“If you could do anything, anywhere, right this very moment, what would you do?”
This hypothetical is always a favorite of mine to ask people. If money, work, their current location, etc. could instantly, magically be changed, where would they be, and what would they be doing? Answers tend to vary, but there are some common themes:
“I would be on the beach in __________.”
“I’d be in Europe, backpacking with my boyfriend/girlfriend/dog.”
“I’d be right here with you, Liam.”
That last one is actually a hypothetical answer to this hypothetical question, as no one is yet to respond with that. But I know that’s what they’re all thinking.
What’s always interesting to me is that it tends to be something purely physical. I would be in X place with Y person. Rarely do I get the response Falling in love, location unimportant. Rarely do people opt for some specific emotion or mental state, but instead focus on place, or doing something laughably expensive. Why is that?
This past weekend I was in Chicago at my friends’ wedding. After an incredibly novel ceremony at Schuba’s (there were Beatles singalongs), we headed down to Pilsen to an artist loft for the reception. It was an old brick building with an open freight elevator to get up to the 4th floor. Booze flowed freely. Views of the skyline were plentiful, and gorgeous. Friends were reunited.
Call it a mix of nostalgia for where I’ve been (New Year’s Eve parties at 3033) and contentedness with where I am now, but there’s something about the sweaty combination of a suit/tuxedo, a slightly elevated blood alcohol content and all my friends singing and dancing to a booming PA sputtering LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” that makes me feel overwhelmingly, emotionally wonderful, in a nothing-matters-but-this-very-moment sort of way.
If I could do anything, what would I do? That.
Then there are two similar girl + music stories. Names omitted to protect the innocent. I met a girl years ago in college at a party. In a refreshing back-and-forth, each sarcastic, ridiculous comment I made to her was matched by an equally sarcastic, equally absurd rebuttal. We maybe only talked for 20 minutes, but that humorous conversation and her extreme ease on the eyes made an impression on me. We weren’t great friends, and maybe saw each other a handful of times after that, being friends of friends. Then here we were the other weekend at this wedding, and there was a pretty good time shared both on and off the dance floor, over thumping bass lines, Jim Beam and Cokes, and open floor-plan loft space. For it all to come together in an enjoyable whirlwind of perfect timing, a beautiful black dress, and the aforementioned nostalgia/friends/sweaty-dancing, it just made for a fantastic night that can’t be explained properly or replicated in the future, even if I tried. Timing, surprise. These are two of the elements.
I met another girl years ago in college at a party. My band was playing one of our first shows at a house party. After the show, she came up and asked to sit behind our drummer’s kit and wail for a couple minutes. I’m not sure it’s possible to say no to a girl like this, even if you wanted to, which I made sure our drummer knew was NOT the case. Gorgeous, witty, super cool. But enough about me; this girl was also good looking, quick-witted, and thoroughly interesting, though I didn’t actually know that until later because we never really hung out. Similarly, after that night the two of us only ran into each other a handful of times. She had a boyfriend, that sort of thing. Though we were merely acquaintances, I obviously didn’t forget about her. Flash forward to a 2007 Superdrag reunion tour, and she happened to be living in Boston, where one of the band’s stops was, the night after a show in New York (which I also attended). I reconnected with her (via Facebook! Gasp!) by asking if I could crash on her couch, also with the intention making her a Superdrag convert whether she listened to rock music or not. Coming via Amtrak from New York, I only spent 18 hours in Boston. Less than a day. We didn’t have time to do a ton, but damn if it wasn’t a life-altering 18 hours. Seeing your favorite band for a second consecutive night while connecting in a never-before-done way with an incredible girl was literally and figuratively Paradise for a guy like me.
Last year at Elite Track Nationals, I, Liam Donoghue – random schmoe with a full-time job who didn’t get into bike racing until age 24 and was never super athletically gifted growing up apart from a killer three-point shot and steady tight-end hands (I couldn’t play defense in basketball to save my life, nor be physical enough to actually qualify as “good” in football) – qualified for the Gold Medal final in the Individual Pursuit. As I lined up on the back stretch, with a 2x-Olympian and a roughly 17-time Elite National Champion on the home stretch ready to beat me with 99.3% certainty, I experienced another of these otherworldly moments that I would pay money to have happen again. (For reference, the feeling was not there this year when two weeks ago I again qualified 2nd in the Pursuit, and again lined up against the same Olympian, and again got destroyed. This time it was expected. Wholly different feelings there.) Again, the surprise: this type of thing doesn’t happen to me.
If I could do anything, anything at all, right now, what would I do? Something I can’t explain in words, and sometimes hardly exists as a moment, and is completely and utterly impossible to replicate, as there are no consistent ingredients in its recipe for its success other than surprise, good timing, and whatever the exact opposite of depression is.
I guess that’s why I keep racing bikes, despite losing nearly every race I enter. For a chance at a moment that maybe happens a couple times a year, where it all comes together in exhaustion and elation in a race win, much like it did on day 1 of Galena in June. I guess it’s also why I keep chasing girls, despite most of them not responding well to “Hey baby, ya ever make out with a National Champion [points to gold medal around neck]?” Just kidding, I haven’t actually done that. Yet. For that moment where it all comes together in pleasant surprise where a kiss isn’t even necessary, but simply a look, a comment, a brief acknowledgment of mutual understanding that’s simultaneously validating, flirtatious, and almost always a blindside. It’s why I try to live my life with a perpetually curious and grateful mind so when something wild and surprising and amazing comes along, I’m in the moment enough to notice, and aware enough to reach out and grab it.
A moment that may only last a few minutes, a few seconds even? If I could do anything right now, I’d take that over the most beautiful beach any day.
But then again, I’ve always preferred the mountains to the beach.