Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day one thousand four hundred and forty eight . . . Doing what I can.

The days just blend and froth like so much whipped cream in a mixer.

Whirr . . . whirrrrrr . . . whirrrrrrrrrrr . . . clank!

And then it's done and you taste it. If you're like me you stand back and wonder, "can I put my finger back in and taste some more without washing my hands first?"

You think about all the people who might end up eating the whipped cream you just made. If it's just you--and lucky you if it is--then you might as well just have a handful. But if not, it's best to be polite--no matter how clean you think you are on a regular basis--and give your hands a rinse.

Perfect! Just as you thought.

My year just flew by like that. When I think of what I was doing last December it's astonishing to think that it all happened within 365 days. I was in New Zealand touring with the Young at Heart. It was a great trip, made even nicer by the inclusion of Jodi. We played those shows and came back and relaxed for a little bit and got ready for Christmas.

Then it was February and the earthquake hit Christchurch and I wept at my computer for a good long while. I cried for the people I met there and the beautiful buildings I saw, the parks and the theaters, the restaurants and the shops, many of which are gone now because of the horrible disaster.

Less than a month later Japan--where I was on tour the previous spring--got hit with the massive earthquake and tsunami. The destruction was unthinkable and the repercussions I'm sure won't be felt fully for years to come. I cried for those people, too. Halfway around the world seems like from here to the moon until you make the trip yourself.

We moved on into the springtime and baseball started like it always does.

I turned the ultimately insignificant age of forty one.

I went to Poland in July and toured there. I got to visit with my not-too-distant relatives. It was a wonderful time that I won't soon forget.

Jodi and I went on so many trips I have to check the photos in my computer to reassure myself that they all really happened in one year.

We had friends over to our house.

We were honored to be included in the library's annual garden tour. Four hundred strangers (and a few friends) traipsed through our pretty little postage stamp of a yard.

We had an end of summer party for the people we're close to.

Jodi turned another year older.

There was a tornado.

There was an earthquake (albeit a small one, though Jodi's mom felt it 400 miles away).

There was a hurricane.

And we moved into the fall and baseball ended like it always does.

We had a snowstorm in October and were without power for three days. Our poor neighbors to the east and south were without electricity for a week or more in spots.

A dear friend lost his father after a long fight with an all too familiar foe.

Jodi and I went to western New York and enjoyed fully the wonderment that is family at Thanksgiving. A new niece for her came this year to go with the twin girls her brother and sister-in-law have already. Her mom and dad took us out for regional specialties like "Beef on Weck" and sponge candy. We got to spend time with her great aunt who helped fill in the blanks on the robust limbs of her family tree. We made the rounds to both sides of the family's aunts and uncles, had wings at Duff's, a successful stop at Mighty Taco, and then we went home and got ready for Christmas.

And here we are, ten days from Christmas Eve.

It's also the eve of my Aunt Lynda's birthday. She would be sixty four tonight at midnight.

We went through a lot together, Auntie and I. It always seems strange to think of how much closer to me she was than just being my mother's sister. She was the father figure to me in both her demeanor and her philosophy. Though she didn't have as much authority over me as my mom did she could see where my mom was perhaps, how do you say, letting me get away with murder, and she tried to plug the hole of permissiveness as it were.

It unfortunately did little good and I ended up having to learn the hard way how my life was headed for a brick wall. I slammed into it admittedly headfirst, but not before mercifully being slowed down by a speed bump or two. And if I hadn't had those few scrapes to show me how fast I was really going I probably wouldn't have escaped that brick wall with my life. I'm not being overly dramatic here. This is real. I almost wasn't going to make it to forty, a not-so-insignifcant age if I do say so myself.

I did what I wanted. I did what I shouldn't have. And then I did what I could.

That is the way my life played out from the time I was old enough to understand the word "no." I told anyone who would listen that sobriety wasn't for me. I said the words with perfect diction. I said the words in an almost undecipherable slur. And then I hit those speed bumps, I evaluated the damage and then I had to take some of them back.

And here I am at five in the evening on December fourteenth writing in my little journal.

I'm doing what I can.

I'm trying to keep the east coast Johnson name an honorable one. God knows it's been in the newspaper for enough things over the last hundred years or so for a rainbow of reasons. From my grandfather becoming the president of the Kiwanis chapter of Fall River, to my grandmother heading the local seamstress union and fighting for workers rights (not to mention her "master ruffler" status that I just found out about) to my mom winning scholarships and taking whole classes of students to Poland, my uncle being aboard the U.S.S. Nautilus on the first manned nuclear sub for the navy, my aunt passing the bar, and to me for the successful shows I've been a part of and for the few embarrassing stumbles off the edge of the stage that I wish I could retract.

I've written a lot about my sobriety. I've also written a lot about my aunt. But they go so closely together sometimes. She was such an integral part of my success. She never told me "I told you so" even though she did. She never made me feel like I was powerless over my demons even though I thought I was. She never let me forget how much she and my mom loved me even though I could find ways to pretend that they didn't.

And she never gave up on me even when I had.

Her birthday was always something she celebrated with my mom. They lived together (in separate parts of the same house) from around 1975 until my mother's death in 2007. As I was limited with my transportation for so many years it wasn't often that I could make a special trip home between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But they would come to my house sometime around the fifteenth and we would go to dinner. Then my mom and I would make her stay in my bedroom while we put a few presents together and a take out a cake and light some candles. Then she'd be allowed back in to the living room of my small apartment and we'd sing "Sto Lat" the Polish birthday song. There would be gifts. There would be jokes. We'd rile her up and get her going because that's what my mom and I were good at. It was all for fun though you wouldn't know it at times from the expression on my aunt's face. But we'd have a good time and then they'd get back on the road and head home the two hours east.

My birthday is in May. I like it there because it's a nice halfway point in the year. It's a beautiful time to be outside and my mom's is the week after.

My aunt never did have it easy. Ten days from Christmas is not ideal for any holiday let alone your birthday. I suppose you notice it more so when you're younger and your parents have to split up the goodies with a little more practicality. Especially with two older siblings I'm sure there were fights over who wanted what for Christmas and why Lynda always got so much in one month. Judging from the old toys I've been unearthing--some to sell; others to discard--there were plenty of gifts for all the kiddies all the time.

But now that I'm older I can see that it maybe wasn't just the mere fact that it was close to Christmas that was rough for her. Maybe it was that it was so close to the start of a new year. I don't think of May when I'm in the month of December. But I think about how long I have until the end of the year a lot for all kinds of reasons.

And when I do get to the end of the year I try to sum it all up like a book report. I think of all the good things that happened. I think of all the bad things that happened. I think of all the things I wanted to do and all the things I was lucky enough and persuasive and/or persistent enough to pull off. I try to grade it, and I like to look ahead to the sequel.

It's a lot to put on one plate let alone comprehend the fact that one is now another year older.

And not that I feel like I'm "old," but someday I hope to be.

I am anticipating a day when I loathe the thought of another birthday cake, deliciousness aside, because it means I'm closer to the next decade of my life.

I hope someday to receive the AARP magazine in the mail and actually qualify for its demographic.

I relish the idea that someday I will be able to see the children of my friends become the age I am now, even if that puts me in my eighties.

And I like to think of these things even though the odds seem to be against me. I know that my breed, as it were, doesn't historically have a lengthy life span and I have to be prepared for that.

My aunt wasn't prepared for it. But she looked her fate square in the eye and dove in head first. She turned those last few pages of her life one by one with a heart full of love and the knowledge that this guy right here--Frederick Alexander Johnson--was on the track to doing what he needed to to keep the family name alive.

She didn't get to celebrate her sixty first birthday, but I'll make sure she gets a little recognition every year no matter what.

My mom always made the best whipped cream. I'd always fight my aunt for prize of being able to lick the mixer beaters. She ended up scraping the bowl and she always said that was fine with her. Give her the bowl and a spoon and it just put a big smile on her face.

I was always the one getting myself covered in the stuff . . . and that was always fine with me.

It's a few hours early, I know, but Happy Birthday, Auntie Lynda. Sto lat, too.

I love you. I miss you. And yes, I should have listened to you oh so long ago.

