Last Tuesday, a new friend of mine, James, hired me to mount a large flat screen TV into a wall in his mancave – a separate building apart from his two-story house, next to the swimming pool in his backyard.
“I produce TV shows,” John told me, as we entered the cave – a home to several guitars, amplifiers, a drum set, stereo, computer and collections of cds and dvds. There was even a bed, just incase. “I love my wife and kids, but you know…” He held a hammer and pointed it a wall. “How ‘bout there?”
“Sure, that works, or maybe over-”
He started hammering holes in the wall.
“Yep, right there’s great.”
James was facing a deadline on his latest project, so he handed me the hammer.
“I much rather help you,” he said. “I don’t even want to do the project. But, it’s money, you know.”
I cut out the drywall around the hole to make a nice square, then sawed out the exposed studs of the wall. As I was sawing through the last stud, I ran an exposed nail deep into my left forearm. I stopped to watch the blood drip from my arm, thinking, Just when was that last tetanus shot? It’d been a lot longer than I’d wanted it to be, so I did the next best thing – washed out the wound with soap and water then pretended it never happened. Then I built a frame inside the wall in which to anchor the TV.
“It’s lookin’ good, man,” James said, poking his head inthe door. “Listen, I gotta drop my wife off at the airport. Here’s the keys to the Benz, go get whatever you need to at the hardware store.”
“Cool, how’s the project going?”
“Already finished it. It’s crazy, man. They’re gonna pay $10,000 for 2 hours of work today, and one easy day of shooting next week. That easy and I still don’t wanna do it? I gotta wife, two beautiful little girls and a job I love but all I really wanna do is get high and live in my head, all alone in this little room. You know, kiss everything goodbye just to do that…or go to Jumbo’s Clown Room and hang our with the nitwits…it’s f$%king ridiculous.”
That night, while walking down Hollywood Boulevard, I came upon a bum at the bus stop at Normandie Street. He held a rotting pumpkin close to his chest, digging inside it with one hand and throwing the green-gray contents onto the sidewalk.
“Damn, it’s the only pumpkin I have left!” He exclaimed with deep pathos. “The only one…the only damn one, dammit.”
There was nothing strange about this scene, within the context of The Hollywood Night. The strange thing was that it was barely 7pm. Daylight Savings Time ended the weekend before. On the previous Tuesday at this time, there was at least a hint of indigo in the sky. But this Tuesday’s 7pm sky was black, with the exception of a few stars and an apricot-tinted sliver of the harvest moon. Moisture from the cool night air shimmered on the street. Neon and halogen lights of storefronts belted visual screams that pieced the air like shrieks from a litter of premature babies. Outside Jumbo’s Clown Room, pretty girls smoked cigarettes as they shivered in their f#$k me clothes, like always, except now jackets were draped over their shoulders. Jackets? Really? Then it dawned on me – as the pumpkin digging bum’s lament faded behind me – that, damn, I’m wearing a jacket, too. What, when…Summer was so far away by Tuesday night, like an old memory that changes a bit here and there, gradually, the deeper it drifts into the past…then BAM…one day the memory is nothing it once was…and things you once swore had happened never even happened at all…you find yourself older, but with a new past. The cut my arm had grown red and puffy, I’d gently rub it, put pressure on it. Tetanus, tetanus, tetanus…
The next day, I went over to Jame’s and finished up the job.
“How was your night?” I asked him.
“It was great,” He answered. “Took the girls to soccer practice and just goofed around with them until they went to bed. Then I sat around and thought about getting high but didn’t.”
Friday, I spent the entire day recording a version of Early In The Mornin’, an old prison work song, for a friend’s web series. The hours disintegrated as I recorded one vocal track after another. The song required many vocals coming in on top of each other, like a chant. I’d record, listen, record, listen, etc, filling in the blank spaces with more tracks of my voice. It was quite a surreal experience, hearing that many versions of my voice singing over each other. By the evening, I envisioned several Me’s on a chain gang outside the high stone walls of a prison somewhere. The Me’s voices rose and fell like ocean waves…coming together on certain phrases, then echoing off and away from each other. Several Me’s…all down the line, condemned to swing an ax for eternity.
