The Hot Seat!

Everybody has loaded their plates with enough turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, green bean casserole (truly, the staple and stalwart of any Thanksgiving feast), rolls, cranberry sauce and yams to feed a small village for a day. Placing them down before them, some beloved family member has forced a pause so everybody at the table(s) has to put their plate down and recite one thing they are thankful for this holiday season.
For me, this was an especially poignant moment last year because of the fact that for two years, I celebrated the holiday with nothing but my old buddy Him to provide solace for me amidst the coming winter, my birthday, my sister’s birthday, Christmas, New Year’s and on and on. A very dark time in my life. But a year ago yesterday, due to the grace of God and my loving family and their seemingly infinite capacity for forgiveness, I was able to gather with them around the table once more. It is, assuredly, a special moment for a family to be able to do this. Even more so for a prodigal son like me.
Yesterday was even more special because my parents hosted an immigrant family from Kenya that joined us. I even got to see my mother cradle their infant in her arms for a spell. I swear, I could make a million dollars by starting a company that just rented out babies for major holidays so genetically frustrated women whose grandmother instinct is going unfulfilled this holiday because her grandbabies are 2000 miles away get to hold a little one in their arms. My mom is still chomping at the bit for me to have children, but for now she’s at least sated for two more weeks until my brother’s kids are in town.
Anyway, so the Thanksgiving ritual has passed and everyone sits down to dig in to what? To a cold plate of food, that’s what. And it’s November, so depending on how high the heat is cranked, this can range from a lukewarm to damn near icy plate of food. What to do?

Enter another of my million dollar ideas. The Hot Seat! Okay, you know how most microwaves can be pretty bulky, even for modern standards? Hear me out. The Hot Seat would be a plate-sized microwave that would be passed around the table so each family member could place their plate in it, give it a zap, remove their plate and Presto! A plate full of hot food!

Now, the Hot Seat would have to be fairly small and ultra-light. So, I’m thinking some of that razor-thin titanium they use to make laptops and golf drivers. And because you’re dealing with electro-magnetic radiation, each Hot Seat would come equipped with one of those lead aprons they use when taking X-rays. But a cute lead apron, with a cartoon image of a turkey ripping off his own drumstick with a big game-show host toothy smile. The lead apron would be stowed at the base of the Hot Plate and rolled out so the person would just have to position the apron with the big toothy turkey, pop their plate in, zap it, take the plate out and pass it on. Simple and easy, right? Hang on.

Because this is, after all, Thanksgiving dinner, and you could potentially have 15-30 people that need to use the Hot Seat after Dad says Grace. So it would have to be pretty damn quick. I don’t know much about plutonium, but I think if the Hot Seat came equipped with a thumbnail-sized reservoir of weapons-grade plutonium fixed on the back, that should provide enough juice that you could get a 10,000 watt charge out of the Hot Plate and Boom! 5 seconds and you’re done and you pass the Hot Seat on to the next person.

Now, you would have to provide the Hot Seat with enough electricity to cover every plate and you obviously don’t want a power cord presenting a hindrance over the table, so I propose a series of 6 “D” cell batteries positioned discreetly at the base of the back of the unit with another charger pack Velcro-ed to the top of the unit for a reserve supply. Actually, with that many people in need of that much power, Mom or Dad might have to wear a utility belt full of charger packs bandalero-style at the beginning of the meal for easy access. And with a 10,000 watt charge every minute or so circulating around the table, it might get pretty noisy right? Easy fix. When the host is putting out the place settings with the silverware rings shaped like turkeys and Photoshopped name tags, he/she would also add a pair of earplugs to each seat. This carries an added bonus because not only are your ears shielded from the blast of the Hot Seat, but you don’t have to actually listen to Aunt Carol’s account of the secret recipe she used for the cranberry sauce which everyone knows is just the Kroger brand cranberry sauce with an extra scoop of sugar.

When the meal is finished and everyone is enjoying dessert, the host would simply carry the Hot Seat off to the safe in the basement with two keys positioned at opposite ends of the storage room and then he/she and their spouse/significant other would do the “Turn Your Key, Sir” routine like in War Games, mom tucks the Hot Seat safely in its place, closes the safe door, and the Hot Seat is ready to be trotted out again at Christmas.

Unlike my Leave It! Home Security System ( ) , I think the Hot Seat would be more practical, albeit with a much lower profit margin given the battery packs and plutonium sold with each unit. Plus there’s the supply problem on finding weapons-grade plutonium, but things are working out pretty well with Iran nowadays and they may have a lot they need to get rid of. I’m working on it, but I think this one is definitely doable.

