Monday, February 11

Don't Call It A Comeback, I've Been Here For Years.


I’d like to tell you that this was all planned from the start. That I had long ago masterminded the idea of a 1-year sabbatical to recharge my creative batteries and start fresh. Truth is, I really did quit writing online for all the reasons I stated over a year ago: I thought it was getting in the way of writing another book, I thought it was stagnating and pigeonholing me, and I thought I should try something different.

My 2012 goal was to write (or at least nearly write) my third book. And while I have a pretty good outline and a lot of content to work with, it wasn’t nearly as much as I thought I would have produced, considering it was the only writing goal I had set for myself. I mean, the CDP was dead and my literary focus was supposed to be precise and deadly. So why was I spending most of my time doing nothing? If I could write two books in four years while feverishly updating a blog, shouldn’t I be able to write one book in one year without a blog?

The epiphany was frustrating, because it meant I had made a mistake-- The CDP motivated me to write significantly more than it distracted me. This seems painfully obvious in retrospect. It kept me honest and on a schedule. It allowed me constant feedback and instant satisfaction of a job well done (or a job done shittily). Without a constant outlet, I had no desire to write at all, and for the first nine months of 2012, that’s exactly what I did. Nothing. I drank a lot, gained weight, watched more television than even I thought I could ingest, and creatively evolved about a micron.

Any good writer will tell you that one must write constantly in order to, you know, write constantly, and the idea that walking away from a major creative venture would somehow motivate me was ill-thought out to say the least. Understand that I had nothing but the best of intentions in mind for you and me both. I want to write funny stories for people, but in an attempt to eliminate distractions, I killed my muse.


So, that was the first sign that I had made a mistake. Then a homeless guy yelled at me.

September 11, 2012 was one of the more pathetically selfish and self-loathing days of my life. I’m probably about to come off as a real sad prick (which I was), but it’s important to understand my mindset at the time. Also note that none (and I mean none) of my depression had anything to do with the anniversary of what 9/11 is more commonly known for. In fact, I was so awash in my own nonsense that I had completely forgotten about the significance of the day.

I took the afternoon off of work so I could walk downtown and drink. I’m not kidding; in fact, it’s something I had done many times prior to this instance last year. I had received a promotion in June, and while it bettered my quality of life in a materialistic way (but just barely), I always showed up to work thinking I might have made the wrong decision in a long-term, mental health capacity. The fact that I was taking the afternoon off to sit alone somewhere may have been a bit of a red flag, but I prefer to ignore warning signs right up until the point where they’re carting me into the hospital. This has a happy ending, though; so don’t feel too bad for me.

Anyway, I took the afternoon off because work was breaking my brain. Problem was, I didn’t have a car. The Missus and I carpool to work, and she didn’t punch out for another four hours, so I decided to walk the two miles downtown to where her office was, spend the afternoon sipping Spotted Cow and just surprise her at work come quitting time. I’m nothing if not a hopeless romantic, and hey, it would save her the drive to come and pick me up. Total win/win. After all, who wouldn’t want their first objective after a long day of work to be responsible for driving their inebriated husband home?


As I walked into an Irish pub on Capitol Square, I noticed what appeared to be a crippled homeless man parked outside the door in a motorized wheelchair. He had all of his belongings slung over the back in a trash bag, he was slumped to one side like Stephen Hawking, and was feverishly (and I mean feverishly) scribbling onto a piece of notebook paper with a pencil. He’d scribble for a few seconds, stop, erase a bit, then continue right on scribbling. Whatever he was doing, he appeared to be on a mission, so I let him be. I, too, was on a mission.

I walked into the pub, where I drank alone for the next 90 minutes. I had a couple of beers, and when they were gone, I had whiskey. And another. And another. I sat at the end of the bar (as I always do), watched ESPN with the sound muted (as I always do) and frantically checked my phone for any e-mails or incoming Facebook/Twitter messages (as I always do). Of course, there were none; all of my friends were busy working their jobs, because they’re devoted, responsible human beings who understand that one simply cannot walk away from something as important as employment just because it bums them out a little. At 2pm on a Tuesday, the Internet is just as quiet as the streets of downtown Madison, and I felt as lonely as ever, although that’s secretly what I wanted.

