Category Archives: Stories

Buy This Painting or They’ll Put Me in Jail Where I Belong

“Buy This Painting or They’ll Put Me in Jail Where I Belong.” 2/7/18. Acrylic paint. 24×30″.

I’ve got a new organizational system in my head…

The period of time when I was at Tranquil Shores (beginning in 2012), all the way through to my relapse at the very end of 2015: that’s what I’m calling “ROUND ONE.”

In the fall of 2017, I left Jacksonville and got clean. I think it lasted about eight months before I relapsed. That period is ROUND TWO.

In October of 2018, Wallis and I broke up for good and I got clean again. This stretch also lasted about eight months and is ROUND THREE.

In March of 2024, Juliana and I broke up, I started sublocade for the first time, and I began making art in earnest again for the first time in five years. This is Round 4. We’re IN IT NOW.

I imagine this’ll come up fairly often in my writing from here on, so I want readers to have some idea what I’m talking about.

“Buy This Painting or They’ll Put Me in Jail WHERE I BELONG” is a Round 2 painting. It’s been on the website for a while but I’d never published the statement until now. I thought about giving some extra background but I’ll just let it speak for itself. The statement is exactly what appears in the big white “STORY TIME” block on the painting.

Okay –  STORY TIME: about three years after I started making art and quit shooting heroin, 2015 was turning into 2016 and I stopped fucking with paintbrushes and went back to needles. It wasn’t long before I regretted the trade-off but that didn’t help me undo it any. By October 16th though, I was trying pretty desperately to get clean. I made a plan with my friend, Jen, who lived outside Jacksonville in Nocatee. I would go to her house to detox so that – in a weaker moment – I couldn’t just call one of my dealers to get more dope to ease the pain of withdrawal. Since I could always just get in my car and drive [to Jacksonville] though, we’d also block my car into her driveway with one of hers. (She had THREE).

I think it was my second day of detox. I was NOT FEELING WELL. Jen gave me some xanax to help sleep it off. I took one (2mg) but didn’t really feel any better. Some time later,  I took another and fell asleep. When I woke up though, I still felt pretty terrible. I decided to take two more [for a total now of 8 mg]. I got in bed and fell asleep again.

When I woke up, I was NAKED IN A JAIL CELL. So… what happened? Apparently my car wasn’t blocked in when I woke up blacked-out and (presumably) got in my car and drove off.

After I got into some clothes and in front of a judge, they said I was charged with three DUIs (for allegedly hitting three cars) AND assault on a law enforcement officer. 

But… but… but… I was trying to do good!! I was trying to get OFF drugs! I didn’t have any intention of driving anywhere! I even took steps to ensure that I couldn’t drive even if I wanted to! (Not because of anything like this; I never even imagined such a possibility. I’m a JUNKIE! Not a xanax addict. I don’t know how this shit works!) However, yeah – I get it. Knowingly or not, whatever the circumstances, I was guilty of driving under the influence and people could have been hurt as a consequence of my actions. (Unless – y’know – I was abducted from the bed and framed (WHICH IS ALSO SUPER POSSIBLE). 

I pled the charges down to one count of DUI and got six months of probation. In the first two months, I took one of the two classes they said I had to take and paid all $2,000+ of my court costs and fines or whatever. And then – with three months left on my sentence – my probation officer told me a new rule had been implemented requiring all terms of probation to be completed 45 days before the termination date. And that the other class [that I still needed to take] had no open seats until after that 45 day date. Which meant that violating my probation was now an inevitability over which I had no control. So she filed my violation right then and there and told me to watch the mailbox for “what’s next.”

A letter came. It said to come to the courthouse within 48 hours so the judge could decide what to do with me. I called a lawyer to make sure they weren’t going to arrest me on the spot. (I didn’t wanna detox in jail again). (Because – OBVIOUSLY – I’d gone back to heroin right after the initial arrest and ultra fun jail cell withdrawal). “Seems they issued the warrant yesterday,” he said. “But I just got this today!” “Sorry.”

I DON’T LIKE JAIL; I DON’T WANT TO GO TO JAIL. So for the last nine months, I’ve been “on the run.” When the cops started coming to my house looking for me too often, I left Jacksonville. Which I needed to do anyway if I was ever gonna kick heroin again. It worked. I’m four months clean now. I’ve started making art again. This will be my fifth post-relapse painting. I don’t want to turn myself in. I don’t want to go back to Jacksonville. I know myself: if I go back to Jacksonville, where all my dealers are just a phone call/stone’s throw away, I will wind up back on heroin. Could I get drugs in the city where I’ve been hiding out? Yes – OF COURSE. (I’m a PROFESSIONAL). But I have just enough willpower/self-discipline and enough good things going here that – in my weaker moments – I can be strong (enough to hold fast so long as scoring dope will require more than a single phone call). But if I get dragged back to Jacksonville, I’ll be homeless – crashing on couches of people who really don’t want me there. I’ll feel WORTHLESS and UNWANTED and HELPLESS and USELESS and HOPELESS and I WILL START SHOOTING HEROIN AGAIN.

