Monday, December 27, 2010

Day one thousand ninety . . . Where there's fire . . .

I answer to very few people.

Now, this is something that I forget every so often because I believe it is human nature to dramatize our own situations when life turns static.

At least it's my nature.

It's not like I don't have anyone to answer to, but it's different than it used to be.

I have two directors in the chorus who call the shots, but I love my job and I love the people I work for/with. We travel the world, I get paid, my talents are exercised and I improve as a musician. Piece of cake.

I have my boss at the gallery where I work once a week, but it's an easy job and I can more or less pick my own hours as long as I get things done by the weekend. I take out the trash, clean the windows and dust the paintings. Piece of cake.

And I have my girlfriend who is all powerful and much smarter than I, I kid you not. But we have a very healthy relationship and to say I "answer" to her would be an exaggeration, to say the least. We answer to each other on the rare times that an argument ensues, and in those cases she always wins. Piece of cake.

But every so often I am thrown back into the world I used to live in not that long ago. It was a world where I had a different number of bosses on any given day. They might be the same two days in a row; they might be different.

These bosses were the people who I had to go through to put in me what it took to feel good.

I'm not going to get graphic about my vices. Take a gander through the posts I've written over the last three years if you care to know more. I've tried to include a healthy mix of memoirs, honorariums, confessions, revelations and observations. I've tried to use humor and honesty in equal measure, and from what people tell me I feel like I'm doing all right.

But the other day I made a startling discovery into why I feel so free.

Let me explain.

Now, while I do not drink, smoke, pop, huff, snort, or ingest anything that may compromise my sanity, sobriety, health and/or peace of mind I do hang out with plenty of people who do.

One of these people who I spend time with went on a trip with me to New York City last week. While we were there she bought two drinks over the course of a couple of hours. One of them--upon taking a few sips--was deemed to be weak. In other words, there wasn't enough detected alcohol in it to justify the price and/or name of the beverage.

An hour or so later--at a different establishment--I watched as the bartender poured liberally from the bottle of Jack Daniels into a glass--his other hand pouring Coke from a soda gun. It put a smile on my face to see it. Now this was a proper drink. And while I would have been more than happy to have gotten it upon request I was a tiny bit concerned that it would be too strong for her.

When I asked my friend how her drink was she smiled and told me it was delicious.

I'm sure it was. It made me smile again.

But it wasn't until later in the evening that I started to realize what a liberating feeling it is to be removed from this world of uncertainty. I sat and started to recall the days--almost all of them--that I spent hoping that whatever I had was strong enough.

And the rest of the time was spent worrying if whatever it was I just had had been too strong. Though these happened less frequently, when it did it was not a pleasant concern.

Through the years I learned a few things about playing in bars and clubs.

The first order of business upon arriving at a venue is--of course--to make sure you can get inside and confirm that you are indeed playing there that night. Seems like a given, but you'd be surprised how often calendars seem to differ.

The second order of business--and perhaps even more important overall--is to make friends with the bartender. Because as a drinker this man or woman is ultimately in charge of your happiness for the evening. Find someone who got dragged in on their day off and you may be paying full price all night for shots that were measured to the milliliter or, even worse, from a liquor gun. Find someone who loves music and their job (or better still someone who's had a few before their shift), and you're guaranteed--audience or not--to have a good time. Hell, they may even be able to get you an item or two--ahem--that isn't on the menu.

But I don't care about the bartenders anymore . . . sort of.

I mean, I'll say hello and pay for a soda or coffee if need be. I always tip at least a dollar for whatever it is I am getting whether it's free or not. I realize they, like the waitstaff, are paid mostly in tips and I respect this fact.

I am gracious and personable but I don't feign interest in a local college football game because the bartender is wearing their jersey. I don't regale them with a sob story of how thirsty I am because it's so hot out, or make jokes about there being a hole in the bottom of my glass and where did that whiskey go? I don't try to gauge their happiness level because I'm not at their mercy.

If I wanted to I could just go around the corner and get a liter of water and drink that all night.

I don't need them because they don't have anything that I need.

And that goes for everything else that used to call my name.

I hope this _____ is the good shit.

I hope _____ is working the bar tonight.

I can't believe I paid _____ for this _____.

Try this and tell me if you can taste any _____ in it.

I think Al had a few too many _____.

Last night we got a snowstorm. The weather people were calling it a "blizzard" but at least where we are it was just a storm. Jodi and I had a fire going in the hearth like we do most every night that it's cold.

But the wind from the storm was too much for the chimney, and every so often it would blow a plume of smoke into the living room and set off the smoke alarms. Now, this is a big pain in the ass because not only does it potentially wake up the neighbors but we have to open the window and the front door to let the damn smoke out which, of course, lets the cold air in. It doesn't happen often, and when it does it usually only happens once. Last night it happened so many times that at 12:07 AM we had to put the fire out ourselves. It wasn't easy. In fact while trying to put the fire out we (I should say I) actually made things worse.

I realized just then that I only really had experience starting a fire and none putting one out.

It's much harder than I expected, and I'm still unsure if we did it correctly.

Three years ago to the hour I remember putting out a similar fire. Or, I should say, I remember running out into the street and driving my car down to the local bar and letting the authorities do the work for me.

Three years ago to the hour I had my last drink.

Three years ago to the hour I found myself in a situation that I couldn't get myself out of.

Three years ago to the hour I took the last attempt to passively kill myself.

Three years ago to the hour I told all the bosses I ever had who stood between me and a bottle, bag, or capsule that I was through answering to them.

Three years ago to the hour I began my life again.

So much has happened in the last 1,095 days (though this blog starts on New Year's Day, hence the discrepancy in post numbers). I remember almost everything--the good and the bad.

I had a well documented slip when my aunt died in September of 2008, but I did not pick up the bottle.

I went through the lengthy process of getting my license fully reinstated.

I took over the house my mother and aunt lived in and loved.

I found my dream girl.

And I learned how to build a fire.

It's not as easy as it sounds. There's a method to it. There are certain pieces to the puzzle that you must have. And once it's begun you have to keep an eye on it and feed it and make sure that the embers don't burn you or the house that surrounds it.

And you have to make sure that when the winds blow hard outside that you keep an eye on the smoke that follows the warmth. Because you stand a risk of setting off all the alarms in the house.

I try not to make too big a deal of my daily or monthly milestones in sobriety. In fact I think that the ultimate goal is to forget that they even come around--to just live life as it comes to you rather than wallowing in the world you once inhabited.

But last night I think the whole house was giving me a thumbs up, and, at the same time, making me work for it--up and down, waving the towel at the smoke alarm and opening and shutting the windows and doors.

It really hit home how easily the heat escapes--how the comfort of a warm house can be turned upside down with one sudden gust of air from above.

And it made me realize--three years to the hour--just how hard it is to put a fire out when it wants to keep burning.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day one thousand and sixty four . . . Time flies.


That's what my late Aunt Lynda would have said on an occasion such as this.

It's something she said at moments that were of a special nature--like hearing about me getting a big gig or finding a fifty dollar bill lying in the street.

It would start out high in pitch and then slope low, almost like a cartoon character falling out of a skyscraper might.


I always thought it was a Fall River thing (Fall River, Massachusetts being where I grew up), but after asking several of my friends from the area and getting quizzical looks I realized it was unique only to them.

But the two of them had a lot of adorable quirks. They had many interesting ways of expressing themselves. This was just one more, but it was a joyful, engaging one.

It was a natural reaction to something good.

On the evening of Tuesday, December 14th, I found myself on a bus in New Zealand. I was with Jodi. I was also with thirty or so other friends and colleagues making our way back to our hotel in Wellington after a successful show that night. This group, of course, is the Young at Heart Chorus and I play guitar in their band.

Now, just the mere fact of me playing a gig in New Zealand, of all places, would have elicited the aforementioned exclamation from Aunty. But she missed out on being around for me touring Japan and Brooklyn and Canada and . . . well, all over this great big world by now.

That's not to say that my folks (I called my mom and aunt my "folks." Always have, always will) didn't get to see me travel to more than a few exciting places in their lifetime. Because, thankfully, I've been doing this kind of thing for six years this month.

I remember having the two of them come up for lunch back in November 2004 when I was just starting out with these guys. We hadn't played any gigs further than Springfield up to that point, though I had toured and seen plenty of the U.S. with The Stuntmen. We went to a nice little place in Amherst and found a quiet table in the back and toasted to something nice. We ordered sandwiches. Then I told them with feigned resignation that I was finally going to have to get a passport.

They both looked at me incredulously and asked what I meant by that. Was I leaving the country for good? For bad? What the . . . ?

And then, I got to tell them with a big smile how I--F. Alex "Freddy Freedom" Johnson--was being given the opportunity to travel to Holland and Belgium for three weeks for a real gig--a paying gig. And they both, in almost unison, exclaimed, "Eeeeeeeee!" before welling up with tears and grabbing my hands and smiling from ear to ear.

I'll never forget that.

Flash forward six years to me and Jodi sitting in the back of a bus rolling down the other side of the highway in a country in the Southern Hemisphere, about as many time zones removed from home as . . . well, as time will allow.

December 14th changed to December 15th on my iPhone and I turned to Jodi and smiled. And then we wished my Aunt Lynda a happy 63rd birthday. We quietly sang "Sto lat" (the Polish Birthday Song) and hugged each other.

That was my aunt's first birthday of the day, as there would be two December 15ths this year.

