A Brief Respite from the Hermit Life

This week featured (uncharacteristically for me) an active social life.  It’s not quite winter yet, which is when I prefer to cocoon in my little house with my creatures thanks to the grey days and hockey nights.  In the fall I’m still willing to venture out into the world and actually DO THINGS and TALK TO PEOPLE!!  This past Friday, I took a late-afternoon off-peak Long Island Railroad journey (so much more civilized than peak rush hour times) to meet my good friend Carl, who was in NYC visiting from Sweden for a long weekend with his new girlfriend.  Our visit was entirely too short, but we enjoyed some quality time together.  First, Carl and I caught up over outdoor adult beverages at a pop-up “beer garden” on Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets.  (Waiting for Carl to arrive, I found an empty metal chair at the intersection of Broadway and 40th Street – literally in the middle of the street! – and sat there for a few minutes with a small smile on my face, feeling a bit like Buddha at the crossroads observing the world.)  Later, with his new lady friend Jessica and her charming ex-pat pal Ife, we made our way west to an open-house at an art studio where up-and-coming artists literally sat in their studios and welcomed visitors, happy to discuss their work and, in the case of Jessica, negotiate prices for purchase.  I don’t know if she was serious about buying the actual art; she has just started a new career as a real estate developer with an eye for design, so it’s conceivable that she was feeling a bit like a “connoisseur” in NYC for a weekend of fine art shopping!  It was certainly a fun few hours. I felt like I had known Jessica and Ife for years.

Then, on Sunday, I had a double-dose of entertainment – first, at a fantastic performance by Four Way Street, a CSNY cover band featuring a recently discovered high school chum who is a talented musician (as he had been even in high school).  My buddy Beanie came with me, and we enjoyed a 45 minute set (again, too short!) of gorgeous harmonies and toe-tapping sing-alongs at the Long Beach Public Library as part of the annual Long Beach Roxx music festival.  The folding chairs in the library auditorium had flexible backs so you could actually rock in your seat!  Then I raced to drop Beanie off at her mom’s and headed to the Third Annual Posh Pets Gala, a fund-raising event for my favorite animal rescue organization, where I had a delicious lunch and chatted with some of my friends from the shelter, all dressed up for the occasion.

It’s funny to me how I’ve changed over the years.  I used to be a social being, constantly surrounded by a rotating cast of beloved friends.  I’m not sure when I became such a hermit.  It might have been when I moved to Long Beach, which is in some ways a very close-knit community, especially in the neighborhood where I live.  (What used to be called in real estate jargon “the Trendy West End” has, post-Sandy, undergone a not-so-welcome transformation, with huge three-story monstrosities replacing the bungalows on the tiny, close-set lots.  While it certainly makes sense from a flood-mitigation perspective, the character of the neighborhood has been entirely altered.)  But apart from the shelter, where I started volunteering in 2012, I just haven’t managed to find a community here.  (See “Friend Zone”, 6/17/15.)

In some ways, my hermit lifestyle has become like a comfortable old blanket, protecting me from the hazards of humanity.  (Another benefit of my home-hibernating is that there is no need whatsoever for me to care what I’m wearing.  I rock a full-on ragamuffin mode most days: oversize black quilted coat, baggy old jersey pants that once belonged to my mother, man boots, Rangers cap, and a ratty-looking mismatched scarf.  Taken as a whole, it’s become my actual personal style!  Not a style that anyone would want to emulate, admittedly, but it works for me.  It’s clean and it’s comfortable, above all else.  I’m all about the comfort.)

All of my friends are wonderful people (I probably wouldn’t be friends with them if they weren’t!), but there’s another dynamic at play when you put yourself out into the world:  interactions with the opposite sex that have the potential to turn into dangerous liaisons.  Among circles of friends, groups and parties – isn’t that where most romantic relationships begin?  (And, more nefariously, isn’t that where affairs start?)  Is there flirting going on?  I never did that very well, but it wasn’t unheard of for me to be, at some points in my life, “sexually playful” at parties, especially when lubricated with liquor and other inhibition-removers.  These are foreign concepts to me these days, and have been for some time.  I don’t even remember what it feels like to be “sexually playful”.  After what I confess was a highly active libidinous life in my teens and twenties, and then almost 10 years of being in a monogamous relationship, those desires seem to have dried up.  Frankly, I don’t miss them.  Truth be told, I have basically written off love and sex for the remainder of my days.

But I do still enjoy being with old friends and meeting new people.  I believe I am a genuinely kind person – at least I always strive to be, to the point where someone who met me for the first time asked a friend if I was really that nice, convinced that I was a phony because no one was ever really THAT nice.  My niceness has even worked to my detriment, because I suffer from “the disease to please” (I think Oprah called it that) in that I want people to like me so I tend to swallow my anger and impatience when they arise in dealings with folks who are perhaps not quite as open-minded or fair as I am.

Of course, there will invariably be reasons for people to disagree – if everyone thought the same things all the time, what a truly boring world it would be!  And things are rarely black-and-white; there are always nuances and shades of gray.  For instance, people who are strongly in favor of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body could also believe that the death penalty is wrong in all circumstances (except perhaps where a heinous criminal wants to die, in which case they should probably be helped along to save the public expense of sustaining the life of someone who doesn’t want – or deserve – to live) and could also be in favor of assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Someone hearing these positions might think they are contradictory, but that is the beauty of individuality:  We don’t all believe the same things all the time.   My point is just this:  Humans will inevitably disagree, but there is no reason whatsoever not to start from a position of kindness.  I always cite the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”; instead of battling to get what you want, sometimes you just need to be nice.  But maintaining that sunny attitude can be exhausting, which may be one of the reasons I’m a happy hermit, at least for the winter!

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