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What if? It’s a question far too many of us sooner or later find ourselves regretfully asking ourselves. Though I wish I did, I don’t have any real pearls of wisdom to offer mankind, hell I barely make it through some days. But I do have a few rules I live by and I do mean few. One of the rules I adhere to is with regard to the ‘what ifs’ in life. -Never be sorry, never regret, never go to sleep at night saying ‘I wish I had’ or wake up feeling ‘what if’.- That’s it in a nutshell. Nothing fancy, nothing Ad agency catchy worthy of a billboard overlooking Hollywood Blvd. Just plain and simple make it through to the next day tactics. But for every rule there is an exception right? And of course there are the obvious exceptions to this particular rule with regards to ‘never be sorry’ or at least one would think it would be obvious to any sane person. If you do your very best to never intentionally hurt another person or creature then you need not have reason to be sorry as you did your best. Simply put do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I think this fits into the category of ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten’, one of my all-time favorite books. I truly wish I could lay claim to that quote but it is not to be.
So what if? What if what? I promised myself a long time ago that no matter what it took I would not be the guy that in my twilight years had regrets about never having done those things I wanted to do with my life. To date I can honestly say I have achieved that goal. It took some time, well, a lot of time and it was not easy by any means. It meant facing a lot of personal fears head on, some real, some imagined. My life has been many things but most of all it has been a collection of experiences. Most often to one extreme or the other. I’ve always been a creature of extremities. More often than not they were experiences of the kind accompanied by a disclaimer reminding you to ‘not try this at home’. But I was that kid who wanted to try them all and then some. My desire to try it all often came with a heavy price. More than once my experiences almost cost me the ultimate price. A price sometimes extracted in blood, sweat and freedom or lack thereof. It is said that experience builds character. Character can either take you a long way or get you into a lot of trouble. It did both for me and I would have it no other way.
I grew up around a cast of wily characters some hilarious, some truly scary, all questionable. But they were my characters and I loved them and treasured them as such. I myself readily admit to being a character of sorts somewhere in between the two types I named above. A little bit of Bowery Boy and a little bit of devil child in Altar Boy clothes. Some former romantic interests would be kinder about it than others. I learned a long time ago the two things in life everybody wants to be are an actor and a gangster. I have seen both sides of that coin as well. As far the gangster goes I inhabited a place more on the periphery of the life, amongst those types that see no other reasonable way to live and want those within their circle to see it that way too. Those who would as soon make trunk music out of you as shake your hand or share a meal with you. Very dangerous men. But by way of my prior commitment to a career in crime I had earned my place at their table if you will.
Periphery or not there comes that time when the dangerous part gets too close to home and you find yourself having to make that decision that will determine how the rest of your life turns out. You either do or you don’t and that’s that. For me that decision was not a hard decision to make as my heart and soul started drifting sometime before that choice was presented to me. But I willingly admit that at an earlier time that same option presented to me would likely have taken me down a very different path that the one I am on today. I must also concede that the Big Guy had other plans for me. Heeding some well-intended advice from a man in ‘the know’ so to speak I took a pass and went after my other passions in life. That’s the short version. What may seem a quick fix life change was anything but. The quick fix was actually years of painful living and the slow and arduous process of changing ones way of thinking and retraining myself to operate a different way in life. Being on the hustle is not an easy thing to break away from. In fact, it’s probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. I knew one thing for certain, that nothing else would change until I changed those things that already were as much part of me as eating to live. The payoff was that I have far less paranoia in my life, I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder and many more peaceful nights rest because of making a choice. My life transition admittedly was not nearly as seamless as I like it to sound dumping a laundry list of other baggage I’ll save for another time. But those issues I consider luxury problems.
The differences in my worlds between then and now are not as far apart on the spectrum as they at first might seem. You have to act on a daily basis to survive in a world of thieves and killers. Act ‘as if’. As if you are not afraid and ready to shit your pants or present that false sense bravado one needs to constantly keep up. Eventually it becomes natural as you lose any real definition of feeling or emotion. You act as if you have two nickels to rub together or a pot to piss in rather than the truth of the matter that more often than not most guys in that criminal life are broke, busted out and in hock to every government agency, government sponsored corporation of criminals and other lowlife guy on the block. If and when you do ever truly ‘score’, provided you don’t get pinched, you spend most of whatever you did score paying lawyers and everyone else that you owe back then blowing the rest on ‘the party’ and back to square one. That is the truth of that life.
Conversely, a writer or actor spends the best part of his day trying to beat out all the other guys in line for the one job or another. After which you spend the rest of the day screaming on the phone at your agent to mail the two week late check owed you for the last job you did so you can pay rent. Or trying to convince the producer, director or casting agent of the next hottest film or new television series that you are the perfect guy to write. It’s then that you realize that there is a large sense of gangsterism to entertainment and trying to force open the doors that need to be forced open to further your career. The same goes for the guys trying to move up the latter of crime trying to get his seat at the table. It’s all about positioning and props. You’re both still chasing that nickel trying to pay the rent. Period. Some of us by virtue of life experience are more suited for it than others.
The point I am trying to make is that I have yet to say ‘what if’ and have been fortunate to be either bold enough or stupid enough, depending on how you look at it, to take my shot at life and the experiences it offers. I have had a wealth of rich and wonderful experiences in relationships, love, work, travel and the excitement of living your childhood dreams. I have also had some very disturbing experiences in most of the above categories as well. I have never been sorry for either. Nor do I suggest chasing the extremes as I have. A happy medium will usually serve you well but I’ve always found the happy medium a bit boring.
Life is funny, one day you have plans and the next they’re taken away. There is no time like the present as they say. I have seen a lot and experienced a lot and can honestly say all of it good and bad has been my own choice and never forced upon me. Nor would I trade any of it in for the world. I still plan on having as many and more experiences than I already have had. Being only roughly half way through the game I still have some scores left in me. I have gotten this far partly from being street savvy and partly by accident but mostly by grace. But I know I have to try it all. Even as I write I have plans laid to make the next big move and experience. If I have learned anything thus far it is that nothing can replace good old fashioned experience and the difference between positive experiences and negative experiences are only a matter of choice. Our own choice. No one else makes them for us. One thing is for certain, I will do my best to never go to sleep or wake up asking myself ‘what if’ I had.
-Never be sorry, never regret, never go to sleep at night saying ‘I wish I had’ or wake up feeling ‘what if’.-