Monday, December 23, 2013

No Wings For Clarence

I recently performed in a show dealing with mental health called "A Stand-up Mind - Holiday Edition" at the Salvage Vanguard Theater. The following is the transcript of my part of the show with some additions. Happy Holidays!

Something that happens to you when you are in treatment or therapy (for whatever reason...mine was alcohol/drug related) is that you have a hard time opening up in group and individual sessions in the beginning. However, you then find yourself on the other end...where you are completely upfront and uncomfortably honest all the everyone.

"How are you?"
"Oh, just dealing with emotional detachment and intimacy issues as well as accepting the inevitability of my own death. I mean, FINE. I'm fine. Can I get a venti vanilla latte..."

I think about that when I prepare to go visit my family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. You don't want to be honest with your family during the holidays, if ever. They love you and all, but they don't want a buzzkill during turkey. "Don't ruin my Christmas with your reality!" Just say you're fine.

My mother has always been "the organizer" for family gatherings. Every get together needs one, and she's good at it. She always makes sure everyone is included in the one is left out. Every Christmas with my immediate family would have a stocking for each person. This included one for my significant other, so there it was with my exwife's name on it...then it had a girlfriend's name...then a different girlfriend's name...then it was blank. I suggested just putting "Young Childless Hussy" on there and be done with it. Sure, it sounds harsh, but it would look stunning in glittered calligraphy.

For the bigger family gatherings that included all my aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids, Mom would dole out the food assignments based on finances, reliability, and possibly family status. Granny is cooking the turkey...Aunt Denise is bringing green beans, Uncle Richard is bringing pie, this cousin is doing a salad, another cousin is bringing all the plates, cups, cutlery and bread...

Me: "What should I pick up?"
Mom: "How grab a bottle of soda?"
Me: "Soda. Right. Well, I hope I can pull this off."

Couldn't really blame her. I've been pretty sketchy for years.

I'm not really a huge fan of Christmas. The music is awful, I'm poor so I hate buying gifts...and I haven't been impressed by lights and ornaments since I did a bunch of psychedelics 15 years ago. "I saw my roommates torso dislodge from his body and his soul fly into the fireplace which was morphing through every fireplace I've ever seen in my life...but sure, that's an impressive tree with lights on it."

Not a big fan of Christmas movies, either. We would watch one every year as a little tradition. Never "Die Hard", though. Too bad. Usually it was "A Christmas Story", which I liked, or "It's a Wonderful Life."

I've seen the last half hour of "It's a Wonderful Life" many times, but I've only seen it all the way through maybe twice. It's 2 hours and 10 minutes long. There's no call for that, especially since they spend the first 90 minutes setting up one thing: George Bailey had big dreams of traveling the world, but instead he gave and gave and helped everyone else and let his dream die as he settled on a failing business and a family. So Clarence has to show George that his life is worth living in order to get his wings. He shows him what life was like if he had never been know the movie.

When I saw the movie about 5 years ago, something occurred to me. I really liked Pottersville way more than Bedford Falls. Instead of a suburban nightmare, Pottersville was a strip of bars, pool halls, strip clubs and pawn shit. If I had been George Bailey, I would have said to Clarence, "Let me get this straight. I'm not running a bankrupt business and loan, my dumbass drunk uncle didn't lose 8 grand, and I'm no longer married with 4 kids, one of them named fucking Zuzu? Heh, you're shit out of luck, Clarence. MERRY CHRISTMAS, POTTERSVILLE!!" (starts running through the street)

"Bars, strip clubs...this is awesome...I mean, awful. Right. This is awful."
Also, Donna Reed in the alternate universe was supposed to be a librarian "old maid" or "spinster"...which is 1940's speak for "cougar". But she was like 24 in that movie and hot, so...nice try.

But I digress. I like seeing my family once in a while. Getting together just for the hell of it instead of a required holiday gathering has been better for me, though. I don't know why we put pressure on ourselves during the holidays. Maybe it's because it's better when we want to as opposed to when we have to? Regarding anxiety and stress, the easiest Christmas I went through was during the worst time of my life when I was strung out on heroin. A friend gave me a couple of xanax to make it through a couple of days. So I showed up at our huge family gathering with tons of kids running around, and I sat down on the couch and fell asleep. I woke up, got food, fell asleep. Woke up, people were opening presents, fell asleep. Woke up, it was time to go. That was pretty awesome. Relatively speaking.