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Walt Whitman, Lou Gehrig and General Patton

Poking around on Facebook this morning, I noticed a trend. For so many people, their sons are coming home for the holiday. So, this is to those sons:

Hello young man. You may not realize it now, but you are in a unique position to greatly affect the future of mankind. Because you were born on one side of the gender gap, for a great many reasons (some of them potentially nefarious), you enjoy many, many privileges many other people don’t enjoy. You should be very grateful for the opportunities you’ve been given solely because you have a different set of equipment than others.

I need to stress to you that you cannot take this responsibility lightly, because it is a responsibility. One of my favorite lines from any movie comes from my favorite, Dead Poets Society. It’s this:

“Business, law, medicine, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love … these are what we stay alive for.”

I implore you and all those like you to hold this truth close to your heart your entire life. You may be like my nephew, just entering that wonderful time of boyhood when you are playing baseball and going swimming and perhaps helping your dad shovel the front walk. You may be like my two second-cousins, young men either about to graduate from high school or already there and contemplating what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. This is a decision that you may think carries a lot more weight than you think. Do what you love, do what you are good at. But above all, do something that will make you happy and hopefully make others happy too.

Devote your life to fulfillment. Yes, it is very important to consider the feelings and hopes of others for you because as I said, you are in a unique and very real position to make life better or worse for not only the ones you love but the ones they love and on and on. So make your life about fulfillment. Do something you are good at, or something you wish to be good at. It could be fixing cars, cooking meals, telling stories or splitting atoms. Doesn’t matter. Just be damn sure that at the end of the day, you can look at what you’ve done and say “I’m proud of myself.” Because if you can say that, then others will be proud of you too.

Because here’s the thing. It took me a long time to realize this, but I think I finally got it. Your mother, your father, your sisters and brothers and friends, the thing they most want for you is to find this fulfillment. Yes, along the way, you may encounter heartache or heartbreak, but you will also experience joy and fun. You will have girlfriends and boyfriends who will drive you crazy and break your heart. They will also make you laugh and swell with pride. Your family will drive you bonkers, but chances are they want the best for you and whatever that brings with it. If you want to go serve hungry or suffering people in Africa, go do it. If you want to try to make it into the NFL, by all means, give it a shot. If you are like me, maybe you want to write a great book. Again, try your hand at that.  Just don’t do any of these things half-way and always consider “Am I helping other people in this endeavor?)

I can’t stress this enough. Because you are a male, you owe it yourself to be as good of a man as you can become and serve others along the way in your quest to find purpose and meaning in this life. I wish the very best for you.

Don’t screw it up.

Happy Holidays!

Season’s Greetings from the 1010 House!

Well it’s another Merry Christmas and a Krazy Kwanzaa here at the William St. House! There’s been so many faces coming and going through this house over the past year and Tim and I are just scrambling to keep up with it all! As you know by now, Tim is the only house member still remaining from when I came to live at the William Street house and boy has he had a crazy year! Apart from working his job at the welding plant, Tim keeps busy shuttling his snot-nosed punk kids to and from day care while his lovely wife holds down her job as a circus clown. It’s pretty grueling business, especially now that his daughter has acquired a “Sixth Sense” ability to communicate with dead people. We can hardly make out a word she says amidst all the screaming! According to her, she sees the men who have come and gone through this house and the eclectic and often grueling ways they have died. It’s everything Tim can do to get to eat her Happy Meal amidst the blood-curdling screams she lets out, claiming she sees men who have succumbed to dementia or bit it trying to climb to the top of a 3-story scaffold after ingesting a 6-pack of Natty Light and a pint of Beam! Poor kid, Tim says he has set up an appointment with a counselor for after the holidays, but I’m not sure she will last that long. Yesterday I came home to find Tim and his son downstairs and Emma frantically running around in circles in the kitchen with her fingers plugging her ears screaming “I don’t care about your spine! Leave me alone!!”

Jon recently moved out of the house and we all wish him well. He claims he moved back him to live with his mom, stepdad and little brother. On the way, though, he will be spending 6 months delivering humanitarian aid to villagers in Laos. Apparently, this whole village in the jungle has been stricken by malaria, AIDS, and a strange intestinal parasite that makes living an entire day without at least 30 bowel movements quite the chore! Being an avid fan of Walking Dead, the fact that I saw a loaded .45 and a sawed-off shotgun in his baggage was a little bit of a shock, but Jon assured me he was only taking them if the natives started to get “squirrely.” I wish him all the best.

Matt recently got his own room after Jon left and he loves it. Matt is very active in the program, averaging 32 meetings per week and he recently took on his 118th sponsee. According to him, “It’s all about the Big Book and the Fellowship” for him now. I applauded him on his conversion but stressed that the $537,000 in financial amends he says he needs to make for a number of thefts from various convenient stores, churches and orphanages might be a little premature and he might want to think about making a donation to The Salvation Army or taking on an “Adopt-a-Highway” project. I pointed out that the guiding principle behind making amends is cleansing your conscience of baggage you carry from your drinking and using days, not incarcerating yourself for the rest of your natural life. He assures me he is thinking about it, saying maybe he will “paint some city playground equipmen or something.” I stressed to him that there is being penitent, and there’s being a dumbass. He said he would think about it.

