Nov 30, 2012

Time Is The Great Healer


"Time is the great healer."

Ron's Doorbusters Sale!  Everything Must Go!  Into The Garbage! (not Garrett)
I remember my Dad telling me that after my breakup with Rachel.  She was my first real girlfriend, my first real relationship, my First Great Love.  Rachel was the first girl that made me step back and say to myself, "Dude, you don't deserve someone this awesome."  Yes, when I talk to myself, I call myself 'Dude'....

But I didn't really step back and realize how unworthy I was until after it was too late, after I had put a big crack in what Rachel and I had.  And by the time I desperately scrambled to do some serious masonry work, it was too late.  The crack had become too deep.  Relationships don't fracture like pavement does.  And sometimes repairs can never be made. 

This isn't about me lamenting Rachel, tho.  Believe me, I've done more than my share.  Just ask my friends, my family.  You can ask some of my other ex-girlfriends too.  They all know how hard that hit me.  Like a hurricane.  But I don't lament Rachel anymore - when the first girl you truly loved becomes a woman and marries another dude, moves away, and has twins with him, that's usually a good sign that it's time to stop the stalking.  Message received, gods of the universe.

This is where I would normally post a picture of Rachel and I, but I don't have any to post.  I got rid of all of them years ago.  I couldn't bear to look at them, I couldn't bear the memories.  But this isn't about Rachel.  I hope she's having a nice life.

This is about "Time is the great healer."


There are two items in my post-Sandy refugee camp that remind me of Rachel, a full decade after I last saw her, last cried on her shoulder, last looked her in the eyes and told her I loved her.  Two parting gifts, that stuff we float away with as the heartbreak rushes in like a flood.  For me, it's a 49ers fleece blanket and a Gap leather jacket - once-Rachel gifts, survivors of my Sandy carnage.  There are few artifacts of my past left, and tomorrow they will go onto a truck and into a new place to bear witness to my post-hurricane adventure.

It took time for me to get over Rachel - a lot of time - and even tho I no longer lament her, I still think about her a lot.  I still have reminders of her that have nothing to do with blankets and leather.  When I bake cookies, I think of Rachel.  She would store all her baked goods in Tupperware with a piece of fresh bread and some paper towels.  Both absorb the moisture in the container, keeping sweet treats soft and fresh, and so now I do the same.  Which makes me think of the time Rachel baked me some birthday brownies while she was away at college.  It was a surprise.  They showed up inside a Priority Mail box packaged in that same bread and paper towel filled Tupperware, and they were fucking delicious.  The Tupperware had a red cover.  Sometimes those 'little moments' are the ones that are etched into your consciousness forever.

Rachel and I had just started dating.  It was a long-distance relationship for awhile.  There was no Internet, at least in the way we know it, so gifts like that were especially thoughtful, and indicative of the type of girl she was and probably still is.  It was the first of six years' worth of meaningful gifts we would exchange, both material and spiritual, sexual and existential.

I still point to that time of my life - the post-Rachel fallout - 2002 - ten years ago, as my lowest point as a human being.  I was 27 and life as I knew it was over, forever changed.  My New Millennium lasted two years.  There were no hurricanes, no divorce papers, no loss of funds.  No one died.  But this was only happening to me, no one else.  My pain, my regret.  I was alone, and I have never felt more helpless.

My grandmother died of Mad Cow Disease a decade earlier.  I was 16, no one close to me had died or even gotten sick before that.  And then Nana went, in a way I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  I had chicken pox at the funeral.  And somehow losing Rachel was worse.  Because I shared my Nana's death, her suffering, with my closest people.  We got through it together.  The breakup was just me.  Sure, people were sad for me, sad to see her go.  But it's not the same, it's never the same except for the two people it's actually happening to.

My Sandy Situation reminds me of my Rachel Situation.  Yes, this happened to a ton of people in New York and New Jersey, people of all ages, all creeds, all shapes and sizes.  Just like breakups do.  Yes, some of the situations are much worse than mine, some much better.  But I'm enduring this hurricane situation - my situation - alone.  As a single man.  Because of my Rachel-related failure, because of my failed marriage, because of my recent romantic hardships.  This is where I was on the chessboard when the floods came.  I was a King without a Queen.  It's no coincidence, don't think that it is.

But Time is the great healer.

I'm moving tomorrow.  Two people volunteered to help me.  It's a Friday, it's the holidays, it's cold.  Moving sucks.  My house will be demolished in the morning and by the evening I'll be in a new place.  I still need a mattress, a couch.  I still need a lot of stuff.  I still need mold remediation.  I still need money from insurance, from the government.  And I haven't gotten a dime yet.  It's been a month.  ONE MONTH TODAY, UNCLE SAM.  And not a dime.  I still need hot water and electricity and gas and heat.  I probably went back to work too soon, but work is nuts this time of year, as it is in a lot of places that depend on the holiday season to drum up business, and I'm needed there.  I've already missed a dozen board shifts because of this storm, which would be enough to pay for the mattress and couch that I need, and Ryan Seacrest ain't givin' me any handouts.

Yes yes.  All of these things will be remedied in time.  Take your time, Ron.  You have to pack up your refugee camp tonight, call FEMA, make a half dozen more phone calls, make dinner, walk the dog.  But go ahead and take your time.  It will all be there tomorrow.

Fuck time.

Without time, there would be no timing.  Things happen to certain people in their lives based on where they happen to be and when, who they happen to be with and why.  Time sets it all in motion, keeps us on the grid.  I broke up with Rachel right after 9/11.  Bad timing.  I waited a month before realizing it was a mistake.  Too much time.  And it took me years upon years to get over her, to get over my mistakes, my poor choices, my bad timing.  Let me tell you - time is the mediocre healer, at best.

But timing is what put all those people in Seagate and Breezy Point and Staten Island and the Jersey Shore when Sandy came - people who dared to live near the water, including me.  For some, it was their time to drown.  For others, it was their time to lose someone they cared about dearly.  For me, it was about losing my house, and by my own economic standards, a small fortune in stuff.  But I'm here - to survive it, to reflect upon it, to learn from it, to endure it - day after day, minute by minute.  So I feel fortunate in many ways.  My timing could have been a lot worse.

Time means suffering in the present too - people suffer from all kinds of time-related trauma.  Getting sick, dealing with loved ones who are slowly dying, sitting in traffic, waiting on line at the Staples when all you've got in your hands is some fucking packing tape comeonalready.  Sitting through the commercials at the movies.  Waiting for your Big Mac.  Time can be a dick.

And that is why I'm in a rush to put all this behind me.  This is all a mad dash to the end of the calendar.  Time is like water.  It's like women.  It's my friend.  I need it.  But it's also my enemy.  It has hurt me.  So I'm moving into a nice pad, I'm not squatting down on some basement couch waiting for my Divorce Hurricane House to be reconstructed.  Waiting for more time to pass.  It's time to go.  Some people don't get that, don't get why I can't go back there - but some people haven't bought a house with a woman, lost that woman, lost faith, then lost another woman while in the same house, and then had the house destroyed by a hurricane.  I want someone to take a census and find another 37 year-old dude who endured the same damage I have in the same way and I will have some Jameson with that dude and we will talk for hours.

Sometimes the cracks are too deep.

So you decide what needs mending, or better yet, what's even amendable.  I need mending as much as my house does.  And I'm not waiting on stupid fucking time to help me.  The time is now.


THE TIME IS NOW.

I'll give myself this last month of mostly-shitty 2012.  I've earned it.  I'll allow myself one more month of recovery, one more month of struggle, only because no matter how strong I am, no matter how focused I want to be on growing rather than coping, I will have to deal with all the bullshit attached to losing your house to a hurricane.  I will have to deal with being responsible - with being responsible for being responsible.  I will accept this responsibility.  And then no more concessions.

I put myself in that house.  I broke up with Rachel, then I moved in with Lynda, then I broke up with Lynda, then I moved in with Melissa and we got married and bought the house.  I had all the money and I didn't wanna pay crazy property taxes and I wanted to live in a detached house where no one was above me or below me or on either side of me.  I wanted freedom, I wanted space, room to grow.  Room to run my record label, to make it bigger, to hire employees and feel good about them coming by and working.  We wanted the dog to have a back yard.  She wanted a vegetable garden, I wanted to live in a quiet neighborhood.  We wanted to entertain, to host holidays and gatherings.  We wanted to feel comfortable.  Safe.

