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Just Like Roni Sez.. Be My Little Baby

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moss grows

I attended the 2017 Colorado Collaborative Justice Conference last week and felt a little overwhelmed. This is the harmonic convergence of the Problem Solving Courts that are functioning here which includes Judges, Magistrates, District Attorneys, Probation Officers, Coordinators, Administrators, and State Coordinators. The focus is Best Practices and celebrating the “people first” approach to criminal prosecution whose main focus is recovery.

On the final day of the conference, I attended a plenary with a panel of graduates from various PSC’s around the state. They shared their experience, strength, and hope as well as how the support of those courts and their staff gave them the bolstering they needed to find a higher purpose for their lives.

In the breakout room of this plenary was a woman whose style and panache seemed so familiar to me that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was about 40 pounds heavier and had a young child with her. I couldn’t discern for sure, but I thought I recognized her. Her young boy was feisty so she removed him from the room so as not to disturb. It was then that I realized who she was and I chased around the ground level of the hotel to find her. She and her son were seated outside. She smiled and shook her head as I approached and I asked if I might be seated and speak with her. I was very aware of not breaking her anonymity.

just like roni says

Suddenly like awaking from a narcoleptic seizure, I was seated across from one of the most distinctively styled and deeply troubled woman I have ever worked as a counselor and confidant for. I remember she blew into our clinic as the retro-styled Roni Spector wanna-be who migrated to Colorado from Utah after a lifetime of childhood and adult sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. She was most assuredly on of THE toughest Chicanas I had ever crossed paths with. As I have always been passionate about supporting the underdog, I developed an immediate connection with her. She was obviously a tough cookie. Even more obvious was how she had hardened to obscure the pain and trauma she had survived. She drifted in and out of compliance with our process at the clinic where I worked, and eventually my allegiance to that clinic wavered and I moved on. She became very angry with me because she felt I gave up on her. Sad too, because I gave up on the clinic, not the clients. And I required that boundary for my own well being.

So as I sat on the patio at an umbrella’d table with she and her 2 year old, I was mesmerized with her recent sobriety. She and her then boyfriend got pregnant and she got sober. Maybe not immediately, but certainly before birth. She went went into a coma for a few month after childbirth and it was touch and go during that time. Perhaps she was hang gliding with the angels for awhile and reassessing her priorities. She was gonna need it. Her son was born with a rare cerebral deformity. The medical teams reiterated often that he would not live more than 2 years. I smiled to myself as I played catch with this 2 1/2 year old using an orange as a ball. I realized once again how little I really understand and how mindful I need to be to leave room for miracles in life. She and her partner both have successfully transitioned into recovery. I have no idea what may happen when health issues change, but the now in this situation is plenty for me.

Just like seeing a double rainbow, there I sat in full sun, experiencing the work of a power beyond me, and feeling completely blessed and renewed.

I feel a hunger, it’s a hunger
That tries to keep a man awake at night
Are you the answer I shouldn’t wonder
When I feel you whet my appetite

With all the power you’re releasing
It isn’t safe to walk the city streets alone
Anticipation’s running through me
Let’s find the key and turn this engine on

I can feel you breathe
I can feel your heart beat faster

Take me home tonight
I don’t want to let you go till you see the light
Take me home tonight
Listen honey
Just like Ronnie sang
Be my little baby
Oh, oh, oh

chasing waterfalls

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This season heralds the onset of many changes in my life. I have had to accept that my vision is forever changed in the eye that had surgery early in the year. It is manageable, but also a distinct secession. I remain in gratitude that I have the opportunity to be here at all, which counters that loss.

My mother has relocated to another state to keep pace with a fixed income. The bonus for her is increased social activity and community for her as she is near her sister and niece/kids. It’s  an adjustment as she has lived so close for 20 years. We still speak regularly, but there are adjustments to make.

This is the 1st year to be working entirely as an independent contractor. There are budgeting issues to absorb and anxiety issues to find new ways to deal with.  It feels very very strange to lean into discomfort when worry comes up, however there is also a new plateau reached when resolution happens without giving in to panic.

I remain committed to continued growth both in my relationship with spirit and with my professional contribution to community. As long as opportunities continue to present themselves, I will continue to investigate their appropriateness. I only hope I don’t get lost chasing waterfalls.