Thanks for reading,


PS: As I do every year I will be making a donation in her memory to her favorite charities: A Helping Paw and Habitat for Cats. She loved her cats almost as much as she loved me. And that's saying a lot.

For more information follow the links above. Thanks.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day one thousand four hundred and ten . . . Time for a change.

Man, how I used to cherish this extra hour.

Sixty minutes of sleep--and that's about all it really ever meant to me.


Beautiful, crusty-eyed, dry mouthed, headache-laden sleep.

And then I'd get up and go to work. I'd come home and the daylight would sneak out the door like a party guest who stuffed his pockets with beers as the cops were coming in the back way. It was a dirty trick, but it was the price you paid for that hour you'd already forgotten about.

I can almost picture every time I turned the clocks back, too.

It almost always happened the same way: bleary-eyed and wobbly but excited and a little bit boastful. I really felt like I had just cheated the system. I, F. Alex Johnson, could--once a year--forget about how I had just stayed up until two in the morning with a rocks glass and a rapidly evaporating liter of Smirnoff and wipe that last hour clean. Then I could take the thin, black, metal, hour hand on the kitchen clock that I've looked at since I was a child by its pointy tip with my index finger and--almost like walking backwards through a stadium crowd letting out after realizing something important was left behind--I would slowly run it over an orbit it already completed--making sure not to break or bend it--and then, with a lift in my belly like going over a generous hill in a car as I realized I had just gotten that that sweet hour back for free.

Then I'd just stand there and fold my arms and hiccup.

Funny how times change, pun totally intended.

I went to sleep last night at one o'clock in real time and didn't realize it wasn't what time it was until I saw someone post something about it online.

And this is what I'm doing with my hour: a little writing.

I met up with a very close friend the other day. We both used to spend our daylight saving time similarly as I've just described. We're both sober now and we have our own ways of staying that way.

We got to talking about sobriety a little bit as is what happens sometimes when we get together. He referenced how I may not have gone about my process the most tried and true method as he has but that I did do plenty of work on my own. All the inpatient (court-ordered or not) the outpatient (same) and the weekly counseling; the ongoing journaling that you're reading right now; the witnessing of others in my shoes going through the same scenarios with much the same outcome; and the realization that my life is different now because it's the only way it can keep calling itself, well, life.

I haven't written about sobriety in a while. I'm guessing it's because so much else takes precedence these days. But I can never ever forget that me being this way is the reason why I have so much else to take precedence.

I find it hard sometimes to squirrel away a little piece of time to write about what's going on because the world has lit up so many more "open" signs for me than ever before. And I have to always remember that they were always there in the window right behind the "closed" sign. I just couldn't see them from where I stood.

And this clock that I mentioned--the one from my childhood--it's hanging on the wall in the kitchen. It's hung on the wall in one house or another for probably thirty-five years or more. It's small and battery operated but it works well and it's unobtrusive.

It's how I used to be able to tell when it was getting close to the time when my mom would make me spaghetti and hot dogs when I was just a kid.

It's how I used to be able to tell when she was about to come home from a long day at work.

It's how I used to be able to tell when I had to get out of the house and go to my high school job at the video store.

It's how I used to be able to tell how late I was about to be for school.

It's how my mother used to be able to tell that her son still hadn't come home from God knows where.

It's how I used to be able to tell when the package stores were about to close . . . and also when they were about to open.

And it's how I am able to tell what time it is in the house I share now with my one true love.

It's a simple, unsuspecting clock. But just like any clock you have up for a while, when you move it from one wall to another it takes a very long time to get used to the change. The space it used to live in still has a hold, and it's tough to not look for it even when you know it's not there anymore.

So now I figure is the best time to use that hour I got given as a gift. I didn't unwrap it last night. I just saved it on my bedside until today and put it to use writing these last few hundred words.

They may not be the most inspiring or revelatory but I got such a good deal on them I just couldn't say no.

One free hour. Not bad at all.

And I'm going to try not to fret too much at losing the hour on the end of my day. Night comes no matter who you are or what your doing just like the day. It's all a matter of when you chose to open your eyes and when you close them shut.

Now I think I have an old, nervous kitchen clock that knows what's about to happen. Maybe I'll use the little dial on the back like I'm supposed to.

Aw the hell with it. What's the fun in that?

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Day one thousand three hundred and fifty . . . Plate one.

I'm full.

Full of Chinese food, that is. Sushi, too.

I just came back from the Asian Buffet down on King Street. It's pretty good most of the time. The sushi is almost always decent. The Chinese food is hit or miss. Tonight, for me, it was a miss. I think I unfortunately just picked a bunch of stuff that was cold and/or dry. Jodi said her's was delicious. But if you compared the two of us and the type of plates we construct you would find two distinctly different (and some would say very representative) styles of eating.

She (the delicate, sensible one) takes a few things--some cold, some hot--and places them artfully on her plate leaving enough space between each item that one could--with a modicum of skill--roll a marble around between the salmon roll, dumpling, sweet potato tempura, seafood salad, and green beans. Said marble would more than likely have only a modest amount of soy sauce, wasabi and grease on it when finished.

Now me, on the other hand, I build a castle.

My plate (it's more of a serving tray, really) is a bastion of chicken fingers, pork and scallions, volcano roll, salmon roll, dragon roll, dumplings, fried rice, eggplant, bok choy, with a garden of lo mein noodles and a pond of dipping sauce.

If one dropped a marble on my plate it would surely, instantly disappear into the moat of starch and soy, hopefully to be disposed of when--as is customary and typically American--I purposely and deftly position my half-eaten plate to the right of my grease-splotched Chinese zodiac place mat as I look wistfully away, allowing for the very nice (and very trim) Asian waitress to come and remove it for me so as to free me from the over-sized booth to take it all again from the top grabbing another Oriental-detailed plate like a top hat from a vanity in some obscure Gene Kelly movie. She, the waitress, more than likely just shrugs her shoulders to the others in the back as she bangs the remains of plate one--little lost marble and all--into the trash can.

Any other meal one would call the first plate the appetizer. Here, at Sakura, it's "plate one."

So the way Jodi's plate works is that she gets a few things and doesn't overdo it. Nothing gets mashed together. Nothing commingles. And when she's done eating it is relatively mess-free. It's an exercise in common sense, taste, and modesty.

The way my plate works is that I pile as many things together as I can as quickly as possible. Thus, I can't really tell if one thing is good or bad. It's an average. It's how I work. It's an exercise in gluttony.

We don't do this often, but tonight was a special night.

We went to the Chinese buffet tonight in honor of my aunt, Lynda Jean Johnson, who passed away three years ago today.

And if there was one lady on this planet who could put the all-you-can-eat concept to the test it was her. She was a woman who constantly was on a diet except for four or five days out of the year. On these days we would go down to the Peeking Palace in Fairhaven, Massachusetts and get our feedbag on.

There was a ritual about it as there was with most events the Johnson's partook of in the realm of food.

We would walk in and be greeted by the familiar faces of the waitstaff.

They would show us our booth--there was no need to actually sit. When I say "show us our booth" I think it was more for the waitress to know where to expect us to land.

We would tell them we all wanted water. No lemon for the ladies; lemon for me.

And then we would pick up our plates march over to the 200 feet of steam tables and the Mongolian grill.

This was a big night out.

My mom would get the seafood salad and four kinds of shrimp: fried, butter, teriyaki, and sweet and sour. She'd also get five to ten pounds of crab legs. This was her bogie. She dug the fake seafood, the crabs and the shrimp. You could keep your rice and noodles. That stuff was for amateurs. My mom, Judy, knew what was up. And you can also keep whatever vegetables were mixed among the four different kinds of shrimp unless there was no way around it. A stray piece of bok choy or a baby corn may get past her decisive and skillful spoon and tong work but it was never intentional. Judy was a pro. And Judy didn't really like Chinese food.

We'd all joyfully eat "plate one" and then the two of them (or three if my Aunt Anne was around) would go up for "plate two." I was, of course, left behind to watch the purses during this trying time. Then, upon at least one person's return, I was let loose, once again, back on the food maze.

