Thank God For This Toothache.

1.200 bucks?  I'd rather suffer eternally.

1,200 bucks? I’d rather suffer eternally.

It’s been kind of a shitty few weeks here at Trudge Inc.  By that, I mean not my version of Heaven on Earth.  Which I realize is a tall order.  But this version didn’t even come close.  Not to what I’d prefer to orchestrate.  As my version.  Which, although perhaps a little complicated to arrange, wouldn’t cost very much.  Except maybe in hurt feelings.

Anyway, this was something very else.

Some low-grade depression, some ass-kicking physical pain, and a sprinkling of mid-ranged irritants.  All culminating with an ill-timed blow-up with my mom.  The day before her birthday.  Yeah I know.  I’m the worst son ever.  But I don’t want to brag about my ranking.  Fact is we fired at each other at point blank range with armor-piercing rounds.  And that seems to have brought up all these unpleasant feelings.  For both of us.  Go figure.

Ah well.  What’s done is done.  Very cathartic actually.  I’m sure after we spit out the mouthfuls of depleted Uranium dust and rebuild Fallujah, we’ll be just fine.

And maybe when I…(cough-cough)

…get somebody to remove…(urgh)

…this cinder block from my spine.

Better than a mother's love.

Better than a mother’s love.

So as I was nursing my self-inflicted wounds, trying my best not to figure it all out, I remembered the toothache.

A few weeks earlier I got a toothache.  On a Friday of course.  That way I’d have to wait until Monday to make my dentist’s car payment.  But in the meantime I’d get to celebrate a tooth-ache week-end.

And not by soaking and swishing it in scotch.  Or rubbing my gums with Civil War-era Laudanum ointment while crossing the border into Mexico with six hundred dollars of “fun money” and the phone number of a good taxi driver.

No, this would be alternate doses of aspirin and Ibuprofen.  War documentaries.  Ice Cream.  Petting the cats.  Trying not to hate life too much.

At one point it’s hurting like fuck.  I’m thinking about going into the garage, grabbing some pliers and really going Civil War.  Just start humming the Battle Hymn of The Republic while twisting out teeth until the pain stops.  It’s really the only manly way to handle this.  Just makes good horse sense.

Okay, but before I employ plan A, I need see if there are any options.  Need to wrap my head around this.  See if there might be a better solution.  One that doesn’t require vice-grips and Anbesol.  Or something even worse.

Hmm...no expiration date.

Hmm…no expiration date.

I have this thing about mastering my misery.  Having dined on such heaping helpings of it, as an alcoholic, and as a human being, I’ve come to believe that suffering has to have some nutritional value.  There has to be some good from pain.  Otherwise everything I’ve endured, would just be fucked up shit that’s happened to me.

Because life sucks.

And death is probably worse.

Which as a concept, I don’t have a problem with.  It’s just that if I agree with it too much, I’m told, I become a drag to be around.  A real bummer boy.  A Downer Danny.  And I don’t want to be a Downer Danny.  Do you?

Besides, I tend to make bad decisions when I hate life.  That’s why I try to think the opposite of my favorite way and remain somewhat upbeat.  Just so I don’t bring Lori and the cats down too much.  Why should they pay because my tooth hurts?  Even though it only seems fair.

Okay, gratitude is a go-to.  I know being grateful has a positive effect on the personality complex.  Clinical studies have proven that grateful people are less of a pain in the ass to be around.  Gratitude also seems to be some sort of component for successful recovery from various maladies of mind and soul.

I know.  Insane.  That one’s attitude towards something would make any difference.  But apparently so.

But this is a toothache.  Can I be grateful for a toothache?  That’s really getting tin-foil.  That would be some seriously un-hinged Rasputin shit.  The howling of a madman.  Really clawing at the moon there.

That was all I needed to think.

“Thank you, oh merciful Creator, for this pain–this pain that’s radiating up through my jaw and jack-hammering into the top quarter of my skull–making my right eye water.  I don’t know why I should, but I’d like to thank you.  For this most generous gift.  I don’t know what I did to deserve it–I mean I have my suspicions–but thanks.  Anyway.  Amen.”

Yep.  I did it.  I gave thanks for my pain.  I really did.

Not snorting lines of Darvon off the belly of a Tijuana stripper will make a man do crazy shit alright.

Or, so it would seem.

What did I have to lose?  I was fucked anyway.  At least until Monday morning.  I’d consider it an experiment.  Maybe it will help me delineate where the power of gratitude runs into a brick wall.  And the friendly staff at La Farmacia Sureño need to take over.

Say, this is good shit.

Say, this pain annihilator is good shit.

Well, the pain didn’t magically go away.  But it did start to go in and out.  I’d get these small breaks when it would subside.  And I was genuinely grateful for those.  Anything to keep me out of the garage.  Or the liquor aisle.  Or heading south on I- 5.

I kept taking the aspirins and Ibus and rode out the waves of pain as best as I could.  Tried to have fun in spite of.  Tried to not let it ruin my weekend.  Or bring down those around me.

Well, it didn’t, and slowly the time between waves grew.  By Sunday night the pain was gone.  Stayed gone Monday morning.  And since.  No more toothache.

Interesting.  I’ve never had a toothache go away.  Not without having the dentist’s foot push off on my face.  Or had a hole drilled through my wallet.  Never.  I’m sure there’s such a thing as temporary toothache.  I’ve just never had one.

Not one that lasted all weekend.  Then went away.

But I’ve also never made a point of being grateful for having one.

Coincidence?  Maybe.  But a noteworthy one.  So I should forget about it right away.  Which I did.

Except now I remembered it and wondered if I could concoct another pain-relieving coincidence for this shit with my mom.  What if I gave thanks for this pain?  That would be pretty pathetic.  And desperate.

