Sears Tower experiencing a blackout due to a massive basement flood after a heavy rain.

I was a couple blocks away from the Sears Tower on 911. Even though they said there was a threat and we could go home, I didn’t have anyone to go home to and I could see from the floor I was on that I wasn’t getting anywhere in that traffic jam. So, I smoked a cigar down on the street in front of the building. It was a ghost town…except for a funereal procession of taxis from the airports with nowhere to go. Luckily, the Sears Tower still stands. But since that day, being the sentimental Pisces that I am, when I look up at the building I see it through the eyes of a kid who when it came into view was because I was on my way to do something cool. Going to the McVickers for Kung Fu Flicks, the arcade at the Greyhound bus station, Ronny’s Steak house, the Kool Jazz festival, and so on… Seeing it like this sends a melancholy chill thru my soul knowing that, like New Yorkers, this could be just the memory on the back of mind seeing a building that is no longer there.

I don’t have a drinking problem. I drink just fine, thank you. My problem is that I think that drinking is the cause and solution to most of my problems, only not at the same time. Whenever things go wrong, I find a nice neat glass of whiskey makes it more palatable. Unfortunately, when I look in the mirror, at my bank account or lack of progress in my life, I tend to think that maybe if I drank less those things would get better. Realistically, I’ve found that it just doesn’t work that way.

Every day I try to get off on the rough dry ground. Get off the Merry-Go-Round, the Carousel, or the Bandwagon…but because those things are fun, all my life it’s been much easier to take a ride or wait until someone tells you to get off, you fall off or the ride ends. And in some very dark place, you would much rather ride until it ends, once and for all.

I got to this place quite honestly thru no fault of anyone but myself. I can’t blame it on any particular family member, they all drank just not to any debilitating degree. Can’t blame peer pressure. Hell, I outdrink most of them and still was the most dependable designated driver. And, I really don’t see it as a disease, so much as just one of the defining aspects of who I am. So, in order to change it would be to severely alter my very DNA…or that’s at least how it seems.

I remember everything about how it started.

Holidays weren’t quite complete until my sisters and I could have a little glass of Mogen David Concord grape wine to celebrate the occasion. Football Sundays with Pops were made that much more special when I could sip on one-sixth of his ration of Old-Style beers for the Bears. Staying up late and crashing my Mom’s after-set with her Jazz buds weren’t complete until someone dared me to take a sip of whatever brown liquor, they thought would do the trick to put my lil’ ass to sleep. What usually ended up happening was them grabbing their drink back before I downed it and me doing my best Richard Pryor impersonation from beneath a ski mask as to hide my true identity and allow for the words I was using in my Mother’s presence.

The Granny’s helped a bit too. One time, Pop’s Mom was cooking something on the stove for hours and my 2 cousins and I bugged her all day about the contents. Turns out she, a Cherokee descendant, was making tomato whiskey or moonshine. After she was done late in the evening, she got 3 shot glasses and poured each of us a taste. My cousins cringed at the taste and fell asleep within minutes, but Granma Ruth and I stayed up listening to Al Green 8 tracks and finishing off a nice amount of her new brew. She also drank Old Grand Dad 100, but she wouldn’t start to share that until I was much older, like 12. My other Granny and her live-in daughter, my Aunt Jean, made wine in a large plastic garbage can bought for that specific reason, but again, they didn’t allow for much consuming unless it was tied to a holiday.

In the local neighborhood, I had my share of being bullied by the “older boys” and didn’t really find common ground until the one night of “The Bet”. Hanging out on the porch of my next-door neighbor and his band of 15-16-year-old buds, a few “40 oz” bottles were procured. I had a couple dollars and when I asked to partake, I was told, of course, that I wasn’t Man enough to handle it. So, I bet that I could chug the whole damn bottle which was met with a bet of $1 and a ten second limit. I did it in 7 and used the extra loot to put in for the next liquor run. My status went up a bit, and from then on, I would often be included in any future drinking sessions.

My 4-foot 11 mother was a Jazz booking agent and I, all of 6’2” at 13, spent many weekends helping her carry promo material and hanging at the club while her musicians played. In that time, I met the owners, musicians, bouncers and everyone in-between. By me being so much taller than my mother and introduced as simply her son, nobody questioned my age and when offered drinks, I took them and drank them with the experience of someone who had been drinking for years, as I had by that time.

