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let’s all have a midlife crisis, shall we?

I’m having a great deal of difficulty typing this because my eyes are deteriorating at a furious clip. The computer screen is fuzzy when I have my glasses on, and it’s a different kind of fuzzy with my glasses off. There’s a sweet spot of focus that sits just beyond where my fingers can reach the keyboard, a cosmic joke playing out on my dining room table every night. I’m pretty sure a trip to the optometrist could set me straight, but I’ve been reluctant to make that call because I’m afraid the solution to my problem is going to be bifocals and bifocals to me is shorthand for being old.

I got a portable Bluetooth speaker for Christmas and I use it to stream shit through my phone or whatever while I’m doing dishes or taking a shower and recently I’ve been digging up all sorts of nuggets from my youth on YouTube and Spotify. I’ve been playing the hell out of That Petrol Emotion’s first two albums and I found a live version of “Cinnamon Girl” they did that was on the b-side of a single I used to have a million years ago. I’ve been playing Big Black and Hoodoo Gurus and Let’s Active and the Replacements, acts that played hugely important roles in my formative years, but not exactly the sort of bands that you would could pass off as the typical classic rock.

Certainly you don’t need a degree to see what this adamant refusal to acknowledge the present coupled with an avid embrace of the past adds up to? And it’s not just me. The other day Lisa abruptly said, “I wonder if I could trade in my car for a Charger?” We decided that, actually, the Dodge Challenger with the R/T package would be the best pick for her, but the prospect of her trading in her sensible-shoes Honda CR-V for a rear-wheel drive muscle car is probably remote.

But still…

I’ve been feeling this way off and on for a couple months, but it was amplified by the MS flare up I had at the end of the Winter. I spent weeks wracked with pain, slowly shuffling between work and the hospital for steroid infusions, and not being of much bloody use to anyone in the meantime. It was an incredibly frightening time, a glimpse into a potentially horrible future, and so maybe inevitably I started to look back to a time when things were a bit rosier. When you don’t know if you’re going to be able to walk down the stairs the next morning it just makes sense to buy a vinyl copy of the Clash’s first album even though you already have the CD, you know?

Let me be super duper clear about one thing, though. I would never want to actually go back to being a teenager. My daughter is speeding down the highway toward that particular exit and I can’t even tell you how nervous it makes me. Instead, I’m just looking for a little reminder of a time when life seemed open-ended. When you drove just to drive, and every little trick you learned on the guitar was a landmark, and when bands really could change your life. I’m trying to lasso that particular strain of optimism, and if I can I won’t even care if I’m not driving a muscle car.

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my first guest post ever

The best thing about white male hegemony is taking your wife’s heartfelt thoughts about rape culture and using it as clickbait on your personal blog when you can’t finish your own post on time. (Note: In exchange I have to clean all the toilets in the house for 6 months.)  

My downstairs neighbors are harmless, but annoying. Harmless, because they are older (mid-60’s) hippies who compost, recycle and are left-leaning, basically tolerant people. They have a grandson who is cute and they encourage his weekly drum-banging circles. Harmless but annoying.

I was on my porch reading yesterday and I heard the woman say, “Yes, you have a penis.” Clearly a response to something he was doing, saying, or pointing to. Harmless. Then she stated that, “Gumpa (or whatever cutesy name the kid has for his grandfather) also has a penis too.”  Not a visual I need dancing around my noggin’ but whatever.

However, today’s outdoor commentary struck a nerve with me. Again, I am on the porch reading and I hear from Gumpa, “Do you want to pee on the grass?” And it just sent me over the edge. If he was a girl, would he be whipping down her pants, encouraging her to pee on the grass? Doubtful. The more likely scenario would be she would be ushered in the house before she had an accident. But this little tyke was given the option to pee on the grass, on a main road, across the street from a park. Sure, why not? We’re all loose and hippy dippy here.

However, given the recent climate that surrounds this much talked about “rape culture” I can’t help but feel that we are encouraging boys at an early age to think that they can do whatever they want with their penises, whenever they want. Whip it out and pee on the grass. It doesn’t matter if I might want to sit on that grass later. Flash forward 15 years and the interior voice says: “Hey, that girl is drunk, and you could take her upstairs and do whatever you want to her. Who’s going to say no?” I know two snippets of out of context conversation does not a rapist make, but it sure solidifies the expression, “It’s a man’s world.”

