Thursday, January 29, 2015

Weird Dreams

Weird dreams...we've all had them.  Possibly the most disturbing dream I've ever had was a recurring nightmare that I had throughout my 20s and 30s involving killer, man-eating vampire penguins. I might add, this was also during my better living through chemistry years.

Usually, like most, no matter how odd my dreams might seem, they dissipate throughout the day; usually before I've had my 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee. Maybe the caffeine zaps them out of my conscious brain...who knows.

But, this morning, I awoke from a particularly weird dream. It wasn't scary...it was just weird.

It's been said that we don't dream about strangers. Every face in our dreams is one that we have, at some point, seen in our waking lives. This morning's dream was a veritable Who's Who of faces from my past, present, and faces we've all seen on TV/movies/media.

My friends Rob, Gary, and myself were playing a pick up gig. This, unto itself, is not weird. We've done many of these. The venue in the dream was odd. My mind knew it was part of a bowling alley, but it was a bar with an open wall facing a small road. People were walking past, some stopping, some not. Musically, we were really ON in the dream. I recall that, in the dream, I was playing some weird old 1960s Japanese double cutaway, semi-hollowbody guitar. It was sort of blue...strung with heavy, flatwound strings. Odd that I'd dream about that.

If the dream wasn't anything spectacularly weird at this point, it was about to be. Three well-known faces entered the bar through the open wall: rockabilly/country legend Narvel Felts (who I've met on numerous occasions), Burl Ives....and Mitt Romney. In the dream, they had been at a political rally together and had decided to go drinking afterwards. They were feeling pretty rowdy.

Narvel got up and sang a song with us, and soon he, Burl, and Mitt were yelling out requests. Irritating as it was, we managed to play each one. Burl Ives was sitting in a chair with a giant mug of beer and half-singing along.

Mitt Romney was seriously getting on my nerves. He was trying to dance (which most men of his age probably shouldn't do in public anyway) and kept screaming for one song. What disturbed me most was that it's my favorite song of all time - "Besame Mucho".

I love that song, and even more, I love playing it. But I didn't want to play it for him. Mitt Romney is not allowed to enjoy that song! But...I eventually gave in and played a blistering version. I was nearly laying on the floor, propped up only by the guitar...I remember the way those flatwound strings felt under my fingers.

When we finally finished, Mitt was so moved by the version of "Besame Mucho", that he gave me $100 tip. Not to be outdone, Burl Ives pulled out a wad of bills big enough to choke a horse, and peeled off 5 c-notes and gave me a $500 tip.

Rob felt that he should get part of the tip...but Burl told him he already gets enough money from the royalties from his recordings of some of Rob's grandfather's songs.

The dream started to break down and get weirder from that point on. Someone broke into Rob's car and stole a box of 8 track players. Gary and I were in a brightly lit grocery store, and one minute he had a black eye, the next he didn't, and then he did again. Later in the dream, we ran into an old friend of mine at a bus stop...in the dream, she was moonlighting as a stripper and a hooker. Just for kicks. She invited us over for ham hocks and iced tea...and then the alarm clock went off.

Weirdest part...I've remembered this all day.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Snowed In

I once lived every working person's worst nightmare. I got
snowed in at work. For 3 days. Oh sure, I got paid overtime for
it, and was given the rest of the week off...but still, 3 solid days
at work with no way to escape. Ugh...

I was working in a group home for adults with retardation at the
time. It really wasn't too bad. One of the residents was away at
the time, so it was just 2 guys, in their 50s. Pretty laid back
gents really. The one guy, his life revolved around coffee and
cigarettes...so he was pretty much set. We had food, we had
coffee, and we had smokes. The never-ending snow never
phased him in the slightest.

The other guy, he was pretty high functioning and felt that
keeping the walk and the driveway clear was his own personal
responsibility. No easy feat during a blizzard. Yet, he managed it.
Every few hours, he went outside, grabbed his shovel, and dug
in. It was pretty hilarious, really. Over 3 feet of snow on the
street and in the yard, and the walkway and driveway were
spotless. In a perfect world, this guy could've made a fortune in
landscaping and plowing!