I seen a rainbow yesterday
But too many storms have come and gone
Leavin’ a trace of not one God-given ray
Is it because my life is ten shades of gray
I pray all ten fade away
Seldom praise Him for the sunny days

And like His promise is true
Only my faith can undo
The many chances I blew
To bring my life to anew
Clear blue and unconditional skies
Have dried the tears from my eyes
No more lonely cries

My only bleedin’ hope
Is for the folk who can’t cope
With such an endurin’ pain
That it keeps ’em in the pourin’ rain
Who’s to blame
For tootin’ ‘caine into your own vein
What a shame
You shoot and aim for someone else’s brain
You claim the insane
And name this day in time
For fallin’ prey to crime
I say the system got you victim to your own mind
Dreams are hopeless aspirations
In hopes of comin’ true
Believe in yourself
The rest is up to me and you

Mercury in Retrograde

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green cellophane

It has been a wacky wacky week both in Washington DC and in Denver City Park West. I have been moving slowly – as slowly as I can to avoid crashing into any more drama. It seems there has been enough comings and goings and goings on to satisfy any circuit party reveler’s appetite for the unexpected and outrageous.

It seems that an organization I have been collaborating with has drastically modified it’s mission which has put our collaboration in question. I don’t mind that they’ve changed as much as I do mind having to make new connections without much lead time or planning. Plus, just like everyone else, change is not my first choice.

Someone very close to me has been using meth again for about a month. They disclosed to me today, which was actually a kindness. I am not sure how to move forward, but I have to rethink our relationship and how close we remain. Stopping meth use remains sketchy (pun intended).  The dopamine rushes are quite powerful and there is no real evidence that this person has actually stopped using.

brain

This has been a financially challenging month for me. Revenue previously counted on fell through and I am forced to make the best of it and re-strategize. I am leaning into my faith with fervor not channeled in quite some time.

I was also informed that a long time friend out of town has been taking benzos with regularity for at least 3 years now. This person has racked up 2 DUI’s and tried to stop the pills cold turkey. This ended them up in a local public hospital detox on the Mental Health ward with seizures which took time to identify. Our circle has been lovingly and frustratedly  encouraging a 60 or 90 day stay in residential treatment to really make an inroad on the benzo addiction. That benzo thing is a nasty bitch.

I have been listening to this 90 minute mix by Tom Trago several times over the last few months. I continue to be enamored with his style and his sensibility. Music really does help soothe the beast within. And my inner beast feels like a bear awakened during from hibernation only to find out there’s a friggin’ blizzard outside.

spelling magnets

Rush Hour is a music store in Amsterdam. They love to have dj’s play sets in their stores quite often. Tom Trago brings his nuance to his neighborhood vinyl store. Following is the set list.

Tracklist:
Haron & Jeroen – Harpoen
DJ Koze – Amygdala (Roman Flugel Remix)
Quince – Rem
Cool Peepl – Free pt.1 (Andres remix)
Moodymann – No
Floating Points – Sparkling Controversy
Omar S feat L. Renee – Tonite
Third Side meets nd_baumecker – Burning
Jovonn – Ruff
Mood II Swing – Searchin’
JTC – Escalator to Sorga
Chesus AKA Earl Jeffers – Jump
Cro-Magnon – Take Me Higher
2 Bitches From Queens – The Dip
Kid Sublime – Basement Works Volume 1
KB Project – Feel it
Moodymann – Dem Scoonies
Borrowed Identity – Leave Your Life
TT – Hidden Heart of Gold

Sunday Kind of Love… Acid Jazz

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walking

in the early 90’s, i remember a much needed breath of fresh air that blew into my life by the way of “acid jazz”. There seemed to be a needed new perspective which helped me move past some of my own issues at the time. I needed a new way to see things.

35 years ago

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opening ad

In a galaxy far far away….. some friends got together and cleaned up a vintage Swedish Music Hall in Lakeview Chicago. They begged, borrowed, scraped, scrubbed, painted and nailed until one day the work was done. It was then that they created a flyer and sent out invitations to come to the next “big” thing (we hoped) in the way of after hours clubs.

The music hall (dubbed Medusa’s Music Hall) took on a life of her own. It was a champagne supernova. It crossed the sky and left an indelible mark on a few generations’ hearts in Chicago and the North Shore.

