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Candy and Cigarettes

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Monday, February 6, 2012

New Website and My Fake ID

I'm going to try to reel in my disgust over the Super Bowl and not subject you to a rant about how my friend Mike in Miami is right, and after Brady went all Hollywood, he hasn't won shit.  On the biggest stage, with a chance to seek revenge against the Giants and that mole-faced little bastard Eli who ruined his chance at perfection four years ago in the desert, Tom Terrific was anything but.  I am sickened and disgusted, and reminded of something my granddaddy once said to me and one of life's great truisms: sports will only break your heart, boy.

(Oh, and fuck you, Wes Welker.)

But the good news is...the new website is here!  The new website is here.  And here it is:  Very important.  Starting tomorrow, this is where you'll also go to find the blog.  You can still type in the old address, which will direct you here anyway.  The only issue might be if you use an RSS Reader (whatever the fuck that is).  My webguy says that if you do you'll want the new address.  So there you go.

Pretty cool new graphic, eh?  (Thanks, Zenaida!)  Don't worry.  The content is not going to change.  Candy and Cigarettes is still committed to bringing you the very finest in goofy You Tube clips and funny cat pics.  But we wanted to look, y'know, more professional and shit.  Some of the features should make your life easier. Like, for instance, you can just leave a comment now without having to sign up with a Google account.  Which is pretty cool.  Gone, too, are some of the bells and whistles, the MySpace-like glitter of a tweeny girl heavily crushing on the Beibs. Which is long overdue, really; we're all supposed to be grownups here.  (Though I am sad to lose the flames.  Fire is cool.)

So take a look around the new site.  Let me know what you think, or what you hate. I think it should be a lot more user friendly, with greater accessibility to my work. Hope you agree.  If not, I can fix stuff, since it's all been converted to Wordpress, which means I no longer have to rely on others to do my updates.  It's all about self-sufficiency.


We had a Super Bowl party on the hill yesterday.  Lots of people.  Tons of food. Which might've been cool if the Pats won.  But they lost.  What could've been a joyous celebration quickly turned into: Who the hell are all these people and why are they eating my food?

Got a couple cool mementos from my past, though.  One, Noah, who played guitar in my first band in CT, Something Like Paisley, brought a burned disc of our long-lost college rock classic So It Goes (still one of the best memories of my life was driving down the Berlin Turnpike at 18, flipping through the stations and hearing one of my songs [the cringe-worthily titled..."Electric Sun."  Good tune.  Awful title] on the radio.  Trinity College's WRTC.  But still).

I've been getting the rough mixes of these from our old engineer in Connecticut, Jeff, who has been painfully pulling the songs, track by track, off nearly 20-year-old, disintegrating 1/2" tape, importing the tunes into some modern, space-age software for a later mix down (it's like living in the future).  But what Noah brought over is the original record, in all it's intended, power pop shimmery glory, which he dug out of his mom's attic on a Christmas trip back east.  It's the first time these songs have been heard (as originally mixed) in probably close to a decade.  I am going to remaster all this shit later and put it up on iTunes.  Best music I ever made. Seriously.  Which is really, really depressing if you think about it.

The other trinket delivered was further proof that I, too, was once young.  My first fake ID.

                                                                 Now that is a crisp, flinty glow!

Rich found it in his stuff at his house.  He must've used it too at one point.  (And, no, we never really looked alike, except in the way that all clean shaven, angelic 18-year-old boys all look the same.)  The funny part about my having a fake ID is I didn't drink.  Like, at all.  Didn't touch a drop of alcohol until I was 21 (and within the year I'd be addicted to meth.  Which is a lesson to all you parents out there.  It's all about moderation). What did I need a fake ID for?  Fuck if I know.

The name on the ID belonged to Chris Judd, my co-frontman in Paisley, who would go on to develop schizophrenia and swell to close to 400 lbs., becoming a shut-in.  I haven't spoken to him in over a decade either.  It's a shame.  He was a great songwriter and singer, and more importantly, he was a good friend.  A much better friend to me than I was to him.  (What else is new?)

Finding old pictures of yourself like this presents a weird sensation.  On the one hand, I am obviously younger (and ridiculously feminine looking.  I mean, seriously, I've dated women who weren't as pretty as that).  Yet...this is still what I see, for the most part, when I look in the mirror.  Sure, I catch the wrinkles and gray, the ravage of the hard years, but when I look into my own eyes, I still see a 16-year-old boy (or 18, in this case).  And I don't feel much older than that.  It's like in many ways I remained trapped in this state of perpetual adolescence, angst and violent mood swings very much included.

It's also a bit like The Shawshank Redemption.  Remember the part where Red finally gets his parole?  They ask him if he feels he's rehabilitated, and he delivers this great speech about how that word doesn't mean anything to him anymore.  But is he sorry for what he did?  Not a day goes by that he's not sorry.   Most of all though he wishes he could go back and talk to that crazy, angry kid?  Save everyone a lot of time and hassle; get another chance to get it right.

I guess in way I do get to do that.  Maybe that's what being a dad really is all about. As my boy, Holden, grows up, I get to impart wisdom and share my life experience, point out the potential pitfalls and how best to avoid danger.  And he'll think (or say) I don't know what I'm talking about, and set off to discover the answers on his own.  We've been doing this dance since the dawn of time, right?  If it wasn't true, it wouldn't be a Cat Stevens song.

And on that note... Don't forget.  Starting tomorrow, you can find us here:  Same Bat-time.  New Bat-channel.  Bookmark us!

