Archive for January, 2013

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! NO, It’s another unnecessary blog!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2013 by tom

Hi.

Due to my desire to put all my book and film reviews in one place, I have created the new blog, “Books and Movies and Crap.” You may find it at http://booksandmoviesandcrap.wordpress.com/ . All of my film reviews from 2012 are there, as are all of my new book reviews, and about a quarter of the 115 book reviews from 2012. Why this matters, I don’t know.

But feel free to stop by. It’s not as dark as it is over here, if nothing else.

Happy Weekend.

Besos,

tom

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2013 by tom

Shakespeare once wrote, “The only constant is change.”

It might have been Max Planck, actually. Honestly, I’m not sure.

Anyway…

Today, I had a doctor’s appointment down in Sarasota. If you’ve been keeping score at home, you’ll recall that I grew up in Sarasota, but I’ve lived in Saint Petersburg my entire post-collegiate life.

In my particular part of Sarasota, the main east-west thoroughfare has always been Bee Ridge Road. An odd appellation, to be sure: there aren’t appreciably more bees than anywhere else, nor is it much of a ridge, but that’s its name. When I was growing up, it was a two-lane bump-fest: no matter how often they fixed the potholes, Bee Ridge Rd was the road to the dump–er, uh, “sanitary landfill”–and the garbage trucks trashed the road.

Of all the bumps on that road, there was this one perfect bump that was awesome–the great white buffalo of bumps. My friends and I sat in the back of the school bus, because we were badass that way. What we learned was that if we timed it right and pushed off, we could fly out of our seats. One time, I nailed it perfectly, and my head actually brushed the ceiling. This was one of the few benefits of our long bus ride home each day.  The other was that we usually had a ball, with Kristen K (upon whom I had a huge crush), the Reverend, Mike, Kelly C (who had a huge crush on me (R.I.P., Kelly)), Scott, and me, plus some other people I can’t remember offhand.

Anyway, Bee Ridge Road is now a six-lane feeder to I-75. The road is in great condition, mostly, because they finally filled up the old dump, and built a new one down near Nokomis. When I was growing up, there were shopping plazas with various supermarkets and pharmacies anchoring them, certain restaurants in certain places, and a few lower class department stores (*cough* Woolco; *hork* K-Mart).

One place that was there, just east of McIntosh Rd was Nick’s Bar.

This isn't the sign for MY Nick's Bar, but it's about as classy.

This isn’t the sign for MY Nick’s Bar, but it’s about as classy.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Nick’s Bar is actually the first bar I ever visited. I think I was in eighth grade. My friend Danny’s sister picked us up from school, and was giving us a lift home. We stopped at Nick’s in the middle of the afternoon. It was pretty well deserted, so nobody hassled us. Danny’s sister had a couple of beers; Danny and I drank Cokes, and the three of us shot pool for an hour or so. My first impression was, “Damn. This grimy place is just two pool tables, a handful of booths, a dart board or two, beer signs with more neon than Las Vegas, and a horseshoe-shaped  bar,” but it was Nick’s em-effin’ Bar, a place I’d seen for years, and always wondered about.

When I graduated from college, there was about a two month gap between receiving my diploma and actually getting a full-time job. During this stretch, I was pretty lonely: I missed my radio gig in Tallahassee, and it seemed all my friends had moved away, or were in “graduate school,” God forbid. I may not have had a job, but by damn I had credit cards. Back then, when you checked out at the University Bookstore, there were a couple pre-approved, no-job-required, unsecured credit card applications in your bag. (Ironically, perhaps, you could have Personal Finance or Micro Economics texts in the same bag as these applications) So, what I lacked in income, I made up for with my $1000 Visa credit line. Some nights, I’d go out to a movie, or get off my part-time shift at my new radio station, and I’d feel like catching a buzz.

