Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thank you and God bless you, Jerry B.

It has been forever since my last post, but I felt the need to write about this and the thought of reporting this as a blurb as facebook made my stomach hurt. I couldn't mixing this in amongst reports of the latest shoe purchase, or what was good on tv (not much) or what I had for breakfast.

Last night, AA lost a wonderful guy and a man who carried the message of hope and recovery, literally, until he died.

Jerry B traveled from Wilmington, North Carolina to speak at an the first anniversary meeting for an AA group in Concord, NH. He had not been feeling well, but he didn't let that stop him- maybe he should have, I don't know. But what I do know is all the things Jerry said in years past that stayed with me. How he had the humility to talk about being 10 yrs sober, free from alcohol, but without a solution and suicidal.

People with the humility to share the stark reality of dry time without recovery saved my life. I was never tough enough to handle that kind of emotional pain without a drink, or some substitute, none of which worked all that well. I would hear Jerry, and be horrified initially, then steeped in gratitude when he shared how he had done the work known as the 12 steps and "recovered" from that seemingly hopeless condition of alcoholism.

Jerry had such humor, and such a genuine, down-to-earth way of putting things that made you know he was sharing actual experience and giving it to you straight, blended with a self-effacing humor that made it less painful for you to absorb.

I will never forget how Jerry described writing the names on his resentment list, described throwing his notebook across the room hundreds of times while writing that 4th step, and how he had exhausted all the names, and in telling his sponsor this, was asked. "what are the last two names on the list?"

Jerry replied, "Madonna and Jim Plunkett."

His sponsor replied, "You're done."

It was a hilarious, but poignant example of being thorough without getting too silly.

I will never forget the bleak picture Jerry painted of his suicidal depression, because it matched mine. I can't put into words how hope was born when I identified with the suffering, but saw that the man was now on a different plane, living a different life, and enjoying it, to boot.

It wasn't that exhaustive 4th step that had set Jerry free, he said, it was working with others. he talked about how he stayed depressed and enveloped in self, until "some poor bastard" asked him for help.

Upon working with the man, his depression lifted.

I never forgot that. Though prior to this week I hadn't seen Jerry since he moved to North Carolina about 10 years ago, I never forgot his shared experience, his self-effacing humor or his dedication to carrying the message of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Return of The Charms

What a great surprise I got the other day when I opened up my email to find a heads up from a friend alerting me to the reunion show taking place tomorrow night at The Middle East upstairs.

My all time favorite band, The Charms, is playing together for the first time in at least 3 years. Not only are they a great band, but the people are dedicated, hard-working, extremely talented musicians.

What I always loved best about The Charms was the energy they brought to each and every show. The crowd looked like they were having the time of their lives, and The Charms always looked like they were having twice as much fun as the crowd.

Describing The Charms: I don't like using other bands to describe a band, but if I had a gun to my head, I would say it's like Green Day stopped by to play behind the Gogos. They listened to ACDC on the way, and Ray Manzarek dropped in just as they were about to start with a Farfisa organ. They are garage-y rock, blended with driving pop/rock riffs and terrifically written lyrics.

I can't wait to see these guys, though they owe me nothing. I never had more fun with music than I had chasing these guys around the northeast. Every show was something special, and I am just grateful for the chance to see them one more time. I know it's going to be great.

The Charms play tomorrow night, July 9th at The Middle East upstairs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am driving down from Maine for this show, wouldn't miss it for the world.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Into the Wild" or "Lost and Found"

Haven't written in am embarrassingly long time. Oh well, let's move on. Just finished watching "Into the Wild" and all I can say "wow...ouch...wow...ouch...wow...ouch"

I closed out the viewing with a sob-fest.

For those who don't know, "Into the Wild" is movie Sean Penn directed based on the life of Chris McCandless, a guy who graduated near the top of his class at Emery University, was accepted to an Ivy League Law school, then gave all his savings away to charity, burned his identification and dropped out of society to engulf himself in nature.

He was turned off my dishonesty in his family, his father's illegitimate marriage to his mother (his father was still married to another woman, still had another son with her and denied him after Chris was born. There was violence in his home, control, and to call it dysfunctional would be an understatement, plus, I loathe that term now, it is so hackneyed.

