Friday, May 30, 2008

Appendix: Magic Mountain

I was on my parents insurance until 2 months before my appendix burst. I'd graduated from college with no debt and the universe simply couldn't stand such a blemish on the face of higher education and capitalism. So she obliged by blowing me up from inside.

When all was said and done I owed about $8,000. And that was with a discount from the surgeon who was a friend of the woman I acted with in Looking Glass Theater, the theater group I remember seeing when I was in elementary school. My fellow actor was married to a doctor and she pulled some strings to reduce the cost of the procedure which had effectively left me unable to work for the final two months of the school year.

The appendix is a little tube closed on both ends that sits in the lower right corner of your torso and serves no function that anyone can perceive. In certain people it one day up and decides to swell until it bursts. If this happens, your innards are like a computer attacked by a virus. Everything simply dissolves and you die.

Some say it is a vestige of a stomach we used to use to digest sticks and leaves when we were more herbivorous. I say it hurt like hell when it ruptured.

I'd been in the midst of the drama of meeting my now ex-wife in Providence. She was married at the time and we'd been in sporadic tragic touch since the play we were in together closed. It was a Saturday night and I'd gone out and met someone (I can't remember who) in the city for a beer. I was home relatively early and settled in to watch TV on the living room couch.

I soon became quite ill, alternately throwing up and having terrible diarrhea. I thought I must have eaten something rotten. This went on all night. I dragged myself to and from the bathroom, resigned to this night of horror. By 5 AM I was a zombie.

Only one of my roommates was in town, Tom, a guy I didn't know all that well. He popped his head into my room and asked if I ought not go to the hospital. I remember being shocked at this suggestion and realizing that it was the wise thing to do. Luckily we lived right next door to Roger Williams Hospital. He drove me the 100 yards to the emergency room. By this time my side was red and inflamed and I had started to think my appendix was bursting.

A little back story. I'd had shooting pains in my side many times before. Every couple of months I'd double over in pain, always on the right side, always sharp and shooting. I later learned that the appendix can be swollen for years before it actually bursts.

It was Easter morning.

Tom called my parents and they rushed up I-95 from Kingston, cancelling all Easter plans. The doctors began running tests on me. They couldn't give me any pain medication because they needed me to be lucid enough to cry out in pain every time they lightly brushed their hands against my stomach. They took blood, did x-rays, shook rain sticks, basically ran every test in their arsenal to make sure they wound up with enough charges to pay for their Aspen ski trip.

By 10 AM I was delirious from the pain. I felt as if I were surrounded by a several foot thick wall of heat and agony. I moaned as I sat on the white paper in my hospital robe. Finally the doctor came in and said what we all appendix was in the middle of attempted murder and I'd have to have an emergency appendectomy.

They shot me in the ass with Demerol, I believe. When I say I instantly felt better I truly mean INSTANTLY. I don't know what that stuff is but the Devil is behind it. The liquid came out of the syringe and all of a sudden I felt zero pain.

I had been up over 24 hours at this point and was raving and exhausted. I have a vague memory of being on the gurney being wheeled down to the OR. I remember double doors opening. I'm told they did the whole count backwards routine but they must have woken me up to do that because the Demerol mixed with the fatigue put me out immediately.

I woke up however many hours later to my parents and a nurse. I have no idea who the doctor was, never met him, never spoke to him, have no face in my head to put with the man who ostensibly saved my life. My side still hurt and I claimed that he hadn't taken it out, that it was still in there. They assured me that the pain I was feeling was from the incision and removal, not from the obsolete organ continuing to burst.

My Dad gave me a copy of The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann to start reading while I was in the hospital. A month ago I finally finished that colossally disturbing book.

Strangely enough, I still get those shooting pains. Phantom appendices!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Co Incidents

...standing in line at The Louvre in 1991. The big glass Pyramid was off in the distance and the snake of people stretched all around the giant courtyard. As my parents and I walked along the line to reach the end of it we passed Katie Hodge, our next door neighbor.

