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Candy and Cigarettes

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Who's the Big Winner?

Who's the big winner?  I am.

Today, my gym, In Shape (in Emeryville), informed me that I, Joe, am indeed the big winner.  I won the Biggest Winner contest, a promotional event to see who could lose the most weight.  I won, not because I lost the most weight, but because I lost the most body fat (3.5%) of any member over the two-month span (my weight stayed the same).  For my efforts, I received a T-shirt, canvas tote bag, and $50 (which I have to split with my personal trainer, Adam, as per our agreement).

The contest wasn't fair, really, since I was already in pretty good shape, and the really fat people had an unfair advantage, being that they simply had more with which to work.

I am not a hero.  I am just a man.  And, today, like Mikey, I am the big winner...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Online Therapy

We're on, like, Day Three of the Great Selling Out Experiment.  Don't know how well it's going, but the post "Selling Out" has cracked the Top Ten.  For those of you who weren't around on Friday (and who are too lazy to scroll down two posts), I decided to put ads on my blog, less for the revenue and more for the principle (God, I love a good early morning double entendre).  I am firmly committed to the prospect of selling out, and I'd like any potential publishers out there to know this.  I am not one of those artist-types disillusioned by sacred vision.  Dear Little Brown, you want to change my gritty street memoir into a sitcom staring six nuns and a cat named Mr. Whiskers?  No fucking problem on this end.  Sign me up.  All those writers appalled at the prospect of editorial suggestions to change their work? Starbucks down the street is hiring.  Best seller is not a bad word(s), and if she hadn't retired I'd be happy to be a frumpy housewife Book o' the Month selection (although Jonathan Franzen is sort of my hero).  Screw integrity.  You know where integrity gets you?  To misquote Lou Reed: the the garbage heap over there.

So, yeah, I placed ads.  And it's been funny to see what AdSense has been putting up.  As you may know, these ads are selected by alien computer robots (it's true) based on words that frequently appear in one's posts.  For instance, I wrote last week how I'd just finished a short story called The Exterminator, so I've been seeing a lot of ads for dust mites and videos about women with lice.  I also mentioned having gone to see "Tales of the City," so there are ads for that show.  Stuff like that. But far and away, most of the ads are for therapy.

Justine asked me the other day what the day's post was about.  I said, "Neurosis." She said, "You write that post a lot."  I guess I do.  Rule #1 of writing: write what you know, right?  And it's not like it isn't a lucrative...milieu.

I'm just about done with Jason Mulgrew's Everything is Wrong with Me, a mildly amusing memoir about his mildly eventful childhood in Philadelphia.  Not much happened to Mulgrew, really.  His parents were divorced.  A cousin made him eat a very hot pepper.  The writing itself is decent enough, easy to read.  It's also taken me almost three months to finish, because I only read a few pages at a time.  Which isn't an indictment as much as...OK.  It's an indictment.  But I still would put the book under "I like" as opposed to "I hate," and there was a bit about Little League baseball that made me LOL.  Literally.  I mean, I laughed out loud.  Can't remember the last time a book actually made me do that.  And part of my problem getting through the book concerns that it's harder for me to do mainstream mainstream (for the record, I do what's called "fringe mainstream."  Slight difference).

I picked the book up in Borders, originally, because the back cover, which boasted that the book was born out of his blog, which got, get this, over 200 million hits. Two hundred million hits (make sure to say "million" in the voice of Dr. Evil for full effect).  That's, like, about 200 million more than mine (when we're talking 200 million, 13K doesn't really factor).  I wanted to see what Mulgrew did that garnered so much attention.  In a word: neurosis.  The guy is neurotic about eating breakfast. His memoir tagline is "a childhood gone, well, wrong."  And the dude is fucked up. But he's not Joe fucked up.  He's bi-polar.  (Bi-polar?  Oh, the good ol' days...)  He's high-strung, anxious, what my friend Mike calls 21st Century paranoia.  Still it's not like he's buying packages of razor blades and walking into the ocean with a pint of whiskey.  It's "cute" neurosis.  And I could learn a lot from a guy like Mulgrew about how to package mental shortcomings, and present them in Yahoo-type (i.e., easily digestible) nuggets.

What I really respect about Mulgrew is his willingness to hawk his neurosis for professional gain, to put his weirdness and perpetual oddball status on the page (or computer screen) for all to see, no shame, no modesty.  It's pretty obvious why I'd appreciate that (just ask AdSense).  I do the same thing.  Just for a lot less money.

But with your help, AdSense's revenue, and about 200 million more hits that could all change...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Strategy Re: Literary Magazines (or Thuglit Redux)

I have a new strategy for getting into literary magazines.  I'm going to them.  Fucking crazy, I know.  I tried this technique only once in the past.  I wanted to get into this magazine called Thuglit.  Mostly because it was called Thuglit, which is about the coolest name ever for a literary magazine.  But they wouldn't take my stuff.  I sent them a couple stories, which I thought were noir enough, the dark and hard-boiled being what they publish, or rather published since they are now on hiatus, but my work kept getting rejected.  So I decided to read the magazine and see what they usually publish, and then craft a piece specifically tailored to the tastes of its editor, Todd Robinson (aka Big Daddy Thug).  It took me exactly one attempt.  "The Burn Out" was published in November '07 (  I wrote two more stories for them, "Red Pistachios" ( and "Rags to Riches" (, both published.  Now the point of this post isn't to praise Thuglit... (Well, hold on, let's take a quick moment to do just that.

I fucking love Thuglit, and its editor Todd Robinson (Big Daddy Thug), a kick-ass writer himself, even wrote a blurb for my noir novel, The Lone Palm, which is currently being shopped.  This was an unforeseen result of reading the thing.  It turned out to be filled with amazing shit, and unlike any other journal out there. One of the problems I have with calling myself a "writer," for operating in a profession that uses words like "milieu," is that it uses words like "milieu," and that a great deal of time is spent praising the emperor's new clothes. There are certain scribes of...literature (and please say that in an English accent for full effect) who must be lauded, extolled, whose proverbial dick must be suckethed (and this goes for the ladies, too).  But I don't like David Foster Wallace, and I ain't that big a fan of Eggers, though I do see their appeal to others.  That's not the point. The point is I really fucking hate Jane Austen.  I mean, other writers I take exception to, not that big a fan, whatever, but Jane Austen is the antithesis of everything I stand for.  As a writer.  As a man.  As a fucking human being.  If you like Jane Austen, we cannot be friends.  I don't want you in my fucking house eating my fucking food and borrowing my fucking things.  Thuglit would not publish Jane Austen.  All that manner of comedy bullshit?  Wrap it up tight in your bodice and shove it up your ass.  I'd beat the shit out of Mr. Darcy if I ever met the cocksucker.  Thuglit published the real deal, balls-to-the-wall fiction, about tough guys and loose girls and fast cars and bullets and drugs and fighting and fucking, and it was the polar opposite of pretentious.  You want poems about "bat o'er a win'er's morn," go read the read the New Kentucky Literature Review.  You want stories about guys wiping their just fired gun grease on the bitch's expensive matching drape set, go check out Thuglit.  You won't be disappointed.

Though Thuglit is on an indefinite hiatus, their achieves are up.  You could do a fucklot worse with your time on a Sunday morning.

