In John Carpenter’s 1984 film “Starman,” Jeff Bridges stars as an alien who is stranded on Earth, and goes on the run from U.S. government agents with the widow of a deceased housepainter, whose body he has cloned as a disguise. They have misadventures while eluding the authorities and the widow (Karen Allen) falls in love with this alien in the body of her dead husband.
In retrospect the plot summary makes this sound like a ludicrous B-film, but it works. One scene and one line from the film has stuck with me since I watched it in a movie theater as a 12-year-old.
The couple are finally cornered in a restaurant by the authorities and the federal agent who has been leading the hunt for them comes to confront them. He asks the alien about his journey and learns he is here to study Earthlings.
“You are a strange species, not like any other, and you would be surprised how many there are, intelligent but savage,” the Jeff Bridges/alien tells his pursuer. “Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you?”
The federal agent nods yes.
“You are at your very best when things are worst.”
That line has been etched in my mind for more than three decades now, and it’s a fitting mantra for the times we are in.
“You are at your very best when things are worst.”
It can be hard to imagine things getting worse. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic that has hit the U.S. harder than any other country, followed by widespread civil unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, poisonous politics in an election year and unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.
These are times that try our patience and our resolve. It is easy to want to withdraw and bunker down, to tune out the outside world and lapse into a fatalistic nihilism, a hopeless sloth of withdrawal.
The pandemic reminded us that contact with others is an essential part of life. Human contact is something we took for granted, or even came to resent in New York City, where everything is too crowded and the inconsideration of others is amplified by proximity.
But the need to interact with others is more important now than ever, and despite the myriad conflagrations boiling over in our society, we can still find common ground with decent people of differing ideas.
Human life is inherently tribal, and America has forged tribes along lines of culture and character in ways other societies cannot fathom. These cultures appear to be irreconcilable, but basic human decency and goodness can transcend even our deepest chasms. The past few weeks have shown the extent of our divisions but also the depth of our decency and resolve.
“You are at your very best when things are worst.”
It is time to be the best person you can be and play some part in making our world a better one. You may be at odds with your friends and family, you may be subjected to hatefulness from smaller minds, but the things most worth doing are often most difficult. Keep going.
We can look back at this time and be proud we were at our very best.
January 4, 2010 is the day I mark has having had my last drink of alcohol. It might have been a day or two earlier than but four is a lucky number for me and I decided to set that as the date. This past Jan. 4 marks a decade since I’ve had a drink.
The time went by quickly. Since 2010 a lot has happened. I got married and had children. I left journalism and “went over to the dark side” of public relations. Could I have done those things if I had still been drinking? I don’t know.
I am confident that stopping drinking was the right thing for me, but quitting drinking was not some massive and sudden wonderful change. There’s no magic transformation that turns someone instantaneously from a pathetic drunk to a charming success. All of life’s frustrations are still there, and the warm confidence that comes with drinking is now gone.
And while it’s worked for me, the non-drinking life is not for everyone. I think even people who have problems with drugs or alcohol don’t necessarily have to quit completely. There’s a middle ground that most of the world can navigate. One of the signs that I needed to stop drinking was when I was bowled over at my ability to have only one single beer at a punk rock show I went to. I caught myself as I was glowing in a self-congratulatory mood on the walk to the subway from Trash Bar—uh, actually, this is what most of the world is able to pull off every day!
Quitting drinking wasn’t something I did on a whim or at the spur of the moment. I had been thinking about it for a long time. I had taken long breaks from drinking, sometimes as long as three months at a time, to show myself that I could do it. When I first quit, I only gave myself the goal of stopping drinking for one year. Only after one year without alcohol did I decide to officially bid goodbye to the drinking life.
The drinking life had been a fun one. I’d be the worst kind of hypocrite to rage against drinking since I was an absolute maniac with booze for the better part of two decades. I have good memories from those times and made many great friends over rounds of drinks, I can’t just throw all of that away. I can still be around people who drink; I just don’t. I won’t create a new identity or try to reconfigure my entire life because I don’t drink any more – that would truly be giving alcohol power that it doesn’t deserve.
But it got to the point of not being fun anymore. I would ponder and plan out how I was going to approach a night of drinking and then all my well-intentioned plans of moderation would go right out the window. I was tired of waking up with long gaps in my memory, incredibly hung over, and realizing I had spent twice the amount of money I wanted to. I had no one to be angry at but myself, and my weekend mornings regularly began with waking up to this miserable, impotent rage.