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Thursday, February 2, 2012


Pretty big news with Facebook going public.  I was texting with my friend Big Tom, asking him what he thought about it in terms of an investment opportunity.  Don't have that many friends I can talk about possibly purchasing stock options with.  Not even totally sure how it all works, the stock market, bears, bulls and all that, but Facebook (despite my wife's assertion) doesn't seem to be going anywhere (heathen).  I once dated a girl whose father watched Jim Cramer's Mad Money religiously, and that's how he traded, where he got his stock tips and advice.  Jim Cramer said buy, he bought.  Jim Cramer said sell, he sold.  I used to think this Jim Cramer must know something, since my ex's dad owned his own house and traveled a lot.  Then came the crash, and Cramer didn't look so smart.  There was that whole feud with Jon Stewart, which went on for a while.  To Cramer's credit he went on the Daily Show, and Stewart was pretty merciless.  Brutal, really.  Not as bad as the new asshole Stewart tore Tucker Carlson, but you almost had to feel bad for Jim Cramer that night.  He's just a dude with a TV show, who likes to have a little fun with over-the-top shenanigans.  Then again, if you took him too seriously, he might've cost you your house.  But who's fault is that?  (I think my ex's dad kept his house.  Can't say for sure.  We broke up before that.)

I don't do this on my own, investing; I have a guy for that.  It's fun to speculate though, play with money and try to gauge the market, like a real growed up.  We're not talking that much money, but I think I'd like to buy some shares of the FB. Spend enough time on the goddamn thing; I feel like I should be getting paid.

When I was done texting with Tom, I wrote, "Did you ever think all those years ago we'd be talking about stocks?"  To which he replied, quite cleverly, "Yeah.  Chicken stock."

This never ceases to trip me out.  Not just my having cleaned up and joined the ranks of the responsible, but the whole transition, space, time, geography, all of it. Like a character crossing over from one sitcom to another, different program, new network and time.  Was there.  Now here.  "The part of Joe is now being played by..."  I mean, there I was one night, I was just a normal guy.  And there I was the next night, and goddamn, I was still just a normal guy...

There would've been no reason for Big Tom to think we'd ever be talking about stocks, or about anything ever again.  Last time I'd seen Tom I'd attacked him from across the room for not giving me $13.  I'll never forget what he said after he pinned me to the floor (I was smaller then).

"Here," he said, thrusting the $13 in crumpled bills into my hands.  "I had no idea you needed it so bad."

It wasn't a compliment or even a kindly act.  It was pure pity bestowed upon the wretched.  I'd had no claim to that money other than I knew he had it, and I needed it to get high.  He didn't owe me, or promise to "help me out."  He had it.  I needed it.  Therefore, I decreed it should be mine, by whatever means necessary.  Christ, I'm lucky the guy even takes my calls now (let alone plays bass in the band, man).

When I came back to San Francisco after getting my Master's down in Miami, Rich and I had gone to see this drummer I know play up at the Grant and Green.  I moved back and was living with Rich, who, understandably, was skeptical.  I mean, the last time I lived with Rich hadn't gone so well.  Rich would later confess that he was worried some of "the old gang" might be hanging around.  Which seems funny in retrospect, since I don't think a single friend came to his house when I lived there. Simply put, I didn't know anyone anymore.  It had been years since I lived in SF. There were still friends spread over the city and surrounding towns, but there was no hero's welcome.  Taking a break from the show at the Grant and Green, we grabbed a coffee at Cafe Trieste and I ran into Big Tom.  First time I'd seen him since attacking him for 13 fucking dollars.  At least 10 years had gone by.  Where did the time go?

The reoccurring theme this week, hell most weeks, has been nostalgia.  I was talking the other day about how any time looks brighter through the lens of retrospection. I'd like to issue a caveat to that and say, not this time.

My shrink, Doctor Harold Goldberg (doesn't that just sound like a psychiatrist's name?), says I have nothing to feel guilty about.  Of course, I pay him to say that, or at least to make me feel better about myself.  When I run down the list of all the rotten things I did to the people I loved, he says that's nothing unusual; it's pretty typical addict behavior.  Maybe.  But it doesn't make it right, nor does it absolve me of shouldering the appropriate amount of guilt.  I need to carry some of it.  I don't think I bear an unreasonable burden.  But I do shoulder the hurt I am owed.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Maybe it's the e-company I keep, a bunch of bleeding heart lefties with progressive politics, or this current climate of discontent running hot with the Occupy movement, but it seems like Facebook is inundated these days with cyber fist pounding and moral outrage over sins committed by the corrupt corporate oligarchy.  Even more than usual.  And the FB is always a hotbed of reactionary knee-jerking activity.  Don't misunderstand.  I am no fan of big business; the money-grubbing, -thieving bastards who latch on like succubi and syphon off my money can suck my balls.  (As if I needed to be reminded of the insurance racket, my basement walls are leaking.  Forget that I pay a hefty premium.  Doesn't matter.  Because A.) insurance doesn't cover it, and B.) even if they did, my premiums would go up, thus negating any savings.  What the fuck do I have insurance for if it doesn't cover shit like this?  Is there a bigger racket than the cocksucking insurance industry?  Only health care and all the others, brother.)

Still, it's the outrage that stands out to me, the shock of it all.  As if this is somehow news that people (and corporations are run by people) wouldn't do damn near anything to make an extra buck.  Sure, that's a simplistic approach, Business for Dummies, a complicated issue cut into bite-size Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-like pieces for mass consumption.  I am not a business major.  My wife is a business major. But not the bad kind.  She's going to Mills, which promotes progressive, green, and sustainable business practices.  Don't understand what any of those things mean, even though she's tried to explain them to me many times.  I am the epitome of one-track.

