Tag Archives: true life

I never meant for this page to be a “blog”, and I still cringe whenever anyone refers to it as such, well-intended though they may be in doing so.

The idea was to continue work I had started, first with a friend, then on my own, to have a page that served as a sort of resume, a body of work I could steer editors, agents, etc. to when the time came. I suppose I “blog” in other places, and I have no problem at all with the blog form, but I wanted something a little more “profound” here. A little more “professional.”

But then a funny thing happened. I started gaining a following of bloggers, and started to return serve. And a real sense of community evolved out of my work. This is not a bad thing, and I’m unspeakably grateful for it.

So why not? I guess I’ll call this a “blog” piece.

Being childless on Father’s Day, and reflecting on life in general lately, here’s a check-in.

I’m 40, pushing 41.

I’m mostly happily married, for ten years this coming Friday. I’m mostly gainfully employed, with a mostly secure life: a house, a paid-for car, two cats, insurance, blah-blah-blah.

I’ve been dealing with a low-level mid-life crisis for a while, I guess around turning 40. Turning 40 was easy. Being 40 has been a bit tougher. I wasn’t afraid of turning 40, except in the sense of wanting to hold on to my 30s a bit longer. My 30s were so great in comparison to my 20s, which were so awful. My 30s were like my chance to re-write my 20s and get it right, and I relished that chance. I guess turning 40, and eliding comfortably into middle age, was a bit of a tougher milestone than I realized, though I still feel younger than I ever have.

My wife and I just returned from nearly two weeks tripping around the U.K. and Paris. This was a trip I had been waiting my entire life for, and it was a game-changer for the good on so many levels. I stood in front of the Mona Lisa, ordered Steak Frites in French and had Crème Brule, mousse and cappuccino in a deserted bistro while a Parisian rain fell. I stuck a finger in Loch Ness. I rode trains everywhere and wrote like a possessed demon. I heard Big Ben strike the hour and spent time loitering in Hyde Park, Henry the VIII’s old hunting grounds. I stood on the graves of Dickens and Darwin and walked the Seine and the Thames and had fish & chips on a rocky beach on the English Channel. I saw thousands of sheep frolicking in pastoral fields along the North Sea and ate Cullen Skink in an Edinburgh gastropub that dated to the 1700s. I paid for drinks in pounds and Euros and I heard accents from every corner of the globe. I fucking LIVED on this trip, like I haven’t lived in years. I live for these chances to recontextualize my life, and this trip served to do so completely.

And I realized something mind-blowing. Back at home I’m existing nicely, but I’m not LIVING.

I’m not following my passions. I’m not living the song in my soul. I’m writing the words in my heart and soul, but I’m not publishing them for money. Full time. I’m not even approaching my potential in life.

I wake, shit/shave/shower, drive, work in a Cube, drive, watch COPS re-runs and a ballgame, try to write, read in bed for a bit and shut the lights out. Lather, rinse, repeat Monday through Friday. On weekends I mow the lawn, wash the cars, clean the house, run errands, try to write and go to bed. I don’t stay up all night burning with passion, I don’t see the sunrise, I don’t push myself to make it with the written word, although that’s the passion that is silently burning a hole in my heart.

I am also battling my demons.

I’ve lived with depression and anxiety my whole life. I’m drastically better than in my 20s, when the demons had such a stranglehold on me that I could hardly get out of bed and the thought of being around people was too much agony to bear.

I’ve spent years on the couch, indulged in my share of recreational self-medication and kept several major pharmaceutical corporations in business. I’ve conquered all this and come to a place of stability and some serenity.

But it’s getting bad again. The anxiety is winning.

I have the greatest friends and family in the world and all I ever want is to take care of them all and save the world, no matter that I can’t. I reach out to friends even if I don’t have to, and then I worry that I’ve reached out too much and am pushing said friends away. I crack a joke and then worry that it was taken the wrong way. I take a comment at face value and spiral into a worry cycle, fearing that everyone sees me in the negative light I suddenly see myself.

