RSS Feed

The World Is Changing and Has Taken Me Hostage

Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to own a shortwave radio. Nevermind the fact that I didn’t know anything about shortwave, or what would be waiting for me there. The medium simply offered the capability of hearing things I’d never heard before, and the radios had all kinds of knobs for adjustments and tweaking. Besides that, nobody else I knew listened to shortwave broadcasts, and that gave me even more reason to pursue the endeavour.

My first exposure to these fantastic devices came to me by way of the thick annual Radio Shack catalogue which at one time came through the mail. Radio Shack seemed to have one of everything back in the days before mobile phones and computers came along. They should have never attempted to change their business model, because they had a developed a unique niche in their market, and lost their identity in the newly booming digital world.

But out of all the items that the catalogue featured, my favorite section was all of the specialised radios they offered. There were receivers specifically designed for eavesdropping on police, medical teams, fire departments, train yards, ham operators, and yes, shortwave stations.

The primary impediment for me at this time, was of course money. Multiband radios were generally big, and expensive. Back when twenty dollars could purchase what two hundred will now buy, $229. for a radio was a dream that I could only envision. I used to think to myself, ‘If I were rich, I’d buy a shortwave radio.’ The thought of boats, automobiles, and houses never entered my mind.

My initial infatuation with the shortwave waned, and as years passed I married, and started a family. But within three short years, my fate once again changed as I found myself single again and embroiled in a messy divorce. The year was 1981.

With young daughter in tow, I moved back to the town that I was raised in, got a couple of part time jobs, rented myself a small house, and concentrated on the acquisition of new audio recording equipment in order to re-immerse myself in the music industry.

One Friday evening, after getting paid, I dropped my daughter off to visit my parents for the night, and then stopped into Radio Shack to pick up a couple of microphone stands. Something in the window caught my eye and made me stop in my tracks before even entering the store: The big DX 200 shortwave that I had lusted after so many years ago was displayed there, with a hand written sign which read, Closeout Item! Last one left. 50% off!

I walked out of the store that day, not with mic stands, but instead a big box with the coveted radio inside. I stopped at the corner market and got a six-pack. This party had been a long time coming.

As the sun sank lower, I popped a beer and began to build a long wire antenna, which would be required to hear the transmissions on the radio. I didn’t bother to ask my landlord if I could install it, because I knew that it would be all but invisible. I stealthily twisted a screw hook into the eve of the house and, tying a length of paracord into a slipknot, slid it onto the hook and tossed the other end of the paracord into my window. Once back inside I assembled the insulators and bare copper wire and waited for nightfall.

Soon it was dark, and I tossed the finished antenna out the window, grabbed a ladder and sneaked to the garage apartments behind my little house. Propping the ladder softly against the building, I uncoiled the antenna, climbed the ladder, cranked another screw hook into the apartment building and, hoisting the antenna up, pulled it taut and tied it off and scurried back inside with my ladder. My covert work had gone smoothly, and undetected.

I filled a bong, and when it was cashed, I went back into the room with another beer and prepared for the moment of truth.

After attaching the antenna lead to the radio, I turned it on. The big drum dials lit the room up with a warm glow, and the static was punctuated with unfamiliar undulating howls and electrical crackling. I cranked the dial and before long, a big, strong station was booming through in English. However, the news programme was full of strange headlines and weird stories of World War II. Finally at the top of the hour, a powerful voice boomed out, “This.. is the External Service of Radio Moscow!”

I flipped out. I was listening to a Soviet broadcast!! I turned down the volume and looked around. I began to wonder if this was even legal activity, or if I would be viewed as a Communist sympathiser if anyone found out.

I reckon I stayed awake most of the night listening to Radio Beijing, Swiss Radio International, Radio Yugoslavia, and the BBC World Service, among others. I was in complete awe that I could lie on my bed and listen to a radio station on the other side of the World. The impact of how amazing this was at the time will probably be lost the younger reader. These days, we’re so used to turning on the computer and getting Tweets from all over the globe, and news broadcasts from Al Jazerra, the world seems like such a small place in comparison. During the eighties, when cable television was just coming into widespread availability, I was the only person that I knew who was able to get news from other parts of the world, without being at the mercy of the American news services ‘filtering’ what they thought I ‘needed’ to know.

Flash forward to a couple of nights ago.

I climbed into bed, plugged my Sony MDR-7506 headphones into my android, opened the University of Twente website (which is located in the Netherlands*), accessed the Wideband WebSDR, and began sliding my finger across the screen to tune into shortwave stations that were audible in that area of Europe at 2:00 GMT.

As I lay in the darkness, I stared into the screen, and wondered why this hobby no longer held the excitement for me that it once did.

