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Candy and Cigarettes

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Schadenfreude



Well, I'm violating a few of my own rules here.  One, I'll be talking about sports. Two, it'll be controversial.  And, three, I will probably lose readers and offend friends.

Oh, well.

But I hope you'll stick around for what I believe will be a transcendent piece about love, hope, and forgiveness, one which will not divide, but rather bring us all together, Democrat and Republican, the beautiful and the homely, the Yankee fan and the Sox fan.

*

Let me tell you a story about a little boy in 2004.  Now this young scrap (fresh out of a long-term residential treatment facility) had been a Yankee fan his whole life. Born in 1970, he had vague recollections of Bucky (Fucking) Dent, the Yankee victory and the 1978 World Series.  The stronger memory, however, was of the 1980s, a decade devoid of not only a Yankee World Championship, but damn near everything else worthwhile, too.  The '80s, for those who didn't come of age then, can be a fun, kitschy thing.  Now.  Shoulder pads.  Neon.  White sports' coats and shoes without socks.  The shitty synthesizers and overly reverbed drums.  But growing up in the '80s wasn't as much fun as they make it sound on TV, I promise you.

There wasn't much for a string-bean-thin-weirdo farmboy to do to pass his dark days on the farm.  There was always cow-tipping, which I heard of often, though never would think to participate in.  There were sports.  At which I sucked.  I loved all the girls (TracyAllisonAnneMelissa), but nobody wanted to date a dweebo like me, who spent most of his schooldays hanging with the ugly people in the art room or running around the farm (san shirt) stabbing a pitchfork into the ground trying to snag a gopher.

I had baseball.  Couldn't play it.  But fucking loved it.  The Yankees, in particular. Die hard, bled pinstripes and all that.  Used to dress up every year in my full Yankee uniform for my birthday party every year.  The other kids who came just wore jeans and stuff.  I wore full-on pinstripes, head to toe.  I did this until I was 14, I believe.

Now if you are even a casual fan, you know that the New York Yankees have 27 World Championships, significantly more than any other team.  You might also know that the Red Sox are our biggest rival, sworn enemy and all that.  If you are a Yankee fan, you are raised to hate the Red Sox.

During the 1980s, the Yankees never won a World Title.  Come the '90s, they sucked something fierce, barely watchable by the time I packed my bags and headed out west to San Francisco.  Now, in the mid-'90s, the Yankees were a force again, winning four in five years.  But I didn't see any of them.  I was a junkie living in shooting galleries and skid row hotels.  Any TV I got my hands on I hocked for drugs.  When I sobered up, it was just in time to catch the Yanks' 2001 Season, which ended with heartbreaking defeat against the Diamondbacks.

So despite being a fan of the most successful sporting franchise going, I never saw them win it all.  Not once.  In 2003, they were back in the Series against the Marlins, after an exhausting 7-game affair with the dreaded Sox, but they lost.  Then came 2004.

Oh, 2004...

Up until last night, 2004 was the biggest choke in the rivalry, in the entire history, between the two teams. It was the only time in baseball history that a team was up 3-0, and lost the Series. The Yankees were the ones that had been up 3-0; the Red Sox were the ones who came back.  I lived in New England at the time, in a heavily pro-Sox region.  It was rough.  I essentially shut myself off from all media--no Internet, no TV, no radio, for fear someone might even causally reference the Yankee's historic collapse.  So successful was my plugging out, that when I finally emerged from the cave in early 2005 for lunch with a friend and he said something about the tsunami that obliterated Thailand, I stared back, blankly.

"What tsunami," I asked.

I've had to hear about 2004 for the last 8 years, how the Yankees' were the biggest chokers ever.  Personally, I didn't think the Yanks had any business being up 3-0 in the first place; the Sox that year were a better team.  Still, when it comes to sports, bragging rights are everything.  The Sox won it all in 2004.  And again in 2007.  2 Championships before I ever saw my boys win one.  (The Yankees did win it in 2009, and I finally was able to celebrate.)

All of which brings us to this.  First, allow me to repost an article from NESN. (NESN is the Red Sox sports' channel.)  This article appeared before the start of the 2011 Baseball Season, essentially anointing Boston as the greatest team ever, one that would exceed 100 wins and very likely go down in the lore and the stat books as The.  Greatest.  Team.  Ever.  Probably be the first team to win two Championships in a single season, they were going to be that good.

