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Candy and Cigarettes

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why I Hate Texas

It seems that with all of my Texas bashing of late that I am giving some of my Longhorn friends a complex.  Yes, I do despise the state, and a lot of those reasons are political, and ideological, and philosophical, and other "icals," but those are cosmetic reasons, really, blemish cream, cocktail party fodder.  I said I wouldn't talk about bipartisan issues, and I'm sticking to it.  So though I fucking hate that cocksucking fucking state, I do so for a better reason than the political.

It is the state where I lost my second wife.


After I got sober, I thought I should be doing some things in order for a change.  So I got an education, restored my credit, and I got a new wife.  My first wife, Hadley, and I had been divorced for a while, even though the paperwork was just drying about the time I was proposing to my second wife.  Who we can call "April."  It's not her real name, because the only time I want to see her actual name is when I look in the mirror.  It is inked into my chest, right next to the demon holding my ripped out bleeding heart, serving as a reminder for what I a dumb ass chump I was.

Another thing I did after I got a sober, besides making a piss-poor choice for a second wife, was reconnect with old friends, ex-drug buddies and otherwise who I lost track of during "the salad years."  Some it would turn out had died, others were in prison, or Wisconsin, which I guess is the same thing.  And others were online.

Two of these we can call Todd and Marty.

Those aren't their real names either.

Todd and Marty weren't part of the SF scene, really.  In fact, Gluehead used to ask why I even let them hang around.  They hailed from the South Bay (who the fuck chooses to live in the South Bay?), and had been in some of the worst-named bands ever, including but not limited to "November" and "Ardor."

But I liked them.  Especially Marty, who was a gentle, skinny, sweet soft-spoken kid who seemed to idolize me.

Marty didn't do drugs.  He drank a lot.  He sang real well, and I thought he wrote decent lyrics.

Todd was sort of a douche, with no neck and a blocky longshoreman body, the kind of fat prick who shaves a line in his beard to give the false impression he has a chin. Covered in tattoos and bullheaded, and one of the least flexible guitarists I ever met, he had a soft spot in my heart as well. He wasn't as likable as Marty, nor was he as attractive, and considering that Marty himself wasn't particularly attractive that's saying something.  But he sort of looked up to me too.

Our relationship and how I got to know these two is convoluted.  It involves a drummer we shared, but mostly it concerns their both liking me and thinking I was something special.  If you like me and think I am something special, I can overlook just about any character flaw.  "Yeah, he's a dictator and killed a lot of Jews, but he he likes me, thinks I'm special.  Give him a chance.  Just overlook the goofy mustache and let him hang out with us."

Anyway, after I kicked the junk, I reconnected with Todd and Marty, who were two of the gayest heterosexual men you'll ever meet, Todd playing the husband and paying the bills, while Marty going to culinary school (I shit you not).

So how did these two clowns ruin my marriage?  Well, to quote Bruno Kirby: "Infidelity is just a symptom."  To which Harry replies, "Yeah, well that symptom is fucking my wife."

Todd had flown out to see me in CT around the time I had proposed to April, who had done a great job selling herself.  As I've always said, when she wanted to be my girlfriend, she was the best girlfriend, and when she wanted to be my fiancee, she was the best fiancee, and when she wanted to be my wife, she was the best wife. And when she wanted to be none of those things to me anymore, she turned that fucking switch off like a fucking light.

Todd and Marty were still living in SF when April and I flew out for a visit.  I wanted to see Gluehead and Kelp, Tom Pitts, my cool SF friends, but Todd and Marty were squeezed in for a dinner, and it was nice having those two singing my praises all night, because they really did think I was something special.

Fast forward.  April and I are married, I'm in grad school, Todd and Marty are in Houston, TX, where Todd works and supports the family.  I exchange occasional e-mails with both.  It would turn out, April and Marty had been e-mailing.  A lot.

When it came time for my annual trip to SF, April pressed me to go see Todd and Marty in Houston instead.  These guys were never that good of friends, not like the kind you shell out a plane ticket to fly and see, and call me dumb, naive, but I didn't suspect anything from my wife.

Three days in Houston, three days in hell, and it all makes sense now, later, after the fact, when the dust has settled, smoke cleared, and any other trite military analogy you want to throw in.  The important parts to know: when it comes time to leave, April and I are fighting, and she will not get on the plane.  Still, I don't suspect my friends of anything.  April had been moody of late, and she was very young.  In the end, I talked to Todd down by the pool at midnight before my flight.  He said, She probably just needs time, and who better to trust her with than us, two of your oldest friends.  Leave her here.  You can trust me.

So I left her there, thinking in a couple days she'd fly back, and even just writing this now, I feel like a goddamn tool.

You can guess the rest.  Phone calls unanswered, waiting until I was gone from our Miami apt. to pack her bags and fly back to Houston, a relapse and near-death experience, a quick return to the hospital, back in grad school, getting a hotter girlfriend, another even closer near-death experience, and then a return to SF, landing a hotter wife, making some money, writing some books, and having the greatest kid ever.  So, in short, to quote Charlie (and Adam): winning.

Or maybe that's just a wee bit of justification, posturing, the spackle of a splayed open heart that still hasn't healed and oozes self-loathing and disgust and shame.

Who knows?

All I know is, rather than blaming myself, it's easier to blame fucking Texas.



In a happy ending to this story of betrayal and cocksucking friends...

I never saw Marty again.  And frankly, I couldn't have hit him; it'd be like hitting a girl, he's so soft and dainty.  Skinny fat.  You know the kind?  Rail thin without a toned muscle.  Like walking human veal.  But Todd, him I saw.  He's a big guy, and he'd given me his word.

It was for Dan's wedding, when I flew out with said hotter girlfriend, to San Francisco.  Dan was marrying his longtime sweetheart Yuri, all the Boys of Belvedere were there.  Good times.

The bachelor party was at Zeitgeist, the bike bar way down there on Valencia.  This was about five months after my motorcycle accident.  I had literally been walking without a cane for, maybe, a week.  I hadn't spoken with Todd since the incident.  I mean, I'd called a couple times, but when it was clear she was staying with them both, that they were laughing at me, that I was a joke, I stopped calling.  I got it.  Hoodwinked.  You got me, kid.

Anyway, I walk into Zeitgeist, a little early, although "limped" is more like it, and who do I see, sitting there with friends in the crowded open patio drinking a big beer and smoking a cigarette.  Fucking Todd.  And the douche has the nerve to stand up.  With wide open arms and a smile, he says, "Oh, wow, look who it--

And I dropped that fat ass fuck with one punch.  Best goddamn punch I've ever thrown.

And it felt fucking good.

10,000 Hits

I was talking to my agent, Michele, yesterday, and she reassured me that we hadn't "tapped out" yet with publishers for the memoir.  She went on to tell me stories of her greatest successes (in the face of seeming failure), and one involved a woman, who started a blog, and got some a lot of people to follow.

I said, "Well, I've been averaging close to 1,000 hits a week."

"That's good," she said, "especially for a blog just started.  But this woman was getting like 10,000 - 20,000 hits a week.  We eventually had publishers lining up, even though I don't think she wrote as well as you, because publishers could see her marketing platform translated to guaranteed sales."

I felt like a little boy again, like when I drove by Tracy Bartlett's house on my Huffy and her douche bag boyfriend was picking her up in his Fiero.

10,000 is a lot of hits.  I sent out an impassioned plea on Facebook yesterday for advice, of which I received a great deal of good advice.  But the best probably came from Duane.  Who said, "Um, before you can shoot for 10,000 hits a day, don't you need 10,000 hits?  Like, total?"

Yesterday we stood at 6,400.

So, yeah, Duane, probably shooting a little high.  But there is a reason people like me shoot so high.  On the surface, it may look like it's because I am ambitious, pro-active, want to succeed.  But that's not the truth.  The truth is, I set my sights so high, not in the hopes that I will attain these lofty goals, but rather I do so knowing already knowing that I will fail.  Which will give me an excuse to hate myself. Which is what I do best.  Besides being in love with myself.

Like they say in AA: the piece of shit at the center of the universe.

Only I don't do AA.  I fucking hate those meetings.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


So I am reading this Saturday at Ed Ivey's place, Mason Social House*.  At my own event, Lip Service West.  But before you accuse me of hubris (guilty!), you should know that I have to. One of the readers I was planning on has a scheduling conflict, and so I'll bravely step in and fill the slot.  Question is, what to read?

Lip Service West is short, "gritty, real, raw" true stories.  Got plenty of those.  But I'm also kinda sick of reading from the memoir (however brilliant it may be).  I don't want to be Rick Springfield playing "Jessie's Girl" when I'm 50.  Since what I've been working on lately has been the early stages of a new memoir, one that doesn't focus so hard core on the drugs, I figure that's where I'll go.  And since the memoir is mostly being fashioned from this blog, I plan on reworking a blog post for the reading.


