May 18, 2015

Say A Little Prayer For Uncle Sethie


I hope there are movies in Heaven. 

I love you Seth.  I love you, man.  I can't believe you're gone.

I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I didn't write this sooner, so you could read it while you were still here with the rest of us.  Why do we always wait until waiting is no longer an option?  In the hospital, I asked you if it was okay to write about you - about your plight - and I never ask anyone if it's okay to write about them before I actually go and do it.  Just ask all my ex'es.  You said 'Yes' and I didn't write anything until now, and I'm sorry.

Yesterday, I got the call that you were gone and it wasn't a surprise.  LaSala broke the news.  He left me a voicemail while I was playing the piano in the other room.  When I saw that LaSala had called, I knew you were gone before I even called him back.  Anthony LaSala never calls anyone, as you well know.  Sicilian pirates rarely use cell phones.

Anthony called us all, just as he called us all a year ago when you got sick.  Lloyd and Jay.  Tween.  Skeery Jones, the Tuccillos and Pablo.  We all know each other forever, "The Brooklyn Crew."  We still wear our eternal friendship like a badge of honor, as if it were something special.  And it was always just that.  It still is, now more than ever.  Now that you're gone.


I was going through my latest romantic misadventure a year ago when I got the word that you were in the hospital.  You could barely talk when I paid my first visit.  I told you that I was being two-timed and you rolled your eyes and sighed, just like the old days.  Your sudden illness made my problems seem like a pittance, it put everything into perspective and actually helped me navigate through another tough time.

Back in the day, a Seth Kushner malady was like football on a Sunday.  It was almost always on the schedule, one of many running jokes that friends like ours perpetuate over the years.  But things were serious this time.  Leukemia.

I hope it didn't take one of my stoopid blogs for you to understand how proud of you I am.  How you fought to stick around, to regain that normalcy to your life that we all take for granted until things start to go haywire.  You were doing it til the very end, against all odds - sharing your opinions about various TV shows and movies on Facebook, taking in as much of it as you could in those final days.  You were in the home you had created with the family that you created - your son and your courageous wife - where you were always most comfortable, even before the sickness crept in.

The last time I saw you at the hospital, the prognosis was bad.  I expected to walk in and say goodbye for the last time.  I expected to see a battered man taking in his last breaths.  But you were a spitfire that day, you were optimistic.  "I'm not ready to say goodbye to you sonofabitches," you growled determinedly.  You were being strong, stronger than I had ever seen you.

Then a man neither of us knew walked in.  He told you he was sent by someone you knew, but you could not figure out who that person was, nor could he verify it.  Instead, he prayed aloud and sang a hymn as we sat there quietly in your hospital room, and then he was gone, some mysterious angel sent to give you more strength.

You were in a coma a few hours after I left, with a swift death sentence attached to it.  Then you woke up.  Weeks later, you were released from the hospital, declared leukemia-free.  You got to hang with your Hang Dai crowd, to spend time with your great friends Carlos and Marty and Dean, three dudes who got to know you better than I ever did and who loved you just as much.  You made peace with your Mom.  You got to spend your last days in Brooklyn like the tried-and-true Brooklynite you were.  You were a dead man walking, a temporary miracle, and so when I returned Anthony's call, I knew what was coming before he even uttered a word.

I still don't know what to believe, Seth.  I stayed positive, we all did.  You were never totally out of the woods, and now you're out of our lives.  Are you on Tatooine right now?  Are you anywhere?  Last night, I sat out on my back porch, poured a bottle of wine and looked up at the stars.  "Are you up there, Uncle Sethie?" I asked to no one at all.  And then the fireworks started.  Lots of them.  Last I checked, it wasn't the 4th of July.  And yeah, I'm pretty big on signs.



I'll never forget the look on your face the first time I saw you after Superstorm Sandy.  It's etched in my brain, one of those snapshot moments that stick with you forever.  My house had been destroyed and you walked into a Bay Ridge restaurant while I was hugging the rest of the gang, and I caught the look on your face as you walked in, waiting your turn to hug me too.