Staten Island presented maximum opportunities for all of these things on our mutual and independent checklists at the most affordable price.  It wasn't the only house we looked at, not by a long shot.  We looked in Jersey, but my ex-wife did so only as a courtesy - "Jersey smells and I can't make a left turn."  True points, but every nation has its warts.  And we looked in plenty of other houses on Staten Island before settling in Zone A.  The house search became a stressful part of our relationship - I remember that process as one of the few times during our frequent brouhahas that my ex put her hands on me, screaming at me as I screamed back, the guy who she just married, the guy who was gonna buy her a house and give her a good life.  I saw the worst of her during those times.  Our relationship was already cracked and I still went ahead and bought the house.  Gotta stay positive, Ron.  I put her name on the deed so Obama would give us an $8000 tax credit as married first-time homeowners.  Gotta save save save!

In the months before the hurricane, that wound up being my last post-divorce duty - getting my ex-wife's name off the deed to the house that I had bought 99% of.  It was a process.  It took time.  It also cost money.  The week of the hurricane, I was notified that the house was now fully in my name.  Congratulations Ron, this Divorce Hurricane House is now all yours.  All mine.  The house I put myself in, and the destiny I created for myself.

Timing.  I have terrible timing.   The last relationship I was in, the one that gave me hope again, ended a month before the hurricane.  She wanted to keep it going but I could sense she was checked out and then I caught her in some lies so there was no point in continuing.  It ended badly, with yelling and accusations and hurt feelings.  We cancelled a lot of plans because of it, a lot of nice ones.  If I didn't catch her, if I didn't sense something amiss and rightfully dismiss her because of it, we would have still been together, even if not in the way we were supposed to be.  I would have likely been with her when the waters came, together and safe.  But I wasn't.  She was already back where I knew she'd be.  The hurricane could have made what we had stronger, I would have had her to lean on, and she, being the generous spirit that she was - at least when she was focused on being that for me - would have been there for me.  The hurricane would have brought us closer together, who knows how close.

But that's not what happened.  I am enduring this alone.  I was probably meant to.  We'll see.  Only time will tell.  Good ol' fucking time.

And it all started with that first bad breakup, waiting on time to get me all healed up, waiting to see if someone else would make me forget her - if it would justify that loss, would explain it.  Why did my relationship with Rachel take so long to get over?  Plenty of reasons.  But the biggest one was 9/11.  Rachel and I were together in my apartment when it all went down.  She had slept over and I had overslept and we were in my bed when my father called and left a message on my answering machine hoping I was okay since he knew my daily commute to work frequently went thru World Trade Center.  Apparently my timing is good when it comes to nearly averting destruction.  So far at least.

We watched the towers go down on TV together.  Rachel was very affected, very emotional.  That moment and the months that followed should have brought me closer to Rachel, should have put me down on one knee and into the rest of our life together, but I choked.  I wasn't feeling it.  I was this romantic guy who was in a great relationship and who had struggled with shyness and insecurity and rejection before this six year gift was given to me, and I felt empty inside.  I knew I was supposed to be feeling differently, and I wasn't.  I was too numb, I was too confused just like everyone else in New York City.  I was afraid.  So I fled.  I fled Rachel and I fled sanity and I tried to ignore the guilt I should have felt, and it was all a big mistake.

The most disastrous, tragic thing any American peer of mine, of my generation, any New Yorker has ever witnessed or experienced had just happened - and I ran away.  How could I ever blame her for not getting back to where she needed to be to make it work?  She took me back, but it was never the same, and three months later it was over forever.  She told me she had butterflies and now they were gone.  I didn't understand.  But I understand now.  I understood when I asked for a divorce, probably truly understood for the first time.

Some other guy's life, some other guy's house, some other guy's holiday season
And then it was just me n' Sandy.  No ex-wife, no ex-girlfriends, no one else.  Timing was to blame.  Choices were to blame.  The women were to blame too, they don't get a fucking pass here.  They played their part.  But ultimately, the person most responsible for my Sandy Situation is the one recounting it.  Me.

And I accept the responsibility, I'll take the blame.  I deserve this, even if most of you probably think I don't, and maybe a few of you think I do (?).  In an almost odd way, I needed this hurricane.  Certainly not the aggravation that goes with it, not the heartache of losing almost all of my really cool, once clean-and-dry stuff.  Definitely not that.  But I need an excuse.  I need a reason to kick ass.  I can't let it break me.  I can't lose any more than I already have.  The failed relationships weren't enough anymore.

If it's not time that does the trick, failed relationships are healed more immediately by television and lots of jerking off.  I can tell you that there is little time for either when you are a hurricane refugee.  I miss my shows and I'm horny as fuck.  It's not just my utilities that are down.  But I'll have it all back.  In time.  The house - to sell or keep.  I'll have a social calendar.  I'll buy new stuff, whatever of it truly needs to be replaced.  I'll catch up to American Horror Story and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  I'll jerk off plenty.  But the rest has to change.  It has to.

No more living with regrets, no more living in the past.  I recognize that I didn't make a commitment to being the best I could until I got married, and then the poison in that marriage gave me an excuse to stop trying.  Then I got divorced and told myself I had to do even better.  And I almost got there with a good woman by my side.  Almost.  Because I haven't done better.  Not better enough.  But you can't give up.

So I've got to make a beeline towards happiness, towards accomplishment, towards mental health.  I'll go on runs with my nutty dog and start creating again.  I'll go out on some more dates - some of them will be shitty and that will be fine, it's part of the game.  I found a new treadmill, heavier weights to conquer.  I'll stay in shape and finish the Marathon stronger than I ever would have if Sandy never showed up.  I'll get back on a stage, back in a band, or I'll decide once and for all that those things don't matter enough.  I will be a better friend, a new uncle, a happier person.  I'll go skydiving and I'll get my ass to Europe.  I'll discover new passions.

And I won't be alone.  Not for long.  I know me.  I know what I need.  And I know what I have to do to be ready.  Some of that I can control, the rest is up to fate.  The rest depends on timing.  Finding a woman is easy.  Finding the right woman is hard, finding the right one at the right time is borderline impossible, and it gets no easier as you get older.  Finding a good man is no less difficult, I'm sure.  That's why women rush into shit, they get scared, they shift their focus, they settle.  Shitty, unromantic men play their roles.  I get that. 

But I don't want a woman who's in a rush, even if she loves me.  If you love me, take the journey with me slowly.  Savor it.  Time can be a friend when you're happy.  When you're happy, there is no greater ally than time.  But being happy means spending time with someone, finding love and being committed to common goals.  Bad shit will happen to me again, and when it does, I can't be alone.  I can't.  I have a gift that needs to be given, but it has to be received by the right person, otherwise it's just wasted energy.

Until then, allz I gots is time, and plenty of it.  I feel lucky to be in this situation even if my mind and heart are still stinging, my back still sore.  I'll stretch, I'll recover, and I'll hold someone tight again.  I'm healthy.  I'm young.  I haven't peaked yet, Sandy.

I'm ready for anything.

Nov 26, 2012

A View From The Other Side


I'm on another planet right now.  It's official.


The holidays are here.  Leftover turkey, tree trimming, bargain shopping, celebrating.  The lights are up and the halls are decked.  Capitalism always gets us refocused.  Everyone loves a good sale.  But I am not here.  I'll be having none of that this year.  I am on another planet.  I am on Planet Sandy, a barren wasteland inhabited by insurance adjusters and mold experts.

Thanksgiving was a blur, and I have white wine to thank for the help.  I spent the second half of the weekend in front of a computer and a huge pile of papers and forms, filling out grant applications, itemizing all my lost gear and furniture, figuring out my next move.  The Pause Button is in full effect. 

The Pause Button means that your life stops while everyone else's continues in its perpetual motion - sure, there are people in your life, big and small, affected by your situation, but no one is nearly as affected as you.  It's happening to you, not anyone else but you.  I'm not commiserating with my fellow survivors because thanks to this storm, my neighborhood is no longer a neighborhood, rather a disaster area, a til-further-notice construction site.  My fellow survivor is a Westie dog.  Normalcy no longer has meaning.

Right now, the only thing normal is chaos.

Buttons the Traumatized
But your life doesn't actually pause, only the normalcy of it does.  Instead, it spirals off in this other direction that no one else is headed in.  My brain is on all the time, sleep is a cruel mistress.  I've barely watched television.  I haven't read a book, I haven't written any music.  There was barely time for that before the hurricane.  I've left all that behind on the planet that you're all on, the planet I was on a month ago.  Now I'm here.

I can tell you some things.

