Penultimate Sunday at Cafe NELA

So for I don’t know how many hours all these very creative types—some musicians, a writer, a couple artists, maybe some others—had settled in around a beat up table in an assortment of abandoned chairs at the very bottom of the Cafe NELA patio. Either gravity or our careers had left us there because you couldn’t get any lower than that table. We sat there drinking and smoking and laughing way too loud, the jokes were terrible and the insults mean and the stories were always old and sometimes true. Far nicer people than us gave us a wide circle, like plump fishes warily eyeing a circle of sharks. Sometimes one would foolishly come too close and be devoured, chomp, in a swirl of cackles and humiliation. It was all rather merciless and totally enjoyable and we sat there for hours laughing and basking in our asshole exceptionalism. We knew we were it. We knew it did not get any lower than us. More dumb jokes, each more offensive than the last, some bass players having no pride at all. Eventually three grown men were doing Jackie Mason impressions at the same time, though not quite in harmony. I’d never heard three bad Jackie Mason impressions at the same time. Probably never will again. Pipes went round. Holy vodka in a water bottle, Batman. Even friends were abandoning us by now. The Jackie Mason was getting weird, the sculptress was getting dangerously out there. We were starting to peak on our own delicious high. This is what I’m gonna miss, my painter buddy said, this. You can see music anywhere, he said, but this…. He gestured it in water colors, I saw it in words. This, he said, this is the life.

I’m seriously considering deleting everything.

I’m seriously considering dumping most of the stuff I’ve written, just deleting nearly all of it. There’s just so much of it and it’s a pain in the ass and I’m not the least bit interested in being an archivist. I suppose I’d hang onto s few things but the rest can be blown to electrons as far as I’m concerned. I always wondered what is is that drives painters or writers to throw their canvases and manuscripts in a heap and set them alight. It’s just that you get sick of them being around. They get in the way of creativity. You find yourself worrying too much about this old shit. And no fire is required for this sort of bonnier, just hit delete and you’re free.

Anyway, I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I’m very tired of all this clutter. It serves no purpose except to remind me I write too much. And I’ll still keep writing, which is what it’s all about, writing. The verb writing, not the noun writing. Writing as a verb is alive, writing as a noun is not alive at all, but finished, completed, dead.

Anyway I suppose this sounds like a stupid idea.


A couple days ago I was trying to think up a title for a piece I’d written. It had been a fairly difficult write, it was about information, technology, perception, cognition, and evolution and making it breezily readable in a few hundred words took some work. Science writing does. Anyway, I was 99% finished and maybe a minute away from hitting the publish button to post it on the blog when the screen went blank and when it came back a few seconds later the post was gone. Vanished. There was no evidence that it had ever existed, like it had never been.

I’m sure I let out a fuck or two, and I looked in a few other folders to see if it had magically materialized somewhere else, but no. It was gone. Oh well, I said, and went on to something else. Spilled milk and all that. Maybe I’d rewrite it. Maybe not. It’s just writing.

A friend’s husband, a local editor of note, recently sent out a stern warning to all us writers to back up our stuff. Someone he knew lost everything he’d ever written when something went amiss somehow, and now it was like the poor bastard had never written anything at all.

I thought of that when my essay—which was probably one of the deepest things I’d written in a long, long time—was scattered back into the electrons from which it came. And I realized, to my surprise, that it wouldn’t bother me much if all my blogs were vaporized and a million beautifully laid out words were blasted to sub-atomic particles. I don’t really read the stuff. I don’t think about the stuff. It doesn’t mean that much to me. Hell, I’d just write more stuff anyway. It just gushes out. All I have to do is start typing. It’s epileptic hypergraphia. It didn’t used to be, not all of it, but since 2006 it’s pretty much all symptomatic. A long piece like this means there’s some seizure activity loose in my frontal lobe. The writing just happens. It’s so automatic it loses its significance. It’s just what I do, or am programmed to do. Sort of like being an Android. The real me does other stuff. The Android me writes about it.

So I don’t really have any emotional attachment to all the stuff I’ve written. It’s not like all the books that surround me here. I love my personal library. But I have no real connection to my six blogs full of my own writing. I carefully maintain them, for sure. But there’s nothing visceral in my commitment. They’re just words. My words, sure, but still just words.

It wasn’t till that essay was vaporized a couple days ago that it occurred to me that maybe this attitude isn’t a good thing. I mean for me it’s fine, natural even, but maybe some of this stuff stands on its own, apart from me. That sounds absurd, to me anyway, but I don’t know how my readers would see this. I have no idea. Yet I can’t guarantee any of my stuff will survive. I mean if I ever tire of these blogs all my stuff might vanish for good. Just poof and gone.


