Archive for November, 2015
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.
Luggage in hand, I was traversing LAX looking high and low for Peter. We had not settled on an exact location in which to meet up; heck, I wasn’t even really sure whether he intended to meet me in baggage claim or simply pull up outside. We were twenty year olds. Planning and organization was hardly our strong suit. I suppose I had little idea what a living nightmare this airport would be; it felt like the lion’s share of the world’s population had descended into this one small arena with the single task of keeping me adrift and alone. I had flown five hours from Newark airport to Los Angeles and I had no ticket home. So if I failed to find Peter, I was just going to have to use my meager savings to find a room to rent and buy a junker with which to battle the psychotic traffic patterns of La La Land.
Peter had phoned me a few weeks before and barely giving me a chance to say hello he excitedly ranted, “Dude… here’s the thing. I just graduated USC. I was going to book a flight home to Jersey when it occurred to me that there was a much cooler way to go about making my way back home. Dig it… you get a one way ticket to L.A. and we drive my car across the country blasting music and getting high the entire time.” My response was concise: “I’m in.” Peter had been my best friend since we were about fifteen after meeting at a summer program called Governor’s School, a month-long excursion in southern New Jersey on a college campus for gifted artists (actors, singers, painters, poets, etc.) Me and Pete were both in the acting program and on day two we bonded over a small radio broadcasting the Major League Baseball All-Star game. We lived about two hours away from each other, he in south Jersey just outside Philadelphia and me in north Jersey about 12 miles from The Lincoln Tunnel. So, for the rest of our time in high school, we saw each other when we could, which was never enough, and then we both got accepted to B.F.A. acting programs, he in Cali and I in Ithaca, New York. For the next four years, our time together was limited to a few visits over the summer. So the idea of being in a car together, day and night, wildly careening our way across the entire country sounded like heaven.
From somewhere behind me I heard, “Hey, Faggot!” (we were young and ignorant). I spun around just in time to receive Pete’s arms yanking me into a fierce embrace and fervently whispering into my ear, “This is going to be so fucking awesome!” “Oh yes,” I said, “This shall be a most epic adventure.” We navigated the mass human traffic as we made our way toward the parking garage. “Oh,” Pete said, “Did I mention that we need to knock this out in three days?” “Excuse me?” I queried. “We have three days to get to Jersey.” “We need to travel three thousand miles in three days?! What are you, insane?! Why three days?” “I have tickets to a Floyd concert on Friday night.” This should not have made a whole lot of sense but somehow it kind of did. “Ok, ok,” I said calming myself down, “That’s a thousand miles a day. We can do that. You holding plenty of goodies I assume?” Pete grinned menacingly, “I have an ounce of very good weed, a quarter ounce of outstanding weed and a half ounce mushrooms; the magic variety.” I smiled back, “All right, three days, no problem. Although if we trip at the hotels, we won’t sleep, y’know?” “Nah, we’ll trip for four or five hours and then grab two, three hours of sack time. It’ll be fine.” So, okay, that sounded sort of solved. “You drive stick right?” Pete asked. “No,” I answered. He stopped dead, “What do you mean, no?” I stopped too, “What does no mean? No, I don’t drive stick.” “But the car is a stick,” he said with exasperation. I stared at him incredulously, “Dude, I can’t drive stick whether the car is a stick or not.” “Why didn’t you say something?!” “What do you mean why didn’t I say something? Do you mean why didn’t I ask a question that no one ever asked me?!” Pete took a few deep breaths, “Well, we have something of a problem here.” “It would seem so,” I agreed. We crossed the threshold into the garage and Pete stopped again and offered, “All right, I’ll tell you what. I’ll drive the whole way if you promise that you will stay awake the whole way.” “Oh, dude, definitely,” I shot back, “I wouldn’t crash on you. You sure you’re okay with that?” Pete responded, “Well, A) we don’t really have a choice, and B) If I’m sitting awake in a car, what does it matter whether I’m driving or sitting?” That made sense to me, and so, crisis averted. Let the games begin.
After a day loading up Peter’s apartments between lengthy bong hits and large swigs of mountain dew, we were prepared for our impending adventure. “Where are the drugs?” I inquired. “In my gym bag in teh back seat.” Luckily (or not so luckily), about a year before, I had been pulled over on route 95 on my way back to Jersey from Miami with my buddy Logan with a pipe and a about a dime bag of weed in the front console. We spent two hours in handcuffs as a drug dog tore the living crap out of my Toyota Camry. I had two hits of acid in my wallet that, by the grace of God, they failed to recover and, in the end, we ended up with a high-priced ticket we needed to pay to the state of Virginia. It had taught me a valuable lesson. “No, dude. Roll four joints and open the trunk. As he expertly inserted and encased the marijuana in the short, thin papers, I located a Sega Genesis in the bottom of the trunk. I put all the drugs in a plastic bag, which I then put in a paper bag, which I then stored underneath the console and taped the box shut. “Pete, we have enough drugs to spend a good long time in lockup if we get caught. Put the four joints in the middle console. When we run out, we’ll pull into a gas station and reload. I also put bottles of Evian water at the foot of both of our seats. “What’s that for?” he asked. “Just trust me. Let’s party like lunatics without making lunatic decisions. The chances of a cop demanding a search of the trunk and managing to find our stash are minimal. This is the way to go, k?” “Coolio,” he said as he threw the car into drive and we hit the open road.
We smoked up the four joints within the first hour and a half of the drive and were, to be candid, higher than a tightrope walker on stilts. The music was blasting and we were playing catch up on the last six months or so in which we had had barely any contact at all. This was working beautifully for the first few hundred miles, but eventually all the pot was making us quite a bit sluggish and tired and dreary. “Man, we have 800 miles to drive before we can stop and I am baked to the gills and ready to fall unconscious. Pete smiled his most devilish smile and proclaimed, “Then it must be time for the ‘shrooms.” “‘Shrooms. We can’t stop and trip now. We have a boatload of driving to do.” “No man,” Pete carried on, “I mean we do them in the car.” “Uh… Pete… you-uh… can’t drive on hallucinogenics… can you?” “I don’t know,” he honestly answered. But there is no better way to find out then to try.” “Pete, all due respect, your logic might be a bit sideways here. I’m all for an experiment. But not one in which if the experiment fails, we die in a fiery blaze of metal and steel.” “Dude, listen. We’ll just take a cap and a stem each. There’s no way that that much will make us insane. It’ll just give us a well-needed boost, a whole lot of giggling and probably some pretty hallucinations. There’s practically no one on the road and we are on a highway. All I have to do is keep the car straight. I’m fairly certain I can handle that. Worst case scenario, it is too much for me, and we pull over and lay in a field until they wear off.” This was not sound thinking. Clearly. And it should not have resonated as sound thinking to me. And yet, I found his game-plan sort of brilliant. So we popped the trunk, untaped the Sega, popped a cap and a stem each, re-hid the stash, slammed the trunk and continued on our way. The next half hour was a strange mix of morbid fear and rampant anticipation. I vividly recall passing a waffle house (they appear at nearly every exit on I-95, and seeing that the sign had been botched and read “wobble house.” “Did you see that,” I asked Pete, “That waffle house totally said wobble house.” “No, it didn’t, you asshole. You’re tripping.” “I am not. I’m fine. Are you tripping?” “Man, I am tripping balls!” I laughed hysterically, “So am I.”
After the laughter died down some, I asked the question that I had feared asking for the last fifteen minutes or so. “So, uh, are you like… all right?” I was fairly sure that I would have been unable to safely operate a vehicle under the present circumstances. “I think I’m all good, man. I’m some really interesting streaks of color and stuff, but it doesn’t seem to be impeding my ability to handle the vehicle. As far as you can tell, are we in one single lane and not careening back and forth?” I took a good look; or as good a look as I was capable of taking. “Near as I can tell, you are doing a bang up job.” So we cranked up the tunes and starting yelling “woo-hoo’s” and “yippee kay yay’s” out the window like a couple of psychotic cowboys. For the next eight hours (or so, it’s hard to tell), we stopped and popped a cap and a stem each hour and just kept the party going all through the dark of the night and early morning. We were laughing so hard and so maniacally for hours on end that we had to stop a few times because it felt like my innards were apt to blast right through my stomach lining and splash the dashboard. We were making amazing time. Part of the reason for this is that Pete was completely ignoring the posted speed limits. Now, you’d think that if you are driving on federal highway stoned to the gills on illegal chemicals, you’d at least have the sense to obey the speed limit. Nonetheless, I’d say we traveled for at least five straight hours with Pete pushing his battered old Celica up to 110. We were jettisoning down the highway at top speed as the world flew by in a panacea of light and color swirling and dancing and beckoning further on into our hedonistic hullabaloo.
