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Candy and Cigarettes

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Slight Discomfort

Planned on devoting today's entire post to the worst of 2011.  But in a year in which I got pretty much everything I could possibly want, what's left to bitch about?  Only one thing, the same thing I've been beating you over the head with every chance I get (publishers, are you listening?), the book deal, made doubly frustrating for having successfully scaled that first hurdle, the landing of the agent, as well as making inroads into the second, i.e., impressing certain editors, only to ultimately come up short.  Like dating Talia Shire in Rocky if you aren't Rocky... But what can you do?  I still have a full head of hair and am really really good looking.  I'll survive.

And as far as bad art of 2011, there is only one piece I feel the need to single out. Inception.  Hands fucking down worst movie I saw all year.  Here is my initial review: http://tinyurl.com/3fovefr, in case you missed it.  I recently tried watching it again, thinking maybe I just had my period or something.  I made it through about 7 minutes.  What a bunch of phony baloney nonsense.  Worse than the most overwrought undergrad film major's thesis.  The people who think Inception is a good film are the same people who claim to like classical music and jazz. Classical music is boring, and jazz is the genre of fear.

 

*

I have a hard time with depression.  Not as in "I struggle with it."  I do, but I mean "struggle" more like it's sort of a pussy ailment.  

"What's wrong?"

"I'm sad."

(Pause) "Well stop...doing that, and eat something."

Who the fuck isn't sad?  After childhood, it's just a fact of life.


Most days, I don't really think about it, or if I do, I am feeling so otherwise, that I broach the subject in theory, and it's casually dismissed, like having once been scared of roller coasters or bee stings.  When it returns, full-throttle, it comes with that added shame of having been so bowled over by a mere feeling.  I survived ten years shooting dope on the street, and a high-speed motorcycle crash without a helmet, and now I can't get out of bed because...I'm sad?  Makes me want to kick my own ass.

When I was a kid, Mike Piskorski broke my leg.  I was nine.  We were playing one-on-one tackle football in his backyard.  The game wasn't going last longer than a couple plays if you think about it.  But I broke my femur on the opening kickoff, snapped the fucker right by the acetabulum, the same acetabulum, by the way, that I'd snap off almost 30 years later in that motorcycle accident.  Mike's dad later told my parents that usually after an accident like that between two boys horse-playing he would've just lifted the kid up and said to shake it off, but something told him not to do it this time.  Which is good, because that probably would've fucking hurt.  But that's what I feel like when the depression hits.  Like I should just be able to lift myself up and say shake it off.  Except I know I can't.

Jesus Christ, I sound like Debra Morgan http://tinyurl.com/7lqx8es.


I know there are people who read this blog who have the same problem, and maybe they are empathizing, even thinking that speaking up about depression takes some kind of courage.  But there are probably an equal number of my friends who'll tell me to stop complaining that my vagina hurts (that's always a funny joke), and I agree more with that second camp, even though it's not in my best interest, like poor people in Mississippi voting Republican.  And I really do sorta hate myself for not being tougher on days like yesterday, which was a wasted, worthless day, in which I walked around like an extra on the set of the Walking Dead.  As I post this today, even though I am writing it yesterday (blows your mind, doesn't it?), I am fairly certain the darkness will be gone, and everything will be fine again, and I'll be left wondering what the goddamn big deal was.

There is no tangible enemy with which to do battle.


Nothing you can see, put your finger on.  You are not recovering from a tragedy, the death of a loved one, a horrific accident (like, say, fighting someone from a depressed position on Mustafar).  You are fighting a...phantom menace.  Sorry.  But you are largely fighting something unseen, undefined.  If you have depression, this is pretty much the conversation you can expect.

(Enter Sad Eyes.)

"What's wrong?"

"I'm depressed."

"About what?"

When I got out of the hospital after the accident,  I had concrete goals.  Get out of the wheelchair.  Stop using the walker.  Lose the crutches.  Walk.  I would go to the gym on crutches, and I'd work very hard to get back what I lost.  It was easy, really. One, I'm a gym rat, and two, I could measure progress.

I suppose I should take solace in the progress.  It's not as easily measured as with the physical, but I've made strides in the last 30-some-odd years.  I'm not sure exactly when the switch tripped.  Somewhere around 16, I think.  A day just came where everything got a little...darker.  Back then, it wasn't hours or days; I'd be mired in a serious funk for months, cutting myself off from everybody, holed up in my room with a crippling ennui and scrambled porn.  When I went back to my 20th high school reunion, no one remembered me that way.  They all said I was a quiet kid, so who knows how you project yourself?

At 41, what used to be an albatross, is now a mere bump, a minor annoyance, a slight discomfort.


We often forget how we get from Point A to B.  At least I do.  But that might be because of all the methamphetamine I did.  Watching Holden, who at one and a half is mesmerized by a paper towel cardboard ring, I find myself trying to retrace steps. I once asked my friend and former professor Dan Wakefield, who is, like, seventy-something, what he sees when he looks in the mirror.  He said he still sees a 16-year-old boy.  Which is what I sorta figured. Since I do too.  Maybe I should be grateful for the reminder, the common thread that ties this to that.  Y'know, like stardust and atoms and all that shit.

So many elements come in and out of our lives; I guess it isn't the worst thing to carry a permanent companion around.  Like a tumor.  A benign, moderately sized, but not altogether unpleasant tumor.



Never mind.  I'm going to eat some rare steak and then go lift really really heavy things.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best of 2011

Can't help it.  End of the year always invokes retro(intro?)spection.  More than our ages, we use it as a barometer for success or failure, inspiring changes to get it better this time, even though results are destined to fall short of our well-intended, lofty goals.


At least I don't have to worry about chubsters joining my gym, cramming the parking lot and hogging all the good machines for the first two weeks of January, never to be seen again.  Because my gym is in my basement (and if you join now, you get this special introductory rate of 0% down and get the fuck out of my garage).

As I hinted at in an earlier post (http://tinyurl.com/), 2011 fucking kicked ass.  Was I finally happy?  No, of course not.  I'm Joe.  Happiness for me hurts.


But I found it tougher to bitch this past year, since pretty much everything was coming my way.  Which reminds me of tripping on mushrooms in the Marin Headlands long, long ago with my good friend Matt. It was a shaky start to the night--y'know, where the hallucinogen begins to tingle and you can't decide if she's gonna be a good witch or a bad witch.  The radio played softly in the fog-shrouded gloaming.  Then this song came on.





And everything was fine after that.

Not that there aren't things I want to improve upon for 2012.  I'd like to finally get those six pack abs I've always talked about.  I'm getting close, down to 13.5% body fat, and I think I'll be adding some new equipment to Club Joe.  Plus, I'm trying to boost my testosterone (naturally, of course; I don't fuck around with anything illegal these days) with BCAA (branch chain amino acids) and D aspartic acid, recommendations from my former nemesis-turned-body building advisor, George Murphy (http://tinyurl.com/ ).  But this isn't about my new and improved rock hard body (or the rusting metal parts inside holding it together).  If you'd like to see some beefcake shots, we're not shy, just ask.  (Please send two dead creeping to the Tropicana Motor Hotel, c/o young Joe...) (Apologies to Tom Waits).

For the rest of this week, you are going to encounter myriad Best Of lists, every newspapers, sports' show, Late Night Special, etc., is going to feature some variation of it.  So I figured I might as well offer a distinctly personal take on the concept as the year ticks on down.  

