Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: GENGHIS: BONES OF THE HILLS

Bones of the Hills is Conn Iggulden's third in his series of historical novels about Genghis Khan (and the last about Genghis personally, since the book ends with his death, although there may be more about the Mongol Empire coming). The historical novel is my favorite form of writing: the characters are known, but their character often is not, as more factual history and the inevitable prejudices of contemporaries and later historians erode the personality of the character to the point where they are merely statues, monuments to the their role in history. Historical fiction, when well done, not only is interesting, but also is a tool for learning; one can understand, as one never can when dealing with these characters only in classrooms and/or textbooks, that the protagonists were people, just like those reading about them, and subject to the same emotions and vagaries and doubts and fears and transcendent moments and annoyances of daily living as we are. When this is understood, many historical events seem more plausible and alive and realistic to the average reader--and opens their mind to the possibility that the hagiographical history of the classroom, at least in America, is only part of the story; it also helps, by putting the personalities in historical context, us understand why things happened the way they did better than any rational outline of underlying historical currents. The first historical novel I remember reading was Gore Vidal's Burr when I was about eleven years old, and the portraits drawn of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were a big part of why I continue to have been drawn to history ever since. Washington's father-of-the-country persona was only part of the man; he had poor fitting teeth that no doubt did make him hard to understand for those trying to talk with him, and his generalship during the Revolutionary War was mediocre at best and cost lives, many of them. Jefferson did write the Declaration of Independence and held several high offices capably, but he was undoubtedly also a sneaky little hypocrite who was consumed by jealousy of those who excelled in areas he himself did not. The historical novel also helps us to understand why those whom history has not treated kindly--such as Aaron Burr himself, and Benedict Arnold, and John Adams--reached the prominence that they did, and how they were perceived by contemporaries and the influence that they had on the events of their time.
The two masters of the form in our time are Vidal and Colleen McCullough. Vidal's American series is wonderful, especially Lincoln; it helped me penetrate the fog of revisionist propaganda about not only Lincoln (who was first and foremost, although also a legitimately great man, a politician) but about other Civil War-era figures (including the greatest general this country ever produced, Ulysses S. Grant; Robert E. Lee didn't look like so much of a genius when he had to play against the varsity) as well. And as good as Vidal's series is, it is not the accomplishment that McCullough's Masters of Rome series is. The first six, from The First Man in Rome to The October Horse, are all fabulous works of not only first rate storytelling and fiction, but also of scholarship as well. This is not the place to get into details, but suffice it to say that 80-to-100% of the historical literature on Cicero and Caesar is not correct. When one looks at them in the context of their actual lives and their places in the Roman society of the time, I have no doubt that when McCullough and traditional scholarship diverge, McCullough's views are closer to the actual truth, because, above all else, they are accurate portrayals of how people act and react given those sets of circumstances. I have gotten to the point where I barely read any other fictional literature about ancient Rome; invariably it strikes me as written in crayon by children, compared to McCullough's magnum opus (note: this does not apply to Antony and Cleopatra, the last in the series; McCullough not only is getting old and tired and losing her ability to write well, but clearly her major interest in the subject matter died with Caesar, and she appears to have written this book in response to a lot of pressure to chronicle the actual end of the Republic).
Which brings us to Iggulden, who first became prominent writing a mildly successful four-part series of novels on the life of Caesar. He has no monument to greatness like McCullough to measure up to with Genghis Khan, and the first two books in the series were very interesting and difficult to put down once picked up. This one, although it did hold my interest, was not really up to the standards of the other two, for two reasons. One, there was too much going on at once for Iggulden to give each of the subplots the treatment they deserved; it would have been a better book if he had written 500 pages instead of 400 and fleshed out the Jochi-Chategai rivalry more thoroughly. Secondly, the main foil for the Mongols in this book are the Arabs of Central Asia, and those characters are poorly drawn, especially all those but Jeludin; the rest could have been plucked from al-Queda cells in the vivid imaginations of Bush and Cheney, all burning with religious hatred for the infidel. But it is readable, and can be read without having read the first two in the series. My biggest question is whether Iggulden is going to take the chance of continuing the series; the Mongols made rather extensive contact with Eastern and Central Europe during the reign of Ogedai, Genghis' successor.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Doofuses On Display

I am referring, of course, to Facebook. Not everyone, of course, but one of the things that I do everyday is check the "possible friends" list. About once a week, I see someone that I know or knew that I would like to add to my friend list. This is about a tenth of the people shown whom I actually know, and even with the new privacy settings, it is possible to discern character from a single snapshot or piece of information.
An acquaintance of the woman who lives upstairs has been on FB for a month or so. I already had my doubts about this woman, because she married one of my least favorite people on earth, a complete and total bullshit artist with no redeeming values. My disdain had been tempered by three things: 1) her friendship with Nancy; Nancy is not perfect, but Nancy is by and large good-hearted and definitely not stupid or inane, so I figured that there was probably some substance to this woman, a conclusion bolstered by 2) she apparently has a good job, because she uses the same (expensive) daycare as Nancy and her son is roughly the same age as Nancy's daughter, which to me meant 3) she might have fallen for her husband's bullshit persona (she certainly wouldn't be the first) and gotten pregnant, and maybe had the steel to force the little POS to marry her. So even though I had no inclination to try to make her a larger part of my world, I was inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Until yesterday. I logged on, and there in the upper right hand corner is the faux-cute face of her son starting at me. He is 5 years old. What the hell is a 5YO doing on Facebook? This is not a case of a tween getting on while the parent wasn't paying attention; this obviously took the parent's active participation. I texted Nancy to see what if she knew what the story was, and she said that the kid had gotten a digital camera and wanted to post some pictures. Which boggled my mind even more. First of all, what possible rationale can there be for getting a 5YO a digital camera? Second of all, I can already see that this kid has absolutely no impulse control whatsoever, that he has few if any limits to his willfullness. Thirdly, look at the message being given here. Facebook is pretty clear that you are not supposed to be a member until you are 13 years old. So the parent very clearly lied about the age, if not more, in order to satisfy the little tyke's ego and give him a forum to inflict himself on the world at large. I repeat, this kid is five years old. If there are no limits placed now, if the narcissism of early childhood is given this kind of reign at this point in his life, where do they go from here? And think of the message being shouted at this kid: guidelines are merely obstacles to be gotten around, that the gratification of one's wants are what is really important, that the overriding imperative is that the world must take notice of him, even at the cost of subverting and ignoring what a particular forum is supposed to be in place for. The message being given is that it is all right to do what one wants no matter what, and I can imagine the justifications: "Everyone does it;" "It's only Facebook;" "What's the big deal?;" "it's a stupid rule."
I hear variations on all these themes every day, from both teens and parents, as lives have spiraled out of control and consequences have piled up to the point where the sun is blotted from the sky. Although it's the kid, at that point, who's catching all the heat, my contempt and venom is for the parent; the kid, after all, is only applying what's he's been taught, following what examples he has been provided with. Bluntly, it's too late to start trying to teach a kid values and install brakes on the will in middle or high school. The learning years are early childhood. A parent who isn't willing to rein in narcissism, who actively encourages it and enables it, at this stage in their child's life deserves to be burdened with problems a decade later.
And the odds are overwhelming that they are going to get what they deserve.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

$17,001.58

The above amount of money is the amount of money that, as of this morning, I have NOT spent on cigarettes since the day I last smoked, in 2002. That figure is arrived at by adding $7.17 every day to the total (that was what two packs of USA Golds cost at the time, which was what I was spending) since the day I stopped.
All the benefits that the doctor types said would happen happened. After a couple of months, I was no longer winded going up and down the stairs. Six months later, I could play with Sabrina in the park and not get tired. The second year, I could make it halfway across the pool underwater; the following year, I could make it all the way. I have not had a chest cold since I quit, and the colds I do get don't last as long. I had forgotten that pepper had a taste; that came back after four months. My sense of smell has improved markedly, as well. It takes 15 minutes to clean my teeth every six months, and the next morning, my teeth feel fine; formerly, it took over an hour and my mouth hurt for a week. My daughter does not have half the respiratory issues she has at her mother's house here.
Other benefits were less directly health-related, but noticeable. My clothes and apartment did not reek of smoke. I was able to do more work at the job, because I wasn't running outside every 30 minutes. I have no clothes with burn holes now, and my car doesn't need one of those sickening fresheners. There are no overflowing ashtrays to spill, no butts to dispose of, no stains on my fingers.
And of course, the monetary value. Aside from the amount, which is very close to my starting annual salary when I started working for this agency, I am no longer behind on most of my monthly payments. I can pay more than the minimum on the few credit cards I have. I can give my daughter an allowance and a cell phone and dance lessons, can pay for a Junior Bearcat membership. I have (not a lot, but some) "disposable income" now. I am not rooting for spare change in couches, obsessing over whether I have enough cigarettes for the morning, dragging sleeping children to a convenience store at 11 at night to get a pack.
I am free from the most debilitating and harsh tyranny I have ever experienced. Smokers ask me now if I miss it, and the answer is, "Not at all. It doesn't bother me when you smoke around me; if I wanted to, I would." There is nothing to miss. It is like being rid of the most bi-polar, cheating, amoral, spendthrift mistress that gave you gonorrhea on top of everything else. What is there to miss?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thoughts on Michael Vick

