MomDay Monday – School Daze

Every school has its issues.

Issues with teachers. Issues with other parents. Miscommunication. Problems with other students.

Every school.

There’s no getting around it. We’re all human. We all have failings. And a school is, after all, made up of us imperfect humans.

But at what point does a school have so many issues it becomes dysfunctional?

Is it when the faculty talks out of turn to your child about their parents’ divorce?

Or perhaps it’s when other parents refuse to accept that their child is the school bully & consistently puts the blame for their child’s behavior on the very kids he’s bullying.

Is it when there are arbitrary punishments meted out at whim? One day a behavior is punishable by making the child sit out of recess. The next day, the same behavior is overlooked. One day, uniform infractions are barely mentioned. The next day, a student loses privileges for wearing the wrong uniform piece.

Perhaps….

But I believe it’s when a school & its principal are so afraid of criticism that they close off lines of communication to keep others from hearing it.

I believe it’s when a principal is more concerned with who saw a comment on the school Facebook page than she is with addressing the issues brought to her attention.

I believe it is when a student receives retaliation for the actions of their parent.

And I believe it is when anti-bullying rallies are held for the students but parents & staff are seemingly the biggest offenders.

The Kids attend a private, Catholic school. They have been there since they were each 3 years old, starting in the youngest Pre-K group. They have known their classmates for most of their lives & we have made good friends with some of the families of these kids. When The Ex & I decided to divorce, we quietly told The Kids’ teachers so they were aware of the situation at home & on the lookout for any kind of behavioral issues that might occur because of it. This school had an opportunity to show The Kids an example of what it means to be a Christian & support my children during a particularly tough time.

They failed.

Within weeks, it seemed as if everyone knew what was happening in our family. The rumor mill was in full force until people I hardly knew & rarely spoke to had an opinion on my divorce & The Kids’ reaction to it. I had been blind to the dysfunction in the past, believing my kids were in the best possible place for the best possible education. There were two things I hoped to keep consistent throughout the divorce as the kids lives were being uprooted. Their school & their house. I was determined to keep them in that school & in the house they had been in for the past 4 years even if it meant having to ask my dad for money. But little by little, my eyes were opened & I saw that there were issues with this school far beyond anything I ever realized. There certainly have been people on the faculty as well as other parents who have been more than supportive & I can’t thank those people enough for the kindness & support they’ve shown, especially to The Kids. But they have unfortunately been too few & too far between. It is school dysfunction at its best. Or worst.

I’ve stopped my insistence that The Kids stay in that school. It’s part of my letting go. And it’s okay. I am aware that any school will have issues, dysfunction, intolerant people & parents who violate the school drop off & pick up rules. At this point, I’m willing to take my chances.

But I’m keeping the house.

Clean Living Things You Can Do: Part 1

Former Guns ‘N Roses guitarist Slash spent much of his early career drunk and stoned. He has since cleaned up, and his stunning new album is proof.

This post is for those who want to hear the new Slash album. If you’re not interested, come back later.

Slash just put out a most brilliant album with such guest vocalists as Ian Astbury, Chris Cornell, Kid Rock, Lemmy from Motorhead and even Fergie.

It’s the most cohesive, focused, soul-shaking album he’s done in years, and I think it reflects what he — what anyone — can do in recovery. Have a listen…

Ghost, with Ian Astbury on vocals

Crucify the Dead, with Ozzy

I Hold On, with Kid Rock:

Beautiful Dangerous with Fergie

Promise, with Chris Cornell

Dr. Alibi, with Lemmy

Watch This with Dave Grohl and Duff McKagan

By the Sword, with Andrew Stockdale from Wolfmother

Skeptic Slang and Charles Manson: Six Degrees of Separation

Skeptic Slang and a glimpse at mental illness in the making.

Mood music for this post: “My Monkey” by Marylin Manson:

A note about the music: Marilyn Manson put this on his “Portrait of an American Family” album, which was recorded in the Sharon Tate murder house. The title and chorus were taken from a Charles Manson song called “Mechanical Man.” Bits of Manson interviews are sprinkled throughout.

It just seemed appropriate for some reason…

Today was a good day with some strange memories thrown into the mix. Call it Skeptic Slang day.

