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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Punked-Out Punk: Part Two

Needing a fix.

“It’s a beautiful day.”

I pointed the Mercedes punkeast and smogward.  La Ciudad de Los Angeles.  The City of Angels.  Ha.  That’s rich.  The bitchy irony starts at the name, and doesn’t stop until the wino piss puddles around your Hollywood sidewalk star.  Always hated the place.  After 20 years of trying to make it work, you just know, Los Angeles, it’s not me.  It’s you.

Where else will you see a fifty-one year old man driving a Mercedes to a Reagan Youth show?  Like I said, always with the bitchy irony.  Just a nasty city.

Turned off the satellite radio.  Too many choices.  I’d rather listen to nothing.  Nothing but the sound of my mind grinding gears as it pushes boulders up steep inclines.  Only to have them roll back down.  Crushing and destroying everything in their path.  Including the equipment operator.

Deep in thought I was.  Too deep for tunes.  Dint want the distraction.  Twas a busy day at Monkey Mind Construction.

So what’s the deal here?  What’s the angle?  How do I approach this little outing?  What do I have to do?  More importantly, what should I not do?  How can I avoid having any regrets?  Am I too old for this?  Am I still “punk as fuck?”  Is eight car lengths safe enough?  Is it too late to invest in the Gerber Baby Grow-up Plan?  What if I have to fight a guy with an ax?  What do I have in the car that would give me a chance?  How about one of the dumbbells in the trunk?  Really?  Against an ax?  Why not one of the ten pounders wielded like a war-hammer?

Maybe.

Why am I planning on having to fight a guy with an ax?  When that almost never happens.

Just a lot of questions.  Few answers.  I didn’t need the Margaritaville or New Age Spa station to interfere with hearing any either.  Silence was golden.  Especially before tonight.  I had a sneaking hinky that I was in for an aural assault.  Reagan Youth, 13 Scars, Dust Angel, and a couple of other bands.  I estimated about at least five hours of music beaten into my skull before it was all over.

Yeah, we’ll keep the radio off.  Save the ear bones a little wear-and-tear.  Good chance to pay attention to my driving.  Hands at ten and two.  Ankle holding the pedal at a steady 70.  Check rear-view.  Side one.  Wup.  Brake light flashing 2.500 feet ahead.  Ease up on the gas.  Hover over brake.  Not required.  Continue to depress accelerator.

Only thirty-two more miles.  I just might make it.  Is that a cop?

Even with a valid license, current registration, proof of insurance, and not being drunk, I still drive like I could get pulled over and hauled off to jail.  Can’t help it.  Some groove I cut deep into the limbic part of my brain.  I remember getting a flat tire the first year I was sober.  I was by the side of the road changing it, when a CHP pulled up behind me.  Oh fuck.  Both my feet jerked hard left, ready to start running across the ice plant.

Hold on.  You haven’t done anything wrong.  Nothing is wrong with you.  And you don’t have anything wrong inside the car.  You are merely a motorist in distress.  And not over the fact that Xanax slows down your backwards ABCs.

Well, he had pulled over to see if he could help.  Even let me use his jack so I didn’t have to deal with the Japanese can-opener that came with my car.  We had some laughs over that.  He turned out to be a cool copper.  It felt strange waving good-bye to him as I drove off.

Good citizenshiphood is a trip alright.  And not too bad a deal.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against outlaw stuff.  I remember this one time I broke a law.  And it was deeply satisfying.  It’s just the constant tap-dancing required to maintain the life-style that gets tiring.  So does getting busted.  Being broke.  Hungry.  Hunted.  Haunted.

Trying to find the gun you hid while in a black-out.

“The last thing I remember is thinking ‘nobody will ever find it here,’ then the film breaks.  Please St. Anthony, help me find my gun.”

Having to thank Him after you find it in the microwave.  Feeling weird that you had to pray.  For that.

Yeah, all that shit pretty much blows.  I’ll put on my Mr. Rogers sweater instead.  The loafers too.  Did he change into loafers or sneakers?  I can’t remember.  As soon as I find a safe place to pull over I’ll Google it on my phone.  I watched enough of that show as a kid, you’d think I’d remember.

