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My party. Dozens in attendance. Only one knew me more than ten years ago. I met all the others after I stopped drinking. How can they possibly understand?
Maybe, Jason said it best, with a full wine glass raised.
The toastmaster-- as we all refer to him on nights like these-- Jason wished me well and said I represented all that is possible. If one person struggles to change one minor detail in their life, let mine stand as an example that it can be done. It’s a phrase we echo at meetings. “If I can do it, anyone can”.
The day we met was the day I knew we’d never date. She was the new intern and I was the caffeine-amped over-worked boy that got one too many buttons pushed.
Her fault was trying to get my attention by tapping my shoulder.
Before I wheeled around I was already halfway into my tirade. There are certain things that no one ever does to me. Never. And Kim, the blue-eyed beauty standing in front of me was hearing it loud and clear. And catching spittle flying off my lips. In one reply she apologized and told me to ‘fuck off’.
And still she accepted my offer to go out and catch a show around the corner. If I remember correctly, it was someone like Soul Asylum or Garbage. Some band she’s love and I could get us in free.
That is, if my name was actually on the guest list.
But that night, there was a terrible mistake and I’d been left off the comp list. Kim rolled her eyes. I pleaded with the guy at the door. Kim gave up and wanted to go. I drove her home. She asked to be dropped off a block from her door.
Kim never waited for strike three. The first two strikes were bad enough: angry guy with no manners and gets turned away at the club door. Those crystal clear blue eyes, with wispy blonde hair. She was perfect for me-- or so I thought.
Bad attitude girl, who liked to swear, smoke and smile.
I gently plied my charms. She hated me and loved it, and hated to admit that she almost loved me. Or so I thought. I’m not exactly sure what our relationship was. It was over before it started and I don’t think she was entirely honest.
Concerts that changed my world:
Ramones with Margaret. Replacements as a surprise birthday gift. Husker Du. Full moon Easter show with Robyn Hitchcock. Acid tripping with Violent Femmes. Oasis fist fights the warm up band. Pink Floyd, and I fall in love with an unavailable woman. Jason taking me to see some guy named Marilyn Manson. Bob Mould, at the Orpheum, where I met ‘Miss Toronto’. Radiohead slagging the station that sponsored the show. Garbage. Thrill Kill Kult. Hole. Portishead. KROQ’s acoustic Christmas with Fiona Apple. Lollapalooza: Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins. And, Bettie Servert downstairs with Sean and Anne.
We’re almost at meet day. Weeks and weeks of preparation. The work is behind us, and now all that’s left is the mental aspect. Am I able to do it? I’ve got butterflies going two days before my first event: 400 IM. I’m scared to get up on the blocks. Scared of how I’ll do against other competitors.
Scared that I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to go head-to-head with swimmers.
Who’s to say, really? I’ll just have to plan for the best and make believe I’m cutthroat. If they only knew what a pansy I am, it’d be over.
One day down and two to go. The meet started three hours late. That’s the first disappointment. I tried to balance my food intake against the time I’d likely be in the water competing.
The late start threw that of whack.
So I immediately got a lesson is sitting around and waiting. Warm up an hour. Try and get loose. There’s a guy from Vegas who seemed like he was playing head games (Or was that me afraid of getting messed with?) Come race I time, I was pleased with the time, but I lost to a 51-year-old. Second disappointment.
Day two is a blast all around. Larger group from the club shows up. We do three relays and I try my hand in three events. We spend all day in the bleachers chatting and telling stories. We never get any chances like that during practice.
Heck, I don’t even know what the women look like with dry hair.
My times are faster than I thought possible. My sprints are explosive. Then there was the 200 meter Backstroke. Back in college that was my best event. Today, it was the most disappointing time. Started out slow and only got slower.
On the third day I hit a wall. Both physical and mental. I’m the only team member registered to swim. It’s just me, my reading material and the nagging thought that I have work waiting for me at the end of the day.
My swimming didn’t start off on the right foot, either.
My 400 Freestyle was ‘Slow and slower’. And the more I sat around the pool the more I wanted to go home and nap. So I sprinted 50 Breast and 50 back and scratched the event I had really wanted swim (at one time). The 200 IM.
Up on the fourth floor there wasn’t anyone to disturb me. I’d wake around noon. Stumble down to the wetbar on the second floor and start filling up glasses. Or sometimes soda cups to disguise the liquor.
Then I’d drink them down until I passed out.
I spent weeks my senior year doing nothing but making the walk up and down the stairs between fits of writing and spinning LPs on the stereo. Then, maybe once an hour, I’d crawl out on the fire escape and smoke a cigarette. At the time, I thought I was really living it up.
I got this thing in my head about black shoes. I wanted a pair of running shoes with soft and sleek leather. I just ran out and made an impulse purchase.
But the shoes I got looked nothing like what I wanted.
