30 December 2017

Odds and Ends at the End of an Odd Year

I ran ten miles today making my final total for the month of December 108 miles, a personal best for one month. Not bad for a man of 63. I'm ending the year on a high note which is especially nice given what a mostly shitty year it was for me. Two of my best friends died, I had an allergic reaction to some meds that caused a horrific rash that lasted for months, I was depressed more often than not and the news ranged from awful to horrible. On the bright side the missus and I enjoyed a fabulous European vacation and I continue to be surrounded by a loving family, both immediate and extended, I derive great satisfaction from my work and I'm physically as fit as a fiddle. So there....

Today I saw yet another in a series of examples of how Americans are unclear on the concept of the sauna. Raised in a Finnish family I know something about saunas, especially since we had one in our house during my childhood. A sauna is place to sit and sweat, either naked, with a towel around your waste or in bathing trunks. One might chat a little bit but mostly it's about sitting and enjoying the heat. Today there was an older gent in the sauna wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants and he appeared to be grading papers. He had several type written pages that he was marking with a pen -- in the sauna. People hang there trunks in the sauna, tee shirts and once I even saw a pair of socks. They treat it like a damn laundry room. Then there are the folks who forget that the whole rest of the gym is for exercising and do all manner of calisthenics. Sit ups, push ups, stretches, yoga, even running in place.  I've seen people bring books into the sauna, listen to there iPods and once someone sat there and rapped. Jesus wept....

In a couple of weeks I'll be posting my top ten films of 2017 and folks, it ain't gonna be easy. This has been a banner year. Yesterday the missus and I saw I, Tonya. It's energetic and fun and insightful and you could just tell the filmmakers were having a grand time making the damn thing. It's a quintessential American story charting the rise and fall of figure skater Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie) who was not your average glamour puss skater. Far from it. She was more akin to what one might call trailer trash and what one would definitely call abused. She had a foul-mouthed abusive mother (Allison Janey) and married too young an abusive man with an incredibly bizarre best friend. Before that we saw Call Me By Your Name, a beautiful, intelligent, challenging film, the type that inspires you to think, to feel and to remember.  These are but two examples of how good a year it's been, cinematically....

So what's in store for 2018? Nuclear war? Trump indicted? Mass demonstrations in major US cities? More famous men exposed as serial sexual harassers? More devastating weather events? More mass shootings? Terror attacks throughout the Western world? Peace on Earth (just kidding). It figures to be an "interesting" year and a pivotal one in U.S. history. For me I'm hoping the resistance remains strong and that the Democrats retake congress and Trump's dirty dealings with the Russians is fully exposed. I also hope that this year my depression fades and I continue to run and teach and enjoy family and that I get that damn novel finished....

19 December 2017

The Joy of Museums, the Horror of the Tax Scam and the Joy of Christmas

A photo I took today in the museum.
The depressing thing in museums is those people who have to stand around bored half to death making sure no one touches any of the exhibits. The standing in one spot has got to be draining and the blank stares on their faces attest to the tedium of their assignment.

That’s about all that I can find about the museum-going experience that is anything but joyful. The missus and I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) today. I had been in one of my low moods when we arrived but strolling around a museum is an actual cure for the blues.

We’ve wandered around together in museums in Paris, New York, London, Helsinki, Berlin, Rome, Amsterdam and Berkeley to name but a few locales and I invariably come out feeling inspired, optimistic and energized.

Today our main objective was to see an exhibit of Walker Evans’ photography — he is best known for his Depression Era and post war urban photos including his work with James Agee on Let Us Know Praise Famous Men. We also some Pop Art including some of Andy Warhol’s in addition to paintings by Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keefe and some up-and-comer named Picasso.

So what, you ask, is it that fills me with so much hope and joy from a museum visit. It’s not just seeing great works of art but the very idea behind it. People creating, using artistic expression to the fullest of their ability. Exposing the world and themselves, baring their souls artistically. Expressing ideas. Sharing themes. Bringing brightness to the world. Art museums are chock full of some of the best and noblest ideas of humankind. Not in the form of rhetoric or politics but through visions and feelings and interpretations of the world.