And then there was the Christmas miracle! In the short-lived stint I did recently at an area inbound telemarketing center, I ran into Chris! Chris lived in this house when I came here, but soon had to vacate because of an “incident.” I was gone when it happened, but apparently Chris had stolen a Jaguar and jaunted across the river for a night of festivities at The Playhouse, a gentleman’s club in Iowa. I never got all the details, but apparently there was a bit of a disagreement between Chris and a dancer at the Playhouse concerning his visit into The Champagne Room involving a liter of Jack Daniels, the dancer’s thong and a table saw. Chris said he is on “supervised release” and is awaiting trial. I wish him all the best.

As for me, I’m still fighting the good fight, staying clean and trying to mentor the new guys. There seems to be some dissention in the ranks among some of them and allegations that I am taking excess liberties in my new role as house treasurer. I assured Tom, the owner of the house, that everything is on the up-and-up with the house finances despite the Jag I recently obtained at the police auction and the new Armani I insist is necessary for me during my job-interview process. Apparently, nobody told Tom that one should absolutely not trust an alcoholic/addict with money that is not theirs, but he seems to believe me, so I’m keeping quiet for now.

As for my own family, let’s be honest, if you are reading this letter, you probably don’t give two shits about Dad’s lung cancer recovery or Mom’s recently published book about life with my sister, Mom’s “extraordinary daughter” (gag). Yeah, Dave is out in Cranston, RI with his lovely bride and precocious kids and their ballet recitals blah blah blah. Let’s get down to what matters: Maureen is still alive and neither my niece or my nephew has been “disappeared” yet.  And rest assured, I’ll come out with a letter equally as nauseating and boring as this one, maybe more! Let’s be honest, I’ve not gotten any calls from any of you informing me of a terminal illness or unexpected amputations, so I am just gonna assume everything is fine at Lake Wobegone, ‘kay?

See y’all next year. Oh, and do me a favor. Suck It.

Happy Holidays!

Fear, loneliness and Texas Hold’em

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum …

Last night was kind of a milestone in my sober-living life. See, there’s this group of guys that’s been getting to together for poker every Friday night after my home group meeting. Mitch, Mitch, Mitch, Mitch all gather at Mitch’s house to play Texas Hold’em with a buy-in of $5.

 

Author’s note: Because of the secretive nature of the Program and the Fellowship, I’ve taken to naming every guy I meet in the Program “Mitch”. It just seems to be a good all-purpose name and if I use it for every guy, thus, anonymity.

 

It was my first time meeting with this group of guys. Well, let me amend. It was my first time meeting with any group of guys in sobriety other than the my housemates. A good bunch of Mitches for the most part, but I have known a need to expand my social world for little while. I’ve known about the game for awhile but always seemed to have planned something for after the Friday night meeting. Now that I am out of work and out of school, I promised myself this week I was gonna ask Mitch about it. Turns out, Mitch wanted to talk to me.

 

“Have you ever thought about chairing this meeting?”

 

I hadn’t. I told myself a couple weeks back that I wanted to read the first 164 pages of the Big Book again before I would do two things 1) Chair a meeting and 2) Take on a sponsee. Both are vital ways to stay engaged in the Program and be of service to others. And believe me, I’ve had some strange experiences with both. From guys who wanted to work the first three steps outside their car and thrusting themselves at friends of mine liken drunken prom dates desperate to become someone’s sponsor, to guys who thought chairing a meeting was somehow a position of honor and privilege and worthy of inherent awe and respect. I didn’t precise know what to expect from either role, but I knew I wanted to get through the most vital part of the Big Book before I did either.

 

“Well, you should finish that job and then start chairing the meeting. It would be you and Mitch and Mitch as co-chairs (that last “Mitch” is a woman. Damn I’m good at the anonymity stuff) I accepted the invitation. Equally important, I said I wanted to play cards this week and they all said “Sure.” So I got directions to Mitch’s house (different Mitch) and drove over there last night. And you know what, it was just a bunch of guys/Mitches playing Texas Hold’em but, and this is where it gets a little strange, no possible chance of somebody drinking too much and starting a fight or accusing another player of cheating or yakking on the chips. No emotions running high, so no fights. No booze, so no yakking. And If someone is cheating, they deserve to win because all the other players are just as sober.

