Thursday, May 31, 2012



This is not about a man
standing in front
of a certain slot machine
for hours, staring.
This is not about
the expressions of people
seated or standing about.
This is not about
the balance of a woman,
dipping at the knees
to serve a drink.
This is about
dark chocolate.
This is not about music
made by spinning reels
or tinkling bells or
a message that could
be encoded in the flashing
of the lights.
This not about
the all night party streamers
of a waitresses' hair,
about how much grace inflates
the life rafts of her lips
or what taunts
from the tone
of her skin.
No, this is simply
about dark chocolate.
About what
could make it liquid
in the mouth.
This not about a woman
walking past and checking
her side view mirror
to see if he's watching.
This isn't even about
which candy he
may or may not desire
as he swipes his card
in the register of longing.
This is not
about a bar.
This is about
dark chocolate.
About how it
melts and sticks.
This isn't about
how the arrows of some eyes
narrow if he doesn't speak or
the mariachi band of
laughter from certain
lips when he does.
This is not about a man
standing in front of a bank
of thieving machines
dreaming of symbols
lining up on a reel,
not about
a progressive jackpot.
This is about
dark chocolate.
This is not
about smiling through
reclining eyelids
or softly licking
the lips
This is about
what gets
wagered on
the tip of a tongue,
about being
lost in a bet,
about what
moistens the mouth
on the slow cab ride
from the airport
of possibility
to the center of
the city of sighs.

Recently I was featured in an article on the Poetry Foundation's website, that included this quote from a long time friend Kenneth Carroll;

"From the time I met Renegade, he carried around a deck of cards. Poker is perfect for his OCD. I’m not surprised that he’s managed to make a ‘life’ of poker playing, given especially that he has no desire to work like the rest of us stiffs. From his days of voluntary homelessness to his three-year obsession with finding the true author of Shakespeare’s writing, he must find something to obsess about, and usually it involves poetry, poker, or women he has no chance of ever getting.”

Pretty much everything that Kenny said here is true with one exception; I do have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I also however have OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), a related condition that is often confused with (but different from) OCD. OCPD is one of nine Personality Disorders listed in DSM IV and one of the least known. The joke among psychiatrists is that people with OCD make themselves sick, but people with OCPD make everyone around them sick. Like all other mental illnesses OCPD has a stigma attached which makes it very difficult for people who suffer from it to publicize that fact. OCPD differs from OCD in several very significant ways; one is that people with OCD know that there is something very wrong with their brains and want relief from their obsessions and compulsions, people with undiagnosed OCPD don't think there is anything at all wrong with them, they think it's everyone else that has the problem. I was lucky to be first diagnosed at 18 by a USAF psychiatrist and when he told me, I thought he was completely full of it. It was only after he started telling me things about myself that I thought no one could possibly know (even if they followed me around 24/7) that I realized he might be correct. After a pretty vigorous debate (which I lost) I accepted the diagnosis and agreed to attend therapy. Like Jack Nicholson's character in 'As Good As It Gets,' I arrived, stayed for one session and never returned. The symptoms of OCPD are as follows;

A pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

Is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost

Shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met)

Is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity)

Is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)

Is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value
Is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things

Adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes

Shows significant rigidity and stubbornness.

