Last night at dusk as I puffed on a cigarette on our back porch - one of my favorite savored moments of the day - my mind was already ahead me, installing a new monitor for my wife's computer. After all these years, I had still not fully mastered the essential art of Being in the Moment. From a star's distance, my Other Self whispered to me a familiar message: life is not what happens next, it is right now. Enjoy this.
But the moment escaped me. Reaching for the next.
I have spent no small margin of my life waiting for one thing or another to arrive, a date, a package, a new film, vacation, Christmas morning, my birthday, a weekend, later this evening, you name it. I am told the mechanisms we create to save our lives, left unchecked, eventually will overtake and destroy us, left unchecked. But capricious tones aside, these are hard-wired behaviors.
During the winter, when I was eight or nine years old, I'd quietly sit alone on one of the weathered swings that hang on iron chains in the old Burlington city park and pine away at the prospect of a time when the carnival would return to town and set up in this very same playground, and how I just couldn't wait - how good it would be, then. in the meantime, i would spend my afternoon leafing through last years Sears Holiday Catalog or filling in order blanks for back issues of magazines like Famous Monsters or MAD, or perhaps an orider from the Johnson Smith Co. (where i discovered leather arm bands, 8mm Three Stooges rings and magic floating balls) and then add up all the prices, tax and shipping. Only rarely did these exercises ever reach fruition - in terms of dollars and cents - but I spent a helfty amount of time thinking about ordering them, and how I would feel when I had them.
On the occasion when I would actually complete and mail in an order (including the coinage, scotch-taped to the order blank), each subsequent day would be marked with unbearable anticipation as I awaited the (amazing, important, wonderful!) package, which for some reason I fully expected to arrive almost immediately, despite distant verbiage stating orders would take 6-8 weeks to arrive. Instead, the following days, weeks and in some cases, months, were marked hour-by-hour, occasionally including solemn calls or trips to the local post office inquiring if, just perhaps, my order had possibly been delivered to the wrong address, or somehow delayed or misplaced in the backroom.
When my package would eventually arrive (in 6-8 weeks), it invariably proved a disappointment: the dozen original classic Sci-Fi movie posters I had ordered from "Movie Poster Treasure House" (the firm reserved the privilege of substituting titles of "equal or similar value") would be whittled down to three lesser desirable titles , in one case stooping so low as being a Jerry Lewis re-issue; the 8mm film of the Three Stooges "at their funniest" was just a 2-minute silent clip from " and the 3 Stooges", arguably the most despicable and disliked Stooge film absent of " " (also starring , who may have been a decent man but was no Curly Joe). My pro "Truck Driver" leather armband was neither real leather, or empowering, in fact its color ran and stained my shirt sleeves when it got soaked walking home from school in the rain.
I understand now that the only real joy these objects provided me was the anticipation of having them.
Not surprisingly, this behavior descends from a thoroughbred line of dysfunction. It was (still remains) my mother's dearest holiday tradition to spend the weeks previous to Christmas planning and preparing a sultan's feast of edibles for our clans' annual Xmas eve get together. This roster of family favorites is usually no less than thirty or so various treats, which includes: home-made popcorn balls, fresh backed fudge, seven-layer avocado bean dip, ambrosia, macaroni salad (with and without shrimp), divinity, coconut clusters, mock Almond Roca, pumpkin and mincemeat pies, vanilla spritz cookies, scratch-made peanut brittle, chocolate no bakes, nut balls, (apropos for the occasion!), macaroons, fruitcake, and eggnog. All this in addition to the perfunctory Japanese Mandarin oranges, hard-shelled nuts, jellied fruits and miscellaneous mini side-dishes.
As heartfelt and as much hard work as my mother's recipes mustered, they all lacked a crucial ingredient: a wisdom to foresee that her many week's worth of anxious anticipation could never, ever be fulfilled in one short evening, no matter how perfectly she had planned it. There are only so many moments in a evening, and only so much affection you can extract from a mouthful of fudge, no matter how sweet. And so, almost from its beginning, she locked herself in the anxious dread of its eventual end, always only minutes away. If she understood her true joy had been in anticipating the evening (and not living it), she didn't show it.