Cigar Box Guitar: A New Video

I was looking for some more slide instruments this year to add to my collection. I had considered a Weisenborn lap slide, but after talking to my friend Henry Rust (an acoustic instrument aficionado), I decided against it. It was too quiet and delicate for my style of playing -- I tend to beat the fuck out of my instruments. 

Then a thought occurred: I wanted a three string slide cigar box guitar. I set about finding one, looking around on the internet and calling into some local guitar shops, but I ended up where I usually end up: Amazon. It was there that I found this three string cigar box slide guitar, complete with a pickup, for $34. Jesus, what a deal.

It came in the mail later that week, and I assembled it within minutes, and plugged it into my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amplifier. From there, I started in with some overdrive pedals: my OCD, which is a crunchy overdrive with a nice gain and cut to it, and my Crybaby wah pedal. I recently purchased an Ibanez Tubescreamer ts808 35th anniversary pedal (a nice pedal for collectors), which generally gives me a warm tube amp overdrive. But with the cigar box guitar, all it did was feedback like a motherfucker -- and when I put the Crybaby into it as well, it really lit up. I'm into feedback if it's done right: I dig the insanity and the offensiveness of the noise, all in moderation, of course.

So I started constructing a song on the cigar box guitar, and I reached out to Ali, the cinematographer from the NPR Orange Grove video and the Funk & Wagnall LA Sessions, and we set a date for a week later to shoot a video of me playing my new instrument. It gave me a little time to experiment with what I wanted, and what I didn't want. I knew that I wanted the song to be instrumental, and short -- people's attention spans (mine included) are getting shorter and shorter, so I wanted to pack a lot of musical action into a little time frame. I condensed the song into under three minutes (I think the finished project clocks in around 2:40).

Ali and Asal came over to the house, and we filmed in my recording room. The pedals were all over the floor just by chance; nothing was staged. It's a small room, so it was a pretty intimate shoot (which is a nice term for cramped and stuffy), with a lot of closeups and cool angles. I hadn't recorded the song take that would make the video yet, so I just looped and played along with general ideas while they filmed, figuring that I'd make the definitive track after filming. I know that I play with my mouth a lot; it's involuntary, I really can't help it. Looking at all the footage after the shoot, I had no idea that my mouth moved that much. 

After three hours, Ali and Asal left me with the footage, and I recorded the definitive studio track that would be used in the video. The same day I started editing the rough cut of the video. Within two days I had the rough cut done and I brought it to Ali, who really knows his shit with editing and all that. He went to film school; I'm just some dude with a laptop and a home recording studio. But I do alright; Ali said so. We took the cut and worked with it for a total of seven hours, and then, when we were both cool with it, I put it up online. 

For thirty bucks, this instrument is one hell of a good time. Here's the link to Amazon for any of my friends who want to pick one up; it's just cool to have around. The guitar comes with a glass slide, but I recommend just buying a Fender steel slide; it's much better.

Oh, right, and here's the video.

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Last Caress

Sean Armstrong was my neighbor in Durango, Colorado, when I was ten years old. He was a tall lanky kid, maybe four years older than me. He had long bleached hair with brown roots that parted down the middle of his head and ran down past his ears; his eyes were sunken in a little, and his shoulders were kind of slouched. Looking back, Sean was one of my first major influences growing up. 

I was a strange kid then, very insecure, out of place, dorky and desperate to fit in in any way possible. Sean was older, and I thought he was so fucking cool. He was the funniest guy I knew -- he was outrageously funny. There weren't a lot of kids in my neighborhood, so Sean and I would hang out pretty frequently, riding our bikes around, walking and talking about school, music, whatever. I wanted to be just like him.

This was in the late nineties, when the majority of what you heard on mainstream radio were actual bands. Alternative rock bands like Semisonic, Third Eye Blind, Eagle Eye Cherry, Fastball, Everclear; these bands got constant airplay. The Chili Peppers had just released Californication, which had saturated the radio waves with its title hit, and even more with "Scar Tissue", and "Otherside." Songs like "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)", and "Mambo #5" (fuck that song!) were playing day and night. Whenever I hear any of these songs (and thank God that I don't hear some of them anymore), I am immediately taken back to my old neighborhood in Durango, and I think of Sean. He had an ear for music, and he would explain to me how pretty much every song on the radio was the same. He'd go through the structure, talk about the bridge, and point out how in every song by Everclear, the lead singer would make the same stupid "Yeeaah . . ." This gave me a critical ear for music at a relatively young age, and I found myself dissecting each song that I heard on the radio, studying it, seeing if it was authentic, or just a predictable piece of shit.

Sean played the guitar. He had a nice old Gibson acoustic that he'd bring over to my house, and he'd play songs off of the radio, like "Save Tonight" by Eagle Eye Cherry, and "Californication." It was amazing watching his long skinny fingers move and bar across the guitar neck, in fluid technique, as we sat out on the brick porch of my house in Hermosa Valley. Looking back, Sean was the reason that I began playing guitar. My stepfather had an old Sigma, a Martin knock off, in the basement, so my mother got it out, paid to have it fixed up a little, and I started taking lessons. I learned a lot from Sean; he'd give me some pointers and occasionally we'd jam a little.

I remember sitting outside with him once, he was playing a popular song, and I started singing along with the guitar.

"Whoa," Sean said. "You have a really good voice."

I knew that; I'd been singing for years, classically trained and all that. But Sean complimenting me meant a lot. That was the moment when I thought to myself, "I should play guitar and sing."

. . .

Maybe the most influential thing Sean ever did for me was introduce me to the punk band the Misfits.

I remember it clearly: we were in his room, on the top story of his house, he had a cd in his stereo, next to his television, and he told me: "Listen to this. This is by a band called the Misfits." And he played "Last Caress." I listened to it, and I was struck. I remember thinking: "This is the most beautiful music I've ever heard in my entire life." Listening to Glenn Danzig sing, his dark and glorious voice was like an evil Elvis, a darker and ultra-violent Jim Morrison.  I would be able to recognize it immediately for the rest of my life. That was the first time I'd ever heard any kind of punk music. I was maybe eleven years old.

The song spoke of rape and violence. Rape, to me, was a terrifying concept. I had learned what it was only years before, explained to me by friends and my mother. I had been very sheltered as a kid, and anything having to do with sex and violence or even bathroom humor was strictly forbidden. I would become guilt ridden even thinking of such things. But when I heard Danzig bellowing in his illustrious voice about killing babies and raping mothers, and how it didn't matter much to him as long as they were dead and spread, I was completely amazed. It didn't scare me, because the way it was presented, to me, was so beautiful. I couldn't believe what I was hearing; I was in awe -- the power of this driving brutal punk music had suddenly transcended all the taboos in my life. I didn't know that you could just sing about that shit and make it sound so good. I'll never forget that.

The Misfits are still my favorite punk band, slightly ahead of the Dead Kennedys, and even before Bad Brains (blasphemy, I know). The horror-punk sub-genre that they created has never lost its appeal to me. They're like the Ramones, only more badass. While the Ramones wanted to sniff glue and sing punk love songs, the Misfits wanted your skull; they sang about Astro Zombies and the unholy living dead, murder and the macabre, dark and evil subject matter. They were violent, ferocious, and completely unapologetic. Danzig's voice is legendary; and the simplicity of the songs, composed with the structure of 1950's rock and rockabilly, each song is melodic and catchy, short and blasting. I love it.

. . . 

Sean moved away when I was thirteen. But I never forgot him.

Close to a decade after hearing my first Misfits song, I saw Sean randomly at Bonnaroo, a monolithic music festival out in the middle of Tennessee. This was the year that Tool played the festival; the Police were there, the White Stripes, the Flaming Lips, a bunch of bands. Sean recognized me, which was amazing because I hadn't seen him in probably eight years, and I had a mohawk and was wearing only board shorts and sunglasses. I was high on acid, too. It was a cool reconnection, brief but serendipitous.

I remember Sean for a lot of reasons; he was a huge influence on me. I'll always remember the first time that I heard "Last Caress."

p.s: The music video for "Last Caress" is as cool as the song itself; which is a tall order.

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Street Hassle

The first time I heard the song Street Hassle, by Lou Reed, I was sitting at the bar inside the Pocket in Santa Cruz, after hours, with vicki next to me. I was talking to Jerry, the bar owner and my very good friend. We both love Lou Reed, so we were talking about that, and then Jerry goes to the jukebox and puts on a song that swings and rocks in a jazzy lounge sort of way, and for some reason, although I've never heard the song before, I know that it's Lou Reed singing "I Wanna Be Black." Don't ask me how I know that, I just do. I ask Jerry, "Is this 'I wanna be black?'" And he nods, and proceeds to sing along with the track, which is offensive and racy and sharp and clever; punk rock in a swinging jazz suit. And then, after the song ends, Street Hassle, the title track of the album comes on, and my life changes. 

There's the looping circular motion of the cellos, the emotional modern classical hypnotizing feel of the staccato cello notes, and the warm tone of the guitar, whirling in a soft storm of art. In the bar, with my arm around vicki's waist; vicki, who I am really into at the time (and for only a short time), I am enraptured by this new song. The symphony continues for a while, and I'm taking it all in; it's pure to me, amazing. Lou's voice begins to sing/talk in the hybrid style that I've come to easily recognize, but this song is new. And it's long. It's a story, and I am immersed in the beauty of this track. Reed's voice remains cool throughout most of the song, but by the third part, it's vulnerable and beautiful, sad and poignant, deeply moving. It's a totally different side of Lou Reed.

The song is divided into three parts: "Waltzing Matilda," "Street Hassle," and "Slip Away".

First, it's a one night stand love story, lust and sex and New York nights, set to the hypnotic chorus of the cellos. And then the song fades away into the dark and haunting voices of the backing singers, beautiful black girls that bring the song to a standstill in a moving yet short acapella break. And then the cellos start in again, and I'm brought back into the flow of the song.

The story turns dark: an overdosed girl in some house in the city; she took too much, and she's a goner. Lou's monologue is hip street poetry; he's talking to the guy who brought the girl over to the house:

"Hey that cunt's not breathing, I think she's had too much, or something or other, hey man, do you know what I mean? I don't mean to scare ya, but you're the one that came here, and you're the one that's gotta take her when you leave. I'm not being smart or trying to act cold on my part, and I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve. But you know people get all emotional and sometimes, man, they just don't act rational; they think they're just on tv.

"I'm glad that we met, man -- it really was nice talking, and I really wish that there was a little more time to speak. But you know it could be a hassle trying to explain yourself to a police officer about how it was your old lady got herself stiffed. And it's not like we could help her, there was nothing no one could do, and if there was man, you know I woulda been the first. But when someone turns that blue, it's a universal truth, and you just know that bitch'll never fuck again.

"By the way, that's really some bad shit that you came to our place with, but you ought to be more careful around the little girls. It's either the best or it's the worst, and since I don't have to choose I guess I won't, and I know this ain't no way to treat a guest . . . but why don't you grab your old lady by the feet and just lay her out in some darkened street and by morning she's just another hit and run.

"You know some people got no choice and they can never find a voice to talk with that they can even call their own. So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be why they follow it, you know it's called, bad luck." 

In the monologue part about the chick od'ing, Jerry is speaking along with the song, eyes closed. I watch him as I listen, trying to take it all in, drunk and stoned, knowing that I will have to get this album soon -- it's one of the few Lou Reed albums that I don't have at the time. Earlier in the spring, when I first came back up from LA, I went on a Lou Reed binge. He had just died the year before. I'd been an obsessive Velvet Underground fan since age twenty, but I was slow getting into Reed's solo stuff. I had Transformer, sure, the David Bowie produced album with "Walk on the Wild Side" and all that, but that's surface level Lou Reed. Mainstream, if you will. And with Lou Reed, there's so much more than Transformer.

Now that I was back in Northern California, I got The Blue Mask, Coney Island Baby (my favorite right off the bat; it was bright and tightly mixed and a good time of an album), and Berlin. Also, Live in Italy, Animal Serenade, Ecstasy, and Metal Machine Music. All of these albums came from the public libraries as I scavenged around like a kid in a candy store, bulking up my iTunes music library. But I had never been able to find Street Hassle, and I just wasn't sure about it from the iTunes samples that I had gotten online; it didn't do the album justice. I knew that I would get around to getting it, but I wasn't sure what would move me to get the album.

And now here I was, in the Pocket in Santa Cruz, after hours, drinking Coors with the owner, sitting next to my semi-girlfriend at the time, completely entranced, hypnotized and euphoric at the discovery of this new song, this new album. The song Street Hassle reminds me of Santa Cruz, when I would wake up next to vicki, a  beautiful poetic-looking brunette, hungover and a little sick, then sit out in the sun on her house porch and smoke a cigarette and read in the sun, my shirt off and my shades on. We went to the beach one day after breakfast, this must have been in July or even late August; the waves crashed onto the little children and I jumped in the water, briefly, in my underwear, then came out to rest in the sand and sun next to vicki. I remember feeling salty with the ocean and the sex that we had just had earlier. I wrote her some letters during this time, and for some reason, I never capitalized her name, which is why I don't here, either.

The first morning after I stayed over with her she took me to her work; a bed and breakfast near downtown Santa Cruz, where I stayed in the back room and slept some more. I woke up slowly, in quiet secrecy, because vicki wasn't necessarily allowed to bring in one night stands to her work to sleep in after a long night of drinking and cocaine and sex. vicki was a one night stand that lasted about a month. It was good, passionate and fun. Nothing lasts, especially with me. At the time, I was reading White Noise, by Don DeLillo; I sat in the lobby and read for hours until vicki was off of work. Before that I had raced through the Drive-In Trilogy, by Joe R. Lansdale: a raunchy gore-filled romp of sci-fi horror in east Texas. Great books, given to me by Jerry at the Pocket. All these memories connect with the song, emotions and experiences aligned in a single tune.

Street Hassle has the ability to take me to another place each and every time that I hear it. The album itself is so-so for me; half the songs I dislike, although the songs "Wait", "I Wanna Be Black",  "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together" -- those are good. But the title track is the one, man. It takes me there. It is one of my favorite songs, ever. 

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Marc's Music

I was sixteen years old, a sophomore in high school in the tiny mountain town of Durango, Colorado, and I was in a community play called Godspell. Godspell is an absurd play, with religious stories told in a 1970s setting, with goofy songs and strange choreography. My mother was in the play too; she had a small supporting role, and she did some of the choreography. It was supposed to be a bonding experience for her and I, because at that time we were often at each other's throats, and home life wasn't so great. Parents divorcing, me being suicidally depressed, hating myself and everyone in school -- this is where I was at in my life. I played guitar and wrote songs, constantly, as I always have since I was very young, so that kept me afloat somewhat. And there was theatre. I was the lead in the high school production of Les Miserables, as Marius, and there was Godspell that I was in, too, around the same time. Theatre was a necessity for me then; I had to do something extracurricular, to stay out of trouble and off of drugs (which only lasted so long, anyways).

So, the scene is set for this goofy play called Godspell. I was John the Baptist/Judas (they're the same person in the play, some kind of dopey symbolism or something), and I was the youngest kid there. Everyone else were middle aged parents, even grandparents, and for a lot of them, it was their first play ever. 

I met Marc Arbeeny through Godspell. He was a middle aged New Yorker who had recently moved to Colorado with his wife and daughter, Maggie. Durango is the type of small town that even though I didn't know Marc, he had seen me as Frederick in a production of Pirates of Penzance a year earlier, where his daughter Maggie was one of the sisters in the play. So, he already knew who I was when we started talking during the Godspell rehearsals. Marc was funny: he had this thick New York accent, and he was kind of a goof. Godspell was his first play, his first introduction to the world of the performing arts. Marc Arbeeny would completely change my life, but I didn't know that then, of course.

So we would talk and laugh during the rehearsals, and one day my mother takes Marc aside and asks him if he wouldn't mind spending some time with me here and there, mostly because my stepfather wanted nothing to do with me, and there was a lot of drama between us at the house. Marc had said sure, but tentatively. He picked me up after school one day, across the street from the high school. We went out for lunch.

We talked about music. Marc knew a lot about music. Like, a whole fucking lot. He was a big Dead head; he'd been to over two hundred (yes, two HUNDRED) Grateful Dead shows. That amount of Dead shows alone would be enough to seriously damage your brain, but Marc seemed to recall a lot of his Dead days. So, we talked about the Dead, although I didn't really care for them, and I still don't, even as I write all this out over a decade later, and he told me that he might have some music for me to listen to. 

The next time I saw Marc, he had a collection of burned discs, each one titled for me personally, with an index card detailing the track names, the artist, the year, and the album. He had handwritten all of this out. Casey's Jazz. Casey's Zappa. Casey's New Wave. Grateful Dead, three disc live album, Madison Square Garden. Casey's Dylan. This is back when everyone had cds. Cds meant something back then; what a vinyl record must have meant back in the seventies, cds meant the same to me. I had a walkman (with anti skip protection), and I started listening to the cds that Marc had burned me. 

Here's the thing about my sophomore year. I missed the fucking bus every day. Like clockwork, I'd miss the bus. I was sixteen, but I didn't get my license for another year. So, I'd have to ride my bike to school. I had a nice Diamondback road bike, and even though I lived seven miles out of town, if it wasn't snowing, I could make it to school in under an hour. And I was able to listen to all of Marc's cds as I rode my bike to school. I still hear certain songs even today, and it takes me back to the exact moment where I was when I first heard it; where I was riding, I remember the location and the sensation. I remember all of it. Sophomore year of high school, my brain was a sponge. It needed new music to grow. Marc gave me more music than I ever could have imagined.

The jazz album was amazing: different artists, including Pat Metheny, whom I'd never heard before. The Zappa took a little bit for me to get into: "Trouble Every Day" was a good track, "Let's Make the Water Turn Black" was cool. "Sexual Harassment in the Work Place", that song rocked. Eventually I knew all the songs on that mix. Marc's Zappa mix would set me up for a lifetime of listening and studying Zappa's music. I fucking love Frank Zappa. That's because of Marc.

But the one that really changed me forever was the new wave album. It had bands that I had never heard of before: just reading the notecard Marc had written out for me, I knew no one on there: Television, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground, the Clash (I listened to the Clash, sure, but only their radio hits). Riding my bike, the cd starts. The first three tracks are Television, a new wave band from New York in the 70's: "See No Evil" and "Venus De Milo": the guitar work is dualistically complex; each ear hears a different section of the song. The vocals are pitchy and strained, not punk exactly -- too tight and complex, too strange and, what's the word, artsy -- but definitely not pop. What is it then? It's Television. And then the song "Marquee Moon" comes on, the third track off of the New Wave compilation. And man, you hear that song once, and you're hooked. The guitar solos sing like screaming bluebirds streaking across the sky, so emotive and passionate, a wandering journey of mixolydian scales, notes that sustain and move in strange yet fluid patterns. The song clocks in at over ten minutes; a tour de force of art and music that transformed my youth as I rode my bike along the backdrop of mammoth mountains on my way to high school. Television is still one of my all time favorite bands.

