I’d Rather Comfortably Travel Home For Christmas [Friday Thoughts W/ TeeCoZee]

Good Moleman. I’ve figured out the boy’s punishment. First, he’s grounded. No leaving the house, not even for school. Second, no eggnog. In fact, no nog, period. And third, absolutely no stealing for 3 months. It’s Friday, December 20th, Two Thousand and Nineteen. The weather in Brooklyn is 28° & Pantone 2718 and somewhere, somebody is trying to buy a candy dish. That would really tie the room together and impress the in-laws. They’ve already been to 5 different stores and nobody has any clue what they’re talking about. It’s almost as bad as the time they tried to buy a vase. All that these store offers are decorative bowls, but none of them specifically state, “Candy Dish For Use With Candy and Candy Only”. Unbeknownst to them, they should probably stop looking in candy stores and just go to Marshall’s or something. And me? I put all my candy in a Billy Butler Breakfast Bowl. The green and yellow color scheme clashes wonderfully with the rest of the room and I just like seeing Billy Butler smile at me. I also have some things on my mind…

– Instead of starting to write, I was just now fascinated by my neighbor’s window. It was obviously closed, considering the current temperatures I stated in the prior paragraph. But there was a small black trash bag stuck to the bottom, resting on the outer sill. It was downright entrancing. It glimmered in the morning sun and swayed back and forth. The random wind scatter gave it a delicate dance. Watching it, I felt like a new man. I didn’t worry about why the bag was there in the first place. The old Coze would have done that. The new Coze takes his time to marvel at the simplistic beauty of this world. I must’ve watched the bag sway for a good 10 minutes before I realized that it wasn’t a bag at all. It was actually two filthy-ass pigeons bathing each other. I should probably get my eyes checked. I should also stop staring at my neighbor’s window. Only in New York, amirite?!?

– I got an email the other day that made my heart stop. No, it wasn’t a 15% off coupon at Gadzooks, but that would’ve been dope. It was an email from Cornerstone, the totally benign company that took over my federal student loans against my will and charged me $400 a month for the last 9 years. You know. Those guys. Fucking love those guys. I love giving money to people. I accidentally deleted the email, but from my recollection it said something like this:

Dear Coze,

You’re a good dude. We’ve had fun taking your money over the years. You’re a totally chill guy and I bet you can play a mean Tony Hawk. I heard you did a 69 million point combo. That’s sick as fuck. Also, your student loan(s) have been completely paid off because you’re, like, really responsible. You’re like a narc, bro. Stay away from my corner stone, noamsain? Anyways, check out your digital account website shit for more stuff.

Smell ya later,

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. All the years of grinding and mind numbing work has [literally] paid off. And it happened a year early? I think? I knew from the get-go that the loans would be paid off in 2020, but I thought it was the end of the year. Was I fooling myself all this time? Am I finally living the life of financial freedom? Can I…afford health insurance? My sweaty fingers fumbled and tapped uncontrollably as I tried to login to my account. After multiple fails and a security pop quiz, I was in. Opened my messages and there it was: I had paid off…

…a loan for one semester…

…God damnit.

As disappointment washed over me, I came to a strange resolve. I never thought I would come close to paying it off and now I’m on the final lap. I have really come so far. For the first couple of years, it was a lot of ramen and leftover scraps for dinner. But I never missed a payment, never late by a day. I kept telling myself that if I couldn’t afford to pay it every month, then I couldn’t afford to keep doing what I was doing and would need to make a change. The change was never necessary and for the past few years, I’ve had the luxury of leaving autopay on. It was no longer a thing I thought about, but rather it was just money that I never had in the first place. And after I assured myself that I’ve been doing a great job, I realized something else. I was overjoyed with the idea of having everything paid off. Even if the bliss only lasted for 5 minutes, it was still an overpowering feeling. I had never felt more mature and accomplished in my entire life.

And that is the problem.

This has defined our generation. Growing up in the 90s, we were told early on that we would go to grade school for 12 years and then spend another 4 in college. Why we were going to college, we had no idea, but it was a necessity. We got pushed in and then pushed out and a big chunk of us were in debt because of it. When I thought I was out of that debt, my sense of accomplishment and pride was much greater than how I felt when I got my bachelors degree. I actually felt nothing when I graduated. Like many people, I was very good at going to school, but I barely had any skills outside of it. Any braindead jamoke can waltz into a college and grind their way to a degree. But it takes a true intelligent, responsible adult to pay for the loans out-of-pocket.