This year was a lot like that song I linked above, even though I fucking hate Santana.  Many, many good things happened in Joe's life.  So let's look at some of the highlights.  (We'll save the negative shit for tomorrow.)

Best Thing to Happen to Joe

We have a lot of entries here.  First off, like Nelly say, must be the money.  Then there's my marriage to the woman who turns more heads than anyone I've ever been with, the lovely Justine.  And the house.  Bought my first house in 2011, which brings about two more contenders: the gym in the basement, and the fucking indoor BBQ.  Any other year...I mean, how do you beat an indoor BBQ?  Too bad for the BBQ, 2011 saw the single greatest thing to ever happen to a wretch like me: my boy, Holden, who finally answered that nagging question.  What's it all for?  Him. It's all for him.  If you have a kid, you know what I mean.  If you don't, don't worry, maybe someday somebody will love you enough.  Just kidding.  At least you still get to sleep past 6.  

A few months ago, I made a comment to Justine, something like, "I love that boy more than anything in the world," and she said, "Even more than me?"  And I was, like, "Uh, yeah.  What?  You don't?"  And she just laughed.  It's OK being second to your husband or wife when you have a baby; the kid trumps all.  And Holden is doing tons of neat tricks these days, his little personality finally taking shape.  The little looks and idiosyncrasies.  Not that it's all a cakewalk.  Holden has taken to flopping like a British soccer player when he does't get his way, and six hours straight watching him on my own can make me feel like a midget is tap dancing on my last nerve.  But there is finally someone whose needs I gratefully put ahead of my own.  Best thing to happen to me this year.  Best thing to happen in my whole goddamn life.  It's like finally having that little monkey butler I always dreamed about...

Best Wedding

This is sort of cheating, since my last wedding was such a cocksucking sham.  And like that first blow job, marriages like that can really leave a bad taste in your mouth.  I lost so much with the last marriage, was so thoroughly lied to, taken advantage of, played for such a chump that, honestly, if my new wife, Justine, only sliced off one of my balls on our honeymoon night and put it in a jar of honey, we're still probably talking significant upgrade.  But the wedding and new wife have been such a rousing success, my testicles still fully intact.  Not to go all shmoopy...



But I'd like to thank my wife, Justine, for restoring a little faith in love, proving to me that this whole marriage thing needn't be a selfish series of self-serving duplicity. After all, at heart I am a Family Man.



It's nice to feel appreciated and not have your wife blowing your friends.

Best Concert

Tough one.  Two possibilities.  The Hold Steady.  Gaslight Anthem.  Saw the Hold Steady twice, once at the Fillmore, which was good, and then again with my buddy, Matt, at the Treasure Island Music Festival, which was like a prolonged rock 'n' roll orgasm.  Seriously, I think I came in my pants twice from the sheer rock force. Finn's voice and acerbic wit were finely honed that night, and the band, strangely operating without keys, never sounded better.  When they finished their 45-minute, no fat, all lean meat set, they left poor Death Cab for Cutie trying to follow up that shit.  Like watching Spinks try to take on Tyson. Woefully overmatched.



Still, I think I have to give it Gaslight Anthem.  My friend Rich and his (business) partner Dennis put on the San Jose concert series, so they got me, a very pregnant Justine, and Big Tom and his girl, Zenaida, backstage passes; and the fucking band's latest, American Slang, is a masterpiece (The Hold Steady's latest, Heaven Is Whenever, is good, but not like this) (this might've actually been in 2010, but it was so good, we're carrying it over).  Brian Fallon and Co. delivered a clinic that night, what rock 'n' roll is supposed to be all about: attitude, sneer, smart lyrics, emotional hooks and swells, romantic cynics in blue jeans and white tees and a little outlaw country twang.  And to top it all off, when I met them?  What a bunch on non-pretentious, down-to-earth, so-not-douchebag bunch of nice guys. Essentially the anti-Stephen Jenkins.

And you told me fortunes, in American slang...


Best Movie

Young Adult.  For all the reasons I mention here: http://tinyurl.com/6mfr6fd.  If you are pressed for time or just too lazy to click on the link: Diablo Cod's script is flawless, Charlize Theron's acting is unrivaled, as is Patton Oswalt's; and director Jason Reitman's direction gets out of the way, letting the story tell itself, which is what good direction, like good writing, should do.

Best Place to Talk to Old Friends from High School

I only wish Facebook would've come around about 20 years earlier and saved me from all that time I wasted with disappointing face-to-face interactions.

Best Book

This is another tough call.  There's Joe Loya's Confessions of a Bank Robber, and Alan Kaufman's Drunken Angel.  I reread The Dead Zone, and was again deeply affected.  There's Duane Swierczynski's Fun and Games.  Honestly, couldn't get into Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (don't ask me why).  Another gem: Pearce Hansen, Street Raised.  Which might be number one were it not for David Corbett's Do They Know I'm Running?  Which is nothing short of breathtaking, beautifully written, bestowing the best of humanity and dignity where you'd least expect to find it, in a creosote-drenched world.  It's a road book, and a love story, and the tale of a boy becoming a man, all set against the inhospitable, unforgiving Mexican landscape, pitting alien against alien.  Poignant, powerful shit.

Best Advice

Never play cards with a man named Doc, never eat at at placed called Mom's, and never lay down with a woman who has more problems than you do.  (If only I'd found his gem about 10 years earlier...)

Best Website

Hands down, Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/.  It's like Candy & Cigarettes 2.0, jacked on steroids, with a hit of crack.  The best advice on writing out there, and he's funny and irreverent as hell, no punches pulled, and he hides his disillusion and bitterness far better than I.  There are not many writers I wish I could write like.  Chuck Wendig is one of them.

Best Sports Moment

Winning my first Fantasy Football Championship.  Duh.

Best Friend

OK.  You can't really have a best friend unless you are 12 (or you are my wife, for whom every friend is her best friend).  Plus, you write best friend, and everyone else you know is going to be offended.  And I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. (Except those of you douchehookers I hate; I don't give a shit about your feelings.) But the rest of you, I love you, all.  Still, I feel the need to single out one man.  Let's call it a Lifetime Achievement Award (and no this will not be another entry gushing over the attributes of Tom Pitts http://tinyurl.com/7lqcl7a).  This mantle goes to Rich Rice.  With the exception of some family members (at least the ones who aren't dead), I've known Rich longer than anyone, and though we've drifted out of one another's life, played lesser roles at different times, like any friendship of that length, we're still friends after knowing each other close to forty fucking years.  Fungi don't last that long.  He's isn't like a brother; he is a brother.  Or to equate it to pants... Rich had seldom been the flashiest pair.  He has no rhinestone sequins, no in-style/out-of-style bell bottoms.  He is the Wrangler jeans of my life. Dependable. Comfortable.  Built tough with a relaxed fit that lasts.  Rich is Brett Farve, but without the high interception rate or sending pics of his junk to strangers on his iPhone.  And in the big moments of my life, like picking a Best Man or choosing the godfather to my only son, there was never really any other choice.  

And now the best of the rest before the boy wakes up...

Best Comedian: Louis C.K. (who wins handily over runner up Daniel Tosh)

Best Local Band: The Wandering Jews (unless you ask my wife, who will pick my ex-guitarist's band, the Hollyhocks)

Best Website after Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds: Cracked.com (http://www.cracked.com/).  I don't know when Mad's retarded little brother became so good, but I'll say it: consistently funnier than the Onion.

