When you lack focus, use a wide lens

I was talking with my friend Phil Solem the other day. He is one half of the band The Rembrandts; best known for the song, “I’ll Be There For You”, the theme song from the NBC sitcom, Friends. He asked me how things were going with my music. Most people know me as the bass player for All The Pretty Horses (if they even know that) so I’m always flattered when someone asks about my music. I’m also embarrassed because there is not a lot to say. I have a collection of songs that I’ve written going back thirty years. Most have never even been played live, even for friends, and none have been recorded for release. I told Phil, “I just wrote my first song in over a year but I still haven’t done anything with any of them. It takes time and focus. I guess I have the time, I just lack focus.” His response was, “Then use a wide lens.” Initially I was confused as to why he was talking photography when I was talking songwriting but after some time to ponder his words I’ve decided that it may be the best advice I’ve ever received. I’m still not sure exactly what he meant but the best advice is open to interpretation. I have a feeling I know where he is coming from though. I know a number of musicians who have “made it” in the music business and I know what it takes to sustain that kind of success. It takes complete focus and dedication. You wind up missing out on many of the other things that life has to offer. It’s easy to lose the big picture. From what I can tell, most people are happier after their life “under the microscope” is over. I have felt pretty unfocused lately but perhaps that is not a bad thing. Being productive requires focus but to gain perspective you need a wide lens. I have been going through somewhat of a wide lens period. As a result I’m still working on this post that I started a week ago. You may have noticed that I’m not posting as often these days. I actually have a number of thoughts knocking around in my head but they don’t actually produce anything up there. I still need focus for that. I began to feel like I had lost my way but maybe all I  lost was my focus. I used to have a family and that was my focus. I used to have a best friend and she was my focus. I used to have a job and that was my focus. I used to have a band that rehearsed regularly and it was my focus. Over that past year all of these things have gone through dramatic changes. In order to find my place in the world again I needed a wide lens. I am on a path of discovery and what I’m discovering is that this is my path. All of these other things that I do are merely tools I use to help me understand the path. I thought that music was my path. I thought that this blog was my path. I thought that my friends were my path. I thought that my kids were my path. I thought my job was my path. All of them are important and I don’t want to understate that in any way. I would be nowhere without them but my path is not what I do. It is who I am and I’m still trying to discover what that is.

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January thirteenth

I awoke to find an “Add New Post” window open on my computer screen. Only the title field was filled in. It said, “How alcohol saved my life”.

The night before I watched the movie, “Drinking Buddies“. Accept for the part where a drunk bicycle rider gets freaked out at the sight of blood, I found it to be one of the most accurate portrayals of drinking life that I’ve ever scene in a movie. I felt inspired me to write an honest account of the role alcohol has played in my life. I felt like I could finally do it without coming off like I was just trying to justify bad behavior.

But first I had something more important to attend to… my laundry. I’d kept my washing machine hobbling along for the past year or so but the time had come for it to retire. As a result I’d accumulated five loads of laundry so I loaded up my van and headed to Rainbow Laundromat in Uptown. They have free Wi-fi so I figured I could get some writing done at the same time. That never happened.  Washing five loads all at once doesn’t leave a lot of down time but an hour and a half later I had clean sheets, comforter and a fresh new wardrobe. I still felt like I had accomplished something.

I stopped by the liquor store determined to spend the evening writing but by the time I got home my brain had developed other plans. I didn’t want to spend another night at home drinking; I wanted to get out in the world and be with my people. I hadn’t been on my bike since November and this was going to be the night I stopped making excuses. The weather report said that snow was expected but I didn’t care. I was determined.

[It’s been almost a week since that night but sometimes a little time and reflection is helpful to sift out the fluff. Here are the highlights as I remember them now.]

I managed to find my winter biking gear including my ski goggles. It was cold and the roads suck but I was off and riding again. My first top after picking up tobacco at Sarna’s was the 331 Club. I found myself at the bar next to a man who was sitting alone drinking a Miller High Life; the two-for-one special of the evening. He explained that it’s been hard to find work and money has been tight since he got released from prison but he was really hoping to avoid going back. He explained that he would never do anything to hurt another person, except out of honor and loyalty. These were his guiding principles. He was surprised that I had never been to prison; I guess because he’s not used to talking to people who haven’t. I explained that fear has kept me out of prison and in a sense, fear was my prison. He told me that if you want to survive in prison, all you have to do is tell the truth.

