Thursday, December 31, 2015

December 31st: And In the End

"It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life for me --
and I'm feeling good."
~ Muse

Holy shit, we made it -- three hundred sixty-five more days of blogging in the ol' bagaroo.  It's been a year to a remember more than a year to forget and I am jiving with today's song -- I'm feeling good.  OK, full disclosure, I have a bit of a lingering cough.  But that's just geography.  In the bigger sense of it all, I am pleased with this year's trajectory.  I feel so much better than I did a year ago today and am truly excited for what's coming up in this new year.  I'm starting a standup comedy writing class mid-January, which should theoretically make this winter a little more fun, and I'm looking forward to diving into my new blog project, the ABC's of 2016.  Usually coming to the end of a year of blogging is bittersweet for me -- I've gotten used to this URL, this daily destination.  No offense, Sing-Alongers, but I do not feel that way this year.  This blog was, by far, the most difficult one for me to write and I am happy to be done with it.  

Since I was a very small child, music has always been central in my life.  I have, at one time or another, known the entire soundtrack to a host of musicals -- West Side Story, The Music Man, Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins, Cats, Oklahoma!, Fiddler on the Roof, Annie, and more -- which was just the gateway drug to learning to adore music from all walks of lyrical life.  It's too bad I didn't opt to write this musically-themed blog a year where it was still so important to me.  This year, I've moved so far away from that core aspect of my life that writing about songs day in and day out was often painful.  It was a reminder of a different lifetime.  I learned from science that every seven years, you basically regenerate into a new copy of yourself -- this year felt like the year I could feel that happening.  It's an odd sensation -- it's uncomfortable.  It's sad.  But it's also refreshing and perspective-changing and liberating.  I don't have to be any one thing except for present.  Nothing else really matters.

A year ago on New Year's Eve, I was very sad not to be spending it with people I called my "family" because the party hosts' guest list included Tom, who I simply could not be around.  At the time, I was very frustrated by this -- knowing that he'd make an appearance for anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour at that party before wandering off to another one (which, folks, is precisely what he did).  These friends of mine could have asked him to come by earlier in the day and say hey for twenty minutes to an hour and then had me at the party for the entire night -- but that's not what they chose -- they chose not to choose -- and so they got him for twenty minutes and me not at all and that pissed me off.  In all fairness, they might not have thought through all of the options or they might not have fully understood the situation.  But, in retrospect, I am glad it worked out the way that it did.  As the year went on, my relationships with all of these "family" members changed.  I am still in pleasant contact with half of them and that's not bad.  A lot has shifted for all of this year and I frankly don't know what any of them are doing for New Year's.  But that's OK -- and that's the point.

Recently, I was looking back over some of the early 2015 posts and I felt this odd mixture of astonishment and pride -- I've come a long way since Page One.  I appreciate all of you who have read along and kept an open mind about this healing process -- thanks for sticking with me.  My relationship with Tom holds a stubborn place in my heart and getting over how things ended between us -- getting away from our cycle of really mean-spirited love -- has proven to be a worthy challenge for my simple heart.  All I ask from anyone in my life is honesty, effort, and awareness.  I think I did get those things from him, even at the end, but the missing element was the most important one:  kindness.  It is always possible to be kind.  It just is.  But I've actually had friends argue with me that if he had shown compassion at the end, it wouldn't have been the end, and I think they might be right.  My connection with him was strong for so many years and we'd been such a huge positive influence on each other's lives for so long that it seemed impossible to me that we'd fallen apart so spectacularly.  I would have done anything to fix it -- anything.  For the last couple years of our friendship, we'd experienced so many extreme highs and lows that it felt normal to be in a constant swirl of chaos in my gut when it came to him.  It often felt like my life was in the balance.  And in all actuality, it was!  That life -- that life where he was the center of everything, where my friends were these people, my social space was here -- that life ceased to exist once I cut my ties with him.  

