Why I Write This Crap

bill murray

In the story of my life.

I went out for beers the other night with an old writer/editor friend (who, incidentally, has always had impeccable taste) and he complimented me on my blog, noting its ostensible honesty, sheer volume and relative craftsmanship. He said that he wished he could do the same.

“How do you do it, Lar?” he asked, after a third Corona.

I was tempted to answer with the famous quote widely attributed to legendary sportswriter Red Smith: “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.”

But instead I said, “I dunno. I’ve just been doing it ever since I was a little boy.”

I wrote my first poem when I was in kindergarten:

The birds fly

High in the sky

Why can’t I?

Fucking genius, right?

Of course, almost every kid in kindergarten wrote this stupid poem but when I did it, my mom had me believing that I would be the next e.e. Cummings.

And thus began my illustrious career as a writer.

The truth is (I know I say that a lot; maybe more for me to believe it than for you), everything I’ve written since then has been nothing more than a desperate plea for my mother’s love. Thanks for nothing, Ma!

It didn’t make a difference if it was slightly-retarded-sounding poems in elementary school or short Raymond Carver-esque stories in college, or personal essays in major magazines or getting lost down the Twitter rabbit hole or even this blog, writing has always been my point of distinction from everybody else, and more importantly, a way to feed an insatiable and unabashedly naked desire to be adored (so make sure to Like this on Facebook and starfuck it on Twitter).

Why I need your approval is obvious: It’s because I’ve always had trouble approving of myself. I’m never happy with anything I’ve written (and edit the shit out of it because I’m perpetually dissatisfied and simply can’t let go) until someone tells me that it’s good and I should be pleased. And even then I assume the person is merely being kind.

Although I’m actively trying to change all that. I’ve written a few things here that I’m actually proud of and that admission alone is progress. On the flip side, my friend Charlie keeps prodding me to stop playing around on this nowhere road and instead focus on the more serious business of writing a memoir. I keep arguing that this blog is serious business (despite my silly jokes), and that I don’t think my life has been nearly interesting enough to warrant its own story.

But if it is, I still see Bill Murray in the title role.

My Soul to Keep

clouds

Being then nothingness.

I was originally going to call this blog My Soul to Keep. I thought it did a nice job evoking a healthy skepticism with a slight nod to my childhood terror worrying about where we go once we fall asleep.

I ran into three problems:

1) I’m not really sure what the soul actually is.

2) I’m still not really sure what happens when we go off to dreamland.

c) It sounds like some stupid serial killer movie.

Now I know the soul is supposed to be our essence or spirit (two words that make me want to burn every Deepak Chopra book — and maybe the author himself) and is hypothetically supposed to live on forever. And I can certainly understand the great comfort and appeal of immortality, wrote the tall dude who may or may not have prostate cancer. I also know that this subject has been intensely debated since the days of Aristotle and by every philosopher that Woody Allen has ever made fun of.

I’m just not sure what the difference is between my mind/heart/feelings vs. my soul/essence/spirit. Aren’t they pretty much the same things? Is your soul something else apart? And if so, how did it learn to fly?

I only ask because I’ve always thought the lightbulb simply goes out when we die, and if you’ve ever been scared of the dark, no worries because … you’ll no longer be here! You will cease to exist! Good day, sir! And all of those wonderful memories and awesome emotions and the way you narrowed your eyes to show that you were listening when someone was talking to you, and everything else that made you YOU – your s/e/s ­– that stuff bites the big one with you! You can’t take it with you because – spoiler alert! – you’re not going anywhere. Cue Nelson Muntz.

I’m one of those non-believers who believes that the separation of body and soul is why religion was invented in the first place, mainly so we wouldn’t all freak the fuck out about the horror of dying. Whew! Heaven! What a relief! Jeez, I thought I was just going to wind up as nothingness! That was a close call!

I remember learning something in Hebrew school about God first creating the body and then breathing life into it and, according to Rabbi I-forgot-most-of-his-name-stein, that’s how the soul was born, and why we have a physical and spiritual self. And then I remember cutting Hebrew school for the next fifty years.