He said, “I just tell them that I believe in God. They think that I’m crazy and leave me alone.”

I said, “You want to hear something really crazy? I think that I am God.”

“I don’t think that you are crazy. Not many people are willing to talk to me but you are.”

“That’s because I think that you are God.”

He didn’t believe me that he was God and maybe he was right. Still, he did look like God to me.

Next, I stopped at Club Jager to see if they had anything going on. To my surprise they were setting up for their monthly metal night. I vowed to return and headed off to Grumpy’s Downtown where a friend of mine holds a movie night on Monday’s. He was showing Robocop and Total Recall (the good one). I was more eager to see my friend than I was the movies. We had found ourselves in a three AM online spate recently and I wanted to make sure we were still “cool”. Our argument was over the placebo effect. I took the position that the brain has the power to heal and he was arguing for science and medicine. This is a pretty life or death issue but it’s not like either of us are wrong.

Then it was back to “Metal Night” at Club Jager. I love metal music but mostly I love the metalheads. Seriously, some of the nicest most loving people you will ever meet.

One of the guys I met described himself as a Satanist. He said, “This music is very spiritual to me.”

“A Satanist, huh?” I had to ask, “What do Satanists believe in?”

He told me, “Love.”

“Hmmm, that’s what I believe in as well. Maybe I’m a Satanist.”

The bike ride home was hell. Snow had covered the streets and it was still falling pretty hard. I just kept telling myself, “I can do this, I’ve been through worse.” It was slow going but I finally made it home. I had survived another day!

I woke up the next morning invigorated and feeling alive. I posted the following to facebook:

OMG Last night was amazing. I highly recommend doing stupid things. The world is just one big playground. A playground that could kill you but oh my god, not dying is sooooo much fun!!!

It was at that point that I realized that the day before was just any other day. It was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day I nearly died; the day of my car accident, the day I lost my right eye. I call it my re-birthday. Every year I celebrate January Thirteenth as the beginning of my new life but this year I totally missed it… or did I?

This is it

It’s been a roller coaster ride but I feel like it has come to an end. I’m ready to start again. My mind is clear; I have purpose and understanding. I know who I am and I’m okay with myself. I’m okay with my situation and I’m okay with whatever happens next. It’s one of those rare moments when I actually feel like I have my shit together. It’s in these moments that I realize what I have and all that I have is what I give; all that I have received has come to me through giving.

I got home late Thursday morning with the intention of just being. It was a pretty cold and gloomy day so I didn’t have high hopes. I cracked a beer and sat down to write. Before long I recieved a text message from one of my friends who is going through a breakup. I had recieved a message from her Tuesday night letting me know that her boyfriend of fourteen years was dumping her. She was now ready to talk and I was ready and able to be there for her. Normally I would have wanted to be sober to meet with her but she was going to have to accept me as I was. I knew that she was one of those friends who would be willing to do that.

When she arrived I suggested that we go to Clubhouse Jager to eat. I had been craving Aura’s food and I knew that my friend would enjoy it as well. I really can’t say enough about Aura’s cooking but I’m afraid if I do she will get swept up by some restaurant that I can’t afford. Everything she makes is seriously the best I have ever had. Thankfully nobody reads my blog so I can keep her my little secret.

After dinner we returned to my house and talked for another five hours while I polished off the six-pack in my refrigerator.

I was just there to listen and help anyway I could but in the process I received a great epiphany. I think that I have an idea for a book, or at least an article for this blog. It’s not like I have any shortage of inspiration in my life. I come up with great ideas all the time. I just want to acknowledge that they come to me when I am giving to others. I still have to figure out what to do with all of them but that’s a story for another day.