2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for 
Title of Greatest Team in Major League History
by Eric Ortiz on Sun, Jan 2, 2011 at 7:41AM   Comments 192
The Red Sox have won 100 or more games three times in their 110-year existence.
They will make it four in 2011.  But this team has the potential to accomplish something
even bigger than winning 100 games.
The last time the Red Sox reached the 100-win mark was 1946, when they went 104-50-2
and lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.
Prior to that, the Red Sox posted 101 wins in 1915 and 105 in 1912. Both seasons ended
with World Series titles.
Will the duck boats be rolling through the streets of Boston again next fall?
Bookmakers like the Red Sox’ chances. Current odds put them at 9-2 to win the 2011 World 
Series.  Only the Phillies, at 7-2, are bigger favorites, with the Yankees not far behind at 5-1
shots.
Championships, of course, aren’t won in January. But championship teams are built during the
offseason, andTheo Epstein has put together a roster that would make Branch Rickey proud.
Look at the starting lineup.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Carl Crawford, LF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
David Ortiz, DH
J.D. Drew, RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie, SS
Speed. Power. Plate discipline. This lineup has it all. Good luck finding a hole from 1 to 7.
Saltalamacchia is a bit of a wild card, but the 25-year-old could be ready for a breakout season.
And whoever is the starting shortstop -- Scutaro or Lowrie -- gives the Red Sox one of the
toughest No. 9 hitters in the game.
Besides a potent offensive attack, the Red Sox will boast airtight defense, perhaps the best of
any team in baseball.
Turn to the bench, and manager Terry Francona has plenty of options.
Mike Cameron, OF
Darnell McDonald, OF
Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie, INF
Jason Varitek, C
Youth, experience and versatility will ride the pine like lions waiting to hunt. Depth won’t be
a problem, especially with players like Ryan KalishLars Anderson and Josh Reddick on the
farm.
In 2010, the Red Sox scored 818 runs (second-most in the majors), or 5.1 per game. They hit 211
home runs (second in MLB) and posted a .790 OPS (tops in MLB). The offense, with even more
weapons now, could demolish those numbers.
Yet one run is all it might take to win a game on some days with the starting staff the Red Sox
have assembled.
Jon Lester, LHP
Josh Beckett, RHP
John Lackey, RHP
Clay Buchholz, RHP
Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP
Lester is a Cy Young winner waiting to happen. Beckett will notch more than six victories.
Lackey should be better equipped to avoid the one-bad-inning syndrome. Buchholz has
become a force. And Dice-K might be the best No. 5 starter ever. The Japanese right-hander
is the only pitcher in the rotation who’s never been an All-Star, but this could be the year he
ends that streak.
Every Red Sox starting pitcher has something to prove. While the Phillies might be the popular
choice as the best rotation in baseball, don’t be surprised if people are singing a different tune
come October.
When Red Sox starters have to hand the ball to the bullpen this season, Boston fans won’t have
to have to cover their eyes and pray. The weak link in 2010 could be one of the best relief corps
in the business.
Tim Wakefield, RHP
Scott Atchison/Matt Albers, RHP
Hideki Okajima, LHP
Dan Wheeler, RHP
Bobby Jenks, RHP
Daniel Bard, RHP
Jonathan Papelbon, RHP
Okajima is the only known left-handed quantity. But youngster Felix Doubront has talent and
should see some action. Rich HillLenny DiNardo and Andrew Miller also could contribute.
The right-handers in the mix all bring experience and different styles to the fire. Need long relief?
Call on Wakefield to disrupt hitters’ timing. Need a middle-inning specialist to get key outs?
Wheeler knows how to do the job, and Atchison proved serviceable last season. Albers could be
a diamond in the rough. Want heat? Jenks and Bard throw seeds. Want to turn out the lights?
Papelbon is pitching for a contract, so trust he will be ready to show he’s far from washed up.
Reliability and consistency -- foreign concepts to Boston’s bullpen last season -- will be common
words associated with this group.
Every day should feel like Christmas for Curt Young, the new Red Sox pitching coach. The former
A’s pitching coach didn’t have anything close to the horses he has now, and Oakland’s staff posted
a 3.56 ERA last season, the best in the American League and fourth-best in the majors. Imagine what
he can do with a Grade A collection of arms.
The Red Sox were slated to win about 95 games last year. They won 89 despite injuries to Pedroia
(a former MVP) and Youkilis (a possible future MVP). Add them back, along with the new players
and a healthy Ellsbury, and 100 wins doesn’t just appear plausible. It seems downright inevitable.
So does a date with history.
The 2001 Mariners won 116 regular-season games to set the American League record for most wins
in a single season and tie the 1906 Cubs for the major league record (though the North Siders
accomplished the feat in 152 games). Both those teams failed to win the World Series. The Cubs lost
to the White Sox in six games in the Fall Classic. The Mariners didn’t even make it that far, falling to
the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.
The Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. The way they are constructed, they could
surpass the 116-win mark, but nothing less than a World Series title will make Boston happy.
The 2011 Red Sox possess all the pieces to have a season for the ages. If everything falls into place
and the breaks go their way, they could do more than set records and become champions. They could
do more than take their place on Immortality Peak and end up being mentioned in the same sentence
as legendary clubs of the past: the 1929 A’s, the epic Yankees teams of the ‘30s, the 1970 Orioles, the
1976 Reds.
The 2011 Red Sox could accomplish a feat that has never been done. They could unseat the 1927 
Yankees as the greatest major league team of all time.
That would be something to celebrate.
How will the 2011 season play out for the Red Sox? Share your thoughts below.


Um, not quite.

As you may or may not know by now, last night the Boston Red Sox redefined 
the biggest choke.  Never had a team blown a 9-run lead in September.  On Sept. 1, 
The Sox were up 1 1/2 games on the Yankees.  The prohibitive favorite all year, 
they proceeded to lose, well, just about all their games, culminating with last night
particularly painful defeat.

I am a Yankee fan, which makes me a McCoy.  And as such, I fucking hate the 
Hatfields.

But rather than take this opportunity to mock my enemy, further squash his spirits,
kick the dog when he's down, rather, in the spirt of bipartisanship, I seek to embrace 
our differences, extend an olive branch, because we all love baseball.  Let us not 
remain a (baseball) nation divided anymore!

I know how much you Boston fans are hurting right now.  Just like I hurt in 2004.
I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone (especially not you, Rich and Jimmy).

So let me offer you some advice on how to get through it.

1.) Don't blame the Yankees.  I blamed the Sox in '04.  But for what?  The Yankees
controlled their own destiny.  Just as the Sox did this year.  In each case, the teams
fucked themselves.

2.) Don't turn on a TV, the Internet, a radio.  Fuck, just to be safe, don't leave the 
house.  And for the love of God, do not answer the phone. Life for you now is like 
the '80's all over again.  They've dropped the big one.  Wait out the fallout.



3.) Understand that it's just a game.  That some teams win and some...teams... 
HAHAHA.  Sorry about that one.  Yeah, this one won't work.

4.) Aw, fuck, just root against the Yankees in the playoffs.  It's all you got.  
Listen, the Yankees aren't going all the way this year, not with Freddy Garcia pitching
Game 3 and our having to face Verlander 2x in a short series.  We're just going farther
than you.  Welcome to becoming a Detroit, Texas, Rays or NL team fan.

For one thing we can all agree on, Yankee and Sox alike: on any given night, we have 
two favorite teams: our team and whichever one is playing the other.

