Author Archives: admin

November 16, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about leaving.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, then you’ve probably heard some variation of my moving stories, that I spent the first 18 years at one address, and then made up for lost time by moving what seemed like twice a year. Some of the moves were big – 4 times across the country in one direction or another – and some were small, like the 3 different apartments in San Francisco in an 18 month period.

The problem with moving so many times is that it creates a feeling of rootlessness and restlessness, and fosters a separation between myself and those around me. It still surprises me that I have so many good friends and people who care about me in my life, considering how often I’m quick to abandon where I’m living. Most of my moves have been made with a careless, directionless energy, done more as a knee-jerk reaction to life, always choosing flight instead of fight when life turned hard or I wasn’t getting what I felt I deserved.

That’s part of what is making this move difficult, because I can recognize my patterns and find myself feeling like I’m doing it again, especially if I choose not to focus on the positives, and there are many, that are part of this transition. Mostly, though, I think some of that disappointment comes from how excited I was to move back here. I will never forget that feeling I had, when i sat down on the plane to come work on a novel two months before I moved back, when I knew I was going home. It was inexplicable and undeniable. It might seem like it was also a bit a premature, but I don’t think so.

Home is where we go when we need to, it is the place that takes us in when the rest of the world has thrown us out, it is where we remember who we were and become who we are. i didn’t know 21 months ago that I still had challenges to face, both from without as well as within, but seeing who I am today makes me glad they happened. I’m a changed person in ways I didn’t think imaginable, and I believe that many of those changes have made me a better person.

They say you can’t go home again, and in a sense I think that’s true. The New York I was living in two years ago isn’t the same one I first lived in, and my relationship with Key West today is not the same one it was in 2005 when I first moved here. But both those places, as well as Connecticut, will always be home to me, because they are the places responsible for making me the person I am. If you can carry that with you, if you can take those lessons and grow with them and from them, then you don’t have to go home again, because home will always be with you.

Finally, a musical note. Whenever I move, I always post a song, the same song. It’s a beautiful song by my favorite band, all about leaving, but when I was thinking about it the other day, I realized that it is also a truly sad song, a funeral dirge basically, and nobody’s dying today. Don’t get me wrong. I love you more than words can tell, but I’m not going home by the waterside to rest my bones. This song came to mind, and even if most of the lyrics are borderline nonsense, the ones that aren’t are pretty simple and straightforward: follow the day, and reach for the sun. (That the video also features one of my favorite shows is just a bonus.)

I’ll see you when I see you. Peace.

November 4, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about licorice.

Last Sunday’s New York Times magazine was all about candy. One of the articles was about the search for a very particular style of licorice from Finland called Salmiakki. In the article, the author, Mark Binelli, cited one of my favorite candy/rock-n-roll crossover quotes, and then took it to the next level:

“Licorice candy has been compared, astutely, to the Grateful Dead, by none other than the Grateful Dead singer, Jerry Garcia, who allowed in an interview: ‘Our audience is like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.’ To extend Garcia’s simile, albeit imperfectly, that would make salty licorice – salmiakki in Finland, where they consume the most potent flavors – the candy equivalent of a 47-minute version of ‘Dark Star.’ Meaning, for superfans only.”

I tried continuing on with the article (and I really need to, considering next week’s magazine shows up in about 12 hours) but I got caught up in a series of questions and thoughts, each growing out of the previous ones. It started with really wanting to hear a super jammy “Dark Star,” followed by wondering what era of the band would have the best one, then wondering if they could do it justice now with the current line-up, and finally wrapping me up with this question:

If a band who wasn’t the Grateful Dead played an epic 47-minute version of “Dark Star,” would it count?

Not surprisingly, my first reaction was “No, it wouldn’t.” But that’s an answer based out of nostalgia. Think of me what you will, but some of my happiest memories are being at shows where the band was just…ON! Everything from performance to song selection to the atmosphere was just so perfect, it colored how I think all concerts should be. One of the most powerful moments for me musically is still the image of the band, Phil, Bob and Jerry standing back near their amps, everybody – including Bill and Mickey and Vince – just tuning up a little, 2 and 3-second fragments of songs emerging, before they picked a song, started into it and then, as they dropped in to the song, the three of them would step up to the mics, the lights would sweep over the audience, and we’d be off into the music.

But the more I thought about it, the more I understood that the answer could be yes. I could listen to a “Dark Star” from ’69 or ’77 and get into it so much that I could feel transported, but I could never really be there. More importantly, I could be told I’m listening to a recording of the Dead from some show years ago, when in reality it could be some other band, talented enough to pull it off, who recorded it two days ago. Sure, I’d like to think I’ve been to enough shows and heard enough tapes that I could tell them, and especially Garcia’s voice, from a cover band, but I also know that I could lie to myself, because I would want to believe it was them.

