Category Archives: The Book

On The Rocks

I think a lot about the best drink order I ever witnessed.

I was at the late, great Alcatraz, a metal bar on the corner of St. Mark’s and A one evening in the mid-1990s, and a disgusted looking gentleman walked in and slumped down on the bar stool next to me.

“Glass’a shit on the rocks”, he grumbled to the bartender.

A moment later, the bartender grabbed a bottle of the cheapest whiskey they had in the place, threw some ice in a rocks glass, and poured the gentleman his drink.

Before drinking even a drop of it, the look of disgust had disappeared from the gentleman’s face, replaced by a smile, the kind of smile a person gets when they feel truly understood by another person.

“Thank you”, he said.

Capability

I think I’d be a fairly capable person, if I were also a healthy person.

The latter tends to do a hell of a job of making me forget the former sometimes.

I can’t quite decide if it’s more galling that I usually forget how capable I can be, or that I sometimes remember.

Impressionable

The older I get, the more I come to realize how impressionable I was when I was younger. I think I still am. People who know me may be stunned to read this (either that, or they’ll laugh a hearty laugh and say “No shit, Sherlock!”), but I think it’s pretty true, thinking back on how my personality was formed, the things that influenced me, the traps I fell into. I don’t think it’s all bad. I think I’ve had some remarkable experiences by way of my being more easily led than I realized I was.
As is often the case these days, if you put me on the spot and asked me to cite an example, I’d have a hard time, because my brain doesn’t work well within those parameters, but I know myself a little, and as I review the events of my life, my lack of originality and independence is kinda glaring in a lot of ways.

Younger Me would’ve hated me for saying this, called bullshit on it all and so forth, but he’d eventually know that I had him found out. Younger Me would’ve despised me for all sorts of reasons, truth be told, but I’d hope he’d actually learn something, were he and I ever to meet.

Pretty much whenever I walk into a restaurant or any sort of public place, I case it to see where I’d be least likely to be shot. Damn near every time, if not every time. If I don’t do it or think about it, it’s because I’m really distracted, possibly by something more stressful than the thought of being murdered. That’s the world I live in.

I close my bedroom door in my house before I sleep, because the process of opening it creates an additional layer of sound that could wake me up before someone walks in and shoots me, assuming they don’t use the windows. I didn’t close it the night before I wrote this, as an experiment, and while it could be a coincidence, I slept horribly.

I don’t ever want to be the person who has the weapon ready to shoot back or shoot first, though, because it will run the risk of turning me into the type of person who did this to me.

Advice

From time to time, I’m told that I give good, helpful advice. While I’m certainly glad when I’m able to help, and appreciative of the compliments, I also think about a few things whenever this comes up.

First, I wonder why my own life is so screwed up, when I’m apparently not so bad at helping others out. I know it doesn’t work this way, but you’d think I’d be a little better at keeping my own shit together and saving my own ass, if I’m not so bad at helping other people figure it out. It’d be good if I did figure it out, because I am certainly going to need to save myself sooner than later. While I have great friends and some family that care deeply about me and do a great deal for me, even collectively, they lack the time and the resources necessary to see to it that I’m kept safe indefinitely. It’s really not their responsibility to do that, anyway. Someday, I will be truly and totally alone, so it’d probably be a good idea to figure out how to apply any of these talents that I may have to my own life before that happens. Also, just in case it comes up, I don’t buy the idea that I’ve done damage to my own life by being selfless. For one, my life was pretty screwed up before I even got half a clue about how to behave selflessly, and for two, it’s the kind of thing I usually hear from the “Atlas Shrugged Is The Word Of God” crowd, to borrow from Frank Miller for a second.

Moving on, I also wonder if people are aware of how screwed up the person they’re taking advice from really is. For instance, I have not worked a steady job on even a part-time basis in what will be 13 years next month (and frankly, that may never change), but I just spent two goddamned weeks working on getting the village drunk in one very small part of World Of Warcraft to be my Best Friend. Oh, it wasn’t solid time (though that’d be pretty funny), and there are a great many other examples, some far uglier, that I could use to illustrate this point, but I’m still gonna give us all some time to let that one sink in, because it happened while I was writing this.

(And yes, I’m the first one that’ll tell you that our ability to work for a living in the modern version of the straight world does not and should not define our worth as human beings, but still. Two weeks? Jesus Christ.)