I remember the morning well. I woke up, looked outside and
thought "How the hell am I going to get to work?" I walked down
to my car, and old Chevette, and tried to dig the tires out a
bit...but there was already over a foot of snow on the road, so it
wasn't going anywhere. I went back in the house, called my
boss to explain the situation, and she explained, in no uncertain
terms, that I was expected to make it in. I asked if she had
completely lost her mind, and she then read me the agency's
policy on the subject. I had to find a way in. I told her I would
most likely be late...and she'd have to deal with it.

A trip that would normally take 20 minutes, took over 3 hours. It
took me 20 minutes just to walk the 2 blocks to the main road to
try to catch a bus. Then the waiting began. The 1st bus never
showed. The 2nd bus came, and we got about a mile, and it got
stuck on a hill. The replacement bus finally got me into town.
Only 2 more buses from there!

The 2nd bus got me back out into the north hills. Trust me,
there is no rhyme or reason to the way buses are routed around
here. When I was let off the bus to wait for #3, I thought I was
going to freeze to death. Over an hour I waited, in the freezing
snow. My beard was literally frozen. I don't think I have ever
cursed as much as I did waiting for that bus.

Finally, I get off the bus at the top of the hill by the house. There
was a convenience store, so I figured I better stock up. I went
in, grabbed a few packs a smokes, a 2 liter bottle of Mt Dew, and
a couple bags of Doritos. With those supplies, I knew I'd be able
to sit out any storm. Really...at that point in my life, it was all I
needed.

Carrying these supplies down the steep hill to the house
proved, to say the least, entertaining. I've never had any
interest in skiing...and this was apparent as I nearly killed myself
trying to make my way down an ungodly steep, frozen, blizzard
-covered hill. Wet and frozen, I finally made it to the house...3
hours late.

I walked in and told the staff person there that I was there to
relieve them. Their shift was now, officially, over. They could go
home. HAHAHAHAHAHA Yeah right!

I was informed that I had 2 messages waiting for me. The 1st,
from my auntie (who lived with me at the time) that not 5
minutes after I left, my boss had called to tell me that I was no
longer expected to make it in to work. A state of emergency was
being declared due to the weather, and only necessary vehicles
would be permitted on the roads. The 2nd was from my boss,
asking me to call her when I got there...which you can bet your
ass I did!

In typical bureaucratic goofiness, she tried to explain to me that
I was expected to stay at the house until relieved. Well no shit. I
asked her about being paid overtime...she didn't have any sort
of satisfactory answer. I told her that without a guarantee of
overtime, I would resign on the spot, and she would be forced
(by policy) to come in a relieve me. We both knew that wasn't
going to happen, so she was forced to agree to my terms.
Overtime plus! I was given overtime for the rest of the week,
plus added vacation time. I then asked about the other staff
person, who was also stuck there, although relieved of duty by
yours truly. I suggested that it would only be fair to grant that
person the same. I could imagine this manager's mental
calculations of crumbling budgets...but again, she was forced
to agree. I had her repeat it all to the other staff person, and
then we proceeded to settle in for the duration.

So, how to spend a blizzard with 2 middle-aged guys with
special needs? The same way you would with anyone! Food,
more food, movies, and games!

Anyone who has ever worked in a group home know this: you
better know how to cook. If you don't, you're going to learn.

Special diets went out the window. We made enough food for an
army...because really, few things stave off weather-induced
boredom than comfort food. Homemade biscuits, stew, a
mountain of mashed potatoes, fried chicken, you name it...if it
was in the house, we cooked it! The state and county have
some 'unique' policies on leftovers...and we ignored those, as
any person with any level of common sense would. The only
routines we observed were medications. Those still applied.
Anything else...fuhgeddabowtit! We were going to make the
best of a bad situation...if it killed us!

The other staff person and I worked out an impromptu schedule
so that we could sleep at some point, and we made it work. At
one point, I phoned the convenience store, making sure they
were open, and one of the residents and I climbed our way back
up the hill to get more snacks! It was actually a fair bit of fun!
We grabbed some magazines too.