Here’s what I would much rather do: complete the outstanding terms of my original probation and then contact the judge and make my appeal directly. I sat in her courtroom a lot. She seemed pretty reasonable; she did not want to lock people up for the fuck of it. When people were fucking up the terms of their probations – not doing shit – she would try to drag any reason out of them to justify giving them another chance. If I can satisfy my terms (taking that second class and completing fifty hours of community service – that’s all I had left) I think she’ll close my case. After all, before it was terminated, I was A MODEL PROBATIONER.

I’m scared to go somewhere to do my community service though. They’ll probably run a background check, possibly discover my active warrant, maybe have me come in only to have the cops come get me [in hindsight, this was pretty unlikely/paranoid] and – before I know it – I’m in jail awaiting extradition to Jacksonville, where – AS NOTED – I do not want to be for (what I feel are) pretty legitimate reasons.

But I know Carmen… We’ve gotten to be friends… Because (BEFORE I RELAPSED) she liked my art and (presumably) the fact that it’s all about my mental illness/borderline personality disorder and my histories with heroin and codependency and girls and BAD BEHAVIOR. And my constant fucking struggle to do right. And feel okay. And she has a fucking non-profit that’s all about art programs and mental health. That’s MY FUCKING JAM. (I only started making art because I was forced at knifepoint while in inpatient rehab for sixteen years). (Okay – it was only two years but whatever).

So, non-profits can dole out community service hours… Abridged conversation: “Yo, Carmen – what could I do for ‘I Still Matter’ to get community service hours?” “Paint something we can auction off at our next event and write a statement about why you support I Still Matter.”

In rehab, when they first told me I had to participate in “expressive art therapy,” I thought it was a contemptible joke. “I can’t keep a needle out of my arm and you want me to fucking COLOR? Go fuck yourselves.” But as I was worn down by failure and frustration and misery and just wanting a life other than the one I had, I stopped fighting and I started just trying to do whatever I was told. I started to make art. I was really bad at it. But something interesting happened. At the end of each art therapy sessions, we’d go around the room and talk about what we’d made – and when it’d be my turn to share, I’d talk about my piece and how I was feeling, and how those feelings were reflected and represented in whatever I’d drawn/painted/written. And people laughed. Or they cried. Or they smiled and wanted to hug me. Or they just told me how much they related to and/or how much they appreciated what I was saying. They liked the things I was making. And then something really interesting happened: I started to feel good about what I was doing. I started to develop SELF-ESTEEM. And for the first time in longer than I could remember, I didn’t wanna die anymore. And I was actually excited about living. I was finally able to envision a life for myself that I could enjoy (and that wouldn’t require heroin just to get me through each day). 

When I finally got out of rehab, they told me I needed to get a job. I had a law degree from Georgetown but I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to PAINT FUNNY FACES AND SCRIBBLE ABOUT MY FEELINGS. So that’s what I did. And, before long, I was making enough [money] from art alone to support myself and build a new life. Now, OBVIOUSLY, SOMETHING WENT WRONG ALONG THE WAY (three years later). But that’s another (really fucked up) story; I don’t think anyone could’ve gone through what I did before I relapsed and NOT kill themselves or otherwise self-destruct. It’s okay that I relapsed. And now I’m rebuilding. I’m getting back to what made my life the kind of life I want to live. I’m getting back to art. Art is what saved me the first time and it’s what’s saving me this second time. ‘I Still Matter’ is important because it can do for people what Tranquil Shores [my third treatment center] and expressive art therapy did for me. It can turn broken people into something better. It can turn cautionary tales into inspirational stories. It can uncover talents and aptitudes that people never knew they had. It can radically change lives. Or – at the very least – it gives people like me something nice to do for a little while. A safe, welcoming place to go and something to do (not drugs) that can silence the anxiety, even if only for a short while. It offers a respite from the monsters that live in our heads. AND – in this particular instance – it can get me some community service hours to help sway the court’s opinion in my favor.

So, please, if it’s not asking too much…: BUY THIS PAINTING OR THEY’LL PUT ME IN JAIL WHERE I BELONG.

