Thursday, December 24, 2009

Day seven hundred and nineteen ... A Christmas wish.

Cars and bags and carriages careen, crinkle, and crash everywhere.

Christmas Eve paces and peeks like a nervous bride with a too-tight dress.

I sail around in traffic with a cart designed to put food inside. I take it out and let it roll and tumble past the wrestler with a temper and on towards the happy man bagging and whistling and wishing me well.

The sound of bells is everywhere.

I sail around with my cart in a different kind of traffic designed to get me home, lucky if I am, and make it indoors. I take it out and put it in different places in my house. Places where I've learned over years of watching, helping, forgetting, and regretting sometimes.

I put the food away and listen as some things claw the insides of the bags they're in.

And I sit waiting for a girl to come by. The girl I love. The girl who calls me everyday.

It's time for our first Christmas.

It was different last year.

It was different the year before that.

It was different two years ago.

And there were never really two years that were exactly the same, come to think of it.

It'll be different next year.

And the year after that.

And if there was one year when it actually was the same as the one before I would hazard to suspect that something was wrong.

So I'll turn the lights on around me because it's getting dark quick. But I'll cherish the four and a half minutes we've gained.

I don't know when I'll call for them.

I don't know how they will get used.

I just know that I have to play this game just like everyone. The game of conjuring up happiness from the bottom of my feet to the tips of my hands on up to the back of my neck and the place where the ruler rests to tell me how tall I've gotten.

At least that's the game I play.

And just like I won't know when those four and a half minutes will get used I won't know when I'm winning the game. Because if we play it right and we play it long enough it ceases to be a game. Its beginning becomes void. And we hop off of the second hand we've been clinging to--stuttering and jolting us each forward move--and run around the face of the clock past the numbers, date, markers, and make.

All I know is that it's time for our first Christmas.

Let it begin now.

Let it be remembered.

And let it be different than every other one.

So far it's always been that way so I see no reason it won't today.

Merry Christmas, and thanks for reading.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day seven hundred and ten ... For my aunt.

My Aunt Lynda is definitely smiling down upon me right now.

See, today would have been her sixty-second birthday. She passed away a year ago last September after a valiant battle with cancer. It was a tragic end to a great woman. But this great woman loved her birthdays like not too many people I know.

December fifteenth was always a big day in the Johnson household. My aunt was the third of three children, which meant that she always had to share almost everything growing up ...

Everything except her birthday.

For many years I had renewed her subscription to Cat Fancy magazine. She was known in certain circles as "Catlady J." and it seemed only appropriate that if I got Guitar Player Magazine being a guitar player, that she get her interest-appropriate magazine every month. Some people are hard to buy for; my aunt, not so much.

My mother would always find something nice for her, as well as taking her out for a semi-expensive meal (made extra delicious by way of a 2-for-one coupon, per her wishes). Her cats would inadvertently get added into the mix and get a small present or two, being an extension of herself.

All in all it was a grand time for Ms. Lynda J. Johnson. And for a woman who seemed to have a few too many worries on a regular basis this day was an exception.

Two years ago on this day, I was on tour with the Young at Heart Chorus. We were in France for three weeks with a return date of December 16th. This, of course, was one day after my aunt's sixtieth birthday. It wasn't the most ideal of circumstances but a job is a job and we decided to celebrate when I got back.

My responsibilities were simple back then. All I had to do was make sure that she got a card on time--handmade, of course--as well as a few selected chocolates. My aunt loved chocolate. So, I stayed up late one night with a pad of hotel paper, some magic markers I had brought along, and an active imagination and drew her up a nice one. I spent half a day trying to find some unique chocolate for this very particular woman. Surprisingly, it wasn't too hard to do, and so my next task was to put it all together and get it in the mail.

Sounds easy, right?

Not in France. No sirree.

I found the post office. I found a clerk. And then I found myself at a complete loss for words--French words, that is. And I stood there pantomiming that I had a card and a bunch of chocolate for my aunt and could he please help me find the right box that would get it to the USA on time for her birthday.

Luckily, my mom must have been listening because as I was about to just turn around and walk out disgraced a woman turned my way who had been listening and said, "would you like me to help you?"

Would I? Heavens! Within a matter of ten minutes we had the right box picked out and I was putting the addresses in the right places. I found some newspaper to ball up so that the chocolate wouldn't get broken in transit. I thanked the nice French lady, and then I stood in line with my number--you have to take a number there--and waited, watching the big digital display above me, hoping I could piece together which teller had called out "85."

It's not that they make you feel stupid in France if you don't speak the language. It just happens, regardless.

So I brought my package up and gave it to the nice French postal employee. He smirked and stamped it and put it in a big box in the middle of the row of tellers. He swiped my debit card and gave me a receipt, another smirk, and then he called out some other number loudly as I walked away triumphant.

And I almost got halfway down the stairs before I realized I had used the wrong god damned zip code!

Holy crap! This can't be. It won't get to her on time for the 15th if it gets to her at all. All I could picture was some French postal office back room with four or five employees breaking off big hunks of my aunt's birthday chocolate, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, sipping espresso, and swearing in French about the stupid American who doesn't even know his own zip code. Sacre bleu!

So I swung around and ran back in. I raced to the ticket dispenser and took another ticket. Then I took my place in line again. Again! And I stood like I do sometimes when I know I'm going to be called by someone in an official position, but I don't want to go to them--I want to go to the other person who looks nicer, or better yet, knows me. I stood slightly outside of the line without being in the line--without giving up my spot--and craned my head towards the person I wanted to see, and I hoped for the best. Kind of like when I'm in a wicked rush and am in traffic and I sit forward a few inches almost as if it gives me an edge ... inside my car!

I ended up in front of the man who had taken the package the first time and somehow I managed to convey that I needed that box back--I had made a mistake. Now, this probably would never happen in the U.S., but he walked over, dug into the big postal laundry cart-type container and fished out my package ... the one for the Catlady, and he let me do my thing.

Then he smirked at me again--this time somewhat more relieved than superior--he put the box in the cart again, and then he called out another number as I walked out the door triumphant.

And I called Catlady J. up on December 15th and sang her Happy Birthday, then Stolat (the Polish birthday song), and we chatted on the phone for a while about how excited she was to get a package from France of all places. She loved the chocolate, she loved the gaudy little cat figurine that I had picked up for her at a French truck stop, and she absolutely loved the card I had made for her with hotel paper, some magic markers I had brought along, and an active imagination wishing her a "Happy Sixtieth Birthday" in 5 or 6 languages (I had even called down to the front desk to ask how to write it in French).

And as I hung up the black hotel phone receiver I felt like I had done what she wanted. All she wanted was to get a card on time, a phone call, and a couple of short, happy songs.

It was a great birthday.

So today, two years later, I woke up and I came downstairs and lit a candle under a picture of her. I sang a couple of short, happy songs into the air. I wrote out a check to her two favorite animal charities (Habitat For Cats, and A Helping Paw). And I used a coupon for two dollars off any meal at one of my favorite restaurants. I even brought back something that didn't work to the store where I bought it and I got my money back, no questions asked.

And these are all things she would appreciate.

These are all things that she valued.

Celebration, generosity, thrift, and recompense.

And I absolutely know she's smiling down upon me right now.

Because in addition to those thing that she loved ... she loved a good story with a happy ending most of all.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Lynda.


I love you, I miss you, and I thank you.


PS: thanks for reading.

I would be remiss not to give further information on my aunt's favorite charities:

Habitat For Cats
P.O. Box 79571
North Dartmouth, MA

A Helping Paw
P.O. Box 387
Buzzards Bay, MA

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day seven hundred and six ... The days on either end.

The days on either end of Christmas are so jealous.

I know a lot of people who--for non-religious reasons--could do without Christmas. I can't understand them any more than I can catch a spiraling football thrown at me from 50 yards away. That is to say I can't understand them at all.