Michael Vick was in the news today again. He has been released from whatever obligations he had left to the state of Virginia, and the gold-hearted NFL commissioner allowed him to talk to prospective employers again. So far so good, except that he is going to have to serve a suspension of indeterminate length before he is actually allowed to play in a game. And the only person who has come out publicly against this stance is Terrell Owens, whose comment was basically "the man did time in jail for what he did; why does the NFL feel the need to add more onto it?
This may be the only time ever that I agree with Terrell Owens, but he couldn't be more right. Vick did his time, and should be allowed to resume making a living as soon as he possibly can, if someone is willing to hire him (note to Vikings: he's better than anyone that has played the position for your team this century). There is no real reason to suspend him further, other than pandering to both the yahoo fan base that is a large part of the NFL's audience and to the corporate structure that peddles its soul on NFL broadcasts and splashes its name on NFL stadiums. This country, public and media, contrary to the twaddle so often pitched to our children, always kicks someone when they are down, especially if they are not Caucasian. The prisons are full to bursting, and when one gets out of prison, one is hedged about by so many legal restrictions that the rest of us take for granted that it sometimes seems as though normality will never return. And then on top of that, one is forever judged and made to pay for their misdeeds over and over again by the ignorant asses that can only find self-worth in proclaiming themselves "better" than others who have run afoul of the law, never dreaming that it takes more character and resolve to come back from setbacks than to kiss one corporate butt after another for a lifetime and thank those that rob them blind by returning them to office election after election. One's sentence never ends, for these people, and for those that think that the average NFL fan will welcome Vick back, I still hear comments from about a quarter of the NFL fans I know, including many who were in diapers or younger at the time of the events, that Brett Favre is a "druggie" for being hooked on Vicodin in the mid-90's.
I don't have the first clue whether Vick can make it back, or whether he has undergone a profound personal change or not. I actually doubt it, due to the way he carried himself before his world fell in and by the company he used to keep, but that does not mean that I think he shouldn't have the chance to, and I fervently hope I am wrong. And unlike most other professions, there is a rather limited window of time for a professional football player to be able to ply his trade. He should not have to wait one game, much less four or six. longer than he already has to find out whether he still is able to play at a professional level, and especially for such a weak reason as, when all the broth is boiled off, suckerpunching the defenseless.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: THE ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC

The Army of the Republic, by Stuart Archer Cohen, is not about the Civil War or some foreign military outfit. It is a novel set in the not-too-distant future right here in the United States, and it is frighteningly plausible in its depiction of where we might be headed as a society, even if the elements of the plot surrounding the actual characters are hackneyed cliches.
The modern political scene and its trends are the backstory. Current trends of privatization and a television society have continued, and the result is an American society where the Post Office and virtually everything else, including municipal water supply, has been privatized, and the government is more openly a tool of Corporate America. Armed resistance, sort of like the 1960's but on a much bigger scale, has sprung up, and most of the book is a narrative about the conflict not only between the forces of repression and the resistance, but also that within the resistance itself--non-violent vs. violent. While set in the future, the book also serves very well as an autopsy on the movements of the 1960's as well, in that the internal divisions were at least as much of a factor in the eventual end of the movement as the combined efforts of law enforcement, the government, and the black ops.
But the trends in place at that time and place have been magnified even more so now. Television and media messaging have become much more pervasive than at that time, and the portrayal throughout the book of the "war between pictures and words" strikes piercingly true. Thinly veiled, the efforts of Big Corporate Media such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh-and fellow travelers such as the Scott McClellans--are devastatingly accurate, as their true role in subverting an open society and serving the corporate agenda is hammered home again and again. While the events portrayed are fictional, to anyone who lived through the Bush years (and President Matthews, in the book, is a very thinly veiled Bush, as well), the media response in the book to what is happening is inarguably dead-on correct. As bad as the Internet can be, it is virtually the only forum left for non-company line information to widely disseminate.
The book's most uncomfortable portrayals are not, however, of any of the main characters. They are of American society as a whole, and the passive acceptance of injustice and, eventually, atrocity of a substantial number of Americans. One of the characters gives a memorable and devastating summing up near the end of the book: "I put my faith in the People, and that was a mistake! This is a shit people! They get stolen blind by their politicians and they lick their boots. They send their kids off to die for someone's business deal and they celebrate it like they're doing something heroic! Lazy sacks of junk food and jingo!... I'm fighting to save... who? People who cheer when they shoot demonstrators? People who, if you give them a choice between cheap gasoline and saving a thousand endangered species, will choose cheap gas over and over and over again? I don't want to die for these people!"
Indeed.
I have not been able to stop thinking about that little speech. People are generally short-sighted creatures, and they are also pack animals; that much I have known for years. But I am continually amazed and depressed by how few people can be roused to change, even when their lack of vision and conformity clearly is not working for not only all of us, but them personally. I have reconnected with about three dozen people from high school through Facebook in the last six months, and one of the striking things I have noticed is that, while almost all of us have played by the rules of corporate America, no one is better off materially than their parents were. Not one--although a few have managed to hold serve. And we were a lily white town with no obvious snakes in the grass waiting to strike. What about the rest of the country? How can they justify what the hell has happened here since 1980, and how can they NOT be outraged?
The answer, of course, is selfishness and manipulation and fear. Selfishness in that they can always be convinced that their turn at the trough is coming; manipulation that there is some other bogey or bogeys out there that are truly the ones who have fucked it up, not the greedheads at the top; and fear that what little remains to them will vanish if they make a stand. This is the classic coming-tyranny model; this is the reason that democracies have not lasted, historically. One bit of Americana that even the most ignorant Americans are at least dimly aware of is the Gettysburg Address, but many missed one of Lincoln's points. He asked whether a "nation so conceived [in liberty and democratic principle] can long endure" It was not a rhetorical question; Lincoln had, during his presidency, at least as hard a time fighting off people nominally on his side who wanted to dispense with democratic government in the interest of quelling the rebellion as he did with the actual rebels. It is not usually taught in our history curriculum, but we have fought these battles with "security" first types in our own country before--during the administrations of Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, Truman, Johnson/Nixon, and, obviously, Bush. The momentum may have paused now that Bush is gone as the figure at the top, but it has not receded, and it is not likely to. Bush's simplistic evil genius was to get a plurality of the country to buy into a "war" against an "enemy" that not only can't be defeated militarily, but cannot even be defined. Things that were unthinkable even for a Neanderthal like Reagan are now commonplace, and those whose agendas of achieving wealth and power--a very small group--by taking advantage of a perpetual crisis and all its ramifications (not least of which is bankrupting the public sector so that public interests can be "privatized" because the public sector no longer can provide the service) are now in near-total control of the power structure. The America depicted in the book is not so far off immediate reality, and it is extremely likely that much of what is predicted is going to happen.
The flashpoint in the book is a fight to return to paper balloting rather than electronic voting. I absolutely was stunned that so many people willingly bought into the idea that electronic voting, with its computer programming, would be an improvement. It is astonishingly stupidity to believe that the people who make the machines cannot and will not tamper with them to serve someone's purposes. The potential for fraud has increased exponentially, and a good 2/3 of erstwhile voters are blissfully unaware that their votes are going to be essentially worthless in a few years. And every time I have brought this up to people, they have laughed at me and called me paranoid. And all I can say is, we will see who is right. I can guarantee you that if Minnesota had had full electronic voting in 2008, there is no way that Al Franken would now be in the Senate. They almost stole it from him as it was. The number of those sort of elections will become a recurring theme in years to come, and I have no doubt that by time Sabrina is my age, voting will be meaningless, that whoever is counting will "win" every election.
The book was gripping for much of the narrative, less so as it came to the end as its unlikely plot angle stumbled to an unsatisfying conclusion. Two of the main characters were individually interesting, though, especially the corporate head; more than a portrayal of venality, his basic selfishness and inability to understand that his core values were the agent of his destruction rang very true. The ending was unsatisfying, but it did at least serve the purpose of reminding the reader that the time to take a stand is while it is possible to do something, not afterward. This was a good novel, not a great one, but certainly one that most people should read, if only to take a chance on possibly disturbing their lethargy.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sundays

Today, like most Sundays for the last seven years, I have the afternoon with my two older daughters. This is one of the highlights of my week, and I love when we are able to do things more than just hang around the house. Today, we were going to go blueberry picking, but Green Brothers is not letting people pick today, so instead we are going to go swimming, on a nice 85 degree day. Can't argue with that.
It's taken a long time to get to this point. I essentially abandoned my wife and children in late 1997-early 1998 because I was sliding--freefalling, actually--into active crack addiction, and the damage wrought was stupefying. Jessica doesn't remember anything, but the broken promises and the physical deterioration and the problems are at the upper limit of Rachel's memory, and it has taken a long time for the new paradigm, the new models, to take root. They have, and I am very glad and grateful for it, but it was not easy, and there are lessons to be learned for all separated, divorced and non-custodial fathers out there from the experience. In no particular order:
1) It is not up to you to decide when those you have hurt should forgive you. This concept was difficult to come to terms with emotionally, but intellectually, perhaps because of the circumstances of my departure from the family, I could easily believe this. But it was not easy. Rachel took 4-5 years before she accepted me as a legitimate part of her life, and she was the first one on that side of the family to do so. It has taken longer for her mother, and while the relationship is cordial and civil, it is not close, and one reason that it is civil and cordial is that I really have not interfered with her parenting in any way. I basically looked at the situation from their point of view; from that angle, anything that they thought had been true regarding me for years was rather suddenly revealed to be not true. I talk at times about how much money I went through in active addiction, but it wasn't my money, it was our money. I walked away from two toddlers and a life, and basically blamed her for "making me leave." Can I realistically blame them when they were skeptical that "I'm all better now?" There were times, sure, when I felt like that they should have believed it sooner--but that was more of my emotional desire for forgiveness than for any logical reason.
2) We are responsible for the consequences. I owe my ex-wife a huge amount of money. Part of me doesn't feel that justice was done in this case, that she didn't play fair and blindsided me in court five years after separation with the difference between what a crack-smoking lost soul signed on as proper child support and what I actually was able to give her--$27K when judgment was rendered, $42K with interest now. But you know what? I am responsible for my actions, not only when I was on drugs, but also when I got clean and disregarded advice to hold out for better terms on the divorce to get it "in the past." I earned my troubles. Would I like relief? Of course. But I am not going to tell you that I am a victim of a grave miscarriage of justice. True justice would probably be some way of getting out from under the judgement, but the original course of action was and is my responsibility.
3) Good things can and do come out of seeming catastrophe. Active addiction was a nightmare for all of us--but I would not be the man I am today without it, and Sharon probably is a stronger and more secure woman than she would have been had it never happened. The child support judgement landed me in jail for 34 days--but the morning of the sentencing was the last time I smoked a cigarette, and living under its shadow taught me, after 40 years, how to live within my means. My experiences have given me a great deal of insight not only into my own life, but into what I do professionally--and it has been invaluable as I have built a career that deals with many of the same issues that I have dealt with personally. I have learned that for my children's sake, I cannot hold onto problems with Sharon and engage in conflict with her--no one wins, and everyone loses. I see so many people in these cases who are still fighting the wars they could not win when they were together. I ended up telling one sponsee of mine, "You couldn't convince her you were right and she was wrong when you were married and she was telling you she loved you. Why would she agree with you now?" So logical, so true--and yet so hard for so many to take to heart and actually do.
And 4) Take advantage of what you do have instead of complaining about what you don't
In sum, patience really is a virtue. It hasn't been about me and what I want, for the most part. It also has not been easy to maintain equanimity and perspective over the years. But it has been rewarding. I really feel as though the relationship between my daughters and I is strong, and would not be this strong if I had fought for a more active and visible role before they were ready to accept it. With life spans measured in decades, it is counterproductive and harmful to attempt to impose one's preferences and desires into these arrangements. Given enough time, if the father does the right thing from an ethical and moral standpoint, and allows his children to see him for what he is, it will work out excellently. Just in God's time, not mine.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on John's Anniversary

