Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day two hundred and eleven ... Going to extremes.

I'm at the perfect temperature.

My air conditioner is cranking--cooling and de-humidifying for a while; blowing with just the fan for a while; cooling once again.

It's somewhere around seventy or seventy two degrees.

Right outside my bedroom door it's about fifteen degrees warmer.

So, for now, I'll stay right here.

But the world we live in is a strange one indeed when it comes to finding some stasis.

I've been exercising a lot, and so I can put up with the heat a bit better than I used to. I notice now that I don't sweat nearly as much as I once did. I often times used to sweat for no apparent reason. When I was actively drinking I would sweat almost all day unless I was in front of an air conditioner, or it was freezing out, or I was drunk.

And then there was my three-times-daily workout--mealtime.

It was a pretty awful site to see me most days if I had to eat in public. My friends would be sitting there, eating away and enjoying themselves. And there was me, the fat alkie, eyes bulging, hair mussed, splotchy faced, paranoid, and shiny with sweat. 

I'd invariably hear: "Wow! Dude you're sweating like a pig. You're not even doing anything strenuous. You're just eating like the rest of us, and you've sweat through three dinner napkins already."

Or, something like that.

My response?: "Eating is working and eating is exciting. It makes me sweat. Leave me alone ... please."

And I'd hear what I'd describe as a shocked and worried chuckle.

I used to carry a facecloth around with me at all times. This was my answer to a studied and labored assessment of my situation. I figured if I was sweating, I would just bring something to absorb said sweat. I mean, doesn't everybody carry a sweat towel wherever they go?


Well, maybe I was ahead of the curve.

Or maybe I was continuously on the verge of a freaking heart attack.

That sounds about right.

But it's been pretty hot lately, and I have yet to need to carry my old trusty sweat-rag.

Isn't that nice?

The boozing took a lot out of me. It took my money, my time, my respect (both self and from others), my reputation, my belongings, my peace of mind, my determination, my aspirations, my patience, my compassion, some of my memories, and most of my energy.

But you gotta live. Right?

So I did what I had to and just put up with the side-effects. I put up with the embarrassment. I made myself the butt of jokes before anyone else could, so I could at least hear them coming out of my mouth and in my voice. I dragged my ass out of bed most mornings, went to work, and prayed that it wouldn't be too hot so I wouldn't sweat through my clothes and look like a buffoon. I continuously chewed gum so as to mask any stray scent of alcohol that may be lingering, after the four or five hours between drinking a .750 of Smirnoff and when I had to show up and think straight.

But this world we live in is full of extremes. Our bodies must get used to it from the constant changes in temperature--I should amend that--our bodies, in the countries that have luxuries like air conditioning, must get used to it from the constant changes in temperature.

Some places must just be hot all over, every minute of the day.

Today I rode my bike in the sun three miles and disembarked. I walked across the street and stepped into the market. It was cold in there--freezing almost. I got a cup of hot tea to bring to therapy. The water from the coffee-maker was so hot I almost burned my hands on it just feeling it filling up. I carefully allowed the scalding hot water to slowly ambush the bottom of the cardboard cup, then on past the tea bag, past my pinkie, middle, and index finger, and then felt it spit on the back of my hand as I let go of the red spigot while my other fingers did a little dance on up and around until I was holding the cup between either end ... ah, that's better. I capped it and felt furious steam ribbons escape from the larger egress on top of the thin plastic lid. I paid and walked back through the liquor store portion of the market like I always do (it's nice to keep an eye on my minions). Outside again, I felt the heat cover me like a decal on a car window. I walked across the street, and tried to remember what the towing lot across from the clinic looked like with my car in it, like it did back on December 27th when I handed the keys to my friend for what could have been an insufferable amount of time. I walked into the clinic where it was even colder than the liquor store. The elevator was at just about the right temperature for anything you could think of, but due to its inherent limitations I merely used it to ascend to the third floor. My therapist's room was almost as perfect a climate as the elevator but tons more practical. My tea experienced its short but predictable life-cycle while I sat and talked and listened; it didn't make it back out the door. Outside it was hot as I remembered it, but the air around my body as I biked back into Northampton was intermittently hotter and cooler than the exhaust from the many Subarus and Volvos passing either way. I made it to the bank before it closed and nearly threw out my back from the dip in temperature. It was almost unbearable. 

And just as I got used to it, I had to walk back outside.

See, peaks and valleys come to us regardless of our desire. One can start to enjoy their surroundings ... and in an instant they can change. We get used to a certain level of stress, or attention, or fame, or indifference, or grief, or joy, or any number of emotionally intensive experiences and we can only stay there for so long. This can prove to be a saving grace for the less desirable entrants on that list, or a genuine regret when it is one from the other column. But knowing that none of them lasts forever can offer us great hope, strength, and wisdom. As humans we tend to find ourselves mired from time to time far too deeply in either category. For when we feel the world is crashing down upon us and nobody cares ... that is when we must remember that change is imminent. That is when we need to reassure ourselves that our outlook can pave our future. 

Conversely, when we are the talk of the town, that is when we must remember that there was a time when nobody knew our name, and if we are not careful with our actions, either they will forget it once again, or remember it for all the wrong reasons. And when our body works like it should and we feel well and healthy, we must remember what it felt like to have two blown discs in our spine--housebound and drunk for what seemed like forever.

And so, now I don't have to carry a little facecloth in my bag whenever I go out my door. And I don't have to chew gum all the time to mask last night's binge. And I don't have to worry about sweating through my clothes at work when it's a beautifully mild day.

But I also have to remember that the tea that soothes my nerves can scar me if I am not careful. I have to remember that the liquor store that I brazenly stroll through every week is filled with poison that could rob me of my reputation. And the bicycle that I use for my transportation could easily be my ticket to a broken leg or worse.

It is only when we are completely comfortable that we are most at risk for change. 

I'm at the perfect temperature.

Thanks for reading.


PS: As of this morning I now weigh 210 lbs.

Thought you'd like to know.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day two hundred and seven ... Two plus one minus one.

What happens when two like minds become separate?

When the last hangover is sweated out, the bottles are thrown away, the edema has subsided, and the last "I'll never do that again" actually has an honest ring to it. When enough really is enough and we make our first heartfelt attempt to put down what we love for all the wrong reasons, pick up the phone and call a number that we know means at the very least the end of denial, and at the very most the beginning of a life we actually can see liking.

What happens when we decide for ourselves, because we know the person closest to us never will?

Can we survive the shock of disquieting disillusion?

Can we live, work, and play together after our common bond is dissolved?

I'm not so sure, and it scares the hell out of me.

I feel like I have it easy, though. I'm not married and I don't have a girlfriend. Hell, for now I'm staying as far away from ulterior dealings that entail an expenditure of emotion as if my life depended on it.

Which for all intents and purposes, it does.

Sorry, ladies.