But I would hazard to guess that my mother made that happen for me. She was the great orchestrator. She made sure the presents were wrapped and the ornaments safely put up on the tree. She got out the Christmas records and put up the paper cutouts of Santas and reindeer and elves on the wall. She made sure that I had a little something to wrap up for everyone in my family when the big day came.

And she instilled in me that not only is this time of the year special, but if you do it right you can elevate the rest of your days in each year to try to keep up with Christmas--to make them jealous.

It took me almost 40 years to understand, but I finally did. Thank god.

This year, like last year, the coming cold weather reminds me of how I felt right before the big change, when the great orchestrator passed on. I have a habit of saving my calendars. And if I looked for it I could find the date on the same calendar that was hanging on my wall that I got at the bank for free, like I always did, the year before ... when she was still very much here.

And, just as life suddenly changes forever, it somehow involuntarily retains its similarities.

The coats come out of hiding in the recesses of the closet crying for the lint brush. The gloves stuffed into hats fall on the floor for lack of remembering. The scarves get placed around necks, prepared to lose a few thousand strands more on our shoulders. And they all collectively say, "is it that time already?"

When this all happens I can't help but get a little worked up.

When this all happens the days on either end of Christmas get just a little more jealous.

I was never raised with much organized religion in my life. My babush (grandmother in Polish) was the last of the stalwart Catholics. When she died in 1980 there was a big mess with the local priest and what kind of service we should have. Shortly thereafter we actively parted ways and never looked back. So I don't really remember letting god muck up the holidays. Christmas was, for me, not about the birth of Jesus any more than it was about the birth of my aunt on December 15th (that holiday was far removed as if it happened in the summer, as per her request). This was a time for family, food, jokes, soda, T.V. and presents. Oh, and dressing up the dogs in little elf outfits. Although it really was just a switch of type of outfit; they wore at least some kind of clothes--be it a hat, a vest, or a fancy collar--on a semi-regular basis. But like I was saying, it wasn't so much of a religious time of year but a time of year when time was celebrated. When each clock ticked just a little louder. When the sun went to bed just a little bit earlier. And when the schoolwork got just a little bit easier, knowing that the pens, pencils, crayons, rulers, math paper, safety scissors, and lunch boxes would get stowed for a week or so to let overworked brains safely transition from letters and numbers to colors, shapes, tastes, sounds and smells.

In a time before remote controls--before video tapes even--before we could watch our life and the lives of others on screen in slow motion at the push of a button, the holiday season let me take in each frame and document each detail not caring if it would ever come again, because if it were done right the world could end on January 1st and I would feel like I got my money's worth.

It's only the 11th of December and there are plenty of days left of this holiday season. Jodi and I have been hard at work sending out cards and plotting who gets what for whom.

We went, together, and picked out a tree at the same place where I got one, alone, last year. The guy seemed to remember me. I definitely remembered him. We brought it home on her lunch break and put it in the corner of the dining room where it goes, then I drove her the half mile back to work. My hands got a little sticky from the sap. It smelled like cold, excited nature. That, I love.

We made a pot of potpourri on the stove with some cloves and cinnamon and allspice that my aunt had given me a couple of years ago. I forgot I had them until I pulled the pot out to make it. Nothing smells like that. Nothing.

We've been trimming the tree slowly. I now possess so many family ornaments it's staggering. This year we are making a few of our own and, at the same time, trying to use some restraint and choose each one that goes up carefully so as to not overdo it. There are a few that have yet to make their way on that are a must. But there is still--as I have said--plenty of time.

I have each year--for thirty years now--happily honored my very favorite Christmas album with a post-tree trimming listening party. That album would be John Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together, and this year was no different. If you grew up with it (it came out in 1979) then you know what I'm talking about. If not you may still enjoy it. It embodies all of what was good and right in the 1970's. John Denver was in his prime and The Muppets were the biggest non-human stars in the world (only to be rivaled by Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2). It's got some holiday classics and some originals played by studio greats (orchestrated by Ray Charles!) and sung with welcome restraint by a master of the sentimental. The whole album affects me and there is a certain gravitas that accompanies its debut every year.

I laid on my living room floor with my girlfriend in front of a roaring fire and pushed play ... and then came the tears. I cried and cried and cried. Because, for me, the 45 minutes of music it contains reminds me of so much. My babush would pass away a year after the album's release. She loved The Muppets, she loved Christmas, and she loved me. And each year following my mother tried so very hard to not let her absence overshadow the holidays. And each year we listened to this record. Needless to say it marks the end and the beginning of a way of life for me.

She was the first one who I loved to leave this earth on my watch.

This time of year means many things to so many different people. In almost every culture there is some kind of celebration, some kind of emotional enunciation, some kind of sharing of customs. I don't recall ever looking around and asking why we did what we did. When I was a child there was no such thing as political correctness (or not any I was aware of) and so, I never once restrained myself from saying "Merry Christmas" to anyone and everyone. Although, I would hazard to guess that if it came from a child--any child--one would be hard pressed to not smile and thank them regardless of what faith one claimed allegiance to.

Because the way I saw it then and the way I see it now is not much different. Our world is our world as long as we can claim it is. The voices carry only for so long and only for so far down the line from one person who heard it to the next. I'm telling you how it makes me feel. I'm giving you a first hand account. And this may seem like it's all a big emotional sneeze--it builds up, it happens, it's over, and someone acknowledges it ...

And hopefully, there will always be a reason for us to connect like that. Hopefully, there will always be a need to lock eyes and smile, or cry, or even look away if that's what it takes to remember why we're here.

And hopefully, the days on either end of Christmas will get jealous every year.

Thanks for sharing yours with me.

And, of course, thanks for reading,


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day six hundred and eighty six ... Keys to the castle.

This is my house.

But this picture was taken last October, before it was actually mine.

I had made a bid on a house right around the corner. It was way too small and way too expensive, but I was in a hurry. For what reason I can't be sure. I can, however, speculate that a contributing factor was that my aunt--the last of my close, blood relatives--had passed away the month prior and I didn't want to have to endure what was coming over the horizon in the same apartment I had lived in for eight years.

I didn't want to be in the same building over the holiday season that for so many years before had been the scene of so many family events. Not that we celebrated Christmas or Thanksgiving in my old place. But it's where I was picked up, brought back, and given bag after beautiful bag of groceries by my family. It's where I had birthday parties for me, and even one for my mom. The long, slow, smiling wait for her to crest the top step to the staircase that led up to the second floor each time she came there I will never forget. The excitement and boisterous noise that always carried throughout the normally quiet neighborhood during those events will always remain vibrating in part of the air there in my mind. And the way I would stand at the doorway on the bottom floor making silly faces, waving, and waiting for them to slowly back up, cautiously turn, and drive ahead down my dead end street--me, shoulders slumped and sad like a little boy, with tears running down his ruddy cheeks.

Maybe it was that.

Maybe I didn't want to spend the holidays there another year without them.

So I packed up my things and moved out.

Like I said, I almost bought the wrong place. But I talked with some friends, paid a building inspector, and ultimately came to terms with the fact that I had been impulsive and hasty. I stood back from the situation, looked at it with a fresh perspective, and begrudgingly changed my stubborn little mind.

But such has been my lifestyle for almost two whole years.

And so, a year ago on November 21 I went to see my lawyer. We went to the bank and then we went back to his office. I met my buyers agent and the sellers agent and we signed some papers. I nervously waited until I got the call from my lawyer telling me everything was as it should be; the house was officially mine.

And then I had this picture taken.

And I moved in with the help of my friends.

I celebrated Thanksgiving with some of them.

I had Christmas with my Aunt Anne here. I lit the bayberry candle on Christmas Eve, which has been a tradition in my family since before I was ever even able to hold a match--the smell of a blown out candle consistently evoking the deepest, dearest emotions in my soul.

And the winter came in and rolled on like it does every year.

A whole hell of a lot has happened since then.

