Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
I don't feel like writing anymore.
I don't really feel like playing music either.
My camera doesn't call for me from my bag hardly at all.
I'm not really hungry most of the time, but I try to keep sensible eating habits so I won't put back on the weight that I recently lost.
I certainly don't cook much at all anymore.
In fact, I don't feel like doing much of anything since my aunt passed away.
The same thing happened when my mom died last January. But back then I still had my aunt to dazzle with my exploits and cooking prowess. It gave me such joy to craft a song and record it on my fancy new computer, knowing that I was going to flat out floor her with how I could do so much with just two hands, a guitar, and a set of lungs.
As it stands now, I don't even feel like playing one god damned chord on the acoustic in the chair across from me, let alone write and record a song.
Why am I sharing this?
I'm putting this down in words so that someday in the (hopefully) near future, when things are different, I can say, "I told you so" to myself when I claim that nothing is really fun anymore and I wonder if it ever will be again.
I'll be able to say, "you were wrong and you knew it when you said it, you melodramatic bum."
But right now I just feel like I'm hollow inside.
I feel like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny with the ears bitten off and placed on the table--foil, tattered and frayed--with my thin, whitish-brown, discount-shelf shell of an exterior waiting to be dropped on the floor and broken into three or four unattractive pieces. The reason I was left on the table and not wrapped up or devoured is that I don't taste so good; or not as good as the solid ones anyway.
The hollow chocolate never tastes as good as the solid stuff.
It's a pressure thing.
When the solid chocolate resists your teeth, then your gums, and finally your jaw--with your tongue just trying to figure out what's happening like an overstimulated Shi Tzu--it's like that solid chocolate bunny is giving you something to work for; something to persevere over; something that lasts a while.
You can gauge the time it will give you pleasure and you can measure it in at least a couple of sittings.
The hollow chocolate, on the other hand, gives in easily, leaving your jaw less to do and your reward system an easy win. It was made to look much like its solid counterpart when wrapped in foil and then behind thin plastic and paper.
All you have to do is hold it in your hand to feel the emptiness.
At that point, you don't even need to unwrap it to know ... it's just a shell.
Maybe it's this house.
I'm at The House again.
It's been a few days since I've been back here and it's still a strange and dangerous place to be for me. I'm not going to go out and use, but the distance isn't good for me. It's almost like I have this ankle bracelet on me that tracks my movement but loses strength with distance. Its signal is strongest in Northampton where most of my support system is, and the farther I go away from home, the easier it feels like I could screw up and nobody would find out about it unless I said something.
My back feels better, thank god. I'm not 100%, but it's usually about a two week process before I'm back to normal.
Everybody has been super supportive in this time of my life and I am so thankful for that. It has been genuine and it has been plentiful.
But there is a place inside that is waiting to be filled.
I don't know how long it's going to be vacant.
I don't know how much time will need to pass before it feels lived in.
I don't know who needs to come my way in order to shore up this hole in my chest.
It's prime real estate and it being unoccupied like this brings down the property value of the surrounding area.
It won't be with material possessions; I got my new TVs, turntable, stereo and guitar effects and they are all awesome and are something I would be jealous as hell to even be able to get to play with, let alone own, but I would trade it all in, if I could, for just one smile from the big lady with the curly hair, bright red lipstick, and my last name.
I would throw it all out the window to feel my mother's meaty arms hug my aching back and tell me how much she loves me.
I would make due with a twenty year old Zenith with rabbit ears and fuzzy reception to just get one more phone call for no reason but to hear me talk and know that, despite my years of dangerous tightrope walking, that someday I would give up the circus for good.
Instead, I have to make due with photos and dreams.
There are pictures of her everywhere. She even let me take pictures of her up to about a week before she died. She would have done anything I wanted, as long as it insured my happiness.
I would work fifty hour work-weeks to see my aunt's eyes open wide when I made it to nine months sober on my own.
I have a great car that my mom bought for me to come visit, but I'd gladly schlep my belongings to the bus station and make all the connections and wait in the smelly terminals just to feel the light but powerful kiss of her lips against my stubbly cheek.
I've got all the toys I could want and all the time in the world to play with them and it's not enough.
Perhaps it's never going to be enough.
But I'm not the only person who's ever lost the people they love the most.
It happened to my mom.
It happened to her mom.
And it happens to everyone if they live long enough.
So for now, I'll consider this entry a time capsule for how I feel, less than a month from when the other shoe dropped, and I'll come back someday when the burden gets a little easier to carry.
That's what I'll do.
One melodramatic bum ... over and out.
Thanks for reading.
And I mean that.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/29/2008 06:28:00 PM
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I don't particularly like cell phones.
But I don't think it's for the same reasons a lot of people claim to not like them.
While I do think it's rude to talk loudly in public on your phone, I feel it either doesn't happen that much in the area where I live, or people are just doing it less in general.
It's not that they're expensive--they are. But you get what you pay for--convenience.
Oh ... you need to be reachable at all times? Okay ... sure ... that's a easy solution, but it's gonna cost you.
I feel it's only right.
And now, as they are made smaller and smaller, it becomes increasingly easier to lose your phone through a hole in your pants that at one time only a quarter could escape from.
No, I don't like cell phones. But it's mainly because, by design, cell phones have made one of the main facets of enjoyable communication obsolete ... rhythm.
See, if I have to say "go ahead" after each time I inadvertently talk over the person on the other end, and then wait until the volume stabilizes before I can process the information, it ruins the art of talking.
It's what killed morse code.
Okay, maybe not, but you know what I mean.
Wait ... did you say ... um ... hello? ... go ahead ...
I feel lucky to have witnessed a grand period of evolution of the world of the telephone.
I remember when it was only five numbers to remember--2-7231--that was my number.
But what they didn't tell you was that the connection name was "Osbourne" or "67" in phone speak ("6" for the "O" and a "7" for the "S").
If you watch old movies, you'll sometimes see the people pick up the phone, tap the holder a few times, and when the operator came on (you had to go through the operator back then, not that I remember that) they'd say something like, "Operator ... please connect me to Osbourne 2-7231."
And then, when there were too many new people in the world--myself included--they just made it official and our number changed from 2-7231 to 672-7231.