And then, Richard Hell plays next. ("And that's really the guy's name?" I think to myself, reading the handwritten notecard. "Richard Hell? What kind of name is that? Is it a band? A person?" I would soon figure it all out.) I remember the first time that I heard the song "Blank Generation" by Richard Hell and the Voidoids: the guitar starts the song in, and I stop riding my bike, stupefied by the shattering sounds of Robert Quine's guitar: I remember thinking "Is this guitar? Is that a guitar that he's playing? Is he playing with a shard of broken glass as a pic? How the fuck does he make it sound like that?! I’ve never heard guitar like that before." The sound was ugly, bright and thin, grating and offensively raw. I'd never heard anything like it, and then the bass plops in and the drums explode like a machine gun, and suddenly Richard Hell is screaming in spitting poetic articulation of words and images, an emotional onslaught of poetic nihilism set to a swinging punk rock groove.

I was hooked. That very moment, listening to "Blank Generation" changed my life forever. That was the thing with the music Marc had given me: I had a never ending treasure trove of undiscovered wondrous music. My brain was soaking it all up, it was constantly evolving and growing and shifting with new experiences, new emotions brought on by music I had never heard before. Hell's song "Walking on the Water" comes next on the disc, the same kind of duplicitous ugly beautiful music that Richard Hell could make without even trying. And just to contrast with the song, Marc puts Creedence Clearwater's version of the same song: two songs for the price of one. Both unique, both different, each one its own song, its own expression of a story. 

Patti Smith comes next: "So You Wanna BeRock and Roll Star"; "Free Money"; "Dancing Barefoot." The poetic prowess of the slender Patti Smith is alluring, sexy, provocative and subversive. I can feel the sensuality of her words, the movements of sound and beat poetry put to rock music. 

After Patti Smith is Lou Reed, who later in my life would become a kind of musical God to me. The new wave mix featured just one song of his, off of his '89 album New York, the opening track "Romeo Had Juliette." I would forever know his voice after that. The cool famous talking/singing style of his, the dirty street walking drug shooting sunglasses and attitude Lou Reed. The dirtier and edgier Bob Dylan. It only took that one song to open me up to Lou Reed; it just cracked open the door, before I would blow the door open with dynamite at age twenty six and go as deep as I could with Reed's music. 

The first time I heard the Velvet Underground, not even knowing that it was Lou Reed's band, it was on the new wave mix: "Temptation Inside of Your Heart," an innocent, simple grooving track that gave me the impression that VU was a hippy kind of band, love and sun and fun. Wrong. Later on, at age twenty, the Velvet Underground would become my favorite band, surpassing the Red Hot Chili Peppers even -- the obsession continues to this day. The influence, the legend, the artful power and the amazing music of the Velvet Underground and all of its incarnations fascinated me. It became an area of intense study. (Clinton Heylin's book From the Velvets to the Voidoids is an illuminating and indispensable history of American punk rock, beginning chronologically with the Velvet Underground.)

And here's the thing: No one my age was listening to Television and Richard Hell in high school. I don't know what they were listening to,  (Blink 182, Green Day, maybe. Gag . . .) but I know that no one was blasting new wave punk into their ears night and day. I was alone in my life: surrounded by other students in high school hallways, I was popular and charismatic, I hated myself and everyone around me. I was alone, but I had this music. It was a secret level of existence that no one could fuck with; headphones pressed securely to my head as I walked through the halls, Patti Smith and Lou Reed and Zappa and Television blasting in my ears. 

All of this music had planted seeds in my brain that would eventually take form years later; it would later turn into an aspen forest of interconnected roots, roots of facts and artists crossing over each other, through time and culture and albums, a huge single organism of never ending potential musical knowledge and experiences.

And Marc didn't just know about this music. He had SEEN it all too. He had lived in New York during the 1970s; he went to CGBGs all the time. He'd seen the Ramones over twenty times, Television and Patti Smith and Richard Hell dozens of times -- he saw Lou Reed and Bob Dylan more times than all the concerts I've been to combined. He'd seen Zappa over what, forty times, fifty times? And he REMEMBERED it all -- that was the shit I couldn't even grasp. Talking to him -- and Marc could talk; it wasn't really us talking as much as it was me listening to him talk. Which was fucking GREAT. Talking about live shows he'd been to in his thick New York accent: "I sar them" (not saw -- Marc SAR bands),  and then he'd wrap up each story by saying quickly "At any rate . . ."

I'm smiling as I write this all out. Because I love Marc. Father figures were few and far between for me. Marc sharing this music with me was a kind of generosity, of love even, that I had never felt before. He'll never know how much that music meant to me, how much it changed me and saved me, and continues to do that all to this very day, this very second.

Another thing: Marc made me a four disc collection of Bob Dylan, each disc was colored a different hue. Dylan Blue, Dylan Red, Dylan Green, Dylan Yellow. After high school, I ran away from home and was living out of my car, out of a trailer with friends, no place to go, no direction; drugs and alcohol were already starting to dominate a big part of my life. And these Dylan cds became the soundtrack to my life at that time. Dylan green, with songs like "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" (my all time favorite), "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall," and "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"; Dylan Blue was my favorite: a deep and emotionally profound collection of what would become my favorite Dylan: "Shelter From the Storm", "Seven Curses", "Visions of Johanna", "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" . . . another story for another time. A story of my first love and drives through the Arizona desert, smoking cigarettes as I sleep in my car in an abandoned parking lot, age eighteen, listening to "Shelter From the Storm." Dylan Blue, Dylan Green . . . The music comforted me, it was my solace, my one source of light. It was just me and the music.

Marc still sends me cds. Just last year he sent me seventeen albums, many of which were double or even triple disc. He included with the albums a book of paperwork an inch thick: printed material from wikipedia and the internet, detailing the albums and the background info, the discographies and the track info. Just this month he sent me an eight disc collection of more Zappa (I can never get enough Zappa). It means as much to me today to receive new music from Marc as it did the first time he ever handed me a cd. The feeling is exactly same. 

I make cds for my friends now. I still sit at home, burning playlists of my favorite artists, and writing out the info for each song, each album. I want to share the wealth, even a fraction of what was shared with me. I feel it's the least I can do.

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Hotel Story

Hotel Story

by Casey Wickstrom

Note: These pages were found inside a night stand drawer, in the hotel room I was staying at while on tour in California.


When I saw the hotel, I instantly knew. It was off of the 5 freeway, off to my left side, near the exit. It looked small and quiet and lonely. Set against the backdrop of sloping towering mountains, the sun was just beginning to go down. I pulled off onto the exit ramp and made my way over. I just felt in my body and in my mind that this was the right hotel. 

I checked into this room at $125 a night, which is a little steep, I guess, but it won't matter much after the three days that I spend here. I paid for three days up front, cash. The outside swimming pool was covered with a blue plastic sheet, the sign on the fence said "Out of Order." My room is #132 on the second floor. The inside of the room is lightly quiet and smells old and a little dusty; the walls are brown paneled fake wood, and there's a picture of a farm above the headrest of my single bed, which squeaks slightly and doesn't feel all that comfortable. There's a small television that I turned on only for a minute, just to see if it works -- a reflexive habit that I have in hotel rooms. Next to the tv is a small table with a lamp above it coming out of the wall, where I put my typewriter and a stack of blank papers. Near the window, with the heavy blinds drawn, there's a wooden chair that I moved near the table, and I'm sitting here typing this into the typewriter now. I feel settled in already. No one knows I'm here. This is exactly as I planned; three days will go by quickly.

What am I doing in this small and lonely hotel off the 5 freeway in the middle of nowhere in central California? I'm here to kill myself. 

I have a single travel bag, it's leather, with a toothbrush, and three bottles of pills. The first two bottles are a mixture of different painkillers that I hope to finish by the third day, when I'll take the entire contents of the last bottle, which has thirty five tiny white pills of pure hydrocodone.

I bought this typewriter because I wanted to document my final three days of life from the seclusion of this cheap little hotel room. I have thought of doing this for a long time now -- for a few years in fact -- and earlier this week I decided that I'd finally do it. I got in my car with my bag, picked up a typewriter from the pawn shop near my house, and just drove. I drove without aim or direction, in a completely random fashion, and I told myself that I when I found the right hotel, I would know. I drove around for about a day, although I was prepared to drive for however long it took to find the right place. I was actually pretty lucky to find a hotel that spoke to me so quickly. So now here I am in this room, writing this introduction. Tonight doesn't count as a day; tomorrow will be day one, and I'll take the first bottle and start the countdown.

I feel tired, so I guess I'll sleep.

. . . 

day one: morning. 

I have woken up from one of the best night's sleep ever. These next few days will be wonderful. Just writing, taking these pills, not leaving the room. Time alone. 

Many people think that suicide victims hate themselves. I do -- I can attest to that. But there's something about suicide that many people don't understand: it's an act of love. You reach a point when you just simply can't suffer and hate yourself any longer, you reach the point of no return, and after years or decades of hating yourself, you decide that it's time to end your suffering. And ending your suffering is an act of love. No one else can save you. You have to save yourself. And you can rescue yourself, you can find peace -- you can finally, finally, be at peace with yourself. Having woken up this morning, I felt for the first time in how long I don't know, that I can stand myself. It was as if the darkness inside of me had reached a truce with the rest of me. It was a mutual understanding that this is the end; we can resolve our differences and be friends for these three days. I am able to find my own self-love, by freeing myself from . . . well, myself.

Staring at the ceiling for a prolonged amount of time, just feeling at peace with the world, at peace with myself at last. I am doing the right thing.

Hours later.

I don't understand gunshot suicides. It's too messy. I get it to some extent, because it means that you're serious. If you stick a fucking gun in your mouth and pull the trigger, then you're serious about dying. And how fucked is it when you hear about these guys that shoot themselves in the head and they survive? I mean, that's brutal. If you shoot yourself in the mouth with an AK-47, that's not a cry for help.  You're aiming to kill yourself. And if you can't even do THAT, with an AK -- man, you thought you were depressed before? You can't even kill yourself right.

But I think of Hemingway. I think of Kurt Cobain, in his loft in Washington, needles everywhere, dreary gray weather outside, maybe cold rain belting at his window, and he sticks the shotgun in his mouth and pulls the trigger with his foot, right? Something about that seems like it would be easy to romanticize, maybe the rain helps. I read that Hemingway shot himself with his favorite shotgun. His favorite shotgun -- he had multiple firearms, but he decided to use his favorite one to blow his head off. I can almost grasp the beauty in it, but I'll never know why people blow apart their skulls. Too messy. I want my body to be intact, a dead replica of my living body, everything that I was, except now it's free of breath, free of life, free of soul. Soul free. Cold stiff body of a stranger on the scratchy red carpet floor of a run down cheap motel in the middle of nowhere. Typewritten pages filled with words, and a leather travel bag full of drugs. Now that's romantic to me.

Slitting your wrists . . . Not my thing. I couldn't cut into my arms like that. Horizontally if you want attention; vertically, all the way down, if you're serious. That's the rule of thumb that I've heard from experienced cutters. I wonder, once you cut one arm, will your hand work to let you slice into the other forearm? Or will your fingers no longer cooperate once you sever the myriad rivers and streams of your veins and tendons; do you just wait until your life pours out of your one arm? A bathtub, lobster red boiling hot water in the tub, that's how I'd do it, if I had to. I don't like the idea of getting cold: I get the mental image of dried fruit, an old apple left out, shriveled and dry. What sound does the razor make when it tears its way through your forearm? How deep do you go, does it make a tearing sound, a rip? How much blood is there? Enough to drain you. Sitting in a tub of hot water as the water is dyed red, blood red (obviously), and you get cold. I don't like the cold aspect, and cutting is for high school girls -- that's my reasoning. 


Christ, maybe. Getting warmer, at least. I've been choked before, once when I was really young: a girl at school grabbed the hood of my sweater, she was standing behind me in the auditorium, and she pulled it back and up in such a way that it began to strangle me. I couldn't breathe. And I didn't try to fight it; I figured eventually she'd let go. And then there was a hot fluid fire light-headedness that filled up in my skull, my body became weightless, it completely overtook me; it was a warm suffocation, and those dots that come after a flash photograph exploded in my eyes, and the music in the auditorium became muffled, like I was under water, warm water, or floating in space, the bright lights like stars, the warmth of it all. I felt euphoric, in a way, and I couldn't breathe. My thoughts came to a halt as the temperature rose in my face, the image of a thermometer rising until it bursts at the top, my eyes melting out of my skull in hot white light. And then, of course, the girl let go, and I could breathe again, and I came down. I liked it. Even then, as a little kid, there was something foreign, and slightly erotic to being choked like that -- although I couldn't describe it like that then; the words just weren't there. Autoerotic-asphyxiation was not in my vocabulary back then. Like the late David Carradine, all bound in leather, wrapped up in his closet, the closed back of the door splattered with cum, the collection of shoes beneath him covered in feces (you evacuate your bowels when you die, yes? Remind me to use the restroom before I go. I'd like as little mess as possible).

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, I remember reading the part where a girl hangs herself. The lady in the book said "I'm afraid she's hanged herself." Hanged. Not hung. I remember thinking how strange that was. She hung herself. No, she's hanged herself.

On hanging: there was a girl that I dated, and later on, she confided in me that at a certain point in her life, she was seriously contemplating suicide. She was going to hang herself, she said. She was living up in the Santa Cruz mountains, with three other people. Her roommates were all out of town, and she was going to hang a rope from the balcony, outside, looking towards the mountains. And she planned to put a tarp beneath her, she said, "in case she made a mess." And the other thing that she told me was that she was going to be naked. The mental image of this beautiful brunette girl, hanging by her neck, completely naked, outside and swinging off of the balcony, the backdrop of the Santa Cruz mountains, the grass, the trees, the dusk setting sun, it was all so poetic. It was dark and insidious and beautiful and poetic. 

But I could never hang myself.

And then there's gas. If it wasn't for the drugs, and the hotel room idea, I would choose gas. Sylvia Plath, with her head in the oven, breathing in the gas stove until she just fell asleep. That's the way to do it. In the garage, you start the car, crack the windows, and just breathe. Play some music on the stereo, you could even make a playlist for the occasion. Simon & Garfunkel, some Beethoven piano sonatas as you relax and let the carbon monoxide take you away to dreamland. You just get tired, your eyelids get heavy, things get surreal, thoughts slow down, the warmth of the softly rumbling engine lulls you, its mechanical drone soothing you to sleep. Why not? 

Throw some pills in there, and you're fucking golden. A handful of hydrocodone, let it sink in, the car running in the garage, the music playing, and you're rushing on the painkillers and relaxed and sleepy, so just let go. Just let it go. Just let it go. Just . . . sleep. 

Man, if it wasn't for this strange obsession with a hotel room, I'd be in my garage right now, just chilling in the cloud of carbon monoxide, stoned out of my head, no longer living. I just saw this hotel in my head; not this exact one, but close. I had a hotel archetype, and once that thought got in there, I knew I just had to drive until I found it. Time was on my side, because I wanted to do it all right. For some reason, dying in some anonymous hotel room off the highway, where no one knows you from Adam, and no one will ever know you, something about that just made sense to me. This room is perfect.


Not a good night tonight. The first bottle is gone, a high wine in my ears, a heavy dull rush that I know very well, but after ten pills you're just not high anymore. And the ten that you take after that, it's like each pill eliminates your high even more. I can't sleep. This room feels closed up, like it's underground, and I'm hearing things.

hours into the night.

I hear the roar of a chainsaw ripping through the darkness of my room. The screams of children, high pitched and terrified, bright in my ears. Hot bursts of industrial light tear and explode behind my eyelids, the sawing and grinding of deadly machinery splits my skull in half. All of this in the next room, by my head. An ocean of fear engulfs my dark single room entirely. The wired galactic dendritic maze of my brain snaps and pops in electrical flashes, overload, blown fuses, crackling hot wires, fried and charred and smoking thin snakes of electricity.

day two: morning.

I woke up on the second day, in my bed, the sunlight filtering in, creeping in through the opening on top of the heavy closed blinds. It cast angled reflected lines of light on the ceiling. It could have looked creepy, but I think it looked beautiful. I glanced over by the old television set and noticed that there was someone else in my room. My heart didn't skip a beat, like that falling drop in your stomach -- no fear to instantly suck the wind out of me, fight or flight mode. I was still high from the night before. 

The shadow looked like the figure of a man at first, and we just sat there in the silence of the room, with the lines of white sunlight streaked open on the ceiling. The shadow was smoking a cigarette; the smoke rose in a twisted fluid stream, rising upward until it dissipated close to the ceiling. The silence was heavy, although I could hear cars out along the freeway. Maybe even a few birds. The figure that looked so much like a man slowly and gently morphed into the dark silhouette of a woman. Like a camera lens shifting into focus, her body image became clearer and clearer, and I saw that she was a very beautiful woman. Wearing a light brown skirt, her legs were crossed. She looked older, her face was not as tight as a young girl's might have been. Her lips were full and sensual; she might have been in her early forties. Her hair was auburn and rested easily on her wide shoulders. She just stared and stared at me for a long time, saying nothing, the smoke of her cigarette rising into warm heavy silence.

  I felt that I had to break the silence.

"Are you real?" I asked. I was still high, but I also had the feeling that I was dreaming, the subtle breaths of phantasmagoria and sleep still had me in its clutches. 

"Yes." She said, and her voice was quiet but full, sexy.

"That's good," I replied, feeling confused, but playing along, like you might do in a lucid dreaming state. "Can I help you with something? I think you might have the wrong room."

"I don't think you can help me," she said, her dark eyes never leaving mine, she never blinked. "You can't even help yourself."

"Oh. How do you know that?"

She said nothing, just stared. I began to feel very uncomfortable, and a little impatient.

She finally blinked and turned her head up and away to the side, as if examining half of the room for the first time. 

"Pills are such a weak way to die." She said. The mechanical wheels in my mind churned to keep up with her statement.

"Okay. So, what? I'm weak?"

She turned her head back to face me. "No, you're not, you're just having a moment of weakness. There's a difference."

"There's not enough difference for me. I'm here to die, and that's what I plan to do, tomorrow."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself. But I think that you should know that if you follow through with your plan, you'll miss out on the party."

"What party?" Images of floating balloons and confetti exploding in a brightly lit room expanded inside my mind briefly.

"The one that we're all having." She said ominously. And then she sat there in silence again. 

"Okay, this is getting weird. I think you need to leave."

Then her voice went low, very low. Way too low. It slowed in time and dropped to a heavy and deep bass octave that sounded like a vinyl record being slowed down dramatically. 

"The party we're all having . . ." she said, and she stood up and rushed towards me in a snap of motion like a wild animal. In an instant she was next to me. My mind popped in terrified panic, sheer high pitched terror, the snap of fear was almost audible. I lifted my hands up in reflex, covering my face, like a petrified child. If you don't see it, it's not real, right? The thoughts that go through your mind when you panic: I thought of my eyes being gouged out, my face scratched, completely vertical pinstripes of red, a bloody jail cell on my face. A choked scream, a nightmare, underwater, quicksand . . .

I woke up in my bed, my heart laboring much too fast, covered in cold sweat, my head spinning, it felt light, disconnected, like it might just float off of my shoulders like a balloon. So it was a dream. These pills can do that to me. It was a long time before I felt better again. And even then, I didn't feel better, really.