We spent the morning shopping and packing. We had lunch at the airport. And then we boarded the plane that would take us to Los Angeles. We got up in the air around 7 pm, New Zealand time, for the 12 hour flight--the 12 hour flight that would take us back to . . . yesterday.

With a mighty roar we took off out of the land of the kiwis and headed home. As the landing gear pulled itself up into the underside I pulled out my phone and reset the time to from 7 pm to 1 am--18 hours back--and settled into the flight.

We touched down in Los Angeles at 10 am and rocketed to our rooms at a hotel near the airport.

And that is where I am writing this, as I once again celebrate my dear aunt's 63rd birthday.

It's legal. It's legit. It's indisputable. And it's also something that my aunt loved with a passion:

It's two for one!

And that, dear readers, you just know would always be followed by a . . . yep, you guessed it.


Happy Birthday, Aunty. Sto lat! I so wish you were here today. I wish you could have met Jodi. Oh the schemes you and she, i'm sure, would have concocted involving me and, somehow, an inappropriate mens thong or a monkey mask, a pooper scooper, or . . . well, you always did have a strange sense of humor. I took you in stride but I always knew you were different.

Somehow I feel I'll see you again and we can catch up.

Until then I'll just say I love you.

Thanks for reading. It's good to be home.

Now I need a shower, a nap, and a few days to catch up to the winter as I left the summer behind me a day from now.

My, how time flies.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day one thousand and forty . . . Home again.

I'm watching the game while Jodi sits in front of a roaring fire she built.

This kind of thing is pretty standard these days. It's something we did a lot of this last year, too.
It's comfortable here like a home should be.

Today we spent drinking coffee and shopping for Jodi's relatives who we'll be seeing on Thanksgiving. We bought some chocolate and browsed through a couple of baby stores, as we're both at an age where shopping for other people's children has become the norm. I had heard legend that this was a possibility someday and I'm glad I have lived this long to see it come to pass.

We ran back and forth hurriedly over the patio a couple of times in and out the threshold--racing the setting sun--to grab a movie to return and a hat one of us forgot. I held the door for her and then she for me. I looked longingly at the patio set that will have to find a place to spend the rest of this frigid New England winter. We turned the outside lights on at five o'clock.

These are things that we did because we live here together in this house.

And it was two years ago today that I signed the papers to make it officially mine.

Two years ago I was given a set of keys and a hug from my realtor.

Two years ago my friends Paul and John helped me move my meager possessions in through the doorway.

Two years ago I met my neighbors who have all grown--children, pets, and adults alike--as have I. We've experienced ups and downs and everything in between. We know a lot of details of these experiences because we share such a small slice of this little village--this four house street--but there is, I'm sure, just as much that we don't know. And this is the way I would expect it.

I've had parties. I've had band rehearsals. I've lost twenty pounds. I've shaved my face and liked it for the first time in my life and kept it that way for over a year. I've had first dates. I've had second dates. I've cooked my first ever Valentine's Day dinner. I've fallen in love. I've had arguments. I've cried. I've consoled. I've asked for forgiveness. I've been given what I've asked for. I've slept too late. I've gotten up too early. I've departed to and returned from some exotic places that span half of the globe or more. I've had emotional meetings with friends. I've experienced massive lengths of time between contact with people I'm close to. I've wrapped baby shower gifts. I've sent condolence cards. I've had two amazingly different Christmases. I've had two completely and utterly contrasting New Year's Eves. I've had alarm sensors installed in every door and window because of an rapid rise in burglaries. I've helped my girlfriend move in. I've found closets filled with things that aren't mine and just stood there smiling. I've had the basement redone. I've had the yard landscaped. I've written some of my favorite journal entries. I've let weeks at a time go by between posts. I've waited nervously for my love to return from long trips. And countless times over the last two years we've driven home to this house late at night and walked through the door and collapsed on the couch and thanked the gods above that we made it back alive.

Two years.

I've lived in this little blue house for two years.

And it's been two years of happiness that I could have never predicted because owning a home is something I never thought I'd enjoy. I'd heard so much from so many people about the perils of becoming a homeowner. And I had been so content just paying my monthly rent and calling the landlord when something broke. It's a tough kind of thing to wave goodbye to.

I'm not going to jinx myself here and say that I'm a lucky kind of guy. I've had good things happen. I've made a lot of good things happen and I've taken some chances that have paid off.

In fact, just the other day I got a call from the barber around the corner who's in charge of the Florence month-long raffle they hold every November. He called to tell me that I won the Thursday drawing last week and that I can come in and pick up my $50 gift certificate to the café down the street--the place where Jodi and I had our first date. And when he told me the news I just gushed like a little kid. I told Mr. Flynn, the barber, that he was presently talking to the happiest guy in town. He could have told me that I had just won a gift certificate to the kids store and that would have been fine (there's always a baby shower around the corner these days). Or I could have won the case of Spanish wine from Doyle's Package Store and would have figured out something to do with it. But it wasn't either of those two prizes, and it wasn't any of the other eighteen it could have been since the first of the month.

And these kind of things make me believe that something good is going on here in this house. Every night I turn the light off on my bedside table and kiss my girlfriend goodnight no matter if it's midnight or 2:30 am. And every day I wake up and I smile and kiss her again. I say a little something or other to myself to the effect of "well, we made it through another night," and then I go downstairs and grind some coffee beans and fill up the carafe and wait to fill my cup, take a sip, and start the next day in my life.

Good things are so wonderful when they're happening, they have a way of numbing a person.

They have an addictive quality.

But they do have a downside, though: they eventually get interrupted by the bad things.

I'm not expecting bad news anytime soon. I haven't had that unfortunate problem in a good long while. I lived through that time in my life so I could get to this part of it all. And as much as it's easy to live in the past and wallow in misery it was never my family's strong suit, and thankfully I never saw it as an attractive state of mind.

I simply needed to write today to document the way I feel while this house is in full swing with me inside it.

It is excitedly alive with the sounds of football in front of me, the fire in the hearth, and the jeans in the clothes dryer clicking and clanking.

The vacuum cleaner is put away and resting until the next time I put her through the paces.

The thin plastic on the windows in the three season room is courageously holding back the coldest of the mid-November air while the furnace runs a quick mile on its own treadmill.

The Patriots just got scored, a flag is down and my girlfriend wondering what the hell I'm doing on my computer.

But I'll wait until the end of this last quarter to tell her--to read her what I wrote while we sat here together ten feet apart in the house that has been my home for the last two years (and one I've shared with her for almost as long).

Then we'll go to dinner and have a toast to us, to this, to me, to her, and to this house that somehow contains all the things we love.

Thanks so much for reading.

Have a great Thanksgiving--it's really more than just one word.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day one thousand and fifteen . . . The Collector

I grew up a hoarder.

It's not something I'm proud of, but it's also not something that I've often denied.

It all started with my mother. I'm not going to dig too deeply into the situation that my dear mom was in. Just suffice to say that she liked to shop . . . a lot. And she'd take me along because shopping together was fun.

It started out with the two of us going to the local church bazaars and flea markets on occasion. Then it would be a weekly trip to the Norton flea market in the Massachusetts town of the same name. Then it turned into picking up the local paper and checking the classifieds on a Friday to see which yard sales looked good (no "tag sales" for me. I say it now because I've lived out here in Western Mass. for too long. But it still sounds weird) and we'd circle five or six and hit them early and hit them hard.

Then we'd come home and unload the car and salivate over our take for the day.

Needless to say, my room filled up pretty quickly.

Records, books, electronics, arts and crafts supplies, toys, audio gear, random guitar oriented stuff, and on and on. This was what I liked to collect. I was given a small allowance, and the rest I either pilfered out of my mother's purse or was given for a birthday or Christmas present.

I don't know if there are any pictures of my room from my childhood. I kind of wish there were. There probably are a couple scattered around here and there, but I never owned a camera as a kid and there would have been no reason for my mom to take the picture as she wasn't about to send proof of my slovenly tendencies to our relatives in Poland or on the west coast.

And every few months or so I would get the urge to rearrange my mess of a room.

I had two ways I liked it: with the bed in the middle of the wall--the headboard in line with the window; or tucked into the corner of the room away from the window, affording me a nice view of the tenement building next door when I woke up each morning.

And when I got the urge to make this grand shift in my living arrangements I had only one way to do it: I would take all the things on the floor that I could lift by myself and put them on my bed. Once this was done and I had five hundred or so pounds of junk on top of my twin bed I would make the proper arrangements along the wall where I intended the bed to go. Then I would get behind one side of it, get down on my knees, and push like a defensive linebacker until it would move no further.

Then I would check to see what had gotten lodged underneath the front of my land barge, put that on top, and proceed again until I had it where I wanted it.

Then I would unload it all back down on the floor in piles that made just a little more sense but not that much more.

I lived like this until I moved out of my house when I turned 21.

But I fear that my hoarding tendencies did not cease then. Instead, they manifested themselves in other ways.

I hoarded my vices.

I hoarded my drugs, my drinks, and my cigarettes.

I feel that one of the worst parts of my addiction history was how much of it I did all alone.

I did it this way because if there was anyone else around I would be expected to share. And if I shared then that meant that I would have less at the end of my day than if I had been by myself.

So I kept it all to myself. I did as much as I could by myself when I could and the rest of the time I did what I had to with the people who I spent my time with until I could get back to home base and shut the door and be alone and hoard some more.

