It’s Not Like That Anymore

(9)highschool

I poured my father his last drink. Four fingers of scotch, ice, and a splash of water. I added three drops of liquid morphine. I made one for myself as well, same recipe. Richard Pryor had just passed away and it was late at night and my father was making me switch back and forth between CNN and The Weather Channel. I had tried to feed him some ice cream earlier and he spit it up and all over his beard and chest. As I was cleaning him off, he asked for the drink. Who am I to deny a dying man a drink? Who am I to tell my father no?

“Jesus fucking Christ, Sean. Are you trying to kill me?”

That’s what he said to me when I helped him take his first sip. Not thinking—just reacting and feeling terrible—I immediately apologized and took the drink from him but he hissed at me.

“I’m going to die anyway, idiot. Give me that drink back and sit with me.”

I saw the spark in his eye, a shot fired across my bow. So we sat in the dark. We sipped by the light of the television. He talked about how he wanted to have a drink with Richard Pryor, and about how that was going to happen pretty soon.

******

Every relationship is different. In groups of people who are all friends, everyone has a singular experience with everyone else. This is infallible. Nobody can have the same relationship with multiple people and nobody can claim to know someone the same way everyone else does. We all have different things inside of us that react to different things inside of others, and that goes around and around and makes being a human being having a human experience a weird as fuck thing.

You could say “everyone wears a different mask for everyone” and you wouldn’t be lying or wrong or even mean.

If you wanted to really fuck your own head up, you could try and maintain being one person at all times with every living thing. The same person with dogs as you are with the kid at the bodega you buy smokes from. The same person with the pharmacist as you are with the cable installation technician. The same person with your high school love as you are with your favorite Uncle. The same person with the detective interviewing you about a robbery as you are with someone you met at a job fair. This could go on and on, amen. Think.

******

When I was young I never listened. There were always folks around trying to kick small doses of rational thought and wisdom my way, but I was too insouciant and too full of myself to realize what was going on, how later on in my life I’d be begging and pleading for wisdom. Older punks would tell me to slow down, take my time, not to do this or that, but I’d barrel forward with every molecule of myself full of desire and anger and swagger. So much blood lost. I would have so much more of my blood if I had only learned to shut the fuck up and listen, to learn.

Now I know what both ways feel like. Now I know.

******

What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.

–from The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts

******

You cannot get time back once it is gone. As much as we give away, we give it away and that’s a wrap. Nothing comes back from the void. You can keep your ass in one spot long enough and sit in silence and then it starts to happen, you start to feel time slipping out from your fingerprints, from your eyelashes, from glances out a window or in puffs of smoke rising to the light. I’ve been sitting in silence more now than ever before. I sit in silence and I let my mind drift and sometimes it takes me places I never thought I would go, didn’t know mattered to me at all. Sometimes it drifts into my own home movies and that makes a ton of sense since I am working on a book about those home movies. But the home movies it selects for me to revisit are always so surprising. There are reveals in this book I never thought would carry weight for me, moments I thought were trivial or nonsensical, yet—they have immense weight and they hold keys to locks.

I don’t know if I want my time back or not.

I’ve been sitting in silence and thinking a lot about my heart and how it works and when it works well, when it doesn’t. I think about faces a lot. I think about the depths of hugs, the way a mouth feels on the cheek, the way a hand on an elbow or a shoulder can mean so many different things to so many different people, how many masks there are and who is/was wearing them and who will wear them. I think about nervous laughter. I think about eye movement and body language and unspoken things and things whispered. I think about actions and reactions and how each and every is different for each and every. I think about intent. I think about policing. I think about freedom. I think about medication and chemical reaction. I think about scent and tone. I think about failure and what a ridiculous concept it is to fail.

“You can only throw your own head.”

******

Saw Swans this past week with a friend I consider a brother. I took out my earplugs less than five minutes into the show because I needed to destroy everything inside of myself and needed to feel the pressure and the release the band intended for me, for all in the room. Wave after wave of punishment and bliss, wave after wave of sound and harmonic distortion and tones unknown rising and falling in the wash. Swans played six songs. They played for over two hours. My body was ecstatic. My heart was firing and peaceful. I could feel my feet, but I wasn’t there. I was leaving my body and returning to my body over and over again. I felt reborn with every crash and dead with every thud. It was everything I wanted and needed and more. I wish I could put your hand on my chest so that you could feel this.

******

A lifeless body is only lifeless because we know it has stopped working the way our bodies continue to work.

******

So very hard to justify personal battles when the world at large is burning and people are dying and everyone is starving and everyone is screaming. So very hard to express my politics without drowning out the voices that should be heard, so instead I choose silence and personal connection, personal conversation.

******

Words have been hard to come by so I have been using music to express myself. Sometimes I forget how much can be conveyed with three notes. Sometimes I forget music is my first language. Sometimes I forget to breathe. There are power dynamics in every relationship. My relationship with music is limitless, because I allow it to flow and I do not fight with it. My relationship with the written word—specifically the words I string together that will have my name attached—is more calculated, more affected. My relationship with the words that come out of my mouth is ever-evolving. I learn so much every day about how I speak and what I choose to say and how I choose to say it and to whom I am saying it and how those words will land. I am learning to shut up. I am learning to witness. I am learning to be still.

My relationship with myself is, and always will be, the hardest and most rewarding.

******

Ask the mirror.

******

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Welcome, Ghosts

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Eighteen years is a long fucking time. That’s what punched me in the chest the other morning while I sat in my kitchen window watching smoke drift from my hand and out into the fog—it has been eighteen years since my mother passed away—and now that realization is hovering around me, ghost-like, whispering. So much has happened in those eighteen years. Would she even know me? Would she want to? Would I want her to?

******

There will come a day when I stop writing about death.

******

This thing that keeps hovering around is not malevolent. It is something other, something needling but in a way that warms as much as it shakes. This thing is rattling memories loose and letting them push me around a little, which is kind of refreshing and kind of titillating because I need to be pushed around a little and ain’t much happening to do so regular-like. My clean blood is clean blood and will stay clean blood.

Yesterday I was standing on a pier in the middle of the East River and I was looking at the glorious fog hanging over the city and I kept on wanting to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. I closed my eyes and tried to let whatever needed to wash over me do what it would but all that kept happening was me seeing my dog—all wiggles and wags and snorts and grunts and happy sounds—sleeping at my feet in a way only dogs can do. I was trying to meditate, I guess. That is something I do every morning but I never do it out there in public even though it was early and the only other person I saw hanging around the park with the pier was an older bald man who kept looking at me warily and I could feel his sadness.

I can always feel sadness.

I had the new Swans album going pretty good in my headphones and the rhythm was perfect and repetitive and I felt myself leaving my body a little bit as I stood out there and could taste the moisture of the river and of the fog, but as soon as I would drift I’d see the dog again and come back to my flesh.

******

When all of your elders—the flesh and blood you came from—are gone, it’s unsettling. I’ve had time now to get used to it, but I don’t think I will ever fully get used to it. Mother, father, grandparents, aunts—all gone. Superstitiously, I mostly feel them around the anniversary of their death[s]. Emotionally, I mostly feel them when I feel unmoored and without a base. When I think about them when they were living, I don’t think they knew me at all, which wasn’t their fault as much as my own. I’ve always been secretive, dark, someone with a path hidden in the larger path everyone else sees. I have always been uncomfortable with lovers and friends who disclose their entire lives to their elders, people who share too much of their innermost and dangerous with people who are wired to worry, wired for concern and anguish. My elders didn’t need to know about my darkness. They felt it.

******

My neighbor has been riding a bike everywhere. He is a weed delivery guy, which is a very lucrative gig here in this city. Yesterday morning I was outside, smoking in front of the building, and he came down with his bike and we started rapping and joking. He’s from Oklahoma, loves metal, and—like me—is an orphan as an adult. His mother recently died and whenever I see him I just hug him and we don’t need to say anything because we know the secret handshake of orphaned adults. Back to the bike thing, though—I noticed he had no helmet and basically begged him to wear one. “Nope,” he said. I told him about my friend who was killed and how he wasn’t wearing a helmet and as the words were slipping out of my mouth an understanding coursed through my body, an electric current made of blood and knowing.

Orphaned adults don’t wear helmets because orphaned adults already know pain and give no fucks.

******

I would wear a helmet. I want everyone to know that. I would.

******

Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself about this shit, about the deaths and my hurt and my sad and my familial aloneness, I try to walk. I throw on headphones and get moving and get getting and get to watching other people on the street or in the park or in the stores or in the pews. Watching people be people is a cure-all. Watching people be people is an inspiration to be a person and not a mope and I’d be a monkeys uncle before I’d ever be a mope.

I think about my sister out in California and wonder how often she goes to see our mother, I wonder how her heart feels, I wonder if she feels the same aloneness, I wonder if she speaks secret words in the night to the ceiling like I do, I wonder if she sees our mother in the faces of cats and the tail wags of dogs, I wonder if she wonders—like I do—if our mother and our father have ever spoken in whatever world or place or chemical compound they are in after this life has ended for them.

