Chalkskin

Back Story

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Behold, a Christmas miracle!

 

The Accident

In the summer of 2005, I thought my license was suspended.  It wasn’t, and I don’t remember why I thought it was.  Honestly, it’s not all that important.  The essential thing for you to know is I was riding my bike to and from work every day.

I was working at the new, fancy mall, and ten lanes of traffic were between me and the place I wanted to eat lunch.  I enjoyed my meal, spending a little extra for a collectible cup I could use at home, and then I started back to my retail gig.

The light turned green, but there was a long line of cars waiting to make a right-hand turn.  I made the foolish decision of waving them past before I embarked across the ten lanes once again.  Still green, I stood up on the bike, put down my head, and peddled hard.  When I had picked up steam, I looked up in time to watch the light go from yellow to red.  I was flying past the median by then and had no choice but to try and clear the intersection.  I did okay.  Even though I suddenly found myself in an unwanted game of Frogger, I made it across eight and a half lanes before it happened.

The mind is a funny thing.  As the car came toward me, time froze, and my brain said to me, “Well, I guess I’m not immortal after all.”  And then action!  And bang!  I’m off the bike now, flying onto the hood of the car.  I see the look of shock and horror on the driver’s and passenger’s faces through their windshield.  Time freezes again, and I think, “That wasn’t so bad.  Maybe I’ll just be a cripple the rest of my life.”  They slam on the brakes, and I’m flung off the car.  I see the pavement blurry beneath my outstretched hands when time freezes a third and final time.  My mind says, “Now, this is going to hurt.”

I gathered myself off the road and picked up the bicycle I had borrowed from my roommate.  I remember being worried it might be damaged but thinking it was okay even if I couldn’t make it move by pushing it.  The car bumper had hit my hip and bent the bike.

Realizing I had dropped my take-home cup, I turned to fetch it.  Even in my state of shock, I decided better of venturing into traffic when I saw passing cars flattening the cup beneath their speeding wheels.

“Should we call an ambulance?” the driver of the car asked.

“No,” I said.  “You couldn’t have been going that fast.  Like – what?  Five or ten miles per hour.”

“It was fast enough for you to break the windshield.”

“I broke the. . .?”   I search my body for an injury, finding blood streaming down from my elbow.  “Oh.  Huh.  I guess, yeah, probably call the ambulance then.”

I was starting to get dizzy by then.  The world was pulsing in my head, and my vision was getting hazy around the edges.  One of my friends from high school came running up.

“Dave!” Sarah Johnson cried.  “I saw someone had hit a bicyclist.  I can’t believe it was you!  Are you okay?  Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Could you go to my work and tell them I’m going to be late back from lunch?”

The initial injury was nothing more than a bruise stretching across my entire right side, a pain in my lower back, and a limp that lasted a few days.  I got some X-rays, and they didn’t show any major damage.

I took the only sick day I had from my job for a stretch of five years.  I’m dedicated, a workaholic afraid of being homeless if I don’t sweat my butt off and have near-perfect attendance for my employer.

That bit will be important later.

 

The Army Cot

At the time of the accident, I bounced back fast.  I was young (twenty-four years old), and though I had always had a sore back, the accident only made things marginally worse.  Yeah, I was seeing a chiropractor about lumbar and neck pains, but it was a manageable inconvenience.

Until 2011, which was when I introduced my girlfriend to my family.

Stella and I took a trip to Florida, where she met my father and spent time with my sister and nephew, and then we traveled to Ohio to stay with my mom in Buckeye country.  Stella shared a bed with my mother, and I slept on an old Army cot.  It was awkward, but I was actually excited about the cot.  I’d loved sleeping on one back in my Scouting days, but my eagerness only lasted one night.

I woke up and could barely stand.  I took another look at the cot and saw it was higher in the middle than it was at the head and feet.  Something about sleeping that way made my back go from annoying to a mess.

 

The New Job

Despite more visits to chiropractors, physical therapy, the orthopedic doctor, and even amateur Youtube hypnosis, things just got worse.  They eventually got so bad I had a few scary periods where my back made getting out of bed and walking nearly impossible.  Suddenly, I’m taking all of my sick time for three years in a row.  I even had to be taken out of the store one night in a wheelchair.