Nick’s was set up wonderfully. The shelves behind the bar were one-by-eight planks, just plain, unfinished wood. Magic Markered beneath each bottle was a price. Say you wanted Jim Beam. The price Sharpied on the shelf edge might say “$1.85.” That meant that a shotglass full of Jim Beam would cost you a buck eighty-five. I’m not sure what they charged for mixers, since I never used them. What I would do is go into Nick’s, set down my pack of Marlboro Reds, and order a pint of draft Budweiser, and four shots of Jim Beam. When those four shots were gone, I’d order another two or three. I pounded these down quickly, and chugged my beer. I’d cash out, then hop in my T-Bird and drive back to my parents’ house.

As Mr Mackey would say, “Drinking and driving is bad, mmkay?” However, I wasn’t buzzed even in the slightest. I’d have seven shots and a pint of beer in me, all consumed within 20 minutes or so, but none of it had hit my bloodstream yet. By the time I parked at my parents’ house, BLAMMO! It all seemed to hit me at once. Nice planning.

So eight years pass, and the Devilbitch and I break-up ugly. I had gotten rid of all my stuff before moving into her house. All I had was a cat, an ancient chair, my computer, and a shit-ton of bills. Thus, I was once again living with my parents for a few months. I was working 7pm to Midnight on WSJT. If I didn’t have any production to do after my shift, I could blaze back to Sarasota by one or shortly thereafter. I needed alcohol, but  who would be selling bottles that late?

Why Nick’s Bar! They had drive-through package service till 0200. I’d drive through, and I’d buy my nightly fifth of Jim Beam–their package selection was limited (“single-barrel Bourbon” at Nick’s meant it came out of a single, 50 gallon drum). I never again went back inside Nick’s Bar, but I drove through a few nights a week (some nights, I planned ahead, and purchased vodka before my shift in St Pete).

When I was staying in Sarasota during my KABLOOEY period, I’d drive down Bee Ridge Road. The grocery stores are all different. One former department store is now a Gold’s Gym. The old Eckerd Drugs is a rib joint. My former bank is a Batteries Plus store.  Everything has changed identities, probably a half-dozen times each.

Except for one business: Nick’s em-effin Bar. The sign is new, but I’d bet dollars to donuts the place is exactly the same. There is a constant threat of menace from the pool tables and dart boards; the jukebox is too loud, and the Bud drafts are so cold, that a thin scrim of ice forms across the top. I bet those shelves are the same, though maybe with slightly higher prices.

Like many successful businesses, Nick’s did it right: people will always need to get drunk, so keep it simple, keep it cheap, and your customers will reward you with their loyalty.

One night during my drinking years in St Petersburg, I stopped by my old beer-and-wine-only bar, Gamble’s, and ran into Sherry the former Gamble’s waitress. We had crushes on each other, just never at the same time. Anyway, Bubba–my previous truck–was in the shop, so Sherry asked if I wanted to ride with her to The Banana Boat for a few cocktails. Sure thing, doll! We sat there, chugging our way through screwdrivers (her) and Sapphire & sodas (me), and I asked about some of my former Gamble’s friends. “Drunk and Insane Erich?” Dead. Passed out with a lit cigarette, then burned up in the fire. “Bud Light Dave?” Dead. Liver cancer. “Tommy the bartender?” Dead. Caught in a riptide in Cozumel and drowned.

As I passed Nick’s on my way back to St Pete, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of their denizens have died since the nights I sat there chugging–hell, I wonder if Nick is still with us, or if there ever was a Nick. I wondered, too, if anyone remembered the big guy who came in, knocked back a shitload of Jim Beam and a big Bud draft in the time it took him to do the crossword, then left. I wonder if I’m remembered there.

Not a damn chance. But for a month or two, I was a regular, when I sorely needed to be a regular somewhere.

And  for 35 years or more, that damn bar has been exactly the same.