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending my good friend John's 9-year medallion presentation. John is one of the truly good guys I've ever met, and has been since the first time I met him ten summers ago, when I was first attending NA meetings. At that time, John was at the noon meeting pretty much every day, and he never failed to welcome me, ask me how things were going, (more importantly at the time) asked me how things I had been talking about had progressed (which showed he paid attention and had shed some of the endemic self-centeredness that is the primary characteristic of the addict), and in general went out of his way to make me feel welcome. I was very saddened when he left to go back to Virginia (he had been in the area for family reasons).
And was very gladdened when he came back around 2004 or so. And shocked when he now admitted to having less time than me. And not at all surprised when the story of his relapse came out: he had been caring for his dying mother, and licked one--ONE-- of her morphine tabs after he had given it to her as she lay dying. No one saw him do it; he certainly did not get high from it; and there was no long-term descent down the staircase. But it is typical of John's basic integrity that he owned up to it, especially when he came back to this area and there was TRULY no one the wiser. That is the sort of integrity that I try to live up to, and I have to tell you, I'm not sure I would have admitted it. But as I said, that is typical of John.
We are all committed to incorporating spiritual principles in our lives, but John is one of the few who makes back-breaking efforts in this area. He does service, sponsors people, works his steps till it resembles a flogging. But most of all, his walk matches his talk; he not only talks a good recovery, but he lives it. And unlike me, he remains unfailingly pleasant and enthusiastic about helping NA people. I have seen him angry maybe twice in a decade, and one of those times, it was at me and I fully had it coming. But the next day, again typically, he took his role affably and accepted my apologies, and we have remained very friendly, much to my benefit.
And yet all the platitudes don't justice to the man. He is one of those people that you just kind of take for granted, one of those unseen foundations of people's lives. I have recently become more involved in home group matters, but for a year, my attendance was spotty and the details of having a regular meeting--literature, coffee, candles--were off my radar. John always makes sure that stuff is taken care of. John is a good person to share my frustrations with the fellowship and the people in it with, because he is often in full agreement with what I talk about--but somehow manages to still suck it up and do what he does, and reminds me that my ultimate purpose, in God's eyes, is to give back what was given to me, which in practice means a sometimes still-grumbling Steve sucks it up, too. He is that rarest of animals in my life, someone who can serve as a role model, as someone that I aspire to be more like. I have a rather large ego, and there have been no more than half a dozen people in my life that I have looked up to, on any level.
John is one of them. And I was glad, even for 90 minutes, to be able to be a small part in a celebration of a small part of who he is. I am profoundly glad that you are in my life, and I will use his usual send-off. Lots of love to you, brother, from my heart.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: YOGI BERRA

Yes, this is a biography of the former Yankee and longtime American icon, Yogi Berra, by Allen Barra. It is well over 300 pages, and it is engrossing from beginning to end. Berra has been famous all of my life, and pretty much since he entered the major leagues at the end of World War II. But most of us seem to know him as a commerical pitchman, the reason Joe Garagiola was on television for three decades, and as some kind of idiot savant philosopher. There are elements of all three in Yogi, and yet what emerges from Barra's exhaustive treatment is a very strong and smart human being, who took advantage of his opportunties to not only become perhaps the most famous baseball player in history, but also remained a very good and very grounded man, one who has managed to stay true to his basic integrity while in the spotlight for six decades.
Oh, yeah, and one thing was forgotten along the way by many people: Yogi Berra is the best catcher in baseball history. His stats would be great today, more so in his time and place, and perhaps most tellingly of all, his teams won more championships than anyone else's in baseball history--more than Ruth and Gehrig's Yankees, more than DiMaggio's Yankees, more than Jeter's Yankees, more than anyone. Berra shared the stage with Mickey Mantle and Casey Stengel--but Berra had three World Series rings before Mantle ever played a game, and Mantle never won one without Berra as a teammate; and Berra was part of three world champions, before and after Stengel managed the team.
Frankly, I wasn't sure I was going to like this book. I grew up a Red Sox fan mostly because my father was a Yankee fan. Between his prattling on about how good the Yankees were in his youth--and the Berra teams were the teams he rooted for--and my brother's being a Met fan when Berra was managing them in the 1970's, I was pretty damn sick of Yogi Berra by time I was 12 years old, especially since if you put him in a picture with every single one of my uncles, no one would guess he didn't belong. But as I got into Bill James and his writing in the 1980's, I began to see that Berra was much more than the guy selling Yoo-Hoo and the guy not going to Yankee Old-Timers games (because George Steinbrenner lied to him, for which he should be idolized alone, for not being Steinbrenner's monkey on a leash like every other Yankee manager pre-Torre during Steinbrenner's reign). He handled his son Dale, a major leaguer, very professionally during Dale's problems with cocaine in the mid-80's, and is never quoted in the papers saying or doing anything negative. For someone who has been famous for 60 years, that's quite an accomplishment. It's an excellent book about an excellent baseball player and manager- who is also an excellent man.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Erin Andrews Flap

Part of me wants to scream, "who really gives a shit?" I mean, the woman is another in a long series of professional bimbos that have become a cottage television industry, the eye candy sideline reporter. Erin Andrews has the job she has because she is an attractive woman; her journalistic and interviewing skills are dubious at best. That there is now a video of her naked in her hotel room circulating around the country, on one level, seems poetic justice.
But certainly not actual justice. The woman was filmed through a peephole; people caught doing this to non-celebrities get classified as sex offenders routinely. Regardless if whether she has a job only because she is attractive, it is not as if she made the video or even knew about it. Sex symbols have a right to privacy, too, it should go without saying. Whoever is responsbile for this should go to jail and not live around schools for the rest of their lives.
Because, ultimately, what was done chills me. Sometime during active addiction, I looked around the crackhouse I was in and noticed that there were five women in the room, all of them prostituting for drug money, and somehow or another the subject of children and parents came up. It dawned on me with a shock; these women were all someone's daughters, and most of them were the mothers of children. I am not going to sit here and tell you that I have treated every woman I have met since like a goddess, but I've never forgotten it, either, and you better beleive it has profoundly affected my attitude toward not only prostitutes, but pornography and (Andrews' category) professional eye candy. I am not going to get into a huge diversion about it, but the bottom line is, these people are someone's daughters. Regardless of the individual's choices that landed them where they are in their lives, their parents, thier loved ones, did not choose this or want this for their children. Most of the time, the children did not really visualize it for themselves, either.
My biggest nightmare is having to bury any of my daughters. But a close second is the idea that one of them may end up prostituting, for whatever reasons, and the idea of thousands of men across the world masturbating watching her on their computer screens in sex videos is right on the same level. Have a heart, people; between Erin Andrews not willingly doing this and the thought of what her parents are going through, fight the madness. Don't view the video, and ostracize those that have or those that make light of it. How would you feel if it were you or one of your children?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Post-Racial America--Not

The recent incident with Henry Gates is all over the news, as well it should be. What I am finding disconcerting, to a degree, is the number of people who are somehow not outraged, who somehow seem to think that it is all right that the man got arrested for wanting to know who the police officer was who thought he was breaking into his own home. For those of us who have dealt with the arrogance of police officers, even those of us who are NOT black, the tale as told by Gates is entirely plausible. And even if the cops are telling the truth, too--so what? If the freaking cop had just told Gates his name, it wouldn't have happened. The cop screwed up on a number of levels, and should pay, at the least, with his job. A person who abuses his authority when the stakes are so low cannot be trusted to maintain the public safety. I would do more than fire him, but then, that's probably an indication that I should not be given any authority. But I digress.
The larger point is that so many people--and I am not even considering the wingnut fringe--but so many people in this country really want to believe that race is not an issue in American society anymore. While there are reasons why that belief has taken hold, none of them are good, and all of them essentially boil down to two things: 1) this generation has been brought up on the screw-the-suckers mentality of the Reagan and successors years, and 2) perhaps related, we are fully in the grip of the most self-centered generation in the history of mankind, and they are not about to willingly think about anything that might challenge them to look and act about something outside their own mirrors. I am simply not in the mood to give this subject the full treatment tonight, but this generation is the equivalent of a viral bloom upon the earth, and has the morality of your average virus; it is almost entirely concerned with taking over and eventually destroying whatever host it can find, and then replicating itself. The fact that four times as many people are in prison as there were 30 years ago, and that blacks make up a very disproportionate percentage of that increase, should set off alarms, but it doesn't. The fact that almost 3/4 of black children are born to unmarried mothers should set off alarm bells, but it doesn't. The fact that the leading cause of death among black males is homicide should set off alarm bells, but it doesn't. The fact that there are three black males aged 18-24 in prison for every two in college should set off alarm bells, but doesn't. The fact that fewer blacks vote now in national elections than in 1972 should set off alarm bells, but doesn't. I can go on, but the idea is clear. American society is incubating a revolution and not only is oblivious to it, but actively resists the idea that it can even take place.
The day of reckoning is going to come. The affluence of American society is drying up, and there will be even fewer crumbs to drop down to the desperate.  It's not going to be pretty when it all blows up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You Couldn't See This Coming?

