Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Wick’

Jerry Wick-20 years later

January 10, 2021

Twenty years ago today I walked into Used Kids Records and Ron House told me that Jerry Wick had been killed by a hit and run driver earlier that morning while riding his bicycle home after a night hanging around the places that felt like family to him: Used Kids, Larry’s Bar, Bernie’s and even BW-3 where the confines of warmth, music, alcohol and friendly faces made the world outside a bit safer, softer and easier—it’s ironic that the world outside, literally killed him as he rode home with a pizza on his bike handles.  Jerry was, for a period in the nineties my best friend and was family to me and for many of those whom I regarded family during that period of my life, the other staff members at Used Kids, the members of the New Bomb Turks and a few others from our insular scene—we were family and Jerry was the prodigal son who would at one moment make a comment to have us all erupt with laughter and the next somehow insult all of us with a single utterance.

                When I think of Jerry I think of his toothy grin and his laughter that would cause his shoulders to chug up and down as if they were the wheels on a locomotive, and his energy was like a train, even down to spitting black smoke into the air. We were drawn to each other by our love of music, by the one thing that never turned on us as we staggered out of broken and at times abusive childhoods into our early twenties, knees wobbly from our adolescence years but fortified by vinyl records, alcohol, and a charm we didn’t even realize we had. We were broken but confident that no matter what, we knew what we didn’t want and that was enough. We also had a built in soundtrack which was the music we created and took part in, our lives were a mix-tape to ourselves with our evenings filled with bands we would tape and plaster ourselves to in the form of the flyers we hung around High Street to have people join in our party, our lives: Guided by Voices, Sub-Pop bands, K records, Ass Ponys, Karl Hendricks, Superchunk, the bands were endless. Anyway, this was our life and it was safe, it felt safe even though we walked on the invisible line of life precariously, we had friends die of overdoses, car accidents and by suicide which haunted us both.

                Jerry pulled me from the rubble of a failed suicide attempt, something that was an exercise in both courage and fear—mostly fear but that has been something that I have had to accept in my life, like buying an old house with a cracked foundation. That’s me, I have learned to tend to it. Jerry nursed me back to health, mostly with laughter some music and even ambition, it was his idea to make Anyway records a viable thing and although it was something that drove a wedge between us after a few years it provided hope and even the simple thing of having a plan for anything even if it is as minor of putting out a seven inch record by a punk rock band that played the smelly cramped stages of Stache’s and Bernie’s. It was something. And something we clutched onto. My partner is a poet, she is nine years younger than me and we have realized that we had been at Larry’s at the same time, her stepping into her twenties, and me stumbling into my thirties. Jerry and I would dread going to Larry’s on Monday nights-poetry nights and we would grumble to each other as we headed over to BW-3 or Bernie’s until 10 when the poetry would end. We were too scared of the honesty I suppose while Jerry was comfortable hiding his words behind his guitar the bravery of reading in front of people was something we could not do. In the early 90’s Gilmore Tamney asked me to read some of my writing at Monkey’s Retreat, my hands shook so violently, and I clutched the beer I brought to the reading—I can still remember it. I did not read again for years and the last time I did, with my children in the crowd of an audience of poets and writers, I wept as I read with only a glass of water for assistance. Braver now than I was then.

                Jerry and I soon exhausted each other after a few years, he grew annoyed (and perhaps jealous) of my wanting to have a more traditional relationship—I was involved with my (now ex) wife and was trying to grow up—to limit my drinking which I was failing at. When he died in 2001, we were hanging out more, his band-Gaunt, had mostly broken up but he was working on his solo music and as a chef. He had newer dreams he was starting to form, he had bought a house, and although the dreams we had bought into in our twenties did not come out the other end of the decade as we had hoped, there was some semblance that something else could be possible. I would not call it hope at this point, perhaps it was more a rickety awareness that things could be ok even if they were different. We were now in our thirties, old in our punk rock world view but quite young from my vantage point of a fifty-two-year-old.

His final day was spent doing what he loved, he hung out at Used Kids most of the afternoon, drinking and listening to records with me and Mike Rep, we had a beer at Larry’s and I walked home to my more domesticated life and he was later seen at Bernie’s and Larry’s before picking up a pizza and taking the last ride home.

                His death was a turning point for me, it shook me deeply then as it does now—Jerry dying made me look more honestly at my own life, my own struggles and what I needed to do. In 2001 and more importantly 2002, I did not know what I wanted but I was certain what I didn’t want and that was to continue drinking and hurting not only those whom I loved the most but also myself. I was tired of hurting. Jerry was a critical man, one who had opinions about things he did know anything about but of things that hurt him—love, women, family, institutions—of course most of us have these same opinions about the very things Jerry did, things we know extraordinarily little about at that young age. Although pain and love seemed to brighter than, sharper and stinging, I realize now—twenty years later that they arrive in different packages and colors, some slide in softly, a hand clutching mine, the roll of my lover’s feet against my toes on the couch, a nuzzle, my son’s soft curly hair bobbing up and down as he laughs and my daughter asking me if she can make me food. I used to think of beginnings and endings which I no longer believe in, things just change, morphing into something else—shape shifting over time like shadows across the floorboards, almost unnoticed-I do not judge the shadows and I am trying not to judge anything anymore—things just move into something else. Jerry died and his life ended, I do not know about what came next for him, and there isn’t a day that doesn’t go by where he does not cross my mind—my own big life changes started with Jerry dying. Although Jerry has not been physically with me as I have gone through my life since that day, a long marriage and divorce, two children, falling in love again, three college degrees, writing, music, lots of pizza…sobriety, his memory has been with me every step of the way. A constant encouragement.

December 2020

December 24, 2020

“Dad, c’mere…. hurry.” My son, Bruno, was pointing at a tree hanging from a thin rope, surrounded by hundreds of other cut trees all dangling from the same type of cheap rope, like we had walked into a butcher shop just for trees. Their green carcasses swaying in the breeze. “Look at this one” he was all smiles, pointing at a thin sparse tree, one side devoid of branches, the top slightly dented and the base of the trunk crooked.

“Dude, I don’t know…it’s kinda um, special needs.”

“Exactly, we need a Charlie Brown tree and this one is the Charlie Browniest” he walked around the tree pointing out all its broken charms.

 “Bruno, can we get on that will hold at least a few ornaments?” his fifteen-year-old, sister Saskia sighed, clearly annoyed.

 “Sas, look—it’s perfect. Dad needs this tree in his house.”

 Laughing she concurred, “Yeah dad, Bruno’s right you need this tree—it’s a must for your apartment.”

 I fetched one of the Mexican workers at Oakland Nursery who walked over smiling, wearing a floppy Santa hat whose fluffy white top fell over his brown and cracked forehead, “Merry Christmas sir, let me help you.” I showed him the tree and his smile froze, “ah, hah.” he paused, “so you want this tree? This little guy?” His smile tilted towards nervousness, ‘this one?” he repeated himself.

“Yeah, this one.” I looked at Bruno, who looked at the man, who looked at me and I nodded.

Reaching up to cut the rope, he asked again, “you sure, we have a lot of other ones” scanning a hand towards the legion of trees swaying around us,

 “Yeah, they want this one” I answered, with eyebrows raised.

 Whistling he took out a small pocketknife and cut it down, pulled a small yellow tag from the tree’s hindquarters and directed us to pull our car around to pick it up. “Sir I will have it ready for you, Merry Christmas” he spoke with a Mexican accent,

 “Merry Christmas to you as well.”

                With the small tree strapped to the top of my Volkswagen sedan, one of my first steps into adulthood that I bought last year at the age of fifty-one we headed for home with a pit-stop at the grocery store for eggnog.

“Dad, it’s gross” Bruno offered.

“Get the good stuff” Saskia chimed in, meaning buy the $6 kind and not the store-brand that sells for $3 and is, indeed gross.

“O.K.,” I slipped on my mask and headed in, buying a cheap bouquet of starting-to-wilt flowers as I headed for the dairy department. This was our second Christmas in my small two-bedroom apartment since I moved out, the divorce sandwiched in-between then and now. At home, we carried the tree in, Bruno secured it in the hard green-plastic stand while Saskia searched for the two small boxes of Christmas ornaments, I kept while I poured us the eggnog and made made homemade whip-cream for the hot chocolate. We settled into decorating the tree, which because of its courageously pathetic stature took all of ten minutes. “Well, what do you guys think” I asked as I stared as it leaned towards the bookcase, a decoration broke free from one of the limp branches and crashed to the floor. “I love it” Saskia said triumphantly, Bruno added, “it’s cool, it’s for sure a Charlie Brown tree.” He grabbed his skateboard and headed outside. I sat on one of the small couches I have, looked at the twinkling lights, Christmas music playing around us and asked Saskia if she would sit with me, “yeah dad, but then I have homework to do.”

                That night they were both upstairs, I lite candles, put on some choral Christmas music and read while the lights winked at me with its colorful lights. They are older now, long past the days of believing in Santa or Sinterklaas which has peeled some of the magic of Christmas away but not all of it. Their mother is Dutch, hence the many years of believing in Sinterklass and we would try to incorporate both the traditions into our lives but their mother, a very practical woman did not really go all in for the Santa aspect, so Christmas turned into something we travelled to my mother’s for and to make a nice dinner. Divorce does not ruin Christmas it just morphs into something else.

                I was in graduate school, attending Case Western Reserve in Cleveland one weekend a month for two years. Every year we had driven out to rural Licking County, Ohio to cut down our Christmas tree and it seemed to snow every weekend we chose to do it. Afterwards we would retreat to the small barn the on the farm and have hot cocoa while they prepared our tree for the hour ride home. Scanning the walls, we would see our pictures from years past hung up as the owners took snapshots of various families when they engaged in their yearly ritual. We could trace five years of tree cutting and measure the growth of the children, even though Bruno was still quite young while I was going to graduate school. The weekend before I had to go, two weeks prior to Christmas we had travelled to the far end of the farm, sitting on hay bales on the back of a flat bed tractor as the wind whipped into our faces as we rocked back and forth over the muddy fields. We walked to the top of a hill and the kids chased each other around the trees, until finally after some insistence we picked one out and I grabbed one of the small bowsaws we were given and cut the tree down, yanking it up over my shoulder we marched to the wooden hut where a barrel fire burned to keep us warm while we waited for the tractor to take us back to the barn. That night we decorated the tree and tucked the kids in, and the week went forward. The following Thursday evening we had a row, she resented me having to go to Cleveland and leaving her with the children for the weekend— “I only have two semesters left and I’m done.” I had guilt when I left, the children were young—Bruno just three that year and Saskia was six and this began the seeds of a divorce that would happen by the end of the decade.

                Sitting in class on Friday morning I felt my neck itch, and by midafternoon it became unbearable, so I went into the rest room and examined my neck in the bathroom mirror. It was red and I had a red rash the ran up over my ear and stretched over my neck. I had poison ivy. In December. I wondered how I could have gotten it and I realized that I must have gotten it from the Christmas tree. I called home that night to check in and told my family, who laughed at my Holiday misfortune. Saskia remarked it was a Charlie Brown thing that would happen. Of course.  

“Dad, remember that time you got poison ivy from the Christmas tree” Bruno remarks as he glides by me on his skateboard, “try not to skate in the house, yes I remember—I can be pretty dumb sometimes.” Bruno skates by me the opposite way, just missing my toes, “I’ll say” as he rolls to a stop against a shelf of records and books. “Dude, please don’t skate in the house.” He walks by me this time, “I’m not, see I stopped” as he enters the kitchen and pours himself a bowl of cereal. “

“Saskia, can you do me a favor and wrap the Christmas presents I bought yesterday?” I stare at my email.

She unplugs her headphones, “you want me to wrap the presents?”

“Yes, please…”

 She then finishes my sentence, “because you suck at it?”

 “Exactly.”

She adds, “you mean the ones you bought us yesterday that you don’t want us to know what they are?”

“Yes, exactly. Just don’t show Bruno his and act surprised when you open yours.”

“O.K., will you buy me dinner?” she starts looking for masking tape.

“ummm, yeah.” I am easily defeated.

                I grew up poor, splitting time between my mother’s and father’s house made summers and holidays busy. At certain period in my childhood, my father lived in Athens, Ohio while we lived on Long Island and Virginia, and much later in rural Ohio. We would travel to Ohio for Christmas, hitting both sets off grandparents as well as my father, an awkward man who was even more of an awkward father. He was prone to laughing to himself and did not seem extremely interested in getting to know his children, it was as if he had been given a book about children but declined to even open it. He tried though, one year he gave my almost teenager brother and myself gifts that were more appropriate for seven and eight years old. ‘Jesus Dad, you could have at least asked what we wanted” my brother scolded him, in that moment I felt for my father who had done some last-minute shopping so we would have something under our tree. In hindsight, that was giving him too much credit, he could have easily asked us what we wanted weeks before. My own parenting skills are, at times bereft of discipline—although the children know their mother and I love them very much, and they are sweet, caring, and funny. But I try hard to provide for them that I did not receive from my own father, that is a childhood filled with sweetness and laughter, and if they want a new pair of shoes, a new skateboard, a book or to eat out, I usually do this for them. I do not wait for Christmas or birthdays, which may decrease the magic of Christmas but in the end, I would rather have Bruno be able to skate for hours on a board he can practice on then wait three months for a new board after he was whittled down his last board. I am learning this thing as I go along. A tree grows crooked because that is what it knows. I get up off the couch, go to the other room and flip the record over, on the table are two glasses with the remnants of eggnog and Bruno’s half-finished hot chocolate. Saskia brings down a handful of presents, “here dad, when my big present comes in can I have it?” Smiling I look at her, “you don’t know what it is, do you?” “I think I do, you told me to pick two things and you would buy me one. Can I have it?” “No honey, you can on Christmas. It’s a tradition.” I am making up traditions as I go along.