He meets a lot of good people on his travels, and lives through some amazing adventures before eventually dying at the age of 24 from starvation in Alaska. Chris misidentified some roots as edible that were poisonous, weakened himself, and became unable to hunt for food. He was found dead in the bus he fashioned into his home by moose hunters two weeks after he passed away.

Chris, who until nearing death, forsook his birth name, re-naming himself "Alexander Supertramp", left behind journals of his thoughts and adventures. Before he died, he wrote and left for whoever might find him:

"I have had a happy life
and thank the Lord.
May God bless all!!"

This movie hit me in the gut, doubled me over, more than it might hit some because I know what it is like to be a lost young man. He couldn't reconcile life. The kid was a genius, but he could not grasp man's inhumanity to man, man's obsession with "things". I'm sure there was a good measure of self-loathing woven in based on his upbringing, and he did everything he could to distance himself from who he was and where he came from. He basically disowned his family, though he always loved his sister.

The main difference between me and Chris McCandless is my family. There were many times when it was so dark in my soul that death called out to me promising rest, and quietness of mind. It sounded better and better to me...except for my family and friends. Chris created a family of travelers and people he met on the road, but he never let them get too close. His fear of relationships, initiated years earlier when his family turned out to be a lie, spawned an insulation against letting anyone get too close, too deep.

Shortly before he died, Chris reflected on his short, though full life, and wrote in between the lines of what I believe was a Tolstoy novel, "HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED".

Chris was lost, but not really. I think he found all the Truth he was capable of finding in this life in his quiet moments near the end of his life. In living the way he did, he impacted millions of people, through the book about his life, and this film. I've always thought that life is very short, whether it is 20 years or 100, it is a grain of sand in the endless flow of time. It's really more important to live boldly, to live well, to love all you can than it is to merely exist for what is really a pittance of time anyway., but seems "long" to us here on this plane.

Chris lived a day at a time, sapped everything he could out his short life, but he made me think of all the other lost souls out there, struggling through life, often dying a day at a time, an hour at a time, a minute at a time. What a sad way to spend the greatest gift of all- life.


The brutal combination of excruciating misery woven together with a bleak outlook that things could ever possibly change.



Keeping it together on the outside because that's all you think there is- keeping it together... the notion that things could ever actually BE okay is a fantasy. This was my mindset for years.

But I have a great family. I have great friends. They loved me enough to keep me afloat long enough to be found. Even though I was uncomfortable with being loved and still am to a degree, they, like God, just kept the faucet running, flowing so my own little pond didn't get totally stagnated and kill me.

Then one day, I awoke from a 30 year slumber. Slowly at first, wiping the sleepy-sandy things from my eyes, stumbling awkwardly out of an insulated life-coma. I staggered, but I staggered with purpose, tottering toward a still, small voice, and one day, not only was I not lost, but I was loaded with experience on how to find others.

"All who wander" may not be lost, but a helluva lot of us are.

Now it just looks like I am wandering to the untrained eye, but believe it or not... I know exactly what I am doing and where I am going.

I think a lot of us are afraid of what we'd find out if we ever got home. Wouldn't God, or whatever you understand to be god, be pissed that we were away for so long, and doing only God knows what? Isn't it just safer and sensible to stay lost at some point?

This makes me think of the parable of the Merciful Father from Luke. Whether or not you are feeling the Jesus, this is a beautiful story about the nature of God. Long story short, son gets half inheritance, takes off, blows said inheritance, and is destitute. He returns home, hoping his father will let him sleep in the barn with the servants and eat scraps, but all he does is turn onto the road home, and his father, who had been watching and waiting, praying and hping for the return of his son, RUNS down the road to meet him. the son walks shamefaced, a prepared apology in the wings to be recited, but he is muffled and his pleas for forgiveness muffled by the father literally mauling him, hugging and kissing him, throwing robes on the kid, new sandals on him, ordering servants around to throw a party.