******

Have you ever held a dead body? It’s an incredible thing. The physical is there but you can feel something has gone and something was there and electricity is still in there a little bit but it’s like holding a light bulb after taking it out of the socket and letting the glow dim. I held my mother’s dead body. I held my father’s dead body. I’ve held my own dead body. I’ve held your dead body.

Who will hold my dead body?

******

Trivial, but true—

My mother once found a series of letters I had written to Jimi Hendrix. I had been in a bad place, drugs were fucking with my head and my head was fucking with my heart and my heart was fucking with the world, and I had set up a typewriter in my room—I was around sixteen or so, I believe—and started clack-clacking away in the night. Stacks and stacks of letters, all of them free-form and flowing with my madness and my sadness and my desire to leave my body forever and leave the world forever and my blood feeling about my father and my mother and my friends and my sister and my classmates.

I really didn’t understand any of my classmates. I was an alien boy.

Any other mother who’d found those letters would have freaked. Any other mother would have sent that child away never to be seen again. Any other mother would have put a pillow over the monster’s face in its sleep and let it slip away.

Not my mother. No.

She told me she found the letters and encouraged me to keep writing.

******

My mother let my band “rehearse” in her house. My mother let me and all my dopey and beautiful punk rock friends smoke in her house. My mother would sit up late at night and drink coffee with my high school girlfriends and talk to them, soothe them, treat them like adults when nobody else would. My mother secretly made t-shirts for my band and gave all of them to us on the eve of our first show. My mother cried when I graduated high school because she never thought I would be able to follow through and do it because I’d dropped out twice and went back and still finished on time. My mother cried when I enlisted in the Navy because I did it on my own and didn’t tell her I was doing it and she was proud. My mother cried when my ship pulled in to San Diego and she couldn’t see me because I was locked up in the brig. My mother called me by my secret name—the name she gave me as a child—when she saw me after she came out of her coma. My mother danced with me at my bar mitzvah and I remember seeing her deep brown eyes and how proud she was and how glad she was and I remember right now—sitting here, right here—how much that meant to both of us.

******

I joke about death because death is a joke. The joke that never lands right. The joke that stings. The joke that twists.

My mother, born on Father’s Day, died on Mother’s Day, loved to laugh.

I need to laugh more.

******

I’m still writing, Mom.

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Put Your Halo On

n92vtpil

Woke up today to a second straight morning of head full of thump and clenched teeth. This time the thump is closer to the last time the thump completely waylaid me, which means the thump is getting too comfortable. This time the clenched jaw is a leftover from bad and restless sleep and a day of clench and a week of grit. Coffee helps a little but not enough and I don’t want to take a pill and waste an entire day.

Who am I kidding? I waste entire days every goddamn day.

Snowbound claustrophobia is a thing. Looking out the window to see the glare off roofs and the wind pushing free flakes into the air is suffocating. Taking the dog out to romp is great until she hits a patch of salt and then I have to get down on my knees in the ice and muck and free the lazy from between her pads. Salt is what it is—a quick fix for the lazy and the people among us who hate dogs having fun in the snow.

******

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Stop writing about your dog, you fucking amateur.]

******

I just looked at the tip of my finger that I lost when Freaky Frank slapped my ass as I was using a mandolin slicer to cut jicama. Slapped it right now on the edge of the desk and I still cannot feel that portion of my fingertip, all these years on. I wonder what ever became of Freaky Frank? I wonder if he still does drag shows and loves fat white boys? I wonder if his man-tits are still freakish-looking like cow teats with gigantic and brown silver dollar pancakes for nipples?

Freaky Frank worked with me at this Euro-style Deli. All of the sandwiches were made to order and went into brown paper bags marked NOONER on them. I got him high one night after work and he started hitting on me, telling me no woman would ever be able to suck me off the way he would be able to. I had stolen a bottle of red wine from the deli and we were sitting in a park and he was telling me all of this nonsense while I was trying to get a good and warm buzz going. I let him ramble and touch my leg as he flirted. Freaky Frank was fun and he made working there easier to take—I, along with Chongo, a weird alcoholic diesel mechanic named Dave, and another cat named Dale, were the only straight dudes working there—because he was always talking trash in a sneering and bratty way. When cute female customers would flirt with me he would walk behind me and mumble nasty things about them, and what he would pay me to let him watch us do.

I wasn’t even mad at Freaky Frank when I lost the tip of my finger. If anything, I thought it was hilarious that he walked behind me and slapped my ass that hard. Took balls. I was hurrying to make a big catering order and was slicing a bunch of jicama to put on these boring turkey sandwiches. Right before he slapped me I was singing a stupid song as I worked, making up lines like “Jicama can cure a hickey, ma” and “Jicama, jicama, suck up my motherfucking dick-a-ma.” Everyone was laughing and then Freaky Frank rolled right behind me and muttered “I’ll suck your fat white dick-a-ma, boy” and then slapped my ass with his giant paw and my hand jumped and I heard the strange sound my fingertip made as it dragged through the blade and I immediately yelled “FUCK” and clenched my fist and ran to the back prep room and started hopping up and down in place.

The family that owned the place all worked there. The dude who ran it for his parents, Randy, was a total burn-out hippie who wore Grateful Dead shirts and would hit me up for joints. He came back to where I was hopping up and down and pulled up a pickle bucket, sat down, and then asked me to unclench my fist to show him what had happened. I opened my fist and my blood sprayed Randy right in the face. He was totally calm about it and everyone else shrieked and he said “Looks like we need to get Dale to take you to the emergency room to get this fixed.” I clenched my fist again and apologized to Randy for spraying his face with blood.

Everyone had rushed to the back to see what was going on, but not Dale. Dale went over to my sandwich station to try and find my fingertip, but he said it wasn’t there. Dale and I shared a joint on the way to the emergency room and he kept on laughing about me spraying Randy with blood. I was laughing too, but was starting to get nervous about my finger and not being able to play guitar again. When we got there the doctor took a look at my finger after washing it all out, shot it up with lidocaine, and then stitched the tip closed under the nail bed. I asked him if I would be able to play guitar and he told me to stop “being a baby about a tiny little wound.” He immediately became my favorite doctor.

They gave me a script for painkillers and Dale and I went to fill it and then I sold all of them to him for $100. For some reason, Randy wanted Dale to bring me back to the deli instead of taking me home, so we went back. When we walked in Freaky Frank came over to me with sad eyes and tried to hug on me and say he was sorry. I let him, and then he put his hand in my back pocket, slipping me a bag of weed and an apology note that I found later on when I was at home.

They ended up finding the tip of my finger in one of the sandwiches.

******

Before I worked at that gig with Freaky Frank, I worked for another Frank, this one I called First Day Frank, at another deli. FDF owned this tiny little place next to a bookstore in a mall and he had no idea how to run a business. I cannot remember what he told me he did before he opened up the joint, but it sure wasn’t anything involving food or the service industry, because he was bad at it. That’s why he hired me, to run the place for him. He paid me shit money and was only around for two hours a day—the lunch rush—and he’d call me at night as we were closing to ask about the money.

Owners of small businesses love to call about the money.

First Day Frank had all these weird rules about things that made no sense to any of the three of us working for him—myself, this sweet kid from Nebraska named Brennen, and this crazy ex-biker named Terry Large who had a huge tattoo of a black widow on the inside of his forearm that Frist Day Frank would beg him to cover up—so, we basically ignored his rules and did whatever we wanted. We were only busy during lunch, feeding all the girls from the bookstore and random people strolling through the mall, so we spent the rest of our time drinking lime rickeys and bullshitting. Terry Large used to love to talk about women in awful and terrible ways and waggle his tongue out of his mouth while doing so. Terry Large also used to love sleeping at a table and calling out sick. Terry Large once asked me why I was always scribbling into spiral notebooks and I answered him with one word—“poetry”—and then he never asked me about it again.

Terry Large did not like poetry, obviously.

Brennen was sweet, like I said—he was really innocent and kind—and he was going to school to be a mechanic. One night after closing I was having sex with one of the women from the bookstore after locking up and poor Brennen had come in with his keys to make himself a sandwich because he was broke and walked right in on us in the tiny back room. I remember looking over her shoulder as she was straddling me and seeing his face and I felt terrible for him. I stopped feeling terrible for him when he went on ahead and made himself a sandwich anyway. He never brought it up, so we never talked about it.

Some of our customers were guys working at the used car lot across the street. One of them, this weird dude named Mark, decided he wanted to be my pal. He asked me if I wanted to go to a basketball game with him, because he had an extra ticket. I went, which was stupid of me. Mark was in the middle of a divorce and he was a cocaine addict and he never shut the fuck up the entire time and kept on telling me about ADD and how cocaine was good for people with ADD and how he was sure I also had ADD and I ended up doing most of his cocaine that night. I don’t know if First Day Frank, Brennen, or Terry Large gave him my phone number, but Mark started calling me all the time, telling me I should sell used cars with him and telling me he knew a stripper that would love me and asking me if I could get him more cocaine. It was a nightmare. Mark ended up getting arrested for stalking his wife and I never heard from him again.

