That's what they want me to do. That's what's trending today on all the social networks.
But how can I ever forget? How can I ever forget losing you? My life has never been the same. Thirteen years later, and that's what this day is always about for me. Losing you.
I could have been there that day. I was in that building four days a week, back and forth from Brooklyn to Jersey City. Once a week, I went to midtown instead, to our crappy Sales office. Always reluctantly. That's where I was supposed to be that day - midtown - instead of inside the mouth of madness.
You were in my bed when my father called. We were both asleep. My machine picked up. "Big Ron, just checking to see where you are. Just heard about a blimp hitting the World Trade Center. Call us back." Dad wasn't drunk, that was the original news report. A blimp, or maybe a helicopter. A plane? At 8:45am on September 11th, 2001, the idea of that was still unfathomable.
And the phone call that roused us from our slumber? That was my Dad. That's still my Dad. Retired NYPD. 23 years on the job. Always checking in. Always cynical about the city he grew up in and would live in for fifty years. Maybe it's an Italian thing. Maybe it's a Scalzo thing. But Dad's always on alert. Every time I fly, my father tracks my flight on his computer. He almost always calls me immediately after I land to ensure that I'm alive, wherever I am and whoever I'm with.
Dad's call woke us up and I turned on the TV and you and I watched the whole thing from my living room. Not believing what we were watching. It didn't seem real - the second plane, both towers on fire just 11 miles away. I had just bought an exercise bike in Borough Park and you were sitting on it while I sat on the couch. You were crying on top of my new exercise bike as the North Tower went down. "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod." How can I ever forget?
Me, I was numb. I was numb in the days and weeks to follow. I couldn't get to work, to my friends and my co-workers. My subway route was now rubble. I would drive daily to the N train, take it to Cortlandt Street and walk clear through the World Trade Center to grab the PATH to Z100 in Jersey City. I would do my Christmas shopping in that building, would grab breakfast there every once in awhile. Our station's holiday party was all the way at the top - at Windows On The World, a hundred and seven stories up, less than two years earlier. A different time, a different world.
I lost you that day. You were still here but I lost you. Because I lost myself. I didn't help anyone in those days that followed, I didn't feel close to anyone or anything. I made an attempt to drive to work a few days later and it was an absolute nightmare. Highways were closed, everyone was being stopped and red-flagged on the roads. Every truck driver was a terrorist and every truck held a bomb. Anthrax was in the headlines - not the band, the lethal disease. I remember screaming bloody murder in my car in unfathomable traffic, wanting to be with my co-workers, most of who witnessed the towers go down from directly across the Hudson River and more who put on helmets and backpacks and grabbed shovels and did whatever they could to help the first responders.
Me, I was a prisoner in a Toyota Camry, a three hour attempt to drive 15 miles thwarted by terrorism. I made it as far as Bayonne, then turned back, defeated. Apathetic. I took it out on you. Your job sent you to Baltimore and you left reluctantly and uneasily. I was already pushing you away. I remember returning to work soon afterwards. I was reading the newspaper in the studio, a big article in the Lifestyle section about how couples who had just started dating were rushing to the altar because hey, the world had changed. Hey, the world was ending.
Me, I didn't feel like rushing anywhere. We were together 6 years, and they were solid. We rarely fought, we understood each other. Everything was good. You made me feel like the only man in the world and I was in love with you. The sex was good, the rapport was good, we liked each others families and friends. People envied us. It wasn't perfect, but it was solid - something to be grateful for.
And I read that article and I heard myself saying "Not me."I'm not ready. Because I wasn't ready and I should have been. I should have sealed the deal, I should have felt what those people in the article were feeling. Now is the time. I should have asked you to marry me, and it would have seemed far from crazy. It would have been cause for celebration. But I was lost. I lost myself that day, watching those towers go down and wondering how different my life would have been if this was Monday or Wednesday instead of Tuesday. Maybe I would have been covered in soot, maybe I would have been covered in worse. That's what happened to Father Mychal Judge. He was down on the ground giving Last Rites to the dying and he was crushed by debris when the South tower collapsed. Witness accounts state that moments before his death, he was screaming aloud - "Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!" I'll never forget Father Mychal Judge, a man I never met.
I never wanted to go to that Sales office in midtown. I hated it. I fought requests by my bosses to go there, passive aggressively. Sometimes I just wouldn't go. I didn't have my own office in midtown, didn't have my own computer or even my own desk. The place was a shit hole and it was near Grand Central, right in the middle of the Rat Race. In August, I ultimately relented, agreeing to go there once a week. On Tuesdays. Whenever I went, I would show up extra late in protest. That's why Dad's call woke me up at 8:45, why I wasn't on a train or a bus like most of my friends and co-workers that Tuesday.
I broke up with you 2 weeks later. Over the phone, like a coward. You were at my apartment and things weren't going well and you left to go back to your place, frustrated. And then I called you and I broke up with you. "You're breaking up with me, aren't you?," you said uneasily. I can still hear your voice.
By late October, I realized I had made a mistake. I reached out, and we reconciled, just for a little while - my birthday, the holidays. But I wanted you back selfishly. I needed a security blanket because hey the world had changed, hey the world was ending. But my heart wasn't 'all in'. I drove us up to Connecticut for a long weekend alone and away from the madness, trying to reignite the flame. I insisted on watching the Yankees play in the World Series while we were up there and you didn't argue - you never did. You knew it was important to me and maybe it was important to you too. Somehow, they lost. In a year they were meant to win, they lost, and I always saw that as a sign of our ultimate demise. Stupid, I know - but that's what I felt.
The next week, I spent most of my birthday evening fighting over the phone with one of my band mates. I was leaving the band and it had all come to a head and we were having our little rock star spat. You and I had dinner with my sister and her boyfriend, and when we got back to my place, I left the three of you watching a movie in the living room while I argued over the phone in my bedroom, effectively breaking up with four other guys. (Hey, I was on a roll) My sister scolded me afterwards. I should have been trying harder. I should have been working on my relationship and I was taking it for granted instead.