I haven’t spoken to Carmen in some time but – while I did eventually/successfully use this painting to satisfy the terms of my probation – I don’t think it was ever actually auctioned off. If you’d like to purchase it (and support a non-profit art/mental health organization in doing so) I’d imagine that can be arranged. I also have 12×16″ signed, hand-numbered prints for sale. Get in touch if you’re interested in either.

Baby Dick Virgin

“Baby Dick Virgin.” 5/1/24. acrylic paint. 16×20″.

In the past, the smaller text in my paintings tended to be raw journals, scrawled onto the canvas in the moment. For this, my first painting in five years, I sort of typed out the story of the piece as I was going and, then, transcribed it to the canvas a little later. For that reason, the smaller text featured in the painting, essentially, is my artist’s statement for the piece. It says:

I left my girlfriend again but this time we didn’t get back together because there was some baby dick virgin waiting to pounce the second she was vulnerable and she says she likes that he looks at her like a puppy dog and even though she says she’ll never love him as much as she loves me AND THAT I’M HER SOULMATE, that because I don’t believe in soulmates and because he’s “ordinary,” maybe that would be safer for her. That’s all obviously FINE AND FUCKING DANDY except for the part that’s DRIVING ME UP THE GOD DAMN WALLS trying to decide if I miss her because I’m in love with her or if I’m just a lonely little codependent fuck who can’t stand the idea of being alive while there’s not a beautiful girl who is ACTIVELY in love with me.

It’s been two weeks since I wrote [the [preceding paragraph]. I wanna write about how I’ve FUCKED HER since then, how she took pictures of it, how her fat uncle of a boyfriend saw the pictures, forgave her, and then I FUCKED HER AGAIN (and then some). But that’s just pettiness and spite and me feeling like I got a win that I need to advertise. I’m not trying to get back together with her. I would very much like to destroy their relationship. Not just as a fuck you. I do still genuinely care about her and she’s not going to get better while she’s hiding from her issues in that joke of a rebound. She knows now that she can literally do anything and he will never drop her because he’s too pathetic and broken to ever think he could do any better. I’m VERY tempted to name this painting after him.

I ultimately did. After committing it to the canvas in giant letters, I wrote:

Choosing this title is the pettiest thing I’ve done in my work. But it’s SUCH a ridiculous choice that I couldn’t help it that the thought made me smile as much as it did. (And I argued with myself and consulted with friends but kept coming back to it, so I clearly needed to EXPEL THE VENOM so/before I could move on). I know it’s shitty, toxic masculinity and probably only highlights my own lack of self-esteem that I enjoyed winning a DICK MEASURING CONTEST as much as I did but – you know what? I never did shit to that dweeb and HE called ME from her phone to SCREAM at me for no fucking reason, at a time when I was already fragile as fuck. So fuck him – he gets what he gets and he can live with the world knowing that [redacted] he wasn’t MEASURING UP (in any way).

I promise this will be my last painting for a minute that’s secretly about HOW GREAT my own dick is. Though I’m sure it’s the first of many more that’s ACTUALLY about how fucking insecure I am, in spite of everything. BUT I’M GETTING BETTER (I swear). Today is day 23 [since I got clean again].

This next, final part is definitely less of a journal and more a defense. I anticipated some strong reactions as soon as I put the painting up on my social media and I guess I wanted to kind of preempt some of the criticism.

I’m pretty embarrassed by the sentiment of this painting but that feeling often indicates when I’m onto something that’s significant for me and/or will somehow be meaningful to other people. It also makes me feel like a little bit of a BULLY but it’s not as if I have some huge platform these days. The dink at hand might never even learn this painting exists. I feel a little guilty – even having her approval – that the previews I posted online already caused some discord in her family and anxiety for her but… I can’t control or really even concern myself with other people’s reactions. So long as I’m being honest and my work is authentic (even when partially powered by spite), I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

The painting went online and, sure enough, even with my hedging, I still got some negative responses – even stronger than what I’d feared. One person told me they no longer wanted a painting of mine that they owned and asked for an address that they could ship it back to!  And I’m sure there were plenty more who chose the “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” path. But I also got some really great, positive responses beyond what I even hoped. People who saw past the pettiness and the ego and really seemed to understand, relate to, appreciate, and admire what I’d made. As an artist (especially a snarky little shit-eater of an artist) what more can I ask for?

“Baby Dick Virgin” has already been sold, but limited edition 11×14″ signed, hand-numbered prints are available for purchase.

Relapse 2014 story

Before we start, here’s a vocabulary lesson for normal people: Vivitrol is an injection you can get to block the euphoric effects of heroin for a month. Without the incentive of a high, there’s no reason to shoot up. So long as you get it every 30 days, you’ll stay clean. Dilaudid is a prescription opiate. Like Oxycodone, you shoot it up and it feels just like heroin.