At night before going to sleep, I’d fantasize about lying down flat across Trolley, so I could ride it through the tunnel into the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  (There’s a Fellini image)  Once inside, I’d run amok and destroy the place.  Twist off King Friday’s head and proclaim myself the new Emperor.  Kid Caligula.  I’d imagine bashing in or burning down every cute little building.  One by one.  The castle.  The grandmother clock in the tree.  The rocking chair factory.  The platypus mound.  The Eiffel Tower.  That rotating columned cake thing that Lady Elaine lived at.  I think it was some museum or shit.  Doesn’t matter.  I would reduce it all to smoldering ruins.  Turn the Neighborhood of Make Believe into…Stalingrad.

Is that a normal fantasy for a seven-year-old boy?  Probably not normal for a normal one.  But normal for me.

Here's what I think of your 'hood.

Here’s what I think of your ‘hood.

Anyway, I turned out okay.  So I don’t think there was any lasting harm in it.  Okay, start signaling for your lane change.  Plenty of warning for everybody.  Thank you Mr. Pancho Villa Mustache Dude for letting me in.  Wave the thank you hand to him.  Did he see it?

“That’s right, bro.  You’re cool!”  Give him thumbs up.  Nod.  Mucho gratitudo, dude.

Okay then.

Did I mention I didn’t want to be driving to Hollywood to see a punk rock show?  No?  Well, truth be told, I’d rather be toasting my moccasins in front of a roaring fire tonight.  Watching some show about living in Alaska or prison.  My girlfriend snoring just enough to let me know she’s not dead.  My cats curled around me.  Both of them radiating their serenity, as my sister described “like two incense cones of coziness.”

Yeah, Mr. Destroy-Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood would rather be home with his woman and kitty cats.

Instead of a punk rock show.

Wow, that sounds really lame.  I need to make sure nobody finds out.  Vault that shit right now.  Right there with The Phone Sex Incident.  Bury it deep.

Fact is, I’m doing this as an act of contrary action.  Choosing to go out into the world and connect with friends.  Instead of continuing to isolate in my comfort zone.  I feel an obligation.  That it’s important to do.  Especially when I don’t feel like it.  It’s my small offering upon the altar of Faith Above Reason.  Connecting without fear of consequence.  It’s pretty insane.  Punk as fuck.  Actually.

Here we go.  This is beginning to feel more tawdry.  Must be getting close.  I need Sunset.  Three miles.  Signal.  Look over the left shoulder.  Right shoulder.  Rear-view.  Side-view.  Right shoulder again.  Begin merging.  Done.

It was sneakers not loafers. Well they were more like deck shoes.  That’s what he changed into after he put on his sweater.  But did he put his sweater on first?  Pretty sure.  Yeah.  He goes straight to the closet, takes off his sport coat, puts on the sweater, then sits down and changes his shoes.  That was the proper protocol.  For a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Glad I straightened that out.  No Google either.

At least I was getting some answers.  Not to anything important.  Yet.  But I should keep listening.

I exited on Sunset and turned right.  My motel wasn’t too far.  Good.  I’ll have time to take a nap.

Before the big show.

(to be continued.)

Mindful motoring.

Mindful motoring.

Vengeance Is Okay, I Guess.

Vengeance is mine. What do I do with it?

Vengeance is mine. Now what?

Three and a half minutes.  That’s how long I can rub my hands together in fiendish glee, before even that gets boring.  I just timed it.  Kind of a let down.  Doesn’t make sense to make a hobby out of it.  Maybe I should get out the paints and see if being creative is still fun.  Not tonight though.

I found out that an arch nemesis is about to be destroyed.  The D.A. has him in the rack, and big iron bolts are clinking while he turns the crank.  Financially he is ruined.  All that remains to be seen is if he will do time.  Regardless, it’s not too early to call it.  Game Over.

The Blind Creature of Slime is crushed under the chariot wheels of  Justice. Voltar is victorious!  Time to leash the baying hounds.  Light the woods with fire.  Pour mead into our skull mugs.  Throat lusty ballads of plunder and pillage.  Invite the giant warlords to our victory feast.

