Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day two thousand three hundred and thirteen . . . Watching the river flow.

I suppose you could call me morbid.

Though I feel that my public personality may be one of a positive and lighthearted guy I have to say that it's all a little darker on the inside than that.

Take for example my incessant housecleaning.

I'll stop short of calling it obsessive/compulsive, but it's something that it seems I'm always in the middle of. I may be on the way from the living room to the kitchen when--wait . . . what's that? Do I see dust on the buffet? We'll see about that!--and out comes the Windex and paper towels and the world has to wait until I tend to business and clean that damn buffet. And by the time that's over and done with Jodi has more than likely gotten whatever it was I went into the kitchen to retrieve.

But if I die a sudden death on my way back to the couch from the kitchen I want the house to at least look nice for the police.

Morbid. Like I was saying.

I blame my sweet mother.

For a woman whose under-the-sink cabinets were crammed full of cleaners, sponges, scrub brushes, dusting wands, scouring solutions, trash bags, cleaning rags and paper towels she sure couldn't keep the house clean.

Forgive me mom, but you know it's true.

It's been a few months since we have been relieved of the burden of caring for my dearly departed mother and aunt's home in Mattapoisett. I could never find a way to fully thank Jodi for helping me through the process that was the "excavation" of the place. But she stuck with me until it was all said and done. Just unbelievable that it took as long as it did and cost as much in time, energy and cash.

And while my mother was one of the cleanest people I ever knew--both in personal hygiene and language--her hoarding had always held her personal space hostage.

Oh sure, I was given plenty of cleaning details as a kid. Oiling the knurled oak kitchen table and chairs with a bottle of Old English (not the malt liquor) and a few of her old undies for rags (yes, it's true. But at least she recycled) was one of my least favorite things to do in the world. But I did it and it always looked beautiful.

Cleaning the couple of mirrors that were still visible was on the list, too. As was vacuuming and trying to clean up the many accidents that our dogs would leave on the rugs.

But the "stuff" that filled every room in the house I grew up in except for one (the addition, of course) was so overwhelming that all one could really hope to achieve by cleaning is the barest of bare minimums.

And as children oftentimes grow up to be the exact opposite of their parents you can see why I practically have a holster for my Windex and a roll of paper towels strapped across my back. Why I'm always in the process of keeping areas clear of clutter. When I see a pair of socks on the floor they come up to the laundry room immediately. When the coffee grounds scatter on the counter top I clean them up before I make my next move. The trash never stays in the back room more than a few days and the recycling goes out once a week. The laundry gets done before the basket starts to overflow and the kitchen gets swept after each meal. The fridge gets vacuumed (yes, you heard me) to get all the little bits of parsley and cilantro stuck in the back of the crisper. And the toilets get scrubbed as often as I can remember to do it.

And I do this for me and I do this for Jodi and I do this for my mom.

I know for a fact that she was always like this though.

I remember my aunt telling me a story about an illustration by her that I found. It was of the bedroom they shared on Bedford St. She must have been twelve or so when she drew it. It was just a sketch but it was a room that was completely strewn with items--books, clothes, furniture, boxes, etc.--and a bed in the middle of it all.

I asked her about it and she said she drew it to try and help my mom after a particularly embarrassing episode involving the police.

The story goes that the house was broken into back in the 50s. And when the police came in to interview everybody they looked around the whole house and stopped at my mom and aunt's room.

It was trashed.

And my mom said it must have been the burglars that did it. They had come into little Judy Johnson's room and they must have been really looking for something important . . . because it was the only room that looked that way. Sure, lots of things were missing from the rest of the house, but at least you could walk through those rooms.

And, of course, it wasn't the burglars that made the little mess; it was Judy.

But my mother, even as a small girl, had found a special way to get through her days. She took all the things that interested her and collected them and stored them and protected them in whatever area she was given as her own, even if she was sharing it with her poor sister. As she grew older those spaces became bigger and bigger as people like my grandfather moved out of the house and down the street. When my grandmother passed away she had even more spaces to call her own. And so, with her estate expanding we would go from flea market to church bazaar to craft fair and buy, buy, buy.

We'd drive back to Fall River after a long day at the "games" regaling each other with the great deal we got on this or that. It was a special bonding time we shared--mother and son--and it's something I will always cherish even though I can now see it as learning a potentially destructive habit. But we would joyfully bring our loot back to the house carting bag after bag up the two flights of stairs towards the sound of the barking dogs that welcomed us back with our gifts to ourselves.

I would bring my treasures to my room and she to hers. These things made us happy then. But what we were doing was collecting things we didn't really need and filling our living space with it. Sort of like flea market beavers building a dam.

It was highly ironic to realize that all of these things that we bought, stored, used and forgot about ended up on the lawn of the house in Mattapoisett when we had our own yard sale.

And of course we brought back carload after carload of the really good stuff (my mom would be so proud) to our house. So now we have transported it from it's original owners to Fall River to Mattapoisett and finally 300 miles away.

The cycle of stuff. 






This life is completely subjective as long as you don't hurt anybody or yourself. You can really do whatever the hell you want for the most part. As long as you can make or save enough money to support yourself and your family nobody should be able to give you much grief.

And who is to say that my dear mom didn't live exactly as long as she was supposed to live (65 years)? I have no idea and I have no reason to really be suspicious.

But something I have learned and continue learning is that our body is like a riverbed. And the experiences that we have are the water that runs through it. The daily details of a life in progress smooth the rough stones and nurture the algae. They erode the edges away at the same time carrying the fine silt that may someday form an island that could provide shelter. Life thrives. Love grows. We see our reflection in its clear, uneven, rolling, liquid ribbon and take comfort that we are lucky enough to have found it--that someone gave birth to us and got us to the point where we could step back and look at the landscape and breathe.

It is a fine balance, it is non-stop, and it is not optional if one wants to remain healthy in mind, body and spirit. 