Best Supermodel: Kate Upton.  All you need for evidence is this:


When a woman can do that to you in her clothes, I shudder to think what she could do without them.

Best Statistic: 17% of Americans believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

Best Pound-for-Pound Boxer: Manny Pacquaio.  Fuck you, Floyd, you gutless turd.

Best Kids in the Hall Clip to Appear on this Blog:




Best TV Show, like, in Fucking Forever: Breaking Bad.  (If you don't like this show, you are wrong.)

Best Website to See Before and After Pics of Methheads: Faces of Meth (http://www.facesofmeth.us/main.htm)

Best Bet at the Track: $900 on the 5th horse in the 6th race.


Best Online Porn: Too many to choose from (but if you make me, I'd say redtube).

Best Color: For 36 years out of 41...black (we try not to acknowledge the green years).

Best New Swear Word: douchehooker (thank you, Annie!)

Best Way to Make Duane S. from Texas Stop Reading: Tebow.

Best Gym: My basement.

Best New Old Show: Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Best Place to Pick Up Women Online and Have Anonymous Sex: That's a joke to see if you've read this far, Justine.

Best New Sports' Radio Channel: 95.7, The Game.

Best Pic of a Man Dressed Like a Unicorn: This guy:


Best Potential Serial Killer I'd Like to Date:


Best Emotionally Damaged, Potty-Mouthed Sister of a Make-Believe Serial Killer I'd Like to Date:




Best Reminder to Be the Best Dad Possible:




And last, the category you've all been waiting for...

Best LOL Cat of 2011:



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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Exceptional

I've done my best this NFL season to refrain from commenting (too much) on my fantasy football team.  And it hasn't been easy.  If the majority of my female readership eschews entries about real sports, how are they going to react to posts about make-believe ones?


Still, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, after a long, hard-fought, grueling and extremely lucky fantasy year, I didn't at least mention in passing that my team, the Angry Pirates, won this year's MFL (Meathead Football League) Title.  (If you would like to know where I got the inspiration for my team name, you can find it at the urban dictionary http://www.urbandictionary.com.)  I'll spare you the details, how a last-minute garbage TD by Darren Sproles cut my lead to less than a point and almost ended the dream until, thankfully (and rather inexplicably), Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith pulled Matt Ryan with less than two minutes left, thus ensuring my minuscule 1.7 margin of victory.

And now, like Tim Tebow, I would like to take a moment to thank God.  Since my team sucked serious balls for most of the year, with my first two picks, Mike Vick and Peyton Hillis, woefully underperforming, and my #3, Rashard Mendenhall, getting traded three games in.  I was the serious beneficiary of Divine intervention most of the year (primarily in the form of sweet-ass scheduling).


(I'd also like to take a moment apologize to Tim, since clearly God was too busy helping my fantasy team win this weekend to prevent his atrocious 4 INT game.)

And now for all my hard work and luck, here is what I won:


Yeah.  That's right.  All mine.  Try not to piss yourself with envy.  

*

Can't say I am not a lucky man.  Some would call it "blessed," and I'd be counted among those who would (http://tinyurl.com/3lgj97r).  This extends far beyond sports.  In fact, when it comes to sports I am generally rather unlucky, at least in terms of the teams I follow.  Yes, I am a fan of the Yankees, far and away the most successful professional team in sports.  Except that I was born in 1970, so I barely remember 1978 and Bucky (Fucking) Dent driving the splintered bat handle into the heart of Red Sox Nation.  I came of age in the '80s, when hair metal ruled the musical landscape, the closest thing to online porn was early morning aerobic programs, and the Yankees were the most successful 2nd place team of the decade. When the Yankees returned to prominence again in the '90s, I was a junkie and watching the baseball wasn't on the activity schedule at the local soup kitchen. (Besides, I would've pawned any working TV anyway.)

In football I followed the 49ers, but again, my timing was off and I got to that party late.  I only became a diehard fan after moving to SF, when Steve Young took over for Joe Montana (and I still maintain, in terms of pure quarterbacking prowess, Young was the superior signal caller).  I guess I was more a fan of Young than the 49ers.  In fact, I don't think the term "man crush" would be out of line.  I remember being in rehab down in LA when I found out Steve Young was retiring.  I immediately checked out, hitched it to 5th and Spring and got high.  (Then again, it's not like I needed a lot of excuses back then.  "Chicken for dinner?  Again? Where's my needle and spoon?!  That's it!  I'm outta here!!)


My entire life has been marked by a certain exceptional quality.  I don't mean that I, myself, am exceptional, except in the same "we are all special, let's make hand turkeys" Kindergarten sort of way.  I am quite ordinary in most regards, clichéd even (http://tinyurl.com/6qhjb9g).  (I mean, take away the searing intellect and wit, movie star good looks, and charming personality, and what have you got left?)  When I say "exceptional," I am talking quite literally.  As in having them made for me.

I don't think it's hyperbole to say I should've died, or gone to prison, or gotten stuck living in Miami.  (Not sure which of those three is the worst.)  If I were more psychotic, I might even be able to believe I've been spared for some greater purpose.  But my medication is finally under control, and I no longer believe I might be Jesus (and for the record, I never believed I was as much as I never had any reliable evidence I wasn't).  Still, as this year, by far my most successful and enjoyable (even without the book deal), comes to a close, I probably should acknowledge these blessings.  Because you never know when all that good luck and fortune might be taken away...

(The far better image option would've been the Far Side classic: "I used to be an important person...until someone said, 'Hey, he's just a cockroach.'"  But I can't find it online.)

In the end, I guess we're all just chasing something in the night...


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Monday, December 26, 2011

Kill Your Darlings

Clichés get a bad rap.  Especially in writing, though not without due cause.  You can only deal with so much wind howling on dark and stormy nights (he said, through clenched teeth).  When it comes to the human element, stereotypes face an additional obstacle to overcome, since we tend to compartmentalize for conveniency's sake.  It's not that everyone who lives in a trailer park is necessarily banging his sister; in fact, I've had several friends who have lived in trailer parks, some of which were quite upscale and better than many of the houses I have lived in, and as far as I know not a one was involved in carnal relations with a sibling (then again, it's not like I asked, either).  These "types" are just how we classify: the Asian student who is good at math; the buxom blonde who can't add.  In writing these are kisses of death, because more often than not they highlight a certain laziness on the part of the author.  Your first instinct is usually wrong, because writers, like most people, are inherently lazy.  You have to chew past the outside tough and bland layers to get to the really tasty, flavorful stuff.  Kinda like a dragonfruit.  I guess that applies to most fruits.  Except, you know, the ones with thin skins.


I am not averse to hard work.  OK.  That is a lie.  I am an extremely lazy mutherfucker in many regards.  I'd rob a bank before I'd spend another day digging ditches for the Man (and, no, that is not a cliché; I actually had a job digging ditches.  It was in Minnesota, working for Labor Ready, which is day labor, back when I was a hobo hitching it town to town.  Literally, I'd dig a seven-foot ditch, drop in cable, fill; repeat.  I also, technically, robbed a bank.  I mean, if you steal money from a bank, even if you are doing it with bad checks (or rather, lots and lots of bad checks), you still robbed it, no?).  Back when I was an ice cream man with my buddy, Rich, when we were kids, I remember the boss once saying to the new guy, "You work like Rich; you no work like Joe."  I guessing eating your salary and weight in Strawberry Shortcake bars makes one a bad worker.  But when it comes to my art, I work as hard as anyone.  In the words of Phil Marlowe, Get it through your lovely head.  I work at it, lady, I don't play at it.