I similarly feel good in bookstores and libraries where one — at the risk of being obvious — is surrounded by books, many of which are another form of artistic expression while others are meant to educate, explain, and elucidate. Movie theaters are more of mixed bag with so many films not being artistic at all, but merely cynical ways to enrich the filmmakers. But to read literature or watch a film can help one develop a greater appreciation for the capability and desire that many people have to warm and brighten the word and make it a more interesting and fulfilling place. So to the museum.

I write this at a time when cynicism and crass, greedy profiteering are on full display in the halls of the US Congress where Republicans are enriching themselves and the very richest among us at the expense of masses — particularly those in greatest needs. And this at Christmas! Republican Congressmen no doubt watch It’s A Wonderful Life and root for Mr. Potter and hope that in A Christmas Carol Scrooge will remain unaffected by the visits of the three ghosts. The US today is afflicted by the most rapacious and morally repugnant government in its history and I hope to all that is holy there is hell to pay for those no good bastards.

It is an unimaginable state affairs in a country in which in  past politicians at least used to be more subtle and less aggressive about robbing the people blind. People who claim this is the greatest country in the world (a preposterous notion to begin with) had better explain how it has allowed itself to be run by such a group of immoral louts. And I haven’t even gotten to the low grade moron who occupies the Oval Office. He continues to disgrace the office of the presidency in ways that nincompoops and crooks like Nixon, Reagan and George W couldn’t have even imagined. He’s made the US an international laughingstock and if left at the reigns much longer the country will become a pariah.

There is hope. Mid term elections are less than a year away, the Mueller investigation continues apace and most importantly the resistance is strong, organized and determined.

As for me I enjoyed 13 days without depression and it was marvelous. To be happy, very happy, day-after-day, for nearly two weeks was a welcome relief from the mental misery that had marked so many of my days. Lamentably the good times crashed to and end and gloom descended again although today seems to be a possible swing back in the right direction. The curative visit to the museum was preceded by a pedicure and manicure which did wonders for my mood. As I write this I’m in a sort of limbo between the usual feeling of high or low. Bi polar disorder is my lot — along with PTSD, addiction recovery and acute panic disorder — but it hasn’t killed me. I don’t believe that it’s necessarily true that that which does not kill me makes me stronger but I do believe that what we can survive and endure can be a source of strength, comfort, humility and even inspiration. Anyway its Christmas and I’m expecting a visit from Santa Claus soon that will have us all feeling a bit more jolly. Our tree is up, it’s cold outside, my Christmas shopping is done and some much needed rain is on the way. Plus there are more museums. More art. More life. More hope. Here's hoping there always will be.

13 December 2017

My Exclusive Interview With Santa Claus (Joulupukki)

Last weekend I flew Finnair to Santa's workshop in northern Finland. Because my late father was a close friend of Santa's, I was granted this exclusive interview with the great man. It is well known that Santa -- though an outgoing, avuncular man -- is reticent about giving interviews, especially during this, his busy time of year. (For purposes of this story I am referring to him as Santa Claus as most of my readers are English speakers, however his real title is Joulupukki as he is in fact Finnish.) I consider myself very lucky indeed to have procured this exclusive. Enjoy.

Me: Thank you for taking time out from your hectic schedule, I know this is your busiest time of the year.
Santa: Frankly, I needed a break. I’m pretty much going 24/7 from early November through Christmas Eve and this gives me a chance to put my feet up for a bit. Plus you’ve been a good boy this year. Ho ho ho.
Me: About that, do you really know who has been naughty and who’s been nice over the course of a year?
Santa: Ho ho ho. Of course I do. But I’ll tell you, I’m pretty easy going about the whole thing. There’s a lot of gray area, lot of people are nice some of the year and naughty some of the year and there are a lot of borderline cases but I tend to give the benefit of the doubt.
Me: How do you do it? How can you possibly know about every single person on the planet?
Santa: Ho ho ho. First of all we only check on the people who celebrate Christmas. For example it never mattered to me that Osama Bin Laden was so naughty, he wasn’t into Christmas anyway. So that significantly reduces the number of people we have to keep track off.
Me: That’s still a lot of folks.
Santa: Ho ho ho. I’ll tell you the truth, we outsource a lot of that. It’s pricey but it saves my elves from having to comb files and peek through a lot of keyholes. We’ve got some good people, very discreet.
Me: But I assume most people are nice and get gifts.
Santa: Not Donald Trump. If we really did put coal in stockings — which by the way is a myth — he’d get a barrel full. What a tool. Ho ho ho.
Me: You’ve been doing this a long time. What’s the secret to your longevity?

