I am not like ordinary men. I think in a way that makes the mass populous shudder. My thoughts and dreams are banned from most libraries, my ideas and schemes forbidden from any textbook. I’m just a human being trying to navigate my way through a world crammed tight with let-downs and setbacks. I write because I need to, not because I want to, but there’s a magic beneath the pen as it scrawls word for word, as I scribble my internal drama between the lines. It’s almost like giving birth, painful to let it out, but boy does it feel good that it will fester inside you no longer, and now you can raise and nourish it. That’s a magical thing, isn’t it?
Many eons ago I was in a dual-diagnoses work/treatment program. Looking back on it, it feels like a whole different life, like I was never even there and it was all just a dream. We lived on a farm and we worked in the woods, with the animals, in the garden, and in my favorite place: the auto shop. I was good at auto-mechanics, especially small engine repairs. When I left the program, I stayed in a halfway house and Mike, the shop leader, let me come on as a paid apprentice. I did that for a year. I lived in the halfway house and I discovered spice and no one knew because spice, although it feels so similar to pot, doesn’t show up in piss tests and I was beating the system. Every night after I came home from work, I smoked spice. After three to four months of living in the halfway house I got to live in my own apartment. I was court-ordered to stay here for a full year and although most residents had to stay in the house for at least six months, I was moved to an apartment because they knew when my time was up, I would run; it was my plan all along. They wanted me to have some experience living in my own place before I took off. So I started drinking again and smoking weed and they all knew about it but I didn’t care and neither did they, it seemed, because they knew the alternative; it was either here or 10 to 15 years behind bars and no one wanted that for me. After a while they were just like: We’ve Had Enough. Although I didn’t claim to be a drug addict/alcoholic, I was using like one; and they could not keep me here if this kept up. I received a letter from my parents that said when my probation was up, I could not return home. I was so fucked, and alone and lost and hopeless. So I started going to meetings. I got a sponsor. I told the world I was clean because I was: except for the Ritalin and suboxone I was using. Ritalin—because I was already prescribed to it and they had no way of knowing. Suboxone—because it doesn’t show up in piss tests unless they are advised to test for it specifically. This program did not test for it and I got high, so high, every night I got home from the meeting. I went to some meetings and nodded off throughout. I was so speedy I wrote like a maniac in my journal for the entire meeting. I chaired a meeting while doped up and manic. I watched the floor turn to water and move like the ocean. It was working; no one knew. Then Samantha responded to my email and she told me she was clean. She was clean and I was trying to get clean but nothing was enough of a reason for me to stay clean. Until her, of course. I came clean about my using. Told everyone. Agreed to do it for real this time. Because she was back and she was clean and we started going to meetings together. She lived in Boston and I lived in Rutland, VT, and on the rare occasions I’d see her we’d go to meetings together. Then I found out she smoked a ton of weed. I mean: A Ton. But she was clean and she didn’t consider weed a drug. But I did. Anything I can abuse is a drug to me. She was as sick as always and I was trying to better myself. Every time we fought I got high because she was my reason for getting clean and when that reason failed me it was: There Is Nothing to Lose. I had nothing to lose. I got so high every time we fought. Of course, she started drinking again and I found a much better reason to get clean which is: Stick Around and You’ll Find Out for Yourself. I started to do it for myself. I worked the Steps. And I worked them hard. Even if I was spun on my own medication, vivance. How else was I going to stay up all night and write? How else was I going to work the Steps? Last time I abused my Ritalin I was lucky I didn’t die—so lucky my heart didn’t give out!—but I was always honest every time I took extra Ritalin. Honest with my sponsor—he never fired rejected or abandoned me. Honest with my therapist—he was always so accepting and understanding. Honest with my doctor—she was always so forgiving. Until I took enough to kill me. She immediately took me off of Ritalin and put me on vivance, which is supposedly better and much harder to abuse, and said if I tried to abuse it she’d take me off of all stimulants—for good! But I needed a stimulant because my ADD was so bad. So I took a little extra here and there, just enough to stay awake longer, and I ran out early every week; but it was no issue because I was happy now and I was doing so well and perhaps everyone knew and just looked past it. I came clean about it after I moved to Burlington because the doctor said I would have random pill counts and I knew I had to come clean. He didn’t condone this behavior but I’m pretty smart and I made it seem like what I was doing wasn’t as bad as it was. It was bad! I wrote the doctor a long letter justifying it. He bought it. I continued to beat the system. I got married and a year into the marriage Michelle said she couldn’t do it anymore. It was either her or vivance. I chose her but it was hard because my support system was stripped away from me. I had to do this and over time I learned I did not need this stimulant anymore and over time I was back to normal, or closer to it. In the end we are all drug addicts. Someone once told me that if I went the same lengths I went to get and stay high and did something else instead, I’d be surprised at how far I would have gone. At the time I didn’t understand what he meant. Because when he said it—I was high as God.
Music is my life; it always has been. The first musician I ever listened to was Weird Al Yankovic back when I was 9 or 10 years old. Then it was Green Day, Smash Mouth, the Beastie Boys. When I met someone for the first time, I’d always ask: “What kind of music do you listen to?” I’ve always been so restless and hyperactive my whole life, and music could keep me occupied for hours. I’d listen to it and all the problems of the world. my problems that had plagued me since I first could walk, vaporized—just like that. Gone. See you later. My first job was in a DJ studio; I worked in the warehouse where I sorted through inventory. It was a big company called Gibson Productions and they had lots of gear and I was so stoked about this job. I was only 14. In my free time I’d come in and set up the dual CD player with scratching capabilities—like an actual record player (they only had one dual CD player that could do that)—and a couple of monitors and just Go for it. I’d be there for hours mixing tracks, scr-scr-scratching songs, doing it up.