But guess what?  I survived.  I put my feet on a new path with a new destination and I'm feeling pretty good about it.  

That's where I am today, at least: on the last day of one of the longest, most transformative years of my life, I am here to say good riddance to bad rubbish.  2016, hit me with your best shot -- I think I can take you.

Song selected by: me

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December 30th: Keep It Krispy, Pete

"I'm so krispy, I'm so krispy
I shine so hard you broads can't miss me
I'm so krispy, I'm so krispy,
When it comes to being fly, you can't get wit me --"
~ Kia Shine

"I'll say it, but I still don't know what it means."

Pete Holmes ends every episode of You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes by having the guest say, "Keep it krispy."  Some guests, like the above quoted Jim Gaffigan during his second turn on the podcast, find it confusing.  Others just roll with it, unquestioning.  A very select few stubbornly refuse to say it.  And then there are others who just get it.

If I'm being totally honest, I am somewhere in the middle of that vortex of variety.  

The way Pete explains it, being "krispy" just means being present, being with it, being cool with the here and now.  Krispy is fresh and cutting edge and at its best.  It does make sense, more or less, and it can be one of the funnier parts of the podcast when a very confused guest asks him to repeat the catch phrase, many of them saying it while Pete is in the background assuring them it isn't some kind of prank.  It's moments like these -- and there is no short supply of them -- that endears me to You Made It Weird and embrace this rap star-esque twist on an otherwise extremely white persona.  What could be weirder than that???

Good ol' Pete.  He couldn't have come into my life at a better moment.  For those of you who have been reading along this year, you've likely noticed references from his podcast sprinkled here and there but I wanted to devote an entire post just to him because he has really helped me out a lot and this is how I can show some appreciation.  

Let me tell you how we met...

OK, we can do this quick.  I live in Somerville, Massachusetts and I don't have a car.  When I lived in Union Square, I would walk to work at the yoga studio, which took about twenty-five minutes.  Typically, I would listen to music -- whatever I had enough space for on my phone via iTunes, but this proved to be increasingly unpleasant, shall we say, after I made the decision to cut all ties with Tom.  Tom, as you may recall, is a musician and my phone was chock full of music he'd created with a wide variety of bands over the many years I knew him.  First, I tried taking all of his music off -- which helped.  But there was still so much music that reminded me of him (ten years is a lot of memories) and I found myself skipping lots of songs and getting kind of bogged down in uncomfortable memories.  

Right about this time, Serial's first season was ending and everyone was talking about it.  I had never listened to a podcast in my life (if there ever was a late adopter of technology, it would be yours truly), but I thought, what the hell, let's give this a whirl.  So I downloaded each episode of Serial and devoured it in about a week.  All that walking time gave me plenty of opportunity to listen and I quickly adapted to the spoken word keeping me company along the way instead of the same old playlist cranking over again.  When Serial was over, I tentatively peeked around at other podcasts and downloaded a couple that featured interviews with people like Amy Poehler and then somehow stumbled on an interview with Lisa Kudrow on something called The Nerdist.  I was re-watching Friends on Netflix at the time (or had just finished it, maybe) and just fell in love with Lisa Kudrow after that interview.  Is there anyone cooler than her?  I just don't know!  I liked the hosts of The Nerdist -- Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, Jonah Ray -- and started to paw through their episode list, my eyes popping at the big celebrities they had on for their long-format interview.  "It's really just a conversation," Chris would explain.  So I started downloading a bunch of Nerdist interviews.