Santa: Lately I’ve been doing pilates, which has helped. But I’ve always maintained a good diet, lot of root vegetables and hardly any meat, plus I’m too busy to get sick.
Me: That big round belly can’t be good for you though.
Santa: Never really had one, that’s all padding. Ho ho ho. People expect me to be rotund but I’m actually quite slender. The only sweets I eat are the cookies kids leave out for on Christmas Eve. Ho ho ho.
Me: What are working conditions like for the elves?
Santa: Talk to them, they’ll tell you how good they’ve got it. Their unionized and only ever work more than an eight hour shift in the last couple of weeks before Christmas Eve and they get time and half for it. They’ve got full dental and medical and six weeks paid vacation plus holidays. Ho ho ho.
Me: You say “ho ho ho” an awful lot.
Santa: What’s your point?
Me: Anyway, tell me about your facilities here.
Santa: Ho ho ho. It’s great up here in northern Finland. The Finnish government leases the land to us at a reasonable rate. I know, I know, people think we’re at the North Pole but that’s another myth. I’m actually a Finn, as you know,  as is Mrs. Claus. Most of the elves are too but others come from, well all over. We’ve got Swedish elves, Polish elves, Nigerian elves, Cambodian elves, you name it.
Me: I’m impressed at how clean and modern everything is here and how much room you’ve got. You live here year round?
Santa: Ho ho ho. No just during the busy season, the missus and I have an apartment in Helsinki and we travel a lot in the summer. We especially like Tahiti.
Me: I think another thing people are curious about is how you can get to all those homes in one night.
Santa: Ho ho ho. First of all let me just say thank goodness for time zones or we’d never make it. Listen, the reindeer are pretty damn fast, you’d be amazed and I’m no slouch. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m in an out of those places in a wink of an eye.
Me: But it still seems impossible.
Santa: Ho ho ho. I’m not saying its easy, plus there’s a little magic involved that I can’t tell you about because it’s a trade secret.
Me: Ever miss a house?
Santa: How can you even ask that?
Me: Sorry. I’m impressed at how perfect your English is. Obviously you’re fluent in Finnish, what other languages do you speak?
Santa: Ho ho ho. It would be easier to list the ones I don’t speak. I’m fluent in most. Some I struggle a bit with. I can just get by in Iroquois, for example and my grammar in Tagalog is pretty weak.
Me: Do you actually make any toys or is that solely an elf thing?
Santa: Ho ho ho. I’m in more of a supervisory role but I like to get my hands dirty from time to time, especially with something new. Ho ho ho.
Me: I notice you’re wearing the red suit. Do you wear it all the time?
Santa: Once the calendar hits December I do. Other than that, no. Mrs. Claus shops for me at Banana Republic. Ho ho ho.
Me: How do you feel about all the department store Santas and the people who dress up like you for Christmas parties and family celebrations?
Santa: Ho ho ho. They’re doing me a huge favor. After all I can only be at one place at a time. I do actually appear on Christmas Eve at a few houses like, as you know, your family’s.
Me: We appreciate it too.
Santa: Well your dad was a good friend of mine so I’m glad to do it. Ho ho ho.
Me: One more thing, what role does Mrs. Claus play in your operation?
Santa: Ho ho ho. She’s a retired psychiatrist so she’s our resident counselor. There can be a fair amount of stress here. Plus she likes to do some traditional things like mending sox and knitting.
Me: Do you take any interest in world affairs? Political issues?
Santa: Where do you think most of naughty list comes from? Ho ho ho. You’ve got a lot of Scrooges in your government these days — none worse than those idiot Republicans — that have been trying to line their own pockets at the expense of everyone else. They won’t get so much as a stick of gum from me.
Me: Again I can’t thank you enough for your time. I learned a lot and my appreciation for you has grown. Anything else you’d like to say?
Santa: Ho ho ho. Also tell Sofia, Teo, River, Edvin, Aila and Matilde that I look forward to seeing them on Christmas Eve he ovat hyviä poikia ja tyttöjä (they are good boys and girls). Hauskaa joulua kaikille. (Merry Christmas to everyone.)

