Profile for Sem Chumbo

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Personal statement:

The diamond necklace played the pawn
Hand in hand some drummed along, oh
To a handsome man and baton

A blind class aristocracy
Back through the opera glass you see
The pit and the pendulum drawn

Columnated ruins domino

Hung velvet overtaken me
Dim chandelier awaken me
To a song dissolved in the dawn

The music hall a costly bow
The music all is lost for now
To a muted trumpeter swan

Columnated ruins domino
Canvass the town and brush the backdrop
Are you sleeping, brother John?

Dove nested towers the hour was
Strike the street quicksilver moon
Carriage across the fog
Two-step to lamp lights cellar tune
The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne

The glass was raised, the fired grows
The fullness of the wine, the dim last toasting
While at port adieu or die
A choke of grief, heart hardened I
Beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry

Surf's up, aboard a tidal wave
Come about hard and join
The young and often spring you gave
I heard the word, wonderful thing
A children's song


The band changed members occasionally, morphing into various incarnations, from Father Yod and the Spirit of ’76 to Ya Ho Wha 13 to The Savage Sons of Ya Ho Wha, Yodship, and Fire Water Air; but the key players were always the same: (Djin Aquarian on guitar, Octavius Aquarian on drums, and Sunflower Aquarian on bass) along with other family musicians Lovely Aquarian, Zoroaster Aquarian, Hom Aquarian, Rhythm Aquarian, Pythias Aquarian, Aquariana Aquarian, Ahom Aquarian, Electron Aquarian. Father Yod does not appear on all their album releases, but for those on which he participates, he handles lead vocals and percussion, via a kettle drum.

