Why are you still here? Why do you still care? Why can't you say goodbye?
Two of my favorite people are leaving.
Joe Milazzo is a longtime friend. I met Joe in 6th grade. That was the year my parents pulled my sister and I out of the Coney Island elementary school we had attended and we wound up at our zone school in Gravesend, P.S. 215. It was traumatizing, spending kindergarten through 5th grade with the same kids, the same friends, and then being traded to the local team during your farewell season. It's tough for grown men, professionals - much tougher for an 11 year-old. My sister cried that morning as we were ushered unceremoniously into two separate rooms of a new world filled with new faces and new challenges. Making connections. I was shy enough of a kid, this didn't make things much better.
Joe was one of those new faces, he was friendly and endearing and made it easy for me to fit in. In our band class, Joe played trumpet and you could already tell that he had a knack for music. When you're the new kid, all the cool instruments are already claimed, so I got to enjoy all the glamor and glitz of the trombone that same year. Joe was the first kid I knew who listened to heavy metal - he lived two blocks away and would invite me over to listen to his Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot records.
As we got older, Joe and I floated in and out of each others lives. We didn't attend the same schools after grade school, but we always ran in the same musical circles, saw each other at the same shows, came to each others to show support whenever we could. When I started my record label in 2005, I signed Joe's band, Black Pig, to a very artist-friendly deal. Because I wanted to work with a guy like Joe. I've always admired his creative spirit - he's a talented painter and poet in addition to his musical endeavors. But I've always recognized that Joe Milazzo was a good guy, too. We signed a contract over some Peronis and a Rice Ball Special at Joe's of Avenue U and I put the Black Pig album out. The album's title? It Is What It Is.
This past weekend, I attended Joe's record release party in Brooklyn. Joe's new solo album is all Joe - the recording, the production, the artwork. He is a true DIY artist and he chose to release his album the night before he would be traveling to Cuba, where he will be spending the next two months of his life. We shared some conversation and a few hugs, Joe told me he loved me and thanked me for how I had contributed to his passions in my own small way. I told Joe how proud I was of him, that I admired his bravery and his Kung Fu attitude.
A few years ago, Joe went to New Orleans with just a backpack and just painted. He was living off the land for the most part, and he'll be doing the same in Cuba. Joe is of Cuban ancestry and wants to meet his family, discover his roots, paint. He's also on a quest to find his grandfather's long lost paintings. It takes a certain spirit to do that sort of thing - a romantic one - and I've never been that sort of adventurer. I hope I will be one day, once I find someone to see the world with. Joe reminds me of my Uncle Sal, who was always one of my favorite people on this planet. My uncle was fascinated with genealogy - about finding out who he was, about why he was. Before his untimely death, my uncle saw the pyramids in Egypt, zip-lined thru the jungles of Africa, went down the Nile on a raft. He explored various parts of Italy and met a lot of our distant relatives along the way.
Before I said my final goodbye to Joe, I asked him if he would be staying in touch. He replied that, among other things, going to Cuba was an excuse to get him away from exactly that. Detoxing from it. Staying connected. Sometimes disconnecting can be the best thing you can do for yourself. But in today's day and age - an age of social netstalking and touch-of-a-button access to virtual lives - it's a challenge for us all. No matter your destination, it is always there. And often, instead of bringing us closer to each other, it perpetuates the loss we're already feeling in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls.
|TJ before he discovered hair products, me before I discovered I loved Scotty B.|
Last week was different. TJ asked me to step into his studio so he could tell me he was leaving the show. He was offered the opportunity to host his own morning show in Boston and he was taking the gig. I was floored, but so excited for my friend. I've always been flattered that TJ has invited me to participate in his projects, but I've been even more grateful that he has recognized my talents as an asset, even after he moved higher up on the radio food chain. That sort of sensibility is rare in our industry and no one is more deserving of a big break than TJ.