A couple other points: I didn’t proofread this shit. I didn’t edit it, I didn’t “punch it up.” I just typed it. “Natalie” and “Joseph” are fake names because what-the-fuck-ever. People don’t always like it when they make it into my stories.

And with no further ado…


I didn’t wanna take Natalie to get her Vivitrol shot. It’d be an eight-hour roundtrip and if she couldn’t be trusted to go get it herself, then what’s the point anyway? What would I really be accomplishing, keeping a girl clean who didn’t wanna be clean? I felt like I owed it to her mom though and I like to help. Being useful to someone else makes me feel a little better about myself and I could use that lately.

I never got the chance. Natalie called me on Wednesday night. She couldn’t get the Vivitrol shot on Thursday as planned because (surprise!) she had been on drugs the whole time. You need a few days clean before you get the shot and she didn’t have ‘em. What she did have was a meeting with her probation officer in the morning. If she pissed dirty, she’d be going to jail. She wanted me to drive down to Boynton to help. “What can I even do for you at this point?” I asked. “I just need you,” she begged. I called her mom; she said she’d feel a lot better if I were down there. I agreed to go. My plan was to take her to the PO in the morning – to help her turn herself in. She wouldn’t do it alone but maybe I could be the support she needed to brave up and face the music. I didn’t tell Natalie that that was my plan; I just started driving and told her I was on the way.

I got to town shortly after midnight and Natalie was nowhere to be found and not answering her phone. I was really pissed off. What the fuck did I drive down here for? I pulled into a fast food parking lot, took a Seroquel, and went to sleep. Art, ambition, girls, relationships, love, sex, money, priorities, the ability to wake up in the morning and live a day worth living… Everything in my life is so screwed up lately. I’m sleeping alone in the parking lot of a Boynton Beach Checkers. Fuck my life.

I found out on the drive down that Natalie had, in fact, been staying at a halfway house but what she had left out is that it was one of those shithouse operations that lets you share a room with your junkie boyfriend/girlfriend. Drug-addled couples never get clean together. Never. She wouldn’t give me the address for the house because her boyfriend is the jealous type (Natalie’s “not allowed” to be my friend on Facebook, for example). She didn’t want any kind of confrontation should he be home when I came to pick her up. So she kept me on the hook. “I’m on my way,” “Where are you? I’ll meet you there,” “Just another thirty minutes” – this went on all day from 8AM ‘til 2PM when she finally showed up at my friend Joseph’s house, where I had been hanging out, waiting on her.

There was no way she was going to turn herself in, she said. She wanted to go to treatment. Joseph told her about the facility he works at. “They can handle your PO,” he told her. I didn’t really like that idea. Natalie’s been through treatment before. At least ten times. If she went in again, we’d just be dealing with this same shit down the line when she got released. Inpatient rehab cannot save Natalie. She needs real consequences. She still doesn’t want to get clean – not really.

But Joseph and Natalie got it all worked out. The counselors at his facility were handling her PO. She’d go in there for two months and the PO would come in with papers that’d terminate Natalie’s probation. For the ten millionth time, Natalie was gonna get off the hook, beat the charges, be free to fuck up her life. What the fuck was I gonna do? What the fuck could I do? Nothing except safely transport her to detox.

The detox Natalie wanted to go to wouldn’t take her until the next morning. Her facility found another place she could go but she didn’t wanna. She wanted to spend the day/night with me first. Fine. Fair enough. I like Natalie and I’ve done this before. It’s not generally advisable to try to babysit a junkie but – like Chris Spillane – I know Natalie well enough to know that I can hold on to her. Like Chris Spillane, I know she’s not gonna straight up bolt on me and I know she’s not gonna pull anything too crazy. She had already gotten high (hence her failure to meet up with me until fourteen hours after my arrival) so she wasn’t gonna get sick before I dropped her off at detox. We left her car in Joseph’s driveway and had a mostly pleasant day together.