I'm not completely apolitical, but I find myself more resigned--or less disappointed--than some of my friends. Six months into the new presidential administration, those that hoped for fundamental banking and lending reform, the end of our foreign adventures, universal health care, and a more aggressive environmental policy are being sadly disappointed. Is Obama better than Bush? Yes, certainly. But even if Obama was so inclined, the boat sailed a long time ago as far as a more just, more caring, more responsible national government. I was a teenager during the Carter years, and I don't remember a whole lot of his domestic policy, overshadowed as it became by Iran (aside: I heard "My Sharona" the other day, and realized with a start that the song has to be 30 years old, as a parody called "Ayatollah" was making the radio in early 1980 after the hostage crisis erupted. It just does not seem right). But I sure remember Reagan and his dismantling of as much as he could get his hands on, and it was our last Democratic president who presided over the twin policies of surrender to the greedheads, NAFTA and welfare reform (would be impolitic to point out that Ross Perot turned out to be absolutely right about both?). It sounds absurd, but our last really liberal President was Nixon.
And Obama is not inclined to change anything substantial. He is, after all, a product of this system, and he is not going to bite the hands that feed him, other than a token nibble on a fingertip. The biggest reason I am not more distressed about the direction things are going in is that I think larger and more explosive trends are going to overwhelm whomever is in nominal control as time passes; it's already starting, and within two decades, questions about quasi-basic needs such as employment and Social Security are going to seem to be quaint reminders of a time as far gone as that of Charlemagne, as more pressing needs such as food, water, and breathing are going to occupy most of our population most of the time. It's not going to Obama's fault; these trends were in play for a long time, and it is human nature to ignore the future if there is advantage to be gained in the present. But we as a nation have been lucky to have three extraordinarily gifted and farsighted men at the reins at the three biggest crisis points in our history (Washington, Lincoln, and FDR). None of these three could get nominated, much less elected, today, and short of a massive dieoff, either as a result of a revolution or the precipitator of one, the situation is not even going to stop getting worse, much less improve.
Still, I am amused, if in a condescending way, at the discomfiture of those who beleived that simply because Obama is black and blathered on about "change" incessantly, that they actually thought he meant something substantial. It is a perfect symbol of our culture that we congratulate ourselves on our ability to "embrace change" simply because a black man is President; it is merely a surface difference, cosmetic, while the order of business remains SSDD. If he really meant to change anything, he would have ordered the arrest of Bush and Cheney as soon as he took the oath, for any of innumerable violations of the law in their alleged war on terrorism (which, it should not be ever forgotten, is a war on people). But of course he did not, because he is a product of the same system they are, and that system is the master he swears fealty to. His entire message of change is, "Trust me. I know what we're doing; you don't need to." Well, forgive me, but trust is earned, not given. Almost all of the time, people are exactly what they seem to be, and my first thought when I saw this guy two years ago was "empty suit" who thought he was entitled to be President because it was time for a black guy to become one. Unfortunately, I turned out to be right.
You and me? We're on our own. The sooner you realize it, the better you off you will be. And maybe, just maybe, your children will live as long as our parents have.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Review: THE TEMPLARS

The Templars: The Secret History Revealed, by Barbara Frale, is a rather slender volume. Books about the Templars, a medieval knighthood order that was exterminated in murky circumstances in the early 14th century, have become quite popular in the past two decades, as they have been linked to secret knowledge and practices and are the underlying foundation of books like The DaVinci Code. This book is written by an employee of the Vatican, and although it does add some information to the general body of knowledge--for example, she says she has found the records of the inquest of the last Grand Master of the order and that the order was absolved of heresy by the pope of the time--it still is designed, quite clearly, to be the "official" version of the Templar controversy and to quell inquiries into the Templars. The book doesn't address any of the more esoteric questions regarding the order, especially their activities when they were headquartered in Jerusalem, other than to poo-poo the notion that they did anything other than defend the Christain Crusader states that existed in the Middle East at the time. For those who have read widely of the Templars, this book smells of whitewash. The Templars probably were not what their more extravagent and sensationalist apologists claim, but they were not just another religious order, either. For those who want to beleive that, this book will be welcome--and quickly forgotten.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sports and Feelings

I spent most of the day today watching a golf tournament. If that seems like a waste of time, rest assured that it is not how I normally spend a sunny Sunday, nor do I care about golf that much. But a story was playing out in Scotland that demanded attention like few other sports matters do; a 59 year old man was winning the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. It was Tom Watson, one of the game's all-time greats, one who had won this tournament five times in an eight year span, but not since 1983. It was, even for non-golf fans, the greatest story since at least 2004 in any sport, possibly of all time.
And he fell agonizingly, achingly short; he bogeyed the last hole to fall into a tie and lost the playoff in rather disheartening fashion. And I feel as though I lost. It's hard to explain, but I somehow felt almost cheated, like an improbable accomplishment achieved would have made a huge difference in my own life, and that somehow, because it didn't, my life is diminished. This is intellectually nonsense, of course, but it's a feeling, the level on which sports usually appeal to us, anyway, and it doesn't feel good, not one bit.
The sports teams I follow have always been inextricably tied in with my own self-image. I remember many drunken conversations with friends during the first thirty years of my life, with a general consensus that my passions for the Red Sox, New York Rangers, Syracuse Orangemen, and Minnesota Vikings were a window into my psyche and my abilities. The four teams were their respective sports most famous almost-champs, the always-good but never-best that seemed doomed to be always waiting for next year. I was convinced that there was some significance in that, that I, too, would always be good at what I did but never a winner, that I would never land the top-shelf girl, that I would come so close to what I want but never quite get it. And for many years, my life seemed to follow that script: every breakup with a woman I liked was proof I was never going to be happy; every time I worked on a project, it never seemed to quite realize its promise; even in my leisure pursuits, I figured it was symptomatic that I lost a $167K payoff at the racetrack because a horse I had singled in the Pick Six broke its leg 50 yards from the finish when it was so far in front it was the only horse on the TV screen. I still have not totally gotten over that mindset.
But 1994, in that respect, was a bit of a turning point; the Rangers won the Stanley Cup for the first time in my lifetime that spring. It was not only that they won, but the way they won (destroying the hated Islanders by a combined 22-3 in a four-game sweep, the Messier guarantee, "Matteau, Matteau!," almost blowing a 3-1 lead in the finals) that made it seem so epic. I swear to God, my thoughts that night as the Garden exploded were, "the gods tried to screw us out of this one, too, but they pulled it off anyway." I felt, even in the midst of the normal yay-we-won! stuff, that something significant had happened, that one could alter fate in some way if only enough effort was put in.
A lot happened before the next championship, that of the Orange in 2003. The odd thing is, it was hardly a sweat--until the last couple of minutes of the game and Kansas wouldn't go away. In 1987, I was surrounded by a couple of hundred Syracuse fans in a local bar, and when Indiana beat them with a couple of seconds left, the deflation in the room was actually able to be sensed not only audibly, but in the very atmosphere. I watched the 2003 game from home, and when the buzzer sounded with Syracuse still ahead, I remember feeling again like somehow the gods had been thwarted, that I was glad and all that, but also that somehow it wasn't earned, I guess. I actually talked to a friend that had watched the 1987 game with me that night, and his response was that "Roy Williams has worse karma than [Jim] Boeheim," like the then-Kansas coach was more of a loser than the Syracuse coach (I should call him; Williams has since won a title, too, although he moved on to North Carolina to do so).
Which hardly prepared me for the next fall, and where this Rubicon was irretrievably crossed. Being a Red Sox fan in this area is not easy, and being one from childhood (in other words, having endured 1978) in this area left scars that could fill medical journals. And when the Red Sox fell behind 3-0 in games to the Yankees, I honestly did not want to watch anymore. And then, finally, it seemed like justice, Cosmic Justice, arrived. The Sox were the better team that year, and they finally showed it, winning two games in extra innings, winning the bloody sock game--and then absolutely killing the Yankees in Game 7. That was, no kidding, the best week in my life. Every one of those days, it was a sense of skeptcism fading and beleif growing, until finally, when Game 7 got to 7-0, I finally understood what it was like when other teams' fans told me they experienced when their teams won. Even the eventual World Series triumph a week later paled next to the Yankee win; I never knew, until Game 7 against the Yankees, that a game could make you feel so good. I had had plenty of stomach-punch experiences--Bucky Fucking Dent, Keith Smart, the slow death of the 1996 NCAA final, Game 5 in the Ranger/Islander 1984 playoff series, the red line Ron Francis goal in 1992, Gary Anderson's missing the FG in the 1998 NFC Championship, Darrin Nelson somehow not even getting a first down on a completed pass on 4th and 1 from the 2 in the 1987 NFC Championship. But nothing on the good side of the ledger, even the other two wins, until that Game 7--it was like being released from slavery. It was like washing up on land after being at sea for years. It was like a repreive from execution. It was like finding out that there really is a Santa Claus. It was amazing, period. And it is no exaggeration to say that I have been riding pretty since. Even setbacks are merely that, setbacks; I know that anything can be overcome now. It seems trite and petty to say I learned this from the Red Sox--but you know what? That's exactly where I learned it, or at least where I started to beleive it.
Which made today very difficult to take. But even as it unfolded, I found myself thinking, as I watched Watson handle himself like the class act he is afterwards, that it had to be much harder on him than any of the millions who felt like I did. Our lives will go on. He almost certainly will never have another chance like this again.
And I hope I learned another sports lesson today: that when I have to endure a bone-crushing, door-slamming, loss-of-a-lifetime disappointment, that I handle myself like Tom Watson did today. It took a little--a little--edge off my despair on his behalf today. And I hope he remembers that he is still Tom Watson, one of the best golfers who ever lived, tomorrow and every day for the rest of his life, despite the way today ended. Because he is.
Oh, and Vikings... you are now alone in futility. Can you get it done before too much longer? Thanks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Ghost in the Room

