06 November 2018

The Writer Explains His Absence From this Blog is Due to Work on a Novel


I haven't written anything on this blog for awhile. Not that anyone would notice (except of course for you my faithful reader Mrs. Elaine Cartwright of Dayton, Ohio -- by the way, is little Jamie over his cold?). It's not that I haven't been writing at all, because in fact I've been writing up a storm (though not a storm big enough to damage homes). But the writing I've been doing has been in an effort to complete a novel. I'm delighted to say that the first draft is finished and I'm currently revising and refining and making sure that it is truly Pulitzer Prize material.

Now that you've all had a good laugh....

This will be my third completed novel. Unlike its two predecessors this one is very good. Of course that's just my opinion as I am thus far the only person to have read it. My first novel was interesting but a mess and now it is lost to the world. The second was pretty good but perhaps a bit too ambitious and as it involved a school shooting was a turn off to would be literary agents. I believe the third time is a charm. In any case it has been a labor of love and I'm proud of it and when it's completed and at the mercy of strangers I will write a prequel and then a sequel.

It is a gross exaggeration to say that "everyone has written a novel." Very few illiterate people have attempted to do so. Most plumbers do not spend their idle hours plugging away at the next Moby Dick. It is also rare that an infant even attempts writing so much as a novella. But it it is true that a lot of people try to write novels and many, such as myself are teachers. Many teachers aspire or did aspire to be something else. Some just teach.

Also there is something of playing the lottery to writing a novel. While your odds of getting rich by writing a book are probably greater than the odds of winning a multi hundred million dollar jackpot, the odds against being published are long indeed. Also the fame and fortune many would be novelists long for are rarely achieved. For every JK Rowling who has made a lottery's worth of dough writing books, there are thousands who've made enough to pay a couple of months rent and many thousands more who can't understand why no one will publish their book.

There, is, of course, self-publishing, the last refuge of the writer. Many writers aiming for the best seller last eschew the very idea as beneath them. Many who do go that route don't even break even on the proposition. But a lot of people don't write novels solely for the chance to be rich and famous or even widely read. Some people just love to write. If not a word of mine ever gets published (perish the thought) I will be sorely disappointed but will not have regretted one second of the writing process.

It has been my ambition to write a successful novel since I was eight years old -- maybe earlier. Over 50 years later I've only written three and at best only one that may see the light of day. There are various reasons for this. One has been drugs and alcohol which stymied a lot of my artistic ambition. Another has been depression which has at times rendered me incapable of typing a word let alone enough for story. Of course work and family have eaten up a lot of time. I've needed both to survive. But the biggest impediment to a successful writing career has been laziness. Which is no excuse at all. I owe myself a lot of apologies for not forcing myself to write daily.

Writing a full length novel takes work. As one can see on this blog I've easily written a slew of short stories (some aren't bad). I can write a decent short story in one day, though most take longer. A novel is infinitely more complex an endeavor, especially when you have work and family obligations.

I hope someday to share glad tidings here of the publication of my first novel. I've finally conquered my laziness and write religiously. This has allowed me to complete the first draft of my novel and make headway on the revisions. I'm really loving the hell out of it and recommend to anyone who has an inkling that they'd like to write to just do it. 

25 October 2018

The Time I was Accused of Sexual Harassment and a Segue into #MeToo and Woody


I was once investigated for sexual harassment. I was a middle school teacher so this was a serious charge.

It was a Friday. I’d just taught my first class of the day. It was my prep period. I was walking through the halls anticipating the weekend. The principal found me and told me to come to her office and I should bring another teacher as a union rep. This scared me from head to toe, I hadn't a clue what was going on. I found a colleague who was also on his prep. The principal was waiting in her office along with one of the vice principals and an associate superintendent for the school district. They looked somber. Without any preliminaries I was told that there had been a charge of sexual harassment against me by a student. I was further informed that I would be suspended immediately with pay while the matter was investigated. I was not told who the student was nor anything relating to the nature of the accusation.

The world had collapsed beneath me. I felt like I was in a Kafka novel.

I was led to my classroom to collect my things, one of the school safety officers was called over to drive me home. I'm not sure why this was necessary unless they just wanted to make sure that I left school property. Before leaving I went to turn off the classroom computer as I always did before going, but the vice principal was there to block me from touching it. That added further humiliation.

The rest of the day and the weekend were excruciating as I searched my mind for what possibly could have led to the accusation. I went over any possible interaction that might have been misconstrued and came up with nothing. Depression enveloped me, so did fear. My livelihood was on the line and I had no idea why. I could lose my job, I could lose my teaching credential, I could even face criminal charges.

Monday I was home, not having to work and getting paid for it but I couldn’t have been more miserable. Of course I had told my wife, but I couldn't let on with the children they were told I wasn't feeling well. I called the union office regularly for updates. They had nothing that they could share. I made arrangements with the school office to drop off lesson plans. I was under no official obligation to do so, but felt a personal and professional obligation to my students. Of course I could only come to school after students had been dismissed. A few colleagues came by to check in with me and offer their support and sympathy. I noted that my computer was gone, I later discovered it had been taken by school district officials and thoroughly searched.

On Thursday I finally got the call from the superintendent of human resources that I was free and clear and could back to work the next day. They were still unable to tell me who had charged me with what, just that I’d been cleared. It was a tremendous relief and I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

I subsequently learned that many of my female students had been interviewed. This was chilling. What must they know think of me now? Was I forever stigmatized in their minds?

To this day, over 13 years later, I have no idea who had accused me of what.

I was a teacher and I had five classes and about 120 students I was responsible for so I returned to work and put the nightmare behind me as best I could. But it nagged. Which of my female students had been questioned? What had they said? How did they feel about me after the questioning?  I completely put out of my mind any thoughts of who might have made the accusation. I’d been over that in my mind repeatedly during the suspension and came up with nothing. But my best guess was that a student had reported something rather innocuous, maybe as revenge for a bad grade or for me having taken disciplinary action against her, and the principal had decided to make a meal of it.

One of the factors working against me had been that, at the time, we had a simply awful principal who had a veritable enemies list among the teachers which included me. I reckoned that she was the real culprit. (I shed no tears when she was fired a year later and four years after that was similarly dismissed from another principal position for the same reasons that she was canned in Berkeley, those reasons including incompetence, pettiness and a propensity to lie.)