I could sit all day on the edge of a stream and watch as the water and all its inhabitants--living and non--float down out of view. But unlike a public fountain I can't really comprehend where the beginning or the end of it is--that it's simply the same water cycled over and over. As I look both ways over the flowing water all I can see is all I can see. And after that I have to just trust that there is a place where if you walk to a certain point past it, there is no river--where you can just see the water starting out on its journey. And then at the end where I can visualize a finish line and walk past it to a place where the land takes over and the water is done for the day.

But this analogy has a dark side, of course. Because the experiences that life rains down on us in all our waking hours are not all positive. Some are extremely damaging. And their introduction into our waterway can sometimes flood our banks and cause severe destruction. They may deluge our being, roiling the ground and carrying away bridges and dams. The travails and missteps we make or are exposed to can sometimes cause such buildup and blockage that this stream that once was a painter's perfect subject is now brimming with heartache so great that our souls feel as if they were driven from their village.

And we have to wait it out if our psyche will allow and try to rebuild as best we can. Because we all need water to live even if it can kill us. 






So I drink lots of water.

I exercise.

I talk to my girlfriend if I don't feel right.

I pick weeds when I see them.

I do the laundry when it needs doing.

I vacuum.

I dust.

I recycle.

I call the people I care about.

I call some people I haven't called in a long time.

And I try to always remember that what comes in this house comes in because we brought it in. Just like I had to remember that I was the only person responsible for pouring alcohol down my throat. It didn't just jump in there on its own.

There are boxes of letters and photos, old clothes and posters. Remnants from my time on this earth up until . . . well, today, I guess, if you count the mail and the newspaper. There are choices I have to make on what to keep and what can go. As much as my ego would like to let me believe that someday somebody will want to know all about me and my life I have to remember that this is not a museum.

And I suppose that all the rebelling against my mom that I did when I was a teenager--how I wasn't going to end up a goodie two shoes who didn't drink, smoke, or do drugs--I guess that has kind of bitten me right smack dab in the ass.

So I suppose what's left to rebel against is really just a matter of keeping the river in my mind, body and household flowing.

I have to have the room to move, to clean, to breathe, to grow.

Almost 44 years of life have dug my river bed.

Now I just need to let the water go where it wants to go.



Thanks for reading.

~FAJ


Friday, December 27, 2013

Day two thousand one hundred and ninety two . . . Divided by six.

If you ask me I'm trying to live a simple life.

And while in essence I have kind of held the really complicated and attention-intensive things at arms length--kids, pets, and a 9 to 5 job--I find that my life seems more complex as ever.

But I often forget what used to be.

Six years ago today my life had imploded upon itself.

Six years ago today I had spent the night in the county lockup.

Six years ago today I was led from my cell--with ankle chains on my ankles and hand cuffs on my hands like I was some kind of murderer--up an elevator, out the door, and down the street to the courthouse for my arraignment.

Six years ago today I pled not guilty to drunken driving, second offense.

But, of course, I was guilty as anybody ever had been.

That morning around nine o'clock I was released to my two friends, Steve and Paul, who had come to claim me. I was told if they hadn't been there I would have probably not been let go so easily. Steve had called my aunt, Lynda, and told her what was up. She was at home recovering from some awful surgery but took the news like a champ and said had half-expected it.

I was having a very messy year after my mom passed away that January. I was in quite a tub of hot water from ruining a show in Boston that I showed up for with a head full of pilfered Klonopin and a belly full of beer. I had been fired from my job at Servicenet and the chorus was on high alert after some shenanigans involving a broken rib that summer after I fell off my bike riding in traffic downtown.

How I made it through 2007 alive I will never fully comprehend. I tried and tried that year to carelessly end it all yet somehow woke to the blinding light every morning. And each awful day after the next I tried to bring sleep quicker and quicker, deeper and deeper.

Until two days after Christmas when the cops took this nice picture of me.



Cute, eh?

I spent the rest of the day that December 27th letting Steve clear my house of any and all substances--legal and non. I gave him the keys to my car and agreed to let him and his wife use it until I could figure out what was what. He and I and Paul had gone to lunch at a local diner and put it all on the table. I had come to my breaking point. And they were right at the edge with me. It was clear as day what had to happen: either I change what I was doing or I lose it all--family, friends, band and career.

And somehow it worked.

No matter the fact that it came from a run in with the law the simple truth is that that was the day that I let my life start again.

I could almost feel my legs creaking as they learned how to walk past the liquor store.

I could certainly feel my lungs getting stronger from the cessation from weed.

And I began to wake up every morning wondering what discovery I was going to make in the simplest of things in the most familiar of places.

And, of course, I started to write down these discoveries in this very journal beginning on New Year's Day of 2008. You can read that post here.

That first post begins, "It is New Year's Day 2008. No one can touch me. Not today."

And that's how I felt. I really and truly felt like I was unreachable by the actions of others. I felt like nobody on the other side of my own two eyes could affect me. I felt like the barrier between me and the world was so great that if only for that one 24 hour period I was limitless in my autonomy.

Because I had slayed the devil at my doorstep.

I had made the executive decision that I was not going to allow alcohol to run my life.

And for a guy who was always quite good at not making firm decisions this one felt like the start of something big.

For nine months my aunt was able to witness my transformation. It was one of her greatest goals in life to see me do this and do it for me. And while I did have an unfortunate and very public misstep with prescription medication shortly after she died that September I never did pick up a bottle of alcohol.

And that all led me to today where I sit on the music room sofa in my house with my girlfriend downstairs (and a text from her parents congratulating me on my phone) getting ready to go to a casino to see Prince. We'll do a little bit of gambling--but not too much--and they'll certainly be taking drink orders. And it's only because I'm writing about this right now that even for a second would I suggest there was any danger in being there. Because I almost never think about the old me who would have been eying the waitresses for more vodka tonics. While I'm sure the men in the security booths would be eying me to make sure they don't end up with a drunk driving lawsuit on their hands.