Last year, I was locked up in jail and then treatment from September until March. That means I missed Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Valentine's Day. And it was...a relief! WHEW! Let me tell need a break from the stress of the holidays, get yourself into custody! I didn't have to buy shit or fake small was beautiful.

I did miss seeing my family in the end. Also, another benefit of being locked up is the bar is set really low for you at the next holiday gathering.

"So, John, are you working?"
"Yes, I wash dishes."
"Oh, look at you! All employed and not incarcerated!" or "Nice to see you upright and conscious!" or "Look who's breathing!"

If you're like me and you aren't a fan of the holidays...just remember to see your family if you can...for them. It's not for you. I know a lot of you enjoy the holidays after you see your kin by going to your bar and swapping "my family is insane" stories with your bar friends over pints and shots. Do that. Make that your tradition, because that's what makes the holidays great...being with those you want to love...after you spend time with the ones you have to love.

Just remember...when your family say "I'm fine."

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Poor Shouldn't Smoke?

"I was in line at the store, and this woman in front of me paid for groceries with a Lone Star card, and then bought a pack of cigarettes with cash! OMG, can you believe it? And she had an iPhone and a fancy purse, I mean, what is wrong with this country..."

I can totally relate to what you are saying. And by "relate" I mean that I have also paid for food with my Lone Star "food stamps" card and then bought cigarettes with my debit card. I did that today, actually. OMG, right?

I am your nightmare. I am a drug addict with an iPod, checking his Facebook on his phone, carrying a $100 backpack wearing name brand skate shoes buying smokes and letting your tax dollars pay for his meal. Boo! If that's all you know about me, that sentence probably makes you angry and shake your fist at "liberals."

Here's what that sentence doesn't tell you. I've qualified for food stamps for a while. I didn't want to take advantage of it...principles, pride, ego, whatever...I was going to get by on my own. But then I had to start making significant payments to probation, and I was not going to be able to afford anything. I was working during the slow period at the restaurant, living in a sober house and wearing nicotine patches that were given to me. I was eating leftovers from staff meals at work. In a stressed-out tearful phone call to my mother, she encouraged me to keep doing the right thing and to apply for food stamps, because it would be temporary until I paid off probation and the monthly breathalizer fee. So I did.

I skateboard and bus to a restaurant where I bust my ass 8 hours a day as a dishwasher. I don't drink or do drugs anymore...sober 15 months. I bought these shoes in March with part of my income tax return. The iPod is second-hand from my family. My phone is a cheap piece of shit. I bought my backpack at Goodwill for $12 after looking for one for a month.

I get my music, books and movies from the public library. I don't buy or own much. I buy cigarettes with money I have leftover after paying all my bills and rent, and I buy them instead of patches because it only costs me about $20 more to actually keep smoking. That's my luxury purchase...a pack of smokes to enjoy and relieve a bit of stress every day so that I don't turn around in line at the store to someone eyeing me and tell them, "Eat a smelly cock, sea cow." That's me being selfish and flawed, and I'm comfortable with it.

You'll never know why the lady in front of you bought smokes, because you're not her, and you have no idea what her life has been like...and given your lack of empathy, you won't bother to find out. It must suck being so angry at the fact that there are 7 billion people on the planet that aren't you. Grr.

We all can make assumptions and snap judgments with little to no information. However, decent people tend to let it pass or recognize what they're opposed to jumping online and voicing every awful thought in their heads. Maybe you don't need to spill out all that bullshit from your big dumb brain into social networking.

But hey, if you want to play the snap judgment game, let's play. You like to ask questions like "how can someone buy beer instead of saving money", or "how can that poor person afford a tablet." Let me ask some questions, then.

How can you sit there and watch that football game on Sunday instead of playing with your kids who haven't seen you all week?

How can you buy the biggest flat screen TV in the store instead of putting that money away for your kid's college fund and continue watching your perfectly acceptable existing TV?

How can you consider yourself faithful to your wife when you go to a strip club for lunch on a weekly basis?

How do you consider yourself a religious person when you ignore parts of the Bible that conflict with your poor-hating fuck-everybody-but-my-family-and-friends sensibilities?

How can you eat that when you know you want to lose weight and get healthy?

