A little birdie was telling me something!
Those birds. Hear ’em? They’re back. Those early signs of winter’s transition into spring. You know, those little chirps that lull you with “Hey, it’s time to come outside. No, leave your jacket. Everything’s wonderful and new again. Open up, relax, breathe.”
Those goddam birds.Those sounds. Fill me with a mix of anticipation and dread. Especially on an overcast Saturday morning as I stare over the top of my monitor at the still bare trees and the dissipating snow mounds. Early signs of life, but don’t get cocky.
They say smell has memory, as do sounds. It’s this time of year when I am most aware of my existence, my frailties and all that existential crappola I have to jam down my gullet just to get through to the next phase.
Those birds again.They fly me back 36 years and shove all my stifled miseries and regrets back in my face again. I’m there in an instant and have no idea why I still exist, given the odds.
In my memory’s eye,
I’m sitting in a dingy, smoke filled, bottle littered, pigsty of a bedroom. If it could be called that. I am in an alcohol and drug fueled, emotional briar patch. There are tears of frustration and failure trickling down into my beard. I can’t physically get high enough to pass out but I can’t function either. Helpless at the moment, call back later.
Now I know why those old drunks were so miserable. There is no rest, no peace, no life, no death. You can’t sit up, you can’t lay down. Hell. Worse, purgatory. My family knows. My mother knows, she’s in denial. We’re Irish. We all have our own problems.
I remember being particularly worried and confused, staring at my black plastic film case. The lid is popped off and I’m trying to remember if I did all those eight hits of speed myself, or I was gracious enough to share with a friend or a band mate. Not likely.
I usually rationed eight hits of pharmaceutical grade speed a day. I did it in the morning before I left the house so I wouldn’t go overboard. After all, I was a responsible adult.
I was in a serious band. I was using heavily. If it’s good enough for Gregg Allman, it’s good enough for me.
My estranged girl friend, who used to cohabit this dump with me in its better days, was just caught having an affair with my little sister’s fiancé to get even with me for leaving her. She needed protection from my sisters, who had already destroyed her car, to get her stuff out safely. Leaving me back in my own apartment. Alone, with the bottles, trash, amps, guitars, keyboards and a powdery residued mirror lying on the kitchen table.
I used to make my drinks in a small vase for convenience. It was called an O’Hearn Special in the Old Mr. Boston drink book. Straight brandy, a splash of soda with a sprig of mint. I replaced the sprig with creme de menthe and a hit of fitz water. I would sit in my large leather recliner and slowly watch one TV morph into two. When two turned to three, I called it a night. Or, it called me. That routine got me through two years at Berklee College of Music. Compliments of the G.I. Bill. Vietnam had some benefits.
My windows are wide open, it’s mild and a bit balmy for this time of year. The TV is on and the news of the day is about this kid named Chad, who has cancer and his parents don’t want him to have chemo, so they smuggle him off to have this new drug called laetrile. It doesn’t end well. Jimmy Carter, Iran and the technicolor patchwork of the dead and bloated bodies of the Jonestown Massacre. Very, very, dark thoughts.
And those goddam birds.
I have been up all night trying to overcome the heart pounding experience of speed and coke with the deadening and numbing effects of alcohol and weed to no avail. I have back to back gigs that day. This doesn’t make sense. How can the sun start coming up to produce a fresh new day when I am all alone and dying in this shit hole. I hear Skeeter Davis singing “The End of the World.” in my head.
Now I’m in trouble with my band. I am using so much that I am forgetting lyrics, breaks and even names when I do the intros. I am constantly speeding and weaving my comedy routine into the middle of sets without restraint and there is talk. Lots of band talk. Resentment. Who does he think he is? Aren’t we supposed to be playing music? Tell him to shut the fuck up. Then the clincher: “the band is okay… but we really enjoyed that funny guy.” Tick…tick.
Now, it’s 7:00 am. In the middle of a long drag from my fourth or fifth joint, staring at the TV, they appear. They suddenly fill my red, swollen, old before my time, eyes. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The PTL (Pass The Loot) Club! This is more than I can endure. They waddle onto the stage to the throngs of adoring audience members and she launches into a bad Tiny Tim imitation of “Jesus Loves Me.” And she is looking c-r-a-z-y! Tears and mascara everywhere. I cough uncontrollably on that last hit.
Insanity! This is my garlic, crucifix and wooden stake on one screen. My agony is indescribable. I must be Satan. That’s what my problem has been all along hasn’t it?
I’m the Anti-Christ and no one ever told me. How am I supposed to deal with that? I’m already driving over to the St. Clement’s Rectory in the middle of the night to talk to priests. In AA, they call this “spiritual loss.” I needed help and was desperate for answers.
For the record, I never got what I thought was a satisfactory response to anything. All leaned on blind faith. Oh, and maybe I should get sober. Sober? What does that have to do with anything?
I feared the combination of speed and alcohol was going to stop my heart and I needed to know what I might expect over yonder. I had enormous functional capacity but believed my body could only handle so much. 32 going on 80. I could go at any time.
Leaving the house without vomiting first was unthinkable. All it took was two cigarettes and a cup of coffee before the shakes came on and the games began. I believe I perfected “depth charge” hurling. It sounded like a fat kid doing a cannon ball at the pool. Complete with back splash.
Skipping my routine once, I remember being on Mystic Avenue listening to WBCN and a song came on called “Boogie Til You Puke” by Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band. They recorded someone gagging during the piano solo and it was all over. Next thing I know, I can’t see out my windshield and car horns are blaring while I’m hanging out the driver’s side door, retching.
The PTL Club was the last straw. Murder surely must be permissible, no, required, in this instance. I can’t believe this circus. Send in the clowns and the calliopes. Aren’t I the one supposed be in an altered state? Aren’t I the one who is so fucked up? How do you put a straight jacket on by yourself?
Whoa! This is madness. These people appear to be sober. This is “The Lawrence Welk and Jesus Christ Road Show.” Pink Flamingos without the Egg Man. Like waking up under Frank Zappa, the joke has been on me all this time. I almost came to my senses. Stop the presses. Where’s reverse on this thing?
This could have been the day when I might have had my enlightened moment. I could have hit my final bottom. My screech region. I’m worried about being anesthestized twenty three and a half hours a day and …. what… this?
I light a cigarette, run the shower, get a beer from the fridge and reload my speed ration into the Kodak film container.
Oh, I was gonna have my “you have just reached your bottom’s bottom, day” but it certainly wasn’t gonna be that day. Not after that! It would be here in a few months… with a vengeance.
I grab my guitar, my stash, my cigarettes and car keys then …I’m… sorry, I don’t remember anything after that.
Except those goddam birds.