Waiting by the Side of the River for a Toaster Oven
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There’s a saying, “Wait long enough by the side of the river and you will see the body of your enemy floating by.”

It’s a little dark but I like it. I can’t remember where I first heard it and for the longest time I said that it was Taoist but I think I just made that up. Upon further research it appears that this quote either comes from Sun Tzu or from the 1993 film Rising Sun. The former is a Chinese general, the latter a movie about Japanese people. So, clearly there’s some confusion about the quote’s origins. Let’s go with Sun Tzu.

The saying is in the same neighborhood as, “What goes around comes around,” or, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” or that old Buddhist story where you keep saying, “We’ll see.”

I find that objects trigger this the most for me.

When I cleaned out my childhood home, I got rid of all of my baseball cards. I collected them obsessively, got into arguments with friends about trades, catalogued them. Twenty years later, they were just little pieces of cardboard. I also got rid of my travel soccer windbreaker. That was the ultimate status symbol of the travel soccer team in the sixth grade. I got mine a year late when I joined the travel soccer B team but I still held on to it. It hung in my closet for over a decade and then I threw it out. I also threw out my mom’s Beanie Babies. She collected them like I collected baseball cards, expecting to make a killing one day on their resale. I think both big boxes of them went untouched at the estate sale and they were either donated or thrown out.

The other night, I happened to be in my old neighborhood for a storytelling show. The show was at an art space a block from where I used to live in Williamsburg. I thought I’d just walk past my old place. I lived there for twelve years, so, I like to check in every now and then. Unlike the rest of that neighborhood, it looks exactly the same.

As I was walking by, though, I noticed something sitting outside on the ledge by the steps. It was trash waiting to be collected. It was a toaster oven, old and dirty. I remembered that toaster oven.

I’ve talked about my old roommate before. I actually try not to talk about him because, when I do, I’m the one who sounds petty.

But I want to tell you about the toaster oven.

The old roommate, RM, grew up in Manhattan to people of some renown in certain Manhattan circles. They were elbow patchy, Woody Allen movie-ish, academic types who also had the dough to send their kids to private school. In short, RM was notoriously spoiled. His father paid his rent. He always had money for video games, bourbon, and going out three nights a week but when it came to paying his share of the bills he always seemed to be out of money. Oh and also, just so you know, he and his father just went to this really exclusive restaurant and it was like, really expensive.

RM’s parents were actually really nice people, though. I had dinner and drinks with RM and his dad and then RM and his mom and was surprised at how nice they were. Look, maybe they were terrible behind closed doors and were able to put on appearances, but I don’t think so. His father sent me a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for my thirtieth birthday party (I never sent a thank you card, so, maybe in their eyes, I’m the asshole).

His mother also did something nice once, or tried to anyway.

So, RM used to do this thing where he would request that I buy something for the apartment that he wanted to have. He would usually call me at work to request it. Like I said, he always had money for his own recreation but never for bills or domestic things. It was odd behavior but by this time, having lived with RM, it wasn’t surprising.

One time we got into a fight because he called me at work saying that I should buy us (“us”) a vacuum cleaner. It was strange.

So, around the time that my parents died, RM was saying the I should buy “us” a toaster oven.

I didn’t want a toaster oven. I didn’t need a toaster oven.

RM wanted a toaster oven.

A little while after my father died, RM tells me, “Hey, my mom was thinking about you and she asked if there was anything you need.”

I thought that was really sweet of her. I couldn’t think of anything, though. “Thoughts and prayers,” get a bad rap. People say that it’s meaningless to say but, having been through the loss of my parents, I think that sometimes it’s nice to know that people are thinking about you.

Before I could say that I didn’t need anything, though, RM said, “I said, yeah, Rob needs a toaster oven.”

I was taken aback and thought, “No, you didn’t. Really?” Sure enough, two weeks later, we get a box from overstock.com containing our new toaster oven. I didn’t send a thank you note for that, either. Frankly, I don’t owe them one.

I actually hated that toaster oven. It was like the Range Rover of toaster ovens. It was too big and took up too much counter real estate and I only ever toasted bread.

It sounds odd to say but it’s true: I used to have feelings about that toaster oven. It was yet another symbol of RM’s selfishness and obliviousness to common decency. He took some good will on the part of his mother and used it to check something off his personal wishlist. I resented him and I resented it.

I haven’t lived there in almost five years and I think that toaster oven was bought eight years ago. Now it’s trash.

There’s another saying, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.” I’ll begrudgingly admit that that’s true. I don’t think you ever really get any resolution with the people who hurt you or mistreat you. You never get to deliver that perfect speech that you construct in your head full of perfect zingers that will just crush your enemy.

It seems that the only way to deal with anger and hurt is to let it go and let the current of life take it away. It takes a long time. It takes so long that you actually forget about it.

A year ago, I saw an ex of mine walk past the window of a coffee shop that I was in. I was upset about our breakup over for a year. But then I saw her and thought, “Oh yeah, her.” If I ever see someone from high school, I rarely remember if we were friends, if he bullied me or if I bullied him, I just say, “Hey, man, good to bump into you.”

And then, the other day, I walked past my old place and I actually thought, “Oh man, I know that toaster oven!”

It makes you wonder how much stuff on the street has a story attached to it. Sometimes, when I’m not completely focused on me, I think what are all these strangers on the street going through? Which of them are hurt? Which of them hurt someone else today? Are they happy?

It would paralyze me if I thought about it too much.

I wonder what you’re supposed to do when you’re waiting by that river and you see the body of that enemy float by. I don’t know.

Wave, I guess.

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