* For anyone who may be interested, go to: Faculty for Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science

Overuse Of the Word ‘I’ Reaching Epidemic Proportions Worldwide

Having received more than a few inquiries from my Facebook friends and ReverbNation associates about my intermittent activity on the Internet, the following explanation is offered. As most everyone knows, these sites are capable of consuming huge hunks of time and it is with this knowledge that I have made a conscious decision to avoid the computer in order to devote all of my energy to songwriting, recording, and turning wrenches. Therefore, for the past month or so, I’ve been immersed in recording, guitar repair, and cylinder head work.

Inasmuch as the songwriting portion goes, there is, what I like to refer to as ‘passive’ songwriting. That is to say that I don’t ‘try to write’. It has become my modus operandi to simply let the music and songs come to me as they will, and the process works out rather well. Once in the ‘recording mode’, the songs just begin to filter down, and all that is left for me to do is to get onto tape what I hear in my head. That may sound somewhat esoteric and arcane, but this is simply the best way to describe it.

If I try to write, everything tends to turn out sounding redundant and contrived. This I hate. Once the process begins, however, it is something that is quite constant, and I find it more conservative in regard to total time spent to give myself over to it completely until such time that it ceases of its own accord, thus my absence from the Internet sites is duly noted and addressed.

I do like to post a blog on occasion when a subject comes to mind. It helps me keep up appearances.

A bit more on writing to those who may be interested.

A couple of weeks ago, my son was reading a piece I’d written earlier.

“You’ve used the word ‘I’ too many times,” he observed. It was humble pie directly to the face. My own advice had come back to haunt me.

“True,” I conceded, “but I was writing about me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he continued, “you can always reword a sentence to avoid overuse. You used it six times in one sentence.”

He was right. I was identified with my subject matter and there had been a strong emotional attachment, which explained everything.

For many years now, it has been a practice of mine never to write a song in first person. To my way of thinking, this leads to no good. It also is the best way to develop writer’s block, create boring subject matter and come across as being self absorbed. When one writes in this fashion, the possibilities are immediately limited to ones’ own experiences. I don’t intend to speak for anyone else, but life has been pretty boring insofar as writing songs about me goes.

At best, all first person writing is good for is a couple of sappy love songs, and few more blues songs after the relationship has gone kaput.

Now, we all can name songs which have been written about courtship, and then there’s a couple of wedding tunes, but can anyone name a ‘We’ve Been Married Twenty Years’ song? Not too many ‘Honey, I’m Picking Up a Gallon of Milk and a Newspaper, See You at Six’, or ‘Meatloaf Serenade’ songs out there, are there?

Sure, there are songs full of promise, and tunes such as ‘I Love You More Today Than Yesterday’, but I can’t say with any amount of certainty that Dude was married when he wrote that.

This isn’t to reflect badly on marriage, it’s just that there’s such a limited amount of material there.

Unless you want to count that stupid ‘Pina Colada’ song by that guy whose name I don’t even remember.

Oh yeah. Rupert Holmes. What a dillweed.

Damn it.

Now that nonsense will be playing in my head all day long and I won’t get any work done. Sheesh. I hate that freaking song.

See why I stay off of the computer when I’m trying to write and compose?

The Mercurochrome Link to White Knuckle Gaming

That does it. I’m suing everybody for everything. Nothing is my fault and I just realised it.

I thought I was over it. The Nintendo 64 had been sitting on the shelf for years, untouched.

Sure, I’d played the 64 with my son when he was a kid. You know, why not? I had the toys, the candy bars, the paregoric, the mind-numbing Loony Tunes. I had the comic books, the Matchbox cars, and the model locomotives. Shouldn’t he have had a chance to enjoy it all, too?

So his mom bought him a Nintendo 64. The games were largely innocuous and cute: Zelda, Mario 64, Rainbow Six, Mohammad Ali Championship Boxing, Madden 98 (nothing to make him want to go out and mutilate anyone like the Black Sabbath, the Judas Priest, and Blue Oyster Cult did that I used to listen to), Aerial Assault, Star Wars… Oh…..and Mario Kart.

I looked at the dust covered gaming console too long. I remembered too much. Suddenly, I was a recovering heroin addict who was having his old drug of choice proffered to him again.

God damn Mario Kart. Images of Peach and Yoshi drifted through my mind. My blood boiled anew. I slowly reached for the device, and my palms were already moist with perspiration.

——————————————————————–

When I was a kid, we’d all be outside playing, and sometimes one of us would fall and tear part of our tender little bodies open. It was an occurrence that we all dreaded and that we would try to wish away. One day, I ripped my knee open pretty badly. All of the other kids stopped playing to assess the damage as well, and looked at me solemnly.
“Are you gonna have to go home?” they’d ask.
Another would inquire, “Do ya’ll have Merthiolate or Iodine?”
“No,” I’d answer, “all we have is Mercurochrome.” My response would send a shudder throughout the group that you could feel and see.

