Today is Saturday. It’s still a bit early, so it is difficult to know, in any sort of complete way, what Saturday will hold. And yet, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Saturday is going to look, essentially, just like Thursday. I know that the same way I knew that Thursday would look just like Monday. Monday, by the way, looked just like the previous Saturday. All my days, so far, have been, for all intents and purposes, the same. The same in that I achieved on each of the aforementioned days the singular goal I set out to achieve on each of those days. And that goal was getting through the day. Getting through. Making it to the end. Staying upright and relatively sane and not letting my anxiety drive me into the waiting arms of the local asylum from sunup until I allow my eyelids to drop shut and give way to the land of dreams. Does that sound sad? I think it does. I mean, it doesn’t so much sound sad to me as I have been doing it for 44 years now. But I’m pretty sure it’s sad. I’m almost certain that the ideal way to be a human over the course of a lifetime is not to have your sites set centrally on simply making it through the day. But that’s what I do. That’s how I appear to be wired. Each day basically appears to me to be a challenge; and not one I generally find myself looking forward to. A challenge to take me down; a challenge to finally do me in; a challenge to retain my sanity and not fall headlong into madness. The mornings are the worst. So many hours left to fill. The goal line feels a million miles away and I cannot wrap my brain around the possibility of surviving until the early afternoon; and the night seems an impossibility. But, as it goes, I make my way into the 2-3 pm range and I start to feel a small sense of hope. By 6, I have an almost cock-sureness that I am going to make it. And by 8, I run straight through the red ribbon with arms raised aloft in victory. Again, sad right? I think it is and I think it isn’t.
It may sound like I am proclaiming that I have a miserable life and I just mope through the seconds and minutes of each day trying not to off myself. Not so. This may seem like something of a contradiction, but I actually have a truly blessed life. My wife and I have been together for 20 years and she is an absolute gem. We have had our trying times to be sure, but, overall, it has been a remarkable journey together. We have produced two wonderful girls, currently ten and thirteen. They can be a handful, yes; and at times they drive me bananas. But they are the light of my life. They are both well-developed, kind, willing, open-minded, creative, funny; they both have strong collections of good people who they call friend. They both do well in school. And I have yet to get an angry or distressed call regarding their behavior from a parent, teacher, principle or authority figure of any kind. We have a humble but beautiful home. We have two cars less than two years old. We have a spunky English bulldog and two docile cats. I have a truly incredible group of friends and my support network is rock solid. I have been sober from alcohol and illicit drugs for nearly nineteen years. I am saved and redeemed in the blood of Christ. And I work for the Lord; greatest job there is. Between my work as a life coach, sponsor, pastor and evangelist, I have had the opportunity to make way for God to change literally thousands of lives through my words and actions and love. I have no foundation on which to complain. But, nonetheless, as I walk through the splendor of all these gifts day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, I am always aware of the time. I am always aware of exactly where I am within the sixteen or so hours of waking life in each given day. And regardless of whether I am taking someone through the 12 Steps, watching a show on Netflix, preaching the gospel, walking the dog, playing with my kids, reading the Bible, or just staring off into space, my anxiety level waxes hard early on and wanes as more and more hours pass. Even when I am absolutely reveling in the day, I am still simply getting through the day.
Perhaps this isn’t as unusual as I surmise it to be. Maybe most people have this experience. Maybe all people have this experience. But I seriously doubt it. I don’t have any data with which to doubt it; I just doubt it. I’ve never heard anyone else speak about it, although I suppose I don’t speak about it that often myself. I just don’t suspect that most people view each day on earth as fundamentally daunting. I always have. I have always had this deep down suspicion that everything is just not quite o.k.; and that everything is bound to turn out not quite o.k. This, again, is something of a contradiction. Because I am a Christian. And I don’t mean that I am a Christian in the sense that my parents are Christian and I grew up going to church and it says “Christian” on my Facebook page and “Jesus is just all right with me.” I am a full blown disciple of my one Lord and savior. I am born again in the blood of the lamb. I am an ardent follower of the one born Emmanuel (God with us). Therefore, I know that God’s sovereign plan is perfect. I know that I am watched over and ideally taken care of. I know that all my sins, the ones from my past, the ones I am presently committing and the ones I have yet to commit are paid for. I know that I have been imputed Jesus’ righteousness and when the Lord looks down upon me all He can see is Jesus. I know I need fear nothing. I know the worst thing that could happen to me is death and that death is the best thing that can happen to me as I am destined to spend all eternity in the Kingdom; the new Heaven and the new earth; wrapped in the Creator’s loving embrace for all time. I have no fear whatsoever of dying. It is living that I find challenging.
So how can I know all this and still have the sense that everything is not o.k. and will not be o.k.? I have no idea. I just do. The two things are concurrently true and I don’t know how that is possible but it must be because it is happening to me even as I write this. It is currently 11:00 am. I feel far calmer than I did when I woke at 7:30. I have a 12:00 pm client and I know that will get me to 1:00 pm, which will put me only 3 hours from work which, while itself fills me with a level of anxiety, will take up about 4 hours. And the thing about those 4 hours is that the quicker they begin, the quicker they will end. And when they end, it will be somewhere between 7 and 8, and I will take my victory lap. Then I enter “all is well” time. Let’s say I get off work at 7 and go to sleep around 11. For that four hours, I am free; truly free. No matter what I am doing during that time, it is all good. Sleep awaits and there is no reason to rush to get there. It is available. It is at my disposal the moment I desire it. Everything is closed down. No one wants anything from me or expects anything of me. The night is dark, the crickets are chirping, and I feel exactly how I constantly crave feeling. Serene and peaceful.
Serene and peaceful have eluded me my whole life. Although, let me be clear. My peace and serenity is ten times what it was twenty-five years ago. I lived those first twenty-five years (well a solid fifteen of them) as an active alcoholic and drug addict. My addiction created a life that was sheer madness by any standard. By the end I had a solid $150 dollar a day speedball habit (mixing cocaine and heroin for those not in the know). I was high round the clock and dealing pot on the side to finance my narcotics addiction. My anxiety in those days was a rabid lion. Of course, the lion was regularly being tamed by the powder entering my nose and veins and the smoke streaming out of the glass tube stuck in my mouth. Today, I can’t tame the lion in that manner. But God is a much better lion tamer than drugs. And, let us not forget, I am not exactly without drugs. I am without illegal drugs. I am chock full of legally prescribed drugs. Yes, they have been prescribed due to a couple of real pathologies that I suffer from, but they bring their own batch of trouble. In truth, my med cycle is awfully problematic. The pharmacological cocktail that I daily intake pretty much controls the flow of my emotions and I often wonder if it does me more harm than good. That is thing with taking medication. You are always trading in one set of problems for another set of problems and then trying to denote which set is more palatable. I go back and forth on what that answer is for me. Anyway, as I was saying, my peace and serenity situation is far improved as a sober, Christian man over what it was as a junkie non-believer. And yet, the “progress” I have made in my emotional and spiritual life, to a large extent, shows up more on the exterior than on the interior. That is to say, I am assuredly a better person this way. I don’t steal (well, I illegally download music), I don’t lie (very often), I don’t cheat (much at all), I don’t physically hurt people, and I am not maniacally running rampant through the world creating disorder, confusion and pain wherever I walk. I’ve gone from being a part of the problem to being a part of the solution. That’s an inarguable fact. And, most assuredly, my insides have changed as well. I am no longer completely selfish and self-centered. I no longer spend all my time thinking about me and how do get my needs met. I no longer think I know everything or that I am right all the time. I am no longer judgmental of others. I have elements of empathy and compassion and caring and love and hope that were simply never there before I got sober. I have a hunger for purity and a desire to serve God that has become the gas for my internal engine.
And yet, despite all these radical changes, there is still the one stubborn corner of my internal wiring that does not appear interested in budging a single inch. Every day, at its core, is centrally about getting through. So much so, that I continually find myself surprised when I manage to get through. That is, the sun goes down and evening finally rolls around and I kind of think to myself, “Huh…I made it…cool.” I don’t know why I am surprised that I made it. I am generally unaware of anything in particular that was standing in the way of my making it. In fact, short of an unforeseen tragedy, like me being struck by lightning or getting hit by a semi crossing the street or being taken down by a massive aneurysm, there was seemingly nothing at all which stood much chance of keeping me from making it. And still, “Huh…I made it…cool.”
