There once was a man in his early twenties. Socially awkward, especially around women, he had never even been on a date. Instead, he withdrew into his college studies, found companionship in books, and grew an unruly beard. Untouched by human warmth, his demeanor was a bit crazed and unsettling. His eyes were cavernous and penetrating.
One day this young man was on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach and he passed a popular hangout, Patrick Malloy’s. It was crowded inside. The young man pressed his bearded face against the glass and looked with longing at the attractive people. They looked so life-affirming and at ease with self-abandonment, laughing, slapping each other’s backs, kissing one another, and sloshing their beers over their glasses’ rims.
In contrast, the young man was a tightly-wound ball of repressed emotions, in turns angry and melancholy. He felt like a man of 85 trapped in the body of a 21-year old.
Watching the attractive people enjoying themselves and embracing life with an admirable, insatiable appetite, the young man was convinced he would remain on life’s sidelines, a depressed witness to a life passing him by.
Convinced of his own futility and fated to a life of loneliness, he went home, curled up into a ball and cried himself to sleep.
We now travel 25 years into the future and focus on this same man, now in his mid-forties. He has a good job. He has developed social skills, he is well groomed, insouciant, and can conceal his cynicism behind a veil of witty repartee. He’s been married, divorced, remarried. He sits in Patrick Malloy’s with his lovely wife and her lovely friends. Beer is sloshing all around him. He doesn’t drink, save a diet Coke since he’s the designated driver. The music is loud and people are shouting over the music. His ears can’t take much more of this. Worse, an unrelenting boredom has set in and he is no longer listening to any of the several conversations blaring around him.
He feels it both strange and cruel that earlier in his life he felt excluded from this club of beautiful people and now he is inside its very center, its most inner core, and rather than bathing in the warmth of belonging and popularity he stares at his watch.
While squirming in his seat with utter boredom, he sees a young man outside the club. The man is bearded with the same cavernous eyes and the same look of despair the middle-aged man remembers seeing in his reflection. The young man, a mirror image of the middle-aged one, presses his face against the window and looks into the eyes of his older doppelgänger.
Feeling helpless to give wisdom to the misguided youth, the older aspiring mentor shakes his head as if to say: "The dividing line between your world and my world is all in your head, little brother. It's all in your head."