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Brett Favre, For Example

The purpose of tonight’s blog is not specifically to brag about my evening and make you feel inadequate for the way you spent yours, but unless you skip past the next couple of paragraphs, you’ll never believe me on this point.

ShirtlessRoland scored box seats to the Hurricanes game tonight.  The accommodations were generous, the company was lively, the food and drink were delicious (and did I mention, gratis?)  VIP parking had us 50 feet from the covered entrance (nice touch on a night with wintery-mix falling).  The ‘Canes won (4-2, thanks to a contested, but allowed shot with 4.7 seconds left in the 3rd period).  Somewhere around the 3rd  Yuengling – I mean 2nd period – I realized that through some strange twist, despite having lived in 2 hockey towns on the east coast,  and occasionally having been to games in each of these, the Anaheim Ducks are now the team that I’ve seen play more than any other.  To point out that they’re also the team I’ve seen lose more than any other is perhaps irrelevant.  But it’s a fun fact, just the same.

After the game, Wrapped Up Like a Douche came on the radio on our way to my neighborhood Ale House for the after party.  Oh, you know the song I’m talking about.  It’s by those people you’ve never heard of…. Anyway, in a very curious move, I figure I’d throw out another fun fact for the musical education of ShirtlessRoland.  This is curious because Shirtless Roland grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when all the good music was invented.  I didn’t own a radio until I was 15 (in 1989!).

“Do you know who wrote this song?” I baited.

He immediately pressed the info button on my radio and I informed him that wouldn’t help because that band nobody’s ever heard of didn’t write it.

“Bruce Springsteen,” he guesses.  I mean, I thought he was guessing.

“Oh, so close!” I praised his luck.  “Just a little further east!”

It was dark, but I’ll bet he looked confused.  “Huh?”

“Do you give up?  You’ll never guess!  It was Billy Joel!” 

“Are you sure about that?”

I referenced the line ‘mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun but mama, that’s where the fun is’ and the subsequent piano part to bolster my claim.  “That’s just so classic Billy Joel!”

“Really?  I’m very sure Bruce Springsteen wrote this.”

I began to doubt my intel.  Where did I get this nugget of information, anyway?  I couldn’t remember.  Why was I so sure I was right?  Especially against ShirtlessRoland’s assertion?   Maybe I got his name mixed up. As he drove on, I gave in to my doubts and consulted TheGoog on my smartphone. 

“Son of a bitch!”  My language gets saltier with hockey and beer.

“What?” he asks.  Clearly, it took me so long to look up that ShirtlessRoland forgot what was in contest.  Either that or it hadn’t occurred to him that it was still in contest in my mind.

I had to save face and tried to convince ShirtlessRoland that Billy Joel actually used a nom de plume earlier in his career and just imagine the surprise and frustration when this snotty nosed kid out of Jersey showed up on the scene with the same name!  Oh, the confusion and misdirected royalty checks!

I did not engage ShirtlessRoland in any more musical trivia the rest of our drive.  However, while enjoying the live music at the Ale House I tried in vain to convince him how Johnny Cash is like mama’s lasagna and Bob Marley is like mama’s meatloaf.  This is a correlation I will try again to impart when one or both of us has had fewer beers. 

On one TV screen we watched college football.  Ohio played somebody, but I’m not sure and don’t care to what end.  Minnesota was in their first period against Calgary on another screen and both were scoreless.  But Pimp My Ride on another screen ate my attention – until I saw what must have been a biopic on the Packers playing on yet another screen. 

Seeing the great Green and Gold out on the field made me think, of course, of Brett Favre.  Though I’m a die-hard Miami Dolphins fan, which stems from a borderline scary obsession with Dan Marino, I will admit that I also quietly pulled for the Packers.  I didn’t do this because I’m fond of Green Bay, cheese, or anything else Wisconsinian in general, but because I thought Favre was a pretty good guy.  He was inarguably a terrific quarterback.  It was damn near impossible to find anything not to like about the guy.

And then that happened. 

Even through beer goggles (Yuengling on one lens, Guinness on the other), I had the clarity to ponder a very intriguing question:

How does somebody go from being an over-all great guy to a whiney bitch?

I’m not sure if it’s despite or because of those beer goggles, but not too very much pondering was necessary for me to realize this truth:

They don’t.