I'm thinking of going with "Another Rocky Sequel," 'cause Justine likes it, and it's a little different, and I talk about my kid, and no one can give me shit for reading about my kid, especially when it's not a cutesy story.  Which we don't allow at LSW, and for which I'd have to kick my own ass.

But I am open to ideas.

So to my fans out there (Sean, Esther, Shawn, Jimmy, Duane, et al), just wondering if any of these pieces grab you.

(And, no, I can't read "Vampire Love," Jess.)


* Also on the bill: Tom Pitts, Greg Kim, and Harmon Leon, all TERRIFIC writers. So if you live in the SF Bay Area (or really continental United States and aren't a pussy afraid of adventure), you should be there this Saturday, April 2nd, 7pm, Mason Social House, 50 Mason, SF.  The event is FREE.  Everyone is super cool. And there will be enough free hot dogs to fill an arc.  Oh, for the encore?  SPAD head honcho Idan "the Machine" Levin, a pit of Jell-O, and three words: Israeli Belly Dance!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Balloons, Balloons, Balloons

I don't know what we were called at this point.  Puddle.  Milk without Love.  Lunch with Dick.  The Insensitive Lemmings.  But I do know there were only three of us, after our bassist, Emit, quit because of my alcoholism, and the fact that the band sorta sucked.  It wasn't the band's fault, really.  I put this one on my shoulders.

This would've been the spring of 1993 or somewhere around there.  I wasn't doing that many drugs, but I was still out of it, wide-eyed small town boy living in a big city world.  I was a mess.  I'd do speed when I could, or anything else I could, which was mostly weekends.  I drank a lot.  But I still had a job, a good job, making good money, and a nice place in Noe Valley.  I was falling apart...spiritually? conceptually?  compartmentally?  Hell, I was 23 and yearning.  That's all you need to know.

So the band sucked, but like I said, this wasn't Chris or Dan's fault.  They were just two degrees removed from almost hitting it big with their former lead singer, Adam Duritz, whose Counting Crows were about to take off.  Here's how far out of it I was, or rather how self-absorbed I was: Dan and Chris apparently talked about the Counting Crows and how they'd helped write those songs and the impact it would have on their own chances, and it wasn't until long after "Round Here" came out that I even made the connection.

Like the unholy melding (i.e., rock 'n' roll sin) of rock and rap, Puddle/Milk/Lunch/Lemmings tried to force two ill-fitting genres together, in this case, the melodic and catchy with 7/9 metal-tinged time signatures.  There are only a handful of acceptable time signatures in rock 'n' roll.  Really, 4/4, with the occasional sped-up waltz.  Odd timing signatures are the stuff of pimple-laden Rush denizens who look like Garth from Wayne's World.

Still, the bigger problem was that I couldn't sing.

Twenty years later, I've learned how to do it better, how to stay within my strengths, or rather how not to thrash and warble in my weakness.  Back then, singing to me was trying to get as high and grating and obnoxious as possible.  Which may've worked better if I was caterwauling over three fast chords at Gilman.  But I was, as I am now, a poet at heart, and one who loves pop music.

We were a study in incomparable contrasts.


The show was at Brave New World, and I'd be playing bass.  I was actually a decent bassist.  Not good, like Big Tom or Soupy, but I'd played bass with my band Something Like Paisley in CT.  SLP worked because no one played outside themselves, we knew... Ah, hell, the band worked because I wasn't taking drugs (uppers totally fuck with your ability to hear pitch) and drinking constantly.

I think it was a Wednesday.   Since I joined the band, our shows were going downhill, Bottom of the Hills on Friday had become Brave New Worlds on Wednesday.  No one was there.  I mean, I remember seeing like six or seven people at spread-out tables, including band member girlfriends, and there must've been a birthday party there earlier because there were a lot of balloons.  And I remember it was raining outside.  It was an ugly night.

I was drunk.  Really drunk.  A pint of Wild Turkey, whose 101 proof I'd find out is a lot stronger than Jim Beam's 80.  I don't how long after we'd started, how many songs in we were when it was obvious something was wrong.  Obvious to everyone but me, that is.  Apparently, I'd tuned my E a half step off (probably because I was seeing double), made worse by the fact that I was oblivious.  I don't think the other guys knew exactly what was happening; it was only when I'd thump away on the E.

It was brutal. The sound guy was laughing at us, Chris and Dan recoiling in shame--I mean, here they'd been almost making the big time, only to be relegated to a crappy Wednesday night with a shithead, asshole lead singer too drunk to realize he'd tuned his bass half a step off.

After the show, Chris quit, and I remember walking home in the rain, feeling sorry for myself.


Dan and I played together for years.  We got a little better, but he finally found a band perfect for him in the dreamy pop Hollyhocks (they play this Friday, 4/1, at the Hotel Utah, SF--[free plug, Dan!]).  I eventually sobered up, found and still have, the more Americana rockin' Wandering Jews (5/5, Red Devil Lounge), so it all worked out.  I guess.

Chris moved to that fucktard town of Austin.  I don't know if he's still playing music, stupid odd time sigs or not.  But apparently he still holds a grudge.  He won't accept my Facebook friend request.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Big, Gay, Aggressive--and Coming for You!

Rich and I did our weekly run yesterday.  Almost 9 miles, a good clip and a new route that took us through the back end of Aquatic Park.  Coming up on the final stretch, it brought it all back.


Last summer, the Bay Area parched in its annual late June drought, the sun lingering longer than usual in solstice, Rich and I had time to run one weeknight when he got back from his job in the city.  He works at the de Young, our by the sunset, far removed from our Eat Bay digs, a haul, which meant we usual couldn't run together during the week, only Saturday mornings, but the extra daylight afforded us the rare chance.

We weren't running 10 miles back then, just a couple.  Aquatic Park's 2.2, which was perfect.  My hip couldn't take much more than that back then (this was before I'd learned to push through the pain and keep moving like a shark), and Holden was on his way, Justine the size of a small tugboat, and so a  couple miles was a good distance.

Rich and I had run Aquatic Park plenty.  A gravel track that turns into a lovely little path, where out-of-shape hipsters in checkered pants and novelty handlebar mustaches play Frolf (frisbee golf) on Saturday mornings, the park often seeing families and shaggy dogs and little Mexican birthday parties at the BBQ pits and jungle gyms. There's even a little dog school at the finish line where someone recently opened a cafe.  All in all, a wholesome place to jog.

On Saturdays.  During the day.  A wholesome place.

We'd heard the stories about the far end of the track, a little section that cuts over by the freeway at about the halfway point, how it was an anonymous hookup spot for homosexual men, local non-profit health agencies even going as far as to hang packages of condoms from trees to help prevent the spread of disease.  But you hear a lot of stories.  When I lived in Berlin, CT, there was a rumor about Pygmy Village, a savage, uncultivated society of little people who lived at the top of a long mountain road (by the new DMV) and who would jump out from the trees and throw shit at your car if you drove up there (I shit you not.  We really had this rumor.  And, yes, I drove up there with friends once, scared shitless).

Since this little section was by a freeway entrance I frequently used, I'd drive this loop of Aquatic Park there after the gym and I would see an abnormal amount of trucks and dudes just sitting by the water.  But there are a lot of factories over there and you could see it would be a nice place to have lunch.  I didn't see any heads bobbing in the front seat or anything, and after a while I concluded that the "condoms on the trees" was just hetero paranoia.

I'd once written a line (from the Wandering Jews' 1996 hit "My Gay Love Is Free") that goes: "I'm big, gay, aggressive--and coming for you."  The song ends with the narrator catching a ride home with a big gay guy who suddenly turns turns aggressive in a small space, because this was pretty funny to us.  I don't know why exactly.  In fact, when I'd try to play this song when I'd go back east, people didn't laugh.  They looked...concerned.  But we're hip in San Francisco, sardonic, irreverent; we take nothing serious (except our deep internal pain of being perpetual outcasts).


It was probably around 7:30, 8 p.m. when Rich and I rounded the loop.  We were racing against the clock.  It was getting dark fast, the sun having long set, and there are no lights in Aquatic Park.  I can't speak for Rich but I was concentrating on my breathing, trying to keep my alignment and stride consistent, because after the accident my back gets out of whack, and then I start favoring my hip, and everything goes all herky-jerky.  My iPod drowned out all natural sounds.  It was just me and the music and my breathing, like a deep sea scuba diver or Darth Vader. So immersed in my own little world, I was startled by the dark figure looming over me.

It didn't hit me at first.  I just thought, "Wow, this is a weird time to be out walking." The park is supposed to close at dusk, and you can't see frisbees this hour.  I dodged him, but soon another was in my path.  And another man.  And another man.  My eyes adjusting to the evening gloam, I could now see them everywhere, men emerging from behind trees and from under rocks, wandering slowly like zombies in search of flesh.

And rumors ceased being rumors.

