“…the limits of the Epicurean’s city are those of a garden, […]. Though this garden can also reach the boundaries of earth, its centre is always an individual.”
It you accept the premise that the world is comprised, chiefly, of EFAs*, then the only possible solution is to adopt the Epicurean manner of life, with an optional side order of Sufism-lite, American style.
And if you are also lucky enough, during your run, to avoid fatal or crippling damage from the earthquakes, the tin pot dictators, real or would-be, the gun toting lunatics, the vicious back stabbers, the jealous rivals, the false friends, the egomaniac bosses, the professional slimeballs who pretend to be looking after your interests, or the conscienceless truth-twisters who subvert the society you live in for some kind of profit or giggles, well, you might find yourself perchance one sunny day in a position financially and emotionally to retreat to a place where you cannot be bothered any more by anything or anyone, except, possibly, the unpleasant reality of your own mortality – Paradise need not wait for the Grim Reaper to arrive: it can be there for the taking, particularly if fortune smiles on your sorry ass, and your demons don’t cause you to piss the opportunity away.
Such a place, where you never have to look at anyone or interact with anyone or be subjected to anyone’s presence, directly or indirectly, unless you choose to do so, is my idea of Firdaus — Arabic for paradise.
I used to live on Firdaus Street in Zamalek, Cairo, when I was a boy; and it has taken me 50 years to find a place that has the warm climate, palm trees, and sense of seigneurial invincibility I felt then — both in Cairo, but especially in Montazah Palace in Alexandria, where I spent my summers, when Alex was still worthy of being referred to as the Bride of the Sea.
A lot happens in 50 years. Especially when you spend thirty of them living and working in Manhattan.
Somewhow I survived.
Somehow I am not dead, despite the binge drinking, the drugs, the various sexual risks taken, the grim nights of prolonged poverty, at times literally huddled in winter under a thin blanket in a 5-story walkup flat with a leaky roof, but also, lest I forget, the plush days of floating on a river of far too easy money.
Somehow I am still here. My mind is intact, as is my liver, suprisingly. I expect to live many more years, inshallah, despite the physical ravages of age and a misspent youth.
In the end I suppose all that really matters is that you continue to be you, mentally, that you do not become an unrecognizable version of yourself, such as what happened to my late mother, as I watched her slowly wither away, and there was nothing I could do to stop her suffering.
Somehow you have to get past such things, or at least come to terms with them in some way; the other stuff, that fluff that once seemed so central to how you measured or rated yourself as a success or failure — the girls or jobs or temporary besties — is easy enough to slough off, when you realize, as you get older, that it was all mostly bullshit, that even the regard of others that you once prized so much, in the end, means very little when the chips are down. No one else every really thinks about you that much in any concerted way, unless you have some lure or form of temporary power over them, that is to say, if you somehow control or can offer something they want or need to have.
Being trapped in the past (or, more likely, some fantasy version it) or staying at any one location for very long is a loser’s game, unless it is through force of circumstance: which sometimes happens — either because you were never really as smart as you thought you were, or due to sheer bad luck — and you find yourself stuck in a hellhole and too poor to move on, too old to get that next good job, and it’s game over: far too late to recover from a loss of something you had worked so hard for all those years, that one thing you thought you could count on, the thing or person or nest egg or belief system or entitlement that was supposed to enable you to weather the coming storms of old age… until it, too, along with any lingering hope in the future… — snatched away, as if by a capricious, sadistic demiurge, and you finally give up, like La Fontaine’s woodsman:
Il appelle la Mort. Elle vient sans tarder…
But sometimes your luck can suddenly turn.
A rich uncle dies, say, leaving your everything.
Take the money and run for the hills, ese, now!, before your shark-toothed relatives get wind of it.
Don’t buy at first: rent.
And always remember that a second passport is always a golden idea.
That said, you can still take great voyages — without ever leaving the house — unless you choose to haul ass.
I can imagine imagining a million magical things, going to a million different places, simply by losing myself in the idiosyncratic books of my library, or looking at the tranquil forest in my back yard, and never wanting for anything.
It is enormously liberating, that aspect of permanently retiring, or more precisely, withdrawing from society. I used to think that the rude company of others, particularly if different from oneself, was a good thing. I no longer think that: everyone one is pretty much same: it makes no difference where you are or who they are.
Just stay out of the subway at night, or those after hours bars.
Arriving at a point in your life when you can simply be yourself, without worrying too much about what others think — particularly since, generally speaking, what people tend to think about, as a general rule, is themselves.
Oh, so and so died? How sad, they will say. How tragic, they will murmur. So young, too. They will be missed. Life will not be the same without them. So, what’s for dinner?
My wife and I bought a house recently.
We are moving in slowly, by choice.
The house is located at the end of an isolated cul-sace, where the main sound one hears during the day is that of the pileated woodpeckers who abound in the Florida scrub preserve pine forest that surrounds our place on three sides.
Here are some random pics.
Yes, I know, it’s gorgeous.
But I always keep in mind that the weirdest, nastiest shit can happen in a flash, just like that, no matter what precautions I take.
You can never, truly, rest easy — ever.
Get used to it.
*EFAs = i.e., entitled fuckface assholes, of which FGAs, or fuckface geezer assholes, is a common Floridian subvariant. Another derisively slangy terms that I use (from my private lexicon), is Johnny A (pl., Johnny As). Johnny A refers to a younger, more casual form of EFA, whereas, at the other end of the spectrum, FGA refers to the commonly-found Senior version of same, particularly in places like Florida and Arizona, a condition that is characterized by slowness of movement, rigidity of motion, inablility to adapt to new situations when walking down the street or in the supermarket, repetitiveness of concerns (such as endless doctor visits or talking about their grandchildren), mental inflexibility (such as when a new term or idea is introduced in coversation, which invariably causes them to look extremely alarmed as they yap, what? what?), and synaptic incontinence (which can observed in the tendency of FGAs to interrupt what you are saying to them, and complete your sentence for you, usually with some randomly irrrelevant interjection).
** the cul-de-sac I live on is quite private, this is true; however, my sheppie does have to contend with the cul de sacs of shit that breeze by daily at various hours (but never after the sun sets), including random dog walkers, who cause her to bark uncontrollably; geezer assholes on hogs; semi-inebriated joy-ride golf carters; speed bicycle riders with Lance Armstrong delusions and helmets that make them look like large-headed insects; annoying bird watchers; power walkers bellowing into their smartphones, the latter being infernal devices that they hold directly in front of their stupid faces like a mirror, while oblivious to the sylvan beauty of what surrounds them; and last but not least, outside contractors (the geezers who live in this gated community rarely do any phyiscal work themselves on their houses, leaving that that to “Mexican” serfs and their white trash overlords) that employ the circle in front of our house as the go-to-place for turning their NOx-spewing pickup trucks around to lumber back down our narrow street.