The smile bearer

We had this cartoon made of her a couple of weeks ago.

My last posts have not been what you might call happy. I was going through some rough patches in my life, some demons in my head that refused to let go. But here’s the thing about demons: they feed on whatever bad energy you give them. Yes, sometimes it’s not enough to just say “I’m not going to bring myself down today”; things have to actually happen so you can feel better. And things did happen this week that made me feel a whole lot better. But there’s one thing in my life that has always brought me a smile no matter what happens: my dog.

A week before my birthday last July, Y. took D. to an undisclosed location. I remember her telling me that she had to do something about my birthday and something else. I love surprises, and I trust her unquestionably, so I didn’t ask anything. I just took my alone time in stride. So rare, so precious.

About two hours and change later, they came back, carrying a hastily wrapped box. “It’s a rare book”, she tells me. I knew it wasn’t a book, but believe you me, I would’ve expected a new car before what I found in that box. I sort of push apart the papers and, poking my hand in, I say, “I feel something warm”. And then a little head poked up. I’d like to say I was instantly enthralled, but like everything else these days, there’s evidence of what really happened that day.

I can tell you what happened as I saw this little nine-week-old puppy explore the house, sniffing along, and then slowly but surely claiming our hearts as her own: I was terrified. It was such a huge responsibility. The vet bills, the food, the toys, the bed, and a long et cetera. I was looking forward to having a dog, but I was thinking when we moved to our own house, have better economic conditions, etc.

But you try looking into those eyes and not commit to anything. Anything.

We had to name her Leia. This is a Star Wars family above all.

Leia is the second dog I’ve had in my life, and she comes under much better conditions than my first one. That was Baloo, a (probable) Schnauzer-Jack Russell mix that I had after a friend’s dog gave birth to three puppies. I had just gotten married, and it was not going well, as almost everybody around me said it would go. I was working from home, spent a lot of time by myself, and was very, very sad most of the time. So a dog was almost mandatory. (Actually therapy, but c’mon, a dog.)

My favorite picture of Baloo.

Baloo had ten times the energy Leia has. He barked more, shed more hair, and was a nipper. He was also such a rock during those months. One day I was feeling everything bad happening around me like a ton of bricks, so I start playing with him. He must have been four months old, and as we play he suddenly gets on me, grabs my nose, and bites —hard. I feel blood gushing out, and I am furious. I of course do not strike him, but I immediately get up and scold him. Wait, no, that’s not true — I scream at him. He looks at me absolutely terrified, knows he did a bad thing. I storm off and lock myself into the bedroom and sit on the bed, calming myself down. Five minutes later I hear the scratches on the door –“Daddyyyy… I’m sorryyyyy…”

I come out and he is so thrilled, like he hasn’t seen me in a while. But I say one “NO!” and he sits back. I felt miserable, so miserable. I just walked to the couch, sat down, started to sob and weep. I even slid down, bawling, covering my eyes and mouth lest the neighbors got concerned. And then I felt Baloo on my lap. He poked my hands off, and started licking my tears. Then he didn’t say a word, just curled up in my lap, and was just… there for me. And I felt better.

That’s what dogs do. And I think any dog owner will agree (not to mention science). Having a dog is having your very own smile dispenser right there. Because even if they do a mess, they have these faces that beg you not to get mad at them –and they succeed. They are the purest form of love and joy you can imagine. They actively seek you out to play or just cuddle. There’s always that old story that says that if you lock up a child and a dog in the trunk of a car, it will be the dog who will be overjoyed to see you when you open the trunk. And I believe in this quote (wrongly attributed to actor Bill Murray, but the man still has a very touching dog story):

I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.

As I write this, Leia is just sitting at my feet. She occasionally looks up at me, raises her little paw so I pay more attention to her. She’s been up with us since 4 am, in a very relaxed mood. She likes to get in bed with us, cuddle, and then go for a walk. She loves her toys, especially the squeaky ones. And she loves us. Even D., who is not known for her gentle touch. But Leia will actively look for her to play. Loves to wake her up to school. She’s a companion, she’s a friend, she’s another daughter. She’s our dog, and I am so blessed to have her in my life.

This is one of our favorite things to do.