This is the nature of God. He isn't interested in retribution, payment, score-keeping, or inflicting more shame via wagging fingers and furrowed brows. he simply loves the heck out of us. he is simply glad we are home.

I prepare my apologia for my life and failures, and God is too busy arranging decorations for my celebration to listen to it.

Geez, God, I really let ya down, I didn't do this, I missed that, I I I I I...

Meanwhile, He/She is pumped up that I showed up at all, that I remembered Him at all. he is riveted by the good I did do, which usually far outweighs the stuff I screwed up. More than that, he is celebrating me for exactly who I am at that very instant. the party is NOW, not tomorrow or in 10 years when I get to some arbitrary point of self-assumed, man made "success".

Today is the success. I am alive, well, healthy, happy, participating in life.

I imagine I can say one of two things when I die and meet my Maker, if that actually happens.

"I'm sorry."


"Thank You."

It is my hope that I say the latter. I don't want to bring down God's enthusiasm with any neg-head downer nonsense.

I think Chris McCandless got all that, but I think he got the part about "happiness only being real when shared" just a little too late. Because of him, maybe a few people will get it in this lifetime.

The best part about being lost is that when you find your way, you can others find theirs.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A New Century, Buick, that is

Yesterday turned out far more promising than I expected. I picked up dad to go to the car lot where I bought my Camry. The guy there, Mike, is a guy I know and trust, a real decent character. dad had set aside the time on Saturday, so we went. It was a bit of a bad plan on my part as I knew they didn't have exactly what he was really looking for in stock.

Pop is only going to be driving locally for the most part, so he just needs an older model in decent shape to get around in. The cars there were all too knew- and expensive for dad's real needs in this case.

Dad insisted on wearing his freakin' slippers, in spite of an impending snow storm.

"J&^#$ Ch&@#$, we're not gonna be out all day, is it gonna snow this hour?"

I don't really have an argument prepared for a guy who wants to wear slippers in New England in December, so I stood there dumbfounded. It was about 25 degrees out, and I was pretty sure, the fall coat and slippers were going to be inadequate, but much like when dad used to berate me for not dressing properly as a kid, my pleas for winterizing his gear usually meet with strong opposition and turn any event into a row.

"Okay," I replied cheerily.

"I mean, I'm going to be in the car, for ^&%#$'s sake."

"Good point, dad," I agreed, demonstrating to myself that I am finally learning to wave the white flag when facing many cannon."

We arrived at the lot and strolled around a bit. dad hadn't foreseen the ice patches, puddles and icy downgrades when he opted for the slipper approach, so this led us to several circuitous routes top look at vehicles I knew he wouldn't be interested in.

He did get a kick out of a PT Cruiser (to Debbie's dismay and my delight) but it was a newer model, and even the 2005 was way too pricey for dad's purposes. My friend promised the best possible deal, but when we sat with the owner, a young kid named Edwin, I knew based on experience that it would be a circle jerk with a higher price than the best price, then we'd have to leave, the price would be lowered, we'd still leave, then there would be phone calls.

Sigh. I hate car lots.

Mike called me after we left, irritated with Edwin and apologetic. He said he knew the price was too high. It didn't matter, that wasn't the right fit for dad anyway, I assured him.

I dropped dad off and picked up a sub from Harry's Pizza. My sister Deb called me en route to Pine St. and told me they had a Buick dad might like at a local dealer. When she showed up, we took off to see it, but never made it there. Deb suggested we stop by J&S Motors- dad's usual mechanic. They had put all the cars inside for the storm except two, one of which was a Buick Century exactly like dad's car, sans dents and miscellaneous paint scrapes.

It was immaculate inside. It was a 1998, with 123,000 or so on it- perfect for dad! It was also only 3,200 buckaroos, which was even better. I got the keys and drove it to Pine St top "surprise" dad. I am hoping to learn someday that dad isn't really all that fond of surprises. he was down the driveway, delivering candy to a neighbor. I waited for him to come up.

"What do you think, dad?" I said, expecting praise and perhaps even genuflection.

"It's fine," the old man mumbled, as if inspecting dish water to see if there was enough detergent mixed in.

"Get in dad!"

