Growing into one’s self

Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong

Tree in the West Village

Me: Winston Churchill once said that, “Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.”
Him: Well that’s the thing, isn’t it? (thinking) “If they grow at all?”

Had lunch with my coach the other day and we were discussing this kid in our class. He’s one of the only teenagers we have and we all look out for him for various reasons. The life of a bullied child is a lonely one.

As luck would have it, tomorrow is Winston Churchill day so I thought the quote fitting.

Remember that scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest truly runs for the first time and realizes that the heavy, metal braces that held him back as a child let him run faster and longer than anyone else as an adult?

It made him antifragile.

Without belaboring the point, there were times when I was younger that I didn’t think I’d make it to adulthood.

I’m glad I stuck around because Churchill was right; I’m stronger because of my childhood rather than despite it.

Me: What are your thoughts on dive bars with wings?
Claire: I feel hugely positive about dive bars and wings.

Thought of that again as I had dinner with my friend Claire the other night. She said that she had a friend that grew into himself after college. I think that’s a good way to put it.

The lucky never realize they are lucky until it’s too late.

I should mention that while Claire, who moved here from LA, and I have written and chatted to each other for years, this was the first time we actually met in person.

Her: I’m glad you’re as nice in real life as you are over email.
Me: (laughing) I try to set the bar really low.

Life is made more bearable by the good souls.

As for the kid in our class, I hope he makes it past these hard times. If he can, I hope he’s the better for it.

As for me, my childhood seems farther and farther away these days. I’m turning 40 next week.

Still trying to process my thoughts on that.

Location: last night, my fave dive bars
Mood: sleepy
Music: I was a lonely soul but that’s the old me
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Repetition is the Mother of Skill

Perfect practice makes perfect

First ice cream of spring 2013!

Hope you had a nice holiday if you celebrated anything.

Saturday was beautiful so the wife and took a walk around the hood; it was warm enough for some ice cream. Spent Sunday contemplating my religion.

Saturday night, though, went to teach my fencing class.

A long time ago, there was this fella that had been taking the class for a lot longer than me but I would regularly beat. It was because he was always interested in learning the latest esoteric move and some secret technique while I just worked on the basics.

And the reason was simple: Repetition is the mother of skill –  I had fewer tools to work with but the tools I had I knew well and practiced regularly. He never spent enough time on the basics to really get good at them.

To which I have to clarify the following: That saying that Practice makes perfect is yet another one of those sayings that are only partially true. The actual saying is Perfect practice makes perfect.

Thought about that on Saturday when my old instructor came back to lead the class and reminded me how much of a student I still am. I think he landed four strikes for every one of mine.

And so went home afterward and surely annoyed my wife as I waved a stick around in the middle of the night, going: One, two, three…

Location: in a Monday
Mood: pensive
Music: Too late for the young gun I said This is the year of the knife
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The history of Rum is the history of US

Why do I drink aged rum?

Liquor storefront in NYC

Consider this my ode to aged rum.

Merriam-Webster defines distillation as the process of purifying a liquid by successive evaporation and condensation.

Removal through fire and heat, if you will, of all that is not the essence of something.

  • Brandy is the purified essence of wine.
  • Whiskey is the purified essence of beer.*

And rum? Well, the French call traditional rum, ruhm industrial for a very particular reason.

Rum is made of industrial waste. It is the distilled essence of industrial waste, then.

It’s made from molasses, the waste byproduct of sugar manufacturing. It was the leftover, black soupy crap that gummed up the works of the sugar machines. An annoyance at best.

You couldn’t give the stuff away.

But people discovered that you could ferment it and distill it and get a drink so terrible that it could kill the devil himself, so they called it Kill-Devil.

Later, as all good marketers do, it was re-branded to Rum and it stuck.

Now the rum that most people drink is essentially like moonshine.

It’s only a step or two above the Kill-Devil stuff they made back in the day. However, if you took a barrel that was burned on the inside – to kill bacteria and germs – put rum in that barrel, and then put that barrel on a ship bound for distant lands, it becomes something more.

It ages. It mellows. It becomes the best version of itself.

Crack open a bottle of aged rum and it’s something completely different from its roots.