More often than not "plate three" was all me. But I had devised a way to make it look not so . . . so, piggish, I guess it would be called. You see, this third (and usually last) plate was where I'd show my altruistic side. It was the plate I'd add some "sharing" items. I'd get more of what I wanted for sure. But I would make sure to add on to what I liked a few items that I knew everyone else liked. Then I would offer them to the others at the table. Now, if they took them, fine. That was what I wanted to have happen anyway. But in the event that they were full, then guess what? Yep, all mine. How's that for working it all out? Pretty sweet if you ask me.

Now these meals would always--and I mean each and every time--end the same way.

My Aunt Lynda would go up for dessert.

Now this was a woman who was about 5'4" and usually pretty trim and fit. But when it came time for dessert at the Chinese restaurant she became a machine. Normally at these places they have a small bowl for the dessert. But my aunt went for the plates. Yes, the plates. She'd get a regular sized dinner plate and start scooping ice cream on it. Three, four, sometimes five scoops of ice cream and maybe a brownie or two to stop the melted stuff from getting too far away from the mountain in the middle. Top this all off with whipped cream and jimmies (don't ask me what kind of jimmies . . . there is only one kind of jimmies thank-you-very-much) and maybe a scoop of butterscotch pudding and she'd turn around and start walking back to the table.

I could hear the Spaghetti Western movie music as my aunt would approach the table to the sharp and ever-so-often judgmental eye of Judy, her big sister. I don't know why but my mom loved giving my aunt a hard time about how much ice cream she put on her plate. Each and every time she would say something about how maybe she should use a bowl next time or was she making some kind of ice cream birthday cake with it or . . . well, you get the picture.

My aunt would always just stare her in the eyes and say, "Judy, you leave me alone. You always do this to me. Just M.Y.O.B."

And my mom would laugh a little laugh and open her fortune cookie.

I'd enjoy the bottomless ice water until the check came and then I'd excuse myself to the bathroom like anyone would who is broke and out to dinner.

Then we'd go home in the same car, change into pajamas, and drift off to sleep.

And this is the end of my story today.

It's a happy story. It's a true story. It's one that always makes me smile.

I've written too many of these things that end with a box of tissues.

My aunt hated sad stories, violent movies, tales of distrust or hardship or anything else that was upsetting. She told me that she had no room for fictitious bad news, that she had more than enough in real life. This became more evident towards her end. In fact, during her last few weeks alive she watched the TV Land channel almost exclusively. I heard the theme songs to Leave It To Beaver, Green Acres, I Love Lucy, and The Dick Van Dyke Show among others almost daily. It was like she was climbing back into the world of the 1950's--a time when she was a kid and nothing could hurt her too badly.

It's hard to believe it's been three years without her. We were just getting started on a new path together. She had gotten the chance that my mom never did: she got to see me clean and sober.

I wish she could have met my Jodi.

I wish she could see the home we've made.

I wish she would send me an article from the newspaper about a new health risk/antidote that might just apply to my life.

I wish I could see her coming back to the booth with that big ol' plate of ice cream piled high as a shoe box.

I wish, I wish, I wish.

Strange, now that I think of it. We got the check tonight but they never gave us a fortune cookie.

First time, I think, that's ever happened.

I'll just guess what it would have said and call it apropos.

Thanks for reading,


Dedicated to Lynda Jean Johnson 12/15/41-9/7/08

I would be remiss if I did not dedicate at least a portion of this post to the late Peeking Palace, formerly of Huttleston Ave. Fairhaven, MA which was closed as of last week when Jodi and I were looking to use a long forgotten about gift certificate.

Thanks for the good times, Peeking Palace. You sure were special.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day one thousand two hundred and eighty three . . . For Polska

My mom would be so proud.

I mean, if she's out there somewhere in the cosmos, the ether, the universe of the unknown, and there's some way she can see what her boy has accomplished since she left her mortal coil she would undoubtedly be so thrilled that her hard work had paid off--the thirty five years she put into me through thick and thin--I'm sure her smile would be so wide it would clear up the grayest skies and cheer up the saddest souls the heavens had ever had to put up with.

But right now, if she's watching, she'd see her boy in Poland--one of her favorite destinations--and she'd see me making friends, pronouncing what little vocabulary I have, properly, and sharing little tidbits of info that she, herself, had imparted to me years ago.

She would also see that I will be reuniting with some distant relatives who will be coming to see me perform with the Young at Heart--the reason why I'm here. Great aunts, great cousins and even greater nieces--five people in all--will be coming to see me and spend a little time on Wednesday.

It's all amazing stuff. I mean, these people came to Berlin when I played there in 2006--an eight hour drive from where they live--and brought me back to their house for a couple of days right before Thanksgiving. This trip was made even more special by the fact that I was able to call my mom from their house and say hello, and they could say hello, and we could all connect in one room on one phone while my mother was right there on the other end. It was an amazing experience. And looking back on it a very fortunate event as she would only be with us for another six weeks. She had always thought that one day we would go to Poland together. I even remember a time when I was a kid when she tried teaching me one Polish word a day. That didn't last very long. But here I was, in the country of my ancestors actually spending time with family. And family had always seemed to be in short supply on our particular branch of the Johnson tree. But these people rolled out the red carpet for me. They made me a meal that only happens at Christmas. Dorota--my great aunt--spent the better part of a whole day toiling in the kitchen to put this lavish feast on the table. It was amazing, to say the least. Pierogi, golumki, kielbasa, kielbaski (small kielbasa stirred with grain alcohol and set on fire . . . I kid you not), rabbit paté, smoked salmon, crazy-good chocolate, and special vodka from special vodka glasses.

Oh yes, this was back in "the day." And those days were not that long ago when I really stop to think about it. Regardless of whether I took my last drink of alcohol three and a half years this past June 27th, that time in my life is still very fresh in my mind. I hope it remains that way, too. I don't want to rehash it every day and beat myself over the shoulder with a ball-ended whip, but I do want to have some kind of contrast to my current clean life. With nothing to compare it to I may think that I can do whatever I want, and that kind of thinking didn't often work out so well.

And as much as I regret the way I felt waking up after our last night in Berlin--like a dead, drunk, sewer rat, if that can be imagined in human, living form--I am glad that I went through it. Like I said, contrast can focus commitment and further understanding. It's a very powerful thing.

But all the planets are aligning on this trip. I tell people my name is Frederyk (pronounced Fred-EHR-eck, with the first "r" rolled) and they say "like Chopin?". And I get to say "yes, like Chopin." And it's nice to hear it because my mom said my name that way when she was in a particularly silly mood.

There was a lot of Polish spoken around my house when I was younger and my babush (my grandmother) was around (maiden name: Machnik); she spoke it fluently. We would go over to my aunt Stacia's house in Taunton every week or two and her and my babush and my mom would sit around and talk and eat pastries. I would sit in the other room and be a good boy and make my puppets. Sometimes I'd go out in the yard and look for trouble, but really my trouble at that time consisted of going down the street too far. And when you're eight years old and can't buy your own snacks from the store--and your aunt Stacia had a house full of Polish pastries--you don't stray too far too often.

A woman on the crew is named Judyta. It's the Polish spelling of Judith and it's pronounced You-DIT-ah. I haven't heard that name said that way in a long time. It was the way my aunt always called my mom when she was in a particularly silly mood.

It all makes me so happy.

I got an email from another bunch of relatives yesterday, completely out of the blue. They had no idea that I was here in Poland. It came with several pictures of me as a child: me with my mom, and, my mom, my babush, and this woman who's granddaughter was writing to me. She found her way to me through this very blog. When I was reading her email I initially thought it was a set-up. But who on earth would possibly set me up like that?

I can't explain so much of what happens to me these days. I'm just happy to have these surprises coming to me on a seemingly regular basis. There used to be all kinds of things that happened to me that I couldn't explain, but the reasons behind those events were very much of this earth. I don't forget much anymore. I don't have a reason to. Sometimes I wish I didn't notice so much as I do--the little things, mostly, nothing of much consequence. But I'll take my heightened sense of awareness over the heightened sense of cluelessness any day.