My mom used to ask me how hard it must have been with people all around me constantly trying to get me to go out and drink or smoke or whatever it was that I was doing. I would tell her with a sigh that people more or less left me alone (or, worse yet, omitted me from party invites), because nobody wanted to see me like that.

Nobody wanted to be the guy who got me wasted.

It was true. It was also perfectly fine with me. And so I did it by myself so the blame could be squarely on my shoulders. Years and years would go by like this and nothing could stop me. Not being fired from work, ditched by prospective girlfriends, put on probation by my band, or ex-communicated by parts of my family.

But every now and again I would feel like it was time to make a change. And so I would take all of my vices and put them on hold for a short time. I would do it to show myself that I had the power to stop even for a day (which was impressive at the time). I would pick them up from around me and place them on my proverbial bed, move that around to the other side of the room and rest. Then I would place them on the floor of my world in piles that made just a little more sense but not that much more. I would move to a new apartment. I would start dating a new girl. I would get a new job. I would lie to my family and tell them I was "cleaning up my act."

But it was all for show, of course. Because I was still living in that same room in my head. I was walking in that door every morning when I opened my tired eyes and laying my head down on that same mental pillow every night when I passed out. I may have moved my bed to the other wall and gotten a different view from where I laid my body but my tendencies, urges, and intentions were exactly the same.

And then, almost three years ago, I moved out of that world for good--or more like I was evicted.

I had some help--admittedly--from therapists, medication, and, of course, the police. It wasn't pretty, but evictions are never elegant.

I bought a house. I found true love. I lost 20 pounds. I became a full-time musician. And I began writing this blog.

But a hoarder never stops, really. The craving for comfort in collecting one thing or another just manifests itself in different ways.

Now, I hoard my sobriety.

The seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Every last moment. I'm insatiable in my collecting.

And, as is the case with this life, every so often I get the urge to rearrange my cluttered room.

I see people enjoying a bottle of wine at dinner. I see and smell hundreds of people at concerts smoking weed with joy and carefree abandon. I see signs heralding the smoothest tobacco or the most prized aged whiskey along the highway.

I see all that, and just for a second I wonder what it would be like to take all that sobriety and put it up on my bed and move it to the edge of the room and try it all over again.

But, of course, that's not really an option.

No. I have no plans to cease my current hoarding. No trucks will arrive for junk removal. No storage units need to be rented.

Because this kind of clutter I can live with.

This kind of vice I can endure.

And the view from where I am now is one I feel will never need improving.

Thanks for reading,


Today's post is a long time coming. I haven't been writing even slightly as much as I used to. I was shocked to find out that I had passed the "Day one thousand" mark over two weeks ago.

But the reasons I write have changed dramatically.

I used to do this because I had to get to the root of my problem.

Now I do it when I feel it's been too long in promoting my solution.

Today--as of October, 27 2010--I have been alcohol free for two years and ten months.

And on and on we go . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day nine hundred and eighty nine ... A room with a view.

It's not unusual for breakfast to be a confusing affair.

It's early. You've just woken up. The restaurant has most likely been open for a few hours, and the servers have been up far longer than you have. The restaurant's busy. You have 45 minutes to kill. You're hungry. They're not. You need coffee. They don't. And unless you have the luxury to be in a restaurant you've frequented before, it's time to make a serious choice--one that has the opportunity to set the tone for the day.

But this morning when I sat down at the breakfast table and gave my voucher to the waiter he asked me what kind of bread I wanted.

"Well, I haven't even seen a menu," I said.

"The only choice is bread and drinks," he said.

"Okay, I'll have a coffee and a croissant."

"Very good, sir."

Well, that's strange. I had just spoken to Tom, the Young at Heart's sax player, and he was finishing up what looked like a three course meal--pancakes, bacon, eggs, etc.

Well, I thought to myself, I do like it when they don't give you too many options on a menu. Five menu pages makes me nervous--it's usually accompanied by sandwiches named after famous people or medical conditions. One side of one piece of paper has potential for upscale flair. But no options except for bread and drinks gave me pause.

I politely asked the maitre 'd , who had been talking to Diane, our production manager at the table next to me, if this was the proper course of events at breakfast for a member of the Young at Heart Chorus.

He shook his head and said no.

"I'm so sorry," he said. "Our waiter didn't know you were with the group. Those vouchers are usually used for continental breakfasts ... for family member of patients staying here ... er ... for family members of patients at the hospitals next door who are staying here with us."

And then he told me that, of course, I could have anything on the menu.

Over the course of the years between winter 2005 and fall 2008 I had driven by this hotel probably a hundred times. I never noticed it, however, because I was trying to follow the flow of traffic on Longwood Ave. My goal was always to get to the end of Longwood, take a left onto Huntington and follow route 9 until I saw signs for the Mass Pike. From there I would either go home to Northampton or to my family's house in Mattapoisett--it's about the same distance either way.

Up until December of 2005 I would have had no reason to be driving a car. I only was given one when my mom got her terminal diagnosis. From then on I would know this route all too well.

I would have been coming from either the Dana Farber Cancer Center or Brigham and Women's Hospital. They're both on this block. The Children's Hospital is, too. So is Beth Israel Deaconess.

It's a sea of white coats, green scrubs, and blue smocks.

Crutches, wheelchairs, stretchers, and ambulances.

Taxis, buses, shuttles, and bikes.

Patients and families smiling, grimacing, bracing, relieved, devastated, hoping, praying, walking, rolling and drifting.

Doctors, nurses, orderlies, receptionists, and janitors, smoking, eating, laughing, texting, calling, emailing and heading home or back to work.

And on occasions when I needed to be here there would be me in my car coming out of the parking garage driving down Longwood on my way to Huntington en route to the Mass Pike.

And now, today, on my two day stint in Boston, Massachusetts this is my view.

It's the same view I would see from the ground on my way home. It's the street I'd oftentimes look down and glimpse the famous Citgo sign, smiling for a second, knowing that the Red Sox held court there over 80 times a year. Sometimes I was so wrapped up in pain and covered in tears that I didn't really know where I was. Once or twice I'd take this left instead of the next and then try to fight my way back to the Pike. Boston drivers are mostly assholes, but at least they're from Boston.

There were plenty of times I'd pass by this street with hope in my heart from a good prognosis a doctor gave regarding my mom or aunt. I had plenty of good visits with each of them when they respectively had to stay here for extended periods of time. And, of course, there were the times I had to bring them to their appointments after they were too sick to drive themselves.

And over a hundred times I waited at the traffic light--below the room I'm writing from at this very moment--never once looking right at the hotel that would have me as a guest while on tour with one of the most amazing groups of people in the world.

My life has put me through some tough stuff over the past few years. I try not to brood about it too much because this is what life is made up of. But if we had no contrast to the great things that happen we would never know they even occurred.

I'm here to play two nights at the prestigious Berklee Performance Hall at the school of music by the same name. It's where some of the most famous musicians who have ever lived have performed.

In the picture below which I took from our bus window you can see a little brown box. This box contains my cables, strings, and other items I need to play with. It's about to be brought into the theater.
Where this brown box sits is the exact spot where Jodi and I met one of our heroes, guitarist extraordinaire Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. I took her here on one of our first big dates in April of 2009 (and wrote about it all right here on this very blog!). The vantage point where I took this picture is where his bus was parked that night.

Sometimes it's all too much for me to take.

I don't remember how I got here--to this point in my life where I'm able to do the things I have always wanted to for as far back as I can remember--but as long as I am able to continue I will attempt to treat this life with respect, reverence, and awe, realizing that it was not that long ago I was begging my mom to give me a guitar for my birthday.

I had a great breakfast today. My croissant was stellar. The coffee strong and hot. The pancakes retained a crispiness around the syrupy, soaked edges that defied logic. My eggs were the definition of "over easy." My bacon was perfect and the two demure sausage links gave my teeth just the right amount of fight before they surrendered to my incisors.

But when my waiter assumed I was here for the continental it brought me back down to earth.

I realized, yet again, where I was: the hospital hotel.

And the people who are staying here in this hotel with me are not all family members of patients. They didn't necessarily just book a room here to be close to their loved ones. I'm sure some people just read good reviews of the place and figured it seemed like the logical choice.

The odds are greater, but odds always have two sides.

So I'll close this story and lay back and watch the rain come down. It's supposed to drop two inches on us today.

It's been a long, dry summer into fall. The ground is thirsty. The trees are thirsty. The reservoirs are low and the rivers are shadows of their former selves.

And the contrasts continue to show us what it's like when it's not like it was.

Thanks for reading,


PS: for those who'd like to read the story of meeting John McLaughlin, you can check it out here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day nine hundred and sixty five ... Not average by any means

Averages are misleading.

My aunt, Lynda Jean Johnson, would agree with me on this. She passed away two years ago today at the age of sixty.

It seems young, doesn't it?

Well, of course it seems young if you consider that the average lifespan of a human is around 78 years. This is eighteen years longer than my aunt got. But take into consideration that saying that is average means that half of the people in the world live longer than that, and the rest don't even come close.

So saying that she was young is only really relevant if you put her up against the percentage of people who live to be 100.

And then there are all the people who never even come close to how old she got.

It's really misleading, these averages.

But my aunt had come to the realization that she had beaten the averages because she had put so much in over those sixty years that she might as well have really been 100. She was wealthy in experience and wisdom and had lived her life to the fullest. It was too soon to go, of course, because she really felt like she would have at least gotten to be as old as her sister--my mother--who was six years her senior. This, naturally, was just an assumption, and a vague one at that. She had just kind of hoped.

