When Your Child Realizes How Cruel The World Can Be

Hours before my daughter’s 10th birthday I committed murder.

Call me heartless, call me a bastard but since I don’t own a gun or crossbow–I did it with a hammer.

Trust me, I didn’t want to do it. But, as life teaches, sometimes you have to do things you never thought you would do.

I did it minutes before midnight, when I assume most murders are committed.

I did it in the shadows behind my house, near the trashcans. So the body could be easily disposed.

Before dinner, Haley was eyeing the evening news. She stood petrified before the television, like a child summoned to the blackboard trying to solve some hand-scratched equation in front of the entire class.

Haley is coming into her own now, realizing that the vague, glittery conceptions she once held of the world, a world of painted in rainbows, frolicked by unicorns is tragically wrong.

On this given night, a crazy man plowed a van through a crowd of innocent people in Germany.  A deranged woman shot four people at the YouTube headquarters in San Francisco. And President Trump postured behind a podium, promised to build a wall, promised harsh consequences for any uninvited guest who mouses through cracks of our star-spangled foundation.

Haley frowns at the television. Her little fists tighten to little knots. She looks at me, worried, like she wants to ask big, serious questions–Why are so adults narrow-minded? So bitter? So destructive? What, in God’s rainbowed heaven, is fucking wrong with adults?

Later that night I set traps and went for a beer.

With my elbows on the bar, I received the following text from my wife:

“He’s slowly dying. There’s blood everywhere. He’s still making noises.”

The next day morning, as I drove with Haley tucked in the backseat, we held a conversation:

“Dad, last night, you know how the mouse was still alive in the trap…”

“Yes.”

“…how it was squeaking…”

“I know.”

“… well, did you kill it?”

A child’s youth passes uncomfortably fast for a parent.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at my daughter, like I’m keeping a secret from her. I realize she toes the most difficult years of her life. I know she’ll soon be run off her feet by cruelty– the human cruelty that is the star of the nightly news.

The cruelty that a hammer and I are capable of.

“Yes, Haley. I killed the mouse.”

“Why? He was just a little mouse.”

I eyed Haley through the rear-view mirror. She turned away from me, brought her knees up to her chest and looked beyond her window to find a world scrubbed of glitter, void of unicorns and fanged with adults poised to do monstrous things.

Be well,

Jay

The Air Max 90 (Or The First Time I Learned About Envy)

This week’s publication is dedicated to my friend and fellow writer Deb Dauer, who recently passed away from complications caused by ALS. 

Although my time with Deb was brief, she taught me to live, to write with courage and spirit and that true happiness can only be found in the connections you make. 

Thank you and be well my friend. 

What I’ve found that it is connections with other people that really make me happy. And in turn time and experiences with them.—Deb Dauer 


At 10 years old I learned about envy.

It was 1990 and Nike had just released the Air Max 90 sneaker.

To the uniformed catholic school boys, sporting navy blue slacks, yellow dress shirts, navy blue ties all accented with black pleather shoes, which were sold exclusively at a local mom-and-pop shoe store that resembled a shoe museum rather then a working shoe store, fashion-wise—gym class was a big deal.

A pre-adolescent parade of parent-bought sneakers.

In a corner of the gym, a gym which was actually an oversized classroom,  stood a loose ring of cool boys— all wearing Air Max 90s.

They were fingering their soles, the soles with the little plastic window that might have been windows into their young souls because the boys were outwardly happy—laughing and smiling and worshiping the Made-in-China-Manna stitched with a Swoosh, that fell from Heaven and slid onto their feet.

Picture courtesy of soletheory.com

Across the gym/classroom I stood on my assigned red dot, alone, staring down at my  pedestrian sneakers.

I felt something sour inside. A sudden smallness. An inferiority.  A failure to appreciate what I had.

 It had nothing to do with running faster or jumping higher.

The Nike Air Max 90s were cool. And at 10 years old, I was learning the world was cruelly split into two— the cool and the uncool.

At 38, as a parent and writer I’m constantly comparing myself to others.

Which makes me feel like I’m in gym class all over again—standing outside the circle of well-laced people, hoping for inclusion.