In the last 5 years, I have been approached 3 separate times by writers (some of whom are former clubbers) who have continued to hear the fairy tales and fables that have circulated about the life and times of the Sheffield Shake Shack knows as Medusa’s.

mark stephens

I met a guy named Mark Stephens in 1978 or so when I was bartending at a French Seafood Restaurant in the Belmont Hotel on Sheridan Road. He lived on Pine Grove which was directly behind the back of the hotel and we stopped by his apartment often. Mark was a DJ in training and was working as a bartender in a gay bar at the time. It was a quiet neighborhood place called “The Bushes” and not a disco boom boom room.

Mark and I became fast friends. He was very interested in all types of music and we used to go to shows together. Sometimes 3 and 4 a week. Let’s see- We saw Bauhaus, Clash, Pretenders, Bow Wow Wow, Rachel Sweet, Blondie, B-52’s, Gang of Four, Stray Cats, Grace Jones just to name a few. It was a rockin friendship. We discovered rap music together, relished the stories of NYC where doing the “Rock” was the only dance that could be done cuz the clubs were so crowded. We boogied to Grand Master Flash, The Sequence,  The Sugar Hill Gang, Afrika Bambaata, Malcolm Mclaren. We welcomed the New Wave of Brit Pop that was washing onshore.

His roommate was named Bob Anderson and he was a waiter at Kaplan’s in Water Tower as well as a former design student and decorative painter with an acerbic sense of humor and a remarkably memorable laugh. Bob was friends with a guy named Medusa and his friends Blue and Nealina. Soon the Mark/Rod friendship morphed into a group friendship that taught me lessons about treating others with dignity and compassion that I carry with me to this day.

I went to several really seedy After Hours Parties over the next couple of years and I began to drink the Medusa KoolAid that opening a North Side late night joint could be a gift to our community. Dave (Medusa) found his dream in late 1992. He finally got the lease and the actualizing began.

The first few weeks it was really just another gay late night dance place. I remember pleading with Dave to start playing something other than gay dance music. I had been doing laps in the alternative music scene for a few years and couldn’t see myself going backward. The alternative scene was mysterious, underground, and not yet clearly defined. This was exciting. It was really exciting. I took a really big big bite.

Mark became the house DJ for Saturday nights. After some stop and starts with alternative spinners, Bud Sweet took the helm on Friday nights. Initially they had distinctive styles, but after some months their individual sounds merged and the “Medusa” sound was born. It became a signature and lasted for years.

I already had a substance use problem at the beginning of this shake shack journey, but the onset of HIV into the gay men’s communities took the lives of my dear friends and turned the lives of other friends on its ear. My dearest friend Paul passed in 1985 just one month after I seroconverted. Many young men that frequented the club were in the same boat and we had no idea which way to row. Medusas weekend after hours parties became the most visible lighthouse. I followed hoping I would find dry land.

Mark became a Billboard reporter. He was getting guest spots around town and starting to move beyond his days of struggle (or so it seemed). He and I began to have different priorities and interests and we drifted. Mark passed away in 1989 or so. He had tested positive in 1986 just after my diagnosis. He was in Japan doing a guest spot at a club and passed out in the booth there. He came home to Chicago and retired.

I also shut down emotionally during this time. I tested my liver, and I abused my sinuses. I lost touch with a healthy will to live and I spun out of control. In 1986 I left Chicago for the West Coast. It was my first geographical move to stop using and it didn’t work. I left a massive part of my heart in Chicago. The last year was laced with pain, guilt, fear, and regret so it took many years for me to find the courage to connect with my former life.

So it is funny that I spent 45 minutes on the phone today speaking with a reporter  for “Chicago Magazine” about the construction and creation of this very alternative cultural icon that remains memorable and poignant to so many of my generation 35 years later.  I chatted, remembered, and my heart opened once again. The friends I made then are all still connected to me on FB. We stay connected and we share a sensibility as well as this rich shared history.

Medusa’s was the club for misfits. It was the “others” rule. Fags, Dikes, Freaks, Skinheads, Blacks, Hispanics, Geeks, Goths were the prom king and queens of that dance floor.  We were all assembled in crowd formation throughout the 3 floors of bubble gum pink clubland. Art, Fashion, Literature, Painting, Performance, Music, and Dance were the ways we soothed our muses.

