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.



Anonymous said...

This was another profoundly wonderful post. Heartbreaking and heart-building. Thank you and congratulations.


F. Alex Johnson said...

Much appreciated.

Thank you for taking the time to read and to respond.

And on we go . . .