“Thank you, O merciful Creator, for bestowing me with this bounty of painful childhood guilt complexes triggered so effectively by your angelic worker, the mother of my life, the woman that delivered me to this terrifying orb of earth…that I have been cast down upon… for some horrible transgression I’m sure.  Because You, my Eternal Father, know best, that when it comes to being a good son, I’m the worst. ”

I have to admit, thanking for the toothache was easier.  That’s why I think it came first.  To help me ramp up speed for the leap of sanity required to be thankful for all this bullshit now.  But I did it.  I gave thanks–for all the bad feelings I was having.

Now this may be another coincidence, but I woke up the next day feeling better.  Lighter.  Nothing external in the situation had changed.  Just the way I felt about stuff.  Better perspective.   Better attitude.  Still some shrapnel in the guts, but less.  Decidedly.  I felt more waves of peace then I did of dread.  Eventually, things got better between me and my mom, but more importantly, between me and everything else.

Huh.

Okay, let’s write it off to the power of suggestion.  I’ll take it.  Look, I’m an alcoholic trying to stay sober.  I can’t afford to be too picky how that happens.  I have to be ready to go to any lengths not to take that first drink.  If that means kissing the dusty feet of some Voodoo priestess while she blows powdered alligator liver on my head, or mind-gaming my cognitive thinking, if I can “suggest”  myself out of drinking, it’s a miracle.  One I should try to keep repeating.  If that means believing certain crazy things, and then acting on them, I’ll do it.

(To be fair, I was always good at that)

Anyway, that’s how I  “came to believe.”  I fucking had to.  I no longer had the luxury of being cynical.

Trying to connect with some invisible otherness was something I had  to do.  I got to a point in the train wreck when that was all that was left.  I had destroyed all other options.  It was that or die.  You know, Plan A.

So when you grasp that last straw, and it starts to grow into a stalk of wheat, like in the ergot-fueled finale of an Elysian mystery rite, you’re grateful.  And your life is never the same.  Which is a big relief.  And it’s the beginning of a new relationship.  Between you and everything else.

Slowly you start to see.  You start to understand.  No matter how bad something looks or feels, there’s something good behind it.  Something holy.  Some gift.  It might take an aeon or two before you see it.  But you know it’s there.  And that’s all that matters.

Whether it’s having a fucking toothache.

A fight with your mom.

Or being an alcoholic.

It’s good to give thanks.

Before you even know why.

Mrs. Winslow, you're trying to seduce me.

Mrs. Winslow, you’re trying to seduce me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Come Bearing Gas, Mylar and String.

Can't argue with a balloon.

Can’t argue with a balloon.

One of the cool side-effects of quitting booze is the increase of strange coincidences.  At least noticing them.  Some really mind-blowing ones.  Stuff that really gets your attention.  Stuff that makes you think.

Alcoholics in recovery call them “God Shots,” probably because it sounds like “Got shots.”  Jung called it Synchronicity.  Others say it’s just coincidence.

I prefer to call it “The Weird.”

Like I mentioned before, The Weird has followed me around my whole life.  My mom was open to some outside-the-box beliefs, and I think that helped my sister and I be more aware of the possibility that things were…maybe a little weirder than we gave them credit.  We learned early on to pay attention to certain stuff.  Because that’s where it all begins.  Once anything knows it might have an audience, it starts hamming it up.  Really tries to keep your attention.  With some real razzle-dazzle semaphore flagging.

That’s been our experience.  With everything.  Talk nice to something.  It talks back.  Nicely.

These days I’m pretty used to it.  It’s become a normal part of my recovery.  Don’t get me wrong, I still marvel at the show.  It just doesn’t upset the balance of my entire reality when I witness it.  But now and then, things will happen that take my wonder to a new level.  Like this balloon thing that happened a while back.

We have a housekeeper that comes once a week.  It’s nice because it forces you to clean the house, at least once, before she comes.  Anyway, very sweet lady.  Always feel guilty watching her work hard.  Make sure to pay her well and that the toilets are already cleaned.  Okay.

So on some special occasion, I forget what, she brought Lori some flowers and a Mylar balloon.  Okay, whatever.  I have nothing against balloons per se.  As long as they’re not attached to a clown.

Unfortunate association.

Unfortunate association.

But balloons by themselves don’t give me any especially festive feelings either.  No more than, say, looking at a soup ladle or half a bar of soap.  They’re just things that are there.  Things I wouldn’t care if weren’t…there.  Dig?

Very much don’t give a fuck about balloons.  Especially Mylar ones.  (they’re a little tacky)

Well, apparently something out there decided this was no longer a tenable attitude for me to maintain.  That instead of mild disdain, whenever I see a Mylar balloon, I should be filled with mystical reverence–to think of Mylar balloons as a most holy gift.  Nothing less than messengers sent directly from the gods.

And there was a plan for how this disturbing new attitude would evolve.

It started with You’re Special.  The very balloon I’m holding in the picture above.  There he is.  Miss you, brother.  That balloon might have said that you were special (and I’m sure you still are) but let me tell you, that balloon was too.

Miss you, too.

Right back at you, bro.

Right away it managed to free itself from the bouquet, but it didn’t rise all the way up to the ceiling.  Clearly it wasn’t driven by blind ambition.  I liked that.  Instead it free-floated mid-high in our living room.  For six weeks.  And not all around the room.  Just in one area over the couch, equidistant between the floor and the ceiling.  No joke.  This thing just hovered in place.  It never strayed out of a two to three foot radius.

Didn’t go up.  Didn’t droop down.  Doors opening.  Cats jumping around.  Didn’t matter.  Never wandered.  Stayed right there.  Hanging out.

For six weeks.