We went back to Joseph’s house in the morning to get her car. We couldn’t go straight to detox because Natalie had a paycheck waiting for her at work that she needed to cash so she could get cigarettes and whatever else while she was in rehab for the next two months. It was 8AM but the check wouldn’t be ready for pick up until noon. And then she started in with the bullshit. She needed to go to a friend’s house to get stuff she had left behind, she needed to go to another house to shower and get dressed, she needed to do a lot of things and it was okay with her if I just let her drive to do these things on her own. Not fucking happening. I knew what was really going on – she wanted to go get high one last time. Was I afraid, like her mom was, that she might overdose? No. Was I afraid that she might get arrested? No – because that’d be the best thing that could happen to her, in my view. But I was fucking here and it was my job to hold on to her and make sure that she got to wherever the fuck it was that she was supposed to be going. I was emotionally fucking exhausted. “I’m not letting you go off on your own to run around town doing whatever the fuck it is you’re trying to do. Back me up on this, Joseph.” “Honestly,” he said, “She’s going into treatment anyway. It doesn’t really matter if she gets high one last time. Just let her do what she’s gonna do and then you won’t have to deal with all the lies and bullshit. At least she’ll be straight with you.”

Fuck. Now I’ve got the guy who works at the treatment center telling me I should just let her get high one last time. He’s wrong but maybe he’s right. What the fuck does it matter? Why do I care if she uses again before she goes in? Maybe I’m just trying to be controlling. Maybe this would all be a lot easier if, for once, I just give in and say, “Fine.” And so we’re off to the dealer’s house.

“I’ll pay you back as soon as we get my check,” she said. Fuck. So now I’m paying for the drugs too? Great. What the fuck ever. Here. I give her the money, she hands it to the dealer, he hands her the pill (Dilaudid), and we pull away. All of this is in Natalie’s car because I’ll be damned if I’m gonna have this shit going on in my car. I’m not going to jail for this shit. This is already stupid and fucking risky enough as is. I shouldn’t be here. What the fuck is wrong with me?

We pull into the parking lot of the AA clubhouse and Natalie prepares her shot. She can’t find a vein, she can’t do her shot. “We’ve gotta go to my friend Evan’s house so he can hit me,” she says. “No, we’re not fucking doing that.” “Then you have to do it,” she says. Great. Perfect. This makes sense. So now I’m shooting this girl up in a parking lot? Of course I am. This is my stupid fucking life.

I take the needle from her and slide it into her arm, immediately finding a vein. “First time, every time,” I think to myself. What a stupid point of pride.

I pretend to throw all of her paraphernalia out the window but secretly slip it into my pocket with the exception of her rig. That, I do throw away. But I take a clean one from her glovebox and put that in my pocket. We go back to Walgreens, where we left my van, and I go in to use the bathroom. Into the bottle cap Natalie used to prep her shot, I rinse the residual powder from the cellophane she used to crush the Dilaudid. I put my needle in to her cotton and draw back. There’s no way there’s enough left in this cap (even with the added cellophane powder) for me to feel anything but I’m going to do it anyway. I shoot up and feel nothing. I go outside and find Natalie in the parking lot, arguing on her phone. I don’t tell her what I’ve done but I’m angry about it. She says her boss called and that she can’t get her check today. I’m angry about that too because now I’m not going to be reimbursed for the drugs, for the gas I put in her car, or for the food and cigarettes I bought her (something she offered as consolation when she hit me up for the drug money). And my money is tight right now. That reimbursement would’ve helped. I tell Natalie it’s time to go to detox – and not the one she wants to go to in Miami – the one in West Palm that her soon-to-be treatment facility/home wanted her to go to. She flips out threatens to call her mom, tell her I shot her up, and get my phone turned off (because I’m on their plan). That doesn’t phase me. I know I’m going to tell her mom about all of this anyway. I start to call myself and Natalie stops me. I know she doesn’t want her mom to know about any of this. She gives in and agrees to let me drive her to the detox in West Palm. At some point, I sneakily get her dealer’s number out of her cell phone. If I’m still feeling like this after I drop her off, I’ve got plans of my own. I’ve been clean for sixteen months and I don’t give a fuck. After today, I’ll leave Delray and I’ll be safe again. This will be my last rescue mission. I relapsed two summers ago when I had eleven months clean. Once I removed myself from the dangerous situation in which I relapsed, I was fine. This will be the same. I’m going to be fine.

I smoke a cigarette in front of the detox center with Natalie before we go in. At one point, some guy comes out. He’s kind of an asshole. Natalie asks if I’ll get her a few packs of cigarettes to get her through detox. I say okay because I’m a sucker like that. We check her in and I drive to the store. Before I’m back, she’s calling. “I’m outside with all my stuff. Fuck this place. Will you take me somewhere else? I don’t want to stay here. And my boss called. I can go get my check after all.” She has a lot of reasons for why she doesn’t like it and I’ve got plenty of rationalizations for why I agreed to pick her back up but the truth of the matter is that I want her to cash the check so I can get paid back.