Do you realize how traumatizing that is for a seven or eight year old child?
Well, it sucked ... because at the time, every day at school they tried to teach me something new in preparation for a test which would be graded in red pen or marker which I would be able to bring home for inspection and/or validation.
This was just some stupid thing the government said we had to do, like it or not.
And I did not.
I remember, in my house at 1073 Bedford, we only had one phone. We only needed one phone because back then only one person could talk on one phone at one time. It had a really long cord which was permanently connected to a jack that was screwed in to the wall.
I don't thing the word modification was used much in communication technology back then.
I also remember a time when an awful (read: psycho) high school ex girlfriend of mine called every seven or eight minutes for a period of about three months. The phone would ring, either myself or my mother would pick it up and say hello, and there would be nothing at the other end except for some breathing.
I remember how my mother--who at one point had had enough--pulled the phone cord out of the wall--mid ring--with all her might (it took a few, hard yanks). I remember plastic shards flying everywhere, and then, we were just left standing there, looking at each other; my mother crying, and me crying; the dogs barking; the canaries tweeting, and the hamster wheel squeaking .... and then, except for the last bit of bell that could be heard from the heavy, black, bakelite, rotary phone dangling from my mother's tired right hand, it had stopped.
It felt really strange.
We were disconnected--on purpose.
And then we had to go downstairs to my aunt's place to call the phone company to come and reinstall it.
That was when they replaced it with the more modern, adaptable jack that we have all come to know.
We now had a choice besides on and ready to ring, or off with a busy signal.
We could just have nothing.
But who in their right mind would want that?
I pulled out a sales receipt the other day from the purchase of a cell phone I made back in November of 2005.
My mom had just been given her terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and I had to be in touch in case I was needed.
My aunt paid for me to have it. It wasn't something I wanted; not by a long shot. But I went downtown and picked out the style and put down the money for the pay-as-you-go plan.
¢.25 a minute.
Not exactly a bargain.
But I had this phone for a long time. Seeing it wasn't on a contract plan I never had people trying to get me to upgrade to a new one. It was kind of nice.
I got used to the ringtone which was labeled "Cosmic Girl" in my phone's little data bank.
It came to represent a lot in my life.
I heard it when I was needed at the hospital.
I heard it when I was late for a lobster supper.
I heard it when I was at the pet store, making sure I knew which cat litter to get.
I heard it when I was on my way to pick up medications.
I heard it when I was at the grocery store and they had forgotten to add something to the list.
I heard it when I was just around the corner.
I heard it when I was parking in the driveway.
I heard it when I was shutting the car off.
I heard it when I was in the hospital elevators and her room had changed and she was letting me know.
And "she" had at one time meant my mother, and then my aunt, and then it didn't mean either one anymore.
And then I turned it off for real.
I now have a new phone.
It's fancy, it's expensive, and it's absolutely necessary to me the way my life is set up now.
And that's not a hollow justification, it's true.
But I went out to dinner with a close friend last night (one of the people who calls me the most) and I did something strange.
I left my phone at home.
I purposefully left my phone sitting in my bag, on the chair in my apartment, and I left the house for a few hours.
There wasn't the need to have it on me at all times.
There wasn't that impending guilt that if I wasn't 100% reachable at the drop of a hat, that I was taking a risk of not being ready when needed.
And I went out.
We had a delicious meal.
And when I came back, I checked to see if anyone had left me a message.
It was my dinner guest, telling me he was on his way to my place.
But I, of course, knew that, because I was already back and he was now on his way home.
And I turned off my phone, put on my slippers, and turned on the TV.
Life is simpler now.
It's quieter, predictable, and calm.
My new phone has a new number, a new ringtone, and a new purpose.
But I'm still ready for anything.
And I mean that in every way possible.
Today makes nine months since I took a drink, a puff, or a snort.
But who's counting?
Thanks for reading.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/27/2008 08:52:00 AM
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I have a new nemesis.
His name is Jitters.
I was warned about him.
Boy is he a needy little prick.
And he is everywhere I go.
See, I used to drink coffee for years, back when I was in my heyday (the nineties). It became kind of a habit only in that I was convinced it was what you do when you are hungover to wake yourself up and feel better.
I realized, at one point, that coffee did not make me feel better; it just made me more aware of how awful I did feel.
You all know what it does to your insides.
So, it being the, seemingly, easiest vice in my arsenal to cease (I smoked cigarettes back then too) I decided to give it up.
I was being proactive.
I was taking care of myself.
I was trying to simplify my world, even then.
And it did free me up to explore the consistent world of tea drinking.
See, I can take a plastic baggie full of my favorite teas (Lyons, PG tips) and bring them anywhere in the world and, more often than not, the resulting beverage made will taste consistently good.
It was a lower dose of caffeine as well.
And it was just that--water, a tea bag, and a cup.
And that worked for almost ten years.
I now have a new monkey, and he is very persnickety.
He needs some sugar.
He needs some cream.
And he needs it put in before the coffee or--failing that--given a stirrer, so as to mix it all up.
He needs it to be as hot as possible.
And he needs a special ring of cardboard to hold the hottest beverage he can find, until he doesn't need it and the little ring ends up left in the cup holder which he also needs. And then, because it is so much taller than the usual tea-to-go cup he used to get, he needs to keep a hand on it when he goes around corners, and slows down, or speeds up, or does almost anything involving motion.
And he leaves a sticky, brown mess everywhere he goes.
He is a messy, messy, monkey.
I have said before that I keep a clean car.
That was before Jitters came my way.
Jitters has made it so that the dust that used to just fly around near the stick-shift now has a never ending landing pad.
And the worst part of it is ... I can't even begin to think about cleaning up the mess that has accrued over the last few weeks ... until I've had a coffee.
Yes, indeed, I'm hooked.
My life is no longer as simple as I have desired for so long.
That said, it is certainly not as bad as it used to be.
I'm still sober and will have been off the bottle for nine months as of Saturday.
I know. Yay!
But now I have a new package store to avoid, because coffee is available in, seemingly, every store that sells anything.
A lot of places it's even free.
I got my oil changed the other day ... there was free coffee.
I got a set of new tires (Pete's Tire Barn on N. King rocks the socks off of the competition, in case anybody local is in need) ... and there was free coffee.
