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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Forever Young

There have been a very strange conglomeration of events in the last few days, which have really sent my mind wandering. This time it has wandered into some of the dark shadows of my past. I say dark shadows not because they are bad memories, but good memories of me doing bad things, by today's standards of what is not only socially acceptable by the mainstream, but acceptable trying to live a life free of drugs and alcohol.

I had a flashback the other day. Call it what you will, but to me it was a flashback. It could have been a very vivid memory, it could have been a lucid day dream, perhaps my sugar was low and I was in need of some nourishment to get that glycemic index level back to where it needed to be.

I was in my studio, I was listening to the Grateful Dead. I was being quiet and contemplative. All of the sudden I was aware that Jerry was ripping out an incredible solo during a Scarlet Begonias from 1977. I got goosebumps, I felt that metallic electric sensation floating around my tongue. I closed my eyes and felt that floating feeling. I flashed back to a show in Providence, RI in 1987. When I left the Veterans Memorial Auditorium after the show, downtown Providence was bathed in the most delicious glow of purple neon. I mean the whole city looked like it had a black light trained on it. Whoa!

The next day I was carousing through my bookmarks and F. Alex Johnson had posted another entry to his blog, Fearless By Default. Oddly, the subject matter centered around a time when he and his girlfriend had taken some really strong LSD, while they were spending the summer in Oak Bluffs, on the Vineyard. It was very well written and amusing. I must say I was somewhat disappointed that I could not read part two of the tale when I recently sat down to my computer.

Last night, He called me at about 10:45 PM.


"Duuuuuude ! I'm freaking out!" Being the sarcastic bastard I am I asked,

"Why did you take some LSD?"

"So you read my post?"

"Yeah, I read it it was pretty good"

"You are not going to believe this ... Are you ready?"

"Yeah, what's going on?" I was slightly concerned, but not really.

"Albert Hoffman died, today ... he was 102."

"Are you fucking shitting me, today?"

"Today, when I write about acid, Albert Hoffman died."


Seriously, wow is right. How uncanny is it that we both have our own LSD related memories and within hours, the Doctor who invented LSD or fathered what he described as his "problem child" Dies at the ripe old age of 102. I wonder if people all over the world were having similar experiences. It is hard to describe what LSD does to you. But I can assure you it puts you on a different plane of reality, where a different and more structured and sentient life energy prevails.

I have many regrets when it comes to my history of drug and alcohol use and abuse. My addiction has prevented me from getting decent well paying jobs because I would not apply for a job where you had to submit to drug testing. It has affected my life, adversely in so many embarrassing and indescribable ways. But that is the past and those are the experiences I had to have in order to get to the point where I had no choice but to accept that I could not drink or use like other people.

I'm sorry, but I can not group LSD in with the rest of the "bad" drugs which eventually brought me to my knees. LSD opened up the world to me. It jarred my thinking to be more accepting of others. The thought processes I experienced while tripping made me a more compassionate, trusting and honest man. The experiences I had at Grateful Dead and Phish concerts where there was a communal positive vibe of acceptance are priceless to me, and I have no regrets. Being able to just "be" in a crowded auditorium with no hassles and to thoroughly enjoy a powerful ego disintegrating communal experience which would seem so foreign and unacceptable to the greater segment of the population we call society, Is priceless.

The last time I took LSD was at a memorial service for a dear departed friend, Richard Petlock. Richard lost his very rich and adventuresome life style to cancer. He was a Grateful Dead historian, He was a contributor to the Deadbase and Dupree's Diamond News. He was a member of the WELL the Grand daddy of online community chat rooms. His life revolved around the Grateful Dead. He was the first person to congratulate me when my daughter was born on the second anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death. He was so very excited that she and Jerry shared that date. I can still see his smile during that encounter.

I heard he had been diagnosed with cancer and he faded fast. I attempted to contact him a few days before he passed but it was in the stars that we would not speak to each other. He died in December of 2000. It was his wish that a party would be thrown in his memory for people on a guest list written by his own hand.

It was a great party. Max Creek, Flipper Dave and the Lobsterz from Marz played. His widow was a gracious hostess, dosing anyone who cared to partake. I had not taken LSD in years, but knew I could not pass on such an opportunity. There were jugglers, acrobats, costumed freaks, dancers. hula hoopers. Everyone was letting their freak flags fly to celebrate our folkways, our customs, our way of life. And most importantly we danced and we sang, we cried and we honored and celebrated the life of our friend, then only way we could truly do so. Just one more communal group explosion of positive energy and music. One More Saturday Night.