Unlike most people with OCPD I don't have a need or desire to control others around me, in fact I tend to avoid positions of authority. Therefore I also don't have the anger issues that many have, as I am willing to accept the (perceived) shortcomings of others. Although I lack many of the classic OCPD symptoms, the ones I do have are pretty severe. I am preoccupied with details, something that is greatly exacerbated by my IQ; the normal level of detail at which my brain functions strikes most people as needlessly excessive, but it is merely a result of my ability to process very large amounts of information very quickly. This can be both good and bad, women are often greatly flattered when I comment on some extremely specific aspect of how they are dressed or adorned because they think it means that I'm paying close attention. For example a dealer at the Taj recently changed the angle of her short Bob after many years of wearing her hair the same way. As soon as she sat on my game, my brain pointed it out to me, I haven't said 10 words to this woman in the 8 years she has been dealing to me, nor do I give a flying fuck about hairstyles, but I am hypersensitive to any change in routines. So I commented on the change, she was evidently very nervous about it and asked me if I liked it, I did and said so. It made her day and now every time I see her she's all smiles. This happens to me frequently, I learned long ago that women interpret this to mean that you are paying attention to them (something they crave), I also learned not to tell them the truth which is that I notice these things about every single person I ever come across. Sometimes, the outcome isn't so positive, 8 years ago when the Poker Room was downstairs, there was a waitress at the Borgata (we'll call her M.) who used to wear a silver charm bracelet on her left ankle under her stocking. Everyday if she passed me I would look down at her ankle to see which charm was on the outside of her ankle that day. One day it wasn't there and I pointed that out, she said that she had broken the clasp that morning while showering. When she went back to the Service Bar she evidently mentioned it to another waitress (we'll call her T.), T freaked out and told M that I must be some kind of stalker or why else would I notice such a thing? M was at least kind enough to come and talk to me about it, T never spoke to me again and looked at me like I was crazy and avoided me assiduously for the rest of the time she worked there.

I have never been accused of being a workaholic or of being meticulously neat. I'm pretty sure though, that my obstinacy is legendary. I am also hyper literal with language. And although I have never (until now) admitted to it, I am also a hoarder. If you know me well, you know what I hoard, although you probably never thought of it this way. I hoard data, as much as possible, as frequently as possible. All of it neatly stacked and categorized in my inner closets and cabinets. If you are one of the hundreds of people who have ever asked me "How the fuck do you know that?" after I offered up some arcane, but germane fact, now you have your answer. My hoarding was made immeasurably worse by the fact that for most of my adult life I had close to perfect recall, so I could pretty much never run out of room to store things. Like most people with OCPD or OCD I have certain rituals that I must perform everyday, for example, from age 18 to age 48 I never left my house without a deck of cards (either Bee or Bicycle brand) and I would shuffle them constantly, no less than 100 times every day. This ritual was very calming for me, but the thought of being without a deck of cards was absolutely terrifying. Then one day it just stopped. I am super fortunate that none of my rituals are repetitive. But I can become obsessed with anything at anytime. I have eaten the same breakfast at the Borgata Buffet for 8 years, once a friend asked me if I ever got tired of ordering the same thing, the question didn't even make sense to me. Most of my rituals are things that normal people do anyway and thus are fairly inconspicuous, but a few aren't. Probably my oddest and most obvious ritual is that when I'm served a drink by a waiter or waitress at a poker table I can never be given a napkin. In the ten years since I began this ritual there is only one time that I was given a napkin without having a mini panic attack. I don't dislike beverage napkins, (in fact if I spill my drink I'll ask for one), but I can't be given one with my drink. This often confuses normal people who think that the obsession is in some way related to the object. Think of it this way, if a record skips and repeats a certain passage of music, it isn't because that music is special or beautiful or extremely well played, it just because that's where the weakness in the groove of the record happened to be. The actual music itself is irrelevant to the fact that the record is skipping. In fact, one of the major problems that people with OCPD face is when others personalize their behavior. Another of my obsessions is that all data or logic that I come across must be as accurate as possible. This means that if I'm talking to someone and they say something that I know not to be true, I'll correct them, usually very politely, but this quite often leads to debates where the other person can become very emotional or upset. But I don't care, I just want the logic or data to be correct. In my understanding of the world, it would be a huge moral failure on my part for me to allow someone to walk around saying something that is factually incorrect. Does that sound crazy? Of course it does to most people, but it's a rule that cannot ever be violated for me. If a person proves me wrong (with documentation) I will thank them. This is because I feel like they have done me a huge favor. This often confuses people with think that I'm obsessed with being right. One of my favorite jokes is to tell people who accuse me of being overly technical, "I'm not technical. I'm specific" They never seem to get it. Of course, they think I'm the one who doesn't get it.