We tripped and smoked and drove into the early morning light. The next thing we knew, it was 8:30am or so and we were stuck in morning rush hour. Our brains were not currently wired to handle this imposition with any level of reasonableness. Having knocked out 1200 miles on day one, we were ahead of schedule and decided it was time to find a motel and get some shuteye. We checked in, dumped our bags, hit the sheets and were unconscious in minutes.
We awoke around 2pm, fresh and rested, and ready for day two. As I finished packing my bag, Pete expertly rolled four joints for the console. We each popped a cap and a stem, threw the car into drive and sped off. Unfortunately, it was dank and a bit rainy out which made for less than an exuberant sendoff, but, at the end of the day, when you’re really really high, the weather is but a minor factor. We were joking and busting balls looking forward to a repeat of day one. This daydream was crushed in short order by a blinding array of red and blue lights emanating from somewhere behind us. “Oh, shit! Cops!” panicked Pete. I went right into action. I handed him a joint. “Eat it,” I said sternly. “What?!” he asked. “Eat it. Eat the joint. Grab the water at your feet and swallow the thing. Now!” I didn’t want to overwhelm him and considering that I had planned for the possibility of this very event, I took the brunt of the responsibility and downed the other three joints using about half the bottle of water to choke them down. The Oklahoma state trooper sauntered out of his vehicle ambling in out direction decked out in mirrored sunglasses despite the utter lack if sunshine. Having, I imagine, already noticing the New Jersey plates, he approached the drivers side window to find two raggedy looking kids, both with three days and growth and hair sprouting in every possible direction. There was a glow in the dark condom hanging from the rear view window that we had found in a rest stop vending machine. The car was littered with empty soda cans, and half-eaten bags of circus peanuts, spice drops, cheese nips, Pringles, and pork rinds. Pete handed over his license and registration. “You know how fast you boys were goin'” he asked with a wry grin. “No sir,” answered Pete, “How fast.” The trooper answered, “Too damn fast; that’s how fast.” He leaned in closer sniffing like a motivated Beagle. “You boys been smoking some dope?” We were both utterly panicked. In an inspired moment of semi-brilliance, I answered, “To be honest officer, we shared a joint before we got on the road and that is probably what you smell. I know we shouldn’t have done it and we’re sorry.” He waited a few beats. “So no drugs in the car then?” I knew what the correct answer was but somehow, all of a sudden, I couldn’t make my mouth form words. And then it occurred to me. I am tripping in mushrooms and I just are three joints. My whole world was melting right before my eyes. The troopers face kept elongating and expanding and contracting as if it were made of rubber and I was both suppressing the instinct to laugh and scream simultaneously. His voice brought me part of the way back to reality, I asked you a question, boy! Are there are any drugs in the car? Somehow the power of speech returned just long enough for me to spit out, “No sir, no drugs.” “We’ll just see about that. Both of you, out of the car.” Now I was really losing it. This was going to be bad. Really bad. I suspected that the smell of pot smoke might be enough to grant him permission to check the trunk. Plus, it was Oklahoma. Who knew what these backwoods cops were capable of? We were like little squeaking mice dropped headlong into the snake aquarium. He handcuffed us both and did a thorough search of the car. He found nothing because there was nothing to find. He uncuffed us. He looked at me and said, “back in the car.” Then he looked at Pete and said, “You… come with me.” I watched Pete and the trooper climb into the squad car and was left with my now insane mind to skitter straight down the rabbit hole frantically imagining every horrible thing that could possibly take place as a result of our present circumstances. Suffices to say, I was thinking very, very, bad things; and growing more terrified as each second passed. I don’t know how long Pete was in that car but it felt like an eternity. Finally, I see Pete step out of the car while the trooper stayed inside. Pete slowly walked back to his car, gingerly opened the door, carefully sat down, slowly put the keys in the ignition and cautiously started the engine. I was flummoxed. “What is going on?” I whispered. Pete, frozen, not even looking my way said, “Say nothing. For now, just say nothing.” And we pulled out onto the highway and Pete began to drive.
We made our way down past three exits or so in absolute silence. Finally, Pete pulled over at a gas station, stopped the car and pressed his forehead into the top of the steering wheel. “Are you ok?” I asked. “I think so. That was like the scariest ten minutes of my life. He kept grilling me angrily asking me about who we were and wheat we were doing and what we were hiding and what could happen to us and then, for a reason I cannot possibly comprehend, he said, ‘Ok. Go on back to your car and be careful out there.’ I don’t know why. It was surreal. I’m still feeling a little shaky. But I think I’m good to go now. You ok?” He finally took a good look at me and realized in an instant that the answer was decidedly ‘no.’ “Shit, you look like you’re totally buggin’ out. Are you totally buggin’ out?” “I am totally buggin’ out.” I felt crazy and sick and exhausted and frenetic all at the same time. “I think I need to lay down somewhere,” I said. “Dude, we can’t. I see that you are in bad shape, but we have to keep going. Forget the promise of staying awake. Just put the seat back and close your eyes and I’ll push us through.” I tried that and it was something less than a success. My mind was going at a million miles an hour and it wasn’t traveling anywhere good. Pete tried every kind of music he had available and no matter what he put in, it either freaked me out, depressed me or made me feel like putting my fist through the window. Then, all of a sudden, Pete had a brainstorm. “Hold on. I think I know what’ll calm you.” He pulled over to the shoulder and went rooting around in the floor of the back seats. I heard him say, “A-ha!” He popped in a cassette and gleefully said, “Enjoy!” The next thing I heard was something in the ballpark of, “When my agent called me and told me I had the gig, I could never have dreamed of what it would actually mean to be a Brady kid.” The voice emanating from the speakers made me feel both warm and more than a little bit confused. It became clear, in short order, that I was listening to Barry Williams, the man who played Greg Brady on the popular seventies sit-com The Brady Bunch. It was a book on tape recording of his memoir/biography called (I think) “I Was A Teenage Brady,” or something like that. In any other situation, I would surely have asked, “Pete, why in hell do you have this and where did you get it?” But I didn’t. For some odd reason, it was working. Barry’s voice was soothing and easy to listen to and the story, go figure, was quite compelling and enjoyable. Many hours passed as Pete drove like a trooper through the rain-drenched streets, occasionally puffing on a joint, obtaining the progress we so desperately needed which I was completely unable to participate in. To his credit, Pete added 800 miles to the odometer before calling it and pulling in to a motel. I thanked him for taking care of me and for bearing the burden of wet isolated driving and we both crashed quick and hard.
I awoke on day three, refreshed, relieved and looking forward to sitting in a car without fantasizing my own death. I came out of the shower towelling off to find Peter rolling joints and separating the caps and stems of the mushrooms. “Um… what in the name of all that is holy are you doing?” I asked with more than a note of incredulity. He looked at me confused and said, “What do you mean? Four joints in the console and a cap and a stem each hour, right?” I suppose something inside my compromised brain thought, “Cops!? We aint scared of no stinking cops!” because my answer was nothing but a single word: “Right.” We popped our ‘shrooms, set fire to the marijuana and began the last leg of the trip. Because we had shut it down early the day before, we were able to get a really early start. It was a great day. Seventy degrees with a nice cool breeze; windows open; tunes a blarin’ and high as a couple of kites. The only alteration from the basic framework was that Pete was now driving the speed limit (or, at least, wasn’t exceeding it by more than ten miles). We talked and argued and laughed about movies and books and baseball and women and a whole hot of utter nonsense. Over the years, Pete and I had developed enough inside jokes that just rattling those off in a stream could kill two or three hours. At one point, we pulled over at a scenic overlook, having just popped some ‘shrooms and blown through a joint in record time. There were a bunch of families there taking a break from their own journeys, and Pete and I struck up conversations with the lot of them. We all hung out for almost an hour as Pete and I held court with the adults and played with all the kids making them laugh. It was a strangely ironic scene; these nice wholesome families enjoying and trusting two twenty-year old drug-addled juvenile delinquents. I mean, we weren’t dangerous or anything. We were basically reasonably nice guys who just really enjoyed getting high. Nonetheless, when we got back into the car, Pete asked, “Was that a little messed up?” I laughed and answered, “A little.”