Let me be clear—comparison is not a healthy practice. Comparison will always prevent you from discovering and maintaining lasting happiness.

I teach my children and my students that envy is a corrosive emotion. A cancer that will always lead to dissatisfaction which often trigger destructive behavior. Yet I’m guilty of envy, of comparisons.

I told you last week I meet a young woman who was an aspiring fitness blogger.

She had a defined blogging niche and a growing audience. She was 15 years younger than me, had been writing for only a few months and spoke with a confidence and coolness that I was envious of.

After she pulled from our conversation, waited at the bar for another Pinot Grigio, I couldn’t help but feeling like I was back standing on my red dot in gym class, looking down at my unbranded sneakers, feeling small again.

I know self-inflicted comparisons hurt. Yet this knowledge doesn’t stop me.

Like knowing too much tequila triggers  nuclear hangovers and liver disease and bad decisions yet still we fasten our sombrero, throw caution to the wind and drink more than we should.

A year later, in 1991, Nike released the Air Max 91. When my neighbor got the Air Max 91s, I bought his Air Max 90s for $20.

I remember how that night I went home and tried out my new/old shoes in the backyard.

The Air Maxs didn’t make me run faster or jump higher. I didn’t feel cooler or happier with them on my feet. It fact, I was uncomfortable. The shoes were a size too big and insoles were molded to the topography of my neighbor’s feet.

As a father and writing teacher, I want my children and students to be authentic and honest with themselves. Be affable to their dreams. Invest in their uniqueness and voice.

I want them to know no matter what products the world flexes on them, no matter the level of success their competition achieves, sustained happiness is purely a product of authenticity.

Now, like an adult, it’s my responsibility to heed my own advice.

Be well.

Jay

The Great American School Experience: Hide In The Closet, Stay Quiet, and Hope Not To Die

They were still bagging up bodies at Stoneman Douglas High School when my 9 year old daughter told me her plan.

“We would hide in the closet.”

“Really? That’s all?”

“Yes, teacher told us that if there is an intruder we are to hide in the closet and stay quiet.”

I didn’t tell her that that plan wouldn’t work. I didn’t tell her if an intruder powered into her school, the first place they would look would be in the closets. No matter how quiet she was.

I also didn’t tell her that, intruder, is too advanced of a word for a 4th grader.

Intruder is a 7th grade word saved for learning about Cesar, the Roman Empire and barbarian migration.

As a parent and a teacher myself, I go to work scared now.

Today, in America, students and teachers pack their lunches, zip their school bags, go to school and die. They’re shot stepping off the bus, eating their Peanut Butter & Jelly, spinning their locker dial, and hiding quietly in closets like they were told.

In April of 1999, when I was 19, I sat in my Pennsylvania living room, watching students sprint out the double-doors of Columbine High School, across the green Colorado grass as police officers stood behind trees with leveled shotguns.

I, like most of America, was naive then. We believed that the massacre at Columbine High School was an isolated incident. An aberration. Two angry boys who slipped through the metaphorical cracks and found an armory of guns.

We said prayers, held hands and vigils and went back to school shaken but confident a tragedy like Columbine would never happen again.

It couldn’t. This was America.

Original artwork by Haley Armstrong

On Tuesday morning a student entered my classroom and announced there was another school shooting–the 17th school shooting in the first 11 weeks of 2018.

“Mr. Armstrong, did you know America now averages 1.5 school shooting a week?”

The closet in my daughter’s classroom is a long, narrow closet in the back of the room where the students hang their coats on little hooks and place their lunch bags on wooden shelves.

The closet has two doorways framed in white yet both are without doors. There’s no furniture inside the closets to hide behind. No bulletproof vests hanging from those little hooks. No trapdoors that drop the fourth graders into an underground tunnel system that mazes through the earth and branches into lite hallways that leads each child safely back to their bedrooms, leaving the booted intruder locked and loaded in an empty closet.

“Can you believe that Mr. Armstrong? Another school shooting.”