Now, I'd like to say I was a better friend.  I mean, I remember exchanging a look with Rich when I realized where we were, what was happening, and he saw it too, and we both picked up our pace.  But I didn't look back.  I thought I might've heard Rich slip and fall at one point, but if he did, and if I heard it, I only ran faster. You're on your own, buddy.  When you enter a sea of randy homosexuals on the prowl in the bushes in the dark, it's every man for himself.

It was a good half mile before I let up my pace, and I was relieved to find Rich still there with me, his clothes a little ruffled maybe, hair a little pawed at perhaps, eyes a little shellshocked, but he was in one piece.  We both were.  Alive.


It was shortly after that Rich and I stopped running for a while.  Maybe it was because my son would soon be born, and it'd hard to get out of the house. Maybe it was because my hip and back needed some pain management and a chiropractor. Maybe it was because Rich had his Brazil camp to organize.  Who knows.  We did not speak of these things.  It mattered little.

We've since returned to running together with a renewed vigor.  New goals, new paths.  And maybe it is just a coincidence that we never run Aquatic Park at night.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Like a Rice Cake and Lettuce Sandwich--No Flavor

I bruised my knuckle hitting the heavy bag.  Or maybe I sprained it, or fractured it. I don't know.  But something is definitely wrong with it, so while I wait a couple days to let it heal, and while storms and heavy rains continue to assault the Bay Area, I've got to get my cardio elsewhere.  Last night, I rode the exercise bike in our garage.

Compared to hitting the bag or running, the bike is pretty boring.  So I picked up a Chronicle.  Actually it was last Sunday's paper.  Like one of those weirdoes in a station wagon, I collect the damn things.  Anyway, I made the mistake, for like the 1,000th time, of reading Parade magazine.

Parade is a fascinating story in no story, the art of non-offending.  35 pages of saying nothing.  Interviews with actors go something like this:

Parade: So what advice would you give to the kids out there who want to try acting?
Actor/Actress: Never stop believing in yourself.  And listen to your parents (unless they are pedofiles and/or drug addicts.  In which case, report them to the proper authorities [this last part implied]).

It is a magazine entirely devoid of any personality or edge.  I haven't really been following the whole Charlie Sheen debacle (except for my personal trainer, Adam, shouting the occasional "Winning!" as I am blasting my pecs), but the only way you are seeing Charlie Sheen in Parade is after he cleans up, stars in a wholesome sitcom about a preacher and his talking goat, with a headline like "My Long Road Back," and there will be nary a mention of the dirty things Bree Olson does (OK, that part I picked up on.  I mean, she's almost my ex-girlfriend we've been intimate so many times).

You can picture the editorial board's selecting of stories and interviews for Parade, and the pain they must take in aspiring to see that no one is the least bit offended. There are lots of pieces about soldiers returning (but never the conflict's origins or anything remotely bipartisan), old women who take in stray cats (but never delving into the lunacy that is owning three or more cats), someone's harrowing ordeal with danger (but without terribly intimate details), all ending well, one way or another. Feel good stories.

It's OK.  I get that not everything is going to be Kathy Acker's Don Quixote or even Pulp Fiction.  I just wonder who is the market for this stuff?  I mean, fucking Peanuts.  Fucking Peanuts wasn't funny the first time, and now Chuck Schultz is dead and the fucking thing is still running reruns.  Who the fuck opens up the Sunday Paper and rushes to see the same lame Peanuts' cartoon for the 700th time? Full House ran for, what, like 20 years?

This isn't a political rant (I promise Duane/Jimmy), but even my right-wing friends want some edge to their art (they read this, don't they?)  Where do all these easily offended people live?  Not SF or LA, NY or even Miami.  Not the coasts.

The Midwest.  All these fucking people live in the Midwest.  Or Texas.  Which is why I hate anything not on the coasts, and you can fuck all of Texas (including Austin).

I gotta go.  Holden is eating my phone cord.  Again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jimmy's Big Fight

Something Like Paisley had been playing Scarlett O'Hara's in Hartford.  In CT, this was sort of a big deal, like the SF equivalent of Bottom of the Hill or maybe the Independent.  We'd only been playing together a year or so, and had recently crossed that threshold from "shitty" to "not bad," which had our late adolescence brimming with hope.  None of us were riding out of Berlin on our athletic skills, so maybe it'd be rock 'n' roll.

This would've been around the time of our breakthrough album "Youth in Asia." "Breakthrough" because we'd been on the radio.  College radio, the tape given to a friend by a friend at Trinity, but still.  Driving around town, flipping through stations and picking up your own tune?  A pretty sweet fruit.

So this show at Scarlett O'Hara's was memorable for a few things.  One, I had just started drinking.  This would've been right around the time of my first arrest.  So I am pretty sure at one point I took off my shirt and may've...yes...put my long hair in a ponytail.  And, no, I am not proud of these things.  And also, my best friend, Jimmy, would beat up the bouncer at the end of the night.

But first, the show...

SLP really was a special little band.  One of the lesser tragedies if life, like Cinderella says, is not "know[ing] what you got till it's gone."  I thought this rock 'n' roll was easy, could just start another band and recapture the magic because, egotist I was (am?), I was the magic.  But a band exemplifies wholes greater than sums.  Or is it the other way around?

For those new to the blog, there is an earlier post that talks about members and whatnot, so I don't want to repeat myself.  But a quick recap.  This lineup would've been Me on bass and vox, Chris on guitar and vox, Noah on lead, Jim on drums, and Greg on alto sax.  Our sound?  Think "garage band with art rock pretensions" as li'l Patty Foster liked to say, and this being the '80s, the birth of alternative, and the saxophone, and you can add another ska/college/Jesus Jones element if you'd like. (I hid my Springsteen pretty well in those days.)

Chris and I split the singing and songwriting.  At first.  But like most partnerships, the dominant personality eventually takes over, and by this time, it was probably more like 70/30 me.  Which sucks because I was best working with Chris.

So the show rocked.  There were girls.  Or at least a girl.

And Jimmy was there.

Jimmy Soyka was my new best friend.  He was two years older than I, and very cool I thought.  He drank beer and once dated Jodi White.  And if you don't know who she is, well then you probably didn't live in Berlin in the late '80s.

Jimmy lifted weights and used to wrestle.  He was probably in the early onset of alcoholism.  But nobody is an alcoholic at 22.  He was just a good looking guy with surfer hair who got good-looking girls and had impeccable taste in music and liked to drink.

And he had a temper.

Jimmy came to all our shows.  Sort of like Barry B. and the Creeping Charlies. But, y'know, taller, and without the glasses.

We rocked three sets.  I remember we opened with Dave Gimour's "Cry from the Street" and that we played this super-fast punky "I Am the Walrus," totally skipping that gay "sitting in an English garden" part.  It would've been somewhere between fan favorite "My Father Thinks I'm Gay" and Noah's note-for-note "Sultan's of Swing" solo that the "ponytail" incident occurred.

And Jimmy started losing his temper.

Jimmy has a problem with alcohol and losing it.  Last time I took Jimmy to a bar was after my second divorce in 2005.  His fiancee had just left him for a wide-hipped Irish chef.  He was not in a good space.  After the bar shouted last call, Jimmy began looking around the bar, shouting at any woman still there, "Whore! Whore!"

This night, the object of his scorn was the bouncer.

Who knows what set Jimmy off.  Maybe it was that the bouncer looked like Kip Winger.  Or that his beer had gone flat.  Or that he didn't like that last Jesus Jones' song we played.  But when we finished it was close to 2, and packing up, Jimmy hung with the band.  The bouncer said since he wasn't in the band, he had to leave. Jimmy did not like this, and he challenged the bouncer to a street fight.


We all gathered in the middle of Scarlett O'Hara's little alley.  Jimmy was a buff guy, but the bouncer had about forty pounds on him.  'Cause, y'know, he was a bouncer. But like I said, Jimmy used to wrestle.  Like a cat, he pounced!  Or...rather, moved quick enough to land several punches to the bounders head.  Problem was, Jimmy smoked.  A lot.  And it had been years since he wrestled, and though he was still pretty buff, he was also developing a bit of a paunch.  After those punches, Jimmy was finished, winded.  He still had enough to out-point the bouncer.  So for most the rest of the fight, Jimmy used his footwork, huffing for breath, in-between calling the bouncer a cocksucker.

Remember: the line score the next day doesn't show whether the hit was a screeching liner or a bloop.  And in the record books, this goes down at the only time I've seen a friend beat up a bouncer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Collective Unconscious

It's not quite as heady as the subject title might suggest.  Camus, Objective Chance, even Chomsky, these are only things I only broach from the abstract these days, in theory.  Maybe I always did, since I can't seem to recall a damn thing this morning, high in the hills, where heavy, wet fog tarps the foliage like a goddamn tropical forest at dawn.  Not that I've seen a fucking tropical forest.  Except in pop culture. Which forms the basis for 99% of what I seethinkfeelbelieve.