Like I said, for now.

No, I mean, what happens in a situation where two people have been together for a long time--long enough to feel like they really know each other? What happens when one of the things that they do together--the thing that sort of makes a lot of the other things they do together more of a good idea--is to drink. It could be anything, really. It doesn't have to be booze. But booze is the most common connector as it is legal, easy, and everywhere.

So, what happens when one of these two people comes to a realization--be it voluntary or not--that they need to stop doing what they're doing? What happens when they start to rearrange their thought processes and reevaluate their priorities? What happens when the life they are beginning to get a taste of--a life they have, together, always poked fun at--starts to become more attractive than they could have ever expected? 

What happens when that life starts to become more attractive to them than the person they spend (and spent) all of their time with?

What happens when they change in all the ways their partner had wanted them to, but because of this, the seemingly inextricably connected ingredient is now being brought out and laid on the table under a microscope and confirmed as a big reason they were together for so long in the first place?

What happens?

They feel alone. 

That's what happens.

If this seems like a lot of questions for question's sake, you may be right. But if you can't ask a question or two, how are you ever going to arrive at an answer?--any answer. And that, of course, is another question.

And just like the person who watches from a distance as their friend throws his life away one ounce at a time--wondering if he'll ever change--there are still yet more questions.

They wonder if it can ever be the same between them ever again. They wonder if all the time they spent together and all the plans they have for the future can stand up to the scrutiny of the clarified eye. They begin to run back through their minds all of the times that they let things slide and put up with a shitty situation--be it a concert one of them liked but the other didn't, and so that other person got by with a flask, a pill, and a fight no one won--and they try to envision that situation happening now as a practically different person.

Many times the answers don't seem to be so encouraging.

There's the threat of obsolescence. 

What happens when one person starts to find happiness within themselves and not from outside achievements, monetary gains, or dependent companionship? When the tangible and transferrable takes a back seat to the cerebral and spiritual, and all of the 12 hour days and the overtime and the worked holidays aren't as necessary anymore because that "extra" money isn't needed to facilitate the gorging of the nervous system with additives from any number of sources, the end result producing a secondary, and thankfully imperceptible effect of momentarily allowing us to forget that we just worked so hard for such miniscule returns in the first place?

What happens when the person who wakes up dreading the process of surviving the unattractive hours before sleep comes again, looks at their partner only to see the face of hope and happiness, knowing full well it didn't involve them, and they can tell that something is going on and it is not friendly, nor does it have room for them; not like this. 

What do they do?

They become jealous. 

They become confrontational. 

They become antagonistic. 

They become desperate.

And then they stop talking.

For each one of them, if they remain this way, feels as if the other is brainwashed. They feel like there must be something someone said to them to make them turn against each other; something sinister and cancerous that is growing and mutating and taking hold; something that could easily spell the end of their union if an agreement is not reached. 

And they are both right. 

Because that growth is awareness.

Be it clear and concise, or fuzzy and unsolicited, the awareness that there is even less in common now than there was before either of them knew anything about the other, grows and becomes strong. And now, as this awareness develops and thrives it has two distinct halves: the half that can withstand the dissolution of a union; and the half that is now causing it. It becomes top-heavy on one side from the jealousy, suspicion, spite, selfishness, and resentment; it becomes buoyant on the other from honesty, humility, contentment, understanding and wisdom. 

But yet, each of these two disparate halves of the same awareness have a commonality. Each half of the same two people who know they can't go on living like this anymore, pulls the other one closer like two blown soap bubbles that find each other falling in a drafty room. They find each other and cling to each other because they are made from the same materials; they have the same design; they have the same characteristics. And they have the same eventual destination: to be but a memory.

But before this conjoined bubble hits the floor, leaving scant record of its existence, there is a chance for the wand from which they were born to come and rescue them in free-fall. It will require a snare that is partially comprised of the same elements that both bubbles possess. It will require a deft sense of timing and pressure. And it will require patience and determination. 

It will require a common bond.

And it will, without exception, require much the same ingredient with which the words we use to understand why we love each other so much is made of: a breath.

A breath can say the word, please.

A breath can say the word, no.

A breath can say the word, yes.

A breath can say the word, goodbye.

A breath can keep us afloat for what might seem like forever.

And a breath can stretch our common borders to the point of destruction.

But a breath has a finite length, and then it is over and we have to inhale again.

But we must, if and when our breath becomes labored, and the expenditure of our energy starts to show cracks in our own selves, and the good we do becomes put at jeopardy, we must be willing to resign. We must be willing to let go.

We must let the bubble drop to the floor.

And often we will see, for a time, it survives.

But only one half.

And then too, it is gone.

Thanks for reading,



Friday, July 25, 2008

Day two hundred and five ... Timing isn't everything.

Humor is power.

There are so many times in my life that I used humor to get me out of trouble.

It's worked more often than it didn't, but when it didn't work, it was almost worse than the trouble it was intended to deflect.

I don't associate with many people who don't have a sense of humor, other than as a means to an end, like a Transit Authority worker or a cop. 

Why bother?

Laughter is a basic human expression. If you can't loosen up and enjoy life ... well, look what time it is ... I gotta run.

Inexplicably to me, laughing is hard for some people. 

It's something that's usually only legit when it's unexpected. It's best to not be thinking too hard in order to really lose it--like, clutching your sides, on your knees, throat-tightening-from-gasping-for-air kind of laughing. That's one of the best feelings in the world. I'm glad you can't buy a drug to make that happen or I'd have had to quit that too.

Some people just can't do it, even on a basic level--laugh, that is. There are plenty of people out there who just don't know how to do it. I mean, they know how to make the sound: "Ha, ha, ho, ho, ha ha, ... ahh, ha, ha, ha!" 

But it's not emotion ... it's just a bunch of noise.

And anyone who knows how to laugh can spot a faker a mile away.

As I now work for myself, I am thankfully seldom put in a confined space where I have to fake-laugh at someone's cringeworthy attempts at schtick. 

See, I know how to laugh, and I know how to fake it. But having expertise in both is a different thing altogether. One is a blessing; the other is a an example of good manners. And good manners is what sets apart the people that can effectively wrangle their way out of an unfortunate or uncomfortable situation, and those who will always complain that their life sucks and everyone else has it easy.

Fate lands us where it may; manners can move mountains.

But I digress.

Humor is also a powerful social directive.

A crowded, quiet room is entered. The entrant has a choice: speak, or remain silent and wait for someone to address you.

If one chooses to remain silent, they are subject to whatever anyone else in the room feels like saying, if anything. This, to a lot of people is a terrifying prospect--to not have the first word, and so they nervously blurt out something. Sometimes it's funny.

Sometimes it makes everybody look down at the floor. If you're looking at the floor you're not slighting the person, but you're also not validating them either.

You feel bad for them, which oftentimes is exactly what they were trying to avoid.

