Saturday, December 27, 2014

Day two thousand five hundred and fifty seven . . . "Boy, am I toy-stee."

A guy walks into a bar and sits down.

The fairly inebriated fellow with an empty glass to the right of him loudly exclaims, "Boy, am I toy-stee."

The first guy doesn't think much of it and orders a beer.

A couple minutes later he hears, once again, from the fellow on his right, "Boy, am I toy-stee."

So the first guy says, "Bartender, I'd like to buy this fellow right here a drink."

Bartender gives the man a beer which he drinks down in one, intense glug.

All eyes are on him.

He puts his empty glass down on the bar,  burps loudly, leans back and says:

"Boy, was I toy-stee!"

I think this is a pretty funny joke. It stands on it's own right as just a silly little observation of some curious human nature.

But I also see into it and can relate on some deeper levels.

You see, at 12:45 A.M seven years ago this morning I had my last drink of alcohol.

And I had been very toy-stee, indeed.

I was out and about and looking for trouble. I knew where to get it but I didn't take the right back road and was subsequently pulled over by the cops. But funny enough I didn't just pull over when I saw their lights. Oh no, I didn't do that because I knew that if I did that I would have been busted directly across from the bar I was headed to.

No, instead I actually took a left across a busy street and drove up into a narrow parking lot that was adjacent to the bar. So, at least that way if anybody wanted to see me try (emphasis on "try") to walk a straight line they'd have to step outside to do it--which they did, several of them.

I have the whole police report of the incident. It's got some classic quotes from me, like when the cops asked how much I had drank that night I told them "Two glasses of vodka."

Not mixed drinks, mind you. Just glasses of vodka.

With ice, of course.

I was very toy-stee.

People talk about "desperate cries for help" and other signs they should have seen along the way. They talk about how there's a motive behind every action, and posit that people who abuse drugs, alcohol, and other vices have a "sickness."

I know that this is true in many cases. I've seen the evidence and I've seen the damage. And I've seen too many people who have gone over the edge and never come back. And I've certainly seen a few who have come back from the edge but not really all the way. And I know more than a few who might not ever change--who are proud to be the mess that they are. And I connect with these types of people because that's who I was. It hasn't been that long that I don't remember the pride I took in my ability to empty a .750 of vodka in one sitting--alone. When you're an alcoholic you take your sources of pride where you can get them. And I got mine in the form of a weekly full recycling bin of clear bottles with red Russian labels on them.

I've been watching old home movies from the 1970s recently. Watching these and listening back to reel-to-reel tapes of me and my family I see a pattern of behavior that is alarming. It's alarming in and of itself but also in the fact that I see how it followed me into my adolescent years and then on to adulthood.

I see a spoiled only child who asked for every toy on TV and got at least most of them for Christmas.

I see a child who had to always be heard and couldn't stand to not be the one being talked to.

I see a little boy who was loved by all around him and never knew anything else. I see the dream my mother had come true: the dream of a son to raise on her own--removed from the societal expectations of a having a dominant male figure in the house. My mother didn't have any desire for a partner in this grand scheme. She knew she was smart enough and woman enough to raise a child on her own. And by all accounts she was. But somewhere along the way the joy of the dream coming true led to my spoiling. It showed up in punishments that fell short of being disciplinary and lies believed because she wanted to believe them.

I see these things and realize that this atmosphere could possibly have been the breeding ground for the innate sense of invincibility that I developed as I dove deeper into a world of substance abuse. And when I moved away to Western Massachusetts it was because my Aunt Lynda had finally stepped in and given me the ultimatum of clean up or get out.

And get out I did.

It would take sixteen long years of slowly trying to kill myself ounce by ounce to finally hit a wall. I put more than a few people through the wringer over that time period. There are some who went along with me and try as they might never were able to get me to change. And there are some who were sad to see me change so drastically when I did. I know I'm a much different person now than I used to be. And because of that I don't really see some people who once were such a big part of my life. It's one of the things people fear the most when they consider a life of sobriety, and for good reason. But the flip side of that, at least for me, would have not been an acceptable solution for long.