Recently, TJ started dating someone special and she is going with him. TJ is following his dreams and he has someone by his side to share this new experience with him, to be part of the journey. I'm just as excited for him because of that part of it. I told him that he had it all figured out, I told him how proud I was of him. I told him to cherish this time in his life. I wanted to tell him "Don't fuck it up," but that's the sort of advice a guy like TJ doesn't need to be given.
After sharing the details of his new gig, after explaining how surreal and validating what was happening to him was, we shifted gears and TJ started talking about me. He was offering words of encouragement, telling me how talented he thought I was, how I had a lot to offer the show and how in spite of his absence, I could still thrive. It's odd hearing someone ten years younger than you tell you that You Can Do It. But it makes sense too. I'm a late bloomer. I'm just figuring it all out now. I think TJ figured it out a long time ago.
Still, TJ is taking a big chance. TJ is not coming back in two months. He could have stayed a star here in Market #1, New York City. He's a great product, a commodity - young, personable, intelligent, a student of the radio game. He started as an intern at Z100 and he has grown leaps and bounds ahead of a lot of his compatriots, including me. But radio is a tricky business and TJ could well easily fall on his ass up in Beantown. No matter how bad he wants it, no matter how hard he works, this could turn out to be a misstep. But sometimes you just have to roll the dice. I don't think that's what will happen. Because TJ has it all figured out, he is making a bold move and he's doing it with a clear conscience.
I didn't ask TJ to take me with him and I don't expect to fill his shoes. I know we'll stay connected. But I'm happy to see him go. Because one way or another, TJ's departure is going to mean change not just for TJ but also for me, for my co-workers, for the show. When someone makes a move on the chess board, it affects all the moves of all the other pieces, it affects their motivation. TJ's leaving at a time where I've never been more motivated to get things right, to figure out what he's already figured out.
I'm still trying to figure out if I'm strong enough to say connected to my dog. His separation anxiety has improved enough that I can actually go out on weekends. But he is still a mess, a major expense. I try to put it into perspective for my friends: Imagine you got divorced, then your house got destroyed by a hurricane, and you decided that was the perfect time for you to adopt a baby and raise it by yourself. That's what my Buttons experience is right now. But I see it as just another challenge to be grateful for. Because if I'm ever gonna have a kid, there is no better dress rehearsal than raising Buttons. He is more than a handful, and he has been my second full-time job since my divorce. I run him two miles every morning now and he still freaks out on the dog sitter from time to time, he still won't eat all his food, still cries when I leave, still drops a spiteful shit on the sidewalk a couple of times a week instead of going when and where I tell him to. This is what having a baby is, except babies wear diapers instead of shitting on the sidewalk. My dog tests my patience and my strength, and I need to be tested if I'm ever to have a family. I need to be a man.
It has become just another Bring It On situation. Bring it on. What's next? I saw a lot of familiar faces at Joe's sendoff, and most ask how things are going, and you just go down the list - the house is still a cold hollow shell, insurance and FEMA are still trying to screw me, the dog is still crazy, dating is still uninspiring, love is still so close yet still so far. But I always end my Ronnie Update on a positive note, just as I always seem to end my Ronnie Blog. Because in spite of all this strife and all these problems, Ronnie is doing okay. Ronnie still believes that this is all for a reason, that this will all get better. Ronnie, somehow, still has hope.
At Joe's party, an old friend told me I looked like a teenager. This guy and I barely ever cross paths, but when we do, it's just like yesterday. We got talking about running, about how we both found it and have embraced it, how we consider it a fountain of youth of sorts, how it has played its role in my resurgence. I've been running for almost a year now, nearly logged 1000 miles on the pavement, and it's now something I look forward to. It never seems a chore. When you find something that inspires you, something that you're good at, it's an unbelievable feeling. It reminds you that finding someone that inspires you, who lifts you up and makes you a better man, is still the most important thing.