I learned very quickly that Chris, Matt, and Jonah were all comedians and they were part of a huge web of comedians that rippled out in many directions.  Lots of names started coming up frequently in their conversations with each other and guests -- Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon, Chelsea Peretti, Harris Wittles, Aziz Ansari, Moshe Kasher, Myq Kaplan, Joe DeRosa -- and Pete Holmes.  Pete came up again and again and again.  Chris, Matt, and Jonah seemed to have a brotherly respect and congeniality towards Pete -- which means they made fun of him a lot but in a way that was still full of awe.  They kept talking about Pete's podcast, also on the Nerdist network (Chris Hardwick is King of the Nerds, I soon learned), and how it was so long and so this and so that and how they said it would never get an audience -- except somehow Pete's podcast was a success.  "Total credit to Pete," Chris would seemingly shrug.  

What is the deal with this Pete-character?  I truly started to wonder.  Then I saw his name on the list of the Nerdist podcast episodes, so I downloaded it.

Step One to Changing My Life:  Listen to Pete Holmes on The Nerdist.

I don't know what to say about that episode, except that Pete was nothing like what I'd expected, based on the "gossip" I'd heard from these other podcasters.  He was more effeminate, more honest, and more effortlessly hilarious than I'd imagined.  During the interview, the topic of open relationships came up and they started dishing about Myq Kaplan, a big open relationship believer.  Pete guffawed when this came up and I could practically hear him roll his eyes as he said, "God, Myq Kaplan.  Could there be a worse sponsor than him?  Do you know anyone who is remotely normal who is in a successful open relationship?"

Pete, you had me at hello.

Of course, it helps if you know I have very strong feelings about open relationships that I will say Pete succinctly summarized for me.  Many other little quips and comments resonated with me in that interview as well, so I though, what the hell, let's check out Pete's podcast.

Game changer.

I don't even remember which YMIW episode I downloaded first or second or third or tenth...  I went from Pete being in the mix to Pete being the mix -- I was hooked.  The episodes are all very long -- anywhere from ninety minutes to over three hours -- but when you walk as much as I do, it doesn't take that long to get through an episode.  And they're fascinating.  At some point I went from just downloading random episodes to starting from the beginning -- Kumail Nanjiani, Episode One -- and working my way through.  I have listened to interviews with people I've heard of and people I haven't and the best ones are almost always those people I didn't know existed until Pete made the introduction.  Every episode, Pete talks to his guests about whatever they want to talk about, usually circling around the three main topics: comedy, sex, and god.  Depending on the guest and the mood of the host that day, one topic may take up more time than another, sometimes they're more evenly balanced, most of the time it doesn't even really matter.  I find these conversations to be soul-changing -- even when they get derailed on "silly boy topics" (which happens with the female guests occasionally, too) and talk about farting and masturbating and a host of other "blue" topics, they will somehow magically wind it back around to truly beautiful discussions about marriage or children or what happens when you die.  These conversations are real conversations -- and they have helped me out so much in this year where I have been asking myself a lot of "why" questions -- a lot of "how" questions -- and finding a way to make sense of the senseless.  I have learned things from Pete's podcast I didn't even know I needed to learn -- I have learned some new questions to ask or things to consider.  I love this podcast because it gets to the heart of what matters to me -- relationships, love, faith, and, of course, humor.  I've learned so much about addiction and behavior cycles and how to accept help.  It's given me a fresh perspective and fresh opinions.  It's given me tools to rebuild my own house and I am thankful for that.

All of this -- from a podcast!  Whodathunkit?

It's also opened up the world of comedy to me in new and interesting ways.  I have gotten more interested in Twitter and watching comedy specials on HBO and Netflix, especially those comedians who I "know" because I've listened to them on YMIW or The Nerdist or WTF with Marc Maron.  I've been to see Aziz Ansari, Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, Ari Shaffir, Todd Barry, Kumail Nanjiani, Ron Funches, Nick Offerman (three times, plus once in a play), and more.  This year where I've written about music all year and been to see exactly zero shows, I've been to see more standup than I ever have in my entire life.  This winter, I'm even taking a standup comedy writing class, just to try it out and, dare I say, have some fun.  All of this because of podcasts.

Did I mention they're free?  Podcasts are free! Even Pete's.  Especially Pete's.