Let us celebrate the smiting.  Let us quaff from our joy eternal.  While our foes eat flame in the Wasteland of Woe.

Drink up everybody.

Huh.

I thought I’d feel happier.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy.  It’s just that I thought I’d be happier.

Eight years I waited for this news.  And now, well, part of me  feels sorry for the guy.  What kind of bullshit is this?

Why oh Lord, must all my victories be Pyrrhic?

How can I expect to loiter among the gods with this stain across my suit?  This hot dog mustard of Humanity.

At least this one is karma-free.  I didn’t lift a finger, drop a dime, arrange anything.  He did it all to himself.  Like I knew he would.  Eventually.

I’ve stood by and watched this guy pull some scandalous shit over the years.  Screwed a lot of people.  Like me.  Most importantly.  Because I’m one of those people that don’t like to be fucked under deres, Pally.  Capezio?

I had all kinds of chances to sting back.  Trust me.  Figured out some good ones.  Couldn’t help it.  I slide into Evil Chess Master mode easily.  And this guy seemed to be designed for the express purpose of goading me to engage.  To bring down some Byzantine bitch slap.  Teach him what blind worship of Moloch can lead to.  Help him see The Light.  Steer him towards better citizenship.

But I never deployed.  Came close.  Started to squeeze, but never pulled the trigger of my V-Weapon.  Practicing restraint, you see.  Voltar was in the lap dance booth, but he was keeping his hands on the couch.

I can blame that on recovery.  The whole thing reeked of some kind of a spiritual test.  Biblical life that I now lead, I can smell a rat trap.  Too temping this cheese.  No.  My deal would require trusting that there would be some kind of justice.  Even without my vigilante assistance.

What can I say?  Voltar likes to experiment in his lab.  He wanted to see if all this shit was for real.  This spiritual angle.

It was hard.  The little fucker was getting away with murder.  So it seemed.  Dodging every projectile thrown by the angry mob.  Bobbing and weaving, but somehow remaining untouched.  Irritating to witness.  Frustrating to grasp.  Double-U, Tee, Eff.

It’s exactly at times like that , I would have expedited things.  How about we save the Universe all the trouble of arranging some karmic payback, and I just kick his ass right now?  You know, cut to the chase-o, Pedro.

Alas, my only weapon would be patience.  My only medicine a dyspeptic tonic of tolerance.  None of which I’d mastered or learned to stomach.  I would also have to holster my magic powers of cunning and deceit, and forsake any Machiavellian machinations.  Nor would I take advantage of the pro-bono attorney I had on speed dial.  Basically, I set myself up for an ambush.

For no other reason than it might keep me from drinking, which is my favorite thing to do.

Sounds perfect.  -Ly bad.  Where do I sign up?

He did fuck me under.  Many, many, many times.   And for the most part, I just took it.  Looking back, it was nothing I couldn’t recover from.  But he did make life harder.  Especially when I let him.

All the torrents of poisoned-tongued venom I held banging behind my teeth.  All the tight-lipped, wide-nostrilled attempts at civility.  Eye-lid spaz-flapping from the strain.  White knuckles stuck in pockets.  Mumbling my motherfucker mantra.  Trying to keep it together.  Keep cool.  Grip the imaginary neck.  Then let it go.

Good old-fashioned clenched teeth sobriety.

It’s not like I was an angel.  But the bad things I did do back to him, we’re downright saintly compared to what I had cooking upstairs.  There was a decided dial-down on the Nob of Wrath.  Whatever lashes I whipped back were involuntary.  Like when a friend unexpectedly chops you in the neck with an ironing board and you freak out on them, before realizing they were only fucking around.  Knee-jerk stuff.

Besides that, I would try to leave him to himself, and let what happens to him… just happen.  His fate I would see, like Ozzy said. “after forever.”

I can wait.

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.

Tick.

I didn’t realize Eternity was so long.

Tick.

“He’s a creature of God.  Perfect in his apparent imperfection.  A pilgrim on The Path.  Beloved by the Creator.”

And a total dick.  His personality poisons our pool with plague.  I strongly suggest destruction.