It becomes a desire for authenticity, and in searching for it, I think it is something we miss more often than we think. It’s like over planning a party, only to have the best part of it be when everybody ends up in the kitchen. Certainly, there is a material need for authenticity. I buy an authentic Craftsman tool (shut up, I use tools sometimes!) because I know it has a history of dependability. Even then, however, it can become buying a name and the legacy behind it while not getting what you would expect from that same name. if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who bought a Harley-Davidson when they were partnered up with AMF, the same company that ran bowling alleys and made backyard volleyball sets.

A few years back, I went to see Anders Osborne with a couple of friends. There were two opening acts, the first was a local Irish rock band and the second was a group called Atlas Road Crew. They were from South Carolina, and they played really good, really solid, straight up hard southern rock and roll. Their last song was a cover of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, and it was awesome! They absolutely blew the place wide open with it, and in that moment, I didn’t find myself thinking “Oh, I shouldn’t be liking this as much as I am.” They owned that song, and that time and place – a club in Brooklyn with two of my best friends – is always what I’ll remember when I think of that song.

The point was driven home for me last night as I watched and listened to Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Listening to these songs was creating a new memory and moment for me, one I may or may not go back to when I hear the songs in the future, but I realized that, while these moments may also be memorable for the two of them, they aren’t the moments of authenticity for those songs. I have heard REK’s version of how he and Lyle wrote the song “This Old Porch” several times, and hearing Lyle’s side of the story made me realize that if I wanted an authentic moment for this song, that was when it was, back in Texas some 30-odd years ago.

I guess in the end, then, authenticity is what you make of it yourself, a “It’s real to me” ethos. And if I ever do hear that perfect 47-minute “Dark Star” jam, regardless of where it’s happening, my gut tells me that, as the music carries me away, I won’t be thinking of that song and that show, but other shows I’ve been to, other experiences I’ve shared with friends, even conversations I’ve had with friends about the band and their music, and I will be filled with the joy that those memories bring me, the joy I am searching for, the peace of fulfillment and contentment, that I am searching for in the first place when I am creating those moments in my life. That is what I like best in my life.

Far more than I like licorice.

October 27, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about age.

I need to say this, before anybody trips over their walker rushing to their computer to say their variation of “What does he know about age? He’s still a kid.” Yes, I know there are people older than me. I’m pretty sure there always will be, even when I’m seconds away from dying. I’m never going to be that person, the oldest living human, that gets trotted out and credits their longevity to eating a starfish a day and never walking on the left side of the road. And this isn’t going to be about how I suddenly feel my age – whatever that means – or anything like that. It’s just a rumination about age, one that came to me this week, that if I could explain in a few words I would. I can’t, however, so it’s going to take a few hundred, and it’s all Michelle Beadle’s fault. But first, a trip in the wayback machine.

The last birthday that carried weight in my eyes, and possibly the only one that ever did, was when I turned. 27. The earlier milestone ones – 16, 18, 21 – all didn’t matter that much because nothing was really changing. I knew I wasn’t getting my license the day I turned 16, being in high school when turning 18 is no big deal, and by the time I turned 21, I had already been living (and drinking) in NYC for two years, so it was a non-event.

But 27 was a big deal. 27 meant I was in my late 20’s, which meant 30 was right around the corner, and once a person turned 30, they were old, if not dead! (I don’t know, maybe I watched “Logan’s Run” one too many times.) It was this terrifically somber reckoning of my life, what I had done, and what I needed to accomplish in three years, and it was a bit terrifying. By the time I turned 30, I had grown out of that phase, so much so that the biggest thing that happened that year was realizing my metabolism had packed its bags and was moving on the greener pastures. Since then, birthdays have just been another day, and many times I have actually been wrong when people asked me how old I was.

This year, though, it registered, for an odd and paradoxical reason. If you don’t know, Michelle Beadle is a sportscaster I follow on Twitter, best known for her work, primarily covering the NBA, on ESPN. Her birthday is a few days before and a few years after mine, and this week she posted a picture online, with 43 scratch off lottery tickets for her 43 birthday. Here’s the paradox. My brain has a default setting that, when it comes to famous people, it automatically assumes they are older than me. (Exceptions are made for obvious cases. Having watched Daniel Radcliff basically grow up as Harry Potter is a perfect example.) If you asked me, before I knew, how old I thought she was, I would probably have said mid to late 30’s, even though another part of my brain just accepts that she should be older than me.

