Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety One . . . A curious crowd.

" . . . the passing down of memories is the strongest link in the gossamer bridge that binds us together as people."

~David Baldacci, Wish You Well

I never knew who said that.

And the reason I know it at all is that it was written on a page of my mom's stationary along with a few other quotes that she adored. There were also a few that I believe she wrote herself as I can't seem to find them anywhere other than on that one piece of paper which she assembled shortly before she passed away almost six years ago.


Amazing to think that my world will have existed six years without her in January.

I always have to remind myself that the reason time passes so swiftly under my feet while reminders of her presence present themselves so forcefully and fully is because I really never feel like she's not with me.

She is always with me.

She is always with me because I remember.

There's a special Thanksgiving that's really etched in my mind--I was probably five or six.

I remember the way all the fall colors on the 1970's paper decorations popped out amongst the muted plaids and floral patterns of the upholstery and wallpaper. I remember the way my babush (the Polish word for "grandmother") would sing with "Popeye" and "Brutus", our two canaries. And in hearing that with my tiny first or second grade sized ears that somehow, someway, they always sounded simpatico and free like a Copeland score: exciting, daring, playful, and sure.

I remember--as does anyone left in my family who heard the story tens of times over the decades--how one year, maybe that year, as my mom was carefully--and when I say "carefully" it would have been almost as if it were a live explosive device in danger of being triggered by the vaguest sudden motion--how when she was carefully taking the Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven (wearing, I'm sure, a floral sun dress) that in her extraordinary concentration how she suddenly and shockingly lost her footing on the linoleum floor and slipped and fell on her ample behind. I remember how she fell in front of the stove, the golden brown and fully cooked turkey tumbling onto the floor, the baking pan clattering and clanging and my mother exclaiming one very sharp and untranslatable hoot into the air. I remember the piping hot stuffing that sprayed like buckshot in a three foot radius, and the insistent and repeated sounds of her one or two swear words that she would entertain only in extreme circumstance until I grew older (not for fear I would co-opt them; but merely because--as she maintained fervently and for life--but because I brought them out in her).

And as my poor thirtysomething mother was lying on the floor, with all the hopes and dreams of Thanksgiving oozing from a giant headless bird in front of the still open 325 degree oven--and me, of course, standing in the other room watching it all happen, because I could never be too far away from the kitchen for fear that I might miss being asked if I wanted to "lick the beaters" which either held a scrumptious coating of whipped potatoes, vanilla frosting, whipped cream or fudge--as this all was transpiring any normal sister in a normal family would have come running to help her up and try her best to salvage what was surely a 20 pound bird that had most certainly failed the five second rule.

But my aunt--her sister--had a more unique reflex action.

She went running for her camera.

And as the story was told over and over and over again, the picture she took was one of a beautiful mother, sister, daughter in a floral print sundress on the floor of her own kitchen, with a fully cooked, partially stuffed turkey next to her being furiously licked, nosed and summarily devoured by one delirious and never satiated Wire Fox Terrier named "Bonnie" who was getting away with murder because her owner could not . . . stop . . . laughing.

The scene I can remember as if it happened this morning. But of course those memories are like dreams--shaded with strange vignetting and effected by odd reverberations and echoes. They come through the brain like a hot bath being drawn, but they end before one can enjoy the full effects of the water. They will repeat the process if you ask them to but they're never exactly the same. And when they happen to be from one's childhood they're even more subject to change on a whim.

But the stories go with the memory that goes with the picture that goes with the laughing, the chiding, the I-wouldn't-expect-anything-less-from-my-sister comments years after the fact. And it happens every year because the holidays make it so.

The holidays--and especially this one--thankfully bring forth the recounting of this fateful tale that I suspect I must have written about in one of the hundreds of memories I've extolled on this journal of mine.

It's a tradition that I'm proud to be a part of. The retelling of this simple but fully engrossing event that happened on a day that is by design fraught with worry and trepidation over a kitchen catastrophe just as I have described.

And yet it's that memory of my dog--Bonnie--such a good girl--grunting as she licked at that damn turkey, more than likely burning the hell out of her long, pink dog tongue and rightfully not caring one little delicious bit. With my mother, who was always a lady, lying on her bottom, in her dress, covered in grease and stuffing, skin bright red from embarrassment which would more than likely match the color of the oven mitts she loved--long ago turned brownish black at the palms from years of pulling hot magic out of a convection oven. It's that memory that I have of her in hysterical laughter yelling at her sister to come help her and "put the damn camera away and make yourself useful, please" that is putting me on the edge of tears as I write this all down. It's the memory of the curious crowd that gathered at the entrance to the kitchen--where the carpet met the linoleum--at 1073 Bedford St. in Fall River, Massachusetts, as my Babush and I--with Popeye and Brutus the canaries singing their visionary score for two birds atop opposing perches in their cage--and my grandfather in his tweed sport jacket and trousers laughing his big laugh, Auntie Annie in town for the holidays, and Aunt Lynda in her sun dress just standing there with the Polaroid looking down at poor Judith Ann Johnson on the verge of crying but knowing full well that this year's Thanksgiving--the food holiday--will not be cancelled because of a little setback such as this.

Because we are resilient people.

Or maybe I should just say we were all really hungry.