...Steven Fain had come to visit me while I lived in France. We went on a trip to Amsterdam, then down to Milan, then Rome, then Venice. As we sat in the train waiting to pull out of Venice to head straight for Marseilles, a voice from the corridor chimed in a Cranston accent, "Are you Sandi Fain's brother?" Phonetically it sounded like "Ah you Seeandi Fain's bvutha?" Leigh Denucci had not seen Steven Fain since she'd been over to play with Sandi when she was twelve. She was going to Bah-celona to visit her boyfviend. Las Vegas for the first time with my cousin. His buddies meet for March Madness and gambling occasionally and he invited me to come along. I was riding up one of the outdoor escalators that get you up and over the streets without waiting for crosswalk lights. Who walks by on street level? My best friend from junior high Brian Records.

...walking along in NYC when Beull Thomas punches me on the shoulder. He'd been the lead singer in a band I was good buddies with in Rhode Island. He'd arrived in NYC that afternoon and was wandering around. I had gotten my haircut and walked out onto the street moments before he punched me. When I say he'd arrived, I mean he still had his backpack and suitcase. He'd literally just moved to NYC. And he ran into me twenty minutes after getting off the bus. I hadn't known he was moving from Little Rhody until I saw him on the street. Yankee Stadium to watch the Sox play the Yankees. Sitting two rows in front of me is an actor I knew in Providence that I did 'True West' with 5 years earlier. 50,000 seats and he's not a Yankee or a Red Sox fan.

...working as a bartender at a wedding in Pasadena. In the middle of the party I run out of something and have to run over to the other bar to get a new bottle. As I stand and wait to talk to the bartender, I overhear him talking with a guest about the Red Sox. I join in. Asked why I am a Red Sox fan I say that I grew up in Rhode Island. The random guest has a cousin in Rhode Island, a cop named Mike. Mike Gama? Yep. I tell him that Mike Gama played drums in my punk band. The guest says, "We always thought he was lying about that."

I haven't asked for comments yet but I'd love to start to compile these impossible occurrences so let me know if you have any in your past!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Carpal Tunnel of Love

Sometime during the summer of 1991 I was bitten by a deer tick in the woods of Richmond, Rhode Island. I was working at a group home for adults with developmental disabilites. Part of my job was accompanying them on their jobs and aiding the completion of tasks. We were out in a wooded area felling trees to clear the way for a house.

I didn't know I'd been viciously attacked. All I know is that one day I woke up with a rash on my groin. It was fiery red, circular in shape, and roughly the diameter of a small frisbee. I went to the doctor expecting to be told I had a rare deadly sexually transmitted disease. Which, if you really think about it, I did. Lyme's Disease. That deer tick and I hooked up and she gave me lifelong pain.

I had no symptoms. I started taking the antibiotics that day. I had a date scheduled for that evening to go see an evening of one-act plays in Providence. I called my date and she said it wouldn't be a problem if we cancelled but I insisted that I was fine.

A few words about my date. She was a gangly girl who kept bread in her purse and wouldn't let me in her room at her parents small apartment in Newport. I'd been set up with her on a date by an old friend. An old friend who I wound up dating a mere month later. Oops.

We had gone on a few dates so far and shared a couple of cursory good night kisses. She was really cute and funny but I was still quite stung by the relationship I'd just gotten out of and I couldn't refrain from a cold sweat every time the engine of the car cut off and we faced that end of the date lip lock two step.

But I was determined to go see this play. I picked her up in Newport and we headed up to Providence. Now, remember, I'd been at the doctor's a mere HOURS ago. As far as I was concerned, I had to take my medicine but I felt fine. No symptoms except for the rash, which is a lucky break in point of fact, because if you don't get the rash, you might not know you have the disease and then you wind up blind and paralyzed.

My willingness to go on with the date in spite of my illness seemed to signify some sort of fervor to her and she was extra gangly, extra funny, extra cute. I was extra sweaty.

We sat in our seats and awaited the first one-act. By the time the lights went down I was in agony.

It felt like someone had snuck up behind me and cast a spell, weaving a length of rusty chain throughout my skeleton. I couldn't turn the pages in the program. I felt as if the chair I sat in was designed specifically to elicit confessions from terrorists. As the first 10 minute play came to a close I told her I'd have to call it a night.