At around 2pm, I staggered out into the sunlight and felt absolutely no better. It was just cold enough to be uncomfortable, and I didn’t plan ahead enough to bring a jacket. Also, I was wearing slacks and a tie due to a meeting I had earlier in the morning. Also, I was ripped beyond comprehension on a Tuesday afternoon with at least two hours to kill before my wife could take me home. I had no idea where to go or what to do, and even though I was old enough to know better, I felt that I might feel exactly this way for the rest of my life.


The Wisconsin Historical Society was a place that always intrigued me, but I was always too busy to pop in when I was in the neighborhood. Not today. I know it sounds sad (and within the context of this story, it’s definitely sad), but I heartily recommend going to a museum by yourself during the day. There’s nobody there; no field trips, no tourists-- shit, there aren’t even any employees there, really. Apart from the dude who took my money, I didn’t see another soul within all three stories of this place until I saw him again as I was leaving. I plan on going back again when I’m not depressed.

The main attraction at the Historical Society in September was a tribute to 90’s Alternative Rock that emanated (or at least passed through) the city of Madison. The exhibit focused mainly on historic venue O’Cayz Corral and the legendary Smart Studios. The memorabilia was incredible, and I thought it would make me feel better, but the knee-deep shitstorm of depression doesn’t work that way. I felt worse. I felt that no music would ever be as good as it was in the 90’s, and as a result, I would never feel as good as I did in the 90’s.

Actually, depression aside, that’s probably a true statement nonetheless. But let’s move on.

The second and third floors of the museum were more typical Wisconsin museum flair: Native American stuff that we probably should give back to Native Americans, exhibits on the manufacturing boom along the Mississippi River at the turn of the century, Lewis & Clark up the ass, stuff like that. However, just as I was ready to throw in the towel, I spotted something that truly blew my mind.




Yes, a 1990’s Family Room exhibit. Yes, it made me feel old. It made me feel like I, too should also be behind Plexiglas, sitting in that recliner. But more than anything, I thought to myself, “Holy shit, that looks exactly like MY Family Room in the 90’s! Did EVERY Family Room look like this?” It was sort of a revelation; I started laughing my ass off in front of this totally surreal exhibit. Good thing I was the only one in the building.


I started thinking about my childhood. I thought about the kid that I was, sitting in that Family Room, playing video games endlessly, listening to music I loved and not thinking for a second about what the future would hold. I thought about how I would have felt as a kid if I could glimpse into the future and see the man that I would become. Sure, I had some stuff going for me; I had a wonderful wife and a nice home, but everything else seemed distant at best (my writing, friends and family), soul-crushing at worst (my job, my future, the impending desolation of another Wisconsin winter).

I thought about how badly I wanted to jump inside that exhibit and stay sealed off from any adult responsibilities for the rest of my life.

I realized something: I took the day off to escape the reality of my employment and lack of direction, but more than anything, what I needed was a few hours to focus on wholly pitying myself, and damn was I doing a good job. This made me feel a lot better. If left alone to my own sad devices for long enough, Logic usually wins out once I get bored of being dishonest with myself. I consider myself extremely lucky for having that sort of built-in failsafe.


Downtown Madison, during the day, is a cavalcade of bums, junkies and complete, raving lunatics. Anyone from here who tells you otherwise is merely lying to make this place seem better. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great city, but if you’re out at the right time, you’ll see some shit.

I started making my way towards my wife’s office, doubling back and passing the Irish pub where my afternoon began. There, sitting in the exact place where I last saw him, was the crippled homeless man. He hadn’t moved an inch; still feverishly focused on his notebook paper manifesto, which he continued to scribble and erase as I again approached him.

I didn’t really know how I was going to do it, but I had to see what this man was writing. I just had to know the thing that had kept him so focused and passionate for the last few hours (and potentially the last few days or weeks, I guess). After all the stumbling, wandering bullshit I was doing in order to piss away another day of my life for absolutely no good reason, I needed to see what incredibly important scripture this man was ripping from his psyche. A man who had so many more reasons to feel frustrated than I did.

I sidled about two feet away from his wheelchair, sort of behind him and to the right (his body was slumped to the left, so he couldn’t exactly see me), and peeked over his shoulder. The piece of crumpled notebook paper was covered from top to bottom in random numbers, repeatedly erased and written over and over again. No equations, no symbols, no parentheses. Just thousands of tiny numbers following no rational rhyme or reason. This man wasn’t working hard on anything. He was almost surely insane.

I took a step backward, when my foot crunched on a discarded bag of potato chips. This got the man’s attention, as he stopped what he was doing, looked up and swung his motorized wheelchair in my direction. For a number of reasons, I was absolutely terrified.