There’s no doubt that a genuine factor in all of this is that I have a very real fear that I will go insane. I have written about this before so I won’t prattle on about it. See, the thing is I am frightfully intelligent. I have an unusually high I.Q. If I had the slightest bit of interest in joining Mensa (which I don’t) I am pretty sure I’d be a shoe-in. I’ve come to learn that there is no shame in admitting this, as I once thought there was, (1) because it is not something I accomplished. I just happened to come out this way, (2) I truly don’t understand it to ultimately be an asset. I may, in fact, qualify as genius-level (you know what’s funny? I originally misspelled “genius.” Better yet, I misspelled “misspelled”) And history shows that a solid percentage of the world’s geniuses have ended up going utterly bonkers or outright ending their own lives. It is a burden. It really is. Part of me thinks that I might trade with someone for an 85 I.Q. in a New York second. Still, a wise man once told me that one truly knows they are progressing spiritually when life stops being about having what you want and starts being about wanting what you have. I’m pretty much there. I’m not really looking to trade places with anyone. If me and a thousand other people made a circle and we all threw our problems into the middle of the floor, I am pretty sure that I would take mine back. I believe that the way I am; I was meant to be this way. I am something of a tortured spirit and always have been. Alcoholics Anonymous and the love of Jesus and counseling and psychotherapy and E.M.D.R. and inner-child workshops and group relations conferences and spiritual retreats have all helped me cope better in the world. But they have not seen fit to undo my tortured spirit. And so I must conclude that this is my true nature. I know for a fact that the transparency and authenticity I have seen fit to enact in terms of my tortured spirit have been a help to many, many people; scads of which had tried various other kinds of help to no avail.
So, there you have it. This is me. Unconventional, eclectic, eccentric, “marching to the beat of my own drummer” me. And I guess I’ll keep being me until the good Lord decides that it is time for me to stop being me. Honestly, I am looking very forward to that. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suicidal or anything. But I cannot wait for the day that God decides that my work here is complete and brings me to the place where there is no sadness; there is no suffering; there is no pain; there are no tears; there is no anxiety. On that day, I feel confident that I will have my first serene and peaceful morning.
She was too good for me. That I knew for sure. As I walked the thirty blocks down toward her apartment on east 66th St., I was remarkably nervous. This was unusual to say the least. I was never nervous on a first date. Never. I was a professional first-dater. I was the king of first dates. The way I generally felt on a first date had to resemble the way Michael Jordan felt on the court. He wasn’t the tallest guy on the court. He wasn’t the fastest guy on the court. He wasn’t the strongest guy on the court. But he was always the smartest guy on the court. He had all the right moves. He always concurrently had a game plan and, yet, was infinitely adaptable. He could anticipate what was going to happen three moves before it happened. That was what first dates were like for me. I knew, going in, pretty much exactly how I was going to go about weaving this new young sweet lass right around my finger. Based on the information I already had on her (which varied from just a little to quite a lot), I already knew which stories, which anecdotes, which one-liners, and what level of intimacy was necessary to make her mine; or just sleep with her, depending on the girl. I’m not bragging. There was nothing healthy or upright or noble or decent about this. I was something of a cad. I didn’t outright seek to harm women and I certainly never forced a woman to do anything or, heaven for bid, laid a hand on a woman. But I was a master manipulator. I knew how to draw people in. I knew how to gain their trust in a very short period of time. I knew how to make them crave me. And, the truth is, I needed for them to crave me. I needed for them to want to devour me. That was the only way in which I was able to decipher that they liked me. My shattered insides only had the ability to spot lovability through the process of desirability. It’s essentially a personality disorder most commonly known as “histrionic.” While sex was often the inevitable result, it was almost never what I was truly after. What I wanted from any given girl was evidence that she was delighted with me; that I was good enough; that she was proud to be with me; that I had worth. I was looking for someone to give me what my mother hadn’t (or couldn’t). No, I didn’t know all of this then. Denial was my gasoline and all I saw was a juiced up Camaro doing 80 on a clear, four-lane highway. But that was all about to change. Because the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, decided it was time for Michael to learn a little something about a little something that was missing.
She was different. I knew that as soon as I saw her. The very first day of that boring Anthropology class, I spotted her. Piercing blue eyes, high cheekbones, a dimple of a nose, soft lips, strong chin; all framed by her short, stylish tangerine hair. She was thin but not skinny. Alabaster skin and curves in all the right places. Red shirt, blue overalls, and white sneakers. She struck me as a farmers daughter in a porn movie. I have it on good authority that a close companion once referred to her as, “The girl next door wearing no underwear.” But more than anything, it was abundantly clear that she was innocent and good. Whatever that meant, I knew it was true. And that kept me at bay. As attracted as I was to her, she just didn’t strike me as the kind of girl who would go for me. I was most certainly not the guy who could score any girl. I did all right for myself, but mainly I had good instincts and had a knack for spotting girls who were prone to fall for my particular charms. Further, I knew when a girl was checking me out. And while she would later admit she was doing just that, she did a hell of a job of keeping on the down low. So as the weeks came and went, I would stare at her, and long for her, and do nothing about it. Until the one fateful day I strolled into the classroom to find no teacher present. The teacher had always been there before as I walked in; every single time. I would later find that this had something to do with the fact that the class started 5-10 minutes earlier than I thought it did. But, even though I arrived at my usual time, he wasn’t there. A classroom full of students (big class, lecture style classroom) but no teacher.
And there she was. And she was looking at me. At least I was pretty sure she was. As soon as my eyes caught hers, she looked away, but I was fairly certain that she had at least noticed me, if not checked me out. If there was ever going to be a shot for me with this girl, this seemed to be it. And I wasn’t going to let my fear keep me from taking a crack at it. So I walked the steps up to the row in which she sat near the middle, and made my way in her direction. I said, “excuse me,” as I squeezed between her legs and the seat in front of them and we shared what felt like another moment as I passed. I positioned my self about four seats away from her, put my stuff down and began waiting just like everyone else. After another five to seven minutes passed, about 15% of the class rose and started to file out. I couldn’t stand the class, and I most surely would have followed the pack out if not for the fact that I was close enough to smell her perfume and I was partially hypnotized. Another five minutes passed and about half of the remaining group slowly rose and headed for the door. At this point, I had come to accept that I had no design here other than sitting four seats away from her, and woefully decided that it was time to bail and hope to live to fight another day. But I had to squeeze past her yet again, and this time my “excuse me” was met with a reply. “He’s outside talking to a student,” she said with just a hint of a smile. “What?” I queried, not entirely sure that she was talking to me. “The teacher. He’s outside talking with a student. But he’s here.” So here I was, stuck between her knees and the back of a chair, staring at her, having received this seemingly cryptic message. With no time to think, I spat out, “Okay, you got five minutes,” and sat down next to her. She giggled a bit at what I guess landed as something in the realm of humor, and I introduced myself. She returned the favor and just the way she uttered her name made me feel a bit lightheaded. Nonetheless, there I was, talking to her. I couldn’t believe it and I was dead set on not blowing it.
We chatted a bit. I don’t recall about what, but I do recall that it was easy and comfortable. She shared that she wasn’t wild about the class either, which I used to my advantage once the teacher arrived and. after a quick apology, started the day’s lesson. Over the course of the next forty-five minutes, I drew silly pictures of the teacher and passed her a few ribald notes, all of which made her laugh heartily. I was enthralled with this girl. My attraction to her was nearly overwhelming but it wasn’t inherently sexual. Don’t get me wrong. She was sexy as all get out, and the idea of her body sans clothes occurred to me at least a few times. But that wasn’t the crux of it. She was just… amazing. It almost felt like she was glowing; like some humming aura of all that was right with the world surrounded her entire being, and just sitting next to it was somehow making me better.
The class concluded and we stood and gathered our things. There was never going to be a more opportune time to do this, but I was hesitant nonetheless. What were the chances that a girl like this wasn’t already with someone? And even if she wasn’t, despite all the seeming flirtatiousness, why would she want me? “So, um, would you be interested in going out to dinner with me sometime?” It took every ounce of will not to follow that up with, “Just kidding.” “I’d love to,” she answered and proceeded to write down her phone number. We walked out of class together and I am quite sure that my converse high tops were not touching the tiled classroom floor as we did. We continued effortlessly chatting as we made our way to the ground level and out onto the streets of New York City. We reached a stop light at which I would be turning right as she carried on forward. I knew I shouldn’t ask. It was too desperate, too needy. “I know it’s short notice, but I am not doing anything tomorrow, are you?” She looked at me curiously. Crap, I had blown it. “Tomorrow is good,” she answered. We set a time for me to pick her up and off I went skipping down the sidewalk. I didn’t actually skip. I look awful skipping. But I really wanted to.
So there I was, slowly making my way down York Avenue, headed for a date that felt somewhere between exhilarating and foreboding. I knew where I was going to take her. But I had no game plan. I didn’t want to “work” this girl. I wanted to join with her. I wanted to blend with her. I wanted to be authentic and transparent. And it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure that I really knew how to do that. My usual level of first date confidence was nowhere to be found. This girl was better than me and she was sure to figure that out in short order. And it felt like I had only two regrettable choices. Be real and let her figure out that she was better than me, or attempt to sell myself as better than I was which would require dishonesty. I had half a mind to go home. Not because I didn’t want to go, but because there was no way this was going to work out and I was already enamored enough by this girl that it was bound to crush me. But I kept walking, and as each block passed inevitably by, it became clearer and clearer that I was going to go through with it.
