This might be a review of JUNKIE LOVE… or it might be the most personal blog I’ve ever written.

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I have been wanting to write a review of Joe Clifford’s JUNKIE LOVE for months. I can hear you already (I’m a bit of a mind reader), “What’s so hard about writing a book review? Just write the damn thing.” Well, it’s complicated. Joe was a guest on the podcast I do (Books and Booze for the uninitiated), and he was a blast to have on as a guest. I hadn’t read the book before he came on the show for a number of reasons that aren’t exactly important–What IS important, is that as soon as the show was over, I bought the book and started reading.

Sometime later, I had an opportunity to attend Noir at the Bar, L.A. where Joe would be reading, and as happens when writers get together, he asked what I thought of the book, or maybe, he asked if I had finished it. I said, “I had a really hard time reading it. I had to take a lot of breaks, had to put it down for a period here and there, but I finished it, and I’m really glad I did.”

Many people might think that was an asshole thing to say, or they may read that and think “Damn, that book must be a fucking gut punch”, the second group is absolutely correct, and now we’re getting to the heart of why I had such a hard time writing a review. If I want to tell you how the book affected me, why it was so great, I have to talk about things I don’t particularly like to talk about.

I’m the child of an addict.

That’s a weighty statement because people bring a lot of assumptions to the table when you say it. It isn’t nearly as interesting or depressing as it sounds. I had two wonderful parents that worked hard to give me opportunities and help me succeed, and then, a half hour away, I had my dad. He used just about every substance you can imagine, and it would be a big fat lie to say it didn’t have any effect on me, it definitely did. It’s just not some Lifetime Movie kind of story where I had to overcome growing up in the same house as a poly drug user—because I didn’t.

Down to the book. It says it’s a novel right on the cover, but Joe told us on the show that these are things that happened. The way they are woven together isn’t necessarily chronological, but the book is a representation of his real life battle with addiction. He doesn’t pull any punches or attempt to make himself look good. I remember the first time I had to put the book down—he was discussing how speed affects the user. I remembered my father’s funeral, a large percentage of the people who spoke talked about how handy he was, how he loved to take things apart and put them back together again. Joe writes that this is a symptom of speed use. I think… “chicken or egg? Is the thing people remembered fondly about my dad caused by the drug that killed him? Do I know my father at all? Did anyone?”

Tough stuff.

Tougher, are the incredibly real moments described in JUNKIE LOVE—the crazy relationships between Joe and his friends, the up and downs with the insane women he loved and used with. Puzzle pieces fell into place for me and it was a lot like reading my dad’s story—only now I had this inside look that never occurred to me as I watched him self destruct and surround himself with the kind of people who would thank my grandmother for a hot meal and roof over their head by stealing her jewelry.

I have a lot of sympathy for the struggles of addiction, but I held very little sympathy for my own father. Being in the middle of it, as I often was, I couldn’t separate the actions of an addict from the father that loved me. He never went after getting clean, and he died as a result of his drug use, so I never really got the opportunity to see the difference. The Dad-with-a-capital-D character in my story only exists in memories of childhood before the drugs and alcohol took him over completely. Through Joe’s prose and honesty, I had this strange opportunity to go through the looking glass and really see the human side of the story.

And… you know. I’ve avoided talking to Joe too much about the book. I always feel like there is a fine line when you have social access to an author between being supportive of their work and being an asshole who treats their friendliness as an open invitation to turn every conversation into a book club appearance. There is that other reason too, though. It’s rare that a book becomes so personal for me. I can only think of one or two others off the top of my head, and in both cases they were complete works of fiction. I hesitate to co-opt Joe’s story and make it into something that belongs to me—while acknowledging that a good book does that to the reader. This book definitely did that to me. In addition to being well written, honest, and good reading—it was a window for me into a world I had always been on the outside of. Damn close to it, ear against the wall. But never inside. I never knew these things about the people in my life that struggled with addiction in a real way. I knew it intellectually; I knew it on paper, so to speak. I knew the clinical studies and the opinions of Dr. fucking Drew, but I didn’t ever know it as a part of me, as a part of who I am and who my father was as a human being.

