Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It came from under the sea, from the stars, from beneath the earth... etc.

I honestly thought I was done with this blog.

Don't Print This was too dark. There was too much history.

I like blogging. I've been doing it for 10 years and figured I'd just wipe the slate clean. I could blog about my fucking house or I could maybe blog about getting my shit together, but honestly, it was just me trying to beat around the bush, trying to avoid some truths.

The greatest of these truths is I seek approval. I want to be liked. I want to be loved. I want to be respected, thought highly of, adored, admired, esteemed, and, if its not too much trouble, lusted after.

This blog is not great for that.

Historically, it hasn't been. Historically, it's been a place that lands me into trouble.

So, it seemed like a good idea, a wise idea, to do something else. I could blog about the house or maybe losing weight or maybe reaching what is maybe the mid-point in my life --and there is nothing wrong with any of these things-- but all of them were poor attempts to change the subject of conversation.

So, what changed? Why am I back here, again trying to breathe life into this thing?

I went to a radio meeting this morning.

Meetings at public radio are miserable. They're kind of hapless downward conversations mixed in with some meaningless banter. No one gets much out of it, but we all get to say we went, which seems to satisfy whoever it is that decided we should have a regular pointless meetings everyone sort of resents.

We were all seated around the radio console. Someone was speaking, but I can't remember who or what they were saying or why. What I remember was looking over at my computer screen and seeing the rant of a young lesbian on Facebook.

It had something to do with jettisoning the things that make you unhappy, that don't work in your life. She, I think, was talking about a relationship.

For me, I just looked around the room and wondered, What the fuck am I doing? Why am I in here? Does any of this make me happy? What's the point?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is maybe why I'm here blogging again.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dueling Banjos: part 1

We pulled up to the gatehouse to the campground. An older lady greeted us, tried to collect money and get me to sign something, but then I told her I was with the press and there to cover the string band festival.

As usual, nobody had said anything to anybody. Puzzled, she told me to wait right there.

"I'll go check."

Off she went to call somebody.

Five minutes later, she came back, all smiles, and told me, "Sure. You're expected."

We were told we could park and camp just about anywhere we could find a spot. She gave my son a bracelet to wear --proof that he was supposed to be there. I was given a lanyard to wear around my neck with a big, laminated card that said PRESS.

"You have to wear that at all times," she said pointedly, almost as if to challenge me.

I didn't like their damned sign. I'd come to experience the festival, to immerse myself in it. This had been explained. The tag felt heavy handed, unnecessary, and more than a little insulting.

With a camera around my neck, a notepad, and pen in my hand, it seemed pretty obvious who and what I was.

Honestly, they were lucky to have me there. The String Band Festival is a small event -at least compared to other festivals along the same lines, like the Old Time Fiddler's Convention in Virginia. It's out of the way, about an hour and a half along a two-lane road that winds around the side of a couple of mountains.

There's not much near the campgrounds and cell service is limited --particularly if you're a dummy like me who can only afford a cheap phone through Sprint.

Promotion for the festival is poor to very poor --at least on the local level. The division of culture and history sends out email blasts about the string band festival, if they send them at all, which are indistinguishable from their other regular announcements about quilting exhibitions, historical lectures and the like, none of which have anything to do with someone like me who covers arts and entertainment.

At best, their approach is uninspired and lazy. At worst, it's comically inept. 

The Appalachian String Band Festival has been around for right at 25 years and it's still kind of secret to anyone other than the music nerds who play this kind of music.

Even getting to go cover the festival had been a little tricky. Because of deadlines, workflow and even newspaper resources, getting approved for an overnight story was hard. The paper didn't want to pay for anything. My editors wanted the story, but I think they only agreed to paying the mileage because I'd agreed to shoot pictures.

I wanted to go because, two years back, I'd gone to Clifftop with a photographer and spent about an hour chasing over the grounds to get material for what felt like a very superficial take on the festival.

I wanted to dig a little deeper, really look around, and I also wanted a change from what had become my regular routine.

Most of the work I do is on the phone. I am endlessly chatting with actors and musicians to the point that it sometimes feels like I'm chained to my desk. That work has to get done because Brad Paisley or (more likely) the bass player from some 80s rock band that's coming to town isn't going to make a special trip out to meet me for coffee. Likewise, I am not going to be approved for a flight to L.A. or Nashville for a meeting.

Talking on the phone is fine, but it gets old, and it feels like an insufficient use of my abilities.