Back to my new strategy, or rather my old strategy re: Thuglit.  Now it probably seems strange that this would have to be a strategy at all.  But this is the weird thing about literary magazines.  Like my thesis advisor Lynne Barrett used to say, "Everyone wants to be in them, but nobody wants to read them."  It's true.  Most of the literary magazines I have been in, I've never even read.  Which is pretty stupid on my part, I know.  Reading is such a commitment.  At least for me (I read slowly), and since I hate most everything I read, it's a double-whammy.  I read a lot, of course (can't be a writer if you don't read a lot).  But mostly books, or short story anthologies.  Rarely do I read literary magazines.  For one, you have to buy them. And the few times I've done that, I've been woefully disappointed (still won't forgive the now-defunct Murdaland for "Roach-killer" and wasting 20 minutes of my life that I'll never get back.  Or you have to read them online.  Kind of like I expect you to read this blog.  Anyway, I've got to start reading the damned things, and who knows, maybe I'll find another Thuglit (though I highly doubt it).

I've targeted one magazine specifically.  I won't say which one until I get into it. This particular magazine has rejected a couple stories of mine in the past.  So I've started reading their archives.  Can't say I love the work overall.  But this is a study. I want to see what their editors like, and then tailor a story to their individual tastes. So it's an exercise, and here's what I'm learning so far...

  • Stuff doesn't need to happen.   One of the tendencies I had, as most writers seem to have, is I am reluctant to make stuff happen.  I like clever turns of phrase and subtle as opposed to overt and plot.  At FIU, this was beaten out of me.  And now I think I need to go back, at least a little bit.  There are a lot of fiction these days of this variety:
          She watches the clock on the wall.  It reminds her of elephants, the year her father took       
          her to Istanbul and bought the giant clock from the dwarf trader.  It was hot.  She notices the    
          birthmark on his hand.  It is shaped like dreams and breaks apart when she touches it.
          It floats up with the clouds, and then it starts to rain and it is time to go home to the circus.

          That sort of shit.

  • Keep it vague.  Again, counterintuitive.  As in the above example (which is admittedly god-awful prose), it literally says nothing.  But I've been seeing a shit-ton of these stories, the "the man eats an asparagus stalk.  He misses his cat" variety.  Almost like stream-of-consciousness.  Honestly, navel-gazing appears to be back in vogue.

  • Magic Realism?  Not sure what to call it.  But definitely been seeing a lot of "folding hearts into paper squares" and the like.  So my new story will have to implement this somehow.

  • Personal details applied universal.  So it'd be like,
         He doesn't think of her now, how she wore the cashmere socks and only listened to cowpunk. He doesn't remember she had a sock-monkey named Albert or how she sucked on chocolate bars instead of eating them.

  • Second Person.  Yup.  You're reading that correctly.  Never a good tense, and one purportedly abhorred by editors, but been creeping up...

  • Simple language and copulative verbs.  Ala... She was a dancer.  She was good.  She was happy to be a good dancer.
OK, time to get to work!  I will keep y'all up to date on my progress...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Selling Out

As some of you may notice, this blog now has ads.  My friend Jimmy told me about an article he read on Yahoo (like me, Jimmy, too, gets all his news from the only news' source that matters, Yahoo) about how bloggers can make money by placing ads.  I will post the link to this article now  Not really sure what the article says, since I didn't read the whole thing; it seemed pretty long.  But I did skim it, and saw something about AdSense, and I recognized that from blogspot's design template, so I added the gadget to the blog.  Now I guess we wait for the money to roll in.  The parts of the article I did read depressed the hell out of me.  Like this line: [M]ost of these self-publishers don’t attract the attention of anyone other than indulgent family and friends (thanks for reading Duane, Angela, and Jimmy!).  And the parts about frumpy housewives getting $350k book deals from Simon & Shuster sorta made me sad too.  The article spends a lot of time talking about how making money works, but for me making money work is like this old Kids in the Hall sketch:

Not exactly expecting to retire from these ads.  Getting about 3,000 hits a month won't quite cut it.  Seems like a quarter of a million is the magic number, so we're a few hits short. But the important part is that I am trying to sell out. Or as my buddy Matt used to say, "I ain't selling out, man, because I never bought in."  I didn't buy in, but only because they won't let me.  If it were up to me, fuck yeah I'd whore myself out.  I have no illusions about integrity or any of that crap.

When I was in grad school, Les Standiford, the director of the program, taught this course on the Hero's Journey, using a Christopher Vogler's dumbed-down take on the Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Vogler's book is called The Writer's Journey.  That's not the important part.  I didn't even take the class.  But I'd hear other grad students talk about it on smoke break, the pompous, highbrow set, who scoffed at the simplicity of "formula" and "genre" being promoted by the institution as a whole, but as far as I was concerned, Les had sold a shitton of books, and so had a lot of other writers who adhered to similar convention, and I have no use for "literature."  Maybe I'm dumb, but I found Infinite Jest dense, overwrought, and unenjoyable.  And I've said it before, I'll take Bukowski over Bishop any day.  Not saying he's better, I can recognize the chops, or lack thereof.  Just that I'd rather read Bukowski because he's real, speaks my language, piques my attention.  Reading takes up a lot of fucking time, and I don't have a lot of it, so why waste it reading something I have no interest in, like novels about tea and tireless ruminations on tree sap and the cosmos?  I had to read Jane Austen in college.  Because my grade depended on it.  I'd rather get tested for the clap again than ever have to read another Jane Austen book.

There used to be a horrible connotation associated with being "commercial" for me.  When I first got to SF, I had to hide my love of Springsteen because he was pop, and everyone I knew loved Fugazi.  Maybe Fugazi held onto their integrity by never granting an interview to a magazine with commercial advertisements, but you know what?  Honestly, who gives a shit? I've never heard a fucking song from them (have fun fixing your bicycles), and I'd much rather be on the radio and have everyone call me The Boss than take some righteous stand.  And with that, I'd like to close with a little Billy Joel...

                   I believe I've passed the age of consciousness & righteous rage
                   I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
                   I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view,
                   Life went on no matter who was wrong or right, ohhhhh.

"Ohhhh."  I think that says it all, Billy.  


So apparently AdSense picks the ads to place based on words that appear in your blog, like if you talk a lot about dogs, you'll get an ad for dog food or something.  So I think it's pretty funny that the first two ads up are for psychotherapy and how to stop an affair.  

And coming soon, I will be hawking one of my books, which will be composed entirely of stories you can find for free elsewhere on the web, but here it will be all in one collection, with a title, and cost $2.99 and you can read them on one of them Kindle thingies!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Those Who Don't Remember History...

As I found myself in the basement yesterday, pounding on the heavy bag, my mother-in-law upstairs driving my wife nuts, it was hard not to draw comparisons.

I remember being a kid, and my grandmother, who drove my old man nuts, living with us, and his going to the basement to escape, wrapping, taping the wrists, and beating the shit out of that canvas bag.  It was hard to understand where that anger came from, how he could harness such fury.  But I was a little kid.  What did I know about the disappointments of a life not turning out the way you imagine?

