Saturday, January 26, 2008

Day twenty-five...The rehabulous life of...

I'm doing it again.

I'm letting my computer scare me.

The way I see it, the only thing worse than too much information is not enough information. And that's what I'm getting; almost nothing.

What am I looking for?

I'm furiously searching for information on the place I'm going to be spending the next three hundred and thirty-six hours of my life. And I'm coming up almost empty.

Oh, there's a whole book I could buy. It is supposed to "diminish my anxiety" and teach me the ropes before I start looking for one long enough to hang my 212 lb frame from. But don't worry, that won't happen. My immediate future is looking a little too bright to do anything rash. Plus, they've informed me that if I cannot complete the program "for any reason", they will charge me for the missed days. I will not let that happen. I will not let the terrorists win.

But, for a mere $39.95 I can download an "e-book" written, supposedly, by someone who completed the program. This book is advertised as a manual to inform the overly anxious of such tasty tidbits as:

"what type of food is served?"
"bedroom and bathroom conditions"
"what chores will you be assigned to?"
And my favorite- " many packs should you bring?"

We all know the answer to the last one. How much protection do you need? I'll just bring the 2 rolls of quarters they recommend.

It claims that the tips they provide are "priceless."

"For only $39.95"

That seems like a price to me. But I only stopped smoking pot 31 days ago. It still could be in my...

Thirty one days ago?

Holy shit, I could pass a drug test. I haven't been this clean in twenty years.

I could be a mail man! Excuse me, 'letter carrier'.

I could be a letter carrier!

Ok, ok. Calm down Freddy. Why would you want to be a letter carrier, when you already have a letter carrier? She already brings you the mail. She brought you that big manila envelope from the DUIL program just a few hours ago.

So anyway, what I started to say was that besides this bozo who is making bank from keeping a journal (hey, wait a minute), there's not much at all online about the Middlesex County DUIL Program. And that kind of creeps me out a bit.

But there is that big manila envelope my letter carrier brought me from the DUIL program.

Let's just have a look-see.


"Getting Ready To Attend The DUIL Program."

Here we go. Seems pretty cordial.

OK. Here's something.

"If you have any condition(s) which might be adversely affected by the stress of attending the program you will need a note from your doctor."

OK. Now I'm pretty sure my bp is under control, but I just don't like the way that reads. It's on page one, and page one says nothing about what you can expect. This is very much unlike Space Mountain. At Space Mountain, they have a video showing you the ride in action and it says something to the effect of, if you're going to have a heart attack, or soil yourself or both, you should ride the Teacups. Fair 'nuff. But as there are no electronic devices save for a "walkman" allowed, I don't think you'll see any clips of the activities posted on Youtube.

Then we get to the part about how much money to bring. They recommend 50-100 dollars in small bills and a couple of rolls of quarters as mentioned above. They say it will be needed for, among other things, "for washing machines, for detergent, and to make phone calls (outgoing only)." But also for "use in the vending machines, for snacks, and entertainment."

What kind of entertainment do I need small bills for? How far will 50 singles get me? Will I have to forego the after dinner alcohol-free Liquorice from the vending machine in order to save my singles for "entertainment." Will my lights-out dreams come true with one of the dancers from 'Sobrie-A-Teasers' on gentlemen's club night?

No, I don't think I have to worry about that.

No, I think the only gentlemen's club I'll be privy to has turkey and bacon on it. If I'm lucky.

No, I have bigger problems to worry about.

I have the "Buddy System."

Page 6 Section 2 Sub paragraph 11 Subtext 4321b states:

"Clients should come and go to meals, classes, groups and all other scheduled activities in groups. If for some reason you need to return to your unit or your room (perhaps for a forgotten notebook or to use the restroom), you must ask another client to go with you. At no time should a client be alone on the unit or in any other area of the building."

Oh-my-God. And I rarely capitalize the third word in that last sentence. But I think I'm going to be needing some assistance from above (and I don't mean from the 'fifth floor'). I'll definitely be calling on my higher power to help me through this one. Who will be my "buddy"? Who gets to go with me when I need to go potty? What the fuck? This is ridiculous. Gang, especially those of you who already have an OUI, listen to Uncle Al. Don't drink and drive. You don't want to have to use the buddy system. The buddy system went out of fashion somewhere around 2nd grade. The buddy system was retired shortly after you made it home safe from school 10 times in a row.

Well they say everything comes full circle. Welcome back "buddy."

Moving on.

Bed Checks:

"Each client should be in his or her room, standing by the door, at"...wait for it...wait for it...

I haven't been up before 6:45 unless that was the time I was going to sleep.

Maybe it's a typo.

Maybe not.

It continues: "Clients may still be in their robes at this time, but they must have their name tags on, and they must be wearing shoes or slippers."

OK so I can be groggy and crusty in the eye at sun-up, as long as Sgt. Hulka can check my name tag and step on my slippered toes. "Good Morning, Sir!"

"Lights out immediately follows the nightly bed check." (Same as morning except at 10:30pm)
There is to be no talking after this time, clients may not use headphones to listen to radios, etc. after this time. There should be complete silence on the units."

There goes my nightly ritual of drifting off to "Big Bambu" by Cheech and Chong. Those heartless bastards.

It says everyone gets a chore "except those who volunteer for kitchen duty."

Guess who got skills?

Chef Al, mutha' hubbard. Nobody can spice up a 50 gallon pot of American-American Chop Suey like yours truly.

My secret?

Pepper. The blacker the better.

Of course there is a "DO NOT BRING" list.

This includes the usual like "controlled substances, sharp or pointed objects, such as scissors, nail files or knives."

But also some items you may not have considered off limits. Such as:

"Laundry detergent"-man, the things kids'll put up their noses these days.

"Weapons of any type, real or toy." "But councilor, it's not a 'real' sickle..."

"Musical instruments or sports equipment."- I just knew the Jocks and the band-fags would get lumped together one day or another.

"Electric irons or air conditioners." Wow. Is this one for the Ivy Leaguers or what? "Councilor, I'm not really supposed to be here, the judge made me. Can you get this A/C up to room 404? Please hurry...I'm dying over here!"

And by far, my favorite:

"A car or other motor vehicle-If you drive here and attempt to leave your vehicle, it will be towed at your expense."

Do I really need to point out how ludicrous this warning is? Well, I'm going to anyway.

If you are ordered to attend the DUIL program, this means you have had your license suspended; typically for 2 years. If you drive during this period not only are you a moron, but you will be looking at mandatory jail time, 5 years loss of license, and a huge "What the hell were you thinking?" from Judgey McGhee. But it must have happened, or they wouldn't have put it in.

Folks, this thing goes on and on and, well, I have to pack. But I have to say, a big reason I did this is for those who will follow in my footsteps. My sobriety test failing footsteps.

There will be plenty more people out there that are wondering how it all works. Wondering if they should bring that iron just in case there is a semi-formal dance and they need to look their best. Wondering if there will be parking for their recently impounded Bentley. And just wondering in general. And I don't want Mr. "$39.95" to get suckers to pay.

Cause when they Google DUIL Program, they'll find...

...they'll find this. And I'll know I helped a brutha out. Albeit smart alecky and sarcastically, but helped nonetheless.

I'm off to Fort Arnold, but for those of you who wish to write me, or send a pack of bottle rockets my way (it does not say anywhere that illegal fireworks are not allowed) Please address mail to:

Frederick A. Johnson
Middlesex DUIL Program
P.O. Box 149
Tewksbury, MA

As I have said, I will be mailing entries back to have the Illuminators transcribe. You can expect something probably by the end of the week. Unless of course, they read this online and decide I'm too dangerous. But I think they really want my $953.26 and of course, all my singles and quarters.

Thanks for reading.

And as the ancient Chinese music teacher saying goes: Stay tuned.



My dear Aunt came up on Friday and bought me lunch. Seems that she still loves me. Well, it also seems she still has a sense of humor. She said that she was in a rush and didn't have time to get to the store. But she intended to purchase for me: "A harmonica, a tin cup, and a soap-on-a-rope." Most of which are not on the "do not bring" list.

Aunt Lynda, I love you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Day twenty-four...Tea for two...

I was in Florence yesterday to see my therapist.

I stopped at the coffee shop that I wrote about on day 2; the place where I learned to slow down. The place were I began to notice my surroundings rather than barrel ass into them. It was as relaxing as I had expected. I ordered a pot of Earl Grey and a sandwich. This time though, I was focused enough to notice that it was Earl Grey 'Cream' tea. It was as wonderful as my first cup four weeks prior. But I had a bit more information about it since then. I had also developed some expectations as a result of our first encounter. Not to mention, I had told a bunch of people about how wonderful it was. Kind of like a second date with someone you are excited about. Someone new and refreshing. We've made plans to see each other after I get out of rehab. She's cool with the whole thing.

Never thought I'd fall for a girl named Earl.

But I did get a chance to see my name in the paper again. In the Towns/Regions section this time rather than inside the front page. Guess what? They screwed it up again. It seems even the brightest editors in the only newspaper in town (The Springfield Republican doesn't count. All they seem to write about are a bunch of crooked politicians and baby shakers.) couldn't get my story right. They even left out the 'Alex' portion which is fine. Frederick Johnson is enough, and many people who know me as Alex might not bat an eye. No, they got the punishment wrong. They said I had lost my license for 2 years when in actuality, I lost it for 45 days. I think they are doing this just to mess with me. Just when my guard is down and I have made it past the main checkpoint on my road out of hell, they throw a sucker-punch and make me lose my balance. But they didn't put in that it was a second offense. That is information that they feel is unimportant. And that is fine with me. That can be a matter that I will hopefully only have to bring up at the Registry on March 7 when my license suspension is over. I'll be sure to mention all of that mess in upcoming installments.