As big gnarly dudes pass sixty they see what’s left of their studliness fritter away. Yesterday the wife asked—well, hereby ordered—me to hang up some posters in the bedroom. We still have posters in the bedroom, being groovy. (No, not Credence Clearwater Revisited or Neil Young’s AARP tour.) So I went and got the push pins, held the poster in place and stuck the pin in with my  thumb, but nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened. Tried again. Still nothing. I was mystified. This wall sure has gotten hard I said aloud. Sure, my wife said. It took a few more tries before it dawned on me that at some point in the last couple years my thumb had gotten too feeble to push a tack into the wall. Arthritis. All around me were things hung up over the years, held in place with tacks I had pushed into walls and wood soft as butter. Now I had to get the little hammer. It’s a rock hammer, actually, perfect for splitting open rocks to see what died inside a quarter billion years ago or for tapping tacks into a stubborn wall. But years of epilepsy have left me with a tremor imperceptible till I try to take a picture of a check with my iPhone or manage to hit my thumb with a hammer three out of four blows. So I got the big hammer which shattered the push pins, which unlike walls have not gotten harder over the years. Eventually I hung up the posters with nails. Nails. A hammer and nails. Then I fell and couldn’t get up.

OK, I didn’t, but my thumbs might as well have, the bums. It’s not like they don’t get plenty of exercise. They do. I’m an old drummer laying down beats and paradiddles endlessly, like a child with hyperactivity issues. But air drumming and coffee table solos haven’t done much for the digits. The finger muscles that would grip a plastic wine glass a little too hard (they use to shatter so easily, try doing that at a chic press event) or leave bruises without ever meaning to, well they’re just not what they used to be. You can’t be all thumbs when the thumb can’t even push a damn thumb tack into a wall. Especially if the walls keep getting harder.


One of the most humiliating moments in my life was playing sheepshead with my in-laws and having no clue what was going on. The cards in my hand were meaningless. Not that one, that one! I couldn’t tell the difference. You owe me five cents my normally mild mannered mother-in-law demanded. I gave her the nickle. I was down twenty cents and had no idea how. More shuffling and drawing and dis-carding and I was down another twenty cents. I still hadn’t a clue what was happening. The three Wisconsinites whipped through their cards. I dropped mine. Don’t let us see them! Finally my wife had pity. I don’t think he’s getting it, she said. Well, you should’ve married a guy that could play sheepshead. Once again I was the dumb Irish guy, they were the superior Indians. They sent me outside to shovel snow and talked about fish fry. The next day we got together with more in-laws and I talked too much. They listened politely. Then Friday night at fish fry we sat between two Polish families from south Milwaukee. They drank too much beer, scarfed their food, talked too loud and laughed uproariously. My wife identified me as an Irish Catholic from New Jersey. I’m an atheist who hadn’t lived in Jersey since 4th grade but no matter. They told me Irish jokes that were the exact same as Polish jokes I didn’t dare tell back. Slapped me on the back. Bought me a couple schnapps even though I’d never been to Lambeau Field in the dead of winter. Really, never? They bought me another sympathetically. I sang in the car on the way to the Post. He’s a little tipsy they told the bartender. He’s from California. OK, then no more schnapps for him and he drew me 16 ounces of Pabst. There were more of those as the evening progressed. The bartender put the dice on the bar. I drunkenly demurred. He got cleaned out at sheepshead already, someone said. Laughter all around. Wisconsin is an experience.


Haven’t had vertigo in a while. How pollen gets in the Eustachian tubes I have no idea. Anyway it was back yesterday, relegating me for hours to the couch so I wouldn’t sway and teeter and fall leaving a path of destruction in my wake. You’d be amazed how far you can fall when you’re six and a half feet tall. Six and a half feet, actually. So I didn’t. The cane helped, though walking with vertigo and a cane is a bit trickier. I practiced going up and down the stairs a few times. A little wobbly but getting it. Don’t fall, someone said helpfully. So I didn’t. Indeed I didn’t fall during the entire flare up. That used to be a regular feature, falling and sometimes awesome bruises. I’d get up and pretend it didn’t happen, like a cat running into a plate glass window. I meant to do that.

Better today though. Better since last night in fact. I stood up from the couch, walked three steps and loudly exclaimed Mein Fuhrer, I can valk! That startled whoever it was passing by the window. I heard their concerned stage whispers. Not everyone has seen Dr. Strangelove, apparently. I’m sure they think I’m a Trump voter.

Anyway, I could walk, and did, right into the kitchen and did the dishes.