The youngest of three, and the youngest to go. That one always baffled her. Because she knew she was dying she had a few months to ponder the irony of it all. Man oh man did that fact burn her. She had always maintained a healthy lifestyle. She was more or less a vegetarian, only sacrificing her vegetable vows for the occasional all-beef hot dog that she claimed she only ate when she felt like she needed a boost of iron. She rarely turned a door knob with her bare hands. She never drank. Never smoked. And from what I can tell she led about as healthy an existence as one could hope for in the modern world.

And the averages still burned her.

She had always been a pessimistic person, my aunt. Besides her immediate family and close friends she would much rather have just had her cats and the animals in the yard--the deer, raccoons, rabbits, moles, muskrats, skunks, and woodchucks--to co-exist with. Most people, in her experience, were greedy, selfish, duplicitous, and self-absorbed, and they could get along just fine without her, thank you very much.

But this was a more or less skewed assessment of the world. Because the more she lived and the more she tried to play along the more it seemed that things were against her. And when this happens enough times in a row it tends to overshadow the good in the average person.

But the average person doesn't really exist. The average person is a statistical apparition formed from the addition and division of the greatest people and the most evil people and everyone in between.

The average person is a whole lot of kinds of people.

And that's what I try to remind myself of constantly.

Right up to the very last minute that I got to spend with her my aunt told me she wasn't worried. All she cared about was finding homes for all her cats and the rest would take care of itself. Me she wasn't worried about. I was on my way to becoming a productive, sober, and independent man, perhaps with a girl in my future--not to rush things, you know ... just sayin'.

I'm sure that losing my mother--and her best friend--was something that hastened her end. I have heard about it happening with married couples where one goes and the other isn't far behind. Well, as much as my aunt tried to deal with my mother's absence it must have been so heartbreaking that she was unable to exist anymore. I'm almost sure of it.

I have learned to deal with her absence differently than I learned to deal with my mother's. Though one came on the heels of the other I did have my sobriety to keep me in check for my aunt's death. On top of that I now have thousands of pictures, letters, films, and tape recordings of all phases and facets of my family in my sole possession. I have a house full of mementos. And I have my memories, some of which have surprised me recently by resurfacing after decades. I could practically recreate the last three generations of The Johnson's in a multi-media exhibit. Though unless I gain a bit more notoriety I fear the funding might encounter some roadblocks.

Loss, to me, is a part of life. But we can only lose something if we develop the capacity to attach meaning to it. We can only attach meaning to it if we learn, through the minutes, hours, days and years that make up our lives, what we need to keep and what can be released. If we stop making attachments then all we will be left with are the memories of things that we don't have anymore.

I realized recently that I can't keep myself from embracing something or someone simply because someday it will cease to either be mine or simply cease to be. This existence is too precious and our attention spans are too short to simply ignore or refuse to engage.

My aunt fought the toughest fight in her life during the spring and summer of 2008. On this day two years ago she was released from all the attachments she had made. She left me and she left her cats. She left her friends and she left her foes. She did so much in her time that she told me she felt as if she had lived a hundred lives and claimed she had no regrets. She maintained, however, that her greatest accomplishment had been caring selflessly for her one true friend, and the person she loved the most--her sister--until the very end. And then it had finally come time to let time do what it does to us all ... to take us away.

In her own way she beat the averages. And, though we often do, it would seem that nobody could ask for much more than that.

I will continue this life for you, Aunt Lynda, the only way I can, now and forever--clean, sober, with a full and open heart, fearless by default, until there is no more that I can do.

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


Lynda Jean Johnson 12/15/47-09/07/08

PS: I donated today (as I do every year on this day) to my aunt's favorite charity, They do fantastic work for the Southcoast area. I felt it was worth mentioning. Thanks.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day nine hundred and fifty four ... In review.

"Their", "they're" and "there."

What a crazy language.

I am so extremely happy that I only had to learn this whole thing once--at least the basics.

Because, of course, I'm always learning new words and new ways to use them. I'm open to a lot of innovation but I do try to eschew words that have come into rotation due to efficiency, or how I like to call it, laziness.

I have never used the word "trend" as a verb.

If something is "showing a trend" toward such and such then that is what I say. I can scrape up the breath to expend the three extra syllables. And if I can't ... well, I should just take a nap until I'm ready to talk again.

But the English language is so full of rule breaking and contrariness that it just boggles my mind.

Like I said, I'm just glad I only had to learn the basics once and now that I know how to do it it should last me a lifetime.

I've been sober for what I consider a long time. In a few days I'll be able to claim that I have not had a drop to drink for two and a half years. For me, in my world, this is a very long time.

But I've learned this way of living on my own through trial and error. I've come up against gigantic monsters of opportunity to throw it all away and I have prevailed. I don't have a secret weapon. I don't have a rule book. I don't have a pill to take (anymore). And I don't have a mantra to recite.

I just don't drink.

And in saying this it's like saying to myself "I speak English."

Of course I do.

But to someone looking in from the other side--someone who hasn't gotten the chance to learn what it's like to be this way--it's got to be as strange and discomfiting as knowing the words "yes", "no" and "hello", and not much else, and being forced to go about the day amongst the fluent--both native and learned.

There's just no describing it.

When I think back to the days not that long ago when I would wake up at 8 am and pour the last ounce and a half of vodka straight from the liter bottle in the freezer into my waiting mouth below--almost audibly hearing the sizzle of relief on my tongue--and then crawl back into bed until the package store opened up at 9, knowing that no one at work really believed I was sick in the way I was claiming to be when I had called in to the overnight person, well, I guess I think back to those days and I don't really understand how I got there. And this to me is amazing because it was a steady progression for over twenty years of learning the ins and outs of a livelihood of drink. I certainly understand what it ultimately led to but I don't really remember the courses it took.

But it's true, for over twenty years I studied, learned and excelled in this activity bobbing and weaving myriad health problems, professional problems, money problems, love problems, family problems, responsibility problems, societal problems, and general life problems.

In fact the problems after enough time became the norm for me. It was almost as if they became so commonplace that there didn't seem to be anything odd about them being there at all. They just came with the day. They just were part of what happened between the odd few hours of forced unconsciousness.

It was the people without my problem that were the problem.

Yes, the sober fucks who were always offering to show me the ropes of AA were the ones that I really had to watch out for. Those guys would be the ruination of me for sure. Those guys threatened my very existence--my reputation, my relaxation, my reward, my goals--everything I lived for. It was all up for grabs if I caved.

And though I don't subscribe to the methods of said recovery group now I suppose at the time I couldn't really understand that they actually did have the same problems as me ... and still do.

And the rest of the people--the ones who could have three beers and quit for the night--those people were even worse. Because those people were immune. And the immune will never understand the sick fully. They can try to help, and they may even succeed in the short term. But to see people at a party who were enjoying the same vodka and tonic for an hour while I'm hustling down to the package store three minutes before it closes to get a pint that'll get shoved conspicuously in my back pocket and not get shared ... well, there must be something wrong with them. They obviously do not know how to have a good time.

Needless to say, I am only here, alive and on my couch, because someone somewhere helped me home, or took my drink away, or shut me off, or screamed at me and shook me and asked me who the hell I thought I was, or all of the above.

And if one of those people happen to be reading this now--and I'm sure they are, or they will in time--I would like to say thank you.

I live this life now every day without drugs or alcohol. I don't think about it much anymore except to remind myself of what it's all worth. I take a random inventory of my spiritual and tangible assets from time to time and step back in my head and take a deep breath. Predictably, I'll confirm that the only reason I actually have any of it is because I live like I do. Then I'll get back to whatever it was that I was doing and just move along.

I speak a different language now than I used to. It's made up of the same letters of the alphabet just in a different order, and it makes sense to me like I had always hoped for. This world of sobriety is more beautiful than the strongest drug or the most delicious drink. I've tried to describe it here in this blog over the past two and a half years but I don't know if I could ever really fully explain it.

It is its own reward.

But I could easily throw this all away and have to start at the beginning and learn it all over again. All it will take is one screw up. And I only know what I know from doing it the way I have. I don't even have any guidelines or any sort of homework as it were. This makes it both deliciously simple and extremely dangerous at the same time.

My language is a complex one but it's in my head and I use it without thinking.

I just don't drink.

And in saying this it's like saying to myself "I speak English."

Of course I do.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day nine hundred and twenty seven ... Frozen in time.

I don't think it's anything to worry about ... yet.

As long as the power never goes out for longer than a few hours everything should be just hunky dory.

I'm talking about chicken pies.

See, I have five Willow Tree chicken pies sitting in my freezer and they've been in there for almost two years now. I saved them from my aunt's freezer when I had her refrigerator taken away. I couldn't part with them then, and it seems that I can't part with them now.

Needless to say they're a bit past the "sell by" date.

But they're frozen, and something happens to things that are frozen sometimes that trumps anything in the room temperature world. The way I see it, it not only took an effort by Willow Tree Farms and a few unsuspecting chickens to make them, but it took energy to bring those pies below 32 degrees and keep them there. And not only that but they haven't really changed their state since when they were made ... over two years ago. They've never been defrosted. They were bought by my aunt, brought home, put in her freezer to give to me, and then removed and carefully transported to my own freezer.

Time, care, energy, gasoline, and patience has been expended to bring these five chicken pies to the place where they are now, and I'm stuck in a strange sort of limbo now in regards to their future.