I think it was after the second week that it started to make me feel weird.  Seeing it.  Always over the couch.  Watching TV with us.  Constantly telling us we were special.  But I didn’t say anything to Lori.  Until after a month.

“I don’t know how to say this, but the balloon-being there all the time-makes me feel weird.  Like it’s somebody else.  Watching TV with us.”

“Oh my God, you too?”

That was good to hear.  At least it was weirding her out as much as me.

“It just floats there saying we’re special.  It’s…I don’t know…”

Oh, I knew.  Sometimes I’d look over at it and a strange feeling would come over me.  The surrounding environment would start to melt into one…thing, of which the balloon was only an outcropping.  Like a captioned cartoon balloon blorping out from the whole, in order to deliver a cheery message.  A loving little reminder from this big one thing.  To us.  That’s the best I can describe it.  It was fleeting but the feeling was that everything really was all one, and it was a nice and loving One.  Wanted us to know it, too.

Then everything would go back to normal.  Back to us just watching TV.  All together.  Acting like nothing happened.

If it happened once I’d say it was my imagination.  But it happened a lot.  More than I’d want to imagine.  I get bored imagining the same thing over and over.  Most guys do.  No, this balloon was trying to get into my head.  He was trying to tell me something.

I may be anthropomorphizing, but he still needs to get off the couch and look for a job.

I may be just anthropomorphizing, and I really appreciate the mystic insights, but you still need to get off the couch and look for a job.

Anyway, after two more weeks, the old boy finally started to deflate, slowly sinking, eventually coming to rest on the couch cushion he had been claiming this whole time.  I was disproportionately saddened.  I actually felt a sense of loss.  Over a tacky Mylar balloon.

Lori too.  Why wouldn’t anyone be sad?  It never bothered anyone.  Kept quiet.  Never complained.  Politely paid attention to your shows.  Always told you how special you were.  Fuck yeah, we were going to miss it.  It was a righteous balloon, bro.

I buried it in one of the planters.  The one I bury the dead animals the cats drag in.

The next week, Lori had a procedure done on her back.  The nice lady housekeeper brought some flowers and… three Mylar balloons.  Oh shit, was Lori happy.  New friends!

Just here to break yours.

Just here to break yours.

Alright, I think.  Here we go.  What now?  What are these three going to be up to?  The last tenant was pretty quiet and I’d like to keep it that way.  What’s the deal with these guys?

A yellow smiley face.  A red heart.  And a Get Well Soon.

Seem alright.  We’ll see.  We untied them and all three floated up to the ceiling.

“The last guy never did that.”

I didn’t know if I liked the whole new floating all the way up to the ceiling thing.  A little too ordinary.  Too predictable.  I couldn’t see getting any mystical impressions from it.

Well, I didn’t need to stress, because in less than one hour, all three would be gone.  Gone.  Gone.  Gone.  Out the door, and from what the nice lady housekeeper said, were last seen under our neighbor’s boat dock.  But not there now.  Now just gone.

So that’s their deal.  Not hover over the same spot on the couch for six weeks.  Very much the opposite of that.  A flee-the-scene crew.

Somehow they all floated under the valance, out the sliding door, then under a dock.  But only for a while.  Once nobody was watching they took off.  Where to?  Who knows?  On their way to Argentina.  In six weeks they can get pretty far.

Lori was totally bummed.  I tried to console her.

“Look, think about how happy they’re going to make some South American kid.  Maybe one that has nothing.  It’s going to bring a smile to some poor little salsa slum dog.  That’s a pretty good thing.  Right?”

“What are you talking about?”

I explained how Mylar being able to hold it’s gas in for a long time, along with a well-timed thermal current, could bring joyous blessings to some poor south-o-the-border urchin.  But I couldn’t sell her on it.  We both did agree that it was probably a corny little lesson in “letting go.”

“If you love something…”

“Stop.  I’ll throw up.”

Yeah, we both knew those balloons weren’t coming back.  Whether they were meant to be hers or not.  Hey, no great tragedy.  Still a little stingy.  Didn’t even get a chance to get to know them.  Hell, I could’ve lived with the floating all the way up to the ceiling.  I just needed some time to get used to it.  They didn’t have to bolt.

Fucking Smiley Face.

Escape threat.

Escape risk.

That was on a Friday.  On Sunday I go over to my mom’s to deliver some library books.  She lives across the little man-made lake from us, and then down about ten houses.  I give her the books and we’re standing in the entry talking.  She’s telling me about how a girlfriend came by but was in too much of a hurry to stay.

“She didn’t even want to take the balloons I had for the kids.”

“What balloons?”

“Those three.  One for each of them.”

I turned around.  Smiley Face.  Red Heart.  And Get Well Soon.

“Somebody tied them to my front door.”

WTF???

Everything started to melt into a single blob.  A blob made out of vibrating and shimmering multicolored fire. “We are you.  You are us.  We are one.”  The grandfather clock chimed.  Right on cue.

So much for not getting any mystical impressions from this gang.

They were the same three escapees alright.  I could pick them out of any line-up.  But who would round them up and tie them to my mom’s front door?  The neighbor on her left was the one who pointed them out when he came over to return a bowl.  “Are you sick?” he asked, pointing to Get Well Soon.  That’s when my mom immediately suspected it was her other neighbor, the one she’d recently had a fight with.

“I thought the bitch was trying to say I was sick in the head by giving me get well balloons.”

Of course, given the vast choices of possibilities, it would have to be a hurtful and negative one.  I get that from her.  We both need to get well.

Thanks, but fuck you.

Thanks, but fuck you.

“I don’t know about that, but I know these fugitives belong to Lori.”

I explained to her what happened.  Even she was impressed.  Tried to imagine what kind of odyssey brought them to her door.  She said they were all dirty and that she had to wipe them down.