                Saskia is swinging towards adulthood, soon her Christmases will be filled with trying to duck out and be with her friends, and perhaps, if COVID did strike us to our knees this year she would now be looking at the clock waiting for her getaway, but I think she has not inherited some of my escapism.

                Christmas of 1986 was magical, I stumbled into my first love who came a-caroling to my front door as fat snowflakes floated around Jenny Mae and our classmates. A few days later we went on our first date which consisted of drinking a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon in my bedroom and listening to the Car first record on repeat. That Christmas break my brother was home on leave from the Army, he had spent the past few months in Germany and had stepped into adulthood wearing a Kangol hat, pleated stone-washed blue jeans and carrying cassettes of classic country music he discovered in the mountains of Bavaria. I was a senior and biding my time until the end of the school year so I could make my escape into the world outside of Clark County, Ohio—fueled by records, books and an imagination that was larger than the cornfields that surrounded our house. The parsonage where we lived in had turned into a launching pad for a two-week party over the holidays, our stepfather, a Methodist minister was not there much as we drank case after case of beer upstairs while listening to Z’s tapes, Christmas music and my R.E.M. and Lou Reed records. My first grimy Christmas.

                This was a year where Christmas had turned into a long holiday party, where we straddle adulthood, adolescence and firmly at an age where we had little to any responsibilities. I would carry on this philosophy for as long as could, well into my early thirties. During the break we got a room at the Holiday Inn in Springfield, Ohio and crammed as many 17- and 18-year old’s into the small room. There was a pool that we invaded as well as the bar, where a lounge singer, with full-on Magnum PI mustache and combover grew frustrated with the constant interruptions we flung his way. “C’mon guys, please be quiet” he begged as he launched into another tired Holiday favorite, “I’ll have a blooooo-Christmas, without youuuuuuuu” he bellowed as if he were Elvis, but he was not, and we let him have it until we were kicked out of the bar. Retreating to the hotel room, we bribed the two security guards to try arrest one of our old classmates, pinning the abhorrent behavior we were engaged in on him. As they had him against the wall, checking for weapons we all broke and howled with laughter. Promptly thrown out of the hotel, the security guards somehow ended up back at the parsonage, having quit their jobs that night to follow us home. As four a.m. rolled around, we sang Christmas carols as one of the lay passed out on the stairs wearing a red Santa hat. The mystery of childhood Christmas melted away that year in a pool of Natural Light and marijuana smoke.

                I hold my children close, as we navigate lives that have left them with two different homes and parents who still are parenting partners but no longer are lovers. They tend to help me more than I think I help them, lifting my spirits and with quit wits our house is closer to comedy than any sort of traditional household. My goal it to bring them into adulthood with fearlessness and courage, to be able to roll with setbacks with humor, cleverness, and compassion. So far, so good. Nearly a year ago, I fell in-love again—she is lovely, funnier than me and as tender as the inside of love, vulnerable and soft. Her youngest still believes in Santa, and he has Bruno on one of our walks if Bruno still believed in Santa, I held my breath as the street-smart Bruno told me this. “And what did you answer, buddy?” I asked, tensing up. “I told Rhett of course I did, and he said, ‘thank God’”, Saskia asks Rhett if he is excited for Christmas and he grins, “Of course! Who isn’t!?” I hope that Saskia’s forays into late adolescent Christmas can wait until she is farther along into her twenties.

Hands.

November 26, 2020

I have spent a great deal of my life being angry, an unsettled anger and perhaps, “angry” is too strong of a word—perhaps a feeling of displacement is more appropriate. Which means I have never really felt settled, which is in fact, a truth about me. When I was younger, during my teenage years and twenties my brother would remark to me “why are you such an angry young man” (he was prone to cliches at that point of his life) and Jenny Mae would accuse me of being an angry young man as well but this usually was spoken when she was disappointed in me—which was often. My response was usually defensive or incredulous, as the horror of the world was felt distinctly in my very being—the selfishness of Reagan, Bush(es) and capitalism. At times, these feelings would be dismissed as me being sensitive but there was another dimension to my anger and this was one of a propensity to violence which was just a half beer away in some situations. My trigger was always clicking although I kept it in check most of the times, but my past is filled with balls of fists that have struck my face, the back of my head as well as being stomped on a few times, and it is also pocketed with my own fists connecting with other people’s faces, heads, walls, dashboards, tree trunks, floors….the list of things my hands have been bruised on is almost as long as my life. When my ex-wife told me she was pregnant we cried together, it was something she was hopeful for and for myself it was something that petrified me—we were both crying for different reasons—hers was for love and mine was for fear, that the violence of my childhood would be doomed to this soon to be child and although I had become a practicing Buddhist and had been sober for nearly four years, I did not know if I had rid myself of anger.

                I drank for a feeling of intimacy, I am convinced that this was the main reason, alcohol helped with my feelings of unease of the “displacement” I felt, it centered me and in it’s charms I found love and intimacy. Or so I thought, I found smiles, acceptance, laughter and sex and what was so very important to me, that I found women who said they loved me as we laughed and fucked across bedrooms and bars, in the end I felt doubtful, unsettled by any words of affection. I would retreat to music, to the bottle and eventually towards other women and finally into total isolation.  A quest for intimate rejection.

                Jenny was loud, she crowded out the rest of the room with her manic energy, transforming calm into combustion until she would fold into herself and grow quiet. She would call these moments, “The Stare” when her face would grow blank, her eyes looking forward but vacant—she would be lost in something that she could not describe. Mostly, these were brief, maybe only seconds long but at other times they would last for up to half an hour, years later as she lay in a hospital bed experiencing visual hallucinations she turned her head and confessed she had been experiencing them for years, “since I went off to college, I believed there were men in the walls out to get me. I would joke about it but I was scared to death.” The nurses and doctors felt that her hallucinations had to do with her alcohol and drug use but it wasn’t until she prescribed a psychotropic medication did she experience a decrease in the hallucinations, by this time she had been slowly choked out by her alcoholism, her last breath just a few years away. I felt safe in her instability, she would prop me up (“you are the smartest person I know”) and then tear me down, (“you have no friends, only me and I hate you.”) This was the relationship we had, up until her death but I had quit believing her insults and judgements years before, like a tree letting go of its leaves I had moved on into another season.

                Biologically women tend to have more sensitive hands and wrists, there are several reasons for this, they tend to have a type of cell (Merkel) that are more packed closely together that creates a more nuanced sense of touch, there are also biological reasons dating back to when we were hunter-gatherers and even earlier when we were primates, when females held onto the young so they wouldn’t get eaten, drown, fall off a cliff or some other wilderness mishap. This is a key component of intimacy, one that I did not learn until many years later where emotional touch was difficult, as if I were built from magnets and when I was drawn to somebody I would suddenly turn away as I got closer—instead of clamping on I kept a hovering distance, an invisible field. Darting through my twenties and for much of my adult life I fell into patterns of escape: drinking, music, sex, internet, art—all taken too far and  making me feel bereft, and here it comes again: displaced. If someone grows up not feeling settled it is only normal that when it happens it may not be recognized for what it is or it is treated with skepticism. For myself, intimacy was equitable to sex and to getting approval. There was nothing deeper, because deeper can drown a person, annihilation.

                On my daily walk, through the small thatch of woods at the end of my street, just off a bike path, I enter through a small doorway made of leaves and small branches that have learned to grow sideways to let in those who need to step out of one world into another. The dog is let off her leash, and she bounds over small branches, darts into one side of a bush only to appear forty feet later out of another bush, like some kinds of natural subway system—she is covered in joy and everything in her wake is filled a hint of freedom, that is, until she is put back on her leash. At this point she gets frustrated with the red rope that has “End Puppy Mills” written up its spine, grasps it in her jaws and shakes it in anger until she gives up and starts the walk of sniffs and ghost pees towards home. The leash provides both the key to and from freedom. On these walks, that are as familiar as the smell of my morning coffee, the steps I take are the same as the day before, the same leaves crunching under my feet. The wood is large enough for me to lose my thoughts in but small enough for me to exit in a matter of minutes, and I suppose a real naturalist would scoff at my referring to this clump of trees and bushes as woods but I would say anything larger than ten trees and needs a path are woods in my book. Under the canopy of the arching branches that fold up around me, like spider web hands made of wood they cover the sky in the spring and summer, and in the fall they hover like swaying dark shadows until they shed themselves naked for winter, as barren as I tend to feel during that season. We have an understanding those trees and I. When I was a child my father would take us for hikes in the Hocking Hills, an area in Southeastern Ohio that is filled with caves and trails nestled in the foothills of Appalachia. It is all we have in Ohio; our version of mountains is but the beginning steps to the mountains of West Virginia that lay just fifty miles away on the other side of the Ohio River. But these are our hills, our over-reaching foothills, they dreamed of being giants but instead are like us, average but also remarkable in our ordinary essence. We would walk the trails of Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls and Conkle’s Hollow whose very name inspires the imagination. I would, and still do feel somewhat awkward on these walks, in the same manner that I would when I was trying, so hard at times, to be a Catholic.  A part that was searching in what I thought was all the right places, in the words of Christ, in the smelling of the incense and the rituals that still harken me back to some semblance of peace but mostly I was just a waiting for an epiphany that, alas, never arrived. I was left wondering why I didn’t “get it.” I still feel this way about much of my interaction with nature, there is satisfaction, but I enjoy my walks more when I have my headphones on and I’m listening to music. Every evening I fasten the leash to Pearl, my small Jack Russell mix whose energy is astounding and tiresome to watch, she is untethered to her passion for running which causes eruptions of joy as she literally bounces and hops through the woods and the surrounding field, every walk for her is a new adventure. I can only wish I had this simplicity. We walk with only the sky, the wind, and the stars around us. For the most part, the park is empty save for some of the homeless that may find some suitable places to camp under the hutches constructed by the close growing trees. It is during this time, alone with the dog, feeling the wind swift in my face and needling my mostly naked legs (I usually wear shorts at all times, even in the winter), that I feel something akin to feeling aligned with the unknown. There are several ways of feeling small, when dwarfed by depression sometimes it is a relief to have the outside, the sky and the silent existence of the trees to transform that smallness into something greater, larger—to dream and contemplate.

                On the other side of the river where the woods and bike path have grown side by side, there is a small graveyard that appears almost as old as Columbus. Sometimes we walk among this field of headstones, where somebody dug deep into the granite of these markers, carving in the names of people who someone loved enough to tie their memories to rock. Many have been washed away by the seasons the memories of their loved ones have long been extinguished but we look at the names, the dates of birth and death. Bruno will skate through the winding little asphalt roads that resemble driveways more than the streets of graves. I only walk here with others.

                Saskia was around two when my grandmother died, and I would sometimes take her with me when I would visit the old woman in the nursing home where she spent the last few years of her life. The room was sterile, but she tried to add as much of her overstuffed house as she could without replicating the hoarding clutter, she lived in. Against the large flat-screen television that sat on the small dresser in her room that resembled more of an affordable hotel room, sat a row of stuffed animals, above them on the wall paintings of flowers my grandfather had painted for her over the years and black and white photos of her parents, frozen in place from a world that will always be colorless and proper. Where men wore fedoras, walker, and derby hats. Women wore dresses with belted waists, wide pants and the day dresses my grandmother would wear for the rest of her life. Saskia would hold me tight, apprehensive about my heavyset grandmother whose deep Hungarian accent no-doubt frightened her and stare at her shriveling body in the bed. She was a large woman but the longer she was confined to her bed the more it gnawed at her, made she small—not only did it eat away at her life but it also shrunk her entire being. She would reach out to Saskia, whom she thought was a boy and coo, “He is so beautiful, let me touch his hands.” Her skin had turned to parchment and at times it would tear just as easily, the back of her hands were dotted with bruises and small band-aids where age would give in to the normal use of her limbs. When she reached for a fork, the skin would gently tug apart, and she would softly bleed. Saskia’s hands were new, fresh and full of the pinkish peach color that toddlers have, round and fat like dough she would allow my grandmother to hold her tiny balls of fingers until she grew to frightened and fold herself back into my arms. The touch was the gift. And when my grandmother died, I held those paper-thin hands, as she left her body. They grew cold quickly, within a matter of minutes, my Uncle Pablo held her and wept until her hands grew cold and left in a rush while I waited for the paramedics to haul her body away.