“Everything you hate about him, you possess within yourself.”

Yeah okay, sorry for giving the high-hat.  Go ahead and destroy us both.  Just don’t let him get away.

And so it would go.  Back and forth.  To and froward.  The struggle itself felt futile.  There didn’t seem to be any pay-off.

Until one day, we parted ways, and I forgot all about him.  He became an insignificant ghost in my mind.  Maybe I didn’t love him.  But I didn’t hate him anymore.  I had managed to climb as far as Indifference on the spiritual ladder.  What’s that like, good for a bronze?  Anyway, it was definitely short of Compassion.

Until today.  Like I said, now I kind of feel sorry for him.  A little.  It’s weird.

I know.  I’m getting soft in my old age.  But maybe we’re supposed to.  Ripen.  It’s what makes grandparents better than parents.  A little more of the unconditional love.  A little less Hammer of Thor.

We could all use a little less Hammer of Thor these days.  Shit is hard enough.  For everybody.

Unless of course, you’re just begging for a hammer blow.  And Thor really wants to deliver one.  A real smiter.  Something to make the anvil ring across valleys of Valhalla.  It’s golden echo sending black birds up from their trees–into red skies streaked with lightning.

Then we’ll have to honor that.  As well.  Accept it.  Like all the other stuff.

It’s just that some stuff is easier to accept.

You know what I mean?

V.

It Could Be Worse, And Will Be If You Don’t Stop Crying

Not a bad beer, actually.

Not a bad beer, actually.

Right now I’m drinking a protein shake that I ruined by putting in some sort of green algae superfood powder.  I tried to make it more healthy, but I made it too healthy.  Now it tastes like shit.  Like a chocolate, metal, and grass smoothie.  I can taste every one of the essential whatevers in it.  The traces of Boron.  Copper.  Molybdenum.  Chlorophyll.

Fuck it.  At least I’m not actually eating grass.  I’m not having to eat grass because the Cossacks have burned the crops and raped our cows.  So it technically could be worse.  See how I fixed that?  “It could be worse” is like a magic wand.  Now this shake is delicious!

That’s at the core of my survival mechanism.  “It could be worse.”  Instilled in me from my parents.  And I guess one more thing I should appreciate them for.  I don’t know if it’s a Lithuanian thing.  Seems like it.  I’ll ask some friends.  I’m pretty sure it is.  At least from the war refugee crowd and their off-spring.

It was the closer for any shit storm my family had to go through.  Somebody would say, “It could be worse,” and we’d call it a night.  Clock out.  At least now you could brush your teeth and go to bed.  I imagine it’s a form of gratitude.  At least some distant cousin of it.  It doesn’t work so good in jail.  But sometimes you can use it in a hospital emergency room.  Tie up the evening’s festivities with an “It could be worse.”

“The more you bitch, the more God will give you something to bitch about,” was another of our cozy sayings.   I still stand by it.  It seems to be true.  At least in my personal experience.  I don’t know if it’s some cosmic truth.

Like “Nobody likes a pants-pisser in their bomb shelter.”

As insensitive as that one may sound.  There’s some folk wisdom there, albeit of the rough-hewn and gnarled variety.  Basically, panic begets more panic.  And then nothing gets done.  To fix things.  You have to keep your head and not cave into The Fear.  That’s how they made it through the war in Europe.  That’s how they made it here when they came.  They didn’t shit themselves.

They Didn’t Shit Themselves;  An American Success Story.

Anyway, it’s a tradition I’ve tried to uphold.

It’s a lot easier now that I’m not drinking my weight in beer. You know, deftly navigating my ship, The Rocinante, through the Stormy Seas of Destiny.

And holding my mud.

I’ve actually gotten a little braver without alcohol.  It’s taken some time, and then even more time to see it, but I think I’ve made progress.

It’s not like I’m ready to hold the pass at Thermopylae, but I don’t have to drink a six pack before opening my bills anymore.  Or need to drink eight beers to prime myself for the next beer run.  And now (may the heavens tremble at my might) I can kiss a girl with no beers at all.  I mean for me.  She’d still have to be hammered out of her skull.