I used to steal cash money from First Day Frank.

I never stole a lot, but he was asking me to run his place for him and he was barely paying me, so I would steal $40-$60 here and there. I would purposely not ring people up and slip their money underneath the cash drawer and make them change from the drawer anyway. Then, when I would be closing out for the night I would do the math necessary to make sure I wouldn’t get caught. That money kept my lights on. That money kept my cat fed.

Terry Large got caught, though.

He got caught stealing fucking food, of all things. Why would you steal food from a place you could eat at all goddamn day and never get in trouble for it because the owner was never around? Terry Large tried to steal a giant hunk of roast beef and a loaf of bread and First Day Frank fired him, which meant Brennen and I would have to work alongside First Day Frank for a while until he decided to hire someone new. After two weeks, First Day Frank decided he had had more than enough and sold the place to some sandwich chain and me and Brennen lost our jobs.

First Day Frank was a Cubs fan.

******

I once put Iggy Pop’s “Fall in Love with Me” on a mixtape for a waitress and left it taped to the door of her car.

It was the only song on the tape, both sides full-up.

******

What I said about Freaky Frank’s man-tits was mean and totally uncalled for.

I’m real sorry, Freaky Frank. I hope your man-tits are magnificent.

******

Dave the diesel mechanic freaked me out so bad one night when we got high together that I ran all the way home and hid inside of my apartment. He had been drinking heavily and a bunch of us were at this girl’s apartment and I smoked him out and then he started going into great detail about how a diesel engine worked, talking with his hands and ignoring everyone around us, his eyes full of black fuel and orange smoke. I’m not sure if it caused me to have a psychotic break or if I was already going to have one, but it sure did make me run as fast as I could away from him and the party where I was hoping to ball the girl who lived there. She ended up coming over to my place around three in the morning and I let her in and made us eggs and toast and we made out and then I fell asleep with my dick in her hand.

I was good at shit like that.

******

I never answer my phone.

******

Everyone is crazy to someone else. Whenever I allow myself to meditate on my first thoughts after meeting someone new, I try to remind myself that no matter how weird that person may or may not appear to me, I am just as weird in their eyes. I mean—let’s get real here—being alive in this world in this period of time with all this technology at our fingertips and all this knowledge available to almost every sentient being, we’re all still weirded out by being here and we’re all still weirded out about interacting with other weirdoes. Instead of worrying about it, we should all just go on ahead and get weird together.

******

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A Piece of the Sky

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For almost a year after the death I wore Canoe. Combined with the scents of cigarettes and whiskey and his leather jacket, he stayed fresh in the first sense. Not that I could ever forget—the man died in my fucking arms—but I wanted to be sure, wanted to keep him around as long as I could. Some of his mannerisms held fast. The way he’d grump up his face when he didn’t want to be spoken to, the way he’d wave someone off with his hand as they approached him, the way he’d suck his scotch through his teeth and loose a little sigh. I still obsessively watch The Weather Channel when my body doesn’t feel right, much like he did in his last days, as if he was looking for a hole in the sky to rise through, a break in the pattern to exploit.

That first year—somehow I still to this day have no idea how I survived myself—was full of so many terrible hiccups and so much phantom pain. I drank. I drank a lot. I drank a lot and filled my belly with pills. I filled my belly with pills and filled women with my sad. I stumbled through this city without care or awareness, hoping it would swallow me, disappear me, destroy me. I woke up in poorly-lit apartments in every borough, in every neighborhood, in every possible combination of unraveling. I’d try to sneak out silently, working my way out into streets unfamiliar and trying to navigate my way back to where I was supposed to be, with some family. As much as I did my best to dull, I raged like an exposed nerve.

This is not how you’re supposed to get free.

******

“Seventeen more blocks.”

******

I keep on going back on the inside of the walls of my head to things that made sense at the time, but seem to be garbled a little now. I know that while I was in Santa Fe I did everything I could to hold fast to the idea that I was there to help him, to guide him through the fire, to ensure that his wishes were respected and that he was allowed to die with dignity. I know this. I know that I said and did some things that were out of character for me—the way I dealt with others and their emotions was not necessarily tactful, but it also wasn’t meant to be cruel—and those things are scrambled images now, misidentified markers of time and space. I know that I spent a lot of time in silence, watching and listening, watching and listening, watching and listening and breathing slowly. I know that things were said to me—to my face—that to this day echo and clang around in here like bullets in a barrel. I know that things were said about me, behind my back and behind closed doors, things that I clearly felt and heard even though there was no possible way I could have.

An addict can always smell the conspiracy before the rot sets in.

******

We used to go on camping trips. My psychologist—the one the school suggested because my acting-out had reached a level where the teachers were genuinely afraid the next step might be violence—used to take a bunch of us at-risk students up along the Mogollon Rim, where the desert outside of Phoenix climbs into mesas and everything changes. We’d all meet at his house and he would immediately put every last one of us to work—loading provisions or helping him change the shocks on his jeep or opening up all the sleeping bags to check them for rot or spiders—none of us complaining, each of us sizing one another up, silently, wondering who on the trip would be the bully, who would be the baby, who would be the kiss-ass. My own old man had never taken me camping. All of this stuff was new to me, the gear, the knots, the hiking, all of it.

Up on the rim we’d camp out under the stars after hiking in for miles and miles, finding spots near creeks and rivers, building huge fires and sitting around them as a crew of orange and red and yellow freaks as our psychologist would show genuine care and concern for our lives, in turn getting us to care about one another. We’d all take turns talking about our shitty lives, about how none of our friends understood us, how none of our teachers liked us, how none of the girls would even look at us. It was a kindness and a brotherhood none of us knew how to accept or understand. Jokes about masturbation habits would lead to physical confrontations. Ribbing about someone’s physical shape would turn into rolling around on the forest floor with bloodied noses and tears. One kid freaked so bad one time he tried to light another kid’s tent on fire, all because he found out the other kid had made out with his cousin.

Then there was the time I shit myself after jumping off of a dam into a reservoir.

******

I do not, nor do I plan to, have children. I have no idea who will take care of me as I am dying. I am not close with my family. I do not speak to my younger cousins. My sister has no children, either. I often wonder who will carry out my wishes, who will sit by my side, doling out the drops of morphine and holding the plastic bag under me as I struggle to expel waste from my body as it shuts down. Who will carry my ashes?

******

I was afraid to jump but I had seen every other boy do it. I still remember how incredible it felt to be falling toward the water, how I could see it reaching up for me, how the air around me wanted so badly to hold me up but momentum and gravity and science wouldn’t allow such a thing. I remember trying to cross my feet at the ankle as I had been told, to make sure I didn’t rupture my balls. I kept my arms crossed around my chest, holding myself tight, like a knife in flight.

It happened as soon as I hit the water.

I felt my bowels release when I went under. The water was so clear and I remember opening my eyes as I cut to the bottom—I could see so much wreckage down there, parts of machinery from the mining plumes that had been there before, tires, barbed-wire fencing—but I also felt what had happened to my body, what I had done. When my momentum stopped and I was supposed to ascend to the top, I reached into my shorts with my hand and felt it all—a mess coming out of me—and tried not to panic. Surfacing, I made the decision to stay in the water for a while, to act as if nothing had happened, to save myself from ridicule and laughter. I figured that as everyone else was climbing in and out to jump, I could make my way into the woods and clean myself up.

As I slowly made my way up the face of the reservoir wall, one of the kids shouted—“Sean! You got something running down your legs!”—and I knew right then I couldn’t hide what had happened. They were like a gang of howler monkeys, yelling and screaming and laughing and jumping up and down at my misfortune. I tried my best to play it off, tried to act like I didn’t care, and made my way up the wall and into the forest to take care of myself. I could still hear them.

I can still hear them.

******

For a while I was working on a book about my father, about what we went through, how the days taking care of him helped change me/us, how it shaped who I am right now. I do not think I will ever be done writing about his death, our death, what took place. I was in a writing workshop and had to read a passage I wrote about the day we—his oncologist, myself, and his wife—had to tell him that the chemo and radiation weren’t working anymore, and that it was time to go home. When I was reading I could not look at anyone. As I was reading I could not believe what I had written—how terrifying the words felt coming out of my mouth, words I had never dared to speak out loud to anyone since it had happened—and that I had been carrying it inside of me, rubbing it smooth like a worry stone. I can still feel my voice wavering, can still feel how silent the room became—my classmates rubbing their feet together under themselves and my instructor, a friend, breathing deeply as the words took form in the air around us—and how much I knew in that very moment that I was not ready to write such a book, because such a book would be the end of it all, the end of the memories and the end of my private feelings, the end of kindness in a lot of ways. But I was wrong. I was so very wrong.

I will forever be writing such a book, in my heart, on the walls, inside of myself, inside of the world. I will forever relive those moments, see his eyes break into tiny shards of stars in a black hole, hear his voice cave in on itself and ask me if there were any alternative medicines we could try, watch his chin fall to his chest, feel his hand in mine going softer, child-like, not ready to go but no choice but to go.

