Friday, July 4, 2008

Day one hundred and eighty four ... In the name of freedom.

What does freedom feel like?

Everywhere I look, people are discussing freedom and how we must protect our hard fought liberties. How if we are not vigil, the very cornerstone of this country will become a heap of crumbled silt, and everything we hold dear to us--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--will disappear before our very eyes.

I hear about how we must not let the terrorists win.

For we are a special lot in this world--we Americans--who value, above all else, the rights to do, think, say, and live how we please. We demand it, we expect it, and when we see others deprived of it, we can't help but open our big mouths and start shouting about the injustice of it all.

But freedom is subjective.

Freedom is a state of mind.

Freedom is what you make it.

Freedom is my nickname.

About seven years ago (the summer before 9/11), I was given the nickname, "Freddy Freedom" by some friends of mine.

This was an alteration of the name "Freddy Fitness" which I had been so dubbed because I had lost about 20 pounds from working out and drinking vodka. I can't remember why the change was made to Freddy Freedom, but I dare say it is a much more effective use of alliteration, and alliteration drives our language. Pragmatics be damned. If it sounds good, use it.

And then 9/11 happened and it was painfully apparent to me that going by that name would be looked upon by many as just another uber-patriot jumping on the bandwagon--a bandwagon that seemed, at the time, to have stops in more of the world than ever before--a globally pro-U.S. world.

My, how things change.

But as nicknames go, the recipient has little say over the conditions of use. And so, for the last seven years I have been known to many across the world as Freddy Freedom.

Up until recently, I had felt that often times it was both a great misnomer as well as an ironic insult.

Because for so much of my life, especially over the last several years, I had lived in a way that conveyed a great dependence on outside sources. My daily activities revolved around actions which were essentially suturing strings to all of my joints and appendages with near invisible threads.

Near invisible, but undeniably real.

To me, I was anything but free.

To me, the terrorists were winning.

To me, a lot of times, when someone called me "Freedom," it stung a little from the irony of it all.

My, how things change.

Last night I went to a bar downtown to see a band.

Even though I could have ridden my bike, I chose to drive so as not to muss up my nice clothes.

I have nice clothes because I don't spend all my money on coke and weed and booze.

I have a license because I worked hard to prove to a judge, way back in January, that if he gave me a shot, that I'd make good and turn the bad parts of my life around so they would align with the already positive aspects.

I ran into a whole mess of people I know--people who not long ago would have pulled their hats down a little over their face so as not to be recognized by the drunkest guy in the room. We talked for a while about anything and everything. I even saw a girl I used to date and she hugged me and kissed me and told me I looked fantastic.

That was nice.

I got myself a ginger ale. It was delicious and exactly what I wanted. It lasted me forty-five minutes.

After that I got a glass of water.

It lasted me an hour and a half.

I stood in the same spot for most of the night watching and listening to the music. Good music. Music I paid a cover to see.

I didn't have to worry about snaking through the crowd every twenty minutes or so to put myself at the mercy of a busy bartender at a crowded bar to wait for an overpriced and under-poured shot only to have to find an alternate spot to watch the band as my place in the crowd had been taken.

I wasn't constantly checking my watch to make sure I got to the liquor store in time to buy more booze--yet another example of a constraint imposed on those who ultimately become indentured to the cunning ways of addiction.

And I wasn't talking to people with the sole intent of eventually angling for a free drink ...

... and they knew it.

My intent was simple. My process was logical. My goal was practical and easily achieved and I left the bar and went home of my own accord and with a smile on my face.

My evening was filled with new freedoms which would have been inconceivable not too long ago.

To me, the terrorists have been put in their place.

And as I knelt in the booth ten feet from the band, with my water on the table and my hands in my pockets, I was struck with a serene feeling. I was taken aback by the simplicity of it all. I marveled at the way one directive--that to see a band--could really be that simple. In fact, I was doing it right then and there. I was seeing ... a ... band. I wasn't merely in the same room as a band as an excuse for getting wasted and looking for drugs. I wasn't hungry from not eating in order to get drunker faster.

And I didn't have to fabricate these realities in my head the next morning due to the inevitable blackout.

They really happened.

Do you know how unbelievably important that is from the standpoint of a person who could almost never be sure? It's one of the best feelings in the world. It is a drug in and of itself and each time you wake up and feel it enter your system you want it more and more and more. Every time you get that feeling of certainty of actions, and ease of conscience, it makes you want to scream at the top of your lungs over all the opportunities squandered due to involuntary, predictable, and destructive behavior, not to mention the inevitable time you spent licking your wounds, only to find that your own spit was toxic.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't always that way. If it was, I'd have cleaned up years ago. It's just that, eventually, systematically, and almost imperceptibly, the bad stuff starts to pile up and pile up and before you know it, that narrow passageway to the outside where you left the pluses (so as to recognize them in an emergency), is nowhere to be found. To say it is overwhelming is an understatement. Because being unaware of why you are overwhelmed is a mammoth problem in and of its own, and it can destroy a person.

For so many years, I just considered these side effects to be part and parcel of an unavoidable existence. Not only that, but I couldn't imagine how anybody could get through life any other way. I mean, how much fun could that be, to just go out and not get wasted? To live in a way that I've always avoided.

To exclude myself from taking part in proceedings which, if abused and misused, inevitably, ultimately, and completely deprives a person of the very ideals we hold so dear: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ...

... all in the name of freedom.

If something makes you happy, enjoy it. If it doesn't, logic would follow that it should be avoided. But if you can't tell for sure whether you do or you don't, then that may be most cruel and unusual punishment ever imagined.

So go ahead, call me Freddy Freedom.

I kind of like it now.

Because, much like my jeans at the bottom of my dresser drawer--the ones I put away a few years ago--it's finally starting to fit.

My, how things change.

Thanks for reading.

Happy Independence Day.

F.A.J. a.k.a. Freddy Freedom.

PS: For those of you keeping score at home on my quest to drop 35 pounds by the end of September I am happy to report that, despite a halt in training due to touring, I am still on track. At last weigh-in on Monday June, 30 I am down to 216.

Starting weight: 224
Current weight: 216
Total loss: 8 lbs.

My tour secret: Push-ups (3 sets of 15), crunches (as many as possible, but most often, 3 sets of 30) and skipping the cheese and mayo on any and all sandwiches. Mustard just about cancels out the flavor of even the strongest tasting cheese anyway.

I predict my "journey to the belt store" to be about two weeks away.

As the Chinese piano salesman always reassured potential customers: stay tuned.

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