Mercurochrome is how I developed my four octave scream. Even today, uttering the word even makes me tingle in a way that is vaguely uncomfortable. It conjures up something dark, evil, and foreboding. Mercurochrome.

Now, any compound which has, as its root words Mercury and Chrome, can’t be too good to smear into an open wound of any organic being. But as a kid, we were all routinely dipped up to the neck in this shit.

The kid who lived across the street from me rocked incessantly and would cry when jets flew overhead.

Another who lived farther up in the neighborhood would suddenly snap and beat other children up. He’s the only twelve year old I ever knew who had the “hundred yard stare.”

Me? I had a little fling with OCD. I hid it most of the time, but I’d give it free run when I was out playing by myself. I say the same word over and over and over and over and over and over and over. I’d hold my breath and then stagger it until I got it all back in time with something that I didn’t understand. I was a slave to ADD all throughout my time in school, although I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my forties. All of my afflictions came out in the form of art or music or mailbox bashing. I got over the bat wielding, but the effects of the Mercurochrome still make themselves apparent in my music from time to time:

http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/10524830-equinox

————————————————————–

Or…..when I play Mario Kart.

And before I know it, there I go. I’m hooking up the console…desperately seeking RCA patch cables. I can’t find them after a two hour sweep of the house, and I find myself hunkered over my project bench, soldering cables up in the sweltering heat of the halogen lamp… and I know that it already has a hold on me. By God, I’m giving it to Mario Kart. Next I’m blowing in the cartridge, washing my hands, using alcohol and then talc.. getting ready.. to win. Charlie Sheen is right. It is all about winning, and my son’s ancient Nintendo 64 has shown me the way.

I go white knuckle so fast, and want to kill Toad and that stupid little lizard. As a matter of fact, I get to where I can’t stand my own driver. I’ll crash him into walls and see if he can virtually die if he pounds the wall hard enough. I hate the controller. I want to jerk the game out of my mind by the roots because I know that I’ve blown the lid off of my self-imposed moratorium and am completely re-addicted. I won’t stop until I win every course, curse every driver to hell, or hurl the controller through the television screen in total disgust.

Or until drained, I slowly rise from the couch and turn off the set and awaken from this video induced hypnotism. My God, it’s two thirty in the morning. It seems like it was just eleven a.m.

Telling myself to just unplug the game and put it away, hide it in a closet, or take the evilness to the Goodwill outlet to bait some other poor fool, I go to bed and cry myself to sleep at night.

But the console sits in the floor still. Until the next time that I look at it, and feel that shiver of excitement… and then the uncontrollable rage.

So you see.. none of this. is.. my fault.

I’m suing everybody.

Johnny Nowhere is a songwriter who is currently undergoing therapy.

Voluntary Versus Involuntary Personal Slavery

I know this big, friendly fellow who had a severe heart attack a couple of nights ago. The prognosis isn’t good. A wife, three teen-aged children, and there he lies today, not yet forty years old, in a coma, somewhere in the middle of time itself.

As in all such instances, the fragility of life got me to thinking about my own achievements, or lack thereof, made in the time that I’ve been so far given. As I’ve aged and suffered setbacks, I’ve become a pretty reliable authority on how to do things.

Mostly on how not to do things, unfortunately. But one way or the other, we learn.

As far as my own choices go, I like to contrast my life against that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It keeps me humble.

According to Arnold, he was a poor kid from Austria who had developmental issues, and one side of his body was a good deal weaker than the other. As a result, his doctor prescribed weight training to address the problem. Arnold quickly adapted to the regimen and decided to take big, giant steps to become the best he could be. And he did.

He came to America, although he barely spoke English. He lived in his car for a while. He took lots of risks, but he believed in himself so strongly, he didn’t allow anything to stand in the way of him and his dreams.

His abilities and achievements are a direct reflection of his dedication to, and practice of, his craft.

This same thing can be said for each and every one of us as musicians and songwriters.

One can argue with this logic all day long (mostly in defense of one’s own lack of achievements), but at the end of the day, the fact will stand as testimony to the undeniable truth that can be found there.

Universal truths are glimpses of universal facts, tucked into timeless proverbs.

For instance, if one wishes to be a guitar player, yet practices drinking beer more than he practices guitar playing, he will become a better drinker than guitar player. The facts bear my words out. I know some devoted drinkers who play guitar only tolerably.

Several years ago, I quit drinking and applied myself to the craft of practicing guitar, within five years my guitar playing improved 1000%. Seriously. But I was encouraged early in life to play to my strengths, and one of my strengths was to make rational decisions. I decided that I wanted to play guitar more than I wanted to get a buzz.