“I didn’t understand why Sabrina wouldn’t take them for her kids.”

I did.  Because these three were coming back with me.

I came home, but Lori was out.  I picked a rose from the garden and wrote a little note saying “We’re back!” then tied them to the balloons and waited for her to come home.

While waiting, I thought about this bizarre series of events.  I mean seriously.  What the hell?   The whole thing.  Even if in every step along the way, there was a perfectly normal explanation for how those balloons wound up at my mom’s house, there’s the fact that they wound up at my mom’s house.  At all.

But especially after I was paying extra attention to what these balloons were going to be about.  Because of You’re Special I was open to any more possible weirdness floating our way.  They didn’t disappoint.  Very much the opposite.

I heard the garage door open.  Watched Lori walk in.  Watched her face.  You could see it register.  Smiley Face.  Red Heart.  Get Well Soon. They were back.  Oh the joy!  Oh the crazy mind-fucking mysterious, pants-pissing hilarious, heart-filling joy!

Not so much about the balloons being back.  But what it meant that they were.

What that said about stuff.

All this stuff.

This wonderful stuff.

This holy stuff.

This “They were at my mom’s house!” stuff.

This “No fucking way!” stuff.

This “Yes fucking way!” stuff.

February Is A Great Month To Surrender

Did we miss last call?

Did we miss last call?

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the surrender at Stalingrad.  Today marks ten years since my last drink.  Hard to believe, eh?  Someone like me not drinking for that long.  Imagine my own disbelief.  It’s almost unnerving.  Upsets my whole paradigm.  Not drinking for ten years.  In a row.

Me.

It’s fucking nuts.

Seems like only yesterday that I punched out the glass of Spike’s front door.  Because I forgot the keys and didn’t want to wake him up.

By knocking.

So I did the polite thing instead.  Put my fist through one of the panes.  And then quietly let myself in.

Turns out it was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had (at least while in a blackout) because that little episode was the final straw for Spike.  He dumped my ass off at rehab the next day.  And I’ve been sober ever since.

Punch out glass.  Save my ass.  Pretty sweet deal.  I knew there had to be some magic to punching stuff out.  I just never got the timing right.  All those times.  Before.

Of course, I had to have a few other good ideas along the way.  Non-blackout ones.  Not drinking anymore was up there.  So was hanging out with other alcoholics who weren’t.  Observing what they did to stay that way.  What others did not to.  That’s seems to have been a good idea.

Trying to be the complete opposite of what I had become.  Was another.

Big job.  That one.  A lot of headaches.  Goofus wasn’t going to hand-over his decision-making authority to a sissy like Gallant.  Unless he was zip-tied and held at gunpoint.  Which early on in my recovery he was.  He had to be.  We needed a revolution.

Gallant became shot-caller and pretty much made Goofus his bitch.

He had us making our bed.  Pairing socks.  Separating whites.  Opening bills.  Working at a job.  Showing up at events we said we would.  Getting people’s presents sent out on time.  Writing thank you cards.  Keeping dental appointments.  Scrubbing soap scum and tile grout.

It seemed to never end.

Goofus and I remember it as The Terrible Times.  A sad epoch in the history of our brotherhoodship.  But we endured.

We weren’t going to let staying sober kill us.  We would trudge this tundra together.

“Chin up,” I’d tell him, “Turn your thoughts to Stalingrad and sing the sadness from your heart. Remember that somewhere a pretty girl mourns your loss.  Warm your hands on that small fire.  Besides, it’s not like it was any cake walk before.  Any gulag has to be better than what we’ve been through.  Alright then, one foot in front of the other, my glum chum.  Don’t look back.  Don’t look front.  And don’t make a break for the woods.  That’s certain death. ”

And so I marched out of captivity.  Into a new life.

One decade at a time.

Ventura Beach, by Marius Gustaitis

Ventura Beach, by Marius Gustaitis

Pants On Fire

Our pants. our pants, our pants are on fire.

Our pants. our pants, our pants are on fire.

I watched a politician lie the other night.  I know.  Big surprise.  But I was only watching to see his technique.  Maybe pick up some pointers.  He had the body language down right.  Very relaxed.  No unmanageable ticks.  Or involuntary furtiveness.  Nope.  Clearly at ease with himself.  And his duplicity.

He was up there a long time too.  Long press conference.  Playing the “obviously if I had anything to hide I wouldn’t be all hanging out and jawing with you for this long” ploy.  Know it well.  I also know if you’re not on your A-game that day, it can back-fire.  That’s why defense lawyers always want to keep that shit to a min.

My mom always saw through it.  As a teenager I would always stop by her bedroom after a night of partying.  For a little chat.  To show her how high I wasn’t.  One night she flat-out told me, “I think you come in here and talk to me for a long time so I wouldn’t think you were stoned.”

Oh God.  She just busted me.  A clown squirted chocolate milk out of his eyes.  A laughing tulip licked up some of the drops.  I remembered looking at a Puerto Rican girl’s bra strap on the subway when I was six.  Then I pictured playing ping pong with Pasty Cline.  Heard somebody whisper something about Presbyterians.  The top of my head felt like a lava lamp.  I wondered what ever happened to Checkers and Pogo.  I saw a pyramid.  A vulture.  A lemon.

A soup ladle made out of purple velvet.

“Really? Well that sounds strange to me.  And not because I’m stoned kind of strange.  Which I’m not.  At all.  Just weird because…of the… weirdness…of…it.  And I can’t believe it!                            What you said.      Back then.  And I’m really tired with these allergies in my eyes so I better go to the bed.  Bed.  Not the bed.  Just bed.  I better go to bed is what I meant to say.