I’m drastically better at pulling myself back from these spirals, but it’s getting bad again. And that’s not living.

So I’m now taking a chance to take care of myself. I’m in the market for a new shrink (any recommendations?) and new drugs. I have a slight disorder with my mental wiring: nothing that treatment with therapy and drugs can’t (and haven’t) fixed before.

And I’m exploring new ways to follow my passion. I’m looking at ways to lessen my day-to-day demands and spend more time pursuing the written word and full-time self-sufficiency from it.

I’m going to travel more and write about it. I’m going to flush out that song and present it to the world and submit invoices. I’m going to burn with newly awoken passion. Because that’s all I know.

Life is short. Life is precious. Life is right fucking NOW, and it’s all we have and all we know. It’s time to maximize this life of mine.

I’ve had an amazing run on WordPress. I’ve virtually met some amazing new friends, and my life is richer for it. I’ve reached new peaks of creativity I never thought I could. I learned a hell of a lot about writing, and a hell of a lot about myself. Likesay, it’s been an amazing run.

But all runs come to an end. At some point the act ends, and you rip up the tent pegs and take the Dog & Pony show to the next town. And it feels like a good time to move on from WordPress.

I’ve got some ideas burning a hole in my pocket. I WILL be back, in some other form, and soon. And I’ll keep you all posted.

And I thank you all so much, for reading, for commenting and encouraging. And for allowing me into your worlds. We’ll continue together (and drop a line anytime:, and it will be better than ever.

As my old singer Max once wrote, “Just wish me luck and say we’re just changing scenes.”

See you out there somewhere…

Image Source: Bite

Carrying on a relationship with somebody you have no business being in a relationship with takes some doing, especially when your “better half” lives two states away. It’s an exercise in low self-esteem, lack of communication skills, apathy, frustration and stupidity. Masochism at its finest. Fortunately, I had practice.

Autumn 1997: I was twenty five and working the graveyard in Maine, having crawled back to my parents briefly, having run out of work and money in Boston. The first time I saw “Carla”, on my first night on the job, I immediately thought of Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz) describing second baseman Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanaugh) in A League of Their Own: “You know General Omar Bradley? Well, there’s too strong a resemblance!” At the end of that first shift I discovered, much to my horror that I was making out with Carla/Marla in her car. Once committed, we were now stuck. For the next year and eight months.

Twenty months was also the amount of time I spent with The Psychotic Ex. As I said, I had practice. I didn’t have a girlfriend in high school until my senior year. “Anne” arrived fresh from the Midwest in September, and we got on at first. Then she dumped me for a classmate. Then we got back together. Then she dumped me for aNOTHer classmate. Then finally, over Christmas break, we got together for “real.” She was a total nutter, and I should have pressed charges many times over. Her greatest hits included: breaking into my house and stealing my guitar for ransom, stabbing me in the forearm with a steak knife and multiple instances of almost driving off the road in a “suicide” attempt with me in the car, to say nothing of the daily garden variety emotional blackmail, threats and invitations to join her and her other boyfriend(s) for bowling and pizza. BUT, I didn’t want to hurt her, so I took it. And took it. Until I couldn’t anymore.

At twenty five I found myself straddling an interesting line between extreme lack of self-esteem (hi, Anne!) and extreme self-importance: the kind of polar opposites that only serve to reinforce each other. I inhaled college radio during my high school days in the ‘80s. WRBC Bates and WBOR Bowdoin were lifelines, and I fell in love with indie bands such as The Ramones, Hüsker Dü, Agent Orange, The Smithereens, The Feelies and The Pixies. In college, my love of Beat poets Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsburg grew, and I discovered Robert Creeley and the brilliant authors Hubert Selby Jr. and Charles Bukowski. Selby’s short-stories resonated, and I could relate to Buke’s drunken madman bum protagonist Henry Chinaski. And nobody else knew of any of my bands and books. At twenty five I figured nobody would want to go out with me, but if anyone ever did, I’d take them to school.

