Monday, May 23, 2016

I Break My Own Heart

I break my own heart
Against barren rocks I
slam it hammer it it push it.
Pausing only to wipe the blood
and dirt from my eyes.

I break my own heart.
Like a stubborn child
I will not listen to reason,
or be held
in loving arms.

I choose instead to run
toothless and cackling
through the streets.
My knuckles raw from pounding,
filthy with pain,
blind with rage.
My heart broken.


I wrote that poem in 1992 and continue to write varying versions of it regularly. It is the underlying thread in the fabric of my life.

I can see my crazy choices as I'm making them, but I make them anyway. For the most part I don't mind. I know that the cosmos/my subconscious/whatever contains deeper reasoning that I don't always see right away. I have long since stopped regretting past bad decisions because I know I had no alternative but to make them. I am not here to be content. Some of us can sort that, and most of us get to be content some of the time. But there are bigger fish to fry. And hopefully, we learn something with each dubious choice and make a slightly better one on the next go-round.

The last couple of days have been difficult for me emotionally because of a relationship that I want very much to sort. I lead a blessed life, I am surrounded by love, I am offered cosmopolitan experiences at every turn. This weekend alone I was treated to a free dinner and drinks at a cunty new hotel and the next day handed tickets, champagne, and stellar company to see Kiki and Herb's sold out, brain-meltingly good show. On top of that I had deep, loving conversations with close people in my life. I am so very grateful for all that I have.

And yet many times I choose to focus on the smaller things. I choose impossible situations for myself and then rail at the sky when they prove to be impossible. I love people who aren't equipped to love me back the way that I need, I ingest things that are unhealthy for my body, I don't sleep because I'm festering. I don't create because I'm too busy destroying.

It's exhausting.

Someone I am very close to is experiencing some difficult mental machinations right now as well, and as I sat quietly, for once, thinking about it all, one word came bubbling to the surface and hung there in my brain in neon lights.



We are all sorting through the debris of trauma in our lives. Small trauma, large trauma, doesn't matter. Each one of us is hurting in some way. We are putting back pieces, starting bands, raising kids, working jobs, behaving as if we are sane when madness lies just under the surface, waiting for a mere scratch to come bubbling up and taint everything with anxiety and harsh words and pills popped. It's a miracle we can all get up and do anything under the weight of all the trauma we have experienced.

Seeing this word caused a dam to break inside of my heart. Suddenly I have so much compassion for myself. For my friends. For those who have wronged me. We are all doing the best we can under our own varied circumstances. We must be gentle and forgiving with ourselves and with each other, it's the only way to keep the madness, the sadness, the badness at bay.

That's all I've got for you today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Serenity Now

Soooo...I haven't been blogging much lately. Inspiration comes and goes and I've had some entertaining adventures, but I've maintained radio silence to protect the people I love until everything in my life, which is very much in transition, sorts itself into a more peaceful place.

I can tell you this much. I danced on the edge of a quiet insanity for most of 2015. It was excruciating but weirdly exhilarating at the same time, like standing at the edge of a cliff looking down. At the beginning of this year I knew I had no choice but to take a break from my 13 year relationship, which I had, prior to the chaos of last year, assumed, would have sworn on a stack of bibles, was the final and perfect relationship for me. Put a fork in it, I'm happy and done.

None of it has made much sense on paper. I have caused intense pain to someone I love very deeply who has always been loyal, loving, generous, thoughtful and kind. I am horrified at my own capacity for destruction. My family is beyond irritated with me. Half my friends think I'm insane, the other half shake their heads and mutter, "mid-life crisis".  I am terrified that I am making enormous mistakes that I will come to regret and which will inevitably lead to the just reward of dying alone on an ice floe much like the silent screen harlots that came before me.

But I've been doing my homework and have learned that this is not an uncommon occurrence for women in perio-menopause. All those lovely hormones that drive us to couple up and nest go kablooey and suddenly we refuse to cook dinner for our loved ones anymore and opt instead to run wild in the streets on our orthopedic old lady shoes. It's not a pretty picture.

If you are interested, Dr. Christiane Northrup is amazing and hits on this in these videos.

I'm trying to roll with it and trust that there is a higher plan for all of us that we don't always see right away. And I'm doing a lot of inner work. I am so fucking sick of inner work. Why can't wisdom and serenity be derived from wine and percocet? But continue it must or go mad. Attempting to stay in the moment and meditating and quiet time and yoga and writing crap down. And randomly bursting into tears at the anything on TV, that seems to be on the menu as well. Eat a bag of dicks, ASPCA ads!