3 days of food, movies, and games like checkers...as well as
making snowmen, having snowballs fights, and basically just
having fun...and getting paid for it. That is how one handles
being snowed in.

Finally, the roads were cleared. The street the group home was
on was treacherously steep, and was one of the last to be
cleared. One of the other site managers finally came by to give
me a ride home. It was the least they could do. We were given
written commendations for our dedication to service, we were
given our overtime pay, and were given the rest of the week
off...as well as 2 extra days of vacation time.

While not something I'd want to relive, being snowed in at work
wasn't the worst thing I've lived through.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Well, since ya asked...

I've lost over 40 pounds, and yes, I'm pretty proud of it.

None of my clothes fit. I have to force myself, at some point, to go clothes shopping. I hate clothes shopping.

But, everyone keeps asking how I've done it. It's pretty simple really. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and took it seriously. I don't want to lose a foot or go blind or anything like that. It's a real motivator for me.

Fear is good for that. I've known a lot of folks with diabetes in my life. My great aunt had it...and lost a leg to it. Her mother had it, and went blind from it. A few different friends have lost legs from it. I don't want to join that particular club, thank you very much.

So the choices were pretty simple: Feel sorry for myself and risk all of the above, or do something about it. I chose the latter.

I had to completely change the way I think about food. An ex girlfriend often pointed out that I'm obsessed with food. You know...she's right. I am. Always have been. I used to hate food. My parents can be blamed for that. My father wouldn't know how to season food if you put a gun to his head. My mum...well, God rest her soul, just wasn't a great cook.

I learned how to cook from my grandmother, Aunt Ann, and my friends' moms. Once I realized that I do, indeed, enjoy food, there was no looking back. I dug in and dug in deep! Italian, Chinese, soul food, Cajun, southern cuisine...meat, carbs, SUGAR!!!!! I loved it all! I love booze. I love beer. I love good wine. I love it all. And it was killing me.

So, how did I actually lose the weight?

Again, simple answer. I started eating healthier and getting more exercise. I read labels. All of the labels. I learned what the numbers were and what they meant to my diagnosis. Carbs and sugars = BAD! Fresh fruit and veggies = GOOD!

Here's the weirdest part: I eat MORE now than I used to! One of my biggest problems, aside from what I ate, was WHEN I ate. I rarely have ever felt hungry. This goes hand in hand with my difficulties feeling pain. Something in that part of my brain ain't wired right...so I used to not even think about eating until I'd get a headache from it...and then I'd pig out. I never left the table until I felt I was ready to burst. Bad bad bad.

So now, I eat 3 meals a day. I snack on occasion. I eat healthy. No junk food, no soda, nothing too over the top. Oh sure, I treat myself once in a while...you have to. Well not really, you don't HAVE to...but it's nice to do so. The biggest thing though...MOVE YOUR ASS!

Turn off the TV. Get away from the computer. Go for a walk. Having a heart condition, I can't go hogwild working out like I used to...but I can still walk. Rain, shine, snow...doesn't matter...I get in at least a few miles a day. It might be a little tough at first, but you adjust to it. It becomes part of your routine...same as eating healthy.

You can make all the excuses in the world. I know I did. But...my diagnosis scared the hell outta me. I'm a fighter...always have been. I won't let this stop me and I'll be damned if I'll be defined by my diagnosis. But...all of that said...I'm losing the weight, I look better, and I feel good about the progress.

If you want to lose weight...just do it. No excuses. You are your own worst enemy when you do. It doesn't happen over night. It takes time and work. But...you can do it...and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Got it? Good. See ya later.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hello 2015!!!!!!

It's a new year...same ol' me. Well, pretty much...

New job, life is getting better, health seems to be under control. That said, last year was a bitch. But, with every cloud there is a bit of sunshine behind it...at least I usually look for it.

If nothing else, 2014 was a good year for me musically. I didn't do a large number of shows...didn't care to. I was too busy writing! And write I did! Musically, I was all over the damned place!