I struggled out of my chair, each crevice of my joints filling with hot lead. I told her she'd have to drive me home and that I'd call her a cab to take her back to Newport. To her credit she was a good sport about it. She helped me into the car as I writhed around. It's 17 years ago and I still squirm when I recall that feeling.

I spent the rest of the summer on my couch watching Goodfellas and Crimes and Misdemeanors over and over again. I also curtailed the late nights sweating in the car trying not to kiss this new girl and started kissing my old friend instead. This effectively ended their friendship. Like I said. Oops. There was no overlap but it still vaguely reeked of sleaze.

I still fondly recall that afternoon before I felt the symptoms, before standing at an ATM for 5 minutes felt like waiting in line for hours on a cold day, before I slid into that long dark tube of pure adulthood.

I don't think I've had an ache-free day since then.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

F.L.A. in L.A.

In my junior year of high school my friend Tom and I were in the same Humanities class taught by Mrs. Franco. She was an enthusiastic lover of all the arts and was constantly perplexed at the lack of interest the hordes who came before her had for the same.

I think she would have been pleased had she heard the following story.

Tom and I had started writing songs together. We'd done covers of Clash songs, Violent Femmes songs, Run DMC songs, but we'd only recently started creating our own works. I sang and wrote lyrics and Tom played guitar and wrote the music.

Tom's style is unique. He's still one of my favorite guitar players even though I haven't heard him play in years. He had the whole quiet/loud thing that The Pixies would hand off to Nirvana down cold. I still think that we should have quit high school and gone on the road. That is if we could have ever found a drummer.

I recently brought all my old notebooks down from storage in my parents attic. The earliest is a typical school notebook with a brown paper/cardboard cover. A pattern is drawn on it, jagged interconnecting lines, almost like bloodshot eyes in a Sunday comic. Within the oddly shaped contours lie letters in my teenage hand.

The F.L.A.'s.

Upon writing our first few songs Tom and I set about coming up with a band name in earnest. Some are unprintable, all I've forgotten. The one that stuck came from something Mrs. Franco had said about an era in painting that came about via several 'frustrated landscape artists'. They'd wanted to paint landscapes but had to constantly paint portraits to earn their keep.

We shortened this to F.L.A.'s and we were off. It wasn't until much later that we realized we'd named ourselves Florida in abbreviation.

Mixing self-pity, a half-hearted death wish, and impossibly innocent romantic ramblings with Tom's buzz saw licks, we had almost an album's worth of material within a month. But something was missing. Like a rhythm section. And another guitar player.

All of a sudden Justin was also in the band. The three of us were already best friends but I had no idea Justin even played guitar. Looking back I think he pulled some sort of Robert Johnson crossroads thing because one moment he was an injury prone football player and the next he was tapping like Eddie Van Halen and making god-awful somehow appropriate noise that layered perfectly over Tom's rhythms.

Justin also contributed music and our sound got more ragged but also more powerful. Our gentle giant friend Chris picked up the bass in order to complete the lineup. By now we'd already changed our name to the already written about classic Fecund Youth.

We never had a regular drummer. We played a couple of parties that live in isolated infamy. At both parties our drummer fell from the drum kit mid song. A recording survives of one of these shows, the one that took place in my basement the day before I saw The Replacements for the first time. How my parents thought going to Canada with the rest of the family the week of my birthday and favorite band coming to town was a good idea I'll never know.

Buried within the myth that is Fecund Youth is a short-lived duo called The F.L.A.'s.

And now, here I am in Los Angeles, a frustrated landscape artist in my own right. I've had success that I can point to, but nothing like the kind I'd envisioned for myself when I started out. I struggle financially. I wrestle with resentment and anger at what almost was, at what might have been.

Those old painters tricked their benefactors by painting portraits that sat on the edge of vast vistas instead of indoor still life. I'm casing joints, looking for ways to circumvent the limitations I've encountered. I'm about to unfrustrate my landscape.