You looked at me as if someone had died.

In that moment, even tho I had been the one numbed by Mother Nature's wrath, I felt bad for you.  You were always concerned, even affected, by the misfortune of others.  When your friends were suffering, you were suffering too.  And in that moment, I felt lucky to have you as my friend.  Just as I do in this moment, now that your suffering is over even if the void you've left will be forever felt.

You were one of the staunchest supporters of my music - you came to all the shows, the good ones and the shitty ones.  You created the album artwork for all my Q*Ball albums.  You were an incredibly talented photographer, and I still feel like that was always your truest calling.  You co-directed my one and only music video.  You put me in a spaceship, you put me in a bathtub, you put me in a swimming pool with a powder blue suit on.  You put colored star stickers and Christmas lights all over my skull.  We were young kids trying to figure out how to convey an image, and then we were middle aged dudes still trying to figure it out.  Your hard work and creativity were always an inspiration, even when we got it all wrong.


We had a quarter century together, my friend.  Something to be grateful for.

Our primary language was cinema.  TV and books and girls.  You never forgave me for shitting all over Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull after we saw it together in Battery Park City.  We huddled down together in Brooklyn after 9/11.  You drove me home after I played a showcase at Virgin Megastore, then pulled over on Independence Avenue so I could go piss in someone's driveway because I couldn't hold it in any longer.  We bought you a lightsaber for your 30th birthday.  You got me home after I had a bad pot brownie experience at The Frying Pan the summer after the worst breakup of my life.  We interviewed Chuck Klosterman at his apartment in Brooklyn Heights and I almost erased the whole thing.  Calamity was always our second language.

We called you Chief Yenta because you liked to gossip.  We playfully made fun of your pale complexion, of your propensity for speed talking, and you always took it in stride.  You were there for me after my divorce, after the hurricane.  I got stood up on an online date in Bay Ridge one night, and you and Terra met me out for dinner, salvaging the evening.  You bonded with all my girlfriends - you were always rooting for my romantic victories and you listened intently and patiently after all the defeats.

You were a great friend, Seth.

And then it was your turn to taste victory.  It remains the fondest memory of our friendship, that fateful night in Boston when you met Terra.  Some slug got up from his seat in a basement bar in Beantown and Anthony and I nudged you into it, and there she was and there you were, and we hung back and left the rest up to you.  You sealed the deal that night and we were all proud of you.  Thrilled for you.  The Schmuck was finally victorious.

Your life was forever changed, and I'm sure you realized in the end that you had hit the jackpot with this woman.  I'm proud to have played my small part in all that, to see you become a loving husband and father.


Soon after you and I first met, you lost your Dad in a tragic accident.  He was riding his bicycle on Ocean Parkway and was struck and killed by a motorist.  Joel Kushner was a guidance counselor at my high school, Edward R. Murrow, and he knew me before you did.  And then he was gone and I remember hugging you at the funeral, thinking of how your Dad had left you too soon just as I think about you being gone way too soon now.

We became good friends after that, bound by a mutual love of geek culture, music and movies.  I had been to your house a time or two, inside the rubble you called a room, piles of comics, Rolling Stone magazines and action figures dominating every corner.  I met a lot of cool creative people thanks to our friendship, and even as our lives took divergent paths as we both aged and found new creative outlets, I still felt a closeness to you that distance and lifestyles could not tarnish.

And now you're gone, Sethie, and I don't know what to believe - but if I get to choose, I wanna believe that you and Joel are at the movies right now.  You're watching Star Wars (not the prequels, sorry).  Maybe you're 41, maybe you're Jackson's age.  Maybe you're not any age at all, maybe you're a butterfly or a Jawa.  Whatever you are and wherever you are, I like to think that you're with Dad.  You're reunited, and it feels so good.