                I bought almost all of my clothes from thrift stores in during my twenties, except for the ones the were gifted to me by visiting bands and the shoes I grabbed from my dead grandfather’s closet everything else was from second hand stores. Everything was cheap, most shirts were a dollar or two and since the sixties and seventies were not that far away and a great many of my grandmother’s generation were starting to die off the clothes were a mirror into those decades. Stripped shirts, shiny button ups, evening gowns, dress pants and button-up sweaters. In the fall and winter, I would wear sweaters, never a fan of coats or even pants, I was poor and learned to wear sweaters in the house. I would visit my grandmother who would remark about the holes in my clothing, “Bela, your sweater is broken” pointing to a small hole in around the collar or on the shoulder, “get a new one please next time you come over.” She felt personally hurt that I would wear something in such disrepair to her house, “Grandma, I usually wait until they have five holes in them before I get a new one.” A philosophy I pretty much had and still do, I will wear anything until it is literally falling off of my body, half my wardrobe is in tatters and when I wear something for work people are genuinely surprised, “Wow, you are wearing pants and a shirt with buttons” my girlfriend has remarked to me. Buying clothes is a step into intimacy, an unspoken gesture of love and care, “I want your body to be comfortable, I want you to be warm, to look nice. I care about you.” A favorite scarf, robe or shirt are usually given from another-a reminder of love and goodwill. I care about you.

                I reach for my lover’s hand when I am driving, she sits next to me in the car-telling me about her day, her hopes, or singing along to the music that is always playing around us, it is unconscious but provides reassurance. I care about you. You make me feel good, safe. Hers are tiny hands and my hands swallows them, she squeezes my fingers while I stare ahead, another reassurance. There are other moments where I feel compelled to hold her close, bury my head into her neck, whispering until we giggle and again hold hands. My apartment always has flowers in them, I realized that while I have no interest in knowing the names of the flowers that brighten my mood—I like them, and it is ok not to know their names. I buy what I like, what looks comforting to me. It’s that simple. One day she sat on my couch and remarked that she liked that I bought flowers for myself, it was beautiful that it wasn’t just the flowers that she noticed it was my pleasure in having them, I laughed and explained that I don’t even know what I am buying, other than lilies which I do know and love but that I like to have them in my house. They are a comfort. They offer closeness by just being.

Bee Thousand 1992-2000

October 28, 2020

Bee Thousand. 1992-present.

photo by Jay Brown

                I recently pulled out my vinyl copy of Guided by Voices “Bee Thousand” which I had not listened to on vinyl since at least the mid-nineties. This doesn’t mean I haven’t listened to it, I had an advance cassette that lived most of it’s life in the Ford Tempo I drove at the time, it may or may not have migrated to the small pick-up truck I had in the late nineties. I also have a CD of it and have streamed it on my phone. There has been a reluctance to actually put the vinyl record onto my turntable, as well as some of their other records from an era that I feel an emotional attachment as well as a bit of hesitance too, I’m not sure why. There are a few other records from this time that have this same sort of push/pull attraction to, the names are not important—they all hold something within me that I cannot quite understand. One may think I hold something for them, but music only gives—it doesn’t take so I receive its gift and it may or may not curl up inside one of my cells and keep itself ready for duty whenever I call upon the special talents it brings.

photo by Jay Brown

                That time in my life, from the late 80’s to the late nineties are alike a painting full of smudges, all of them smushed into one another so I can’t recall what year is which and it really doesn’t matter unless I give my memories that much power—as if I got the date wrong it will negate the feeling associated with it. Autumn is a difficult period for me, one on hand it is one of my favorite times of the year, the shedding of leaves, the teeming colors of the trees making the landscape burn with a cacophony of red, pinks, yellows, oranges and yes, black. The rot in the branches set everything aglow, I am drawn to it—a certain part of me feels whole in the discord of change. A comfort. It also brings in the wisps of winter depression that, like my favorite songs live in my cells and burst open like morning lilies when the wind slips under my windowsill brining in the nips of winter.

                When I lived on North Campus, so many houses throughout the eighties and nineties, it seemed every other summer I was hauling my records from one block to the next block. I had finally ended up on East Patterson Avenue from 92-96 or so, a small clapboard house that stood in the shadows of Holy Name Catholic Church, a church where my brother had been baptized years before. I would walk to the record store, my Walkman in my hands listening to mix tapes that were built to shoot emotions throughout my being, tying both brain and body together, kicking leaves all the way to High Street. I had gotten an advance copy of “Bee Thousand” on a cassette, the cover just a piece of plain white folded paper like so many advance tapes of that time—they looked like a cassette version of Generic brands. I don’t know if Matador had sent it or maybe Bob Pollard had given it to me, but it was lodged in that Tempo’s tape deck. In May of that year a friend from Athens, Ohio had overdosed, and he was airlifted to Columbus. It took Ted about two weeks to finally die, and during those two weeks I fell in love with my first wife. At his funeral I played “Esther’s Day” on repeat, wondering what he felt like before he died—surrounded by his family and his friends while wires ran in and out of his body as if he were an appliance. And I also thought how I was going to extract myself out of a brief relationship I was involved in as I knew I was falling in love with another person.

                I was an uncommitted sort; it was difficult for me to move forward in love—something within me resisted feeling loved—it was easier to make someone smile than to lean into love. I held back and retreated into what I trusted, mainly records and alcohol. They were much safer than a relationship, less commitment, which was something that I knew little about—the sacrifices needed to be accountable and present. I would go home and wrap myself in records, playing them one after another, cracking open one beer and then the next until I hit that magical moment of bliss when my feelings melded with the songs. We were all one, the song, the alcohol and me. Or so I thought. Being broken has its advantages, looking for the glue to patch the cracks can be a lot of fun but the introspection it involves when stepping away and looking into the mirror is like holding one’s hand into the flames of the universe, at times I feel like the skin of a toasting marshmallow bubbling before I my burst into a small inferno.

                Robin and I married the following May, she moved out in October and I started sleeping with other people the week she left. We divorced that February; the marriage did not even come close to making it through the fall. I met my second wife the April following the annulment from Robin and we fell into each other immediately, and as I danced, crawled and galloped through shows she followed me, all the while as I tried to bow into our relationship I was falling out of myself, the music and alcohol had quit working. It felt like I was decaying in slow motion, parts of me lopping off and making metaphorical thuds onto the floor of my life. We married five years later, and she moved to Gainesville that fall, while I spun my way into the bottle. My life had become like a corkscrew. That autumn was a parody of my life up to that point, but instead of racing to records, I raced from woman to bottle to woman to bottle, each one I used as an oar to keep moving through the sea of my life but the sea too violent and the waves would cause the sutures I was providing myself to decompose after a night or two. The beast of depression was roaring within me and I thought I would die. I got sober shortly after moving to Gainesville and for a long time our love supported each other until, well, when it quit. Music had not worked for me in a long time, although being a father, meditation and writing helped, I was still pulling away. Never leaning in, only pulling away and invisibly apart-year by year, hiding although I had not realized it. The depression had resigned me to the far end of the bed, I had taken to sleeping in my son’s bed, listening to the soft hum of his breathing to feel alive. I moved out in October of 2018 and started another relationship. Always searching.

                Moving into a small two-bedroom apartment, located just blocks from the home we had created together I slowly started to breath again. The record and CD collection is always within reach, my television is intentionally upstairs in the bedroom, music fills my house all day long. The kitchen is small, my partner refers to it as a “one-butt” kitchen, with cramped quarters, jerry-rigged cabinets are shoved next to one another-the largest appears to have been found in an alley and  is shoehorned into a corner. I cracked my head against constantly my first year living here, at first a subtle reminder of my failed marriage until I finally learned to just make sure the cabinet doors are shut. The dining room is lined with a wall of records that face three tall shelves of compact discs that I won’t sell—I humorously refer to these as my walls of loneliness, of course it is only half a joking. Every weekend I take the stack of vinyl that sits next to my turntable and put them away, the stack is usually at least a foot or two high-they tell a tale of my mood during the week. And on Sunday I start a new stack.

                When “Bee Thousand” came out I was living in a tiny two bedroom house with a room-mate that worked at Kinkos and Stache’s, he was a great roommate who would help me out by printing flyers and xeroxed record sleeves for Anyway but also kept to himself so while we got along we both had our own lives that intersected but didn’t travel together. He would later marry a woman I had dated. I worked six days a week at Used Kids and the schedule in retrospect was a bit nuts but working there never felt like work, in fact it was where I usually wanted to be besides Larry’s, Stache’s or Bernie’s. Nevertheless, the weeks could grow long and the days at the store were made easier because we could drink there, chat with the regulars and listen to music all day long.–it was advantageous to someone who both enjoyed drinking and felt lonely a great deal of the time. I would cover myself in music, at home I would put on a record, crack open a beer and let the music smother me until the world outside disappeared and my insides would match the buzzing in my head. Bob Pollard, his brother Jim, and the rest of the band had been working with Mike “Amrep” Hummel on engineering and mixing their previous records Propeller” and “Vampire on Titus” over the past few years at the record store, and “Bee Thousand” was their first record with Matador which was akin to being asked to the prom by the prettiest girl in school. I was exceptionally happy for them.

                I’m more than half a century old, closer to death than birth where every year seems to flow by quicker, like the ending of the escalator getting eaten up by the floor—I am aware of my gliding towards annihilation. I have gone through much of life feeling a confidence that I would be ok, that with the help of music, books, and laughter everything was ok as it was. I never wanted for more, I have been content in many ways—not needing to feel the need to impress others. Although the search for companionship has always been there, a needing to feel loved does not always square with feeling unlovable, a cellophane wrap of self-doubt has covered me since an early age. It is like when someone purchases some new electronic equipment and there is a ribbon of plastic covering it but it never is removed. I was in my mid-twenties when it came out, had been through two difficult relationships—where my heart had been squeezed to hard, like a sponge being wrung out and had left me even more apprehensive. My favorite lovers were records and live shows, they couldn’t really leave a larger hole in my life like lovers do and I knew what to expect when I held them tight in my mind. Love though, was fraught with doubt—the worst imposter syndrome a person could have, a pursuit and, ultimately a rejection of what I wanted the most. “Bee Thousand” was a celebration of what I held dear to myself, that is music that filled holes in my life made my friends that in turn, helped jell the community we were all in. Like a secret handshake, it united many of us but also helped us to just feel better. I listened to it as well as the next several Guided by Voices records incessantly, which may sound like a lot but I listened to music continuously during that period of my life. I didn’t own a television for several years and never have never had cable television as an adult, my chosen salves have been records and books. Near the end of the 90’s when disappointment rose, the death of Jim Shepard and others were stacked next to the failures of many of the bands I worked with, a failed marriage, the splintering of who I thought I was—all trying to be sewn together with alcohol, records quit working. There was only so much room I had in my life, alcohol, and my hopes for having a “real” relationship was nudging the rest of the world out. I felt the pain of disappointment when I listened to different records, “Bee Thousand” being one of them—not anything to do with the music but, perhaps for the promise I felt during my early twenties, it was all smoldering by the end of the decade.

photo by Jay Brown

                Recovery lit something up in me, the first few months were terrifying—the shedding of the skin of alcohol that I had worn for all of my adult life was fast but left me exposed not only to the world but to my own inside world. Thoughts were frightening, like apparitions that floated from my brain down in the heart they towered inside of me, a metaphysical happening that exacerbated the anxiety I was feeling but it also provided an opportunity to remake myself to what I had once been, or maybe could have been. A rose color itself. Gainesville, Florida is always growing and decaying—every inch of earth sprouts life and while some of the life blooms almost daily some of it is gobbled up by larger and stronger beings that prey upon what ever lays in their path. A walk through the swampy area reveals large spiderwebs that stretch from tree to tree, flashing miniature rainbow diamonds constructed by the sun—it was both invigorating and challenging. I was running a lot then, this was a continuation of the long distance running I had taken up in the late nineties and early two thousands, a way of telling myself my world wasn’t splintering—a marathon runner can’t be an alcoholic. I would get up early, after Merijn left for work, log into the computer—drinking coffee and walk the dogs up through our neighborhood and out to Lake Alice, it was dangerous to let them all the leash as there were alligators on the golf course we lived across and they were dug in deep in the waters of Lake Alice. One beast devouring another, so we would walk, the two animals soaking in the sunshine while I soaked in the music on my Walkman. It was one of the only peaceful moments I may experience that day. Then I would log into my eBay account and sell records or the clothing I would find in the yard sales and thrift stores that dotted Alachua County. Central Florida is thumb-printed in poverty, a large county with the University in the middle, middle-class neighborhoods extended outward from the campus of Florida until the outskirts of town where a large state prison sits and just beyond for miles are ram-shackle houses, home-grown vegetable stands and mobile homes line the state routes. Many of which have every-lasting yard sales that line the road, tables of junk, old clothing and battered furniture pulled from the houses and garages and set on the side of the roads. One would wonder who would actually stop. I found it depressing. I would then attend a noon 12-Step group which would get me through to five or six o’clock where I when I would make dinner and then attend another 12-Step group to help quiet my brain. I listened a lot, and slowly felt comfortable enough to share what I was feeling and found my voice. Back home my records sat in a little office, my turntable had lost its needle, so I played CD’s and felt the pull of Ohio as I progressed through early sobriety. It was a year of growing out but also growing small. The biggest growing pains happen inside, and sometimes they happen long after our limbs have stretched out into the world, our ankles defying gravity as they move slo-mo towards adolescent. We can’t wait to grow older, grow out of our stumbling awkward selves even well into our lives, I found out that looking ahead or glancing backwards impedes whatever I am supposed to feel now.