All throughout 2014, I'd made plans to get away from the newsroom for stories. I'd worked out plans to attend several regional festivals. All of those dried up after a minor car accident drained my bank account.

Free tickets to the show is fine, but you still can't go if you don't have any money to buy food or pay for a motel room --things the newspaper would absolutely not cover.

By the time of the Appalachian String Band Festival, it was the end of July. Half the year had gone by and the only other trip out I'd managed to make happen had been a bus tour to Southwestern Virginia, which was just weird.

So, on a personal level, just being at the festival was important to me --and I was well outside what I considered comfortable. 

I don't even like camping. I hate it. Of the many places you might choose to call it a night, inside a flimsy nylon shell, atop the cold, hard ground is about the worst. I'd rather a good bed in a cheap, chain motel than a sleeping bag in a tent staked next to my car.

But here I was at the gate house. A story had been approved and I had promises to keep. So, I agreed to their terms, put the stupid sign around my neck, and went looking for a place to park and set up camp.

It would be dark soon.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pattern recognition

You never wish for the things you don't want. You always wish for the things you don't have, the things you need.

I wish Christmas had been merry.

I don't think I'm going to bother with the lights, the tree, the cooking or much of anything else next year. Somehow, I'm doing this wrong. Somehow, I've always done this wrong and I've had enough.

Fuck it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ritual de lo Habitual

A lot of the bad that came with 2014, I think, came with habits --or lack of them. I read less than I've read in years in 2014. I checked out plenty of books from the library, but I finished so few. I kept picking things up and then putting them down, picking them up again and then putting them down and eventually discarding them when the failed to hold my interest.

My garden was a mess. I never really worked it, did very little to keep the deer away or the blight and predictably, my crops were very poor. My tomatoes did horribly. There were no peppers to speak of and no lettuce or spinach. I took less than ten small pumpkins at harvest and the only plant that did well was a weird zucchini that crept over everything and required nothing much but to be left alone.

I got behind on my exercise. There were months where I barely made it to the gym and even during the best of times, I was still spotty about doing the work.

There are plenty of excuses to be had: weather, stress, depression, financial struggle and access to endless hours of quality programming through the magic of Netflix.

I think I self-medicate with escapist crap when I'm down and 2014 was a year for downers --personal, professional, ecological.

But I'm building up again, starting over with some things. I already have a gardening book out and I'm looking through it for ideas on how to keep the fucking deer at bay so I can potentially have a decent growing season.

I'm also reading more diligently. I'm halfway through "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell.

Mitchell wrote the book "Cloud Atlas," which was made into a fair science fiction film, but was (not surprising) a thought-provoking book about identity, time and fate. It really worked for me and seemed to be taking the position that maybe, just maybe, the future can influence the past. 

I'm also trying to write more --that's part of the reason, I guess, the blog has suddenly creaked back to life, though I'm not going out of my way to promote it. There's no money in it, so why bother? I don't even know if people actually read these kinds of blogs anymore.

Still, the hope is if I can find enough energy to write here, maybe I can finish one of my other long-suffering projects, which seem to go on the back burner whenever the least, little thing arises to compete with them.

Anyway, it's a hope. Habits, I'm trying to create some new, good ones.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vacation 1

I started my vacation today. For the next week and a half, I don't have to go to the newspaper for anything --other than to fill out a time card. I do need to do that, if I want to get paid.

I still have to do radio, though not as much, thanks to ongoing efforts to automate the station.

I'm not a fan of that project. The company bought the equipment last Spring, but has struggled to get it online. I can't say for sure what the hold up is. I've heard that the old system doesn't work with the new, which doesn't make sense to me. I don't see why it's necessary to keep the old system, but who knows? The company has a checkered history with equipment purchases.

I'm not a fan of automation because it threatens to put me out of a job --or at least cut back on the amount of income I take home doing it. The basic gist of what it will do eventually is it will make it easier to run the place with fewer employees --how many less is anyone's guess, but I figure they could drop half of us without blinking.

But who knows? The company seems willing to throw money at some things with questionable value. They do a live webcast of their signature radio show, which involves contracting probably three or four people to direct and shoot video; all to reach less than a hundred people scattered around the globe, most of whom probably won't tune into the radio broadcast later.

I'm not criticizing exactly, but it does beg the question: Why bother?

The situation with the radio leaves me wondering what happens if I lose that job? Probably, I'll have to get another second job or else quit the paper and find something that pays me enough to live on. Some friends have been urging me to do that for quite a while now.

