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Sobriety

‘Sweet Jane’ plays and I am blessed with pathology.

“Heavenly wine and roses, seem to whisper to me.”

I have a Siamese Twin; cut the photograph in half, one half has dead eyes like outer space. The other has the cosmos in his eyes. My Siamese Twin is me.

‘Sweet Jane’ plays and it’s the bridge part, and the sun is glorious, it is blue skied and clear, and at the traffic light there is a pigeon nesting in the yellow.

I am Mr. Headphones, and were you to put me on a pedestal, I will disappoint you; if you were to make me exceptional I would exploit you.

Sobriety:

(from Salinger): “When she had replaced the phone, she seemed to know what to do next, too. She cleared away the smoking things, then drew back the cotton bedspread from the bed she has been stirring on, took off her slippers, and got into the bed. For minutes, before she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, she just lay quiet, smiling at the ceiling.

Sobriety:

(from Wallace): “Grass grows by the inches, dies by the foot.”

Sobriety. I have a dead Siamese twin with dead eyes and who is dead. There is the addict and the non-. No one can pretend either.

Kill the addict, save the imprisoner.

I am walking past Morley Field on the way to meeting, and I want a drink. “I’m on a good mixture,” Matt sings. Makes me want to drink, this.

 

Heavenly wine and roses speak to me. Heavenly wine and roses. Seem to whisper to me

Sobriety: …

 

Amen.

 

 

 

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Plans

I like my friend William who also comes to midnight meetings. We’re outside Lestat’s and talking about our kids, the careers we have had.

“Kids these days. Don’t got no respect.”

William has worked his eight hours, then an extra 45 to assure he did his work well.

William is a black man, bald, whose mouth shines red in the coffee shop neon. He’s had it with kids these days.

“No respect. Don’t know how to work a job.”

William is scared of retirement. We become addicted to things, one of which is work, and William has a tool belt of scrapers and screwdrivers as proof. His son is 27, and he and William like to bowl on Thursdays up in Kearney Mesa.

“I tell you, dumb ass kid drops three lids on the ground—the other one? He done kick them aside.”

William is perturbed.

“Just pick up the goddamned lids!” William adds as emphasis: “Right?!”

“Right?!”

I agree while finishing my coffee. He is further perturbed because he doesn’t have a plan.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Got four years left before I retire.”

“Yeah,” I say. “My sponsor says, ‘You gotta have a plan.’ Calls me sometimes to ask me ‘what’s for lunch?’

It is 1am and we’re outside and it is cold though William seems fine in shirt sleeves.

“You can bowl for $1 on Thursday mornings. Up there in Kearney Mesa.”

“That,” I say, “Sounds like a plan to me.”

And we shake hands, and I plan my route home.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mania

Venus is hanging off the crazy moon like a counterweight on a cuckoo clock; my sobriety is not perfect and I blame it on the stars.

This persistent dot, Venus, just hangs there, intense, and it is the sky I look at mostly, and not the ground.

4:45 in the morning, and I am out walking. Like Venus, I am a bright and shining pixel, alive and refusing to calm the fuck down though the sun is due soon and I have only slept an hour. The plants are alive and the morning blossoms have not yet unfolded; I pass by a bookstore and the sign in the window says, ‘No Worries!’

And I have none, none at this moment, though I should; my sobriety is not perfect and I blame it on the stars.

There is a typewriter in the window of the curio shop, the keys are green, and it is the most gorgeous piece of machinery I’ve seen, so much potential and I am drawn to take a picture, this beautiful machine; I am manic, and I know it. Struck through with Stendahl’s, frightened by beauty.

Progress, not perfection, I assuage myself. Progress, and the moon proceeds to wane and Venus winks out as the sun rises.

I find a bin of free records outside a record shop, and I find a 78, the A side being ‘Girl of My Dreams’, the ‘B’ side ‘Man Comes Around’; it is too perfect and I I tuck a rose into the sleeve and promise to give it to Jenn. For I am coming around, and she is my dream girl. Coincidence is just God’s way of remaining anonymous.

I buy a cup of coffee from Jerry who, incongruously, wears a terrycloth kerchief about the mouth.

“You sick, Jerry?” I ask as he rings my brew, and he assure me he doesn’t wish this on anyone.  He is a good man, bivouacking himself among the chili dogs and cigarettes, and hiding behind a mask.