But, you see, they had the coffee, but I didn't drink it.
I have standards, you see.
They had the cups.
They had the sugar.
But I'm not going to use the god damn non-dairy, powdered, creamer.
It's my line in the sand.
It's led me back to some strange and familiar places--this world of coffee.
McDonald's, for example.
I now go through the McDonald's drive-thru at least four times a week.
All I get is a coffee.
It's damn good coffee.
Let's talk about pennies for a minute.
Today I got my change from a large coffee with cream and two sugars ($1.98) which was two pennies.
They were new--so new, in fact, that I had to check the date.
It made me wonder about the state of the economy and how my two, new pennies fit in to it all.
Pennies get old-looking really quickly. You can almost see the oxidation happening as the oils from your fingers takes hold of the bright, orange glowing discs.
When I get a gift like two new pennies it makes me feel good.
In my family, whenever a present was given that entailed a small zippered or snapped pocket--wallet, purse, or bookbag--two shiny copper pennies would, without exception, be put into that pocket.
It was so consistent that in my going through all of the many bags and purses and wallets in Mattapoisett, I always check for the pennies--often I'll find them. Sometimes, that part of the purse or wallet was left unused except for the two pennies.
That's how I can tell when the gift was given--the date on the two pennies in the little pocket.
Even when I don't find any, I know that at some point, before more change was added to the pocket, that there were two shiny, new pennies.
It's a tradition that I keep alive in my adult life, and will encourage in my children, someday.
Tradition is everything.
And now I have two brand new pennies in my cup holder covered with monkey pee.
That damn Jitters.
So, anyway, it's been a crazy few days.
I'm still--if you can believe it--not back to normal from the week of pain med abuse.
I'm getting there. Perhaps by the end of the weekend I'll feel like myself.
In my many classes on substance abuse it is said that coffee and cigarettes are not a safe alternative to using drugs or alcohol. The counselors see the availability and encouragement of coffee and cigarettes at various twelve step programs as being quite ironic.
See, caffeine and nicotine keep the craving receptors open.
Like a flashing neon sign below your room as you detox that says, "Come on in ... we're open."
And in little letters on the front door it says ... "Monkeys Allowed."
Thanks for reading.
PS: Here's a picture of my aunt (age 21) taken at 1073 Bedford St. in the summer of 1969.
Thought you'd enjoy it.
Flower Power indeed.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/25/2008 05:31:00 PM
Monday, September 22, 2008
I was going to take the night off.
You know ... just sit down, open the mail, recycle the newspapers that will stop being delivered in a couple of days, and just watch some TV.
But this deserves to be preserved.
It's 9:46 p.m.
I'm here at the house.
It was a pleasant ride; I like driving at night.
I listened, once again--possibly for the tenth time in a row--to Elton John's 1971 masterpiece, Tumbleweed Connection. I picked it up in a drug induced shopping spree last week, along with a dock stereo system for my ipod, which I can kind of justify needing for one of the many rooms of this place.
But I can justify almost anything, so I guess that doesn't make much of a difference.
On the ride, I had been listening to the extra disc which features a fantastic version of "Madman Across the Water" with Mick Ronson on guitar, who was replaced on the latter version of the record that featured the song as a title track. It's a haunting and powerful song and it strangely led me off of the highway.
For the approach to The House I flipped tracks to "Amoreena", a much more light and fun tune to bring me in for a landing.
I picked up the mail, and when I did, I thought I felt a letter drop on the ground. I put on the dash light to see into the mailbox ... it was empty .... I backed up a bit, and let the headlights shine on it but it was just grass, gravel, and tar, so I just parked the car. But this time I decided to park in my Mom's old spot on the other side of the house for a change. It's equidistant from the front door but more mail comes to my aunt's side so I most often just park there.
I got out of the car and gathered my few things that had now become many, with all of the newspapers and mail and whatnot. I shut the door of my car with my knee and wheeled around to make the short, long walk to the front door.
I entered and said hello to the house.
I patted each of the urns on their tops and said hello to my folks (I know it's not my mom and dad but I've called my mom and aunt my folks for years).
I got into my PJ's and went looking for my slippers.
I have to have my slippers.
But they were nowhere to be found; I looked everywhere.
I traipsed around and eventually found what I would call novelty slippers: oversized; with garish, jungle print; and not really comfortable. I can assure you that there are probably twelve pairs of them in various boxes, set aside as gifts, for people who haven't been met yet.
I put them on and they felt silly.
I decided to go get the backup pair that I keep in my car for emergencies.
Yes ... for emergencies ... just like this one.
I grabbed the flashlight.
I walked to my car.
And I saw that I had left my dash light on ...
And I just stood there in awe.
Why on earth would this happen?
I had no other reason to go back to my car. I had purposely gotten everything in that I needed, especially since a string of the solar lights lining the walkway that my aunt loved so much had stopped working and it was tough to see my way in.
I immediately thanked my mother and aunt for saving me a call to AAA in the morning because I never did buy jumper cables after the last fiasco.
I got my slippers from my car, turned off the dash light, and came inside and put the slippers on my feet.
Now it felt like home.
I grabbed my computer so I could write this story.
And when I sat down on the couch ... and I looked down to my left at the space between the ottoman and the treadmill ...
There they were, one pair of carefully placed slippers--the ones I had searched the whole house for--sitting there, grinning a silly slipper grin, saying to me:
"Welcome home, Alex ... we love you."
You may think I'm crazy ... but you have absolutely no idea.
I hope you enjoyed reading this short, silly, tale of something that some may say was mere coincidence, and others--namely me--would call a little bit more ... 'cause I can.
Now I'm going to watch some TV.
It's TV season, you know.
Thanks for reading,
PS: Goodbye summer of 2008. You were an adventure and a heartbreaker and I will never forget you.
What autumn will bring, I can only imagine.
I'm open for just about anything.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/22/2008 09:42:00 PM
Sunday, September 21, 2008
It's 10:07 p.m.
I'm soaking my feet in hot water and epsom salts while I wait for the knock at the door that signals my Chinese food feast is about to begin.
For those who are/were curious about my battle of the bulge, I had put on about five pounds during the last week and a half of my aunt's illness. All she was able to eat was coffee ice cream and I couldn't just let her eat it alone.