This typewriter was a bad idea. It's killing my fingers. I just thought that it would be classy, a romantic thing; I had a mental image of the cleaning lady opening the door to the room, seeing my body lying stiff and motionless on the rough thin red carpeting, the typewriter on the table near the television, papers strewn all over with ink and words; a hurricane-aftermath-like feeling. It seemed right. Nothing written in a laptop could achieve that kind of thing. A notebook would be close, but that would be too neat, too easily preserved. I want scattered, unorganized papers, these typewritten pages accumulating. Put the pieces together -- you figure it out. 

Of course, I'm pretty sure that no one will read this. Police evidence, maybe. Most likely to be thrown into the trash afterwards. Room clean, next guest. I wonder how many people have died in this room before me?

So the typewriter stays, and the pages keep coming, but fuck, these keys are heavy, stiff. Even with the drugs, they hurt my fingers. 


The second pill bottle is almost done, completed. Like a level that I must beat to progress to the next one. Reactions are slow, heavy, deliberate, drowsy, but I can still type on this thing. The heavy keys of this typewriter click and clack in analog archaic rhythmic sounds. Bukowski did this. Mark Twain did this. And now, my second to last night of life on this planet, I do it too. I take drugs and write. Not that I'm in any way comparable to Hemingway and Bukowski -- that's not what I'm saying. It's just the typewriter, you know? I write for no one, but I'm writing nonetheless, rambling in a near incoherent state of being.

night, later.

Talking in the room next to me, through the wall behind my head:

"I don't think we can do this tonight."

"Really? Why not?"

"I just don't think that it would be right."

"Wow. Well, okay. If that's how you feel."

"I'm sorry, but it is."

"Alright then."



Then there's the loud deep blast of a shotgun that rockets through the room, it explodes in my ears, a bomb, a flash of white light, instantaneous panic, it takes the breath from my lungs. I jump up out of my bed, an animalistic reaction -- I crouch down beside the night stand before the sound of the shotgun blast even fades, huddled in primal fear. I wait a few moments for a reaction from the other rooms. Phone calls, police sirens in the distance, getting closer and closer until the wailing sounds and flashing lights engulf and circulate the world around you; I wait for the banter of other hotel residents, screams and reactions. After the blast there is only silence. I've been getting scared like that these past two days. Dreams, violence, hallucinations. Like the lady earlier this morning, how do I know that this is real? 

night, continued.

Something happened this evening. After the shock of the gun blast in the other room, I turned on the light next to my bed, finished the second bottle, feeling much too warm and fuzzy, itching and scratching long thin red lines all over my chest and upper back, scratching my shoulders raw, and I got up from the typewriter for a moment to look in the mirror. The mirror is in the main room, outside of the bathroom. The bathroom is tiny, with only the toilet and the small shower, and the mirror and sink and the small coffee maker and some bars of hand soap rest on the sink counter in the main room. Anyways, I was much too high -- which I can easily distinguish when I am -- and I began to look at myself in the mirror: the dark drugged despair bags beneath my eyes, my hazel eyes looked like circles made entirely of sharp tiny broken glass shards, millions of slivers exposed in my dilated pupils that shone in the mirror with microscopic clarity, even in the low and dim yellow light above the mirror. I saw into my eyes, like I was seeing myself for the first time, and I know that this sounds stupid, but I saw myself as a kid, in the reflection of my eyes. It sounds strange and corny, but I'm already onto the next line in this thing. Time is short -- my time is short, anyways -- and this is more of a stream of consciousness thing than any kind of serious writing. No one will know that someone spent three days and nights in here, slowly and methodically killing themselves, writing in an old typewriter, chronicling the last days and hours and moments of his life before he finally seals the deal.

Back to my eyes. I started to cry. I felt it coming on, looking into my eyes, the same eyes that I had when I was a child, the eyes that I was born with, the eyes that saw the world through my sad and broken mind. I fell into the round pools of hazel colored kaleidoscope broken glass shards and I just let it go. I didn't cry very loud, or even very long, but it was a deep cry, a despairing sob, tears fell into the sink, sobs racked my shoulders. I felt completely alone, as I've always felt. I turned my head away, and when I looked back into the mirror, my eyes were horribly bloodshot and cashed out, my face was streaked with tears, snot ran from my nose, I had a hard time breathing, my breath caught and my face tingled. And then, as my eyes regained focus into themselves, a comforting warmth that I had never felt before completely wrapped around me like a warm blanket during a snow blizzard, all encompassing and true: it was the knowing that I was going to die, and the comfort that came with that. The supreme knowledge that my life was my own, to have and to hold (in sickness and in health), til death do us part. There was a grounding feeling of closure, something indescribable (though I'm trying here, really trying to describe it). It was the calm in the storm, the breath of peace before the plane crash, the feeling of salvation, the embrace of a loved one in the midst of tragedy; it was safety and it was resolve. Resolve, that's a good one. Knowing that I was going to be ending all of this, the gravity of my decision had finally sunk in with a heavy and sure finality. I knew, I felt it, and it will soon be over.

But the hallucinations keep coming. 

After I had stopped crying, I still heard soft thin sobs, like far off ocean waves. They persisted, and I realized with some confusion that they were the quiet sobs of a child, in my room. In the reflection of the mirror, I saw a small dark human figure sitting on the floor, the shadow of a child, head and shoulders over their knees, it's arms wrapped around them, slowly rocking back and forth, sobbing quietly, alone and sad. I waited for the figure to dissipate, but it remained, the sobbing continued, in a very human way; it ebbed and flowed, still quiet, but varying in it's rhythm. My heart hurt. The pills had their grip around it, but it was also something about this small human sitting on the floor, crying, all alone. I could see the metaphor, surely. I slowly turned around, thinking that once I left the view of the mirror, the mirage would disappear. And yet, when I turned around, the figure was no longer a shadow, it was an actual child, a small girl, twelve years old, maybe, I don't know. But she was still THERE, crying, her sobs were softly shaking her small and feminine frame, her dark brown hair hung over her knees as she continued to weep. I stood there, waiting for the next move; waiting for the nightmare part to take over -- like the woman in the morning, or the shotgun blast; this time I was ready to be taken aback, scared, horrified. But none of that happened. The girl lifted her head from off of her knees, and turned to look at me. 

(Her eyes are going to be bleeding, I told myself. She'll have no eyes. Something. She's going to scream and it will set this room on fire.) My heart pounding in anticipation of the fear. She looked up at me, and her eyes were bright, beautiful, young, a darker brown than my own; they were shining and wet, and our gaze met. There was a locking connection between us. The pain that this small child was feeling was also my own; she was weeping for me -- somehow I knew this. She was sad that someone had to die, that people die, everyone dies, and she was so little that death still seemed so abstract and unreal to her, but she knew that I was going to die. Tomorrow, I was going to die. And so she was crying. I didn't know this girl -- she wasn't even really there, I reminded myself. I'm just losing my mind a day before I kill myself. Simple. But we looked at each other, and I was so overwhelmed that I slowly walked the four or five steps over to her, and she didn't move away; I didn't scare her. I knelt down beside her as she continued to sob, a little louder now that I was right next to her. I didn't know what to do at first; I felt awkward, like the wrong movement would cause her to evaporate back into the ether of the room. Yet she was real, this little girl, and I touched her left shoulder, and that was real, and her dark brown hair was soft and real, and I felt her shoulders shaking softly. My hand stayed on her shoulder as I knelt by her on one knee; an infinite amount of time passed, and then I knelt down beside her on both knees, and slowly wrapped both of my arms around her. She didn't disappear. Time stood perfectly still, it lay heavy on us as I held her, and her small and frail arms, soft and hairless and warm, reached up and cradled my arm in a soft and intimate connection, (she was real, she had to have been, I could smell her hazelnut hair, I could feel her breath shaking her shoulders). I held her in my arms, comforting her, both of us alone in this world, all alone, so sad and alone. I held her and whispered words of solace to her. We slowly rocked and swayed as she cried, my chin and mouth rested on her head, the scent of her hair filled my nostrils, and I felt beautiful. I held her until she disappeared. 

. . .

final day, morning.

This is the last day. I don't really have a time table for how I want to do it, although I know that I'll just take what's in the entire last bottle and call it. Man, my fingers are killing me. This typewriter is the real deal, heavy metal machine contraption, working it all out in clicks and dings and crunches. My fingers have blisters, dull and throbbing pain, what pain there is left to feel. Not to brag, but I've taken two bottles of pills in two days. Thirty each. That's right. Sixty pills in two days. I'm not dead; I'm writing this all out, because I'm a professional. Thirty pills a day is excessive even for me, but these are not the killer pills, not really anyways. These are just a combination of norcos, vicodin, percoset, a little morphine, some dilaudid. A cocktail of pills. It's the bottle today that will seal the deal: thirty five little white dots of pure hydrocodone. No acetaminophen in those babies. That's a guaranteed overdose, boys and girls. And I know that it will feel great going out. A heavy, heavy drop into sleep. I haven't decided if I'll lie on the bed to go out, or just swallow the whole fucking bottle and write into this thing as long as I can before I just keel over and fade into black . . . Probably the latter.

I wish there was something that I could write, a final goodbye, something deep and profound, a prolific quote that would make the literary world stand on its head. But I have nothing. Besides "goodbye," and how fucking stupid would that be? I could apologize to my family, but I'm not sorry. I'm doing what must be done, what's right for me, and I know it, I know in my heart that this is what must be done. 

.  .  .

I just took the whole bottle. Just seconds ago. Start the countdown. A mouth full of pills. Like candy, they begin to melt; I keep them in there for a minute until I think I might start to choke, then I down them with a little water from the paper cup at the sink. I think I'll place these pages in the drawer near the bed. A secret stash of suicide letters.

Maybe a flash of insight before I leave. I'd say I have a good ten minutes -- fifteen at most, before it takes hold and stops my heart. Fourteen minutes now. I feel like an astronaut, preparing for takeoff. A really fucking high astronaut. I want to write faster, but I can't.

Fuck, what to write when you only have minutes to live?

.  .  .

I have it. 

I want to end with something, it just came to mind. 

It's nothing amazing, but I do think that it's beautiful. It's the words I said to the little girl that I held in my arms, in my room last night. Comforting her, I held her in a warm and loving embrace, and as we slowly rocked back and forth, I was her solace in this dark and sad and lonely world, and she was mine. As I held her, I whispered something softly to her.

"It's okay." I whispered to her, over and over again. "It's okay."

Like poetry to me.

My Night With Billy Pfalmer

Note: Originally written 2/27/16

My Night With Billy Pfalmer

Billy Pfalmer was a senior when I was a freshman at Durango High School. I knew of him because he played in a punk band called the Randibles. Billy was certainly a punk. He had bright blonde shaggy hair, he was tall and slim, and his eyes had dark bags under them, like he was always stoned. His clothes were all baggy, and his jeans hung down low, which was the style of the nineties and early 2000's. I had never spoken to him, but I had seen his band play at a school battle of the bands. I didn't understand punk music then, and seeing Billy sing and yell into the microphone while the other band members thrashed and drove through these frantically fast one or two minute songs was a lot for me to take in. The only words that I could understand from their fifteen minute set was when Billy moaned into the mic: "I wish I could have it my fucking way . . ." Nevertheless, the Randibles were a band that I had long known about from my older friends; they were somewhat like local legends in the small mountain town of Durango. Billy Pfalmer was the essence of punk, in my mind, and in the minds of many others. His band was an expression of himself, and the first time I saw him perform, although I didn't understand it, I was impressed while witnessing the legend that was Billy Pfalmer. 

The next year, Billy graduated, and I remained in high school. I forgot all about him. When I was a junior, I started doing a few drugs and drinking a bit, and some of my friends that I hung out with were older than me, around Billy's age. One of my friends, Boo Burnier, worked with me at the hot springs near my house in Hermosa Valley, north of town. Boo was Asian. He had a nice car, a red Eclipse; he and I would sit out back of the front office and smoked rolled cigarettes and talk and laugh about things. Boo was super fucking cool; he was older than me, and it made me feel cool to hang out with him. One day, he asked me if I wanted to come along with him to a punk show, and I could drive him home afterwards because he wanted to drink. I said sure, and he asked me if I could drive stick. I said I could, even though I'd never done it before, because I really wanted to go. I had never been to a punk show, but I really wanted to now, because I was partying a little bit and I was starting to feel a little like a punk. Boo picked me up outside my house and drove us to the VFW, where the show was. I was excited and a little nervous.

Billy Pfalmer was there with his new band, The Colorado Folk Revival. There was a punk band that played before, and there was a mosh pit. I jumped in and experienced my first pit, running and stomping in a circle, shoving and moving in a current of punk bodies and teenage aggression. It was amazing -- I had never experienced a high like that. Billy's band played after, they sang some acoustic folk renditions of punk songs they had written, including a pirate ballad: "I'll drink when I'm thirsty, I'll drink when I'm dry . . ." something like that. After the show, Boo went to the bar of the VFW. I followed him, and I saw Billy there, his tall, blonde, slim figure hunched over the bar with a drink, slurring his words at the bartender, something about the turnout of the show. It was cool to see Billy like that; I remember taking a mental picture of him in my head, the punk rock star of Durango, drunk, after his show, in his element. After Boo had a few drinks, it was time to go, and Billy asked Boo for a ride. Boo said that we could all go to his place for a few more drinks. So now, I was driving Billy and Boo back up north towards the valley.

In the nice red Eclipse, Billy was in the back seat, and Boo was riding shotgun. It was soon obvious that I didn't know how to drive a stick shift. The car stalled a few times, I bottomed out coming out of the VFW parking lot. Boo sighed loudly, and began trying to explain to me how the clutch and gas worked.

"It's like finding the g-spot," Boo explained wisely. "You need to just ease into it, with a little balance, back and forth smoothly." I kind of got the hang of it. Billy was in the back seat, pretty drunk.

"Man," Billy slurred. "If I didn't know how to drive a stick, I'd kill myself."

"This kid's cool, Bill." Boo assured him. I drove us through town, praying that we didn't hit any red lights. It was a nervous ride.

"If we get pulled over, I'm running." Billy said from the back seat. "I got warrants." 

I finally made it to Boo's house at the Ranch, an upper class suburb in Hermosa Valley. Boo's parents were out, so Bill and him started drinking a little bit more. Billy was swaying back and forth in the kitchen. I couldn't stop thinking about how cool he looked, how close I was to the lead singer of the Randibles; I was a fly on the wall; he was completely oblivious to me being there.

"Man, let's find some sluts!" Billy kept saying to Boo. They talked and laughed and I just hung out, quiet and smiling. 

"Fuck, I need some cash," Billy said. "I need some cash for tomorrow." He slurred on: "Boo, can you spot me twenty bucks, man? I'll pay you back. Just twenty."

Boo took a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to Billy.

"Here, Bill," Boo said to him. "Don't worry about paying it back, man."

"No, I'll pay it back." Billy insisted.

"Don't worry about it, Bill. I mean it. It's a gift, man."

It impressed me to see Boo give Billy money, just like that, and expect nothing in return. It added to the coolness that was Billy Pfalmer. A little while later, I left with Boo, and I gave Billy a high five on my way out.

"Later, man." Billy said, slouched in a chair. I felt cool. Boo drove me home. I've never forgotten that night.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .

Maybe three years later, Billy died of a heroin overdose. I was now a punk myself, doing a lot of drugs, living fast and recklessly. When I heard the news from a friend, or from a few friends that he had died, I immediately remembered the night that I hung out with Boo and Billy. I was so glad that I had that night.

I went to Billy's memorial, where there were a bunch of kids that I hadn't seen since high school, they were sad and a lot of them were fucked up. Billy was a huge part of the local punk scene, and his loss was one of huge magnitude for the town. It was a somber moment, but to me, it wasn't that sad. It didn't surprise me in the least that Billy had OD'd on heroin -- that was punk. Billy Pfalmer was the essence of punk rock: he had lived punk, breathed punk; ostensibly, it was all he knew how to do. If I had expected anyone to go out in the glorified punk rock fashion of a drug overdose, it was Billy. I admired and respected him for going out like that. Of course, I felt bad for his family, who had pulled the plug on him after it was clear that he would never come out of his drug induced catatonic state. That was sad. 

But what would Billy have done differently? Gotten a suit and tie job? Played in a punk band on the weekends while he slaved away in some office cubicle? In my mind (and I really had no idea besides my own impression of Billy that had been established from only a few glimpses and a single night), Billy had fully committed his life to punk rock -- it was like his religion -- and that was how he would have, and should have, gone out. 

I don't know. Maybe not. There very well could have been many different sides to Billy Pfalmer, seen by those that knew him much more than I ever did. But as a teen myself, Billy had left a mark on my life, just from that single interaction we had shared years before; I was proud to have known him only in that single moment, and I knew in my heart that he had lived life by his own rules, and gone out the same way. At the memorial, we all shouted out "Fuck off, motherfucker!" Which was a song lyric of Billy's, and what he probably would've said to all of us if he had walked in to his own memorial that day. 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .

Many years have passed since that time, and I have lived many different lives. I too have struggled with hard drugs, overdosed, relapsed countless times; I have felt the pointlessness of life, and felt intense pain at the futility of everything around me. The attitude of punk rock still makes sense to me at times. But I have been able to move past many of my demons and come around to a better existence. I write, I play music, I tour, I make films.

And even now, it amazes me that that single night with Billy Pfalmer is so ingrained in my mind. It always will be.  

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Still Silence: Meditation And Your Brain


Note: This was written for my psychology class at De Anza.

Still Silence: Meditation And Your Brain

Meditation is one of the oldest practices of attaining higher consciousness, by focusing on the simplest, most basic form of life itself: breath. While often associated with Eastern religions and philosophy, the act of meditation is actually transcendent of any specific religious affiliation, and has been practiced throughout history as a major element of all religions and faiths, including Christianity and Judaism (Weiten 161). Meditation simply refers to a family of practices that focus attention to heighten awareness by bringing mental processes under greater voluntary control (Weiten 161). Research from various experiments suggests that regular meditation can lower stress hormones, help control blood pressure, aid in regulating sleep patterns, and help increase pain tolerance (Weiten 162). However, some psychologists are quick to point out that the same effects might be attainable through other relaxation techniques, as well as through use of placebos. To be sure, additional research is needed to shine a light on this practice, and the potential benefits and effects of meditation need to be studied objectively and empirically.

Modern research is lending a hand in explaining some of the science behind meditation, and its potential neurological and physiological benefits. Studies from some of the country's most distinguished universities have yielded data that have put the ancient benefits of meditation into scientific terms, and the results are astounding and exciting. With the use of fMRI and EEG technology, scientists are able to objectively study, document, and begin to visually comprehend what it is exactly that meditation does to the human brain.

According to a study performed at UCLA, it was discovered that long-term meditators had better preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged (Walton). That is, participants who had been meditating for twenty years or more showed more grey matter throughout their brains than their non-meditating counterparts. Grey matter makes up the majority of the brain's neuronal cell bodies, and also includes regions of the brain involved in sensory perception (i.e sight, sound, emotions, self control) and muscle control (wikipedia). As Florian Kurth, the author of the study, explained: " [. . .] what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain" (Walton).