That was what made me look at the number of my age. Much like 20 years ago, I see it not only for what it is exactly (47), I also see it for what it represents (late 40’s) and for what comes after it (the big 5-0.) The difference now, though, is that none of that fills me with dread and unwanted expectations. Maybe it’s because of all the lifestyle changes that I’ve been making lately, maybe it’s because I look at life differently now than I did then (that supposed wisdom and maturity that comes with the aging process), or maybe it’s just a different kind of acceptance. The truth is that birthdays and ages are nothing more than literal milestones we pass while we make our journey through life. The marker that you pass every mile on the interstate is no more important than any other part of the road, and you don’t stop and make it out to be bigger than it is. It’s just another blip on the highway, just like a birthday is another day in the life.

I don’t know how old I will be in the end. My father died when he was 59, and I recently had a powerful and impactful dream that I would live to be 83, so hopefully somewhere between those two. But who knows? I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and I could be telling everybody seventy years from now what my secret to a long life was. All I do know is to enjoy each day as it comes, do the best I can with it, try to be a better person at the end of each day than I was at the beginning, and do it all over again the next day, making the best of what I get with what I got.

In the meantime, I should find out if Michelle has a thing for (slightly) older men…

October 20, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about crowds.

(I wrote this in two sittings, writing the first part early this afternoon, before I went out, not thinking it would turn out the way it did. Which just goes to show how insidious depression and anxiety can be.)

I hate ‘em. If you ask me, that’s what I’ll tell you, because for the most part, I do. That makes this upcoming week a particularly fresh hell for me. Even in the drinkingest of my drinking days, Fantasy Fest was my least favorite week on the island. Basically, it’s too many people wearing too little clothing, all of whom, if they weren’t trying to sit in my bar stool, they were aimlessly wandering in my way when I had somewhere to be.

The thing with crowds is that I’m somewhat okay when I’m in front of them. I know that sounds egotistical, and maybe part of it is, wanting to be the leader, but some of it also stems from the fact that I never feel like I’m part of the crowd in the first place. When I’m in the middle of the crowd, I feel like I don’t belong, not in an “I’m better than all these people” sort of way, but in a genuinely not fitting in with everybody else vibe. (Seriously, how long did you think I was going to go without bringing up my lack of self-esteem?) If you see me in a group of people, out at a concert, or in a crowded room, I guarantee you that you can walk up to me, tell me to stop obsessively thinking that I’m the outcast of the group, and you’ll be right. I mean, there was a time I was convinced that I was the only person at a Grateful Dead concert at Madison Square Garden on drugs, and everybody else knew it and was talking about it. (Okay, maybe some of that had to do with the drugs I was on…)

A friend of mine invited me to her restaurant’s Goombay celebration, going on today and tomorrow. Wen I got the invite on Facebook, my immediate thought was that of course she invited me, she invited everybody she knows who lives in Key West. I’m sure that’s true, but today, I had to remind myself that it’s also possible she likes me as a friend and wanted me to be there. When I worked at Bagatelle, and she was getting the restaurant ready to open, she would come in every so often to have a drink and a bite to eat, taking a break from the stress. It became a running joke between us that she couldn’t tell me anything about the restaurant – where it was, what it was going to serve, even the name of it – so we would talk about anything but that. Now the restaurant is celebrating its five-year anniversary, and her and her boyfriend come up to Hot Tin every so often for drinks and dinner.

So I made myself go. I want to support her, but also because I want to say goodbye to her. I’m not planning any sort of big goodbye party for myself. I have several reasons why not, but the truth is I’m still afraid nobody will come. Instead, I want to make sure I see a few special people to say goodbye, people that have shown me the warmth and kindness that are the bedrock of friendship, and since I can’t make them come to me, I need to make the effort.

And that is the essence of why I don’t like crowds. I don’t have enough confidence in myself to trust the relationship I have with people as individuals, so when you get a group of those individuals together, I really feel like the guy in a T. Rex costume when everybody else is wearing a tux. There are people here I am probably better friends with than I realize, and many others I would be friends with, if I had that confidence, and since I didn’t, and felt like I didn’t fit in, that’s why I had a lifetime of the drinkingest of drinking days. Being the life of the party made me feel like I belonged, and if it didn’t, at least it made me numb enough to not care.

So I went. And I couldn’t do it. I spent fifteen minutes (at least, that was what it felt like. It was probably closer to two or three) walking up and down on the street, never getting more than twenty feet beyond the place, before I turned back and walked by again. I saw people I knew, said hi to one of them, made the smallest of small talk before they left, and I stood there, as if I expected them to come back and introduce me to people I already knew and who I knew liked me. It is so easy, just walk in, say hi, see how they’re doing, tell them why I’m there, and say goodbye, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make myself feel like I belonged there. It blows my mind that I can be so comfortable with some aspects of my life that I manage become very successful, and yet there are other parts, consisting of the seemingly most common and simplest things, that absolutely paralyze me. I will leave here, and people who I care about and like, who I know like and care about me, will not know, will not get a chance to say goodbye, because I am simply too scared to tell them.

