“Today’s the day.”
I slept on the couch on my first night as an unemployed man. Not because my wife banished me because I reeked of beer and whisky, though I did. And not because I was no longer welcome in my own bed on account of failing her. She was four months pregnant. My two-year-old son slept in the other room. She never once said anything that made me feel as if I let our family down. She didn’t have to. I placed that burden on myself, and pretty easily too. I slept on the couch that night because, for the first time in over 15 years of marriage, I didn’t deserve to sleep next to her.
A couple of friends from work had taken me out after. They patiently stood by as six o’clock hit and I continued cleaning out my desk. I wasn’t leaving voluntarily, but neither was I one of those escorted-out-the-door-by-security casualties, those poor souls suffering the added humiliation of a perp walk, though being unemployed hardly qualifies as a crime. It’s just made to feel like one in this country. I had had two weeks, but I had been busy, you know, working. I dumped coffee mugs, calendars, awards into the trash with a sweep of my arm. It was a Friday.
“You want this?” I asked, holding up a Chicago Manual of Style, one of three I had accumulated in my five years on the job.
“You know, I can bring you anything you can’t carry,” my other friend said.
“I’ll just be another minute.”
They were both wearing their coats. They had their messenger bags strapped across their chests. I surveyed my desk one last time. Only a few items remained: a pig fashioned out of a corkscrew and pushpins; a handwritten note that said “a shy, stuttering man playing Bingo”; a pencil drawing of an executive meeting in which one of the participants had pulled a gun, another of the men sitting at the table saying, “What the shit, Dave?” These had all been parting gifts to me by co-workers who had also been let go in the past year. Now I was passing them on to the next person who would eventually find himself in our position, though to convince him of that now would be impossible. I didn’t put anything new under the tree.
I gathered my computer and my ID.
“Turning in your gun and badge, huh?”
I walked into my manager’s office. She was rarely there past six o’clock; on a Friday, unthinkable. The day before she had told me that if I had everything I needed to get done done by lunch that I could leave early on my last day. I thought at the time that she was being benevolent, a kindness. I now realized that her day was linked to mine: Someone had told her that she wasn’t going home until I did. It was nearly six thirty. She had a husband and two kids of her own waiting for her in Jersey. She wouldn’t be home until nearly eight o’clock. Her son would be asleep by then. I counted it a small victory.
“Here you go,” I said.
My ID was so faded that it could have belonged to anyone. She put it in her desk drawer, next to the salt, soy sauce, and rubber bands. The computer she locked away in a cabinet, though she didn’t remove the key from the lock.
“Good luck,” she said.
We didn’t shake hands.
I walked back to my desk.
The bar was called “Ear Inn,” the “E” in “Ear” created by shaving off the round parts of the “B” in “Bar” on the neon sign out front. The bar dates back to 1817. The ceilings were low, the floors uneven. We were in Soho, about two blocks from the Hudson. I could see why the bar would have thrived, people coming off the water and stopping at the nearest spot for a drink, especially on a January night like this, the wind chafing my cheeks, not wanting to venture too far into the city. This’ll do.
We had a pint of the house ale, then another and another and another. We ordered food. We talked about work, then the Knicks, then all the crazy shit you could put into a coffee-table book about the Japanese. Arcades. Robots. The things they cram into vending machines alone. When the check came my friends reached for it.
“We got this,” they said.
It was still early, and I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to go home, but they had fiancées to attend to. No shit, both of them getting married in the next year.
“Take care,” one said, as he disappeared down the steps of the subway station.
“Stay in touch,” said the other, as he headed east on Carmine. I tried to commit his personal email address to memory. Jesus. I didn’t even know his email address. Practically every minute I had spent with him was at work.
I stepped into another bar, ordered a three-dollar Bud Lite, with a tip it’s four. I took a piss, checked in at home, called my friend in Queens. He didn’t answer, so I left a message. “You up for a drink?” I asked. “If so, hit me back.” I returned to the bar. Within minutes, my phone buzzed.
“I thought that might be you,” he said.
“You want a drink,” I said. “I mean, if you want, I’m up for a drink.”
“Sure, I’ll have a drink with you.”
“What’s the name of that place right off the train?”
“I can come to you,” he said.
“No, that place right off the train.”
Somehow you can fly from New York to Iceland in five hours, yet it can take an hour and a half to get from Manhattan to Long Island City. I didn’t want to lose my buzz, so I ran through the Village to the train. I looked like a character from a disaster movie. I dared not turn around and see the wreckage that was my life gaining on me. I arrived at the platform just as the train was pulling in. Winded, I grabbed a seat. Everywhere around me people were chattering excitedly. They were dressed to impress, jacked up on the promise of the night ahead. It was almost nine o’clock. Their night was just beginning. The most devoted among them would see the sun rise. My overstuffed bag was heavy on my lap. I folded my arms across the top much like I had seen my wife do on her ever-expanding belly. At least I could unburden myself when it got to be too much. She still had a long way to go, though it suddenly felt much sooner than it had before. What are we going to do?
Scampering through the Village, un-cool though it must have looked, paid off. I beat my friend to the bar. By the time he arrived, I was two more drinks in.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
I pointed halfway down my pint and told him that I would answer that once I got there. That was when the whisky started.
