Inside the Animal Kingdom

Asking for love feels needy, desperate, and embarrassing, especially for someone bonded to self-reliance. But when my dog repeatedly hits me with his dainty little paw begging for a scratch, I think, ‘How sweet. He knows how to ask for what he wants.’ And I think, ‘I could learn from him.’ And when he keeps tapping me, never sated, slapping my hand every time I try to type on my laptop, I end up yelling at him and saying, “I’m working!

A dog can teach you lots of things. Like the fine line between expressing your needs and desires, and becoming a demanding pain in the ass.

Throughout the years, I’ve encountered men who would praise me for being undemanding.

I can take you to a party where you know no one, and you don’t hang all over me,” one short-term boyfriend told me. I took this as a compliment until I realized that I was basically being commended for being invisible.

I’ve decided that I don’t like playing the role of ‘The Girl Who Needs Nothing.’ But transitioning from a lifetime of being low maintenance to actually expressing wants and desires is no easy task. Fear sashays in. Fear of being labeled as needy, and thus undesirable. Fear of the request not being granted. And the favorite of psychologists – fear of getting what you want.

Beyond that, if you’ve buried your needs and desires for longer than you can remember, you lose sight of what they are. You even lose sight of self.

“You don’t know who you are?” a puzzled friend asks.

“Well, I have a hint, but I’ve inhabited so many identities as a means of being adaptable and flexible that I’ve lost connection with the real me,” I reply.


In order to know what you want, you have to be connected to who you really are. To those who have never been a chameleon, this challenge is hard to comprehend. But when you’ve lived as a chameleon for ages, able to inhabit any persona to function in any situation, eventually you have to ask, which role is the real you? Does the real you even exist anymore? And while adaptability has assured your survival, what part of you – other than the shell – has survived?

As I attempt to write this, my dog stands by the side of my bed barking, determined to recruit me as his playmate. In his wisdom, he knows that every day he must engage in fun to maintain his sanity, to romp with other dogs or to have a mighty tug-o-war with a dishtowel from which he emerges victorious. Okay, maybe he doesn’t know this, but he absolutely requests it. So now I know it.

And in following my dog’s lead, I see that the best way to find my way back to me is to play, to see what constitutes for me uncalculated joy. As I gather this knowledge, I see what I choose for my life rather than what I agree to in order to please others. I find me.

The canine education doesn’t end there. My dog, the king of finding comfort, paces and burrows, rearranges, and eventually lies down. Content. He finds subtle differences in the lay of a blanket or the temperature of the floor. In observing him, I recognize how good he is at taking care of himself, of meeting his own needs, and when he can’t, in asking for help.

I always saw independence as one of the most admirable traits anyone could develop, that the ability to sustain self equaled desirability. But after traveling the relationship road for a couple decades, I see how people enjoy being needed by their mates, how women and men who directly ask for what they want offer a gift to their partners.

So with this in mind, I’m ready to say good-bye to the chameleon. I imagine I’ll remain adaptable, but I’ll strive to hang onto self more powerfully in the process. And hopefully learn to ask for what I want. It’s time to speak up rather than roll around on my own back trying to scratch the itch.


Keeping Tabs

Hopelessly idealistic, I never feared cultural differences in a relationship. I believed the rhetoric that ‘we’re all the same,’ so when I found myself in a two-year, long distance romance with a Russian whom I had met overseas, I never questioned that we could make a marriage work. After all, we’d spent extended time with each other in both countries and had weathered it well.

One day my husband told me that he found the expression “I owe you one” so American, that Russians would never say such a thing. He pointed out that Americans keep a running tally sheet.

As much as I wanted to refute his observation, to say it was just colloquial speech, I knew he was right. Americans, in my experience, don’t like to feel indebted. If someone lends us a hand – a ride to the airport, a day of moving assistance, childcare, whatever – we want to repay the favor to even the tally. If we were the one to provide assistance first, we know we won’t feel awkward asking for aid when our turn comes. And while I never consciously think this way, I can’t deny that if I end up in the giving column repeatedly, I start to feel uncomfortable with a friend.

