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Image Source: coffeeshop poetry and prose

“YOU ARE GOING RAPIDLY FAR IN THE DIRECTION YOU DON’T WANT TO GO AND NOWHERE IN THE DIRECTION YOU DO WANT TO GO.”

There it was, fixed in the tangible form of my notebook in bold all-caps script: a clarion call to revolution. My mid-life crisis at age 26.

It was a Sunday afternoon in August, 1999, one of the first days of the ending summer that hinted at football rather than baseball. I was in the basement of Curious Liquids Boston, latte and notebook on the table, trying to tell myself something about myself.

This was an optimistic line, since I was also going rapidly nowhere in the direction I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t really know it yet. I had been working 50-plus-hour weeks as a temp for John Hancock: my boss seemed to like me and there was talk of moving me to a permanent position. But all the talk was thin, rapidly melting ice.

Curious Liquids was a lovely coffee shop directly across from the State House on Beacon Hill. Don’t go looking for it: it’s now the Fox 25 studio. The liquids weren’t curious, exactly, but they were damn good, and there was a stone basement room that felt like an extremely cozy Medieval prison. I tended to gravitate there on Sundays, when I could kick out on a leather sofa and while away a few hours writing.

I wrote the line as part of a larger journal entry, and I remember staring at it. Epiphany time. I didn’t hear the Hallelujah chorus, no sirens or disco balls appeared and no confetti dropped from the ceiling. But I felt a change, and I knew that this would be an important moment in one year, five years, ten years, and I would remember it.

What direction did I NOT want to go? Corporate life. Button-down, soul-sucking, divide-and-conquer 9:00-5:00. What direction did I WANT to go? After several years away, I wanted to play in a working band again, but bigger. I last worked playing the Augusta cover scene, and I would have rather drank hairspray than play “Sweet Home Alabama” for a room full of tooth-deprived backwoods drunks ever again. I wanted to play originals in Boston, one of the greatest scenes in America.

And I wanted maybe to write. I had thought of writing a bit, and the writing in some of the fan ‘zines covering the Boston scene was pretty atrocious. Maybe I could do that. And, I thought, if I’m writing, it will be easier to overcome my painful shyness and start circulating among musicians…

I left Curious Liquids that day and immediately went looking for a copy of The Noise, one of the longest running and most prestigious ‘zines. I had never written for even a high school newspaper, and I knew nothing about word count or editing or anything. But I thought I could at least write a little better than some of what I had seen.

On Friday, September 10th, my position with John Hancock ended, starting a two-year descent into instability and depression. The next week I whipped together a few bogus writing samples and mailed them into The Noise. Several days later the phone rang, right in the middle of Sally Jessie Raphael (or was it Rikki Lake?). It was T-Max, publisher of The Noise. I expected a polite thanks-but-no-thanks, but no, I was suddenly a staff writer.

From there I started writing live and CD reviews and started circulating. From there I landed in several bands playing originals in Boston. From there I recorded several CDs and got a decent amount of airplay. From there…

I had my first mid-life crisis at 26 in the basement of a Boston coffee shop that no longer exists. I have gone rapidly far in the direction I want to go, and I continue to follow that direction as my goals and dreams shift. I think I may have been on to something pursuing that writing thing. I have a long way to go before I achieve literary self-sufficiency, but that is the goal. And it’s fixed in the tangible form of my notebook in bold all-caps script: a clarion call to revolution now as I’m days away from 40.

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Image Source: NCRTV

It actually was a lot like The Oneders.

And like all life-altering moments, it’s now a blur. We were in the car heading for…the practice space? Or a live interview on WBCN? Or maybe it was WFNX…no, it was a gig at the Linwood and Juanita played it on WBCN. That’s it, yeah. I’m pretty sure.

I became obsessed with rock ‘n roll and music in general early, and from the moment I picked up my first acoustic guitar ($35 new, tobacco sunburst with lousy intonation) I was dedicated to making it. Played it ‘till my fingers bled, if you will. I dreamed of touring with Van Halen (Diamond Dave forever!), selling out Madison Square Garden and, of course, enjoying all the spoils of decadence in the bus after the show. And I dreamed of hearing myself on the radio.

I dreamed of Berklee College of Music in Boston. At the recommendation of my band teacher in high school, I started with a year in the jazz program at the University of Maine at Augusta first. That turned into four years in a brilliant, enriching program, and by the time I got to Berklee I was young and disillusioned. I stayed in Boston and schlepped through my 20s, working data entry, call center jobs and feeling very much like a Langston Hughes Dream Deferred.