And that’s why I don’t like crowds. Apparently of any size.

September 13, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about two things I never talk about. Specifically, I want to talk about why I don’t talk about them, and to do so, I’m not going to talk about them at first.

Imagine you have a friend that is dating somebody bad for them. I don’t mean “wears the wrong clothes” or “roots for the wrong football team” bad for them, but emotionally bad, perhaps even dangerously slow. If you are going to talk to the friend about this person, do you:

A) Tell them all, the reasons they should not be dating this person,

B) Tell them all the reasons they should be dating somebody else, or

C) Tell them they’re stupid and walk away from them?

The answer we’ve all probably come to learn the hard way is D) None of the above. People choose to be with other people because of an emotional decision, it is something they have faith in, it is a part of who they are, and when we question their choice, or worse, try to tell them we know better what is best for them, we are in fact attacking their identity. We are questioning who they are, and they are going to respond negatively to that. At best, they will tell us they know what they’re doing, or that there are sides to the other person we never see. More likely, they will ignore us and double down on the decision they made.

Not only does choosing answer A, B or C cause a problem then, it will come back to bite us again in the future. The only way a person comes to understand the bad choice they’ve made is when they finally see it themselves, when they see the betrayal of the relationship. (I use the word betrayal for a specific reason I’ll explain in a minute.) But if they have this realization, and we’ve already questioned them, attacked them, insulted them in the past, what’s the likelihood they will turn to us in the future. They will assume that our response to them will be some variation of “I told you so”, if they think we’ll even talk to them in the first place. Would you want to talk to someone who called you stupid?

The best thing we can do for these friends is just be the best friends we can be. Be kind, be loving, be generous, be supportive – not of the relationship, but of the person and of the friendship that you have with them. You don’t really think they’re stupid, probably wouldn’t be friends with them if you did, you just think they’ve done a stupid thing, and in the future, you hope they’ll rectify that.

I’ve been a happy and successful bartender for twenty plus years, and part of that is because of four words: no politics, no religion. I’ll talk to you about anything else, but I won’t talk about those two things for the same reason. Both, at their root, are about faith. It’s obvious to see that about religion. We put faith in a God, savior, prophet, whatever that if we follow their teachings and live accordingly, we will be rewarded, and things will go good for us. Politics is the same thing; the only difference is one is about the afterlife and the other is about this life.

The best definition I have for faith is that it is belief without proof. We have no proof that the politicians we vote for are going to do the things they promise, the things we hope they will, that makes us choose them over their competition. They may have a history of public office, they may have records that can be examined, but it’s like the commercials about mutual funds: past performance does not guarantee future results. Their opinions, minds and wallets could all change once they’ve been elected, but we have faith that won’t happen, so we choose them and that becomes part of our identity.

So, if we know that questioning, attacking or insulting our friend isn’t going to work when it comes to one part of their identity, relationships, why then do we think it will work when it comes to another, their politics or their religion? I see people doing it dozens of times a day, and the only result that comes from it is surprise that nobody’s mind has been changed. I can’t speak for you, but I know if someone comes up to me and aggressively tells me I’m wrong, I’m not going to suddenly say “Oh my God, I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone to tell me that. Thank you for showing me the light!” I’m probably going to tell them to suck eggs. If this person is a friend of mine, I may politely tell them to suck eggs, but there will be egg sucking involved.

The best we can do is the same as before, and be the best person we can be, be a better person than we were yesterday, be kind, be loving, be generous, be supportive. Our friends do things all the time that we think are stupid (at least, that’s what all my friends say about me,) but we love them just the same. And if we can love a friend, somebody we know so much about, how is it we cannot feel at least compassion and hope for a stranger, who might be dealing with things we could never imagine?

I know this sounds Pollyanna-ish, and I’m not suggestion you find the most racist, sexist, xenophobic, elitist, knuckle dragging mouth breather and tell them they’re a wonderful person, but what I am saying is that a person can be successful progressively, can be successful in activating change by focusing on a positive life and having positive goals. The need to be negative is not one for growth, it is a need of ego. It is something we do to make ourselves feel better, to feel superior. If you think a person is in the gutter and you are going to tell them all the reasons why they’re there, to do so, you must get in the gutter with them. And if a stranger walks by, they aren’t going to see one person helping another rise. They’re going to see two people wallowing in the gutter and seemingly enjoying it.

I’m going to end with this: if you know me, you know my autobiography could be titled “Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned by Watching M*A*S*H.” There’s an episode where a chopper pilot is bribing Korean children to go into minefields and collect souvenirs the pilot can sell. Hawkeye and B.J. try to stop him, eventually finding a way to ground him permanently. The pilot correctly points out that the new pilot will just do the same thing, and ends by asking them if they think they can change the world? Their response is no, just their little corner of it. That’s all any of us can ever hope to change, our corner of where we are when we are there. But if enough people change their corners, those corners will start to come together, and the world will change.

