Monday, July 25, 2011

She Said No No No…

So the sad but not very surprising news came out over the weekend. Amy Winehouse died.
My reaction was the same as most everyone’s - that she was a train wreck. Well true. She was. And her death is but the latest in a series of celebrity snuff-outs due to alcohol and drug abuse. Sadly, hers will not be the last.

Addiction is a confounding, heartbreaking illness that is extremely misunderstood by those that do not have it. From the outside looking in, someone like Winehouse looks pathetic and weak. The conclusion drawn by most people is why couldn’t she just stop? Couldn’t she see what she is doing to herself?
The answer to the second question is yes, she knew. But the answer to the first question is, she couldn't stop because she didn’t want to - she never got to the point of wanting to. And therein lies the heartbreak of addiction.  As she sang so famously, they tried to make her go to rehab and she said no no no.
I have first-hand experience in addiction, so let no one think that I am just some talking head expounding on something I know nothing about. Amy’s death has really hit home with me, because I was once right where she is, or more accurately was, prior to July 23, 2011. I was once in grave danger of dying. And the unfathomable attitude I had at that time was, I’m okay, I can handle this. I was unable to see how bad it had gotten. It took others - loved ones - to literally jerk me out of my shell of denial and re-plant me elsewhere. I protested. I didn’t want to go. But I went.
And sixteen years later, I am still here.
Please do not misunderstand. I am not trying to portray myself as better than Amy. I was simply more fortunate. Everyone’s circumstances is different, and in my case I did not have handlers and hangers-on trying to tell me things were cool, to just keep singing so we can all be rich. Nobody made me go do an epic fail concert in Belgrade where I slurred and stumbled my way around a stage for the entire world to see.
In the end it was just me and my drugs. And in that lopsided battle, the drugs were going to win. And that’s what I had in common with Amy.
So why the drastically different outcomes? Why am I here and a great talent like Amy Winehouse is gone? Well here’s the answer, and it is one simple word. Willingness.
Somewhere along the way, after I stopped protesting and the fog started to lift, I realized that I wanted to be sober - that sobriety was a more favorable choice. Amy never got there. The familiar pain of active addiction won out over the unfamiliar pain of recovery. Her life was a process of moving from one fear to the next. Hers was a tormented soul that never had the chance to heal. She never got to willingness.

And the tragedy of that unwillingness is obvious, now.

We never got a comeback tour, we will never know how that soulful voice would have matured. Instead, the disease chalked up another victim.
Pete Townshend of The Who once stated in a documentary that rock and roll is like watching a house on fire - it is violent, oddly beautiful and captivating…until you realize that people are dying, that lives are being expended by the spectacle.
Amy Winehouse was just the latest sacrifice to that altar.
Her soul can now rest.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Tiger In A Tailspin

Remember a few scant years ago when Tiger Woods not only was the best golfer on the planet, but also the poster person for integrity?
Amazing what hitting a fire hydrant can do, eh?
Since that eventful night in November 2009, Tiger has completely unraveled. His personal life got mulched with the stories of raging infidelity surfacing. Next came the expected divorce. (As an aside, I don’t fault the guy for wanting to tap hot women and the occasional Perkins manager, but not while married) Next came the physical breakdown of his left knee which spread to his Achilles.
Deep breath here Tiger. Your hot Swedish wife divorced your cheatin’ ass and your personal temple, your body, was also telling you something - chill out.
But Tiger’s not wired that way. Play through the pain. After all, he won the 2008 US Open on one good leg. The personal life? None of your goddamn business. Soldier on. Next came a truly WTF moment as he switched swing coaches, from renowned Hank Haney to, uhhh…
Sean Foley?
Sean Freekin Foley. A guy whose name sent people scrambling to Google search to find out who the hell he was. Somewhere Butch Harmon had a good guffaw on that. The reason this choice was so confounding was that Foley changed Tiger’s swing to the ‘stack and tilt’ method which relies on having body weight pre-set on the left side at address and keeping it there throughout the swing. It is a simpler method of swinging that, in theory, creates more consistent shots. The main problem with stack and tilt is that it puts a lot of pressure on the left knee. And that’s if you got a good left knee. Tiger’s left knee has been operated on four times. And now he has a swing coach teaching him a method that stresses the weakest part of his body.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the Folly of Foley.
But the worst was yet to come. This week it was announced that Tiger fired his longtime caddy, Steve Williams. The man on his bag for 13 of his 14 major wins. The guy whose shoulder he sobbed like a baby on after winning the 2006 British Open, the first major win after Tiger’s father died. The guy that was Tiger’s on-course enforcer, a guy not afraid to confiscate cameras or go after hecklers.
So let’s add all this up. He lost his wife (personal life stabilizer), his swing coach (swing stabilizer), and now his caddy (crowd stabilizer). And all were choices he made; the best decisions he could arrive at. Which shows just how mentally lost he is. Three stabilizers, gone.
My take on all this is that Tiger lost his true stabilizer when his father died. Earl Woods told Tiger what to do and Tiger did it, no questions asked. So what he needs at this point is someone he can totally trust to make decisions for him. If he were in a 12-step program, such a person would be called a sponsor.
He is self-will run riot.
But that’s for the long haul. My immediate advice for Tiger, which I am positive he will not take, is shut it down. All of it. Not just for the remainder of the 2011 season, but 2012 as well. Do not even touch a club or look at a golf course for a year. Tour the world. Go bang some Thai babes. Climb a mountain. Swim with sharks. Refresh, relax, refocus. He needs to heal - mentally, physically, spiritually.
And find a sponsor. Get rid of the sycophants and yes men, and find someone that he will entrust with all his decisions that has the courage to tell him when he's screwing up. Let that person pick his caddy, his swing coach. Let that person tell him where to be and when, so all Tiger has to do is what he does - or used to do - better than anyone on the planet. Win golf tournaments.
Because it has become extremely evident that his best thinking is destroying him.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tea For None