photo by Jay Brown

                “Bee Thousand” came on the heels of “Vampire on Titus” which, I think, was mostly out-takes from “Propeller” which may be my favorite one of theirs. It sounds like it was recorded in the coolest treehouse on the block, the one that you could slip into, sneaking cigarettes and swigs of beer while your mother called you in for dinner, all the while you pressed play on the boombox and let Kiss “Destroyer” play. I idolized the kid across the street from my father’s house when I was ten, he was in high school and must be sixty now but he blared Boston, Kiss and Cheap Trick out his front door, he showed me his record collection one day after I told him I got “Hotter than Hell” with my birthday I money, “This is the good stuff” waving the dust jacket of the first Boston record, he had a cigarette in his hand, the dark shag carpet in his house smelled like must and cat. The next record I bought was Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” just because of him. I not only wanted to be cool but I wanted to be wrapped up and hugged by the music I listened to—be taken away from what ever it was that was making me sad and alone. Even now, when listening I feel primitive—as if the cosmos gave us this trinket called music to pacify us and give language to the way we felt, the indescribable. “Bee Thousand” and the records preceding it and the couple that followed felt like the kind of embraces I had always been yearning for but not only that because of the nature of the songs and the joy in the music, it felt like a collective experience with whomever you listened to it with, or saw them with. Which for me was my closest friends, lovers and of course, myself. It was made more intense because it was something I not only close to but a part of, and as the decade bore down on me a few years later, the fear that was but a kernel in the first half of the nineties had now turned into a shifting monster that was chewing me from the insides, the music became too much for me. My friends were dying, and I was adrift, not even music could save me. I stored the records away, so many records that kept me dancing and screaming with glee throughout my twenties. Guided by Voices, Gaunt, the Grifters, Jon Spencer, Teenage Fanclub. I did not listen to them for years, instead of lifting me I felt the soft underbelly of hurt and I did not know why.  

Bela and Merijn 1997

                I climb the elliptical, with mask on and pump my legs to the music I blast through my headphones, the ones that have the plastic ear coverings taped on because I sweat so much when I work out and for an hour I try to block out the world. It’s not even the running that carries me away as I work the machine it is the music; it has always been the music. I tend to go back to what I always have listened to, Bruce Springsteen, Superchunk, Teenage Fanclub, Built to Spill, almost everything with guitars—somethings really do not change. What moves us moves us unless we block it out. Sometimes on the nights I sleep alone, the dog stands next to me and nudges the blankets with her nose and I let her crawl under and she curls next to my chest, sighs a giant breath and falls asleep. When I moved out a few years ago to live alone for the first time in my adult life an empty bed to face me and my decisions-my mistakes every night there was a fear the crept in but also a bit of courage that I would be ok. For many years the solace I would search for came in the form of hard vinyl cylinders, where the crackle of the needle would spin me into feeling something differently or better articulate whatever emotion I was feeling, putting a spotlight and elevating it into something more magical than my brain could sort out. I also found solace in the women I was with, but in the end the hurt of loving someone usually made me push away, sadly I didn’t know any other way. Recently I went on a walk with my ex-wife, we laughed and watched my dog (that used to be our dog) scamper through the woods near my house. We talked about our current relationships, with no hint of jealousy and I told her I feel happy. That I reach for my partner’s hand unconsciously, that we laugh more than I ever have with anybody—and that I am trying to lean into my own fears and into love. “I’m glad you like to hold hands now” she said, as I used to pull away from her, unconsciously—maybe when the unconscious becomes conscious that is where change can start to really happen.

                I listened to “Bee Thousand” on repeat a few weeks ago, it sounded great and it felt better. There was no nostalgia or the tender pain of the disappointment I felt towards the end of my twenties, of that heady time in my life when there seemed to be an endless supply of drinks, laughter and bodies to clutch. There were many expectations I had for my friends, not so much for me, I wanted to be the fuel that helped get them to where I thought they should be but we all exploded in our own ways on our own gasoline that burned some of us down earlier than we should and scorched the rest of us. The hope that I once had changed, morphed into something else even though I didn’t have any idea that is what was happening. “Smothered in Hugs.” Make sure I close the cabinet doors.

Pearl

COVID Clouds.

September 27, 2020

“I think I lost my job today, I think” yelps Jerry Wick on the Gaunt song “Hope You’re Happy Now”, I remember the circumstances surrounding the line from this song. Jerry was working at Used Kids and even though he lived only five hundred feet from the record store, in his sparse one room apartment above Larry’s he had a difficult time making it to work on time. We were lax with time, me more so than Ron or Dan, both who arrived early and took great pride in this fact, a marker to show that no matter how much a person drank, arriving at work on time meant that there was not a problem with alcohol. I had only missed one day of work due to a hangover, and this was only after calling off as I was dry heaving in the back alleys as I groaned towards the shop. But Jerry was late, constantly and he did not have a phone. “Why would I get a phone, I can just use the store’s” he would reply without irony. He was in the midst of breaking up and breaking in with a woman whom he wrote the two best Gaunt records about, she worked a professional job of which she would tell Jerry, “I have a real job Jerry when are you going to grow up?” Working at a record store allowed Jerry to pursue his art and live the lifestyle that was better suited to his philosophy of living on the edge and being non-committed. He was able to tour with Gaunt, record his songs during the night and afternoons he had off and still make enough money to pay his meager rent. He mostly ate at the record store where lunch and dinner was provided by opening the cash register. He didn’t eat much, hence the name of his band. At one point Dan and Ron got sick of his tardiness, I would try to stick up for him but he would basically force every one around him to question their relationship with him, it was as if getting close to him was a dare. Get to close, have any expectations and he would burn you and scorch himself. He eventually got fired.

 

I left my job recently, one that I loved a great deal, that provided a sense of duty and mission. The work I do, while satisfying can be exhausting, at times I am complimented for the work I do, “it’s amazing you can do that job” but the day to day work of helping the homeless, addicts and mentally ill is never very tiring, everything else that comes with it is what I find taxing-working with systems that are not geared to help the less-fortunate but actually do the opposite is what would keep me up at night. This past year I developed insomnia that has prevented me from getting more than five hours of sleep a night, I experienced chest pains, shingles and finally vertigo that has ended up costing me thousands of dollars in medical bills but that I finally have a treatment that has kept me vertigo free for over two months. COVID has only increased worry and anxiety but it has also provided something far greater than existential fear of the future and the anger that has arisen from living in the breathing callousness of the world we are living in. Sometimes some of the worst circumstances have the power to transform us into something greater and more human than we have thought possible. I have learned what is important for me, while working from home half the time has put pressure on me in a variety of ways by always being on call, always feeling the need to check email, write a report or finish a training, all from my evening couch, I have also enjoyed and relished being with my children almost all day long. Making them lunch, going for afternoon walk breaks with them, finding other ways of connecting that I didn’t notice before. I realized that I liked my smaller world and wanted to refocus, to realign myself with my family and those I care about. I was losing my ability to keep these things my priority.

There are periods where the world keeps itself too close, pressing in until it feels as if you have swallowed in all in a giant bite and the feeling of choking becomes overwhelming—like the Chinese proverb of the boy who could swallow the ocean until it burst forth from his cheeks and killed his brothers. I have eaten my world bit by bit until I have retched on my own inner greed and pain, what I drank to relieve me was killing me. In my twenties, there were periods where I lived in panicked emotional state, drunk dialing, pulling my dogs in close, never going long without someone to share my blankets—it wasn’t so much as sex but as not wanting to be alone. I had a list of late-night friends I would call, Gretchen, Chris Biester, Katy, Haynes, Michelle, Jenny S., almost all of them women and none of the lovers. Maybe the lovers knew me in ways that prevented my from reaching out at 2am, I needed tethered to something to keep me grounded until I could finally sleep-most likely the edge of sex would have tainted that simple quest.

 

.

 

If I ever own a house again I want one with as many windows that can let in the sun as possible, to invite the outside world in and to invite my inner world out—I don’t want to have anything to hide not to the neighbors, not to the wind, not to the moon or trees, all are welcome. I have been learning to watch the clouds, I have an excellent teacher—someone whose eye for detail is almost mathematical but without the numbers, who as someone in the 19th Century has the “touch”, that is, she is gifted on a higher level in the language of emotion. “There’s a good one” and I don’t even have to look at her, I only have to look up to see what she is pointing to, and there it is, an entire ocean built in the sky, every cloud a pigment of some heavenly cosmic paint. “Yeah, wow.” I find myself trying to say something but how does one say something that is unspeakable without sounding like an idiot? So, I usually, touch her back or lean in and kiss her. I am now cloud watching all the time and, in the evenings, when walking my dog, I gaze at the moon, as if it were a companion walking every step in the damp grass along with me. A few nights ago, after a day of inhaling the world in deep gulps—I was brittle and tired, and I got into an argument with the kids. Nothing of consequence, perhaps it was the dog not being walked, or one of them simply asking for specific groceries but it was the last leaf in the barrel that caused it to overflow. An eruption that was lit over generations in my family, a coarseness and sense of self-righteous fairness that left much of my own childhood with me being not only being bewildered by my father’s rage but more importantly being scared as fuck that an adult would act like this. I knew, even as a ten-year-old, that something was amiss. As much as I have tried to temper and smother that flame inside of me, it’s there—mostly a small smoldering speck but it can transform rather quickly if my mind isn’t in the right place, if I am holding the world in my cheeks. I blew up, unable to come back I raged in the car, at the kids, at the dog who is compelled to bark “FUCK YOU!” at every motorcycle we pass on the street except her “Fuck You” comes out as a high pitched bark that blasts through ears like a bark-y explosion. In the back yard, I sat in the parked car—the kids went inside, no doubt wondering and thinking the same thoughts that I had about my own father over forty years ago and I sat, I listened. I tried not to hear the sounds of depression, of wanting to be annihilated, to submerge myself under waves. To call it out while sitting in my car, breathing, each breath one more step away from that wanting to be engulfed. Bruno knocked on the car window, “Dad, Saskia is yelling at me. I cleaned the living room.” He held up a can of Pledge and a dirty sock. “Will you come in soon?” Closing my eyes, “I’m not quite ready yet, I will though. A few more minutes.” I watched him stroll back to the porch, his bare feet climbing the steps and he disappeared inside. I listened some more. I looked up and saw the moon, a haze in the city sky but a comforting haze, my blurry companion. I saw the clouds, rolling over the sky in slow moving waves, and I let myself be engulfed but by something far more powerful than the depression that has nibbled on my insides all my life. After a few more minutes I went inside, said my apologies to my kids, that I was wrong to yell. An apology was something that was not offered by my father, he only handed his children blame, a cruddy way to live life and in my own growth something I never want to do. We got in the car, we laughed, and I pointed out the moon and we drove through the drive-through where I managed to make them laugh. Not everything has to end the way we feel they might. I left whatever future scar I might leave my daughter on the front seat that night and traded it in for take-out Chinese that we ate and laughed together with.

I love my new job as well.

 

 

 

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Death, Walks, Lou Reed and Skateboards.

August 30, 2020

As I get older death arrives like a postman, dropping off letters in the box and with the uneasy anticipation of opening a bill, “what’s next?” that slowly turns into a quiet acceptance that people die. Things change. Contrasted with a summer that started in March but has felt like a cold winter as the summer tumbles into autumn, and then a new year—this summer may not end for some time. Bruno explores every day in his own twelve-year old self, still a child but taking chances—staying out later, riding his skateboard and his imagination down High Street onto campus, into the ravines that carve up our neighborhood and poking holes in his father’s ego, as he should. He has only got the whiff of death through my stories and my job where dying is as much a part of the work I do as scheduling a lunch meeting, the poor tend to die quicker and more painfully than the wealthy, it starts to clutch at their bodies almost from birth, living in rented apartments that are lacquered in lead paint, insects and noise. These are men and women where desperation is the norm and a reprieve may come from the joys of unpacking groceries and sharing a soft drink on the stoop, or better yet, a communal beer. Something I have learned in my chosen profession as a social worker and that is it is very difficult to die with dignity if one was never provided that dignity throughout their life.

This week was the third anniversary of Jenny Mae’s death, she who was strapped to a hospital bed by the invisible cords of addiction that had ravaged her body until, finally, it whispered “enough.” We had known she was dying as did she, but those of us in the know knew this, felt this for years—from the waiting deep into the night in my late teens for her to come home, wondering if she was in the arms of another man or worse, only to hear her come home, cackling through the front door. Her legs stumbling, catching herself on the doorframe, bellowing “I’m home, you should have been there.” But knowing full well she hadn’t wanted me there, where ever there was. That was the first warnings, an impending doom that lasted nearly thirty years. When I visited her the night before she died with Saskia who was all of eleven, barely into her double digits, Jenny glanced at us and we held her hand. She was tired. I had to tell her who we were, we were with her and she squeezed my fingers. There was no turning back but we left thinking she would hang on, the night nurse had said she was in good spirits earlier in the day, making weak jokes with her cracked voice, a husky shell of what it used to be. Her voice sounded like cracked pavement that had been smoking five packs of Camel cigarettes. “She should be off a ventilator tomorrow.” The nurse, sadly,  was right. If I had known she was to die, I would have slipped a coin under her tongue and told her I loved her in a braver,  less self-conscious manner than I had when Saskia and I slipped away.