My friend Alex Velocity has been wanting me to be a guest on his online radio show BANGWAVE for quite some time. It finally happened Friday. I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous but I had no excuse to put it off any longer. I figured I would just go and give what I had to give and see what happened. It was fun and it was inspirational. I love being part of other people’s creative endeavours. You can find the results here.

I was actually amazed that I was able to pull it off but not for the reason one might think. Sure, I have a lot of apprehension about recording my voice. I worry about embarrassing myself but so what; I can handle the embarrassment. The real challenge for me was the drive out there. I hate driving and it took me twice as long to get there as it should have because I kept freaking out and taking wrong turns and the whole time I was terrified of dying. I had a job driving for many years but not because I enjoy driving. I did it because I loved the company and it was something I could do. I had a van because I had a family and I wanted to work so I looked at what I had and I worked with what I’ve got. I loved the job but I hated the driving and that is why quit. That is why I want to get rid of my van. That, and the fact that it’s costing me money even if I don’t drive it. It’s just stupid for me to own a vehicle.

But since I have it I might as well use it to do things that I couldn’t do without it. So I drove and did the radio show. While I was there I realized that I was one third of the way to my son’s school and he was performing his first headlining show with his band 8-bit Johnson. So I drove another two hours to my son’s school. I seriously don’t know how I made it. I was terrified the entire time. I knew the way but it was dark and traveling at seventy miles an hour with other vehicles on the road just seemed like suicide… and I wasn’t feeling very suicidal. I really just wanted to make it to see my son.

I made it in time to surprise him before he went on stage. He rocked the house for a good hour and a half. I can’t tell you how proud I am because pride doesn’t even begin to explain it. What I really felt was an astounding combination of confusion and serendipity.  It was like sifting for gold in the stream to discover that the real value was in the water.  I never raised my son to be a rock star. I raised him to be a good person. Yet there he was, doing both, better than I ever could. Yeah, I came there for him but he gave me more than I could ever have hoped for.

I could have stayed in Morris but I felt my bed calling me. I’m really trying to be productive at home and I know that I’m more productive at doing “home” work when I wake up at home. Plus I was feeling rather energized after seeing my son play and I knew I could make it. The drive home was so much less terrifying. I could see the near full moon shining in the night sky above me and that gave me a sense of peace.

I got home shortly after two in the morning. I was still pretty wired from all the caffeine I had been drinking. There was a text message on my phone from the friend I was with Wednesday night. She sounded like she was having an unsettling night so I wrote her back to say that I was still up and at home if she wanted to talk.

Half an hour later I recieved a text that simply said “Xoxo”.

She never saw my response but it pretty much summed up the rest of my night. I wrote, “<3 I’m pretty tired but way too sober so I’m drinking cheap beer & cheap whiskey and watching Louis CK videos on YouTube. Gonna spend the day at home tomorrow becoming a better person. At least that’s the plan.”

I think Louis CK is brilliant. We opened the BANGWAVE program with some of his comedy. I may have to do a whole post about Louis CK but here is his bit about wanting to be a better person.

You can buy the whole show for five measly dollars on his website.

I woke up Saturday ready to start back up that rollercoaster. That’s when I started this post. I had decided not drink that day and keep my head clear. The problem was it was too clear and I was flooded with thoughts that didn’t seem to give me any direction. I basically just stumbled around waiting for something to happen that was more important than me.

Then I got a text from my daughter, the one I hadn’t heard anything from in over two months. She informed me that she had an appointment with her therapist scheduled. Apparently the deal is that she doesn’t want to talk to me until she can meet with me, her mother and her therapist together. Frankly, I think that is a brilliant idea although I don’t think that the issues have to do with me and my daughter.  There may be issues that her mom has with me or that my daughter has with her mom but having an impartial third party present could help up get to the bottom of it. And if my daughter does have issues with me that she doesn’t feel comfortable talking about without her therapist, I’m open to that too. I think it’s kind of childish but she is a child. I have no idea what is going on in her brain. I’m just glad that there is a way forward and I’m willing to try anything.

The problem is that the appointment is not for another month. That means that my daughter won’t be going on the family vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico next week. I tried over the next couple days to work through that issue but it is a non-starter. It is what it is but it was worth trying.

