Chapter 1 – Life Off-Kilter
When I’m in public, I don’t know, say riding on the Blue Line in Chicago – or I could pretty much be anywhere else for that matter – it always rubs me the wrong way when I overhear groups of young bros and hos talking about how “cray-cray” they got at the bar the evening or weekend previous.
“Yeah, we all took some shots of 151 then Katelyn started dancing with some rand-o in a leather jacket and John threw up in the bathroom sink. It’s was totally fucking crazy – like, in-sane.”
And of course, when the elocutionist realizes that to whoever whom they’re trying to convey the at-most mildly fascinating details of their allegedly wild night isn’t as impressed as they figured he or she should’ve been, they inevitably conclude the tale with the line, “I guess you just had to be there.”
This is where I feel like interjecting, not at all in some backwards-ass boastful manner that puts my own mental issues on a pedestal that I’d expect them to bow down to, but just to put forth the question and see how they respond when I ask, “Do you even know what ‘crazy’ is? Tell me, please, what is your definition of ‘crazy’?”
Ironically, me – “some rand-o ginger on a train” – asking those very questions of a complete stranger would in itself constitute most people’s idea of what defines a crazy person.
In this world where we reside as temporary guests and, in the end of our dust-to-dust existence, nothing really matters, I personally do not have a set-in-stone understanding of the conditions and circumstances that would render a situation or an individual “crazy.” I mean, sure, when some nutcase who keeps a bunch of mentally handicapped people chained up in his basement for years at a time, sexually abusing them when he gets the urge while collecting and cashing in on their social security checks, there’s little room left for doubt if someone were to say, “Yo, that motherfucker is out-of-his-mind crazy.” Because he totally is.
But on a whole different level, don’t you think it’s sort of crazy to live a normal life? Ain’t it a bit insane to don a suit and tie, shuffling papers and doing pointless busywork in an office every day during the best years of your life, putting company profits and boss’s orders ahead of your own interests and passions while trying to break out of those invisible shackles known as student loan debt? Don’t you think it’s a bit masochistic – which I view as a form of insanity – to stay in a life situation where the only thing you have to look forward to is cracking a bottle and “getting cray-cray” on the weekend to help you ignore how absurd and misguided our competitive societal arrangement and the role you play in it really are? Then if and once you realize how fucked the game is, how miserable you are and how happy you could be if you left it all behind, don’t you think it’s a bit loony to then go ahead, buy a car and take on a mortgage you can’t afford that will further anchor you, rendering you a life-long slave to the system? Because, to me, normalcy such as that comes across as totally fucking insane.
That sort of lifestyle choices make it seem as if the “happiness” we all have the right to pursue in this country is like the unattainable carrot hung in front of the mule’s face that tricks it into keeping going solely to serve the purposes of those that drive the corporate beast. But, you know, that’s just me. That’s just the opinion of one asshole who struggles to make sense of the world he lives in. I mean, I’m sure a lotta people out there don’t give a shit about travelling or experiencing new things or building real emotional connections with people, actually like their jobs and are quite comfortable living that type of lifestyle…or at the very least that’s what they’ve convinced themselves because they’re too scared to go against the grain. And that’s cool. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on everything, especially on what path in life is right for them as well as where they draw the line on what is and is not insane.
After giving it much consideration, unlike the aforementioned examples, I’ve concluded that my insanity is neither one of hostile kidnapping and sexual torture, nor one of a mundane day-in and day-out routine where existential values are all but ignored in favor of our economic race to the bottom. In my now relatively clear state of mind from where I reflect on my longstanding hatred for formal education, disdain for authority and undying need for personal freedom, I see my “insanity” as an unwillingness to lay down arms in a losing battle against the system – a constant struggle against the nagging temptation to say “fuck it,” deny that true happiness might actually exist somewhere out there and instead get nice and comfortable with my quantified self at a job I hate where they can tax the hell out of me, saddle myself with some more high-interest debt and nestle into a shallow little life of complacent alcoholism.
“Ah, alcohol, my only friend,” I’ve thought to myself many a time over the past eight years when trying to get all these heretical feelings sorted out. “With you inside me, this is the best I’ll ever feel in this world that ‘they’ have made for us. Don’t ever leave me.”