Somewhere packed away in all of my stuff is an invitation to that party. It is a picture of Richard, smiling and striking a pose. He is wearing a whimsical shirt with planets, stars, quasars and a milky ways. The kind of shirt you can only get at a specialty shop in Haight-Ashbury. Since he died when he was a mere 38 years old, the party was appropriately named ...

Forever Young.

The above opinions are that of the author, they in no way condone the use or misuse of illicit drugs. Even though this contradicts what I just wrote about ...

LSD is bad ... mmmmkay?

As always, you will find me ... Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jiggs part 2..."I'll get up and Fly away...Fly Away"

The title of this post hearkens back to a lyric from a Grateful Dead song, Wharf Rat. It is a classic tale of an alcoholic named August West who tells his story to a stranger, presumably another penniless addict/alcoholic, in exchange for his time and undivided attention. He touches on his desire to stop drinking, noting that his life is unmanageable and hoping the "good Lord willing" he can break the cycle of addiction and "live the life I should." The song is so precisely constructed, and pinpoints the moment when one person caught in the grips of the disease of addiction can help another.

So, there I was, sitting in my Favorite Coffee Shop with a man who had achieved legendary status, in my lifetime, as the person who made the decision to shoot the chimpanzee which would eventually become my iconic Museum display.

Baldy Lee sat back, took a swig of his coffee and pondered a response to the question I had asked him about his background, prior to his appointment as Superintendent of the Springfield Parks and Recreation Department...

Earlier in the day I had gone to Forest Park and visited the Monkey House. John Bilodeaux, another familiar face from the Blue Moon, took the time to Talk to me about the Monkey House and Jiggs.

"I don't remember Jiggs escaping, I was a baby at the time, but I heard the stories from my older siblings, and yes they were familiar with Jiggs." Bilodeaux, who has been an employee of the Parks Dept. since 1991, grew up a short Distance away on Bryant St., about six blocks away from Forest Park.

As we toured the former Monkey House, I noted the glass roof was still intact. There were pocket doors separating the platform where the animals were displayed from the out side exercise area. There was a slight trough in the concrete floor leading to a drain somewhat obscured by pentagonal concrete templates which had the upcoming baseball season's home plates setting up within. The iron bars set into the concrete were still visible where they had been cut.

I asked again, how did Jiggs get out? Bilodeaux's face lit up with an awed expression and he demonstrated as if he were pulling at two iron bars. "He pried them apart, ripped it out."

Bilodeaux began to speak about other parts of the Park. "We really don't have that many pictures of the Park, like the Stone House ( Shelter for Winter skaters near the Duck Pond which later hosted an Art Gallery) and the Barney House all we really had of them were Postcards. They were the only source of information."

Bilodeaux got his start in the Parks Dept. working in the Sign shop. when that closed he moved to the maintenance dept. I asked do people often ask about Jiggs? He replied, "More often people ask me more about the stuff in the woods. There are old benches set up near the Horse Trails. and there are stone fireplaces set deep into the Forest on Snake Hill. On Red Hill there is a set of steps constructed with old grinding stones Mr. Barney's factory used for grinding the blades of the skates.

He noted that some of the other structures in the woods were constructed by ECOS teachers. ECOS (Environmental Center for Our Schools) is an environmental education program offered to students in grades 4-7 in the Springfield Public Schools. The program teaches about the various habitat of plants, animals which can be found in Forest Park. the also have a course in Winter survival skills.

I was supposed to have a photographer with me that day, but he was "unavailable."
Let's just say it was probably a good thing we didn't see each other that day.
I headed to the Blue Moon alone, to meet Mr. Lee. He swigged his coffee and began to speak again.

Lee had retired from the Park and Rec Department, years ago. He gave me his background. He was originally from Walpole, MA, and graduated from Sanborn Seminary in 1948. He went to Springfield College and ended up in Wesport, CT for eight years before taking a job with the West Springfield, Parks and Rec Department. He did some work with the Ludlow Boys Club before being tapped by Parks Commissioner Romeo J. Cyr. to fill the position of Superintendent in Springfield in 1964.

Lee sipped his coffee again. And told me how he was Spending his retirement. As, Baldy had mentioned earlier in the conversation. He had been a drinker. He knew had a problem and it brought him to his knees. He finally surrendered and joined a 12-step fellowship.