I don't believe it was an accident that I stumbled down this rabbit hole that landed me in You Made It Weird zone.  I don't believe there are accidents in life -- things fall in line for a reason -- a reason for the season.  I believe we have helpers, guides, natural forces that bring us where we need to be to learn what we need to learn, to heal when we need to heal, to grow when we need to grow, to be where we need to be.  Listening to You Made It Weird assures me I am not alone in that belief and if that's not irony, I don't know what is.

Thank you, Pete.  You're the best friend I've never met and you've made my life infinitely better and all you had to do was hang out with your friends and record it.  My grandfather always said, "People know you by your friends," and if that's true, then I know that you are as hilarious as you are curious, as honest as you are bizarre, as compassionate as you are competitive -- and I mean all of that in only the best way.  Thanks for doin' it, man.

Keep it krispy.

 p.s.  If you'd like some recommendations for good episodes to start with:
Ari Shaffir (probably my favorite episode to date...)
Sara Schaeffer (great one about loss of a family member)
Bert Kreischer (one of the funniest things I've ever heard)
Andy Dick (great one about addiction)

But this is just the tip of the iceberg....  For the complete list of episodes, click here.

Song selected by: me
For Pete!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

December 29th: Draw the Line

"Draw the line.
Push it away.
Make pretend the time you knew me was a drunken night that you threw away,
not years of your young life, never two kids in love and alive,
never a sacred place where you could hang your mind,
and I've been known from time to time but I draw the line."
~ Ryan Montbleau Band

This has been a very, very long year.

As I ran my eyes over the lyrics to "Draw the Line," I became a little overwhelmed by which ones to focus on, which ones to quote, which ones meant the most.  The whole fucking song.  Like, all of it.  Besides the specifics, like "south side of 23," I felt like the entire body of lyrics had told the story of a relationship I knew so well -- know so well -- and it takes me back to the day I first really listened to them.  It was mid-January 2014, just a week or so after I screamed at Tom in the street in the middle of the night before storming away from him, angrier than I have ever been.  Some of my friends were trying to help me feel better so they got me pretty drunk, which only made things worse -- as pretty much anyone will tell you.  The next morning, I woke up, probably still pretty tipsy, and got ready for work.  I had to stop and buy some bananas for the cafe on my way, which meant I had to go to the grocery store directly across the street from Tom's apartment.  Unless I wanted to trudge ten or fifteen minutes out of my way and carry bag full of bananas a mile and a half in a less-direct route, this was the most convenient option.  I scuttled in and out of that grocery store as quickly as I could and while I was headed out, this RMB song came on that I had heard probably a hundred times before without ever really listening to it:  I lost the right to know you when I kept you standing by / I felt that I would know you forever / whether or not you were mine / Forever's never that far away when you're on the south side of 23 / and the good things in your life will be there for all time / Well, forever never rendered and it ended on the day / it ended on the day you drew the line.  I moved quickly past Tom's apartment, never seeing him, thank god, but instead our fight, our years of "drama" playing out in my mind as I listened to this band he hated play through my headphones.  

The song has this really upbeat tempo, it's quick and glib and catchy.  It takes a still-drunk mind that is heavy with sadness to process what's actually at stake for the singer of the song.  It's putting one face onto its opposite -- this realization, this communion with the story being told made me play the song again and again and again -- the rest of the my walk to work.  And even once I got there and, after delivering the bananas, laid down on the couch in my office, I listened to it again and again, the lights half off, the office door closed.  

This was my rock bottom.  