Now, that shit’s fucked up. But don’t get me wrong, I love to party. I love to celebrate and to be around other people celebrating and all that good shit. But what I came to realize is that the party I fell in love with during my late teenage years had long since left me cold. I started to see that I and the people I surround myself with didn’t seem to be celebrating anything at all. Our partying started to feel way too much like mechanical, weekly group self-medication sessions to dull anxiety brought on by futures bleak or uncertain – then again, maybe I’m just projecting. Because for me personally, my partying began to feel like a Band-Aid I’d hastily slapped on a gaping wound, a temporary escape from my soul’s cry for an answer to questions concerning the distorted reality of the material world – the most rousing of which had been, “What’s the point of continuing to quote unquote ‘live’ if I’m only going to go through the motions?” Although I’d lent this inquiry countless hours of thought over at least a third of my life, I’d never come up with a satisfactory answer and just continued going along with the flow.
Just after graduation from college was when I first discovered world travel and it’d had a pretty profound impact on my life right from the start. Of course, finding something that I was passionate about didn’t solve my problems, but taking a look at the whole scheme of things from the outside provided a sense of clarity I never would’ve gotten while blindly staying the course set out for us. I could see the path that I was on and didn’t like it not one bit. I didn’t know how I could permanently break away from the trials and tribulations of the rat race at the time – I’m still struggling with that one at the moment – but I had a feeling that more travel to far-fetched destinations would only do me good. So, that’s what I decided to roll with.
During the twenty or so months sandwiched between my first trip to Southeast Asia that I extensively covered in America’s Finest Ambassador and the eight-month-long Asia and Middle East trip that stretched between September of 2012 and May 2013 which will be the primary focus of this masterpiece, I was back in Chicago washing windows with my dad and living at home to maximize my travel funds while doing my best to remove, from my ass, the fifty-thousand dollar student loan dildo that conventional society had convinced me to jam in there.
Since my life was all about saving, there wasn’t much room for doing. In fact, I was so dedicated to my parsimony that I’d spent most of my free time not seeing friends, being bored as hell and perpetually irritated that I wasn’t working and moving forward toward achieving my monetary goals. My mindset was entirely future based. I never took time “to stop and smell the roses,” if you will. The present moment didn’t mean dick to me. It was all just one giant hell-on-earth of a means I had to endure to reach an over-glorified end. Life became a destination instead of the journey that it should be and, oh boy, I learned first-hand what a dangerous outlook that can be.
Instead of using the incredible gift of free time that I was seemingly inundated with to learn a new skill or hobby, volunteer somewhere or, god forbid, have some good old-fashioned fun – whatever the fuck that is – I played a recurring role in my self-made nightmare which was ironically spawned by my attempt to evade a life spent in the societally accepted 9-to-5 nightmare. With enjoying the present moment and those who were around me during it determined to be a piddling waste of time, I became obsessed with my date of departure. Unable to accept how far away that big “X” on the calendar had been, anxiety began to tear apart my life. I was constantly on edge yet bored as fuck at the same time. Everything and everybody – especially the thoughts in my own head – became intolerable. I’d totally fucked myself up by trying to save myself from getting totally fucked up.
Retrospectively, I see what an awesome opportunity this would have been for me to have grown up, to have realized that every precious moment in life is what I make of it in spite of how much loans I need to pay back or whatever else may have been irking me at the moment, to have calmed the fuck down and just enjoyed the fact that all my family and friends had been alive and relatively healthy at the time. But I didn’t. Had I done that, I wouldn’t be writing this book right now. What I did do was fall back on a familiar – and perpetually unsuccessful – way of dealing with situations unpleasant.
You see, when I came of age and was given my first opportunity to be an adult and make a big life decision for myself, I knew deep down I never wanted to go to college. I knew that I hated school and four more years of it just wasn’t for me. But instead of taking the time to reconcile myself to these feelings, being a man about ‘em and choosing my own path, I went along with the crowd, showed up at Marquette University and figured I could just drink away my self-imposed unhappiness.
Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t have a fun time in college. I mean, I met a lot of cool people and did a whole bunch of antisocial shit that I wouldn’t change for the world, but I’m now able to recognize how cowardly my decision-making had been as an eighteen-year-old and all ensuing alcohol-fueled behavioral patterns over the next greater half of a decade that had stemmed from this spineless approach to the course of my future as escapism. I guess that’s just another lesson learned in this classroom I call life. But how it seems so clear to me now and how I was so blind to it then never ceases to blow my mind.
Perhaps a red flag should have gone up way back in the fall of 2006 during my freshman year of college in Milwaukee when I found myself atop a speeding cab, clinging for dear life to the little light-up thing that says “TAXI” on it. If you couldn’t deduce this for yourself after reading the sentence previous, injuring myself and getting myself into life-threatening situations are commonplace occurrences when self-medicating with the piss of the devil. At the time, I’d only been applying the sauce for a year at most, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how large an influence the stuff’d already had on my thoughts and actions and how I really didn’t seem to give a shit if I was alive or dead.