I took the rickety elevator up to the fifth floor and knocked. As I did, I was wondering if she was actually as beautiful as my memory was telling me she was based on our experience the day before. My memory was wrong. She was even better. Dressed in a cream color two piece top and skirt, she was utterly stunning. And yet, it became clear that the ease with which we communicated the previous day had gone completely out the window. In retrospect, I now know that this was because she was nervous as all get out. This was to be her first date after coming out of a seven-year relationship. But I read her nervousness as her having come to her senses, realizing that I was worthless and that she was crazy to have said yes and frantically looking for a way out. She was frittering around the apartment somewhat haphazardly, closing things and moving things and doing things that did not seem to have much of a point other than to stall. Seemingly having found no way to bail, eventually we were off, walking down second avenue, unable to generate a conversation including anything other than sentences with less than three words. Finally, I offered that we might hail a cab, as were heading down to the village. In the cab, we both admitted that we were coming out of long term relationships (mine had been about a year and a half), which helped to ease the tension, and by the time we arrived at The Anjelica Film Center, the previous day’s repartee had returned. I was relieved and monumentally joyful that there was still a chance for us. We were early for the movie (Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies), so we sat in the cafe, sipping cappuccinos and conversing merrily.
The movie was about a third over and I was downright percolating with the desire to touch her. I just couldn’t make a move. I couldn’t make my body do anything. This had never been a problem for me either. I knew how to make a move. I knew when it was time to make a move. And my moves were generally successful. But I wanted to go slow with this girl. One, because she didn’t strike me as a girl who moved fast. Two, because I really liked her and wanted to do things right and not let the physical trump the emotional. And three, because I was terrified. My mojo had gone missing and was nowhere to be found. I thought about putting my arm around her, but it felt terribly unnatural and my arm appeared unwilling to move in that direction.
And then I had an inspiration. I could hold her hand. That felt right. It felt intimate but chaste. It actually felt like what I most wanted to do. But still, I was afraid. What if even that felt like too much to her this early on? What if she rejected the advance? The rest of the movie would be terribly awkward and we might not recover. I danced through multiple scenarios for what seemed like forever, but, finally, I inched my right hand over toward her left and lightly touched my palm to hers. The next thing I felt were her fingers finding mine and tangling them into a splendid co-habitation. As we sat there, watching the film (which was very good) holding hands, I was about as happy as I’d ever been. And then, and I am truly not sure who initiated it or if we just sort of organically began together, we began moving our hands in and out of each other’s, sliding our fingers up and down; it was almost as if our hands were dancing together. I had had a fair amount of sex at that point, and I can honestly say it was the most intimate thing I had ever experienced with a woman. I felt like I was high. My head was spinning and my stomach was doing flips. Our hand serenade continued through the rest of the movie and as the credits rolled and the lights came up, we slowly unlocked our fingers and looked into each others eyes. I did not plan to do it. I had not thought about doing it. In fact, I was pretty committed to not doing it. But our eyes were locked and all of a sudden I couldn’t keep from doing it. I leaned in and softly kissed her lips. It was, and still is, the best kiss of my life. It was perfect. She tasted like strawberries and oleander and rain drops and fresh morning dew and delirium and bliss. I knew, just then, at that very moment, without question, that I was head over heels in love with this woman.
We drifted down the block, hand in hand, as I led her over to Temple Bar, one of those cool late-night places without a sign that you only know about because some Big Apple insider told you about it. I slipped the manager a twenty to give us a booth in the back, which seemed to impress her. I ordered her a glass of wine and myself a martini, along with a table full of small appetizers. For the next three hours, we sat in the dimly lit restaurant, alternately talking about our pasts, tenderly kissing, and feeding each other. It was rapturous. As I sat there, I was aware that I was having trouble remembering what my life was like before she came along. It felt like I had known her forever. Things like “soul mate” and “meant to be” never held much water for me until that night. But everything had changed. I wanted to spend every day of the rest of my life with this woman and I was ready to move heaven and earth to make that happen.
Finally, at nearly two in the morning, I paid the bill and we hailed a cab uptown. We were snuggling and kissing in the back of the cab all the way back to 66th st. When we arrived, I got out of the cab to bid her farewell. Instead, she nervously said, “Would you like to come upstairs and see some pictures?” Now, this was a conundrum. I was wholeheartedly flummoxed by this question. I was thinking to myself, “Okay, up until now, a girl asking if you wanted to come up and see pictures at two in the morning undoubtedly meant sex. Now I do not want to have sex with this girl tonight. I mean, I totally want to have sex with this girl but there is no way that I am going to. And she could not possibly want to have sex with me. Could she actually want to show me pictures? Should I decline? What is happening right now?!”
The next thing I knew, I paid the cabbie and sent him along, she unlocked the front building door, and we stepped into the elevator to go look at “pictures.” Lo and behold, we walked inside and she pulled out a bunch of picture albums. Well, what do you know? This girl actually wanted to show me pictures at two in the morning. Well, that was only half true. She was actually desirous and willing to do some other stuff. Not because this was her way; because it wasn’t. Not at all. You see, what I did not know was that she was as confused by my asking her out as I was by her saying yes. She had never been out with someone like me. She sort of fancied me a “bad boy” of sorts and deduced that a night of passion was probably all I was available for. She was as deeply enamored with me as I was with her at this point, but she did not believe that I was up for anything more than a one night stand. And she had never had a one night stand. And she had pretty much decided that she should have at least one in her life, and that I was going to be it.
We did not make love that night. We did some other stuff. Quite a bit of stuff actually, but it was all sweet and wonderful and slow and interlaced with talking and laughing and looking at more pictures. I stayed the night. Waking up next to her the next morning was sheer nirvana. I asked her if I could take her out to breakfast and she agreed. As I paid the check and we were getting up to leave, she was quite sure that this was the last time she was ever going to see me. That is until I asked her, “Is there any way that I can see you again tonight?” We’ve been together every day since then. This October will make twenty years. And I am just as wild about her today as I was on that fateful night. I still don’t deserve her. I am still not good enough for her. But, for some reason, she has yet to figure that out. And I have every intention of sticking around hoping against hope that she never does.
- Favorite Person: (Tie) Lorri, Sydney & Ryan Mark
- Favorite Comedic TV Show: The King of Queens
- Favorite Animated Show: Family Guy
- Favorite Dramatic TV Show: (Tie) Breaking Bad & The West Wing
- Favorite Food: String Cheese
- Favorite Book of the Bible: The Book of John
- Favorite Chain Restaurant: Panera Bread
- Favorite Band: The Mountain Goats
- Favorite Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
- Favorite Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh
- Favorite Sample in a Rap Song: “If I knew it was gonna be that kinda party, I’d a stuck my dick in the mashed potatoes.” (The Beastie Boys ‘B-Boys Makin’ With The Freak Freak’)
- Favorite Breed of Dog: English Bulldog
- Favorite Color: Azure
- Favorite Dramatic Film: Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen)
- Favorite Comedic Film: The Frisco Kid (Robert Aldrich)
- Favorite Commercial: “Thanks, Easter Bunny. Bock Bock!”
- Favorite Arcade Video Game: Ms. Pac-Man
- Favorite Song: “Debaser” (The Pixies)
- Favorite Fiction Book: Cats Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
- Favorite Non-Fiction Book: (Tie) Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived (Ralph Helfer) & Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)
- Favorite Book Series: Harry Potter
- Favorite Candy: Boston Baked Beans
- Favorite Male Singer: Tom Waits
- Favorite Female Singer: Joni Mitchell
- Favorite Fast Food: White Castle
- Favorite Play: Glengarry Glen Ross
- Favorite Musical: Sweeney Todd
- Favorite Excuse for Getting Out of Work: Food Poisoning
- Favorite Sesame Street Character: Grover
- Favorite Album: Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan)
- Favorite TV Character: Jack Bauer
- Favorite Kind of Clothing: Zip-Up Hoodie
- Favorite Gaming System: Wii
- Favorite Retail Store: Target
- Favorite State in the Union: Oregon
- Favorite Comedian: Louis C.K.