I knew today was going to be a trying day, but I did not think it was going to go in this direction. My daughter's mother, Shannon, has been clean almost as long as I have. She never took to recovery like I did, due to her inability to confront her real problems, and has not really worked steps for several years, gone regularly to meetings for about three years, or even hung around any recovering people for about 18 months. I have been aware for several months now of several disturbing developments in her life. One, she has shed weight at an alarming pace. Two, she broke her hand a month ago allegedly breaking up a fight between two drunken neighbors. Three, she has had trouble keeping jobs, and the last one she had, her hours kept getting cut, right before she broke her hand. Four, her number of "private clients" (the job she had the longest in her life was a home health care one) has grown recently. Five, despite her injury and her loss of hours and general lack of visible income, she does not seem to have had any noticeable changes in her standard of living. Six, Sabrina has been saying for about six months that Shannon's primary mode of communication with her children, even more so than normal, is by yelling. Seven, Shannon has been smoking cigarettes at a pace that simply is incredibly unhealthy, a huge increase over her normal intake. As I said, I have not been blind to what I see, and I have been very concerned about the trend.
But I have also paid attention over my years as a part of the great Family Court/Social Services labyrinth, and I know "concerns" mean about as much as horoscope predictions in court or in abuse/neglect allegations. I have told people for about seven years that while Shannon is no way, shape, or form a good mother, she is not dangerous, and while she is lazy and will always take a shortcut if one comes into view, she does not neglect her children, either. She is very system-savvy, knows like she knows little else what it takes to get an indicated abuse/neglect report, and has, since she stopped using drugs 10 1/2 years ago, never crossed those guidelines, despite consistently poor judgment and a truly awesome inability to learn from experience. While I long ago accepted that Shannon is never going to be a positive force in Sabrina's life, I could deal with it because 1) Sabrina has me, 2) on balance, it is better to have a mother in a child's life, especially if the child does not have to depend on the mother to have her needs met, and 3) despite the volumes of poor judgment, despite the clueless life, despite the lack of healthy values, Shannon has always been there. There has not been a single time where Shannon has turned down a visitation, or left Sabrina unattended, or did not make efforts, even if on occasion misguided or flawed, to make sure that Sabrina's needs were met. The only absences were brief, temporary, and reasonable (eg a trip to Florida to see Shannon's mother). Although in many senses Shannon is undependable, in a physical sense she has been as dependable as can be for Sabrina; Sabrina literally cannot imagine existence without her mother being a part of it. Sabrina is well aware of her mother's flaws and faults, and often expresses to me that she would like to see less of Shannon. But she also loves her mother (and her mother loves her) and is very protective of her, or the ideal that she represents, at any rate. For a decade or more, this has been part of my life; for all of Sabrina's conscious life, as well, this has been her reality.
But all these signs have been present for some time, and I have been growing more concerned, to the point of mild agita. I have not acted or even spoken much of my concerns, because I have no proof of anything, Sabrina has been in no danger, and I have learned, in over a decade of dealing with Shannon, that if I maintain my own stability, Shannon will do things that make my courses of action very clear--in other words, sitting still and waiting for Shannon to do something stupid is normally all it takes for a situation to resolve. But this is obviously on an entirely different level... My hole card--and my strongest justification for sitting still-- has been that this coming year is Sabrina's last year of elementary school, and next year, when she goes to middle school, she will almost necessarily have to live here at least during the week because the middle school is two blocks from my house and there is no way her mother is going to be able to drive her there on time while getting her younger brother to elementary school as well from where she lives, on the North Side. Indeed, Sabrina has stated on several occasions that she is looking forward to the arrangement.
But I may not have that kind of time now.
This morning, I took someone to an apartment house near downtown, on Mather Street, that the person wanted to look at. Mather Street is being torn up and repaved this summer, and as such, it is crawling with City of Binghamton labor crews during the day. While the person and I were waiting for the landlord to show up to open the place, Kenneth walked up to me. Kenneth works for the City, and Kenneth is also in recovery. Kenneth and I have not been close for several years now, because I'm not a fan of men who cheat on their wives and Kenneth is not a fan of people who point out to him that there is a significant gap between his walk and his talk. So I was quite surprised when he asked me to step away because he wanted to talk to me about "something personal." Intrigued, I followed him, and he proceeded to ask me if I had seen my daughter's mother recently. I said I had, and he said that he had been on the sanitation truck in Shannon's neighborhood all spring, and that he saw her a couple of weeks ago "and I almost didn't recognize her, she was so skinny," adding that he also has seen rather unsavory people around her house, and that he thinks she's getting high. I thanked Kenneth for coming to me and told him I have seen what he has seen, but also shared that she lives on Munsell Street, one of the biggest drug-using areas of the city, and that she had been living hand-to-mouth recently and was stressed (Shannon's explanations to me about her weight loss). While I was surprised by Kenneth's comments, I was not overly concerned by them, any more than I already was.
Until I was at my home group tonight. Julie was there. Julie and I go back a long way; Julie and I ran together before I even knew Shannon. Julie has known Shannon since the latter's active addiction. Julie has only been clean for a few months now, after relapsing when her husband died in a motorcycle crash, but has been around recovery for about five years or so, and, while rough around the edges in some ways, is still on balance doing well for herself. She is working for my friend Kenny and his father Gus, who own a repair shop/car lot, in a story too complicated to relate. Shannon had called me early in the week wondering if I thought she had any credit left with Gus, whom she has bought things off of before and paid off, and I thought she did, since she has always paid him in the past. Her truck's transmission had broken, and she ended up getting a new truck. Julie, obviously, saw Shannon often this week, and could barely contain herself after arriving at the meeting, before corralling me and taking me outside to spill her take. She said that Shannon was skinnier than she ever had been in active addiction, that she was profane and loud when at the garage, that Julie saw the look on Sabrina's face (who was in the car, apparently, at least one day when Shannon was there) and said, "The look on Sabrina's face was the look on my face when I was that age. That kid is scared of Shannon!" (Julie's childhood, simply, was an abomination; she and her siblings were beaten and abused until she finally left home at 16) Julie noted that Shannon had "bragged"--her word, not mine--about not going to meetings anymore and how "bullshit" NA had become. Julie was told the peacemaker story about the broken hand--and isn't buying it for one second (I mentioned, by the way, that I remembered Shannon drinking little, if any, during active addiction, and Julie said, "That's because you didn't. After you went to rehab, she drank plenty if that was all there was." Since she was 8 months pregnant with Sabrina at the time, I can't say I this was a comforting revelation). Julie said that Shannon explained her ability to pay the down payment on the new vehicle by saying she won a thousand dollars on a lottery ticket--which was something I certainly never heard before, and doubly ironic (although not completely implausible; this is, after all, the woman who has shown a truly stupefying inability to learn from past experiences over the course of her life) because Shannon caught a welfare fraud charge nine years ago for not reporting a $3300 scratch-off ticket when she was on public assistance. Julie did say she did not think Sabrina was smoking crack, but she suspects she is either snorting powder or drinking heavily. Julie also chided me for not doing more on Sabrina's behalf, prompting a longer version of what I just wrote a couple of paragraphs ago about the difference between concerns and proof, and what holds up in court and what doesn't, which she accepted but grumbled, "that's not right." She also said, as a parting shot, "I thought for all these years that you exaggerated when you talked about your problems dealing with her, when you talked in meetings. I can see now that, if anything, you were understating them."
Now I am starting to become very, very worried. If there is unexplained--or poorly explained--money, in those amounts, then her "private clients" are almost certainly tricks; one former trick in particular, a guy with much more money than sense, sprang immediately to my mind. And if she is tricking again to get by, it is very likely she is using, because she really doesn't like it. While no woman who prostitutes on the street really likes it, some mind less than others, but Shannon, in her using career, really did not like it at all. When it become necessary to support her addiction, she much preferred straight sex to car activity, not only because the sex act involved was more palatable to her than what normally is done in cars but because the money was better, and the entire activity was safer from physical safety and legal standpoints (if not necessarily a health one). I always suspected that she did some tricking in recovery, too; I am convinced, to take the example I am most sure of, that she used to fuck her former landlord regularly to pay the rent or a good portion of it. But distasteful as the idea is, if she was and is not doing it at her own home, and short of catching her actually receiving the money, what can I realistically do about it? But there is going to come a point when her feelings are going to create tension that she is going to need to do drugs to defuse, and she also may become more careless--and then what? How would I feel then if I knew what was going on and didn't at least attempt to intervene?
I also now think harder about her withdrawal from the fellowship, in the light of reading the book I read not long ago. Shannon not only withdrew from attending meetings, but also does not have anybody in recovery as a significant part of her life anymore, other than me. Her last NA friend was Stephanee, and Stephanee is both not so close to her anymore and also no longer clean--one of Stephanee's sponsees came to my home group a few months ago and announced that her sponsor had used. So she is devoid of any contact with clean people, as well as engaging in murky activity. Certainly, with a broken hand and no income coming in, it is legitimate to ask, how is she making it?
I don't like the answers I get when I ask these sort of questions. It has been years--at least eight--since I actively thought that Shannon might not be clean anymore, and my suspicions in 2000-2001 were in large part allayed because, even though it was very uncomfortable getting crucified publicly by her exaggerations and outright lies at every meeting she went to, she was at least going to the meetings and hanging around clean people. That is no longer true, and when that barrier is broached, when that gate is open, it isn't pretty to contemplate what comes next. I wrote about my desire to never have a conversation with Sabrina about my own hypothetical relapse. A close second in the "conversations I never want to have" category is one about her mother's relapsing. But I have to say that I have seen a thousand people relapse over the last decade, and Shannon is exhibiting behaviors, and her life has characteristics, common to virtually all of them. If it hasn't happened yet, I am very sure , absent changes, it will soon.
That is the ghost in the room, the specter of not only relapse, but the consequences it brings. I actually have to see Shannon twice tomorrow, once in the morning to take her from Gus' shop to her house and once when I pick up Sabrina at 2:30 after I am done with work. I talked to my mother and to Kathie for about an hour all told looking for input as to how or whether to bring the subject up, either with Shannon or Sabrina. My mother seems to think approaching Sabrina would be more fruitful, if handled right; Kathie said Shannon is going to get defensive no matter what, but letting her know that I know may bring some sort of twisted relief to her, in forcing her to confront, at least partially, reality, and to think more openly about possible fallout if she doesn't get a grip. I intend to pray about it and sleep on it, and see what seems to be the right course in the morning.
But I have to tell you that I am very uncomfortable and unhappy. My overwhelming memory of rehab and the first two months I was at the halfway house was feeling sick to my stomach most of the time, as Shannon disappeared back into street life after getting released from jail (We got arrested together in October 1998. I got sent to rehab from jail, with no previous record; she was 7 1/2 months pregnant and was, after a week in county, ROR'd. I still wonder about the logic of that 11 years later) and ended up giving birth to Sabrina while high, and then abandoning her when Sabrina was two weeks old. I am not emotionally involved on that level with Shannon anymore--she is strictly, to me, my daughter's mother, nothing more--, but I feel just as queasy now as I did then, for Sabrina's sake. She does not need nor should she have to experience the ripping sensation of not knowing where her mother is and worrying that she may not ever return or may end up in jail or dead--but I am afraid, deathly afraid, that she is going to, and sooner rather than later.
We will see.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review: CLEOPATRA AND ANTONY