I told my orthopedic doctor the pain was reverberating throughout my body, including to my chest.  I have a history of heart palpitations, so I was instructed to follow up on that symptom with my primary care physician.  I ended up in a hospital for a couple of days after my EKG readings made it look like I was having a serious heart attack.

Look, that’s a whole other story.  The take-away was the hospital bed was terrible for my back, and I was off work yet again.

Recently, I was asked to take on a new role at my job.  I would be managing the external warehouse.  It was in my best interest, but I was reluctant.  They asked me about my hesitation, and I told them it was my back.  The job would be physically demanding, and the irony is the day they called to ask me, I had actually called-out because of my back.

A couple of days before, I had attended a beautiful wedding at Disneyland and hurt myself dancing to Sir Mix-A-Lot.  It was a regular “Baby Got Back Pain.”

This time, I was worse than ever and quickly declining from there.  I couldn’t bend down without holding myself up.  My right leg was twisted to the side.  My right hip was jutting upward.  My right shoulder was slumping a full two inches lower than my left.  My left thigh was numb.  I would have sharp pains in my right buttocks and down the leg.

I didn’t see a way to change any of this.  When people would ask me how my back was doing, which they were doing with a greater frequency than ever, I’d shrug and say, “It’s just my back.  It’s screwed up.”

I was scared.  I figured this was how it would be for me from then on.  I’d already sought help, and nothing worked.  I was just going to get worse and worse until I eventually die.

While everyone I talked to, including my new boss, had showed concern, none of them were deterred by my back issues.  The head of logistics, however, was deeply disturbed.  He began to question my abilities, referring to the physical aspects of the job I had brought up as my own concerns on multiple occasions.  He was right, but it didn’t make my situation any less precarious.  He told me to go and observe the business needs and then make the decision whether I thought I could live up to his expectations.

At this point, the machine was already in motion.  I would be taking over the warehouse in a matter of days.  Someone else would be doing the job I was vacating.  I didn’t see any good options.  This was a no-win for me.  It meant I’d either be agreeing to perform tasks I had already said I couldn’t do, absolving everyone else of guilt when I inevitably got hurt even worse, or I’d be demonstrating the fact I was becoming physically incapable of doing even the job I was leaving.

 

Broken

Stella had to help me get dressed.  Doing my job was becoming more and more difficult.  Even getting to work was hard.  Not one for saying things of a religious nature, Stella said to me, “Maybe this is God’s way of telling you something.”

I thought I knew what He’d be telling me.

The day before I was to take on my new role, I couldn’t get out of bed.  I called out and texted my new boss, letting her know I would be at the warehouse on Wednesday, “even if I have to crawl.”

Tuesday was my appointment to see my orthopedic.  It was my third or fourth visit with them, and I expected to simply get another prescription for physical therapy.  When they saw me come in this time, their shock was evident.  They gave me an X-ray, and the results were the same as always.  The bones are fine.  But this time, the doctor decided I needed an MRI.  He gave me a note for work, saying I would need to take three weeks off.

I went to work on Wednesday.  I did my best.  It was fifty degrees, and during that first hour, as I limped like a zombie behind my boss, I sweat through my hair.  And then I had a total emotional breakdown.  My worst fear: I would become so physically disabled by my back I could no longer earn a living, was coming true.

Of course, a lot of my worry was totally in my mind.  Despite the terrible timing, I could take a medical leave.  I didn’t want to let anyone down.  I wanted to do what was best for the company.  My back was forcing me to change.  I had to realize my health was supposed to come first.

I filed the paperwork and followed my doctor’s orders.  Things were bad.  I was in excruciating pain.  I’d lie in bed, getting up three times a day to use the bathroom.  My sciatic nerve would cause me more pain than I’ve ever felt each time I got up.  I’d shake, sob, and just want to return to bed, where I was trapped like a turtle on my back.