I'm guilty of nervous funny-man syndrome, or NFS for short. I used to do it all the time, but when I did it, it was because I was terrified that someone would notice I was walking with an affected gait or that my eyes were glazed and bloodshot (from booze, not weed. I still think weed is harmless. I just choose not to involve myself anymore). 

I play the averages--always have. If you make a ton of jokes, a few of them are bound to get a laugh--a real one.

But that leaves a lot of blank stares and downward cast eyes.

My life these days is as funny as ever. Even right now, as I sit at my aunt's house and type away, my mind is cultivating humorous scenarios and odd takes on very plain and common topics.

But unlike an earlier time in my life I'm not going to just let loose with them on the first unsuspecting subject I come upon. I'm going to hold on to them for a while, assess them when I'm in a less charged mood, and if they still seem like a beneficial use of someone's attention, I'll find a way to slip them into a conversation.

If not, no big deal. I've just saved someone's valuable emotional response of trying to not make me feel insulted.

It was pointed out to me a couple of years ago--by a close friend--that he couldn't understand why I had to make a joke about everything. I, of course, responded with a joke. I can't remember what it was, but I'm sure it was something flippant and stupid.

My friend responded:

"God damn-it, Fred. What the hell is wrong with you? Some things are serious. Some things are not funny. And when you try to make it funny with your incessant jokes, it makes me wonder why I even tried to talk to you at all."

And all I could do was look down at the floor.

But that day changed me. I was a little drunk at the time (read: wasted), and in another country, and so I was not only impressionable, but disoriented and out of my element. It made it all the more telling, and I had no where to run, hide, and deny that he was right.

Because he was right. Some things are serious. Some things are not funny. Some things--when responded to with a joke--leave the speaker wondering why they even bothered to say anything to them in the first place. Because when someone responds to something you say with a joke, it usually means they weren't really listening to what you were saying in the first place. It usually means that they were scheming in their heads to come up with something--anything--that would entail not really responding. 

Because some people can't deal with anything that falls in the category that spans from the mundane and banal, to the polarizing and terrifying.

But some things are serious.

Some things are not funny.

And if one wishes to live life to the fullest, one must be willing to appreciate the design of the typeface as well as the meaning of the words it creates.

Humor is power.

Timing isn't everything.

And your ears should always have a head start on your mouth, especially seeing they're always open.

Thanks for reading.


PS: Two peanuts walk into a bar. One was a salted.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day two hundred and four ... An audio look-back at "Day four ... Clear the mind, clutter the desk."

"You stay sober, and you'll have me wrapped around your finger, mister."

This is what my aunt said to me, sometime in June of last summer, right after she told me she was buying me a new computer. It was a big deal (and still is), because the old dinosaur of a laptop I was using was slower than plate tectonics.

It was also a big deal because I had been cheating.

Not a lot--probably a .750 of vodka every couple of weeks. But it was enough to be what it was--cheating. I did it for a while and enjoyed my new computer and tried to convince myself that I deserved to celebrate every once in a great while (read: every two weeks), and reward myself for staying out of trouble (for the time being).

Meanwhile, my aunt was rewarding me with perks like this because she thought I had been honest and up front. I would certainly tell her about any relapses, right?

Well, my plan was modified after the very first moment of indiscretion ...

... I simply stopped counting.

I refused to quantify my progress by recognizing the one month mark, or the two month mark. That would have been tricky. That would have made me feel bad.

That would have been lying even more than not saying a word.

If I didn't talk about it, I felt like it may just go away as a problem and I could move on to more important topics like adding new clothes to my wardrobe or buying a new guitar.

It wouldn't be until September that I would come clean--after I broke four ribs and didn't know about it for a week because I was pouring a liter of Smirnoff down my throat every day. But, like I said before, that's a story for another day.

I just know that as I sat in my aunt's SUV as we left the house to go pick up our new computers, that I felt a huge bundle of guilt strapped to my shoulders.

Enter the good spirits of my guardian angels.

They (she) love(s) me whether I'm good or bad. But if I've been bad, they're (she's) going to make me feel extra guilty about it, for sure.

I got another present. Another perk I didn't deserve at the time.

As we left the house in Mattapoisett and took a left out to the main road, what should be sitting out on the lawn of a neighbor's house with a free sign on it but a very nice, simple, well-built computer desk.

It's times like these that this practically atheistic man looks up at the sky and says a barely audible, "thank you."

It's the least I could do.

And so, I, F. Alex Johnson who had his poor aunt wrapped around his little finger, while occasionally lying by not saying a word, got a gift. And damn if it didn't make me feel like a heel.

It made me feel like I was acting in a movie, and the set that was built all around me had been constructed for the story, and not my actual needs.

And that's what day four's story is about. It's about how, when you're doing the things that you know you are supposed to (ie: staying sober), then you can let a few things pile up around you. You can let the clutter accumulate for a while, because you know you're being honest. And whatever is there, is there for a reason. 

I'd rather have a cluttered desk filled with papers and CD's and pens and pencils and cups of water, a hell of a lot more than a spotlessly clean desk--sanitized daily--with a perfectly ordered and premeditated assortment of items, representative of a life lived in a lie. Because all the messy habits of a sober mind are nothing compared to the destruction and chaos a perfectly placed rocks-glass filled with vodka can do amidst a landscape of superficial order.

I hope you enjoy this entry as much as I did.

Thanks for reading and listening. 
F. A. J.

PS: I almost forgot. It took me two weeks but I'm finally down to 212 lbs.

Thought I'd let you know.

For those of you just joining us, my goal is to reach a respectable 190 lbs. by the end of September.

Yeah, I did the math too. 

Don't worry. 

Not even a little.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day two hundred and two ... The last big hope. Part two.

"Pop-pa-aa-aa-aaa!!!," cried Langdon McTierny from atop his galloping pony, Calvin, sounding like he was yelling into a rotating window fan as he was bounced and bounced in the air and back down to the saddle.

His father, Joe, was about a quarter mile away and gaining on him atop Paradise, the pony that the handler had let him use.

Without his top hat, Joe's head radiated quite a shine from the area of his scalp that hadn't seen sunlight since before his very first trip to the chapeau shop. He had no riding crop and so, was kicking with his legs and with all his might to keep Paradise up to speed.

"Hold ... on ... Langy!!!," cried Joe, not sure if his diminutive voice was heard by his petrified, only son.

"Stick ... with ... the ... pro-gram!!!," he added, unnecessarily, for little Langdon had no intentions of letting go of the reigns, nor his saddle.

By this time, the ponies' trek had taken a sharp turn away from the Holyoke Range and in the direction of downtown Northampton. It was a Sunday, well past church, but there would still be plenty of residents and tourists shopping, picnicking, and otherwise completely unprepared for a pony race through the center of town. Not to mention, one that involved a world famous ex-jockey and his boy.