You will find it all around you

Photo by stefano stacchini on Unsplash

“Oh really? What do you write?”, Mic asked me, in that quiet rolling-thunder of a voice he has.

We’re sitting rolling silverware as we wait for the day to start. It’s my third week at the new job, and one of the biggest contrasts is that I’m no longer the oldest server on staff. Heck, I’ve been demoted to third. I have the feeling Mic is the new champion, with his cool lock of white hair (he loves that I call me, him, and Allen, nine years my senior, the Silver Squad).

We’ve been making small talk for a while, and he tells me he’s thankful he doesn’t worry about money anymore, that he takes “what the Universe sends me”. I tell him I wish I could be like that, that it’s one of the reasons I want to go back to working nights (more money), and also that I contribute to a news site as a journalist, and that I want to continue writing.

“Short stories, mostly”, I answer, sheepishly, not even bothering to add the “I hope to publish a book this year” part that I’ve been saying for the past three years.

“Oh nice. I’m a playwright myself”, he says. “I had a piece of mine open in Broadway once”.

And immediately, Mic is 47% more interesting. And I am once again struck by the contrast of the people I am encountering in this job. The general manager used to be a theater actor as well, and is a trained tap dancer, whose heroes are Sammy Davis, Jr., and Gregory Hines (and he once told me got to dance in front of Hines himself). One of the hostesses quit because she’s going back to art school, and showed me some of her amazing drawings. And now Mic just tells me he’s a playwright. And got to narrate a short film that got played in theaters (you can watch it here). And when he was a young theater actor he auditioned in front of… Neil Simon?!

“I was doing my part, and all of a sudden I hear him start talking”, Mic told me. “So I assume that’s it, I didn’t get it. So I say thank you very much, and I start getting off the stage. But Neil says ‘Hey kid, where are you going?’ And he tells me to keep going. Then there was this silence, and again I go thank you very much, and he goes, ‘What is it with this kid? Where are you going?’ He did see something, and he called me back five times, even gave me some direction. I didn’t end up getting the part, but can you imagine the honor?”

Can I imagine touching the hem of Jesus’ robe and then walking away? Hmm, can’t say I have, brother.

Mic lives with his wife of several years in a mobile home which is going through a bathroom renovation. (This is the type of home you can lift into a flatbed and move somewhere else.) From what he describes, it’s a simple life, and he seems pretty content. You would never guess he auditioned and nearly got to work with one of theater’s greatest playwrights. I didn’t ask him how he wounded up as a server again –shouldn’t it be the other way around, as in, you’re a server wanting to be a playwright, a la Jonathan Larsen?– but I didn’t need to. The stories are all different, but one thing remains: sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you catch it as best you can. And it throws different curves to different people.

Late that same day, another server, Kierra, told me this weird, wonderful thing that had happened to her. Her family was in line at Walmart to pay for a 40-inch TV that she had got for her young son. They had saved for a while to get it, and it had been on sale for a couple of hundred dollars. A woman behind them, in nurse scrubs, noticed it and asked if it had been on sale. Yes it had been, they said. “Would you mind if I go in front of you?”, she asked then. They thought it was weird, bit she had only one item, so they let her. And they were absolutely floored when the lady told the cashier, “I would like to pay for their purchases, please”.

Of course Kierra’s family couldn’t believe it, and tried to say it was OK, no need, but she insisted. “I’ve just had a miracle happen to me at the hospital, and I intend to spread the joy”, she said. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Kierra told me she’s trying to locate her so they could at least send her flowers, but I’m sure the lady doesn’t need them.

I find these stories so encouraging. They make me think that good surrounds me even when lousy things happen. It’s just a reminder that good and bad are constantly present, and night always turns into day. Yes, I’m going through some very hard times right now, but I know they will end. And I have learned valuable lessons in this hard period, and I have traced a clear objective. It just tells me that I have to get up and start doing the things that make me feel good, that will lead me towards good, and not feel sorry for myself.

Thanks Mic and Kierra for inspiring me to write this. And to keep on writing.

Tell Elsa she’s on in five

Syahmir, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Among the hundreds of t-shirts I own, I have two (and counting) that make fun of the adult life. My newest favorite shows a one-star review to “adulting”, with the mandatory “would not recommend”. And it’s become almost a mantra. Except when I can’t ignore it.

