Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Snowball Fight!

Twelve funerals and a wedding

I’m still not supposed to be writing. Or playing guitar or touching myself down there or doing anything else that may inadvertently give me a moment’s pleasure (see previous posts).

But the itch to exist, to express myself, remains. So I’ll doodle away at my keyboard till it hurts too much to continue. Expect an abrupt end to this post when it comes. Also slowing things down is the fact that while I am incapacitated, I have to mouse with my left hand. This is doable, but slow and frustrating. I’m clumsy even with my good hand.

This is the second night in a row I’ve awakened from work-anxiety dreams. This wouldn’t be considered unusual for anyone still in the newspaper business like I am, but it’s disturbing to dream about employers from 10+ years ago who I basically considered friends and have them keep firing my ass. Please, John and Fran, cut me some slack tomorrow night!

Picked up my trifocals from Costco this week and plan to return them tomorrow (weather permitting). How I’m supposed to read through the cuticle-sized wedge of spectacle allocated to that purpose is a damn mystery to me. My Dad had bifocals, and the reading part of his glasses was about the lower 50% of the lens. If they can’t downgrade me to bifocals (which I don’t think they can because I practically begged for bifocals when I originally went in), I’ll just have them grind me a pair of old-fashioned reading glasses, and use the top 90% of the trifocals for watching TV from across the room.

Mainly, I wanted to write about a wedding The Boy and I attended last week. It’s actually kinda indirectly related to the recent rapid degradation of my physical state of well-being.

See, this was the wedding of a friend of mine from Back In The Day. I tend to remember decades by which substance I was chiefly strung-out on during them. Thus the 80s is my meth decade—and if there was any decade I’d have chosen to sit out participating in its pop culture, it was the 80s—and the 90s was all about mixing booze & pills. The guy who got married last weekend was a friend from the 90s.

A lot of our mutual friends from the 90s were not at the wedding, on account of being dead. And a lot of the people who did make it looked like the walking dead.

Of all the people I hung with in the 90s, the groom was, frankly, one of the ones I would have considered least likely to have made it out alive. Along with me, because neither one really gave a fuck about anything but getting wasted at the time. And his excesses made mine look like taking two sips of Pepsi when all I really meant to take was one. To steal a joke from Robin Williams, this guy was on everything but skates.

What’s funny/sad is that I was so wrapped up in trying to drive myself into an early grave, I had no idea at the time the extent of his excesses. I usually have a pretty good speed-dar, but the groom—we’ll call him Jack—was so naturally wired, I never had a clue. I thought it was all booze, pills & weed, but I learned later there was a hell of a lot of speed going on, too.

When I found out a few years ago he had gotten sober (thanks, Bill W, for helping my friend save his life), I was elated. Shocked. Relieved. I repeat, of all of us, he was the one I would have given the least chance to clean his act up.

But so he did. I’d only seen him once in the last decade, before the wedding. He came down to my in-laws’ one night around Christmas a couple years ago and played an acoustic set for me in my wife’s parents’ garage. And I was perplexed. Because I had heard he was sober, but he was still wired as hell. I always used to say, “Jack is plugged directly into the power source. No surge strip, no breaker to switch off in case of emergency, it was just Jack and the source.” And sobriety hadn’t seemed to change that equation at all.

Anyhow, when I got the invite for the wedding, I knew I had to go. Even though we had moved about a thousand miles away and the trip to SoCal cost about a dollar for every mile that separated us, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

And I’m damn glad I didn’t. He looked terrific and again, he still seemed to be plugged directly into the power source. He has a personal energy, a life force, that can be seen from space. Ebullient doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. When it came time, he didn’t walk down the aisle, he burst down the aisle. I kept looking for some sign of diminishment of energy and didn’t see any. This motherfucker had managed to get sober without sacrificing a bit of the qualities that always made him such an essential, exciting, bordering-on-dangerous part of my life in the past.

After the vows, he was doing the meet and greet thing with everyone who had made it to the wedding, and I have to say, being repeatedly introduced as the guy who introduced him to Townes Van Zandt made me feel ten feet tall and bullet-proof. There are certainly much worse legacies to be had!