Why do you choose to stay in that failing marriage while cheating on your spouse instead of putting forth an effort to make it work?

Why do you expect rich people to give to charity when you won't donate just a little bit of your time to helping someone else in need?

Why do you think you're the only one who has suffered and experienced pain?

Why can't we all just be perfect and adhere to our personal morals every second of the day? Why do we have to be so...human?

Note: This blog is directed towards acquaintances of mine who unfortunately won't read this, and to several people who have posted comments online that use anonymity to be outspoken, opinionated and overall shitty.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The 24 Hour Obsession

I came home from work Sunday afternoon intending to write a bit. I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about other than possibly blast unfunny, tactless and obvious jokes about Paul Walker and imply that if you feel the need to make a Fast and Furious reference, you should donate to his charity to even out the fact that you and your joke suck.

But no. I did not write anything Sunday night because I had a song stuck in my head. Actually, it was a vague recollection of bits of the song, and it camped out in my brain. I had heard it on 101X a couple of times last October (in jail where I could do no research on it). I had to listen to the song again to make the musical memory loop stop.

The problem? I had no idea who sang it or even the name of it. Even worse, I didn't know any of the fucking words of the song. Try googling for that (googling "that groovy song that goes do do do doo"). I could hear the bass line and guitar riffs, but the memory of the singer's voice was all Charlie Brown's teacher in my head. I knew the band was new, but I had no clue if I would even recognize their name if I came across it.

I tried doing something else. I took a nap...I tried distracting my brain with ice cream, my new vice...I attempted to finish season 3 of "Fringe", but I couldn't concentrate. I had to find that damn tune. I went to the 101X website where they post their daily playlists, but they only had the past week listed. I went through every song they played anyway...if I didn't recognize the song title or band, I looked it up on YouTube.

Side note...Hey, 101X...It's been almost 20 years. You don't have to keep playing "Santeria" by Sublime every day. And that stupid Verve song. It also plays on every one of my Pandora stations. It's like the Music Genome Project works through complex algorithms to determine "Bittersweet Symphony" fits in every possible genre. Nice job.

Anyhoo. My YouTube listening party took some time. I was happy to discover new music (or new to me), like "Elephant" by Tame Impala and Spoon's last two releases. I did sidetrack myself with one or sixteen cat videos, but I had to get back to the only goal that mattered. I did a few searches on Alternative singles released last year, but I kept getting blogs and comments recommending the bands Imagine Dragons and the xx. I like a couple of Imagine Dragons songs, and I would like the xx, but their singing style of alternating the male and female singer sounds like they were broke and had to share one microphone. "I'll sing a you sing a line...then I'll sing a line..."

The hook of the song I was trying to find was on the tip of my tongue...on the tip of my brain's tongue. It was something like, "wouldn't/couldn't it be right/nice." Or, "Uh it be I..." as I heard it over and over. When I searched the varying word combinations, Google insisted I was trying to find the lyrics for the Beach Boys "Wouldn't It Be Nice." I calmly explained to Google that I knew who the fuck the Beach Boys were, and I could give two shits about about Brian Wilson singing to a girl about how it would be nice if they were older so they "wouldn't have to wait so long"...which is creepy and weird because he was 24 years old when he sang that.

This went on for hours. Not exaggerating. I looked online all night. I went to sleep exhausted and despondent.

I woke up at noon (ish) with the song bits still staging their Occupy John's Thoughts protest. However, as I lay there in bed, one word from the lyrics that I couldn't remember became suddenly clear: candelabra. The guy says "candelabra" for some reason. Jesus, why would anyone that's not Bauhaus reference that in a song? That's dumb as balls. Okay, focus, John. This is a breakthrough. Let's get coffee.

So I did a search on song lyrics that contain "candelabra." Rattled by the Rush - Pavement, no...Te Amo - Rihanna, ha...Transylvanian Concubine - Rasputina, no but I am so looking that up later. And then...there it was. The Divine Fits.

Not "Wouldn't it be nice", but "Would that not be nice." You bastards.

I bought the song. I figure a dollar was worth dispelling my little insanity via my iPod. It's a decent's not amazing or worth going batshit crazy for 24 hours, but I like it.

I've listened to it about 10 times now. I still don't remember any of the words. Except "candelabra."