Mostly, I'd kind of like to move on, but that's not exactly a secret. It's not that I've run out of things to write about or that I hate living here. I'd just like to make a living.

Too serious.

It feels good to be on vacation. It feels good to have the opportunity to try and unwind and maybe think about what to do next.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ginger Brandy

I keep a fair amount of alcohol around the house, but I don't actually drink much. It's not the taste, but the loss of control that comes with it, the loss of inhibitions and filters and things that make me able to be around other people, that keeps me from drinking too much too often.

I can be an awful drunk. I will say things I mean, but never mean to say. I will do things I want to, but should never actually put the will to power. I can make an ass of myself --worse than usual.

On the shelf in the kitchen, I keep a couple of bottles. I have a bottle of Henry McKenna, which was cheap and seemed like a good idea at the time. I bought it to get through the first broadcast of my little radio show. I drank shots every couple of minutes of the broadcast and barely felt them hit me at all.

There's still a couple of swallows left. I've used it for cooking, and I think the kid has been nipping in it.

I have a bottle of Fighting Cock bourbon. I bought it because the name sounds vulgar. It's 104 proof, but is kinder than a more expensive bourbon called Bullitt I tried, which feels like getting hit upside the head with a sock full of nickels.

I like Fighting Cock, but I drink it sparingly.

There's also a bottle of Black Seal rum. I got that a month ago, right before I had some friends over for a post-Thanksgiving meal. I thought it would be something people could mix with their soda, but nobody drank it and I've only had a couple of sips here and there.

I'm not a rum drinker. It seems like something only pirates would drink.

Last, there's a bottle of Joaquin's Ginger brandy, a cordial made in the city of brotherly love and a value buy at around nine bucks.

I have a history with the stuff.

Long, long ago, my friend Tim and I used to buy this stuff back when it was six dollars a bottle. We drank it in college, loved it because it was cheap and the stuff mixed so well with soda. With a healthy dose of Sprite, you didn't know you were hammered until suddenly you were.

We drank it a lot.

I think about Tim when I drink it now. I can't help but think about him.

Tim was a friend, older than me. We met in college, his last semester. We were fast friends, hung out a lot, smoked cigarettes, drank, and watched shitty horror films.

A couple of years after he graduated from college, he put a bullet in his head --entirely accidental, his mother told me.

The story goes:

After a year or so of working at the local Wal-mart, he got a job as a statistician for the state. He moved from Beckley to Charleston, rented an apartment with a couple of childhood friends and everything seemed to be going great. One night, they had a small party, invited some girls over, were drinking and Tim got it in his head to spook one of them. He pulled out a pistol, slammed an empty clip into the butt of it and pointed it at his head.

What happened next was an unfortunate cliche.


But it didn't kill him. He survived, in a manner, though the story of what happened the night he shot himself is one that still knots my stomach.

His friends called for help and then called his parents, who met Tim at the hospital.

In the E.R. the nurse kept trying to convince his parents to sign over his organs, though he was clearly still breathing and even moving on the stretcher. His parents refused. His mother, indignant and upset, screamed, "He's still alive! He's alive!"

The nurse told her to calm down. She was upsetting Tim.

That still makes me feel ill.

My friend spent over a month in a coma, when he came to, only about 2/3 of him made it back. He'd been a mathematician, a statistician for some unremembered state agency. He was a lot less than that after and on some level, he knew it.

That was the real horror. He was sometimes aware of what he'd become.

After I heard about what happened, I visited him a couple of times. I saw him in the hospital, a couple of months after his accident, and the visit haunted me for years. I dreamed of him as a zombie, crawling up the foot of my bed.

The nightmares kept me away for three years.

I went to visit him again, when he was in a daycare/rehab, where he sat with thirty others in a room that stank of piss.He had a wild beard then and he was pale as corpse. His teeth looked mossy and yellow and his eyes looked frightened, dazed and stupid.

It was hard to look at him.

I'd loved the man, been impressed by him. Tim had been crazy smart and we'd bonded over bad movies, Pink Floyd and Mexican food. We'd read some of the same books and had philosophical debates that went on for weeks.

He was also the only man I knew who'd actually had sex with two women at once. In college, somehow, he'd conned two women at the same time to have sex with him in his dorm room and no one understood how he'd managed that --because he was a nerd, because he was a geek, because he was a scrawny, little weirdo --but he'd somehow, pulled it off.