I pick Natalie up and we start driving to her work to get the check. On the way, (surprise!) Natalie tells me she needs to use again. Of course she doesn’t. She’ll be in detox soon enough (and the detox she wanted to go to all along – the one where they’ll dose her up with so much crap that she’ll be more high than she was on the outside) but none of that matters.

In fact, nothing that happened the rest of the day matters. Sure, there are all sorts of interesting, pathetic, sordid, exciting little developments in the next few hours but it’s all bullshit and I’m tired of this story now. I’m not having fun writing this. Here are the pertinent details: Natalie and I meet up with the dealer again; I buy drugs for myself this time; Natalie goes in to detox and I stay high until my drugs are all used up two and a half days later. And now I’m four and a half days clean again. And I’m the same person I was before any of it happened. I didn’t “lose” my eighteen months of cleantime, just as I didn’t lose the eleven months of cleantime I had racked up the last time I relapsed (summer 2013).

I finished my latest painting a couple nights ago – the one I’ve been working on for just over two months. I can see now that leaving Florida to travel this year was, more often than not, not especially productive. I am not pleased with my progress in these last few months. I have not been writing as much as I should be. I am not painting as often as I should be. I am not engaging with galleries or otherwise promoting myself or advancing my career as often as I should be. September, October, and November were almost total wastes of my time. I am confused and scared. I have lost my sense of direction and my motivation. I’ve been caught up in relationships that were mostly chaotic and destructive. I’ve become preoccupied with sex, moreso than ever before. These things are not a consequence of my relapse, they were the cause of it. This has been the build-up to it. And that’s okay. I’m not upset that it happened. I don’t really even care enough to think of it as “a wake up call.” Because I still feel lost and I still don’t know what to do and that’s the same as it was before I put a needle in my arm.

It’s just a thing that happened.

Punk Rock Today is Better Than It’s Ever Been

"Punk Rock Today is Better Than It's Ever Been." 5/28/14. Pen. 4½x5¼".
“Punk Rock Today is Better Than It’s Ever Been.” 5/28/14. Pen. 4½x5¼”.

Back in February, I was lucky enough to get to work on a painting and set up a print table at a couple shows some of my favorite bands were playing. On the second night, I asked my buddy Mike (who runs Dead Broke Rekerds) if I could scoop up some records in exchange for some artwork. He picked out a print and asked if I would draw something for a Dead Broke sticker. It took me a while ’cause I was stressing out, worrying about whether or not Mike would like whatever I came up with. As soon as I decided to drop the anxiety and just do what came naturally though, it was done in no time and I had this design. I’m really happy with it – in large part just because it’s so radically unlike the kind of art that a band or label would normally use for a sticker design.

I don’t think I met him just then but the first time Mike and I crossed paths was in late 2006. His band, Down in the Dumps, was in Florida to play The Fest and I caught their set in Tampa at Transitions Art Gallery (now Epic Problem). In my mind, this was right around the time when DIY pop punk was really blowing the fuck up (in an incredibly relative sense) and getting awesome/exciting again. Off With Their Heads released Hospitals, started their never-ending tour, and were in the midst of the flurry of 7-inches that they’d release leading up to their first full-length for No Idea. 1-2-3-4 Go!, Kiss of Death, and A.D.D. were all fucking killing it with bands like Ringers, Snuggle, Drunken Boat, Monikers, Witches With Dicks, Tiltwheel, Chinese Telephones, and Pretty Boy Thorson & The Falling Angels. Labels like No Breaks, It’s Alive, Dirt Cult, and Salinas were similarly picking up the pace, building incredible catalogs, and (soon enough) inspiring me to do the same. Banner Pilot self-released their first record. The Brokedowns put out “New Brains For Everyone.” Blotto was on the other side of the Pacific, churning out 7-inches at the same rate as Off With Their Heads, (mostly for Snuffy Smile, who were also tearing it up on the label side of things).  And shortly thereafter (or right around then), we got the first records out of Dear Landlord, The Measure, The Gateway District, Dead Mechanical, The Humanoids, and The Steinways.

But I’m getting carried away… the FIRST band to play at Transitions that aforementioned night in October 2006 was Down in the Dumps. They were the only band on the line-up I didn’t know anything about. And they were fucking awesome. It was everything punk rock’s supposed to be: grimy, coarse, fucked up but catchy and upbeat (sonically, if not in content)Mike played bass and sang. And as I’d later find out, he was also the guy responsible for Dead Broke Rekerds, whose catalog now boasts a whole slew of my favorite records.