I knew things were doomed with Carla when I saw the Spice Girls poster in her bedroom.

The Spice Girls, fachrissakes?!? I held my tongue at this mainstream outrage, but it was unsettling. Little did I know that this would be the first glimpse of the incompatibility iceberg right ahead. Speaking of which, the next summer we saw Titanic together. She LOVED it, and with that I knew definitively that we had no business being together and that eventually – a year later, as it turns out – I would have to move on.

It wasn’t all bad. I returned to Boston in February 1998, and with that Carla came down usually every other weekend. We took long walks all over town, ate and drank and hung out with my roommates. We both knew that we were completely incompatible, but neither of us knew how to pull the trigger and admit it. So we continued on as…friends with occasional benefits? A couple by default? Other? Something like that.

I never took any steps to find something else, despite the distance. But we both felt the distance. By the summer of 1999, Carla admitted she was feeling a bit restless, and that she sometimes felt bisexual urges.


My self-importance kicked into high gear, and I channeled George Costanza of Seinfeld fame. “Wow, babe,” I said over the phone in my most benevolent encouraging voice. “Maybe that’s something you should look into. I mean, I wouldn’t want to hold you back from being you.” Nope. No, I wouldn’t. We had a trip planned: I was FINALLY going to Cooperstown, NY, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. A trip I had been waiting for my entire life. We talked about the trip and her nascent curiosity and hung up, and for the first time in a loooong time I went to bed optimistic.

The morning of the trip finally arrived, and Carla took Trailways down to Boston. I could tell right away that something was off. She was even more distant than usual, and more emotional. We had a few stress factors that morning. Typical stuff for irresponsible mid 20-somethings: my paycheck was delayed, leaving us short of funds, and there was an issue picking up our rental car. Eventually it all became too much, and the truth came out: Carla started crying like mad and confessed that she couldn’t decide between me, her girlfriend or her other boyfriend.

WOW! What a trifecta! I was GIDDY inside!

We sat under a tree by, I think, the old Bread & Circus store on Westland Ave, and hugged and talked. And we agreed to give it a rest so she could figure things out. I assured Carla I wasn’t mad at her, and I understood and didn’t want to get in the way. (True enough) And she got back on Trailways to Portland.

I picked up a 12-Pack of Samuel Adams and headed back to my apartment to mourn the loss of a trip to Cooperstown and to celebrate the easiest, most gutless breakup of my life and the beginning of the next chapter.



Image Source: Boston Real Estate Observer

Late afternoon summer sun fights through the gray, the beams landing on the garbage bags that hold my possessions and clothes on the floor. Clouds of nicotine float across the room, desperate to waft out of the open screen and into the courtyard. The landlord is in her basement apartment, and she has no idea that I’m home: if she did, there would be trouble, since I bounced my last $300 rent check for the sublet.

I’m 24 and living in Apartment 3, 39 Rutland Square, Boston. My roommate is a Swede studying in Malmö for the summer, so the place is mine. Mine alone.

It’s a typical Saturday. I’ve called in “sick” at the call center (“food poisoning”: better be careful and stick to that story if I call in on Monday), and am in bed working on a 12-Pack of Rolling Rock and two packs of Marlboro Mediums. Depression is taking a major toll, on finances and general quality of life. But at age 24, I don’t know its depression, and I have no idea what kind of resources might exist, if any. All I can do is sit around and wonder what is wrong with me.

I stare blankly at a Sox game on the tube. The sun pours in and diminishes, and the Sox game gives way to COPS reruns. I fade out, nap for a bit. The twilight slides into dark. I wake up, recover my bearings, crack another beer, light another smoke.

I know that I’m looking at another all-nighter of coffee, cigarettes, writing and trying to get my life in order. This is my life. I’m 24, and I have no idea what is wrong with me or how to fix it.