From then on, we did nothing but drive. We stopped for gas once (maybe twice) and pulled to the shoulder when we had to pee. The speed limit was 70, so we were able to safely do 80 miles an hour with a mostly clear highway and before we knew it, we were on the east coast. We had crossed into Pennsylvania (which would turn out to be a much larger state than I thought) and grandly announced, “Next state, New Jersey, baby!” A few hours into the state, our odometer told us that we had completed 950 miles. With only 50 short miles to go, Pete suggested, “Hey, my friends at the show will have plenty of goodies. Let’s make this last fifty miles count and finish off what we have.” Again it’s hard to say why, but this sounded like an excellent idea. We stopped, rolled up the rest of the pot, gobbled down the rest of the mushrooms and got ready to cross the finish like in style. In about a half an hour we were blown out of our minds. I kept asking Pete if he could keep handling the car and he kept saying yes, but just barely. This probably should have been a concern but we were way too blasted to be worried about anything.
About fifty miles later, we weren’t noticing any signs that suggested that New Jersey was about to appear. We stopped in at a gas station and were greeted with some mighty troubling news. The idea that New Jersey is 3000 miles away from Los Angeles turned out to be a sort of estimate; more specifically a sort of rounding down. In truth, the trip we set out to make was about 3250 miles. Dejectedly, we got back into the car and got back on the highway looking at another two to three hours of driving while realizing we were already coming down from our intake and that we were fresh out. About 150 miles later, we looked like a couple of deflated balloons. We both had fairly intense headaches as well as stomach aches. We were bleary-eyed and tongue-tired. We were running on fumes. The last hour of the trip was a mild nightmare as we both just watched the mile markers pass by wishing and hoping that they could do so at a faster rate. As I had mentioned earlier, Pete lived two hours away from me. The Floyd concert started at 8:00pm. He pulled into my driveway at 6:00pm. We were both pretty shot but I had a bed to look forward to and he would be high again in a few hours. I grabbed my bags out of the back and gave him a big hug. “We made it,” I said. “Yes we did,” he answered back, “Thanks for doing it with me.” “I don’t think we’ll ever forget this one. The good and the bad.” As Pete got back into the car and threw the gear shift into reverse, he looked at me, smiled, and said, “Sometimes… y’know what I’m sayin’?”
The United States of America is currently a place which is strewn with realities and elements that should, by all accounts, truly make us ashamed of ourselves. The very state of the country itself, our national debt in particular, is a travesty. We have collectively managed to dig a financial hole so deep that climbing out of it within the next millennium appears all but impossible. And don’t say that “we” doesn’t apply to you and that it is all the government’s fault, because we are complicit in electing these jokers into office. For the sweet love of God, there is a perfectly good chance that Donald Trump will be the next commander-in-chief to be sworn in. Our obsession with guns is pretty embarrassing as well. I think we are the only country in the world that visits other countries and find ourselves pissy because they do not speak our language. Our obesity rate, especially among our youth, is also a rather shameful subject. Our education system finds itself way in back of the pack in terms of effectiveness. We can’t seem to produce cars that anyone cares a whole lot about. The Tea Party movement is monumentally embarrassing, as is Sarah Palin in general. And yet, there is one reality in the United States of America that is so heinous, so diabolically shameful, that it should have every American writing apology notes to every citizen of every country that has had the sad displeasure of having to view it for even a single second. That reality my friends is the series of (and you can barely call them) television shows entitled “The Real Housewives.”
These shows are more than nightmarishly offensive, they are pervasive. I find it nearly impossible to flip through the various station on the tube without managing to run across these gut-wrenchingly empty-headed mean-spirited women in one form or another. In reality, I think they are all limited to Bravo (although I’m not sure), so I guess this just means I run past Bravo quite a bit when I am flipping. But, in general, I like Bravo. There is original programming as well as reruns of shows that I am quite fond of on Bravo and I resent having to avoid the channel completely for fear that I will run across a cadre of surgically enhanced, back-stabbing, stupid as a bag of rocks harlots screaming at each other because one of their designer cross-bred rat dogs took a crap in the flower bed. And yet, no matter what time of day you go scrolling through the stations, there they are. There are just so many friggin’ housewives. Endless housewives. To my knowledge there are housewives in Orange County, New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Beverley Hills, Miami with Potomac and Dallas on board for next year. You’d think they could at least combine the silicone sycophants in Orange County and Beverley Hills to relieve us of just one of these abominations. I’m not saying that I want to watch The Real Housewives of California, but at least it would offer an iota of consolidation.
Now, I grant you that The Real Housewives fall under the equally repulsive umbrella of “Reality Television,” and certainly should not receive all the blame either for creating the problem or for perpetuating it. Reality Television is an embarrassment in and of itself and a screaming indication of what a shallow chattel-like citizenship we have. In truth, it started with The Real World on MTV. And while The Real World was not a good show by any stretch of the imagination, it at least made some semblance of sense. First of all, it was basically a show for teenagers, who are, essentially a bunch of lobotomy victims to begin with (I know this because I was one). Further, there was a level of innovation taking place. The concept of creating a sort of sociological experiment involving taking a group of young people from different ethnicities and religions and backgrounds with a host of different experiences and place them all together in a confined space to observe how they mix and interact had a potentially groundbreaking air to it. Of course, it was clear in short order that no person was going to be anything in the realm of genuine with the knowledge that they were being filmed every single solitary moment. It was equally clear, after a while, that the producers of the show were prompting and cajoling the participants to act in certain ways, take on certain personas, induce conflict and generally be as “unreal” as possible. So basically, the entire sociological experiment was bullshit. What’s worse, it wasn’t even interesting bullshit. The group they chose were a bunch of mouth-breathing morons without a single captivating thing to offer beyond trying to hook up with each other, drinking and partying excessively and fighting over who stole the peanut butter. It was insipid. And it is this particular vapid brand of reality programming that our vomitous housewives are created in the image of. Except, in this case, they are full-grown adults; full-grown adults doing the exact same stupid shit and arguing about the same crap that the young people were doing and arguing about on The Real World. Further, it is no longer teens that this drivel is being marketed to. It is full-grown adults being asked to tune in to this garbage and they do just that. Adults. Adults with full lives and careers and kids and mortgages and car payments are being asked to donate the little fragments of free time available to them to the viewing of genuinely awful people acting awfully toward each other as they fight with their awful spouses and ignore their spoiled kids.
I should mention that when I say that The Real Housewives are built on The Real World model of reality programming, I am assuming that you are aware that there is another model. That would be what I would term the Survivor model of reality programming. This is the model that rather than asking you to just watch a bunch of people being people for no particular reason, asks you to watch a bunch of people engaged in some sort of contest or competition. Falling into this category would be shows like American Idol, The Biggest Loser, The Amazing Race, Top Chef, The Bachelor and, well, you get the idea. This brand of reality programming is a degree less loathsome than its counterpart and is, sometimes, although rarely, entertaining. I will admit to having spent a few seasons tuning into American Idol, although mainly for the terrible auditions and to watch Simon Cowell rag on people. And Master Chef is quite a bit of fun. But, in a general way, these shows are just as complicit in advertising the stupidity of the average American. I think, overall, the message we send to the production companies is, “If you can show us people embarrassing themselves or each other or unscrupulously competing for a prize or just acting like complete assholes for an hour at a time, we’ll tune in.” So that’s what they do. We’ve given the major television networks the greatest gift they’ve ever received. We’ve signed on to let them make scads of reality shows rather than scads of sit-coms and dramas. The average reality show costs between $100,000 and $200,000. The average scripted show runs between 1 and 2 million. ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and Bravo love what idiots we are.