Cleopatra and Antony is Diana Preston's rather pedestrian look at one of the most famous couples of all time. While it is not the worst treatment the subject has recieved, curiously, the book is weakest toward the end, when all the supporting players have been eliminated from the stage and it is more or less about only the two and their nemesis, the future Augustus. The history detailing the Roman political scene of the first century BCE are quite good and lucid, maintaining a sort of order out of a dizzyingly complex web. But ultimately, the story remains one that Shakespeare, despite the liberties he took with the facts, told the best. This book does explore some more of the relationships of that time from Cleopatra's view--most notably with another figure of the era that most people at least have heard of, Herod of Judea--than is normal for works dealing with the subject, and on that basis I would recommend it for someone genuinely interested in the fall of the Roman Republic, a subject that modern Americans should be more interested in than they are, due to some disturbing parallels.

Reflectons on Family Court and the Road Not Taken

I have to spend part of the morning at Family Court this morning. Well, I don't have to; I agreed months ago to do so. But it is part of the ongoing war between Shannon and Christopher's father Corey, and it is perfectly symptomatic of 1) why I keep Shannon at arm's length and away from any decision-making concerning Sabrina, and 2) why the legal system is biased in favor of mothers.
The first is relatively easy. Shannon is at the extreme end of the spectrum, but is not atypical of what our culture has produced in the last 30-40 years. She has the foresight of an earthworm; she absolutely cannot see past the next five minutes. One reason I agree to do these sorts of things for her is that when the inevitable disputes arise with me in the future, it will be very easy to point out, "well, funny, I wasn't a liar and a creep when she had me testify on her behalf some time ago." She also cannot separate what she wants and what is her child's best interests; she is so selfish and willful that she, with a straight face, will insist that there is a total convergence of the two, even when a toddler can clearly see that there is not. She also is, six-plus years after breaking up with this guy, still engaged with him, in that Christopher is merely a pawn, a weapon, in her campaign to get the best of Corey; she is going to win, dammit, no matter how long it takes. I am sure that Shannon loves her children, as best she is able, but her concept of love is seriously flawed, and she fails to realize that she does exactly what she did not like the most about her own upbringing. It is a cycle, but not one she is going to be able to break; she is 35 years old, has not gotten high for 10 1/2 years, and clearly has no idea where the true nature of her problems lie. I am not as concerned about it as I once was; we share custody, but I have had decision-making control virtually since we split nine years ago, I have had primary residency for four years now, and Sabrina is old enough--and has been raised and nurtured well enough by me--to know enough that her own security is best served by her father. Sabrina has nearly always wanted to be with me, even since she was a toddler, and that is not going to change, even with the teenage challenges to come.
Having said all that, another reason I am going on her behalf is that if Christopher (who, although not my favorite child, nonetheless deserves as much of a chance as he can get) would go to his father, it would be even worse for him. Corey is, not to mince words, a complete asshole, just a stubborn narrow-minded fool that is even more incapable of separating the child's interests from his own desires. His main argument with Shannon has always been "she was a druggie;" even though Judge Connorton and various lawyers have explained to him several times that not only did all of that happen long before Shannon even met Corey and has never been an issue in Christopher's lifetime, and that he himself was well aware of her past when he was with her and he decided to be with her anyway, it doesn't stop him from continuing to bring it up each of the myriad times he brings her to court. It is simply beyond his comprehension that any court would choose to let this mother bring up her child; in his own mind, he is morally superior to her, and he is bound and determined that he is going to get his way. Christopher's life span, for him, has simply been another battlefield in the war he has been engaged in since he met Shannon to control her and bend her (substantial) will to his own. That is, despite his own marriage and all the time that has passed, his primary motivation; she is going to pay for the damage she did to his ego in 2002. And unfortunately, many men in the Family Court system share his motivations, enough so that men like me, who are devoted parents and who are the better choice as primary parents, have an extraordinarily difficult time getting custody unless the mother is an active drug user and/or in jail. Bluntly, guys like him make it very difficult for guys like me. I have been treated better than 95% of the men that have gone through the system, but that is not only a reflection of having led an exemplary life for Sabrina's lifetime, but also, frankly, only because Shannon has made some extraordinarily stupid decisions in that time as well (disregarding doctor's orders for no good reason, violating a court order a week after it was issued, moving in with some guy she knew for a month in another school district). Even with all that, I still only have primary residency, not custody. It's very hard for men in Family Court because there are far too many Coreys and not enough Steves.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rite of Passage

I took Sabrina to the doctor yesterday for her annual school physical (as an aside, having an actual health clinic, with a nurse practitioner, CSW, and dentist based there, in an elementary school is an absolute stroke of genius. City of Binghamton taxpayers cannot possibly complain about this use of tax money, and if economics ever improve around here, putting one in every elementary school instead of just the two they are in now should be priority one). Holly, the NP, remarked on how big Sabrina is getting (almost five feet tall), and how she had seen her grow up from the little pixie she was in pre-K to the tween she is now, and how her class is going to be the big class in school next year. Sabrina was eating it all up, even as she was just about hyperventilating at the prospect of her last chicken pox vaccination.
Then Holly gave her some literature on puberty and talked some about it, and I realized what a wonderful--and also difficult--time this is, both for Sabrina and for her dad. The contrast, the ebb and flow of emotions and circumstances, is certainly very profound right now. It hit me, as she dried her tears after the shot and clutched her literature as she searched for another stuffed animal in the goody box to take home, how in between she really is. On the one hand, although the actual first period has not arrived, it is going to very quickly; she already cramps, has gone beyond training bras in the last two months, and is starting to notice that she is getting hairier. She is into lip gloss and light makeup, paints her nails about four times a week, and (after seeing Jessica's newly dyed bangs, wants to dye her own bangs blue, instead of being content with hair mascara) is very concerned about her hair and her looks. She talks and texts pretty regular on her cell phone, picks up after herself pretty good, and has already developed a pretty good radar about which boys are all right to hang around and which ones are not. After we got home, she sat on the couch and quietly devoured the two pamphlets Holly gave her, intensely concentrating on the information.
As she held her teddy and sat on her Grandma blankie, and then she put them down and got out her Barbie/Bratz play houses and played with dolls for two hours. At bedtime, we had to have the formal welcoming of the stuffed mouse to the home and introductions to the two dozen other animals that share her bed at night. Her favorite teddy bear goes many places in public with her, and around the house, the Grandma blankie (one my mother made for her when she was a toddler) is attached to her (because it has got so threadbare, she asked my mom to sew it up and also badgered her into making another one, which also goes everywhere in the house with her). It's just a fascinating balance to watch and experience, and I get the sense that it's the twilight of an era, of not only her childhood but of my relative youth as well.
As long as I have a grade school child, I somehow feel that I am not middle-aged. That option, that delusion, is expiring before my eyes. It is not dying a painful death, but a dignified one--but it is happening. But you better believe I am savoring it. And not only for my sake. I have been in a tug-of-war with Sabrina's mother for years; Shannon is always pushing Sabrina to grow up faster--she can't have stuffed animals at her mother's, for example. I just don't see the point in general, why it is so important to end childhood as early as possible, and in this particular case, I don't view the adult's need to watch television while a grade-school child does dishes and laundry as a compelling reason to curtail or eliminate Sabrina's pre-adolescence.
One small reason why Sabrina always prefers to be here, and has since she was a toddler. Her development can take place organically and naturally here. And although her mother loves her no doubt, it appears, from both my perspective and Sabrina's, to be conditional, to be based on how well she performs her tasks and benchmarks and other outside things. I know it probably it isn't, but then I am looking at it through an adult's eyes. Sabrina, despite what Shannon may wish, is still a child.
And deserves a chance to remain one as long as she can. Adolescence is going to be a rite of passage for both of us, and she will need love and support, not hectoring from the sidelines to hurry up and get through it. And she will get it from her father.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Closed Minds