September 20, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about anniversaries.

Anniversaries aren’t really something I spend too much time thinking about. I’ve never been married, so that takes away having to be concerned about the big one that most people sweat over, and as for other people’s, I’m about as good as remembering theirs as I am their birthdays. I know one friend’s is October 4th, because they joked at the time about “10-4, good buddy.” I think my brother’s is in early January, and my parents was sometime in May, I think, but I’m not sure.

There was a time in my life where I thought the best thing I could do was to reject as many of the machinations of time as possible. I mean, yeah, I set my alarm, so I wouldn’t miss work, but it was more about the arbitrariness of the calendar that I was opposed to. Why did it matter if you did or didn’t do anything for a week or a month or ninety days? I would tell anybody who would listen that humans created these demarcations, that they had no place in the natural world and therefore really didn’t represent anything. They were simply book marks we created so we could keep better track of things.

(Nowhere, really, is this more apparent than living down here. I swear, of all the places I’ve lived, this is the only place where, when somebody says “just the other day”, they almost always mean three weeks ago. It’s very discombobulating.)

This arbitrariness is most evident when it comes to days in a week. I won’t ask “Who the hell came up with a seven-day week?” because it will get quickly pointed out to me the order for that came from somewhere slightly higher than Hell, but if that’s the case, is God really that bad at math? Make ‘em five-day weeks! That’s the only number that 365 is divisible by. We could still have twelve months, 30 days each, with a special bonus week for vacation, or make one month 35 days, or split those five days among the five most deserving months. It might screw up the entire concept of weekends, but it would make for a far more organized year.

A year is where my argument against the arbitrariness of time falls apart, because that is natural, that is universal, that is something we can’t do about it. That’s why equinoxes happens, why Stonehenge works, and why anniversaries are bigger than us and what we can think our way through.

On September 10th of this year, I felt like I should write something profound. It had been a year since Irma crashed through down here, and I thought I should commemorate the event, but all I could do was share the post my sister in law Jennifer had made last year after I’d called their house. I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t think I had anything to say. My apartment was fine, my jobs were up and running within a few weeks, I probably came through it all more unscathed than almost anyone I know. To me, September 10th was just going to be another day.

And yet, these last several days, I haven’t been myself. From time to time, I’m not. It’s something I’ve come to terms with in dealing with depression, and as such, I can usually recognize the feelings, figure out what triggered it, and take the steps I need to work through it and move on. This time something was off though. It was different than that, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t put my finger on it. None of my old “cures” seemed to work, nothing I could think about stood out as a trigger, and this inability to figure out what the hell was bothering me so only compounded to the doldrums.

It was only several days later, after most people had stopped talking about last year’s storm and were focused on Florence, that it dawned on me what it probably was. This time last year, I was dealing with some shit, because this was the time of no answers. The storm was gone, the skies were blue, but nothing was happening. This was the time of uncertainty about when I would start working again, or if the island would recover. These were the days of checking the water to see if it was running yet, marshalling the battery life of a phone I hoped would soon have a connection to the outside world, rationing my food that I wanted to eat all of out of sheer boredom, reminding myself I didn’t know how long it would be before I could get more. These were the nights of endlessly not sleeping, of sweltering in the dark heat, of hoping to find a breeze, of worrying that someone, more desperate than me, might come through my open windows when I finally was asleep. And these were the times, with so little else to do, I turned the monkey on my back into a gorilla.

There is part of me that feels weak about this, and I don’t like it, because I have a hard time accepting the effects of what happened, not when I see how much more other people had to deal with and I got through basically scot-free. There is also part of me that feels small about this, and although I can’t say I like it, I accept and understand it. It is a reminder that we are still very much tied to the natural world and the universe. We may have all the constructs that tell us we are above it all, beyond it all, able to live a life independent of the forces of the universe, we think we can “create” time as a way to not only understand it but also to control it, to make it something that works for us, but the truth is we can’t. Not only the big forces like the hurricanes that we see and feel and hear and experience viscerally, but also the small forces, the ones that are there every day, bringing the tides and the winds, and the ones that are there every year, each day on the same, reminding us that we are all Horatio, and that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

June 10, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about depression.

The other morning it took me 6 minutes to put in one contact. It shouldn’t take that long (normally doesn’t) and it was very frustrating. Must people would be frustrated by that, but most of those people would let that frustration go before they left the bathroom. Most of the rest of the people would feel it “ruined” their day. They’d either tell you, jokingly, how the day was shot from the beginning, or they would show you, by being pissy and short with their attitude. But for a few people, it would literally ruin their day.

