So my birthday. Monday, October 29th, 2007.
I had been taking a just-another-day-on-the-calendar approach, which I think is fitting to anyone my side of 21. And it was a work day. I was at Ho(t)me(n) Depot from two to eleven p.m.
Round about 7:45, who should turn up in the faucet aisle but the Baron! It was very much a When Worlds Collide moment. In a big way. I was flying solo in Kitchens & Baths, and I had tons of customers, so at best I could squeeze the Baron in between helping people pick out faucets and toilets and such.
It had been the Baron's belief that I was getting off work at eight, and then we would head to the Ol' Homestead to celebrate. Although the Baron doesn't deal well with having his plans thwarted, he did in this case, and said that he would grab something to eat, go stop in a visit with my father, take Faithful Companion for a walk, and be waiting for me at the Ol' Homestead when I got off at eleven.
When I arrived home, the back porch light was on.
That was so great.
I hate coming home to a dark house. I'm all about leaving a light on. But inside, all was darkness. Except for the pinpoints of light on the candles atop a birthday cake.
Sure enough, the Baron had brought with him a birthday cake and a bottle of wine. (Port, to be exact. Not my preference--but clearly the Baron's--but deeply appreciated nonetheless.)
Just about overwhelmed, the Baron invited me to blow out the candles.
And that would mean making a wish.
That's a tough one for someone who has devoted a lot of effort not to wish, trying to stay in the present moment, or at least in the neighborhood of This Week.
To give me time to think, I got a kiss (yes on the lips) from Faithful Companion.
I wished for Freedom From Financial Insecurity.
I decided to be unspecific because I didn't want to wish for $8,000 or something. Just the "Freedom From..."
I got all the candles in one shot.
The Baron applauded, gave me a kiss and a hug, and together we sat down to enjoy birthday cake and a couple of glasses of wine.
About 12:30, I was fading fast, and I had to be up for work tomorrow. I got the Baron on the road after thanking him for his kindness and his friendship, gave Faithful Companion his last walk of the night, brushed my teeth, and headed off to bed.
It was just after One when I got into bed, and this made me nervous, since it meant that I'd be getting less than the seven hours I'd need before I had to be up for work. I said a silent prayer that I wouldn't oversleep and got in bed and--after jerking off as is my habit--went to sleep.
I awoke refreshed, invigorated, about an hour before my alarm was going to go off, and my mind almost racing with insight and clarity.
I was thinking about Conviction.
When I was a younger man, I considered conviction to be the prime virtue. Life was to be lived with Conviction.
Now at the time, I think my understanding of this was, "I resolve to live my life as a Leatherman and a Shaman-ish Top, and then I'll be happy all the time." And I signed on to the laundry list of what you might call "leather values": honesty, loyalty, the quest for excellence in ourselves and others, openness, brotherhood.
Nowadays, I have come to feel that I've ridden that horse about as far as she will take me, and I'm feeling at sea.
The lesson: Conviction, yes. But be thoughtful about your convictions. They don't come pre-arranged. You have to work them out on your own.
It's an absurd universe, you see. And ultimately, nothing makes a damn bit of difference. Your (my) convictions are random, and, ultimately, pretty meaningless.
So what are my convictions?
I can say this: kindness, integrity, and hard work.
Be kind. To everyone I meet. Even to people who are unkind to me. Especially to people who are unkind to me. And Integrity. Acknowledge and accept all the diverse aspects of myself. Don't shut off parts of my life and myself. In structural engineering, strength is all about integrity, about how all the parts work together. And Hard Work.
At Ho(t)me(n) Depot, I'm something of a star. And at every Hard Labor Ready gig I've been on, I get rave reviews. Because I bust my ass. Always. I'm diligent, I apply myself, I think through things, when I screw up I take responsibility and work to make things better. It matters a lot to me that I do a good job.
As a result, I love working, and I get so much out of it. At the end of the day, when I punch out at Ho(t)me(n) Depot, I almost don't want to leave. I'm totally juiced from the day. Looking forward to going back tomorrow.
And then, lying in bed, thinking about all this, my birthday wish was granted.
Suddenly, I felt like an adult.
Y'see, when I moved to NYC all those many years ago, I got a job that paid $25,000 a year. My next job paid me $35,000. The job after that paid $45,000. Then $55,000, then, finally, $65,000. And I believed that trend would continue. I'd keep climbing on up the ladder.
And so, if I wanted it, I got it. Boots, trips, a great custom leather flight suit made for me by David Samuel Menkes. I decided I liked Fort Lauderdale so I was down there one weekend a month. On one trip, I decided to look at condos. I found one I liked, and by the time I flew home, I had gotten a mortgage and bought it. After all, why not? The money would keep coming in, more and more and more of it.
Over the past four years, I've still been operating under this ill-conceived world view. Okay, so for now I'm working in a woodshop making ten bucks an hour. That's just temporary. C'mon... Don't you know who I am? Let me show you my 2002 tax returns!
Happily, my values have changed.
My needs are few, and my wants are under control. Henceforth, I pay cash. After all, under brutal American capitalism that we've all become accustomed to, nothing is really certain beyond your next paycheck, is it?
I work hard, and every two weeks they pay me, and I pay my bills.
It's gonna take some time for me to clear the decks of the vestiges of living the high life, but I'll get it done.
Because I'm a good worker, I'll always have a job, so really, there's nothing to worry about.
And so, in a record seven hours, my birthday wish was granted.