Do I throw them away? That would be the easy way out.

Do I leave them in there? They're not taking up that much room but they're still an inconvenience.

Do I eat them? They're probably still fine seeing they're frozen and always have been. The most I probably risk is a little freezer burn on the crust as the rest of it is encased in delicious gravy.

I just don't know what to do.

And from my experience this is a common problem. Not that chicken pies have become so popular and scarce that there is an epidemic of hoarding in the U.S.. But more so that people I've spoken to have had to wrestle with the situation that arises when a loved one passes away and leaves food behind.

What do we do with these memories?

My mom was quite the cook. Meat sauces, golumpki, chicken soup, beef stew, etc. ... it was all packed away in her freezer. It was all stuff she had made. And I remember how hard it was to finish off the last of the goodies. But I did that with my aunt. We both enjoyed the deliciousness that was my mother's chicken soup with orzo. Oh, how orzo changed her life. She never overdid it, thank goodness, but it was always there in her soups from about 2002 onward (perhaps a Readers Digest tip). And my aunt and I shared in the last bowl of her chicken soup. We had a good cry over it, too.

But we had each other then. We could reminisce over the many goodies that she had made--many of which I still continue to create from time to time--and smile, and think of this great woman.

And that leaves the five chicken pies in the freezer. See, my aunt took to cooking late in life. And compared to my mom she was the adventurous type. Teriyaki was an exciting word in the Johnson household, or anyone's household for that matter in the 1970's. Because anyone who was born in the Seventies or before knows that stir fry cooking was not something one did at home. One went to a Chinese restaurant if one wanted their food stir fried. But somewhere around 1985 or so people began to bring woks into their kitchens--both electric and stove top--and started to experiment with the exotic sauces like tamari, soy, and rice wine vinegar.

And that leaves the five chicken pies in the freezer. See, these pies were actually meant for me. They were bought probably during the winter of 2007. And they were bought because my aunt liked to make sure I had enough food at my house. It was a tradition that had started after I got my own apartment. From that point until my mom passed away they used to pack up the car once a month with a few aisles worth of groceries and make the two hour trek to Northampton.

It was always such a big event when they showed up in the driveway, my aunt driving her Toyota Highlander with my mom in the passenger seat, strapped in tight with a furry, rainbow colored seat belt wrap to not only provide a stylish touch to my mom's always colorful attire, but also to add a buffer between the seat belt and my mom's ample frame.

When they arrived I would slowly make my way down the one flight of stairs and stand at the doorway and feign surprise. My mom would shake her head in amusement and I would come over and reach in and hug her in her seat over the furry, rainbow colored seat belt wrap and inhale deeply once or twice, for my mother always smelled so good. Then I would go over and hug my aunt who would have been out of the car by now and awaiting the chance to direct me in one way or another. I'd then carry up the ten or twelve bags of groceries up the one flight of stairs. Around the midway point would be when my mom would have made it to the stairwell and I would then carefully, slowly and graciously walk behind her lightly touching her shoulder or back for security as she ascended the fifteen or so steps. I did this not only for her safety but perhaps so we could speak a few words to in private out of ear shot of my aunt who had very good hearing. Nothing too serious, usually, but perhaps there was a surprise or two in the works as there oftentimes was.

We'd visit for a while as I'd put away the groceries. My mom and aunt and I had some private jokes that I'd keep alive despite their persistent grimaces. And then we'd go off and do something for a few hours like the tomato festival at the Red Fire Farm, or the Magic Wings Butterfly House. I made sure to try to have something nice for us to do. We'd have lunch, they'd bring me back, and we'd hug and cry a few tears for a little bit. It was always so wonderful to see each other as it was sad to part ways. I would stand at the same doorway that I had just a few hours ago feigned surprise and slowly and patiently wave goodbye as they drove away and took a left towards the main road.

And then, I'd put away the last of the groceries--the stuff that didn't need the refrigerator or the freezer. I'd sit on my couch and go over the day and look around and notice the telltale signs that they had been here. Perhaps it was the extra two glasses half filled with water, or maybe the lipstick traces on the napkin my mom had used. There was always something.

And that leaves the five chicken pies in the freezer.

And they don't seem to be causing anybody any harm. They're just sitting there stacked up on each other just hanging out. They were bought with love to be given with love.

I just don't know what to do.

So maybe I'll just let them be for some time.

I think that that's why I needed to write today ... to give the five chicken pies in the freezer just a little more time ... to give them a reason to be.

And I guess that's all we're really looking for in the first place.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day eight hundred and eighty seven ... A true story.

I remember my first lie.

I had a picture of my mom in a little glass and metal frame. One day it fell on the floor behind the bookcase in my bedroom and broke. I freaked out. I don't really know how it came up that I would tell her that I didn't know what happened to it, because it seems strange for her to have even noticed it missing. All I knew was that I had been party to an accident and I didn't even want to think about what might happen if I got in trouble because ... well ... because I hadn't really gotten in trouble before.

I was probably four or five years old. I mean, sure, I had done stuff to get yelled at before. I was a kid after all. But I had never, up to that point, done anything that I felt would have warranted a punishment.

Once again, this was a picture of my mom in a little glass and metal frame. It was mine. I wasn't holding on to it for her. It wasn't pilfered from anywhere. I owned it and I broke it. And that was enough to make me go simply out-of-this-world crazy paranoid.

If I let myself go I can really relive the moment when I realized what I had done. I can be there in that minute or two when I nervously inched my bookcase slowly forward and away from the clown and circus wallpaper in my bedroom, a foot crammed in sideways on the bottom and a pair of hands clasped on top of each other in the middle. I can picture being half as tall as the five foot piece of furniture that I was moving. I can sense the impressive tightness from the rough back of the heavy case against one side of my forearm and the cold wall against the other. I can hear the way the frame sounded when I picked it up even before I could see it. And I can feel again how terrified I became to hear the pieces of glass move ever so slightly against each other as I brought it out from between that dark, dusty crevice--a tight, chirp and then a small "plink" on the floor directly below.

I, Frederick Alexander Johnson, was in trouble.

I hid the picture behind a pile of stuff (I had a lot of stuff in my room as a kid) and I left it there and went up to my mom and gave her a big hug. She smiled as she always did and told me she loved me.

Meanwhile, I had done something that I was ashamed no matter wether or not I really did it. I was hiding the evidence away from her and from me and from anyone who care to ask me, "Hey, Fred. Where is that great picture of your mother that was on your bookcase?", which would never happen anyway.

I knew I couldn't fix the problem myself. I didn't have any money or any way to get to a store on my own to buy a new frame if I did. I couldn't glue the pieces back together. And I couldn't take another picture out of one of the frames from any one of the other pictures in the house. And every day I came home and went into my room and looked at that empty space in my bookcase and my breath tightened just a little bit. And each time I did that my glance would inadvertently drift over to the pile of stuff which hid the missing photo. It was all there: the evidence, the coverup, the perpetrator, and the guilt.

I can't remember how long it went on like that. My mother, of course, didn't ask me about the picture. If I didn't want to display it--I'm sure she reasoned--I didn't have to. It was a nice photo, but it was one of many. To her it wasn't much more than just the way I chose to decorate my room.

But finally one day I remember picking up that broken picture and running--two barking dogs following--into her room.

It was time to confess.

I was crying when I held it out in front of her with both hands and told her that--through no fault of my own--it had just fallen off of the bookcase, and how sorry I was, and how it would never ... *sob* ... happen ... *sob* ... again.

And I cried, and I cried, and I cried ... as I lied, and I lied, and I lied.

Because of course it hadn't just fallen off the bookcase. It had been broken for days at least. But I couldn't confess the main issue without covering up another one.

And she brought me close to her with one arm as she carefully and slowly placed the inexpensive frame on her bureau with the other and she rubbed my back gently and told me not to worry.

"It's okay, sweetheart," she said. "We'll get a new frame for it. I'm just glad you didn't hurt yourself when it broke."

And with that I was given my first forgiveness--at least that I can remember anyway.

It felt good to get it off my chest.

It was so nice to look her in the eyes and tell her how sorry I was that I had done something wrong.

It didn't matter that the manner that I confessed propagated its own set of lies.

It didn't matter that it made no sense to cover up something that wasn't my fault.

It hadn't occurred to me that she wouldn't be mad at me in the first place--that she would be worried more about my well-being than a ten cent pane of glass.

And when I look back on it now I guess I felt that, at the time, by breaking the frame which held a picture of my mother that I was somehow hurting her. I had attached some special power to the act of damage to her image.

It would take thirty years or more for me to learn that when you lie about even the smallest thing it hurts you more than the person you tell it to.

Forgiveness can come from those who you can see and hear and feel. It can come from a voice other than your own and often does.

But if you're the last one standing at any time in any place for as long and as far as you can walk, drive, fly, swim, run, dig, or fall, then you better be damn well capable of forgiving yourself.

It's not as easy as it sounds but not much in this world ever is, that much is certainly true.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day eight hundred and eighty two ... Stress test.

I suppose I should feel safe but I don't.

Every few days in the town where I live there are fighter jets that fly overhead from the Westover Air Force base in Chicopee, MA. They fly in low and they fly in loud. There's usually two or three at a time, then a couple of stragglers, and then one or two just for good measure. Jodi can't stand the damn things. I just kind of raise my shoulders closer to my head out of nervousness and kind of peek out the window in a lame exhibit of worried acceptance.

