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Half a Century


September 17 is my birthday, and this year it’s not just any birthday; it’s the big five-oh, number fifty with a bullet, the half-century mark. I have been on this Earth since 1960; I have gotten to see men walk on the moon, the fall of communism, the rise of personal computers and an African-American be elected President of the United States.

They have been fifty tumultuous years for the world to be sure, but as I reflect they’ve gone by awfully fast for me. I can still remember things of my childhood vividly, as if they happened last week. I can feel the deep blue shag carpet of our living room in Northridge, the feel of the floor of my bedroom as me and a buddy sit trading baseball cards on it. I remember the warmth of the sun on my face as I floated in our backyard swimming pool and the gentle breeze that would make me shiver and cause the wind chimes in the tea house to ring serenely. We lived in what was not so much a house as it was a Buddhist temple.

I remember dinner at our old kitchen table (which was essentially a booth) when my maternal grandparents came to visit, of the exchange of Canadian cigarettes for American ones like they were prisoners of war. I remember my dog Conan walking ahead of me as I took him around the neighborhood and watching with amusement as people crossed to the other side of the street; Conan was part Labrador, part Doberman; he had the temperament of the former and the looks of the latter, so he looked fearsome indeed but in reality he would never hurt a fly.

I remember every one of the schools I attended, even Brook Farm Nursery School. I remember the huge trees that shaded it, and the driveway that led to the school. I remember Cranberry Elementary School in Connecticut, and the view from the schoolroom window of my kindergarten class. I remember walking to Limerick Avenue Elementary after we moved to California, and the chain link fence that surrounded it. I remember climbing the fence on weekends to shoot hoops on the basketball court. I also remember riding my bike to 7-11 to buy candy and Slurpees. While there were plenty of problems (my parents were having marital problems at the time), life was fairly idyllic for me in many ways.  

I remember my one year at Lawrence Junior High (yes, I went to school before they were called middle schools – I’m a dinosaur, get over it) and my favorite class, Mrs. Hecker’s Chorus. I remember the other classes more vaguely, but not nearly as clearly as I remember hers. We listened to pop music and sang mostly modern songs – Mrs. Hecker wasn’t what you’d call a traditionalist. Still, she was energetic and encouraging and I adored her.

However, moving on to Grade Eight at Lawrence was not to be. Instead, my parents put me into private school, Chaminade Preparatory. I would spend two years at the Chatsworth campus (still called a Junior High) before moving on to the Canoga Park campus for High School. I remember so many of the people I went there with, some of whom I’m still in contact with – Craig and Lisa Verkerke, Patty Hunter, Casey Marvell, Kevin Rohde, Tony Sneed and so many others. I wonder what happened to the ones that aren’t on Facebook, but I’m sure they’re happy and have less time to kill than I do. I remember going to dances where I would promptly hang out where I was least likely to dance with anyone (I was incredibly shy as a young man), I remember going to football games and basketball games, the after school clubs, the play rehearsals, going to Carls Jr. for lunch as a senior, the Bay City Rollers proudly blaring from the car stereo (hey, it was the ‘70s – but truth be told the Rollers still blare from my car stereo occasionally).

Of course I remember Loyola, and the friends I made there, the Del Rey Players, re-enacting Second City TV skits with my roommate Louis Villaescusa (and also the epic Springsteen concert we attended just before my senior year started), all the double burgers that were consumed at Original Tommy’s, particularly at 2am while pulling an all-nighter for midterms or finals. The quiet sound of Alumni Mall at night, or the softball games in the Sunken Gardens. Late nights at the Loyolan office trying to put the paper to bed before it went off to the printer; parties in dorm rooms and apartments and out by the Bird’s Nest.

