Friday, October 1, 2010

Birthday Bluz

Today is my birthday.  I’m not completely happy with that, but I’ll have to make myself enjoy it because it will be my last one that has a “4” in pole position.  My Aunt told me on Facebook that 49 is the new 29.  If that’s true, then I feel like bloody hell, for a 29-year old.

I was thinking about a past birthday today, the one 13 years ago.  I was at a very different place in my life, both geographically and emotionally.

I was up in Albany, New York, newly separated and living by myself in a small apartment.  I had a new job as a video rental store manager.  I’d gotten my own store in June and immediately cleaned house and turned it around, making sales plan in July and August.  But I was in rough shape.

When I originally moved to NY from Ohio, it was to take a record store manager position in the market where our home office was located, with hopes of snagging a job at HQ.  A year later I’d done that.  Then I met Future-Ex, we bought a house and got married.  (Cold chill runs down spine.)  Two years later, the music industry began moving into the dumper and after 13 years of service through 3 markets, my company cut me loose, along with about 20 others, as part of an office downsizing.

Future-Ex had 20 years in with the State of New York, so she wasn’t going anywhere, otherwise I could have used my record business connections to get a job in Miami, Cincinnati, Chicago or Sacramento.  But in Albany, there wasn’t much else besides my original company.

I eventually worked through a number of retail jobs.  First I cleaned up a music department at a big box media outlet, then set one up from scratch at another location and managed it.  Then THEY downsized their staff and I got let go again, almost a year to the day from when I got let go before.  At least this time I had the wherewithal to tell the DM to “get bent” before I walked out.

Months later, tired of management and just wanting to be “one of the crew,” I got a job at a craft store that was being built.  It was funny because I knew the music business inside and out, but didn’t know jack about crafts.  Still, they snapped me up in a heartbeat and put me in charge of the “promo” or seasonal department.  That’s the only department in the store where you’re constantly setting stuff up, moving it through, selling it off and bringing in the next thing.  They needed a retail “ringer” and they got one.

That was a pretty stress-free job.  The people were great to work with and I made some very good, albeit much younger, friends.  Unfortunately, I was only making about $15K a year.  It was enough to keep paying my part of the mortgage and bills, but little else.

That’s when the wife decided that without my previous income, or job perks of concert tickets and trips and stuff, I just wasn’t as much fun to be around any more, and didn’t see where that was going to change any time soon.  So I was out the door.  And some other guy had his stuff in the house before the month was over.

By this time, I’d spent about a year and a half at the craft store.  One of the managers there left the company to go to work at a small video rental chain.  Several of us ended up going with her.  I immediately went into their “training program” to be a store manager.  I left in March and had my own store by June.

Like I alluded to earlier, I took shithole store and completely turned it around.  I got a good crew in there, we had a good time and we got things running right.

But still, I wasn’t happy.  The hours, due to the nature of the business, were terrible.  The store closed at 10 on weeknights, 11 on weekends, so that meant after closing, I didn’t get home until around midnight or later.  And it wasn’t like I was making any money there.   My day off was usually a weekday, so all my friends were at work.  I always felt like I was playing hookey.  I was living my life apart from everyone I knew. 

I knew I’d spend my birthday alone that year.  Then I’d spend Thanksgiving alone, and then Christmas alone.  It just wasn’t worth it.  I was in the middle of nowhere and just fucking miserable.

Then there was one more thing.

On September 29th, one of my employees killed herself.  She was found down by the river, hanging from a tree.  She was a 20-year old single mother, a beautiful little thing, the kind of girl everyone liked.  Everyone at the store suspected her psycho ex-boyfriend, but his whereabouts were accounted for by dozens of people.  No one ever knew what happened.

One of the things I used to tell myself about managing stores was that I could be a positive influence on my young people.  I’d try to give them guidance and understanding; the benefits of some of my hard-earned wisdom.  Y’know… tell them not to settle and not to take any shit from their boyfriends.  But it didn’t do her much good. 

She’d only been working there for a month and I tried to help her with some of her life issues, but she never really opened up to me.  Most of what I knew about her came from another employee.  And then she was gone.

I went to the viewing with my DM.  She seemed so small in that big box.  It was almost too much to bear.

