“Everything in my life is changing! I don’t think I can handle all this change. What can I do?” —Troubled Tony
I fear change. Almost as much as I fear intimacy. I would say intimacy is first, followed by change, followed by dying. Dying used to be first. But then I was thinking about it the other day. Was I dead before I was born? I don’t remember feeling upset that I hadn’t been born yet. There was just nothing. I don’t remember the first bunch of years of my life. Then my brother hit me in the head from point blank with a wooden apple. I don’t remember a lot of stuff after that. But if dying is like it was before I was born, then that seems less scary. I hadn’t been born for thousands of years, I don’t feel one bit upset about it. And say there is an afterlife, and it goes on forever. That seems scarier. How long is forever? Will I always be fat and bald in this endless river of eternity? I think I’m more scared about the forever than I am the back to before I was born nothingness.
And intimacy! I barely have any idea what that is. But it scares the hell out of me. Like you’re supposed to let people into your life, let them know everything about you, what your weaknesses are, where you are the most vulnerable. And you’re just supposed to let them hang out inside there? When they’re not even drunk?
If people knew everything about me, there’s no way that they’d stick around. I would run like hell from me if I wasn’t attached to myself. But here we are. I know everything about myself and it’s all pretty boring. Who knows why anyone likes anyone else, or wants to share their lives with other people when it’s all pretty hopeless. Sooner or later the stuff you thought you could fix about me would drive you nuts. And then you’d marry one of my best friends. That happens kind of a lot. There are like 20 people in the world who exist because I am bad at relationships. Congratulations, kids! From your lonely Uncle Jim in New Jersey!
Ever since “Cat Person” came out in The New Yorker, I am a little paranoid that everyone romantic in my life is secretly writing a short story about what a jerk I am. Just because I eat Red Vines. I had them at The Phantom Thread and they were pretty good. Not as good as Twizzlers, which they had, too. But pretty good. Why are they taking notes all the time, I wonder. Are they making me sound like a complete jerk in some famous literary journal? Probably. You can really make anybody sound like a complete jerk in short stories. They’re so short, you never say “I wonder what this story would sound like from this dopey Jim’s point of view.” Me and Jessa Crispin are going to write the Stoner story from the point of view of Edith. She is obviously the best character and completely trapped into a boring life with this Stoner loser. Ew, a English professor! Why don’t you go diagram some sentences, you pretentious jerk.
I completely forgot about jellyfish. They are even scarier than change but still not as scary as intimacy. Jellyfish are everywhere! Just waiting to sting us. With their weird transparent hooks and jellyfish stingers. I haven’t been in the ocean in 40 years. Because a jellyfish once stung me. And it sucked! I mean, what the hell? Jellyfish are terrible. And they are taking over the oceans. They’re out there, right now. Just waiting for us. Think about that, Tony.
Change is inevitable, unfortunately. Remember when the subway was kind of reliable for a while? Now it’s an emotional roller coaster, every damned day. No one knows why. They’ll probably raise the cost of a swipe and things will only get worse. It’s like some weird paradoxical magic spell that has been cast over the entire city. At least we don’t have earthquakes all the time. That everything stays pretty much the same keeps everything in kind of a messed-up balance. Throw one thing off and it’s like throwing your keys in a volcano. I changed my password one time and forgot my pin number. That’s how dubiously everything is balanced in my life. Pull out one piece of the jenga and you’re eating jenga soup for the rest of the week.
I just got a new job and now have to travel to Manhattan every day. I can no longer take my Jersey City bus to my Jersey City coffee shop and walk up the hill to my Jersey City bookstore. That’s too bad, I was just getting the hang of it. Now I have to ride into Manhattan and then find someplace good to get coffee. I have been going to Shake Shack. There is no line! Their coffee machine has been broken for a week though. Can you see how change is fucking with me, Tony? I just want someone to hold a hot cup of coffee out a window and for me to just take it without breaking stride. It doesn’t even have to be great coffee. Just be hot. Just be someplace near the Flatiron Building or Madison Square Park, because those places are pretty cheerful, Even when it’s cold and snowy.
Try to get excited about the cheerful parts of change, Tony. New opportunities and new adventures. Sooner or later they will become old hat. And part of your new routine. There are lots of nice places to eat lunch near my new work. So that’s cool. Sleeping and eating are the two most reliable pleasures I’ve got going on. That’s why I’m 100 pounds overweight! I’m going to do something about that soon, but change is hard. I’m trying to ease into it and not change everything all at once. Even if everything is changing all at once, you can pretend it isn’t.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and just wants some coffee.