That's what I have always hoped the afterlife is - a reunion.  We hurt so much for the people that are gone - seemingly forever - left to pick up the pieces, to try to keep the faith and make sense of it all.  I still hold out hope that Nana and Nicky and Uncle Sal will be there on the other side.  Uncle John, Grandma & Grandpa.  Blanche and The Big Cookie and Seth and Joel.  What we would give to spend just a little more time with those who have left us behind.

There's a whole world of people out there right now who feel cheated out of more Seth Kushner time, and isn't that the truest testimony of a person's vitality?  You mattered to us, Seth.  I hope you knew that.  Now it's up to the rest of us to keep your memory alive while we keep the faith that you are in a better place.


So keep a seat open for me, my man.  Just don't eat all the popcorn.  We'll watch all the Scorsese movies, Hitchcock and Kubrick.  Lost, Breaking BadSeinfeld and The Honeymooners and Batman Begins.  We'll hoist some brews and have another Ronversation, reminiscing and rejoicing over one of life's great friendships.

Say a little prayer for Uncle Sethie tonight, for his wife Terra, his young son Jackson and his mother, Linda.  For all of his family and for everyone who he has touched.  Say a prayer for one of life's true good guys.

I miss you already and I'll never forget you. 

May 13, 2015

Good For You - Songs From The Last Q*Ball Album


The future doesn't exist.

That's what the man told us before we entered the sweat lodge - or Temazcal, as it is better known by its indigenous people.  The man said lots of things about life before we went inside to cleanse ourselves of the past - lots of things that resonated with me, and I told him as much.  I had been reading a book, had brought it with me to Mexico, that touched upon the same topics - ego, transformation, not sweating the small stuff, letting go.

Forgiveness.

We all sat in a circle in pitch black darkness and inhaled hot lava, sweating bullets and sharing stories.  The man asked us to call out someone we wanted to forgive, and of course she immediately popped into my profusely perspiring skull.  There in the dark, waiting for my turn to speak, I half-listened to everyone else while half-thinking about what I was going to say.

I had forgiven her before.  Often.  Foolishly.  Blindly.  Once again, magical thinking came into play.  She would do better because I was doing better.  Because I was stepping up.  This intense love that I had made a good deal of effort to push away had returned to my life and given me hope for the future.  I had lost my house to a hurricane but gained a new identity, a new sense of purpose, and she was at the center of it all.

I wrote Good For You in that house, the last song I would write there before Sandy came a-knockin'.  She had left my soon-to-be-flooded-home a month earlier, lying through her teeth about reuniting with her ex - not for the first time nor for the last time.  I busted her - not for the first time nor for the last time - in the middle of the night and we argued in the dark before she fled, carrying her dog and her lies out the door.

My parents had been over earlier that same night, and as always, had asked me how my romantic life was progressing.  I told them that things were getting serious, that she and I were making bigger plans, doing 'couple' things.  My older-and-wiser folks were skeptical, but happy that I was happy.

After Mom and Dad left, and while waiting for her to arrive, I took a shower.  I was scrubbing under my left armpit when the thought just popped into my head.  Something was up.  Something was off.  It was a feeling I would become all too familiar with over the next year and a half thanks to her lies and games.  My Dad called her "The Infidel" way before she proved him right.


Later that night, in my bed, I confronted her.  It was her phone that gave her away, her ex's contact info-less text messages buzzing on my nightstand while she washed up in my bathroom.  It occurs to me now that every time she was caught, it was her phone that betrayed her - the same tool she used to lure me back, the same tool she used to deceive me again and again.  Just another dumb girl with a smartphone.