I'm quite certain the big day went on as scheduled. I'm sure I grabbed a startled Bonnie from the mid section and led her out of the kitchen to her dog bed to sleep off the Tryptophan buzz. And I'm also quite sure my babush and aunts helped my mom up. Somebody--my grandpa, maybe--must have picked up the turkey and cut around the parts that were a bit dog eared, as it were, and brought it out to the table and set it next to the whipped potatoes, the gravy, the mashed carrots and turnips, the cranberry sauce spooned out but still retaining a ribbed can line or two, the corn and peas, the celery sticks, sweet gherkins, soda, milk, rosé wine, and the occasional beer.

And I'm sure we ate and ate and ate and then we would sit and talk and listen to the birds.

I'd bring out my violin and squeak through a new piece or two that I had been working on which would bring my mother to tears for all the right reasons and the rest of the room for the wrong ones.

My grandfather would leave in the early evening after running out of jokes (it would take hours) and make the one block walk back to his place.

My Auntie Annie would go back to the hotel she was staying at with five pounds of leftovers.

My Aunt Lynda would go downstairs to the first floor where she lived with her dog, Dandelion.

My babush would sit and sew and sing along with Brutus and Popeye.

I'd lie down in front of the television getting my fill of the magnificence of holiday programming in the mid-1970's.

And my mother--my poor, sweet, loving, delicate mother--would more than likely be holding the Polaroid that my aunt took of her in her most embarrassing moment to date.

And I'm sure she just shook her head and smiled thinking, "Well, this will make a good story someday"

I have many things to be thankful for this year.

I have my sobriety of almost five years and counting.

I have my lifted-out-of-a-dream girlfriend, Jodi, who has stuck with this--some would say persnickety--man for what is going to be four amazing years this February.

I have her wonderful, unique, and constantly growing family in West Seneca, New York who I will very much miss this year as Jodi and I celebrate our first Thanksgiving here at our home in Florence.

I have my health.

And I have my memories.

I wish I could remember more. I wish I could flip through this big old brain of mine like a world atlas and pick and choose certain memories so as to fill in the blanks to help me understand why I am the way I am. 

But I have to let them come to me because for all the right reasons we can only ask for so much at once.

And while I wish I had that Polaroid of my mother on the floor with Bonnie and the red oven mitts and the sun dress, sadly I can't quite put my finger on it. Amongst the thousands of photographs that I inherited I'm hoping I will someday come across it. I'm certain it was saved. But it--unlike the rest--was a Polaroid and there's probably only one copy out there.

But you see if I had the photograph I probably wouldn't have been inclined to write so much about it this Thanksgiving Eve. I may have just posted it on Facebook and put a cute caption under it and nobody but me and one or two other people would have really understood.

But as I said at the beginning of this post, the passing down of memories is the strongest link in the gossamer bridge that binds us together as people.

My mother truly believed that.

She lived this way.

She taught me these things.

And today, as most days in my life, she is remembered.

I wish all of the people who read this a very happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for spending a while with me and one of my fondest memories.

And just keep in mind that whether it's a table for two or twenty, that sometimes something you think might spell the untimely end of the year's most important day . . .  can help it live on forever.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, July 6, 2012

Day one thousand six hundred and fifty three . . . Independence.

It is so quiet here.

I'm not here alone that often. That must be it.

But it's been quiet, in general, for the better part of the week, save for the random hillbilly firework or two going off down the street. In the winter I have to remember the benefits of not being able to keep the windows open. Not hearing M-80's going off randomly in the bar parking lot, scaring the bejezus out of me, is one of them.

Around these parts we actually celebrate the Fourth Of July a couple of weeks in advance with a grand party at our local park. My neighbors are a driving force for putting it on. I'm honored to live near them and their kids (who I've kind of watched grow up over the last almost four years). I don't know how anyone can sustain the kind of energy and commitment to making things happen. I didn't get that gene in my DNA. I like going to things. I like participating in things. I like to contribute when I can. But I don't really like coordinating tens of people, thousands of dollars, and heaps and gobs of public relations work. But that's just me. I like to have parties for my friends; they like to have parties for everybody. It all works out, really, because I go to theirs and they come to mine.

So every year the community comes together to share in the excitement of the summer, the thrill of being alive, and the collective acceptance of being a free people. We, as Americans, often forget how lucky we are. We can do so much and say so much and tell the world how we feel like almost nobody else in the world, rhetorically speaking.

At the Family Fourth Celebration there is food, music, face painting, train rides, all kinds of stuff for all kinds of folks. And then, after dark, they finish the day off with a grand fireworks display. This one went off without a hitch. It did its job which was to thrill and excite with light, color and sound. And after it was over we all left en mass almost as if there was an evacuation order. It was a strange sight to see and be a part of.

It was over and then not too much was said. Mainly because it went well.

Now,  shortly after the Fourth of July I saw a bunch of news stories about firework displays that did made huge headlines but not for any good reason.  They were top news because they either didn't work, hurt somebody, were set off days early by a random rifle shot, or malfunctioned and all went off at once. But you never really hear too much about the wonderful and safe fireworks spectacles because that's just how news travels.

But this celebration we have here in Florence is a loud one. It's loud because it's full of people. One person can walk around all day by themselves and stay relatively quiet. But add somebody else to that equation and things can get loud really quickly. Put those two people in a park with a couple thousand others and add games and food and fireworks and we're talking about one loud motherflipping time, indeed.