In the years since I rarely think about my suspension  although it occasionally resurfaces, causing a shudder and adding to the PTSD I already suffer from. I’m not angry or bitter about the experience anymore but I do still vividly recall how awful it was.

I think about this as women are increasingly coming forward with stories of sexual assaults and harassment that they have suffered. It is a painful time in our culture but an absolutely necessary one. For far too long women have suffered in relative silence, afraid to come forward with their stories. The recent Supreme Court hearings as well as accusations agains prominent people in the entertainment industry have exposed offenders and the degree to which society is silent and complicit in the face of gender abuse.

But I also believe in due process. It is a cornerstone of our democracy and in the principle of justice. When their are myriad credible accusations and stories such as those against the likes of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, there can be little doubt of guilt. But even Cosby got his day in court before being found guilty. The #MeToo movement as done a great deal to expose offenders and support victims, but it is not without problems of its own.

The best example is Woody Allen who has unfairl been lumped in with real offenders. Allen was accused — 26 years ago — of molesting his adopted daughter, Dylan. This after an acrimonious break up with girlfriend and frequent film muse, Mia Farrow. Two separate investigations cleared Allen and suggested the possibility that Dylan had been coached in making her accusations, there were also witnesses to this. Indeed there are more witnesses to Farrow coaching Dylan to accuse her father than there are witnesses to any molestation. Further, the story Dylan told of being molested lacks credibility. She has it occurring on a day that a house was full of people many of whom were keeping a close eye on Allen. The setting she described for the violation also makes no sense and more fits to the lyrics of a song that Farrow’s sister wrote years before. Still Dylan re-introduced the accusation a few years ago via Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column and most people on social media believed her.

Last Spring another adopted child of Farrow and Allen, Moses, told a very different story in a blog post, contradicting what Dylan said and charging Farrow with abuse. Many in #MeToo were not kind to him for going against the dominate narrative. One wrote: I will not dignify his post by reading it. Imagine such a response to an abuse survivor bravely sharing his or her story. The actress Roseanne Arquette tweeted to Moses: how much did they pay you to write that? Again this to an abuse survivor recounting their past trauma. More recently Allen’s wife Soon-Yi was interviewed by Vulture and told her story about the abuse she suffered from Farrow. Reaction from many in #MeToo was swift. She was condemned. Evidently #believewomen only applies to certain women, not those who, again, contradict a preferred narrative. Hypocrisy was on further display as many pointed out that the interview was conducted by a friend of Allen’s. However two Vanity Fair articles boosting Dylan’s story were authored by a friend of the Farrows, Maureen Orth and the aforementioned Kristof, who yielded his column to Dylan, is a close friend of the Farrows. Proving he has no journalistic integrity, Kristof refused to give equal time to Moses.

All this is not to say that #MeToo is not important or does not have a place. But we need be wary of painting with too broad a brush and of denying due process where called for. Allen in fact was afforded due process and was cleared but now he’s being re-tried and found guilty — sans any new evidence — by social media.

Hopefully saner and cooler heads will soon prevail and some of the overreach and hypocrisy corrupting #MeToo will dissipate. Also as abusers are uncovered perhaps we can move away from merely castigating the offender and start to look at the causes of the abuse. After all when there is a mass shooting there is very little time devoted to railing against the killer (it is a given he will face justice) and more time spent examining the causes. Maybe in the future we will be able to safely assume that abusers will be prosecuted and afforded due process and focus instead on the difficult work of fixing the societal issues that lead to men violating women.  While who did it makes for good headlines, why it happens is what we need to focus on.

17 October 2018

The Life of a Rock, As Told By One


I’m a rock, specifically a limestone. I’m what’s called a sedimentary rock, my composition includes a lot of marine organisms. My major minerals are calcite and aragonite. Right now I’m by the side of a small road a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. It’s a rural area and the road doesn’t get a lot of traffic. There are a fair amount of hikers who use the road to go from a nearby national park to the beach. I was recently kicked by a hiker — inadvertently — about ten feet from the spot I’d been resting on for several years. My new location is pretty much the same except I get a little more shade from a tree, I believe it’s a live oak but I’m not much up on trees. Anyway the shade is welcome on hot Summer days and provides a bit of protection from the heavy rains we get in these parts.

I’ve been at one place or another by this road since it was built in the mid 1920s. Before that I’d been closer to the ocean, in fact within walking distance (not that I, as a rock, can walk). It’s hard to say how I got here, it was a time of a lot of construction and development and there was a lot of confusion and it was traumatic. Repressed memories, I guess. I had been close to where there were a small cluster of houses and a shop. Eventually they grew into a little town. I do know that at one point someone picked me up and carried me a ways, I don't know for what purpose. I know I’ve been thrown a couple of times but not for at least 20 years. Being thrown is kind of a thrill at the time you’re airborne but then you land and it hurts like the dickens and, as happened the last time I was tossed, bits of you can come off. I’ve got a sizable knick where a chunk of me came off back in the Forties when some kid threw me and I landed on another rock.

Of course I’m lucky, some rocks get smashed into bits, others are thrown into the ocean — which is okay for some — others I’ve heard of get thrown through windows or against things. Worst of all, some rocks actually get thrown at people. I’d imagine hitting a person would just be awful.

Being by the road I’m vulnerable to getting hit by a car or motorcycle or even worse, a big truck. I’m a few feet off the road so it would take something like a drunk driver to hit me. I can’t worry about it, though. I’ve really been lucky in another respect, there’s been a lot of bird poop that’s landed right around me — what with me being near a tree — but I haven’t been hit yet. Sometimes animals happen by, dogs of course but also deer, raccoon, porcupines and even bears. I've had pee splash on me although I’ve never been directly peed on. It’s not the worst thing that can happen. I’ve been sniffed quite a few times by animals, you get that a lot if another animal has recently peed in the area. The sniffing doesn’t bother me in the least. It kind of tickles.

I’ve actually been lucky. The worst I've gone through is been hail storms. Some of the hail was pretty big and hard. I can do without that. A really hot day is no fun too, but as a rock I can put up with it, same as really cold days.