I met a girl who I can talk to, first and foremost, and I fell deeply in love.

I travelled throughout Europe with her.

I got better at working through my personal problems.

I think I learned how to shut up about the things that don't really matter.

And I made this house a home.

And I come back to this place--a place like no other to me--every time I go away. It holds so many memories for me now. The first piece of furniture delivered; the warm brownies left on the doorstep by the neighbors; the first coating of snow; the first heating bill; my first fireplace fire; the first time the smoke detectors went off; my first party; my first real date in what seemed like a lifetime; the second date; the first nervous, excited, kiss; meeting the parents and cooking them dinner; Baseball season on my television; my birthday; the summer; landscaping; touring the world with someone I love; her birthday and the magnificent outdoor party here that accompanied it; the fall; the end of baseball season on my television; the leaves leaving my surroundings shockingly bare; the realization that privacy is overrated; the first few fleeting flakes of this winter's snow; the first time the heat went on since the last time; and the understanding that it's all come around again and November twenty-first is here at my doorstep.

And regardless of whether I may have rushed it or not. Regardless of if I almost made the biggest mistake in my life buying a house that wasn't right for me. Regardless of the way things might have gone had I not opened my mouth to say, both, "Hey guys, I put in a bid on a house," or, "I'd love to get together sometime" ...

Regardless of any of that, right now I'm sitting in my favorite place in the world, waiting for my favorite person to arrive, doing what I absolutely love most ...

And there's no better ending than that.

Here's to a year in the books and the rest of time on my side.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day six hundred and eighty two ... A moment's notice.

Every so often I stand in front of my favorite chair and try to picture myself gone.

This is what I do when there's something nagging in the back of my mind; it helps me get things done.

Can anyone else take care of it?

Will anyone else take care of it?

If I can't answer yes to both of these questions I get my ass in gear and make it happen.

I remember my mom calling me up sometime around June of 2005, right after she had gotten her new treadmill. She had named it "Harley" in honor of Dr. Harley Haynes, her dermatologist--the best in the country.

"I've been riding my Harley," she said.

"That's great, Mom. Good for you."

"And I've lost five pounds!", she said.

And I congratulated her on it, profusely. I was truly happy for her and I was really hoping this would be a turning point. She--like all of us in the Johnson clan--had a weight problem. It had started shortly after she had me at age 29, and despite some valiant attempts and successes losing ten pounds here, five pounds there, even twenty pounds at one point, it showed no signs of truly stopping for thirty five years.

But something happened at age 64 and she decided to do something about it: she bought Harley, and she started to ride.

Sadly, this grand attempt to get healthy would not last for long. Because in September of 2005 my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; in sixteen months she would be gone.

I can't, nor will I try, to blame her death on any one thing. I'm not a doctor, nor will I ever be. But I know that there is a link between obesity and pancreatic cancer. I know that my mother was well aware of this, too. My mother was one of the smartest and most proactive people I ever knew. I also know that she told me more than once how she wished so much to have really fought the weight battle sooner.

And now Harley the Treadmill sits in the front room of her house in Mattapoisett along with her and my aunt's ashes. Her favorite chair is there, too.

I have had plenty of scares in recent days. A little bump here, a mole there, the occasional heart flutter and, of course, the nagging weight problem. I see my doctor at least twice a year and he tells me I'm doing great.

I don't drink, smoke, or do drugs anymore and I hope I stopped in time.

I'm only 39 and I'm planning to have plenty of years left on this magnificent earth.

I try to take care of the things that need to be taken care of before I get a reminder notice--both in tangible and intangible forms.

I water the plants twice a week.

I take out the trash.

I recycle.

I do my laundry when it gets dirty and I don't let it pile up more than necessary.

I write thank you notes.

I hold the door for people, and I make sure there's no one coming behind me before I let it close.

I keep my phone charged.

I pay my bills.

I clean my house.

I wash my car.

I cut out coupons and I use as many as I can before they expire.

I visit my mom's elderly friends.

I hire professionals to do the jobs that could potentially kill me.

I try not to swear around children.

I root for the Red Sox.

I tell my girlfriend I love her whenever I can, but I try not to overdo it.

And whenever I just feel like taking a nap, or putting it off until tomorrow, or letting just a few more minutes get in between me and the rest of my life, I stand in front of my favorite chair and I try and picture myself gone.

Can anyone else take care of it?

Will anyone else take care of it?

If I can't answer yes to both of these questions I get my ass in gear and get it done.

And that is why I wrote today.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, November 9, 2009

Day six hundred and seventy four ... Closer still.

I'm not all better, but I'm getting close.

My shrink asks me how my urges have been--have I been feeling like going back to drinking?

She's too funny.

No lady, I don't think so. I appreciate the concern, don't get me wrong. It's a legitimate one, as drinking was something I did more than almost everything else combined (a fair evaluation, albeit a bit boastful).

But I'm on my way to being able to cut free of those chains, those excruciatingly heavy and jagged chains. The allegorical fishhooks that pulled at my arms when I tried to lock the door and stay in for the night, or show up for band practice or a gig with only a bottle of water in my hand--the holes they left are all but mere freckles. God, I used to not even be able to scream it was so painfully predictable. The information they dragged out of me became more of a question than an answer in the end. "Hey, who's going to be the most wasted guy in the world tonight? ... Me! Me! Me! Ooh, ooh, ooh! I want to be that guy! Give me a chance! I'll show you how it's done!"

And so it would be.

And I suppose that it's important for me to write these words out loud in order to remind myself of how things were for much longer than they weren't. I suppose it's therapeutic, and perhaps may even act as a barrier against the evils that lie in what seems like every point one could focus a pair of eyes on, outside of the confines and comfort of home or a hospital.

But I'm not buying into the lifetime of servitude. No fucking way.

You see, it's quite easy for me to predict my future to a certain degree. I predicted a few things that would happen when this all began almost two years ago. Yes, I did say two years. Hard to believe it myself. But anyway, amidst the chaos that was the winter of 2007 I had an idea that if I cleaned up my act and started living right I would be able to lose weight. I predicted that my hypertension (high blood pressure) would level off, and I'd be able to get off my medication. I predicted that my anxiety level would lessen, hastened in part by the clearing of my mental state, which in turn would allow me to take care of my personal, professional, and business affairs that had become so neglected.

I could, however, have never predicted meeting Jodi. That was a stroke of brilliance that could have only been handed down from the heavens. And each time I look up into the sky there is a part of me that says "thank you".

But all of the aforementioned items on my list of main concerns did, in fact, turn out as predicted.

And that gives me some ammo. This is still a fight, mind you. Human nature is wont for destruction if given enough weapons. We're all dying from the day we're born, so why not screw with the mechanism? Seems like fun when you can't feel the damage.

I'm taking things in stride these days. I'm enjoying what my life is like now and not sitting around bemoaning how it used to be on a daily, hourly basis. I did that for a while. It got me on my feet and into a place where I could see down into it from above. I got an emotional and spiritual step stool to perch upon in order to see what I had been in the middle of.

It wasn't pretty.

I think it's somewhat funny now that I can see it all for what it is. I can't help but notice, when I'm out at a bar and having a good time, some people who may not know where I am in my adaption seeming a bit nervous around me. It's usually one of two reasons: either they think that I relapsed and am back on the sauce, or they think I'm nervous to be there around them. I could have never predicted that. I always thought it was going to be me who was the uncomfortable one. "Oh, how can I still go out and not drink? People are going to be offering me booze and I'm going to have to come up with excuses and it's going to be weird and I'm going to feel like I don't fit in anymore without my buzz on."

I never planned on it being as easy as just going out and not drinking. I never planned on it ultimately being up to me. I never realized--the whole time I was doing it--that not only did I had the start/stop button in my hands, but it actually was my hands, and it was connected to that big squash on top of my roundish body that I like--on good days--to call my brain.

Like I said, I'm not all better, but I'm getting close.