These things, some small and seemingly insignificant, helped prepare me to be who I am, who I eventually became after several false starts and missed opportunities. It is natural to feel regret at fifty, for all the girls un-kissed, for all the things unsaid, for all the moments unappreciated. For the most part, however, I feel at this moment at least pretty satisfied with the way life went for the first fifty years of it. I made plenty of mistakes and if I had a few do-overs I wouldn’t hesitate to use them but all in all, things went the way they were supposed to and while I imagine some would disagree, I think I turned out pretty much okay.

The road ahead is less clear but no less exciting. We have some short term plans to travel, I’ve got feelers out at a publisher that may actually, finally, print some of my work. I’m becoming more active in the world around me in some ways, standing up for things I believe in and not merely nodding and agreeing even when I disagree. I’ve grown a bit of a backbone after fifty years, and who would have ever believed that who knew me when?

I don’t know if I have fifty more years left to me; chances are there is less than that, but whatever time I have left I have plans for. I will continue to write and express myself and I hope that when the years left to me have run out I will be said to have made a difference in some small way. I hope to see my son Jacob established with a home and family of his own, hopefully to become as happy as I have been. I hope that those who are in pain will read this and realize that things change and that happiness is obtainable when first you learn to accept who you are and then appreciate what you bring to the table. We all have something inside of us worth sharing.

Half a century; I half expected flying cars and lunar colonies by now. I don’t think I would have predicted where I turned out, and in some ways I might have felt a lot less anxiety had I known where I would end up as I turn 50. There are people who love me, a room full of dogs that delight me, books that take me to amazing places and the constant company of music and movies that still thrill me as much as they did when I was a teenager. Plus, I get to share all of this with my best friend and the love of my life. You really can’t ask for more.

And yet I do ask for more. I continue to reach out, to learn more about the world around us and the people who live in it. I am anxious to try new things ; taste food I’ve never tried, listened to music that I haven’t heard before, read literature from authors I’ve never read. I want to see places I’ve never been to, to stand in still waters and feel the warmth of the sun on my face as gentle breezes blow, but not in my backyard swimming pool but in places whose names I don’t even know.

I am immensely grateful to still be around at 50 – that was not always a given. I’m glad that I am, but I am doubly glad that I can still feel wonder and awe. I can still smile when a friend makes a corny joke, and still cry when I think of those who have passed on from my life, human and canine. I would so much like to share with you the beauty that has been the tapestry of my life, and all the people, places and dogs that have enriched me and provided color but I would have to write for fifty years in order to capture it properly so all I can provide is merely a shadow.

However, it is MY shadow and it is that which is indelibly part of who I am. I have been blessed with a life that has provided me with countless stories, from my father waiting for a train to arrive in Tepic desperately needing to use the bathroom to the time I interviewed Kurt Cobain of Nirvana in an empty Cactus Club an hour before his set. I’ve gotten to live through hurricanes and earthquakes, I’ve seen fires that surrounded the San Fernando Valley and filled the air with ash. I’ve seen birth and death, and everything in between – and realize that I have still so much more to see. Even at fifty, the world still fills me with the same enthusiasm that it always has and I can’t wait to see what life will bring me next – or, more to the point, what I make happen in my own life. It’s been a great ride up to now, and it’s just getting started.

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5 Responses

  1. May you be blessed with your family love and friends for the next fity years! Lots of love from France, Karine xxx

  2. May the next 50 years be as eventful as these past. Happy Birthday Carlos, May God Bless you with another 50 years!

  3. That was a very good article…..takes me back. Have a great Birthday tomorrow and enjoy the next 50 !!

  4. That was good I enjoy reading of what was part of our world as we exist today but yet not that differnet from mine. Same expectations of the world progress cant wait til we Fly around like the Jetsons better yet have a mask that us females put on and be ready like the wave of a magic wand. I wish you many success in your books to come. You can count on me to stand in line as I will be holding the first book to be signed. Dont know what came over me just had to put a lil rhyme for this day I have too much time.
    FBBF, Trina

  5. Your Life , I remember it ,too. Happy Birthday, Carlos

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