29 October 2006

Progress Report

The radio (BBC, anyway, and maybe NPR) has lately been reminiscing about the Suez crisis and the Hungarian uprising, both of which happened 50 years ago this autumn. The rather sobering fact is that I remember both of these events.

The Suez business, it's true, made little sense to my 8, almost 9 year-old self, but I was intrigued enough by the headlines to ask my dad what it was about. The images of Hungarian rebels being routed by Soviet tanks came through loud and clear, however, and though the story was undoubtedly pumped up by the resolutely anti-communist nuns at my school, I burned with indignation and outrage, demanding that my parents explain why President Eisenhower hadn't sent our army to the rescue. 1956 was my year for finding out that life was often unfair, and that it was not at all unheard of for the good guys to lose badly.

I've always tended to trace my bad attitude about society, authority and life in general to that year, though I realize now that it had much earlier origins, probably dating back to age 3 or 4. I know that by the time I started kindergarten in 1952, I was already pretty much convinced that I was getting a bum deal; the only difference was that I hadn't yet got it into my head that there was anything I could do about it.

But I'll spare you the child psychology lesson; the real point of bringing up my recollections of 1956 was that I have such recollections at all. It seems like only yesterday that I was marveling that 40 years had passed since major events like the Vietnam War or (okay, not of quite the same magnitude, I know) my high school graduation. Now I'm starting to remember things that happened half a bloody century ago!

In case you hadn't already known or guessed, yesterday was my birthday, and being still confined to my little room by a non-functioning foot, it served as a perfect day for plowing through boxes of old photos, journals, books and memories. I wasn't exactly wallowing in the past, though I know I leave myself open to such accusations. But as I'm sure I've mentioned a couple times, I'm in the midst of winnowing out whatever is worthwhile from about 40 years worth of keepsakes and memorabilia and dumping the rest.

The first thing that popped up this morning was an old passport, issued around this time of year in 1977. I was immediately startled to see that in my photo I didn't look remotely punk, even though this would have been taken at a time when I was becoming a leather-clad, dyed and spiked-hair, coke-snorting regular at the Mabuhay Gardens. On the contrary, the picture looking back at me was that of a very normal looking fellow with a conservative, slightly floppy haircut in its natural color, wearing a hippie-cum-lumberjack flannel shirt and a slightly knowing smile.

Not a bad looking guy, either, I would have thought, if I hadn't known it was me, and that at the time that picture was taken, I was at one of the lowest points of my life, at least emotionally. This was confirmed moments later when the next item I unearthed turned out to be the set of journals I'd kept from 1976 to 1979. I more or less recognized the handwriting, but apart from that, I had a hard time identifying with them, as they seemed to have been written by The Most Miserable Man Alive. If not the most miserable, certainly someone whose primary activity in life was feeling sorry for himself. When, that is, he wasn't busy blaming everything and everyone else in the world for his never-ending troubles.

I keep saying "he" because it really is hard to accept that this pathetic creature really could have been me. Or so I say now, but really, as I was reading, I was well aware who was being talked about, because my eyes kept tearing up at the pain this guy so clearly felt. When, that is, they weren't watering with laughter at the sheer bombast and self-importance intermingled with the self-pity and self-loathing. "You were on drugs and/or booze pretty much the entire time," I kept reminding myself when wondering how someone, anyone - let alone me - could be so thoroughly oblivious and obnoxious, but even still, I was a complete and utter lunatic. It's a wonder anyone could have spent ten minutes in the same room with me, let alone attempt to conduct a serious relationship, which several people were unwise enough to do.

From the complexity of my love life - real or attempted, it wasn't always clear - it might almost seem as though I possessed a certain charisma, but then so does a train wreck, which is what my life mostly closely resembled. People came and went - mostly went, true - with dizzying rapidity, and most of the time I barely noticed, so caught up was I in endless self-regard. On one hand, I was obsessed with love and falling in love, and even more obsessed with persuading some supremely desirable but absolutely unattainable (apparently I was unable to see that the two went hand in hand) person to give me their unquestioning and total devotion (at which point, of course, I would lose all interest in them). On the other hand, I spent at least half my time lamenting about how hideously old and ugly and deformed I was, and urging myself to accept the obvious fact that I was washed up, over the hill, doomed to a lonely and ascetic old decrepitude. I had, after all, been feeling this way ever since I was 25, and now I was nearly 30! The idea that I was still alive was almost indecent in itself.

I would go on feeling much the same way for many years afterward, and, if I'm perfectly honest, I'd have to acknowledge that such doubts and self-hatred haven't completely left me even now. For instance, a couple times in recent years I've been filmed for VH1 specials about Green Day, and in both cases, I've refused to watch the shows because I was afraid of what I'd look like on TV. Ironically, just last night, someone on the Pop Punk Mesage Board posted a Youtube link to one of the shows, and I decided to have a look at it. Apart from being surprised that so much of it was about Green Day and so little about me, I have to admit it wasn't bad at all. I mean, it was a good story, well presented, and made me feel good about Green Day all over again, but like any true narcissist, of course, I was mostly interested in how I would look in it.

And the answer was, not bad, not bad at all. Okay, definitely not a kid anymore, but who wants to look at a 59 year-old kid anyway? To me the amazing thing was that I could look at myself not only without cringing, but with even a bit of self-approval and appreciation. Something I could never have done 30 years ago, when I was only half this age. Interesting. Well, to me, anyway, but as we've already seen, I'm completely self-obsessed. So I won't blame the rest of you if you've skipped over this whole section.

As for the progress referred to in the header, I originally meant to tell you about my foot, which might be marginally less interesting to you than my old photos or neurosis-steeped journals. Nevertheless, after quite a rough week, with a fair bit of pain, yesterday marked a turn for the better. For the first time I was able to move my toe around without pain, and could also walk around the room with only minor discomfort. I haven't been outside in a couple days, which is frustrating, because yesterday and today have seen some absolutely fabulous weather, maybe some of the last we'll see in this corner of the Northern Hemisphere until spring. But lying around with my feet up, as recommended by the doctor, seems to be doing the trick. I'm beginning to believe I may walk again after all!

Apart from that, thanks to all of you for the phone calls, emails, myspace messages, etc. wishing me a happy birthday. For a while there they were coming through so thick and fast that I was worried I wouldn't have sufficient time to do my usual birthday brooding.

But never fear, I got done just about everything I'd hoped to, and what I thought might be brooding turned out to be something a good deal more positive. In fact, the header for this article originally read "(Lack Of) Progress Report" but I had to go back and correct it, because for once I could unhesitatingly say yes, you know, I actually have made a little progress. Maybe even more than a little. The fact that that miserable wretch from the 1970s now seems like a tragicomic stranger is a pretty big deal in itself. And my foot's getting better, too? Excellent birthday all round, I'd say.

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