All I can do is write in my journal and tell myself that it will get better…



Image Source:

My first bike in Jacksonville was a Huffy with a banana seat. I actually wanted it at the time, because the banana seat said HUFFY under my butt, and I thought that was pretty “rad.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was a lost bit of chum in the shark pool of kid-dom.

I was vaguely aware of BMX in Brunswick, but Florida was an entirely different world. As I casually rode my Huffy straight-up around my new neighborhood, all the other kids were riding track-approved bikes from GT and Mongoose. It was 1982: biker and gear impresario Bob Haro was a featured stunt-rider on the big screen in E.T., BMX Plus! was on every newsstand and my new home pulsed with the culture of bicycle motocross.

Right away I became obsessed. I somehow decided that my favorite rider was Greg Hill, who rode for Team GT. I wrote to Hill, asking for an autographed picture and stickers (because I was a ballsy, presumptuous kid), and he came through with all of the above! I was stoked! A fan for life!
In Jacksonville I was the new kid, and a hick from the sticks at that. I and my Huffy were surrounded by surf-and-skate rats on tricked-out bikes, like a slightly younger Daniel LaRusso surrounded by the Kobra Kai. Things would have to change.

Immediately I needed a new bike. Preferably a GT like Greg Hill. But I would also need to trick out the bike with Haro rims and number plate, Oakley handlebar and frame pads and those bitchin’ Oakley handlebar grips. Oh, and of course I would need a GT helmet and jersey and pants. What, those are unreasonable demands from a ten-year-old?!?

Ultimately I settled for a Mongoose, with the grips and pads and without the rims. And it was oh-by-the-way an entirely acceptable compromise. With my new bike in tow I would spend hours shredding the trails in the woods, practicing new jumps and loving the feeling of fitting in (or at least fitting in outside of school).

On my bike, with my friends, I was free. Free to catch air, free from the bullying and awkwardness that resided in the classrooms and halls. Free to be me. And free from having a HUFFY banana seat.



Image Source: Collectors Weekly

I never got bored during summer vacation, and I never wanted to go back to school. Those brilliant clear days at the end of August meant a return to regime and order and new teachers and hall passes, and I still feel that tug of apprehension this time of year. But there were perks, mainly of the material variety.

As the days of summer dwindled, we always got new clothes for school. I now realize that not all kids in my school had this luxury, and that it was probably a bit of a sacrifice for my parents. But we never went without.

We always got new pencils, erasers, paper, notebooks and the rest, of course. And my grandmother frequently got us new backpacks from L.L. Bean.

Best of all, though, was lunch-box shopping. These were the days when the lunch-box and thermos set was be-all end-all, and the options were seemingly limitless: metal or plastic; sports or TV; rock n’ roll or cartoon. My favorites from my collection over the years, in no particular order:

1. The Six Million Dollar Man (metal)
2. Snoopy as Joe Cool (plastic – I often had mac & cheese in this thermos, and I would pour it out whole so it looked like a nuclear yellow cylinder of brain
3. Emergency! (metal)
4. NFL (plastic with hologram sticker: lean it left for all AFC team helmets; lean it right for all NFC team helmets)

I always wanted a KISS lunch-box, but never got one. I guess my parents had their fill with all our KISS records and had to draw a line somewhere. (Or maybe they realized what a suck band KISS was and tried to subliminally push my ear in better directions. Fortunately, this worked.) Regardless, I always had a great lunch-box, and wish I still had them all, seeing how dramatically their value has risen over the years.

Once the bell rang for the year at Jordan Acers Elementary, in Brunswick, ME, my creative cup ran over.

I used to draw all the time, often just the shapes of my every-day life, like an Amoco sign. My mom told me a teacher said that one of my drawings was so good she “couldn’t get over it”, and I remember picturing my teacher trying to jump over the drawing and not being able to clear it.