A man who I much admire once said, ‘a man who wishes to become a Man cannot sit between two stools for very long without losing everything’. Now I, at fifty-eight years of age, understand the meaning of his words all too clearly.

I wasted time sitting between stools, and by the time I got good enough at my craft to write and record suitable compositions, the music industry had taken a hard turn. Within a decade, a once thriving business was going down like the proverbial Titanic. The model changed, largely on account of the digital revolution, and it caught a lot of musicians with their pants down around their ankles. Others perceived the coming cataclysm and diversified.

But the losing horse blames the rider.

I went through that phase for a while. It was bullshit, of course. Now I blame no one but myself.

I still have beautiful melodies arise from the ether in my noggin, and I, ever dutiful to the Muse, pick up my instrument and do my very best to transpose the sounds in my head onto tape. I do it for a different reason now. But I do it. And I do it the best way that I know how.

Unconscious, or Involuntary Personal Slavery is a terrible thing. It is the worst form of slavery, for it is the hardest form to release oneself from. It is so much easier to designate a scapegoat. Most people who cling to Involuntary Personal Slavery secretly love their chains. They’ll come up with every excuse under the sun to justify staying chained down, rather than rising up and leaving the plantation. Most of the time, fear is the prime motivator for remaining clapped in their imaginary irons. Fear of failure. Fear of nothing of real value in the free Man.

This type of slavery takes many forms; addictions to food and alcohol, religion, sex, fame, anger, notoriety. All such slavery is simple stupidity. Until one can break these chains, one will never truly be free. But most people do not really wish to be free, for slavery gives them the option to apply blame to an outside instigator or oppressor.

Let us use the analogy of slavery in America. Now, slavery hasn’t been practiced in America in over 100 years, but most modern Americans have been taught very little about the role of slavery in America, or of the War Between the States for that matter, which was more over money and states rights than slavery. Even free blacks owned slaves in America before the War, but that is never discussed because it cracks the mold; and although most modern American blacks wouldn’t recognise a cotton stalk from a corn stalk, they live as if they are still on the plantation.

And in one sense, they still are.

—————————————————————————–

African blacks regard American blacks with disdain. They think that they (much like the modern Jew) are big crybabies who have every opportunity to make something of themselves, yet who prefer to spend all of their time and energy making themselves out as victims, blaming past events for keeping them in their present set of ‘circumstances’.

Ask anyone who has spent time getting to know the blacks who inhabit the continent of Africa. African blacks are very tribal. If an American black is unable to trace his tribal ancestry, he is not considered a ‘long lost brother’. He is just another Black American. Neither is he referred to as an ‘African-American’. African blacks will tell you that they would gladly trade places with any American black in order to be able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available to them. However, African blacks, in spite of all of their difficulties, such as walking miles daily simply for water, are among the happiest people in the world, always smiling, always joyful.

These native Africans have every reason to wear their daily struggles like a badge, but they choose to have a bright outlook on life, unlike American blacks, whom the Africans think are a bunch of brainless fools, shooting one another up, running drugs, and rapping about how ‘hard’ life is. African blacks feel that American blacks know nothing of real struggle.

I pretty much agree with the Africans, because the so-called ‘struggles’ of the American blacks are primarily imagined. The mindset is passed down like a disease from one generation to the other. These days it is referred to as ‘white privilege’. Meanwhile the genuinely enfranchised class becomes extremely jealous of their lawfully granted privileges: Although American blacks, who in the past thirty years have been born into a society which, through all sorts of legislation, grant them more rights than most other American citizens enjoy, the majority of them still choose to blame their own failure to act on white people, primarily because it has been made too tempting to whine about some perceived inequality.

And many whites exacerbate the image. They choose to believe that they, via inheritance, are partially to blame for the black population’s imaginary suffering. This further allows the American black population to keep themselves ‘down’, while allowing many of the white population to actually defend the mindset.

Both attitudes, incidentally, insure the continuation of the Status Quo.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but once the squeaking stops, the greasing stops. Some American black ‘leaders’ have figured this out, as ‘spokesmen’ in order to keep the wheels greased, as well as their pockets.

What a sad joke. It is unfortunate that so many people buy into the whole facade, because there is no solid foundation on which to base the belief, only a lot of justification for imagined anger.

The point I am attempting to make here, is that this is just another form of Involuntary Personal Slavery.

This form of slavery almost always takes on the form of justification and false inculpation.

———————————————————————–

If one cannot look objectively at one’s position in life, one will never be able to make the most of one’s skills and talents. Merely mimicking another person’s way of doing things is not being true to oneself.

I discovered that until one is made aware of the fact that he is indeed a slave, he never feels the need to escape. This is a fact that I did not discover this on my own.

