My friend, Alex, had been drinking full time in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We used to call him baloney turntable because there was a warped round of sun-cured baloney on his turntable. Everything in his apartment was at crawl level, the mattress, loads of to-go bags and empty pizza boxes, and pictures he’d ripped from hardcore-and-industrial music magazines to tape to the wall. His drinking progressed until his family put him on a one-way flight to a long-term rehab in Boulder, Colorado. That’s when he started calling me and leaving me these incendiary voicemails. Why I felt the need to transcribe and make audio renditions of them I still don’t know, except for finding them utterly compelling.
These are standing-before-a-wall-of-fire voicemails. Rants at the edge of sanity, or is it the other way around. They are dire requests for help, which I did my best to do by listening. Sometimes astounded by the rage of the storm from which he was shouting from, at time finding the things he’d say funny, calling the people around him “chattering hippos” or “rehab people”. But there too is the horrifying sadness of it all, the us-versus-them mentality, which can be such a lonely place, which I often imagined for Alex as a windowless concrete room in his head.
We haven’t talked for a couple of years now. When we last spoke I got the sense he was doing better, holding down a job, and staying sober. One thing I recall about those last few conversations we had was that he didn’t sound like he was going to literally explode.
I think the years he’d been working part-time, during rehab and after, for a seamstress making meditation cushions was gently leading him toward the path of serenity. If that’s where he’s still headed, I’m all for it.
But he didn’t get there without a struggle. These are some of those growing pains.