I drink aged rum because I like how it tastes. And because I imagine I’m a pirate. And because one can drink buckets of the stuff and not have a hangover.

But it’s also because it’s like finding your people.

You like someone initially because of some small connection but as you delve further, you find you’re more similar than different.

I like to think of aged rum like me: Thoroughly American – despite outward appearances – with a sense of history, descended from people no one wanted, bound for distant shores, rough and crude in my youth and better with time.

And, with time, I’m hoping I’ll be better still.

Glass of aged rum

*For some additional reading on rum, pick up a copy of  And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis – it was he who pointed out the Brandy/Whiskey/Rum distinction. Great book and it comes with rum recipes (!)

While you’re at it, pick up a bottle of Cruzan Single-Barrel Rum and have it on the rocks with a thick slice of orange that you partially squeezed into a whiskey glass.

If you close your eyes, you can just about imagine sunnier shores.

Location: about to run to the gym
Mood: finally rested
Music: if you’re right, you’ll agree, here’s coming a better version of me
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Goldfish are limited to the size of their bowl

Your surroundings determine your growth

The title of this post is a bit misleading; it’s only partly true that it’s the size of a bowl that limits the size of a goldfish. It’s more accurate to say that:

A goldfish in a small bowl, that’s fed just a little bit, will grow slowly and most likely die as a small goldfish. A lot has to do with the nitrate concentration of the bowl whereby the smaller the bowl, the higher the relative concentration. Read up on Water Softener Reviews for some useful knowledge on keeping that water perfect.

But for the sake of not boring you more than I normally do, let’s just say it’s (a) the size of the bowl, (b) the type of fish, and (c) how much crap that fish ingests.

I have an interesting cross section of friends. One group is made up of my college friends, the other is made up of my business/legal friends, the other is made up by my fencing/wrasslin/fighting friends.

If there is a plus with being almost 40, it’s that I can choose exactly what to do with my time, and with whom I spend it. I get to choose my bowl, if you will.

Another thing I do is try to minimize the amount of crap I take in, both literally and figuratively. Literally, I try to eat well and minimize my intake of processed foods whenever possible. Gyros not withstanding. Pureprovender helps me out with this.

Figuratively, try to minimize my intake of crap beliefs whenever possible too. I’m regularly surprised who I find on one end of a spectrum or another.

The hopelessly liberal that believe that every person of wealth is evil (type of fish) and the intransigent conservative that ignores environment (size of bowl).

The feverishly religious is as difficult to stand as the ardently atheist. The list goes on.

I recognize my own prejudices but, because of social media, have to put up all these shrill – unsourced – beliefs.

Luckily, I can block them out but I set up a reminder for myself to check in with them every so often. But it’s ever the same. They’re in their same bowls, ingesting the same nitrogen. A frog in a well knows nothing of the ocean.

It’s disappointing but living your own life is hard enough so I just let be and swim away.

As for me, I seek bigger bowls whenever possible.

Mood: upbeat
Music: I’m just a normal boy that sank when I fell overboard
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Tribes

We spend our lives looking for our people

Saint Clair Cemin's - Portrait of the Word Why -in Verdi Square
Said once that the people that you choose to hang around with are mirrors to some aspect of yourself.

If you are a boxer, chances are high that you have a lot of boxer friends; if you are pianist, chances are high that you have friends that are musicians. Trekkies know trekkies.

It’s because we connect with people on narrow lines and as we get to know them, we find that we have more connections or less connections than we originally thought.

If we have less, these people fade away; if we have more, we find ourselves more and more involved with their lives.

I think it goes:

  1. stranger
  2. acquaintance
  3. friend
  4. close friend
  5. tribe-member
  6. family

Somewhere, we end up cutting or tightening the relationships between 2 and 4. And we all know people that should have cut and tightened instead and we also know those that cut that shouldn’t have.

Ultimately, we spend our lives looking for our people – looking for others in our tribe. Sometimes it cuts along racial lines, sometimes, religious, and sometimes something else entirely.

It’s quite something when you find your people, your person, and your poison.

When you meet your people – even if it’s not said – there’s the thought, “Where have you been this whole time?”