These days he spends his free time bringing meetings, his experience; strength and hope to inmates in the Enfield State Prison in Connecticut.

"I like working with the kids, (young adults) in the prisons. If they can get out of jail and stay away from alcohol and drugs, they have a chance for a great life."

My mind started to race. Did he know? Did my Dad call him and tell him I'm having a problem, or was it one of those it takes one to know one situations? Perhaps he glimpsed the tell tale scars on my battle wearied hands and arms.

It was probably the latter. Even though I was fairly straight and lucid at our meeting, I was caught up in the grips of the insanity of addiction and destined to go out with a friend later in the morning, which meant we would spend the majority of the day getting high.

"You know these kids today ... it is amazing to me how cocaine has destroyed lives. They want to stop, they know what it does and they can't stop until they end up in jail or worse." He shook his head.

At this point in the conversation, I almost fessed up. I almost told him that my days involved me acting like the worst kind of addict obsessed with my drugs of choice, and what would happen to me when those would run out. I wanted to tell him how I was just like the kids he was talking about; How I wanted to stop but didn't know how. I caught a lot of pain that summer. And engaged in activities I had sworn, to myself, I never would. I wish I had the courage to reach out to him. He could have helped me, if he couldn't he surely would know someone who could.

He would have not let me out of his sight until I was safely in some detox facility somewhere. He and his brothers would have shown me the love that I needed. The love that is brought forth by living the principles of the 12th Step.

The 12th step reads - "Having had a Spiritual Awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to the Alcoholic/Addict who still suffers, and practice these principles in all of our affairs."

That message, and the one I desperately needed to hear that afternoon, is - that there is a better way to live. If you just keep with it, you will never have to pick up ever again. I wouldn't have to get high in the morning and before I went to sleep.

I spoke of Mr. Lee having something I wanted. I wanted that peace, that serenity. I wanted that confidence that made an old school white male go into a prison and truly want to bring a message of hope to people of a different culture and economic bracket. A message of hope to another human being regardless of their background, just simply because the needed help and did not know how to love themselves. A message which was freely given to him on the day he took his last drink.

They say the only requirement is a Desire to stop. I have had that desire for a long, long time. A lot longer than it took for the progression to set in and chip away at my morals, character, and self-confidence. The disease still kicks my ass if I let it.

All of these what ifs. That was the past. Who knows what would have happened if I had come clean that day and told him I was an addict and needed help. The funny thing is, even though the disease does chip away at your pride and allow you to participate in progressively fiendish behavior, it leaves you just enough pride to keep that vital information inside, to let you believe. "I can stop any time I want to, just not today."

I am getting better everyday. There have been triumphs and there have been challenges. There have been slip ups. There is still insanity in my life. But the question is, how am I going to deal with it ... Today?

It wasn't long after meeting with Mr. Lee that I did begin walking the road to recovery, which explains why almost three years later I am writing of our encounter. It has been a long road and a bumpy road. Today my desire to stop using outweighs the desire to harm myself, and when it doesn't I must take certain steps to make sure I don't pick up, such as calling others who have been there and worked through the pain and the quagmire of early recovery. For those people, I am grateful. I am grateful that there are men and women out there who are willing to share their experience to help me survive and "Live the life I should."

There may be cries of foul amongst you readers, Did I break anonymity? I don't think I did. He spoke of his experience freely, knowing that he was being interviewed for an article which would eventually be published. Yes he is a member of an un-named 12 step program, Any more than that you do not need to know.

Just For Today ... I am Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Jiggs Part One - If you go looking for Night Crawlers in Forest Park, You may end up with a Monkey on Your Back.

I was walking through the Springfield Science Museum with my daughter a few years ago. As we toured the New African Hall exhibit, we encountered an old friend of mine. We turned the corner, and there he stood. He was slightly hunched over, a slight smile on his face, dark hair with a some auburn and grayish streaks. He stared back at me, but there was not a glimmer of recognition in his dark glassy eyes. My daughter squeezed my hand a little harder, perhaps she was frightened. I simply looked back at him and said,

"Hello, Jiggs."

He just stared back at me, as he had always done, as he will do forever. My daughter looked up at me, wanting to know why I was talking to a stuffed chimpanzee. What can I say, I'm funny that way.

