I was lost in thought the other day- half way between meditating and thinking of new ideas- when I had this moment where I realized my life was no longer consumed by my previous PTSD/Depression. No longer did my identity revolve around the murders, or the harmful ways I attempted to address that pain. For the longest time I didn’t even realize I was living this way. PTSD and the depression that sprung forth stripped away so many things I loved. I even stopped enjoying djing for awhile. My heart wasn’t into it, and the fact that not having that love didn’t even feel off to me- looking back at those times I didn’t fathom why I no longer cared that something I loved so much I could brush aside so easily. Or why I would get soul crushing anxiety anytime I would have to play out in public. Thats the real crime of depression is it robs you from experiencing the things you love to the point you can’t even remember why they gave you joy in the first place. It was so bad that I didn’t even make a dj mix for over five years. Music become a chore- something to be endured not enjoyed. So in the past year being able to experience the joy of djing brought me all the way back to my teenage years in my basement mixing records. Having that passion rekindled in me has been beyond a blessing, and a blessing I will soon be able to share with you with a new mix in the coming weeks.
But before that glorious day my hours passed in a fog of frozen hell. I had no idea all those years later that the despair I fled in the wake of the deaths would eventually wreak so much havoc in my subconscious, and subtlety weave it’s way into my whole view of the world. It was as if I was wearing those Roddy Roddy Piper glasses in They Live- but instead of seeing aliens my eyes were clouded lenses of tragedy and fear.
Thinking back the dogma of AA prayed upon and played into those fears for many years. I was indoctrinated that I drank- not because I hadn’t properly dealt with some serious emotional pain I was suppressing- because all my pain was just resentments that the fourth step would cure with the turnarounds. For those not aware there are 12 steps in AA. The first three are basically saying you are powerless to alcohol and only god(higher power- something greater than yourself can save you from your drinking.) Alcohol is this big boogeyman in AA always in the parking lot doing push ups, and other body focused isometric exercises. Alcoholics do some terrible shit while drinking so AA professes that deep down all alcoholics are selfish and resentful at their core, and thus it’s not really your fault since you just never were were not giving a proper design for living(aka Big Book and 12 steps)before to deal with these bedevilments. So the fourth step is where you first write out all your resentments to the world- so anyone, or anything you felt has wronged you during your entire life. This is also the step where you have to to do a turnaround on said resentment- which is where you show the role you played in the resentment. For example the resentment of my brother murdering my sister, niece, and nephew was my fault because my reaction to the trauma was to drink to avoid it. Never mind the batshit logic of having to explain where your at fault for a murder is fucking nuts. Even worst AA loved when I said that. Real taking of accountability the old timers would snarl- but if you look at this beyond the surface why the fuck I am exploring such a deep and nuanced subject based on anecdotal science from a hundred years ago with a sponsor(for god bless their souls and my past ones were the best people!) whose only qualification for exploring this process with you is they themselves completed the steps. These are not licensed counselors you deal with- just normal people. So imagine the type of harm that can happen from these types of exercises even if the outright intention is not malicious. After completing the steps, sponsoring others (three of which who were in their early twenties who passed on), going to multiple meetings daily, and running a sober house I still wanted to drink. No matter how much I prayed I was still miserable. So I would drink again and then have to go back to AA and grab a newcomers white chip and start all over. And have to lie when I shared that I didn’t trust god with all my heart enough as the reason for my drinking again- not the mental anguish and toil going on from unstable brain chemistry mixed with unresolved emotional trauma. Nope just not being 100 with GOD. Or I drank because I didn’t pray hard enough, or I just didn’t want it enough- because AA is not for people who need it, it’s for people who want it. Looking back the whole process makes me want to puke.
In AA everything centers around alcohol- and the program becomes all consuming in your life where meetings serve as your new addiction. I know today I can not drink- I ruined that ability in the midst of trying to avoid my emotions. I abused this liquid escape to a point my body can no longer consume without being a total asshole that you don’t want around, who will sabotage anything good in his life. I am at peace with not drinking- plus drinking makes me fat. At my peak depression about five years ago I weighed 280 pounds-this morning I weighed in at 221(more nutrition posts to come I am into overnight oats now) But just losing the weight didn’t make me happy either. Long story short what made me happy was a long and arduous journey of self-discovery full of too many failures to count. Being able to write while feeling joy is something I feared I would never be able to experience. If I followed AA’s path I would still be stuck in that purgatory pain fog which was a living death. But as a part of my journey I am thankful for the lessons I learned along the way in AA, and the amazing people who came into my life because of it. I am not here to destroy AA- because for those it works for it is a beautiful thing. But for the others struggling today to I want them to realize there are different paths to happiness, and to keep searching to you find the right one.
In going with the music theme I finally uploaded some new (old) mixes to my mixcloud site grab them here. Expect everything from classic rap, to rare pysch and kraut rock, minimal wave, and everything from weirdo electronic shit, bass music, and b-more and jersey club.