Sometimes, change is overrated, especially when it comes to ice cold beer and cheap-ass shots. Long live Nick’s! ($2 call brand shots are on me)

2012: A Remembrance

Posted in Chronicles of chrazy (sic) on January 1, 2013 by tom

The year 2012 will always bring to mind absolute, 100% suckage, the biggest piece-of-shit year ever to sully 366 days, a year where my high points were days that sucked a percentage point or two less than my usual Rogers Hornsby-like sucking average. (note: Rogers Hornsby had the second-highest batting average in baseball history, including one year when he hit .424; he did not suck. I was drawing the analogy that my 2012 sucking average was the equivalent of his 1924 batting average: he hit more than anyone else, and my life sucked at near-Hornsbyesque levels

To 2012, I offer this sentiment:

This one's for you, 2012!

This one’s for you, 2012!

We started 2012 with approximately 15 Republican Primary Debates per day. They were ubiquitous and annoying, much like the Republican Primary Candidates themselves. President Obama gets a pass for the first quarter, since he was running unopposed, thus meaning he could wait to piss me off till it became clear he was running against Mitt. And POTUS did end up pissing me off with an overabundance of ads. The only bi-partisan cooperation seemed to be in pissing me off with campaign ads.

On a happy, personal note, my peripheral neuropathy–affectionately called “stabbyfeet”–was going strong as we limped into 2012. This led to “stabbyfeet medcoma,” which led to me exhausting my year’s PTO before March. Fine. Nothing like really bad phantom nerve pain to ensuckify your life.

On April 4th, 2012, my dear friend and coworker, Lisa Olson, was killed instantly when a garbage truck ran a red light and t-boned her Lincoln. Everyone in our department was just destroyed. I don’t go to funerals or wakes or memorial services. They make me uncomfortable, because I don’t like to mourn for my loved ones. I want to celebrate their lives. So I wrote a tribute to Lisa.

Again, this is my “grieving process.” I write something nice to remember my friend, then I make sure it ends up getting to his or her loved ones, if appropriate. I never know if they’re going to be deemed appropriate, so I give it to somebody close to the family, and leave it to their judgment. For Lisa’s tribute, I e-mailed the link to Lisa’s supervisor. As it happens, my friends Basher and Nicole both had links to my blog, and they checked to see if I’d written anything. From there, it got printed out and passed around. Somebody put together a giant poster-sized collage of Lisa photos, and they stuck a copy of my essay–in a fancy font on nice paper, no less–right smack in the middle. So everyone in our ginormous office who came to see the collage also read what I’d written. This is fine. Many of them complimented me on my work. Again, this is fine–a simple “Thank you” was all I had to say in reply. What ended up happening, though, was people who read this thing started coming over to my desk, and lamenting how sad they were; they were actually looking to me for some sort of comforting, as if writing 800 reasonably eloquent words gave me some sort of insight into their grief. Admittedly, I’m usually good at being Father Doctor Rabbi Tom when somebody needs to vent or needs advice, or whatever, but when my own guts had been kicked out, I didn’t have anything in my tank to give them.

Then a couple weeks later, my brain did this:

Actual photograph of my mind one day in April.

Actual photograph of my mind one day in April.

Something happened, and I was mentally depleted. This was beyond any Abyss visit I’d ever had. I’d been taking Prozac everyday, and when this thing happened, the Darkness laughed at my Prozac, which evaporated into wisps of nothingness. I started having crippling panic attacks, even in my own bed. I knew there was no way I could take care of myself, so Wind and I moved in with my parents for a few months. Thank God for my parents, too: they were there if I needed them, and they left me alone if I needed that. Also, they helped me pay bills when my disability checks were slow in coming, which was about 200% of the time. Thanks Mom & Dad.

I took a Medical Leave of Absence from work–it ended up being nearly five months. Early on, I found an excellent therapist, who referred me to a godsend of a psychiatrist. In the 8.5 months since this happened, I bet I’ve been on 30 different permutations of meds, just trying to get back to “functional.” “Normal” may have waved b-bye forever. Some of the meds worked well from the start. Others had side-effects like I could never imagine (one gave me massive rage spikes, where, for example,  I’d get mega-pissed at the refrigerator, and violently shove the poor appliance till it rocked back and nearly crashed through the wall behind it; another gave me diabetes insipidus, which made me have to, um, micturate every 12-25 minutes (“micturate”=”pee” (and yes, I kept track, just in case the doc needed numbers))).