And then I started playing again. My band, The High Ceilings, went into the studio with Sir David Minehan, figurehead of the legendary Boston band The Neighborhoods, and we emerged with a sparkling EP, “Wavelength.” Sparkling enough to get airplay and a spot in the 2001 WBCN Rock ‘n Roll Rumble. Past winners included Till Tuesday and …The Neighborhoods. Nice!

And it was in the lead-up to the Rumble that we heard our single, “Look My Way,” on the radio. We were in the car heading to our space/interview/gig (or maybe it was our ritual de-briefing beers), and there we were, beaming out to Boston and beyond at 104.1 MHz. The moment of a lifetime had arrived.

We all played it fairly cool, keeping the moment close to the vest. No “I AM SPARTICUS!!!” and kissing cutouts in the appliance store for us (this would’ve been difficult to pull off while driving), but ultimately we couldn’t help it, and a four-way shit-eating grin spread across the car. We had goddamn made it! There was some back-slapping, but mostly we kept calm and carried on, since this would, of course, be only the first of many such times.

It happened a few more times after that, but that was the beginning of the end. We lost the Rumble in the first round, artistic and personal differences, day jobs, wives and kids…typical story. But I have that moment: the moment when dreams solidified and the grand payoff was mine.

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Image Source: Joel Meyerowitz

I dream at night, before sleep. In the dark, in bed next to the window, with the cruel, frigid winter night seeping in, I dream that the sound of the snow-blower is really the sound of a lawnmower, and that the sound of the whipping wind is really the sound of the surf. The cold tapping on the thin window is really a gentle afternoon sea breeze, wafting over the dunes to cool skin exposed to too much summer sun. I dream, and the endless winter becomes easier to bear.

I dream of the cabin, tucked just inside the dunes, not offering ocean views. I can’t see the surf from my bedroom, but I hear it, a mere two-minute walk away. And I hear the surf in the winter wind howling two inches outside my bed. The waves are just out of reach, but they are there. I dream of summers in the cabin, on the beach, laying in the sun, rolling in the cool water, the breakers crashing over our bodies as we lie naked before the world, before the summer. I dream of lying in bed at the cabin, the waves crashing, the windows open to a gentle warm breeze.

I dream of hair wet and matted with ocean water, and skin sticky with ice cream and slick with lotion. I smell salt and sweat and campfires and taste salt-water taffy and freedom, from school, from obligation, from our normal system of structure and routine. I taste and smell and feel the freedom of an entire summer next to the pounding waves.

And all winter the dreams of summer are just out of reach. But I dream, and the winter fades and the summer calls and the dreams of freedom see me to sleep and place me another day closer…


Image Source: 123RF

The notebook fit perfectly in Mick’s pencil drawer in his cubicle. It was a standard Mead spiral, 3 Section, 9 ½ x 6. Nothing special, really, except that it was filled with ripped out magazine pages, photos and sketches of future itineraries, ports of call and voyages on all seven continents, and it was an obsession for a mind that couldn’t shut down.

He had a map of the world taped to the wall of his room, with thumbtacks and push-pins blazing a trail across the landscape of his travel dreams. A vein of red pins starting in St. Louis and following the Mississippi and Missouri on the route forged by Captains Lewis and Clark. Green pins on the go-to cities and adventures: LA and San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago, the Navajo Trail, the old Rt. 66, Memphis and Sun Studios, Upstate New York, Cooperstown and the Erie Canal, Half Dome and El Capitan and Little Big Horn. Blue pins on the big guns: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, Lisbon, Athens, Dublin, Stockholm. The map was well-worn and torn through in spots. But it was where he was going.

As the long Boston winter began, Mick landed a temp job keypunching customer data for Y2K mailings for John Hancock. He somehow ended up on the 52nd floor of the Hancock tower, with a window desk overlooking all of Boston Common, Back Bay and the Charles, downtown and, just before the vast expanse of the open Atlantic, the flight path at Logan. Every day while staring at his dream destinations in the notebook, Mick saw hundreds of planes taking off for those actual destinations. He would sit and stare at the planes, bright and clear in the afternoon, silver glints of reflection at sundown and navigation lights after dark, desperately wishing to be aboard, going, seeing, living. It couldn’t happen for a 24-year-old making $8 an hour doing data entry. But someday it would, somehow.

Being a temp with an uncertain future, Mick didn’t want to decorate his cube. But he had taken pictures of the map and included them in the notebook, by section. It was a perfect volume of dreams, always available for short stretches of escapism at work. And it was a talisman for what was to come. Hard work, delayed gratification, eventual fulfillment. He would stare at the pages of the notebook and the pictures of the map, and stare out the window at the actual world, actually happening, while absentmindedly holding a tack. Someday. The notebook and the view of Logan both said it: someday…