By quite accidental and ‘miraculous’ intervention, I found the student of a teacher of a ‘school of another kind’, who tempted me to ‘look’ at myself. It was said that if I could only realise that I was enslaved, that I might, through cunning, obtain certain metals in order to devise tools which would then enable me to design and file a skeleton key which might then unlock the shackles of imagination, but nothing was guaranteed. The prescription was not an easy pill to swallow. The idea, in and of itself however, was painfully simple. It required me to sacrifice my ‘self’ to the will of another for a period of time, to sacrifice my imaginary suffering, and suspend all of my beliefs. This can be thought of as Voluntary Personal Slavery. I found that this was much easier to discuss than to put into practice. This work necessitated a great deal of inner struggle, as one of the requirements was to mercilessly destroy all of my idols. As prescribed, it took years to reach some semblance of achievement. It also caused me to become very calloused.

What I found left was nothing more than an empty shell, a raw animal, devoid of form. There was nothing of my self to be found. All of my ideals were baseless. I was an idiot in the truest sense of the word. All of my opinions were those of others. All of my ‘beliefs’ turned out to be little more than silly Jewish fables parroted to me in my earliest days, from one hyperventilating idiot to the next.

Then I was sent to ‘school’, where I was ‘educated’. Simply put, school gives us ‘vocabulary’, teaches us how to crunch numbers, and instructs us in all of the vogue sciences of the day, but gives us very little solid knowledge.

It took me far too long to shake the shackles of my musical influences, The Beatles, the Doobie Brothers, and the ‘singer songwriter’ phase that I went through. I was none of these. I was simply trying to copy someone else, but wasn’t aware of it.

This was the slavery that my so-called ‘freedom of thought’ consisted of.

It was during this extended period of ‘wandering the wilderness of my soul’, that I experienced a ‘shifting of poles’, wherein everything seemed very superficial and inverted. But then I began to practice my instrument in a certain way, and things began to take order.

Robert Fripp’s school of Guitar Craft was extremely instructive in this regard.

Robert was also a student of the same particular ‘school of thought’ which I had discovered, and there was a ‘secret language’ of sorts which I immediately recognised as school terminology. His instruction in guitar led to further ‘enlightenment’ for his approach to practice was completely different. It was only then that I began to distinguish the Muse from otherwise distracting thoughts, and gave myself over to it.

In this realm, the music has existed from the moment of the beginning of time, and the musician is merely an instrument which makes himself available to the Muse. In this respect, the music makes the musician, rather than the opposite. The feeling is much like being taken down a wooded path blindfolded. Often, the musician is only vaguely aware of what he is doing until he is done. Music is a moving and ‘religious’ experience.

Everyone already really knows what I mean: The annual television cartoon ‘Merry Christmas Charlie Brown’ is really only good because of the music. And everyone gets that fuzzy feeling inside when Linus quotes the short biblical scripture and everyone begins the a cappella ‘oooh’s to ‘Hark, The Herald Angels Sing’ around the proud little Christmas tree. You don’t have to be religious to feel religious. The secret is the music. Not the religion.

That’s precisely why all churches make use of music. Closer to God. It’s that simple. Oh, some denominations will split hairs about the use of instruments and whatnot. That’s just a lot of nonsense. God invented music. Don’t believe me? Just go to church and tell everyone that you don’t believe that music or singing have a place in the church. They’ll look at you as if you’ve lost your mind.

But you won’t do that, will you?

————————————————————————————

Since finding my Muse, I have developed into an instrumentalist which I would have never imagined myself, and have ‘ghost written’ many tunes which It has presented to me. Fame and fortune were not to be mine, but I would not trade my task for anything in the world.

My achievements are mine alone, and the rewards are likewise.

Due to illness, there are many activities that I have been forced to discontinue, but my guitars and my Muse will be the last things that I will surrender when I follow the others into that timeless void that John is edging ever closer toward tonight.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Primer for the Unafflicted

I generally don’t write about my ‘self’ in my blogs. Most of my readers don’t even know who the hell I really am anyway…not that it matters. I mostly stick to the peripheral stuff, that most often being music, and less often the insanity of politics.

Today, however, I want to discuss a physical malady that a lot of people, including my ‘self’, seem to be suffering from, which, in my opinion, is a wholly misunderstood and misrepresented affliction: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS (also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in Great Britain and Australia), is a physical affliction which is poorly understood by most medical professionals, family members, defense attorneys, judges, and…well, anyone who doesn’t suffer from it.

Moreover, I’m primarily writing this article in defense of those individuals who are being forced to live with the frustration, the humiliation, and the downright anger that results from having to live with this ‘disease’.

