second, the whole birthday thing has caused me to review a little, in my mind, what it was like to be 23 or 24 myself, and put some of it down in writing in hopes that it might benefit him or others who are young and noticeably, obviously, at the bottom of a very bleak-looking ladder that appears to be going into very polluted clouds within a few rungs.
when i was 23, it was completely different times, and i had no clue what i'd do with my life, which caused me, one day under pressure, to break down crying publicly, as if someone else could do something about it. it was like, no matter how much i tried, i just couldn't find an answer or even a reasonable strategy for the question of what to do with my life. i just had to live a little more of it to find out. i didn't have the pressure of lack of insurance looming, or the poor job market of today (some people even said to me: there are plenty of things you can do, just get started and do one of them). I was working at a restaurant. lots of crazy things happened and we had passionate discussions about what to serve and how to do business. we did well; there was lots of work. i got paid poorly, but didn't mind. i ate well; it was a vegetarian restaurant. i was happy because most of my previous jobs had involved cruel bosses of some kind and i liked the collective idea of everyone owning it and doing their best for the whole group. it worked out fine for that stage of my life.
it's just that, when i thought about what else i could do with my life, besides running a restaurant, i came up blank. nothing worked. nothing made sense. after fourteen years of school, going back to school for anything sounded unpalatable.
i had this attitude about women; i felt that they should accept me for what i was, even with no plan, even just working at a restaurant, even if i didn't have a degree or a life plan. unfortunately they by and large rejected that idea. i think women are generally looking for someone who has a life, has a plan, and has a hope of getting there. my relationships would last a week or a few days until they figured out that i really truly wasn't going anywhere, at least for the moment.
at the restaurant we'd have conflicts that only large unruly groups of hippies would have trouble resolving. one was over whether to get a new mixer for the bakery, pinning the anti-technology folks against the futuristic developer-types who said, make more bread, earn more money, move up and move out. one guy in the restaurant believed strictly in not wasting a single piece of food, and he would throw even celery leaves (which are bitter and acidic) into the soup as a matter of principle. the more refined tastes in management wanted to put the best soup in front of the customer, one which is free of all hint of waste.
i had no trouble living without a car, or a house, or any property to speak of. at home this woman kept breaking into my refrigerator (i lived in a rooming house), but even this was not an issue; i ate mostly at the restaurant. virtually everything could be reached by walking. i was in good shape, being young and working all the time.
when i had a baby the world really expected me to produce money and pay child support, and i couldn't really, because i didn't have enough income, and i fell behind. i was mad at the world and didn't feel that the "system" or the "establishment" had a right to tell me what to do. actually, with the baby, the involvement of the "system" just made it all more complicated, because, when i met the baby, i had no problem loving her or wanting to support her, yet, notices from the court and the government were very intimidating, and got my resistance up. i remember having very mixed feelings about not paying, or putting it off, and that was because the baby would get its support whether i paid or not; it was mostly me vs. the system in my eyes.
having traveled for a year and a half, i was pretty used to not paying rent or getting away with stuff, and didn't much believe in private property although i wasn't inclined to steal either, not valuing "stuff" really in any way. but for example i'd leave my door open, in my first rooming house, not just unlocked but open, and this would drive the landlord nuts and he finally was glad to be rid of me, but not because i'd played loud music or caused any other trouble. i was a quiet gentle guy, most of the time, but i didn't want to shut my door, and i figured that if i paid all of $60 of rent, i shouldn't have to.
i remember two lights in my life that helped shake the cobwebs out of my mind and move into a healthier mode of relating to the world. one was the guy who owned the gaslight village where i lived, henry black. henry black had let his property overgrow with trees, flowers, bushes, and weeds, and then grew roses amongst the weeds. he'd bought up the house next door and then built two houses behind them moving back into the woods, letting the woods move in and take over part of the property, until the place housed about sixty independent hippies and families, myself included, and i was allowed at one point to work off my rent and paint all summer. he told the story of being sued over a dandelion and saying in court that, to you it's a weed, but to me it's a flower, and i want it there, and i have a right to grow it. henry black would have me drive around in an old cadillac, buying paint and supplies, and this for some reason really impressed me, partly because people gave cadillacs respect, out on the city roads, but also because henry and i had a kind of unlikely alliance, an alliance of the unorthodox, the anti's. and he taught me: use your energy. make what you want. be what you want to be. don't let your neighbors intimidate you into mowing your lawn if you don't want to or don't believe in it (mowing a lawn was, at that time, my idea of buckling to the expectations of "the system"...)
oddly, another light in my life was a young girl, possibly 8-10 years old, who may actually be reading this blog, who just simply became a good friend of mine, and restored my innocence to some degree, because i liked her and didn't want her to see me stumbling or ingesting bad substances or messing up. she was feisty and often in my face, but was always sweet, and i was her genuine friend, playing cards with her and doing stuff that she couldn't find people to do, because the hippie community was sadly short of 10-year-olds to play with or even people who had any time at all, so I just sort of filled in the gap. what she did for me was, she just told me i was ok. that is, in spite of my war with the rest of the world, at my base, in my heart, i was ok, and i could still just play cards and have fun. and that meant a lot to her and also to me. being somewhat estranged from my new daughter, on a daily basis, made me feel like some kind of bad guy, but i wasn't a bad guy, and needed to get back on the road to making my life a better, brighter kind of thing to look at. it was hard to do, but it helped to hear it from the eyes of a young kid, and try to explain it to her why i was such a mess. it was ok with her, that i didn't know what i'd do with the rest of my life.
one friend from college visited me and it was a football game sunday, and we were totally unable to find a television or watch the game he wanted (maybe it was the super bowl?) and i was embarrassed at being a bad host, and not even knowing the bars (that had televisions) that well as i didn't really use them much. it showed me how far away from "normal" i was and at the same time, i was totally comfortable in a world that had no television for miles. this friend left town, miffed somewhat i think, still wishing he could watch that game.
the day henry black died i heard about it at the restaurant, and i went out on the front stoop of the place and cried. pigeons lived there; it was an old catholic school, long abandoned, and sitting out there you'd encounter them along with the traffic, unconcerned and busy, whizzing by. the other day at work they put paper on everyone's back and asked us to write good words about each other on that paper, so that the person would get lots of positive messages once they figured out which paper was theirs. i found myself totally unable to put my various and plentiful feelings about each person into single words, and therefore let my colleagues down in this respect, but i feel that to some degree you find older people and resonate with their model of relating to the world, and then you do your version of what you liked in them. nowadays my life is quite different from what it was then, but i still remember working hard, being at the bottom of the world's perception of what was "successful," yet feeling that somehow, no matter how hard it was, i'd find a way to fit into it that would make me able to welcome people, show them my life, and be ok with it. you compare yourself to others, but in the end, you open the door yourself, and show them your own sitting room.