Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day three hundred and sixty five ... Time honored.

I was born and raised standing in line.

That is to say, for as long as I can remember I have been part of a clan of people who pride themselves on being the first out of the gate at the weekend church bazaars, rummage sales, yard sales, and the like. It was not so much a matter of accessibility--though that was a big part of it--as much as it was the feeling of power by proximity. To be first in line at the door to the rec hall entrance not only guaranteed you to be the first person through that door, but also, it gave you the unique advantage of seeing the volunteers setting up the room; opening box upon box upon bag upon stack of clothes, toys, records, books, electronics, games, and ephemera. 

And that's assuming there was a window in the door. Otherwise, my Babush would just crack it open a little bit so I could get a glimpse from my vantage point--about the height of the doorknob.

You were inside by association. You were vicariously attaching the second lowest price to that set of Corelle dinnerware, and you knew exactly what was going to be served on it tonight after the price tags were peeled off. You weren't in the band, but you had an all access pass that was good from 8 o'clock on--except it was 7:49, and the natives were getting restless.

And you knew that there was something in that rec room that you were going to snag before everyone else. Perhaps you saw one of the ladies carry it by to put out on the tables. Maybe it was a Snoopy AM/FM radio--lightly used, but you would change all that. And you saw it go by on the top of a stack of records--new records--and you could almost already see it sitting on the back seat of Mom's Volvo. And no matter that the radio needed batteries, and the records needed a record player, you had them. 

But you didn't have them ... yet.

You were still in line.

And as you turned slowly around you saw the others behind you, clutching their bags and straightening their shawls; they meant business. They wanted in, and they wanted in bad. And they wanted in for the same reasons you did, except they had a different item in mind that they could almost already see on the backseat of their car.

And this is how I feel at 9:32 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

I am that kid again.

I got up early to get here.

And I could swear I saw a Snoopy AM/FM radio go by on a stack of records--new records--and I'm going to get it, I'm going to bring it home, and I'm going to fall in love with it.

It's going to be my favorite toy.

I'm going to bring it everywhere I go--for a time. Novelty is fickle by design.

I'm going to make sure I don't leave it out in the rain.

I'm going to make sure I don't do anything that would warrant it getting taken away from me (though usually one cannot plan these things).

I'm going to hear all kinds of music on it--music that hasn't been released yet, even. 

I'm going to hear news stories about things that haven't happened yet.

And I'm probably fall asleep with it on more than one occasion.

But it's not mine yet.

It's not in my hands.

No, in my hands now is an oval, rubber change purse with a slit down the middle that I have to squeeze at each end to open. It has been on many missions with me, and this one certainly won't be its last. We make a good team--always have.

No, I'm still here at the door, with the hot breath of a hundred grandmothers filling the air in the hallway.

We all want in.

We all have our reasons.

And we will all have our shot.

And in the time it took to tell that story the clock has inched forward and the tables are almost overflowing with items that we can all use.

Good luck.

Don't push.

And I'll see you back at the car when it's all over.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

Pictures by F.A.J. taken at the 6 p.m. fireworks, downtown Northampton, MA 12/31/08

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day three hundred and sixty three ... House calls.

So here we are.

It's New Year's Eve Eve, 2008.

I can't believe it's almost been a year.

I suppose you could really say, after midnight, that it technically has been a year. After all, we did have 29 days in February.

But February seems like a lifetime ago for me, and for all intents and purposes, it is.

I mean, last winter, I spent practically the whole time doing things that were the opposite of what I had done all my life. I gave up the activities that had defined me as a person since I started to become something more than an inquisitive adolescent. And I went through a series of life changing events that would test my mettle and put me up against the ropes like it never had before. I had no choice in the matter--certainly in hindsight--and I came through it in one piece--scratched up, knocked around, and a bit confused, but one piece nonetheless. 

I know plenty of people who never got that chance.

I certainly could have been one of them.

But, for whatever reason, I was spared an early and unfortunate demise, and was subsequently able to learn a bit about myself and understand better why it seems that I was put on this earth.

And that's not to say I have any concrete answers here. All I'm saying is that now I can at least follow one thought to completion rather than following it to the point where I make the decision to celebrate before the act for which I am celebrating is accomplished. 

It's the little things, I swear.

This year was full of majestic revelations and sublime acknowledgements of events happening all around me almost on a minute to minute basis. It included an increasing and surprisingly consistent attention to detail which--when balanced with a sense of purpose and the right amount of caffeine--could shine enough light on the near future to let me forget how lost I undoubtedly was in the very recent past. 

Sometimes a flashlight doesn't need new batteries as much as a good whack on a hard surface. Just try not to break the bulb in the process. 

I lost one of the last members of my immediate family, but, before leaving, and before even having a clue that there was reason to panic, developed a stronger bond with her over a few months than we had managed to scape together over 37 years. 

There was only one reason for this: I was doing everything as right as I could.

I found the perfect place to incubate my future plans. I filled it with pieces and places to rest my body and memories on made with both new trees cut in exciting and elegant angles, as well as family heirlooms made in traditional shapes from ancient, sleepy, lacquered, heavy hardwood.

My house makes noises much like my body. It wheezes and clanks. It moans and it gurgles. It ticks and it tocks. It creaks and it hums. And it seems for the time being to be of sound design and function. Only time will tell what appendage or utility will need to be attended to first. Nothing is made to last forever, but if we take care of what is most important when we can, and before we need to in many cases, then when something does go wrong we can rest assured that it is not through negligence or impropriety that we find we must make take preventative or reconstructive action.

Just look around, compliment the walls, keep the branches off the roof, sweep the leaves away from the foundation, vacuum the floors once a week ...

... and listen to your heart.

It can speak more languages than you could ever learn if you had all the time there is.

Thanks for reading.



Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day three hundred and sixty: Pt. 2 ... What makes easy?

What makes easy?

When simply thinking about doing something can create enough panic and anxiety in the human nervous system to stymie the best laid plans, what is it that happens when we find out that it's not as bad as we thought?

When all of the plans for Christmas have been put into action, and all of the presents have been packaged and sent on their way, and the gatherings have dispersed from the homes of people who we may know and love, or know and dislike, or not know and have no intention of allowing to like, or now knowing better and--despite our previously vehemently held beliefs--have actually enjoyed the company of. When does the average person understand that we can make the most of almost any situation?

The question may be an unfair one. Because it is so unbelievably hard to fathom the seemingly endless combinations of events that may unfold on any given occasion.

We usually just expect the worst.

And the bullhorn media outlets don't help any.

And by that I'm including word of mouth and time honored adages. 

Murphy's Law for instance.

I never cared for it.

"Anything that can go wrong, will."

How sad, stupid, and unnecessary.

It must have been instigated by someone who wasn't bright enough to put a stop to their own bad luck.

It almost makes me mad, but I'm not going to let that particular collection of lines, dots and spaces get me upset. My day is going too well--much to the contrary of said adage.