The Wanton Song

If you’ve been a keen reader of this site you will have come away with two solid facts about me: I love Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin’s mammoth 1975 double album, and that I hate the goddamn flute. So it comes as something as a surprise, to say the least, that I’m posting this hippie band’s languid version of the classic Zeppelin barnburner.

To be totally truthful I had lived my whole life blissfully unaware of Rose Windows’ existence until about 6 o’clock yesterday afternoon. I was flipping through SoundCloud for something to listen to in the shower when I came across this track. I played it because I wondered if it was a Zep cover and after a minute or so I was still wondering. The verse replaces the stuttering guitar riff with looped backing vocals. The tune lurches to life with the stair-stepping descending riff but then resumes its placid meandering as the guitars calmly ascend up to the flute interlude. It’s taken me four or five listens to realize how brilliant it is.

Of course, after I listened to this tune I ending up streaming Rose Windows’ new album (released today, if you’re into that sort of thing), and it’s really pretty interesting. It’s the kind of record I could see myself actually paying money for, which is saying something in this day and age.

general life update

God, you’re still checking in here? How’s that working out for ya? (I feel like I’ve made this joke before, but I’m too lazy to go back and look.)

Still working the two jobs. Still married, by some miracle. Still don’t get to see my daughter nearly enough.

But, but, but…

We all had a great Christmas. Lisa and I had Emily this year, which was awesome because she still believes in Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve we had a laptop devoted to tracking his progress on the NORAD website. I can’t imagine she’ll still believe in Santa in another two years when I have her again, but this season was great. She told me that some kid in her school said there was no Santa Claus and she got rather indignant about the whole thing.

Plus, my parents came up and stayed with us. Which, again. Awesome. Lisa and I graciously slept upstairs in the unheated attic and let them use the downstairs bedroom. We’re good like that, but, fuck, was it ever cold up there. It’s not so much the sleeping, because we were covered in, like, 20 blankets. Showering up there is a whole nother story. Getting out of a hot shower into the unheated bathroom is enough to make your scrotum head for the hills. Major shrinkage.

A few weeks before Christmas my two buds lured me out to meet them for a burger and a few beers. It was nice to shoot the shit and hang out. I’d told them both before that I don’t really play guitar anymore because fretting the strings really bothers my left hand, and that I’d been looking into buying a lap-steel guitar because instead of pressing down on the strings with your hand you use a metal bar to fret the notes. As we were sipping beer, I was running through my little spiel again and they pulled a new fucking lap-steel out from under the table and gave it to me. I was totally floored. I really couldn’t imagine a more thoughtful gift.

And then I got it home and tried to figure out how to play the damn thing. The first thing I did was go online to figure out how to tune it. Since lap-steel tunings have nothing in common with six-string tunings my entire musical frame of reference was gone. All the little tricks and shortcuts I had learned over almost 30 years of playing were now totally useless. I sat there for a few hours thumping along to instructional videos on YouTube, just trying to figure out the basic voicings. It probably took me two weeks before I  figured  out how to play a minor chord.

And you know what? It’s fucking awesome. It’s the sort of thing that I can get lost in for an hours at a time. Every rudimentary step feels like a revelation. Lisa and I were waiting in line at Starbucks and Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” was playing. After a minute I realized, “That’s a lap steel on that thar record.” I found a tablature online, and for the past three weeks I’ve been sitting on the couch with my laptop in front of me, playing that song over and over, just trying to get a feel for the chords. (Little did I know that that the guy playing on that song was Don Helms, who was Hank Williams steel player. If I did I might have aimed a little lower for my first song.)

I got an email last night from the guy trying to sell my condo. We got an offer in the early part of December, but things have been going slowly. I figured he just had some more forms for me to sign and fax back to him. I finally read it when I got home from work, and I was happy that I was sitting down because he told me they have reached an agreement with the bank on my primary mortgage. Which means I’m one step closer to getting the condo sold. They are still negotiating about the home equity loan, but he seems optimistic that it will all be finished in a week or two.