I knew this guy was back in her life, I even said it out loud in the shower to no one at all before she showed up at my place.  "He's back."  But I remained quiet.  Once in bed, I tried to get intimate - a test - and she shunned me, another bad sign.  I called her out about the text messages, jumping out of bed and interrupting her peaceful deception.  Even after she was busted, she still denied that anything was going on, scrambling to come up with some half-assed explanation.  Another history that would repeat itself more than once in a future that was yet to exist.
Life and love with her would prove to be a vicious cycle, only where I lived and the names of the other dudes would change.  But the outcome was always the same - a heaping pile of bullshit was uncovered, upon which I was done with her.  Then she would inevitably resurface, gently tugging at my wounded heartstrings, orchestrating her way back into my life.

The future doesn't exist - but it can still be determined by the paths we choose in the present.  Whatever is inevitable can be nudged in one direction or another based on the decisions we make.  Getting married.  Buying a house in a flood zone.  Running my own record label, choosing to pursue a music career, getting divorced - these were all factors that led me into someone's fickle arms.

Choices.


Why do we gravitate towards things that ultimately are no good for us?  Why do we reach for the cola and the cookies and the cigarettes, fearless of the consequences?  Why do we fall in love with the wrong people?  Don't we know better?  Haven't we learned anything?

About 5 years ago, I had a minor cancer scare.  I was in constant pain in a tender area, my issues further intensified by a lack of medical cooperation.  I walked out of urologist offices before even being diagnosed, panicked and stressed, waiting to hear the worst news possible.  I can still remember getting the sonogram, glaring into the bright light above me with tears in my eyes and silently swearing off my sins as I was prodded and probed.

"I'll never do ______ again."

And of course once I was in the clear, my fears allayed, I regressed.  It didn't happen the very next day, but it happened.  It's not like I forgot about my promise to myself.  I just chose to ignore it because I wasn't being punished.  The pain had subsided and the regret was short-lived. It's a lot easier to live with your shitty behavior when there are no consequences.

Years later, I was on the receiving end of "I'll never do ______ again," the recipient of yet another lie.  And I chose to believe.  I chose to have faith, to be positive about someone whose history and behavior were raising others' eyebrows.  It was an adjustment from the typical cynical Ronnie Outlook and I staunchly defended my position.  Instead, I suggested moving in together, knowing in my heart that this woman's next indiscretion would be my breaking point, and reminding her as much.  Rationalizing that it was all worth the risk.  Because I was in love.  Because the hole in my heart had been plugged, at least temporarily.


There, in the cement hut, I waited my turn to forgive her.  Then I heard someone else say what I was really feeling.  "I choose not to forgive anyone because I don't really need to."  The implication was that the past was the past, and something to learn from, maybe even be grateful for.  The person who said this did so without bile, without anger in his voice.  Maybe it was the fact that it was 300 degrees in the dark little hut, but I think the tone was more representative of this person's personal growth - a maturity that I, as someone who has often exhibited a much shorter fuse, have often admired.

When my turn came, I echoed this sentiment.  I didn't even utter her name, because in the moment - in the now - she means nothing.  Just another ghost, another hard lesson that needed to happen for me to acquire peace in my post-Sandy existence.

In those last brutal months where I smelled smoke in our relationship even tho I had yet to see the fire, she reminded me that she had stayed on good terms with nearly all of her other ex'es - and there were plenty.  She spoke as if letting people down yet still being their Facebook buddy was some sort of badge of honor, a validation that hurt feelings can mend. 

I reminded her about the guy before me - the dude who was her "boyfriend" while I was her lover.  About his last text to her, which was simply "I fucking hate you."  That didn't sound like a forgiving sentiment to me.  And then I was the "boyfriend" - the pixie dust had faded - replaced by the stress of sharing space and responsibilities, dog poop issues, phone addiction issues, bedbug issues.  Y'know - Real Life Stuff.  Adversity.  The deceit remained tho - and remained our biggest issue - and once my gut could no longer stop screaming, it was I who left instead.

In the end, it wasn't hard to let go.  What happened was far from a surprise.  On my way out the door, I set a little fire of my own, only these flames burned from an honest place.  Surely other men have done worse when faced with the reality that they are being two-timed.  Some use their fists, others use weapons.  I used my laptop.  

