Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ALS

OK, so everyone is making cute little videos, dumping buckets of ice water on themselves, to raise awareness of ALS. Personally, I'd rather these people just make a donation to a worthy cause and ask their friends to do the same...but hey, I guess whatever works.

But just what the hell is ALS (some of you may be asking)? First off, "Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease (motor neuron disease to my friends overseas) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed." That is a direct quote from the ALS Association's web site (www.alsa.org). Secondly, ALS is one of the few things on this planet that terrifies me. 

I've long joked that my only fear is quicksand (it was when I was a kid, not so much now) but the reality is this: I am scared shitless of ever being diagnosed with ALS.

We had a distant cousin who had it. Sharon was a gorgeous gal, with a loving husband, 3 kids, and everything to look forward to. One day, while changing her youngest's diaper, she couldn't get her fingers to work the safety pin (yep, we're going back a ways). She felt FINE, but just couldn't get it to work. Over the next few weeks, things like this kept happening, so she went to see her doctor. Tests were done, and finally a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig's) was made. This was the 1970s and essentially, this young, beautiful, vibrant woman had been given a slow death sentence.

As one can imagine, a disorder like this doesn't only affect the patient. It affects the entire family. Sharon's oldest, Kimmy, was about 10 or 11 at the time. Over the next couple of years, she had to take on more of her mother's duties at home because Sharon could just no longer do them. That meant raising her younger siblings, as well as helping to take care of her wheelchair-bound, and later bedridden, mother. It was too much for Kimmy. She became distant with the family and seemed, rightly, pissed off. I haven't heard from her since her mother passed, and that was a long time ago. I hope she's OK.

But Sharon, she was a trouper. She fought hard til the end. It was heartbreaking to see this disorder tear her down, bit by bit. She just got weaker and weaker with each passing day. She had no muscle tone or control left at all. She eventually couldn't even breathe on her own, and shortly after that, she died.

The worst part? Her mind was still fully intact. She had become a prisoner in her own body. That's what terrifies me so much about ALS.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no known cause of ALS, and it's only hereditary in a very small percentage of cases. But it's still an awful way to go...and we all know that the only way to end it is through research. That costs money. Sure, the ice water challenge makes for a cute little video, good for a laugh I suppose, but I would, personally, rather see the folks making these videos just send a donation instead. Hey, times are tough. I get it. I'm so broke people should be writing country and blues songs about me! But if you have the money for a video camera or a really nice cell phone, you can probably afford to send a buck or two. There's a link on the www.alsa.org site where you can make a donation.

I won't challenge you to. I'll just ask.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Rare Music Video Review

I've written hundreds of music reviews in my career as a writer. Maybe thousands, I don't know...I've never counted. But, as the music industry continues to change, I guess I should too.

Let's face it. No one buys music anymore. There's a good reason for this...most of it sucks. Case in point, anything The Black Keys have done since their "Brothers" disc.

Before you go pointing fingers and crying foul, I've worked with Dan Auerbach. He was still a kid in his late teens, early 20s, and playing with his old band The Barn Burners. They used to open for me from time to time. The kid had amazing talent then, and I'm sure still does. He has, however, fallen into the trap that is the industry.

Their earlier releases were pure fun! Grungy, bluesy, garage-y...I didn't like everything they did but I enjoyed most of it. Then came "Brothers". Damn. That was the record every artist dreams of. Not a bad song on it. I listened to that release repeatedly, start to finish, for hours at a time...until Dan started leasing his songs out to every possible commercial venture possible. And hey, why shouldn't he? He has to make a living. He and Patrick Carney always made good money touring, but they were in a position to make more. Selling out? Hardly. It was a smart business choice.

That disc was going to be impossible to follow up. They should have waited years to even try. But in today's market, that's not possible. Gotta keep on selling! The follow up disc, "El Camino" sucked balls. It had one decent song and the whole project just sounded rushed. I can guarantee it didn't generate the revenue that "Brothers" did...but the momentum carried them into the arena circuit. More money! Good for them!

I just watched the video for "Weight of Love", from their latest release. Oh Lord...it was, for lack of a better word, pretentious. This is what happens when 2 kids from Ohio get money. Gone is their usual wit. It's been replaced by super models, tits, and absurdity. The song is really pretty boring. Hardcore Keys fans will dig it...but it's totally unmemorable. The video, which Rolling Stone describes as "clever" and summarizes as "Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney play sweaty televangelists slowly whipping an audience into a flat-out frenzy" just tells me that their reviewer and I must have been watching different videos.

Sure, in the background, you can occasionally see the boys playing televangelists on TV...but the bulk of the video is T&A, in see-through white robes. Need to sell merchandise? T&A works every time, and probably will again this time.