Playlists for each show below
Tuesday Mornings at 8:30 AM. Kendrick Lamar – Swimming Pools Daedelus – The Finishing of a Thing Usher – Climax (Diplo remix) Gonjasufi – The Caliph’s Tea Party Aleuda – Galope (remix) Flosstradamus ft. Danny Brown – From the Back (Lunice remix) Xeno & Oaklander – Blue Flower (Live at the Weird Party, Home Sweet Home) Futuristik – Army Now Martial Canteral – Occupy These Terms Destiny’s Child – Say My Name (Cyril Hahn Remix) Oppenheimer Analysis – The Devil’s Dancers Murray – Pantum Lama Teengirl Fantasy – Vector Spray Win Win – Salt Days Amon Tobin – Dream Sequence Future ft. Juicy J – I’m Trippin 4lienetic – You Never Loved Me Notorius BIG – Suicidal Thoughts Aphex Twin – Nannou The Diplomats – Real Niggas ? Goldie – Inner City Life Cousin Cole – Amen Amen Ivo’s Group – That Shocking Day The Prodigy – Ruff in the Jungle Uplifting Vibes Remix)
That’s Respect Polygon Window – Quino-Phec Ice Cube – Doing Dumb Shit Metamatics – Blue Water ? Nancy and Paddy – Owl Ritual Escort – Cocaine Blues (Greg Wilson Remix) ? Jungle Brothers – Tribe Vibes Kendrick Lamar – Cartoon and Cereal WIN WIN – Landloper Das Racist – Girl Jack Beats – Epidemic Hannulerauri – Zombie Tropicana SS-Say – Care Can – Fly By Night Kaine – Love Saves the Day (Soul Clap Remix) UFO – Freeze (Labradford Remix) Martyn – Seventy Four Polygin Window – It Really Is Me
That Walter White. Aphex Twin- Polynominal-C Jim Jones – 60 Racks Boards of Canada – Basefree EDUBB- Topsdropbladeschoppnmuizk Cam’ron ft. T.I. – In The Jungle Young Jeezy ft. Future – Way Too Gone Flosstradamus – Total Recall Kingdom – Hood By Air Theme Polygon Window – Supremacy Window Odd Future – ? A$AP Rocky – Celebration Juicy J – Let’s Get High Darq E Freaker – Blueberry (Sinden & 5kinandbone5 remix) Koreless – MTI DJ Dodger Stadium -Ds Drum Routine Dj J Heat – Get Low Drop Low DJ Sliink – Emergency ? XXXY – I Know This (Can’t Be Love) Deejay Theory – Club Tearz ? James Nasty – Them Do It Horns Amrand Van Helden – You Don’t Know Me ? Switch & Erol Alkan – A Sydney Jook (Bok Bok remix) Crookers – Bowser Floyd Campbell – Taped Rob Threezy – Love to the World Silver Apples – Lady and the Clown Boom Bip – Closed Shoulder (clouddead remix) Broadcast – Unchanging Window/Chord Simple MMOSS – Another Dream Smif’ n’ Wessun – Hellucination
Half Measures Half Measures Intro Boom Bip – Closed Shoulder (Clouddead remix) The Velvet Underground – The Black Angel’s Death Song Boards of Canada – Amo Bishop Roden Slowdive – Souvlaki Space Station Spacemen 3 – The Sound of Confusion Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here HTRK – Sweetheart (A.K.A. I love you) Koreless – 4D SBTRKT – Something Goes Right Oppenhiemier Analysis – Don’t Be Seen With Me Play –Deeper Than Blue Moderne – Vers L’est Hudson Mohawke – All Your Love MMOSS – Wander Radiohead – Bloom (Jaime XX rework) T.I ft. Beanie Seigel. – 2 Glock 9’s/ Can- Oh Yeah (Evaredy and ayo patrick remix) Danny Brown – Pac Blood Faust – Lauft.Heisst Das Es Lauft Oder Es Kommt Bald.Lauft Smif’ N’ Wessun – Hellucination Freestyle Fellowship – For No reason Burial – NYC A$AP Rocky – Purple Swag
Chapter 6 – What’s An Adjective- an excerpt from my novel from 2008 discussing race, white privilege, and being a white lover of rap music since birth. A man who grew up surrounded by whiteness, trying to write about race. I just tried to be honest- please let me know where I failed.
Like Eggers’ before me I can guarantee to you that when I see a young black man holding a baby I will smile. I tell you this for a few reasons. First so you like me. I really need you to like me so I can be completely honest with you readers. I mean, sure, I am full of anger and prone to drunken bouts of pure asshole, but for the most part I am a good guy. In fact I am pretty color-blind as well. Well, not the bullshit liberal sense of not being able to see color, which in itself is racist as fuck and puts a blind eye to the challenges people of color endure, but in the sense of not basing judgements based off of it.
But I am not going to lie because I make judgments of people every day based on their appearance. It’s why we use adjectives. Us writers love them because they not only put things into cute categories; but they are also a good for use with people. That’s why when I was asked by a black man named D, “What’s an adjective?” It struck me as this could be the beginning of a story. Actually I did not think that at all but we can pretend that right? So let us start over with a story about an adjective. And you are probably wondering the time frame of this is and well we are in spring 2007 now.