$54,000

That's how much it all adds up to - all the stuff I lost that I won't be reimbursed for, all my contents.  I suppose I was living pretty well for a divorced dude doing middle management duties in the burgeoning radio industry while struggling with a middling music career.  I had a cool house, a fun house, even if it was on stereotypically uncool Staten Island and even though I wasn't having much fun inside of it last year, the year my wife left and the dog and I stayed.  I had assets.  I always had a job.  Since I was 12.  Always.  And I was always a saver.  Responsible with my money, my parents drilling that middle-class mentality into my skull early on.  "The more you save, the more you provide for the future, for your children, the more comfortably you can live as you get older."  Now there are no children, little comfort, and the future is as uncertain as it has ever been.

And I was trying to grow a business, which meant spending - on musical instruments, on recording gear, on office equipment and computers.  High priced items.  Expensive tax write-offs that became collateral damage.  But this is not just about money - disasters are never just about one thing, they're about everything.  There is always fallout.  This is about history, about legacy.  A big chunk of mine is gone.
Was this my last Keytar?
I can also tell you that I currently don't have a place to live.  Nothing goes smoothly in life, there are no perfect parachutes.  I had two very hot stokes in the fire that would have offered two very different things - status and comfort - and both of them fell apart within a few days of each other, leaving me to mull various offers of couches, guest rooms, potentially uncomfortable situations, and very inconvenient commutes.  I may have to give up my dog for awhile, which will certainly pain me, but will probably pain him more.  All these unknowns - how much will it cost to fix my house? how long will it take? where is my bed frame headed? do I have enough clean socks? - can be a scary thing.

I can tell you that the mold is still growing in my house, I can tell you that my insurance settlement is still a great big question mark, and I can tell you that dealing with brokers, contractors, and adjusters is a very stressful and expensive business.  There are snakes in every field.  Even at a time like this, they are lurking.  People are out for themselves.  Most people.

The only times I feel halfway sane are when I run and when I write, and I've managed to do a decent amount of both these past few weeks.  But my sanity is waning.  It's getting cold.  I no longer have my trusty treadmill to get me thru the winter months, no less a place to run in.  I'd join a gym if I knew where the hell I was living.  And I'm not sure about the writing, either.  What am I trying to prove by baring my soul?  Who cares what I have to say?  Get a journal, Ron.  Am I punishing myself further by rehashing all this?  Should I try to turn my brain off?  I can't.  My soul is aching.  Aching.  

This time last year, it was aching too.  It was Thanksgiving weekend and I was spending my first holiday season alone in five years, my first as a divorcee.  I was on another planet back then too.  Planet Single.  I was trying to explain to my family how displaced I felt by not being with a woman, that I was over my 'alone time,' that at this time of the year more than ever, I needed someone.  The dating sites were a nightmare, and I grew weary of them quickly.  I grew weary of life.

Soon after, I met someone and things changed.  There was holiday magic in my world last year, even if there was little else.  It was a beautiful, unexpected gift.  It all starts with electricity, just like it has to in my damaged house.  Electricity is what sets everything in motion, what turns the heat on, what gets the motors running and the fixing done.  You can't start fixing yourself until the power goes on, then things start to become illuminating.  Electricity is not just wires and switches, tho - it's an energy, a force.  And you don't have to be a professional to channel it.

Before all this darkness, there was proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, and I was becoming enlightened.  I understood things about life and karma and destiny that I hadn't realized before.  I learned to lower my shield, even if just a little.  I was learning to trust my feelings again, to trust someone else's.  I learned that we all must be held responsible for our actions, in one way or another.  And we are never truly prepared for what happens when things go wrong, no matter how strong we think we are.

The electricity has always been there between this girl and I, the magnetism.  That thing between two people that doesn't fit into a box, that exists just because it does, not because it necessarily makes practical sense.  I've felt that spark before - rarely, but I have.  But like all the waterlogged gear to follow, just because the sparks are flying, that doesn't mean everything is functional.  I've felt that feeling before too, I'm sure a lot of you have in your own imperfect love lives.  And now I feel the same way about this woman who was the best part of my 2012 that I feel about the water that was the worst part.  On one hand, it's this beautiful thing that I need in my life to survive.  When the water is tranquil, I yearn to be around it, I am in awe of it.  On the other hand, the same water destroyed my house, it turned my life upside down, it pulled me off the tracks.  It ruined things.  At least for a little while, possibly longer.
How can I ever forgive it?

Staten Island: A View From The Other Side
It's a rhetorical question.  And it's not a question I know how to answer anymore, or even care to.  But this is why my soul aches, why my head hurts, and my heart even worse.  All you can do is try to be someone's ideal mate, someone's everything.  You have to recognize that the rest is not up to you.  You can only do your best.  And if your best is not met by someone else, you have to snuff out the flame.  It Is What It Is.  Sometimes you have to surrender the battle in order to win the war.  And for me, surrendering has meant forgetting.  It has meant accepting that it's over even though you never want it to be.  Accepting that love will never move forward without its bumps and bruises.  Accepting that taking a chance is the noble thing, that the risk of putting yourself out there is worth the scars that form and will someday fade.  You have to try.

The hurricane and love are the same thing.  Both can break your spirit, you can never truly be prepared for either, and although you might never be able to avoid them, you can make choices and change philosophies that will help you better deal with both the next time around.  You have to protect yourself.  You have to have insurance.  You have to prepare for disasters.  But who the fuck wants to live their life that way?  Always waiting for the next shit storm?  Not me.

Today on Planet Sandy, I feel destined to be one of those people who settle.  Those people who want to live life in a safe little box instead of living life to the fullest outside of it.  For me, it's not by choice.  Sometimes life puts you in that box and it dares you to break out.  But I've been beaten down pretty good.  Eventually you get beat down enough times that you don't feel like getting up anymore.  It's harder to take chances, to risk whatever security you have.  You settle, you accept something less than you deserve.  But I'm forever the fool, I still look at that water and I see the sunlight and the horizon even tho all the rubble is right there in the foreground.  I still feel like something great is out there in the distance.

Everyone wants to paint this as a blessing, including me, even tho it feels like the worst kind of curse right now.  The house will be fixed up, it will have shiny new stuff in it.  I can make it my own now from the bottom up, even if there's a lot less inside of it than there was before.  Even if the winds and the waters will never seem too far away.  But even if I'm back in it at all, I will be back in it alone, and I'm not sure if it will ever feel like a home again even if it resembles a house.  I will recover from this hurricane.  But will I recover from all this heartache?

No matter what side you look at all this from, it's hard not to have mixed emotions.  Hope and despair.  Faith and surrender.  Strength and apathy.  For me, this isn't just about the tidal wave, that part is over.  It's about love, it's about the future, it's about the choices I made on the planet you're all on right now and the choices I'm about to make while on Planet Sandy.  It's about the choices I make once I return to earth.  It's about who'll be waiting there for me when I do.  It's about recognizing what matters most and maintaining until you can find that.  It's about being grateful once you have it and becoming the type of person who deserves to keep it. 

It's about not giving up.

Nov 21, 2012

Broken


This is one of the favorite things I lost.  One of the things that aren't supposed to matter because, hey, I'm still alive.  But things matter.  They matter because of what they represent.

This is a limited-edition framed print of the Nine Inch Nails Broken EP, signed by Trent Reznor, himself, #963 of 999.  Now there are only 998.  This one's in a landfill.  This one's in pieces just like everything else.  Turns out framed prints, paintings and posters don't take kindly to ferocious dirty ocean water.  Who knew.

This print was hanging in the middle of my subterranean home music studio when the floods came.  When I built the studio down in my basement, I went with an orange-and-black color scheme on the walls to match the colors of this print.  It was a keystone item amongst my possessions, just as Nine Inch Nails has been a keystone act, and just as Reznor has always been an inspiration and an idol ever since I first heard Pretty Hate Machine back in high school.  Ever since I bought my first analog sequencing keyboard (that keyboard, incidentally, is one of the few musical devices to have survived the hurricane) and ever since I committed myself to being an independent minded musician and a DIY artist.

Broken is also one of my favorite all-time pieces of recorded music.  It's Trent at his most anti-establishment, his most punk rock - doing battle with his record label, turning the bile into a masterpiece of beautiful anger and angst.  Breaking the chains.  I had never heard anything like it before.

When training for the NYC Marathon, Broken was the album I would put on when I needed to take things up a notch, to start running like a well-oiled machine.  I ran angry with Broken on, I ran confident.  I related.  Doing 22 miles is a lot easier with "Gave Up" and "Happiness In Slavery" pounding through your skull.