And when I did hit that wall in the form of of swirling blue lights I can only say I am thankful that the discipline came in a form I couldn't talk my way out of, because I would have continued on that path of self-destruction, probably to the end.

But here I am, seven years later.

I'm still in my Christmas Pajamas at 2:30 in the afternoon.

I'm happy it's warm enough to go outside and rake leaves in the yard in the middle of December.

I've got a party to go to tonight where there will be several bottles of booze on the kitchen table, I'm sure. But I've been to fifty parties in the past seven years where there were bottles of booze on the kitchen table--and some of them I even brought myself.

But I'm not the guy who needs it anymore.

I'm not the inebriated starved-for-attention only child anymore.

I've learned my own form of self-discipline in these last seven years. Writing these words on these pages has been a big part of it. Because sometimes when you shine a light on the darkest part of the room you notice there was a lamp there all along--it just needed a new bulb.

And in this lit room I can look around and count my blessings.

Even better, I can look inside and count my blessings.

I'm not the one anyone needs to feel sorry for at the bar anymore.

And I never, ever, take any of this for granted.

I have today, just like we all do.

How I spend it is what matters in the end.

But it's very true, and I'll say it again one more time with feeling:

Boy, was I toy-stee!

Thanks for reading,



Friday, October 31, 2014

Day Two Thousand Five Hundred . . . Having a moment

I've always loved Halloween.

It was probably one of my favorite holidays as a child. I can only guess that my love of costuming and putting on makeup and crazy clothes went hand it hand with my constant desire to be somebody else.

Now, there are a lot of reasons why we might want to be "somebody else" when we're a child. When you think about all the things that adults are allowed to do, as opposed to somebody between the ages of five and, say, eighteen, it's easy to understand wanting to escape. Like putting on your grandfather's suits and hats for fun, it is that strange urge to be taken seriously coupled with "dress up" time.

I can recall wanting to be so many different people--most of them famous--like James Bond, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker or Paul McCartney (or any of The Beatles for that matter).

But it's funny to think that I never wanted to be another child.

It was always somebody older.

Here is a picture of me and my grandfather from Halloween 1979.
I'm wearing my very favorite mask of a mummy that my mom bought for me while we were waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World. I can still remember the way that rubber smelled. And I'm also wearing my Karate (or Judo) Gee. All the self-defense classes I endured I still can't throw a punch (probably a good thing).

My precious grandfather, Alex is wearing his devil mask. His nickname as a younger man was "Alley Cat" due to his supposedly legendary prowling. So this mask, I'm guessing, is more than a little apropos.

But see, I didn't go for any sort of kiddie costume. I wanted to be a thousand year old mummy!

And so I was.

And my mother brought me to the appliance store.
Where I was more than a little thrilled to have my picture taken next to this giant Jack 'O Lantern.

And from there we traveled on to a costume contest somewhere near Seekonk, MA. I remember that it was kind of not allowed to have kids from outside the area compete. But my mom was never one for rules that might impinge on character-buliding for her little prince.

So we went to the contest.

I paraded up on stage.

I got some applause.  And I can only imagine what is making that lady on the right laugh like that. I was, as they say, a "precocious" child.

And then, the whole mess of people from the Seekonk, MA area got up and we were judged.
I remember being up there like it was yesterday.

And I remember winning some movie passes to the Seekonk Cinemas (a huge deal for a nine year old).

And I also remember another woman there being somewhat upset that the kid from Fall River (a good twenty minute ride away) won something at the Seekonk Halloween Costume Contest. She had words with my mom who politely brushed her off. Nobody was taking away her baby's glory . . . or his movie passes.

I'm not sure if her child didn't win because of me. But I remember sitting in my mom's green Volvo and taking off my mask and tearing open the envelope with the movie passes in it and celebrating with my mother like we had just knocked off the Fall River Five Cent Savings Bank.

It was a moment.