I've had quite a year trying to distill the essence of happiness from a concoction of many incongruous ingredients--some great, some disastrous, some surprising and some expected. I've had my moments of weakness. I've had my grand accomplishments. I've had days where a knock on the door could send me running for the covers. And I've had my periods where I felt as if I were wrapped in a thick swaddling of loving warmth handed down from the heavens for my enjoyment complete with an open ended return stipulation and a money back guarantee.

I've seen it all.

So what makes easy?

I'll tell you what makes easy.


Time makes easy.

If you think about it, time is the true path to any and all of life's events.

You may have the best intentions and the greatest of ideas. You may have the capital to do it with and the people in place to bring it to life. You may have the perfect place to plan and prepare and produce the next best thing ever. You may have all of the ingredients you need to make the world a better place ...

... but you need time, most of all, to do anything.

You need time to plant a seed. You need time to run the water to fill the can to moisten the soil. You need time to watch it flower and grow. You need time to bring the earth around the sun again. You need time to let the seasons change. You need time to run tests and take notes. You need time to find out what you could do to make it better. You need time to watch it fail so you can trace where the cracks began. You need time to get an opinion or two. You need time to spark interest. You need time to promote. You need time to make a sale. You need time to process a payment. You need time to let the interest compound. You need time to develop brand loyalty. You need time to watch competitors come and go. 

You need time.

And that's why telling yourself and others that you're going to do something is such a scary and unrealistic tactic.

You can't run through a finish line drawn on paper any more than you can write a song by staring at a guitar on the wall.

Because it takes time bend at the knees ... to tie your shoes ... to walk to towards the door ... to close it behind you ... to run as fast as you can ... to start to sweat ... to realize where in the race you are ... to pace yourself ... to pass on the left and on the right ... to maintain the lead ... to approach the spectators en mass as they clap individually and in an unpredictable rhythm, forcing the air out from between their outstretched fleshy palms as untold pairs of eyes pivot in imperfect unison following your form, yelling, "Go!" ... "Go!" ... "Go!" ... "Go!" ...

... Go!

What makes easy?

Only time, my friends. Only time.

It gives me great pleasure that we can share ours together.

And on we do go ... without option ... forever.

Thanks for reading.


Day three hundred and sixty ... "I can't do this anymore ... can you please let me go?"

I wish I still had the pictures.

I had taken them--three of them--right before I left the house, in the infant hours of December, 27th 2007. I have--or should say, had--a funny predilection for taking pictures of myself in the throes of a buzz, kind of like I have a thing for taking pictures of food that looks particularly impressive, right before I dive in and eat it. I think I just want to have a record of the experience, in case I should forget what it was like after it is gone. 

I suppose it's not that different than the mug shot that the cops took of me about an hour later.

I was wearing the same clothes. I had my hair down and in a mess. And the demented glare was kind of similar.

But, unfortunately, I later deleted the three pictures that I had taken of myself sometime before midnight on that fateful night.

The cops, on the other hand, were a little less impulsive.

That's the guy, right there.

I can barely recognize him--for real. I don't know that guy in that picture. I know he has a Gap t-shirt on. I know that he had a fancy shirt and jeans that he had bought in France while he was on tour--clean and sober for three weeks, mind you--and I know that, for some strange reason, he even had his passport on him. I know all of this because it says so on the police report. I also know that he had $102.30 on his person, and I know exactly what he was going to spend all but the 30 cents on.

But I don't know that guy anymore. He looks kind of scary, if you ask me. It's probably for the best that I don't know him so there will be less of a chance that he'll take up any of my time if we run into each other on the street.

I know that when the cops stopped him he didn't pull over on the road he was on--that would have left him at the mercy of a bar full of Thursday night patrons. Instead, I know that he pulled into a parking lot on the other side of the street and parked directly over a yellow parking space line, essentially taking up two spots. I know that when the cop tapped on the window, instead of rolling down the window, I know he opened the door, and I know that's something you're not supposed to do. I know that, but this guy apparently didn't.

I know that when the cops asked him if he had been drinking he initially said he hadn't, but quickly recanted. And when he gave the cops the revised account of what he had had to drink, I know that he was so far gone, in so many ways, that instead of saying, "I had a couple of beers," or, "I had a glass of wine with dinner," as would be the expected minimized admission under the circumstances, I know that he told the police that he had had ...

" ... three glasses of vodka."

What the ... ?

Who says that? I mean, really. Who thinks that's a bargaining chip, or that it could explain the smell of alcohol, but not be too much of a warning sign to suspect that he shouldn't be driving? 

And not even a mixer? Really? Just vodka? I ask again, who says that?

I guess this guy says that. But I'm glad I don't know who he is. And anyway, he had actually had about 20 ounces of vodka before he left the house. So three of those would be almost a cup a piece, not including ice.

But who thinks that's acceptable behavior for somebody on the wrong side of thirty?

I guess the same guy who tried to walk heel to toe just like the cop showed him but, on the ninth step said, "I can't do this anymore," summing up, in five words, what he'd been trying to admit to himself for a seemingly interminable amount of time.

And those five words were almost the last words this man was known to have said before the booze wore off for the final time a year ago to the day.

In reality, "Can you please let me go," were the last and final words he said--to a video camera--in the corner of a cold jail cell, belt-less and sans laces, in the center of the small town he had lived in for almost twenty years.

And so, if anybody were to hold that picture up and ask me if I recognized him, I'd have to say that I think I know the guy, but he hasn't lived around here in a long time.

"I can't do this anymore."

"Can you please let me go?"

Context is everything in the world we live in.

Sometimes though, what we really mean only comes across when we take it out of its familiar surroundings.

I have more to talk about on this day--this day which marks a year since I stopped killing myself.

But I'm tired, it's been a long week, and I'm going to get a little rest.

And I dare say that my bed, my choice of sleepwear, and my general surroundings will be just a tiny bit different on this night, than it was a year ago.

Not only that, but I can wear my belt and keep the laces in my boots if I want.

Now that's living.

Thanks for reading.



Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day three hundred and fifty eight ... Show and tell.

What makes a memory?

I'm sure there's a mathematical equation for the brain chemistry necessary to produce a cerebral remembrance of an event. It probably has some relation to our ability to know right from wrong, yet still pick what we know is an unacceptable route of action. 

All those variables. 

Did I consider the consequences if "this" happens, compared with who gets smushed together in a flashback to an earlier time. 

The more we think something happened, the more it becomes real.

The more we ignore what we should do, the less it barks when it gets left behind. Barking takes a lot of energy. Laying on the floor is what pleases the laws of physics. 

I have so many memories of Christmas past. 

It helps that my mother never threw anything away, so, if I need any evidence as to what my stockings were like over the thirty five odd years that they were a part of my life I could rummage around and find each and every one of them, complete with handwritten misspelled scrawls of notes left to Santa, letting him know that the milk and cookies were all his. 

