Two kinds of rotten

Last January, still living in inpatient care, my friend Mary Beth got me a bunch of art supplies, including a set of calligraphy pens and inks. I got some use out of the inks  (until THOSE FASCISTS said, “You can’t give yourself tattoos in rehab, Sam – especially not sitting out by the pool“). The pens were a little more than I could handle though. I use the crow quill every now and then, but I only ever did one piece with all the different pen tips. I figure now’s a good time to throw it online, given the nature of my most recent painting.

"Rotten." 1/4/13. Calligraphy pens and black ink. 9x12".
“Rotten.” 1/3/13. Calligraphy pens and black ink. 9×12″.

It’s pretty much bullshit. It means nothing. The spoon in my hand: that’s what I was using as a tongue scraper. It’s all whatever; I was just playing around with a new toy.

“Rotten,” though, is a word I really enjoy and a feeling I’m not totally unfamiliar with. I ran a search for it on the draft of my second book and came up with a couple paragraphs about why I went to law school. I wrote this more than a year ago but just spent three hours editing it obsessively.


Kevin pitched the idea and I agreed that it couldn’t hurt to just take the admissions test. At no point did I ever expect to score in the 99th percentile. Suddenly, all these schools that I never thought would even consider my application [ T14 schools] were practically begging for it. And then they were actually accepting me (even with my “criminal addendum,” failed first year of community college, and total lack of extracurriculars or wholesome activities). And they were offering me scholarships even! It was strange and – honestly – kind of exciting. It felt good and I got caught up in it, for better or worse.

I’m not sure if I ever once paused and thought, “Is this what I really want to do?” When one of the T14s – Georgetown – offered me a six-figure scholarship, my entire rationale consisted of: “this is quite the opportunity… if I don’t take advantage of it, I might regret it later…”

That’s it – that’s why I went to law school: a fear of regret. Well, that’s not all of it (it’s just the only part I’ve ever acknowledged to another human being). I also went to feel validated. It was one thing to be a shitty punk kid that shot heroin on the weekends, who was told by everyone including his mom that he was gonna grow up to be homeless and eating out of a dumpster, and who people generally regarded as less of a human being and more of a disease – to be all of that and to get straight A’s at community college or USF was [whatever]. But to fit that description and go to one of the top law schools in the country on a scholarship – this was next level. It was kind of a huge “fuck you” to everyone that looked down on me or had said I was worthless. “Rotten,” on the other hand, I was okay with. I still felt rotten – and this only concentrated it. The whole thing felt sinister. It sort of was. Fear of regret played a part but spite was right up there with it. I’ve said my law degree’s got less utility than a sheet of toilet paper but – before I got clean especially – it did serve me in that one regard: it was a pretty decent fuck you.  “I may be an asshole and a fuck-up, my clothes are tattered, my teeth are gapped out, I feel like a mutant, and I smell like cigarettes, mildew, and bad decisions, but I ALSO have a law degree from Georgetown. Where do you keep your law degree from Georgetown?”

Granted, even back when I had a use for a “fuck you,” I never actually had that conversation with anyone. But if I felt like someone was condescending to me or even just thinking they had me figured out, I’d throw it out there and watch their perception of me change in an instant. Even now, since getting out of treatment, I don’t ever have a reason to “show up” anyone or to prove shit, but it can still be a fun card to play on the rare occasion when someone (possibly looking to write me off as a dirty kid who’s too lazy to get a “real” job) asks about work or school.  I can just smile. Which gets at something else: to me, it’s more of a punchline than it is my proudest achievement. Sure – it’s pretty good indication that I’ve got the capacity to do [something or other] or make [some kind of shit] happen, but so is my time running Traffic Street  – and that means infinitely more to me.  But, shit, normal people don’t see that and I don’t wanna lie; it feels good to also have the thing under my belt that they can understand. The thing that tells ’em: if I’m opting to play with colors and paint funny faces all day, it MIGHT not be ’cause I’m a lazy idiot – I just might have my reasons…


Had a long conversation with a friend tonight about the best records; it ended with me listening to Dear Landlord‘s catalog on repeat from sometime before midnight until… [it’s still going].

Here’s the last song they recorded but it better not be the last song they record.

It’s the only song of theirs that I don’t have on my iPod ’cause the download code that came with my LP doesn’t work and Adeline won’t respond to my emails. Somebody do me a solid and email me the mp3s for “The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore.”

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