Though not arrogant enough to think the world revolves around me, I’m certain the universe was trying to tell me something on my Monday-morning commute. Events, and I know it was a random sequence of happenings interpreted by my usual insanity, conspired to convey a clear and needed message: “Calm down.”
Downtime for me is usually reading newspapers and magazines from around the world, or listening to British radio programs on business, fashion, design, media and politics. I try to get to the gym several times a week. And through all this, I’m constantly thinking about this paper, campaigns, the upcoming legislative session in Albany, business and other projects. With one exception—a guy I went to college with—all of the friends I now spend time with are also professional colleagues. I’m always thinking of current events in the context of history, the motivations and thinking of actors in these events, and how it all connects up. The books I read, lately, are translations from Italian, German, Spanish or Hebrew.
It’s not the easiest way to live, but I’ve found it’s who I am and what works for me. It can be exhausting, and sometimes I take it too far. Certainly this is the life I’ve chosen for myself, but it often leaves me impatient.
Nothing awful happened this past Monday morning, not even bad—just petty stuff. “First-world problems,” I’ve heard them called. But I’m glad I caught it in time to see it for what it was—a teaching moment for the new year.
NYJL is currently headquartered in Brooklyn’s Industry City. Most mornings I take the local R train from Montague Street after taking the boy to school. Sometimes I switch at Barclay’s for the express N, which I did on Monday. The R pulled out ahead of the N, never a good sign, and then we sat in the station for five minutes. The express ran local, waiting at every station for each local R train on the actual local track to pull out ahead of us. Stuck on the proverbial “slow boat to China,” I arrived at the 36th Street station long after I would have if I had just stayed on the initial local R. A New Yorker through and through, I got annoyed.
When I got to Sunset Park, I planned to grab an egg sandwich since I didn’t eat at home. The corner spot nearby had a long line, an already full griddle and just one person working. I figured the food being prepared was for those in the queue ahead of me. No dice: Large orders were just being taken from the first couple of folks in line.
Off I trundled to the café across from our office in Industry City proper, thinking to be healthier by skipping the eggs in favor of a roll and coffee. Smaller line, but again just one person working, and she was tied up with an enormous order of ridiculously involved coffee drinks. (Think half-caffeinated almond-milk lattes, double espresso americanos with coconut-milk froth alongside flavored drinks made with stringent instructions.) The lovely young person behind the counter was apologetic, but brandished a long, handwritten list of drinks. I should have stayed at the first place, no doubt about it. Nothing to do about it, but annoying.
Small issues, as I said, of less-than-no importance in the context of real life, let alone horrific current events. It was still a moment of introspection, which we should all take when we can. You know the above has happened to you too, and you know you were annoyed. It’s different for everyone, with different triggers, but we’re all susceptible.
Many years ago I was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting in the Capitol, with an hour before the meeting. Grabbing some lunch, I got impatient with some people in line ahead of me who seemed to have never been faced with the decisions usually confronted in the deli line. One of them, a woman with a midwestern accent, turned to her companion and said, intentionally loudly enough for me to hear, “He must work for Chuck Schumer.” I think we know what she meant.
For 5778, in my professional and personal life, I will try to calm down. It’s possible to be driven and kind, rushed but not rude, and ambitious though still patient. As a manager, parent, partner, son, brother and friend, I hope to rise to the occasion. Let’s check in with each other from time to time to reinforce this new year’s pledge. Together, as hokey as this sounds, we can help each other be better.