For me, the soul lives on in my heart and memory of the people who I’ve loved. Whenever I think about my father-in-law, Marty, who died two years ago and who I adored, I begin to well up with tears because I miss him, and almost simultaneously break into a smile recalling a passion for life that I’ve never seen in anyone else before or since.

That was his soul, and I was lucky enough to have been embraced by it when he was alive. And he’ll live on in my memory until the day I die.

But then that’s going to be it.

Sparks and Recreation

The night sky.

You know how when you meet someone for the first time and you just get this feeling that starts in your stomach and pinballs its way up and down your spine, and it’s like your endorphins have come out to play after a long, rainy day stuck indoors and you just start talking and there’s an excitement that builds on every word, and everything that person is saying is insightful, funny or moving, sometimes all three, and then maybe you unintentionally touch hands and feel a jolt of electricity pulsing through wherever you most like to pulse, and in that moment it feels so good to be alive and to have connected with this person and maybe there is a God or at least a higher power that controls the universe, or maybe it’s just totally random, who cares, because you’re totally plugged into each other, and you talk and talk and talk some more and the more you talk, the more you feel the sparks flying, bright flashes that light up the night sky in your faraway heart, and you don’t want this night to end, so you keep thinking of other things to say and talk about your childhood and your children and your hopes and dreams and fears, and it all feels safe and somehow familiar and you’re just being yourself, maybe more than you’ve ever been in your life, because this person you never met before seems to get you, sees you for who you really are, and you both feel that something beyond your control is happening beneath the flow of words, and realize that this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often so when it does it’s special and needs to be attended to, and it’s not just about getting laid although that certainly is on your mind, and you imagine what it would be like to kiss while you’re talking about your favorite foreign movies, and then you wonder what it would be like to hold hands and take a walk on the beach or in Paris or when you were in the sixth grade, and it’s so strange that this person already feels important to you and you know that makes little sense, but the truth is that it doesn’t feel strange at all, it just feels right and you don’t want the night to end but you also wouldn’t mind seeing what it would look like in the morning, so you talk and laugh and then maybe touch hands, intentionally this time, and when you finally run out of things to say, you gaze at each other in this new silence and it’s not awkward at all, in fact it feels like easing into a warm, soothing bath and if you listen carefully you can hear each other’s heartbeat and you know that sounds like a load of romantic bullshit but you soak it in just the same, and when the night finally comes to an end, you both know it’s really just the beginning?

That.

A Picture of Us

Caryn and Larry

Life is funny.

When you’re worried, particularly about your health, your friends will pretty much say the same things.

Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Everything will be okay. 

As if they somehow know! Like all of a sudden, they’ve formed their own local chapter of the Psychic Friends Network.

It’s really such a sweet and caring gesture and I’m lucky enough to have great friends who fill my heart with hope and joy, and that’s not so easy when you’re as tall (read: needy) as I am.

Here’s the thing: when they say those kind and reassuring words, I sooooo want to believe them! It takes me out of my own head and places me in their arms and in those moments, I feel loved and protected. My mind will often wander to the times when I’ve had those feelings before — like when I was a little boy. And, now that I think of it, when I first got married.

And also, as it happens, last night with my ex-wife. I keep calling her my ex, but technically, she’s still my wife and non-technically, she’ll always be the mother of my children and the first person who I ever loved.

We had just left the lawyer’s office after finally closing on the sale of our house in Long Island and while Caryn was driving me back to the train station, I shared the news about my cancer scare. She immediately offered to help in any way that she could and I flashed back on her taking such good care of me the first time I had gone through the malignancy mill more than 20 years ago. And just like I had done back then, I began to cry.

I wasn’t even sure what for. Caryn and I had lived together for more than 30 years and have been through all of the fun shit people go through when they’re together for that length of time, and there we were in her car, like old times, and it just hit me how much we had loved each other and I wondered how the hell did it ever get all fucked up and twisted beyond repair? If you look up “Life is funny” in the irony dictionary, you’ll find a picture of us.