- Favorite Type of Pie: Pecan
- Favorite Rap Song: “You Can’t C Me” (Tupac)
- Favorite Decade: The 70’s
- Favorite Cookies: E.L. Fudge
- Favorite U.S. President: Jimmy Carter
- Favorite Board Game: The Game of Life
- Favorite Cereal: Honey Bunches of Oats
- Favorite Outdoor Activity: Going back inside
- Favorite Sport: Baseball
- Favorite Reality Television Show: Master Chef
- Favorite Actor Who Died Too Young: Phillip Seymour Hoffman
- Favorite Rapper: Aesop Rock
- Favorite Vacation Destination: Any place you get to on a cruise
- Favorite Derisive Insult: Ass Hat
- Favorite Vice: Vaping
- Favorite Person to Hate: Bethany Frankel
- Favorite Fruit: Mango
- Favorite Coffee: Papa Nicholas Cinnamon Hazlenut
- Favorite Coffee Additive: Coffee Mate Sweet Italian Cream
- Favorite Way to Purposely Harm Your Body: Tattooing
- Favorite Household Task: Folding Laundry
- Favorite Textbook: Alcoholics Anonymous
- Favorite Friend: Jonathan Medina
- Favorite Asshole: Donald Trump
- Favorite Hair Style: Buzz Cut
- Favorite Superhero: Captain Underpants
- Favorite Animal: Horse
- Favorite Movie I’ve Seen Far Too Many Times: Goodfellas
- Favorite Talk Show Host: Howard Stern
- Favorite Cheesy Songwriter: Billy Joel
- Favorite Poet: Shel Silverstein
- Favorite Form of Communication: Texting
- Favorite Vice That I’d Like To Be Free Of: Masturbation
- Favorite T-Shirt: Los Pollos Hermanos
- Favorite Magician: David Blaine
- Favorite Electronic Equipment: Anything Not Made By Apple
- Favorite Form of Exercise: Treadmill
- Favorite Beverage: Arizona Green Tea
- Favorite Car: Saab 9-3 SE Convertible
- Favorite Web Show: Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee
- Favorite Clown: Shakes The Clown
- Favorite Vampire: Nicholas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss
- Favorite Ghost: Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense
- Favorite Werewolf: Remus Lupin
- Favorite Homosexual: Clive Barker
- Favorite Serial Killer: Twisty from American Horror Story: Freak Show
- Favorite Sidekick: Andy Samberg
- Favorite Circus: Cirque Du Soleil
- Favorite Foreign Language: Hebrew
- Favorite Robert Deniro Performance: The King of Comedy
- Favorite Guitar Solo: Slash (Lenny Kravitz’s Fields of Joy)
- Favorite Movie Villain: Heath Ledger as The Joker
- Favorite Movie Car Chase: The French Connection
- Favorite Preacher: Tim Keller
- Favorite Song Line: “Birthdays was the worst days, now we drink champagne when we thirstay.” (Biggie Smalls ‘Juicy’)
- Favorite Yankee All-Time: Paul O’Neill
- Favorite Internet Browser: Google Chrome
- Favorite Ailment: 102 Degree Fever
- Favorite Unknowable Concept: The Trinity
- Favorite Game App: Word Streak (Formerly Scramble With Friends)
- Favorite Magazine: Entertainment Weekly
- Favorite Film Director: (Tie) Stanley Kubrick & Darron Arnofsky
- Favorite Junkie: Chris Rock in New Jack City
- Favorite Favorite: Jesus Christ
I think that I’m an alien. I’m fairly sure that I’m wrong about that. I’m also positive that I’m right. My hypothesis gets both twisted sideways and ultimately confirmed by my faith in Christ. And no, this is not, fundamentally, a Christian post, so don’t flee. Simply, the rampant damage and abject suffering driving my assumption is summarily undone by the Scripture’s proclamation that I am surely a person made in God’s image. Conversely, the very same writings assure me that as a saved follower of the Lord, my true home is the kingdom of heaven, therefore rendering me a resident alien here on this big blue spinning marble. But the brand of alien that I surely am does little to sate my sense that I am the kind of alien that I most probably am not.
The dark place is foreboding. No, not foreboding. I mean, yes foreboding, but foreboding sounds too, like, Victorian or something. The dark place is a living nightmare. It arrives without warning. It arrives not at its ultimate apex, but somewhere further down the mountain. Just far enough below, that it brings about questions; morbid questions. Is it here? Is this it? Is there still time to reverse it? Is it a fait acommpli? In this incarnation, there remains enough light to see vaguely ahead; sort of like driving on a fog-drenched evening; careening down the road, your brights rendered meaningless, wondering constantly if you are heading for a snowbank or a curve in the road. And in too short order, I need to relent and pull over to the side of the road. And I am incapacitated. I am a slave to isolation. I awake, as if from a dream of normalcy, into a land in which the scariest thing I can imagine is to move and the second scariest thing I can imagine is to remain still. I can do nothing but will myself to live for another second; and then another. And what I want most is not to live. It is suicidal ideation without the possibility of a suicidal plan. Jesus gets in the way here, too. I’d never do myself in. It’s not even an option. The inherent sinfulness is only compounded by my wife and children; I’d never abandon them. So I have no way to live and no way to die. And it is excruciating. And I am positive that I don’t belong in this world. There has been a mistake. What I am experiencing must surely be some inherent, subconscious realization that my surroundings are not my natural dwelling place, and my very being is terrified at the prospect of continued survival in this alien land. And, yes, again, the Scriptures. My begotten being does not belong to this sin-filled, broken world and I am simply waiting to ascend to my heavenly home. But, no, that’s not the feeling. The feeling is that I am not, in fact, human.
My med cycle is a bloody traffic accident. 90 mg of Cymbalta; 100 mg. of Trazodone; 30 mg. of Temazapam; 40 mg. of Latuda; 50 mg. of Adderall; 900 mg. of Gabapentin; 3 mg. of Alprazolam. They all come from a competent Psychiatrist and they are all diagnosed based on genuine pathologies which have been professionally diagnosed. But that matters little. It matters some. It would be worse, yes, if I was ordering all this stuff on the internet from some black market underground site or copping them on the street. At the same time, it swings the door wide on potential justification. Can one daily take amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and sleeping pills and still call themselves sober? Am I a fraud? Do I have any business strolling into the rooms of recovery claiming eighteen years of sobriety and sponsoring and counseling others? And forgetting all of that, I spend a good amount of time aware that the general ebb and flow of my med cycle basically determines the ebb and flow of my emotions on any given day. At least I think they do. Because when you are an alcoholic and a drug addict and a compulsive overeater and a bulimic and co-dependent and ADHD and bi-polar and financially unstable and awash in childhood wreckage and your mother has abandoned you and there is a massive spiritual divide between you and your wife and you find yourself at the bottom of a deep emotional well, it is somewhat difficult to target what the problem is. I don’t remember what it was like to not be on meds. Was it better? I don’t have a clue. Should I just go off everything? That sounds terrifying. Would it even be wise? I have no idea. Am I addicted to my meds? No, I don’t think so. But I am assuredly deeply, disconcertingly dependent on them. And, after all, who but an alien from another world dropped on earth as a product of some cosmic mistake would need this much medication just to function on this planet?
I don’t like myself very much. Well, I kind of like myself some of the time, but I don’t love myself. Often, I hate myself. I also think that the psychological, self-help juggernaut that is the United States has put far too much weight on the idea of self-love. I don’t need to love myself. I need to know that God loves me. And I do know that. I never doubt it. And yet, you’d think that the assurance that God loves me would naturally lead me to some semblance of self-love. But it doesn’t. Not really. I am aware that I am lovable. I know this because there are a remarkable number of remarkable people who truly and sincerely love me. And they are neither stupid nor am I willingly trying to pull the wool over their eyes. I would give anything to feel about myself the way some of these folks claim to feel about me. I don’t. And, the thing is, I don’t even really know why I don’t. I just don’t. I know what my assets are. I know what I bring to the table. I know that I have charm and charisma. I know that I am tender and funny and genuine and kind and compassionate and interesting. It doesn’t confuse me that people are easily drawn to me. I get it. I think that I would be drawn to me. That is, if I were not me. But as me, I am not drawn to me. I am drawn to run away from me; I am drawn to get the hell out of me. And if you sense a disconnect here, I would agree with you. Something doesn’t quite add up. If I know that God loves me and I know that people love me and I can see why people love me and I can sense that if I were not me that I would love me, then what stands in the way of me loving myself? This is the sort of circular thinking that speeds through my head like a train whose breaks have failed day in and day out. Somehow, the general way in which love is meant to operate within the human heart hits a snag within me; transforming into an epic fail. The inevitable conclusion is that I am an alien.
It feels as if I have a secret life. Although I don’t have many secrets. Some, yes. But not many. And nothing massive; nothing that would shatter anyone else. Nothing illegal or regarding wrongdoing to others. And yet I feel like I live in secrecy. I feel like a liar. Although I don’t often lie. I lie sometimes, although I generally clean it up rather quickly when I do. But not always. Again, I don’t lie about major things. But I am prone to tell someone that I didn’t receive a message that I know all too well that I did receive and just chose to ignore. All in all, I am honest and relatively transparent (this very blog as a piece of evidence). Nonetheless, I feel like a liar. I think I’m a thief. No, I no longer shoplift from retail stores or steal things from other people. But I take some shortcuts. Or, at the very least, I take some advantage of situations in a manner that, I believe, qualifies as stealing. I think I’m selfish. It’s ironic, this notion. Over the last two decades, I have literally helped thousands of people in tangible ways which have helped them grow, learn and heal. I can’t tell you how many individuals have told me that I changed or bettered their lives. And I don’t show up for others only at my convenience. I have gone to great lengths, sacrificing much, to come alongside others in their time of need. And yet, I think I always think of myself first and I somehow make everything about me. I think I am impulsive, impatient, arrogant, envious, prideful, gluttonous, manipulative, sneaky, condescending, crude, impractical, unyielding, strident and I talk way too much. I’m also not these things. I think, if I looked at it all objectively (which I cannot), I am generally not all these things. Regardless, I think that I am all these things. I think I am a bad person. And, yes, here comes Jesus again, “Of course you are a bad person. You are a sinner. So is everyone else. That’s why I needed to come and die and rise again.” Yes, I am a bad person in that way. But I also think that I am, by earthly standards, a bad person. Maybe another way of saying that is that I think that I am bad at being a person. And maybe that’s because I am not a person. I am an alien.
