Modern Romance, Part 2

I was going to title this post “Modern Romance” with due homage to the band The Yeah Yeah Yeahs for their song of the same name. Then I went to YouTube and listened to the song and good god its depressing, not to mention incredibly pessimistic. Hence, Part 2.

Several months ago, my roommate told me about his girlfriend’s best friend who had said that she was eager to get back into the dating game. She’d read a lot of my blog posts and was duly impressed and wanted to meet me. So she came over one night and I made her dinner (that’s right ladies, nearly 2 decades of being single with no children has led to an acquired and cultivated ability to cook. At this point, I’ve been doing it long enough that I really only use recipes half the time and even then, it’s merely a guideline. The rest of the time, I just wing it and it comes out pretty well. I mean, I’m not Emeril material, but I could cook Rachel Ray under the table. I mean really, the woman adds garlic to everything and gets a standing ovation for it. Get real sister. You’re not supposed to add garlic to ice cream. Of course, I may have a bad taste in my mouth for Ms. Ray because my ex-girlfriend was one of those people who spent hours upon hours watching the show and never actually, y’know, cooked anything. That factoid isn’t on the laundry list of reasons I don’t talk to her anymore, but it deserves honorable mention.)

Anyway, me and Michelle (She was in the Program, but the name “Mitchelle” doesn’t sound right. Then again, when it comes to names anymore, who cares how you spell a name or even if it’s a semi-conventional name? My buddy’s son’s name is Dax and another woman I know named her son Jax. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if I was out walking my pet-sitting client Lucky and met a guy who introduced me to his son Multilax and did so with a straight face) dated for a little while but it was completely on her terms, which weren’t really her terms at all but those of her sponsor. That’s a relationship some people have with their sponsor, that of “What my sponsor says goes.” I do not have such a relationship with my sponsor, or anyone really. I went to breakfast after a meeting with my sponsor yesterday and, unbeknownst to me, he left while I was in the bathroom and I didn’t buckle over in tears or wander around the parking lot wailing and screaming like a lost child. I waited for him outside the restaurant and when he didn’t show, I left too. Anyway, after we had been seeing each other for a few weeks, it just got bizarre when Facebook Messenger suggested her as a friend. This really freaked me out because how did Messenger even know about Michelle? I mean, this falls into the “the computers are learning and we’re all doomed” War Games come The Terminator scenario many of us fear. But I ran it past her and she approved.

We only dated for a short time and I experienced a new social paradigm when she “unfriended” me. I didn’t really know to react. Part of me had a sort of “How dare she!” reaction before the smarter angels of my nature took over with “Oh Jesus dude, get over it already. If unfriending you and ghosting you has replaced keying your car or an all-out chastising for your ill-thought misdeeds, you got off light.” So I let it go.

Somewhere along the way, the whole online dating world ballooned into online dating for professionals at one web site, online dating for women looking for a baby daddy at another, interracial online dating, online hook-up sites for swingers and even online hook-up sites for those who want to cheat on their spouses. (I’m serious about this, I even have one friend who was knee deep in some of those sites. That’s part of the reason we gave him the name “Philthy”) Anyway, I recently subscribed to one of these sites called Pile of Fish and met a woman who, as far as I can tell so far, is very cool. A couple weeks ago, we removed the site from our stream of communication and exchanged numbers. After I entered her name into the Contacts app on my phone, the FB messenger app cross-referenced her number with “friend” suggestions and her full name and photos of her popped up. Good things about this include the fact that I saw more than just the one photo she has sent me of her (she’s gorgeous) and a little more of a window into her life that I have already from talking to her on the phone and, as of yesterday, in person.

Bad things about this include “WTF!?” I mean, I didn’t have that reaction as severely as I did when FB talked to my phone the first time and told me about Michelle. But it still creeped me out that Facebook and my smartphone are apparently having conversations behind my back and planning my possible futures. I really had to take a step back from the whole thing to realize that this is a uniquely seminal moment in the world of romance. In the old days, it was Emily Bronte’s story about Heathcliff and Catherine and a tale of pining after your true love. Now, we find ourselves building on the list of questions of courtship progress by precluding issues from “Should I go right for dinner-and-a-show or start with the coffee date?” and “Is it too soon for me to suggest we go away together for a weekend since we don’t even have any toiletries in each other’s bathroom yet?” and the really sensitive question of “When is it a prudent time for me to meet her children?” with a much more ominous question …

Is it too soon for Facebook?