I was 40 when my first kid was born; my father was a little older than 20.  Big fucking difference.  When I was 20, the last thing I wanted or could've dealt with was a kid or family.  Hell, I couldn't keep a job or a girlfriend at 30.  At 20?  Shit, man, I was playing Whiffle Ball with Jimmy Soyka, cutting classes to buy CDs or get bailed out of jail or hang out with the band on my way to being a rock 'n' roll star.  I had zero responsibility, and no one depended on me to pay a goddamn bill or feed them.

But like pitcher and hitter dominance, these things are cyclical.  Maybe Holden will rebel by moving into a trailer park and having seven kids before his 21st birthday. Justine took him to the zoo the other day and he got an elephant tattoo on his shoulder.  Without his shirt, you could sort of see this happening.

Then again, maybe my boy will be...remarkable.  I mean, obviously, he's gifted (  He's already doing tons of neat tricks.  Not even nine months, he's climbing stairs.  Like the other day for instance.  Holden had a Tupperware top and I was upstairs in the kitchen. And he started climbing with his Tupperware top, and Justine was like, "Oh, look, he's got a present for daddy."  And so I went to greet him, and I was, like, "Do you have a present for daddy?"  And I picked him up.  And then he hit me in the head with his Tupperware top.  See?  Mutherfucking gifted.

That's the joy in having a kid, isn't it?  You don't know how it's going to turn out for him.  I mean, chances are he's going to end up like the rest of us, with everything he dreams of right in front of him, unsatisfied.  Then again...maybe not.  He's got his whole life not to mistake the mistakes I made, and I'm going to give him every advantage I can.  I'm not going to mock him or beret him or question his manhood so he has to compensate by lifting really heavy things, and I won't scream so violently that he develops a life-long anxiety condition.  I am going to support him, tell him he can be anything he wants to be, and even though I generally think that advice is a load of shit, ala, in this particular case, I believe it with all my embittered, jaded heart... I will squelch my natural propensity to say Why bother?, and only do good good good.

At least, that's the plan...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Neurosis & Coincidence

The doctor said we can try some new medication, but there isn't really a whole lot I have to work with.  Benzos are out (for obvious reasons), plus they sedate, and I already suffer from a lack of energy.  Then there are the...anti-psychotics, of which I've either A.) tried them, or B.) seen what they do to others.  In both cases, no thanks.  Which pretty much means I continue with a baseline of anxious, anguished, and agitated.  Not that it's so bad, really.  Especially since I've been working under these conditions most of my life.  What it ultimately comes down to is I am neurotic, high strung.  But who isn't, right?

A lot of people, I suppose.  It's 21st Century paranoia, as my friend Mike used to say.  In particular, in regards to the diseases I think I have, retroactive junkie residue.  And in the age of perpetual media assault, everything hard wired directly in via Bluetooth, search engines, et al., you see or hear about someone getting a cancer practically every second of the day, so why would it be odd to wake up with a tickle in your throat and think you are next?

When I living with my first wife up on Dwight in Berkeley, I had a dream about blue suede shoes, only to wake up and find out Carl Perkins had died.  Now I never dreamt of blue suede shoes before, so it would seem odd that the first night I dream of them, the guy who made the song famous would die.  What probably happened was the TV had been left on in the other room, I heard a newscaster mention his passing, it passed into my unconscious, and I had the dream.  Of course, we had no electricity.  Or water.  Or light in that apartment, so it must've been a neighbor's TV playing very very loudly.  Then there was the time I finally got around to reading Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a book I'd been told to read by everyone for at least twenty years, only to finish the book on the same day author Douglas Adams died.  Which sort of freaked me out, mostly because I was in rehab coming down off speed, and speed really fucks with your head and makes connections that are not there (this was something I always felt was underplayed in the case of Timothy McVeigh, whose anti-government rants and lunacy were textbook amphetamine psychosis).

I know in my case the drugs didn't make my neurosis any better, and in the midst of my using certainly made it worse, but I'd been anxious and neurotic long before I ever picked up.  In fact, picking up most certainly was a piss-poor (and ill-advised) attempt at self-medication.

It simply speaks to an overactive mind, this neurosis, not necessarily an insightful or keen mind, though there are plenty of bright guys who are whacked out of their skulls.  Then again, there are a lot of stupid guys that way, too, so ascribing faulty wiring as a prerequisite to genius, artistic or otherwise, seems a stretch.  For every Van Gogh, there are sixteen hundred Joey Mittenses living in a boarding house down on the docks, smearing tuna fish on their dick, singing show tunes. 

I saw a bit by a comedian a while back, and he was talking about the various diagnosis for mental illnesses we have these days.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Manic Depression.  Borderline Personality Disorder.  Attention Deficient Disorder.  And how in the old days, those people were just called "assholes." 

So maybe I'm just an asshole.

I keep the same schedule every day--get up the same time, go to the gym the same time, eat the same meal, take the same routes.  Routine.  Ritual.  Whatever you want to call it, I do the same thing, in the same order, see very few people and take even fewer chances, because I have to think less that way, and when I have to think on the fly, adapt and change and try to reconfigure, I get extremely anxious, and my results tend to suck. 

Or maybe I'm normal.  Like Petersen says, with the way this world works, I don't know how everyone isn't running out of their houses, screaming down the street every day.  Quiet desperation and all that.

Or maybe I just need to try harder.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Work in Progress

Just finished a short story, The Exterminator, my first full-length effort in at least a year (I did recently finish a flash fiction piece, about 745 words, but that hardly counts).  It's about a bug man who sprays for cockroaches in South Florida.  I used to have this giant, ex-con covered in tattoos come to my condo in Hollywood (FL) and spray for roaches (don't get me wrong.  It was a nice condo on the beach.  If you live in FL, you have bugs).  Now I can't say whether this story is any good (although Jimmy, my partner/reader, did respond with a drunken text Saturday night, "Me likey").  I think it's good.  It's been sent out to a few places, so we'll see. The only part of this that's remotely interesting is how long it took me to finish said story.  I've been working on the damn thing for well over a year.  2,000 words. Over a year.  Some of the places I've sent it off to actually pay.  Which is cool. Still, when you factor in the hourly rate, I made more at my first job at Country Farms in Berlin, CT, in 1985 ($3.37/hr.).


Country Farms was the town deli, a must-visit for any Berlin tourists (of which there is an average of, I think, .2 a year).  It's still there now, but it's been sold by the original owners, and last time I was there it wasn't very good.  You'd think making a good sandwich wouldn't be that difficult.  Meat, bread, cheese, a little dressing.  But it's amazing how often it's fucked up.  I've lived in the SF Bay Area for almost half my life now, and I have yet to have one decent fucking sandwich.

I was 16 and I worked two or three days after school.  My main responsibility was rotating the milk, so that the milk with older expiration dates were up front in the cooler.  I was told this was a very important responsibility, but I didn't exactly see it that way.  It was just milk, after all.

I've never been a terribly good worker.  And my stint at Country Farms, which lasted about four months if I recall, was no different.  I was a goofball who would do anything to avoid actually working.  My favorite part of the day was when the Greek kid from the pizza place next door came in for his daily candy bar, Whatchamacallit.  The other kid I worked tended the register, and he and I would wait for for the Greek kid, who spoke limited English, to order.