I didn't deserve you. I didn't do enough to keep you. I didn't care enough, maybe I didn't know how to. I didn't care much about anything anymore besides my own selfish needs. After the holidays, you were the one who ended it - and you were much more committed to that than I ever was. We lived a mile away from each other and I only saw you one more time after that - on roller blades on the Belt Parkway bike path six months later. I ran away from a girl I was hanging out with to chase after you, to talk to a woman who I no longer recognized.
I wrote you letters, I wrote you songs. I begged and I plead and I prayed and you never took me back. You were cold and callous and you had every right to be. You told me the butterflies were gone. At the time, I couldn't understand why, but I understand now. A few months later, I sat at my office computer and watched you make out with 3 different dudes on a Blind Date ripoff reality show called Shipmates. You married someone else. You moved away and you had twins and you got what you deserved and so did I.
Never forget? No problem. Losing you was the hardest thing I had to deal with in the years to follow. I left Brooklyn, I tried to forget you but how can I ever? I never forget the best thing that ever happened to me, I never forget the love that was ultimately never meant to be. I got rid of all the photos, but I never forget your smile. I never forget my cowardice, I never forget the bad karma, and I never forget my fear of commitment. I never forget that I blew it.And so I never forget that I can always try harder, I can always do better.
The past 13 years spent at what is now known as 'Ground Zero' have often angered me - the bureaucracy that held up the construction of the Freedom Tower, the tourists taking pictures of a hole as if it belonged in someone's scrapbook. They still haven't figured it out - the new PATH station, the traffic, the building's interior. I got stuck down there twice this past winter due to falling ice, and suffice it to say I wasn't thinking about ice while being trapped inside like a cow in a cattle drive. It's still a mess, it still feels like we haven't fully recovered from the carnage, and maybe we haven't.
I remember listening to Elvis on Z100 in the days that followed the attacks, the guy who would ultimately become my boss and in some ways, my savior. He was just talking to people. He was being a friend. No music, no sound effects, no pomp and circumstance. Elvis would later confess that those days that followed were the biggest reason he recognized that what he did really meant something to people and that he truly loved what he did. I'm still waiting to feel what Elvis feels, that validation. I'm still searching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow while I shake off the dust of an imperfect past.
One thing Elvis is always quick to mention these days is that it's September 12th - the day we all came together and started to heal - that really deserves a commemoration. Ironic that on this day, I am writing this once again surrounded by boxes. I'll be moving into a new place and starting the next chapter of my life. Maybe today, after surviving a divorce, a superstorm, and some heartbreaking infidelity, I'm finally starting to heal.
I feel like I've spent half my life trying to run away from New York City, but I'm still here - sure, I've bounced around. I've lived in 6 different places since Sandy took my house and nearly everything in it. But I've never left. I recognize that it could be a lot worse - I feel like we all know people whose friends died, who almost died themselves. And I was fortunate to not be one of those people. 13 years ago, the world changed for everyone around me, and for some in much much worse ways. I do know what it's like to lose someone in an instant - it is truly the worst feeling I have ever experienced. There's nothing I can say about the brave men and women who responded to the attacks that hasn't been said already, nor that can be said any better. They are true heroes. Me, I'm still trying. Bravery was never my strong suit as a kid, and only now as an adult, having experienced unexpected hardships of own, have I learned to stare my fears in the face.
New York is a resilient city, and I am a New Yorker, an American. I'm not much into politics nor religion, but like most in this country, I have no tolerance for oppression of my freedom. In spite of all its flaws - past, present and future - I'm a grateful citizen of these United States. I see those lights out my window and I wish they could illuminate the sky every night instead of just tonight. I know I would help pay the electric bill to feel what I feel when I see those lights. I feel lucky to be a New Yorker, I feel lucky to be alive, to still have a chance to make a difference in other people's lives.
I feel gratitude.
But what I really think of most when I see those lights - those twin beams that seem to extend all the way up to heaven....what I always think about - is losing you. I look up at those symbols of freedom and I never forget that you were, and will always be, The One That Got Away.
I'm making The Last Q*Ball Album. My first album in 7 years.
What does that even mean anymore?
To most music fans nowadays, it means nothing. But to me, it means everything. Never mind that I'm a purist, that I'm an audiofile. I lost over a thousand vinyl records, over two thousand compact discs after Superstorm Sandy. Box sets, collectibles, memorabilia. My electronic analog babies.
I've been through a lot these past few years. A lot. I'm not dead, I'm not dying. I'm not bankrupt. I'm not disabled, I'm not depressed, I'm not on the decline. I'm on the rise. I'm energized and independent. But I have been through a lot. And I can't help but think that what I've been through will ultimately lead me to my destiny, to happiness.
I can't help but think that all this mess has ultimately led me to the making of this album.
And living through this mess is what making this album is all about.
It's all about three women. And it's about the mistakes I've made, the bad choices, the bad luck. The Last Q*Ball Album is about commitment, it's about truth. It's about the fight for what you believe in, it's about realizing your passions. The Last Q*Ball Album is about the righteous path - about saving yourself and getting more than one chance to make things right.
More than anything, this album is about reinforcing what I've largely been missing in my musical misadventures these past few years. Kinship. Collaboration. There is no greater feeling as an artist, as a musician, than to be surrounded by fellow talented and passionate people who are on board with what you've created, willing and able to add their unique touches to your musical canvas.
I have no expectations for how this album - these songs - are received. When I released my last album, This Is Serious Business, in 2007, I was a different man living a different life. Not much happened with that record, the biggest footnote involved my longtime collaborator Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, who had, in the middle of making that album, been recruited to join Guns N' Roses, effectively ending his full-time contributions to my electronic rock passions.
Seven years later, Bumblefoot is still in GnR. He has toured the world over with Axl Rose, he's finally doing a tour in support of his own excellent solo material. He is chiseled and slim, he's revered and recognized. He has reached his peak, and he deserves every moment of glory that he has experienced these past 7 years. I'm happy for him. Shit, I'm damn proud of him.