There are all kinds of things wrong with me. My back aches constantly. My knees are a nightmare. My rotater cuffs are consistently sore. I have flat feet which ache. I have recessive gum disease, which means I will, in time, lose all my teeth. My stomach is testy, which makes my appetite ebb and flow wildly. I don’t sleep well. My immune system is compromised, leading me to get sick far more often than is normal. I have an enlarged prostate. I have Raynaud’s Syndrome, which kills off blood flow to the extremities causing my fingers and toes to go numb in response to cold or stress. My mouth almost always feels dry. I am something of an eighty-five year old man inside of a forty-three year old man’s body. I literally feel like I am falling apart. Maybe because I don’t have a body made for this world. Maybe because I am an alien.
I don’t much like people. But I love them. I deeply want to be left alone. And yet, I long to have a wide cadre of folks available to me. I don’t understand people. Nonetheless, people feel innately understood by me. I never really want to attend gatherings or parties. Still, when I hide from the outside world, I feel tragically alone. I generally don’t answer my phone. But I want people to call me. I don’t want new people to come into my life and add to the responsibility of keeping up with people. Regardless, I make a fantastic first impression and welcome individuals into my space all the time. It’s not a game. It’s more like a Greek tragedy. The last thing that I want to do is hurt anybody. But I do a fantastic job of hurting myself. And, at times, hurting myself, hurts others. And then the shame comes.
Shame is my shadow. Shame is my doppelganger. Shame is my bed partner. Shame is my constant companion. It’s not guilt. I mean, sometimes I feel guilty. But I don’t really do enough outwardly wrong or bad things to feel a steady stream of guilt. I’d happily trade in shame for guilt. At least, with guilt, there is something tangible. Something that can be attended to. Something that can be made right. With shame, nothing can be made right. Because the problem is that I’m not right. Shame is a nefarious monologue. Shame is the concrete evidence that I am not okay and that I am not going to be okay; that everything is not okay and that everything is not going to be okay. Shame is brilliant. It spins these hypotheses without the need for conclusive data. It debates from the podium without a shred of evidence and it wins every time. I throw everything I have up against it and all I come away with is that I’m wrong; it’s all wrong; everything is wrong. Maybe, for me, all would be right on Neptune or Uranus.
I struggle with gratitude. At least in any kind of meaningful way. Don’t get me wrong. At any given time on any given day, I can look in any given direction and be awash in all that I have; all that I have been granted. I see these things and I am thankful. I appreciate the absurd bounty that God has bestowed upon me. But my relationship with all that I have is purely academic. I see it, I acknowledge it, I am aware of it, I can’t deny it; but I don’t really feel it. That is, I can’t seem to take all the wonder that has been so freely given and climb inside and let it soothe my hysterical insides. Instead, I sit at the fringes of all my gifts and look at them and see them for exactly what they are; but they fail to sate my restless spirit; my alien spirit.
Near as I can tell, I have experienced anxiety exactly every day of my time on this earth. That may be an exaggeration, but if it is, it is not a purposeful one. I really believe that. I am stumped to think of a time from my life, which, by the way includes a lot of “good” times, in which I did not feel anxious. Anxiety has been so pervasive in my life, that I did not even spot it as anxiety until about five years ago. I thought it was just the way people were made, as I had never experienced anything else. It undercuts everything, like the laid foundation of a building. And that sort of describes the feeling. I have all these skills and qualities and ways of being that should bring about some semblance of satisfaction, but it is all built on a faulty foundation. They accidentally built me on wetlands or something. And I am slowly sinking back into the earth. And, again, I come back to the original thought. Maybe my foundation is irregular because it is not a human foundation.
Don’t bother arguing or attempting to relax me by stating that I am surely not an alien. Because I will only tell you that you are probably right. I can’t defend my position in any kind of satisfying way. I don’t even know that I really think it. It may very well be a stand-in for some other words that my mind is incapable of forming. But, for now, it’s all I have. I think I might be an alien. And who knows what that could mean. Perhaps I am dangerous in ways that have not yet come to light. Maybe I was sent here to destroy the earth and all the humans populating it. Maybe there is some special timing device built deep within me that will, when the time is right, be triggered from millions of light years away, turning me into the great enemy of all the mortals. Probably not. But, just in case, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s a Tuesday night. You come from an arduous day in the ol’ coal mines; exhausted and frustrated. You peel your jacket off and put your briefcase in the corner. And right there; in that moment, there is a sense… an air of anticipation. For you know, that within 30-40 minutes, an opportunity will arise allowing you to be horizontal on your fluffy duvet, plate of nachos on your chest, cell phone at your side, watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Tuned in and tuned out.
But, alas, upon your briefcase release, you become aware that there are four differently colored balloons tied to the four highboy chairs that surround your kitchen island. And on the island itself is a vibrant bag stuffed with tissue paper and a box covered by silver wrapping adorned with a cadre of scissor-curled bows. And to the side of these items stands your wife and two children with gleeful smiles across all their faces. There will be no duvet. There will be no tasty chips covered in hot, drippy cheese sauce and picante salsa. There will be no innards being torn from the torsos of helpless human survivors by rabid zombies. There will be a reapplication of your coat and a re-entrance into your vehicle and a trip to The Olive Garden. The aforementioned exhaustion and frustration of your day now bleeds vigilantly into your evening. Any why this aberration of dynamism and gaudy, chromatic flashiness? Because it is your birthday.
And of course this ought be a day for rampant celebration; of course it should. By all means, this is important. After all, 364 days have passed since the last time you endured this overwrought, unnecessary hullabaloo. You should be celebrated and given a greater level of love than you get on all the other days, and receive things you’ve neither asked for nor need. Absolutely you should. Because you have ceremoniously accomplished the astounding feat of going an entire year without dropping dead.
I don’t get birthdays. I mean, I get them. In concept, I get them. But I don’t get them. Frankly, I don’t really get the whole idea of “special days” in general. I don’t get the idea that I should feel certain ways or do certain things simply by virtue of the date on the calendar. I don’t want to bring my wife flowers on Valentine’s Day. I want to bring my wife flowers on a Tuesday because I am thinking about her and love her. I don’t want to be especially nice to people on Christmas. I want to be especially nice to people on line at the grocery store when the new clerk has a void and a line full of annoyed, grumbly individuals are growing more impatient by the minute awaiting the arrival of the manager with the magical key. I don’t want a day off from work on Thanksgiving. I want a day off from work when I am feeling despondent and desperate and trapped in isolation, borderline vomitous about the idea of spending eight hours with a group of people in an office. I find special days intrusive and strewn with irritating expectation. And, to be clear, this is not precisely an opinion I have, so much as it is the manner in which I’m wired. So, when I say I don’t get it, I mean something inside of me really, truly doesn’t get it. It is lost on me. But no “special days” appear as silly and purposeless to me as birthdays.
You were born. That had nothing to do with you. You neither chose it, nor did you accomplish it. And you have stayed alive for x number of years since that time. That has little to nothing to do with you either. You have been blessed to have avoided contracting Leukemia, or being struck by lightning, or careening into a horrific car accident or having some kind of ominous brain aneurysm just go pop in your head one day dropping you like stone. I mean, yes, you can watch your diet and get regular check-ups and take vitamins and supplements and such, but still, your being alive is not really about you. So why celebrate it? Why force people to act happy and cheery and make difficult restaurant choices as a result of them having done nothing? Now there are two exceptions here. The first one is children. They are children. Let them revel in their birthdays with clowns and magicians and Chuck E. Cheese and scads of wrapped pieces of plastic crap that their parents will have to find a way to cram into their already stuffed to the gills toy drawers. It’s like Halloween. Kids ought to party hardy on Halloween. But if you older than twenty and still get jacked toward the end of October from the idea of putting a costume on, I would suggest that your priorities may be a smidgen out of order. The other exception is adults who, for some odd reason, love their birthdays, and wish for those who care about them to engage in celebratory actions. If it’s your cup of tea and you want to be honored for this accomplishment that you didn’t accomplish, knock yourself out. But even in this case, I must say, I find it really weird when adults throw themselves birthday parties. It rings as sort of borderline selfish or self-consumed. Mainly because I don’t want to come. I don’t want to come to your birthday party. But now I have this pithy invitation magnetized to my refrigerator, daily reminding me of this imposition of an obligation causing me to frantically wrack my brain trying to come up with an adequate excuse to help me avoid showing up at.
