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Stop Being OCD
Image Source: The Bad Chemicals

We moved to Florida a few months before I turned ten in 1982. Before that I was enrolled at Jordan Acres Elementary, Brunswick, ME, and inundated with tiny niggling fears.

Just across from the school playground was a street with a few low-slung brick buildings and an overpass. We walked under the overpass to get to the corner variety store for Slush Puppies, Reggie Bars and candy cigarettes. The buildings were nondescript, and could have been either residential or commercial at one point. Now they were abandoned, with the windows on the upper floors boarded up. I was convinced that this was a hideout for robbers, and I was sure that there was a hostage inside trussed up on a meat hook. And I was convinced that if the robbers ever walked out of one of the buildings while I was passing, I would be grabbed and trussed up, never to see my mom and dad again. It was certainly a frightening way to get a Slush Puppy.

On my road I had to watch out for the hippies. I have no idea who called them the hippies or why, nor how many there were. But I knew they had to be dangerous. I only ran afoul of them once, but it was terrifying. I remember there were two of them on one motorcycle, and they rode after me for a little bit. Probably just revved their engine, really, but that was enough. I remember hearing the engine gunning, seeing red and black plaid flannel and long hair and hearing a laugh which, over the years, has turned into a maniacal cackle. I remember screaming and running like hell for the house, and the sickening feeling that I might…not…make…it… My mom was probably home, and she probably hugged it all better. And I don’t remember ever seeing the hippies again. But they have remained in my brain ever since.

One time we returned from a vacation at Disney World to discover that our lock had been picked. Nothing was missing from the house, and no arrests were ever made. Who knows what that was about? But I remember the sense of violation from a robber (one from the building with the meat hooks?) being in the house, and the fear that they could come back. That they would come back, while we were home, and my dad would have to fight them all off…

On the bus to Jordan Acers we drove by the end of the runway of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. At the time BNAS was home to several squadrons of sub hunters, who flew P3 Orions over the North Atlantic searching for enemy submarines. We lived about two miles away from the base, and the sound of the propellers and the sight of the planes flying low and turning in graceful arcs toward or away from the runway was a perpetual background loop. On the bus, as we passed the runway, or parked at the Dairy Joy or Fat Boy Drive-in, I often had an image in my head of a P3 careening nose-first into the ground and exploding into a fireball. I could see the pilot frantically pulling the stick back through the cockpit window as the plane plummeted, to no avail. It never happened, but the image was frequent and extremely vivid.

Fire was a constant fear. I saw the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Albert accidentally burns down the church by leaving a lit pipe in the basement at too young an age, and the trauma settled in. Every clap of thunder, I was sure, brought with it the bolt of lightning that would hit the house and destroy my teddy bear and burn our cats alive. I remember my dad counting the seconds between thunderclaps to prove that a storm was moving away, and just reassuring me in general when a storm approached.

But the fear was real, and it came from experience.

I remember walking through the woods one winter afternoon and seeing The Thompsons house burn to the ground. I don’t remember The Thompsons, but I’ll never forget the sight and sounds, and especially the feel, of seeing their house burning down, and the charred smoldering wreckage after the fact. I remember this was the first time I ever heard of anyone having a “Saltbox House”: we had a Ranch, and most of my friends had Ranches or Split-Levels or Trailers. To this day, whenever I drive by or see or hear mentioned a Saltbox, I immediately see The Thompsons Saltbox house fully engulfed in the cold woods of my youth.

It happened to The Thompsons, I remember thinking. It’s going to happen to us too!

Retrospect, I can see that this is where the narrative thread of my life started to emerge. This was not just the slightly overactive imagination of a kid who may have watched a bit too much TV. This is where my OCD really started to present itself. The obsession, the rumination and the spirals…it all makes total sense to me now.

I don’t recall any rituals or number obsessions or any other coping mechanisims I may have used back then, but I find it very comforting somehow to see that my OCD clearly goes back this far. It explains a lot. And it makes me feel a lot (okay, a bit) more normal. One of the most dominant traits of my internal wiring was right there all along, screaming for attention and being unintentionally ignored.

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Brian Westbye:

Fifteen years ago today…

Originally posted on brian westbye:


Image Source: PTLDME

The Ice Storm.

String those three words together around anybody who lived through it and watch the cringes and shudders. It was catastrophic, deadly, destruction on a scale previously unimaginable. It came on suddenly on a balmy day in January 1998, and it threw our world into primitive chaos for weeks afterwards. You had to live through it to believe it.

I was in Boston, trying to get home to Maine for a few days. January 5th was warm, with a light rain. There were rumblings that it would get colder, especially up north, and ice might be a factor. Little did we know.

I talked to my dad before getting on the bus, and he suggested I get to Portland, get a room and he would pick me up when he could: things were getting bad up north as the temperature started to drop. The entire…

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Brian Westbye:

Merry Post-Christmas, y’all!

Originally posted on brian westbye:


Image Source: Justinsomnia

“This is the strangest week of the year,” Hannah said.