But Bumblefoot and I are no longer partners in crime. And his departure from this project a few years ago essentially signaled the slow death of Q*Ball. Ron Thal made Q*Ball a worthwhile collaboration for nearly a decade - our first two albums garnered favorable reviews thanks to his awe-inspiring guitar work and his invaluable production skills. The songs from both albums were licensed to the likes of MTV, Red Bull and Bunim-Murray thanks to his connections and persistence. Money I made from those licensing deals was used to start my record label in 2005, Bald Freak Music. Love him or not, I owe Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal a debt of gratitude. He was an important part of my musical career.
Less than two years ago, Superstorm Sandy buried Bald Freak Music in a tomb of dirty ocean water. The albums, the merch, the gear, the computers, the office space - all drowned, all gone. But my relationship with Bumblefoot was already underwater before the storm came.
So this is The Last Q*Ball Album - this is the album I'm choosing to make in the wake of all this mess. Part of me has always truly felt that for me to ever release another album - to ever effectively write any more quality music - I would have to do so from a dark place. Certainly getting to that place was never my intention, never my choice. But here I am. And here these songs are, songs that will appear on The Last Q*Ball Album. Songs that I have worked on and practiced and tweaked for the past 3 years. Songs that I'm damn proud of.
It will be formally released in late October - on iTunes and Amazon and thru my Bald Freak site.
This song will be on it.
And this one.
And 10 more like them. It's a dark departure from my last three releases, and justifiably so. Most of the songs were written on my Yamaha P22 upright piano, one of the few musical instruments that survived in the wake of Sandy's destruction. Composing most of the pieces from the new album on this piano seems like another destiny of sorts. It's beyond satisfying to know that the rescue of this one vital instrument - its transport from a cold and moldy post-Sandy grave on Staten Island to the comfortable confines of my radio production studio in New York City - has played its part in the release of this new collection. Thank you Adam. Thank you Elvis.
As for me? Fuck, I'm right where I want to be. I'm free - of obligation, of all the nonsense that has dominated my life these past few years. The house is sold, the lies are over, and the hard truth has been revealed. I have moved on and I am moving forward. I'm spending a week in the Pacific Northwest with talented guitarist Daniel G. Harmann, tracking three tunes at Electrokitty Studios in Seattle. Then off to Dirty Jerz with my Return To Earth band mates Brett Aveni and Chris Pennie to track four more Q tunes, then two more at Brooklyn's Thump Studios with my childhood friend Joe Milazzo and talented vocalist Alexa Criscitiello.
I'll be documenting the making of the album, the time in the studio with my collaborators, here at this blog, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This is my destiny. This is The Last Q*Ball Album.
You may have heard the last of Q*Ball, but you haven't heard the last of me.
My Uncle Sal once gave me some good advice. In the midst of some serious heartbreak of his own, based on a love related event that changed his life forever, he relayed these words: "Even if the other person is in the wrong, they still have their opinion and you have yours, and there's nothing you can do to change that." Today, another man that I respect and admire reminded me of essentially the same thing. Every coin has two sides.
I showed my side and what's done is done. Any loyal readers of this blog know that my words have always come from an honest place. If I wanted to write fiction, I would have found a better forum. This blog has been therapy during a long stretch of emotional recovery and it has always served its purpose for me, and - surprisingly - often for the people who read it. This latest storm, even if of a different sort, is just what the last one was. Temporary.
In the last few years of his life, my uncle was the smiling guy you see above. He lived with great regard for life, family, and the world around him, and he found someone who was truly right for him, who loved him fairly. He recovered. I think about him every day.
And now it's time for me to do the same. In deference to my uncle's memory, to my parents and to this other man I have come to respect, a man who is not my father but did his best to treat me like a son in the short time I knew him, I'm back on the high road and I intend to stay there. It's at times like these when you realize that the brightness of your future clearly outshines the darkness of your past.
Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much and Carpe Diem - Seize The Day - are two phrases I will always associate with my late great uncle, Salvatore Celi. All words I still intend to live by.
It's a lot easier to grow without an albatross around your neck, and I'm removing mine. To those of you who have reached out, bent an ear, offered guidance, judged me fairly, and lifted me up during the darkest hours, I can't thank you enough and I love you for it. You all know who you are and you all the mean the world to me.
I broke up with her last weekend. Sandy. It was a shitty thing to do, right after our one year anniversary and all. Tuesday, I quietly went to my lawyer's office and signed the papers. Signed my Hurricane Divorce House away exactly one year after Sandy came ashore and turned it into a watery mausoleum. It's up to the bank now, but it's as close to a done deal as anything has been in my life since Sandy. Until this past weekend. On November 3 at about 2pm, I conquered the NYC Marathon.
Last year, on November 3 at about 2pm, I was here.
I Am The Dumpster King
Standing atop 30 cubic yards full of the remains of my Staten Island house. My home studio is in there somewhere, my mementos, my furniture and my appliances, my walls and my ceilings. My record collection and my record label business. My past. Greg T. was there that day, along with a motley crew of friends, family, co-workers and complete strangers. Helping me dig out of the mud and the muck, helping me salvage whatever was left, and let me tell you - there wasn't much. I saw a different side of humanity in those days and weeks to follow. The amount of stuff I had lost paled in comparison to the kinship I had gained.
Greg T. and I were supposed to run the next day - two undersized Angry Young Men approaching middle age who had trained separately for 8 months straight, quietly egging each other on and comparing our progress. It was friendly competition, and it motivated us. If Greg did 14 miles on Monday, I had to do 15 on Tuesday. And vice versa. Greg and I didn't run a single mile together but we always ran with the other guy on our minds.
The general public, the masses - they know Greg T. as The Clown. On Elvis Duran and the Morning Show, he's The Stunt Guy, The Jackass. It is a role he fills quite well, and often times it's not entirely an act. There is an honesty and a bravery about Greg T. that I have always admired, even while watching him fill his underwear with chili, even if I've seen his junk one too many times.
