It’s been a rough year. It would be really easy to compile a list of the worst moments that we’ll remember from 2016. It’s much harder to remember the good stuff. The times that shimmered, providing an island of comfort amid the preceding and ensuing clusterfuck. It’s a hard list because I’m not naturally a happy guy. I don’t always see the beauty in the day-to-day, but these are the moments I want to remember and cherish. And while these moments are certainly personal, I hope that they bring to mind moments you may have experienced.
Counting down, starting at 7…
7. Winter Storm Jonas
In January 2016, the Northeast US got smacked in the face with a blizzard for the record books. I forget the final snow totals locally–they don’t matter. What does matter is the joy I felt as I peeped through curtains a couple of times an hour to see the ever-growing piles or stepping outside at night and seeing the flakes against the moon. Now, this might rate higher on my list except those moments of beauty came prepackaged with the horrifying physical labor of shoveling (again… and again), trying to uncover vehicles, and general transportation hell.
6. Pictures of Happy People During the Holidays
As mentioned above, I’m not a particularly happy person. This is true to the extent that I resent other people’s happiness. This is not a GOOD trait, of course, but it does explain why I hate seeing Facebook photos of friends with their ugly, stupid babies, friends with their ugly, stupid dogs, and friends at their ugly, stupid weddings. But this year there was something really satisfying and heartwarming about seeing photographs of people with their family during the holidays. Smiling faces in front of Christmas trees with wrapping paper scattered to every corner of the floor. Smiling faces gathered around a large table sagging with food, bodies leaning to try and get everyone in the frame. I wanted to hate them, but instead they turned ME into a smiling face.
5. Seeing Speedy Ortiz at the Lizard Lounge in Lancaster, PA
I don’t really go to shows anymore. First of all, I work night shift five nights a week, every week, so any night I work is right out for attempting to do a concert. Secondly, our local venue (the storied Chameleon Club) just doesn’t get bands that strike my fancy anymore. Finally, I’m just too old and out of touch. But if there is one current band that lights a fire under my ass, it’s Speedy Ortiz. I’d seen them once before, but the chance to see them in my hometown was one I couldn’t pass up. I finagled my work schedule and went to see a damned rock and roll show. It was so rejuvenating being back in a show atmosphere. Spending too much money on beers with way too high an alcohol content, scanning the crowd and realizing that most of the people there were probably not even old enough to drink, feeling the hissy crunch of live guitars that overshadow vocals–nothing beats a live show, and nothing beats a live show featuring one of my favorite bands.
4. Trying – and enjoying! – Sushi
I come from a school of thought that doesn’t believe in raw food. A hint of pink in a steak was a hint of possible impending disease and horror. It wasn’t until I started watching the Food Network a couple of years back that I started realizing that maybe I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. I had largely rejected sushi as a teenager for being raw fish (which is not entirely accurate, of course), then as a twenty-something for being sometimes raw and very expensive. Well, with the fear taken away, the opportunity to try sushi arose, and – surprise, surprise! – I loved it. Cost is still something of a concern, but I’ve had it several times since and had a lovely time in each case.
3. Marathoning Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on Netflix
The past few years I’ve been regretting my education. I feel like I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned in grade school, high school, and college. I’ve spent time trying to find a series that acts as a re-education and nothing has really stood out as what I’m looking for. Parts Unknown comes pretty damn close, though. Every episode picks a locale and explores it. As a chef, the central focus is on the food culture for these places, but that invariably dives into the society and, often, the political climate of the area. We meet people who live and work there, seeing their joys and hardships. And Bourdain does a great job of crafting a lens through which these foreign cultures and locations can be accessible to a guy like me. I come out of each episode feeling enriched, like the world makes more sense, like there is some hope in the world after all.
2. Sitting at Various Cafes Drinking Coffee With Friends
One of my best friends visited from New York over the summer and we spent a full day hopping between front porches and Lancaster’s cafe scene. Its stuff I can do by myself, but it takes on an added sheen of beauty when accompanied by someone I haven’t seen in three years. Maybe for some people those moments can be found at the pub, in the pews at church, or between the cozy shelves of a used bookstore, but overdosing on caffeine while bantering about nothing? It’s a delight.
1. Sitting in the Theater for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I’m not sure what it says about me that this is number one. I certainly own my adoration of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but I wasn’t sure about a return to the world of wizards and muggles outside of the context of familiar Harry Potter characters. I hadn’t even made plans to see the film and it wasn’t until it had been in theaters a couple of weeks that I found myself sitting there, pulled to the theater by my sister. But, about twenty minutes into the film, as I sipped terrible theater coffee, I realized that this was the happiest I’d felt in years. It’s not that Fantastic Beasts is a super special film worthy of awards and whatnot, but something about the world that Rowling crafted feels like home. Even divorced from the cozy confines of Hogwarts, the magical world is familiar and appealing. To watch Fantastic Beasts is like taking a long bubble bath, where you can hang up your real life worries and rediscover the simple pleasures of escapism.