I sent Stella a few dark texts, informing her I couldn’t live like this anymore.  I’d never contemplated suicide before, but this was pain I could no longer endure.

 

The Turning Point

The day I had my MRI was a turning point.  I decided that morning my bed was a death sentence.  I would do whatever I could to remain sitting as much as possible, and I would not lay flat if I could help it.  Stella made me a make-shift Posturepedic bed on the couch, and we found the one chair in the house I could somewhat comfortably sit in.

We’d gone through so many chairs over the years, trying to make me comfortable.  We’d even replaced the mattress.  This had been a battle.

Getting to the appointment proved to be difficult, I ended up in a wheelchair after struggling in agony through the parking garage, across the street, through the lobby, up the elevator, and down most of the long corridor.  The things I had taken for granted as a young man were now impossible.  Not one to give up, it was becoming a growing habit nonetheless.

I was told my results wouldn’t be ready until Monday since it was a Friday, but not long after I got home, my orthopedic doctor called.  It was his day off, and he was out of town.  He had seen the MRI and wanted to know if I was okay.  He told me to go to the emergency room if I couldn’t make it to my appointment on Tuesday.  He told me he could see me on Sunday night, even with his office closed, because he would be back in town then.

I’d had a lot of people tell me to get a second opinion, to do anything I could to avoid surgery.  I have heard the horror stories about people who had worse problems after their surgery.

The orthopedic surgeon who had always prescribed me physical therapy and suggested I see a chiropractor, told me there was only one option: surgery

I had a severe hemorrhaged disk, seventy-five percent of which was pinching the nerve in my spine solidly against the bone.  He said it was fortuitous the nerve had found a way around the obstruction, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to walk at all.  I would have just fallen down like a rag doll.  He’d need to remove the obstruction surgically, but afterwards, my back would be as good as new.

The advice for a second opinion – the terrible stories – everything crossed my mind, but they couldn’t dismiss the relief I felt.  I saw an end to my suffering.

You see, this issue with my back had grown steadily worse.  It made me feel old and weak.  It made me wonder if that thought which popped into my head as the car was hitting me – I would “be a cripple the rest of my life” – was true.  It made me seriously consider whether my life was worth living if it was going to continue down this road.  How could I ever act again?  How could I tell my stories?  How could I make a living?  How could I do anything if I couldn’t even get off my back?

Dr. Finkenberg’s prognosis brought me back to life.

 

Surgery

I was thinking about how I could best describe the sensation in each leg in writing, when I awoke in a total state of disorientation.  It gradually came back to me.  The last thing I could remember, I was on a gurney in the operating room, staring up at the faces of the people who were going to work on me.  I had been wondering how I was going to get on the operating table, and now here I was, in the recovery room.  I’d already had my surgery.

I’ll never know how they got me on that table.  I am not a small man.

The sciatic pain in my right leg was totally gone.  My foot no longer bent to an angle, and my knee could lay straight without an electric twang bending it back.  I was already walking more upright, even if the wound from my incision was going to take time to heal.  My body, which had contorted to accommodate my sore back, had to readapt, and my left thigh still buzzed with numb tension.  The nurses suggest that last one could be permanent nerve damage, but it wasn’t.

It’s amazing a procedure as savage as carving into my spinal column could be an outpatient visit, but I got to go home that evening, only about eight hours after I arrived.

I left with some nausea, a bottle of Percocet, and – thanks to my ready susceptibility to the Florence Nightingale Effect – a crush on about a half dozen nurses.  I also left with new hope, long term goals, and a short-term mission.

 

Unbroken

I think of one of my favorite authors, Laura Hillenbrand.  I adore everything she’s written, and my absolute favorite – even more than Unbroken and Seabiscuit – is the story she wrote about her own struggle.

Laura suffers from a very rare form of vertigo which can make her bedridden for months at a time, and she has overcome a lot to get where she has.