This print is irreplaceable.  A lot of things in the house were.  A lot of things in a lot of houses were.  There's a quote at the bottom of the print that always spoke to me, and speaks to me even more now in light of my current situation.  It says:

"The slave thinks he is released from bondage only to find a stronger set of chains."

I went and met with FEMA today, with a contractor too.  Most of my neighbors' houses are already gutted, soon mine will be too.   New walls, new floors, new pipes, new paint, new wiring, new siding.  All my clinging-to-life furniture upstairs has to go.  My couch, my bed.  They got wet.  Mold mold mold.  New everything.  I talk to my neighbors whenever I go back to the house.  We exchange hugs and sometimes tears.  They know I'm ripe to leave, to sell, to move on with my life.  They know what I've been through.  I'm the young guy on the block, the one with the least history there, the least connection.  But they're already trying to convince me to stay, my parents are too.

I like my neighbors.  They could have handled my post-divorce life in that neighborhood differently.  My wife moved out, the dog and I stayed behind.  No one knew the details.  But people talk.  Rumors surely spread.  And no one on that block treated me any differently - if anything, they were even better neighbors after that.  They saw me running up and down that block day after day with the dog by my side, they saw new girls come in and out of that house, they saw a man trying to rebuild his life.  They parlayed with me.  They made me manicotti.

"The slave thinks he is released from bondage only to find a stronger set of chains."

That makes so much sense to me now.  The marriage became my prison and I cut myself loose.  I was unhappy, now I was growing, I was recovering.  I was free.  And then I got hurt again.  Then Sandy came and demolished my house, imprisoning me further.

But I don't think that's what the quote really means.  I think it could mean that the bondage is inside of each of us, that it's our flaws and bad choices and our weaknesses that hold us back, and that every time a bad relationship or a hurricane comes along, the chains that come with it lie within ourselves.  Giving up on life is easy, giving up on yourself is easy.  People do it all the time, hurricane or not.

Sometimes it's all the shit we wanna throw away that we can't.

I'm not talking about your junk, your trinkets, your keepsakes, your memorabilia.  You should probably throw a lot of that away too.  Unless you have space for it.  Once you start running out of space, that's a good sign to stop amassing things.  Stuff.  George Carlin does a great bit on "Stuff."


But it's all the stuff we wanna throw away that we can't.

It's what's inside us, the stuff we hate about ourselves.  What makes us imperfect - those little things we do, those bad habits, those weak moments, those impulsive addictions, compulsive disorders.  Our quirks, our dysfunctions.  Our social awkwardness.  Our fear.  Our guilt.

These are all the things I've wanted to throw away since I can remember.  My shyness around women, around people.  My fear of heights.  My cynicism.  There are so many more.  I am human.  I get by knowing that I'll never be perfect, maybe I'll never even be great.  But I have to live a better life.  All the shit I just threw away ain't comin' back.  But I've gotta live with me - and so do some of you - for the rest of my life.

I've been telling the people close to me that I've endured two hurricanes this past year.  The first one is the one that took away all the shit in my Staten Island house.  In my neck of the woods, that doesn't make me unique.  What makes me unique is that I got divorced the year before this happened.  And in ending that relationship, and in starting new ones, I endured a second hurricane.  But unlike Sandy, this figurative storm didn't take away my shit.  Rather, it made me want to part with the poison inside me and become a better man.  It made me want to break the chains.  It made me want to be less broken.  Love always has that effect, even if it blows into your life and back out again.

I've been in love a few times.  I loved my wife.  I was certainly a little worried about the marriage lasting - as were others - so I asked for a pre-nup.  I had all the dough, and not enough to just laugh it off if things went sour.  But she talked me out of it.  I'll never forget when she did and neither will she, but she did.

Because I'm a romantic.  I wanted to believe that I would find a way to make it work.  Because I did love her.  In spite of all her flaws, I did.  And that would be enough to steer the ship straight.  I was naive.  A year into the marriage, I was already dropping the 'D' word.  My shrink tells me I had what's called "magical thinking" - that you think you can change someone, that you can fix everything just because you can visualize how it can happen.  It's the other person that needs to figure it out, tho - not you.  It's up to them.  That's why I was destined for divorce.

The same applies to the hurricane.

One block north of my house the morning after Sandy.  This was as close as I could get.
It's like anyone in my neighborhood thinking they could have saved anything more from their waterlogged home by reacting differently to the rushing waters headed our way.  I keep thinking about what I would have done had I been inside, as most of my neighbors were in spite of the evacuation orders.  Would I have run out of the house with my dog in my arms?  Would I have stayed in the house and headed to the attic?  Would I have scrambled to save my recently purchased TC-Helicon voice processor and my Kit-Kat clock, and then run out of the house?

Would I have drowned?  People who left did.  Would I have died?  People who stayed did.

I don't have survivor's guilt.  I evacuated.  I left my house to drown.  I did the right thing.  There was nothing saveable, only the waves.  When I came back to my house the next morning, 7 hours after the surge, there was still a river where my street once lived.  Manholes had erupted like geysers, their thick metal covers no match for the might of Sandy.  Cars were on top of cars.

I don't have divorce guilt either.  I did the right thing.  For both of us, even if it cost her the life she knew and it cost me the same, plus a considerable amount of my savings.  My ex-wife and I have been back in touch because of what Sandy did to the house we bought together.  I reached out to her again yesterday only to find out that one of her good friends had killed himself without warning.  There are all kinds of loss in this world, but there is no greater loss, no amount of junk discarded, that compares to losing someone you care about once and for all.  Remember that when you see the people who care about you the most this holiday weekend.


Which brings me back to what has become a common theme in my post-Sandy scripture.  Us.  You and me, you and your family, you and your friends, you and the love of your life.  Life is all about Us.

For me, no amount of hurricanes, no amount of failed relationships can change my mind about how I'm built.  I need "Us".  The divorce didn't change that, it didn't damage my opinion of what "Us" means, not beyond repair.  It just set me back a bit.  And so did this hurricane.  But I have no doubt that I will emerge stronger and wiser.  And when I can say "Us" again instead of "Me," that's when I'll know all the lights are back on.  I haven't given up on that either.

In the meantime, I have to get better.  More focused.  More aggressive.  More charitable.  More friendly.  Maybe I need to become less dependent on some things, some ideals that existed in my pre-Sandy life, practical or otherwise.  Maybe I'll be worthy of someone's love again whether I get better at these things or not.  But I have to try to throw all the shit away inside me that makes me weak, no matter what.

When you're alone, you can be selfish.  It's the law.  You don't owe anything to anyone, you don't follow someone else's schedule or have to worry about anyone else's needs or deal with their problems.  On paper, for a guy especially, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal.  But for me, it has rarely been sweet, and I have always been weak for a companion.

I tried "the single life" about 8 years ago - I had just dumped a really sweet and cool girl after two years together.  We moved in together too soon and I got claustrophobic.  I was dealing with addiction.  The sexual chemistry wasn't electric.  And I was far from over my previous girlfriend, who I had spent over 6 years with.  It was my fault.  I wanted to be with someone sweet and cool but I didn't want to settle either.  I was damaged goods, and I justified the breakup in my mind by telling myself this sweet and cool girl didn't deserve me.  In the end, I handled it like a bit of a coward.   A selfish coward.

But it was true, she didn't deserve me.  She deserved better.  She loved me and I couldn't compromise my dysfunctions to make it work.  So I gave her up.  It was really hard.  It has always been hard ending things.  Hurricanes exist in the heart and in the mind too, and lots of things get damaged on the way out the door.

You don't get a lot of chances.  A lot of good chances.  When I asked for a divorce, I saw it as maybe one last opportunity to find someone that could make me whole again without settling, without compromising who I was, without having to change or asking someone else to.  But that hasn't happened, or at least it hasn't stuck.

By the end of last year, I was feeling better about life.  I was recovering.  Financially and emotionally.  I went on bad dates, I had bad days just like anyone else, but I was turning the corner.  I was getting ready for an even-better 2012 and I told myself I would be at or close to the mountaintop by the end of this year.  You have to set goals.  Even when hurricanes show up and fuck your shit up, you have to.

Most of all, I was getting comfortable being alone, just the pooch and I, taking care of him myself, running with him, training for the Marathon, cooking, making the house my own.  A shitty day at the office could still be remedied by a relaxing evening at home even if I wasn't coming home to anything that didn't have thick white hair all over its body.  I was keeping my head above water and finding myself while I did.