I have to admit that it was funny, every once in a while, to open the front door and come in and see her with a half gallon of ice cream, a spoon, a paper towel, and a smile on her face.
She was a good smiler ... it's a family trait.
So, anyway, I have managed to drop said bag of sugar over the last week and a half and am now stuck at 206.
It's still eighteen pounds from where I started back in June, which I'm very pleased at. I still plan on losing another twenty, but I gotta take things slow right now.
And when I say that, I don't just mean in a philosophical way ... I mean I can't physically move very fast.
Let me explain.
Two mornings ago I awoke to begin my weekend of performing my band, Drunk Stuntmen's, original rock score to the 1924 silent film version of Peter Pan. We were commissioned to write and perform the score back in 2000 (revisiting it again in 2005) at the Academy of Music, here in 'Hamp, as well as MASS MoCa in North Adams, and Real Artways in Hartford. It's a lot of music to a long film (102 min.) and thanks to our keyboardist, Scott Hall, we were able to put it back together in a short span of time with plenty of other stuff going on both personal and work related.
The show is/was put on in Hartford this time and I had a plan to just drive from Mattapoisett where I had spent a few days freaking out (see the last couple of entries).
As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I was wondering what kind of penance I would be handed for my pharmaceutical indulgence. While I'm not even close to what one would call a religious man, I am very superstitious and believe in the power of karma above all else.
If you do the right thing as much as you can ... a lot of times, it shows up in other places of your life.
I can't prove it, but I can't disprove it either and that's fine with me.
One other thing about karma. You may not readily notice positive outcomes from your actions, but when you screw up, the retribution becomes quite apparent, almost immediately ... as I was saying.
I got my things together as best I could and made it out the door at 8:15 a.m. to begin my trek to Hartford.
Not on a day I really need to be on time.
Wouldn't you just know that there would be one god damned flat tire on my car, sitting there, slumped on one haunch like a pup with a nail in its paw.
Okay, I can handle this, it's just a flat tire. Let's just take my amp out of the back and remove the jack and take the spare out and jack up the car and take the old tire off and ...
Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwccchhhhhh!!!!!!!!! ... my back ... my poor, abused, overworked and battlescsarred back.
You know when you know your body well enough that you can properly gauge how much damage you just inflicted and how long it will take to repair itself.
Oh, excuse me. My food's here.
Whew! That was tasty.
So, I knew exactly what I was in store for, and it wasn't going to be pretty.
It's ironic when I stop to think about what they prescribe those little, round, white pills for ... and then I think about how I had used them.
So, anyway, I threw out my back and had to change the flat, but I was done and back on the road in fifteen minutes flat. I was pretty impressed with myself--it's an awful habit.
With the help from a few Stuntmen I managed to get to the gig on time, have someone pick up my notes from Northampton, and lend me enough cords to play my guitar with.
This withdrawal is a lot worse than I thought and my brain is definitely not where it should be, even now, at a week clean.
It's nice when you show up at a place you haven't been to in eight years and they have pitchers of Bloody Marys and donuts to greet you. I enjoyed a delicious coffee, something I've become increasingly fond of, much to the chagrin of my better senses. But Real Artways took great care of us. Hell, I even took a shower there. It's a new thing I do--not really the showering part. I've done that all my life--but if there's a shower available to use (like on Leno) I'll take advantage of it. I feel complete ... and clean ... and just a bit more comfy.
The show went well. It's kind of hard to describe it because it's so involved, but basically, we wrote different parts and themes for different characters which pop up in various pertinent places in varying keys, feels, and lengths. Then there's all the other music that has to go on underneath it all because it's a silent movie. If we're not playing, or Steve's not narrating (which, he did a fantastic job taking the reins from Mike Flood who had done it in the original) then there's just action on the screen. Some movies can get away with that; not this one.
Dave, our drummer, had a spot of trouble getting there which provided a lovely dose of stress.
But, at the end of the afternoon, the show was over, and we could depart knowing we had at least brought it to completion.
I came home, ate the rest of my pre-packaged Oscar Mayer honey turkey and crawled into bed.
At 7:30 p.m. I fell asleep.
I woke up thirteen hours later ready to do it all again.
This time I took Dave with me so his car could be spared the abuse.
Today's show was even better and the crowd was definitely into it a bit more, which is always nice.
Dan Richardson, our sound man extraordinaire, did a fantastic job mixing the show.
After the show there was a big bottle of Jack Daniels and more Bloodys for the boys. My coffee was delicious and went fine with a piece of banana bread.
And now, a huge and seemingly insurmountable task on my docket can be successfully checked off. As much as I love this project, and as good as it sounds, it came at one of the most inopportune times of my life and I wish I could have enjoyed the process more. Instead I was a ball of stress; shaky and tired around the eyes.
I spoke to a friend about my recent malfeasance with the pills.
He said, "Man! And you almost made it nine months."
And I said, "Well, it's not the worst thing in the world. I could have drank, or done other things, but ... well ... I guess its not exactly 100% sober now is it?"
To which he replied, "Not by a long shot, Al. Not by a long shot."
And he is right.
And I know now, even more than I did when I had just made my decision to go public, and sort of got all huffy about what I'm going to call what I'm doing now and almost getting mad before I got any grief from anybody ... I kind of didn't realize how badly I had fucked up my insides, both my brain and the rest of my body.
But I didn't start this blog on day one of my sobriety, either.
I started it on the first day of 2008.
It is a note on the passage of time, not the means to an end.
The way I see it, I can have my cake and ice cream too, if I so please. I just have to keep my ice cream in the freezer a bit longer while I enjoy my delicious cake.
December 27 is the last day I had a drop of alcohol.
That milestone will still stand, until--god forbid--it has to change, and I won't be shy in the least of starting my clock all over again. I had easy access to booze over this last week and I chose not to drink. In fact--and some of you may not believe me--it didn't even cross my mind. It used to be that I wouldn't take pills without booze because I didn't feel like I was doing it right. I felt like I wasn't giving it my all.
That's crazy talk.
Those thoughts did not enter my brain for one second, and it's only a few thousand seconds to the closest package store.