I’m aware that one could argue that the reason behind the celebration of birthdays is that your birth is a miracle and each year on that same date, we essentially give thanks that the miracle took place. But by that logic, we should continue to celebrate people’s birthdays once they have expired. After all, their being born into the world is no less a miracle simply because they aren’t around anymore. A miracle is a miracle. Just like biblical miracles (Christmas, Channukah, Easter) which are celebrated yearly for all time, so should too, then, birth days. But they aren’t. So basically, we only think it’s super cool that you were born for the amount of time that you are here. After that, the miracle is all but defunct and no longer worthy of celebration. So, in light of this, the whole miracle celebrating theory strikes me as bunk.
About a month ago, I got a call from a friend with the specific intent of relaying to me that they were hurt that I had not called them on their birthday the week before. I responded, “I don’t even know when your birthday is.” They answered, “Well don’t you think you should?” I said, “Well, I don’t know if I should. I just know that I don’t.” “Well that hurts my feelings.” I asked, “Um… why does that hurt your feelings? I mean, don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to justify your feelings. You’re having them and that is real and I totally hear that your feelings are hurt and that makes me sad. I’m just wondering why, in your mind, my not knowing when your birthday is, somehow equates with how you believe I feel about you.” “Because,” they replied, “When you care about someone, you know and acknowledge their birthday.” “Okay,” I answered back, “I cannot get on board with that being a universal code of conduct. There is no global truth connecting loving someone and remembering and acknowledging their birthday. What I can get on board with, is that the two are linked for you. I don’t need to understand it to honor it. What I have been trying to get across, is that if you are simply waiting for the day to come when it will occur to me that I need to know when your birthday is and then make a point to ask you for it and then remember every year to call you or send you a card or something, that day is never going to come. But not because I don’t care. Because that will just not naturally occur to me. Because this is something that I need to know about you to be able to conform to it and I’m happy to do that now that I know. I will put your birthday into my phone calendar with a cue to remind me every year and I will never miss your birthday again.” He accepted this, but still seemed a bit confused about why I didn’t simply just know to do this. I just don’t. It doesn’t feel like a choice. I just have a brain that is not capable of registering this kind of information as pertinent or critical data.
I have the same problem with thank you notes. Not just thank you notes. The pressure to write thank you notes. If you’re going to give me a present, give me a present. The definition of a present, is something given freely without any expectation of getting something in return. If your going to give me a present with the expectation of receiving a little card of thanksgiving, please just keep your present. Because I’m inevitably going to forget to send the note and you’re going to be disappointed or angry. We don’t need that. I assure you I have never received a present without saying thank you. I have manners. But I ain’t sendin’ you no card. And please don’t send me one. Seriously. I don’t like receiving them. They annoy me. You thanked me already. Now you are saddling me with another piece of junk mail in my mailbox which I now need to carry inside of my house and tear open and read your generic words and now I’m stuck with both a card and an envelope that I need to go throw into the recycling bag which is already too full and your card and envelope serve to put it over the top so that I now need to pull the recycling bag out of its can and walk outside all the way to the bottom of my long driveway to dump the bag into the dumpster and then come back inside and put a new recycling bag into the can and now I’m exhausted. So thanks, but no thanks.
And I’m no hypocrite. This cuts both ways. Please don’t know what my birthday. Please. Please don’t bother knowing it or acknowledging it in any way. Please don’t text me or call me or Facebook me or snail mail me or purchase anything for me. This is not because I dislike my birthday. It doesn’t bother me to have a birthday. I certainly don’t mind getting older (I can’t tell you how many people asked me how I felt about turning 40 to which I could only offer that it was one more than 39) I just care nothing about it. Text me or call me or Facebook me or snail mail me or buy me a gift any time you’d like. I’d be delighted to hear from you and/or grateful to receive something from you. Feel free to do those things with reckless abandon. And, quite frankly, feel free to do any of those things ON my birthday, just don’t do them BECAUSE it’s my birthday. Honestly, if you were to do any of those things on my birthday, the prime effect they would probably have is to remind me that it’s my birthday. Because I generally forget. You’d have to do it early though, otherwise my family is likely to beat you to it. For those of you with membership or experience in the recovery world, I have the same relationship with my sober anniversary. Don’t care; usually forget about it. The fact that I’m sober is a miracle EVERY day. I’m always grateful for that. But when my anniversary rolls around, people are prone to want to congratulate me. Of course, I know this is well-intentioned. But don’t congratulate me for something that I had nothing to do with. God got me sober. Feel free to give as much thanks as you’d like to God on my sober anniversary. Personally, I don’t need the call, the card or the coin.
Finally, it is my true hope that you do not read these words as the musings of a grumpy misanthrope. I love giving of myself to others. I love helping people. I love making connections and being open and transparent and authentic with others. I love getting gifts for people. I love getting gifts from people. I’m a people person. I’m just not a birthday person.
It was a Sunday afternoon and I was standing on a rain-drenched street hunched under an awning near the 1 train entrance in mid-town Manhattan. I had been waiting for about a half an hour and was starting to get a little annoyed. All of a sudden, I heard a loud bellow emanating from a block or so uptown of me: “Hey, fat-boy” (I was fat then). I turned and saw the sinister smile of my best friend, Todd walking alongside my other best friend, Mark. We were all performing arts students at Ithaca College in the middle of summer break. Me and Mark were B.F.A. acting students, me going into my Sophomore year and he into his Junior. And Todd was approaching his senior year in the music school. I was living at my mom’s in Wayne N.J. and both mark and Todd were at their respective homes in upstate New York near Syracuse. We hadn’t seen each other in about a month and a half, so we made plans to meet up in the big apple for a day of fun and frivolity. Unfortunately, it was now pouring out so the plan of simply traversing the streets of the big city window shopping and buying useless crap and catching the occasional street performer had pretty much fallen by the wayside. We ended up sitting inside a Burger King with a copy of The Village Voice, turning pages, thinking we might be able to find a reasonably priced piece of theater to take in.
Todd and I had begun something of a side conversation as Mark continued to peruse. He turned a page and said, “Holy crap! What is this?!” We both turned to view the page he was gesturing at to find a picture of three bald men who were blue. I don’t mean they looked downtrodden, they were actually all the color blue. They all had these ominous looking eyes staring straight ahead as if hypnotized and entirely swathed in what looked like some kind of latex blue paint. “The show is called The Blue Man Group,” said Mark. “What in the world is a blue man group?” asked Todd. “I don’t know,” said I, “But I am pretty sure that this is our show.”
Bear in mind, this was 1991. The Blue Man Group had just recently opened in a small off-Broadway theater and was the hottest show to come along in years. But, having been lost in a haze of pot smoke and pizza grease in a small town near the finger lakes for the last ten months, we had no knowledge of this. So we grabbed a cab and made our way over to the address listed in the Village Voice advertisement. The show was scheduled to begin at 2pm and it was presently about 1:15, so we figured we had plenty of time to get our tickets scope out the lobby and find our seats. We threw open the double doors and crossed the threshold and stared eyes-wide at 900 square feet of real estate strewn with plastic tubes and neon. It looked like Willy Wonka’s laboratory on acid. Actually Willy Wonka’s laboratory looks like Willy Wonka’s laboratory on acid, but you get the idea. Todd proclaimed, “I don’t know what the hell this is, but whatever it is, it is going to be awesome!”
We strolled up to the ticket window and Mark requested, “Three please.” The woman behind the small window asked for our last names. “Why do you want our last names?” I inquired finding this to be a strange request. “So I can find your tickets for you,” she said sounding mildly irritated. “Oh,” I said, now grasping the point, “We don’t have tickets yet. We’ll take three.” The woman laughed. She actually laughed right in our faces. And not like a little titter either; more like a guffaw. “Honey, this show is sold out for the next 13 months.” We were baffled. Who were these blue men and how had they taken the city by storm without us ever having heard a word about it. She looked upon our perplexed faces and took a measure of pity on us. “Look, you can get on the cancellation line, but, I gotta tell ya, generally no more than two or three people make it through that way. Just to the right of us was a man staring at us with a look suggesting, “Don’t even think about getting in front of me.” He was clearly the beginning of the cancellation line. Behind him stood about fourteen more people. So, with no other options at hand, Todd, Mark and myself loped back and became numbers fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. I should also mention that we had been getting high outside the Burger King and we were all starting to come down. So, there we were. Three haggard-looking college students standing motionless hanging our hats on a near-impossibility. All of a sudden, Mark said, “Hang on a minute. I have an idea,” and proceeded to walk off toward the front of the theater.