I finished my roast beef sandwich on 'peasant' bread which was sublime. Fresh roasted beef with horseradish mayo, baby spinach, tomatoes, red onions, roasted reds, chips and a pickle. Oh yes, and Earl. I almost forgot about her. She stuck around till I was ready to go. Unadorned with sweetener or dairy. She's not vegan or diabetic. She's just simple, and simple turns me on. Dark complexion, pleasant aroma, smooth flavor, and just the right amount of energy. Not a manic professional, but not a lazy hippie either. It was nice.

There's a lot of different kinds of tea out there. Some have pretty packaging and maybe an exotic font adorning the label. They want you to believe they are made in Indonesia, when they're really from Indiana. Don't get me wrong, I love Indiana, it's just a hell of a long way from Asia. Go Hoosiers! But, as I was alluding to, until you get them out of their protective pouch, you can't be sure of much. Only after you combine their distinct personality with yours, by carefully adding hot water into the correct vessel and letting it steep, will you know. After you learn to use patience instead of rushing for that first sip and getting burned, can you begin to understand if you're compatible. And even then, one refreshing encounter and they have to be off. But the good thing is that you know what to look for. You know what turns you on. And that is so hard to pinpoint when there's a million brands of tea out there. Yes, I've been talking about tea. Sort of.

But now I know Earl's full name, and she told me I could call her anytime. And I plan to. In two and a half weeks.

The Gazette could learn a lot from slowing down. Because they had the chance to correct their mistake from a month ago when we had our first encounter. Instead, they made another one. Our second date and they weren't listening. They couldn't even remember my full name. They went for the salacious and wrong rather than the mundane and correct.

I'm just glad I saved the money by reading it at the cafe.

Earl appreciated the tip more, anyway.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Day twenty-three..."All rise..."

Hello, my name is Alex and I'm an alcoholic.

I also seem to be one of the only people left in Hampshire County who consider dirty jeans and a Red Sox t-shirt unacceptable attire for a court appearance. Oh, and I forgot about the sneakers and construction boots covered with duct tape. Very classy.

I feel that if you're there with somebody then you can dress how you want and it probably won't make a hell of a difference. If however, you are waiting to stand before the judge, you stand a bit more to lose than a carelessly sewn on EZ Wider patch. If you haven't just been brought up from the holding cell, I believe dressing like a homeless house painter is an egregious error. But that's just me.

OK, I know I have a tendency to go off on tangents like this at times. But this is important. And this is one of those times. This is a sign of the decline of civilization in a world on the verge of self destruction. This is bad taste. This is shocking. This apparently, is America. And I dare say, it is in dire need of a slap in the head.

Speaking of slaps in the head, let me tell you how my day began.

It all started with a massive panic attack. My alarm went off at 7 am. I couldn't understand why I would have set it so early. Then I remembered I had to go to court. Then I thought I had missed it altogether. Then I jumped out of my bed and started slapping my face with my hands while banging my head on my mattress yelling "Fuuuuuuccccckkkkkk!" Then I realized everything was alright.

And I calmed down.

I put on some tea water and jumped in the shower. I completed my morning routine and ate breakfast with my computer as always. I picked out a nice ensemble to show my respect for the judicial system. It included: a sharp pair of Italian dress shoes, pinstriped Pierre Cardin socks, a fitted pair of dark slacks, my new Fermi and Telsa leather belt, a simple cotton collared shirt, a black silk tie, and a stunning black sports jacket. The jacket has been one of my favorite articles of clothing since I found it in London two years ago on tour. It makes me feel confident.

I looked, for lack of a better word, bitchin'. Not necessarily a rich man, just a man who has looked bad enough for so long that he can admit he has a problem. A man who when he gets a chance to dress up, even for an unfortunate reason, confidently knows what to wear.

Like I said, bitchin'.

I put an apple in my pocket along with my passport, camera, and letters of affirmation and I headed downtown.

I entered the courthouse and emptied myself of any and all metal. I got patted down and scanned with the metal detector, and they confiscated my camera.

Why bring a camera to the courthouse you might ask? Well I hadn't planned on it, but a family member suggested it might be nice to have a picture of me looking sharp up on the stand. It was early enough in the morning that I thought it was a good idea and put it in my pocket. It was a nice thought, but ultimately I found out only local news crews are allowed to bring in cameras. Which they did.

But back up a sec. I walked up the stairs and tried to find the courtroom and I got lost.

This is a good thing.

This means I have not been there enough times to be able to find the courtroom blindfolded with my hands behind my back. For a change I welcomed the unfamiliar.

Then I came upon the huddled masses.

This next statement is, I think, a very misunderstood maxim in fashion.

Blue jeans which are a color other than blue are still jeans.
Seems simple enough, right?

But no. It was a sea of denim. Some blue, some black, some white (for formal softball games) some maroon, some acid washed, some bedazzled, and some inexplicably written on all over in marker.

People, unless it is the last day of High School, you shouldn't wear jeans which declare, "Carlos 'n' Debbie 4 eva TLA." First off, your in court. Secondly, Carlos is cheating on you and everyone knows it. Lastly, we get that it's 4 eva. You don't need to redundantly hammer home that true love will prevail always. It usually doesn't. And soon you'll be looking for a guy named Scarlos to hook up with so you don't have to buy new jeans.

And I know it's a great time to be a Patriots fan but for Christ sakes, leave the damn hoodie at home.

Where are these people's parents?

Oh right. They're standing right next to them. I should have noticed the matching Sean John outfits.

Back to the events at hand.

My lawyer, David Mintz showed up and we discussed my options. We decided not to seek a trial so I could hopefully dispose of the case today and begin repaying my debt to society. Due to my first OUI being so long ago (1989) we angled for the "Second Chance 24D" disposition. This is where a judge, if he so chooses, may treat the offense as if it were the first one and give a more lenient sentence. I was looking at a possible 2 year loss of license, 2 years probation, and more.
I must make note at this point that Mr. Steve Sanderson and Atty. Peter Irvine were with me throughout the proceedings in a show of solidarity. Peter probably could have found the courtroom blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back but he didn't have to. He was there for me. With me. So was Steve. It was nice. A big thank you to both for getting up earlier than you had to, to hang out with a delinquent like me. I hope it is a very long time before I have to return the favor.

I mentioned the TV cameras earlier. They were there to film "Flag Burning Guy" who I shared a cell with on 12/27. He's been on the news a bunch because of alleged burning of the stars and stripes around Amherst. He was the second best dressed guy in the room; Steve, Peter, and the other lawyers excluded.

His trial was continued.

Then I heard my name. I also heard a bunch of legal hooey directly after it. I got up and cautiously maneuvered my way past the drunk lady sitting next to me. I stood my fly self up in front of the podium and waited with my lawyer.

It was the first time I can recall where I was directly in front of a live mic and did not want to speak, sing, or utter anything into it. No need for a sound check. We'll just play it by ear.

The police report was read aloud to the judge. It was interesting to watch his eyes furtively scanning his desk for something. I don't know if it was a ladybug crawling around or what, but he eventually stopped and listened.

I was asked if these statements were true and I said "Yes, your Honor." Just like on the TV.

I was asked a bunch of other simple questions not worthy of printing. I believe I said yes and no to most of them. And I'm almost certain I understood what he was asking.

Sobriety, what a rush.

Then Mintz sprang into action and made mention of the letters I had brought as supporting evidence for me not being a total jerk. The bailiff came around and brought them up to the judge just like on the TV.

And he read them thoroughly. And then he yawned.

On the advice of Atty. Mintz, I sweetened the deal by suggesting I complete the 2 week inpatient program in Pewksbury, MA around the corner from the Olde County Piggery: see "Day fifteen." Atty. Mintz also made the judge aware of all the other things I had been doing to battle my disease. This included the outpatient program which I just finished yesterday, and the multiple AA meetings I go to every week. And in a matter of a few minutes he had a decision.

He said OK.

He said he'd treat it as a 1st offense and gave me probation for a year.
I lost my license for forty-five days. My immediate court fines total $600 (plus $65 a mo. for 1 year for probation) And I have to get the ignition interlock device installed and maintained for 2 years which I knew before I came in.

And yes, I will have to complete the two week rehab program.

Starting Sunday.

Yes folks, they had a bed open and I'm going to take it. And I'm more than happy about it. Because I know that I need it. I know that it will reinforce what I've been trying to convince myself of all along. Booze is ruining my life and I don't have room for it anymore. Apparently they have room for a television at the program and I hopefully will be able to watch Superbowl XLII wit' my homies.
I'm sure it will be one I will never forget. On many levels.
I'd like to thank my Aunt for showing love, compassion, and patience during this rough portion in my life. I'd like to thank all my friends for calling or emailing me with wishes of hope and luck. I'd like to thank Ina and her girls for bringing me a lovely handmade card and gift; a new calligraphy pen and a journal. It was more than a sweet thing to do. The journal is currently blank but this will soon change. Boot camp is around the corner and I plan on documenting the whole mess. I am in the process of enlisting transcribers and plan to update my blog on a regular basis. The man can't stop the presses. The man will only provide details of a world which I have only gotten a taste of. And I'll be under careful supervision so nobody send me a cake with a nip and a file in it OK? I'll let you know how it's going. I'll keep you posted on whether or not I've had to get all up in some mutha's grill and then have to watch my back for a quick shiv to the neck.