 

After the game (I broke even. Another thing about sober Hold’em, nobody gives away their “tell” because again, they’re just as sober as you are. It’s like watching statues play chess. Nobody gives away a goddamn thing) I was talking to Mitch about my current situation. What with having a friend recently back out of our plan to live together, but also about not having a job and all the frustration and impatience that goes with that. Because we’ve been listening to each other talk in meetings for many months, he listened politely to my idea of getting a place by myself after I did get a job, then proceeded to politely rip me a new one.

 

“I lived at the Bradley House for 3 years before me and Mitch got a place together. I did that because I knew I needed accountability in my life. With you coming up on 18 months ….” He said and shook his head. 18 months to 2 years is the sweet spot for relapsing. You’ve been sober long enough to be out of the woods. You’ve also been sober long enough to think bad ideas are good ideas. You don’t think you’ve got your addiction licked exactly, but you do think that you’ve got enough of a handle on it to think you can maintain that handle without help. In short, your addiction starts playing tricks with your mind to get you to slip up. Pondering getting a place by myself, with a new job (that is, when I find said new job) probably ranks in the top three of worst ideas a newbie like me can come up with. The other two being leaving the country or attempting time-travel. Staying put at least for now, and moving out only with a solid plan with a heavy lean towards doing so only with another sober cat, is not only the best plan, it’s also the plan I had in place before. I need to only act when a similar or identical plan is in place. Where I live now, there are two mammoth demons held at bay every day by my housemates. One is the loneliness that inevitably comes with living alone. And the other is fear. Fear of trying to do this myself. Fear of the boredom that would inevitably lurk around every corner. Fear of getting cocky and over-confident and … and you know where this is going.

 

I had the presence of mind to walk out of the training class because I knew what the end result was going to be and I knew it was not going to be good. Though it’s difficult and though I don’t necessarily want to, I’m obtaining the presence of mind to know that leaving to soon might just be “leaving” forever.

 

Sometimes, the spector of guys who have come and gone in this house hang over my head. Sometimes, my tenure in this house plays tricks with my self-esteem. Sometimes, I feel like a sissy for cowering in this house when I should be out in the world trying to do this crap like a big boy. Sometimes, this place feels like a womb I’m not leaving yet.

 

I need to remember one, simple truth. Sooner or later, a baby does leave the womb. But not before it’s ready. Those that leave or are drawn out before they ready don’t last very long.  I don’t think I’m ready yet.

Superman!

Seam

I finally got it! Or more accurately, Mom got it with her phone. And in case you have any doubt as to the veracity of this photo, note the upturned ears and the fact that if he were standing in the floor and not leaping to greet you, given the proportions of his body to the rest to of the shot, he would be a 100 pound Cockapoo.

Thank you for calling …”

By the fourth day of class, I was more than lost. This was just another example of either A) How old I was or B) How everywhere you turn, things have been dumbed down to the point that they had become difficult for me to use because of how simple it all is. I guess I’ve gotten used to everything having some level of difficulty and now that everything seemed so easy, I was having a rough go of things. It didn’t help that I dragged along with me an 8-foot tall googly-eyed doofus.

 

Picture Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Or better, picture the enormous lovable behemoth in The Green Mile who is afraid of the dark. Now, picture a similar lovable behemoth dressed in blue denim overalls, but with only one strap fastened and peanut butter smears all over with huge filthy feet like a hobbit and a completely bald head except for 2 Homer Simpson strands on top. And imagine looking this behemoth in the eyes. Except when you gaze upon this mug, you see only two bug-eyed orbs bulging out of their sockets, one of them swooshes around randomly and the other is fixed in a gaze that appears to be at the corner of the ceiling behind you. That’s what sat at cublicle 20 (or “training station 20” if you want to get technical and annoying). And this fellow isn’t afraid of the dark. He’s afraid of toasters.  And he licks rolls of Scotch tape like a Tootsie Pop while drooling for fun. That’s what sat next to me.

 

The trainer had mentioned a couple times that they were only giving us the bare bones necessary to get on the phones and start taking orders. This was normally a two-week training course and we were getting the one-week version because it was so close to the holidays. That was all well and good. And the stuff about how quality the swordfish steak was and the level of care that went into the packaging and shipping (they put dry ice in the custom made syrofoam coolers with the company logo on the lid) was actually really interesting, as was the storage and “aging” of the meat during the preparation process and the level of quality that went in to choosing the, ahem, swordfish steak and that it was only fed the finest, ahh, sea weed. I was looking forward to cashing in on my employee discount and bringing home the finest Omaha­­­­ swordfish steaks for Christmas dinner. But in order to get to that point, I had to complete the training class. Tough to do with this much cargo breathing next to you.

 

“Now once you have captured the customer’s name and personal information and they’ve made their initial purchase, it’s time to move on to the upsells –“

 

“DO YOU SELL STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE? I LIKE STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE!”