My head is still above water, but my house was not four weeks ago, and now it's about to be demolished, and rebuilt.  In a lot of ways, so am I.  Practically everything inside that home will need to be replaced.  A lot of things inside me need to be, too.  There is so much broken in my life right now because of this storm, because of the mistakes I've made with women, because of this whole fucked-up two years of my life.

But I am finding ways to mend, I am leaning on my people to help me keep it together.  Writing these stories about my life make me feel good, make me feel accomplished.  Sometimes I even learn something.  I am thankful for so much even after I have lost so much.  I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot of stories like that, a lot of attitudes like mine, this holiday season.  Especially here in New York.  It seems a birthright here, to struggle and to survive.  People will be suffering in various ways all over this city, all over the world.  Suffering is a part of life and it will always be a part of it.  But you have to be brave, and you can't be afraid to rely on other people to help you dig your way out of that hole.  That's part of "Us," too.  As Trent Reznor once screamed, "You and me, we're in this together now."

Some things break and they stay broken.  Others can mend.  I am one of those things.  I was a slave who was emancipated and then enslaved again by this storm.  But my will is no longer weak.  There are no chains strong enough to hold me back.  Life will be good again.  Life will be better.

Happy Thanksgiving.



 

Nov 18, 2012

The Power's On But Nothing's Working

I have this nice set of laptop speakers from Logitech with this cool square subwoofer that adds some nice bass to my iTunes mix.  As a music purist, I appreciate sonic quality.  Thus, my immense and now-deceased massive LP collection.  I'll pontificate upon that loss another time.  It's too tragic to talk about now....
These Logitech speakers, they cost about 150 bucks.  They were connected to an old barely-working Sony VAIO laptop I put in my post-divorce workout room.  I was spending a lot more time in that room of my Staten Island home because of my NYC Marathon training, getting into shape and listening to a lot of music on Spotify and iTunes while I did.  I've run 800 miles this year and all 800 of them with music feeding into my ears.  Music fuels me, it always has.  I made playlists.  I hand-picked albums based on weather conditions, my mood, and time of day.  I timed out runs, on my treadmill and outdoors, based on album lengths.  My music OCD and my running OCD had found each other - soul mates - and were having deep, passionate sex.  I would run 10 miles and pace myself knowing I could do the first 5 by the time Prince's Dirty Mind ended, and by the time I got to the second half of Black Sabbath's Paranoid, I would be going up a steep hill, banging out the last mile to the cosmic metal thump of "Fairies Wear Boots."  I had it all figured out.  Dirty amazing electric musical running sex.

I'm looking at those same Logitech speakers here in my Brooklyn refugee camp right now as I write this. The subwoofer was on the floor of my main level when Sandy came to Staten Island.  That's where subwoofers go.  On the floor.  You don't expect 10 feet of water to get into your house.  It got wet.  Significantly wet.  Imagine being on the second floor of your home and you're standing in your bedroom and the water comes up to your knees.  That was my house on October 29, 2012.  Everything below that dreaded watermark - the basement, the back yard, the front yard, the shed, and everything in them - completely underwater.

Everything on the floor underneath the Logitech Speaker System Z523 (Made In China) drowned, it all drowned.  Anything that once plugged into a wall - and there was plenty in my part-music studio, part-home office, part-kitchen, part-cozy den, part-bathroom, part-storage closets, part-arcade, part-laundromat, all-Mancave finished basement - it would be forever lifeless.  You could try plugging it in, positive vibes and all, but be sure to keep the fire extinguisher handy and prepare for the possibility of electrocution.  It's all really expensive junk now.  Uninsured trash.

My refrigerator getting warm by the fire.
Now I suppose I have been misinformed.  I, like most people, thought having a $250,000 flood insurance policy means when the waters come and wash your turntables and your computers and your musical instruments and your microphones away, you get at least some money to replace them.  This is not just an expensive hobby, this is not just a passion.  This is my business - this is what I do as a musician, a music producer, a radio producer.  I live, breathe, and excrete music.  I am a music making and music consuming machine.  And the floods can't take that away from me.  My heart, my brain, my ears, my eyes, my soul, my spirit, the hands I play the piano with, the voice I sing and talk with.  The feet I tap to the beat and dance like a sometimes-interesting-to-watch middle-aged white boy with.  The skull, terrible genes and non-conformist attitude that make up the first two-thirds of what I officially labeled my passion.  Bald Freak Music.  That all remains.  But the circuitry used to run it all?  That's all gone.

And insurance covers none of it.

None of it.  Never mind that, as my fellow hurricane victims are aware, the insurance companies and FEMA are moving at a snail's pace, and low-balling everyone.  Stereotypes are sometimes well-founded.  My flood guy at Allstate (hi Allstate! remember me?) hasn't returned my daily calls in five days.  He promised a full inspection of my house a full week ago and I have heard neither hide nor hair from him since.  THE MOLD IS GROWING, CHRIS FROM ALLSTATE.  SPREADING.  I pay $1300 annually for flood insurance.

Then there's my homeowner's insurance policy, which covers $203,000 in "Personal Property."  That policy only covers wind, not flood.  If a tree fell on my house, or the if hurricane just tore my house to the ground, I'd be in better financial shape.  But my roof is just Jim Dandy.  It was a tidal wave that got me, a tidal wave that flooded me a mile off shore.  The homeowner's adjuster took some pictures and laughed at me.  "Good luck, sucker.  Thanks for your $1420 a year."  The only relationship I have with FEMA thus far is with their automated telephone lady, who calls to tell me if I want to stay in a cheap hotel for another week, to call a phone number.  No thanks, lady, that part I've got covered.  It's my fucking HOUSE that needs fixing.  Forget about fixing it, my house needs to be put on life support.  My house is in the Emergency Room and no doctors are coming out to perform surgery on it.

Because this is an outbreak.  I'm not the only dude whose house has cancer, not by a long shot.  Some houses are already completely buried, never mind the people who were once in those houses.  People need to remember this.  Soon the turkeys will be stuffed and the trees will be lit and the malls will be full, and there is something comforting about that for those who are suffering and those who are not.  Normalcy.  Consumerism.  But people need to remember.  This is going to be a big problem for a lot of people for a very long time.  You better come back, Barack, with elephants and fireworks and Batman, and keep your promise to Staten Island and to New Jersey and to every tri-state area coastal community that was stunned and stunted by this storm.

So you have to be patient.  You're not the only one.  Baby steps.  One day at a time.  I saved my piano.  It's safe.  I'm close to finding a new place.  I did my laundry.  I went on a run and played fetch with my dog, I played with my friend's kids.  I have a job to go to tomorrow.  I have a life, I have friends.  Be patient.  Forget about all that loss, forget about all the other loss you're feeling....

But when you're a music making machine, a boy grown up in Technology Land, patience can be a bitch.  I need to make music now more than ever, and minus a few key items, my gear is all gone.

Just put your iPhone in a bowl of water right now and think about how much that will ruin your day, maybe even your week.  You've gotta buy a new iPhone.  You didn't register the product, you were too busy Shuffling Songs and importing all your Rush albums.  Putting your iPhone in a bowl of water isn't covered by warranty.  You went to The Apple Store and waited at the Genius Bar for 46 minutes and some dude with a blue shirt and a nose ring turned you away.  "Sorry, dude.  It's toast."

Then imagine that not only is your iPhone ruined, but you might not be able to get another one for a week, maybe a month, a year.  Or you might not be able to get an iPhone at all.  You're gonna have to work double shifts at the Arby's for 6 months to get that new iPhone.

Well that's me times a thousand.

It shouldn't matter.  In a lot of ways it doesn't matter at all.  Even for a music making machine, there are more important things in life............  Right??

None of it matters but everything matters.  These easily replaceable $150 Logitech speakers matter.  I brought them back to refugee camp two weeks ago and plugged them into my laptop, then into the wall.  They didn't work.  Dead, no sound.  I set them aside for the disposal pile, along with a Conair hair dryer, a Brookstone back massager, and an old alarm clock.  More junk for the Jawas.  All were below knee level on my main floor, all experienced the waves, they just weren't submerged for a full day like everything underneath.  And they were all dead too.  They just died slower deaths, like the wealthier men on the Titanic (I'll never let go, Jack).

Incidentally, when I plugged the waterlogged alarm clock in, this is what it displayed: 
Starting Over at Zero O'Clock
I've mentioned how much I enjoy symbolism, yes?