Caryn gently wiped away my tears, gave me a hug and in that moment, the world and all of our bullshit went away.

“Don’t worry, babe,” she said. “We’ll be fine. Everything will be okay.”

Me & Him

crumb god

Nuthin’ but a G thang.

If there is a God, I’ve always imagined him to be merciless, especially when it comes to my favorite Kübler-Ross stage, bargaining.

Me: So who do I have to blow to make this cancer thing go away?

Him: Don’t talk to me about blow. I’m the guy who provides 72 virgins to every Muslim who kablooies himself to get up here.

me: What if I become a born-again Jew? I’ll even wear one of those funny hats.

Him: Hey, I invented Jews, remember? Adding one, taking one away, it doesn’t really matter. Didja ever hear of the Holocaust? That was me.

me: What if I dedicate my life to being good and helping those less fortunate than myself?

Him: If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that load of crap, I’d be … Oh, that reminds me, I need to buy more Apple stock. You’re gonna have to be a little more creative, Lar.

me: Hmm … Do you need anybody killed? Um, sorry, forgot who I was talking to.

Him: Jesus Christ! Tick-fucking-tock. I don’t have all of eternity. Oh, wait.

me: Whatever happened to “ask and you shall receive?” Isn’t that in the Bible?

Him: Do you believe everything you read? Have you ever gone to TMZ? I should give all of those reporters cancer. Hold it, lemme write that down.

me: How about penance? What if I give up bacon?

Him: Why should I give a flying fuck about what you eat? And you’re talking to the guy who invented the flying fuck. Speaking of which, I’m working on something that’s even more delicious than bacon and also involves sex. I could tell you about it, but then I’d have to kill you. Hahaha! I love that stupid joke!

me: What if I become celibate?

Him: Prostate cancer isn’t exactly gonna make you into the next Ron Jeremy. I’m on a roll today! I’ll be here all week. Until the end of time.

me: You really are the greatest! All knowing, all seeing, all powerful. What if I worship you like no one has ever worshipped you in the history of the world?

Him: OM! (I love that I don’t have to use the G.) You mean, like some kind of a stalker? No thanks! I had to unfriend Lindsay Lohan on Facebook. That chick is craze-ee.

me: I’ll donate money to charity! Or stop asking for your help during Giants games.

Him: Ooooh! Now you’re talking! Why don’t you write me a check for a quadrillion octillion dollars. Make it out to cash. And btw, my fantasy football team is kicking ass this season.

me: Okay, here’s my final offer. What if I believe in you?

Him: HAHA! You already do, schmuck. You just don’t know it yet.

The Bad News About Bad News

LC and kids from GQ October 1997

Page 281.

I don’t know about you, but when I get a voicemail from a doctor that says, “This by no means means that you have cancer,” I automatically think that I have cancer.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me wish I believed in God. Who am I supposed to pray to now? Ayn Rand? Shouldn’t there be some type of God for atheists during a health scare? I knew I shouldn’t have fucked with Him when I wrote that crap about no longer being scared of getting bad news. What the hell was I thinking?

I recently took one of those old-man PSA tests (which, for you non-old men, screens for prostate cancer), and the result was high so my doctor insisted on another test and the second number was lower, but he still wants me to come in for a sonogram and that’s what the voicemail was about. If the images look fine, that’s that. If they don’t, he’ll do a small needle biopsy, send it to some Dexter pathology dude and I’ll deal with whatever “by no means means.”

You may recall that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and the word “cancer” to a hypochondriac is like shushing Kanye West. It’s even worse than that for me. I’ve told you about my testicular cancer (great band name there) more than 20 years ago, but I didn’t tell you how I found out about it (and if you’re curious to read more, look up The Nutcracker Suite in the October 1997 issue of GQ with George Clooney on the cover):

After forty-five minutes of what was supposed to be exploratory surgery, I had awakened to my wife Caryn’s gentle touch, and as soon as I saw her face through the last wisps of an anesthetic haze, I knew I was going to be all right. My urologist, Bob Waldbaum, still in his surgical scrubs, walked in a moment later and in his reassuring bear of a voice announced, “Lawrence, my boy, we had to take out the crappy testicle. It was totally dysfunctional, but it doesn’t look cancerous.” And that’s when I pretty much lost it, crying like a baby in Caryn’s arms. Thank God, I was clean.