During recess I would stick my ear to the support pipes on the swing-set to hear the squeak and echo of the chains. In my head this cacophony sounded like a party, and I evidently mentioned these swing-set-people soirees to a teacher, because I remember my parents being called in about it. Were they marveling at my creativity or questioning my mental state? Who the hell knows? But the party continued every recess, and to this day I still hear music in sources as mundane as an air-conditioner unit.

Jordan Acers was my educational and social world through third grade, when we moved to Florida. My friends included Anthony Favreau, Kris Kirker, Katie Goodwin and Ellen Domingos, all of whom I’m blessed to have reconnected with via the almighty Facebook. We played kick-ball at recess, went roller-skating at the Brunswick rec center after school and had Star Wars and Batman theme parties. And we all probably swapped around the contents of our lunch-boxes.

I never wanted to return to school when the summer ended. But when I did, I always had new threads, creative opportunities, great friends and awesome lunch-boxes. And that was more than I needed.



My OCD and ADD often result in beauty.

Mowing the lawn at the farm is a ritual and an exercise in design and geometry. Even when I was eleven and twelve I took great pride in making the place look like a country club, and this came from following exact patterns. And if my mind was on the task, I had plenty of time to go on mental jags, and I remember many of them.

The job begins with the triangle formed by the tool shed, the driveway and the barn. I follow the edge of the rock driveway to the end of the barn, then turn around and follow the barn back to the wooden gate opening to the sheep pasture. From there it’s a left and ten feet back to the tool shed, and repeat the pattern inside the first pass until I’ve come to the middle and this section is done.

Next I start where I ended off at the corner of the barn, and go on the great lawn until just past the big rock that serves as our pitchers mound. Left about thirty feet to the edge of the hayfield, left to the fence, left to the driveway. Once this is done I get the rest of the great lawn to the road in the same way. Then the little bits in front of the hen house, the shed and the front of the house.

The side of the house is tricky, because a steep drainage ditch leads to the road. But then it’s the back yard, which is square and long, like a football field (this is, of course, where we play football). My parents currently have a fruitful pocket garden along the right side, but back then it was a thick tangle of bamboo and blackberry bushes. I still sometimes expect to get pricked on the thorns as I pass along to the large tree at the edge of the pasture. I mow circles around the tree, continuing the pattern until I have a nice wave cutting into the middle of the lawn. And then I’m done until next week.

As I’m mowing, the detritus of my zeitgeist flashes across my mind. I remember a time in the summer of 1987 when the image of a Cubs-era Dennis Eckersley Topps card stays in my head as I’m doing the driveway/barn/tool shed triangle. Summer of 1986 I read the current Red Sox yearbook in my head on the great lawn. (Roger Clemens’ favorite song is Dire Straits “Walk of Life.” He’s cruising to a 24-4 season and the phrase “Performance Enhancing Drugs” is nowhere to be found in our worlds.) As I get the little strips in front of the house I am entertained with jingles in the summer of 1989: Lowery’s Lawn & Patio (“Lowery’s for the good life…come and see what life can be”) and Funtown USA amusement park. During 1986, 1987 and 1988, I happily reminisce on recent trips to the Maine State Museum in Augusta or the lighthouse at Pemaquid Point with my mom, brother and grandmother, and I crave chocolate chip ice cream and Cherry 7Up, though not necessarily at the same time.

I now know that it’s good to vary the pattern of your mow, in order to allow the roots of the lawn to grow, but my OCD won’t let me go it. I could mow in a different pattern, but it would bother me greatly after the fact, and I would ruminate on the difference. These early glimpses into my hyper-ordered mind thoroughly amuse me now: once a neurotic, always a neurotic. But I greatly enjoy knowing exactly what was going through my head at specific points of my life well over twenty years ago, and I love that thanks to my need for pattern and repetition, the farm always looked like a country club. And whenever I mow today, it still does.



Image Source: UMA

I was never more culturally awake and alive than I was during my four years at UMA. On the surface, the University of Maine at Augusta was not much more than a sleepy community-college-esque hub campus in the University of Maine system. Oh, but what lies beneath the surface.