After I finished recording, I ventured into The Hollywood Night again. The harvest moon had waxed nearly to half, glowing fiery orange. There was the crowd of ladies outside of Jumbo’s – leather jackets, high heels, short skirts, skinny, giggly, stoned and glamorous. At Normandie Street, the pumpkin man was gone, but another street babbler had taken his place. A minimalist, this man mumbled quietly about “Mother” as he paced back and forth, running his hand along the back of the bench. The wound on my arm was producing a low constant itch and I had to keep myself from reaching up under my jacket sleeve and scratching it. My jacket…that night, everyone on the street wore a jacket. Were we ever not wearing jackets? Tetanus…
On Saturday, I headed over to a favorite cafe of mine, on Vine Street. During the summer, I hung out with “M”, a homeless man, there. It’d been a month since I’d last seen him, after he’d just gotten a job and phone and things were looking up for him. For a while, I received texts from him every morning, around 5am, before he left to go to work. Then the texts stopped and I stopped seeing him around. But he was back at the cafe on Saturday, wearing only one shoe.
“I was hit by a car,” M told me. “Down by 7th and Spring. They had to call an ambulance and take me to the hospital. I can’t put a shoe on this foot yet, but It’s gettin’ better. The thing was, though, the hospital gave me pain meds. Shoot, I was off to the races and the next the I know was I was in detox. The phone, my clothes…all gone. I’m having a hard time focusing and can’t stay still for very long, but they said that should clear up when everything’s completely out of my system.”
It just so happened that Saturday was my 7th anniversary of being sober. I told M that I’d had a lot of drunk dreams over the last few weeks, leading up to Saturday. M cringed and shook his head. These dreams are common for alcoholics once they try to get sober. Mine have always been more or less the same…
…I suddenly find myself drinking somewhere. At first, I’m shocked and scared, but then I realize that I’ve been drinking all along. Everybody knows I’m still drinking, and I know everybody knows. But I’m too afraid to tell anybody the truth, so I sit, drinking as much as I can, just waiting for someone to walk in and catch me, so I won’t have to pretend anymore…
These dreams never fail to wake me, and I’ll spend several moments overcome with shame, guilt, anxiety and some darker emotion that has no name. Then I’ll notice the gray light coming through the window blinds or the flashing lights of the modem, Reality gradually surrounds me, and I’m sober again.
But part of me believes those dreams are also a reality, and that there are multiple realities, as if every decision I’ve ever made had split my existence into different directions. Maybe another Me never got sober. Maybe another me falls off the wagon over and over. Maybe there are countless Me’s Out There. Maybe it is in dreams that all of these Me’s come together, check in with each other, give each other glimpses down the roads we didn’t take. Maybe another James put his little girls to bed, got high in his mancave, then ventured over to Jumbo’s and went home with a high-heeled regret. Maybe another M got out of the way of the car, or maybe he was killed. Maybe I died too, lonely and drunk in New York City. Maybe we all have…at least once.
I said goodby to M and walked home along Hollywood Boulevard. The sun burned down in the West, shooting pink and baby blue streaks across the sky. I became incredibly moved by the way the silhouettes of Hollywood’s palm trees, billboards, mountains and buildings created bottom of the sky – a pure, necessary and simple border of Heaven. I then tilted my gaze a few degrees downward. The city instantly regained its dimension and detail, and I sensed the onrushing despair of The Hollywood Night. But there was even something moving about that. The city’s despair was connected to Saturday’s beautiful sunset by a sweet and heartbreakingly thin tether. I looked down at my arm. The redness and puffiness was gone. Only a dried scab remained, itching slightly. Maybe another Me had to have his arm amputated. I’ll have to wait to find that out in a dream. But in this reality, I was healing just fine.