Anyway, back to the housewives. First of all, it is monumentally offensive to every genuine housewife in the known universe to call these wenches housewives. Look the word up in the dictionary. Here’s what you’ll find:
“A married woman who manages her own household, especially as her principled occupation.”
The women on these shows are all millionaires (or their husbands are) with access to nannies and servants to “manage” their households. There are millions of women in this country who spend all day every day trying to balancing a budget while vacuuming, doing laundry, washing dishes, scrubbing floors, making beds, and shepherding their kids back and forth to school and extracurricular activities and helping them with their homework who should be ragefully and righteously appalled at the umnitogated gall of these blights on society being referred to as housewives. And yet, it occurs to me that there is a really good chance that many of the housewives I just have described come to the end of their exhausting days, ready to collapse, pour themselves a glass of cheap wine and actually watch an episode of The Real Housewives. And we wonder why The Donald is leading the Republican polls.
You know, there was a time when being famous required that you had some sort of remarkable skill or talent. Frank Sinatra was famous because he could croon a love ballad like no other person in the world. Joe Dimaggio was famous because he could hit a 90 mile an hour fastball four hundred feet. Jackson Pollack was famous because he could create a frenetic tableau of color that was mind-blowing to the eye as well as to the senses. Marlon Brando was famous because he could literally inhabit the being of another person on stage and screen. Famous people were famous for reasons that were clear and obvious to locate. Famous people were famous because they were too remarkable not to be famous. How on earth did we collectively decide as a nation that the new demarcation for being famous was needlessly spending scads of money that you didn’t earn and behaving like an imbecilic, entitled, vicious trollop?
And what I believe is really at the heart of the problem is that these ludicrous women actually understand themselves as famous; as superstars; loved and adored by millions. They have gotten the message that marrying for money, and acting unkind and unforgiving and manipulative and cruel pays off, and pays off big. And as they hold these warped values to be true, so do the millions of people who tune in each week to watch these train wreck women torture each other. Who they are and how they operate and what they represent has genuinely entered the DNA of our nation. We hail their fame and bow at their Jimmy Choo laden feet. There is even a show after the show recounting and processing all the crap that happened on the show. That is the level to which we are obsessed with these creatures. Our fascination demands a show about the show. I don’t know if I find that more comical or terrifying.
Why do people watch this? What do they get out of it? I have nothing against mindless entertainment. There are episodes of Frasier and Seinfeld and The King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond that I have seen six or seven times already. I don’t understand that there is any genuine value in this or that it improves my life in any way; but it’s not doing me any harm either. These so-called housewives are harmful. They are dangerous. Ridiculous and patently absurd; but dangerous nonetheless. They are purporting a way of life that has truly become the so-called American dream. They are what the majority of the nation aspires to be. They are the ideal, so to speak. And a country in which a bunch of plastic, vapid femme fatales have become something that are viewed with envy and awe, is a country in a whole whopping heap of trouble. It’s hard to believe that when our forefathers declared that we are all to have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that they had NeNe Leakes, Bethenny Frankel, Teresa Giudice or Lisa Vanderpump in mind. In fact, if the forefathers had access to a crystal ball and had the insight to foresee this nightmare, I suspect they may well have scrapped the whole endeavor.
And bear in mind, the toxin is pervasive. Because the natural offshoot of the devilish housewives is a show called Dance Moms. It is every bit as gross and loathsome as the Real Housewives, except now they have gotten innocent children in on the repulsive action. The show revolves around a wildebeest of a dance studio owner and the frazzled, angst-ridden, tear-stained children that she pushes and prods and criticizes and pits against each other, while their massively incompetent mothers, clearly attempting to rectify their own failures by living through their children, bitch and moan and backstab each other and jockey for position as the competitions ensue. It makes me shudder at what’s next. Maybe a show about nuns forced to have sex with truckers in an effort to create the most interesting baby. Or maybe a show about choir boys made to compete in a beer pong contest where the last one standing gets promoted to head boy.
Let me tell you something, dear readers. If you think the fictional worlds of movies like The Running Man, The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games are not eventually coming to network television, you are fooling yourself. Brace yourselves.
So, I am a pizza delivery guy. I am a 43 year old pizza delivery guy. I mean, I am a pastor, that’s my calling, but no one is presently seeing fit to pay me to perform that particular task. I am also a life coach and I maintain a small handful of clients who pay me handsomely for my services. But in terms of where the bulk of my time is spent professionally and the bulk of where my income stems from, I am a 43 year old pizza delivery guy. And that’s okay. It’s less than ideal… but it’s okay. I am following a dream and it demands certain sacrifices and I am more than willing to make those sacrifices. It doesn’t have much of an effect on my pride; although, every now and then, on a night when it is 7:30 and I have done three deliveries and made $11 and I am biding my time in a hot-ass kitchen strewn with ear-piercing Spanish music and a bevy of Mexican kitchen guys yelling at each other, I do have moments of asking myself, “What in the holy hell am I doing here?” But that is not the norm. As job-jobs go, it’s a reasonably simple one. Most everybody is pleasant to be around and the money isn’t too bad. But the main reason that being a 43 year old pizza delivery guy doesn’t bother me is that it gives me the opportunity to drive. And I love to drive.
I mean, I love it. Sometimes, I jump in my car and just drive. I’m not headed anywhere in particular, I just want to drive. When I have a commitment or an appointment somewhere, the farther away the better. Just more time to cruise the highways and byways (I don’t know what a byway is by the way. I just know it’s a real thing) listening to my tunes or a book on audible. Actually it is generally always audible now. If you don’t know, audible is a free app on which you can buy books to have read to you. It is books on tape for the new generation. I have always been an avid reader, but I never suspected how much I would enjoy being read to. Audible has completely ruined traditional reading for me. I literally can no longer sit and turn the pages of a traditionally bound book and simply read. But that is neither here nor there. I just straight up dig being in the car. Well, I straight up dig driving a car. I loathe being a passenger. And being a passenger in the back seat? Screw that, I’ll stay home. But with me at the wheel, life is good. There are few things I enjoy more than a good ol’ fashioned road trip. Twenty-three hours in a car, especially in one straight shot, especially through the night (I friggin’ love driving at night) is utter nirvana. My pop loves driving and I suspect that’s where I get it from. Some of my fondest childhood memories are long road trips that we took together. There’s nothing like being on a long stretch of highway with no one else in sight in the at, like, three in the morning, totally silent, having already logged five or six hundred miles in a car strewn with mountain dew and Snapple bottles and empty wrappers from bags of trail mix and skittles and Swedish fish, and just watching the world pass by.
I am aware that my love of driving is something less than a mind-blowing pronouncement, but the fact is, I find my relationship with driving sort of interesting and, hopefully, worth writing about. I mean, just the very idea of owning a car is pretty remarkable. Think about it. There is a machine in my driveway that will take me anywhere I want to go at somewhere between 40 and 70 miles an hour anytime I have somewhere to go. What’s more, it can play music for me as I travel. It will make me warm if it is cold and cool if it is hot. The seats adjust to make me as comfortable as possible. It has lights that go on when it grows dark outside. And it can house up to five people at a time. And I have TWO of them. That is a miracle. For thousands of years, the greatest princes and monarchs and royalty and multi-millionaires of every shape and size could not obtain, or even dream, of such a luxury. Consider the following words describing King Solomon’s wealth:
Used anciently, Talents were a measure of weight and money. A talent weighs roughly 75 U.S. pounds (34.3 kilograms), which is equal to 1,094 troy ounces. At $1,500 per troy ounce, a talent of gold in today’s value is worth $1,641,000. At $1,600 per troy ounce, a talent is worth $1,750,400. Solomon received 666 talents of the metal EACH YEAR. This means the value of what he got each year was between $1,092,906,000 and $1,165,766,400 U.S. dollars!
And yet, King Solomon wasn’t able to get his hands on even a single used beat-to-shit Ford Fiesta.
