Monday, June 17, 2013

Swimming in Books, Donnie Back Pain, and Foggy Benders

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Four weeks. Excruciating pain.

I threw out my back a month ago. One of my childhood heroes -- Don "Donnie Baseball" Mattingly -- was plagued with back problems. His career ended prematurely. Long before Mattingly became head skipper of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was one of the best first basemen in all of baseball during the 80s, but he was plagued with a bum back. With modern sports-medicine technology, he might have squeezed out a couple of more seasons and posted enough statistics that would warrant a nod to the Hall of Fame. Alas, Mattingly currently holds the dubious distinction of being the best player in pinstipes to never make the Hall of Fame. Then again, if fucking Scooter Rizzuto is in Cooperstown, then maybe in a couple of decades Mattingly's peers will vote him in?

Long month dealing with Mattingly-esque back woes. The shortcut is eating a jar of pain pills, but I am gutting it out with the long-term plan of bed rest. That non-narcotic gameplan put a damper on freelance work. I don't have a 9-to-5 office gig that I can hide out in, nor do I have paid sick days. If I don't write, then I don't get paid. Instead of doubling up (or tripling up) with freelance work which I originally intended so I could take off 4-week vacation to travel and follow Phish, I was forced to strip down my schedule down and focus on essential work. The rest of my down time was spent in bed reading books and resting my back. The extra money is not flowing in, but I can't complain because I enjoy reading. I always secretly wanted to be inflicted by a strange disease (non-deadly) that requires a lengthy period of bed rest so I could finally be able to make a dent in the massive pile of books I started to read, yet never finished. Plus, I binge-watched the new season of Arrested Development and have a long, winding queue of 20-30 different documentaries, plus hundreds of hours of unlistened podcasts.

I'm addicted to writing, the one solitary activity that causes me the most pleasure, but at the present moment, it also causes me the most physical pain. Every morning I have to strategically figure out when I'll be in the best shape to write and then I have to dedicate that time to any freelance work, which take priority. But sometimes that's like trying to hit a moving target. I have a small window of time to write every day. I actually have two windows -- one large and one tiny. The first window is as soon as I get up and before my back starts to stiffen up. At that point I wait until I'm nearly crying from pain before I end the session and crawl back into bed and take whatever I need to ease the pain mostly anti-inflammatory meds which is not very strong. I save the harder stuff for nighttime so I can sleep. I spend a few hours resting up and then I take a short walk around the block to see if I can gut out another writing session. But those late-afternoon sessions are shorter and I never know how long I can last.

When I don't get to finish what I wanted to do (I'm waaaaay behind in multiple projects), it puts me in a foul mood. If I don't create something, then I feel utterly worthless and then the day is wasted. I tried to fill in some of that idle time with painting (I'm on a minimalist kick), but I can only really paint standing up which doesn't  put a lot of strain on my back. Sometimes during the afternoon writing sessions, I work while standing up at a makeshift desk. If you spend a lot of time at major poker tournaments, you'll see pros with habitual back problems getting massages for hours at a time. It's almost got to a point when I need someone to give me massages while I write.

Maybe it's time to pull a Kramer and get an "intern" like he did for Kramerica? I'm sure there has to be an over-achiever at UCLA who wants to get credit working for a writer and part-time sportsbettor. I can dictate stuff and get that kid to write it up for me. Or better yet, I'd probably be sending him out to In & Out Burger or the local weed store everyday.

Sometimes I feel better later in the evening after dinner and a very small dose of pain pills. If I can squeeze in a rare third writing session, I'm all for it because it puts me in a good mood. Several downsides to the Midnight sessions: 1) those opportunities are rare (like once or twice a week), 2) the window is incredibly small, and 3) I'm heavily inebriated so I can't do work-related things, so I'm usually dicking around here or on other blogs that I have neglected.

Based on the current circumstances, I gladly take what I can get. Three smaller writing sessions are better than none. Pre-back woes, I completed the same amount of work in a single day that is currently taking me a week to do. Yikes. Productivity reduced by 85%. Yeah, I try not to think about that math side of having a bad back, because the lack of productivity is very depressing. One project is way past due and I have three looming deadlines screaming and haunting at me right now.

Oh, well. This is what my 40s is going to look like. It's only going to get worse. Even surgery isn't a guarantee. I'm trying to figure out ways around this. "Adapt and overcome when faced with adversity", is something my old man drilled into my head. I know my back troubles will eventually alleviate but I'm getting a glimpse of what my writing sessions will be like a decade or two decades from now if I can make it that long.

I got a second chance at life, so this is all gravy. That's why you can't sweat the small stuff and have to find quick solutions to problems and keep moving forward instead of bitching about a bad beat. "Injury is opportunity," Pat Riley once said when he was coach of the Lakers. Injuries gave scrubs a chance to get playing time. My attitude is simple -- it sucks about the back, but I need to look at the positives like the opportunity to read for several hours every day, listen to podcasts, and even finish a few paintings. I got lucky and found some really fucking great (non-gambling) podcasts that I never had the time to listen to before.

Time allocation can be a bitch. I lost a ton of valuable work time, but I'm filling in the rest time with another favorite pastime -- books. Thank God we don't have a cable box in the bedroom, otherwise I'd be zoning out to the boob tube.

Of course, this problem could all be solved if I ate painkillers and blazed my way through this rough patch. That's what I would have done in the past, but I'm trying to be less of a junkie and trying a more natural route (rest, exercise, Tai Chi, medicinal marijuana alternatives etc.). The problem with Big Pharma's pain pills is you instantly build up a tolerance and have to take more and more. When you quit, it's a bitch to withdraw. That's why I'm taking very little at present moment and relying more on medicinal marijuana (strong pot brownies mimic the overall body sensation as opiates). Yeah, the last thing I want is to be hooked hard on pills again. It was a bitch to kick.

