Finding the new in the now

I woke up one Tuesday morning in December 2006 and before I dressed for work, I went over to the desk, took a ballpoint pen and wrote the word “Attica” on the bottom of my foot. Then I snapped a photo of my foot, posted it on my blog and had some coffee.

It was the first time in my life I had ever done that. In fact, it remains the only time I’ve ever done that. It was the day after I started my blog, called “Off the Mark,” which had the stated goal of documenting me doing something each day that I had never done before. (On the first day, I started a blog for the first time in my life).

I was 27 years old and living in my parents’ house next to my 17-year-old sister, who often interrupted my video-game playing by blasting pop music I didn’t recognize. It’s easy to feel out of touch with society when you live at home with your parents at 27. It’s also easy to stay single. I had been single since June.

That was when I moved to London with my longtime girlfriend, who was transferred there for two years by her company. We agreed to move even though I had to quit my job as a reporter for an Eastchester community newspaper called The Town Report. She told me I could get a writing job in England once I got used to using single quotes and spelling color “colour.”

She dumped me five days after the move.

Within a month I was back home with my tail between my legs, back at the same job I had just quit and hanging out at the old haunts I had already thought I said good-bye to. As the year went on, I tried to conceive a replacement adventure I could take but always talked myself out of it. I could live in Hawaii and become a surfer, for example, but I didn’t know how to surf.

In December, I couldn’t take the haze hanging over me any longer and so I made a vow to end the monotony of my daily routine and restore my passion for even the most mundane things. I’d do this by doing at least one thing each day that I had never done before.

Some of the things I did were bucket list items. I did a polar plunge in Sea Isle City, N.J., one chilly February day, and I played an old-rules baseball exhibition in Bridgeport’s minor league stadium. One day I met Joyce Randolph, Trixie from “The Honeymooners,” at Purchase College. I bought a condo and moved in.

But those kinds of life events for most people are few and far between. The real trick was forcing myself to find new experiences during my daily routine. Like many in their 20s, I grew up with the feeling I was always building up to something big or important in the future. As children, we join clubs and activities so that we can score high on tests and get into better classes so we can get into better colleges so that we can get better jobs so that we could do something awesome, but we’re not exactly sure what that something awesome is supposed to be. Then suddenly, we are in the workforce – thankfully – but the days blend together and it is like the color drains from the film and everything goes black and white.

The antidote to this was often as simple as eating strange things for breakfast – beef jerky one morning, jambalaya another. One day I mixed Pepsi and Coke together and on another I reunited a donut and donut hole.

At its heart, the vow was a thumbing of the nose to the establishment and corporate rat race. I indulged my rebellious rock’n’roll side by doing things like going to CVS but refusing to use my CVS card, by putting the left ear bud in the right ear, by putting on aftershave before I shaved and by watering a plastic plant.

Some days my posts would be less an activity and more a cheap attempt at a laugh from the very limited audience I had gathered. One day I said I had a hot date for the first time in my life and accompanied that with a photo of a date fruit frying in a pan. Once I said I was on a roll and meant it. (I posted a photo of me standing on a roll of bread.) When I took a day to get in touch with my feminine side, I did so by taking Bayer aspirin for women.

Then there were office pranks like taping my old boss’ mouse to his desk and putting a fake trap door button behind my desk at work where only the cleaning service would see it. Other days I’d undertake questionable office behavior – like doing jumping jacks in the hallway or lying on the conference room table while no one else was around.

By the end of the blog, at 700 posts or so, some of my spicing up of my daily routine was doing more harm than good: I refused to sweep up a specific pile of dust in my living room for a full month. I hung a printout of Barry Gibbs’ hair (sans face) in my kitchen.

I put the blog to rest twice before it met its final end. Sometimes, though – usually Mondays – when I stand at the water cooler and grunt the normal pleasantries to co-workers, I get that itch to reach for a ballpoint pen or think of something bizarre and new and different. Maybe something like giving a walnut a bath. It could only be a day away.

Follow Mark on Twitter, @marklungariello.

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