Could go a lot of directions this morning, as the rain thumps angry on the skylights. Could talk about the crappy movie Justine and I saw last night, a mildly amusing romantic comedy (I refuse to say "rom com"--much like I refuse to watch American Idol or Jersey Shore.  And everywhere programming directors choke with bated breath.  Who gives a fuck what I think?  It's been 6 years since I was in a meaningful demographic.  Unless Matlock plans on making a return, no one gives a shit about my viewing tastes), only notable because it co-stars SI's luscious Brooklyn Decker, of whose my ogling almost precipitated a fight.  I could talk about my fat cat who keeps shitting in my new house because he is too scared to go through the fancy electronic cat door.  Instead, I'll tittilate with ruminations on the writing process.


Sorry, I fell asleep.

Rather, let's talk about the reading process.  Namely, my reading process, as in the reading series I produce, Lip Service West.  LSW has been doing great, landing top-notch talent like Alan Kaufman, David Corbett, Eddie Muller, Herb Gold, Joe Loya, Wendy Merrill, and a long list too long to mention.  And we've been getting press and drawing to capacity.  This is normally an East Bay event, sponsored by the San Pablo Arts District and Idan "the Machine" Levin, but lately we've been taking it over to Ed Ivey's place in the city, the Mason Social House.  In January, we had my buddy Matt and Wilson Gil (of Wilson Gil and the Willful Sinners' fame) and Jenner Davis and Ed Ivey, and Tony DuShane read (I just started Tony's Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk.  Good shit).  

I bring this up because we have another reading at the Mason Social House in a couple weeks (4/2, 7pm, come on by).  A reader short, I am thinking of reading myself.  I haven't read at a Lip Service West event since I started it up out here, because reading at my own event is tantamount to that kid who used to dress up in his favorite baseball team's uniform every year for his birthday party.  Which I did. So I've established precedent.

So I have to read because we don't have enough readers.  And I don't know what to read.  Lip Service West is 1,500-word true stories.  Our tag line is "gritty, real, raw." Perfect for my memoir.  Except I'm not sure I can read from it.  I still think it's brilliant, and I would be reading with Tom Pitts, who is in the memoir, but there has been a strange backlash.

I am overly sensitive.  Anyone who knows me knows that.  Don't let the bulging biceps and tattoos fool you.  I am, at heart, a sensitive thug (heavy on the former). Even so, I feel this tide of public opinion overwhelming.  It was like we (believers in the book, my agent, et al) had this window of opportunity with Junkie Love, several publishers and editors nibbling.  Then one took a bite, held on, thrashed...but we lost her.  And everyone else.

It really does work like that. 

I was talking to Pete Ffrench, drummer for the Wandering Jews, one of my oldest friends, who we'd hired to paint Justine's other house that she is renting out.  Picking up supplies at the Home Despot, I explained this perceived backlash to Pete.  

"It's like what happened with my band [Pieces of Lisa] twenty years ago," Pete said. "Nobody knows what's 'good.'  You have these executives who think you might be good, because there was Nirvana and so every band with loud guitars and slightly off-key vocals might be the next big thing.  So they're circling your waters, waiting to see.  Then someone bites.  Or doesn't.  Then you're forgotten.  And no one wants to touch you because your moment's passed.  You were part of that thing that didn't catch.  So now you're damaged goods, a reminder of what failed."

The quiet desperation of the would-be artist.  Rocky if he wasn't Rocky...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Places of Displacement

Couple interesting bits I came across this morning before starting work.  I mean, actual "work," like the kind where I get paid, as opposed to writing, which is more of a hobby these days.

I don't actively seek out the news.  I used to care about what was going on in the world.  I wanted Mumia freed.  I thought starting wars was bad.  That kind of stuff. But now news only depresses me.  I can go long periods without reading a single bit of news.

I remember back in 2004, after the Yankees lost four straight to the Red Sox in October, shutting off all news, so much so that when in, like, March of 2005 a friend commented on the tsunami that had laid waste to Thailand, I was, like, "What tsunami?"  Though that may have had more to do with avoiding ESPN and CNN Sports than any need to hermit.

Still, I don't like the news.  Because it's sucks and is sad.  I'll read the sports sections if my team wins or I need to get fantasy football tips, and I still read the newspaper if I am on the exercise bike, but even then I only glom onto the oddball stories, with characters and plot lines I can later cull for my own work.  Air strikes and NATO and global warming?  Not so much.

But I like Yahoo News.  'Cause it's dumbed down, simple, not depressing, and if something "big" is happening, they'll have it, and I won't feel like a fucktard not knowing an asteroid is slated for impact in two days.

This morning, two things caught my eye.  One, Florida has the highest rate of vacancies.  And, two, the US has some castles for sale, all of which are in New England (or upstate NY) where I grew up.  Starting with this second one first, I don't know why I find it funny, except if you live(d) in New England, it makes perfect sense that this is where the castles would be.  I've been around a lot, and you don't see many castles these days.  Not too many in Texas or Minnesota, but, boy, New England sure has a bunch.  Fuck, we had one almost in our backyard, and there is even a little one on I-84 on the side of the road as you head south.  We had Castle Craig and Gillette Castle.  I mean, you grow up seeing castles everywhere, you sort of develop a skewed worldview.  What isn't a disappointment after that?  You pack your bags, set out for adventures across America, but there are no more castles.  I figured by this age, I'd have at least a decent moat and drawbridge.  But I can't complain.  I do have a high hill and Justine, who is sort of a princess.  I also have her mother, who is a dragon lady, so maybe it all breaks even.

The other bit, Florida.

I fucking hated my time in Florida.  It's a suckball state--hot, sweaty, filled with incompetence and stupid fucking poems about abuelas.  It's not just that I got divorced there and almost died.  It really is a shitty place to live.  It's not only the people and culture--and here I should clarify that I actually had a lot of friends and people I really liked in Florida, but even they didn't seem to "like" where they were living; it was more like they were stuck there, sucked down and trapped in the tight clamp of America's asshole.

So it's never a surprise when I read articles (on Yahoo) that feature the wretchedness of Florida, and in particular Miami.  The article this morning talked about all the cranes and unfinished buildings along Collins and A1A, and I could see the bums again sleeping besides the Lamborghinis, could feel the heat cooking my skin at 7am, could smell that awful food (seriously, a fucking ham sandwich with a goddamn pickle and mustard?  This--this--this is your signature food.  SF has the Mission burrito.  NY has pizza.  Miami has a fucking ham sandwich), but then...

I am on my bike again, heading to C-Love's, and I have so much possibility, and the sky is cloudless and blue, and I've got some big ideas for books that will change the world, and I can still smoke, and I am getting stronger...

Holden Caufield was right.  Don't ever start writing about the people and places you used to know.  If you do, you start missing goddamn everyone.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Good Seasons? Not Exactly

When I sweat these days, I smell like Good Seasons salad dressing.  I don't know if you remember Good Seasons salad dressing; I certainly haven't seen it around in NorCal, where we treat salad with respect, and its dressing with reverence.  When I was a kid, salad was iceberg lettuce and Good Seasons Italian salad dressing, which was like this little packet of herbs that you added to (vegetable) oil, and voila! Salad.

It's not that we couldn't afford better.  My parents had money, my father small town rich, with the four bed- and three bathrooms, which I've finally gotten back.  It's more that my mom didn't know better.  Maybe nobody in Berlin did.  We were a simple folk.  We didn't go for that fancy lettuce like them big city slickers.  We had iceberg.  And we had Good Seasons.

And now when I sweat, I smell like it.  Which is weird, because I didn't use to smell at all when I would sweat.  In fact, I didn't sweat; rather, like a woman, I "glistened." But now I stink.  And I have hair growing out of weird places.  Nobody sees this because I am meticulous in my personal grooming.  Except for combing my hair, as we are in an ongoing argument, and I see no reason to hold up my end of the bargain until certain demands are met.

I hate getting old.  I know.  Who doesn't?  But it really sucks for me because I have finally figured out diet and exercise.  All through my teens and early 20s, I tried like fuck to exercise.  Jimmy and I used to weight lift at the Community Center, and I've seen old photos of me back then, and I had some guns.  I also boxed.  I sucked. But I could've been good.  But I had no fucking discipline.  Now I have the discipline. Exercise is a religion.  This was partly decided for me because of the accident. Like a shark, I need to keep moving or I'll die.  But I am also in a place where I recognize that I can't eat cheese pizza or a burrito late at night.  When you're young, you can eat practically whatever the fuck you want.  Try eating a donut at 40, and you can literally feel your ass swell.

So now I eat right, I exercise, and my body is falling apart.  Getting old blows.  My buddy Jimmy tells me he hasn't had a solid shit in four years.  And Petersen?  Fuck, that guy is like 70, and if he was a horse they'd have shot him by now; he has legs and knees for appearance sake only.

You see these really old people with all this hair growing out of their ears and off the bridge of their noses, and they can barely move, every task, however menial, a goddamn chore, grunting and laboring just to lift the lid.  And we're all getting there.  Little by little.  Day by day.

I am a stop gap.  What I do delays the inevitable.  I am a band aid on a busted leg. A torn condom versus the ejaculate of life.

