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It is an age-old cliché that when in the process of shuffling off this mortal coil, one’s entire life flashes before one’s inner vision (“eyes,” they say, but I assume “inner eye” is what is meant). It may well be that I have discovered a kind of root of this wive’s tale (if that is what it is — I pretend no expertise here) following some recent and penultimately undesirable medical news.

This is metaphorically a Friday or weekend piece if one considers his or her life as a kind of workweek and it’s winding down a sort of horizon of liberation or oblivion — whichever. I have spent much time hospitalized recently and was told by a man who graduated from medical school that I have developed congestive heart failure. I was also assailed with several other medical terms that have left me more confused than informed: “Systolic, diastolic (failure), aortal stenosis,” and more. Some phrases were clearer than others, but the cake-winner was “Life expectancy over the next year abbreviated,” followed by “An undesirable candidate for surgery (no insurance, for one).” That surgery being a reasonable source of hope of surviving another decade or more (especially if I get an actual pig’s heart valve instead of the other kind, whatever that is).

Since this news and its debilitating evidence (basically being thrashed out: energyless, literally breathless as the heart fails to efficiently pump fluid from the lungs), I have experienced a slow-motion flash of my life before my eyes.

Hardly a flash. In recent weeks, merging into months now, I have revisited mundane as well as seemingly transcendent pleasures: overwhelming evidence of intrinsic mediocrity I try too absurdly at times to surmount. A large part of this slow-motion flash is unremarkable anecdotes I recall vividly now that seem a compilation of evidence of the character flaws that are ingrained in otherwise sound raw material. For example, I find myself grateful for certain memories in an otherwise unreliable — no, nearly worthless and void memory bank on any given day...but there is this one:

It is the mid-1960s, and my father returns from his advertising job in Chicago to our suburban home. He is comically disheveled, his hat and tie, lapels askew. His matinee-idol hair in chaos. He leans against the inside of the front door in mock breathlessness and announces to me, my sisters, and one brother, “I barely escaped…I used too much, an extra dab.…”

He goes on to explain that he had used the hair-slicking product Brylcreem before leaving work and had been attacked by lascivious women on the train home. For those in need, the TV advertising slogan for that product was a jingle, “Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya, use more only if you dare/ But watch out the gals’ll all pursue ya. They love to get their fingers in yer hair.”

My siblings and I stifled genuine laughter and groaned inwardly — and aloud — at Dad’s corniness. It was our job, as Dad was doing his.

Other memories — less warm, but they all have the stench of resentment, useless to everyone. It is the profligate flood of mundane recollections that stun me. Nearly 60 years of life now, packed, I believe, with at least a half dozen lifetimes and yet so much of it inconsequential, unremarkable. I had grander ideas for myself, naturally, but with age they have become near comic.

I cling to the comic now. But it is so hard to qualify much anymore as truly funny. The punch line may very well be a short way down the road. In the meantime, I breathe.

Greeted by friends I haven’t seen in a bit, they say, “You’re a survivor.” Or, “I don’t know how you survive.” I have no response. I tell myself I have outlived my father by more than ten years. I search for consolation in this idea but have found none. Survival, in my case, has been an act of a power beyond myself — whatever — not pluck or the triumph of the will.

There must be a reason for all of it, one thinks, but I have witnessed, for example, my own son enter madness looking for reason as a means out. It seems, too often, unavailable.

So, Zen Buddhism presents itself as a sane alternative. But I am a city-bred, Catholic-raised cynic/misanthrope. I could go on, of course, but to judge oneself is a vanity, and I have enough of that going on as it is. I am, at the moment (and that’s what we are given, moments), simply a man stringing words together in sentences, flawed, yet this is what I am given to do. I love sentences, abuse them as I may.

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xians421 April 7, 2010 @ 12:38 p.m.

It is with tears in mine eyes that I hear your written voice for the first time in too many weeks, my friend. I hope you are feeling better than you sound, as you sound like s***. Please feel free to contact me @ 619-922-5965. I miss hearing your spoken voice . I wish for you only the best, and Beth sends her love as well. I truly thought we would never see another new piece of your genius in this marijuana store/plastic surgery billboard, but I am thrilled to see it happen.