But here, today, it's so quiet.

Jodi's on a little trip right now. I'll be joining her on Sunday and we'll camp for a day or so and have a good old time. I have my list of things to bring like bacon and eggs and a frying pan and coffee and all that good stuff. I haven't camped in a few years since I used to do it with my band on tour. We did a few state parks and such but most of the time it was in somebody's back yard. A little Occupy Wall Street village before it was en vogue.

She left yesterday afternoon.

And since the moment her car pulled away something changed.

My harmony is gone.


See, we spend a lot of time together. Like, almost all of it. And this I like very much. It took a little getting used to because I've spent most of my life as a single man. Sure I dated and all, but as far as a serious girlfriend who actually wants to be with me and vice versa this is it.

We both have very flexible schedules as far as our work goes. What this translates into is being home at the same time quite often. And we get used to the dynamic of being here together. Our rhythm is well honed from hours spent talking and listening. The peaks and valleys of excitement over either a development in the local news, a photograph being edited, a song in progress or an unexpected bill's arrival are all quite familiar.

But these things happen between us as much as they happen individually.

And now that I'm here by myself there's a feeling of unease.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not crying in my sparkling water over here. It's not the end of the world and I'm not jealous or paranoid. It's just a strange sensation and it inspired me to talk about it.

When I used to drink I'd talk a lot to myself out loud.

I don't really know why that stopped. Maybe I'm living more in my head these days. Maybe back then I needed to hear my intentions out loud. Maybe I was lonely. Maybe I was going a little bit cuckoo. Either way I remember telling myself all kinds of things out loud.

And now, if I'm not talking to somebody in the room or on the phone I'm a pretty quiet guy.

I walk through the house and it's just me.

I go to close up the house and set the alarm and grab my keys and it's just me.

I make breakfast, lunch and dinner and it's just me.

And I remember a time when it was like this every day.

I think back to the years I spent living on my own with nobody around me wondering what time I'll be back. I remember how I would grab my key to my apartment and just close the door and walk out to my car and go forward until I had to come back. There were days when I left to go on the road and wouldn't come back for weeks at a time. There were days when I came back and stayed in my apartment for days on end without leaving, too. I stocked up on what I needed and shut the door and talked to myself and watched my television and kept relatively quiet.

But my life had no harmony back then. I was a single-note run on a page of staff paper bouncing up and down in a chaotic rhythm. Trilling, slurring, sustaining, resting and running up and down the scale to the highest shrill peaks of the northern ledger lines and down to the lowest bass notes the human ear can discern.

I was one little note on a musical playground with nobody watching and no one to play with.

And then my harmony showed up and everything changed.

Thirds, fourths, and fifths rang out and vibrated the air. The counterpoint developed into a celebration dance that would make Scott Joplin proud. The rests had a reason to be where before they would come and go at odd times and with not a lick of reason.

The high notes had a partner below to gauge how far they had climbed. The bass notes had a sensible confidant who could keep them from turning into a long muddled mess of a rumble. There were pleasant intervals that made us smile and giggle, and minor ones to match the solemnity and sadness of the inevitable seriousness of life. And even when the action slowed and there were long passages of quiet they had each other to watch the measures go by in time and with ordered insistence.

And so it's strange to be here at my house by myself, just one little note bouncing around the rooms on both floors, resting on the patio before bounding back inside to grab a seltzer and a handful of cashews.

The cars go by past my house. Most of them have just come from the bank. There's a "right turn only" sign that isn't really legally enforceable but most cars do it. And so they drive by me constantly in the afternoon and into the early evening on a Friday like today.

But it's still quiet here. My ideas come and go, and I have to restrain myself from texting my girlfriend. I have to will myself to just keep the endless stream of manic only-child exaltations to myself. I watch the sunlight ooze from room to room and make every attempt to keep the shades drawn to keep out the heat. I wait for the mail that hopefully will bring my paycheck and maybe a powder-coated catalog from a store that knows my weaknesses. I see the sample soaps gone from her side of the medicine cabinet and the second-tier shoes that, even in pairs, seem lonely and withdrawn and definitely not left behind by chance.

I go upstairs. I go back down. I tend the grill. I pay a bill or two. I straighten out my office area and stock the envelopes for future use. I make the bed even though I'll be back under the same covers in not too long from now.

I add to the laundry.

I stare out the kitchen window.

I see a little bird I hadn't seen before.

I watch the bicycles go by.

I think about taking mine out for a ride.

And all the while it's just me here in my little chair.

Just a lonely little note.

He's high.

He's low.

He's running up and down and all around.

And soon enough there will be harmony.

The sound it makes will have an effect.

It will color the world.

But for right now it's just one independent note with everywhere and nowhere to go.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day one thousand five hundred and ninety six . . . The meaning of life

It's raining here.

Last couple of years we had droughts. It got so bad they put a ban on excessive water use for gardens and car washing. I never noticed too many dirty cars, though. And the grass is always kind of mottled around these parts so I don't think any lawns knew what was going on anyway.

But the clouds have come in force. It's been like this for a long time it seems.

I like it. The rain, that is.

But despite the water--the food for plants and animals alike--there sure has been a lot of dying going on.

I rarely believe adages and I'm not superstitious. That said, I always knock on wood if I happen to elicit an overly positive proclamation. It's easy here in New England. This place was built with wood.