My friends and I brought a generator to the house last week and plugged my treadmill in.  The treadmill is one of the few items in the house my ex-wife could have easily laid claim to but didn't (her old boss gifted it to us before we were married).  That treadmill and I became greater friends in my post-divorce world, through every too-cold or too-rainy day during my 8 months of marathon training, with those Logitech speakers pumping out the soundtrack.  The treadmill powered on when we plugged it in, but the motor would just run at a breakneck pace and wouldn't respond to any of the buttons on the keypad above.  The LED lights were all on red.  My friends joked that I could still use it to run 10 miles per hour, then jump off when I was done and just unplug it.  Levity feels good for about a minute.  Then it's time to write down another serial number and take another photo without completely losing your mind.  It's just stuff.

Insurance companies recommend cataloging all documentation and serial numbers for any damaged property that is destroyed by a flood.  Why?  None of it is covered.  I did it anyway.  "It can't hurt," everyone says.  But it does hurt, having to visualize things that don't exist anymore, to realize that a lot of your symphonies will remain unfinished, that the physical reminders of days past - yours and others' - are gone.  Whether what you lose is made of metal or made of flesh and blood, a loss is something you shouldn't dwell upon.  So I wrote down the serial # of each once-electronic hollow shell (after I rubbed the brown shit water off each item in order to find said #), took a photo, logged it.  Tagged it and bagged it.  As for documentation, all of it was down in the basement in an underwater file cabinet.  I suppose there's nothing in an instruction manual that instructs you on how to de-ocean-water your DVD player.

Last week, I got to the Logitech system.  Wrote down the serial #.  I took pause, then I plugged the speakers in one last time.  Positive vibes were in the air and the fire extinguisher was nearby.

The speakers worked.

There was a little whoosh noise coming out of the subwoofer, but they worked.  It was one of those small victories that feels tremendous simply because it's so rare.  It's like when the 0-15 high school football team wins the last game of the season by a field goal.  It's bigger than it should be because it's the lone highlight in an otherwise dreadful season.  But it still feels good.

I started pumping these Logitech speakers with fresh tunes, with the music on my surviving laptop, my favorite albums, the only music I owned anymore, all physical versions having washed away.  I was giving it oxygen.  I was vilified, and $150 richer.

But the joy was short-lived.  Joy is always short-lived, that's why it's joy.  If it wasn't so fleeting, it wouldn't be so valuable to us, nor make us feel the way it does.  Be sure to cherish the joy that comes into your life, for however long it lasts.

After the first day, the whoosh in the subwoofer became more of an ocean roar.  After the second day, the whoosh spread to the left desktop speaker.  Even after you turn the speakers off, the whoosh remains.  It gets louder.  There's water in the wiring.   I unplug it and it stops, but it's not safe.  It's a Logitech fire bomb waiting to explode.  Just another victim of Sandy's wrath.

Part of me wants to keep these speakers until they finally crap out, to keep that glimmer of hope that one day I'll turn them on and they'll just work and stay working.  That I'll just hear sweet music and not the sonic reminder of the waves that came crashing into my house and into my life.  That they're not broken.  But a lot of things in my life are broken right now.  My mind is getting better, my back is getting better, but my heart is still broken.  I didn't ask for any of this, and I know I didn't cause any of it either.  I am not responsible for any of this.  I could have lived in the jungle and gotten mauled by a gorilla, I could have lived in the desert and drowned in quicksand, I could have lived in a palace and been murdered by my lecherous manservant.  An anvil could have landed on my head while chasing a roadrunner.  I could be dying.  I could be dead.

My plans are broken, yet altered.  And maybe altered is good.  Maybe I was never meant to keep any of the things I lost.  Maybe I will replace some of them with better things.  Maybe I'll learn to let some of them go.  I've already got plenty of practice.  Losing things is what I do best these days, it seems.  But I still have the things that matter most - a soul, an open mind, courage, and desire.  I still desire greatness in my life, I still won't settle for anything less than happiness.  I refuse to allow these waters to sweep my spirit away.  In spite of this huge setback, I still desire to be the greatest Ronnie I can be.

In my last blog post, I mentioned three men in my life who are amongst my angels, and they inspire me to be what they are - a great friend, a great boss, a great father.  Someone to lean on during hard times.  Someone who will take care of you.  That's all I've ever wanted to be, just as long as I was happy too.  Great relationships are based on give and take.  Both parties need to give with a full heart and take with a clear conscience.  We reap what we sow.  Being a good person, a good partner, a good employee, a good parent, a good citizen - these things are so much more valuable in this life than a treadmill, a fireplace, or a Logitech speaker system.  It's just stuff.  Really expensive uninsured stuff, but just stuff.

The stuff inside you is what matters most.  Be brave, fellow survivors.  Stay strong.  Make peace with this, make peace with yourself.  Set an example for the next generation.  Try to find joy in this otherwise joyless existence.  The worst is far from over, but there's always a chance the best is still to come.  Just stay in the game, man.

This baby has no idea what I'm going through.

And pick up your subwoofers next time there's a hurricane.  Whooooooooooshhhhhhhhh.

Nov 15, 2012

Help Me Help You Help Me


"Anything I can do to help...."
"How can I help you?"
"If there's anything you need..."

These are all amazing sentiments, and I've been hearing them so often lately from people in my life, big and small, near and far.  But the fact is this.

You don't owe me anything.

Can you help me replace all my Lionel Richie albums?  I don't think so...
I don't know how to ask for help.  I never did.  When I was a kid, I was painfully shy.  I couldn't walk into a grocery store and ask where the taco sauce was, I had to find it myself.  Not because I was a stubborn independent kid on a taco sauce quest, because I just couldn't ask for help.  I couldn't.  Something in my brain wouldn't allow me to break out of that shell.  So I wouldn't.  It was just one of those "things" that all kids have - that you had as a kid and that your kids have and that their kids will have.  We are all imperfect in our own way.  

I broke out of my shell as an adult - being in bands and working in the radio industry played their part.  Being with women did, as well.  Confidence doesn't just show up at your doorstep - you build it, block by block and person by person.  Without an audience, it's super easy to be shy and withdrawn.

But in the post-Sandy world, I still don't know how to ask for help.

Because there is so much I need right now.  So much.  I'm gonna take a big ol' bath on this severely damaged Divorce House when this is all over, never mind all that I have lost inside of it.  In a lot of ways, I have to help myself.  I have to get better, to stay strong.  And when it comes to the things most important to me no matter where I call home - the love of a woman, good health, money in the bank - there is probably some help from above needed, not to mention a little luck.  Excuse me for not feeling incredibly lucky right now.  Some things, to an extent, are out of your hands.  Like my house in Staten Island, I am not completely ruined but I require some serious renovation.

***

Recently, my friends in the fantastic Burlap To Cashmere reunited and built a nice little subterranean studio for themselves in Brooklyn.  For a guy plodding thru the music biz himself, it was inspiring to see them still trying, to see them still being awesome when it's so easy not to be anymore.  I had a $3000 barely-used PA system sitting in a closet in my guest room, collecting dust.  I gave it to them to use in the studio.  I interviewed them for a cool podcast I do for Elvis Duran and the Morning Show that features independent artists.  I came to their live shows and cheered them on.  In my little world of who I am and in my own little way, that was how I could help.  I figured it out without them having to ask.  And they don't owe me a thing.  I wanted to help.
That's what helping people is all about, Charlie Brown.
So do you want to help me get thru this post-Sandy disaster?  If you know me in real life or you've been reading these fairly long-winded and revealing diatribes, then you'll figure out how to.  You have to, because I don't know how to ask.  We all have something inside of ourselves - our wallets, our minds, our hearts, our souls - to offer up.  But you don't owe me anything.  No one does.

I have angels.  My parents are angels.  The friends housing me, sleeping on the level below me as I type this, are angels.  My radio boss is an angel.  There are more, there are the people who have gotten me out of the mud and helped me bury all my stuff.  There are some who probably haven't even revealed their wings yet.  I used to tell my ex-wife that I was her guardian angel, it became a running joke between us - that her life was fucked up and being with me would be what kept her saved.  It was an unfair thing for me to even joke about, I suppose.  But she often - unfairly - looked at me as more devil than angel.  So I had to start over without her.  I wasn't her angel, maybe I'm not anyone's - but I'll never be ungrateful.  Now I am starting over again, and surviving thanks to the love that surrounds me.

At my birthday gathering this past Friday, I lost it a few times.  When my radio boss and his boyfriend walked in, I was just plain blown away.  But I couldn't cry yet - it was too early - so I swallowed the lump in my throat.  I introduced him to my family for the first time.  I told my mother this was my George Bailey moment and joked that she should have brought along a collection plate.