Okay, there’s a third reason, too. As a writer myself, I play with emotion all the time. I work hard to pull emotion off the page and set it on the reader, and I genuinely hope I do a good job. A lot of authors I’ve had the pleasure of reading while doing Books and Booze do this fantastically, but every time I want to say something to Joe about how this book opened me up and smashed me to pieces, I get a little lump in my throat. I like to think of myself as something of a badass. I’ve been a punk rocker, a US Marine, and I’ve been through some shit. I don’t like to get all mopey and soft in public. I like to pretend that sad movies don’t make me cry and that I’ve got ALL my shit under control. I like to think that I’ve processed all the feelings I had about my father’s death and the contradictory emotions that came with it—relief that I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore, a crushing sadness that he never even tried to get clean, the realization that I had killed and mourned the Dad-with-a-capital-D character in my story a decade before the body of my father died, the might have beens and maybes, the wishing for a different end to his story.

Well, I guess I haven’t and I guess maybe I never will. JUNKIE LOVE is about a lot of things. It’s about addiction and rehab, of course. It’s about love, in this crazy-manic sort of way that seems so intense and beautiful just under the self-destructive anti-romantic surface. It’s about redemption and it does a kid like me good to see that its possible and it happens. It’s about dealing with shit that people really don’t want to deal with. So the make-believe badass in my brain had to take a step back.

Because there is this part of the book… it just tore the emotion right out of me. I was sitting at one of those mall play areas, letting my kid run off some energy, and reading JUNKIE LOVE, and then BAM! Waterworks.

 In public.

For fuck’s sake.

I just slipped my e-reader back into my purse and did some breathing exercises, hoping no one had noticed. It was so simple, so honest, and so fucking brutal that I couldn’t deal with it. It stripped me bare. The sentence, out of context in an effort to show you how simple it was, is as follows:

“She was just a girl who wanted to be taken out to dinner.”

Goddamn. I get goose bumps and complicated feelings just thinking about it. It’s stayed with me all these months, as a lump in my throat when I try to tell people why it’s amazing, as the thing I didn’t say when I got to hang out with Joe, as this sentence that captures how beautiful and terrible everything about life is so quickly, so deftly, that it literally takes your breath away. I could have been punched in the solar plexus and had a less visceral reaction.

So there you have it. 5/5 stars. A book that really changed me. I’ll cheerlead this thing ‘til the day it’s on the NYT Best Seller’s list and then I’ll tell everyone “I told you so!”

For Joe’s interview on Books and Booze, click here.

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What I Probably Won’t Want To Talk About This Week.

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My friends and family know me as the one person in America who gives a flying fuck about pro-cycling. They also know me as a hardcore supporter of Lance Armstrong. What this means is that whenever there is a cycling scandal, they come to me to dish, and whenever Lance is in the news, they come to me for my thoughts with concern in their voices.

Yesterday I discovered that HusBANG! did, in fact, know that Lance Armstrong was scheduled to be on Oprah this week and was rumored to be planning to confess to doping, but hadn’t brought it up because… well… I assume because he was hoping I somehow didn’t hear about it, and maybe wouldn’t ever. I am certain that whatever happens on Thursday (or rather today, when they are filming) I will have friends asking me for my thoughts, and here’s the truth:

I don’t really want to talk about it.

If the rumors are true and Lance Armstrong admits to doping, lying, large scale coverups, and conspiracy– I’ll feel like an idiot. I’ll feel I’ve been lied to. I’ll feel really silly for defending him time and time again. But mostly, I will feel the loss of a personal hero. Someone I look up to and admire.

One might argue that I am a little too old to look to sports stars as heroes. One might be right. But I don’t admire Armstrong for winning a lot of bike races. I became aware of Armstrong along with the rest of America, but I became a hardcore fan sometime after– when my life was bleak, when the odds seemed insurmountable, when I felt like I may as well just stop trying all together– and then there was Lance Armstrong. Record breaking athlete that was never supposed to live long enough to win a single Tour De France, let alone seven. A man who took that success and poured it into a foundation meant to help others dealing with cancer find support, community, and the optimism he sometimes credits for saving his life. A man, who was seemingly persecuted for nothing more than being better at his sport than a lot of other people.

I related to him on levels that are hard to explain to anyone who wasn’t me during this time. I felt inspired by him. So maybe I am too old to have heroes, but it worked for me at the time.