But the reality is, this so-called "clever" short is anything but. To my eyes, it looks like a talented film student with the potential for a great career as a cinematographer has tried his hand at directing...and came up with the most cliche thing he could. The lighting and movement reminds me of Jesus Christ Superstar...but without the originality. It's just a bunch of models, with no sort of story line, just flailing about. There's a beach. Sand. Water. Sunshine. The indoor scenes are dimly lit...wooooo so intense and sensitive...not. Lots of slowed down footage...another sad attempt at giving it some sort of emotion. It just fails on every level. I'm sure teenage boys all over will find a spank-worthy moment or two...but for serious music fans, this is a waste of time. The song itself is "ok" but it's not a single. Danny can write a good hook. He can write some great songs...but he's apparently still lost in the shadow of "Brothers" and having a tough time finding his muse again. Coupled with his recent divorce and new-found single parenthood, I'm sure he's got a lot on his mind. He should just take more time off, get his life in order, and wait a while before releasing anything new. The Black Keys should be setting themselves up for a big comeback in a few years....not just babbling on about nothing like the rest of us do.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: Pissed Off!

Please, do NOT feel sorry for Robin Williams. Also, do NOT try to turn him into a martyr. He committed suicide...the most selfish act a person can do. Yeah...you read that correctly. He was selfish.

I've lived with suicidal depression most of my life. I've fought it and fought hard. It does NOT get easier. Depression sucks. It drains your energy and your desire. Every now and then, I'm lucky and have a few days where my suicidal impulses don't pop up. But then, like a rash or an old friend, they're back. I've learned that this is nothing more than my brain misfiring. While I do know this, it doesn't stop, or even slow down, my suicidal impulses. It doesn't fix my depression.  It does, however, keep me from acting on these impulses. Also, I am a very blessed man in a lot of ways. I have people in my life that I know love me and care about me...like my better half. Whenever a really strong suicidal impulse kicks in, and I'm seriously thinking about gulping down all of my pills, slicing an artery, or hanging myself (these are the 3 most common ideations that pop into my head), I am able to stop myself by imagining how hard it would be on her, to come home and find me like that. I just can't do it. I'm not that fucking selfish. The suicidal impulses are still there...but I manage to stop myself. The pain is still there, as is the daily misery of it...but I will not put another person through that. I may be a failure at a lot of things in this world, but I at least try to not add to anyone else's misery.

I always looked up to Robin Williams. Sure, I enjoyed his comedy and his movies...but I also saw him for who he was. Those of us who have been labeled by society as 'mentally ill' often tend to recognize each other. Like me, Robin Williams was an addict. It, all too often,goes with the territory. I've managed to keep my addictions under some level of control. Robin Williams had trouble with that. I won't fault the man for that. I know how hard it is. I secretly applauded him every time that I read he was re-admitting himself to a rehab program. I knew that he was fully aware of his condition. Just like I am. He had recently been in rehab...again. The problem with most rehab programs is...they don't work. These programs (wrongly) assume that we will follow through on the never-ending maintenance care that goes with it. These programs fail to realize that those of us who enter these programs are fucked up people. These programs don't fix us. We're simply more well-adjusted fuck ups when we leave.

Robin Williams was a selfish son-of-a-bitch. He left behind his wife, his kids, his friends. Screw the fans. He gave us what we wanted. He was never going to live forever. But he left those closest to him with a lifetime of misery. Will his wife ever forget finding him and calling 911? Will his kids ever forget being told that their father committed suicide? Man, that's some seriously selfish bullshit.

Yes, depression is one of the most awful things a person can live with. I live with it. I know. I routinely pray for it to end. My suicidal impulses kick in and tell me that I CAN END IT. But I won't. I will not cause that level of grief, misery, and anger to anyone...especially not anyone that I love. I'm just not that selfish.

Those of you reading this who didn't know this about me...well, SURPRISE! I know that people often see me as jovial, full of life, and disturbingly optimistic. You see that side of me because that's all YOU need to know. I have no desire to bog you down with what I deal with privately every single God-damned day. You don't need to know about it. While I'm sure many of you would like to help...you can't. It doesn't work like that. I know what I have to live for...and I hang on to that like a life line. It still doesn't stop the depression or the suicidal impulses. They are as autonomic to me as blinking or breathing. I can't stop it. Sure, I tried medication. In our society, it's almost impossible not to! In my case, the medication gave me a week of normalcy. I actually slept like a normal person. I felt good. And then my body said "ENOUGH!" and fought the poison I was putting into me. The tremors started. I was working my way to a full-on seizure. Oh joy! The risk of more brain damage! Just what I want! Not! When I told the doc what was happening, he told me to stop the medication immediately. This was, by the way, the safest medication known for my condition. The others would have brought about worse side effects. So, I opted for a life without the meds. For that, I got the return of the depression, the insomnia, and the suicidal impulses.