My mom and aunt pitched in in May of 2005 and bought me a camera--a digital camera--and I immediately started taking photos with it. I have a ton of pics from that spring and summer and fall.

And then, in November, my dear mom was given the bad news, and the clock started to tick a bit faster, the days started to get a bit shorter, and each pixel held a bit more importance in the grand scheme of things. 

I have lots of pictures of me and my mom that are acceptable for public view, and just as many that would be an unnecessary and uncomfortable inclusion in a public forum. And one of them that I wish I could put up here is from the last public event she took part in before she passed away, a few days before Christmas in 2006.

It was a day I will not soon forget, and an experience that was as uncomfortable as it was liberating.

I have two Santa suits.

Yes. You heard right. Two.

One I have owned for years and is thin and flimsy and soaked with Jack Daniel's and peanut sauce. The other is homemade from quality material and would fool the best of the bozos working down at the penny fountain photo galleria at the mall. It was this suit that I brought with me to the nursing home. I brought it there to surprise--among other people--my mom and my aunt, but also, a man named Bernie, who my mom had taken to helping over the years, as was her style. Whether it was getting him a gallon of milk, or helping him do his taxes my mom took care of Bernie. This also extended to seeing he got into an assisted living residence in Fairhaven, Mass.

Every year this home had a holiday party, and each year I would accompany my mom and aunt there to sit with our "uncle" Bernie and scarf down coconut shrimp and meatballs while the sax/guitar/laptop combo belted out the hip tunes of the last hundred years.

This was the year that I decided to play it up a little bit.

This was my year to play Santa.

This was the year I would watch my mother look at her son with complete and utter indifference.

And it was the strangest feeling I have ever experienced.

I left the house in Mattapoisett a few minutes after my aunt and mom did; we took two cars. I pulled up and into the big circular driveway and parked somewhere not too far from the end of the big semicircle. I pulled off my sneakers and stepped out of the car onto the cold, dark tar.

I put on the big, baggy, red pants.

The black Doc Martens--while probably not Santa's familiar choice of footwear--was a slick, stylish choice. They fit well even with the top of the red pants tucked in. Then the jacket came next. It had been fashioned into a Santa jacket from a fleece winter coat. While still alone outside in the cold darkness, I was starting to warm up from a combination of adrenaline and simple self-satisfaction. This was going to be a fun time. Not only that, I didn't have to do any of this--I wanted to. 

I put on the wig and the beard before the hat. These two pieces were troublesome but essential for the true look of Santa. After a cursory glance in the rearview mirror it was time to put on the gloves.

There's something special about putting on a tight fitting pair of white satin gloves--the kind with one silver snap on the back of each. It's a bit Mickey Mouse, and a whole lot Gene Kelly. It's timeless and classy. And when you do it, you wonder to yourself, "Why don't I do this more often." And then, sadly, you don't do it more often. 

I snapped the snaps on each glove, glanced in the mirror again, opened the driver's door of my Forester, pressed the auto-lock, shut the door and walked with a quiet intensity towards the grand set of automatic doors at the front of the building.

The heels on my boots--unlike my sneakers flat soles--made me feel like I was ready for anything.

I could see my mom sitting at a table with my two aunts and Bernie through a sliver of uncurtained window. She was smiling the best she could as she held a small paper plate with one hand, and a napkin in the other. 

I pulled the back of each glove up with the opposite hand, checking to make sure they were both buttoned, and then I cinched my belt up so as to look a bit more together. I didn't need much stuffing. Nonetheless, the suit was a bit big on me.

I walked up to the infra-red zone at the main entrance. The door detected my presence and reacted accordingly. It swung open, and, as it did, the music lifted in volume and intensity.

I was almost in place.

I walked past the receptionist who gave me a big smile and a wave. I gave her a white thumbs up and headed to the banquet hall.

I wasn't expected, but Santa is--by nature--unpredictable.

As I got closer to the open French doors I slowed my pace. No need to rush this, I thought. Best to enjoy every second of it, because, just like last year, I thought this could very well be my mother's last Christmas on earth. There are ways to remember important things. If you just physically slow down, your brain will be more apt to play along, and when your brain is on board, it's much easier to remember things.

And I will always remember the moment in time--perhaps it only lasted 30 seconds, though it seemed like ten minutes--that my mother sat there and stared at the man in the Santa suit--her man--and thought to herself, "How nice. There's a man in a Santa suit here."

"Look Bernie!," I heard her say. "Santa Claus is here."

And I just stood there and looked at her ... and looked at her ... and studied her face. Nothing. She had no idea it was me. I felt like I had traveled in time to a place before I existed and I was as much a stranger in a costume as a cop walking the beat outside. Not a threat, by any means, but certainly no one of any personal consequence.

And I waved at her ...

... and she waved back.

I did it again.

And she waved back again, this time a bit more exaggerated.

I mouthed the word, "Hi Mom," but the beard and mustache covered my lips and I got a big mouthful of white nylon strands.

And I pulled the beard down just a tiny bit, smiled a big smile, and then, held both arms open to her. And as fast as a metal paper staple pierces and crimps she realized who I was. At first, she showed traces of silly embarrassment that she hadn't recognized her baby, regardless of a full-on costume. But that was immediately overcome by that look that I have seen so many times; that look of love for her one and only; the look that showed how proud she was to have someone to suddenly show up as her entry in show and tell. And it gave her, yet again, a chance to let the world know she had made this ... had produced this from herself ... had raised and nurtured and encouraged and taught as best as she could. And she could mention to those around us how she didn't have to ask me to come to the party in costume. She didn't have to convince me it would make so many people there at the home happy. But I did it, and it did make so many people happy. And, as she was folding the lipstick smudged napkin in half, looking like she wanted to get up, I ran over to her and sidled up next to her and hugged her like never before. And a whole nursing home full of people put down their coconut shrimp for a second to note to themselves and to others that Santa had shown up, and someone had definitely been good this year.

And they wondered even further why he didn't really do much schmoozing. He just kind of sat at that one table with Bernie and his two nieces, and got his white satin gloves all greasy like that. 

How odd, don't you think, Gladys?

And that is one of my favorite memories of Christmas past.

My computer clock says 12:01 a.m.

That means I can officially call this one in the bag.

It was a good time.

It was a bit different than the others.

Someday I'll tell you all about it.

But now I think I'll just go try to sleep and hope the dreams that drop by are good ones.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

And, as always, Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day three hundred and fifty six ... Keep your friends close.

I couldn't invite everyone.

My house--this house--is only so big.

And, for better--definitely not worse--I quickly realized that the invite list I was compiling for my upcoming Holiday Party was growing increasingly unmanageable. As it was I ended up inviting somewhere close to 60 or so people (including dates and kids). And, while my house is spacious and open, I could easily see that 60 people would start to get a bit cramped. 

Now, thankfully, gone are the days of keggers where it wasn't out of the question to have a hundred and fifty people crammed in a two bedroom apartment on a frigid February night. Those days went out of style with hippies and Ultimate Fighting Championships--that is to say, about ten years ago.