But I’ve seen sobriety take the zazz out of a lot of survivors. It’s like they’re still alive, but they’ve sacrificed most of the joy in their life in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I kept looking for some such similar change in Jack that would confirm that sobriety had made a difference in the way he attacked life, but he still glowed brighter than the north star.

I myself have slowed down a bit since the time we spent together Back In The Day, and so had most of the other survivors. I always just assumed it was part of the trade-off: you get to live to your full life expectancy, but you don’t really get to enjoy it. I didn’t expect Jack’s experience to be any different, but then, it turns out I had always underestimated Jack.

(Sidebar: Even though Jack and his lovely bride both have 5+ years of sobriety under their belts, the reception was an open-bar affair, and lots of the attendees were making the most of it. More props to Jack for working his program without forcing it down the throats of his friends. I actually felt sorry for the long-in-the-tooth losers shlumping around the reception, gulping down the free libations. “Just one more moment, sir, your grave is almost ready…”)

Finally, just before we left—hours early because The Boy was crashing just when the reception was starting to get interesting—I saw the difference.

The band was playing and Jack was dancing up a storm with anybody and everybody. I saw him dash off the dance floor and approach a wedding guest who was sitting quietly at her table. Jack grabbed her hand to pull her out on the dance floor, but she demurred. I thought, “Sorry, lady, you’re dancing tonight. Nobody says no to Jack. He’s like a force of nature.” I could see Jack making his case and giving her arm a second tug, but she still declined. And then… Jack gave her a hug and moved back to the dance floor.

That’s what I had been waiting to see. Back in the day, Jack would have literally dragged her kicking and screaming—carrying her bodily if need be—off to dance. But now my friend has boundaries, and more to the point, respects other people’s. And I smiled a big, dopey, teary grin that I hope none of the black-clad hipsters in attendance noticed.

My friend Jack not only got sober, but he makes it look good. He shook off all his demons—although he’d be the first to admit they still exist and are only held at bay one day at a time—but didn’t lose a bit of his essential self. If twelve-step programs allowed poster boys, Jack would make as fine a one as the twelve steps have ever produced.

Here’s to you, my friend. Health, happiness and long life. You’ve proven to this fellow friend of Townes Van Zandt that you really can have it all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I’m thankful for

It’s a mighty short list  this year, folks, but it’s all about quality, not quantity:

Thanks, son.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Health update, briefly

The big dumb dog just about pulled my arm out of its socket last Monday and I can still barely move it. PT says don’t use it for anything but absolute compulsories, which rules out email correspondence, creative/blog writing and worst, guitar playing. I just started taking (cheap) private lessons by some beat-up 60s-survivor, literally the day the dog tried to remove my arm. He arranged a smokin’ version of “Folsom Prison Blues” and is even gonna teach me the signature Cash boom-chicka-boom picking method. Actually, he did show it to me, I just haven’t been able to pick up my guitar and practice it yet and may not get to for another week at least. One dog-walk and my entire month is fucked.

The Boy and I are heading out to SoCal for a wedding tomorrow and I hope to return with more use of my right arm. But this is torture, man. It’s yoinked nerves, not muscles, which means pain relievers don’t do a damned thing. Pure, fucking torture.

UPDATE: New prognosis (post visit to physical therapist today) is for a recovery measured in months, not weeks. This is more kinds of fucked up than I want to think about right now. Thank God I don’t have any real problems or I’d probably faint dead away.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

From here to eventually

I looked in the mirror today and all I saw was a junkie.

On Monday of this week, our giant pup Jake attempted to remove my arm from its shoulder mountings during a walk around the block. Shortly thereafter, my right shoulder began to feel twitchy. That night, about 1 a.m., Jake wouldn’t come back in the house after being let out to pee, requiring me to drag him bodily back inside.

By Tuesday morning, I was done, man. I had a knot the size of a golfball on my shoulder and my whole arm ached like hell. Fiery hell. Like 5+ on a scale of 1-10. It hurt most when I was banging away on my guitar or at my keyboard, so consequently, I didn’t get much of either done this week, outside of my work compulsories. An entire week, shot to hell.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

By Wednesday, I concluded that this beauty wasn’t going to go away on its own, so I went to an urgent care center in town, since we don’t have a local sawbones yet. The doctor declared my shoulder tweaked and my nerves pinched and threw some muscle relaxers my way. And this is where my troubles really began.