From my sophomore year in high school on I was in (marching) band and jazz band. Our marching band played football games every Saturday, and we were mortifyingly bad. Combine nobody-ever-practiced-to-save-their-ass with cheesy songbook featuring “Iron Man”, “Paranoid” and “Smoke on the Water.” Add fire-engine-red polyester coats and hats with plumes, and the fact that I had a kid hauling my bass amp around in a wheelbarrow with a generator. You can see how the band missed nearly every touchdown because its members were off in the woods stealing a smoke, copping a feel or doing ANYthing but sitting ready on the risers.

On the weekends I was in the heavy metal band Rampage. Yes, I named the band and nicked our logo slightly from Metallica, the band that supplied half of our repertoire. We played a few talent shows and keg parties, to absolutely glorious and hideously ignoble results.

By the time I entered my sophomore year of 1988/1989, I was burning out on metal, and my old Smiths, Smithereens and R.E.M. influences were kicking in. But more than anything, thanks to our psychotic friend Dana, I was getting into Bix Beiderbecke, Glenn Miller and eventually Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

I’ve fictionalized Dana in this essay, but it’s all true, including the soundtrack. Thanks to Dana I started listening religiously to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR every Sunday night, and I heard a lot of greats. So all these disparate influences started to coalesce around 1989, and by the time I got to UMA in 1991, I was so ready.

Immediately I started absorbing the jazz history and theory lessons of the esteemed Thelonious Monk scholar Gary Wittner. Immediately I started sucking in the ear-training wisdom of Chuck Winfield, who played trumpet with Blood Sweat & Tears and Babs on Broadway. Immediately I gave in to the brilliance of the aforementioned Don Stratton.

I studied Latin percussion with Alberto Del Gado, who was in the original Skitch Henderson Tonight Show band. I took guitar lessons from Gary Clancy, who produced The Joe Perry Project and played with Tiny Tim. I sat in with visiting clinician Eddie Gomez, who played bass on numerous Bill Evans Trio records, and with Milt Hinton, who played bass with Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie, along with Jackie Gleason and Dick Cavett.

I played in student teacher ensambles every semester, sharing the universal language with amazing players. Every semester I had to get a band together and play a song in Jewett Hall for recital lab. Often this turned into a last-minute-miracle affair of finding anybody who was available, picking a standard at random and sight-reading live. And it always turned out great.

For four years I lived and breathed and beCAME jazz. And at the same time I was playing the Augusta circuit in a Grateful Dead/Phish/Zappa cover band, so I was seriously oozing chops.

By the time I was supposed to be close to graduation, I realized that I was slightly lacking in academics, and I was completely burned out. I took a semester off, and transferred to my dream school, Berklee College of Music in Boston in September 1996. The dream left me disillusioned, and I spent the next few years adrift, lost to depression.

But eventually I would right my course, and the lessons – tangible and spiritual – that I absorbed during those four magical years at UMA would stay with me for the rest of my days. It was a full-on mind, body and soul immersion in the American song book, and I can’t imagine my life without it..



Image Source: coffeeshop poetry and prose


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.



(Watching out for the next attack)

Right away I didn’t fit in. As we’ve seen, immediately upon my arrival from Florida at age 14 I was marked as a weirdo, a perfect target. And the trauma began immediately.

Once my new chums discovered that I was nervous and jumpy, the Hot Ass became a go-to trick. The Hot Ass was a pithy variation of the Hotfoot, wherein the perp held a lighter under my plastic chair until I would jump out of said chair, shrieking in agony and, hopefully, tossing my books and pen around the room. This was especially popular during tests, when my bewildering antics would make me the focus of the quiet room. Often my perp – usually Mike Welch – would say something snarky about my causing a disturbance as the eyes of the class bored into me and their howls of laughter carved into my soul.