But that is what alcohol--and I can safely say that it has mainly been alcohol--for 22 years has guided my decisions and driven me to do stupid and unconscionable things. It has been what has led to failed relationships, untimely terminations, poor social skill usage, and other embarrassing situations I'd rather not discuss.
So, I'm going to agree with my friend that I can't really lump that last week into the last eight and a half months as being "sober." But, once again, this blog doesn't start with my first sober day. And, as of right now, there is no end to it in sight. It's just a way of me to express how I feel and what I've accomplished, and that, along with the support I have gotten from so many people in my world recently, shows me that it is worth it, to just keep on my journey of making music, making friends, seeing the world, and staying clean and sober.
Oh, so that thing about karma?
I hadn't had lunch by the time we got back (about 5:30 p.m.) and I was hung-ry.
I stopped into the Gallery to put in a few hours working downstairs.
It was weird to see my boss's car there, after hours, along with a couple others that I didn't recognize.
I went up to take a look and there were about 150 people up there schmoozing.
I found out later that it was an Obama rally where you paid $300 for a few lectures and some bruschetta, brie, and portobello and maybe a chicken spear if you're lucky, like me.
No wonder I was getting funny looks as I filled up a couple of plates of food in my jeans, t-shirt and bandanna and adjourned where the non-tweedded reside.
I got to eat (something I desired), because I went in to work (something I dislike, but felt was necessary).
Karma works ... I do it for the benefits.
So, my penance may be over. Only time and my own actions will tell.
All I know is that I don't want to ever feel like I did last week.
And each day, I make a little progress in achieving that goal.
But there is no trophy to receive.
There is no giant oversized check to be given.
There will be no call from the President.
But it will become apparent when something changes and the dreams become less foggy and more like I remember before the reception started to get all fuzzy and distorted.
It will be clear.
It will be still.
It will be simple.
It will be everything I want.
I just have to want it bad enough.
And I do.
Thanks for reading,
PS: Oh yeah, my fortune cookie. I almost forgot.
"You will enjoy good health. You will be surrounded by luxury."
Hot damn! I think I like the sound of that.
Tune in next week when I get the results from my doctor on my cholesterol and my new HDTV gets installed.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/21/2008 10:05:00 PM
Friday, September 19, 2008
You can move the chairs from one room to the next, and sit there, and think it's a bit different.
You can unroll the rug that had laid curled up like some oriental scroll on the floor and put the chairs from the other room on it, and sit there, and think it's a bit different.
You can do what has never, in all the years I have known, been done and leave all the fucking doors open--screen doors too--and throw plates and pots on the floor and knock over the nightstand and throw clean clothes on the floor and open the fridge and leave it open for a good seven or eight minutes, and sit there, and think it's a bit different.
But when you're done doing all of that, and you can barely breathe, that's when it hits you.
Because, that's when you come across a clear plastic bag with an unused, pink plate and folded napkin with a "Happy Birthday" motif on it, alongside a card that your mother gave to her sister--before the shit hit the fan back in 2004--and it says how much she loves her and how proud she was to have been her sister for as many years as she has, by her side--literally--for the better part of almost 60 years, and you realize that neither of them have no idea what's about to fucking happen, that's when it hits you.
And you were there.
You were part of a piece of time sliced so neatly, so ceremoniously, so selflessly (almost as if she didn't believe she really did deserve the first slice), and so wrapped together, neatly, for me to find ... and it just leveled me.
Flat out, on the floor, clutching the shag on the rug that I never liked, leveled.
And that was when I realized it was different.
I'm finally mourning.
I'm finally getting out the angst.
I can barely see through the tears, and the only thing that's keeping me from punching the wall is that I'm typing.
It really happened, and I finally can't ignore it or sugar-coat it.
I'm finally done with the bullshit of how "Oh, I knew it was just a matter of time" ... or ... "well, at least she's not suffering anymore" ... or ... "well, look how many thousands of people died in that thing in that country on the other side of the fucking world."
Well this is my world ... in a plastic bag ... with a card, a napkin, and a paper plate.
Please do not be alarmed at my words. I have had people call and write to me worried that I would do something rash.
I will not.
I have too much to accomplish.
I'm just finally coming to terms with how final it really is.
I miss the coupon cutting.
I miss the bargain shopping.
I miss using the Dinner for Two book that is sitting on the coffee table inching its way towards expiration. She'd whip that thing out before the waitress even got us our waters, just to make sure she knew we meant business. Recently, over the last year or so, if a restaurant had changed ownership and the coupon wasn't accepted, she even let that slide and didn't begrudge paying for both meals, but not without commenting on how I better finish everything on my plate if we're paying full price.
I miss the toasts I finally taught them both to make. You don't just toast by clinking your glasses and putting them down on the table. You say what you say, look in each others eyes, clink your glasses, and then you must drink, regardless of whether you are thirsty or not, or whether you fear you'll get lipstick on the glass before we take pictures and you have to put more on.
Its simple, but so many people never learned how to do it proper.
You don't toast because you're thirsty.
You toast to toast.
You toast because, for the love of christ, you can.
You toast, among other things, for those who are not fortunate enough to have the luxury of drinking from a glass.
You toast, among other things, to how another year has come and gone since the first day you were born.
You toast, among other things, to the memory of those with whom you toasted, not long ago, when you toasted to the memory of someone who wasn't there anymore.
You toast, among other things, to how good life can be, even when it isn't.
You toast, among other things, to how good it feels to have the pressure and the inertia of another glass to touch yours, because just the right amount of force will produce a satisfying "clink" while too much may crack the glass and send the waiter running for a rag.
And he's running for a rag right now.
And I'm at a table for one.
Thanks for reading.
PS: It's finally cold again.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/19/2008 04:29:00 PM
Thursday, September 18, 2008
First off, I want to thank all of you who wrote to me both in binary code as well as in regular ink on paper.
You know who you are, and if you don't, you should see a specialist.
I'd like to thank all of you who called. I try to answer the phone even when I don't want to, so, if you got a message, I must have been mashing avocados.
I'd like to also offer an addendum to my last post.
I wrote about how my whole family is dead and how I'm so god damned alone in this world right now (I know, maudlin to the end).
But I forgot to mention the support I have received from the "other" Johnsons who live in Washington state: Norma, Dirk, and Heather.
