Flashback Friday: 1985

I was 10 years old in 1985. I know, not quite an age to look back on with vast memory. It’s an important year because it pinpoints exactly when my formative years began. Music. Movies. It’s the year Everybody Wanted to Rule the World, after all.

10 years old. My god. It seems like eons ago. Here I am, 35 years later, living in the same city. I reside in an apartment where, as I type this, I look out onto a road I’d traversed many times as a kid on my bicycle: Grand Avenue, they call it. Believe me, it’s anything but – traffic, noise, and a woman who got shot in the head just by driving between two rival gangs having a gun fight. Grand, indeed.

Please don’t fault me for waxing nostalgia, but 1985 was a simpler time. Granted, being a kid helped. I had two responsibilities: going to school and not getting kidnapped. This was the year of the Night Stalker. How my best friend and I rode our bikes in the summer until 11 o’clock at night is beyond me. We’d sneak onto our school’s campus and play like fools. Nope, no red flags there. Just a couple of unsupervised adolescents running around in the dark. I don’t know how I survived. Interesting to note: we were never once stopped by the cops.

We were kind of poor in 1985. Not destitute. My mother worked her ass off, but sometimes powdered milk was a staple. Food stamps. None of this EBT nonsense nowadays where a parent can buy chips, soda, candy and NyQuil. Nope. We had only government-approved items to choose from. And god forbid my mother pick something as flashy as real cheese. “Sorry, miss, this has to go back,” the clerk chided. The slogan for food stamps should have been: We Strive For Total Humiliation!

Can’t forget the mall. I miss our little mall from the 80s. Sears. Chuck E. Cheese’s. Orange Julius. TG&Y. Farrell’s Ice Cream. Going to The Wherehouse to buy actual records. Shoes from Kinney’s. Imagination, where we could procure weird shit like rainbow dreamcatchers and tie-dye t-shirts. All along Valley Parkway, where teens drove their flashy cars and glowed in neon everything.

I saw The Goonies that year. In a theatre. By myself. Without much supervision, I could do these things. I was a good kid, at least. I could be trusted (an important element when you have a single mom who works). But that feeling of independence put a spring in my step, which was good, considering I had to walk four miles to get to the theatre.

I could go on and on. When I close my eyes I can make the dreary road ahead of my window disappear. I can remember the distinct feeling of growing up. I knew I was a kid, had no interest in being older yet. But 1985 is that year where it all came together – the music, the movies, the friendships.

And not getting stopped by the cops. Couldn’t have gotten away with all this otherwise.


Crazy Old Cat Lady

The Coronavirus has happily forced me to live a life I was living anyway, but now I don’t have to feel guilty about it.

Staying in most of the time? Check. Avoiding others at the grocery store? Check. Not socializing, even when opportunities present themselves? Check!

I am not afraid of people. The anxiety that has grown over the years is not incapacitating. I’m an amiable gent. I’m the guy who says hello to the cashier before she asks me. I thrive in work environments where there are many of us, including customers. Hell, sit me at a bar stool and in no time I’ll be chatting it up with the person next to me.

I just seem to be evolving into a Crazy Old Cat Lady, that’s all.

‘Introvert’ is a strong word. Anyone who knows me can attest that I am not an introvert. Need a dirty joke? Sure. Sing a karaoke tune in tight leather pants in front of 1,000 people? Done. Incite a riot? Well, there’s always tomorrow.

I like the word ‘withdrawn.’ It implies choice. Where many look forward to gatherings, parties, even one-on-ones, I prefer to stay home, cook, read, and watch bad television. I look forward to my solitary walks, or time in the corner of the library. It’s who I am.

And, everyone’s health included, I am such a proponent of wearing masks! Hide my unruly beard? My red face? You don’t have to ask me twice!

Granted, the Coronavirus is an awful, horrible thing. I do not mean to make light of it. In these times, it’s important to find light at the end of the tunnel. My tunnel just happens to include turning off my phone, caring for my little girl, and tending to the 45 cats I will have adopted by year’s end.

Can’t be an Crazy Old Cat Lady without them.


My Secret History

Some books, I believe, find us at times when we need them most. An unexpected surprise. Maybe when we are vulnerable. Hurt. Sometimes it’s a book that’s been sitting on a shelf for years. A forgotten gift. Perhaps it’s a worn copy of “Catcher in the Rye” found on a park bench. Or imagine the title “Dandelion Wine” resonating with a young girl who stumbles upon it, and now it’s her favorite novel.

This happens often, for many of us.

In February of 1997, I was living in a grey outskirt of Boston called Winthrop. I’d moved there three months prior with a friend. The decision was impetuous. I was navigated by naïveté, youth, and spontaneity – ingredients that did not make for a successful stay. It was frightfully cold. My roommate was depressed. I was broke. I worked for Barnes & Noble, and though the job provided a break from reality, the truth is I was miserable.