A recent study from Harvard and the University of Sienna found that mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and depression by actually altering the physiology of the human brain (Hall). Scientists took 24 subjects that had never before meditated, and guided them through an eight week meditation course, where they meditated for 45 minutes a day. They also completed a two and a half hour session each week detailing the various components and methods of meditation. MRI tests were conducted before and after the program, as well as extensive psychological evaluations throughout the experiment, and the data gathered revealed astonishing results: 

"[The study] revealed that the subjects experienced a thickening in the part of the brain responsible for emotions and perception. Such changes strengthen the body's physiological resilience against worry, anxiety and depression" (Hall). 

 This is not merely a single, isolated experiment -- a 2011 Harvard study found the same thing (Walton). Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and her team at Harvard Medical School, gathered data that corroborate these findings. After eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), it was discovered in the subject's brains that the cortical thickness in the hippocampus had increased. The hippocampus is the part of the limbic system involved in learning and memory (Weiten 76), and plays important roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There was also a decrease in brain cell volume found in the amygdala, the area in the brain responsible for aggression, fear, anxiety and stress (Walton). A similar study carried out at Yale University also achieved similar results, seeing an overall quieting of the Default Mode Network of the brain, or DMN, which causes incessant worry and repetitive thought patterns (Walton). These studies led scientists to conclude that meditation can lead to volume changes in key areas of the brain.

A potentially huge breakthrough in meditation research is that it can provide a heightened tolerance of pain (Weiten 162). In the US, there is a worsening opioid epidemic, with overdose deaths reaching an all time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2000, opioid drug overdose deaths have risen over 200% (Kounang). Each year, the number of fatalities increase, with opiates involved in 61% of all drug overdoses (Kounang). In the midst of this ever prevalent crisis, safer alternatives to methods of pain management are in high demand. A number of recent studies have demonstrated that meditation can in fact increase the tolerance of pain (Weiten 162). In a 2009 study, Grant and Rainville compared the pain sensitivity of thirteen experienced Zen meditators and thirteen non-meditators. Carefully controlled pain was administered by applying heat to the participants' calves. The Zen meditators were able to handle significantly more pain than the control group (Weiten 162). Further studies suggested that the heightened tolerance was associated with increased thickness in the regions of the brain that register pain -- that is, meditation appeared to have produced enduring alterations in brain structure responsible for the meditators' increased pain tolerance (Weiten 162).  

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist and Senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, has plenty to say about the human brain. Dr. Hanson is the bestselling author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom (2011), and more recently, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science Of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (2013). A leader in the understanding of the science behind meditation, Dr. Hanson continues to gain insight and share the benefits of mindful meditation practice. In Hardwiring Happiness, Hanson explains the intricacies of the human brain:

"As you read this, in the five cups of tofu-like tissue inside your head, nested amid a trillion support cells, 80 to 100 billion neurons are signaling one another in a network with about half a quadrillion connections, called synapses. All this incredibly fast, complex, and dynamic neural activity is continually changing your brain. Active synapses become more sensitive, new synapses start growing within minutes, busy regions get more blood since they need more oxygen and glucose to do their work, and genes inside neurons turn on or off. Meanwhile, less active connections wither away in a process sometimes called neural Darwinism: the survival of the busiest. . . . Day after day, your mind is building your brain" (Hanson).

With so much constant neurological and cognitive action, it makes sense that even a few moments of regular concentrated stillness and mindfulness can bring about significant changes to the way your brain works. Only recently have we been able to scientifically pinpoint how meditation works, and what it does to the human brain. Amazingly, this is only the beginning -- as technology continues to evolve, we may continue to see further evidence as to how something as simple as focusing on your breath consciously and regularly can bring about massive shift in how the human brain functions. 

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Sources Cited

1. Weiten, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and Variations, Briefer Version, Ninth Edition. California: Wadsworth CENAGE Learning, 2014. Print.

2. Walton, Alice G. 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain. Forbes. Web.

3. Hall, Alena. Meditation Is Even More Powerful Than We Originally Thought. Huffington Post. Web.

4. Grey Matter. Wikipedia. Web.

5. Kounang, Nadia. Drug Overdose Deaths Reach An All-Time High. CNN. Web.

6. Hanson, Rick. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science Of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. New York. Ebook. 


Twenty Influential Albums

Note: I made a collection of twenty albums on burned discs as a gift for my friend and physical therapist Chaula. Afterwards, I wrote a little bit about them. They are in alphabetical order.

1. The Animals: Retrospective . . . Such a great band. Eric Burdon is one of my favorite singers. One of the greatest bands of the sixties.

2. Aotearoa: Strange Weather . . . These guys -- and it's just two of them -- are friends of mine. I met them the first time I played the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood, and I've followed their music ever since. These guys are master loopers; they loop electric guitar with a bunch of effects and play the drum set; switching instruments and vocals depending on the song. This album is their magnum opus. It's one of my top ten favorite albums of all time. These guys are pretty much the reason that I got into looping.

3. Barenaked Ladies: Rock Spectacle . . . A great album; listened to it in middle school, great musicianship and live performance, some of the best renditions of songs, better than the studio recordings. If you can get past the band name (which my mother had a hard time with), they're a real treat.

4. The Best Of CAKE . . . One of my favorite bands, this is a compilation that I made for myself, taken from four or five of their albums. People either love CAKE, or they can't stand the dry beat poetry, sarcastic articulation laden vocals. There's really no in between, I've found.

5. Chaula's Surf . . . The Ventures, Dick Dale & The DelTones, CW, and the Beach Boys. Pure surf sound.

6. Chuck Berry: The Great Twenty Eight . . . the king of rock n roll. This album covers a lot of ground. You'll notice that many of the songs sound the same -- that's because they are pretty much the same, with just different lyrics. But this music wasn't a thing before Chuck Berry started doing it, so it was his style, and he took it as far as it could go. His influence is vast, from the Beatles, to the Rolling Stones, to Elvis . . . no one could play rock without crediting Chuck Berry. He just turned ninety, and he's coming out with a new album. 

7. Dave Brubeck: Time Out . . . A great standard jazz album, perfect for driving around Christmas shopping, good holiday music. You'll recognize Take Five, but they're all great songs on this album.

8. Fela Kuti: Zombie . . . The famous album that caused a governmental uproar and backlash in Africa against Fela Kuti. Amazing composition, AfroBeat music from the creator of the genre. A great introduction to the artist.

9. Glenn Gould: Goldberg Variations . . . the Canadian prodigy Glenn Gould was a neurotic musical genius in the fifties, which is when this amazing album was released (1955). "French Suites" is also a recommended album of his. This is Bach, by the way, and nobody can play Bach on piano like Glenn Gould. 

 10. The Best of John Cale: Cale's early musical career started with experimental music, most notably with the influential art-rock band the Velvet Underground. His solo career was successful, his music more subdued to be sure. He also produced Patti Smith's music, the Stooges, and Nico, the German ice queen singer. As an aside, these songs take me back to when I was first released from Stanford; I had a new and healthy lease on life, and these songs fill me up with that feeling again. 

11. Lou Reed: Coney Island Baby . . . Lou Reed has has an amazing career, both solo and as the frontman of the Velvet Underground .(Reed died in 2013, while I was living in LA. I was so sad. Brubeck died that year, too.) This is one of his cleaner albums, a tight, bright, nicely produced and beautifully rendered album. One of my favorites. He has a much more raw and offensive side: The Blue Mask, Transformer, Street Hassle, Metal Machine Music, there's plenty to get into, but this one is one of my favorites for sure.

12. Morphine: Cure For Pain . . . A hugely influential album for me, a top five in the list of favorite albums of all time. Listen to the sound of the two string slide bass. With the baritone sax and the jazz drums, Morphine is a sound all on it's own. A huge influence on my lapslide playing. I think that this is their best album.

13. Red Hot Chili Peppers: By The Way . . . After Paul Simon's Graceland, this album ranks #2 in my all time favorite albums. I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I have nearly all of their albums -- this one came out when I was a freshman in high school. Blood Sugar Sex Magic, Californication, and Stadium Arcadium are albums that are time period pieces of my life. This album is amazing. 

14. Seu Jorge: The Life Aquatic Sessions . . . This guy plays David Bowie songs on classical guitar, singing in Portuguese. There's a film directed by Wes Anderson, an art film called The Life Aquatic; Seu Jorge does the soundtrack for the film. Wes Anderson makes some beautiful artsy films with amazing soundtracks -- Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic, and Moonrise Kingdom are some good ones.

15. Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence . . . Freshman year, this album was the soundtrack of my life. I remember each song, playing on my walkman, as I walked through the high school hallways, or took a stroll downtown alone. April Come She Will and Kathy's Song are some of my favorites.

16. Television: Marquee Moon . . . The often overlooked 1970's new wave band Television's magnum opus album that influenced so many musicians. A major influence on my lead guitar playing (when I play electric, something you've haven't seen yet). The melodic scales that Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd play on this album are amazing. I listened to these guys sophomore year; they were introduced to me by Marc, who made me all those cds. Also Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, the Clash, the Grateful Dead . . . Marc changed my life. He's why I share music like this with people. 

17. The Velvet Underground : Self Titled . . . One of the most influential bands way ahead of their time, this album was after John Cale was fired by Lou Reed, and replaced by Doug Yule. This album was a game changer for the band, in that it had a lot of soft, intimate, beautiful songs, whereas the first two VU albums were a tirade of feedback and offensive subject material. My favorite band in the whole world, even above the Chili Peppers. Although not my favorite album (my favorite would be their second release "White Light/White Heat"), this is still a beautiful experience.

18. The White Stripes: De Stijl . . . Now separated, this husband and wife duo (or brother and sister, as they once claimed), are the originators of a style now known as garage blues. Their earlier albums are more raw, bordering on punk rock, trash garage rock, with a lot of noise, offensive to many. I love this band, I saw them in Tennessee in '06. Jack White continues to create music, but I have since tuned out, because I don't think that his new stuff is any good. This album is a good, cleaner introduction to the White Stripes, and you can probably get a sense of my lapslide and blues style influence from them. 

19. Xavier Rudd: Solace. . .This album is the reason that I play lapslide. Ben Harper, too, but I heard Xavier Rudd first. This is where I first heard No Woman No Cry on lap slide, and my life changed. This whole album is why I play lapslide in the style that I do. I've seen this guy three times, the first time was amazing, the second time was so so, and the third time I walked out because I was so bored. The first time I saw him, it was just him, with a lap slide, and he played digeridoo and percussion with his feet while he played. Xavier Rudd plays all the instruments on this album. Solace was shown to me by my best friend Dustin (as was the White Stripes, Ben Harper, Morphine, and a bunch of others). In a totally inappropriate anecdote, I lost my virginity to this album. Good stuff.

20. The Zombies: The Singles 1964-1969 . . . one of the greatest (and most overlooked) bands of the sixties. This album covers a lot of ground; there's not a song that I don't love on this album. The Zombies were an amazing act (the remaining members are actually on tour right now. Old!), but the band received no recognition whatsoever until they had disbanded. They had been broken up for years when their first hit "Time of the Season" finally came out. 

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Originally written on the morning of 11/9/16


How did I contribute to Trump's win? After all, I campaigned for Hillary -- I made calls on her behalf, I donated money, my hard earned money, to her campaign. And yet none of that secured a win. Trump won the presidency -- I am actually writing these words out.

So what happened? I must take some blame for his win; I feel like I should shoulder some responsibility for the majority of my country voting for a man whom I find absolutely reprehensible. What part did I play in his shocking victory?

Perhaps Trump's message of hate (as I heard it) was simply met with more hate from my own party, which allowed it to grow exponentially. I clearly underestimated just how many people wanted change -- change much different than I perceive it.

The things that matter to me are women's rights, gay rights, the right to choose, climate change, gun control, health care, and comprehensive immigration reform. Clearly, my priorities do not align with the majority of Americans with whom I exist. So what now?

The sun will still rise, but it brings with it a new day of self-reflection, and a new reality that many -- myself included -- find bleak and terrifying.

I donate $20 a month to Planned Parenthood; I have for over a year now. I will continue to stand with them while we as a nation lean from left to right. I will wait and see what happens with my health insurance plan. I will try, really try, to show more compassion and loving kindness to those around me, regardless of race, gender, religion, and even political affiliation. To say only that we are fucked, that this man is not our president, that this is not our America; to refuse this new reality that I have in some way contributed to, is going nowhere -- it takes me even further back, and I personally need to continue to move forward.

Sometimes the bad guy wins. I've been waiting for that sinking feeling of despair in my stomach, but it hasn't come yet, and I don't think it will. I don't feel as fucked because I am a white, straight, legal American male citizen. I cannot change that. But I can use that power to make a difference, no matter how small it may seem. I will show more compassion (a word that I keep coming back to) to strangers and friends. I will practice patience, knowing that nothing lasts. Most of all, I will try my hardest to have love for Trump supporters (a hard sell, I understand).

We all want what is best for ourselves and our families, though what that entails clearly differs for everyone. I long to find some kind of common ground with the "other side" that I worked so hard to defeat. I am proud of what Obama accomplished -- I campaigned for him in both '08 and 2012 -- I think he is amazing. Now it it is someone else's turn.

Am I scared? Sure. Definitely. But I'm choosing to use my fear as a catalyst for further change, a more positive, loving, compassionate change. I can feel outrage, repulsion, despondency, amazement, disbelief and despair. But how I feel and how I act do not need to be synonymous.

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Tinder Casualty: A Short Story

Originally written on 9/27/16

Note: This is a true story. Names have been changed.

So, I met Ana online; we swiped right for each other on a dating app. I didn't think much of it, a few months passed, and while we stayed matched the whole time, I didn't do anything. Then, I saw that her location had changed to nine thousand miles away. So, I wrote to her: "Nine thousand miles away . . . coffee?" Clever, right?

Then, she wrote back: "Yes please. With a grindhouse horror movie."

I was actually pretty floored with her response, and we kept in touch, casually, on and off for five or six months, mostly talking about our favorite horror films. She was living in Thailand at the time. She actually influenced me to watch a few horror films that I had never seen; they were pretty good. Or bad. You know what I mean. Then, one day, she asked if I wanted to talk on the phone. I said sure, and we talked for a half hour. I liked the way her voice sounded: deep, relaxed, intelligent, sophisticated, a little sarcastic, a little sensual. I felt good about the phone call, and I slept well that night, too.

She came back to the states, to Portland, and we skyped. She was part asian, very beautiful; the room in her house looked nice as we spoke to each other in real time, visually connecting at last. She invited me to come and see her in Portland -- just like that, she said I could come to Portland, and stay with her for a few nights. I thought it over. Normally, I wouldn't be interested in traveling across states to meet someone off of an internet dating app. But Ana seemed really cool.

My best friend Doc lives in Washington, about an hour outside of Portland, so I figured I could see him too, and if it didn't work out with Ana, I could always crash at his place. Besides, I hadn't seen Doc in close to five years, so we were due for a get together. I figured, what did I have to lose? I could see my best friend, get laid, and get out of California for a few days, up in the northwest. So, I called Ana, confirmed that she wanted to do it, and I bought the plane tickets and arranged a rental car at the airport. The whole trip was around $300 total, which was perfect. 

I left the next month and met Ana at the Portland airport. She was stunning, her skin was dark brown, she had just gotten into town the night before after spending a week in Mexico. She traveled a lot, impulsively, constantly, all around the world. We were both a little tired, her more than me, but I amped up on some coffee, we got the rental, a Nissan, I plugged my ipod into the stereo, turned up the music, and we were off. 

We went to her place first. It was an earthy, natural and older house in a cool part of town. Books were all over the place, the smell was nice and warm and comforting. I liked the vibe. Ana hadn't even unpacked from her Mexico trip yet, so we hung out for a bit and then I drove us to see Doc in Washington. The driving was amazing. With my ipod, I could drive forever. The car was a really smooth ride, and I drove us along the backdrop of lush greenery and foliage, rivers and mountains.

Ana was on her cell phone, like a lot. It didn't really matter to me, but I did notice it. She spent a lot of time on her phone. Also, she didn't seem to like being touched; she seemed to show an aversion to holding hands, which we didn't do in the car, and she didn't respond when I touched her thigh, which was warm in the sun and dark tan and beautiful as I drove us towards Washington state. It seemed a little strange, but I tried not to think too much of it. Maybe she was nervous. I wasn't, but maybe she was. Maybe she didn't want to rush into anything. 

Background info: prior to my trip, I had asked Ana if she was planning on us sleeping together. I asked if she was open to having sex. It sounds a little forward, perhaps, but that's my specialty. Transparency, I told her, was always a big thing of mine. I told her that of course, in the event that we didn't get along, I certainly wouldn't hold any grudges -- no pressure, regardless of outcome -- I just wanted us to be on the same page. She had said that she was expecting to have sex with me, that she thought it was implied. So, when I met her at the airport for the first time, I gave her a hug, and I didn't feel a response. Odd, I thought, though I didn't press it. But now we were driving, and she still wasn't responding to any of my attempts at some kind of physical connection. I wasn't trying anything even remotely sexual -- I wasn't trying to finger her as I drove us down the freeway into the picturesque landscape; I didn't try to probe her ear with my tongue. I had my hand on her warm thigh (she was wearing short jean shorts), to no response whatsoever. Holding hands hadn't worked either. Strange, but I forced myself not to read too deeply into it. 

I saw Doc, brought my guitar in and played some new songs with him. Ana met him, but then had to make a phone call outside which lasted over forty minutes. It was alright, because I could catch up with Doc and his sister, one on one for a while. It would have been nice to have played some songs for Ana, but I dismissed her phone etiquette (or lack thereof, perhaps) as well.

She came back inside, apologized, and I took us all out to lunch. It was enjoyable. Doc was funny, I was funny, Ana was pretty, and the food was alright. I drove us back to Doc's, where we hung out for a little longer, and then Ana and I set out again on our own adventure. She had some ideas on what we could do. 

I drove us out to an island, a stunning reserve of farms and fields that went on for miles and miles, ending with an array of boathouses and dirt roads, very bucolic, very peaceful. Ana got out to take some pictures (photography was a hobby of hers), and I watched her lithesome figure run down the dirt road, thinking how attractive she was. She came back, while I stayed in the car, my arms placed outside the rolled down window, just taking it all in. Ana gave me a closed kiss on the mouth when she came back, a soft dry peck. Still, it was nice. We drove on.

Ana shared with me a pretty intense and lengthy anecdotal monologue, about how she had gotten an abortion in Cambodia just a few months prior to her return to the states. She said that an old boyfriend in Thailand had tricked her into getting pregnant. I didn't really understand that -- normally, it happens the other way around: the girl gets pregnant and traps the guy. But I didn't pry. The story was very detailed, and though it didn't really weird me out too much, the mental imagery was pretty vivid -- I could've done without it. 

We went to downtown Portland; driving down and over the mazes of bridges, looking down onto the boats and the rivers and the water and the city. It was a cool feeling. There was a carnival downtown, so we went there and walked around. It seemed like the perfect time to hold hands, or for me to put my arm around her shoulder, but Ana still wasn't really responsive to any of that. I started to wonder to myself, jokingly, if this was the same girl I had spoken with online -- perhaps I had met someone else on accident at the airport, someone who only looked like Ana. Maybe the real Ana was still waiting for me at the airport baggage claim, wondering where I was, and hoping that I'd hold her hand and touch her thigh when I finally arrived. The carnival was festive and condensed with a huge amount of people, so we walked around, not really connecting, and then we walked a mile or two to Powell's Bookstore, where I got an Ed Abbey book for Doc, and a Bukowski collection of poetry for Ana, to give to her as a surprise gift when I left. I like doing that, buying books for girls. 