Jiggs has been a constant in my life. Ever since I can remember, I have been visiting Jiggs at the Museum. His presence always kind of creeped me out, even to this day. However, within the confines of that creepiness is a certain comfort zone, which takes me back to a place in my life, where there were no cares or worries. Unknown to anyone, It was a time in my life where I was missing half of what was being said to me. When I did "hear" what people were saying, I was developing a vocabulary which made sense only to me. It would be about four years later that it was "discovered" that I had a dramatic hearing loss and was getting by with lip reading coupled with my voracious appetite for reading. During that time frame, I relied on my older brother, Peter to fill me in on what I was missing. It was Peter who filled me in on the grisly end Jiggs had to face before he came to be a permanent resident of the Springfield Science Museum.

The Science Museum was a fascinating destination. My mom would take us there to kill time. I was still too young to attend school, so we would pick up my brother when he was dismissed from his classes at a very dark and frightening appearing building called "The Convent." I wasn't sure what was happening inside that building, but I knew as a preschooler, that I didn't like the looks of those women in their black cloaks, with their weird orthopedic shoes and those funny black veils.

After leaving the convent we would then head down Central Street, a quick right onto Maple St. Once we crossed Main St., I could see the Quadrangle. I knew the route by heart based upon the trees that I saw whiz by, as I lay on the back seat. Sometimes we went to the other museums but our ultimate destination was always the Science Museum. We would walk up the large granite steps to the front doors. As we walked inside, to the right and left were exhibits of various animals depicted in the their natural habitat. There were moose and buffalo, penguins, a whale, bears, but what I always wanted to see first was at the top of the marble steps leading to the upstairs portion of the museum. There in a glass case was Jiggs. It was outside this case that my brother and I would scrutinize the chimpanzee. We scoured every inch of his fur looking for evidence, looking for that one clue indicating that the legend was true. This legend being that Jiggs the Chimpanzee, a former resident of the Forest Park Zoo, had been shot one night after he went on a rampage and escaped from his enclosure.

And now, here he was, on display for us to see what a real chimpanzee looks like. A three dimensional depiction much better than the picture you may see in the World Book Encyclopedia. The legend was really interesting to me because, the man my brother told me had shot Jiggs, was someone I knew, a friend of our father's named "Baldy" Lee.

As I got older, I would continue to visit the Science Museum. I always related the tale of Jiggs' demise to whomever I was with. It wasn't until I told the story to my daughter, that she came up with the hard questions for which,I did not have answers. She looked at me with skepticism causing me to doubt the origins of what really happened to Jiggs. There was only one way to find out.

"Mr. Lee?"


"This is Paul Brown, Garry's son ... I was wondering If I could meet you somewhere to talk about Jiggs." There was a pause on the other end of the line.

"The Monkey, huh?"

"Yes, the monkey."

"Sure, I'll meet you..."

The next morning, I strolled into the Blue Moon Coffee Roasters on Sumner Ave., in the Forest
Park section of the city - my home turf. There, I was waiting to meet Jiggs' purported executioner. Baldwin B. Lee walked into the coffee house. There he was, a handsome older man with a shock of white hair. He had exuded an aura of confidence, a man who had grown comfortable with public speaking and networking with strangers, both skills and personality traits you would expect of someone who held the job as Superintendent of the Springfield Parks and Recreation Department. I didn't know it upon first meeting him, but he had something I wanted, and it was not a rehash of a tale he had probably told over a thousand cocktails.

Springfield's Forest Park was created in the 1880s when O.H. Greenleaf donated 65 Acres to the City of Springfield with the intention of creating Forest Park, a public recreation space. Civil War arms manufacturer and later producer of clamp on ice and roller skates, E.H. Barney followed suit by donating 178 acres of land to the same cause. There in the Pecousic Valley which extended down to the Connecticut River, Barney built a Victorian style mansion he named Pecousic Villa. Barney developed the Park by creating lilly ponds and Skating Ponds. He also planted exotic trees within the Park as well as in the neighborhood abutting the park on Magnolia Terrace. As Forest Park was developed, trolley stops were constructed as well as athletic fields with a baseball grandstand and a couple of buildings which were called the menagerie which housed the animals in the Forest Park Zoo.

