Don’t it make you wanna, make you wanna stay?
Copyright nostalgic middle school memories of Dave Matthews Band, all rights reserved.
I often think about the small morsels of time that stay with us. Of course we’d expect the big moments like weddings and dates to stay with us — that’s the definition of memories. But sometimes its the insignificant, the slight, the passing visions or interactions that stick around and often makes you wonder why its the case. It’s an impression, almost some sort of mindful mental glitch that keeps them around to perhaps serve as an example or lesson for a time that may not be so insignificant. I think that even though we may not identify it at the time, it sticks with us until we have the intuition and wisdom to realize it was an example of being a better person. To be clear, I’m thinking about my thoughts and what those thoughts could be for future thinking, yep, meet Brett everyone! Chronic overthinker about thinking. Also, yes, some extremely strange and puzzling things like what belt you wore to some night out stays with you, or the name of some random friends siblings partner, but I don’t have a great answer for that other than THE MATRIX.
A lot of these nuggets for me happen at an impressionable time, the year after college, in a very impressionable, if not intimidating, place; New York City. My first taste of the real world, first cramped shared apartment, first job filled with complex egos. I worked on a trading floor and it scared the shit out of me. This is when people actually shouted (no, not the bright coat NY stock exchange hand motion stuff of movies) but legit standing up and demanding attention. A real introvert’s wet dream. I would have to go home, shell-shocked, and write on flashcards the terms, lingo, and expressions to practice what I would need to shout to seem natural. I put on a spreadsheet every single clients name to practice them to not have to ask who is calling, then ask again, then potentially mispronounce. It was loud, and I couldn’t hear, and I often pissed these blowhard types off. My point is not to draw “Wall Street III” allusions as that has been done way too many times, its to give the backdrop of which my shaken core is of course looking for signs of humanity. More subtle moments out of work to assure and relax a subconscious. And yeah, there’s no greater cramped, bustling, everyone in a hurry human ecosystem than New York.
It was one night when I was working super late that I finally schlepped myself to the 123 subway to head home uptown. It was winter, and 10pm, and cold, a pretty vulnerable backdrop all around. As anyone in NY knows, the heat of the subways attracts a lot of the homeless. That and the ethos and realness and tired eyes of late night subway rides can always provide for some colorful interaction. New Yorkers are always on guard. However, nothing was troubling about the old man speaking in the Franklin St subway station that night. He was speaking loudly, almost announcing, to the man in the plexiglass booth by the turnstiles. I was the only other person in the dim light subway; a bit of a surreal setting with the heat of the littered-filled tracks and a constant reverberation of trains going every which way on several different layers of underground. It was like one of those movie scenes where a loose sign is making a constant metallic squeaking sound and the lights flicker while a small leak drips into a puddle in the corner. Fight Club stuff.
Anyway, the gentle but loud old man was asking for directions which turned into a sort of one-way conversation with the employee. You could sense the man just wanted to be heard or wanted someone there to listen. While the shakiness in his tone did suggest someone that spent a lot of alone time and perhaps was a bit out of touch with everyday interaction polish, nothing about him was alarming. As I listened in, his semi-shouts turned into comments about holidays and his apartment. Then, in a comment said with a shaky tone, he proclaimed what would stay with me for sixteen years. “It’s all becoming a bit too much for me. It is getting hard to cope.” I both related and felt the urge to comfort him. I knew what he meant. The way that society never slows down, always in a rush for the next thing, always transforming into something we only decide years later was actually bad for us or we didn’t need (Hi Facebook!). The way that handheld or personal technology looks like NASA devices to grandparents. It is too much. It’s too much for anyone save for the cultish few who are so surrounded with it in the day to day in a race to the riches that they know any other way. Imagine talking to this kind old man about Silicon Valley unicorns and YCombinators. Like what the fuck?
The employee did take pause and a semblance of interest. He asked if he had any family nearby. He did wish him well as he left and to be safe. In my head I wished him well too, I hoped it would be easier, that he would find his calm. That is why I think these small tokens of time stay with us. To remind yourself to broaden. A memory urging you to shift your centered focus. There is a life outside of New York Times advice columns and we can live it with our own eyes, not just with our churning minds.
Thank you for reading, would love to hear from you on your memory morsels!