That night, I meditated, and lay in her bed, utterly exhausted, while Ana sat on the wooden floor in her room on her phone for over an hour. I fell in and out of consciousness, in between frantic travel-induced dreams and semi awake spasms of mild confusion. I woke up and it was very dark, and I was alone in the bed. I didn't know what time it was, or where Ana was. In my semiconscious stupor, I was briefly infuriated that this girl had invited me to visit her, only to completely abandon me upon my arrival. I tried to calm myself and pass out again, but I was very confused. Had Ana left? Was she sleeping in another room while I slept in her own bed? What the fuck was happening? Then she came into the room, draped in a towel, after taking a shower. I was relieved; we were going to at least be sleeping in the same bed. But once more, she sat on the floor and became utterly immersed in her phone again, her small phone screen the only source of light in the room, as the cool Portland summer wind blew in through her open balcony door. "Whatever," I thought, and I went back to sleep.

I had a dream that I was a cafeteria cook at an elementary school, and I poisoned the food as a long line of children came up and took their trays. I had crunched up a mountain of pills and mixed them into the school lunches. The kids all sat down and starting eating. Then, the children began screaming and melting, like slices of american cheese in the microwave; their bodies all liquified in a horrifying melee of chaos and science fiction-like horror. In the dream, I became terrified myself, suddenly realizing that I would be charged with the murder of all these poor schoolchildren. Why had I done that, killed them all? I would have to go to prison. I was a serial killer, I had massacred all these little kids . . .

I woke up in a cold sweat, with Ana on the very edge of the bed. I cuddled up next to her with my arm draped over her waist and pulled her close to me. Nothing. You know how when you cuddle with a girl, spooning, she'll kind of nudge herself back in towards you? Didn't happen. I let go of her.

"I had the most horrible dream," I told her. "I gave all these little kids some kind of drug in their school lunches and they all started melting."

"That doesn't sound too scary." Ana said.

"Well, you didn't see how they melted," I told her.

That morning, I woke up slow, Ana made us some coffee, and I drove us to the farmer's market in downtown Portland. By now, I was confused, and slightly irritated even, at how this was going. It wasn't that I felt angry at how Ana was acting, it was just confusing, because she had given me an entirely different idea of who she was. We held hands for a very brief moment at the farmer's market, before she ran away towards some food stand. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was hot, but not overwhelming, and the farmer's market was a cool scene. Earthy, health conscious, clean, organic. I had an awkward exchange with a friend of Ana's, who was running one of the stands: Ana tried to introduce me to him, but I was standing too far away, and I just shot him a smile and waited for them to finish their conversation, before moving on. I felt awkward -- really, really awkward at this point.

I drove us back to her place, both of us not really saying much. Bringing my ipod with me was the best thing I could've done. The constant soundtrack that played while I drove us all over the place was a very grounding, comforting thing. It felt soothing to have my entire music library on hand, listening as I drove us onward into this entirely awkward and confusing experience.

I parked a few blocks down from Ana's house, so we could get some food for dinner. Ana asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner, and I told her that it really didn't matter to me. I stopped the car outside of the organic grocery store and paused. I turned to face Ana in the passenger seat.

"I can't tell if you're attracted to me or not." I told her bluntly. Straightforward, with no hint of anger, just strong unabashed honesty. She was quiet.

I went on. "It seems like if I touch your leg, or try to hold your hand, or if I were to stick a finger in your ear, you don't react at all. I've been having a great time; the island was great, I love driving around and listening to music, everything's so pretty; the farmer's market and the bookstore were wonderful -- but I could really be doing all this with anybody. I could be doing this alone, really. Is there something that's wrong? Because I can leave, no hard feelings. That's why I rented the car, that's why I made sure that Doc was going to be around. I just don't know if there's something that I missed. It seems like you're not into this at all." My blood pressure was remarkably low; I just wanted to get to the point. No use self-questioning anymore. "I mean you're on your phone constantly --"

"I know," Ana said. "I'm sorry about that. It's something I do all the time, it's nothing against you. It's a habit that I'm trying to break." 

I shrugged. "You can break it around someone else," I said. "It's just another thing that shows you're not really into what's happening here."

"I just don't like being touched." Ana told me suddenly. "I don't like public displays of affection. I haven't been in a relationship in really a long time --"

"Whoa," I said. "This is not a relationship."

"I know," Ana said quickly. "But holding hands and kissing and all that are things that happen in a relationship, and I've never liked doing those things. It's nothing personal -- you're very handsome, and funny, and smart." 

("Yeah, I know all that," I thought.)

She went on: "It's just that, when I tried to introduce you to my friend at the farmer's market, you acted like you didn't care, and I really wanted you to meet him. That hurt my feelings. And when I asked you what you wanted to eat for dinner, you said that it didn't matter to you. And I meant that, I mean, I really MEANT it when I asked you that. And you said that it didn't matter to you."

The level of disconnect between us was palpable at this point, both of us still seated in the car. Still, I kept my composure and tried to sift through the insanity. 

"Um . . ." I said, putting my thoughts in order, points lining up in my head. "Were you ever going to relay any of this information to me?" I asked her.

"I'm sorry," she said to me. "I just haven't been in a relationship in a long time --"

"This is not a relationship," I repeated.

"I know that," she said again; we were beginning to go in circles as she told me once more how me saying that dinner didn't matter really hurt her feelings.

"Well," I said, carefully. "I've always gone off of actions, more than words. So you asking me about dinner, when I think that you want nothing to do with me, made me divert my answer towards whatever you wanted to do. Clearly, there's some disconnect between us. I'm glad I said something, because this was starting to get a little weird."

"I'm glad you said something too," Ana agreed. "Let's get out of the car and walk around for a little while." We got out, I locked the car, and we strolled around the green neighborhood with its small old houses and nice fenced in yards. The air was clean and fresh, the wind felt good.

I spoke again: "So, I'm not sure where to go from here. This has been a little strange for me."

"I'm sorry," Ana told me as we strolled along. "I should've told you. I've never liked public displays of affection. I've never been comfortable holding hands and kissing. And I haven't been in a relationship in --"

I stopped walking, and waited for her to stop a little bit ahead of me. She turned around. I closed my eyes and whispered for affect.

"This . . ." I said quietly, "is not . . . a relationship." She wasn't getting that.

We got back to the car. 

"Well, look," Ana told me. "We got everything out in the open now, so let's go and buy dinner, we can watch a movie tonight and have sex." 

"I DON'T EVEN WANT TO FUCK YOU NOW!!!" I screamed inside my skull. 

"I think I'm okay, actually." I said to her in real life.

"What do you want to do?" She asked me.

"Well," I told her, and my pulse quickened just slightly as I laid out my plan to her. "I'll drive you home, and I'll pack up my shit, and then I'll drive to Doc's house to spend the rest of the weekend."

"Really?" Ana asked me, incredulously.

"Yeah, totally," I told her.

"Are you sure that's what you want?" She asked me.

"Yeah," I said. "Nothing personal, Ana. This just didn't work out, and that's fine. That's why I rented this car, that's why I made sure that Doc was in town. I'll just go to his place for the rest of the weekend."

Ana looked away and shook her head. "Wow," she finally said, bewildered. "Okay . . . if that's what you really want."

"Nothing personal." I said again. ("I would just rather watch movies with my friend than have sex with you," I thought. Nothing personal, though.)

Ana clearly had not been accustomed to being turned down. Here she had actually offered me sex, and I told her no thanks. Honestly, I figured what was the point? It's not like I've never had meaningless sex -- on the contrary, I've had far too much of it, and I'm not bragging -- but I could've stayed home for that shit. 

I packed up my things in her room. I took out the Bukowski book from my bag. 

"I got this for you at the bookstore last night," I said, handing it to her. "I was going to write something in it, like, 'I had fun,' or something. But there's nothing written in there, and the receipt's still in there, so you can return it if you want."

"I won't return it," Ana said. "Thanks."

"Sure," I told her. "Well, thanks for letting me stay here. I'll, um . . . " What, see you later? See you around? "Later," I told her, and turned to leave.

"Bye," Ana said softly. "Wait," she said, and came up to me, turned me around, and kissed me in a tight, dry closed mouth peck, similar to the single peck she given me the evening before on that island. It was without passion, without meaning, without anything. "Bye," she said again.

I wondered, as I turned around and I left down the stairs, if that had been some attempt at making me stay; like I would drop everything at that kiss and completely change my mind. But I didn't think about it any further as I got into the car, called Doc, turned up some Misfits, and hightailed it to Washington to rock out with my friend. The drive was great: steady, eighty miles per hour, blasting music along the breathtaking Oregon and Washington landscape.

Doc enjoyed my story, and we spent the rest of the weekend watching Grindhouse films from the seventies and sixties, laughing our asses off and playing music, catching up. It all worked out, really.

Ana and I never spoke again. I deleted all my online dating accounts. 

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Orange Grove: A New Video

Orange Grove


I have been alone before but never this alone before
sometimes when the sun is shining, all I feel is rain
it’s impossible to know just how far I’ll let this go
letting well known chemicals seep into my brain.

and I said

I love my family, but not enough to stop this bleeding.
I know it’s only me – give me peace, and give me freedom.


I have a little handheld voice recorder that I carry around with me, I use it to record songs, ideas, lyrics, etc. When I was living in LA, I was working at the Grove in Hollywood, and I would park my car on Orange Grove drive and walk to work. One day, I was parking, and I checked my recorder. A song started playing, one that I had no recollection of ever recording. I had never heard the melody before, and I loved it; I listened to it as I walked down Orange Grove drive. Clearly, I had recorded it, because no one used my little recorder except me. It was the melody that would turn into the song Orange Grove.

Later that same evening, I worked out the hammer-ons and pull-offs section, making the song more complex and intricate. I love that hammer-on and pull-off technique.

The lyrics are true enough: I was very addicted to pain killers; I was drinking and doing a lot of drugs, frequently thinking of killing myself, and trying to hold it together because I didn’t want to hurt my family. The song recognizes that true change can only come from within, and with a conscious decision to better yourself — there is really no other way, and resisting negative conditions in order to save someone else from hurt can only sustain you for so long. There is an underlying glimmer of hope in the song, though, one that would eventually come to fruition years later.

The song was recorded live at Timewarp Records in Los Angeles for my 2013 album “Desperate Times.” If you listen closely to the very end of the song, you can hear a siren in the distance, and Brian, the engineer and my good friend, can be heard saying “Not bad.”

Years later, close to three years later, I would be back living in Northern California, finally sober and healthy for once in my life. I had been working on two separate writing projects, I had put together a recording studio in my house, and I was making music videos using professional film editing software on my laptop. The year before, I had heard about NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest from my friend Meg in Sunnyvale. She encouraged me to do it, and the year before, I sent in some bullshit video that kind of had a desk in it or something. It was more so I could just say that I had submitted, with lack of time and effort. This year was different: I had met Ali Adhami, the cinematographer from my unreleased music video “Pasadena.” Ali was the one who showed me how to use Final Cut Pro, and with his help I was able to do my projects like The Lorax and Surf Zombies!

I sent Ali the song Orange Grove, because I knew it was short and I knew what I wanted the video to look like in my head, and I knew that Ali had a real knack for angles and shots. We got together and discussed the project, and on a Weds afternoon he came over to my house with his girlfriend Asal and we shot the song for about an hour. Then Ali put the shots onto my laptop and left, and I was left with about an hour worth of footage that I would need to cut and condense into a two and a half minute song. This project only took me about five hours, which is not very long, considering that the Lorax took around thirty. I studied each shot that Ali had taken, and then cut the ones that I wanted to use and went from there, placing the shots in order. The finished video is simple and beautiful; there’s recurring shots of writing, playing music, and a picture. The picture is my youngest sister and I on the beach. It was taken nearly six years ago in Sand City, California.

Regardless of the outcome of the NPR contest, this was an excellent experience that allowed me to maintain complete control of the project, from start to finish. I’d like to thank Ali Adhami and Asal Poursorkh for their outstanding work and professionalism, and thank you to my friends who watch and share this video.

Thank you.

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The Making Of Surf Zombies!

Surf Zombies! was originally a project that I hoped to complete in Los Angeles, while I lived there. It was called “Surf’s Up!” and I planned to record it at Timewarp Studios, playing all the instruments myself. I took to the internet to raise some funds for recording time, and quickly raised two hundred and fifty dollars, which I set aside. It was around this time that things started to fall apart for me in a myriad of ways: my relationship with my girlfriend was rapidly deteriorating in a fury of alcohol and drug use, I was broke, and I had to leave LA in a hurry. Using the money that I had raised, I hightailed it up to Nor Cal to relax for a few weeks, which would eventually become a permanent change of location. During this time, I was seriously addicted to pills, both opiates and head pills; I was drinking and smoking, and as I struggled with this addiction, I tried to figure out how I was going to record this surf song.

There is a live version of Surf Zombies! taken from my live album “Casey Wickstrom: Live @ The Pocket, Santa Cruz.” It had been titled “Surf’s Up!” which was also the name of a song by the Beach Boys. Although I liked the energy of the track, it was obvious to me that I needed to record a studio version, which would be much more controlled and professional sounding. It was interesting for me to have a live track prior to a recorded one — usually it’s the other way around: studio song, then a live track.

In Nor Cal, I quickly fell into a routine of drinking and popping an enormous amount of pills, hanging out with close friends, and playing music very seriously and consistently, setting up live shows all over and learning new songs for my sets. I had not forgotten about the surf track; rather, it dominated my thoughts every day. I couldn’t fall asleep without my feet tapping to the beats that I heard in my head. I also felt that I owed it to the financial backers — I felt responsible to record the song, and as soon as possible, but I also felt obliged to produce a strong track that I could market and grow, and stand behind. A single to add to my growing song list.

Eventually, I was introduced to Leo Fernando, a producer at Freestyle Studios in Mtn View, at the high school. We met through a mutual friend who is a fan of my music, and we set a goal to record the single in the summer. I practiced the song by looping the bass line with my loop pedal; trying to figure out what parts to put where. I quickly set up some practice times with my bassist Bob Lanz, whom I’ve recorded and played numerous live shows with, and we began to figure out how we wanted to lay down the track. Bob would be a very crucial part of the process: because of my constant and heavy drug use, I would fall into deep depressions, become dangerously overwhelmed, and come very close to scrapping the whole project. Bob helped to keep me accountable to the song, and during the actual recording, he was a grounding force that allowed me to think clearly and move smoothly through the recording process.

For drums on the track, I had hoped to use Josh Gardner, of local band Sweet Hayah fame, who was also the drummer on my live Santa Cruz album. Josh is an amazing drummer, but he was never reliable, and I could never get him to commit to the recording date. When Bob and I went into the studio, I had to lay down the drum tracks myself, which was a little stressful, but I knew exactly what to do, and how I wanted the parts to fit together. The drums tracks were done within three takes.

The night before the recording session, I drank my ass off and really got down with the song, looping the fuck out of it, going over each solo section meticulously, really defining what I wanted. This was at my friend Tony’s house in Sunnyvale, where I had spent a considerable amount of time since I’d been back up from LA. During that night, in a flash of insight, I decided to call the song “Surf Zombies!” which was a better title, and much more suitable for me, since I love horror films, zombies and cannibals, violence, etc. Bob and I went over the vocal tracks together in the studio, screaming “Surf Zombies!” and everything. The evil laugh that you hear in the track is me, which was a spur of the moment thing. The crash, or the explosion that you hear in the beginning at the end with the “Woo!” is me cracking my tube amp: I angled it up and dropped it back on the floor (which is awful for the amp). I wanted this sound, like a crack or burst; it was reminiscent of the Pixies for me, and also reminded me of a breaking wave.

The studio time was good. We had finished, and Leo went on to mix the track down in Japan, where he was spending the summer. It was now near my twenty seventh birthday. The drugs were really controlling my life, and bad, so I decided that I would kill myself after the release of Surf Zombies! and just get it over with. After emailing a little back and forth with Leo about the mixing quality and the drum tracks, I had a pretty solid track. I got the artwork done by my friend Micah, who does nearly all of my artwork for the site and for my albums, using the main image from Lucio Fulci’s film “Zombie,” with the tagline “We Are Going To Eat You!” I had been looking for other images before Bob and I settled on Fulci’s. I put the single online for all to hear, making sure that all the financial backers got their credit. Then, I took all the pills that I had saved and fell asleep, hoping that I would never wake up, and it would finally be over.

I didn’t have enough pills to do me in, and after my attempt, there were no more pills for a while, so I had to continue living. I was happy with the song, although I wasn’t happy with my life, and what I had become. My depression and drug use would come to a head when I overdosed on prescription pain killers, and I had to quit the pills cold turkey. After nearly four months of no pills (although I still drank and smoked and did a little coke), I had become so suicidal that now ending my own life seemed like the only option. In a final act of desperation, I admitted myself to the psychiatric ward at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, where I was placed on suicide watch for nearly a week. There, I was put back on anti-depressant medicine, and an anti-psychotic for bi-polar and major depression. After I left, I completely changed my lifestyle, maintaining a life of complete sobriety, taking up yoga four to five times a week, and taking care of myself.  Within months, I began to change into a healthy human being, something I had not been for years and years. I finally felt alright, and I decided to invest in a home music studio.

After purchasing an interface and compatible recording software, and learning (at least a little) about how to work it, I decided to change a few things with Surf Zombies! For instance, the crash in the beginning was extended and the vocals were echoed. The biggest change was that I extended the bridge to four measures in order to add a saxophone solo. Unfortunately, the recording session for the sax didn’t come out sounding too hot, so I had to put it on hold, but the song was longer, and in my mind, more complete. I also altered the drum line in the introduction for the drums, which had a little hiccup previously. So now, when the drums kick, it goes straight into a punk rock surf beat, no disconnect.

I had wanted to make a video for some time after the recording, long before my stay at Stanford, and even prior to my suicide attempt. I had wanted to use images from some of my favorite zombie movies, preferably Italian gore films with poor editing and awful dubbing, made just for tasteless enjoyment. However, I didn’t want to get sued, and I wasn’t even sure how I could go about making and editing a music video. I had put together a film crew for another music video, for my song Pasadena, which was filmed in a day around the foothills of Silicon Valley. This was an excellent learning process for me, and I was able to make friends with people who knew much more about the technical side of film than I did. The cinematographer for the Pasadena project, Ali, really enjoyed working with me, and I with him, so we kept in touch after the Pasadena video shoot. I had expressed my interest in editing and making music videos by myself, and I had explained how, when I lived in LA, a friend had given me some film editing software called Final Cut Pro. It was installed on my laptop, but I had never used it. I wasn’t even sure if it worked.

Ali opened the software and was surprised that I had it. Final Cut Pro is a very expensive professional film editing program, and I had gotten it installed on my laptop for free. Ali showed me the basics of how to transfer and convert films and videos onto the software, and how to edit and cut, and I began getting into some projects on my own. I was working on a video for my song “Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax,” which gave me practice on using the program and putting it to good use. It was fun and also infuriating at the same time: cutting and pasting different clips to fit together with music was certainly a challenge, but very rewarding when done right.