Now to cheer up all my Red Sox friends, here's a video of some singing kittens.



(Oh, and why not?)


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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Yoga

"You need to stop running," the doctor said.

"That ain't happening."

"Then you need to lose weight.  You're 210 lbs."

"Doc," I said, "I have 16% body fat."

He shook his head solemnly.  "That's right.  The weight lifting.  You're too...solid."

"So you're saying it'd be better if I was a big fat gooey guy who sat on his ass and watched TV?"

The doctor laughed.  "No, it's good that you exercise.  But the X-Rays show advancing traumatic arthritis.  It's bone on bone.  Basically, it's about how much pain you can tolerate."

How much pain can I tolerate?  A fucking lot.  The one thing I can do better than you is bang my head against a wall longer.  It's not exactly the most desirable of skill sets.  Sorta the Aqua Man of superpowers.


But you work with what you have.  And the fact is, once I stop running, that's it.  As in, like, forever.  Until the day I die.

*

Saw my new orthopedist, Dr. Chen, yesterday because my hip has steadily gotten worse.  The X-Rays show why it's been hard some night to climb the stairs (and the new house has a lot of stairs).  The arthritis, which is essentially decayed cartilage, stripping away all natural joint lubrication, leaving dry bone scraping against dry socket, has pretty much taken over the side of my right acetabulum.  Interestingly enough, it has not taken over the top of the ball and socket, which is what is affected most by my running, which doctors have frowned up since my taking it up once I was declared weight barring again.

The truth is, I don't run much anymore.  There was a while there where I was running well over 20 miles a week.  But I had to stop that shit.  I do about 4.5 miles a week now.  Most of my cardio is on the bike or hitting the heavy bag.  Still, I hate being told I can't do something.  Especially when you consider the reality of my stopping running: it's not like I'll be able to start up again. Ever.  The beauty of a degenerative condition is that things are as good as they'll ever get right now.  And now.  Not then.  Nope.  Not anymore.  Now.

Doctors are conservative by nature, I get that, and I've been advised that running probably isn't the best thing for my hip, and I'm not an idiot; I understand why. Running is hard on a hip, violent pounding.



But even Dr. Chen conceded that the most important thing is that I remain active. He just thinks, like my lovely (hippy) wife and everyone in the granola-munching, tree fucking NorCal woods, that I'd be better suited doing...yoga.

Fuck yoga.  You ever see me dressed in a sarong, looking like I'm trying to blow myself, I invite you to, please, please kick my ass.

I am a Clifford.  Like my asshole father before me.  And my two dipshit brothers. We lift heavy things.  We curse (and frequently get divorced).  We do not wear helmets when we ride our motorcycles.  And we don't do yoga.

Dr. Chen says the hip replacement is inevitable.  Which I already knew.  He couldn't say how soon.  Which I also already knew.  But certainly within this decade.  We talked about doing it now, the benefits and the risks.  The problem is, it's a temporary fix.  Artificial, these mechanized parts have a shelf life.  They'd have to replace my hip about every ten years, each time working with less and less natural bone.  Being delusional, I prefer to think of myself more like Steve Austin.


Better.  Stronger.  Crankier.

Who really gives a shit?  It's not that complicated.  I had a bad accident.  It didn't cost six million to put me back together (last I checked we were around $300K). But they fixed me up pretty good anyway.  And who doesn't have pain?  My buddy Jimmy is losing his spine.  My pal Jon's brain is misfiring.  Everyone I know is hurting.  I don't know anybody not in pain.


Can't resist a chance to link a clip of Princess Bride.  (Rodents of Unusual Size, anyone?)

It's the helpless part that gets to me, this idea that nothing I do, no matter how hard I work (and I push this body hard), can stave off the inevitable.  But if you want to get all philosophical and shit, I guess none of us can, right?

'Cause I'm getting on in the world, coming up on 41 years, 41 gray stoney steps toward the grave, y'know, the box, awaits its grisly load.  We're all gonna be food for worms...


Sorry.  Little clip happy this morning.  Issues of mortality will do that to you.

*

"I told you running was bad for you," my wife says, smugly, as she feeds our son breakfast.  "Haven't I been telling you that?"

(Justine is the only wife on earth who actively encourages her husband to exercise less and eat more poorly ["The gym?  Again?  Here, wouldn't you rather have some nice cake?"]  She says she liked my body better before, when we first met, before all the weight lifting.  Because I was all soft and spongey, like a Stretch Armstrong left out in the sun.)


So I explained all this to her, again, how sedentary is actually far worse for my hip, how once I give up running, that'll be it.  I talked about the powerless feeling of it all, and needing to feel like I can still do the things I used to do.  I told her I could really use a little support, because exercising with this damn hip gets harder every day.

She smiled sympathetically, gave an understanding nod.

Then she said what everybody in San Francisco's Bay Area says when you are experiencing issues of mobility.

"But I still say you should really do yoga."

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A South Florida Story

I fucking hated my time in Miami.  Still can't stand the goddamn city.  I know there are people who love South Beach and its clubs, how Miami always makes some annual stupid Ten Best Places to Party (Woo-hoo!) or Hottest Spring Break Destination list.  You can have the place.  I spent three miserable years in that sweat-soaked armpit stain, with that fucking thumping reggaeton music pumping in every store you go into, surrounded by dopey girls with their augmented body parts, counting the days until I could get out.

Not that I didn't make some terrific friends along the way.  And receive a stellar graduate education (!), which was paid for (and then some).  It's just when you lose a wife and almost die in a city, your memories of that place tend to be tainted.

I don't know.  I guess it just wasn't my kind of scene.  I hadn't talked to an old buddy, Jason Carlson, for a long time.  Jay and I had known each other in San Francisco, were good friends, and then I started getting further and further out there, and we lost touch.  After I straightened out, got my undergrad degree and went to study writing at FIU in Miami, I got ahold of Jay.  When I told him where I was, he started to remininse about the time I met him and the rest of the Boys of Belvedere at Lake Havasu, wearing my pea green, thrift shore coat, fedora, and pasty white skin (http://tinyurl.com/4xgq6xj).