As far as the stuff my shrink asks me--about whether or not I get urges to go out and get loaded--this is how I see it:

At the stage I'm at in my life if I were to go out and buy a bottle of vodka and bring it back to my house and drink it, it would be like stealing a sandwich from a grocery store when I was hungry: it would make me feel full for a while. Then, in a few hours, I would become hungry once more, and I'd have the guilt of stealing something from the store. I couldn't ever just do it and feel good about it.

And I can't just do it once, because unless it kills me it'll just make me hunger.

And just like the leading brand of self-help is rife with analogies and aphorisms, so seems to be the words I write myself that keep me sane: it only works until it doesn't.

I don't write as much as I used to. I don't think I really need to. It's way more of an outlet for me to document the good things that have been going on, just in larger groups of moments. It's hard to say whether I would have the life I have now if I didn't have the life I had then. It would be unfair to even speculate ... so I don't.

I absolutely love the way I am and the way my world has mutated, but I also know that it could all change at a moment's notice. I realize we can only do what our brain tells us to do.

And that is why I wrote today.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, October 26, 2009

Day six hundred and sixty ... Everything must go.

I'm slowly realizing how I'm living my life.

We all do it differently; this is unavoidable. Though many people can't seem to stop trying to be someone else, living life vicariously instead of observing and enjoying its uniqueness.

My family here on the east coast--over the last hundred odd years--collected box upon box of belongings. It's all in the house in Mattapoisett. There are the toys from perhaps three or four generations. From stuffed dolls with real hair, protected by plastic bags whose sole purpose is attempting to contain the stuffing-turned-dust from falling out of myriad holes in its hand-sewn body, to the tin wind-up toys of the forties and fifties, the carriages and old bikes with hard rubber tires and hand painted logos made with pride in the USA, to the Legos and Lincoln Logs, the Tinker Toys, the Batmobiles and Six Million Dollar Men, the Atari 2600's along with the battered joysticks and paddles that took the brunt of the abuse from impatient, ever-strengthening hands controlled by fidgety, ever-shortening attention spans.

There are dinnerware sets. There are old globes and maps. There are hundreds of volumes of tax documents, receipts, bank balances, and communiques. Clothes, furniture, pots, pans, tables, chairs, old doorbells, planters, watering cans, piggy banks, clothes hangers, racks, basins, bags, boxes, hats, pins, pens and pencils dull and sharp as tacks.

And it's all just sitting there exactly in conflict with the way I am living my life.

I don't know if it's a sign of my generation or not. I don't know if it has anything to do with the war we're in or the reason we're in it. I don't know if it's as much to do with the realization that I've wasted so much time standing still and aging instead of running, climbing, jumping, and flying. But I just don't feel like I want whoever comes next in the line of my family to have to deal with it all.

I want to die cleanly.

I don't want whoever's left standing, holding the court documents that entitle them to my stuff--and this means all of my stuff, my mom's and aunt's and uncle's and grandparent's--to have to gaze incomprehensibly at a seemingly insurmountable expanse of tangible objects, feeling the same overwhelming sense of powerlessness that I have felt over the last year.

And so, I'm cleaning house starting with the one I actually live in.

It's been almost a year since I packed my cellar full of the boxes and bags of "usable" items and moved them into here. And there they have sat, picked over a few times, but largely ignored.

The Goodwill just opened a store a couple miles away. They've seen my car pull up more than a few times, tripping the hose that lays outside the loading door signaling a new donor's arrival. I can control this cycle as long as I stay on the other side of that door. Not to mention that I'd rather not see the price they put on my erstwhile possessions.

It feels so good to move it out. It is almost like a brand new emotion is triggered when I see a space in the corner, or a drawer in a bureau that can find a new use. My house is as alive as I am, and has to be taken care of from time to time to ensure its health and well being. The chimney had to get professionally swept last week, just like I have to go to the doctor this week for a physical, to make sure everything is moving along the way it should.

Jodi and I cleaned the whole downstairs yesterday--vacuumed and mopped to a squeaky shine. We moved the couches, picked up the mats and the rugs, rescued the many spiders who had taken shelter in the corners and under the cabinets. I even had a little fit because the sun was going down and I wanted to take a walk outside before we had finished in the kitchen. I sometimes start to break down because I can see it all so clearly in front of me--the things I am doing, the things I have done, and the things I want to do--and I want to put them all in a sack and call dibs.

"You don't really want to take a walk and then have to deal with the rest of this, do you?" she asked.

And, of course, she was right. We finished cleaning the floor, took a walk, came home, and relaxed. We cooked dinner together, made a fire in the hearth, and watched a few hours of TV curled up close on the couch.

But today is a new day, just as tomorrow will be. I have a plan to have the cellar cleaned out of unusable items by the time it gets too cold to do it without a hat and gloves--or, about a month. That will mark a year and a few days since I moved into this amazing place. The cellar was empty then, save for a few stray leftovers from the previous owners. And I'm not going to abuse the privilege of space.

And that is exactly what I feel space is: a privilege.

My life's purpose is to create.

My mind makes my living.

My possessions color my surroundings.

My surroundings color my thoughts.

If my surroundings are cluttered and strewn with redundancies, then so will be my thoughts.

And just like I had to clear out the clutter in my mind from my twenty odd years of self-abuse--scraping, scrubbing, scouring, and shoveling--to get to the point where I could see new corners, empty drawers, and the natural grain of the floors that graciously hold my frame up day after day after day, I can now do the same for the place I call home.

All I can see is all I can see. It doesn't get much simpler than that. Unless, of course, I have a bunch of junk in my way.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, October 12, 2009

Day six hundred and forty eight ... Lucky.

I always dreamed it would be this way.

Years and years of my over-earnest attempts to find the perfect pull to my push are paying off. The space between my sentences--some discrete and organized; some ill fitting--are finally being taken up with either an unhurried silence or a well groomed retort.

It's all happening all the time when I am with my sweetheart. This collaboration doesn't need an introduction anymore. It doesn't need a prompt. It doesn't need an explanation. It just picks up wherever it left off and moves forward and upward.

And I'm definitely not taking it for granted.

I made a promise months ago to keep my affairs with Jodi as private as popular sentiment allows, which is not what I would allow, mind you, because I--as some of you know--have a tendency to let some sensitive information out from time to time.

But that's not to say that I can't just share my awe.

Jodi and I went for a drive this weekend up to Stowe, Vermont for some leaf-peeping. We somehow found the last hotel room in all of New England through the help of the internet; it was an idea that we had batted around a bit--not too thoroughly, but enough to lay out some intentions--and it all kind of fell into place. We shot some website links of destinations back and forth, and within a few hours we had decided to go for it and book the room and take it from there. We left in the morning and took minimal belongings. It was really just for the night, but I tend to over think things and end up with a car full of camping lanterns and leather jackets if left to my own devices. Thankfully my devices are being checked on occasionally as my rapidly simplifying life drains of superfluous needs.

But anyway, we headed out for the drive which on the map should have taken 3.5 hours but ended up taking 5. We were in no hurry. We had no one to meet. We had only ourselves to contend to, and even if--for whatever farcical reason--we had sat in the god dammed driveway for the whole time I swear we could have found enough to keep us entertained. We're just good like that. We stopped at a rest area and had free coffee and cookies. We listened to the radio a little bit. We got off of the highway halfway up and jumped on a scenic route that wound through thirty or so tiny Vermont towns replete with barns and cows, sheep and chickens, bee hives and maple trees, green grass and hay bales.

The only thing that brought my attention to the fact that I wasn't floating through a dream like I've had a hundred times was the state ordered ignition interlock device which allows me--a man almost two years sober--to drive his car. Other than that I could have been fast asleep on a dreamy journey, side by side with my true love, gliding over a multi-colored canvas of reds, golds, oranges, and five shades of green. Even at that, I would try every once in a while to open my eyes wider, hoping I could take in more. And each time I could feel my lids touching my eyebrows like the last slot of a venetian blind reaching its apex.