I talked to my uncle about my idea for Surf Zombies! and how I wanted to go about it. The thing was, I told him, I didn’t want to get sued. “Just use free-domain films,” he told me, and a light went off in my head. I hadn’t even thought of that! I searched the web looking for free domain zombie movies and I came across one from 1974 called “Horror Of The Zombies.” It looked perfect, and although I couldn’t download it from the web, I knew that I had to use it. It took a little searching to find a DVD of the film, because with a lot of these shitty Italian movies, they were distributed under a variety of names. “Horror Of The Zombies” was also known as “The Ghost Galleon,” so that’s what I purchased from Amazon (where most of my horror movie collection stems from). I put the film onto my laptop, and went to work cutting the scenes up to fit with the song. It took me two days, probably six to eight hours of staring at my computer screen, listening to the same fragments of the same song for hours at a time, over and over and over again, trying to fit each piece of the puzzle together. I had to walk away a few times to cool down, so I wouldn’t completely destroy my laptop in a fit of rage. At the end of the project, I felt very happy with it. I was able to incorporate some cool techniques in the editing, like slow motion and cut aways to the cues in the music. A lot of this work was done at the Starbuck’s near my house in Cupertino.

I had wanted to release the film on or around Halloween, Halloween being the preferred date. However, I didn’t want to put up anything that I wasn’t completely satisfied with, so I was ready to release the video whenever I felt it was ready; I didn’t want to put too much energy into a due date. One of the biggest changes that I’ve had to implement in my life since leaving Stanford was actually taking my time with things. So, I tried not to emphasize a finish time, and one day I woke up, did some final edits, and after a few run throughs, I was happy with the whole thing, and I put the video on youtube. This was the day before Halloween.

To me, Surf Zombies! is a very special project, one that has stayed with me through some very dark and intense times. No one really listens to surf music anymore — at least I don’t know of anyone personally who is really into it, so it felt good to create an homage to the music style of surf, and also incorporate some seventies Italian horror in there. This project was very fulfilling to me, and after its completion, I know that there will be many more projects to come.

Fuck yeah.

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Durango, Colorado: Cascade Falls, Trimble Hot Springs, Hermosa Valley

The past three days have been a whirlpool of memories and places and people, all coming back to me in a new light. This town is not much different than it was when I was living here: the places are strikingly still the same, the people haven’t changed much at all. I drive down the streets and highways as if I’m driving through a dream, yet I’m taking it all in with a new set of eyes. The dreams that I have had about these places (cascade falls, my old neighborhoods, places and trigger points and emotions attached to my mind) have been realized now; I’ve made a list and I’ve been slowly, easily crossing off the items. People that I needed to meet have crossed paths with me organically, downtown, easily – the perk of a small town.

And now, I think of the drive: a fifteen hour straight shot through southern California and then through Nevada, with the desert sunset in all it’s glory setting in a thick fervent pastel glow in my rear view mirror, the smell of rain, light desert rain coming through my cracked windows, my a/c. And then a long haul through Arizona, close to the Grand Canyon, the windows rolled down as I let the cold night air rage into my car’s cockpit, the smell of pine and cool nature night, a wild natural high, like a pure deep breath of oxygen, exhilarating, the wind deafening, the music blaring. I push onward; I’ve brought with me three shirts, two jeans, four socks, some toiletries . . . I haven’t brought my guitar – this trip is not a musical one. My monkey George sits shotgun, buckled in with my mag-light. I have a bottle of natural diet pills, hardcore energy that keeps me awake and focused, driving on at a set eighty five miles per hour. I stop four times for gas on the eleven hundred mile run – my car’s thermostat goes high, and my heart rate follows, down the deserted night roads of Arizona; my pulse raising and falling with the fluctuating needle, which finally settles down into neutral, and I ride on.

Ten miles from Durango and my excitement is at fever pitch – the rain comes down in hard sheets, my wipers moan back and forth at their highest rate. I pull into town, spinning a bit in my head, taking it in at 6am (5am California time). I call Ann, head out to her house, drive up the steep dirt road to her modern adobe mansion on the ridge outside of town, near Hermosa Valley. The house is immense, large and grand, with heated floors, views that take my breath away. I feel at home immediately; Ann is family. We go to the diner downtown, although I’ve taken my sleeping pills – I took them when I got into town, figuring I’d fall asleep as soon as I arrived at Ann’s; however, upon my arrival, I have a burst of fresh energy, the sun rising over the majestic mountains that have their full view obstructed by low hanging sheets of fog from the rains. Clouds move and the day starts.

Shopping for food after the diner, then I go home and sleep for two hours. Deep dreams of frantic motion that wake me up for a sharp split moment before I fall back in almost immediately. Go to the lookout at the top of Ann’s house, surrounded by mountains and swaying deep green pine trees, the sun is close and the air is clean and thin outside. The clouds are mammoth and whiter than I’ve seen; the fringes of the cirrus clouds morph and change like cream being poured into coffee. Then the rain comes, light at first, but steady, so I go back inside. Another nap, then dinner: I cook filet mignon, with shitake mushrooms in a red wine sauce; a salad before with grilled tomatoes, goat cheese, and balsamic vin.

Earlier in the day Ann and I visited Apple Orchard Inn, down the road, where I used to work as a kid. I’m a little loopy from the drive and the pills, but I’ve had so many dreams about this place that I can’t pass up the chance to relive it all once again. Familiar faces in the small supermarket aisles. I haven’t told anyone that I’m in town; no posts on social media, no excessive phone calls or texts – this trip is for me and me only. And the days that follow, I drive downtown, walk the streets, take in the smells, the sites, the old feelings that I once worked so hard to forget, but couldn’t. I drive to the valley, into the playground of my old neighborhood, by the creek where I’ve had dreams, under trees that I would climb as a kid, breathing in the smells, taking in the memories and making a new connection with my current present moment sensations. I hike to the place where I camped for an entire summer, the place where the songs “Pasadena” and “Upper Hermosa Mtn. Blues” originated from. I take pictures fervently, from all angles, for the book that I wrote. I drive by houses where I lived, places I’ve worked; not a moment goes by where I’m triggered and snapped back to strange far away sensations of another life – every building, every passing house and store and park and tree and road and mountain is a connection to a story, a memory, and I take it all in, completely open. I have not been here in more than five years.

I eat at old favorite restaurants; I cross everything that I do off of the list I’ve made. Trimble, with it’s hot springs and sauna, I spend all day there, my haven, my safe place, roasting in the waters, more relaxed than I’ve been in recent memory, which actually says a lot. I breathe in the air, the smells, the sensations of the valley, the trees and lush greenery, the mountains, my eyes drink in the sky and the surrounding nature. I drive to Dalton Ranch, the bridge, walk out of my car and stand on the outside of the railing, looking down thirty feet in the deep green waters of the Animas river. My nerves get to me; it’s nearly twenty minutes before I launch myself off of the bridge: the green water comes rushing towards me, and then I’m immersed in it’s cold green moving current, the sound of impact is deafening before I plunge completely under, where the dulled sound of bubbles and the hum of the river fills my ears. I swim in the river and let the current take me to a small section of rapids; lying straight on my back, my feet up in the air, I’m taken down the rapids into a mellow spot, where I climb out. My throat hurts from swimming, my breath is hot fire in my throat as I wander back to my car, nearly naked, my body cold but alive in the hot Colorado sun. Back to Trimble, the hot water again; I stay until close.

Then downtown for a moment, but only a moment, because upon entering a bar where my friend is, I am immediately reminded why I left this place, and what I hate the most – the drunk dirty hippies dancing to deafening robot music, dumb sluts and douchebag guys that are constantly in your way. I help my friends load up their musical equipment (they had just finished their set when I arrived), and then I leave, back to the adobe mansion on the ridge. Make a steak for dinner, relax and listen to jazz, and eventually fall asleep.

Now it’s today. I sit on the bed in the adobe mansion writing this all out, waiting for Ann to return from Santa Fe (where she was at the opera; I took care of her dog while she was away. I spent the night walking around her house naked). We’re going to have dinner tonight, her and I. Earlier today, I met with an old friend, friend being a tentative term, because this is a girl that I had somewhat dated for three months or so before initially moving to California. Years have passed, and we meet downtown by the train station. She’s still the same little cute blonde girl with beautiful blue eyes and a beautiful face, and her body is still nice, except she’s pregnant, so that’s different than when I saw her last. Her baby is due in January. She says what all the girls from my past say to me: “You look exactly the same.” Which to me, is the best compliment I could ever receive. I’m happy to be in Durango, sober and healthier, both physically and mentally, than I’ve ever been in my entire life. We go to a pizza place, where I find my old best friend and bassist Dustin works, and his new wife, is also there. It’s easy seeing them both; there’s nothing there. I feel nothing, and it feels good.

Megan leaves, another person with another life now, and I drive north. North, past Baker’s Bridge, past the ski resort, past million dollar houses set up against the backdrop of mountains with oceans of aspen trees, mountains with a Monet sea of deep green pine trees that go seemingly on forever, and I arrive at Cascade Falls. I’m alone, my excitement and nervousness are competing for my full attention as I hike down into the canyon wearing nothing by my shorts and my shoes. The rocky thin path leads to the creek, running calmly (at first) over smooth colorful rocks and boulders and pebbles. I begin to trek into the water; it’s frigid, clean as crystal, bright and thin, rushing at an easily moving pace. And then I drop further into the canyon; the stone walls on each side of me are incredibly tall sheer straight cliffs that echo the roar and slap of the approaching challenge of the falls. I reach the first level of the falls; a cliff of smooth shale rock that I stand on, and I barely hesitate at all before I leap and plunge into the icy pool of clean clear water, where there is a rush and roar of the currents that pull you with the unrelenting and uncaring power of nature, of rushing water. After the first cliff jump, you’ve committed yourself to running the entire falls. There is a section of the run that once you’ve passed it, it would be impossible to go back. Once you’re in, you’re in.

I’ll be the first to admit that it was stupid of me to go alone. Had something happened, anything, there would be no one there to save me, and my body would have been found later in the day by a group of kids running the falls themselves. But I have run Cascade countless times (though always with friends), and this trip was focused exclusively on my own journey. So there I stood on a boulder, cold water rushing over my soaked purple and black Vans, and I take a breath and leap in. The water is frigid and deep, I touch bottom, but not hard – it feels amazing. I feel alive. The run has begun. I pass through the canyon’s levels with it’s sections of raging water, cascading and flowing furiously down boulders and into deep clear pools. I make sure to jump in where it looks deepest, making sure to not get my feet caught up in any rocks, not to get dragged under by the cold currents that swirl and move with intensity. Muscle memory kicks in; each level of the falls goes deeper and deeper into the canyon, and I’m reminded of the little tricks: where to jump, where to climb, how to jump so not to hurt myself or drown. The whole time, I am high on adrenaline, my body is not cold, I’m focused and real – on the second to last cliff, I’m up about fifteen feet over a pool. I look up at the sky, the trees overlooking the deep thin canyon, I breathe in the air, and I jump. My shoes are heavy, soaked, filled with water and pebbles that have snuck in them. At last I reach the waterfall, the end of the falls. I look around, and jump it, landing in the big pool. I swim to shore, and trek back up into the trees and rocks and plants, all the way back to the car. The entire run lasts only around half an hour. At the car, the inside of my ears are icicles, my head is frozen in a high dull whine. I am alive.

I find myself at Trimble again, in the sauna, sweating heavy, dunking myself in the creek behind the building (no one knows about it), sitting in the hot water, floating, holding myself under. Peace . . .

Ann and I have dinner at a nice restaurant. She’s one of my favorite people in the whole world, so smart and fun. We really have a great connection, like best friends. I sleep heavy at night, fulfilled.

I leave the next day, after breakfast with Ann. I take off into the early afternoon. Fifteen hours passes by like melting wax. Once again, I make the drive in a steady shot, arriving back in San Jose around three am.

I won’t be back in Durango for a very long time.

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Desperate Times: The Making Of A New Album

Hey there!

Whew, I’ve been busy. Long hours at the restaurant, transitions in relationships, musical excursions, and extreme circumstances of change, confusion, exhilaration, depression, and ultimately, progression. Musically, I feel the strongest I have ever been – my new songs are some of the truest songs that I’ve ever played; the compositions are incredibly challenging for me as a guitarist. I feel like I have risen to a new level of writing and playing – I’ve run these songs over for miles and miles, and still they feel new each time I play them. Recording will happen soon.

My new album: Desperate Times

Due Date: TBA


1. Desperate Times
The title track; an instrumental arrangement, with my lap slide drenched in fuzz and distortion, raw and raucous, with stoic and solid drums by Jason Mongo Blaustein. This was the first song I wrote on the lap-slide after the car accident. It’s a pretty solid way to start my 4th album.

2. Orange Grove
A short song that was created long before I knew it, rediscovered while walking down Orange Grove Avenue in Los Angeles. While reaching through the archives of my mini handheld recorder, I heard a tune that I don’t remember having ever played. Since my recorder is exclusive to only myself, I had to have written it – I just don’t know when or where. Regardless, the tune stayed with me, and I wrote more onto it later that week. It is one of the hardest songs to play, compositionally speaking. Pull offs, hammer ons, rhythmic picking, all sets up for a very beautiful song, if I can make it through without any fuck ups. This song is about drug addiction.

3. Culver Blvd.
A song written by my younger brother Gregory, on the piano, while we were living together in a small apartment on Culver Blvd near Marina del Rey. Also an instrumental, I was a witness to the transformation of this song while Greg worked on it every night. When he left Los Angeles, my heart was broken, and I was left without a recording of his song. I had to teach myself the melody, and transfer the entire song to my guitar. This track is not the same song, but it will have to do for now. Eventually, I might have a recording of Greg’s version, on the original instrument.

4. Teen Spirit
A previously untitled cover song, written over the course of three months. This song was a catalyst for my insane leap into a more musically active lifestyle and world. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I didn’t think about anything except this song, and the words just came to me without thinking. I didn’t write the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter. I didn’t have a choice in making the song what it became. I feel like I am just the instrument, and this song plays me.

5. Bonni
This is a song that I wrote when I was twenty, about heartbreak and darkness. When I wrote the music, I was lying in a tent on a beach near San Luis Obispo, with my first love. The chord progression came into my head, and I sank into the sand and disappeared into the deepest sleep that I have ever had. The melody had no words. The words came half a year later, when I walked away from the first girl I had ever loved, and fell into a world of intense confusion, abandonment, homelessness, and addiction. I wrote the words into a blue notebook, sleeping in a camper in the wintertime. The words and melody finally mixed together in a cheap hotel room that I was living in, while the Colorado snow fell, and the heat in the room was turned up all the way. Six years later, this song still rings true, not for the same girl, but for a few others that I’ve had and lost since.

6. The Drug Song
I wrote the first verse, and the chorus, while fucked up, sitting in my living room on Richard Ave. in Durango, Colorado, surrounded by friends just as fucked up, if not more, than me. Later on in life, I got sober for three years. Then the car crash. Then the relapse. Then this song. Featuring Andie Evans on bass and harmonies, she was actually the push that this song needed. I ran through the short, incomplete song for her, and she sang “Co-caine. . . ” and I wrote the rest of it later that week. What I like about this song is that it doesn’t mess around. There’s no euphemisms, or beating around the bush on a topic that is really prevalent in society. I think it’s brave, and I also think that a lot of people will have a problem with it. If so, great.

7. Broken Girl, vol. 2
I love this song. With Jason on drums, we worked it into a whole new track. Worth putting on the album, no doubt. It rocks harder, and the quality is different from Broken Girl (on 1984 Sessions, 2012).

And there you have it. Possibly out of order, these are the seven songs that I will soon be able to share with anyone who wants to listen.

Talk soon,

Notes from my journal, January of 2014:

I want to write about the process that went into making Desperate Times. It took forever to record, through months of heavy drug use and sleeping around, losing money and writing, living day to day in a perpetual stupor of the clouded and intoxication-infused lifestyle that stunk of cigarettes and alcohol and speed and prescription pain pills; sweaty days of my body trying to purge itself from the poison that I administered to myself daily, and never coming clean.

And then there were the songs that came about in the time period of nights that snapped into days without me ever closing my eyes, for three or two days at a time, awake: Teen Spirit came into my head under the ocean of heavy drinking and hot rooftop sun; Orange Grove was a lullaby about drug addiction, which had taken it’s toll on me by the time I wrote it.  Broken Girl was a dark, driving, dirty blues rock song that took forever to record with the drummer, as did the title track, the opening track of the album, Desperate Times.

I scheduled recordings, and I couldn’t follow through; once there was a mixup at the studio and they had to postpone a session; once, I had made arrangements for a drum session, and then a cancellation ensued. Time and days and weeks and months passed by with a violent speed, while I slept on the beach, fucked girls, played guitar, worked and did drugs, drank alone in my apartment, fed Oswald (my tortoise), took out the trash, and wondered if the recordings would ever materialize. And all the while, I was playing these songs, all these new songs, hundreds of times over, perfecting them, making them move and breathe with the life I was living, playing them in the myriad emotions that came to me during those truly desperate times.

And when I went into the music studio with Brian (the engineer) and Andie Evans (bassist and vocalist), we recorded ‘The Drug Song.’ That was the first song to make the album, although I wasn’t sure at first. The song is explicit, much like myself, and all the drugs contained and mentioned therein are drugs that I have personally tried time and time again. It could be perceived as a take on modern culture and the truly pathetic war on drugs, and what that’s done to our society, but I don’t think that the song bears that much weight.

Later, I would record all the final acoustic tracks in a single night, where once I warmed up,  my fingers were warm and fluid and wet and knowing and graceful and focused. My songs came out polished, pretty exact, tight and together.

There was a surprise that came at the near end of the actual recording: ‘Sleep.’ I hadn’t played or even thought of this song for months prior to the actual recording of it, which was put together with two takes. I had written this song years ago; it was the first song that I had written after moving back to California, and whenever I played it, mostly in private, it was like a prayer, a meditation, a deep breath of truth for me.

The life lesson that I learned during the entire recording process of this album was the virtue of patience. When I had none, nothing got done - but the practicing that ensued during the lull in recording time had actually been the most beneficial part of the music—by the time I played in the studio, every song was ready, and when I let go and let the great magnet of the earth guide me along, I was able to accomplish more than I ever expected.

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Universal Dance Party: A short story


Universal Dance Party

Forward by Dr. Gregory Wilson:

My name is Dr. Gregory C. Wilson, I am a licensed psychiatrist. I have been practicing for many years, nearly fifteen, in fact, and have published a number of articles and books dealing with anxiety, mood patterns, and overcoming various emotional fears and triggers. The book you are holding contains a story that I did not write; rather, I received the following story in the mail, from a previous patient of mine that I had not heard from in some time. As it turned out, I found his journey to be quite remarkable, and I transcribed it from his notebook onto my own computer, making sure to maintain the anonymity of the author, as well as the integrity of the original source. As a year or so passed, I found myself more and more taken by the story, and reached out to a friend of mine who is a publisher for a small company in Seattle, Washington. He too found the story strange and intriguing, and was able to pull some strings and have it published in a few small magazines. 