In 1980s Communist Russia, day-to-day life functioned on neighbor helping neighbor and family members operating as a unit, even when separated by thousands of miles. My husband told me that when his oldest sister came across some boys’ shoes for sale, she snatched them up immediately even though she only had a teenage daughter. It was hard to find shoes and her younger sister had two boys. While her sister’s family lived days away by train, the older sister knew it would somehow be easier to get the shoes to them than for her sister to find some locally. Necessity bred this kind of bond beyond familial love.

Stories like this were common. As a college student in Moscow, my husband had only two friends with cars. Both were regularly called upon by a wide circle of acquaintances to make airport runs a good hour outside the city. There was never any indication that either found the requests extraordinary or that they expected any means of repayment. This was simply how life functioned. But as the American, when I came to visit I wanted to repay the friend who had collected me from the airport, and I felt at odds until I found a way. I couldn’t slide into the Russian way of thinking.

One of the advantages of marrying outside your culture is the unique perspective an outsider can offer. After my husband pointed out the American tendency, I tried to keep the tally sheet out of our marriage, to erase my cultural upbringing, but I don’t think I ever fully succeeded. While what ended our marriage resided beyond this one issue, my ears still perk up when I hear, “I owe you one,” and I wonder how often relationships – romantic and not – fall victim to this principle.

As my son gets older, I ask more of him around the house. And in his typical teenage perspective, he often feels very put out. He’s entirely unaware of the tally card, noting left and right what he’s done to help and completely overlooking how much of my day revolves around facilitating his life. As it should. I am the parent.

But in not wanting to breed a selfish child, I point out what I do for him, and without intent introduce the concept of the tally sheet. And I don’t know how to feel about that. Being part of a family – and in a relationship – requires give and take. I just wish we weren’t so aware of keeping track.

Ironically, now that my ex and all his transplanted Russian friends have lived in the U.S. for roughly fifteen years, their bonds of friendship have weakened. They still gather and come to each other’s rescue, but if one friend ends up in the need category for too long, the talk begins. Gone are the days when they were an indestructible unit, when they’d throw all their clothes into one giant pile and head off to the laundry only to return home and hold up a pair of clean underwear and ask, “Whose are these?” And if they didn’t know, they never really cared.

In a land where we need one another – yet don’t rely upon each other the way my ex and his friends once did – I wonder how to quiet the mathematical calculator in our minds. Or should we? Does this tally sheet really indicate we’re less caring in our relationships? Or does it just show that everything in life requires balance, that we use this as a way of monitoring friendships to keep them healthy?

I believe I’m as much there for my friends as those Russians I spent a summer observing through the ins and outs of their lives. And while Americans might say, “I owe you one,” – and mean it – what counts is that we continue to show up for our friends and allow them to show up for us, scorecard and all.


Unbreakable Bonds

Not one to sit back and wait for life to happen, I take the reins and whip the horse…gently. Along the way, I like others by my side, so I come up with an activity and elicit companions to join in. Sometimes I offer up a dinner party of a thoughtfully constructed guest list. Other times I pick up a couple of tickets to an event and place a call to extend an invite.

Very often I get responses like, “Oh, that sounds great, but I can’t plan that far ahead,” or, “It’s too last minute. I’m tired and don’t feel like heading out.” It’s as if I am trying to make plans with Goldilocks.

Word from those who have transplanted to Los Angeles is that it is a tough city in which to cultivate friendships. People are busy, exhausted by entertainment industry work schedules, too spread out, hidden in their cars, overwhelmed by the traffic, burdened by family and children, overextended, or simply waiting for a better offer.

Some days I take the ‘not this time’ in stride and just put out more invitations. On others, my insecurity punches me in the stomach as I convince myself that if I were further up the food chain, I’d have people lining up at my door for the simple pleasure of drinking water from my tap.

But when I can collect a group under one roof, pour wine and offer experimental dishes of assorted tastes arranged for the colors they embody, it’s worth all the frustrating phone calls and dead-end emails. On the night when friends and acquaintances gather, I have created community.

