My friend J- overdosed on oxycontin, died for three minutes, went to rehab, and came back better than ever.
It was a shock to see him for the first time after Rehab. We went to go see the new David Lynch documentary at The Music Box, and then sat on a bench outside of Jewel eating sugar cookies. He brushed crumbs from his beard, and talked about his month in detox like it was an important vacation. He didn’t seem like a person who had just died a little over a month ago. He seemed to be doing great.
I told him that and he shrugged and said “Yeah, nothing can kill me” which would usually be a pretty big red flag, but in this instance it was kind of hard to argue with him.
J-’s a solid guy, like the rock of Gibraltar. He’s got huge meaty hands. He spends his weekends standing on train tracks. The trains knock him down, but he always gets back up again, dusts himself off, and walks away shaking his head.
We sat on the bench outside of Jewel, eating sugar cookies.
I had just gotten back from an extended trip myself. Not rehab, but also kinda.
I used to shave my head just to feel like a different person. Or I would get home from work, get a plate out of the cabinet, walk onto my back porch and drop the plate onto the concrete. Or I would- *Ahem* I would… uhhhh…
Well anyway, nothing a few stars can’t fix. And some trees. A mountain or two. Go live in a snow globe for a while and see what it does for you. Add in a nasty poem from an ex-girlfriend, and a talk about golden arrows with a new friend in a sauna, barefoot through the snow, sleep on a couch, sleep in a closet, don’t shower, don’t shave, grow a beard, get mistaken for homeless in the Seattle Public Library. Go to church every night. Interview pastor Frank, Interview pastor Adam, and oh look there SHE is, shivering like a pine tree in the moonlight, but don’t talk about HER because SHE made you promise not to. Look at THEM instead. Watch THEM look at trees, and sing about trees, and go skinny dipping in the freezing ocean, gangly bodies pink and dripping. Waterfall in the park, goose eggs, smoked salmon, Bellingham. Seattle. San Fransisco. Las Angeles. A quarry, a question, a comic book. Greyhound to Mega bus to Amtrak to home.
One month in the woods, and one month on the road, and you come back to Chicago feeling like a brand new person. Resurrected. Like it was me who died and came back.
Before he got sober, and before I got star-blasted in the wilderness, J- and I were in a punk band called The Sticky Sick Kids. I wrote all of the songs.
“Nobody Likes Me”
and “Don’t Make Me Wear A Condom”
and “I Will Disappear If You Don’t Look At Me”
“I will disappear if you don’t look at me” were the only lyrics of that song, repeated over and over again. It started with just a slow creepy baseline and some snapping while I repeated that line over and over again as it grew bigger and louder until it exploded into a huge noise rock cacophony, during which I would screech at the top of my lungs, tear my clothes off, roll around on the floor, jump into the audience, and eat a raw onion.
Trying to dance, sing, and eat an onion at the same time was nauseating. It coated the ground with mushy onion foam, and filled the air with acid.
After our first show a girl came up to me and told me that she had to leave the room during our set because it smelled so bad, and I said “Wow! That’s exactly what I was going for!”
In theory these songs were exaggerated expressions of anxiety and self-loathing, meant to induce a state of indulgent catharsis. A safe space to perform my own self-destructive tendencies without making people too sad.
But in practice?
Usually I would get off stage with a rotten nectarine in my stomach and the need to get completely wasted.
I don’t know how Iggy Pop did it. Just kidding. It was Heroin. He was on Heroin. That’s how he did it.
During The Sticky Sick Kids’ very last show, I had taken my shirt off for I Will Disappear and while the guitar player was re-tuning her guitar between songs, the bass player pointed at the ladder of pink and white lines on my naked arm, and said, on mic, amplified to the crowded bar, “Hey. What happened to your shoulder?” and I said “Let’s not talk about that on stage” and then we blasted right into “Sometimes I Cut Myself” to finish the set.
After we got of stage I thought to myself: “Hmm… Maybe this isn’t a good idea.”
A week later, J- went on a long road trip, during which he blacked out in New Orleans and cracked his head on a bar stool, ruined R-’s rug by smelling so bad, and then was rejected at the Canadian border for being too sober. Too sober? He was so shaky that the border guard thought he must be drunk, but in truth he was acting strangely because he hadn’t had a drink in so long that he was going through withdrawals. He wasn’t drunk, he was too sober. He was trying to convince them of this when he finally got a message back from his crack dealer. They saw the text and sent him back to Seattle.
While he was off doing that, I was in Chicago avoiding therapy, and getting ready for my own trip to Washington.
As J- was coming back, I was leaving. When I got to Seattle, I stayed in the same closet that he had and R- told me all about how he had showed up with stitches in his head and stank up her rug so bad she had to throw it out.
And while I was in a snow globe in the mountains, looking at stars and figuring it all out J- was in Chicago, getting hit by one last train. Exploding into a thousand little lights.
One month later, we were both alive and well sitting on a bench outside of Jewel eating sugar cookies. Two very lucky boys.
“You look great!” I said
“Yeah.” He said “Nothing can kill me.”
“I guess not.” I said.
And then we looked at each other, serious for one moment, just to silently acknowledge that we both knew it wasn't true.
A happy explosion. A bomb but good.
Reckless Summertime Fun.
Cut your jeans into shorts, buy a bottle of gin, and meet me on the beach. We’ll fall asleep in the sand and we won’t even drown cuz Lake Michigan doesn’t have a tide to drag us out, and when you get that bug in your head that says: “If I don’t have sex with someone or do drugs tonight than I am going to be disappointed” you can always suck my dick, or else I’ll suck yours and L-wants to know if I wanna go splitsies on a hooker but I’d rather fuck the sky. I’d rather go skinny dipping in the Shed Aquarium. I’d rather dedicate my life to a heroin addiction. I’d rather run towards that dark figure in the distance until I step on a thorn when I was 12 years old at my friend Evan’s sleep over party, and I have to stop, alone in the darkness, whimpering like a wounded coyote, and pull it out of my foot before limping back to the circle of tents in Evan’s yard, only to find that everyone is already sitting around the fire pit playing neverhaveIever and the snipe hunt has been over for a full 30 minutes.
They all look up at once, 12 year old faces lit from below by the fire, and Evan asks: “Where were you?”
In Chicago we don’t have stars, but we do have guns, so we make our own stars out of gunpowder, and when they go off at Navy Pier, you look down first to make sure you haven’t been shot, and then you look up and it’s super pretty all of the sudden.
About the author...
Hal Baum is a writer/performer/musician from the south side of Chicago. He has performed in theaters across the city including: The Laugh Factory, The Playground Theater, and The Neo-Futurists. He recently returned to Chicago after spending one month as an artist in residence at Holden Village in Northwest Washington. If you want to see pictures he draws of people on the CTA you can go to: https://halbaum.wixsite.com/peopleonthecta