So, I had to stop with the invites. I realize there are some people who may be reading this who will say to themselves--"Hey Al. What the hell? Why wasn't I on your list?" To those folks I can only say I'm sorry and you are all invited to my Springtime Fiesta, which I will throw when I can utilize my ample yard and patio. I promise I won't serve the leftovers in my freezer from two nights ago. Honest Injun.

My intentions were simple: get some mojo going with an influx of friends, show off my house, have some great food, and provide a nicely stocked bar, complete with a celebrity bartender.

Yes, I had booze at my party.


I'll tell you why. 

I'm not doing any of this by the books. I'm not even doing it in complete sentences half the time. What I am doing is writing a new book. The old book is tired and out of date. It doesn't allow for societal changes. It doesn't allow for the idea that drinking in excess will become absolutely frowned upon in social settings amongst people with even a modicum of civility. It doesn't allow for the advancements in medicine which show how absolutely devastating the effects of excessive alcohol use is to almost every organ and tissue of the human body. It doesn't allow for advancements in therapy which can point a person in the right direction and--through some serious introspection and reflection--allow them to lead a life full of joy, wonder, comfort, laughter, and security amidst a world full of the one thing that can trounce all of that.

It doesn't allow for me.

And that's where I parted ways with The Big Book, and started writing this one.

And this is the chapter where I recap how someone who is an alcoholic can live and breathe next to the same dragon that burned down his last house. That dragon is ever close, but it is giving him another chance to co-exist in a new picture-perfect environment, as long as he doesn't fuck up.

As I was saying ...

The phone started ringing just as I was finishing up picking the music for the evening.

"Hey man. Are you still having a party? You know there's a snowstorm out there, right?"

"Damn right I'm having a party! And I bought extra tupperware for all the prosciutto wrapped shrimp, scallops in butter sauce, and gruyere stuffed mushroom caps that will be left over if it's just me, the caterer, and the bartender."

"Okay. Just checking. See you at seven."

And there were the people who, sadly, couldn't get out of their driveways because the snow had accumulated too much, on top of the fact that they had just got the power restored to their homes a day or two before.

Conversely, there were also the people who came down from Vermont--an hour and a half--with their well-behaved infant and a smile on their faces.

And then there were the people who said they weren't coming, and then miraculously showed up with an appetite for good food and drink that made me smile a big smile. 

Inspiration comes in many forms.

But before any of these people showed up, I had visions of it being a very quiet night.

I mean, it was a snowstorm. It was ugly out there--I had just barely made it back from a four hour shopping excursion that should have taken two. It was dangerous. It was messy. It was frigid. 

It was classic New England.

My invitations had stated that people should park in the bank parking lot next door. I was worried that the tow trucks would have a field day, and those who did make the trek over would have an extra detail or two to take care of before they could leave. Thankfully, they played along and no one had any problems. 

The caterers showed up at six with some chafing dishes and food to start prepping. Tim, the head chef, came over and turned on my oven. That was the first sign that this was definitely happening.

Then the bartender showed up: Gerry.

Yes. Gerry Souza, the most important man of my, and many of my contemporaries serious drinking period (read: our twenties). He used to tend bar at The Baystate Hotel back in the Nineties, and I could write a book about that place. So I'll suffice to say that he was, and is, and icon to me and to many of my friends.

He was ... perfect.

In the picture above, he is preparing some egg nog in a punch bowl nestled inside another punch bowl filled with snow. Classy? Yes, I should say so.

I showed him where everything was--the Jack Daniels, the Grey Goose, The Captain Morgan's, the wine, the beer, the ice, the egg nog, everything. And he got to work situating his area. The bar structure was on loan from the rental center, although I may end up investing in one. It was nice to have it.

And then came the knocks at the door.

Stuntman Steve, Michelle and our friend John and Christine's daughter, Madeline were the first to show up.

Then, Terry and Michelle and their beautiful baby, Remy, crossed the entranceway.

Then, Biker Chuck, Phil and Marcia (The Straubersons), Greg, Lisa, and their daughter, Julia, Henning and Lesa, Paul "Muskrat Flats" Brown, Roy and Sheena, J.J. and Jocelyn, and Linda and Silas (my wonderful neighbors of eight years) ... and before I could put the most recent forfeited coats in my coat closet I turned around and looked ...

... and my house was full of people.

And they were eating and drinking and excitedly talking to one another ... and it was officially out of my hands.

I was having a party--a successful party--in the middle of the first big two-day storm of the season, on a Sunday, and the absolute last thing I could imagine doing was having a drink.

I was given an assortment of housewarming presents--some I opened then and there; some I put under the tree (which was peacocking with aplomb). And everyone who came through the doorway had a big smile on their face. An honest, holiday, well-wishing, congratulatory smile that said, "I am so happy for you."

The food was stellar.

Gerry was the hit of the night.

And I even made an awkward toast--"I'd like to thank everyone for being here ... for making it through this storm ... and I'd just like to say ... this may be the shortest day of the year, but it will be the longest memory I have ... thank you all for being a part of it ... Cheers!"

And I turned the music back up and the party continued.

I got to show off the pictures of my mom in the beauty pageant from forty five years ago. I got to bring people upstairs to where it's not quite done for lack of furniture, but it was still nice to see. I got to marvel at the fire in the chimney that had decided to play along just at the last minute, as I was kneeling there--almost praying--in my Hugo Boss suit, blowing on the recalcitrant flames and hoping for the best ...

... and meanwhile, my best friend was at the hospital because of a food allergy.

He's allergic to nuts.

The caterers made this food in a kitchen that uses nuts--lots of nuts.

And he ate before he asked about it.

And sadly, he had to leave and spend the night at Cooley Dickenson Hospital being pumped full of Benadryl and Prednisone.

He's okay; I just saw him last night.

We spoke earlier in the day and I told him how I had given away a bunch of the booze that was left over (and there was a lot left over), but not all of it. I still had a full liter of Grey Goose, most of a .750 of Captain's, and a bunch of beers. He told me I was crazy. He asked how I could possibly just have all that stuff there--stuff I used to love, lust, and crave--and not worry about drinking it.

I said, "You know how you went to the hospital because you put something inside you that you shouldn't--under any circumstances--put inside of you--something that you'll always have to be aware of, if you don't want to risk serious consequences ..."

And he knew exactly what I meant.

And that's how I live my life now.

I have my limitations. I have my restrictions. I have my allergies.

I have my friends who came to wish me well and to celebrate almost a year of me doing the right thing (though it was not talked of much--on both sides--as was tactful and polite).

And I have my enemies who sat there grinning at me on the countertop waiting to be consumed by people who are not nearly as susceptible to their adverse effects as I am. 

I mean, just for drama's sake, I might as well take one of the flaming logs out of my fireplace, put it smack dab in the center of the couch, throw away the fire extinguishers, unplug the alarms and block the hydrants if I--even for a second--thought it wouldn't be a big deal for me to have one drink--not that I ever once in my life had one drink.