As I observe my guests talking and eating, I slide into an alternate reality where time slows. I inhale the shared laughter and sway in rhythm to the music that overtakes the room like a perfectly designed soundtrack. To me, this communal moment is the heart of life.

And I wonder if others need these gatherings the way I do, if my longing for community stems from a disjointed and erratic childhood, if I’m always looking for the familial connection I never felt I had.

Through very unscientific methods, I’ve discovered that those who often feel alien on the planet felt alien in their own childhood homes having inhabited the role of the outsider taking notes from the periphery. As the misplaced child, we shook our heads side to side wondering how we ended up where we did. By the time we moved out on our own, we wondered what that had all been about.

You either dissect it for the rest of your life or become a stand up comedian. Or both.

Or you look at your past as the launching ground that got you to the present. You recognize that it served a magical purpose that turned you into a therapist or an artist, a dedicated athlete or a writer.

It’s easy to wish we could rewrite the past, to cast ourselves into arenas that we imagine as the perfect fit, to erase any pain and hurt. But certainly it’s more valuable to identify the unique traits we developed from our unique circumstances, to embrace our role as survivors of pasts and childhoods that we claim we would never have chosen.

Sometimes I wish my childhood had offered me delicious memories of shared love and laughter and unbreakable bonds with siblings, rather than fostering the hungry observer fixated on understanding human behavior. But had I found my place of belonging, I may never have developed the eye and ear that serve me in my art. And without the powerful longing for connection, I never would have become queen of the dinner party. Self-crowned.


Sacred Accidents

I close my eyes and type as fast as I can to invite flow and to purge. In opening my eyes, I see a land of green squiggles and red underlines, the decorative commentary of Microsoft Word. My eyes instantly leap to these adornments, granting the mistakes greater significance than when my fingers correctly connected with the keys.

And I imagine that my fingers have intervened and are speaking directly to me, spewing the words that want to be heard, voicing my true desires. The drunk dialing equivalent for the literary set.

A word waves from the page, one of my fingers’ inversions: sacred. I had intended to type scared. And I pause to consider if scared can be sacred.

In the 90s nearly every book I picked up had a title about leaving or falling, of something that would get me out of where I was, a fantasy of departure or relocation. Dreams of Leaving, Falling Out of Time, names like these. I remember nothing of the books beyond their titles. The content was inconsequential.

Staying put has always been my challenge. A gnawing sensation below the skin tells me, ‘Not here, not now.’ And in this state, it’s hard to focus, hard not to wonder, ‘Why can’t I find the life and place that call to me?

If you walk in the inner circle and smile at your peers, if your home feels like the place that has always called to you, you can’t imagine what it’s like to never feel home. Despite living in this dwelling longer than any other in my life, despite my saying with a smirk, “I’ll be here forever,” I feel like a temporary resident, as if someday the right spot on the planet will present itself to me and I’ll sigh and smile, and say, “Yes, now I understand. I wasn’t crazy all those years of disquiet. I wasn’t home yet.

My son told me that the reason he was so grumpy on a recent trip was because he hates to travel, that he struggles with change and adjustment. He illustrated his point by confessing to initially hating the new furniture in his room – the furniture he’d selected – because of its newness. He missed the old furniture he’d grown to despise, missed its familiarity. And in moving one piece of the old furniture back into his room to ease the transition, he knew he was taking care of himself.

Looking at his need for stability and my need for movement, I figure we must have something to teach each other.

I strive to be a good role model, yet lately in my unstructured days with no new additions to my resume and no obvious forward momentum in career, I fear I’m setting a bad example. I worry my son might not fully understand my actions of abandoning a solid career for the unknown. But in the quiet when I feel calm, I imagine I’m teaching him to take a chance, to believe in change, to believe in moving outside your comfort zone.

And in return, he teaches me. His mere existence shows me that I might need the grounding influence of being a parent, that without the responsibility of my son I could be off spinning out of control.

Scared and sacred. The words echo in my mind.

As a family, we nudge each other into new territory. I push him to move a bit more and he forces me to settle in a bit better. And while we couldn’t have picked this, I sense it’s no accident that we are paired together.