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Him (Low)

“You’d probably have to do a pretty precise swan dive, but you could get the job done,” He said.

He was leaning over the railing on the six floor of the parking garage. The open-air floor; the one outside.

“Nice use of a semi-colon there, Few people even know how to use them anymore,” He said as He turned around to look at me. “Your talent for writing and $2.75 will get you a small latte.” He walked over and sat beside me leaned up against the elevator lobby.

“You thought you’d written me out of your system. Yet here I am.”

“Here you are,” I said and dragged on my cigarette.

“I thought you were trying to quit smoking,” He said and produced His trusty flask from His black cloak. “Well, you made a pretty noble effort to start the year off anyway.”

“I thought trying to quit smoking with nothing but time and access to the outdoors would be a fool’s mission,” I said.

He drank from the flask once, then again.

“Well you’ve certainly got the ‘fool’ part nailed,” He said before gagging and coughing the last pull of cheap vodka up onto His shirt. He cleared His sinuses loudly, then His lungs and spat on the wall of the lobby where the vile mixture slithered down to the ground.

“What was it you texted Dan? You decided long ago that you can’t kill yourself,” He asked.

“That’s right,” I said.

“Personally I don’t see why not,” He raised his eyebrows as it was a legitimate question in His mind. “I mean, every job you apply for turns you down. The job at QLI, the wheelchair thing, and now even your own company won’t transfer you because of the DUI. And that was three fucking years ago. Face it old buddy, this economy, this corporate climate, and every human resource director in the world has no time for prodigal sons. These days, if you don’t get it right the first time, you’re fucked. Nobody wants to give you that second chance. Might as well prove them right.”

“What does that mean?” I asked and turned to Him.

His lip curled up just a little. He knew He had touched a nerve.

“You’ve been saying since you started this bullshit that you were going to be one of the 10% who never goes back out. So what if you did, though? I hear you say all the time one of the best things about the program is y’all don’t shoot your wounded, right? So what if you’re not in the 10% ? Big deal! You go out after work to that strip club down the road from the airport, no one you know will see you there. You get tanked, maybe a lap dance, and you go home all smiles. Yeah, maybe you’ll be filled with shame tomorrow, but how will that be any different than you feel right now? At least you will have had that two or three hours of false happiness. Shit man, you deserve at least that right now. And it ain’t like you’ll cut your chances at a new job if you do because, well, let’s be honest, you’re not gonna get a new job anytime soon and people pull that stuff at your job all the time. Might as well enjoy yourself for a night.”

“I wouldn’t enjoy myself,” I said softly.

“Oh,” He said and finished the flask. “Why not?”

“Because I’ve already played the tape out in my head,” I said and looked at Him square in the face. “I would feel worse. A lot worse.”

“Tell that shit to the tourists,” He said. “You texted Dan and told him it shouldn’t be this hard. Well you know what pal, people got it a lot worse than you and if all of them jumped off a parking garage when stuff got hard, there’d be cars backed up to Pittsburgh behind all the ambulances. Maybe your uncle with two crappy legs from polio since he was 8, or your cousin with Tourette’s Syndrome and macrodegeneration. Or your friend getting her second divorce with two kids and $2 to her name. But you’re oh-so-special, this shouldn’t be that hard for you. You had that sickness. You came back from it and are trying to make sense of why. You don’t have a wife and kids so nobody will miss you except you’re sainted Irish mother and father and they have to, right? So get it over with already, you’re boring me with the melodrama. Either get drunk or jump off the ledg – where you going?”

I stopped and turned at the door into where the elevators were.

“You forgot the third option,” I said and straightened my tie. “Soldier on and live to fight another day.”