Sigh... I am lucky to be surrounded by some very aware people, and have had a couple of intense/interesting psychic readings during this time of chaos, which ended up more like life-coaching sessions with dead loved ones chiming in here and there. I have been told that I have to go back and heal childhood shit, which of course you don't need to be a psychic to know that this applies to almost everyone. But I did get some specific advice and upon reviewing my notes some 8-9 months later I see that much of it could apply to anyone.

So while I'm working on my mid-life crisis, I thought I could at least throw some things out there that other people could use:  Let go of pre-conceived ideas and go to the basis of what real love is about.
The answer lies in self-love.

It's okay to feel love when you say it, look people in the eye and allow yourself to experience it.
Be more spontaneous.

It's okay to say no. When in doubt, don't. Choose to be gentle and non-reactive. Walk softly. Stop being so judgmental. This is not your last lifetime and you are going to see some of these people again.
[UGH!! Noooo! I guess that means this standard behavior is out-- 1:05 mark]

Quiet time is imperative.

Mood swings are a signal that I am not grounded.

Be truthful with myself on all accounts.

So that's it for today. I will try to bring you something more entertaining soon.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


All of our heroes are leaving. I guess we’re at that age; our rock gods are in their dotage and there are no new deities to take their place. The loss permeates our daily existence. I can’t even talk about how rock is dead anymore. We’ve talked the death of rock to death.

I have acceptance. I’ve mourned my neighborhood, my city, my subculture, all of it, for quite a while, and now I’m in a fairly serene mental state over it. I still mutter under my breath at screeching sorority girls when I’m walking through my neighborhood on a Saturday night, but for the most part I know it’s their hood now and that’s the nature of things. I’m old enough to stop taking the cycle of life so personally.

This December the world lost the one rock god I knew personally, Lemmy Kilmeister.  Many writers have listed his accomplishments and planet-wide influence, his integrity, intelligence, individuality, sense of humor and talent. There will never be another like him and it’s wonderful that much of the world knows it and mourns his passing. 
I have documented him often in this blog, and friends already know the stories well enough: CSFH toured with Motorhead in 1991 and the band was very good to us. It was a hilarious few months, and I learned more about being a proper rock musician during that brief time than in all my other earth-hours combined. Lemmy took a shine to me in particular, enough to mention a crush in his autobiography. I probably should have gone for it when he leaned in on our second night in London and whisper/growled into my ear, “I fancy you, Raffie.” But he scared me; I liked pretty boys that I could share clothes with and control. I politely declined.  He didn’t mind; he had plenty of other appealing opportunities, although he never gave up the good fight. We got close as we traveled and remained friends throughout his life. Not enough to speak on the phone regularly, I can't say I was one of his closest, but enough that I sent him text messages on birthdays and holidays, and saw him and the band when they played New York. After the shows Lemmy usually allowed me and a couple of his other female friends into the dressing room first. He liked the feminine attention; beyond that I think he simply wanted to unwind with people he knew before the inevitable hand-shaking and fielding of repetitive backstage comments and questions from mostly strangers. Whatever his reasons were, he treated me like a queen. He always made me feel special, he often said, “I love you.” upon parting.  I know I am not alone in this experience. The night Lemmy died I got a call from a mutual friend that he had left the planet some 10 minutes before. The friend wanted to tell me before it hit the public. I felt kind of room-spinny, overwhelmed by the information. I spent the rest of the night skimming the surface of my thoughts and emotions; not allowing myself to drop into the truth of it too deeply. I was afraid of the depth of that emotional hole. The next day I took irrational offense to any facebook post not having to do with him. How could people act normal or pay attention to their dumb food photos when he had died? I saw Lemmy three months prior, in September 2015 when Motorhead played Jones Beach. He was visibly not in the best of health: the show was short, they didn’t play a lot of the faster songs, and he seemed weary, his energy and body smaller than it used to be. Afterward he allowed only a very small inner circle into his dressing room, about five people, plus a couple of our guests. Lemmy’s dressing rooms were usually full of his exuberant energy, friends, fans, groupies, and food and alcohol--primarily his beloved Jack Daniels, surrounded by large bottles of Coke. I hate the hangover that comes from that combo but I drank it anyway when Motorhead played. Plus Lemmy would always let me nab his own newly made drink and quietly make another one for himself. I liked drinking his drinks rather than my own. It was another unspoken way in which he allowed me to feel special. This time there was no whiskey, no large tables of food or drinks for a horde. Just some cups and ice and vodka and Lem sitting down, looking weary. He said hi and got his hugs from everyone and we settled in. I poured myself a vodka on the rocks and sat across from him. I put my hands on his knees and looked him in the eyes and said, “How are you feeling?”