I love my house.

I love my life.

I love my friends.

And I don't--for one second--think I can live like I used to.

It's not an option.

It's an ending, and I hate endings ...

And on that note ...

Thanks for reading.


PS: Please email me your address if you would like to attend my Springtime Fiesta. 

Only one condition ... no nuts allowed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day three hundred and fifty four ... Wish you were here.

Back in May I wrote about a strange habit I had.

I wrote how there was a tree in my old neighborhood that I used to "water" with the first ounce or two of vodka from whichever sized bottle I'd bring back from the package store.

I used to talk to the tree for a minute or two before moving on. Then I'd bring the bottle home and forget all about the Drinking Tree until the next time we crossed paths, so to speak.

It was one of the stranger of my tendencies. Not that it worried me--certainly not too much worried me on the surface not too long ago.

But, it seems now I have a different kind of Drinking Tree in my midst, and this one has an almost unquenchable thirst--almost.

My Christmas Tree.

I had forgotten how much work they are.

I forgot all about the fun task of crouching down, checking to see how much water it had drank, then filling the pan up with tap water and crouching down again to awkwardly pour the lifeblood into the decorative, metal receptacle. And, of course, the lovely state of affairs upon returning to an upright position completely covered in sticky green needles and/or an ornament or two.

And this is one of the first responsibilities I was given some thirty odd years ago.

Well it looks like I've got the job again.

My tree drinks about a quart a day. Not too bad for something that has a shelf-life of about a month and a half. Shh ... don't say a word if you happen to find yourself in its midst in the near future. Its kind of got a complex.

I'm not quite ready to start thinking about getting a pet--not with all this new furniture--complete with tasty wooden legs and leather cushions ready for the gnawing and tearing respectively. But my Christmas Tree is a good step in the direction of having a dependent. It needs me to give it food, and in return it makes me feel good when I see that it is safe and sound.

It is my temporary identity. When people go by my house they see it in the window. Lots of people have them in my neighborhood in various colors and styles. Some are balsams; some firs. Some have colored lights; some white. Some have garlands; others tinsel. Others still, have a combination.

And every year, around this time, people all over the world become guardians for a season.

It just seems fitting that my tree this year is thirsty. It's showing me that it can drink--that it needs to drink--to stay vibrant. And so I water it daily, with a big Revereware copper-bottom pan that I got from my mom's, full of tap water. I pour it in and I can almost see it smile a satisfied smile. It has three strings of warm lights on it all evening long, I can hardly blame it.

Speaking of lights ...

Let me tell you all the story of ... The Luminaria ...

My town, Florence, MA, has a tradition that's been going on for a few years now. Residents buy these Luminaria kits from local vendors, and on the Saturday before Christmas they put little bags with lit candles in them outside of their houses and on their streets.

I guess other places do this kind of thing too, but I've never been part of too many other places traditions, so this is all new and exciting to me.

I had every intention of purchasing one of these kits yesterday in preparation of said event.

But, before I was able to, a knock came on my door and two of the neighbor's children presented me with this box for my house. They were adorable in their winter outfits with big, honest, joyful smiles on their red little faces.

I was so overcome with emotion I almost just broke down right there on the doorstep.

Instead, I hugged them, thanked them, and told them I'd see them later. They smiled, turned, and ran down the street, as kids are wont to do.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop--for this all to be a dream, or to realize I'm in some kind of faux/Disney/gated community that is being monitored by men and women in uniforms and headsets underneath the village grounds. Or, worse yet, to get some kind of bill for "Community Acceptance Fee" for an exorbitant amount of money--but both shoes are still firmly tied to my feet and they seem to be accompanying me on some amazing experiences.

My buddy, Paul, helped to safely light all ten bags.

Yep. It's me. See me right there? That's me.

Last month, my cousin, Heather, had sent me flowers as a housewarming gift. The vase had a few smooth stones placed at the bottom--ten, to be exact. Just enough to put in each one of these bags of fire to keep them from blowing over. How perfect.

So, what to do with ten white bags with lit candles in each one?

Why, carefully try not to burn the house down while you bring them out to the entrance way and place them with care.

And the view from inside: simply sublime.

So, part 1. is taken care of: leave unattended bags of lit candles lining the main egress.

What to do next? How about go to a party?

We hustled on down to our friend Jill and Brian's place for some delicious food, complete with some of the finest quiche I have ever had, and chocolate pomegranate tort that astounded and confused my taste buds. They are still recovering.

We headed on out to the Civic Center where people were congregating.

It's behind this little island. This is to prove that I, in fact, do live in a town called Florence, and am not just recycling colorized stills from classic Christmas movies.

And so, we made it to the place where there was a bonfire, a bunch of friendly people, a band playing Christmas classics, free hay rides, popcorn, coffee, tea, and ...

... doughnuts, of course.

Lots and lots of doughnuts.

And Paul and I just sat there and marveled at it all.

We talked about how, in our respective hometowns, on either side of the state, that years ago in a different time, people would come out and celebrate community and life and giving. And it's amazing to see how the world has changed. We like to collect these images on postcards and recreate them in movies and look at them and say, "Man ... things used to be different back then." 

But its not every day that you could feasibly hold up a postcard that is an image of the center of town at Christmastime from a hundred years ago, and compare it to the scene a hundred yards in front of you, and the only thing that is markedly different is the price of the stamp you'd need to send it to someone who you wish could be there with you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a very thirsty tree in the other room that is staring at me with a concerned look on its face.

No need to be alarmed. 

I'm just a bit weird, that's all.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day three hundred and fifty one ... Much too much.

Holy moley.

This is all too much.

There's a certain feeling of relief that I get after each blog post. I realize I'm somewhat small potatoes in the blogosphere, but there are people like you (yes, you) who enjoy hearing what my gray matter has strung together on a somewhat daily basis. And because of that, and because I realize it's all part of my recovery program--to write about what my life used to be like, what it's like now, what I hope to accomplish, and why--I become a bit anxious when I take a couple of days off like I just did.

But it's not due to laziness.

In fact, quite the opposite.

But enough of my explaining--let's get to the good stuff ...

On Monday, I met up with Kelly and Sarah as I had planned and we had a lovely dinner at my aunt's favorite restaurant, Bailey's.

We used two gift cards that I found lying around the house in Mattapoisett. On the back of the cards it says "No cash will be given for unused balance." Fair enough. But after our meal, which included Chicken and Shrimp Diane for me, with a side of broccoli and cheese sauce, and a water--no lemon--ordered special in honor of Lynda Jean, the waitress brought back a pile of cash as change. Seems like my aunt not only treated for her birthday meal, but I was able to include the 18.5% tip which was my aunt's happy medium. I read the girls my blog post for the day (which laid out the plans for the evening that was coming to a close) and we parted ways. It was a fantastic tribute to my aunt to be able to spend time together, enjoying good food on her tab, and reminiscing about her strange, sincere, and selfless ways with the two people who knew her--not better than I did, by any means--but better than a lot of people.