Now, a word on Mark. Mark was the most skilled, devious, con-man I had ever met in my life. He was a wonderful guy with a heart of gold. But Mark had a mix of charm, magnetism and on-his-feet improvisation which could literally make just about anybody in the world do anything he wanted them to do at any time he wanted them to do it. So Todd and I watched Mark walked right up to the two ushers in front and began talking to them. The conversation, which looked amiable enough, went on for about five to seven minutes before they took him through a small doorway just to the left of the entrance. A few minutes later, Mark emerged wearing an usher vest just like the other two, standing in position, greeting people and ripping tickets. After a few minutes, he shot a glance over his shoulder at Todd and I, giving us a wry grin as we shrugged our shoulders, trying to mouth, “What the hell are you doing?”
Well, while Todd and I would not find this out for a few hours, what Mark was doing was this. He had approached the two ushers claiming that the three of us were a performance trio from Los Angeles who had a show which was garnering the same sort of attention as the blue men. He further told them that we had flown out here specifically to see what the blue men were doing to get some ideas and give our brethren our support, having no idea how difficult it was to get tickets. The ushers were, predictably, fascinated by whatever line of bullshit Mark was slinging. They told him that, coincidentally, one of their ushers had just called in sick and that if he was willing to help them out they would see what they could for us. Now, remember, Todd and I know none of this, so we are just watching Mark be an usher completely dumbstruck as to how this has occurred or what utility it may have.
All of a sudden, the woman in the window called the cancellation line to order. She had two tickets for the first two people in the line and the rest of us were out of luck. So while fifteen of us hung our heads in disappointment, Mark and the other two ushers came walking back toward the door leading into the theater. As they passed us, Mark whispered to Todd and I, “C’mon. Follow us.” Todd said, “But…” Mark cut him off, “Just come on!” So we did. It was dark. The show was just beginning as a variety of sentences made their way across a digital screen which we had yet to give our attention to. The ushers and Mark and I kept walking and walking following the beam of one ushers flashlight until we came to a stop. The usher shone his beam on three empty seats which, clearly, were meant for the three of us to sit in. We were fifth row center. Todd and I didn’t know whether to be elated or to conclude that we were engaged in some sort of fever dream from all the pot we smoked. We tried to question Mark but he said, “Shh… it’s starting. I’ll tell you after.” So we just shut up and watched.
It was mind-blowing. It was brilliant. It was fantastical. It was like nothing we had ever seen in our lives. I think that’s all I’ll say about the actual course of the show, because by this point you have either already seen the show, and if you haven’t, shame on you. See it. See it yesterday. It is well worth every dollar it costs you. The hour and a half running time went by in, what seemed, like an eye-blink as the show ended with a flourish, balloons and tissue paper falling down in great streaming reams from the top of the theater. The cast bowed, the lights went up and Todd and I turned to Mark and said, “Talk!” And he did. Having known Mark for some time and having seen him pull off some of the most impressive scams imaginable, it took a lot to surprise us, but this one did it. “You are a crazy!” I said. “You are my freakin’ hero,” Todd added. Mark then told us that, as part of the deal, he said that we would stay and help clean up afterward which we were more than happy to do. So for the next hour or so, Mark and I and Todd and the ushers and various others cleaned up popped balloons and tissue paper and many other forms of detritus and such from the floor placing everything into enormous garbage cans. As we did so, we were laughing and joking and busting balls and having a generally grand time. Suddenly, from the left of the stage came walking three men in jeans and t-shirts each carrying a gym bag. They were clearly the blue men, sans blue. One of the ushers yelled out, “Hey guys! C’mere. You gotta meet these dudes!” This was unexpected and shocking. Here came the blue men. Here came the blue men with the express intent of meeting and talking to me, Mark and Todd. We all shake hands and introduce ourselves and then the usher says, “These guys are a performance troupe from L.A. They have a show that’s blowing up sort of in the vein of what you guys do.” One of the blue men looked straight at me and said, “No shit? What’s it called?” What’s it called? I don’t know what it’s called. I didn’t even know there was a show until about an hour ago. And the show that I found about an hour ago doesn’t even exist. I was panic-stricken. I was just frozen staring at the blue man trying to make words come out of my mouth. But my mind was a blank. I don’t know how much time went by between his question and the next time a word was said. It was probably only seconds but it seemed like a month. “Uh….” I stammered, “It’s called…” “The Minstrels of Anarchy,” proclaimed Mark proudly. I took one of the longest exhales of my life. A second blue man, now clear that Mark was our spokesperson asked, “So what’s it about? What do you guys do?” Now I was just excited anxiously anticipating what sort of horse manure Mark would shovel out next. He said, “Well, much like your show, which is completely kick-ass by the way, ours is sort of hard to explain. But, in short, we offer up fun and entertainment and social commentary through the use of anarchistic sound and movement.” What? That wasn’t even a sentence. He had just said nothing. He might as well have said out show is about nothing. But the blue men ate it up. The third blue man said, “That sounds awesome. I think we need to find some time for a road trip guys. I can’t believe we haven’t heard about it. What theater are you guys at?” Mark answered, “The Edison but we are in negotiations to move to a bigger space.” I promise you that there is no Edison Theater in Los Angeles. Blue man number two said, “Hey, listen, we were going to go next door for a drink with our girlfriends. You guys should come join us.” Yes. Yes we should. And so we did.
So there we were. The blue men, three very lovely ladies, and we three, throwing down shots, laughing wildly and talking about everything from theater and movies to baseball and politics. We had an absolute ball. We shared and interacted like old friends for a good four hours before one of the lovely ladies said to her blue man, “I gotta get up early for yoga, babe. We should probably get going.” The waiter dropped the check which was a very large number. A larger number than Mark, Todd and I could even consider covering half of using every dollar we had. But before we could even consider how to deal with this, one of the blue men said, “No way boys. You’re on our playing field. When we come out to see The Minstrels of Anarchy, you can treat, k?” We agreed wholeheartedly hoping against hope that this proposed trip never took place. We all made our way out to the wet street. I hugged Mark and Todd as they were heading off to take the train back to upstate. As I embraced him, I whispered into Mark’s ear, “This is one for the ages. You are so the man!” And off they went. Two of the blue men hopped into a cab with their ladies as I bid them adieu. The other blue man and his damsel were about to cross the street, when I asked, “Where are you two going?” “To catch the subway uptown,” answered the blue man. “Screw that,” I said, “My car is right up the way. I’ll take you.” “But you’re not going that way,” said he. “I am now. No arguments. Follow me.”
We got into my Toyota Camry and I turned the car around and headed for the cloisters. As I drove, I pulled a joint out of the center console. “Do you guys mind if I toke up?” I asked. “Only if you’re sharing,” said the lovely lady. So we had a delightful ride to the northern tip of Manhattan, passing the joint back and forth and continuing our easy chatting. When we arrived, they said goodbye and thanked me as they exited the car. Then the blue man (I think his name was Chris) came around to my drivers side window. “Look, here is my card. Anytime, and I mean anytime, you want to come see the show, you give me a yell and I’ll hook it up for you. We always hold aside seats for friends and you are a friend. You can use them as many times as you’d like.” I thanked him kindly and headed off toward the George Washington Bridge.
For the next month and a half, every time I had a first date, I had two excellent seats to the hottest show in town. I saw the show about fourteen times. And the ladies I took there showed their appreciation (wink wink) The summer of ’91 was a season to remember.
Aaron: Hey, you’re back. Thank goodness! Hey, everyone, Moses is back. My brother. Where you been? We were getting’ worried.
Moses: Oh. I’m sorry. I certainly didn’t mean to dawdle. It’s just I was a little busy talking with the sovereign creator of the universe. I tried to let him know that I was on a tight time table, but he had a lot to tell me and seemed fairly insistent that I hear all of it.
Aaron: Okay, okay. No need for sarcasm. So what’d he say? Did he give you something to bring back to us?
Moses: Yeah, as a matter of fact he did. I came back with a couple of stone tablets but I smashed them to bits a few minutes back.
Aaron (confused): Um… any particular reason?
Moses: Yes, a very particular reason. I was infuriated.
Aaron: Infuriated with who?
(Moses just stares incredulously)
Aaron: With me?
(Moses continues staring)
Aaron: But… why?
Moses: Why? You’re asking me why? Is that a legit question or are you playing some kind of game here? Cuz Aaron, hear me when I tell you I am in no mood.
Aaron: Oh. You mean that.
Moses: Yes. I mean that. You want to explain to me exactly what that is?
Aaron: Uh… well… it’s a… calf.
Moses: And why a calf? Is this a representation of the chief god, El?
Aaron: No. Certainly not. It’s Yahweh
Moses: Why, in the name of heaven, would you need a statue of Yahweh. He is with us! I was just speaking with him.
Aaron: It’s a representation. It’s, y’know, god-like.
Moses: What’s it made out of?