So yeah, it’s nice, this whole not being too-drunk-to-deal-with-it-all deal.  And, no matter how terribly I may being dealing with it all, at least I’m not dealing with it drunk.  Because chances are my sober fucking-up would look like water-walking compared to my drunken version.

Of dealing with it all.

It’s an advantage a recovering alcoholic has over the normal person.  No matter what our shortcomings, if we stay sober we always have some golden straw to grasp.  Right?  At least that.  At least I’m still sober.

Have some normal person throw that one out.  See who golf claps him.  Big deal.  Shut up and have a drink.

Of course, there’s always the chance the recovering alcoholic will succumb to his/her fear, and then totally destroy their life in a final drunken death dance.

And that, my friends, is where the normal person regains the advantage.

By not doing that.

When things get tough.

Lucky fuckers.  That’s a good advantage.

However, if I do manage to stay sober, well then…I’ve shaved the house’s dice, haven’t I?  C’mon lucky seven, Daddy needs a new pair of pants.

He’s crapped this pair.

(See what I did there, Pauly?  Craps.  Pair of dice.  Pair of pants.  Nice, huh?  I like it)

I don’t know how many of my readers are in some sort of recovery, most probably only from last night’s barf-a-thon, but it’s one of those things ex-addicts and ex-drunks have to do.  We have to be grateful we’re not fucked up on our choice of magic carpet ride.  You take anything for granted long enough, be it a relationship, a car that runs, or some money in the bank, and chances are that something…is going to slip away.

Sobriety is just one of those things.  If you don’t pay enough attention, she can slink off.  Her high heels clacking away into the night.

I really don’t want to go back to drinking.  So I try to be grateful.

I figure that life can be hard enough just regular.  Look, in my own half-assed, duct-taped way, I try to work a program.  I pray to the Unifying Intelligence That Binds Creation, meditate on the perfection of The Silence, contemplate the goodness of all souls, work to be less selfish, admit when I’m wrong, try to be a good listener, help when I can, surrender when I can’t, lift weights, stay away from grains, and get enough Molybdenum .

Basic stuff.  And for the most part, I live a life filled with a lot of wonder, laughter and joy.

But sometimes… old demons stop by the pad and ask to use the bathroom.  Next thing I know, they’re camped out, ordering pizza and pay-for porn.  They’re not leaving anytime soon. Then I find myself treading shark-filled ocean, trying to keep my lips just above the water line.  I’m barely making it.  Barely.  And I’m not even drinking.

The last thing I need right then is a bowling ball necklace.

Let’s see how I do with crippled critical thinking.  After I impair my judgement.  Enough to tap into some creative problem-solving.  Become a drunken genius.  Now I can save the day with a master stroke.  Employ some bold solutions.   Just the thing for delicate problems.  A sledgehammer.  And the blind faith to use it.

So yeah.  It could be worse.

And if you’re drinking to solve something, all you got to do is keep it up.  And you’ll see.

Because it can always get worse.

And probably will.

So cheers to that.

Sorry for the buzz-kill.  I’m out of here.

–By the way, this fucking shake is growing on me.  It’s got a weird tang to it.  And I appreciate that from a chocolate shake.

.

Stopped crying.

Stopped crying.

You Can’t Punch Gas

I decided the other night that I wanted to be more vague.  Really want to cultivate it as a quality.  You can do that you know.  Reinvent yourself. Not just for credit fraud either.  But as an exercise in character building.  Become a different person.  One with new super powers.

Being nebulous as gas is a good one.  To be able to disappear into vacuous vapor.  And leave them swinging at air.

It’s a power I’m only beginning to harness, but it’s already yielded rich rewards.  The power to be vague.  With long periods of silence in between.  Vague and laconic.  Somewhere in that quiet, your next move becomes clear.

It’s an important skeleton key to freeing yourself from the cage of modern life.  No wonder I blew it.  I always tripped myself up with specifics.  Tried to tell the cop too much to prove I wasn’t guilty.  That worked great.

Like a charm.

Fucking specificity.