Xian

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SDaniels April 7, 2010 @ 4:03 p.m.

I think the misanthropy is also a big part of the cause, and resolving it, learning to love others as much as they you, would help your health, as well as your options for recovery.

Of course, the burgeoning physical elephant in the room you don't mention--ceasing to drink is the first step. (If you cease to drink, you will become a better candidate for help--ways around not having insurance can be found). Fact is, they are not going to help a person whose only goal is to daily drink himself into the ground, to the extent that he has lost everything but the ability to beg or steal cash to get more alcohol.

  1. You put yourself and your need to drink first, always.

  2. You employ a used-tissue philosophy of friendship.

You take--and even steal outright-- from those who give to you, over and over and over. Then you disappear, and make them worry, juuust long enough that they forget all you've done to them, and are anxious enough about you that what you did no longer matters. Then you show up again, and they help you again, right? Isn't that the way it goes? The way it has gone for nearly three decades now?

The problem with these philosophies is that they run you down--faster than it runs down your friends, even. At the end, it is you alone who can take the steps necessary to stop being a burden on the system and on your friends. I truly hope you make the right decision, John. For you, and for your son, who doesn't deserve the consequences of any of your choices.

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EricBlair April 7, 2010 @ 4:35 p.m.

Well, I appreciate what Xian and SD both write---mournful in the one case, and rightfully irritated in the other. JB seems to vacillate between a lack of ownership and wallowing in it. Both are bad, for him and for his friends.

If I knew my time was short, I would try to repair damage.

When I knew John well, back in the old days, we would often chat about fiction. One writer we both enjoyed was James Lee Burke. John liked him too, but I noticed as the alcohol began to occupy more and more of his center, the less and less my friend enjoyed Burke.

Burke's protagonist in many of his novels, Dave Robicheaux, is a recovering alcoholic, who owns his disorder and tries to make amends, one day at a time (and often falls from grace). One line was especially insightful. Robicheaux muses that alcoholics, like all junkies, are constantly running a game. Often on themselves.

And so it goes. I want to believe that John can clean up, can hold his head high, can value and respect his friends they way they value and respect him. I mean look at the value and style in his writing. And he was such a valued and valuable friend, back in the day.

But John has to take that step up. All I can do now is pray/hope for the best.

And remember my friend from the old days.

Marcus Aurelius wrote that we should treat every day like our last---because sooner or later, it will be. Stoicism is not popular, but it is honorable.

Thinking of you, John. Of funny songs. Bad jokes. Buddy Guy. Jose Sinatra. Cover bands with stunt chests. And one time in particular, when I felt particularly low, and you put a hand on my shoulder. You said "Hang on," as if the advice was the solution to a problem in tensor calculus: urgent and intent. And you gave me a copy of Merton's "The Seven Storey Mountain," and Augustine's "City of God."

Hope was the last thing to escape from Pandora's Box.

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antigeekess April 7, 2010 @ 7:08 p.m.

Meh. People can gimp around with congestive heart failure for several years. Why don't you try to figure out WHY you became such a boozehound, and finally deal with it? THAT might be a worthwhile endeavor.

I'd suggest you try to spend your last couple years teaching creative writing somewhere, but that requires sobriety. Teaching would have suited you -- a constant new crop of adoring students, hanging on your every charming, divinely inspired word. Hard to fathom that you're not hiding your bottles in a university professor's bottom desk drawer on an ivy covered campus somewhere.

You 'could' still try. You could crank out a final book of deathbed confessions, fuzzy memories and utter bulls. I'd buy it. At the very least, you could get your s together in time to make a cool video to post on YouTube for posterity, especially your own grandchildren. Kinda like this one:

But instead of "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" you could title it with some more articulate version of "F***ing It All Up Royally: What Not To Do." Sort of a Taoist approach, really...

I hope you choose to make your last year(s) your most productive ever.

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xians421 April 8, 2010 @ 9:15 a.m.