Or so I thought. My post-op visit was the following week. “Apparently, the biopsy uncovered some cancerous cells,” said Waldbaum.

That’s really all you need to know and other than for déjà vu, I know that I’ll be okay. Really, I do.

And I keep repeating that to myself like a mantra because I don’t really know it at all.

The Swim of Things

bart simpson and nevermind baby

Nevermind.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars going to therapy and the one thing that I wanted to happen never happened.

I used to sit in Shelley’s office every week and describe how I felt inside.

“This is the way I feel,” I’d say to her as if we were on In Treatment, and then held out my hand balled up into a tight fist. “All I want to do is go like this,” I continued and slowly opened my fist until I looked like Michaelangelo’s Adam reaching out to touch the hand of God. “All I wanna be able to do is to let go, Shelley. Why can’t I just let go? Why is it so hard?”

Usually Shelley would just look at her watch and tell me that our time was up and then I’d make an appointment for the next 20 years.

I’ve read countless books about the process of letting go. I’ve tried breathing exercises and more recently, meditation. I’ve told the Shelley “handjob” story a ton of times and yet here I am still holding on for dear life.

I hold on to the way I’ve always done things, to the unpleasantness of the past, to every painful thought I’ve ever had. I convince myself that it somehow gives me comfort and helps maintain an illusion of control, but in my heart of hearts, I know the exact opposite is true. And yet I cling tighter and tighter to all of these foolish things that have never worked. Resistance is indeed futile.

What am I so scared of? Why can’t I just be me? And live in the moment for fucking once? I know that true spiritual awakening will happen when I fully let go and focus on today. I know this because I’ve gotten a glimpse of it a handful of times in my life. On one occasion, when I left my wife for another woman. And another time when I learned how to swim.

I was 7 and went to sleepaway camp for the first time and loved everything about it except for daily swim instruction. I was a fish who preferred to stay out of water and this was fine until my counselor caught on and dragged me to the deep end of the pool.

“Jump in,” said the douchebag.

“But I don’t know how to swim,” I said.

“Just do it! You won’t drown.”

“But I’m scared!” I said.

“Fine,” said the dick, “then you can just stand here for the rest of the period.”

And that’s what I did. Until the end of the session, when two other counselors snuck up behind me and pushed me in. While they were laughing their asses off, I flailed and kicked and desperately tried to keep my head above water, eventually managing to get myself safely to the side of the pool.

“That was your first lesson,” said the asshole counselor.

I was swimming in less than a week.

Nature Calls

prospect park

A day in the park.

I’m sitting on a bench in Prospect Park on one of those killer fall days that we never seem to get enough of and thought this would be as good a time as any to say a few words about the spiritual nature of nature.

But first I’m just going to close my eyes. And listen. It’s so peaceful today, which is really saying a lot because this is, after all, Brooklyn. There’s almost a sense of holiness here and I feel like I’m connected to everything that’s going on around me.

OMG! The hottest black chick wearing yellow compression shorts just jogged by!

Did I mention the sky? It’s that perfect cerulean blue etched with billowy clouds right out of a Maxfield Parrish illustration and the trees swaying in the breeze look as if they’re breathing and it’s almost impossible not to believe that there’s a higher power at work here, one who created …

Holy shit! A MILF just strolled by with her little boy and I swear to God, she was wearing stiletto heels!

And the colors! Let’s talk about the colors. I’ve never liked the word “foliage” as it always struck me as a bullshit way of saying “leaves” but to be honest, neither word does today’s scene justice. The autumn leaves look like they’ve been meticulously colored in with the fancy Crayola crayons from the 64-pack (I’m talking to you, Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber) and those yellowish green, twirly maple seed things shaped like a dragonfly’s wings (we used to call them “helicopters” and put them on our nose), are swirling in the wind and the beauty of it all is so overwhelming that …

Jeez! That young Asian woman in the black hipster glasses is definitely checking me out!