You might think that being a rock is boring but it’s all I know and I never pass a dull moment. There are always things to see and hear and smell — yes, rocks can smell and hear and see. There’s a lot you don’t know about rocks. We also have pretty good memories. However I only have vague recollections of my formation. I know I started in clear, warm shallow waters in the ocean. I earlier mentioned some of my composition, I did omit one thing because it’s something I’m not necessarily proud of: fecal debris. But I might as well own it, it’s who I am. Being in the water was a nice place to start and a lot of rocks are very happy to be in the sea or a lake or a river. But I enjoy being on land.

Sometimes I wish I was in a more populated area because I really enjoy hearing what people talk about and seeing what they do. Some of the hikers who pass by have interesting conversations, others sing, which is fun, many are silent which is frustrating for me. Of course there are perils to being around a lot of people. You’re far more likely to be tossed around, broken, splintered, smashed etc. So I guess I’ve got it pretty good.

Life as a rock is not bad. Sure it’s all know, but I’m not complaining.

15 October 2018

The Author Takes on a Variety of Topics Including Films, Politics, The Middle of Nowhere and Whistling



If you take the outside off of something exposing the inside of it isn't the inside now on the outside?

You often hear that what goes around comes around but I'm pretty damn sure that a lot of things just keep going. You also hear about karmic justice but there's plenty of evidence that sometimes there is no justice. Payback is a bitch, but it doesn't always come. Where is the payback, the karmic justice, the comes around of the slaughter of America's Native Americans that took place over hundreds of years after the Europeans arrived on this continent? If there ever is such justice, payback and coming around it isn't going to do a lot of good to the generations of tribes that were all but wiped out.

Why do people think it's okay to have phone conversations in public places while surrounded by other human beings? I don't see this ever stopping and it's damn aggravating. I just can't wrap my mind around someone sitting on a bus with strangers all about and yakking away.

The missus and I saw the latest incarnation of A Star is Born the other day and it is one of those rare films I can unequivocally recommend to anyone and everyone. It won't be my favorite movie of the year but it is one I can suggest people see regardless of how well or how little I know them and without regard to what other types of films they like or don't like. Lady Gaga was a revelation and Bradley Cooper, who wrote, directed and co-starred was no slouch either.

I've just come across the Scottish director Lynne Ramsey. Over the course of the last 19 years she's only directed four films and they've all been good -- check that, very good. I saw her most recent first,  Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here. Her first film was Ratcatcher, her second Morvern Callar starring Samantha Morton and her third We Need to Talk About Kevin, which starred Tilda Swinton in a masterful performance. Ramsey has a great visual style and is particularly adept at using music to underscore her story. I just wished she'd make more.

Recently in virtually the same breath our moronic president praised Robert E. Lee and suggested that African Americans should vote Republican. Okay so which is it, you gonna tell black people that a slaveholding racist who fought a rebellion against the United States is a great guy or you going to try to convince them to vote for your party? Well it ain't gonna happen President Dipshit. Kanye or no. And by the way, Kanye West is a frickin' idiot.

Anyone else hear that climate change is not only real but has already started wreaking havoc? And yet our "government" is twiddling it's thumbs. It's literally the worst crisis since....geez,  it's the worst ever and President Brainless is in total denial. He says climate scientists have "an agenda" -- yeah to save the fucking planet.

I mentioned this recently on twitter but it bears repeating. Notice how people are always "in the middle of nowhere?" How come they don't get to the outskirts of nowhere and turn the fuck around? Why do they continue on to the middle? I'd at least stop a few hundred yards from the middle of nowhere and get back toward somewhere. Anywhere is better than nowhere. I just had a thought, is nowhere in everywhere? I mean everywhere encompasses everyplace and if nowhere is a place than it must be within the confines of everywhere. If it is is it still nowhere? I'm guessing that some place else is also within everywhere.

I'm quoting this from some other guy on twitter: "51 Senators who represent 40% of the population will confirm a SCOTUS nominee who has the support of under 40% of the population, and was nominated by a man who came in 2nd in the popular vote. Can we stop saying the US is the greatest democracy in the world? It was never true." I wished I'd written myself because it's damn good but at least I had the decency to share it with y'all so, you're welcome.

The new kid on the Supreme Court, ya know, the sex deviant, has had more run-ins with the law and more accusations of inappropriate behavior than I have and I'm just some idiot with a blog. They really oughta have a screening process before they put unqualified jerks on the highest court in the land. For that matter we really should weed out people who try to run for the presidency keeping out the dimwits who don't know the US Constitution from TV guide.

Here's something that chaps my hide (hey, what doesn't these days, am I right?) people are trying to rehabilitate George W Bush just because the current occupant of the Oval Office is an even bigger idiot than he was. How about let's try him for war crimes first. His illegal invasion of Iraq under false pretenses remains the biggest foreign policy disaster in US history and that's saying something considering how royally this country has screwed up so many times on foreign soil.

A couple of weeks ago we had rain -- just a little, mind you -- for the first time in four months. Some people acted like we were undergoing a three-week monsoon. Then again when we finally had rain after the worst draught in state history people complained then too. I hate to say it but some people are morons when it comes to rain. Rain is good. I don't really need to explain that, do I?

Not good. Whistling in the locker room. Done with it. Does this happen in women's locker rooms? It's annoying because 90% of the time it's just noise and not a recognizable tune.

There are things that people do that not only don't bother me, but that I rather appreciate. Smiling. Opening doors for others. Helping the needy. Fighting for social justice. Making art. Fixing things. Doing favors. Being complimentary. Cleaning up after themselves. Working agains the racist regime of President LardButt. Stuff like that. Keep it up people.