When Mr. Barney died, his remaining land was donated to the city, to complete the geographical footprint of Forest Park. The Park abutted the Town of Longmeadow, overlooked the City of Springfield and extended down to the banks of the Connecticut River. In later years, 65 Acres of the Park disappeared to make way for Interstate 91 as it snaked its way through Springfield, forever extending the chasm created between the beautiful City of Homes and its luxurious river when train tracks were first laid near its banks, in the 19 century.

This idyllic destination, Forest Park, was enjoyed year after year by thousands of city residents as well as tourists. It was a popular picnic spot, a favorite location for a Sunday afternoon promenade with the family. There were rose gardens and ducks ponds which doubled as Skating ponds in the winter. It was densely forested with secluded hamlets where lovers could steal away. And of course Best of all, it was free.

When Forest Park was established, it was decreed that it would be a public place to be enjoyed by city residents with no fee. This did not bode well for the Zoo, which was desperately under budgeted.

By the time Parks Commissioner Romeo J. Cyr called upon his old friend Baldwin B. Lee, a man whom he used to coach youth hockey with, to head the Parks and Recreation Dept., the Zoo was in decline. Animals were housed in cramped quarters, the Zoo remained under-funded. Working within the city budget, it was becoming increasingly burdensome to maintain such a menagerie.

In 1964, Lee spearheaded the formation of the Greater Springfield Zoological Society and Trailside Museum Association, a volunteer organization to "promote the development and maintenance of the zoo."

Here is a picture of the Monkey House.

This is where the black bears lived.

By 1967, the Association had grown to 100 members. Rollie Jacobs, a former sportscaster for WWLP Channel 22, was the Executive Director of the Zoological Association when the idea was presented to expand the Zoo. The expansion and renovation was originally thought to cost 1 million dollars. They had consulted with other well known Zoos world wide.

"By then there was a trend moving toward housing animals in a more natural habitat. That is what the Zoological Society was trying to accomplish. They had a plan to develop the Ravine to Camp Seco. Walter Stone was contracted to submit an informal design ... he did the Franklin Park Zoo." Lee told. Lee even traveled to Mexico to interview potential Zoo directors.

Lee continued, "It would have actually cost 3 million dollars to renovate and build."

In November 1967, the Zoo received two new inhabitants via the Zoological Association. Angelo Teixeira Head of the Zoological Society noted the overcrowded conditions in the Chimpanzee display at the National Zoo. He arranged for two chimpanzees Jiggs, 19 and his 14 year old mate Nancy to be brought in to Forest Park from the National Zoo in Washington, DC. They were placed in the Monkey House which had its bars reinforced in preparation of their arrival. The cages in the Monkey house had an interior viewing area as well as an out door exercise area. Shortly after the arrival of the primates, it became apparent that Nancy was pregnant.

April 17, 1967, Nancy gave birth. She became very protective of the offspring and wouldn't let anyone come near them, including Jiggs. Over the course of the next five days, Jiggs became agitated and was contained in the outside exercise portion of the cage. There was also an issue of Nancy losing interest in the offspring, a situation which had occurred with her in the past.

Another factor was that chimps have a tendency to become cantankerous after they hit ten years of age not making them very good candidates for a display in a Zoo. A decision was made to transfer Jiggs and Nancy back to the National Zoo and to hand the baby chimp over to the Franklin Park Zoo, in Boston, where they were better equipped to raise the chimp to adulthood. On April 21, as preparations were being made for the transfer, Jiggs began to rage.

He ripped the one inch iron bars out of the cage between his enclosure and that of the lion and lioness Harry and Tillie. Jiggs was shot with a tranquilizer gun in preparation for his journey. It was then, that he began his rampage. He tore at the iron bars in his outdoor enclosure, once again dislodging one of them. He squeezed through the opening in the cage and disappeared into Forest Park. Forest Park is abutted on all sides, in Springfield, by residential neighborhoods.

Lee described Jiggs. "He was homely, strong and amazingly fast. He was about 5 feet tall and weighed 165 pounds." Lee recounted. "He was built like a line backer."

Lee continued, "The tranquilizers didn't take affect and he went into a rage. He got outside. Fortunately, it was night time and the Park was closed. "

Jiggs dashed to the Trafton Road Neighborhood where he created some mayhem with neighborhood residents. One woman, Elizabeth Marsh Burke, opened her back door to see what she described as a "rather small man with a frightening beard," on her back porch.

The chase was on. Lee, who had a residence in the park proper, near Camp Seco, was alerted as well as the Springfield Police. Jiggs reentered the park and tackled a Springfield resident, who was out on the baseball fields looking for night crawlers.