In the distance, a train whistle blew. It was the five o'clock--right on time.

The Boston and Maine railroad bridge ran parallel to the Rt. 9 bridge, soon to be wiped out in the flood of 1936. Not long thereafter the auto bridge would be rebuilt, reopened, and dedicated to the recent ex-president whose name was honorably given to one of the galloping ponies who was crossing it now.

There was normally a lot of traffic on the bridge during any given weekday. However, because of the fair, it was not only thicker than usual, but it was mostly tourists. Some had gotten out of their cars to look ahead to see what the hold-up was. Upon the inevitable return to their DeSotos, Roadsters, and Cabriolets, not many among them who had ventured out didn't gasp at the two mounted circus ponies rapidly approaching. They appeared, to the average onlooker, to be racing--not just each other--but the twenty-car passenger train on the bridge running parallel to them.

And as the train whistle blew again, the riders sped right down the center of the road between the two rows of stopped cars filled with shocked cosmopolitans, kicking up so much dust that the policeman who was attempting to direct traffic wasn't even sure if what just whisked loudly by him was what he thought.

Regardless, he blew his whistle in the direction of downtown.

"Po-p-a-aaaa!!!!," Langdon yelled again.

And Joe was so exhausted he could barely utter a word, let alone a reassuring bellow. Instead, he chose to use all his energy to preserve his place atop Paradise who he could feel speeding up as if accepting the dare by the black and maroon locomotive. 

And down the middle of the road they raced, Langdon a steady twenty feet ahead of his father. This fact would later occasionally bother Joe, for there weren't too many races he lost by that much. A nose here, a foot there, but never twenty feet--let alone to a five year old ...

... let alone to his son.

And they passed quickly by the old Shell station, and the cemetery filled with mourners; some aware of the spectacle passing by, others too distraught by the passing of their loved ones to notice or care or both.

But it wasn't until both horses had made it the mile into town, past the Nonotuck Savings Bank; past A. MaCallum & Co. department store; past The Academy of Music Theater; up Elm St.; through the soon-to-be-in-session Smith College campus, and finally, down to Paradise Pond in the center of the school's lush, landscaped lawn that the ride came to an end.

It was there that a thoroughly frantic and screaming five-year-old was relinquished of forward motion as his pony dipped its head in the water and drank like a rescued desert castaway.

In the distance, the Boston and Maine's 5:15 departure whistle blew.

"Langdon ... m'boy ... it's ... okay ... it's okay," his father huffed.

Little Langy's screams soon turned into whimpers and then he fell silent. Exhausted, he just sat there slumping atop Calvin until his father, the famous ex-championship jockey, slowly and awkwardly dismounted from the red and green leather saddle covered in rhinestones, and off of the horse named Paradise.

"I dare say," said a voice to their left, "those pony rides give you quite the bang for your buck."

Joe and Langy turned to see a distinguished looking gentleman buttering a piece of sourdough--slowly. His driver was waiting in a Pierce-Arrow twenty feet away. A car with what appeared to be secret service men sat attentively watching in a limo idling, not far behind.

"Mr. President ... my heavens ... good evening, sir."

And "Silent Cal," the thirtieth president of the United States stood from his blanket where he had been relaxing with a Sunday picnic, and approached the ruffled but otherwise well dressed man and his son.

"I take it you didn't lead these horses to water," he said.

"No sir, Mr. President ... I mean not really." said Joe, as he unsuccessfully attempted to smooth his son's tousled hair. 

Much to the apprehension of his father, little Langdon McTierney spoke up with a voice as clear and annunciated as if he were reciting the alphabet, "Calvin got spooked and ran away from the fair with me on top ... and then my poppa tried to save me."

"Well it looks like your poppa was successful."

"Yes sir," said Langy. And upon receiving a pinch from his father added, "Yes sir, Mr. President."

"Calvin, eh?," he mused, "Did you call him Calvin?

"Why yes sir, Mr. President. That's his name," said Langdon.

"Interesting. And you are? ... .

"I'm Joe McTierney and this is Langdon, my boy. This was his very first ride on a pony. Someday he's going to make his poppa proud and race horses professionally."

"But Poppa ..."


And with that, Langdon received a second pinch.

"I see," said President Coodidge. "Well, you should be very proud as a father, Mr. McTierney, for it would appear your boy won his very first attempt."

And "Jumpin'" Joe turned red as the checks in Calvin Coolidge's blanket.

"I'm not a betting man, Mr. McTierney, but if I were, I would wager that you probably would enjoy a less unpredictable ride back to the fair."

"Yes sir, Mr. President," said Joe, "it would be an honor."

"But what will we do with the ponies?," said Langy.

"I have an idea," said the President. 

And Just as "Jumpin'" Joe had arrived at the fair--right through the center of the crowd creating a cloud of dust--so he did again. Only this time, it wasn't in the driver's seat of his 1931 Brougham. It was in the back of a chauffeur driven Pierce-Arrow touring car, with his son at his side and accompanied by a recent ex-President who was now commanding the attention of the fair patrons.

Joe McTierney wished badly that he had held on to his top hat. It was times like these when he wished the cameras that he posed so proudly in front of through years of gold medal ceremonies had never been invented.

It was a sentiment that the two secret service men shared as they trotted in on Calvin and Paradise, respectively--unceremoniously clutching the reigns with one hand, and their holsters in the other.

"My baby!," cried Gladys as little Langy exited the car.

"Mama! I don't ever want to ride horses again. Please mama. Don't let me have to be a jockey like Papa. Please!"

"No, baby. You can be whatever you want to be," Gladys cooed. "I'm just glad you're alive!"

Joe retrieved his hat from the inside of the Brougham and attempted to restore his dignity, despite his obviously rumpled appearance, by publicly approaching President Coolidge and thrusting out his diminutive hand to the man.

"I'd like to thank the President of these United States for the private motorcade back from a most invigorating ride with my future championship winning son, Langdon."

The President graciously shook his hand. The pops of the the flash bulbs were audible even from inside the freak show tent, twenty feet away.

"Well sir," said the President. "As a believer in the voice of the people, I think your boy ought to have a say in this."

And the crowd turned to Langdon, who was being smoothed and daubed by his attentive mother.

"What do you say, Langdon?" Coolidge asked. "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

And without so much as a pause, Little Langy spoke to the crowd in a voice that was louder and clearer, and more adamant than he had ever sounded in all his five years on earth.

"I want to be the President of the United States of America."

The sounds of applause and cheers could be heard from the top of the ferris wheel, all the way to the Speedway, where a horse race was about to begin, puzzling some worried betters.

"Well son," Coolidge said, "Stay in school, go to church, and eat your peas, and someday you may become as harried a man as I."

He turned to "Jumpin'" Joe who appeared to be attending to a fly that had landed near his eye.

"What say you, Mr. McTierney?"