And here we are in this world.

******

I ran through the trees until I couldn’t hear them anymore. I ran until I was up on high, a ridge far from the reservoir, shit running down my legs and into my sneakers which were still wet from the water. I found a downed tree and pulled my shorts to my ankles to assess whatever damage I had done to myself. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought, but it was bad enough. Everyone knew what I had done. I did what I could to clean myself up—grabbing up handfuls of dead leaves and trying to wipe myself clean, rubbing leaves and grass into my shorts to clean them out as well—but I was just making things worse. Shit was getting on every part of my body. I was a teenaged boy in the woods with his shit-filled shorts on the ground, naked to the skies and the trees and the tears coming out of my face were hot and never-ending.

I wanted to die.

I decided I was going to survive in the woods. I was never going back to the reservoir and never going back to the campsite. I was going to stay out there in the wilderness and find a way to survive. I thought I could catch fish in the creek with my hands. I thought I knew how to make a fire with sticks. I thought that if I stuck it out, I would be able to outlast people and sneak back into the camp and grab a sleeping bag, maybe even a tent, and disappear. I sat on a downed tree and envisioned the whole thing—my parents would miss me for a little while, but they’d realize the house was quieter and totally forget about me, my friends wouldn’t care because they didn’t care to begin with, my sister would knock down the wall between out bedrooms and live like a princess—all while doing the best I could to not allow myself to hear what was happening, what was coming.

I could hear my psychologist calling out my name. I could hear him getting closer to where I was and all I wanted to do was hide myself from him. I didn’t want to be found, I wanted to live out my little delusion in the woods, I wanted to be Mowgli. I tried to drop down on the other side of the tree I was sitting on, but he clocked me from a few yards away.

“I can see you over there, you know?”

“How did you find me?”

“Well, you did leave behind a little trail. Sorry.”

“I can’t go back. Those fuckers are laughing at me.”

“I’m laughing at you, too. Want me to leave you out here, or do you want me to help clean you up so you can come back and eat with us?”

Instead of answering I started crying harder. He came over to me and pulled out a roll of toilet paper from his pack. He helped me clean myself up, laughing at me the entire time. Not because of what had happened, but because of the sheer ridiculousness of me shitting myself just from hitting the water the way I had, and how ridiculous it was of me to run off the way I had, like some scared child, which, really, I was. I was a scared child, on a camping trip with a bunch of other scared children.

******

Whenever I catch myself getting frustrated on a Brooklyn sidewalk—and believe me, even Gandhi would get frustrated trying to navigate the broken and aloof here in this city—I remind myself that I will one day be one of those old folks trying to move with a walker or a cane, with nobody to lean on. I remind myself that my parents are long gone, and unlike so many others, I will not have to deal with their aging, their slow decline. I do what I can for my elderly neighbors in my building. Whenever there is a storm or it snows heavily, I go knock on their doors and ask them if there is anything I can do for them, anything I can run to the store and get, prescriptions to pick up.

I fought, very loudly, with a pharmacist about filling a prescription for my father. Controlled substance laws are what they are, and I understand why they are needed, but when the script is from hospice care people, it’s probably best to fill it and let those trying to fill it get back to their dying. I remember pacing back and forth while on hold with my cell planted in my ear and dropping nuclear curses upon everyone’s homes. I remember seeing a little boy in a shopping cart looking my way, terrified, and me yelling “Don’t worry, kid! You’ll have to do this for your mother some fucking day! Take fucking notes!” while his mother tried to cover his ears. I remember the woman at the pharmacy mentioning the police. I remember spitting on something and kicking something. All I could think about in those angry moments was how he was dead already, but time was slow and painful and I just wanted to give him some relief. I never thought I’d be using his drugs as well. I never thought I’d be sneaking drops of his morphine into everything I was consuming. I never thought beyond the face I saw, the broken face, the dying face, of a man I never really knew but knew better than anyone I will ever know.

I remember him not having enough strength to use a goddamn walker to get to the bathroom in his own fucking home, and I remember having to hold his cock for him as he pissed into a plastic container, and I remember how he looked up at me as it was happening and how defeated he looked and how I must have looked the same fucking way as a child or as that kid trying to hide from everyone after I had shit on myself in the woods.

I remember it all.

******

I don’t have his leather jacket anymore. I don’t have the golf clubs he left to me, and I surely don’t have the set of tools he said were for me but I never saw them. I no longer wear Canoe. I haven’t shit myself—other than some severe food poisoning/sun poisoning in Hawaii earlier this year, but even then I was on the shower floor and close-to-death—since that camping trip. None of the other kids ever made fun of me for what happened. They all acted like it never occurred, and my psychologist only brought it up once, years later, when we met for sushi after my mother died. I have written sentence after sentence after sentence about my father and how his ghost lives in me, around me. I have written about how his eyes are my eyes, only a different color, and how his hands are my hands, and his mistakes are also my mistakes, and his death is ultimately a death of my own. I will probably never stop writing about him or what we went through or what happened or how it happened or what I do not remember or what I remember only in fragments. I will never stop missing him, nor will I ever be able to shake him.

I am him.

******

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Is It My Body?

ffffffflaaaaaaaaag

When you move you have the luxury of being able to reinvent yourself. Because I had a terrible speech impediment, I was not afforded this gift. You cannot get away with wearing a new identity if you sound like a tea kettle. You cannot get away with pretending to be tough and fearless when you get beat up for your lisp and your whistle.

You can, however, take some speech therapy and then try your best to learn how to fight, which is much better than a mask.

******

When I was a teen and girls became the only thing I wanted to touch or think about or know or explore or even be the fuck around, I was terrified. I was the dipshit kid who would end up on the phone with some other dude’s girlfriend when she was mad at him for something stupid and they would talk and talk and talk and I would smoke and smoke and listen and pine and pine and pine. The girls would always tell me how sweet I was. The girls would always ask me why I didn’t have a girlfriend. I would sit there with the receiver to my ear and my heart in my throat and I wouldn’t say anything at all, but I would secretly in my blood wish they would ask me to come over to their house, to sneak in through their window, to sneak into them.

I once tried to kiss a friend’s girl at a party when she was crying because he had said something mean to her. She was furious at me—both of her balled-up fists hit me right in the sternum as she yelled at me—and threatened to tell my friend what I had done. Instead of facing up to it, I just stopped hanging around them, making myself a ghost.

I was always a ghost.

I was always good at living in secret.

******

Sometimes when I look at my hands—and this is something I do often, this looking at the hands thing—I can see where they have been.  Faces they have touched. Work they have done, on cars, printing presses, grills, drywall, roofs, pulling weeds, choking assailants.

Are they my hands, or are they my teeth?

Are they my hands, or are they my father’s hands?

******

I was seventeen when I lost my virginity. I was seventeen and terrified and had no idea what I was doing and left everything up to my more experienced partner. She was a classmate. We had flirted for two years prior—science class and the backseats of Novas, coupled with marijuana and Alice Cooper led to lots of making out and frustrated grabbing and pawing through clothing—but I got kicked out of school and she called me and said she wanted to come over on an early Summer day. A friend rode his scooter over to her house and picked her up, bringing her back to my house. He shook my hand and palmed three condoms into my grip, then left.

I remember everything that happened that afternoon like it just happened ten minutes ago. The way the pot we smoked just hung in the air in my room, the way my waterbed sloshed back and forth, the way it felt the very moment she put me into herself, the dumb shit I mumbled out of my terrified mouth, the way she asked me, mid-stroke, if I was a virgin.

She smiled when I told her that I was.

After we had sex, we spent the rest of the afternoon in my room with her splayed across my bed, naked, while I read her Allen Ginsberg poems and we smoked more and more pot. She’d laugh at lines that she could tell I was uncomfortable reading aloud. She’d reach out with her hand and pull me back down to her to kiss me, to touch me, to slip me back inside. She’d smile at me as we romped and smile at me as I shuddered and smile at me as I crushed up stolen amphetamines for us to snort.

She had to leave around dusk because her folks were coming home and she wasn’t supposed to be out anywhere after getting busted with some hash on her. I called my friend and he came back and picked her up on his scooter to take her home. He winked at me as they rode off.

******

When I was in my early twenties I worked at a record store. My coworkers and I used to chomp at the bit for shoplifters—store policy was such that we could apprehend them, chase them down if they ran from the store. More often than not, because I was ex-military, as soon as another employee suspected someone of trying to jack a used cassette tape they would alert me. I would station myself in the area of the store closest to the doors, acting like a customer or acting as though I was doing some mundane task, just waiting for that moment when the ‘lifter would attempt to flee.

Once, a gang member tried to push his way through me and a wall of other employees. His neck a series of stringy veins trying to pop and guttural sounds meant to intimidate. I was the closest to him, and with every push he made forward, I pushed back into him. He was so strong, so focused. He tried to rake my eyes with a free hand and then that is when I snapped—I reached out with my right hand, closing it across his throat and leaving my feet. We lurched toward the floor and by the time we had hit it, he had pulled a small knife free from his waist and was digging it into my thigh. My hand closed tighter and tighter. His face crimson and tears.

