The night I sang “The Night My Dignity Died.”

The white cassette tape with no writing came from that particularly messy corner of my bedroom. I knew exactly what was on it without playing it: Me singing Paper Lace’s #1 hit from 1974, “The Night Chicago Died” in a karaoke bar. In Burbank. With seven vodka tonics in me.

It’s not perfect.  It starts late and drops out once or twice.  Also, I suck.  Come, discover why my brother-in-law wouldn’t allow me to sing the “Please don’t eat all the morsels” song to my future-niece in utero:


But, you have to admit, those voddys sure gave me some stage presence.

There’s a corner of my bedroom –there’s a corner of all our bedrooms –where stuff just gets thrown upon moving in. Then never touched. This becomes a base for other bits of jetsam you just can’t deal with right now. Soon half your bedroom could rival that patch of garbage floating in the Pacific. It’s brightly colored, but the only things the objects have in common are the gyrating currents that brought them there.

The word “jetsam” is apt. This stuff that’s lapping two-thirds of the way up the far wall of my bedroom didn’t just accidentally fall there. I purposely jettisoned it from the more organized parts of my room in order to lighten my load. I will deal with that CD notebook filled with classical in due time. Twenty years of adapters, power cords, old iBooks, and diskettes? Maybe the Magnavox Video Writer will make a comeback. Copies of my taxes? They can sit for another year in that vertical file I never clean out. And don’t get me started on the boxes of photographs. Beside the occasion dive into them to retrieve something for Throw Back Thursdays where I have not only hair, but hair that cascaded down my neck in the most luxurious of mullets. That’s always good for a few “likes” on FaceBook, which is how I measure my self-worth.

The photographs are especially problematic. Yes, I can look at one or two before scanning, but I certainly cannot attempt a complete reorganization. I need to –pictures are falling out of albums, and many are degrading quickly. However, any attempt at organization will just dredge up memories wisely not captured on those pictures.

In the interest of finally getting to that clunky metaphor the reader was expecting two paragraphs ago: Some high quality square footage in my brain is given over to bits of those jetsam I just can’t deal with at the present time. Who know what’ll open up when I clear out that space. Maybe I’ll have time for that Man Cave of The Brain I’ve always wanted to build up there.

And in the interest of reclaiming the quarter of my bedroom given over to boxes and bits and bobs, I attacked a plastic tub that contained the cassette. Most of the objects I transferred into smaller, more decorative tin enclosures. I will deal with that stuff later. I wanted to hear me “sing,” but cassette tapes might as well be cuneiforms in terms of playability. So I gave it to my friend Greg who has a tape deck hooked up to his computer so he could turn it into an mp3, a format which should be good for another five years or so until we start storing all music in a bioluminescent goo.

The memories that came flooding back to me were not joyful ones of a night out with friends. Instead, I was filled with shame. How could I allow myself to get that drunk. I mean, if you listen all the way to the end, you’ll hear that I even lose track of what song I’m singing. Sloppy. Sloppy.

I am convinced that through the years the only way I’ve ever been able to enjoy myself in a festive gathering is through excessive drink. Otherwise, I just find a place to perch with my arms akimbo. I have been told that quite a few people think I’m an a-hole because I stand silently off to the side. I shudder to think how many times a violently positive person has come up to me and demanded that I “Smile!” In college, whenever my fraternity would have a party, I would sit on top of either the coke machine or the trophy case above the fray. I recall this because in that pile of photographs are a ton of pics taken from above of shirtless frat guys wrestling in puddles of beer. [I may have not known I was gay, but I’m sure Fotomat had a pretty good idea.]

On the rare occasion there’s a picture of me joining the party, and I’ve unclenched enough to let someone else touch my camera, the result is usually something along the lines of this:

Scan 12

This was taken the night I decided a few hundred dollars worth of fluorescent tubes made the most thrilling, exploding javelins. I still can hear that soft “whump/whoosh” as the glass disintegrated and that powdery gas when everywhere.

Then there’s the videotape from my sister’s wedding. I had just turned 18 and learned of this thing they called an “open bar.” I drank 7 and 7’s because I thought them sophisticated. The highlight of the tape, other than all that bride stuff, is when I beg like a dog for mini egg rolls. I believe my sister has shown this to her children to illustrate the evils of drink. I hope it’s worked. They seem like good kids.

I could go on and on about all the times being the life of the party allowed me to live through a party. And that’s not touching on all the fitting in through the magic of drink I did when I was first exploring the gay bars. I’ve made out with a lot of ugly people.

So what’s this mp3 doing on a writing blog ostensibly about the bipolar? As I’ve dealt with the disease, I’ve become increasingly aware of the high rate of substance abuse in bipolar patients, upwards of 60%. There’s a lot of “normal” you have to feel when you’re bipolar. It wouldn’t be fair to the disease to have a writing blog where I only tell cute little stories about harrowing wackiness and don’t acknowledge the wackiness lube that makes a good chunk of it happen. I need to explore how this has shaped my progress as I write.  My words will be false unless I factor in the all that “fun.”  I could start with last Saturday night.

This all welled up from a 143 second cassette. Imagine if I actually cleaned the apartment and started digging into all those boxes.  What else will I find that I need, just need, to write about?


3 thoughts on “The night I sang “The Night My Dignity Died.”

  1. “That’s always good for a few “likes” on FaceBook, which is how I measure my self-worth.”

    That made me laugh, but in a recognizing, oh-god kind of way. But hey, put them up on Thursdays and tag ’em #tbt for Throwback Thursday.

    Are you ever tempted to just shovel all that jetsam out the door, unexamined and uncurated, and move forward without so many reminders of unhappy times?

    • Yeah, I get a little too excited when I pick up my phone and see that little red number by the FB icon.

      I would love to do a purge, but… A) not all memories are bad; B) there was too much purging of ephemera after my mom passed when I was 16; I need to hold onto what’s left; and, C) I’m a huge packrat because I have a design background, used to deal vintage, and you never know when you’ll need something.

  2. Pingback: That tocking metronome | Ornamental Illnesses

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