I don't think I felt worse about the entire situation than I did for those few hours that morning.  I thought about the lyrics to this song and it infuriated me how much I could relate to them.  That aspect of it would get worse as time went on -- especially "make pretend the time you knew me was a drunken night that you threw away."  For my money, the speaker in this song is coming from Voldemort's perspective -- so it's like listening to one path of Tom's thought process (he will certainly deny any of that could be remotely possible and I have no proof of it besides knowing him intimately for an entire decade, but for fairness' sake, let's just say it's what I could imagine him thinking this stuff in an ideal world) -- and it's, like, too bad that it's come to this, ya know?  I started to wonder if I'd ever hear words like this come out of his actual mouth -- that he was sorry, that he had grown, that he had learned, that he knew what kind of mistake he'd made.  But I also knew with one hundred percent certainty that I would never hear those words from him.  Tom doesn't work that way.  

But back on the couch in my office that horrible Sunday morning, I was finally starting to pull myself together when one of our massage therapists popped into say hello and I totally lost my shit again -- crying, red-faced mess.  And she looked at me for a long moment and said, "When I read your energy, you're actually in a really good place. All of this stuff had to come to the surface and it will take a little bit for it to dry out but then you're going to be great."  Then she gave me a hug and left the office.  I stared after her for a long time, half confused and half certain she was correct.

It took year after that for my relationship with him to come to an end...and a year from that for me to feel even remotely OK about any of those things.  But here we are. I come back to "Draw the Line" from time to time and try it on to see how it still fits.  Still does.  But it works seasonally -- sometimes the material feels differently on my skin.  My big take away, though, is the staunch ability to draw the line -- to set a boundary and keep it there.  It's the hardest thing to do when love is in the balance -- any kind of love, too.  I know it can seem confusing, by what I mean when I talk about my love for Tom -- I'm sometimes confused about it, too.  I can tell you it's not like romantic love and it's not like friend-love and it's not like any kind of love I can really compare it to -- it's a weird little animal.  It's a product of nature out of my control.

It's what makes me wince when I hear: And if I saw you in the moonlight / and those eyes were still the same / I'd be so quick to say I'm sorry for causing you pain.  The thing is, I don't believe he is sorry.  I don't believe he is capable of change.  I believe he will do what he did to me again to someone else -- and someone else after that and someone else after that.  

But I'm not in charge of him or his emotions or his decisions or where he goes next in his life.  I am only in charge of me.  And making the decision to set that boundary -- to see that it will not do anyone any good for me to try and "help" him -- has changed my life more dramatically than anything since letting him into my life.  I don't want the decade I spent being close to him (through good times and bad) to fade into the "mistake" column and left for dead.  I guess only time will tell what sort of lasting impact those relationships I had because of my relationship with him or experiences I had because of our friendship will be.  Battle scars and beauty marks alike, I know there was goodness in our time together.  And I will always be frustrated by how it all came to an end.  But that's life.

As this very long, transformative 2015 comes to a close, I am intrigued by what 2016 will bring.  The first snow of this winter is now on the ground and it reminds me that we've got to be ready for anything.  All aspects of 2015 have prepped me well for whatever dreams may come to fruition in the next chapter of my life.

Song selected by: me

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December 28th: Spoiler Alert: You ARE The Special

"Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you're part of the team
Everything is awesome
when you're living our dream."
~ Tegan & Sara

Stop what you're doing and go and watch The Lego Movie.  Even if you've seen it before, watch it again.  I'm serious -- it's on HBO Go right at this moment.  Make it happen.  Then return to this blog post.

Aren't you glad you followed my advice?  You're welcome.

The Lego Movie is one of those films that goes above and beyond.  Its message is relatively simple:  we are all special.  But its ability to share that message in a way that brings genuine tears to my eyes every single time I watch it proves its message is getting through, to me at least. And also the dozen or so friends I made sit down and watch it with me.  One of those friends -- Shira Beth Brenner Extraordinaire, to be exact -- is celebrating a birthday today.  The big 3-0.  The summer I saw this movie while visiting my nephews, I came home and made specific friends watch it with me right away, Shira being one of the first.  There were lots of reasons I thought she'd like it, but I also knew she'd relate to UniKitty -- because Shira is UniKitty.  