And I stink like salad dressing when I sweat.

Welcome back, friend.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Return of the King

Moved in.  Still unpacking, and will be for a while.  Back to regular posting on Monday.  Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Last House on the Block

Our last day in the old house.  I think I just saw Holden crawl.  He's been doing this wounded solider thing of late, where like a fallen gunner behind German lines, he drags himself by his incredibly strong upper body (he is my boy, after all).  He always makes for the cords.  Kid fucking loves cords (takes after Glue).  I thought (foolishly) that as he got older my life would be easier.  Can't remember why a baby who slept 20 hours a day and didn't move was such a burden, but I long for the days when my son was, essentially, a pillow who shat.  Kid don't stop moving now, wriggling and worming, and now apparently crawling.  And our new house has stairs.  Lots of stairs.  Jesus, what have I done?

We also have the new heavy bag already installed.  Went to work on it yesterday while the carpets got cleaned.  My reaction time is a little slow, sure, and can't really drive with the right hip, but I'm serious about starting to fight again.  I'm running a marathon a week (not in a row!).  No reason not to.  Nothing big, y'know, locally.

That's it, Jimmy.  Time to hit the gym and start building some hurting bombs.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Moving Pt. II

Move into the house tomorrow.  Got a view of the Golden Gate and the whole of the city.  My kid's got a good head start.  Life ain't so bad.  Starting next week, I'll be back to regular blogging.  Until then, enjoy this shitty clip of the worst video ever made.  My way of saying thanks.  (Seriously, this sucks balls.)  Shalom.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


As Jimmy pointed out these posts are getting shorter.  But as I told Jimmy, that is only because I am moving.  Or have a kid.  Or am getting married.  Again.  Or am trying to keep afloat my sinking literary career.  Or am dying a slow death inside. Can't be sure.  Probably the moving.  

Jimmy's neighbor shot himself yesterday and it fucked Jimmy up a bit, mostly because I think Jimmy didn't expect to be fucked up by such news, the "he seemed like such a nice guy" tragedy.  And I know how he feels.  It isn't how close or not close we are to these people who check out like this; moreover, it's such actions make us realize how little tethers us to this life, how little of what is inside us is actually known by others.  And it's scary shit.  

I've had a bunch of friends kill themselves, some good, some less so, but it's always the same...shock.  Even with the ones you expected, can't feign surprise over.  

I suppose some people wring their hands, ask "Dear God why?!"  Not guys like Jimmy and me.  These actions only remind us just how hard it's been to stick around this long.  

And, yeah, I'm about to close with some Billy fucking Joel.  

I believe I've passed the age of consciousness & righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.

OK.  Time to pack some more boxes.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Family

We're moving this week, sixteen trips up to the hills in my little Honda Civic, meeting with contractors, picking up furniture and boxing bags, which means my posts might be few and far between in the immediate future.  But I need to write something every day, even if it is simply a declaration that I need to write every day, because it is time to start another book, and I don't need to have my brain cramping up on me.  Writing first drafts sucks balls.


Justine and Holden had to go to LA this weekend for a funeral.  I went from constant frantic hectic non-stop "Lucky-stop-licking-the-baby's mouth" and "Holden-don't-eat-daddy's-computer--cords to...nothing.  There was no Justine complaining that I hadn't read the baby books and therefore wasn't properly participating in "sleep training," no squirreling away minutes to write, no waking up in the middle of the night to the baby's wailing or, worse, not making any noise, prompting me to hover over his crib, sometimes resorting to giving him a little shake to make sure he's still breathing.  Everything was calm, peaceful.  And I missed the noise.

It felt empty not having my family around.  I got a lot of shit done with the move, scheduled a lot of appointments, took care of business.  But when I'd come home to eat my steak dinner, the old house empty, quiet, it felt somehow wrong, and I could imagine what my life would be like, ten years from now, if I don't do this right.  It isn't about the money, and it isn't about getting published.  It's about finally being a man, taking care of what I care about, like my wife and kid.  It just made me think, "Don't fuck this up, Joe."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Aftermath

The first thing I did after the accident was look for her.  I knew something was wrong with my body when I stood up and started trying to walk on the highway, away from my pretzeled bike.  I could feel the parts inside me broken, collapsed, bleeding.  The car that cut us off on Highway One in North Miami was stopped up ahead.  No one was getting out.

It’s not a cliché to say time stops in moments like that.  Or maybe it is, but it doesn’t make it any less true.  It’s snapshots, off kilter, irregularly cropped, askew.  You have a million thoughts going through your head, and at the same time you are blank.  You just can’t help feeling: I really fucked it up this time. 
It wasn’t my fault.  I knew that.  The last thing I remembered was seeing the black car, thinking was there’s no way that car is going to turn now, it’s too late.  But it turned, and the damned thing was drifting over two, three, four lanes, and in my head I know I am going to hit, I know the girl I love is going to be hurt, and it doesn’t make a difference if it isn’t my fault.  She’d gotten on the back with me because she had no doubts I could keep her safe, just like I was beginning to think I’d always like to keep her safe.  I was falling in love with her.  Not the first time, of course, but in a lifetime of falling in love, what, maybe twenty, thirty times, each one is pretty goddamn special. 

Once that bike hit the pavement, I knew, even if only somewhere deep inside those breaking bones on that bright blue Florida winter’s day, that that was it.  I’d violated the one thing you can’t violate with a woman.  I’d failed to protect her.  That, and I figured there was a good chance she was dead.

Walking unsteadily on what would turn out to be a shattered pelvis, broken back, and busted femur, I saw her, twenty yards away, crouched in the sawgrass on her knees.  I heard her moaning.  Her helmet was split in two but she was moaning.  She was alive. 

A stopped motorist grabbed me by the back of my neck, because by now I was coughing up blood, and I sort of stumbled and dropped into the tall weeds next to the train tracks, whatever adrenaline that had gotten me upright to check on her long gone.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Boys of Belvedere: Dave2 & In Whose Interest

So for this latest round of submissions my agent suggested we change the title from Junkie Love.  Part of the opposition we've met has to do with the subject matter. Universally, the writing has been praised, hailed, extolled...  They've liked the writing but have been apprehensive that yet another book on drug addiction can sell.  Of course, the book isn't really about drug addiction; it's about growing up. It's about a white farm boy from a little town with big dreams who hits the city, loses his band, watches the needle... well, you get it.  I don't know much, but it's damn good book.   Anyway, my agent thought we should change the title.  Which we did for this last round.  It is now The Boys of Belvedere.

And it is a fitting title, since this is where is all starts.  Well, not really.  There's a bunch of shit that happens first, like what my lousy childhood was like and all that, but for the sake of the memoir, it begins in San Francisco at a house on Belvedere Street.

I like lists.  It appeals to my meticulous nature, I suppose.  It's why I like editing so much, compartmentalizing.  So for this next series, I think I will give some brief character studies and face time to the folks at that house.  Sometimes I will change the names.  Sometimes I won't.

Let's start with Dave2.


We called him Dave2 because there were lots of Daves, just like there would later be lots of Toms.  But I didn't know these other Daves.  I heard one played in a band with Dan Jewett, whose band I just joined.  I think we were called Puddle or Scooby Snacks or some other goofy name.  This other Dave played in a band with Dan before I got there called the Himalayans, which would morph (without Dan) into the Counting Crows, so there was a little musical buzz going on at that house.

That house was 23 Belvedere.  And I'd never seen anything like it.  I'd broken up with my girlfriend, had been looking for a band when I found Dan in the SF Weekly, and he brought me to that house.

I don't want to rehash too much, since I covered this house enough in the memoir that we named the book after it.  But Rick Springfield ain't playing a show without singing "Jessie's Girl," and I can't talk about San Francisco with talking about that house.

One of the odd things about writing involves your going back and finding what's available in the memory microfiche, these little celluloid snippets that play in your head, say, when you think back to 1978 or '83 or '92, what surfaces.  Some play muddled, muted, others crisp, vibrant.  And oftentimes when the event itself is occurring for the first time, you know how deeply it is about to be engrained.  23 Belvedere was that kind of place: the holes in the wall and vomit on the ceiling, the fires that had been started, dishes that were never going to be washed, the empty Jim Beam bottles, and the long-haired hippy haters.  There were no bedrooms, only places to crash.  The words "merry pranksters" would come to mind, except that I'd probably be punched for eve suggesting it, because nobody at that house liked Ken Kesey or anything to do with San Francisco's '60's reputation.  At least not like that. These guys were troublemakers, agitators, not looking for the spotlight, just pushing that most noble of pursuits: art.

Maybe it was because everybody was 23, or that it was in the early (i.e., fun) stages of drug use.  The problem with drugs isn't that they don't work.  Quite the opposite, and before they start sucking the life out of you, drugs are a lot of fucking fun. Guys like me, I couldn't stop.  But for most, you can do drugs on the weekend, get a little nutty, and you get some fucking good times out of it.

Hold on.

