“I get a physical at least once a year. Not by design. It’s part of most places’ intake process.”
I don’t remember if I had this idea or if I just drew something that developed into a kid in a straight jacket and then added the caption after the fact. Either way, it’s silly but it’s not really a joke. The only check-ups I’ve had in years were all in treatment centers, mental wards, and methadone clinics.
I’m still outta town, visiting a friend. Today, I met James; he’s seven years old and really great at Mad Libs. For example:
Yesterday my friend Poop and I walked across town to see Santa at our local poop store. But there was a long line of kids waiting to poop with Santa. As expected, he was a big, round poop who wore a bright red poop. Whenever a little kid came up to him, Santa would sit the child on his poop and ask, “Have you been a good little poop this year?”
James has been lucky to find his niche early in life and I admire his confidence in ignoring his detractors and refusing to deviate or stray from his vision. He knows what works and he delivers.
Granted – I’m out of mind but, for an emotional basket case, I’m a pretty nice kid. I’m friendly. And because I isolate and know that I shouldn’t, chances are – that if you ask me – I’ll probably hang out with you.I have enough of an interest in people (and interact with them so rarely) that I’ll sit and talk with just about anyone for an hour.
I’m trying to eke out a living as an artist. That’s not the easiest thing to do and I’m not above charity. Last week, I saw some guy with his hands full and I offered to help him. It took me all of thirty seconds and I certainly didn’t expect to be compensated, but he pulled out a five dollar bill. I paused – unsure whether or not I should accept it. But I did and I thanked him. If he felt that my little bit of help was worth five dollars, I’m not gonna tell him he’s wrong. Five dollars makes a difference in my life and I was grateful for it.
I was organizing my prints at Sun Ray and some guy asked me if the art on the walls was mine. I talked to him for a while, he was friendly enough, said he collects art, said he couldn’t make it to the opening tomorrow but that he wanted to get in touch later and asked for my phone number [which isn’t something I’m protective of; I even have it listed, here, on the internet]. I wrote it on one of my cards and gave it to him. “I really wanna keep in touch,” he said. ” I can really help you out. What I’m really interested in is hearing more about your background, maybe over a meal.”
“Yeah, okay, cool…” I said somewhat warily, trying to be polite, trying to not be socially awkward. (I have a hard time knowing when it’s me that’s being weird). If I take him at his word, after all, all of that would be cool. I mean, I (CLEARLY) don’t have a problem talking about myself, I eat food, and I’m stoked as fuck to sell my artwork. So… sounds like a win? Even if his choice of words is a little strange…
And then I realized that I was falling for the same shit I’ve fallen for before. And I remembered something else he had said in our conversation that now made a lot more sense to me. How he was disappointed the last time he bought a painting because, as he put it, “I was hoping the artist would have been a lot more appreciative.”
Being put in this position sucks because it makes me feel like a prostitute. I don’t want to come right out and say, “Hey, I’d be happy to eat lunch and talk to you, and more than happy to sell you a painting, but I’m not going to have sex with you.” Because no one’s actually said anything about sex and it makes ME feel like an asshole for jumping to that conclusion. But I fucking know that’s what it’s about. And I also (unfortunately) know from experience that even if I do state all that explicitly, an attempt is going to be made to coax me into meeting up under the pretense of selling art and having a meal and then I’m still gonna get propositioned. And even if I’m not, I’m still gonna feel like a prostitute because it’s not really my art that the guy is trying to buy, it’s me (or my time or my attention or [whatever]). That doesn’t sound so bad, but I just can’t do it. Even without the bullshit art pretense. I know because I tried once.
The offer was a hundred bucks (paid up front) to meet at a Starbuck’s for a cup of coffee and sit and talk for an hour. I thought about it and – like I said – if there wasn’t money involved, I’d meet up with somebody and talk for an hour, so why not? If somebody I don’t know is asking me to sit and talk, they’re probably pretty lonely. It seems like a kind thing to do and maybe I’ll learn something. And in a case like this – where money is offered – well, I wouldn’t have asked for it, but if someone wants to give it to me, I’ll accept. It might not be as altruistic, but that doesn’t make it unkind.