There were some moments that stand out in my decision but thankfully no major disasters. I miraculously never got arrested for drunk driving while in college, no major bar fights or major accidents litter my beer-fueled past. But slowly the magic of the alcohol began to wear thin and not work as well anymore. And all the things I felt I need to drink to enjoy—dating women, going to concerts, playing music, reveling in the creative act that drives us to joyful madness—these were all things I was supposed to be enjoying anyway, and if I needed to be drunk to enjoy them, maybe I was on the wrong path.
So I went ahead and quit drinking on my own, though I did read a book that was helpful in my first year of not drinking. Drinking, A Love Story by Caroline Knapp is an impressive memoir and I highly recommend it if you are questioning your drinking. A lot of what she described as signs of having real drinking problems was very recognizable, and it provided the well-researched bulwark that helped me decide that I was on the right path in putting booze aside.
In her book, Knapp quits drinking after joining Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Alcoholics Anonymous route is one I decided to avoid at all costs. Alcoholics Anonymous wallows in pathetic victimology and peddles its soft-core religion incessantly. Furthermore, many people I know who joined AA have come back to drinking. If AA is the only alternative to drinking yourself to death, have at it, but the success rate is low and its philosophy teaches weakness.
The past 10 years have been filled with a lot of ups and downs, and I’m glad that I experienced them without the hazy filter of alcohol, which for me had become a sad crutch. If the magic dies, don’t be afraid to move on. If I can do it, so can you.
Summer vacations are best taken after Labor Day, when the summer season is considered over and people are back to the grind. Leaving New York City after Labor Day is a reward for sticking it out in the horrendous heat of this summer.
My family went to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a tourist mecca that becomes much quieter after Labor Day. The weather was wonderful over the weekend and we enjoyed relaxing on the beach while our toddler girls were mesmerized with experimenting with water and sand. I had no idea such simple ingredients could keep children entertained for hours and have a new appreciation for the beach.
While we were enjoying the ocean air and seafood, we saw the news of the string of bombings that happened in New Jersey and New York City. Long gone are the days when news like that would have sent us running to turn on the TV news. We’ve become much more accustomed to these kinds of events. But before long the damage was assessed with no fatalities, the usual Internet debates sprung up before the dust settled, and within hours of the bombing in Chelsea the authorities had their suspect.
And has been noted before, New York does not scare easily and we overcame fears of bombs years ago. Maybe you can scare a smaller city like Boston or San Francisco with a homemade explosive, but that’s plainly piddling stuff for the Big Apple.
Some of the best comments to win the Internet noted that the bombing brought New Yorkers of all kinds together to acknowledge that 23rd and 6th is not Chelsea but the Flatiron neighborhood. No doubt plenty of real estate brokers will consider it Chelsea to jack up the rent, but you have to get to 7th Avenue to be considered Chelsea. Sorry terrorists.
That the device was planted in what was mistakenly thought to be Chelsea could be a sign that the bomber wanted to target gays, since Chelsea is known as a gay neighborhood. Then again, the suspect in custody put it close to PATH train stations in both Manhattan and Elizabeth, which could mean he was too lazy to walk far in Manhattan. Seeing as he’s spent most of his time in this country working at a fried chicken restaurant in New Jersey, I’m guessing the latter. You don’t have to be hard-working to be a jihadist, just a delusional lunatic.
What warms my heart about the incident the most was not that there were no fatalities or that the suspect was quickly apprehended—and hats off to our first responders for all of that of course. What makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and have faith that the New York of my youth is not completely gone is that the second device left in Manhattan was discovered when people tried to steal the suitcase it was stored in. That lives were saved by old-fashioned larceny means that the grit and crime that characterized our streets for decades lives on and in some small way redeems us. It figures this clown came from New Jersey; real New Yorkers know an unattended bag is going to be stolen faster than any detonator.
But like our overcoming the horrors of the September 11 attacks, it fills Americans with pride that New Yorkers did not wallow in horror or self-pity at this incident. We simply kept performing the never-ending calculus of planning around delays and diversions that becomes second-nature. Don’t lead the newscast with a body count, New Yorkers say, tell us which subways are closed.
Islamic terrorists planted bombs thinking they can stop New Yorkers from drinking in bars. Better people have died trying.