Most children are ignored. But a few are so used to adults listening to them that they’ll strike up conversations with elders wherever they find them.
This 10-year-old boy found me in the waiting room at a voice over audition. We were there for different projects, but I was sitting across from him and his nanny, so that was reason enough for him to chat me up.
He was a handsome kid. His teeth were a white I’d never had and there were no sign of braces in their future. His skin was flawless—a light shade of coffee bean. I worry what puberty is going to do to it. He doesn’t share my concern. He’s too busy having fun. His smile and the healthy dreads he wore his hair in confirmed this.
His nanny said he was 10-going-on-33. But I said he was more like 10-going-on-23: just out of college and in love with the world. Instead of worrying about his future he was probably really excited about the guitar he was learning to play. And there must be a girl in his life who doesn’t mind hearing him trip up on covers, because she wants to be there when his fingers get a handle on things…
Even though he was 10 he had already done a lifetime’s worth of traveling. He had been to five of the seven continents and on one of his journeys had met a woman who had been to all of them—”Even Antarctica!” But she was much older than him. And I’m sure her traveling was one of need (spiritual? emotional? time clicking down?), while his was all about being along for the ride. Strumming.
The most recent trip he took was to Ethiopia. Did I have any idea how long it took to get to Ethiopia from Colorado?
A long time, I bet.
Even longer, he said. Because there was no direct route to Ethiopia. And there were so many flight delays and cancellations—it was crazy! But eventually he and his mother got there and they were able to spend three weeks in the African country before flying home.
It was actually his second time in Ethiopia, he added. He was born there—but doesn’t remember much of it—because shortly after his birth he was adopted and moved to the States.
Congratulations, I said.
Articulate, precocious, handsome—he had those cool dreads going on—and was even working! He’s the type of kid every parent wants. A 10.
I asked him if he ever thought about putting himself back on the market? You know, to see what he could get this time around.
The comment went over his head—he was too busy moving on to the next thing he wanted to talk to me about—but his nanny caught it and stifled a laugh into the neckline of her sweater.
Yeah, whoever his folks are, I bet this kid can do better.
The other night I dreamed I was a time traveler. And of all the years I could have (re)visited, they—whoever they were—decided to send me back to 1991. And of all the places in spacetime they could have landed me, they decided to go with the front door of my childhood apartment in Woodside, Queens.
I didn’t know what my mission was, but when my father opened the door, I figured I must have been there to warn him (a synecdoche for humanity) about something. Isn’t that what time travelers do?
I was about to explain to him that I was from the future—I was going to try to, at least—but then I found myself just standing there, looking at him. We looked so much alike—it was jarring.
I got scared and worried that whatever I was going to say would foul up the spacetime continuum, like in Back to the Future.
But if that were the case, I thought, why would I have been sent back in the first place? Maybe the foul-up was necessary.
Finally, I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say. I couldn’t remember the mission. I couldn’t remember a thing, really. And that’s a problem for a time traveler.
September 11th. I should tell him about that, I thought.
But we were in 1991, 10 years before the attacks and I couldn’t remember any pertinent details. I couldn’t remember the times the planes struck. Or the names of the hijackers. Nada.
I panicked. Maybe there were some hit songs from the future I could sing to him? But I couldn’t remember hooks or choruses.
Maybe something about 1991? Did anything happen in 1991?
What a shitty memory!
I was a useless time traveler. I was upset. But he invited me into the apartment anyway and sat me down at the small white dining table in the kitchen. My mother came into the room to look at me.
I sat there for a while, breathing in 1991. I didn’t ask about the nine-year-old me. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure he had ever existed. I just waited for the future to get me out of there.
Every year, about two weeks out from my birthday, I am a miserable boy. I turn 32 on February 26 and all I’ve been thinking about—as I count the days til my Facebook wall is filled with birthday wishes—is Black Friday.
I know we’re months past 2013’s Black Friday and nearly a year away from 2014’s, but there’s footage replaying in my head of an obese black woman who’s been knocked to the floor of a department store and the riot spilling over and around her—like she’s a rock in a riverbed.
Why won’t she get up? Can’t she get up? She’s not pinned. She doesn’t look in pain.
She has to put her wig back on before she’ll even attempt to get to her feet.
I can only try to describe how sad I feel when I watch this. But it’s not that I feel sad for the woman on the floor. And I definitely don’t feel sad for those people who’ve managed to squeeze and shove themselves through the sliding doors without falling down or losing their wigs.