Conversation. Silence. The whoosh of air through the back windows. A constant report (by yours truly) of the outside air temperature--at first rapidly dropping, then leveling off, shedding a degree here and a degree there. The swell of the radio--public radio, mostly--and then its regress back to white noise. A scratch on the neck. A brush of a hand. A clasping of fingers until the anathema of traffic demands our digits disengage.

We have made this happen, yet it seems as if we haven't done a thing.

Just as I am sitting here alive writing these words of how amazed I am this has finally happened it seems as if I have always been in love.

The road wound and swooped. The pressure played with our ears like a plunger in a fussy sink. We got out and took photos at the slightest delightful chance.

We stopped at a tiny town because we were hungry and because there was parking. We saw a sign that said "Wood Fired Pizza" on the edge of a public park. It was a mobile wood fired oven. We each had a slice of pesto pizza that was amazingly good. We walked around a tiny bit and almost went into a rummage sale but didn't. We tried taking our own picture with my phone but a passing woman with two dogs asked if we wanted her to take it and, of course, we said okay.

The day went on like this--like a dream--as we let gravity tamp us down like so many coffee grounds in an espresso maker--the pressurized water of life running itself down us and through us, depositing us in two neatly placed cups on either end of a double spout.

And I found myself embracing this woman every chance I could tactfully get. I would know instantly if I was overdoing it, but it was never an issue. I don't know if she doesn't care about what other people think as much as I do, or if we are just so expert on our ability to weave in and out of the one person we become when we aren't apart that nobody gives us a second glance.

And the road wore on. We ascended in a northerly fashion up, up, up, past the churches and cow fields, the breakfast joints and haute cusineries. We slipped through the middle of what used to be mountains like a marble through a pair of massive granite bookends. And the signs kept us abreast of our progress. But, truth be told, I didn't really want to stop driving. I didn't want to have to end our temporary confinement. I didn't want to have to talk to another living soul and buy a ticket and go into the craft fair which was our ulterior reason for driving over 300 miles.

Because I could sit perfectly still in silence with this one person for hours upon end, smiling. It would be enough.

We did eventually make it to the craft fair for the last hour. It was nice, but I found it a bit uninspired. Nonetheless, we ended up buying some chocolate, some hot sauce, and some kettle corn. We found the hotel after a few misses. And then, a nice place to have dinner. We stayed up and watched some bad television. We went to bed sufficiently tired and satisfied and slept until the Japanese family loudly taking pictures outside our window woke us up.

As Jodi took some photos on the balcony it started to briefly snow. Mother Nature seemed excited as we were to be there.

Earlier in the day I had driven a few miles back to get gas and we had ended up at a cider mill where we got some donuts and some hot cider. We enjoyed these again for breakfast with the free coffee the hotel provided. We checked out and then I managed to extract a ten percent discount from the AAA membership I have. I'm sure my mom and aunt were smiling. We almost got on the alpine slide, but it was shut down so the ice could be cleaned off the track. Instead we took a slightly more sensible scenic gondola ride to the top of the highest peak in Vermont and had an unforgettable lunch (which is where the picture at the top of this entry was taken). The ten minute ride to the top was a mixture of excited picture-taking and animated embraces.

After that we stopped at Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory and overheard some bitter exchanges: "... you were right, I was wrong ... does that make you happy?" And I thought to myself that the answer to that question is so unimportant, especially because it even had to be asked.

The Red Sox lost that day at 2:30, ending the season for 2009.

The drive home went by like an unmarked Crown Victoria. We had a serious project to attend to: we had to make an apple pie!

We cut out some serious traffic thanks to Jodi's trusty iPhone and slipped back into Massachusetts, our home. I had guessed we would make it to the grocery store at 7:10; Jodi had predicted 7:00. She was right, I was wrong, we were both happy.

We fired up the oven and donned our chef hats. I made a phone call to Paul to sort out an ingredient issue and he was, as always, willing and eager to help.

The Patriots lost in overtime at 7:30.

At 8:45--after preparing, together, our first homemade crust and filling it with local apples tossed with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter--a pie was unleashed on the world.

It wasn't the prettiest pie in the world. And, in fact, it only got worse looking as I tore into it with my knife. But it was the final act in a fantastic performance of a beloved production. It was served--still very much warm--with ice cream to our Sunday night TV friends Ken, Sarah, Sheena, and Omar. The apples had a slight firmness on the outside but were all soft and serious towards the center. Ken tried to hold out. He wanted to say no and, in fact, he did at first. But as I came back into the kitchen and witnessed Jodi serving him a modest slice he explained that "I couldn't resist ... it's just too good!"

We enjoyed our Sunday night television together and then parted ways. Jodi, though, stayed right here with me and we spent some more time together just amazed that we could be so thoroughly content.

This time we spent--this time after a full day and a half of being together, traveling up to what was not far from the border of Canada, making a pie, and spending time with our friends--this small parcel of time seemed like a whole other night in and of itself. It felt like we had just met for the evening. It felt fresh. It felt different. It felt like the two of us had opened up a new LP and put it on the platter and dropped the needle, expectantly waiting for the opening notes of track one.

I don't think that Jodi ever noticed my grimace when I pinched myself right then. I don't think she ever does, and I do it quite often. I do it because I kind of do want to wake up if this is all a dream. Because I want to write it down. I want to always remember it. I want to tell the world what I saw in my head--how I lived, for a brief moment in time, a life that I can only imagine is what the most detailed definition of love is.

Because I always dreamed it would be this way.

Thank you, Jodi Lynne Nicholas.

I love you so very much,


And, as always, to you who spent the time to process my seemingly never ending story of amazing life-discovery:

Thanks for reading,


Friday, September 25, 2009

Day six hundred and thirty one ... Such is life.

Why rush it?

Is there any reason besides not knowing?

The question I'm deflecting is a common one: what am I doing here?

I don't have too much gut wrenching prose to lay out on this page. I'm kind of in too good a mood to write about sobriety. It's safe to say that I'm still at it almost 21 months now and life is absolutely fabulous.

But I have all kinds of things that contribute to that last sentence. One of them is that I learned to just care a little less. Now this isn't to say that I have turned into a callous, pompous, prick. That's for you to tell me.

No, what I'm saying is that one of the things that I see many people struggling with in life is that they are so totally wrapped up worrying about the things they think they should be doing that it's taking away valuable time that could be spent appreciating where they are.

When we are young--like between the age when we can start remembering life events, until about 10 or so--our existence is a lot like a boxing ring. We have our corners where we get nourishment and encouragement, and we have a lot of space in between. And it is on this magical ring that we dance excitedly around, safely flailing ourselves at our daily obstacles. The edges, corners, and floors are all padded. There are ropes to hold us in if we get tossed to one side or another. And we have referees to tell us when it's time to stop and rest a while.

Bedtime, hypodermic needles, the mean kid across the street, AA battery deprivation, coloring inside the lines, eating paste, winter jacket aversion, hair cuts, spinach, vitamins, Aunt Stacia's house, clean clothes, etc. All these things (at least in my life) were a source for battle. I thought I knew what was best; my mother had a different opinion. And so, I learned to cherish my fun times with great zeal. It was a dramatic undertaking, this playtime. It felt like it almost wasn't going to come around again. Because even as a child we think that what goes on in that ring is the only thing that is going to ever happen to us. It's the main event. It has all the trappings of a Don King production in our minds, and when we lose (oh, and how we lose) to our fiery foe (the evil, loving parent) it makes all the papers in our microscopic world. The decision is heard from the basement to the attic and on all floors in between. Rats!

But the thing that I think I appreciated about my anxiety over the little battles back then, compared to now, is that I had much clearer sight lines despite my stature. I could see what mattered better because I hadn't crowded my ring, so to speak. I could look at my foe and say, "I only have one thing to worry about, and when this is all over it's either going to be in the past or it's going to be in the present, but I'm unable to complicate things by concerning myself with the future because I don't have so much experience with it."