I’m betting that if you were to go back and ask the Packers – oh, say, circa 2004 – in what ways 2010 Favre resembles the team mate they knew back then, they’d have stories.  They’d be able to recount all the ways that he was a nincompoop, but how they easily overlooked it or saw it as something else because he was a team player.  Maybe he was a martyr.  Maybe he was paranoid.  Maybe he thought the earth revolved around him.  Maybe he was manipulative and grumpy and – well – whiney.  But maybe they dealt with it because, after all, the boy could deliver.  Maybe what we see now is the exact same Favre, just without the winning record.

Or, maybe, I got his name mixed up, too.

After 21 years of friendship MonAmi, and I are still surprised to discover the things we have in common.  She was going through a rough patch in her marriage a few years ago, and while she was venting about her disappointments, I learned that we both have imaginary parallel lives that we regularly visited in our day dreams.  Just about any negative stressor bought us each a ticket to Parallel Land.  Occasionally I would get a txt informing me there was 14 inches of fresh powder on the slopes and I knew she was having a bad day and needed to bend my ear- especially since it was summer and where she lives, the earth really is flat.  Where it got complicated, was that I didn’t have only one imaginary life I fled to when the day got tedious; I had to choose between two alternate fantasies.

In my first fantasy, I was never married, but kept many lovers.  I lived in the wine country of California and owned a small (tiny, actually) vineyard.  Hired hands worked along beside me tending the grapes, and their families became my own.  I lived in a Mediterranean abode built for entertaining.  I frequently had a balcony full of close friends over to huddle around the steel-bowl fireplace, drink my private label, and eat many cheeses on many crackers.  I was always warm, in good company, and happy.  But I regretted having never had children.

In my second fantasy, I was never married and didn’t keep any lovers.  Actually, I thought all men were ass holes.  I lived in a small (tiny, actually) flat in the lower east side of Manhattan.  The other tenants of my building became my family.  I identified myself as an artist, but I really don’t know in what medium I specialized.  I spent my mornings in the corner coffee shop with a paper or my laptop.  My nights were spent alone, but not lonely, working on my passion – whatever it may have been.  I was frequently chilly but always inspired and happy.  Again, I regretted having never had children.

At some point, I abandoned this practice.  I can’t say for absolutely sure (ok, yes I can), but I think it happened when My Big Disappointment walked out.  Don’t get me wrong – there wasn’t celebrating in the streets or anything like that; quite the opposite.  I was (and probably still am in many ways) heart broken and devastated.  It wasn’t (and still remains) not the person that I miss, but the fairy tale I could convince myself I was living in as long as the marriage was intact.  So, I suppose I had three imaginary lives.  But since I didn’t lump that one into the same heap the other two belong in until just this very minute, I’ll come back to that.

I was reminded of these fantasy lives the other night while trying to explain to ShirtlessRoland the personality of the Christmas tree I just erected in my front room.  I call the tree The Little Old Lady.  She is decked, from top to bottom, in subdued gaudiness.  She’s the octogenarian who keeps mostly to herself, but still dons full stage makeup and jewelry every day of her life.  She fancies herself a famous actress who was once engaged to a big time Broadway director.  But probably, she was just an understudy for an off-Broadway production of Arsenic & Old Lace and she slept with the stage manager a couple of times. Her house is dusty and cluttered, her lipstick is smeared, and she smells of whiskey and urine.  The Little Old Lady tree emerged with her full, eclectic personality several years ago when I was frequently traveling back and forth from WineCountry to LowerEastSide.  In fact, I think she may have been one of the other tenants in my imaginary apartment.

I had fun re-remembering these alternate realities I’d created for myself, and now have the distance required to examine them more closely. 

My California and New York fantasy lives bore very heavy resemblances to my Every Day back then, actually.  Sure, the geography was different, but I made family out of my closest friends and I welcomed them into my life.  I had a place to retreat and create.  But in both of my make-believe lands, I expunged that which made my Every Day less than perfect:  What’sHisName.  I think, sadly, this also erased the children I so desperately wanted from my otherwise perfect fantasies.