So it seemed like the rational choice was to go. The only “why not” I could think of was that it made me feel uncomfortable. And when I reflected on that, it struck me as being somehow homophobic and I didn’t like what that said about me. So I went. I walked into the coffee shop and… turned around just as quickly, went right out the door, got on my scooter, and sped the fuck away. It was too fucking weird. I felt uneasy. It felt wrong or, at the very least, it definitely didn’t feel right. No one should wanna pay me just to hang out with them. I’M COOL BUT I’M NOT THAT COOL. Besides, this asshole didn’t even know whether or not I was cool. He didn’t know me at all.
I thought about it afterward and couldn’t quite figure it out – my reaction, I mean. Was it homophobic? My gay friends don’t make me uncomfortable. Being hit on by a guy doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Somehow, I’ve only just now arrived at a satisfying conclusion. It has nothing to do with sexuality; it’s about respect. I might be a self-promoting little fuckshit but it’s not really me that I’m selling. It was Traffic Street Records, now it’s my art, and (in a sense) it’s sometimes even my personality. (There’s a component of myself in all of it). But it’s not me. No one can actually buyme.I’m not for fucking sale.
Obviously, this stuff makes me a little angry but I’m still sympathetic. After all, I don’t think anyone out there is acting with the intent of fucking with me; we’re all just trying to get by and find some kind of happiness and we all act selfishly (to whatever degree) sometimes. But I’ve decided that I’m not interested in playing this sort of game or walking this balance beam. If you wanna buy my art because you like my art, that’s fucking awesome. But if you wanna buy it ’cause you want something else from me – with all due respect – fuck off. I might be broke but I’m not that desperate. I’d rather wait ’til I find a buyer that actually appreciates it.
If I didn’t make and wear shit like this, I probably wouldn’t have these problems but… fuck that. It’s my RIGHT to be fucking hilarious.
You know that feeling when you’re hanging out with people in your favorite bands and you’re pretending that you’re as cool as they are (or – put another way – that you don’t secretly think they’re, like, THE COOLEST EVER [just ’cause they happen to be in a band you really like])? And you pull it off successfully?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re a liar. (Because we bothknow YOU’RE NOT COOL). You are exactly as much of a faker as I am.
I wrote that a few minutes ago (for nothing in particular) but then decided to use it in my entry tonight. It’s not totally on point for this painting (and what it means to me today) but it’s related. You could call that little blurb a prequel of sorts to what follows…
One of my best friends has written a ton of my favorite songs. Since we first became friends years ago, he’s known how much I liked his bands but – now that I have a website where I write about a lot of this stuff all the time – I guess the full extent of it sort of dawned on him. He called me recently to ask about our friendship. “Like, is it pretty much the same as if Dr. Frank or Ben Weasel were calling me to tell me about their problems?” My answer: “Yeah, pretty much.” He asked what that was like and I told him it had been good for me. That I had learned a lot from the experience.
Believe it or not, there are people who think that I’m cool (and/or accomplished). And the experience of becoming so close with one of my “heroes” has given me some insight into that. We’re all nerds, none of us have a handle on our lives, and we all feel like we’re faking it to some degree. And the things that we’ve each achieved: they don’t always seem like much because they’re all we know. My “measure for success” changes constantly. At one point, if I posted a picture of something I made on Facebook and it got a dozen or so “likes,” I wanted to throw a fucking parade. That kind of stuff can still mean a lot to me (especially when I’m down) but it’s not quite the big deal that it used to be.
One afternoon in January, I was sitting on the side of the road trying not to lose my mind… I found a few crayons and some scrap paper in my backpack and scribbled out some nonsense. Today, somebody gave me sixty-five dollars for that piece of scrap paper. When I take the time to stop and think about that, it’s pretty incredible (and I’m very grateful). But that’s sort of where the bar is at now. When that sort of thing doesn’t happen, I feel like a failure. Recently though, I’ve been able to examine that along with my experiences with friends in more “successful” bands (who do the kinds of shit that a lot of us have only dreamt about (and write the kinds of songs most of us will never even get close to)) and I get it; I can understand why they don’t feel like the “success stories” that others might see them as. And I can see why I am the success story that I don’t always think I am.
