When I was making my first baby steps towards recovery from Devastationalism, at the sunset of the 90s, one of the angels the universe sent my way was a gushingly creative, spiritually magnetic man called Steve Pagnotta. Steve was an owner/manager of Tortilla Flats (which made him my ostensible “boss”) and he had the rotten luck to see me at my worst, night in and night out over a period of years. I know he loved me, but he absolutely hated dealing with me too. It must have been murderously frustrating for him trying to get through to a tequila-soaked brick wall that reflected nothing back but a big “Fuck You” in wobbly neon letters. I wonder if he has any idea how much of what he said to me over the years did ultimately get through and how much I owe him.
It was Steve who first articulated for me the idea that life was a gift, that the world was full of unimaginable wonders, that every moment of life was precious. It’s corny, basic stuff, but everybody’s gotta learn it somewhere. And Steve, for all his wide-eyed spaciness was no ingenuous sap. He had a hard core, and no illusions. His motto was not some New Agey mantra, but the grimy and hard-won conclusion of a somewhat rumpled, slightly seedy blackjack dealer. “Life,” he used to say to me, “is the best deal you’re ever gonna get.” And the way he said it was a little bit mean, too. Like you had to be an idiot if you were seriously holding your cards waiting for something better to come along.
He was right, of course. Being a human being is the best deal going we know of. And to not take responsibility for bearing that gift is beyond pathetic — it’s a bloody tragedy. To refuse desire is to refuse everything that is rewarding in life. And to disdain active agency — the freedom to choose and go after the things you want — is to turn your back on the ultimate joy and privilege of being a human being. Not that you always get your heart’s desire, of course — but it really is all about the journey.
Thanks to the magic of iTrip (the magic being that the cheap little hunk of plastic works at all) I am becoming well reaquainted with the thousands of songs that dwell in the murky depths of my iPod. So many little Devastationalist wonders about which I had forgotten completely.
To Cry About (Mary Margaret O’Hara)
Mary Margaret O’Hara