Thursday, April 19, 2018

Alone

A long time ago, here in this little corner of cyberspace I share with you, I spoke about one of the most amazing bands I’ve ever had the privilege to have met; King’s X. 

I really didn’t speak of them so much… in hindsight I would say I wrote a biography and added a small personal note at the end.  That personal note was about having met the guys… but to read myself now, I realize I wasn’t really telling the story.

On June 6, 1992, Jerry Gaskill, Doug Pinnick, and Ty Tabor played a show in Cleveland, Ohio at a venue called The Empire. It was a somewhat narrow and long space, so you were either in the crowd or you were sitting at the bar with a little more breathing room.

By the time the band was taking the stage, my friends and I had made our way within the first five rows of eager fans, which spanned all of about ten people wide. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t get our ears blasted out, and I’d be lying even more if I said it wasn’t worth it. King’s X came to play that night, and we were all witnesses. 

As it turns out they were recording that night, and it was the show that the band deemed worthy of their first live release.

As is true with many “smaller” bands, King’s X is known to take a brief reprieve after their show and then spend all the time it takes to share some time with anyone who wishes to say hello. Most bands I follow are great enough to deserve huge recognition, and yet they’re consistently humbler than most “regular” people I’ve ever met. They all seem to enjoy meeting their fans and treating them more as friends. I’ve already started talking about Lincoln Durham and Patrick Sweany, and soon I’ll be telling a story about getting to know The Steepwater Band…

But in the meantime; King’s X.

As Doug and I shook hands and began to talk, he complimented the necklace I was wearing. It was a simple little thing… five chimes hanging from a rope necklace, tied there by fishing line. I had bought that necklace at my one and only Grateful Dead show. I attended this Dead show with my great friend… the first person I met when we moved to Cleveland in 1978, who’d pretty much been my best friend all through my high school days.

And so I offered my necklace to this man I had just met. I did so because he liked it, and because he had just inspired me to find my better self, although I may not have completely understood that in the moment. He refused, but I insisted. We went back and forth a few times, until finally I took the necklace off and leaned over to place it over his head.

Doug told me I would see that necklace again someday. 


In the cover photography for their next album, Dogman, I was amazed to see that Doug was wearing my necklace. It was a most amazing gesture.

Over time I really started missing that necklace. It wasn’t the idea that I gave it away; it was the feeling it had given me when I wore it. 

At that time in my life, I was living a very casual lifestyle. I was managing pizza shops and finding my way up the ladder in the service industry. Working in restaurants, especially the privately owned higher ticket places, employees are often encouraged to “let their freak flag fly,” if you will. Personalities that can entertain at a variety of levels make great bartenders and servers, and I was quite a personality back in the day.

And while never devout in religion, I’ve always been spiritual; always seeking a greater understanding how periods of turbulence and harmony affect my soul. The chimes touched that part of me, and without them I felt a loss of sorts.

So, I talked to friends, family, coworkers…  anyone who would listen, probably… and I asked them to please watch for the pieces… even just the little chimes… maybe in a craft store. I figured if I could put together the pieces I could try to make my own, else ask for help from someone close with craft skills beyond mine.

A couple of years later, for my birthday I believe, my parents gave me the most amazing gift. During their travels they’d found a chime necklace… different yet similar… and so perfect. I’m forever grateful for so much more, but that necklace says everything I will ever need to know about my parents. I am truly blessed.

I still have that wonderful gift my parents gave me. I’ve grown into a new life, with a job in an office environment where a certain level of decorum is the responsible thing to do, and a 50ish year old man wearing chimes isn’t quite within those guidelines.  

And so I don’t wear it every day, but I still love it just as much today as the day they gave it to me. I do wear it whenever I’m out riding my Harley, or any time I go to a show… doing the things that make me who I am… that make me feel free. And every time I lift that necklace around my neck, that feeling comes right back. Harmony.

I just told my friend this story the other night… my old dear friend from high school… and in the process I realized it was he who took me to that fateful Grateful Dead show.

He had never heard the story about the fate of the necklace. Truth be told, I don’t think he remembered the necklace at all, or maybe even that we had seen The Grateful Dead together. But that’s okay… whether he remembered any of that between then and now never mattered.

It’s the fact that we can talk about it today, now that amazing circumstance has rekindled our friendship. We had lost touch for a while. My move to Arizona was at a critical time in both our lives, and we had things we had to do that broke the focus of an everyday friendship.  But thanks to classmates and Facebook, we’ve seemingly picked up at just the right level… for a couple of guys who have led uniquely different lives, all the while understanding that very fact as an integral part of why we are great friends.

As I’ve documented here in times past, I have been through a lot of self-inflicted and circumstantial drama since my move to Arizona. This includes but is not limited to a five-year addiction to methamphetamine.  It’s been one heck of a life. 