This adjective question would be asked by D, a musician from the Marcy Ave Projects, whom I had just met outside a bodega where I had purchased a 40-ounce beer for seven dollars. I would have haggled over the price, but the place had the feel of a storefront where they move drugs, and well, I didn’t need an ass whooping over a couple bucks and I was thirsty after all. (Side note look at my subtle racism believing a bodega was a drug front.) I was at this bodega because my girlfriend Tiffany and I had got off on the wrong subway stop in our search to see the Bonde Do Role show in Brooklyn. Outside of the store we asked a black dude if he knew where Studio B was and he tried to direct us into the Marcy Ave. Projects a couple blocks down. D, who overheard this, jumped in the conversation.
“Yo, you’re saying there is a new club in the projects? I have to see this.”
Now I was talking to, and smiling at two black men, neither of which held babies. D was holding a Styrofoam cup with beer in it, and when he noticed my own brown paper bag gave me a pound.
“Ha-ha, my man knows the deal, brown paper bag and everything.”
After some discussion we figured out the club was not in the projects, but rather toward Williamsburg, and the hipster section of the borough.
D, with no other plans for the night, decided to tag along with us and thus became our tour guide. As we walked the city the landscape transformed. The cleanest projects in the land according to D vanished, “I mean we don’t have any shit or piss in the hallways, or anything like that,” The bodegas had instead been replaced by a Parisian style cafe filled with white faces enjoying wine and large meals.
“So where you two from?” D asked.
”Right outside Boston in Manchester, NH. Tiff is from New Jersey, but we both live in Boston now.”
”Manchester? I have a bunch of boys who moved out there and love it. They were saying it’s cheap as hell, and you don’t have to worry all the time. Around here you want to act tough, you have to be on guard, because people will test you on that and if you’re fronting they will fuck you up. But I am done with all that bullshit. I used to slang, and what not, but now I just concentrate on music. I am bringing rock straight out the projects with my band.”
”You’re in a band?”
”Yeah, I play guitar, rap, and sing. I mean, I never been trained to play the guitar or anything like that, but I picked it up on my own from listening to the radio. The only problem is my band never wants to practice and really get down to work. They just want to get high and jam out, and never want to put in work on songs with hooks and shit like that. I mean no rock band has really came from the projects, and that’s a gimmick we can use to get noticed.”
So, here I am walking the streets of Brooklyn with my girlfriend and a black dude from the projects. I am drinking a 40, and D has some sort of drank in his cup, and we are talking about rock music on the way to a show from a group from Brazil that does their take on booty music.
Only in America.
Now here is the important adjective question that D will ask.
“Yo, do either of you know what exactly is an adjective? Is it like an adverb or something?”
”Nah, man it’s just a word used to describe something else. Like that car over there is red. Red is the adjective because it describes what the car looks like,” I said.
”All right, I get it, but yo, that’s kind of messed up. Why don’t they just call it what it is, like a describing word, or some shit then, instead of confusing people and calling it something weird like an adjective?”
I never thought of like that, but D had because he knew he had to look at all the angles if he wanted to get out of his situation he was in. He knew that he needed to use whatever advantages he had going for him. If this advantage was the stereotype that black guys from the projects were not supposed to make rock music then why the hell shouldn’t he use that novelty to get him in the door? He made this even clearer when I told him I booked bands back home.
”You should have me come play a show, and you can promote the fact I am a black guy from projects playing guitar in New Hampshire. Hell I don’t care how you want to use me just as long as I can get some money out of it. We both can get paid, you feel me?” D said and then laughed and gave me a pound.
”You know I am right because ain’t nobody doing what I am doing yet.”
As we passed the cafe we came up to an art show flushed with skinny faces wearing angular haircuts, skintight t-shirts, and jeans that seemed to be painted on. Each outfit was put together with meticulous care to ensure the image portrayed would actually show how little they cared about how they were dressed. It was absurd, and they used this seeming aloof nature in order to hide their own vanity. Because the only thing worse than not being hip was to admit that you actually cared about being hip.
Of course I was also dressed hip; but I was hip just cause I was a naturally fly motherfucker, and I knew by rocking a Big L t-shirt, a dead rapper who is adored and loved in some circles more than 2Pac himself, yet unknown by many of the kids in skinny jeans, would prove just how much hipper I was than everyone else. But it’s not like I cared about anything like that, or would even think about what my t-shirt would represent to others. Hell, let’s just say it was the only clean one I had, so I can continue this story with disdain for those who care how they look but pretend they don’t.
”How the hell do you white people wear jeans so tight? You’re nuts must not have any room to breathe.”
”I don’t get it either. White folks are strange,” I said.
It was funny as I interacted with D we were able to bond over the fact that we didn’t pretend the notion of race didn’t exist, and instead embraced and made fun of it. I was a white boy from New Hampshire, and he was black kid from the projects, and we understood it was a strange relationship but also one that we could use to our advantage. It was like the Dave Chappelle routine where he tells the audience, “Every group of black dudes should least one white guy in it for safety. I am serious, because when the cops come around, someone has to talk to the police, and that’s when that white friend Ernie comes in handy.”