In Unbroken, Louis Zamperini is shot down over the ocean and spends 47 days adrift on a life raft.  In Hillenbrand’s book, the struggle of being stranded at sea is riveting and is given an extended, thorough retelling in a way no other author could have written it.  She absolutely brought it to life, and you can almost smell the salt air and feel the sharks bumping against the bottom of the raft.  Her strength lies in being able to describe a moment in minutia, bringing us with her into the events of history with unflinching, visceral observation, and I truly believe the long periods of sensory deprivation she faces due to her illness is some of what informs her incredible writing.

Laura Hillenbrand inspires me, and I was determined to take a page from her book during the time I would spend recovering.

My back stole my thirties, but I also feel like it has given me a future.  The experiences I have gotten from this will help me write my stories with more depth, and the eight-week medical leave I had to close out 2016 literally gave me the time I needed to finally finish Home Street.  It’s time to start the next chapter of my life.

All of this. . .

This was just my backstory.

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Fresh

Five years ago, after completing my first album, I wrote these words, which I am making public for the first time.

By the way. . .  You can listen to the album here:

http://chalkskin.bandcamp.com/album/fresh-donuts

 

Fresh Donuts.jpg

 

The sun was setting over a gradient of blues to my right, casting a halo of burning orange onto the mountains and valleys to my left.  As clouds lingered in pink and gray, I tried to remain focused on the road ahead, but my mind was spinning across the journey we had already taken.

Godson – my engineer and music producer – had texted me a Christmas gift back in November.  He offered me twenty four hours to book an incredible amount of studio time for an absurdly low price.  I sprang into action and set down the cornerstone for what we were about to build.  Without a clear architectural design, I would soon be planning something far more ambitious than even my largest plans.

I had only recorded four songs in the past, and going into all of this, my knowledge was quite limited.  So green was I at this point, I often didn’t even know what questions to ask to figure out how amateur I was.  But I had learned one very important lesson: Surround yourself with the best people possible.

I felt like I was in one of those “Oceans Eleven” films, scouring the world for the best team to do the job.  And just like in “Inception,” we would be engineering a dream.  I called in old friends, people who were like family to me distanced only by time and space.  The appeal went out to those with whom I wanted to build up an empire.  These people would be the basis of Wolf In Wool Productions.

Even as positions were being full, more challenges arose.  My imagination can sometimes be larger than my stomach – or my wallet – and while people told me I was crazy and that I should scale back, I pursued what was in my heart.  Failure wasn’t an option for me as long as I clung to my instincts and was prepared to adapt, but that didn’t stop me from having moments of panic or doubt.

What had started off as a simple album soon swelled into a beast of objectives.  In one weekend, we would record an entire album, do an extensive photo shoot for album art and promotional materials, film a music video, record behind-the-scenes footage and interviews for both a mockumentary and a documentary, and. . . Well, we needed a club location…  Why not blow it out and have a live show?  And film it too.

Filling every moment I had after working 45 hours a week at my actual job, I planned to the best of my ability, but as I found out once the project loomed closer, my inexperience would be a challenge.  However, I had learned my lesson well, and I had the best people in place.  Both teams – the record studio and the video studio – were stocked with veterans who elevated my humble proficiencies in a way that far exceeded even my loftiest imaginings.

There are so many people to give thanks to.  It was a major labor by everyone, but you could feel the love in every part of it.  I just know that will translate to those who enjoy our creation.  All I can say is that once I began taking people back to the airport the last night, as I drove back in my car with only the cloak of night to keep me company, I turned up the volume and let “Peace in the Mid East” wash over me.  And then “Still Kickin’ It.”  And I was so overwhelmed by the dedication and passion that went into this project by every single person who had answered the call that I broke down and cried.  As I got back to the hotel, where the others were celebrating our victory, I locked myself in a room with Peter John Ross (the music videos director) and let it all sink in.

Which brings us back to the car trip in the California sunset.  We were leaving a small bookstore in Irvine where I had stood in a line to have some books and paraphernalia signed by my hero, Al Yankovic.  An actor, I haven’t really had aspirations of being a musician, so recording a music album was a major challenge for me.  I could only reference what I knew, and what I really knew best was “Weird Al.”  He had inspired me since I was in middle school and heard him for the first time, and his stamp is all over my work.