They would take their inability as another example, one of thousands from years of their lives, that they are incapable of mastering the smallest things, so they shouldn’t even bother trying anything else. It would feed into their low self-esteem, amp up their anxiety, and confirm every negative feeling they have about themselves. Then they would say “fuck it, none of it matters” and just throw the day away by crawling back into bed, picking up their substance of choice, or perhaps doing something worse.

This is depression.

It sounds silly, that something so small could trigger such a reaction, and believe me during my good periods, it sounds silly to me, too. But some of that silliness comes from the misunderstanding of what depression is. It isn’t sadness, it isn’t an emotion, and it isn’t something you feel. It’s something you have. It’s something you are. The best way I can describe what it feels like for me is this: I have been happy numerous times in my life, but I don’t think I know what happiness feels like.

If you saw someone suffer a heart attack or a compound fracture, you wouldn’t tell them to “walk it off”, or “rub some dirt on it. Yet people think (and say) that you can just shrug off depression, smile through it, or shake it off like there’s a switch to flip. People forget that the brain is a complex living organ. When people say depression is “in your head”, their equal parts very close and a million miles away. And triggering the depression can be something major – the loss of a loved one – or something minor – putting in a contact. Or even something obscure, like the suicide of a person you looked up.

Depression is as chronic a disease as is out there. It is something that is managed, that is treated, but it is rarely if ever cured. And yet people who have no idea, no experience, have no problem talking about it like experts and telling other people to just get over it, that it’s no big deal. I’m sure in some cases it’s well meaning, but in most cases, it’s misplaced, and only furthers the stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds depression specifically and mental illness in general.

So, the next time you want to say something about, ask something instead. You’ll learn something more, you’ll be working to help erode those stigmas, and, whether you know it or not, you’ll be helping someone else have a better day than they were.

Ashes to Air (April 29, 2018)

This was his rock. He said it suited him best because it gave him more room to stretch out his legs, and not because it was one of the few chances she could ever feel what it was like to be taller than him. Both of those were true, but she believed he also chose that spot so he could rest his head against her thigh as she sat on the higher rock beside it. She tried it now, imagining the sensation of flesh against her face, the pulse that ran beneath it, the subtle tensing and relaxing, depending on what, if anything, they were talking about. She imagined she would be able to, hoping to find some other new connection to what was no longer there, but all she knew was the scraping pain of the rock on her cheek, not even being tall enough to reach the spot where he would have been, making contact with her.

The perspective was different for her down here, only if it were a matter of a few feet. The horizon was closer somehow, and all the times she felt like she was looking out to a greater expanse than she would ever know now was replaced by the new reality of a smaller world, one that continued to close in on her. There was less ocean and more sky, and more than ever she wanted to be part of one of them. It didn’t matter which one. Either, she believed, was a better option than the world she was part of now.

She had run out of time to tell lies to herself, so today she had finally come down. It had been her way over the last several weeks, telling herself and anyone who she thought wanted to listen that the winds were still going to be too strong, and with them too much a chance that a gust could blow out of nowhere. Nobody wanted to hear it, and those few that listened did so because they knew she needed to tell it. Some had talked amongst themselves, wondering if there was a way to tell her “Enough,” but nobody could agree as to when that would be, because nobody wanted to admit they knew what she was going through. Better to let her do her thing in her own way and time. That time was finally now.

The hammock had gone up easier than she had expected, once again because her enemy was no longer around. She used to laugh at him, watching him try to harness it, one tree at a time, while it caught full sail and blew around like an erstwhile kite. Some days, it seemed like it might have power enough to take the first tree with it, but he still insisted on setting it up. When he finally anchored it to the second tree, it was no less bellicose in its flapping, but it was tamed enough for them to enjoy.

She had let it sit, in the bag with everything else, where he had left it that day, one of just many things that had to be cataloged. There were things to keep and things to get rid of, things to go through and things to ignore, none so big as the battered backpack that had sat in the corner of their bedroom. The lie about that (and there were lies for everything, there had to be, because there was no way she could face the truth, not yet) was that she knew everything that was in there, and none of it was really that important. No paperwork to be handed over to the authorities, whoever they may be for such a situation, and no family heirlooms that somebody would want to keep. In layman’s terms, the damn bag was just full of shit, meaningless shit that had the one purpose of joining them at the beach.

The most that would ever be done with any of it was to take out the towels and hang them to dry, but that hadn’t been necessary after the last time they used it. The weather never seemed hot enough that day, the water still cold enough to not be tempting, a luxury they could have that friends and family back home could not. So the bag had sat, untouched in the corner, a silent witness to the last time they came home, the last time they slept together, the last time she left him in the shower, the last time she had kissed him goodbye, told him she loved him, and left for work.