Now, it was my godbrother, a gay friend of the family that helped me take it to another level. On my 16th birthday, I suited up and joined him and his crew for a night of clubbing. We started the night with my first Giordano’s stuffed pizza, which I credit with helping me soak up the alcohol of my first and, by no means, last Long Island Iced Tea of the night. Sitting on a stool at the Bijan on State St., I was drinking a Screwdriver I’d had for years up late with Mom and her jazz albums. One of the crew had a tall drink with a lemon wedged on top. “Hey, what kind of drink is that?”, I asked. “Oh, you couldn’t handle this” was the response. Challenge accepted I took his drink, finished it and proceeded to have 2 more for the start of a legendary pub crawl. The 5-liquor drink immediately became my favorite and helped usher in a new, higher tolerance than had previously been held. That night also made me realize that the right clothes and attitude can get you in almost anywhere.

I still hung out during high school with my friends at house parties and House parties at local schools and venues. But it was just as likely that you would see me wearing a sportscoat and spending my hard-earned fast food and telemarketing money at Jazz joints like The Other Place, Chic Rick’s, and The New Apartment Lounge. It was also during this time that I found that I couldn’t take the hypocrisy of my Mom’s helping to end my childhood but wanting me to stay in a child’s place when it was convenient for her. Then it was my Pop’s bullying and asshole way of trying to make me feel less-than up to that night when he found that punch, he threw to my chest didn’t move me but ended in me moving in with my Granny. And finally, me moving to my own one-room apt because Granny’s curfew of 10pm was just about the time that the band would be starting their 2nd set at the club.

I have an idea how I was perceived in school because, well, I was there and present for most of the feedback. But most of my classmates have no idea that by the time I was a senior, I was dating women who were twice my age and may have been somebody’s mother that they knew. I’m not bragging about any of this, but it’s just a fact of my life that when presented with the quandary of who to take to my prom, I chose the youngest lady I was dating at the time, a junior from Columbia College.

Just to skip ahead a bit and wrap-up this sharing session, I’ll just say that drinking has been a part of life for as long as I can remember. I imagine for some people it’s easier to remember me because when they think of DJ, they probably think Jack Daniel’s and then JD and then “Oh yeah, DJ!” Like I said to start, that liquid I.D. or id to be more precise is nobody’s doing but my own. They say you shouldn’t have regrets because good or bad, your life has made you who you are and it’s up to you moving forward to make any changes you feel you need to make the most of the rest of it.

That sounds good and all. But for me, I just want to be happy. Do I want to look in the mirror and like what I see? Sure. Would that make me happy? Probably. But I’ve never been a “gym rat”, and would it make me happy to do it? Probably not. But who knows? Would I have more money in my bank account if I didn’t drink so often? Sure. But then what am I saving it for? Travel? Do the drinks taste better there? Would I get more accomplished if I were sober more often? No doubt. But for who? At this time in my life, I no longer have any contact with any of my relatives. I have no kids. My best friend is 2,000 miles away and, of the friends I have that are close by, we haven’t been close. And as far as a HER, well let’s just say that I let Her go 25 years ago and my attempts at a replacement have been laughable, at best. Also, my fault.

I don’t want pity and I don’t want prayers. I’m not that dude. What I would like is for those who have met me to have some sort of understanding as to the Why’s. I will continue for whatever and wherever this path will take me. And who knows, maybe I’ll even “do some good” before it’s all said and done. But I have no illusions that my dreams have, for the most part, been deferred and mostly because of my fears, complacency and procrastinations. I’ll have to live and die with that. But in the meantime, I’ll probably just drink to it and try to smile while I do.

© D Jay Collins and Thoughts Of Sonny P, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to D Jay Collins and Thoughts Of Sonny P, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I was born a poor black child. The beginning of this story and one of the funniest lines of a movie…ever. But, then again…that’s not quite accurate, the story part.

When I was born, I didn’t know how rich I was at the time. In March of ’68, I had a Mom, Dad, 2 1/2 sisters and all of my grandparents. I can remember images in my mind as far back as 2 years old living on the West side of Chicago. It was 15th & Ashland in what were called row houses. Row houses are a long set of 2 story houses side by side, usually brick, with no space in-between. The front doors of neighboring houses are paired together with a shared one step concrete porch.

There was a high-rise project on the corner with two very cute twins somewhere upstairs, a store down the street next to a big church, a preschool at the end of our houses with a fenced-in playground and Ms. Jesse living somewhere in the middle. More about Ms. Jesse later.

I also remember an incinerator next to the parking lot. Probably from being warned to stay away from it many times. Parked in front of our door was my mother’s white 1968 Ford Mustang hardtop as well as my father’s blue drop-top 1968 Ford Mustang…sometimes.