Each morning, after I change and feed the kid, I plug in, check correspondence and start the self-promoting wheels, plugging my work on the various social networks. There is always some new egregious offense that has my e-brothers and -sisters up in arms.  Lately, it's been all about Monsanto.

Until two months ago, when I learned how to play Son Volt's "Methamphetamine," I had never heard of Monsanto.  In fact, when I was learning the lyrics, I mistakenly took the line "It's either working these gauges for Monsanto / or a bar-back job for the casino" to mean the narrator was working for some guy named Monsanto. Again.  One track.  But in my defense, how much shit can we really fit in our heads?  I mean, if I consciously acknowledged Monsanto, I might have to lose the answer to who were the three Yankees who came to bat when they resumed the "pine tar game" in 1983*.  And if I did that, I might lose should they ever ask the question at Sports Trivia night at the local pub.  Even though I don't drink.  Or go to pubs.

(* Mattingly, Smalley, Gamble.  Knowing this was a lot more impressive before Google.  I retained that info for 30 fucking years.  Now all you need is a goddamn search engine.)

I am very selective in my memory, and I push out the things that can't help me in my daily life.  Monsanto, the genetically altered food corporation and its nefarious plans to poison the American public for profit?  Not as important as a good Son Volt tune.

Obviously that's not true.  I mean, this is a big deal.  I think.  I only get what everyone's so pissed about for less than two months, but it seems pretty fucked.

So in case you are like me and live under a self-imposed rock, here is the latest cause de FB:

Whole Foods Market Caves to Monsanto

WholeFoodsMarketAfter 12 years of battling to stop Monsanto's genetically-engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's organic farmland, the biggest retailers of "natural" and "organic" foods in the U.S., including Whole Foods Market (WFM), Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm, have agreed to stop opposing mass commercialization of GE crops, like Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa. In exchange for dropping their opposition, WFM has asked for "compensation" to be paid to organic farmers for "any losses related to the contamination of his crop." Under current laws, Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs) are not subject to any pre-market safety testing or labeling. WFM is abandoning its fight with biotech companies in part because two thirds of the products they sell are not certified organic anyway, but are really conventional, chemical-intensive and foods that may contain GMOs and that they market as "natural" despite this. Most consumers don't know the difference between "natural" and "certified organic" products. "Natural" products can come from crops and animals fed nutrients containing GMOs. "Certified Organic" products are GMO-free. WFM and their main distributor, United Natural Foods, maximize profits by selling products labeled "natural" at premium organic prices.  (A typographical error in the second sentence of this story was subsequently corrected.  We regret this minor error.)

My perspective might be skewed, since I live in Berkeley (or close enough), a city divided in two: those who take yoga, and those who teach it, everyone draped in rainbow flags and Birkenstocks, chomping on kale chips and pot butter; my mother-in-law weeps over my refusal to spend $300 a week on organic groceries.  I don't buy into the organic thing, for the most part.  I don't trust the government.  I don't trust the FDA.  And I don't trust his mythical coalition of Dudley Do Right Organic Farmers who will sacrifice profit for the greater good.  Except when it comes to buying milk for my boy.  The hormones they pump in that shit will give you man boobs.

Most of this recent batch of Monsanto news comes via left-leaning outlets like PR Watch, the Progressive Dieter, Che Guevara's Guavas and Revolution.  OK.  I made that last one up.  But you do have to temper the message.  No different than FOX News reporting on, well, anything.

I am not making light of frankenfoods.  OK.  I am making light of frankenfoods a little bit.  But not because the thought of Dr. Evil pissing on the crops with which I feed my family isn't nauseating.  It's because it reminds me of just how helpless I am.  You can either find a way to laugh or you storm the bastille.

I abused my body for years.  I pumped God-knows-what directly into my bloodstream with reckless abandon, with not the slightest concern for whether I lived, died, or otherwise.  I remember a hot shot I took one morning, and walking out of my apartment and collapsing on the sidewalk, paralyzed, as whatever poison I had just willingly injected into my body caused my temple veins to throb to the point of near aneurism.  And I lay there until the moment passed.  Then I was up and on my way to find my next fix.  Didn't even momentarily entertain the notion of taking a break.  

When I got clean, I tried to make it up to my body.  It took a while, but slowly I began eating more vegetables, exercising more, drinking less soda.  I still willingly sacrifice some degrees of health for vanity's sake, like using non-stick sprays over cooking in olive oil, because I'd rather look good and be dead than be overweight (and alive).  It's my value system.  Don't judge.  

Despite my inherent skepticism re: most organics, I still buy a lot of them.  I won't buy Supermarket meat.  Because it tastes like shit.  I buy from a butcher, and generally grass-fed, hormone free, free range, organic meats.  Which ain't cheap. You are what you eat, and beef should be red, not pale packaged pink.  I want to taste the fresh blood from my cow.

I used to buy meat from Whole Foods.  But I don't anymore.  I sort of hate Whole Foods for its hipster-attracting qualities, and severe overpricing.  I've found other "natural" markets sell the same shit, for far less; all you miss out on is the Whole Foods experience.  Not such a loss.

This afternoon, I saw most of my friends were posting requests to contact the president and complain about FDA forcing Whole Foods to accept Monsanto's evil goods.  Not quite sure that is what is happening, from the limited reading I've done. But I signed the petition anyway.  Monsanto seems like it's run by a bunch of dicks, and I'm always for sticking it to the man.

Won't make a difference.  Then again, that's what I thought a few weeks ago when the cause of the day was stopping PIPA or SOPA or whatever the fuck that anti-piracy crap was called that had Wikipedia going black for 24 hours (and thus thwarting my "research").  I was, like, Yeah, that's gonna work.  I thought, What a waste of time.  If congress and its big business buddies want this bill passed, they are not going to give a shit about a few cybernerds shaking their skinny British guitar player arms at the screen.  Only they did.  So many people got pissed, such a consolidated effort and opposition staged, that SOPA/PIPA went quietly into the good night.  Leaving Duff McKagen to weep silently...