    Boston AA is like AA nowhere else on this planet. Just like AA everyplace else, Boston AA is divided into numerous individual AA Groups, and each Group has its particular Group name like the Reality Group or the Allston Group or the Clean and Sober Group, and each Group holds its regular meeting once a week. But almost all Boston Groups’ meetings are speaker meetings. That means that at the meetings there are recovering alcoholic speakers who stand up in front of everybody at an amplified podium and “share their experience, strength, and hope.” 131 And the singular thing is that these speakers are not ever members of the Group that’s holding the meeting, in Boston. The speakers at one certain Group’s weekly speaker meeting are always from some other certain Boston AA Group. The people from the other Group who are here at like your Group speaking are here on something called a Commitment. Commitments are where some members of one Group commit to hit the road and travel to another Group’s meeting to speak publicly from the podium. Then a bunch of people from the host Group hit the opposite lane of the same road on some other night and go to the visiting Group’s meeting, to speak. Groups always trade Commitments: you come speak to us and we’ll come speak to you. It can seem bizarre. You always go elsewhere to speak. At your own Group’s meeting you’re a host; you just sit there and listen as hard as you can, and you make coffee in 60-cup urns and stack polystyrene cups in big ziggurats and sell raffle tickets and make sandwiches, and you empty ashtrays and scrub out urns and sweep floors when the other Group’s speakers are through. You never share your experience, strength, and hope on-stage behind a fiberboard podium with its cheap nondigital PA system’s mike except in front of some other metro Boston Group. 132 Every night in Boston, bumper-stickered cars full of totally sober people, wall-eyed from caffeine and trying to read illegibly scrawled directions by the dashboard lights, crisscross the city, heading for the church basements or bingo halls or nursing-home cafeterias of other AA Groups, to put on Commitments. Being an active member of a Boston AA Group is probably a little bit like being a serious musician or like athlete, in terms of constant travel.
    The White Flag Group of Enfield MA, in metropolitan Boston, meets Sundays in the cafeteria of the Provident Nursing Home on Hanneman Street, off Commonwealth Avenue a couple blocks west of Enfield Tennis Academy’s flat-topped hill. Tonight the White Flag Group is hosting a Commitment from the Advanced Basics Group of Concord, a suburb of Boston. The Advanced Basics people have driven almost an hour to get here, plus there’s always the problem of signless urban streets and directions given over the phone. On this coming Friday night, a small horde of White Flaggers will drive out to Concord to put on a reciprocal Commitment for the Advanced Basics Group. Travelling long distances on signless streets trying to parse directions like “Take the second left off the rotary by the driveway to the chiropractor’s” and getting lost and shooting your whole evening after a long day just to speak for like six minutes at a plywood podium is called “Getting Active With Your Group”; the speaking itself is known as “12th-Step Work” or “Giving It Away.” Giving It Away is a cardinal Boston AA principle. The term’s derived from an epigrammatic description of recovery in Boston AA: ‘You give it up to get it back to give it away.’ Sobriety in Boston is regarded as less a gift than a sort of cosmic loan. You can’t pay the loan back, but you can pay it forward, by spreading the message that despite all appearances AA works, spreading this message to the next new guy who’s tottered in to a meeting and is sitting in the back row unable to hold his cup of coffee. The only way to hang onto sobriety is to give it away, and even just 24 hours of sobriety is worth doing anything for, a sober day being nothing short of a daily miracle if you’ve got the Disease like he’s got the Disease, says the Advanced Basics member who’s chairing this evening’s Commitment, saying just a couple public words to the hall before he opens the meeting and retires to a stool next to the podium and calls his Group’s speakers by random lot. The chairperson says he didn’t used to be able to go 24 lousy minutes without a nip, before he Came In. “Coming In” means admitting that your personal ass is kicked and tottering into Boston AA, ready to go to any lengths to stop the shit-storm. The Advanced Basics chairperson looks like a perfect cross between pictures of Dick Cavett and Truman Capote 133 except this guy’s also like totally, almost flamboyantly bald, and to top it off he’s wearing a bright-black country-western shirt with baroque curlicues of white Nodie-piping across the chest and shoulders, and a string tie, plus sharp-toed boots of some sort of weirdly imbricate reptile skin, and overall he’s riveting to look at, grotesque in that riveting way that flaunts its grotesquerie. There are more cheap metal ashtrays and Styrofoam cups in this broad hall than you’ll see anywhere else ever on earth. Gately’s sitting right up front in the first row, so close to the podium he can see the tailor’s notch in the chairperson’s outsized incisors, but he enjoys twisting around and watching everybody come in and mill around shaking water off their outerwear, trying to find empty seats. Even on the night of the I.-Day holiday, the Provident’s cafeteria is packed by 2000h. AA does not take holidays any more than the Disease does. This is the big established Sunday P.M. meeting for AAs in Enfield and Allston and Brighton. Regulars come every week from Watertown and East Newton, too, often, unless they’re out on Commitments with their own Groups. The Provident cafeteria walls, painted an indecisive green, are tonight bedecked with portable felt banners emblazoned with AA slogans in Cub-Scoutish blue and gold. The slogans on them appear way too insipid even to mention what they are. E.g. “ONE DAY AT A TIME,” for one. The effete western-dressed guy concludes his opening exhortation, leads the opening Moment of Silence, reads the AA Preamble, pulls a random name out of the Crested Beaut cowboy hat he’s holding, makes a squinty show of reading it, says he’d like to call Advanced Basics’ first random speaker of the evening, and asks if his fellow Group-member John L. is in the house, here, tonight.
    John L. gets up to the podium and says, ‘“That is a question I did not used to be able to answer.” This gets a laugh, and everybody’s posture gets subtly more relaxed, because it’s clear that John L. has some sober time in and isn’t going to be one of those AA speakers who’s so wracked with self-conscious nerves he makes the empathetic audience nervous too. Everybody in the audience is aiming for total empathy with the speaker; that way they’ll be able to receive the AA message he’s here to carry. Empathy, in Boston AA, is called Identification.
    Then John L. says his first name and what he is, and everybody calls Hello.
    White Flag is one of the area AA meetings Ennet House requires its residents to attend. You have to be seen at a designated AA or NA meeting every single night of the week or out you go, discharged. A House Staff member has to accompany the residents when they go to the designated meetings, so they can be officially seen there. 134 The residents’ House counselors suggest that they sit right up at the front of the hall where they can see the pores in the speaker’s nose and try to Identify instead of Compare. Again, Identify means empathize. Identifying, unless you’ve got a stake in Comparing, isn’t very hard to do, here. Because if you sit up front and listen hard, all the speakers’ stories of decline and fall and surrender are basically alike, and like your own: fun with the Substance, then very gradually less fun, then significantly less fun because of like blackouts you suddenly come out of on the highway going 145 kph with companions you do not know, nights you awake from in unfamiliar bedding next to somebody who doesn’t even resemble any known sort of mammal, three-day blackouts you come out of and have to buy a newspaper to even know what town you’re in; yes gradually less and less actual fun but with some physical need for the Substance, now, instead of the former voluntary fun; then at some point suddenly just very little fun at all, combined with terrible daily hand-trembling need, then dread, anxiety, irrational phobias, dim siren-like memories of fun, trouble with assorted authorities, knee-buckling headaches, mild seizures, and the litany of what Boston AA calls Losses —

    “Then come the day I lost my job to drinking.” Concord’s John L. has a huge hanging gut and just no ass at all, the way some big older guys’ asses seem to get sucked into their body and reappear out front as gut. Gately, in sobriety, does nightly sit-ups out of fear this’ll all of a sudden happen to him, as age thirty approaches. Gately is so huge no one sits behind him for several rows. John L. has the biggest bunch of keys Gately’s ever seen. They’re on one of those pull-outable-wire janitor’s keychains that clips to a belt loop, and the speaker jangles them absently, unaware, his one tip of the hat to public nerves. He’s also wearing gray janitor’s pants. ‘Lost my damn job,’ he says. “I mean to say I still knew where it was and whatnot. I just went in as usual one day and there was some other fellow doing it,” which gets another laugh.


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