Admitting Triumph

Since I got sober, I’ve tried a few different things. I tried the Veterinary Technician program at a local community college and it didn’t work. I tried going back to work at the Humane Society and it didn’t work. Notice I’m using the words “it didn’t work” rather “I failed.” Andy Andrews said that failure is a myth and fear is an imposter. I didn’t fail at those things, I just tried new ways to earn a living and build a life and they didn’t work. I’ve been saying since I got sober that my biggest fear, the one I tried to drown in booze and drugs, was that I was petrified of learning that I came out of that operating room a stuttering idiot simpleton that my parents’ wasted all that money educating and who wasn’t capable of anything anymore. With the help of Miller Genuine Draft, Barton’s vodka and marijuana, I had convinced myself that there was no point in even trying.

In sobriety, I was determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t that stuttering idiot simpleton and that I was capable of so much more. And trying to convince my parents that all that money they invested in me over the years was somehow worth it. I was going to prove that no matter what. So, one after the other, the dominoes fell. This week, two things happened that brought this way station of my life path into extreme focus. Earlier this week, I went to the Nebraska Brain Injury Conference and two speakers grabbed my attention. The first was a woman who suffered a stroke, the collateral brain damage and left neglect, a type of paralysis of the whole left side of her body. She also wrote a book about the experience (that should sound familiar, at least to regular readers of this blog.) In that book she chronicles her trials and tribulations since her stroke almost two decades ago and the utmost importance humor has had in her journey (if you’re not noticing the similarities, where the hell have you been?). The second speaker was the Director of Psychology and Neuropsychology Services at the same brain and spinal cord rehabilitation facility I had speech, occupational and physical therapy in the time right after my throwdown with bacterial meningitis 10 years ago. During his talk, I got whiplash from nodding my head and was almost moved to tears 4 times in the first 20 minutes as he recounted what people typically experience, think and feel in the time immediately after a traumatic brain injury. The other thing that happened was I was turned down for a job as a Certified Nursing Assistant at that same facility. In the conversation I head with the woman I had an informal interview with, she recounted 4 separate instances between the time I first contacted her about the job three weeks ago and that day in which she felt I exhibited questionable problem-solving skills and a partial disregard for proper etiquette. Essentially, what I felt was showing initiative and eagerness to prove myself, she perceived as a pervasive lack of good judgement on my part in handling the situation. And apart from one point which I silently contested, she pretty much nailed it. She didn’t think I would be a good fit for a job that entailed trying to coach other people with injuries as bad as and, often, worse than my own, back to some semblance of a life. Realistically, I estimate that my injury was perhaps a 3 or a 4 compared to the massive setbacks that a great many of the patients there experienced and continue to deal with every single day.

I’ve spent the last three days coming to the conclusion that she was right. I’ve also come to the conclusion that my pride has been the primary culprit in my difficulty acknowledging that the cognitive disabilities I suffer and that, far more often than not in the last few years I’ve used as fodder for BD (brain damage) jokes, are very real and very limiting. I didn’t want to admit that to myself. Ever. When I first got sober, I thought I had made tremendous progress by forgiving myself for getting sick. And I had. What I didn’t realize was that it was going to be an ongoing process, that I was going to have to keep forgiving myself for getting sick over and over again depending on which life hurdle I was dealing with that day. Now and then, my family will preface things they say to me with “I know you’re brain isn’t what it used to be but …” then tell me I should remember something they’ve told me twice already. Or maybe they just wish I would remember those things because they get tired of saying them. I certainly do this to myself and it’s that deadly sin of pride each and every time that bears down on my psyche like some looming behemoth leviathan that fundamentally won’t allow me to admit defeat, even when that defeat is clear and present.

I had an appointment for an assessment by the state vocational rehab office in preparation for an HVAC class in June scheduled for next week. And the VR agent wrote me an email stating that I’m going to be experiencing many of the same problem-solving issues that would have defeated me as a CNA at the rehab hospital. She is absolutely right. So Friday, I contacted my boss about a position that meets a couple of my requirements for a new job within my company. More importantly, the position meets criteria for the kind of job I can handle with my disabilities. I have finally forgiven myself, again, for getting sick. And I have owned up to those disabilities, had a sit down with myself and negotiated, again, again, the terms of my future.