Disclaimer: I’m going to get political.
One of the more compelling developments in recent politics is the rise of the Tea Party movement. Apparently this is a grass roots movement of fed-up, overtaxed individuals sick of government waste. Well, at least that’s how they describe themselves. Others would call them xenophobic, unrealistic whiners.
I prefer to call them posers.
Why? Simple. Their angst only started after the 2008 presidential election, when a guy they didn’t support - for whatever reasons up to and including his skin color - won. Realizing in this day and age that abject racism is not tolerated, they had to come up with a more creative way to show their disdain for a decision that an overwhelming majority of Americans made at the polling booth. Fifty-three percent of the popular vote and over 300 electoral votes be damned - they wanted their country back!
Well, there’s their first mistake. It was never taken from them. They simply got out-voted. As a result of this, their subsequent actions must be tempered by their denial of the basic bedrock fact of our country - the person with the most votes wins. Every time. Since 1776.
But this isn’t about that.
What this is about is their abject hypocrisy. To recap, they’re mad as hell over being over-taxed. Okay. So exactly what did Obama do to cause this anger? What taxes did he raise? Hey, my paycheck didn’t shrink after he was elected. In fact, Obama reduced taxes after taking office. So I basically do not understand their core premise.
Well actually I do. Because it is a smokescreen for their real issue.
Their next argument is runaway government spending. Okay. So where were they when Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq without raising the necessary taxes to fund those excursions? Or when he provided a giveaway to drug companies with an unfunded prescription drug program? Or when he took a budget surplus left to him from the Clinton Administration and turned it into a massive deficit? Where was their screaming then?
It didn’t exist. Because they didn’t exist. It was created after a guy they didn’t like won an election.
Look, I understand. Politicians spend money. But the key word there is politicians - not just Democrats. As close as I can tell the main difference between the parties is Democrats spend money they have and Republican spend money they don’t have. Disagree? Then re-read my paragraph above regarding what Bush spent money on that we didn’t have. And also explain how Clinton ended his term with a surplus. I can hear the comeback now - 'Obama spent a trillion that we didn't have on a stimulus package!' Well, true. Because he subscribes to the Keynesian theory of economics that states that investment in infrastructure employs people and spurs economic development. It was his way of getting the country ouf of the deep recession he found us in when he took office.
Now I do agree with the Tea Party’s contention that Washington spends too much money - it can and certainly should go on a fiscal diet. So with this basic understanding, the debate now shifts to what to cut. And that is an entirely separate discussion that I choose not to get into at this time. Just a teaser - defense spending needs to be on the table in that discussion.
But anyway. Back to the main point I am making here. The Tea Posers. This supposed altruistic group of patriots that thinks this country is going to hell in a hand basket. It is time to call them out for what they really are.
Sore losers. With a side of racism.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dude, seriously?

