Tag Archives: Drinking

Until the End of the Rain and the Sudden Demise of Endless Rainy Nights

Photograph by Jose Padua
And I was waiting at my local dive bar
for a woman who never showed up
and the longer I waited
and the greater the amount of time
without seeing her face at the other end
of the swinging front door
the less I liked my friends
the less I liked my bourbon and my beers
and instead of leaning on them
I just wished I were somewhere I could be alone
which if I remember correctly
is what I finally did though
I had to go to a different neighborhood
where I didn’t know anyone
because these were the days when I knew
so many people and so many people knew me.

One night in New York I met a woman
whose parents came from Asia like mine
and she was in her late twenties/early thirties like me
but she was already a widow
and she worked at a bar called America
and I walked her home from the old Village bar
up to her building just below Chelsea
and whenever I went to America she was never there
so I never stayed for more than one drink
and it wasn’t long before I figured out
that drinking in America wasn’t the right thing
for me and one night I walked away from America
down busy brightly lit streets and dark deserted streets
every one of them sad like dirty dishes lying
in a broken sink in an abandoned building.

As for everything else if it wasn’t strange
it wasn’t alive enough for me to want;
if love and death never occurred at least once
in the same sentence there wasn’t much
reason to continue speaking
nor desire to look at stars scattering slowly like junkies
when I opened the door to my building and walked
up the stairs over the chicken bones
and heroin wrappers along with stepped-on cigarette butts
while catching whiffs of empty 40 oz. bottles
still alive with the drunken visions of romantics
more desperate than I would ever be.

And so until the end of the rain
and until the sudden demise of endless rainy nights
waiting on friends who never come
let us gather our objects of grief like fierce weapons
against the kingdom of the ruling class;
let us stalk the nightmares of long disappeared lovers
and drown the dark apparitions that haunted them
so they may sleep with both eyes closed;
may the next door that opens be carrying through it
someone of more than passing acquaintance,
rescued at last as if from the slow scattering of stars travelling
through the vacancies of three dimensional space;
and may you raise your tumblers to one another
then let the liquid in them grow warm
the more lost you get amongst
sidewalk cracks on dark corners,
sinkholes on every boulevard and side street,
and everything else in the world
that’s so broken
so beautiful and
so gone.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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The Sight of my Neighbor Limping

Photograph by Jose Padua
The sight of my neighbor limping to his front door
in the dim, late-evening light, walking from his truck,
down the driveway to the sidewalk, then toward the
front steps of his house, his bad arm nearly dragging
from his shoulder behind his back like some name
he can’t remember—an old friend from back in the day
when he lived closer to the city with plenty to do and
places to go—reminds me of how little I know of his story.
Just that his wife has a hard time staying sober long enough
so the cops don’t have to drag her away to jail. Just an idea
that when the liquor has left the blood that flows beneath
one’s skin, the cold, gray walls of a jail cell must look
like the hardest substance on Earth. Which is to say
that it’s so much easier for me to imagine being her
than being him, so much easier to think about things
done wrong than things lost. And he takes his good arm
and stretches it straight in front of him as he turns to pull
his front door shut in time to sit in front of the television
to watch the Sunday night game. His wife is coming
home again at the end of the month when it’ll be more
than halfway through the third quarter season’s rush
toward winter. Time to crank up the wood stove, send
rough blue smoke from the chimney toward the sky.
Time to feel the tips of all one’s fingers, celebrate the motions
that make it easy to believe it’s easy being alive. Comfort
is the warmth and stillness of sitting near the heart of
a hundred year old, small town house. Comfort is the moment
after work when there’s nothing that needs to be moved.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. This poem was first published at Vox Populi.