 

The trainer paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and continued. “Now it can be anything on this list. The smoked chicken breasts, the marinated pork chops, just pick the one you’ve maybe had and liked or just pick them at random, whichever you think you’d be best able to sell and-“

 

“I LIKE SKITTLES!”

 

You see what I was dealing with? Unfortunately, this lovable ogre accompanies me everywhere. He usually keeps mostly to himself, playing with Play-Doh and spontaneously napping with his tongue hanging out. Though he has been known to speak for me, stammering and stuttering at important moments and always giving me wet willies when I see someone I recognize so I get distracted and can’t ever remember their name. His technical name is Brain Damage. My mom just calls him B.D. I call him Big Doofus. He calls himself The Ol’ Turnip (don’t ask).

 

On my fourth day of the training class, it was apparent that even if I “graduated,” it would probably take less than 2 eight-hour shifts before I was on the phone with a customer placing an order and, due in part to the Ol’ Turnips antics, I would trip up trying to navigate through this oh-so-easy system that I would run out of excuses, get flustered and anxious as is my wont, and flat-out piss somebody off and they would never call and order swordfish steaks again. I happen to like this particular brand of swordfish steaks a lot myself and didn’t want to be responsible for giving this Omaha-based brand of swordfish steaks a bad name. I’d be in the middle of a simulated order with my fellow trainee next to me who was just following the script.

 

“So, how thick are the steaks in the Triple Trimmer combo package?” he would ask. I’d be searching madly to find the key that pulls up details about the Triple Trimmers and the Ol’ Turnip would glance around frantically, then thrust a couple outstretched fingers at the computer screen.

“THEY”RE THIS THICK!”

 

By the time the class broke for our first 10-minute break, I knew that not only would I probably not pass the second assessment test, but I’d be lucky if the Ol’ Turnip hadn’t soiled his trousers and cried out “UH OH! BOOM BOOM!” right in the middle of something important like a breakdown of all of our commissions or where the nearest bathroom was.

 

I don’t know if my foolish pride would have let me do what I did back when I was drinking or not. But coming at things with a totally clear head, my future was stark and surprisingly relieving. I approached the trainer at the break and told her that this just wasn’t working. Rather than waste her time and mine and potentially the name of the Omaha-based swordfish steak company, I was bowing out with my meager ego still in tact and I would I live to fight another day. I interview for another job on Monday.

 

I just pray there is a Play-Doh convention coming up soon.

The Brilliant Prism of the Rains

In the trees overhead were a half dozen bird’s nests, splintered and sagging under a chilly November rain. The reminders left behind by the creatures headed to Florida as the coming winter chased them away. Yet, in their emptiness and dilapidation I saw the promise of the winter. Phil Jackson writes about the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the successful shot. I caught in the air the faint smell of the coming winter; the snows, the ice, the winds that force me to cinch up my scarf . But always, always, at the end of the winter comes the spring. Spring training in Florida and Arizona (funny how we go south as the birds finally say “Everybody suit up. We can go north again!” The picnics, the dogs returning to the park with their people, people who walk along with an annual glint in their eye. The layers of leaves on the floor of my park that will remain untouched by rakes and be left under the burden of the snow until the first melt. The eternal clock that wakes up the flowers and directs them to true north.

I walked steadily and with great measure to the bench where He sat. He patted the space next to Him on the bench. I pulled my headphones from my neck and put them in my hoody. We sat there, uncomfortably close to each other, for a few moments.

“Gonna be cold soon,” He said. He pulled a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels from a brown paper bag. He cracked the seal on the pint and drew from it, deeply and with sickening satisfaction. I lit a cigarette and blew a smoke ring.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” I replied and watched the three squirrels that had approached us. The one in the middle seemed the most curious and fascinated by us. He scampered almost close enough to our feet to touch. He cocked his head in nervous confusion and stared.

“Fucking insects,” He said and grabbed a large stick and hurled it at the squirrel, who took the hint and scampered away. I could only sigh deeply and drag on my cigarette. He was an ugly reality of my world that I would forever have to face. He wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t want Him to. He assumed a hunched-over position on the bench to mirror my own and offered the flask to me. I turned my head from staring at the bird’s nests to face Him. I licked my lips once. But because it was dry, not to whet my whistle. He shrugged with a smile and withdrew the bottle.

“Still no word from the Humane Society, I take it?” He grinned and flickered his eyebrows up and down.

“Still no word,” I said.

“Well you got that incredibly challenging and demanding gig hocking steaks starting on Monday though!” He clapped me on the back.

“I do,” I said.

“Hey, who knows, that just might pan out into a full-time gig hocking steaks to the plebes!”

“I hope it does.”

His smile flattened immediately “What?”

“I said I hope it does,” enunciating each word and with increased volume. “But if it doesn’t, so be it.”