The Sonia Sotomayer hearings are dominating the news today, and I really feel like it makes no difference. One, she is replacing a dependable liberal voice, so it isn't like there's going to be a major change in the way the Supreme Cort votes or decides. But also, the nomination process is just a microcosm of the polarization of the country. 40% of the population wouldn't like her if Christ himself came down and said, "This is my choice," the other 40% wouldn't reject her if it came to light that she was torturing small boys in her basement for the last two decades. What's even more unfortunate is that closed minds usually have the loudest voices, and so we are inundated with partisan falsehoods and distortions every time we tune into a media outlet. Is it any wonder nobody really gives a shit anymore?
I am tired of closed minds in real life, too. I am wrestling with the way I need to tell someone that I have a fairly strong interest in that I really would rather not be this close anymore. Why? Not because of her religious beliefs, which I do not share, but rather because it's a subject that is off the table for discussion, even though she claims it is the most important thing in her life. It may well be, but if it means that much to you, than it's worthy of talking about dispassionately and intellectually, rather than merely the recitation of dogma. It has always killed me how religious people almost always try to shut off and shut out any airing of views that are contrary to--or even more irritatingly, people that merely ask for evidence that what they say they beleive has some actual relevance to the way they live their lives--their creed. When someone falls back on "it's a mystery" or "sometimes faith doesn't show itself in 'proof'," then I know I am in the presence of someone who is terrified of having to justify their beliefs because they know they can't reasonably do so. Closed minds are ultimately lazy ones, and in the religious sense, it makes the offense even more egregious, because in a matter that they claim is all-important to them, they are willing to take someone else's word for it rather than work toward a conscious understanding of God. And to me, that's unfathomable.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book Review: UNDER THEIR THUMB

Under Their Thumb is a memoir of sorts written by Bill German. Bill started a Rolling Stones fan magazine when he was a teenager in New York that, through an improbable series of events, came to the attention of the Stones themselves. German's magazine, Beggars Banquet, eventually became the official Stones fan magazine, and German was a part of the Stones' world for the better part of two decades. The book's character portrayals are fascinating simply because they are real. German does not pretend to have done more or known more than he did, and manages to draw the line between being knowledgeable about his subject and being prurient and/or namedropping. I really enjoyed this book, and its account of the mid-1980's, when the Stones nearly broke up, helped me to make some sense of things I had wondered about for decades--like how Keith Richards and Ron Wood came to be backing up Bob Dylan at Live Aid, for example.
Richards and Wood became very close to German, and although the drugging and drinking seems a bit overdone, the men behind the public personas emerge as likable artists. The other Stones were not as close to German, and German is very clear about this, even admitting in several places that he never spoke, in 17 years of doing the magazine, to Charlie Watts. German's association with the Stones ended in the mid-90's, and one wonders what he has been doing since then, but this is clearly not an exploitative or parasitic tell-all. It is an honest account of a young man who got to live his dream, and who also woke up from the dream and got on with the rest of his life. The book was not what I expected to be; it was better.

Films About Ghosts

I was going through my computer desk today and came across a notebook that I used extensively in early recovery. Buried among the unsent letters to Sabrina's mother and the primitive attempts at a Fourth Step was a page dated August 5, 1999, about a week after I crossed nine months clean. It was a list of 118 people that attended at least one NA meeting (at that point in my recovery, I was going to the noon meeting and at least one night meeting every day, so I saw and knew everybody that was around then except the women who only went to the Women's Group) in the previous week. Gazing at the names, I realized that I was looking at a veritable time capsule, a snapshot of a particular moment in time in a hundred-plus lives, of a hundred journeys begun at different places, going in different directions, and of course I took a closer look at the list.
There were 44 people on that list with less clean time at that moment than I had. Billy M. stayed clean for the duration, but died four years ago from complications from a liver transplant. Alisa, Vindell, and Kathie relapsed a number of times, but have come back and put together long periods of time (3 years, 6 years, 9 years, respectively) since, and are still clean, although Vindell had to go clear across the country to do it. A few of others are still around, still trying to get it, but most are long gone. I have absolutely no idea who a dozen of those names even belong to. Billy is not the only one who is dead; Louis (ran over by a car during a relapse), Rademas (died of AIDS), Denise (also from AIDS) and Dawood/Arthur (died from a relapse) have been released from their addiction, as well.
I was blown away by the number of people who had more time than I did at the time, but now are either gone or have come back and now have less time than me. Kristen has 7 years now, after checking out in the summer of 1999 for a while, and has a husband and another child and a fistful of sponsees. She is also the only person who has ever attempted to formally do a Ninth Step amends with me; the last person she dated before her husband was me, when she came back in 2002. Leroy had buried one child by time I came along and would bury another, then relapsed with nine years clean in 2005 and has only came back in the last few months. Heidi got up to 3 years, marrying my first sponsor, before her underlying mental health and marital problems sent her out the door; she now lives in Florida, and information is sketchy as to her status. Michele E. was another with mental health issues; she got to over 2 years a couple of times before going back out, and now lives elsewhere. Billy H. moved to Albany with Denise, and apparently didn't get much past 3 years before relapsing; after Denise died, he blew back into town briefly, but hasn't been sighted in a couple of years. Del relapsed during the ten minutes he was sponsoring me, the next winter, with almost 4 years; he half-heartedly hung around for a year or so, but picked up a few new charges and hasn't been seen for a long time. Craig got to three years, relapsed, made a couple of meek attempts at coming back, and either went back to Philadelphia or caught a bid, depending on whom you beleive. RJ had ten years at the time, got all the way to 17 years, before succumbing to a series of bad choices in the relationship arena and not only relapsing, but allowing his daughter to use his house as a prostitution base. Jennifer, whom RJ married around this time, had a couple of months more than me and never got to a year; she is still around Binghamton, about 50 pounds lighter, and can be seen most days walking the Clinton-Main corridor. Diane stayed clean for a long time, getting to over 6 years, despite losing a young child to a car accident and harboring a pathological hatred for white people; she came back for a short time, but has not been seen in several years. Tammy got to 8 years clean, but was extremely co-dependent and had serious mental health issues; she has not been sighted in several years. Howard was one of my main supports for years; he survived his house burning down, getting locked up for a warrant 6 years old, and cancer, before inexplicably (to me, anyway) relapsing with 7 years clean. He still makes meetings more or less regularly, but at 65 and rife with resurgent cancer, does not make any pretense of staying clean anymore. Bernard got to 18 months before relapsing; he was in Binghamton for many years but never returned to recovery. Clenn went out about a week after I wrote his name down, came and went for a few years, and has been clean for about 6 years now, although he doesn't do many meetings. Sal got to 4 years clean before relapsing, and I have not seen him since. Clarence made a great show for several years of bragging about his clean time (he got to 9 years) and not working a program; he has since been locked up and struggled to stay clean after being released for about three years now. Guillermo has gotten to a couple of years a couple of times, but is one of those flamboyant gays that finds it impossible to stay away from the party scene. John G. got to 7 years and a position of great public visibility as a community leader, before losing both parents and then his clean time in the space of a couple of months. He has been clean, in the other fellowship, for a couple of years now. Veronica got to 9 years before hooking up with one loser too many from the Salvation Army; she has hung around the fringes of NA for a couple of years, but can't seem to stay. Oscar had about two years more than me, but was another gay guy who struggled, and has been gone for a long time now. Kareena got to 12 years before her first relapse, but is another who cannot get off the Salvation Army treadmill and has struggled to put together time since. Anthony got to 14 years before getting cancer and turning to pain management strategies incompatible with NA practice. Terri was about two weeks away, when I wrote her name down, from gaining custody of her children, about two months from leaving the fellowship, and about four months from a relapse. She came back for about a year, hasn't been sighted in about five years. I am not even counting the people like Larry, Cheryl, and Pat L. who for some reason I had missed that week but who were in the rooms at the time and eventually departed for a while.
That is a lot of people.
There are several who are still clean but whom have moved from the area: Brian, Ondrea, Chris P., Christy, LeAnn, Scott T., Denny, Rick T, and Jerome. A few others I assume are still clean, but don't honestly know: Tanya (stopped going to meetings, eventually a nasty divorce), Enrique (busted for letting drugs be sold in his barbershop, but I had heard that he himself did not relapse), Pam (his wife, who also hasn't been seen in a meeting for many years), Janine (was clean last I knew, but whose mental health and physical issues have caused her to disappear), Michele G. (crazy as a bedbug; may be clean, but I haven't seen her in a meeting in years), and Eddie (started going to the other fellowship years ago).
That leaves 16 people still part of this fellowship, three weeks short of a decade later: Don (22 years now), Ogden (coming up on 12), Ray (17), Wes (17), Shalia (13), Dave (15), Renee (12), Vincent (16 in a month, although he doesn't make meetings hardly at all anymore), Kate (12), Kevin (14), Aldo (almost 17, although he doesn't make hardly any meetings anymore, either), Rich A. (16), Rob (13), Nancy (10), Janet (15 in a couple of weeks), and Drew (11). Angel has four weeks less than me and is still around, so I guess he can be included, and right after I put this list together, Danny (21) started coming back to meetings after a hiatus of a few years and hasn't stopped coming, so he can be included, too. That's 19 people that have been around for a decade.
I honestly do not know whether that is good or bad. Compared to the attrition rate--and the literally thousands that have come and gone and the hundred or so who have stayed in the intervening time-- I suspect it's rather low. I know that I never thought that I would be in the top 20 in clean time in the area until I was in my 60's, and I turned 46 this year.
That's close to a hundred lives that have had a recurring presence of drug use for a decade--actually, much longer than that, since they were already attending NA when they were put on this list, and you don't go to NA without a serious problem driving you there. And those are just the ones who had tried, with some success, in keeping it down. How many addicts are there truly out there? Again, I would guess several thousand all told--and in an area of this size, that is a lot of people.
Wow.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Book Review: THE NIGHT OF THE GUN

