If You Don’t Die for Long Enough, You Turn Fifty.

I am The Birthday King, I can do anything!

This wasn’t supposed to happen.  Car accident, gun mishap, alcohol poisoning, angry pimp, scorned psycho, jail stabbing, suicide, lethal D.T.s, drug overdose, case of killer clap, throat cut in a Central American jungle, drunken bathtub drowning, liver blow-out, any number of things could have prevented this.  But they didn’t, and now I’m looking at the calendar weird these days.  Looking at 50, right there on the 11th, and I can’t figure out how I feel about it.  Sad?  Happy?  Fearful?  Excited?  Am I full of regret?  Gratitude?  Dread?  Joy?  Shit?

Am I a walking miracle?  The luckiest man on Earth?  Or still an abject failure, a gassed-out bag of lost potential?  I can’t decide.  It goes back and forth so fast.

So, I’ve turned up the dial on the Ponder Machine to 11 these days.

I walked by a van painted with a grim reaper surfing down some exploding volcano or some shit, and thought, “That’s a sign from The Universe.”  But what the fuck it’s supposed to mean is anyone’s guess.  I have some scary ideas though.  Maybe something about death?

I’ve been trying to look at the big picture.  How did I get here?  What really has happened?  Is it time for a new beginning?  Or has the roller coaster made it to its final hill?  What have I learned?  What do I still have to unlearn?  What’s it all about, Alfy?  And please don’t say bitches and money.  Because I had a sneaking feeling it was.

It’s not like I need a milestone birthday as an excuse to get torqued up into a spiritual crisis.  I’m a Vikings fan.  I’ve had some of my deepest heart-to-hearts with The Creator, and came to doubt He was listening.  And if He was, He was still putting the screws to me.  In 1975, God allowed the Hail Mary Pass to be invented and used against the Vikings.  I watched that game as a kid.  It made us lose the playoffs in the most heartbreaking way possible, and it was done to us by my most hated team, Dallas.  Didn’t that say whose side God was on?  As soon as they called it a “Hail Mary” I knew.  Then why did He make me love The Vikings and hate the Cowboys?  Why four Superbowl losses?

Loving Creator, yeah.

Granted, not the test of Lot, but enough to sow a little doubt in this seeker.  Oh that, and all the other gnarly fucking shit that has happened to me in my life.

Along with all the extra pondering, my emotions have been weird too.  I’ve been feeling a little too Lifetime Channel lately.   Having moments of seeing such beauty in something like my two cats wrestling around, that I get all chick weepy over it.  A hormonal, nose-blowing housewife, awash in raw emotion is not my favorite role to play.

What is the role I’m supposed to play in this production anyway?

I prefer a Robert Mitchum calm and self-assured type, if I were to get to pick, with maybe a whiff of George Raft malice.  You know, to keep the really bad girls interested.  Sure it would all be a fraud, except for maybe the malice bit, but isn’t that what being an actor is?  Being a professional phoney?

It’s hard enough for me to pull off any role, but add to that the fact that I don’t know from moment to moment which one I’m going to be cast into.  Responsible citizen?  Loving son?  Faithful friend?  Patient mentor?  (Mentors, Dave.  That’s who I was going to ask you about the other night.  If you ever saw them.  They were seriously fucked up)  I mean, I get cast into having to play all these different parts, and I’m not sure if I’m pulling off any of them off.  I just don’t know.  I don’t like reading my reviews.

I’m pretty sure not being drunk has helped my performance.

My cats seem to like me.  The woman is still talking to me after eight years.  My mom still has me over for lunch.  Things are cool between me and my sister, and me and my buddy, Keller.  Marko still calls.  Dudes still want to hang out.  A little money in the bank.  A car that doesn’t bleed-out oil every third day.  A job that doesn’t make me want to chainsaw my head off.  No torch-bearing mob on the near horizon.  Or warrant working it’s way down the system.

I guess I’m answering my own questions here.  Maybe I am doing okay.  I know I’m lucky.  I made it through some of the most hellacious, death-defying misadventures, and it wasn’t through any good judgement on my part.  I can assure you.  Something was looking out.  Somebody was picking up the Bat Phone.  And for every play-off loss, there have been many more miracle sports moments.  And, when it’s really counted.  When it really was a matter of life and death.  The crucial point spread.

One day, the guy I was working with in Central America, got shot in Nicaragua.  They sent a 16 year-old kid on a bicycle to do it.  (We later heard the police caught him, then tortured and killed him, which I really hope wasn’t true)  Anyway, my partner makes it back to the hotel.  It looks like a small-caliber wound in his pectoral.  Because he was shot at point-blank range, the muzzle-flash had cauterized the wound.  (See Terry? Even getting shot point-blank range can be the best thing to happen to you)  Well, he didn’t want to go to the hospital because he was worried somebody might be waiting there to finish the job.