"Kill your darlings" is a writing expression that refers to rewriting.  When you finish a draft, your inner editor must cast a cold, critical eye on the working product, slashing and cutting those selections and pretty phrases you love most, as a means to establish the requisite disconnect, employing the impersonal judgment that is necessary to get the job done right.  It's an essential component, since this writing shit is not done in a vacuum; there is audience to consider.  We're not writing a chapbook here about pumpkin cookie recipes.  We want truth.  We want heart and soul.  We want mass appeal and multi-book deals.  We want it all.

Goddamn, I love a good cliché.  Always have.  A well-timed cliché can resonate. Because sometimes a situation itself is so powerful, the best thing we can do is get out of our own way, and trying to add flair on top of that is overkill.  This happens a lot in rock 'n' roll, where frequently bad lyrics ruin a good song.  A cliché is a defense around this.  It is possible to write an entire song composed of nothing but.


I'm not saying a writer should litter his or her works with tired, oft-heard phrases. Obviously, you want your writing to be as fresh and original as possible.  Still, what makes it tougher for me is the fact that I am, myself, a cliché.

Let's take a look at the work that has influenced me most.

Favorite Book 

Catcher in the Rye.  If you've read this blog for more than a day, you know this is my favorite book.  I read it for the first time in front of Syd Barrett's house at 19, and I've read it every year since.  I named my son Holden.  The book has turned into a cliché for every troubled young man and would-be psychopath.  I carried this book in my right hand across America, riding in Greyhounds, with bags full of my laundry http://tinyurl.com/79qwqx4, as I searched the subways and alleyways and empty local bars looking for...the ghost of Dean Moriarty.

Favorite Author

No, it's not Salinger.  It's Jack Kerouac.  If we have another boy, I will not be naming him Jack, though, since Jack (or Jackson) is, like, the 2nd most popular name in this country, and we all know popular equates to stupid (i.e., fat tarts in New Jersey); I will be naming him Billy Pilgrim (pretty fucking cool, eh?).  And there are lots of other books that have helped define me and that I think are brilliant. If I made a Top Ten List, and I just might, I don't think a single Kerouac book would make the list (Subterraneans might sneak in).  The fact is, Kerouac is an author you have to read in your 20s, and then never again.  Not sure why that is.  I mean, you can go back and re-read On the Road, just like you can go back and re-watch The Breakfast Club, and they still might be good, but they'll never move you like they did when you were young.

Favorite Musician

Bruce Fucking Springsteen.  Which I believe gives me the trifecta of the All-American cliché.  I sat on the hood of a Dodge and drank beer by the lake (Swede's Pond), and fell in love with a girl (KatieAmySherriDarling), whose house, yes, I drove by the other day, as the sweet summer light began to fade.  How many broken heroes can you cram into one 8-minute long song?  About as many times as you can sing "Backstreets" (approx. 30).  The man is Americana.  Blue jeans, T-shirts, and broken hearts.


No, that's not the Boss.  That's Gaslight Anthem.  Meet the new Boss.  Same as the old Boss.

I wear blue jeans and white T-shirts.  I have a reformed criminal, addict past (and I write about it!).  I have my ex-wives names tattooed on my body, which as I sit now is naked from the waist up (yes, biceps bulging), with my new chain I got from my latest wife for Christmas, and when I look in the mirror, it reminds me of when I went back to live with my mother after my last stint in rehab, when I'd said goodbye to my 20s.

"I'm glad to have you back, Joey," my mom said.

"Don't call me 'Joey.'  Makes me feel like a big fat 30-year-old Italian guy who still lives with his mother."

My mother paused.  "Well, you have put on a little weight."

I like motorcycles.  Can't ride them anymore since "the accident."  I like curvy blondes (can still ride them, but we have to be careful because of the hardware the doc put in).  And I like a good fight.

Favorite Movie

Rocky.  Like my friend Jimmy says, that theme song could wake a corpse.  There is only 7 minutes worth of actual fighting in that entire film.  It's not really a movie about boxing.  But it is all about the fight.  On the surface, it's a film about a punch-drunk thuggo, in love with a dopey girl at a turtle shop, who gets one last chance to prove he's not a bum.  But the key is when Rocky realizes right before he steps in the ring with Apollo Creed (what a great fucking character name) that he cannot win.  Nothing he does in that ring will produce a victory; he is outmatched.  In terms of punching power, speed, skill. But by losing he can still win if he can only will himself to stay on his feet until the final bell.  Take the beating, keep moving forward.  An American aesthetic.  More like a religion.

This is who I am, this is what I do, and it has been shaped by the very art you'd expect from a man still angry at his father.  You don't get rich playing another man's game.  (I should've been around in the '50s.  Like Fonzie.)  You find what you do, and you try and do it well.  And you take inspiration wherever you can find it.  No one said it was going to be easy.




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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Going Viral

Forgive me for using a buzzword (http://www.lssu.edu/banished/current.php).  But it's the dream of every schoolgirl blogger to write a viral post.  (Did I really just refer to myself as a "blogger"?  Christ, makes me hate myself even more.)  You strive to write a post that achieves viral status, thus instantly catapulting you into the upper stratosphere of fame, fortune, and six-figure book deals from publishers who don't give a flying fuck if you can actually write.


I mean, let's face it.  I like you people just fine, but I don't religiously write this goddamn thing, spending over two hours a day to have my cousins in upstate New York think I'm witty ("Oh, that Joey.  He's such a card!"  Not that I don't appreciate it, Diane!  Keep reading!).  I write this fucking thing so that I will get enough people to read my work and publishers won't be able to ignore the gushing praise any longer, like this comment, which comes from Jay L. in CT, who writes,

While blogs are a nice, albeit brief, respite from reality, I have been finding this guy rather entertaining lately. Not sure if it is that life is getting pretty crazy right now, and I can finally relate to him, maybe my unconditional love for Diablo Cody, who knows... I can now confidently say he is pretty damn funny and a great writer, obviously enviable skills. I know pushing blogs is like recommending that others use your toothbrush, but following Joe Clifford allows me that temporary moment to reflect and say... "what if I committed to writing for a living...and could uses ellipses as much as I wanted?" Thanks, Joe, for that reality check, and now back to writing that $1.5M demand letter that will remove women and children from their homes on Christmas Eve.

Which might mean a lot more if Jay L. didn't play in my fantasy football league. (Plus, his team routinely sucks).  My dream, is that I one day reach the status of Hyperbole and a Half (http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/), which averages over 1,000 comments per post, with legions of devoted fans.  I average somewhere between 0 and 1 comments, depending on whether my wife is mad at me and how much I insult hippies, and my biggest fans are in my hometown.  Still, we have made some progress.  We're projecting somewhere around 75K hits in our first year, which isn't too shabby, and those numbers have been steadily increasing, from under a 1,000 our first month to over 7,000 these days.  

But you know all that, I guess.  I try to keep everyone updated on our progress. Because we are in this together.  I write this daily, you read this daily, and the goal, which I hope is mutual (although I admit the urgency is probably tilted a little my way), is to get my books published.  