My daughter’s name is Haley. Cindy and I picked out the name months before she was born.  There was no debating. No coin flips. Our daughter would be forever Haley. And that was that.

Cindy was in labor with Haley for 16 hours. At one point the doctor peeked over Cindy’s knees and remarked how she refuses come out, “as if she’s hiding.”

As if, even before she was born, she was preparing for life in the American school system.

I cleared my throat, “Do you know where the shooting happened?”

“Somewhere in Maryland I think.”

“You think?”

“I’m sure. It was in Maryland.”

These are hard moments. Every time I learn about another school shooting I recoil and shake my head as if to say this is sad. This is so fucking sad.

What happened to the great American school experience that so many of us knew and enjoyed?

The one where you went to school and lived. The one where you pledge allegiance to a flag that you believed would protect you.

With all these dead children in the news, sometimes I feel guilty thinking about my daughter sitting at her desk, alive.

Right now she’s in math class–her favorite class. The teacher calls attention and spins and writes a multiplication problem on the board and challenges the class to solve it in under 30 seconds.

Haley flashes a smile. A smile that’s missing teeth but is unmistakably hers.

She tucks her blonde hair behind her ears and lets her pencil work the problem in her notebook.

The sun slants through the classroom windows on a fine American morning.

It’s spring outside. And a pair of eager yellow daffodils have pushed through the mulch outside her classroom and sway in the cool breeze.

And inside the classroom it’s warm and encouraging and my daughter is smiling. My daughter is alive and learning.

The way the great American school experience should be–always and forever.

Be well,

Jay

Taking Notes: A Love Story

The following post is the first entry of the The February Project: Love and Marriage, a self-imposed month long writing project on love and marriage.

“After all the romance and celestial promises of the initial courtship, love becomes a lifetime of small moments that add up to make something enormous.” from Taking Notes: A Love Story


In a world of Nicholas Sparks it’s hard to write something original about love.

Love is a well-traveled topic. One, I’m sure, you’ve taken plenty of notes on.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is engraved your heart and scrolled among the stars.

Love is in air. Love is an open door. And, if you find the right station, love is a battlefield.

Anytime you write about love you ink a fine line between cliche’ and Nicholas Sparks. So, in my attempt to avoid such fate, the only thing I can offer is a secret love story about love. So secret that when my wife reads this, she will know it for the first time.

I’ve written about my health issues and personal shame and failure but writing about love is something I’ve avoided. For me, writing about love is a little embarrassing. A little too revealing.

And plus, how do I write about love in such an authentic yet impenetrable way that it’s not the subject of dissection, comparison and judgment?

Truth is– you can’t.

It’s simple emotional physics (which should’ve totally been a 90’s emo band name).

To love is to want. And to want is to have weakness. Therefore, you can’t open yourself to love without subjecting yourself to dissection, comparison and judgment.

I fell in love with a girl when I was 16.

The first time I saw her standing in the blue painted threshold of the doorway to her biology class I just knew, with an absolute bone-certainty that I would marry her one day.

And 10 years later I did.

Even though that story is absolutely true, I understand you’re skepticism. And I don’t blame you.  It seems too easy and yet, at the same time, too impossible. Too Nicholas Sparks.

So I’ll tell you another story that’s more believable. Yet, in some ways, just as fantastical.

Cindy and I are sitting at large round table, the kind guests sit around at weddings. We’re in the back of a Las Vegas hotel ballroom, the kind couples rent for weddings.

Except instead of a DJ, there’s a UCLA professor at the far end of the ballroom. He’s standing on a stage, behind a podium. To his right is a movie screen holding an MRI of a human brain. A brain whose cerebellum is damaged. A cerebellum that looks a lot like mine.

The room is filled with people of all ages. Some people in wheelchairs. Some people clutching canes and walking sticks. The same haunted glow in everyone’s eyes.

We’re in Las Vegas attending the National Ataxia Federation’s annual conference for patients with neurological disease because seven months earlier I was diagnosed with cerebellar atrophy.

Cindy and I are surrounded by people of all ages stricken with rare neurological diseases. ALS. MS. Huntington’s Disease. Brain tumors.

