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.


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:



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.