I’ve had innumerable sleepless nights about this fucking condo ever since I put it on the market. I’ve had every imbecile on the Wells Fargo payroll call me and ask if I can “make this account current?” I had some belligerent motherfucker call and ask me if I had anything I could sell in order to make a payment. My credit has taken a massive beating in the last seven months, but it will all have been worth it if I can finally get this monkey off my back. Who knew that selling real estate was such a rough gig?

 

 

 

food, or maybe i’ve been eating wrong all along

I’ve been publicly bitching for quite a while about my feet, but a tweet can’t really convey the real extent of what’s going on. For the past month or so my right leg has felt numb. Sometimes it’s only from the knee down, sometimes it’s from the hip down. This numb feeling terminates in a foot that doesn’t even feel like it’s a part of my body. The ball of my foot is a line of pain. Every step feels like there’s a rock running the full width of my shoe under my foot. My big toe feels like it’s been smashed with a hammer. Most of the time it feels like there’s something wrapped around the base of it, cutting off the circulation. The fun part, as always with this shit, is that sometimes it’s the right foot that’s really bad and sometimes it’s the left and sometimes it’s both. Every day is an adventure.

Walking makes everything feel a little worse, but even while I’m sitting at my desk at work I get the sensation that my sneakers are laced too tightly. When I take them off my feet still feel the same way. If there’s a way to relieve the pain I sure haven’t been able to find it.

And here’s the fucking bitch of it all: just before this all flared up I was feeling as good as I had in a long time. We spent a Sunday in July at the beach and it was great. My parents came out in July for my nephew’s first birthday and I felt awesome. And then the bottom fell right out. Less than a week later I felt so bad I had to bag out of my buddies’ yearly hiking trip.

There’s no telling what has caused this latest flare up. Maybe it was because I was immensely stressed at work (so much so that I wrote an email to my boss practically begging for some help), or maybe I wasn’t getting enough sleep or I was drinking too much. I just don’t know. My mood did a downward spiral as I wondered whether I might have a more severe, progressive type of MS. The kind that slowly disables and then just fucking kills you.

I made an appointment to see my neurologist. The earliest time I could get was in the second week of September. I needed to figure out something to do in the meantime to try to help myself. After a few quick web searches I found some inspiring stories about people who had made drastic improvements by changing what they eat. For the record let me say that I don’t think I eat terribly. Lisa and I buy good food. Lots of fruit and veggies. No Ring Dings. Sure, I love to sit down with a plate of sopressata and good cheese, but show me someone who doesn’t. Perhaps, though, I could eat even better…

I decided right away to cut out dairy and eat as little gluten as possible. I also decided to eat raw food as much as possible, and to back off my meat consumption. This sounds simple, but it wiped out almost all of my regular go-to foods. That cup of Greek yogurt I have for breakfast? Gone. The big bowl of pasta with oil and cheese for dinner? Gone. The I-forgot-to-pack-my-lunch-today emergency steak and cheese sub from the place up the street from my office? Yeah, no. Perhaps this would be harder than I thought.

After a week and a half I can say that it really isn’t that hard. My first line of defense is my juicer. I know you’re tired of hearing about it, but a bunch of kale and a few random vegetables has really become my touchstone. I love the ritual of cleaning and chopping everything and then carefully straining the raw juice to create the finished product. I’ve been juicing like a crazy person. I woke up early last Sunday, went to Whole Foods in the shirt I slept in, bought a shitload of produce, and then raced back home so I could juice before I had to go to work at noon. On the days that I can’t juice I cheat and buy some from Starbucks, but it’s just not the same. Not nearly enough kale.

The rest of the time I’ve been eating a hybrid of vegan, raw food, and paleo diets. About 80 percent of the time I eat nothing but raw fruits and vegetables. I still bring PB&J to work, but I’ve switched to gluten-free bread. That’s really the only carbs I eat. Every couple of days Lisa and I will cook some salmon or steak for dinner, but that’s about it for animal products. I’ve been devouring big tubs of trail mix that are heavy on nuts and sunflower seeds. And I did eat a big pile of a black bean stir-fry that Lisa made the other day.

Not to sound like a fucking food kook, but I noticed a change immediately. I’ve been more focused at work. I’ve cut down from two large coffees a day to one small or medium in the morning. I have a lot more energy. Most importantly, my feet have improved. It still feels like a have a thick callus running the width of the balls of my feet, but it’s certainly less painful.