I say sometimes because from what I was told my parents separated 3 months before I was born. I was told many things about before I was born, but more about that later.

I mean rich because when you’re born you have the whole world and the rest of your life to do whatever it is you were put here to do. Now for everyone, that means something different. I think that’s the best part of life. Choices…if given the chance to make them. Some know when they’re able to put a thought together, some when an instrument of some kind gets put in their hands, and some figure it out along the way. Alas, some don’t live long enough to figure it out.

But, since this is my story…let’s stick with me. I can say that I’ve had more than my fair share of time, talent and opportunity to do…something. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done many things so far. Nothing that would garner much attention, but a lot of experiences along the way.

Wasted Talent. These words were uttered in the movie A Bronx Tale. However, I’m sure it wasn’t the first time they were spoken…and it won’t be the last. If things don’t change for me…if I can’t somehow find a way to change, they might be spoken over me someday.

Probably. If there’s anyone left in my life to say them.

Which brings me to the Coward title. Thus far, I haven’t made any progress towards much of anything. Some of it due to lack of support, some of it life events and some of it just Murphy’s Law. But, mostly just due to fear. Fear of failure, fear of success and just…fear.

I am a Coward.

I watch a lot of TV. It used to be my best friend growing up. When you have 3 older sisters by almost 10 years and you’re different from the other kids…you find a surrogate. TV, movies, music, and books were my friends.

Different meaning a kid with test scores 3-4 years higher than his grade.

Different meaning a pudgy, light-skinned kid with fine curly hair.

Different meaning a pacifist who believed there was good in all men.

But the boys in the neighborhood were more interested in beating me up…and the girls just weren’t interested.

So, I chilled with my friends.

Then, I started high school. There on the very 1st day searching for my division room, I met my best friend, my boy…my brother.

Fast forward 40 years and a lot of Jack Daniels & cigars later…he’s my soulmate. I thought for a few minutes about how I would say that so it would sound less gay. Love him…but don’t love him, ya dig.

But, the truth of the matter is if anything happened to him…

How close am I to crazy?

Without going into what would turn out to be a separate novel, I haven’t done a good job with my life. Not crackhead terrible, but more like Bronx Tale “Wasted Talent” bad.

I think I may be manic depressive, almost certain actually…but, I’m not going out like Tyson with the lithium. There are some pretty clear signs though. I relate not only to Jimi’s “Manic Depression”, but Gnarl’s “Crazy” as well. I see myself in Tony Shalhoub’s “Monk”, Robin William’s “Fisher King”. There was a mentally ill character on TV today describing the 1st time he realized he was crazy. It was very clear to him.

There is something very clear to me. I am trying to find some sense of belonging in this world, a purpose…joy.

And, the only thing that really does that at the moment…solid for decades, is my friendship with my boy. So, I know…if anything happens to him…that’s the day I go crazy.

I don’t believe I’m a naturally weak person. On the contrary, I think I’m one of the strongest people on this earth. Because a weak person just goes with the flow, does what is expected of them. A strong person tends to stand alone…for better or for worse.

Let’s just say I’ve been a bit too strong-willed for my own good. I’ve made every excuse for not being successful…at life. But the one true reason is this…I’m a coward.

Looking back at my life, (as I do on all too frequent occasions) there have been many instances where I should have done…something different, something more, just…something. See happiness comes and goes, depending on the events of the day. Joy for me is something that gets you thru those other times. For a lot of people, it’s faith, religion or spirituality. I’ve never quite felt connected to that world. Tried it, didn’t stick.

I’m a hopeless romantic. I let go of a woman years ago that might have been The One. However, if that is truly the case then I might as well go now. Cause what’s the point…you know. But, more and more lately, I’m finally starting to feel like there’s still a chance. Hope. And for me, the thing that’s going to give me that joy is getting myself together to a point where I’m feeling good about me, so I can share that with someone else.

But this is no easy feat. That’s where the strength comes in. I haven’t given up. Well, let me clarify. I almost gave up. For the last decade, I haven’t been trying…much. I’ve let things get out of hand. And now that I’m ready to dig my way out and try again, I’ve got some work to do. I never watch reality shows. Detest them. So, I have no intention of using this book as any kind of vessel other than trying to regain some of my sanity.

And for that…I’ve got to write. Put it down and get it out my system…off my mind. ‘Cause I can’t tell you how many nights when I should be sleeping, I’m lying there awake. Replaying my life thru my mind. It doesn’t help.

