Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day seven hundred and forty nine ... All you can eat.

Who doesn't love ice cream?

Well, I realize that more often than not I live my life in my head. And in my head there is no room for people who don't eat things that come from cows. I also realize that there are plenty of other ways to enjoy a satisfying desert that doesn't entail milk.

But this grouping of words I'm amassing doesn't really have that much to do with the product, ice cream, itself.

It's all about the little, pink spoon.

If you live in the U.S. you probably have been to a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop. It seems there used to be more of them when I was younger, but that may just be because the supermarket ice cream selection was lackluster at best back in the seventies and eighties--before Ben and Jerry's changed the game--and we had to go out to get the good stuff.

In a world of soft serve machines and Carvel Flying Saucers the ice cream at Baskin Robbins was a bright and shining star. It was consistent, it was open year round, it was damn good, and it was everywhere. Not to mention that they had 31 flavors. As a kid a big part of the experience of going to the ice cream shop to buy a cone that cost a little less than a half gallon of Hood was getting to sample one or more of the 31 flavors available. Regardless of the fact that I always ended up with the same choice of ice cream (Jamocha Almond Fudge) as did my mom, to get to what we knew we liked we would purposely climb our way through a selection of the sugar mountain of flavors. And that required a little, pink spoon ... or ten.

I wish I had one to take a picture of to show those who may not know what I'm referring to, but suffice to say that it was about two and a half inches long, three quarters of an inch wide, thin, plastic, and pink. They would give you a new little spoon for each flavor you wanted to try. This was before anybody actually gave a damn about germs.

The habitual collector I was, I used to save these spoons up in my pocket where they would inevitably collect some serious pocket crumbs. When I got them home I would wash them best I could, then I would put them in the silverware drawer where my mom would find them and then re-wash them and put them back. Then, when I would get a bowl of ice cream on occasion (read: often) I would be sure to grab one of these little, pink Baskin Robbins spoons from the silverware drawer to eat it with.

And here is where I begin to understand what I used to do as a child shapes the way I am as an adult.

See, the reason I used to like to use the little, pink spoon to eat a big bowl of ice cream is because in rearranging the approach I was able to extend the effect. It put me in charge of how many spoonfuls could be carved out of a normal bowl. It took my regular serving of ice cream and stretched it out fourfold. It gave me the opportunity to enjoy something that under normal circumstances I would just wolf down (as my mom would say) and instead extend the feeding session much longer and with greater opportunity for pleasure. I was also increasing the chances to give my tongue a moment to recuperate before I added another tiny shovel full and not only hit it with a temperature drop but also with a sugar rush.

And this is how I take in each and every day.

I like the curve of my computer regardless of if it's a runs little slow every so often.

I appreciate the balanced weight of my guitar even if it's a little tough to keep in tune.

I take into consideration not just the time it takes me to get from my house to band rehearsal, but also that the snow is starting to melt along the sides of the road and little tiny patches of brownish green are able to peek through.

I've been told on more than one occasion that I should be more picky about what I consider to be "good" whether in regards to a song, or a bargain, or even a handshake. During what seems to have been a whole lifetime ago I have reason to believe that more often than not this probably was the case and, who knows, I may not have gotten in the mess I did over two years ago if I had. However, if I hadn't gotten into that mess I would be willing to bet a bigger one would have found me sooner than later.

But today I take in my days with so much less anxiety. I open my eyes every morning and am thankful to a concerning degree that I can walk to my bathroom to brush my teeth. It sincerely gives me a chill of pleasure to notice how I remembered to clean the sink the night before. How a simple action like splashing a little water around the top of the faucet and then wiping it down with a paper towel can ensure such serene sense of place and order the next time I need to use it. And when that moment comes, there it is ... white, silver, dry, and waiting for me as the first object to entertain my needs at the start of every day. It makes me so very happy to do these things.

In keeping with my ice cream fetish I will have to add that I also love--and have since I can remember--the feeling I get drinking a glass of cold water after eating a whole bunch of ice cream. I love this because if you do it immediately after a few bites the water takes on a strange characteristic: it becomes less cold than it actually is to the nerve endings inside the mouth. This, I'm assuming, is because the ice cream has just assaulted them with its swift and merciless temperature drop, and now the equilibrium has shifted. It's different in so many ways in a localized part of the body, but its effect stays the same everywhere else. The glass produces condensation; your hand feels the coldness; your lip understands what's going on; but once it reaches beyond the gates of one's mouth it fools everyone involved for a few seconds as it chases the sweetened perpetrator down to the belly and settles in for a nice laugh at your expense.