Those Years That Went Down

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when
I’m walking
in the old neighborhood with
my wife, my daughter, my son
and we pass by
all the sharp corners
and tight spaces
where daytime drunks
still gather,
no longer hidden by
the ornament
of night,
I remember
those years that
went down
like whiskey
and the beauty
of the B-side of
a hit single,
played over and over
on the juke box
in my favorite dive bar
until everyone
gets really annoyed,
lays down their mugs
their tumblers
their heavy shot glassess—
those sacred, precise
instruments of drinking–
as the smoky air
begins to feel liquid.
So glad
I made it out
into the open air,
so grateful
for solid blue
sky.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief Meditation on All the Drinks That Made Their Way Down to My Gut

Photograph by Jose Padua
I remember it was Bobby Reilly
whose father owned the Irish bar
five blocks away who kneed me
in the stomach when I finally stopped
running around frantically on the
playground while the other kids in
fourth grade surrounded me chanting
“Chinese Checkers Chinese Checkers”
as a way I suppose of reminding me
where my people were from, and
though they got the continent right
they got the country wrong, not that
getting the facts straight is ever high
on the list of priorities of people at
any age who are trying to put you
in what they think is your proper
place. And though I grew up and
drank gloriously so many times and
sometimes at one beautiful noisy Irish
bar or another, I never went to the one
run by Bobby Reilly’s dad because
despite all the reasons I drank, drinking
to forget was never one of them, just as
the complete and easy healing of old
wounds was always a drunken tale
told for the benefit of the privileged.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Life of Uncontrollable Urges (or Tourette’s and the Writing Life)

On a recent Sunday afternoon, as I pushed a cart in the aisle between the checkout counters and the racks of men’s shirts at Walmart, the song that went though my head was Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets.” Even though I was in Walmart—a store that Heather and I usually try to avoid at all costs (i.e., despite whatever savings may be available there)—that moment of rolling the shopping cart through the gauntlet of cashiers and racks of men’s casual wear was nothing short of beautiful. That I would feel so calm at the Front Royal Walmart—which to me normally felt like some strange planet where at any moment I might find myself surrounded by hideous lizard-like creatures who want to eat me (or, worse, mate with me)—was, somehow, moving. And as I calmly pushed the cart through the store while trying to find where Heather and Maggie had gone—a task which would usually make me quite tense and agitated—I felt what can only be described as a sense of triumph. The song, of course, had a lot to do with it.

Something I’ve discovered is that some of the most annoying, unpleasant, and sometimes even horrible moments of one’s life—or at any rate, my life—can be transformed by the soundtrack I have playing in my head. Just a day earlier I was driving on Commerce Avenue, on the way home after dropping Maggie and Heather off at a birthday party at the city pool. In the distance I noticed a crowd of people had gathered outside the town’s government center, a dreary box of a building around which I never seemed to see much of anything going on. As I drove closer I saw that it was a demonstration by the Front Royal Tea Party. Reading their signs—with messages like No Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants and, simply, Stop Illegals, I found myself, all of a sudden, surprised. And what surprised me was that, when I was close enough to read their signs and for them to see me, I did not give them the finger.

I am not the most polite person in the world—I gladly give in to the urge to say things that are overly blunt, inappropriate or which simply cross the line from tongue-biting politeness into overt hostility. What’s more, I enjoy it. This time, upon seeing the Tea Party in person after having only seen them on television or on clips from YouTube, I was very much in the midst of a situation where my gut reaction would have been to give them the finger. But at that moment I was playing Parliament’s “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)”—a song which always makes me feel empowered, alert, and less vulnerable:

Turn me loose
We shall overcome
Where did you get that funk from, huh?

With P-Funk playing in my car I also felt, despite the presence of the Tea Party goons, as if I were somewhere other than Front Royal. And, whenever I’m somewhere other than Front Royal, I usually feel pretty good.

But music, for me, isn’t just something that heightens my mood. Music is also something that, when it engages me to a sufficient degree, keeps away those urges that are part of my Tourette’s syndrome—the urge to grimace as if I’m about to scream, to make grunting or squealing noises with my throat, or to hit my leg with my hand or with my elbow. It’s a way of existing that might be described as dreamlike—in particular, those dreams where you’re trying to get away from some bad guy, or trying to lock the door, but you can’t, because your movement has been slowed down and your legs and arms, even though they’re moving, aren’t moving you ahead or pushing the door shut. With Tourette’s, what slows you down is that there are so many movements that you feel compelled or forced to make before you’re able to make the movement you want to make. And with me, it’s always the more mundane activities that get interrupted by a series of Tourette’s tics—brushing my teeth, washing the dishes after dinner, and cleaning the cat’s litter box are invariably interrupted by the urge to bang my elbow against my side or to grunt several times in a row or to look up at the ceiling and make the face of someone screaming at the absurdity of the cosmos. Sometimes even walking up the stairs gets interrupted by Tourette’s, with me having to repeat those first few steps—until it feels right, until I’ve got the right thoughts in my head—before I can proceed all the way to the top of the stairs.