It's late here and I'm going to finish up. It's been six weeks since I had anything to say. Tonight I just decided it was as good a time as any to chatter on a bit.

I have good chocolate in my hotel desk drawer. I have clean clothes in my dresser. I have a tuned guitar waiting for me at the performance space. I have a sold out crowd to play for tomorrow. I have a hankering for some quinoa salad and a nice slab of broiled, wild-caught salmon that will have to wait a week. I have thirty or so fellow travelers scattered around this Poznan, Poland Novotel. I have blood relatives coming to the show on Wednesday and a buch more that just crawled out of the woodwork (and if there's something Poland has a lot of it's woodwork). I have a beautiful girlfriend who loves me. I have a clear memory of all my actions. I have a bed with two semi-comfortable pillows waiting for me three feet away.

And I have Poland.

My mother would be so proud.

Her little Frederyk has come back home.

"Dobranoc", (dough-BRA-notes) would be what she'd say to me every night--every night that she could no matter how old her little boy got.

I can still hear her gentle, soothing voice in my head before I go to bed most nights.

And I will let tonight be no different than the rest.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day one thousand two hundred and twenty-eight . . . It all depends on the day.

There's a beauty to being so little you have to reach up for the door knob.

You stand in front of it and that's about all you see: the knob. You don't see the name or number-- that stuff is usually three-quarters up at least. You don't try to peer into the spyhole because that's way too high, even on tippytoes. And normally you don't even deal with a key unless it's your own home (I wasn't given my own key until I was probably eleven). The door is either unlocked or you have to wait for someone to unlock it. But if it is unlocked then you just take both hands and cup them around the knob and turn and hope for the best.

As we get older things even out for a while. The silver, gold, brown or black knob sits right there at your mid-section in your tweens and a simple bending of the elbow is all it takes and you've got it. Then, hopefully, as the years go by you grow so that it's finally (and subconsciously) a mere flip of the hand, and viola, you turn the knob, the door gives way and you're in . . . or out depending on the situation.

1980 was a difficult year for my family. Eugenia C. Johnson, the matriarch of the Johnson clan, and my grandmother on my mom's side, (or Babush, as I called her) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That was, I believe, sometime over the summer. I was only ten so I'm a little foggy on the details. But I remember spending many evenings in Worcester, where we would go for her treatments, sitting on the floor of the generously appointed waiting room with my bag of fabric, poly-fill, buttons, ping pong balls, and fur, which I would then use to make puppets of all stripes and sizes, colors and species: monster, human, plant and animal. I'm sure I was as much of a pleasant distraction to the others waiting there with me as I was to my own worries.

The whole year is a bit of a blur to me, not just because of my age, but I believe because I knew this was the end of an era in my life. I knew that at some point in the near future I would lose the most important person in my world besides my mom. My babush had taken care of me during the daytime from not long after I was born until I was old enough to go to school. This allowed my mother to work as a teacher which she did for over thirty five years. We had a special bond, the kind only a grandparent can have: once removed from the child, but knowing of the connection that runs deeper than the shape of a nose or the angle of a pair of ears. The wisdom and the experience that comes from raising a child to the point where they can place one in your arms trumps any and all past grievances on either side. And the child knows it, too. But he or she knows, as well, that the stakes are just a wee bit lower. You might get a treat your mom would never give you. You also might get away with something that would never fly in front of "the boss."

You live and you learn.

And so it came to pass that on November 3, 1980 I was picked up by my aunt and mother in a big 1979 station wagon from my uncle's house in Newport, RI. I had been brought there to spend a couple of days after my babush took a turn for the worst. The tone of the visit was somber and the dinners were eerily quiet.

When the car pulled up one morning I could see from the look in my mom's face that my babush was gone.

Then came the wails from the deepest reaches of my soul.

It's strange how a loud sound like a fighter jet overhead or an ambulance can make me cover my ears. I protect them now. They're part of my toolbox, as it were. And I have done some damage to them that I'd like to at the very least keep to a minimum.

But the acoustics in that station wagon--white metal edges and long, rectangular glass, made for a personal public address system the likes of which the world had never seen.

I wailed and cried.

I sobbed.

I almost threw up.

And the more I cried, it seemed, the less my mom and aunt tried to stop me. They knew it meant as much to me as it could have. And when you are a parent, I'm guessing, it's better for your child to understand the gravity of a situation when it's happening rather than have to explain it to them when they're older.

I cried every drop of salty water I was made of. I cried so much I was drinking my streaming tears. A wet, salty, stretched, wrinkly face, that's what I felt when I held my hands to my head.

A ten year old, from what I remember, has an affinity for a face full of tears. They cry when they do something wrong; they cry when they want something they can't have; they cry when they've fallen down; and they cry when it's time to go to bed. But the tears I cried that day felt different. These were hot tears. These were more than salt water. I could swear there was blood mixed in there. And if there wasn't I remember wishing that there was because I wanted to be gone, too. I wanted nothing to do with this world without my babush in it.

She was the first one in my life to leave for good. And that, in itself, takes on legendary status.

That left a bigger hole than the space one walks through on an open field.

But life, of course, goes on if you're are here for it. This life I speak of left my grandfather, my mom, my aunts, my uncles, and my cousins to take care of moving on.

And my mom was turning forty that coming May.

May, 14th 1981 to be exact.

Today, thirty years ago.

Now, I don't remember Thanksgiving that year; or my Aunt Lynda's birthday in December; Christmas; my grandfather's birthday in January; Easter; or even my eleventh birthday in May.

Those memories just aren't there though I'm sure there are pictures confirming their occurrence.

But what I do remember from the year moving forth is the majesty of a surprise party my aunt and grandfather put together for my mother.

They hired a string quartet.

They sent out secret invites that were produced, lovingly, at my grandfather's print shop to all of my mom's friends and a select collection of colleagues.

They had a cake made that was about as big as I was if you add up my length, width and depth (I was a "husky" child).

And they made sure that it was slated for the day after my mom's birthday.

And I also remember the feeling of reaching up for the doorknob with my mom behind me at seven o'clock sharp.

I remember the purposeful way I grasped onto that knob and turned with all my might and swung that first door open into the foyer. Then I waited until my mom closed the door behind her, leaving the two of us sandwiched uncomfortably in close quarters for ten seconds.

I remember looking up at her in that little entryway, with the springtime twilight sneaking in the semi-circular front door window and smiling for a second.

"Okay, okay . . . let's go, Frederick." She said.

And I remember that odd silence that a room full of people can create.

That strange forced hush when thirty people are about to joyously ambush someone. It's a paused frame in an action movie. The energy is vacuum sealed in that five seconds of time right before the lights go on. Shapes swirl. One last whisper escapes. Hands come out of pockets. Pupils adjust to the temporary darkness as all eyes turn towards the inside foyer door.

And then . . .



I remember looking up at my mom, a lady who had walked into her sister's apartment a thousand times at least, and seeing the look of amazement. She had come down here for every occasion imaginable in the past: for dinner, to watch TV, to argue, to make up, to drop off her mischievous son. But never before had she come into this five room apartment to 30 friends and family, a string quartet, and her little boy all smiling at her.

I hugged her and she brought me in close.

I had pulled it off.

I had kept the secret.

I hadn't even slightly screwed up.

And now I was off the hook and I could just enjoy the party.

When I had brought my dear mother downstairs I was wearing my normal street clothes: Mork and Mindy t-shirt and cords with a pair of Pro Keds. Probably. That was one of my favorite combos.

But as I let my mom off into the throng of well-wishers and family members I swiftly turned around and opened the doors that led up to my part of the house. I changed into my very best clothes (clothes, my mom always attested to that I picked out myself) and returned to the soiree.

As you can see, for some strange reason my cousin, Heather, donned a French Maid outfit for the event. I am to my mom's right, next to me is my cousin, Dirk, and my Aunt Lynda, the ringleader and orchestrator, is in the blue.