I remember being very young--maybe seven or eight--and asking, pleading and begging my mom to take me to this haunted house I saw written about somewhere. It was way far away in Connecticut, probably at least an hour or so.

But my dear mom packed up the car with me, my aunt and my grandmother and we made the trek out there . . . for her little prince.

And I got out of the car and saw the line of people. I saw they were mostly big kids--teenagers--and I saw the lights flashing from inside the haunted house. I heard the screams of the actors and I heard the screams of the patrons.

And I screamed, myself.

And I started to cry like a little baby. I ran back to my mom and clasped her around the leg like a three year old. I wailed "I'm sorry, mummy! I'm too scared."

And I'm sure she looked at my aunt (who never did have kids) and there was an unspoken exchange that said, more or less, "You knew this would happen, didn't you, Judy?"

And she made sure I was sure.

I was.

And we got back in the car--wet cheeks and runny nose and all--and we drove the hour and change back home.

It was a moment.

Here in the present day we have a super duper new Haunted House in the next town over. It's supposed to be the best around, and the line to get in stretches for blocks.

But I'm too scared to go. For real. Me, a big baby clinging to my mummy's leg.

Times don't change so fast after all. 

I've written about this before but Halloween was also a very dangerous time on my street.

We were the only street in our neighborhood that took it upon ourselves to plant a tree on the sidewalk. It was a big undertaking, but my mom and aunt wanted to plant something alive in memory of my grandmother on the otherwise dead cement sidewalk. So they planted a birch tree and it was beautiful.

But every year we would be at the mercy of the hoodlums (as my mom would call them) who had a strange penchant for slicing off the bark of the tree for fun.

I never understood this and still don't. But I guess destructive behavior can manifest either inwardly or outwardly.

But every Halloween we would sit on the porch and give out candy all the while watching that tree and letting everybody know we cared.

And then they'd eventually have to go to bed and wake up and find somebody had sliced up the tree and they'd spend hours putting that black gunk that heals the bark on it.

To me at that age it was like a terrorist attack.  And I suppose on some levels it was. We just thought of it as the loss of morals and the depraving of America.

And then I moved away.

I try to always remember when I see things like new trees growing on the sidewalk, or street art, or even just some holiday inflatable displays, that I, thankfully, live somewhere where you don't have to stay up all night on Halloween and protect it.

I didn't move here with that in mind. I was just trying to escape. But as I grew older and can see things with perspective it makes me happy I made this choice. 

Sure, there are incidents of vandalism here and there. That happens no matter where you live. But where I come from--at least when I lived there through the 1970s and 1980s--you just couldn't have nice things in plain view.

Not everybody learns how to appreciate what they have. And when you don't--or can't--appreciate what you have it makes you want to take from somebody else. And because you have no perspective you have no idea what these things mean to the people they belong to.

You take their moment but you don't end up with anything in the end. And that's probably the saddest part of it all.

Nobody wins.

But here in our little town of Florence, Massachusetts--two and a half hours west of Fall River--we'll have our Rag Shag parade tonight. The people of our village gather at a little park and have costume contests--open to anyone from anywhere--and then everybody walks the 1/8 mile through the closed off Main St down past our house and to the civic center. Then they have donuts and cider and break off from there to trick or treat.

We always have to rush back to our house where the kids are already at the door. I just made a "Boo Back Soon" sign (how clever of me) to put on the door when we leave so the kids will know to come back.

Then we spend the next few hours handing out candy to the many various age groups who come knocking. I've been here for six years now, and I'm sure that some of the kids have been coming here since they just learned how to walk. It's nice to be part of that function of time.

It's nice to be part of other people's moments.

And it's great to be old enough and stable enough to be part of these moments while keeping some for yourself.

Because these moments become memories. And these memories shape us. These memories--even if we think we don't really have many we can recall--they become part of our decision making.

They become part of our value system.

They become part of our character.

They become us.

And when we eventually leave this earth they leave with us.

That's why I write about my memories. I'm writing so that my memories don't become lost forever. I'm writing because I don't have children to share them with. I'm writing because I don't want to forget them myself. And I'm writing because it makes me feel good.