If that is taken from me, I am sure people will come to either give condolences or to rub my face in it. I am sure people will want to know how it felt, because I’m the only person they know that cares so much.

But I won’t want to talk about it.

It may seem overdramatic, it may not even compute with people who don’t have “heroes” in the public eye–but I will need time to grieve quietly and privately. I will need time to feel like a fucking idiot all by myself.

And if Lance is going on Oprah for some publicity stunt, if the rumors aren’t true…

I probably still won’t want to talk about it. Because let’s be honest, that’s kind of a dick move. As pro-cycling becomes more about figuring out who doped, and who gets the title after it is stripped from someone else, it is harder for me to enjoy it, or even bother to follow it. I’ve seen a lot of cyclists I followed fall into disgrace as part of the drug culture in the sport, and I just feel like I can see much more interesting depictions of druggies by reading Irvine Welsh.

The second installment of my “Lessons From The Underground” column. This one is all about DIY and dreaming.

SYW Magazine

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Nobody wants you to have what you want more than you. No one is obligated to give you anything. The hard truth is that, overall, no one gives a fuck. Does that make you feel sad and alone?

Then you’re not ready. You don’t want it bad enough. You don’t love it enough. You’re just getting started on not getting started.

Realizing that you are the only one who cares about your dreams the way that you care about your dreams shouldn’t discourage you. Hell, it shouldn’t even surprise you– when’s the last time you spent a couple hours fantasizing about your neighbor’s dream of opening a one stop shop for quality wigs and video games*? What it should do is put a fire under your ass. In the underground it doesn’t exist until you make it exist.

Want to record some songs? Better go find a 4-track recorder at…

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Jonny Gibbings is a man of dualities. He shares an amazing story from his past with SYW.

SYW Magazine

The year was 1991, I was a few years out of my licence by the courts that meant that I couldn’t leave the city and also had a curfew. It was difficult to leave the darkness where I once existed behind, as instructed, when legally forced to remain in those very same shadows. However things were different in 1991. I no longer had to punch in a time card, like a factory worker, to prove I was in my licence hostel apartment each night. My bed-sit, a one room with a cooker and a bed that I had to return to by 10pm. A giant house full of crackheads and thieves, who were forced to live together and so would steal everything you owned, rendering possessions pointless.

1991 I could stay out as late as I liked, sweet freedom. So I took work in the only thing I was qualified…

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Funny stuff from one of my colleagues at SYW.

SYW Magazine

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I was once told, men just think with their dicks. And while I have feminist undertones, yes, I do, I can’t help but want to leap to my fellow men’s defense. Yes, we do think with our dicks. When you consider a woman can sire a child once a year, us men can father a child every forty minutes, I put it down to nature. I couldn’t wait to get to the age where my erection stops bothering me and getting me to make very poor life choices. Just when I felt the future would hold some peace and quiet, they invent Viagra. Why? What possible good can come of Viagra? Erectile dysfunction was natures way of telling you to place ones penis on the metaphorical gun rack. On the surface, Viagra seems an okay idea, but on a deeper level of consideration, eighty year old’s having sex? There is…

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Indie Book Store Review: Phoenix Books, Los Banos, CA.

This book store is the reason I’ve decided to do book store reviews on this blog from time to time (I have some brewing from my recent trip to NOLA, too). Phoenix Book Store on Main Street in the highway town of Los Banos, CA is everything an independent book store should be.

First, it is in a great location. Main Street in Los Banos is a hidden treasure. Although I have family in the area, I had not been down Main Street in something like twenty years. Most of the businesses are locally owned and run, and the street is maintained beautifully. You might mistake your walk down Main Street for a trip back to Small Town USA in the 1950s. There is a Rexall Drugs that still has a soda bar, and an amazing diner directly across from Phoenix Books that will blow your taste buds out of your head (and probably bust a button on your trousers).

The proprietor of Phoenix Books keeps the books organized by subject and author,  the new and used books are mixed together somewhat haphazardly. This is amazing for a few reasons. First, if you find a new book you’d like to try, you can dig in the area around it and possibly find it used for a lower price. Secondly, it captures the wonderful things about a used book store (the musty, dusty book smell, the feeling of wonder being surrounded by towering shelves of books, the joy in finding something really unique) while still offering the new and popular releases of the here and now.