My sobriety is not perfect; I blame it on the stars.

“Thanks, Jerry,” and I sip coffee beneath the moon, which is cuckoo and half shining. There are stars, but they disappear with the sun, now rising, and I walk home past the canyon exchange and the trash cans I once memorized. Pissing in the dirt, tossing cans; my sobriquet could be etiquette, as in lack thereof, and I walk the mile home.

 

 

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Forty

“Dad, let me ask you a question.”

“I’ve got an answer. Maybe the right one.”

We are munching pretzels and burritos.

“40.”

“What about it, Kid?”

“Why is it so important in the Bible?”

I pause mid-pretzel. My antennae are up.

“Like how do you mean?”

“Like 40 days and 40 nights. Noah.”

“Hmmm,” I say to placehold the moment, “Hmmm.”

“You mean also like: forty years in the desert, the Israelites?”

“And Jesus’ expedition: forty days,” Cayden says.

“Oh—the temptation in the wilderness. Yes—forty days.”

And I ponder a pretzel.

“Forty days in the wilderness, forty years in the desert, forty days in the rain, forty days before the ascension, forty days SPIES”—and I say it with drama—“That espied the Land of Milk and Honey before reporting back to Moses. You mean that forty?”

“Yeah—forty.”

“I dunno, Kid.”

“You said you had an answer.”

“I said I MAYBE have one. I’m not a numerologist.”

I continue crunching on pretzels.

“But I’m 42, which is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

“The what?”

“A good book. Never mind. I dunno, Kid. Forty’s a good number.”

“Is that it?”

I shrug. “Good an answer as any.”

We eat pretzels.

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The Minister

bishop“Are you a better man today, Chris?” I ask Chris, which is our way of greeting.

“You know it, Thom.” And I get my ginger ale, and because the store is empty, we talk while leaning elbows over the counter.

“Whatcha doing this weekend?” Chris asks.

“Got some writing to do. Isaac Asimov was asked if the world were to end today, what he’d do,” and I pop the tab to the Bundaberg.

“Know what he said, Chris?”

“Naw—what?”

“He said: I’d type faster.”

Chris leans back and laughs: “Got a question for you” and points. “You’re always walking and thinking,” and he gestures in a circle, “Is this, like, predetermined what you write? Like, do you figure it out, then put it on paper?”

“A little bit. I get a sentence or two, and then,” I make a swooping gesture, “It’s flow. Taking the walks is readying the flow.” There are a thousand bottles behind Chris on the shelf; I haven’t bought any.

“If I knew Braille, Chris,” I say, “I’d write with my eyes closed.”

Chris has hands that are hidden in his sleeves, but suddenly they’re out.

“Thom, it’s like video games, like, the reality ones where you have to think and build and it’s on the fly. I’ve always got a PLAN,” he emphasizes, “But there’s a point you gotta think or act on instinct or something.”

“Exactly.”

“Do you play chess?”

“Yes.”

“Me and my brother Sly play,” and Sly is the reticent son who mans the shop in the evening, hair knotted behind his head, never a forthcoming word.

“Chess is big at our house,” Chris continues, “And Sly once set up a chess board in the house and said: one move a day. He and my Dad play all the time.”

“One move a day? I like that.”

“Yeah—he’s like a mathematical genius. He said, ‘Let’s slow our play.’”

And I snap my fingers, and swig my ginger—“That’s a brilliant idea, Chris.” And for two seconds I think.

“I’m gonna do that with my Kid. He’s already beating me at cards. I can’t take the humiliation.”

Chris laughs.

“But slo-chess…I like it. What’s your favorite piece?”

“Oh—the knight. I like the ‘L’s. My dad calls the bishop ‘The Minister.’ What’s yours?”

My eyes do a chessboard, and I think to all the little men moving their moves.

“The Minister,” I say, “Like what your Dad calls him.”

Because moving fast and moving slow requires the middle, which is, as the Bishop goes, diagonal.

Chris and I knuck; at home, I set up a chessboard, magnetic, one that I inherited from my Grandpa, the pieces clicking into their starting points. Click, click.

“Cayde: I’ve got a new game.”

 

 

 

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New Moon

lightsIt’s on her Bucket List, the Northern Lights, and Elaine and I are driving to the airport to make that happen. I’m along for the ride, will pilot her car back home.