Just like on the TV.

Four more posts from the free world. And then all hell breaks loose. I can hardly wait.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Day Twenty-two...Shave and a haircut...


It's me.

As you can see I have a beard.

Before the end of this post I will not.

It's kind of freaky.

Why am I going to shave? That's a good question. And I have what I feel is a good answer.

Tomorrow I must go to court. I must put my best foot forward (I tend to favor my right one) and allow a man with a big wooden hammer decide my fate. He may request to see the police report which features a very Gary Busey-like head shot of yours truly. And I want to look as unlike that as I can.

I'm a nervous wreck. I haven't felt this way since last February when I decided to start getting help. My hands are shaking, my eye is twitching, my big toe on my right foot is tingling, and I feel like I ate a big bowl of granite for dinner with a side of meal worms. Yeah, that good.

I believe I have everything taken care of. My alarm clock is set for 7. I went out and got a haircut. I have some attractive but respectful clothes picked out. I have a good lawyer. I have a good friend who will be at the proceedings. I have two glowing recommendations that I did not compose myself. I completed my intensive outpatient course tonight and received my "Keep it Simple" coin. I spoke to my Aunt who sent along good wishes on the outcome. And I have twenty- seven days of clean living under my new, soft, Italian leather belt.

I am, as they say, good to go. Oh, and I have to shave. Not all of it mind you. As the shepherd said to his wife's divorce lawyer, I'm keeping the goat.

The goatee that is.

But it has been a very long time since I felt the underside of my chin. Almost two years, in fact. It was February 2006 when two discs in my spine decided they'd rather get their own place. They found a little one bedroom out in the country not too far from their kin and they moved out. And subsequently, I couldn't stand up for more than 20 seconds at a time. This development made it really hard to shave. Conversely, it made it really easy to guzzle vodka, gobble muscle relaxants, and watch all of the winter Olympics. It was a hoot. And thankfully, I see the curling mania has subsided a bit since then. I had my worries.

It may have been the Korean massage girl's stiletto heel combined with her 92 pounds on my lower spine that did it in 2006. It could have been jumping off a 15 foot lifeguard stand and landing flat on my back on wet sand that occurred in 1991. Or it could have been everything in between combined that put me out of commission. Either way, it happened and happily I got better. I have my friends and family to thank for driving me to Boston for the cortisone injections. And now I have them to thank again for sticking by me through this gut wrenching but absolutely necessary transformation.

My best possible outcome? Probation for 2 years, Ignition Interlock device for 2 years, 2 week inpatient rehab, heavy fines, court fees, and my lawyer's fee of course. As well as losing my license for anywhere from 45 days to 2 years.

Worst possible outcome?

I don't really want to ruminate over that prospect. I'm still alive and I don't think I'll be leaving the courtroom in shackles. Let's just put it that way.

No, I think I'll just shave. Please excuse me for a few minutes...

Almost done...

Just a bit of clean up...


I can't tell you how good that feels although you can probably guess from my expression. Yes, it feels really, really good. And happily, now so do I.

A long time ago when I was little, my Mom and I would share our nighttime rituals in the small bathroom in the house that I grew up in. I'd brush my teeth and my Mom would sing softly and brush her hair. She always kept her beautiful long brown hair from tangling by diligently attending to it. This she did in front of a mirror that I was much too short to use. Each night she'd pluck out any stray stowaway strands that would get stuck in the pure bristle brush and gently discard them in the wastebasket. I was always so distraught by the sight of this that I would tell her, "Glue them back on Mom! Glue them back." She would laugh and say, "Sweetheart, they'll grow back. They will. I promise."

So tonight, as I attend to myself in the mirror during my nighttime ritual, I will remember those words. Because with all of the features which make us distinctive, a day is all it takes to see growth. With all the accents that lend us the appearance of either a roustabout or an altar boy, we ultimately hold only so much control in our hands. This could prove temporary if I want it. My clean face or my sobriety in equal measure. Because old habits, like strands of hair, have a tendency to grow back. You just have to look closely in the mirror each night and observe. Because they won't make a sound when they reappear. They don't have to.


I'll post the results of my day tomorrow around dinnertime 1/23.

See you then.

Day twenty...I don't think I really belong here.

Here's a laugh.

I used to be a mental health counselor.

Yeah, I think it's funny too. But it's what I did for almost four years. And I was damn good at it.

One of my favorite things to do was to visit the fifth floor of Cooley Dickinson Hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with the fifth floor I will explain. The fifth floor is where a person is taken, usually under duress, when certain people with fancy credentials deem them to be unsafe to be out and about with the rest of society. In other words, C-R-A-Z-Y. Coo-Koo! Looney Tunes. Off your rocker. Section 8. Loco en la cabeza.

Get the picture?

Like I said I liked to visit the fifth floor. I never booked a room there. But it was part of my job on occasion to bring certain necessary items to various people residing in the penthouse suite. People who most of the time resided in the house I worked in.

I had a game I liked to play with the nurses.

You see, to complete my mission, first I'd have to take an elevator. Then I'd have to ring a buzzer and wait for the nurse. After she walked slowly down a very long corridor, said nurse would proceed to unlock the gigantic steel door with a punch of a few buttons. This whole procedure was visible through a small octagonal window that would invariably fog up as I peered into it from the other side.

And then I would be let in.

I'd take care of whatever detail I was assigned to. More often then not it was to bring a carton of 'Smokin Joes' cigarettes ($10.99 for twenty packs of 120's). Mmmm-mmmm. Satisfying.

Other times it was to deliver some papers or med info or whatever. That was the boring stuff. The fun part came when it was time to leave.

To exit the fifth floor-(voted best place to throw your food on the wall in the Valley Advocate 4 years straight)-you had to have a nurse escort you. They never checked my I.D. and I never offered. But we would make small talk and maybe tell a joke or two on our way down the hallway. Then she would unlock the door for me which made a loud 'clunk' sound. A buzzer would go off just like in prison movies. I would slowly walk through the doorway and inhale a big audible whiff of freedom. As the nurse closed the door behind me, just before it latched shut, I'd make eye contact with her through the little octagonal window and yell...

"See ya sucker!!!" And run down the hallway arms flailing over my head and feet kicking up behind me.

Good, clean, fun. Get the picture?

One nurse who knew it was coming asked me once on our way down the hallway: "So...Mr....Mr. Johnson...are you sure I'm supposed to let you leave?" I winked and smiled at her and said: "Why yes...I am very sure. Thank you." And we prepared for the inevitable faux fracas. It was all in a day's work.

But it made me wonder today as I went by the hospital, about a word with many different definitions. That word is 'Commit.'

com·mit : (kə-mĭt)

To do, perform, or perpetrate: commit a murder.
To put in trust or charge; entrust: commit oneself to the care of a doctor; commit responsibilities to an assistant.
To place officially in confinement or custody, as in a mental health facility.
To consign for future use or reference or for preservation: commit the secret code to memory.
To bind or obligate, as by a pledge: They were committed to winning the big game.

These people had been committed to the fifth floor. I was committed to helping them. The nurse had committed to memory, the secret code which unlocks the door. If I hadn't been careful I could have been detained for committing fraud by implying I was myself mentally ill. Which I suppose is a matter still up for debate.

But it takes a big commitment to stay sober. You have to not allow yourself to be swayed by the unbelievable desire to use. Just watching the games on Sunday I was salivating like a rabid chipmunk at all the beer ads. But instead of getting loaded, I lounged on my couch and had a few delicious cups of tea and made some popcorn. I had fun, and I remember more of the action than ever before. It has been awe inspiring to watch a team, namely the Patriots, being so committed to perfection that they haven't lost a single game all season. It's simply amazing.

And I have one more night to go in my substance abuse outpatient program which I voluntarily entered earlier in the month. Tomorrow makes 12 nights spending three and a half hours talking about my problems. After 9:30 tomorrow I will have 42 hours in the books. 42 hours of sitting in a room with a bunch of other people who all have problems with things they loved more than the people in their lives. I could never have predicted that I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. The counselors were not pandering. The material was not outdated or boring. And I've made some special connections with some of the participants which I can picture lasting through the off season.

12 nights of perfection. 12 nights of contributing as much as I could. Of telling the truth. Of sharing secrets. Of coming clean. Of being a team. We even regrettably lost a few players along the way due to egregious errors of conduct. The officials saw to that. So I suppose it wasn't exactly perfect, but you know what I mean.

And tomorrow's the last game of the season. Superbowl XLII if you will. I can't predict the future but I'm pretty sure I won't commit a foul before I receive my letter of completion. Before the door opens at 9:30 and I leave the field. Before I get my coin that says "Keep it Simple" which is sometimes so hard to remember. I'll keep it in my pocket with my change so I can hear it clink each time I stride. It'll sound different than the currency it cohabitates with. And each day it will remind me that if I'm committed enough, I'll be able to hear that I have a little money in my pocket. Even if it is just a few coins.