Anyway, I was watching this guy lie his balls off.  And I had to admit, he was pretty good.  Lots of apologizing for things.  Just not the things he was being accused of.  But that doesn’t matter, because with lazy listeners it all blends together.  Sprinkle enough apologies around and they think “Hey, he apologized.  What more do you want?”  It’s a way of taking the rap, but while maintaining your innocence.  A tricky dance to pull off.

“I take full responsibility for what happened.  For leading on your sister, to the point where she would feel compelled to write fantasy scenarios in her diary about me and her having sex in a bowling alley parking lot on the Friday night you went up to Santa Barbara.  You are right.  I should not have done that.  That was wrong.  Leading her on like that.  I should have known that once she realized she could never have me, her vivid imagination would erupt in a rebellious tantrum.  There’s simply no excuse for not noticing the level of her sexual attraction towards me.  I should have known that my innocent and innocuous flirtation would unleash a demon of desire.  But I was a fool.  A blind fool.  I should’ve never been nice to her.

But you shouldn’t have read her diary.  With all her fictitious private stuff in it.

So I guess we’re even.”

Tippy tap-tap.

Tap.

That one didn’t work.  Well, it worked getting me hit repeatedly by a screaming woman.  Worked like a charm.

Apparently, she wasn’t a porch swinger when it came to listening.  She listened real hard.  I don’t know if she would’ve hit me any less hard if I just told her the truth.  But I know I wouldn’t have felt as scumbaggy, while I stood there, lungs vibrating from the blows.  Sure, I still would’ve felt like scum.  Just not as baggy.

rx5Oc

I hate to lie.  Not out of any rigorous ethical principals, but because I hate doing anything I’m not good at.  And I don’t think I’m a good liar.  I get too nervous.  Give away a lot of poker tells.  And add way too many details.  Things that trip me up later.

“You said you had to go to visit somebody at ‘the brain unit’ at a hospital in Pasadena.  Which hospital exactly was that?”

“Uh, let’s see…I have to think exactly what the…”

“Because my father is a doctor at Huntington Memorial.  Was it at that one?”

“No, definitely not that one.”

“Memorial has the best neuroscience department in Pasadena.  I thought he might have gotten his cat scan done there.”

“No, I’m drawing a blank on the name.  I mean I know it.  Maybe when I give up trying.  You know how sometimes after that it will just pop up.  I remember it was fairly close to the Rose Bowl.  And I remember I got robbed by the Snicker machine at the cafeteria.  Took 85 cents.  I remember that.  And that they had a so-so brain unit.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

“Who?”

“Your friend.”

“Oh God, I hope so.”

“Well, we missed you at Easter brunch.  The kids really enjoyed the egg hunt. ”

“Oh man, I wish I could’ve been there.  But you know…”

Yeah, they know.  And you know they know.  And it’s a cringe-fest.

I can use the heat from my shame to propel me away!

I can use the heat from my shame to propel me away!

Early on in my sobriety, I used to go over to this old guy’s house to hang out.  He had almost twenty years sober by then.  We’d sit in his living room and chain smoke while he taught me some coping skills–ways to navigate the treacherous seas without a tankard of grog.  He was generous with his time, and was very helpful in securing the sails of my sanity.

One day, the subject of honesty came up.  He said my big problem was with “white” lies.  He said that’s where I should focus.  That was the crux.

He’s crazy, I thought.  Who gives a flying frankfurter about white lies?  That’s just being polite.

I’ve got bigger honesty issues to wrestle with.  All those years as a drunk, lying became second nature.  It became a survival mechanism.  Now I was having trouble disengaging from it.  I was having a real hard time being honest.  Those little white lies I told were just social niceties.  As problems went, they seemed like a low priority target.

We’re standing in a dining room ankle-deep in raw sewage and he wants to put the salad fork on the correct side of the plate.

But he insisted.  I only thought they were harmless.  I had convinced myself that I was lying not to hurt someone’s feelings.  Keep things nice-nice.  But at a deeper level, I was really worried about their disapproval.  I was afraid they wouldn’t like me.

“They’re corrosive.  Every time you tell a white lie, you’re telling yourself it’s not okay to be you.  You’re lying about who you are. ”

It wasn’t a burning bush or flash of light variety of insight, but I did hear a distant gong.

Lying about who I am?  Holy shit.  That doesn’t sound good.  It sounds creepy and insane.  And not in the way I enjoy.

“Instead of making up all kinds of reasons why you can’t do something, just say you’d rather not.  And then leave it at that.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, just say ‘I’d rather not.’ ”

“And leave it at that?”

“Leave it at that.”

This was absolutely nuts.  I remember giggling with glee.  Simple honesty.  What a revolutionary approach to life.  I couldn’t wait to try it out.

I didn’t have to wait long.  I’m not lying.  The next day, one of my personal training clients asked me to come out to Disneyland with her and her family.  Oh boy.  A wholesome activity that I despise, but don’t want to admit to hating, because people will then think/know just how degenerate and jaded I am.

Now was my chance to say “Hey, I hate craft fairs, Renaissance faires, parades, dinner theater, magic shows, puppet shows, circuses, sack races, hot air balloon launches, and any kind of music that’s played from a bandstand.  But I really hate Disneyland.  So I’d rather not.”  And then leave it at that.

I stood there.  Do it.  Just say it’s something you’d rather not.  Then drop it.  Drop it like a hammer.  Strike a blow for being yourself.

“Oh wow!  Would I ever love to! But you said Saturday?  Yeah.  Ah.  I can’t.  I promised a buddy I would go with him to get a cat scan at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.  They’ve got a great neuroscience department there.  He has epilepsy and they specialize in brain mapping.  And even though epilepsy is not life-threatening per se, he gets nervous about any medical procedure, and since he’s a recovering alcoholic he’s going to need somebody to be there…because none of his friends or family are talking to him yet, you know, him being early in recovery and all,” I said.