I was simpler. I was clutter-free. I had higher expectations for winning because I hadn't lost as much as I have to this point presently.

On stage at the theaters we play at there are many microphones. Some are on stands to be used for soloists to sing into while standing in front. There are a few hand held mics that travel around the stage and are either placed on a table in front of a performer to pick up their voice above. Some singers get to pick up these mics and hold them and sing into it to the audience.

And then there are the overheads.

These are the mics that are--as the name would suggest--overhead a few feet in the air. They are small and unobtrusive. Some are angled slightly to pick up a wide scope; some are pointed straight down. But the thing about these diminutive mics is that they are created to do a very big job. And what's more is that this very important piece of equipment is also designed to be virtually undetectable. The only way the audience would be able to tell they were doing anything is if they were suddenly turned off in the middle of a song. Hey. Where did they go?

And these mics remind me of my goals. They are there in the distance supporting my performance below. There is some space between them because there's no need to crowd them together. Too many next to each other would seem like overkill. Not enough would seem like a waste. And the person in charge of setting the levels is sort of an amalgamation of everyone I made a promise to over the years. Everyone who believed that I could do something remarkable. Everyone who smiled and said "You make it look so easy."

Everyone who's not me.

As time goes on in my life I occasionally get an itch that is sort of asking me "are you doing what you should be doing in your life?"

I can never really, thoroughly answer this question.

It's not because I'm overwhelmed, though I often am.

It's not because I'm too busy doing things that I shouldn't, though that often was the case years ago.

It's not because I don't want to answer the question, which seems most likely though is never really an option.

No, the reason I can't thoroughly answer this simple question is because the boxing ring which is my life has become overrun with obstacles which means that there's increasingly less perspective.

I could start swinging at the first thing I saw, but that would most likely just land me in trouble.

I could set my sights on something far in the distance and try to work my way to that corner of the ring, but that would leave me open for problems on all sides on my way there.

I could just climb over the ropes and run for the exit signs, but that would forfeit the match.

Instead, I just care a little less.

That's right. I said it. I said it and I mean it.

Because if there's one thing that can stymie even the best prepared foe is confusion. And if you just take things as they come--calmly and coolly--and not go at them with unpredictable ferocity it makes them think that something is wrong with them. And that's when you can sneak by and say "See ya', sucker!" and head on down the ring to the problems that warrant honest attention.

Simple as that.

If there's one thing I have learned from going the way I have gone is that you can't worry too much. You can try your best and do what you think is right. You can look back and be happy with how you handled yourself. You can hope the fragile world which you have created and maintain can survive the next catastrophe. But you can only put so much into it before you get caught up in the maze you have drawn and lose sight of where the pencil first hit the paper.

You just have to trust that the overhead mics are on and working. They're all around you. If you try to single one out it defeats the purpose of their placement.







Do everything and anything you feel like as long as it takes the pressure off for a while. The overheads will pick it all up.

What am I doing here?

You're looking at it.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day six hundred and twenty-seven ... Infinite simplicity.

I'm so unbelievably high right now.

You heard me.


At least that's what it feels like.

I'm high from the chemical release of endorphins that come with realizing that life just got infinitely simpler.

There are bars on every corner.

There's a bunch of coffeeshops.

And when I say "coffeeshop," I'm talking, of course, about little stores scattered about Rotterdam (where I'm on tour with The Young at Heart Chorus) that sell some of the best weed available anywhere.

And I don't have any inclination to buy any of it--any of it. Not even a little.

Funny how these things happen. When I was here back in 2004 it was the first, last, and only thing on my mind. Whoo boy, I just had to get me some of that crazy weed--every kind they had: Hindu Kush, White Widow, Dynamite, Blueberry, Purple Haze #2, 3, and 5 (I think). There were ten or twelve more. I have them all written down in my journal from that section of time somewhere. You gotta preserve these kinds of journeys, at the very least in a notebook.

But I took care of the essentials toot sweet five years back. I bought myself a little pipe, and a pack of screens, a lighter, some papers, and four or five samples on my first stop. It was awesome, I must admit. Although, I remember the weed being so moist and sticky that it became glommed onto my fingers when I tried to break it up. Then it got stuck to the back of the rolling paper, then to the lighter, then to my lip. There was just sticky weed everywhere! It was so wet it was hard to light, but that's because they mix up their weed in tobacco over here. They don't just eat a half a pound of roast beef, as it were, they put it between some fresh bread and add a little lettuce.

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: I love weed; I always will. But I don't love it so much that I will let it clutter up my organized head. I just don't have the time or energy to restore it to order if it got messed up, so to speak.

And when I realized that I can do anything--anything--I want, but choose not to, it gets me loopy out of my head like a four star gram of Hindu Kush #2, stuck inside a croissant and washed down my gullet with a tall cup of Americano.

But I sit here in Rotterdam, on my bed, sober.

I just picked up two pairs of slacks at the tailor that I bought yesterday; I may very well get a haircut, too; I'm going to buy a nice present or two for my amazing girlfriend; and I'm sure I'll end up at the flea market, head angled like the corner of a coat hanger, staring at all the foreign clutter.

And I'll probably do that, or I won't. But maybe I'll just fall asleep. I could do that, too. It's all up to me.

When we take the seemingly monstrous task of staying sober--of avoiding voluntarily grasping any number of objects with our extremities (those things that are on our addicts checklist) and we break it down to just that--doing or not doing--it becomes as easy as buying a beer ... or in this case, buying a few grams of hydroponic weed.

It's that easy ... for real.

Believe me. I'm doing it. And if you want to do it in any country, you can too.

I don't agree with the traditional recovery program on many points. But one platitude I can get with is "keeping it simple." Because therein lies the serum. Therein lies the antidote. Therein lies the amazing answer to the question that actually is the question. It is the freaking question! Because how did this all start? How did I get in the position to have to stay away from certain things in my life that could signal sure catastrophe?

Because it was simple.

It was right there in front of me.

I wondered how to do it and somebody said, "Oh man ... it's a cinch ... come here and take a drag ... now hold it ... hold it ... there you go ... "

And it began.

It didn't take a 12 step program to get me my first bag of weed. It sure became that way after I realized I wanted it all the time and so did my friends. That was a total bitch, driving around Fall River, stopping at the street corners with the hoods congregating, ending up getting ripped off on occasion, but more often than not getting a bag of weed.

But that all came after the easy part.

And I have made a conscious decision to keep my life as simple as I can. And that means being open to a million things at once.

Because we are all falling towards the ground, slowly, from the day we are born. And along that arc is a limitless number of gradations--of lines on an infinite drafting compass--and I'm somewhere in the middle right now. And that, dear readers, means I have a clear view of what came before me, and what's in the distance.

And the view I have right now, in all its infinite simplicity, looks downright amazing.

Thanks for reading,


PS: for those of you who are so inclined to view some of the pictures I've taken so far on this trip, follow this link to my Facebook page:

Dank U vel.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day six hundred and fifteen ... Bargaining.

I'm sitting here with Jodi listening to a record I bought at a going out of business sale for 60% off. My aunt would be so happy I found such a bargain.

"Then it must sound 60% better!", she'd most likely say.

I put the album on a little before midnight of yesterday, and now it is today.

September 7th, 2009.

It was last year on this day, at 1:20 a.m. that my dear Aunt Lynda passed away after a valiant battle with cancer. I wasn't around when she went. This--just like so many other situations in her life--she planned out to a tee. I had a tour to go on with the Young at Heart, and she made damn sure I kept the dates. Anne, her best friend and co-conspirator throughout the last 40 years or so, was called upon to come up from Virginia, where she lives, and attend to her needs. I call her Auntie Annie as she is as close as blood to me. She has been around for as long as I can remember, and I can remember at least 35 years back.