Who knows if I'll win anything. While I've been lucky in life so far I'm not so good at the tables. Gambling makes me a little bit queasy to begin with, what with all the noise from the machines and the smoke wafting in the air.

I may lose a few bucks on the slots.

I may fork over even more on the blackjack tables.

I might try my hand on the roulette wheel and I may even play a game of craps.

But I'll wake up tomorrow morning with a clear head and a healthy mind knowing that every risk I take tonight will be nothing compared to what could have been lost along the way.

Thanks for reading,

~FAJ




Saturday, November 16, 2013

Day two thousand one hundred and fifty one . . . Fighting with the squirrels.

How does one age gracefully?

I am currently very much trying to find some answers to this question. And while I'm happy to say I have a handle on the process, putting it into action or, rather letting it fall into place is another story.



Outside my window I have a hanging bird feeder. We put it up this springtime and it's been both a wonder to behold and a royal pain in the ass.

The birds love it and they come in droves. But the squirrels also love it. They love it so much, it seems, that I'm constantly on alert for any one of the nearly (to me) identical greedy little monsters who live in the trees to start running up the pole onto the feeder and begin furiously stuffing his face full of the fatty seed we bought for our little feathered friends.

I'm sure anyone who's ever put up a bird feeder has had this problem. The squirrels seem to be able to climb anything, anywhere, anytime and under any conditions in order to steal the bird seed. There are even bird feeders out there that are supposedly "squirrel proof." Some send a small electrical charge to the squirrel; some have a perch area that starts to spin around when the weight of the rodent is felt. It's big business.

We don't own any of those kind of things, but in an effort to "save the seed" we did buy a small, clear, rectangular feeder that attaches to our window with suction cups. We put it in the very middle of a large plate glass window and thought "let's see a squirrel try to get to that!"

And, of course, they started jumping from the ground four feet into the air.

And when that didn't work they started jumping off of the roof. They jumped right off the roof five feet above and landed smack dab on top of the feeder! And this feeder being attached directly to the large pane window does not give the average squirrel much room to perch. It basically allows the little monster enough space to hang his head and hands over the edge of the flat plastic roof while keeping its feet and hind quarters flat up against the window, providing a highly unnecessary, close-up, anatomical view of what nature provided for the fluffy-tailed rat. This is occasionally interspersed with a full-cheeked wide-eyed stare back at the strangers of another species on the other side of the glass, hands-on-head and yelling in an unintelligible language generally making quite a dramatic fuss. Jodi even constructed a cone made with discarded yogurt containers and clear tape to try to keep them from being able to perch. And while this did seem to work in the short term it ended up getting dirty and kind of fell apart and the squirrels came back, the seed disappeared, and we were back to square one.

But it's funny how we think.

It's interesting that we feel we can say who the food is for.

It's so intrinsically human that we really think we can possibly say to the squirrels "that's not for you that's for the birdies!"

And we think if we scare them away from the feeder by banging on the windows enough times that they'll learn the food isn't for them. And moreover, we hopelessly think that eventually they'll understand and accept this arrangement and find somewhere else to go.

Because really, what have we done? We put a big plate of food in the middle of the yard or in a trough attached to our window. And for reasons only humans can hold dear we did what we did with the main intention that food was put out for one species amongst many.

But we're humans and we do a lot of weird stuff.

We try to control things.

We pretend we have special powers.

We think we're smarter than nature.

But we're just humans and we can only do so much.



I'm smack dab in the middle of my 43rd year on earth. It's a daunting age. This month my high school class of 1988 is having its 25th year reunion. I'm not going to be around for it, as much as I'd like to go. But it's so foreign to think that I've been out of high school as long as it takes the average human to be born and get through a few years of grad school.

My hair is starting to argue with me. In fact some of it is so mad at me that it's decided to sleep on the couch . . . or, rather sleep in the sink.

I have more moisturizers now than I ever had even just a few years ago. I put some on before I go to bed and hope that they stave off early wrinkles.

I'm thinking of keeping my eight year old Subaru and buying a sports car.

I'm fighting with my squirrels.


And right now is the time where it all seems so new to me. I've always felt rather young. Certainly a man who thinks he can down a fifth of vodka a night into his late thirties like I used to must not have a real handle on how old he is. But as I've gotten into my forties I've started to see the real signs of age both visible and non. I forget plenty of things, but at least I can't blame them on my lifestyle anymore. My wrinkles are showing up a little clearer these days, almost as if my mirror's contrast level has itself turned up without my knowledge. And though I have a handle on my weight (finally) it's still a constant struggle to stay where I feel comfortable, both for my outward appearance and also so my size 34 belts still have a mostly functional use.

And I try to not let the days going by one after another let me slide into a maelstrom of despair. It is so easy to slip into an ever present worry that I haven't done enough, said enough, traveled enough, played enough or lived enough.

But then I'd just be fighting with my squirrels.

Time takes our seeds away one by one just like the squirrels do. It takes our seed and stuffs its face with it. It comes after us--each and every one--and it doesn't learn we don't like it. It sees there is food and it picks through it to find the tastiest morsels. It can jump from the rooftops. It can run up a pole. It can stretch its body longer than anatomically possible. It is determined. It is unidirectional. It is intense. It is undeterred, unflinching, and it does not care we didn't invite it. It is smarter than we are. It can find a way up, around, and over any wall. It can look us in the eye while it feasts or it can turn over and show us its backside. It takes what it wants and then it goes to digest for a while.

We throw open the door and yell at it, shake our fist and scare it away every now and again.

And then it leaves us be for just long enough to think that it has forgotten about us.

And then we wake up, walk downstairs and draw back the curtains and scare it off the feeder for just long enough for us to walk to the breakfast table.

But time can only take as much as we are willing to call our own.

Time can only rob us of that which we are willing to say it can't have. Because if we portion it off then we are consciously counting it as our possession . . . and that's the only way we could ever notice that some of it is missing. 