But, man, oh man. We're having some dying going on.
I just attended a funeral for a friend last week. He met a sad end for such a happy person. And I say that he was happy, but my last conversation with him was at least twenty years ago. We were in a band together. We dreamed of stardom together. We learned how to expand our minds together. We had some of those life-changing laughing sessions where you almost can't breathe together. We worried our parents sick together. 

And then we moved away and both got swept up in the rigors of adult life and the seemingly never-ending process of procrastination. 

And now he's gone, and dammit do I feel like a jerk for not keeping in touch. But I guess when you're both in your forties there's a semblance of that bullet proof-ness that remains from your twenties. You kind of forget there's a clock ticking in the background. And either you just don't think of them or you do, now and then, and before you pick up the phone you say, "maybe he should call me," when you think how long it's been. You say that until either you break down and call, you meet by accident, or they finally cave in and call you.  

Or you get a phone call from one of their friends with the bad news. 

Johnny, you were a great guy. I loved you very much and I wish I could have helped you. You will be missed.

There are the recent deaths of celebrities: Maurice Sendak, Junior Seau, Adam Yauch,  Carl Beane, Levon Helm, and Vidal Sassoon. That last one doesn't even seem real because he was just kind of one of those names you think are made up out of thin air. There can't be a real Vidal Sassoon.

But I guess there was and now there's not anymore.

I have never had the pleasure of getting close to any celebrities. I don't have any childhood friends who became internationally famous yet. So those deaths usually kick off a thought process that goes something like, "Hmm . . . that's sad. Did I like them? If I liked their work had it run its course? Was there any more to come from them that I wish hadn't been cut short? Did I ever see them live? Was it good? Did they do this to themselves? Will this change the course of entertainment?"

And that thought process usually takes all of about fifteen seconds, and then I check Facebook for clips for their life's work.

This is how life goes by now. It's different--very different--than when I was younger. But I didn't turn 42 right from 18. It happened little by little over a long, long time.

And I turned 42 just yesterday. 

I had an amazing birthday. Jodi made sure of that. I had breakfast in bed like I remember from my earliest days as a kid when my mom would bring me in eggs and toast, milk and juice, with a candle and a little present and sing me Happy Birthday and Sto Lat, the Polish birthday song. Jodi did this for me because she knew it would make me supremely happy. This is one of the many reasons I love her so. 

Her and I spent the whole day together, like we do most days. But today was a little different, her stealthily hiding a present right in plain sight every few hours so that I would turn around and legitimately exclaim "Wow!". And then we'd have a special few moments together while I opened it up. 

My mother, Judy, had a way of building suspense by insisting on using scissors to carefully cut the tape at each corner and on both sides of every package. 

Recently, I--much to Jodi's dismay--have adopted this way of building suspense, as it were. It's more of a tribute to my mom than me actually changing my ways. But you should have seen me when I was five. Total mess of paper, tape, bows and ribbon shreds. Like a wrapping massacre. 

The "Happy Birthday" on this plate in this picture is spelled out in chocolate chips. The "A" and the "Y" of "Birthday" are being held on with frosting to combat the curvature of the plate. 

I love this so very much. But I can't admit to eating all the chips. We're on a diet at least sometimes. 

Later in the day I found an old picture of me from a birthday past. I think it's from about 1975, and I would be all of five years old. I may have been the only kid in Fall River, Massachusetts to have chosen to wear a giant, psychedelic bow tie with a brown and white striped polo. But my mom always told me that I picked out my own outfits. It was her way of dealing with my usual question later in life of "how did you let me dress like that, Mom?"

The cake is topped with a crazy bird marionette. They were the style at the time, all kooky and googly-eyed. The cake is sponge cake--my favorite--and I'm certain my mom made it for me. And on top of the cake are these very unique candle holders. Camels, tiny birds, and little rosettes. I've never seen anything like them before. Around the edge of the cake are other little animals in various colors as well. Very cute and special. Because my mom never did anything just plain. Everything was special. 

I also like how my hand is on the fork, ready for the flash to go off. Because that boy right there is a hungry boy. Doesn't matter if we just ate a big meal of spaghetti, Ragu and boiled hot dogs (my favorite). I was never fully full. 

So, I posted this pic on my Facebook page. Even made it my profile pic for the day.

It got a lot of comments.

After I put up the picture we went to the spa and got pampered. I got my free birthday facial and languorously allowed a student esthetician to exfoliate my skin. We got my free ice cream sundae from Herrell's ice cream shop. We had coffee downtown. We came back home and Jo surprised me with more presents. Then we went to dinner for spaghetti and meatballs--the Wednesday special which I've watched climb from $2.99 in 1993 to a wallet-busting $5.50 today--and they even gave me a free cannolo. And when you've been to Italy you can come back and call it a "cannolo". Let the rest of America ask for the plural "cannoli" when they really just want one and see who laughs. Well, nobody laughs, really, because this is America and I'm actually the one who looks silly. So I guess they just laugh at me. It's fine. I don't really mind. 

Then we came home and I listened to the last birthday song my mom left on an old answering machine of mine in 2006. I saved the micro cassette, thank God. And while it is one of the most heartbreaking two minutes of audio I can ever imagine owning I'm ever so glad I have it. It's pure emotion. Happy, sad, terrified, hopeful, eternal, love.