I had him lie down on the bed while I washed the shit out of his shorts in the bathtub.  I gave him some pain pills and antibiotics.  We ordered twelve beers from room service, and then I sat by the door with a machete while he slept.  I remember sitting up all night, drinking those beers, trying to figure out what the fuck were we going to do.  We were in deep shit.  All I could do was pray.

“God, I know you think I’m a major fuck-up, because I am, and You’re God, and You know everything…but I am going to need You to do me the most serious solid ever.  We are so deep right now, there’s no way I can figure out how to get us out.  If You happen to have any extra miracles lying around,  I’d totally appreciate You sending a couple this way.  I promise I will do my best to not screw up so bad ever again.  And sorry about what happened in Juarez.  Amen.”  Hardly the Prayer of St. Francis, but it was the best I could come up with.

Somehow, we managed to get out of that hotel without anybody finishing the job, then on a plane to Honduras, then El Salvador, then back to Belize, where I got him on a flight to a safe military hospital in Panama.  He lived.  And so did I.  There were a few more snaps from the crocodile’s mouth (once literally) but we made it back.  I came back bat-shit crazy, but I came back.  I somehow managed the unmanageable.   I had to wonder about the prayer.

I was in a cheap motel on Central in Albuquerque one night.  I had a gun in the room.  A nice Beretta 96D, a .40 caliber, double-action.  I really loved that gun.  I eventually lost it to the L.A.P.D. one night in Inglewood, but that’s not important.

I decided to step out and get something to eat.  I started to reach for the gun and something said “Don’t bring the gun.”  Not a voice I could actually hear, but like a clear thought popping up out of nowhere.  The fuck?  Of course, I’m going to bring the gun with me.  Duh.  It’s not going to do me much good under at motel mattress, is it?  Again.  “Don’t bring the gun!”  A little clearer, this time.  But, I won’t feel right without–“Do NOT bring…the GUN!”

I know these weren’t my thoughts, because mine were arguing why I should bring the gun.  This area is super sketchy.  Sure it’s not Mogadishu, but it ain’t Mayberry either.  Lots of other folks are bringing their guns out there.  In fact, this is one of those places that seems like it was invented just for bringing a gun to.  And…this is a fucking awesome gun to bring.

“Don’t…bring…the gun.”

It was so weird that I finally did get spooked.  I started to think.  Dude, remember when you didn’t listen to that voice those last twenty-two thousand times?  How fucked things got?  Maybe this time, because it seems so clear and persistent, you should heed it.

I decided not to bring the gun.

I get out, and head down Central, and start walking to Jack’s Pizza.  A low-rider pulls up slowly along side of me, I see a barrel stick out, and hear a small shot, and feel a burning stinging in my side.  It felt like a small-caliber round, like a .22.   I look down at where I was hit and see a splatter of red on my shirt.  Oh you fuckers!  Time to die.  I reach for the gun that is under my mattress back at the motel.

The low-rider speeds off, un-blasted.  Oh what bullshit.  I run into the first open place, and it’s a porno store.  (And no, they didn’t have my tokens ready for me)

“I just got fucking shot!” I yell to the clerk.

“Oh shit!” he says.

I pull up my bloody shirt.  There’s only an angry red welt.  What the…?   Holy shit.  It was only a paintball.  A red one.

I was glad I left the gun at the motel.  Best idea I ever had.

Then there was the drinking issue.  Little problem.  A little too much.  And all my attempts to reel it in, not seeming to work very well, with consequences piling up faster than traffic on the 405.  Things were getting a little too crazy.  Even for me.

Then one night, while I was trying to hold down a beer to keep away the D.T.s or a seizure, and kept gagging it back up, and then having to swallow that, I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and really saw myself.  And what I saw struck a chord of compassion for that miserable retching wretch looking back at me.  “God, you need to help that guy,” I said out loud, “Nobody deserves to live like that.”

Two days later I wound up in rehab, and have been sober now for 8.5 years.  There have been so many of those strange saves via Deus Ex Machina, always proceeded by some petition for divine intervention, no matter how brief or desperate, that I can’t begin to recount even a tenth of them.  Sure you can write them all off as coincidences.  Last I checked, you are free to think whatever you want.  I’m not out to convince anyone of anything.  Like I mentioned to a friend the other night, people who try to convince me of anything, irritate me.

I just personally felt like if I kept getting a bunch of those kind of “coincidences” and kept writing them off,  at some point, I was crossing the line from healthy skepticism to just being some sort of a stupid, clueless asshole.

And I’ve been one of those long enough to know that that is a tough role.

So, I’ve decided to believe that there’s something out there that has my back.  I can’t prove it, but I can say that believing it (or deluding myself so), tends to make me freak-out less.  It also makes me a more peaceful, happy person, and when I’m like that, more people seem to enjoy being around me.  Over the past fifty years, I’ve made some of the greatest friends any man could hope for, and getting to be around, to have them want to be around, is the best fucking birthday present I could ever get.  Thanks everybody.  And thanks G., good looking out.

The balloon says I’m “special” so it must be so.

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