My mother and aunt used to come to Northampton frequently between 1994 (when I moved into an apartment on Eastern Avenue ) and 2006 (when my mom became too sick to travel long distances).

They would come here for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes just to check up on me, to bring me food to put in my fridge and cupboards. And often to come see me perform.

One of the places that was always so wonderful to play in is the Academy of Music. It's a 100+ year old theater right in the heart of downtown.

                                                                   Photo: Richard Christian

I got to play there with Drunk Stuntmen when we composed an original score for the 1924 silent film, "Peter Pan."

Here's a picture of me and my mom in 2000 taken at the foot of the stage right after it was over.
To say she was proud would be a gross understatement.

In later years she would come see me perform there (with my aunt, of course) when the Young at Heart would play there. I remember how much fun it always was to peek out from back stage and try to find where they two of them were sitting. As most performances are general admission it was rarely the same exact seat, but you could be sure that they would be somewhere about five rows back and smack dab in the middle.

In fact, when we would go to the movies my mom had a habit of counting the seats up and dividing in half to see where the absolute middle was. It was important to her.

So when I got word that the Academy of Music was having their first ever capital campaign to raise money for renovations I was intrigued. Their plan was to restore the walls and all the fixtures back to the original colors from the first iteration of the theater.

They were going to put in new seats, too.

And for a donation of a certain amount one could dedicate a seat.

One could preserve a person's memory.

One could take hold of a moment.

And so I did just that.

 And I wrote and asked if they might be able to find a spot somewhere in the middle. If they couldn't that was fine--I'm not special. But if they had an opportunity it would be most appreciated.

And so, on October 17th Jodi and I got gussied up and went to the premier of the Academy's first original play Nobody's Girl with just a row and a number: row E seat 105.

So we looked for it.

 And we found it.

                                                                                  Photo: Jodi
Right in the middle of the fifth row.

With a perfect view of the stage.

And I almost cried.

Because I could see her sitting there watching her boy.

I could picture the bright floral blouses she loved to wear. I could see the soft, faded denim overcoat whose pockets were always stuffed with cough drops, candy and tissues. And I could hear her applauding for me, her sister at her side, both so proud of my progress.

I could see it.

I could picture her just looking at me up there, thinking of how her little boy who looked so natural up on a stage in Seekonk, Massachusetts in his martial arts mummy costume in 1979 had grown up to be up there for real in cowboy boots, jeans, his guitar and amplifier.

It must have been a moment--a few of them.

And now I can safely say that their names are preserved for the foreseeable future.

They may not grace any structure in the town they are from. There is no plaque on any tree or a bench near a bus stop. Because it would be exposed to the elements and God knows what might happen if some unruly kids wanted to just go out and "have some fun."

No. Their names are on a chair--a comfortable one at that--smack dab in middle, the fifth chair out of nine, in the fifth row back in a town they wished they had moved to. And they always used to joke around that they were going to sell their house and buy the carriage house down the street from me and move in to keep an eye on me.

They liked to talk about that, but I knew it would never happen.

And what's almost as perfect as being in the middle of the fifth row?

Well, whenever anything happened or they were excited about something they had a funny affectation: they would always exclaim, "Eeeeeeeeeeeee!" long and loud. I think it was a Portuguese/Fall River thing.

Well guess what? Remember what row they got?




How about that for a moment?

How about that for a memory?

I think they'd be happy.

And more than that they'd be thrilled that I got them both on there--two for one!

They always loved a good deal.

Now I have to get ready for the kiddies. They need their candy and their parade and their walk around town.

Jodi and I are happy to be part of it and we've got costumes to boot.

It's a good life, and it's these moments that make it so.

Happy Halloween, and thanks, as always, for reading.


PS: I suppose this has all come full circle--this whole dressing up as somebody older. Because this year my costume is going to be a Young at Heart Chorus member. And to join that club you gotta be 73.

So how about that for closure?

Funny, funny stuff.