Next came a call from my friend who recently moved to California. She has epilepsy and is going through a breakup so she’s homeless at the moment. She’s got all sorts of crazy shit going on but also a lot of good things are happening.  She’s somewhat like me, somewhere in the middle; not everything is falling apart but it’s not all coming up roses either. We talked for a little over an hour until hunger got the best of me and I had to find something to eat.

With my primary need for food satisfied I returned to my quest for motivation but I kept being distracted by the thoughts in my head. The overriding one was that I still hadn’t heard anything from the friend I had recieved a text from the night before. I don’t typically get bent out of shape over these things. There are a million and one reasons why someone might not get back to me but this was unusual and so I decided to follow my instincts and tried reaching out one more time. I still got no response. It turned out that she had left her phone at a friend’s place and that I actually had nothing to worry about. Oh well, shit happens!

During this time I got a text from the friend I was with Thursday night. She was downtown at the Toad The Wet Sprocket show. She had an extra ticket and wanted to know if I could join her. Of course I could. I obviously wasn’t doing anything else and would do anything for her.

I should mention that I put Toad in a genre that I like to call lowest-common-denominator music. It’s not quite as derogatory as it may sound. It just means good music that is accessible to as many people as possible. Most musicians would consider that a good thing. It is a good thing, I guess, if that’s what you’re in to. I’m glad that people are in to it because most of the songs I write would fit into that category. It’s just not the kind of music that makes my dick hard. I like things that are new, shocking, different and blow my mind. I guess that’s why I play in Venus’ band rather than my own. Still, I respect anyone who can write and perform a good song so of course I was going to go.

That is a good song.

I was also feeling grateful that I had decided not to drink that day. Hanging out with sober people when I’ve been drinking is still awkward to me. I have no problem with drunk people when I’m sober but the other way around is weird.

Still, this was a challenge.  Being in a crowd of people is anxiety producing for me. Also standing or sitting in one spot for an hour is painful. Without alcohol, I felt all of that. Now if this had been a metal show or a rave, it might not have been so bad but this was Toad The Wet Sprocket. There was not a lot of moving around, people slamming into each other or massive amounts of drugs. So my whole body hurt, I had stabbing pains in my chest, a tightness around my throat, pain in my teeth and my right eye was twitching. It was fucking incredible!

But hey,  another day that worked out just fine. I had no direction but enough people to provide me with something meaningful to do. I’ll take that.

Sunday was good as well. I had diner at my parents so we could discuss the trip to Mexico. Then I went to Venus’ annual pre-Thanksgiving day Squid Fest party. I could say more about it but I’m getting bored with talking about my life. I’m going to end this blog post here. I have a feeling that things are about to go in a different direction.

See you tomorrow with something new…

Experience the unexpected

Expect the unexpected because things rarely go as planned. That was the case last night. It was my plan to be done driving pedicab for the season after Halloween but there I was, working the Vikings game. This guy, Chris, had called up a week ago to see if I would be working. I had given him and his family a ride over the summer and they had so much fun that they wanted to do it again when they were in town for the game. How could I say “no”?

Well that didn’t go as planned either. I tried, I tried, I really did try, but in the end we never did meet up. It still wound up being a good night for me. I hope Chris and his family still had a good night. I’m pretty sure they did. They got to see what will probably be the only game the Vikings win in the United States this season. I wish that I could have been part of their night but that is not the way it played out.

On the way home I stopped in at Club Jager for last call. I had no idea what to expect but as it turned out it was Buttrock night – hard rock and hair metal on vinyl! As I walked in, this song was playing:

Man, I remember when that album came out. I was blown away! I usually don’t pay attention to new music, especially from bands I’ve never heard of but this one caught me off guard. Most of the time I don’t discover new music or new artists until they have been around for a year or more, sometimes decades.

So I got to thinking. What other debut albums did I experience in the moment they were new that blew me away?

Poison - Look What the Cat Dragged In (front)I remember buying this album based on the cover alone! I knew nothing about the band or their music. I just thought they were so pretty! That probably explains a few things about me.

Pretty fucking great album though!