"No no no, I'm walking home," said the slippered one, as he navigated the ice up toward home.

"You like it?"

"Yeah yeah, I'll write him a check," he said as if stating the obvious.

Debbie made the mistake of asking dad if he liked the car again at home, which avalanched into what for me and Timmy would have been an hilarious tirade, but for Deb probably initiated trauma.

"Jes&%^ Ch@#$%, I love it, Debbie, it's perfect, it's gorgeous, it's the best f#$%@%# car I've ever seen."

I puzzled dad again today when I asked if he would perhaps like to drive it tomorrow before actually purchasing it.

"What the &$%# for?" he asked as if responding to the query- Would you like to dance around in a thong and dip your hat in pudding?

I hadn't really heard of someone buying a car without sitting in it when the car was, ya know, in front of them at some point.

"I 'm only going down town, I need to get around, CVS...&^#%$, I can COAST down there for &^$%^%$ sake. You drove it didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," I wisely played it straight, saving my smirky comments for the reproduction.

"All right then," he said, hoping I would some day have the intelligence of a lawn chair.

"Ok, dad," I said, editing the rest of it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dad's Car Finally Craps Out

Well, the beast served him well, in spite of my old man's fast, erratic, oblivious and somewhat generally dangerous driving, but dad's car is shot. The brakes went on him the other day on the way to a CVS run. Fortunately, it didn't happen on the way home, as the weight of the Whitman's samplers, excess toiletries (stockpiled for the grandchildren by all appearances) and stationery would like have had a similar on the Buick Century as the reaction to the payload of a trailer truck's cargo.

So yesterday I got a call from dad to help him take his car to the garage. After informing me that the brakes were gone, and he had stopped the vehicle by way of furious "pumping" of the brake pedal, he let me in on the plan to transport the auto.

"You can drive in front of me, and I'll go slow."

Okay... the man is 86, doesn't wear a seat belt, has no brakes, and a working definition of "slow" which roughly translates to: a rate of speed which allows pedestrians to dive to safety before impact.

"Geez, dad... what could possibly go wrong?" I wondered. The notion that he would be behind me, so I would likely be the car he collided with gave me zero comfort.

En route to dad's house for the old car transfer mission, I decided to sneak into the house, snag the keys and take the car in myself. I knew there would be repercussions, and I felt a little badly about leaving my step-mother Louise to handle my father's inevitable tantrum when I altered the plan, but I felt assured that even the fallout from this would be far lass traumatic than seeing dad's photo on FOX news as the latest nut to plow through a crowd of people, though the audio portion of the telecast probably would have provided some of the best Reality TV in history. I can only imagine dad's rendition of the story, complete with a description of an elderly woman he mowed down as a "moron doddling around with a walker in the road" whilst demanding she finance his car's repairs after being arrested for public stupidity.

It was a nice day, so I strolled back to Pine St., ready to face the fire. You had to see him to appreciate it, but here dad sits...on the couch, still wearing his hat and coat. The look on his face was priceless, I had seen it ten thousand times if I had seen it once. it said, quite unmistakenly, "why do I have to deal with morons?" Of course, the look was framed with the slightest hint of a smile.

"I have an explanation, dad."

The look didn't change, except the smile slowly disappeared. I explained I was worried about him cracking his ribs if the car wouldn't stop, or God forbid, if the airbag went off, it might kill him. he seemed to take it pretty well.

I said something like, "you look a little worried dad, you all right?"

Without missing a beat, and genuine concern he says, "Yeah, I was worried because some moron was driving my car around with no brakes."

To that I conceded that if anyone were qualified to drive that car without brakes, it was him. he hadn't threatened using the brakes in years.

To that we all had a pretty good laugh.

Today he got the word that it would cost more to fix than the car was worth. I looked for a suitable replacement, which dad would like in place by last Thursday, if possible.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Slow Going on re: the writing.

Well, I hit almost 19,000 words, but man is it slow-going lately. Something is going on. When I sit down to write, I become incredibly exhausted and can barely stay awake. I also have the constant droning that this isn't important, or won't be good.