What makes me sad is the realization that after 32 years of living there is nothing in this world that would get me to behave that way. No thing to make me trample. No thing to risk being trampled for. And that’s so fucking sad. There’s like this hole inside me, I guess, that no bargain can fill. It’s a type of love I’ll maybe never get my hands on.
So, pity me, Black Friday shoppers! Pity the birthday boy!
I do not think I’m better than you. In fact, I know I am not better than you. For I know not what makes you love the way you do.
But maybe you could recommend something? My birthday is coming up.
The Sunday before Super Bowl 48 I competed in the Gracie Nationals, a submission-only grappling tournament held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Downtown L.A. I’ve been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the regular for about a year and a half. For most of my life I never had an interest in grappling or wrestling or roughhousing in general. But then I turned 30 and suddenly I wanted to squeeze other men—but never orgasm from it. It’s been an odd type of coming-out party.
I weighed in close to 9:30 the morning of and was surprised that the dairy I had cut out of my diet for the three weeks leading up to the competition hadn’t shed any pounds off me. The Convention Center was abuzz that day with freaks—and not just the BJJ variety. The convention hall was split up into separate sections for Crossfitters, powerlifters, and arm-wrestlers. There was even a Parkour setup located nearest to the grappling mats. Had I known I’d have to wait over seven hours before competing I would have gone for a stroll around the fitness expo, taken in the other sideshows, maybe chatted up one of the salesmen who was hawking life-changing protein powder.
I was able to sit in on a seminar with Javier Vasquez that was all about head-and-arm chokes. Javi showed us the techniques he had mastered—what he described as “really head-and-shoulder chokes.” The drills left me lightheaded, one of my training partners during the seminar—some guy from Calgary—cranked my neck (so unnecessary), but I imagined pulling off one of Javi’s techniques in my upcoming match(es).
I got a bye the first round. Maybe there was an odd number of competitors or someone had been forced to drop out, I don’t know. But when I finally got to compete I was matched up with a guy I train with at 10th Planet HQ. It was a bummer, because you enter tournaments to test your skills against competition you haven’t met before. To be matched up against someone you know, and so early on, in a single-elimination tournament? It felt like going to an orgy, but only being allowed to sleep with your spouse. Oh, and he submitted me in about a minute and 30 seconds.
1 minute. 30 seconds.
He went on to place second in our division. I went on to stuff my face with hamburgers and fries from the Umami in Los Feliz. Although I had deprived my body of such comforts for three weeks, the food gave me no joy. It felt like I was eating with a different man’s mouth.
It was dark when I drove home—a dark that seemed darker than normal. The cars parked on my street reminded me that Monday was street-cleaning. I crept along, looking for a spot that would let me sleep in, but spaces were not looking good. Even for my Smart Car, the two-door piglet, which will gobble up whatever parking scraps are thrown to it.
Near the end of my street I found a scrap behind the bumper of a sedan. I pulled into the spot, but there was a driveway behind me, so I got out of the car to see if I could squeeze in a few more inches. A man was watching me park. He stood behind a picket fence that came up to his waist—it was his driveway I was trying to avoid.
I got back in my toy car, rolled it forward a touch, powered it down, grabbed my bookbag, exited onto the street, and was about to walk down the block to my house when the man said, “Do you think you have enough room?”
I looked back at my car. “I think so,” I said. I noticed he was holding a tiny dog on one of his arms. He must have just come back from walking it—or carrying it.
"Because I have a two year old daughter," he said. And it was here that I noticed his accent. It was some kind of British: intimidating in a Guy Richie-film kind of way, with a glob of Liam Neeson. "And if something should happen, and there’s an emergency, and my wife has to back out of the driveway in a hurry…Do you think she’ll have enough room?”
The gravitas of the scenario he described puzzled me, but I looked back at the car, and concluded, “I think if she just goes straight out it shouldn’t be a problem.”
"You know," he continued, "if there’s an emergency with my daughter, and my wife has to back out in a hurry and she smashes into your car—it’s on you.”
There was no lightening up in his tone. He wasn’t physically imposing. And he was standing in his front yard, holding a dog I’m sure his daughter loved dearly.
"Is your daughter OK?" I said.