And then left it at that.

I went back to my friend and told him about my failure.  He said it was okay.  A lifetime of behavior doesn’t change overnight.  The important thing was that I was becoming aware of my dishonesty.  That, in itself, was an important step.  In the process.  The process of recovery.

Turns out he was crazy.  And right.  The white lies were the crux of my problem.  Not being okay with who I was–was.  That was the hydra head to a  multi-tentacled monster.  But little by little, the more okay I became with who I was, the easier it was to be honest.  And the more honest I was, the more okay I became with who I was.  It was almost like it was some kind of process or something.

So yeah, I’ve come a long way with honesty.  How long?  Well, let’s just say long enough to know I have a long way to go.

I’ll leave it at that.

In Case of Emergency

My Letter to Nicky

My Christmas card to you.

My Christmas card to you.

Dear Santa,

Sorry I haven’t written lately, but ever since my folks told me you were bullshit…well…I’ve felt a little stupid about keeping up any correspondence.  I know.  No excuse.  It’s not like it’s gonna kill me to write a letter and feel like an idiot later.  I should be used to it.

What with your 24/7 North Pole NSA surveillance capabilities, you probably witnessed me penning that lust letter to the four-eyed lynx intern at the acupuncture clinic back in ’95.  Seven pages of handwritten heart-pour.  To a chick I only answered questions to.  Questions like “How frequently do you urinate?” and “What is the consistency of your stool?”

But that didn’t stop me, eh?  From writing her. 

So why not write to my old pal, St. Nick?  Catch up on shit with a guy who doesn’t exist.  Maybe put in a wish list.

Can’t be any stupider than driving one-eyed, all the way down Agua Fria to her clinic, and delivering it personally.  Remember?  It was right after that disastrous week-end with Bubbles.  In Tuscon.  Drinking more than usual after that little visit.  Heart all hurt.  Ego-aching.  Embarrassed as fuck.

No wonder I freaked and went full-court press on the cat-eyed Jr. needle jockey.  I had to fall in love with someone else.  Right away.  And make sure she fell too.  Brought out the five-alarm charm that afternoon.

Shit-hammered on store brand vodka and Mickey’s Big Mouth.  Reeling and red-faced.  Crashing into the bamboo wind-chimes they had hanging up by the door.  My poison-reek cutting through the Mentholatum spa-smell.  The terrified and confused look on her face when I gave her the letter, slowly turning to pity when she sussed what it was all about.

Magic moment alright.

I also remember walking back to the car and realizing–with pristine divine precision and clarity–what a major fail I just perpetrated.  Fucking great.  Now I get it.  Twenty-two seconds after I finished doing it.  Not the twenty-two before.

It was always after, eh Nicko?  And then, like clockwork, you’re not too drunk to care.  All of a sudden.  It’s like the batshit buzz that got you in the jam, suddenly hightails, leaving you holding the sock. 

Yuuhgrhhh.  Every time I remember it, my guts twist.

Love to time-machine that one.  Hey, it was par for that whole year.  From what I recall.  Perfect candidate for lump of coal I was.

But I think I got some leather gloves, a camping ax, and a Hendrix box set.  Don’t know if that was a mix-up or mercy on your part.  But thanks anyway, dude.

Which brings me to why I’m writing.  As you probably know, I’ve been a little grouchy this holiday season.  Bitching and moaning about having to stand in long lines, find parking, gift wrap rhomboid-shaped gifts.  Post Office.  UPS.  The usual sleigh-bell blues.  And yeah I’ll admit, kind of sick of seeing your face all over the place.

Well, Friday I get hit with a stomach flu.  A real sidewinder.  All of a sudden I’ve got bigger problems than constantly losing the Scotch tape.

I go from bitching about small, irritating shit, to worrying if I’m gonna squirt out all my sacral fluid.  Major attitude shift, Nicky.  Capisce?

Lori’s gone to Europe, and neither of my cats have a driver’s license, so it’s toaster waffles and tap water for two days.  I’m laying in bed the whole time.  Bugsy and Louie holding vigil over their only food-giver.  The only one until January 4th, when the other one gets back.

I’m so very weak.  So very tired.  Can’t push the buttons on the remote.  Have to roll over on it in the bed.  Hope a good channel comes on.  But too sick to watch anyway.  Can only let whatever is on blend with my delirium.  World War 2 documentaries.  Gangsters: America’s Most Evil.  Full Throttle Saloon.  Lock-Up; Extended Stay.  Adult Swim.  Hour after hour.  Sleeping off big chunks, but awake enough for marathon series of fevered visions.

My mind wanted to show me things.  Pulled me out of my body.  “Check this shit out!”

British POW’s in Japanese camps.  Trying to build a bridge while dysentery wrings out their bowels.  A little brown boy lying on a banana leaf. Shivering with Dengue Fever.  A moth in a dead guy’s mouth.  Jungle rot.  Cholera.  Maggots in rice.

We visit a leper clinic in India.  A Russian prison infirmary.  African refugees eating sand.

Then I see paralyzed old people.  They’re in a skilled nursing facility–watching the shadows of twilight lengthen across the room.  Wondering if anyone will come see them.  Thirsty.  But unable to ask.  Sad.  But too dry to cry.  Trapped.  But unable to die.

Wheel of Fortune on.  No way to turn it off.

(I think that’s worse.  I’d rather have to build a bridge in diapers)

I’m telling you what, St. Boy, if I ever visit sick old people, I’m going to make sure to keep the mood light and laughy.  And bring them orange juice or whatever.  And make sure that the TV is on their channel.