I'll listen to it every year and then I'll put it away in a safe spot. I have more of them now than ever. Safe spots, that is.

I was politely asked to leave the room and went upstairs. I heard the rustle of paper and the clink of plates. I was asked to come downstairs, and as I made my way down the short flight I swear I could hear the running of an old Super 8 camera. I even thought I saw a flash of the light from the beast of the old movie machine that used to blind me every Christmas, Birthday, Easter and Halloween. But the flash was really the candles on the cake. And the candles were lit for me. The candles were lit for me and placed inside . . .  tiny candle holders made out of camels, tiny birds, and rosettes.

They were the same exact ones from 1975.

And while I had randomly selected the picture from hundreds of birthday pics from over the years, it just so happened that the last time we were back at my mom's old place Jodi found a small bag of these special candle holders amidst the multitude of items saved over the years and brought them home to use for my birthday.

And though it may sound gross they even had tiny bits of cake left on them from 37 years ago.

I have no idea how these things happen, I'm just glad they sometimes do.

We had our cake. I opened a few more presents. We watched American Idol curled up on the couch. We brushed our teeth, Jodi wished me Happy Birthday one more time and then we went to bed.

It was a very good day.

But people around me are still dying.

And though I woke up to the rain, it did go away for a while. It's supposed to make a comeback for a bit tonight and then it should leave us alone for the weekend. This is good, because we're going back to where Jodi is from--West Seneca, New York--for Mother's Day. I'm really looking forward to it and so is she.

Oh, and I realized what the meaning of life is.

I know it sounds strange, but I think I figured it out.

And it's really different for everybody, of course. But, at least for me, the meaning of life is only revealed when it's all over. And that's not to say that we are granted eternal consciousness. We don't get our wings or horns and then an instruction booklet. No, what I mean is that as we develop and grow though our time on earth we make choices and experience the fickle hand of fate. And the sum of all of these happenings are averaged out at the end of the equation and our answer is unique to each and every one of us.

We become people from nothing. 

We develop an identity. 

We meet people and make connections and change through the course of time. 

We acquire items and we sell or give them away. Sometimes they're stolen, sometimes they're won; sometimes they're lost forever . . . and sometimes found after years of indifference.

We send out cards and buy presents. 

We write thank you notes. 

We ask for favors. 

We make friends. 

We make enemies. 

We have great periods of self-consciousness. 

We have moments of daring--unrivaled and ferocious. 

We run screaming. 

We run, arms open, into each other. 

We laugh at ourselves. 

We laugh at each other. 

We laugh because crying won't come anymore. 

We get beaten up. 

We fight for our lives. 

We're late for the five hundredth time. 

We show up early and make others feel like they're late. 

We dress up. 

We dress down. 

We can't find our clothes.

We sleep all day. 

We stay up for three days in a row. 

We pass. We fail. We cheat. 

We cancel plans. 

We get stood up. 

We make up stories. 

We become legends. 

We have too much to eat. 

We get so hungry it hurts. 

We go to jail. We go to church. 

We get married. We have children. Sometimes they outlive us, but not always.

We visit. We talk. We shrug our shoulders and wonder if so-and-so will ever change.

We get sick.

We have visitors. 

We get healthy.

We leave balloons in the corners of rooms.

We go home. 

We live on fumes for weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds.

We die.

And then we are remembered.

And I believe that everything is revealed in that process. The meaning of life for each of us becomes apparent in how we are remembered. Because not all people are remembered fondly. Some people who are very bad people cause happiness when they leave this mortal world. That is a sad way to go but it happens all too often.

There are plenty of people who die before they've lived much of a life. I don't have an answer for that one. I can only speak for the way I feel about the experiences I've had. And up to now I've had enough to realize that if one makes it past certain benchmarks then things may start to make sense. 

And they're making sense to me amidst all of this death because I'm remembering the people I knew who have gone. I'm remembering the people I knew of who are gone. I'm reliving the works of artists I liked who have gone. And I'm thinking about what the hell I'm doing and what I've done.

And this idea--my idea of it all--is pretty oblique. It's not fair, that's for sure. Because if you can only truly know why you're here after you're gone then it's tough to gain any perspective of how you're doing. It's hard to look into your life and see what color it is. It's maddening to think that I may have cleaned up my act over the last few years, but to somebody who I insulted in 2003 who may not have known me after that point may someday--when I'm gone--have only that memory of me and not know what progress I've made. 

But none of that really matters. All that really counts is that it's not over until it's over. And having a definitive end is all one can either expect or hope for in this life.

My mom's 71st birthday would be this coming Monday, May 14. She had a definitive end, though I wish it hadn't come so soon. But she lived her sixty five years of life making each event singularly special, whether it was a new book she bought for me which she would ceremoniously cover in contact paper or finding a new place for lunch that gave out free carrot cakes with the bill. 

She was the best person in the world. I can safely say that now that her life has been over for a few years. Looking back and remembering her gives her life meaning for me even though I was such a big part of it. This is what I mean when I say the meaning of life will come when it's finally all over.

Some people have accused me of being overly accepting of myself. I have often done a job poorly and then chalked it up to just the way it went. I freely admit that. It's the way I am. My clean and sober self has fully come to terms with it.

