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Balls Alone

Over-Breaded Brooklyn

January 6, 2004

Well, I figured I should try and write this thing again. Someone pointed out to me recently that personality profiles and accounts of personal experiences make for much more enjoyable reading than inward reflection. On that count, I’ll pass on the conversation I had over the holiday stretch with Mark, the bartender at Specs’ in San Francisco. It begins with him:

“So you’ve been living in Brooklyn? I always thought it was easier to get a decent hotdog out there.”
“Oh yeah? Haven’t had many. Except at Coney Island. I wasn’t too impressed.”
“Yeah. Sometimes they over-bread. It’s a problem, even with the good hotdog places these days.”
“Yeah. Skewed bun to frank ratio. Can ruin the whole experience. Irish Coffee?”

They continue to make a decent Irish Coffee at Specs, and the crowd hasn’t changed much. Specs, the proprietor, is still kicking, and pulls in most nights in his standard leather coat and cap to survey the scene before grabbing a drink across the street at Vesuvio. His San Francisco existence seems remarkably similar to mine, except that he owns one of the two bars where I drink. It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where George accusingly asks Jerry who he thinks he is. “I think I’m a lot like you,” Jerry answers, “only successful.”


I can’t really claim newcomer status anymore, having lived in New York for over six months. Strangely, though, returning to Brooklyn from my old home in California feels no more familiar or comforting than it did when I first arrived in June. I’m again faced with more questions than answers – where I will live, what I will do, and if I will stay. In some regards it’s even more difficult than it was the first time. But that’s life, so I suppose I better get used to it.

The tale of many newcomers, or those experiencing major life changes, probably holds to particular patterns. Frequently, some form of disruption or upheaval, be it personal or professional, leads to the conclusion that further upheaval is necessary to get to the next stage. When, how, and if that next stage is reached depends much on the individual. It helps if you can count the little victories along the way and are able to live with uncertainty. Compartmentalization, dissociation, learned distraction, and a marginally split personality can all be big pluses, too. It seems to take more than balls, alone.

Relationships, whether forming, continuing, or breaking apart, are common motivators in trying something new. I heard it on the plane back last night, listening to the conversation between the young couple sitting next to me. “She came out to New York to be with him,” the girl explained to the boy, relating a friend’s experience, “but when she got there he decided he wasn’t into her anymore.” This is both a completely inadequate yet all-encompassing explanation.


Taking the bus didn’t last long when I was in California. My brother lent me his red Cadillac with personalized plates referencing his gambling moniker. At first I felt a bit like William Conrad, tooling around town in a rental with a bucket of Kentucky Fried, waiting for his Lincoln to get back from the shop. But then I got used to the cushy ride and power steering, and kind of molded into this new identity. That’s the thing about adopting new identities – once you get going it’s hard to stop. Had I stayed one more week, I may have even removed the fake nose and glasses.

Still, old versions of Self can pursue with dogged determination. Being back around family was at once gratifying and disarming. It made me realize how much has changed for me in recent months, and how nothing has changed at all. Someone told me when I left that taking a chance on New York was a no-lose situation; if it worked that would be great, and if it didn’t I could always go back. It was a great sentiment, but even then I knew it didn’t cover everything- not much that’s worth anything does.

2004 Rick Monaco All Rights

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