Do we go over again how hard this year has been? Nah, why would be. Heck, just by writing those words I’m risking to alienate most of you fine readers. So let’s just cap off and say, the last month has been kind of hard. Business has slowed down in the restaurant, and people have gotten cheap. Cheap-er, I should say, because Black Friday sapped their money like a lamprey on a salmon’s vein. So money has been tight in the house, like most Decembers. Add the stress that I talked about in my last post, and well, Holiday cheer is not abundant in Casa Rodriguez.

The solution would make my t-shirts cry: a little bit of “adulting”.

If there is one thing with which I have had problems, it’s letting go. Like any good man, I wear clothes till they either break or can’t be folded, or are coming apart like ancient papyrus exposed to the sun. That especially applies to things that entertain me or educate me. And magazines are a big part of that. I have always been a magazine reader, and still am. It’s a reason why my Pocket account is overrun with online magazine articles that I swear I’m going to get to any moment now. (A quick check into my account reveals that the oldest article I saved that i can still read is from 2012, thank you.)

So today I sat down and canceled my only two magazine subscriptions, Wired and National Geographic. They were not that expensive, and the NatGeo was digital only, but I haven’t read any issue of either magazine in detail since I started the subscription. It was money not well invested if I didn’t consume them in their entirety. So I finally grew up and hit “Cancel Subscription”.

I’m not gonna lie –it hurt. I felt like it was denying myself of the pleasure of knowledge, of reading excellent writing, of getting my brain challenged.

And then I got a ping on my phone. “Congratulations! You have paid back 14% of your debt!”

Fourteen percent? Doesn’t seem much. But hey, it means I’m 14% closer to having that debt off my back. It also means I haven’t missed a single payment. It also means I have treated this debt with the seriousness of… wait for it… an adult.

We always put ourselves under so much pressure. We need to be more productive, we fight against FOMO, we have to have better things, bigger things, shinier things. But why? To use a self-help cliché, nobody’s last words were ever “I wish I had worked harder”. Because, it turns out, we worked too hard.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t, as the late artist Amy Krouse Rosenthal once tweeted, pay attention to what we pay attention to. Life is all about that juggling act, and you have to pay attention to all those balls in the air. Your job, your family, your hobbies, your likes, your loves, your hates. They all have to stay up, somehow… until you realize that there’s another ball coming. Then you realize, with a little anguish, that you either try to juggle them all, going beyond your limits, and risk dropping them all… or you choose which one to let go.

That doesn’t mean that, down the line, you’ll get better and be able to juggle a massive amount of balls in the air. But that doesn’t come all at once. It comes after a lot of practice and patience. Of careful planning on when you’re going to practice. On how you’ll challenge yourself to do tricks, look more graceful.

But it all comes down to learning when to let go.

Goodbye, my beloved magazines. I’ll see you again down the road. (And in the meantime, if I want a single issue, there’s always Zinio.)

Get up, stand up

Image from the poster for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tick, rick… BOOM!. Image source: Netflix

I’ve just finished watching tick, tick…BOOM!, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature film directorial debut, his adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s autobiographical play of the same name. In case you’re not a theater geek, Larson also wrote the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Rent, the musical that changed musicals forever. The movie is a joy to watch in spite of its general sadness –Larson died of an aneurysm the day Rent had its first off-Broadway preview performance– especially thanks to Andrew Garfield’s amazing performance. Lin-Manuel continues to own my heart one way or another.

But I just wanted to get off the couch and scream.

It’s been a rough couple of months. I don’t make it all public because it’s not all mine to share, but it’s been there. Y. has been in hell at work; she keeps feeling exploited, even if everyone around her, including the top brass, say (rightfully so) how incredible her work is. D. had a horrible couple of months too; we had to get her out of her school and into a new one due to an… incident. So a lack of routine and a growth of stress added to that untreatable condition that is tweenhood and she became… let’s just say, more difficult than usual.

Again, I wanted to scream. Every day. Many days, I did.