Happy birthday Aunty.

Tuesday was sort of uneventful, save for the weird feeling I had on one of my upper right ribs. Kind of like somebody punched me. I know with great certainty that this did not happen. My, how times change.

Wednesday had some interesting events.

We had gotten a few inches of snow overnight. When I stepped out my front door I was pleasantly surprised to find that my neighbor, Robert, had included my sidewalk and front walk in his morning snowplowing. How nice is that? This doesn't happen in real life, does it? I mean, are there actually helpful, generous, and kind people still left in this world? 

Seems so. And, of course, that was a rhetorical question, as my life is full of people like this. I only hope to be able to do what I can to return the favors I have been given.

Thank you Robert. 

More on Wednesday:

When you start your day going through a metal detector, it kind of frees up the rest of the afternoon from some unique worries. If I had to catch an emergency flight to Barbados I could hop in a cab and say "take me to the airport ... and step on it ... ", and run right up to the security checkpoint and not have to concern myself with the possibility that I had forgotten about the switchblade in my coat pocket.

But that's how I started my day yesterday--minus the flight to Barbados--when I went to see my probation officer for what I thought would be the second to last time. 

It was nothing like the first time I went, back in February.

I remember how terrified I was when I was informed that I would have to report once a month to her office. I remember how I was sure that would not be my fate, as the little box on the sheet I had stared at a thousand times which said "supervised probation if box is checked" had not been checked. I also remember the sinking feeling that appeared in my gut when my probation officer said, "um ... they just forgot to check that box ... here ... let me do that ... ." And it was done.

I remember how I had a million worries in my head over what this meant for my band, and the Chorus, and how my aunt was sick (with a different cancer) and how I couldn't do anything to help her because I didn't have a license, and my legal fees were piling up, and I was putting on weight, and ...

Well, you get the picture.

If you've been along since the beginning, reading this, then you know how it's gone. 

If you haven't, then suffice to say that my life is in as much of a proper order as it could be under the circumstances. All of the progress I have made; all of the people who have come to my aid; all of the surprisingly wonderful happenings I have been a part of; all of the covetable, tangible objects I have placed and have been placed in my possession; all of the life-changing decisions I was able to make; all of the trips to the emergency room, the hospital proper, and the final drive to the funeral home; all of this was accomplished correctly and expeditiously only due to the simple fact that I have remained alcohol free for nine days short of a year.

I explained this to my probation officer, as I have once a month, every month, for almost a year.

But first, I had to go through the metal detector, which entailed taking off my belt, my chain wallet, my ring, and emptying the change in my pockets. Then I got to cautiously walk through the big gray columns which either confirm or question my non-threatening status.

I made it up the stairs to my P.O.'s office.

We shook hands and sat down. I blew into the breathalyzer she assembled for me, as I have at each meeting.

She had me sign a document stating that the reading came back 0.00.

And then she said this was the last time I was obliged to meet with her.

And I felt a little pang of regret mixed in with elation.

Because this once-a-month detail--the metal detector, the paying the monthly fee, the breathalyzer, etc.--had become a big part of my sobriety program, and I am going to miss it.

I also thought I had one more to go, too.

One more time to walk past the courtroom with the muted tan and eggshell walls covered in black marks at the baseboards from one too many kicks by a disgruntled defendant. One more time to watch the lawyers coming through the big, heavy, wooden doors to shake the hands of their client--some shakes positive and congratulatory; some apologetic and resigned; some so filled to the brim with caveats that it comes with an extra card to keep in the pocket of the defendant's track suit ... for the very near future. One more time to hear the clink of chain against linoleum from the leg cuffs of a defendant brought up from the holding cell ... a sound I associate with freedom--my freedom--and one I never want to hear up close again. 

And she told me that I wasn't off the hook. I still had to stay out of trouble until January 21st.

I told her I would. 

I thanked her for working with me to allow my traveling around the country--quite a concession under the circumstances. And she told me that it was only because I made it easy for her, that she could make it easy for me.

I told her that she wasn't the only probation officer that I had. She looked confused. Then I explained that I feel a strong connection to the spirits of my departed family members, and how there are way too many coincidences to ignore and write off as chance. 

I'm hardly a religious man, but I know that I have my angels, and as long as I take care of my end, they do the same from where they are.

She smiled and wished me well. We shook hands and she followed me out. There was a Hispanic man standing at the entranceway, waiting. She opened the gate to let me out of the probation office and then she turned her attention to him ...

"Come on in, Angel," she said.

And I just smiled.

Like I said: way too many coincidences to ignore and write off as chance.

Thanks for reading.


PS: last night I decided to take a better look at that pain my top right rib was still giving me.

It turned out to be a deer tick.

I didn't do a very good job of removing it and, just to be on the safe side, I went to the emergency room.

After about an hour the doctor took a look at me. He said it sounded like it was a deer tick and he gave me some doxycycline and did his best to remove the pincer embedded in my skin. He said not to worry too much about it but to keep an eye on it and see my doctor if it started to show signs of infection.

Then he looked at the shirt I was wearing--a shirt I had pulled out from my basement which I used to wear to work when I slaved over a fiery wok station at the iconic and much missed--and way ahead of its time--restaurant, Amber Waves.

"Did you used to work there?", he asked me.

I told him I did.

"Man. I miss that place."

"Yeah," I said. "I do too. Thanks doc."

"You're welcome. Now stay out of the weeds, okay."

"Sure thing, doc. Will do."

And I got in my car and drove home and went to sleep.

My rib doesn't hurt as much anymore, but I'm glad it did for a while.

If I don't get the occasional reminder that I'm not always going to be healthy I won't take any precautions; I won't examine myself more closely; I won't check for parasites.

All we need is a reminder to notice what's wrong in order to make it right.

The rest is easy.


Hmm ... we're supposed to get a ton of snow here. I wonder what the weather's going to be like in Barbados ... hmmm ... I wonder ...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day three hundred and forty eight ... A hundred years.

There are many things I like about winter.

I enjoy wearing my sport coats--always have.

I like wearing hats--always will.

And I enjoy the shorter days.

There's something exciting about knowing that after a certain date you will be faced with less and less sunlight on a daily basis for months on end. It lends a certain urgency. 

And the family I come from knows full well about this. 

I realize that I am an amalgamation of all who came before me and I shouldn't put too much merit in the idea that simply because my mom, aunt, uncle, and grandmother all died in their sixties, that I will too. But it sure does make me wonder.

I don't dwell on it.

I don't let it distract me from my daily life.

And it doesn't make me paranoid that I'm thirty eight years old and that that's only twenty-two years away from sixty--not a paltry number, by any means, but certainly not half a lifetime more, either.

But I know that one of the things that keeps me writing--that keeps me thinking, and churning out ideas, and making the best music I can, and taking pictures, and spending time with people in more emotionally engaging ways, and staying sober, and getting rid of clutter, painting my walls pleasing colors, cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen, and the basement, and filling my life with art, poetry, music, and film ...

