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.