But regardless of how remarkable it is that I have a car, I just flat out love the experience of driving. There is just something about having total control of 4,ooo pounds of steel and aluminum that gives me a feeling of great power. Which, in and of itself, is a little weird. Instead, it should probably scare the shit out of me. Especially considering that there are hundreds of 4,000 pound hunks of steel and aluminum looming next to me and in front of me and behind me also traveling at 60 miles an hour at any given time. Think of the incredible level of trust we humans are daily placing into each other as we travel to our individual destinations. We are all behind the wheel of deadly weapons. In almost all cases, I don’t know the drivers of any of the cars surrounding me at any given time. I know nothing about them. I don’t know what kind of days they are having. I don’t know if they have rage issues. I don’t know if they are stable. I don’t know if they have been prescribed meds that they are not taking. I don’t know if there are chemicals that they have not been prescribed that they ARE taking. And any one of them, for any reason at all, could make the impulsive decision to end my life and proceed to go about doing it with relative ease.
And, quite frankly, I’m not sure why they don’t. Because I am kind of a dick on the road. I am not proud of this fact. I’m not particularly shameful about it either. It’s just true. I rarely drive the speed limit. I just don’t like driving slow and I am not fond of those who do. I am not a lunatic, mind you. But you will generally find me doing 70 in a 55 or 45 in a 30. When I am driving in a single lane and someone in front of me is meandering along at a speed that I deem unreasonable, I wait for the straightaway, and utilize the opposite positioned lane to zip around them. I interact with stop signs as suggestions rather than commands. I always slow down and check both ways, of course, but I am king of the rolling stop. And as far as four-way stops go (the dumbest idea for driving we have come up with since the roundabout. And I’m saying roundabout because that’s what most people call them. But if you come from Jersey, they are called circles. And that is what they should be called… circles. Roundabout sounds like some idiotic contraption in a British playground.) At a four-way stop, I don’t care whose turn it is. As long as I don’t see anybody give any indication of motion, I gun it. As for traffic lights, as long as the color is amber at the time the nose of my car enters the intersection, I am all good to continue on my way. If I suddenly realize that my off ramp is just ahead and I am stuck in the middle lane, I am getting in front of the person to my right no matter how close they are to me and whether they like it or not. Further, I am quite prone to road rage. That is to say that if the guy to the back and right of me decides that the guy in front of him is driving too slow and decides to rectify this by cutting in front of me, I am following that guy as far down the highway as I need to, even if it means passing my exit ramp, to return the favor. And then, of course, sometimes, in similar situations, in which the person to the back and right of me decides to make such a move and I happen to see it coming, I will pull up flush next to the guy to my right and maintain whatever speed he is going so that the guy in back is stuck and forced to maintain his speed. On top of all this, as I drive, my phone is pretty much always in my hand. Sometimes so that I can change music selections, sometimes so that I can answer a text, sometimes so that I can view an email, and often so that I can play solitaire or can knockdown. Along with my phone twiddling, I am also generally managing some sort of beverage and taking regular hits off my vape (I put down the little cigars I was inhaling and bought one of these ridiculous machines that are most often found in the hands of trendy teens who I’d like to run over, back up and then run over again. But it seems to be helping.) I never have more than one hand on the wheel, and rarely even have all five fingers of that hand on the wheel. Often the heel of my right hand is the extent of my extremities interacting with the wheel. Actually, if I have a passenger, sometimes I have no hands on the wheel as I let them steer the car as I take care of some sort of task that could probably have waited until I stopped. In similar situations, sans passenger, I have also been known to drive with my knees. These are not good things, I know. If you are concerned about me, you have a right to be. I often tell myself, if not promise myself, that I will stop doing these things. And yet, they persist. The thing is, I am a really good driver. Not in the classical sense, of course. Based on all the data above, I am a very bad driver. What I mean is, I control a car very effectively. I have excellent instincts and reaction time. Yes, these are the famous last words of the guy in the heinous car wreck. Just bear in mind, I am not defending myself here… just being honest.
There is something about driving that my psyche reads as inherently competitive. Not overtly, mind you. I don’t drive around with the conscious thought that I am engaged in competition. Though it has been proven in various studies that the experience of having a car behind you strikes us psychologically as winning, being ahead in the race, even though there is no race. Similarly, the experience of being behind another car psychologically feels like losing, being behind in the race, even though there is no race. It has been shown that this occurs across all gender, racial, and generational boundaries. Not everyone responds to this reality in the same manner, of course, and some feel it more intensely than others. I am almost never the guy on the highway going the fastest, nor am I ever attempting to be that guy. And yet when someone within my general vicinity speeds up, I find that I have the instinct to do likewise. When someone in front of me is going too slow, it feels like a personal attack, as if they have located my want to go faster and have chosen to bate me by driving under the allotted speed limit. I find this fascinating. Especially because I have no knowledge whatsoever of who is driving these cars and yet still find myself capable of making judgments about them.
One thing I have discovered is that anyone cutting in front of me on the highway, cutting in and out of lanes in a way that effects me, or riding too close to my tail is, to my brain, the same person. He is a man in his late thirties, early forties. He has a lot of money and his wealth makes him excruciatingly arrogant. He has a massive sense of entitlement and he is a staunch misogynist. He swears like a sailor and wears ray-bans even when it is downcast. He wears silk shirts and loafers without socks. He is prone to refer to most other men as “boss” or “chief” and most women as “honey” or “babe.” Every time I find myself in a situation with an antsy or impatient or straight up douche bag driver, I am absolutely convinced it is him. So it has often been to my great embarrassment to chase this asshole three miles down the highway only to reach a red light and find out that it is a tiny little Chinese woman with two kids who is lost. Whats-more, even if I pulled up to the car and it was, indeed, the exact guy I just described, what right do I have to be angry with him? Whatever he did to piss me off is something I often do myself. So what’s up with that? Do I think that there should be a different set of road rules for me than for everyone else? There is certainly no other area in my life where I entertain such an idea. But with driving? Yeah, a little bit. Because the only thing, and I mean the only thing, that I do not love about driving is other drivers. They’re all just in my way, crowding and jamming up this lovely passion of mine. It would be like someone who has a passion for flying kites. Certainly, for them, standing in the middle of a park on a sunny day with a nice cooling wind watching their kite dance and twirl through the clouds would be a sheer delight. But if all of a sudden, there were seventy-nine other people with kites standing within ten feet of them, as their kites crowd and clutter the sky keeping the guys kite from skittering through the sky in the way that it wishes, that would sort of suck. Do I think that there should be a national ordinance that no one may use their cars during times that I have chosen to be on the road? I don’t know if there SHOULD be; but I would sign the petition if someone started it up.
Additionally, the overall experience of driving fits my likes and dislikes in a splendidly concurrent manner. For example, I have a need to be around other people, but I am a natural introvert who prefers solitude. In a car, I am alone as well as being around a host of others. I feel the need to experience the beauty of the outside world, but I much prefer staying inside. In a car, I am outside but I am inside. I am drawn to the idea of moving very fast, but my instincts run toward immobility. In a car, I am moving swiftly while sitting absolutely still. It’s my own personal world in which all my needs are essentially met, other than the need to occasionally stop to relieve myself or fuel up.
I don’t know how to drive a stick and I do not wish to know how to drive a stick. I tend to manage too much crap simultaneously in a car at any given point already. I don’t need an extra task to fret over. I have been driving an SUV for years now. I think I am on my fourth. It sucks for the environment and it eats gas like a stoned mastodon, but I gotta tell ya, once you get up off the ground that way, it’s hard to go back down again. When I sit in a standard car now, I feel like I am sitting on the floor. With that said, my vow to you, gentle reader, is that the SUV will be a far as it goes. I will never be the scumbag in the Dodge Ram. I promise.
My main gripes with cars is that they require maintenance. I think that’s bullshit. If you are paying ten thousand dollars or more for something, it should not require maintenance. If you spent ten grand on a painting, it just hangs in your house looking beautiful for ever. You don’t need to bring it into the shop every three months so someone can touch up the pastels. I have a theory that the ability to make cars in which all the parts on the car will last for the life of the car is well within the ability of the manufacturers, but there is some kind of pressure placed on them by the body shops that keeps it from happening. You laugh now, but you’ll see… I’m right about this. I’m completely offended when some grease monkey tells me that I need to give him three thousand dollars to fix the thing that I spent twelve thousand dollars on. What the hell is that? Gas, too. I think gas is a crock. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the technology exists to make a car that runs on dishwater, but the damned oil companies would never allow it too happen. Okay, okay, I get it that I am starting to sound like Oliver Stone.