So on my birthday that year, October 1st, I took myself out to dinner, alone, and brought along a note pad.  While I ate, I made 2 lists:  Reasons to leave Albany for Baltimore (where my brother and sister lived and I had a standing offer from my brother to bunk with him and his wife, until I could get on my feet), and Reasons to Stay.

Suffice to say, one list was really fucking long.  And of all of the (5) reasons I had to stay, only 2 were remotely meaningful:  Playing hockey, and a couple of my craft store friends.  Neither were good enough reasons to stay in Albany.  The other reasons were things like, “Moving sucks,” and “These beans are pretty good.”

Still, I kept going back and forth on what to do.  Inertia can be a powerful force.  On my next day off, while I was out getting groceries, I pondered stopping by the video store where my friend Melissa worked.  I probably changed my mind 3 or 4 times before going in.

I knew Melissa from the craft store and she was one of the employees that jumped ship for the video store.  Melissa was a wee little thing, about 4’11” with giant blue eyes and a cascade of blond ringlets.  She reminded me of a fairy princess.  I used to call her “Little One.”  One day we were messing around with some others in the store, and she said to everyone, “I’m his Little Bit,” and “Lil Bit” was what I called her from then on.
This is Lil Bit.  Sadly, she’d just gotten an unfortunate haircut (that she hated) right before I left, which had shorn her long curls.  This shot was from my goodbye party.

So I went in to see her and seeing the look on my face she was all “OK, spill it!”  I didn’t want to talk right there because the DM was in the store and I didn’t want to set off a premature panic.  So when she said her husband was going to be in class until 9:00, I invited her to my place for dinner.  (Which was completely honorable…  her husband was a good guy and they were great together.  He was barely taller than she was… they looked like a couple of hobbits.)

She was barely in the door when she spied my picture board full of family photographs.  She asked me, “How come you’re still here?

Little shit was wise beyond her years.

She said, “I see all these pictures of you smiling with your family and I never see you look like that any more."

That, Little One, is the gist of my problem,” I said.

Over dinner, I laid it out for her just how miserable I’d been feeling.  I’d moved there for a purpose once, but that purpose is gone.  There was no reason that I should be there alone when I had family elsewhere.

Go!” she said.  “Just get out of here.”

It was like a giant weight off my shoulders that someone else understood.  It would be OK.  Albany would keep turning without me there.  I got a hold of the DM the next day and told her I had to go.  She understood.  They all did.  I called my brother and asked if his offer still stood.  It did.  I called the movers, started packing, and worked my final 2 weeks.  I was proud to be able to turn over the store in far better shape than it was when I’d inherited it.

I had one last long night out with my craft store friends and said many sad goodbyes.  The next night I played my last hockey game and spent another long night at the bar saying goodbye to that bunch.  They were all great people and I still miss them.
Mr and Mrs Lil Bit, Lester and Carrie say goodbye to their buddy Bluz.

So, the wheels started turning on 10/1/97, 13 years ago today.  On 10/31/97, I put Albany in my rear view mirror
I actually took that shot as I was leaving town that day.

I set sail that morning for Baltimore and brighter days in my future.

33 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday, Bluz!

    Proud of you for realizing you needed a change in scenery. Sometimes it's necessary. And, it's almost always worth the trouble.

    Here's to making positive change happen! :)

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  2. Happiestt birthdsy (to us)! May the coming years be much happier, despite the "5" (or even because of it)!

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  3. A rollercoaster of emotions in that post. But it left me feeling really hopeful. Happy birthday!

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  4. Happy Birthday!

    I agree with you that there is something sucky about turning over a new decade - so enjoy the year! Incredibly emotional post.

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  5. Happy birthday!! That's a great day to move to a new city, too. :)
    I got very farklempt reading your story but it's one of those "there IS a light at the end of the tunnel" stories so I'm glad you were able to find it. Plus, I'm glad you had friends who were completely supportive of your move.
    Enjoy your day!!

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  6. Happy Birthday, Bluz. I'll tip a cold one for you tonight. Hopefully, you've got a crew there to share it with.

    I have to ask. Did the beard stay in Albany?

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  7. By the way, I'll be tipping that cold one at my reunion in the Lake Ellyn Boat House, the skating cradle of Bluz Dude himself.

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  8. Happy Birthday, Cowboy! I just realized that I am old enough to be your mother!!