I was shaking when he looked up at me. Shaking because I was scared, because I was drunk, because I was cold and because I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. I suppose I could have just run away, but it didn’t feel like a viable option in my present state.


My eyebrow raised. “What?


He was pointing at my necktie. He was pointing at my necktie and making fun of me.


He said it again as I was walking away. He didn’t see it, but I was laughing really hard. He probably had no earthly idea, but he put nearly everything into perspective for me. The entire day, my entire depressing pity trip had led up to the moment where a homeless lunatic would see me for exactly what I was with no prior knowledge: A fraud. A nobody. A businessman. The tone in his voice suggested I was merely portraying a character. Wearing a costume.

Dude was right. I called my wife.

Hey. Just wanted to let you know that I’m a few minutes from your office.
Sounds good; I’m almost done with work.
Great. Also, I want you to know that I’m going to quit my job.


Welcome back!
Thanks, man! I'm working on integrating Facebook comments on here, so hopefully that'll make it easier for peeps to sound off.
Aughhh, yes, my family's living room looked like that in the 1990's too. We watched Full House and Family Matters there. And America's Funniest Home Videos, because as a toddler my youngest sister was a tiny tyrant who screeched "VIDEOS!!" at precisely 7:00, no matter what.

"Downtown Madison, during the day, is a cavalcade of bums, junkies and complete, raving lunatics. Anyone from here who tells you otherwise is merely lying to make this place seem better. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great city, but if you’re out at the right time, you’ll see some shit." Seriously, you're describing my town. It filters onto the campus where I work with an alarming frequency, sometimes, too.

And, hey, welcome back!
Cliffhanger, y'all.
Traipsing down the "music was better back in my day" path is a patently poor idea. First of all, you know it's not entirely true, if you think about it hard enough and from a psychological perspective. Secondly, you know it's exactly what all those old dudes say about Zeppelin and the Stones et al., and you know it's the same thing that people are going to start saying about Fall Out Boy and All Time Low in about 5-10 years (ugh), and it very well may be true for them that music was the best when they were young, but it probably isn't objectively true.

But all that aside I'm super glad to see you back, and it's damn good to read your writing again!
B - Thanks! Yeah, it's amazing how accurate they made that room (or how similar all our lives were.

Yup, it's pretty much a weirdo cavalcade near campus during the day. I wish I could tell you this was the first time I was yelled at by a stranger.
BRIAN - Two-parter! I figured 10 pages was a bit much for one essay.
CARGIRL - Thanks! And yeah, that was sort of the point; remember, I'm depressed and illogical, here.

Oh, and I did a track-by-track MBV review that will go up next week!
I remember you live-tweeting this day and I was thinking "Why is he drinking all afternoon? Did his office close? Did he get laid off? Is he on strike to keep his collective bargaining right?" Now I know that you just wanted to go on a bender.

I'm anxious to hear how this finishes up. You're still alive, so it already ends better that it would have if I would have said that to my wife (our situation is different -- she stays home with our 2 kids).
Depressed and illogical, woo! Yay winter! Can't wait to read your MBV review and I'm also dying for part 2 here. Cliffhanger indeed!
I'm still just really pissed I didn't get to see the damn 90's exhibit. I've been asking for years for Ryan to take me to the historical society, then he goes on his own. Typical. ;)
HOSS - Thanks, and yeah, I guarantee a happy ending that doesn't involve hanging myself with the elastic in my boxer shorts.

I'm also glad you remember me LiveTweeting this day; it lends it some credibility. :)
CARGIRL - Yay Winter, indeed. I've had just about enough of this shit.
CELIA - I randomly wandered in on literally the last day. I know, that was an additional bummer.
Welcome back! Well, I guess, more like, thanks for inviting us readers back. Wherever you go, there you are.
NICHOLE - Woah...cosmic (and thanks!).
Good god I've missed TheCDP! Welcome back. And ~ way to drop the mic :)

REESE - Thanks so much; I'm truly humbled (and extremely relieved) by the kind words regarding the return. Last night at 11:59pm, I was second-guessing pretty much everything, so again THANK YOU. I promise lots of fun stuff coming down the road.
Hey, welcome back. I recall the live tweeting too. In fact I remember strongly wishing I was drinking down on the Square that afternoon as well. But I feel that way most afternoons...
Thanks! And no kidding. Let's plan on meeting up for at least one afternoon of drinking sometime this year.

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