"I just can't picture that guy in Miami," Jay said.

And he was right.  To (mis)quote the great Raymond Chandler, I belonged in Miami "like a pearl onion belongs on a banana split."

Maybe it was all that fucking sunshine.  I have a certain morose persona I try to cultivate.  It is goddamn tough to be morose when every day is sunny and in the upper '80s, a hot tropical breeze blowing the big palm fronds, and goddamn coconuts falling on your head.  (Actually, had coconuts ever truly fallen on my head, maybe it would've aided my morose cause.  But the closest I ever came to [natural] cranial damage was the big lark nesting in a palm tree at my condo on the beach, which dive bombed your face to protect her eggs every time you walked across the parking lot.  Used to scare the shit out of me [Jimmy too, when he came to visit].)

This would've been bad enough, but making my time in Miami even worse was all that quintessential Miami poetry.

I posted last week how much I hate (most) poetry and (most) poets (http://tinyurl.com/3lv7lqq), because they read their poetry like this.


And before all my poet buddies have their heads explode with aneurysms, I know Sylvia Plath is a great poet with her place firmly etched (and rightly so) in the American pantheon (of greats).  But don't tell me you don't cringe listening to her read her own work.  She sounds like she's trying out for 3rd understudy in a Pumpkin Valley High spring production.

In Miami, I attended many poetry readings.  And there were a few reoccurring...themes.  It seems there is some unspoken mandate in Miami that 99% of all poems read within county limits have to contain at least one reference to your grandmother. Only here, with the pervasive Cuban influence, it is abuela.  Usually the abuela is cooking something that is Spanish-sounding, stinks, and also goes in italics.  Something like, "And on Sundays, mi abuela would cook boliche / its pungent aroma wafting from the kitchen..."  Or some crap like that.  And every poem also has to mention either "bouganvilla" or "monkeygrass" or "mangroves." And everyone knows Miami is a land populated by very tiny dogs.  Don't ask me. Them's the rules.

So when I was leaving Miami, I wanted to write a poem commemorating my miserable time there, incorporating these regional distinctions.  This poem was recently published by Tigertail (http://www.tigertail.org/onlinesales.html) in its latest issue, which features flash and noir, and is guest edited by my former thesis advisor, the indefatigable Lynne Barrett.  I received my free contributor's copy in the mail today.  You don't get a free contributor's copy.  You can buy a copy at the link provided above.  And you should, because for as much as I hate poetry in general, this issue contains work from my friends, with whom I studied, and who made my time there at least bearable.  And it's noir-tinged, which is always cool. 

My poem isn't online.  So I'll reprint it here for you (but you should still shell out the lousy $3 for your own copy.  Y'know, to frame or something).  It's pretty fucking short (and I'll retain my original delineation, which was altered by Lynne to better fit the issue's theme).  Hope you like it.

                                          A South Florida Story

                                          I bludgeoned your abuela 
                                          beneath the bouganvilla,
                                          then dumped her body in the mangroves
                                          and walked my tiny dog.

Screw you, Miami.



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Monday, September 26, 2011

Breaking Bad

Man, my nerves were shot.  After a long Sunday of watching a sick, screaming kid on my own, nineteen hours of a Yankees / Red Sox double-header marathon, trying to squeeze in my work-work in between the whiplash graphics of NFL Network's Red Zone, which is essentially football for the ADHD generation, as my fantasy football team continued to fuck me (thank you, Mike Vick, for apparently being made of balsa wood), and a visit from my dearly beloved great grandmother (in law), who though I love dearly, feels the need to tell you everything you touch, eat, drink, or even think about is going to give you cancer and kill you, I was a shaking ball of angry nerve.  I felt like this.


So it was with great joy that the time came to relax with a little Breaking Bad.

OK.  Maybe watching Breaking Bad on Sunday night isn't the best thing for frazzled nerves (especially when you go in to check on your sleeping son first, smell the unmistakable stench of giant dump, and wrench over whether a good parent wakes him up or let's him sleep in his own poo).  But like any good drug habit, it's tough to skip a fix.

We watched the movie Limitless Saturday night.  There's this funny interview a couple months ago with Zach Galifinakis in Rolling Stone, which is a good excuse to include some Between Two Ferns.




They're talking about how Zach loves to say inappropriate things at inappropriate times.  So when his Hangover co-star Bradley Cooper called to tell him his girlfriend broke up with him, Zach says, "Oh, you let her see Limitless?"  Limitless is a pretty shitty movie.  Inoffensive, but shitty.  I wouldn't even mention it, except for its ridiculous treatment of drugs and addiction, which is pretty standard for Hollywood's ridiculous treatment of drugs and addiction.  They never get it right.  I shouldn't say "never."  There's been Drugstore Cowboy and Trainspotting.  But they are the exception that proves the rule.  And on TV?  Forget it.

Except for Breaking Bad.  Which is, for my money, the best written show on TV.

I know a lot of people won't watch because of the subject matter.  In case you don't know what that subject matter is, the show's about a high school chemistry teacher who finds out he's got cancer and so starts cooking methamphetamine to leave some money behind for his family.  It's a fucking brilliant premise and there is no reason I shouldn't have thought of it first.  It's set in the Southwest, and features two of the best acting jobs you'll ever see, Bryan Cranston (the dad from Malcom in the Middle, believe it or not) as the chemistry teacher, Walter White, and Aaron Paul as his surrogate son/cooking partner, Jessie Pinkman.  Their performances are, week in, week out, consistently nuanced and elaborate, layered, pained, complex and believable.