Additionally, as something of an extension of that last point (the screwed up part, not the Best Friend in World Of Warcraft part, though they’re clearly interrelated), I think about all of the times in my life that I’ve acted in ways similar to whatever negative or disruptive influence the person I’m giving advice to may be trying to get away from. Part of how I am able to understand some of these interpersonal situations is that, while I’ve been on the receiving end of bullshit more than my fair share, boy howdy, have I also been the person dishing it out in a serious way at times. The impulses that have led me to do so are still, and may always be something I (mostly) quietly struggle with. Now, some people never get wise to the shit they do, those who do don’t always bother to attempt to improve themselves, and some of the ones who do never really get any good at it. I’ve no idea how I do, if we’re being honest here (and please don’t tell me how you think I’m doing, because I’m neither fishing for compliments, nor am I looking for my I’m Not A Bastard Anymore merit badge here), but I do make an effort to pay attention to how I act, and I do try to improve on it. Some people in this world have talked to me more than once, and some who stopped talking to me over the years have eventually started to again, so I guess there’s that, but what’s happened in the past, and what I’m always actively working to prevent from happening in the future are still a helluva cross to bear.

(Yeah, it’s kinda like this.)

More on this subject later, perhaps.

Save

Imagine that there’s something that you really love to do and really want to do. Now, imagine that this thing that you love and want to do is something that causes you pretty fucking intense amounts of pain, depression, anxiety and self-hatred. Now, imagine that you’ve spent years trying to find a way to make it not do that, and failed miserably, but keep trying, and in the process, you continue to cause yourself all the pain and misery described above. Now, imagine that you’ve gone to great pains to explain, not only just to the people who enjoy seeing you do that thing you do, but also to people who actually care about you as a person and, thus, appear to have some vested interest in your well-being, that this thing you love to do has hurt you and still hurts you so much when you try to do it, and that you’re still trying to find a way to not cause yourself pain while doing it, but that you can’t seem to find a way. Now, imagine all of these people asking you when you’re going to make another record with Floyd, Syd.

RIP Gray’s Papaya 8th Street

Story here.

Just over 25 years, I’ve eaten those hot dogs, on that corner (though there were the occasional road dogs), at all hours, with I don’t know how many different people, me in every condition imaginable (plenty of them not so good), and at times without enough money to pay for anything, and I do mean anything else.

December 30th, 1988. Yes, I actually remember the date of my first visit, because there was a Dead Boys show at The Ritz that night, Stiv Bators’ last time playing in New York if I’m not mistaken. Had the money to get in, had nowhere else to be. DIDN’T GO. I have a vague memory now, brought up after decades by today’s events, of the friend I had with me either getting bored, tired, or having to be home right as we got to Cooper Square. I also don’t think it totally registered with me that, after a couple of years of listening to Stiv at home, I could’ve walked a few blocks and SEEN Stiv, or I might’ve fought harder for it, but I think my friend had just about had it, so it probably would’ve been a tough sell. I’ll beat myself up a little less now that I remember that much, but missing that show is still a Top 5 regret in a life full of ’em, plenty of which I probably should regret more than missing the show. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

My recollection of things is that Gray’s Papaya was the first place my friend and I went, the very first time we got off the E train at West 4th without anything even remotely resembling adult supervision. Two 14 year old wanna-be punk rock kids from Jersey. Didn’t know shit. I still don’t (lost track of him), but you can imagine. We were hungry from the trip up, and 50 cent hot dogs seemed like the best idea anyone ever had. (That part, we did have figured out.) Had our dogs there (went with kraut on mine, as I usually did; don’t remember what I drank), then went to Venus Records, It’s Only Rock N’ Roll, Revolver, Postermat (Loved that place; met girls there, lied about our age…), Psychedelic Solution and like a billion different head shops, just looking at everything: records, t-shirts, postcards, jewelry, drug paraphernalia for drugs we didn’t do yet, you name it. Noticed the outside of Electric Lady for the first time. (Still never been inside.) Saw the 8th Street Playhouse for the first time, but never ended up there (not quite a Dead Boys-level regret, but it still sucks). Think I bought some stuff but I’ll be damned if I can remember what. I just remember taking my time and looking at everything really closely, because I’d been to that part of town before with an older friend, but never in a situation where I wasn’t following their (admittedly pretty cool, and still hugely influential) agenda. For the first time, I could just roam. Obviously I didn’t roam very far at all, but that’s hardly the point, is it?

A few of the head shops may still be around dating back to that time (those stores can be a blur because their stock’s so similar and they were so close together, so it’s hard to say) and while I didn’t go in, Electric Lady’s still there, but with the closing of Gray’s, every other place I went into on 8th Street that day is gone. I mean, everybody has those stories past a certain age or a certain time in a city’s lifespan. I’ve seen more places close in New York in general and the Village in particular than I can even remember anymore. This one’s quite possibly the toughest, though, because to the best of my knowledge, trivial as it may seem to some, having a couple of dogs at Gray’s Papaya was one of the earliest decisions I made in what became my adult life, and for so long, more than half my life now, the place was just there for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll definitely put the effort into visiting the uptown Gray’s now that it’s the only one (never been a Papaya King guy for some reason), but it will be an effort. The 70s have never been my usual part of town. Maybe I’ll try to roam some more when I get up there like I used to, though the New York I find when I roam anywhere in town these days is very different to the one I just described.

