If you’re reading this, it means I’m already alive.
Two nights ago, I was in a cab with a friend of my friend. We were the last few remnants of a party in Brooklyn, the second party I attended that night. Upon arriving, I warned my friends that I was craving a drink and, if necessary, to prevent me from having one. A proper one, mind you, one with alcohol in it.
My friend, and host, of the previous party was kind enough to buy me a six pack of non-alcoholic Heineken. I accidentally left it at her place after I took leave with another pal of mine, a little while after they brought out a cake for me. We walked out with two women, one of whom was dealing with the effects of the type of drink I was desperately craving. Her cab rolled up, I got the door for her.
“Get back safe, pleasure meeting you.”
My friend hailed the other woman a cab, she reached out to me for his phone number. Mazel tov, and Happy Valentine’s to them both.
I got to the other party around midnight, my friends live in Bushwick. I used to live in Bushwick, before I realized I lived in Bushwick. As usual, the place was packed with a mix of Boston University graduates and local comedians. All but 1 of the 4 who reside there are comedians, a statistic that I’m sure is not odd in their neck of the woods. I fell into a conversation with a friend of mine, we started with Stephen Sondheim and ended with a discussion on the modern condition of the male sex.
Our prognosis? Fatal.
She expressed what seemed like a mix of annoyance and concern that her male friends seem to rely on her for any sort of inter-personal or emotional advice. Her specific observation was that men seem incapable of having these conversations with other men, and that men, in general, have issues being “open.”
I’ve been a party to this particular discussion many times, though I’m by no means absolved from the criticism. I have found the women in my life to be some of the most caring and understanding individuals I’ve been fortunate enough to know, regardless of the type of relationship. That being said, I am also able to have personal conversations with male friends of mine, though I would be lying if I claimed that the usual male tendencies did not also interfere.
Men are raised to bury feelings, to view introspection or outside help as a form of weakness. We are raised to believe that we are each an island, a wholly independent individual who provides for others, but is entirely self-sustaining.
This, of course, is bullshit.
That being said, I still fall into the trap of believing it from time to time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever phrased it like this before, but do you know why I think men rely on women for those particular problems? Because they view them as weaknesses, and they view women as experts on weakness.”
There might have been a time in my life when I believed that myself, but now I’ve come to realize that women are infinitely stronger than men. After all, they’re the ones who have to deal with us.
She agreed with my theory, as did her friend who occupied the chair beside her. We also discussed the difficulty in which our parent’s generation has had in regard to transgender and non-binary related issues, namely the use of pronouns. My friend expressed her frustration at her parent’s refusal to address her friend by their preferred pronouns, even after she had asked them to do so multiple times.
“Tell your dad it’s like calling Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay. You know what would happen if you called him Clay? He’d kick your ass.”
This analogy does well to highlight my own predicament — I am a child of the 20th Century, trapped in the 21st. For Christ’s sake, I was born in a different millennium. Anyone who knows me can attest to this, it’s not just a matter of my taste in music or my attire. Hell, I grunt any time I get out of bed or stand up. I have the body of a 90 year old.
Yet, I only turn 25 this morning. This means nothing more than my body has been present on a rock that spins around a giant ball of gas, and that it has done so a total of 25 times. 25 is a numerical value that is composed of symbols created in Arabia. Arabia is where the religion of Islam was founded. Muhammad Ali was a believer of this religion, he was a Muslim.
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, changed his name following his conversion. He said this to Ernie Terrell, a fellow boxer who refused to call him Muhammad Ali, while dominating him in a match in 1967:
“What’s my name?”
— Muhammad Ali
Even though I feel out of place in the modern world, I do not have difficulty understanding what seems to me a very simple concept — respect people, and refer to them as they would prefer to be referred to. The world still manages to shock me with its cruelty, people still manage to surprise me with their contempt of their fellow man. I know none of us asked to be here, but we’re stuck with each other for a while. If all things remain relatively sturdy, you’re stuck with me for around 3 more quarter centuries.
That’s assuming I don’t end up buried in an unmarked grave in Ukraine, or any other scenario that may arise due to mankind’s aforementioned cruelty.
Did you know that the average age of a soldier in World War Two was 26? One more year to go.
“Life is no way to treat an animal.”
— Kilgore Trout
I digress, and I age.
I was contemplating crashing in Bushwick, it was about to be 4 AM, but I wasn’t exactly tired. I asked her where she lived.