But I think my biggest thrill in discovering new music was when Van Halen released their debut album. I was eleven years old and it only took thirty-two seconds of this song to realize that my life had been changed forever.

There have been numerous seminal debut albums to come out over the years but for most of them, I was either too young or just not paying attention to experience that joy of hearing something brand new. To experience the unexpected is one of the greatest joys in life. It hasn’t all come at the hands of ’80’s hair metal however. It continue to this day but as I’m experiencing nostalgia, here is some of the new music that blew me in the years that followed my buttrock days.

From the debut album, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars

From the debut album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More?

And from the man who finally got me over my crush on Eddie Van Halen:

From the debut album, Let Love Rule

It just dawned on me that what happened between Guns ‘n’ Roses and Edie Brickell had nothing to do with changes in the music industry. What happened during that time was a very major change in my life. That was the year I suffered a near fatal car accident and the loss of my right eye. It was a very unexpected time to say the least.

I hope you have enjoyed my trip down memory lane. I would love to hear about your experiences with the unexpected. Tell me about a brand new discover that you had which almost made you pee your pants.

Highlight from last night

NOTE: This was meant to be posted Thursday, 25 July 2013 but time constraints, technical difficulties and the simple fact that life sucks has led to its delay.

At the coffee shop this morning:

“Hey, how are you doing?”
“I’m covered in cat hair.”

Yup, that’s how my day started. I woke up on my friends couch covered in cat hair. To me, that’s the sign of a good night. To me, that’s living. If I could start every day that way I probably would… but then, maybe not. Perhaps the balance of extremes are what allows the extremes to exist.  Let’s face it, I kind of like the extremes. Call it what you like: reckless, irresponsible, blowing off steam, obnoxious or childish but I just call it life.

One of the random strangers I ran into last night asked me what the highlight of my day was. At this point I felt like it was still too early to say but now I can. Here are some highlights from last night:

  • Discussing the happy topics of post traumatic stress and suicide at Grumpy’s bar in Northeast.
  • Seeing Al Sabola’s current rockabilly band, The Bad Companions. I’m not a huge rock rockabilly fan but when it’s done well, and all these players have been doing it well for a long time, it’s a good time for sure.
  • Seeing Courtney Yasmineh perform at the Terminal Bar. She is always a treat to see perform. Check out her website and if you get a chance to see her perform live, please do. Her song “Stones” is in my opinion one of the best songs ever written. Every time I hear it, it gives me chills.
  • Catching a ride for me and my bike to Club Jager with my friend Justice. Just crazy timing but I love how things work out sometimes.
  • Remembering how much fun Transmission with DJ Jake Rudh can be and how I really do enjoy all the beautiful people there.
  • Eating Pizza Luce Pizza. Okay, by this time I was pretty wasted and I have no idea what was on it; pretty sure there was meat but it was delicious.
  • But the number one highlight of my day was receiving a text from a friend who was having a rough day. She said she spent the evening reading through my blog and wanted me know that it helped her a lot. Knowing that something I have done has helped someone else is the best news I can get.

Wind out of my sales

I have had to deal with all sorts of weather while driving pedicab. As an all-year biker I have a lot of experience with this, but every years, it still comes as a cruel reminder of mother nature’s power. Biking in the cold sucks. Biking in snow sucks. Biking in rain sucks. Still, you can fight your way through it. The one weather condition that will stop you dead in your tracks is high winds.

Last night around 10pm it started to rain lightly. It wasn’t enough to really bother me or the people walking around but it was enough to make taking a pedicab a less desirable option. I headed back to the garage to put on the canopy and rain tarp hoping the rain would continue. It did for about an hour and I was able to pick up a couple rides as a result of the rain.

After the rain died down the wind picked up. Now that I had a canopy on my cab it was like biking around a with a parachute behind me. The winds were gusting to 40 miles-per-hour. Even on a straight away, I would drop into the lowest gear, and still struggle to move the bike. With the wind behind me however, I could just put my feet up and let mother nature push half a ton of bike and riders down the road. That was kind of fun.