Me: Have you ever heard this song?
Her: Are you kidding, I love that song!

Mood: sore
Music: You and I travel to the beat of a different drum
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I just need a pair of scissors

If you lost everything, what would be the one thing you need?

Bagpipes

Had a lot of things I wanted to write this week but I found out that an aunt of mine died.

We were never really close, but she was always there since I was a kid. In fact, I learned more about her after she passed than I ever knew while she was living.

For example, she managed people in a garment business for almost 25 years. She was hired to be a seamstress but was so talented that she was immediately promoted to manage all of them, despite speaking almost no English.

She never had much scratch because she was always giving what little she had away to charities; she had just given away several thousand to Hurricane Sandy victims and volunteered for several weeks.

She didn’t worry, though, cause she’d always say that as long as she had a pair of scissors to make clothes, she’d be ok.

That made me think: If I lost everything, if I just had a keyboard, or even a pencil and paper, I’d be ok.

Maybe teach fencing on the side for some extra coin. After all, the limits of our imagination are the limits of our world.

Getting back to her, the last thing I learned was there was no body at the funeral. She donated her body to medical students at Hofstra University and her organs to five families that needed it.

Think that impressed me the most. In her last act, she still managed to help people. We all have our three lives.

Wish I knew all of the above about her when she was alive. But we’re all always so busy aren’t we?

You never can tell about other people. Said it before, we are made in our sleep to be heroes or villains.

She was a nice old lady. Nicer even than I knew. She lived a life worth living and that’s something, isn’t it?

Mood: impressed
Music: there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan
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That the North Americans speak English

The little things we do have big impact in our lives

View of New York City's City Hall from Chinatown NYC

Him: I’m unemployed and live at home again. How’s this good?
Me: You have a college education, speak English, live in New York City, and were lucky enough to be born here. (gently) You’re doing better than mosta the world.

A quote that’s stayed with me my entire life’s from Otto von Bismark towards the end of his life. He was asked what he felt would be the most significant shaping event of the 20th century.

Rather than replying that it would be electricity, or firepower, or any of that, he said simply, That the North Americans speak English.

Speaking of which, there’s this interesting theory that part of why English, not French, is the world’s dominant language is because of barnacles on ships.

See, the English plated the hulls of their ships with copper, which stopped barnacles from growing. This meant they could move just slightly faster than French ships that had none.

The French lost control of the seas,  England became the a superpower by the 19th century, and I’m more Bugs Bunny than Pepe le Pew.

A fella recently asked me how I get so much done in my life. Thought immediately about the barnacle story. Cause big things happen with slight changes in trajectory. What’s a small change today can make a huge difference later on.

As a fat 13 year-old, decided to drink a cup of water before each meal. A slight change. Lost like 10 pounds that year. Then changed over to skim milk, lost another few pounds. Always tell people that I look young because of a combo of Asian genes and constant maintenance.

Anywho, back to my friend. He wants to know how to get things done. Told him that it’s all about fighting the inertia. He’s super talented but he’s held hostage by the fact he’s good enough. And good enough is enemy of great.

There’s no one huge leap from good enough to great, just lots of little steps – your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to take those little steps.

On that note, it’s a busy week for me. Nuthin big. Just lots of little things. Let’s see what happens.

 

Location: apartment, getting ready for the week
Mood: cheerful
Music: thinking about the good things to come and I believe it could be
YASYCTAI: Do one small thing today. (2 mins/0.5 pts)
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Time¬=Money; Time>Money

Time isn’t money; time is so much more valuable than money

Antique clock

 

To add to the list of things that have the air of truth to them but no real truth at all, lemme give you one I particularly despise: Time Equals Money.

A buddy of mine put up this thing quoting just that and it reminded me that that’s gotta be one of the stupidest beliefs a body could hold.

Time is so much more valuable than money. Money, you can make and spend; time you can only spend.

Put another way, if given X years to live, how much would you pay for one more year?

Any idiot can make a buck. But in 432,329,886,000,000,000 seconds, no one’s figured out how to make an extra second for themselves.

Working at jobs you hate, to buy things you don’t need, to impress those you don’t know. That’s crazy.