Aaron: It’s made out of… uh… gold.
Moses: Is Yahweh made of gold?
Aaron: uh- no.
Moses: It is blasphemy. And for what purpose was this golden calf made, may I ask?
Aaron: Well… that’s a bit complicated… you see…
Moses: It’s not remotely complicated. They are worshiping that thing! (speaking toward off stage) Joshua, burn that calf… grind it into powder, scatter it across the drinking water and have them drink it out of existence… immediately…
Aaron: Moses, just hold on…
Moses: No, Aaron. You hold on. I would have been gone longer, except that God demanded I go back and deal with my out-of-control people. I am granted an in-person meeting with the most powerful entity there is and I end up getting my backside chewed out because my brother cannot manage to competently perform the one task I charged him with in my absence.
Aaron: I’m… I’m sorry.
Moses: How did this happen?
Aaron: I mean… the people were totally freakin’ out… they were scared… they didn’t know where you were and they felt like God had abandoned them. They were yelling and demanding me to make them a God who would go before them because they were sure you were never coming back. What was I supposed to do?
Moses: Did saying “no” occur to you as an option?
Aaron: It did, but I couldn’t control them… they all threw their gold into the fire and that calf just popped out.
Moses: Aaron, please don’t lie to me. You fashioned that calf. Whatsmore, you built an alter in front of it for the people to present burnt offerings.
Aaron: OK. Fine. Yes, I did. I said I was sorry. I know it was less than ideal.
Moses: Less than ideal?! Aaron, what you did is the equivalent of spitting in the Lords face.
Aaron: Says who?
Moses: Says him! Do you not understand how furious he was. He wanted to destroy everyone and I was left trying to talk the creator out of destroying his creations.
Aaron: Oh… Moses- I
Moses: You asked if he gave me anything to bring back. He did, indeed. He gave me his law. Every commandment detailing who he is and who we need to be if we wish to be with him.
Aaron: Wow. How many?
Moses: How many what?
Moses: Yes. More specifically, here is number one and two. 1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. 2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not bow down to them or serve them.
Aaron: Oh my G-
Moses: 3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…
Aaron: G- osh
Moses: It’s called Idolatry, Aaron.
Aaron: I know what it’s called, Moses.
Moses: Well knowing what its called has clearly failed in giving you even the slightest indication of its severity. We just rescued these people from a land of rampant religious pluralism. The Egyptian’s worship of multiple Gods is so intense and alluring that even my father-in-law Jethro had trouble maintaining his faith in the one true God. We’ve finally gotten them free of this scourge and you assist them in constructing an idol launching them right back into what they’ve escaped.
Aaron: Okay, yes. Your point is valid. But what do you expect? They had no idea where you’d disappeared to and they could not sense his presence.
Moses: Do you really believe that faith works that way? The moment that you fail to feel awash in his love, you go and create another God for yourself? That’s a childish, shallow manner in which to understand the relationship we share with him. Those selfish, vile people had to exhibit a modicum of patience and failed to see anything miraculous for a time and suddenly the one who split The Red Sea in half, rescuing them from the most treacherous army the world has ever seen just gets cast to the side?
Aaron: I’m just saying that, in spite of the fact that what they did was wrong, you might be open-minded enough to see that they were operating from fear and reacted as many do when they sense they’ve been abandoned.
Moses: Yes. In this respect, you are right. I am not unable to see why they faltered. It is your actions by which I am completely flummoxed. You are a leader, Aaron. With leadership comes expectations and a higher standard to live up to. The authority you were so quick to take up demands that you have enough steadfastness to not fall away with the masses and, instead, to stand firm and lead your people to see the situation from your more level-headed vantage point.
Aaron: Yes. You’re right. I was scared, Moses. They were unruly and I feared they were on the verge of becoming violent. Is it not better that I should stay alive then demand they stay loyal and be killed?
Moses: We are called to his fulfill his purposes, brother. We are on a mission. All that matters is the mission. Our lives are nothing lest they be useful cogs in the mission. I would sooner see you die defending that mission than do what it is you’ve done.
(a lengthy silence)
Aaron: So, what, there’s no clemency for first time offenders?
Moses: Aaron, this is hardly your first offense.
Aaron: What are you talking about? You aware of some other golden calf I created before today?
Moses: You are missing the point, brother. Making anything, anything at all, in our earthly lives, more important than our love for him is idolatry. Anything that holds the place that he should hold in our lives qualifies as an idol. It does not need to be a golden calf. A person. An activity. A hobby. A passion. everything must be subservient to him within our moral compass.
Aaron: All right. I got it. So what else have I put in front of him?
Moses: Your obsession with power.
Aaron: What is that suppose to mean?!
Moses: You know precisely what it means. You and Miriam have been jockeying for my position since the beginning.
Aaron: Oh please.
Moses: Look me in the eyes and tell me that the two of you have not been grumbling to those who would listen and covertly laying the groundwork to gain support and eventually stage some sort of a coup.
(Aaron just stares with a conciliatory look on his face)
Moses: I’m not angry. In fact, and this may surprise you, I kind of understand. But that doesn’t make it less problematic.
Aaron: So jealousy is idolatry too?
Moses: No. Jealousy is jealousy. And also sinful. The idolatry is that your position amongst the people became more important than your love for the Lord. If you were putting your love for him and faith in him first, you would have accepted that he had his reasons for positioning me as he has and humbly accept your post. Your worship of other things has been a troubling pattern for some time; and while idolatry is idolatry, this golden calf is a particularly heinous example. And there needs to be recompense. (To the camp) “Listen up! Whoever is for the Lord, come to me! Very good. You have been set apart to the Lord today. You are blessed for standing against your own sons and brothers. This is what the Lord, the God of Israel commands: Each man strap a sword to his side. Kill all who did not approach at my call.”
Aaron: Moses… no! You can’t.
Moses: I can and I have. It is what he’s commanded and it shall be done. This is what I’m talking about, Aaron. Your human loyalties put before God… idolatry. Your relationships put before God… idolatry. (pause) Your brother put before God… (whispered) idolatry.
Aaron: No, Moses… please… don’t…
Moses: Settle down. I’m not going to kill you. But I am going to replace you… with Joshua.
Aaron: Joshua! You’ve got to be kidding me.
Moses: I’m not. He’s loyal and I trust that he can persevere in the face of trials.
Aaron: You don’t trust that I can do the same?
Moses: I don’t. Not entirely.
Aaron: This is a travesty of injustice. How dare you? After all I’ve done. Who served as your voice box when you were incapable of speaking for yourself to Pharaoh, Mr. Stutterer? Who threw down his staff only to see it miraculously transform into a snake? One mistake and I’m off the short list?
Moses: The short list? What do you think we are doing here, Aaron? Trying to gain entrance into a nightclub? You think this is some sort of popularity contest? And you try to insult me with this stuttering comment. You think I should feel bad about that? Do you not see that it is stark evidence of God’s stunning glory and magnificence that he took a man incapable of speaking publically and used him for the grandest of miracles? Forget my stuttering. I killed a man in a selfish rage. And still he sees fit to grant me a grand purpose. And you further fail to see that he used you in the same way. YOU spoke to Pharaoh? YOU transformed your staff into a serpent? You did nothing, my brother. That is the Lord’s work. YOU are the Lord’s work. I am the Lord’s work. Without his grace and his power, we’d both be anonymously shlepping sheep shearings for next to nothing awaiting a lonesome and meaningless death.
(After an lengthy silence, Aaron’s face falls into his hands as he gently weeps)
Aaron: You’re right. Oh, my brother, you’re right. What have I done? How could I have strayed so far? I’ve ruined everything.
Moses: No, Aaron, no. You’ve ruined nothing. This is the very point of his great omnipotence. Our feeble free will has the power to do nothing but alter our present sense of satisfaction. But in terms of the future; his grand design for the world, it’s powerless to intrude on where this is all headed. Your idolatry affects you and your present standing in his eyes. And, yes, it effects others as, unfortunately, more than three thousand were lost today. But even those are not your sole responsibility. Yes, you should have led with a firmer hand. But, in the end, they made their own choices and suffered the attendant consequences. But the Lord’s plan for the world will carry forth unimpeded. He will find a way to use this all for the good. Of this you can be assured.
Aaron: Can you ever forgive me… (pause)… can he?
Moses: He already has, dear brother. That is his very nature. As for me, yes sweet Aaron, you are absolutely forgiven. I have always loved you in the deepest way possible and that has not changed one iota.
Aaron: I vow to you, and to him, at this very moment, I will never again place anything above my relationship with the Lord.
Moses: (laughing) Oh Aaron, you will. You will and so will I. We are humans, brother, and radically imperfect as a result of the actions of our father Adam and mother Eve. Neither of us have seen our last mistake. Let us love and support and encourage each other, that we may be the best possible servants we can be and forever trust in his goodness that, in the end, despite our many failings, we will spend eternity in his glorious kingdom.