When the rest of my coworkers pried us apart, he had carved a decent chunk of meat free from my leg. They searched his pockets. All that violence over a used Jodeci cassette going for a paltry $2.99.

I felt nothing as it was happening. They were not my hands.

******

She and I never had sex again—that one afternoon was basically it other than phone calls and plans that would never come together—and I thought I would never see her again, but one early morning I was standing in a grocery store with a girl I was dating and there she was, working in the bakery. When she saw me she tried to hide. When I saw her I tried to die. The girl I was dating dropped my hand and started asking me a storm of questions about who she was and what happened between us and raising her voice and all I could do was stand there like a dumb oaf and try to look around the bakery equipment to see her eyes, to see her face, to see if she would smile.

The girl I was dating dragged me out of the store. I never saw her—S, my first–again.

The ghost got ghosted.

******

POSTCARD FROM THE DESERT, 1988: Thrown from the back of a moving pick-up in the middle of the desert only to come around near a huge fire surrounded by a bunch of teens dancing and drinking and a bottle of cheap tequila in my lap and on my lips.

******

I tried to burn Black Flag bars into my upper arm when I was sixteen, using a piece of a coat hanger, a lighter, and some wire cutters. They were not my favorite band but I wanted all the kids at my school to see how punk rock I was—it was a really important thing at that part of my life—because I was getting tired of being lumped in with the heshers and the rockers. I did the first strike-brand and then chickened out on the rest. I never even showed the one burn to anyone. I told my mother I burned my arm getting something out of the oven. She told me to keep rubbing vinegar into it and that the scar would fade away.

******

After I lost my virginity and a little time had passed, I had a girlfriend who was very sexual and demanding. She was older than me—I was still seventeen but she was twenty, from Minnesota, and way more punk rock than I could ever have been—and liked to boss me around all the time. I didn’t care because I was a seventeen year old kid having sex with a twenty year old that everyone was afraid of and that made me feel kind of different. She was mean and funny and mean and mean. She liked to belittle me in front of her friends and make fun of me for not knowing how to drive. She taught me a lot, though.

At the end of our short relationship I got very sick. She came over to my house one day when nobody was around and pretended like she cared about my well-being—she made me some soup and sat with me in my room while I coughed and hacked, going through my records and telling me which ones weren’t punk enough—until she decided she needed to have sex with me, even in my sickly state.

She put me in her mouth but I didn’t stir. She got angry and bit down hard. Then she slipped a condom on me and tried to put me inside of her but that wasn’t working. She started to yell at me and punch me in the head and face.

“You’re gonna have to learn some day that you have a lot to learn, you sad piece of shit.”

She pulled on her pants and stomped on a few of my records before storming out. I never saw her again but I hear her all the time.

******

The first band I was ever in did a terrible cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” We tried so very hard to punk it up, but that is not the worst part. The worst part is that when we were in a recording studio recording a bunch of our songs we did that song but instead of singing the original lyrics, we turned it into some kind of homophobic sing-along. I remember going home early that day—we recorded overnight because it was way cheaper and we were punks and didn’t have any fucking money, man—and popping the cassette master into my headphones, listening to our original songs and feeling great and thinking the future was a big river and then that song came on and I heard all of the terrible things the four of us were yelling into microphones and I felt so very sick inside. I kept on thinking about what idiots we were, and about how even if anyone liked our other songs, that one dumb thing we did would follow us forever. I never said anything to the rest of the band about how I felt because I felt so gross and stupid.

I am pretty sure those recordings are nowhere to be found in the world.

******

Wearing a uniform is something everyone does, especially those who claim they will never do such a thing.

******

One of the last nights I was a drinker I wandered up and down Ave A begging people to punch me in the face. At one point I was wagging around one hundred dollars and screaming that I would give it to anyone that would knock me out. Maybe it was because of how insane I looked and sounded, but nobody would do it. I ended up somehow finding my way into Koreatown and a massage parlor and that money was gone as quick as I was because the woman who massaged me was beautiful and kind and she worked it all out—the anger and the shame and the Sean that needed to die, the Sean that no longer needed to be a ghost.

******

Sometimes I find it kind of funny that I have seen so much blood in my life and here I am, a man with something wrong in his blood.

The body betrays.

******

“All souls must undergo transmigration and the souls of men revolve like a stone which is thrown from a sling, so many turns before the final release…Only those who have not completed their perfection must suffer the wheel of rebirth by being reborn into another human body.” — Zohar

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Forming

I am realizing that my desire to be known and know is based in a desire for respect and not need. I am realizing that my need is small. I am realizing that my respect is limitless. I am realizing that my reticence is not birthed from fear, but from an ability to feel a misguided need or a misunderstood want that hums just underneath the melody.

******

[18NOV2012]

I have come to a terrible and incredibly freeing understanding with myself:

Without the death of my father, cleanliness/sobriety/abstinence would have been impossible.

At the center of my desire for self-destruction was a whirring thing, a ticking voice that echoed while belittling.

******

[2000]

A young woman who worked for me was having some issues with an older man who was stalking her. He came to the restaurant once and I could see the change in her, the way her entire body went rigid and her eyes clouded over. I watched as he purposely sat in the area of the restaurant she was working, and as he followed her every moment with his eyes, smirking. She did not speak to him; she only made gestures with her hands and yelled at him with her face. As he was leaving the restaurant, I followed him out the front door and very calmly told him never to come back. He just stood there staring at me with the same smirk.

I underestimated his resolve.

He continued to harass her. At one point he slashed all the tires on her car and I ended up giving her a ride home. During the ride, she kept on crying. I told her to go through the music I had in the truck and put in whatever she wanted. She started laughing at me, asking me why I had so much jazz and punk rock.

“That’s pretty much what I am — jazz and punk rock.”

She laughed, took a smoke out of my pack and stared out the window while Coltrane smoothed out the rough.

“You are here as a protector. You are a gift.”

******

[2012]

Recently I read about the suicide of someone I once knew a little bit. Because this person had a murmuring within them to try and expand and accept life on terms that went beyond the surface and paleness of outwardly human appearances, the suicide ended up plastered all over the Internet. Comment sections ablaze with disdain and judgment. Snark-filled sentences reducing a life to assumptive anecdotes and hardly-concealed ignorance to the pain one might hold in the chest, and how freeing it might be to refuse that pain any longer.

Community is never what we believe in our hearts it can be.

This human being transformed. This human being was brave enough to look inward and upward and risk the life that everyone else has and takes for granted for the life that felt right for them. This human being could easily be labeled “unstable,” or even “fucked in the head.” This human being was a human, transforming itself into what it felt as if it should have always been allowed to be.

So many broken and lost children, looking for love in all of the most obscene places.

******

After I was fired from that job, the young woman was the only person who reached out to me. She left a voicemail thanking me for being kind to her, and told me that she felt lost there without me and had quit after a couple of shifts. She left her phone number and told me to call her so we could catch up, get coffee.

I was already working in a different world, a world where I was surrounded by people who felt like they were pushing their envelopes—both spiritually and physically—through body modification. Everywhere I looked I saw flesh: tattooed, branded, pierced, scarred, transformed and shifting. Most work days involved exposed genitals, skin glistening with fresh blood, endorphins flooding the air around me. Dust from machined steel in my eyes and mouth and lungs. Every day was filled with a soundtrack of Bacchanalian cries and ecstatic moans.

Did I tell you about all of the blood?

There was a lot of blood.

******

[Ongoing and Unfolding]

There is always a knife. Whether it is seen, unseen, or unknown—it is present. The knife can be metaphysical. The knife can be rusty. The knife can be fresh out of the shower and smiling at you in the mirror. The knife can be a combination of syllables and breaths. The knife can be a screwdriver, driven into the meat of your thigh by someone who felt the need to attack you because you did not show them any sign of fear. The knife can be the blinking light that tells you that you were so fucking high you forgot to get gasoline. The knife can be an exploded view drawing of your heart, taped to the inside of the door to the medicine cabinet. The knife can be you. The knife has been me.

Motive, whether hidden or implied or finally unveiled, is always at the center of conspiracy.

******

[1986]

When I first started openly—walking out of the house with a joint in my mouth or defiantly drinking a beer on the couch while watching cartoons—dabbling with drugs and danger, my mother thought it wise to try and find a mentor for me, someone to guide me and report back on me to her.

My risk-taking behavior had led to being brought home in the middle of the night shackled in the back of squad cars, to being removed from a school and having to beg to be allowed to attend another. To me, this just seemed the normal trajectory of exploration. How else was I supposed to figure out what the fuck I was? Was I supposed to just keep my head down and act like every other kid, mindless, hopeless and living in a shell of fake faith and under the weight of the albatross of expectation and potential?

My mother chose a mentor based on hearsay from a co-worker—this woman claimed her son was a reformed “bad kid” and would be a good influence on me—and slyly set it up to have their family over for a cook-out so he and I could meet and he could size me up.

I could tell I was being set-the-fuck-on up just by the way my mother said she was really hoping he and I would click.

