one of those times.
It was 7pm, heading uptown after a twice-a-week midday class. I had to drop off some DVDs in my most despised of neighborhoods: the Upper West Side, a bastion of snotty, self-righteous families and terrible, over-priced food. Needless to say, after a day of already working and a class where (as evident here) I put a lot of attention in to, I was exhausted and ready just to see shows.
Looking back on it, wondering why I was looking at my phone, I would point to the reason I used to give for looking at my phone in classes and inappropriate situations; that is, looking at my phone is a way to separate myself from the present, to detach, to not be there, or to avoid pain.
Such things can be deleterious, but they’re also human. It was late, I was tired, I was carrying my overly-heavy backpack going on a task I didn’t want to do at a time I didn’t want to do it.
So, when I went to cross Amsterdam Avenue looking up only from my phone to see the light had changed. I was surprised when instead of moving out of my way or brushing past, the man who walked near me in the crosswalk decided to push me so hard with his shoulder that what with my big backpack and my lack of attention, I fell on to the asphalt stunned.
A moment. And my brain vanished.
And I pushed myself up and turned around, catching up, to the man who pushed me over who kept on walking. The 65 year-old man in the cap.
“What the fuck is wrong with you man? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
He turned around.
“No. Stop, what the fuck is wrong with you? You pushed me into the crosswalk!”
“I wasn’t the one who wasn’t looking where he was going!” He replied.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I replied, drooling at the mouth, spit flying. “THIS ISNT A FUCKING MORALITY LESSON YOU PUSHED ME INTO THE CROSSWALK, I COULD HAVE FUCKING DIED YOU PIECE–OF SHIT!”
All the time I was waving and gesticulating my bag of DVDs I had to deliver as I raised my arms in anger.
By the time I noticed it, the energy had shifted. People were gathered round. I was just holding myself back thinking how easy it would be to slam Mad Men Seasons 1 and 2 into this old asshole’s face as I saw the fear on it, as I felt my outrage, as I saw the fear of the people around me.
“GET THE FUCK. OUT OF MY FACE.” I said and turned around and walked into the crosswalk to wait for the light, which had decided in its unassuming way, to trap me there for a time.
“This man is obviously sick.” The 65 year-old man said, before probably walking off himself. I didn’t turn back.
As I walked down 79th Street, I delivered my DVDs on the next block.
“Who is this for?” The doorman asked and I replied. “What’s in here?”
“DVDs.” I told him, adding. “They might be a little wet, I just got knocked into the crosswalk over on Amsterdam.”
But he didn’t reply.
Walking down the street, down 79th, then Columbus, adrenaline raged through me and it was difficult to think, thoughts washed over my head, with meaning and intention, the looks on the onlookers’ faces, thinking I was assaulting this man, knowing that I nearly did, that no one helped me out of the crosswalk that, serious, fuck the Upper West Side.
I didn’t know what to do, I paced and walked and didn’t get on the train.
I phoned my parents and was brusque and upset as I can be when I don’t know what to do.
I stopped at Shake Shack and got a Black and White milkshake which was delicious and drank most of it in an act of self-reward and self-destruction, knowing both that I needed it and I would feel bad about it later.
It was delicious though and maybe all that hot fudge calmed me down.
All this past week, I’ve been talking to my friends about grace and how I admire it, the quality I most desire and what I struggle with. I find out I didn’t get into a class that I wanted and how do I find a way to see it as a gift? How do I forgive my family members when I fight with them? How do I live with life, in short?
I’ve been reading Chris Gethard’s book, which I bought on Tuesday, on a whim looking for time to kill between therapy and lunch and started reading it on the train and in Indian restaurants and in down time, quick drinking like soup.
And the book, which is full of anecdotes from Chris’s life (called “A Bad Idea I’m About To Do”) is all about that, the strange stories from Chris’s life of mental illness, dumps and rejections, near-brawls and intense embarrassment, but simultaneously, it’s also about the way that the worst moments in the moments, become stories to share and to learn from, moments of reflection, now or later.
For instance, as Chris described in his story “Nemesis”, syndicated on a past episode of This American Life, an asshole roommate of his who bullied him, stole gifts from his family and turned his other roommates against him in a whole year of college, revealed only much later that he was jealous of Chris because even though he was doing a ridiculous and mediocre college short-form group he had auditioned for 3 times unsuccessfully, he was pursuing comedy and the roommate never had the balls.
“I’ve become better about forgiving people.” Chris says. “Because I realize I don’t really have enemies in my life. I just have people who are somehow more miserable than me.”
All of the things in my life point to this. My trip to Paris, taking everything as a gift. Realizing I have a wonderful life, full of friends and opportunities, the same one that leads me to be tired and upset some times.
Still I dwell on those moments, the class I didn’t get into, where I felt betrayed by friends or colleagues. Why is it so easy to dwell in self-pity or anger, I wondered, as I went upstairs to write this post.
The only thing I can come to is that self-pity or anger both involve not reckoning with the responsibility to be open and to be changed. They’re passive ways that degrade you more subtly than the “burden” of trying to deal with what is and move on, or better yet, learn and make it empowering.
As I go on today, as I tell that story, feel bad for myself or good, it’s at least something to remember that I can take from Paris, meandering, that the turn you’re forced to take can be a path of great discovery, in life, in improv, in anything. As long as you see it as a gift, or see that enemy, more miserable than you.
I bombed one show last night that “mattered”, had a great show that “didn’t” and felt great after both of them.
Because my life is silly and strange. Last week, I got heckled at an ASSSSCAT show, played ping-pong with my buddies and some comedy legends and somehow won a Mercedes-Benz bling medallion and then got to watch or do comedy all the rest of the week.
If something bad happens, maybe I’ll feel bad, but what a chance to see my life for what it is.
So fuck you, 65-year-old man.
But also, you know, fuck me. Or life’s good.
Black-and-white Milkshake (the best)- $5.44
NE Corner of 77th St and Columbus Av.
1 to 79th St, BC to 81st-Natural History Museum