The show excels on so many different levels.  I fucking hate Walter's wife, Skylar (played by Anna Gunn).  In the first few episodes, she's more than just a shrewish bitch, henpecking her cancer-addled husband (she doesn't know he has cancer). But as the show goes on, you don't necessarily like her any more, but you see how necessary she is.  She's a strong female presence, who serves both as foil and accomplice.  I don't think a lot of writers would have made her so strong.  But she needs to be exactly the way she is, and you see why the further we get (we're in Season Four); she'd have been steamrolled by now, made irrelevant.  Instead, you have another dynamic, pushing and pulling, with her own motivations, as selfish as the rest.  And you have Water's son, Walt. Jr. (RJ Mitte), who has cerebral palsy, another perfect touch, which allows Walter Sr. the need to have a fully able-bodied son in Jesse (even if that "able body" is a complete fucking mess and drug addict). Then you have Hank, Walter's brother-in-law DEA agent. But instead of this being a convenient detail after the fact, it serves as the catalyst for Walter's getting involved with the meth production in the first place, when Hank takes him along on a raid in Season One.  Last season introduced criminal, cutthroat mastermind and forever chill Gus and his creepy old dude henchman, Mike.  A tightly coiled spin out of control.  The center cannot hold.

Vince Gilligan, who brought us The X Files, another one of the best shows TV has ever seen, is the mastermind, creator and writer.  Every facet of Breaking Bad is virtually flawless, from cinematography, to dialogue, to best of all, its depiction of meth addiction.

OK.  There is one detail Gilligan and Co. got wrong.  Walt and Jesse supposedly cook the purest meth around (99% for Walt, 96% for Jesse).  Yet, there was a scene where Jesse was smoking from a glass pipe and it was burning black.  Every (recovering) meth addict knows, the purer the meth, the less residue left behind. What gets burned black are the impurities.  96% pure would burn clean.

Which is why I would like to offer my services to Breaking Bad and Vince Gilligan. Vince, if you're reading this, drop me a line.  I've done my share of meth.  I can fucking write.  Let me help you.  Salary is negotiable.

Seriously, if you're not, watch this fucking show.  If you're the type to be offended by the subject matter you wouldn't be reading this blog (except maybe you, Laura, but that's OK.  I still love you.  But everyone besides Laura, you need to watch). Shows like this don't come along often.  And they don't last forever.  Next year is the last.  Catch up on it.  You'll be glad you did.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

The End of the World

Some big news came out of Georgia yesterday.  And I know it's going to be controversial.  No, I'm not talking about Troy Davis.  REM broke up.  I have always maintained that REM is the most important rock 'n' roll band after the Beatles. Without the Beatles, you have no Stones, no Who, no Doors (which would actually be a good thing), but without REM, you have no Nirvana, No Pearl Jam (again, a good thing), none of the alternative music that so saturates the airwaves these days that it has to now be called mainstream.  If I could draw a rock family tree I'd show how every band descends from virtually two parents, the Beatles and REM.  (I drew this tree once when I was very high and it made a lot of sense but I lost the picture.)

You have to remember when REM came around, we were mired in a dark, awful era in rock 'n' roll (not all that different than when Nirvana burst on the scene a decade later, but here the egg comes first).  At the time it was all Rod Stewart "Tonight's the Night" and adult contemporary; and the "Escape (Pina Colada Song)" is cool now, because it's camp, but there was a time when it wasn't camp.  That shit was serious.

There are holes in this theory, I know, and there are about a million bands you can name, mostly punk and metal (and I guess hip-hop, but I don't anything about the history of that shit), and I suppose Motown, which probably has its lineage stemming from soul, and there are all those ska and reggae subsets, dub and the like, but I ain't talking about that.  I'm talking rock 'n' roll bands.  The Beatles paved the way in the '60s, and REM picked up the torch in the '80s, mixed metaphors be damned, with a focus on solid pop songwriting, tight 4-minute rock songs written by the band and not some outside hit-maker that straddled that line between appealing to the masses while remaining cool enough for those of us who really get it.  Not easy to do.  REM gave me the Replacements and Gaslight Anthem.  And for that, I'll be forever thankful.

And as long as we're going with controversy, might as well talk about Troy Davis. Not the particulars, of course.  'Cause we don't do that here.  I'm not getting into innocence or guilt, travesty or justice.  But I read the comment sections in various posts on the story yesterday, and, man, it was fucking vicious.  There was a message from Roger Waters on Facebook, a left-of-center though pretty generic sentiment about the "failure of the American justice system," and the things people wrote on his...wall (God, I love a good early morning double entendre) reminded me of my young, Republican self in the 1980s.  I used to have this rant (I've always had a rant, left or right) about how if John Lennon didn't like American politics, he should go back to England.  I must've overlooked the whole "he's dead" part.  There were a lot of comments telling Roger to shut the fuck up and go back to England and make music (which everyone was careful to mention they still loved, on the off-chance Roger himself is going to read Facebook comments, reach out and offer free tickets to someone with the courage to speak his own mind, even if the view is contrary).

I'm not picking a side (really, Duane, I'm not).  OK.  I'm picking a side.  But I've already picked it.  I've made no secret that I am bleeding heart liberal (radical, actually), and with that comes all the usual view, against the death penalty, etc.  But I am not talking about this individual case, and I don't use this blog as a pulpit.  I don't know jack about the case, honestly.  And when I thought about brushing up, getting up to speed, and another analogy that I'm too lazy to think up, I noticed my prejudice.  When the search engine offered the feed, I immediately went to the ACLU's version.  Just like another might go to FOX.  And we already know this. We seek out the versions that back-up our already established points of view.  So there is no learning, no discourse, no growth.  I've got my opinion, you got yours, and neither of us is changing.  So why the fuck are we going to talk about it?




*

Been asked to write a non-fiction story for a Florida-based literary magazine, the rub being that the story needs to be Florida-related.  Only two things happened to me during my brief three years in FLA (that seemed to last forever).  The Divorce.  The Accident.  Detailing five months of an uneventful, ill-fated marriage doesn't exactly get me excited, so I doubt it would get anyone else.  I'm not sure how many pages I could wring out of it, anyway.  Made a bad choice, should've known better, and that's that.  The accident, though...