By then, there were ten police officers and cruisers looking for Jiggs. "Ed Malley, a photographer for the Springfield Daily News was coming up the access road Near Cyr Arena and he caught Jiggs in his headlights. Armed with a rifle, Lee opened fire, followed by the Springfield Police. It was the police that killed him." Lee sighed. "We had no choice, he would have hurt someone." A sentiment which was echoed by Dr. Theodore Reed from the National Zoo. "Shooting Jiggs was keeping with Zoo practices. Public safety comes first."

Lee said, "It was a freak thing. I never imagined a chimp could accomplish such a feat." The whole ordeal lasted about two hours. Nobody came out with criticism and said you could have saved him. I was really shaken up. I think It was then I really started drinking."

Whether or not the fiasco with Jiggs and Nancy had to do anything with it, the plans for renovation of the Zoo presented by the Zoological Society, were defeated. "It really came down to us not being to able charge admission. I'm amazed that the city lawyer decided there would be no fee. Right after the defeat, we started shipping animals out."

"I don't understand it, There is a small fee for the City owned Franconia Golf Course, and now they charge cars admission to the Park even though you can still walk in for free."

Lee seemed to be taken aback as he reflected on the events. He recalled the incident with Snowball, the Polar Bear, who would endlessly pace in her cage, all day. "Snowball was blinded as we tranquilized her one day. A young woman, on drugs, got too close to the cage and was mauled."

Soon all of the animals were gone. The Ravine had been emptied of the antelopes, bison and mountain goats. The peacocks, the Jaguars, even the rats who used to hang around in the rabbit enclosures had to vacate the premises. Morganetta, the elephant who was bound to a cement filled barrel with a three foot chain was moved out as well, hopefully she fared better than Jiggs.

The Monkey House as it looks today, a workshop for the Parks and Rec Dept.

"The Zoo veterinarian had the idea to have Jiggs sent to the taxidermist and he ended up in the Science Museum."

Today there is a Zoo at Forest Park. The Zoological society is still growing strong. But it s a smaller version of what could have been, and certainly a better habitat than the living quarters their predecessors had to endure and the harsh conditions the old zoo provided, despite the best intentions of a few good people.

I can't help but wonder, what were Jiggs' last few hours like? Was every minute a frenzied, adrenaline fueled panic? I hope he relished in the freedom as he galloped through the densely wooded Park. I mean actually running and covering distance. Perhaps he tested his atrophied muscles by shimmying up a tree or two. Hopefully he noticed the crisp spring air, enjoying the fact that he wasn't smelling lion urine and scat from the others with whom he shared his cramped living space. Perhaps he actually had the time to just sit and be, to listen to the peepers who were waking up after a long winter, singing their sweet mating songs to each other. Maybe he found a snack of some tender tree buds. Maybe he knew he was being chased and just didn't give a shit. He found his freedom and there was only one way out. He wasn't going back into that cage, not that night, not ever.

My daughter and I stared at Jiggs for a few more moments. I began to tear up, realizing that my life had come so very far from the days where I only knew the love and comfort my childhood had to offer and wondering why I was incapable, at the time, of providing that same comfort for my child. In her eyes, I was providing that comfort and security, but I knew better. I knew I had more to offer to her.

This is why I have to keep on, every day, and only for that day ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

Next time ... The conversation I wish I had with Mr. Lee.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Life on Life's Terms

It has been a hectic week in Muskrat Flats. I wish I can say the hail has been on my back, Mr. Lesh, but it has been slapping me square in the face, with gale force winds. But that is, as they say, life on life's terms.

The expression, Life on life's terms, has an ever evolving meaning. It is as different and unique as each new day we face. There was much sadness in the news last week. A man my age died a horrifying fiery death due to the carelessness of another driver. The rig he was driving had a cargo of gasoline which ignited into an inferno. Onlookers tried to help the man escape from from the overturned, burning wreckage but were thwarted by the unyielding blaze. He managed to extricate himself from the burning cab, but perished a few hours later.

The news you didn't read about in the papers was that of a person, whom I call a friend. Someone I knew in active addiction as well as in recovery. She died last week. From the sounds of it, she went back out, picking up her drug of choice.