Those of us still here have grown up and moved on. Yet somewhere inside is this glorious memory of validation for being different. Almost everybody I know really got it. We were not ordinary and that was the point of living. We must still love that feeling and hold it dear. And we must read “Chicago Magazine” at this point in our lives. I’m pretty sure I’ll read the issue that contains Mike Foster’s article about Medusa’s.

“The Love I Meant To Say”

Over, I can’t believe it’s over
I can’t believe the love I’ve left
To show some other dayListen, I hope that you can hear me
As I kneel down and pray
With the love I meant to sayShadows, you took away the shadows
Before you, life was black and white
Though tonight the room’s gone gray

Golden, all the love you gave was golden
Gold that I would gladly pay,
To show the love I meant to say

Oh, music you made me hear, such music
Without you here to guide me,
I fear my soul will fly away

Sorry, that’s the word I want to sing to you
The other word is “Stay”
To hear the love I meant to say

storytelling

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image credits Gus Van Sant’s film “My Own Private Idaho” on FB by Robert Paterlini.

I was asked to share my story at a local meeting of YPR- Young People in Recovery. As a 58 year old gay man who is a Long Term Survivor of HIV, a person living in long term recovery, and a survivor of childhood trauma, I felt a little anxious about whether my message would have any meaning for the 10 individuals under 30 who were seated around the room we were in.

I haven’t shared my recovery story in several years. This is probably because I have really modified my recovery support strategy over the last 5 years. I became an addictions counselor and I continuously ran into clients at the meetings I attended which felt inappropriate. My sponsor passed away several years ago and I have not felt attracted to remain in the fellowship process without Paul. I attended a meeting weekly near my home for a while, but insistence of reciting a prayer which triggered tough memories became too much and I have just drifted toward Buddhism, meditation, and service work to sustain my recovery.

This particular request to share with YPR was in an “All-Recovery” meeting which left me feeling more comfortable with not recommending getting a sponsor, working the steps, and going to meetings. I’ve done all these things for several years, just not in the last 3 or 4.

One part of my story that seemed to be of interest and remembered by some of the small group later was the literary street gang that some friends and i initiated called the “VWSCCC etc…” which was a silly response to the movie “Warriors”. We loved the camaraderie that was depicted in the film. We found ourselves desiring that same “clique-like” feeling and recreated for ourselves. Truth be told, it now seems a huge excuse to get loaded a lot, but we did initiate with intention of elevating our understanding of literature. That was at the core of our hope. We read Kerouac, Stein, Ginsberg, Sackville-West, Woolf, Lessing and others.

I am not sure if any message was clearly delivered. I try to embody the idea that recovery works and that the gifts are beyond imagination. This is more than mantra. It is grist for the mill.

I guess I have been so lucky. I saw so many people swallowed up by life. Chewed up, spit out, and stomped on. Some forgotten and some unforgiven. Yet somehow,  I remain. Like cockroaches, taxes, and Cher.  I know that I work on a daily basis to share some of the grace I have been granted. No doubt I fall short often, if not always. The gift is in the giving. And I guess I do have some stories to tell.

I found this recording of a B52’s show at Park West Chicago in 1979. We were at that show. I borrowed my friend Chad’s pink Fiorucci jeans and wore them with a black t-shirt. Fred Schneider had on a matching ensemble. I felt affirmed. Hearing this recording helps me feel affirmed all over again…

What a Fool Believes……. He Sees

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He came from somewhere back in her long ago
The sentimental fool don’t see
Tryin’ hard to recreate
What had yet to be created once in her life
She musters a smile
For his nostalgic tale
Never coming near what he wanted to say
Only to realize
It never really was

She had a place in his life
He never made her think twice
As he rises to her apology
Anybody else would surely know
He’s watching her go

But what a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
And nothing at all keeps sending him…

Somewhere back in her long ago
Where he can still believe there’s a place in her life
Someday, somewhere, she will return

She had a place in his life
He never made her think twice
As he rises to her apology
Anybody else would surely know
He’s watching her go

But what a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
There’s nothing at all
But what a fool believes he sees…