So, if given the chance to make an extra $1,000 or go see your grandma, go see your grandma.

I didn’t and I gotta live with that for all of the seconds I got left.

———-

Sick again. You know the drill, please send soup.

Location: in bed
Mood: sick
Music: with you I’m having a good time I don’t mind
YASYCTAI: At least give her a call. (10 mins/1 pt)

Gone Fisher King (but coming back)

If only we could just pay the bill and go home

A red door from the East Village

 

You ever kinda just space out while walking or driving and just magically end up on your doorstep? Hold that thought.

There’s this great line from The Fisher King where the lead, who’s destroyed a buncha people’s lives, wails out, “If there were some way I could just pay the fine and go home.”

It’s never that easy. Did you ever complete that sentence, The purpose of life is?

My answer I actually told you once a while ago, except, I didn’t tell you. It was my dating philosophy: Leave people better off having met you. Note that I never said “women.”

Did it to try and help the world out; turns out it helped me out.

Thought I’d take this time to tell you some things, because I still get the occasional email asking.

  • The PCD is doing very well; we chat every so often. She’s one of my people, even though we never see each other. She’s also Beatrix from an old entry and you can read up on her love life here.
  • And the HEI is doing well too; she’s packed up and gone to see about a boy and a life out west. She drops me a line here and there.
  • Caligirl got married and that’s a story in itself.
  • Elle’s finding her way through the big city and finding herself along the way.
  • The Italian Lawyer, GES, the writer, human resources girl, and others I run into from time-to-time.
  • It was the SX’s birthday recently but she’s MIA. She, like most of them’ve left my Venn Diagram. Suppose that’s probably for the best.

Finally, there’s Heartgirl. She’s asked that I not write about her so I don’t but I think it’d be amiss if I didn’t. Because I’ve set her apart.

Spent the last hour trying to figure out how to tell you about her. I’ve decided that she’s my receipt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still hustling for scratch, several items on my body are broken and/or bruised. Lots of fail.

But I think she’s my cashed check from Life saying, OK, you did some horrible, _____ things in your life. And I still promise you nuthin but pain. But all of that stuff you did? For that, we’re square. You’ve paid your fine…and you can go home.

It’s been almost exactly three years – August 17, 2006 – since I left who I was to figure out who I wanted to be; three years since my feet were pointed home.

Tonight, while talking to her, looked up to realize that I was almost there.

Was thinking that this was gonna be my last entry. Was gonna put down: Gone Fish’n and be off.

But this blog helped me find my way. So even if there’s only one person that still reads me, wanna say “Thanks” for taking the time. (Mom, if it’s you, “rum” is what kids call “apple juice”).

Gonna take next week off while I try and figure out a few things and spend some time with Heartgirl. But I’ll be back Sept 1st round midnight, like always.

See you then, yeah?

One at a time

I could handle it all, if it only was one at a time

(c) History Channel

 

At The Battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans arranged it so that, despite being vastly outnumbered, they only had to deal with the soldier directly in front of them. One at a time. The thousands of soldiers behind them just didn’t exist. Only the one in front of them.

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Her: I’m not sure…
Me: Look, I’m not asking you to trust me. You don’t know me. I’m asking you to give me a chance. One chance. Let me show you what we can do.
Her: (thinking) I’ll send you two deals. Don’t %^$& them up.
Me: We won’t.

Contractor
Him: Why would I do that? I don’t even know you.
Me: Because, I’m young and I’m bright. And if you do this for me, a young and bright (if not altogether too trusting) guy in the world owes you a favor. Ask around, that means something.
Him: I can wait one more week.

Creditor
Him: It’s too late.
Me: If you do it that way, you’ll get $0.65 on the dollar. My way, it’ll take longer, but you’ll get 100%.
Him: (pause) I’ll see what I can do.

Repeat about 20 times a week for six weeks.

Just one massive, career-ending, financially-destructive catastrophe at a time, please.

One at a time.

Location: 12:08, 13:02, 14:24, 16:33: 17:02 – banks
Mood: exhausted
Music: you must be real far gone; you’re relating to a psychopath