I chart the trends on this blog (soon to be updated with flashy, new, sparkly parts), trying to glean what makes a particular post successful, not unlike my strategy of actually reading the literary magazines I want into (http://tinyurl.com/3lxaz67), y'know, give the people what they're asking for.  Except I've been much more successful in extracting and dissecting the appeal of, say, Nick Sparks, than I have in trying to understand why my own work resonates (or doesn't).  

For instance this week a post I wrote last week has suddenly gotten 500 hits.  The post, which I thought was a bit of a throwaway, is getting passed around, albeit on a relatively small scale, throughout Europe, Romania, and the southeastern part of America.  500 over the course of a few days isn't an astronomical number; still, these are strangers who for some reason have glommed onto a quirky little thing I wrote.  The post is called "Debra Morgan," and if you didn't catch it the first time, here it is again (http://tinyurl.com/7lqx8es).  Now here are the next two most popular posts this week, http://tinyurl.com/8y4d392 and http://tinyurl.com/827c9ek, both of which were actually written quite a while ago.  

And what do these three posts have in common?  Fuck if I know.  One is about my crush on a fictional, socially awkward TV character with goofy eyes and potty mouth; the next about some poems I had in a UK-based journal; and the last is about some sick fuck who dressed up corpses like giant dolls and threw tea parties. How in the hell do I draw a conclusion from that? A lot of pieces I think will be huge hits often go over like farts in the wind, while the stuff I write spur of the moment tends to be wildly popular.  The "Burning Man" series was a rousing success, except for Pt. III, which sucked horse cock.  Interestingly enough, it was Pt. III of the "I'm Big in Japan" series that seemed to click most with readers.  OK. Maybe not that interesting.  But it is a bit maddening trying to figure out why readers in both Amite, Louisiana and Sarpsborg, Ostfold are reading the same goddamn post I wrote about a Showtime orignal series at 4:15 on a Wednesday afternoon.  The key of course is to tap into the collective resource and find out what sells, like dramas in which people suddenly burst into song or shows about cake. I'm not above that sort of thing.  I just can't figure out what that "thing" is.  Dirty stinking hippies.  A serial killer's make-believe sister.  Poetry in England.  Damned if I can take those pieces of a random puzzle and make a coherent picture.  How do I manipulate that commonality for personal gains?  Comments are always welcome!

Or to appeal to the cake-making market, I only need to figure out the recipe so I can get baking...

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Young Adult

I walked into Young Adult secretly hoping it would suck.  I hate Diablo Cody.  If you don't know who she is, she's the writer behind the overrated Juno, the mind-numbingly stupid Jennifer's Body, and the ridiculous, over-acted, and just plain implausible The United States of Tara, which is essentially Toni Collette (a normally fine actress) mugging along to a ludicrous premise of a housewife suffering from split personalities, one of which includes a teenage girl, replete with sassy backtalk, thong, and gum snapping.  I saw one fucking episode of that show while awaiting trial in Miami and decided I'd rather be subjected to a Three's a Crowd marathon or have a bullet put in my head, and not necessarily in that order.

Diablo Cody got a lot of press around the time of Juno for having once been a stripper.  I don't know how long she was a stripper for, but I'm guessing about a week while in college.  Media outlets love stories like this.  Like Kurt Warner's stocking groceries before being plucked from obscurity and leading the Rams to the Super Bowl.  It's bullshit (http://tinyurl.com/23e97kh).  I don't trust Cody's account, and I sure as shit don't trust anyone else's.  I've known my share of strippers.  And Cody ain't one of them.


I don't know who she is or what she does, what she did or who she was, but I'll tell you this: she can goddamn fucking write.

I hate having to write that.  I really really do.  If, like Morrissey says, we hate it when our friends become successful, what's it say about strangers we loathe who pull it off? In my pantheon of the underserving, I had her slotted somewhere between Junot Diaz and the Lyte Funky Ones.


Just kidding.  I actually think LFO had some talent.

I thought Juno was OK, nowhere near as deserving of the indie darling status it garnered among the skinny-jeaned set.  And I already told you how much I hated her projects (though of course one should watch Jennifer's Body for the 20-second make-out scene between Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox).  I'd heard good things about Young Adult, so the wife and I went on an afternoon date yesterday.  Because we have a kid now, and nighttime dates are rumors.

Young Adult stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, an middling YA ghost writer with poor personal hygiene and a stunted maturity, who lives in a shitty Minneapolis apartment with her Pomeranian, and spends most of her day watching crappy reality TV (which I suppose is redundant).  One day, after receiving the birth notice from an ex-boyfriend, Buddy, (played by Patrick Wilson) and his wife, Beth, who live in her hometown of Marvel, MN, which she reviles, Mavis decides all her problems stem from having lost Buddy in high school.  It's an irrational, impulsive thought that runs the risk of playing out like a convenient plot device.  Yet, when this decision is made, after knowing Mavis for about five minutes, the audience totally buys the move.  That Cody and director Jason Reitman pull this off with a few, mostly isolated scenes is a testament to the power of understatement, the economy of language and pristine direction.  And fucking good acting.

It was a ballsy choice having Theron play the lead, since part of the character is supposed to be unattractive.  Maybe not physically.  Physically, she is clearly stunning. Even without foundation and sparkle eyes, no way getting around that, unless you want to ugly her up with some beastly pancake make-up, ala Monster. But it's a neat trick of good writing to make a character seem uglier (or prettier) than they really are, with just a few key brush strokes, details or omissions or lines of dialogue, and Cody does this masterfully.  She gives Mavis ticks, an obsessive/compulsive trait of digging her hair out, leaving one little bald patch in the back; shows her messy apartment with single-serving dog food containers littered about the floor; establishes an immediate disconnect between her perception and reality, thus rendering Mavis both obnoxious and yet strangely likable.  (At this point it should go without saying, but if you don't want to know what the movie is about because you are waiting to see it, you probably shouldn't be reading this.)

Essentially, Cody takes this


and somehow turns it into this


but without the benefit of a special effects' department.

Don't get me wrong, Theron's Mavis is still fucking hot when she wants to be.  But in the film's climax at Buddy and Beth's baby-naming ceremony, when Mavis has a complete drunken meltdown, there is nothing sexy about Theron, who let's face it would be unbearably hot eating a cobb salad in sweatpants in a fucking Applebee's.

Character drives fiction.  That is fiction writing 101.  Sounds easy.  Hard to pull off. The temptation of bad writers, and there are a lot of them working in Hollywood (see just about any Nick Cage movie), is to pull out the stock.  Forget the hookers with the hearts of gold and washed-up athletes coming out of retirement for one last shot at glory, the grizzled, jaded veterans and the hotshot rookies who don't play by the rules, stock characters are everywhere, and a writer still has to navigate around the minefield with subtler creations such as suburban moms, repressed dads, and the dumpy, fat best friend with a crooked penis.  It's hard to get around stock, in part because their very existence relies on us, the audience, to fill in the blanks.  You see the high school football coach who cares a little bit too much about winning, and you're going to get Jon Voight in Varsity Blues.  Even a guy like Tony Soprano can come across like an overweight, New Jersey, Italian mobster.  Because that is the role.  And in Young Adult you have the fat, dumpy best friend with a crooked penis (Matt Freehauf, played brilliantly by Patton Oswalt), but the writing is so crisp, so fresh, so original that nothing feels like a type.  Every character in this movie, even the smaller roles like Matt's sister, Sandra, feel fleshed out and completely realized, with individual wants, needs, and agendas of their own.  Nobody here exists merely as a foil or prop.  Such writing acumen gives me a chubby.