We could only have him sign one item per book.  We had three books, so I chose three items very carefully.  Kariem would have him sign the EP for “Fat.”  Stella would offer him the press kit for “UHF” and have him sign a carefully selected photo, and I would present him with his first 45 for “Another One Rides the Bus” and “Gotta Boogie,” the rarest item in my collection.  This tiny record had come out in 1979, the year I was born.

I clutched my demo CD and realized then and there what I held in my hand was the culmination of 31 years.  Inside the sleeve, I had scrawled a note to Al telling him my “Skipper Dan” story and thanking him for inspiring me.  As I handed him the best tracks from the album and started to tell him the story of how it came to be, the moment overtook me, and I again felt the love from everyone who had worked on making this moment a reality.  Despite being a man who rarely shows his emotions, tears of joy poured out of me as a new chapter opened up in my life.

With Weird Al

I wish to thank all of those who went into making M.C. Chalkskin & D.J. Pop’N’Fresh a reality.

First and foremost to Godson and Richard Baker for seeing something in us and helping us to bring it out.  You’ve shown amazing patience and have given incredible insight.  You are as much a part of Chalk and Pop as Kariem and I am.

Kariem Marbury, it isn’t easy for me to relinquish the reigns of my dreams to anyone, but you truly are my twin.  I can’t imagine a better partner for a comedy duo than you.  You’re the Abbott to my Costello, the Jake to my Ellwood.

Jason Nestler, you are a good and true friend, and it feels so great to inspire one another, doesn’t it?!  Thank you for letting yourself be vulnerable and putting yourself out there.  I just know that you’ve found out the potential you possess inside.

I’m glad that you’ve been changed by all of this, Mahmoud Maanaki.  I have too.  May we both be better men from this day forth.  🙂

If every time I used google I found someone as talented and beautiful as Kathy Robbins, I would never turn my computer off.  You trusted us enough to play with us with childlike wonder, and our game resulted in something so unique and inspirational.

Yochanan Winston Ph.D.  I actually get to put that name into the liner notes!  And it’s not just for novelty.  Yoch, I knew how good you are, but you managed to exceed my expectations and elevate the music to such a dynamic level.  It gives me goosebumps, man.

If you’re running behind schedule, and you need to get ahead, The Sneaker Kings will knock it out of the park for you.  Your professionalism and experience blows me away.  What you can do in such a short period of time amazes me.  Now that I know more about the process, I can’t wait to see what Jim Lakin, Mike Magnuson, and Dennis Ingram will be able to do when I give them more time to craft.  All four of the songs you performed on the album are hits.

Chase Pado, you are a phenom.  You just know exactly how to capture a mood and layer in context.  You were such an important part of making these songs into what they are.  I’m learning a lot, and just as with The Sneaker Kings, I know when I give you more room to explore, you’ll have a more conductive experience, but I am so impressed by what you’ve been able to do despite the limitations my inexperience has presented you with.

Rama Douglas, you really shred on that sitar, man!  That song simply wouldn’t be the same without you!  You are such a sweet and gentle soul, and I truly enjoyed every moment of our short encounter.  My mind is racing for ways to get you on future tracks.  Thank you so much for taking this project so seriously and being so adaptive.

Peter John Ross, you’ve been a friend for a long time.  When you first said you were willing to “pull cable” for anyone, I thought it was just hype, but you’ve given me the perfect model for how a filmmaker should act.  With humility and precision, you work your craft.  Thank you so much for “pulling cable” for me every time I’ve asked.  🙂

The hardest working man in show business is actually Kurt Braun.  You truly are the MacGyver of filmmaking, and you managed to put out my fires with duct tape, rubber bands, and charm.  You are the best at what you do, and you solve problems faster than a calculator.  Thank you so much for lighting more than just the set, for lighting the way.

Why wouldn’t I thank Jen Kolhagen?  She made me look @#$%ing great!  And not just by putting on my make-up.  She also dolled up all of the honeys and other guys, thus making me look even better!  Jen, you were worried we wouldn’t vibe at first, but I think we vibe on frequencies only dogs can hear.  😉  You are so dedicated and awesome, and this project would have suffered without you.

