It’s Like This

(Here’s what I hope is the end of my delayed-onset mid-life crisis.  You think  you’re  tired of this?  I’m so tired of it I’m down to thinly fictionalizing it.  Anyhow…)

Travis stood in front of the aging refrigerator.   Inside and unseen: ice cubes wet and shiny; ice cream almost drinkable.  He knew how therapy worked.  He was a therapist–or at least had been one–down on Wall Street for almost five years.  He’d given it up because he preferred working with addicts.  He didn’t know that at the time.  He thought he just didn’t like working alone in that big room with no furniture other than the two grim chairs, the small end table with ashtray  and the empty desk near the windows, working for clients who seemed to thrive on their inabilities to make decisions outside of the workplace.  He  preferred functioning as part of a team, the situation at Rescue House, a residential therapeutic community for adults in The Bronx where he’d  now been social working for almost 15 years as one of an ever-changing assortment of directors, case managers, vocational specialists and medical folks.  Anger management, bereavement, parenting skills, relationships, even meditation–done in groups, seminars, workshops and one-on-ones.  They named it; he did it.

At work his strength was his openness.  At this moment, however, too much was simply too clear to be ready for additional possibilities.  Therapy to Travis was an ultimately simple and spiritual practice.  It’s implementation was no more than the art of compassionate listening without judgment, making sure the client knew you were doing so, then patiently letting that client discover Self as a byproduct of rambling on. And he was good at it, so no sense in hiring it out.

The therapist who treats himself  has a fool for a patient.

But Travis was not a stupid man nor was he naive.  He was blessed and knew so.   His life for quite some time had been measured by the number of times he’d–unprovoked–look up and whisper “thanks.”   He loved the wife who loved him right back.  He loved not only his work with those addicted to drugs, alcohol, street life and, more recently, institutionalization, he even loved the addicts.  Every day on the job was new and challenging. Every day ended with enough satisfaction to wipe out any frustrations including those lingering from his own 25 years of daily drinking and drugging.

His health was adequate despite some  recent and treatable difficulties.  He rode his bike in traffic and now had the gearing to tackle those Bronx hills included in his daily commute.  As back-up he was quick to quote the words of the woman, a racer back in the ‘70’s, who was president of his cycling club when he rode well enough to be a member and was his hero for no reason other than her willingness to state in public:  “ I never met a hill” (here she’d smile sweetly) “I couldn’t walk up.”  What was her name?

If she knew it was you, she wouldn’t answer the phone let  alone the door.

Travis lived in gratitude for all of it: friends, family, music, sex once in a while, the weather, travel, reruns of The Simpsons, pizza and, to be sure, health insurance.  His strategy for putting this attitude into action came straight from the rooms of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.  He lived one day at a time.  Whenever asked how he was doing, he’d smile a smile not unsimilar to that of that cycle club president say “Couldn’t be better” and actually mean it.
If he had a philosophy, underlying this attitude and it’s manifestations as behavior, it was it re-enforced three times:

● Travis had been brought up to believe that whatever life brought him, well, that was God’s will, and who knew better than God?

● In his late 50’s he began serious study with the Buddhists.  Leaving God out of the equation entirely, they taught him that reality was perfect.  Yes, they and subsequently he  recognized the discrepancy between this belief and what their eyes beheld on a daily basis.  The need to resolve this conflict, they agreed, was what empowered their meditation.   Hence he was provided with both a source of madness and a method for combating it.

● Finally, coming from–of all places–his clients, at least once every day for the last 20 years, a much more fatalistic yet no less profound, “It is what it is.”
On the flip side of all this apparently healthy adjustment and echoed by so many in his age cohort lay the increasing inability to find loving acceptance for the changes in own his body and what they suggested re mortality.  Ironically what he was going through now was clearly minor,  nothing more than a knee problem, one which had done well with ambulatory surgery and without physical therapy.  Sad because he loved PT, especially, one suspects. for all the pain it provided him the opportunity to endure.  This not to be unexpected from a man who, though never a real athlete in any sense of the word, had been able to bicycle up long hills without ever losing his smile.

“It’s not what I do,”  he’d say by way of explanation, “but the lack of attitude I do it with.”  He’d then make a joke about ending a sentence with a preposition, an acknowledgment of his education and his rejection of the social class it bespoke.  Travis’d been one of those lower middle class kids who’d  scholarshipped his way into an ivy league school.  Like climbing hills, he was drawn to it by the challenge.  Once there he did it because it was there , and, once completed, he forgot it.

Gee Mister, you sure know a lot!

And here he was now in the middle of a warm and clear Sunday afternoon.  The missus had gone to church and then to a movie.  He, still slowed by the surgery, had strolled up Amsterdam Avenue through 10 blocks of a half-baked and repetitive street fair carrying a camera which never left his pocket.  He considered a 10 minute chair massage, looked at the $5 watches, bought a chicken kabob for $4, and returned home to eat it and wonder how to fill up the rest of the time until she returned.  Six months of unread Smithsonian Magazines, two hundred five tv channels, more than six hundred CDs on the computer and a cell phone address book filled almost to overload: still the afternoon promised no more than nothing.
He opened the freezer.  A sigh.  Two front-runner choices: pistachio ice cream and ice.  Throughout the last 25 years the consistent choice had been the ice cream–safe, comforting and with patience he could walk or ride it off.  For the 25 before that the ice, placed in a double old-fashioned glass, then floated in tequila.

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There are three endings to this story:

1. Travis took the ice cream.

2. Travis picked up a glass, filled it with ice, and walked over to                                     the tequila   in the hutch.

3. Travis closed the freezer door and killed the rest of the                                                 afternoon on the computer.

Here’s a comment from Ezra which couldn’t go into the usual comments because you can’t post a photo there:

Option Number Z – Travis closed the freezer, grabbed a large bottle of water and a comfy chair, and spent the afternoon staring out the window.

The only reason for the email as opposed to a comment was to show you something I’m sure you would appreciate. “The view from my porch” as an attached picture. The only thing it’s missing is my feet (smile).



Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm  Comments (7)