The system has gone backwards. Most of the fields that colleges teach don’t pave the way to actually pay for the classes. Instead, you go through the motions until there aren’t any more classes to take. And then you have one year to find a job before the loans kick in. And then you try to find any job that could supply such an income. And you’ll fail and your friends will fail. So your friends will move halfway across the country to find that job and with nothing better to do, you’ll follow. And you’ll take the first job you can get because you’re completely on your own and the loans are looming. And maybe you’ll like that job, even if you are just a counter jockey. Maybe you’ll become king of the counter jockeys. Maybe you’ll take pride in the menial jobs that you do. Maybe you’ll live a fulfilling life, doing a normal thing in such an abnormal place. Maybe you’ll fall in love. Maybe the person will fall in love with you, too. Maybe you’ll make a life together. Maybe 9 years will pass like the blink of an eye. Maybe you’ll forget what you studied in the first place. But one thing is certain, you won’t regret going to college. Because even though you’re king of the counter jockeys, the experienced shaped the responsible adult that you are today. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for my loan paying experience. It’s the gun to your head that gets you out of bed every day. I don’t even know what I’m talking about at this point. Shut up, Troy.

– Earlier this week, Zach wrote a little ditty about coming home for Christmas. I found it cute that even though he is 33 years old, he is just now having his first “coming home for Christmas” experience. I wish him the best of luck, because most of the time, it is not fun at all. Here’s my Top 5 Most Uncomfortable Trips Home For Christmas:

5) 2009It had been snowing for weeks, it seemed. The morning of Christmas eve was no different. I was almost late to work, as the Bonneville was covered with a fresh coat of white. Regardless, the sun was shining and continued to do so all day. But the sun was down by the time I left the store and started my trek across the state. And all the freshly melted snow had no choice but to become ice. It was their fate, which in turn became mine. What was normally a 2 hour drive became a 4 and a half hour molar grinder. Any time I felt comfortable enough to let my guard down and increase my speed, another patch of black ice would come up. Semi trucks and late assholes sped past me, swerving all the way. I had no choice but to crank the radio up and scream on the top of my lungs. It helped me keep a mental balance, as if my clear distress would take away the distress of the car. Creeping down M-52, I didn’t dare turn my brights off. At any moment, a deer could pop out and ruin my whole universe. My head craned like Henry Hill looking for helicopters. By the time I arrived at Aunt Sue’s, almost everybody had left and all the swedish meatballs were packed up. Nobody seemed to mind my bloodshot eyes or the fact that I had pulled most of my beard hairs out. I made it home safely and that’s all it mattered. My knuckles remained white for days.

4) 2013A blizzard was bound to hit the day before my flight. This wasn’t due to mother nature or global warming, but to the fact that I just plain sucked at travelling. I went to work that morning with my suitcase and a head full of wishful thinking. After all, the snow had already stopped, so the airport had a good 8 hours to clear the runway just for me. Right? Is that how it works? Nope. When I left work, I boarded a train home with my tail between my legs and a re-booked flight. The following morning, I got to LaGuardia’s Terminal A a full three hours before my flight. Anybody who has not been to Terminal A should consider themselves lucky. It’s the terminal that time forgot. Only one of the buses went there and it had the vibe of Port Authority on a Friday. The line to check in started at the door, with no end in sight. There had to have been a thousand marooned passengers trying to get to Boston on one of the two planes that the terminal provided. After two hours, I was still nowhere near the desk. Panic washed over me, as did pools of sweat. I got to the desk 20 minutes after the scheduled take-off. Another flight missed. At this rate, I probably wouldn’t get home until the next day or maybe next week. Maybe I should just cancel the trip altogether. Defeated, I gave my info to the clerk and he clacked smoothly on his keyboard. Without breaking his gaze from the monitor, he told me that I was actually on a different flight leaving terminal C in 2 hours. A direct one to Detroit. Jackpot. He printed the ticket and gave me a wink as he handed it to me. “Your seat has already been selected.” It wasn’t until I got to terminal C that I looked at my ticket. Row Two. First class. He fucking gave me a first class ticket.

Somebody up there loves me. And he decided that I had enough.

I won’t go into the boring details of how amazingly awesome it was for a 25 year old to ride first class. You get the idea. But if you ever wondered how many free whiskeys you could get on a 90 minute flight, the answer is 6. Or maybe it was 7. When my mom picked me up, I tried to disguise my drunkenness as holiday cheer and delirium. Turns out, I had all three of them.