Robin Williams gave up and gave in to his impulses. I can understand why...but I cannot condone it. In short, he was a selfish prick. I feel bad that he couldn't trust anyone enough to talk to them. Maybe that's where he & I differ. I learned that sometimes I have to do just that. Talk to someone. It's sad that he couldn't.

Many will say things like, "I can't imagine the pain he must have been in!" Damned right you can't. But I can. The past month has been one of my worst in a long time, when it comes to depression and suicidal impulses. I don't know why it has been...but it has. 2-3 times a day, that overwhelming urge to just end it strikes...and then it's a matter of stopping myself. As soon as it calms down a bit, the next wave hits and I have to do it again. I have to do all of this in addition to living my life...a life which many have remarked to me as being such an amazing and interesting life. Damned right it is. It has to be.

There is no message in Robin Williams' suicide. Look for one all you want. He was just one of the millions of us who deal with this every day. He was just, finally, selfish enough to give in. And I'm pissed off as hell about it. He made it 63 years living with it. He had a wife and three kids. He was successful. But he was also selfish. For that, I blame him. I blame our self-centric society. But at the end of the day, I have to blame him for being selfish and giving up. My deepest sympathies go to his family, his friends, and anyone effected by his suicide. My anger goes to Robin Williams, and all of the others who opted for the easy way out. Maybe that's my own selfishness. When I hear about others committing suicide, that little voice in my head says, "See! THEY did it! So can YOU!" and the impulses come on strong and fast. But, I will force myself through this, like I always do. Like I HAVE to do. I will not do that to the people I care about. I will not become a sad anniversary.

My maternal grandmother committed suicide. She gassed herself in the car. My mother and her twin sister both lived with depression. I live with it. It's a fucking disease people. We don't ask for it. We don't do anything special to get it. You can't catch it. But some of us have it. Probably someone you know. Possibly someone you care about. Don't label us. Don't coddle us. Hold us accountable for our actions. It makes us stronger. It's easy to be weak and selfish. It's difficult to be strong and hold on. More difficult than you'll ever realize and more difficult than Robin Williams could handle anymore.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Where Is The Next Big Thing?

There are a lot of interesting versions of songs out there. One of the current internet faves is a band from Finland doing a country version of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". Obviously, no one remembers Hayseed Dixie. Don't worry, this will disappear as quickly as it got here.

There are tribute acts galore. Hell, I have friends in a Deadbolt tribute band! They're really good at it too.

But...

You know what I'd like to hear? SOMETHING NEW THAT DOESN'T SUCK AND ISN'T A REHASH OF EVERYTHING ELSE!

I don't get it. There seem to be more bands than ever...and not a one of them sounds original. Hell, they don't even try to sound original. There are more genres and sub-genres than ever before...a sound tailored to almost any taste. And they're all pretty fucking boring.

Sure sure sure...blame it on the record companies. Easy target. Just remember, they're only selling what someone else is creating. Sure, they're scum...but they can only do so much.

I honestly can't remember the last big thing. What? Grunge? That was mostly just punk, 15 years after it started. Swing? Another rehash. Rap? Hip hop? Pop? Country? Lady Gaga? That Minaj thing? Again, nothing NEW. As not only a musician but a music fan, it makes me want to scream! No wonder all anyone listens to is old stuff. The new stuff sucks. So, maybe it's better to copy something old and good than try to create something new that will fall on deaf ears.

OK, you could ask me why I'm not writing the next big thing. Maybe I have been...but I've been doing it so long that I'm well-past any point of relevance. I write all sorts of stuff. People like it...but it ain't "hit" material. I'm kinda glad about that. Hits are whatever the lowest common denominator will find popular. Luckily, I haven't sunk that low. Yet.

But really, where is the new music? Where are the pissed off teens, flipping the bird to the world and making their own sound? Where are the idealistic college students trying to change the world? They're around...copping everyone else's sounds and hoping to make it onto American Idol or whatever hunk of shit TV show or web site they think will make them famous.

I used to be able to hit the low end of the radio dial and find something new and interesting. Nope. Not any more. Just more bands rehashing the same sounds, and honestly, if I hear one more whiny white girl singing about anything, I just may go berzerk. Lately, I've been hearing classic rock from the college and indie stations. Sweet Jesus wept...

Maybe music has lost it's cultural value to western society. No one cares. It's like an overload. There's so much out there that no one can find it. It's easier to listen to what you're told to listen to. The corporations still own the airwaves, and it's cheaper for them to keep on churning out crap than invest in something new and unproven.

I've been turning more and more to non-western sounds...just because I need to hear something fresh, at least to me. Music is about sound. Have we run out of ideas for sounds? Have we all become so jaded that we can no longer enjoy anything new? Have I just become too old to get it? I don't think so. While nothing thrills me like the sound of a loud guitar, I can get into all sorts of sounds. I like to hear things that I'm unfamiliar with. Maybe I'm an odd man out in that regard.