These days I often wish I had a little, pink spoon handy. Not always at the dinner table, though I have a nasty habit of finishing my plate/bowl/cup before my company does. But just in general in a more philosophical sense. I wish I could slow things down and take them in at my own pace. I wish I could carve out a little bit of any number of moments in life--a kiss, a hug, a laugh, a personal victory--and take it in on my own accord and not just in the gigantic, emotional truckloads that they are normally delivered in.

But this is impossible in real life. There is no pause button to hit, no emotional Polaroid to capture a snapshot, no portion control. It all just happens and I have to take it in and file it where it goes and hopefully be able to remember the important ones more than a few minutes after they occur.

And as these many, varied, potent events arrive on my doorstep, if you will, I sometimes get so overloaded that I don't know what to do. Sometimes they pile up and come at me so fast and furious that become numb from it all. Though they've mostly been good ones for quite some time now I'm not fooling myself into thinking this is how it will always be. Hell is always closer to heaven, and gravity doesn't help matters much.

So sometimes I just have to sit back and have a big glass of water. I love water in all it's forms. I love ice. I love snow. I love rain. I love steam. I love condensation. And I love the way that I can look at a big glass of it and assume what temperature it is from the way it affects the container it's in. I also love the fact that often times it doesn't feel the way I would expect it to when I take it inside. It all depends on what came before it. It all depends on where the nerves have been roused.

When I'm hot it cools me down.

When it's hot it warms me up.

But when I change things up and confuse my expectations it has a different effect.

I can go through life waiting for it to do to me what I've seen it do to others.

I can take every event at face value disregard the details.

I can let what has happened in the past hold me hostage for a lifetime.

Or I can live life in a way that makes me happy.

A little, pink spoon, a bowl of ice cream, and a glass of cold water.

Who knew it could be that simple?

Thanks for reading,


Monday, January 11, 2010

Day seven hundred and forty ... We meet again.

"Hi! I don't know you really, but you Facebook friended me a couple months ago and I deleted you."

This, I vaguely recall, was what a very attractive, younger girl with a perky hairdo, big, hazel eyes and sly smile said to me on November 14, 2008, at a benefit show for a friend who had a recent personal catastrophe.

"Um ... right. Hi, what's your name?," I said.

"Jodi ... and I deleted you."

"You ... you did?"

"Yep. I don't really know you, but you friended me a while back ... and I have a lot of personal stuff on my profile ... and so I had to delete you."

"Wow!", I said. "I ... I didn't even notice!"

And so it began. So the long strange journey began in my life that would lead me to be here, in my house, lying--laptop propped open--next to a sleeping, very attractive, younger girl with a perky hairdo, big, hazel eyes and a sly smile--albeit a snoring one--madly, deeply in love on the eleventh day of January. But a lot of coincidences had to happen to get me to where I am now--very much awake--and trying to type lightly.

Let me explain.

Today is an important day for a lot of reasons. It is my very dear friend Steve's birthday. Happy Birthday, Steve. Stolat!, as they say.

It is also the day that I walked into the New Bedford, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Center to visit my mother who had been there for two weeks, only to find out she had passed on from this world. My whole life changed forever in that shocking moment, which really should have come as no shock. It was a long, slow, illness and she fought it tooth and nail. She hung on for a whole extra Christmas season that the doctors could have never predicted because she wanted--no, she demanded to be around for it. But almost like she had struck some sort of deal, three days after it was over, on the 28th of December she took a bad fall and was admitted to the rehab center. From that point on she slipped away a little more each day until she was tenderly and thankfully tended to by hospice. And then, sadly but mercifully she was released from this mortal shell, and the lifelong dialog we had between us was over ... and I had to do everything a little differently.

I made it through that year, barely. I've written about a great deal of it over the past two. Suffice to say that I could have killed myself from the stupid things I did with drugs, alcohol, my car, my bicycle, my nose, my mouth and my two legs. But I didn't want to die. If it had happened it would have been through selfishness and stupidity, not a cognizant desire to cease living.

And when I say I made it through that year, "barely" I should specify that what I mean is not only would I almost kill myself through stupidity, but I would not make it to the very end of the year before I would declare myself to be done with a life of drinking. It was officially over on the 27th of December, and I am happy to say that it has remained that way ever since.

The year between that upcoming January and the one that followed it was an eventful one indeed. My aunt would live long enough to see me successfully put down the bottle, but not long enough to witness my year anniversary. Because by September of 2008 she, herself, would lose a hard fought battle with cancer.