The month started with the death of beloved client, a man who had traveled from South Africa to remake himself as a young man in his early twenties. He discovered art in his forties and made wood-burned etchings in his 12X12 room unknown to everybody until one day a few years ago one of my colleagues told me she was worried about him and asked me to check on him. He opened the door in a foul drunken mood and after some coaxing let me into his room where I discovered a world he created alone, full of his memories of Africa in the form of lions, masks and huts, all burned into small planks of wood—many he had constructed out of gluing together tongue dispensers. A few days before he died, another staff member and I stopped at his room and he complained of a pain in his stomach and allowed us to call an ambulance. The day before he died, I met with him in the ICU and he was very matter-of-fact as was his nature, “Bela, all of at the Y are all I got. Can you please make sure my mum gets my remains?” “Of course, but I think you are going to pull out of this” I replied. “That’s nice of you to think that,” he smiled in a way a mother smiles at her child who is planning on a visit from Santa Claus. He wrestled with depression and alcohol but in the last few years he had opened up, tried in spurts to quit his drinking and sought help for his depression, he would tell us at times, that this was the best his life had been in years, that he was happy. Last year he traveled back to Capetown and visited with his elderly mother and sister after being away for nearly 30 years.

 

A few weeks ago Ron Heathman, former guitar player for the Supersuckers died. The Supersuckers played Columbus a lot in the 90’s, and I booked most of their shows at Stache’s and one at the Alrosa Villa with the Hellacopters and New Bomb Turks. The shows were always a spectacle, they had a strong connection with Columbus, partly due to their friendship with the Turks and partly due to the fact that we all liked to drink a lot. Ron was always quiet, a bit in the background but in 2002, when I was roughly thirty days sober and living in Gainesville my wife and I went to Jacksonville to meet up with them. Ron, myself, and a few others of their touring party went to a 12-Step meeting, we talked about the struggle of alcoholism and addiction and he asked me what I got out of attending meetings—a sense of calm in the midst of the daily torment I felt. We didn’t really keep in touch, an email once or twice but that was it. I was relieved to find out later that he had found a home roasting coffee and becoming a barista, a perfect profession for someone who has discovered sobriety, I thought to myself.  His death hit me hard. I felt scared and sad for Ron, his daughter and for everybody who knew him. We all change but sometimes we don’t always believe it.

Last week when I discovered Justin Townes Earle had died, I thought of two things, the first of a dear friend of mine who had toured with him while she was trying to wrest herself from her own issues with alcohol, she had thought it was a good fit because he was supposed to be sober. She called me after the first night and confessed that she was struggling, “nobody is sober here, I feel alone.” Sobriety feels alone, especially at the beginning—we are faced with the fact we have no assistance from the bottle or the syringe and we lose our social group—our community, our people. It is a scary feeling, as every other thought is screaming to return to our village, to our use and our body is craving relief. My second thought was one of empathy, being sober and suffering from depression is a combo platter of fear and dread at times, sometimes it feels like a race to the end of life without taking a drink or walking into the ocean. It can be a daily feeling for some, usually fleeting like a bird passing overhead but at other times it can settle in as if were the stench of burnt wood, an old friend who is no longer a friend that won’t get the point and leave your house. A slow existential tug towards darkness.

This morning I listened to Van Morrison and Lou Reed, not their records from the 70’s the ones shot through with grime and yearning—the ones that so many of us have relied on, but the ones from the 80’s—the records that sometimes get maligned for being too straight, to compliant, smooth and void of danger. My first exposure to Lou Reed was “New Sensations” the third in his trilogy of sobriety and marital bliss after “The Blue Mask” and the rolling comfort of “Legendary Hearts”, although one could argue that “Waves of Fear” on “The Blue Mask”, with its squalling Robert Quine guitar-which sounds like an animal being choked to death, is one of the most brutal songs Lou ever performed, the rest is reflective and calm. After uncovering Lou’s other records that summer of my fifteenth year, most notably “Street Hassle” and “Live: Take No Prisoners”, “New Sensations” may seem quaint but to my rural Ohio ears, I had heard nothing that sounded so adult, so New York and so descriptive. It was dangerous to my young years. When I was discovering my own love affair with beer and whiskey in the late eighties and into the early nineties, some of these records were the solace I relied on. I would put on Van Morrison’s “Avalon Sunset” or “No Guru No Method No Teacher” in the mornings at the record store while I sipped a black coffee from Buckeye Donuts to nudge my hangover out the door, there was a solace in these records, especially in the morning when the fogginess of the previous evening had continued far into the early afternoon. A sense of serenity fills these records in their search for normalcy, it was a search that I was always on, not in a manner of fitting in with “normal” society but wanting to feel normal.

 

A settled calm was present in the record store when I would open it on Saturday mornings, the clanging of the door, the metal cage over the door window jangling against my weight, spilling my coffee because I didn’t want to set it on the pee-covered steps, the stairwell was a common pitstop for the drunken college kids staggering their way home, “hold up! I gotta piss real quick.” I’d punch the code to turn off the alarm, put on one of these records, or maybe Townes Van Zandt, Gene Clark or Dylan’s “John Wesley Harding” all sounding like they were made for headaches and the early morning pangs of lonely. The nights before were filled with eardrums pushing forward towards the stages that we felt drawn to, eyes wide open not just to the musicians, usually all friends but also to the women who in the spotty darkness of Stache’s and Bernie’s looked like images of Patti Smith spitting black ink, they would make my heart curl up in desire while I let the music travel through my body as if I were the mine and the music was the dynamite blasting welcoming holes in my soul.  Like anything that is done repeatedly, it would take me years to figure out and undo what I had so eagerly taught myself, I did a swan dive into drinking in my late teens and didn’t feel the need to swim to shore until my early thirties, and nearly drowned in the process. It takes years to learn a bad habit and even longer to unlearn it. Some of us have figured it out but the darkness that looms underneath is always there, like an underwater river that slithers underneath all the cracks that we carefully walk across.

Recently I have discovered the joy of holding hands, of leaning into love and into what is uncomfortable, even going for a walk—something I never felt the need to do—I would rather run or lay in bed, no middle ground. That was how I lived, but the middle is just find, or maybe just off the middle a bit. Just enough. I take the hand of my daughter, or my partner, or Bruno sometimes one of them on each side as we walk the dog, watch her marvel at yet another joyful run at the park and everything is ok for the moment.

Walk.

July 5, 2020

My son calls me at eleven p.m., perhaps I should be concerned that my eleven-year-old is calling me while I am in bed and why isn’t he in bed? “Hi daddy, what are you doing?” he asks, oblivious to the time. “Well Donks, I’m in bed—it’s late why aren’t you bed?” “I am” he replies cheerfully, “I’m working on my game, I’m designing a skate park. I’ll show you tomorrow.” He plays a game that allows him to design games within the game, I can’t complain, he’s not shooting things or invading kingdoms, he’s actually making a game and using different skills but still, I realize I don’t understand it all. “I’m looking forward to it, I need to try to sleep buddy, maybe go to bed?” “O.K. daddy, I just wanted to say good night.” He hangs up, I do not know how much longer he will call me daddy. When my grandmother died, my uncles both held her dead hand, it felt like wax and wept, “I’m so sorry mommy” they bawled, long tears stretching across the years of their lives, dredging up painful and beautiful memories of their lives with her, fleeing war torn Europe, arriving with empty pocket and stomachs in Caracas—the stood at her feet while she toiled. The water from their eyes, tumble out in slow quivers, “I’m sorry mommy.” They were in their sixties when she died, themselves old men. “Good night daddy.”

We walk every night, the four of us, my daughter Saskia, Bruno, myself and our small dog Pearl who pulls her leash like it was a flame chasing her down and we talk. We talk more now than we did two years ago, when at the end of a marriage I had closed and almost folded myself in half, or more appropriately quarters. I didn’t know how much I had isolated, perhaps that is what people do, we learn to never talk and the walls build up inside, the inside soft-made of cotton but the outside is made of brick. We never feel the hardness we exude only the tenderness of ourselves, and wonder why can’t the other see? Anyway, looking back I realize what had happen, but these revelations only come when I want to be aware, like looking for a four-leaf clover except the field is in my head. “Hey dad, make a funny voice,” Bruno is now skating ahead on his longboard, over the past year his feet are glued to a skateboard, he takes the leash of the dog and they scamper off ahead of us, she’s pulling him down the hill, both are alive. Saskia takes my hand, I am hesitant and finally wrap my hand around her soft hand, “Tell me about work” she asks, “I want to know.” I tell her of adult stress, of the politics of being an adult in a work place and how sometimes, things are not always easy but I emphasize that doesn’t mean I don’t love the work I do, how I enjoy helping people and working with a team of people who are committed to improving people’s lives. I explain that COVID has changed a lot of things, people are scared and there are demands from all different sorts of people. When people are scared, they are not always aware of how they respond to others, but she moves on, I have lost her. “Uh-huh. So, how’s grandma?” We just saw her grandmother yesterday I remind her, “Oh, yeah.” She is quiet, she’s trying. We walk in silence. “Dad, can you tell me about why some people can’t understand how they are racist?” She is opinionated, we talk about race and systems and people having beliefs in big ideas just because they think they should. These ideas can be family, nations, religion. Bruno runs up, “Pearl’s rolling in shit! Look at that dumb dog!” he giggles, in the distance the dog is on her back, wriggling near standing water. She will smell like goose shit. “Fucking dog.” I shake my head.

A spinning platter of pressed wax sparks sounds from the other room, always whirring like a heart that cannot be tempered. That is me, with a music box heart that lunges forward, clutching at the future like the sounds from the turntable-frozen in the past, the notes make marks in my mind—etchings of feeling. Outside, the leaves seem to dance to the music in my living room, swirling in circles with all their green partners, reaching high but going only so far. A ballet for the rooftops but only a lucky few notice. I realize that I carry less with me than I used to, although I feel the weight now more than before, as if the emotional scale that is plugged within my being is calibrated to notice the smallest twitches, as if it were made by NASA. Living alone offers an affordability that takes some time to notice, especially riding in the wake of a divorce, sort of like an entire new movie after the credits have rolled. Some details reveal themselves in quiet moments, sitting on my morning couch which coincidentally faces evening couch-I realize that I operate with a veneer during the day, one that protects and keeps out. Invisible and easily hidden behind humor and reservation. It takes time to dial it down, and then I realize that there were years where this was just the way I was.  I operated within my own veneer, keeping closed. A way to keep out and keep in, the soft underbelly of myself kept close, kept inside. Sometimes the hope for the day is to allow just a fraction of a space within me, an invisible cushion of air to let someone else sit in, an invitation. But if I never knew that I had to make room for the doorknob, that meant that the door never really opened correctly—I was pummeled with silence and resentment for years. I breathed in dust and exhaled disappointment.

I read her words; she builds sparsely but every word has intention she creates academies of ideas on the page. I shift in my seat, I look at my coffee cup, the steam rising out of it like it was a chimney of comfort and I feel small. Sometimes my demons have made and make me feel shrunken, a version of my adult self that is a scolded child, someone looking to evolve into something else, something sparkling, wise, an adult. My gray hair laughs at me from the top of my thinning dome. Addiction works in odd ways, conflicting ways that at once appears to empower a person but also in very subtle ways disempowers and eventually isolates until there is extraordinarily little except weariness and hardness. It is silent, hidden in darkness and cloaked in shame that builds out and attacks everyone close, until the only way to communicate is be being aggressive or defensive; there is no longer a way to act natural or to be safely vulnerable. Living alone has allowed for the space to breath more, at least within myself—to process and to sit with my own defensiveness. I walk every day, usually two or three times a day, I watch the trees sway, leaves shimmying to the wind—a most perfect dance partner.  Being alone means confronting oneself on a daily basis, the biggest fear may only be arising from the fact that there is a thought of always being alone, or of course being discovered.

I work with people who wear their lives in the folds around their eyes, in the blackness of their fingernails, in the corn-cob row of teeth and the way in which they may look down when talking, beaten all through life, they are weary and at times, they are hopeless. Their despair and addictions alive on their arms, riddles with marks and scars, and I find that I must respond to their silent ask, to breath in their anger or frustration and breath out hope for them, to blow acceptance into their lives. I do not always succeed but they do not have to know that. One thing I have learned from my own battles with addiction is that it has always been difficult to let myself be that person on the receiving end, to allow myself to be open to say, “this is me, but it isn’t me. I need help.” In the winter of 2001, I was on a self-imposed island on 4th Street, living temporarily with my friend Tom in the duplex he shared with his bother Dave. They would ask me why I had not already moved to Florida to be with my then-wife, I would not know how to answer so I would joke or leave the house and head to the bar. An instant cure for not answering. Years later after I had successfully quit drinking, I would hide behind other things, mostly a screen and not be present in the lives of those around me. In a very odd way, living alone has given me the opportunity to be more present, more alive in those whom I love the most and of course to discover new love. To hold hands and not feel afraid.

