Thursday, December 10, 2009

I think that my favorite coping mechanism for terrible/ridiculous/terrifying situations is the "at least this'll make a great story" technique. For example, when you are driving a 22 foot truck down the NYS Thruway at 5 AM, it's completely dark out, it's snowing pretty hard, and there's already an inch or two on the ground, it helps to say to yourself, "It's okay, just focus, drive slowly, and if I don't die, this'll make a great story." This falls under the terrifying option as noted above and was the situation I found myself in in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. I knew it was supposed to snow, but it hadn't started yet when I went to bed around 11:30, and using another great coping mechanism, denial, I said to myself, "well if it hasn't started snowing by now, there surely can't be much snow five hours from now." Incorrect.

I think the highlight of the drive down was being in the left lane oing about 40-45 MPH, which was still faster than most of the other traffic, and seeing in the side view mirror a truck come barreling past me on my right only to realize as it cut in front of me that it was one our other drivers, clearly showing no fear of the gauntlet thrown down that morning by mother nature.

As 6 AM rolled around and I got into Jersey the snow had changed to rain making the road much more bearable and speeding things up a little bit. Unfortunately this did not make making deliveries very fun (nor did the fact that we didn't have a hand truck loaded onto our truck, thank god Home Depot opens at 7 AM.) As my co-worker who was helping me out said as we carted crates containing 5 gallon bags of milk to Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea as the rain came pouring down, "Mark, I think this is the most insane thing I've ever done in my life," which led me to think, in order, "come on, this can't be the most insane thing you've done in your life," followed by, "this shit is pretty ridiculous if you think about it for a second."

As the day wore on I realized that there were two mistakes I had made in regards to my wardrobe. The previous morning as I was preparing for my trip upstate I thought to myself that I ought to bring along my winter coat because it is supposed to be very cold. What I did not think about was that snow often turns to rain and it might be more pleasant to make deliveries in the rain wearing a rain coat than a non-waterproof coat. The second mistake was that for my trip upstate I wore my union suit, which was great for being upstate, but I should have thought to take it off before driving into the city and making deliveries. I will tell you that the combination of physical work, two layers of wet clothes, and a long-john onesie that doesn't breathe at all is a recipe for feeling disgusting.

So there we are, a day alternately terrifying, crappy, and downright ridiculous made much more managable by banking on the story it would turn into, as relayed to you in this very space.

However. There's also a side to being in this frame of mind that has often made me feel self-conscious and a little down on myself. I sometimes think that a lot of the things I've done in the past have been strictly for the sake of the story and that I should do things out of pure enjoyment and wonder and adventure without any care towards telling people about it. There's something about feeling the need to document everything that I'm really strongly drawn towards and definitely runs deep in my blood, but I also feel repelled by it. This is in part why I've stopped taking pictures very often (that and laziness). For most of high school and into early college I was always the guy with the camera and was really into photography. Then at some point I started realizing that I was never in any pictures and felt like I wasn't actually participating in anything. This was also around the time that I was taking a documentary making class and felt upset about playing the role of observer rather than actor. I think it's also closely connected to why I left my non-profit job, feeling like I was in a role of helping people do things and take action, but not being part of that action myself.

But that urge to document and report and present my experiences to an audience in some way definitely runs in my blood. A few years ago, my dad typed up an old journal his father wrote on a trip he took to Europe sometime in the mid-twenties I believe. Aside from the painfully obvious fact that the men in my family do not have the physical capability to avoid a pun, it also became clear that we all feel the need to tell a story. His entire journal was written as if for an audience, complete with jokes and asides, although he had no reason, I'm guessing, to think that anyone beside himself would ever read it.

The time I felt saddest about this seemingly genetic trait was when I was helping my parents move out of our house in NJ in the summer of '05 (?). I lived almost my entire life in that house from 2 or so till 18, and my dad grew up there as well, from the time he was 7 or so till he was 18, moving back with the family when his mother died some 34 or 35 years later. My sister and I were both in town helping them pack up, and she asked him if he felt sad that the family was leaving the house after almost 60 years of occupancy. I don't remember his response exactly, but it was something along the lines of, "The way I look at things is just so objective, I think it's a really interesting story, but I can't say I feel sad about it." This, other than the time this past Thanksgiving when we said the same pun at the exact same time leading to a gasp of horror from my mom, was one of the biggest, "good lord I'm exactly like my dad," moments I've had.

And I think it's a blessing and a curse, this unending objectivity. On one hand, it allows me to take an even-headed approach to things. It's why I don't get freaked out when problems come up (like snow storms), why I've always gotten along with people I've worked with, and why I can't hold a grudge (even though I want to sometimes.) But it also makes me feel like I'm missing out on something, some type of pure enjoyment of the world. As I think I've joked to someone before, I'm still learning to have feelings.

Anyway, it's been a while since I posted, so I apologize and I thought I'd hit you with something nice and lengthy and soul-searching. Happy Hannukah!