He detected my maneuver and acted accordingly. “Yep, so be it. Then you’ll just have to go back to relying on mommy and daddy’s dole.” He had turned to face me. I faced Him.

“Not bloody likely,” I said calmly and dragged. I blew the smoke ring in his face. “I mean, yes, maybe briefly but I’m coming to accept that.” This caused Him to spit-take a cloud of whiskey all over the leaves at our feet.

“What?! Accepting that you’re nothing more than a useless trust-fund baby?”

“No. Accepting that my parents and my family and my friends understand just how powerful you are and their need to constantly remind me of that and not get bogged down in worrying about something as stupid and trivial as money.”

He took the bait. He just needs a way in and I set him up for the bear trap.

“That’s right, Ahab. I am more powerful than they even realize and I will take you again.” Just a little more.

“I know,” I said with mock meekness. “But just not now. Please, just let me get back on my feet.”

“Not only will that never happen, not only will you not get the job at the Humane Society you want so much, but you won’t get another full-timer until I decide to compound your misery enough for you to come back to me for good.”

Bear trap sprung.

“Of course, with a temp job, I will have a lot of time on my hands. So I’m going to volunteer as a dog-walker again. That’ll take care of serving that need.”

Again, his face turned to stone.

“And while I am at it, since I have all this time on my hands, I’m going to write the book about life since the brain surgery and recovering from that and recovering from addiction. Who knows, I might even give you some air time.”

He noticeable balked at this.

“What?”

“Yeah. I’m going to finally tell the story. Of all of it. Of every last painful, gritty, sticky part of this trip. I’m going to talk about you, about my fall from grace, about just how much I hated myself. Which is a lot. And how it started again. And I’m going to talk about you. But because I can never get rid of you. I’m going to write about that and how I shouldn’t want to.

I paused and looked up at the bird’s nest again and the grey clouds looming over them.

“The most important thing I’ve come to realize is that there will always be a spring, just as there will always be a winter,” I said as I surveyed the bareness of the trees that stood all around me. “My first time at the Humane Society, my first few months at Petsmart, that was a spring and a glorious spring it was because I had found my calling. And this, right now, has all the trappings of a markedly unwelcome winter. But winter never lasts forever. There is always another spring, another summer, another glorious bloom of the prism of color to expand upon my life. Spring will come again for me and it will come and it will shine a brilliance that stamps you out like an exploding sunrise stamps out the darkest night.”

He scoffed a half-hearted scoff and I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. “Big deal,” He said hollowly. “You know and I know that at the end of the day it’s just you and me. Working the temp job, working out, whatever. At the end of the day, it’s always just you and me,” he said and drank. He stood up and started relieving himself in the bushes. “Besides, you- Hey, where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m finishing my walk,” I said as I started my progress along the path again.

“I’m not done talking to you!”

But I’m done walking to you.”

Overhead, the gray clouds parted just enough to shine the smallest beam of purple, green and blue in my path.

My First Bard

Me and Bill Hoover

I had a rare treat today. 20 years ago, I had my first work published ever. Pretty impressive, right? Let me explain.

W

I live in Omaha, NE. 20 years ago, a fledgling arts scene was sprouting up in town and I was near the heart of it. I can’t say “at the heart of it” because that would imply that I had something to do with it. Which I most certainly did not. But I was near it. A lot of the guys who I knew in high school were just starting to record music together. It was so cool to be near the first buds of what would become Saddle Creek Records. If you don’t know, Saddle Creek Records is an independent record label here in town that actually started as Lumberjack Records. Lumberjack’s first recording was Water by a then 12 year-old kid named Conor Oberst. If that name means nothing to you, go to Google and type it in. Seriously. Open a new window and do this. I’ll wait.

See? Pretty impressive stuff. Me and one of my best friends (Greg, my AA sponsor) used to go over to Connor’s house and listened to him and all his friends play music in his basement. What we were listening to would prove to be some of the most killer music I have ever heard played by guys that would populate various bands over the years in Omaha and whose most recent manifestations are the bands Cursive, Bright Eyes, the Good Life, Mayday, the list goes on.

 

I forget how it happened, but me and Greg found out that some college kids were starting an alternative newsweekly called Sound News and Arts. We weren’t as cosmopolitan as we are now and so didn’t know that the concept of the alternative newsweekly had been progressing in bigger cities for quite some time. But Sound was Omaha’s first newsweekly (and would eventually become The Reader where I worked for 3 years as a staff writer) and me and Greg went over to the house of John Heaston and would just sit and soak up the vibe of these college kids who were trying something totally new. Me and Greg even had a poem we wrote published in one of the first issues, A Light Supper in Nietzsche’s Kitchen. And it was downright laughable. I mean come on. What could two little white boys from Omaha possibly know about Friedrich Nietzsche, let alone comprehend, let alone put into a poem, let alone allow that poem to get published. But we thought we were so cool after that. Then I suggested doing an article about the big brother of a friend of my brother who had recently started playing music at place I think called Kilgore’s (I know, very strange that I would end up naming my first dog that) and had recently gotten back to town after a sort of Jack Kerouac-esque trip across the country. Heaston was all for it. So I did the interview and wrote the article and it was published in Sound News and Arts. My first bona fide published interview with a “public figure.”