Add this to the list of things she believed would be true: the hammock would be full of his presence, not to be touched or seen but smelled. There was no reason this would be true. He had searched for a good hammock, one designed to be beaten up a bit by constantly being used outside, and that meant spending more money than necessary, but resulted in a fabric that breathed freely, cleaned easily, and had material designed specifically not to smell like every trip it had been used for. Stretched between the trees, she regarded it, and, still wanting to believe he would be in there, she didn’t get in it, not right away. Instead, she removed the one new item from the bag, made her way across the protruding stones that bit into her feet, and sat out on their rocks, waiting for the wind to not be there.

The wind never was there, and she would have sat forever, countless tides coming and going until she would simply become part of the rocks, but for the voices that began to gather around her. If ever there was a time she could count on him being cross, it was then. There were moments, like any normal human would have, that would anger him, piss him off, make him a jerk, but now, then, that one moment every day, she knew it to come like clockwork.

Like clockwork, indeed, because he would say it was nature’s way of telling them they’d been at the beach long enough. Human nature, she would remind him. Nature was what they had come there for. The nature of the ocean and the beach, the sky and the clouds, even the tree limbs that danced above their eyes when they snuggled inside the hammock, the sides all but cocooning them in their own world. It was the humans that changed things then, it was the humans that changed things now.

The voices told her now it was time to go.

What little nerve she could find she called on and she stood, as far out as she could, still waiting to be sure, finally surrendering. The bag opened freely, and the ashes fell orderly, spilling out into the ocean, the parade of his life passing before her eyes. Almost over, nature disagreed, and an errant gust caught what was left and took him from the ocean, towards the beach and towards her.

‘Doesn’t it always,’ she thought, followed ‘Does it always?’ She thought of all the videos she had seen, the ones he had shared with her, where such ceremonies had gone seriously, hysterically wrong. Some were flawed from the start, the wind always being there and people not understanding basic weather patterns. Others were like her experience, perfect until the end, which gave her pause and made her root her feet a little stronger, because there were those, too, when it wasn’t the wind that didn’t cooperate, but the own person’s sense of balance. Others would laugh at that, if it were to happen to her and be filmed, but not her. She could only find a sense of laughter when she allowed herself to believe something else, that this was his last attempt to make her laugh.

It was what she loved about him, more than any other aspect about him, so much so that early in the relationship she thanked him for it. For what, he asked, and she explained that she had never been a person to laugh every day, but with him, she did. She told him that even before she told him she loved him. She had her one final laugh, but it was quickly extinguished, because she knew that there was nothing more he would ever do. Any laughs that came in the future would be rooted in the past, reminders of what he had done. There was no more present.

She walked back across the stones, head down, studiously avoiding the people around her. Back at the hammock, the wind was now there, and the hammock snapped at her, inviting her to it. It was all over, and she knew she had to stop believing in everything she had been telling herself.

Alone, she felt like she hardly made a dent in the tension. It seemed to swing no closer to the ground than it had been, her weight offering only a small anchor against the wind. The fabric now embraced her completely, and the tree limbs above her, and the sky above them, was snatched from her sight. Now she would know, and she would know she had been wrong all along. There was nothing of him in there that she had not brought with her. She didn’t even make the desperate gesture of pressing her face to the fabric and inhaling deeply, because she knew smelling the dry chemical compound of the synthetics she was entombed in would do nothing for her. She did not even waste her time trying to believe that when she set the hammock up again, she would smell the tears she was now leaving behind.

October 20, 2017

My apartment has a small back patio. It’s really not much, maybe an 8 by 8 concrete slab, made bigger only because the fence that separates ours from our neighbor’s came down in the storm. The fence that is still standing stands about six feet tall, nothing to look at, simply a utilitarian fence to give residents some sense of privacy.

My roommate has the patio furnished with a matching set of furniture. It’s very comfortable, and i almost feel bad that I’ve added my own folding camp chair to the decorations. Kinda necessary though. The furniture that’s there has cushions, and manage to stay wet for a couple of days after it rains. And since we seem to get rain every couple of days this time of year, well, you can do the math. Plus, where my chair is set up, it’s covered by the second floor of the apartment. So, even when it is raining, i can still sit outside and be dry.

Did that the other day. i was having a cup of coffee, and just decided I wanted to sit outside while I enjoyed it. It certainly seemed like a nice day, but that can be the deception of direction. My patio faces west, and the weather we’ve been having lately has been showing up from the east. Sure enough, within five minutes, drops began to fall, and soon we had a full on shower.

It was nice to sit and enjoy it. It took the temperature from hot and humid to warm and not, a welcome change, and as everyone knows, the sound of rain can certainly be soothing and relaxing. And, yes, like typical Key West rains, ten minutes later it was over. But I stayed outside and looked around, over the fence.