Maybe the creation of all of the separate musical genres has finally killed music. People will ask, "Well, what does it sound like?"...expecting an answer that they can relate to. Personally, I'd like to hear someone say "It sounds like nothing you've ever heard before!" Now THAT would intrigue me!

Years ago, I met Sam Phillips. He gave the world rock and roll. He took the initial chances. He recorded the blues guys, R&B guys, country singers, black musicians and white musicians. He was a business man. He would record anything, any time, anywhere. All you had to do was pay him. When he heard something that he knew, deep down inside, that other people would want to hear, he made the deals to record and release that sound. Sam and I were talking once, and I was trying to use the appropriate generic terms; rock & roll, rockabilly, blues, country, pop, etc... Sam put it in a way that only he could. In that deep Alabama drawl of his, he sounded almost pissed off at my ignorance and told me, "It's all rock and rollllll, maaaan!" I understood him completely. If it rocks, it moves you. It gets inside of you. It takes you over. I haven't heard anything new like that in a long, long, long time.

Maybe it's over. I hope not. I hope someone out there proves me wrong.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Telecasters After Midnight

When I was 15, I was expelled from school for a semester for carrying a straight razor. It was only the 6th day of school. Long story short, a guy had been trying to start a fight with me since day 1, and as I'd been dealing with a LOT of personal issues, I finally let loose on him. I still have a scar on the ring finger of my right hand from where I knocked one of his front teeth out and it was embedded in my finger. The cops were called. I was frisked. They found the razor. End of story.

What does this have to do with Telecasters? Well, in my case...a good deal. This was a pivotal point in my life. Having been kicked out of school, dear old dad told me, flat out, that I was not going to just sit around. I thought he meant I'd be sent to military school, or worse, Catholic school, but no...he had other plans. I was sent to work in the billing department of his office. Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 4:00pm. For a whopping $4.00 an hour. (Minimum wage was $3.35, so I was doing pretty well, in retrospect)

I was already a musician. I was playing guitar, bass, and drums. I'll be honest...I was an awful drummer. But I tried and I played with enthusiasm. I had an old Slingerland kit that I had talked mum into buying for me when I was 13 for a mere $100. I drove the family crazy with it. Dad always said he hated those drums...but on more than one occasion, I came home to find Dad pounding away at them. If you know my dad, you can imagine what a sight it was. For those of you who don't know him, imagine Bob Newhart with a bad Alan Alda perm, and plaid pants...banging away like a sorry Buddy Rich wannabe. Yep.

So, I started this job and decided that I would buy a REAL electric guitar. Something professional! I was working a grownup job, so the money would be rolling in...right? Then I discovered the various payroll deductions that make adult life suck. State taxes, city taxes, Social Security, etc. The guitar of my dreams was likely to remain just that. Until...

My friend Mark, who is and always has been one helluva picker, was selling his Fender Telecaster Deluxe. I had always wanted a Tele...and this was the DELUXE!!!! We all know that Deluxe anything is BETTER, right? The price: $150. I asked if he could wait a week or so until I got my paycheck. He agreed. Dad had decided at this point that most of MY money was going into the bank. Grrrrr. Now even this guitar was turning into a pipe dream. But wait....the drums. I came to the realization that I was a better guitarist than drummer. If I could sell those drums, I could get the guitar! Phone calls were made. Word was put around that these things were for sale. A friend at the local music store made a few calls. The next day, an old guy...gosh, he must've been 35 or 40, called. He gave me his story about having just gotten a divorce and had been forced to sell his drums. Problem? He was a drummer and couldn't make a living without drums! His pitch worked. Over he came with $150 in cash and away went the drums. A phone call to Mark was made, and he borrowed the family car and brought me the Telecaster Deluxe!!!!

Man, it was like a dream. It played so nicely and sounded, well, just fucking amazing! I was accustomed to plunking away on a Fender Musicmaster (sort of a student model) that sounded OK...but nothing like this Tele! This thing sang, screamed, and snarled! (Still does!) It's only flaws were purely cosmetic...and I didn't care.

It was the ugliest shade of shit brown I have even seen...and had a few gouges in the body. I mean deep, sharp chunks, somehow, knocked out if it. I didn't care. This was my baby! It has late 70s DiMarzio super distortion pickups in it...and for a 15 year old in 1981 who lived for The Ramones, The Clash, & The Sex Pistols, it was everything I could ever hope for!

I drove the family and the neighbors insane with it. I had a small Marlboro G20B amp at the time, and this guitar sounded best with the volume UP! If only that amp had gone to eleven! A house rule was laid down. I could play as loud as I wanted until 6:00pm. Any later, volume DOWN to a whisper. While I didn't like this idea (because really, electric guitars played by 15 year old boys should be LOUD) but I went along with it. If it was after 6, and no one was home, up went the volume. If someone came home...well, I'd merely lost track of the time.

