2023.51 : My Foolishness

Hollywood, CA U.S.A.

It’s nobody’s fault but mine.

— Blind Willie Johnson

As a young man, I wrecked my integrity on the rocks of Siren Island. Who was to blame? I and I alone.

Last week’s photo essay, upon reflection, might paint an incomplete picture of my character’s evolution. In this week’s installment, I endeavor to rectify this, in the first of many photo essays on this topic in 2024.

Last week, I let you in on the introduction to my old friend. The transition from a casual acquaintance to a close confidant came to be when I found myself at a crossroads, having lost my way, my self-respect taking a beating. Turning to him—an older man I respected—I sought guidance to navigate the age of foolishness. Little did I know, that epoch never seems to end.

Anticipating disappointment, many of you might feel let down when I reveal what I did. Without offering excuses for my behavior, in the grand scheme of things, most would likely categorize it as normal bad behavior for a college student. However, that very categorization is the essence—for me, it was unacceptable.

My moral compass was forged early. Unswayed by the merchants of morality and immune to popular trends of the zeitgeist. Importantly, and to establish the tone of this photo essay, it’s not something I’d ever wish to impose on others. The point of this essay is to tell the story of experiencing violating my own ethic.

Strolling down the college hall to class, I witnessed a scene etched in my memory with precision. There she stood, leaning against the wall, holding court with nine (yes, I counted them) admirers who encircled her. The casual ease, the captivating command of their attention, and her evident enjoyment were sights to behold. This spectacle continued for weeks. I had heard tales of this charismatic beauty from a faraway land. It was at that moment I resolved to get to know her. Let’s call her Katerina.

“You know what I love about your Rick?! You are one hell of a son-of-a-bitch just walking up to women who obviously outclass your country ass. And as if it was nothing.” My old friend, comprehends me. Stories of me doing precisely that; essays, each one of them.

Upon meeting Katerina, I was in the tenth year of my two-decade-long streak, flawlessly executing a perfect three-point landing into the Friend Zone. To this day, Katerina, her family, and I share a lasting friendship. The memory of being a guest in her family’s faraway home for three months lingers as a delightful recollection.

Katrina’s magnetism, captivating both women and men, is a phenomenon that must be experienced to be believed. Preceding Katerina by 2,800 years, Homer chronicled in “The Odyssey” the tragic tales of sailors wrecking their ships on the rocks surrounding the island of green meadows, irresistibly drawn to their demise by the enchanting song of the Sirens. I never attributed blame to the Sirens for being themselves; instead, I blamed the men for lacking the strength to resist the urge for self-destruction.

The blame game took on new meaning the day I found myself powerless against the allure of the Siren’s song. In that moment, I recognized it was too late to follow the wisdom of Homer’s sailors who plugged their ears with wax. Henceforth, I understood that I needed to be tied to the mast, ensuring I could retain my life while succumbing to the intoxicating melody of the Sirens that permeated my entire being.

My country ass was raised in the midst of men and women of character. A Man’s Word Is His Bond. No excuses. No rationalizations. No changing of circumstances. Death was preferable to breaking one’s word; my young mind framed these lessons as. My most lucrative (and rewarding) professional relationship has lasted twenty years and counting. When lawyers and accounts find out that at times this not insignificant ongoing deal was launched with and continues to operate smoothly solely on a virtual handshake over AOL Instant Messenger (look it up, young-ins), they need a moment to recover. When they wisely suggest time has long past to get the deal in writing, they are even more surprised by my response. My client’s and my word of honor won’t hear of it, topic closed.

Experience has taught me never to give my word lightly. I know what I am willing to suffer having given my word. My well-being demands wisdom.

One might reasonably assume, based on my description of Katerina, that she’s “the special one.” However, she isn’t, wasn’t, and never would be. The special one did call me and asked that I provide support to her friend from Scandinavia while in Los Angeles. I gave my word.

After a visit or two, the Scandinavian agreed that it would be great for her to experience the American celebration of Halloween. We set the time, and I gave my word.

After a day of shopping with Katerina, I found myself observing her preparations for the Halloween party she was going to. [As I penned that line, I noticed my hand rubbing my forehead, my jaw tightly clenched. I still can’t believe what came over me.]

I was hypnotized. Rationalizations began flooding my mind.

“Afternoon traffic will be a nightmare to get all the way across town.” True and irrelevant. I had plenty of time to leave early. I gave my word.

“You can’t afford the gas.” Again true. Again irrelevant. I had enough. I gave my word.

This vicious cycle of nonsense was shattered when Katerina came to a realization, turned to me, and said, “Weren’t you supposed to meet the Scandinavian tonight?”

I mumbled nonsense in reply. Katerina left for her party. I called the Scandinavian’s voicemail with nonsensical excuses, conveying that I wasn’t going to make it because at this late hour, it truly was too late. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t get the message until after waiting for more than an hour for me, having already gotten into costume.

Yeah… I did that.

Throughout that entire time, the voice of reason fought to be heard:

“You were raised better than this.”
“What the hell are you doing?!”
“You damned fool! Counting Katerina, that makes three women of character you’ve let down.”

It’s nobody’s fault but mine. Not Katerina’s. Not the Scandinavian’s. Not the special ones. It’s nobody’s fault but mine.

I was shocked by my own behavior and the lack of control over my thoughts. Stunned, I called my old friend. He invited me to join him at work and help with his overnight shift. All night, we scrutinized every aspect of this train wreck as if we were the NTSB. By the time we finished, it was 5 am, just in time for me to step out the front door and be greeted by the rising sun, often referred to in the clubbing community as ‘God’s flashlight.’

Initial corrective measure: Drive across town. Confess and apologize profusely before the Scandinavian. Fortunately, she generously granted absolution, which, in Latin, meant “set free.”

“To become strong, a man’s life needs the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted.” A poignant quote discovered in a remarkable essay I stumbled across, “Freedom is not to escape living in a prison, but it’s to choose your own prison.”

I was never free again. Thankfully so.

It is the vivid memory of how I felt breaking my word that strengthened and continues to strengthen my bond with others. A crucial point to understand needs to be made. It wasn’t facing the consequences of breaking my word that felt bad; that felt right. It was while, in the midst of, making up my mind to break my word. It felt like what I imagine stepping into quicksand would be like—slow, inexorable, and sinking into a profound sense of doom.

My country ass stumbles through every mistake it can find; I strive not to repeat the same error more than once or twice, if I can help it.

Scandinavian, I am sorry you had to endure my foolishness. If it’s any consolation, I’ve never lived it down, and most everyone I encounter on most days since has been the better for it. Thank you for being kind to a fool; your kindness has been echoed forward.

And now … know the photograph.

And to experience the backdrop soundtrack to this photo essay, playing on an endless loop, refer to the companion video below.

Led Zeppelin: Nobody's Fault but Mine (Remaster)

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