    I hope that you are as happy with your life now as we are (happy with YOUR life, that is). Bluz Dude makes my day a little brighter!!

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  9. Happy birthday!

    Also, HOLY CRAP. I would have put you in your mid to late 30's. No lie.

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  10. Happiest birthday to one of the best writers I've ever known or ever WILL know.

    You make the world a shinier place.

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  11. Happy Birthday! This was a fantastic post. I just loved everything about it. Sometimes the hardest choices are the best ones we've ever made. Always follow your bliss.

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  12. Cristy,
    Thanks. That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I’d been considering a move ever since the marriage ended. I had the standing offer from my brother to stay with him, and my dad offered to pay for any move that involved my leaving New York. (Don’t ask.) But I put them off most of the year… I was extreeeeemely hesitant to have to go sponge off my brother. I’d been completely self-sufficient since the day I moved out of the family house, right after college. Asking for help has never come easy, even when it was right there.

    I began staying with my brother on 11/1 and by mid January, I was back on my feet with a starter-job and in my own apartment. By mid-March, I was in a good job with the company I’m still at. And now I always know what I’m doing for Thanksgiving.

    Jessica,
    Happy birthday, Jessica Rabbit!

    Here’s our horoscope for today:
    “The Moon in (blah blah planety stuff blah) brings an opportunity to enjoy fun times with the family. This is a great day to throw a big party or at least plan a nice dinner with your nearest and dearest. Take plenty of pictures to record memories of this special day.”

    And in more depth:
    Your birthday year should bring some significant changes that are likely to affect all areas of your life. The details of this transition should become more obvious over the winter. By spring you should really be able to build something substantial out of the opportunities that these changes bring. Pay attention and work hard through the summer and by next fall you may really see some major, positive new growth in your life. The more you open yourself up to take advantage of these new possibilities, the more expansive your life will become.

    The best part about turning 50 next year is that we are going to have an absolute monster blowout in the summer, to celebrate my 2 buddies and I all hitting the big 5-0. Of course, I’ll have about 3 months where those 2 will be old men, and I’ll still be a young, hip, 40-something.

    Sherry,
    Thanks. And thanks for coming along on the ride. I’ve wanted to tell that story for a good while; I was just waiting for the right framing. I’ve sideswiped some parts of the story in other posts, but I wanted to get the whole thing told.

    DG,
    Thanks… I try to be a “full service” blog. Besides the bawdy stories and political spleen-venting, sometimes I throw in an unexpected Lifetime Movie of the Week.

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  13. Miley,
    Thanks!

    I got verklempt myself, this morning, just re-reading.

    I’m going to go back and add a line or two to this, because I didn’t sufficiently express how important it was to have Lil’ Bit’s blessing. Her understanding was exactly the validation I needed.

    It was funny because a month earlier I brought up the subject to another friend and she put up a huge fuss. This was a person that I almost never heard from or saw, but she was all, “NO! You can’t go!!!”

    Melissa was enough of a friend to want me to go be happy.

    Bagger,
    Thanks. And no, the beard made the trip, and hung around until 2004, before succumbing to some serious shrinkage.

    Dude! You’re going to Lake Ellyn! Way cool! Take some pictures!

    Judie,
    Thanks so much, that’s sweet.
    If it makes you feel any better, you can think of yourself as my very great Auntie. (oop- hand clamping over mouth - here come some more Hot Indian Auntie searches!)

    Burgh Baby,
    Wow, thanks! But holy crap, what happened to your eyes?

    OK, I guess I should go easy. With the goofy crap I write, I’m surprised you didn’t think I was 17.

    Bachelor Girl,
    Aww, thanks. And coming from a Professional Writer, that really means something. If I ever decide to put up critic’s reviews here, like they do with movies, I’d use that.

    Wormy,
    Thanks so much. And you’re 100% right on that. It’s funny to think now that I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, ever. So far, so good!

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  14. I spent one f****** day trying to get one of my email accounts fixed on MSN, while talking to an ass-hole from India who took a job away from a poor starving soul from Michigan. Don't even dare compare me with some Hot Indian Auntie! I am WAY HOTTER! Just ask my friends!!

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  15. OK Judie,
    Lets see if we can start a new searching pattern..