This time, I’m admitting triumph. Triumph over my pride in acknowledgement of my limitations. I still have the stutter in “stuttering idiot simpleton,” but I am not an idiot simpleton. What I am is a guy that had his deck shuffled and about 7 cards removed from the deck. Now I’m playing Solitaire with that deck. I’m going to find a way to win.

Determination: The Battle of the Mule, Part 2; The Sunshine Hula-Dancer

I believe it was almost 2 years ago that me and all the other members of the Creative Group for Bedlam Farm testified that we were seeing things in a different way. We were seeing the beauty in things we may have and probably missed before we began, under each other’s instruction, seeing everything, and I do mean everything from a dog to a cloud to a symphony, in new and exciting ways. A new member commented on this recently and it was a great reminder of how we must try, no matter life’s trials and tribulations, to see the proverbial needle in the hay stack of our lives.

In my more maudlin moments, and I seem to be having in inordinate amount of those lately (more so when I have to start work at 4 AM) due to entering my second month in search of a decent paying job with semi-normal hours and a little (okay, I’d prefer a lot of) room for advancement. Frankly, I get pretty depressed. I mean, having those academic conversations with myself about how much would I really be missed if I just … well … I’ll just say that today I pondered much my yearly earnings would match up against the life insurance policy my dad has on me. That’s right, the old “I’m worth more dead than alive” pity party. Don’t worry, I said it was an academic debate I was having with myself on virtually no sleep. Which, by the way, seems to be my go-to mode these days. I maintain a fairly large amount of calm and tranquility, but bubbling about three layers below the surface is a boiling lava pit of stress and anxiety about being my age with no marketable skills, a sizeable amount of cognitive dysfunction and really nothing but drive, passion, compassion and a willingness to learn to any job I interview for and it keeps up at weird hours. An old-timer recommended I definitely shouldn’t be thinking of quitting smoking during this stressful period and he’s probably right. And that’s another thing, I’m not even getting interviews. Despite my college degree from a prestigious Jesuit university and my 4 years of reporting, I’ve spent the last eight literally dealing with dog shit and my resume reflects that. So I figure it stands to reason that I get pretty down on myself, alternating between cursing myself and shaking my fist at the mysterious, monolithic specter of The Human Resources Department. It would be a little easier to handle if the reasons weren’t so numerous (you can tack on not having a girlfriend and only seeing your friends maybe once a week for a couple hours to the list too).

I’ll repeat something just so there’s no confusion. I am NOT thinking of taking myself out, okay? Just so we’re clear. Just like I’m not thinking of drinking again. It’s just that that is the place where my mind goes when the demons come. No more and no less.

I’m not a weirdo or anything. Yet it seems I have a soft spot for the younger people among us just out having fun. At least, it looks like they’re just having fun to us, their elders. I think they are tapping in to something that I in my advanced years (I know, I’m not that old, but I’m old enough) have lost touch with. It’s something that should live in our hearts regardless of how many times we’ve been on this rock’s carousel journey around that great ball of fire in the sky. I got in my car yesterday and was about to close the door to run some errand and saw this girl hula-dancing (there’s probably a proper name for what she was doing, but “hula-dancing” is what the printer in my brain spit out in big, multi-colored block letters the moment I saw her).

Girl dancing

She was, in that moment, completely filled with that something. It’s the same thing that made my roommate stop his car one afternoon to watch a couple little league teams on a baseball diamond. He didn’t know any of the kids or even who was playing. He just stopped to watch the ballgame. It’s more than seeing the beauty and the innocence. Innocence is too easy of a term to apply and it’s not exactly accurate. Really, it’s awe. Awe at the purity, the utter single-mindedness of the truest sense of the word “play.” Many of us forget how to play somewhere along the way. Jobs, kids, wives, husbands, catastrophe, death, and that most dirty of dirty words: multi-tasking. These all play a part in robbing us of joy, wonder and simple exalted amusement. It’s the simple, thin, scarlet poetry book within the staggering encyclopedic volumes of our everyday life. If we’re lucky, and we’re looking, we can find it again. For my part, thank father God and sonny Jesus I still recognize it when I see it.