She flags her hand outside the window: “It’s supposed to rain for nine days. Gawd.”

“Does that affect visibility?” I ask, and make a mental note to look this up when I get home. I’m a fan of phenomena.

“No, it shouldn’t. It has to do with solar particles or something, and this is the best time of year for viewing. It’s also a New Moon.”

The moon is waning, true. New moon soon, though it feels like it now.

“You’ll have to drive Ethan to the store,” she instructs, meaning her grandson who is now in the back house sans his grandmother.

“I will,” I say, and feel happy that she is giving me responsibility. Ethan’s a good kid. Will probably survive on cereal the entire time his grandmother Elaine is gone. I make a note to bring him some otherwise food because he’s a growing kid.

“How’re you doing, Ethan?” I always ask.

“’Chillin’” he always says.

I remember when Ethan was younger and I found him in mine and Elaine’s shared yard and he was staring at the half-moon catatonic, frozen in place as if transfixed by some unseen Northern Light himself.

“Ethan?”

No answer. Just stock still, vibrating in place.

His sister would die five years later in a horrible car crash, and it was like he predetermined this.

“He’s got a bus pass at least,” Elaine says, “He just needs to go to Vons.”

“I’ll take him.”

“Cereal. He’ll probably just eat cereal.” And she reminds me: “NO parties!”

I laugh and that New Moon is approaching, which is a way of saying the old moon is dying, and in dropping Elaine off at the airport I give her a hug and say to myself, “I promise.”

 

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Tammey

I went to a memorial service last night for my friend Tammey’s husband. He passed away on Valentine’s Day; his last efforts were to push away the nurses so that he could see his wife, and he said: “I’ve got to go now. Bye-bye.”

And it may seem a strange sentiment, but I brought Tammey a book of poetry that we used to enjoy called ‘The Happy Birthday of Death.” There’s a poem in there called ‘Marriage’, which is horribly funny and absurd and precious, and it’s spangled with all kinds of incongruous phrases that Tammey and I used to shout whenever we read it out loud: “Penguin dust! Roman coin soup!” I took the afternoon to annotate it, to write in the margins, draw hearts around the funny parts, then I wrote a foreword in the book to Tammey.

She smiled when she got it, though I said this may seem somewhat macabre, and she gave me a long hug. “It’s perfect,” she said, and—because we’re both bipolar—she kissed me on the cheek and cooed, “My fellow manic friend.” She drew back and looked at me through tears and confessed, “I’m buzzing right now. I don’t know if it’s everything,” she said gesturing to the gathering mourners, “But I feel.” And I don’t know if that was an incomplete sentence or a full one, but I took my seat and we said ‘bye-bye’ to her husband while the music played sonorous.

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My Brother

When my brother and I were young, my mom used to zip together sleeping bags on the floor in front of the television and we would watch our favorite shows while cuddled close. Battlestar Galactica, ChiPs, Happy Days, etc. We ate graham crackers with chocolate frosting.

Here is the breakdown of how we identified with our favorite TV characters:

  • Battlestar Galactica: He was Apollo; I was Starbuck.
  • CHiPs: He was Jon; I was Ponch.
  • Happy Days: He was Richie; I was The Fonz.

Polar opposites. He was the studious one, I flew by the seat of my pants, but we both got good grades. We have always been alike but very very different.

I lost touch with my brother for a long while. It’s complicated.

I was talking to my brother last night, and in the rain, because I felt compelled to call him and I stood in the drizzle while the car idled.

“If I’m taking up your time, please feel free to say so, Brother.” He was studying anatomy for his finals. He’s a good student. His wife is going into treatment for cancer; I am riding a crest of mania, currently, consistent with my diagnosis.

We swap roles of Big Brother with a kind of fluidity that is counter to our respective ages. Like we were twins, actually, and not two years apart. Romulus and Remus. I’ve always found twins wherever I go in life; suddenly it’s my own brother, which took me forty-two years to figure out.

“You ok? I know you’ve only got a few minutes to talk.” My brother has a hard test coming up. It’s a way, too, of asking myself if I’m ok. And he says, “Yes, a few” but he closes the door to his office and we spill for two hours.

He confesses his fears about his wife’s cancer; I confess my fears that my Superman persona is gonna die soon and that I hope to change into Clark Kent gracefully.

He liked Superman; I liked Lois.