My boss and I aren't super tight.  I've never questioned why as much as I've accepted that people have their own lives and when you're popular and powerful, you really have to be selective about your time and your company while still making it a priority to make sure you're happy yourself.  Elvis was the first person I confided in about my divorce because even tho we are not built the same, I knew he understood.  He has always understood despite the little time we spend together on a daily basis, and he has always been super generous.  So when he and Alex were the first of many to arrive to spend a little time with me, I was genuinely moved.  I've never been around someone who has helped more people in all walks of life, and in so many different ways, than my boss, Elvis Duran.
Z100 Christmas Party at the piano bar at the top of the World Trade Center, a lifetime ago. 
I cried on my friend Jason's shoulder about an hour later.  More people were arriving, more hugs, more love, and there was that overwhelming mix of joy and despair, and I could no longer hold the tears back.  Jason and his wife Denise have taken me in since Halloween.  I know these two for twenty five years, they have been there for all my misery and I for theirs.  We have shared many laughs and many tears together.  There is a bond there that defines true friendship.  I always refer to Jason as the "Alpha Male" of our group - he's the wolf, the planner, the bully, the host.  He wears a suit to work.  It's a role he relishes amongst our little group, and I'm forever grateful to be welcomed into his clubhouse at this or any time.

Denise's parents have been displaced from their home in Manhattan Beach, and have been staying here, as well.  It's a regular ol' Brooklyn Smollar refugee camp, complete with two female rugrats of their own to deal with.  Denise lost a friend recently, another young mother.  They have been through quite a lot even if their power stayed on and their house is still in one piece.  Sandy has affected a lot of people - a lot of our friends and relatives - even if the waves didn't hit every shore.  For two weeks, Jason spent his days in Manhattan Beach and I in Staten Island, heading up our own salvaging efforts, and because of that I never really had the chance to thank him for the help he and his wife have offered.  I did on Friday.  I hope I didn't ruin his shirt.
Two idiots.
My last tears were spent on my father as my family left the pub later that night.  My Dad is a folk hero amongst my friends.  He is the Athlete Dad, the Cool Motorcycle Riding Cop Dad.  He has been much quoted and he is much loved.  I wanted my parents to be there on Friday as much for them as for me - they have been through so much and I knew seeing some familiar faces - and meeting some new ones - would help ease their pain, as well.

My father isn't a sentimental guy, although I've seen more of that in him as he's gotten older.  Losing important people in his own life has probably softened him, but I'd like to think a lot of it has to do with the growing relationship he's had with my mother, my sister and I.  We are blessedly close even if there has been a physical distance between us for the past decade.

My parents have been married for 38 years - they've recently endured the back-to-back divorces of their children, some health scares, my Mom losing her job, and now this.  After my uncle died in a car wreck four years ago, I saw even more of a change in my father.  It was my Mom's brother who passed, but also my Dad's good friend and confidante, a key player in his youth, a big reminder of his mortality.  After that happened, my father and I never stopped telling each other that we love each other, in person, in e-mails.  All the time.  I'm 38 and my parents don't owe me anything.  They did their work and they did it well.  But they still go to bat for me every time.  I owe my parents a lot, but the only way I can truly repay them is to conquer all this bullshit I've dealt with and bounce back as a happy, stronger middle-aged man while they're both still around.
That '70s Show
These people have helped me in ways no one else probably can.  But everyone else has offered, everyone else wants to.  Some people already have. A friend and former co-worker handed me a card on Friday night with a touching sentiment on it that gave me pause:

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

Inside the card were a bunch of gift cards.  Another woman I used to work with sent me money over the Internet.  My parents' Pennsylvania neighbors, who I met briefly once, also gifted me.  Another co-worker sent me a care package for my displaced dog.  He called and asked those words - "How can I help you?" - and all I could think of was my poor traumatized dog getting fuzzier, without his medications or any of his toys, without his home.

Because I don't know how to ask for help.  I'm not gonna tell you "I need a new Blu Ray player" or "Take me to a Knicks game"- not when I see what my neighbors on Staten Island have lost, when I see pictures of the destruction in other areas.  Help them.  My house is fucked, but it's still standing.  Help people with children, help elderly and disabled people affected by this tragic storm.  Help the families of those who lost a loved one to the floods.  How can I ask for anything when I read stories like thisI'm alive, man.  I'm okay.  I survived the floods and I will survive the aftermath.  I already have my angels.

This is one way to sell out all your inventory.
You still really wanna help me in your own little way?  I have a little record label that was already on life support and was completely decimated by this storm.  I bought this very wet house for the purpose of being able to effectively and comfortably run my little business inside of it.  In some ways, this business is responsible for my location and, in turn, its own demise.  My home office, my recording studio, my entire physical catalog of CDs, vinyl and t-shirts are gone.  All of it is gone and will not be rebuilt.  Let's face it, none of it was exactly flying off the shelves before my basement turned into a goldfish bowl.  But thanks to the digital age, the Bald Freak Music legacy perseveres, just as my words do, right here on the world wide web.

MUSIC has always been what's defined me.  I have released five albums in two very different bands, and I signed another band a few years ago that I really loved.  None of these bands ever really made it big, for whatever reasons.  I don't even think about why anymore, not after all this.

But I am so fucking proud of all this music I've made and the acts that I've signed.  I take satisfaction knowing that I haven't given up, even after the floods.  My piano will be okay and nearby soon.  I am going to make another album, my Hurricane Album.  If you like what you're reading here, you're bound to like these new songs - they are raw and passionate and emotional.  They are from the heart.  They were born from the hardest years of my adult life.  Support that.  Believe in my passion.  Help me.  Without an audience, it's super easy to be shy and withdrawn, and I can no longer afford to be either of those things.

I don't need to sell myself as a musician - as a product - anymore.  There's nothing left to sell, no mail to bring to the post office, no mailers, no packing tape.  No postage scale to weigh it all, no computer to log sales or inventory.  No funds to pay a staff.  And that's all somehow very liberating.  The music lives on digitally and I invite you to give it another listen just as you've invited yourself to enjoy my writing here (thank you, by the way).  I'd feel ten times better knowing you treated yourself to my art than treated me to dinner, and it'll put a little money in my pocket too.  Spread it around - now more than ever, recommendations mean as much as purchases in this fucked up industry otherwise known as "the music business."

If you like dancy electro-rock with a quirky romantic spirit and an 80s vibe, try Q*Ball


If you like progressive hard rock and hearing me scream, try Return To Earth


If you like vintage modern rock with awe-inspiring vocals, try The Head Set

So many people know me and know nothing about my music, about my label, about my trials and tribulations in the music industry.  I expected bigger things from all these projects, but I always felt like I never had to sell them, even before the hurricane - before this blog turned into my Sandy Soapbox instead of a forum to promote my music, which was its original intent.  If I didn't truly believe this music was awesome, I would never have released any of it in the first place.  

If you don't believe that this is what I'm all about, that music is tantamount in my life - the melodies, the process, the brotherhood - and you have another ten minutes to kill, then read this.

Help me help you help me.  This is my legacy.  If you love music, you will find something here to like, even if you only like one album or one song.  If you're a musician yourself, I, as always, invite you to make music with me, maybe even get on a stage with me.  Supporting this fractured, waterlogged part of my life is one way you can help me, to make me feel like I'm not a charity case.  You don't have to ask how anymore.  Or you can just buy me some ice cream (this is my favorite).  The rest is up to me.  I'm ready to ask where the taco sauce is.  I'm ready for whatever comes next. 

Nov 12, 2012

Life in the Post-Sandy Twilight Zone

I just put the 2013 New York City Marathon on my iCal.  November 3, 2013.  If we make it.  I will be there.  Don't tell my knees, they're already pissed off.  My body only signed up for one year of this, I'll have to break the news gently.

I went running today.  I went running for the first time since Sandy.  The last time I ran was the morning of Sunday, October 28.  The wind was whipping around pretty good as I ran around the Bethpage High School track by my sister's house.  A Pee-Wee football game was going on and I ran around these little innocent uniformed kids forty times as the clouds darkened and a cool wet rain poured down.  Every time I lapped the track, the wind picked up and I would see the concerned looks on a lot of people's faces, the faces of parents and friends watching their little ones miss tackles and drop passes.  The kids were oblivious, but the adults knew better.  Something was coming.

I was the only one on the track, the only dummy running in this weather, pumping myself up to The Prodigy's The Fat of the Land, and I banged out my final 10 pre-Marathon miles in record time.  The sky was angry and so was I, and in spite of it, I was ready to run 26.2 the following Sunday.

