Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
Finding sanctuary in the family room, I'm stealing some peace and quiet. Alas, it is short-lived.
"What are you thinking about, Hon?"
She gives me her classic quizzical look.
"You have that look on your face and I know that look, Barry. You are definitely thinking about something."
"I'm not thinking about anything, it's just my vacant, there's nothing going on up there but white noise, guy stare. I know that in some parts of the world it's considered to be a look of satori -- a state of intuitive illumination -- but not here and now. And, anyway, how long have we been married and you still don't recognize that look?"
Before leaving, she gives me a hug and a kiss, and hands me an updated to-do list for 2012, which includes all the things I managed to avoid doing in 2011, as well as lots of new to-dos, with asterisks marking the really important dos. She's even double asterisked no stomping around the house in my cowboy boots, no shouting upstairs when I want to ask her a question or am having trouble with my computer -- a habit born in the Bronx, where my friends and I use to shout up to each others' apartments -- and cutting back on my Irish cheddar cheese intake.
I'm happy to say that I managed to get through the holidays using all my wiles and preplanned escape routes, but holiday stress has turned into resolution stress and the incomparable everyday, I'm living in a society where the American dream has taken a major hit and where it's hard to be sure about anything anymore, stress.
I wonder if once again I am marching in a delusional parade with my choice of New Year's resolutions: to cut down on my intake of sweets; read more books and try to procrastinate a lot less.
I am obviously delusional. Chocolate and procrastination are dear old friends of mine and fit like a well-worn pair of jeans, the kind of jeans my wife would love for me to toss out. Besides, chocolate is a well-known comfort food and aphrodisiac, so enough said.
With procrastination, I feel like I'm not so much a procrastinator as someone who just happens to fall into the guy area on Einstein's space-time continuum. Guy Standard time is where time moves at a much slower pace when we're doing things we really have no desire to do.
I've loved reading books since I was a kid, but given that my life is like rush hour at Grand Central and my attention span is not what it used to be, it's really hard for me to find time to read anymore. I'll start a book with good intentions, but I'll put it down and never pick it up again. I recently started reading Stephen King's, "11/22/63," and can't put it down. It's more than 800 pages, a great read and I'm determined to finish it. Time will tell.
I care about self-improvement, but I'm not so sure that the above resolutions qualify as such. Given my incredibly poor track record, I unceremoniously ditch the resolution thing.
I feel it's a good time to reflect on the past year as well as look ahead. I think about putting together some type of end of year list, but we live in a culture where there are best of, worst of, top 10 and top 100 lists for everything imaginable.
What follows instead are some memorable moments from the past year, those special human moments that can't be scripted.
My friend and rock `n' roll concert buddy, Alex, and I walk into El Malecon, a Dominican restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue between 97th and 98th, and instantaneously know we have come to the right place.
The smells are sensational and take me back to my grandmother's apartment in the Bronx, where I would be overcome with the Pavlovian pull of her chicken soup, brisket or pot roast and salivate at the thought of the meal awaiting me. What I loved as much as her cooking was the chance to sit around the kitchen table and catch up on what was happening in our lives. As we ate, we would share our stories and have a good laugh.
Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, said, "We should look for someone to eat and drink with before we look for something to eat and drink," and there was no one better than my grandma to break bread with.
I wake up to utter chaos. It's 6 a.m. and Erin is spinning around like a whirling dervish, screaming that she has to get the bed she built down to the Parsons School of Design and needs help taking it apart, immediately. I go flying downstairs, grab a Philips screwdriver and start unscrewing at Mach 2. My wife and Kelly join in, and we're running around like Keystone Kops, but somehow we manage to take the bed apart in record breaking time.
Erin gets in my car and says, "There's this obnoxious licorice smell coming from the Altoids tin and you know, Dad, maybe next time I should build a boat" (her bed has a hull-like base). That's my girl, master of the non-sequitor. After all the morning drama, it was the perfect tension releasing comment and I couldn't help but laugh. I will admit that later that day the thought of hiding some licorice Altoids in my daughter's car did cross my mind.
My family and I are walking down Rue Saint Denis in Montreal headed to the O Cafe, for a chocolate croissant and Sebastian's delectable cup of cafe au lait. My wife stops to check out the menu at Cote Soleil and calls me over.
They have Eggs Ibiza, and since Ibiza just happens to be one of my favorite places in the universe, we quickly grab an outdoor table. Eggs Ibiza are amazing and there's a cornucopia of fruits, 12 in all, including passion fruit, kiwis and lychee nuts. The next morning we're back, and it's deja vu all over again. Nothing like a fabulous breakfast to start the day, to go along with the joy of discovery of a truly fine eatery.
*I'm having lunch at the Friars Club in Manhattan with my old friends and fraternity brothers, Lew, Alan and Jay, We have a blast catching up, reminiscing and occasionally calling another friend to get clarity on our sometime faulty memories.
Stories and folklore, often repeated and sometimes told in shorthand, had us in hysterics as per usual; memories of our very soulful cook, Mrs. Johnson, who was incredibly patient with our schoolboy silliness and quick with the banter, brought a smile to all our faces. Thankfully, there were no wives around to stare at us like we truly were from Mars, while wondering out loud how we can continue to find enjoyment going over the same old stories and stuff. The timeless mystery of male bonding!
We even get to meet and share some laughs with former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, as well as hear some great stories from the comedians dining next to us. A really sweet time was had by one and all.
Erin finally gets a job in her chosen field, as a designer. My wife and I always knew she had the talent, but in this economy, recent college graduates are having an incredibly tough go. As she's telling us, my heart is outside my chest, my grin is beyond ear to ear; I'm overflowing with the intense pride and joy a parent feels when his child accomplishes something special.
It was made all the more special by the fact that Erin had struggled through high school, not being particularly academic minded; my wife and I would shake our heads and wonder if she would ever find her path in life. She was talented, creative and artistic but her attitude towards her art classes was: "How dare my teachers ever give me a deadline for an art project; don't these twits understand that the true artist only creates when there is artistic inspiration?"
At the end of her junior year, she attended a summer program at the Savannah College of Art & Design and had an epiphany; she fell in love in with industrial and product design and let go of the romantic notion of living the life of a true artist, in the Montmartre section of Paris, surviving on moules et frites (mussels and French fries) and drawing caricatures of tourists when she wasn't in her garret making important art.
During her four years at Parsons School of Design, she worked harder than we or she could have imagined, honed her craft and made some incredible furniture. One day, while carrying one of her chairs through the streets of Manhattan, she was stopped three times and asked if the chair was for sale. She has definitely come a long way and is living the art of the possible.
Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in Darien. He's also the director of the county-wide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.