Some people sit with their spouse. Some sit their parents. Some sit alone.

The UCLA professor is discussing advancements in stem cell research as a way of improving and repairing brain growth.

Cindy is beside me taking notes.

Her hand moves in small yet amazing ways. She is writing down what the professor is saying as fast as he is saying it.

Her penmanship is catholic school perfect. Her notes are well-spaced and organized and her margins are aligned.

It was a secret moment in my history. One I’ve never told Cindy about.

A moment of enormous fear yet as my eyes trace the ink-curls of her words, a small moment of enormous comfort and safety.  A moment where love was learned. A moment when I finally realized I was lucky enough to find a woman who cared more for me than I could possibly care for myself.

A moment that gifted me the eventual courage to roll my shoulders and write these sentences–

Let my cerebellum soften to oatmeal. Let my brain cells explode. Let my eyes go blind. Because there’s girl with green eyes standing in the blue doorway and she’s not moving. And she never will.

And that is what love becomes. After all the romance and celestial promises of the initial courtship, love becomes a lifetime of small moments that add up to make something enormous.

But even that seems Sparksian.

A chronically sick man whose hands are shaking, whose body aches, whose teetering on the edge of self-destruction is sitting beside his wife in a Las Vegas ballroom. They’re high school sweethearts. They have three children together. But seven months ago things suddenly got harder.

And yet she still takes notes.

As the professor speaks and the damaged brain that holds the screen looms like a thundercloud over the room with her free hand, she reaches across the table to hold his hand, to ease him, to feel his pain.

Be well,

Jay

 

Advice from the Dead

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.–Cicero

Recently, while cleaning out the garage, while rummaging through stacks of dusty boxes I came across a brown, unmarked envelope.

Intrigued, I quit rummaging, opened the envelope door and found my grandfather smiling on the other side.

Inside the envelope it’s 1954 and Pop was still years away from being Pop.

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Mike “Pop” is centered. His right hand holding a pilsner glass. To his right stands his Uncle Al.

Right now he’s Mike and he’s 25 years old and just bought at bar on the corner of Cedar and Pacific Avenue in Wildwood, New Jersey.

He renamed the place “Mike and Ed’s” and he’s serving drinks to a row of rowdy Philadelphians who escaped the tightness of their row home lives for the weekend promise of some New Jersey shore magic.

It’s early evening and the bar, like the decade itself is based with thick,  masculine laughter which overpowers the bouncy doo-wop rhythm of  “Life Could Be a Dream” frisking out the jukebox.

It smells of a different time. Of Old Spice and cigarettes.

I move across the checkered floor to an open seat at the end of the bar and watch Pop make small talk with a few sunburned necks. He laughs and it’s hearty and deep just like I remember.

Pop looks up and nods as if he’s been expecting me.

He turns to the tap, pours a beer in a short pilsner glass and brings it my way. His skinniness surprises me. But the eyes, the smile, the roundness of his shoulders are all there, like they’ve always been.

Pop puts the glass down in front of me. His blue eyes meet my blue eyes and he lays his hand on top of my hand and tells me how he appreciated the funeral, how he appreciated the eulogy I delivered even though it was a bit brief. An entire life in 1,337 words? He thought I should’ve stretched it to at least 1,700.

He winks.

Then his face gets serious.  He tells me he’s disappointed we paid full price for the luncheon after the funeral. He tells me knows an Italian who rents a little room behind the scrap yard along the Delaware River. He tells me the Italian would’ve catered the whole thing, funeral and luncheon, for half the cost.

He tells me he doesn’t have long because other people need him.

He tells me that death is a lot like life in that sense. Someone always needs you.  Someone is always failing to listen. But death, he says, brings infinite patience. Sadly, life does not.

A drunk wearing a tilted fedora calls out, “Mike, Mikey boy bring me over another one. I told the old lady I’d be home by 7 and it’s quarter of!”

Pop shoots the old man a “wait your damn turn old man” look. A look he perfects when, in a few years he becomes a police officer and spends late hours working the fanged streets of southwest Philadelphia.

He returns to me, “See what I mean, no patience.”