Sorry.  Got a little sidetracked.  Damned fucking stream of conscious.

This was supposed to be about Dave2, and, dammit, it is going to be about Dave2.


Dave2 is probably the smartest guy I know.  Certainly the smartest guy in rock 'n' roll.  Reminds me of Tom Morello (without the shitfuck rap/rock fusion).  Knows more about global politics and the dogs of war than anybody I ever met.

Interestingly, I probably got to know Dave2 best after I got sober.  I mean, I knew him.  I'm sure we talked about stuff, maybe even politics, but I was so fucking high in those days I barely knew what planet I was on.  I remember Dan, Rich, Mike, John Wayne Newton.  And John.  And of course Darren/Brian.  (And this weird guy Andy, who always wanted to go to museums.  He'd be all, like, "Hey, guys!  Wash the puke out of your hair and get dressed--there's a new exhibit at the MOMA!") The girls, Tracy, Sydney, Carolin, Sam.  Dave2, not so much.

But when I got sober, I discovered this new thing, the Internet, and somehow Dave2 and I reconnected.  (I really don't know how I found all these people again.  This was pre-Facebook.  I was in CT, back in school, and hadn't seen these guys in years.  Probably Dan.)

So Dave2 and I would talk via e-mail.  This was 2001, just after 9/11 and Iraq and all that, and like all ex-junkies I was raging ageist The Man and government. Stupid, immature viewpoints, mostly.  Not that they weren't grounding in some reality.  I mean, if you look around and aren't outraged that you pay more in income tax than Exxon, or that the richest 400 people in this country have more money than half the United States, or that kids sleep in abandoned freezers down by the river, then you don't have a soul. But this is a vast topic, hard to put a finger on, store the vast wealth of knowledge.  Or me and my amphetamine-riddled brain couldn't.

I remember I was having a political debate with a Republican classmate, and this guy was pretty smart, knew all these stats and numbers to support his views.   I was getting killed in these conversations.  Then I asked Dave2's helped.  Mutherfucker is a walking/talking politico tome.  Within a day (with Dave2's help), I'd bitch-slapped that classmate down.

I had read some Chomsky in rehab, Deterring Democracy.  And it was pretty overwhelming.  I liked a lot of the quotes, like "The capitalistic ethic treats freedom as a commodity.  It is available in principle; you can have whatever you can afford to buy."  Because I am a writer.  I like words.  Dave2 actually understands them.


I am not going to try to summarize Dave2's brain, summarize what he knows. Because I can't.  And he can do it better.  So But I am going to link a film he made that just might change your life.  Or at least your views on some stuff.  Or maybe it will only reinforce what you already think, or make you mad.  Either way, it will disturb you, which is what all great art should do.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


I ran ten miles yesterday.  I think I have a stress fracture in my left foot.  There's only a certain kind of guy who is going to run ten miles with a restructured (right) hip.  I am that kind of guy.  It is not an attribute.  I am obsessive.  This is a bad quality.  Or rather it can be a bad quality.   It can also be a good quality.  Pushing to 7 and a half miles yesterday, for instance, would've been a good thing.  Going to 10, not so much.  It's not that 10 miles is that long; people run a marathon a day (well, one guy did--he wrote a book about it); it's more that because of my lopsided body (I am 3 cm taller on my right side because of the pins in my hip), my running motion is all herky-jerky.  Plus, I am a big guy (210 lbs.).  So add those two with the arthritis, running is probably not the smartest idea.  So why do I do it? Aside from the obvious (trying to stay in shape, stay limber [activity is important with the arthritis], get ready for Bay to Breakers), it also is one of the few tranquil moments I get.  Because my head is a non-stop hodge-podge of relentless activity, from contemplating what kind of cancer I have, to what terrible tragedy wilt befall my son, to why Dear God couldn't the Yankees sign Cliff Lee?!  Running quells these thoughts.  So in effect I am obsessive to combat my being...obsessive.  Figure that shit out.


I was talking to my sister yesterday.  Her name is Melissa Nicole Clifford.  She lives in Boston.  The last time I told her I mentioned her in my blog, she was woefully disappointed in her lack of air time.  So to remedy, let me take a few minutes to tell you about my sister.  She's one of the brightest spots in my life, one of the biggest reasons I was able to get sober.  Melissa is 12 years younger than I, and I always felt like when our mom was dying, she held on long enough for me to be in a space to properly care for my sister.  I can never do what our mom did.  But I try.  And it is a priority in my life.  Melissa is a super-winner, and will soon have her Master's.  She has our mother's sparkling personality, and after a rough start (Miss spent a lot of time in hospitals watching those she cared for hurt), she has great things in store for her.  I wish I had half her attributes (better, kiddo?).

So we were talking after I called her back when I was leaving the gym, and she'd mentioned my obsessiveness.  It's true.  And it goes all the way back, really should've been a portend for things to come.

I guess it started with the...thoughts, these odd and ends that would worm their way into my gray matter and taking root, refusing to move, and then when a light was finally shined on them, they moved all right, worming deeper and out of the light, always a step ahead.  Crafty little fuckers.  This is why I have cancer.  Or think I do. Constantly.  And every other malady, at one time or another, all the junkie diseases, and when I tested negative, I'd have to retest and retest.  And when enough of those were finally negative, that's when the cancer started.  Throat cancer.  Skin cancer. Cancer cancer.  The other day I had toe cancer, I shit you not.

Medication helps.  Prozac, serotonin re-uptake pills, and they work.  For a while. It's more like they soften the sharpest edges.  But when I was a kid, I didn't have medication, so that left me only with the thoughts, which you can't really explain to someone like your mom, like why at 9 I'd be consumed with imaginary battles in my head over good and evil, forced to repeat certain words like mantras to save the soul of man.  Or why when I first started reading, I developed this game with myself where after every line I read, before I could read the next line, I had to make a perfect circle with my head. Perfectly.  If the circle wasn't perfect, without pause and no deviation in the spherical arc, I had to do it again or I wasn't allowed to read the next line.  As you might imagine, I didn't finish a lot of books.

Not much of a wonder I turned to drugs, is it?


Over the years, you learn to navigate around this stuff.  Sometimes force yourself to ignore it; sometimes it's just easier to tap the curb three times before stepping into the street.  It's all about effective time management.  The really fucked up part is, when you go back to check the stove for the seventh time...and you find that it is on.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Taxes and Politics

Not quite the zing of "Twilight," but this title is sure to get...about four people reading it. Now normally, Joe (that's right, Joe's going third person on this one) doesn't like to philosophize on the political.  Because it's stupid.  Joe has one rule for talking politics: find out what the other person's view is, and if they don't agree, don't talk politics (and if they do agree, try to limit the conversation anyway).  But one thing Joe does care about is JOE, and when Joe's life is being directly impacted (something, say, a presidential election rarely causes), it is time to speak up.

As I've mentioned, we are buying a house.  One of the great things about America is even a guy such as I, who has made his fair share of mistakes and missteps, can still be good looking enough to marry a pretty girl and get a house loan.  Very cool.  

So as we're about to close on this thing, we look at the bill, which includes about 87 different taxes--property, real estate, view, tax for a name beginning with a letter in the alphabet, I mean, fucking taxes, taxes, taxes.  And I am not against taxes.  I understand their need.  I like having roads to drive on, and I am not some libertarian/tea party douche.  Yes, government is populated by gigantic asses, because government is selected from a larger gigantic ass pool.  We can quibble over left or right, or whether my unborn child deserves health care, and wars and all that.  I'll respect your opinion.  Even if it is wrong.  

But how the fuck is it that I have to pay taxes and about 2/3rds of corporations doing business in the United States don't have to pay any?  Not one fucking dime. Now, granted, I haven't done extensive research on this.  Heard it from Peteresen. Did a quick Google search.  Got all the ammo I need.  I am writing a blog, not an article for the Times.  So feel free to find fault with my logic (all 4 of you).

And another...oh, never-mind.  Just do a Google search.

I don't pretend to know "how this all works."  I am sure there are people out there who will explain why it is actually good for the economy.  And they might be persuasive.  The emperor looks great in his new clothes, which will one day trickle down to you.  At the Salvation Army.

Maybe I am a simple man.  But I am pretty sure $10 billion is more than I make.  

What difference does it make, really?  These are abstracts, numbers, articles, conjectures.  The data can be skewed to support whatever position.  I get that there are other variables.  Mostly basic humanity.  It's easy to outline "left" and "wrong," but the truth is, like my buddy Dave 2 once said in his awesome documentary, In Whose Interest?: In whose interest?  Vantage- and viewpoint are everything.  Who doesn't try to circumvent the system?  We steal pictures off websites, we download illegal music.  How is this any different?  Using the rules in place to get around having to pay money.  