That month I would purchase an iPhone and install the Facebook application (or "app" as they say). I would see a girl named Jodi in a tiny photograph on the application's homepage who I thought was someone I used to work with years ago. I would request her to be my Facebook friend and she would begrudgingly accept. She would turn out not to be the person who I thought she was and I would completely forget the whole event ever occurred. "I don't think it's possible that we know each other ... but you seem harmless enough to befriend," was her response to my request.

Two months later I would buy a house and start another chapter of my life.

And shortly before I moved in, on November 14th I would be surprised at a benefit concert by the approach of a girl with a sassy lean and a good dose of moxie telling me that she had deleted me from her Facebook profile. I would then nonchalantly and totally deflate her flirty exuberance by the mere fact that I had no idea it had even happened ... because she wasn't even the person I thought she was to begin with.

And then, one year ago, on January 11, 2009 I would have another very important event happen in my life.

I remember only so much about the day. I remember that I was extra emotional because not only had my mom been gone for two years now, but my aunt was gone too.

I had agreed to judge a battle of the bands contest at the local music club, and I didn't want to go. Strangely enough I recall wanting to stay home and watch the Golden Globes on TV much more than going out and being in the public eye. It was snowing pretty hard and I called one of the other judges to see if there was any way they'd cancel the evening. He said there was no chance but he gave me the phone number of the promoter, Mark Sheehan. I called him and he said it was very much still on. I asked him who the other judges were and he told me there was some woman named Jodi involved who had seen over 400 concerts.

"Oh, jeez," I remember thinking. "This ought to be interesting."

I remember that my old bandmate, Terry, called me up as I was putting my gloves on to leave. I waited by the phone and listened to the machine and heard him telling me he was thinking of me on this important day. I called him back on my iPhone on my way to the club and we talked a bit while I sat outside the club in my car.

Then I got out and trudged through the two or three inches of annoying new fallen snow on the sidewalk and entered the club.

I walked in the door into the dark club and there she was ...

It was the girl from the benefit for my friend who had had the catastrophe. The very attractive, younger girl with a perky hairdo, big, hazel eyes and a sly smile who had deleted me from her Facebook account. And she was about to spend the next three hours sitting at a table with me and three other judges while we listened to a number of new bands who could potentially be good or terrible.

And I just closed my eyes for a second and thought to myself, "Oh, Mamma ... what have you gone and done now?"

And we spent the night flirting. I remember the fateful tap on the shoulder with her pen that got me to turn around during one of the performances. I'll never forget that look ... the look that says, "hey ... you seem like someone who I might like. Come talk to me near my ear and look me in the eyes a little bit closer because I'm not sure, but I sure want to be surer before I prove myself wrong again."

I remember we had this joke about people wearing scarves onstage, under the hot lights--"intentional scarfing," we called it. It was our first joke. And then we took a picture of the four of us (our fifth judge, Christian, being unavailable for the shot) with scarves on our heads, looking silly at the camera.

I remember thinking then, "This is nice ... It's never been this nice before."

And I meant it.

The night soon came to a close and I told Jodi the concertgoer that I was so relieved that we could get past all that Facebook deletion mess and start anew. I suggested that I "friend" her again intentionally, now that we had talked and laughed and had a bit of fun, and I hoped she would accept it for real this time. She said she would. We had a brief but meaningful hug and I went home and immediately looked her up and impatiently--without even waiting the night--requested her friendship at 1:50 in the morning on January 12, 2009.

I remember thanking my mother that night before I went to bed. I thank her a lot for so many, many things. Often it's for something she taught me or a trait she passed on through her genes. Other times it's because my spiritual side feels that she has exerted some kind of will over the events of life here on earth.

Tonight, as I turn off the light, I will thank her for all of these things. Because she not only gave me the sense of humor to laugh with a nearly complete stranger for three hours, but she gave me the confidence and the courage to believe that if I kept a level head about me and was true to myself that there was no reason I couldn't find someone out there to love me like no other.

And when that night came to leave the house two years ago, with the Golden Globes on television, the snow falling quick and sharp, and a heart heavy in the knowledge that new words would no longer be heard from deep within her ever again and hadn't for an interval of time which might warrant me staying home to cry myself to sleep while a panel of judges met at a club downtown that was having a battle of the bands contest ...

Well, I think she knew that she was giving January 11th a new meaning in my world.

Thank you, mom. I miss you more than words could ever express.

Thank you, Jodi. You are my one, true love.

Happy January, 11th.

It's a good day again, forever and ever.

From L to R: Jim Neill, Ken Maiuri, F.A.J. and Jodi (intentional scarfs and all). Taken at the Happy Valley Showdown, The Elevens Nightclub, Northampton, MA on January 11, 2009.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, January 1, 2010

Day seven hundred and thirty ... Round three.