Finally I got the owner of the company to give me a shot in the field. He said okay, but warily, as I was only 14 years old. I had to do my first two gigs with an experienced DJ, and for free, and then he’d see how I did. The first gig was great: I made a 30 dollar tip, and I got a very complimentary phone call from the client when I returned to the warehouse the following Monday morning. The second gig—not so well. That would be the last time I DJed, but not the end of my career as a musician.
I was always very anxious and quiet and most of the time I preferred music as my only company. I liked to crank it when I was drinking because nothing beats it when your vision blurs and the world spins and the roaring guitar kicks in. I was addicted to it—more than anything. Every time I went out with my friends, the moment we’d start drinking I’d flip my headphones over my head, click PLAY on my discman. The music would flow so smoothly as my head swam in a sea of liquor.
Until my angry, blunt friend said to me one day: “You know, it’s kind of rude to hang out with us and then put on your headphones and act like we don’t exist!”
What a dick! Well, I suppose that’s why they make boom-boxes. So the surrounding world can hear the movement. I’d bring my boom-box everywhere. It was sort of my signature, my contribution to this pre-apocalyptic world where we sometimes exist.
Picture this:::: You wake up in the morning to the sound of a bass drum being kicked. Boom! And then again, it’s kicked. Boom, boom! Every few seconds you hear that bass drum, a rhythm that knocks you awake. Then there’s feedback as you make the coffee. The coffee maker rattles a bit. Buzzes. Rattles. You take the pot and pour it into your mug and the guitar cuts in like a buzzsaw with your first sip. The bass guitar gets plucked. There might be some sort of synthesizer being keyed as you sip your coffee, becoming more awake. But it’s not enough. So you have another cup and the vocals chime in with beautifully poetic lyrics that give your life purpose, and now, you can go about your day.
That’s why I had to start a band.
We lived faster and we played louder--that was our motto. Being onstage and releasing your emotions in a rapid-fire succession was almost comparable to taking an automatic assault rifle and gunning down a line of presidents and world leaders. With one long, raucous roar, each head would explode Domino-style, one after the next. Some venues were packed, and some were barren, but it didn’t matter. We’d play in front of a measly mirror, for all we cared. We played--for us! We played because it was fun. We played because it was a major release. We played because we … played;;;; and not to mention it was a fun way to release your emotions on an unsuspecting crowd.
It was the best part of life, the only thing I looked forward to. When I wasn’t onstage or playing with my band, I was sitting on the curb playing what I later referred to as my Stink-Box—a large red construction-worker boom-box that I carried with me everywhere I went; it was my baby. I only bought it—for 120 dollars—because all my previous, cheaper boom-boxes would break in some disastrous but humorous act of destruction. They would never last. So I saved up and invested. It stayed with me for five to six years.
I always had to have my music.
Can’t remember exactly how Burt and I had met. He’s a poet, too. I was fairly new to Burlington and I attracted a small group of people, all of whom were complete strangers before I arrived, and now we’re just acquaintances as life had surpassed our time together. First it was Jared. We had met outside of the Radio Bean. He's an amazing photographer and he showed me some of his Instagram photos. We also exchanged phone numbers. We got along quite well. The following night he called me and asked if he could crash at my place. It was raining and he was camping out on the beach that summer and I said yeah he can spend the night. I didn’t know him very well so like most nights I stayed up to make sure I didn’t find myself ripped off in the morning. Not that I had anything worth stealing at the time. That was when we became good friends. Next was Mike. Jared and I were outside talking about how the world would burn one day and Mike chimed in. He told us that he liked where this conversating was heading. And then from there, the conversation flowed. Sometimes I would sit outside of the Bean all by myself and share poetry with strangers and talk about dark, nihilistic subjects and very few people were intrigued. But Mike and Jared were. So the three of us hung out most nights. One night, I think it was Mike, asked us if his coworker could come along on our venture. Neither Jared nor I cared, so Burt joined us that night. He was a poet, and he asked me if I could help him put together his book. I said I would. The following day I met him at the library and when we were done with our session, we walked around together. He and I had quite a bit in common. He was camping out in some graveyard, which I would never do by myself. I think Chuck was staying in his tent too, although I can’t be sure. I brought Burt to Monday night Lit Club and he read his poetry and it was damn good. Very visual. I remember sitting in the park with him and it started to pour. Like really pour. We ducked under a tall tree and stayed completely dry. Most people were scrambling for real solid cover, but Burt was like: Let’s stand under that tree. I never thought a tree would provide so much protection from the rain, but it did. There were lots of other trees there too and no one even thought to commandeer one for themselves. So Burt and I hung out quite a bit for a whole week straight, probably every day, and we’d just walk all over the place and talk about stuff, some conversations were deep and meaningful and others were shallow and pointless. Then Burt decided to leave, I think to New Mexico or something. We continued to talk for a bit after he had left, via Facebook and Facebook Messenger, but eventually the amount we talked started to dwindle and fade away and now we are back to being strangers. It’s just amazing sometimes, the people you get to know closely in life. All the people who’ve touched you in some way or another. All the people you remember and will probably never forget.