Thursday I muddled through the day in hazy pain, but had the sense to book a massage for the next day. Friday morning I had a healthy breakfast of Soma, Naproxin and Zantac and went for a 9 a.m. workout. And work me out she did. 90 minutes, most of which was spent on my shoulders, neck and right arm. At one point she had me on my stomach, my affected arm twisted up behind me as far as it would go and she commented about how well I was bearing up under the grueling ordeal I was enduring. I croaked out something about being a Recovering Catholic; I figured I was just being punished for something.

Turned out she was a Recovering Catholic too. We talked about second-hand guilt and original sin and she continued to work me over. I came home bruised and battered but hopeful, and again took my medication as prescribed and melted away in front of the TV.

Saturday morning comes around, and by now the narcotics have had time to work their cumulative way with me. I woke up so groggy and gross-feeling that I took a couple of Excedrin—fortified with caffeine—and the uppers of the Excedrin and the downers of three days’ worth of muscle relaxers staged an epic battle, using my body as their field of valor. We got back from Target and the grocery store and I felt like I was going to hurl. My body wanted one thing all morning: to not be conscious. And when I couldn’t give it that, it gave it to me.

And the whole time, I’m thinking, “Johnny Cash lived with chronic pain the last several decades of his life. Every day, every night. While he was performing, while he was giving interviews, while he was eating country ham and biscuits with gravy for breakfast.” And Cash was prone to addiction, just like my boy’s daddy.

And I realized that he must have had to decide every day, how much pain am I going to endure vs how badly do I want to tempt fate again. And he didn’t make the right call every time, just like I didn’t. But he never gave in and he never gave up the fight.

I reckon a person could do worse for a role model. Shit, I’m only dealing with a limited course of chronic pain. I’ve had these fucking pinched nerves before, and eventually the bastards work themselves out. It’s just getting from here to eventually that’s gonna be a bitch, not the rest of my life.

So I’m de-prescribing myself the goofballs. I still have a bunch of them, but they’re gonna sit on the shelf in case of the next emergency. There’s very little likelihood, after this week’s reminder that I am still a fucking junkie, that I’ll decide to take ‘em out for a spin recreationally any time soon.

The massage seems to have helped, but not cured my deal. Even if it hadn’t done anything, I’d be jumping off the goofballs. If I still ache like hell Monday I’ll go back to urgent care and get a referral to a physical therapist. If you know me, you know I’d almost rather suffer the tortures of the damned than exercise, but having tried massage and ruled out further narcotics, I don’t see any alternative to further punishing myself.

Because that always gets me from here to eventually.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bush’s Media Blitz

Thought I’d take a minute to lob a few more wisecracks at the former C-I-C. Planned not to, but couldn’t help it.

Didn’t watch every appearance, or all of the ones I did. But I came away with an impression of the current state of my relationship with George W Bush.

I like that he’s not allowing himself to be drawn into speculating on Obama’s performance. As usual, I suspect an underhanded motive, but I have to admit it comes off classy. I think he’s still smarting from the spanking Jimmy Carter gave him in the press while W was still in office, but whatever his motives, I respect his consistency on the issue.

I’m sure the blogosphere is burning up about him writing that Kanye West’s televised criticism of him was the low point of his presidency. I feel powerfully drawn to the subject myself, but as I say, I’m sure it’s been covered elsewhere by better-read bloggers and real-life columnists. It has to have been.

I only saw clips of him on Hannity. I really can’t stand Sean Hannity’s act. It just grates on me, I can’t shrug it off. Pompous, cocky, blowhard, empty-head; these are all phrases that jump to mind when contemplating Sean Hannity. There’s a reason nobody does a Sean Hannity impression, he’s his own living caricature.