I of course remember this patient very well, and his temporary disappearance certainly put me in a place of unease. His condition was something that I had not quite seen in all my years of practice -- and yet now, as I write this forward upon the insistence of the publisher, I realize that this story involves much more than just myself and my previous patient, who remains nameless throughout. My publisher chose the title, and I approved. The following was taken from the notebook of a previous patient of mine, during and after the course of treatment. There have been minor corrections as to the spelling and some grammatical errors, and that is all. The story has been titled “Universal Dance Party.”

Thank you,

Gregory Wilson, MD.


Universal Dance Party



It all started when I saw a dead crow on the sidewalk in West Hollywood, near the Grove. I was walking along the hot stinky streets in Los Angeles, while traffic blared and busses roared by, and myriads of people moved along past me in all different directions. It smelled like sunlight roasted food garbage. Then I looked down, and I saw the corpse of a crow on the pavement; it had been dead for a while, maybe over a week or so, it’s eyes were maggot infested, writhing in and out and around it’s dead little skull. . . at first, I felt nothing. And then, suddenly, I felt the death, the sickness, the darkness began to expand in my own skull. I could feel an overwhelming drop into another world of wonder - like I was behind the screen of a movie theatre,  and I could feel the maggots in my own eyes, and I was them, too:  squirming hungrily, naturally, without remorse or any question of eating into a dead animal’s brains. I was now again the dead crow, I knew of it’s entire life, my life, flying and eating worms and bread and trash, apples from trees that had fallen into gutters; the dark nights that I spent huddled on the tops of power lines and tree branches, illuminated only by the ugly yellow lights that warmed the smog in the city sky. The mirror-like illusion of my feathers, rainbow colored ashes shining in the sunlight. I recalled the nights I spent alone, my head and beak buried in my chest, thinking of things that only crows and birds think of, the names of trees, telephone poles, all in the language of birds squawking loudly, singing, calling out. And I remembered too, the massive semi truck windshield window that smacked me into oblivion,  like a whale, into my death, with no regard, no notice at all. Had I only been a small child! If only I been a human passerby and not a crow, left alone on the sidewalk to decay and erode, to be eaten by insects in front of thousands of passing pedestrians, I would not have suffered such natural tragedy! I fell into blackness. I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t have to, since I had been dead for over a week. Yet I could still smell the death, lingering and choking in its suffocating darkness, mixed still with the trash, so thick and heavy and warm - enveloped in a whole different world that I had never known, had never wanted to know. I couldn’t look away, and I cried. Somehow, I was pulled away, although I don’t know how, and I woke up in my room and it was night. That was two days ago.

The next time it happened was a day later: I was waiting tables in a restaurant, having not fully recovered from the bird episode. The event of my life falling into synchronization with the dead crow’s death still lay heavy on my mind. It was unexplainable, really. Perhaps a momentary loss of consciousness, a psychotic episode that was brought on by. . . something. I tried to let it go, like a dream that lingers on your flesh for hours after you’ve had it; an unreal and strongly disorienting sensation that is all too real, yet clearly it is not - it cannot be. Now, I was waiting tables, and one of the tables belonged to a couple, a young man and a girl. They stayed for hours: they were ending their relationship. From what I gathered from the other servers, the guy was breaking up with his girlfriend. In the bits and pieces of their conversation, I merely gathered that neither one of them could reach a common ground with the other. This agreement, this realization, however, did little to minimize the pain that the girl had felt. She began to cry, and when I approached the table to clear off some items, our eyes met, they locked only for a brief second. And then, I instantly fell into despair; her pain was now mine. It was like a punch in the stomach; a sudden and violent drop of fear and approaching tragedy, hopelessness. All was lost. Her heartache choked at my own beating heart, speeding up the pumping blood in a never ending cycle of abandonment, losing someone so special, and yet someone so wrong for me. Wrong for her. What the fuck was happening to me? Her thoughts were now mine; her emotions were suddenly transferred entirely to my very being. I was experiencing a transfusion of a different life, of death, and with no comprehension as to why. And I knew of her past, of mine, with this boy, this young man that was once hers: the nights spent together, the afternoons at coffee shops (the coffee shop where they had met), and I was brought on by the sensations and the ever present nausea that took hold of and twisted my stomach into thick knots, it tickled my throat. The rock in my throat that formed, I hadn’t felt since I was a child - I was dying the death of others; I had found a connection into the galaxies of pain and death that surround us all. This was beyond empathy, worlds away from simple understanding, compassion or of pity. I became a connection, unwillingly, forced into another realm of intense comprehension into the windows of other beings. In a wild panic, yet as controlled as I could possibly be, with tears streaming down my cheeks, my breath catching in a sad uncontrollable range of sobs and whimpers and chokes, I excused myself and left the restaurant. I collapsed in a nearby park under a tree, and as soon as I set my back against the heavy tree, all was silent.

I felt the green intricate leaves glinting in the sun and shuddering, shaking, I could feel each leaf shivering from my arms, my branches; the wind moved my upper body, I shook and swayed in an easy graceful motion, so natural and relaxed, my center of balance so stable and strong. I stayed with the tree, in the tree, as the tree, for an indefinite amount of time. When I was able to leave, it was very dark. I’m not sure how long I was there, or if I ever could’ve left on my own. I had the feeling that I could’ve stayed a tree forever, a leaf, a branch or a twig, surviving years and decades and half centuries and centuries and maybe even longer with astonishing grace, gracefulness I had never even known existed. And as I walked home, I began to run, for all the homeless left out to sleep on the street were all around me, and I could read and feel their thoughts, I suddenly knew exactly what it felt like to live on the streets: the hot, blindingly bright concrete in the day, the cold slabs of gray pavement that sucked the heat from your body in the unflinching Los Angeles night. I felt the toll of heavy drug abuse, of lack of family and friends, hopelessness, helplessness - the road traveled by so many. I tasted their unstable mindset, dirty and twitching fervently with a disconnect of rational thought, like a skipping cd, I felt it all. There was a feeling of deep fear, and of a final submission to the great fear that ate away at these people, ate away at me. I began to run, and as I was running through the streets, the things that I was experiencing sped up, like an intricate and emotional kaleidoscope, weaving endless thoughts and feelings that I now felt. I sprinted through the dirty streets that rained down other’s psyches on my brain; the rain that saturated my body, my very being, so overwhelming and unexplainable that I wished I could die, just evaporate, or get splattered by a semi, as I had been before, as the crow. I was scared, sprinting terrified, and when I went home, the walls were breathing slightly from my manic episode, and I could still hear and feel the subtle remnants of emotions coming from those who lived in the apartments around me: I could experience their vivid and confusing dreams, hear their sleeping thoughts ever so quietly whispering into my brain, my body, through the walls and ceiling and floor. I lay under the covers and closed my eyes. I didn’t dream.

The next day, I called a psychiatrist.

I told him that I couldn’t see him, but I paid for an hour session over the phone.

The questions at first were simple. I had been to a shrink when my parents were divorced, when I was in elementary school. “Are you sad?” She’d ask me. . . Anyways, the initial questions were easy: Did I do drugs? Had I ever done drugs? Was I suicidal? If I was, or if I was thinking about hurting myself or others, it was the psychiatrist's decision as to alerting the police. I agreed to everything in the coolness of my quiet apartment. I had found this man through the yellow pages. “Anxiety Attacks,” the add had said.  

“Are you feeling the way that I feel right now, as we talk over the phone?” He asked me. His name was Dr. Gregory Wilson; he had a soothing, warm, deeper voice. I thought for a moment. I had just woken up an hour or so ago: most of the tenants of the apartment had left for work, or were out and about in the hot bright LA sun running errands. I had been left alone, thank god, with only my own thoughts for a change.

“No,” I told him. 

“There seems to be an emotional, psychological, and physical reaction upon making visual connections, or physical connections: physical being the tree in the park, visually being the woman at the restaurant. And yet, the homeless vagrants and the surrounding tenants in your apartment complex, as you described, suggest otherwise, a purely psychological trigger. It appears to me that you’re experiencing extreme out of body hallucinations coupled with overwhelming anxiety. Would you like me to prescribe you any medication?”

“Anything.” I told him. “Only I don’t know if I can bear going out into the world again. I feel like I can only survive in the woods now, as a tree, or a bush, or something.”

“I understand your hesitation,” Dr. Wilson said patiently, calmly, “but you need to remember that this will all be behind you soon. As intense and real as all of this is - and I’m not minimizing anything you’ve told me or anything that you’ve felt - with the proper help, help being the correct medication and therapy, this will soon be over.”

“It’s hard to imagine.” I told him.

“I understand. At this point, I think it’s best that you trust me. I’ve dealt with similar instances of this in the past - not quite as severe, but just the same, there’s medication for you.” He put in a prescription to a nearby pharmacy. I would have to walk there. I didn’t have a car. And taking the bus would kill me. I knew the people who took the bus - it would be overloaded, I would surely die with the amount of people, all thinking and stinking and worrying and riding and talking and some of them homeless and crazy and violent. . . I would walk.

I put headphones on, I turned up some Brahms to nearly ear splitting volume. I put on some heavy dark sunglasses that I had bought long ago (they were once too dark for me, I rarely wore them until now), and I took the short few blocks trip to the CVS pharmacy. I could still feel the thoughts and emotions of others, although it was like music coming in through a heavy brick wall: dissonant and subtle, yet still there, trying to get through to me. It was with deep concentration and heavy determination that I walked into the pharmacy. I got a prescription of klonopin, with a few small sample sized portions of valium and another of xanax. I had never taken these before, but I knew what they were for. I bought a bottle of water, still letting the Brahms blast in my ears, my eyes hidden behind the dark wall of black glass, and went outside to take a few pills. I’m sure that I was only supposed to take one, but I felt as if I hadn’t slept in years. I was drained both emotionally and physically, having felt and experienced the lives and death of anything that I came into contact with, over and over again. 

I stepped outside to the smell of heat and smog and cigarette smoke, litter on the sidewalk, trash cans full, stinking in the hot bright sun. I threw away the small white paper bags that held the pills, tore open bottles and foil and plastic, and finally, I had a small mountain of pills in the palm of my right hand. I had never abused drugs, but I was never so ready to do so. I would take nearly all of it, I decided right then and there; if it didn’t kill me, then I would reevaluate myself when or if I awoke again. Until then, I looked forward to sleep - a deep forced sleep. And the lingering effect that such drugs would have on me, possibly freeing me from everything I’d experienced for even longer than prescribed, residually carrying over until the next dosage, if there ever was ever another, seemed to be my only salvation. I opened the bottle of ice cold water with my other hand, holding the bottle in the nook of my right arm. Without hesitation, I put all the pills in my mouth, and tilted the bottle to my lips. I swallowed them, choked a moment, drank a little more water, and then walked home. Brahms played loudly in my skull.

Floating. Wasted in a sea of pills. Endless waves of pill induced stupor that crash and wash into me, over me, unrelenting. And yet, I don’t feel anything else. No one, nothing is inside of me anymore, so to speak. The multitude of anti-anxiety pills have done their job - I’ve taken far too much, but I can’t even worry about overdosing. I can’t even worry about anything. The room spins and rolls up and down, but I am the only one in it. No voices or thoughts can reach me now. The experiences of the past few days cannot reach me now. They were real - far too real - but now nothing is. Even the waves of prescription medication that rock my body like a church sermon in the south, pulsing through my bloodstream, carried all over my body through my heart, from my toes to my nose, to my brain and all over again - even this feels dull, unreal. And I love it. My vision fades into dots as the room disappears; it then reappears with the opening of my lead heavy eyelids; again and again, I’m shrouded behind the curtains of my eyelids, dots sparkle and move in the space behind the curtains, and I hope that I die. And I don’t really care. What will these pills do to me? How many have I taken? Who the fuck cares? Anything to keep me from feeling what I’ve felt, what I’ve been, the last few days. No more. Ever. Floating, wasted in a sea of pills. . .

I wake up. I woke up. I don’t know how, or for how long I was out. I woke up on the floor, on my stomach, my face in a lake of cold drool on the wood floor; it was daytime, although that meant nothing to me. I felt drugged, I was drugged, I felt stupid and disconnected to my body: my arms and legs were cut off from my brain, my brain which wasn’t really thinking at all; my limbs lazily moved around experimentally. I didn’t get up off of the floor for what felt like a long time. What day was it? Was I fired from work? Still, nothing mattered: the waves of the drug’s effects still pulsed through me, and I cared about nothing. I closed my eyes, and although I didn’t sleep, I remained on the floor, my eyes closed in blackness, for a long, long time.

“You missed our last appointment, I hope everything is all right.” Dr. Wilson’s voice again, via telephone. It had been two days since we had spoken last. I had taken nearly all of the pills he had prescribed me in less than two days; but to tell him that would be foolish - he would take it as a suicide attempt, which it was in a way, and then we’d have to go down that path - the real problem, I thought, was that I was still alive, and scared to death of suffering another episode or attack, whatever the term. 

“I’m sorry,” I told him, making up something on the spot, still reeling from all the pills. I only had a few left. “The pills worked: I took what was prescribed and I slept for what seemed like an eternity. I haven’t been outside in two days, not since I got the prescription and we last spoke.”

“Alright, then. So you managed to get some sleep in, that’s good.” Dr. Wilson said. He seemed glad. “When do you plan on returning to work, on going outside?” 

“I hadn’t planned on it,” I admitted. Truthfully, nothing of the sort had even crossed my mind. To go outside seemed like going into the realms of hell; it was scary beyond words.

“Well, as your psychiatrist, I strongly recommend that you do not lock yourself in your home out of fear of what might be outside. Let us think of a place that you could go to gather your thoughts and analyze what you’ve been dealing with, in a safe controlled environment.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Perhaps the park again,” Dr. Wilson suggested. “Let us see if your recent emotional history repeats itself - but this time without the overwhelmingness of other people’s thoughts and emotions overtaking your own. At the park, it seemed as though you were mostly alone; you felt safe there. Why don’t you return there and write what you feel, what you’ve felt these past few days, what you feel has happened, and we can go over all of it during our next session.” 

“Mm.” I said. I wasn’t sold. However, I felt he was right. The park was by far the safest place for me, even more so than my apartment; already the thoughts of my neighbors had begun to creep back in ever so slightly, insidiously, into my own mind. Like a cool sharp subtle breeze that overtakes you in the summertime, I felt it all coming on again. “Alright,” I agreed. “I’ll go, and I’ll bring a notebook.”

“Very good. Like I said, this is something that can be worked on, that can be controlled. You need to have courage, and patience. Thank you for trusting me.” Dr. Wilson was good; he seemed sincere, warm. He was a lifeline to me, he had become one almost instantly.

“Thank you, Dr. Wilson.” I said, and hung up. I drank some juice from my fridge, set myself up with an apple, my headphones and shades, I grabbed a notebook and ventured out towards the park.

I have been here at the park for hours now, writing all of this, everything that has happened up to this point. I’m sitting in the cool green grass, under the shade of the same tree that I had become only days prior. Along my walk to the park, I encountered only a few episodes of deep transfusion to other people. At one point, as I walked down the sidewalk, a homeless man had grabbed my arm. Horrified, I pulled away, but not before I sank into his confusion, his anger, his hunger; I felt, remembered how he had been in the army long ago, had become an alcoholic, was married and then divorced, how he had let his drug addiction to crystal meth and crack cocaine, along with his insatiable drinking problem, take over his life, eventually throwing him out on the street. For a moment, I smelled like he did, I felt filthy and in despair from the inside out, poisoned as he was. I ran away, and the intense sensations eventually subsided, like a waning drug. Then there was a tree, a beautiful thin tree in bloom with gorgeous flowers and lush green leaves, ripe, and drinking in the hot sun. I placed my right hand around it’s trunk, and I immediately anthropomorphically dissolved, evolved into it. This tree was new, young - I was new, young - the life emanated from us, free and loved and rich in life and beauty; we were content. It was hard to pull away; only when I heard the blast of a bus horn to a passing car did I resume back to my walk. The beautiful feeling of peace lasted longer, sustaining in my being for a long while, only subsiding when I reached the park.

And now, I sit on the grass, each green blade telling me a story, singing me a song through my shorts, kissing my legs, whispering and laughing, sleeping and waking. What the fuck am I going to do with myself? The library occurred to me at first as a place to rest, and to gain a handle, a grasp on everything that has been happening to me - maybe there was some literature on my condition - but upon thinking of the Los Angeles libraries, and how they’re basically rent free apartments for the so many vagrants, I thought otherwise. There was too much stimulation there; I’ll remain at the park. Hours keep passing. I am safe here.

I’ve made it home again now, and I’m writing more. 

I made a decision there, at the park: I would not kill myself. This strangeness that has overtaken me can be made into more of a gift than a hindrance; this was the realization that my time at the park brought on. And I could always have the pills as an out; a last resort to take me back to nothingness if it all grew to be too much. I had walked on past the park, passing by a couple holding hands, and the pleasure I felt from them was amazing - the intimacy and love and excitement that they felt with each other was shared with me, and I flowed in joy, in the same feelings as they had. That was the secret! Find the pleasures of life, and drink them in, become them, identify and move with them. Where was the best place to take advantage of my new gift, to be freely incorporated into a world of absolute pleasure? That was my new goal, to attain such a state of being, such a sustained feeling of absolute pleasure, a place where pain did not exist, where confusion had no power.

When I told Dr. Wilson of my recent epiphanies the next day, he seemed pleased. He was still insistent, however, that I eventually incorporate myself back into the “real” word, a term that he and I held lightly, almost as an inside joke. In the past few days, I had spoken to no one else besides Dr. Wilson, and I had spent nearly all my time at the park. I had made a to do list for the week:

1. Call Dr. Wilson

2. Go to the park

3. Quit my job (phone)

I had called the restaurant and quit.They understood: after my breakdown a little less than a week ago, they could sense that something was not right with me, and they were right. They would send me my last paycheck in the mail. I told Dr. Wilson, and he seemed a little disappointed. 

“Being able to return to work would have been an excellent way to gauge your recovery,” he said to me over the phone. “And also,” he continued, “I assume that you need to remain financially stable. How do you intend to do that?” He was being practical. I didn’t know anything, only that to return to work was wrong. I was out of pills. I asked for more.

“You’ve taken all of them already?” He asked.

“Well, I threw most of them away one night when I was scared. I thought I was beyond any help.” I lied. Truth be told, I had taken over a month’s worth of head pills in a few days. “Now I understand that I can use them to help me, and use them for balance,” I explained, which was actually true, kind of.

“Very well, then.” Dr. Wilson agreed. “We have to talk about your future. I can tell that it is beneficial for you to visit the park, but you cannot stay there forever. Would you say that your symptoms have gotten worse, better, or remained the same?” 

“The same,” I said, without hesitation. It was true. Although I had experienced a deeply positive sensation that had altered the course of my condition, the symptoms were still just as strong. Once again, it was daytime, a weekday, and no one was around the apartments, so I could think my own thoughts. I felt alright.

“Fine,” Dr. Wilson said. “Once again, you can go to the park to write, and I want you to take special focus on what you plan to do next, now that you have a few tools to control your condition. For one, you know that you can find peace and safety at the park; two, you know that your symptoms can be controlled with proper use of the medication I have prescribed you; three, you have found out by yourself, that this state of being can be utilized in a positive way, not just as an overwhelming and confusing experience.”

“Right.” I agreed.