Maybe, on my way out of the conference room, just before the door latches shut, I'll look at the counselor and wink and yell...

"See ya sucker!!!" And run down the hallway arms flailing over my head and feet kicking up behind me.

On second thought...

Coming soon: Alex shaves, gets a trim and picks out an outfit for his court date which, if you've lost count is Wednesday 1/23.

"Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear,
I sentence you to be exposed before your peers.
Tear down the wall!"

-Pink Floyd "The Trial"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Day nineteen...The elephant in the middle of the room.

I have a new TV.

Not just a TV. I have a new piece of furniture. I think it was specially made for Shrek. I don't mean for me to watch the movie on, I mean for Shrek himself to watch. Maybe it was given to him when it came out on DVD, or Blu-Ray, or IMAX. Yes, it's huge. And it would be hard to move even if you were a jolly green giant.

It was given to me by my good friends Karen and Dancin' Carl of the Hilltowns. It was very generous of them. They recently bought a new flat screen and finally gave in to the pressures of the twentieth century and got cable just when mine got shut off. It was a pretty funny set of circumstances, but that's what happened.

They brought it over to my house last night and it was an adventure just getting it out of the truck. It felt like we were trying to tame a wild elephant. The dangling cord added excitement, amusement, and danger as we kept almost tripping on its tail. It took a lot of grunts and a whole lot of muscle but we finally dragged the clumsy beast from the trailer it came in up the stairs and corralled it into my apartment. Upon arrival, it immediately adopted my titmouse of a television that I had been using in my living room. They make a cute couple.

I'm sure I'll get used to my new beast. But the more immediate problem is that I have to find a new spot for my clock. Beast is so big it covers up the part of my wall I have it hanging on. That'll take some getting used to. The last time I moved my clock it took weeks to train myself to not check the calendar for the time. I was late for a lot of appointments, but at least I was absolutely sure which day they were on.

I also have to get my cable back. I really think I can hold out until baseball season. I'll need NESN in April. For now I'll settle for a few fuzzy network channels.

But change is oh so hard to get used to.

Take a simple rearrangement like where you keep your cereal.

I keep my cereal on top of my fridge. A while back I used to keep it in my cabinet directly across the room. Each morning for about a month I would wake up, roll out of bed, put on some tea water, and open the cabinet. Then as if it were a choreographed move, I'd slam the cabinet shut and spin around in my slippers and grab the Corn Flakes from the top of the fridge. Depending on my mood I sometimes even added a point with finger snap for effect. It went on like that for so long that It was almost impossible to determine the moment when I had broken myself of the habit.

These days I've forced myself to change a lot of my habits. But oddly, and thankfully, they have been easier to get used to. Instead of stopping at the package store on my way home from work, I stop at the market. I might buy a few apples, a muffin, maybe some juice. I'll bring it home and save it until the morning. And it tastes much better when I eat it at a reasonable time rather than at midnight after a 20 dollar delivery order. Yes, after pene alfredo and a piece of cheesecake, a blueberry muffin you say...overkill.

Anything that does not adapt or change will become extinct. This is an irrefutable law and I must comply. So far I'm enjoying the surprises which I continually encounter. Like my new TV. The screen is not unlike my perspective. Wider, brighter, and more highly defined. And while I have to wait until spring to get all the channels, for now I'll enjoy what's coming in through the rabbit ears. And rabbit ears on an elephant is an amusing prospect indeed.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Day eighteen...The Shell game Pt. 2.

The baggie was empty.

Its contents, an M'n'M sized ball of black hashish, had fallen out onto the street. It was dark out and the cops never found it. They never really knew what to look for in the first place. I didn't offer them help. I occasionally do know when to shut up.

I still can't believe that I remembered that it was in my coat pocket in the first place. I mean, I was in shock. My new car was a heap of mangled metal and glass and my hand was hurt bad. But somewhere in the back of my head a voice said, "You've got a few minutes before the cops get here, eat the baggie with the hash. You could get in a lot of trouble if they find it." Trouble? Trouble? Are you kidding little voice in my head? I think that's taken care of. But if you really think I should attempt to choke on my own paraphernalia...

"Spit it out!" "Spit whatever is in your mouth out NOW!" Said the paramedics.

My left hand was bleeding pretty badly and the EMT's quickly wrapped it with a towel. As we rode to the hospital I asked them what happened. They weren't in a talkative mood so I just shut up. It turns out that I had drifted into the left lane and a car in front of me was stopped to make a left turn. I had hit it, flipped over, and spun around on the roof a couple of times. Thankfully no one was seriously injured in the car I hit. I was in trouble alright, but I could have been in it a lot deeper. I was lucky. Stupid, but lucky.

At the hospital I remember almost everything. A car crash has a way of sobering up a person pretty quickly. I remember the feeling of the scissors as they skipped along my legs when the nurse cut my pants from the pocket down to the cuff. Cold, sharp, and precise. RRRRRRRIIIIIPPP!!! I can picture it in my head as if I was watching them do it from three feet away. They picked as much glass out of my hand as they could find. I would find out later on that they hadn't got it all. But I was wrapped up and sent into a waiting room. There I sat cuffed and alone for a good long while.

Enter the officer.

He told me to pee in a cup.

I walked into the bathroom with my pants legs flapping beside me like some kind of mummy costume on Halloween. It was more than a little humiliating. They were nice jeans to boot. I had gotten them for my birthday. I had asked for them.

I peed a little in the cup and filled the rest up with water. "This ought to fool 'em" I thought.

It didn't.

The officer said he would have to observe me while I did it again. Damn!

Into the john we marched and he stood right there. I couldn't go. I was still in shock and had already relieved myself once. With Mr. policeman standing there it was impossible.

So they took a blood test. They would eventually find everything. Even a couple of things I had forgotten about. I was going to need a good lawyer. But this part was already taken care of.

I posted my own bail and the cops drove me home. I don't think that kind of thing happens anymore but this was the eighties. Life was different then.

I remember the feeling of walking up the stairs in the middle of the night to the floor my Mom and I lived on and opening the door. The dogs barked a couple of times and I quickly calmed them down.

"ZZZZzzzzzzz..." She was still asleep. What a bastard I was about to be exposed as. A stupid, still drunk, selfish, bloody bastard. Her son. Her angel.

I woke her up and asked her to come sit with me, that I had done something awful. She nearly fainted when she saw my bandaged hand and my ripped pants. I'm sure I smelled like a still.

She cried.

We both cried for a good long time.

But she didn't yell at me. She hugged me and told me to go to bed and we'd deal with it in the morning. I remember waking up several times in the night as I rolled over onto my left hand. I'm lucky I still have it. You kind of need both hands for the job I have. Or any job for that matter.

In the morning we went to see what was left of my new car. It was completely caved in on the passenger's side. Thank god I was alone.

That afternoon we went to see my lawyer. I remember how quiet both my Mother and I were as we got in the elevator in the Art Deco style building on Main St. It beeped, the doors opened, and we walked down the hall to the office. The secretary said she'd let him know we were there. It was a stately looking room with dark walls and huge bookcases filled with important looking books. Handsomely framed art hung next to calligraphy covered parchments embossed with raised seals of approval. Someone was doing alright.

I remember the way the beautiful dark maroon Italian leather chair felt as I squirmed in it. We sat there as he silently read the police report. Each time I moved, the shiny leather bubbles of upholstery breathed air as if it were sighing. He told me I was probably going to get off with a continuance without a finding. Because that's what they gave kids who fucked up so they could have a semi-clean record and maybe get a good job. This he was pretty sure of. This did eventually happen.

I remember getting up and shaking my lawyer's hand. I remember walking towards the door and taking a mint from the translucent Depression glass bowl on the table. I remember offering one to my Mother and her taking it and putting it in her pocket book and hearing it snap closed.

I remember all of these things because I had been in his office before. I had taken a mint from the bowl and offered it to my Mom in 1987 when he first represented me. I had been in trouble for something else I wasn't proud of. Something I managed to get kept off my record. Something I did because of alcohol. Something I can almost chalk up to being a stupid adolescent.


And when I spoke to him on the phone yesterday to discuss the OUI from '89 and how it will reflect on my current one, it all came back to me and I felt like crying.

Yes, I have been in a lot of trouble.

PS: Let it be known that I am not publishing this for the world to see as entertainment. This is an effort on my part to draw up a very real and very legible blueprint. It is an attempt at a printed instruction manual for myself in an effort to make sure I never assemble the parts of my life incorrectly again. I am not proud of what I have done but I am proud of what I am doing. Time will tell what my future holds. But as I prepare to click on the "Publish Post" button, I know that tonight I will go to bed a sober man. Twenty four days and counting. See you tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. ~F.A.J.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Day seventeen...The Shell game. Pt. 1

I've been in a lot of trouble.

Not just in the last few weeks. Not in the last few years. But for a majority of my life.

I was reminded of this today as I spoke with the lawyer (we'll just call him Steve) who represented me almost twenty years ago.

I had to call him and ask a pertinent question regarding my 1989 OUI when I destroyed a two year old car my Mom had bought me only a few months prior. I destroyed the car because I was drunk, full of Valium, and stoned out of my mind on some very potent black hash. A real bright bulb I was. I had gotten the Valium from a guy I worked with at a Shell convenience store named Joe.