So, this will be my solace…my therapy…my confessional. Amen.

If you didn’t have the pleasure of watching Firefly, the series, when it was originally broadcast…you missed something…great.

I never got caught up in Joss Whedon’s Buffy…but I might catch up one day. As can you, thru the wonder of Netflix. Beautiful thing. Watch Firefly the series, then see the movie, Serenity. Now here was a cast that you couldn’t help but get caught up in and love. As the credits flowed, I couldn’t help but think about true heroes…the real soldiers of the world.

Artists.

Now before the “patriotic” of you get your camouflage panties twisted in a knot, understand that I respect and appreciate the men and women that put their lives on the line to protect their respective countries. I couldn’t do it. But that’s because I’m not designed that way. You know, the whole lover not a fighter thing.

But while wars, battle, and conflict “save” lives while killing others, artists… the best of them (and the one-hit wonders as well) create works that inspire life…for generations to come.

Artists make life worth living. No matter what a person does in life, what their agenda is or their beliefs…there is some piece of music, a movie, a book, a painting…hell even a comedy sketch that inspires them. I mean even the Bible is a literary work. (Yeah I said it!) No, I’m not trying to piss anyone off. Just making a point.

The Bible is perhaps the most enduring and inspiring work, and like all writing has been open to never-ending interpretation, scrutiny, and adulation. If you are a person of faith, then for you the Bible is Non-fiction. It’s in fact…factual. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s a book. Written by writers…artists (I know, writing the gospel). My point is that we as a people…humanity, we need to be inspired to make life worth living. And that’s what makes the lack of support for art/music/theatre in schools so infuriating.

Ok, let me drive it back home. My entire life has been driven by art. And, I’m guilty of not pursuing any aspects of the crafts in which I truly have raw talent. If not outright skills. But, I just want to acknowledge the many true soldiers that fight on the frontlines every day, putting their lives and livelihood on the line for their art, their craft and our spirits.

So, RIP General Richard Pryor, Major Prince Rogers Nelson, Sargeant Langston Hughes…and all the patriots that came before.

I also love the movie “Dan In Real Life”. Perfect movie. Start to finish, not a bad note in it. And, Juliette Binoche! That said, it made me think re: my own life or lack thereof. Dan is a widower with 3 girls who aside from them (and his newspaper column) doesn’t really have one either. Now Dan has an excuse, he lost his wife 4 years earlier.

Sans the girls and the writing career, I feel his pain.

No, I didn’t lose a wife or fiance for that matter to death, but sometimes it feels like it. As far as inclusion in my life, she might as well have. The fault being mine, of course. I’ve never written about her in detail, at least not publicly, but if you asked me the wrong question…like “Why aren’t you married?”, or “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?”, or even “How are you today?”…you might have heard of her.

I was in my early 20’s, never had a girlfriend (just dating and “hooking up”) and was just doing the slacker thing. You know, partying, drinking, hard-headed, working but not paying bills and just…kickin’ it.

A friend invited me to his birthday party at Sarah J’s on 75th St in Chicago. Ahhh, Sarah J’s! This joint had female oil wrestling MC’d by Chicago’s very own (RIP) Tornado aka Big Daddy Woo Woo! LOL! This, however, was just a birthday party. I was a lil’ husky at the time. And in trying to find something to wear, I picked the only clean pants I had in the closet. A tad bit tight, I might add. But, they would work to get me thru the night.

The party was, as we say, off the hook or the chain…if you will. This particular buddy was a popular guy with both sexes, so there were plenty of choices for everyone. Myself? I was just having fun dancing, drinking and overall just being my regular life of the party self. At some point in the evening, I noticed a table full of women. One woman at the table caught my eye…

And, she was sitting with her whole crew. But, I didn’t care. She had this smile, a glow…beautiful. If I remember correctly I kneeled next to her and asked her to dance. And, I think I sang a bit of Luther to her. Well, she agreed to the dance. There was house music on at the time. We got up and walked to the floor.

Once we got there, the D.J. changed to a slow song. As a matter of fact, it might have been “Play another slow jam”. Me, trying to be considerate and realizing not only was I sweaty, but she didn’t know me…asked if she wanted to wait ’til the music changed.

She smiled and said “No, I’m fine”, at least that’s what I remember in my mind.

“And, we danced and fell in love….on a slow jam”.

Literally.

I think I was 26 at the time. I’ve watched many movies in my time. But, it was exactly as advertised. I looked into her eyes. I touched her hand. And, I had never felt that way about a woman…ever. Now, I don’t mean attracted or wanting to be with her. I mean Sleepless In Seattle magic.

