There’s an Eddie Money song from the 80’s called, “I Wanna Go Back.” Eddie Money is connected to the soundtrack of my life. This song in particular is an enigma to me. Upon recognizing the initial notes, I am reminded of great times: it’s the 80’s, my friends and I have just graduated from college, working in Manhattan, the world is our oyster…. However, when I listen to the words, I find it haunting, painful. I think of that younger Jimmy Spinner and today’s Jim Spinner and I get that little twinge. This song provides for me, exactly what Eddie Money is singing about….
“I was listening to the radio
Heard a song, reminded me of long ago.”
So many of us are afraid to admit we have regrets. As if to look back and say, I wanna do something over means that you were wrong somehow. Most people probably say they have no regrets because all of the things they lived through, the successes and the failures, made them who they are today. I understand that sentiment, and I feel that way too, sometimes. But does having regrets imply that you are not happy with who you have become? What does it mean if you look back at your life and realize, I might have done a few things differently? I think most of us do have real regrets; and in our hearts we rewind our lives and kick ourselves about choices and decisions made. We listen to songs that remind us of long ago and say, “I wanna go back.”
Biggest regret I have is my reaction to Kira’s first pregnancy. What a class “A” selfish jerk I was. Knowing now, what I know about having Nicholas and having children in our lives, my reaction would have been so different. At that time, all I saw was: we won’t have enough money, life is going to change, people who have kids are exhausted, we’ll never go skiing…I couldn't see all the positives that Nicholas and all of my children would bring. I should have jumped for joy, stood on the deck and shouted to the tree tops, hugged Kira and danced around like in the movies. “And do it all over again.”
Considering that cigarette smoking killed my grandmother, my father, Shelley Stemmer, Bernie Swierczek and a host of other people that I really care about, I would grab every one of them, by the throat, and beg them to stop. I would tell them of the grandchildren they would never see and fishing trips they would never take. I would show them the hurt and sadness they would leave behind and maybe, just maybe they would stop. “Back then I thought that things were never gonna change.”
I would have been a better student, I would have studied harder, I definitely would have taken an SAT Prep course. I left Immaculate Heart of Mary in 8th grade as a very good student. I went to John Dewey High School, a public high school in Brooklyn and the wheels came off the cart. I loved my high school, but the freedom we had and the anonymity of being one of 3500 students proved too much for my adolescent psyche. I graduated on time, got into a decent college but with even 15% better effort? 30%? 45%? Who knows what my fate would have been? Maybe it would have been SUNY Buffalo anyway? It’s possible that that was meant to be. I can’t help but think that if I hadn’t played Ultimate Frisbee until midnight on the Friday before the SAT’s I might have had more options for college. “I wanna go back.”
In high school and college, I would have taken more classes that I actually wanted to take, I would have followed my passion. I look now at the Wesleyan Graduate Liberal Studies course catalog and I drool at the offerings. I don’t blame my high school guidance counselor, Ms Cilento, she was a sweet, well-dressed, conscientious lady. For her I was one manila folder in a large stack of manila folders. In meeting Ms. Cilento to choose a college and eventually a major, we decided with my quantitative scores on the SAT that I should pursue a career in engineering. I had no idea what engineering was and those of you that know me, know that choice is laughable. I blame myself for not being invested in the decision. I should have done one of those "personal inventories" that help you figure out what you really love to do. My quantitative brain was strong, I was on the math team at IHM, and algebra and geometry came easily to me; but literature and the written word, the creative side of my brain that was what really gave me goosebumps. I switched majors from Engineering to Economics because those classes were easier for me. As I moved toward graduation I realized that I had a boatload of credits in a variety of English/Literature classes from Irish Lit to Shakespeare. To this day, those are the classes that are most memorable to me. I tried to do a double major but it was too late. “And do it all over.”
After graduating from college, I tried for a few months to get a job on Madison Avenue. I figured a job in the creative department at a place like Young & Rubicam would be perfect. I bought a copy of How to Get the Right Job In Advertising. I sought the advice of Amy Lazar, my friend Stemmer’s cousin who worked for Grey Advertising. Then I started going on interviews. I looked for a grand total of 2 months, 7 to 8 interviews tops. I had no clue what an entry level position in an ad agency entailed. In every interview I was asked if I could type 40 words a minute. The answer was a lukewarm Yes. Behind the yes was, I didn’t go to college to type 40 words a minute and I’m definitely not getting someone coffee. I got zero offers. All this time, my college buddies were working dowtown and the siren song of Wall Street began to pull me. I went on one Wall Street interview and got a job offer, on St. Patrick’s Day! I thought it was an omen. For the next 10 years I hopscotched around the financial district. If I could do it all over again, I’d say, “Yes I can type 40 words a minute, sure I can pick up your dry cleaning, I will do whatever it takes to become a part of the creative team here at BBD&O."
Every once in a while I regret not sticking to one thing, just one thing so that I could be really good at it. Of course every great success story is a combination of hard work and talent. What percentage of the population has that talent? No matter how hard someone practices, more than likely, they won't become Michael Jordan. But aren’t we all a little jealous of the Mia Hamms, the Eric Claptons, the Meryl Streeps of the world? There’s a little bit of that feeling in all of us I think, what if had worked really hard at (fill in the blank) What if I hadn’t quit ( ) If I were one of those laser-focused guys, like Ted Williams with hitting, or John Steinbeck with writing...what might have happened?
Growing up in Brooklyn, the ability to defend one’s self physically as well as verbally was held in high esteem. I was a small, fast guy in mind and body. I became quick-witted because quick-fisted would have involved physical pain. On East Fourth Street, besting one of your cronies verbally held pride of place. As I moved off the block, and outside of Brooklyn, I didn't tone this down. I suppose over the years I got some good chuckles at other people's expense. I also know that I probably should have thought about who was on the other end of those jibes. A few years ago, Char, one of Kira’s best friends said, “Jim’s funny and all but did you ever notice that he gets a lot of his laughs at someone else’s expense?” I was kind of oblivious to that, I mean that’s what my buddies and I did, still do to this day. But to see it from another’s point of view was powerful, to be aware of everyone in the audience was enlightening. And now as a teacher, I witness students doing exactly this in the classroom, and depending on the audience and the comment, it can be funny but it can be hurtful too. “I wanna go back.”
I would have played a musical instrument. I would have made the effort, taken the lessons, just a few hours a week, a few classes in high school. I would have made the decision to stick with the guitar or the piano or the saxophone. I love music so much, it’s such a huge part of my life, the singer-songwriters really speak to me, like Lennon, McCartney, Neil Young, Springsteen, Dylan, Petty…to be able to play the guitar would be nice, really nice…”Cause I’m feeling so much older.”
By now I would have been bilingual. I would have continued studying Spanish, one of the classes that I excelled at in high school and college. Any excuse to go to a Spanish speaking country and immerse myself in the culture right? Think about how marketable that would be in today’s America, bilingual English/Spanish.
Obviously we can’t go back, I know. I also know that my 10 years on Wall Street helped me become the teacher and the father I have become, and maybe that was meant to be? I suppose we can take the wisdom that we gained and help our kids right? And can’t we take this tinge of regret and use it to our advantage? Can we continue to move toward the person we thought we’d become? It’s not too late is it? Please reply with regrets only.
I have to go ask Kira if there's money in the budget for my new guitar.