Then he gets serious again. Hard lines form around his eyes.

“You know what the living say about the dead? About how, at least, the dead are in a better place.”

I nod.

“Wrong. What the living fail realize is that even though your setting changes, you do not. When you die you take yourself, for better or worse, with you to the other side.  Look around. All these men came here thinking things would somehow be better. But they’re miserable laying bricks in Philly and they’re miserable drinking beer in Jersey. Fools. They thought by crossing the river, by shifting states their life would magically improve. Life, death they don’t work that way.”

He tightens his grip on my hand and says, “It’s not where you are, it’s who you are that matters. The same holds true for the afterlife. And you’re going to mess a lot of things up. But if can let love lead your way you might do just enough to get it right. And if you can understand this while you’re alive, I promise when your time comes, you’ll cross that bridge a happy man.”

He loosens his grip and the other hand drums its fingers on the bar and he looks out the window. His brow bent like mine when I’m contemplating something big.

I study his profile the way I did when I was a kid tucked in the front seat of his white pickup truck.

I remember how he would be driving and singing with Frank Sinatra and his profile would be glowing against the shifting sunlight and when the chorus hit he flashed a hard earned smile, a smile of a man who made peace with his life, with the world. A smile I can’t quite forget.

When his eyes return to mine he tells me the beer was on the house. But that was it. No more freebies. This isn’t a soup kitchen. And if I wanted another I would have to pay for it or wash dishes.

Pop takes his hand from mine. He steps back, smiles like someone about to board a plane and somehow, defying the laws earthly physics I still feel the pressure of his hand resting on mine as he drifts away, down the length of the bar, tending to the others who need him.

A bead of sweat rolls down the glass.

A heavy, hollow laughter steamrolls across the bar.

Something sits in my throat.

I want to call him back.

I want to breathe with him again.

I want to tell him I write stories about him so he doesn’t seem so dead.

I want to tell him how I missed him just a little more around Christmas. How I wish he could hold my children. How I wish they could experience his smile and hear his advice and feel the gentle pressure of his hand against theirs.

But I don’t.

Because you can’t.

Because you can’t tell the dead what they already know.

Because when you open an envelope and you’re greeted by the dead and they squint and smile and speak, all you can do is listen, consider your mortal ways and do your best to heed their eternal advice.

Be well,

Jay

 

What My Stand-Up Comedy “Career” Taught Me about Fear

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It’s 2005 and I’m sitting at the kitchen table leafing through The Philadelphia Inquirer. Mom is at the stove whipping eggs. The coffee percolates and the TV weather man urges us to keep the umbrellas handy.

Mom whirls around, offers me a plate of bacon and eggs and tussles my hair. I’m 25 and in a few weeks Cindy and I make settlement on a little house to start our little lives together.

It’s a scary and exciting season in my life. And as seasons go, you never understand their significance until many seasons have passed. Until you realize that your past experiences were preparing you to deal with future problems.

As I eat my eggs, my eyes find an advertisement in the paper for an amateur stand-up comedy contest for teachers sponsor by Chuckles Comedy Club. The contest boasts a $1000 grand prize and the honor of being crown “Philadelphia’s Funniest Teacher.”

It happens to all of us–when the gleam of a possibility arrives we’re electrified by the “What if…?”. Our heart quickens, our speech is fast and light and our imagination is seduced by the promise of grandiose achievements.

I see my name in big black letters stamped on a glowing theater marquee. Jay-Z is standing behind a microphone. He calls my name and “Big Pimpin” breaks over the speakers that causes a thunderous cacophony of applause and screams and women faint and men nod in respect and admiration as I saunter across the glossy stage. There are fireworks and acrobats. Beyonce is there.  I’m standing behind a microphone basking under a solitary stage light. My jokes inspire walls of riotous laughter that roll in like waves. I smile, my eyes glint in the spotlight and as I slide my hand in pocket I realize that I’m the envy of everyone in the room.

I snap open my flip phone (remember it’s 2005) and dial but before I punch in the last number something happens. Something always happens in the moments before you leap, before you dive into an unknown world.