Maybe I've been selling grassroots short and the art of muckracking isn't dead after all.

I cut myself off from caring about outcomes because there's less room to get hurt that way.  Nothing revolutionary.  People do it all the time.  I think it's one of the governing precepts of Buddhism.  And as a white American who intermittently considers himself Native American when he's suffering a lack of cultural identity, obviously I've dabbled in the religion.  I like dabbling.  Beats full on submersion. Less risk, even less residue.  All sorrow comes from attachment, life is suffering. Sounds like my kind of religion.  But it was missing something.  The guilt.  Which is why I learned to incorporate a little of the Catholicism of my youth to make myself truly miserable.

I don't know what these bastard fucks are doing at Monsanto.  Or where Monsanto is even located.  But I don't want my corn genetically modified.  (Unless it passes on significant savings, allowing me more money to consume shit I don't really need, like a talking monkey butler/robot.)  Mostly I don't like to be bullied.  Nobody does. But this resistance to being pushed around seems to strike a distinctly American chord.  There's a lot about this country that will bug me (Puritan views of sex, etc.), but I always admired the spunk, that scruffy-faced kid part that doesn't take kindly to being told what to do.  It's in those moments where the little guy stands up, takes his hits, and keeps moving forward that I feel part of a something greater than me (it also makes me really want to re-watch Rocky).

The nameless, faceless money-making machines will keep on pushing.  That ain't ever gonna change.  But it's good to know, even if the opponent is a little murky, they can only push so far before we start pushing back.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Max: I'm too nostalgic.  I'll admit it. 

Skippy: We graduated four months ago.  What can you possibly be nostalgic for? 

Max: I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday.  I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur.  I'm reminiscing this right now.  I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory...and I didn't have a good time. 

                                                                           From Kicking and Screaming, 1995


I miss rehab.

It's hard to explain, unless you've been, what I'd miss about it.  From the outside, it probably doesn't seem like all that much fun.  For one, you're locked down, as in "can't leave unless someone let's you out."  You bunk in these cramped little rooms, like extra small dormitories at a really shitty school with smelly carpeting.  The food stinks.  The company ain't so hot.  Unless you consider being surrounded by twitching junkies, rummy alkies, and blister-lipped crackheads the In Crowd. You're treated like a child; you have to ask permission to do most everything.  Each morning you get woken up at 5 a.m. to have your vitals taken.  There are timers on the showers.  You spend 10 hours a day in groups about proper nutrition and relapse prevention, as if the Hobo Grille takes reservations and your chances of success are better than 1 in a 100 (they don't, and they're not).  Yet, I really miss it sometimes.

It'd be nice not to have to do anything again, y'know?  Just wake up, hit the smoking porch, mack on the pretty girls.  No future.  No worries.  Lighting up cigarette after cigarette, watching time methodically evaporate with the carcinogenic fumes...


It's strange the things we can get nostalgic for.  I was running with Rich on Saturday, talking about when we lived with George Murphy in this dumpy little apartment on Fair Oaks back in 19aught92.  Rich said, "We didn't know how good we had it."  And there was something to being 23 and free; being able to do whatever the fuck you wanted, no mortgage, no divorces, no time-sucking jobs or relationships, no nagging age-related issues like swelling prostates, hair in unwanted places, or busted hips.  Never mind that nothing much ever happened; that George and I hated each other; that Rich was stuck working a shit job at Guitar Center; that no one was getting laid with any regularity except me, and the girl I was sleeping with was an ex from hell who wouldn't go away, like a case of the herpes or a particularly stubborn foot fungus.  Forget that I was drinking too much, doing too many drugs, lost in a big city, lacking any semblance of direction.  It was a good time.  Because it wasn't now, and "not now" somehow always manages to produce favorable review.

How can it not?  In addiction they call it "euphoric recall."  Which is the way an addict mollies the unpleasant parts.  A dangerous proposition for anyone trying to get straight.  Hence the reason relapse rates are so high.  Sitting in a church basement, nursing tepid, stale coffee with powdered creamer that won't sink no matter how hard you push, you don't remember what it actually felt like having the cops pick you up or the time your baby girl saw you led out in handcuffs in the middle of the night; you don't remember fishing the cigarette butts from the bottom of the beer bottles in the morning or shitting yourself trying to make it back up the hill for your wake-up fix or any of the other dehumanizing, disgusting, despicable, deplorable alliterative actions.  Or maybe you remember the bad parts.  You just can't feel them.  And so when they roll around your head, they tumble out, lighter and less significant than the rest, those "good times," which your conscious gloms onto like sticky sweet candy, because, hey, everyone likes to feel good.  So you're back out the door running.

Working on resending this memoir, I've been rereading it (obviously), and the parts about rehab stand out.  There's a fondness there, a warm, summer-y nostalgia. Christ, spent enough time in them.  20 at last count.

In a lot of ways, rehab is like Club Med.  Minus the goofy synchronized dance numbers.  You have to appreciate where I was coming from, the life I was leaving behind (temporarily).  Yeah, the food stinks in rehab--compared to what I'm eating today (freshly grilled hanger steak on my indoor BBQ)--but back then, I was eating from vats of oatmeal at the soup kitchen, the soupy bits of discarded gutter burrito bottoms.  And those were on the good days.  Plenty of meals were skipped.  You're not walking across town just to eat.  You'll walk 87 blocks in the snow for dope. But food?  Meh.*  

(* A good analogy I once heard about the lengths required to get clean.  

