Memories From the Balcony – Being Young (Again)

And then there was the world, right there in front of us.
But did we know it? Did we know anything or did we only think we knew?
Life was about to happen. There we were, right on the verge of a new chapter; too afraid to turn the page and to eager to hold out for the right place or the right time. By the way, I wonder about this because sometimes there is no right place or right time. No,
there’s only life and it’s happening to you and me, right here, right now.

No one ever tells you how big this is going to be.
No one can prepare you for what’s about to come your way, at least not really.

Besides, part of being young comes with the belief that, somehow, we already know everything. Even if we already know that we don’t know anything, part of youth is the belief that you’ll know what to do or how to act.
You’ll figure it out; I mean, how bad could it hurt anyway?
Well, I suppose we found out.
Didn’t we?

Life is a trip.
And it’s never like you expected.
You never expect the sudden changes. You never predicted the unforeseen hardships but, like I said, life’s a trip.
It’s a ride sometimes, that’s for sure. Sometimes, it’s more like being on a shaky roller coaster. The ups and downs might shale you to pieces and while you might want the ride to stop – or there might be times when you’re going to be sick – it’s too bad. Suck it up, kid.
Take it on the chin because no matter how loud we scream “STOP,” there’s no stop button on this ride.
There’s no exit and there’s no sequel.

There’s no pause or rewind and there’s certainly no fast forward. There’s only the here and now.
There’s only this pivotal moment which we have right here in front of us.
This is not to say that we should ignore the future or that we shouldn’t plan for it.
In fact, we should.
We need to.
But when you’re young, the idea of the future is too distant and, seemingly, the idea of setting up a comfortable parachute when you want to jump ship and land in some comfortable place to retire, or have an annuity and a pension, and rest assured you want to have good health benefits – but when you’re young, this is an idea that goes beyond our scope of understanding.

I remember my first real job with benefits.
I never had healthcare before. Then again, I never thought I would need it.
Why would I? I was young, right?
I remember being offered the job and listening to a somewhat elderly man inform me about my retirement benefits.
He commented about this.
He said you might not think this is important now – but trust me, son.
It’s more important than you think
I thought to myself, “To hell, you say!”
Just put it all in my check . . .

Any sickness I had was quickly cured and any ache or pain was resolved with the youthful ability to get well soon. Besides, I was young. Let me live fast and if I died; then let them bury me as a beautiful corpse.
I never thought about the importance of having a good pension or a strong 401K.
Why would I think about that when all I noticed was the end result of my paycheck on Friday.
Of course, it blew my mind how I was raped by the amount of taxes I had to pay.
But worse, if the math wasn’t right, then I’d have to pay more taxes at the end of the year.
What asshole came up with this idea?

I never thought much about budgeting my money. I never planned or wondered what it would be like to have unexpected bills.
I never thought about what happened in real life because I was too young to understand what real life meant. 
I was virtually untested.

I thought that, somehow, my friends would be my same friends forever.
If something happened; I’d always find a back door or a scam to come out on top.
I never thought that anyone would move away.
I thought the people that I loved would live forever.
I never thought that we would lose touch.

I definitely never assumed anyone would grow old or grow up or that some of us would lose our hair.
I never thought that I would get fat.
I never thought about the possibility of health conditions at all or I never thought about the simple fact that time is finite.
Life is limited to only a certain amount of seconds, minutes, days or months.
Years can slip away before we finally realize that life is quick.
So, act accordingly.

I didn’t know what my real life was about to become.
Or, maybe I did.
Maybe I didn’t want to believe it.
Maybe I didn’t want the times to go away or lose the things we did, like the summertime on the water or at the bars in Island Park.
Maybe I didn’t want to let go of the wildness that comes when you’re too crazy to sit still and too young to settle for anything less.
Maybe this was it.

In part, maybe I was afraid. Maybe I was afraid to lose the moments which are encapsulated in youth.
Or, in part – I was afraid to separate from things like the scenes and the memories of downtown victories, the San Gennaro Festival, walking down 14th like a prince in his castle, or even the places uptown like sitting near the fountain by Columbus Circle or walking along Central Park West.
I was too young to know that life is about to change and too eager to believe that age is a real thing.

Maybe I was afraid to let go or lose my sense of wonder or dreaminess; as if to say that at a certain age, same as you grow too old to play with toys or action figures; maybe I didn’t want to grow so old that I’d forget what it means to play or be wild.
I suppose I was afraid that I would have to forfeit or give up the right to howl or scream, or to stay out so late that we defied the dawn and yet somehow, without a minute of sleep, we still had enough endurance to make it through the next day.

Maybe it was the memories I have of places like The Limelight or the hotdog carts on the street.
I miss those things.
I miss the ability to heal quickly or the rush it takes and the rage that comes when you find the courage to get up and go.

Maybe I was untested.
Maybe I was unsure of what real life was supposed to be.
Maybe here I am now, at 50 years-old, working on myself.
Maybe I just want to be hopeful again, like we were back before the new millennium took place.
Maybe I’m still thinking about the thrills that come with an extra large popcorn and making out with a girl in the balcony of some theater. 