Jenn Dlugos, who teaches the screen writing class I decided to take with my friend Dot, said this week that there is no such thing as writer's block, it is just "fear of writing something down because it won't be good enough."

I agree.

She also mentioned something I've heard many times, (but sometimes it is the 10,000th time I hear something that I "get it."

Jenn said, "all first drafts aren't good, but you can't edit a blank page."

Point taken. So I am telling myself that while I think all the stuff I am writing now is trash, I can always back and delete it or change things around. It is 5:40pm and I swear, I am passing out. I forced myself to write about 600 words yesterday and 700 or 800 today. Not much, but better than nothing. I am going to lay down, maybe snooze and see if I can write a wee bit more later.

I also went to a job fair today and liked a couple of the companies, but was appalled at some of the salaries. I am hoping to find something I love so I am not worried about the horrendous salary.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I Heart New York

I Heart New York

So I headed to NYC today to see my pal MYQ Kaplan perform stand up for a comedy central taping. In the past, I have had success parking at a Metro Station in Connecticut and taking the train in from there, about an hour ride. I have been to NYC before, so I came prepared.

I was somewhat dreading having to be in New York at this particular point in time, marinating with obnoxious, gloating Yankee fans on the verge of another world title.

Remove all Red Sox paraphernalia from sight in vehicle- check

Scatter trash in backseat to reduce likelihood anyone would expect to find anything of value in vehicle- check.

Remove cash (except three bucks to make it look good) and credit cards (except expired BJ's card and an old library card) from wallet- check

Tape credit card to inner thigh- check

Put money in sock- check

Slip shiv inside right shirt sleeve- check

Hand sanitizer- check

Ready to rock- check.

The train ride was pretty mellow, but as we got closer to New York City and Grand Central Station, I could feel it- the presence of NYC. I would have to be on guard. I wisely had left any Red Sox and/or Patriots gear in Massachusetts, so I thought as long as I kept my head and didn't pronounce anything with an “r” in it, I cold pull this trip off safely.

Arriving at Grand Central, I walk with brisk purpose even though I had no idea where I was going. After covering several city blocks only to wind up back at that same spot, I approached the information booth carefully. Speaking to the clerk in broken english, I managed, “What freakin' train do ya take to 10th and 59th? The head gasket on my freakin' Camaro is pissing oil and my old lady tells me to take the freakin' train, if you can believe it.”

The clerk eyed me, but bought the act hook, line and sinker.

“Take the shuttle to Times Square, yeah, heh? Then the one train to 59th and 8th and ya can walk the two blocks.”

I grabbed my package and half grimaced like I had bad sausage earlier in the day- so far so good.

I hopped on the shuttle, but being unaware that it was one stop, back and forth, I ping ponged a couple times before I whispered to an elderly woman, “Is this Times Square?”

I proceeded to get on the one train, but again didn't realize it was only an express train and 59th street was the first stop. I went to 66th, then reversed direction and made it back to 59th in no time. Exiting the building, I noticed there was a 58th street running parallel to 60th street, but no 59th. Was it a trap? I wasn't sure, but it didn't look good. I asked a kid with a skateboard for directions to 59th street.

He fumbled around and brought up Columbus Avenue, so I figured he was from out of town or had sustained brain damage riding the skate board. He apologized and sat on a stone bench. I read the bottom of his skateboard which had his phone number and “if found please call.” I now saw my mistake. This kid was obviously from pout of town. No New Yorker would be fool enough to think a skateboard would actually returned if lost. Secondly, if you somehow misplace a skateboard, I might side with the Big Applers and refuse to reward such stupidity with a skateboard.

I found a policeman who informed me that 59th street ended before the station. He pointed me in the right direction. I am almost there, I am early, and as yet, no major mishaps or trouble. Walking toward 59th, I spotted a Philadelphia Phillies fan coming the other direction, brazenly wearing a Phillies hat. You had to admire those Phillies cats- absolutely fearless.

He had chewing tobacco in his lip and a bulge under is jacket that said AK47. I think it was a tad big for a saw off shotgun and too small to be an uzi or some sort of bazooka. He met my eyes as I gave the slightest nod from behind my cornea, visible only to another navigating through enemy territory. He returned the nod, but it was visible. I was filled with admiration as I thought, “you crazy bastard, you'll give me away.