As many know, my career is public transit management. On the glamour scale it does not even register. But I like it and I am pretty good at what I do, which is providing vital transportation services for those that do not have the luxury of a personal vehicle or for those that choose not to drive. Believe it or not, there are many such people.
Which brings me to the biggest misconception of transit riders - that they’re nothing but a collection of ex-convicts, DUI offenders or societal misfits.
Not true.
I challenge anyone to ride any route in our system (LYNX in Orlando), and tell me who they see. For those unwilling or unable to do so, let me do the work for you. Over two-thirds of our riders use the bus for employment purposes. In other words, to get to & from work. Not the welfare office, not to see their probation officer. To get to work. The other one third? Tourists. Shoppers. And yes, some homeless people. Hey it gets ballz hot here, and sometimes they just want a few minutes of a/c.
Much of my career has been defending these misconceptions. Oftentimes we actually have to adjust service based on fear, not reality. And the biggest fear I hear is, transit brings criminals to neighborhoods. Well here’s a very eye-opening article that talks to this -
Let’s elaborate on this for a moment. There are actually people out there that think someone is going to hop off a bus, rob a store (or a home) and then stand at a bus stop awaiting the Number 43 bus as their getaway vehicle.
Hey, crooks can be stupid, but nobody’s that moronic.
I am not a shoplifter. Never stolen anything from a store in my life. But if I were to do it, Here’s how I would: First, I would get a four-door car with big windows. Second, I would get a driver. Third, I would have the car idling right outside the store’s entrance, driver behind the wheel while I snatched an armful of Armani suits off the rack, bolted for the door, dove into the back seat of the car & told the driver to haul ass.
I can assure you I wouldn’t go to the closest bus stop and wait.
Recently a group of homeowners petitioned me to have recently-installed bus stops removed from their area because it brought “those people” to their bucolic slice of Americana. They told me that ‘strange people’ were prowling their neighborhoods after the bus stops were installed. They insisted, recruited the help of their local city commissioner, and much like a Casey Anthony protester, got very loud with the insistence they were right. Well, they’re not. They are wrong. But they did end up winning their little battle. I had to remove the bus stop signs.
However, I could not help but to point out to them that felons drive cars too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Macho Golf

It is Saturday morning, July 16, and I am enjoying slowly waking up on my day off with a cuppa coffee and, for four days out of the year, the British Open on TV.

Due to the five-hour time difference, it is mid-afternoon there which for a golfer like me makes for delightful early morning viewing of relevant golf. By relevant I mean not Golf Channel pre-game chuckleheads waxing on about whether Sergio can overcome his yips but actually watching Sergio on the fifth green…where he just yipped a putt.

This year they are playing at Royal St. George’s on Britain’s southeast coast where my fellow Kent State alum Ben Curtis stunned the golfing world with his Open win in 2003. Yesterday it was sunny, 80 degrees. Players in short sleeves. Today the heavens have opened up and it is raining sideways with wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour.

Play suspended? Nope. Play on, gentlemen.

There are many differences between golf on this side of the pond and the brand played over where the game was invented. For example, what the Brits consider a beautiful golf course comes across our television screens as something from the far side of the moon. No trees, no discernable target lines…just a flat horizon. The only water hazard is the English Channel. The bunkers are more like bomb craters. Over here, we revere courses that have been primped and preened like a self-absorbed diva, where every blade of grass stands at attention. Over there, the condition of the course refers to whether the wind is coming out of the east or west and how much the flagstick is bending.

Over here, if you’re 140 yards from the hole it’s a stock 8-iron. Every time. Over there, it’s anything from a 3-iron to a putter. Over here, it’s an air game. There, it’s a ground game – a matter of judging which way the ball is going to carom. Apparently perfect shots end up in waist-high gorse. Butt-ugly shoulder-high semi-shanks can end up ten feet from the hole. It’s pinball-machine golf, and many Americans hate it.

I love it.

And the reason is, it taps into the side of the brain rarely used over here. The creative side. Over here it’s give me a yardage & the club that I hit that distance, period. Over there, there is far more sensory input needed to arrive at a decision. It’s thinking-man’s golf. Here, it’s grip ‘n rip. There, it’s aim at the church steeple in the distance that’s 45 degrees left of the fairway.

And the other main difference in the games on either side of the pond is the conditions they play in. As I mentioned, it is presently raining hard there, and I can assure you that play will not be suspended. To be fair, the main reason is they rarely have lightning over there, but I have seen play suspended over the threat of rain over here. In other words, play will be stopped before it even starts raining. No such softness over there.

Play on, gentlemen.

It bears noting that no American golfer has won a Major over the last year and a half. The last two U.S. Open champs have come from Northern Ireland. A South African won The Masters this year. Now, part of this is due to Tiger Woods being on the shelf, but I think there is something else going on. American golfers have turned into wussies. Case in point, I am watching Bubba Watson half-heartedly hitting shots out there with a ‘WTF am I doing here’ look on his face while Rory McIlroy has a determined, champion’s mien to him.