I bet you can't even tell which one of them that's an image of, that's how much they are alike.  Anyway, I wanted Shira to watch The Lego Movie because I thought she'd love it and I was correct.  About two-thirds of the way through,  she turned to me with big eyes and said, "I just keep waiting for it to slow down but it never does.  It gets better and better."  Yes, Shira, you are correct.

Lately, I've been doing some thinking and writing about "be your own guru."  I wrote a post about it in my yoga blog.  I've been thinking about this in terms of personal responsibility -- personal power.  Owning your decisions and your behavior and your emotions.  Too often I see people blaming others for what is happening in their lives -- I'm certain I fall into that trap, too.  It would be inhuman not to.  But it's also very necessary to consider your own role in whatever happened, be it good or bad, and the more you honestly look at that kind of stuff, the better you not only get to understand yourself but also understand how you ended up in this situation, on this path -- and that examination is just as important and relevant for both positive and negative circumstances.    A movie like The Lego Movie cleverly illustrates the power of positive thinking, of going with the flow, of being part of a team.  It tells viewers that Emmitt isn't just an ordinary construction worker -- he has ideas and solutions and humility.  But so does Wild Style and Batman and Benny the 80's Astronaut and even Lord Business -- their spirit makes them special in different ways.  Thing like jealousy or feelings of inferiority or fear of not being accepted are all valid emotions, but if you take a moment to get to the root of what makes you feel that way, you just may discover a way to turn that negative thing around to a positive thing.  Perspective is such an interesting, important thing.  It's so easy to get knocked out of alignment -- it's just as easy to course correct if you do your best to remain alert and aware and to be willing to ask yourself questions instead of slinging blame elsewhere and stunting your growth.

Everything is awesome -- I think we can all agree on that.  

Song selected by: me

December 22nd: Christmas Love

"Above the rooftops,
the full moon dips its golden spoon
I wait on clip-clops, a deer might fly
Why not?  I met you..."
~ The Weepies

You can't walk
a straight line,
bodies bumping
like confused magnets,
attracting and repelling
with social courtesy
forgotten just as often
as recalled, hands tucked
in pockets of winter coats
while eyes steal glances
side to side and then up
at the crisp blackness
of a city night at Christmas,
breath fogging as nervous
banter shimmers over
the pavement that's seen
it all before -- but you haven't,
never quite like this,
certain only that the magic
lifting one foot and then
the other is what's keeping
you tethered to the planet
instead of floating off
to high five the man
in the moon for waxing
and waning the tides
just right to bring
this bumping body
so close to yours as you keep
on keeping on, cheeks
so red they nearly glow --

Song selected by: Kat DeStefano
12 Days of Christmas

Monday, December 21, 2015

December 27th: Thinking of You

"Running from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band
My baby plays a guitar, I play a banjo now
Oh, north country winters keep getting me down
Lost my money playing poker so I had to leave town
But I ain't turning back to living that old life no more
So rock me, mama, like a wagon wheel, 
Rock me, mama, any way you feel
Hey, mama, rock me --"
~ Old Crow Medicine Show

Some songs have lyrically nothing to do with the people they remind us of, yet, still, how deep is our love that all these tunes have to do is begin and I am transported.  "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show (not by Hootie -- bitch, please) is definitely one of those songs.  Every time I hear it, I am returned to The Garden in Boston with two of my favorite ladies on either side of me, totally grooving away to the wildly charismatic stage presence of OCMS, opening for The Avett Brothers, definitely the band we were there to see.  But I think it was the opener that stole our hearts that night -- maybe because we didn't expect to care that much about them at all, let alone totally rock out to them.  What I remember most about that show was how loudly we sang along to "Wagon Wheel" and how much joy that brought me for reasons that I cannot explain.  That is the power of music, of live of music, of performance, of crowd, of being with those you love.  It's a whole new kind of electricity and it empowers you.  It certainly empowered me in that moment.  Even years later, whenever I hear this song, I will text Rebecca and Kate xoxo, thinking of you.  And, really, any excuse to share the love you feel in your heart is a good one.  That's my message for you all today -- sweet, simple, to the point.  I hope when you're done reading this sentence, you will reach out to someone who's important to you and tell them so.