Wowzerz AG, I now admit to being the SECOND bluntest person in the world. Kudos.SRSLY, kudos

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MsGrant April 8, 2010 @ 10:37 a.m.

"Nearly 60 years of life now, packed, I believe, with at least a half dozen lifetimes and yet so much of it inconsequential, unremarkable."

The fact that you have that amazing head of HAIR is remarkable!! Take care of yourself. It was nice to see your wry self back here.

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a2zresource April 8, 2010 @ 11:06 a.m.

For giving Sharp Chula Vista five stars during my unplanned vacation stay last year, cardiologists there gave me two years before my uninsured aneurysm and associated multiple blockages decide to re-enact the Cuban Missile Crisis or worse, the Gunfight at the OK Coral.

Hmmm.

Counting today, Mr. Blair may have more time left in his mortal coil than I.

May AG outlive Methuselah.

Having a nice day!

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SDaniels April 8, 2010 @ 12:21 p.m.

Hey Eric, I would hope that my words are taken more seriously than as "rightfully irritated."

Clearly, I hope to repeat some words John needs to hear. I know that I have said time and again that a man should not be kicked when down, and that he deserves whatever last shred of dignity he has (silence about his problems here on these threads). However, now that just feels like feeding his manufactured delusions. I admit, it is insufferable to see someone call him a "hero," when he has abandoned his son over and over, when he mistreats his friends and lies to them, and steals from them at first opportunity, biting the hands that feed and care for him like some dumb animal--completely heedless of their pain. But he isn't a dumb animal--he is a man, and still has choice, some vestige of free will.

He cleans up, with the help of some put-upon friend once again, and has leisure to contemplate what free will he has--he cleans up FOR TWO WEEKS, --and STILL makes the choice to return to the streets and drink himself into the ground. It is not heroic, it is contemptible.

I understand people addressing that part of John that writes reasonably well, and turns a few tricks on the page. But it does him no favor to see people feeding his delusions, telling him he can do the things he does because he is "special." Look back at his columns, people. He has claimed to be at death's door innumerable times, when what really happens is that he goes into the hospital after a binge, and has the fluid drained from his lungs and gets some heart meds. He then stumbles out a day later (yep, no use keeping him more than a couple of days), tearing up prescriptions, and goes on another binge. This is what they all do.

He is a drunk like any other drunk, enslaved to drink, with all parts of his personality--and brain--dependent upon alcohol.

He needs to start the painful journey towards recovery from that realization.

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kmsound April 8, 2010 @ 12:59 p.m.

John, don't take anyone's opinion of what you should or shouldn't do! Including the doctor! You have lived your life the way you wanted. You did what you wanted and you have to pay for the trip! But that's a hell of a lot better than not living your life the way you wanted. To have been controlled by others will, rules or power. As artistes we look at and live life with a different perspective. It's from that view of life that you can create what other can't, won't or are afraid of! Would your life be any different if you had been a Father Knows Best clone? No we all have to die, no life style guarantees immortality! One day I woke up and realized that I had less time left than I had already lived. It was a wake up call and from that moment I knew I had to milk every second out of the time I have left. John , if you really want to drink yourself into the grave, do it! If you find pleasure in it, more than writing, family, friends or whatever, do it! Because in the end we go alone! So as long as you don't hurt anyone else, it's your choice on how and what you want to with your time left. When it's my time their going have to take me screaming, hollering and scratching from this place, even though I have lived my life to the fullest, out lived friends, relatives and my body. I used it up and have taken advantage of everything life has had to offer, because I am afraid to die! It's not the heaven/hell thing, reincarnation or whatever! No! It's because I don't what to stop living! I know how to deal w/this, I don't know what's after and if it is just nothing I really want to stay here. I'll never stop being excited about living! We are on the finale page of the last chapter of or lives and it's up to you how you want that last paragraph to read. I just wanna' make sure the last sentence reads "He lived a long and full life on his own terms!" Chok dee (good luck in Thai) Ken Minahan

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SDaniels April 8, 2010 @ 1:27 p.m.

