The 40 Train’s Leaving the Station

At the beginning of April my friend Robert came to New York for a very quick trip. He asked me weeks in advance if I could meet him for breakfast before his friend arrived and they embarked on a spree of three Broadway shows in 24 hours. I didn’t hesitate to say “Yes, of course, I’ll crawl there if I have to.”

One of my favorite things about living in NYC is that I get to see so many people. Not only do a lot of my old and new friends live there, but scads of people pass through. Because I love Robert like a brother, I planned my week around having two precious hours eating overpriced eggs in midtown and talking as if no one was around. Our booth was an oasis.

After Robert and I said goodbye and made umpteen tentative plans to see each other soon, I headed off to do a few errands. I sold some coins and a ring in a creepy diamond district office, and then headed off on a hunt to find a simple nylon band for my grandfather’s Timex. The diamond district guys offered to sell me an embossed faux-crocodile for a good price, but I had my heart set on nylon. My Poppy wouldn’t have worn nylon, but it’s what I wanted.

The watch doesn’t even keep good time. It’s a wind-up, and requires winding more than once a day. It’s unreliable and high maintenance. At first I wondered about my sanity, wearing a watch that doesn’t keep time, but I like the multi-day reminder of him, though I don’t need a watch for that.

My father gave me a classy watch for my college graduation, but it’s not waterproof or practical for every day wear. I wear it when I need a confidence boost, like for an interview, because of the inscription on the inside, “Jaime, Keep on Believing. Love, Dad.” The poignancy of his words keeps increasing as time marches on, and as keeping faith becomes more important, crucial even to surviving.

Finding a nylon watch band proved to be a major project, even in NYC, but finally I remembered the old-timey shop in Grand Central and knew they would have loads of striped, preppy bands and hopefully a few solids, but I couldn’t remember where the shop was. I knew it was in one of the passages, but which one?

I got sweaty. Frustrated. Impatient. I used Google to get the shop’s name and called, but reached a recording to call a different number that I couldn’t remember every after three redials. Eventually I had to go to a bank’s deposit station and ballpoint the number on my hand, which felt like a throwback to a different era. I found out that the hole-in-the-wall shop (literally it is a hole in a wall) was located between tracks 38 and 39, so I hunted down that area of the terminal. I was not going home without an eight-dollar watch band.

On my way there I walked by the entrance to tracks 39 and 40. I peered down the ramp and saw that there was one train, the 40 train, and it was leaving the station. The passengers had boarded and I reached the platform in just enough time to catch this picture before the train pulled away.

I haven’t had a particularly tough time with turning 40, but then again I planned a few months ago to spend the entire month of May in Spain and Portugal, so there wasn’t a whole lot to be lamenting. Except a few things. There are always (kind of) a few things. Life is not a work of art, but good god the world sure is.

I finally finished writing a book (an accomplishment I thought at times I’d never see) but I don’t have an agent or a publisher. Yet. I keep telling myself that the key word is yet. A week at a yoga retreat taught me a lot about so many things, but one that we kept repeating is that things are just as they’re supposed to be. Patience. Stick with the uncomfortable moments, the pain, the delayed reward. Sit with it.

I had such a good time in Barcelona that I didn’t want to leave, but Ibiza welcomed me like a big hug. After about an hour alone at the pool, I met four British guys who after chatting with me for a short bit invited me to dinner with them. Nazed, Abi, Gully and Azeem are all first generation Brits with roots in India and Africa, and I think all of them speak five languages. Some of their fathers were friends back home, and these boys have all been friends since they were small.

I hesitated only for a moment about going to dinner with them. My gut said it was okay, and I knew with a few euros in my pocket I could get myself home. But why? Why would they want me to join their boys’ weekend away? It didn’t feel right to question their motives, which as it turns out are as pure as pure gets.

The boys are Muslim and I discovered at dinner that they don’t drink, which reassured me because I knew that although they might get hopped up on sugary, fizzy drinks, they wouldn’t have alcohol muddling their decision making. I felt safe. They’re all about my age, and we thought we should check out the famous Ibiza “club scene” though we were early in the season (it kicks off in June) and early to the club at 10:30. Geezers.

We ended up having tea and dessert back near the hotel where I snapped this picture of them that I coined their “boy band picture.” They’re well-dressed and refined, and unlike the majority of American men they don’t throw on a hoodie or fleece when it gets cold; they wear cardigans. Their boy band name was easy to come up with: THE CARDIGANS.

I spent the next day with The Cardigans poolside, laughing and joking like old friends. These are good men. They are patient, kind, and generous. They share. We had several round of food, beverages, ice cream and chocolate and I don’t think anything hit the table that we didn’t all offer each other a taste of.

I’m already pretty blessed in the faith department, but these are the kind of men you meet who restore faith. Faith can be easily lost or misplaced, but with time it always returns. My twelve days in Spain were extraordinary for faith boosting. The kindness of the Catalayunos (a population that doesn’t accept outsiders easily) blew me away. The kindness of a group of married men who simply thought I was funny and clever, shocked and surprised me in a way I hope I never fully recover from.