Hurry Up and Slow Down

As I drive home, the blank and colorless traffic signals for the last three blocks could have tipped me off to a problem, but they didn’t. Not in a grand way. Traffic lights go out all the time. It’s hardly noteworthy.

When I pull up to my building, flicking at my garage door opener to no response, I still don’t react. It often takes two or three presses to activate the aging device. But when I get a full view of the lightless garage through the mesh gate, an eerie quiet slides over the scene like a horror film moment. Electricity to the entire neighborhood is out.

The technology gods are at it again, roughhousing in the heavens, knocking out my utilities, forcing me to slow down and take notice.

I pull my car into the exterior guest spot, and climb the outside stairs to the building’s side entrance. Opening the door, I see the windowless hallways are pitch-black, the back-up emergency lights clearly not backing up anything.

I walk to the front of the building, to the stairway graced with windows, climb to the third floor, and think, “Two weeks ago no water. Now, no power. Coincidence? I think not.”

We all dance with spirituality in our own way.

Months ago I was speaking to my decidedly non-spiritual friend via our cell phones when suddenly – yet certainly not surprisingly – our conversation abruptly ended. My friend was at her gym peddling away on a stationary bike where I know she’s not supposed to use her cell phone, so when she didn’t call back, I figured another exercise enthusiast had sat down beside her and snarled, prompting her to end the call.

Hours later when she never called back, I picked up the phone. “What happened to you?” I asked.

“When we got disconnected, I took it as a sign that we shouldn’t talk longer at that moment,” she explained.

“This is how you find spirituality?” I asked. “By way of your cell phone?”

As I find my way into my unpowered home, I decide to take this latest environmental intervention as a sign for me to slow down. I can gamble with the life of my laptop battery and power it on to write or take a break and turn from technology.

I reach for a book. A printed book. Of the paper kind.

I often feel as if I’m cheating to step away from my own work and enjoy someone else’s, forgetting that if we never did this, there’d be little point in any of us creating. But conditioned to plow forward, I find giving myself permission to not progress challenging.

Thirty minutes later, I’m startled from my calm when the power returns in an energetic poof! My dog leaps from the sound of technology surging to life all around him, and he starts trembling as if the apocalypse is moments away. No matter how I try to reassure and comfort him, he shakes and shakes. How can I explain electricity to my Chihuahua when I can’t even explain it to myself?

And suddenly I have no excuse to keep me from work. But the characters in the book on my lap call to me, plead to tell me more of their story. They promise me I will have time to tell my own, that sometimes the best way to move forward is to stay still. And because I have been forcing and pushing and tensing and straining, I decide to listen. After all, these characters may know something I don’t.


Down the Rabbit Hole

From time to time, I wander through my computer-housed address book to remind myself of friends who have drifted into the creases of my mind. I fire off an email to say ‘hi’ or to set up plans.

But sometimes I hit upon an unknown name. Henry? Who the hell is Henry? No address, no email. Just a first name and a phone number.

Faced with this mystery man, I force myself to admit that I’ve been participating in far too much disconnected dating over the past few years, mostly courtesy of online introductions.

I started out as the typical Internet dating newbie, sheepishly typing out phrases like, ‘I never thought I’d be doing this…’ or ‘I’m just giving this a try…’ or ‘Just looking around…’ And I was polite, responding to every letter that came my way.

I’m sorry. I’m just not comfortable with the age difference,’ I wrote to the gentleman in the sixty plus category when I had just nudged across the border to forty. When he took offense, I offered up my single mother since she was closer to his age. That ended our communication quickly.

Over time, I grew frustrated.

To the one who explained he was on a strict schedule where he sat down to work at 6 p.m. and continued to work until dawn and slept most of the day, I explained, ‘I need to have some overlapping wakeful hours with my mate.’ He thought that our differing schedules would allow me plenty of undisturbed hours to write. I thought we’d never actually see each other while conscious.

Finally, I became unyielding.