He cocked his head and said, “Eh…”

I said, “What are you gonna do?”

He replied, “I’m gonna keep going. Drop dead onstage.”

I said, “Okay, then.” And swung around and sat on his chair with him and took this selfie. I love his sweet and open expression here.

Everyone stayed for some chit chat and photos, but we were all conscious of overtaxing him, and didn't stay overlong. Before we left I looked deeply in his eyes and said, “I love you, Lem. Take care of yourself.” I worried afterward that I was too heavy in that goodbye, my demeanor too indicative of fear about his health instead of upbeat and encouraging. But it was how I felt at the moment and he knew it anyway.

Lemmy always saw through the “badass” trappings I put forth and understood a deeper truth. He gave me the original mock up of the 1916 CD cover (sent to him for approval before it went to print) and wrote on it, “To the Slut who is not, from one original to another. Love, Lemmy.” It's framed and hangs over my bed.

This is a story that only my band and a handful of those closest know. I'm telling it now to illustrate what kind of person he was and why he meant so much to me personally.

I was a mess on that tour. My father had died unexpectedly a few years beforehand and I wasn't even close to processing it. I had just been through a nasty break up with someone I loved desperately that sent me into a years-long spiral. I didn't know who I was, I hated myself and was acting out in the usual ways--drinking and smoking too much primarily. And then there's my personal favorite: numbing pain by using people as drugs. 

I couldn't stand my thoughts when I was alone; I wasn't comfortable without distraction. And being on tour, even though you're constantly surrounded by people, is essentially lonely. So I picked the likeliest candidate among our band of travelers to be my tour boyfriend. We weren't compatible in any real way; no history, no thoughts or ideas in common. He was simply attractive enough and in the right place at the right time. I don't think he knew what hit him.

It got volatile almost as soon as it began. It scared me and I knew I wanted out after a couple of weeks. But we were on the road in foreign countries and all trapped together and I felt terrible about being so unprofessional and about bringing this energy to my band. I was willing to deal with everything as peacefully as possible to make up for my bad behavior.

Lemmy and the other members of the band (Phil primarily, sometimes Wurzel and Philthy) and a couple members of their crew would often ride overnight on the Slut's tour bus. They wanted to be near the girls and we loved watching them pile on with their overnight bags. Lemmy never slept anyway, he would sit with the driver or in the overhead front lounge, watching oncoming traffic, smoking cigarettes, drinking Jack. He saw everything that was happening with me and in quieter moments he chided, always gently. He was never annoyed that I chose someone else, he just rolled his eyes and whispered things like, "You can't be serious..."

One night he bought a pink pacifier at a truck stop in Germany and left it in my bunk next to me while I slept. I knew it was from him the moment I opened my eyes. I got the message. I wish I'd kept it.

Somewhere in France there was an extremely drunken night exacerbated by the fact that the tour boyfriend was angry at me about an incident that had happened earlier in the day. As we sat in a club drinking, he reached out and smeared my red lipstick across my mouth and up across my face. I took out a mirror, wiped my face clean, and reapplied the lipstick. He repeated the smear. I took a deep breath, took out my mirror and repeated the clean up. He reached out and repeated the smear.

I dumped my drink in his lap and stood up to leave. He stood up and slapped me so violently across the face that I saw stars. Then he took a cue ball off a nearby pool table and threw it at full velocity through a room crowded full of people. It cracked a hole in the wall and stuck there. Someone could have been killed. He was hauled out immediately and I stayed behind to clean myself up and give people a chance to calm him down before we all had to get on the bus again.

I was weepy and Lemmy was furious. I've never seen him so angry before or since. He took me into a corner and wrapped his arms around me. I pressed my face into his chest and he said, "No man ever hits a woman. Ever. Not on my tour; not in my presence." He didn't tell me that he told me so, that there are consequences to poor decision-making. He didn't ask me what I did to instigate the fight. He just took over and took care of me and made me feel safe, probably for the first time in years. For a few moments he filled in for the father I desperately needed but didn't have. At his core he was a gentleman who loved and respected women, and he understood me better than I did myself.
My band generously allowed me to make the choice on how to proceed, and I chose to forget the night and get on with the tour. Lemmy didn't say much more about it. He knew I'd learned a lesson and I stuck as close as I could to him for the rest of our time on the road. He hated that I kept my glasses on and didn't dress up on travel days, he regaled us with history lessons, and he sang all the lyrics to Orgasmatron (the song he was most proud to have written) into my ear as we all drank in the back of the tour bus listening to tapes made of the shows each night.