"My, how far we've come."

This little phrase is one I have heard a lot in the last few months. Jodi started saying it first and it really was specific to a few developments in our relationship. More recently though it seems to encapsulate so much of the way our lives have unfolded and, for that matter, been voluntarily shaped.

When I think back on how nervous I was on our first date--how I rattled off a list an arm's length long of all the reasons she probably wouldn't want to go out with me; how I fumbled at the restaurant's entranceway not knowing where to sit or whether or not it was table service, almost having a precious little fit when it took forever for a waitress to come over and take our order, only to find out we were expected to order at the register. When I think of these things and the first few months of getting to know each other and then look at where we are now--able to say almost anything to each other; laughing over our previous romantic blunders and could-have-been's; knowing how much cream and sugar is the right amount in each other's coffee; and never for a second feeling that the word "love" is too strong--when I think of things like this I often muse to myself ... "My how far we've come."

It's been two years since I had my last drink. Actually, it's been two years and five days. December 27th was when it all went down. It went down and then it stopped and my life changed forever. And I began the process of learning how to love my life without secretly coveting death.

Two years ago, on a snowy January day, I began to write the journal that you are reading now. It was an incredibly different existence for me then. I remember my strained relationship with my aunt and how tense things had become. I had so much history of failed attempts at getting sober. I couldn't comprehend at the time that to make things better meant to take action, and not just to proclaim abstinence. I thought that just not doing was enough.

Thank goodness she stuck with me and stood by me. I used to wonder if she could ever get so upset at my constant failures that she'd just give up, throw her hands in the air and say "Oh well, I guess he's never going to do it." In fact, in all the madness I used to hope that someday she would just leave me the hell alone, and then I could finally do what I liked and just drift off. And all I can say to that is that it's a god damn good thing that I got my shit together and made it stick because within nine months and a week she would be gone from my waking life. I could never have known that at the time. But I was smart enough to understand that I was losing my grip and I had no real choice but the one I made.

I had plenty of help along this path, but it was a fortunate thing that I at least knew what lay ahead if I were to do it properly. I knew the unfortunate reality that abstinence was truly an ambiguous process. There was no finish line. There was no end. There would be no party to signify that I had successfully completed a life without drugs or alcohol.

That was not an announcement that I would ever hear.

But for a guy who lived life checking his watch every night before the liquor stores closed, planning, plotting, borrowing, and pleading (with the store owner) for a favor on occasion, living a life of alcohol abstinence seemed as far fetched as falling in love.

And now I am in the middle of both of those developments in my life ... and I can't see how I lived it any other way.

My, how far we've come.

It seems to me that every year just before New Year's Day, for as long as I can recall, I've heard people around me proclaiming "Good riddance to _____. You were a crappy year and I'm glad you're over with. Bring on _____." And for the last five of them I have had to agree.

But not this year.

In fact, I was sad to see it go.

This year I tightened my grip on my direction in life without drugs or alcohol.

This year I settled into my new home. I decorated it in such a way that pays homage to where I came from, and indicates firmly the direction I'm heading towards--a clean, modern, sensible, handmade world with fixtures focusing on attention to detail, walls and ceilings painted with colors chosen for their effect, and furniture that lets me think like I do on my feet, while resting the rest of me closer to the ground.

This year I made strides in handling the ownership of my mom and aunt's house--not an easy feat by a long shot. Both of them were organized, intelligent people. But the belongings of three generations of Johnson's are all under my guardianship, and the dwelling that they are housed in is all mine and I have to make sure it stays safe from two hours away.

This year my relationship with my friends hit new strides.

I watched as some formed musical groups expanding their imagination and developing solid skills on the instruments that make them happy.

I watched as others embarked on the process of starting a family--some by adding children, others just by adding each other.

And that brings me back, once again, to Jodi.

This year I found my true love. I found a woman who can be with me but not be above me. I found someone who can know I'm smiling just by the way I put my arm around her. I found someone who, when she leaves the room, takes a little piece of me with her. And I found someone who knows me so well that she can find me even when I'm a little lost, and let me know that she's right there ... that she came back for me ... and that she's returned the little piece that was missing.

It's been a good year.

By the rules of the planets we have to abide by the calendar.

It makes sense to have an order.

It makes sense to have a process.

It makes things work.

It lets us collaborate.

It helps life go on.

And in time if the problems get solved and the anger turns to understanding ... if the anxiety fosters preparedness and the unbelievable becomes something we couldn't picture living without ...

That's when we can look at each other and say with a heavy sigh,

"My, how far we've come."

Happy New Year and thanks, as always, for reading,