Ken, I'm sorry, but you are full of s***. Do you go around lecturing to homeless people who have given up their lives for mental illness or addiction, and tell them it's ok! you are living for your life's art! We are artistes! (note Euro-"like" spelling)

Life on their own terms, or on the terms that happen to be there, as consequence for giving up your life within society? Like, having to pick through dumpsters for food, and suffering the outcast's fate, generally?

John isn't exactly there yet. Almost. He has had friends on whom he can still be a parasite, begging for shelter, food, money.

Is that what you recommend? If living like a parasite on others is what you wanna do, hey! Go do it, man?!

Very easy for you to do, huh?

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kmsound April 8, 2010 @ 11:44 p.m.

SD, too bad you didn't really read my post! Judging by what you wrote, you must not be an "artiste" and fall into a group not known for imagination, being able to capture the colour(note Euro-"like" spelling) of a dream, the melody of life or past the written word. But you DO have a talent for putting words in other peoples mouths (or post). Are you a lawyer? The answers to the questions, you ask in your post, are there if you simply took the time to really read what is written and what is not! "Artistes" work with space, meaning the pause taken between notes, the lack of color and the words not said. These all say more than the obvious.
You seem to be the only one to comment on it in a negative way, probably because you didn't get it!

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NotQuiteADiva April 8, 2010 @ 11:47 p.m.

SD – When I used the term hero it was in the sense of the protagonist of a story, not as someone to be admired.

Frankly, I find all this crow-like picking apart of his moral corpse distasteful. Some say he is a despicable individual, to be honest it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t need to know the personal details of a writer’s life other than what they choose to reveal in their words. Indeed, as readers we often greedily devour those details, yet we should not loose respect for the writer because of it. Is it not how they choose to reveal those details that truly matters? I admire writers for where their words take me – dark places, humorous places, painful places – I do not judge them for taking me to those places.

It occurs to me that the internet is a horrible medium for writers who create introspective personal work. I am thankful Kerouac didn’t live in these times… The crows would have gotten him for sure.

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SDaniels April 9, 2010 @ 12:51 a.m.

You're right, kmsound--surely it must be because I didn't get the "col-our" in the pauses/spaces between your words (note the inconsistent British spelling). I must be one of those "right-brainers," huh. But good luck with that.

NQAD, you're right, it's a horrible medium in some aspects, and I debated over letting this get personal--especially after serving as a watchdog of sorts to NOT let it go there. But this isn't the first time, as you are aware, and many people have been disappointed, because there is an inherent dishonesty in the writing, which in this case is supposed to represent this author's life. Most of his readers know him, so it is difficult to swallow. So there you have it--a difficult and painful situation. I for one have said my piece, keeping to generalizations, not specific situations. There is no need to say anything further, except that I hope John finally decides to get the help he needs, and finds a resource not yet exhausted.

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charts April 9, 2010 @ 12:08 p.m.

Well I agree with KM and his advice to John. The KM and JB I knew many many years ago lived life exceeding fullness and should have no regrets. If you want to feel sorrow for someone, feel sorry for those who refused to live life and have existed in lethargy and despair. I was given up for near death several times in the past and each time rebounded with new adventures. In my 60s, I am just getting started in the next stage of life whatever it may be. Life is grand, life is great. It beats most of the alternatives.

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kmsound April 9, 2010 @ 1:11 p.m.

Charts, contact me at kmsound@hotmail.com

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EricBlair April 11, 2010 @ 11:12 a.m.

I think that it is great to enjoy life. I think it is wonderful to "march to the beat of a different drummer." I am also enough of a libertarian to accept when someone chooses to spurn all the prior luck and beauty in one's life and choose to drink oneself to death (though it is the height of selfishness and wasteful besides).

What such a person should not do is use others to fund that process. It's always wrong to use other people, and is not artistic or avant-garde. It's immature and small-spirited. Gussying it up with a somehow tragic Byronic pose would have made George Gordon sneer.

I want nothing but the best for JB, but he needs to own his actions, and do right by others. There is a whole history here that some of the posters don't know. They keep putting Tragic Arteest masks on John.

All there is hope, and there is historical reality.

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charts April 12, 2010 @ 8:20 p.m.

