Work In Progress

You can try your whole life and some things will never get done.

Learning to play the piano.

Mastering a second language.

Getting into a fist fight.

Writing a book.

Four goals I set for myself a long time ago, none of which I’ve come even close to accomplishing. Well—I got close to being in a fight once, but I never landed a punch. Not because I was outgunned. It was just easier to lay there.

As it turns out, hard work, careful planning and methodical problem solving have once again failed to deliver on their promise for a better tomorrow. Instead, what little I’ve accomplished in life owes far more to my crippling self-doubt than it ever will to my tenacity or intellect. Would things have turned out differently if I weren’t so ignorant and apathetic? I don’t know and I don’t care. What aspect of academic life did I find so uninspiring? And now that I’m well past my prime, how many more years can I hope to suckle at the sagging teats of fear and familiarity? If life begins at 40, when does it end? Because frankly, I could use the sleep.

I was much better prepared for a life worth living than current moods imply. Just minutes after my birth, the attending OB GYN asked my mother if she wanted to have me circumcised. She answered by asking the doctor if any of his kids had endured the procedure. “None,” he said. When I was nine, we learned that all of Dr. Newhall’s children were daughters. Of course, Mom mined this gaffe for maximum comic effect. “Harold’s dick was so small when he was born, I was afraid if we circumsized him he’d end up with a scar on his ass.” I’ve been serving that same cocktail wiener in mixed company ever since.

Dick jokes weren’t mom’s only contribution to my comic chops. Her lawyerly vocabulary and lot lizard’s vernacular provided me with all the verbal tools I’d ever need for boardrooms or bar fights. “Profanity is the literary crutch of ignorant motherfuckers,” mom used to say. “Now take out the goddamned trash before I have a miocardial infarction.” Mom’s heart never exploded, but she loved to vent her spleen. While her words packed venom, her actions lacked teeth. The combination was more vitriolic than volatile, and always amusing. Laughing at her blustery outbursts only incited more riotous behavior. I don’t remember how many times mom threatened to kill me, but I had a clear picture of how she would do it. Slowly and painfully, lingering between blows to light a cigarette and pour another scotch.

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