On or about September 4th I remember packing up my things and getting them situated in my car, then coming back to hug her and kiss her and say goodbye for what I thought would be just a few days. She had such resolve--though she knew that she couldn't beat this disease--to not fret and worry about dying. She had, thankfully, lived a full life and knew it. She was the youngest of three and she also died the youngest, but she kept a healthy disposition until the end. She tried to make life as easy on me and those around her for the most part. This held true regardless of the fact that she was one of the pickiest people in the world.

"I want six bananas, Alex. Two that are ripe to eat today and tomorrow, two that are somewhat yellow with a tinge of green on them, and two that are harder and won't be good for a few days. Here, I wrote it down for you."

"Okay, Aunty."

But when she told me there was no way I was missing this tour I had an idea of what was going to happen: she was letting me go, so she could do the same. She didn't want me around when it happened; she told me that flat out. And she was so sick of the meds, the procedures, the visiting nurses, and the trips to Boston every week (or every few days sometimes), and she had just come to the point where she wanted it to end if it was going to end.

This post I don't want to be overly long. I don't want to wallow in sadness; I don't want to glorify the suffering; I don't want to dramatize what was one of the most emotional periods of my life. But I do want to mark the occasion. I want to note the passage of time in an increment that we use for so many events.

One year.

One year has gone by (in approximately 16 minutes) since a great woman ceased to be. She didn't want a memorial service. She absolutely didn't want it to be in the newspaper. And she wasn't too keen on me writing about it on this template that you are looking at right now. But she also knew that she couldn't control everything, and so she gave me permission to print what I saw fit after she passed on.

As some of you know I had an incident involving medication that didn't belong to me back about a year and a couple of days ago (September 9-16 to be specific), and it took me some time to bounce back from that misstep. But here I am, so close to being completely 100% clean and sober, and I have so much to look back on from that point until now.

And in ten minutes time I will reach over and hug the greatest of these additions to my life. She is a strong, beautiful, smart, and powerful person--someone who can spot a bargain a mile away and could, if she wanted to, peel the markdown price tag off of it after getting it home, revealing its original price without leaving a smidgen of sticker glue, yet knowing full well she had found something of greater value than anyone could convince her of right from the start. And there needn't have even been a sticker at all, because it is she that decided to take it into her possession because of what it was worth to her, not a store owner or someone with a pricing gun. There's a life analogy there. I'm not going to spell it out.

I first made contact with her a few days after my last pill, a mere two weeks after my aunt left me. It would take a good four months before we would say more than two sentences to each other, but then again, these things take time ... like the ripening of a green banana.

And so, one strong woman leaves and another steps out of the shadows. This is how the fates play with their toys, as if from a big duffel bag on the floor of a rumpus room. One woman sends me off with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a playful gesture with thumbs at each ear--fingers outstretched and wiggling--sticking her tongue out at me as she's done since I was a baby, and that is my last memory of her in my world.

Another finds her way to me first through the the internet--mere days after my aunt's passing--then, through the help of a mutual friend, subsequently turning my world around with a hug at the end of a concert and a promise to continue contact in the outside world--complete with the amazing detail that it happened on the year anniversary of the passing of my dear mother, Judy, on January 11! How all these numbers and events line up is beyond me. I just have to live within the context of our agreed upon system of documenting the passage of time and acknowledge it as it happens.

Thank you Jodi for all you do.

Thank you Aunty for all you have done.

I miss you but I am not alone; I fear I never will be.

Like the green bananas that I brought you so many, many times--knowing one day soon they would be ready to enjoy in a comfortable pair of pajamas--I am here now, one year later, prepared to continue on with my role in life, letting the bruises not depress me but rather show signs of progress.

Who knew?

I say ... you.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day six hundred and ten ... Party on.

I just got back from the package store.

Had to return an empty--yes, one empty.

A keg.

And get this: it wasn't really an empty at all; it was still half full. But I can't take credit for draining any part of it. Nor can I take credit for drinking any of the four and a half bottles of liquor, box or bottle of wine either.

Last Sunday I had a birthday party for my girlfriend, Jodi. I chose a select group of people from my friends, and she got to invite the rest which included among them her amazing parents. I had it at my house, outside, and had the whole thing catered by Holy Smokes Barbecue of Hatfield, MA.
I hired my go-to bartender, Gerry, from the old Baystate Hotel. I made peanut noodles a la the erstwhile Amber Waves of Amherst. I ordered some platters from Paul's work, Randall's Farm and Greenhouse in Ludlow. And I got a chocolate tort cake from The Side St. Cafe right here in Florence.

For the last three months I have been planning for this day, making arrangements and worrying myself silly that there wouldn't be enough room for people to hang out, or the music would be wrong, or that people wouldn't show up and there'd be way too much food.

But all that proved to be unnecessary in the end because, of course, people and tasks in my mind are way more difficult than they are in real life. It is the occasion that is important--the intent. And as long as you give people directions and tell them what time to get there everything else will just fall together.

But I had to make sure there was enough booze, too.

Funny thing, this little detail. I remember having my last party around Christmas last year. I bought a bunch of bottles of liquor and not much of it went. That was probably due to the fact that the party happened in the middle of a massive snowstorm and nobody wanted to be driving to begin with, let alone with a couple of drinks in them.

And so, at the end of that party I made the frantic choice to relinquish a 1.75 liter of Jack Daniels. It went with a friend back to the hill towns (he felt bad about just taking it and gave me a few bucks). I kept the Grey Goose and the Captain Morgan though. I put them above the fridge in a cupboard--they fit perfectly and it made sense logistically, and I remembered wishing I still drank because now I had the perfect place to keep my booze--yeah, right. Anyway, I only checked on them once or twice in the last eight months just to make sure that they were still there, and that they were as full as I remembered--they were.

And they stayed full for a reason: they weren't bought for me.

And so it was that last Sunday I went with Jodi to Liquor's 44 on King St. in Northampton, and we rapidly filled my car with alcohol. A half barrel of Sierra Nevada; six bottles of wine and one box; a liter of Grey Goose, and, of course, I replaced that 1.75 liter of Jack that had escaped my house last December. We bought 50 pounds of ice and a ton of mixers: cranberry, Coke, ginger ale, Fanta, orange juice, lemonade and tonic water. We brought it all home and set it up in the bar that I rented from the place downtown. Then we waited for Gerry to get there and start cutting up limes and lemons.

This is Gerry.
Sometime around 4:30 I entered my house to use the bathroom and got a surprise. As I stepped in past the threshold I found myself in a bit of a traffic jam. I had to slow down and excuse myself to get by the line of about five people in my kitchen patiently waiting to put in their drink order. It made me smile. It made me smile because it meant that everything was working like it should. All the pieces were fitting together and bonding at the edges. All the hard looking into myself to find the reasons why for years I did what I did was finally bearing fruit. All the time spent wishing I could be like everybody else who looked like they were enjoying life--desperately wanting to fit in--were a mere memory. All the years believing that I had to turn myself off to make me more alert, clinging to the idea that I had to go completely overboard to be accepted in, were now officially in a shoe box sitting on the shelf, labeled and stored for historical purposes.

And all of this and more--every single last corrupt tendency--was finally proven to me to have become irrelevant. And I could just stand in line talking to my friends holding a glass of sparkling water--which was exactly what I wanted--and feel at ease in my skin.

It's amazing to me to think of all those times in the past that I could have just excused myself and walked away in the other direction from the bar but didn't. All the times I was waiting in line, feeling like death, stepping up to the counter to ask for another serving like a sweaty zombie. It makes me shudder. But I am human. And we, as humans, tend to gravitate towards others in motion; it gives us hope. When we see people favoring a particular doorway, or an exit, or a menu item, or a spot on the sidewalk even--gathered around god knows what--we oftentimes follow suit, because we feel that if they're doing it there must be something to it. And we look around to gauge the reaction on those in front of us to see if it's something we should be putting our valuable time into. And every time I did it I came up--initially--with a positive response. And then, in time--at first mere moments, then, later, years--it all changed.