She shot down my suggestion of the subway and opted to call a cab instead. It had just started to snow but the cars parked alongside the street were already blanketed. I asked her how she knew my friends, she was from the comedian half of the party. I told her that I knew her friend, and my former roommate, from my time visiting another friend in Ireland. Once the exposition was out of the way, we ended up discussing the issues that the upcoming generation will likely face due to their complete submersion in social media.
“I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite, but these kids aren’t going to have a grasp on more natural forms of socialization.”
What I meant by that was that the next generation will have spent their entire lives immersed in an alternate world that is heavily shaped by “influencers,” corporate interests, and less-than-ethical business practices that provide endless floods of dopamine at a frighteningly rapid pace.
Perhaps, if I was actually living in the 20th century, I would be saying the same thing about radio and television.
“If I wanted the President to speak in my house I would’ve invited him over!”
I suppose I shouldn’t complain as much as I do about our modern times. “Fellow Travelers” such as myself often found themselves hauled in front of Congress, thrown in jail, or just plain shot for believing in the concept of mutual respect back in the day. Though, to be fair, things aren’t looking too smooth on that end currently either.
“Mr. Rice, are you now, or have you ever been, a believer in mutual respect?”
“I’d like to plead the 5th.”
A Luddite is someone opposed to new technology. The term originates from a group of English textile workers who fought against the introduction of machinery into the textile industry, even going as far as destroying said machines. They were not opposed to the concept of new technology itself, they were simply defending the value of their labor. The art of textile making was a learned trade, a trade that furnished its practitioner with a steady line of work and good pay. The introduction of machines made their labor worth less, and the titans of industry were excited to employ these men for far less than their previous rate of pay.
I am a Luddite as well, but only regarding technology that is so frighteningly effective at manipulating millions. I wholeheartedly welcome technology that makes most forms of labor obsolete — I’d much prefer to live like the Jetsons, rather than the Flintstones (Another reference confirming my status as a living, breathing relic).
I realize I tend to rant, this was supposed to be a piece about my birthday.
The talk was a perfect cap to the night, I was starved for good conversation. The car pulled up to her place, the snowfall was getting worse by the second.
“Is this your place?”
“Yep, it was great meeting you! Are you going to be ok getting home?”
“No question, I’m on the wagon — sober.”
“Ah, you really are old-fashioned, huh?”
“Wouldn’t being off the wagon be more old-fashioned?”
“Well, I guess I meant before alcohol was invented.”
I couldn’t help but sharing one of my favorite booze-related factoids.
“You know how old booze is? Do you know what ‘whiskey’ means? It literally meant ‘water’ or ‘water of life’ in Irish.”
“Yes, I learned that at the Whiskey Museum in Dublin.”
We exchanged our farewells, I began my walk home through the snow. She lived at 125th Street, I live at 142nd. The snow was heavy, much heavier than I had expected. I opted to leave my beanie home before I left for the first party — the cost of being an optimist. Harlem was deserted, sans two men who stood outside a bar. I glanced at it as I passed, I felt a very real urge to take a seat at the bar, drink the water of life.
I checked my watch — 4 AM.
Saved by the bell.
The trek continued, my hair was in the process of forming a mini igloo. I passed by Hamilton Grange, a preserved property of the first Secretary of the Treasury and current Broadway muse. I noticed that the gate was open, the property appeared shockingly vulnerable. No thoughts of vandalism came to mind, I was only tempted to brush the snow off of the informational plaques and learn some more about the man. Thankfully, my body’s instinct to survive outmatched my intellectual curiosity. I made it home shortly afterward.
I still wasn’t tired, but I was beginning to feel a bit loopy. I decided this was the opportune time to write. Here’s a snippet of what I managed:
“My father warned me about this. ‘Remember this time, before you have to work, before you have any real responsibilities. Before you grow up.’”
I didn’t listen.
I told friends at my last proper birthday party, back in the before times, “You can wish me happy birthday once. After that, I don’t want to hear it.”
I wanted a night of celebrating my friends and the joy that comes from being with them. Another revolution around the sun is old hat — I’ve seen every inch of that ball of gas 25 times now.
This revolution, I intend to be a better friend, a better son, a better brother, a better person. Don’t hold me to it.
To those in my life who have somehow managed to put up with a relic for 25 years, thank you. I have to commend anyone with that kind of patience, I don’t believe I am of the same caliber.
Maybe I should be a bit less cynical this year? Perhaps, but it’s tough when, after 25 years of fact finding, I’m a firm believer of that old adage — “There is nothing new under the sun.”
That’s from the Bible, a book which has been around the sun more than 2000 times now.
Here’s to another 75, with much love and hope,
Dylan Gerard Rice