Before hitting 'Publish,' I asked clearer heads to advise.  I asked my father to walk a mile in my shoes, then ask himself if he would just walk away with his tail between his legs and just forget.  I reminded my mother that I had been held hostage by tall tales, not for days or weeks but for months - time I would never cherish nor ever get back.  On top of all this, I had been provoked - unnecessarily, immaturely - and the best medicine would be to use this selfish woman's greatest flaw - her dishonesty - against her.

My motivation wasn't to break up the cheating party - I knew that would never happen.  I wasn't interested in teaching anyone a lesson, because some people - whether we love them or not - never learn.  My motivation was to break that vicious cycle, and I succeeded.  I was finally letting go, tossing the poison away instead of choking on more of it.  No more yearning, no wondering what might have been, not a single tear shed.  No more unfinished business, no more smoke signals or cute little reach-outs.  No more tugging at my heartstrings.  I pulled the curtain back - and a year later, it's still one of the best things I've ever done for myself.  The bullshit still existed, but I was no longer knee-deep in it.

She would reach out one last time.  "The damage has been done," her rambling remorseless e-mail began.  As if I were the one who had wrecked things.  As if I were the damaged one.  Do crazy people really believe their own bullshit?  It's one thing to screw up, but how about a little accountability?

But cowards are never accountable, there's always someone or something else to blame.  Before we cohabited, life in the moment was great.  And for the first time in a very long time, I was happy in the moment.  The sex was great, the food was great, the wine and the weed were plentiful.  I assimilated myself into her world and she into mine.  I was being brave.  Meanwhile, she was conspiring, creating moments of her own behind my back.  Because, hey - the future doesn't exist.  But your past can certainly come back to haunt you if you let it.



I emerged from the stone hut and cooled off in a nearby pond.  After everyone else in my party headed out, I hung back and thanked the man for further enlightening me.  He hugged me and thanked me in return for sharing my experiences, having no idea that sharing experiences is exactly what I have been doing in this space for the past 2+ years, and in my songs for the past decade.  

And isn't that what defines us as musicians and artists, as writers and bloggers?  Sharing our experiences?  Relating?  The man in the hut reminded us all that we should all do it more.  In my post-Sandy life, I have been blessed with many gifts.  Good health, good friends, a speedy recovery from this mess.  I'm in a kick-ass place, ready to run another marathon, ready to make another album.  

I'm back to living in the moment, except the moment isn't shrouded in false hope and perjury.  The struggle was real and now it is over.  I'm free.  I survived a hurricane, I survived The Infidel.  I got back on my feet.  And nothing has set me free more than The Truth. 

The Last Q*Ball Album by Ron Scalzo
Available now on iTunes and Amazon
Limited edition CD now available at lastqball.com

GOOD FOR YOU

Finding it hard to believe
You're giving me a fair shake
You just wanted to sleep
Knowing my mind was wide awake

I don't have the strength to fight you
I just wanted to satisfy you


And I still love you
The things you felt in your heart for me
You know I felt them too


And ain't that a shame
I knew that there was something strange
You think that things are gonna change
But what you are is just insane


And I still love you
The things you felt in your heart for me
You know I felt them too


And when it's over
You've gotta do what's good for you
And I've gotta do what's good for me
When it's over
We'll do it all over again
When it's over

***
 
Ron Scalzo - piano, vocals
Daniel G. Harmann - vocals
Bill Nordwall - synths
GG Reynolds - violins
Matt Brown - guitars, loops
Shea Bliss - drums


Music and Words by Ron Scalzo
Copyright 2014 Bald Freak Music (ASCAP)

Recorded at Electrokitty Studios, Seattle, WA
Engineered and mixed by Matt Brown

Artwork by Joseph Milazzo
Mastered by Michael Judeh at Dubway Studios, NYC