At the film's end, after Mavis makes a fool of herself and runs over to dumpy Matt's house, she says to him, something like, "Nobody loves me.  Even you don't love me."  To which Matt replies, "Guys like me were born loving women like you." Jesus, what a line.  For the last two hours, we've watching this guy see this woman at her worst, behaving like a classless, immature, drunken jackass, and still he doesn't dare interrupt the hot broken girl/fat dumpy guy hierarchy.  When you see the movie you'll appreciate just how good a line this is.  Mavis has been away from her hometown, which stands for everything she hates and looks down upon, for years.  She went to high school with Matt, who she doesn't even recognize the first time she comes across him in a bar, as she sits, all made up and gorgeous-looking, haughty and fragile, conspiring ways to win back her ex-boyfriend, who is the definition of "unavailable," as in married with a baby.  After Matt starts talking to her, she only remembers him as "the hate crime kid."  Back in high school, Matt was jumped and savagely beaten for being gay, a case that earned him national attention and sympathy, which quickly dissipated when it was discovered he wasn't, in fact, a homosexual; he was just a dorky guy who got his ass kicked by a bunch of jocks, leaving him with shattered legs and a cock permanently "pissing sideways."

This is a perfect example of what Diablo Cody does so well.  The story is at once funny and sad, a relief and condemnation.  And Oswalt nails the role of Matt, the invisible boy fawning for the pretty girl.  He didn't exist to Mavis in high school, and only this odd, fateful trip brings him momentarily into the narrow window of her life, playing the same ultimately irrelevant role guys like Matt always do with women like Mavis.  The whole time they are talking and getting drunk and Mavis is unveiling her shamelessly self-serving plan, Oswalt's Matt is the voice of reason; he is the better person. Yet, when Mavis comes to him, dejected, base, pitiful, in a moment of true humility, naked as the hot mess that she is, that line, "guys like me were born loving women like you," only serves to reinforce the power structure of high school, which extends far beyond graduation.  Trust me, go back to your fucking 20th High School Reunion; the seating arrangements will look exactly like they did in the cafeteria 20 years ago.

So when the film ends, and Mavis has not changed, which in itself is a major violation of fiction writing (characters need to change!), it feels right, the perfect ending.  There is no realization, no epiphany, no growth; that is not the character Cody has written.  There are no easy answers here.  Or perhaps there are.  If you are 37, immature and selfish, with a distorted worldview, it is a fucklot easier to find a few convenient excuses to remain that way.  Of course, fiction is not reality.  It is not life.  It is life like.  But more than any of those precepts, a truly well-written effort will rise above the rules; will give you something truer than a well-constructed lie.  This is not a graduate writing workshop.  I don't need to see any fucking change.  I want to believe whatever course of action Mavis decides to take when confronted with the unpleasant, ugly truth of her pathetic existence.  And this character only has one choice: to dig in deeper and keep blaming outside elements for her unhappiness.

Young Adult is about as perfectly written a movie as I have ever seen.  Not saying it was my favorite, and parts of it, while laugh-out-loud funny, are almost excruciating to watch, but the writing, an in particular the layered, nuanced characterization, is a goddamn study in excellence.  The hype it is getting, both in indie and mainstream cinematic circles, feel a lot like the praised heaped on Dave Egger's Away We Go (don't worry, Annie; I'm not saying Egger isn't a good writer), a movie I found laughable in its strained attempts at poignancy, whose dialogue felt forced, whose idiosyncrasies felt contrived, and whose characters (ala serious, sensitive guy with a beard) betrayed an unpardonable sin: manufactured whimsy. Young Adult tackles the same themes of displacement and a search for identity as Away We Go, but its honesty and depth, which it never forsakes for a gimmicky laugh (e.g., AWG's baby stroller scene), makes that movie look like a Very Special Episode of Growing Pains.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Daily Bread

Went Christmas shopping yesterday.  I can't say which store I was in specifically, since my wife reads this and the gift was for her, and she's hard enough to surprise as it is.  When the sales lady asked if I'd like to open a charge account and save an additional 15%, an offer I usually decline, I was tempted because I was spending a good chunk of change, making it a significant savings, so I asked how long it'd take.  I wasn't hanging around in there completing anything by long form, like, writing with my actual hand or anything (I'm not a barbarian).  But she promised it'd be quick, and after submitting a few choice details of my personal life story on their card reader, it only took a minute or two until the woman said I'd been approved.

"Actually," she said, "you've been approved for an upgrade!"

Which included a larger credit limit than I'd asked for, or needed, a special Visa card and all that shit.

"It's nice having money," I said.  "A few years ago, you people wouldn't let me in your store."

And she laughed, and I smiled, because even if I say something like that, and I do a lot, I'd hate to look like a dick to a total stranger I'll never see again, and I'm sure she thought I was joking.  Except I wasn't.  There was a time where I wasn't let in a lot of stores, where I'd walk in with .30 to buy a fucking donut, and they'd toss my ass out.  There was a time, not too long ago, where I couldn't even scrounge up the lousy .30 to buy my daily bread, and used to have to walk all the way across Berkeley for a piece.  I'm not exaggerating.  One fucking piece of bread.

I used to live on Dwight, south of Shattuck, with my first ex-wife (the one I loved, not the other one), and there was a collective bakery way up on College Ave., maybe three, four miles away, which was run by hippies and progressives, mossy-bearded, huka-shelled, really nice mutherfuckers.  They used to have a policy where even if you didn't have any money, they would still give you one piece of bread, free, every day.  A pretty sweet deal when you're a broke-ass loser.


That probably seems like a long distance to walk for a single piece of bread, but we're not talking no Wonder Bread wimpy slice.  No, this a big ol' hunk o' freshly baked, sugar molasses bread.  It'd be warm, just out of the oven, and they'd slather it with butter or let you dip it in honey, maybe sprinkle some cinnamon or chocolate on it, and serve it on a golden plate of sunshine (I might be exaggerating on that last bit).  When you haven't eaten for a couple days, that's some powerful shit.

The kindbud wispy kids who ran the collective didn't give a shit that they were giving out free food to drug addicts and hobos.  Usually if you were like I was, there wasn't a whole helluva lot of places to go where respectable folks weren't disgusted by your very person.  I could be standing on a street corner, minding my own business looking for pennies in the dirt or something, and I'd get asked to leave.  I remember once an old Mexican lady came out of her house.  I'd just been sitting on the curb because I had nowhere else to go (I might've been talking to myself, because I had no one else to talk to), and this old woman brought me a plate with old apples and cheese whiz.  She thrust it in my hands, and said, "Now you go."  Clearly I needed to eat something, and just my sitting there was somehow offensive.  Or she might've thought I was gonna rob her house.

I didn't rob people's houses.  I was a rather meek criminal.  I'd steal, of course, but usually guitars or distortion pedals I could hock (and occasionally return to the people I'd stolen them from).  Still, I was an opportunist, no way around it.  I didn't do things for others back then.  I will now, but generally only if I know you, am close to you.  We don't talk politics on this thing, but there's a adage differentiating between the two camps, something like, A democrat cares about strangers but doesn't give a shit about his neighbor, and a republican doesn't give a fuck about strangers but will always lend a hand to his neighbor (which will generally take place in a gated community).  By that measuring stick, I'd say I am closer to the latter.