I maintained my cover as I made my way toward Gerald Lynch Auditorium at John Jay College, where the taping was being held. I stopped for hot nuts on the way. I hate hot nuts and have actually never eaten hot nuts, but they help you blend in. The mistake I made last time was failure to discard the nuts
when they grew cold. No "real" New Yorker would ever let his/her nuts cool.

I had time to kill before the show. making my way up to a Starbucks. As I entered the establishment, I held the door for an elderly woman behind me.

Without thinking, I had blown my cover. The old broad read I was from out of town, but from the look of fear in my eyes and her years of savvy and experience, she rightly guessed Boston. She clicked her heel, and reflective of a James Bond flick, a sharp dagger protruded from the front of her right shoe. I got my foot up for the block and she swung it toward my knee, the poisonous tip inches from breaking the skin and injecting me with instant death.

I thrust downward at the crest of her ankle, relishing the crack which preceded her groan of agony. Feigning a downward swoon, she swung upward with the tip of her cane, also seemingly tipped with some sort of of poisonous substance. I barely evaded the cane assault, gripping the shaft and twisting it around, ending her attack by thrusting the javelin-like cane into her ribcage.

There were about forty people in the Starbucks, but luckily no one noticed as they were either retrieving or ordering lattes or focused on cell phone conversations.

I left the hag's now limp body on the floor and got in live for a beverage, trying to act natural. the next few patrons casually stepped over the cadaver and stood in line. I had maintained. I ordered small mocca with one pump of chocolate. When I went to pick up my order, I absently said, "thanks". You guessed it- cover blown. the barista dropped a pumpkin spice latte and hurdled the counter. I loosened the cover of my steaming latte, hurling toward the face of the charging coffeeman. buying myself a few seconds, I fled toward the door, hoping the old lady's body on the floor had not yet garnered attention.

As I wheeled around the corner, I reduced my pace to a steady gait, blending in with the foot traffic east on 59th street. I had escaped a fatal situation with ease. Perhaps a little too easy, I thought. Easing toward the theater, content to wait in the lobby at this point, I began to relax a bit the farther I got from the donnybrook in Starbucks.

With about a block to go, a heard a strange sound coming from a side street not much bigger than a narrow alley. It stopped me in my tracks. "Was that a baby crying?" I wondered. Curiosity and concern got the better of me and I headed down the slim side street to investigate. The sound seemed to be coming from behind a discarded cardboard box. I rounded the box and was stunned to see an abandoned baby carriage. The cries were consitent. As I closed on the carriage, a fluffy pink blanket appeared to cover the baby. As I peeled it back, I realized a moment too late that I had been set up.

A small tape recorder played the soft cries of a baby over and over. I did a double take as the baby sprang to its feet, not a baby at all, but rather a midget wielding a home made weapon. The angry dwarf lunged at me with the home-fashioned shank. The device appeared to be comprised of the handle of a pacifier attached to a bic pen welded to a toothbrush handle. The toothbrush had been melted down, then honed into a spike to form the business end of the weapon. I snapped to a bit late, as the thrust winged my cheek.

"I'm gonna send you back to beantown in a bawdy bag, punk."

I thrust forward a palm-heel to the forehead of the fake baby, rendering him unconscious. Using my latte napkin to pad the blood from my cheek, I quickly exited the alleyway and headed toward the theater.

The show came off without a hitch. At some point during the warm, I recalled George Constanza's strategy of looking annoyed to appear busy. I wondered if I could use the same strategy to blend in as a native New Yorker. As I walked to the train, I remembered all the incoveniences of the trip: not being able to park at the first train station I went to and having to find a second, not being allowed to sit in the library at John Jay Colege because I wasn't a student or police officer, the internet connection not working, no seats at Starbucks. I genuinely grew irritated as I thought about, adopting a tightness around my lips and stiffened brow. As I walked through Grand Central Station, I noticed the locals warming up to me, giving occasional nod.

I made it home in one piece, end of story.

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