When our record company refused to cough up for hotel rooms on occasion, Motorhead paid for them rather than allowing us to sleep in a cold bus parked for the night. On the last night of the tour the Paradiso in Amsterdam neglected to put in an extension to the front of their stage so that CSFH had room to play in front of all of Motorhead's extensive gear. Lemmy cancelled the show, causing a full blown fan riot. They set things on fire and broke up the place. He didn't give a fuck. if we couldn't play, they wouldn't play. We went out and got way too high on space cake instead.

I will never forget his kindness, his friendship, his wit, and his generosity of spirit. He was a true rock star in every sense of the word. I hope I get to see him on the other side.

I've posted this one many times. It's my favorite, standard bus shenanigans.

Somewhere in France. Just found this one, it feels like a little nudge from beyond.

Backstage convo, standard Kilmeister light reading on the table. 

Update: 1/27/16: I've had a few messages regarding the tour boyfriend and I'd like to clarify. He is a great person, we are still friends and there is no ill will. Things just got too crazy. I don't want to vilify anyone over one mistake they made 25 years ago. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Carnival Games

I've been spending a lot of time around doctors and nurses the last few months as I had a giant bit of nonsense in my uterus that was causing near-constant bleeding for the last year. The endless waiting rooms have given me some time to think.

I have a Chinese gyno, who I love, who sent me to a Chinese surgeon, who I now also love. They are both easy to talk to and have a great sense of humor. My OB/GYN surgeon is little and cute, kind of roly poly with white hair. He's heavily in demand and always being delayed by one emergency or another. 

On the day of surgery I sat in the hospital waiting room for two hours, then was put in a hospital gown to wait for another three hours in a freezing room in one bed in a line of beds full of other surgery patients. I'm generally happy to lay around all day but it was too cold and it's difficult to relax when there's a skeletal dude moaning and wheezing 4 feet away from you. 

The doctor finally arrived at the foot of my bed with another guy in tow, and they proceeded to have a lengthy conversation in front of me without acknowledging my presence. I became increasingly irritated by this, but because I like him and I know how rotten I can be when cold and cranky, I tried to keep the bitchiness somewhat in check, albeit unsuccessfully. When he finally turned to greet me, I said, because his surname is "Ho", 

"Well, hello Dr. SLOW." 

He said, "I have had a terrible day. Don't you feel even a little sorry for me?" 

To which I replied, pointing at the other guy. "I would have more sympathy if I didn't have to wait five hours just to lay here like a chump while you ignore me and chat it up with this asshole." 

He said, "This guy is very smart! He has a PHD and he's studying with me." I told the smart sidekick I was kidding and they shuffled me into surgery in my jammies. 

I frigging love anesthetic and I totally get why Michael Jackson was hooked on it. Is there anything better than counting backwards, only hitting the first number and then boom, blissful blackness? The only thing wrong with it is that sad, disorienting moment when they shake you awake again. And, admittedly, that it's quite possible to overdose if you use it as a nightly sleep aid. 

This year has been so emotionally wrought, with issues still yet to be fully resolved, that I found myself thinking, "Wouldn't it be awesome to drift off and never wake up?" I thought about it for days. I am not suicidal, nor even that dark anymore, but the idea of getting out of cosmic class early, of wiping the slate clean and starting over fresh, seems appealing at times. I'm tired of having a bad brain! I'm tired of learning lessons! I'm tired of vacuuming and trimming the cat's toenails! Serenity now! 

Alas, it was not to be, and with a small tinge of disappointment I woke up, healthy as a goddamn horse and now clean as a whistle, at least uterus-wise. 

Because it's funny, I am willing to embarrass myself with these details:

Two weeks later, at the follow up appointment, my doctor scrolled through his computer notes and suddenly made an "Ew!" face. He turned the monitor toward me and said,

"You had a LOT of stuff in there! It was impressive!"

To which I responded, "Please do me a favor and never, ever repeat that to anyone else."

He pointed to a photo of a large, disgusting, bloody mass set out on a clean white table proudly, like a wedding centerpiece, and said, "I took that out! But it was vewwy difficult!" His accent makes him sound like Elmer Fudd.

He went on: "I cut it away from the wall of your uterus, and then it was just floating around in there. I couldn't catch it! I kept trying and trying but it was slippery, and it was vewwy embarrassing because I had that student with me. The student said, 'It's like a carnival game you can never win!'"

He blinked and smiled at me serenely with his sweet little Buddha face while I laughed until I couldn't breathe. 