Strength in numbers only holds true until the results start pouring in.

So, as I started out at the beginning of this long overdue post, I happily brought back the half full keg of Sierra and got my deposit back. I leisurely put back the gigantic bottles of liquor in the cabinet above the fridge and added the bottles of wine in alongside my trusty San Pellegrino.

And there they will stay and wait for my second annual holiday fiesta in December. Unless, of course, a guest comes over and they would enjoy a drink or two. Because that's who I bought the stuff for: anyone but me.

A friend of mine at the party last week asked me how I felt about being sober and providing free booze for anyone who wanted it. I told him that there's only one thing I have to do differently to keep my life going in the direction it is in: to stay sober. That's it. That's all I have to do. And breaking the differences between me and most people I know down to that one important detail will keep me from complicating things.

Life is simple.

Life is man made.

Life is how we see it and how we feel it.

Life is continuous as it is finite.

Life is here if we are here.

And there's not much more to it that I can see. If we let our minds go--our complex and restless toddler of gray matter--we will lose sight of what we really want.

I just have to remember that people and tasks in my mind are almost always way more difficult than they are in real life. It's the occasion that is important--the intent. And as long as you give people directions and tell them what time to get there everything else will just fall together.

And that's the beauty of it all, and I thank my lucky stars that I can see it.

I hope some of you can too.

Thanks for reading,


PS: Happy Birthday, Jodi.

Sto lat!

I love you,


Monday, August 10, 2009

Day five hundred and eighty seven ... The label sticks.

There's one on almost everything we call our own.

Sometimes it relates a price; sometimes it provides directions; sometimes it heralds the many features that one would want in an item over one from a similar purveyor.

A label.

A small piece of paper with writing most often in a formal, cold tone and font. The writing is usually direct, to the point, and condensed: what it is, where it was made, what you should do with the product and, more importantly, what you shouldn't do.

I think it's funny to see that many people leave on the labels on their electronic gear, such as cameras and laptops, that the company put on before they pack it up.

"10 megapixels" ... "Five times oversampling" ... "HD" ... "PC and Mac compatible."

And on and on.

I like to take mine off because I don't like too much flair on my products. I'm guessing that most people probably either think that they can't take them off, they shouldn't take them off (warranty voiding anxiety), or they simply don't even notice that they're stickers.

I'm a born sticker-taker-off'er, so they don't last long on my things.

The problem I find as I go about my product cleansing is that many times the stickers don't want to leave without a fight. It's like they feel indignant that you would want to remove the message that the factory sent them off with to stand and deliver. The nerve!

Regardless, you go about your task and get that fingernail right under the edge of the label. You get a whole wave of momentum going and you feel like the whole of the world of physics is with you as your magic carpet of text, colors, and symbols starts to take off in midair. And then, without even a shred of warning, the whole plan goes kaplooey and you're left with three quarters of a curled up sticky piece of paper clinging to your finger and a big birthmark shaped splotch of gummed, grainy pulp banging its fists on the surface and laughing out loud. And so, the human that you are, you dig your nail under once again and corral the edges of the recalcitrant residue and, if you're lucky, roll it up in a ball and pick the whole mess off and go about using said item for its appropriate purpose.

Whew! That was a close one.

Sometimes, before you give up and start scraping up the unfortunate mess, you can stop peeling and start at the other side of the label cutting it off at that pass, as it were. You get right up on the other edge, and when you get to the part you had already had success with it all just comes off in one piece ... if you're lucky.

But up until now I have merely been discussing the intricacies of the average, everyday product information label. It's just one piece of paper: plain and usual. It has no agenda. It has no bias. It has no history of prejudice or animosity towards it.

It's just a label ... it can't get you arrested for screwing with it.

Not like the price tag can.

The price tag is a complicated beast. This consumer cornerstone has a whole different set of parameters than the other informative squares, circles, or other shaped piece of gummed paper because this label controls one's option for possession.

When someone purchases an item, after looking at the many labels affixed, it is theirs to do with they will. If it's a gift, we most likely will take the sticker off. Sometimes, though, depending on who it's for, we'll leave it on so as to impress upon the recipient how much we paid for an item, be it either a lot or a little, or to provide a receipt for exchange if needed (the recent trend of receipts without prices--for just this purpose--is somewhat of a delight). When I was a child my mother used to shop at myriad discount stores for clothes and other things for me. Often, the tag on the clothes would contain many stickers from the multiple markdowns it endured during it's life on the hanger. My mom would usually peel them off leaving the highest "list" price possible so I would appreciate what the pair of pants or shirt she had procured for me on her public school teacher's salary was worth. Invariably there would be residue from the sale labels that had been affixed, and this--as well as the fact that it came from a discount store--would alert me to the fact that it had come to me by way of a markdown.

As a child of the Seventies I noticed a few trends come into my world.

Skateboards, cassettes, iron-ons, heavy metal ... and peel-proof price tags.

It seemed like one day they were all just little, plain, solid pieces of sticky paper ... and the next they were fluorescent booby traps. Scored in seemingly random patterns these new labels appeared to be made in an attempt to thwart would-be petty criminals from transferring the tag from a lower priced item to one with a much higher value ...

... not that I ever tried anything like this. I was a good boy ...

But anyway, these new labels started cropping up everywhere you looked. They weren't foolproof of course. A skilled hand could carefully peel the edges all around the perimeter and then get a thumb hold under the center and pull and remove and replace ... if one wanted to.

And, of course, as the decade wore on, the bar code and the electronic scanner would come into play. Whether we knew it or not we were about to become a world where databases replaced store managers, ray gun shaped pricing guns conveyed vital information about everything in your cart, and cashiers were at the mercy of a giant computer in the shape of a cash register.

But they'd never--and they will never--get rid of the price tag, because the price tag is for us the consumer. It is what we use to decide if we are to give our money away in exchange for something someone, or something, made for our use. And there will constantly be discrepancies between what the tag says and what the scanner says, because human error is necessary for human existence. When we cease to make mistakes we will have no use for improvement.

We all have labels on us.

It's easy to say, "you can't put a label on me ... I'm unique." I'm sure some will disagree with me but I believe that there's a label on all of us that shows what we're made of. And no matter how hard we try to remove fully the sticky piece of paper that describes what we do, how we think, who we love, where we're from, where we're going, and what we believe, a residue remains.

I'm an alcoholic.

I've done a great job so far removing the bits and pieces of my life that were starting to destroy me. I curtailed all the dangerous and degenerative habits that kept me from connecting with people on a genuine level. I admitted to myself that I was so wrong about so many ingrained beliefs about what makes me "cool" or attractive, or popular, or interesting (or for that matter, undesirable). I took off the little stickers that showed others what I was ostensibly capable of doing--what I had bragged about intending to do for so long--and just did it.

And now I have this life--this amazing life that I am sharing with my girlfriend, traveling around the world, constructing a scrapbook of interesting images and a skyscraper of raw emotion--and I am unafraid to let my label show. I gave up the aggressive tendencies to be an amorphous individual, unable to be boxed in, always trying to be something different, something indescribable ... something I wasn't.

Because I realized finally that the label that I had tried to affix to myself from another personality--one that I labored over and defended at even the slightest suggestion that, perhaps, it wasn't working for me--was scored throughout to reveal just such a ruse. I was busted fair and square.

Sometimes we look at our handiwork and only see the unfinished outcome.

Sometimes we truly believe that no one will notice that something's not quite right.

Sometimes we just put what we want in our pocket and walk out of the store hoping that the alarm won't go off.

And sometimes it goes off when we go in empty handed.

I'm just glad that my conscience is clean, my goals are clear, and my mind knows exactly how much is at stake no matter how often I ponder what it's all worth.

It's worth everything that I've got.

Thanks for reading,