I caught a glimpse of their hell, and it snapped me right out of the mopes.  This is a stomach flu.  I’m a recovered alcoholic.  This is nothing.  I got this.  I knew I was probably going to roll it up in 48.  But a lot of others are down for life.

Like some drunks I’ve known.  Lying there floored and helpless.  Alone.  Every time you make it to the toilet a small victory.

Sad sun coming through the window.

Not even cats to keep you company.

Death feeling like a real thing.

Sometimes being one.

So yeah, grateful for the pathogens that bring on hellish visions.  Grateful for my stomach flu.

And as far as any presents this year, don’t sweat it.  Being able to drive to the store.  Wash the sheets.  Hold down food.  Change the channel.  Big gifts.

And of course the cats.

Give my share to somebody who needs it.  There’s plenty out there, Nicky boy.  Believe me.

Anyway, give my best to the Missus.  Rudy.  The Elves.

Take some time off.  Belize.  Good banks.

Marius

Punked-Out Punk: The Merciful Conclusion

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Ugly scene at the punk show.  Gurz and I wound up going at it.  Savage exchange.  Dude fights dirtier than me.  Beat me to the salt shaker.  Then beat me with the salt shaker.  Right there on the dance floor.  While the band played on.  I thought I’d met my match, but remembered a move called Monkey Steals A Peach.  That took the proverbial wind out.  Cops showed up and arrested us both for felony assault.  Essington posted our bail.  We paid him back by stealing his car.

Hmm.  It’s a good start for this piece.  I mean I really like it.  Right away we’re up to our elbows in action.  The writing is snappy and scrappy.  Lean and tough.  I get to work in a salt shaker and Monkey Steals A Peach reference.  Getting busted is rich.  The evil burn there at the end, too.  The whole paragraph is so me.  We’re talking signature shit.

There’s only one little problem.  It’s a balls-out lie.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with that.  It’s just that Gurz or Essington might yap.  Then everybody will think/know I’m a liar.  Which would suck.  And oh yeah, I’m supposed to try to be as honest as possible, in order to help stay sober.

Fucking staying sober.  Always tripping up my game.  Saving me from humiliation.

You want the truth?  You think you can handle it?  Well handle this-

I went to the show and had an okay time.  Got along with Gurz and Essington.  Nothing crazy happened.  Was asleep in my motel bed by 2AM.  Had a nice breakfast with Brisa and Dennis the next morning.  Came home.  The end.

After all that build up, that’s all you get.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.  No drinking.  No drugging.  No fist-fights.  No stage-diving.  No strippers.  No hookers.  No cops.

Not so hot on the truth now, are you?  Yeah, it’s easy to pay it lip labor, but another thing to have to endure listening to it.  Or in this case, having to read it.  It could set you free, but the truth just might lull you to sleep.  Like a bellyful of antihistamine-fed turkey, cold hard facts can be quite soporific.  Plain old boring truth.

Here’s some more boring truth-  I hate writing music reviews.  Mostly because I suck.  I’ll write “they sound alright, like some band I can’t remember the name of, only more hoppy-boppy,” or “the chick playing bass looks like someone my buddy went out with, back in Santa Fe, during the 90’s.  A real clingy, emotionally needy, pain in the ass.  The girlfriend, not the bass player.  I don’t know what her story is.”

I’m no Lester Bangs.  And don’t want to be.  First off, he’s dead.  Second off, I recognize my limitations as a writer.

Add that to the fact that nothing amazing, funny, or insane happened at the show, and you’ll know why I dragged ass getting here.  This thing became a book report I couldn’t find the Cliff Notes for.  I kept putting off writing about the show with a Part One, Part Two, Part Three, hoping I’d find some angle to make it interesting.  Well, the angle never came.  That’s when I decided to try to lie my way out.  Like a cornered rat.

Sure, lot’s of uninteresting things happen to me, all the time, and it’s never stopped me from writing about them.  But there’s usually some internal component, some gleaned insight or entertaining thought process to report.  Not this time.  The only thing I remember thinking was, “this music is okay, but I’m ready for it to stop now.  It’s starting to hurt my ears.”

Not much to hang your hat on.  Even for Lester Bangs.

Reagan Youth

Thank God, Michael Essington was there.  He can write about music.  Or anything else.  He’s prolific.  Smart.  A natural writer.  Very readable.  In real life, a solid down-to-earth character.  No posturing or posing.  And that comes through in his work.  I wish we could have talked more that night, but the music was…too loud.

Anyway, while I hemmed and hawed, waiting for some God Machine to descend from the sky, he banged out a review of the show.  You can read it here.

Okay.  That gets me off that hook.  No need to review the show.  And that should be lesson to all you kids out there.  Sometimes procrastination pays off.  So don’t put it off.

I’ll will add that while Essington was jumping hurdles trying to get to the show, I saw the whole thing.  13 Scars and Reagan Youth managed to tap into the wellspring of youthful angst and delivered the notice.  Especially noteworthy, since both bands are made up of generally older dude types.  It was good to see middle-agehood could still shred shit up.  Good for morale.  A mighty hammer blow struck against the evils of ageism.

But like I said, at one point my ears just gave out.  It wasn’t the musicianship, or even some age-crisis induced introspection, but the physical discomfort of decibels relentlessly beating against the skull that made me ready to bail.  But I didn’t.  I clung on to the bitter end.

And am a better man because of it.

Michael Essington and David Gurz

Michael Essington and David Gurz

If you read part one of this saga (and my stats show that’s not likely) you’ll know that I went primarily for the book-signing, Essington and Gurz were doing for their joint effort,  Under a Broken Street Lamp.  It was good to finally meet Gurz.  A deeply troubled individual.  Dangerously deranged old punk.  Ex-con.  Ex-heroin junky.  Street survivor.  You’re just not going to find a more subterranean creature.  If I had a stick that night I would have poked at him, just to watch him claw and hiss, the madness and menace glinting in his eyes.  A fascinating specimen of Demonous Nocturnous.