After I moved to DC for law school and started my record label, Traffic Street, the first bands to come through Baltimore and stay at my place were Iron Chic and Jonesin’.  Mike played bass and sang in Jonesin’ and – though he wasn’t at the time – is now the bassist in Iron Chic as well. Both bands mean a lot to me. One of Traffic Street’s final releases was Jonesin’s EP, “The Dream is Dead.” And – going back to the beginning – #001 in the Traffic Street catalog was a 7-inch compilation called “Dangerous Intersections,” which was not only my first vinyl release but also Iron Chic’s first appearance on vinyl (and only their second release overall, following their five-song demo).

Before Traffic Street collapsed under the weight of my mental health issues and heroin addiction, Mike and I were in regular contact, states away, trading our releases for our distros, talking music, making fun of each other, and – every so often – crossing paths again when I’d book a show for Iron Chic or he’d book one for Rational Anthem (who, coincidentally, shared the A-side of “Dangerous Intersections” with Iron Chic). When it all went wrong for me, he continued to stay in touch, checking up on me periodically, wishing me well, and even sending me a slew of records in the mail while I was in rehab. He’s continued being a source of support since I’ve been back in the real world too. He’s a great friend and a veritable fucking pillar of DIY punk rock. I’m honored to have my art featured on one of his label’s stickers.

AND REGARDING “punk rock today” and the claim made by the title of this piece… Allow me to present some audible evidence! Here are songs from the records Mike traded me that night back in February, as well as some recent stuff by other bands I’ve mentioned (and some by bands that spawned from their ashes).

“Babyboo” by Unfun

“Snow Angels” by Murmurs

“Wolf Dix Rd.” by Iron Chic

“I Wish I Could Be Happy” by Rational Anthem

“Not Cool” by The Slow Death

“Old Man Yells at Cloud” by Skinny Genes

“This Future Sucks” by The Brokedowns

“Hey Caroline” by Dear Landlord

“Look” by Science Police

“How the Day Runs Down” by Dead Mechanical

“Start Walking” by Off With Their Heads

“Hold Fast” by Banner Pilot

And even though they’re not technically “punk rock today“…

“‘Lone” by Jonesin’

“City of the Living Dead” by Down in the Dumps

Oh! AND… I think I like the black-and-white version better but since I can’t resist coloring anything and everything, here’s what the finished, physical drawing looks like (though the stickers will still be black-and-white).

"Punk Rock Today is Better Than It's Ever Been" (with color). 6/1/14. Ink. 4½x5¼".
“Punk Rock Today is Better Than It’s Ever Been” (with color). 6/1/14. Ink. 4½x5¼”.

Raygun Youth

"Raygun Youth." 8/3/13. Acrylic paint and ink on wood panel. 24x6".
“Raygun Youth.” 8/3/13. Acrylic paint and ink on wood panel. 24×6″.

I painted this for the cover of Billy Raygun’s posthumous discographic cassette. Each of the three bits of text is a lyric from a song of theirs that means something to me.

I thought I heard you calling; it was just the emptiness ringing in my head. I still think about you a lot. I still think about you a lot. I still think about you a lot.

In April 2011, my six-year relationship with Taylor came to a close. She broke up with me. I didn’t take it well. I had been pretty strung out on heroin, in a pretty bad way, for a little while but had just gotten into my first “treatment program” a few days prior (it was just methadone maintenance – not exactly the best path to wellness but what did I know?) On top of that, final exams for my final semester at Georgetown Law were about to begin and I hadn’t been to any of my classes all year. I didn’t even own the textbooks. I had a lot of studying to do if I was gonna graduate on time and I knew god damn well that if I didn’t graduate now that it was never gonna happen. I needed to keep it together (get it together) real, real fast if I was gonna keep everything in my life from crumbling into absolute shit, misery, and failure. Between the methadone, the heroin, the Adderall, and the sleep deprivation that goes along with studying in 24-hour shifts, I was … not entirely well. For a while there, I started to experience regular auditory hallucinations. Mostly, it was people (strangers) screaming at each other. It was like channel surfing on a TV where every single show featured nothing but loud, angry people. Occasionally though, I’d get a break in that and hear something softer and sweeter: “Sam…” It was a voice I knew; it was Taylor’s voice. Every single time, I’d turn around without fail, hoping (and actually believing) that this time she’d actually be standing there. She never was (of course) but it still broke my heart a little bit every time. It was a miserable cycle of studying, drugs, and crying.

All of this care / not caring is killing me.