Caught W on Oprah. Meh. They both played their roles pitch-perfectly. Which is to say, it was really boring. I liked when he talked about his dad, the ailing George Bush senior. But I always like it when guys have Daddy Issues, I have a few of my own. There’s a great Elton John song, below, that I always think about when I think about W and my Daddy Issues.

Saw Matt Lauer’s evening interview but missed W’s “Today” show appearance. Again, to Bush’s credit, the theme he returned to again and again was as non-partisan as can be. “Buy my book.” Let the market speak! He cannot be swayed. He’s here on a mission of commerce. He won’t even be drawn into defending his own record. “Read the book.”

I think his goal is twofold. First, capitalism. Buy the goddamn book! He only gets $200K a year on his federal pension. In his circles, that’s chump change.

And the other reason he is remaining so steadfastly silent on the off-the-cuff, newsworthy statements, must be because he has been well advised not to get drawn in. There’s nothing the media and the left-wingosphere would love more than some new Bush malapropism clips to have our way with. And with his reputation already in the crapper—and a book to sell—he can’t afford to make news.

Just sell books.

I’m watching him on O’Reilly now, and O’Reilly has done the best job so far of getting Bush outside his comfort zone. Lauer, by contrast, was earnestly hard-hitting, and boy, do I find earnest embarrassing. (But I did love the follow-up interview Lauer did with Kanye West who commented on Bush’s comments, and kept sternly advising the crew and people on the set to shut up because he was talking. He was unintentionally hilarious. I hope there’s a new SNL this week.)

But O’Reilly has been the least toadying, ball-licking interviewer by a mile so far. Because even when a former President is on his show, O’Reilly’s show remains about O’Reilly. My failing as an entertainment reporter is O’Reilly’s strength as an interviewer. The man has balls of steel and drew Bush out in a way nobody else that I saw came close to. It still came down to BUY THE BOOK! but there were some entertaining thrusts and parries along the way.

One talking-point on the current press tour sticks in my craw, though. Whenever Iraq comes up, he always includes a variation of “25 million people were liberated,” bla bla bla. Well, the nabobs who (almost) elected him in 2000 didn’t vote for him in order to bring freedom to countries around the world (they were actually specifically against nation-building), he was expected to put our country’s needs first. He wasn’t the President of Iraq, or the world, just the United States. By this idiotic reasoning, we have a duty to militarily free any country that is not run by democratically-elected representatives, anywhere in the world. We’re supposed to be like a country of Supermen, going about the world, spreading our vision of democracy (because it’s working so flawlessly here right now).

And then I remember why I always thought he was George W Bush was twenty gallons of cow-patty in a ten-gallon hat.

Still, I bought his tome for my Mom, who will love it to death. I inadvertently contributed money to this guy’s retirement fund and I’m not proud of it, but like Dumbleyou (ooh, I thought I’d never get to type that again!), I am a Mama’s Boy and I’ll eat a little cow-patty if that’s what it takes to make her happy.

So congratulations. This round, too, goes to you. May you sell a lot of books to innocent marks like my Mom and soon vanish again from my airwaves to the comfort of the obscurity you desire and have so richly earned.

(I’m sorry your dad is sick, though.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fat Elvis

Gold lamé jumpsuit and everything!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vestigial TV Limbs

I’ve watched a bunch of late night TV recently, talk shows specifically, and have come to the conclusion that, like newspapers and milkmen, they are no longer even remotely necessary. They are so redundant, I wouldn’t even guess they’ll make the jump to the WWW when we are eventually receiving all our content from that source.

For one thing, late-night TV used to be essential because it was the only programming on late at night. When I was a kid, if you were up late and wanted to watch TV, the full menu consisted of news, Carson or test-patterns. If you were lucky, there might be a “Monty Python” episode on some fuzzy UHF channel where boobs might be glimpsed, but the rule was, late-night was not really worth programming.

Except for NBC’s “Tonight Show” franchise, where you could (gasp!) get to look in on stars as they came down from Olympus and smoked, drank, and even wandered off-script from time to time. In short, “The Tonight Show” offered a very rare commodity back in the day: access to unscripted celebrities. Anything might happen, and in the live-TV era of the medium’s infancy, often did.