I am a Scorpio and all my emotional damage plants itself in my reproductive system. We all have different areas of vulnerability; this happens to be mine. Over the years it's been interesting to see how dysfunctional relationships, self-hatred, sexual damage, whatever other tiny monsters are rolling around in the unconscious, have manifested in my body. Not always fun, but interesting. When I was young I didn't understand the mind/body connection. Over time I've learned to read symptoms as a gauge of whether I'm taking care of myself emotionally or physically. 

As one of the petite Chinese nurses took my blood pressure that day I looked down at her hand on my arm. It was tiny and smooth with tapered, delicate fingers, the skin flawless from the hand to the top of her arm going into her sleeve. She looked so pretty and clean. It contrasted mightily to my own arms, which are covered with tattoos and cutting scars, ending in pointy fingernails covered in black polish. I felt a little ashamed, she was so pretty and fresh and there I am, an ancient vampire full of old poisons and coated in the debris of dark thoughts and social rebellion. She was sweet and oblivious and I'm sure she's seen worse, but it gave me pause. 

I lost an ex-boyfriend a few weeks ago to an overdose. He struggled with heroin addiction from a very young age up until he died in his 40's. As a result, he never wore short sleeves, no matter what the weather. Twenty years ago, when he took his shirt off in front of me for the first time, I was stunned to see long scar lines snaking up his arm. I had never seen anything like it. Years of moving the needle one millimeter at a time had created its own tattoo of sorts. I ran my finger along it and marveled sadly at the countless hours it must have taken to create. 

It didn't make sense for me to be interested in him. I was still a rock star and he was an unknown musician/barback with a dope habit, who lived with an equally addicted girlfriend. I had a long line of more appropriate and famous suitors waiting for a wink and a nod. But I was naive to the ways of dope, drawn to tragic characters, and there was something about him that compelled me. He was kind, gentle, intelligent and honorable in a very non-junkie kind of way. He had a depth and a sadness that moved everyone in his vicinity. Plus it probably didn't hurt that he was gorgeous, with long black dreads, high cheekbones and beautiful eyes. I, being the codependent that I am, fell hard and wanted to fix things for him.

So, I yanked him from his girlfriend before either one of them knew what hit them. And then of course immediately had an unmanageable mess on my hands. On top of the pesky dope habit, which ate all his cash and necessitated lengthy disappearances in order to keep me somewhat in the dark, the alcohol we drank socially turned him into a different person, an unrecognizable maniac. You could see his face morph into a scary new persona after a shot or two. He would throw himself into traffic, smashing into windshields, scream, break glasses against bar walls. 

I was losing patience quickly. It was simply not a good look for me. We played a one-off show with Motorhead at the Ritz and although the boyfriend was on good behavior, Lemmy pulled me aside and chastised me for my taste in men. He could see something wasn't right and he felt I should be with someone who could take care of me. I understood his point and I knew that the relationship, only a month or two old, was already nearing its conclusion

One night he (boyfriend, not Lemmy) went out drinking with a friend and at the end of the night at 5 am the friend tried to dump him at my place. The friend hit the buzzer over and over again until I woke up and trudged the five flights downstairs (no one had working door buzzers in the EV back then) to find my boyfriend on his hands and knees on the sidewalk. He was a flailing, screaming mess, getting up to try to punch the friend and then falling back to crawl position. He was a mad, frothing beast and I knew if I took him upstairs he would destroy my apartment and terrify my dog. 

My survival mechanism kicked it. I felt like the worst person on the planet but I still told the friend they were on their own. I turned and went back into my apartment; the friend ditched him there on the street.

I didn't sleep much and went downstairs a couple of hours later, expecting to find my boyfriend passed out on the sidewalk. He was gone, and he remained gone for three days. I was beside myself, calling his apartment, his ex-girlfriend, calling his friends. We were all worried that he was dead somewhere. I felt so guilty. 

Five am on the third day, coming home from a night at the Scrap Bar with my sister and mutual friends, we found him sitting on my doorstep in hospital pajamas. He was delirious and said things like, "They took me away, they attacked me..." I cried and took him upstairs, docile now, and put him to bed. The next day, more coherent, he told us that the cops had been called, it took more than a couple to subdue him, and he was tossed into Bellevue. He had very little memory of what happened. He agreed to go to rehab while I went on a two week tour playing shows down South. 

He had my schedule and would call me from rehab during soundcheck at clubs to give me progress reports. He found comfort in my voice; I cried quietly while staring out the window of the van. It was great that he was doing something to make a change but I knew it was doomed, as all my choices always were.

When I got home he showed up on my doorstep with short hair. The dreads that I loved were gone and I hated it, but he was cheerful and clear of focus. He lasted that way for about a week. We were too young to know how addiction works and just assumed everything would be fine without any follow-up work to the rehab experience. 