Mick sat down next to her with another round of tea. They were in their apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle, transfixed by the white and gold glow of a fake tree and recovering from a post-Christmas teriyaki orgy. An iTunes mix of Christmas music from Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Ella, Frank and Bing played and all was right with the world.

“What do you mean?” Mick said, leaning into her shoulder.

“I mean, it’s just….weird!” Hannah said. “Christmas was yesterday! It’s over! But we still have all the decorations up, and the tree, and we’re still listening to Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies and everything. Doesn’t it feel kind of…I don’t know, sort of wrong, somehow?”

Mick stared at the tree. “Yeah, right?” he said. “It is kind of strange. Not bad, but strange. Maybe…

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Brian Westbye:

Merry Christmas, y’all!

Originally posted on brian westbye:

North Pole, 12/24: Eighty Days? Hah! Try Around the World in 24 Hours, Jules Verne! You couldn’t handle that! The fat man has us lined up, and we’re ready to go. It’s a major grind, but it’s only once a year. Besides, have you ever been to the North Pole? Seriously, I haven’t seen the sun since September. Dragsville, babe. So we get to get out, plenty of fresh air and exercise, get to see the world…oh yeah, and peace on earth and presents and all that happy-dappy crap. It’s not a bad gig, really.

0 Longitude: Well, that was a rough takeoff! SOMEbody…and I’m not naming any names here…DANCER…put on a few pounds over the summer! Way to be a team player, chum…p.

Over the Urals: Somebody asked me recently if I resent Rudolph. Y’know, since we never let him join in our reindeer games before he got all…

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Brian Westbye:

Sorry, all! Between the day job and getting ready to host Thanksgiving, I wasn’t able to get anything new done for today. I’ll be back, probably for Friday, but in the meantime here’s a little seasonal love from last year. Happy and Safe Thanksgiving, all!

Originally posted on brian westbye:


Photo Source: Vivian Maier

I used to hate Thanksgiving. Used to be all alone, nobody to see, nothing to do but get a turkey sandwich at some sleazy diner, no family to go home to… well, I have family, downstate, but they don’t want nothing to do with me, you dig? And that’s ‘cause of the troubles I got in a few years ago. I don’t blame ‘em. I mean, I was in bad shape. But that’s another story.

Anyway, like say I used to hate Thanksgiving, and being all alone. But wait’ll you hear about my Thanksgiving THIS year!

So I got on at the Greek’s place a few months ago. Mostly washing dishes, but some line cooking here and there. That kind of thing. I’m doing good, checking in with my PO, taking my prescriptions, showing up early at the Greek’s and staying late…doing my best, you know?…

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Image Source: Ray K. Metzker

She had the most marvelous whistle, an’ it exploded through the courtyard every Monday. Mondays were wash days in our building, see? So every Monday she’d be at the window, dragging her whites out to hang dry an’ whistling to beat the band.

Mostly she whistled tunes from them great old orchestras: Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra, all like that. “Little Brown Jug” an’ “Pennsylvania 6-500” an’ them. Her whistle would bounce against the walls of the courtyard, almost, but not quite, drowning out the squeak of the pulley on her laundry line. Got to be so I could count on it every Monday.

Well, I’ll tell you somethin’, I don’t know nothin’ about music. You put me in a room with Toscanini conducting the orchestra, an’ I wouldn’t know nothin’ about what songs they was playing or how they was all staying together or nothin’ like that. But that crazy whistle? It was like the most beau-tee-ful music you ever did hear. It sounded like the birds chirping an’ the sun shining an’…well, like everything good in life. I don’t know how she done it, but she made every Monday like the greatest day of your life just by whistling.

She was in the building behind ours, an’ I don’t know that I ever saw her on the street. I seen her in her window once, an’ it surprised the hell out of me, ‘cause she looked like an’ old maid! She had her hair pulled back in a tight bun, an’ she had on them iron-frame glasses like old ladies wore. But there she was, whistling like crazy an’ making the day beau-tee-ful. Guess you can’t judge a book by its cover!

So that was what wash days were like in that building. That old maid lookin’ woman an’ her whistle became a part of it all, like the smell of coffee on the percolator an’ the sight of the super hauling the ash cans up to the sidewalk. We moved to another building, an’ I never heard that whistle again. But I still hear it in my head every Monday, an’ because of that, Mondays are still my favorite day of the week.

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Brian Westbye:

I’m taking this week off to re-charge. Here’s today’s Memoir re-run.

Originally posted on brian westbye:

It occurs to me just how much my passions in life were informed by shapes and colors, specifically signs. Growing up in Brunswick, ME in the 1970s and 80s, I was treated daily to great living examples of American advertising.

On Rt. 1 there was a sign for MaClean’s Restaurant, a gigantic vertical sign with

M
a
C
L
E
A
N
‘S

in block neon letters. I loved how the apostrophe kicked the S over to the side a bit. The MaClean’s sign was near a similar Texaco sign, thus giving me twice the visual joy.

In town on Main St. was (and still is) J&J Cleaners, with its canopy and butterfly sign with “j&j” in classic script. I seem to remember the j&j having flashing bulbs, but I could be imagining that.

Out by the Naval Air Station is Fat Boy Drive-In. Recently they replaced the classic neon…

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