... the reason I am on a seemingly unstoppable rampage to get things done ... is because I realize the days are always getting shorter, no matter what the weatherman says. And little by little the cartilage that connect my bones is getting older, my skin is a getting a little looser, my hair is getting a bit grayer, my lungs take in a shorter breath each attempt, my veins allow the blood to flow with a touch more restriction with each beat of my ever aging heart, and my liver perseveres with the scars of a destructive lifestyle I created, and it will always have a complex no matter how much care I now treat it with. 

A beaten dog always shies from a raised hand. It matters little how pure the intent was. 

The fabric my clothes are made from springs back a bit less each time they make it through another wash cycle. My socks give me a bit less protection with each stride I take in the shoes that erode a a microscopic layer with each step I complete.

But I have little choice in the matter of positive forward progress. It is my ward, however late it came to be.

These words I write today may be seen as depressing, nihilistic, self-defeating, or even destructive. They are, however, all part of the process that allows me to enjoy the benefits and the rewarding aspects of my time on earth. Without the admission that I die a little each day I might just sleep fourteen hours at a stretch without a care. I might just pour a liter or more of alcohol past the mouth I use to promote my identity with on a daily basis.

I might just help the hands of time--turning the clock around and twisting the knob that sets the hour ... minute ... second.

But instead, I'll just make sure that the battery is fresh; that the mechanism is oiled, and the spring is tightened to its full capacity.

And then I'll let the gears do what they do.

Today would be my Aunt Lynda's, sixty-first birthday.

She was one of those close-to-Christmas people who--regardless of how often she would claim indifference--would probably have preferred to have been born a few weeks in any direction away from the twenty-fifth of December. 

But December fifteenth was the day she was born on, and we always did it up right for her each year.

Last year, I was in France with the Chorus from right after Thanksgiving until December sixteenth. I remember buying her chocolates, a tacky cat figurine (which she loved, of course), making a card, and then spending a panicked and nerve-wracking hour at a Strasbourg post office trying to convey the idea to the teller (via a well-intentioned patron who knew three words more English than the postal worker) that I needed to purchase a box, I needed to affix postage to it, and I needed to send it to the U.S.A. Ultimately I managed to do all of these things and left the post office with both a satisfied and uneasy feeling about the transaction. It wasn't until I returned in a state of distress and waited in line (again) and waited for my number to be called in French (again) and made the best attempt at informing the postal worker (the same one, thankfully) that I had affixed the wrong zip code (I had written my own) and had to change it, or there would be a very disappointed aunt in America who wouldn't get her chocolate on time for her birthday.

In this age of increased security and a seemingly universal disregard for the human error I was shocked and thrilled to witness the postal worker fish out the box I had just spent an hour to assemble and give it back to me along with a pen, a smile, and a wave goodbye as I left, finally, thankfully, and properly sending Lynda Jean Johnson her birthday present. 

She got it on time.

She loved the card, the figurine, and the chocolates.

She loved the postage stamps, the packaging, and the scribbling out of the wrong zip code.

She loved all of these things because I made the effort.

I took the time.

I didn't forget. I didn't procrastinate. And I didn't allow my hectic schedule to interfere with the traditions set forth by the hands of time.

December fifteenth was when she was born, and December fifteenth is the day I have always, and forever will celebrate the birth of my mother's and uncle's sister.

Today I will travel to Mattapoisett to eat at her favorite restaurant (Bailiey's in Wareham) with her best friends, Kelly and Sarah. I will use either a coupon, a gift card, or--if permitted--a combination of the two to pay for lunch. I will ask for the broccoli with cheese sauce that isn't on the menu but will say "The chef always makes it for me," as she used to insist (much to my food service training's horror). I will get a water for me, and a water for her--"no lemon." As was her wont. 

And I will toast to her memory and sing the song, "Sto-lat!" which, in Polish, translates to "A hundred years, a hundred years, may you live a hundred years," and I will more than likely cry my eyes out at least once (I am presently--at 11:39 a.m.--keeping it together quite nicely), and I will drive back to my home, sober.

She never lived long enough to see me approach my twelfth month of alcohol abstinence, but she always said she knew I was going to do it this time. I always used to tell her, "don't jinx me, Aunty," and she would always brush it off and tell me, "you are in control of your life, not a silly thing like luck or superstition."

I suppose when they sing "Sto-lat" some may look at that as a jinx as well.

I'm just going to do what will get me closest to that hundred years.

The clock is wound up.

The batteries are fresh.

The hands are moving as they should.

The rest is up to me.

Happy birthday Aunty.


I love you.

Lynda Jean Johnson 12/15/47-09/07/08

Thanks for reading.


PS: A special note to Betsy C. who bought a case of Fancy Feast, in my aunt's honor, to share with the stray cats near Branch St., in Fall River. My aunt didn't let many people into her life. It's easy to see why you made the cut. Thank you.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day three hundred and forty seven ... Leaving more than footprints.

There's a certain sound that an empty cupboard makes when you close it.

It has more room from all that has been removed, but it's unaccustomed to being able to accept as much air from the outside as the door closes, and so it makes a soft "boom" sound that reverberates from the edges where the paint wears away a bit more each time.

It almost sounds like it doesn't want to be alone--like it's yelling to the empty rooms around it for support. But they just ignore the cupboards. They're busy trying to adapt to their own changes.

"Where's all the stuff?" is a phrase I can imagine is rather overused by the walls and the floor; the ceilings and the light switches; the sink, shower and toilet, who, themselves, are probably more than a little thrilled for the break. 

But the cupboards have it the roughest. They had grown fond of the cans of tuna; the jug of molasses; the tupperware full of flour (some on the outside, but most where it belongs) and the constant attention. They had purpose; they had intention; they had an ability to keep my life in order, and they did so with unflagging consistency.

I mean, if you got attended to as often as a set of cupboards--the constant insertion and removal of foodstuffs, plates, utensils, and just random junk--and then it all stopped. Well, it would be a bit of a shock, to say the least.

To think of all the times I opened my cupboards and looked for something to eat--or for that matter, something to eat on--I'd develop a certain amount of vanity, almost like a celebrity.
And then times change and it comes time to find a new audience.

It's not that you can't do your job as well as you used to. I mean, perhaps there's a bit of gunk in spots that wasn't there when you started, and maybe a bit of cosmetic surgery might tighten up some of the wrinkles and dings that come with age, but you still have a solid purpose in life and you will for as long as your nails and screws will hold you together.

But your audience has moved on to something a bit more permanent; something more rewarding; something newer, fresher, and more exciting.

Today was the last day I could call my apartment at 15 Stearns Ct. my home.

I have loved that apartment for a little over eight years. It has seen me at my worst more often than it has seen me at my best, but at least it has seen my best at all. Some people never have.