I was writing rock and roll, country, blues, jazz, singer/songwriter crap, and avant garde stuff. Hell, I even took a stab at writing some classical sorta stuff. I think most of it came out well. And yep, you guessed it...I'm putting links to some those songs right here! Why? Probably the only way you'll ever hear them. I'm taking 2015 by the short hairs and refusing to play the music industry game. I no longer give a shit if anyone buys my records, or asks me to do a show. I just really no longer care. New web site is coming soon and that will be the ONLY place online you'll be able to purchase my stuff. Fuck iTunes, Amazon, etc. Spotify, Pandora, etc. can go shove a dead donkey dick up their collective asses. I'm turning my back on the industry.

In the meantime...here's some of what you might've missed me goofing around with last year:

This one is an odd little tale of love...I really enjoyed playing with words and ideas on this one.




This one is pretty near & dear to my heart. In recent years, I've discovered  a fair bit about my heritage and it cleared up a lot of personal mysteries, including certain personal musical ones. Enjoy!



I got to record a new EP with some friends last year. It was a hoot and the songs were pretty killer! We even did a new take on an old song of mine...see what ya think!




A former client passed away. I was thinking about her one night, and this little personal tribute came to life.



A lot of folks seemed to like this one. Just some silliness and fun old ragtime sorta chords.



This one was a blast, at least more me. Kinda somewhere between "The Gift" and "Frank's Wild Years"...but a helluva lot longer!



A friend of mine made a comment about moving...and this song came from it. Probably one of the best things I've ever written...at least in my opinion. You might disagree. I don't care. LOL



Lastly, there's this stuff.Zufälligen Einbildungskraft. My brain went all over the place with this...and still sorta does. What you might not know about me is that I'm prone to manic episodes. I don't mean getting a little hyper now and then...I mean full-blown mania that can last days to weeks. It's basically just myself...cranked all the way and in overdrive. My brain just doesn't stop. I don't sleep. This stuff has become my outlet. Some of it is truly beautiful, in it's own odd way, and some of it will just weird out the average person. Nevertheless...I dig it. This one is a personal fave. Give it a chance. It might grow on ya.



OK, if you were hoping to read about whatever personal tragedies I survived last year, sorry...not this time. Regardless of everything that went down last year, I went to bed happy every night and woke pretty much the same way. This is a new year, life is swell, and I'm still deliriously happy. I hope you are too...and if you're not, I hope you can find a way to become happy. I'll gladly help ya!

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Christmas Gift

Howdy Y'all & Happy Holidays! I'll say that as I know people of many faiths...not everyone celebrates Christmas. Deal with it.

If you've been following my saga, then you know that life has taken an upswing for me lately. It's been a really rough couple of years...but it's all working out. Whew!

Over the past year, my typically crappy health took yet another turn, and I was diagnosed with diabetes (aka...The Beetus). That was all I needed to hear! Aside from the physical complications that come along with it, it's a damned expensive disorder to have...especially for the poor and uninsured...like me!

Luckily, my broke ass had found the Birmingham Free Clinic, down in Pittsburgh's Southside. WOW! What a great bunch! I contacted them last spring. I was broke, just about to run out of my heart medication, and really didn't know what to do. (For you Fox News lovers out there, NO...going to the ER is not a viable option. An ER visit costs, usually, $1500-2000.00. A doctor's office visit is usually $120-200.00. If one doesn't have the latter, they surely can't afford the former.)

I looked online for Pittsburgh free clinics and found the Birmingham Free Clinic (run by the evil empire itself, UPMC). I sent them an email, explaining my situation and asking if they could help. Due to the overwhelming number of poor and uninsured in the area, they are usually swamped on the few days per week they can see patients. It basically works on a 1st come, 1st serve lottery...and on a good day, they can accept 20 patients. This means showing up a few hours before they even open...and still no guarantee you'll see a doctor.

On my 1st visit, I wasn't going to make the cut. As soon as they opened the door, the folks waiting swarmed! I was clearly (and loudly) dismayed. One of the nurses asked what my visit was for, and I told her it was for my heart medication. She snuck me in! (God bless you little lady!)