From the art crowd we were able to find a threesome of hipsters who knew where Studio B was, and even happened to be headed in that direction. We followed them as my girlfriend chatted up front with the two girls, while I lurked in the back with D and cracked jokes about how the one guy with them was probably nervous that we were going to try to jump him, and steal the bicycle he walked with.
They led us to the club and we stood in line and waited to get in as D told us his theory on why rock music wasn’t as good as it used to be.
”Man, nobody writes with metaphors and shit any more. I want to be able to think about a song and what the singer is trying to say. All these new bands just come out and say it. I get it you are angry, but find some other way to say that shit other than ‘I am so angry. That’s why I love Nirvana and Kurt Cobain. Think about it-when he was talking about Polly wanting a cracker you had to think about it? And you knew he sure as hell wasn’t talking about a pet parrot of his.”
”He wasn’t?” I said with a grin.
”Ahh, fuck you, man, but you get what I am saying though. That’s why I don’t listen to any of that new shit.”
”What do you listen to then?”
”Shit from the same time as Nirvana, you know, like Stone Temple Pilots, Green Day, and Tool. The good shit.”
I cringed at the last three bands he mentioned. First because I am an asshole when it comes to music, and those bands to me represent all the shitty people from my hometown that hated rap, and still listened to hair bands without shame. Well, not Nirvana, I liked Nirvana, but those other bands sucked. But then I realized he had probably never been exposed to any rock other than what was played on the radio (and of course I assumed this because it was an easy assumption, because black people from the projects could not ever want to listen to rock, and yes, I am that dumb sometimes). Cobain to me was a voice for mostly bored and jaded middle-class white kids, and it was odd that he had been able to penetrate into D’s world and impact him much in the same way. And then I cringed at my own thought and realized that growing up I had rejected those bands, and instead listened to rap music which impacted and spoke to me in a way rock never could. Growing up I had always hated when people would ask me why I listened to black music; instead of white music like rock. Even worse were those who had no idea about what rap music was, and would dismiss it as not music because they didn’t play instruments, or even worse as nothing more than just “niggers talking.”
The line crawled forward and D bounced around with nervous energy.
”So who exactly is playing tonight?” D asked.
“It’s a Mad Decent show with Diplo, Bonde Do Role, and Blaqstarr. Diplo is this dope ass dj and Mad Decent is his label. Bonde Do Role is this Brazilian group that does favela funk, which in English basically means ghetto funk, or booty music. They are like 2 Live Crew and raunchy as hell and use beats that sample everything from Alice in Chains to that ‘Final Countdown’ song from the ‘80’s. And Blaqstarr is from Baltimore and does b-more club which is like a cross between house and rap music. It will be a real hype show. “
”I am guessing it will be if y’all came all the way out for it.”
”Yeah, plus my man Chris Lemon-Red works for Mad Decent, and I used to dj with him before he moved here.”
”Then why we standing here in line? Go talk to your man and get us in.”
”Nah, waiting builds character.”
”Fuck character, I just want to get in there get me a drink, and start dancing with one of these fine white girls,” D said with a laugh.
As we headed to the front, D seemed worried when he finds out there is $12 cover to get in.
“I don’t think I can afford this. My budget is kind of tight.”
”Fuck it, you helped us find the place, so I’ll take care of it as a way to say thanks.”
After I paid I couldn’t help but think of William Baldwin’s Another Country, and the relationship between the black musician Rufus, and his white friend Vivaldo. Rufus always despised it when Vivaldo would try to help him, and would interpret this as not a simple act of kindness between friends, but rather, a paternal nature that made him think Vivaldo was doing this so he could feel good about helping out the poor black man who would be so helpless without him. Which left me wondering, would I have paid for D had he been a white guy instead? And I realized then, had he been a poor white guy from the projects, I would have been less likely to trust him at all, and even less likely to pay to get him into the club.
But I soon forgot all those worries as the music rained down, and the bass cleansed me free. The dance floor was a Where’s-Waldo picture of gangly white flesh, and then in the whitewash a black face, D, fearless and with no shame, could be found walking up to any girl on the dance floor.
I saw Lemon-Red at the merchandize booth and headed over to say what’s up. He was surprised I had made it out the show, and then introduced me to Diplo.
”New Hampshire, huh,” Diplo said, “That’s the, ummm, shit. I know nothing about New Hampshire at all. “
”Don’t worry, most people don’t.”
I told Lemon Red I would catch up with him later and went back to find Tiffany and D. Tiffany asked me if that was Diplo, and I told her yeah.
”He is not as cute as he was in the pictures I saw of him, but then again he was doing Zoolander poses in those.” She then left to take more pictures of the folks at the party for a project for a class she was basing on the NYC club scene. Most of the people she took pictures of had no problem mugging for the camera with their practiced look of disinterest.
