Sam Salter’s “It’s On Tonight” reminds me of my first stage in adolescence. It sounds like a Vaughn Harper introduced throughout his quiet storm radio show, while I sat in the passenger’s side of my parents’ cars, as we voyaged from Manhattan to our apartment in Queens on a summer night. I loved these drives because I would look out my window, vibe out, and envision my first forays into New York City’s bright lights as an adult.
In my head, I was either on my way to or just left Rachel Stuart from BET’s Planet Groove (I was in love with her); but I digress…
Until the summer of 1998, I lived on the second floor of a two-family home, at 114-25 Francis Lewis Boulevard, on the border of Cambria Heights. Our place faced west, in which across the street was neighboring town, St. Albans. If one were to travel east, for a little over one mile, to the end of Cambria Heights, you’d run into a sign which says, “Welcome to Nassau County.” My childhood home was the beginning of where New York City ends.
From the corner of New York’s city limits, I used to gaze out of our large living room window, which faced westward, and imagine what the most famous city in the world had to offer. Manhattan’s skyline was so far, I couldn’t see it from Francis Lewis; but I knew it loomed in the distance, over the miles and miles of buildings and millions of people.
The night drives into Manhattan were filled with excitement, in particular if I were headed to my father’s place of work, Soundtrack Studios on 23rd and Broadway. After stretches of buildings, right before the Long Island Expressway crosses over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the LIE raises over Calvary Cemetery, and you are face-to-face with the towering skyscrapers on the other side of the East River. No matter how much of a local you are or once were, one can’t help but marvel at New York City’s bright lights and condensed, lofty architecture: the view never gets old.
“You have a social life?!” Cydney scoffed. In a tone of sarcastic silliness, I replied “Yes, Cydney I do!”
Because she is my child and I trained her well, my nine-year-old daughter quipped “You have friends?!” I began my retort the same way as my first and elaborated in a way I knew she wouldn’t believe me.
“Cydney, the older you get, the more you will learn about me…and it will blow your mind.” I have told Cyd and my nephew this on numerous occasions, I knew she believed it, even though at her young age, she had no idea what it entailed. Then, I upped the stakes, and gave my little girl a teaser into the me she doesn’t know: Cydney, I know you can’t and don’t believe me about this, but your dad has quite a way with the ladies…and boy has it gotten me into some trouble.
As expected and planned, Cydney laughed it off and in disbelief said “Whatever.” I have left a trail of breadcrumbs for the kids into a side they are unacquainted with; they won’t feel blindsided when they learn more about the world and realize I am more than the suburban dad who coaches sports and tells them to clean up their room. They will realize I have lived a whole double-life in front of their face and kept it a secret, all while I flaunted it in their face.
Cydney, my nephew, and I used to play a game where we imitated one another. Since children have no filter, it is one of the best ways to learn how they interpret our actions. The first time we played, both of the children mocked me looking down at my phone, only to receive a text message and say “Ok, Brandon’s in town, so I’m going to meet up with him,” and b-line towards the door.
We all found it hilarious; but they had no idea how funny it was. On many of these occasions, my best friend Brandon, who lives in Atlanta, wasn’t in New York at all; I needed a reason to get out, without anyone in my business, and it was time to be in the streets of New York a little bit.
There is some validity to Cydney’s claims about my lack of a social life. Most of my days are spent at home. There have been stretches of a commute into Manhattan; but for the most part, I take her to and from school every day, I’m there to tuck her in and say goodnight; and everything else in between. I seldom went out because most of my days were spent in “dad mode.”
Many nights, after everyone was off to bed, I ventured out into the city, and came home to wake everyone up for school. But there were also stretches in which I wouldn’t go anywhere for months. In my late-twenties and early-thirties, I felt stuck between two different worlds. As a single father, who somehow fell into a career based around fatherhood, I needed an outlet, to be my truest self, because my job was about my other job and both jobs kept me home; all of the above drove me insane.
As time progressed, my feelings evolved. My friends were single, and most were not parents; therefore, we had very little in common. The more my children grew, the more obligated I became to their interests. I found peace because I enjoyed Cydney and my nephew’s evolution much more than my fear of missing out.
What still plays in my head is a conversation with my maternal grandmother when I was 27. She told me I spent many of the best years of my life taking care of children and people who were sick. I felt her words because there was truth in her words. Stine spoke to a lack of balance in my life. Obligation will always be there, and someone will always need or want something from me. However, I am no good, and more-than-likely more of a hinderance than help if I do not take care of myself, and my needs, much more.
Six-and-a-half years after Stine’s passing, and the change of humid summers into a cool breeze indicate 35’s almost here. Right before the pandemic and its subsequent quarantine took place, I made a promise to myself, to take better care of myself, and create balance. At least once a week, I have made it part of my regiment to spend time with friends.
How does all of this fit together? Cydney is in love with Hamilton. Whenever she belts “The Schuyler Sisters,” a song about being young and the enjoyment of New York City summers, I know there is a day where she will experience what is all-but-a right of passage. There will be wonder because she “just happened to be in the greatest city in the world;” a feeling I am familiar with. On many of those nights, en route, “It’s On Tonight” was part of my personal soundtrack.
I look forward to the day I can confess to my nephew after one of these nights, I came home for a brief nap, and went to draft his baseball team hungover and wreaking of alcohol cigar smoke, and sex. Good times.