"Whatchamacallit," the Greek kid would say.

"Well, what do you want?" my buddy would respond.

"Whatchamacallit," the Greek kid would say again, pointing at the candy bar behind the counter.

"I can't help you if you don't tell me what it is you want," my friend would say.

The Greek kid would get all flustered, turning red, pointing emphatically at the candy bar, saying, "Whatchamacallit!  Whatchamacallit!"  Because this was one of the few English words he'd learned.

My buddy would shrug.  "Well, you have to tell me what you want or I can't help you."

And sometimes he'd eventually give him the candy bar.  Sometimes not.  Either way, we'd laugh and laugh.  Kids can be mean, y'know?

This was around the time of my first girlfriend too, Liz, who I stole from my best friend, Shawn.  I was only 16, so it's a little forgivable.  But not really.  An karma is a bitch (See: second wife).

I was a portly 16.  Mostly because I ate mac and cheese by the truckload, didn't exercise, and I lived in Berlin, a town known for its portly and rotund.  There are no Whole Foods in Berlin.  We had the Super Food Mart in those days, which was next to the .99 movies, and sold primarily bulk processed, fried cheesestuffs. Your Cheetos, Doritos, your Lardassos.  I didn't learn about good nutrition until about, maybe, a week ago.  I will do a better job with Holden than my folks did with me. Not that it was entirely their fault.  And by "their," I mean, my mother's.  My father didn't have a lot of input on my being, character, or health.  I blame Berlin, a land of hair helmets and stretch pants.

But I miss a lot of stuff about Berlin, too.  Like being able to leave your wallet at the gas station, and come back an hour later and find it still there.  And the farms and open spaces.  And the small town community and quaint architecture, all seediness relegated to the boundaries and turnpikes where such perversion should be (Hello, Centerfolds).  And I miss being young and how big a deal the Berlin Fair was every year, and going with my mom and brother.  And I miss making middle school and the nervous pit I'd get in my belly every class I had with Anne Hodgson (and Tracy Barlett.  And Melissa Cote.  And every other pretty girl.  And just know I loved you all...).  And baseball.  And hot summer days where the air was so thick with pollen it was almost hard to breath.  And cold winter nights when the snows would come. And I miss the Community Center, my job after Country Farms, and meeting Petersen and playing Whiffle Ball with Jimmy, who I'd get drunk with for the first time, chasing around a new cast of girls (AmySherriKatie), and college, and then leaving.  Yes, I miss leaving, saying goodbye to my hometown, which I primarily hated.  Because I hate it all when I am there, and then I'll think back and go, "Damn, rehab was fun.  I miss going to groups all day and smoking cigarettes."

Nostalgia is like that, eh?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

High Fidelity

My love of the film is well documented.  Or at least well known.  Among friends, that is.  Following my last divorce, I must've watched High Fidelity at least four hundred times, give or take.  My buddy in Miami, C-Love, would watch it, too, since he was also ending a relationship.  We watched this movie so much, anytime we got together, which was pretty often since we were both newly single, our conversations would often lapse into long stretches of dialogue straight from the film.  Like when C-Love would reference Todd, one of the two dipshits who stole my wife, I might say, "I didn't like the guy before, but I fucking hate him now."  Or if I would ask C-Love how he was holding up, he'd say, "If she really wanted to get to me, she should've gotten to me sooner."  Since neither C-Love nor I were big on actually engaging others in, this worked well.  We could smoke, have a drink or two, and say all we needed to say without having to say anything.

When you are going through a break up, it's hard not to replay all your other past (i.e., failed) relationships. After the divorce, I bought this and hung it on my living room wall as a constant reminder

(They have a fuckton of posters just like this, a play on those corporate teamwork pics of birds flying and shit.  Fucking hilarious.

I also actually did the High Fidelity thing, where I called up ex-girlfriends to ask "where it all went wrong."  The divorce was hard on me, at least at first, then it just became a gnawing bitterness.  When I asked Tom Pitts what it was that bothered me so much, he said, "That's easy.  It was an injustice committed against you."  And he was right.  It wasn't the loss of my wife.  Once I got over the initial devastation of the disruption to my routine, what really bothered me was having been played for a chump, feeling as though I'd been lied to.  But did I genuinely miss the person I was married to?  Not so much.  "If you really wanted to hurt me, you should've gotten to me sooner"...

Things change at this stage.  I wrote this post a month or so ago (, after Justine complained about how cynical and jaded I'd become, which delved into a (mildly?) humorous entry summarizing the top ten insults I'd received from women.  And I am cynical and jaded when it comes to love.  How could anyone who's 40 and been divorced twice not be?  And, yet, here I am about to get married again. And if I didn't believe I'd gotten it right this time, I wouldn't be making the plunge.  After my last marriage fell apart so quickly, I swore I'd never do it again. And, yet, in two weeks...

They say at the heart of every cynic is a wounded romantic.  At least I think that is what they say.  And like that poster above says, I've been the only consistent player in the dissatisfaction.  Some of it has had to do with making the wrong choice in a partner, not listening to an internal voice that told me she was bad news, but moreover it simply was what it was, love and loss, learning and growing, getting back on the horse to try, try again.

I was in rehab with this kid once, and he was talking about his girlfriend.  He was young kid, like 23 or something, and he made a comment about when he and his girlfriend break up some day, and I was, like, "Whoa, kid, that's a bad attitude. Why are you saying that?"  And without a hint of irony, he replied, "Well, haven't you broken up with with every girl you've been with?"  And I thought, Holy shit.

Then again, I am not 23, or even 34.  I am older now, with a kid, and I want to believe I've learned something from the failures of the past.  Like Rob Gordon, I want to believe that I've learned how to make a mixed tape for Justine, full of the stuff that she'll like, songs that will make her happy, and at 40, I think I'm starting to see how that is done.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I Don't Know What I Want To Do with My Life

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

I was checking the morning headlines, like I always do, from the only news' source I need, Yahoo, which combines pithy pop with dumbed down, keeping me informed with the minimal amount of effort while being highly entertaining (I particularly like the Eat This, Not That columns).  Today one of the bits was about surprising careers with 100K earning potential.  And who wouldn't like to earn 100K?  'Cause I sure as fuck ain't doing that as a writer.  And, yes, at 40, I still don't know what I want to do with my life.

Here are some possibilities.  Please feel free to give me your vote!

And we'll break this fucker down with some easily digestible bullets to keep the line moving...

Writer.  This is still number one, because I've spent the last ten years studying it. Other than that, can't say I have a lot of endorsements for the profession.  It's sort of lonely, there's a fuckton of competition and very little payoff.  There are those who say "writing is its own reward" and how it's "something [they] have to do." That ain't me.  It's sort of torture, writing, especially first drafts, which sucks balls. Starting a story or novel or (gasp) a fucking poem is about as appealing an idea as letting my balls dangle in the garbage disposal.  Once a story has taken shape, an exhausting stage to get to, then, yeah, I enjoy it. Basically, the only part of writing I like.  You get to play with syntax, the rhythm and cadence of language. It's the frosting part.  I like playing with individual sentences on a molecular level. Which makes me probably best suited for editing.

