You Know What My Dirty Little Secret Is? I’m Actually Happy

She probably just wants food. That’s why she lets me mess around with her.

 

We live according to a reality we sell ourselves. In other words, a fiction. I have been selling myself a taped recording of my life. It’s what I’ve been running through my brain for decades.

I have spent my adulthood scowling and griping, defending myself against “events” that wouldn’t make a blip on the radar of others. Usually scenarios of degradation and shame. I have forsaken my original healthy animal obliviousness.

If people think I’m a loser, fuck ’em. And if I think that about myself, more’s the shame. Because it ain’t true. I mean you win some and you lose some, but that’s all a trap of duality anyway.

I want to thank anyone who slogged through my last blog post. A Cleveland cousin, whom I rarely talk to, compared it in a private message to something he’s writing, his own “orgy of self-flagellation.”

If there’s one good thing that came out of writing and showing that, it’s that it woke me up. See, because the weird truth is that I’m actually happy. I mean, I have a pretty good life.

I was driving to work today, meaning Mayer High School, where I have a few months left to work a part-time gig before retiring from teaching — unless, in a witless paroxysm of hope, I try to land another (but full-time) teaching job in these parts — and it occurred to me I was enjoying my Sirius/XM and my CDs, I was enjoying the mysterious train of dream wisps and thoughts and memories that accompany this crazy curriculum.

What right do I have to depress people?

What power there is in the fact some people love me and encourage me not to give up!

And yet it seems I never have given up. When you die, then you give up. And even then, if you’ve fought the good fight, maybe your light shines on.

I joke around a lot about Rosa, my badly trained Airedale, who steals my plated lunch if my back is turned. I romanticize about her freedom from the Trap of Intellection. But it is a lesson worth thinking about. I am happy to realize that this simple, warm creature has an energy I can draw on, even learn from.

The other day I taught rather well, if I say so myself. I made my “bad” class read a short story aloud with me, and the discussion afterward was successful. I had the will and charisma and doggedness to do that. My teaching half-day done, I was emotionally drained, almost fell asleep behind the wheel of my Subaru Forester driving those damn 30 miles from Mayer back to Prescott. In my beautiful house in the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains with its postcard view, I flopped on our great new red leather couch, armrest perfectly sloped to accommodate a languishing head and shoulders even without pillow, a great napping couch. I did use a pillow this time, settling in for the full nap experience, one of the pleasures if not necessities of age.

Rosa had other ideas. She jumped up and lay on top of me.

“Look how much she loves you!” Barb said, and, laughing, moved in with her camera.

Sometimes it’s my dog’s way of saying “Come on, let’s DO something!” Other times she just wants affection. I stroke her and smell her dogness. Maybe if I’d had kids I wouldn’t be such an old fool around my silly dog.

And yet wise. She knows there’s nothing you can do about life but live it, enjoy it. She doesn’t count her blessings, not consciously anyway, she lacks what we regard as a consciousness, but things roll off her back. She just is.

Sometimes she gets her paws up on the matching red leather reading chair where I’m attempting to get through this brilliant new thousand-page bio on Churchill, and though I indulge her by stroking under her chin and rubbing her neck, after a while I have to shove her off. It’s a blunt push. Like, get away. Her paws drop back to the floor, boom. What’s remarkable to me is that she’s never upbraided or “hurt,” it’s just like, “Right, down on the floor now,” and she goes snuffling about her new business. (I would be hurt, I would harbor resentment over being rudely treated.) There aren’t any recriminations or resentments. There’s an innocence in animals, present even among those who are abused, I imagine. They trust you. It’s kind of heartbreaking, which is why I became unbearably despondent the few times I lost her in the woods and thought I might not see her anymore.

Anyway, I wasn’t bullshitting around a few posts ago when I said I’m learning the art of happiness from my dog.

My gratitude list:

My wife, who’s kept me sober and working and content and well fed for twenty years, and deserves a medal.

My joy in teaching, because I do got game, and feel a connection even as I’m making their eyes roll sometimes, singing as I am the praises of Jane Eyre or (as now) The Catcher in the Rye or a good journalism lead with a hook.

