Sunday, November 28, 2010

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.


Post a Comment

<< Home