Drug and Alcohol Counselor.  I am about a third of the way into getting my DAC certification to help other addicts and alcoholics recover from addiction.  Something I am certainly well qualified to do, and I think I'd be good at it.  It is probably my greatest accomplishment, having quit heroin.  But at the same time I sort of hate that it is my greatest accomplishment.  What's it say about a man whose claim to fame is crawling out of the same hole he dug for himself?  Plus, the pay is shit, hours ridiculous, and success rate dismal and depressing.  It's just a fact that most addicts don't clean up, and imagine taking that home with you.  Despite all my bemoaning how much I hate humanity--which I do--on an individual level, I love you bastards. Seriously.  There is only about one person I knew whom I genuinely loath.  If I meet someone, get to know them, I like them, and I'd want to help my clients, and when I couldn't, I'd take it hard.  I know.  Like my lawyers say, I am an enigma.  

Personal Trainer.  This one is intriguing.  I spend most of my time bodybuilding and working out, so it's kind of a no-brainer.  I certainly love it, and I'm learning a great deal about nutrition and exercise.  Also, the hours are terrific, and getting certification is like $500 and takes less than a week.  Not to mention, this was one of the unlikely 100K careers on the Yahoo list.  So what's the problem?  Well, for one, my abs.  Which suck.  Until I get that six pack I so desperately desire, I'd feel like a charlatan.  It'd be false advertising, man.  I know there are dumpy trainers out there. I see them all the time.  But I ain't paying them to train me, and I don't want to be one of them.  The rest of the package is looking good.  Biceps just over 17", benching over 300 lbs., running and eating right.  It's just my mutherfucking abdominals.  Maybe it's time to bite the bullet and get that smart lipo...

Boxer.  OK, we're in long-shot territory, I know.  I'm fucking 40 years old, I've never had a professional fight, and when I did box in college I sort of sucked.  And I've got arthritis in my (hip) joint, so hard running is out.  What we'd be relying on would truly be blunt force trauma.  Which I might be able to deliver if my opponent stood still and promised not to move.  Still, I'm probably going to join an amateur team.  I have the gear, train daily; I want to be the next (white) Heavyweight Champion of the World.  (Yes, I've seen Rocky way way way too many times.)

Private Detective.  This is why I came out here, after all.  And it was looking good for a while.  I made some calls, got some meetings, even almost had my first "case" (which, interestingly enough, would've put me back in Miami, on the heels of a 50-something socialite), but nothing panned out.  Too bad.  As Justine can attest, I am good at lurking.

Teacher.  Those who can't... I like teaching writing.  But I'm not fucking adjuncting.  Six fucking courses, $2000 a pop?  Reading shitty prose from Business Majors who don't know what a semicolon is, butchering the language I love on their way to making more money in a bonus than I'll ever earn in a lifetime?  No fucking thank you.  I'll teach like a real professor at a state university (like my heroes, Cappella, Hazuka, et al.), but to do that I'd need a couple books published. And if I could get that, then I'd be a writer, too, and this question would be moot. This is the best option. Teaching a cushy 2/2 course load, writing the occasional book.  Might as well just add astronaut and right fielder for the New York Yankees to the list.  (Actually, I couldn't hit any worse than fucking Swisher is right now).

Goodfella.  Not sure if they still call it that, but I always wanted to be a criminal.  I think I'd be good at it, the whacking people and stuff.  Great benefits.  I'm a 1/4 Italian.  But it's not like you can just walk in and apply for a job in the mob.

17th Century Explorer.  Get my own ship.  Constant adventure.  Lots o' wenches.  What's not to like?  Ah, hell.  Who I am kidding?  I'd probably get scurvy.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Too Old for San Francisco

Last night I took Justine to see Tales of the City at the American Conservatory in the city.  It was part of her Mother's Day gift.  The show, a preview, was terrific.  Can't say transgender musicals are necessarily my favorite milieu, but the production, based on Armistead Maupin's famed daily columns from the '70s, had heart and a funktastic, affecting score.

But I ain't interested in talking about show-stopping numbers.  I don't watch Glee, and I don't plan on starting.

Far more interesting to me is the evolution of my city.  And I don't mean disco swinging, hippy fashion and feminist politics.

I hit on this before, back when Justine and I were looking to buy a house, and how before settling on the El Cerrito Hills, I briefly entertained the idea of returning to the city.  The Bay Area is the Bay Area, and you don't need to live within actual San Francisco city limits to enjoy the spoils of its unique ideology (and, really, who can afford to these days?  In terms of home-buying, you lose about two bed- and one bathroom on average, and if you do find anything decent, you're probably living in the Sunset), but I wanted to--or at least thought I wanted to--return to the city from which I'd been so unceremoniously dumped and humiliated in the late '90s.  But, like I said, you don't get the same bang for your house-hunting buck, so I gave up looking there.  And, boy, am I glad I did.  Because, like they say, I wouldn't mind visiting, but I sure as fuck couldn't live there anymore.

To get to the AMC on Geary, we had to drive through Union Square--and, yes, I know, Union Square is filled with mostly tourists anyway--but even coming up off Fifth, through the lower Mission and Market Street, I started getting anxious. Forgive the new-agey lingo, but there is an "energy" about San Francisco, or, fuck it, let's go full-on goddamn hippy--the "vibe" there, man, just bums me out.

I used to revel in it, that madness, and I'm sure there were hipsters back then (for the record, I don't think anyone should ever say "back in the day," unless they owned a general store in the 1800s), and I'm sure I hated them as much as I do now.  Which isn't saying much; I hate a lot of things.  But that ebbing and swelling sea of skinny jeans and mismatched thrift store shirts, the goofy tiny hats and ironical mustaches depresses me.  Because it's so damned forced.

That's not true.

When I lived in the city, I had a good friend who sported a waxed handlebar mustache (Rich), another who wore a thrift store baby blue wedding suit (Jason), and I owned a fucking fedora.  So the truth is, I was a hipster, too.  A different kind and much cooler hipster, but a goddamn hipster nonetheless.  We hung at bars at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, collected the Camel bucks off Camel filtered cigarettes, and...played pool.  The truth is, San Francisco is probably just like it's always been, but I'm too old to live there anymore.  So instead of owning up to that, I sit like an old man on his porch bitching about how today's youth don't respect their elders, longing for the days an honest war...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


So I received an interesting proposal last night, an opportunity to self-publish, except that it wouldn't cost me anything.  A friend has been doing the layouts and putting books up for sale on Kindle.  Or Amazon.  Or however that works. Basically, I could put my books up for sale, and people could buy them.  I don't need the money.  Then again, what writer is banking on a book sale for financial prosperity?  Some are.  Mostly people like this (aka Jon Page):

For most of us, though, the book deal isn't about the money; it's about the...ego. The validation.  That outside source that says, yes, your suspicions that you are indeed something special have been confirmed.  Welcome to the big time.  Here's your high comfy chair to look down upon all those who doubted you as you enjoy your fancy mixed nuts.  Of course, the person who "doubted" you most is you. Which is why you need the validation so fucking much.  It's a viscous cycle.