So what does all of this have to do with quantum physics? Well, Bill Hoover the “public figure” has become Bill Hoover the public figure and he’s been creating his own art and music for the last 20 years. Today, I went to a TEDx event at a high school here in town and Bill was one of the speakers. The theme of all the speakers was Boldness in Creativity and Bill spoke about his experience of being an artist and along with Bill there was a woman who started Girls Rock, a sort of day camp to get girls interested in playing music, along with a guy who has garnered international acclaim as well as sponsorship of companies for his work in getting Omaha its first skateboard park and designing skateboards and winning competitions among other things. After the show,  I approached Bill and, God love him, he remembered me and the interview we did together (he said he thought that he even saw something about the interview online but I had don’t have the Hotspot dollars to invest in finding it). One of my favorite authors recently did a speech for a TED event and I saw a couple other TED speakers do presentations that just blew me away (as well as getting me into some hot water with said author). And it got me thinking that this is something I should think about doing. I mean a TED speech. So I figured since I talked to a good friend of mine months ago that’s involved in TED, maybe telling my story and how it led to starting this blog was something I could do.

So anyway, that’s me and my first bard. Life is a wheel.

King James, Phillipeans and the Talking Snake

I have always loved stand-up comedy. I even kind of tried it once when I did a spoken word routine and told the story of when my brother and I got arrested for breaking into Wrigley Field. I have my list of the best comics ever and at, or at least near, the top of that list is Bill Hicks. Bill’s dead now, but when he was alive he contributed to the comedic canon some of the best routines I’ve ever heard. One of these is his bit about a capturing a Gideon. I won’t go into the whole routine, but I will provide this one snippet that’s just great:

“Who are the Gideons ? Ever met one? No. Ever seen one? No. But they’re all over the world putting bibles in hotel rooms. What are they ninjas, where are they?!”

David Cross also has a very funny bit about the Bible in which he addresses the abnormally long life span of so many of the Old Testament figures. There was a show on the History Channel recently that posited that maybe the guys that the Bible maintains lived that long were actually our alien overlords that spliced human DNA with that of the baboon and chimp to yield humans. A very entertaining show, I suppose, if you are a stoner Jimmy Johns delivery guy with the kind of time necessary to devote to a full episode of that show. But I digress.

I was raised Catholic and have 16 years of Catholic education under my belt. So whether I wanted it or not, I received a pretty thorough schooling of most of the Bible’s contents. I even took a class called The New Testament in college. So I’m not a biblical scholar per se, but I could answer quite a few questions on Jeopardy and giving the average evangelical preacher a run for his money.

Side Note: It always amuses me when people identify themselves as Christian as though they have something over on me. Hey buddy, I’m Catholic alright? We invented you. I especially have fun when I tell them that as a Catholic, all I have to do is cross myself and ask God’s forgiveness right before I die and Boom. Kingdom of Heaven for me! Gets them pissing brimstone every time.

I like many of the stories in the Bible. One particular one is the story of Saul/Paul and how he became a disciple of Jesus (I just looked up “apostle” and “disciple” at dictionary.reference.com and they say the two are interchangeable but I’m pretty sure “apostle” means one of the guys who followed Jesus around everywhere and were present at The Last Supper and when Jesus fixed lunch for a crapload of people and all that and a “disciple” was just someone who thought Jesus was pretty bitchin’ and the Son of God, etc.).

[Full disclosure: I realize that this post borders on heresy or at least would probably get me burned at the stake. Lighten up, Catholics, it’s a blog post. Besides, don’t the Catholics always boast about how merciful God is?]

A friend of a friend recently got wind of the fact that I dropped out of Vet Tech school. Her card was truly inspirational to me as she quotes Paul’s letter to the Philippians (Don’t even get me started on how or why Paul wrote and sent a letter to all the Philippians. I mean, did he have to copy it for every Philippian? How many Philippians were there?! What about the kids or the illiterate Philippians? Did they have the letter read to them too? Oy, the sad thing is I think about this stuff).

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

And she capped it with “Soldier on.” Pretty inspirational stuff, I must say. A truer sentiment than “Soldier on” you’d be hard-pressed to find. The funny thing is the same woman sent me a card which, before I started the Vet Tech program, was pretty ominous. She warned me against letting my heart sink in despair if this Vet Tech program didn’t work out. At the time, I thought “Hey lady! What’s with the disparaging passive aggressive encouragement?” Now, I realize what she was doing. Now, two months later, I just have to soldier on. Thanks Donna.

