In approximately one-hundred-eighty days, give or take, I will turn the ripe old age of thirty-seven. Being a somewhat thoughtful type (understatement, yes, I am aware) and never wanting for a reason to self reflect and review my life, I sit on the couch, performing my version of self immolation, with the music of Aaron Copland as an accompaniment.
It should come as a surprise to no-one that a short-time ago I was at my local diner. Enjoying food I probably shouldn’t have been, given the possibility that I have an ulcer, resident alien in my innards, or some insidious malady straight from the pages of Robinson Crusoe guest stars on House. Regardless, I enjoyed my Chicken Caesar Salad, preceded by soup, followed by just the perfect amount of rice pudding.
As is often the case, the cast of the diner fit a familiar pattern. The customers were mostly seniors out on a Friday night, eating the open faced roast beef and pasta dinners that are a staple of the “more experienced”. There was a family or two—and two servers. One server knows me well. I think his name is Gene-- but his more identifying characteristic is an odd habit of putting the dollar sign after the total amount on the check. I figure this to be something he learned incorrectly in a 3rd grade class room. A class with a teacher who, tired of correcting so many little things, and perfectly happy that little Gene could even make a dollar sign, just shrugged her shoulders and let it go. She found joy in what had been learned, even though it wasn’t perfect, or what she intended.
I think that is the lesson that many in that diner have learned. We shared a Friday night not of movies or of romantic dinners in
, or a walk down by the water, holding a chilled hand in the late winter breezes of March. Our Friday was a simple dinner, with people who you know by their actions, and by their shape—but almost never by their name. The pleasantries are exchanged—with the waiter, and the owner’s son. He could pick me out of police line-up, but he would have to identify me by where I sit: “Yes- I recognize him detective…That’s the back corner booth guy, always gets soup and leaves a generous tip”. He would no more know that my birthday is in six months than he would know why I visit his diner. Not just because the food is good or the prices are cheap, but because I love the company-no, I need the company. Sometimes, any company will do. And a hello is a hello, even if there is not really much behind it—or around it. Manhattan
Maybe that’s the point of eleven years in
, and of my thirty six point five years on earth. Yes, that has to be it! To be thankful for what does exist! It doesn’t matter that I will never be president, or haven’t finished my book, or that my dating history could be mistaken as a bad war movie where you just can’t believe that the hero still stands despite how many times he has been bayoneted. No, happiness should be my lovely dinners and the wonderful girl at the laundry who knows my bag and always hands it to me without asking. Perhaps happiness should require nothing more than my neighborhood bar where they really do always know my name and my drink and when I have brought a new date in to subject them to my idea of what a bar should be like. New York
But I have to say I find it hard. I was always used to something more than just the casual. Somewhere along the way, the
Dead Sea crept onto my map and into my phone. Sure, people are still there—but it is not what it was. The girlfriends, the boyfriends, and the jobs, and the illnesses, and the money problems, and the clock—they have all pried my friends and so much of my family from my hands with a fierceness that has left me wavering at times between indignation and desperation. Never wanting to seem needy or like a complainer, and never knowing quite how to solve this particular problem, even though I live to solve problems-- I am left to not know quite what to make of a city of millions of people—where it feels like just one. A world of social networking that is all network and no social, and a empty seat on the other side of the booth in the diner, and an empty half of a queen sized bed. I know all about the need to accept the solitary—to find joy in one’s own company. But I still question if its here—or everywhere—and what course of action will be required when I finally figure out the answer.
At least I still have my diner, and my laundry, and a corner bar, where I learned to love Patron Café & Baileys, and how to throw darts moderately well (sometimes) and where yesterday the new bartender yesterday did not know me at all. Her asking me for ID hit me like a punch in the spleen, and there and then I realized that strangers are strangers for a reason, no matter how many there are in my life, or how important some of them have become.