Not that I don't appreciate the opportunity, made that much more special because it comes via one of my favorite people left alive, a buddy down in FLA.  And I would publish my short stories (because no publisher is touching a collection of short stories before a novel), and we even talked about recording a selection of the Best of Joe blog pieces ("Hate Mail," "Top Ten Insults I've Received from Women," Tom Pitts's "The Crazy Joe Clifford Trick," the last of which, though not even written by me, is the third most popular post on this fucking thing), and I like that idea.  And I'll probably do it.

But the books, Junkie Love and The Lone Palm, I'm holding out.  I have to.  And not only because I have a contract with my agent, but because it is the dream, the possibility that keeps me going.  Every day could be the day I get the phone call from Michele, and she'll say, "We have a deal."  And that giant vacuous hole in the center of my being where my soul should be will be filled.  I will feel whole, completed.  A wooden puppet no more, I will be a real boy.  And I will feel good.

For about seven to nine and a half minutes.

I know this because of previous patterns.  A story gets rejected?  I am depressed for about two weeks.  A story gets accepted for publication?  Seven to nine and a half minutes of happiness.

Maybe it would be longer for a book.  But I doubt it.  See, this goes much deeper than a book deal, or a record contract, or that day some film producer comes across a picture of me and makes my biggest dream of all come true: to make a living off my looks.  This about needing something outside of yourself that you should be able to find inside of yourself.  Maybe not for all writers or artists, but it is for me. Which brings up much deeper shit, speaks to much larger problems.  But I try not to think of that, because it only makes me even more neurotic than I already am.

It all comes down to perception, which is 9/10ths of the law.  If an unexamined life ain't worth living is your barometer, then I am living large, my friends.  Very, very large.  But that isn't my barometer.  Mine is outside validation.  My tank is low. And I could use some soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I hate readings, even though I run a reading series (Lip Service West).  I especially hate poetry readings, which tend to be one of the sadder events you'll ever attend, kind of a less festive funeral with worse food and fashion.  The only people who go to poetry readings are other poets (Bukowski has a great bit about this).  The funniest part about going to a poetry reading, like my buddy Tom Pitts and I did a few months back, is the stereotyping.  Like Tom when pointed out, "Oh, there's the angry ex-stripper."  My reading series, LSW, is the anti-reading series reading series. That's sort of our tagline, along with "gritty, real, raw."  I just produce the thing; I don't read at it.  Once in a while I will, like, if we need another reader.  Reading at your own reading series is kind of like throwing a surprise party for yourself. Which I'd do if I thought anyone would actually show up.  But I wouldn't throw it at my house, because I don't want people staying at my house, eating my food, and using my shit.  Still, the real reason I don't read is I hate doing it.

I get so fucking nervous reading.  It's never fun.  I remember when I was selected as one of the CT Touring Poets back in 2004, I was complaining about how anxious I get, and one of my professors told me I'd get over it.  Much like my father telling me one day I'd learn to love the 9-5, I didn't get over it.  I just smoked more.  I gave a dozen readings that spring, and each one felt like a midget tap dancing on my nerves (although I did get asked for my autograph, but I am pretty sure that is because the girl thought I was cute).

When I went to grad school and started doing Lip Service with Andrea in Miami (Andrea is someone who would definitely throw a surprise party for herself), I learned a trick to make life easier.  I'd memorize the piece and then pretend to read it, mimicking what a normal reader might do, pausing for dramatic effect, gesturing, trying to accentuate my nervous tics and make them work for me.  Somehow I developed a strange cowboy twang.  Maybe it's best I'm not on a book tour.

I get nervous playing rock 'n' roll, too.  Because I am neurotic.  I am anxious the moment I wake up.  Literally.  I grind my teeth all night and wake with a clamped jaw.  I've done this so much there are little cracks in my teeth and my dentist says I have to wear a mouth guard.

The question is always, "What are you so anxious about?"  I have a fucking anxiety condition, that's what.  Some days I have throat cancer.  For a long time (and still), I am afraid of contracting a retroactive junkie disease.  Often these days, I worry about Holden.  Tonight, it's botulism because my hippy mother-in-law fed the kid raw honey.  But what I am nervous about doesn't matter so much.  It is always something, like a giant black hole inside me that needs to be filled with fret and woe.

I'm not even reading any time soon.  Don't ask me what the hell I'm so worried about.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What I Want

This blog was supposed to be the start of a new memoir.  Actually, I was writing both simultaneously, at first.  I'd wanted to focus on my father, since the last memoir's heart really was my mom.  I mapped it out in my head, this new memoir, drawing a parallel between my being born and my father's inability top handle that role, with my own new job of dad and how I'd do.  I also planned on weaving in my ill-fated second marriage, relapse, and motorcycle accident that left me with hardware in my pelvis and in need of a new hip at 40.

But plans change.

I suppose I will eventually get back into the memoir, which last count was around 20,000 words, and like all first drafts, a sprawling, incoherent mess.  I found that dividing my attention between that project and this blog, that I looked forward to the one, and while I don't want to say "dreaded"  the other, I will say, it was a lot more work.

Which is what writing is supposed to be, I know.  But work takes time, and that is like water in Vegas, a precious commodity.

In addition to the brevity, I think it's the immediacy of this blog that appeals to me. I have people who read it every day, as opposed to a memoir that may or may not see the light of day.  I've always fancied myself a "man of the people" sort.  I did my best to fit into academia, but I I'm not sure I am that kind of writer.  I am also not sure I am a fiction or non-fiction writer.  Not sure what that leaves.  Maybe Keith Richards, who responded after being asked if he considered himself a rhythm or lead guitarist--"Man, I play guitar."  I write.

There was a time when I wanted to be Jack Kerouac.  I figured I could hop freighters and live on the tops of mountains, eat beans from a can, maybe befriend a squirrel I could name "Tuk Tuk."  But then I turned 24, and Kerouac doesn't mean as much when you turn 24.  Or maybe he does, but the idea of using a rucksack for a pillow becomes less interesting the older you get.  Of course, I did use a rucksack for a pillow, and like Jack, I took a lot of long Greyhound rides, with the truck stops and the pretty girls who make graves.  Even thinking about it now, how I used to run and run only makes me tired.


Justine and her friend, Nancy, were talking about Justine's bachelorette party this Saturday, as Justine continued to tell me it's OK if I want to have a stripper for my bachelor party.  I was married to a stripper.  I don't want to go see one.  A Yankee game and all-you-can-eat steak.  That's what I want.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Boys of Belvedere: Dan Jewett

Everyone I met in San Francisco can be traced back to one man, Dan Jewett.  Tom Pitts once described Dan Jewett as a guy who looked like he got lost on his way to the Renaissance Faire and couldn’t find his way back.  Which is really funny if you knew Dan when Tom knew Dan, during “the salad years."

You wouldn’t know it to look at him now, but Dan used to be quite pixie-like, sort of like the Elf in Gauntlet.  “Elf needs food badly.”  And we did in those days up in Hepatitis Heights.  What made Dan so valuable at that time was he was a link to my past.  He was still a mess, too, just not as bad at Tom Pitts and I, and I’d known Dan long before the fall.  

A slight Robin Hood, with fire red hair and a little Van Dyke pointed beard, Dan was a trixster who played guitar.  I met him when I answered an ad in the SF Weekly looking for a singer.  Now, I wasn’t much of a singer, but I was enthusiastic, and I could write lyrics, and the guy I was replacing, Rob, had the lyrical acumen of a frat boy challenged by the complexity of Steve Miller.  At one of our first practices, I picked up a bass and started playing a blue's walk-down.  Dan stood in the hallway until I stopped.