And I am standing in the rain talking to my brother, and I am calm, like we were in sleeping bags again watching The Cosby Show or something, and I am crying though my voice is steady.

“Remember when…?

The story doesn’t matter. We tell stories when we’re in danger and afraid.

He liked Luke; I liked Leia.

The important thing—the important thing–is, I’ve got my brother back.

“I love you, Mike.”

“Love you, too.”

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Half-Orange

orangeCayden confuses Roger, who like Michael Keaton, tips his head, tongues his lower lip, and raises an eyebrow.

“Huh. Good one, good one.” And he taps the railing of the sidewalk café, salutes with his bag of tacos, five salsas, and walks on.

“Nice to meet you!” Cayden calls after him, as we plunge into our food.

Roger was bartering earlier with the cashier: “I’ve got three dollars,” and Roger was dressed in one layer of clothing while it promised to be cold.

We ask if Roger got enough food, easily we could get him some more. He holds up five salsa cups and his bag: “I’ve got a burrito,” he says, “I’m good.” A burrito at this joint is an easy eight.

But he leans in, learns all of our names: “Tell me a joke, Kid. No wait, wait—I’ve got one.”

The punchline is not immediately obvious.

“So you got one, Cayde?” Roger leans against the fencing.

Cayde thinks, comes up with a riddle that either makes no sense or is something of Andy Kaufman brilliance.

Roger taps the fencing and laughs, walks away. We begin to eat—

Roger walks backward, back to in front of us.

“Wait—tell me that one again.” It is fifty degrees and dropping; Roger wears a t-shirt.

“What’s the difference….” Cayden begins, which is always a good way to start a joke. Roger cocks an ear.

“Right, right,” he says, following along.

Cayden repeats his riddle.

“Ha-ha!” Roger guffaws, and salutes with his bag of bartered burrito. I’m glad people are kind. It’s gonna drop into the twenties tonight.

“What’s the difference between an orange and a half-orange?

“…”

“The whole orange can be round.”

Roger does his Michael Keaton thing, and I’m either as enlightened or confused as he is.

 

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Depression Hates Movement

movement.jpeg“Depression hates movement,” Toni says. Her feet are in insensible shoes, so I imagine she’s already done her movement, and is therefore elevated beyond an otherwise nadir. I, however, am exhausted, and “Exhaustion hates movement, too.” For different reasons. Toni’s got it together, whereas I can take a shopping trip using the bags beneath my eyes.

Man, I gotta walk two miles home uphill from the Alano cuz my phone is dead and I can’t Lyft. Save for a few hours of Nod here and there, I’ve been up for the better part of three days, and damn if I hafta walk home again, my shoes not as sensible as Toni’s, my heels starting to chafe. It is, however, a gorgeous day, so—sigh—I’ll take it with sugar. It has rained and the wind has oscillated; the sky is clean.

Marcelino at the mechanic’s shop greets me with monkey-grease hands: “I’m so sorry, the machinist called in sick again and I so busy. I no get to your car yet.” I tell him not to worry about it because I’m doing ok otherwise—“Hey, life on life’s terms, Marcelino!—and he veritably lays a head on my shoulder. “Tank you fr your compassion.” How it must suck to be yelled at by so many car-owners demanding the head gasket be done tomorrow, and whaddya mean it’s $1200?! These are things beyond his control, so I don’t fret, though I would like my Bug back please—it has a way of keeping me calm. Marcelino, though? He’s survived cancer and lets his guys grill carne asada outside the garage on Fridays with a couple of beers, neither of which he partakes in because of his heart, and he’s been our trusted mechanic for years. Wouldn’t give him up despite the delay on the car. I can wait.

Except I’m tired. And there are four things to be watchful of: Hunger. Tiredness. Loneliness. Anger. Hunger plus Anger=HA! You’re gonna have a rough night; Tiredness plus Anger=TA! As in ta-da, you’re at your most vulnerable, and last this happened, I think Saturday, I almost got in a fight with a moving vehicle while walking back from the Club. I use the HALT method with Cayde: are you too tired from last night’s sleepover to be playing that video game responsibly? Are you too angry that the Wifi is lagging? Maybe take a break. Let’s play some cards instead.

Depression hates movement; exhaustion, too. Still, ‘perseverance’ is my word of the year, so I persist, and with all obstinancy I get home and finally wrestle sleep to bed.