So we can either learn to live with this arrangement and let the squirrels take what they want from the platter, or we can spend our days forever yelling out the window at something that couldn't care less.

Of course, one can choose to not hang a feeder at all. But life is and will always be full of choices.




As I'm writing this I'm looking out at the feeder swinging in the pre-winter wind.

The squirrels seem to have eaten all the sunflower seeds that they prefer and left the rest for the birds. Maybe it's getting too cold for them to expend as much energy as they did over the summer. Maybe they're all next door where the food might be better. Regardless, the birds seem to like it here no matter what. It's nice to be reminded that life is all around us.

I'll keep filling the feeder all winter long because it's such a simple thing to do.

And I suppose whoever would like to perch on it and say "this is mine right now" has every right to do so. 

I'll just sit on the couch and enjoy the time that's mine today.

Thanks for reading,

~FAJ















Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day two thousand ninety one . . . Treasure Island.

"This house is full of treasures."

This is what my aunt said to me as we were going over the details of what had to be done before she slipped away from this world.


Growing up at 1073 Bedford St in Fall River for the twenty-one years I lived there I had seen the massive influx of collectibles and antiques. I had witnessed the boxes and bags brought up the stairs every weekend after a long day of yard sales and church bazaars. And I knew how much of it was mine, too. For I had been raised and taught in the ways of the pack rat. And every weekend I would be given a little allowance to put in my Donald Duck change purse which could then be used to mercilessly nickel and dime the poor people behind the tables at the Norton Flea Market. I must have a picture or two from the fleas we'd go to but I haven't found any yet. Regardless, I remember so many wonderful finds.

I remember landing my first Led Zeppelin album. It was actually Led Zeppelin III which is, of course, a gate-fold. And one of the nuns at the convent apparently had found the record from Led Zeppelin II and figured it belonged in that sleeve. And so for several years until I got into high school I thought Zep III was an incongruous but loveable two record set regardless of the fact that half of the songs weren't listed on the liner notes.

I remember finding my "The Visible Man" model. He was a 15" clear plastic body with the various organs and skeleton inside. You could take the top part off and play with the organs and stuff and learn about what we're made of. It wasn't meant to be spooky. But for some reason I was terrified of this toy. So after I bought it at the flea market I decided to leave him on the first landing on the stairwell in my house on Bedford St. And there it stayed for months and months. I had nightmare after nightmare of that little one foot three inch guy chasing me and throwing his heart, lungs and kidneys at me while I huffed and puffed up the stairs past where he lived and through the door to my room.

I remember buying a model airplane without my mom's approval. It was definitely worse for wear and tear when I wheeled and dealed for it, but I liked it mainly because it still smelled like the gasoline that once powered it. As an eight or nine year old kid gasoline is a very mystical substance, the price of which my parents never seemed to tire of discussing and which I was told to never ever play with. So I kept the airplane in the basement where it stayed and retained its gassy smell even after being thrown against the side of my house more than a few times.

But being left with the monstrous task of getting ready to finally sell this house has meant I have found not only all of these things which I bought almost forty years ago, but every single thing that my mother and aunt either collected, themselves, or was given by or inherited from their grandmother, grandfather, brother, uncle, family friend and distant relative.

It's a whole lot of stuff.

And I've found treasures for sure.

There was lots of jewelry.  There were specialized vintage toys that made a few collectors in Japan very happy. There were rare dolls. There were toy guns. There was Roseville pottery. There was Pyrex coffee pots and accessories. There were even some paintings and prints that my aunt must have paid a pretty penny for thirty years ago. Those made a tidy profit when we had the estate sale of her things back in 2009. There are old books. There are kitschy ashtrays from long-closed celebrity-owned bars in Vegas. There are vintage fabrics. There are lamps. There is furniture. And there are rugs.

Like the lady said, this house is full of treasures. And Jodi and I have done a very good job turning those treasures into income for almost five years now. But the sad part that I'm experiencing is something I could have never really pictured all that time ago.

I'm almost at the end.

I've almost picked up every tchotchke to see where it was made. I've almost opened the very last old book or magazine to see a long ago date of publication. I've almost sorted the last box of political swag my grandfather printed up in the 1950s.

I'm almost out of surprises and it is one of the saddest feelings imaginable.



Having this house to come to has been such a multi-faceted part of my life. It has provided me with something that at first seemed like a great burden. And for all intents and purposes it has been a bit of a pain. It's drained me of a good chunk of my finances just to keep the four walls up around the leaky roof. And having as many natural disasters as we do these days in New England it's definitely a worry when hurricane or blizzard season is upon us.

But I've been afforded such a wonderful escape by having this home away from home.

It's given me a pleasant two hour drive to go on where I can either clear my head with silence or listen to a couple of CDs or NPR or talk to Jodi about all kinds of wonderful things. It's quiet like I could never get in Florence, what with living so close to town with its dumpsters, lawn care specialists, bar fights and chatty bankers.

I have been able to stay connected with the area I grew up in. To hear the Southcoast accent is a great joy for me and a rarity in my vocally homogenized little valley a mere two hours away.

I get to eat the freshest seafood. I get to enjoy one of Jodi's favorite things with her: a lobster roll. And I get to do it within walking distance from the door.

I get to stroll to the beach.

I get to watch the deer prance into view in the morning from the big picture window in the backyard.

I get to be at peace.

And I've gone on a journey over the past almost twenty years since my mom and aunt bought this place in 1994. While I mainly would come home four or five times a year it slowly but surely became the place where my childhood moved to, because all the things that influenced and populated my memory came here from there.

I moved through my twenties coming home and making noodles at Christmas which was such a big hit.

And I bought my mother her very first CD player one year and gave her the first CD she ever owned which was my band. And I played it for her and she cried and held my hand and beamed proud and bright like only a mother can do.

I helped move the last of my things out of the house I grew up in when they finally sold it in 1999.

I moved through my thirties and came home here from long tours across the country and sat and babbled for hours about how cool it is to be in a van and play in California to even just ten people.