Joe was visibly moved. He wanted what was best for his son, of course. But he also had wanted to see the dreams that he himself woke up with, and carried with him every day, to be fulfilled by his boy; a boy who could become whatever he wanted. But the key word was whatever he wanted. Joe McTierney would never again win a gold medal. He would never again stand in the winners circle. He had done that five times and gained fame, fortune, and notoriety from it. He had lived his dream, however short it had been cut. He looked at his boy, and for the first time, he wished that he would grow to be taller than himself--six foot four ... as tall as Lincoln. And he knew that someday, when Langdon might become discouraged with public service; with the prospect of the arduous task of ascension to the most powerful position in America, that he would always remember the day when the thirtieth president of these United States asked his father what he thought of the idea of that being his son's future.

Joe took off his top hat, pulled his boy close and put it on his head; it fit almost perfectly. His son would make a fine leader, regardless of whether it were horses or people in his wake.

"My boy Langdon here, will show all of you what it means to be a McTierney. How when the winds of fate aren't blowing your way, that you hunker down and cut a path through the cracks. My boy will be a leader and a champion in whatever path he chooses. But son, just remember, that when life takes you for a ride you hadn't planned on, and all you want to do is jump off ... remember what I've always told you."

At this, "Jumpin'" Joe Mctierney picked his son up and put him on his shoulders. He looked at President Coolidge, then to the race in progress on the nearby speedway. And then, he turned his head and smiled up at his boy. He smiled at little Langdon McTierney who was sitting up straight and tall wearing his father's top hat, making the two of them, from a distance, look even taller than President Lincoln had been.

"Stick to the program m'boy!" he shouted. "Just stick to the program!"

Cheers again rang through the September sky, audible even by the balloon enthusiasts who hovered a few hundred feet away, curious at the crowd that had gathered.

At this, Palomar the famous Gypsy psychic turned to Gladys--who, by now, had bought herself a new box of popcorn--and said, cautiously, "I ... I don't think anybody could have predicted this."

The End.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day two hundred ... The last big hope.

They just had to name him Langdon.

It's almost like a jinx, such a tall name.

Langdon McTierney.

And Langdon had a rough time of it because Langdon was afraid of horses.

Well, that and he grew to be five foot eight and three quarters, without shoes.

There was no way he'd be a jockey.

The family was crushed, because Langdon was the last big hope of the McTierney family.

But this disappointment wouldn't come for ten years at least--when, like a weed, Langdon grew and grew and grew until he was as tall as the top of the top hat his father wore every chance he got.

Gladys and Joseph McTierney were so proud to have a son, after the three girls--pearls that they were--who would never become jockeys. Not that they could, even if they wanted to. This was back before the maverick women jockeys like Diane Crump or Barbara Jo Rubin made the world take notice back in the late sixties. But regardless, the McTierney girls had other plans; plans which involved anything but horse manure, feed troughs, and riding crops. 

Joseph, on the other hand, had been a five time national champion. He was known around the world as 'Jumpin' Joe, from the unique style of riding he used in the last quarter lap, almost jumping off the horse a foot or higher and scaring the bejesus out of the horses in pursuit. That's precisely what ended his career at age thirty after a particularly zealous jump, later recalling how he felt it was taking a bit longer than usual for his behind to hit the saddle. Four broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and two fingers on his left hand amputated from being crushed by nineteen or so quartets of hooves, and Jumpin' Joe had run his last race. 

And then came Langdon.

Langdon McTierney was bred from birth to carry on the tradition of professional horse racing that the McTierney name was so closely associated with.

Wallpaper, pajamas, diapers, plates, cups, toys, books, you name it and if it was Langdon's, it had horses on it.

But Langdon didn't buy any of this stuff for himself--for of course he was just a tiny boy--but Gladys and Joe took every step possible to coax little 'Langy,' as he was affectionately known, to become familiarized and subsequently drawn towards the equestrian lifestyle.

But all it took was one pony ride and Langy was done with horses. 

It was at the Tri-County Fair where Jumpin' Joe brought his adorable, five-year-old little man. Joe had a lifetime V.I.P. pass for him and his family from the years and years of championships (and subsequent wealth), he had brought the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. This was back in the thirties when the fair was where you went to show off and be seen by everyone and anyone, from famous sopranos, to ex-presidents, to playwrights and inventors. 

The Fair was the destination for anyone who mattered ... and plenty who only thought they did.

But Joe McTierney still mattered. He was a legend. And everyone knew that his boy was being groomed to take over the family legacy. The girls--who were much older than little Langy--were all either away at finishing school (as were Loretta and Emma), or finished and married to one too many Yankee fans, as was the case of Ginny, much to the embarrassment and vocal displeasure of her father.

And so, Joe and Gladys and little Langdon McTierney arrived at the Tri-County Fairgrounds on a brisk, early-September day dressed in their finest linens and riding in their brand new, 1931 Brougham, specially modified for Joe's diminutive frame. Everyone stepped aside when they saw and heard the luxury car come barreling down the entranceway. Few during the depression flaunted their wealth quite like Jumpin' Joe. Then again, not everyone could be a championship horse racer. Those lucky enough to have a job worked at places like the Pro Brush factory, or as a hand on one of the myriad tobacco farms that blanketed the fertile countryside.

But Joe McTierney liked to flaunt his success. Maybe it was to make up for the twelve inches he didn't have on the average man. Or maybe it was to show that, despite his untimely cessation from horse racing, Jumpin' Joe still had money coming in, and money meant everything back in 1931.

Joe, rather than parking in the lot reserved for those lucky enough for cars, chose to drive right through the crowd, honking his horn and kicking up a storm of dust, startling men and women alike--men and women who were dressed to the nines, and none too pleased by the prospect of a powdery layer of fairground dust on their Sunday best.

But those who were perturbed at whoever had the gaul of driving right down the midway, changed their expressions from a grimace to a smirk to see all sixty inches of Jumpin' Joe McTierney step out of the Brougham and onto the ground below. He didn't even have to duck under with his top hat; for he was barely as tall as the roof of his ride.

Not surprisingly, the McTierney's had driven straight to the pony ride ring. Gladys, a few steps behind Joe at all times, was pulling Langy gently forward and away from the magnetic pull of the freak show tent.

"Good afternoon my good man," Joe said to the pony handler.

"Good afternoon Mr. McTierney. What can I do for ya'?"

"My boy here is going to ride a pony today, just like his pop used to. But, I dare say it need be a bit slower and a bit safer of a ride than was my preference."

"Absolutely, sir. Right this way. Pick any pony," the handler said. 

"How about that one? He looks gentle."

"Yes sir. That's Calvin," the handler said. "We named him in honor of President Coolidge."

"Well I'll be," said Jumpin' Joe. "I hope he's at least a little more lively than Silent Cal."

"Just a little," said the handler.

"Pappa, I don't want to ride the pony," came a voice from the boy who had just forcibly caught up with his dad.