We went to a party at a friend's house and a half hour into it I turned and saw my boyfriend upending a bottle of Jack into his mouth, chugging it down. Something snapped in me and I knew I was done. Before the Jack kicked in I told him it was over. He was devastated and I was sad, but it was as if all the romance chemicals in my brain had simply dissipated and left me with a burning desire to be free.

A few days later, while I was meditating, a vision danced across my eyes. I was in a desert, I was a man, a member of a nomadic tribe. The boyfriend was in my care, maybe he was my son, he was young, ten or twelve, and I left him with people while I went out to take care of something. I was gone for a few weeks and when I got back the boy had been murdered and I was crushed by the guilt and sadness.

I took this to be a past life vision and the reason that I felt so compelled to connect with this person. And now I had paid my debt and that's why the energy was no longer there. 

We remained friends, although I kept a distance because I was afraid of getting sucked back into drama. When he died of an overdose a few weeks ago, I felt sad that I wasn't a better friend to him in our later years. But his death allowed me to reconnect with his childhood sweetheart, the girlfriend I stole him from, and I was able to apologize and mourn with her. She was gracious and told me I'd saved her life. 

Our friend Stephen Trimboli had this to say about him:

"I'm grateful to him for staying here this long. He was always so sad and our interactions over the years were special for this reason. He lived heroically. It was just time for him to go."

Some people simply have a harder time than others. He was one of them, not that it made him any more or less worthy of love. It just is what it is. When I see him again I will apologize for protecting myself at the expense of being more present, of letting him know that I did indeed love him. 

I had originally intended to write a blog devoted to this person, but decided against it because of the nature of his death and the details of our interaction. And the doctor silliness is fresh in my mind so I figured I'd go with that. But then once I started writing that story my ex kind of popped in there, and it seems connected. We weave a fabric with our lives: everyone is different, everyone is similar: my darkness and light, his, yours, what we do to and with our bodies, who we feel compelled to connect to, how we live and die. We all have happy and sad aspects to our existence. I suspect that we all think about how nice it would be to not to wake up sometimes. And maybe that's okay as long as we can keep a sense of humor when we do wake up. Life goes on and we fix what we can, try to forgive ourselves for the rest.

Another ex-boyfriend, Jesse Malin, has written a few songs about me, and I'll leave you with one of my favorites. It's egotistic to post a song about yourself, but I like the way it captures an energy and the choices made as a result. Except that, happily, I never got knocked up and moved to Brewster. 

Onward and upward, my friends. Hope this blog finds you happy and free of unwinnable carnival games. Make sure you tell your people that you love them whenever you can. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

September is here and although it's still hot, the nights are getting cooler. I know a lot of people love the change of seasons, but I always get sad when autumn arrives. To me it means winter is right around the corner, and winter equals death: the death of evening light, the death of throwing on minimal clothing to run to the store, the death of barbecues, ankle bracelets and oxygen-giving green stuff. To steal a line from my friend Max Low: Fall is like the day before you have to go back to work after a vacation. You can't enjoy the day fully because its freedom is temporary.

Now I'm depressed. What were we talking about? Oh yes, my summer vacation. So many friends on facebook were fascinated by the travails of this year's annual trek to Michigan that I've been meaning to blog it for weeks. So here it is, hopefully not too long, I've included photos to make it more interesting.

As mentioned in previous blogs, I threw an M80 into my previously happy 12-year relationship this year and Drew and I are both working on repairing it after some dubious behavior on both our parts, instigated primarily by yours truly. Drew loves staying in my mother's guest house in Cedar, it's lovely and relaxing and very close to some pristine Lake Michigan beaches. My sister Lisa lives five minutes away and my brother Nick times his vacation to coincide with ours, driving up from North Carolina with his girlfriend and cat. It is a chance for us to relax and reconnect, this year being more important than others past because of the recent emotional upheaval.

My mom does Air Bnb for the guest house and is booked solid all summer long:

Our flight there was the usual nonsense of late first flight, necessitating a stressful run through Chicago O'hare to make it to the connecting flight. We're used to it.

When we got in, my brother announced his beloved cat had run away. He and his girlfriend are madly in love with him, they named him Professor Putz, pronounced Pootz, as in "foots". I told them that "putz" is Yiddish for the male member, to which they both responded separately, "It's Pootz, not Putz." However you pronounce it, the cat was gone, and they were bummed out and spending most of their time roaming the woods and surrounding areas in search.

So that was bummer number one.

Two days into the vacation, a rainstorm was due. My sister claims that I am darkness incarnate and always bring storms with me. She calls me Darth Mare and the ringtone on her phone when I call is Darth Vader's theme:

I kind of like it, but I've always wanted to be a supervillain.