And if they saw me in this getup I'm sure they'd say to me, nice and loud, "Eeeeeeeeeeee!"

Miss you guys, always.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day two thousand four hundred and fifty seven . . . "Do it."

I have a friend who is in deep trouble.

No, I'm not secretly referring to myself. I'm still clean and sober.

But my friend and I have been in touch pretty closely for a few days now. I told him he had inspired me to maybe get back to writing here and he said, "Do it."

He recently found himself ripped apart by a personal tornado that almost did him in.

He's scared.

He's broke.

He's alone.

He's in pain.

He's a total mess.

And from his own admission he did this to himself.

Now, I'm kind of assuming a little bit of this as I don't really know the full story. I don't even really know this person that well. He's a contemporary, an associate, a local. But he's a fellow Gen Xer, has great taste in music and art, and he's somebody who's always been quite nice to me.

He's also somebody who I didn't realize had any of the problems he's currently seeking help from. But that's probably more to do with the fact that I don't go to bars and I don't have people over to my place to party (anymore).

But I can assume a lot about this person because of one simple fact: he's a human being.

And I can relate to that.

See, we're built for excess. We, as humans, like to try lots of different things. And if we find something we like (depending on our temperament) we oftentimes have too much of it. And when we have too much of it we can develop a sense of guilt about it, and the only way to make it better in the short term--seeing we're already kind of far into it--is to have a little more.

And then the tornado starts to form and it can assemble itself fairly quickly if we let it.

This cycle is something that seems so ludicrous.

We should be smarter than that.

We're not some kind of wild animal.

We've had millions of years of evolution to finesse our desires so they don't almost kill us.

We should have enough foresight to detect the trouble ahead.

But we're human beings after all, and we have too much freedom.

And I'm not just talking about freedom from the government or freedom from persecution.

I'm talking about how if a human wants to try to eat fifteen double-chocolate chocolate chip cookies and a quart of Newport Creamery maple walnut ice cream we absolutely can. If we want to stay up for three days straight and watch 72 hours of television no matter what is on, we can.

And if we want to drink ourselves stupid with a fifth of vodka every day starting at 9 AM (after waiting outside the liquor store until it opens) and call our mom and try to pretend like we just had two beers on an empty stomach, we can.

I used to do that kind of stuff. I did it almost every day for a few years. And the thing about it that kills me is that I had so many conversations--long ones--with my mother that I don't remember.  We talked about so much important stuff and so much silly stuff but so much of it is just a blur. She only really got upset that I was drinking a few times and told me to please not call her when I was "pie eyed", especially at 11 AM.

But when her boy would call she couldn't hang up or tell me to go to hell. Because at least hearing my slurred voice on the other end of the phone was better than not knowing if I was staggering around in traffic trying to make it to the liquor store before it closed. At least hearing me ask the same question over and over again was better than wondering if I was downtown making a fool of myself in broad daylight. At least hearing me try to muffle the sound of the ice clinking against my rocks glass as I brought it up to my lips was better than wondering if I had said the wrong thing to the wrong person and gotten my teeth knocked out.

It was something, at least.

But I had too much freedom and I used to feel invincible.

I thought to myself that my actions had no consequences. I didn't write down the stories she would tell me because I couldn't keep a pen, paper, lit cigarette and phone receiver all going at the same time while pouring glass after glass of freezing cold Smirnoff from the bottle in the freezer into my sour stomach.

As she died over sixteen months I thought I'd remember everything she said to me.

I couldn't have been more mistaken.

I recently found some old recordings of the messages she left for me back in the early 2000s.

There are some cute ones for sure. But I can hear in her voice that hint of worry that only a mother can carry in her tone. Those slight lilts that suggested maybe I was there but didn't want to pick up--that it was okay if I was "busy", it was nothing important. That she was just seeing if I was still alive okay and if I knew that the new season of Boston Public was starting tonight. And even if I had forgotten she was going to tape it and send me a copy anyway . . . just in case.

These calls were often in the early afternoon and she was still worried that I was wasted.