Counselor: "You know how you'll trudge for six hours, through three towns, in the middle of a monsoon, without shoes, sick, hungry, tired, to get your dope?

Group: [Nodding enthusiastically]

Counselor: "Well, you have to be willing to go to those same lengths for your sobriety."

Group: [Staring silently]

Fat Bob: "What the fuck is he talking about?")

Rehab was a safe haven, a respite, a time out from the daily grief.  It was never intended to be a permanent solution (at least not in the beginning).  You went from freezing your ass off during rainy season, fishing through the garbage for a piece of pie crust, to being indoors, warm and having a fresh pair of socks.  You had your own room and access to a shower (albeit timed to discourage suicide and/or incessant masturbation), a TV, friends who weren't going to jump you in the middle of the night and steal your stash (at least most of the rehabs I was in; the ones in Boston got pretty rough).  It was almost worth the trade-off.


It was a big fucking trade-off.  Namely, not having any drugs.  I shouldn't say "any," because most--though not all--rehabs usually gave you a little something to take the edge off.  Methadone.  Buprenorphine.  Something.  

Some places, however, were hard-asses.  Withdrawing from alcohol can kill you, so they'll always make sure you're medicated.  You won't die from withdrawing from opiates.  You just wish you would.

Rehab was a vacation from your real life.  Like addiction itself, it created strange bedfellows (often quite literally).  You spend most of your days on the inside in groups.  And you make fun of them on the smoking porch, the touchy feely-ness of it all (yet another run-through of the food pyramid and the importance of whole grains and fiber in your diet!), because being a goofball, mocking the sincerity of others is always an easy mark.  Like the smart ass in high school biology staging fake fights with the dissected frogs.  The burnouts sit in the back and make fun of anyone taking it seriously; it's what they do.  But it's all a process.  

Each time I returned, I sat closer to the front.  Each time I went back, I learned better the jokers to avoid, to take it a little more to heart.  I can see now that each trip was a vital step toward getting well, how they were helping me before I even knew it, finding a way to penetrate this thick skull of mine, getting me to this place I am today.  Even in the beginning when I was treating it like a joke, there was that little part of me, the part that was still good, honest, decent, that saw a light, a way out. And later, when I dug in my heels, it was still without real-world consequence.  A state of suspension.  Just 24 hours a day where you got to work  When else do you get months, uninterrupted, to do that?   

Then again, I sometimes think I even miss high school, even though I know for a fact that it sucked balls.  Maybe I could just look up some former rehab mates on Facebook, rehash the past, post some goofy videos.

None of which would change anything.  Like any reminiscing, it isn't the moment you really miss; it's the time, a longing to get back and visit that younger you. Which is never possible.  Thankfully.  Since there is no way reality could stand up the to recollection.

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Monday, January 30, 2012


After the hards rains a-fell last weekend (the night before the 49ers' humiliating defeat), I was in the basement, working out on the elliptical.  Ever since I bought the machine, I've noticed a considerable improvement in my arthritic hip.  Of course the secret with any sort of exercise routine is actually doing it, something the revolutionaries at the local gym should have stopped doing  I don't have to worry about that.  Thank God for OCD.

I've been using the elliptical twice daily, which has made a huge difference, since it harnesses a full range of motion, like running, but without the hard pounding. Anyway, this second run at night before I go to bed has made sleeping and walking easier, less pain, less waking up.  Except for the six times I get up to take a piss because my prostate's probably the size of a pomelo.  Love getting old.

Last weekend, the storm was brutal.  We got these big ass trees up here on the hill and I was waiting for one of them to come crashing down on the house.  The wind and rain relentless, I wouldn't have been surprised if the foundation uprooted and we went spinning into the sky...

So I'm grinding away on the elliptical, flipping through the stations, bouncing back between ESPN and NFL Network, listening to the pundits talk about how Alex Smith has finally arrived and predicting the big game he's gonna have the next day, when I notice one of the basement walls looks like it's sweating.  Not gushing water, or even trickling, but you can clearly see where it's wet, spreading down the concrete. This is not good.  I call my wife to show her, and she's freaking out that it's going to cost a fortune, which gets me all worked up.  Which is not hard to do.  I was actually calm for once, thinking this sort of thing must happen all the time. Concrete is porous; it's gonna crack.  The house was built in 1961.  We spackle some shit on it or whatever and we'll be fine.  By the time she's done with me, she has me half convinced I'm going back to living under the freeway, eating roasted black swan stew.

On Monday, I call our fix-it guy, Mario, to see what we can do about it.  He comes over on his lunch break.  Won't be cheap, he says.  We're looking at close to 10K. Just fucking terrific.

I'm thinking, What the fuck?  I just bought this house and now there might be major structural damage?  Insurance isn't going to cover this.  A full-on gusher, maybe. But not this.  So I'm just going to have to wait until my walls start crumbling? Or shell out ten grand?  Why's this shit always have to happen to me?

Mario says he wants to check under the house, see if the wall is leaking elsewhere (he's guessing it is, hence the steep price tag). We have a crawl space where the hot water heater is, some old paint, a ladder.  I'm cursing under my breath as he crawls up in there.  And sure enough, more water. All along the edges.  We're going to have to reinforce the entire western front.

"You smell that?" Mario asks.

"Smell what?"

"Smells like...gas."

All the drugs I snorted years ago robbed me of (most of) my sense of smell.  I can't smell jack.  Fucking deviated septum.  I spend hours in that basement, never smelled a damn thing.

He asks me to get some Windex, and then he starts spraying around the hot water heater, which was newly installed when we moved in.  He hits one of the valves and it starts bubbling like crazy.  Gas leak.  Even if I hadn't abused cocaine, I never would've thought to spray Windex to find a gas leak.  I'm just not wired that way.