05 December 2017

A Revealing Interview I Did With Myself

A fairly recent picture of yours truly (actually not at all recent, but cute).
Me: How’ve you been?
I: Better. On a new med that seems to be working and I’ve been getting in some really good runs. Ten miles last Saturday. Plus I’ve got vacation time coming up and it’s Christmas season — which I love — and youngest daughter will be in town for the holidays.
Me: How are you handling all the bad political news?
I: It’s really discouraging and depressing. Republicans have sold their consciences to the highest bidders, like the Koch brothers. The tax plan they passed is downright cruel and any simpleton can see that, in addition to the harm it will do the poor, the elderly, students, the infirm, pretty much anyone who isn’t already filthy rich, it will devastate the economy. Also you’ve got Trump slashing the sizes of Bears Ear and Grand Staircase Monument and the Supreme Court okaying the Muslim ban and the pedophile running for Senate in Alabama being endorsed by the RNC. There’s a lot of horrible shit going on.
Me: Any coping mechanisms?
I: Well, I can’t avoid the news, as awful as it is it’s so compelling and I’m a news junkie as it is. But I do find solace in the strength of the resistance. There are so many well-intentioned and well-organized groups that are fighting tooth and nail to oppose the horrors that Trump and company are trying to inflict on the country. There was good news out of the recent off year elections and poll numbers across the board are favorable. Mid terms aren’t that far away. One thing — and I know this sounds odd — I take comfort in is reading about Watergate. I just finished re-reading All the President’s Men and have started on The Final Days. Previously I’d read a bio of Nixon and a book by John Dean. I’m not sure how, but that helps. Maybe because we drove the bastard Nixon out of office. Maybe, as bad as it was, it wasn’t as awful as what we’re dealing with today. On top of that it’s just damn interesting stuff.
Me: You must be excited about Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence.
I: Yes I am. And proud too. On Sunday I went to the Finnish Brotherhood Hall in Berkeley for a celebration. I’m very patriotic about my homeland and with good reason. I’ll provide a couple of links below* to buttress my case. I’m particularly proud of Finland’s human rights record, it’s green policies, how safe it is, its great educational system, its cleanliness, the freedom of its press and its lack of corruption. It’s just a gorgeous country too with very nice people.
Me: Pretty long cold winters, though.
I: Nothing’s perfect.
Me: Getting back to your depression, it seems you had a pretty bad spell recently.
I: Awful. Lasted about seven days and after a brief respite came back in full force. The last few days have been good though, there’s just never a guarantee how long it will last. When I’m depressed it seems like a permanent, intractable condition but like now when I’m feeling fine it feels temporal. Maybe if I can sustain a long period free of depression I can shake the feeling it will come back.
Me: Ever feel suicidal?
I: Yes, but not to the point where I start planning anything. I’m always able to combat it because I’m just so damn lucky with the way my life has turned out. I’m married to the woman of dreams, I have two beautiful, successful daughters, extended family, friends, great physical health and a job I love. If those things weren’t in place then suicide might — at the darkest of times — seem like a viable option.
Me: Anything else in the news that you find interesting or disturbing?
I: Yes — and I’ve mentioned this before — the recent spate of accusations of sexual harassment. I tend to believe the women who in most cases have nothing to gain by lying. Plus if one woman levels a charge against someone you can turn it into a he said she said situation, but most of these awful men have multiple accusers and many with evidence or witnesses. It’s difficult for me to imagine what’s going on. I’ve never even considered some of the sick stuff that men are doing (not that I’m perfect, there are doubtless some actions from my younger days that I should apologize for but even then I’ve never done anything like grab an ass, whip out my penis, jerk off in front of a woman or give a sex toy as a gift). It’s thus difficult for me to imagine what women are going through. We’re only really hearing about famous men, one shudders to think of all the other cases that go unreported or unnoticed. By the way, I’m very proud of the manner in which John Oliver (already a hero of mine) confronted Dustin Hoffman. That — at the risk of sounding sexist — took balls. This is what we need, men have to call out other men for their actions.
Me: How’s the world of sports for you these days?
I: What? You want to send me back into depression?
Me: Sorry I —-
I: That’s all right. I don’t take it too hard. I’m always optimistic about the next game, the next season. There’s always hope. I’ve managed over the years to keep sports in perspective. It’s not the losing that bothers me so much as the absence of the win. That pure joy that can accompany a big win by your team.
Me: So you really like Christmas.
I: I always have. As a child, a teen, a young adult, and now as an old geezer. I like the break from the sameness. The colors, the songs, the trees, the decorations. And of course there’s time with family and the exchanging of gifts. Lot of good food. It always makes me feel good, happy, warm. It also coincides with when a lot of good movies are hitting theaters and this has already been a pretty good year from films.
Me: Plus there’s the Christmas themed movies, several of which I know you really like.
I: Absolutely. It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut, Home Alone, Elf, The Shop Around the Corner, A Christmas Carol (the one with Alistair Sim as Scrooge), Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, The Man Who Came to Dinner, the original Miracle on 34th Street. Plus there’s the TV specials like Charlie Brown’s Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and so many of the Simpsons’ Christmas episodes.
Me: I’m glad you’re doing better.
I: Thanks. I’m trying to enjoy it. Taking it one day at a time.
Me: Thanks for your time.
I: For you, anything.