And for the networks, talk shows were cheap to produce. You didn’t have to pay Hollywood stars much to get them to come onto a national stage and plug their latest project. Johnny’s paycheck was the biggest overhead and compared to the advertising revenue the show generated, even Carson’s generous salary was a drop in the bucket.

Today though, people are no longer limited in their late-night viewing options. They can use that time to catch up on their favorite prime-time shows they DVR-ed while they were out. They can pop in a DVD, Blue-Ray disc, tune the satellite to any one of hundreds of channels, dial up some porn on their computer and beam it over to their TV… in short, late-night is no longer a vast programming wasteland. It’s a time to catch up on the higher-priority programming that was backburnered while actual lives were lived.

And the rise of the Internet has made celebrity-gawking easier than opening up your window to see what the weather’s like outside. The late night forum for same becomes redundant, wholly unnecessary. And the plethora of chat shows means that even if you missed Harrison Ford on Letterman, within 10 days you can catch him on every other late night venue in descending order of ratings clout.

So what does late-night TV do? For me, it still serves a purpose that suddenly occurs to me is ironic. They are perfect to run in the background when I’m making newspapers from my home office. Very little visual is happening so it doesn’t matter if I look or not. And if I miss a hilarious sight gag, all I have to do is rewind it to catch it again.

[Disclaimer: I consider Stewart and Colbert comedy shows, in spite of the third-segment guest every night.]

But mostly, it’s radio with cameras. And we still have radio. Sirius and XM have made it more popular than it’s been since my youth.

I’ve been watching Conan’s show the last couple days, and habitually skim the others when they have a guest scheduled that I like or a band I’m curious about. But other than Letterman, who remains capable of veering so wildly off-script that inspired moments still occur, whenever I find myself watching when not working, I always end up with this thought in the back of my mind: “What should I be doing with this time instead?”

And the answer always comes back the same. Turn off the TV and practice guitar. Make something. Or at least pop in a “Larry Sanders” DVD and waste my time productively.

I predict that by 2020, there won’t be talk shows as we know them now. Probably sooner. Which will be cool, because hopefully it will free genuine talents like Conan to dedicate their considerable abilities to less ephemeral creative endeavors.

When Letterman retires, the Late Night Talk Show will officially be toast. Mark my words. Remember, I’m a newspaperman, I know a dying industry when I see one.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Puppy Dumb

Jake is a good puppy.

He is also a behemoth; he was 90 pounds the last time anyone weighed him, and he’s bigger now. I mean, he’s a great white whale of a dog.

Nine months old.

I think that’s what gets Jake into hot water. He’s so damned big we just expect him to be smarter, forgetting that he’s not even half-way through his puppyhood. When that is taken into account, he is like a doggie Zen master.

I am moved to remark on Jake today because last night, The Boy took a tumble out of his bed, and the only one who heard it happen was Jake. I don’t remember The Boy making any sound at all until I asked him, “Did you fall out of bed?” But Jake must have run into The Boy’s room as soon as it happened and when we were not immediately forthcoming, began to bark until we finally awoke and came in to put everything right.

I’m not sure the last dog would have done anything but calculate how the situation could best be used to his advantage. If he had opposable thumbs, I believe Obi would have taken over the world by now. And it would not be a benevolent dictatorship, oh no!

But as usual when I should be working, I digress even from my digressions.

So I’ve reinforced The Boy’s bed (his sheets were loose and he cocooned himself right over the side of the bed, so I gave his bedmaking a near military makeover. We’ll be lucky to pry him out of those sheets tomorrow morning) and have been reassessing my ongoing irritation with the dog as well.

He’s three times the size any house puppy should be; we’re used to dogs that are either wise sages or evil geniuses and Jake is puppy-dumb as hell; and we’re busy with our own lives, we don’t have time to entertain both The Boy and the dog every waking, non-working moment.

On the other hand, he may get smarter; he’s already a better cuddler than any of my previous dogs; and most of all, he stepped up and risked an ass-[let’s say]chewing for barking in the middle of the night because a member of the pack was in distress. That deserves recognition and appreciation.

