Hollywood Syndrome

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Out of some misguided sense of loyalty, or more likely because I’m a lazy and stupid person by nature, I often look for mid-shift victuals at my store’s deli, which boasts a variety of impressively mediocre lunch fixings–among them, wraps of the buffalo/ranch chicken and cranberry-turkey persuasions that are uncharacteristically satisfying. And I love a good wrap. But it’s risky business with these, since they are prepared as soon as, or before, the store opens, then wrapped in cellophane and placed in an insincerely refrigerated display–a kind of “produce purgatory” if you will. I have yet to pinpoint the exact gestation period for the pure evil that ferments sauces into digestive grenades, but I’ve been burned (or some part of me has, if you catch my runny drift) enough times that I should know better. And yet I persist.

Standard Mk. 22 Fragmentation Wrap used for years by Special Deli Ops (SDO).

Standard Mk. 22 Fragmentation Wrap used worldwide by agents in Special Deli Operations units (SDO). Also available in “Percussive Club” and “Incendiary Caesar” variants.

Somehow the well established fact that I’ll most likely wind up paying for the meal twice over never seems to in any way deter me from dreaming that this might be the one–the magical wrap of fairy tales that, when chewed, sets off fireworks in the sky, prompting a band of bagpipers to enter stage-left and perform a raucous Irish jig to the tune of “Celebration,” while torrents of confetti pour from the ceiling and coat both of us in inches-thick layers–but neither of us care, because the moment is so perfect–and I triumphantly lean in, but as I do, the moving image freezes to a still. And, the moment’s benediction captured, the picture fades to black. The credits roll, and everyone leaves the theater reassured that their perfect sandwich is out there somewhere waiting to be found.

I’m obviously talking about much more than gyros now. If the level of self-defeating optimism in my dealings with lunch is any indicator, then it must be plain to see that in love I am far, far worse. Nearly hopeless, in fact. It’s the romantic in me, and it leads me ever onward down a path of unrealistic expectations for storybook endings, serendipitous denouements, and affirmations of the perennial triumph of true love over all.

Perhaps my favorite of all time.

Perhaps my favorite of all time.

Perhaps it’s because I had a lonely adolescence, during which the number of movies I watched exceeded the number of social gatherings I attended somewhere in the ball park of 600:2; or perhaps it’s that I’m hardwired this way. I don’t know. I’m not sure it’s my place to know. All I can say for certain is that my perception of reality is interminably filtered through the lens of stories. Some would call it an affliction; I call it, “Hollywood Syndrome.”

NOTE: From here on out, the humor stops (mostly), and gives way to me blubbering for a minute about regret and self-pity over having my heart broken a year ago, before launching into why I remain hopeful and you should too. “Gross,” I know. If that’s going to make you uncomfortable, then I suggest you leave now before your image of me as nothing short of a brawny and sterling specimen of raw masculinity gets tarnished any further–after all, if there’s one memorable thing about my writing, it’s obviously my strong-arm style of imposing manliness on a page. My felt-tip pens have biceps, bro. And vice versa.

casablancaNOTE: Undeterred, eh? Well don’t say I didn’t warn you. So no fair getting all bent out of shape over me dropping my “Sarcasmo, The Amazing Bullshitter” schtick, alright? It’s not happening from here on down.

As you may have suspected, I’m a rank sentimentalist. Those people with whom I share strange coincidences, with whom I seem almost fated by design to (re)encounter, are invariably the ones I am most drawn to. I can’t help it–it’s in my nature, and for all I’ve tried, I cannot rid myself of this tendency to view such coincidences, such inexplicable and unlikely connections, as signs of some storybook destiny at work.

I tend also to seek out sweetness in even the sourest of subjects. Heartbreak perhaps most of all. It’s funny how you never really notice how many FREAKING cliches about “never noticing the small things until you’ve loved” there are until you’ve loved and noticed the small things and hated yourself for not being able to find a way around writing about them in that manner. But it’s true, and I often find myself not just remembering but reliving a set of moments from my past, even with the smallest amount of prompting.

It seems an egregious understatement to call them “memories;” no, they’re more than that–they are vivid, almost cinematic, flashbacks that play out on a silver screen just behind my immediate consciousness. Sometimes the calling comes from some vaguely familiar feature of a stranger’s face, or from hearing a song that in retrospect serves as a soundtrack for the experience, or…strangely, and most of all, from every silver Honda Accord I see. There are so many. Casablanca Train Station

I catch myself now wanting to launch into a lengthy, yet cinematically abbreviated, saga of how the apparent love of my life slipped from my grasp–how I was that guy on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides have been kicked out. But I wasn’t. I wish I could say that when finally I bowed out of the situation, I did so gracefully and with a grand gesture of nobility. But I didn’t. There was no war, there was no grand finish, no French Resistance, no Casablanca; she was no Ilsa, and I was no Rick.