They're up there in the air, I realize, for the protection of the United States of America. But instead of picturing the front page of the paper reading "Fighter Jets Save the Day Fending Off Terrorist Attack", all I can picture is "Malfunctioning Fighter Jet Destroys Local Musician's House. No Survivors. Town Stunned, Saddened. Most Of U.S. Still Safe."

But these are the balancing acts that we have to endure in life in order to get by. These are the inconsistencies and incongruities that pepper our day to day existence making the world so rich with possibilities.

These are the things that stress me out to no end.

When I look back on the lives that my mom and aunt and grandmother had I see three lives--though beautiful, robust, and pure--filled with stress. I see a mill worker who gave up her demanding and thankless job to babysit a little hellion for her daughter. And I see two teachers who had to put up with kids who don't care being made to sit in a room they don't like, learning things they don't care about. And I'm sure they weren't always like that--the kids, I mean. I'm sure that there were many who did care and made an effort to do well. I have letters and small gifts, even, given to my mom and aunt from the students they affected positively. And I know for a fact that the way children treated teachers and authority figures in general has changed significantly over the last 40 years.

And I know that stress was one of the causes of their early demise.

How do I know? I know because I saw it in their faces and I heard it in their voices. I felt their frustration and I listened to their stories of kids who were so out of control that they had to have police patrol the hallways. I know because ... well, I just know.

Three women who never made it out of their sixties who had jobs that drove them crazy.

My Uncle Alex was in the Navy for forty-odd years and he died when he was 68.

It's enough to make a freshly forty year old guy a little nervous.

But I have things figured out, right? I just keep my little world rotating on its axis just so. I make sure I get enough sleep and try not to eat too much junk. I stay far away from the people who affect me negatively. And I ... well ... I work at staying stress free.

Right now, as I'm writing this, the sound of a jackhammer is blasting away outside my window no more than 50 yards from here. They started at 7 a.m. and will continue on for god knows how long.

The bank on the corner sees fit to have a landscaper crew come almost every other day with leaf blowers and lawn mowers to tidy up the painfully plain but perfect perimeter of the parking lot. I'm a heavy sleeper, and so, many times it just blends in with my dreams. Other people aren't so lucky--the noise from their gas powered engines rousing them from their dreams for the day.

The bar around the corner has a patio that faces my house. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night it fills with drunken, obnoxious people who scream and fight and rev their engines in the parking lot. Sometimes the cops come around 1 am, and the noise subsides for a moment or two. Last week, around closing time, they showed up right in the middle of a massive brawl and hauled several revelers downtown. It was an exciting time in my little village.


I just got back from my shrink. We haven't made any huge advancements in my understanding of the world together. I usually just take the 50 minutes to talk out loud to another human being who isn't Jodi or Paul. I've been able to work through some situations while sitting in the chair (I wish she had a big couch like you see in the movies, but no, it's just a crappy chair) and that keeps me coming back. I like to think of it as one of those things I do which I can't prove beneficial but which I know isn't bad for me.

We got to talking about how certain events have recently transpired in my life that tend to bring about adult responsibilities but don't necessarily mean much in the end.

For instance, I just took out a lease on a safe deposit box. It's one of those things that until now I only had seen in movies. To my dramatic side it smacks of espionage or high society. But really, it's just a well protected bus locker. And I got it for a couple of reasons, both of which have come about over the last few years. Both of which are of an adult nature--that is to say, it's not to hide my chocolate away from my girlfriend.

But it doesn't make me an adult.

It's just a box in a bank.

And it's in there with two hundred or so other boxes filled with items that someone else has deemed important enough to be protected to the max. Just being in there surrounded by all of that potential significance gave me chills.

But 200 other people having a box like mine doesn't make them an adult. It just means they have a bank account and a few extra dollars a year to pay for it's use.

I have friends who have babies now. All this is new stuff. I suppose that that would encourage some people to mature in a hurry. I'm sure it's happened and I'm sure it will never end. But there are constantly stories of people who have children who act like they're 18 or worse.

All it means on the shiny surface of literality is that you didn't decide not to.

I have tattoos on my arms, but it doesn't make me tough. I almost thought it would when I got them, or at least I thought that it would give the illusion that I was a tough customer. And part of me even came to the understanding that I probably got them to keep uptight people away from me. I'm going to hazard a guess that for the most part it's worked. But it doesn't make me tough. It just means I paid a guy to put a needle to my skin for a few hours.

My mother told me years ago not to confuse activity with achievement.

This was a huge understanding. This changed my world. I started to realize so much when I understood how this worked. See, years ago I used to quit drinking for a day or two--sometimes a whole week or more. But I didn't learn anything from it; it was just time spent differently. Had I sat down and really understood what I was trying to do or even why, I might have gleamed some insight from it. Maybe I could have even made the decision to seek real help before things got really bad. But I was just doing it to do anything.

It was just activity--not drinking. It was definitely not an achievement.

So now, when I get five things going at once and I wonder why I can't finish one of them, and I stand there pulling at my hair because it's already time for dinner, I have to think of this sentiment:

Don't confuse activity with achievement.

Stress will kill a person. That being the case I must learn techniques to deal with it and not just pull the covers over my head.

The landscapers who wake me up in the morning are making a living for themselves. I may not like the style of the work they do and I may think it's excessive, but I really only need to close the windows before I go to sleep to solve my problem.

The bar patrons are doing exactly what I used to do when I was in my twenties: getting wasted and screaming at the top of my lungs at whoever was closest. Perhaps this is karma coming back to me. Once again, all I need to do is close the windows and, on occasion, enjoy the sound of police cruisers and angry drunk people in the parking lot.

And as for the flyovers, I'll just be thankful that I have no idea how to fly one of those damn things. Because that would really stress me out like nobody's business.

It's a grand life I live. I can't complain about much. And the things that do annoy me tend to be things other people do. And if there's one thing I learned a long time ago is that if I can prevent other people's actions from affecting my mood then I am truly in control of my own happiness.

And that, my friends, is certainly an achievement.

I wish that you all find the happiness you seek.

I must admit, though, not too long ago if someone told me that, I would have wanted to smack them silly.

So I won't feel slighted if you feel the same.

It's just a blog after all.

Thanks for reading it.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Day eight hundred and fifty seven ... Just another day.

In two hours and eighteen minutes, in the Eastern Time Zone, I will be forty years old.

It's just another day.

I love my birthday. I always have. From the first few that I can remember, with all the angel food cake that a toddler can smear on his face, body, arms, legs, and high chair I have always loved this day.

My mother always made it so supremely special for me, her only son; her only child. I was the one she had dreamed of for so many years. From the time she pushed around a little carriage with a doll dressed in a tiny blue jumpsuit, she had always wished for a boy.

My aunt thought I was going to be a girl. She believed it so strongly (and some say she tried to will it so) that she showed up on the morning after my birth with a bouquet of pink flowers for my mom. Was she ever in for a surprise when she showed up at the hospital.

But my mom knew better. And that was just like her.

In two hours and nine minutes, in the Eastern Time Zone, I will be forty years old.

It's just another day.

A story my mom told me, which my aunt confirmed, is that May 10, 1970 was Mother's Day. At the hospital at UCLA, where I was born, the nurses gave out beautiful carnations to all the moms who had babies on that day; I was born on May 9 at 11:20, after 15 hours of labor ... just shy of midnight.

It seems mean, and it's hard to believe, myself, but I was told she didn't get a carnation, anyway.

But she always told me that I was the greatest present she had ever been given so it didn't really matter much to her.

In two hours and one minute, in the Eastern Time Zone, I will be forty years old.

It's just another day.

I was told that for the first few months of my existence my bed wasn't exactly the most luxurious of children's cribs. In fact, if I am to believe what I was told, my first bed was the top drawer of a bedroom bureau--a well appointed drawer with linens and fine blankets, but a drawer, nonetheless. My mom didn't know the first thing about raising a baby and there weren't exactly too many how-to books on the market so she did the best she could. If she could only see me now.

In one hour and fifty one minutes, in the Eastern Time Zone, I will be forty years old.

It's just another day.

On my twenty-first birthday I celebrated with my mother and my then girlfriend a few short days before I officially moved away from 1073 Bedford St. where I had lived all my life. We had decided to spend the summer on Martha's Vineyard, and then, perhaps, move to Western Massachusetts where we had mutual friends. Things were turbulent between members of my family and me to say the least but my mother made that day as special as she could. We celebrated with a grand dinner and then gifts and, of course, a cake--angel food cake, my favorite. And then she went back to the house I grew up in, and I went back to the duplex I was slumming in, and we went on with our lives like people do. I never moved back home, and now I type from the house I hope to someday raise my own child. Someday I may return back to this house after seeing him or her off to begin their own unpredictable journey. Only time will tell.

In an hour and nineteen minutes, in the Eastern Time Zone, I will be forty years old.

It's just another day.

The last couple of birthdays I had with my mom are cloudy at best. I've gotten into the habit these days of focusing less on the negative parts of my life than the positive so I'm not going to sully this time here trashing myself. But I just wish I had a clearer picture of what we did. I probably remember the last couple with my mom, when she was still here, as well as I remember the first few. Go in either direction and things get more in focus, but back towards the beginning and end it's just not there.

In one hour and thirty minutes, in the Eastern Time Zone, I will be forty years old.

It's just another day.