The night before, I had attended my aunt's annual Halloween party on Long Island, the only single dude amongst a sea of costumed couples.  I was the 79th wheel.  This was my pre-Sandy life all of a sudden, and tho I have a way of bringing levity into certain situations by trying to be amusing, I was very sad.

This was the last social activity I engaged in before my life would change forever.  


Some thoughts on this video:

*My very pregnant sister secretly filmed this short clip, not the first of my Napoleon Dynamite-style dances to be captured on film, and hopefully not the last.  Probably the last in a Squirrel costume.  Probably.

*Arpeggio's "Love and Desire" is the song, two subjects weighing heavily on the Dancing Squirrel's mind at the time.

*You can clearly hear my boisterous, loveable brother-in-law in the background, drunkenly searching for his Halloween costume's wig, shouting "Honey, where's my hair?" over and over.  I love that.  I've been asking the "Where's my hair?" question since 1993.

*Even though this is the Ronnie from another pre-hurricane world, it still makes me laugh. And I know it makes my sister laugh too, and my aunt and my cousins, and at the end of the day, sharing that stupid humor with my family is good enough.  Being with my family helps, it always has during the worst of times, and it always should for everyone.  If it's not, go fix it.  More hurricanes await.

*This is what makes me 'me'.  Unexpected moments of fun and humor that often mask the unhappy dude underneath.  My life hasn't been a bowl of cherries in a lot of ways this past decade, but I always try to see the lighter side, even for a fleeting moment.  I like to make other people laugh and make them smile.  It's why I've been the designated family Santa Claus since I was 16.  It's why even tho I was a crushed squirrel on this night, even tho I felt so alone, I still found the time to get nuts.

***

That was my pre-Sandy weekend, and this past one was my first real one post-Sandy.  Friday, I turned 38.  I went to Tribeca to see my Elvis Duran and the Morning Show co-workers, to step back into the building and into reality, just for a little while.  It was good to see everyone, to witness an environment dealing with familiar everyday radio problems, even if I was not.  I was blown away by the offers of help from others in that building.  It was good to be away from the house, away from the tattered remains of Staten Island, just for a little while.  Right now everything is still "just for a little while" - the roof over my head, my time, my mood.

At night, my friends and I went out to dinner in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, close by to where I am now a Sandy refugee.  It was the first time I was seeing a lot of them since everything happened and I expected them to feel more awkward than I would.  Amongst my close friends, I'm probably the dude who has had the most 'sad moments', but no matter who's the one sad and suffering, I always try to inject that Dancing Squirrel levity, even at my own expense, to lighten the mood.  My friends are equally good at doing that, and that's why they are my friends.  Busting each others balls is a time-honored tradition that has long bonded males from now til eternity.

I was the only single one amongst us, the only Sandy victim.  I never want anyone to feel bad for me, and it's been so easy for people to do that as of late.  Some things you just can't control.  It was a mellow evening for a bunch of exhausted dudes now in their late 30s.  I think we were just content to see each other, and for once, we didn't have to get torched to appreciate that.  Times like these force us to look at life a bit more soberly even if the wine and the whiskey are never too far away.

R.I.P. West Side Story print, Yes album, the box for my TC-Helicon voice processor.  *Sigh*
Saturday, after another long day of post-Sandy cleanup at the house, I had dinner with my family in Bay Ridge.  They were a half-hour late to come get me, so my father dumped us all at the corner of the pub and searched for parking, a needle-in-a-haystack operation in a gasoline-less Brooklyn town.  It took him over an hour to find a spot, making all of us at the pub tense, and when he finally got inside, I witnessed a level of temperance that I've rarely seen him illustrate.  My parents have always been strong people.  Even as they get older, and the days become more weary, they have always raised their game during tough times, and I will always aspire to the same because of them.  You have to be strong.  This is so hard, you have to be just as hard in order to survive and seize the day once again, or at least give yourself a chance to.

People filtered in over the course of the evening, from all walks of my life, to say hello, share stories and sentiments, to have a cocktail, to tell me secrets, to hug me.  Most people have prefaced their birthday wishes in cards and online sentiments with, "I know this won't the be the happiest of birthdays, but...."  I'm not down with that sentiment.  It's not necessarily the happiest, but being surrounded by my friends and family, together in a loud, lively place in a borough and place I've had a lifetime of memories in?  Under the circumstances, that made for a pretty damn happy birthday, even when I was being emotional, which was often.  Sure, I could have celebrated better - in a hipper place, in a bigger place, with more alcohol in my bloodstream, but this is what I needed considering where my life is right now.

I'll write more about last night - about the people inside that room and what a lot of them mean to me - another time.  A lot of people in that pub merit exclusive praise, not just for their generosity of money or shelter, but for what they give with their heart and their spirit.  I am blessed.

***

Today was a beautiful day, and even tho I should be spending waking moments itemizing what I've lost and searching for new places to live, today had to be about mending my hangover and clearing my mind.  A friend gave me good advice - just stop and breathe, have those 'smell the roses' moments, clear your head.  That's what I do when I run, what I've been doing for nearly a year now.  So I ran today.

I ran by the house I grew up in on Avenue S in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, then down to the elementary school I attended, back to a day where the answer to "Where's my hair?" was easy.  I realized that for this temporary time that I'm back in this area, I can fairly well run past my entire teenage and young adult life - my junior high school, high school, college.  Places I used to work.  My first apartment, my last apartment.  Relatives' houses, friends' houses, the houses of the girls that I gave my heart to, the houses they lived in when we parted.  I can take the Ronnie Nostalgia running tour and I fully intend to, 5-6 miles at a time.  It will be nice to say one last intentional goodbye to a lot of my history, especially after Sandy forced a lot of my history into the garbage dump.

Where I first realized I liked girls and couldn't do a squat thrust properly.

I find it ironic and poignant that I'm back in Brooklyn at this crazy time in my life, and I know I won't be here for much longer, not as a resident.  But as I was running past old neighborhoods, past the ghosts of movie theaters and restaurants and neighborhoods and a culture I once knew, I couldn't help but feel like a man retreating into the womb.  Because I need to be born again.  This whole experience is making me realize that I will always have a history, that I can still be the Dancing Squirrel, the Bald Freak, the too-deep-for-his-own-good real-life Charlie Brown.  But it has to be me in a different setting, with a different game plan, and different dreams.  Because all of those things were washed away all at the same time.  It's time for a new history.
 
A big part of me wanted to help others today.  I know what is going on in my borough and it breaks my heart.  This will be such an interesting and heart-wrenching time in this city, in this area.  A few friends and I compared it to 9.11 last night.  Just the feeling of it, not what happened.  We are all mourning our friends and neighbors in some way even if most of them - most of us - are still alive and physically well.  We are mourning our destroyed communities.  This is still a great tragedy.

But I can't help anyone yet, not in the ways I'd want to.  I still have to help myself.  If you don't fix yourself first, you'll never be good to anyone else.  Life in the Post-Sandy Twilight Zone is complicated enough. 

Preggers Paula, Mystery Baby, and Don Ron
Last night, my sister and brother-in-law asked me to be the godfather of their about-to-bust-out baby.  I was, of course, touched and proud.  The baby is due in about a month, the first grandchild of this generation of my family.  I told them they would always remind this baby that it was born during the Year of the Hurricane.  I told them this baby had a great responsibility to shift the mood in our family, to shift the tide, and I have hope that it will.  I get it, I understand why people have children.  It is often a struggle, but there is an inherent joy in it for all involved.  I'm excited to be part of this kid's life, even if this kid wasn't produced from my own loins.

I've had some pretty rotten holiday seasons, and another one looms closer and larger.  It will be very hard for a myriad of reasons, some obvious, some a bit more personal.  But by Christmas, I'll have a place to call my own again, even if "just for a little while."  My piano will be warm and close by, I'll start writing and making music again, I'll start complaining about my commute, it's all around the corner waiting for me.  Perhaps by next Christmas, my house will be a house again.  Perhaps my heart will be whole again.  There is still so much uncertainty.

But I'm certain I'll have a new kid to share my shitty-awesome story with.  I'll get to see this kid bring joy into the lives of the people I love the most, and even to mine too.  This kid will always know its godfather had to train for the Marathon twice just so he could run it once.  This baby will always know its uncle endured great hardships and, with love and help from friends and family, weathered a life-changing storm.

A Dancing Squirrel who survived The Year of the Hurricane.