18 reasons why Finland is the greatest country on Earth

Ten Fantastic Things to Come out of Finland

Finland is # 1 in Governance

21 Things to Love About Finland

27 November 2017

How am I? How was My Weekend? Funny You Should Ask

Back at work after a four-day weekend people asked me how I’m doing, how was my weekend and I said I was fine and my weekend was great or that I was great and my weekend was fine and truly my body feels fantastic and on the weekend I celebrated Thanksgiving with various family and I went to a basketball game and to a movie and had runs of seven and nine miles and all that was all good but lord did I suffer.

Depression. The whole time. Managed to distract it at times for a time but it was there always and persistent like being in pain and that pain is still with me and is awful and the experiment of not taking meds is officially over that shit did not work as I can tell by my monumental sorrow and misery that has been all encompassing for five full days non stop thank god it allows me to sleep and to have nice dreams and I was able to teach today like I was the world’s happiest man which I’m not unfortunately: “Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light, You've known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight” sang Jackson Browne but that song was not about the unceasing pounding of melancholia and the way depression wraps its tentacles around your brain and surely this cannot go on forever but I’ll be damned if I can remember what happiness feels like.

Happiness. There is that in the world. I have that vague memory of genuine smiles and laughter that lingers and kisses and leaping for joy and holding your precious and sitting comfortably content. Ahh contentment. Just to be satisfied to be sated to be all right. To really be able to say you feel “fine” and mean it. But this….I want out of this. Escape.

Running fast it can’t catch me and I can outwit it and I can slap it hard and knock it down and subdue it and conquer it and prevail and live on with out stalking me. Liberated. A free man. Maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe. Some day. Soon even. Gone. Only me and the real feelings not the artificial sorrow created by this monster.

Have to believe, have to conceive. Have to. Have to. Have to. Remember the good times and the hope and the accomplishments and the gifts of life and the ability to dance metaphorically and be me and feel good about it.

This can’t last. Or I won’t. Reckoning coming. The big showdown. Me versus the miseries. No more grappling. Just winning and grinning. Gotta happen.