As the story goes, the cab on which I’d been sprawled across the roof of in a Superman flying position had almost made its return to Marquette’s campus from the Water Street bars. With nothing but green lights in front of us while heading west on State Street, this is when the driver kicked the gas and brought the vehicle up to a speed that made me reconsider my decision to carry out the suicidal stunt. On the brink of pissing my pants and in what I figured to be a last-ditch effort to stay alive, I tried my best to use my legs which’d been positioned out over the rear and parallel with the street to kick the back windshield and alert the driver of my presence on the roof of his cab. Just as I’d hoped, my plan had worked.
As soon as the guy at the wheel realized what was going on, he abruptly stomped on the brakes, forcing me forward. As I did all I could to kill my momentum with what little I had to grab on to, the “TAXI” sign that I hold single-handedly responsible for keeping me out of a wheelchair cracked off as it and I went tumbling down the windshield and off the hood of the cab, onto the blacktop.
“Oh my God!” shouted Bobby, the fat, old, mustachioed cab driver who routinely gave five dollar fares to any group of intoxicated college girls he dreamt of exploring with his busy, busy hands. “I had no idea he was up there!”
With my heart pounding and my friends laughing their asses off from the safety of the car’s interior, I sprung from the ground, instinctively flipped off the perverted cabbie, screamed “Fuck you!” and sprinted the two blocks back to my dorm room.
You’d think that from an incident like that, Bobby would’ve learned his lesson and spent a little less time staring at the tits of who’s climbing in his cab and more attention to what’s happening around him – you know, those hard-to-miss things such as a drunk guy blatantly climbing on the roof of his cab. Not that anyone else had ever, to my knowledge, attempted to car surf on Bobby’s ride like fuckin’ Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf, but if they had, I’m guessing he again wouldn’t have even noticed until it was far too late and here’s why – Bobby the 60-year-old scumbag will never stop trying to fuck drunken eighteen-year-old girls because he’s a creature of habit who takes pleasure in his vices. He’s distracted by his vices. For him, they provide an escape from an otherwise unpleasant existence and he’s owned by them. He has tunnel vision for them and doesn’t see the whole picture. This I know because I functioned the same way.
Just as Bobby hadn’t been changed by the roof-riding incident and continued to offer his specialized services to all the nubile hotties during my four years in Mil-Town, I went to class the next day at 8am and then drank again that night like nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. Instead of heeding the warning, acknowledging that it isn’t healthy to be so very reckless with the one life I have and realizing that I need to reassess my values and priorities, I “didn’t pay it no nevermind” and continued on my path of drunken destruction.
Throughout the duration of my college career, getting wasted had been the end-all be-all of my existence. Nothing else mattered and nothing short of death could stop it – not trips to the emergency room and most definitely not shitty grades. Even after graduation and the four-year-long drunken fuckfest that led up to it, the “party” continued.
In the fall of 2010, several months after entering “the real world,” I went back up to Marquette U to visit a buddy who was just beginning his senior year. After a standard Friday night of excessive intake where I became separated from everyone I went out with and ended up wandering, I returned to my buddy’s crib around four in the morning. All the doors and first floor windows had been locked. I called my buddy’s phone and he didn’t answer. I had nowhere else to sleep and really wanted to get inside that house to lay my body on a couch and pass the fuck out.
I’ll admit that I was tempted to kick in his back door but I figured it wasn’t such a good idea because the last time I’d visited and had gotten locked out during a very similar situation that’d occurred a few months beforehand, I followed through with an identically primitive notion and booted the aluminum portal over and over until it was bent in the center like a bow and had finally broken off the hinges. And then instead of going to bed like I’d originally planned which, after all, had been the reason I’d decided to kick in his door in the first place, I was on such a high from the break-in that I took it upon myself to remove all contents from my friend’s fridge then chuck and/or spray them all over the previously somewhat-clean white kitchen walls. Although the landlord had his suspicions because nothing of value had been reported stolen, the guys were able to evade culpability by convincing the dude that their house had been robbed. I knew the residents of 837 N. 17th Street would never have been able to convince the man that the same take-nothing thieves had struck yet again. So, I began exploring other options.