******

At night I was working construction on an open and bare space, converting it to look like a doctor’s office/travel agency. This was for a friend I had met through the blood and steel people. This was her grand and insane thesis project for her MFA. A few of us would go to the space and drink while framing walls and hanging sheetrock and I always referred to her as “The Mother Fucking Artist,” which would make her laugh and smile.

Making people new to your meadow laugh and smile is an important thing. Much more important than anything anyone else will ever tell you.

A lot of the chatter and noise was about the formation of a church. I had just left a situation that was under the cloud of the word cult, a mystery school in a condo with a poorly-hidden hum of agendas ice cold wrapped beneath the guise of Gnosticism. The church being spoken about by the blood and steel people started as a joke—a way to stop work-place persecution for visible tattoos and choices made—and had shape-shifted into something an arrogant and self-serving few thought could benefit many. I tried to stay in the cut, an observer, but ego always breaks out of the shell when confronted by an affront to actual wisdom and good will.

That part of the story could and should—and someday will—become a book. For now it is a knife.

The young woman who used to work for me lived near to the space we were transforming. I had spoken to her earlier in the day and told her where it was, and told her that she was more than welcome to come by and hang out, drink some coffee. I had been so lonely. I felt this burn for human touch of any kind that didn’t involve some kind of manipulation or some kind of hidden hum. I wanted a hug from someone who saw me as me and not me as they needed me to be.

I was atop a ladder screwing two-by-fours into a wall to create a false wall when I heard her laugh beneath me. She was holding two very large coffees. She was smiling and glowing.

“I know this is going to sound very strange, but my mother asked me to tell you that you should give me three hundred dollars. It’s important.”

All I could do was say yes.

******

The mentor candidate grew up in Nebraska, playing eight-man football and listening to KISS records. He had a child. He had been arrested a few times for really petty and dumbass things as a teen. He quit school to do the right thing and try and help raise his daughter but he was a natural born fuck-up and that didn’t work out for him so well. He was only allowed to see his child during supervised visits. He had a bad habit of dating girls who were too young for him. He had a bad habit of fucking up at work. He had a bad habit of being a really bad liar.

These are all things I was able to pull out of him within the first ten minutes after getting him high in my bedroom directly after meeting him, while the two families converged and ate and made nice with one another.

Nothing like marijuana and barbequed chicken to take the well-intentioned plan of a parent and leave it a pile of glitter on the carpet.

******

I barely had enough money to survive, but I gave her the three hundred. My truck had been repossessed already, and I was smart enough the morning I was fired to make sure my rent was paid up for two months. She was shocked when we walked a few blocks over to an ATM machine and I pulled the money out and handed it to her.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what the money is for? Aren’t you curious?”

“Nope. That’s not how prosperity works.”

“You really aren’t anything like I thought you were when you hired me.”

“I know.”

We took our time walking back to the space, smoking cigarettes in silence while sipping the coffees. The air was getting cooler and the sky was much darker than it had been and the stars felt closer and alive. I felt something inside of me. I wanted to hold her, to kiss her. I wanted to know if the light in her eyes stayed the same after, or if they muddied and mulled. I wanted to know her warmth.

I went back to work on the space with the blood and steel people and she hugged me goodbye in a way that told me the things I wanted to know were things she already knew and I did not need to know them in the way that I burned.

When I got home with the sun there was another voicemail, thanking me and telling me that in three days I was to go to Sedona for her mother’s wedding. A ride would be arranged for me and I should be ready by noon on that day.

I said yes quietly to myself and went to sleep.

******

[2:11AM EST]

There are times when I am completely overwhelmed recognizing the vast and unbelievable number of people there are in the world and how each one of us has something inside or outside of us that is familiar and alien to one another.

******

Things with the mentor candidate progressed in a way that my mother and his mother felt good about: he took me to see auto racing, an air show, playing mini-golf with his supposedly do-gooder pals that weren’t such do-gooders when I got them high as a giraffes ass and sold them amphetamines stolen from a friend’s mother. We’d be out and he would try and get me to talk to groups of young girls, so he and his supposedly do-gooder friends could try and get some head. He’d call my mother and keep me out way later than she wanted me to be out because I knew where he could score some coke and she’d go for it because he was the mentor candidate and she bought all the way in.

One night he took me out to see some horrible local metal band he really liked—he had met one of the dudes at a pool hall and said he was “fuckin’ cool as shit, man”—at some really fucked-up indoor soccer arena. The bouncers weren’t going to let me in because I didn’t have any identification on me, but he somehow managed to talk them into letting me inside. He could be charming if it was good for him. He tried to pull off some sort of street tough swagger, but I think most people saw through it as easily as I did and realized it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Inside the arena was a sea of hairspray and leather. I was so high it was impossible for me to tell gender. He was so high his jaw was the end of a loaf of bread hanging off of his face.

As soon as the terrible metal band started to play, he went nuts. Sweat flying off of him as he shook and headbanged. Hoots and hollers. Lots of “FUCK YEAH” and lots of “isn’t this fuckin’ cool, man?” action coming out of his face. I tried to watch one of the guitar players but was distracted by how much he looked like a girl I had put my fingers inside of in the back of a Chevelle and then I thought about that girl and how I took my fingers out of her and put them in my mouth and she kissed me hard and made a sound from the back of her throat while she did it. I stood there among all of the metal people and that was all I could think about and the erection was completely noticed by some girls standing near us.

I smiled and then shrugged while nodding my head toward the mentor candidate.

When the band stopped he was still seizing and yelling. The girls had moved closer. He noticed them and then started unfurling his rap on them—all of the “oh, yeah—this is sort of my kid brother and we have a car do you girls wanna get some beers and go hang out somewhere?” shit—while I just stood there, remembering how my fingers tasted that night.

******

I told the blood and steel people that I needed a day off to take care of something personal. They didn’t pry too much, but the Mother Fucking Artist did and I made a mistake and told her what was happening. She then proceeded to ask me a lot of questions while I was not only high on paint fumes and running on empty from hanging sheetrock but also high on a fistful of benzos and some weed.

This became a knife later on, when I least expected it.

******

[1992]

A cell on a ship anchored off the coast of a city—separated from the other cells and the other prisoners—is as good a place as any to have a nightmare about a future you who doesn’t get to hug anyone or say you love anyone or breathe peacefully.

******

I ended up in a car with a very nice husband and wife. They showed up right on time and I stamped out my cigarette and got in the car like a hitchhiker and introduced myself. They had a young boy with them who was very quiet and wise and I could feel him as he kept on studying my profile while I looked out the window on the climb up the desert to Sedona. The adults in the car knew my name and knew I was the former boss of the young woman. They had been told kind things about me.

None of this felt forced to me. None of it felt out of the ordinary.

I woke up as we pulled up to the house. I had been asleep in the car for a while, so I let the family and the boy go inside ahead of me as I stayed out by the street and smoked, trying to shake the fog in my head. I somehow knew the boy was not their child.

I walked through the front door of the house and everyone who was gathered stopped talking and a woman I knew to be her mother smiled at me and started to walk toward me.

“The most important guest of all is here. We can start in a few minutes.”

She hugged me and took my hand and led me out to the back yard. She and I stood there, looking at a pond. She was quiet and radiant and held my hand so tenderly that it didn’t even bother me. Here was the human contact I had been burning for.

“Thank you for the pond, Sean.”

“You are very welcome. It looks beautiful.”

She squeezed my hand and hummed something and then I felt a burning sensation between my ribs under my heart and I got a little wobbly and she squeezed my hand a little tighter and put her mouth next to my ear.

“Your mother wanted me to tell you Happy Birthday, Sean. She loves you very much.”

I lost my breath but felt immense. The tears that came out were a relief and I was unashamed. The burning under my ribs stayed and moved around inside of me and felt like it was warming my blood. I laughed a little. Sighed a little. Hugged her again.

“Come inside and see how beautiful my daughter is?”

We walked back inside and through all of the people, down a hall and there she was—sitting on a bed in a robe and writing into a tiny notebook. Her eyes lit up when she saw me and she jumped up from the bed. Her robe popped open and I could see her breasts and a scar in the middle of her chest. She pulled the robe closed and hugged me. She cried into my shirt and her mother left the room.

“Thank you for being here. I don’t think this wedding would be something I could stomach if you hadn’t made it.”

“You told me I had to be here, so I am here. Are you okay?”

“I am now, yes. Did my mother give you the message?”

All I could do was smile and say yes.

******

[As Always, Forever and Constant]

I spent the majority of my life trying to make someone proud of me when they were incapable of even being proud of themself. This is apparently normal, but still frightening as fuck. Even when that person would mumble “I am proud of you” it was far from enough. The words never connected, they just hung out in space and evaporated right before my eyes. The alcohol and the pills and the cocaine and the women—oh God, all the women, I am so sorry—and the marijuana and the heroin and the amphetamines and the sugar and the sadness and the anger and the violence and the tears were all coming from the same sad little hole in myself that not even Hans Brinker could stop from leaking out.

I know now that the hole was made by me.

The illusion of control is just as poisonous as the need for control.