I’m thinking about a lot of things right now. With some, the answers are simple. With others, they are decidedly not. And they all deserve due process of my deliberation. But the fact that I noticed the Sunshine Hula-Dancer, stopped to talk to her and asked to take her picture for my blog (she told me she was thinking of starting a blog too. Hey, y’know, why not? In this day and age of GoFundMe and Kickstarter and pre-pubescents claiming the title of Chief Executive Officer, why not indeed?) means I’m definitely not so far gone that the joy and the beauty has hidden itself from me completely. And that’s the thing that the Creative Group, and by association the king pirate himself, has done for me and the other members. You should try to find that something in your everyday day life, you really should.

A Slice of Pie, Please

“My native, hard-wired inclination to mix, intermingle, even fuse in my novels the tragic with the comic, the ugly with the beautiful, the romantic with the gritty, fantasy with reality, mythos with logos, the sensible with the goofy, the sacred with the profane. Critics hard a time with this approach, finding it challenging to comprehend how writing can be simultaneously ironic and heart-felt. Although to the nimble-minded among us, it seems every bit as appropriate as it does surprising.”

  • Tom Robbins, Tibetan Peach Pie

Last week, a friend tried to persuade me to stop calling myself a “writer.” A couple weeks ago, she had overheard me say to some out-of-town friends that “I’m a writer.” She told me to instead say “I like to write,” I guess because in her mind, a writer is someone who gathers their wages from published words they string together in publishable compositions. To me, there is absolutely no difference at all between that and what I do these days in writing for my blog or working, albeit glacially slowly, on my manuscript. Forgetting for a second that those same friends probably weren’t losing any sleep over the fact that I identify myself as a writer, that they were in fact not giving it a second thought, to call myself a writer is to acknowledge the one skill that I do well, whether I get paid for it or not. I was a reporter for a local newsweekly for 4 years and I got a paycheck for writing. These days, I have my blog and I write for it, for albeit unpaid publication, at least weekly. This may seem like apples and oranges to some, but it’s all the same fruit to me.

Many, many times over the years, I have used one phrase to best classify my writing. I have come to think of it as a mixture of the sacred with the profane. I knew that I had read that somewhere before but for the life of me couldn’t remember where. I recently finished Tom Robbins’ audio book Tibetan Peach Pie and there it was. I mean there it is, at the top of this post. Robbins has been easily my favorite writer since my brother first gave me Skinny Legs and All when I was in college. After finishing that book, I proceeded to devour every book the man had written since he first started writing books and have ravenously devoured every book he has written in the years after. Until, that is, I asked Audible what else I should read and entered the name “Tom Robbins” in the search field. The first book to come up was Tibetan Peach Pie. I finished it in about 3 days, give or take. And when I heard the narrator read the phrase above, I realized anew why I write the way I do. Robbins was such a powerful influence on me at that young age. I adored his stories because they addressed topics such as religion, politics, sexuality and money in ways that transcended the subject matter. It was like watching a dog looking in the mirror and calling itself a dog, then laughing hysterically. Because it is, after all, a dog. I know that may not make a lot of sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to me. Robbins spent a few years in Japan and, and like any self-respecting Buddhist, doesn’t call himself a Buddhist. Yet the influence of his time in Japan seeps through his writing like sap from a maple tree. Robbins also spent a few years in Omaha at the Air Force base here, so it’s very possible that he and I literally drank the some water and I was lucky enough to ingest some of the Robbins mojo. I listened to the book with great pleasure and noticed something else about his writing I’ve adapted into my own. Because I have a fairly sizable vocabulary (it expands all the time because I am, well, that guy) I have noticed Robbins love of taking ordinary, mundane subject matter and presenting it with such a beauty and eloquence that it’s easy to forget you’re just reading about his younger days in Podunk, West Virginia (that’s not the actual name of the municipality where he resided. It’s merely the nomenclature I opted to apply to a hamlet of such miniscule importance that it may as well share that name with hundreds of other communities within that particular commonwealth and region [see what I did there?])