Norma is my aunt; Dirk and Heather are my cousins. And the one missing piece in the puzzle is my mother and aunt's older brother: Uncle Alex.
My Uncle Alex died ten years ago from lung cancer.
He was in his sixties and had just retired from over thirty years in the Navy.
His wife, Norma, works at a local hospice facility (and has for many years) and suggested some places I could seek out for grief counseling.
Heather and Dirk are both my age and are helping me the way they can. They write both in pen and electronically, and they call me to see how I'm doing.
They are all wonderful people and I'm glad I have them in my life.
I didn't mean to slight them by saying I'm alone, but I can't hug a phone now that they started making them so small.
So, I've got that off my chest.
On to the elephant shit in the middle of the room.
I'm still detoxing from the Oxys.
They are almost as insidious a drug as alcohol.
And that's why I have decided to consider that I am nine days away from being nine months sober.
I've never been one to nitpick.
I let a lot of things slide.
And I'll be damned if I let something like this derail me from my main goal in this whole process:
To be true to me.
And, to me, as long as, from this day forward, I do not pick up a pill, joint, balloon (yes, they count), four-way (look it up), or bottle for the rest of my days I will consider myself a success.
This last week was a test.
I did not pass said test.
But this thing we all go through called life is filled with tests. Some we do well on; others we don't.
I will average this test in with all the others that have come before, and will come in the future, and take my score upon a time of my choosing.
But not before.
And not until I say so.
Because who the hell does it really matter to if it doesn't matter to me most of all.
Thanks for reading,
PS: I just got cable back, I have a 50" plasma on order for my living room, and a 36" for my bedroom.
Much like the Patriots who experienced a setback they could have never predicted, I am ready to go on with my season, as it were.
And yes, I am ready for some football.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/18/2008 01:22:00 PM
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
How many more times can I do it.
You know that walking around the room, looking for something that you know in your right mind probably still isn't there. You do it without much forethought, and you can't stop picturing the exact spot you left it ... whatever it was.
And I'm feeling stupider and more guilty by the minute, because if there are any ghosts watching me right now, I just know that they are having just as hard a time looking at me as I am looking for it.
And I know all too well that I should just stop it.
Just motherfucking stop it.
Let's recap, shall we?:
My mother's dead.
My father's dead.
My aunt's dead.
All of the pets I've had over the years are dead.
And, for all intents and purposes, at this time in my life, I might as well be dead too.
I didn't drink.
I didn't blow fat rails of coke up my nose.
I didn't roll good weed up and get high as a kite.
But I took some pills.
Some bad pills.
And you know what?
They made me feel awful.
How's about that?
I took them because a man called my last name from around the corner of my house as I was crying my eyes out and handed me an envelope.
I scribbled a "name" on it and ran inside and took some.
And now, a week later, they are all gone.
And my aunt is still dead.
In fact, I went and picked her ashes up at the funeral home today and put them alongside my mother's.
And now I'm going to lay down on the couch that is across from both urns and hope that they can get together on this and come up with a suitable penance.
I don't want the damn things anymore.
They've only caused me trouble.
And now they're feeding the bacteria in the sewer like they should have a week ago.
I apologize to me
I apologize to them.
I apologize to you.
And I hope this makes a difference, no matter how small.
Thanks for reading,
And on we go ...
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/16/2008 08:46:00 PM
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
On Saturday night, at 1:20 a.m., my aunt, Lynda Jean Johnson, passed away after a valiant battle with cancer.
It has been four months since we got the diagnosis of incurable melanoma--four long, unpredictable months.
But we knew this day would eventually come.
She had asked me to please refrain from mentioning her illness in my blog--a forum which scared her terribly, what with my sordid personal life splayed out on the table--and I honored her wishes as best I could.
I tried to showcase her compassion, humility, thriftiness, uniqueness, and strength through my stories, past and present.
I tried to keep her an active character in the daily detailing of my life, because, for the last four months, I have been with her more than I haven't.
I tried to persistently seek out answers to the questions of my past, the questions of her past, and the questions of family members' past that I never knew.
I never let too much silence go by without saying I loved her.
And she always told me she loved me now, she loved me then, and she will love me for ever and ever.
And she told me that she believed I would be alright.
She told me she had faith that I had turned a corner and could see the importance of keeping my life together--because I had a good one.
And I'd rub her head and tell her that I only had a good one because of the way I was raised.
And she would smile, and sometimes she would cry.
Much like I did, and do, for the memories are so fresh.
And while my family tree may have lost its two biggest and most recognizable branches in the last 20 months, the memories of the shade their limbs provided to play and grow under will endure. The ideas I have learned of what makes a decision the right one will be honored and implemented. And the willingness to accept that sometimes things are beyond my control and comprehension will last as long as electricity continues to run through my brain to complement the blood that runs through my veins.
I will make damn sure of that.
I will be honoring the life of my aunt in upcoming posts in a bit more thorough manner, but I did want to tell those of you who read what I write, and either do know her, or know her only through pictures and words, what has happened.
My aunt, towards the end, had somewhat of a mantra that helped her keep her sanity.
She said she even wanted it as her epitaph.
Simply put, she said: "It's okay, I've had my turn."
And she did, as we all do.
And with that, I will say goodbye to a woman whose impact on my writing may only become apparent now that she is gone.
She was my editor.
She would send me a detailed listing of all of the errors (and there were many in the beginning) and I would fix them and repost them.
And, as the English teacher that she was for thirty years, it made my intent clearer and my understanding more complete.
Goodnight Aunty Lynda,
I love you forever and ever.
Lynda J. Johnson Dec. 15, 1947- Sept. 7, 2008
As per request, there will be no services.
