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,