“What if I fail?”

My heart quickens.

“What if no one laughs?”

A nervousness flutters in my stomach.

“What if I’m booed off stage like B Rabbit the first time he’s at The Shelter?”

I see the black letters of my name melting like wax on the marquee. I’m on a glossy stage, behind a microphone, under a column of light. My eyes are wide, darting. I open my mouth but nothing comes out. I’m sweating and shifting my weight and there’s silence. A hard, loud silence that you feel more then hear. I look to my right and Jay -Z storms toward me, stops and pegs me in the ear with Beyonce’s sparkled stiletto. The spotlight clicks off and I’m alone on stage, cupping the side of my head, drowning in silent darkness of my failure.

I’m looking at the incomplete phone number and I feel the Four Horsemen of Failure: Concern, Doubt, Distrust, and  Fear charging hard towards me.

I tighten my lips, snap close the phone, finish my eggs and convince myself it was a dumb idea and I would’ve failed miserably and I’m better off not risking the embarrassment.

For the next few days, between eating eggs and packing boxes I was gnawed by the familiar “What if..?” paradigm.

“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

And then, hours before the sign-up deadline, in a fit of either insanity or brilliance, I simply thought, “Fuck it. Even if I fail, mom will still make me eggs and Cindy will (hopefully) still marry me.”

This time, I snapped open my phone with confidence, punched in all seven numbers, left a message and a few hours later, a gruff voice called me and told me I was to report to Timothy’s Bar and Grill in West Chester, Pennsylvania next Saturday at 8 pm and that I would be the first comedian of the night.  Gruff voice explained that the contest was a single elimination, three round contest. The best comedian advancing each week until the final round.

Shit.

My stomach bottomed out. A streak of hot panic blazed up my chest.

For the next few days I jousted with the Horsemen. I wrote jokes, erased jokes, and threw out jokes. I watched hours of stand-up which only ballooned my self-doubt. I listened intently to the cackles of my inner critic. I entertained the idea of not showing up. Calling it off. Running away to Mexico. And I was convincing myself I was going to fail and that this simply wasn’t worth the effort or the embarrassment.

Days before the show all I had was a trashcan full of unfunny quips about relationships, politics, drive-thru windows and old people.

I’m 25 but look like I’m 18. In fact, as a teacher I was often mistaken as a student by both teachers and students. So I thought if I filleted my insecurities, if I had the courage to make fun of myself that people may laugh, at me or with me, either way I didn’t care.

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Just a couple of kids. No this is not our Sophomore Spring Mixer, this is our wedding rehearsal dinner. June 24, 2005. Apparently, I’m 25 years old.

So I committed to writing a 3 minute set about my insecurities.

My boyish looks, my fear of Victoria’s Secret and my pubic hair.

I felt that if I had the audacity to talk about the most private of things  in public I had a good chance on winning or at least earn the “Effort Award.”

But then the strangest thing happened– my self-deprecating jokes were not only good enough to win the first round, I road them all the way to the final where (triumphant trumpet sound) I was but crowned “Philadelphia’s  Funniest Teacher.”

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Comedy Gold! While writing this post I found some of my material. And yes bottom left is my ultrasound, the centerpiece of my gut-busting, mic- dropping finale.

I spent the next few months doing open mic nights, earning a little stage time, bombing some nights, killing others but ultimately I decided to hang up the microphone.

12 years later, when I hear the galloping Horsemen I return to the lessons learned that season. I’m reminded that despite my initial fear I didn’t die.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time but my experience with stand-up comedy was laying the foundation for what I attempt do every week on this blog (without the 2 drink minimum). I attempt to tell my story truthfully, unadorned to entertain anyone who’s awesome enough to stop by and listen.

We often forget we’re just animals in fancy clothes and funny hats. When we sense fear, our primal instincts kick in and we run. But as the smartest animal in the schoolyard, we know that avoiding fear will only compound fear. And we also know that those who avoid risks will spend their entire lives just dangling from the monkey bars.

Be well,

Jay

So You’re on a Plane and There’s a “CODE RED!!!”