It was hard to leave The Cardigans, and I stayed several hours past my intended departure time because I could and because one of my favorite things about getting older is the ease with which I identify what I want. I enjoyed the south side of Ibiza because of the company of my new brothers, but the hectic club-scene isn’t my thing; I was ready to head over to Benirras, and I told the guys I’d let them know what it was like and if anything interesting was going on.

Benirras is special. It’s the only beach on Ibiza that doesn’t have a hotel. The yoga retreat is at a couple of villas and pagodas scattered about the hillside. Down on the beach there are a few restaurants including an elegant one, a pizzeria, a juice bar and two places for paella and typical Spanish food. They recently opened a spa, juice bar, and two small boutiques. Lounge chairs and umbrellas can be rented, and that’s it. It’s perfect in its minimalism. It happens to have everything I need.

I wasn’t sure it was enough to warrant The Cardigans coming over, but then I found out that the next night (Sunday) is the night of drumming in Benirras, which started as a protest against the first Iraq war and hasn’t stopped. I emailed Gully about it, and he wrote back, “We will come. We are missing you.” I melted. He also asked if they should wear beach gear or evening wear and I said it was kind of a hippie thing and it would be chilly so they should bring their cardigans.

I told a few of the yoga girls I’d met that my friends were coming over and that at least half of them would be wearing pressed button downs. They laughed and didn’t quite believe me. They also didn’t buy that The Cardigans intentions were pure with nothing ulterior, but you only need to be around them for a few minutes to see that The Cardigans are no-joke awesome.

They are direct, which I find relaxing because it’s exhausting to try to figure out what another person wants and/or if they’re the type who even knows how to express needs and wants. They’re also dead-pan funny with spot-on delivery. In short: The Cardigans are a delight.

The drumming intensifies as the sun goes down, and the crew of us took an “Ellen-style” selfie with the addition of Lucy, who lived across the hall from me in the villa and who must be the sweetest girl in all of London, if not the world.

I think everyone feels a touch of hesitation when they’re going into a group where they’ll be living, eating, and practicing yoga with a bunch of strangers from around the world, and then an enormous relief when it’s discovered they’re not all loons. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single person on my Ibiza Yoga retreat. I got closer to some than to others, which is only natural; we were far too big a pack to roam everywhere together.

I spent most of my time with Lucy, Lisa (Ireland) and Sarah (Chicago, but had just finished a semester abroad in Barcelona) as well as Maija (the teacher) and Leonie from Holland. I blew out my first birthday candle with Lucy and Lisa (a full week early), and then another one a couple days later at the truly awesome Bambuddha Grove (google it) with the whole group. And it’s not even my birthday yet.

I’m telling 40 loud and clear that i’m not afraid of it. I might even be taunting 40 a little bit, “Oh yeah? What you got? I can almost do a handstand by myself…”

Maija, Leonia and I went to the hippie market one afternoon and we each bought a few things they we were individually drawn to, but we also bought friendship bracelets, friendship rings, and friendship shawls. We drank friendship beers and then friendship aperol spritzes. We drew the line at friendship caricatures and friendship piercings.

Lucy gave me a bracelet from the shop in Benirras for my birthday, and I’ve layered it on with the others and have a wrist full of metal, which symbolizes the raw self and the capacity to be transformed into a higher, incorruptible self. Yes,please.

Sure, I’m tanned and happy with a bunch of things wrapped around my arms so I look exactly like someone who just came from a yoga retreat on Ibiza. I do not care. I’m nearly 40. It’s time to stop caring for real. Why not look like exactly what we are?

A lot of people don’t tell you how terrific and liberating it is to turn 40. Maybe they don’t want to brag? I don’t know. I can let you know tomorrow. Maybe there’s a hesitance to admitting they’re happy to be aging gracefully without all the silly worries and imagined problems of the twenties and thirties bogging a person down. That stuff is heavy, weighty, and cumbersome.

It’s kind of like the opposite of how nobody tells you how hard it is to be married and to parent, because if they did nobody would do it. We don’t warn each other about the tough stuff, but act all blasé about the good stuff? C’mon, folks, let’s get it together. I’m on the edge of 40 and I’ve never felt happier. True story.

I wasn’t completely sad to be leaving Barcelona because I had Ibiza to look forward to, and I couldn’t be completely crushed leaving Ibiza because I was headed to meet my Soph (will explain in a different post) in Lisbon where I’m turning 40 with one of my dearest friends whose birthday follows mine by 4 days. It’s not just a birthDAY for each of us, it’s a birthWEEK.

Our 40 train is leaving the station. Together.

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5 thoughts on “The 40 Train’s Leaving the Station

  1. I love you!!! You are doing it. Enough with the dreadful silence on EVERYTHING!!!! Let’s share. Sure as shit makes tough times more manageable and good times way more fun!!! I’m proud of you. 40 has left the building and all is exactly as it should be.

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