Because my toes turn in (“Just like Jackie Robinson!” I would say to the great amusement of my chums, who couldn’t have given less of a shit about Jackie Robinson), they said I ran like I had a brick shoved up my ass sideways, thus making gym class especially traumatic. I would usually skip class and run laps in the gym after school, then walk the four miles home. It was easier. Much less humiliating.

Remember the Cookie Monster anthem, “C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me!” I was serenaded with my own personalized version! “W is for Westbye, that’s weird enough for me!”

But nothing would ever come close to the hell and agony of being known as Twacker.

In the long view, I love the fact that this incident occurred in the very same gym that inspired Carrie: at the time it was my own version. Freshman year at Lisbon Maine High School: I was standing at a urinal shaking off after using the urinal for its intended purpose just before gym class. Kevin Lerette came up behind me and jumped to the conclusion that would break me for the next two years.


I knew in those first few nanoseconds that this was going to be a game-changer for the worst, but I couldn’t imagine how bad it actually would be. Word spread like so many proverbial wildfires (or Hot Asses), and I became known as Twacker, thus indirectly preceding Pee Wee Herman and Fred Willard on the path of infamy.

It stuck. In a quiet science class, my desk-mate Katie asked if anyone had any hand lotion. Mike Welch immediately piped up, “Why, is Westbye horny?!?” The memory of the entire class laughing and staring still burns under the scar tissue of time.

And so it went, and it didn’t stop until mid-way through my sophomore year.

It took me years, and years of therapy, to come to terms with the word “trauma.” I always blew it off. Trauma is what one experiences after seeing their entire family bludgeoned before their eyes, or after escaping a fiery plane crash. Not me! Not someone who just got picked on a little. But the more time I spent on the couch and analyzing myself, the more I realize that I was traumatized. There is no other word to describe the toll that was exacted on my psyche during those years.

I have come to terms with it all, and I am becoming okay with it. And I’ve had many last laughs over the years (Lori, our prom queen, is one of my best friends now, and she didn’t even remember Twacker. And I doubt that Mike Welch’s band has sold out the House of Blues Boston on a Tuesday night.).

Still, trauma runs deep, and it will take many more years, if ever, before I can undo that level of damage…



Image Source: The Bowdoin Orient

The fog of time and the fact of events unfolding before an undeveloped mind have obscured most of the picture. But the pertinent details remain.

I was old enough to know better, but young enough to not know better. At age four or five, I got lost in Grand City Department Store, Brunswick, Maine. I was found in front of the store with a Wonder Woman coloring book in my hand. Red was my favorite color and crayon, and I loved coloring in Wonder Woman’s red earring. Ultimately on the same day I turned out to be a runaway and a thief.

This is my earliest memory. (My next earliest memory is of making Jiffy Pop before Super Bowl XIV – Steelers/Rams – and being in awe of quarterback Terry Bradshaw and terrified of linebacker Jack Ham and his toothless scowl. But that’s another story.) I remember feeling scared not knowing where my mom and dad were. I remember the unmistakable smell of a five-and-dime, that mysterious blend of potpourri, balsam spray, cigarette smoke and diner grease. I remember seeing 70s décor tiles on the back wall and the linoleum under my feet as I ran and ran, hopefully toward my parents.

And I remember trying to get outside, and I remember a woman walking up to me and saying, “That’s a heavy door. That’s a heavy door.” And she OPENED the door, letting me out onto the sidewalk with my accidentally-stolen treasure.

It must have been winter, because I remember my dad hugging me tight to his quilted navy blue nylon coat. I don’t remember if this was inside or out. I don’t remember being yelled at. I guess they were just so thankful to have me back safely. I think I had my coloring book with me in the backseat, but I don’t remember coloring.

And I remember feeling that something had happened, something bad, because I had upset my parents somehow. And I had done something that had made me scared. The safety of my insular world was shaken a bit that day. I’m now almost 40 and looking at this event across the lens of 35 years, but I still remember the dark shades of feeling, and this unease has informed my life more than I’ve realized.