Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Desolation Angels

I've been busy the last few days and I have not been able to write at the great lengths which I'm used to. Now that I have some time, I'm gonna riff on some thoughts that have been festering.

When I walked into the emergency room at the hospital on Sunday, I saw my grandmother hooked up to all these machines. She was stuck in the ER because her room in the ICU wasn't ready yet due to some red tape. She was in a coma and the first thing that came to mind was "this is no way to die."

I've been a different frame of mind ever since. Whenever I'm confronted with death, all I want to do is live life. Right now, I have an attitude that... I'm not gonna take shit from anybody.

I was about to head out on the road for a month and do some living, working, and celebrating. However, for the last few days I was on the verge of not only canceling my trip to LA this weekend, but also canceling parts of my Las Vegas trip altogether. The situation with my grandmother in the first 24 hours was very grim and I had a heavy knot in my stomach. My gut told me that she wasn't going to make it and that I wouldn't be going anywhere for a while.

I haven't slept much this week. I went from 3-4 hours a night to barely an hour. I've been slipping into serious moments of self-reflection, confronting those lowlights in my life when I let my family down in more than one instance. I heard that I broke her heart when I walked out on Wall Street to selfishly seek out fame, glory, and the bohemian lifestyle as a writer. I rejected all the hard work and values that her generation tried to instill into their children/family. I know that it was the best thing for me, but she was about to go to her deathbed knowing that I failed to live up to her expectations. That dark cloud has been hanging around me the last few days. Here's the thing... aside from my brother, my family has no knowledge that I'm a blogger. They've never read any of my sites. I have no intentions of telling them either. I don't think I could fully explain to them what's happened this past year or what I exactly do for a living. They just wouldn't understand.

But what do I say? I was alone for a few minutes with my grandmother on Monday. I leaned over and spoke into her ear. I told her who I really was.

"I'm just a junkie. I drink too much. I gamble too much. And I spend way too much time in strip clubs. I treat women poorly with my brash insensitivity. I'm a selfish asshole who only thinks about himself. Everyday I say that I'm gonna improve my shortcomings and we know how that's never going to happen. But people pay me to write and send me all over the world. I make money doing something I love. I'm passionate about writing and that makes me happy. I've done more traveling than I ever imagined I would. I've swam with sharks in Jamaica. I chased the Northern Lights in Iceland. I've ridden bullet trains in Japan. I've climbed mountains in Colorado. I even got to shake hands with Jerry Garcia."

I told her sharks. I meat to say baby sand sharks.

In a completely selfish way I figured out what was the last possible day she could die without me having to cancel Vegas during the blogger weekend.

One week.

That's what I gave her. I secretly hoped that she'd die sooner than later. I'm such an asshole for wanting that. I could bullshit you and say that it would be easier for her and the rest of my family if she died sooner, but he truth was that I didn't want to miss seeing a lot of my friends. Hurry up and die so I can do shots with Al and go to strip clubs with Grubby. Yeah, I told you I'm an incorrigible fucktard.

Here's the good sappy part that you were waiting for.

The good news first bubbled up from something I heard Derek say, "Dude, I saw her open her eye."

And she did. She opened up both eyes. On Tuesday when I saw her last she recognized that I was there. She was sacred shitless and she was probably like, "Why the fuck is the tube shoved down my throat?" But I could see a soothing tone in her eyes when she saw me and Derek standing there.

Grandma's out of a coma and I'm going to Las Vegas!

There was a time in my life where I was paid insane amount of money on Wall Street to make crucial decisions everyday under the some of the highest amounts of stress possible. That's something you can't teach. Either you have it or you don't. Some days I'd have to make ten difficult decisions all day. Other days it was a hundred. Sometimes I had less than a minute to make six vital decisions with several millions of dollars on the line. I can sit back now and marvel at the insanity of what I used to do for a living. Thinking about it night makes me nervous. Every decision I made affected the reputation of my firm. If I made a mistake, I was pissing away someone's retirement fund or some kid's college fund. I was one trade away from going to prison and another trade away from going completely broke. Talk about a rush. I had no clue how I did what I did aside from the fact that I was thinking, just reacting.

I was grappling with a tough decision for the last few days. Stay in NYC or hit the road. It was driving me crazy that I had no control over the situation. I wanted to make a decision and was about to cancel my plans to go to LA this weekend. Then I got a small miracle. Grandma's not 100% but she was good enough for me to hit the road. As soon as she opened her eyes, the decision was made for me.

Now I am fortunate enough to spend the last month of the year mostly on the road. It's fitting too. 2005 was filled with plenty of travel for me this year. Most of it was business related and some of it was for pure pleasure. But I definitely was on the road more of this year than in the past five.