I put the kids in the car (Erin was at a writing and editing conference) and drove to the Salem, Mass. home of my former Skeptic Slang guitarist, Chris Casey, his wife Nancy and their two sweet kids, Melissa and Mark.

I was there for a few reasons: to help Nancy set up a blog for her own writings, which I suggest you follow, and to look at photos she had of our old band. Most of all, I just wanted to see a couple old friends. I’ve known Nancy for 20 years and their marriage is a point of pride for me because I introduced them way back in the day.

So I looked at the Skeptic Slang pictures and noticed something I initially found funny. But later, back in the car, it occurred to me that the images were a bit jarring. They reminded me of something I had forgotten about myself back then.

I’m wearing a Charles Manson shirt. And with the long hair and beard, I sort of resemble the creep:

But looking back, it was an awful shirt to be wearing.
The other thing I noticed in the pictures was that I had angry eyes.
In another picture I have my hand over my face. I remember now that I was agitated as hell during that photo shoot because it was taking a long time and the thought of me being photographed made me sick.
Indeed, that was a very angry time for me. A family member was suffering from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. I was in full rage against my mother and step-mother. More than one Skeptic Slang song was about wishing my mother dead. In fact, one song was called “You’re Dead,” as in dead in my mind.
I was still pissed as all hell about my brother’s death eight years before.
The mess in my skull that would ultimately blossom into full-blown mental disorder was starting to swirl. The bitter roots had taken hold.
Fortunately, the band itself was an excellent release valve at the time. I couldn’t really sing, but it didn’t matter. We played aggressively, and that allowed the rage in me to pour out like sweat that I could then wash off.
God has always had a funny way of giving me the things I needed to lurch forward.
And while the band is long gone, I got some lifelong friends out of it.
The fact that we can now hang out and watch our kids hang out with each other is just freakin’ awesome.

Human Tourniquets and the Freaks Who Love ‘em

The author on a man who took a lot of abuse at the hands of his not-so-sane friend.

Mood music for this post: “Tourniquet” by Marilyn Manson:

You know the type. They hang  out with people who act more like abusive spouses than friends. They are human tourniquets. They absorb the pain of their tormentor daily and without complaint.

This is the story of the man who used to be my tourniquet.

I met Aaron Lewis in 1985, my freshman year of high school. He was the kid with really bad acne. But nothing ever seemed to bother him. I’m sure a lot of things bothered him, but he was very good at hiding his feelings.

That made him the perfect target for a creep like me.

Don’t get me wrong. He was a true friend. One of my best friends. We shared a love of heavy metal. We both got picked on, though unlike me, he didn’t take it out on other, weaker classmates.

We hung out constantly. He practically lived in my Revere basement at times. I let him borrow my car regularly. And if I drank, that was OK, because he almost never drank. He could be the driver.

Except for the time I encouraged him to drink a bottle of vodka. He had just eaten a bag of McDonald’s and I told him I was sick of him trying to get buzzed off of wine coolers. This night, I told him, he was going to do it right.

He got smashed, and proceeded to puke all over my basement — on the bed, the carpets, the couch, the dresser. That was some strange vomit. It looked like brown confetti.

I sat on the floor, drunk myself, writing in my journal. I wrote about how drunk Aaron was and prayed to God that he wouldn’t die. He was never in danger of that, but I freaked all the same.

Man, would I love to find that journal. That entry would be a hoot.

We saw a lot of movies together. We watched a lot of MTV.

He was the perfect counterweight to Sean Marley. Marley was essentially my older brother and I spent a lot of time trying to earn his approval. I didn’t have to do that with Aaron. He didn’t criticize. He didn’t judge. He just took all my mood swings on the chin.

I would sling verbal bombs at him and he’d take it.

I would slap him on the back of the neck and he’d take it.

Man, I was such a jerk. And he took it.

That’s a true friend.

Times have changed.

Aaron got married, moved to California and has a growing family. He’s doing some wonderful things with his life.

I cleaned up from my compulsive binge eating, found my Faith and untangled the coarse, jagged wiring in my brain that eventually became an OCD diagnosis.

If he’s reading this, I apologize for all the times I was an asshole. I hope somewhere in there, I was a good friend, too.