Song selected by: me
For Kate and Rebecca

December 26th: The Ego Winks, The Ego Nods

"There you go making my heart beat again,
heart beat again, heart beat again
There you go making me feel like a kid --
won't you do it, do it one time
There you go, pulling me right back in
right back in, right back in
And I know, I'm never letting this go --
I'm stuck on you, stuck like glue."
~ Sugarland

Tom and I got "divorced" the first time back in October 2010 after months and months and months of epic battles, peaking in a long series of emails that eviscerated the soul of our once rock-solid relationship.  A week or so after I walked away from him, I talked to a psychic (my first visit to one ever) who immediately keyed in on what had just happened (going as far as telling me the color of his eyes, what he did for a living, and more), something that completely blindsided me.  That visit with the psychic plus all of the other emotional whatnot that goes along with such wretched circumstances had left me feeling a strange blend of exhausted and wired and so when a previous troublesome love interest of mine (I will protect his identity -- let's call him Russ) sidled up in my email inbox, I thought, Huh, isn't this interesting timing....

Russ, oh, Russ.  I knew him from a band he played in with Tom, actually, and we'd had a very long, drawn out flirtation that had gotten to the point of noteworthy friskiness without ever including words like "real date."  Russ is one of those dudes from my past who I wish we'd done the one-night-stand thing (which is very nearly how we started things) and gotten it out of our systems instead of doing what we did -- which, quite tragically for me, lead to me falling helplessly in love with him.  God, he was so so so hot.  A little dumb, too.  Very frat-boy, not my typical crush-type, and I think if we'd just hit it and quit it, we could have truly forgotten each other existed in relative peace and harmony.  But because we didn't do that (he had a pesky habit of always having a girlfriend who wasn't me yet still leaning on me the way one would with a girlfriend), we turned into an emotional soup.  With Russ, it took him putting a ring on the finger of one of the girlfriends -- my friends and I had two nicknames for her:  Generica and 0% Fun -- for me officially to put a distance between Russ and me.  By the time Tom and I were getting divorced, Russ had married Generica and I hadn't heard from him in maybe a year -- until I get this invitation to see his new band play at a bar a stone's throw away from where I worked.

What the hell -- I'll go to that.

So I got my co-worker Amanda to be-bop on over there to see them play and Russ, in predictable fashion, strolled right up to us, god, so casual, and we chatted for four succinct minutes about their set (I had spent years talking with Russ about his music so I knew how to get right to the heart of the feedback he was looking for) and then he disappeared into a crowd of his Yeah-Dude friends.  Amanda and I hadn't had a chance to catch up since I'd been to see the psychic, so we moved to a remote back corner of the bar so I could spend an hour or so bringing her up to speed on my current life and when we'd covered all the bases, we decided we didn't want to stick around to hear more of the bands and started to head out.  "Should I say goodbye to Russ?" I mused to Amanda just as I noticed him noticing me with my coat on.  

There he was, standing like he was ready for his Abercrombie and Fitch close up in the center of his circle-jerk friends, staring intently at me.  I glanced sideways at Amanda to see if she was noticing what I was noticing -- she was.  Before another word could be spoken, Russ parted the sea of his buddies and sauntered, so so so purposefully over to me and wrapped me slowly, deliberately, suggestively in his arms.  Oh, hello.  I pulled back from him after a moment, my cheeks on fire, I am sure, as he thanked me for coming, clearly searching for more words to say to keep me there a little longer.  "You know, Generica's really kinda pissed," he said slowly, not actually calling his wife my sneaky nickname but by her real name which I will not disclose.  This, to me, was a fallback to our standard mode of conversation.  Back when he and Gen were dating, all he did was bitch constantly about what a wet blanket she was, how naggy she was -- I mean, the nicknames came from somewhere, people -- so I put on my Costello hat and said to Abbott, "Why's that?"  He looked at me with sincerity I have never experienced before or since as he replied, "Well, she's pissed that you're here."