Over the course of the night we lost D, and the next day I would find out from a message he left on my cell phone, where he first apologized for bouncing without saying goodbye, and that he had drank too much and needed to leave before he acted a fool and got himself in trouble.
By 4 am the show was over. Tiffany and I left the club and grabbed a couple slices of pizza, and then headed for the subway. Our subway car was pretty much empty except for us, two girls coming back from the club, and a passed-out black man. As we rode through the tunnels of a sleeping city I noticed the girls were snapping pictures of the passed out man and laughing. To them this man was nothing but someone to mock so they could laugh when they showed the pictures to their friends, and put them up on their MySpace and Facebook pages. As we rode they grew bolder and posed with him, mean-mugging and crossing their arms, as if in modern black face; Amos and Andy would have been proud.
And then I went home and instead of using pictures of me smiling with the black man, I wrote a story where the whole world could see just how much more enlightened I am by my thoughts of race, and how I would never exploit it for someone else’s entertainment, and that I was so much better than those girls at the end who took pictures with the sleeping man. But you, reader, you know better than that. And you are probably thinking of a few adjectives you can call me, and I would agree.
But I think D was right in the end-let’s stop hiding behind vague descriptions, and just say it how it is from now on. But then again wouldn’t that mean Polly really just wanted a cracker? I am all confused now. How about you just take whatever you want out of this story, and hopefully you were entertained, because this was just an interlude in tragedy, a chance to make you laugh for a moment, and hopefully help you understand the narrator outside the context of dealing with tragedy.
I am a human you know, which I think is an adjective for person. Plus, as a young kid, I grew up wishing D’s life was mine, while never realizing he probably grew up wishing he had my life. And in the end, regardless of the bullshit, I can’t blame him. But I do thank him for making me realize the true meaning of adjectives.
Reflecting on what I wrote over 12 years ago I am not mad overall. I rejoice in the reality I was able to recognize my white privilege and not be a slave to it either. What I feel I failed on was my silence. At the end of this story I mocked and judged those white girls for their actions, and took a bullshit moral high ground. It was my unique privilege as a white male to feel superior without having to act. My silence to their acts made me complicit. I too was mocking this man by staying silent and judging those who mocked him. By letting it happen I was just like a cop who lets his partner stand on the neck of a man who can’t breathe. I know I personally need to get better. And I will continue to strive for that. In the meantime I won’t hesitate to call out bullshit behavior- it’s the subtle racism that is prevalent where I am from. When you don’t have to deal with black men in your daily life it’s funny how easily racism pervades. When you can’t be checked for saying the n word in a rap song you won’t be surprised how many white folks say it. I was taught at an early age by Wu Tang to always say nuh instead of that word. It was ideal because it always reminded me I had no reason to utter that world-it was never my right and thus nuh right in saying it. Radio edit for the win.
It’s a rainy ol’ dirty bastard raw day today. In group this morning we delved into depression, and the stigma associated with it. Now I could care less if anybody knows I deal with it- as you can tell from this blog. This wasn’t always the case just because I was fearful of admitting that pain because it would became real. I convinced myself it would be easier just to think alcohol was the only issue which proved false. At almost a year of sobriety having gone through and actively working the steps, running a sober house, and having sponsees I was still miserable inside. It was until I was willing to admit to myself that alcohol was just a maladaptive coping system of what turned out to be bi-polar 2 depression that I was able to truly start to work on myself, and the traumas of my past. As you see this path has had a lot of peaks and valleys. But writing has always been my constant hope.
So today I wanted to share a chapter from the book I wrote for my MFA thesis. A book about my twenty something self’s journey running away from lost love, and the murders that happened to my sister, niece, and nephew- and how music saved and introduced me to a misfit of characters that would influence me for the rest of my life. This chapter features two of the most important people I would meet as a naive 19 year old for the first time in the Bay.
Chapter 2 –All I Saw Was Ugly
I spent the night of their deaths staring at a computer screen while talking on AIM. I am telling my friend Fhrate (pronounced like freight as in a freight train) what happened. He seems like the only person I know who would understand.
“I just feel numb, just numb.” I typed to him.
“I understand, man, well maybe not with the magnitude of what just happened, but I feel the same way all the time. I just don’t feel anything, and sometimes I wonder if I even really love my family, or girlfriend. That’s what I miss about drinking, because at least then I felt something. And even if it was nothing but sadness it was better than this numbness that replaced it.”
I first met Fhrate three years earlier in Oakland under a blank canvas sky which captured a yard dead to the world: weeds, soil with no hopes of prosperity, a fence without the guts to stand. This yard led to a house where in the kitchen, sitting Indian-style, was a gutter-punk Buddha, sewing needle in one hand, dental floss in the other, with a hooded sweatshirt adorned with patches resting on his lap. This was Fhrate, with short-cropped black hair, and a fresh razor mark gash on the back of his neck from cutting his hair himself. I was surprised by how tranquil he looked, and how shy he seemed, given the stories he wrote made him come off as a maniac hobo who explored America in a constant haze of drugs and alcohol.
He put down his needle and approached me with a small smile.
“Hi, I am Sean.”