Bad Behavior, Easily Defined

The author turns to his musical hero for some easy-to-remember descriptions of depression and addictive behavior.

Mood music for this post: “Pray for me” by Sixx A.M.:

Many times by now, I’ve mentioned that one of my inspirations for this blog is Nikki Sixx, bassist and lyricist for Motley Crue. That’s because he gave the world a naked view of his madness at the hands of addiction in his book, “The Heroin Diaries.”

I’m itching to share the first couple pages of the book, where he presents his definitions of depression and addictive behavior. In turn, I’ll offer my own version.

Note: Since Sixx’s addictions were different from mine, I’m going to add in some of my own terms to fit the binge eating.

In we go:

 

ADDICTION

Sixx: When you can give up something anytime, as long as it’s next Tuesday.

Me: When you devour $35 worth of drive-thru junk between the office and the house, walk through the door feeling complete exhaustion, shame and self-loathing, and promise God you’ll never do it again. Then you do it all over again the next day, starting with the drive into work, even though you know it’ll kill you someday.

 

ALCOHOLISM

Sixx: A habit that helps you to see the iguanas in your eyeballs.

Me: Not exactly about downing a bottle of alcohol each day. More about REALLY, REALLY needing a couple (or a few) glasses of wine at the end of the day so I DON’T turn to the food.

 

COCAINE

Sixx: Peruvian Marching Powder–a stimulant that has the extraordinary effect that the more you do, the more you laugh out of context.

Me: I never did coke, but mixing the food with alcohol had the same effect.

 

DEPRESSION

Sixx: When everything you laugh at is miserable and you can’t seem to stop.

Me: What he said, with the added symptom where you lock yourself away and sleep for days, verbally assassinate anyone in your path and binge eat until fatty sweat oozes from your pores.

 

HEROIN

Sixx: A drug that helps you to escape reality, while making it much harder to cope when you are recaptured.

Me: Food had the same effect on me, specifically massive quantities of items with flour and sugar in them. Mix together a large enough dose of flour and sugar and the impact is the same as any drug you use to escape.

 

PSYCHOSIS

Sixx: When everybody turns into tiny dolls and they have needles in their mouths and they hate you and you don’t care because you have THE KNIFE! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Me: When the flour and sugar mix with a dose of OCD hyperactivity, leaving you with the feeling that you or someone close to you will die at any moment, be it from an accident or affliction. Then trying to mask those emotions by losing yourself in work, which you don’t do very well because you’re just too fucked up.

I’ll end by telling you a major truth I’ve only recently come to realize:

Without the above in my life, I’m a better husband and dad, which is more important to me than anything else. I’m also much more creative, which turns work from a stress into a joy.

I’ll tell you something else: The day I slip and fall back into my chief addiction is the day all those things fall apart.

Just thinking about what I could lose after gaining so much is enough to keep me from doing that.

The Short, Strange History of Skeptic Slang

The author is forced to tell the story of his 2 years as lead singer of a strange band called Skeptic Slang.

Mood music for this post: “Stardog Champion” by Mother Love Bone:

I avoided this for as long as I could. I don’t like to admit that I used to sing in a band. For one thing, my singing really sucked. For another, the band never went anywhere.

But some pictures of me from around that time have been unearthed, and people are starting to talk.

Here’s the picture of me with hair halfway down my back, on the left:

I’m bald now, but I still have all that hair on my back. Erin doesn’t mind, so neither do I.

The other thing that has sparked curiosity is this poem I found in an old foot locker last month. It was written by a long-lost friend, Joy Affannato, before she married my best friend, Sean Marley:

“Blessed and Black Clad, Dedicated to Bill Brenner”

Clad in black

with a black-lined heart

like the charred edges

of our burnt society

Gathering the ash

to sift through and find

some satiating solution.

…A poet

with a doctrite of humanity

But, no one really has the answers:

Every question is relevant

And using words of metaphor

he transforms the WRITTEN WORD

At the bottom left of the page she scrawled the logo for Skeptic Slang.

So ok, then. Let’s talk about this band.