I would think of just the perfect gift to give that would fit their lifestyle here like a new bird feeder or a rechargeable drill so I could help fix stuff when I came home.

I would tend to the pine trees in the back yard when I got home by hammering in fertilizer spikes and watering over and over again. Those trees are now twenty feet tall. 

And how I told them I joined up with the chorus and got my passport and went overseas for the first time. And when I came back I sat on the big leather couch with all the puffy blankets with my dog that I only saw when I came home and showed them pictures on the TV from my camera of me sometimes red eyed but still definitely 4,000 miles away. And how my mom would hold my hand on that couch and tell me how proud she was of her sweet, smart and talented boy.

The way I would take a walk to the beach every day-after-Christmas and talk to myself aloud about all the things I had accomplished that year and all the things I could have done better. About the plans I wanted to put in place for the coming days, weeks and months. To walk my dog, Kasia, down there and let her run on the sand--something my mother said she was always afraid to do but happy I did--that was a beautiful tradition. That was a big part of me. And that has slowly eroded to a mere memory save for the fact that for a few more days I can walk down to the beach if I so chose.
 

And the food she made on the stove that used to sit in the other room was like nothing anyone has ever made. The fridge that used to preserve the magical food of which I speak but which I had to have removed because it had gotten so rotten from not being used--that fridge once held up twenty pictures or more of a full and happy life. And the sky above the pond in the back yard where I saw the brightest shooting star ever just as I was shaking my aunt by her shoulders and telling her she was talking crazy-talk after we came home from the hospital when they said to try to spend as much time with my mom as we could from here on in. And the pills I pilfered from her bedside in the room that's now empty where she would sneak off to when she got sick. And the urn that sits on the bay window that my aunt had to pick up at the funeral home because I was too out of it. The chair where she sat while I told her how bad I had gotten that's now been sold on Craigslist. The urn that holds her ashes that sits on the bay window next to my mom's and which I still haven't figured out what to do with yet.

And the price tags on all that is left.

The ad I took out in the newspaper for the estate sale.

The bags and bags of trash that have had to go to the dump.

And the walls that she started to paint but never finished.

All of these things are here. They are my connection--be they horrible or joyous--they are my connection to my family. And in a matter of nine days from now they will be gone.

And then they're tearing the house down.

I won't have this place anymore.

I won't have these things anymore.

I won't have this connection anymore.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

And there's a part of me that understands that this may be one of the last unexpected parts of the grieving process. Because I've had these walls and counters and have used them from time to time to remember. To remember how my mom moved around in her sun dresses and moo moos. How she would swing her pocket book around as she was getting ready to go out the door. And how I would hug her in the kitchen every morning when I was home, celebrating the simple fact that mother and son were together, could get along, and could see eye to eye. She put a lot of faith, worry, sweat and tears into me and I'm happy to know that as I sit here today writing this entry that I'm sure she would approve of my life choices. And that includes selling this beautiful mess of a house.



But all the memories that were made here in this place . . . in this house that I have been a part of for almost half of my life. All of these memories and ten thousand more are going to have to take its place. Because this life of mine has to move and it has to preserve and conserve. It has to keep its shit together and use its head and not keep something just because it makes me feel like I'm not 43 and without the women who meant so much to me.

Because my life will soon be more focused.

My life will be central.

My life will be stronger.

My life with Jodi is my life now, and this last vestige of my past--however sentimental, sanguine, maudlin or sappy--has just about come to a close and I'm just happy it's one of my own choosing and not from a stray bolt of lightning or other act of God.

I will miss this place.

I will miss this place.

I will miss this place.

But I will always have the memories until my mind begins to tarnish like so much Polish silver.

My aunt was right when she said this house is full of treasures.

And as long as I am alive I will enjoy the comfort they provide me deep inside.

Thanks for reading.

~FAJ













Saturday, September 7, 2013

Day two thousand and eighty one . . . The Dealers

I don't know when this all started.

But I think a few years back I started to try to double-bag my experiences.

That is to say, in an effort to derive more enjoyment from whatever I was doing, as well as to help remember it, I started making a mental note of its beginning. This way, when it was on it's way to the end I would have a bit of a marker in my head of where, when, and what it felt like when it began.

Because nothing ever feels like the beginning after it starts.

I did it last winter when Jodi and I went back to Costa Rica. We were in the pool of the first hotel out of five or six that we were to stay at on our trip. I said, "Remember this moment here on our first day. Because in a few weeks we'll be packing our bags and crying in our fresh fruit smoothie because we have to come back and face the snow and frigid temps of our New England weather." And while it didn't make leaving any easier I can still remember that moment on our first day and it helps put the whole trip in perspective.

I try to do it during concerts (after the second or third song). I try to do it during acupuncture (right after the last needle). I did it yesterday during my massage (within the first ten minutes out of 90). And I'm sure I'll do it again when I begin our first fall weekend trip (right when we cross the Vermont border).

As much as it may sound like it it's not an obsessive thing. Oftentimes I forget to do it. And a lot of the time it's not even applicable. I don't really think it prevents me from living "in the moment" (which is sometimes difficult for me, I admit). And I don't really dwell on it. But it happens and I think it helps me prepare for loss.

See, I understand that loss occurs every day for everyone on this earth. When we wake up too early in the morning because the dumpsters are being emptied next door, that is a loss. When we miss an exit on the turnpike because we were daydreaming of the sun and ocean, that is a loss. When we find our clothes don't fit anymore for either a good or bad reason, that is a loss.

And when we lose somebody we love that is, of course, a loss.

Five years ago my aunt died right here in the house I just woke up in.

Five years.

I can hardly believe it's been five years just like I can hardly believe I've been sober for even longer than that. But time takes no prisoners. It just leaves us to do our thing. It's busy.

And for five years I have been in possession of this house out here in Mattapoisett. "The House" as I called it back when this was all new to me and my blogs were something I felt were necessary for my sobriety as well as enjoyable to share.

