Friday, January 12, 2024

Now, Then


In the Burroughs of New York City, I am fairly certain the furniture is migratory. At some point on the timeline of the late nineteen eighties, I lived in Queens, initially in the Ditmars area and eventually settling in Astoria. You know, I never lived in an empty apartment. I have no recollection of buying furniture, but I had it, we all did.

It just sort of wandered in or was already there or, more often than not, you found it on the street, like, always, a lot… it’s weird but if you’ve lived there, you know what I mean.

I often was walking home from the train in the early hours of morning, after work and late-night shenanigans, and one cold morning I passed a perfectly serviceable chair of the type I think is called “wingback.” It was this dirty teal color with an almost corduroy texture, it had one broken and dangly leg and three others that looked serviceable – nothing a few bricks or a well-placed old saucepan couldn’t mitigate. So, I gave it a deep sniff – a pretty common assessment tool in the city – and decided to take it on home.

(It's funny when you start thinking about a specific event, even one you’d not thought of in decades, and the details tumble back so easily.)

I had, what, five, blocks to get it to my second floor apartment. I was tired and, well, not exactly sober. I sorta drug it along the sidewalk, noisily, at five, in the morning, slowly and awkwardly and recklessly – I feared I’d break another leg and there are only so many spare saucepans in the kitchen. So, I did the obvious thing, I picked it up and heaved it on my head, my crown in the seat of the chair. There’d been a miscalculation of sorts and I had the back of the thing directly in my face, so, I bounced it around (the springs were good) and situated it so I could negotiate the sidewalks and crossings to come. This whole maneuver was accompanied by a rain of dust and detritus, tidbits from the recesses of the seat which I’d liberated in turning it about – pennies and nickels and the powdered tobacco of a hundred lost cigarettes, an old style tack and one of those swirly pins you tack down upholstery with, a purple Cricket lighter and two Bic pens – and I sneezed several times.

I got it to the house, two locked doors, a stairway, and another locked door were somehow executed. I woke up Noni* but she was sweet on me and agreed it was a good find. I had a chair in my small living room that I moved to the bedroom and set it right in that place of honor. I found the saucepan I already knew would work as an ersatz leg. I had a giant-ass Hudson Bay style wool blanket, you know, with the stripes, kinda tan, thick… I threw it over the chair longways and it looked great. I remember I’d not really sat in it until I’d worked out all these details and when I finally did, it was all I’d hoped for and imagined when I saw it on that cold city sidewalk. It was perfect, welcoming, comforting and warm and homey.

I would say the loneliest I’ve ever been was in that chair.


It’s hard to talk about loneliness.

It’s only poorly and vaguely defined - here’s what wiki says: an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. Loneliness is also described as social pain – a psychological mechanism which motivates individuals to seek social connections.  Well, that’s clear…

So, so often it’s presented as a bad thing, I feel it just isn’t that simple.

I sit down here in my basement and play guitar and sing songs. No one is listening, often no one even knows I am bending the air with soundwaves, no one. Sometimes I get what you might call lonely down here. It seems sad, I guess, but there is more.

I sing a song that an old friend loved to sing with me, I miss that person – who is alive and well to further confuse things – I miss being together but, in that lonely melancholy there is joy in the memory. How am I both lonely and happy at the same time? Weirdly, sometimes when I am most lonely, I think back to other times I was lonely and am comforted at such a protracted, over-arcing feeling of continuity and connection. It is no place nor time to wallow, I am not doleful.

Yes, comforted.

Last night I sang that song, or another one, for that person or another or you. Who knows? And I saw, somehow, a younger me in that chair, on that blanket, in that apartment on that particular spot on the timeline. I see that he, I, am lonely and I comfort him. I comfort him by saying it will, sometimes be like this, and that’s alright.

I remember, there in Queens, all those years ago, alone, without, sad, unnoticed, unheralded  being comforted by a thought so far ahead and away and new and old. I recall, somehow, being made better - being unaloned - by the me in the basement last night. To further add clarity, just last night I remembered forward to the me to come, boys long gone, others too, in some window looking out and telling the me then it’s all just right. (I am no stranger at meeting the future and past’s me*, there’s just not very good language to explain it.)

Listen, I know loneliness is a big problem – some of the research is staggeringly sad – and I am hardly discounting it. It is often mentioned alongside depression and/or anxiety. I know it is debilitating for some. I have been “… so lonely I could cry” and wondered if I’d ever have another friend. I have been lonely with others, invisible. I have been lonely with my family, during the pandemic lockdown I thought I might suffocate from it. These cases, I think, are paired with those other problems – depression, etc – where the loneliness is a symptom.

Loneliness alone, if you will, is worth embracing. It can echo and sing back a new song. It can be a comfort and comfort. It finds life in each breath and hope between them. It is now and then, what will be and what was, sometimes in the wrong order.

It has been both my companion and my shadow.


*I made a beautiful friend once in Queens, I called her Noni

*I have met myself many times along my path, it's weird, but oddly comforting. I've written about that several times in the back pages here in a section called "nowthen".


  1. This resonates. I have experienced being lonely even surrounded by people and I have felt peaceful when alone. Such a complex emotion- Especially when paired with emotions that seem contradictory. I, too, wish I could tell past me at lonely and sad times, that it will be okay. Thank you <3

  2. What an honest view of the feeling of being lonely. Thank you. I too am sometimes comforted by my own loneliness. Odd. I love your blog.

  3. Beautifully written. I also love your blog on Noni. I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness lately, and sorting that out from other emotions. I’ve been learning more about the nuances of emotion, and the various combinations. I remember feeling a desperation in my loneliness when I was much younger and you’re right, with experience loneliness becomes a more complex experience, not necessarily bad, another opportunity to learn about oneself.

    I can see that chair so clearly and I remember using similar approaches to furnish my own living space many years ago.

  4. I believe everyone needs to experience loneliness in their younger years. It makes the happiness of rich relationships richer, your joy at finding M. and your time of discovery on the front stoop. And you are right, loneliness can be a rewarding experience. Many of my older friends will strongly disagree with me there, but it is a time of reflection and contentment. Keep writing !!! M.A.

  5. Bill thank you for this. I long for loneliness at times. I am very social but inside am a loner. I enjoy being alone. I enjoy being able to read without guilt, to play my music without the pressure of listening ears. Having been single until 35 I learned the benefits of solitude. I took many long motorcycle trips or day trips alone, camping alone, eating in restaurants alone, drinking alone etc yet never felt lonely per se. Right now finding myself living with another in less than 300sq ft I find myself pining for loneliness even though I thoroughly enjoy the company of my partner. I have the entire desert at my disposal, yet find myself wanting to tow the line and being a good partner by not expressing my need for me time. It eventually affects my attitude and I become sometimes unbearable and grouchy leaning to the negative. I have found it difficult to express my needs as to not create friction. I am so jealous of your basement sessions and always look forward to the next one. You are inspiring me to step out, grab my dulcimer and serenade the coyotes. Thank you my friend