I Love Me

Unemployment does strange things in my head. I’m a writer with a wildly overactive imagination, even at the tender age of 37, so a case could be made that having this much time to fill during the day plays tricks with my head.
I don’t know who started it, but it seems to be a through line objective in my culture that the month of November, (at least, this particular November) be appointed the month when everybody has to stop and give thanks or feel thankful (a question of semantics or a bona fine difference in concepts? This is a question that a weekly youth group I was in in high school was plagued by and I’m not gonna try and answer it now, but it does demand some interpretation) for all the things in their life that should indeed be thankful for. This concept in itself is extremely strange to me. I mean, yeah, I get it, Thanksgiving is coming up and then Christmas and this is the time that one should take into account all the things one has in their life to be grateful for. But I mean, shouldn’t we do that, like, every freaking day. It’s like when Hurricane Sandy hit or the shooting in Newtown and the post offices were just inundated with donations blankets and food and the like. A more jaded person than myself (which is just a way for me to say that I am that jaded without accepting any responsibility for it) would cry out “Why can’t people give this much of a shit about each other every day!? Why does it have to take a tragedy for people to take the wooden stake out of their sphincter and pony up some of their hard-earned riches for those that need them? But thankfully, I am not that person.
Anyway, so this concept of gratitude has really got my wheels turning. This morning I read a blog post by a woman who listed 30 things in 30 minutes she was thankful for (Full disclosure: I haven’t finished the piece yet. I started it, then got the idea for this blog post and had to start writing. I’ll finish it when I’m done) This woman is extremely funny and I can’t believe I’m just realizing this now, but oh well. And her list of things to be thankful for is right up my alley. And it occurred to me. The thing I’m most grateful for is me.
Now, before you start thinking “Good god! How ‘bout the ego on this guy?” Let me explain. And I’m about to get very Descartes-Mind-Body-Problem up in here so if you don’t want to or can’t hang, bail now. And yes, I do have an ego massive enough to think that highly of myself, but that’s beside the point for now. No, I’m talking about my body. See, I survived bacterial meningitis. If you follow me and my blog and other online activities, you know that that is a very prominent topic for me. And if you are sick of hearing about, again, tough shit. You had your chance to bail and you’re still reading, so what does that say about you? A book I read recently called Proof of Heaven written by a neurosurgeon who survived bacterial meningitis declared that anyone stricken down by this disease has a .0001 chance of surviving. And I survived. So, marveling at the capacity of my body to recoup from this with minimal visible effects just makes sense. But I marvel at it like a guy in a movie theater marvels at a spectacular display of special effects and CGI wizardy like in Gravity or Fight Club. But more importantly, the fact that I did survive has allowed me to appreciate things on a visceral level. Like, take the last 24 hours. A more jaded person (again, me in disguise) would bitch and moan about living in a ¾ house at 37 years old and not having a job or going to school and not having a wife or girlfriend or kids or the fact that the I have that mammoth Achilles heel called alcoholism that has made the fact that I live in a ¾ house at 37 years old without a job or going to school or lacking a wife or girlfriend or kids pretty goddamn depressing.
But dig this (This is where the gratitude part comes in. Aren’t you glad you stuck around?). Yesterday I got to go to a movie with my Mom and Da and joke with them after the movie about how brutal it was and eat a bunch of movie popcorn with the radioactive butter sauce and way too much salt. And I get to futz around on Facebook with the Open Group For Bedlam Farm and all the friends I have made there. And I got to do something I can’t mention here because it’s a secret but somebody very close to me is going to be so psyched that I did it. And last night I got to eat chicken wings marinated in a sweet chili sauce I grilled the night before with way too much blue cheese. And I got to where a new shirt that makes me look pretty damn good especially with all the weight that I’ve lost and muscle I’ve built and totally shows off my pecs.
And I do this with a certain degree of separation. Me, the mind part, gets to watch Me, the body part, and be so grateful that I get to do all this stuff, it’s like a little party in my mind(body). And I am slated to start a new job next week and who knows, even though I don’t particularly want to, maybe I’ll meet the woman who will become my girlfriend and then wife and I’ll have kids with and then my Da will get off my back about having grandkids (I’m kidding. Da has brought this up like once and he was kidding. No harm no foul, Da) But you see where I am going with this? Me, the mind part, is so ever loving thankful that Me the body didn’t die. Truthfully, everybody should be grateful for this, really. Do it. Right now. Thank your body for breathing and digesting and ambulating and loving and all the other things that your body does that you might take for granted.
Today, I love Me. I hope you love You. I really do.