Sure, I’ve had champagne hopes and caviar dreams.
Even though champagne is not my thing, I like the ritz and glamour of nice things.
I like nice places.
Maybe I was afraid that this would be something in the past.
Or, maybe I thought that I would have to give up my toys or that playtime was over.
Especially now – especially now that it’s time to go to work and pay for the roof above my head.
Maybe I think whomever came up with the idea of being an adult should be shot in the ass with a B.B. gun or hit in the forehead with a spitball.

I don’t want to grow old.
Or better yet, I don’t ever want to grow so old that I forget about my fascination with the rooftops or my memories on Third Avenue.
Life changed for me here.
I remember this; looking downtown, back when my City was still accompanied by The World Trade’s Twin Towers.
I want this back!

I never thought about this thing we call a metabolism.
I could eat anything and none of this would matter.
In fact, I did eat anything.
I ate everything and nothing affected me.
I was young and resilient; but more, I was foolish enough to believe that I could be young forever. 
I would formally like to apologize to myself here. Furthermore, I would like to forgive my old youth for its oversight.
In fact, as a means of amends between me and the old me; I forgive this but for now – I think I’d like to give the old me a rest and let the new me take it from here.

I wish I could be young forever.
I am not old by any means.
However, I am not so unforgivably young that I lose sight of reality.
And maybe that’s it.
Maybe I was more hopeful because reality and I had yet to be formally introduced.
Goodbye to the former then . . .
Hello to the new.

In some ways, I am younger now, more than ever before.
In some ways, I am reminded of this thing we call mortality.

But still, I wish for a field trip.
I wish for a trip to the Museum.
Maybe the one Uptown, The Museum of Natural History.
Or maybe we could go to the Planetarium. I think I’d like that.
I’d like to see another laser-light show with music performed by The Pink Floyd and we could sit back and watch the ceiling dance while hearing music from The Dark Side of The Moon. 

I don’t want to grow too old.
I don’t ever want to feel alone which is different from being alone.
No, I’m fine with being alone.
I just don’t want to feel alone.
I don’t want look back with regret because I grew too old and too afraid to try once more.
I don’t want to be traumatized because I missed my shot or be too gun shy to get up when I fell backwards.

I want to find my fountain of youth; not so I get my youth back but instead, I want to find that youthful resolve and enjoy the fearlessness because nothing can hurt me. 

I want to dream and believe.
I want to walk the streets and still feel as if everything is brand new to me.
I want to believe as if every day is brand new.
Like a child, like a young boy, like a hopeful dreamer who looks at the nighttime sky and thinks about what it must look like to stand inside a crater on the moon – I want to be this.

I remember the theft of service which took place when we were young.
I remember when people told me that it was “time to grow up.”
Or, that I was too old to play.
Grow up, stupid kid.
I grew up alright.
But maybe I was smarter when I was younger.

Times are different now.
Now, just like the scene in a movie when kids find the bottom of a wishing well and see the pennies, the nickels, the dimes and the quarters that represent other people’s wishes – I’m here to say that these are my wishes.
I’m taking them back. “I’m taking them all back,” is what was said in the movie.
Only, I’m not casting my wishes in a well or leaving any of this up to chance.
I’m taking them back to make my dreams come true.
I’m taking my youth back.
I’m taking my hopes back.
I’m taking my dreams of being, my hopes of building and my desires to create or dare and to go, be or do. Once I gather them, I’m taking this back to make them come true. 

Today is March 14.
The year is 2023
It’s been a long time since my dances before the millennium.
It’s been a long time since it was the last time we all gathered as “boys,” yet none of us knew this would be the last time that we’d all be together.
It’s been a long time since I had the ability to heal quickly or eat five hotdogs from the cart on 54th Street – and still be hungry. 

I remember a wedding.
This was a long, long time ago.
This was the first of my childhood friends to get married.
(He was divorced, six months later.)
I remember being in the wedding party.
Somehow, I knew the chapter was changing. 

After the wedding, we went to an after-party.
After that, I drove to the beach at Point Lookout.
This was at sunrise, the morning after.
One last howl with the boys so-to-speak
I was still in my tuxedo.
My top button undone.
My tie undone.
My long hair was flying in the breeze.
I was alone on the beach – trying hard to look and act like a rock star.
I might have looked like a million bucks (although, opinions may vary) and my shoes might have been nice; my silvery hooped earrings might have been a sign of the times.
I pulled out one of my cigarettes.
I grabbed one of my last few, a fresh Camel from the pack.
I used to smoke Camels . . .
I remember lighting my smoke and blowing my exhale to the heavens.
I did this as if to say, “The hell with it!”

There were some early morning people walking on the beach.
I saw an elderly couple, still in love
(or, maybe they were still young and knew the secrets that you and I have been searching for).
And me, that’s how I want to be –

I don’t ever want to be afraid again; not of losing air in my tires or being stuck on the side of the road near The Harlem River Drive, or worrying that somehow the window of time is about to close on me.
No . . .

I want my coins from the wishing well back.
I want my dreams back.
I want it all back.

This way, I can relive my life.
I can recreate my real life again . . .
and make it so.

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