04 October 2018

The Dissolution of Emerich Crow, A Man Accused


Emerich Crow remembered one particular Friday night in 1989 when he was in high school. All day the high school junior had anticipated the line up of sit coms on ABC that he would be enjoying that night, particularly his favorite, Perfect Strangers. When the opening theme for the show came on at 9:00, young Emerich buzzed with excitement. He sang along and with particular gusto to the lines: “Standing tall, on the wings of my dream. Rise and fall, on the wings of the dream.” Once the show started Emerich’s attention was fully on the TV. Nothing else existed for those 30 minutes. He was in a state of bliss. He loved all the characters, but especially Balki the wacky cousin from the fictional Mediterranean Island. Who wouldn’t love, Balki? He often wondered. In this episode Balki had a tooth ache and was reluctant to go to the dentist but his erstwhile cousin, Larry persuaded him that it was safe. It was a particularly funny episode. Plus he enjoyed the sweet relationship of the mis-matched pair of cousins. Inevitably the episode ended. Always a bittersweet moment. Emerich had thoroughly enjoyed the episode feeling forever connected to the characters as he always did. But now there was another week to wait before the next episode. Sadness. The rest of the ABC’s Friday night lineup provided a pleasant distraction but nothing could quite assuage the pain of Perfect Strangers being over for another seven days.

That was 29 years ago. How, Emerich Crow wondered, had he happened to have remembered that one particular night, that one particular episode? He even remembered that it was in October and that it rained that night, adding to the coziness of being ensconced in a blanket on the playroom sofa.

It was another universe, another epoch, he’d been another person. A shy virgin with few friends who earned excellent grades but was estranged from the school’s social life. Since then. My god, since then it had all been so different.

Now he was 46 years old. Recently separated. Of course. He owned his own home. Paid for. He’d had a lucrative job. Fired. His bank account was flush. Thankfully. Emerich had not just changed a lot in the intervening 29 years, but he had in the two years after that Friday night watching TV. By the end of his freshman year in college Emerich was no virgin and neither in regards to sex nor to drugs and alcohol. TV shows were all but forgotten.

Emerich shook his head at how fast he went from the lonely boy reveling in sit coms to the wild college freshman. Then he bent his head down and snorted another line of coke. Now he shook his head for a different reason. It was excellent coke and it soared through and around his brain, made his heart pump and gave him an overwhelming sense of euphoria and the conviction that he was invincible, never mind his current circumstances. Emerich chased the cocaine with a shot of scotch. Johnnie Walker Black. He smiled.

Sure he was alone in the house. Meredith had left him and taken the kids. Sure she was right, he couldn’t argue with her. Not for a second. It had happened. It wasn’t just getting fired, of course, it was the accusations. The accusations had been sufficient for the bosses to can him, without so much as a by your leave. The women were credible. Not to mention angry. Really, Emerich had no defense. He remembered a quote from Euripides: “No one is truly free, they are a slave to wealth, fortune, the law, or other people restraining them from acting according to their will.”

“You said it, pal!” Emerich bellowed. But he marveled at remembering that line.

Maybe, he thought, I should try to get laid tonight. Go to a bar, pick up some floozy. Or there was Janice from accounting who’d left the company a few months before the shit came down. She’d been good for a tumble in the past. Emerich pondered his next move, then snorted another line, then had another slug of scotch. Say, I feel pretty good. Damn good, as a matter of fact. Emerich called Janice.

“I’m really not interested, Em. Plus I’m seeing someone now. But — ”
Emerich hung up. If Janice was a no, he wasn’t interested in her life story.

Screw it. Emerich could entertain himself and anyway wasn’t it an overactive sex drive that had gotten him into this pickle? Yeah that was all it was, a lot of the stuff they said was horseshit.

Balki. What a character. It had been decades since Emerich had thought of that show. Couldn’t believe he used to dig that sort of silly nonsense. Perfect Strangers had been his favorite but there’d been a lot of other shows he sat glued to. There’d been Cheers, Growing Pains, Who’s the Boss, Different Strokes. God he couldn’t believe he still remembered all those names and some of the characters. There was a Willis on some show, of course Sam Malone had been on Cheers and Tony Danza, no he was the actor’s name on some damn program. Hadn’t watched a sit com in who knows how long. God he was a dumb kid. Now what was he? Well he’d been something until the shit hit the fan. Moved right up in the corporate world. Played it smart, played it tough, knew when to schmooze when to kick ass. Made a lot of sound investments on the side. Made a good life for Meredith and his two kids. The wife had done okay herself as a lawyer. But she did too much of that pro bono shit because of her bleeding liberal heart. House was paid for. In full. Didn’t owe a dime. Paid for everything. God damn it.

Balki was kind of funny at that, at least for a kid.

Another line, another slug of good old Johnnie Walker Black. Maybe hit the links tomorrow. Nahh it would be Saturday, wait until during the week when it wasn’t so crowded. Have to find someone to golf with. Bunch of so-call friends had suddenly gotten busy when Emerich got into his little mess. Fuck ‘em.

Emerich got up to put some music on. Stood. Wobbly. Teetered a bit and fell on his ass. Helluva time getting back up but he managed. Staggered to the head and took a nice long piss. Balki. He chuckled. Damned if he wasn’t peeing all over the toilet and the floor. Well hell can clean it up in the morning. Zipped up. Checked himself in the mirror. Looked okay. Not bad. Holding up. Could use a shave. Stumbled towards the sofa, grabbing his bottle of scotch on the way. No more blow for now.

Maybe turn a goddamned light on. Or the TV. Rent some porn, better on the TV than on the computer, bigger picture. Could never rent it at home when Meredith was around. She’d a had a fit. Prude.

He remembered something from the bible, from Ecclesiastes: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” How and why do I remember shit like that? As useless as Balki. No, no, no, no, no, Balki was cool, he was funny, the show was funny at least at the time.

Women. There was his problem. Damn it, it was the ones who dressed sexy and flirted who were the first to complain if you actually did anything. Why didn’t they just wear burlap sacks over the bodies with eye holes? Couldn’t compliment ‘em, even that was harassment. That whole me too business was changing the world and not in a way that Emerich Crow liked. Every woman was believed no matter what she said and who she said it about. Emerich slammed the coffee table in anger. Now what was he going to do? He was tainted by the accusations and his dismissal. Everyone knew. He may even have to face legal charges. Fuck that.