"Rubbish. You're a McTierney. It's in your blood. Now get on that pony, m'boy, and just try to picture your poppa winning by so much he could see the behinds of the riders in last place."

"But I don't wanna!"


And the handler picked up five-year-old, little Langdon McTierney, and despite the shrieking, managed to get both of the boy's feet in the stirrups.

By this time, quite a crowd had gathered around the pony ride, much more than had been gathered for Granny's racing pigs, and that was always a fair favorite. But this crowd--this crowd's interest was placed solely upon the famous horse rider's son, who--as much of the town was now avidly buzzing about--had never ridden a horse before.

More intriguing than that ... he didn't want to.

"Poppa! Get me offa' here!," little Langy pleaded.

"Hush m'boy. And hold on tight. If you're going to be a championship racer like your pop, you're going to have to learn to stick with the program. Like it or not." 

"Poppaaaaaa!!!!," he cried.

And with that desperate plea for his father's mercy, Langdon began a most unfortunate adventure. 

Calvin, the pony, reared up on its hind legs and almost threw Langdon off into the corner of the ring. But, this, in retrospect, would have been a fine--albeit embarrassing--ending to Langdon's first ride.

Instead, little Langy did what his poppa had instructed: he held on to the reigns for dear life. 

He stuck with the program. Like it or not.

Mostly not.

Langdon McTierney held on as Calvin jumped the corral fence like a championship steed and headed towards the popcorn stand. He held on as Calving galloped swiftly past the freak show tent and right through the palm reading tent, narrowly avoiding trampling Palomar the famous Gypsy psychic. Langdon held on as Calvin gained speed and headed towards the Holyoke range in the distance, kicking up nearly as much dust as Jumpin' Joe had with his luxury ride only minutes before.

And in the distance, as if it were him he was watching, Joe McTierney gasped as his son held on and ducked down like he was racing The Preakness. He watched as his little boy suddenly, instinctually exhibited the same trademark jumping in the saddle that had won so many gold medals for him in his all-too-short career. 

Nearly as surprising as what was taking place a few hundred feet in front of him and counting, was the tear he felt well up and exit his right eyelid. This he quickly and awkwardly wiped away, feigning attending to a fly which may or may not have really been there.

Joe felt Gladys pulling on his linen sleeves, her box of popcorn losing multiple kernels upon each tug, and slowly the words she was screaming in his ear began to register meaning. He looked at the horse handler who was staring, mouth agape, watching Calvin, his most gentle pony, showing no signs of slowing up.

"Aren't you going to do something?" Joe said, the incredulity gaining momentum with each word.

"I ... I ... I suppose you could try to catch him," said the handler.

And the crowd, who had become a buzz moments ago, was struck silent as Jumpin' Joe McTierny leaped over the four-foot blonde plank corral fence and approached an otherwise uninterested pony wearing a red and green leather saddle, covered in rhinestones.

"I suppose I could," were the last words Joe said, before the pony (whose name was Paradise), was mounted by a five foot tall, eight fingered, five time former horse racing champion. And seeming as surprised as the crowd, who could have never bargained for this kind of excitement, Paradise shook its head and brayed. And with a mighty, "Heyaww!!," this magnificent pair cleared the four-foot, blonde plank corral fence, and seconds later both horse and rider were kicking up dust on their way towards the hills.

The horse handler bent down and picked up Jumpin' Joe's top hat and handed it to Gladys who was audibly crying into her popcorn.

"I've never seen anything like that before," said the handler. "I can't imagine what's gotten into Calvin."

And just then, Palomar the famous Gypsy psychic, utterly distraught by the state of his former tent, turned to the handler and said, "I have a very bad feeling about this."

Gladys turned and dumped what was left of her popcorn on his head.

It was the least she could do.

... to be continued.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Day one hundred and ninety seven ... All in a day's work.

I like to go on bike rides when It's nice out.

A couple of days ago it was so nice out that I just couldn't stay home.

And whenever I go somewhere, I have to make the world a sillier place.

Google eyes, temporary adhesive, a camera, and a blog.

What more could a growing boy want?

Here's some pictures that I hope make you smile.

I think this would make a person more likely to stop. 

I would definitely not try something around this sign below.

Well, maybe I'd try something behind the sign. It probably can't see around the corner.

I had to go to Trader Joe's and get some granola and lo and behold there were things there that I just had to mess with. This trash can looks much more dignified now.

I like to create life from whence there only had been malaise and drudgery.

Even the parking lot became a playground.

It's hard to cross the street when you can't see where you're going ...

That's where I come in.

And I think it's super that Northampton is so multi-cultural that they even have signs in Italian ...

How cool is that?

How about a new song?

It's called "Table and a Chair" and It's about finding love at a tag sale.

If you can't get it to play, click on here.

I recorded it in my mom's old bedroom in Mattapoisett, where I'm staying for a couple of days. I think that added some mojo ... if you believe in that kind of stuff ...

... I do.

It's late (3:19 a.m.) and I'm tired. 

Goodnight and thanks for reading.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day one hundred and ninety six ... Membership has its privileges.

Sometimes I spend all day thinking about what might make a good topic for the day's entry.

Sometimes it's a tough subject that I don't want to talk about. Those are usually some of my favorites. 

Sometimes it's something that I've been dying to relate. Perhaps a piece of ephemera reminded me of a time when the world was a step-stool out of reach and the only thing I had to pay out of pocket for was gum-balls and bang-caps.

Sometimes it comes from what I did during the day that strangely relates to my sobriety, like trying in vain to vacuum up a tiny piece of string for a good minute, rolling it around with my foot, attempting again to vacuum in up only to have to surrender and bend over, pick it up with my fingers, roll it around, drop it on the floor, and vacuum it up like nothing's weird.

And sometimes it's waiting for me in the mailbox with my name on it when I come home.

"July 10, 2008

Dear Frederick,

Welcome to Smart Start and thank you for choosing us as your interlock provider ... "

Now, this right here? This sentence is hysterical. Okay. Maybe it's more funny to me, but let me try to explain.

I didn't "choose" Smart Start to be my interlock provider, any more than I chose which brand of cuffs they used on me, back in December. I wasn't offered a choice. I was told that this is the company I needed to contact, I was told the installation and service center was located in Hadley, and I was told I was going to have to shell out over two grand over two years to have it in my car.

I have since learned that there are about six different manufacturers out there. One of them even makes a model for school buses, called "The Determinator," if you can believe that (in the event of a reading above .02 the bus goes into lockout, the lights start flashing, and the horn blows non-stop. Otto, you have been warned). But when I was getting my license, Smart Start was the only name I heard, and I really didn't feel like comparison shopping, anyway.