I was meeting him for the first time, yet, I felt like he was an old friend because of our numerous conversations online, and from reading his stories. Even though I was surprised at how shy he was, I really shouldn’t have been, because the person whom he had written about was a character of his past, a drunken train bum who was kinetic energy in motion, never happy unless in constant flux, realizing the only way to escape life was to be constantly running from or towards new problems.
His eyes were sad paradises of truth and seemed listless when he talked about his dead-end job.
“This girl, well, woman, I think she’s almost forty. I am not sure if this makes her more desirable, or makes me feel old, but anyway she keeps asking me to go to the bar with her, and my other co-workers, and I have to say no. It’s not fun to bitch about your job when you’re the only sober person in the room. Plus, I have that a whole alcoholic thing to deal with. And I would be left in that weird state of not knowing if I should make a move on her because I work with her, and I wouldn’t be able to laugh it off the next day at work on us just being drunk. Plus, I hate that fucking job.”
Fhrate was sober again, which was ideal for him, but somewhat of a disappointment for me. I was nineteen years old and came out to Oakland in search of this great myth. I had just finished On The Road a few months earlier, and I was ready for this wild adventure where there would be loose women, kicks, and all that other bullshit you fantasize about in life after reading that book. Maybe the problem was I wanted Fhrate to be a character in a book, and real life is never that tidy. He was bored with life because he was living it by the rules of what he thought he should be doing, instead of what he really wanted to be doing.
His eyes lit up as we entered his room, and he showed me a map on his wall of all the railroad lines he traveled across America. His face contorted into a grimace when looking at the East Coast, “I have never had a chance to travel that far East yet.”
Next to the map was a calendar of different trains, and Fhrate could tell you everything about each one, and even all about the do’s and don’ts of train hopping.
“All right, first things first-if you can avoid hopping ‘on the fly,’ do so. It makes more sense to get on an unmoving train that one that’s going twenty miles an hour.”
His voice sounded like a dusty vinyl recording of William Burroughs played on 45.
“Also, don’t be afraid to ask workers what trains are going where, but avoid the bulls at all costs. Also, I wouldn’t ride piggy-backs.”
I heard piggy-back, and in my head I pictured two old fashioned hobos, complete with sticks and bandanas tied around each end, attempting to hop a train with one man riding on the back of the other.
“That’s a trailer on flat car. You should avoid those because there’s nowhere to ride really, leaving you exposed to wind, rain, and prying eyes. And don’t ever get on someone else’s box car. It’s just rule of thumb and travel. It is also a sign of respect and it lends itself to caution. However, in the in the event you do get on an occupied boxcar, just acknowledge your mistake, dismount, and find another open car. The real concern is that, while you may meet some real solid brothers and sisters on the road, you may just as easily encounter some fucking psychopathic assholes. If you get on an asshole’s boxcar then that asshole feels he has certain entitlement, like to your wife, wallet, pack, or coat. “
For a few seconds Fhrate grew silent, and seemed to be back on the road longing for that one train to lead him to whatever he was searching for, or maybe, he was thinking instead of just the joy that is escaping from having to search for anything in the first place.
“If you should be in or around a yard, and you know you’re coming up on a hobo jungle, always make your presence known. The tried and true salutation/announcement is ‘Yo Camp!’ Possibly yelling out ‘Hobo!’ will put the resident campers at ease, if they think you are kindred ‘boes. Also I wouldn’t carry lots of cash. “
After the train-hopping lesson we ventured to his living room, and watched a Scribble Jam tape from 1999 to kill time, before heading across the bridge into San Francisco, and over to Stef’s apartment. Stef was a dj who, at 40 years old, was ducking the norm of what life told her she should be doing, and instead living life how she wanted to. This may have been fueled by her love of hip hop, and records, as she was heavily involved in the music scene in San Francisco, where she ran a magazine called Vinyl Exchange, and was also kindly letting me crash on her couch for this trip of mine.
In Stef’s room, through the maze of old rap posters and flyers, was a single rose hanging on the wall. It was a rose Fhrate had giving her. This was a side of Fhrate he usually kept hidden from the world, and this sweetness was first thing alcohol would take from him as it transformed him into a different person that seemed hell bent on self-destruction. That flower sums up the paradox that was Fhrate, and his constant struggle with alcohol, which always seemed to lurk in the darkness of his soul just waiting to fuck up whatever good things he had going at the time. Stef cared about him enough to understand this, and a set a steadfast rule that she would not be around him if he drank. So maybe the flower was Sean’s way of telling her he understood, and was sorry for all his actions, and any time he may have hurt her before.
The next night I met up with Fhrate outside the club for the 10th Anniversary Anticon show. Outside the club I met a friend of his named Ian, and his bottle of vodka. He offered me some, so we headed into the back alley to pass the bottle back and forth, while above us the third shift stars went to work.
More people joined, and then the bottle was empty. To combat this we retreated to the inside of a convenience store, where Fhrate, the only one of us over twenty-one, bought beer for us. Outside the club a circle formed, and the beers were passed back and forth. Fhrate couldn’t resist, and joined in.