Believe it or not, my gripe isn't with the corporations or the evil 5% of rich, old white guys.  They are protecting their interests, right, wrong, moral, immoral, whatever. It's human nature.  What pisses me off are postmen of modest means in Florida, who are arch conservatives railing against Nancy Pelosi and socialism, like a black man supporting the KKK.  Now I love postmen, I really do.  Good men, good friends. Great album titles. But like non-slave owners in the 1800's south, some postmen will still support the aristocracy's right to own slaves.  Not because he can afford them.  But because one day, when he is rich enough to, he doesn't want the government telling him he can't.  Which is doubly offensive.  One the institution is immoral, and two such support makes a man a jackass.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


They say the two of the most stressful times in a person's life are getting married and moving.  And we're doing both.  We close on Thursday, at which time I will become a first-time homeowner.  Along with my brother and sister, I actually owned my mom's condo in CT after she died, because she left it to us.  (Because she was awesome and always made sure we were taken care of.)  This feels a little different. Maybe it's because I have a kid of my own now, or that the house is big, like the one I grew up in, grey and square and big, though this one doesn't come with a pond and big field to play ball.  It also doesn't come with my father, so I guess we'll call that one a draw.

So for the next week or so, writing is going to be tough.  I have finally decided on a plot for my next novel, and am still moving forward with plans for a new memoir. Not having written jackshit for the last year means I have a stockpile of ideas, or incentive, or ambition.  Or whatever.


We're hiring movers, since I am a complete fucktard when it comes to most practical enterprises, like balancing a checkbook and unscrewing bed posts.  It is true that I am good at lifting heavy things, but just the thought of all that disassembling and reassembling gives me a panic attack.  The last piece of furniture I tried putting together was a drawing desk Justine bought me for my birthday a couple years ago. It was a simple desk with a metal bottom and wood top.  It ended up taking me four hours, and I eventually gave up and used wood glue.

So we're finding someone else to pack us up into our new house.  Every company Justine calls talks about "using professional movers" and "not day laborers."  Which is pretty funny.  "Moving furniture" generally isn't a career path.  In fact, I used to do that job.  Not the resembling part so much, but the heavy lifting, up and down stairs, the driving around with other less-than-employable ex convicts, addicts, and dropouts.  I wasn't even so good at heavy lifting in those days.  I weighted probably fifty, sixty pounds less than I do now, which would've put me around 160, and had a slight drug problem.  This was during the month or so I tried reuniting with my first wife, Hadley, in Rochester, MN.

I glossed over this part in the first memoir, when we lived at the Candlelight Inn, which despite the bourgeois name was as bad as any skid row SF residency hotel. OK, maybe not as bad.  But pretty fucking bad.  I talked about one of the temp jobs I had on a farm, but I had quite a few of them.  'Cause they're temp job, temporary, meaning a new shit assignment every day.

I'd come out to Minnesota because, well, I loved my wife very much.  I really did, and it sounds stupid now to talk about wanting to "make it work," because she was schizo-affective and we had that drug problem and all, but we were still people, and we had dreams and hopes and believed in the possibility of a better tomorrow, just like regular people.

I would've been around 27, I think.  It was a miserable time, just floating, drifting, really, San Francisco, back east to rehab, hang out at my mother's, driving her crazy, stealing her checks, until she'd say it was time to go, then back across the country on a bus, finding people who still had apartments and were dumb enough to let me crash on their floor.

My brother had an "extra" truck.  That he allowed me to take the truck under my promise of making payments has proven to be a sticking point between us ever since.  I, of course, didn't make payments, and now every time we fight, despite my being years sober, Josh will still bring it up.  We're going on fifteen years now.

I'd spent the summer in CT, shooting up in the basement, playing rock 'n' roll with my old band (whose equipment I'd hock and then have to get out in time before the next practice), smoking cigarettes, wearing out my welcome (which does beat being alone).  Since it was my mom's house, there was probably food, so I may've actually been a little heavier than I remember, but not like I am now.

Then one day in September or November, maybe August or October, who knows, I took off to meet my wife.  I'd tried to kick first, heading back to Brattleboro, but after a few days, I was out the door.  The time hadn't done anything to soften the withdrawal, which hit sometime in Illinois, as I drove in my brother's green ranger, chain smoking and listening to the blues, because every Chicago radio station seemed to play them.  By the time I found my wife's place, a one-room dump she was sharing with a girl she'd met in rehab, I was a shaking, sweating mess.  My presence was not appreciated by the roommate, who kicked us out, and so we lived in my truck for a few days, until I'd saved enough money working day labor.

My jobs included working on the assembly line at this factory that pre-packaged meals.  Nothing good.  Like carrots and celery and peanut butter, maybe apples, but cheap, crappy apples and produce.  But that job was cool because they let take one of these packages for a free lunch.  And since I had nothing, a free lunch was pretty good.  Beside the corn farm, I also worked as a a maid and a mover.  I worked with this really interesting recovering alcoholic/Jesus freak.  In those days, I was pretty anti-God, but I remember being really taken by this guy.  Hadley met him and thought he was stupid.

The temp agency paid me daily, which was the only real perk of the gig, and then I'd pay our rent at night.  We lived on Taco Bell for a month.  I'd save a buck here or there to buy drugs, but I had to work quite a few days to do that, so I was always pretty sick.  On day they sent me to dig ditches.  Literally.  My job was to dig a ditch, they'd drop in a wire, and I'd fill the whole back up.  I worked that day with this Nigerian kid, seventeen, maybe eighteen, busted his balls all day, and he talked about how this job was the best job because they let him work overtime, and so some days he made almost $100.  A usual payday at this temp agency netted me around $40, so this kid had to be working pretty much round the clock.  And he was so damn happy just to be given the chance.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Weekend

As a rule, I try not to leave the house.  Good things rarely happen when I leave the house.  Especially at night.  There are times when I am stuck having to go to someone's birthday party (or wedding), have to drive in traffic to get there, stand around while everyone else gets drunk, talk to people I don't know, don't like and have nothing in common with, and seldom do I return home after these nights, saying, "Wow, I am really glad I did that."

But this weekend, I went out.  Twice.  In a row.  There was a time when I needed to be out in the street, moving among the crowd, traipsing across the city, drunk, high, looking for a good time.  These are not those times.  But I had fun this weekend.  Or my version of the word.  Went into the city, saw a great band and some of my favorite people.  But besides reminding me of how "old" I've become, wrecked after a loud night of rock 'n' roll a.m., the weekend also showed me how much the city has changed.  And I don't think I could ever live there again.

While we were looking for a house, I had pressed Justine to consider the city. Which was for naught.  One cannot afford a house in San Francisco, or at least anything decent for under a million.  What was in our budget nets about 2 extra bed- and bathrooms in the East Bay.  But I liked the idea of returning to the city.

When the traffic is clear, San Francisco is only about a ten-minute ride over the bridge from where I live now.  I see its skyline every time I jog, rising over the bay, spearing that angry European sky (to quote my buddy, Tom Pitts, with whom I saw a poetry reading on one of these nights), and it fills me up with good memories of bad times.

I have entire chapters dedicated to San Francisco in my memoir, which is essentially a love letter to the city.  Even my noir novel, The Lone Palm, features San Francisco prominently (although I change the name to "Bay City").  And these wonderful, inspiring elements about San Francisco haven't changed. They are still there--the feel of wet streets after dark, the rough and tumble and all things hipster, the barrio bars and  But I don't feel comfortable living in it.  It has become the ultimate "I'd like to visit but I sure wouldn't want to..." place.


The Drive-By Truckers kicked ass at the Fillmore.  I don't go to shows unless I know pretty much know everything the band will be playing.  This means I see The Gaslight Anthem, The Hold Steady, and Springsteen.  But I've been getting into the Truckers lately, even if I don't know their entire (impressively large) catalogue. Pretty much all I listen to these days is cowpunk, alt country, whatever you want to call it--Lucero, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House, Two Cow Garage, Slobberbone--basically if you could conjoin the Replacements and Springsteen. Pissed off Americana, I suppose.

We went with Matt and Angela, our "go-to" couple for things like this.  Matt and I used to play in a band together before I got strung out, and he was always among my favorite people (I don't know what it is about bass players, but I've always felt an ease around them, Big Tom, Soupy, Matt).  We lost touch when I became a junkie, because you loss touch with pretty much everyone who isn't a junkie.  But we started talking again when I got sober.  His wife, Angela, is from Tennessee, and about as sweet as southern punch.  When I think of marriages I want to have, theirs is what comes to mind.  10 out of 10 stars.  (See?  I can write nice things about people.)

Matt said to me when we were about to have Holden that I'd find out about "the line."  Matt and Angela already had one kid, with another born shortly before Holden, and Matt had told me how a lot of friends, the ones without kids, would fall by the wayside.  Since I don't have many friends with (or without) kids it didn't impact me like that, but I've seen how it's been for Justine.  And it's really true.  You are definitely on the other side of that line when you have a kid.

Anyway, the Truckers rocked, even if I didn't get to hear "Birthday Boy," my favorite song, because Justine was sick.  That's not true.  She was sick, but she was game to wait.  I was just fucking tired.  Matt and Angela had to get back to the sitter, and after midnight we did too.  So we grabbed a coupled Drive-By Trucker posters on the way out, and I put "Birthday Boy" on the iPod...