An extended physical vigor which has enabled me to earn supplemental income in plain labor, and fuels my weights workouts and long walks with Rosa.

My ability to laugh.

My ability to listen! That’s a big one. You go to AA meetings, mostly discussion meetings, and sit there rehearsing what you would say in response to the topic somebody launched. You sit there getting wet palms planning your rhetorical gambit. Then you realize that the listening to the shares of others is the big thing. After a time you go to meetings not even caring if you talk. There’s a quiet thrill to realize you’re connected to the world through your relationship with others, which largely translates to your ability to listen to them.

All those who read my horrific post about drug abuse and the life predicament it’s put me in, thank you. I see now I wanted to get all that ugliness and remorse and pain off my chest so someone might be able to punch through my blindness and tell me what to do.

Perhaps the best advice I got was from Marty, my brother, who said not to take life so seriously. There was real wisdom. And from Becky, my beautiful English cousin. Thanks, Becky, for not tearing me a new one, Union Jack fluttering behind you. You could have laid me out with the obvious rejoinder: nobody in England would want to have a drink with a mordant depressive fixated on himself.

Let’s make this one short, and finish with a line that’s not original, but that one might expect from a nutcase who tried to be a religion major at Columbia University.

I was once blind but now I see.

Better than before, anyway.

Amen.

The AA Lead They’ll Never Hear

Fourteen years of sobriety chips sitting on my battered “Big Book,” the bible of Alcoholics Anonymous, called, in fact, Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite the caustic accounting below, I am proud of those chips. No, I won’t be taking them down to Whiskey Row, where bartenders will give you a free drink for an AA chip. Guess I’ll cowboy up and stay straight.

 

I want my money back. Fourteen years of uninterrupted sobriety and my life’s still a mess!

Slow down there, Bob. Let’s be sensible.

Never my strong suit, but I’ll try.

You’re right. Not like it was a bad idea to quit getting high.

High wasn’t high anymore.

Last time I snorted cocaine and smoked crack, it turned me into a recluse and porno addict. When that rush drained out of me I wanted to kill myself. I was alone, hated by God. Crack was the worst drug ever made.

I almost did kill myself. With heroin. Woke up on the floor 12 hours after snorting too much, smashed my shoulder into a doorpost lurching out of some guy’s apartment. Spastic, shaking, sweating, I drove toward my mom’s house. Couldn’t make sense of the sign blocking entry to an intersection. Cop standing by sawhorses yelled “Whoa!” and made me back up. I rode through it again. I wasn’t being a smart ass; my brain didn’t work. “You better keep going!” he called in sympathetic warning. I’d slowed past the sign, confused … wanting to be arrested? Cop took pity on the hiccupping derelict trying to get home to save his life. My mother wouldn’t ask questions; she fed me bouillon while I worked up a story to tell my wife.

Last time I smoked pot I got a private, shameful rush but was afraid to be in public. I found no peace within. Took a British literature class at Cleveland State, part of my prep to be a teacher. Sitting in class “high” I wrote in my notebook I wanted to beat the shit out of the prof. I saw this hateful scribbling later and wondered what I’d become. Teacher caught my vibe. No accident I pulled an A- from him. And I’d worked my ass off, even reread boring Spenser.

As for alcohol, namesake of Alcoholics Anonymous, last time I drank I had a 20-pound roll of beer fat around my once taut middle. Elbows parked on the bar of the Barking Spider, where nobody liked me, but where I strove to bludgeon out of myself any vestige of consciousness. I’d come to hate my life, including all the escape routes that didn’t work anymore. Was jealous of anyone outperforming me. That would be everyone, especially one spitefully successful novelist. Woke up in my car in the parking lot of a strip club after closing time, puke caking my lap and steering wheel. Went to my car of a morning and recoiled from the reek of a half-gnawed burrito on the dashboard I’d got at Taco Bell drive-through the drunken night before. Horrified. Blacking out.

After my fourth DUI, I had to spend money on rehab, lawyer, fines and fees. Eight grand, and counting as I had no health care. Cleveland Clinic said I must stop everything, all “mood or mind altering substances.”

I was miserable enough to try.