21 November 2017

Exiled From Shangrila

Tracy Stetson
There was a bowl of guacamole on the patio table and an open bag of tortilla chips. Flies were starting to make themselves comfortable around the unattended food. Next to the guac was a pitcher of Kool Aid that had been spiked with LSD. Tracy Stetson was sprawled on a lawn chair wearing nothing but a bikini bottom. Her mouth was open and she was making gurgling noises in lieu of snoring. Her brother — my friend — Russell Stetson was sitting across from me almost at the edge of the pool. His eyes were closed but he was awake. I knew this because every so often he’d say something. “Herringbone is overrated but I’d take it Christchurch, New Zealand with me, grglfph,” was his is most recent utterance. It was part of a steady stream of gobbledygook he was intermittently spewing. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I was pretty sure it was dawn but I had so many different drugs in my system that I wasn’t entirely sure of my own name, which I can now assert is Peter Laine.

We were at Tracy’s and Russell’s parents house in the small, exclusive Marin County community of Woodacre. There were assorted other friends including Stetson cousins inside the house, likely asleep. The parents were in Europe so our generation had the run of the place. Russell referred to the large ranch style house and adjoining property as shangrila.

I clung desperately to my friendship with Russell. As his friend I could stay at shangrila and get high and eat for free and continue my desperate attempts to bed Tracy. Russell and I had met during our just completed freshman year at UC Davis. Russell was one of the most intelligent people I’d ever met and certainly the most charismatic. People were drawn to Russell but I was among the chosen few he selected to spend time with. Deep down I knew that I should loathe Russell for  an effete snob and a total hedonist who cared nothing about anyone save himself. I’d grown up in Berkeley raised by parents and schools that preached social justice. I’d entered Davis trying to decide between going into environmental law, social welfare or teaching. Yet here I was cleaved to a nihilist who only wanted to enjoy his parents’ wealth. For all my admirable ambitions I was still only 19 and had developed passions for getting high and getting laid and those passions were predominant. When Russell invited me for the weekend and I met his sister I fell instantly in love. Okay, lust. Russell was handsome — devastatingly cute to women, as several told me — and his younger sister was even more beautiful. Tracy was not just sexy as hell but wise beyond her 17 years. Unlike her brother, Tracy also had a conscience and did not speak contemptuously of everyone outside her circle.

When the school year ended I’d had an open invitation from Russell to “come hang out.” I think Russell liked me because of my sense of humor and my ability to keep up with him when he started drinking and using. At his house I had to put up with more of the stupid, sexist, borderline racist and classist things he said. I hated myself for it but the alternative was going back to Berkeley and either working with my mom at the juice collective she ran or helping dad at his small law practice where he was setting world records for most pro bono cases. I'd had enough of the non stop political discussions that had had dominated my upbringing, I just wanted to have fun. No one could see to that like Russell, who for all his faults was also a wit.

Worse than Russell were his friends and cousins. There were eight to ten different ones of them around at any given time and each was more shallow and insipid then the next. I only liked one of them, a female cousin, Charlotte, and her only because she was so cute and at all times wore the skimpiest bikini ever made.

But I couldn’t tear myself away from Russell and Tracy and the steady flow of booze and drugs. There was an endless supply of everything  including a garage refrigerator that was filled with nothing but foreign beers. Visitors were always bringing over drugs, cocaine, acid, marijuana, magic mushrooms, uppers and downers. It was heaven and hell all at once.

I was making a little progress with Tracy. Virtually every other guy who came by flirted with her too but I was the new guy so she’d never heard my patter before and I was, as she herself said "different than the usual bozos who come by."

Trying to be fully awake was proving difficult. I managed to stand up and find my watch which, to my great surprise, indicated that it was 9:00. I was physically wobbly and mentally hazy. The only solution was to jump into the pool. First I stopped by the lounge chair and looked at Tracy’s tits. They were perfect. I didn’t remember her taking her top off so this was my first conscious look at them.