I'm 48 now. I still have that same guitar. About a year or so after I got it, a friend of the family, a furniture maker by trade, offered to refinish it for me. I wanted it RED. You just never saw red guitars at the time...at least not at the local music stores. Maybe something more burgundy, but never red. I knew the exact shade I wanted and asked if he could match it. He said that he easily could. A week later, the guitar came back, RED...and he'd even filled and fixed the gouges! It looked brand spanketty new! To say that I was proud to play that guitar would be an understatement.

Around this time, I recall reading that BB King had named his guitar Lucille. I figured that my guitar should have a name too...but what? Out of nowhere, the name Agatha popped into my head...and that's been her name ever since. I have friends that, to this day, will ask about Agatha. Even my friends know her name!

I've taken this guitar to a lot of places. Almost every band I've played in, I've played Agatha. If you ever saw a Rowdy Bovines show, you saw Agatha. I've recorded hundreds of songs with her. Played countless gigs with her. At one point, my girlfriend at the time added a drawing of Elvis, which looked mighty killer. I've long since sweated that off of her. A lot of guitarists are thrilled to get their heroes to sign their guitars. Usually, that goes to my old Gibson ES 120T. Only three have ever been asked to sign Agatha, and they are three of the best ever. And they're all known for playing Telecasters too. Danny Gatton, Evan Johns, and Tino Gonzales. I've since sweated Tino's signature off. Danny signed it along the top, so that when I look down, I see his name. We were friends and he has always been an inspiration to my playing. Agatha was one of the last guitars Danny set up...and trust me, he was a genius at setups! I actually retired Agatha for a while after he died. I put his obituary in her case, along with the guitar. One day, I pulled her out, reread his obituary for the umpteenth time, and felt that Danny would be mad at me for just letting her collect dust. So, I started playing her again. I recorded the 1st and 2nd Tremblers records with her. Evan Johns...well, being Evan, and unable to find a marker, carved his name into her with a pen knife, while sitting on the side of the stage at The Decade. He is the ONLY human I would ever consider allowing near her with a sharp object. Why? Because he's Evan Johns!

Agatha was stolen once. Naturally, I freaked right the fuck out. But, we were meant to be together, and I got her back two weeks later. I learned a serious lesson about honesty from that...but it's a story for another time. Once, at a funeral, a cousin asked my dad why I never remarried. Dad answered that I was still with my first love. My cousin gave him a confused look, and Dad just played air guitar...my cousin understood immediately.

I've owned other Teles. Quite a few, actually. But...none compare. Not by a long shot. As the years went on, I started worrying about losing her again. I didn't want to risk her being stolen, or worse, crushed by a moron baggage handler. As I started touring more, this became a real concern, so I went in search of a Telecaster to tour with. I tried quite a few...none 'fit'. I eventually found one...an 80s Mexican Tele, with 3 Strat-style pickups. It was only a couple hundred bucks. The only other one quite like it that I know of is owned by Dave Gonzales of The Paladins. We had a nice talk about these one night splitting a bill here in town. It was too clean sounding, so I figured I'd hot rod it a bit, and use it as my road Tele. I had a pickup that Gatton gave me put into the bridge position. It's a screamer! Oddly enough,this guitar too is red. That never hit me until a few years after I got it. What is it with me and red Telecasters? Anyhoo, I grew so fond of that guitar, and the hotrod job I had done on it, that it became my primary guitar. Agatha was put into semi-retirement...only to be used for studio sessions and the rare gig. Whenever we did a Bovines reunion, I'd bring her out. That guitar IS The Rowdy Bovines. Her sound is what made the band what it was. Not quite distorted but just big, fat tone. Definitely not rockabilly, which we were always accused of being.

The past few years, I've only played her at home. I took her out to a gig once, and was panicky all night. I kept looking to make sure she was still right where I left her. Yep...I'm a nut.

I recently recorded with a new project, Losers After Midnight. The 1st two rehearsals we had, I used my road Tele. But it wasn't quite the sound I wanted. I wanted the roar, the scream, and the snarl that only Agatha can produce. So, I slapped some fresh strings on her and into the studio we went! Man O Man! She was screaming! I wanted to go for a nastier sound than I usually do. I almost always play through Fender amps. In the studio, I normally use a 61 Bassman or an old Supro. But this time, I used....a Peavey! I had been experimenting with this amp, and tried Agatha through her with a modified overdrive box I have. WOW! It's kinda like the sound of the world exploding! I figured, the Bassman would be in the studio if I needed it...just in case...but I was hoping to catch this sound. I think we did. But the real secret to that sound is Agatha. Agatha is the sound of rock and roll. Period.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mother of Exiles (Immigration For Dummies)

So many people seem up in arms over the recent influx of immigrant children from Central America. WTF?