That’s not all either. At times, the experience has given me self-esteem. Not because “somebody cool is my friend,” but because of the tough spots that it’s put me in. It’s hard to tell anyone that you care about something you think they might not wanna hear (or that they might be insulted by). And it’s even harder when that person is a “hero” of sorts. I found myself in that position recently and it wasn’t easy. I reallywanted to keep my mouth shut, but I also didn’t wanna be a coward. I swallowed the lump in my throat, said everything I wanted to say (with as much sincerity as I could), and… it couldn’t have gone better. Not only that but – when I asked, “What’ve your other friends said?” – the response I got was, “You’re the only one that’s said anything to me about this.” I think that’s a testament to just how easy it is to keep one’s mouth shut and not say the hard thing to a friend. Which (of course) isn’t being a friend at all. I was pretty shocked when I heard that but I also felt good about it – about overcoming my fear and finding the courage to say these things. No one else had.
This stuff’s all super awkward. Who wants to talk about friendship or admit to having “heroes” in the first place? (Not me!) So – seein’ as I’ve been brave enough to do that – I’m gonna cut myself a little slack and allow myself to “cut it short” right here. Cool? Cool.
“Gift Horse” was the best birthday present I’ve ever given to anyone. I don’t mean for the recipient – but for me. Because there’s nothing better in the world than going into the bedroom at night or waking up in the morning to find Heather fast asleep cuddled up with it in her arms. When I see that, I feel so loved. I mean – I’m not the horse but (maybe because I made it[?]) it feels like I’m getting to look at her cuddled up to me…. [or something like that…] – that’s the best explanation I can come up with anyway. But she’s so beautiful and she hugs it (even in her sleep) with such conviction that… – it’s just really nice. It makes me really happy.
I love her a lot.
And I don’t wanna disturb her by turning on the lights just to take a picture but, luckily, I have this one from a few weeks ago.
And – just this moment – I’ve realized that this is the perfect opportunity to share a piece that I haven’t yet… [yes – the one with the title]. “Took a Picture” was the product of one of my Friday afternoon expressive art therapy groups, back when I was in outpatient mode. Earlier that day…
I opened my eyes and looked over at Heather. “Do you know how much you laugh in your sleep?” she asked. I smiled. “Is it a sinister, maniacal laugh? Do I sound like I’m plotting evil?” She laughed. “Not at all. It’s really happy. You sound really happy.” “Hmmm, well – don’t tell anyone that… or tell them, but say that my eyes are open at the time – my cold,dead eyes.” She rolled hers at me.
Heather didn’t have to work early that day but – when she did have an early morning shift – she’d only come sleep over the night before if I agreed to “no funny business.” Of course, I would promise. And though I don’t think I ever once actually honored that promise, she’d take my word for it every time (like a total sucker). And even once I did go to sleep, she said I’d sometimes contort and throw my body across the mattress like a maniac. What a joy it must have been to share a bed with me!
It hadn’t even been three weeks since I moved out of Tranquil Shores and back into the real world. How was my life this wonderful already? How could I possibly deserve to be waking up next to this girl each day?
This piece existed in a strange limbo for a long time because I titled it as soon as I finished it and immediately wished that I had used the title for the caption as well. Because the original caption – though based in authenticity – felt contrived. I wrote it without forethought in a “stream of consciousness” sorta way, but I had essentially quoted myself… which I didn’t like at all. I had this “rule” though – against altering anything once I had deemed it finished. Eventually, I got over that and – now – the title and caption are one in the same and the piece finally feelsright.
That original caption was: “She stays over even though I keep her up. (I’m a sexual terrorist). And when I sleep, I thrash. And I laugh. A lot. Not with cold, dead eyes. It’s joyful. Don’t fucking repeat that.”