 

airplane-918916_960_720 I’m on Flight 1990 from Philadelphia to Puerto Rico and in the middle of reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson when a panicked voice breaks over the intercom, “CODE RED, CODE RED!!!”

A worried stewardess rushes up the aisle.

A nervous current catches and spreads across the cabin.

Passengers rise from their seats, careening necks out into the aisle.

“CODE RED! CODE RED!”

My buddy Pete, is on my left, middle seat, slips out his ear buds, looks around then looks at me.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s a CODE RED.”

“What’s a CODE RED?”

I don’t know but…

Another stewardess hustles down the aisle, passes our row and disappears into the back of the plane.

The cabin air turns soupy. The muddled passenger chatter becomes clearer in pitch and panic.

“What’s going on?”

“What’s a CODE RED?”

The stewardess who disappeared reemerges in the aisle. She is holding a red duffel bag.  Her eyes are wide and she’s out of breath, “Just stay in your seats, PLEASE!”

Pete’s eyes grow wide, “CODE RED. That doesn’t sound good.”

~

A few hours earlier, Cindy is watching me pack a suitcase, arms crossed, and chewing her bottom lip.

“Jay, what time is your flight again?”

“8:20 am.”

“Text me when you land?”

“Of course.”

“You’re going to be ok? Right?”

I jam a few t-shirts in the suitcase, look up and smile, “Relax, I’ll be fine.And plus, if something goes wrong while we’re 10,000 feet in the air there’s not a lot I can do.”

“Stop it! Don’t say that. You know how I hate planes.”

Cindy moves across the room, her eyes fill and she hugs me as I wonder if I packed enough t-shirts to last me through the trip.

~
Another nervous stewardess rushes past us with a red duffel bag in her hand. Pete and I look at each other.

I turn toward the window. A blast of pale white light slices through the clouds, through my little window and I hear Cindy’s distant, nervous voice asking, “You’re going to be ok? Right?”

As CODE RED chaos swirls about the cabin, I attempt to distract myself by leafing through The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and conveniently find the line…

 I see practical enlightenment as becoming comfortable with the idea that some suffering is always inevitable–no matter what you do, life is comprised of failure, loss, regrets and even death.

I scan the cabin, look out the window into the blinding pale light, listen to the nervous twang of my fellow passengers and privately ask, “Is this one of those times? Should I get comfortable?”

The last few years of my life have taught me that sometimes a lot of times things get, as Manson writes, “fucked up” –like a “CODE RED” on an airplane floating 10,00 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

And in these moments,when you’re at the mercy of fate and circumstance, our power resides simply in how we respond to such circumstances. Consequently, this is both empowering and unnerving.

Life is like this flight I’m on. It’s expensive and uncomfortable and suddenly when everything seems to be gliding along, you’ve got a CODE RED on you’re hands.  You panic. You sweat. You loss your breath. There’s nothing you can really do about it.  And you realize that you and this plane ride is a beautiful metaphor.

Because most of my pain (and probably your’s) is caused when we try, with all our human strength, to control the uncontrollable.

Manson attests that life would be much more fulfilling and joyful if we simply stopped, “giving a fuck about things beyond our control”. Like people’s opinions, or how much money our neighbor makes, or if your plane is experiencing a CODE RED.

If you don’t mind obscenity, if you’re looking for some honest, tough-love  perspective that will both tug at your heart strings and punch you in the gut, then I would recommend Manson’s book.

And in case your flying American Airlines in the future, a CODE RED is a medical emergency. In the case of Flight 1990, a girl fainted. I saw her at baggage claim. She was fine.

Maybe screaming “CODE RED” over an airplane intercom  is a bit excessive.

Because, “CODE RED” translates to ” WE’RE UNDER ATTACK… SAVE YOURSELVES!!!” ( Or at least it does in my mind.)

Also A.A.– maybe you should consider changing CODE RED to something less alarming, something less likely to cause mid-air heart palpitations, something subtle and unassuming like “Elmer Fudd” or “Banana Pancakes.” or better yet, “Elmer Fudd eating banana pancakes.” Just a thought.

Be well,

Jay