Hey Bubba, it’s raining on everyone out there.

Jack Nicklaus used to say that whenever he played a tournament and he heard someone complain about weather or conditions, he would mentally disqualify that person from winning. He reasoned that those players have already lost because they already made excuses. Winners don’t complain. Winners don’t make excuses. They accept, and then they excel. And the British Open is a textbook example of this mindset, which would explain why Jack’s name is on the Claret Jug...three times.

Play on, gentlemen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Youngest Student

I decided Sunday morning to go hit some golf balls before the blast furnace that is Orlando’s summer hit full force. It gets Africa hot here in the summer, and if you try to do anything outdoors in the afternoons you’re basically a masochist or have a real twisted idea what fun is.
So I get to the driving range at 8:30 in the morning. By then it was ‘only’ 85 degrees. Still bearable. I get my bucket and head over to the range and start warming up. About halfway through the bucket I look up and here comes a young family - mom and dad, with two young children in tow. The boy was about eight and the little girl couldn’t have been more than three. Each had their own sets of clubs. And I gotta say, being a golfer, nothing is cuter to me than a little kid with their own set of teeny-tiny golf clubs.
But anyway. Just to the right of me were three open spots, and of course, this is where the family decides to set up shop. Mom was at the station closest to me, dad was furthest away, and they put the two kids between them, both hitting out of the same station.
I could see the disaster unfolding.
The boy was flailing away, sending balls in every direction. The little girl was trying to figure out which end of the club to hold. The parents were semi-oblivious to their plight, as they were hitting their own shots. Their attitude seemed to be, every man for themselves. You kids play nice.
Yeah right. I have older siblings. We never played nice.
Not five minutes later, the crying started. It was the little girl. Apparently her older brother hit her with one of his shots, or his club or something, because she was not happy. Out came the ‘Ahhhhhh…..’ followed by that interminable pause that kids have in order to build up to a big explosive cry. Bam - “He hit me…I don’t WANNA pway goff no more!”
Mom shepherded the little girl away from the firing line and I could hear her - “Amelia, honey, you have to be quiet - other people (meaning me) are trying to hit their shots.” Yeah, like she cared - “I don’t WANNA PWAY GOFF NO MOOOOOORE! WAHHHHHHHH”
This had to stop. So I made eye contact with the mom with a ‘Do you mind if I help?’ look. Mom, who was looking for any kind of help, because dad was not going to be bothered, gave me that look that you usually see from people who accidentally fall into a lake; that ‘For the love of God throw me a rope’ look.
So I said ‘Hey Amelia, come over here.’ She shuffled over, head down & sniffling. I then did what her parents should have done in the first place - I teed up a ball for her. Her parents let her fend for herself and she was trying to hit balls off the ground. Lemme tell you, I have trouble hitting balls off the ground, and I’m not three years old with a cantankerous brother behind my back swinging crazily with the realization that at any moment I could be impaled.
So I teed up a ball for her and I told her to swing real hard at it. She did. It went about 50 feet. And she turned to me with this surprised look on her face, as in, did I just do that? I teed up another. Again, she hit it a little further than the first one. Now she was smiling. “I wanna do it ‘gin.” Well, she did id it ‘gin. And ‘gin and ‘gin. Now she was laughing. I looked at the mom. She shot me a ‘ohmygod…thank you’ look.
My pleasure. Because here’s the thing. Yes, I was trying to help out the situation, but there were selfish motives. I was not going to have any peace in order to resume my practice until we resolved The Amelia Situation. Well I was able to, and a few minutes later the family was done with their attempt at Bonding Through The Driving Range experience. As they were walking away, I yelled out, ‘Hey Amelia’…she turned around and I said ‘Bye Bye.’ She gave me a smile and a wave and said ‘Bye Bye.’
So if 20 years from now, an LPGA rookie named Amelia wins a tournament, I hope she thanks me.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Of Doors And Windows