This piece is available as a 14×6″ print.
The original drawing is also for sale but given its strange dimensions, the frame isn’t quite right. Then again, it looks kinda cool like this…
Check out “Gift Horse,” the catalyst for this entry.
August 1, 2012. I landed in Miami and rented a car. The cops in Overtown had been seriously on my case. I couldn’t go into the neighborhood without getting hassled (or worse). On one occasion, after putting a gun to my head, pulling me out of the car, and throwing me onto the pavement, they had actually made me pull down my pants (right there, on the street) and hold my butt open so that they could look inside my asshole for drugs. Again – this wasn’t back at the station – this was on a public street. That was before my car had been stolen. Having to enter the neighborhood on foot had made matters worse. I don’t “blend in” in Overtown. But I had a rental car now, so I was willing to take my chances.
I copped successfully and once I was sure that I wasn’t being followed (which had been the case several times prior) I pulled into a Wendy’s parking lot to shoot up. Normally, I’d insist that we wait until we were safely back in our shitbox apartment, but I was alone now and I wasn’t putting this shot off any longer. It had already been far too long.
The plan was to collect my things from the apartment (assuming they were still there – and that my key still worked), drive to Sarasota, collect some more of my things, and drive to New York, where I would live. I didn’t have any idea where specifically in the city I’d even go once I pulled into town, but I guess I thought I’d figure it out at some point in my eighteen hour drive up the east coast. I was going to get a job in a law firm as a paralegal, take the bar exam, and get a job in a law firm as a lawyer. And I was going to stop shooting heroin. This shit in Florida – this was just a “last round” sort of thing. I believed this. Sincerely.
The next 17 days were a blur. I could probably piece a lot of it together if I sat down and “timelined” it all out, but it’s not all incredibly relevant to this particular part of the story. What is relevant is that at some point in those 17 days, I got into a car accident.
I was driving to my drug dealer’s house, but I was already high on heroin and xanax. I made one stop on the way, at Liggett, to buy more needles. When I came out, two guys were standing by my car (the car I had borrowed from the Owens). “What do you have in the bag?” they asked me. What the fuck is this… I wondered… “It’s my prescription,” I lied, “my antidepressants.” “You’re fucked up,” they told me. “You ran up onto the sidewalk three times and almost hit us twice. What’re you on?” I had no idea that I had driven up on the sidewalk (or almost hit another car). I told them that I had been texting and that I was sorry. They said they couldn’t let me drive. They offered me a drive to wherever I needed to go. I put on my best sober and in control act and somehow, eventually, convinced them that everything was cool.
About five minutes later, I crashed into another car. Luckily, nobody was in it. That’s probably because it was parked – not on the street, but a good deal off of the street in a driveway. The people came out of their house. I apologized profusely and recycled my lie – saying that I had been texting. They wanted to call the police, which I assured them wasn’t necessary. “I’m really sorry, but I can’t wait around that long. I have a doctor’s appointment to go to and I’m moving out of state tomorrow. If I miss it, I won’t be able to get my prescriptions filled before I leave.” (I was planning on leaving, but not the following day – and there was no doctor’s appointment). I gave them my information. Well, not so much the information, but the actual documents. To convince them that I could be trusted, I gave them my driver’s license and the vehicle registration and insurance card from the glovebox (it wasn’t my car, it had been loaned to me after I returned the rental). And I had them call my phone right then so they could see it ring in my hand, verifying that it was legitimate. I assured them they didn’t need to call police and hit the road. I said I’d come back for my license and other papers later.
The calls started coming in. They called the police, who wanted me to come back. I pretended I couldn’t because I was at my appointment, but when the vehicle’s owner called me (having also been contacted by the police) he told me that if I didn’t go back, there’d be a warrant issued for my arrest. But that if I did go back, I’d just get a citation. By this point, I had already injected even more heroin, but I convinced myself that I could pass for straight, stashed my lockbox full of drugs and paraphernalia, and drove the smashed up car back to the house where I had hit the car.