I’m sorry. I fear death by traffic,’ I wrote to the man who lived more than sixty miles south of me, reachable only by the 405 Freeway, a freeway often referred to as ‘the parking lot’ amongst Los Angeles dwellers.

After four years of on and off Internet explorations – and still seeing many of the same faces I saw when I first embarked, which definitely qualifies as discouraging (which I’m sure is how others feel when they see my smirking mug) – I recognize that I’ve changed, transformed much like the rotting piece of fruit neglected in the bottom drawer of a refrigerator.

In analyzing my demise, I tally what I warmly refer to as…
“My First 13 Stages of Online Dating (with notable repeats)”…

1. Shame
2. Optimism and enthusiasm
3. Mini-affair disguised as possible relationship
4. Disappointment
5. Self-delusional pep talk and another attempt
6. Mini-affair
7. Disgust
8. Proclamation that I will never online date again
9. Dry spell and self-assured ‘this-time-it-will-be-different’ return via a new site
10. Mini-affair
11. Proclamation that I will never online date again
12. Dry spell and sheepish return to dating site
13. Major disappointment in form of bad dates, bad responses, no responses, any of the above
Peppered through all these phases are more dreadful dates than I care to admit, including the one who commented that he heard chewing sounds when I ate (I subsequently polled my friends who assured me the noise I make while eating falls into acceptable levels), the one who confessed suicidal tendencies over our first cup of coffee (I was only hung up on him on and off for three years), the one who expressed disappointment that I wasn’t taller (I seduced him via one extremely suggestive follow-up email), the one who was open to a relationship as long as we confined it to one night per week, and the one who sent me a lengthy caustic email following a date where I told him I didn’t think it would work between us.

I’ve blocked out many more. The heart and mind can only take so much. I admit I displayed poor judgment in many of the abovementioned examples, but hey, I’m only human.

Or I was.

I finally arrived at Stage 14 of online dating – The Evil Transformation.

I send the perky first email, which may lead to a couple back and forths. Sometimes a red flag sneaks in. Sometimes I get an impulse, an uncomfortable sensation.

And I disappear.

If we’ve met, I find a gentle way out. If we haven’t, I vanish. Without a word. Without warning. I disappear over little things. After a restorative night’s sleep when I awake with clarity realizing that I’m communicating with a guy I suspect I have nothing in common with, where there’s no attraction, no geographic opportunity to successfully achieve a relationship. I vanish due to common sense and due to no sense. I vanish in disgust and despair. I vanish because I can, with no repercussions, aside from witnessing my own decline in common decency.

I can’t help it. Really. I‘ve been pushed over the edge by too many false starts, too many false promises, too many misses. It all can make a relatively normal person go nuts.

Nonetheless, I apologize. I didn’t mean to become one of them.

One minute he was sending me ten emails a day. The next, he was gone. No explanation,” numerous friends have told me in variations of these words as I nod my head with understanding.

I hear the unexplained disappearance is the second most common complaint about Internet dating, trumped only by lying and the misleading photo, which I consider to be the same thing. Some justify the behavior as being part of the game, that the Internet is the Wild West. But by saying that, we just make room for a decline in civility.

And the thing is, as much as I can joke about the misconnections, poke fun at others’ behavior which is really a way of poking fun at myself as well, I see how this journey has hardened me, has made me feel a little less hopeful for connection. I see how when I slip from optimism to disappointment, I add a layer of armor to better protect me the next time around. Yet in adorning this armor, I also grow less sensitive to others’ feelings. I let my hurt justify my bad behavior.

I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’d rather slide through this life with irony and grace, maintaining a sense of decency. I'd rather be laughing. And if I ever – shoot me first – return to online dating, I pledge to better behavior, to not disappear, and to tell you about all my bad dates.

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Today I broke up with my housekeeper. It was inevitable. We’ve had our problems in the past, and while I tried to address them with direct communication – pointing out the neglected areas of my home, and gently offering rags to spare the life of my paper towels – things never improved.

After struggling for weeks with the decision to end the relationship, I decide the time has come. When she arrives, before I reconsider or lose my nerve, I leap in.

“Hi, Veronica. How are you?” I say, more manically than intended.