Now, this day will always resonate with me because I believe that this day was the first day that the pain from the loss of my babush (and the ensuing depression) started to lift just a little. The world we all lived in (it was a tiny little bubble of a world) would never fully recover, but there was a feeling of honest celebration that this party brought. It was a reminder of the joy that life on earth is sometimes capable of. Regardless of the fact that my mom had no choice in attending this auspicious occasion I remember her really relishing the attention. Everybody who knew her knew that she had been through hell and back. The loss of one's mother is never easy, but going through the ordeal she went through--taking care of her mom at home and in the hospital through a horrible and furious cancer--was life changing. I don't thing she ever really recovered, but this party was a start.

It was a beginning of a new chapter in her life.

She still had her sister.

She still had her brother and his family.

She still had her father.

She still had her friends.

And she still had her little boy.

And this little boy, while stumbling more than a few times on his journey in life, eventually turned into a man.

He learned the joy of a surprise and the tricky emotional and physical affair it can be to keep it secret.

He learned that life is fleeting, changing, coming, going, and, ultimately, entirely what you make of it.

And he learned that the doors we walk through are really just a little bit bigger than we are.

As we get older and as we get closer to their threshold, both in height and in width, the doorknobs even up to our midsection. Ultimately, all we need to do is approach them and lift our hands just a little and turn the knob, walk through, and hope for the best.

The keys that we carry around grow in number and complexity.

Sometimes we are the ones that lead those behind us into a surprise party.

And sometimes it is us who are the ones left standing with a room full of people smiling and staring, eyes adjusting to the sudden bright light flooding the ceiling, floor and walls.

It all depends on the day.

This story is dedicated to my mother, Judith Ann Johnson, who would have been seventy years old today, though to me she was always ageless.

Happy Birthday.

Sto lat.

I love you.

I miss you.

I will see you again someday.

And that, my sweet mother, will be quite a surprise party, indeed.

Thanks for reading.


It is days like today that I make a donation to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. It helped us share many more months than we might have, otherwise. I owe them a debt of gratitude that money could never repay but I suppose every little bit helps.

If you feel the same way, please click here and show your support.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day one thousand two hundred and twenty one . . . Done.

These feelings don't come as often as I'd like but I'm not about to complain.

They're just like a dip in the road--the kind that give you that little lift and a whoosh in your belly. And when it happens I have to kind of ride it out and egg it on. But I know it'll be gone in a matter of minutes and then I have to wait again . . . and then it will sneak up on me and get me and make me smile.

It's the feeling of done.

I'm not talking big deal done like graduating from school or landing a business deal, though I'm sure that might precipitate it, too. No, what I'm talking about comes from a mundane accomplishment like washing a sink full of dishes (no dishwasher for me. Never did like the way they made the dishes feel or smell) and then standing back and looking around and seeing the difference I made in my world.


Or washing all the laundry and folding it and putting it away where it goes. And then looking around the room and not being able to see one sock, one shirt, one pair of pants, or even one pajama bottom.


And these states of being done don't last long. For tonight there will happily be a shirt and pants on the chair in our bedroom, socks on the floor and a jacket hanging on the door. These are signs of life. These are demarcations of civilized rituals. But for the few minutes directly after and all the time leading up to the moment where this temporary solace is ushered out the door it makes me happy.

It just happened to me moments ago and like a picture of a snowflake I want to have an almost impossible record of it here in these few words.

May is a big month for me. Mother's Day is tomorrow, my birthday is on Monday, my dearly departed mom's birthday is on the 14th. I have so much joy associated with the month of May. It is such a beautiful thirty-one days of the year and I am fortunate that my losses have not tipped the bottle over and removed the solution that allows me to enjoy it fully in a healthy manner.

I haven't ever thought about it until just now but I suppose the word "May", itself, (capitalized or not) is a tentative assemblage of three letters. I'll always be happy that may turned to will.

And while these personal celebrations punctuate the beginning and middle of the month, Memorial Day caps it off like an unexpected parade cannon shaking the ground and swinging all heads its way. Though it's true meaning must sheepishly be reminded in every local newspaper so one is made aware--again--at the reverence the day ought to hold it's mainly just a time to have fun.

We gather family and friends together around the picnic tables sturdy and stoic like heavy, dark, park parade floats brimming with disposable plates, plastic cutlery and sticky paper cups ridiculously defying gravity as they teeter back and forth in the wind. Someone's always running for something from the picnic table. Always.

And the air hangs heavy with the vaguely harmful aroma of lighter fluid and charcoal, burnt hot dogs and chicken skin, cigar smoke and bubbles. The unmistakable smell of baked potatoes on the grill always reminds me of my grandfather who was undoubtedly the grill master of the family. The flies, the pollen, the dust, dirt, petals, wrappers, bags, and Sunday circulars all whirl about during this time of year. It is a truly beautiful thing.

And I'm sitting here outside after putting out enough plastic, metal and glass furniture to feel like I can relax. I found the sweet spot where my wi-fi works and I popped a flavored seltzer from a local soda producer.


May's just begun and I have such great expectations. This winter was a bruiser for almost everyone I know on the east coast and a few on the west. It's time to defrost and it's time to stretch. The birds overhead somehow seem to know I'm thinking about them, too, as they caw and cackle back and forth. The clouds can't make up their mind whether or not to give up the buckets of water they're stockpiling. They have so far to go some days that I can't imagine they don't get thirsty. And the buds on the trees peek through to the outside world just a little more than they did even an hour ago.

It's finally here.

Spring is finally, actually here.

And I'm about to publish this blog to the ether above.

One little click and the thoughts I've assembled over the last hour and change will be for all the world to see.

It's not a big deal.

It's not my best stuff.

It probably doesn't make sense to too many people other than me.

But at least I know for certain.

At least it's almost through.

And one more word that sums it all up.

One word after these five here:


Thanks so much for reading.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day one thousand one hundred and eighty four . . . Flowering

I've been doing it so wrong for longer than I'd care to admit.

"Don't cut them with scissors," the lady at the flower shop told me. "Use a knife. If you use scissors it squeezes the stem together and ends up strangling the flower. If you cut it with a knife it's cleaner and it lets the flower breathe and drink and last longer."

And I just stood there and let the knowledge and understanding soak in like a mist of fresh spring rain.

Gardeners, to me, are like bakers. They hold a special bit of magic in their hands that people not in the know just can't touch. I wish I could bake a croissant or a baguette but I really don't have the stamina or the patience. If I want fantastic bread I have a great bakery just down the street I can visit. Simple as that.

I have a beautiful garden outside my house, but I've been working with a guy who is a master landscaper and he really knows his stuff. It was (and is) and investment in my house and every year he comes and makes things nice again. It's hard to believe it to look outside today but in a month this place will be a thriving botanical feast for the eyes and nose.

But I do other things that are special to me--playing music and writing these blogs--and I like to think I know a thing or two about them. It's not just because I was drawn to the world of the musician from a very young age or the fact that my mother and father were both excellent writers, though that does help. But if someone asked me a question about what's the best way to get a gig or how to hold a reader's attention I think I may just be able to give them a useful pointer or two.

So, when the lady at the flower shop shared her little tidbit with me it really made a difference.

See, these are the kind of lessons one learns in life that doesn't just help with the situation at hand; it adds to the understanding of a greater way to be.

I have many pairs of scissors in my house. My mom sort of collected them throughout her life. I have little ones, big ones, stainless steel ones, light aluminum ones, heavy iron ones, tiny sewing scissors, alligator-like pinking shears, blue-handled, orange-handled, red-handled, black-handled, and green-handled scissors. Some are sharp and some are dull and some are somewhere in between. I may even have a pair or two of left-handed ones lying around somewhere, as my aunt was a southpaw.

Something else I have a lot of in my house is pencil holders. And in each pencil holder there sits a pair of scissors (along with pens, pencils, and a letter opener, of course). I just like to be ready for anything. If there's one thing I can't stand is to be running around my house looking for a pair of scissors when something needs cutting. It's taken almost forty years but I've finally gotten to the point where I can abstain from pulling an errant thread on my or someone else's clothes. I now cut that sucker right at the root. It hasn't been easy, but the trail of open seams and missing buttons lies behind me now and stops somewhere around the 2009 spring/summer season. I feel that having a pair of scissors in each room may extend the life of untold numbers of pockets, collars and cuffs and it is part of my recovery process. But I digress . . . .