The Night of the Gun, by David Carr, may be the single most riveting, informative, and engaging book I have read in a decade. The subject--an addict's memoirs--may seem to be a representative of a tired and discredited genre, but believe me, this is as good as it gets for its type. I am reluctant, frankly, to return it to the library, and fully intend to purchase it soon. It is that good.
The genre has been polluted by many things recently, but the main culprit was the furor surrounding "A Million Little Pieces," with James Frey's exposure on Oprah as a liar and the hairsplitting over the line between "memoir" and outright fiction. I remember reading Frey's book--after waiting about 5 months for it to become available at the library--and coming away bitterly disappointed, long before his national exposure as being full of shit. To someone who actually is a recovering addict, to someone who has gone through the maelstrom that is getting clean, the book reeked of inaccuracy about his rehab experience and tested overwhelmingly positive for bullshit about his post-rehab life. This is not a review of that book, but suffice it to say that the main problem with the book is that it is a portrayal of what non-addicts (and many addicts) want the recovery process to be like--you stop using whatever it is you use, but you pretty much go on with life as other people live it; that it is OK to live within ethically ambiguous guidelines, and surround yourself with people whose values are very firmly aligned with the values of "normal" people. Since most people live lives of quiet near-desperate unfullfillment because they cannot find the courage to break away from the pack or the time to think about and challenge the prevailing dogmas about what constitutes concepts like "success," "fun," and "morality," it is a comforting message for non-addicts when someone purports to come through the recovery process without bearing the fundamental message that most truly recovering people do--that honesty and integrity (which implies a rejection of, or at the least keeping an arm's length from, the values of mainstream society) are the only foundation that leads to a sense of fulfillment and purpose in life. Why? Integrity is hard, much harder than working toward any "real" (ie, success, fame, financial security) goal; Jesus is quoted in a couple of the gospels as saying that one will lose their families and friends by following him, and this is exactly what he was talking about, that most of the world, despite what they say, follows ways that take them away from, not closer to, God. Most people don't want to do integrity on the level that recovering people must, because it involves giving up almost every value, every belief, that they have lived their lives by. Admittedly, the stakes are not as high for most "normal" people; they are not at risk of falling into an abyss of self-destructive behavior that endangers their very existence if they don't. But it does both recovering and "earth people" no good to pretend that lasting recovery is possible when living by the fractured bedrock values that in large part brought addicts to hopelessness and near-death to begin with. Recovering people cannot actively seek "favors" or cut ethical corners or lie regularly or profit from immorality while appearing "normal." The "normality" will not last; the recovery phase, unless there is a profound change in one's basic values and beliefs, has an expiration date. This is why recovering people immediately smelled out Frey's book for the fiction it was; one simply cannot hang around unrepentant mobsters and live essentially a life that does not incorporate any moral right turns, other than not getting hammered or messed up, in real recovery. The person will use again, sooner rather than later, and the addict cannot keep their life manageable, long before the actual relapse.
Carr knows this, and it permeates his entire book. The first half was a chronicle of his active addiction, His drug of choice and mine are the same, and his account of his life is very similar to the track of my own: that he lurched along, wobbly but still on the rails, until he started smoking crack, and in a frightening and amazingly short time, went completely over the cliff. While there was a lot of identification there for me, and while it is very interesting to read, it is not the major story of the book. We all have war stories; we all get to the point where we can't take it anymore and we are tired of living that life.
What made me get the book out of the library in the first place was the liner notes, and the information that Carr raised twin daughters, born coke positive, as a single father, as the custodial parent, after the mother failed to get and stay clean. I do not have twins, but again, otherwise, this is a large part of my own story, and I found myself nodding for a hundred pages as his account of his role in his daughters' lives, as they got older, progressed. I, too, contrary to what my daughter's mother thinks, did not get clean with the "plan" of taking custody of Sabrina and keeping her away from Shannon; it happened that way because of the choices both of us made, of many forks in the road that I took that she went in a different direction or failed to move at all. I, too, learned working definitions that I could apply to my own life of a true Higher Power, and what unconditional love is, from my child. I, too, learned that the way out of the addict's terminal self-centeredness is only time and by working the program. Getting off drugs is necessary for that to happen, but it's only a beginning, the foundation of a life, not life itself.
Which made the last 60 pages of the book even more of a jolt. The major subtheme running throughout the book is a delving into the memory process of human beings, of how people arrange their memories into a form that they can deal with emotionally, without necessarily being 100% accurate in their recollections. The "night of the gun" was an incident near the end of Carr's crack days when he said he went to a friend's house to badger him for money and the friend was forced to pull a gun on him in order to get Carr to leave. When Carr started thinking about writing this book, and contacted the friend, he largely confirmed Carr's recollections--up to the point of the gun. The friend told Carr, "You were the one with the gun." Carr wrote that he truly believed he had never owned a gun or had a gun--until he talked to a few other people who remembered him having one, too. He was flabbergasted, and devastated; in a particularly poignant passage, he wrote that one naturally frames a story like his (and mine) as "man hits bottom, decides to love his children and kicks addiction, everyone lives happy a day at a time." But in words that really hit home to me, he went on to say that is only part of the story--the story that someone else would be interested in hearing. No one would want to read a story about "fat thug who beat up women and used his family like dishrags until he ran out of victims, then and only then cleaning up his act" and yet that version of his story is equally accurate. Perception, and the context those perceptions are formed in, is just as, perhaps more, important than the actual events.
The way Carr tried to capture this was not only interviewing everyone he could find that was part of his story, but also video and audio-taping those interviews, precisely so he could not selectively interpret the input that went into the book. There are at least a dozen instances in the book where memories and perceptions differ, some--as in the case of his twins' mother--by a magnitude measured in light years. But for most of the book, Carr is clearly talking to people about a period of his life in the 80's, in the "past," that had and has little to do with his current life.
Except, near the end, his story took a turn, a turn that I have been hearing about as a danger for recovering people for the ten years I have been clean and that have always, subconsciously, categorized as something that happens to other people, not me. Carr moved two or three times, became comfortable in different circles, achieved large measures of "success" and "normality," and accumulated 14 years of clean time. He also stopped going to meetings, stopped being a part of a recovery fellowship, stopped stepwork, stopped giving back, started hanging around people who are not addicts, who did not know all of David Carr and the disease of addiction.
And he relapsed. Not on crack, but for four years after the first relapse, drinking to the point where his life became unmanageable again. He finally stopped the way he stopped the first time, by reinvolving himself in recovery, and he vows this time to stay. I hope so, because, despite the convergence of stories that touched me so, that I could identify so strongly with, there is one part of his story that I think would kill me if it happened to me.
His last interviews were with his twins. His twins had not known the crackhead dad. He had been their rock, their parent, their love, their support, their dad, all their lives. They knew, vaguely, what he had once been, but they had not experienced it--until they were 14 years old, and at that time, every prop of their world, everything that they thought had been true, got ripped out from under them. And the pain is still palpable and raw, for them, for him--and for those that can identify with them, too. I was alternately in tears and sick to my stomach when I was reading the account of the interviews, and am in tears as I am writing this now. The sense of betrayal, the loss of some fundamental trust and innocence, was overwhelming, and although his twins and Carr have mended the relationship to a point where it is functional, there is something irretrievably lost there.
And for me, that was a shot across the bow, an nuclear detonation of my complacency. I have struggled with my commitment to recovery for a couple of years now. I have done what I am supposed to do, become a different man, have a conscious contact with God and an understanding of God that I never had before, changed profoundly in every area. But I am tired, dammit, I am tired of whiny, self-centered people who do not want to make changes that they need to make, and I am tired of not being appreciated by the vast majority of those I am trying to help, and most of all, I am tired of being reminded that I am different, that I cannot do what "normal" people do. The way my life is now, I seem to have much more in common with earth people than I do with the people I see in NA meetings--and even though I can't say I am obsessing about using, I, too, just like David Carr, have heard the siren song, of "social drinking," of "hanging out with normal people," that I am "past all that."
Unfortunately, no, I am not. I NEVER want to have one of those conversations with Sabrina that David Carr had with his twins. Just for today, I am not willing to take that risk. Even after almost eleven years, I still only get a daily reprieve from active addiction, one that can vanish if I do not do the things that I have done for those ten-plus years. 99.99% of the time, it's more than enough to feel grateful. And when it isn't,...well, it will have to do.