Since then, the BFC has been my source for health care...and I'll tell you this for nothing, THEY DO A GREAT JOB! They always make sure I have my medication...especially the one that I wasn't taking regularly because of it's price. In the overall scheme of things, it's not that the medication was overly expensive...but most months I had to choose between that pill and, oh say...the light bill. Or food. Not a fun position to be in.

Now before you ask "Why didn't you just apply for welfare and medical assistance?"...I did. And was turned down every time. The next time some talking head tells you that the 'gubment' is 'giving away benefits to illegals and welfare cheats', you tell them I said they're full of shit. Your chances of being approved are only slightly better than winning the lottery. Even with a history of chronic health conditions and a negative cash flow, I was still turned down.

The folks at the BFC took excellent care of me! In fact, they even made sure that I got my annual blood work (which I hadn't had for 2 years) to make sure that my meds weren't destroying my liver. On the down side, this same blood work is also what diagnosed my diabetes. On the upside, the folks at the BFC went out of their way to help me out! I have since lost 30+ pounds, my blood sugar is perfectly normal, and I'm hoping to be off of my diabetes medication by spring. Yeah...that's how good they are! Some of the staff even call just to check in on me and make sure I'm OK. Now THAT, my friends, is service! Tell you what...go price the cost of blood work. If your insurance covers it, be thankful!

Like I said, things are on the upswing! I'm not out of the red yet...but I have a new, decent paying job that I enjoy. I've had some money coming in recently, and I've made a decision: this is going to be my Christmas gift...the gift of being able to give and help out someone else. I think that truly is in the spirit of the season.

Hey, money is tight for everyone...I understand that. Everyone is out spending money on presents, and cookies, and all of the good stuff. But...if you can, donate a few bucks to the Birmingham Free Clinic. It's a gift that will definitely keep on giving. You will be helping out a fellow human being who really needs your help. Maybe they just need an employment physical so they can start a job, or maybe, like I was, they're an undiagnosed & uninsured person with a chronic illness. You might just help save a life. So, if you can afford a couple of bucks, donate. If you're really strapped, I understand. I've been there. But if you can help out...do it. It's the best gift you can give.

Donations

How You Can Help

In order to continue to provide the best possible care to our community’s uninsured and underserved, the PHCUP is always in need of corporations and individual donors who underwrite the cost of supplies and medicines:

Your Donation of $20 provides an uninsured patient with one primary care clinic visit, including pharmacy services. (Actual cost per visit is $120—$100 in-kind provided by volunteer health professionals).
Your Donation of $50 provides an uninsured, diabetic patient with one month of medication.
Your Donation of $100 buys three new blood pressure cuffs, or more than two-months’ worth of multiple medications for an uninsured patient with high blood pressure.
Clinical Support - $10,000 needed annually for medications, equipment, medical supplies, immunizations, and patient education materials.
For more information on ways to support PHCUP, please contact Gary Dubin at (412) 647-9113 or dgary@pmhsf.org. Donations to the PHCUP are tax-deductible.

The BFC helped me. I plan to help them as much as I can. It'd be great if you could too! Here's the link for more info:

https://www.dom.pitt.edu/dgim/phcup/donations.html

Happy Holiday to all of you and here's wishing you and yours and happy, joyful, and prosperous new year!

-MM

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Can't Breathe!

"I can't breathe!"

If you've never experienced this, then you don't know what scary is. I've experienced it a few times. Twice, due to using too many drugs, a few times due to reactive asthma, and once when I was literally choking to death. (I was clinically dead for 7 minutes, followed by a week in a coma) I've had guns in my face. I've been stabbed. I crashed a car at 120mph. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is as terrifying as not being able to breathe.

Now imagine that the reason you can't breathe is because another person, another human being, is causing this. Worse still, imagine the person causing you to NOT BREATHE is someone you should be able to trust. Someone you should be able to trust to NOT kill you.

How fucking scary would that be? Think about it.

I won't go into the details. Sadly, it's all over the news...and it should be. Sadder still, it never should have happened. Justice is not being served.