Members:

Bill Brenner: Vocals

Chris Casey: Guitar

Elias Andrinopolous: Bass

Joe Gentile: Drums

We got together in the spring of 1992. It started as me and Chris. We’d sit in my basement and write songs, thinking we were the shit. I was going through my chip-in-the shoulder angry phase and was writing all kinds of lyrics about how much I hated my mother and hated that my brother was dead.

There was the song “Knife,” with this jolly refrain: “Knife… You’re my best friend.”

The songs about my mother were called “Tunnel Vision” and “You’re Dead” The song I wrote about my brother was called “Rest.”

Let’s fast-forward for a second: I should point out that today I do not carry a knife and I don’t hate my mother. I love her, despite our inability to get along.

Back to the past: Chris and I were smoking buddies with a lot of the same anger at life. We were a natural fit. Then Elias came along; a peaceful, friendly soul who was in many ways the opposite of me. Joe joined later, but he was older than the rest of us and was in and out of the band.

At the time, I was also working at the legendary Rockit Records, and being a musician was sort of an unspoken bonus.

We went out and bought a bunch of gear at Daddy’s Junky Music on Route 1 in Peabody: Amps, a mixing board, PA system, monitors. We didn’t know how to use any of it, and we were on a payment plan as if we had purchased a new car together.

But it looked cool and made us loud in the bomb shelter beneath the garage that we practiced in. This was in the house in Lynnfield, where I lived from late 1992 to late-1995.

We wrote a lot of songs and practiced. And practiced. And practiced. Elias was the least experienced on his instrument, but quickly became the best musician of us all. I was the worst. I couldn’t sing to save my life.

But I could write lyrics, and that was all that was required.

When it was time for a break, we’d go out into the woods and smoke pot. In fact, the last time I smoked pot was with them. I stopped when I started dating Erin.

We played a couple acoustic sets along the way at Roosevelts, a hang-out in Salem. We did a couple performances at North Shore Community College in Lynn.

Then we did a battle of the bands event, and it was a disaster.

Elias’ bass was way out of tune as we launched into the opening song. Instead of just rolling with it, we panicked. it was all hell from there.

We retreated to the bunker and did more writing and practicing. Those songs would never be played live. Joe had a kid and had less and less time for the band. Chris burned out and left. After awhile it was just be and Elias. We tried to keep it going with a new guitarist, who played wonderfully but could never settle on anything. We kicked him out, and Elias and I continued on for awhile longer.

Then it just sort of stopped.

But I’ll tell you what: That band, bad as we were — or I was, anyway — was a Godsend. I was going through a lot of depression back then and clashed with everyone.

The band gave me an outlet to vent those emotions. It couldn’t save me from my addictions, but it saved me from my worst instincts, one of which was to go out and destroy things, whether that meant kicking a dent into the side of my dark-blue 1985 Monte Carlo or throwing stuff around in my father’s warehouse.

It wasn’t meant to last, but it was there when I needed it most.

After the band disintegrated, the music store bought back all the gear, Elias went on to study classical guitar and I went frantically forward in my pursuit of a career in journalism.

A tape of our songs is probably kicking around somewhere. Someday it will surface.

We’ll listen and have a good laugh. Not at the guitar, drums and bass, which were very good. But at the rest of the package.

To Chris, Elias and Joe: Thanks for the memories.

5 Songs to Play When Angry

OK, so I’m not in the best mood this morning. Daylight-savings-time is messing with me, as are the kids. The rain that’s been pelting the windows all night disturbed my sleep, as did my getting sent to the couch for snoring too loud.

None of it can really be attributed to OCD behavior. This is simply life, and the mood will pass after I’ve been to Church and we’re buried under blankets this afternoon watching “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Sean just read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” so it’s time to break out both films.

First, though, I need to gargle more coffee and play some angst music. Angst music is perfect for a mood like this. So let me share what I’m listening to this morning…

The Beatles: “Helter Skelter”

Nirvana: “You Know You’re Right”

Metallica: “The End of the Line”

Danzig: “Twist of Cain”

Beastie Boys: “Sabotage”

There. I feel better already.

Addicted to Feeling Good: A Love-Hate Story

To kick off Lent, the author reflects on some of his dumber quests to feel good.

Mood music for this post: “Snake Eyes and Sissies” from Marilyn Manson:

Every now and then, it’s useful to look back on who I used to be so I can appreciate who I am today.