Two hours later I was saying, “We ought to move to LA, you know. At least in LA they pay you to fail.” We made plans. Big plans. Then we sat and drank some more.
When we left the bar, my friend lit a cigarette.
“You want one?” he asked.
Apparently my self-destructiveness had its limits. We walked a block in drunken, frozen silence. We reached where he would turn left and I would continue straight.
“You OK getting home?”
“You sure? You could get a car. I’ve got money for a car if you need it.”
“I’m good. Really. Thanks.”
“OK. Well.” We hugged. “Next time I see you, I expect you to have your shuffleboard game down.” I nodded. “That or pinochle.”
“OK. See you.”
I ran/walked in whatever direction up Broadway is in Queens—north?—rode the M60 through Harlem, took the uptown A the rest of the way home. It wasn’t that late, but it felt late.
My wife was asleep. At least I had achieved that goal. If only they were all that easy. I could have crawled in next to her. She would have understood, on tonight of all nights. Instead I opted for the couch. My only fear was that she would wake up and think something was wrong. Well.
Three hours later my son woke up crying. It was still dark outside. The partiers from the train were still going strong. I startled awake. My head felt like it was trapped between a mallet and a tree stump.
“I’m here,” I said, as I staggered into his room to console him. I hoped he couldn’t smell the failure on my breath.
|The first chapter in our proposed coffee-table book.|
“How you feel is not the result of what is happening in your life—it is your interpretation of what is happening.”
No satisfactory answer exists for why I have Anthony Robbins’ Unlimited Power: The Way to Peak Personal Achievement on my shelf, so I might as well tell the truth. In this instance, the truth happens to be the same truth that Pete Townsend alleged when authorities discovered child pornography on his computer: I have it for research. I can’t speak for Townsend—the world still awaits Lil’ Tommy—but in my case the truth is indeed true. I was going to write a play that featured a motivational speaker as a central character, which also explains why I own Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Arthur K. Robertson & William Proctor’s Work a 4-Hour Day. The idea was to immerse myself in the way these men think and then create a character whose behavior belied the degree to which their bravado masked their insecurities. The endeavor was doomed from the start, and I never got past a cursory flip of any of these books. Bravado they had to spare, but they revealed no insecurities. That I would have had to provide on my own.
I could have chosen to examine any of these three books for the purposes of this project. I opted for Robbins because, if you came of age in the 1980’s, he is the guru, the don, the alpha and the omega of self-help. Fuck Dr. Phil. Robbins didn’t need a PhD to prove his worth—his formal education extends no further than a high-school diploma—and he damn sure didn’t need Oprah to catapult him to the big time. He did so on his own with a series of infomercials that included the likes of Fran Tarkenton and Quincy Jones sitting at beach-side locales and discussing their successes in tones so earnest that they just had to contain the secrets of eternal happiness. They just had to! In his seminars, Robbins pioneered the mike-strapped-to-the-head look long before Madonna made it fashionable, which freed his hands to slap five with the men, to hoist the women below their asses in ways that weren’t in the least bit lecherous or creepy, and to extend his long arms across the stage so widely that he appeared to be supporting the world entire.
|The Human Chin|
I remember him mostly because he was gorgeous. He was tall—his bio says six foot, seven—fit and tan, with a face that could fairly be described as “chiseled”: his cheeks just a little indented little like a young Ah-nold and his Tank McNamara-chin that played well when facing the camera but must have been garish in profile. His black hair was soft and lush—the guy had a career as a shampoo model if this brainwashing thing didn’t work out—but I envied nothing so much as his teeth, which were as straight and gleaming as mine were/are crooked and dull.
My friends and I would tune in to mock him in the same obnoxious way that we would ridicule Bob Ross as he painted his “happy trees” on PBS. If Robbins was the OP (Original Phil), the we were the OBB (Original Beavis and Butthead), though we lacked Butthead’s sophistication and never would have survived on basic cable.
“Hey, check it out. The human chin is on.”
“How much pussy you think that guy gets?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask your mom?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask your mom?”
“I wonder how he avoids ‘pit stains.”
In hindsight, our insistence that Robbins could only be viewed ironically might have been more of a defense than our impressionable young minds would have admitted: The guy was good, damned appealing, dare I say even magnetic. If we didn’t keep a wall of mama jokes between us and him, we might end up picking up what he was putting down.
My copy of Unlimited Power is a paperback from 1986. The sticker on the cover says “10% off pub. retail.” The price on the back says “$12.50 in USA.” Today the book retails for sixteen. The pencil mark on the inside cover says “50 cents.” I bought it at a library book sale in Lawrence, Kansas, around the turn of the last century. The price on the inside cover is just above a black-and-white photo of Robbins. He looks like a more handsome version of Mitt Romney, though, to be fair, in 1986 Mitt Romney was probably a more handsome version of Mitt Romney too. The picture catches Robbins mid-sentence. His mouth is open. His hands are extended as if to show the size of the fish he recently caught, which, now that you mention it, might not want to be the image he wants to project. The lies that fisherman tell and all.
Beneath his picture, the words: “We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish.”
Who better to get me off of the couch?
|Life is Godzilla. I am a million fleeing Japanese. Can Tony Robbins be the scientist who saves me from myself?|