After four weeks my back is still out-of-whack. I made big strides last week, but this past weekend was incredibly tough especially after sitting through a 3.5 hour baseball game. By Saturday night I was a wreck. Sunday was tough. I was jacked up on pain pills on Sunday evening. It took a strong dose and flirted with Requiem for a Dream territory of schwastedness, but finally felt painless for the first time in a month.

It's been a year since I was that faded.

On Sunday night, I cleaned some dirty paint brushes and caught up on emails. I have a huge backlog and had like 20+ emails from one assclown who keeps sending me passive-aggressive emails about removing links from sites that I don't even own (they were actually owned by friends but I have no clue why he kept sending threatening emails). I fired off a few snippy emails calling him out for being a shady fucker for buying links in the first place and then called him for being lazy fuckatrd because he didn't even bother taking the time to see if the email addy matched up with the site he supposedly sold a link to. I should post his angry responses. I then offered to solve his problems for a nominal fee. He has yet to respond to that. See... these are the stupid things I do when crocked to the tits.

Reminded me of some of those foggy days that stretched into week-long benders when I lived in San Francisco. The partying commenced on Friday evening after meeting a deadlines for work (usually handicapping football games) and things went insta-fuzzy during the next two days and then all of a sudden it's Sunday morning and time for football! I should be sleeping it off like mostly everyone else, but since NFL games start at 10am on the West Coast, I extended the party a little longer. I had a routine that began around 6am (mostly monitoring injury reports and line moves). Around 8am, I grabbed breakfast and big-ass iced tea while avoiding some of the most annoying people on the planet -- yuppies from Pacific Heights who went slumming in my neighborhood Lower Pacific Heights to run their errands. I'd be faded to the tits and looked like a vampire with Oxy-juiced glassy eyes. Then again, totally shitfaced is the only way to deal with self-absorbed chipper yuppie couples in Lululemon yoga pants and vintage Dead Kennedys t-shirt ($150 retail) pushing a state-of-the art baby stroller that cost the equivalent of a half-a-year salary for a sportswriter at the Chronicle.

Sundays in San Francisco were a whirlwind of betting and high-stakes fantasy football. I hung out in the back of the apartment until the girls woke up by the start of the afternoon game (1pm). Then, I had two different viewing stations at opposite ends of the Victorian with the big screen in the living room and an ad hoc mini-sportsbook in the backroom with at least two laptops. It's fun to think about now, but some of those afternoons were super stressful (the afternoon games gave me an opportunity to get unstuck) which is why I would pace up and down Halli's long hallways while occasionally peeking at the scores.

This past NFL season (in L.A.), I was zapped and drained by the time the Sunday Night Football game ended. I was working anywhere from 80-100 hours depending on the week. Sometimes I'd pass out before the 4Q was over. I learned a ton of stuff the last two seasons, but it this past one was too psychically demanding. The adage is true -- it's a hard way to make an easy living.

In San Francisco, if I had a profitable weekend, then I wanted to celebrate. If it was a bad weekend and lost money, then I wanted to drown my sorrows. Didn't matter... win or lose, I kept the party going on Sunday nights. I forced myself to take a break and get some rest on Monday because we always played poker on Monday nights and those games always went late late late. Halli and Skye hosted the Ice Palace game, which ran at least until 4am, but we regularly played short-handed until sunrise. A few instances we played until noon the next day. We'd jokingly tell friends to stop over the next morning and bring us meatball sandwiches and an 8-ball. I didn't care about the blow. I was just fucking starving. Besides, that's what Adderall is for -- much cheaper and it lasts longer.

The record for longest game was a 28-hour session that began at 9pm on Monday and ended around 1am on Wednesday. I crashed around 6am and re-joined the game at 10am, while a couple of friends left the game at 3am, crashed and went to work, then returned to the game after work on Tuesday.

If you're doing the math... I was partying hard Friday night through Tuesday morning with a short rest. I'd finally crash on Tuesday morning (or sometimes afternoon). I was back to "work" for an intense three-day writing session. After a somewhat sober Wednesday-Thursday-Friday  handicapping games and tweaking lineups, I was ready to resume a weekend bender on Friday night.  Foggy, hazy rage-fests. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.Every fucking week for a few months.

It was an unhealthy lifestyle, but tons of fun. No regrets. Wish I could still do that! It's hard to imagine a sustained buzz for long stretches of time, which is why sometimes I look back at SF and my memories are as fuzzy and murky like the fog that rolled in every morning and flew over our house.

Anyway, flashbacks to late 2011 were over. For a couple of hours late Sunday, I remembered what it was like to be riding the crest of an intoxicating tidal wave. It's that supreme "high" that junkies chase every single day. I felt better both physically and mentally. The physical pain subdued for a few hours, but more importantly, I forgot that "down in the dumps" feeling I got when going through creative withdrawal. When I can't achieve that buzz, I get moody and grumpy and I feel lost and aimless. Just ask Nicky. She has to endure those hurricanes. I'm surprised I haven't blown the roof off our apartment.

I get my rocks off by writing. Cheaper than a therapist. My favorite drug. It's inexpensive too (free) and I can actually make money off of it (not much, mind you but almost enough to get by). In the meantime, the doctor(s) said only time and rest can heal me. In the meantime, I'm swimming in books.

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