Compared to some people with Tourette’s, though, my tics are nothing spectacular. Certainly I’m not in the league of a surgeon Oliver Sacks wrote about in the New Yorker a number of years ago whose Tourette’s drove him to, among other things, regularly lunge at the ground or touch people with the heel of his foot. When the surgeon was overcome by moments of rage (another common symptom of Tourette’s) he’d throw pots and pans in his kitchen or throw punches—the many dents in his refrigerator and holes in the walls of his house were reminders of those episodes. Luckily, for me, those moments of rage don’t carry with them the urge to fling objects or hit walls, and are expressed in a relatively polite fashion by simply screaming FUCK so loudly it feels like my throat is being ripped apart.

As for other common vocal manifestations of Tourette’s, I don’t exhibit echolalia (the automatic repeating of another person’s words) or coprolalia (the frequent and involuntary use of swear words or other obscene language) which are perhaps the most well known symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome. Or, at any rate, they happen with me very rarely. In the last five years the only thing I remember doing is when a man at the subway station in Alexandria was carrying several bags of groceries as he rushed to catch his connecting bus. When he said, “Excuse me,” as he tried to get around me to make a path to his bus I said in response, without anger or irritation—and, certainly, without any reason—“Fuck you.”

He was, as one might expect, furious, and began screaming at me. If he hadn’t been in a hurry with his groceries, he may very well have tried to punch me. (It always amuses me to consider that if something like this had happened in my wilder days, when I had been, say, incredibly drunk or tripping on acid, I probably would have thought, “Oh, wow, he’s got Tourette’s too.”) This sort of thing happens rarely with me—I’m just about always able to keep the inappropriate words that pop into my head in my head, without them being spoken. Still, I am disturbed that one day, here in the valley, that control may slip, however briefly, and I may find myself crossing paths with a man getting out of his pickup truck on which he proudly displays the Confederate flag and a half dozen pro-gun bumper stickers. Invariably, on seeing one of these gun-loving supporters of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, one obscenity or another will be going through my head (though in cases like this it isn’t necessarily Tourette’s that’s bringing these words to mind). And though the chances are small, there still is a chance, that one day my control will slip at exactly the wrong moment and, as I’m passing by this man I’ll declare, “The Confederacy lost, bitch” or “I fucked your mother yesterday” or “Nice tits!”

And it could happen, because since moving here to the Valley, away from the city in a place where the pace of life is slower, my Tourette’s symptoms have gotten markedly worse.

As with most Touretters, my symptoms first started when I was around nine or ten. What was probably my first real Tourette’s incident of note—of course I didn’t realize this until decades later—occurred when I was sitting with my mother outside church one pleasant autumn evening as we waited for my older brother, Tony, who was at choir practice. My mother had been speaking to one of the other parents—an older woman, Mrs. Blaine—whose son was also at choir practice. She was a nice woman, but also perhaps one of the parents I saw as being vulnerable or weak. Mrs. Blaine and my mother were casually making small talk when I suddenly, for no apparent reason, spat on Mrs. Blaine.

Needless to say, I was in trouble, and in those days when spanking was still the norm, spitting on another parent in your mother’s presence was definitely the sort of transgression that would get you spanked. My mother and father had no idea what was going on with me—and, of course, neither did I. Mrs. Blaine was an unassuming, unthreatening person who, as far as I knew, had never done anything that would make her worthy of being on the receiving end of my apparent expression of contempt. I wondered if, maybe, I was just a little bit nuts—“nuts” being the sort of word I used back then, whereas, if I were going through this for the first time today, the words that would be going through my head would be, “Man, I must be fucked up.”