I suppose this blog could just have been a single line reading, “I really love driving.” But it’s not. It’s all the crap I wrote preceding this line. It didn’t feel like something I had to write. It just felt like something I wanted to write. Whether or not you wanted to read it… well, that’s another story entirely. Either way, if you’re reading this, than you have. If you regret having done so, I apologize for having wasted fifteen minutes of your life. I’ll try to make the next one better. In the meantime, go take a drive. That should soothe you.
So, I went to England. I know that, in and of itself, is no great shakes. People travel abroad all the time. Reams of people spend time in other countries and then return to this country. Actually, I suppose some of them just stay in those other countries never to return. But that is neither here nor there. I mean, it’s here, in that I am writing it here and you will, perhaps, be reading it here. What I mean to say is that I am aware that the statement, “I went to England” is something less than earth-shaking. And, quite frankly, what I have to tell you about my going to England is probably something short of earth-shaking as well. But I am going to tell it to you nonetheless and you can decide for yourself whether the earth shakes or not. The point of this piece is not meant to be so much a description of my experience in England (although I will touch on that), nor is it to describe the landscape of England to you (I couldn’t possibly. I was there for three days and saw virtually nothing). The point is to share about two distinct things I discovered about myself in traveling to England. The first is that, for one reason or another, God sees fit to place me dead center in the middle of some of His coolest miracles. The second is that I am an idiosyncratic weird bird. Actually, the latter is not exactly news, but I gained some important new insights into my freakishness. But let’s tackle the first first, shall we?
So here is why I ended up spending about 72 hours in the queen’s wonderland. About eight years ago, I got very involved in an Alcoholics Anonymous movement called back to basics. If this is your first time careening through the random stream of consciousness that serves as my blog, I have been a recovered alcoholic for a little over eighteen years. The back to basics movement is exactly what its name infers. It is a framework of going through the 12 Steps which mirrors what the original co-founders and pioneers of the movement originally intended long before A.A. became a cesspool of people bitching and moaning about their problems and using the rooms as free therapy or a place to escape their nagging wives or an arena for hooking up with wounded, vulnerable members of the opposite sex (or same-sex) or just a forum for spouting their wrongheaded notions about the program in general.
So, anyway, I was setting up and leading a whole lot of these back to basics movements around that time. There was a clubhouse in West Chicago that had reached out to me to change one of their topic meetings into a back to basics meeting and I agreed to do so. During the first month of leading this meeting, there was a gentleman coming attending weekly who was a videographer. One night after the conclusion of the meeting, he approached me and asked how I would feel about his taping all four sessions of the back to basics format. I was hesitant and more than a little suspicious. “Are you looking to sell them,” I asked. “No,” he answered, “I just think they would be great to have as a resource to share with people who are unable or unwilling to attend the meetings. This made a certain amount of sense to me so I told him, “Well, first you need to talk to the board of the clubhouse and get their ok. If they say it’s cool and I am the only person who can be seen on the recordings and we take a group conscience at the beginning of each meeting and no one objects, then I guess it would be fine. So that’s what we did. He taped the four sessions, gave me copies of the recordings, and then, shortly afterward, I turned over the meeting to someone else and did not see my videographer friend again.
About a year later, I was giving a lead at an inpatient center. As I spoke, there was a young kid (no more than 18) staring fervently at me as I spoke. I had never seen him before and his gaze was so intense that it was making me a bit uncomfortable. When the meeting concluded, he nearly ran straight at me and declared, “Dude, you’re the guy from those videos.” “I think you have me confused with someone else,” I answered. He pressed on. “No man, on YouTube, you break down the steps in a way that finally makes sense to me. I’ve shared them with all my friends. I can’t believe you’re here. I didn’t even know you lived in the area. You have changed my life. You are awesome!” As he spoke, shocked and confused as I was, I eventually put two and two together (they equal four as it turns out) and realized that he must be talking about the videos that the guy had shot at the clubhouse. But had he just gone ahead and posted them on YouTube without asking me? That seemed unlikely.
I went home, booted up my computer, found YouTube and started searching. I tried my first and last name in the search bar. Nothing. I tried back to basics. Nothing. I tried breakdown of the 12 Steps. Nothing. Finally, I had a faint recall of the videographer telling me at some point what he thought a cool name for the videos might be. I typed in “precisely as we recovered,” and there, on the world wide web, for all to see, was my face. It was a strange mix of exciting and galling. I pulled my phone out wondering if I still had the videographers number. Unfortunately, I could not, for the life of me, remember what his name was. So, I started at “A” and just scrolled through all my numbers (hundreds) hoping a moniker would just pop out at me as I passed it by. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Hoping he had retained the number since our time together, I called, and he picked up the phone on the second ring. “Hey, man!” he said, “Long time no talk. How are you? What’s going on?” “Well,” I responded, for one thing, I’m staring at myself on YouTube and wondering why.” “Oh,” he said, “Yeah, I put them up there; figured when I run into someone who needs help but isn’t ready to go to a meeting, I could offer them the link as a doorway into what the steps are and how they could help. That’s not a problem, is it?” I thought for a minute about his question and came back with, “I don’t know yet. I’ll get back to you,” and hung up.
I called my sponsor to see what he thought. “I don’t see any clear traditions violations here, do you?” “Technically no,” he counseled. “We avoid press, radio and film, but in those cases you are promoting something. This is just you posting something in the back-ass of YouTube amongst millions of other videos. I would imagine the chances are virtually nil of anyone stumbling across them unless you linked them in. So, in that respect, you’re clean. There is the anonymity question, but it is your anonymity to do with as you please. And you don’t actually claim that you are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous in the videos (but, of course, it could be easily inferred). So, in all those respects, you are fine. Here’s my only caveat. There is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law. I believe that whether or not you are violating the spirit of the law is best found in your intentions, and only you know what they are. If your only wish in letting these videos remain up is to be of help to those in need, then leave them up. But, as you well know, it is the Lord that has the final word. So, spend some time in prayer and see what the big guy has to say.” That all made perfect sense to me. So upon some solitude seeking the creator’s help I decided that the possible good that could come from leaving them outweighed any possible problems that might arise. And then I completely forgot about them.
The opportunity to send the link to someone in need never arose and after a couple of months, the fact that I had four videos of me breaking down the steps on YouTube utterly fell out of my conscious mind. about eighteen months later, I got a call from one of my sponsees. “Michael, are you aware that if you go to YouTube and put Alcoholics Anonymous into the search window, your videos are the first thing that comes up?” No, I was not in any way aware of this, nor did it seem possible. As far as I knew, what determined the order of videos that pop up when you put in a search was popularity, meaning the number of hits the video has gotten. And certainly no large amount of people were watching my video. And yet, when I put Alcoholics Anonymous into the search window, what do you know, my videos were the first things visible on the screen. I was flabbergasted. How on earth could this have happened? I clicked on the video. And there, just under the bottom right corner of the video itself was the number 135,000 (or something in that neighborhood). I think I literally rubbed my eyes, positive that I was having a hallucination. How could over 100,000 people have come across this video when I’ve never even told anyone that it existed? Who are these people? Where are they? How did they find the videos and why were they all watching. The curious part of YouTube is that there is no way to answer such questions. But over the next few months, every now and then, I would check, and the numbers just kept rising. 200,000 and then 300,000 (I think, as of this writing, it’s around a half a million). But it gets better.
One day my phone rang and the number that came up looked nothing like an actual phone number. It started with a plus sign followed by ten or eleven numbers. I answered and the person, with a rather heavy accent, said, “Is this Michael Mark?” I said that it was, and they then said, “The Michael Mark who speaks about the steps on YouTube?” Again, I answered in the affirmative. “Oh my goodness,” he said, “I cannot believe I am speaking to you. I have been trying to track you down for months.” I said that I felt honored to be hearing from him and asked where he was calling from. He was calling from Ghana. He told me that he had been going to A.A. meetings for four years and constantly relapsing and had no idea what he was doing wrong. That when he came across my videos he finally came to understand that no one in these meetings had ever offered him the true message of The Steps. Not only had he recovered, he had started the first back to basics meeting in his country and wanted some advice on what was becoming a very well attended meeting. I was blown away. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from someone in Kentucky who offered a very similar message and wanted to know if I could email her some materials. And then it just kept happening. Israel, Oregon, Russia, New Mexico, New Orleans, France, Nigeria. It was overwhelming. In a million years, I could never have foreseen this coming and I still had no idea how it had occurred. Then, one day, I got a call from a man named Gene living in the U.K.
