Tastes & Samples: Neither Free

About this time ten years ago, I stood around a computer monitor with the other members of my then-band, looking at potential houses in the Los Angeles, CA area.  We were all drunk with confidence about our band’s future, knew that we were sure to make it, be huge, sign a deal, and tour in front of thousands within 5 years or so.  It was beautifully optimistic, exciting, terrifying, and doomed to fail.

We worked very hard, argued, laughed, traveled, and performed in front of audiences ranging from a couple hundred to zero.  We booked shows at clubs that were full of kids excited to see any version of rock that would offer an escape; we booked shows at bars where the only people watching us play were the next band due up after us.  We made a few fans.  Most people thought we were assholes.

We kind of were, to be fair, but that’s what it takes to be irrationally confident in something you know is a struggle.

We made an album, did a ton of shows, and while we never set foot in California and maybe made a couple hundred bucks our entire short run, we still made an album and a pile of memories so tall that I had to reorganize the corners of my mind to keep them from tumbling.

When it ended, it hurt, but I felt stronger and richer because of it.  There was a time when I felt like singing and performing in front of an audience was my destiny, what I was meant to do, and that rush of eminence was smeared to my skeleton.  Then one day I realized I wasn’t meant to do anything beyond what I wanted to, and apparently that was get married and move to Oklahoma.

I found myself around another monitor, looking at places on Tinker AFB where my fiance would have me placed, perhaps where I would find a job that would turn into a career.  I felt like this was where I belonged, that being a fine husband and father was my fate – one I was excited to pursue.

Not long after Christmas I found myself signing divorce paperwork and being informed that while I would never pay a dime for the separation or legalities, I’d have to appear in court and accept the blame for our irreconcilable differences.  My memory of the terminology has faded, but essentially my penance was embarrassment.

As I drove north to return the wedding rings, which was honestly more humiliating than the courtroom, I once again found myself looking back on another doomed-to-fail situation, only this time I wasn’t prepared for it.

Either way, I walked away from it infinitely wiser and more worldly, if not a little broken.  In talking/arguing with my dad, I realized that despite him being decades older than me, his advice needed to be taken with a grain of salt:  I was going through something he’d never experienced, and while I love him and respect his advice, I ultimately needed to do what I felt was right for myself.

That was moving to the Chicago south suburbs, apparently.

I felt then and still feel now a warmth to Oak Lawn, even if it’s kind of a grubby area that’s within a short drive to one of the most corrupt and criminal-infested cities in the country.  It’s like this big glass jar of memories where all the happy ones have sunk to the bottom, getting thicker and murkier over time , while all the fresh, clearer sad memories are right there on top.  I work hard not to jostle the jar too often.

I felt like my time there, while therapeutic, happy, and bittersweet, was the first chapter of my Chicago life.  It was where I was meant to be.  I would fall asleep at night dreaming of having poker nights in my suburbia garage with neighbors and coworkers, discussing getting tickets to a Blackhawks game or maybe idly bitching about local politics in the forlorn, dismissive, and charming way that only Chicagoans seem to have mastered, all delivered in a variety of colorful accents that all make you feel like you have something in your cheek.

A few months and dozens of job applications later I found myself unemployed, and stuck in a factory via a temp agency.

I spent about 30 minutes in the place, looking at the faces of a bevy of humble people, few able to return my gaze, before I realized I wanted nothing to do with this.  I arrived back at my grandparent’s house where they had several calls wondering why I had left on my first day.

Between my grandparents and my uncle’s family, I grew to understand a little more of where they lived and came from.  I got to know all of them better as people, and they made me smile during a time where that wasn’t exactly on top of my list of priorities.

After meandering about on Craigslist, I finally got a callback from my current place of employ, a research company in central Illinois.  A year and change later one of my best friends moved up here.

Five years later, destiny doesn’t seem to really be a factor anymore.  I’m 32 years old, and spend my time watching movies, writing books that may never be completed, and enjoying my job more than I have in years.  It’s an imperfect, flawed, and comfortable life I lead, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s very strange to look back and see how much time I spent worrying about pursuing what I was “destined” to do, and while I’m young and clever enough to do something special in my life that may echo beyond my immediate circle, I no longer fear missing out on some sort of ambiguous calling of the greater universe.

I got a taste of being in a rock band.  I got a taste of being married.  Recently I got a taste of being a dad.  All these “life samples” have added up to making me something of a human “suicide,” where you put all the flavors of a soda fountain into one cup.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I clearly tolerate it well enough.

I’m grateful for these things, even if they didn’t last, and now my cup is empty once again, and I’m curious how well Sprite would mix with Pibb Xtra.


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