That what was going on with me was either a disease or a disorder was beyond me—and pretty much everyone else as well. Back then, in the sixties and seventies, there weren’t even many doctors who knew anything about it. At home, my parents and my brothers just thought of it as my generic nerve disorder—and, luckily, spitting on people didn’t become a regular tic (or at any rate, it was a tic I was able to control).

When my Tourette’s first developed, the tics I exhibited most often were a widening of my eyes (the sort of expression one makes when one is incredulous or thinking what the fuck?), frequent blinking, and the incessant shrugging of my shoulders. Up until seventh grade, my tics didn’t really create any problems for me in school. One friend of mine simply wondered, “Why are you doing that with your eyes? It makes you look like a retard.” But when the school I’d been attending closed and I had to switch to another one for eighth grade, it was a different story. Because at my old school my symptoms appeared gradually, getting slightly more pronounced over the course of a few years, they weren’t shocked or surprised by them. At my new school, with me being the weird new kid who’d just transferred there, I soon found myself being mocked by about half of class. Whenever Sister Conrad had her back to the class while she wrote on the blackboard, one or another of my classmates would look at me and start blinking and rapidly shrugging their shoulders. Not surprisingly, I was a lot different then from the way I am now, and instead of smacking them or telling them to fuck off as I would today in response to some sort of affront, I just remained quiet or looked away, feeling pretty much helpless.

What helped me get through this was that it didn’t take me long to demonstrate that I was smarter than any of the goons who were making fun of me. And back then—or, at any rate, in that particular classroom—you could still gain the respect of the goons when you showed them that you knew your shit (I’m not so sure that this is still the case in many places in America today). Which meant that knowing all the answers to the questions my teacher would ask in class and subsequently winning an academic scholarship to high school helped. But still, in those days, I wouldn’t have minded being just a normal fucking kid. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have minded if I were just a regular fucking goon, because when you’re a kid perhaps the most realistic dream you can have is for things to become just a little bit easier. And, as is usually the case with these things, it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned to appreciate being a misfit weirdo.

So I moved ahead, with my Tourette’s, shrugging my shoulders and blinking my way through the first few years of high school. Then, after my junior year, I won a National Science Foundation grant for a summer program studying chemistry at the University of Georgia. It was there in Athens, Georgia, where one night the girl I’d started hanging out with introduced me—after we’d gone to a showing of Citizen Kane on campus (she was obsessed with Orson Welles)—to cigarettes.

For me, at least for a little while, smoking was good. Because for people with Tourette’s, one thing that often seems to help (and doesn’t turn you into a zombie like the drugs doctors prescribe) are cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes, I felt pretty fucking good—and not because I suddenly felt I was cool. I didn’t know it at the time, but smoking helped me feel a little more stable, like someone who could get shit done.

Even though I don’t smoke anymore and can’t stand to be around them now, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without cigarettes. Obviously, I’d be healthier now than if I’d never smoked, but there was something about cigarettes—about nicotine, about breathing smoke in and out and watching it disappear like a ghost into the far corners of a room—that helped me focus and give shape to what was going on in my head.

Indeed, when I had my first cigarette was when, for all purposes, I became a writer. Up until then everything I was studying was leading me toward some sort of career in the sciences. Well, okay, there was also time spent reading, on my own, everything from James Joyce’s Ulysses to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. But until my first cigarette, working in the sciences was the only thing that seemed practical—which isn’t to say that I thought becoming a writer was practical. Still, during my senior year in high school I applied to go to college at Cal Tech, which accepted me and offered me a full scholarship. But, since I had resolved to pursue the less practical course, I turned Cal Tech—and the full scholarship—down.

As if it weren’t enough to turn down Cal Tech—and the power a degree from there might have to make my resume rise like smoke to the top of a pile—the kind of writer I wanted to be was the kind that had the least potential for making money. Yeah, I wanted to write poetry. “Christ,” I thought after writing Cal Tech to turn down their offer, “I must be crazy. Or an asshole.”

Since I didn’t want to teach, being a poet meant that I’d have to find another way to make a living. I didn’t have too hard a time finding a job, and eventually ended up at the Library of Congress, where one supervisor admitted that when he interviewed me, he noticed my tics, and thought I was fucked up. Somehow, I still ended up with the job.