When I called Tom Pitts outside the Fillmore Saturday night (while I was waiting for Matt and Angela), I asked him is he wanted to see a poetry reading in the city on Sunday.  This guy Evan Karp, who runs Litseen, was holding a reading at Kaleidoscope.  He's a guy I wanted to meet since I do Lip Service West, and like so many people I "know" these days, I'd only met him through Facebook.

By the time Tom called me on Sunday afternoon, I'd already changed my mind about leaving the house two days in a row.  I don't think he was feeling much better. We are both in our forties, but it's an old 40.  Tom and I lived together at Hepatitis Heights, if you can call that "living."

Tom always felt like more or a brother than friend.  I won't go into terrific detail about Tom, since I already have in the memoir.  Suffice to say, he's a righteous mutherfucker.

We rarely see each other these days (Tom and his wife, Cheryl, are also on the other side of that "line"), so we decided we'd hit the reading, which was on 24th and Folsom.  This is an area Tom and I know well; it used to be the hotspot for scoring dope.  But if there are still street dealers out there, I can't spot them anymore.  In fact, I wonder how junkies even keep going in the city at all.  There are still the residential hotels and the Tenderloin, and you can see some of the junkies still slinging around, all sickly and sniveling--there will always be junkies--but the city has become so bourgeois, the logistics mystify.  Maybe they always have.  Who knows?


I'd write more but Holden is not as entertained by Bob the Builder as I'd hoped.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

August, 2001

The days are rough.  Six months in, I still don’t sleep that well.  This month before school starts is dangerous for me, I know that.  Lana, still clinging to that wagon, is at work on the assembly line, every day, at 6:30 a.m, which leaves me alone, left to my own dastardly, piss-poor devices.  I wake up at seven a.m. sharp out of habit, make some coffee, smoke a cigarette or two, then fall back asleep till noon.

I go for a lot of walks, mostly up through the graveyard, which is on this huge upgrade plot of land just before the university.  To get in the graveyard, you’ve got to climb up dirt clod hills of thorny bramble, slipping between dry-rotted wood, crisscrossed railroad ties, kicking through tall weeds and thick overrun New England summer grass.  The heat this summer has a particular taste to it that I don’t recall.  Maybe it’s because it has been a while since I’ve lived here.  I’ve come back, though, so that’s not it.  It’s the senses.  All your senses fire on overdrive when you kick junk.  The dope dulls everything—pain, thoughts, hopes, sights and sensations, even smells.  When I was inpatient, we’d go down to the meetings on hospital grounds, some musty conference room in the basement, and at break we’d sit on the picnic tables outside the cafeteria and smoke cigarettes, and even though it’d be 8 o’clock or so, it was still light out and hot; it just tasted like summer.

I make this trip through the cemetery up to campus a lot, a pointless trip with no particular destination, where I sort of wander for hours.  Sometimes I buy a coffee at the corner market on the other side, sometimes I just walk around a deserted campus, smelling new mown grass and feeling like an alien.  I don’t know anyone.  Friends I may’ve had when I lived here when I was nineteen, I wouldn’t know where to find them now, and even if I did, my name is pretty sullied.  Ours is a small hometown; everyone knows about me.  My friend Peterson lives down the road, and sometimes I’ll walk down there.  He’s usually around.  But I am not at my best and I avoid pretty much everyone. 

When the semester starts, I’ll learn all about this new thing, computers, and I’ll spend hours on them after class in the university’s computer lab transcribing the sheaf of wadded-up papers that I tote everywhere; it is the start of my…book.  Written in the first months of sobriety, it is an incoherent, hand-scrawled mess, the plot revolving around six tiny Chinese monkeys the size of field mice and a nameless junkie narrator as they try to find an invisible god living in Delaware, driving around the country in a Pinto, getting sidetracked by America’s smallest cultural attractions.  I am certain this book will make me famous.  I will hand out copies to every professor I have.  They will look at me differently after that.  And not in a good way.

But I haven’t started doing that yet because classes haven’t started yet.  Right now I’m just a skinny weirdo who walks aimlessly through tombstones repositioning wreaths on headstones, around a two-block radius, for hours.  It’s not that different from when I was a freshman in high school.  Weird and lonely then, too, I would start to walk from my house deep in the woods, down the long Kensington Road, past farmhouses and dairy farms, big John Deeres and Harvester waiting in the weeds, alongside the train tracks, and up into the tiny center of town, which was a pizza parlor, a bank, and a Dairy Queen that closed in October and didn’t open again until March, until some sympathetic senior would see me and ask if I needed a ride somewhere.  I’d nod, maybe mumble something incoherent.  And he and his girlfriend would drop me off back at my house in the woods.  And when they drove off, I’d start walking again.
I could go to meetings, pedal to one on my bicycle, I suppose.  My mom bought me a bicycle at Walmart.  But I prefer walking.  Besides I don’t know where there’s a meeting.  Furthermore, I don’t want to know.  They’ve told me all along that I can’t do it my way.  I’m doing it my way.  Even if I am miserable at it, white knuckling it, and heading for an eventual relapse if I don’t find new ways to entertain myself.
I spend one entire Tuesday afternoon sitting at Lana’s kitchen table with an egg timer.  I set the egg timer.  I watch it, wait for it to ding.  Then I reset the clock, and I do it again.

Friday, March 4, 2011

They Stole the Old Man's Motorcycle

It’s early in the morning.  I might be six years old.  Maybe younger than that.  I think my brother has been born so I am at least four.  Though I am not sure how well I could remember this if I am four.  It’s hard to get the facts straight since everyone I might ask is dead.  My brother is not dead.  But he wouldn’t remember.
We moved from our crappy little place on the Turnpike, and now live in the ranch on Longview Drive.  I like this house.  Even now ranch style houses make me happy.  Maybe because this is before it all turns to shit.  Or maybe it already has turned to shit but I am too young to know any better.
My father stands without a shirt talking to the police.  I am in awe of him.  He is a big man with big arms, strong, imposing.  He is so dark from working construction, blowing up rock in the hot noonday sun, that I tell my kindergarten teacher that my father is black, the prospect of which is so horrific to our small town roots that my mother drags him to parent/teacher conference so everyone can see that he is, in fact, white.  There are no mixed marriages in Berlin.  In fact, there are few minorities, persons of any color. 
My father stalks between the police who do their best to calm him down.  They grant him room, a wide berth.  This exchange he has with the police is very different from the ones I will form with the cops when I am much older and criminally inclined.  Small and insignificant, I will cower in their presence.  My father does anything but cower.
“I will fucking kill them,” he says.  “I know who took it.  I will find them.”
Calm down, the police say.  There is nothing we can do.  This is how they operate.  You are better off staying away.  They use his last name.  They address him as Mr.
He lights a cigarette, brushes the long hair from his eyes.  My father is a fighter, trains to be a boxer.  His favorite is Roberto Duran.  Hands of stone.  When I start following boxing, I’ll see why.  They even look alike. 

My father has a giant tattoo on his left biceps of an eagle.  It is dark green, almost black, clunky, ugly, put in place to cover the gang insignia, though I will not learn he was in a motorcycle gang, had left the motorcycle gang, had to swear a pledge of secrecy, until many years later, some details filtering in after he’s dead.
“I’m not scared,” he says.  “I’ll get it back.”
The “it” is his motorcycle, his beloved Harley.  That I know.  I know because he woke us up screaming. He’s ridden me on the back up the Chamberlin Highway many times, even if I am six.  Or younger.  But he’s just a kid, my dad.  He might be twenty-six, maybe twenty-seven.  They had me when they were young. 

Our garage was broken into during the night.  Now the cops are here, taking his statement, even if they tell him repeatedly that he has no chance of seeing his Harley again.

Our house is fairly secluded, on top of a hill.  It is not as big as the house we will move into in a few years, after my parents’ divorce, after their remarriage.  Still it’s a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, on the outskirts of suburbia, nestled in the country.  It’s not the sort of house where random strangers pry open garages and steal motorcycles.

Tall trees stand behind our house, like they are standing guard.  Behind them, down the ravine, sits a pond where my father will take me fishing a few times, until he stops doing that.  Or maybe he already has.  My father’s German Shepherd, Atlas, barks in the long dog run.

“I’ll catch them, and I will kill them,” my father says again.

When the police ask if anybody heard anything, I say yes.  “Yes, I did.”

My father looks over.

“I heard Atlas bark,” I tell them.

A police officer asks me when I heard this.

“When I went to go to the bathroom,” I say.  “It was still dark.”

The police officer writes something down.

“And I looked out the window,” I say, “and...there was a big red truck on the front lawn, like a fire truck.”

The cops look at me like I have two heads.   

My father swipes his hand.  “Don’t listen to him.  He’s stupid.  He didn’t see anything.  He was fucking dreaming.”