******

After the night with the mentor candidate and the girls—ending up in someone’s apartment blowing lines of methamphetamine and drinking beers and having some random dude show up and pull a gun and put it to the temple of the mentor candidate and the girls run screaming and I just sit there silently until I rise from the chair I am sitting in and calmly take the gun from the random dude and walk outside and throw it into the street where it goes off and shatters the window of a parked car—I had to concoct some way to get my well-meaning and loving mother to allow me to cut him loose. This became easy when we were invited to his family’s house for a meal and his mother lit up a joint of her own.

My mother was a lot of things, but she could never stand hypocrisy.

She never tried to find me a mentor again.

Whether I needed one or not is still up to the jury.

******

Missing pieces are always people. People are always missing.

******

The wedding was beautiful and the young woman looked happy and her mother was a glow and a smile and kindness. All of her people were uplifted by the wedding and the room felt light and fair. Everyone hung around for a while after, and as they were all leaving her new father came to me and put a set of keys in my hand.

“Use this car to take you home. We’d really like it if you took our children with you for the night. Can you do that for us?”

All I could do was shake his hand and nod yes.

The young boy was her brother. He had autism and a congenital heart defect, the same heart defect the young woman had. She told me these things as her brother slept on my couch, my cat curled into him. We were in my bed with the door open, still wearing what we had worn to her mother’s wedding and curled into one another and processing so many things that one tries to process when there really isn’t anything one should waste any time trying to process.

She cried when she told me that the man who had come to the restaurant was a former professor who she had a relationship with and she broke it off when he gave her herpes and tried to claim she had been the one. She cried when she told me that she had four heart surgeries for a faulty valve that would always be faulty. She cried when she told me that her mother used to be normal but after the fourth surgery—the one where her mother was so depressed she consulted a shaman and took peyote to try and see her daughter’s future—her mother became this new person, a person she knew and a person she trusted but also a person who spoke in riddles and a person she no longer felt close to, was no longer her mother.

We stayed that way for hours. We stayed that way until not only did the sun rise, but all the doors were opened. She asked me about my life, about my mother, asked me why I no longer spoke to my father, asked me why I was so sad and so kind and so lonely. I tried my best to answer with my real self and not the self I used when someone tried to get inside.

She kissed me goodbye when she and her brother were leaving. I never heard from her again.

******

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Punch The Geek, or, “Adjacent Angles Are Supplementary”

This motherfucking heat is something else. This motherfucking heat is making me irritable and it is causing the circuitry in my head to go a little haywire. Haywire as in — a little paranoia, coupled with some anxiety and an added dash of awkward nostalgia.

Nostalgia. That’s the oil that greases the writing engine. For me, at least. Probably for a lot of folks.

******

This dude named Gary was standing in my garage. Our drummer had driven all the way across town to pick him up and bring him back to my house so he could listen to our band and see if he wanted to book us to play at the club he had just opened. Gary was what you would call a little sketchy. Gary was from Los Angeles, and he was shifty and had a shaved head and was wearing filthy jeans, Vans, and a Mickey Mouse shirt that looked like it had seen far better days. Gary didn’t bother asking—he saw my pack of smokes on top of my amp, picked it up and pulled two of them out, putting one behind his ear while lighting the other. I didn’t say anything to him because he was sketchy and because I didn’t want to blow whatever this was—an audition or whatnot—by being a greedy prick to a dude who was standing in my garage ready to decide our fate after watching us play.

Gary looked way more nervous than we did. Must have been something about unknown territory. He looked even more nervous when my father came into the garage to tell us that we had one hour before he was going to light all of our equipment on fire and send everyone out in ambulances. Gary looked like he was going to shit his pants right there, the tough punk rock guy from the brutal streets of Los Angeles, afraid of my father. When my father went back inside, the rest of us broke out laughing. That was just how my pop was—he loved to fuck with people he didn’t know.

We—Grave Mistake—all made eye contact with one another and got into our respective positions. We had already worked out the set we were going to play for Gary a couple of hours earlier, and we were ready to melt his face.

******

The first time I ever really ran away from home, I ended up staying with a friend of mine who had dropped out of school and taken his GED and was now taking college classes. We weren’t that close, but we seemed to dig one another. We met through some friends we had in common—a guy I had worked with introduced me to him and another guy I ended up working with—and we both played guitar and loved punk rock and the early thrash metal bands. This kid lived with his mother but was basically on his own 24/7. She was never there and when she was she seemed to be off in her own world, not paying a lick of attention to anything he did at all. She didn’t even realize I had been staying with them until the beginning of the second week or so.

While I was hiding out over there I stopped going to school. I pretty much spent my day running around with him and his girlfriend—she was so punk rock she had a fake cockney accent and wore so much eye make-up that she looked like a raccoon—hanging out at the mall while they shoplifted and bummed smokes and spare change off of people. They’d sometimes disappear and leave me hanging alone in the food court, only to come back with marbles for eyes and a wobble in their gait. I just figured they were tired or had just found some secret place in the mall to get it on and were in a post-coital haze.

It did start to dawn on me that I was wearing out my welcome with my friend, though. After a few days he started to get short with me, and his girlfriend would sneer at me whenever I would enter into a conversation. At one point they tried, but failed, to sort of set me up with one of her friends. This friend was not a very nice person — she never stopped whining or talking shit about people, and she had an air about her that said she came from a home that was worse than the one I had just run away from. She was pretty, but the scowl on her face made her look mean. We all went to a small desert party one night and she got very drunk and tried to make out with me, but I brushed her off. I was not very slick about it. She ended up puking on me in the back seat of someone’s car on the way to my friend’s girl’s house. She passed out with her head kind of lolling in my lap with her puke and the other people in the car were making fun of me and I was mortified not just for myself, but for her.

When we arrived at my friend’s girl’s house, we carried the other girl inside and put her on the couch. My friend told me to stay out there in the living room and keep an eye on the passed-out girl.

******

Gary isn’t watching anyone else but me.

I can feel his eyes on me. Every movement I make—and with a guitar strapped to my body and volume and a rhythm section, I move a lot, uncontrollably so, like a kitten shot-up to the gills with methamphetamine—Gary’s eyes make as well.  We move violently as a band through our entire set of songs, cutting out twenty-five or so minutes of careening teen aggression and distortion from the ether, our limbs on fire and our own eyes glazed in that holyfuckingshitwhatdidwejustdo kind of way. We are spent. Totally tapped-the-fuck-on-out. We all look at one another and psychically acknowledge that this sketchy Gary dude just fell in love with us and we will be getting booked to play show after show after show.

I try not to make eye contact with Gary. Our singer is talking to him, telling him we will play with anyone as long as it is not a racist band. He is telling him we’d love to even play with all the straight edge bands—we just want to play. Our drummer is dicking around with his kit, smirking because he knows we just destroyed this dude. Our bass player keeps on nodding at me—this is something he and I will do for years, the nod that lets one another know we’re good and we work well together and we know how to rock—and I toss him the pack of smokes from the top of the amplifier.

Gary is now standing directly in front of me.

“Dude. What’s your name?”

“Sean.”

“Shit, Sean. You are fucking ridiculous, man. How do you do that shit with only one guitar and make it sound like three of them are playing?”

“I don’t know.”

Gary just stands there looking through me. Gary is making me uncomfortable. I shuffle my feet a little and turn to grab the pack of smokes I had tossed to the bass player. That’s when it happens.

“Do you guys think it would be cool if you played one of your harsher songs and let me sing?”

We all just look at each other. Nobody moves.

“I have my own lyrics I can sing over the top—I just think you guys fucking kick ass and I haven’t been able to jam with anyone for a long time. Is it cool? Can we jam one song?”

We all look over at our singer. He looks at all of us. He shrugs. Gary grabs the microphone. Gary leans into me, far too close.

“I want to steal you for my own band, Sean. I’m going to show you why right now.”

We lurch into one of our songs and Gary pretty much turns into a monster. He has the microphone halfway down his throat and he is crouched down like a crab and he is screaming and the veins in his face are huge and we sound like a completely different beast. Gary’s voice is a jet fighter. The drummer looks up at me from behind his kit with a look on his face that is half bemused and half whatthefuckishappeninghere. The bass player is trying to stay in line with the shaky time the drummer is laying down. I look over at the singer and his arms are folded across his chest and he looks back at me and nods his head as I rip into a very distorted and evil-sounding guitar lead as Gary falls to the garage floor and looks as though he is in the middle of some kind of seizure. The song ends.

Gary is still on the floor.

******

The passed-out girl is snoring and she sounds just like my father.

I am sitting on the floor next to the couch with a bucket, just in case she wakes up and needs to puke again. The light from the television flickers epileptically, muffled voices and used car commercials. I found a pack of smokes under the couch and keep firing off one after the other, using an empty beer can as an ashtray. The light from the television looks spooky in the hanging smoke. I smell like desert and puke and vodka. I already tried to scrub the puke from my jeans with a washcloth and some dish soap, but the smell hangs on me. I even snorted some warm salt water to try and rinse the stink from my nose, but it didn’t seem to work.