Greg T's morning show peeps - we also know him as The Jerk. He can be rude, apathetic, neurotic, outspoken, insensitive, moody. Shamelessly. We all have different sides. Greg just likes to show more of his off than the rest of us do. I've seen him get into it with others even if after nearly (holy shit) 20 years, he and I have never said a cross word to each other.
But the Greg T. I know - the guy I waited at the starting line with - he's a Real Good Dude. A genuine person. He is The Clown and he is The Jerk, but he can get away with it because he is also the guy I know, the caring introspective guy a lot of people really love. On Sunday, I wanted nothing more than to start the race with Greg. If anyone can loosen you up simply by being more emotional and insecure than you are, it's Greg T. He cracked jokes and got sentimental and wore a wool scarf that made him look like Randy in A Christmas Story.
The night before the race, Greg sent me one of his trademark four paragraph texts. Usually these go out to the whole show, and after some sort of controversy. But this one was just for me - expressing his feelings over what we had gone thru to this point, what I had gone thru last year. It was a really cool read. The next morning, Greg smuggled me into the VIP tent at the Marathon Village. Greg could have said "Good luck man, see you out there" and cozied up to Pam Anderson in the heated tent. But he stepped up for me, just as he had a year earlier. We fueled up and stayed warm inside. We talked about Sandy and about Boston. We pumped each other up with words of encouragement and got to enjoy the moment together.
At the starting line, I chatted up another celebrity runner, Patrick Wilson. I was actually hoping to see Wilson, a dude whose acting chops and sideburns I have often admired in movies like Watchmen and Little Children. Approaching "famous people" has always been awkward for me, yet at my job and in my industry, it's pretty commonplace. Like most people, I have often been ill at-ease when meeting people that I really admire. So I'm generally just quiet, put on my goofy grin and try not to drool.
Derrr...why is everyone taller than me...I gotta pee again...
It was easy to talk to the amiable Wilson as we stretched and shivered atop the Verrazano Bridge, a span I had crossed so many times before, only never on foot. We wished each other luck. I felt calm. Relaxed. This was a long time coming and I was ready.
We went out with the first wave, with the pro runners. Against the wind and against the odds. Greg and I finally got to run together. Over the bridge and out of the borough I'll always be connected to because of Sandy, because of my failed marriage, because of my destiny.
Two miles in, I turned to wish Greg luck as we crossed into Bay Ridge, and he was gone. Lost amongst the masses. I was on my own but kept him in my thoughts the rest of the way. I passed my post-Sandy Park Slope refugee apartment at Mile 7, throngs of people cheering us on. At Mile 17, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I saw my Dad giving out water to the runners and hugged him tight. I stopped for a minute to share the moment with him and I was off again. When I told my father I had signed up to run the Marathon in early 2012, he told me I was crazy. Who's crazy now, Pops? By Mile 18, I started cramping badly. Maybe he was right after all. The human body - or at least mine - is not built to endure 26 miles of pavement. The next four miles, up thru the Bronx and Harlem, were pure hell.
At Mile 23, I was hoping to see a couple of my co-workers from the morning show. This was the stretch run and I really needed a boost. On the corner of 95th Street, I got it in the form of a long row of supporters. My boss was there with his boyfriend, with his people. My friends. My people. They screamed my name from across 5th Avenue and I ran over to greet them. I wanted to give them all a big hug, to take photos, to share my experience, but I was in the middle of a race. They sent me off with cheers, a banana, and a big shit-eating grin on my face.
At my job, I'm often the wallflower. Some of that is probably on me, some of it isn't. I've spent my entire professional career in radio working at this one place - for different bosses and departments and parent companies. It has been a volatile relationship, one that, up until recently, has produced more than a little disappointment and bitterness on my part. But that has all changed these last few years, thanks to where I've landed and who I have landed with. Thanks to the unmatched generosity of my boss, thanks to the love and help I got from my co-workers this past year. Thanks to my family and my friends and the volunteers who came to my rescue. Thanks to all this running. Thanks to Sandy.
Everyone loves a comeback. That was the theme - a deserved one - of this year's race. 50,000 people ran and they all have their story, they all have their reasons. But the Marathon wasn't my comeback. It was my test, a rite of passage. I needed to find out what I was made of. Maybe I needed to show everyone else what I was made of too.
My comeback hasn't happened yet. Not yet, not now. I'm still growing, still learning. I still have work to do. Just like you do. Just like we all do. This was a great first step but there's still so much to do, higher rocks to climb. I need to start giving back, to start paying it forward. You can't be good to anyone else unless you're good to yourself. This whole running experience has allowed me that opportunity.
And I couldn't have done it alone. I couldn't have done it without my people. Sandy proved it. 26 miles' worth of cheering supportive New Yorkers proved it. Greg T. proved it. We need each other.
We did it, Greg. We really did it. Rest your legs and bask in the glow. Time for some ice cream.
I'm always looking at the calendar. Always. Every day it's fill in the blanks.
The blanks mean you're not doing enough. The blanks mean you're alone. The blanks mean you're a loser. Blanks are the enemy, blanks are the glaring evidence of an unfulfilled, incomplete life.
So you fill up those blank spaces. You make plans. Lunch meetings, family outings, vacations, rehearsals, social events. You invest your time, your money and your energy into filling in those blanks. You invest yourself in other people. You invest yourself in the future. And the calendar doesn't stop. The future will be now before you know it.
In the wake of my recent hardships, investing myself in anything can be a challenge. Everything means nothing after Sandy and all of a sudden some things seem like everything. But are those things really what they seem - the things I've been writing about? Are they what they are or are they the romanticized thoughts of a traumatized madman?
Because I could be crazy. I very well might be.
We are all human, creatures of habit. Most of us wake up in the morning
and sooner or later we all remember to put our pants on. We have laws and rules and requirements and
expectations. We read labels and we buy products. We require sleep and
attention and care and respect. We are stubborn and we are selfish.