I think the better measure, however, is the banner that hangs in the Denver Broncos' locker room (thought you were safe from Tebow with this post, didn't you, Duane? But you can't escape the Tebow. For whenever there is one gathered in his name, he is there.  Which actually beats Jesus http://tinyurl.com/8xj435y): The measure of a man is how he treats others who can't do anything for him.  (This is not to be confused with how to properly measure a penis.  Which is from the anus to just past the tip...)

I couldn't do anything for those twenty-year old kids at the bakery collective.  Yet their being kind to me back when no one was extending me .30 worth of credit for a goddamn donut yet alone thousands on a charge card did not go unnoticed.  Not sure it does them any good now to get a thank you.  I actually went back and looked for the place when I returned west after getting straightened out, but it was gone.  Which isn't terribly surprising.  Probably not the greatest business model to give away free food in a dog eat dog world.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview with Stifled Artist and the Last Christmas, 2001

Gave an interview for Kyrsten Bean at the stifled artist (http://thestifledartist.com/). Kyrsten sought me out after reading some of my work in assorted lowlife journals (and I mean that as the highest compliment), places like Underground Voices (http://www.undergroundvoices.com/) and Railroad Poetry Project (http://railroadpoetryproject.wordpress.com/), where she is currently featured as the Poet of the Month.  Kyrsten and I have been making the rounds together (along with Tom Pitts) in several journals (most of which, interestingly enough, seem to be located in the UK), and she recently read for Lip Service West (where we pledge to feature "at least one Pitts at every reading; this is our promise to you"), performing a rousing, spirited, depressing, yet oddly uplifting piece about life in a rehab, my favorite genre.  You'll see in the interview as I talk about the Beats that one of the things I love best about Kerouac and Co. is the tight-knit, supportive community they formed, a safe enclave where they took care of their own against a cruel and uncaring capitalist world.  Which has been happening of late with Tom, Kyrsten, and me.  I know.  How very meta.

It's always nice when someone reaches out and asks for your opinion because what you write moves them.  I was honored Kyrsten asked, and you'll be able to see all our work (Tom, her, me) next month in PoV (http://www.povmagazine.co.uk/), which I'll be sure to pimp the shit out out of.

In the meantime, here's that interview:

http://thestifledartist.com/2011/12/18/weekly-feature-interview-with-writer-joe-clifford/


*

The holidays always brings it out of me.  It's hard not to get nostalgic when you look at how far you've come. Or maybe "nostalgic" isn't the right word.  But "appreciative" and grateful" don't quite cut it either.  There's a strange mix of fondness and pride that goes with the recollection of the misery of those final few months in SF, waiting for the end to come, waiting while I cashed those phony checks to pay for a few more nights at the Casa Loma, waiting for the dope I'd need to get through another day, waiting with my girlfriend, Becky.  Just killing time...


I wrote a few weeks back about a particularly awful Thanksgiving at a soup kitchen in the Haight (http://tinyurl.com/752fhv3).  I couldn't remember the exact year, or who was actually there with me.  Like so much of that time, that Thanksgiving was a blur (besides the key detail of a nice girl and cigarettes).  When I started writing all this stuff down back in 2002, I was still in the hospital, a long-term dual diagnosis rehab lockdown ward, and the memories would come in flashes and bursts; nothing seemed to be happening on a straight line.  Which I thought might be a cool way to tell the story. (It wasn't.  But what else could I do?  I lacked perspective.)

As the years rolled on by (and we were a long way from jamming in my garage), I thought a chronology would present itself.  It never did.  I'd recall friendships and events that simply couldn't have happened in the order I remembered them.  Which is owed to a combination of the drugs, trauma, and the brain damage/memory loss that is common when you live the way I was living.  At least, that's what the doctors told me.

But the Christmas of 2001, that I remember.

I felt it all coming to a head.  And it would, less than two months later, when I'd find myself 3,000 miles from San Francisco, fresh off a Greyhound, with a warrant out for my arrest, in a strange part of Albany, NY, without shoes, about to jump...

Becky and I had a room at the Casa Loma Hotel, over there on Fillmore, in Hayes Valley.  This was upscale for us, about as good as it got, and a far better option than the Sixth Street, SRO Hotels of Crack Central.  There was a shower that worked down the hall, and relatively little blood on the ceiling.  We could never afford to stay there long.  A whole month cost somewhere around $800.  We easily generated that much income, especially because we'd been doing the check scam for so long, each one of those bogus things coming in at $795 a pop (more than $800 bumped the crime into a much more serious category).  But there's no way people like us were shelling out $800 for a place to live.  Which is kinda like not paying more than $25/hr. for a housecleaner or $20 for a pie nowadays; you may have it, but there is something offensive about forking that much over for goods and services for which you've already set an irrational, arbitrary price.  Which reminds me of something Tom Pitts once said.  I was complaining about the cost of heroin, and Tom laughed. "It wouldn't make a difference if heroin cost a penny, Joe," he said.  "It just means we'd have bigger habits."

But we'd been popped, both Becky and I, for the check scam.  And we'd plead out. 30 days of SWAP.  That's the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program.  All things considered, it was more than a fair deal, considering the money we'd stolen.  But like being incapable of coughing up $800 for a place to stay, we were incapable of showing up at 7 a.m. to sweep the side of the road.  And once we violated the conditions of the deal, we'd be locked up.  In a prison.  A real prison, not county.  I didn't look then like I do now.  I was about 40 lbs. lighter.  The only way you were getting 17-inch biceps out of my arms in those days was if you taped them both together and shook me really hard.  If I were sent to prison, I'd be sold for a deck of playing cards before midnight.


I had to leave the city or I'd be going to jail.  The deadline for this decision was January 1st.

When time is ticking down like that, you become hyper-aware of every moment.  I loved Becky very much.  It was a sick, sad, twisted and desperate love.  (But stalking is still love, and psychos still hurt.)  And I knew I was losing her.  Like I'd lost my wife.  Like I'd lost so many others I'd loved.  And it hurt.

We woke up sick and broke.  And being Christmas Day, well, that's sort of like blogging on the weekend. In the words of Greg Kim: everything shuts down.  There was no scam we were running on Christmas Day.  No CDs or clothes to sell.  No old friends to drop in on and conspire with.  We were stuck, with at least 24 hours more until we could get some game rolling again; and dopesick, emaciated, and hungry is no way to spend the holidays.

I know I tried to call my mom and beg for money ("But, Mom, it's Christmas!"), and there was this rich Russian douche named Andre who almost needed me to score for him (which was always a nice payday).  But neither of these panned out.  All I could do was call my guy, tell him I had money, and refuse to get out of the car until he gave me something.  This wasn't an ideal option since it could only work once, if at all, and the deeper I got into that life, the rougher and meaner the dealers were; and there weren't many left who'd still deal with me.  It was a scorched earth approach.  This last guy I was working with, Paco, he didn't like me much.

When I got in his car and he soon realized I had no money, he began screaming and making like he was reaching for a gun in the backseat.  I wonder if he eventually gave up because he thought I realized he didn't have a gun back there.  But that wasn't it.  At that point, I just didn't care one way or another.

Two outs in the bottom of the 9th, the ol' midget play.