Now, I'm not begrudging the device. It is a fine piece of electronics (although I would prefer it better if it said "hello" instead of "blow" when I turn it on, but hey ...). It is a fine alternative to not having a license at all. The guy I deal with at the shop, Jesse, is friendly, professional, and non-judgmental, and the company seems pretty straightforward and honest. I wrote all about the adventure of getting it put in here.

It's annoying, but I've gotten used to it. I even got a free upgrade to a fancier model with all kinds of buttons that I'm not allowed to push. Like I said, I'm just glad I can drive. Right now, if I didn't have a car, I don't know what I'd do.

I've recently had visions of what it would be like if I was being chased like you see in the movies, and I had to start my car quickly before the axe wielding maniac gets me. But thankfully, that has only happened in my weird mind.

So the letter goes on telling me about all the new locations there are to have it serviced (I bring it in once a month to a place called Long Radio where they download the info my gatekeeper contains). Smart Start even goes so far as to say that if you don't have internet access, you can just call them and talk on the phone like people used to do back at the end of the century. This is because the ignition interlock device is not a mandatory second offense condition for just the youth of America, or even the Gen X'ers and after. It's for anyone, of any age who screws up. You could be 85 with congestive heart disease, and they'd still make you blow into this thing for a count of five, followed by blowing while humming for a count of eight ... every ten minutes.

Yeah, it's fun stuff. But, once again, I'm just glad I have this option.

And then it comes to the part where I just lost it. This stuff is gold, folks.


"If you would like to refer a new client to us, you may use the enclosed referral coupon worth $25. If the referred client is installed with Smart Start of Massachusetts and presents the coupon at the time of installation we will send you a $25.00 check for the referral."

A referral?

A referral?

What the ... ?

What are they insinuating?

Are they trying to say that, because I have an interlock device on my car (read: am a lush), that it stands to reason that my friends will eventually have the big number two? Is that it? 

Are they banking on the fact that everybody in town knows I have one, and will naturally ring me up if they need tips on which brand is best?

Or better yet. Maybe they sent it to me so I'll keep my eyes on the court listings like some sort of ambulance chaser. But even at that, most people won't be as lucky as I am and get their license back in two months. Most people will have to wait two years before they even get the opportunity to have an interlock device installed.

So to me, I just think it's a hilarious prospect.

And the best part is, the referred customer (read: my friend, the lush), doesn't get a dime out of the deal. It comes to me, lush #1, who hopefully won't go out and spend it on a big bottle of Dr. McGillicutty's and a tube of Pringles.

I can see the pitch now:

"Hi, my name's Alex. Maybe you've read my blog. No? Okay. Well, word around town is that your going to get your license back soon. You know, of course, that you will have to get an interlock device. Now, don't get all mad just yet. Let me tell you about Smart Start. They're great. Oh and by the way, can you take this oversized coupon in with you and make sure they attach it to your lease agreement? I get $25.00 out of the deal ... hey ... hey, where 'ya going? Hey, mister ... it's a really good company ... hey ..."

The part of it all that strikes me as odd is that it all seems so natural. It's like, well of course somebody in your town is going to get another DUI. And when they do, here you go. Just give them this. I mean, it's a nice gesture I suppose, but this isn't like getting cash back for referring somebody to a good masseuse. This is an otherwise very stigmatizing matter. It's not something that you want to have too many people on board with. But here I am with an oversized coupon in my hands that will supposedly go to the next sucker to blow a .08 for the second time. It's not that hard. Only a few beers will do it. And the cops are always out and looking to make money for the state (not to mention curb accidents, injuries and death). So people, as much as I need the cash, I really hope nobody I know gets in trouble anytime soon ... but I'll put it under a magnet on the fridge just in case.

There's no expiration date anywhere on it, so I guess it's good for life. 

Either way, a coupon's a coupon. My mom probably wouldn't be so thrilled that I got another DUI, but I know for a fact that she would be just tickled about the idea of a $25 coupon.

Hmm ... I have the most amazing craving for Pringles right now.

Maybe I'll go out and buy a tube and grab the paper ... 

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day one hundred and ninety five ... An audio look-back at, "Day three ... Public displays of connection."

Day three was an eye opener for me.

I hadn't taken the bus in a very long time. 

Consequently, I had forgotten how interesting it was to listen to other people talk--to their friends, to themselves, or to a little candy bar shaped device called a cell phone.

Well this guy--we'll call him Cell Phone Guy--was on the 5:20 p.m. bus every night, and every night he'd hold court--by himself. And it was oh so much fun to listen in. He was a big guy--maybe 250 lbs.--with short, brown hair and a few piercings--I think he was a waiter. He had a voice made for texting. That is to say, It was anything but pleasant--a bit sassy with a little self-loathing and dramatic frustration mixed in. 

Either way, he gave me the idea for this story, adapted from the one side of the conversation I heard. From right about here ... 

This is the Florence bus on the P.V.T.A. (Pioneer Valley Transit Authority). I took it four nights a week for three weeks to get to my outpatient program. The program was a three-hour-a-night course which meant that I only got to take the bus in to Florence. I had to bike back the three miles or so to Northampton every night (there are bike racks on the front of the buses for your convenience). 

Three miles ain't nothin' to a strong guy like me.

Three miles is one quarter or what I biked today.

Three miles through the slush of January snow, though, is a whole different story.

And that is how I got home almost every night for the first three weeks of January--on my bike, in my boots, long, wool coat, gloves, hat, and scarf.

It's hard to fathom it all, what with a heat wave of three days in the nineties coming my way tomorrow.

But just look at this guy ...

... this guy's going to forget his gloves when he gets up. And the guy in the reflection behind him is going to yell from the back and hold up his gloves and wave them in the air. And this guy right here, the guy in the boots, long, wool coat, and scarf (not to mention the impressive beard) is going to be thrilled beyond belief. He's going to be thrilled because it's going to be about fifteen degrees when he gets out and the wind chill factor is going to make it feel like it's five below ...

... and riding a bike is a tricky feat with your sleeves pulled down over your fingers.

But he's going to have quite a story to write about when he gets back.

And so, I hope you enjoy the third in the series of audio look-backs I am happy to present. Once again, it is narrated by yours truly. The theme music was written and performed by me, with all other incidental music written and performed by Mr. Scot Coar, who also produced the segment at Sow's Ear Studio in Easthampton, MA in March of this year.

If you are having problems accessing the player, please let me know. My desktop, which runs Internet Explorer doesn't seem to want to support it, but when I use Firefox it seems to solve the problem.

Either way, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoy, from Fearless By Default, "Day three ... Public displays of connection."

PS: Days four, five, and six will be coming in the next few weeks. Until then, thanks for reading and listening.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day one hundred and ninety three ... Big shoes to fill.

I feel a strong connection to the Dandelions. They really know how to adapt. When life comes at you with a lawnmower, you can either bend and stay alive, or resist and get cut down.

~L. Johnson (The Aunt).

When it became clear to me that I could not continue to destroy myself from the inside out, I had to make a few adaptations.