But five years ago I had no idea that it would ever have an end--or maybe I didn't understand the concept of my mental marker--so I never really said to myself, "remember this moment." Because, you see, these little memory helpers can work for unfortunate situations as well as the happy ones. Even if I'm, say, waiting in a long line at the grocery store I'll often think "remember this moment because in ten minutes somebody else will be standing here and you'll (hopefully) be up there near the register waiting to be the next in line."

But as I wake up here on September 7, 2013 I realize that this five year experience is all coming to an end.

I'm not going to go into detail of what's going on because it's still in the early stages but suffice to say that the house is up for sale and we're hoping that this will be the very last fall we have it in our possession.

But that means that we've had to let in the antique dealers and the Craigslisters and the passers-by who "always wanted to see what the place looked like inside." Yeah, it's been a bit of a circus.

Growing up I always was taught that there was only one type of person to be truly wary of. And that was the antiques dealer.

My mother, aunt, and to some extent my grandmother all collected antiques. I'd go with them to the various yard sales and garage sales and church bazaars to try to find treasures. We'd always go way too early on a Saturday or Sunday to try and "beat the dealers there." Because my family was buying for themselves and for their house; the dealers were there to prey on the uninformed.

See, on average (and I realize everyone is different) the dealers try to find people who don't know what something is worth and convince them that it's worth even less than they thought. Then they take it back in their van or on their flatbed or pickup and put an overly-inflated price on it and wait for someone who does know what it's worth to make an offer. It's a game just like any other game people play. It's business and it's their business and I know that this is many people's only form of income. But just like racism is taught at an early age I was taught to be very cautious around these people.

At this point we've sold most of the things in this big old house. Over the past five years Jodi and my eBaying skills (and sales average) have grown exponentially. We've become well versed in the intricacies of Roseville Pottery, Gorham Silver, Maddox Furniture, bean pots, oil lamps, vintage hats, books, records, plates, curios, tchotchkes, and trinkets. We've had an estate sale for half of the house. And we've had friends come by to take things they would like. And the rest has ended up at our house in Western Massachusetts where it will eventually find its way onto the internet where we put a price on it and wait for somebody to come along and make an offer.

Because we've become . . . The Dealers.

Strange how things work out sometimes.

But, of course, when my family was collecting these things it wasn't for their store or even my store. They just wanted some nice things to put in their house and they had to get up extra early to beat the people there who wanted to get to it first. But however it worked out this is where we've ended up and it does make for a nice bit of pocket change. My family would be happy with the way I've turned the clutter into cash and found new homes for almost all of the furniture. Because over five years there were so many times where something awful could have happened to this place and it didn't.

But five years ago I definitely didn't make one of my mental notes. I really never thought this would come to an end. I hadn't even met Jodi yet. I had only been sober for nine months and so much was new to me.

But I'm here now in this big house with the sun coming up full into the front windows.

It may be the last time I'm here by myself.

Last night could be the last time I get a jolt because I think I hear someone outside in the yard and then realize it's just the deer.


It could be the last time I say goodbye to "The Ladies" whose ashes sit in the bay window--the last time I tell them I'm doing the best I can do. It could be the last time I blow a kiss and tap on the Roseville jardiniere that my mom was so proud of saving from The Dealers that she wanted her remains to be put in. They'll be coming with me when this house is no longer mine.

And this could be the very last time that I set the alarm, lock the door and drive away by myself down to the highway that takes me two hours west back to my home in the valley.

So what I'm doing here with this little internet posting is making a bit of a marker so I can look back someday and see where the almost-end was. Because I'm fairly certain this will be the last time I write on this laptop in this house on a quiet road near the ocean, very close to where I grew up, grew older, and learned what I thought was enough to leave it all behind.



Five years ago when my aunt passed away and left me in charge I had no idea what kind of a road I'd be traveling down. And while it's had a curve or two that threw me I've managed to keep on going in the right direction.

And just like the Mass Turnpike lets me know I've made it halfway home from here there's a part of me that wishes there were no signs to tell me how far I've come.

That way it would just kind of be a surprise.


Thanks for reading.

~FAJ

And, of course, this is dedicated to Lynda Jean Johnson (Dec 15, 1947-Sep 7, 2008).

I love you. I miss you. I'll see you again some day.

~Squaka












Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day two thousand fifty eight . . . Clean as you go.

Where does love go?

I guess in order to even entertain that question one would need to ascertain where it comes from in the first place. But the self-centered species we are it's all but inevitable that this would be something we would take credit for like the cotton gin or Polyester.

From my experience love is not something that is made. It's not something that is earned. It's not something that is stockpiled. It's not something that we can presume to be a natural, eventual fate.

It's something we learn.

Whether we see it from our parents or we read it in a book, see it in a movie, hear about it on the radio it is a phenomenon that is picked up little by little and filed away imperceptibly in the back of our brain. And as much as we like to think that the heart is in control of the whole of love, really it's the brain that tells everything in us what to do. The brain is the CEO and the heart is merely the spokesman or mascot like a Ronald McDonald or an Uncle Sam. It represents all of the feelings we collect about something and puts them in a neat little fist sized package for us to either blame or extoll. Sure its muscles are the reason why we breathe, but if the brain takes a break for even a few seconds damage may occur.

When we see these examples of love all around us--and hopefully we do--we can only perceptibly pay attention to so much at once. A smile exchanged here; a caress there; maybe a kiss goodbye or a wide-eyed welcome at the airport we see these for a split-second and then they're past. And like everything in this world we either associate it with something that's familiar or something foreign. And our reaction to it often depends on how many good vs bad experiences one has had with love.

So love--for me--is something I learned from my mother. It's something she wished for me more than money, fame, or even a respectable career. She wished for me to find someone to love and who loves me back. And though it took me almost four decades to find it, I finally did. And though I have few regrets in life one of the big ones is that she didn't live long enough to see me find it.