“Fine, miss.” (She refuses to call me by my first name, a subservience that adds to my unease.)

“Uh, today is going to be the last day I have you clean,” I say. “I can’t really afford you.” (Which is true, but for the perfect relationship, I’d make an exception.)

Blank stare and delayed response. “Excuse me, miss. I don’t understand.”

“Today is the last day I will have you clean,” I repeat.

“Sorry? I don’t understand.”

It’s tough enough to blurt out break-up words once, but now I have to say them three times, and my discomfort grows alongside my understanding of why it’s been so difficult to get Veronica to meet my cleaning needs. She doesn’t understand me when I speak, her English appearing stronger than it really is. When she’d greet my requests in the past with a smile and say, ‘Okay,’ she in fact never understood what I was saying.

And this miscommunication reminds me of the night my ex-husband and I decided to get married, the night I nearly spoiled his proposal due to another of many language barriers that has impacted my life.

In facing his expiring tourist visa to the United States from the then Soviet Union, he mentions how maybe it’s time for him to go home. But after six straight months together and two years of a long distance relationship, we understand the significance of his getting on a plane. We understand how that would be the same as ending our relationship, something neither of us wants.

“I can’t even work here,” he explains, acknowledging how his visitor status has made him feel helpless.

“I would do anything to have you stay,” I say.

“Do you want to get married?” he asks.

“Why, do you?” I respond, thinking we’re still in the problem-solving mode.

“What do you mean, ‘why?’” he asks, uncomfortable puzzlement spreading across his face.

And suddenly I’m blushing, aware I’ve massacred what for most couples is the romantic tale they tell their grandchildren. With a little more back and forth, we clarify the conversation, decide to get married, and place a long distance phone call to Siberia to share the news with his mother.

I figure if I remedied that miscommunication, I can clear things up with Veronica.

“I’m sorry. Today is the last day I will have you clean here. I’m not working. It’s expensive for me. I won’t be here when you go. Can you please leave your key on the counter?” my voice rambles, picking up speed, fueled by nerves.

She looks around, finally getting it, and seems a little sad. We barely have any relationship. She hasn’t worked for me long, but I feel guilty as if I blindsided a lover who had no idea my feelings were fading.

I quickly disappear into my bedroom. And I think how I should have known that one of our issues was a language barrier, how when she neglected to use the rags I handed her after seeing her plow through nearly two full rolls of paper towels with each visit, she wasn’t simply defying me and asserting her personal preference. Having never seen the rags again, I had wondered what she had done with them, but I was too timid to ask. I now assume she took them home, thinking they were a tacky gift.

Once it’s over, once I tell Veronica that we’re through, I feel incredible relief. I no longer have to tolerate her half-hearted cleaning and her constant cellphone chatter. I can almost imagine enjoying the added cleaning I must assume. And I think of the monthly saving of $130 as money earned, a chance to be frivolous in other areas of my life.

The thoughts are all a bit crazy, and I sense they come courtesy of the adrenaline rush from ending a relationship before it buried me. And while I see this as progress, a sign of growth that may indicate I’m ready to graduate to a relationship of a more tender and heart-felt kind, I still race from my home to avoid any more contact with Veronica.

And as I do, the woman who didn't understand 'rags' says, "Thank you for the opportunity to work for you." In hearing her flawless English, it was my turn not to understand.


Pass the Memories

The last time I walked into The Forum in Los Angeles – Inglewood, actually – I was still in my teens. Nearly all the concerts I attended before heading off to college were hosted at The Forum, along with Lakers’ games and other random events.

Decades later as I drive through the crowded LA streets, Yahoo! directions guiding me, I comment to my son and his two friends, “Coming here when I was your age, it seemed so far.” The streets were unfamiliar back then, neighborhoods away, an unusual distance before one could drive. But tonight, I realize it’s only a matter of a few miles.

We snake into the parking lot, find a spot, climb from the car. I force the boys to pose for a few commemorative photos, and then we move quickly past other fans and line up to enter. The sexes divide into two distinct lines for prodding by security personnel. And just like the sexism of bathrooms where it should be easily noted that women need more stalls to move through a line in a timely fashion, the single line for each gender screams inequity as men cruise through, their pockets quickly patted down, while women’s purses require unloading, jiggling, and painstaking examination.