I pulled off the act successfully. No one suspected (or at least accused) me of being under the influence of anything) and I just got some tickets… and a summons to appear in court. For “leaving the scene of an accident without giving information.” Which was obviously a totally bullshit charge considering the tremendous extent to which I had given my information BUTit was a fuck of a lot better than being arrested for DUI and possession of heroin.
I cut a deal wherein I had to pay some fines, take a driver improvement course, and do some community service hours. By the time I went to my courtdate, I was already in rehab again, but they didn’t need to know about that. But here’s the one bit of information that I’m actually trying to get at: I (unknowingly) failed to satisfy one of the criterion in some way, so when I got out of Tranquil Shores (seven months after all of this even happened) I found out that there was a warrant for my arrest. Unless I wanted this shit hanging over my head, I’d have to go down to the jail and turn myself in.
It was a bummer but I kept an incredibly positive, upbeat attitude throughout. Even when I found myself handcuffed to a wall in a hallway, for hours, waiting for them to even begin the process of booking me. (Translation: I could have been sitting in the lobby, I could have just been outside – but I guess that’s not how that shit works).
I even stayed positive when – having asked for permission to draw (and been granted it) – another officer came and took my pen away. (And this was at the phase of the game where incoming arrestees are all filling out paperwork so we’re not talking about a “no pens allowed” policy). Which isn’t to say that any of this is a tremendously huge deal or “totally unfair.” But it is the sort of thing that “the old me” would have found to be a TERRIBLE INJUSTICE and lost his shit over. I didn’t do that though. I smiled and thought about how I was grateful to be in a position where I wasn’t caught off-guard – where I was able to arrange for my bail to be paid ahead of time – and grateful that, so long as I stayed on the path I was now on, this would be the last time I’d have to deal with this kind of shit. This would be the last time I’d have to sit handcuffed to a wall.
So this is my self-portrait from the last day I was arrested.
Post-script: Obviously, I never made it to New York. I checked into rehab on August 17th. Also – fun epilogue: From the scene of the accident, I went to trade in the (now totaled) car for a motorcycle… which I also managed to crash (just thirty minutes after being issued the tickets and the summons!) – impressed??
The original drawing is no longer available, but if you ask Bill Pinkel (one of my favorite artists) really nicely, maybe he’ll let you take it out of the frame and see what I had with me / got marked down on my property inventory sheet. Either way, it is available as a 4×6″ print – numbered, signed, and sealed.
In the last year, I learned to use art as a tool for emotional health. Since I’ve been out of treatment, I’ve been doing very well in that area. One area in which my counselor insists I need improvement is my social health.
One day, I accidentally went out to lunch with a group of people. I crept around until I found the restaurant’s stock of crayons and paper. I didn’t have anything in mind when I started (other than removing myself from the world around me so I wouldn’t have to interact awkwardly with other human beings) so I just chose a color that appealed to me and drew some shapes that I liked. At some point, I decided what the shapes were, added to them to form the image of a kid blowing a bubble, and then captioned it with the first thing that came to mind.
This little cartoon has no unique significance to me, but – like a lot of what I do – it’s evidence of how far I’ve come. Granted, one could suggest that – ideally – I wouldn’t feel the need to escape reality at all, but I think that drawing is a big step up from shooting heroin. And – while I can see some validity to the opposing point of view – I don’t think that social interaction is all that much more important than doing something that helps me feel productive and (in a very real sense) valuable.
For years, I’d wake up with a sigh, as I contemplated another day of being alive and – even worse – being me. Sometimes I create things that have deep meaning to me. Other times, I just draw little cartoons that I think are cute or clever and are little more than they appear. Both of these kinds of art are important because both are pieces of what makes me happy to be living and breathing as Sam North. A lot of people could do what I do, but a lot of people don’t. For whatever reason, I do – and that’s something I’ve been rewarded for in innumerable ways every day. What I once considered a terrible fate, I’m now incredibly grateful for. I’m pretty excited about being me. [written 5/29/13]
Today, I went to Art Walk, a monthly event in downtown Jacksonville. People set up tables and sell art and other stuff they’ve made. Within minutes of arriving, a kid asked if he could give me a flier for a record store. I told him I’d trade him and handed him one of mine. And then we realized who we were. It was Josh from Dead Tank, one of the two kids in the area that I (met ten million years ago and) decided to email last month to find out about DIY shows/spaces in the area. Pretty excellent chance encounter.