Just imagine, if only for a few seconds, that you cannot breathe. You know you're about to die. Now imagine this is due to a public servant using excessive force.

This can never be allowed to ever happen again. Never.

Back To Back In Black

I'm an AC/DC fan. If you're 'of a certain age', and enjoy rock & roll music, chances are you are too. But here's the thing...as great as the Back In Black album is, I was sick of it within weeks of it's release.

Yeppers, even back in 1980, radio stations were killing music by putting certain songs into heavy rotation. Sure, these were, and still are, GREAT songs...but damn, enough was enough. It wasn't the only album available but you'd think it was. It was everywhere. I don't know many of my contemporaries who didn't have a copy...whether it be on vinyl, cassette, or (gasp!) 8-track. Many updated to a CD copy 10 years later. Why? The record is just that good.

Yes, I dig the album...but pretty much ignored it for years...because I just couldn't get away from it. Eventually, I'd hear one of the tracks on the radio and crank it up...giving it it's due. BIB is really one of those records every band wishes they could record. Song after song was just awesome. Not a runt in the bunch. But it's popularity overshadowed how excellent it was. EVERYONE was listening to it...and listened to it, seemingly nonstop, for years. It was easy to get sick of it. Too much of a good thing.

Here I am, 34 years later, listening to Back In Black, start to finish...again...and it sounds as good as the 1st time I heard it. I was 14 when it came out. I was a young, budding guitar player...prone to rehashing Hendrix and The Beatles, as well as bashing out punk riffs and the latest "new wave" hooks by The Cars or whatever band I was into that week. Sure, I learned the AC/DC riffs...it was de rigueur for us back then...but I did not want to listen to the record. If "You Shook Me" came on the radio, I either switched the station, left the room, or openly ignored it. Like I said, too much of a good thing.

That said, for a record to still sound fresh decades after it's release really says something about the quality. This is just basic, balls out, raw rock and roll. These cats aren't masterful musicians...but they know how to rock! They always have. I saw them in the late 70s as the opener for another act. They blew me away. Loud and raw...the way rock and roll is best played. They were tight! Bon Scott was a wild man. Angus Young looked demented in his school boy outfit with his Satanic-looking Gibson SG. By the time Back In Black was released, the world was ready for them. I just wasn't ready to be drowned in their music.

Their subsequent releases were good...but let's face it, nothing matched Back In Black. If they never recorded another note...they would be remembered for this one record. It wasn't their first, but it was definitely their best. I've heard lots of bands try to cover these songs...and no one does them justice. Let's face it, no one can sing/scream like Brian Johnson.

23 years after it's release, I was playing my first show in Australia. Being cursed/blessed with being a smart ass...I introduced the world to my rockabilly version of "You Shook Me" by way of introducing it as "a song by Australia's #1 rockabilly band...you might have heard of them, they're called AC/DC." This led to 8000 Aussies going nuts. I was treading on hallowed ground...and could have easily been viewed as the asshole many see me as. But it worked. The Aussies seem to share my sense of humor...and there I stood, leading 8000 ockers and ockerettes in a sing-a-long, rockabilly version of one of their nation's greatest musical exports. On my next Australian tour, I was often asked to play "the Acca Dacca song." I was even informed that a member of the Young family was in attendance at the first show, and it was shown on television. The Young brothers even enjoyed my take on it. Talk about a humbling experience! Damned live television...if there's a copy of it anywhere, I've yet to find it.

So here I am...48 years old...and reliving this monumental album. I've heard each of these songs at least 100 times over the years...but they still sound as great as that first time around. I have it playing full blast...and damn, this is what rock and roll is about. No one can do it like these cats.

AC/DC have a new album. It's being touted as "defiant" and "rebellious", etc. Hogmuffins. It's AC/DC doing what they do...playing AC/DC-style rock and roll! This comes as naturally to these cats as taking a shit. I look forward to hearing the album. I'm sure it's going to ROCK! Thankfully, I rarely listen to the radio these days, and the internet is too busy with it's flavor of the minute...so I doubt I'll be overwhelmed to the point of running from it. And that, kids, is a good thing.