Later on at the bar, a girl I'd never met before told me I had a good spirit. Women tell me I'm handsome now, that I have a nice body, and it fills me with confidence even when I'm not filled with any excitement for the girls. Confidence is something I've lacked for most of my life, but no longer. Because I feel handsome, I do have a good spirit. I feel good about myself, I believe in myself.
Believing in myself isn't the problem anymore. Believing in others is still difficult. Because it's the love and affection, the support of the people in your life that can make all the difference. But you've gotta be given the opportunity to show what you're made of, and some people rush out the door too quickly. People enter your life and ultimately they all exit. Some exit gracefully, some exit tragically, some are easily forgotten, there are always that one or two that are impossible to forget.
When people exit your life for a good reason, when they exit like Joe and like TJ do, it's a great feeling. But when they exit poorly - suddenly, unfairly - how can you ever feel good about it? Sometimes people hurt you badly on the way out. We all have our reasons. I have left more than one relationship because I wasn't doing my part, because even tho things were going well on the surface, I wasn't fulfilled. I wasn't happy with the person I was. I could have tried harder, I could have made adjustments. But I was still lost, I was still fucked up.
But Ron....It Is What It Is.
Fuck that noise. My kitchen sink residing in my bedroom is what it is. Not finding a parking spot is what it is. The weather is what it is. Some things we can't control. But we can control ourselves, our own destinies. We're in charge of our lives, we're just weak. I am so tired of it. So tired of hearing people say, in so many words: I'm fucked up. He's fucked up. She's fucked up. That crippling acceptance that's supposed to justify your bad decisions. How about you Get Yourself Right? We're all flawed, man. We're all fucked up. Recognizing that is not supposed to be a crutch, it's not supposed to be an excuse for your mistakes. It's supposed to be a revelation. Do you want to stay that way forever? Do you want to accept that bullshit from someone else and still move forward? I tried that - for five years I tried and I wound up miserable because of it. Shed that weight and your world will change. Otherwise, you'll always be stuck in the mud.
The first step is becoming aware of what it is that's really holding you back. A lot of people never wise up to it, some of us never evolve. If you recognize what needs to change, only then can you truly be saved. But if you recognize it, and you still don't change it, that's the most tragic thing of all. Because you're so close. Because self-awareness, being able to look inside yourself and be willing to take a stand, that's a gift. Often it's someone else who enters your life and opens up your eyes to what you need to do to get right, that pushes you to the peak of the mountain rather than secretly gasping for air halfway to the top. We can be gifts, too. We need each other, we need help, we need support. Very often it's love that makes us rise up, that can change the game. But love is not enough. Love is the flower you've got to let grow. You can't pluck the petals and put them in your pocket, it's not the same thing.
Very few people understand the magnitude of what has happened to me this past year and they will never understand. And that's okay. Because it's my life, my loss, my pursuit of happiness. I don't need anyone else to understand because I understand. I finally understand. It took nearly four decades, but I get it now. I know what matters most, I knew it before the hurricane washed most of my world away. The storm just reinforced what's most important - chemistry, self-worth, love, hope. Not fixing all the broken stuff inside my house, rather fixing all the broken stuff inside of me. Getting yourself right. Staying connected to the people that matter. Never giving up on them. That doesn't mean things will turn out the way I want them to. But I'm finally on the right path. Nothing seems too daunting, too difficult. Anything is possible.
My friends Joe and TJ are on that path, they're both inspirations. They're doing it the right way, the honest way. They're taking chances, pursuing their passions, making something of themselves. They're not settling. The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.
If I've learned anything from all this recent devastation, it's that it's never too late to get your shit together. Before the heartbreak, before the hurricane, I had a decent little life - good job, money in the bank, record label, house, dog. But I was broken, I was still a coward when it came to certain things. I'm no longer afraid, and if I can be brave, you can too. Say goodbye to the worst parts of yourself and you'll never have to say goodbye to the things you want the most in this life. It's not as hard as you think it is. You just have to do it.
So do it.