The downside is that I haven’t quite figured out how to eat enough calories every day. I’ve lost a few pounds that I can ill-afford to lose, but on the bright side, my power-to-weight ratio has skyrocketed.

bad day? I’ll take two.

Today started like any other Wednesday. I woke up and started a pot of coffee. I let my daughter sleep late because it’s summer vacation and her day camp is only about a half-hour drive from here. I took a shower, ate some breakfast. Eventually we hopped in the car to head to her rock-climbing camp in Everett (which, by the way, awesome. I wished I could have stayed.)

As we hit the top of the Leverett Connector to merge into the left lane of 93 north I noticed a State Trooper pulled behind a disabled vehicle way over in the right lane. A moment later I saw a car in one of the middle lanes drive over an improbably large sheet of twisted metal. A moment after that the sheet of metal tore a very large hole into the sidewall of my right rear tire. I limped the car as far to the left as I could to let traffic pass me, but I was hemmed in by Jersey barriers. With my hazard lights flashing, and with my daughter in the back seat, I unleashed a furious round of F-bombs as cars came perilously close to making my day even worse. I slowly rolled up the highway, eyeing the Somerville off-ramp four lanes over. Finally a break in traffic let me ease the car across the highway and down the ramp. I stopped in front of the Somerville courthouse, right behind a van whose driver was slowly unwinding his right rear tire’s lug nuts. I got out and walked toward the van.

“You get hit by the same shit up there that I did?”

“Yup.”

I popped open my trunk, pulled out the jack and the donut spare and set to work. My daughter paced the sidewalk worried that she’d be late for camp.

Luckily the guy broken down in front of me managed to find a can of WD-40 in his maintenance equipment-laden van because otherwise I would still be there trying to pry my stubborn lug nuts off. As it was I had to stand on the fucking wrench in order to get them to move. At one point my daughter said, “It looks like you’re sitting down without a chair,” because my feet were far to one side of the wrench, and I was prying with both hands and leaning back as far as I could. I suppose it did look pretty silly.

Once I got the nuts loosened things went smoothly. I kicked off the old tire, slapped the donut on and headed off to rock-climbing camp. I walked in looking like a sweat-drenched maniac and asked if I could use their bathroom to clean up.

(fast forward through the usual traffic complaints about driving from Everett to Boston during rush hour)

I got to my regular job just in time to preside over a fetid miasma of terrible deliveries. South Boston to Harvard Square. Kendall Square to Kenmore Square. Longwood Avenue to the West End. Just a fucking day-wrecker staring me in the face and it wasn’t even 10 AM. I spend endless hours every week choreographing a multi-city ballet and sometimes I’m Balanchine and sometimes I’m just hanging on for dear life. Today I was lucky to escape with my fingernails intact.

(fast forward through the Aaron Hernandez talk on the sports station I listen to obsessively whenever I’m in my car)

I arrived at my second job at the beer store just as a phalanx of mammoth-scale return people showed up. There are regulars who show up and return what they drink and then there are regulars who show up and return what they collect. We got hit by four or five collectors all at once. Our return room is a small awkward space and suddenly it was filled with people pushing overloaded, dripping, smelly shopping carts, shoving bottle after bottle into the return machines. I literally turned my back for a second and all three bottle machines were flashing a yellow screen saying they needed to be emptied. Me and the other beer guy (also named Matt) furiously replaced the bottle bins, emptied the full bins into a large hopper which itself was becoming perilously full, and then set about replacing the full hopper. By the time everyone cleared out I was soaked with sweat.

As things were winding down for the night a dude and his family pushed a full cart into the return room. I asked him how much stuff he had. “Two carts.”

I told him we would be closing soon and if he hurried I would let him finish the one cart that was there. He went back outside to load up the second cart and I followed right behind him. “Don’t bring this inside. We’re closing in twenty minutes.”

I went back inside and the motherfucker wheeled his second cart right in behind me. I turned around and told him, “I told you we’re closing in twenty minutes. I’ll let you finish the first cart if you hurry, but if you push it I’ll kick you out right now.” The store was very quiet and my voice was pretty loud. He wheeled his shit back out and somehow we closed on time, but not before some co-ed managed to drop an entire 12-pack on the floor which necessitated a very hurried mop up.