Always talked myself into a corner–one I could only break out of by clawing like rat set on fire with oil.  Very ungraceful.  Unladylike.  Screeching and scratching my way out of  life’s jams.   It was all so unnecessary.  A fool’s errand.

I should’ve been hiding in the foofy cloud of an ambiguous response.  Don’t try to explain anything.  Just smoke-bomb the room with a big cumulus question mark.

It’s getting yourself out of the most ass-burning trouble with a “Hey, it is what it is,” as your only defense.  And maybe a shoulder shrug.

It is what it is.

How can you argue with that?  Locked in logic.  Universally applicable.  Bullet-deflecting smoothness of surface.  No traction at all for a counter.

It is what it is.  If that is my only assertion during any conflict, short of a shank attack, I will win.  Simply by default.  Because what I claim is true.  Something is what it is.

That leaves them with having to argue that it is what it isn’t.  And that’s a harder row to plow.

Trust me.

It is.

Really amazing what can be achieved with a simple hunch of the shoulders.  And a blank look.  Gotta have that.  Essential.  If you can  toss a pinch of  boredom in that’s even better.  Not like you’re in a chemically-induced stupor, but existentially resigned.  Like apathy.  But more spiritual.

The trick is to become one with the wallpaper behind you.  Blend into nothingness.  Pretty soon people forget you’re there, and then why they were pissed at you.  If the heat gets too much, I’ll disappear into Oneness.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I’ll cease fighting everything.

“Maybe.”  “I don’t recall.”  “That might be true.”  “I don’t know.”  “I’m sorry.”

These are not the responses of an obtuse idiot.  These are power words.  Words that open the Gates of Heaven.  And the Door to the Palace of Slack.

These days, I don’t want to fight with anybody.  I just want to be left alone.  To be able to enjoy time with friends.  To eliminate as much drama as my housecleaning skills allow.  I want to Aikido any bullshit right past me.  And move on.

Whether it’s some paranoid fanatic screaming some insane and offensive political diatribe in my face, or somebody accusing me of the most heinous character deficiencies, I  just nod.  Regardless of how pissed I may be, or how much shit I have to throw back in their face.

Go slack.  Give slack.  Get slack.

“You may be right. ”

Put hands in pockets and shrug.

“But I am right!”

“Maybe.”

That’s it.  Don’t say anymore.  Let your eyes slowly roll up white like Lurch, to let them know you’ve left the building.  Stand there like a propped up corpse.  Go mummy on them.  Just be.  Listen  to a distant siren.  A dog bark.  A fly buzz.  A radio from a passing car.

It’s hard to argue with wallpaper.

Eventually they run out of gas and shut up.  And maybe even leave.

Anyway, it’s just another skill set I’m working on in sobriety.  Then there’s total honesty.  That’s the ultimate mind-fuck.  People don’t know how to handle it.  Really freaks them out.

A few years ago when I was personal training at a gym franchise, I came into work at 8 AM for my first client.  I see the owner training a lady.  He’s never there that early.  And he rarely trained people at that point in his career.  So I knew right away.  I was in trouble.

My first time ever.

I go to train my lady and as I’m passing by the owner, he says to me, “I’d like to see you in my office after you’re done with your client.”

“I assume this is about my promotion and raise.”

He just gives me a pained, tight-lipped smile, with nostrils flared and high-tension eyebrows raised in maximum pissed-offness.

Alright.  Whatever.  If I get fired, I’ll be okay.  If I wasn’t going to be okay, it would’ve been long before this.

This is nothing.

I finish with my client and head up the stairs.   I knock on the door and he tells me to come in.  He’s sitting on his leather throne behind a big desk.  I look around.  There’s lots of golden trophy statues of muscley men in Speedos surrounding him.  Plaques and honors of some sort nailed on the walls.  An entire wall of CCTV monitors.

“What time were you supposed to be here today?”

“I thought eight.”

“When was the last time you checked the schedule?”

“I don’t know, maybe three years ago.”

I was serious.  I never looked at the schedule.  I kept track of the appointments without the posted “schedule.”  And unless they threw in a surprise early ringer like they just did, everything went along just fine.   So I told him the truth.  Well, not the whole truth.