We want what we want and we want it the way we want it.
You're supposed to have hope and courage and a positive attitude in life, right? No negative vibes. No fear. After a hurricane, after a divorce, after some bad mistakes - it's easy to be afraid, to be bitter - to be damaged. There are real Sandy-depression hotlines out there.
When I talk to the people closest to me about the circumstances of my life right now - about the chances I'm taking, about what I believe in, about my recent investments in the wake of a divorce and a superstorm, I keep using the term 'straitjacket'. As in not of sound mind, as in one who never learns, a glutton for punishment.
When you're still recovering from disaster, no matter how hard you run or how high you intend to climb, you're bound to stumble a time or two. We all have setbacks. Some hills will always be steeper to climb. But It's Up To You to choose which ones you're willing to climb and how hard you're willing to run.
And that's how I feel about my life right now, about my choices and the direction I've chosen to run in. It's an uphill battle. Whatever tragedy or challenge you're going through right now, there will be another one waiting somewhere down the road. So why not keep running, why climb the shallow hill when you can conquer the steep one instead?
The answer is easy. If you take the steep hill and you wind up falling again - failing again - it will be more difficult to recover. And is your mind - your psyche - ready to be punished again? What about your bank account, your calendar, your belief system? What about all those plans you made with hope in your heart?
Is Never Giving Up really the way to go? Or are you bound to do all this work - convincing yourself that you're making all the right moves, taking risks, having faith in your plan - only to get stuck right in the middle of five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness Morgan Freeman can't even imagine?
It's a lot easier to stay in your cell than it is to chip away at concrete for a few years so you can finally feel freedom.
So you make your plan. You hope for the best. You recognize that you're getting stronger and that you needed to. No matter what happens, you needed to. You accept your stumbles and your scraped knees. You keep running until you see the finish line. But you don't sprint towards it. Running a marathon means pacing yourself, it means breathing and having the will to go on even when you're in pain. Running a marathon means being able to finish something you never thought you were capable of. At this time in my life right now, it's the perfect test.
I'm in Switzerland. Aarau. You can't pronounce it and neither could I until a few days ago. And that's okay. Because everything that the guy who started writing this blog wanted to happen is happening - it hasn't been a smooth ride but when is the ride ever smooth? If you want to keep climbing - if you want to be recognized - you have to expect your share of bumps and bruises.
Switzerland is another test, another chance to be brave. Being here validates that the straitjacket isn't for me. It's for the dude who doesn't believe in redemption, who doesn't believe in love. It's for the dude who thinks he's better off going out to bars and bedding different women just because he's divorced and in good shape and lost his house in a hurricane and deserves to be selfish. For me, that has never been the issue. Even if I have often been selfish, I have always believed in love. I never believed more after Sandy took what was left of my fractured life away.
But no one gives a fuck about Sandy anymore - my house has become that turned-over Monopoly card it was destined to be - a cursed headache, an inevitable disconnection. It's Baltic Avenue and it's upside down, who wants it? Come and get it. Let's sign some papers and forget this ever happened. You can keep whatever furniture's in the shed and whatever else we stored on those last cold winter days of 2012 in that dark destroyed house. Josh and my Dad played Tetris with my upstairs artwork and my 'you don't need this now or possibly ever' junk up in the unlit attic while Garrett and I tossed my mattress out onto the sidewalk, just one more material item headed towards a landfill.
But me? The Dude Who Lost It All - not just the house or the material items, but the girl and the studio and the business too. I still had my Oscar the Grouch boxer shorts but mostly the rest was gone. That dude? He's fucking great. Ambitious. Focused. Crazy like a fox. He is not all the way there yet, but he finally understands that he can get there. It's not too late and it's not impossible. Not impossible to be happy. Really, truly happy.
I passed this sign while running over the George Washington Bridge on Memorial Day. It's true - You're Not Alone. Michael Jackson and Olive were both right. We need each other. Through thick and through thin, we do. I have always known this and that's why I have always pined for The Girl.
But the sign isn't only about that. It's about, 'You're not the only one failing. Look at all these different shades of faceless people wearing casual clothing who may or may not be thinking about jumping off the George Washington Bridge.' These motherfuckers are everywhere!
Post-Sandy Ron, The Dude Who Lost It All - he never had to call an 800 # to talk him off the ledge. He stopped going to therapy. He started doing pushups and he started running harder. He stopped trying to sell t-shirts and he started writing His Stoopid Blog. He was flooded out of his cave. He took chances, he took risks. He stopped giving a fuck about failing - as a musician, as a businessman, as a romantic - and he started living. He started to realize that even though he lost all his shit, he still has a pretty wonderful life. He may have been unlucky but he was also very fortunate.
It may have been a rude awakening, but it was still an awakening.
The calender is full again, with real engagements and adventures. There are still higher mountains to climb and a few post-Sandy obstacles to overcome, and I'm blessed to have family and friends who continue to help me through the headache. To be part of my destiny. That's why I'm here in Switzerland. It's only my second trip to Europe and my first in 15 years. It's not so much a vacation to relax as a time to be productive, to be social, to be brave. And I'm having a great time. I miss my dog and my family and I've got my share of bruises, but shedding one's skin is what this year has been all about. It still remains the biggest part of my lesson. You Can Change.
I'm finishing up lyrics for the third Return To Earth album while I'm out here, and while I feel understandably disconnected from the project in certain ways, I have never been more proud of my contributions than I have been to the ones I've made to this band and to these new songs, in particular. RTE is just another part of my life that has taught me patience. It's the biggest reason why I haven't walked away from something that has almost always seemed like an incomplete destiny, another dead end that I could at least hang over the mantle and point to and say, "Look, I made that. I sang and screamed convincingly in a signed metal band. I played with Bumblefoot and with Chris Pennie. Me. The kid who was known for most of the eighth grade, and with little provocation, as 'Ronnerd'."