I've written songs, dissected songs, and--much to the silent dismay of my neighbors--had full band rehearsal. 

I've entertained women, both successfully as well as mysteriously not.

I've grown plants, trained pets, and celebrated birthdays.

I've learned of the death of close family, friends, colleagues, enemies, and distant relatives. 

I've heard the gossip of hook-ups, and the tangible facts of engagements, marriages, births, break-ups, divorces, and settlements. 

I've received cards from friends and relatives for joyous occasions--both seasonal and non--and flowery condolence letters sent in the hopes that, for a few moments, as I reach for the letter opener, that I can stifle my tears and regain my composure long enough to recognize the handwriting on the return address.

I've had deliveries, packed in bubble wrap, both from music stores as well as pharmaceutical companies. 

I've been sent paperwork from car dealerships, and important documentation from the courts system. 

I've left to go to the bar for some of the worst reasons ...

... and I've left to go to meetings for some of the best.

And each time I left I've always come back.

But today I left my apartment for the last time.

Sure, I have some junk in the basement that I'll have to eventually bring to the dump. I'll be back a few times to do that. But for all intents and purposes I have cleaned the floors, sinks, toilet, shower, walls, closets, and stove for the last time.

And each time I brought more and more stuff out to my car and over to my new house my apartment became more and more like an echo chamber.

Each box of cassettes or video tapes; each bag of clothes I haven't worn in years; each table, chair and cabinet that left the same way it came in made my apartment more susceptible to sounding like a cavern.

And somebody will soon walk through that door and say, "wow," just like I did--their voice bouncing off the hard, clean floors and walls.

Because it's nice.

It's a beautiful spot. It's simple. It's orderly. Its floors are level. It's got plenty of mojo, and the people who live in the other three apartments are all wonderful.

And soon someone will be filling the rooms with furniture. They'll most likely make a few more dings in the hallway sheetrock from the mischievous unseen weathered edges of their couch. They'll probably get some stuff from their own old place, and perhaps a few things delivered new from a store. 

They'll fill up the fridge and the freezer.

They'll load up the cupboards.

And each new piece that comes through the door will dampen the cavernous sound that the four modest rooms elicit with each footstep.

And I hope they enjoy it as much as I have.

I didn't have to put a security deposit down when I moved in eight years ago.

But I have to say I feel like I'm leaving one behind.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Day three hundred and forty five ... The patient giver.

My aunt had a strange sense of humor, to say the least.

And she simply could not resist to include me--her nephew--(which is a funny word to begin with) in many, if not all, of the scenarios she concocted in the name of amusement. Now, she did not need the help of others to consider a particular work of hers to be funny. 

If she did it and no immediate problems arose, it was a winner. Upon completion of said shenanigans she could just sit there and laugh and laugh and hold her belly and get the hiccups from laughing so hard, and then laugh some more because of that, and forget about what she had laughed about in the first place. Meanwhile I'd just stand there shaking my head and wondering how on earth I had fallen for that gag.

This one would have fallen in that category except that I had unwittingly turned it into something completely different.

This is an example of how, inevitably, the plain truth somehow, eventually, finds its way to the surface no matter how far buried we may think we have left it. 

It is also a pretty funny gag.

A few years ago my aunt gave me a set of Christmas CD's she had burned that were above and beyond the usual holiday fare. This set included Nat King Cole's Christmas record; Dean Martin's Christmas record; Bing Crosby's Christmas record ...

... and Willie Nelson's Christmas record.

It's a great CD, chock full of classics done in Willie's inimitable style, with lots of thick, vibrant guitar work. Willie Nelson was one of the few musical middle-grounds I had with both my mom, and my aunt. He is, and will always be a true legend of American music ...

... even if he smoked more weed than Bob Marley. Neither my mom or aunt could deny that he was an example of someone who was a stoner and a well respected person. He was my go-to guy in almost every weed-related dispute.

Every year we would listen to this Christmas CD by Willie as the early portion of Christmas day began. And every year my aunt would remark how wonderful the record was. This was usually followed by the requisite question of when was my band going to put out a Christmas record and how there's plenty of money to be made in the holiday concert market. She was always looking for the angle.

Two years ago--a couple of weeks before Christmas--she gave me a gift:

Willie Nelson's Christmas Album, Volume 2.

She gave it to me without much fanfare. 

I thanked her and put it in my bag. 

I said I'd enjoy listening to it while I put up my decorations at my apartment.

And it stayed in my bag until well after Christmas.

I didn't talk to my aunt as much as my mother, and so it was my mom who said, "Your aunt wants to know if you listened to that compact disc she gave you?"

"Yeah. I did. Tell her thank you for me, please."

And she said she would.

Christmas came and it was a wonderful holiday despite the unfortunate health-related news my mother had been given at the start of November. It was while we were sitting at the Chinese buffet (where we had become accustomed to having Christmas dinner) that my aunt said, "So, you haven't told me what you thought of that Willie Nelson CD I burned for you."

And I said, "Oh, that. Yeah ... thanks ... it's a good one ... so many classics on there ... I just love the way he adapts the tunes to fit with his style ... "

And, of course, I was lying through my teeth.

"Uh-huh," my aunt said. "Glad you liked it."

And we finished dinner. We went home and opened presents; hugged each other and cried a bit; and then, when I woke up the next day, it was time for me to go home, and so I did.

And a couple of weeks later I came across that CD--the one labeled, "Willie Nelson Christmas, Volume 2."--and I remembered how I had told my aunt how much I liked it. I felt a little bad for lying about it. 

So I turned on my CD player and put it in.

I pressed the big black button with the forward facing triangle on it.

And the first song starts with a few strums of acoustic guitar ... an acoustic guitar, yes ... but it didn't sound like Willie's guitar ... and, needless to say, it didn't sound like Willie's voice ...

(Please press the little forward-facing triangle below and listen until the vocals start ... then scroll down).

And track one--"Silent Night" from The Jingle Cats, Meowy Christmas played in the background as I dialed the number for Mattapoisett ...

It took a few seconds for my aunt to realize what was going on ... that I had finally put on the CD she had burned for me ... and that I had just realized what it was ... it was playing on my stereo, and I now could not deny that I had just been busted like no one had been busted before. And then she started laughing ... and I heard a few hiccups ... and then she laughed some more ... and I just hung my head in disbelief.

I had been caught in a bald-faced lie. She knew it. She had this lie gift-wrapped and placed under her tree by me, where it sat unopened until well past the holiday. And then I completed the joke, which I have no idea if it would have ever been finished had I not been curious enough to put that burned compact disc into my stereo. 

And this is the kind of person she was: patient, crafty, thrifty, silly, and pure of heart. Not to mention she loved her cats almost as much as she loved me.

And I miss her so.

But as I share these stories it makes it a little easier to take.

She would have liked this one.

That much I know.

Thanks for reading.


PS: you can read all about The Jingle Cats here.

And if you try this on a loved one and it works, please let me know.

I'd love to compare notes, as it were.