Let me tell you a little bit about Joe.

Joe was a piece of work. I say was as I haven't seen him in 20 years and for all I know he may be dead. I suppose I don't really care either way.

Joe was a vast man. 5'7 and about 400 pounds. Greek or Italian I'm not sure. White cap a la Dom Deluise, big beard, heavy breathing, profusely sweating and everything. We had to wear bright yellow polo shirts while on duty. I'm going to assume you can picture how awful a sweaty, 400 lb man in a bright yellow polo shirt looks. Joe didn't care. Not about his appearance. Because Joe had a little action going on the side that our manager definitely did not know about.

Joe sold pieces of the wall.

Which wall you might ask?

THE wall. The Berlin fucking wall.

Remember that this was 1989 and it had only recently been torn down. Well, Joe was helping to clean up the mess by selling cue-ball sized chunks of it on the overnight shift. He bought them through the mail and he'd bring a few in each night. Each piece had a letter of authenticity (from whom, I can only guess) and each chunk came in its own decorative box heralding "Own a piece of history" on it. At approximately 11:05 pm each night a few 'certified' rocks were carefully positioned right next to the gum and partially obscuring the March of Dimes can. I think they were at least ten bucks each. Tax included.

Joe moved a lot of rubble at that Shell. And he was a scratcher to boot.

Every night, before he came on shift he would buy about 50 or so scratch tickets all from the same roll; the roll I was working from. His gamble was that at least one of those tickets was a fifty and a majority of them were at least good for a few dollars. He was almost always right. And my scratch ticket count was almost always off.

Joe began trading me Valium for weed. It was a great match. And that's where It all started to go wrong. I loved the look of the pills. So perfect. Rain slicker yellow. Just thick enough to look powerful. And that cutout "v" in the middle. Such refined style. Hell, they might as well have been designed in Italy.

And so it was a cold and rainy December evening in 1989 when F. Alex Johnson finished his 11th Bud Light draught at the Sunset Room. That was the 'seniors only' bar at Southeastern Mass. University where Alex was a sophmore. He had popped a very stylish Valium at around beer #7 because he had nothing better to do. He said "Seeyuh laaaterrr" to his friends at the bar and bumbled his way back to his new car. When he got in he put in a cassette of XTC, his favorite band, and fired up some black hash.

An hour or so later he woke up and put his seat belt on.

"Time to get the hell out of here."

He turned onto Rt. 6 and headed past Lincoln Park. "If they hadn't started charging a two dollar admission, that park would still be open." He thought.

And he kept driving.

And he passed out.



And then it was quiet.

As he pressed on the release button on the seat belt he fell to the ceiling. Yes, he was upside down. He was also on the wrong side of Rt. 6. He could see the headlights coming towards him and thankfully they slowed down and eventually stopped. His left hand was sticking through the windshield and the wipers were on. The rain was coming down a little harder and he could feel it on his hand. It stung like hell.
Soon the silence was broken by the sound of voices yelling for him to spit out what he was trying to swallow. He had been pulled out of the car by the owner of the liquor store across the street and now he was stumbling around in a circle. The red and blue lights reflected off the slick road like fireworks over a canal. His gag reflexes got the better of him and he started to cough. The little baggie fell to the ground and the paramedic picked it up. be continued.

Day sixteen...You must be this tall to ride this ride.

Inspiration comes from the damnedest of places.

Take the Tilt-a-Whirl for example. What an amazing American invention.

To quote Wikipedia: "Herbert Sellner invented the ride, in his patent text he clearly demonstrates an appreciation of chaos -- "A further object is to provide amusement apparatus wherein the riders will be moved in general through an orbit and will unexpectedly swing, snap from side to side or rotate without in any way being able to figure what movement may next take place in the car."

Family legend states that Herbert experimented with a chair placed on the kitchen table. Herbert's son Art sat in the chair, and Herbert rocked the table back and forth.

This guy must have been a fun dad.

I loved riding the Tilt-a-Whirl at Lincoln Park, one of the great footprints of a time when the area where I grew up in was innocent, optimistic, and civil.

Lincoln Park was a wonderful amusement park that I had the pleasure of being taken to on more than a hundred occasions by my family. It opened originally in 1894 and was located on Rt. 6 in North Dartmouth, MA. It was legendary. Rocky Point may have had clam cakes and a better theme song, but Lincoln Park had history. Lincoln park had the Super Slide. Lincoln Park had The Comet. Lincoln park had the Tilt-a-Whirl.

When I think about what it feels like to grow up, and I mean it in the most literal sense, my mind fills with memories of Lincoln Park.

I remember being no more than 5 or 6 and playing in the 'kiddie' portion of the park. That was fun as I liked motion and I liked anything with colored lights on it. But it got old pretty quick, as did I.

As I got a bit taller I was allowed to ride the bumper cars. This ensued much to the dismay of my adult companions who suspected I'd learn some habits which would prove hard to break later in life. I fear their concerns were valid. As it is I have lost my license twice at last count. The one habit that stuck...always wear your seat belt. Because you didn't want the operator to yell at you. He might stop the ride and come out and put it on you and then everyone would point and stare. No, that happened to the kids from the projects. It didn't happen to me. Not to Frederick Johnson. I was smarter than that.

There were plenty of wonders which did not involve rides at all that were equally enthralling. The shooting gallery for instance. That damn squirrel. Running back and forth like that. Laughing at me. I showed him. Bang! Right in the kisser. You...old piano playing guy...Bang!... Bang! Bang!...and then he would play. I think that shooting gallery is where I heard Scott Joplin for the first time...with a rifle in my hands. It seemed so natural. Thankfully I never did get an itch for a firearm permit. And though I did take piano lessons in college it must have been the fear of getting shot at that kept me on the six-string.

The years rolled by and taller still I grew. Soon a host of other rides were at my disposal. The Spider, the Fun House, The Round Up, the aforementioned Tilt-a-Whirl, and ultimately The Comet.

The Comet roller coaster was the be all and end all of parental nightmares and it was also the last height restriction I had to overcome. I'll never forget the countless times I stood there under the "You must be this tall to ride this ride" sign. Upon positioning myself properly, I would impatiently move my hand between my neatly parted cowlick and the wooden hand of the man. Aw jeez. Not even close. Someday I would be that tall. Someday I would ride that ride.


My family was petrified at that prospect. But I grew fast and ultimately was allowed to ride The Comet.

The Comet was, and still is a legend. It was built in 1946. It was loud, fast, wooden, and dangerous. With a top speed of 55mph it put 20 riders at a time through the most hellish two minutes and ten seconds of their life. If the hormones which produce euphoria hadn't completely taken over my consciousness I would have been scared out of my mind. "Click-click-click-clickclickclickclick" it pulled you up bit by bit as time stood still. For just few seconds before the cars broke the crest of the hill you raised your hands up and completely surrendered yourself to fate. It is what I suspect those who choose a deeply religious lifestyle must feel when they turn over their will to God. But we were at Lincoln Park for Christ sakes. This is no time to be philosophical. Not now. In charge of your life now were two thin rails, the combined weight of you and 19 others, and a very unconcerned operator nervously waiting for his man to show. And in what seemed like 20 seconds of pure adrenaline it was over.

As you walked towards the exit, past everyone else waiting in line, you would invariably have to smooth your hair, adjust your overalls, and fish around for the sunglasses that were no longer on your head. At the same time, involuntary looks of accomplishment and concern were offered. Looks that seemed to convey, "I made it...good're gonna need it." to the 20 kids passing you pushing and shoving to get the best seats in the death trap.

But after about 100 or so rides on that final totem to adulthood I learned an awful lesson.

I learned that some things get boring. Even the dangerous ones.

As I grew into my teens I had the pleasure of performing at Lincoln Park. My band was playing on one summer day back in 1986 when someone fell to their death from the top of The Comet. Word spread fast and the room cleared. I thought it was us. I was devastated. Then I found out what really happened and I couldn't believe it. The Comet shut down shortly after that. And it was the last time my band played there.

My band at the time was called Atria and my Aunt Lynda was our manager. But that's a whole 'nother story. And believe me I plan to tell it. When that cork fully gets dislodged from the dyke of lost memories watch out. It's gonna flood.

But back to the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Yes there was something special about that ride.

First it was a bit disorienting walking up the planks around the cars and getting in the damn thing. Upon entering, the car would immediately start swinging back and forth. The seat was wooden with a thin layer of padding so you wouldn't get splinters. You had to hold onto the bar in your lap or you'd get thrown around pretty bad. But what I remember most was the black metal grill behind your head.

Yes it was the grill.

When that thing got going fast inertia would take over. Your head was batted around a bit from side to side but more importantly, the back of your head was forced against that damn grill. You know how sometimes a painful action like pressing on a sore tooth, or rubbing a small abrasion oddly feels good? That's what the grill felt like. I can let my mind go and recall the memory of that sensation and for some reason my mouth starts to water.

You know what produces that same exact feeling?

The back of a police cruiser.

Yes I finally made the discovery back in December. It was only after the inertia took over and my head was forced against that rear window grill of the Crown Vic blasting off at top speed that my mouth started to water. I'm not kidding. I was cuffed of course and I had been strapped in by the operator er, I mean the cop.