The best plan that I could come up with at the time had been to scale up a gutter on the side of the house, climb onto a second floor balcony adjacent my buddy’s bedroom and start knocking on his window until he let me in so I could go to bed. At its inception, it seemed like a perfect plan but after beginning to carry it out, it didn’t take long for the gutter to rip off the wall, slice my palm wide open and send me falling down onto my back. I don’t remember anything after that until the following morning when I was shaken to cognition by an old woman who’d been walking her dogs.
“Hello!” she kept repeating the same line over and over while nudging my shoulder with her foot. “You need to go to a hospital!”
After my eyes creaked open and gave yield to the morning light, I glanced at the gutter – half of which remained dangling from the roof line and the other half which sat beside me on the lawn – and then at my right arm which had been encrusted in a thick layer of blood from my palm all the way down to my elbow. It looked like I’d just used it the way Mola Ram from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had to rip a still-beating heart outta some dude’s chest.
“Hello! Did you hear me? I said you need to go to a hospital!”
I then turned my clouded attention over to the rouser of my restless slumber and was able to do little more than mutter the phrase, “Bitch…you watch too many movies,” before rolling over on the grass, going back to sleep and eventually spending all Saturday drinking in the house on which I’d fucked myself up.
Between the time of this slapstick injury and the time when I was due to reconvene and take off to Japan in September of 2012 with my travelling buddy, Tim O’Shaughnessy, my little hobby started getting out of hand. After work each day, for a while I got into the habit of purchasing and drinking as much of a handle of vodka as I could physically take before blacking the fuck out and hitting the floor. During this short-lived span of abuse, my memory would fade to nothingness around five in the afternoon one day and I’d wake up the next to go to work and do it all over again. This is obviously no way to live but I was so unhappy and so narrow-minded that I saw no other way of getting through the day.
What made this situation even worse was that, at the time, both of my parents with whom I’d been living had also shared the same pastime. My mom was drinking a 1L bottle of pinot grigio a night, my dad was drinking a twelve-pack of Corona and we all smoked liked chimneys. Although we all functioned by societal standards and were able to carry out our jobs, all aspects of life that really matter like familial unity, mental well-being and all that good shit had been in complete disarray. With all the arguing and the incoherent banter that filled my household, life in Chicago was a lot like an extended episode of Shameless. It was nasty, man – dark times in the Lally household. But, thankfully, it didn’t last for long.
After buying a 1.75mL bottle of whatever cheap-ass gut-rot vodka I decided to scoop from Cardinal Liquors on that day after work and downing as much of that handle as I could handle, I went nighty-night on the hardwood kitchen floor as per usual. The next day I didn’t have work and woke up with my head reeling sometime around eleven in the morning. Unable to conjure any interest to participate in life whatsoever, I flipped on the television and watched Brewster’s Millions from start to finish on Comedy Central. Convinced there was nothing better to do, immediately after that, I got back to work on the remainder of the previous day’s bottle that’d been staying icy cold and awaiting my return in the freezer. After guzzling the shit outta the thing, it wasn’t long before I blacked out again and ended up not coming out of the memory lapse until at least fifteen hours later when I woke up in my own bed – a feat which I initially had been quite proud of.
A few seconds after patting myself on the back for that outstanding accomplishment, I began to roll over, turned my head and the pillow came with it. Using my hand to rip it away, my nose, lips and chin stuck to the fabric the way Fleck’s tongue stuck to that frozen pole in A Christmas Story. It hurt like hell but I managed to pull it off and gave the thing a look to see what the hell was going on. My pillowcase’d had a bloody outline of my features on it which must’ve looked something like the veil of Veronica after she’d used it to wipe Jesus’s sanguinary dome when he’d been humping that big-ass cross up to the place of his death.
Alarmed by this discovery, I climbed out of bed and started on my way to the bathroom to see the damage when I became aware that my entire body felt as if it’d just gotten trampled by a stampede of charging elephants. Pushing through the pain, I hobbled across the hall and into the shitter. There, my image in the mirror revealed a bloated, bloody, swollen face with devil-dick eyes that I didn’t even recognize. The most fucked up part about it was that I didn’t even know how it happened and neither did my family. There were no witnesses. Because of the aforementioned injuries to my body, I suspect a wicked head-first tumble down a flight of stairs, but I’ll never know for sure.
A whole week of convalescence after I’d lost the fight with myself, the lower half of my face still hadn’t healed and gave the impression that I’d been laying on my back and letting a bad golfer who doesn’t replace divots try to hit balls that’d been balanced on my lips. Because of this, I was too ashamed to go to my cousin Erin’s wedding, sat at home by myself and deeply contemplated the direction in which my life was heading.