Lots of time I was. It was a sad situation.

But she was always taking care of me even when I wasn't.

These messages usually ended with a little humor, of course, because if there's one thing this mother of an alcoholic worried about most is that something she said or did will cause her boy to drink even more.

She loved me like no one ever did. And she had no idea what could have possibly been the reason that I was trying to slowly and messily kill myself.

And now, almost seven years later I still don't really know why I did what I did.

I can't blame it on genetics, because nobody in my family, that I know of, was or is an alcoholic.

I can't blame it on growing up without a dad. Lots of people grow up in a single parent home and don't hit the bottom the way I did.

I can't blame it on rock music, as much as I'd like to. That would be so easy and almost fun.

And I can't blame it on how I was raised.

Because I was raised to value the world around me. I was taught that all we can see, hear, touch, taste and feel is worth appreciating. I was shown that science can explain almost everything (Mom was an earth science teacher with a masters in chemistry) and that what can't be explained must be respected for what it is: a miracle.

I was taught to respect the people around me. I was told to learn from those who came before me. I was brought from museums to puppet shows to concerts, plays, and circuses all to better shape my mind and spirit and also to show me what great beauty this world holds.

I was created on purpose--explicitly to be raised by one person and one person alone. She wasn't worried if nobody wanted anything to do with her because she was a single mother in 1970s New England. And as it turned out I was welcomed with open arms by the whole family.

My father was one of the most heralded and applauded authors of poetry and prose of his generation (more on this in the future). He was labeled a genius by his peers, played four instruments and spoke seven languages. When he died his obituary ran from the LA Times to the New York Times to the the Fall River Herald News.

I was not made to be a self-destructive lush; I was made to hopefully be a person of substance.

These are my words. My mother never made me feel like I needed to be any more than I wanted to be. And, in fact, I didn't really learn about my father until much later in life. 

Regardless, for twenty years I thumbed my nose at the idea of embracing life, light and vitality and continually pulled the shade down on the world.

And at the end what was I?

I was scared.

I was broke.

I was alone.

I was in pain.

I was a total mess.

And from my own admission I did this to myself.


Well, because I'm a human being and that was my choice. And nobody on earth was going to make me change my ways. I had to want to change. I had to need to change more than anything. I had to fight for change like it was my last hope for survival, because it really was.

And I'm writing these words today and sharing with the world because it's been far too long.

I've spent the last almost seven years on this earth very much aware of my surroundings. I've made my decisions with a clear head. And I can figuratively remember turning the light off at the end of every day.

But I still don't have the best memory and I forget a lot of stuff.

So while it's still fresh in my mind I wanted to stand up here at from where I am on this hill and shout down to my friend to come up and join me.

I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs that things are better up here and I can see them clear as day, even if all he can see is a hill he doesn't think he can climb. 

I wanted to tell him that he needs to start now, not tomorrow and not next week.

Because this hill is a beast to get up.

It's a muddy, slick and rocky mess of a journey.

It's not easy and it's not fun and there are no breaks to sit and catch your breath . . .  at least not for a while.

But as you start to climb you'll notice something: you'll notice that things below you--where you just came from--have gotten smaller.

You'll start to find better places to grip with your hands and landings to anchor your feet.

When you get up to a certain point you'll no doubt be able to take a breather and look down for a second. That's when you'll start to see others approach the bottom of this hill with the same expression on their face that you did not that long ago--the one that says "I'm not fucking doing this."

But you will do this.

And you will meet me where I am.

Because why?

Because you are a human being and you have freedom.

And if you care about this world at all you will use that freedom to keep going and not ever stop, not for a split second.

And with the grace of God, or whatever you want to call the thing or things that made this universe, I will always be here and I'll always be able to help.

I'm just a little ways up the hill, but I'm nowhere near the top.

Just keep going, man.

Keep going.

Do it.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day two thousand three hundred and thirteen . . . Watching the river flow.

I suppose you could call me morbid.

Though I feel that my public personality may be one of a positive and lighthearted guy I have to say that it's all a little darker on the inside than that.