    "Hey, come look at the Hot Southwestern Aunties! Get'em while they're hot! They want to hear from YOU, Cowboys..."

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  16. Happy birthday! Hope your last year in your 40s is kick-ass (or something more appropriate).

    Great post/narrative, as usual (despite the crappy things that happened along the way). Sounds like you made some good choices, even if you are in ratbird country...

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  17. Happy Birthday Bluz!

    I loved this post. Very interesting. I'm glad you took the leap. Isn't it funny how often someone else can glimpse into our life and see what we're struggling with so clearly? I'm sure you thank Lil' Bit every day.

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  18. Happy (Belated) B-Day Bluz! Great post. Life is certainly filled with twists and turns and a lot of tough decisions. Somethings haven't always turned out great but your path has lead you to us, your online friends, and I think we are all grateful it did. Have a GREAT year Bluzdude! You deserve it!

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  19. Guy,
    Thanks Guy. If is wasn't for my Lil' Bit, I might have dithered away the rest of the year and spent the holidays alone. (And Lord knows how many more...)

    Dan,
    Thanks! Being able to write for you all is a birthday gift that keeps on giving.

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  20. Facie,
    Thanks, and kicking ass is appropriate at any age. Just ask my mom.

    That was one life choice that not only do I NOT regret, I think it was absolutely essential.

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  21. I'm proud of you for having the balls to fix your life. Happiest day a day late, sir.

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  22. Bluz, that validation is sometimes what we ALL need to make it through life. Hell, it's why I have a therapist. Seriously.
    It's awesome when you have it from friends. Telling someone you want them to be happy is often the hardest thing to do when it means they will be away from you but it's the best thing you can do for someone. It means you are a TRUE friend and I'm glad you have one :)

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  23. Vange,
    Thanks... that means a lot coming from you... a woman that knows a great deal about balls.

    Miley,
    It was either that, or she just wanted to get rid of me. I wish we could have kept in touch, but this was before PCs were prevalent and she assured me that she'd never write.

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  24. Ah, Bluz, Happy Belated Birthday! I also congratulate your parents for bringing such an amazing son into this world. You bring joy and happiness to so many.

    Your photos, as always, bring a delightful charm that keeps me coming back for more. Cheers to you, Bluz! You are simply the best.

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  25. Cher,
    Thanks so much... I love you guys! And you're not late. It's a well known fact that when you're birthday is on a Friday, you get to claim birthday privileges all weekend.

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  26. Happy birthday. I agree: 49 is the new 29, except 29 year olds nowadays have a few more aches and pains. It's all good though as long as you think you're 29.
    I read every single word of this post. It was captivating, well written, and I smiled and nodded in several spots.
    It's amazing that you took and kept that picture while leaving Albany. Obviously it was a moment which shaped you and made you who you are today. Loved this post!

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  27. Sandra,
    I used to think that 22 was the perfect age to be (back when I was like, 18). What I didn't know was that even at 22, I was still a pinhead. I'm happy being who I am now. I just wish I still had that 22 year old waist size.

    The picture... Well, first, I keep all my pictures. That one was taken on actual film! I really wish it turned out better... if you could see in the rear view mirror, I'd just crossed a big bridge over the Mohawk River and I was heading south on I-87. To me the bridge was the boundary between my old life and what lay ahead.

    Maybe one day I can photoshop the bridge in there...

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  28. "By spring you should really be able to build something substantial out of the opportunities that these changes bring. " Good thing too, since there will be a baby in the spring for me!

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  29. "Build a Baby!" There you go...

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  30. October 1 was and still is the happiest day of my life. As Eve said on bearing a son, "Lo! With the help of the Lord, I have made a man."
    Who was there to hear her, I don't know. Probably Murray the ob/gyn scribe.
    As far as "help of the Lord", this was long ago and she probably didn't know what caused it.
    But the wonder and joy are ever true.

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  31. I really like this post. This is going to sound odd, but it reminded me of a Bukowski short story sanitized of all the vileness and faux demons. A little snippet of one man's life that everyone can relate to even if the story is personal only to you.

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  32. Monty,
    Thanks! And thanks for jumping over from That's Church.

    I guess that's all we can try to do...tell our stories and hope they connect with others. It's always gratifying to know that there are people out there just as miserable as we are. (Or, I should say, as I WAS.)

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