I’ve written enough about this battle, and thank you for being supportive.

The good parts were rediscovering Sarasota’s beaches, sending care packages of tacky touristy stuff & sea creature parts to various people, and finding therapeutic value in writing letters by hand (Christina ❤ and I were exchanging a couple a week for months).

I don’t have a lot of friends in real life. For some reason, I choose not to. I can charm the shit out of people, and make them laugh–skills honed by my radio years–but most of the time, I’d just rather be by myself. If I feel like going out, I can call somebody, and go out. (They’re called “prostitutes” (I’m kidding (I mean, they ARE called prostitutes, but I don’t use them for any purposes (i.e., neither escorting nor mounting))))

Nested parentheticals aside, my point is that I found amazing support from you, my online friends. I could not have survived this without you.

I returned to work in September (I think). I’ve had some great weeks, where I’ve worked every second I was scheduled to, and I had a recent three week spell where I had agoraphobia so bad, I couldn’t leave my house. It took every nanojoule of energy I had to walk downstairs, get in the USS Nimitz, and drive the 50 miles to see Dr Borgia. I definitely popped a couple Xanax en route both ways.

The Darkness sucked, no doubt. What was more insidious was that I couldn’t blog my illness. I just couldn’t do it. For months, I would watch a pretty damned eclectic bunch of films, and I’d write reviews of them. On some level, this is just instinct for me, with my English major and Film Theory and Criticism minor. But film reviews were the only “serious” things I could write. It’s curious that I had little trouble writing letters by hand. I guess that was so simple and basic, that it was soothing. Like prune juice or magnesium citrate (I’m joking about the latter: the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters didn’t equal the thrust with which mag-citrate will make you evacuate your bowels–some people actually fly up and hit their ceilings).

Nor could I read books. Over four months, I think I read 13 books, if that. I’d set my Goodreads 2012 Reading Challenge goal at 100 books. I was ahead of my pace until this meltdown occurred. Then, by October, when I was finally able to read again, I was waythehell behind. It sounds stupid, but this was something horribly important to me. The Darkness had taken away so much of my 2012–it had so thoroughly beat the shit out of me–that I wanted this one little victory. “Franny and Zooey” was my 100th–I finished it on December 17th, with two whole weeks to spare. I felt a sense of accomplishment.

Since “Franny and Zooey,” I’ve read 15 more, so I finished the year at 115% of my goal. SUCK IT, DARKNESS!!!

I say that was my lone accomplishment, but it wasn’t. At no point during The Darkness did I get drunk (I’d be dead now if I had). At no point did I seriously contemplate suicide. At no point did I OD on my meds, or fail to keep a doctor’s appointment–with four doctors & therapists over a four-county area, that’s not bad.

Most of all, the greatest victory I had is one of the simplest. Five years ago tonight, I was in St. Anthony’s Hospital, fighting Fournier’s Gangrene. I was hooked up to IV’s all day, had horribly painful dressing changes, blah-blah-blah.

But what’s easy for me to lose when The Darkness is just bashing my soul in, is one simple thing I used to say back then: ten fingers, ten toes, one belly button, and a steady pulse.

No matter how dark things got, those simple basics were almost always true (Panic attacks, natch, cause a little poundy-heartedness).

I had to concede 2012 to The Darkness. It fucked me up good, and I can accept that. But I’ve battled back these past 8.75 months. My goal for 2013 is not to let The Darkness take away one damn thing: not work, not reading or writing, not health, nothing. I can handle being depressed–I’ve battled depression nonstop for 20 years–but this year, I’m not going to let The Darkness screw around with anything else.

To paraphrase Indigo Girls, “I will not be a pawn for The frackin’ Darkness any longer.”

So 2012? You can just blow me. 2013? I’m going to swat you like Babe Ruth with a badly placed fastball.

Happy New Year, y’all. And thanks for getting me through.

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