The band was called Puddle, and we weren’t very good.  The band itself was an offshoot of the Himalayans, which had been fronted by Adam Duritz, whose Counting Crows were just taking off.  I wasn’t aware of the magnitude at the time.  It must’ve been tough for Dan, getting so close with a singer currently rocketing into the rock ’n’ roll stratosphere, and being saddled with me as a replacement.  (Dan shares a writing credit on the song “Round Here.”)

But Dan and I had a deeper bond than music.  I’ve written enough posts (as well as an entire memoir) about the drug use, so I’m just going to give you the lyrics and link to a song I wrote for Dan from the recent Wandering Jews EP, Down on the Farm.  I’d planned on dedicating this to Dan at our last show at the Red Devil, but he got sick and couldn’t make it.  So here’s to you, old buddy…


Sometime after midnight
, met the man at the Arco Station
and by two a.m., my heart was racing.

I don’t know how it was 
we didn’t die that night,

how all those years we stayed alive.
There was a place we used to crash 
out by the freeway;
we’d listen to the boats in the shipyard,
 saying we’ll leave too someday.
And the teenage drummer,
 he’s run on home.

There’s no more music tonight
 in the hollow of the boneyard.

And my pretty baby
 I swore I’d die for?

I gave her away like everything else 
I ever loved.
Watching bruised city nights 
from rooftops full of stars,
and we swore we wouldn’t end up like these clowns.

Tonight I took a walk 
down the circus of Mission Street.

It was cold, but it felt good 
to remember all these things.
There was a house on a hill,
 a place you wouldn’t want to stay.

We all died a little there;
 we never really got away.
And the rumblefish 
stranded on the beachheads.

No cares about making stands 
or waving any fists. 

And all my friends,
 we swore we never lose touch?

Got a call the other day,
 saying, Hey, ain’t it great we’re still in touch?
But sometimes when I close my eyes,
I can see your house 
and I know it’s gonna be warm inside…
And the teenage drummer, 
she’s run on home.

There’s no more music tonight
 in the graveyard of my city.

I still clench my fist, 
hold it up high,

for skateboard kings and gutter punk scene and this holy fire.

For the down dog preacher, 
and the rock ’n’ roll saint,

for the angel with the broken wing 
and the dirty face.
(Dan's latest band, The Hollyhocks, are currently finishing up an album, as well as playing around the Bay Area.  Check them out!)


Dinner with My Ex

When I was ending my ten-year drug run, I had a few items left to accomplish. Think, like, a junkie bucket list.  One of these was to shoot up Holy Water.  So I went into a local church, filled up a vial, brought it back to my room, and injected it.  Now, never-mind that I'd willingly shot sitting water rife with bacteria in which countless dirty hands had dipped dirty little fingers. The only important part (besides being incredibly stupid) was how much I hated the mere thought of God.  I thought atheists were too soft, such was my disdain.

So how is it, eleven years later, I've returned to my faith?  How am I getting married in the same church where my son was baptized and I now write for the monthly newsletter?

Before I answer that burning question, let me first say a few things.  One, I've been planning to write this particular piece for a while but have hemmed, hedged and hawed, because let's face it: admitting to being a Christian these days, 
especially in the SF Bay Area?  Doesn't exactly engender feelings of cool. About as hip as saying I've joined a country rap band. Then again, as Mike "Soupy" Supinksi once told my wife-to-be and I in Colorado, "Actually, that's pretty punk rock when you stop to think about it."

Well, only if you don't think about it too hard.

That's kind of religion in general, isn't it?  Can't think about it too hard. Because that shit is an intellectual stretch.  I mean, virgin birth?  Rising from the dead?  Walking on water?  Tough to swallow.  For even the most fervent.

If politics can be divisive, what about religion?  (Seriously, what 
about religion, Jimmy/Duane?  Am I OK on this one?)  Let me me get something else out of the way: I am not associated with the Bible-toting Cast-thee-out-of-Eden denizens.  If heaven really takes all the people who claim to get to go there, trust me, that is the last place I want to be.  Most people who call themselves Christians sort of suck balls.  I don't want to be associated with the Fred Phelps or Pat Robertsons of the world.  Christianity has been commandeered by rich, old, white dudes.  Which is extra fucked up, since they already own damn near everything in this life, which apparently isn't good enough; they want the afterlife too.  It's a twist on the Groucho: I don't want to be part of any club that would have those fucktards as a member.

So what do we have?  A faith that doesn't hold up to scrutiny, that can only be copped to without he greatest degree of trepidation, whose constituency I generally deplore, and I get to inherit a lineage of oppression, barbarism, and persecution?

Not exactly.  I'm Episcopalian.

For those of you not familiar with what being a Berkeley Episcopalian entails, I offer this chart: 

  • Atheist
  • Agnostic
  • Episcopalian

OK.  Not exactly.  But Episcopalians don't do a lot of finger waggling; we ain't too big on the whole "sinning" part.  Think: Catholic Light or I Can't Believe It's Not Catholic.  The rector at our church is gay, as is the pastor marrying Justine and I in a few weeks.  Reason and Logic are strongly encouraged, atheists, non-believers, and thinkers welcome.  Sort of like a giant AA meeting: take what you can use, leave the rest.

And there is a lot I am going to leave when it comes to mainstream Christianity, namely the condemnation of homosexuality, which has always been a load of hate-mongering horseshit. Anyone who knows the Bible can tell you, there are a fuckton of contradictions, and when they occur in different Testaments, New supersedes Old, and Jesus doesn't talk about being gay, so you can drop that shit right now.  All that "men laying with men" stuff (of which, I think, there are, like, four brief references) occurs alongside passages saying if you wear a shirt of mixed fabric you're going to hell (Leviticus and Deuteronomy).  Using a book that preaches acceptance and redemption for the most marginalized and oppressed in support of further oppressing and marginalizing said group is all kinds of fucked up.  Besides, taking the Bible at verbatim is sort of like this

OK, I'm about to answer the question.  Why do I now include myself in a group that has (besides my wife and I) exactly one cool member (Anne Lamott)?


Or, rather, lack thereof.  As in, I ain't that fucking lucky.

I've got it pretty good, man.  I lived a reckless, wild, (largely) immoral life, and I escaped with my looks, no diseases, and this award-winning sunny disposition (well, two out of three ain't bad).  I've been given a second chance, with a beautiful wife, terrific son, and a house high in the hills.  I do what I want every day.  Aside from not having my book deal, I couldn't ask for more (and my agent, Michele, swears that is just a matter of time, but even if it doesn't happen, so what? I get to write every day, and some people even like this blog. And I don't think "gimme gimme" is what it's all about anyway). I got tired of taking credit for my good fortune.  I got tired of proclaiming my hatred of God, and yet when I'd find myself in the State Police Barracks, felony warrant out for my arrest and looking at serious jail time, I'd be the first to drop on my knees and ask for help.  Just like I'd ask for help with the various junkie disease tests or when there were complications with the pregnancy or when there was a chance I could lose my leg after the accident.  I'd ask for help.  And help was always given.  And if there's one thing I despise more than organized religion, it's hypocrisy.  In fact, that is why I hate religion.  It is populated with hypocrites, the Do As I Say While I Go Get Blown in the Men's Restroom types. I don't want to be a hypocrite.  I am bringing being a Christian cool back.