Saskia is fourteen, she will be fifteen before the summer ends and she is witty, a bit goofy and awkward—like I was. But she is confident and believes passionately in human rights, she speaks her mind and doesn’t suffer fools. Jenny Mae once wrote a song called “Gem” and part of the lyrics say, “Gem says that when you are in high school you either have a ton of friends, or you just have one.” And of course, that one friend will most likely last longer that the ton of friends. She asks me what high school was like for me and I tell her a story of when I was fifteen, not as a gesture of wisdom but more of an odd compliment for how she is living her life-making wiser decisions than I ever did at her age or even learned to do until I was more than double her age. “What was your summer like when you were fourteen?” she takes the dog leash from my hand, behind us the moon hangs over the large field where we walk the dog, a canopy of trees rustle their nightly farewells to us. When I was fourteen, I was stuck baking the summer away in the parsonage we lived in, boredom moved at the same rate that the surrounding fields of cornstalks. We didn’t have cable, and we were miles away from town, the only things to do was to walk to the store, pick up the mail and venture back. I read and re-read science fiction and rock & roll books, played my records over and over and yearned to be older. At least two years older, even then I was planning my escape.

I jump ahead a year, to when I was fifteen and spending my summer in Athens, working at Casa Que Pasa, the soon-to-be worker owned restaurant, cleaning chickens and washing dishes. That summer was my coming of age summer, driving in cars, drinking a lot and trying to get laid (which didn’t happen). Of course, I don’t tell Saskia all of this, but I do want her to dream, to let her know that adventures are everywhere even in COVID. Even when you are fourteen. I tell her one story, of skinny dipping and getting caught by the cops.

The summer was coming to a close, I would have to pack up my blue hard-shell suitcase that laid in the middle of my sister’s bedroom since I arrived in early June. Soon I would be back in Catawba, getting ready to start my junior year of high school but transformed from the Michael Moorcock and Beatles listening young man I was that May. Now, I was furnished with armfuls of records: Lou Reed, R.E.M., the Replacements and Garland Jeffreys. These were the sounds that would forever bend my life trajectory towards the underbelly, to the elimination of myths, a life of DIY. That the greatest beauty is found amongst the wrinkles, the broken and laughter-genuine laughter that lifts the despair of reality into something grander. “Hey, meet us uptown in half an hour” Rick Winland was on the phone, it was still early evening, but he had a plan for us. Soon, I was at Dexter’s Sub-Shop playing Space Invaders and drinking a Coke. This was the first time I had ever had any money in my pocket, earing minimum wage while peeling chunks of gelatinized chicken meat from a giant cauldron of cold boiled chicken, but I didn’t care about the small or the chilled chicken thighs as I was allowed to drink Heineken while I pull the slimy chicken meat from the thin bones, and there was a continuous loop of Lou Reed’s “New Sensation” and The Tom Tom Club blaring over the speakers.

Rick bounced in, next to my best friend Eric Zudak, we were all dressed up as teenagers are prone to do. I was wearing a vintage blue and white bowling shirt, with pleated creases in the back framing a large bowling ball superimposed over a palm tree. How this bowling shirt found it’s way to an Athens’s County thrift store is left to the past but it was my go-to shirt, Rick wore a vintage felt hat that he must have cribbed from his grandfather’s and Eric wore as usual and nice short sleeve button-up shirt that showed off his newborn muscles, a result of his older brother John showing him the benefits of 100 push-up’s a day. Rick moved in a bigger way that his slim stature, he had a certain confidence about him, either from him being the son of a dentist, having a keen if not disturbing interest in firearms or just the weird confidence some teen-age boys tend to have, maybe it was all of that. But nevertheless, he would flex his shoulders out when he walked, buttressing his confidence while he told, not explained, the plans for the evening. “O.K., when Bela is done with his video game, we are going to go to the Greenery and see what is going on there, then, if need be I will call John to have him pick us up. My mom is gone to you guys can sleep over at my house. At any rate, I can get John to drive us out there.” John was a kind of sad-sack of a kid who lived in the Plains, a small town just outside of Athens, he drove a small Chevy Citation that the sun had bleached out—and even though he would always complain when Rick ordered him around, “my mom needs the car for work tomorrow” to which Rick would reply, “do you want to wait on your mom or do you want to get laid?” Nobody every got laid.

The Greenery was a bar that like many in the college town allowed high school kids to drink, especially in the summer when the college students were off campus. The town was a ghost town every summer and the bars needed the business and it was a different time as the drinking age had recently been raised from 18 to 19, so all someone needed to be was to look just a little bit older, which we all did and have a fake ID handy. I still have my fake ID from the 80’s, just in case. As we drank our beers, we talked to a few local high school girls, one of them a blonde-haired girl named Janelle was one I had a crush on in middle school. “You guys should come over later, to the pond and go swimming with us” she offered. She lived on a small cul-de-sac, roughly seven miles outside of town. At around ten the girls left, and Janelle came up to Eric and I and asked if we were for sure coming, “We will be at the pond around one, make sure you are there.” She and her friends waved as they left. “I supposed I need to call John and have him pick us up outside of Dexter’s at midnight.” He went to the payphone to arrange the pickup and Eric and I grinned at each other. “Bela, I think she might like you.” I shook my head, “no Eric, I think she likes you.” “Nah, I think her friend Laura does, we made out last year. I am guessing that Laura planted the idea. If only we did not have Rick and John with us, but oh well.” We spent the next two hours drinking and walking up and down Court Street, it was hot out. Southeastern Ohio is especially humid in the summer, we watched the same cars and large pick up trucks making the loop from Court Street, to Stimson, to Congress, to Union and back to Court Street, there was very little to do except get drunk and drive in circles. Something that I would metaphorically do for much of the next fifteen years.

John picked us up and drove us out of town and into the rolling hills of Athens County, the moon grew larger and the landscape darker as the hills looked like blotchy shadows around us, the trees making the hills more ominous as they cast themselves even blacker against the sky. John pulled into the cul-de-sac, “Hey John, why don’t you pull down the road some more and not in the cul-de-sac, there is another drive up the way and we can walk up. We don’t want to be caught in the cul-de-sac in case somebody calls the cops.” Shaking his head, “nah, I don’t want to keep my car unguarded. Someone might fuck with it.” Rick shot back, “John, nobody is going to fuck with your Chevy Citation, it’s a piece of shit.” John mumbled to himself as he drove deeper into the cul-de-sac, “it’s not a piece of shit.” “Hey, let us out here, go park the car and join us.” We quietly exited the car, cut through someone’s yard and walked up to the pond. It was small with a little diving dock in the middle, it was encircled by back yards. As we approached three girls stepped out from the trees and shout-whispered, “Eric, Bela—hey, you made it.” Standing awkwardly, they asked what we wanted to do, I was buzzed from the hours of drinking and having my fifteen-year-old hormones firing away in my brain. “Swim. That’s what I want to do.” “Did you guys bring suits?” one of them asked, already knowing the answer. “errr no,” I looked at Eric who already started undoing his pants. Soon enough most of us were naked and swimming towards the dock, the water a black pool of ink, I swam under water but there was nothing to see, when I stuck my head up to breath I had actually swum away from everybody who were all clamoring on the dock where they hurriedly jumped off so as not to show too much of themselves. On the bank, John sat, legs folded up to his chest as he smoked a cigarette. We swam for a long time and then suddenly a light went on in a house nearest to us and we all dove into the water and scrambled into shore, somebody on the back porch yelled, “I’ve called the cops!” The girls were instantly gone, “go get the car John!” Rick snapped, and he and Eric said they were going to head towards the main road and that we should split up. “Bela you head that way towards town, and we will go the other way, if you see John tell him where we will be.” They ran the opposite way, I had grabbed my clothes, the sun was starting to come up and I ran behind a tall pine tree and slowly put the clothes on over my wet body. The police car inched by and soon I breathed a sigh of relief as it passed me. As the car rolled up the road an old crank of man, dressed in a bathrobe yelled from his front porch, “I don’t know who you are looking for but there’s one of them right there!” He pointed at me, while I murmured “asshole.” Sitting in the back seat of the police cruiser I phoned my sister who told the police she oversaw me that summer and she would be there to pick me up in twenty minutes,

“You’ve got a nice sister otherwise you’d be arrested for trespassing.”

“We were invited to swim, sir.”

“Well, you are still trespassing.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“You better hope your sister gets here soon. Was there anybody else swimming with you?”

“No sir, just me. I was going to walk home afterwards.”

In the meantime, the cops found John as he tried to drive past, he handed them over his license and while he was waiting he looked over at me with a sad-sack face, “What happened to Rick and Eric?”

Cop number one, peered at me from over his sunglasses, “Thought you were alone? Who is Rick and Eric?”

“They were going to me us, I mean me.” I shot John and look, and he nodded slowly, I internally rolled my eyes. My sister pulled up in her tan Chevy Chevette and the cop number one walked up to her car while she got out. Nodding solemnly, she thanked him and followed him to where I was standing. John was not sitting in the back of the cop car. “Bela, I’m so disappointed in you. How could you do this?! I don’t know what mom is going to say when I tell her.” Walking back to the car she grinned at me, and when she shut the door she giggled. “Oh my god, this is so cool where you actually skinny dipping?!” I sheepishly answered, “yeah, it was pretty wild. Are you going to tell mom?” The last thing I wanted to do was to go back to Catawba, Ohio for the rest of the summer. A summer that would have been spent daydreaming about Athens, girls, getting drunk and hanging out, as well as literally watching the corn grow. “No, I’m not going to tell mom. I wish I had something so cool when I was fifteen.”

That entire summer was electrifying in so many ways, it was partially due to my age of fifteen, becoming an adult in slow motion, all the neurotransmitters firing off because of hormones, all the new experiences marking deep paths in my brain: sex, music and alcohol, all of which would control much of my life over the next seventeen years and beyond. Some of which would always been subconsciously compared to that summer in Athens. It would take another few year for me to lose my virginity, it was certainly a few years long exercise in summerhood, as all my summers would be spent in Athens until I graduated high school.

My drinking started that summer, a harmless exercise in fear, bravery, excitement and escape—it would not turn into a problem for many years, the benefits far outweighing the consequences which were hardly mentionable—a few hangovers was all I would encounter until my early twenties. It was so much easier to drink, the drinking age changed from 18 to 19 during my high school years and it changed to 21 the summer after I graduated, I skated by. That summer in Athens was filled with mostly Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee and bottle of Jack Daniels which we would mix with grape soda or Coke, the grape pop was disgusting but we needed something sweet to wash it down. Sometimes my sister would buy a bottle of Jack for us but mostly she disapproved of the heavy stuff, we shied away from marijuana—I had tried it during my sophomore year and didn’t like it at all, in fact I never would enjoy it. Rick was full of destructive ideas, some of which involved truly asshole things such as driving around egging pedestrians, shooting guns and breaking into cars. The guilt I had over the few times we did this provided enough of a lesson that I would never engage in this type of behavior again, in fact these are things I usually did once and opted out afterwards. The drinking and trying to talk to girls were enough to keep me occupied for the rest of my teenage summers.

We would drink out in the country, drive deep into the woods, park the car, throw rocks into the river and balance our drunken selves on railroad tracks before heading into town to go to the Greenery or the Nickelodeon, and then head back to Rick’s or Eric’s where we would sleep until noon and get up and do it all over again. When I got back to Catawba at the end of that summer I would be well versed into what I could handle alcohol-wise, I very rarely drank to the point of getting sick and had learned to pace myself up until I discovered shots at the age of nineteen on the bars of the Ohio State campus, that was another years long lesson. From what I can see is that my children have very little interest in drinking, with several social work degrees and counseling licenses, I believe I am somewhat an expert on detecting these things but I also know how well I hid it when I was in high school. But my ex-wife and I don’t hide from our past and my children understand the work I do, it is not uncommon for them to ask me about the people I work with, how some die of drug overdoses, their lonely corpses to be found by myself or my colleagues. These are things I speak openly about, there is no benefit in hiding the realities of addiction and what it does to people, at times they ask me about my drinking and depression for which I answer honestly and openly. “Do you ever miss drinking” Saskia asks me, “No, not really. I might miss the taste but that’s about it” I answer and realize that sometimes when kissing my partner, I might kiss a little bit deeper and longer after she has had a few drinks, my tongue tasting danger but not living it.  A little inner wink to myself.

When I was fifteen, in 1983 (I turned 16 during the summer of 1984) my mother turned forty and my father was forty-two although he was very much out of my life by that time. She had turned 15 in 1958 a decade that started out in black and white and ended in black and white, the bright colors of the 1960’s would not hit until she was already an adult, as such her past seemed to be eons before my own coming of age, the world was under the cold oppression of Ronald Reagan but we still had MTV, punk rock and teenage films such as Porky’s, Sixteen Candles and the late night soft-core movies of Cinemax—if you were lucky enough to have cable television. My brother and I listened to a lot of the music of the sixties, the Beatles, the Stones, Doors and Kinks were all heavily played on our turntables and the Stones were still making viable music to our ears (“Emotional Rescue, “Tattoo You” and “Undercover” were all heavily played in our living room.) But Elvis Presley and the doo-wop sounds my mother listened to in high school were literally from another era-another century, hell another world entirely. Today my daughter plays music from the 60’s to the present, most of it as interchangeable as tee-shirts. Looking backwards while trying to balance my feet in the present, not always and easy feat (feet?) it’s hard to believe that punk rock was barely seven years old or so—but the movement that the music made in my life at that age was as powerful as my first orgasm.