And yours truly? Oh I’ve been peachie. Can’t you tell? No, see, work hasn’t sucked at all, the crowds have been great, so generous. Venezuela is bouncing back, my parents are doing just fine. My nephews? Gorgeous little twins? About to turn seven, see them every day. And what my ladies are going through? Nah, doesn’t get to me at all, they’re fine. They’re fine, I tell you. Oh and yes, I have this incurable sarcasm dripping out of my mouth.

Can I scream now?

As you can probably tell, dear readers, the movie, Jonathan’s story, hit quite a few chords with me. The movie takes place in the weeks before his 30th birthday, where he is freaking out about not leaving any kind of mark behind (“Stephen Sondheim opened his first play on Broadway when he was 27!”). In the process, he estranges himself from his girlfriend, his best friend, his life; it all centers on his art. He feels time is running out when technically he had all the time in the world, even during the worst of the AIDS pandemic in New York City in the 90’s, which is saying quite something. And yet he never got to see all that he did accomplish, how he is now kind of a legend, a bright flame that burned the quickest, taken away way too soon. And did I mention he was a waiter? Why would I freak out, huh? I know, right? Right?

I remember freaking out when 50 was ready to come knocking. Heck, I thought by the time I was 30 I’d have a wife and kids. I start every year saying “this is the one, we got this, that book will come out”, or “we’ll do the podcast”, or… anything. But time keeps passing by. I don’t manage to sit at this laptop and put the work in. Or churn out the words on a notebook. And it’s not like I don’t want to. It’s just that there’s always… something. Have to go to work. Have to cook lunch. Have to walk Leia (doesn’t matter if it’s the first thing I do in the morning). Have to wait. Have to sit. Have to sleep. Have to. Have to. Have to.

And not enough things I want to.

I want to take Y. to a nice dinner, or take her to a nice getaway. I want to have a better relationship with D., and help her achieve anything she wants. I want time to sit and write every single day. I want to think I can have a financial future where I can buy my own car next year, and help get ourselves a decent house after that (or before). I want to think that I can submit at least one –ONE– story to a publication. Never mind it getting accepted, which would be amazing, just the actual submission would be a triumph. And above all I want to stop thinking that I’m too old. F**k too old. Stephanie Gangi wrote her first novel when she was 55, and it got published. (Yes, I didn’t know who she was till I read this, but it was inspiring nonetheless.) I want to drink the book I’m reading for my bookclub and let it sink in my brain, because it should tell me that I’m not too old.

In Range: Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World, David Epstein argues the point that you don’t need laser focus on one thing to succeed in whatever you want. In fact, in whatever field you want, it’s the ones that diversify their interest that tend to succeed more. Did you know that tennis legend Roger Federer started out not caring for tennis at all –even having a tennis instructor for a mother. I’ll just let you watch Epstein’s TED talk and then I’ll end my rant.

Life is hard. Period. But we don’t need to make it harder. We need discipline, yes, but we need balance so much more. I have been on the “life is hard” part of my life too long now, as far as this absolute beast of a year goes. Enough, man. Enough.

Yes, it’s not the first time I’ve gotten up and written about writing more and getting my shit together and so on and so on. But life can end tomorrow, as poor Jonathan found out. I have to remind myself that life can also… start tomorrow. Heck, here’s a crazy idea…

What if life… starts right now?

I am an unabashed Lin-Manuel Miranda fan. The man exudes such a warmth as a person, but he also has a creativity without bounds. He has had an insane year: besides tick, tick… Boom!, he did voicework for the wonderful, underrated animated movie Vivo, and he composed the songs for the new animated movie Encanto. And if that wasn’t enough, he managed to show up on one of my favorite podcasts, the storytelling show The Moth.

“Your turn”

Back in Venezuela, there were a number of epidemics that had people trembling like children fearing the Boogeyman. First it was dengue fever, which I’m pretty sure I caught during the first days of 2012; then it was chikungunya, which I avoided. Yellow fever wanted to make an appearance, as well as bird flu, but they remained a scare and nothing else. I was always careful, always took care of me and my own.

And then fucking COVID-19 came and hit in the most powerful country in the world, and here I am.

