I am at war with my radiator. Radiators, actually. They never seem to work right. They don’t turn on when I want them to. They turn on when they want to; at exactly 3 A.M. every morning. A radiator is a device that can be found in many homes and apartments and slums throughout the world which uses boiling hot water to create steam to create heat to keep all the people in all the homes and apartments and slums nice and warm more or less. My radiators turn on and create boiling hot water that sprays all over my room.
I call my landlord and he sends up his handyman, who looks like a homeless man but carries with him a rather pleasant aroma, he turns some bolts and screws with a monkey wrench and it seems to work perfectly. Then, at 3 A.M. it starts all over again. One time the landlord even turned the furnace all the way up, (the same furnace that makes the whole building shake at 6 A.M. every morning, you don’t even need to set your alarm) and sent his handyman to watch my radiators for a half hour to see if anything happened, and of course, nothing happened that time. At least I’ve gotten over the occasional mouse sightings in my room.
I used to freak out every time I saw a mouse, like they were out to kill me in my sleep or something. I bought some small sticky traps over the summer to try and catch them and I almost did. It was horrifying, woken up in the middle of the night by the screeches of a mouse partially caught in the trap, dragging it across the hardwood floor. When I finally gained the courage to get off my bed and look at the trap the mouse was gone. All that was left was a rubber band that it left behind…I still don’t know what it was trying to do with it. After that I slept terrible for about a week, every little sound would grab my attention like some serial killer had broken into the room, “It’s the mice! The super mice that can’t be stopped by traps!”
Anyway, I got rid of all the food in my room and ended up buying bigger traps and I still didn’t catch anything but they disappeared for a while. Every now and then I see one, but it is usually in the kitchen. One of my four roommates says every time I mention them: “They come inside in the winter for the heat.” But I saw a lot more around in the summer, so I don’t know what makes him think he’s such an authority on the whole thing. Like someone died and made him Rodent Behavioral Expert. I pay more than him in rent so I am right about anything involving an apartment issue by default. I pay entirely too much for rent. Especially for an apartment with four other people, and mice, and broken radiators.
Everything takes time. Some things take a lot of time. Just ask anyone. Especially anyone who has been trying to get things for years and gotten next to nothing. People who have been trying to break into show business ever since they got out of college that still haven’t broken through and are pushing forty. They might get a job and think they’ve finally made it; a gig writing a few episodes for a network show or get picked up by a big Broadway production. But after that it’s almost like they’re right back where they were; a faceless member of the millions who slog through the bullshit everyday in search of being somebody on the Internet Movie Database. Their resume looks a little nicer, but that doesn’t put any more money in their pocket. So they have to wait until the next gig rolls along.
I’m not pushing forty. And I haven’t gotten any gigs yet that would make me think I’ve broken through. I was pretty excited when I first got this gig; I’m less excited about it now. Just getting out of college, it is easy to be excited about trying to make a living entertaining others. What’s not so easy is figuring out how to do it so anyone will care and so you can make money. Immediately upon finishing my final exams at Providence College I went out in search of a career of entertaining in NYC. I didn’t even stick around for my graduation. I was too bored with school and too excited to be a part of the real world. I’m still excited about that.
I knew hardly anyone of any importance in the real world and I still don’t. The few people I do know are those who are still trying, still looking for that one job that they’ll one day look back at and be able to say, “That was it. That was my big break.” Listening to them for advice can be like listening to someone tell you what its like to scrounge and be desperate as a career. They all make it sound like I must be half crazy to even want to be in this line of work. But they’re wrong. I’m not half crazy; I’m full-blown-just-escaped-from-the-loony-bin-bat-shit-crazy. And so are you, trust me. Anyway, I think they’re just afraid of the competition.
The truth is, for most people, there is no “big break.” It’s something you grind out for years and years and maybe you finally grind enough or maybe you just get lucky, or maybe you don’t. In the interim there is a lot of waiting. Everyone hates the waiting. Not because of the time but because of all the things you need to do to pass it. Get a job somewhere you don’t want to work, create things that no one else will ever see, get frustrated, feel guilty, and doubt yourself. You get frustrated because despite moderately zealous efforts you still don’t have a job even remotely associated with your long term goals. You feel guilty when you do anything not related to advancing your career, which feels like all the time. And when you actually enjoy doing any of these things that make you feel guilty you start to doubt your ambition. You think, “Why do I like doing these other things more than what I should be doing? Do I even want to be here really?”
That bothers you a lot. Or at least it should, it bothers me all the time.
That other thing I never mentioned that you are always feeling guilty about only affects some people because lots of people aren’t lucky enough to feel guilty about it. It’s that feeling you get when you’re parents need to give you money once a month so you can still afford to pay your rent, and eat, and buy metro cards and all of that stuff you need to survive in The Big Crush. “The Big Crush” is another nickname for New York City. I thought of it myself just now, I don’t know if I’ll ever use it again.
You feel guilty because your job is a joke and the time you should be spending to find a real job you’re spending trying to work on your pipedream of a career or, even worse, trying to have a good time when you’re paying entirely too much for your apartment and you don’t know anyone out here anyway so who are you gonna have a good time with?
When you live on your own with next to nothing you find out pretty fast if you’re actually a lucky person or not. Luck isn’t just catching cards in black jack or being able to win at monopoly. It’s just having things you really didn’t do anything to get. Some people are lucky for other people they know, for things that bumped into them, for the way they look. Some people are lucky because they have long legs. Most people are lucky enough to have legs. Most people are luckier than they like to believe. Most people don’t appreciate their good fortune.
That’s how I used to be. I try not to be that way anymore. But it’s hard to always remember how lucky I am. Everyone once in a while, when I just miss the train, I have a bad day at work, my roommate uses up all the hot water, I forget that I’m in the greatest city in the world, I forget about all that luck. And I start to feel guilty. But no one can be happy all the time anyway, unless they’re completely crazed.
Remembering that you’re one lucky SOB is important but it’s not the most important thing. That thing is to remember to live your life. Go out and have a good time sometime. Don’t waste all day planning where you’ll be in ten years. Piebald once said “Life is what happens while we’re making plans.” They also said that “If it weren’t for venetian blinds it would be curtain for us all.” Those guys were pretty clever.
New York really is the greatest city in the world. You might not think so, but screw you, this is mine and I make the rules here. I don’t mean for the reasons everyone already knows about: the food, the clothes, the Statue of Liberty. Everyday, you can go out to the same place and see something new. You walk down the street and overhear six different languages in the span of two blocks. You’re in a place where you can do anything and go anywhere. Millionaires, bums, artists, and yuppies all sit next to each other everyday and don’t kill each other. You shake up the rest of the world and it doesn’t bother you cause you were born to shake. You’re a part of something, even if you are a nobody. I think that makes anyone pretty lucky. Especially anyone who pays too much for their rent, knows hardly anyone, needs to borrow money from their parents every month, has a crappy job, mice in their apartment, and broken radiators.
Kevin H. MacLean grew up with his five brothers and sisters and two parents in rural Connecticut. He currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.