In 1999 and 2000 I did my most traveling both domestic and abroad. What I'm about to tell you is pretty much the material that I'm going to draw upon to write a book... someday. Some of the tales have become Truckin' stories. I was dating a hippie chick (we'll call her "Angela") from Texas and we crisscrossed America several times seeing Phish almost fifty times on different tours. One particular stretch of time involved a period of 100 days in 1999 where I was all over the place seeing Phish concerts. Sometimes we'd camp out. Other times we crashed with friends of ours. Our last resort was staying in a hotel, which I'd throw on my credit card. In the first thirty days, I flew from NYC to Dallas and drove to Kansas, Tennessee, Atlanta, Charlotte, and back to Dallas. Then I flew to NYC and drove to Philly, Boston, Northern New Jersey, upstate NY, Toronto Canada, Buffalo, NYC, Deer Creek Indiana, and back to NYC. I'm pretty sure that Daddy went to those same Phish shows in Deer Creek. Of course, I didn't know him then.

After a short rest in the city, I flew back to Texas and began another epic journey that would last 40 days. Angela and I drove from Texas all the way to Seattle, through New Mexico and Colorado to attend a music festival. After were spent a few days in Seattle, we crossed the border into Vancouver to see Phish. After a wild late night in Vancouver, we came back to America and saw concerts in central Washington (The Gorge) and a night in Portland before I headed to Boise, Idaho. Here's where it gets freaky. Human Head's wife, the lovely Mrs. Head, lived in Boise at the same time I was there. Of course, we didn't know each other and I wouldn't get to know the future Mr. Head until 5+ years later. Anyway, I ate in the restaurant she worked in. Pretty freaky, right? That's just an odd reminder that I might have crossed paths with many of you before. It's just that we didn't know it.

After Boise, we had to head to San Francisco but stopped off in Reno, NV for the night. Here's the gambling content. Angela's parents were religious hippies. They were also Baptists from Texas and frowned upon gambling. That did not deter their little angel from getting a crash course in blackjack from yours truly on the way from Boise to Reno. She end up almost $200 at the blackjack tables and I dropped a few bucks playing Stud. We should have been getting some rest but we stayed up all night gambling. The drive to San Francisco the next morning was rough. Angela yaked at the Califonria-Reno border. We saw two more concerts at Shoreline (one featuing Phil Lesh) and then drove down the Pacific Coast highway. We caught one more concert in San Diego and that night have been one of the 15 best Phish shows I've ever seen. We skipped a show in Los Angeles and headed to Mexico instead. It was my birthday and we wanted to go camping on the beach in Enseneda, drink tequila, and watch the sun rise. We drove back over the border and got back on tour in Arizona, followed by Las Cruces, New Mexico. My friend Molly was at that concert but we didn't know each other yet.

Once again, in some weird way, I've spent time in the same room/area of some people who I never knew or spoke to that would become my friends at a later date.

We got back to Texas and saw shows in Houston and Austin before we headed to New Orleans for a few days. I wanted to hit the riverboats in Biloxi, but we went to Pelham, Alabama to see a show instead. I know. Next up was Memphis and then we drove back to Texas where we saw a few Widespread Panic concerts. I flew home to NYC and saw the four final shows of their tour on Long Island and in Albany. At the end of it all, I ran up my credit card but had a few of the most amazing roadtrips in my life.

30+ cities in 100 days. Unreal.

The travel this year was not as intense but in many ways I look back on the places I've been and think... unreal. But the year is not over yet. The next stop on my journey is Las Vegas. On Friday, I depart Sin City and head to the City of Angels.

Here's where I tie everything down in the last few paragraphs and tell you that the last few weeks have been one helluva a mind fuck for me. I'm happy to be alive. One of the reasons I travel so much is because there's too much stuff out there in the world that I want to see and experience. Watching my grandmother struggle with severe health problems in the last chapter of her life reminded me that I still have a lot more I want to see... to visit... to do... to write... man, especially to write. I have at least five or six books and two screenplays in me (beside my Las vegas book which may never get done at this rate) and I have to get them out now before it's too late... before I'm hooked up to some machine and shitting myself in a diaper and regretting that I never got off my ass to write the Japan book, or paint again, or the write the sequel to Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.

I made poker such a huge priority in my life in 2005 and I'm blessed to have every second of it. But next year, I have to make some serious changes in my life. I realized that personal travel and writing (non-poker and non-freelance) is something that I want to pursue in addition to poker. I don't know if I can find a healthy balance for all three. One thing I learned about my time on Wall Street was that I had the ability to make big decisions fairly quickly and the majority of them were good. I'm going to be making a very big one pretty soon.

Like The Kurgan said, "It's better to burn out than to fade away."

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