We slow danced and rocked back and forth to several songs. I’m sure we danced to faster songs later in the night as well. But, from that moment forward, it was us the rest of the night.

At the end of the party, with the lights coming on and everyone getting ready to go, I suggested to her and the crew to head over to Izola’s to get something to eat. They agreed and we went. Upon sitting at the table, next to one another…smiling and laughing at lil’ jokes here and there. She and I held and caressed each other’s hand under the table.

Later, we exchanged info and departed. The very next day, early the next day…I called. I had to see her. I drove to her house to pick her up and met her Mom’s. After talking a bit, we left. But I don’t think we left. I don’t remember ever driving away. And, maybe it’s just selective memory. We may have gone to a movie or had dinner or something. But I don’t think so. No, I’m almost sure we got in the car. Looked at each other…and started making out right then and there. In front of Mom’s house. For a long time. I remember the windows being very foggy.

So, that’s how it started. From then on it was a blur of love and happiness.

We had picnics on the beach. Very nice picnics in secluded spots. Dinners, movies, and death-defying sexually acrobatic car rides back to her house on the Chicago Skyway. Did I mention I’m an excellent driver? We even had a different kind of bump in the road down the line.

I was a club manager in Chicago and one night she wasn’t so sure I was going to be alone and concentrating on work that particular night. So, she showed up, on a school night for her, just to make sure. I was surprised to see her but very pleasantly so. She explained later on that she had tapped my voicemail and heard a female friend confirming she would be coming that night. To her surprise, my friend and her boyfriend showed up while she was there and thanked me for getting them in and comping the door.

I was pissed. I couldn’t understand why she felt the need to spy like that. And, I broke up with her. Not for long, however. She had a guy friend that made sure to invite me to his birthday party where she would be.

I guess I understood later why she may have done what she did. She once asked me if I trusted her. I said yes. She asked if I knew she would never cheat on me. I said no. I said in my experience it’s impossible to know what someone would do under certain circumstances at a particular moment with a select individual. Mainly due to the fact of me being “The Other Man” for most of my life.

I guess I really didn’t give her the answer she was looking for, but I was being honest.

The truth is I hadn’t had many examples of a monogamous relationship in my life. My parents were separated 3 months before I was born. And, I had a wealth of Pop’s friends and play Uncle’s to know that sometimes…it’s complicated.

But, I loved this woman. And, I wouldn’t and didn’t cheat on her. I was happy.

Unfortunately, life had other plans.

Both of my grandmother’s passed in ’95. Not only that but I was dealing with drama with the family and just trying to figure out what to do. And, here was a woman who knew what she wanted to be early on in life…and did it. She was a nurse. And, not just any nurse, but a Hospice nurse. That means she cares for terminal patients. She cares for you ’til you’re gone. Like I said, a beautiful woman.

And, at that time in my life not knowing what I wanted to be or do, I thought it unfair to hold on to a woman who knew exactly what she wanted. Marriage, kids, her career…and love.

And, in my infinite wisdom, I told her that I thought she deserved better. She deserves someone who was all grown-up and could start giving her those things without hesitation. And, she fought it. For a while. She didn’t want to let me go.

But I was strong. Ha. Yep. Stuck to my guns and let go the best thing that has ever happened to me bar none. Because I loved her enough to give her the very best. Not me.

And I know it’ll haunt me for the rest of my life.

Not regret. No. I made the right decision for her. She got married and pregnant a year later. She married the brother of her best friend. And I couldn’t be happier…for her.

But, after having the opportunity to be with someone like Jack says “Makes you want to be a better man”, how can you settle for someone that looks at you like “why can’t you be a better man?” before they even get to know you.

So, I stopped. Dating that is.

I can’t deal with it. I guess I am the coward that I confess to being. But, I’ve had loss in life. Too much. And, at this point, I’m more content to not letting anyone even get close enough to even matter.

Yes, I’m personable, a charmer…and I might even get a lil’ sumthin’ sumthin’ every so often. But, trust me, relationship status it’s not.

I’ve even gone so far as to cut family and most friends out of the picture. I’m tired. Joy and pain are definitely 2 sides of the same coin. To me it’s more if you don’t play, you can’t win…or lose.

I know that’s not entirely true or actually living…life.

But, I did mention the coward part, right?

© D Jay Collins and Thoughts Of Sonny P, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to D Jay Collins and Thoughts Of Sonny P, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.