Daily Archives: January 26th, 2011

Pick me up on your way down

Self portrait_080609667There was an interview on the radio tonight. A young singer (in college) had written a fairly haunting song and the interviewer was asking him about one of the lyrics. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the singer or the lyrics. Google search fail.

The line was a self-deprecating one, and the singer spoke pointedly about how we get more jaded and disillusioned as we get older. Or something like that.

It got me to thinking.

Were you a better you when you were younger? Are you on the decline and would that singer’s message resonate with you? Are you on your way down?

Or, are you better now than you were back then? Are you on your way up?

In all honesty, I think I’m currently the best me I’ve ever been. I frequently refer to myself as “State of the art Tom.” In fact, this question, which should be all hard and introspective and stuff, is a bit of a let down. There was a time when I was younger I did things I’m not very proud of. I don’t do a lot those things anymore. Case closed, right?

Oh sure, I still have my moments of weakness. And I beat myself up for them pretty damn well. But somewhere down the line, and I’m still not sure how, I got some stuff right. Not the kind of stuff that will ever line my pockets with silver, mind you, but stuff I can be proud of just the same.

It’s about a four-hour drive to the small town where I grew up. I don’t like to visit there too much. I get all maudlin and feeling funny about the past. I still know a lot of the places and buildings, but seemingly everyone I ever knew is gone. My old high school is now an elementary school. And the grocery store across the street is now a church.

There is a Chinese restaurant on the edge of town that holds an especially vivid memory for me. It’s one of the moments of my life that have been frozen in crystal clear memory. I was just a wee youngster at the time. Our little family unit of four – mother, father, sister and myself – had just had a little dinner. I even remember we had lobster with black bean sauce.

After dinner we walked out to the car. Parked next to us was a pickup truck. My dad peered into the back of that truck and saw a power tool of some sort. I don’t exactly remember what it was. But I remember as clear as day what happened next. My dad reached into that truck and took that tool for himself. Apparently he needed one of those things.

Not the best life lesson to pick up from the old man, I’m afraid. And for a while there, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

Somehow, though, between then and now, I turned out different and took a different path. I still don’t know why. I like to think of it as a road less traveled. Very less traveled. After successfully climbing my own slippery slope, I paused on higher ground to look down upon a species that I now feel like I view from above, oh so proud of my ethics and morals and honesty and all that. I don’t how the hell I got here. And it sort of scares the shit out of me.

It’s been a few years since I visited my home town. Coincidentally enough, the very last time I passed through was literally the day I attended my father’s funeral. We stayed the night there just because it was my home town. But looking at the phone in our motel room made me sad, because it was my home town and I couldn’t think of a single damn person to call.

Then, on our way out of town, there it was. The Chinese restaurant. Right out of my memory and right where I left it. In my mind I can even imagine I know the precise parking spot I still see with such clarity in my mind. Somehow I find it fitting that the place is now dingy and ramshackle. I don’t bother to slow down as we passed, but I did take a moment to feel grateful for how I turned out.

So, my question to you is simply this: Are you on your way up or your way down?