General 6-20-2005

Excerpt from “The Hustle”

Golden years, my ass. The “golden years” are often the worst of people’s lives.


They’re sick. They’re broke. What is it all for? The Yiddish saying, “arbeit wie a ferd und laig in d’rerd”, pops up in my head, “Work like a horse and lay in the ground.”

1 a.m. I get up, because I have to take a whiz. So then, after that, I lie awake, nervous, until finally I sleep again. I didn’t used to get so nervous after I staggered back from the bathroom, but now when I return to bed it’s like I’m bolt upright mentally, no drowsiness, no relaxation. I can still count on dropping off to sleep. Only it’s abrupt, like falling off a table.

3 a.m. Awakened again, this time by asthma. I take a couple of hits from my puffer. Gradually the shortness of breath goes away. From here until I get out of bed, I might not sleep again. I may be even more nervous too, but I know that help is on the way.

Yeah, help is on the way, because at 4 a.m. I get up again to take my pills, which keep me going. These include three Prozac tablets, a lorazepam (Ativan), an “amphetamine combo,” and something for high blood pressure. It takes six pills to get me going on a reasonably even keel. Yeah, I take these pills and go back to bed and wait for them to kick in. And it works. Gradually I feel more relaxed, and I put my worries about things that may happen six months from now out of my mind. I’m getting saner now and hope I’ll stay that way for much of the rest of the day.

At 6 a.m. I get up and shower, put my clothes on, take two Excedrins, and wake up my daughter so I can drive her to school. She’s almost 17 now. My wife pulled her out of our local public high school about a year and a half ago. The quality of the school, which had been rated in Ohio’s top quarter maybe 20 years ago, was now in the bottom quarter. She has ADD and wasn’t getting the quality of treatment she was supposed to receive. Plus a lot of other students were raucous and rowdy and she got in fights with them. One time she was even suspended from school for two weeks. So my wife thought my kid would do better if she was on another program. She got her taking correspondence school courses for a while, with mixed results, and then she entered our local county junior college, taking courses she could get high school credits for. She didn’t do so hot the first semester, but now she seems to be improving; although I think it’s too early yet to say that sending her to a junior college was a good course of action. But it could work out. It could.

It’s 8:15 a.m.—we’re there in plenty of time. Then I drive back and go to the post office, which is always exciting because you never know what someone’s going to send to a big celebrity like me. And then it’s home, where my wife is asleep, and probably will stay asleep for the next few hours. I have no more assigned duties until I have to pick up my kid in the afternoon. But I have to work, you know. I have to do some freelance writing to supplement my pension. Yeah, I realize I made a lot of money from the movie that was based on my comic book, American Splendor, but that didn’t set me up for the rest of my life, for crying out loud. I’ve got a wife to take care of, a kid to support who’ll want to go to college at some point.

So I hustle, looking for all the gigs I can get. These include comic book writing, music and book reviews and articles—all kinds of articles, really, including personal stuff like this. As time goes on, and the memory of the American Splendor movie fades from people’s minds, I need to do more and more freelancing, because gigs I’ve gotten that have been generated by the movie will become less and less plentiful.

So, I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m a pessimist, right? But pessimists are right more times than optimists—studies have shown. If there were more pessimists than blind fool optimists in this world maybe someone would do something about global warming. Oh, me, how did we get to this point? Anyway—like I said before, golden years my ass. At least most 65-year old men don’t have to fight with teenaged girls all the time.

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