I have complained before about what I’ve seen as the entitlement of the average American, considering how they treat their servers (yes, I’m biased, but that doesn’t make it less true). Now I have more reason for resentment, I’m afraid. I don’t think I’ll suffer any fool any longer. And that’s what I’ve most hated about this last week: the dark place in my head into which I’ve crawled. It has made me see and feel things that I’d rather had stayed down.

I feel as if I have no friends. And it brings back feelings that I have been, in general, a terrible friend. A single friend from high school years, and it’s more because she sought me out. My best friend from my first job, who resents me still from all the wrong I put on her. My best friend of 30 years, living an ocean away. My few male friends, all in other countries. None of them ask for me, write to see how I am, and neither do I. I am a single rock islet in the vastness of the ocean. No seen connections to any other land mass. Thank God for my wife and step daughter. And even there I know I have to work on improvements.

This will pass, I’m sure. But I need help. I have plans. And I do not want to be serving idiots any more.

Three

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

I woke up around seven that morning. I think I remember my flight was scheduled to leave around four, which meant I had to be at the airport around two o’clock. My dad picked me up at my aunt’s house, the place I called home for some five years after my divorce, and I kissed her goodbye. Her voice cracked as she hugged me, and I still feel a little guilt from leaving her; I never was super chatty with her, or spend any significant amount of time with her, this woman who was like a second mom to me. She seemed so frail… But I resisted.

It was the shortest breakfast ever. Then my dad, brother and sister in law came with me to the airport. And I hugged my mom, as her voice started cracking. I did not want to cry, not yet, but I have always been a mama’s boy. I felt a little lump as she blessed me, but I smiled and kissed her in the forehead.

KEEP READING

I did not miss this

“You really need to take a long, hard look at yourself, America”. Source

We fought. OK, we can call it a passionate argument, but that’s just one level below a fight. I’m not telling you who, because this is a person close to me, someone with whom in the many years we’ve related we’ve never had anything but a brief exchange of harsh words that was immediately forgotten. And I don’t want their politics or any of their positions in life known after this. But we got to a new, ugly place yesterday.

And it was over politics.

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Danger: angry post

Wolverine by Carlos Ramos for Wolverine: Civil War (2006). Copyright Marvel Comics

I read the first post I wrote on this blog the other day, fascinated by how things have changed back then. My tone was wistful, hopeful, and I remember how scared I truly was to start a new life. I feel like Past me was so innocent, naïve, even. Did I really know how hard it all would be? Was I aware of how much I truly would have to go through to get what I want –and how much trials I would still have to endure?

Of course, I understand that it is the frustration that is speaking. We are infinitely luckier than most. We still have a roof over our heads, dozens of caring people, good health. Which in this endless punching bag of a year is a true blessing.

Oh, but then this endless punching bag of a year happened.

It seems wrong, almost selfish, to complain about the pandemic when over 200,000 Americans and a million people worldwide have died. Like I said, in our house, there hasn’t been so much as a sneeze. We have taken every precaution possible because Y. is immuno-compromised: since she had her gastric bypass, her iron has dropped dramatically and that affects her immune system. Also D. goes to a very small private school where there is minimum contact between the (only ten) students. And I touch no one until I take a shower immediately after I get home.

But, oh, this administration… God DAMN it.

I never liked Trump. Never. Yes, I laughed when I saw the SNL skits and the cameos in movies, but never saw The Apprentice. And when I heard him speak as a politician for the first time –that whole “birther” thing– I only heard an American Hugo Chávez. And I’m certainly not the only one, no matter how different their backgrounds are or how they approach certain policies. Chávez was a loud-mouthed populist who saw his opponents as enemies and refused to accept any criticism, plus demanding nothing but loyalty from his followers. Sound familiar? It makes me sick to my stomach that most Venezuelans here in Florida think he is the next coming of Christ; we have learned nothing of the strongmen in our lives, since we are quick to support another one. Yes, Obama did very little for Venezuela, something I will never forgive him, as much as I admire him, but I refuse to endorse a man like Trump for anything.

And now back to the pandemic. The mismanagement the Trump administration has had for the COVID-19 pandemic is a humanitarian catastrophe. Downplaying from the beginning as he himself admitted to journalist Bob Woodward (and by the way, what the actual f*ck, Bob?). Contradicting every expert over and over again. The insane conspiracy theories and even insaner “solutions” that has literally gotten people killed.