He told me that the videos had changed his life, given him his recovery, and he had started his own meeting. And this wasn’t even someone from A.A. Gene is a member of S.L.A.A. (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous). It was even more amazing that the message was translating across fellowships. He told me that he and a few compatriots had put together a fund and wanted to fly me out to London and have me deliver a one day seminar in which I would take the membership through all twelve steps over the course of eight hours (actually ten hours but we had lunch a bunch of bathroom breaks.) He said they would take care of everything; flight, food, lodging, transportation. What could I possibly say other than yes?
So there I was. Standing in front of sixty people (some of whom had flown in from other countries just for the seminar) delivering the good news of God’s grace thinking, “This is otherworldly. This is supernatural. How does something like this happen without divine intervention? How blessed am I that the Lord would choose to use me in such a miraculous way?” And so hearing that, you would probably think to yourself that this was a very enjoyable trip for me. But, in truth, it wasn’t. Not exactly. And this brings us to the idiosyncratic weird bird part of the story.
You see, I am something of a mental case. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not being needlessly hard on myself. It’s just the reality of my life. I have ADHD and I’m Bi-polar. I suffer from anxiety (often severe). I’m super-sensitive. When I don’t have my whole life arranged just so, I immediately begin to feel off-kilter and skittish. Unfortunately, the general flow of my day is greatly determined by my med cycle. And my med cycle operates most efficiently when I am in my regular routine and there are no major surprises. Also, I really don’t like the experience of feeling confined. So, right off the bat, the onus of an eight-hour plane trip was overshadowing any excitement about the coming trip as it grew nearer. In reality, the flight was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. My best friend Jonathan had remotely downloaded eight movies onto my computer to keep me busy on the plane. Also, the flight was less than half full. So I was able to lay down across three seats with pillows behind my head and my computer on my belly spouting exciting cinema into my plucky ear buds. I watched Bridesmaids (for the second time. It is so ribald in such a delightful and warming manner), Carlitos Way (I hadn’t seen it in years. It didn’t hold up as well as I had hoped but it was still pretty intoxicating) and We Bought a Zoo (I don’t know why this didn’t do well in the theaters or why no one I know had told me to watch it. It’s pretty terrific). Just about the time my computer faded to black as a result of its battery life frittering down to zero, I got up to pee and the stewardess told me that we would be landing in about a half an hour. Additionally, I had my vape (which I have substituted for smoking cigars… a step in the right direction I think) and snuck off to the bathroom every twenty minutes or so for a big drag.
So there I am in the middle of Heathrow airport looking for a man I have never met named Steve (one of the group that put this whole thing together. I left O’Hare at 7:55am and it is now 11:00pm. But my body thinks it is 4:00pm. I’m in a bit of a daze and I cannot find this guy. I’m awash in brits coming and going and obtaining luggage and seeking cabs and I keep hoping that one of them will smile and say, “Michael?” But this does not happen. And I am deeply uncomfortable. Wandering about in a foreign land desperately seeking refuge. Finally, I called Gene who called Steve who then magically appeared walking up a ramp with a back to basics book under his arm. He turned out to be older than I imagined; remarkably polite but not as immediately engaging as I had hoped. I don’t know what I was expecting. Certainly not a banner reading “Welcome Big Book Guru” and a line of marching girls performing in front of a robust marching band. But Steve was a bit demure and the connection wasn’t immediate and it had me feeling adrift and more than a little freaked out as we flew down the highway on the wrong side of the road as I sat motionless in the driver’s seat with no wheel in front of me. We arrived at his little charming two bedroom apartment (he had recently separated from his wife) and he gave me quick tour; letting me know whatever I could find in the refrigerator or cupboards was mine to partake in, wished me a good nights sleep, and retired to his bedroom.
And there I was. Alone. In a simple room. In a foreign land. And massively disoriented and more than a little anxious. Then tragedy hit. You see my vape had been having some trouble over the last month. The port in which you stick the cord to charge the thing had worn down through no fault of my own; so to charge the thing, you needed to put in the charger and simultaneously hold it in a downward position to make the thing charge. So I would charge when I was sitting at the computer or in the car when I had an extra hand to hold the thing down for twenty minutes or so which would being me back to full charge. It was a pain in the ass to be sure; but a reasonably manageable pain in the ass. I had the option to send it back to the manufacturer who would surely replace it, but I simply could not be without nicotine for the few weeks that process would take to reach commencement…Anyway, I arrived in London with almost a full charge. Just to be safe, since the next day was the big event, I plugged it in to get it fully charged. And upon plugging it in… nothing. I was horrified. No matter which way I bent and shimmied the cord, absolutely nothing would make the little red+ light come on signaling that the thing was charging. The charge I had would not last through the next day, and I was facing two full days in London with no nicotine. And this potential reality had me in very bad shape. I sat there helplessly trying and trying but nothing was working. Then I though that, if need be, I’d eat the loss and buy a new one the next day. Luckily I had my sleeping pills and I was soon resting in a deep, although not entirely peaceful slumber.
Steve woke me up at 7am to shower, ger dressed, down a cup of java, and head out to the school in which the event would take place. I had this splendid opportunity to carry God’s message to a room full of people in need and I am utterly consumed with my ever lessening vape charge. I informed Gene of my problem, quite sure he would say that we could just go to a local vape shop after the event. Turns out, this was easier said than done. Even though culture in the states seems to generally follow the brits (that is when new edgy music and fashion hit in New York and L.A., they were usually popular nine months earlier in London, somehow this has not occurred with vaping. It was explained to me that while vaping existed in England, it was still very new and fringy and had just recently gained the beginning of a foothold. My anxiety was rapidly increasing, and I was pissed that I was letting my need for nicotine ruin this amazing opportunity to experience this new and exciting land. By God’s grace, I spoke for eight hours to a riveted crowd, many of whom claimed to have had life-altering experiences over the course of the day. For this, of course, I was eternally grateful, and yet I was not ina good place. The long plane trip, followed by a quick sleep and then an right hour talk had me rather char-broiled. Nonetheless, the boys were dead set on taking me on an outing through the heart of London to see some sights and get some dinner. At the moment, I would rather have pulled a few of my fingernails out with a tweezer, but I just didn’t know how to refuse. So we set off.
We walked through SoHo and Chinatown. The town was hopping and it was far too much visual and audio stimulation for my weary form. My feet were also killing me from standing all day and all the walking was becoming quite excruciating. All I wanted was to find a vape shop and we were failing in that endeavor. We found one rinky-dink side of the road stand selling everything from hats and t-shirts to snow globes and key chains. They had a tiny corner of vaping items but it was more than pitiful. They had one little stick of a machine that ran $60 american dollars. Just to back myself up, I felt compelled to purchase it, knowing it was a mistake. When we finally returned to Steve’s, I loaded up the stick and took a drag. It was dog shit. $60 bucks down the drain and no closer to a solution. Sleep on night two was remarkably easier as I was blindly exhausted. I got a full nights sleep and awoke to a vape on fumes. This day (Sunday) was to be entirely devoted to hanging out in London, seeing sites and such and the idea of doing it sans-nicotine sounded like the seventh circle of hell. What was worse, the eight-hour flight in the morning sans-nicotine sounded even worse. I was on Google trying pitifully to find a vape shop and I was getting nowhere. Steve could read my badly hidden frustration, and in his rampantly polite nature told me to take a shower and allow him to try to find me a shop. I agreed, but got in the shower, thinking, “Yeah right. You’re looking on the same Google I am and you barely know what a vape shop is. I’m sure this will work out with flying colors.”