————————————————————————-

My beloved Trek 1000 road bike leaned against the wall covered with a light coat of dust. I walked over to it and gently rolled it out from behind the chair where I had begrudgingly rested it years earlier. The tires were deflated. I removed the frame mounted pump, and with effort, re-inflated the tires. To the familiar, gentle clicking of the drive assembly, I wheeled my bicycle outdoors where I washed every part until again it gleamed as I once always kept it.

I stood there afterward for a while holding it steady, looking down the steep drive that I had muscled it up so many times after all of my rides, and began to cry. I knew that I had climbed the drive for the last time, and the reality of my mortality finally overcame me.

——————————————————————————

Almost eight years ago, before CFS came a-calling on yours truly, I was a very healthy 50 year old who weighed a strapping 167 pound with a BMI of 12%. I was then an avid road cyclist who regularly took 50 mile rides, and who sometimes would ride another 25 just because I felt like it. I worked eight hour days as a carpenter, or more accurately, a self-employed Jackass-of-all-trades. The point being made here is that I was, and always had been, abundantly energized. I loved physical exertion. I relished sweating. Conquer and overcome, that was my credo.

Then, one November morning, while working at my craft, I observed that I didn’t feel quite ‘myself’. A day or two earlier, I’d noticed that I had a swollen lymph gland in the fold of my upper leg and my lower abdominal area. The client that I’d been working for dropped by, telling me about his morning, and mentioned that he’d just been to get his influenza shot, and that I should take advantage of the deal he’d received.

“I may have already waited until too late,” I replied, “I feel as if I’m already coming down with it.”

“Not to worry,” he assured, “Since you’re about to wrap up here we can start on our new project any time next week you feel like it.”

After completing the job, I went home and prepared for the week of misery. All of the signs of the influenza were there: eye pressure, raised body temperature, dull headache, lethargy, and that uneasy feeling that it usually brings.

Days passed. The flu never came, yet the feeling of impending illness hadn’t left. In addition, I was beginning to feel extremely exhausted. I could hardly vacuum the studio, or clean the ashes from the fireplace without having to sit and rest. Naturally, this was cause for concern, after all, I NEVER got freaking tired.

The next week I was sitting in front of a physician, explaining my symptoms. Copious notes were taken, blood work and x-rays were ordered. All results turned up negative. Next came the MRI, the stress test, another MRI, more blood tests, more this, and more that.

Five weeks later, I felt no better, and still there was no prognosis. Each time I went back to the clinic to get my results, I was prepared for the worst. I knew they were bound to finally find something that was going to be bad, and terminal. Still, nothing.

Eventually, I became sick and tired of being sick and tired. “Piss on it,” I declared. “I’ll train this crap out of me.” After all, that is what I’d always done, just push through it. And with that I donned my riding attire, hauled my rollers out onto the veranda, and pushed my bike outside. I hopped into the saddle and started riding.

After a few short sessions throughout the following days, which left me consumed, I was really irritated, and was intent on knocking this stuff out of me. I was at least going to train for an hour, come hell or high water. I finally did.

That was the longest, most grueling hour of my life. After I’d finished, I virtually fell off of the bike. I actually nearly collapsed. My muscles felt as if they were made of lead, and my muscles were burning badly. My head was pounding. I was gasping for breath.

This left me exasperated; my resting pulse rate was still 52 beats per minute. My blood pressure was 112/60…but I felt like I was 101 years old.

That was the last time that I attempted to ride my bicycle. I was convinced that I was dying.

And I was going through hell trying to explain to doctors and others how I was feeling. I told one, “After staying awake all night, you know how disoriented you feel by noon the next day? That’s how messed up I feel all of the time.”

To another I explained, “When you were a kid, did you wonder how Superman must’ve felt when he was weakened with Kryptonite? Well, now I know.”

To yet another I said, “Imagine waking up with a hangover, only to discover you are coming down with the flu. That’s how I physically feel all of the time.”

They kept telling me that they could find nothing wrong with me. To add insult to injury, I was asked on multiple occasions if I thought that I might be suffering from depression. I was appalled that a self-diagnosis was even suggested.

“Hell no”, I assured one physician, “but I certainly am suffering from a bad case of frustration, in that my condition is being written off as mental illness. I’m suffering from a physical affliction, I tell you.”

———————————————————————————

And that was only the beginning. I had to put myself through the humiliation of deciding that I was a broken individual. I had to shatter my self-esteem and start the process of filing for disability. That took over a year.

In the end, I was denied my benefits. It was determined that I wasn’t ‘disabled according to law’. I was furious. It was only much later that I discovered precisely what ‘according to law’ implied.

In every case trial, the defense of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been presented, argued, and won by these jackass disability attorneys, as a mental condition. In order to win cases and thereby receive their fees, the attorneys choose the failsafe argument, because they know that an emotional illness cannot be disproven.