These were black and leather with a rubber sole and dressy. I’d kill myself trying to run in them. And they were maybe a half size too small. Either way, I spent too much for them. But I like them. They’re still in my closet. I wear them out maybe once a month. They hurt all the time.
It happened while I was in one of my darkest and deepest funks. Trained professionals would have called it ‘depression.’ I worked every day but then went home and slept until it was time to eat and repeat the process. Meals came in a McDonald’s bag.
Occasionally I boiled white rice.
And once, I let the leftover rice sit in a bowl and fester in my kitchen sink until it started moving. That was my introduction into maggots. I knew they existed but hadn’t a clue about how or where. My amateur experiment gave me all the proof I needed.
Tetris used to haunt my dreams. I played it so often on the computer that I couldn’t go an hour without trying to fit random shapes into other ones. There wasn’t a game I didn’t know how to win. Minesweeper. Solitaire. You name it and I probably played it on the computer.
I’m not sure how much of my life was wasted sitting there.
Then again, I wasn’t frying my brain watching TV. That’s the same excuse I used to justify my mind-numbing stretches at the computer. Large coffee cup in the right hand, cigarette and ashtray to the left.
It’s hard to believe we’re in the next to last weekend before Christmas. The weather’s nothing like a winter wonderland. Despite it all, I trudged out and started my shopping.
Mapped out the entire route to be most efficient.
Now, there’s a man with too much time on his hands. Made sure to avoid the long stoplights and dreadful left turns. Do I start from the furthest store and work my way home or the other way around? And how many stores do I ‘shop’ before I start buying and filling up the bags? Just as long as they giftwrap.
Nothing’s as bad as a disappointing Christmas party. First the office one was cut short to go to the annual party hosted by friends. Only for me to discover that she wasn’t even going to be there.
That’s the whole reason I showed up.
What’s a party when there’s no one to flirt with? She was so incredibly sick that she couldn’t muster the energy to get out of bed. Had I known, I would’ve stopped by her place to feed her soup and flat 7-Up. The rest of my night was flat. It felt empty and lifeless. I’m crushed.
The church that I grew up in burned down. A weird construction mishap, a welder’s spark, ignited the roof and it crumbled to the ground. Almost everything was destroyed but a few precious items were saved.
The oversized stained glass windows didn’t make it.
However, a few panes that didn’t shatter were saved and sold as a fundraiser. The money went to rebuild the sanctuary as it once was. The diamond-shaped glass is about the size of a paperback book. Mom bought a greenish-yellow one. The glass diamond now hangs in my kitchen window and colors the low winter sunlight.
It’s the last time I can donate blood this year. You’re allowed only six donations every 12 months. I haven’t reached my limit but if I don’t give blood now it’ll be a lost pint that I can never make-up.
The TV is blaring during the pre-donation screening process.
The Red Cross staff is watching VH1 or something. They’re counting down the top videos of the 80s. What’s so strange is that the songs seem so old. And the documentary style presentation makes it sound like the music was significant. Just one Twisted Sister video and there goes that concept.
There was a time that the only wheels I had were on a bike. It got me everywhere I really needed to be and most placed I wanted to go. Those days seem like a long time ago but I’d still like to have the chance to bike around.
Places I might bike if I owned one:
Chinatown and the garment district. Up to Montrose and bum around. In and around the Griffith Park golf course and up to the observatory. All along the concrete river that’s called the Los Angeles. To some of my favorite sunny day hiking spots.
I don’t mind looking back for a moment and thinking about the people that have moved out of my life. You know the kind. The ones who stop returning there calls. Or the plans to ‘do lunch’ never materialize even after a half-dozen attempts. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that there’s no point to writing email. It’ll go unanswered. Or bounced back because they’ve changed ISPs.
There’s Jim, Trish and Mo. Then Alex and Val are headed there on a fast track. Jason A got there in a heartbeat. Matt and Matt and Ed and Chuck and Jaime.
A list of the best vacations:
Oregon for seven days in a car. Baseball trip in 1990 with Chris: Every night a new city crashing on a friend’s floor and a new game to watch. Aruba with three single women.
A weeklong Midwest road-trip starting and ending with weddings in Chicago. Yellowstone National Park only one season after the major fires. Memorial Day wedding at home leading to a road-trip across the upper Plains states and the Pacific Coast.
Traveling by car down the Mississippi and into New Orleans. Crisscrossing the California coastal mountain range going north to San Francisco.
It’s always weird leaving home for an extended period of time. I’m afraid something catastrophic might happen. Fire, flood, the cats peeing on every piece of furniture. I usually spend the last few minutes double-checking everything just to make certain I haven’t left the shower running. I never do.
And what am I dreading most as I walk out the door?
What will await me on my return home: The mountains of snail mail, email and three different newspapers. I’m already overwhelmed with stacks of things that must get done. And a week on vacation only exacerbates this never-ending problem.