And I think I am this way for a reason. 

I am this way because I never stop believing that that thing that didn't go so well will be forgotten about in time. Because the next thing that happens will be new and different and potentially life changing. Because the fire that burns in me has such a short attention span that while it may light an errant curtain aflame, it will surely be doused with the water from the rain storm that just came through out of nowhere. 

And if I can juggle all the hazards that come with an acceptance of everything then maybe I won't feel so self-conscious. 

Maybe I'll discover the next great thing. 

Maybe I'll just take a nap.

And so it goes into another evening. The dust got a break today. I just couldn't find the time to clean.

The camel, little bird, and rosette candle holders sit in a plastic bag in the other room shocked at the use they found after 37 years. They've even earned a couple more smudges of cake which I think I'll leave on.

The pictures Jodi printed of the two of our lives together are carefully stacked on the table. They'll find their way into a scrapbook soon. The colors and shadows from them make it look like clips from a movie. But it's all real. These pictures don't imply, they proclaim.

We'll scramble our things together and get ready for the big journey out West tomorrow for a nice weekend with the family--my new family, and a beautiful one at that.

And the furniture will sit on the uneven floors. The refrigerator will keep the food comfortable. The newspapers will stack up in our box and give us the straight scoop of our little town while we go to another one where the accents are different, but in equal measure to mine. 

And the meaning of life keeps changing for me every day.

It gets clearer. It gets foggy. It gets scribbled over. It gets a rewrite.

It seems like it goes on forever.

And then . . . it does.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Happy Mother's Day, moms.

I love you, Jodi. Today, tomorrow, forever.

All the best,


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day one thousand five hundred and fifty three . . . No reserve.

We send out a lot of packages.

My mom and aunt were, how do you say . . . collectors. And as such when they died they left me with quite a collection of items.

Furniture, fine china, regular china, mirrors, dolls, toys, scarves, coats, gloves, hats--oh, the hats--tchotchkes of all shapes, sizes, colors, make and likeness, Polish folk dolls, German swizzle sticks and so much more.

I think you get the picture.

Well, it turns out that some of these things people are actually willing to buy from us. Not in a store mind you. No. They want to buy them on eBay, that veritable cornucopia of everything and anything the world has ever made.

The value of these items is not really a surprise. One of the many reasons these things were collected, as it were, was to some day sell. But we've been on a roll lately and it's always amusing to me how just about everything holds an interest to somebody.

Now, I'm sure that in 1973 when my Grandmother was haggling with one of the nuns at the rectory flea market over a set of mid-century modern carving utensils (new-in-box) she had no idea how the internet revolution would change the way we exchange money for goods.

And when my mom was buying me set after set of G.I. Joe Adventure Team figures complete with one of four different dress uniforms in blue with square snaps--not round--that she couldn't have really been aware that some day it would be worth about a shopping cart full of groceries.

But the years roll on and these things inevitably develop a special value all their own. Older people want to fill their china cabinets with the set that they grew up with--the one that their parents had to sell to put food on the new, much less expensive Corelle--the one with the green, lacy flower pattern. And for that they turn to eBay.

And middle age men like myself want to remember what it was like to be six again playing with their manly action figures dressed in hand sewn clothes complete with sixteen different types of molded plastic machine guns. They want to take care of these things like they never did when they were younger. They want that chance to care again. They want to feel that sense of wonder and innocence and it's-time-to-eat-dinner-so-you-better-stash-your-stuff-so-mom-won't-yell-like-she-did-yesterday--like she did everyday you didn't do what you knew you should. Because kids sometimes never learn. And when they grow up and finally do get some sense knocked into them--hopefully not literally--it's far too late. And that rusty can on a string turns into a cell phone blaring its hit song snippet from a hard-to-access coat pocket with the prospect of important news--news about things you may not want to hear, because it means you, young man, are now responsible.

And if I remember correctly, I couldn't wait to grow up so that people would stop telling me I was too young to handle that kind of responsibility, whatever it was.

Well, at least that's why I think grown men collect the dolls they had as kids anyway. I have my own issues, but hoarding, thankfully, isn't one of them.

But what I do know is that we sell a lot of stuff. We need boxes for all of it. We need bubble wrap for most things. We save our newspapers each day to stuff in said boxes so the Miss Revlon 18" "Big Sister" doll that I currently have for sale on eBay and is up to $75 doesn't rattle around too much on the trip to wherever she's going.

And we go through a lot of packing tape.

The rolls and rolls of tape we use is dispensed on the traditional hand-held device.

It's sharp.

It's effective.

It's made in Italy.

And the sound it makes is loud and very obnoxious.

To me the sound of the clear packing tape coming of its spool in one foot lengths is somewhere in the vicinity to the noise made by two or three sick and angry goats bleating in unison no further than four inches from my ear. Each pull from the highly effective tape dispenser sends shivers down my spine. Now, I realize that the sound is a good sound. It means that we're selling things. And selling means we're sharing what we have with the world. It signals that we are finally helping spread the items that one family curated for their own enjoyment over perhaps 100 years out to an untold number of people, not only all over this country but worldwide, too.

It sure beats getting a visit from Dr. Robin Zasio or Dr. Melva Green from Hoarders.

We sell stuff almost every day. And that means that we ship stuff almost every day. And, of course, that means that almost every day I get to hear the two or three sick and angry goats bleating in unison no less than four inches from my ear.

