After a 35-year disappearance, Ron Bates called me a couple of weeks ago. We caught up briefly by phone and then he said he was coming my way; could he stop by on his journey? I told him that I’d been trying to find him for over 20 years – of course he could! He could spend the night and we’d catch up on the years between us. Ron had been my hippy “bud” during five of my wildest young-adult years – my best friend in between my childhood best friend, Alan, and my grown-up best friend, Marcia. Five years of sharing hot-boxed cigarettes behind the school, jumping off waterfalls in the Big Thompson Canyon, chasing every pretty girl we saw, shopping trips to “The Hill” in Boulder, and “stomping” up the sides of mountains in our s---kickers as fast as we could with no regard for obstacles in the way (the goal was a straight line from bottom to top.) Five years living high on life and youth and relatively harmless, but nevertheless illegal, substances. We weren’t thugs – in fact, we were pretty good guys, but we weren’t the kind of guys that stern fathers wanted their sons and daughters hanging out with. “trouble” with a lower-case “t”. We hung with Chicano friends – a politically-correct term in the 70’s. To our amigos, he was Ron Romero; I was Ron Rodriguez, though we never learned to speak Spanish beyond a few choice epithets. Aye Chingao!
He was at the house when I got home; waiting for me in a beat-up pickup that somehow made me feel embarrassed that my pickup was in better shape. We shared a long, almost-comfortable masculine embrace while we laughed and gee-whizzed and slapped each other on the back. We’re grown men now – he more grizzled; me heavier. He’s got dentures; I’ve got the Gout. Two “buds” that have given up both the bud and the Budweisers. He’d been married for a brief 3-year stint; I’d married my best friend and lived happily ever after in middle-class suburbia bliss. He lived off the grid in a cabin with no utilities. I bought a house and contributed to a 401k. He moved from job to job and eventually became a farrier to rich ladies with pampered horses. I took a job washing dishes, ended up in restaurant management and spent pretty much my whole career with one company climbing the corporate ladder. We spent the evening mis-remembering the good ol’ days – telling embellished stories of the time that had passed, and explaining the choices that had led us to our current contrary places in a world we once shared.
They say that there are an infinite number of universes existing side by side, branching off with each of the myriad choices that every man makes throughout his life. In one of those universes, Nixon didn’t end the draft and I made good on my threat to flee to Canada and take my low lottery number with me. In that universe, Ron Romero and I are living with the Inuit – eating blubber and rubbing noses with our native wives under the Northern Lights. In another, Ron wasn’t chased off by the parents of his soul mate – a good friend of my soul mate – and we grow old together on Wisteria Lane while our kids became the kind of best buds that we were for those few carefree years.
Seeing the divergent roads that Romero & I took got me to thinking of the choices I’ve made, the different universes I’ve inhabited along the way and where my choices will eventually take me – what I was; who I am; where I will be…
What I was, was the classic “second child” in a stable and strict family with strong Christian values and two brothers and two sisters and an extended village of cousins and aunts and uncles who loved me and were loved in return. Future issues were only hinted at when I explained to my Mom at an early age, as I drenched my potatoes with ketchup, “I like too much.” Ketchup wasn’t the problem; “too much” was. While I was a loving kid, I was an insolent teen and a rebellious adult whose penchant for “too much” extended to most of my choices. I worked too much, I played too much, I drank too much, I ate too much. I went too far a lot of times. I was a teenage hippy with disdain for “the System” and mistrust for anyone over 30. I didn’t care too much for school; it wasn’t all about me. First I was kicked out; then I dropped out. I was a self-indulgent thrill-seeker who didn’t pay near enough attention to other people and way too much attention to my own little universe. I subscribed to the 60’s maxim: if it feels good, do it.
Thankfully, I do believe that people can change and marrying my best friend was surely the catalyst for mine. Who I am now is a more mature and conventional adaptation of that younger self. Still prone to be a bit rebellious and to lean toward indulging “too much,” but far more prone to figuratively push the plate away. I still take some hedonistic pleasures, though they are more socially acceptable and along the lines of a good cup of coffee, a bowl of Breyer’s natural vanilla, a Stephen King novel, and an early bedtime. I take more pleasure now in other people and their happiness, although I still sometimes act like I’m king of the world. My rise through the kitchens shaped my belief that hard work is the road to success and that searching for either a handout or the “one big deal” is a sure way to spend your life in disappointment and dissatisfaction. I believe I have a duty to share and to teach whatever small tidbits of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way with those that want to be taught. I believe in the power of words to shape reality so I try to be careful about what I say but this is definitely a work in progress. I believe in the sanctity of all life and in showing respect to the world around me, but also believe that Mother Nature is well-equipped to take care of herself in the end, thank-you very much.
As I’ve aged, I believe that the choices I make now are going to dictate where I’ll be in my dotage, and hope that the poor choices I made in another branch of my life don’t figure in too prominently. We live in exciting times. I HATE exciting times. Exciting just means that too many things can go wrong and you never know who’s in charge of that universe-branching. Give me bland and predictable any day. I want to know that my retirement funds will grow. I want to know that I’ll live a healthy, long life surrounded by people I love, but not worry that I’ll outlive my bank account. I want to know where my next meal is coming from. I don’t want to wonder if I should stock up on canned foods and batteries, or if I should buy gold and guns to prepare for the apocalypse. My risk-taking days are behind me. I want to know where the future will take me. I want some surety in my life, but in Exciting Times like these, a sure thing is a rare commodity. I’m pretty sure that it is this human desire to have things work out and the uncertainty that they might not that has given rise to the belief in the Karmic nature of things. We can’t control the future; only the present. So we hope that if we live right today, that tomorrow will pay us back with kindness.
So then, this is the philosophy that I hope will take me to where I’d like to be going—to a happy place, if bland & predictable, where grandkids will ride on my back and beg me to tell them another story; where the “imminent” apocalypse fades away with Glenn Beck and his doomsayer TV show; where the loaves and fishes don’t run out before my time does.
First, I’ll do no harm. I will walk my trail without stepping on others, be they human or animal. I will leave the flower unpicked so that others can smell it and it can spread its seed for future generations to enjoy. Second, I’ll do some good where I can. I’ll give to my favorite charities, even though I know that by giving to one, I’ll end up on eleven more mailing lists. I can’t save the world, but I can help save that fly-covered kid pictured in the junk mail with my name spelled wrong. I’ll be a peacemaker when the tension is high. I’ll teach someone something that will make their road smoother. Third, I’ll love as I’d like to be loved. I’ll try to live the Golden Rule. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt and try not to judge, lest I be judged and be found wanting. I’ll love my wife, and my family, and their friends, and the people I work with, and tolerate – and even enjoy – the people I see on the streets and at the airport and in the malls and the restaurants.
And finally, I’ll cross my fingers and think positively. I’ll believe that things will always be better; that people will mostly do the right thing; that there’s a light at the end of every tunnel; that love will win out. I’ll believe that wherever I’m going, it’ll be a fabulous journey and a worthy destination. I’ll live my life thinking that every person is special; every place is special; every event is special…as it is.
That special place is where I will be.