But God is bigger. God is better. God is smarter. And God knows well more than we do. I dried off and got dressed as Steve told me that he thought that there might be one of these vape shops next to a little cafe in a nearly vacant corner of town. He further said that he thought the shop opened at 11 and it was presently about 9:30. He suggested that we go to the cafe, enjoy a beverage, and wait until the shop opens. I had exactly no hope that was going to work out and my now complete lack of nicotine was making me increasingly cranky. We get in his backward car (in which he again needed to remind me to get in on the other side) and drove through a series of back and side streets, finally pulling into a parking lot. I looked left and saw a charming little cafe with comfy outside tables. It was a beautiful day out for a coffee on a veranda. Then I looked to the right at a shop called Vape World. My heart raced. It had all the earmarks of a genuine vape shop and I experienced a glimmer of hope. Just as I finished polishing off my caramel latter, a young thin guy on a bike pulled up to the vape shop.
I asked, “Are you the vape guy?” “I sure am,” he answered cheerily. It was only 10:45, but I couldn’t wait. “Can I come in now? I asked hopefully. “Follow me,” he generously responded. I pulled out my vape and asked, “Do you have something of this caliber?” He took a gander, smiled, and said, “Oh, we can do better than that!” If it felt even remotely appropriate, I would have french kissed him. It turned out that I only needed a new battery. He showed me a black unit that had twice the power of my present unit. It was stunning. I was fully prepared, though not pleased, to spend $250-$300. The battery was $100 american. Turns out that a vape battery is the only item available in London that is cheaper than a similar item in the states. He ran my card, opened the box, affixed my glass cylinder to the new battery, gave it a quick charge, and I was ready to go. I was overjoyed. I must have thanked him fifteen times. He was genuinely touched and grateful to have rescued me in my time of need, and me and Steve were off to meet Gene in the heart of the city. I felt calm and serene for the first time during my trip and, concurrently, a bit guilty that I had basically flushed two days of a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity stressing about nicotine. I was well aware of the irony that I had been flown out to speak on recovery and I killed forty-eight hours trying to feed my addiction. It made me feel the slightest bit fraudulent, but there was no mistaking that I had helped a slew of people the day before nonetheless.
The guys kept asking me what I wanted to see and i kept responding, with more than a hint of embarrassment that I really didn’t care. I’m not much of a sightseer. But they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They showed me Big Ben and I though, “It’s a big clock. That’s pretty much what I thought it would be.” They showed me Westminster Abbey and the queen’s castle residence and they were both just, like, big ornate buildings. I suspect this is a shortcoming of some kind in me. I just don’t know. I simply don’t care much about a whole lot of things. I always say that my wife knows a little bit about everything and I know everything about, like, four things and don’t care about much else. If you want to talk about the gospel, A.A., baseball, books, movies or my kids, wife or puppy, I’m your guy. Beyond that, I just can’t mount much interest. I’m just not the guy who stumbles across the history channel or the discovery channel and decides that it couldn’t hurt to know more about the mating rituals of sperm whales or the history of Czechoslovakia or King Henry the VIII’s experience as monarch of the Tudor dynasty. I am also, to my great shame, painfully Americanized. While I am completely aware that the gentrification of America is not a good thing. I know it is not a product of genuine progress that every suburb in America looks practically identical strewn with Starbucks and Panera Bread and Wal-Greens and The Gap. And yet, when you take me away from here I am troubled by the fact that I can’t find a Starbucks or a Wal-Greens or that there aren’t reruns of Will & Grace that I can watch on the tube.
Ben and I had about four hours to kill at which point he would hand me off to another member of the crew named William who would be putting me up for my last night and take me to the airport in the morning. Ben took me to a recovery club where I got to spend some time with some of the folks from the seminar who had questions or required some council. It was enriching and powerful. I spent time with some truly wonderful people and felt strongly connected to the people of the culture as well as the culture itself. We then walked through an amazing museum (something about items from around the world. Pretty cool.) as we talked. Ben, born a Jew just like myself, had been investigating the concept of Jesus and was interested in hearing my testimony. As we walked through the museum floor by floor, I explained the path that led me to getting saved and, while it didn’t conclude with his saying the sinner’s prayer or getting baptized, he made it clear that our talk had a major impact on him and he had every intention of investigating the subject further. We met William in front of the museum and I hopped in his BMW for the hour-long ride into the countryside. William is amazing. He made a veritable fortune in the corporate world, retired, and now leads wellness seminars across the world and works as a medium for individuals and groups. We had a stunningly intense and fulfilling conversation before pulling into his property which emitted from me the only words that seemed appropriate. “Holy Shit!” He and his wife own a full former farm. At least two acres of land with an absolutely resplendid house and a separate coach house which is where I would be staying. I had two floors all to myself with every amenity a person could possibly desire. I dropped my bag off and we adjourned into the house where I met his wife. She is one of the kindest, funniest, genuine, beautiful woman it has ever been my pleasure to know. The three of us sat in the living room, sipping coffee, conversating like people who had known each other for a lifetime. They then took me out to a mouth-watering dinner at a gastro-pub which was homey in a way that made me want to set up a cot in the back and move in. By the time desert arrived, I asked if they might consider adopting me; and I was only half kidding. I loved them so much. I wished my whole three days had been in their presence. Not to say the rest of it, along with Gene and Steve, hadn’t been fruitful, but this, my final night in England, was my first experience of relaxation.
As morning came, I got dressed and walked out into the crisp morning air staring out at a vista that simply took my breath away. I felt more than a little regret that I had failed to really drink in this glorious God-given opportunity. I just couldn’t shake the idea that I am this fragile little being with a persistently restless spirit who has a reasonably hard time really being happy. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have an amazing life. I do. My darling bride of seventeen years is my best friend. My two daughters light up my heart like a fireworks display. We have a beautiful home that I would be more than happy to die in. I have a slew of wonderful friends who I trust implicitly and who truly adore me. I have my sobriety and I have been saved by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I have no complaints. I have everything. But everything includes me, with my deep-felt, often debilitating emotions, my family of origin brokenness, my bevy of psychological difficulties, and my highly intelligent, creative brain in which the hamster runs tirelessly on the wheel 24-7 without showing even a hint of slowing down. It’s just not easy living inside of me. I’m not saying I’m terminally unique or anything. I just find the experience of being a human being very tiring and very difficult. But I accept this. This is me and this is my journey and the details of my history, warts and all, have all proven useful in my mission to help God save lives. That’s what I do. The good Lord, as a product of nothing I did to earn it, saw fit to get me sober and save my soul and then went so far as to hire me to work for him. Jesus said that we had to pick up our cross and walk. So every day, I wake up staring down the barrel of a long day that looks imposing for no particular reason, strap on my cross and carry forth. I like when it’s easy, but it doesn’t have to be easy. I like being happy, but I don’t have to be happy. That’s all gravy. What I have to do is remain sober, sane and stable that I may successfully do the work assigned to me by my heavenly employer. And, in spite of my bevy of problems and challenges, I think I do that work pretty competently. And, honestly, I can’t ask for much more than that. No matter which way you slice it, I am playing with house money.
The flight home from England was longer (wind currents) and less comfortable. The flight was full and I was cramped in a shit pot of a coach chair for nine hours. But I kept my computer on my lap and watched The Departed (even better the second time. Scorsese is the man!), Inside Llewyn Davis (one of the Coen brothers weirder efforts but interesting and well done nonetheless) and The Wrestler (again, even better the second time. Mickey Rourke gives a bravura performance). When my computer crapped out, I still had two hours to endure, so I sucked it up and played games on my phone and listened to the book on tape that I was in the middle of and only mildly interested in. And upon my arrival, my beautiful wife was there with that same riveting smile on her face that I fell in love with nearly twenty years ago.
So what did I learn from this trip across the ocean. I’m not sure. I guess I have to go back to the beginning. The sovereign Lord of the universe sees fit to use me in truly miraculous ways. And I am a quirky, tortured, idiosyncratic, anal, rebellious, bizarre force of nature. I wouldn’t mind changing the latter. In fact, I would like that very much. But, in a million years, I would never sacrifice the former to ease the latter. Never. Not a chance. My central purpose in this universe is to serve the kingdom for the Lord’s pleasure. And if the road to pulling that off needs to strewn with all kinds of broken shards of glass and scattered detritus, that’ll just have to be ok. I am a seeker of truth and a shepherd to the downtrodden. I have the best job in the world. As long as I get to keep doing that, the rest of it can be whatever it needs to be.
And, surprisingly, despite a decidedly difficult trip, if they see fit to invite me back, I am pretty sure that I am on board.