I also have letter openers. Because if there's one thing I wish I didn't do was open mail with my fingers. No matter how good of an intention I have when I start, I end up with an envelope that is ragged and torn and just about useless except that I can put my mail back in it and add it to the others in the filing cabinet that are also poster children for haste and impatience. But I keep a letter opener in every room (and one in my car, even) because I seem to get mail on a pretty regular basis. And I don't always make it to the office with said mail and something comes over me when I get something even semi-important and if I don't have a letter opener handy guess what: I use my fingers.


So, getting back to the matter at hand. I've been preparing the flowers I put around my house wrong for longer than I'd care to admit. I buy them at the store or cut them from my garden and then I bring them over to the sink. I put lukewarm water in the vase or vases and I take the closest pair of scissors and "snip" I cut the end off at an angle and stick them in the water. But, of course, doing so is wrecking the delicate system of nutrient delivery for the flowers which end up putting on a brave face and "living" for as long as they can.

But now I have learned a better way to do this. I was taught a way to make this process cleaner and more efficient. Instead of bringing two semi-sharp blades together I now take one very sharp one and put it to the stem lying on a block of wood. I slice across from one edge through to the other rather than from each side inwards towards the center.

It's these type of changes in process that can help me live my life better. Because living a more peaceful and robust life is not about just getting things done. It's about learning from others and realizing that there are paths that are proven to lead to a better outcome. I may have a pair of scissors in every room but that doesn't mean that they should be used when there's a better tool right near the sink.

As spring approaches and the buds on the bulbs start to poke their heads up from the desolate ground I get a little bit nervous. I've always liked the winter because it makes life simpler. When it's dangerous to drive it's easy to stay home. When it's cold outside there's not much chance I'm going to want to do much manual labor in the yard. And so for years I've enjoyed the months between the falling leaves and the new flowers for those special reasons. This winter was especially rough around here. The snow was brutal, roofs collapsed, the temps were much colder than I can recall and it's seemed to drag on forever. In fact we are supposed to get another snowstorm tonight and tomorrow that's going to drop a half a foot on the ground. I would love to believe that the weathermen are all in kahoots as it is all predicted for April Fool's Day. We shall see.

But somehow the coming spring has all the makings of a great and memorable season. I'm finally at a weight that I haven't been at since high school and my original music is starting take form. Jodi has taken steps to further her career in ways that she had only dreamed of and is about to leave a world of stress behind her. Our time spent together equals no other experience either one of us has ever imagined and I still can't believe it's really happening.

And these are the days when I have to remember to not pull that string on my button.

This is the time when I need to make sure that I open that important envelope cleanly because I may need to read the posted date in a hurry next year.

And these are the moments when I have to take the stem of the flower into consideration. Because though it is separated from its roots and will surely die I have the opportunity to make its time in bloom as pleasant as can be.

And it looks at me and smiles and says "you didn't have to do that."

And I know that it's right.

I smell the petals and close my eyes.

And sure enough the winter comes again.

And I have less to do.

Or so it seems.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day one thousand one hundred and fifty five . . . This just in.

This is why people leave and don't come back.

I don't know about you but I can't read the news anymore. And as I say that, if I look back at my internet browsing history I'll find that I was just on CNN four minutes ago.

It's awful. It's addictive. It's almost always depressing, and it is, by nature, endless. But it's the reason I opened this blog up and started writing again. So, perhaps, just for today it's a little bit productive. I'll know in about 1,500 words.

I really don't know what to make of it all--this whole process of deciding what should be shared with the world--between the dangerous position of the reporters on the ground or in the office building, the reactions to the stories, the comments posted by what often seem to be mostly uneducated, vitriolic, lunatics and the slow dissolve and retreat of the aforementioned headlines to semi or full obscurity, leaving behind at the most a match in a Google search and at the least a new pet's fetid cage liner. It just seems like something is driving the people of this world to the brink of insanity or worse.

I guess the small bit of solace I can glean from it all is that I, for now, am not personally involved in any of the stories currently climbing the charts. And a disturbing facet of online news is that there absolutely is a "chart" system. By showing on a sidebar which stories are being viewed the most we are essentially turning our newspaper into a popularity contest where we just have to see what everybody thinks is worth knowing more about. It used to be the headline that grabbed a reader (or viewer, as it were). We once judged a story by the first few words and a picture or two. Now, it's an online poll with absolutely no explanation for accuracy or results.

If this red ledger line is longer than that red ledger line then this event must mean more regardless of what it's about.


Could it be that we see insanity spreading far and wide and so we feel it's becoming more acceptable? Have we arrived at a point where what is essentially intended to evoke empathy has instead led to mass indoctrination? Or is it just that when we see something unthinkable that has happened to someone else it allows us to grab ahold of that little bit of sanity which we do still possess and show it once and for all that we love it unconditionally and would do anything to keep it safe?

I feel like I am the one obese person in a ice cream eating competition that sees something is horribly, horribly wrong.

But that's just me and my metaphors. God, I wish I could stop.

I don't know. I know there's good stuff going on all over the place. I know that bad news travels faster and it usually travels cheaper (or even free and with a police escort). But I also know that I often get a distinct feeling from even some of the good news stories that makes me wonder if there's some insipid angle that's not being brought to light--that there's an underlying evil which has yet to surface. And I unfortunately feel like there's some quota of public interest stories that must be fulfilled daily. And that, to me, is the worst part of it all.

There's a certain joy I take in reading the local paper. It's not just the fact that our newspaper has been around since the eighteenth century. It's not just the pleasing fonts they use or the colors that are chosen to accompany the headlines. But I really like knowing that there is only five sections and thirty or so pages to today's newspaper (with a few extra allowed for the weekend section). I can take in only a set number of words and sentences with my eyes and there are only so many pictures to accompany those finite number of stories.

I'm not going to find any videos in the newspaper. I'm not going to set out on an endless succession of links and open windows. And I'm not going to see that thirty of my "friends" have shown their approval of any of the noteworthy pieces.

It's comforting, even though the headlines more often than not report the terror, sadness, and loss that the citizens of this world seem to dish out to each other on a minute by minute basis. It has a duty to report those issues and incidents as it is a newspaper and its focus is contained in its title. But it has a sense of scope that I feel we have lost today. It is flawed by design, but this flaw is what makes it work so well. Our brains can only take in so many items in a day and this finite form facilitates our limitations. Of course the methods of printing and the cost of production are the main culprits in its incapacity for endless advancement. But I find there to be a supreme beauty in this failing.

I wonder why doesn't include a page for comic strips? But I guess if you're using a computer then you have a world of entertainment at your disposal. Lucky us.

I'm a little concerned that someday there won't be any newspapers left for us to pick up and read. It pains me to think of a time when we will be forced to utilize such a malleable and inconsistent platform such as a web page for all of our information--something that, by design, encourages us to keep turning page after page after page after page until we are so far away from the initial story that all we can remember is that at some point we woke up, then we went to our terminal, and then we fell asleep again.

I'm worried that someday there won't be anything to ball up and stuff inside packages to send away; there won't be anything to line the cages for our animals that doesn't come from a pet store; there won't be anything to cut out for a scrapbook that hasn't come out of a home printer; and just like there are no more phone booths left in the country there will be no more newspaper boxes to squat and read the top half of the headlines. For some Americans it's our only exercise.

I suppose that there is a certain amount of irony that right now anyone who is reading this is most likely doing it on a computer. While I'm not anywhere close to a deal with Simon and Schuster I am in the process of having a certain amount of my posts put into book form with the hopes of someday having it published--at least in this language, and perhaps a few others. And when that happens I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Because any book has a first page and a last page. It may contain pictures and it may urge the reader to delve deeper into it's back catalog or look forward to an upcoming publication. But it has only so many chances on so many sheets of paper in which to tell its story.

And the story I have to tell--the story of my take on life and how I managed to stop trying to slowly end it--will hopefully resonate with its readers. It has a certain continuity, albeit fraught with contradictions. It has its moments of enlightenment and it has its periods of great sorrow. It has frilly, fluffy soliloquies and it has its intense bouts of self-consciousness. It has no real end as of yet but it will have a thoughtful pause as the first volume comes to a close.