"This is really bad," Mario says, grabbing his wrench.  "Whoever installed this didn't tighten the valve.  If these things are tightened properly, they are designed to never loosen."  He smiles.  "No worries.  I fix."

Mario hopped down.  "That was as bad a gas leak as I've ever seen.  I'm surprised there wasn't an explosion or a fire."

That heater was installed almost a year ago.  Who knows how long it'd been leaking, or the next time I'd have a buddy over who still smokes.  All it would've taken would've been one little spark.

And if it hadn't stormed so hard last weekend, if the concrete hadn't cracked and my walls weren't leaking, I might never have known until it was too late.


I don't believe in coincidences.  That Pink Floyd tune synching to the Wizard of Oz scene is some freaky shit, man.  If you've never tried it, you should check it out. Trippy.  Like the track "Money" kicks in right when the movie switches over to color and the streets turn gold.  I don't think Gilmour and Co. sat down and watched WoZ when they were recording Dark Side, but the cohesion is downright eerie.  And I watched that shit stone cold.  I can't explain it.  It's sorta like the opening to Magnolia.  (You can skip to the 2 minute mark.)  A series of events on a string. Like Schrodinger's cat.

So many years have gone by since my old drug life.  I don't feel it any more.  I can remember some of it, a choice detail here or there, but the bone-ache, gut scrap that once haunted my nightmares, I don't feel.  They are nothing but snapshots, a clipped scene culled from an old movie or book I came across a long time ago. Still, I often ask why.  Especially when I start getting misty over all the years I missed. This hurts a lot when I look at my boy and think of my mom.  She would've loved nothing more than to meet Holden.  But she died before I could get my shit together.  I kick myself, wondering why I couldn't have sobered up faster, at least given her a few years with him.  I knew she was dying, and I tried (oh, dear God, how I tried).  But I was too late.  Why did it have to happen the way it did?

I don't know the answer.  And it's OK that I don't.  It's one of the things that tripped me up in the first place, this pressing need for an answer.  It's why I denied God (or whatever you want to call it).  I used logic and the sum of my vast experience and knowledge and tried to force a picture.  And that might've worked if I had 99 out of 100 pieces. But what if I only had 3 of a thousand?  Six hundred and forty seven million? Pretty distorted view.  It's one of the nice parts of getting sober.  There is no burning need to figure it all out, the whys and hows.  Better yet, you learn not to force your will on the world.  Lord knows, I am not an AAer, but I like their bumper stickers. At first I laughed at "Let Go, Let God."  OK.  I still laugh at it.  But it doesn't make it any less true.  God.  The Universe.  Mother Fucking Nature.  The Collective Unconscious.  Whatever It is.  It's like the old joke.  I've learned two things.  1.) There is a God.  And 2.) I ain't Him.

Really, I'm not getting Holy Roller on you, promise.  But there is a relief, especially when you are an obsessively compulsive mutherfucker, when you accept you don't have all the answers.

Or to quote the old MTV ad.  "What do you do when you are 26 (or 41) and realize you're not meant to save the world?"

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ride Free

There's more than a few ideological differences my wife and I have when it comes to raising our son, Holden.  I talked about one of these the other day, his eating meat, which was a knock-down, drag-out brawl.  I eventually won.  But not without heavy concessions to the other side (apparently, I have to endure another pregnancy, which was really hard on me the first time).  There was also the heated circumcision question.  To me, I didn't see any room for debate.  Where I'm from, you got circumcised or your name was Barry and we kicked the living shit out of you in gym class*.

                                * I never really beat up a kid named Barry with an uncircumcised dick.

Justine is from Northern California, meaning born and bred in the Bay Area, the epicenter of liberalism and legislation to protect you from yourself.  Justine has traveled extensively, but her roots bore deeply here.  I'll never forget one couple's therapy session (yeah, I go to fucking couple's therapy.  So fucking what?  We have problems with our fucking communication).  After I'd been bitching about Justine's wanting to foster kids like we're Jolie/Pitt, our wiccan priestess of a counselor says, "Joe, you do know you've married an Earth Mother, right?"

Earth Mother.  Jesus.  Makes my balls shrivel even thinking of the expression.  Just this side of "praying to the burning gods on the playa" in the lexicon of shit that makes me want to move back east, shave my head, and join a gang. This New Age, subculture, third-eye crap permeates everything they do out here.  Now there is a lot that I love about San Francisco.  It is a place where success isn't defined by the kind of car you drive or how high up you work or live; a place where you are free to be who you are (or as much as any of those things can be true in a modern, industrialized society).  The percentage of folks with college degrees out here is staggering, not that having a college degree necessarily translates to intelligence. Some of the smartest people I know didn't even go to college.  But one thing an education does tend to do is foster feelings of inclusion, rather than exclusion.  And even though I hate most mutherfuckers, that is a good thing.

But everything comes with a price; reciprocity is the currency on which this universe runs.  And the by-product of all this is an oversensitivity that borders on cloying.  Hence, a championing of being politically incorrect.  Which is basically people now thinking they have an excuse to not be polite.  And if there is one thing that pisses Joe off it is not employing proper etiquette (my first wife made me read Amy Vanderbuilt's The Complete Book of Etiquette, quizzing me if I wanted to get some.  So hot).

                               You see how thick this shit is?  Cover to fucking cover.  "It's lunch time, asshole.  The napkin gets folded in half."

Most of these "Earth Mother," hippy traits of my wife I can ignore.  Despite her assertion that they form the bulk of her person, I see these characteristics as mostly minor, inconsequential details, like Mandy Moore on Scrubs saying "That's so funny" instead of actually laughing.