Donations in her name can be made to:
Habitat for Cats
PO Box 79571
N. Dartmouth, MA
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/10/2008 07:05:00 PM
Sunday, September 7, 2008
My life took a time out
But not for real
I just got to catch my breath and find a new patch of grass
And while I was gone my house caught fire
I have no idea what kind of damage was done
I have no idea who is alive and who is not
Because I'm stuck on the side lines, waiting for the whistle
I'm stuck on the side lines, waiting for release
I'm stuck on the side lines, clenching my fists that were relaxed hours earlier
And I just want to put someone against the boards
I can feel it around my eyes
I can feel it in my knuckles
I can feel it in the back of my thighs
I can feel it
Part of me just wants to sleep
Part of me just wants to dream
I don't want to face what's almost in front of me
And the clock ticks away, and the bugs click and whir, and the faucet drips on the stainless steel, eroding a microscopic piece of metal away from the sink on towards the drain
And you'd never know it to look at it
You'd never know it to listen to it
You'd never know it to feel its surface
But it's a little thinner
It's a little less there
And if I wanted to I could empty the pipe and collect the runaway metal
But where would I put it
Where would I save it
Where would I care for it
I have no idea
So I'll just let it go
Thanks for reading,
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/07/2008 10:44:00 PM
This sure ain't no vacation.
Eight shows in five days.
It's a small school with a small theater.
The place filled up in a matter of minutes--it had been sold out as of that afternoon.
Essentially we travel the world, playing a show a night, if not more, providing an unparalleled, and heretofore singular musical and theatrical experience.
But we like to gawk, too.
My aunt had slipped me some money to go on a nighttime tour of the monuments.
She had had the good fortune to hook up with an all expenses paid trip to D.C. back in August of 2005, right before my mom got her diagnosis; she says it was one of the best things she's ever done.
Steve agreed to go, and so we signed up and met the bus at our hotel at 6:30.
But not before a tasty filet mignon at the hotel restaurant.
Our happy-go-lucky waiter virtually floated from our table to the kitchen on what seemed like a thin layer of fabulousness that coated the carpeted floor. He made sure we were served in time to slow down and eat and enjoy every bite, which we did.
We made it to the bus just in the nick of time. Our driver was a bit of a sleazeball who tried to curry our favor by telling us that, because we were all there and ready early, that he was going to show us the White House from a different angle than most people get. He was doing us a solid.
I could smell it; Steve could smell it; half the bus could smell it.
But he brought us and told us we had to hurry and get our picture (which sounded like he was asking us to get our "pitcher") and get back on the bus.
He must have told us three times where the bathrooms were located in the monuments. But I just had to go and get a coffee with Steve and end up having to go on the bus. When he did a headcount and he didn't see me, Steve told him where I was.
As I came sheepishly out of the head I heard, "People ... I've tried to point out how there are many bathroom opportunities at all of the monuments. Please use them first ... thank you."
So, anyway, we got to see the monuments ...
And when we were standing around the Jefferson memorial I heard a stoner dude in a hoodie and a Phish t-shirt say, "Hey, TJ ... you liked to smoke weeeeeeeeed, didn't you? Didn't you? Yeahhhhhh ... you did ... you were cool."
I think this picture below should settle the does-Freddy-have-the-largest-head-in-the-world debate once and for all.
Below is from the FDR memorial; one of the better and more interactive of the ones we saw that evening.
By the end of the tour there were a few people who had clearly had enough of the constant getting up and walking twenty feet and looking at stuff. They just stayed on the bus and did sudoku.
And then, three and a half hours later, we were dropped off at our hotel.
I, without thinking, ran downstairs to put in 30 minutes on the treadmill.
The rest of the night was spent staring at the flat-screen TV and picturing that McCain guy's face superimposed on the body of a gerbil.
It's easy and fun to do.
And after a nice sleep on my Select-Comfort bed ...
... it was time for breakfast and another day of music, mayhem, and free pens of all shapes and sizes.
We had rehearsal at the church again. This time, in addition to the blasphemous songs I mentioned in yesterday's post, we added Wilco's "Theologians" to the list.
They don't know nothin'
About my soul
They don't know
So, after a couple of sacrilegious hours of making music at the altar we headed to the convention center.
This time, they let us in no problem and we got to drive right in almost to the floor of the center.
This woman was clearly put off by her diminutive husband's request for extra time to walk around at the convention. Nobody seemed to notice his constant waving and stretching from her green bag.
I felt kind of bad, but it seemed like a domestic dispute and I didn't want to get in the middle of it.
It's interesting to see the kinds of people who are working the booths of the convention.
There are a few--and I mean a few--that seem like they're there to help the state of the senior citizen. The have some research they have done on osteoporosis, or memory function, and they just want to share; they have only respect to gain from their presence.
Then there are the people who are manning the booths for companies who were hired exclusively for this gig. Most of them are female and in their twenties. They look as bored as a kid stuck in a parked Dodge Dart, waiting for their mom to finish making small talk with the neighbor so she can take them to school.
I'd say they get about $9.50 an hour; probably no break on the pedestrian, overpriced food; and access to the same free junk that we all do.
Then there are the celebrities like Richard Petty who come and sign autographs. He's pretty well known and easily recognizable even if he didn't have a cardboard cutout right next to him.
Then there are these two freaks who, I think, have a health book out.
They cause excitement merely because they are standing in front of a giant, full color, poster of themselves, and behind an imposing table covered in brochures. I had no idea who they were, but since most other people just had the names of their product or service, they stood out. The sign says they are Bart and Cherry Starr and that Bart is a famous football player, but I think they are aliens sent here to observe and absorb our strong feelings of adulation for celebrity.
I could be wrong.
Or, I could be an alien.
Then, there are people like this who are hired to come here and perform a service like health checks or massages. These women took good care of me both times I came over and sat and waited in a long line. When my girl, LaVonne, finally called me, it was a bit of a commotion as she had all the other ladies there come over and look at my tattoo (the one with the naked angel with the big boobs). After some good-natured prodding and chastising, I got a good working over.
All I know is that if you don't have something you're giving away, be it a massage, a photo-op, a chip-bag-clip-magnet, or even a bowl of Hershey's Kisses, nobody's going to stop at your booth.
I found a booth with a guy sitting down, and on the table were ear plugs. I said, loudly, "Now here's something I can actually use." And then I noticed it was a booth for the hearing impaired. He just looked at me and smiled. I sheepishly picked up the five page brochure that was attached to the ear-plugs, along with a pen, and put it all in my bag.
I have no shame ... not when I get my sample on.
Madness ... simply madness.
But back to the reason I'm there at all: making music.
The shows that day were good. Once again, these are twenty minute performances that go by in a flash, but the folks who assemble in front of us love every minute of it.