Take for example my incessant housecleaning.

I'll stop short of calling it obsessive/compulsive, but it's something that it seems I'm always in the middle of. I may be on the way from the living room to the kitchen when--wait . . . what's that? Do I see dust on the buffet? We'll see about that!--and out comes the Windex and paper towels and the world has to wait until I tend to business and clean that damn buffet. And by the time that's over and done with Jodi has more than likely gotten whatever it was I went into the kitchen to retrieve.

But if I die a sudden death on my way back to the couch from the kitchen I want the house to at least look nice for the police.

Morbid. Like I was saying.

I blame my sweet mother.

For a woman whose under-the-sink cabinets were crammed full of cleaners, sponges, scrub brushes, dusting wands, scouring solutions, trash bags, cleaning rags and paper towels she sure couldn't keep the house clean.

Forgive me mom, but you know it's true.

It's been a few months since we have been relieved of the burden of caring for my dearly departed mother and aunt's home in Mattapoisett. I could never find a way to fully thank Jodi for helping me through the process that was the "excavation" of the place. But she stuck with me until it was all said and done. Just unbelievable that it took as long as it did and cost as much in time, energy and cash.

And while my mother was one of the cleanest people I ever knew--both in personal hygiene and language--her hoarding had always held her personal space hostage.

Oh sure, I was given plenty of cleaning details as a kid. Oiling the knurled oak kitchen table and chairs with a bottle of Old English (not the malt liquor) and a few of her old undies for rags (yes, it's true. But at least she recycled) was one of my least favorite things to do in the world. But I did it and it always looked beautiful.

Cleaning the couple of mirrors that were still visible was on the list, too. As was vacuuming and trying to clean up the many accidents that our dogs would leave on the rugs.

But the "stuff" that filled every room in the house I grew up in except for one (the addition, of course) was so overwhelming that all one could really hope to achieve by cleaning is the barest of bare minimums.

And as children oftentimes grow up to be the exact opposite of their parents you can see why I practically have a holster for my Windex and a roll of paper towels strapped across my back. Why I'm always in the process of keeping areas clear of clutter. When I see a pair of socks on the floor they come up to the laundry room immediately. When the coffee grounds scatter on the counter top I clean them up before I make my next move. The trash never stays in the back room more than a few days and the recycling goes out once a week. The laundry gets done before the basket starts to overflow and the kitchen gets swept after each meal. The fridge gets vacuumed (yes, you heard me) to get all the little bits of parsley and cilantro stuck in the back of the crisper. And the toilets get scrubbed as often as I can remember to do it.

And I do this for me and I do this for Jodi and I do this for my mom.

I know for a fact that she was always like this though.

I remember my aunt telling me a story about an illustration by her that I found. It was of the bedroom they shared on Bedford St. She must have been twelve or so when she drew it. It was just a sketch but it was a room that was completely strewn with items--books, clothes, furniture, boxes, etc.--and a bed in the middle of it all.

I asked her about it and she said she drew it to try and help my mom after a particularly embarrassing episode involving the police.

The story goes that the house was broken into back in the 50s. And when the police came in to interview everybody they looked around the whole house and stopped at my mom and aunt's room.

It was trashed.

And my mom said it must have been the burglars that did it. They had come into little Judy Johnson's room and they must have been really looking for something important . . . because it was the only room that looked that way. Sure, lots of things were missing from the rest of the house, but at least you could walk through those rooms.

And, of course, it wasn't the burglars that made the little mess; it was Judy.

But my mother, even as a small girl, had found a special way to get through her days. She took all the things that interested her and collected them and stored them and protected them in whatever area she was given as her own, even if she was sharing it with her poor sister. As she grew older those spaces became bigger and bigger as people like my grandfather moved out of the house and down the street. When my grandmother passed away she had even more spaces to call her own. And so, with her estate expanding we would go from flea market to church bazaar to craft fair and buy, buy, buy.