This lyric isn’t tied into any one specific memory as much as it serves as an all-encompassing description of my relationships (romantic and otherwise) throughout my life. Oscillating frantically back and forth between giving a shit and shutting down. Between feeling loved and feeling abandoned and rejected. Sometimes it seems like my emotions are wired to a light switch. It doesn’t take a lot to flip from “perfect” love to total apathy (or even hatred). And since “we’re attracted to those at our same level of sickness/health,” I’ve gotten mixed up with plenty of girls who are equally skilled at unintentional (often drug-fueled) emotional back-and-forth. There was one night in early 2012 when my then-girlfriend professed her deep, unending, profound love for me in one moment, and was swearing that I was a disgusting, ugly, unlovable piece of shit in the next. And before the hour was up, she was right back to telling me how wonderful I was. Experiences like that can fuck with a person…

I’ll just admit that it’s a different girl, the same old story.

When I half-heartedly tried to kill myself in December 2012, I didn’t write a suicide note, but I did scribble something down on the back of one of many scraps of paper that were laying around my room. All that it said: “different girl / same old story.


Ideally, I’d have held on to sharing this until this release was announced but – shit – it’s been more than six months since I painted it so… sorry, kids!

Here’s a stream of their self-titled full-length. The first song is the first song I quoted lyrics from.

Because Nihilism

"Because Nihilism." 4/22/13. Watercolor and acrylic paints, charcoal, and ink. 12x16".
“Because Nihilism.” 4/22/13. Watercolor and acrylic paints, charcoal, and ink. 12×16″.


I painted this in April. I like ants. It’s expressive art and the story behind it is enough like a million others that it’s not worth telling. Instead, here’s the story of my life in April 2011.


When Taylor finally called me back, she sounded weird. “What’s going on?” She wouldn’t say. She was being evasive. I just came out and asked – “are you done with me?” She didn’t answer right away but – when she did – yeah, that was pretty much the gist of it.

Six years… I was in total shock. I had just gotten into my first “treatment” program eight days prior. (Methadone maintenance). I was cured! How could she break up with me now?!? Life was about to become a dream! This is preposterous!

Not to mention, I was in the middle of my final exams. My final final exams. She couldn’t wait two fucking weeks to do this? I was gonna be so busy for the next few weeks that, at most she might have seen me once. By breaking up with me now, it was guaranteeing that I’d fail my exams, not graduate from law school, lose at life, and DIE. What a selfish, miserable human being. (Her, I mean). (I’m really cool and great).

Granted, her timing was a little poor but I’m obviously still alive, and my interpretation of things has changed with time. Taylor didn’t leave me that day – because I had already left her – when I let heroin overtake her on my list of priorities. For the last eight months, I had barely existed in her life. I spent all my time hiding from her, out all day, out all night, shooting up at school or the basement of our building, ignoring her phone calls. Now that I had a couple pleasant days I thought everything was gonna be okay again?

But I couldn’t see that; I couldn’t see anything. I just hurt. More than hurt. I was fucking leveled. I didn’t want to use but… I had to. If I didn’t relapse, that’d mean I wasn’t really hurt. And I was really hurt so… I had to shoot some heroin to prove it. To myself. To Taylor. To the world. (I’m not really sure). And I had to buy a lot (two hundred bucks’ worth) ‘cause that was the best deal. (Money management’s an important skill!) My little bundle lasted me through the day with a few caps left over for the next. And then I put it out of my head and got back to the task at hand.

I hadn’t been to any of my courses all semester (I never even bothered to get textbooks). I logged in to the school’s website, found out which classes I was enrolled in, and settled into a couch in a (usually) empty room at school, where I’d spend the next few weeks, trying to learn as much as I could and just maybe graduate. When I couldn’t stay up any longer, I’d put my computer in my backpack and sleep on that same couch where I was studying. I didn’t get up for anything. Almost. Every six or seven days, I’d walk to the closest store to stock up on bagel bites and apples, which I kept in the fridge of a student organization to which I (of course) didn’t belong. There were three other reasons I’d occasionally leave the couch: to smoke a cigarette, use the bathroom, and (most importantly) – once a day, between the hours of 6AM and noon – go get my daily dose of methadone.

At one point, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror and was pretty impressed with how strung out I looked. (I guess the methadone / Adderall / sleep deprivation combo will do that you).  I took a picture for posterity.

April 2011


“Barkmarket Fuckacy” by House Boat is my favorite song on the last record [The Thorns of Life CD/LP] to bear the Traffic Street Records logo.

In the liner notes for the record, there’s a special “thanks to Sam North for basically ruining his life to help get this record made.”

(On our way to the studio for the recording of the album, I caught two felony possession of heroin charges and more misdemeanor charges for needles and other paraphernalia than I can count/remember). And if that wasn’t bad enough, the cops didn’t even give me back my drugs when they let me go! So on top of everything else, I had to spend the next day scrambling around Indiana looking for heroin.

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.”