There was only me, a witty fedora-clad drunkard, falling madly in love with her, a practically married woman from my past who told me from the outset that we could be friends and nothing more; only me, disregarding her wishes and inserting myself into a situation I had no business in; only me, cursing my luck when she decided to stay with the man she had loved first and who had infinitely more to offer her than I did. And that’s where the parallels end. Yet all the same, I can’t help but think back on it through the bittersweet lens of Casablanca; just as I couldn’t help but see it then through the cheesy lens of those Hollywood romances where the guy does get the girl at the end.

casablanca gin joint

Forgive me for airing out my dirty laundry like this; as a general rule, I keep it locked away in the confines of my room, where only I will be confronted by its stench. But I need to confess all of this–not just as a means of moving to the next stepping stone across that coursing river of remorse, but to say also that that river flows only of the regret from knowing that I caused undue emotional distress to my favorite person I had yet known. I complicated her life in a manner she in no way deserved; the guilt I live with every day for it is my penance, though admittedly it does nothing to atone. But for that reason alone would I do things differently.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 3.15.07 PMIf “homewrecking” is the charge in this, my auto-da-fé, I suppose some lenience is in order given that, for all of my misguided efforts, I failed: When last I heard, they had gotten back together and were living happily somewhere in the midwest. Perhaps my first step toward atonement can be taken by saying with all sincerity and no bitterness implied, that I wish each of them only the best. I mean that. Truly, I do. Even if I never find the courage to tell her this myself, and uphold the promise I made some 298 days ago that we would keep in touch, I will say it anyway, but from afar: That she find lasting happiness is all I could ask for.

CUE: Adele singing a tearful rendition of “Someone Like You;” then I start blubbering, you start blubbering, we all start blubbering–pretty soon there’s enough blubber between us to light every oil lamp in America; then the song ends, and we all agree to finish this stupid blog post and never speak of this again, GOT THAT?

Casablanca Plane

It would be far too easy for me to sit here and bemoan this Hollywood Syndrome of mine–to present myself as some pitiful creature who unwittingly made himself the target of some Greek deity’s scorn; to beg for your sympathy as I serve out this sentence of foolishly perceiving my life as a storybook. But I won’t. I can’t–because the truth is, even if I had the power to rid myself of this tendency, and perhaps I do, I would never choose to do so. I bristle even at the thought.

For all of the trouble my unrealistic expectations have caused me, they have given me inspiration in amounts ten times greater; if not for them, I would not be here now, writing this with my heart on my sleeve. I would not be writing at all. I would not be living my life–I don’t mean in the sense of mere existence, but in living, in engaging the world and all of existence, in opening myself up to the full spectrum of human experience. Though it may seem like wisdom to follow the example of the rivers, of all the natural forces, and take a path of least resistance in life, to actually do so is to merely exist in a state of sheltered simplicity and without agency–without ambition, without a willingness to risk utter failure for the chance of validating every dream you’ve ever had.

You and I and everyone else in this world–all of us who live, who have lived, who will live–we are party to the grandest of all aspects of existence: Life itself–in all of its majesty, with all of its boundless possibilities, its ups and its downs, its triumphs and travails; to go through life as simply, as realistically–as safely as possible is to waste all of that. What is the purpose of being able to think, to feel, to engage your passions fully, if you will not allow yourself to do so?

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 3.22.20 PMThe very thought that I might not be able to live a life worth writing about, worth sharing on a page, a stage or a screen–the thought that anyone can’t–is truly a most pessimistic one. I’m repulsed by it. Call it egotism, call it Hollywood Syndrome, call it what you will: So long as I am a breathing and feeling individual with passions, with dreams, who is capable of hope, of seeing his lowest points not as existential rejections, but as plot points–as those “all seems lost” moments at the end of the second act, just before the resounding rally of the third–then count on me doing so.

I don’t think life would be worth living if I couldn’t dare to hope that my perfect sandwich is out there waiting to be found–to hope that the bagpipers and fireworks and confetti and music swelling and credits rolling are perhaps waiting also in the wings to emerge in that moment of perfect serendipity, of benediction, of validation of all of my hopes, my efforts, my dreams. I, for one, will keep searching.

I hope you’ll do the same. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.


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