The trip is only a few days old and I already miss my routine. Not the work, writing, proofing and (sometimes) drudgery of it all. But waking before dawn, rushing off to the pool and jumping in. The three mile swim with friends and rewarding myself with coffee (mixed with honey, please).
I actually miss the pool.
My body feels a new creakiness. I’m not as limber. I’m not sore either, but that’s because my body isn’t being stressed. That is, all but the huge meals mom is making for all of us. My stomach is bursting at the seams.
I have a few bad habits that are incredibly hard to break. The one I notice most is how often I bite my nails. During times I’m least stressed I still gnaw at them. Under pressure I work on them until my fingers hurt. Though, as a kid I went down until they bled.
Even as an adult on vacation I’m chewing my nails off.
I thought this time would be for me to relax and get away from it all. But I spent the afternoon at the fireplace, reading David Sedaris and biting my nails. It’s vacation, damn it.
My 12-year-old nephew put me to shame. I took off the snowboard for one day and promised him we’d hit as many black diamonds he could make. I put on my skis, figuring I’d do better on the moguls.
My nephew spent most of the time waiting for me to get down the slopes.
Am I that much out of skiing shape? I felt awkward on skis. I did most of those slopes better on the board a few days earlier. What’s with me? How disappointing for both of us that the day turned out to be such a dud.
My last vacation was perfect because it was with the best of friends and I actually escaped from work. No clocks, no news or radio. We lived the whole week in a vacuum. Just us, our friends and nature.
On this trip I can’t get away from CNN.
Mom and dad turn it on first thing and I think it plays all day. That, of course, is when they’re not tuning into the weather channel. Both cable stations have so much to offer, but it’s given in a form that drives me nuts: present, commercial, repeat. How I miss Oregon.
Growing up I’d spend Christmas Eve unwrapping one special gift and then going to church for a midnight service. The entire sidewalk and stairs leading to the sanctuary would be lighted with luminaries. One of the last times I went was while I was dating Margaret.
I slept all through mass with my head on her breast.
I can’t remember exactly why I was so tired. Probably spent the last three nights out late with friends drinking and what not. When the service was over, I wiped the drool from my face and thanked the minister. Santa would arrive soon.
Over the last year I think my feet have grown. To be more correct: ‘foot’. The left one has expanded about a half inch. It’s always been a little longer but this winter I really noticed the difference in my ski boots.
I’m about to lose a big toenail.
The left one is sitting on top of a huge ugly blood blister. Daily skiing is putting lots of pressure on it. With every turn I feel it give way just a little more. Any day and it’ll be gone. Or my worst fear, getting torn away in a bloody mess.
My brother-in-law knows how to get under my skin. He’s learned to punch my sensitive buttons and exactly at the point for the biggest payoff. So after a long Christmas with him I was surprised he hadn’t tweaked me. (He spent one evening trying to justify our spat this fall.)
He was just waiting for the right moment.
During the final meal with the whole family, we were almost done with mom’s potato soup. That’s when he asked: “Besides chicken broth, what else does this recipe call for?” This vegetarian blanched. I just ate chicken broth and mom knew it?
Cruising through the mountains of Colorado and scanning around the radio dial. All I can seem to get is classic rock and forgotten bands: Ozzy Osborne, Icicle Works, Traffic, Jimi Hendrix and Simply Red.
These stations think this would attract listeners?
I spent the drive into Denver searching for something, anything, that I found listenable. I guess my tastes don’t match the city’s. I finally stopped on a station at the end of the dial playing modern bands. But I turned that off because it was grating on my nerves. I would’ve been happy to listen to ‘This American Life’.
Looking back, 2001 was just a series of crashing disappointments:
January. Dierdre passes away suddenly without saying ‘goodbye’ February. Reject. Softly, but nonetheless rejected. March. Absolutely no chance at getting DSL.
April. Mark and I having pissing matches. May. Don’t know. June. A patch in the back lawn starts dying.
July. Smallish birthday party with only the closest of friends. August. Is she really going out with him? September. Deirdre is replaced but in name only.
October. The whole world is turning in a different orbit. November. No home group to celebrate with. December. Can’t make entire company holiday party.
Looking back, 2001 was incredibly swell:
January. Was one of the lucky ones and wasn’t laid off. February. Passed my annual physical March. First full month that I’m working from home.
April. Parents visit, bearing many gifts. May. Start swimming every morning with Masters Team. June. Orange and Peach trees overwhelmed with fruit.
July. Smallish birthday bash in Los Feliz. August. Weeklong Oregon roadtrip with a love of my life. September. Mara visits with stories and a smile.
October. Redecorate the living room. November. Ten consecutive years of (near) sanity. December. Race times qualify for Nationals next May in Hawaii.
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