And so I wrote my poems. And eventually started to get my work published. And eventually started doing readings. And eventually came to be known—because of the way I presented my poems at a reading—as a performer. And all it took for me to be labeled a “performance poet” was to be totally drunk when I read. So, while some poets memorized their poems, rehearsed, and experimented with different ways of reading their lines, I wasn’t about to do any of that shit. Instead, before any reading, I saw to it that I had more than a decent number of drinks in me. And, for me, it worked.

And all that time, through the rest of the 80s and all through the 90s, I continued to smoke. And drink, which, very conveniently, also seemed to help with my Tourette’s. I smoked and drank at a pretty high level for a little over a quarter of a century. But when it was time for Heather and me to start getting ready to have kids, smoking seemed like something that I had to, at last, be done with, and in October of 2000 I went cold turkey and quit. As for the heavy drinking and hanging out at bars and all that, I just slowly lost interest in it.

Heather and I had moved to Old Town Alexandria by then and, after several years without steady work, I now had a full time job. By then, I’d also pretty much stopped writing poetry, as I was now mostly working on a novel I’d started when I was living in New York (and which I still haven’t finished). I was living, more or less, a pretty typical existence.

It didn’t happen right away—I must have had spare nicotine stored away somewhere in my body—but my Tourette’s tics gradually became harder for me to control again. For twenty-five years I didn’t really have to think about it much. But now it was starting to bother me again. I was finding it harder and harder to be in public and control my tics. Just sitting down at a goddamn Starbucks, I’d look like someone who’d had way too much coffee even before I’d had my first sip; and going to the movies while trying but failing to completely suppress my tics just wasn’t the most relaxing way to spend a Friday evening anymore.

So, for the second time in my life, I went to see a neurologist about my Tourette’s. The first time had been some twenty years ago. My symptoms weren’t that bad at that point, but I was curious about what was going on with me. This first doctor was young—he was also, I thought, kind of a pompous dick. He performed a number of expensive tests on me, after which he said, sitting smugly on the other side of his massive desk, “I don’t see anything wrong with you.” When I asked for him to consider that I may have Tourette’s, he simply said that there were “other symptoms.” As it turned out, I knew more about Tourette’s than he did, that the battery of tics and twitches varies from person to person, that not all Tourette’s suffers present coprolalia or echolalia.

The second time I saw a doctor about my Tourette’s went much better. This doctor was an expert on Tourette’s—plus, he suffered from it himself. He was kind of blunt and when he spoke he mumbled; now and then he’d simply grunt in response to something I was saying. But he really knew his shit—and right away, he was able to confirm that, yes, I did indeed have Tourette’s. And, since my symptoms had become much more pronounced again, I was ready to try whatever he could prescribe that might help suppress my tics. But the first thing he prescribed didn’t seem to have any affect at all and the second medicine he tried almost made me feel like I was tripping, and, after trying to drive one time while on this medication, I decided that this wasn’t going to work either. When I asked him what else might work, he said that unfortunately that was it. There was one group of medications that was usually more effective, but I would probably feel even more whacked out on them. Then the other group of meds he could try would be dangerous to use because of my heart condition. Which meant that, like a lot of other Tourette’s patients, I would just have to live with it.

So I did, and as it got worse since moving here to the valley, I stopped fighting it to a certain extent. Because although I prefer making a spectacle of myself by reading my work to an audience rather than by sitting at a coffee shop and making weird jerking movements and odd noises, there was one good thing about Tourette’s—and that’s what it does to my mind. I’m not talking about those moments of rage, of course—those aren’t pleasant for me or for anyone else. That Heather and Maggie are able to live with it—early on Maggie discovered, as she put it, that “Daddy is noisy”—is something for which I’m infinitely thankful.

No, what I’m positive Tourette’s has done for my mind is to free it. Because since it’s gotten worse, I’ve found it easier for me to write, and one of the reasons that it’s become easier to write is that there really isn’t much stopping my thoughts from going in any number of directions. And a lot of times the thoughts that come to mind are completely inappropriate for the situation or else are totally unrelated to whatever I’m doing at the time. For me, as a writer and as a poet, that’s a good thing.

