Burned at Both Ends and in the Middle

I used to be so much better at bouncing back from multiple activities. I’ve never been a hard worker, at least not naturally, but when presented with a task, whether it be for my day job as an art director or my weekend job as a musician, I’ve always buckled up and done it. Occasionally, worlds might collide, and a music gig might fall on a weeknight, or I might have to take a weekday off entirely. But the next day, I was right back at my desk, ready to catch up on things.

Wednesday is generally not a stressful day, not in the way that Monday is. The so-called “hump” day represents the point of no return, and by the end of the day, you’re a lot closer to your next weekend than you were when you started. This week offered a particularly good Wednesday, as I was sent to the city to attend a convention related to my career. For three years in a row, I’ve been fortunate to be sent by my company, although this year it was held in a hotel rather than a convention center, and a bit further from the train station. Given the option of one of three days to attend, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, I opted for the latter, knowing I needed to be in Queens by 6:30 PM to open an Italian feast. Despite traveling further during the day, I would still get home much earlier than if I were working a full day at the office. It’s the sort of thing I could do in my sleep, and at times I almost did.

First, I miscalculated the location of the hotel by three blocks, finally opting to pull the address out of my backpack on a side street so I wouldn’t look like a lost tourist. Backtracking, I found the place, only to find it strangely devoid of people. After picking up my ticket and complementary bag, I entered an exhibit hall devoid of exhibits, papers and signs littering the floor amid one or two chairs. Back out in the lobby, displays listed the hours of the exhibit hall....for Monday and Tuesday. It has always been beneficial to meet with different printers, paper suppliers, and other vendors to make new contacts or simply get new ideas. This year, they cut that portion by a day, but there were still seminars. I attended two, the second of which was more interesting, delving into marketing on the internet and which strategies work best, in both concept and design. It’s interesting to see traditional print design translate to the online world. After a complementary luncheon and some discussion with coworkers and new friends from other companies, I decided to head back to the train station. Checking the schedule, I found that the line I’d taken had eliminated a few trains due to budget cuts and, having just missed one train, had two hours to kill until the next one. This allowed plenty of time to roam and take some pictures, and I’ll share those next week perhaps.

Time moved quickly, and while Summer in Manhattan can be a beautiful thing, it was not a luxury I could afford. Should I miss a 3:18 train, I’d have to wait until 5:30, which would not only pack me in with regular commuters, but get me home far too late to change clothes, get my instrument, and get back to Queens. No, if I missed that train, I’d have to find a train directly to the gig, and ask my 80-year-old father to meet me there. He’s doing better since his heart surgery, but his arthritis still bothers his hands and when he drives, as he puts it, he “favors the right”. I call that “LOOK OUT YOU'RE ON THE CURB WATCH OUT FOR THAT CONCRETE!!!”, but he feels I’m being melodramatic. In any case, even though I find highway driving a little anxiety inducing when I think about it, I’d rather the old man not drive himself.

It only took 20 minutes to get to the conference, but I’d walked further up town. 25 blocks or so seemed feasible in the 40 minutes or so I had when I started back, but I didn’t allow for crowds or traffic lights. By the time I started looking at my watch and thinking I wasn’t going to make it, it was already too late to hail a cab or hop on the subway. Waiting for either would have cost time not mine to spare. When I had 18 minutes left, I was still 9 blocks away. I seemed to average one block every two minutes, and began sprinting as the crowds allowed, to narrow that gap. Finally I reached 34th street. i could see the entrance, as well as a mocking digital clock which read 3:15:30. i had two-and-a-half-minutes to cross one street and get down a few flights of stairs. But probability was, as usual, not in my favor. When the light turned red, the traffic cop continued waving traffic through. What was he doing? Did he not see a sweaty Italian with a camera around his neck and a backpack on his shoulder bouncing on the curb? The second he stopped letting cars through, I broke into a sprint, making it down those steps in leaps and bounds and not even slowing as I ran past the boards and looked to see what track my train was on. The doors weren’t exactly closing when I dove into the train, but 60 seconds later things would have been very different.

There were no seats and I had to stand. As I caught my reflection in the window opposite, I noticed a sweat stain running diagonally down my dress shirt, just below the strap of my backpack. Yes, sundress-wearing ladies of New York, I can’t believe I’m still single either. I removed the pack and put my camera away, and gripped the metal bar beneath a refreshing air conditioner vent. Three stops from home, a seat finally opened up, and I very nearly fell asleep before my stop. My dad was waiting at the station, and I barely had enough time to get home, get cleaned up and changed, and get out on the road. I wanted to leave before 5 PM, but just didn’t make it, so we dealt with commuter traffic. It wasn’t bad, but still must have stressed my dad out enough that he was on the verge of angina pain when we did arrive at the gig, with time to spare. A nitro pill under his tongue took care of that, and soon we were leading a procession and then strolling through rides and games. The DJ on stage had his speakers exceptionally loud, and made our ragtag band of six somewhat redundant. I remember the good old days when a DJ and a band would alternate, and take turns making noise. Now we compete, and an amplifier trumps a group in which two-thirds of the musicians are over 60 and suffering from a heart condition, a bad back, swollen lymph nodes, or some other ailment.

I have to say, I wasn’t tired when I got home, only a little tingly from low blood sugar. I perked up again after eating dinner, but Thursday morning, that was rough. My head was pounding like I had a hangover. I felt warm though my room was cool. And every joint was stiff and uncooperative. Even at work, when I thought I was okay, any time I tried to stand up I found myself groaning like an old man. I have no excuse. I’m only 35-years-old. I’m about 20-25 pounds overweight, but I do a lot of cardio. I run between 4 and 7 miles a day depending on whether I have a half hour or a whole hour to spend on a treadmill. Yet a day of walking less than that in the city, followed by a leisurely stroll at a feast at night knocked me out. I’m glad it’s Friday, but I don’t know when I’m going to rest. I have to take care of the lawn at my dad’s lot on Saturday morning, which has been neglected for a few weeks. I’m playing a fire department parade on Saturday night, and on Sunday I’m closing the feast we opened on Wednesday. I suppose Sunday during the day I could rest, but the lawn at my house is a little tall too. There was a time when I could burn the candle at both ends and even in the middle, and not even blink. One of my band leaders jokes that every day is Saturday since he retired, but I still wonder if I’ll be able to maintain this same pace in 30 years. I learned long ago that the secret to getting through any busy time in life is to just shut off my brain and keep moving through it. The tricky part is to keep that candle burning wherever it needs to burn, without burning out....


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