And me finding this love seems a bit strange because in all of my lifetime my mother never had a husband. She never had a boyfriend. She never went on a date. I never witnessed her--for better or worse--seek or give love from or to another.

I never saw her love anyone but her family. 

So that just about shatters the idea that if we don't learn about love by watching our parents then our odds of a well-adjusted love life (in the most general of terms) is at jeopardy. Because, though it may have taken its sweet time to come to me, I finally have it. And I feel like the journey I am taking is similar to how I thought a lifetime supply of toys might have felt when I was ten. But just the emotion, not the process.

I always imagined I would end up gathering so much from my spree that I couldn't even begin to find places to put it all, and if or when I'd have enough time to enjoy what I had. But at ten years old we are most likely unable to understand the idea of too much. We think that a "lifetime supply" of candy or toys is a good thing. We don't get that there is such a concept as balance and that having just enough of something is a worthy goal. And even when we think we have learned how to strive for balance it is so easy to disregard or rationalize away.

So what we get out of a lifetime supply of toys? A very messy room and a short attention span.

Love begets more love. It's not something to jump and grab at off of the top shelves where they keep the really big toys. It is its own lifetime supply. And though it is only from my personal experience I feel that even if we feel hollow inside, even if we think that the pain from past loves lost will prevent the door from ever letting it back in I do feel that we have no way to really be sure.

And that brings me to my initial question: where does love go?

Where does it hide when we can't see it anymore--after we've had it for so long that we expect it will be right where it always was?




I spend my mornings cleaning the house. Now that Jodi is working the day shift I have more free time on my hands than I ever have. So I am up at 6:30am and I send her off with her packed lunch and water bottle at 7:55am. When I turn around after the bright red car leaves the driveway I am often overwhelmed.

I've written about this before but one of the tradeoffs from getting clean and sober is that I've become a bit of a neat freak. I see the spots on the counter and the streaks on the windows where I used to only see a rocks glass and the TV. The magazines and newspapers that come on a very regular basis to our doorstep have a semi thought out order they live in on the coffee table. And the weeds in the garden don't stand a chance for more than a day or two.

I've learned the hard way that this is something that not everyone can appreciate. I've had to adjust the release valve on my new found neurosis so that I can find balance in a messy world. The love of my life is not a messy person. Quite the contrary in fact. But next to me at my worst I would say she sometimes feels like I have a tendency to go a bit overboard.

A good friend taught me a lesson back when I was learning the ropes in the restaurant business--a profession I held for almost twenty years.

He said "clean as you go."

Such a simple phrase.

Such a simple concept.

Such a life lesson.

If you make a mess on your cutting board clean it up before you move on to the next job. If you dirty a pot clean it while it's hot and you won't be left with a sticky caked-on mess. If you get in a new produce order put it away properly and recycle the empty boxes right then and there. Don't wait for someone else to do it because it's not their job, it's yours.

Clean as you go.

And since I learned this lesson twenty years ago I use it almost every day.

Just today I took out the vacuum and cleaned the bay window of the cobwebs that had built up over the last week. I found some dead flies and a couple of live spiders that I let scurry away (of course). I moved the little figurines that live in the window, turned the plants around and removed some of the dead leaves. The light at 8am only shines through that way for 30 minutes or so. So if I don't take care of it then I won't do it at all. Because after the world turns as it does--faster than it used to, I swear--and the sun's light show shifts direction it's out of sight and out of mind. And when that happens and I can't see the light shining on the place that needs attention it looks fine to me and my attention turns to something else.



This is where love goes when it goes.



The light shines on us at different times of the day than the sun does to my bay window. It's unpredictable, fickle, and its timing is sometimes brutal. But it shines for sure. And when it does there is a time to clean up the mess if there is one. Even a small spill can lead to an accident. And a box in the middle of the room--one that has no reason to be there--can start to look like it belongs and become part of the landscape. And as soon as we put one thing upon that out-of-place box it becomes a table and holds purpose hostage.

I look around me and sometimes I see where love has gone. I see people who have a complicated life and have built up a house they live in with so many rooms it would take a lifetime to clean. I see people who got themselves involved with something that changed without their input and now they're trapped. I hear stories of love lost over years and years of trying to make it work. And I see the look of resignation to a life that they never thought could come to pass.

I see people who are happy alone as I once was.

I see people who are too young to really know what love is and firmly believe the one they have will never end.

I see and know people who are close to 100 years old who have seen more love than most. And they see me and mine and smile and tell me how lucky I am. And I always reassure them that I know.

And I clean as I go.

I use the random light of life to shine on the problems I may encounter.

I try to work things out with my love.

I talk to it.

I listen to it.

I learn from it.

I try to keep a clean house.

I try to keep a clean heart.

And I try not to expect a lifetime supply of anything anymore.

The way I see it just the lifetime will be enough.







Thanks for reading,

~F.A.J.













  




Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Day One Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifty Nine . . . The Simple Life

What have I gotten myself into?

I claim to long for the simple life. To just relax and sit and think and enjoy what's around me. To take it all in and accept what comes my way rather than trying to concoct some grand plan where I cull ideas from the far reaches of my psyche and throw some sort of grand party to celebrate things which have yet to be but could if you'd just give me half a minute. To be in the moment and present rather than hoisting up plate upon plate atop thin dowels setting them spinning one by one whilst riding on a unicycle in a circle surrounded by a few hundred bystanders screaming my name.

But apparently this isn't really what I want--this so-called simple life.

Because somehow I've landed myself in the spotlight again. And it seems almost like some kind of internal publicity stunt.

My birthday is tomorrow, and as I sit here today I'm about to sign off on twelve songs which I've spent the past three weeks recording with good friends at a great studio with tasty food, drinks, company, and weather. I wrote them about my life, my love, my loss and my repair. I made a little music box to keep all my very private thoughts and emotions in and set it down in the town square with a "please, come have a look" sign on it.

And I have no idea how I ended up here.

Next week I leave for a ten day, five gig tour of Holland and Belgium with the Young at Heart.