And now it begins to touch us in very real and personal ways.

Y. has been on furlough since April 15. I don’t know whether to put here where she works since I don’t recall saying it here, and I don’t know how comfortable she would be if I did. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t mind, but still. In any case, the company –a BIG company– just announced it had no choice but to start laying off people. It’s nothing new, but it’s a direct consequence of the pandemic and the absolute shitshow both the federal and Florida government have made in handling the crisis (Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, have you lost your goddamn mind?!). We are worse than freaking Mongolia. And don’t get me started on New Zealand.

And don’t give the spiel about “oh but that’s a smaller country”. NO. I will not have it. Mongolia listened to the experts, acted quickly, acted responsibly, and as of today the maximum cases it had was 56. Right now? ZERO. As in none. And how are we doing, in the meantime? Close to 37,000 new ones.

I hate it. I hate the whole goddamn thing. And there’s nothing I can do about it except… keep on trucking. Oh and of course I’m voting. Oh hell yes I’m voting.

What I hate is that once again, I’m voting for the lesser of two evils. Because I’ll be damned if I vote for Trump, but I see Biden with a deep distrust. yes, he is the civil face against Trump’s barely-hidden bullying. But he seems so out of it, so feeble. Is that why they picked a relatively younger woman –albeit an extremely prepared, extremely charismatic one– as his running mate? In the off chance he’ll be unable to end his term and she’ll take over? We should be so lucky.

It has been a shitty year. And I feel it’ll get worse before it gets better. But hey, this is where I turn to the Stoics. I started following the philosophy some four years ago, maybe more, and I discovered the writings of Ryan Holiday and the Daily Stoic site, where they send an email every day with teachings from Stoicism for daily life. As I paused, seething, writing this, I found one from five days ago, titled “It’s Ok To Get Mad, Just Don’t Be Angry”. It ends:

Being mad is a reaction. Anger is a state of mind. One is outside our control. The other is something we choose—a weakness we give into and accept. (…) This moment, just like a scary moment, requires all our resources. We cannot afford to give into anger, just as we cannot afford to give into fear. No, we need to be alert. Aware. Rational. In control of ourselves. So we can survive. So we can learn. So we can enjoy happiness in the present moment. So we can make sure this never happens again.

Daily Stoic, September 25, 2020. Links from original article.

“Anger is a state of mind”. So true. We can’t chose to be angry all the time. It would stain our eyes with hatred, block us from enjoying what good things we have. The fact that we are still alive, breathing, healthy, means that we still have the means to fight and prepare for another day. And that’s what we’re doing: getting ready for the worst outcome, to make the best of it.

But getting mad? Oh that’s natural. And that’s why I write. So I can let it out and keep on truckin’.

Oh, 2020, you…

Stress_Work_GettyImages

Eight months. Can you even list everything that has happened in these eight months, since I last added letters to this piece of Internet real estate? I know I could, but it would drain me, for sure.

I’ve seen my favorite band “live”, in a unique setting to say the least. I’ve lost a pet, to circumstances I will not make public for my own reasons. I have fought with people very close to me for the death of George Floyd and the state of racism in this country (oh believe me there will be a post on the subject). I have dreaded for my own health, for Y.’s, for D.’s, for my parent’s back home.

Let’s just say, it hasn’t been boring.

And no, I haven’t truly been able to take this extra free time to hone in on what I’ve always wanted to do. I have a used guitar, gifted to me by my landlord, still waiting to be repaired. My microphone lies in wait for the podcast I said I would begin but am yet to do so. And well, look at the last post. (You could also check my blogs in Spanish if you would like, though.)

I’ve read so many posts about the incapacity to create. “Hey, it’s ok, you’re under stress”. “Don’t feel forced to be creative or productive”. And I get it. The name of the game is uncertainty. Y. has been on furlough sine mid-April. I went back to work in early May. It was good for a while but now it’s slowing down. And there are car payments. And insurance. I pay the rent and utilities and entertainment, but there’s always a but.

So what to do?

I sit down and write.