(Everything isn’t so negative. I still own that stupid condo in Chelsea. It’s a huge drain on my finances. In May my tenant [who had signed a one-year lease in January] broke that lease in order to move to low-income housing. As soon as she told me she was moving out I made the decision to put the place up for sale. And I decided to stop paying the mortgage, my home equity loan, and my condo fees. I called everyone right away to let them know what was happening. Today I was informed by my real estate broker that someone has made an offer on the place. Now it’s up to the the bank to try to negotiate some kind of settlement. Frankly, I don’t care what the fuck they do. I’ll never put another cent into that place. Pretty soon it’ll be off my hands and I’ll finally be able to get on with my fucking life. Which means I might not be yelling at transients with a cartload of empties for much longer.)

what’s new

Employment: I’m still working the two jobs. I actually picked up another permanent night at the store. I now work every Wednesday and Friday night and every Saturday from 1:00 until 10:00. I also work every other Sunday from noon until 6:00. I’m also working around 45 hours a week at my main gig. All of which translates into two days off a month. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a grind. Mornings like today are the worst. Not only did I wake up tired from working 10 days straight, I still had to face three more long days days until Sunday.

It’s not entirely bad. I’ve gotten several small unceremonious raises at work that have almost brought my paycheck back to it’s previous unslashed level, so long as I’m willing to grind out nine and ten hour days there. But the time between when I got my pay cut and I when I started the part-time job was seven months, and you can dig a pretty big hole in seven months, so no matter what they pay me it looks like I’ll be working at the store for a little bit longer.

Health: If I haven’t mentioned it before: MS is both baffling and a huge pain in the ass. When I accepted the job at the store both my feet hurt so badly that I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to walk around enough to do the work. Shortly afterward the pain in my feet went away only to be replaced by a cloudy blurriness in my right eye. Right this very second my right thigh is so numb that hitting it with my hand feels like I’m rapping on a coffee table. It’s been such a shitshow that in July I asked my neurologist to prescribe me a new round of medicine. He hooked me up with some Nortriptyline, an old-school antidepressant that has seen some success at alleviating the physical discomfort of MS (when I told my psychiatrist what I was taking he said, “Nobody takes that anymore!”), and Copaxone, which is thought to reduce further nerve damage although no one really knows how. [emphasis added – Ed.]

After a hilarious and avoidable series of miscues I now have chilling in my fridge a two-month supply of Copaxone. Row after beautiful row of glass syringes with very small little needles attached. Actually, the size is (I believe) slightly larger than an insulin needle, but a far, far cry from the Louisville Slugger-sized widow-makers I was using when I was taking Avonex.

After I quit taking Avonex I swore I would never do another round of injections, but taking Copaxone is pretty chill. You just pinch up some skin, pop the needle in and hit the plunger. No muss, no fuss, and most importantly, no day-long bout of hideous debilitating side-effects. The most troublesome part has been finding areas with enough skin to pinch. From what I gather they like you to rotate the injections around a series of sites, but some of the recommended sites are either implausible (the back of my hip) or impossible (the back of my arm). I’ve lost about ten pounds since the beginning of May, but even then there would never have been enough space for the needle in the back of my arm.

Juice: one of my extravagances after I got the part-time job was to buy a serious juicer. I read a few reviews, but one in particular made my choice very easy. I ordered the Omega 8003 on Amazon and when it arrived on a Friday night I was so excited I jumped out of bed Saturday morning and drove to the store to load up on kale, spinach, carrots and a bunch of other shit I read were supposed to be good for you. That first batch of juice was a shock to my system. I had used my earlier, shitty juicer exclusively to make fruit juice: apple, pineapple, etc. Drinking a glass of crushed-up leafy green vegetables was a bit of a departure. But it was awesome. For a while I was getting up willingly at 5:30 every morning in order to make fresh juice. I really began to enjoy the preparation of the whole thing. Rinsing the greens, chopping the carrots and celery and cucumber. It’s become my one weird little ritual.

Nowadays, I juice at night for the next day. I like to throw a beet in because the way the beet juice streaks on the big knife when I’m chopping it up gives me a homicidal thrill that you just don’t get from cutting up celery.

To each his own, amirite?