“Stop looking at my sister’s tits while she’s sleeping!” Russell shouted. I was so startled that I jumped into the pool without removing my shirt. Ten minutes of swimming made my muscles ache but my head clear. When I got out of the pool Russell handed me a Bloody Mary. “You’ve earned this, my friend. For meritorious service in the face of the hated enemy, sobriety.”

An hour and three Bloody Mary’s later most of us were in the kitchen preparing an enormous breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes, toast, fruit and coffee (spiked with expensive whiskey, of course). Russell never helped cook meals or do any chores around the house. He acted put out if asked to pass the salt. He couldn’t even stand to watch others work — “it bores me something fierce to watch anyone labor” he once told me. Russell would instead curl up on a sofa making fun of whatever sitcom, soap opera or game show he could find. “What a bunch of idiots!” Was a constant refrain while he watched TV. “You people are so sad it’s nearly delicious,” was another. Russell seemed to hate everything and everyone, maybe, I later theorized, himself most of all. He had not a drop of sentimentality and was perfectly cynical about everything.

At this meal Russell sat next to Charlotte who was sporting her usual flimsy bikini. She was about 5’11 which made her a an inch or so taller than Russell and I, had remarkably pale skin for someone who never covered up much of her body. But that skin was without blemish and I fantasized about tasting it. She had long blonde hair reaching the middle of her back. Charlotte had not an ounce of fat anywhere that it did not enhance her figure. If I weren’t so smitten by Tracy, I’d have made a play for her. Charlotte was clearly flirting with Russell, many women did — as did some men — but he was oblivious to flirtation and never reciprocated. In fact Russell never spoke of women or sex at all except to make fun of couples, of course. Initially I’d thought he was gay but he showed no interest in men either.

After brunch we lounged by the pool and commenced to get really high. This particular day, lines of coke were on the menu chased by tequila or beer. I choose the latter. The conversation was variously silly or philosophical and there was some local gossip bandied about that I of course knew nothing about. I started feeling genuinely excited about life (thank you, cocaine) and bored senseless by the conversation. When Tracy got up to go inside I followed her.

She left the bathroom door open and so I boldly stood at the doorway and watched her pee. “This a big thrill for you, watching a girl pee, Peter?”

“Watching you do anything is a thrill.”

“Aren’t you sweet,” she cooed as she flushed.

“You bring out the sweetness in me,” I replied.

“Okay,” she said with smile, “let’s get this over with, let’s go to my room and you can have your way with me.”

I was aroused by the offer but said “I hate to think it’s something you just want to ‘get over with.’”

“Don’t take it the wrong way. I mean let’s get the awkwardness of the first time out of the way.”  Tracy took my hand and led me to her bedroom and queen sized bed. I had never known such exhilaration. She took off her clothes in the blink of an eye and just as quickly got under the covers.

I did not hesitate to join her.

I’d only been with a few girls before, starting with Sarah Kowaleski in high school. Tracy was several hundred times better on more levels than I can count. (Modesty forbids explicit details.) There was nothing about her performance in bed that suggested a 17 year old. There was no awkwardness the first time nor the second nor third which quickly followed. After round three we slept in each other’s arms for a few hours and awoke to yet another two encores before rejoining everyone else, which we did while holding hands in the way only lovers do.

Most of the ensemble barely nodded at our approach but as we sat down Russell stood up and glared at me. “Did you just fuck my sister?” He demanded.

“God, shut up Russell, you’re such an asshole,” Tracy said.

“You stay out of it,” Russell said without even look at her. “You did, didn’t you? That’s the only reason you’ve been hanging out here so you could fuck my sister.”

It was the first time I’d seen Russell angry and frankly it was pitiful. He seemed pathetic and lost. As if his anger was something staged that he had to go through.

I glared back at him, still holding Tracy’s hand.

“Answer me!” He screamed, and threw his glass against the house where it broke into pieces many of which flew back towards us.

Now Tracy stood up and screamed in her brother’s face. “What is your problem you fucking asshole, you’re ruining everyone’s good time!”

Russell looked away from me to his sister and slapped her across the face. Hard. I did not think. I stood up. I punched Russell in the face. Very hard.