I'm a smart guy.

I realized that my life, despite the obvious problems in it, was a good one--enviable even. But as good as it was, it was fraught with the trappings of debauchery and insatiable desires. 

To lead a truly fulfilling life we must be true to who we are. Failing that, we must be true in our decisions which will determine our future, for someday we will know we have arrived, and we will be thankful we took such steps.

If one's calling is to be a circus clown, one cannot fulfill their hopes, dreams, and goals by working as a bio-physicist. It would be distracting at best to have your red nose fall into the Pyrex flask of hydrochloric acid. And floppy shoes, while inherently hilarious, could prove to be a detriment when working alongside a lab partner wearing size 9 1/2 loafers. 

"I'm sorry I tripped you again, doctor. Please, let me help you clean up that mitochondria."

No, to become a clown, one must go to clown school and then hopefully join one of the many circuses currently touring the world. They must adapt their plan of attack from what is expected of them by others in society, and follow a path that will lead them to their eventual goal ...

... even if that path is lined with elephant dung.

And so, if I planned to continue the path I chose for myself thirty years ago--making and performing music--I was going to have to adapt to a new set of challenges; a new approach to relaxation and creativity; a new M.O. to get out of the house and get into the van. Because if I couldn't do this, I knew what would happen. I'd stay angrily sober for a while, reluctantly go to A.A., look down on everybody who was using, get called a hypocrite, get extremely jealous, pick up, fall down, get arrested, go to jail, and hang myself.

Adapt or die.

It was a pretty easy choice.

I never once said to myself, "I'm going to have to stay away from the bars I used to play at, or get a whole new group of friends, or move to a dry town, or go on a crusade to label drugs and alcohol evil and all powerful," (which I will always contest that I do not believe. They can be extremely positive and empowering for a while. Then, if you do not find a way to retain control and enjoy them in moderation, they will kill you, or worse).

No, instead of changing the world in which I lived in, I needed to change the person living in that world. But before I could start that magnificent metamorphosis, I needed to find the equation which provided the answer to why I did what I did--both good and bad--and figure out why pain, regret, anguish, debt, and embarrassment--on a daily basis--was not enough to make me change.

It's no big secret, the reasoning behind it.

I was afraid of the unknown.

I was terrified of a hypothetical situation.

I was unwilling to adapt. 

I was scared that the way of life which I lead now, would be too difficult to get used to; too full of worry and paranoia; too rife with cravings and withdrawals; too intertwined with triggers.

Too simple.

But when we get through our infatuation with new products and their never ending deluge of bells and whistles; when we have satisfied our craving for having a million and one options at our disposal; when we tire of the endless and unnecessary decisions forced upon us because have too many choices ...

... we always go back to simple.

My life right now is amazingly simple.

I write, I read, I perform, and I spend time with family and friends.

That's it.

I don't wonder if I'm missing out. I don't feel like there was some kind of unfinished business that I need to attend to at the bottom of a bottle. I don't experience pangs of regret that I can't spend all my money on junk that's going to leave me even poorer in mind, body, and spirit.

The problem I have with A.A. and N.A. is in the fundamental belief system that no matter what we do, we will always be vulnerable to go back to our old ways. That no matter how good our lives get; no matter how our health improves and our acumen sharpens; no matter what new relationships and bonds we enter into and maintain ... that we are apt to forget what we have and be lured back into the depths from which we crawled and fall into the pit of despair and perish.


What a bunch of drama-queen rhetoric.

If you start to believe you are prone to do something--especially by a group with good credentials--then you are that much more likely to actually do it.

If you wake up each morning and intentionally avoid behavior--simple behavior like reading Rolling Stone--because you're afraid that it might "trigger" you, then you're already thinking too much. 

If I see an ad for peanuts, and I know I'm allergic to peanuts, then I'm not going to buy a bag of peanuts. It won't matter to me whether I developed the allergy late in life and have fond memories of eating them, I'm not going to eat them because I know that it will make me extremely ill and that is not a good way to be.

I associate them with a problem.

I adapt how I feel based on my present situation.

But if a giant group of people tell me that no matter how bright I am, and no matter how clearly I understand that these peanuts will make me violently ill, that statistically, I'm going to eat them anyway ... then guess what? ... I'm going to be on the lookout for that eventuality and maybe even provoke it a little so I'll feel like I fit in--which is why a lot of us are in this boat in the first place.

We, as humans, have a horrible tendency to do what we are expected to. Especially if we are told that it is inevitable.

"Well if it's inevitable, then it's out of my hands."

What if it's not inevitable? What if we don't give ourselves that leeway. I wonder how many relapses could have been prevented if those with the coercive megaphones refrained from shouting about how many of us statistically will end up at square one, and how we're going to become complacent after the first stretch of success and then we're going to crumble and fall, possibly never to return. I wonder how many relapses could have been prevented by imparting, instead, the idea that, "You're going to want to go back and use, but you won't. You won't, because you will learn in time to be true to yourself--to value what you have and remember how you got it. You're not going to dwell on it. You're not going to hide from it. You're going to find a new way to deal with the situations life will inevitably throw your way. You're going to learn how to shake it off and keep on going. You're not going to freak out about what you haven't done yet. You're just not going to do it."

Just adapt. Plain and simple.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not not worried about relapsing. It's always a possibility. Just like it's a possibility that I'll run out into traffic on Main St. and get killed. It's right down the road and no matter what side of the street I'm on I can think of something on the other side I could use. But I know that pain is uncomfortable at best, and death is counterproductive.

So no matter how much of a hurry I'm in, I just won't do it.

It's when I disregard the idea that if I run out into traffic on Main St., that I'll end up in the hospital or worse. If I rescind my belief that I don't want to get hurt, that's when I run the risk of serious trouble.

But I'm smarter than that. And that goes for a lot of people.

I'll be patient. I'll use the crosswalks. I'll adapt.

Substance abuse trains a person to be the most selfish entity in the universe.

When someone becomes overcome by the evils of addiction they don't let anything stop them from using: not work, family, lack of transportation, health problems, legal problems, the loss of good friends, or anything.


I feel like we should take what we have learned about being selfish from actively using and apply it to our fight for sobriety. I think we should harness that relentless obsession and use it to our advantage. 

I think that we should put our red nose on and paint our faces. We should gather up our juggling balls and stuff them into our pockets. We should pull that blue wig down tight and get ready for the lights to come on. And when we hear the music play and we come running out at full speed with our horn honking and our arms flapping and our size 25 shoes stomping on the bigtop floor, and we run right smack dab into that gigantic pile of elephant dung ... well ... we'll just make the best of it and add it into our schtick. We'll take that otherwise unfortunate event and use the skills we learned in clown school to turn it into an unexpectedly hilarious facet of our performance ...

... we'll adapt.

Thanks for reading.


PS: "Honk! Honk!"