From there, I just kind of poked around, scoping things out. (I sent in an application to be a participant, but it wasn’t in time for this month’s Art Walk). I met and talked to a few people though, awkwardly handed some strangers cartoons/fliers, and… then I rode home.
“I think I should (or at least want to) eat but I feel fat so I’m gonna try not to do that. I’d eat with Adderall but don’t wanna stay up too late. Got treatment tomorrow. I’d work out but don’t want to. I should get some work done or make some art (which I sort of am) but really I think I’ll just beat off. It’s a good distraction. I wanna say I wanna use heroin at times like this but I don’t. I never will. I’m not a good addict.”
Yeesh. [or something]. Right? I wrote that on a discarded USPS box with no intention of it actually becoming a piece. I was just losing my mind. There’s a lot going on here but that’s how it started (bottom center, red pencil).I’m proud to say that – like the other piece in which I express an interest in masturbating – I wound up getting pulled into art instead. (If you wanna know the truth though – on other occasions, I actually have masturbated! Don’t tell anyone though – it’s a big secret).
On the edges we have two allusions to the piece I finished earlier this same night (“Titrating”). On the right it says, “If THAT wasn’t titration-related, maybe THIS isn’t either.” On the left it says, “On a scale of one to ten, are you warm and safe? Do you find colors soothing? Is there any leftover pizza? On a scale of one to ten… Leftover pizza?” (That’s me poking fun at myself for being so concerned with pizza back on February 26th). Regarding “colors,” that’s about the neon green paint splattered across the pink duct tape that coats the far right side of my “canvas.” I like colors.
I was “making a living” at this point in my life by selling weird antique dolls on eBay. Every morning (or afternoon) I’d wake up and go out to the garage (in my ex-girlfriend’s family’s house) and list the dolls for sale. The details don’t matter, but they were basically inherited and I was enlisted to sell them in exchange for 50% of whatever they brought in. The dolls were all stored in giant plastic tubs. Some of them didn’t have clothes on, but there were a bunch of clothes floating around at the bottoms of the tubs. In order to make as much money as possible, I had to research the dolls based on their attributes and the markings carved into their backs and necks. For many of them, what clothes they were wearing was “important” (by which I mean, it affected how much I’d get for them). So here I was, sitting in a dark garage, putting different outfits on these toys and photographing them. Context aside, I was twenty-seven years old and playing dress-up with dollies. When that thought occurred to me, it struck me as being so absurd that I had to snap a ridiculous picture and post it on Facebook. The caption read, “Don’t even try to pretend I’m not the funniest motherfucker on the planet.”
Because I totally am!
When this piece was just one step away from the way it ended up, I fucking hated it. Aside from the fact that it mentions embarrassing stuff (body image issues and masturbating) I just didn’t like the way that it looked. I can’t really explain my next move. Maybe it just popped into my head and seemed characteristic of mental illness and (since that’s how I felt in this moment) I embraced it. I took the piece and I peed on it.
And – call me crazy but… that’s what did it. The slight change in color tone brought about by my urine soaking into the cardboard… really brought the whole thing together. (My phrasing is intentionally silly here, but the sentiment is 100% dead on). Suddenly, I loved this piece. I deemed it “finished” and immediately started my next piece – “Everything Works Out Exactly As It Should.”
The next day (as I always did) I brought all of my new artwork with me to Tranquil Shores to share. I wrote the name of this piece on the back of it and came up with a really funny game. I’d hand it to someone, let them look at it, and then tell them to flip it over and read the title. At which point they’d look up at me like, “seriously?” And I’d give them a big dumb grin and nod.
Urine is sterile! The piece was dry by this point! Who cares?!