My mother has about 12 acres, covered in trees. And she has 3 ginormous willows surrounding her lovely pond. This is me on Day 1 at the pond. So serene, so ready to meditate and finally get my shit together:

The next day my sister and I invaded her friend's pool. It was a fabulous day. I'm modeling a tee that Storm sent me. It says "Wish You Were Beer". Yay, Japanese people ripping off my old band!

Never mind that near-dead child floating in the background, he survived.

My sister:

I was overjoyed to be in that pool because it was super-heated and I hate the cold water of Lake Michigan:

Sadly, it was not meant to last. The storm started out rough, but didn't feel out of the ordinary. I love thunderstorms and we watched from the house as rain blew sideways, hail came down and trees waved wildly in the wind. Then we heard trees cracking and my mother freaked.

I have to tell you a quick anecdote that will help paint a picture of my mother. She is a kind, generous, elegant, beautiful, well-educated woman of a certain age who loves the woods and runs her property by herself.

She owns a beautiful little house, a guest cottage, a giant shed, and a garage, plus a pond that takes quite a bit of maintenance, fed by a small stream that runs next to it. She is single by choice, lives alone and maintains all of this on her own, no easy task. Her driveway is a long dirt road, and she runs a snowblower by herself in the wintertime in order to be able to get in and out of town. If she doesn't pull up the weeds in the pond in the summer, they will take it over and turn it into a swamp. She goes into it in waders every year and rakes the muck up. This involves large rakey tools, a rowboat and a lot of muscle, usually wielded in the blazing sun.

It's horrible. Drew and I helped last year and I lasted exactly a half an hour. The stuff from the bottom of the pond smells disgusting, I get crabby in the hot sun and kept gagging at the smell. Then I accidentally stabbed my toe on a vicious bit of tree laying on the ground (wearing the wrong shoes) and simply could not go on. I limped bleeding and angry into the house, showered, put on a comfy dress, got myself a glass of lemonade and sat in a reclining lawn chair and watched the two of them continue. Not my proudest moment, but I was injured, damn it.

This year my mother did some work on the pond on her own. A branch fell on her head while she was dragging through the muck and it knocked her onto her back into the water. Luckily, she told us, it was in the shallow end so she didn't drown while lying unconscious for an indeterminate amount of time. Upon waking she discovered her head was cut open and blood was running down her face. But she wanted to finish the job, so she got up out of the water and continued the backbreaking work as blood ran down her face, congealing on the tip of her nose. She finished after a time, went in the house and cleaned herself up and found that she really could have used a stitch or two, but instead chose to use a butterfly bandage. My childhood is littered with examples of the use of butterfly bandages and one instance of her tying my brother's hair in a knot to hold a wound shut. After this she sat on her patio and had a well-deserved beer and called it a day. That's my mom.

Back to the storm: we heard trees cracking and when we realized they were coming down, my mother went out, in the midst of the lightning, rain and wind, and started dragging downed branches around. Drew and my brother rolled their eyes and went out to help her. I stood in the doorway shouting at them to get out of the dangerous fray, but they couldn't leave her out there alone even though it was madness. And then the power went out. And then my mother informed us that with the power goes the pump that pulls her water supply from a well.

Yay, vacation! No power OR water! We drank because there was nothing else to do in the fading evening light. I went to bed at 9 pm when there was no more visibility; my brother and Drew got completely wrecked by candlelight. The next morning began the hungover assessment. This is a milder example of the breakage, some trees were cracked lower down to the stump, some pulled right out by the roots, most fully destroyed.

About 10 giant trees in all, the willows the most tragic because they make the pond so beautiful. The news that we could get on our limited access, quickly to be out of juice phones informed us that it was not just a storm, but a tornado, and huge swaths of the area were out of power, one town completely cut off because downed trees blocked every inroad. My mother's best friend lost every tree on her property, a store in the nearby town had its roof ripped off and thrown into the road, entire forests of trees laid on their side and the one gas station/store with power was overrun by freaking-out tourists and locals. Armageddon!

My mother began working bright and early, dragging branches from one pile to another while directing my chainsaw wielding brother. Drew used a handsaw and a wheelbarrow. I could not weasel out of this one and put on some practical shoes to drag smaller branches and manage the burn can. Because I like to burn shit down, both literally and figuratively. I happily poked at smoldering green stuff that created great billowing waves of heavy smoke that coated my skin and hair.