I love my life. I love my girlfriend. I love my house. I love my friends. I love my cousins on the west coast, my aunts, my great cousins in Poland, and everybody whom I work with in the Young at Heart Chorus. I have everything I could possibly ask for. I long for nothing. I am one of the lucky ones. Every day is a collection of moments all so unique and precious that I can let the aggravating ones slip under and between the good ones, and as they all stand at attention for roll call at the end of the day, as I kiss my love goodnight, I can average them together and smile and fall asleep and know that I, thankfully, will never be able to predict what the next collection of them will be like. I've had amazing accomplishments. I've had devastating failures. I've lost the most important people in my world. I've welcomed the most important person in my world in and watched her grow to love me like no one before and stand by me as strong and as tall as I ever thought I could. I've seen my world change from one of drunken, drugged, slurring and rude to one of clear focused power and serenity, endlessly beautiful and unflinchingly real.

I have come to a new place.

I have shed a thousands skins.

I stand with a spine strengthened by the words, actions and results of a renovated life ripped from the clutches of an early demise, shaken out on the porch and left to soak up a good, long rain.

And if you think that's dramatic you're damn well right.

Because a life without drama is a life never begun.

And I'd like to take the time now to thank my mother for beginning mine.

In an hour and eleven minutes, in the Eastern Time Zone, I will be forty years old.

It's just another day.

And when I stop to think about it, if I was born on May 9, at 11:20 pm at the UCLA hospital in California, then that would mean that in the Eastern Time Zone on that same night it would have clearly been 2:20 in the morning. And if that morning would have been Mother's Day ...

Needless to say she should have gotten that flower.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

I love you so very much.

Your boy, always,

Frederick Alexander Johnson

Thanks for reading.

PS: the pic above is dated 5/11/1970 with the words

"My life ... my joy ... my SON."

"(2 days old!)"

My how time catches up.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day eight hundred and forty six ... Be careful what you wish for.

I get so mad sometimes.

I get so mad that I want to take everything off of the table in front of me--TV, lamp, phone, magazines--and just brush it all off to the side and throw my hands in the air and scream. I get so outrageously incensed that I wonder if it's even a good idea to leave my hotel room for fear that I will say or do something that I'll regret for the rest of my life.

But I'm a rational person who has a reputation to uphold (really, I do) and so I refrain from said outrageous activity and just try to breathe. It really helps me, breathing does. I can't believe I forget sometimes almost as if it were intentional and I'm just pouting and holding my breath in hopes that Mommy will come running and soothe her poor upset child--let him know that she cares about his feelings and will do whatever it takes to make things right again for him in his world so he can grow up and, hopefully, grow out of these selfish tantrums.

But Mommy is gone now.

And her baby is well past the stage where he can just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, which is usually a curse aimed at whatever is standing in the way of his immediate gratification.

I'm writing this from the sixth floor of a four star hotel in Brooklyn, New York, where I'm stationed for two weeks to play music with my group. I have a view of the Brooklyn Bridge out my window (all I have to do is lift my head slightly off the bed and I can see it clear as day) and I have enough free time to really accomplish just about anything that might tickle my fancy. I just learned enough about the subway to get me from one end of the five boroughs to the other, and I have enough gadgets to fully document my trip with pictures, sound, video, and more.

So why am I so angry?

I don't really know.


Time makes me angry.

I used to curse my previous restaurant jobs for taking up all of my time during the week and weekends. I never had enough time to go anywhere by myself. My band would go on tours, sure, but that was different. That was hard work, mostly. The two hours on stage was nothing compared to the other 22 in the day spent getting somewhere else and trying not to pass out on the way to the stage.

Now, I have all day to wander around New York City, and it pisses me off that I didn't do much but wander around all day.

I got mad tonight because I misread the hours of operation at the pool here where I'm staying; I didn't realize that it closed at 9:45 rather than 10. I wanted to spend a few minutes in the water and I didn't get it. Meanwhile, the guy who sits in a chair for 8 hours a day, while guys like me flounce about in Comme des Garçons swimwear, was happy to inform me that I was out of luck. I got the look from him that I used to give customers who came to the place I worked and knocked on the glass window right above the clearly displayed "closed" sign asking me if we were "really" closed.

Yes ... now go away.

My present life is currently comprised of waking up at 9:30 (my choice), opening the curtains to reveal the view of an amazing American architectural landmark, eating a bowl of yogurt with five kinds of fresh fruit along with freshly squeezed juice and strong New York coffee, taking a long, hot shower and killing time for a few hours in one of the greatest cities in the world. Then I play my guitar for 75 minutes to a roaring capacity crowd. Meanwhile, a maid named Nora cleans up my bathroom, makes my bed, dusts, vacuums, empties the trash, lint rolls the bed, and spritzes some lovely air freshener so that when my day is done and I return from my grueling job it will be a pleasant experience.

And now as I type here from the bed which I just slipped into I'm trying to justify why I'm upset.

My girlfriend came to see me over the weekend and we got to spend two magical days together (though it's hard to even imply that they were better than the rest of the time we spend together ... for real). She got to see two of the shows. She got to hang out with the chorus who she adores and vice versa. We went out for some amazing food. And we got to enjoy the better part of a beautiful Saturday together here before the clouds and rain descended upon us. And even at that having both the sun and the rain was like having two kinds of cookies--one flaky, light and frivolous and one darker and more dense with an added edge of unpredictability.

But she had to go back to Massachusetts because she has a full-time job. This time for her was a brief break in her work week--for me it was bringing her along on mine.

And little, inconsequential things happen now and my insecurities get the better of me. People don't feel like they need to make sure I know about a particular gathering because there's going to be a ton of booze there and they probably feel like it's not somewhere I either want to be or even should be. It was probably a last minute thing but that wouldn't have made a difference twenty-nine months ago. If I was drinking I would have known about it, I can guarantee that. Because if I was drinking I would be looking for things like that to pop up. I wouldn't be rushing back to the hotel to breathe in the last hour and a half with Jodi. I would be, antennae raised, sniffing out a god dammed party on the evening before our first day off of a week's run of the show.

But these days I cherish my privacy. I hoard my thoughts. I like to smile at the wall while I talk on the phone rather than at a person, regardless of how well I know them, who might ultimately be like me ... just waiting for an out so they can fill up their glass again, and maybe even sneak a bottle into their bag and go upstairs and order room service.

But that's who I used to be. And I don't really know if I was ever really invited to those things or I just heard someone mentioning it in the background while I was half paying attention to someone else about something completely different. But that sounds about right, too.

For better or for worse, now, I'm kind of the guy who just likes to be left alone. I don't like parties. I don't like small talk. I have very little need anymore to just converse for the sake of filling up the awkward silences with vapid frivolities and endless back patting. I like to read. I like to write. I love posting pictures from my many adventures. I'm enjoying planning my future with Jodi, fantasizing of a vacation home somewhere the ground never freezes.

I'm killing a lot of time.

And all the years that I wished that I could have more of it to spend as I wanted are behind me.

It's here now.

I win.

I got what I asked for.

And I never really pegged me as the kind of guy who could find fault with even the best situation. Hell, I was alway the one minimizing the negative. I always gave myself the most slack and hardly ever stacked up expectations or goals.

I was just keeping it even and wondering what kind of life was ahead of me when I finally cleaned up my act--if I ever cleaned up my act. And now I have everything I always wanted. It's right under my fingertips waiting for me to pick it up. I'm afraid, though, that when I pick it up I'll find something that turns me off. I don't want to examine it too closely or I may find a scratch I didn't notice when I was coveting it from the other side of the glass case.

Now that it's mine I just want to roll it around for a while ... to remind me that it's there.

But each time I do it slips away from my fingers and I haphazardly jump to attention, scared it might roll off the table.

Because I know how this is supposed to work.

I know the way it has to end.

I know.

That said, I really do feel like I can hold on to it for a good, long time.

Maybe the reason it keeps slipping out from under my fingers is because I'm putting too much pressure on it.

Maybe I need to just let it be for a while.

Maybe I need to let it breathe.


Hmm ... that's funny ... I'm not so mad anymore.

Imagine that.

Maybe it was just time to write all along.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Day eight hundred and twenty six ... About time.

I've been saving up for this one.

I mean, this whole thing started 28 months ago when I did the last really dumb thing in a long line of dumb things and it appears to have reached its inevitable end.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. I say "inevitable," but this point in my life where I am now has arrived by just about every means possible besides inevitability.

Since April 2, 2008, this little black box on a curly cord has been the first thing I see each time I get into my car. It's my gatekeeper to mobility and it was a big part of the process of getting my license back when I royally screwed things up (as my mother would have said) back in December of 2007. But I haven't been focusing on the day to day travails of living under the scrutiny of the Commonwealth over the last few months. Things in my life have become so vastly different in so many ways that this blog has taken on a different function. It's become more of an expressive conduit for my general take on this beautiful world we all inhabit and less of an "I'm so screwed because I'm an alcoholic and I will always have to put that at the forefront of whatever I do and never forget it because I may end up back in the same spot if I'm not careful."

I'm not all better--I'll never be all better--but if I'm going to progress and evolve I can't focus on the past, because I can't change the past. I can, however, prevent it from happening if I change reward structure. That's what got me in this mess in the first place. And though I'm certainly smart enough to know what not to do, I was just too selfish to actually not do it, if that makes any sense.

So, I've had this black box in my car since April 1 of 2008. I have never once felt like I was above having it in there. I have never once felt like I got duped. I have never once felt like I didn't deserve what came to me due to my stupidity. Because I knew that it would eventually be taken out.