I've been trying to write that story for a while.  I mean, there are two defining events in my life.  The first, of course, being my drug addiction.  The second is the motorcycle crash that damn near killed me and left me with a body full of broken parts and an arthritic hip condition that seems to get worse by the day.  It's got all the elements for a compelling story: life and death, love and heartbreak, fall and redemption.  Problem is, just not sure how to tell it.  Which is weird because I've worked with far less before.

There's got to be way to make this fresh.  I've tried starting en medias res, which is how I began "Laying Down the Bike," my first Lip Service story down in Miami.  I recently re-read that story, because it was never actually published, but it sucks. Overly dramatic and heavy-handed, not a hint of humor.  The story itself isn't funny, I know, but there needs to be some levity, some lightness.  I am no Andrea Askowitz, but I have my moments of The Funny.  I've written about this disconnect often, between who I am and my writing voice, a gulf I hoped this blog would broach.  Maybe it has.  It's certainly has helped me get some stories published.  I guess I haven't really written much non-fiction outside of this thing.

And Holden is still sick and screaming, and my wife is pissed that I am writing this, which means I don't need to find an applicable conclusion to wrap this all up and tie it together.  See?  That's me, always able to find the silver lining...

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shaken, Not Stirred

Well, that's it for Poetry Week.  I don't what the hell else to say about the stuff. Except that if you're writing it, you should probably try to stop and get help.

*

If we're friends on Facebook (and if we're not, really, don't you think we should be?) then you know my boy, Holden, has pneumonia, which has been about as stressful for his parents as you'd think.  It's been a rotten three or four days of screaming and trips to the doctor, including a 2 a.m. ER visit when the little guy's fever spiked at 102.6 Saturday night.  There's that scene in The Departed where Leo is explaining to his doctor how he's great in high pressure situations, and he shows her by holding out his hand.  "It doesn't shake," he says.  "My hand never shakes." Yeah, I'm like that, except the exact opposite.



My ex-wife (the one I loved) used to tell this story about the night I kicked over the candle in our apartment on 23rd Street, the way we'd woken up to flames moving up the chair and across the rug, about to envelope the whole apartment, and how I just stood there flapping my arms, turning in a circle, useless (before eventually gathering my bearings enough to fill some bowls with water and put the damn thing out).

That was pretty much what happened this past Saturday when Holden woke in the middle of the night, coughing and crying, face hot and pink, with a fever well over a bill.  And in a moment where I could've risen to the occasion, been the man, I, again, melted and let my family down.  It's pretty humiliating to be undone so easily.

Talking to my shrink on Monday, I told the doc how it isn't that I necessarily always create my own drama or make up my own tragedies--having a one-year-old with pneumonia is serious shit--I simply have a lower threshold than most (I am often my own worst enemy, imagining junkie diseases and throat cancer, just not this time). Most people who wake in the middle of the night to a screaming child, even one who has to go to the Emergency Room, are able to think rationally, make a plan of action, function.  For whatever reason, the slightest bit of pressure causes me to crack.  You put $5 on a 2-foot putt, and I'll miss that shit every time.

When I give readings, I will memorize my piece beforehand, however long that piece may be.  Because I cannot actually read live.  I get too nervous, stumble over words, start to sweat (and, yes, smell like salad dressing), and will fuck it up. Instead, I pretend to read.  I'll stand there like a regular person, mic in front of me, making eye contact at the start of every paragraph (thanks for the tip, Justine), and I'll look down at the paper I hold in my hand, even move my head with each line. But I am not actually reading.  It's a gimmick, a ruse, a parlor trick.

I've spoken of my need for routine before (http://tinyurl.com/3bpwvg5).  And since I like to use visual aids, and since this post is woefully devoid of the Funny:


And this is what the kid really changes, what's proving to be the biggest challenge for me.  Yeah, Holden sucks up my time, and, no, I can't go out and see bands or hang out with friends, but I never really liked doing that much in the first place.  I've had to rearrange, not overhaul.  But being a father has forced me to address perhaps my biggest shortcoming.  Because I've done with my life what I do when I'm giving readings: I give the illusion of reaction in an effort to appear normal; but really I am merely carrying out a memorized, repeated action.  Or to use a baseball analogy (and thus further endear myself to my dwindling female readership), I don't have a 90 mph fastball, a 12-to-6 curve, no movement.  I have to be...crafty. Hit the corners, change speeds.  I am Freddy Garcia.


I don't know why I included this picture.  Honestly, I think I am still delirious, having caught whatever virus or cold from Holden that precipitated his pneumonia; I've been sleeping on and off for the last 24 hours, medicine making me all loosey goosey.  But Freddy Garcia is carving out a nice season for himself with a fastball that tops out at a robust 72 mph, and I feel a kinship with the Big Chief.  We are both Native American (yes, really), and, well, I guess that's it.  That and the crafty part, the need to fool the opposition.  But that isn't good enough anymore.  Because now that I am dad, there are moments when I am going to need to react, think on my feet, handle adversity and be a man for my family.

Long story short, the doc is prescribing me new meds.  I'll let you know how it works out.

And in closing...

*

Justine had bought me tickets for my 41st birthday to see Kids in the Hall at Cobbs Comedy Club this past Friday (actually, two of the Kids).  But we couldn't go because Holden was sick.  So if you'll allow me, I'd like to leave you with a couple father-related KITH clips...


Also, for Jimmy...