Disgusting, heavy work in the hot sun--all of my brother and mother's issues manifesting in this one sweat-soaked destiny. She was obsessed with getting everything cleaned up immediately, to the point of working to exhaustion. She thinks my brother, the youngest of five siblings, is still a kid and she rides him too hard. He misunderstands her intentions and simmers enraged, a lifetime of family dynamics and poor communication quietly creeping to boil over on the surface. He yells at her, she gets weepy. Drew toils patiently and and plays peace-keeper, I roll my eyes, try to interpret for everyone and do as little as possible physically, which is still too much for my manicure and mentality. I shout that I was not meant for hard labor. Drew worries that I will set myself and/or the surrounding woods on fire. Which, I have to admit, is not outside of the realm of possibility, I once accidentally set a piano on fire.

No shower after all of this, and all water for the flushing of toilets and washing of bodies is carried in heavy buckets up from the stream.

Luckily we had a friend with power who loaned us his generator and gave us giant jugs of drinking water. The generator was placed in the garage with a long cord with three outlets running from it to the house, one outlet went to the refrigerator, the other to the freezer, the third to my phone. My mother has a photo of me squatting in her driveway, frantically tapping at its screen, desperate for outside contact. It was just sad.

By day three, the labor, boredom, and lack of shower had taken its toll. My chin looks weird here because it's featuring a giant mosquito bite. Did I mention that the mosquitoes were relentless?

Drew got stung by a wasp on his stomach, causing him considerable pain, itch and swelling. Then I got hit over one eye by a couple of what I'm guessing were genetically modified mosquitoes. My eye swelled to epic proportions instantly. I refused to allow myself to be photographed in that state, and my brother recoiled when he saw me and asked, "What the hell happened to your face???"

You know what happened to my face?? Stupid Michigan, that's what happened to my fucking face.

My mother, meanwhile, was veering wildly out of control, or rather, way too in control, which is her go-to reaction when feeling anxious or stressed. She festered about getting the yard clean and held us to a complicated meal schedule that soon stopped up the sink garbage disposal. She came up with a system of washing dishes in the yard with pans full of creek water but wouldn't let us help her with them. Everyone got crabbier and crabbier. My brother was close to breaking, working all day on breaking down trees and roaming the woods in the evening looking for his cat. I was actually sick of booze and stuck to water, a sure sign that something had gone terribly awry.

I phoned my sister, also suffering without power, and said, "Nick is going to kill our last remaining parent, Drew's hands are bleeding and I am squatting in the yard washing dishes like a goddamn aborigine. This ship is sinking, please help." We discussed grinding up xanax and slipping it in Mom's food or water. In the end we simply made her sit on the patio with me and drink wine while Lisa grilled burgers on the world's teensiest grill.

It was clear we were in need of reinforcement and my sister made some calls. The next day our friend Tim Young, who owns Food For Thought, showed up with his chainsaw and son, and another brother, Tony, and his wife showed up with a wood chipper. There was some discussion of putting Mom in the chipper but Tony said we'd have to freeze her first, so that idea was scrapped.

Assessing the damage:

Things get more entertaining:

And productive:

Drew got to drive the tractor because no one will ever let me drive anything. Ever. That's the top of a giant tree that went down behind him.

Will Mom fit in the chipper? We'll never know for sure:

And finally, mercifully, on the fifth day of no power, when our spirits were broken, our eyebrows unplucked, and none of us cared to live anymore, the power went on. I celebrated by taking a blissfully hot shower and drinking more wine on the patio. That is not the Professor at my feet; unfortunately he is still missing as of this writing.

We finally had some time to relax and spent a day on my brother-in-law's boat:

My sister's glove has to do with a cut finger and a Hunger Games survival theme that carried us through our trials.

And then, just like that, it was time to go home. Drew and I once again found ourselves stuck on a plane full of screaming babies as it sat unmoving for hours on the tarmac. The first flight was cancelled and we had to get off the plane and make new arrangements. I couldn't wait to get home to NYC, but Drew was tense and very sad that he only got a day or two of real vacation. On the next plane, which also sat doing nothing for way too long, this asshole spent hours with her head lolling about like a bladder on a stick, repeatedly flopping her itchy hair onto my shoulder:

I really wanted to go through her bag and steal whatever drugs she was on, and was prepared to kill her if necessary, and then quickly take out the kid behind me kicking my seat before anyone noticed what was happening. It took us 12 hours to get from Michigan to New York City, upon which we found our luggage had been left behind on a later flight. Drew graciously stayed to wait for another interminable couple of hours while I went home to take care of the cats.

This is what I learned from this particular summer vacation:

-- If you live in the country, it's good to own a generator.

-- You can't put someone in a wood chipper unless you freeze them first.

That's pretty much it.