The winning argument, revolving around a false premise, sets an precedent, and every other case argument is based on the last determination. Every case takes ‘law’ farther and farther from the truth, but the lie obviously satisfies the Social Security Administration. The disability attorneys that you see on television promising that they’ll win your case are, in effect, authoring these erroneous laws.

Therefore, if you, or anyone you know, suffers from CFS, it is only in their mind, according to law.

It has become a wicked doubled edged sword for me. Bad Karma.

You see, I was once one of those who believed that people only suffered from imagined illnesses, and that all they needed to do was get up off their asses and get a job.

I once wished I could retire and devote all of my time to my craft.

Now however, nature having forced my retirement, stripped me of my energy to carry out the work of my primary occupation, constraining me to draw on my resources in order to make ends meet, and faced with a dreary life of struggling to maintain any semblance of a daily routine…

I swear I’d take a good days work and a long bicycle ride over a million dollars, because all of the money in the world can’t buy back what I want most.

Spots, The Forever Cat

Spots was quietly absent Sunday evening. I looked for her, but she was not on the roof. She was not lying in the seat of the truck. She was not in any of the resting places that I could normally find her.

This mildly disturbed me, for Spots had been lame for the past week or so, her right hind leg slipping out from under her as she made her way along. Taking notice of this, I’d resolved to moving her about, first to one place and the other, that she would telegraph to me where she wanted to be, in order to keep her from having to use the leg. I figured that over time, the leg would heal, and that she would resume her normal activities. But upon finding her missing, I was filled with an unsettling emptiness.

Now I believe that Spots has left home, for what will be the last time.

It isn’t as if she hadn’t done it all before. Yes, she’d done it several times, and each time, after two or three weeks, after I’d convinced myself that I’d never see her again, she would invariably, and when it was least expected, appear, sashaying up the driveway, much to my incredulity. But did she arrive emaciated and haggard? To the contrary, she looked as if she’d been living in the lap of luxury: coat gleaming, and every whisker in place.

Of course, I’d charge out with equal portions of joy and disbelief, and embrace her in my arms. I’d make a big fuss and scold her for making me worry, while she ignored me with the detached nature that cats are generally hated for.

Spots is a yellow tabby who elected to spend a portion of her life in close proximity with me. Mostly at my prompting and tempting. Cats have no emotion. None. This seems to be the source of the distaste that many people hold for these animals.

Most folks seem to want an animal that, in contrast, is wholly dependent on them. They enjoy ‘owning’ an animal which they can exercise a certain level of control over.

Cats are among the most persecuted animals in the history of man. They’ve been tried as witches, exterminated on account of idiotic superstitions (with dire results) and accused of killing babies by, ‘stealing their breath’. The primary reason, I think, that cats are despised, is because they cannot be controlled, manipulated, nor tamed practically. We cannot ‘own’ cats. We can lock them up in our homes, we can attempt to regulate their feedings in order to feel more ‘in control’, but cats eat when, and what they want to. Cats choose to become domesticated, and only when it suits their needs.

If a cat becomes ‘homeless’ and left to his or her own devices, it will not only survive, but thrive. Cats can easily swing from domesticated to feral living. The poor dog however, having the common sense of its brother the wolf bred completely out of it over millennia, will generally starve without intervention of human compassion.

I hold a quiet, yet firm, respect for cats for the very reason that most people hate them.

I wonder how many times the same scenario plays out; we, for some reason or another, and with misgivings, take on some stray animal that doesn’t necessarily appeal to us, but out of the aforesaid compassion that many others seem to be completely devoid of, take the hapless creature home, only to fall helplessly in love with it over the period of time that we are blessed to be in company of it.

This is precisely how Spots came into my life to eventually become my favorite companion.

While working for a client during the summer of 2006, he asked if I might be kind enough to ‘eliminate’ a certain supposedly feral cat, which he had surreptitiously observed meandering around one of the dumpsters on his property.
I’d seen the cat before.

Spots Doin' Her Thang Feb

The first time was when I observed her moving stealthily through the forest behind the complex. Five minutes later, I had witnessed three dogs, hot on her trail. Ten minutes afterward, I saw the same cat negotiating her way in the opposite direction. I had to hand it to the cat. She was cool.

Engaging in discussion with those living in the vicinity, I ascertained that, although many people had taken to feeding the cat irregularly (thereby negating my client’s claim of the animal’s being feral), she seemed to belong to no one . However, this cat had it made. I thereby resolved that I would have nothing to do with the ‘disposal’ of the feline, but rather directed my son, who happens to be very good with animals in general, to try and lure the cat to him, which he did in short order.