As a teen, I liked good music and I had dimples, I played drums and I took frequent showers. My parents and my sister were cool and I was a romantic dude. I wasn't really a nerd, even if I always aced my tests and liked Huey Lewis and the News and Boba Fett and could quote all the lines from Goodfellas and The Honeymooners. I was just shy. I was just a coward. I was losing my hair and wearing braces and having dental bridges put in before I got my drivers license and none of those things made me ooze confidence, but that's life, nigga. Grow some balls. Get tough.
I was Roncoward, but I suppose Ronnerd rolls off the tongue better. And Ronnerd has been put to bed. Roncoward, Ronliar, Rontagonist, Ronprick, Ronloser, Perv-o-ron, Negatron - they're all dead. They all jumped off the bridge and they left me behind. It's just Ronnie now, and Ronnie is Not Alone. Maybe I lost some years trying to figure it all out, experiencing the things I needed to in order to get to these recent moments of clarity, but y'know what? That's fine. At least I figured it out.
The juices are flowing again, and there's no longer anything or anyone
holding me back. I'm writing radio bits and interviewing my idols and kindred spirits. I'm having fun on Vine and I'm having fun at work. I love where I live and I love who I'm with. I'll be back in the studio in a month and running through Central Park in three. I finally appreciate what I have, I'm finally striving to be the best me. I'm happy, brah. Are you?
"If you are going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill
This isn't a comeback. Everyone loves a good comeback. But comebacks often fall short. Even the greatest teams, athletes, human beings on this planet fall short sometimes. It's too premature to call my post-Sandy resurgence a comeback. I haven't come all the way back yet.
This is a metamorphosis, an awakening.
This is destiny. Why Are You Doing This?
I can't tell you how many times I've asked myself that question since Sandy. Why have you been running like an idiot for the past 14 months? Why have you been fighting for what you have been fighting for? Why are you spilling your guts in Your Stoopid Blog?
I know why. I know exactly why, I've talked about why in this very space, in different ways. I've told the people closest to me why, or at least the biggest reasons why. Writing about it comes naturally, it's good therapy. Running and writing are better forms of exercise, rehabilitation and stress relief than drinking whiskey. Turns out your doctor was right.
But to write and reveal. To share it in this space - that's literally a different story.
Get A Journal, Ron.
I started this blog a few years ago. Just another forum to use to promote my burgeoning record label. Marketing 101. Then Sandy happened, and instead of shilling product, I started to talk about my life. I started talking about What Really Matters. Sometimes all that typing was necessary to get through those first surreal days after the storm, thoughts pouring out of me during those restless homeless post-Sandy evenings in Bensonhurst after spending my days amongst the muck and the mold on Staten Island. Late at night, it was either lay out on an air mattress with my nutty traumatized dog at my feet and watch some dark shit - High Plains Drifter and Blue Valentine and Shame - or sit at a folding table and type type type away.
My Sandy Experience changed my life - not just aesthetically or geographically. The life I was leading pre-Sandy was unacceptable. Mediocre. Unfulfilled. I needed to grow up, to grow out of the bad habits that were plaguing me. I had to learn how to recognize The Devil. I had to accept the truth about who I was and who I wanted to become in the wake of losing everything. Sandy's destruction forced me to let go of a lot of things, a lot of history. It's hard to let go. But it's often necessary. You can't create the future by clinging to the past.
There will be worse things in store for me, worse things than a superstorm wiping out my house, my record label, and my home music studio. No matter how much I've lost, how much I've learned, how much I've grown, there will still be losses in my life that I'll never truly be prepared for. But now, today - these six months since Sandy came and fucked my practical world up for a bit of time - have been the most interesting of my life. Not the best, mind you. But certainly the most interesting, the most I've learned about myself, about karma and about morality. As for the best, it isn't here yet.
The best is yet to come.
Well how do you know that, Ron? You could get hit by a bus tomorrow.
When superstorms happen, when tsunamis show up, when Boston bombings and Oklahoma tornadoes send shock waves through neighborhoods, cities, nations - the victims never celebrate. Rather, we universally ask the same question. It's the same question you ask when someone you love passes away or gets sick or any sort of tragedy invades your life.
Why? Why me, why us, why now?
A week after Sandy, my next door neighbor came by to share some words and a puff of smoke. I was in the house alone for the first time since the storm. All my help had gone home, back to their own less complicated lives. I was playing my piano in what used to be my living room, surrounded by boxes of my surviving stuff. It was snowing, a nor'easter in New York City during the first week in November. It was 37 degrees inside my ruined house. My fingers were numb as I played a song I wrote about a girl, singing aloud to no one in particular. The bulldozers rumbled outside, clearing debris, furniture, rubble, history.
My neighbor showed up and we talked for awhile before he asked the inevitable. Why us?
My answer was simple.
If you don't believe that there isn't at least a framework to your story - that the doors you open and the doors you close don't lead to very specific adventures, down treacherous paths or yellow brick roads - then you have yet to be awakened. If you don't believe that there's a Sandy in your future, or something akin to a Sandy, you're wrong. The wind doesn't have to bring the ocean with it to stir up a storm in your life. Sometimes the wind blows you away from things and sometimes it sweeps you up and puts you where you belong instead.
If you don't believe in redemption or transformation or self-affirmation, then you might as well be a zombie or a Communist. You've obviously never seen The Karate Kid or this past season of Survivor.
If you can't say "I can do this," then you will never do this.
You might not do whatever "this" is anyway, but rest assured you will never do it if you don't grow some balls and get to work. Sandy broke me out of prison. Through it all, she has given me more than she could ever take away. She didn't take my life, she gave me a chance at a new one, a better one. So how can I not forgive her? I haven't changed altogether, I have just been fine tuned. And I wonder if I would have made those changes, those tweaks, if not for her. Sandy changed my outlook even if she also changed my address.
Some things haven't changed, most specifically the condition of my house. I still have little faith in the system that is failing me as I type this, the capitalist system that is supposed to rescue me from this national natural disaster yet continues to compound the problem rather than solve it.