Probably not.

I am not a rah-rah proselytizing kind of guy.  I'm not interested in converting jackshit.  That's your soul, man.  But it is the height of hubris to assign random chance or personal prowess to wins and losses, so I now return from whence I came, where I never really left.  Because I've always felt...something, however misguided I got.

The truth is, I give my lovely wife-to-be, Justine, a lot of credit on this one.  

Justine tells a story of being on the Camino Santiago in Spain, a 450-mile pilgrimage, she took a couple years before she met me.  On her own, walking on severely blistered, raw and infected feet, Justine found herself many weeks into her journey at her breaking point.  She stepped into an old Spanish church. She talks about pleading with God to be accepted.  This is the part that always gets me.  She said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I know I'll never be the kind of Christian you want, but I want to believe," and at that point she says she felt a terrific warmth come over her, and a voice that said, "I love you as you are."  

Now a cynic would say that was merely self-fulfilling prophesy.  I mean, that's what I would've thought years ago.  And God knows I've never felt that warmth, which I've been searching for all my life.  I so want to feel that.  There is a quote from Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham that I love:

"His cheating and his bitterness were the revolt of his will against (...) a deep-rooted instinct of holiness, against a desire for God that terrified and yet obsessed him."

That's me.  That's why I lived the way I lived.  Pursing the same thing I was running from.

Not that the reunion has been all sunshine and puppy dogs.  

I liken my return to the faith of my youth sort of like having dinner with your ex.  There are a lot of wounds that still fester, some conversation topics you can't yet broach.  But after years of bitter acrimony, there you are again, sitting together for a meal, talking again with someone who once meant everything to you, growing, repairing the damage, and it feels good to let go of some of that anger that's been eating away at you...

And I'm hoping I'm accepted for what I am.  Because I am still a fucked-up, hardheaded oddball, and I hurt as many days as I don't.  And it is never easy. I'm just tired of pretending I've been fighting this battle on my own.  Because I ain't that good.  

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Who Had a Happy Childhood? Bullies and Bores, That's it. And Scott Cunningham, Maybe

(Retitled after J.J.'s Suggestion)

When I was very little, my father used to sit in his recliner chair reading the Sunday Paper, and I'd start flicking the back of it with my fingers.  And he'd tell me to stop once or twice, until I'd do it again, and he'd lose it and start screaming.  He had a pretty short fuse.  Then again, I was the little shit who'd been flicking his newspaper to get his attention, so I sort of see both sides of it.  I was probably five years old. He wasn't much older, really.  Maybe 26, 27. He seems older in my mind, because he was my father, and fathers are older, and he was really big and all that.

When you have a kid of your own, it becomes impossible not to draw certain parallels.  I mean, who's had a happy childhood?  Bullies and bores, that's it.  And Scott Cunningham, maybe.  It's fucking hard work having a kid.  Every second may be worth it, which is the party line, like loving all your kids the same, but there are plenty of moments that drive you nuts.  Like this morning, in which nothing really happened other than I woke up later than usual to a bed full of needy, living creatures.  Justine didn't sleep well because our bed is too firm in order to accommodate my bodily injuries from the accident, so she slept in the guest room, and shows up with Holden, in full sleep sack body suit, which restricts his movement, rendering him a giant wriggling worm, and Lucky Dog is hopping, licking Holden on the mouth, like he does every day (the boy has plenty of places to lick, but for some reason Lucky likes to lick his own butt and then go straight for my kid's mouth), so I'm pulling the dog off, and then the cats are crying to be fed, especially the fat one, Mr. Peepers, who can go, like, seven minutes between meals, at which he subsequently overeats and pukes on one of my expensive new couches. And I just want to make my fucking coffee.

So, yeah, it made me think if my father.  Guy works all week in a quarry, sun up to sundown, gets to relax on one day, and his kid is flicking his newspaper.

I'd write more but Holden is itching for a play partner on the floor, and I'm going to play blocks....

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Good Years: 26

When my mother was alive and I was in my 20s and a mess, I came back home for a visit, and remember overhearing her talking to a friend.

She said, "I wouldn't live through my 20s for all the money in the world."

And I lit up a cigarette, thinking, She's nuts.  The 20s are awesome!

But, like pretty much everything else, she was right about that too.  Being in your 20s sucks.

You don't see it when you are there so much, because you are young and strong, and fucking enthusiastic as hell.  Your worlds opened up, and unlike being in your teens, you can actually do something about it, like pack up and move to wherever the fuck you want, tell your boss to get fucked when he pisses you off and go get drunk at two in the afternoon on a Wednesday.  You're generally broke in your 20s, which further adds to the instability that defines that age.  But that instability creates a sort of thrilling uncertainty.  Some Fridays you might end up waking up under the check-in desk at a Marriot, you sleep with English raver chicks who share your name, and your 20s are usually you best chance for a threesome (unless your bitch girlfriend kicks you out on the spot to explore her newfound sexuality and you are such a liberal neophyte that you want to be supportive).

My 20s were my drug decade, but you could really split it in two: the first half rising and peaking at the halfway point, and the latter half the slow decent into hell.

Which is where we find my 26th year.

I was going out in style, maxing credit cards, entering full-fledged criminality, and playing rock 'n' roll with abandon.  It was the year I married my first wife and first picked up the spike.  I was still pretty, but young boy pretty, and still delusional enough to think I could take all these drugs, do exactly what I wanted, and have all my dreams come true.

Because I was a fucking idiot in my 20s.

Now, this isn't a dig against everyone in their 20s.  Just me and a lot of my friends from back then.  I can only report what I saw through my eyes.  But even the friends who didn't do drugs, I think they'd agree the 20s were tumultuous.  I know my friend Jimmy back east had a rough go because his job sucked, and even guys like my best man, Rich, who is a rock of stability, I bet if I asked, he'd say the 20s were much shakier than now.

It's just how this works.  It's why it's so hard to effect change when you are young, why the system is controlled by folks in their 60s.  On paper, you'd think that since the same people in their 60s now were once in their 20s then that they might recall the struggle to free Leonard or promote sexual equality and/or liberation, and though I am not yet in my 60s, I can safely say, in my 40s, that I already look back on my dumbass ideas from those days and want to distance myself.  Of course, by that logic, by the time I am 60, I will probably read this post and cringe like I do now when I think about the Brave New World Show, Julie and the Cafe, the "seizure," and of course the drugs.

But I will always think fondly of my first wife, Hadley.  We had a little apartment, and we were young and dumb enough to think we'd make it, and that part of it really is sweet.

Every once in a while a friend from those days will unearth a photo from that time, put it up on Facebook, like my pal Buick just did (posted above).  And I am always amazed at how fresh-faced and wide-eyed I was.  Part of you wishes you could reach in and shake some sense into that goofy bastard, save yourself a lot of the trouble and loss.  But then I guess you wouldn't be who or where you are now.  And that isn't such a bad place.