Which just proves what we already know.  Really attractive people can get away with just about anything (see Amanda Knox).  Justine is an absolute doll of a woman, smart, gorgeous, amazing mom, so what if I have to deal with the occasional tearing up when they show cat juggling videos from South America?

It's a little tougher to ignore with my in-laws, who are both full-fledged, card-carrying (-burning burner) hippies, who bless chakras and comment on the strength of someone's chi, but generally I let it pass, even when grandpa leads a drum circle procession into my house for my son's first birthday, or when grandma dresses him like a baby monk because chia seeds sprouted all over him.  It's the Bay Area. Drum circles here are like tipping cows back in Berlin.  Just what you do.

Of course, when it comes to actually raising our boy, navigating these issues gets a whole lot trickier.  If you read this blog often, you know I think my old man was a douche.  And he was.  God rest his soul.  But like Mark Twain said, the older I get, the smarter my father becomes.  The guy did get a few things right.  Like raising us in the country.

I am glad I grew up in the wide open spaces without much adult supervision, free to do stupid shit like testing the ice on the pond in the thaw of spring, until you'd hear it crack and rush to see if you could make it back to shore in time (Sorry, Roger; we miss you).  And riding our bikes, zipping down steep hills and over gravel pits, taking air off poorly constructed homemade ramps, doing tricks to impress our dipshit friends.  It's what being a kid is all about.

Seriously, how many chances do you have to feel cool as a kid?  Your mom picks out your clothes, you get those fucking goofy haircuts; you're old enough to crave freedom but too little to do jack about it.  Riding my bicycle--without a helmet--was one of the few moments I felt a reprieve.  Nobody was bundling me up and strapping on elbow- and kneepads.  It was my fucking Huffy and a big ass hill; and, yeah, I crashed a lot, and, yes, I've been diagnosed with brain damage, but no one can prove those things are related.  And don't forget, in the "big crash," it was the rest of my body that got fucked up, not my head.

I aim to win the support of the masses with these posts, and I realize this one is a losing fight.  No one is writing in and saying that encouraging my kid not to wear a helmet is a good idea. Of course he's going to wear a helmet.  It's the fucking law. More importantly, my wife says he has to, and when you win the 2 meat skirmishes, like I said, you have to concede other battles.  I am not even saying he shouldn't wear a helmet.  No way I could live with myself if the boy ever got hurt because of something I did (or didn't do).  I just think the '70s were a pretty cool time to be a kid.

I'll probably get a ticket out here for even writing this.  But hillbillies and rednecks get a few things right.  My son is going to grow up probably speaking four languages and eating kale chips, and he is more apt to do yoga than he is boxing. But never riding his bike too fast down a gravelly ravine, no helmet, the wind in his hair, trying to impress his version of Tracy B. with some ill-advised, hot-shot show-off move, and then fighting back the tears when he scraps his knees and face to shit?  That's what'll make a man out of you.

                                                           Skip to 2:50

Listen, I'd put the boy in a suit made of styrofoam and keep him in a bubble if I could.  I don't want to see him ever stub a toe.  That's what it's like when you're a parent.  But some of the best memories of my childhood came from doing stupid shit, the starting fires and playing with hornets nests, and yes going too fast on a bike without a helmet.  It's a shame, is all.  But I guess that's why we have moms. Otherwise we'd let the kid eat pancakes and pizza and Pop Rocks all day, and stay up half the night ogling half naked pictures of Kate Upton.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Guilty Conscience

Got stopped by the cops on my way to pick up Holden from daycare yesterday afternoon.  The police up here are a little quick with the trigger, especially if they think you live in the flats and are trolling in the hills for...I have no idea what. Scenic, panoramic views from newly restored golf courses?  My license still has me at our old place down by the freeway.  When I explained I'd recently moved and gave him the new address, he seemed to grow nicer.  Maybe it's my imagination. Maybe he was never going to give me a ticket for not using my turn signal.  Which is what I was accused of doing.  Although I am pretty sure I did.  I'm an extremely cautious driver. But we all make mistakes, and I was listening to Tierney and Davis's "The Drive" on 95.7's new sports talk station, "The Game," and a debate over whether Alex "Whiskey Dick" Smith deserves a long-term deal, which was getting me worked up.  So obviously I could've been distracted.

In the end, the cop was a very nice guy and only issued a warning.  He did, however, give me a fix-it ticket, since my proof of insurance had expired.  It'll cost me a few bucks for a transaction fee, and that should be the end of it.

Except cops freak me the fuck out.

I know, nobody likes cops, and most everyone gets nervous when they see the lights flashing in the rearview.  I once got stopped with my buddy C-Love in Miami, and of course I hadn't been drinking.  You couldn't pay me to take Communion and get behind the wheel.  C-Love was a little blotto, and he'd been smoking these clove cigarettes.  The cop that stopped us in Miami was your stereotypical short fucker. Maybe 5'2", hitching up like a miniature cowboy.  Looked like that asshole prison guard in The Green Mile.

And I was nervous.  Despite the fact that I'd done nothing wrong, my hands shook. They see you jittery and and that's always the question you'll get: "What are you so nervous for?"  It's the same question I got when I was carrying $500 worth of dope in the trunk of a stolen car, and it's the same one I got when I was going to feed my girlfriend's cat, stone cold sober.  Doesn't take much to get me worked up.  The answer I gave in Miami was something like "Isn't everyone who gets stopped by the cops nervous?"  Wrong answer.

 "Not if they've done nothing wrong," Percy said, eyes narrowing down.