The staff is helpful and friendly, which is always a plus. No one is working at this book store solely to pay the bills. They love the books as much as you do.

There is a small, but well stocked “collectors’ section” which features rare and unusual books for just about any price range. I picked up an occult book from that section for about nine dollars, and drooled over a rare Steinbeck behind the counter. There was also a large selection of pop-collector’s books like Stephen King First Editions.

In the end, we spent something like $60 and walked out with armfuls of books. Perhaps my favorite find was an old paperback of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories with a cover price of $1.25. The used book prices are incredibly low and the new book prices are competitive. I can’t wait to go back.

If you’re rolling through Los Banos on your way to or from the Bay Area, this is a must stop for book lovers.

Tip: explore this place in the late morning and then stuff your face at the Sixth Street Diner across the street. Don’t go to breakfast first, you won’t be able to bend, twist, and crouch with a belly that full.

This Is Why I Don’t Work In Marketing.

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I went shopping for slipcovers for my sofas today. I know, I lead a very wild life–shopping for slipcovers on a Tuesday afternoon. Bear with me.

First, I didn’t realize that there are a minimum of three different types of slipcovers. I just assumed there was one basic design for different sized sofas. I was wrong. I found the one that looked easiest, most comfortable, and came in a color I liked. But I noticed something odd.

Sofa Throw Covers.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re thinking “Throw? Like a throw blanket or a throw pillow?” Yeah like that, only it’s a slip cover. Look:

It’s just a giant blanket you put over your sofa and exert a lot of energy into tucking and adjusting, just so it can slide around every time someone sits on it and stands back up.

I can only assume that some slipcover company decided that people thought only prissy people use slipcovers (those of us with hand-me-down furniture notwithstanding) and decided that they HAD TO FIND A WAY TO SELL THEIR SHIT TO THESE PEOPLE.

If I worked in the marketing department of this company, and they said “How do we sell slipcovers to people who think don’t like slipcovers?” I’d say, “We don’t. That’s not our demographic”, and then I’d sip a martini (that’s what people in marketing do, right?).

But someone said “How do we sell slipcovers to people who think slipcovers are only for prissy people?” And someone else jumped out of their seat and said “I’VE GOT IT! We design a slipcover that will never really stay on the sofa, and may actually be more difficult to use, and we’ll call it a sofa throw. And they’ll think of throw pillows and throw blankets which are just damn comfy.”

And that person got a bonus for that. For making a giant blanket that does the same thing as a slipcover, just not as well, and marketing it to people who don’t buy slipcovers.

I don’t know whether to admire the guy or worry about where our country is headed.

 

Dear Members of Anonymous (And other so-called “Hacktivists”):

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You are not special. You are not activists, or even “hacktivists”. You’re assholes.

Activism usually implies that there is some greater goal, that you believe what you are doing will help people, perhaps “make the world a better place.” The last few major acts of so-called hacktivists haven’t made an understandable point. What they have done is put regular people in bad places.

When a member of Anonymous took down GoDaddy today, he/she didn’t just fuck GoDaddy up. Small businesses and freelancers got fucked up. They are missing a full day’s worth or sales and/or work. My own website is admittedly, not that important in the scheme of things, but it’s down. Several sites that publish and/or sell work by indie authors are down. Regular people are losing money on this, and if you are a small business owner or freelancer, you know how much one day’s earnings matter.

And the reason? Well, the tweet explaining it verged on illiterate, but it came down to “testing” the safety of cybersecurity. Seriously?! Look, if my front window is single pane glass, I know it isn’t bullet proof–so don’t claim you did a drive by to test the safety of my window. Anyone with a brain realizes the internet isn’t safe.

Many people have complained that GoDaddy should have had better security, and I suppose that is a valid complaint, but let’s remember that the last high profile hack was reportedly the FBI. It sounds to me like this member of Anonymous did it because he could.

Well, I could go around punching unexpecting people in the face. I could steal candy from the locally owned convenience store. I could kick puppies. I don’t because I’m not a fucking dick. And that’s what it comes down to, “hacktivists”, you’re not changing the world, you’re not special–you’re just a dick.

Dick.