The three boys wait for me on the other side of safe as I impatiently wait my turn to be inspected. Just like the boys, I’m eager to get inside.

The trip to The Forum has been on my calendar for months, ever since I battled online for four tickets to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a gift to my son and self for his thirteenth birthday.

“Do you miss when I was young and cute?” my son asks when seeing our two-year-old neighbor strut through our communal garage, a straw cowboy hat upon his little head with a royal blue star on the front.

With complete sincerity I tell my son that I love where he is now, that we enjoy so many of the same things, can share more with each other with genuine enthusiasm rather than with the feigned joy so many parents plaster upon their faces when playing toddler board games or attending G rated movies. We love it for them, but we don’t necessarily love it for ourselves.

But tonight isn’t just about doing something for my kid.

The Forum is noisy and crowded with none of the slick newness of the Staples Center, the cross-town rival that has snatched up many of the most popular performances coming to Los Angeles. As I navigate to our seats, I see myself at thirteen coming here with my fourteen-year-old date, a boy I met at tennis camp, accompanied by my date’s older sister and – I search to remember, a friend of hers? – to see Chicago, how that date was our one and only as I found myself talking more to the sister than to the boy. And I flash on the time I came to see Queen and went backstage afterwards, courtesy of my friend’s father, a high-level music executive, to peer at a hyped-up and sweaty Freddie Mercury scurrying about greeting friends and strangers. And Yes on New Year’s Eve escorted only by my high school date where when the lights went out, he lit up a joint and offered me some.

I turn to my son and his friends. They can’t possibly imagine the flood of memories coming at me.

I buy the boys T-shirts, $35 a piece, the night an enormous outlaying of cash with $20 for parking on top of $320 for four tickets. How did we ever go to concerts as teenagers? I could only imagine asking my parents for money on that scale, parents who weren’t raised on rock and roll and couldn’t possibly understand the grand importance of being there, being a part, creating a memory that would never fade.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The hometown boys bred in the tiny local clubs of the 80s where the cover charge was around $5. A time when I had friends who took their turns on stage in other home-grown bands. A time when going out for music felt so personal.

But tonight, when the lights go down, an arena erupts in cheers. The three boys beside me leap to their feet, eager, anticipating. The smell of marijuana soon wafts through the room, but not in the cloud-creating quantities of my teen days. Tonight you can actually identify the location of the smoker. The aroma adds to my nostalgia as I inhale deeply, wanting more, wanting that connection.

I turn to see the boys with their arms slung around each other’s shoulders, swaying to a slower song, and I think, “I’m passing the torch.” Tonight the memory belongs to them. At thirteen, this moment won’t fade into an unremembered event only vaguely called up with a photograph. By thirteen, the memories stick, a piece of past never feeling so far away.

And when Flea, the bass player, comes to the mike and says, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to be someone who grew up in LA, driving to The Forum, knowing you’re going to perform there.”

But I can imagine. I can imagine how incredible that feels, how it symbolizes a completed journey even if there’s much more to come, even if other milestones have appeared more impressive. This one is personal. And suddenly I feel an inexplicable connection to the band as if they’re truly my peers rather than celebrated rock stars, a connection of overlapping childhood memories. I imagine that since their dreams have been realized perhaps mine be can, too. Rather than envy, I feel optimism. I feel the pursuit of a passion, to remember to chase a dream even if you can’t clearly see a destination.

Since the concert, I’ve been walking around with one corner of my mouth upturned, an unconscious smile creeping onto my face. I’ve been sparked to life, remembering what makes me want to pull myself from bed in the morning. I imagine that someday, in some context, I can feel like Flea and breathe in my dream realized, can nod and say, ‘This is what I was looking for and I didn’t even know it.’

Not only did the Chili Peppers give me a great evening and a great memory to share with my son, they gave me hope. Suddenly the price of the evening seems like a bargain.