There were actual witnesses (of a sort) and for that alone, Tim had earned a certain amount of respect. Hell, the fucking quarterback for the damned football team hadn't pulled that off and by even my rough assessment, he should have been able to.

He's also managed to have sex with a smoking hot redhead who was clearly out of his league.

No one understood that either --including the redhead in question, who later seemed embarrassed by the fact that it had happened. 

That first visit after the hospital (and after my first divorce) was hard. I remember I pushed him in his wheelchair, along Mercer Street in Princeton, past the pawn shop and the dusty, evacuated storefronts. I don't remember what we'd talked about, but it made me hurt all the way down to my bones.

I didn't see him again for at least a year.

The guilt of his condition gnawed at me. He was my friend.

Finally, somehow, he got my phone number and started calling me. We talked on the phone. The conversations were non-sensical. We had nothing to talk about. His days were spent creeping through shopping malls, harassing young mothers with children, eating sweets and haunting his mother.

I started going up every other weekend. I took him out to the mall, to the movies, to a local stable where we could watch the horses. The people at the mall knew him. They'd seen him a thousand times already, but the manager of the theater pulled me aside.

He said, "Hey, I don't know if you can, but you need to keep him on a leash. If you can't, you're going to have to leave."

Tim adored children. In the hospital, he'd tried to put my girl friend's fingers in his mouth. He'd talked about how they'd had sex, though she laughed it off, denied it ever happened.

He told me they'd cut him, taken away his ability to have children. I don't know what they did exactly, but his libido was gone. What was left was just a horrible craving for fatherhood, for family, that he'd never be able to satisfy.

He stopped women with small children to tell them they had beautiful babies, they had handsome sons and lovely daughters. He told the women they themselves were beautiful. He wanted to shake everyone's hand.

He frightened everyone. They assumed he was a pervert.

His mother was glad to see me. We only spent a couple of hours together every other Saturday or so --usually on weekends when I didn't see me kids. Back then, I didn't have much of a life. Going to see Tim wasn't something I looked forward to, but it gave me someplace to be.

I stopped going to visit, shortly after I changed jobs, got involved with a woman whose daughter was autistic, and eventually moved away. I disappeared out of his life and in well over last ten years have never gone back. I've scarcely looked back.

But tonight I started drinking. I'm pretty God damned drunk at the moment and I picked up that bottle of ginger brandy. It was a comfort when I felt alone or abandoned and I feel that way tonight, and I've had just enough to make me wonder what became of Tim, what has become of him and whether I should seek him out one more time.

I can't fix him, but everybody deserves at least one person who won't leave them. Maybe I can try again to be that person or maybe I'm just drunk and lonesome.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire and nobody likes the damned office holiday party. These days, we don't even call it a holiday party. Parties suggest music and fun and good cheer. We don't have that. We barely refer to the holiday party as a holiday feast.

The spread declines a little every year. Usually, the company provides some meat, a little bread and some drinks. We were encouraged to bring side dishes and desserts.

Some years, what everyone else brought was the best part and while we tended to sit at our desks, we clustered together socially.

Most of the people who liked to cook and liked to bring their cooking to things like an office luncheon either retired, quit or stopped giving a damn.

I would be in the latter category.

I used to bring an apple walnut cake I made from scratch. I used to bring a lot of apple walnut cakes, but this was back when I had free and easy access to black walnuts, back when the expense of a few Granny Smith apples and a little bit of flour seemed like a nice way to give back to the people I worked for and with.

One year, I gave out over a dozen at the job. I wrapped them in aluminum foil, stacked the loafs like bricks and carried them into the building inside of a heavy cardboard box.

I handed them out to people I liked and even to people I barely spoke to. 

I started cutting back last year. This year, I haven't baked a single cake yet and so I brought nothing to the meal. Nobody else brought much either. The receptionist did some baking. Someone baked a pie and maybe someone else bought a couple of boxes of cookies.

It was a tiny contribution from the ranks. 

We made our plates and I went back to my desk. Everyone else seemed to be doing the same thing. We ate while staring at Facebook or while finishing up the dregs of one more story.

When I first joined the paper, I felt so lonesome there. I didn't know anyone, didn't think anyone took me seriously and felt so out of place.

It felt the same way again.

I finished my plate, then gathered my things and went home unhappy and unsatisfied. The company ham and turkey sank to the bottom of my stomach like a discarded hubcap.