But today was different.

Today I realized that, once again, perspective is everything.

I realized that when Jodi is packing up her wooden Polish Easter eggs to send to a little old lady in Lake Placid the sound of the tape drives me crazy.

But when I do it I don't even realize it's there.


I realized--or moreover Jodi deftly pointed out to me--that it's the fact that I don't know the sound is coming--that I'm not the one doing it. It's only then that it annoys me. But when I have the tape dispenser clenched in my chubby little hands and I'm the one pulling it across a box filled with Old Mill Tap pencils from 1952, it's only then that it becomes almost imperceptible.

And there's so much I can take from that realization that after almost three months of not having anything to say on here that I had to share.

Because this relates so much to my life and the way I see the world.

When I try to get my point across and wonder why the other party doesn't see it my way, it's because they're not seeing with my eyes.

When a comment gets misconstrued and taken in a way I never intended it to, it's because they're hearing it through their ears, not mine.

When I wonder why it's so much easier then I thought it would be to just stay clean and sober and think how many lives in disarray could be turned around, it's because my life is mine and mine alone and as much as I try to shed light on where I've been and what I've learned nobody shares my experiences. Nobody.

And when we tell somebody we love them and we wonder why the smile on their face isn't as bright and eager as we had hoped for, it's because as much as we feel like we are one, and as many times as we almost say the same stupid thing in haphazard unison--as often as we reach for each other in tandem, giving credence to the idea that we are so perfectly meant to be together and there has never been anyone else in this gargantuan world out there for us, and we shall someday die together because life cannot hold a melted confederate penny's worth of meaning without one or the other--when the dust settles on the half-open bedroom blinds morning after beautiful morning we can only love through our own heart.

And that takes some getting used to.

I have to look at things with a new perspective. I have to see now that the things that ruffle my feathers--the petty comments and rude and inconsiderate behavior--these things that happen on the other side of my body that annoy the crap out of me I may in fact be doing myself and thinking nothing of it.

It's going to be a process of undoing some well-tied knots. I've come into my own over the last four years of sobriety. I feel like my life now is similar yet wholly different from the one I lived for the 20 years I used and abused. And while that time that's passed from my first day clean--the time that can really be qualified as the time contained in this blog from day one to today's one thousand five hundred and fifty third--that that time is in and of itself a lifetime to me. The things I've accomplished, the people I've met, the music I've made, the bridges I've built and the ones that have sadly and sometimes quietly washed away, and most importantly the true love I've found has all arranged itself into such a compact portion of my life that if it didn't come with such awful connotations I'd happily call it my baggage.

I like to travel and sometimes live for weeks out of a suitcase. It's not the most elegant way to be but it does teach what one really needs to survive away from the comforts of home. Every time I go away and come back I like to make note of which articles I took with me that I didn't use. I try to remember this for next time so I won't take them again. Sometimes it's a long sleeve shirt that I brought to the tropics; other times it's a pair of flip flops that were meant just for the pool when my everyday outdoor sandals did both jobs just fine. Either way I always bring a couple things there and back that I didn't need. So I guess it's not really a matter of what to bring but what to leave behind.

So in living this new life I have learned so much. Every day, for real, I find something new that amazes me and makes me want to wake up the next.

Today it was packing tape. Tomorrow it might be potting soil. Next week I may find illumination in a box of my mom's dance card pencils. I don't know.

But the thing that I think will always stick with me is to remember that this is my life, not yours. It's not the neighbor's life. It's not the life of the guy serving 10 years at Bridgewater for wire fraud. It's not the couple at the shelter's life. It's not the A-lister's life. It's not the cop that gave me a speeding ticket's life or the one that let me slide though that yellow light, either. And it certainly isn't my mom's or her mom's life even though I have almost everything they ever collected minus a few Hummels and Roseville vases.

This is my life.

This is the world as I see it through the two eyes in my head. My hands touch my world. My feet walk my path. My shoulders bump my walls on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. My ears hear my voice, my lips say my words, my brain understands what it can in the world that it floats along in in the head on my shoulders.

And my heart feeds my love for my girl.

I rarely had to use it for these purposes and I'm glad that it still runs after all these years.

But when I finally realized that my life is not yours. It's not his or hers or theirs . . . it was then that I could finally understand that I wasn't the only one here.

And that thing that bugs me to no end--that little pet peeve of mine or that sound that drives me crazy--once I understood that it's only because it wasn't me that was doing it that it affected me, it was then--or really it was today--that I think it started to lose its power over me.

And that's a heavy duty box of understanding right there, taped up on all sides and ready to get shipped out.

Now if I could only get those people who still haven't paid me for my mother's favorite doll to see it my way . . . .

Thanks for reading, as always.

It's good to be back.



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day one thousand four hundred and seventy five . . . The unexpected.

Five years ago tomorrow my mother's story came to an end.

A brilliant, beautiful, colorful, funny, loving, caring, sentimental, and sometimes harrowing story had a period put on the last sentence. Its pages were counted. Its spine bound and its place found on the shelf among those written by the world's countless souls lucky enough to breath the earth's infinite air.

It was a sad day for sure. I've written about it and I've talked about it. I've composed music with its influence present. And it's a day I won't willingly ever forget.