And all that comes through in his work.  But lots of other stuff too.  Sinister resume aside, Dave is a sweetheart.  Intelligent, funny-as-fuck, and–oh, he’s gonna kill me–sensitive and caring.  That’s right.  He’s what is known in folklore as a Noble Scoundrel.  Standard archetype, really.  What the turn-of-the-century criminal, Jack Black, called “a good Yegg.”

Anyway, we’d been corresponding and talking on the phone for over a year before this, so it was great to actually meet in person.  And not be able to communicate.  But hang out anyway.

That’s what this whole odyssey was about.  Making the effort to connect with friends.  Going against my selfish inclination for the apparent comfort and safety of isolation, and coming out to the show.  Just to be there.  To hang out.  To talk loudly to somebody who can’t hear you, and then not hear them tell you that.  To build that bond that comes from nodding and shrugging at each other.  Clueless.  While droplets of blood roll from your ears.

I wouldn’t trade it for all the treasure in Timbuktu.

Okay.  That’s not true either.

Damn.

Anarchy Transformer

Punked-Out Punk: Part Three

Oh thank God, they're American-owned!

Oh thank God, they’re “American-owned”

I pulled into the motel parking lot carefully listening for the crunch of syringes and crack vials.  Didn’t hear any.  They must sweep the place.  Classy joint this Comfort Inn.  Can’t see why Expedia only gave it two stars.  Maybe at night it becomes a stable for hookers.  Better get the top floor.  Don’t want to be hearing a bed creak every thirty minutes.  Unless, of course, I’m in it.

I parked the car and went inside the office to register.

A gentleman with a southern Mumbai accent processed my reservation, then directed me to a room on the first floor.  I thanked him and went out to get my bag from the car.

Wow.  Plastic key card.  Free buffet breakfast and WiFi.  Dish TV.  Little refrigerator.  Coffee maker.  Call me the King of Siam.  I was ready to settle for windows without bullet-holes and free local calls.  And I get all this.  The gourmet shit.  The Creator is too good to me.  Spoils me rotten.

I went in.  Nice enough digs.  Didn’t smell too funky.  A dark room.  Always like that.  Especially after I make it darker.

I dragged the blackout curtain across the window.  Unpacked some rags.  Put away the soda and beans.  Checked out the bathroom.  Didn’t get the vibe anybody had ever died in it.  Cool.  That’s worth at least half a star.  I got some ice from the machine and filled the sink.

Still feels a little weird not sticking in a bunch of beers.  But not as weird as waking up in a Mexican jail.  Here, see if you can put in cans of soda instead of beer and somehow still survive.

I did.  And did.

Spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out the remote for the bullshit Dish TV.  Got to the point where I just started pushing buttons randomly.  That’s what finally worked.  I don’t know why I didn’t just do that right off the bat.  Don’t try to figure it out.  Just keep pushing buttons, baby.  Let mathematical chance work for you.  If you’re not hung up on any particular number–every one is a winner.

Wound up tuning into some football.  Two teams I didn’t give a fuck about.  Perfect.  A stress-free sporting event to kill some time.  I can relax a little before getting my eardrums punctured with punk rock.  I leaned back into my stack of pillows and exhaled.  Exhaled everything.  My previous stress.  My present apprehensions.  My future concerns.  Just gassed them out.

I don’t know what particular meditation technique it is, or from which tradition, but I like to make myself disappear.  It’s easy.  Just let the boundary between self and surroundings blur a bit…and poof.   I cease to be.  At least for a little while.

Now and then, I need to dissolve into the arms of Nuit.  “Oh, holy Eternal Void, I fling myself into Your infinite potential.  My fate to You I trust.  Redeem me, if You must.  But I don’t mind being dust.  Amen.”

Sweet inky oblivion.  It’s very relaxing.  And I’ve learned how to obtain it without a motel bathtub filled with beer.

We're going to need more ice.

As if the TV would be there. I call bullshit.

I woke up– if not entirely redeemed–certainly more refreshed.  I decided to take a shower.  Already talked to Gurz and he said the bands were still on their way to the show.  That meant I had time to stand under the hot water and realize some things.

Like as long you don’t put any expectations on the evening, you can’t be disappointed.  Don’t feel bad if you don’t feel like you’re twenty years old again.  You didn’t feel so great then either.

And even if the music doesn’t somehow erase all your hard-earned wisdom, you can still make bad decisions.  It’s a choice.

And there’s nothing wrong with mellowing.  So what if you’re not the reckless monster you used to be?  Who cares if you don’t pull down the scenery around you in an operatic gotterdammerung anymore, or make a hobby out of endangering the safety of others?  In fact, everyone is pretty okay with it.  You’re really the only hold-out– the only one giving yourself grief.

Huh.  Fucking me.  It’s always something.

Well, that’s where you come in.  You’re going to take care of you.

Me?  Why me?

Since you already have an in with old boy.  You being him and all.  You can put in a good word.  Get you to call the dogs off you.  You know, cool it.

Hmm.  Maybe.  I’ll see what I can do.  But you know me.

I do.  And I know you know you.  And if you’re cool to you, I know you’ll totally be cool.

Yeah, I know.

So we’re cool?

Totally.

Good shower.

I got dressed.  Laced the Martens.  Ate my salami and beans.  And Brazil nuts.  Washed it all down with a can of diet ginger-ale.  Put a key card in my wallet.  One in my sock.  Left the TV on.  Closed the door.

Okay, let’s see if the kids have anything on this old dog.

(to be continued)

Only the Bible survived.

That’s more like it.