First off, they're CHILDREN!!!!! Sadly, there are a lot of them. Imagine their lives. To be sent, alone, across the miles, the desert, to a strange land...where certain people don't want them. We, as a society, should be ashamed of ourselves. 

The US has always welcomed immigrants. Why anyone would want to come to here anymore is beyond me. This country is a mess. I know it and you know it. So, just think how bad these kids' worlds are that this place seems like a better option.

I come from immigrants. Chances are, you do too. And before you pull that "My great great great grandmother was 1/16 Cherokee!" story, I'm going to call bullshit. You better be able to prove it...otherwise, shut the hell up. If your great great great grandmother was alive, not only would she be really old, she'd probably be disappointed in you. 

America, for all it's faults, is still a place of great potential. The rest of the world still sees us as a beacon of hope. The reality may be more bleak, but collectively we still show great promise...provided we ALL stop acting like assholes. 

We spend billions on foreign aid. Well, these kids are coming to us for aid. We should see it as not only our duty but our privilege to help them. They don't want freebies. They want a chance. Let's give them, and anyone else at our door, that chance. 

Before you complain about illegal immigrants, ask yourself this: "Who hires them?" Rich, often white, American people do. Otherwise, they wouldn't be coming here! We keep hiring them, so they keep on coming. And, they'll work harder for less...which, I think, is what pisses off most Americans. Check yourself.

The Statue of Liberty has long been a symbol of this country, it's freedoms, and it's potential. Inscribed on a plaque, at the base, is a poem titled The New Colossus. It goes like this:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"



Before you complain about immigrants, remember....we invited them. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Minty Fresh (a rough excerpt)

Many of you have suggested that I write a book about my life...and I have been working on it. Slowly. Very slowly. Anyhoo, this short tale may help explain the title a bit....

Having a heart attack is highly overrated. I don't recommend it for anyone. Worst of all, it wasn't anything like you see in movies. I was expecting the whole Fred Sanford moment, clutching at my chest and calling out "I'm coming home, Lord a-mighty I'm coming home!" No such luck.

The day started pretty awful. I had been out late the night before to see a friend's band, in from California. I had been working 60-70 hour weeks and truly pushing myself to the limit. 

I woke up late and seriously, I felt like shit. A gal I had been dating had a really bad cold/bug, and she kept whining that it felt like she had a brick in her chest. I figured this is all it was, and I was mentally making plans to make her life hell for passing this malady on to me.

I only had one client to see that day, but had scheduled a long day with him, so I was really dreading going in. I knew I should just stay home and get some rest, but being self-employed, that was rarely an option. I tried to call to let my client's family know I was running behind, but no answer. I was hoping to luck out and they had cancelled...but that's not how it turned out.

I made it to my client's house, and he was there with his grandfather, who spoke little English. Oh joy. I knew I wasn't going to get much data from grandpa, so I went about my usual day of checking to see if he'd taken his psych meds, and try to sense his mood. Luckily, he was in fine spirits, so it shouldn't be too tough of a day. 

As the day wore on, I just felt worse and worse. I tried repeatedly to contact my client's parents to see if one of them could come home, so I could leave...but no luck. I just dragged myself through the day, hoping for a quick and painless death. Be careful what you wish for.

My client's dad finally showed up around 5pm, and I updated him on his son's condition for the day. The dad tried to get me to stick around a while, but as I just felt like total crap, I simply left.

I was home in minutes, and still feeling like death warmed over, I thought a soak in the tub might help. Every part of my body ached. I was exhausted too. There are few things in this world as miserable as feeling sick AND tired, so I dried off and dragged myself to bed.

No sooner had I laid down, when my teeth began to ache like nothing I had ever felt, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I knew, instinctively, that I was having a heart attack. Alone. This couldn't be good.

I ran downstairs, gulped a handful of aspirin, made one of my lesser brilliant ideas...and drove myself to the emergency room. (Note to the reader: DON'T DO THIS! Call an ambulance!) To make sure I didn't croak en route, I made myself chain smoke the whole way. This may sound crazy...but there was a method to my madness. This made me cough and choke a lot...thus keeping my heart in rhythm. Again, NOT a brilliant move...but I took the gamble and it worked...for me. I'm lucky I didn't die in the car. 

En route to the hospital, I phoned my dad. As usual, he was busy but I told him, "Shut the fuck up and listen! I'm having a heart attack and I'm on the way to St. Margaret's Hospital." I then hung up on him, as I was doing about 80mph, chain smoking, AND having a heart attack. I didn't need to push my luck by trying to talk on the phone as well. 

The ER would have been laughable had it not been for my condition. I made my way to the desk, and told the lady, before she could finish asking what I wanted, that I was "Having a goddamned heart attack". She jumped up, yelled for a nurse, and hurriedly wheeled a wheelchair under me, just as I was starting to collapse. This was the last good thing that happened at St. Margaret's. 