Why any addict in a 12-step program chooses to ignore the tools we possess; the suggestions which have been given to us; and the cries of "don't pick up no matter what," are as baffling as why anyone would choose to live life as an active addict. I know how hard it is to walk an even keel having relapsed several times since I began walking the road to recovery in 2005.

When the disease breaks through that barrier we have built and that unwise choice is made, it could very well be the last choice we make. When addicts pick up and use, death is definitely an imminent possibility. Her body was found days later when a stench began to exude from her apartment. She was doing well on her own journey up the the road to recovery, and had come a long way from the days she used to run; chasing that fix; seeking that next hit which would stave off the sickness, which always would set in as the new day came. Living as a human doing not a human being. Desperately trying to avoid acceptance of the terms life has to offer.

I will miss her shy smile and the conversations we had after meetings. There was no need for us to make amends to each other, we both knew how we factored into each other's lives when we were both sick and suffering. The fact that we had those conversations reflecting on the present and the positive things that were happening in both our lives, rendered the other conversation we could have had to that of an unspoken understanding. She was a good person and is in my prayers.

Life on life's terms. There are as many reasons as there are minutes in that day as to why some one would want to get high, or have a drink. I know in my case, I was depressed about circumstances in my life which I thought I was incapable of facing. This caused me to stop feeling. I had no emotions whatsoever. I was never happy or elated, not really saddened. It seemed like, for the longest time, the only time I felt anything was when I was high. I harbored a romantic misconception that I was more productive artistically when I was high.

Here is an example of a product of that misconception...

Recently, Bob Dylan, the only musician living who probably could have gotten away with saying it, assailed today’s crop of recording artists at the top of the charts as…amateurs. Whew! Dylan went on to explain that essentially there are no roots associated with these bands: that they know not where the music comes from. He even went on to hypothesize that if he were coming up in music today, he wouldn’t, opting instead for a career such as mathematician or architect. I would have to agree. When I look for good music, it is not at the top of the charts. Hell no. It is in the trenches where it belongs. It is in a bar where a 6-inch plywood riser separates you from the infantry. The touring rabble, the song smiths who devote all of their energy to the craft. They throw caution to the wind and perform with everything they’ve got, recklessly pushing forth fueled by a few Long Neck Millers and of course by you, the audience. They do this because they can’t see themselves doing anything else. They have to do it. If they don’t…I don’t even want to think about it. They perform like this every night they can, because they have faith. They are independent, and answer to no one. They have faith that true music will prevail in the end. Faith in the song and faith in the audiences who egg them on.

While I agree with Dylan, he was wrong to some extent. Bands like the Drunk Stuntmen are not living off of table scraps leftover from the sixties, and they certainly don’t associate themselves with the groups Dylan recently derided. They play real music. They know their roots and honor them every chance they get. With a tip of the hat, a few hot licks, and some sincere lyrics, they have roots and they have faith. Luckily for you, they are willing to share. It’s better than old time religion

-Paul Brown 3/9/05

Not bad, pretty well written. Stuntman Steve called me and asked if I could come up with something along those lines within a few hours to use on Drunkstuntmen.com. I gladly obliged. When I wrote that, I was blasted. I was drinking absinthe, smoking copious amounts of marijuana and injecting dilaudid 4 mg at a time. I was nodding out at my keyboard, isolated in my little hobbit hole. Yet I managed to crank out that piece. People in my life could tell that there was something going on with me, something they couldn't or refused to pinpoint. I was still in the "drugs are beneficial" mode thinking I was going to ascend to the literary ranks of Hunter Thompson, Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac or even a writer who was a distant relative who shared my grandfather's surname, Bukowski.

All the while I realized the dangers of what I was doing, but the reality of living with the disease is that you can lie to yourself and believe that "it" won't happen to you, that you are not one bag away from death at any given minute in that 24 hour period. It never really sets in until you know someone who has passed and even then, how you process the information depends upon how sick you are. Does that person dying make you reflect on your life and its endless chaos, or do you want to find out who she got the dope from, and just do half a bag? My sponsor tells me that it is a sad situation, unfortunately some must die so others may live.

I hope where ever she is, it is a better place than walking down Belmont Ave., on a frigid snowy winter evening going through withdrawals, looking for the dope man so she can hold off the sickness just that much longer.

Life on Life's terms, you don't always have to like them, but you have no choice but to accept them, because, after all, they are things you cannot change.

I feel a change in the wind and it is once again on my back, guiding me, as I am...

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.

Rest in Peace, Mary.