But I’m 11-years clean now from the thing that almost killed me, and I know I am a better man for all my life’s experiences.

The night we met, my (now ex) wife and I discussed moving to either Phoenix or Tampa. I’m here, she’s not.

Interestingly, the same friend from Cleveland who introduced me to King's X and encouraged me to go to the Empire show on that hot and humid June night, had somewhere along the way moved to Phoenix. It’s also worth noting that this same friend was the first person to break my trust here in my new home in the desert southwest. I was unaware of exactly how addicted to alcohol my friend was, and how that addiction was causing his life to spiral out of control.

As Memorial Day Weekend approached in 2000, this friend offered my wife and I the opportunity to stay at his place and enjoy a vacation in the city that might become our new home. 

She told me to go have fun, but that she wasn’t interested in going to Phoenix for the weekend, or maybe at all.

Her family life changed in the months leading up to our divorce. Her parents were moving to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, and her sister was having a child… the first grandchild in the family. What had once been a promise to venture across the country in search of an amazing new life together, became her need to stay rooted in the Great Lakes region. I couldn’t stay, and she wouldn’t leave.

Devastated, I made my way to Arizona on my own.

Within the first three weeks I lived in that loft in Mesa, my friend told me he was two months behind on rent and we were being evicted. Of course, I was a friend… so I trusted him when he suggested we move to the central corridor of Phoenix, north of downtown. He convinced me there would be more and better opportunities in that part of town, and that we just needed to stick together.

On a beautiful day in late May 2001, just a couple of months after my friend and I had made that move that was supposed to bring better opportunities, I was out riding my mountain bike.

I’d been out for about an hour and was ready to head home, but before I wrapped the ride I decided to huff it up a street on the side of a mountain to look at what appeared to be an amazing house. I accomplished my goal and saw that house, so with my adrenalin surging and sweat beading on my brow, I turned around and began to ride back down the hill. 

As I was headed downhill, gaining speed and momentum, a van facing the opposite direction pulled away from the curb. I’ll never know if they were going to cut across my path, but in the split second I saw them and reacted, that’s what I believed.

Unfortunately, that reaction led me to lock my brakes.

When my front brake locked I went flying over the handle bars. At the time I wasn’t wearing a helmet or gloves, and I’d just taken off my shirt. With both arms trying to extend to stop the impact, I plowed into the blacktop with my left shoulder and the left side of my face and head.

There was an ambulance ride, and I spent a couple of nights in ICU for the concussion. In addition to the road rash on my shoulder and face, I had breaks in both my arms and had torn off half of my left earlobe. Thank God for an excellent plastic surgeon.

Apparently, this was just a little too much for my alcoholic friend. Once I was released from the hospital, he informed me that he couldn’t “take care of” me, and that he had to leave. I of course didn’t understand what he was talking about, as taking care of me was my responsibility. But that was that, and he bailed… leaving me with a rather expensive 3-bedroom apartment to handle on my own.

I had to break the lease and move to a place I could afford. I was not able to work for about six weeks, but I did have employment waiting for me upon my healing.

I got myself better and got to work… and in the process met I met evil. 

I’m sure it wasn’t her intention to be what I perceive her to be, but the girl who called herself “Vivacious Vicki” was, in my world, the devil incarnate. She was an addict, although I didn’t know it at the time. You never know, until it’s too late. And then you’re an addict too.

There are too many sordid stories to tell here and now, but as things were at their worst, blessings finally came my way.

Five years of tearing my life apart at the hands of the devil eventually led to the good fortune of meeting a better person, who helped me reconnect with my parents and find my way back to myself. The power of my parents’ respect was enough to make me understand what I had become, and what I had to do.

So I took a 5-day assignment through a temp agency. I started that job on Monday, October 2, 2006. I relapsed in February 2007 for one weekend, but never again.

I still work for that same company today.

I truly believe life has moments of turbulence and moments of harmonious glory, and that the wonder of life is learning to navigate those highs and lows without losing yourself in between. I’ve learned about the lows in a way many never will, and I have certainly been blessed with some highs I’ll never forget.

I have chosen to make my home a place that is two thousand miles away from everyone I love most in this world. But I am blessed to be loved by amazing people who never let me forget who I am, and I know amazing sources of inspiration… friends to me in their own unique way… who remind me that no one should ever be made to feel alone.

Tomorrow night, April 20, 2018, I will have the amazing fortune of coming full circle over an extremely monumental period in my life, as I am going to see King’s X for the first time since that night in Cleveland. What a long, strange trip it’s been.


1 comment:

DUTA said...

Lovely story about a band, a necklace, friendship!