But to me right now that day on January 11, 2007--smack dab in the middle of the second week of the new year--could have been in 1985 it seems so long ago.

And that's not to say that her presence isn't in my recent memory. Far from it. I feel her with me always and her impact on me is lifelong.

No, what I mean to say is that that time of my life feels so distant from where I sit today. The hazy head filled with a pharmacy's inventory of bulging white bottles and a liquor store's worth of Grey Goose gift sets doesn't even seem like a life I remember living. And this is both a good thing and sometimes slightly troublesome. I don't really want to brood over it all, but I also don't want to put it too far on the back of the shelf for fear that I might mistake myself for someone who doesn't have a problem.

Because this guy right here? This guy has problems.

She was well aware of my issues: my police record (most of it), my favorite beer, liquor, class of substance, injuries (most of them), debts, and jobs past present and about-to-be-fired from.

We were quite candid with each other. It was easy talking to her and she was open with me about her issues. Nobody's perfect, as they say, and my mother certainly had a few cracks in the veneer.

But this lovely lady who had never seen her one and only child really get a handle on his issues had faith.

She had hope.

And she put in a stipulation in her will that kept her half of the house she shared with her sister out of my hands . . . until five years after her death.

As in tomorrow.

She had enough confidence that I would get my proverbial shit together after five years without her that she made it official and binding but with nothing contingent on it other than I stay alive.

It would happen. She was sure of it. I would come to my senses. Eventually. In my forties.

This kid would probably wreck himself for a good long time doing the usual or worse. I would probably get arrested, get bailed out, go to court, pay my debt to society (preferably in dollars and cents and not time in jail) and mope around for a good long time until I hit forty and then, God willing, the sands of time and the wrinkles on my face would lead me to a realization that there was more to life than all that junk.

The clouds would clear, the sun would pour through and I would sober up. And by the time I was forty one I would be ready to handle that which is her half of her estate and the house that she loved and shared with my aunt for over ten years.

But she had no idea that my aunt was next to go in a shockingly short sixteen months.

Nobody could have predicted that.

And nobody could have predicted that it wouldn't take five years for me to get my proverbial shit together. That it would be just shy of a year from her last day on earth for me to get in real trouble, get out of real trouble and take on this world without my usual vices and excuses for the first time since I was fifteen. Hell, my aunt even lived long enough to see that seed planted. It's probably one of the contributing factors to why I have done so well for so long. She was around for my last hangover, and needless to say that milestone can't be repeated if there were to be an impasse.

Though I can't predict the future, I can assess my strengths and weaknesses and come to an understanding that right now I am stronger than I ever thought I could be in mind, body and spirit. I hope what I've learned and what I've gained in insight and awareness is not far from reach when this world deals me an unexpected blow, as life tends to do.

And just like I will be marking five years of Judith Ann Johnson's absence from this mortal world I also just marked a milestone of my own. I just celebrated--with a nice glass of sparkling cider--four years of alcohol abstinence on December 27.

Nobody could have predicted that.

And the time goes on and we go about our days. I run around like a nut trying to keep my little world tidy and neat. I try to find a place for everything. A folder for receipts, a box for pictures from 1972, a container for extension cords, a bag for bubble wrap, an envelope of stamps, a hard drive full of pictures. My calendar fills up with the usual important dates of birthdays and anniversaries. The countless rehearsals, gigs, recording sessions, dental cleanings, therapist appointments, dry cleaning pickups, and other myriad time-sensitive markers get scribbled in my atrocious hen scratch (as my mom would say) and the calendar gets bent and torn, greasy and smeared. It's what happens when it gets used. And thank goodness it is getting used and I have this luxury of time, however long it lasts.

The tenth of every month is special because that was the day of the month that Jodi and I had our first date. A month from today we'll celebrate being together for three years.

Nobody could have predicted that.

And so it goes.

My mother took hundred if not thousands of pictures of me throughout my life. And when she got a good one she would make several copies. I know this from experience from seeing them when I was growing up. But I also know this from being the sole owner of hundreds of envelopes of photos from the house that I'll own in a matter of forty-five minutes. Seeing how many copies she made of the pictures she liked in an envelope makes me wonder how many were sent out. I'm sure more than I could ever guess.

One picture she never did get to see of me is my mug shot. I've been pretty public about it. It's on the homepage to this blog. I never did make copies of it but I guess in this age of digital photos you merely need to attach it to an email and it can be in ten million inboxes in a matter of seconds.

Well, Jodi took a picture of me the other day. I posted it on my Facebook wall and somebody made a comment that it looked like a "happy mug shot."

It was a comment that was made on the picture that she took on December 27th, 2011.

And I guess I just had to put the two mismatched bookends together.

How's about that?

The kid got his proverbial shit together after all.

This one's for you, momma.

I know you would be proud of me.

I know you always could see it.

I know you never blamed yourself.

I know you always knew I wanted this life.

I know you never gave up on me.

And that's something I could have definitely predicted.

Thanks for reading.


PS: As of January 11, 2012 I will be able to finally make a posthumous dream come true for my mom and aunt. I will be able to donate a parcel of land from the house they owned to the local land trust. It is to be preserved--as was their wishes--for the flora and fauna that gave them so much happiness.

See ma? I'm taking care of business. Finally.

For Judith Ann Johnson.

I love you. I miss you. I will see you again someday.