FEMA hasn't saved me from Sandy, they just ask for more paperwork. My insurance company hasn't saved me, they just make excuses for shortchanging me. My boss saved me. My friends saved me. My parents saved me, my dog saved me. Complete strangers saved me. Love saved me. Running saved me. Writing saved me. I saved me.
My Stoopid Blog saved me, it has played its part. It reconnected me to the world, to people I barely knew, to people I really love.
Did you really know who I was before I started writing this blog? Did I really know myself? What I publish here has been raw. It's personal. But I don't put my thoughts to the virtual page expecting a reaction from just anyone.
After my last post, a woman I have never met reached out to me.
"This was beautifully written and hits very close to home. I've been
married for 5 years and have been through the same cycle more times than
I care to remember. I'm in the middle of getting off the ride
now...living apart...but I'm still dragging my feet and tripping as Im
getting off. Thanks for sharing your story."
She reminded me why this is just the least bit important, this relating. This woman shared her friend's blog with me. Her friend had recently lost her young son. I read this woman's blog with tears in my eyes - this brave, amazing woman who has gone through things I can never truly understand - and realized the same things I realize whenever bad things happen to other people - in Boston, Oklahoma, Japan, New Orleans, Sandy Hook, Aurora. In your own neighborhoods, in your own families.
Your problems mean nothing, Ron.
You're lucky. You got off easy. The first time I ran after the Boston bombings, I sprinted around Prospect Park like a roadrunner. I still had my legs and they still worked and I was grateful. After Boston, I stopped writing this blog for awhile because I started to ask myself What's the point? Doubt starts to creep in until you ultimately realize that what you share with people is what brings you closer to them. What you share with people is what strengthens your love for them.
We have forgotten what it means to open up. It ruins us - our convenient omissions, our self-denials, our excuses. Our tall tales and our little white lies. Isn't Sharing Caring? Why is Honesty such a lonely word? Won't the truth set you free?
Why is it so hard for us to really talk to each other, to communicate? To shed our skin and share our dreams and our fears? When I run now, I try to make eye contact with people. Sometimes I wave or I nod or I even say hello. The Old Ronnie would have avoided that, looked the other way. But The Old Ronnie drowned on Staten Island. Good riddance.
That's why you can't call this a comeback. Sometimes you have to close a certain chapter of your life in order to start a new one, a better one. Sometimes hurricanes push you to grow up, sometimes people do. Sometimes you have to push yourself. When I cross that finish line in November, it will be a different guy running through Central Park rather than the one who started training for the NYC Marathon last February. When I run now, I don't struggle. I excel. I no longer want to just finish, I want to finish strong.
They'll wrap me in foil and I'll be exhausted and I'll probably cry my eyes out. It will be a cathartic experience. Hopefully my father will be there, my friends, my co-workers. Hopefully she will be there, too - the one person who makes the answer to Why Are You Doing This? seem so succinct and so simple no matter how many miles I run, no matter how many blogs I compose.
Life is a gift. It's a fucking gift. Open up the box and play with whatever is inside. You'll never know how long you'll have to enjoy it.
Dad and I were driving back from our weekend warrior basketball game, our Saturday morning Brooklyn ritual that usually ended with lunch and a nice talk between father and son. Dad would usually come by my house on Staten Island afterwards to say hello to my wife and my dog before heading home to Pennsylvania. This time, he pulled the car in front of my house to drop me off instead. He wasn't coming inside. "Big Ron, you either want to stay on the merry-go-round or you want to step off."
Those were my father's parting words to me as I grabbed my gym bag and stepped out of his car. "I want to step off," I said without much hesitation. I was about to walk inside and end my marriage once and for all. I had been preparing for this for six months, but now I was finally ready. I should have left sooner. Maybe I would have never bought the house, maybe I would have never set up my life, my business, and my future on Staten Island. Maybe Sandy and I would have never met.
But I didn't.
I was still hanging on for all the wrong reasons - for all the reasons we hold on to things that aren't really good for us. Because I was afraid. I was afraid to hurt someone, a woman who, at one point in her life, believed that I was The One. Because even though I realized she wasn't The One, I was still afraid to make a break for it, to usurp my life and start again. I had failed before. I had let people down. I was afraid of change. Even though change was exactly what I needed. I was afraid of making another mistake. Even though my gut knew I had already made one by even putting myself in this position. Most of my people were telling me to keep trying, people who
weren't living my life. People who could only advise, but not
experience. Others were more direct, more honest. They told me to get the fuck out of Dodge long before I had even asked their advice.
We never go into our relationships expecting to be labeled Failures. Often, the greater failure comes from choosing to sticking around. Time is precious, fleeting. So too can happiness be.
When I walked inside, she was sitting at her computer desk. She was reminiscing, looking at poems she wrote about me once upon a time - back when I was The Man instead of a man - cute e-mails and letters we exchanged, photos from our wedding and when we got our dog. Happier times. She wanted me to take a ride back into The Past. "When Things Were Better." When there was less pressure to make things right. There is always less pressure at first. Less of a commitment means less chance to screw it all up. But the deeper you dig, the more rocks you'll uncover.
As the five years of my life with my ex deteriorated, so too did the affection, the cuteness, the passion. The photos became scarcer, the exchanges became us just going through the motions. What's for dinner? How's the weather? What's on TV tonight?
You find yourself trying to get through a week, a day, without fighting. You don't reminisce over the shitty moments, those are never captured in a frame or put in a scrapbook or a shoebox. But they're there too - in your head, in your heart. At a certain point, Maintaining becomes the acceptable norm rather than Growing. There were enough TV shows, there was enough wine and weed to get us through the week without strangling each other, or even worse, ignoring each other. At least strangling keeps you engaged. There were also nights I slept alone in the bed with my loyal dog at my feet and one eye open, a little afraid of the woman in the other room. Sometimes I even locked the bedroom door.
