Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Life As A Movie

I am in Atlantic City for a quick overnight trip. I am staying at the Showboat Casino Hotel and when I wake up in the morning I will have a cup of coffee from the Starbucks in the lobby, walk a mile to Boardwalk Hall, and then run 13.1 miles as fast as my body will let me.

Tonight I was out on the Boardwalk, walking from my “free” pre-race dinner at Bally’s back to my room when I heard the first few notes of a song I knew well from my freshman year of high school in 1979. It was Donna Summer’s song “Bad Girls” and because I was in a hurry to get back to the hotel my steps matched exactly the quick disco beat that propelled the song to number one on the charts all those years ago. The music was coming from speakers arrayed along the fa├žade of a long block of tattoo studios, massage parlors, funnel cake purveyors, and knickknack emporia.

As I walked to the beat, I suddenly had the feeling that I was in a movie. It was a long tracking shot taken from Boardwalk-level and the camera followed me as I pounded down the wooden walkway past all the storefronts, weaving my way around all the other people out on the Boardwalk on a chilly fall night. In the movie it was obvious I was different from all the other people out on the boards. There was my pace to set me apart, but also the glint in my eye, the snazzy brown felt fedora on my head, my purple Converse high tops, and the unblinking focus of the camera itself.

I allowed myself to live in the feeling of being in a movie for a few moments and then came back to my senses and started to think about just what sort of a movie my life would make, anyway. The scene I was just in felt like something from one of the Ocean’s Eleven films. But even just a few seconds’ thought was enough to make me laugh at that idea. Lately, my life is certainly NOT a cleverly plotted, quickly paced caper film. In fact, the more I thought about my life as a movie, the more alone and depressed I felt. A movie of my life lately would be whatever the opposite of an action movie is…an inaction movie? An anti-thriller?

This hasn’t always been the case. When I was 17 I gave myself a birthday present. It was a jump out of an airplane and it was how I celebrated my 18th birthday. When I was 21 I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Yemen, where I learned Arabic, lived in my own apartment, taught in a Yemeni school, and hitchhiked all over the country. When I was 23 I took a two-month road trip all over America, visiting 22 states and driving over 10,000 miles. When I was 28 I moved to Billings, Montana on a whim because I got tired of driving and found a job and an apartment there my first day in town. At the time, everything I owned fit in my 1970 Plymouth Valiant named “Fuad”. When I was 30 I met Erica and within a few months we knew we would be married. After our wedding we took a six-week honeymoon in Portugal without any real plan about where we would go and what we would do.

Now, I am soon to be 45 years old and I have not done much of anything lately that I would call adventurous. I know I am still that same person who was so willing to put himself in new places and try new things, but an outside observer, (or say, a cameraman following me down the Boardwalk), would have precious little evidence of that adventurous spirit in me. Erica is starting to wonder if maybe it was all just an elaborate case of false advertising.

Which brings me back around to why I am in Atlantic City tonight. Last fall I started to get inklings of this dissatisfaction with myself and my unwillingness to put myself out in the world. I decided to set myself a huge challenge. I decided to run a half marathon in each of the 50 United States. If I finish the Atlantic City Half Marathon tomorrow morning, that will make 6 states under my belt.

Back in August I went to Montreal and spent a week doing only what strangers said I should do with my time there. It turned out to be a great week. While there I literally felt ten years younger. And now that I think about it, I am certain that feeling of being younger was a direct result of getting back in touch with that part of me that craves new places, new challenges, and new experiences.

So, as I run my 13.1 miles tomorrow I am going to spend a lot of that time playing with ideas, thinking of challenges, and trying to tap into the spirit of playing at life that I used to have all the time.

I also want to invite you to send me ideas and suggest new situations and challenges that might allow the adventurous me to wake up and come out and play again. Maybe we can turn my life from “Remains of the Day” to something a little more exciting and worth watching.


  1. On Friday I am flying up to Dearborn Michigan to participate in the opening of a documentary on Yemen-Americans in which I have a small part. I will stay three days up there, eat lots of Yemeni food, hang out with my newly acquired Yemeni friends and be 24 again. I'll let you know how it goes.

  2. A new graduate degree,something you don't need but want?

  3. I decided on acting classes, beginning in two weeks.