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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Jenny Dreadful: Riches for One, Poverty for Two

Jenny's real last name is Rossi.  My first editorial suggestion would be to stick with "Dreadful," all the better since the work that fills the bulk of these pages is not particularly bad ass.  In fact, there is a great deal of touching and sweet to it.  I don't say that as a slight.  For all my flippancy, dismissiveness, ridicule of just about everything everyone calls dear, etc., the truth is, I really admire those with the balls (figuratively speaking, of course) to wear their hearts on their sleeves, believe in the possibility of the better day, holding onto ideals and integrity, like wishes to the heart.  I used to be like that.  Until I realized





I used to know this guy--yes, back in the day--let's call him...Brian Fast.  I was a wide-eyed rube just off the farm truck, and Brian was the hardened city boy.  We became friends.  I think that's what you'd call it.  Everything was a joke to Brian. He wrote songs about erectile dysfunction or shitting too much or whatever other novelty topic he could use to mock what others believed in.  I was only 23, and I held everything dear, and my earnest Springsteen knock-offs were ripe fodder for Brian. I learned a couple things from Brian.  One, that it's easy to make fun of everything when you don't stand for everything, and two--and more importantly--that if I stayed that wide-eye naif, I wouldn't last another year in this city.  And thus I mourn the loss of that innocence...

I don't know how old Jenny Dreadful is, but I'm guessing younger than I, and, again, I'm not saying that to disparage her.  There is something endearing about youthful cynicism tempered with heavier-than-usual doses of the ideal.  When you get to my age, there's just a heart that's been broken too many times to love anymore (sigh).  The problem is that usually the younger you are, the lousier the writing.  Usually.  But that's not the case here.  Which isn't a coincidence.  When Jenny asked if I'd review her chapbook, I said I'd have to read it first, because I didn't feel comfortable writing a negative review.  You bust your ass and leave your heart on the page, only to have some asshole (see grad writing workshops) dismiss it with the wave of a hand.  ("The image of the pineapple as a metaphor for loss in line 3 just isn't working for me."  Well, fuck you, David Norman.  I don't give a shit what you think.)

I'm not going to go all gushy here.  Frankly, not all the poems move me in this collection.  Which isn't surprising.  I have a very small window for what appeals to me.  Or as P. Scott Cunningham says, I "can't appreciate anything outside [my] milieu."  Very true, P. Scott.  Very true.  I need a certain subject matter, a visceral grittiness... I need Hank Bukowkski.  Or Kerouac.  And here we get both.  If with a twist.

In "Kerouac Is Kool," the subject is my favorite author--but it's not what you think. There are a million (shitty) poems affecting the hepcat Beat manner of speech, or commandering time for a mythical night out with Allen, Jack, Billy and Neal, overwrought, tired images of highways and trains, drinking from bags, living wild, young, and free.  Which is idealizing, just a wee bit.  This was the first poem that really grabbed me in this collection, showed me that I was dealing with a writer with formidable chops.  I've already confessed, I am no barometer for poetic prowess. But I do know writing.  And this is good stuff.

You must father a daughter to be this Kool / and leave her to the wolves of the '60s / you must be a man like that / Have many journeys, skip birthdays, grudgingly give a paternity test.


The first time I heard about Jan Kerouac was during a Beat festival at the Roxie sometime in the mid 1990s.  I was caught up in all things Beat; Kerouac was the reason I was in this city.  Jan was going to present a film that night but was too sick from the liver that was failing her.  She died not long after.  Jack Kerouac was an amazing writer, but even his biggest supporters are forced to admit, he was a rather shitty human being.  And as a father, his behavior incorrigible and shameful. Trying to emulate the father she never knew, while at the same time outrun a shadow of legendary excess, Jan was an alcoholic almost out of the gate, doomed to a wasted life.  I love that Jenny takes Jan's side here.  This poem succeeds in embracing the Beat aesthetic while infusing it with a punkish feminism.  Very cool.

There is a cute poem in this collection called "Oh, Bukowski," which I won't reproduce here, but in a handful of lines, I promise, it does as good a job of capturing the essence of Bukowksi as you'll ever read.

Still, the real strength of Jenny Dreadful's debut, Riches for One, Poverty for Two, is in its raw innocence, bite reconciled with reflection, punches that don't come at the expense of admitting personal loss and just how much that loss hurt, how big a hole it left.  At its core are the relationships that forge who we are, allow us to grow and mature, evolve, but these things never come free.

In "What Ray Taught Me," we get a glimpse at the dying stages of lesser stars.

I once fell in love with a man who had an open book for a face.
When we started to fall apart I couldn't help but leave copies
of Fahrenheit 451 by the bed.  "You're a bitch," he said but I just 
sat around flickering lighters until my thumb was raw.


I've been in that room, love dying on the vine and all that's left is for the rotten fruit to drop and just end it, so everyone can get on with their lives, alone and apart.  It's excruciating, the silence between us.

I play rock 'n' roll, been doing it for a while.  I write songs.  There are various stages to learning new songs with a band.  The first stage is the shittiest part, because nobody knows the fucking chords or changes or dynamics, and someone (usually the bass player [*note this is NOT directed at current WJ bassist, Big Tom]) will start shouting out random notes to replace the ones that are already there so that he can say he helped write it ("How about a...G?").  If you don't give up, give in, and can get everyone on the same page, the next stage is where the magic happens. Your first few performances are ragged, raw, sloppy but passionate.  Later on, you'll know the song better, and it will be more polished and professional.  It will be better.  But you never can get that initial energy back. (Listen to the Replacements' two version of "Can't Hardly Wait," the outtake from Tim and the official release off Pleased to Meet Me; you'll experience this phenomena firsthand...)

I use this analogy because through Riches/Poverty, I spotted mistakes, the little things you learn not to do in grad school, ending lines with prepositions, the improper quotation, etc., small things, and these errors will certainly get the snooty to to feel superior, but I am not sure the trade-off, polishing and packaging pretty at the expense of an imperfect band just figuring shit out and playing with reckless abandon is worth it.

I think you'd lose poems like this.

"I Could Use a New Country, Maybe Brazil"

where the sun knives my skin, paring it to the flesh of peaches
where even saudade is overripe, a bearable linger, like the sun
through the skin of leaves.