"Let's just look through these things together," she pleaded one last time, clinging to that last thin straw that was about to snap from holding all the weight of our troubles beneath it. I declined her offer. I had been on the other end of this Final Moment before. Too many times. We have all been there, on one side of the moment or the other. Too many unfinished Diner breakfasts, the unavoidably awkward goodbyes. There is no good side to be on. Breaking up is hard to do. But it was time. We never plan it out, that moment when we're finally willing to step over the line. It just happens.
Staying static is always the easier way, the more convenient way to keep
your apple cart from overturning. A lot of us accept mediocrity - or
worse - because keeping all those happiness apples in place is much less daunting
than Trying to Make It Work. But when you're with someone for the long
haul, the work should be fairly effortless, and whatever effort is
necessary to bridge the understandably human gaps in a partnership should come
without pulling teeth, without pushing each other too hard. It should
come without heated debate and name calling and finger pointing and
apathy. It should come without stress and without sadness. Otherwise, your apples get rotten. And if they do, then it's time to get off the ride. There are other rides to
There's a whole fucking world out there.
It's not like I walked into that house and decided not to love her anymore. I just decided to love myself more. I had already reached my breaking point. Couples therapy, medication, exercise, and lots of passionate speeches couldn't unbreak it. Only my own fear was keeping me around. There was money at stake, a house, a dog, my DVD collection. And so I had to say goodbye and mean it this time. Because I had said goodbye before. Many times - through tears, peeling out of the driveway, storming out of the house. Slamming doors, making threats, sleeping on couches. I lost 20 pounds just by being married. I was wasting away. This was not who I was nor who I ever expected to be.
You don't spend five years with someone without your share of good times, moments, memories. But you can't live in the past. What about the present? Are you having a great time now or are you just Maintaining? What about the future? Do you really expect it to get any better? Do you see yourself Growing?
I stepped off the merry go-round two years ago and I have no regrets. I cared about her. I loved her. We cried in each others arms during those last painful days where we were sharing separate floors of a house that is now a Sandy-devastated disaster area. "Why are you doing this to us?," she asked through the tears.
Why? isn't just one thing. It never is. If you're
cheating, if you lay your hands on your partner, if you're lying, if
you're an alcoholic or a coke head or a gambler or rotten in bed, that's never the only Why? The worst offenses are just manifestations of unhappiness, plain and simple. In my marriage, this was Why?
One of my musical projects, Return To Earth, had gotten signed by Metal Blade Records. It was a proud moment in my life. In the music industry, you don't get signed for the first time when you're 35, you get dropped. It wouldn't change my life, but it would be a nice thing for a long-toiling musician to hang on the mantle.
We had released our second album the previous summer and now we were playing a local show with some friends in support. One of those friends put the above flyer together to promote the show online. Band Promo 101. I had nothing to do with the flyer's creation besides providing the artist with the necessary text and info, then giving it the thumbs-up and posting it online. It had to be done quickly and not look like garbage, that was my list of demands.
Two weeks before I stepped off the merry go-round, my wife called me at the house. We were already having a lot of problems and she was in Florida visiting relatives. Cooling off. She was the one away and I felt like the one on vacation. Dad was over, we were having lunch when the phone rang.
"What's with the Tit Flyer?," she asked nastily. No 'Hello', no 'I miss you', just
"What's with the Tit Flyer?"
I could spend a few paragraphs defending the flyer's content just as I spent a full hour trying to talk my ex off the ledge about it, screaming at her over the phone with my father and my dog well within earshot of all of my compounded problems - the jealousy issues, the insecurity, the immaturity. My lack of any patience or temperance for this sort of bullshit. I was a beast when we argued. I had become one. Because I'd had this argument countless times before. There was only one Tit Flyer, but there were a thousand Tit Flyer arguments. I had these arguments before I got on one knee, before I walked down the aisle, before I spent my life savings on a future in Staten Island. It wears you down. It wears you out. It changes you.
The show flyer was an "insult to our marriage," she protested. But it wasn't the flyer that most insulted our marriage. It was the person on the other end of the phone. The woman I had some really good times with, the woman I chose to marry in spite of her problems, in spite of our problems. The woman I wanted to rescue had turned the knife on me and I was tired of getting stabbed.
So I stepped off the merry-go-round. And two years later, I am finally me again. I am A Better Me. The merry-go-round just goes 'round and 'round. It never changes, never leaves its axis. There are no surprises, it can get boring quickly. My father isn't a particularly profound guy and he probably didn't realize it then, but that may have been the wisest thing he ever said to me.
So the woman left and I stayed in the house, stayed with the dog. I kept the things that were rightfully mine, and then they all became major problems after Sandy, major headaches. Part of my penance. And I continue to grow in spite of them, they continue to be lessons as much as they can be labeled Hardships. They seem to be all part of the plan. Life is supposed to be hard sometimes. And I have continued to heal, continued to grow. And it's not because I was alone, because I freed myself from the shackles of a sometimes sub-par and damaged relationship. I just wasn't in the right one. I wasn't in the one that made me better. I decided I was finally ready to grow. To grow up.
For the past two years, I have not officially been In A Relationship. But I am very far from alone right now. And I am pretty damn happy. And none of it would ever have happened if I didn't shed myself of all that weight. Stepping off the merry-go-round didn't mean I would have to be alone forever, it just meant that this particular bumpy ride was over. It meant that I could get on other rides and see where they take me.
I don't have to go round and round anymore, I can go up. I still believe that's where I'm headed. That step off the merry-go-round was just the first of many, the most important one. There are still more steps to take, more journeys to make. The future looks brighter than ever. Let's go for a ride.
Owner of NYC based independent record label + music production house Bald Freak Music. Founder of longtime electronic rock act Q*Ball. Singer in progressive rock band Return To Earth. Producer for syndicated Elvis Duran + the Morning Show. Superstorm Sandy Survivor. Hopeless romantic. Music + movie nerd. List maker. Marathon runner. I live in New York City with my crazy Westie dog Buttons.