Hungry, I get up and go open the refrigerator to hunt for scraps. I know this isn’t my house, but I have not eaten for most of the day and need to put something in my stomach or I will end up just like the passed-out girl, puking and stinking up the place. I find a container that has some spaghetti and meatballs in it, and I rinse off a fork and start eating it, cold. I can feel the sauce on my face but I do not care. I turn to open up the refrigerator again and my friend is standing there, stripped to his boxer shorts.

“What the fuck are you doing, Sean?”

“I was hungry.”

“We’re not even supposed to be here—her mom will be home from her night shift in half an hour. You need to go home.”

“I don’t have a home, dude.”

“Yes, you do. You should go home. Seriously.”

“I don’t want to. I don’t want to live there anymore.”

My friend just stands there, staring at me. His girlfriend comes up behind him in a tiny tank-top and her panties. Her bright orange hair is a nightmare around her head. Her raccoon eyes are runny. There is blood in the crook of her elbow.

“Are you eating my mother’s food, Sean? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“I was hungry?”

She makes a hissing sound from between her teeth. My friend takes the container from my hand and puts it in the sink. He picks up the phone receiver from where it is and hands it to me.

“Call your parents and tell them you want to come home.”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“Fine. I’ll call them myself.”

“Please don’t? I’m just not ready to go home and have my ass kicked right now. I’m drunk and my guitar and shit is at your house.”

“Fuck your guitar, dude. I can bring it to you tomorrow. You need to leave.”

I don’t know how I started crying, but I totally started crying. Not full-on childish weeping, but grown-up type tears that just leak out and glisten under kitchen lights. My friend puts his hand on my shoulder then he hugs me close to him. He smells like sweat and something other. Sex. Her. She sees us hugging and me crying and she stomps her feet and punches my friend in the back.

“You promised me you would get rid of this fucking kid. Why are you hugging him? This is bullshit!”

“I’m hugging him because he is my friend. Don’t be a bitch. Your friend is passed out and smells like fucking puke and death. At least he’s not afraid to cry.”

“Fuck you. My mom is coming home. We need to do something about this shit. Now.”

******

Gary’s club is in a warehouse in an industrial park in a shitty part of town between the riverbed and the airport.  There is nothing in the area but warehouses and giant earth-moving vehicles. To the south are what passes for projects. To the east is a road the runs along the river to a university.  To the north is the airport. The closest place to buy a soda is a Circle K more than two miles away to the west and that Circle K has bulletproof glass.

The inside of the club is bare brick and concrete. The stage is bare wood that looks like it was scrabbled together from old pallets and other scrap material from the street. There are red curtains on either side of the stage and the brick is spattered with ridiculous graffiti—band logos and bullshit punk rock colloquialisms—half of them misspelled. There is a giant spotlight on a stand near the back of the concrete floor pointing toward the stage. The lights affixed to the front of the stage look stolen and wired together in a haphazard way.

We’re here early to load in our gear and do a soundcheck, but Gary is nowhere to be found. The only people around are a ridiculously large skinhead who goes by Kong and a dude in a wheelchair who goes by Kirk The Crippled Jerk. Kirk is the dude who has been drawing all of the flyers for the shows at Gary’s club. Kirk doesn’t have use of his arms, so he makes them by putting pens and pencils in his mouth and using his head and neck to move them around on the page. They keep on telling us Gary is on his way and that we should just take our gear to the stage and set up.

While we’re on the stage setting up our gear, Gary comes bounding through the door with some long-haired hippie guy in his wake. The hippie comes up on the stage and starts moving microphones around and setting us up for the show. Gary is in the middle of a very animated conversation with Kong and Kirk in the middle of the concrete floor. I try not to eavesdrop and try not to make any kind of eye contact with Gary. The hippie is standing near the amplifier I am using and he is looking at me with a weird look on his face.

“Gary tells me you’re a bad motherfucker, kid. Is this all you play through—this little combo amp?”

“Yeah. It’s not even mine. My history teacher loaned it to me.”

“Don’t worry, kid. Gary told me to make sure to crank you up in the mix.”

I don’t say anything else to the hippie. I just tune my guitar and look at my band and try not to think about how awkward this sketchy Gary dude is, and about how uncool it is of him to blatantly act like I should be playing with him and not my friends. We do a quick soundcheck by fucking around with a couple of cover songs. I watch as Kong pushes Kirk The Crippled Jerk across the giant empty floor in his wheelchair to the sound of us dicking around with a medley of Misfits songs.

******

I am pretending to be asleep.

I am on my friend’s girl’s sheetless waterbed, next to the passed-out girl who is still snoring and continued to snore as we carried her into the bedroom. There is a puddle of drool forming on the rubber mattress next to her face. She still smells like puke and now the puke smell is mixing with the smells in the room—cigarette smoke, sex, sweat and a cage full of rats in the corner—and even though I am pretending to be asleep I feel like puking, too.

I can hear my friend trying to goad his girl into sex. They are on the floor in the far corner of the room, just out of my vision. She is sitting with her back to the wall and he has his back to me and he keeps on muttering what sound like sweet things to her, trying to get her to fuck him. He has pulled her tank-top off of her, and in the darkness I can see her breasts, much whiter and larger than I thought they would be. She keeps on looking over his shoulder to make sure that we—passed-out girl and myself—are asleep. I watch as my friend leans back on his elbows and then her head disappears into his lap. He groans and I hear mouth-night-sounds. I put my hand in front of my face so they cannot see my eyes. I can feel myself getting an erection and then I feel passed-out girl’s leg across my hip as she snorts and rolls over.

I am pretending to be asleep.

She lifts her head from his lap and rolls herself out on the floor in front of him. I watch as he enters her and his strokes are slow and deliberate. Her shock of orange hair is glowing and her breasts are moving around and he keeps moving in and out of her as her head stays fixed on the ceiling, mouth agape and half-words coming out of it accent-free. I am pretending to be asleep and I am watching them through my hand. He finishes quickly and dismounts, rolling over onto the floor, close to where I am in the sheetless waterbed. She gets up and pulls her tank-top back on and goes out of the room to the bathroom, leaving the door open and a sliver of light from the hall illuminates my open eyes. He reaches up with his hand and grabs hold of the hand in front of my face.

“Did you enjoy the show, Sean?”

I am pretending to be asleep.

******

We play first. The club is surprisingly populated for a new place that is so far out of the way for every kid who normally goes to shows in Phoenix. Granted, a bunch of them are our friends, but it is still nice to stand on a stage and see a lot of heads out there in the dark. We played the night before with Social Distortion so we have a little bit of a swagger to us, the singer taking the microphone in his hand and barking at the crowd as we turn some other local band’s semi-hit into our own little intro—the members of that band are in the crowd, so it is especially sweet to see their faces.

We sound incredibly loud in this large room, with each chord struck bouncing back at us through the crowd. Every thump of the bass drum makes the shoddy stage feel like it is about to collapse. We are on fire, though—ripping through our set with reckless energy and violent fun. I break a string during a guitar lead on our third song, which causes a slight hiccup and I get my other guitar out to finish off the set. The hippie sound guy mumbles something through the monitor directly in front of me, but I cannot make out his words. We start up our next song and suddenly there is a strobe light going off on us, blinding us.

We stop playing.

“Turn that fucking strobe light off — we’re not Ted Nugent, asshole!”

I cannot remember who said it. All I remember is laughing and starting to play “Cat Scratch Fever” and then we went back into our own shit. I remember the crowd moving in waves and people shouting and remember that at different moments during our set we all looked at each other with huge and demented grins on our acne-riddled faces.

To this day, nothing beats that feeling of playing in a band with your friends and having a fucking ball.

******

The next day we are back at my friend’s place and I am bugging out because I have a guitar lesson and cannot miss it and nobody will give me a ride. My friend is indifferent to me at this point, and I am a little freaked out about what happened in the dark of his girl’s room and how nonchalantly he touched me and mocked me for watching them fuck. I felt exposed and like I was about to be abandoned.

“Dude, why don’t you stop being a pussy and just walk to your lesson? It’s not that far.”

I felt my face getting hot.

“We’ll come pick you up after. Just walk.”

We shared a joint and then I put my guitar in the heavy-as-fuck hardshell case and left. From his place to the guitar shop was four miles. In the Arizona sun, four miles is like four hundred miles, especially when you are a teen who has run away from home and you are high and thirsty. I almost gave up and walked home, but I didn’t want to give in and do what everyone else was telling me I should do. I am sure I looked ridiculous to people who were driving—a goofy kid lugging a guitar case covered in punk rock stickers, stumbling along the side of the road all covered in sweat. I kept on thinking about my friend’s girl’s breasts the entire walk, about how they moved to and fro as he did and then I thought about the way the room smelled after they did what they did and about how quickly I was able to force myself asleep after he grabbed my hand to fuck with me and about how when I woke up the passed-out girl asked me if I wanted to fuck and I just got up and left the room.

When I finally walked into the guitar shop, I saw my mother standing there talking to my guitar teacher.

******

Stay cool, motherfuckers.

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