*

I think that's why that particular Christmas sticks with me so hard, why I can still see the off-white, cracked walls, the cans of soup Becky's mother had sent in a care package and which we were forced to open with a screwdriver and eat cold because the clerk downstairs wouldn't let use the microwave in the office; why I can still see the brilliant clear winter blue as I walked along those dead Christmas streets on my way to meet a connection.  Because one way or another, go to prison, clean up, live, die, it didn't matter; that life was ending, and whatever came next could not possibly be worse.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tom Pitts & Hepatitis Heights Pt. III

Yesterday's post covered being solicited (again) by the awesome folks in England (http://tinyurl.com/8a7eugr).  Ben Turner and Chris Pilkington are starting up a journal over there, PoV (http://www.povmagazine.co.uk/), which stands for Passing Out Victorious.  God, I love the English.  Jack Kerouac used to say the prettiest girls in all the world are English girls.  And I ain't arguing with Jack.  The English seem to like me, women especially.  I remember when I went over there when I was 19, girls used to eye fuck the shit out of me quite often.  But they did so politely, classy.  'Cause, y'know, they're fucking refined and shit.  I was hardly the bastion of self-confidence you see before you today. I think the first time a girl smiled at me in London, I started to cry.

So anyway, super nice guys over there, with obviously awesome taste in art, because they like my work.  The deadline to get in the first issue, whose theme is "street," is today.  Which doesn't give you a lot of time.  But check PoV out, read what they're trying to do, see what their next theme is going to be, and submit something.  You don't get a lot of chances like this, when a magazine is young, its editors excited and anxious to read your work.  Give Ben and Chris a few months of being bogged down by Happy Third Week Anniversary poetry, and they might not be quite so gung-ho.

The best part about being in the inaugural issue of PoV, slated for Mid-January, is that I will, once again, be appearing with my (former?) partner in crime, Tom Pitts. 

This won't be the first time Tom and I will have appeared in the same journal.  It won't even the first time we've been in the same issue.  But maybe it's the "street" theme that makes this one particularly meaningful, since Tom and I, quite literally, lived together on the streets, as in broke-ass homeless, sleeping in stairwells or on benches. 

Ben and Chris asked each of us for an introduction to our stories (we're getting 2 published apiece), and Tom joked, since our work is so incestuous, that perhaps we should each write the other's introduction.  Ben thought it was a great idea.  Here's what I came up with for Tom's:

I met Tom Pitts sometime in the late 1990s at a shooting gallery, on top of a very high hill in San Francisco, called Hepatitis Heights.  In a drug world filled with liars, thieves, and criminals, Tom fast became a rare commodity in my life: a reliable doper.  He was my best friend.  Even then, in the middle of all the junkie bullshit, Tom considered himself a writer.  He used to tote his computer, which contained all his stories, everywhere he went.  But this wasn’t a laptop.  We’re talking a big ol’, straight for the ’80s, bulky-ass desktop.  Tom would drag that computer with its tangle of cords and keys up these giant hills, dopesick, trying to duck the crooks looking to rip him off or the cops looking to drag him in.  I thought he was fucking nuts, but such was his commitment to his art.  He believed even then he’d get out.  I wish I’d shared his faith.  But he was right.  He got out.  We both did.  And he took his stories with him. 


I hope this bromance isn't getting too nauseating for you.  After all, this is hardly the first time I've written about Tom and Hepatitis Heights (http://tinyurl.com/3njp84thttp://tinyurl.com/6wysfq4).  The truth is, I just don't have many friends.  

The other day, I was talking with Justine about someone I know, and she could tell by my tone, I guess, that said individual didn't rate very high on the friendship meter anymore.  Nothing this person did really.  I simply don't hold onto friends very long these days; I don't need people like I used to.  This isn't any grand Facebook declaration about "cleaning up my friends list so write me and say you still love me if you want to stay" bullshit. There's no hidden meaning.  If you think we're friends, we probably are.  What has happened to me, is what happens to most people as they get older.

We have a parenting book we keep in the shitter.  Nice to read parenting books when you are on the can, since most of the info in them is pretty disposable. But this one book has a great line.  I don't think it was the author's intention to make it come out sounding like this, but this particular book comprises little pearls of parental wisdom written by moms and dads in Kansas and shit; they're not going to be worried about syntactical consistency.  It reads, "Toothbrushes are like good old friends --we hate to get rid of them.  But the truth is we should replace them every three months."  And I think that is very good advice.  After three months, most people, like most toothbrushes, have worn out their welcome. People I would've considered myself close to five, six years ago are barely in my life at all these days, and in most instances there was no big falling out, no major event precipitating a break-up; it's more that we're forty-something, with families and individual lives, and it's rather pathetic, I think, to keep meeting up at bars when you are in your 40s, especially when many of your friends are recovering alcoholics, reliving the same four moderately funny things you've done together.  
I don't dislike people, individually.  I simply find most friendships require more work than what I receive back. It's a matter of reciprocity.  I don't want to feel like a friendship is putting me out by asking me to do things. In your 20s, it's a completely different story.  One day I was talking to Gluehead.  I was probably 25 or so, and feeling self-consious (imagine that) that I was asking him for too many favors, so I said something like, "Hey, Glue, I don't ask you for too many favors, do I?"  And Glue, in classic Gluehead response said, "Of course you do.  If we didn't ask each other for favors, what the hell would we talk about?"  
It's not fair, I suppose, to the people I met after my SF drug days, since nobody can measure up to the friends I made during that time, which goes counter intuitive to everything you hear about the friends you make when you are using.  Yeah, you meet some peripheral scammers along the way, but the guys with whom you share the trenches--the Dans, the Big Toms, the Soupys, the Glueheads and Kelpbeds, the Tom Pittses--some deep-seated shit forms.  I'm still friends with those guys today.  As close as I am with Jimmy, Petersen, and Rich, the only real friends I held onto from before I moved to SF in '92.


And I spent more time with Tom Pitts than just about anyone, at least we spent more time together when it mattered most, when I was loneliest and most lost, during the darkest days of my life.  The last couple years of my using, I'd managed to piss off just about everyone, Kelp, Glue--I attacked poor Big Tom one day for not giving me $13 (sorry, Big Tom).  I was pushing everyone away with my stealing and lying, my selfishness and manipulation.  It's not like Tom Pitts was a saint in the city.  




It's just that for some reason we spared one another our worst.  Maybe it was out of sheer necessity that you stay true to at least one person in that lifestyle, that you give him all of your trust, make yourself vulnerable, if only to reaffirm a part of you is still human.  Y'know, sorta like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.




*

Tom Pitts and I are both writers these days.  We don't shoot needles full of dreams into our arms anymore.  Cindy is, indeed, on methadone.  We have wives and children, and we both work very hard to get our story out there.  It isn't often when a writer friend of mine has success that I genuinely feel happy for him or her.  I'll say I do, of course, as the little knives of jealousy pang the shit out of my green-with-envy heart.  But with Tom, even when he gets accepted into a magazine that's rejected me, I am truly, truly happy.  I guess because I was there with him in the shelters, and when he had to sleep on the cold metal bed of the truck I'd stolen; because my liver never turned on me like his did on him; because I've been given a few breaks that perhaps I didn't deserve.  I don't know why, exactly.  Maybe I just really like the fucking guy.  I trusted him with my life back then, and I'd trust him with it now.

I'm sure we'll both be pimping the shit out of the issue when it comes out in January.  

Until then, here is Tom's site: http://tom-pitts.blogspot.com/

  

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