“So, now that you’ve gained much more control, we need to continue to move forward, so that you can still live and function as others do.” 

It seemed reasonable. Dr. Wilson was very smart, I felt a strong love for him; in all of this confusion and madness, he had helped save me, and by doing that, I had managed to start to save myself. I went to the park.

three weeks later. . . 

Dear Dr. Wilson,

I have not written in a long time. Much has happened since my last entry. I am no longer at my apartment, I have not worked, and I have very little money to my name. My condition has not improved nor worsened, but what has happened in the past three weeks or so has changed me entirely, drastically. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for falling out of touch with you after our last session. I hope that this letter finds you well, and can give you some closure as to our brief professional relationship.

The day that we last spoke, I went to the park to write and figure out what I was going to do with my future. On the way there, I passed by a small crowd of young people, and I immediately fell into connection with their current state of being. I experienced a heightened sense of awareness: an intense feeling of deep pleasure and excitement, a rushing waveof lasting contentedness and love. I locked eyes with one of the girls; her aura was the strongest out of the whole group, and when she smiled, I was overcome with ecstasy and love for everything. I had to say hello, and when I approached them, the closer I got to her and her group of friends, the deeper I fell into a shared state of complete elation.

“Hello,” I said to the group, but mainly to the one girl.

“Hi, kiddo.” She said. Her eyes were dilated; I noticed that all her friend’s eyes were huge and dark as well. “What’s your name?” She asked me.

I told her my name. 

And then I asked for hers. Her name was Kathy. With every second, the feeling of elation within me grew larger and larger, completely overtaking everything in me.

“What are you doing tonight?” She asked me, clenching her teeth briefly while she smiled. I noticed that, too: everyone in the group was grinding their teeth, smiling, breathing heavily. It was an overwhelming scene. I felt very hot, alive, real; pulsating with the collective consciousness of this whole group of young wild human beings.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Can I spend some time with you guys?” They agreed that I could walk with them to the warehouse, where there was a party. We walked along, and the feeling that flooded my body only grew with the group’s anticipation of the event. Upon further inspection of the group, I realized that these young people were ravers (dancers, clubbers - the terminology I’m still unsure of); I saw now that they had florescent necklaces that flashed and strobed around their necks, and bright flashing plastic bracelets around their wrists; they carried a large supply of glow sticks, and although they wore sweaters and some of them wore long black pants, I could tell that beneath their initial layer of clothing was an outfit more suitable for dancing all night. They had come prepared: each of them carried bottles of water, pacifiers, vics nose sniffers. . . I was not privy to any of these things - I had never been to a rave before. As we walked on towards the warehouse in Hollywood, the culmination of the group’s excitement grew to a fever pitch. I knew now that they were all on drugs: ecstasy, special k - they had a large supply of MDMA pills mixed with methamphetamineand caffeine and heroin and cocaine: I saw in my mind the multitude of candy apple red pills; round pills with the image of the MTV astronaut on it; a cartoon heart broken in half; stars, glittery and exciting; half stacks, double stacks. . . I had never taken any of these party drugs - had never even thought of it. But now here I was in a group of ravers, and receiving a huge collective contact high unlike any other, without polluting my own body with these chemicals.

Dr. Wilson, what happened next will be hard to describe to you, as I’m also sure that you have never been to a massive rave dance party. The closer we got to our destination, I could feel more and more like I was approaching a wild nirvana, a utopia unlike anything I’d ever felt. When we arrived at the front of the warehouse, as we waited in the line to get it, I felt as if I was at the gates of heaven - I felt the energy - like a brewing storm of paradise was about to be unleashed on me, and I was to drown so deeply in its waves of glorious unfilteredpleasure. And yet, this was all nothing compared to when we entered the large warehouse, where constant repetitive mixes of bass and beats blasted louder than anything I’d ever heard before in my life - I felt it in my chest like a dropping bomb; the explosive pulse took the place of my beating heart, the bass enveloped me in it’s warmth, took me over completely with its endless rapid constant pattern. I lost sight of the group I had come with, and slowly made my way towards the center of the multitude of ravers. The flashing lights, the galaxies of colors, the darkness in between it all, the lasers, the all encompassing bass of the electronic beats, the endless amounts of drugs consumed by everyone there, thousands and thousands of hearts beating hard and fast, pulsing feverishly and uncontrollably with an overwhelming love and energy: rapture, dance, flashing lights, bliss, bodies, elation, drugs, color, high, euphoria, taste, sweat, excitement, strobes of black and white, ecstasy, fountains, adrenaline, life, love, heaven. . . These are all just words, Dr. Wilson, and nothing that I’ve written can adequately describe how I felt in the midst of that moving ocean of dancers, with wave upon wave of better than heaven rushing over me, into me.

And then I died.

I died right then and there, in the middle of the raving dance party. 

I died so many times, and each time I was reborn, I experienced life and death continuously, unrelentingly; the never ending cycle of the world. Seeds grew softly in the soil of the earth and erupted slowly and silently from the ground; the small tree grew and grew, its roots secured in the rich soil, it matured and grew to it’s full height, I felt it all, I saw it all, each second of its life was my own. Seasons passed. And then the tree grew old, it’s branches died, one by one, like a spreading sick cancer that eventually reached deep into its trunk, into its heart and killed it. Then the tree fell; it burned or it corroded and its decaying matter fell onto the surface of the very soil that birthed it. And the remains of the mammoth dead tree dug its way into the rich dark soil, and the cycle repeated itself, an infinite amount of times, never ending. I died and was reborn, the tree in the park, the tree in my soul. All in the middle of this rave - this dance party of sweat bodies jumping breathing fucking, an explosion of amazement - an atom bomb of sex that dropped on us, devouring us all in its tidal wave of indescribable pleasure. I was at the threshold of orgasm, the moment when time stands still, the second before you come, and the moment sustained, sustained, sustained. 

I traveled around the state of California with Kathy and her friends (I found them again later in the night), touring around to rave after rave - these dance parties were everywhere: out in the desert, in old abandoned warehouses. We went on, and I joined them each night taking in this new holy experience that had given me purpose, given me life, allowed me to see and feel that which could never before be attained. We were a part of the circuit of dance parties, a scene that once meant nothing to me, and now had become my very salvation. I did not have to take the drugs that everyone else took; there was no need for me. I had left all my things at my apartment, and when I stopped paying the rent, when I never returned, everything of value would be taken from my place, and I would continue on without it all. I would be forgotten. I still had some money saved, which I shared with the group for travel funds and the cost of the admission into the raves. I had not eaten in over a week. Every night, there was another dance party. Every night, I went to the blissful realm of some place infinitely better than heaven, better than anything. In the days, reeling from the experience of the night before, I slept soundly, desperately, so deeply that I never dreamt, in the hot van that we all traveled in. I would fall into darkness much deeper than sleep. I did not struggle with channeling the thoughts and emotions of the others in the van; although I still felt and thought as they did, their feelings were all my own; that of exhaustion, completeness and peace, topped with the ever present anticipation for the next night of raving.

One night, at a rave in warehouse out in the desert, I witnessed a rape. The girl was unconscious, white spit frothed from her mouth, she sat limp and lifeless in a chair near the wall, her eyes rolling into the back of her head, her black bangs and hair falling across her face. She had clearly taken too much of something. Two young men hovered over her, one began to caress her breasts while the other fondled her bare leg below her short jean shorts; one of them kissed her sloppily, then spit out the frothy saliva he had sucked into his mouth, disgustedly. He pulled her head back by the hair; the young girl did not resist, her eyes were gone, as was her consciousness, he continued to kiss her, shoving his tongue into the girl’s mouth. He then unbuttoned her shorts and shoved his hand down toward her crotch and savagely began to work his hand into her. The other man watched, clearly enthralled, nearly drooling himself.

In the deep wave of intoxicating salvation that I had become accustomed to, in the middle of the sea of throbbing bodies, watching these two men rape this unconscious girl, I suddenly felt an emotion that had alluded me for quite some time, definitely since I had acquired my condition: rage. I felt a sharp sickness of disgust and anger rise in me, and although I wished to look away and continue to relish in the selfishness of my man-made utopia of pure pleasure, I could not turn my eyes away from this graphic scene of molestation. This emotion that I now felt was purer than the weeks spent at these raves; it was unfiltered anger, and it was my own. I shared no one else’s psyche as I bursted and shoved through the throngs of hot bodies towards the two animals and their unconscious victim. 

Images flashed like a strobe light in my mind: the breaking of a neck with my bare hands; the sound of the snapping neck bone; the feeling of a hard packed fist connecting into a jaw, the crumbling and cracking of teeth, molars; heavy dark red blood flowing from a broken nose; my thumbs gooing into an eyeball, gouging greedily, bloody white jelly pouring out of the socket, flowing over my thumbs,  onto my hands; screams of confused pain. I saw flashes of violence and anger beyond words, with such intensity that I have never felt before. As I approached the two men and the unconscious girl, my anger climaxed into an aggression that I had never thought possible. The violent exchange between us lasted very briefly: I grabbed the one with his filthy fucking hands down her pants; grabbed him by his neck, turned him around, and hit him as hard as I could in his face. With the pop of the first strike, the connection of my fist in his nose and mouth, a fire had exploded within me. I flailed and struck at the two men with all my might, with whatever contact I could manage, I fought like a wild animal against his own impending death. The girl was saved. I was knocked unconscious. 

I awoke in the desert, in the hot hot sun, blinding me, my head heavy and hurting, pulsing in unrelenting pain. My knuckles were split open, blood had dried, my ring finger on my right hand felt and looked broken, swollen and blue. There was a bite mark on my shoulder that had broken the skin. I was alone. It took all my strength, strength that I did not have, to get to my feet and walk. The rave was done, the building was now abandoned and locked. Like a freak circus, it had left town. I walked alone, silently, down the desert highway, the sun burning my skin red, blistering my chest and nose. As the sun set slowly on the boundary line of the desert, as the chill crept in all around me, I continued to walk. As the darkness settled in, cooling my body, the darkness itself also permeated my mind. I thought of the tree in the park. How much different that feeling had been, that feeling of true peace. How stupid I had become, in my binging of gluttonous appeal - so selfish, taking in the orgasmic and drug induced pleasures of thousands of others. I had used myself and all those around me in a wild and frivolous attempt to free myself from the strange condition that I had been afflicted with. The “freedom” that I had sought, that I so desperately needed, was falsely attained while I drowned in a superficial orgy of passing pleasure, false salvation, the obsession of excess. I would have no more. Let me die now.

And I remembered then, walking in the darkness of the desert, how before I had lost consciousness in the violent fight the night before, how I had touched the unconscious girl’s head; I grabbed her by her shoulders and tried to shake her awake. I had tried to wake her, to alert her to the injustice being done to her. And as I touched her cold and sweaty forehead, as my hands grabbed and frantically shook her lifeless body, I became her. I felt the darkness: a feeling of sick twisted black fear alone abandonment that I would never wish on anyone. I felt her despair and her unending confusion; she knew nothing, she was helpless, I was helpless. I knew nothing. She was gone. I was gone. And then, the darkness had consumed me too.

Remembering all this as I walked down the desert highway, I knew that I could never return to Los Angeles, nor could I go back to the circuit of raves and dance parties and orgies of drugged pleasure. I could not go on this way. . . 

Dear Dr. Wilson,

As I write this, I am at the Thrangu Sekhar Retreat Centre, near Bhaktapur, Nepal. I have arrived only yesterday afternoon, and plan to stay for a three year retreat, and then go from there. I had just enough money for a flight to a nearby city, where I made my way to to retreat centre via walking. The remainder of my money went entirely to the centre, to ensure a confirmed spot in the three year retreat. On my journey here, upon arriving in Nepal I was taken in by a few kind Nepalese for the night, and found my way to my destination from there the day after.

My condition has not improved nor worsened, in that it is still very prevalent and constant. However, I have been able to show a great amount of self control and restraint while dealing with the symptoms. Upon my walk in the desert, I again was the recipient of yet another epiphany. While I knew that for some reason I had acquired a unique gift, I realized that I can gain more control over it by becoming aware of the symptoms, more mindful of them, and acting as more of a witness to the myriad of emotions that might overtake me. Easier said than done, I’m sure you understand, but it’s a never ending practice for me. The plane flight to Nepal, for example, was a Boeing jet plane that was entirely booked. While I flew, I was of course experiencing the multitude of thoughts and emotions that came with each and every passenger: fear of flying, relaxation, the thoughts of business and pleasure, family, births, deaths, the excitement and anticipation of vacation, seeing a loved one. . . It was overwhelming, especially at first - never had I been in such a highly concentrated, varying situation since my condition had first developed. In the raves, everyone was the same, and the overall feeling was easy to attach to; easy to ride out. On the plane, it was different: there were so many thoughts, so many different levels of consciousness. And yet, I used the flight as a way to gain some insight and clarity into better controlling my condition. As all the thoughts and emotions of all those around enveloped me, I watched and watched, tried to distance myself from all the feelings, watched how I felt as if viewing an intense art film. The end result was an accomplishment, in that I made it through the whole twenty hour trip alive, with a few transfers and layovers as well. By the time I reached Nepal, I had achieved a stronger sense of control, and that felt good.

So, how did I decide on the Thrangu Sekhar Retreat Centre, near Bhaktapur, Nepal? While walking in the desert, I continued to think of the tree in the park, how we agreed that place was safe for me, a sort of haven. I needed to find a place where I could attain the same sort of feeling, yet incorporate that same feeling of safety into a life that included other human beings, other lifestyles; a real world. All at once, an image came to mind, one of a monastery in a cave in the green jungles of Nepal. Suddenly, I recognized a deep and full truth, one that had alluded me for so long: to be at peace with myself and everything around me, in a place of calm tranquility, of self-fulfillment, and of true understanding, that is where I needed to go. I saw a statue of the buddha in my mind, along the backdrop of huge gray stone walls, lush deep hues of green foliage and dark rich brown dirt; I saw pure sunlight dripping through the trees onto the face of the enlightened one, and I knew that this place was where I belonged. Three days later, I was on a plane toward Nepal. My three year retreat begins tomorrow. 

Dr. Wilson, I would very much like to thank you for all that you’ve done for me. Although I’ve never seen you in person, I feel like I know you very well, and I’m sure that things would not have worked out as well for me had I not called you, and trusted you and your judgement. I apologize once again for losing contact with you, and for not being able to continue our sessions; I hope that now you understand why I was unable to stay in touch -- I had much to figure out by myself. I write this to you in my notebook, where I’ve written everything that has happened, and I send it to you now as a gift, as thanks for your help. 

Please take care, Dr. Wilson. Maybe we’ll speak again.

By Casey Wickstrom, July 2013

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The Car Crash, part two


The surgeries went over well. I had a cast on my right leg, and my left arm. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t move. I had a hard time talking because my face was so swollen. I had IVs and patches all over my body. My catheter was the most horrifying experience of the whole ordeal. I was given a button to press, in order to self-administer a pain killer. The button would administer dilaudid, an opiate which is thought to be 3-4 times stronger than morphine. While I obviously needed the pain medication, I found myself hallucinating violently, in an intense episode of confusion and panic. Had my mother not been right by my side all night, I don’t know how I would have made it. Eventually, we made the connection that it was the dilaudid that was bringing on these symptoms, so we rationed the doses out to every hour, calming me down after a night of hell.

The next day, I had a back brace put on, and I was helped to sit up in my bed. With the help of a physical therapist, I stood on my feet. My balance wavering, my swollen feet throbbing, and my head spinning, I managed to take four steps, turn around, and sit back on my bed. It was the most exhausting steps I’ve ever taken. But it got me. I knew I could do more.

I was being fed through a tube; I could only drink a tablespoon of water (I’m used to drinking a gallon a day).

The next day, I took more steps, with less assistance, out into the hall of the UCLA ICU.

The whole staff was impressed. I was put on a liquid diet. I could have juice, water, broth. The drink of water I had was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I had lost twenty pounds. In retrospect, though it felt like years, the next five days went by rather quickly. Doctors and nurses and surgeons were coming in and out, checking this and that on my body, taking my blood and blood pressure, checking my dressings from the surgery. I could finally watch TV and zone out, my roommates brought me my glasses, and my book, Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. Interestingly, the book’s topic was immortality.

I was put on a normal diet; tubes were taken out, replaced; I could eat normal food. Instead of the dilaudid, I was put on Vicodin – actual pain pills. I was eventually moved from the ICU to another floor, where I had a nicer room with a view. My recovery was happening swiftly; I could now get out of my bed, and with a cane, walk the entire distance of the hall and back. I was finally released, eight days after I had been admitted for the car accident.

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The Car Crash, part one

Yes, most of you have heard of, or seen, thanks to Facebook, the incredibly violent and sudden turn of events that happened on August 21st. After my shift in the kitchen of Maggiano’s in Hollywood, I journeyed to the USC campus to pick up my girlfriend, Camille. It took me nearly three hours to find the campus, partly because of my phone’s failed GPS, and partly because of my own failed internal GPS. At any rate, I picked up my beautiful girlfriend at around 9 pm, and I drove us off to the apartment at which I live in Marina del Rey.

While taking an off-ramp towards our destination, we were hit head on by a drunk driver who was going the wrong way on the freeway, and using our off-ramp as her on-ramp.

I remember three things about the head on collision. First, I remember seeing the headlights as we rounded the sharp, blind turn, and thinking: “Headlights?” Second, I remember holding Camille’s thigh in the wreckage; she was crying, and blood was pouring from my face and head. I felt no pain. Third, I remember the door to my car being ripped open, and I thought “Good. Help is here.”

I do not remember anything about the ambulance, or even being put on the stretcher. I awoke in a room in UCLA’s medical center. The surgeons had removed my spleen, and had repaired my liver, which had suffered extreme lacerations. I had 28 staples in my stomach. I had to have a blood transfusion; I had lost a great amount of blood. I talked to cops and surgeons. I asked about Camille. They said she was fine, only a fractured collar bone. The paramedics and Camille would later tell me that I positioned myself in front of Camille prior to the collision, shielding her from further harm. I don’t remember that, but alright. In any case, I definitely took the brunt of the accident.

My kneecap was broken in various places, as was my left arm. The surgeons would operate, putting wires in my kneecap, and a steel rod in my left forearm. My face was filled with broken glass, and my left eye socket was fractured. I had stitches in three places on my face: my chin, under my left eyebrow, and under my left eye. My head was soaked with blood, and my face was a mess. A renowned plastic surgeon operated on my face.

My cousin Drew, who lives in Pasadena, was the first to see me after the accident. My mother called him, and he immediately came to UCLA. When I opened my eyes, he was the first person I saw. I remember making jokes, talking to Drew and the surgeons, telling them all I remembered. I had my voice still. I could talk. I had my teeth. Surgeons touched my hands, and I could feel their touch. I could move my fingers. Upon discovering those things, I knew that I would be fine. I thought to myself: “I have my voice and I have my hands. I don’t care if I ever walk again. I am fine.” Every time I would open my eyes, Drew would be right there beside me.

My mother, brother, and my youngest sister flew in from Colorado on Monday, only hours after I had called from the hospital. My mother is who saved my life. Her and I have the strongest relationship in the world. As soon as she entered the room, I knew that I would be getting out of UCLA as soon as humanly possible.

The next eight days were the most intense days of my life.

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