Balki. What a crack up. That goofy accent. Emerich still remembered it. What the hell was the actor’s name who played him. Began with a B. Bertrand? Bradley? Maybe it was a P. Peter? Porter? Too lazy to look it up. Another swig of scotch. Immanuel Kant said: “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.” Why, Emerich wondered, am I remembering all these quotes? I think I’ve got them exact too. But I can’t remember the fucking name of the guy who played Balki. But I can remember watching that one episode about the dentist on a rainy October night. But I can’t remember what those women claimed I did and why it was supposedly so damn bad. Yeah he'd been a little rough, a little crude, but they seemed into it. And that one broad, Larisa, that was like five years ago and she just brings it when the other gals opened their big mouths. What a dirty frame-up.

Lately Emerich hadn’t known what to feel. Pissed about the job and Meredith leaving with the kids, but glad he was free of all encumbrances and could still make a good life for himself. But then…

Emerich started to weep. First time he’d cried, really cried, since he was a kid. The tears poured out. He heaved with wracking fits of sobs. It went on for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. When it was over Emerich felt stone cold sober and a crystalline pure depression like he’d never forget rose up his spine. He knew another drink or another line wouldn’t help. It had finally hit him. He’d fucked it all up. Why pretend anymore? I shouldn’t have been messing around with those women in the first place let alone doing….what I did. Fuck me!

Emerich stared at the floor his mind a blank except for the pulsating depression that inhabited his every breath. Shit, guilty, guilty, guilty. Might as well face it. I did what they said, I am what they said. That’s me. All at once here it is and there's nothing to be done. Nothing to take the pain away.

Balki.

Finally Emerich rose and fetched his laptop. A quick search revealed that Amazon had every season of Perfect Strangers available to stream. He’d start from the beginning and watch every episode. Emerich cheered up. He nestled in on the sofa with a blanket. It started to rain outside. Perfect.

25 September 2018

My Sobriety, A Day at a Time


A couple of weeks ago I reached another sobriety milestone. Being clean and sober is not something I'd say that I take tremendous pride in. I'm leery of pride. I am very happy about my sobriety and glad that I got clean when I did --weeks before the missus found out she was pregnant and as I was embarking on my teaching career. I feel uncomfortable at AA meetings when people applaud my "birthday." It's a nice way to recognize people but I don't want to do an end zone dance about it. One of the most difficult concepts I've wrestled with in my life is humility. Looking back on your drinking and using years are a good recipe for humility, but it's best not to pump your fists in the air about keeping off the booze. After all it's a one-day-at-a-time thing. You've got to stay sober that day, it's a constant work in progress. Humility is more important than pride.

A lot of people talk about the miracle of their sobriety. I don't think staying sober a day at a time is a miracle. It's just what you do and the way to do is pretty simple: go to meetings, pay attention, talk to people, don't pick up that first drink, pray if you're into it (not me), meditate if your into it (me), do service and, as soon as you can, find a life that is more than just staying sober. Sobriety is not an end, it's a road to live a better life for people who have damaged some of their time on earth by getting very high very often. There's no miracle in it.

I have experienced a miracle however. Thirty one years ago after a two day drunken debauch I woke up and my first thought was that I had a problem. The wife, unsurprisingly, had been upset with my drunken state and slept on the sofa. I got out of bed and sat on the end of the sofa. She sat up. I said, "I've got a problem." Just like that. Mind you, I had never for one second prior to that morning entertained the notion that my drinking or drug use was excessive. When you're a social drunkard you can always point to other people and say, "now that guy drinks too much." Finding someone who uses more than you or who you think does, is easy. But me? I was fine. Over the years I've been questioned about this story. Surely, a person will say, the idea must have been planted by someone, or you had to have considered the possibility. Interestingly, none of the people who question my story are themselves in recovery. Folks who get clean and sober understand that sometimes, as we say, the bolt of lightening strikes.

That bolt was fortuitous for me because as previously mentioned I was eight months away from being a father. Managing that while imbibing and snorting would have been a disaster, not that my wife would have allowed it. As a result of my getting clean I was able to be a father to not just one but two daughters who today are successful grown women.

No, I don't miss drinking. Not anymore. There were times that I thought the only way to manage the world was though heavy doses of alcohol. Having given that up I faced something more daunting than simply not drinking, managing the world completely sober. It was a whole new way of life. I had relied on getting high to manage the pain I still suffered as an abuse survivor and controlling my panic attacks and blunting my depression. Absent booze, navigating the world was difficult. Fortunately I was busy, first with a pregnant wife, then with a baby and the whole time with my new career. It was sink or swim and through AA I swam. Awkwardly at first but I managed.

Drinking had been the be all and end all of my life. Drinking was parties, music, sex, sports, holidays, Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring a means of celebrating a means of drowning sorrow a means of escape, a way of life. One function of drinking is how it allows one to face life's grim realties. You can ponder mortality or discuss it with others when anesthetized by liquor. An existential crisis while high is easily blunted by getting higher. Of course, getting higher and higher is rather the point for an addict. Too much is never enough. There is no end, there is always more. I spent years drinking towards the perfect evening. Somehow this night would reach the stratosphere. There was some nebulous perfect high that could be attained, perhaps containing incredible sex, great insights, tremendous belly laughs, unparalleled excitement. One just had to keep at it, this dance with god was there somewhere.

Yes, I committed any number of truly stupid actions while high. I led women on, I hurt feelings, I broke things, I stole, I vandalized, I lied, I cheated, I made a bloody damn fool of myself. And I suffered some truly hellacious hangovers. All of this was collateral damage in the fight to be high, higher and highest. It was a stupid way to live, but the only way I knew. Truly it kept me sane, in the face of the horrors of my childhood and my crippling panic attacks, liquor allowed me some comfort and was a social lubricant without which I would never have made the scores of friends I did in my youth. But the cure for my ails took over and needed to be stopped. I'm a lucky man.

Being sober has not been a panacea. It has, however, been a truer path to enlightenment, understanding and coming to terms with who I am and what I've gone through. Sobriety does not make one perfect but it allows the pursuit of progress (perfection being unattainable). I am a work in progress. I am bi polar and suffer from depression but I live through it on life's terms, accepting the things I cannot change and trying desperately to change the things I can. I hope for serenity and honesty and courage, but do not ascribe those characteristics to myself. I'm just doing what I can today.

I'm really glad for today.