Since I discovered the hard way that getting outrageously trashed by myself in my parents’ house wasn’t nearly as fun as getting outrageously trashed in college with a large group of friends – whether it was really fun then or the alcohol tricked me into believing so remains debatable – I decided to give the booze a rest for a while to weigh out what was important to me.
Physically, I felt great during this time of abstinence but, emotionally, I was sloppy as all hell. I was crying all the time and couldn’t seem to handle my feelings about anything which made me realize for the first time since I’d started viewing the world through a fermented veil of ignorance that what I had going on was not necessarily a “drinking problem” and was actually something that ran much deeper. This hiatus allowed me to finally see the big picture and that it’s okay for me to take my own path in life – that I no longer have to follow the crowd if I don’t want to and that there’s no reason to keep beating myself up for not listening to my heart in the past.
For about four months after being bloodied and enlightened, I remained stone cold sober and had no desire to drink whatsoever. I continued to not go out with friends in order to save money for my upcoming trip and, at home, my parents continued their excessive indulgence. My departure date on the calendar was still about nine months away and my patience with them was wearing thin. After having quit drinking and smoking, I kind of assumed a holier-than-thou position when relating to my folks and urged them to join me on the winning team – to get to the root of their unhappiness and let it all go the way I was so very certain I had. They seemingly cared not to cease and desist, so neither did the pointless arguing and shouting and emotional violence. Because my inner child hated seeing my parents constantly at each other’s throats, I took these tiffs personally. I couldn’t ignore them. I let them get to me and my blood boiled because of it. I stood all I could stand, until I could stand no more.
One weeknight I’d been trying to watch the movie Drive with Ryan Gosling up in my bedroom when I could hear angry yelling through the walls of the kitchen that reverberated up to the second floor. They struck a nerve but I took a deep breath, turned up the volume and tried to let it go. A few minutes later, it still hadn’t stopped and I couldn’t concentrate on what was happening on the screen. Then I heard some glass shatter which was immediately followed by the blood-curdling screams of my teenage sister. This, I figured, warranted some intervention.
I rushed downstairs to see what the fuck was going on and found my dad sitting at the kitchen table across from my sister who’d been trying to do her homework as blood ran down his arm. His dinner and the porcelain on which it’d sat lay scattered across the floor, table and wall. What I deduced from the situation was that my mother’s incessant drunken bickering had gotten the best of my father’s “no one tells me my business” blackout demeanor, he smashed his dinner plate with his fist then threw it at the wall while my sixteen-year-old sis bawled her little eyes out.
Instinctively reacting to intrinsic emotional patterns I hadn’t yet realized were running – and ruining – my life, I thought I’d solve the problem by picking up a gym shoe, running up to my dad at the kitchen table, then doing my best Random Task impression and whipping it in his face. He, of course, didn’t like the flying kick he’d received from an invisible man, proceeded to stand up, grab me by the hair with one hand and start punching my face in with the other. I didn’t have it in me to strike back my old man, took the beating and was subsequently put over the edge.
During the few days that followed the incident, I kept having this daydream where, instead of throwing a shoe at my dad’s face, I’d grabbed him by the shirt, dragged him to the floor then stomped his neck until his head was detached from his body. Realizing that this is far from “normal” and more on the “insane” side of the spectrum, I knew that I needed to leave Chicago – effective immediately. I needed to find my peace of mind. At the same time, however, I also still wanted to continue saving as much money as possible so I could head back out to Asia with my buddy O’Shaughnessy. So, after hitting up my college bro and letting him know the situation, he relayed to me that his old man said he was willing to set me up with a job at their hose and fittings warehouse in Cleveland where I could keep working and saving money until leaving on our next excursion. Without even considering any other options, I told him to sign me up and that I’d be on the next scheduled Megabus out east.
Before leaving, however, I decided to give my mother a heads-up on my plans – and this is where I felt most betrayed and confused – and she outright refused to let me go. She started screaming and crying and said, “You can’t leave me here! You can’t abandon me! I’ve done everything for you!” and all this other weird shit about how I’d drink myself to death in Cleveland that was meant to manipulate me into staying because she wasn’t strong enough to leave on her own. Although I should’ve attempted to have been more mature towards the hurt she was going through, I instead decided to convey the depth of mine by writing a suicide note and leaving it for my parents to find just before I’d headed downtown and hopped on that motherfuckin’ bus out to the Cleve.