As he hit that accelerator and blasted off down Pleasant St. I was glad I was wearing a seat belt. I flashed back to Lincoln Park and the Tilt-a-Whirl and The Comet and the Bumper cars and how it's because of those rides that I always remember to wear my seat belt.

Because you didn't want the operator to yell at you. He might stop the ride and come out and put it on you and then everyone would point and stare. No, that happened to the kids from the projects. It didn't happen to me. Not to Frederick Johnson. I was smarter than that.

I wonder how many times Herbert Sellner took that ride downtown.

Inspiration comes from the damnedest of places.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Day fifteen...Too much information.

I love my computer.

I really do.

It's quiet, and smart as hell with a bright, high-def, flat screen that I've become completely dependent on. It's pretty, well put together, still under warranty, and fast as hell. It likes the music I like and watches the same movies I do. It even goes for the dirty stuff.

It's my dream girl.

I certainly would not have been able to keep writing at the pace I have been without it. My handwriting is worse than my doctor's and typewriters are simply archaic. Right now I don't think I could live without it. Right now I don't have to.

But it has one very important flaw.

It lets me tell it what to do.

More specifically, It gives me all the answers to the questions I have without prejudice. And it scares the living crap out of me.

Last February, I had my first nervous breakdown. I had been pouring upwards of a liter of vodka down my throat on a daily basis. I had a few hours of rest to let my blood lick its wounds and then it was off to the races. I cancelled a lot of important engagements during the first part of last year. When I get to step nine I'll try to make amends to as many as I can.

All in good time.

My doctor had told me my liver was in rough shape and I should seriously consider halting any and all ingestion of my preferred toxin. My blood tests showed elevated counts in all the categories that mattered. If I didn't stop, I was going to be facing some serious consequences.

Well that's sure enough reason to get loaded right? Of course it is. And so it continued. And I would sit at my computer and-with hands that wouldn't stop shaking-Google all kinds of terms related to liver disease until I passed out.

I remember staring in the mirror as I held a flashlight in front of my eyes to see if they were yellow because that was what my computer told me to look for. Was I nauseous? Uh-huh. Fatigued? Damn straight. Were my extremities tingling? Well now that you mention it, yessiree. Tingle, tingle, tingle, I'm going to fucking die.

At least that's what my dream girl told me.

Among the many symptoms I may or may not have had, my computer did give me some good information. It led me to a respectable therapist who I've been seeing ever since. Thanks to my rock star income it's almost free. These days, it pays to be poor.

Today, my liver function is back to normal and it looks like I am indeed on the road to recovery.

But now I face a new challenge. My OUI. My second since 1989.

I may be sober now, but I still have a compulsion to look five steps ahead of me instead of taking a slow and steady pace. It's not easy to get the straight skinny on what I can look forward to in the days and years following my court date. Google '2nd OUI Massachusetts laws' and you will be presented with a myriad of choices which all look like they are websites created by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

They're not.

They're all lawyers and they all think they can piss the furthest.

I have a very experienced lawyer who I believe will fight like hell to get me the best deal possible. I have complete faith in him and I am sure he will advise me on the quickest way to get my life back in order.

And unlike my doctor, I won't immediately ignore his advice.

Something I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to do is check myself into a 2 week confined alcohol treatment center. The only one the state recognizes is in Tewksbury.



So I took my best girl for a spin and Googled said funny named town to see what I could expect.

Here's what she found out.

The town is older than Northampton if you can believe it. Settled in 1637. I can't imagined how on earth I missed the 370th anniversary. I bet it was a hoot.

Oh and this little tidbit. Apparently there is a piggery, yes a piggery that has been creating a foul stench for the past few years and the town is mad as hell.

From the website :

"The problem isn't regular fertilizing, or occasional normal farm smells coming from the farm or the petting zoo/pumpkin festival that are only in use a few short weeks out of the year. The problem is the extremely repugnant stench and pollution from the piggery, that is ruining the quality of life of people from Tewksbury, Wilmington and Andover. Often we can't open our own windows for fresh air. We can't make plans for cookouts, parties or gatherings. The people working at businesses here, cannot go outside for lunch!"

OK I'm back.

And now I'm mad as hell!

Not lunch! Outdoor lunchtime was and is an essential part of a puritanical lifestyle. I mean, how can we wag our fingers at the booze camp inmates out for their post Salisbury steak cigarette if we can't see them.
This piggery has gone too far.

A little more clicking and I found this little tidbit. A testimonial from a piggery hater:

"Well everyone the odor is awful. It's been slowly creeping back in since New Years. I know that we were told that the odor would be worse when the Piggery's land is frozen... I am sure with the past few cold days the land froze. So what now... How I knew the odor was back... I could smell it in my house... the Chimney flue was open...So much for wanted to light a fire too!" (sic)

I've always wanted to use the "sic" but now I feel so empty inside. I probably wouldn't have gotten the chance if the "repugnant stench and pollution" hadn't affected the proper grammar usage that Tewksburians so rightfully tout.

You can almost smell the sugar cookies cooling on the trivet if it weren't for all the pigshit!

My best guess is that I will be attending booze camp in the winter and so my easily offended schnoz will be spared the befouling of the local air.


More like Pewksbury.

And I know something else.

Something the locals are probably happy about.

I know that they don't allow any electronic devices at all at booze camp. At this so called Guano-tanamo Bay treatment center.

You know what that means sweetie?

That means we'll have to start seeing other people. Just for a couple of weeks.

I think it'll be for the best. Give ourselves a break and see if we really want to commit. No-no-no-sweetie. Don't give me that look. I love you too but this is something I think will really be important in the long run. Oh no. You're crying. Baby... I'm sorry. I just think it's for the best. Yeah, I know I said that already. But if we make it through this then we'll know for sure that it was meant to be. Come over here sugar. We don't have to decide right now. Let's put on that Tom Waits record you love and we can talk about it in the morning. OK?'s going to be alright.

I love my computer.

I really do.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Day fourteen...Part time lava.

I love my Lava Lamp.

It asks so little of me except consistent warmth and a safe spot on my desk. In turn it provides me with untold hours of joy and excitement. My red electric pet if you will.

It is a mammoth in the world of icons and it needs no improvement. The 60's may have been a time of turbulence in the world of politics, drugs, music, sex, art, general comportment, and morals, but the Lava Lamp emerged unchanged. Edward Craven Walker would be proud.

I remember being just a little kid staring at all the crazy psychedelic stuff at a place called Rungs which used to exist in the Swansea Mall back in the day. They moved a lot of Lava Lamps.

Today it would have been spelled Rungz. But this was the 70's. The end of times wasn't so near, comedy was not pretty, and the letter 'Z' wasn't a 'hilarious' substitution for a plain old 'S'.

Rungs was located next to Edgar's in the back of the mall. It was adjacent to the organ store with the old lady whose job it was to rock that sucka' all day long till someone dropped some serious bank on a new Hammond.

Anyway, Rungs was full of joke gifts, monster masks, disfigured Pepsi bottles filled with blue liquid, rock T-shirts, and incense. It was my special store. While inside the walls of Rungs I felt like the cool younger brother at his much older brother's keg party. I had some restrictions, but I could at least get in the door. I knew there was a whole vernacular and set of rules that went with the black lights, Lava Lamps, and hair mean roach clips. Someday I would enter that world. But when you're almost eight in 1977 all you really wanted was to see Star Wars one more time.

Still, the signs tantalized. "No one under 18 admitted" warned the placard above the blue, beaded curtain in the back of the store. Whatever tidbits of fun lay behind that formidable checkpoint I could only imagine. I was sure it had something to do with girls. What else could it possibly be? I probably could have snuck by the clerk with the curiously red eyes making time with the chick wearing the "I'm with stupid" T-shirt but I didn't. I was a good boy. Whatever they were selling that only 18 year old girls were allowed to have could wait. Girls, as any almost eight year old will tell you, are gross.

At the time, all I really needed was a Rubik's Cube key chain and a pair of bunny ears. Maybe a few rounds of Missle Command at the 'Dream Machine' arcade and a can of Pepsi with a straw. God, that still sounds like a good time.

Then, at the agreed upon hour, my immediate reality would take precedence and I would meet my Mom at the penny fountain outside the Pipe Den. Sometimes, depending on where she parked, we'd get to walk by Rungs. I would smile a big 2nd grader smile re-living the adventures that had taken place just minutes before. I'd always take a big whiff of that incense they were burning. It made me lightheaded. You never get that feeling again.

These days there aren't too many things that excite me like that.

I don't have to buy a ticket for 'Benji' only to sneak into 'The Wall' and get scared shitless.
I still to this day don't know if Benji really came home. I have a feeling he was just a patsy.

My dreams still have a profound effect on me and sometimes give me those old feelings of innocence and pulse pounding excitement. Dreams are an amazing benefit to having a brain. I don't believe people who tell me they don't remember their dreams. I think they're just really fucked up and they want to keep it to themselves. So be it. I don't really need to know.

Last night I had a crazy dream that I was with Muskrat and we were sitting on some weird scaffolding high above downtown Springfield. We were smoking a jibber. A big, fat, stanky jib. A spliff, a number, a doobie. Or as they called it in the 60's, a Marijuana cigarette.

Then Erma appears.

Erma, for those unfamiliar with the people in my world, is a real person who used to be a regular at The Baystate bar and hotel. She was and is a pleasant, petite, black woman with a husky voice who practically lived in this former Northampton landmark. I saw her the other day in town and we exchanged glances that seemed to convey "You? You're still around?" And then it was over.