14 September 2018

Chicks Dig Me: The Life of Man Adored by Women


After a dental appointment I went to the bus stop. The wait was 12 minutes. If I waited there was a pretty young Latina college student who might have developed feelings for me. Ones I could not have in good conscience reciprocated. So I walked home. Poor kid missed out. She was wearing those tight yoga pants that a lot of young women use to try to lure me. I’m wise to their game. I’m a very happily married man and simply don’t allow comely lasses to tempt me into adultery. I’d just break their hearts anyway. I don’t know why young women throw themselves at me, but I learned long ago to accept it as a fact of life. I’m considerably older than most but I suppose that my obvious experience in the ways of love is attractive to women who tire of unsubtle, unsophisticated men their age pawing at them. I’ve also maintained my boyish good looks and smoldering sexuality. I’m a runner so am quite fit and this shows. I also have to surmise that women instinctually realize that I am a man of superior intelligence and great wit. My charm speaks for itself. My wife is well aware of the effect I have on women and has accepted it. She is proud of me and knows I’ll never stray (perhaps excepting a visit from Rihanna or Kristen Stewart).

It’s fair to ask if I’ve always been irresistible to the fairer sex and the answer is: indubitably. When I was quite young it was, the opposite of today as it was older females who were drawn to me. I remember as a toddler being pursued by seven and eight year old girls. This was not ideal for someone just out of diapers as my pursuers frightened me. By the time I was in kindergarten I was a man of the world and the constant attention I received from older girls was something I found flattering, plus I knew enough to act on their overtures. By the third grade I was getting attention from junior high girls and had a full social calendar. Being the catch that I was girls knew that they’d have to buy me dinner and bring me gifts if I were to consider them worthy of my increasingly precious time.

By the time I hit junior high school I was dating 17 and 18 year olds and even some university students who found the risk of impugning the morals of a child worth it for the chance to savor my presence. I struggled through high school, so preoccupied was I by fighting off the hordes of females of all ages who were competing for my affections. When I started excelling in soccer the numbers of my pursuers increase many fold and at our matches the sidelines were jammed with women lusting after me.

I escaped to another city for college hoping for a respite from love crazed females who saw me as the embodiment of masculine perfection. However a new town simply meant a new group of women seeking my companionship. At least in college I finally settled on dating women my own age. I tried a year abroad to relieve myself of the women swooning at my feet. But Europe proved much the same. British women, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Finnish, Danish, Italian, no matter what country, no matter where I turned no matter what I did there were women begging me for a date, a lock of my hair, a one-night stand all while pledging eternal devotion.

It was not until I married that I achieved relief. My eventual wife was one of my most ardent pursuers who literally punched, kicked and slapped her competition to get to me. I admired her determination and found that of all the thousands of women I’d been with, she was the most intelligent, compatible and beautiful. For once I was in love too.

Of course it hasn’t all been perfect since we married. Despite the prominence of my wedding ring and my advancing age there have been those many, many, many determined lasses who hope against hope that they can be the one to at last coax me into infidelity. It hasn’t worked yet.

If you’re wondering, no it has not been an easy life. You would think the constant attention of beautiful women would be heaven on earth, but a man needs rest, he needs time alone and once he is married he needs his sacred wedding vows respected. On the other hand having women forever falling head-over-heals for me has done wonders for my ego. Also, I had what one might call the pick of the litter and was able to find the perfect mate. She is a woman not only of eternal beauty but of strong character who realizes that tens of thousands of women are jealous of her. One can only speculate at how privileged she feels to be the one and only who lays claim to my heart.

I’ll have to close here, I’m being told its time for my medication. The doctors and nurses here are so nice. The females of whom all clearly have crushes on me.

09 September 2018

A Piece of My Heart on the Floor

Jenna and I in happier times
There was a piece of my heart lying there on the kitchen floor. Jenna had just cut it out executing this action with a nasty twist. I supposed it could be replaced some day but for the moment it felt like the damage was irreversible and permanent. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t move. I could only just barely breath.

Jenna was still there as if admiring the precision of her butchery. Her face was in a sympathetic frown, yet her arms were crossed creating a feeling of great distance between us. She was feigning concern for my well-being and one would assume probably felt a bit of guilt over the damage she had inflicted. I looked up at her and she’d never seemed so beautiful nor so ugly. I opened my mouth to speak but I could no more make an utterance than do a standing back flip.

“Is there something you want to say, Dirk? You can say whatever you need to. I’m listening.”

I could say whatever I needed to. How kind, how gracious, how thoughtful of her to grant me permission, to recognize my free will.

“Maybe, you want to talk later? I understand this is difficult.”

Difficult? She really acknowledged that this was “difficult?” Well it was for me, for her it seemed a rather simple matter. I wondered why she didn’t just stomp on that chunk of my heart that she had eviscerated. Why was she now being so superficially thoughtful?

My knees were weak, my body felt drained of blood, my fingers trembled. I was more zombie than man. The living dead, stuck in the same room as the murderer.

“Look, Dirk, would you prefer it if I left? We can talk later if you like. I’ll have to come back tomorrow to get the rest of my things. Promise me you’ll be okay.”

Jenna wanted a promise from me? She who had broken so many. And why would she care if I was “okay”? She was the one who had inflicted the damage.
I was growing weak at the knees so I sat down. I looked up at Jenna who was still looking beautiful/ugly, still frowning with fake sympathy and still keeping her arms folded.

“Please say something, Dirk.”

Oh, so she wanted me to say something. That was what SHE needed. I’d be doing her a big favor by talking. The guilt must have really wrapped itself around her. It’s coils and tentacles strangling what little conscience she had. I had half a mind to keep my big trap shut, that would really be doing a number on her. But at the same I wanted her gone and it seemed the only way to rid myself of her was by saying “something.” And so I did.

“Bye, Jenna.”

“Okay. That’s it? You don’t need to say anything else right now?”

I looked up Jenna and shook my head no.

“Fine,” she said flippantly, as if I was being a total asshole. “I’ll be going then.”

I sighed and looked down at the floor.

“I’ll probably come by fairly early tomorrow morning to get my things, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” I muttered.

With a flash, obviously feeling released as a result of my finally speaking, Jenna was out the door.