Bringing her into where we had been performing work, and were presently breaking for lunch, the cat nonchalantly walked over to where I was sitting, and took a bite of my blueberry bagel. I decided there and then that nothing else would do but to take the poor thing back to my home, where two other cats were currently residing along with us.

I eventually settled on calling her ‘Spots’, on account of the unusual looking darker circular stripes which formed a sort of target pattern on either side of her body.

As is the custom of cats, she displayed a penchant for the outdoors, which is where she has lived out the remainder of her, eternally mysterious, life.

Spots, not particularly caring for the company of other cats, preferred instead to live a life of solitude. Wishing to avoid the others, who also went outdoors during the day, she finally settled on the following routine: Quite early in the morning, she would be waiting at the door for me to feed her, after which time she would wind her way down the long and steep drive, spending the remainder of the day in various places down the hill. In the evening around six, I’d round up the others, whistling the tune of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’. After they’d been recalled and safely indoors, Spots could be seen making her way idly up the hill where, eating her evening meal, she would stay outside on ‘guard duty’ until the next morning.

Years later, I began to refer to Spots as the ‘The Forever Cat’ because during a time that the coyotes were especially problematic for me, and losing three other cats to them, Spots continued negotiating the long, steep drive, lined with kudzu on either side, unscathed.

Spots and I spent countless nights sitting in front of the fireplace on cold nights, over the course of many a winter. We would talk about all kinds of things together, although I must admit that she did most of the listening.

She never appeared to age. Eight years on, she looked exactly the same, and I have the photos to prove it. I’d finally convinced myself that she was immortal. I’d decided that Spots was indeed the forever cat, neither being born nor dying.

Today is day three, and she still has not shown up, but you can bet that I have been looking for her, but to no avail. If poor Spots felt that the end was near, she would have nothing of being catered to any longer. And by no means would she lower herself to having someone watch her die. She was fiercely independent in life, and I can only imagine her as such in death.

There will be no grave for the one I so revere.

Spots the Forever Cat 2011 copy

I look out through the forest, continuing to call her name in my signature sharp, strident tone, but I fear that my poor forever cat has disappeared into the same setting from which I first saw her creeping so long ago.

Farewell, old girl.

When Life Calls, The Best Thing to Do, Is To Answer

 

Sometimes, in very rare instances, it becomes very quiet where I live.

Not often, mind you. Usually the din of cats, chickens, raccoons, dogs, and sirens make it impossible to imagine that anyone who writes and records music for a ‘living’ could ever get anything done.

Yet on occasion, it all dies down at the same time, as if some exceptional form of solitude falls upon all of the beings in the area, and a wonderful silence is all that remains.

This Sunday morning occurred one such case, just before sunrise.

The hush was an especially enlightening one. From the East there came the only remaining sound that I could detect, that being one of a freight train running along an old Southern Railway track which lies about four miles away.

I like trains. They make me think of people like Jimmie Rogers, Brook Benton, Red Skelton, and Roger Miller. The distant, residual rumble of the cars, coupled with the echo of the whistle reminds me of days gone by when I, stripped down to the bare essentials of surf shorts and Adidas, would take prolonged excursions down those very tracks. The exposed portions of my body would bake beneath the glaring Sun, and I would wear the resulting tan with detached pride. (This was before all of the bad press that the Sun received from those in the medical field, the government, and Doonesbury.) I would sometimes walk for miles, deftly balanced on the left rail, dismounting only long enough for any approaching engine that I might encounter.

Diesel trains require particular grades in order to haul their heavy loads with expedience and resourcefulness, so most railways generally span the path of least resistance. Here in the South, that means that they meander along through valleys, gorges, and at the ‘backsides’ of where two properties, usually pastures, conjoin. I used to walk for hours, never seeing another human being, except for where the rail would intersect a road. Motorists would always stare at me from the ‘air-conditioned comfort’ of their cars, as if I were some sort of idiot. Perhaps to them I was, but the feeling was mutual.

Sometimes these railway jaunts would last an entire day, so I always had a contingency plan: Before heading out, I would call a trustworthy, albeit less adventuresome, friend named Eddy Woods, who preferred driving to walking. I’d inform him of my plan and ask if I might call on him to come extract me from wherever I might end up. With this bit of ‘one-way insurance’, I would, at times, walk all day long. Later in the evening, I’d give him a ring from a payphone, sometimes from as far as twenty miles away, admitting to him that I was beaten for the day, and he’d come and retrieve me.

Eddy mostly thought that I was crazy as hell, but I was having the time of my life, and quite naturally enjoying life, on the road to Nowhere.

On this quiet morning, however, as I stood in all of my CFSing glory, listening to the distant sounds of the engine rolling along the rails that I have walked so many times, I closed my eyes, and once again answered the call of life.