Look! There goes a squirrel skittering up a tree and two little kids are rolling down a hill in the long meadow while an elderly couple walk hand in hand, and no one seems to be noticing the amazing world around them but everyone looks so happy and I guess that’s what nature is really all about, in all of its exquisite diversity, and everywhere you look, you can see God’s fingerprints and …

Oh my lord! That skinny blonde walking her miniature bulldog has legs that just go on forever.

I am extremely moved by nature.

Run Away!

killer bunny

Crisis management.

I’ve had a full-blown midlife crisis at least once in every decade for the past 30 years, and don’t even have a Maserati to show for it.

The first one happened in my twenties when my mother died and I realized that it was time to grow up (so I got married). The second one was in my thirties when I had testicular cancer and struggled with the notion of becoming a father (so we had two kids). The next one hit in my forties when I struggled with staying married (that was a total clusterfuck) and the one after that was a couple of years ago, just after I turned fifty, when I went through an extended period of unemployment and a divorce (which at least got me to Brooklyn). To paraphrase Nick Flynn, there have been a lot of bullshit nights in suck city.

We’ve all had them. And we all cope in different ways. My specific strategy has never wavered. First, blind panic. Almost immediately followed by running away. (Picture the knights fleeing from the killer bunny in Holy Grail.) I’ve run to drugs, to therapy, to women, to the Internet, and these fun salves almost always did the trick, eventually calming me down enough so I could face whatever it was I had to face.

And here I go again, perhaps a little ahead of schedule. I started this blog because the thought of dying freaked me out so badly one night that I couldn’t catch my breath. And the thought that I would not only no longer be here, but wouldn’t be anywhere (the real other side of no tomorrow) filled me with the worst dread I have ever known.

So this is me running again, looking for something bigger than myself. Or inside myself. Or…I don’t really care where the fuck it is, as long as it will give me some meaning. Or make me feel whole. Or, at least, unafraid. And then maybe I’ll be able to calm down and face what we must all inevitably face.

I want to believe and need to believe.

I just wish I knew what to believe in.

Bring the Pain

pendy heart

My foolish heart.

The people who I love know that I love them, even though I don’t always say the words.

I’ll sometimes say them in response to hearing someone say them to me, muttering one of those half-assed “I love you toos” or abbreviated “Love yous” but we all know that those don’t really count. They don’t really count for me because I don’t feel anything when I say it. My most recent girlfriend used to joke that I was dead inside. But really the exact opposite is true.

When I do say the three little words, I feel them so deeply that it hurts. It’s the good hurt. That usually brings tears to my eyes. So basically you know I really love you when I start crying.

This has mostly happened with my kids, and these days, mostly occurs when we say goodbye. Rob was visiting me the other day and one of the sweetest things about him has always been when he says, “I love you, Daddy.” He’s been saying it ever since he was a little boy, and maybe it’s because I’m not getting any younger, but when he says it now and I say it back, it feels less like father and son and more like two old friends — one who just happens to be crying like a little girl.

Maybe my reaction to “ILY” is so intense because I hardly ever heard it when I was growing up. My mother said it sparingly and my father, not at all.

My sister Patti says “I love you” all of the time and mostly I just repeat it back, but there have been many days, usually after listening to me whine about some crisis or another, that I’ve told her that I love her from the bottom of my heart, and my guess is that she can always hear the difference.

The truth is, I haven’t said “I love you” to all that many people. I’ve never said it to my two best friends, Tony and John, and yeah, I know, I know, it’s a guy thing, but still. I have said “I love you” to my ex-wife, but not nearly as much as a husband should. I usually waited for a birthday or anniversary or some other Hallmark occasion because it was easier to hide my feelings behind a Shoebox card.

I’ve also said it to a handful of other women in my life and it was never easy and I’ve always meant it and it hasn’t always been reciprocated, making it even more difficult to discern exactly why I was crying at the time.

We all know that love hurts, but I say — bring the pain.

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