I have some other appearances to make in other musical collaborations in the month of June, and then I hope to fill one of the most prestigious rooms in this arts-centric little town: The Iron Horse (on Saturday, June 29) for a CD release party.

So much for keeping things simple.

Since losing my mother and aunt in 2007 and 2008 I haven't really stopped trying to distract myself. It's not a bad thing. Absolutely not even a little. Because I had been distracting myself for years and years before that using all manner of detrimental pathways for no apparent reason at all. And it almost killed me.

But something happened a few years ago and it just started this ball rolling. Presently we're somewhere near the middle of the mountain it fell from heading down the canyon at full steam. From the looks of it there's still quite a ways to go before it comes to rest, if I have any luck at all.

And I just keep right on rolling along with the seasons and the daylight hours. I keep picking away at my drawer full of shorts, fooling myself that it's actually nice enough to get through a day with a pair on and not wish for a freaking alpaca throw. "Oh, a nice alpaca throw would be nice right about now" I'd say. And then I just shiver a little.

I make the bed sometimes and wonder if it's time to put away the comforter for the spring. I consider plugging in the water cooler and then have second thoughts. I make firm plans to change out the glass in the storm doors with the screens so that the cool spring breezes can come in and then I just don't feel like it.

And I guess it's all part of getting older. All part of that beautiful process that takes place sometime in our late thirties where the things you felt you just had to accomplish get pushed aside and you start thinking less about what you need to remember to do rather than what you'll be remembered for.

These days I look around at the musical equipment I own and think "how the hell did I get all of this?" I certainly ended up with more stuff than I need, not that I really feel I can part with any of it (the classic paradox). And it seems like I spent a lifetime wanting, saving, buying, using, and storing a whole music store's worth of guitar-related gear.

And while there are certainly some pieces I'd like to add I feel like I'd be being greedy to say that I actually need anything else. But when I'm someday not of the living, breathing creatures anymore somebody is going to end up with a nice haul.

Where is this all heading?

I guess I'm just a little overwhelmed at who I've become and where I stand.

I've always considered myself a beta in the personality department. Always kind of sheepish and following. Never really leading but not being shy to follow. I suppose I always considered blind faith the ultimate form of self-assertion.

I was leading myself to follow.

But getting sober and de-greasing my mind, body and soul have had a strange effect on me.

It seems that because of it all I've developed into somewhat of a leader.

And I don't say this to sound self-important. Because, while I have a healthy ego, I don't think I feel that what I have to say is any more poignant than the person sitting next to me on the bus to the mall.

But right now I sit here ready to embark on a new journey where I put myself out there for any and all to judge. To say "here is something I did" and let the myriad opinions come furious and free. I'm the guy in the middle in the picture. I'm the name on the back who it says wrote all the stuff. I'm the guy who is taking the phone calls, emails, and letters. Hell, I even got a PO box!

And this is the guy who always used to sit in the very back of the van. The guy who never wanted to be the first person to start walking in a new town. The guy who always had a big mouth but needed a good head start on a sixer before he could open it too far and speak too loudly.

And I know for a fact that one can't really change who they are so I'm left with the idea that I've really been this way all along. I've found that while cleaning house my original rafters have started to show. Like a new house built around an ancient one.

And if that's the case and I was always this person it leads me to believe that I am now the guy who needed a good head start on a sixer . . . but I don't need the sixer anymore.

I don't know where this all started. I wish I could pinpoint it. Go back to it on my calendar and try to figure out when things really started to pile up and point me in the direction that ultimately led me here . . . back to the beginning. But I just don't really have the time or the energy to put into that kind of investigation, not that I think I could really turn up more than I already have.

So I think I'm just going to have to get used to this feeling. I'm going to have to get used to the idea that I have something to say and it doesn't have to come out slurred from the far reaches of my mind.

I can just say it.

I can just put it out there and wait.

I can believe I'm doing what I'm supposed to and not worry who will like it and who won't.

My mom always told me that I was capable of doing whatever I wanted to. She said she believed that inside me was a person who was given as good of a head start as anyone could ask for, from the person she chose to create me with to the schools she sent me to to the food she made me to the wisdom she showered me with.

And just like the rain in the sky there will be places that get soaked and spots that miss out and stay dry. Hopefully I soaked up enough of what she shared to last a few more years.

But right now I find myself sitting here with the world at my feet. I have my girlfriend who will come home soon from work. We'll work on getting the photos together to send to Tom, my album designer. We'll have some delicious fish I brought back from Mattapoisett when we were there a couple of days ago working on the house we hope to sell this year. I'll play her what may be the final mixes of the music. We'll watch TV. We'll hold each other close under the three blankets that are customary for nighttime TV viewing. We'll have too many chocolates from the box that my co-workers gave me. We'll go to bed at ten o'clock like we always do these days. I'll sleep right through the midnight hour when I turn 43. I'll think about this very night five years ago when I pulled a blanket over me in the hospital bed the nurses found for me so I could stay with my aunt, who I brought in because I knew something was wrong with her. I'll remember how when the clock struck midnight that night she tearfully sang me "Happy Birthday" and "Sto Lat" knowing it could possibly have been the last time. I'll think about what happened at 3 o'clock that night when the doctors came and gave us the bad news about her illness . . . and how we realized it probably would be the last time.

I'll remember all the cakes, candles, presents, photos, and 1970s home movie camera shoots with the bright as a beacon light that I could see and hear all the way around the corner of the house even though they were trying to surprise me. I'll remember all the birthday songs sung. The English ones as well as the Polish ones. They're really one and the same to me now.

I'll remember the cards, the phone calls, the hugs, kisses, hand shakes, smiles and tears.

I'll remember all the years that had to pass by to get to this one.

I'll remember the way I used to feel.

I'll think about the way I feel right now.

And I'll wonder, just a little, what I'll be like as time goes on.

Thanks for reading everybody.

Cheers,

~F.A.J.