I know my blog does not have a ton of readers. But notwithstanding, I try to stay away from intimate details of my life for fear of some learning more about me than I wish. However, I am in an expansive mood. A good mood. As my sponsor says, enjoy it while it lasts.
Yes. My sponsor.
I made a decision a couple of months back to re-commit myself to a 12-step program of recovery. Nothing catastrophic caused this decision (thankfully), I was just seeing my life unfolding in a way I did not like. So I felt changes were in order. I have some experience in these programs, and I recalled that when I was active in them my life seemed more enjoyable. So deductive reasoning said well gosh Jer, why don’t you do that again?
To set the table, I was engaging in some behavior that would not result in good ends (vagueness intentional). I was also going through a breakup with my now ex-girlfriend that was causing some emotional pain, which I was trying to dull with alcohol. The net result was I was a walking zombie - emotionally and physically compromised. And spiritually bereft.
So changes were in order.
There is a saying - When God closes a door He opens a window. I can sit here and tell you this is an utter and total fact. Definitely in my case, as certain ‘doors’ of my life closed, hopefully for good. And others have opened. And now I will tell you about that.
I have a new, dear friend. We both walked into the rooms the same day. She left her life in another Florida town where alcohol compromised her designs of a happy life. She had it all planned out - a career job, a great relationship. Marriage, a home by the sea, children awaited her. In short time she lost her job and found herself shepherded by her parents back here in Orlando. When I met her she was depressed, and rightfully so. Her plans got mulched, or at the very least, put on hold. Her future seemed uncertain and frightening to her.
Well, so did mine. So we had that, among other things, in common.
We now attend meetings together. We sit together. We talk. And I am in the enviable position of watching someone besides myself, grow. She smiles a lot now, and it is a beautiful smile. She talks less about what she has lost and more about what life has in store for her. She has, just like me, seen God close a door and open a window.
A wonderful aspect of recovery is, over time, we concern ourselves less with our own little grand designs and become more interested in others. We become less selfish. And through this transformation, we become happy, because we are happy for others. So I am happy for me, but more importantly, I am happy for her.

A couple months back I wrote a story entitled 'Let's Talk About Me', which was, in retrospect, me on a self-pity kick. I lamented about how I could not make relationships work. Well now I am starting to understand why. And it is with this newfound perspective coupled with an un-fogged mind, that I find myself often tearing up. Tears of gratitude. Good tears. And it is through this new, gratitude tears-induced prism, that I can see the wonderful things that await me and others.
I am enjoying the moment. But even more cool than that, I can't wait until tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What I Think

Look, I understand. Given the saturation of so-called experts, wall-to-wall media coverage, and the high emotions involved with a mother accused of killing her daughter, what I believe hardly matters.
But I got a blog. So I will weigh in on my thoughts on the Casey Anthony verdict.
For the past three years, I was itching for this trial to start. All information pointed to the fact that Casey was looney tunes, to the point that she would actually kill her daughter just so she could party like a porn star. Everything I heard leading up to the trial had me convinced that she was not a person worthy of inhabiting the planet I walk around on. I wanted her tried, convicted & fried.
So the trial started, and I was anxious to see the evidence that tied her to the murder. When Baez threw out the ‘drowned in a pool by accident’ defense, I was even more convinced that she was guilty. Drown in a pool? Then the death unreported for 31 days? What kind of sick family is this? Oh, she’s going down, I thought.
So again. I awaited the evidence that conclusively tied her to the crime. And I waited some more. I heard about duct tape with no DNA. Searches on the computer for chloroform. A car trunk that smell of death. Casey’s tattoo. Pics of her partying. A sum total of evidence that would make an ordinary Joe conclude, yup, she did it.
But that’s not how our system works.
To convict someone of murder the burden of proof has to be inarguable. There has to be no reasonable doubt. That is why circumstantial evidence does not work. That duct tape had to have Casey’s DNA on it. That car trunk had to have verifiable proof that Caylee was in there, dead. The prosecution could never prove those things. Defense argued that masterfully, understanding all along that Prosecution could not exceed the bar of reasonable doubt.
After closing arguments were made, I predicted she would be acquitted. Therefore it was no surprise when she was. Others were shocked and understandably so, but they were going off of emotion based on what they wanted to see happen, not what was presented, and not with an understanding of what is required to convict someone of murder. Reasonable doubt was established. It was entirely possible she died in the swimming pool because the state could not prove otherwise.
In the end, this is our judicial system. One that goes to painstaking lengths to ensure innocent people are not punished. In order for this to occur, oftentimes guilty people are freed. And this is the way it should be. We already incarcerate people in this country at a rate six times higher than China. If our judicial pendulum swung in favor of circumstantial evidence being the barometer for conviction, that rate would be even higher.
And if that were the case, the only growth industry left in this country would be prison construction.
So in the end, the system worked exactly as it should have. If you are one of those that did not like the verdict, then you are essentially saying you do not like the method in which we determine guilt in our courtrooms. And that's fine, but just understand that.

I think she did it. I think she killed her daughter so she could live the partying lifestyle. But what I think does not matter. My opinions, thankfully, are not admissible in a court of law.

And I am thankful that yours aren't either.