Today, as Lent begins, I do it simply to laugh at how in many ways, despite the progress I’ve made, I’ve been as stupid in adulthood as I was 20-plus years ago.

Lent is a time to sacrifice habits you love, gain a true appreciation for the sacrifices Jesus made [which were well beyond anything mortal man can comprehend) and draw closer to God. [More on my Faith in Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely, Rat in the Church Pew and Better Angels of My Nature]

I’ve given up cigars for Lent. It’s probably not nearly enough, because I don’t smoke them often enough to really be sacrificing anything. But since I’ve already given up flour, sugar and alcohol, I couldn’t think of anything else.

Still, giving something up always brings back acute memories of some of the dumber things I’ve done in the compulsive-obsessive drive to feel good.

So please indulge me as I take inventory:

Age 18: I’m living off 8 cups of black coffee and a mug of Raisin Bran a day in an attempt to be rock-star thin. I discovered an after dinner drink — Haffenreffer Lager Beer. There were little puzzles on the underside of the bottle caps, and your ability to solve them would steadily decline — or increase — depending on how drunk you were. Being addicted to instant gratification, I’d suck down three bottles in quick succession so I could immediately enjoy feeling like I had just absorbed half a keg of lighter beer.

Age 21: I’m pacing up and down the driveway of the old Revere house in a blue-green polka-dotted bathrobe I used to own. I’m freaking out because I’ve just consumed two beers and an entire stick of marijuana by myself in the concrete storage room beneath the front patio.

The fellow who gave it to me was about 500 pounds and wore a black trenchcoat, even during the summer. He died Valentine’s Day 2009 of a heart attack. I lost touch with him as I became focused on career and learned after his death that he had led an admirable life of aiding the mentally disabled. Anyway, I was freaking out because, in the midst of lying on my bed enjoying the high, I suddenly got the idea that I just might have a heart attack. That’s one of my earlier memories of an anxiety attack.

We partied a lot in that basement. It was the scene of many impressive and entertaining mood swings.

I called my friend Danny Waters and asked him to come over. He did, and found me pacing up and down the driveway in my bathrobe. He took me down the street to Kelly’s Roast Beef and got me an order of chicken fingers to munch away the anxiety. Kelly’s was always a favorite place for me to binge eat away my troubles. It was as good as any drug or liquor store.

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/2822416.jpg

That was the year this photo was taken in my basement:

The guy on the left is me. Dan Waters is in the middle. The guy dressed as a vampire on the right is Sean Marley. [Read about him in Lost Brothers and Marley and Me]

It was also around the time the three of us were ambushed by a group of punks while walking home from Kelly’s. I was walking ahead of Sean and Dan and escaped injury.

Age 29: I drop 100 pounds of fat I packed on while binge-eating my way through the middle 1990s. I’m inspired by the quadruple bypass surgery my father has recently had. I lose the weight by pigging out Thursday through Saturday and starving myself Sunday through Wednesday. The binge eating continues through the next few years but I manage to keep the weight down, fooling most people.

Age 33: Around this time, the binge eating gets a new playmate in the form of red wine, which I decide I can’t live without.

Age 39: No more binge eating — not today, anyway. No wine. I work the 12-step program of recovery.

The instant gratification is gone, replaced by something much better — long-term sanity and clarity that allows me to see all the precious moments around me that went unnoticed during the days of mental haze.

Giving up cigars for Lent is the least I could do.

Rest Re-defined

The author finds that he gets the most relaxation from the things he once feared the most.

Mood music for this post: Henry Rollins reciting “I Know You,” to a backdrop of Nine Inch Nails. Absolutely brilliant:

A strange thing happened to me on the way to recovery: I started finding peace and relaxation in the very things that used to fill me with fear and spark anxiety attacks. [See Fear Factor]

It used to be that relaxing meant holing myself up in the bedroom watching endless episodes of Star Trek. I watched a lot of the news, too, which instead of relaxing me would send my brain into an endless spin of worry about things happening at the far corners of the world.

Lying on the couch all weekend — sleeping for a lot of it — was relaxation.

Then Sunday night would arrive and I’d go into a deep depression about the tasks that awaited me the next day at work.