I took up journaling again, for the gazillionth time. And I actually kept it up. It was re-inspired by my finding of David Sedaris’ visual diaries, but also by the passing of my uncle, a poet of some importance back home in Venezuela. I started collecting Funko! figurines a little seriously, and it’s turned into a hobby for Y., since she personalizes them for customers.

We’ve been hanging in there. But I kinda need a breakthrough. Like, yesterday. Say, a new job, or a winning lottery ticket, or a book deal. Either one would be nice.

If you’re a subscriber, thank you for not deleting me. I’ll be back in force, I promise. Mostly because I need  this. I need to be creating. Be it origami, drawing, writing, doodling or, yes, podcasting. It’s going to be a thing. I hate that I have chosen to let survival dominate over living. Yes, I cannot, as an adult and family man, neglect any of my responsibilities, be it my significant other, the child we are raising together, or the wholeness of my home; but I also cannot, as a creative individual, suppress my urge to make. Time will be found, and balance will be struck. And this blog will remain alive.

“I don’t forget the old year…”

Janus, the Roman god of doors.

The opening line is from a 1963 record by Mexican singer Tony Camargo, now turned into a staple of Latin American New Year celebrations. It’s a fun, upbeat song, where Camargo thanks the old year that’s ready to leave, like “a goat, a black donkey, a white mare, and good mother-in-law”. (Hey, I said upbeat, not logical.)

And last night, it was the first time I had to sing it with a stranger –a fun stranger, no doubt; that’s what people from Zulia are by default– and not with my family. To be honest, the moment I became part of the serving world, especially in the “happiest city in the world”, I should have expected it. Didn’t make it especially easy, though.

But the first few minutes of New Year’s Day, 2020, did make me see many things I am growing to appreciate more and more as my 50th birthday approaches (and we won’t mention that again till 2021, mmmkay?). I hope they will help me focus more on what I want to achieve.

Upon learning I would not be home at midnight, I raged. Not as I used to when younger –not that I’d like to go back to those days, mind you– but many people I work with heard me curse for the first time. Lauren, my manager, offered me a festive hat to wear and I think she was shocked when I declined to wear it, since she has only seen my fun-loving side. But as I got into my duties, I reflected on the Stoics, a philosophy I had very much embraced in 2019 (check out Daily Stoic if you’re interested). We have no control over the things around us; we can only control how we react to them. So I shuffled over to the gloom corner, the part of the restaurant where the servers mope their destiny, and shared this wisdom. Once the troops were rallied, I donned my “Happy 2020” hat and got on with it.

As midnight approached and guests became more and more pumped up, a funny thing happened: my countrymen began to appear. First it was a whole family: eleven year old son, seventeen year old daughter, mom and dad. Not that much English, but a whole lot of Caracas. Then it was a large, rowdy group: two sisters from Zulia, one married to a Puertorrican, another to an American. (“They have triumphed!”, according to one of our comedians.) They had a twenty-something daughter that very drunkenly said “You shouldn’t be working tonight!” (Yes, but hey, it is what it is.) And finally, a man, his brother, his wife and one-year-old daughter. Six months in the country, and obviously feeling homesick, all of them. I consoled them as best I could. Mostly because I didn’t feel that lonely, having a few of my people close by. Lucky indeed.

And finally… At around 12:45, I walked by the door. We had closed at ten past midnight. I saw two figures walking up to the door, and I was ready to call them off, perhaps more harshly than I expected. And that’s when I saw Y. and D., D. with tears in her eyes. They had come to say “Happy New Year”. I opened the door, stepped out and embraced them long and hard. D. asked tearfully, “Why didn’t you come?” I explained that I was really busy, and I still was, but I was overjoyed that she would come and see her Bird Daddy with Mommy. And I truly was, because I knew how big this moment was: back home, along with Y.’s best friend, her wife, son, dog and kitten, D.’s father, his new wife and ten-month old baby were also home. And yet, here she was, hugging me and saying Happy New Year.

This is how I expect to embrace the coming year, and hopefully the coming life I have in me. Don’t lose sight of the big things, no matter how small the package they come in. Don’t let anger guide your steps. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve. And always know that you are being a good man, with a lovely woman and child, however difficult she may be, that love you unconditionally.

Happy New Year, everyone, Here’s to twelve more months of reflections.