3) 2011 The lady at the check-in desk wondering why I was shaking. She probably suspected that I was trying to smuggle drugs and truth be told, I probably fit the profile. I explained that it was my first time flying alone. “Aww, well today you get to earn your wings!”, she replied coyly. I had no idea what she meant. I still don’t. That lady was fuckin’ weird. My flight to Chicago went swimmingly. Almost too swimmingly. I felt so damn adult. Just a dude travelling alone. A stranger in a strange land with a few hours to kill. Guess I’ll go have a whiskey. I plopped down at a TGI Friday’s and ordered a double that I probably couldn’t afford. But it was the holidays and I was an adult, damnit! I drank it way too fast and found myself buzzed and $15 broker with 2 hours to kill. A cigarette was in order. And it sounded damn good. But I had no idea how airports worked. Surely, there’s a smoking section somewhere. Obviously. Everybody smokes. Smoking areas are standard. They’d be out of business without one! I went to my gate, made myself known as a passenger on this here plane and asked the desk clerk where the smoking section was. He scoffed and said I had to go outside security. I hypothesized aloud that if I went right then, I would definitely get back in time for the flight. He agreed. By the time I finished my sweet, sweet tobacco, there was still an hour before my flight. And the security line was short. In fact, it was very short. But it didn’t move. Ahead of me, TSA was fumbling with their awkward xenophobia as two old women rightfully refused to remove their burkas. But I still didn’t sweat it and I got to my gate with 15 minutes to spare.

But the board no longer read Flint. It read Lexington.

The guy at the desk pretended that he didn’t talk to me an hour prior. He told me that I had missed my flight, despite the fact that it was sitting right there and wasn’t due to take off for 15 minutes. My stomach dropped down to my feet. I had done some dumb things in my day, but this might’ve been the dumbest. I had no choice but to sit at the window, put up my feet and watch my airplane fly away without me. And then I braced myself to make a very awkward phone call.

2) 2015I felt an acute pain in my stomach. It started in my side and slowly crept to my navel. I was already dealing with chest pains for the past week. My whole mid-section was a disaster. I spent the whole morning stressing out about every little thing. What if my flight gets delayed? Or cancelled? What if I get mugged on the way? What if I have cancer? I was an inconsolable mess and I couldn’t tell anybody what was wrong, because I had no clue what was wrong. But I found the might to limp to the train and head to the airport. The train screeched slowly and I started feeling new sensations. First my head went numb and then my chest went cold. The pains in my side and stomach flared and stabbed. I tried to drown it out with music, but it only accentuated my paranoia. People are staring. Why are they staring? Do they want to hurt me? Rob me? Help me? I need to go to a hospital. I need to get to the airport. No, really, I need to go to the hospital. Jesus, no, the airport. The airport will make it all better. But what’s better? When have I felt better? I need to get my bearings straight. I need to quit smoking. I need…way too many things. I need to stop needing things. As I got deeper into Queens, the feelings subsided. When I got off the bus I was able to breathe deep. And then I breathed deep again. I still had a few hours to kill. So I smoked a cigarette. And then went inside. And then immediately turned around and smoked another one. All of the weird feelings and pain were gone. Vanished into thin air. It was the best I had felt in weeks, all because I made it to the airport okay. I would later come to find out that the episode was my first ever legit panic attack. I would also find out that it was the last time I ever smoked at an airport.

1) 2014I could feel every bump that my sister hit. And going down M-13 in the dead of winter, there were plenty of bumps. I struggled to get comfortable, as the bottom shelf of the trunk pressed against my back. In hindsight, we could’ve waited a little bit longer before I got stuffed in the back. I writhed around, trying to grab the phone out of my pocket. The light of my screen left me temporarily blinded. I fumbled to adjust the brightness and then checked to see if my Mom liked the link I left her on Facebook. Before getting in the trunk, I posted the Beach Boys rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” to her wall. She “liked” it. I imagined her listening to it, waiting for her daughter to come over so they could Facetime with me in New York. She had a very rough year. She lost her job and then lost her father. If anybody deserved to have a Merry Christmas, it was her. My heart raced as I could feel the tires slowing down on the smooth driveway. Mom opened the door before Nicole even turned the car off. She asked Mom to grab some presents out of the trunk for her and started recording on her phone. The thought of the moment still makes me teary-eyed. After 4 years of having to take tumultuous trips in January, I was finally home for Christmas.

[Side note: It appears that my trip home that year was also filled with other stresses that I chronicled the best I could.]

Try this trick over the weekend/holidays/Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever: Spend as much time as possible with your family. They fucking miss you.

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

– TeeCoZee