Writing — the very thing I earned a living from (and still do) — filled me with dread. Oh, I loved being a journalist even back then, but I was always in fear of not getting a story perfect. I would sit on a story for hours; writing, re-writing, polishing and reading it aloud multiple times to make sure it “sounded” perfect.

It drove my co-workers nuts. [See The Crazy-Ass Guy in the Newsroom]

If I had to make a business trip, the heart would pound. I’d obsess about the travel itself and whether I would actually make it there alive. Conferences filled me with dread. What if I didn’t manage to cover every piece of news coming from the event?

Oh, and when writing, it had to be absolutely silent around me. Noise would interrupt the gears in my mind — except for the sound of my voice when reading my articles aloud.

I would go crazy about getting the kids to bed by 7:30 so I could lie comatose in front of the TV. If my wife wanted to talk instead, rage would build inside, though I would try not to show it. I sucked at hiding it, though, and in my own passive-aggressive way, she knew she wasn’t getting through. And yet she stuck around anyway. (See: The Freak and the Redhead: A Love Story]

I’m not sure when things changed. But here’s what relaxation and peace mean to me now:

–Family time. Of course, I’ve always craved being with my wife and children more than anything else. But it used to be that I wanted us all sitting around the house doing nothing. Now I love experiencing things together. Trips with Erin to Campobello Island off New Brunswick, Canada, the mountains of New Hampshire or Newport, R.I. for the Newport Folk Festival. Trips with kids in tow to Battleship Cove, Old Sturbridge Village, The N.E. Aquarium, The Museum of Science. I always cherished my time with them. Now I cherish it more. A lot more.

– Writing. For the life of me, I can’t figure out the reason for this, but writing is relaxing now. Other than when I’m with my wife and kids, writing is when I’m happiest. And I no longer re-read my stuff over and over again. I decided that’s what editors are for. Sure, I’m an editor. But every editor needs an editor. And no, I don’t read ‘em back to myself anymore.

–Writing WITH music. In another bizarre twist, I went from needing quiet while writing to needing music. The louder the better. Henry Rollins. Motley Crue. Metallica. Thin Lizzy. Cheap Trick. All perfect writing music.

–Travel. Instead of fearing travel, I now relish it, though I don’t like being away from my family for too long. I start to miss them the second I hit the road. They’re on my mind the whole time I’m away. But I love to go places, see things, experience cities outside my own comfortable Bostonian walls. Last year alone, I visited Chicago twice, Washington DC twice, and went to San Francisco, Nevada, Arizona and New York.

One of the DC trips was in an RV with a group of IT security guys. That was the trip back from the Shmoocon security conference. It’s a 12-hour ride and it’s cramped. But I get to hang out with some of the smartest people in my industry. [See Slideshow: The Security Twits Roadtrip, from last year's trip]

Above: Cloud security guru Chris Hoff and security researcher Zach LanierPhoto on last year’s Shmoobus.

Thursday, I leave on the RV for the trip down to DC for Shmoocon 2010. I’ll do a lot of writing for work this weekend. But I’m going to have a blast doing it. I’ll get impatient to be home by Sunday afternoon. I’ll miss my family. But I’ll be a better journalist for making the trip.

Wherever I go, I always try to carve out time to see things, especially items of historical significance. Especially in DC.

I’m determined to take the family to DC this year. There are logistics and financial realities to work out, but it’s going to happen.

I don’t spend much time wondering how I came to enjoy what I once feared. I know the answers.

Erin and the boys teach me something every day about living, whether it’s Erin showing me courage by quitting a steady job to try and make her own business work or Duncan, the youngest son, convincing his older, more skittish brother to go with him on a camping trip with the grandparents because “It’ll be fun, Seaney!” That was a couple years ago. Since then, Sean, who has overcome a lot of fears himself and made his Dad proud, relishes those trips as much as Duncan does.

But above all — and the family examples are a huge part of this — I think the transformation came with my conversion to the Catholic Faith. My bringing God into my life, everything has changed for the better. That includes my concept of rest.

To me, rest is not about lying down and shutting off. It’s about living to the best of your ability. When that living gets scary, I put my trust in God. And that makes everything come together.

