There were seven of us this night, situated around an oddly-shaped table at the Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square. The light was good enough that you could make your way around tables, but not so good that you could really see the tables. The stage was little more than a layout of shipping pallets and backdrop sign space, but from it Hamilton Loomis was “getting’ his blues on” with his band. I would have preferred jazz tonight, but this was just fine.
It was the weekend of my 29th birthday. Eliot was down from Hibbing and Ducky was out from Uptown. I had been engaged for about two months, and my wife-to-be was beside me. For a solid six hours, I felt like I had just scored a touchdown.
But when you looked past the mason jars and rib racks on the table, you could see the makings of a personal apocalypse. I was bunking on Ducky’s couch with no money, no job, no plan, and a car that should have already been buried. My credit was in the tank, having spent much of the previous two years either unemployed or floundering around minimum wage. My only marketable skill set and meaningful work experience was in journalism, which had just become the post-blast Chernobyl of job markets. Don’t worry: I was hazardously unhealthy, too, and uninsured.
When the music stopped and the plates were picked up that night in Calhoun Square, my greatest gamble began. The only thing I had was my life – I put my hands around it and pushed it to the center of the table.
(Breathe for a second)
There are five hours left of my shift on a windy but nonthreatening Wednesday. The crumbs of my daily workload are growing stale in my inbox, but I’m finding it difficult to concentrate. It’s January 23, a day before I turn 32. I’m sitting in a cubicle, helping investigators solve medical device issues. I earn a comfortable living and people tell me I’m good at what I do.
How it got this way would take too long to explain. I should have lost the girl, gotten punted back to Duluth, begged for my $9-per-hour job back and moved back in with my parents that spring three years ago. Any intelligent person would have wagered on that. I probably would have wagered on that. There were days I tasted that bronzy fear on my tongue, when the car wouldn’t shift into gear, when fucking gas stations were turning down my job applications, when I was told the couch couldn’t hold me much longer … but, just as the ground began to crack under my heels, the rope ladder dangled into my reach.
A lucky break, a stupid question, a little smoke, a few mirrors, and three years later a sportswriter turned vagrant turned into a carpet salesman turned into a receptionist turned into a paralegal turned into a husband turned into a complaints coordinator. Somehow, I’ve been gifted the privilege of snotty remarks like, “We’re outgrowing our town home” and “We don’t buy free-trade coffee.”
My credit score is pulling a Wolverine, and my car still refuses to die. On Sunday, perhaps my biggest victory: Stepping on my weight scale and being met with 189. This, three years after I was pushing 250 and couldn’t do five push-ups without wheezing.
This isn’t a story about how awesome I am. There are billionaires out there who were living out of their cars three years ago and folks out there who’ve lost 60 pounds in four months. This is a story about recognizing that moving forward, even if it’s an inch at a time, is progress. Eventually, you’ll be in the right place at the right time and good things will happen. As Tony Horton said at the end of one of his P90X videos, “Just keep pressing play.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading to Denny’s for my free grand slam. Happy National Frank’s Birthday.