I had my first experience where I really felt like someone took advantage of me last night. Pedicabs will often congregate at The Local to pick up riders. There is always a lot of foot traffic going by and since we are there so often, most people know what to expect. I hate waiting in line to get a ride but the rides I get out of the Local are usually pretty serious riders so it’s worth the wait when I’m willing to do it.

So last night, when a sharply dressed, clean cut guy in his late twenties hopped  in my cab and asked to be taken to the Butcher and the Boar, I thought nothing of it. When we got to his destination he handed me money and I thanked him. Then I looked at what he gave me. It was a one dollar bill. What the fuck?!? Seriously? I mean, I took a couple other rides where people gave me a dollar or less but they let me know that they didn’t have any money before hand. I don’t have a problem with that. This guy clearly had money. He was just gaming the system. He was being a douche-bag!

I’ve got to say that it didn’t sit well with me. I know that my way of doing things leaves me open to being taken advantage of. I know that there are people like him in the world. Still, it shocked me. Most people are not like him. I could have gone in and confronted him. I could have told him that it was a dick-head move, but I didn’t. I let it go. I know who he is and it won’t happen again. If this is the way he acted with me I’m sure that he is this way with other people as well and probably has bigger problems than me confronting him on his behaviour. Scamming people may be one of his few joys in the world. That would be sad but it would explain why this good looking guy didn’t have a date on a Friday night.

All in all, my night turned out really well. Having music was a big hit and made my job even more enjoyable. I got to help people, show people a good time, received several hugs and a couple kisses and even had two very attractive women simultaneously give me a back massage as I rode. Yup, pedicab driving is the life for me!

Living the dream

Who would have thought that everything that I have been through and done in my life would have brought me to this moment? Not me, that’s for sure. I really thought that this was just a stepping stone to something else. Of course it is, everything is, but it is also a destination. It is time to acknowledge that I have arrived. I am right where I am meant to be. I am a pedicab driver!

Last night I sat down to write a new page for this website. I figured it was about time I focused on building it up and making it better. I managed to write one sentence before giving up. I guess my heart just wasn’t in it. I guess the time for that is not now. Now is the time for me to focus on being a pedicab driver. That’s okay. I can let driving pedicab drive my blog writing. Whatever I do will be driven by passion and right now, I’m realizing that all of my passions point to driving pedicab.

It’s the perfect job for me. It even allows me the flexibility to be there for my kids, my friends, my band or whatever else comes up in the moment. But it’s not just a means to an end. I woke up this morning with the realization that it is an end in and of itself.

I have had a rather varied career path but it has all brought me to this point. I’ve been a musician, a dancer, a social worker, a computer programmer, an activist, a deejay, an entrepreneur,  a salesman, a model, a child care worker, a delivery driver, a graphic designer, a house cleaner and more. All have taught me things that I can use as a pedicab driver. The whole processes of dealing with depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia have brought me to this career. Even my life as a drunk and bar-stool vagabond has given me skills essential to this job.

What really brought it all together for me was realizing that I could use my deejay skills and extensive music collection with the pedicab. Yesterday, on my way to picking up my son from college I bought a portable speaker that I can attach to the cab. I’m going to get to deejay for all of downtown! That’s what I call mobile dj – no requests and I don’t do wedding! Just kidding.

I had been using my songwriting skills on the job but I think recorded music will be better. Here’s the little jingle I wrote as I would sing as I rode around:

Call me crazy, call me insane
But I want to take you to the baseball game
In my pedicab, pedicab
Hey, hey – pedicab, pedicab

I don’t go fast and I don’t go far
I can take you to the stadium or downtown bar
In my pedicab, pedicab
Hey, hey – pedicab, pedicab

What’s lots of fun and totally green
Uses pedal power not gasoline
It’s my pedicab, pedicab
Hey, hey – pedicab, pedicab

Hey, hey, hey – it’s dyn-o-mite
Who wants a ride in my taxi tonight
In my pedicab, pedicab – pedicab, pedicab
Hey, hey, hey

Yeah, it’s stupid but so what. It’s a fucking jingle, my first jingle, by the way. Anyway, gotta lot to do today so I’ll catch you on the flip side. This is just the beginning of everything that comes next…

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