The road back to college was certainly not an easy one. I owed $2,000 to Miami, and had accumulated 63 credit hours, leaving me 1 credit hour short of being a junior, which meant I was only eligible for $3,500 in loans for the year, and at the time tuition was $5,400. That meant I was $3,900 short if I wanted to go back to Miami.
I never seriously considered transferring to another school because I knew I’d be changing majors as programming computers bored me and I wasn’t sure how well my Miami Plan credits would transfer. I didn’t yet know what I was changing my major to. I had time to figure that out.
In the fall of 1997, I acquired my first delivery job. I delivered videos for Late Nite Video. What a dream job that was, aside from the pay. I watched movies while working, and occasionally drove movies to people’s doors. Minimum wage had just increased to $5.15 per hour the week I got the job. On average, with tips I probably made $6.50. It was enough to get by on while still living at my grandmother’s house, but certainly not enough to pay off Miami or get my own place, so I got a second job, delivering pizzas for SDS (which stands for Student Delivery Service, if you’re curious). Between the two jobs, I started working about 55 hours per week on average. At one point that fall, I picked up two other jobs. I did data entry for Paragon for about a week, and worked as a computer programmer for McCullough Hyde Hospital for a day. Ultimately, I couldn’t handle picking up the project that their departing designer was in charge of, so I didn’t stay on, but I did bump the emergency shut off switch in the IT room, shutting off power to half the second floor of the hospital for about 20 minutes. Their back up generators kept vital stuff going, so there were no really bad ramifications. They also installed a plastic casing around the switch, so in some ways my accident was helpful.
In addition, I was running Underground Music Monthly, an online magazine and website dedicated to helping independent musicians. Technically, I had 5 jobs at that point, for 1 day, if you count running my own website and magazine as a job.
Around October 1997, I took my 2 paying job income and got my first apartment. The friend whom I was driving to class split the place with me. The day after he moved in, he lost his job and my perennial roommate problems began. I ended up paying the rent, all the bills, and helped pay for his food. About a month later, I got a second roommate, and he lost his job the day after he moved in. I started working about 60 hours per week (and hit 70 once) and having 2 roommates was more costly than having 1. I kicked the second roommate out after about a month since he wasn’t on the lease and let the first roommate out of the lease shortly thereafter.
I would find out years later that one of my roommates was dealing drugs out of my apartment. I was working so much that I had no clue what was going on. I also found out years later that a woman and her 13 year old daughter were doing whippits in the living room while I was the only person on the lease. I was at work at the time. I’m also pretty certain there were high school kids skipping class to get high in my apartment without my knowledge. I’m sure there are plenty of things I’m still unaware of to this day. Regardless of these egregious acts of broken trust, I’m still a trusting person. I’d rather get burned from time to time than shut out the world.
While all of this was going on, I was falling deeper and harder for Alyssa (again, not her real name, protecting her privacy). I rang up a $270 cell phone bill one month talking to her. She is the only girl I’ve ever loved. I took her to a concert for her birthday that year. We drove two hours to see Tonic play in Columbus, and then spent the night in Columbus, but I didn’t make any moves on her as she still had a boyfriend. The next day, before leaving Columbus, I bought a $50 wool sweater. Aside from suits and shoes, it is still the most expensive article of clothing I’ve ever bought. I cherished that sweater for years. I don’t know where the sweater is now, but even writing this reminds me of how the sweater looked, felt, and smelled, as well as the inside of the head shop where I bought it. That trip to Columbus is my most vivid memory from that time period. It’s why I still listen to “If You Could Only See” by Tonic when it comes on the radio. A mutual friend came along for the trip, and Sister Hazel will always remind me of that trip as she sang it with Alyssa.
In February of 1998, I talked my way out of the lease at my first apartment, and decided I was going to move to Orlando with a friend of mine. Even at the time I think I realized that I was running away from my problems. I couldn’t pay for my apartment, and I couldn’t handle my feelings for Alyssa. The day before I moved, I called my friend to make sure it was still alright for me to move in before I loaded up my 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis and made the 16 hour drove. He said it was still fine.
When I arrived, it certainly wasn’t fine. He was still living at home, which I knew, but his brother and sister both moved back in, which I didn’t know, and for some reason I can’t remember there was a toilet in the living room so there wasn’t even floor space to sleep on. I stayed there for about 2 days before driving back. Thankfully, a friend helped me drive.
I moved back in with my grandma for a while, until she had a stroke and medicare/medicaid took her house to help pay for the nursing home she moved into. She recovered from the stroke, and moved in with my aunt and uncle, and even went white water rafting at the age of 86! For me, though, I was forced to get my own place again, setting me further back from returning to Miami.
I performed live for the first time in August of 1998. The show as at a CD store in Colerain (Cincinnati) called CD World. Even though the performance was in the afternoon at a CD store, I was very nervous. My mouth was very dry and my contacts were giving me a headache, but that moment was a major moment in my musical career, and in my life. Before then, I had only really wanted to be a studio musician, but afterward I found that performing live was just as amazing as creating! Being able to write and record songs has been essential to my life, and performing has given me many of my best moments.