A fractured memory later, drunk, with ears ringing, we decided to keep drinking after the show with a graffiti artist named Demo, who had flown down to the show from Chicago. He was there with his girlfriend, a fiery little brunette, and her honey-skinned friend who just wanted to take pictures of San Francisco.
They invited us back to their hotel and by 3 a.m. I was hunched over the toilet puking, as Fhrate was out getting late night grub with Demo. Fhrate never returned, and disappeared after conversing with some homeless folk, and losing Demo in the process.
As the shadows of morning crept through the blinds I lay awake. From my hiding spot, a hard bed with starched white sheets and mattress springs that scratched and dug into my exposed spine, I noticed the wall was a sickly pink, like a diseased flamingo begging to be shot at the merciful hands of a poacher, and even when I closed my eyes I couldn’t stop my head from spinning and twirling as if I was on the deranged teacups of a dead Disney Land. Out the window was a seedy motel. The proprietor of sin was a dirty soul with a vast paunch belly built on greed. He had an unshaven face caked with gray whiskers and pockmarks. His eyes were wasted on only that which was perverse, blind to the notion that the girls he thought of as whores were really just angels lusting for their wings.
Silence was broken. Awoke in haze. Commotion down hall. Banging on doors. Yelling, then Fhrate. He wore the results of his slumber on concrete with eyes as red as a brand new kickball. I quickly got out of bed to deal with him, and get him out of the motel before he did any more damage, or woke up any more guests.
Fhrate needed more booze, but was broke. Then an idea came to him.
“I have this fifty dollar Gap card I got for a present, and as you can see,” he pointed to his gutter-punk outfit of Carhart pants, and a black sweatshirt with patches he had sewn all over it, “I am never going to use it, so we can to sell it, and split the money.”
We approached the Gap, navigated through a crowded market area filled with sight-seeing tourists with fanny packs and fresh faces, while Fhrate antagonized a homeless man sleeping on the street, and woke him up by kicking him softly.
“Rise and shine. You can’t sleep all day.” The man grumbled a little bit, but just rolled onto his other side, and went back to sleep. I was beginning to understand the belligerent drunk side of Fhrate, but yet I was fascinated by his actions and even thought this is what it must feel like to have walked around with a young Bukowski.
Outside the Gap a Jesus freak was telling the world, “Repent For your Sins,” and “AIDS is God’s cure.” Fhrate approached him with a grin and put an arm around my shoulder, “Jesus wouldn’t mind that we fuck all the time, right?”
We entered the Gap and I did most of the talking since Fhrate was half drunk, and dressed like an undercover prophet in thrift-shop garb. I approached a lady shopping alone who had an ass that looked like a nerf football stuffed in spandex.
”Excuse me, would you be interested in saving ten dollars? I have a Gap card I am selling that’s worth fifty, but I’ll sell it to you for forty.”
She looked at Fhrate and then looked me up and down. It was the first time I really felt like an outsider to regular folk society, and realized this woman probably thought we were drug addicts who stole the card from a nice young married couple, probably with an adorable new-born, and were fiends dead-bent on going to take this money to shoot up, and would then go on some raping and kill spree like she was taught in the anti-drug movies of her high school days.
”No,” was her answer as she quickly walked to the opposite side of the store. That scene repeated itself for the next twenty or so minutes until we found a black girl, who realized we were not trying to swindle her, who bought the card off us. As we left the store, a mother and her daughter walked in and Fhrate screamed, “Aid’s is God’s cure for all the yuppies and their children, and I am here to infect you all!” I pushed him out of the store, and with money in his pocket Fhrate headed to the corner store, where he bought a bottle of Long Island iced tea, and some smoked malt liquor that tasted like it had been brewed in the womb of a grizzly bear. As we walked Fhrate apologized to the homeless man, and showed him his bottle of booze, which for some reason made the homeless man smile, and understand there were no hard feelings. On the corner a dealer was slanging dime bags of weed and Fhrate, who never smoked, decided to buy a bag off of him.
Content with his booze, Fhrate and I headed back to the motel to see if Demo and his crew were still there. When we arrived we found just the honey-skinned photographer, who only warmed up to seeing our return after she found out we had weed. Fhrate tried to roll a joint but couldn’t get the papers to stick.
“You can’t even roll a joint?” she said.
“Can you?” I asked.
“No, but I figured one of you could do it. It’s not that hard.”
The joint was not going to work, but I had an idea.
“Hey, do you have a can? Like a Coke can anything like that?”
“How the hell should I know?” she said.
I found a Pepsi can and rinsed it out, and then crafted makeshift bowl out of it. We smoked as Fhrate kept drinking, and by the time Demo came back, Fhrate was freshly drunk. We explored San Francisco for a couple hours until Demo and the girls finally ditched us after Fhrate caused a scene in a pizza place by berating the workers.
”Y’all communists and Fascist bastards who think they control the world through your three-dollar slices of pizza. My shit tastes better than your pizza, you fucking cunts.”
We spent the rest of the day wandering the city as ghosts left to haunt themselves. Fhrate kept drinking, and I shambled after him.
