There are few things that are as thrilling to me as the open road with no commitments. You give me time and you give me money and I’ll want to drive or fly away.
Like a running back, I want to run to daylight.
I still savor the memories of all those college professors who told me I could become anything I wanted. My mom said I could become a star for God. My dad was a star. I wanted to outshine him.
I’ll never forget taking the I-5 South from Sacramento in March of 1994. I was returning to LA after five years away and I had a place to stay in Westwood for a few weeks until I got things sorted. I had money in the bank and I had choices and I had dreams and I had no obligations.
I was 27. I was coming out of six years of bed-ridden Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I felt like the world was my oyster (while living out of my car for most of the next year). I loved exploring LA and its beautiful women. I thought about returning to UCLA to finish my degree. A 27-year old on a university campus would not be weird. Or I could go to work for Dennis Prager. He said he might have a job for me. Or I could become an actor or write a book. The possibilities seemed endless (beyond my significant limitations of exhaustion).
As the months rolled by, I felt my options dwindle. I couldn’t articulate what was going on. I just felt my life getting smaller. I saw that I would not be on the same level as my peers for much longer because they were all getting established in careers and family. Within six weeks, I learned I wasn’t getting the job with Dennis Prager. Then I realized I did not want to return to UCLA to study Economics. So I started going on acting and modeling casting calls and I got hooked on the Hollywood culture. At the same time, I was having a ball exploring every type of Judaism. I felt like there was a significant conflict between these two worlds.
One significant parting of the roads that I faced was my sex life. Whatever I chose to do with that would send my life in two different directions. If I chose to contain myself, the best way to live the monogamous life was serious religion. If I chose not to contain myself, I could wander indefinitely. I was having a ball having a ball but I sensed that my promiscuity was incompatible with my best interests (marriage and children and career and commitments like a mortgage). Without consciously choosing balling over non-balling, I kept balling and though my actual promiscuity ended by the summer of 1995, the fantasy of promiscuity dominated my life for the next 17 years and with it a mounting dread that my life was going unlived.
The most intense Judaic experiences I had in LA in my first three years were at Aish HaTorah. Orthodox Judaism did not seem as rational to me as non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, but it moved me more deeply. I resonated with Orthodoxy in ways I couldn’t articulate and did not expect but there were feelings of joy for me that were only available inside the dance. For my first six years in LA, I kept a foot in both camps, but by the summer of 2000, after a trip to Israel, I went in all in on Orthodoxy. That choice narrowed my life options.
By the time Covid rolled around in 2020, I was simultaneously happy with a small life and yearning for something more.
One great thing I learned from ten years of therapy and 12-step programs is that I always have more options than I think.
I want to run to daylight. At the same time, I recognize the force of some sort of ratchet in my psyche that wants to separate me from others so I can live alone in my delusions.
It’s 2022 and I’m nearly 56. I’m happy but I’m living small and there’s got to be more for me. My default setting is towards isolation and I have to keep making concrete choices against my grain to go social. So most every Sunday these days, I explore LA again like it’s 1994.