It seemed an obvious time for me to break into huge sobbing fit. I cry fairly easily, especially for a man. But with a piece of my heart out I was totally beret of feeling other than a numbness, as if death was approaching and I was settling into it. So I sat there on a chair in the kitchen staring at the floor. It needed mopping, I noted. I also noted that I had never felt such hate for a person as I did now for Jenna. Nor, for that matter had I ever loved her as I did now. But surely the love would fade. So would the hate. In its place there would be a huge hole, right where she had ripped out that chunk of my heart.

For a minute or two I kidded myself that Jenna would be back, that it was all a mistake she’d made and any minute there she would be saying she was back for good and all. But in what was left of my heart I knew better.

I sat in the kitchen for what I guess was about an hour before I finally got up and I only did so because mother nature had called. I relieved myself, splashed my face and got ready for bed. A bed I would be entering and waking up in alone. Alone for the first time in four years.
That’s how long Jenna and I had been together. We had been so happy — or so I thought. Quarrels were few and far between and never serious. Much more frequent was love making, drives in the country, visits with friends, dinner at gourmet restaurants, long quiet evenings together talking or just reading or listening to the radio. I never thought for a second it would end. Yet it did all of a sudden, in one night.

A long affair with a professor, the professor got a divorce, the professor proposed, she said yes, all this under my nose, my stupid nose. How matter-of-factly Jenna told me all of this as if recounting a day at work. Yes, she apologized, acknowledged that it was a shock, claimed she hadn’t been happy with me the past year and was surprised I hadn’t seen the signs. Well I hadn’t. Hadn’t seen a thing. No signs. Not to me. She’d seemed happy enough and yes she’d been out of the house more but she was working on her Phd, I  thought she was doing research, not having an affair with a married man.

Live and learn.

The next day was bad. The day after a little better. And so on. Better by degrees each day but the hole in my heart remained and though the pain lessened it was still a consistent presence

Two weeks after Jenna left me the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The day after that I enlisted in the army. Here I was teaching three classes in English Literature, on the tenure track, probably not too many years from being a full professor and I was going off to war. I’d never have done it if Jenna hadn’t sliced open my heart. But I was damaged goods and there was little that could happen to me in war that would feel as bad as what that woman had done to me. The war would be my escape. My house was full of memories and so was virtually every restaurant in town and every friend I saw. Jenna permeated everything. The army, especially with a war going on, was the only antidote I could envision. An escape. To others I was being patriotic, noble, serving my country. But I realized that I was running away

Basic training is over as I write this and I’m headed to the Pacific. I’m a grunt, an infantryman and I’m ready for action. Maybe I’ll win a medal, maybe I’ll get killed by a sniper, maybe a leg will be blown off and maybe I’ll be taken prisoner and maybe I won’t see much action at all. Right now I don’t care. I’m going to accept my fate. If I come out of the war alive and in one piece I’ll…well, I don’t know really. That’s a ways off. Right now I’m a solider and I don’t know what’s next but whatever it is, I’m ready.

05 September 2018

Ben in the Afterlife; The Pesky Visits of a Dearly Departed



PART ONE

(This part was written last week, October 17, 2017.)

That gall durn Ben Slipowitz keeps pestering me. Sure he was the best damn friend a fella ever had but he’s been dead for 10 damn months. Why the hell can’t he leave me alone? Most every night, usually about nine o’clock he starts banging on the ceiling. I look up and there’s this dark mist with an outline of ole Ben’s face in it, soze I know it’s him. He winks at me too. Then he swoops and swirls around the cabin sometimes making this, I guess you’d say, cackling sound. After a few minutes everything gets quiet and then I see him plain as day sitting in a chair by the fireplace with his old hunting jacket on, the one with the blood stain when he cut himself skinning a rabbit. He’ll look over at me, smile from one darned ear to the other then he’s gone. Who needs that kind of aggravation?

Ben and I hunted and fished together for a good fifty years, since we was kids. Well we fished that long, we gave up hunting a few years back. Ben, why he got tired of all the work that went into hunting compared with fishing and me I just lost my taste for killing mammals. Sometimes another friend or my oldest boy or one of my cousins visiting from the city would join us, but most of the time it was just the two of us. Ben died of a whopper of a heart attack just under a year ago. Was tying his shoes right here in the cabin when all of a sudden like he stood up, put one hand to his chest and looked straight up with his mouth wide open in a silent scream. Then he dropped like a dang rock and hit the floor with a thud. Yeah I saw it all right and knew without a doubt he was goner when he fell. I checked for a pulse just the same and there was nothing doing. Dead just like that, 67 years old, same age as me. I aim to go on living a lot more years though don’t know that Ill make it if Ben don’t stop visiting me from the spirit world or wherever the hell he’s supposed to be. Damn him.

Ben had never married and was an orphan so I was his only family to speak of. I got divorced from my darling Rebecca four years ago. Once our kids growed up and left home all she and I did was argue. She’d always wanted to do one thing and I’d always want to do the other. Worse, she brought up every bad habit I ever had and raked me over the damn coals about everything. Nothin’ I did was ever right anymore and I supposedly wasn’t good enough for her. I half think Rebecca just went off her nut the way she talked. Anyway I was the one who suggested the divorce. I could tell the old battle axe was surprised but her pride made her agree to it and before the papers were even filed she went off and moved in with her spinster sister over in Cabook County where I guess she spends her time talking about what I no good bum I was — or am. Hell, I don’t care. Like I said the kids are grown, Tom is big wheel in the real estate biz, Lorna is nurse and the littlest one, Jim is a fashion designer. Yup he’s a queer. The signs were all there when he was a kid, never did take to outdoor actives which is pretty much all I do. Real mama’s boy that one. Oh hell, I don’t care, he’s still my boy and I still love him and always will. I just don’t like to think about what he and what he calls his partner do when the lights are out.

I sold the house when Rebecca left and moved permanent into our cabin, it’s right down by where Lake Tahoma and Big Frog River meet. I still fish pretty regular — hell, who am I kidding, I damn near fish everyday — and many a meal I eat is fresh perch or trout or salmon or whitefish or whatever the hell I happen to catch. My life’s pretty good. I got all the nature a fella could desire which is good for long walks and now I got a satellite dish for the TV so that can keep me company along with all the books I never got around to reading when I was working full time at the mill which I did for 40 years. Mostly its detective stuff and biographies of great men although I don’t know how damn great some of the people I read about are. Most any person who lived long enough to be worth writing about has done his share of bad things. Hell I’m the first to admit that I ain’t exactly been an angel myself. Don’t believe me ask Rebecca, she’ll give you an earful.