As the sun started to set, lust hung in the air, billowing like wispy white clouds that hover over the immense Rocky Mountains. I was lusting for knowledge, a lust to end the confusion that engulfed me like the heavy morning Pacific fog of a decaying shipyard. Rusted steamers, cracked masts, torn sails, the ghost of wanderers past: nothing but ugliness and lost dreams.
Fhrate once told me if you stay up late enough and search long enough under those stars, that the whore we call America will finally show you her beauty. But I was three thousand miles away from home and all I saw was ugly.
The night grew cold, and Fhrate became more distant and drunk. We walked to the BART station where Fhrate could hop a boat back across the bay to Oakland. He had already spent all his money from the GAP card on alcohol and weed, so I paid for his ticket. His eyes were hollow, and he seemed like a shell of the person I had met a few days ago. His sad figure haunted me as it disappeared into the darkness, and I wondered how long it would take him to find his way home. I returned to the street only to shudder at my own reflection as it passed me by in a store front.
Reading this back it’s painful because both Fhrate and Stef have passed away. Fhrate through suicide a couple years after I first met him in the flesh, and Stef from a heart attack at only 55. Being so young, dumb, naive, and lustful for adventure I was greatly shaped by their influence on my life at that young age of 19. It’s strange for people, who I physically in person had such limited amount of time with, became so vital in my personal growth at the time, and to this day. This occurred because of the internet’s ability to close the gap of connection. Even through a lockdown one of the blessings of the internet is that ability to stay connected. As I continue this voyage to find clarity knowing I can still explore human connection in this world- and I hope through my writing I can keep connected with you all.
“We fill all pre-existing forms and when we fill them we change them and are changed.” Frank Bidart
I have been reading a lot of David Foster Wallace lately and he is one of the few writers that I am always in awe of. His fiction is always able to depict a certain loneliness and isolation that is perfect in its own subtlety. It’s not in the same sense of the navel gazing of the Beat Generation writers which I devoured in my early twenties, and that as I age become less of an influence because of that precise lack of subtlety and egocentric perception of loneliness itself. And this is not a literary criticism piece either-I tend to leave that to professors and those “sophisticated” folks who use books like ammo to impress impressionable youngsters in a celebration of their own intelligence. Which to me is the equivalent of being a sports talk radio dj, or sports journalist, who falls prey to the hot take syndrome to boost their own importance over the sports and athletes they cover. Nor am I not privy to the inherent egotist value that lies in my own take on such others- but I am able to recognize that and hope I earnestly come through in this- which to be honest I have no idea where is going as I write down these words. I feel that loneliness in itself is a misplaced concept in this day and age. I send out words in hope of a connection, and as a way to protect myself from my own harmful thoughts, or those thoughts that drive me to numbness through alcohol. Yet these words are protected through the veil of this blog, and social media as a whole. The internet allows us a mask to present ourselves as a figment of our true self- it’s the same reason the twitter account of Sunny D can pretend to be suicidal to sell off brand OJ. Everything can me marketed and consumed even the idea of connection- it’s why Tony Robbins exists. He sells hope and success as a model that makes loneliness inherently evil and something holding you back. It’s why life coaches exist and peddle you the same self-help voodoo in slightly different packages. This is not to say these folks don’t help some because they do. But for the truly depressed, the truly disconnected, the ones consumed through suicidal ideation, or the soldiers still haunted by the horrors of a war they never left the ideology of buck up and think positive is no cure. DFW was able through his fiction to paint this picture so well because of his simple understanding of that ultimate desire to connect that our brains put roadblocks up to obscure. The same reasons we put up walls, self-sabotage, abuse substances, or push those closest away when we know a simple cure is front of us. It’s almost an allergy to our own self, because to realize our true self it must be in relationship to others. And for those lost in the lounge of loneliness there is nothing more nightmarish than others- a perfect catch-22. As I write I realize I am not anywhere closer to an answer to this loneliness conundrum other than I am not quiet as lonely as I was 35 days ago. Nor am I close to where I truly desire to be. Sometimes I still feel as lost as the narrative structure of this post, but at least I can be honest with my emotions about it. And send these words out hoping to connect with someone else feeling the same way today.
I am not big on resolutions-especially New Year’s one. I used to have a blog called Drunk and Focused which I wrote about drinking, culture, music, and even reviewed every flavor of Maddog 2020. But it’s the first day of 2019, and my first day sober once again- and yes I know how fucking cliche it is to get sober on January 1st. Getting sober on the first is on some basic as fuck shit that it could be an American Eagle commercial. This also a chance to prove I am not washed up in the blog game. This site will not just be about not drinking, though I will journal each day of my sobriety, but it will also highlight the myriad of many other things fucking up my mind these days. So I will write about the joys of mental illness, rap music, tv, pop culture, rants, wrestling, why you should never Facebook message people while in a blackout, and a place to share my writing to prove all that student loan debt I am in was totally worth it to get an MFA. So get ready for the return of the LeBron James of this blog game- this time with a 12 step habit.