So, good job, Jake! How’d you like to go out in the yard and roll around in your own excrement for a few minutes to celebrate? We’ll hose you off when you’re done, you big, dumb, sweet-natured son of a bitch.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Alphabet Soup

See if you can guess the Secret Word:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Robert Downey Jr. is a stand-up guy

Just caught his “Today” show appearance on the internets this morning, and I have to say, way to go!

Downey is out on tour promoting his new film and I guess he’s been getting a lot of questions along the lines of “What advice would give Charlie Sheen?” because of Sheen’s most recent tabloid misadventures. Downey has been demurring on the issue, his standard line being something like, “If I had anything to say to Charlie, I’d say it to him, not you.” Only nicer, because he does have a movie to sell and a career to think about.

This morning, “Today” upped the ante by asking him about another troubled celebrity of his acquaintance, smelly Mel Gibson.

Sidebar: I love Gibson’s films, especially the ones he directs. The “Mad Max” and “Lethal Weapon” franchises are favorites (well, the first two of each, anyhow) and his three directorial efforts either border on genius or walk right into its camp. The only thing that made “The Passion” a creative failure was the absolute lack of a plot. Gibson wanted his audience to watch their Savior suffer unimaginable horrors for two hours, and by God, that’s exactly what he and they did. And, like their Savior, it was brilliantly executed.

But like almost everybody else, I’m currently more disgusted with Gibson’s moral abyss than impressed by his artistic integrity. The scary-crazy shit Mel’s been caught on tape saying lately, you don’t just walk away from. Anti-Semitism is right up there in the top tier with child predation when it comes to predilections that are hard to forgive.

So Downey is on “Today” this morning, trying to sell his R-rated buddy comedy to the morning TV crowd and the MILF co-host hits him with the Gibson zinger from outta nowhere. And off the top of his head, Downey eloquently affirmed his friendship with Gibson without addressing or even deflecting the question’s myriad implications.

And I thought, “Man, that is not the easy answer. That sure isn’t the movie-promo-tour answer. That is the stand-up guy answer.”

A quick recent history recap: In case you don’t know, after Downey’s last stint in lock-up some years ago, he was “not hireable” upon release from prison. Even though he was extremely high-functioning during actual filming, his off-set antics always ended him up in the E.R., a neighbor’s bedroom, the pokey, or some combination of all of the above.

He’d been given second chance after second chance and he never failed to eventually piss each and every one of them away. He was poison around town. Everybody thought his next “slip” would be a) inevitable and b) probably his last. Nobody in Hollywood in their right mind would touch him with a ten-foot-pole.

Which is where Mel Gibson came in.

He gave the trademark Mel Gibson middle-finger to the number-crunchers and insurance geniuses who said, and quite reasonably at the time, that it was way too risky to jeopardize a motion picture by hiring a known drug addict like Robert Downey Jr. to star in it. (“He might not be alive to do publicity!”)

I remember reading at the time how Mel Gibson had befriended Downey, and I remember being grateful that Downey had someone around to give him one last shot, one he himself would admit he had earned no right to hope for.

I remember seeing the movie Mel put him in, “The Singing Detective.” It was so bad, even Downey’s performance couldn’t salvage it.

But I was so delighted to see him back on the silver screen. Still alive and by all accounts, still sober. And I thanked Mel Gibson again.

Downey has gone on to bigger and better things ever since, but who’s to say what might have happened had Gibson not thrown him a lifeline when he needed one most? I’m sure that’s a thought that has crossed Downey’s mind more than once in the years since “The Singing Detective.”

And this morning, Downey returned the favor. And re-affirmed the impression I’ve had about him all along—even when he was “troubled”—that underneath the addictions, compulsions and just plain crazy good looks, there beat the heart of a stand-up guy, as my Dad used to say. A good man to have your back when the going gets rough.

Who knows? I reckon Downey might even hire Gibson for a film (now that his cameo in the “Hangover” sequel was nixed by rising star Zach Galifianakis) that he’ll gamble his own money on, to return the favor. It would be the stand-up thing to do.

But I would keep Gibson off the promo trail. Unlike substance abuse, anti-Semitism and misogyny can’t be managed by going to meetings and working your Steps.