Hey Blair, to be libertarian is to accept the consequences of freedom and not denigrate another for doing the same. I paid the price for my indiscretions and have no regrets. John made his bed, pushed the limits in some areas and slacked off in others. God was indulgent with us all and will hopefully also be forgiving. Until then, cheers and let's be thankful for the lives we've had.

Frankly, I enjoy the stories John weaves because they are amusing and slightly over the top intellectually but with the ease of a coffeeshop or local tavern yarn. I hope to hear many more, good and bad.

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SDaniels April 13, 2010 @ 1:43 p.m.

re: #17: Well said.

re: #18: "slightly over the top intellectually?" I'm not sure what this means.

Charts and kmsound should move in with John and start a band.

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EricBlair April 13, 2010 @ 5:50 p.m.

Um, Charts? Freedom is great. Ripping off other people is not freedom. Neither is not taking responsibility for one's own actions.

I think you confuse selfishness with freedom. And if your indiscretions involved taking advantage of others, perhaps you should feel regret. Your choice. To me, to be libertarian is not license.

Or maybe it is to you. I think all kinds of people project their own issues onto John. I have known JB since 1987. You?

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EricBlair April 14, 2010 @ 12:11 a.m.

Well, Christian, it depends on whether or not the studio rental gets paid, and if the band members are vertical enough to perform.

John used to play in several bands, even in San Diego. I learned a lot about blues music from him.

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charts April 14, 2010 @ 8:14 a.m.

Blair, back in the mid 60's, John and I would go listen to KM's band. They were very good, ahead of their times and had a lot of play throughout the midwest. KM went on to Hawaii, bandmate Timmy became a radio announcer. John became a Bohemian, his brother died of substance abuse. Sadly, all John's family was at the memorial except John. Another old mate from back then, Dr "Cosmo", visited this forum a year ago or so. Everyone moved on. I'm living on a rural lake, engrossed in limnology and loving it. Peace.

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kmsound April 15, 2010 @ 1:42 p.m.

John and I have already been in a band together,in 1969. So I guess I've known him longer than anyone, except maybe Charts! We were young and wild and it's amazing we are still alive in our 60's! Even though we played music together,got high together and chased girls together,I know John better now, from his writing, than I ever knew him back then, but like I said we ere young, wild and experimenting with all life had to offer.We didn't know who we were! John went his way and I went mine, we have all changed and had different experiences over the yrs. He thinks he knows me and refuses to answer my emails, but he doesn't, I am not the same person ether. If anyone took the time to read my original post they would have seen I only condoned his living out his life the way he wanted "as long as you don't hurt anyone else". I don't know if John reads these or not , but if he does I bet he's laughing his ass off or crying his heart out that anyone gives a s*** enough about him to write a post!

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SDaniels April 17, 2010 @ 12:43 a.m.

"I'm living on a rural lake, engrossed in limnology and loving it"

Charts, you sound pretty interesting, and like you have my dream life: Are you a 'limnologist,' or are you just grooving on some Bachelard and enjoying your lake reveries? :)

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xians421 April 17, 2010 @ 5:20 p.m.

@kmsound As far as I know, John is not yet 60, although that will change before Santa comes.

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charts April 22, 2010 @ 8:01 a.m.

SDaniels, I live on a glacier lake in a rolling hilly area parttime, though more there than anywhere else. Since retirement I do remodeling there, remodeling for my daughter in Illinois and remodeling for my son in Vermont. In between I kayak aroung Tamarack islands, Blue Heron nesting islands and just poking around bays. In the winter it is snowshoing over the hills and ice. Because of that I have gotten myself elected commisioner of the district and involved in waterway workshops. Limnology, the study of lake environments, has become a new passion and an introduction to a new culture of people. You are absolutely correct that it is a great life. For someone who was badly strung out for a number of years, this ia a far far better way to live in my last few chapters. Getting high now is sitting by the lake, having a drink, listening to Zouk, Cape Bretton or cowboy music and reading John's tales of morose.

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charts April 22, 2010 @ 8:03 a.m.

xians421, I just turned 61 and John was about a year and maybe a couple of months behing me.

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