An example of this occurred when Heather, Maggie, and I made our first trip up the valley to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. I was middle of my first big bout of depression here, and making trips out of Front Royal, I discovered, helped immeasurably in lifting myself out of my depression. After walking around Berkeley Springs for a bit we found the Ice House arts center there, and, while looking at an exhibit of some beautifully handcrafted papers, these words popped into my head:

“When I moved to New York I got a job with Nice Titties/Show Us Your Cock magazine.”

I had, of course, lived in New York, and I did actually have a few paying jobs there. But, there never was—as far as I know—a magazine called Nice Titties/Show Your Cock, and I certainly never worked for such a magazine.

But that’s the way my mind works at times, and I’ve always taken this to be some kind of internalized coprolalia—which is to say that while the inappropriate, obscene words do unexpectedly go through my mind, they aren’t often accompanied by the uncontrollable urge to say them out loud. I may, at the very least, have what one might describe as a coprolaic mind. And, if this is indeed part of my Tourette’s, it’s the part I wouldn’t want to do without.

So, as we walked through the exhibit, and looked at the post cards and trinkets at the Ice House gift shop, I continued to go with my odd thoughts to compose a poem in my head. Except for an actual quote that I dug up later from the New York Times, I composed the entire poem in my head in about ten minutes:

Flesh and Memory

When I moved to New York I got a job with Nice Titties/Show
Us Your Cock
magazine. We were the competition and I wrote
the captions. Whenever the Village Voice used the phrase “post-
modern urban griot deconstruction” I added the words “Nice titties!”

beneath the photo of a b-movie actress wearing a low-cut blouse.
Whenever the New York Times said “Mr. Pynchon improvises
like a jazz musician” I typed in “Show us your cock!” beneath the
shot of a man wearing tight boxer briefs. Life was good. But when

the 21st Century arrived things changed. “Dick” was the new “cock”
and “titties” could never be referred to by the same word twice in an
issue. It was too much to take, so I left the magazine, which folded
three years later, and finally I left town. Whenever someone asks

me what it was like I tell them that it’s something I’ll never forget.
And whenever they show me photographs of their kids I just nod.

But it’s not always dirty words that pop into my head. Another time Heather and I were putting Maggie to bed when the words “When I was a kiss and the world was an elephant I didn’t want to touch because if it didn’t like me it might crush me, I’d bend over forwards or backwards and twist as if I were dancing but I wasn’t dancing.”

After Maggie fell asleep I walked down the hall to our office and finished the poem in another ten minutes:

When I Was a Kiss

When I was a kiss and the world was an
elephant I didn’t want to touch because
if it didn’t like me it might crush me,
I’d bend over forwards or backwards and

twist as if I were dancing but I wasn’t
dancing: I was stepping away from the
flames and jumping over sinkholes that
opened in the street or just listening to

Side B of a 45 before Side A because
one way to do battle when I was young
was to know what other people didn’t know
was right under their noses. Sometimes that

meant knowing something they’d never know,
which was sort of like tying the elephant’s trunk
in a knot and laughing, then walking away
until the elephant starts to miss you.

When I lived in the city, usurped by the
dulled sheen of a road that’s been stepped
upon too many times, I still knew which way
to go, and I went there to follow, only, you.

Since coming to the valley I’ve written enough to fill three books of poetry. I’ve been sending out two of the manuscripts I’ve compiled and have been a finalist or runner-up for several decent poetry awards. I suppose there are things I could do to my work to up my chances, to make my work a little less idiosyncratic so that it will appeal to a wider range of judges, but I’m not about to do that. I’m not interested in widening my audience. I don’t want to be liked by everyone. Growing up with Tourette’s, you get over the desire to please everyone pretty fucking early in life.

And so in the course of three years here in the valley I’ve followed these odd paths my thoughts have taken. And between the episodes of rage and those moments when my mind is overcome with irrational terror—those times when I’m sure some horrible thing can or will happen to me or my family—between those times I find some odd sort of coherence or wisdom, even. It’s not easy, because it feels, sometimes, like I’m repeatedly having to tear down then rebuild my concept of the world and how it works and where I fit into all of it.