In October of 1998, I started my job at Papa John’s, with the primary goal being to pay off my debt to Miami, and re-enroll. I worked as much as I could, and focused all of my financial resources on paying off Miami. I needed to go back to school. I also came up with a solution to my financial aid situation. I could still only received federal loans, not because I was a minor, but because my credit suffered badly while I learned how to live on my own. So, I had to figure out how to officially be a junior and become eligible for more aid. I took one class at Cincinnati State. It was a 3 credit hour course, but since they were on quarters, it would only count as 1.5 credit hours at Miami. Perfect. Cincinnati State was very inexpensive, so the course only cost me about $100, which I paid for in cash. Since I knew I was switching to business, I took a 100 level business course, the easiest class I’ve ever taken.
One of the hardest days of my life was Miami’s graduation day, 1999. It was also Mother’s Day. It was the day I would’ve graduated college at 20 years of age had I not made bad decisions and dropped out. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and every single person I delivered to was happy. Most of my deliveries were to people who were graduating college that day, and their parents. Every time I had one of those deliveries, it felt like I was being stabbed in the heart. I felt like that should’ve been me, proudly showing off my accomplishments to my mom and dad. Giving my mom hugs, and smiling profusely, talking about how great things were. The economy was also wonderful then, and I would’ve had a computer science degree and probably would’ve already lined up a job making $60,000+ to start right out of college. Instead, I was delivering pizzas to people who had what I wanted. It was very painful. Graduation Day 2000 and 2001 were also difficult because I still felt like I was behind, but not nearly as difficult as this day. I have learned since, of course, that life never works out for anyone the way they expect. It’s a fact that hurts early in life, but as you mature you realize that’s part of what makes life beautiful. If I could predict everything that was ever going to happen, then what’s the point?
In the summer of 1999, I produced “Delve Deeper” in my apartment using a Soundblaster Live card and a cheap microphone. The recording quality was very bad, and I taught myself production so my skills were poor as well. One day, a friend of mine named Rob came over to record. In the middle of the recording session, he complained about the production quality. I told him it worked for what I was doing. He replied “It may work for what you do, but it won’t work for music.” I felt like I had been punched in the face, but awakened at the same time. He was right. I really was solely an MC at that point. There’s nothing wrong with specializing musically. I have tremendous respect for artists who hone their craft and work their tails off to become the best musician possible, whether they’re singers, MCs, guitarists, or play other instruments. For me though, I wanted to be more, so I taught myself to play instruments.
I played the keyboard first as it was the most natural progression from what I was already doing, which was using the keyboard as a drum machine. Next I taught myself the bass. Then I bought an electric drum set. It cost me $999 plus tax, and I worked 7 straight weeks of overtime to save up for it. 11 years later, I’m still using the same drum set, a Yamaha DTXPress. I chose an electronic set because it was easier for production purposes, had a lot more types of sounds, and because I was living in an apartment so a real drum set would’ve been too loud. Shortly after buying the drums, I purchased a 24-bit digital sound card, an M-Audio Delta 1010, and it came packed with Vegas 1.0 as the recording software. I still using the same software and hardware today, though I’ve upgraded the computer a few times. The final instrument I picked up was the guitar. This is because the guitar my dad gave me was a beautiful guitar. It was an Elvis replica, electric hollow body. Even the case was beautiful, with plush interior. There were several times when I opened the case and said “that guitar is too pretty for me to play” and shut the case again. I eventually started playing it, though. Of my primary instruments, it was the least natural for me to pick up and had the steepest learning curve. I’ve only become comfortable with it in the last 4 years or so. This led me to record “Transitions” in 1999 as well. I’ve discontinued both albums as they were poorly produced learning experiments.
After paying off Miami, I went back to school part-time in January of 2000. That’s also about the time I started to get over Alyssa. She had finally broken up with her boyfriend again, but couldn’t trust anyone at that point, so all my waiting meant that I still couldn’t be with her. I wasn’t interested in anyone else for quite some time.
My 21st birthday was in January of 2000 as well. I went to Applebee’s and had a mudslide. The server didn’t ask for my ID, and I said “Aren’t you even going to card me?” He said “nope.” Bummer. That was only the second time I’d ever had alcohol in my life. The first was when I was 8 years old, and a friend got me to try his dad’s dark beer. I thought it was disgusting then, and still feel the same now. I’ve only drank maybe 15 times in my life, so I’ve never acquired the taste for beer. The last time I drank was January 19th, 2010, and I don’t know that I’ll ever drink again. It really just isn’t for me.
Around that time, I also stopped writing new issues of Underground Music Monthly. I’m still proud of what I accomplished with that magazine. I employed two freelancers, one who did the artwork for most of the issues, as well as wrote reviews, and the other who wrote reviews. I wrote about the most current topics relevant to independent musicians at the time. I did an article on CDBaby just a few months after they were formed. They’re now the #1 independent music distributor, doing millions of dollars in sales. I reviewed “Hands” by Bumblefoot, and interviewed him for the magazine. He’s now the guitarist for Guns N Roses. Lupus, from the Bloodhound Gang, found my site one day and emailed me to tell me how great my site was. We exchanged a few emails; Lupus is a very funny man. He put a link up to Underground Music Monthly from the Bloodhound Gang’s site as he was their webmaster at the time. I know I made a difference for some independent musicians along the way as well, which is what I’m most proud of. I’m no longer running the site or the online magazine, but it was a tremendous experience!
In the summer of 2000, I couldn’t afford to go to school, so I recorded “Out of the Shadows.” A coworker drew the cover artwork. It’s also been discontinued as it too was really just a learning experiment. In the fall, I took 7 credit hours and worked full-time. I worked 58 hours the week before finals. I finally made it back to Miami full time in January of 2001! That’s where I’ll pick up the next time.