The Original Fantasy began for me many years ago and was probably imprinted on my psyche by way too many hours spent watching the Donna Reed Show and Leave It to Beaver on Nickelodeon.  I started out with this idea that happily-ever-after looked like a husband and a wife and many children.  There was supposed to be love and warmth and chaos, which probably meant there needed to be animals, too.  Simple enough.  But I set about building this idea of a perfect life with the wrong man.  This is not an indictment on him, as he might be the right man for somebody.

When I didn’t feel the love and warmth, I reevaluated my mental image and it betrayed me somewhat.  My first reevaluation showed our happy family living in a beautiful house, so I asked for the beautiful house and he obliged.  When I still didn’t feel that love and warmth I saw our happy family sitting on a designer couch.  So I asked for a designer couch and he even helped pick the fabric.  And then there were the cars that our family needed to be riding in to be happy; and the toys and the trips to Disney World, and the dog or the cat.

Then one day, years ago, I realized how nearly complete my idea of a perfect family had materialized.  I had the accoutrements, the children, the animals, and the chaos.  But the chaos drove that man mad.  He needed organization and compartmentalization and an inordinate amount of alone time.  And I thought maybe this was why there was still no feeling of love and warmth.  So I re-evaluated that fantasy of a perfect life and I saw the husband and the wife spending time together, alone, reconnecting.  So I asked for a honeymoon.  And of all things, that is what made him balk.

He threw everything from the children to the vacation time to the economy into the excuse heap.  I persisted and insisted.  I even recognized it wasn’t the extravagant trip that I needed; I needed to reconnect with him.  No, more than that.  I needed him to want to reconnect with me.  His final denial rings in my ears, “If you need somebody to give you stuff, I’m not that man.”

But as it turns out, that’s exactly who he was.  He was the man that could give the house and the cars.  He could (after medical intervention on my part) give the children.  He could give me everything in the world that I wanted except the love and the warmth, and then he could hold a grudge that I asked for anything at all.

The surprise isn’t that the marriage ended.  The surprise is that it took so long.  The surprise is that I was surprised

The Big Disappointment has been gone over a year now.  When he walked out, a flood of love and warmth immediately poured in.  And after the initial shock, happiness quickly followed.  The material things aren’t coveted to replace the experiences and the emotions.  The figmented lives in California and New York are no longer necessary to supplement my Every Day existence.

~

I’ve spent an hour or so of this and the last three mornings down in the neighborhood Starbucks writing this piece, as well as a few nights at home, but there are always distractions; chaos.

The story began Monday night when I shared these fantastical lives with ShirtlessRoland during the conversation about The Little Old Lady Tree.  Much to my surprise, he did not inquire about a family history of schizophrenia.  Actually, he shared a piece of his own little fantasy life with me.  And then, I had ringside seats to an epic pillow fight between him and the kids.

I didn’t begin writing until the next morning, but spent much of the time chatting with the English tutor and her Japanese student who are here every Tuesday.  He’s a sushi chef, but wants to go back to school and believes having a better grasp on our language will help him.  I think he’s already more fluent than many Americans I know, but he told me his 4 year old daughter still laughs at his English.

Actually, I didn’t write at all on Wednesday because I met a neighbor for coffee at a different coffee house that morning.  Then I joined my short kids for lunch at their school, as I do every week.  Wednesday night, I rejoined my old knitting group and made some amazing progress on the (still unfinished) Christmas Scarf.  I’m so happy to have caught up with the eclectic group of women I haven’t seen in a while.

Yesterday, I cut my writing short when I took a phone call from MonAmi.  We spent about an hour and a half catching up on each other’s very real and very happy lives.  Then I lunched with ShirtlessRoland and our families combined for dinner at our favorite pizzeria.

Jess, the seminary student who is here every day and is always smiling is trying to pick up some odd jobs right now so he can afford his prescription allergy medication.  He just asked if I’m ever going to be done with this piece so I can move on to that novel I started writing.

To answer him – and you, my weary reader – yes.  I am nearly finished.  I have to be.  There are kids who need picked up from early release day at school, both mine and ShirtlessRoland’s.  But I have one last thing that must be said on the topic.

In one of his parting blows – indeed, the one that took my breath away and hurt the most and the longest – What’sHisName made the proclamation that “we did not have a family, we just had kids.” 

I can finally reply.

Fuck you.  I have family.