So yes, for those of you keeping score at home, the closing of a hot dog stand did make me cry today.

15 years.

Right about this time of the morning, 15 years ago today, I passed out and hit my head on…something. I still don’t know what, for sure. When I woke up, there was blood in a number of parts of the hotel room I was in (I found some past the bed, on the AC unit near the window), and a 3″ wide, open gash above my right eyebrow. Hurt like hell. Had a touch of vertigo that lasted for about a week afterward. Was still drunk. Went about my day, went to a party that night, and got a life-saving scowl from a friend when I headed for the beer cooler. It reached me. (Thank you, Lisa.) I didn’t have a beer. I decided to go with that moving forward.

15 years.

I’ve now been sober nearly twice as long as I was an active drinker (I didn’t drink at all in 1994, and while I had done a little drinking and been drunk in 1989, I didn’t really start my career as a drinker until New Year’s Eve 1989-1990). Had I not lived through it, it’d seem like my drinking was just a life-threatening blip on the radar. I did, though.

How do I feel about it?

I’m very, very thirsty.

(That’s a joke, son.)

In all seriousness, drinking is simultaneously something that’s very remote to me and a presence in my life virtually every day. I could be living in the past, but it does come up a lot despite it being a pretty long time since I’ve had a drink.

I am still alive as a direct and absolute result of my decision to quit drinking. However, I’ve had to work hard to learn how to live rather than just existing, because I was drunk through a good portion of the time when adult people really learn how to live. That part, I still haven’t nailed by a long shot.

It was only a few years ago that I was able to process that the “I need a drink” feeling I get when I get stressed wasn’t an actual threat to my sobriety anymore, but a general instinct toward flight and avoidance brought on by that stress. The use of that phrase…”I need a drink”…it’s similar in my mind to the way I use “God”, “Jesus”, “Lord”, and so forth despite not actually believing in those entities, pretty much an old, bad linguistic habit that’s been hard to shake due to some kind of indoctrination or another.

Not drinking can unfortunately be a very socially limiting and isolating thing, even if you don’t find yourself tempted to drink when you’re around alcohol and drinkers. (That’s actually not a problem for me.) Most adult socializing is centered around drinking. If you’re the sober person in that environment, you’re alternately viewed (just to name a few) as no fun, damaged in some way, or trying to take advantage of the people who are less inhibited as a result of their drinking. If you don’t have patience for people who are drunks or regular drinkers (and I don’t, at least not for drunks, anyway; it’s something that makes me feel hypocritical at times), that cranks the social awkwardness up to 11. I find myself feeling claustrophobic in the presence of anyone who’s visibly drunk, on account of how clumsy, confrontational and reckless those people can be.

Reading back what I’ve written so far, it doesn’t sound like much of a sales pitch for sober living, but I look at it this way: if I weigh anxiety, social awkwardness and living a life that gave its problems a decade-long head start against the guarantee of not experiencing anything, good or bad, that I’ve experienced over the past 15 years or may experience in the future, I’m going to pick the option that gives me the experiences.

If considering my impending, near-immediate death an absolute if I hadn’t quit drinking seems dramatic to you, trust me when I say it isn’t. I ended my drinking after a 6 month long stretch where I was very regularly a blackout drunk. I would not have lived through 1998 at that rate, and it’s pretty much just a matter of physics that I lived through the events described in the first paragraph. If I’d hit my head a little harder or bled a little longer, there’s a very strong possibility that you’d never have heard of me, or would be posting something somewhere on the Internet today about your friend who you lost 15 years ago.

Some thoughts plucked from a chat window.

one of the best days of my entire fucking life was the day i woke up and my first thought was “fuck, i don’t know anything.”

it was really liberating.

at any moment, a sinkhole could open beneath either of our houses and swallow us alive.

the only thing we have to be sure of is uncertainty.

you do what you can, within those parameters.

****

i’ve had a pretty good idea that i don’t really fit in the world since i was in preschool. it’s not an easy fit, anyway.

i’ve followed a few different narratives since then that i thought might be “my place”.
right now, honestly? no idea.

no fucking clue.

and really, the only anxiety i carry around stems from 4 sources.

1. not interested in dying yet.
2. don’t want to end up homeless.
3. don’t want to end up in jail.
4. i’d kinda like someone around to share all of this uncertainty with.

****

a good while ago, i wrote a line in a song i haven’t finished, it’s one i’m very proud of, and it’s one of the few things i will say that i do “know”.

“all it’d take is one bad day to make you like me.”

that’s true of anyone.

you can either be terrified of that or not, it’s a choice, i suppose.

My only real memory of my uncle Russ…

…is that he was really serious about a man’s need to wear a belt. In his universe, I think belts held the fabric of reality together. I don’t go near a belt without thinking of my uncle Russ.