OCPD tends to run in families and my grandfather on my mother's side almost certainly had it. He was infamous for "knowing everything" and especially for holding others to extremely his (extremely high) standards and becoming very angry (and sometimes abusive) when they didn't measure up. All of my aunts and uncles and most of us grandkids have stories about going to work with Papa. Out of all of us I'm probably the only one he never yelled at or hit. The reason was simple, the first time I ever worked for him he sent me to get a hex wrench, I didn't know what a hex wrench was and told him so, he asked me if I was stupid, I said no, I'm quite bright actually, but I don't happen to know what a hex wrench looks like. He told me to go and figure it out, I refused to budge, I told pointed out to him that if he explained it to me things would go a lot quicker. There was a split second where I thought he was about to knock me silly, but he didn't, he described the wrench and I went and fetched it. We were cool after that. My OCPD saved me, because I wasn't going anywhere without specific instructions. My father was known for his meticulousness, I remember once when I was eight or nine I picked up some coins off his dresser to show my younger brother a magic trick. When I finished I placed them back exactly (I thought), when my father came into the room he demanded to know who had been playing with his change (which we were forbidden to touch), I of course lied and insisted it wasn't me. He insisted that one of us had and that therefore he would beat both of us. I didn't want my younger brother to get a beating for something I'd done, so I fessed up. After I got punished I asked him how he knew I'd touched the coins, given that I had put them back exactly. It turns out that not only did he align all the heads the same way (which I had observed), he also had them arranged by date, with the oldest coin on the bottom.

Like many people with OCPD I am aided in my work by my condition. Many poets claim to revise obsessively, but I actually do. I write mostly poetry because it would be very hard for me to finish a short story or a novel. The poem above is my first attempt to deal with my OCPD in my work and the first I've written that involves one of my rituals. For about three months I was completely and utterly obsessed with the Wizard of Oz slot machine at the Borgata and would spend hours each day standing in front of it waiting for the Wizard to speak. Like shuffling cards, the Wizard's voice had a calming influence on me that was inexplicable and entrancing. If I had to guess I'd say it was because it took me back to a specific moment when I was a kid and first saw the movie (which it did), but why that calmed me I can't say. I do know that I had to stand there like a crack fiend waiting for the Bonus Round to hit so the Wizard could speak. The 'dark chocolate' is a symbol for something that I'm obsessed with and the waitress is one of the three women in my life that I've been obsessed with. Probably 90% of all the love poems I've ever written are to one of those three women. I also write more and better (about everything) when I'm obsessed with a woman. I really, really wish this wasn't true, but it is. At least this means that me and Dante Alighieri have at least one thing in common. This poem is huge for me because until I wrote it, I never really realized that I was obsessed with these women, I thought I was just in love with them. It was probably really obvious to everyone else, but you're always the last to know. Kenny's quote closed the deal. Understanding that I may have been in love, but was definitely obsessed is freeing for me in so many ways. Over the last two years I've been slowly coming to terms with the ways that my OCPD impacts my life that I was previously unaware of. Dealing with this last woman has been a huge part of that because it was trying to communicate with her that first made me want to change things. One of the most important things anyone with OCPD can do is to acknowledge it and its impact. One of the ways you do this is by making a list of your rituals so that you can be aware of all of them and begin to lessen their impact on your life. For me, just the idea of the list is terrifying, who wants their craziness enumerated and organized and staring back at them from a sheet of paper? I don't even know how many rituals I have, but it's over thirty for sure. I'm going to make that list, maybe not today, but soon. If you're like me or think you might be, get help, it's never too late. You can significantly improve the quality of your life (and your loved ones). One of the worst things about OCPD is thinking that you don't need help. Yes, everyone else is stupid (and wrong), but that doesn't meant that you can't use some help too.

Until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)
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