Because of my love affair with the English language (don’t worry, I’m not married, so it’s more like puppy love), I have adopted another trait from another of my favorite writers, George Carlin. You may be thinking “Wait, Carlin was just a stand-up comic” and that is true, but in an interview he gave once, Carling identified himself as a writer first and everything else second. He was a writer who performed his own material (and went on to arguably the most successful career in comedy to date). He savored words and expressions, was fascinated by them and drew strength from them. He questioned the use of words and often lost his shit because of their misuse. I, too, have questioned the reasoning and justification behind sayings that, for example, address Nebraska’s need for rain and the logic behind figures of speech we use every day like keeping ones trousers fastened snugly around ones waste when frustrated. I do this because A) I can do it pretty well and am often pretty funny when I try and 2) This crap keeps me up at night. Not necessarily in that order.

A friend of mine is a musician and loves to talk about all things music. That’s not really what he does, it’s who he is. I don’t have a marketable still in this economy, but I do have one that is engaging and entertains people. I mean, you did just finish this post, right? When I say “I’m a writer,” I’m not trying to elevate myself over people and I’m not claiming rights to any special skill. Chief executive officers officiate. Plumbers plumb. Writers write. I’m a writer. It’s not something I do. It’s who I am.

the Cat Needs Water

“I love smiles and laughter. If one wants more smiles in one’s life, one has to create the right conditions for it.”

  • Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism

These things happened this morning:

  • Upon waking, I posted a song by Antonio Vivaldi on Facebook. I do this most mornings. I recently took a month or so off from Facebook and have been told a few times upon my return that my presence was missed, which made me pretty happy.
  • I was sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor and the cat got in my way. Again. I pushed her, forcefully, out of my way and cursed at her. To be clear, I didn’t kick her outta my way or even push her with excessive force, but there was an air of “WTF dude?” in her screechy little meow.
  • I went over to tend to Lucky the Golden Retriever, my pet-sitting charge this weekend. After I fed him, chastising myself the whole time for getting testy with the cat, I took him for a walk. In the middle of this walk, I turned up a street and Lucky didn’t seem to mind at all. This is rare because Lucky always seems to get a little miffed when I walk him because I don’t take him on the same walk as Rosemary, his human and my parents’ neighbor does. Right after I made the turn, the very same Vivaldi song came radiating out of … well … nowhere really. It just seemed to be emanating from a string of hedges.
  • Before I went to Rosemary’s, I texted my Mom and told her I would be at the family Easter gathering this afternoon after telling her yesterday that I wouldn’t be there. She texted and told me that I had made her glad.
  • Before I took the walk, my father came outside and gave me a gift. I hugged him and told him happy Happy Easter. Then me and Lucky went for the Vivaldi walk.
  • Last night, I went to a multiple-martial arts event with some friends. I don’t pay attention to MMA, but a couple guys suggested it as an alternative to the weekly poker game we play and it was good to get out and be with the guys in a social setting. After the fight, me and a couple guys talked on the way home about the crowd at the fight, motorcycles and our collective ongoing frustrations with the opposite sex. As my friend Mitch said, the change of scenery was pretty therapeutic. This is the same guy who routinely “gets” my topics for our AA home group meeting and recently took over for me as co-chair of that meeting. It’s safe to say me and Mitch pretty much “get” each other. I could say the same thing for all the folks who attend my home group meeting. Including another Mitch, who’s room I took over when he left the sober-living, or “squat,” house we both were residents of almost three years ago.
  • Later today, I’m going to get a new laundry basket. My roommate needs one so I’m going to get him one and I really hope he doesn’t take it as a sign of frustration at the fact that he routinely uses one of my laundry baskets. I hope he takes it as a sign that I realize we need an additional laundry basket, so I bought one. And I hope it makes him smile.
  • When I got home from Lucky’s house, I mopped again and noticed Buttons the cat needed water. So I filled her water bowl. She didn’t smile because, unlike dogs, cats don’t smlle. But she did lick my fingers with her sand-paper tongue before she drank. I took that as a good sign.

When all these things happened, it made people, a dog and a cat smile. Me, the Mitches, my Da, Lucky, my sainted Irish Mam, and Buttons the cat. So what’s the profound message I garnered from all these instances of kindness, friendship and love?

I don’t have a profound message. It’s really a pretty simple message. Create and contribute to conditions of positivity, laughter and kindness all around you every minute of every day. You will find yourself a happier person because of it.

That is all.

Happy Easter.