Funny how little time I look around, considering how much time I spend out there. I certainly spent a lot of time the week or so after the storm. Took that long to get power back, and with no A/C, by far out back with even a hint of a breeze was cooling than anywhere inside. Pretty sure i didn’t want to look then, mostly because I knew what i was going to see. We were far luckier than most people, when it comes to damage, but there wasn’t a tree left unscathed on the property. Many lost big limbs, most lost a lot of branches, and all of them lost all their leaves.

I’m still a seasonal kid. That’s what happens when you grow up in New England. Things bloom in the spring, thrive in the summer, wither in the autumn and slumber in the winter. Maybe it’s because I knew it was mid-September, I told myself that these trees were going to look like this for several months, and I didn’t want to face the reminder of all the destruction that Mother Nature had let loose on us. But Mother Nature, it turned out, had other plans.

After the rain I looked over the fence at the trees that line the property. Every single one of them was covered with bright, green leaves. I took the time to look around, and could see some trees had even began to sprout new limbs. Don’t get me wrong. The limbs were still tender and weak, and the trees covered in leaves were nowhere near as full as they had been two months earlier. But it was growth.

It’s easy to take any situation in life, good or bad, and dwell on it. Certainly in cases of large scale natural disaster or horrific personal tragedy, those situations can become overwhelming, masking everything else in a person’s life. But that doesn’t stop the world from moving. Life continues, and by acknowledging and accepting that, we can continue with it, moving forward, growing.

Key West will never be the same. For that matter, neither will the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Houston, Napa, Santa Rosa, you name it. Whether it gets better or worse is a matter of personal belief, but it will definitely be different. It will continue, it will grow. I’m happy to be here growing with it.

 

Bonus track: I was lucky enough a couple of weeks ago to see the Meyer/Kirby/Meyer show down here. Scott opened with this song, and it was a beautiful and inspirational way to start the show. I like his version, but I’m partial to the original. Today, after going to Goombay with my roommate, I’ll probably make my way to the Tiki bar, and relish the fact that I get to live here on nights like this. Click here to give it a listen.

October 17, 2017

Cyber security experts tell us, that when it comes to passwords, we should have different ones for different accounts and change them up on a regular basis. Between my three email accounts, my various social media platforms, my banking, my phone, this place and god only knows however many else, there’s no way I’d remember all of them. Only way I could do that would be to write them all down, which takes away the entire purpose of having passwords in the first place. Not that I expect someone to break into my house simply to log on my computer, mind you, but still. As such, I’ve been trying to streamline them all down to one.

Problem is there are some accounts I use less frequently than others. Case in point, today I went to log onto my publisher’s website so I could start uploading “Red Skies At Midnight.” I only go to the website every six months, though, so I wasn’t sure what password I have for them. Believe me when I say it isn’t any of the four I tried. So I hit the “forgot my password” link, and am now waiting for a new one. In the meantime, I figured I’d listen to some music.

Spotify has a “Discover Weekly” playlist they put out each week, tailored to the music I’ve been listening to recently. I went to play this week’s list, and immediately I knew something was wrong. The song that was listed was not the one playing. I turned it off, turned it back on, and the same thing happened. I thought maybe it was just playing the end of the last song I had been playing, and then it would switch to the new list. Nope, same thing happened. This started to annoy me, albeit more than it should have. I was supposed to be getting this. Why, then, am i getting that?

Don’t get me wrong. I liked the songs they were playing, but it frustrated me. It was far too easy for me to make a big deal about it in my mind. But when I realized there was nothing I could do about it, I made a simple decision. I chose to accept it.

I went on waiting for my new password (30 minutes and counting, createspace. What’s going on here?) while cleaning up my room, checking out Facebook, playing solitaire naturally. A strange thing happened when I did that. I found myself being pleasantly surprised with each new song, because I no longer knew what to expect. It forced me to live in the moment and not be already looking towards the future.

That is a trait I have that I can’t seem to let go of. Yes, there are times I need to do so. If not, how would I be able to make plans for anything? I need to look into the future to know I have to have the new novels here by November 1st (something I’m going to get done by the skin of my teeth. I’d like to blame Irma, but a lot of this is on me and my natural predisposition to procrastination) for instance. And it isn’t that looking to, and living in, the future, doesn’t mean those things are any more important. But it makes the things happening here and now less important.

About seven or eight songs in, I realized they were playing last week’s playlist. Maybe the next time I log in they’ll have the new one playing. Maybe they’ll always be a week behind. Or maybe Spotify has become my own personal “Groundhog Day.” Oh well. But there is one thing I know:

I ain’t changing my password. Can’t imagine what kind of music that might give me.