Make no mistake: I still have a lot of work to do on these things. But I’m glad to be making the journey.

As Henry Rollins once sang:

No such thing as free time. No such thing as downtime. There’s only lifetime. It’s time to shine.

Rockit Records Therapy Session

The author has mentioned Metal music as one of his most important coping tools for OCD and related disorders. Here’s a look at the year he got one of the best therapy sessions ever, simply by working in a cramped little record store.

Mood music for this post. “Happiness in Slavery” from NIN, because I listened to the “Broken” EP a lot the year I worked at Rockit Records:

Back when I was an angst-filled teenager bent on self-absorbed periods of depression — and before I became an angst-filled grownup bent on self-absorbed periods of depression — it was a place where I could escape.

Located off of Route 1 northbound in Saugus, Mass., Rockit Records was literally a hole in the wall, not much bigger than a walk-in closet. It later expanded in size, but even then it seemed small. But the sounds booming from speakers above were always big.

It was the perfect safe house.

Now that someone has started a “Remembering Rockit Records” group on Facebook, the memories are flooding back.

There’s no real lesson in this post. Just a happy memory. Like any retail job, there were some unpleasant people and hours to contend with. It wasn’t perfection. But it wasn’t supposed to be.

Here’s an ad for the store from the early days:

And in this picture, on the left, is Al Quint, my former boss:

Al is still going strong, producing the Sonic Overload radio show and publishing his Suburban Voice magazine in blog form.

The store was crammed with cassettes, vinyl and eventually CDs. You could sell and buy used music. You could buy all the hard-to-get metal fanzines.

True story: On Aug. 3, 1987, I was the first kid in the store to buy Def Leppard’s just-released and long-awaited “Hysteria” album. The band was already spinning in a downward spiral toward candy-coated pop. I just didn’t realize it at the time. And in those days, I was a BIG Def Leppard fan.

A year later, I believe I was the second or third kid to buy Metallica’s “And Justice for All” album.

In 1992, just as I was transfering from North Shore Community College to Salem State College, a job opening became available and I applied on the spot. I thought the place was so cool at the time that  such a job was beyond my reach. No way they’d hire me. I wasn’t covered in tattoos or wearing nose and ear piercings. All I had going for me was the long hair, I thought.

But they called me in, and Al confirmed to the owner that I was a longtime shopper. They hired me, and I worked there for the next year, until new owners took over and I had decided to get too serious about my journalistic studies to work a retail job.

It was a tough year in a lot of ways. A family member was beginning to sink into some serious clinical depression and a suicide watch was on. I had turned North Shore Community College into a refuge of sorts, hiding for hours in the smoking room of the Lynn campus instead of facing my demons at home. I was uneasy about transferring to Salem State, though it turned out to be the best decision I could have made.

So for a year I manned the register as all my old school friends came in to shop. We smoked cigarettes at the front door and sometimes smoked other things out the back door. If we wanted a pack of smokes or something to eat and were short on cash, we borrowed from the register, putting index cards in place of the missing cash with such notes as “Bill borrowed $5, will return Thursday.”

I’m still not sure how we got away with that. It was a different time, I guess.

There was an Italian buffet restaurant across the parking lot called Augustine’s. The food wasn’t very good, but for a binge eater like me it was perfect.

If we liked the music that came in we would play it constantly. House of Pain was in the CD drive a lot. So was the Henry Rollins Band. Sometimes we’d get in promos for not-yet-released albums. If the staff didn’t like what they heard, the CD would quickly be converted into a Frisbee we’d whip across the store. One of the Poison albums suffered this fate.

I’m not sure if Al or the owner knew this was happening, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew and tolerated it.

The owner eventually sold the place and that essentially meant I was out of the job. I wasn’t exactly in the new owner’s good graces. But by then, it was time for me to move on.

I recently drove by the old shopping strip and noticed a Subway sandwich shop where Rockit Records once stood. A pity, really. But a lot of music stores suffered the same fate as the iTunes age dawned.

For me, it served its purpose. A jewel of an escape closet from a world of hurt.

Luckily for me, I’m finding people I worked with on Facebook. Now there’s the Facebook group.

Which means Rockit Records isn’t really dead, now, is it?