Stop.  Everything.  

I blinked at him.  "Why's she pissed that I'm here?" I asked.

He shrugged and rubbed his hands on my arms.  "She's just really jealous of you, that's all."

Wait, did I just hear him say that?  I just heard him say that.

It was around this moment that I realized I hadn't even seen her at the bar and had been half-wondering all night why she hadn't come over to me since we knew each other and had hung out many times and had been nothing but totally friendly with each other.  My beef wasn't with her -- it was with Russ, who dragged my heart through the scalding mud of inability to make grownup decisions.  Believe me, I don't blame him for that -- I played my part in our whole whatever it was and will end this defense with a shrugging "The heart wants what the heart wants."  And for years, my heart wanted Russ.  As a sidenote, I stumbled across a cell phone video I made of a bunch of our friends at a party and it's so eye opening to watch how into each other he and I were while everyone else kind of ignored it and went about their business.  Sometimes those reminders that what you remember as being true were exactly how it happened -- those are just the things to keep you from believing you've completely lost your mind.  Anyway, before this moment, I had never heard Russ indicate Generica had any kind of issue with me nor had I ever picked up on that from her and, like I mentioned, I hadn't spoken to him in something like a year.  How could she be jealous?  She won.  He married her and I stopped talking to him.  How could what he was saying be true?

I looked at his face.  My bullshit meter went wild.  I would swear on a stack of a thousand Bibles that what he was saying was true.

I didn't know what to say to him in that moment so I sputtered an aghast, "Why is she jealous of me?  She has no reason to be jealous of me..."

"I know," Russ said, his voice getting as pitchy and wild as mine.  "I told her that, but, you know her..."

At that moment, a swell of ego-driven pride flooded my entire body and I knew I had to get the hell out of there before it exploded all over everyone in this bar, so I said, "Well, tell her I said hello, I gotta go..." and as he wrapped me even more tightly into his arms and nuzzled against my cheek before kissing it, I felt like the fucking champion of the goddamn world.  "OK, bye!" I said, pulling away from him, grabbing Amanda by the hand, and exiting out into the November night where I howled with laughter all the way to the Government Center T.  "Still got it," I said to Amanda with a wink and a nod, as we parted to get on trains heading in opposite directions.

On my commute home, I listened to Sugarland's The Incredible Machine, a band and an album that I was into because of Russ (ask me sometime why Sugarland's cover of "Come On Get Higher" makes me the happiest and saddest a girl could be all in one moment) and when I got to "Stuck Like Glue," I turned it all the way up and listened to it eight times in a row and when I got home, I posted the video on my Facebook wall with no commentary, but I knew, still, that Russ would see it and, for that matter, so would Generica -- and they would know why.

And for any of you who have your doubts about the validity of Gen's reported jealously, she and Russ split up about a month later and she proceeded to publicly stalk my Facebook page, even though I had no further contact with her now-ex.  I finally had to ask him to ask her to chill out and then it did cease and then she did unfriend me -- probably for the best.  Last time I checked up on her FB, she had some kind of new dog -- Russ, he already had a new wife.  So I guess everyone won in that scenario.

When I think back on that night, it makes me smile every single time and helps me remember that the Universe has the best sense of humor out of all of us.  Even when things seem shitty, there's something on its way to brighten your day, even if just for a train ride home.  Those are the greatest moments of our lives -- those tiny gifts, wrapped and delivered and ready to surprise you.

You'll never need a gift receipt for these things, folks -- they will bring you joy for many, many years to come.

Song selected by: me