But then, since I was very young, I’ve felt that life and existence were Sisyphean in nature, that you could never actually be something. And so, as far as being normal or stable or even just calm goes, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that those are things I can only approach, because once I think I’ve gotten there I have to start all over again.

As for those moments of rage, it’s hard to know how much is simply disposition or attitude, or where actual anger ends and physical disorder begins. There are times, as far as I’m concerned, where it is appropriate to insult someone. There are a lot of people who need to have the words Fuck You directed toward them on a regular basis. In fact, there seem to be more and more of them every day. And I see them, in the distance, as I approach them, unable to do anything but approach them as my mind fills with words I can’t control. Because, in the end, I really have no say in the matter—and I have no choice. It’s what I have to do.

-Jose Padua

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Place-Names: The Name (Or How The Road to Front Royal Was Paved with Broken Liquor Bottles)

PlaceNamesI have to admit that it’s all my fault. I was the one who spotted the house online—that beautiful, hundred year old Victorian with the hardwood floors, the three fireplaces, the deeply stained banister that seemed to move up the stairs and into another time. But more than anything else, what I liked about the house was the way it made me feel intoxicated. After a number of years of being sober and responsible, during which I felt completely sane and utterly stable, I welcomed the possibility that this was a place where I might actually feel drunk again.

Because for many years, alcohol—be it Jack Daniel’s or Maker’s Mark bourbon, Absolut or Smirnoff vodka, Bacardi or Myer’s rum, or beer, (and whenever I drank beer it was usually because I couldn’t afford the hard stuff)—was like fuel for me. Whether it was high grade or low grade, I was running very well on this fuel, with cigarettes being the equivalent of the air freshener dangling from the rear view mirror. And when I first spotted a beer-bellied, shirtless middle-aged good ole boy strolling down the street with a can of Pabst in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I felt that moving there, in certain ways, would be like coming home again.

Home—that was the key word here. Home, even though I felt out of place as early as the day after we’d moved into the house. Home, even though the name of my new home town, “Front Royal,” had really only entered my consciousness on two previous occasions.

The first was during a trip with my old college friend Michael Randall to visit another college friend of ours, Michael Waters, in Sylva, North Carolina. Waters was the bag-piper in our crowd—he brought his pipes everywhere he went. The scenario for many a drunken night would be for him to disappear from his barstool at some point and for us to suddenly hear, coming from just outside entrance to the bar, the loud wailing of his bagpipes. Depending on the state of his intoxication, Waters would either continue his bagpipe serenade on the street or else walk confidently into the bar as the wail and hum of his bagpipes grew deafeningly loud. Because of Waters there were a lot of bars that hated us—though there were also a good number where we were loved. But that’s the way it was when you were a serious drinker. Some places got you and accepted you, eccentricities and all, while at other places you remained a stranger no matter how many times you went there.

Waters had helped to arrange a showing of Michael Randall’s recent paintings, plus a classical guitar recital by yet another of our friends, at a gallery down there. So Randall took the train to Washington, DC, where I was living at the time, and then we rented a car for the drive to North Carolina. It was on the way there, while heading west on 66 and looking for the exit where we’d turn off onto 81, which would lead us out of Virginia and toward the western tip of North Carolina, when I noticed a sign for the oddly named town of Front Royal. Even though it was only some seventy miles west of DC, and just a little over an hour away, I believe this was the first time I’d ever heard of the town. And though I knew nothing about the town, there was something about the name that I found appealing. There was something exotic, even poetic, about it, and as we floated past the signs at seventy miles an hour I wondered if somehow we’d been transported somewhere else, across the Atlantic, to Spain, to France, to Italy, where someone had decided that the words Front Royal would be a great name to embody their concept of an American city.

No, it didn’t make any sense then, either, and it was probably my hangover stretching logic and imagination in ways they were never intended to be stretched, but that’s what I felt, and what I imagined, upon first seeing the words Front Royal.