“Scratch that, I’ve never checked the schedule.  In the six years that I’ve worked here.”

That was the whole truth.

He just looks at me.  He doesn’t know what to say.

He starts sputtering about how they just signed up this new client for a few grand yesterday and put her with me at 7AM, how she got there and waited for me, and how she finally called him and made him drag his ass down to the club to train her.

Well nobody told me.  I have a cell phone.  Holler at me, bitch.  Make sure I’m dialed in.  Don’t dry-erase it on a greasy piece of yellow plastic curling up behind the microwave in a filthy employee break room after I leave, and expect me to somehow know.  Even if I was Johnny Check-The-Schedule.

Which I am fucking not.

You guys sold her the training after I left for the day, and nobody called me.  This is a major fuck-up on your part, dude.  No way to run a business. You almost lost a big account.  My God.

I bet it hurts, too.  Especially since…well…you pride yourself as being Mr. Business man, and shit.  So losing big accounts is the fucking worst.  I bet you’re a little frightened too.   Frightened and angry.  Like a teen rehab chick.  There there.  Don’t worry.  I’ll cut you some slack… this time.  In fact, I’ll even fall on this sword for you, fraidy cat.

“Well, it looks like I fucked up.”

“Yes! Yes you did! YOU FUCKED UP!”

I nod along.  Agreeing.  My face pleasant and happy that we can agree.  At least we all agree on one thing.  I fucked up.  On the same page there.  Seeing retina to retina.  We all vote “yes.”  I fucked up.  More than once, actually.

“Yep.” I said, “Looks that way.”

“You almost lost us a big account!”

“Wow.  That would’ve been bad.  Sorry.”

“It would’ve cost this club a lot of money!”

“Good thing you came down and trained her,” I said, bending down to re-tie my Converse.

He goes blank.  He can’t process this.  I’m completely at ease.  Frankly, I was looking forward to the early nap I’d get to take if he fired me on the spot, so I wasn’t entirely indifferent.  I was leaning for a certain outcome-but trying to stay neutral.  Trying to stay Zen about it.

I finished tying my sneaker, stood up and pulled my workout pants out of my crotch.  Gave them a little straightening pat.  Okay.  What’s next?  What do we do now?

“Well, like I said before, I’m sorry.  Is there anything else?”  I asked him.

He’s looking at me.  Looking at me.  Looking.

I look back.

Both of us looking at each other.  For a long time.  A pyramid erodes into sand.  Rocks grow.  A galaxy implodes.

I stare at the shafts of morning light illuminating the dancing dust across his desk.

The silence is peaceful.  I let my mind drift.

I picture a red balloon floating through the streets of Paris.  A girl in heels and yoga pants chasing after it.  I contemplate death.  How it’s really  birth.  And how that’s really worse than death.  Then I remember a redheaded kid in third grade whose constantly snotty nose made it look like he carried peas in his nostrils.  God, haven’t thought about him.  I look outside the window.  A bird flies by.  Have to gas up the car before I leave Oxnard.  Grateful for the decent mileage it gets.  Love that car.  Paid for too.  Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

I have to scratch my chin.  So I scratch it.  Then go back to looking at each other.

Finally.

“No, that’s it, ” he says, dismissing me with a wave of his hand, “Don’t ever let it happen again.”

I stopped by the door.

“Well, I didn’t want it to happen the first time, boss.  So I can’t really guarantee it won’t happen again.  But I’ll try.”

More looking.

I reach out to shake his hand.  He hesitates, then takes it.  Shakes it.  I smile.  He doesn’t.

Good-bye early nap.  Oh well.

It is what it is.

I go downstairs.  I find out my next client cancelled sick.  The next one is at ten.  Thank you, Universe.  Good looking out for Johnny Honesty.  All is not lost.

I go outside and walk to my car.  It’s parked in the shade under a tree way back in the lot.  I know he’s watching me from one of the monitors.  I take the keys out of my sock and open the door.  I get in.

I’m grateful the rear seat folds down.  It means you can totally stretch out lying down.  Perfect for a nap.  Perfect nap mobile.

Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

Fuck Yeah!

Fuck Yeah!