We'd drive back to Fall River after a long day at the "games" regaling each other with the great deal we got on this or that. It was a special bonding time we shared--mother and son--and it's something I will always cherish even though I can now see it as learning a potentially destructive habit. But we would joyfully bring our loot back to the house carting bag after bag up the two flights of stairs towards the sound of the barking dogs that welcomed us back with our gifts to ourselves.

I would bring my treasures to my room and she to hers. These things made us happy then. But what we were doing was collecting things we didn't really need and filling our living space with it. Sort of like flea market beavers building a dam.

It was highly ironic to realize that all of these things that we bought, stored, used and forgot about ended up on the lawn of the house in Mattapoisett when we had our own yard sale.

And of course we brought back carload after carload of the really good stuff (my mom would be so proud) to our house. So now we have transported it from it's original owners to Fall River to Mattapoisett and finally 300 miles away.

The cycle of stuff. 

This life is completely subjective as long as you don't hurt anybody or yourself. You can really do whatever the hell you want for the most part. As long as you can make or save enough money to support yourself and your family nobody should be able to give you much grief.

And who is to say that my dear mom didn't live exactly as long as she was supposed to live (65 years)? I have no idea and I have no reason to really be suspicious.

But something I have learned and continue learning is that our body is like a riverbed. And the experiences that we have are the water that runs through it. The daily details of a life in progress smooth the rough stones and nurture the algae. They erode the edges away at the same time carrying the fine silt that may someday form an island that could provide shelter. Life thrives. Love grows. We see our reflection in its clear, uneven, rolling, liquid ribbon and take comfort that we are lucky enough to have found it--that someone gave birth to us and got us to the point where we could step back and look at the landscape and breathe.

It is a fine balance, it is non-stop, and it is not optional if one wants to remain healthy in mind, body and spirit. 

I could sit all day on the edge of a stream and watch as the water and all its inhabitants--living and non--float down out of view. But unlike a public fountain I can't really comprehend where the beginning or the end of it is--that it's simply the same water cycled over and over. As I look both ways over the flowing water all I can see is all I can see. And after that I have to just trust that there is a place where if you walk to a certain point past it, there is no river--where you can just see the water starting out on its journey. And then at the end where I can visualize a finish line and walk past it to a place where the land takes over and the water is done for the day.

But this analogy has a dark side, of course. Because the experiences that life rains down on us in all our waking hours are not all positive. Some are extremely damaging. And their introduction into our waterway can sometimes flood our banks and cause severe destruction. They may deluge our being, roiling the ground and carrying away bridges and dams. The travails and missteps we make or are exposed to can sometimes cause such buildup and blockage that this stream that once was a painter's perfect subject is now brimming with heartache so great that our souls feel as if they were driven from their village.

And we have to wait it out if our psyche will allow and try to rebuild as best we can. Because we all need water to live even if it can kill us. 

So I drink lots of water.

I exercise.

I talk to my girlfriend if I don't feel right.

I pick weeds when I see them.

I do the laundry when it needs doing.

I vacuum.

I dust.

I recycle.

I call the people I care about.

I call some people I haven't called in a long time.

And I try to always remember that what comes in this house comes in because we brought it in. Just like I had to remember that I was the only person responsible for pouring alcohol down my throat. It didn't just jump in there on its own.

There are boxes of letters and photos, old clothes and posters. Remnants from my time on this earth up until . . . well, today, I guess, if you count the mail and the newspaper. There are choices I have to make on what to keep and what can go. As much as my ego would like to let me believe that someday somebody will want to know all about me and my life I have to remember that this is not a museum.

And I suppose that all the rebelling against my mom that I did when I was a teenager--how I wasn't going to end up a goodie two shoes who didn't drink, smoke, or do drugs--I guess that has kind of bitten me right smack dab in the ass.

So I suppose what's left to rebel against is really just a matter of keeping the river in my mind, body and household flowing.

I have to have the room to move, to clean, to breathe, to grow.

Almost 44 years of life have dug my river bed.

Now I just need to let the water go where it wants to go.

Thanks for reading.