Not the sort of tenderness I'd expect from a girl who calls herself Jenny Dreadful. Which is why I like it.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month (or maybe it was in fucking April, who really knows), I thought we'd devote a week talking about the least valid, lucrative, or tangible of all writing forms: poetry.  Or maybe we'll just do it until we hit a wall. Wouldn't want another "Burning Man III" debacle (http://tinyurl.com/4xjur47).  It's tough to understand poetry, at least in terms of its functionality in a modernized world. Poetry is like that guy who once had it all in high school.  He quarterbacked the goddamn team, all the girls dug him, all the guys wanted to be him.  But then you see him at your class reunion and he's bald, working in middle management, or selling cars, and he smells like cheese, and you can't understand how this guy was ever relevant.

For me poetry is pretty much this Cracked article (http://www.cracked.com/funny-2260-poetry/), a once necessary and even vital art form whose use has long been supplanted by things people can actually use, like breasts and the Internet.  Now I must admit, some of my best friends are poets, and that furthermore I, too, used to write the stuff.  In fact, I have a couple poems being published next month.  These are not new poems. Back in aught4 (sorry, Esther), when I first was getting sober and didn't know any better, between the rock and the roll, my ear still fucked up from the years of hardcore stimulant abuse, I wasn't playing the guitar, which reminded me too much of getting high, drugs and the music so inextricably linked, and poetry seemed enough like writing lyrics (it's not), so I stared trying my hand at it, and people started liking it.  I won some award at the CT Review and was paid about $400 to tour the state that summer as a "CT Student Poet," which is apparently some time-honored, -respected tradition, with a long list of poets whose names I don't recognize.  It was cool enough.  A pretty girl once asked me for my autograph.  Always thought I was someone, turned out I was wrong...


Well, my poetry career was a short-lived one.  Once I realized the best I could hope for should I master the craft (which wasn't happening) was abject poverty, chapbooks, and non-recognition, I jumped on the fiction bandwagon (Oh, and that decision has worked out smashingly).  I forgot all about poetry, and the only verse I'm writing these days are the ones that come before the chorus (and usually after it, too, and then again after the bridge, but sometimes we skip a bridge and add last verse and go right back to the chorus--a double rock 'n' roll chorus!).  

(But I still have a few poems that haven't been published, one or two of which I still think are quite good. Occasionally I get solicited by magazines, because I know the editor or because the author and I have appeared elsewhere together, and when I do I will send them some of these.  Which is why I have a couple poems coming out next month.  Not that you give a shit.)

My poetry career died a slow, unnoticed death.  The last poetry reading I gave was in '09, when a friend asked me to read at an event he was hosting.  It was me and three other readers.  It received a single Yelp review.  Which I will re-post here.  

Photo of Janis R.
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5/3/2009Janis R. says:
Being unemployed and finding something to do on a Sunday night, this was a good diversion from the mononity of sitting at home and watching another re-run.

[Reader A] is awesome!  She opened with the funniest poem ever that was a great ice breaker (too bad she was last).  Her preview to her collection of [Book Title] left me wanting more... can you start a blog or something?  I appreciated [Reader B's] poems, but loved his explanations to the inspirations of each one more.  
Joe Clifford's personality is hilarious, but his poems left more to be desired... with the exception of his last poem about his brother... very deep; and lastly, [Reader D]... nice spin on America but had too many re-occurring phrases they took my attention away from the individual poem and left me comparing them to her previous ones.

Overall, thankful they put this together, had the courage to share their works and surprisingly sparked an interest to document events in our lives through this expression.


So clearly the world isn't exactly clamoring for my return to hexameter.  At least Janis R. isn't.  And who are we to argue with Janis R.? 

All of which is a long-winded, roundabout way of saying (much like my poetry itself), I am probably the least qualified guy to review the shit.  I hate poetry.  If Bukowski didn't write it, I don't want to read it.  I find Shel Silverstein infinitely more enjoyable than Walt Whitman, Liz Bishop, or any of the other stuffy set.  And of all the writers I've know, by far, the dullest have been the poets (current friends withstanding, for you are a wacky and zany bunch).  

When I think of poetry, I think if Steve Kobak.  Steve and I worked on a literary magazine at CCSU called Helix.  And holy fuck did we receive a lot of shitty poems.  Most of these came from lovesick undergrad girls.  The staff used to go through these submissions together, basically four guys hanging around a classroom after school, smoking cigarettes, reading aloud and seeing just how bad bad writing could be.  After one particularly dreadfully, sappy love poem, something about "long tendrils of hair," Steve goes, "Happy Two Month Anniversary, Honey."  Still makes me laugh.

*

I received an e-mail last week from Candy and Cigarettes regular reader Jenny Dreadful, asking if I'd review her poetry chapbook.  Don't ask me why the fuck she'd think my doing so would, in any way, help her "career."  But I said I would. Because 1.) her name is Jenny Dreadful.  I've never had a cool nickname, and so I admire people who do.  Gluehead.  Kelpbed.  Jimmy Dread (Tom Pitt's friend, not mine, and no relation to Jenny Dreadful, at least not that I am aware).  Best I ever had was Tweek the Wunderkid.  Which stuck about as well as you'd think it would. And I gave it to myself.




Part of the reason I haven't gone further in life, I'm convinced, is because I never had a cool nickname.  Life caters to people with cool nicknames.  Reason #2 I said I would view Jenny's chapbook is that she asked me, however misguided her assumptions.  Let's face it.  I'm a nice fucking guy. Beneath the tattoos and the muscles (and the smoldering, movie-star good looks), I'm just a sensitive boy who loves to help others.

So this will be Poetry Week on Candy and Cigarettes.  Which should really drive up the ratings.  

Do you have a story about a poem that changed your life?  If so, please keep it to yourself.

(And I'll get to that review sometime this week, Jenny.  And it won't be a hatchet job.  I've read the chapbook and it's good.  I think you and I are going to be friends. You wrote a poem about Bukowski...)





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