She then wheeled me over to triage...and right into a wall. My body fell forward and my head hit the wall and all I could think was, "I'm going to die with my head against a wall"...not exactly classy, nor the way I've often pictured the end to be. If I have to go, onstage would be nice. Under a beautiful super model would also work. Slumped against a wall, in a wheelchair...not so much.

Before the nurses out there yell at me, let me say how much I love and appreciate nurses. It's a tough job. That said, the triage nurse was a fucking useless moron. The info that she needed could have been obtained just as easily while wheeling my dying carcass in through the big doors to where the doctors hide, as in her little triage room. If a person is having a heart attack, DO NOT ask them to get out of the chair and walk in. She did. She checked my blood pressure, and to her amazement, it was something like 300 over 200. I suggested, calmly, that this just might have something to do with ME HAVING A FUCKING HEART ATTACK, and how I thought that NOW would be a good time to wheel me through the aforementioned big doors to wherever the doctors were hiding. 

Luckily, she agreed.

Back into the rickety, community wheelchair I went, and BANG, right into the big swinging doors. It never occurred to her to push the button to open them. This was the point when I started laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all.

Next up were two ER nurses that I will simply call Dumb & Dumber. How these two obviously misplaced rocket scientists managed NOT to kill me, is beyond my comprehension. I could feel my life ebbing away with each weaker and weaker half-assed beat of my dying heart. I just kept laughing because it was like something out of a bad comedy.

Nurse Dumb, again, tried to take my blood pressure. I suggested she look at the chart. Her associate, Nurse Dumber, tried to stick a needle in me, and due to my elevated blood pressure, blood shot out everywhere. Nurse Dumber then decided it was in every one's best interest to stop what he was doing, and grab some paper towel to clean it up. Finally, a doctor stuck his head in the door and suggested that it might be best to leave the mess to housekeeping and tend to the patient. I suggested to Dr. Nose-in-the-door, that just maybe, since he had graduated from medical school, he might want to join our little party and actually attempt to save my life. 

He seemed to take umbrage at my feeble request, and suggested that Nurse Dumb give me some nitroglycerin. 

We've all seen movies or TV where a person with a heart condition pops a little pill under their tongue, whilst apparently dying, and VOILA! They're OK again. Guess what....it works! But....

Nurse Dumb tells me to open my mouth and she sprays nitro under my tongue. No tiny pill...it was a spray! And not just any spray...no sirree! It was like a blast of the greatest breath freshener ever made! Nurse Dumb asked how I felt and seriously, all I could say was, "MINTY FRESH!!!!!!! My mouth has never felt so fresh before! Give me more!!!!!!"  She laughed and asked if I was still having chest pain. I noted that, surprisingly, I was not. I did, however feel completely exhausted. Nurse Dumber had seemed to disappear...presumably to go find someone from housekeeping to clean my blood off of the walls, floor, and everything else. 

Next, I and the gurney I was on, were wheeled into a hallway (apparently this is where the real medical magic happens)...to wait. It was decided that I needed to be transferred to a better hospital; one equipped with real doctors, nurses, a cardiac lab, and machines that beep and go PING!

I can only guess that the ambulance driver was moonlighting from his regular job as a taxi driver. He drove like one. And, amazingly, took me the longest route possible to the next hospital. I actually had the gall to ask him, "Where the hell are you taking me? I'm supposed to be going to Presby!"

"That's where I'm taking you", was his reply. He seemed a bit taken aback by me, an obviously delusional sick person, questioning his Pittsburgh navigational skills.

For those who don't know Pittsburgh, this trip started at St. Margaret's Hospital, which is just north of the city. The fastest route to Presby would be to take Rt 28 south, go across the 40th St. Bridge, up 40th, left on Liberty, right on to the Bloomfield Bridge, left onto Bigelow, then up behind Soldier's and Sailor's Hall to the rear ER entrance. At a high rate of speed, this should take an ambulance driver, maybe, 7 minutes. Remember....heart attack patient in the back. Time is of the essence.

But...no. Mr. Ambulance Driver opted to take the longer, less scenic route, of driving all the way down Rt 28, and catching the 579 bypass and on to the Parkway and then into Oakland, where Presby is. Had it been 4am and there was a guarantee of NO TRAFFIC, I could almost see his logic. But, as it was evening, and rush hour was still in effect, the Parkway would be, and was, a nightmare. Stop. Start. Speed up. Slow down. Change lanes. Almost 20 minutes it took. I kept messing with the driver, telling him that if I died because his dumb ass took the long route, I would come back and haunt him. He seemed to take this seriously. Perhaps he was already being haunted by a previous patient, who'd died in his ambulance, from his arrogant navigational methodology. 