All this is a dream still, but it's closer to happening than not.

My aunt, Lynda, lived to see the first nine months of entries. In fact, she helped edit many of them, the English teacher that she was.

One day when I was visiting her I saw a set of notebooks each with a picture of me and my mom on the cover--a picture from many years ago after a musical performance which moved her to tears. They were labeled "Fearless By Default Vols. 1, 2, and 3." I picked one up and flipped through it. Sure enough my aunt had printed out and compiled all of the entries I had written up to that point. I was floored. I asked her about them and she told me matter-of-factly that "One day years from now when all the computers stop working and the internet breaks down, all that will be left is what we have on paper . . . and I want your words to survive because they are important."

Of course this was something incredible to see and to hear. My aunt was always a bit of a cynic and had had many bouts of regret over some of my decisions be them musically or personally. But here was this woman who knew me better than anyone telling me she valued what I was doing with my life. She believed my cause was true. She had limitless hope for my future. And when all was said and done and the world was starting to crumble . . . when our information infrastructure has failed us and all we had was our senses and the printed page she wanted what I had to say to live on.

I will never forget that moment.

So I'll keep on plugging away with this "project" of mine. I realize these days I mostly write when an anniversary or special event has happened in my life. I've gone from twenty or more entries in a month back in 2008 to just a few now if that. But I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I've said so much already and I realize that not every story needs to be shared.

I only wish the news agencies would take a similar approach.

Today I basically had to snap out of my doldrums and put fingers to the keys and say something--anything.

It kept me off of

It kept me from turning on the radio.

It gave me a chance to clear out some of my frustrations and let off some steam.

And I hope in the 1,600 plus words you've just consumed there's a reason to come back for the next story. I'll try not to let it be three weeks from now but I'm not going to make any promises.

As soon as I press the "publish post" button at the bottom of my template right here my name will pop up in my Google Alert that someone has used my name for something--that someone, of course, being me.

Thanks for reading my news.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled program already in progress . . .


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day one thousand one hundred and thirty four (and five) . . . Such is life.

It's really day seven hundred and twenty-nine.

That's how many days Jodi and I have been together.

Tomorrow--which is in about thirty two minutes from now--will be our two year anniversary. In fact, I'm sure that I'll be writing this until then and so it will post on Thursday, not Wednesday night which it currently is.

Anyway . . .

She is lying next to me trying to sleep. These keys on my laptop are quiet but I'm betting my money that she can still hear them. And if she can she's probably guessing I'm writing something like this about this very topic. But the soft snore I can hear tells me it's blending in fine with the coming sleep's soundtrack.

Time pours out of the sky, the air, the ground and the faucets like it has no limit. These last two years have been gushing like a busted fire hydrant. Often I wonder where it all comes from and how the hell much of it there could possibly be.

I've been going over some old photos on my computer and I'm kind of amazed at how much we've done together.

I guess it's what couples do: stuff. Lots of stuff.

Trips and birthdays; meals and parties; concerts and sporting events; holidays and funerals.

But besides the fluctuation in hair length and seasonal attire I see two people who haven't really changed much. And when I say that I really mean by what one could surmise from a photo.

The camera pointed by hand takes only as honest a picture as one can pose for. I love the shots of us from a few series that we have where we used the timer. I'm sure if you've ever used a timer on a camera then you most likely have a few candid pictures of yourself either coming towards or walking away from the lens because either it went off too soon or you thought it did when it didn't. You see yourself in motion and usually in a hurry. But you have no one to blame for this. It's kind of nice to see the unpredictability of it all. You leave this little black or silver answer to your impractical dilemma on a shelf, or a rock, or a windowsill and run back in an attempt to look as cool and calm as if it--the camera--had asked you itself to take the picture for you. As if it had seen you on vacation taking a picture of each other and wanted to do the nice thing so you can both get in the shot.

And you have one shot out of three hundred where you aren't making a face you don't normally make in everyday life.

But everyday life is what we all lead. And the time we spend that is not documented somewhere is just gone like that water out of a hydrant. It leaves us and it doesn't come back, ever.

So I have ten minutes to write while I can still say--as Jodi just said to me before she kissed me goodnight and rolled over onto her bedded hemisphere--that we have been together for one-year-and-so-many-months-and-so-many-days.

Make that eight minutes after I just had to check the last paragraph for grammar.

But the time had run out of all these pipes for years and years before we had ever met. It came out for thirty eight--damn close to thirty nine--of mine before we made a formal introduction. And it will pour out for as long as my heart will still beat no matter what happens around me.

A lot can happen--good and bad--as we see everyday.

The time I spent preparing myself for devotion went on and on.

The time I spent trying different combinations of people, places, and things to fulfill me is past.

The hours I spent making connections and hoping for enlightenment--or maybe just a little fun--seems like a story I'm telling the grandkids.

All this time has to go somewhere.

Three minutes.

And the world that I made for myself.

And the world that she made for hers.

It all counts and it all matters--every second of it.

I am awestruck by the honesty that I can muster from myself and that which I am given from her.

One minute.

It makes me smile everyday.

It makes me worry, too.

Because this little organism is a delicate thing.

This little combination of worlds . . .

And now it has been two years.

She may remember that little kiss I just gave her. But if not that's okay too.

It's the times we do things without thinking that show who we really are.

It's the timer we set for ourselves and then hurry back to the spot where we think it will see us . . . and it saw us and captured our image just not exactly as we had anticipated.

She kissed me back without thinking about who or why or what time. She just knew it was me.

She is my camera and she sees those faces that aren't for show.

She is my one and only.

I will sleep for hours now, because if I don't I can't spend tomorrow's time the best I can.

And I would have never predicted all of this in an endless bucket of guesses.

Such a miracle.

Such a lucky man I am.

Such is life.

I love you, Jodi, my dear, and know I always will.

Happy Anniversary.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day one thousand one hundred and twenty-eight . . . Snow, salt, and flowers.

I signed up for this a long time ago.

I had the chance to move away from New England--from the northeast with its unpredictable winters that either make you feel shortchanged or victimized. But I stayed for a lot of reasons and I don't really have any plans to go anywhere for too long anytime soon.

It's so easy to lose perspective right about now. Because right about now my world seems to have been taken over by different shades and varying heights of hard, unforgiving, slippery, sludgy, salty, sandy, weather residue. It's indifferent towards me. It just sits there on the ground, on my roof, or on (and under) my car. Like a teenager's best friend laying on the couch in the basement the snow and ice doesn't really feel an ounce of responsibility for my daily woes.

"But I have to get to work!"

Oops. Huh. That's a real pickle. Sucks to be you.

And as I'm standing there with my scraper in both hands, trying with all my might to shave off enough ice to see far enough to drive until the defrosters have a chance to do the rest of the work I forget that hundreds of thousands of others are doing the exact same thing.

I was out there yesterday when it was real bad. I shoveled and I scraped. I even developed this new technique where I take my snow broom and throw it up in the air like a spear in an attempt to dislodge from the gutters as many icicles of death as I can. I works great except for the fact that I have to go pick it up wherever it lands, which is usually right about the same area where seconds before giant daggers of solid, pointy ice had come furiously down with a thud.

When I was about ready to come back in I tried to pat off the snow on my pants legs--it was up to my pockets, really--and I realized that they were actually frozen. My jeans had solidified and were a wrinkled tube not unlike the kind you attach to the back of a dryer.

But I survived all of that and here I am.

I know that the days are getting longer--it's a scientific fact--but I can still feel that sun racing through the sky like an Olympic sprinter indifferent yet fully aware that it will beat me to the finish. And I also know that once again at around four o'clock I'll slump my shoulders as I flip through the things in my mind that I needed its full cooperation for.

But I signed up for this a long time ago.

I notice way too many things around me these days. Perhaps that's one of the things that kept me from sobriety for so long. When your senses start to paw and nudge at you like a puppy with a ball it can be a bit overwhelming. If you throw the ball it'll stop for a while, and then it comes right back again.