And that day came, and that day went, and I still had that little black box on a curly cord staring me down each time I got in my car.

But let's not dwell on the past; let's just make sure it stays there.

See, when I was doing my penance I made a concerted effort to not only do things by the book, but to do what was unexpected of me. There were some rules laid down by the people at Smart Start (the company that leases the interlock devices) and these rules were more or less designed to be undertaken by the lowest common denominator. That is to say, the person who is bitter and unrepentant and feels like they got set up.

That person is a person I used to closely resemble.

But as it stands I realized what I had to do to get where I wanted to go. And having that clarity made it so much easier to arrive at my April 2nd date where I would be given approval to have my interlock device removed.

I went to the RMV in Springfield as scheduled and sat and waited for close to an hour for them to call me into the recesses of the hearings officer's office.

I was called in and I presented my papers.

The lady told me to sit on the bench while they cross-checked their info with the info at the Boston registry.

I sat back down on the bench and nervously waited.

She called me in again and as I was sitting down I said, "Good news?"

To which she replied, "Yup."

Ahh ... a breath of fresh registry air filled my lungs and a sense of completion nearly overtook the whole of my body.

And then she dropped her hands to her lap and said, "Huh ... actually I take that back."

And I almost fainted.

"It says here you missed three service appointments and that's three violations. If you have even one violation it's an immediate denial of removal. You can re-apply in September."

"I can ... I can what?"

"You can re-apply in September."

And I began to stutter and sputter and my face became flush and my body became weak and I could barely stand up to leave. I tried my hardest to comprehend what was happening to me. I told her there was no way that this could be possible ... and she just pointed to the papers she had in her hands. My world went mute. I told her with a hurried breath that I had receipts. She said that if I wanted to bring them back to her I had until 4:30. I looked at the clock; it was three. I grabbed my bag and dodged the people waiting where I had waited just moments before.

I drove home with the aid of my interlock device and rifled through my receipts. I found what I needed and grabbed them and got in my car and drove the backroads to the highway. I had seen on my rampage home that there was at least a mile of bumper-to-bumper traffic going the way I would be going.

I made it back at exactly 4:30. Parking was tight. People were angry. Nobody wants to go to the registry and nobody certainly wants to have to fight for a parking spot before they are made to wait for an hour or more. But I got a spot and hurried in the front door. I raced up to the hearing officer's door and was waved in. The same woman with too much eyeliner on looked at the papers I gave her. Then she told me they wouldn't do me any good--that I had missed my most recent appointment and that was the one they were counting as a major violation.

I was crushed. I could not believe it. I felt my body tense up and saw a flip book of a calendar in my head like they have in the cartoons with the months slowly turing by and the summer bearing down on me with my interlock device helping me get from gig to gig and from dinner date to dinner date. I watched the flowers bloom, the weeds grow, the bugs bite, the bites heal, and the leaves fall to the ground in my very clean and very sober head. And it was then and only then in said head that I could picture my dashboard void of the little black box on a curly cord.

There were worse things for sure. But the depression that came over me as I sat in that uncomfortable registry chair was mammoth.

I was not off the hook.

This previous day's worth of events occurred on a Friday--last Friday. And as I left the RMV at ten until five I realized that I would get nothing accomplished in this fight until Monday. I had a big weekend planned, so I did have plenty to take my mind off of this issue. But each thing I did entailed my car, and each time I used my car I was forced to use my interlock device which shouldn't be there anymore.

I made a few phone calls over the weekend to the place where I had been bringing my car for its monthly appointments. The guys there gave me hope by reassuring me that I didn't have any violations on my record as far as they could see. But sometimes just because you do something right doesn't mean you did it the way it needed to be done. The RMV, after all, truly does have the last say. And so, I spent the weekend on an emotional roller coaster whizzing around curves of "what if's" and "maybes" and careening down hills of "oh well's" and "it could be worse's."

Monday, I got to work.

I made some important phone calls. I spoke to some real, live people at Smart Start and was told that they would try their best to sort things out. They saw where the glitch was on my record. They could see where I was coming from.

They believed me.

I actually had somebody on my side.

On Tuesday, April 6th, I got a phone call from a man at the Boston RMV.

His name was Daniel.

Daniel told me that he had some good news.

I sat on the edge of my bed--the springtime morning air streaming in with the sounds of the leaf blowers cleaning up for the beginning of a long, hot summer. I sat there as Daniel slowly and carefully told me that I was "all set." He told me he was going to fax the paperwork over to the "registry of my choice."

I sat there and I almost started to cry.

He told me to go to the RMV and they would be waiting for me with the proper documents and that I would then be "free to go."

I told him he had used a funny choice of words.

I was in play mode.

I was out of the woods.

I had beat the registry and by not giving up and giving in I had won this massively important game.

I smiled a grand smile over the phone and told Daniel that he had made somebody extremely happy. He said he was glad to do it and he wished me good luck.

Then I got back in my car and blew into the little black box with the curly cord and turned the key and headed for the RMV and, almost like I had moved to a different part of the world, things were immediately different.

The same parking lot that I had to fight for a spot all the way around back greeted me with open arms.

That's my blue car there.

And the same waiting room where I had to wait for over an hour just a few days before was empty.

And the same lady with too much eyeliner on was waiting to see me. She called me in and told me that Daniel had coyly said to expect a man in tears to be stopping by soon.

It was a much different kind of meeting this time around.

She gave me the paperwork as we chatted about her necklace which I had mentioned was nice.

"Thanks," she said. "It was cheap."

"That makes it even nicer," said her co-worker who I had not even noticed on the prior two trips there on Friday.

She told me I would need to get my license renewed and that it would cost $25. She gave me the paperwork and told me to go out there, take a number, and wait in the waiting room.

And I just stood up and smiled and said, "Thank you."

I took a number expecting to have another hour to wait. But I had waited 28 months for this moment to come so an extra hour wasn't really going to spoil my day.

But the waiting room was empty.

And before I could even sit down and completely fill out the form they called number 1167.

I hadn't even had a chance to comb my hair but I sat down, filled in some pertinent info, and gave my paperwork to the girl.

She ran my debit card and I made a joke about whether or not they gave cash back.

I will never change.

She joked about how that would be nice if they could do that someday, and I had to break it to her that it was a joke. No harm done, though. Not this time. Not today.

She asked me to look at the blue dot and then she took my picture.

I didn't like it so much.

I asked if she could do it again and she said yes. Then I stared at the blue dot and thought about all the work I'd put into this moment. I thought about all the hours spent driving that car with the little black box with the curly cord checking in with me to make sure I wasn't doing something that the courts would be upset with. I thought about all the time spent writing in this blog, all the time spent at AA meetings, all the money spent on fees, lawyers, probation, my two week inpatient program in Tewksbury, and, of course, the monthly payments to Smart Start.

I thought about all of that and I thought about where I am right now in my life.

And then the lens opened and this is what it saw.

I took this little, rectangular piece of paper from the registry girl and slipped it in my bag with the multitude of receipts, forms, and letters and headed for the door. I got back on the highway and drove to Hadley. I pulled into to the place where I had been required to pull into once a month for the past 24 months. I parked in their ample and convenient parking lot for what I was hoping would be the last time. They took the approval letters from me and ran my card again like they had so many times before.

He said that they'd take it from here and to just hang out and wait--it would be about fifteen minutes.

And he gave me the keys back without ceremony. He just handed them to me and said, "You're all set."

I don't know what I was expecting. Did I think a bag of balloons was supposed to drop from the ceiling? Did I think I was to get a call from the mayor saying, "Good job. You've done Northampton proud." I really can't say what I was expecting. Regardless, I took the keys from the guy and walked to my car and opened the door.

The seat was pushed back to allow for a taller man than I to drive it. That's always a strange feeling. But I pulled the seat forward and looked down at the dashboard and took it all in. I just sat there for a few minutes and stared at the dusty molded plastic.

It was just a dashboard.

In millions of cars all around the world at any given moment any number of people are getting in their cars and staring at the same square foot of space. It's just a dashboard.

But none of them appreciated that mundane little part of such a common machine as F. Alex Johnson did on Tuesday, April 6.

And the picture of the spring flowers that Jodi had given me last year was now unobstructed. The speedometer and the gas gauge, the tachometer and the engine temperature were all in plain sight. I could see that it was 59 degrees Fahrenheit outside without moving anything. I could instantly view any warning lights that may have been on without lifting any devices.

And most importantly, I could see how far I had travelled as clear as day.

I put my key in the ignition, released the clutch, and turned the key and my car jumped to attention with a jolt. There was no more waiting in the driver seat for the device to warm up. It would not beep and ask me so discretely to "blow." There was no more uncertainty that I had eaten something that contained alcohol that it might mistake as a drink. And there were to be no more random retests while driving making sure I didn't have a bottle under my seat that it didn't know about.


I was now on my own.

I had cast off the final chain that had kept me held tight to my incident.

It was finally all over.

I had made it to the end of this maze.

And I pulled out onto Rt. 9 and headed towards Florence. I stopped at the traffic light and put on my blinker. And as I filtered into the stream of cars all going to their own various destinations, taking for granted that they could drive for hours with the only care being that they might run out of fuel I just smiled and smiled and smiled.

I turned up the radio, rolled down the window, hit the gas and dove headfirst into a whole different kind of maze--one that I'm perfectly content to get lost in forever.

Thanks for reading,