Then he was on the horn, saying he smelled marijuana, which I'm guessing was from the clove cigarettes because I sure as shit wouldn't be driving with someone smoking pot in my car.  This was long after I kicked the bad habits, and pot was about the last thing I'd smoke when I was fucked up.  He shouted to bring in the hounds.  You can argue over whether weed should be legal or whatever.  Fuck, I think all drugs should be legal.  Regulate and tax, what do I care? But you ain't driving in my car with them until they are.

Anyway, after a lot of short man bluster, no dogs ever showed, and we were let go, but not before I got the ol' stink eye.

           Next bullshit article you read about how the 49ers all had Kyle Williams's back after the fumble, remember this pic.

It strange how fears can become ingrained, the result of a past you may not even be consciously aware of.  I read somewhere once that black people, collectively, tend to be fearful of dogs because back in the 1800s dogs were used by plantation owners to chase after escaped slaves, and that somehow this deep-seated fear has literally fused into their DNA through the generations, making most black people naturally apprehensive around dogs, like an instinct.  I have no idea the legitimacy of that, and I kinda don't want to touch anything that paints an entire race this or that.  Objectively looking at that theory, it seems like a cross between urban legend or something an egghead would propose for a thesis.  Maybe I'm wrong. Dogs used to scare the shit out of me too.  Had this giant doberman that would chase me around Berlin whenever I went running.  I guess that's why we adopted an 8-lb. poodle named Lucky.

                                      Does this look like the face of a scofflaw, Officer?

I only use the above...theory...because it's how I feel about cops.  A distrust and fear, however illogical, deeply ingrained and sewn into the very fabric of my being. I spent so much time getting pushed around and harassed and violated by the police that, even now, when I am a teetotallin' Johnny Q. Law Abider, I still panic. Heart thumping.  Hand shaking.  I mean, I'm a jumpy mutherfucker to begin with, I know, but for those of you who have never been "in the system," it's far worse than what you see on TV and in the movies.

I'll put to rest any James Frey-like grandiose claims of my extensive life on the inside.  I spent one night in a prison, and a grand total of, maybe, fifteen nights behind bars.  I am not a tough guy.  Not even close.  Although I do like this song.

Even Mike Ness gets tamed by old age.  (Was that a fucking jazz intro?)  No, I was just a white suburban kid, who, like Sam once said, was like every book she ever read.  Add my name to the thousands of skinny sickly slinking junkies all over the city, with the doe eyes and outstretched hands, bitching about how nobody ever gives them a fair shake.

I'm not saying the cops pushing me around--and they did push--wasn't deserved. You can debate whether using illegal drugs strips you of your personhood or whatever.  I'm not going to do that.  At the time, I felt victimized.  Now it's later and I can see why I was treated the way I was.  Terms like "deserve" or "fairness" don't really factor in when you are living that way.  I mean, if you are violating and circumventing every law, making special allowances for yourself, it seems a wee bit hypocritical to be bemoaning others not playing it by the book.

Doesn't make a difference, the right or wrong of it.  All that matters is that when I walked away, I was saddled with a PTSD sort of problem (and, no, not like a solider. Like a guy who was fucked up from a traumatic situation).  And that world was traumatic.  Getting rousted at dawn in a squat; accosted in a Nordstrom's parking lot, or outside a 7-11, helmets put on your head and beat senseless; cops walking in and stealing money from bathrobes.  This was my life and my friend's lives for a long time.  You can assign all the blame on outlaws doing wrong.  Fine.  Doesn't change the memories you take with you.

It's not like I wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night screaming, "Charlie!", and start humping the nearest doorknob.  But I am still skittish around the cops, and a part of me still thinks, even when it's a routine stop, that something will show in that system, something I thought I'd long ago cleared up and had expunged, or maybe I'll simply enter the Twilight Zone, where there is no rhyme or reason, only suffering and retribution.  Because a part of me still expects to be hauled before a court, cosmic or otherwise, and held more accountable for my past transgressions. It's the old Catholic in me, a burdening guilt that needs to be recognized and punished.

When I went back east to my 20th High School Reunion, I was surprised at how much fun it was.  I got along with everyone.  I still had my hair, looked better than many of my classmates.  I was on, zipping and zapping, felt pretty charming, and had one of the (if not the) prettiest girl on my arm most of the night.  We all joked with one another, and I probably got a little goofier than I'd intended.  I was feeling good.  I figured I would hate something like a high school reunion, and I didn't consider most of these classmates my friends, but with all the years that had passed, I found myself truly enjoying the company.  The problem had been me, all along.

Until one of my former classmates, who is now a cop, came up and whispered in my ear.

"Something ain't right with your eyes," he said.  "I see those eyes all the time on the job.  Something ain' right."

And then he smiled and walked away.

In Berlin, I'm sure everyone knew about my "problem" and run-ins with the law. We were the bad Clifford kids.  Was he just fucking with me?  Did he know he'd just touched on my biggest fear?  Had he been waiting 20-some-odd years for his revenge because he didn't like the way I used to draw cartoons of him with really bushy hair in Mrs. Black's class?  Maybe he was just goofin' too.  But it got to me.

It's what I fear when cops stop me.  That they will take a look in my eyes and see what lurks behind them: the broken, bad parts of a broken, bad man.  Doesn't work that way, I know.  I mean, unless you live in the south.  I feel rest assured that in SF, no one is tying me to the back of a pick-up and dragging me down a dirt road.  It's more the concern that they can see through the slickly polished veneer and facade, to a black heart full of malice, and they will know I am guilty for so many things, so many bad, cruel, selfish actions, so many wicked thoughts.  I fear they will see the sickness inside me.  And if they were to call me on it, how could I deny it?  When I've suspected it's been there all along.

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