We got these hats from the travel agent people.
In between shows I collected even more crap to clutter up my house.
Selected fun items include: a red and white pill-shaped de-stresser (how ironic) that you squeeze in your hand; a little clip-on book light; some Glucosamine energy drinks; and a little hand-held fan that flashes lights on it and makes me feel like I'm going to have a seizure when I stare directly at it (I take my buzzes where I can get them these days).
Then we did our 4:30 show and hit the bricks.
I took a quick swim and went out with Ken for some tasty Italian food.
As we were walking to the restaurant, we passed what looked like the White House. Upon closer inspection I noticed that it was, in fact, the White House--a few, scant blocks from the hotel. This, coupled with noticing earlier that my room cost $439, gave me a new understanding of the grandiosity of it all.
I had no idea I was living so large.
We had been so busy that I hadn't had a chance to savor the treatment.
No rest for the wicked, although some of the wicked ride Rascal Scooters.
Asleep by 11:00 p.m.; up at 6:00 a.m..
In the van for 6:40 a.m. and out to the convention center for soundcheck in the big hall; the grand ballroom; the 14,000 seater; the first big gig of the day.
The boys set up and acted professional ...
The Chorus showed up and we did our 25 minute show ... from 8:30 a.m. to 8:55 a.m.
When we started there were a few hundred people in the auditorium.
By the third song there was about 2,000.
(Check out Bob on the giant monitors)
And then something wonderful happened.
Quincy Jones and Maya Angelou were to give a talk as part of the closing ceremonies for the convention.
I didn't know what kind of proximity I'd have to them.
I didn't really care, I was just excited to be anywhere near such amazing talent.
The security backstage was tight.
We were all sort of milling about--the band, the Chorus, and our production staff--when a wheelchair with an elderly black woman, dressed in a light green dress, was wheeled in our direction--it was Maya.
She had her people stop for a few seconds to say hi to the Chorus but it was quick--no time to chat; certainly no time for a photo.
She was introduced to the room to a big ovation--she is a living legend.
While she was making a few opening remarks--we were all still backstage--I saw some well dressed black men wearing fancy hats come our way with a man a bit shorter and older than them in the middle--it was Quincy.
One of this country's foremost talents--producer, arranger, composer, performer, and just about anything else involved with music you could think of.
And he was coming my way.
It all happened so fast that it was over almost before it began.
I approached him gently and quietly--it was very dark backstage and I didn't want to cause too much of a commotion.
He had people all around him, but I got his attention.
"Mr. Jones," I said, "It's a pleasure to meet you."
And he took my extended hand and shook it. He even added an extra soul shake or two.
He looked me up and down. I was wearing black pants, a black shirt, my pork pie hat, and my "all access" laminate.
It was about 9:15 a.m.
At this point Quincy Jones spoke to me.
"Man ... what'chu doin' up this early ... you're a musician, right?"
"Workin', Mr. Jones," I said ... "I'm workin'"
"Man ... "
And then he was whisked away by his guys and brought up to the stage area while I just stood there and smiled.
Quincy Jones had my number.
I was shellshocked.
And he proceeded to speak with Maya Angelou for the next hour.
This will be a hard experience to top.
We did our two other obligatory shows for NAMM and beat feet. We still had our nighttime show.
Four in one day--a new record.
The Duke Ellington school is a predominantly black high school focusing on the performing arts.
It's a small school with a small theater.
It also had a small problem--no power.
There had been some high winds and rain earlier in the day and it had knocked the power out to much of the building.
Our techs, Dan Richardson and John Laprade--sound and lighting respectively--did their best to get the room up and running for us. They found outlets halfway across the building that had power and hooked up alternative AC.
But the show couldn't go on without lights in the bathroom and lights in the hallways.
At seven o'clock, when we still didn't have any power, the director of the theater told us that if nothing happened in fifteen minutes we'd have to cancel the show. The Chorus had already warmed up and all of our gear was set up. It would be a shame to break the momentum and pack everything away regardless of how tired we all were.
I heard the a/c turn on before I saw the shadows disappear.
And at 7:12 p.m., the lights came on and I heard a cheer ring through the building.
All systems were go.
We did a quick soundcheck onstage with the renewed energy, both electrical as well as of spirit--this was to be the last time we performed this show--"Alive and Well"-- in its entirety and no one wanted it to end like this.
The place filled up in a matter of minutes--it had been sold out as of that afternoon.
And from the minute the curtain came up I knew it was going to be special.
The crowd was alive. From the response to certain songs I could tell that a lot of them had seen the movie. The lights were amazing and the sound was, as usual, unparalleled. This show is not an easy one to mix, but Dan does an amazing job.
We got two standing ovations. When the second one came, nobody sat back down. For all of Dylan's "Forever Young" the whole crowd stood on their feet, loving every second of it. It was quite moving--the typical response of us lazy ilk being to sit.
I noticed something new. It seems that cell phones have replaced the trusty Bic lighter for holding up in one hand and swaying back and forth during ballads. It is a sign of the times that--to me--is both healthy as well as unsettling.
Behold, the magic and mystery of Stan Goldman.
And so, the Young at Heart marathon came to a close.
It's 3:10 a.m. and I couldn't go to bed without finishing this piece.
A lot has happened in a short time. I barely had a chance to walk more than a few blocks. I suppose some day we'll return. But for now I will leave D.C. with a good feeling. I know that it's going to be a charged atmosphere over the next phase of political America. I know that there will be a lot of grandiosity and fervor, and I'm sure there will be a lot of entertainment to go along with it. With the close of this trusty two-act show I can say that I too am ready for change. I don't know what shape the next production will ultimately take, but I can say for certain that I will be a part of it. And I know that I am thrilled to be able to make a few thousand people forget about their troubles and believe in the healing and bonding powers of music ... no matter how old they are.
And who knows, they may want us back next year.
It's in Vegas.
Yeah ... I think that would be a fun time, too.
Thanks for reading.
PS: This trip was made so much more enjoyable having this man as our bus driver from NoHo to D.C. and back again.His name is Wayne and he rocks.
It's good to have good people around as much as possible.
Wayne is one of the best.
On behalf of the Chorus and the band I'll just simply say, thank you.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 9/07/2008 03:28:00 AM