Well Erma pops up in my dream and says: "I'm callin' the cops on you two."

To which I reply:"Why Erma?"

And Erma says: "Cause you're smokin pot!"

Cue the blue and red lights and me freakin' out knowing full well how bad this is going to look on the 23rd and holy shit, now I have to come clean in my blog. I'm not going to cover up a relapse. Here in this world, the world we share, we don't keep secrets.

So I start flailing my hands around and pleading with Erma to just let us go (by this time she had morphed into a full fledged cop.) and she's just shaking her head and tapping her Billy club to her hand. "You goin' to jail. Mmm hmmm."

Oh Erma.

And then I wake up. Pulse racing, drooling, confused, and wrapped up in my covers. Thank Christ. Time for a big stretch. You're OK. You're not going to jail, and you are not wicked high. Could've fooled me. I felt higher than I ever have been in my life. It was 6 in the morning. My head was spinning. It was still dark. Except for a swirling red and white light enveloping the wall and ceiling above my desk.

My Lava Lamp.

I love my Lava Lamp.

Edward Craven Walker would be proud.

Well, a full two weeks have transpired since I began this journey. I've been 100 percent sober for 19 consecutive days (dreams don't count). That's a record for me. One that hasn't been broken for a very, very, very long time. Not since right around the time I was old enough to walk through that blue, beaded curtain. Past the red eyed clerk with the 'Pobody's Nerfect' T-shirt on. Which I never did do.

I'm going to light some incense and then I'm going to bed.

And maybe, if I'm lucky, in my dreams I'll travel back to that special place in the Swansea Mall. To the Rubik's Cube keychain and the bunny ears and the Missle Command at the 'Dream Machine' arcade. And maybe, just maybe, if my restless brain lets me, I'll get to stop at the penny fountain outside the Pipe Den. And I'll get to visit with the person I think about the most.

Let's talk tomorrow.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Day thirteen...Order up!

Hi again. It's me.

I realized last night as I was publishing my post (oh that sounds so dirty) that I may have slipped into the second person (dirtier still) without meaning to.

I started this blog on day one as a testimonial to myself and myself alone. As I have noticed that people are actually reading it and enjoying it, I guess I started to tell my day-to-day adventures into the world of sober living by talking to you, the reader. I know, it's a vanity thing, can't just type to myself. I'm not trying to create a self help book. But then again...

So, anyway, as I outlined a couple of days ago, the snow makes me want to type. It's snowing. The proverbial Hustler is lying open on the table and I'm staring directly at it. So here I go.

Speaking of porn, let me tell you a little story about my 14th birthday.

But first a bit about my dear Aunt.

My Aunt is an amazing woman. She has been through a lot over the years. Not only with me and my destructive tendencies but with my Mom's sickness and other troubles which I'm not at liberty to discuss. And she has bounced back even stronger from each of the battles life has thrown her way. I am constantly surprised and happy she still talks to me. She is also a very funny person and has been since I've had the pleasure of being her nephew. Let me explain.

In the Johnson household, when a boy came of age (in this case 14) he was given a special gift. This gift came wrapped in brown paper and was the size and shape of a Playboy.

Because that's what it was.

Now bare with me here people (ugh!).

This was no ordinary Playboy. This playboy had been altered. Most of its trademark adult photos had been removed leaving nothing but Lorne Michaels and Malcolm Mclaren interviews, new car previews, suggestive comics, and plenty of self-help ads. Kind of like a TV guide without all those pesky listings.

But one portion had been left in.

The centerfold.

As you could imagine, this centerfold (in this case Miss May '84) was altered as well. Over the naughty bits on said centerfold were taped cutout circles of paper.

Upon lifting the paper circles from said naughty bits, the mischievous eye was greeted with messages written on white pieces of paper where the 'dirty parts' used to be.

These messages ranged from "Shame on you!" to "Not until you're 18 mister" to "Even when you are 18 you should be reading 'Popular Science'."

As I said. My Aunt is a very funny person. She also cooks quite a bit and loves to go out to eat. If anyone has a 'Dine Out Tonight' book they aren't using please contact me asap.

She asked me an interesting question last night.

She asked me how it was that a chef can get all the food on a customer's order to come out at the proper times? How is the perfectly paced meal constructed when each item cooks at different temperatures and the time each dish takes to make varies from plate to plate?

Good question. To which my answer was, "After a while it becomes second nature."

I tried to explain that after you've worked with food long enough, you get a feel for how long that lasagne will need to be in the oven. It becomes second nature as to how long a flipped fried egg will take to be 'over easy', 'over medium' et al. You don't have to see the progress in the oven or frying pan, even with 20 orders going at once. You just have to do it enough.

Addictions are very similar.

I spent 18 or so years in the restaurant business. Each day I would have to compile a prep list of all the things I would need for that day. It is essential in that line of work as any good chef will attest to.

Mix in with the actual work I had, a separate list of goodies that were necessary to keep my head and nervous system happy.

'Gotta get a pint.' 'No, make it a .750.' Gotta stop by ( ) and get some ( ) and let's see...what day is it? Maybe ( ) will be around and I can get some ( ).'

And if I could acquire all these ingredients, plus a movie I wouldn't remember, then I could open up for dinner.

The perfectly paced buzz was not always easy to produce. It took work. It took trial and error. It took plenty of money and it took practice. But this was my restaurant and I wrote the reviews as well. They weren't always good but it certainly wasn't going to drive away business. Food cost however was sometimes staggeringly high and I often wondered how long I could keep my doors open.

I learned from my mistakes how long ( ) would take to kick in. Add some ( ) to the pan and garnish with a little ( ) on top. Pop in the movie, lay back, stretch out and wake up 7 hours later.


If I was lucky there would be some ( ) left over to put in a to-go container. Because you know you'll be hungry again in a few hours.

These days my life is a bit different. I'm constantly walking by places where I used to acquire the ingredients I used to stock my shelves with. The TV is incessantly blaring ads for former choices on my drinks list. I have to admit I really miss the days (which aren't really that long ago) when I could have my 'usual' and then regret the inevitable bellyache that followed. It's a wonder that I was so good at what I did.

But like I tried to explain to my very funny, compassionate, resilient, and courageous Aunt on the phone last night:

After you've worked with food long enough, you don't have to see the progress in the oven or frying pan, even with 20 orders going at once. You just have to do it enough.

Right now, I work at new restaurant. I'm only in charge of shredding the carrots and making the salads but I suspect a promotion is right around the corner.

Bon appetit.

Coming soon: Fewer metaphors.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day twelve...The perfect day.


I have to type this fast so it will all still work the way I have it planned.

The perfect day:


Workday done?...check.

Steaming hot cup of Prince of Wales tea on sale because the box was smushed?...check.

Cordless phone?...check.

Bowl of wasabi soy nuts?...check.

Basin full of hot water with Epsom salts beneath my desk?...check.

Feet in ready position?...check.

OK... Go!

Lord have mercy!

If you've never experienced the feeling of soaking your tired paws in steaming hot water you have no idea what you're missing.

Yes, I get manis, pedis, and facials too. You know why? It's pleasurable. And pleasure is what I ultimately want to have as much of before I break my last string as they say.

Here's the trick. You have to have a container with really hot water on reserve for when the other water cools down. It's key. It's like having another ticket in your pocket when the roller coaster pulls in that you can give to the operator and not have to get back in line. Its awesome.

And it just washed away the unbelievable craving I have had all day to get cocked.

Not just a couple of beers. What the hell will that do? No. Cocked. Tall bottle of Grey Goose with my favorite glass cocked. A bucket of ice and the Stones on the turntable cocked. Yeah, I know it sounds good. But this is better.

Because I'm home, I plan on playing guitar most of the night, and my god damned cable got shut off last night.

Oh this feels good. Time to re-up. Just a bit more really hot water and...

It's true. I came home after doing four loads of laundry yesterday and turned on my T.V. in preparation for the big Pats game and I had a surprise waiting for me.

A blue screen.

A big, blue, silent screen that said 'Ch. 3' in the upper right hand corner so I knew it wasn't a mistake. And I don't get CBS even with the rabbit ears.

I hadn't paid my bill.

But my bill said overdue balance must be paid by 1/15/08

It's only the twelfth goddamn it. What gives?

"Hello, Comcast may I help you?"

"I hope so, my cable got shut off and it shouldn't have. It says here I have till the 15th to pay it and I haven't gotten any warnings or nuthin' from you guys."

"Well sir, you have an overdue balance of..."

"Yeah I know how much I owe but I should still have until Tuesday to pay."

"Sir, my records show that you made arrangements in December to have it paid by the end of the month."

"Oh, well...that must have been my roommate (I live alone). He never told me about it. I'll have to speak with him and get back to you. Thanks."

"Thank you for calling Comcast. Have a good day."

No I don't remember the conversation I had with him in December and you probably know why.

But I did take his advice. The part about having a good day.

In fact I'm just about ready to pull my feet up, towel them off, powder them, and put on some slippers.

The game was great even on the radio. It was simple. I wasn't distracted by all the bells and whistles on the television. I just listened and enjoyed myself. It was pleasurable. And pleasure is what I ultimately want to have as much of before I break my last string as they say.