I was divorced nearly a year ago, although every time I write or say that we are now divorced I feel the need to put a tag on it, an asterisk which is, “but we remain friends.” As if those four words can describe spending nearly half your life with someone only to realize that what ever the relationship was at the end was not what it was at the beginning. The buzzy-high of early love and lust was burnished away over the years, through arguments, silence and quiet resentments, although the relationship was bruised and battered the fact remains that we created two incredible people who will carry on whatever we supplied them—our DNA, the lessons we teach them and of course, the memories we create and pass on to them. We are lucky, because we still love one another and we know we tried to keep the marriage together, partly out of love, partly out of fear of being alone, partly out of the sake of our children, all of which seem to be better off and more functional than living in the same house and sleeping in the same bed. Every so often I have to return to the house we shared, the house that our children will always associate as the home they grew up in, my small temporary two-bedroom apartment notwithstanding, and at first I felt trepidation in returning. Seeing the hallway where our daughter took her first steps, tongue firmly stuck outside her lips in effort as her mother held her shoulders, encouraging her to move forward. The lines drawn on our son’s bedroom, marking the children’s growth in lead, a quarter inch this year and a full two inches that year, but oddly I never feel like a ghost floating over the house’s floor but more of a welcomed visitor. My home is up the road, off High Street with my records, my books and new memories I make with the kids and the people I spend my time with. New and hesitant love that finds me perplexed and happy at fifty-two, love that has me feeling secretive as if I don’t want the world to know yet, a different perspective than what I had at seventeen-when I wanted to scream to the world, a bit more quiet but also as intense.  Slow burns.

 

Moviola in the time of Corona…

May 11, 2020

There were four dogs that lived in the house, every inch of carpet and furniture bled hair as the dogs had free reign, they were almost as spoiled as dogs could be, with multiple walks by the multiple owners who lived in the three story house just north of The Ohio State University. My dogs, Richard and Istvan arrived late to the party, and they were pretty much asshole dogs, at least Istvan was. Richard was a sweetheart, a wiry stray that Jenny Mae had adopted following a hot tub party on campus, she named her Grandpa Richard although on close inspection Richard was a female and still a puppy, more like Granddaughter Richard but Jenny didn’t let anything like facts to impact her world view. Soon, I adopted her to try to settle down the complete assholish-ness of Istvan who was such a bad sort of a dog that when he died long-time friends of mine sent their condolences on my social media pages followed by, “but he really was a BAD dog.” We arrived at the house on Blake following my recent divorce, a marriage crammed between rounds of drinks and the deaths of friends—the haze of drinking and the clutch of loneliness held both of us fast, and while there was love between us the pain of being alone was greater than any ties that bind. In any scenario, alcoholism or not, there is not a good chance for the relationship to survive when the foundation is made of bricks of self-doubt. I moved in during a January ice storm, renting a large U-Haul to move my house on Patterson just a few blocks north into the attic of Ted Hattemer’s house, the only stipulation was my bad dogs had to stay in the attic as the other dogs in the house would not tolerate the intrusion. So up the stairs we went, several flights up to the third floor where Ted had built a small two-room flat for me, he also had a small bathroom installed.  I lived with Ted for a couple of years until I moved out to live with Merijn for the next twenty-two years.

The house was the defacto landing pad for Moviola although main songwriter, Jake Housh had built a studio on top of his garage just a stone’s throw from Ted’s house on Dodridge Street. Moviola was working on their second album “The Year You Were Born”, after the 10” “Frantic” came out a few years prior it was the third record put out through my P&D relationship with Revolver USA. “Frantic” had sold well, and the band had toured some including some well attended shows in NYC, one at CBGB’s with the Siltbreeze bands Temple of Bon Matin and The Strapping Field Hands. Ted was also playing drums for The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments which had signed to American imprint Onion Records, and the band had gotten glowing press from various outlets such as the College Music Journal, Alternative Press and Your Flesh. None of this was really important for the way we lived our lives though, the days and nights were mostly filled with music, combined with the hope of being connected, and of course, alcohol. Creativity was the most important aspect of our lives, whether it was music, writing, filmmaking or painting, everything held an idea. Although, now at fifty-one, it is easy to think of these as our salad days, for me I lived in such an emotional panic, akin hearing last call while taking piss but living that feeling every day of your life. I don’t miss that rabid anxiety that was only tempered by drinking and fucking. Both of which seemed to somehow increase it.

Out of all the bands I had worked with, Moviola were easily the most organic, both in how they lived their lives, friendship over ambition, operating as a collective versus a musical dictatorship, and blending sound on top of sound. Their music has layers but is simple in the best sense of the word—they use sounds, hum from guitar amps, feedback and clunky echo to feed the songs like compost.  I used to attend their Wednesday night practices, mostly to get a musical fix and they were my friends, they would let me sit on the floor, drink my six pack, offer my suggestions and leave to hit High Street by 10 pm with a head buzzing and full of ideas. Wednesday nights were a highlight for me. The recorded almost everything in their home studios, with the exception of “Frantic” which they recorded them selves at a larger studio and a handful of songs they recorded while being courted by several major labels, an experiment that almost broke up the band and most importantly their friendships.

The Blake house was comfortable, and not just for the pack of dogs that lived there, there was music constantly playing, both downstairs and in my attic room. There were ashtrays filled with cigarette butts, the bong next to the couch was in constant use and there was always beer in the fridge. Whoever was cooking would share their food and the conversation was always a constant. We all worked full-time jobs, and it wasn’t any sort of campus living situation, we were all in our mid-twenties and looking for something to ground us. Music was the one thing we all swarmed to. The was constant motion, nothing was staid, I had been booking shows for a while both at Bernie’s and Stache’s, and Moviola were also bringing bands in—Built to Spill, Jennyanykind and The Flaming Lips were all bands they helped bring to town, both with their music and their affability. If there was any band that best exemplified what I enjoyed about music it would most likely be Moviola whose songs have always had a strong sense of melody, with layers of guitars and noises either propping or slowly tearing the song down depending on one’s perspective. There music certainly owed  a debt to Neil Young, or more distinctly the creaky guitar solo’s from “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down by the River” as well as the shambling sounds of the Grateful Dead and the Band but because four-track recording and the liberation it offers the “keepthemistakesin” philosophies of the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Moviola’s contemporaries Pavement and Guided by Voices allowed for a much more organic (de)construction of their music. They were most often compared to Pavement and GBV (whom they played with a lot) but in hindsight these were lazy comparisons, we were all operating on the same playing field, ones that were made from our collective record collections culled from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, we were all inspired by the Velvet Underground, Stones, Ramones as well as the DIY ethics of Half Japanese, and our own local bands such as Scrawl, Great Plains and the Gibson Brothers, we could all do what ever the fuck we wanted. Something they always touched on was relationships, whether about straying strands of friendships or the tug of wandering that lovers have, how the mundane can both drag a couple down or put the shine of love by sharing a coffee, hanging clothes on the line or the magnetizing way a drive out of town can strengthen bonds.

As I walked this morning, with headphones purposely both drowning the world out in sound but also in their own way, pulling the outside world into my inner world, I listened to music—a singer rocking herself gentle, describing her love and her shortcomings. We are made of shortcomings; we stack them upon each other until we try to make them a whole. On the walk a mother in green windbreaker, gathered and tugged two small girls around her, a dog yanking a leash in front of them—she stopped and smiled at me. Caught in her life while I coaxed my own dog to settle-the-fuck-down, her smile crooked, I had been there—but it was a different time for me. When the horrors of the world didn’t play out in some fucked-up, awful science-fiction way, when getting the kids home and fed before the clouds spit rain down upon us was a concern, not the fear of a stranger breathing in your child’s direction. I felt for her and how the present can swipe the hope for the future in the simplest ways. Going for a morning walk, running to the store, hugging your mother. The ugliness of the world begs me to dip my foot in, beckons me to scoop my hands in, wipe it over my face and breath it in deep so my breath exhales gasoline, my muscles clinch and flex to turn my insides out. That is an urge, and somewhere inside of me, perhaps I was constructed that way, a blueprint of pain but of course this is a choice as is taking the other route. One of seeing the humanness of that mother’s struggle, of being able to identify with the vast innocence of a child pausing, then stopping, then picking up, then examining a bottle cap on the sidewalk all while the dog pulls, the clouds sputter and exhale droplets of rain in tired heaves, and waiting as she hands this metal gift to her mother who sticks it in her windbreaker, cooing her child on. “Come, let’s go. It’s going to rain.” I find that discovering the secrets of the everyday is a choice, a quiet careful deliberation best done with a soundtrack.

Moviola’s new record “Scrape and Cuss” and all of their back catalog are now available for streaming.

 

photo of Richard and Istvan by Michael Galinsky. Thanks, Mike-B

https://moviolamusic.bandcamp.com/

Jenny Mae. April 9th. 2020.

April 10, 2020

“Don’t come to the fair, you will only get hurt, I don’t want you there. It’s my time and I don’t need you to bring me down,” she said this over the phone, we were ready to go off to college soon and the Clark County Fair was the biggest event of the summer for most of the kids who went to Northeastern High School. My brother and I had to go every year, to work at the Catawba Methodist Church Sausage House, or something like that. Bob, our minister/stepfather, would tell us of our responsibility to the church. We would go, ditch off somewhere, looking for the other kids who had beer and some weed to smoke in the campers that lined the back of the barns filled with fancy chickens, hogs, lambs and cattle. I would dart around the mid-way, the summer drawing out all the moisture I had, I’d be covered in sweat, and the flies would fawn over my limbs. After a few hours I was ready to leave. The fair held very little for me. This was different though; we were recent high school graduates and ready to go off to Columbus. She was my girlfriend. My sweetheart. “Jenny, c’mon. Why wouldn’t you want me to go?” I was annoyed and pleading. Distrust hung over the line. “Because you won’t like anybody there, Mark Markley, Brian Stoops, you’ll just get drunk and be annoyed. Its’s a tradition, we girls get a camper and play quarters. I don’t want you there. Period.”  Later she would come around, giggling, and pulling me close in my bedroom, a photo of Lou Reed torn from Rolling Stone stuck besides my bed, “you shouldn’t worry about those guys, I’m just teasing them,” she climbed on top of me pulling off her shirt. She liked to flex her love until it finally cut me down. This would be a lifelong pattern.

I couldn’t wait to move out of the house, I felt smothered, a fear growing in me that the longer I had to stay, the less chances I had to leave. The rituals of high school did nothing for me, they were something that happened to the other kids-I watched from a distance, books and records fortifying me, but Jenny pulled me into that world. The world of institutionalized rituals, prom, Friday night football games, hog roasts, pep rallies, the American Flag strung up on porches every morning, the fair, all of it fell at my feet and I tried in my adolescent way to step over it. But Jenny had other ideas and if I was her boyfriend, I had to take part, but only at a distance, her choosing.  Which left me at home, feeling humiliated and filled with anxiety.

I wanted to collect the smiles she offered me, put them in my back pocket for later when the depression or sadness rose around me. She was easy to laugh, maybe the easiest I have ever known but underneath that laughter was a razor that would cut the flowers that seemed to pop up behind her. There was a restlessness that rose and washed away everything before and after her, and for myself it only increased some of the doubt that was already present from the beginning, before I could name it. Happiness was temporary, but the mundane lined with murky darkness was always present. I went through my life looking for the smiles, the raised eyebrows and laughter of lovers, like a child in the lawn doing cartwheels, “lookie mom, mom…look!” It was a way to live, hopscotching from one smile, one beam from a beautiful face to another, with one hand on the door. Temporary was the norm, change was not. There is a difference of course, change involves introspection, motivation, encouragement. From Jenny, who resisted change as if she would choke on it, wrestling it with teeth bared, her viciousness at her peek, she would rather destroy everything around her to stay the same. Over the years she would eye me skeptically and with a sense of judgement, “you think your life is better than mine” she spat at me one afternoon, her yellowed hands and red lipstick smudged from the can of beer she held in a brown bag that wasn’t fooling anyone. “No, I don’t” I sighed, “I just want to help you.” She would scowl, “fuck you” followed by an apology, “I’m sorry, you have a nice life, a beautiful wife and kids…I’m a fucking mess and I’ll never change.” Gazing over my shoulder, High Street just a parking lot away, “why don’t you go on home?” I asked. She had made her way to campus to watch the Ohio State Marching Band warm up before the football game, and bounced around the bars while the game went on and now, nearing seven pm, the early fall sun sinking away, a slow pull of the curtain, she was wasted miles from her tiny apartment. “I don’t want to….why don’t you go home to your fucking perfect life?” she blurted out followed by another apology.