Funny that I used what I used for so long to enhance my senses--not that that's not what happened. It certainly did. But I also don't notice that my computer screen is too bright for me after I've been looking at it for an hour. I can't really tell that it's affecting my vision until I look away . . . or until somebody else looks at and says something.

I hear the snow blowers with their constant whirring. But if I close my eyes and forget that I'm wearing a wool sweater I can picture the sound coming from lawnmowers.

We had a severe drought last year. It seems as if the city restricted our outside water uses from April until September. But all around the area is thousands of pounds of potential water just sitting there teasing the dead life below it.


I bought some fresh flowers the other day on a whim--some tulips, a hyacinth and a stem of four or five aromatic stargazer lilies. It was simply one of the best things I think I have ever done.

I paid twelve dollars and walked away with a foolproof serum for these winter drearies. I gave them to Jodi which made her happy. Then she put them all around the house which made us both happy. And now when I am doing the dishes I can smell the hyacinth every so often I find myself wondering if it's a new dish soap that smells so good. Then I realize what's right in front of me: colorful, fragrant life in a little piece of pottery with some tap water, in the dead of winter, with hard packed snow a foot outside my window and icicles of death hanging overhead.

But before I see that view I have to get past those flowers.

It's these things that I notice that will get me through the winter.

It's these things that I notice that will help me remember that while the sun seems to be winning the race right now each day my personal best keeps gets better.

It's these things that I notice that will keep me from feeling too trapped by my surroundings, my leanings, my state allegiance, my adopted hometown.

It's these things that I notice that I had to write about today.

And it's these things that I notice that I hope will always be an inspiration.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day one thousand one hundred and five . . . My Epiphany

I'm a bit out of sorts today.

I'm not looking for any sympathy or to have my hand held, my back patted, or my head rubbed.

But I just don't really know what to do with myself.

Today is a big day in my little world.

It's my good friend Steve's birthday. Sto lat, my friend. Sto lat.

It's also the day I can officially say that Jodi and I met and spoke at length, getting to know each other as guest judges at our local battle of the bands. We will have been together for two wonderful years next month.

But more than all these milestones January eleventh is the day when four years ago, my mom, Judith Ann Johnson, passed from this world that she had lived in for sixty five years.

Those who have followed this blog will undoubtedly know some or most of the story. Those who don't, I'll try to give you the short version.

My mom fought a fifteen month battle with pancreatic cancer. She had been rear ended in September of 2005 while waiting at a stop light. Though it was a small accident my mom was concerned with some pain she incurred where the seat belt had gripped her on impact.When the doctors took cursory x-rays they found a small lump on her pancreas which they deemed "treatable and curable." But when they went in there and took her apart they found out they had been mistaken: it was not as small as they had expected, and it was spreading.

The news was anything but good.

She beat the odds and hung in there to be with her family for two Christmases after her diagnosis--an unheard of length of time for that particular cancer. Through it all she barely complained once in my presence. Through four full New England seasons she lashed and swung at death with all her might. She laid traps and put out poison for the monster every day. She was smarter, she was patient, she was as sneaky as she could be. But she was, ultimately, no match for the spreading terror. And after a serious fall on December 28th, 2006 she was forced to be hospitalized again. From that moment I watched her slip away--a little more each day--for two weeks until I walked to the rehabilitation center she had been staying in and was knocked in the head with a baseball bat wielded by the head nurse.

She was gone.

I don't cry often.

In fact, I almost just cried writing that last paragraph. It choked me up just a little bit, but I couldn't commit to the tears. Sometimes this kind of stuff worries me and I wonder if I'm properly adjusted or if I ever fully grieved for her. After all, I spent over a year self medicating with some heavy duty pharmaceuticals crossed with all the rest of the items on my daily checklist.

But I think I came to the realization the other day that I don't cry because I don't feel like she's gone. I really and truly don't have that pang of loss that I did for the first year or so.

I have pictures to look at. I have clothes she made me. I have cards she wrote me. I have her forehead, her stubby little fingers, and her potato-farmer size 9 and a half feet.

And I have her inside of me all the time.

So I don't cry--or I haven't in a long time--because I have managed to turn the loss into a legacy. And as long as I am walking, talking, singing, snoring, and smiling I have her here on earth.

I'm just glad I came to a realization that she actually was as wonderful as all that. I suppose if she wasn't and I was her here on earth I wouldn't be as happy about it all and neither would you.

But I digress.

I never used to know when to take the Christmas tree down.

All my life, it seems, it just kind of stayed up for a while until the needles started to secede and travel south. And then it was always a kind of lament because it meant that Christmas was really over and if I hadn't found that gift that had slipped under the tree skirt (I was always sure there was one left for me) then after the tree was gone I would have to give up all hope for another year.

Every year on Christmas Eve I have lit a bayberry candle. It used to be my mother who lit the match until I grew old enough to light it myself. We never kept lighters in our house growing up--just big, bulky boxes of Diamond matches--and so the lighting of a match was always such a strange occurrence inside the house. The flash, pop, and sizzle of that match head followed by the immediate rounded glow cast on the sideboard was a magic trick all itself. And it was treated as its own endangered species--this match aglow--with a lifespan of all of twenty seconds. And when it had served its purpose it was always an awkward situation trying to find a place for this match--not the trash can, heavens no! But there was no need for ashtrays, of course, and so it was wrapped in tinfoil and placed on the kitchen counter for a while until it posed no future threat.

My mom would offer up the lighting of the candle to respect those who were with us, those who have passed, those who were far away, those who had come before, and those who were yet to arrive. She would always say, "the lighting of this candle signifies the beginning of the Christmas season." And then she would hold me close and she would cry softly. Sometimes I would join her in tears; sometimes I would just stand silent and stare at the flicker of the candle flame.

It was and is one of my favorite things to do.

But it always puzzled me that my mother would call December 24th the beginning of the Christmas season. Because, to me, Christmas began the day after Thanksgiving--typical kid rationale.

Just the other day I learned that there is a day called Epiphany, where the Magi was supposedly introduced to baby Jesus presenting him with his royal gifts. And I guess that the legend has it that if you take down your tree and your decorations before January 6th then the Wise Men would not be able to find their way.

I don't know how I feel about any of that.

What I do know is that it gave me an idea.

I still have my tree up. I've been meaning to take it down for a week now. I water it each day and make sure that the lights go on each night so Jodi and I can enjoy it. I don't know how many people in my neighborhood have theirs still up but I see one every once in a while.

But I just decided that I am going to leave it up for one more night--tonight--in honor of my mom.

In fact, just as I was writing the last paragraph I decided to turn the lights on as it's starting to get dark already. I would have done it anyway but I felt it was worth noting.

Tomorrow I will wake up to about a foot of snow if the weather men are correct. I'll open the forty year old Bowax with Lanolin and Sears and Roebucks and Co. boxes--browned, bent, torn, and crushed but still serving their purpose--and carefully re-wrap the delicate glass ornaments handed down over three generations. I'll pluck off the plastic and syrofoam based gems from the 70s and place them in layers separated by tissue. Those are still important but, thankfully, a bit more resilient.

There is a whole new layer of them added to the collection that Jodi and I have been given and picked out over our two Christmases together. They'll get put away, too.

And there is one that I made for all of my friends the year that I had neither my mom, my aunt, or my Jodi in my world. It was made of paper, cut out and covered in laminate.

All of these will go away for another year.

And this is the great part of my plan: that I have a day I can call the day. And it's not the day because of a supposed event from 2000 years ago.

It's not determined by the way the weekends fall in a particular year.

It's not a day that works best for people who have to come from far away.

It's not a day anyone gets off of work.

And it's not a day that can be put off until next week.

It's the day I became a little more my mom.

It's the day she stopped having to fight.

It's my Epiphany.

And I'll leave the lights on for one more night so she can see if she wants to.

Well, what do you know . . . here come those tears after all.

Thanks for reading,


Judith Ann Johnson May 14, 1941-January 11, 2007

PS: On this day I usually donate to Dana Farber Hospital in Boston who helped keep my mother here for longer than we could have expected. If you would like more information on pancreatic cancer click here.

To donate to help fight this disease and many others click here.

Thank you.