I have clean laundry.

I have food to make dinner with.

I have a family and friends that love me.

It's going to snow 6-12 inches tonight and I can sleep in till noon if I want.

Yeah, I'm doing alright.

See you tomorrow.

Now go soak your feet.

You can thank me later.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Day eleven...Let it rain.

It's raining today.

I don't know why, but the rain always makes me want to play guitar.

Perhaps it is the equivalent of nature's percussionist.



A million tiny drum sticks striking in a strangely connected rhythm. A consistent, pulsing layer of sound that somehow snuck in the side door and started a long, slow roll on the snare. It makes me want to join in. It makes me want to play. It makes me want to produce sympathetic vibrations where needed, and lay out and enjoy the pauses and spaces between bars. I realize the rain doesn't need me. The rain can play all day by itself. It's a natural.

Snow, on the other hand, affects me in a visual sense and it gets me excited when I can see it. It's what made me start this crazy writing project in the first place. My shade was up, the flakes were falling, and it made me want to type. It's like an open Hustler laying on the table. I know the power it has over my emotions but it only really affects me when I'm looking at it.

I know, I'm a sucker for metaphors but like a bottle of good Polish vodka smuggled in your luggage and still intact upon arrival; once you crack the seal, it's really hard to stop.

Oh, and I like similes too.

As I was saying:

Snow and rain.

Visual and aural.

Cold and temperate.

Solid and liquid.

Different, yet made from the same elements. Both capable of some seriously destructive behavior.

I suppose that with snow, you know what you're getting. It's relatively simple to look outside and see what has accumulated. You can easily gauge how much difficulty you will be facing when you step out the door; an easy read.

Rain, while it makes a beautiful and consistent sound, could erupt at a moment's notice with a lightning bolt of deadly fury followed by a gargantuan thunderclap that'll make you sit up straight in your seat. A crack on the knuckles with a ruler by Sister Mary Theresa if you will.

It still makes me want to play guitar. Something I haven't done in a while.

I'll get back to it soon enough. All this writing has lubricated the part of my brain that can compose a story. Soon I'll try to put one to music. The cessation of smoking pot has brought some range back into my voice. And the comments I have heard and read by many people regarding this blog have given me the confidence to once again put myself out there and present a new creation.

All in good time.

But time really flies when you're not trying to escape from it. Not too long ago I had a different definition of success. Not too long ago I'd pat myself on the back with any number of vices if I managed to make it through the work day without having a meltdown. I'd clench my fists to attempt to prevent the usual lethargy and confusion from getting in the way of collecting a paycheck. Then I'd make a few phone calls and stomp out the embers in my pants pocket where my wallet usually went. That's partly why I wear it on a chain. If I made it through to quitting time I could punch in at my second job. This is the one that really took its toll on me. I did whatever I had to to keep it because getting tanked on the job was allowed. That's what the job was. Now that I'm in between jobs it seems like time just won't give me a break. The hours go by so fast that it's dark before I know it. Lucky for me, the days are getting longer.

Not too long ago I would judge how long I stayed up drinking (read: staring blankly at the TV) by how much was left in the litre. Now I know what positive tasks I have accomplished by the things left unfinished. And this is OK. Because the unfinished things at least have a thread still hanging. I can easily see where I left off. I can wake up, re-thread the needle, and resume connecting the pieces. To mend a hole long ago neglected. To finish what I started, knowing full well that it was I who began it in the first place.

In other words, I don't have to dig through the trash to tell what kind of food I had delivered the previous night.

The rain is starting to die down and snow's not predicted till the the beginning of next week. But the good thing about strengthening your gray matter is that you can fantasize with a lot more realism.

Yes, I think it's time to play that guitar.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Day ten...Is this a joke?

I like getting mail. I always have.

I love the long connected series of people and machines that allow correspondence from afar to arrive in my mailbox me and vice versa.

But this has got to be a joke.

I don't have a license right now and for the time being, I don't have a car.

Subaru apparently likes to poke fun at people like me via the U.S. mail. They send me their magazine.

It's full of smart, useful ideas for your car as well as heralding recent advancements in Subaru technology. It's glossy and well edited. It's called, are you ready for this? It's called 'Drive.'

It's junk mail.

It would only be more ironic if it featured pretty pictures of the new 2008 models of ignition interlock devices. Now that, I'm interested in.

Because I'm going to get my license back not too long from now and I'm going to be able to drive. And I'm going to have to shell out a few hundred bucks for one of these suckers.

For those of you who are smart enough to not drink and drive, and those of you who are still working on getting your second OUI (my first being in 1989), I will explain. An ignition interlock device is a new electronic gadget with a plastic tube that you blow into that makes sure you haven't been drinking. Once you make it past the first security measure you may start your car. Shortly thereafter it will randomly beep and make you do it again while you're driving. Oh my god. As if you weren't nervous enough being on probation and padding your CORI report, now you have to deal with an electronic policeman in your car. A Robocop if you will.

I understand the need for tighter measures to make sure people do not get behind the wheel when they shouldn't, but this is crazy. I'd like to see the percentage of car accidents that occur as a direct result of having to blow into this robo-breathalizer while driving. I bet I wouldn't be able to find out if I tried. I'm sure it's not in my most recent issue of 'Drive'.

I'm not upset. I just need a drink.

But of course that's what got me into this mess in the first place. Illogical thinking.

But logical thinking doesn't just appear out of the blue. No, logical thinking must be accrued using thought processes that we sometimes don't always recognize. It must be earned. It must be paid for with mistakes either by ourselves, or by watching others. And only after we have seen the outcome of illogical thinking can we peel back the dealer's sticker and read the price it came with from the factory. Sometimes that msrp price is a lot higher than we bargained for. But we have to ante up or we must walk away.

And due to my mistakes I must pay what is asked of me by the courts. Due to my mistakes I will soon have to start seeing a probation officer and have an ignition interlock device installed in my car. I will have to bring it to a dealer once a month to have the info downloaded and have it re-calibrated. It will be a huge pain in the ass.

And through this process I will acquire logical thinking. Every annoying hurdle I must jump to regain and retain my driving privileges will remind me how illogical and rash I was.

And like the mail I so love to receive, It will only be via a long connected series of people and machines that I will be able to attain this logical thinking.

Gentlemen...start your ignition interlock devices...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Day how on earth did that get there?

I was talking to a friend as I cleaned my house for the first time in what seemed like forever.

While I transferred my loose change from my pockets to the proper receptacle I came across a tin which I hadn't seen in a while. I shook it.


Well. Let's just see about that.



Just the tiniest bit too in a plastic baggie. Not nearly enough to get me high, but weed nonetheless.

Unlike the responsible line-cook lifer that I am, I had not been rotating my stock. And since the delivery guy had shut me off for bad behavior I hadn't taken inventory in a while.

Without the slightest hesitation I flushed it down the crapper.

Oh, the humanity. Yes I know. Drug abuse at it's finest. Sue me.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It's a classic. Gene Wilder at his finest. A magnificent, groundbreaking achievement. I could watch it every day.

One of my favorite phrases to say aloud comes from this movie.

"Little surprises around every corner but nothing dangerous." It's said by Mr. Wonka as the guests are exploring their new environment and finding things like the human-hand coat hooks that are actually alive. It fits in a lot of situations and it's just obscure enough to not cause one to pause.

I won't call marijuana dangerous as I don't believe that it is. It may have caused me to forget a couple of things I shouldn't have, and I certainly spent a pretty penny on the stuff in the past, but I wouldn't call it dangerous.

Republicans are dangerous. Weed is just that. Weed.

As I have outlined I do not have room in my life for alcohol or drugs and unfortunately, weed is a drug. A beautiful, green, pungent, fun-as-hell, illegal drug. And since I am trying to clean the cobweb covered windows in the haunted mansion of a brain in which I live, I threw it away.

These days I am exploring a new environment. I am discovering long hidden talents like returning movies on time and understanding what people say when they talk to me. I can sit at my computer and I'm not constantly making spelling errors due to hands that won't stop shaking. I don't throw my back out from the shock of someone knocking on my door.

It's kind of nice.

So tonight, I'm going to hang up my coat on the familiar coat hook (read: nails) and I'm going to make some cookies. I'm going to have a few and by a few I don't mean all of them. No, I'm going to have a few and then I'm going to put some in a tin and give them to my best friend for his birthday. Which coincidentally is the year anniversary of the passing of my Mom.

And I'm not going to drink myself to sleep like I probably would under different circumstances.

I'm going to talk aloud to her like I always have and thank her for the recipe. I'm going to thank her for the humor and compassion which she always displayed. I'm going to look at myself in the mirror and not want to punch it. Because I won't hate what I see. Because I'll see her. In my eyes, my nose, my hair, my skin, and my smile. She loved to smile. And she loved surprises. And she loved me. And while all of the surprises I was responsible for over her all too short 65 years on this earth weren't always of the most innocent nature, they were never intentionally dangerous. Goodnight Judith Ann Johnson. One year later and it still hurts like hell. But now at least I can feel it.

~PS: I may be an only child but I do have an older brother. Four months older in fact. Not biologically possible, but a brother nonetheless. His birthday is 1-11-70.

His name is Steve Sanderson and he very well may have saved my life. For this I will forever be grateful. Happy birthday Steve.

Sto-lat my friend. Sto-lat.