There was of course, nothing perfect about the life I lived, underneath it all was doubt, anxiety, fear and of course there was happiness, and love. A large mixture of what-the-fuck, thrown in but in some ways she was correct, the life I had lived just six years prior was one that was on the verge of ending, one thought decision of not wanting a Motel 6 cleaning woman from not discovering my blown-out brains, followed by the loving kindness of a wife who gently coaxed me into treatment, into sobriety, literally one moment at a time. When she said those things it stabbed at me, like a soft poke into my underbelly because I doubted it all. Nothing lasts, this was burned into me from the earliest age, with every moment of pleasure, of calm the drift towards pain was inching closer, not even over the edge but from the sky, it was a cloud that crowded everything out. At least that is what it felt like, but of course everything changes, we move through life like we are on the longest escalator, a moving sidewalk where we can either run forward but it’s never going backward, we are stuck on it. I did learn to breath in the happiness of childbirth, of holding hands, of whispering in the dark. Later, when my marriage was slipping away, broken up by bits of mis-communication, hiding and frustration, there below me, around me, I shook in the darkness of a depression that had been fed by secrets and the hiding, oh the hiding and the fear of being alone. It was there in all its’ resplendent murky gloom. There seventeen years from the last Natural Light, that somewhere, half-finished, it was still waiting for me to pick it up, lifting it to my lips and swallowing the last of the bottle, I shimmied out of my clothes, climbed and slowly sunk in the water, it was cold, bracing my body didn’t help, after a few minutes, the rain falling softly, my teeth started chattering, not from fear but because it was cold, early spring. The water didn’t hold me that day, but it calls at times louder than ever. That night, as I felt the muck under my feet, the rain hitting my face, splashing the brown water around me, I felt the string of love, that traveled from twenty miles away, I was pulled out—once again by a woman.

We were in Athens, it was Springfest during the mid-eighties, most likely 1987—we had done an evening and half a day of drinking. Night-Day-Drinking. Chris Biester lived on Mill Street, just a few blocks from the annual free music festival, one I had fond memories of as a boy, my very first concert. Jay Ferguson, he of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunn, hot on the heals of his break-out hit, “Thunder Island” although his new single, “Shake-Down Cruise” has aged about as well as the title would imply, later I saw Commander Cody and other acts, from the age of 10 to 14 I went every year. This time, Jenny had grow her hair long, she had entered a phase where she was dropping acid, listening to the Grateful Dead and wearing long skirts. I had entered my serious-music phase, had curly locks, and had started working at a corporate record store on High Street, I would forgo the weed and acid for Black Label and Natural Light—my tastes were simple. It was mid-afternoon, we had been eyeing a bearded man all day who had been carrying around a bottle of Jack Daniels from the moment we arrived around noon, he was fully clothed at the time and as Jenny nudged me towards Chris’s apartment for an afternoon nap she pointed out the poor fellow. Laid bare in only his ripped jean shorts, zipper undone and soaked with piss, he was laying on the ground the empty bottle near his head while several police officers tried to rouse him. “Guess he can’t handle a whole bottle of Jack” Jenny cracked, as she took my hand. He hobbled to Chris’s, laughing all the way and made our way to his bed room which was down a long hallway off the kitchen. He lived with a bunch of other musicians, he must have been a junior or senior at Ohio University and his room was a mess, piles of clothes on the floor, posters on the wall, empty beer bottles used for ashtrays. In the living room a beer light hung on the wall, a giant Bob Marley poster, several foot long bongs next to dog hair covered couches, the entire house smelled of must, marijuana and foot. Climbing into bed, Jenny grabbed me, “let’s fuck” she cooed and soon we were in one another’s arms. Out of the blue we heard voices down the hall, “where is the bathroom?!” some college girls were heading down the hallway, “Bela, go block the door, I’m fucking naked” Jenny ordered. Flinging myself against the door to protect Jenny’s honor, the door suddenly opened out, and I fell down the hallway through a chorus of “ewww, he’s naked!”, “Oh my God!” and one “he’s kinda cute” as I tumbled through a small pack of drunken college girls. On the other end of the hallway Jenny yelled, “Don’t worry girls, he’s mine and we were just finishing up!”

This was the Jenny I like to remember, the one who during an absurdly boring cookout said, “hey, why don’t you put your dick in a hot dog bun and bring it out on a platter?” Somehow, I thought this was a good idea and she lathered it up with some mustard and yelled, “Bela has some franks right off the grill!” into the living room, we were promptly kicked out and lost that friendship. “Totally worth it” she cackled on the way home. She of course told everybody that story, even my grandmother, “hey grandma, guess what Bela did last week? He put his youknowwhat in a hot-dog bun!” My grandmother, who always got a kick out of hearing bawdy behavior would howl, “Bela, you deeed vat?!! No vay, you did dat?!” “Well grandma, it was Jenny’s idea.” “Noooo, she would not tink of someting like dat, no vay!” “Grandma, I told him not to do it! But, you know if he’s drinking, you can’t tell him anything” she smiled at me while shaking her head. “Wash your hands” instructed my grandmother. We were at Larry’s one night, I was with a new lover and Jenny was with her boyfriend, the booth was crowded, Jenny went to the rest room and came back laughing. “Bela, I thought you should know that some slut put your name up on the dick tree in the women’s rest room but I just crossed it out to spare your new girlfriend from seeing it.” “Hey, is my name on there?!” Jerry howled. “fuck no, you actually have to fuck someone to get your dick on there,” Jenny replied while drawing her drink to her lips. She spared no one in her antics. Jenny would have turned 52 on April 9th.

 

Jerry Wick & Bela Koe-Krompecher (Jay Brown photo)

Jenny Mae & Jeff Regensburger (jeff was also in Gaunt, photo Jay Brown)

Sleeping.

February 23, 2020

(I have been writing a series of short stories, mostly character studies for a few years from something that I’ve called “The Chair.” A few of them I have posted, the last post was culled from these short studies. This is another one, I’ve been mostly writing fiction the past year, one is a longer story for my son Bruno. Not sure if I will share that one yet.)

 

Sleeping.

A small creak in the wall behind him, the building was settling, it had been since he moved in nearly two years ago—it mawed, croaked and sighed at all times. “It’s a dump” he told his mother over the phone shortly after moving in, “but its cheap and close to work…anyway, what else do I need?” Was he asking her or himself? The sun had bent its light over the small shelf against the far wall, with his half-folded laundry on top of it in a giant clump of colors, he felt the ache again. It was timeless. It was bottomless. It could be terrifying at times, and the suddenness that it brought felt like an airport. Last night when he got home, he pulled the groceries out of the white denim bag after hauling them up the stairs, his hands cold, his knees wanting to crawl into a tub of water but they were already disappointed because the bathtub leaked, and he made an egg with a piece of bread he fried in the pan along with it. After reading and listening to records spin their circles of melody he went to bed and felt the ache. It was worse when he walked in his room, it froze him from inside and he managed to make it to his bed. Stripping off his clothes, he tossed them in the hamper and wriggled in, the cold blankets finding his legs colder than they were. The lonely part of the earth, the one that faced the rest of the dark universe struck him hard when he lived in it, and he would pin for sleep as he wrestled with the slumber that took it’s time, ruffling blankets over his head. Like a child. Until a few hours later he would finally fall into a restless slumber.

Leaving work earlier that night he had turned up the car stereo, music always worked but this time as he waited at stoplight after stoplight nothing within him had changed and he thought of stopping for a coffee or even going shopping although this reminded him of his money issues. Instead he decided that going home, he could make his own coffee, put a record on and lay down if he needed to. But the pang of emptiness followed him and when he put the water on for the coffee, he felt himself say “why even bother” out loud.  When he was younger, he navigated the depression with alcohol, and later, pills which he would wash down with glasses of wine. The only time he drank wine was when he took painkillers, using it as an enhancer, most other times he drank beer and bourbon. Or vodka. Or gin. Anything really, he had realized that certain types of liquor were better depending on his mood or physical state. He did not like to drink whisky or any dark liquor if he had a hangover, it had too quick of an effect on him—it made his body confused. “Do you want me drunk or do you want me tired?” it would ask him as if his own body was a tired lover. Instead he would drink a gin & tonic or a vodka cranberry when the hangover had lasted past six pm, these were more subtle drinks and they didn’t last as long on the tongue. Whisky seemed to waken his taste buds and then nestle in for the night, always a presence. With vodka and gin, there was a softer taste that was also blunted by the tonic or juice, he liked to say when he was drinking these he was not really drinking. He was nursing. It had been many years since he had a drink so much so that his sobriety was an adult, 18 years but in other ways the way he felt inside was as damaged as his liver once was.

Sitting on the couch, he pulled a cat hair off his leg and dropped it on the floor and held his coffee cup in his hand. He was unsure of what to do next, there was a small television in his room but he lost interest in it rather quickly and he could turn on his computer but that too would propel him somewhere he didn’t want to go. Always searching. Next to the couch lay a small stack of books, some had been there for months, they might of well as started paying rent. So many unread words. The words as patient as a tree. Inside a gasp of anxiety, grew up and burst, flooding his bloodstream and mind. Explosions. Grabbing a notebook he started writing, his hand moving across the page as if it were a brush fire, he wrote about memories he was unsure ever existed, he wrote about love that had captured him and how he let it go, ignoring what was given freely in order to slip back into something unexplainable. Confused. He stopped after four pages, noticing the clock he had been writing almost an hour, he wrung his wrist and went into the kitchen for a water. The needle on the record player was pretending it was treading water at the end of the record he had been playing, bouncing up and back every four seconds, he poured himself the water, drinking slowly from the glass and returned to his notebook. He never re-read what he wrote, these were just maps in reverse to try to figure out how he got here, realizing it didn’t change where he was but it did change his perspective on it. He wrote some more, this time managing to corral a childhood memory of his father. They were hiking, somewhere deep in the woods, he remembered hating hiking, and was always on the lookout for poison ivy which somehow managed to latch onto him only to erupt in painful rashes that would stick with him for most of the summer. His father, marching forward, bellowing to him in his deep voice to “hurry up, Pokie—you will not get poison ivy!” This was a lie because he always got poison ivy and every July was a lost cause. “I am hurrying, I want to be careful” he answered back to his dad while scanning the floral surrounding him. Every  step a deliberate move forward or sideways, surrounded by a sea of vengeful green. “You will not get poison ivy, just hurry!” He realized at that early age that his father would never understand him, nor did his father really care. The next few days he had gotten the worst case of poison ivy he had ever had, it was in his ears, his eyes, on his penis and around his mouth, his mother had to take him to the hospital and scolded him for being careless. “Why do you walk in the woods if you know you are going to get it? Your summer is basically ruined for a while, you can’t really go any where in this state.” He looked at the oozing puss from the blanket of bumps across his hands and wrists. He said nothing. “What an asshole,” he spoke to know one as he closed the notebook, closing the memory. It was then that he went to bed.

The next morning his alarm went off, he pawed at the bedside table next to his head, a book fell, then another one and next was a bottle of water, he felt the water dribble over his hand, listened as it spooled out onto the floor. “Shit.” he scrambled out of bed, grabbed a dirty tee-shirt off the floor and started mopping up the water. He damp dried some of the books, cursing to himself and thought of how he didn’t want to go to work, wanting to go back to bed he nevertheless moved to the bathroom, where he peed and then splashed water across his face and neck, then to the kitchen where he started the coffee. He moved to the chair, and he pulled out one of the daily affirmation books that he read without fail every morning, sometimes the words did what they were intended to and nudged him towards gratitude or a calmer space while other times there was nothing and he felt empty reading the words, but it was always worth the effort; something was better than nothing. He nursed the coffee, pulled his legs up on the chair, set the plastic egg timer he got from his grandmother’s house after she died and meditated for fifteen minutes. This was how his days had started since moving in, with nary a deviation unless he was late for work or slept in. Some days it worked and some days it didn’t, and he thought about if there was any correlation with the sunshine on his good days.

There was some floating he felt, his legs folded under him, more memories he tried to embrace and then, breath away. He had found her by her car, lost on the sidewalk and he held her. She shook under his shoulders, quaked and shuddered, she convulsed in his arms. Her voice caught, it paused and then it tugged at his throat and he wept as well. Both of them bawling under the early morning street like  broken feral cats, putting her hands across his cheeks, pawing away his tears. “I’ve lost you, you are on a boat drifting away. Standing in the middle you aren’t coming back.” Kissing her forehead, he whispered, “I don’t know.” Her torso rattled, tears soaked the pavement, pulling her closer he thought “I’m preparing you.” She had gotten in her car shortly after, drove to work, ate her lunch alone that day in a strip-mall parking lot, listening to the same compact disc that had gotten stuck nearly five months earlier. Repeat the ending and the beginning. She called him and he didn’t pick up. She called again and he didn’t pick up again.

After his meditation he called off work, made some more coffee, and then went for a walk. With the sun making silent comments to him, whispering in his ear, trying to turn his thoughts he looked at the mud poking out from the sides of his shoes, felt a cloud making it’s presence known as it cut off the sunlight and finally he sat down. Nothing had changed, and he felt tired. The walk did little, the sun had tried her best but, in the end, sometimes a person’s darkness will swallow the sun. He showered, he put on a record, he straightened his bookshelves, he took out some paper and took his favorite pen, scribbled and put it away. Drank another coffee and a glass of water. Folding his clothes, he carefully put them away and then prepared his bed. In the other room and sat in the chair staring at the glass of water, he smiled ruefully, “time to go sailing.”