What a talent we have in Brian Canini.  He’s our photographer, graphic artist, and web designer.  Brian, you’re one of my oldest and dearest friends, and you’ve always believed in me.  I hope that you can see that I believe in you too.  Our work is just getting started, and I’m excited by what we’ll be able to come up with together!

You had said at one point didn’t know if it would be worth flying you out here, Mike.  What do you think now?  Mike Maletic is the perfect person to host an intellectual discourse and create an interview with various personalities.  You and “Dick” Cheswick were amazing, and I can’t wait to see what that material looks like.  Thank you for your dedication, belief, and for being one of my closest friends.  I hope we didn’t spoil your birthday too much.  😉

I’ve been friends with The Hodges Boys (Christian and Nate) through thick and thin since 1990 and I was 11 years old.  We’ve been creating characters in various ways for a long time.  We’ve rolled the dice and tried to turn up luck over many years, and I think this time, we’ve got a natural.

Candice Thiem and Laine Perry, you both signed onto this project at the eleventh hour… or the twelfth even.  It was an absolute pleasure working with both of you, and I hope you enjoyed the project as much as I did.  Thank you for rolling up your sleeves and taking care of the dirty work.

You can’t spell morale support without Debra Plante.  You totally have given your heart and mind to a belief in what Kariem is capable of, and your fervent belief in him is an amazing fuel that has driven him to do some amazing things.  You were always ready with a kind word, advice, and your camera.  An enormous help.

No one was as punctual or jolly – yep, jolly, Chuck – as Charles Castro.  If I said I’d be by to pick him up at 7:30 am, he was on the curb with his gear at 7:28.  Charles, I am so glad I was introduced to you that it almost made the acquaintance with the introducer worth it.  😉  Seriously, you are great, and I always want you on my team.

I wasn’t there when David Shoemaker came on the scene, but I hear he did a great job.  All I can speak of is how smart and fun you are, Mr. Shoemaker.  I’m so glad I was able to make you a part of this.

We were supposed to have three “hot guys,” but we only had one Haydar Alayidi.  Al, you more than made up for the others.  If you were nervous or unsure of yourself, you did an amazing job of overcoming it.  You’re a natural for a music video!

Angela Cousins, Kei Min Kim, Cristina Leduc, and Tiffany Williams, I’m so glad you could be my “Dope Hunnies” on this!  You look amazing and really took this silly project seriously, and I can’t wait to build on our new relationship.  I can’t wait for you all to hear the album.  Thank you so much for putting yourselves out there for me.  I hope you’re satisfied with the results.

Monique Fleming, Sarah Melick, and Misha Sedgwick really know how to class up a joint.  That music video will be so much better because of you.  You made Arab Money and me look like we might actually be able to land a dream girl like one of you, and I know that took a lot of skilled acting.  ;0)  I can’t wait to see how it will all turn out!

My finances are in ruins, and I know Aaron Frantz has that on his mind.  Aaron, you made a great cop, and you’ve already done so much in helping me create the business behind Wolf In Wool.  I’m so glad you’re on board to make this dream a financial reality.  I would be lost without you.

 

I’d also like to thank Stella Ingram (for being an incredible sounding board), Estrella Ingram (for putting love into the food), Rich Kunkel (for my awesome Sweatsedo), The Stage Saloon (for taking a chance with our first live performance), Young Olmos (for making the show so @#$%in’ good!), Esteban Carreno (advising my Spanish), Robert Becker (gearing up my computer), Mary’s Donuts in Santee (for being the perfect location), Kerry Steers (for suggesting The Stage), Craig Wilson (for advice), Pedro Rodriguez (for trying to fit us in), and Sarah Melick and Michelle Gabele and Shaun Berry (for letting us turn your home into a studio for a weekend).

 

I simply can not say “thank you” enough.  Thank you to anyone who has believed in me and supported my dreams.  To those of you who put your fingerprints on this project, you are a miracle in my life, and I am forever changed by this experience.

 

Yours truly,

Sheepdog David Grant

PS-  I will be in touch regarding a release party and future works.