Finally at Presby, I was whisked to the cardiac lab. There, I was greeted with a phrase that I have loathed for decades. "Hey! Aren't you Dr. Metzger's son????", asked one of the nurses. Again, I just broke out laughing at the absurdity of it all. I told her that yes, I am, and could she please finish saving my life and then we could play 20 questions after. I then made a mistake that I paid for for months to come.

One of the nurses needed to shave me. Down there. You know what I mean. My naughty bits. Still reeling from laughter at just how bizarre this whole experience had been so far, my smart ass side answered for me. I asked if she could leave a 'landing strip'...like some gals get when they get a bikini wax. Much to my horror, she agreed and that's just what she did. I was shaved bald as a baby's butt...except for a strip of hair. For months, it was like an itchy mohawk growing down there! My OCD side was going nuts! I was having to trim things on a weekly basis to keep them even. But yes...you guessed it, it all got weirder.

This was when I met the man who seriously saved my life and has kept me alive for the past 7 years, my little Chinese doctor with the porn star name. Not only is he an excellent cardiologist (even dad thinks so, and he should know!) but he has a good sense of humor and an amazing bedside manner. He explained everything he was doing, step by step, the WHYs and HOWs, and I will never forget, as he shot the dye into me, telling me, "OK, you're going to feel a hot flash, and then it will feel like you've pissed yourself...don't worry, you're not...just DON'T MOVE!"

Damn if he wasn't right! That was EXACTLY what it felt like. And just that fast, it went away. Seriously weird.

I dozed off for a bit as they put the stent in. I figured, if they needed me, they'd wake me up. 

Next thing I know, I'm being wheeled to my room, by a very nice nurse/surg tech who I'll call 'Milton' (name changed to protect his identity). Milton was a very nice, apparently homosexual man. He seemed genuinely concerned with my well-being too. We had a pleasant little chat while he wheeled me, and when he got me to my room, asked if it would be possible to see each other socially when I got out of hospital. Sweet Land O Goshen, dude was hitting on me! Apparently, the sight of me naked, and with a landing strip to boot, was more than his libido could handle! He must be what some folks call a 'chubby chaser'. Let's be honest, I'm short, heavy, and somewhat hairy. Supermodel material I ain't! 

I told Milton that I was flattered, but didn't date men...but as he'd just helped save my life, I couldn't flat out say NO. I asked if it would be OK if I thought about it for a few days. Besides, I could have another heart attack and snuff it before I ever left the hospital. Milton told me he hoped that wouldn't happen, and told me he would check on me from time to time. Dammit if he didn't! He stopped by every day, and even brought me flowers and home-made cookies! Finally, my friend Linda came to visit and when Milton asked who she was, I lied and said she was my girlfriend. (Sorry Linda!) Broke poor Milton's heart. 

The night's weirdness wasn't over yet! There was the matter of all of the blood thinners I was on, and the fact that my little Chinese doctor with the porn star name couldn't get my bleeding to stop. (This bleeding was in my groin, where he slid the tube up into my ticker...I don't care to be more graphic) Apparently, the doc had tried using surgical cement to close the incision, but with all of the blood thinners I was on, it was taking my blood a while to clot.

A young intern was sent in to 'handle' this. In all honesty, I felt bad for him. His job, for the next hour or so, was to hold the incision in my groin shut....with his hand. Yep...you guessed it. Smart ass time again! Oh I tortured that boy!

Intern: "Hi Mr. Metzger, I'm Dr. So & So. I need to hold this incision closed to try to stop your bleeding until your blood starts to clot on it's own"

Me: "Hi doc! Fancy meeting you here! So, I guess we're gonna be stuck like this for a while, huh?"

Intern: "Yes sir. Until your blood starts to clot on it's own."

Me: "Well then, I guess we should get to know each other, you know, especially since you have your hand on my dick."

Intern: "Um, it's not on your penis sir"

Me: "Well, close enough. I don't usually have strange men's hands in my crotch. I'm not saying you're strange...but you know what I mean..."

The intern looked really uncomfortable. 

Me: "You have warm hands. Thank God for that!"

The intern was trying to ignore me now. 

Me: "That's a very nice cologne you're wearing. I bet it drives the nurses wild. Don't be alarmed if I start getting an erection..."

I seriously thought the kid was going to vomit right about then.

Me: "So, do you often have your hands in another man's crotch or is this a first for you too?"

Intern: "Mr. Metzger, I'm just trying to stop the bleeding."

Me: "And I thank you for that! Uh oh...did I just feel a twitch down there?"

Intern: "Mr. Metzger, you just had a massive heart attack. I think you should be getting some rest instead of talking so much."

Me: "I guess a blow job is out of the question then...."

Intern: "Mr. Metzger, please stop talking."

He ignored me after that. Some people just have no sense of humor. Maybe he should've asked Milton to hold the incision closed. I bet HE wouldn't have minded!

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from my upcoming book! Let me know what you think!