Then, ten years later, I thought about Front Royal for the second time in my life. This involved another trip west on 66, to Markham, Virginia, where Heather and I went to collect on one of our wedding presents: a hundred dollar gift certificate from Naked Mountain Vineyard and Winery. It was a gift from our friends Debbie Martin and Ed Hamilton who, although they were die-hard city people, enjoyed frequent excursions to the country. They had discovered Naked Mountain during one of these adventures and thought, quite correctly, that we might enjoy it as well. But for them, the country was only a hobby, and even after being in New York for ten years they’d never seriously entertained any thought of permanently leaving their closet-sized apartment in the Chelsea Hotel for anywhere else.

Heather and I had gone to Naked Mountain with my brothers, Tony and Pat, and my Dad. Exiting 66 at Markham, our directions to Naked Mountain had us taking a one lane road going uphill. I wasn’t much for the back roads. I’d been on two lane roads before, but a single lane, for cars going in either direction, was something new to me.

“Are we going the right way?” I asked nervously.

“Yup, this is it,” Heather reassured us, and we headed up the hill until we reached a clearing where we could see that we were really were in the right place. Stepping out of the car, Heather and I were immediately enamored of the place: the green that surrounded us, the view from the mountain, and, most importantly, the distance from the city. It was, for me anyway, the first time I’d been seduced by my distance from the city, and the idea that both art and business and ugly office buildings and monuments I’d grown tired of were far off and, ultimately, for my purposes—whatever they were—insignificant.

If it’s like this here, I thought, what would it be like if we’d stayed on 66 until the next exit, which was Front Royal. All along the way to Naked Mountain on 66, the road signs posted Front Royal as the ultimate destination. Again, it was the name that got to me. It was beautiful, but what did it mean? And, most importantly, where would it take me if I followed it?

HollinHallAnother ten years passed, during which I, as they say, “cleaned up my act” quite a bit. By the time our daughter, Maggie, was born, I’d quit smoking, could handle maybe one drink a week, and, of course, because I was a normal working stiff, kept regular hours—no more staying up all night until seven or eight in the morning (as I’d been doing for a number of years before I met Heather), then sleeping until the afternoon. During these ten years Heather and I also slowly made the move further and further from the city. A couple of years after we were married, we made the first move, from renting a one bedroom apartment in DC to renting a small row house in old town Alexandria. This, I thought at the time, was a long way from the city—but in reality, Alexandria, Virginia was simply an extension of the DC metropolitan area. Then, after Maggie was born, we decided it was time to actually own something—namely, a house—and where we thought we could afford to own a house took us even further away from town to neighborhoods we’d never heard of before. We looked at cape cods in Bucknell Manor, split levels in Kirkside, contemporaries in Ridgeview, raised ranchers in Virginia Terrace. What we ended up with was a rambler in Hollin Hall.

It was a nice house, in a clean and pleasant neighborhood—not the sort of thing I was used to, and it’s not like I didn’t have any problems with the area in the three years we were there—but we probably would have stayed if I hadn’t gotten laid off. With our income cut in half—well, actually it wasn’t cut in half, because Heather has always made more money than me; but the loss of income was significant, especially considering the cost of paying the mortgage for our house in Hollin Hall, which, at least compared to what we were used to, was a rather upscale neighborhood. With the housing bubble starting to burst, and the value of our house slowly starting to fall, it seemed like a good idea to sell before the value of our house went below what we paid for it—and to move someplace cheaper.

So I looked at all the online listings for real estate. At first I looked at Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Frederick in Maryland, but there was nothing in our range. Then I checked Manassas, Woodbridge, and Fredericksburg in Virginia, but still, everything was out of our range or just looked too depressing (admittedly, our three years in the suburbs had spoiled us to a certain degree).

But maybe it was really all about the names. Springfield, Reston, Centreville: nothing about those names moved me, and I’m sure nothing about them moved Heather either. But Heather is much too practical to let a name, no matter how beautiful or intriguing, lead her anywhere she doesn’t want to go. So, I have to say it again: it was all my fault. And in the back of my mind, after lying fallow for nearly a decade, were those words—that name. And I looked further and further away from town until I got there. Until the magical words “Front Royal” once again entered my consciousness.

Then, one Saturday afternoon, when Heather, Maggie, and I went out to Front Royal and saw the house in person, that was it. It was more than a name now. And, although we still knew almost nothing about Front Royal, it was where we wanted to be.

-Jose Padua