To break the monotony, I familiarized myself with the local public library. I enjoyed the walk there most of all. The air was fresh, despite the grey sky and threat of snow. The cemetery I passed along the way often brought perspective – weathered headstones dating back to the 1700s. The library was warm, well-used, and comfortable.

“The Secret History,” by Donna Tartt, found me on one of these trips. I did not seek out specific books, but rather I’d peruse the aisles, head tilted to read the titles. When I saw “The Secret History” – there were three copies – I remembered it as being a title suggested to me by a friend back home. There was something about the acetate cover. Even Ms. Tartt’s stark photo was intriguing somehow – her sharp black hair, her tailored jacket. I checked it out.

I am not a voracious reader. I wish I was. I wish I had been that kid who cozied up in corners, a stack of books at his feet. But I didn’t have the attention span. My love for reading progressed as I got older. Anne Rice. Stephen King. Agatha Christie. At 21, I thought I wanted to be a writer, but the truth is I had no idea what truly good writing was.

“The Secret History” changed that for me. I devoured it in two days. Then I read it again. The language fit me like the piece of a puzzle. The prose. The sentences. The story of six people my age. While reading, I didn’t have to think of my depressed roommate needing cigarette money, or the lumbering, mustached goon who lived with his wild-haired mother upstairs, always making excuses to come into our part of the house. I could crack that book open to any page and be satisfied. No 20 degree weather, or window-rattling gusts. I took it with me on the bus, the subway, to escape the treachery of bone-chilling rain, sleet, and weary travelers. I wrapped myself in the murder of Bunny, his friends – the culprits – and the dreamy intellectualism of a fictional college where students studied Greek and drank and drank and drank.

The book didn’t fix my situation. But it helped immeasurably. It was a favorite of a co-worker at the bookstore; we connected over it immediately. She was lovely. A literature hound. I will always remember her as looking like Kyra Sedgwick. She worked because she wanted to, not because she had to. “My husband is a lawyer, we do well, but if I have to wash socks and make meatloaf every day, I’ll slit my wrists.” When I made the decision to move back to California, she asked me to house sit her brownstone in the city. “I don’t want you leaving Boston without having experienced what it has to offer.” That week allowed me to walk the streets of a city steeped in history. I soaked up the culture, the food, and enjoyed every moment.

I realized during that week I genuinely wanted to be a writer. Those bleak months in Winthrop were no one’s fault, though I blamed my roommate for a long time after. The thing is, it was a trip that needed to happen. I needed the experience, the notches on my belt. “The Secret History” had to find me there.

There was no other way.


So I’m Not 22 Anymore

Recently I made an appointment with my doctor to talk about my aching joints. As the world is now connected by apps, I made my appointment this way. In the comments section I wrote about my concerns – slight pain, the inability to do squats the way I used to, ibuprofen becoming a closer friend than I’d like. A nurse called me a couple hours later to follow up.

“You’re having trouble with your joints?” she confirmed.

“Yes,” I answered. “My knees, mostly.”

“Hmm,” she said. Her voice was not amiable.

“Is there a problem?” I asked.

“Well, Mr. Farley, with all due respect, you’re not 22 anymore. You’re 45. Joints are the first to go.”

I was speechless. Not because of the truth, but her attitude. “I appreciate the insight,” I told her, “but for your information, I’ve been wearing contacts for years, so sight is the first thing to go.”

The nurse didn’t laugh. I imagined Louise Fletcher sitting rigidly at a desk. I confirmed my appointment, thrilled I didn’t have to see her face-to-face.

So I’m not 22 anymore. I don’t generally let this truth bother me. I enjoy my age; believe me, I am happy to be out of my 20s and 30s. And I can’t let a little thing like aching joints get in my way. I know I need to eat better, exercise more, drink more water and less rum. This is a roller coaster I have been on a dozen times.

“It’s all part of the journey,” my doctor told me when I finally saw him. “The next thing to go is your prostate.”

My doctor laughed. I didn’t.


Old Dog, New Tricks

45 years old. In the fall I start my undergraduate studies in Literature & Writing. It has been a long time coming.

This has been a dream of mine for many years. I didn’t have the opportunity after high school to go to college. Life, circumstances and all that stuff. There was no traditional trajectory, so I attended community college to get here. In my 20s, 30s and 40s, while traversing through life, I took classes here and there until I had enough to transfer to a four-year university.

And here I am.

And I’m petrified.

But I got here, and that’s all that matters. A sage friend once told me, when I complained about being almost 50 by the time I have a Master’s, “Well, you’ll be 50 anyway. Might as well be 50 with a Master’s.” Words of wisdom.

School doesn’t begin for a couple of months. 5 classes, all Lit & Writing-related. That’s a shock in and of itself. No more horrible biology. No more mind-crushing math. General Education be damned! A couple of professors have already emailed book lists and I think it’s safe to say I won’t be seeing daylight for the next several months.

And I’m tickled. Petrified, but tickled.