Yeah sure I’m lonesome a lot of the time. I spent so damn many years with the guys at the mill and with a house full of kids and Rebecca that I’m used to other folks. I go into town now and again like for shopping and sometimes stop at McGinity’s for a beer or six but most days it’s just me and of course that gall darn ghost. I reckon it’s about time I got back to writing about Ben in the afterlife, cause that’s far and away more interesting than me babbling on about my Rebecca — who ain’t mine no more — or the kids or my solitary life.
More than once, hell more than a dozen times, I’ve asked Ben jus’ what the hell he wants out of me. I’ve asked that question in as many different ways as I can come up with but it don’t matter no how cause that son of a bitch don’t answer. I told ya what he does do and none of it entails him talking to me let alone explaining hisself.

The first time he “visited” less than a week after he died, it scared the bejeezus out of me. I thought for a second that I’d gone stark raving loco. I didn’t sleep a wink that whole night. The next night he came I was a little less scared but I still damn near soiled myself and still hardly got any shut eye. As he started coming regular I got a bit more used to it until by and by I came to get irritated by the whole show. Pretty much the same dang thing every night. Sometimes there’d be more thumping and other times he sit longer and other times the top of his head would float away while he was sittin’ there. That was downright spooky the first time, but like everything else I got used to it. What I can’t get used to is the whole idea of it. What’s he after? Is this what I have to look forward — more like dread — for the rest of my days?

Last week I drove into town and went to the library where I checked out everything I could find about the afterlife and what they call seances and mediums and anything else that was halfway serious about visitors from the graveyard. I’m still pouring through some of this stuff but so far haven’t learned nothin’ that I can apply to my situation. It does seem that Ben may be stuck going from this world to the next but that’s just a theory. I’ve thought about having someone over to the cabin hoping that Ben will do one of his “performances” and that I can at least talk about it to another human being. Thing is I don’t know whether to warn them or not. If I don’t it might scare a person half to death and if I do they might think I’m loony, especially if Ben takes that night off.

Ben lived most of his life in a small house just down the road a piece from our place. Course he lived alone. He worked at the lumberyard which was right by the mill so we saw each other every day. On weekends and vacations we’d head down to the cabin, which is only a half hour ride from town and like I say sometimes we’d have company. Ben always seemed like a happy guy, always ready with a joke or a story and a pretty good listener too. No one had a bad word so say about Ben, least of all me. Up until he started haunting me I regarded him as as fine a man as has walked the earth. Oh there was nothing special about him, no great talent, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but a nicer person you’d never meet. That was while he was alive, though. Right now I’m dealing with his spirit and he’s become goddamned aggravating.

PART TWO

(This part was written today, October 25, 2017, a week after I wrote the first part.)

I’m finally shed of Ben, least I think so, it’s been five days since he showed up last and he’d never before missed more than one day. What happened was this. The night after I wrote the first part of this story (and it’s a true one, I swear to God) I was sittin’ in my rocking chair by the fire reading one of those books on the afterlife with stories of ghosts and what not. To tell ya the truth I was having a deuce of a time making heads nor tails of most of what I was reading. Some of it just seemed damned silly and other books were full of scientific mumbo jumbo that I could’t understand to save my life. Anyway I’m getting kind of intrigued by this one story in a book by this fella who investigated ghost sightings when damn Ben shows up banging away at the ceiling. It was one interruption too many.

“Goddamn it, Ben!” I hollered, “you need to stop with this right now. You got no call to interrupt me every dang evening. I’ve been patient but this has gone too darn far. You hear me?”

Next thing there’s Ben again sitting in the chair on the opposite side of the fireplace from where I’m sittin’. Only this time he ain’t grinning. Instead he’s got a sadder looking face than you ever did see. In fact, it looks like he’s got some sort of afterlife tears streaming down his face.

“Now don’t get all weepy on me, Ben. That’s no better than the way you usually are. I’m sorry you’re dead but I can’t do nothin’ about it and I’ve got a right to live my life.”

Then Ben’s ghost looks right at me, more like he’s staring, and he mouths something, a word that seems like “shout.”

“You sayin’ not to shout at you? Is that it?”

Ben shakes his head no and mouths the word again. This time I take it for “out.”

“You saying ‘out’? Is that it?”

Ben nodded his head yes.

Suddenly it came to mind that Ben died right here in this cabin and maybe for some reason his spirit was stuck here and he wanted to get out. I walked over the front door, looked back at Ben and then swung the door open. I nodded my head towards the outdoors. The next thing I know this mist in the shape of Ben is flying past me and out the door. I look outside and the mist is hovering in the air about 40 feet over the ground. It seems to be smiling.

“You takin’ off now, Ben?”

The mist seems to nod its head yes and then breaks into the biggest gall durn smile you ever did see. Next he flies back and forth this way and that, up high, down low, doin’ summersaults and back flips like I kid diving into the lake on the first day of Summer vacation. Finally he paused for a few seconds and it was pretty clear he was looking down at me. I got the feeling this was goodbye. I gave him a good hard look and waved and said, “goodbye Ben, I loved you, you were a great friend.”

He hovered another few seconds and then disappeared into thin air.
I went back into the cabin and balled my eyes out. I hadn’t cried like that since I was little kid. I’ll tell you, it felt good. When I was done sobbing and had blown my nose and splashed my face I poured myself a tall glass of whiskey and sat staring at the fireplace, I had a good fire going. At one point I thought I saw Ben’s face in the fire but I’d been dozing on and off and it had been a pretty tall glass of whiskey so I don’t put much account to it.

It was late when I went to bed and I slept better than I have in years. When I woke up the next morning I had a huge appetite so I made eggs, ham, flapjacks and toast and ate every bit of it. Then I had a powerful hankering to do some fishing, which I did. I sat by the river with my pole in the water and goddamn I never caught so many fish in my life. The whole time I could feel Ben’s presence beside me and I tell ya that it was a great comfort. I miss the son of a bitch.