"She’s fine," he said. "But if—"
I understood that he was being protective of his family. I also found it interesting that in all the scenarios he painted for me it was his wife that was backing into my car. Obviously he was confident in his driving skills.
He pointed out that my bumper was trespassing—hanging over the technical part of his driveway where the curb curves down to meet the gutter. He had a point.
I told him, “I’m not from around here—I’m from New York.” I didn’t say it to try to intimidate him. Not only do I hate when people do that, but I had just gotten my ass kicked in less time than it took me to park the fucking car—I didn’t feel like I could intimidate anyone that night. But he must have thought I was trying to scare him, because he assured me that he wasn’t from around here either. I wanted to say, “Yeah, man, I know. I can hear you speak,” but instead I just showed him how maybe my shitty parking—and not my toughness—was a product of where I was raised.
"This is the second time it’s happened," he said.
I didn’t know I was a repeat offender. This was our first time meeting after all.
"I’ve seen cars towed for less," he said, and pointed to the other asshole who had parked his ride too close to the other side of the man’s driveway.
There was a knot in my stomach. My heartbeat was elevated. I get that way when confrontation looms. It doesn’t happen when I’m grappling, because my sparring partners and I have already agreed that this is going to be a fight of sorts. But the unknown of a street fight is another story—especially one escalating over a parking spot, with a man who was just taking his dog for a walk and is now standing behind a white picket fence…
"I apologize," I said. "But you don’t have to give me an attitude."
"I’m not giving you an attitude, mate," he said. "Trust me: you’ll know when I’m giving you an attitude."
His statement was amazing on a couple of levels:
1) The cliché attempt to intimidate me with a rhetorical counter punch.
2) It also didn’t make sense. Because if I mistook his initial dealings with me for attitude, then chances are I wouldn’t be able to tell when he’s “really” giving me an attitude. I’ll just figure he’s continuing to give attitude.
Finally, I just said, “Hey, man, I’m your neighbor. My name is Lou.” I held out my hand, and instantaneously the atmosphere changed.
A look came over his face. He was no longer dealing with some stranger who drove an annoying little car and was causing havoc in the community. He shifted his dog to his other arm and shook my hand. I told him my house number, which was about halfway down the block from his house.
"I’m sorry," I said. "I’m your neighbor. I didn’t mean anything by this."
I walked back to my car, and he said, “You don’t have to move it tonight. It’s OK.”
No, I had to. He was right and I was wrong. “I don’t want to get towed,” I said. “You’re helping me out. I appreciate it.”
"It’s all right!" he assured me.
I backed out of the spot and pulled a U-ey before he was in his house. I found another space with more than enough room that I’d have to be out of by 8AM the next morning.
Back at home I took a shower and thought about the incident. I thought I had handled it well. Yet, with baby blue shower gloves on I lathered my body and plotted my revenge. Revenge for me, I decided, was to write the man a note, which I would drop in his mailbox the following morning. Perhaps after moving my car.
I was going to apologize again—this time in writing—and promise that it would never happen again (the parking spot squeeze). I was going to mention that I often train at night and come home when it’s dark. I have shitty night vision and after sparring sessions, during which blood and oxygen are being cut off from my brain, it doesn’t always make me the best decision-maker. I was going to tell him about the heartbreaking loss at Gracie Nationals—leaving out the whole losing-in-one-minute-and-30-seconds detail, of course—and the hamburgers that failed me. (It turns out I even added up the tip incorrectly on the check.) In spite of all that, if there was anything I could do for him, my neighbor, he knew where to find me. (I’d include my house number in the note—to be sure that he did.)
I got dressed, while my shower gloves dried in the bathroom. Content with my next course of action, I sat in my living room, waiting to watch a new episode of HBO’s True Detective (which, like the hamburgers, would end up disappointing me).
One of my roommates stepped out of the house for a moment, but then came back in. He said there was a bag of oranges for me on the porch. Inside the bag was a note, with the following, written in all caps:
APOLOGIES! YOU JUST CAUGHT ME AT A BAD TIME. ORANGES FROM THE TREE. ENJOY. (PEACE OFFERING).
HIS NAME (HIS HOUSE NUMBER)
I almost cried. Because I thought about how something so silly could have escalated into a fight—or, at the very least, the lame note I was going to write.
I almost cried. Because in the end he and I were two human beings—neighbors—recognizing our own faults and each other’s humanity.
I almost cried. Because, honestly, he probably saved me from another ass-kicking.