I shared foolishly intimate things in rehab. Wound up exposing every embarrassing detail about myself to the outpatients who dropped piss and attended meetings with me, and nurses who ran them and themselves twisted in their seats at my unsavory confessions. Trying to be purged, I only drew more rebuke from the world.

Is my life better now?

Naivete and that old demon, anger, blocked my teaching career. I couldn’t relate to kids I pulled in the “at risk” community of northwest Arizona. I needed a bunch of bowtied dorks at a prep school; I got illiterate ruffians. I’ll start collecting a niggardly teacher pension soon. After two panic attacks I’ve confronted this lurking dread. I’m done.

As for the second job, at Walmart: despite a yeoman’s effort to play the Studs Terkel card and join the salt of the earth, I might be in trouble there too. You’re supposed to use this handheld to do “quick math,” seeing on top stock what must be brought down. I still don’t get it. I go up and down the cart ladder to peer at shelf slots and bring way too much down. I’ve destroyed my back; I hobble like a hunchback, live in hot baths.

So now what? If teaching’s going to be over, and this isn’t the Noble Working Man gig for me, what then?

The AA Promises say, “Fear of economic insecurity will leave you.”

Oh yeah?

I’m petrified over bills and money. At 65 I can’t retire. Health care costs, utility bills, Visa debt have me scurrying like a coolie through the relentless indignities of economic life. Forever.

Don’t I just need a way to forget it all?

I told my therapist, “What would be so wrong with getting a bottle of good whiskey and having a tumbler, oh, every Saturday night?”

After a reflective pause she said, “How about a glass of wine every night?”

Was she being sardonic or was she in earnest?

I’m going to meet two old high school friends next month, a reunion of sorts. In a recent three-way text fest, we joked around, sharing old times.

In reference to one banal “political” gesture of which I was a part in high school, I wrote, “I’d prefer to leave the details of all that in the fogs to which marijuana smoking consigned it.” I only cared about Open Lunch Period to the extent it might allow me the opportunity to drive to Burger King to eat Whoppers. I didn’t give a fuck about larger freedoms or the model of a school as a cage.

Then I worried: Might my friends react against the “establishment conformity” implicit in my cannabis reference? After they texted some more stuff (in the confusion of who was saying what, and to whom), I dutifully inserted a reminiscence about a road trip I’d taken back in the day with one of them, which included pot smoking, dropping acid, and taking speed (and a juicy sexual conquest on my part), just to let Alan know he’d never lost “the old Bobby,” as he, with relief, put it in his response.

The other friend had always said weed was bad for me. He had always been afraid of losing “Bobbeleh,” the warm fuzzy family friend, because of how I got high. Yet he, too, didn’t want me to turn into some square making cutting remarks about “using.” I won’t. Come to that, I still regard as valid the acid trip I took listening to Yellow Submarine in his bedroom. I remember Mike looked so worried and square, seeing me cross legged on his brother’s bed, rapt, smoking cigarettes, blabbering about the divine ambiguity of the lyrics to “Only a Northern Song.” He wasn’t on my level. Admittedly, when at two in the morning I saw fit to sprint down snow-packed Stilmore Drive in nothing but my jockey shorts, Mike may have had cause for concern.

Okay, so drugs are out.

But drinking?

If I moved to England I’d drink again. Drinking is the national religion.

This English guy visited me a few summers ago and said, in the bar I took him to, “Bobby was much more fun when he had a drink,” to someone sitting with us. I smiled tightly all night.

I took it hard. Was he right?

My friend Roger, whom I’d seen hundreds of times in bars his band played at, fielded my telephonic quailing with the abrupt interjection, “Bobby, you were boring when you drank.”

With this reunion looming, I can’t wait to talk to my therapist about this.

But till then I’ve got an idea.

I got hired to grade standardized high school tests online. When I go downstate to join Mike and Alan to see the Cleveland Indians in spring training, then drive to Williams to ride the Grand Canyon Railway, and they want to repair to a bar of an evening, I might repair to the laptop in my room to grade papers.

At 15 bucks an hour you can’t say no. You can work up to 40 hours a week.

I’ll say the Serenity Prayer before I turn in. Wish me luck.