Russell put his hands on his face, then cupped his nose. He was bleeding. Someone gave him some paper towels. “Get the fuck out of my house, you fucker, you hit in me in my goddamned face.”

“You deserved it,” Tracy sobbed.

“The jig is up,” I said with resignation. I knew my time at shangrila was over for good and all. Within ten minutes I was hitchhiking back to Berkeley.  Tracy had walked me part way toward the freeway entrance and slipped her phone number into my back pocket. She apologized half heartedly for her brother and confessed that this was not the first time he’d lost his cool publicly.

Later that Summer Tracy visited me in Berkeley and one weekend when Russell was away I visited her.

Russell did not return to Davis. I heard that he went to UC Santa Barbara. Tracy and I stayed in touch for awhile but then she got into what she called a “serious” relationship and went to college back east.

I graduated with a degree in Sociology from Davis and ended up moving to Seattle where I got a job doing community outreach. I also eventually got into 12 step programs for my drinking and drug use.

It was shortly after moving to Seattle, six years after hanging out at shangrila,  that Tracy contacted me. She was moving to Seattle to do graduate work at the University of Washington. She also informed me that Russell had committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He’d never graduated college, never had a job, never had a girlfriend or boyfriend. He’s also never stopped getting high. Tracy told me that Russell used to speak of me but depending on his mood he’d either express regret over the way he’d acted or angrily say he should have killed me that day. Tracy said she never figured her brother out and for that matter neither did he. “He always was surrounded by friends but was never close to anyone. No one ever knew him, not even me,” Tracy told me. I did not find myself at all shocked by Russell's suicide, it seemed like a logical step for him, a person who believed and loved nothing, especially not himself.

Tracy and I became lovers again for awhile. But it didn’t last. I don’t know what does. I honestly don’t.

14 November 2017

Larry Has a Problem

If Larry had a gun he’d have shot himself sure as shit cause last night. He'd got Debbie Gloucester in bed and couldn’t get it up Debbie Gloucester was the cutest girl in the school by far and Larry’d had a crush on her since 7th grade when he first noticed girls and how come he had no trouble getting it up for Lottie Thomas and Carrie Woodbine the other two girls he’d been to bed with and it would have been so perfect cause that day that very day he’d scored the winning goal to lead North Point to the championship and now they were eligible for state and his being a hero was now wiped out because of a limp dick which was maybe because he was so tired or so excited to be seeing Debbie Gloucester naked and it would be so bad if she told anyone even just one person and Larry felt like his life was over and he was not yet 18 and wouldn’t be for another couple of months but what was the use if he couldn’t take advantage of Debbie Gloucester actually liking him and liking him so much that she’d let him have sex with her.

Larry just laid there in bed feeling the worst kind of awful a whole new level like he’d never known even when his Uncle Frank had died suddenly right in front of everyone at the July 4th picnic last Summer. This was worse not that he didn’t miss Uncle Frank and feel bad for Aunt Helen and his cousins and all but that was just some other guy dying and this was like his world ending and damned it just made it worse that now way later way after when it was too late he was as hard as rock thinking of how he’d been so soft earlier that evening with the actual naked body of Debbie Gloucester and she was so much prettier naked than he’d ever been able to imagine and now she’d probably do it with some other guy some big football player because Larry had blown his probably only chance when he hadn’t realized until the party that very night after the soccer game when they won the championship that Debbie Gloucester had a crush on him like she said she did and boy when she said that he’d gotten good and hard but back in her bedroom it had been a big failure and he never thought it would happen to him at least not until he was really old like the people in the Viagra commercials because he couldn’t even imagine not being hard for some really cute girl like Debbie Gloucester.

It was 3:00 in the morning and Larry couldn’t sleep and wondered if he ever would and would his parents make him do his Saturday chores the day after they’d won the championship because it didn’t seem they really gave a shit oh sure they acted happy but it was that phony kind of adult smile and congratulations and I’m so happy for you that parents are always doing for their kids especially his parents who didn’t seem to give much of a shit about him caring more about his brother Randy in college the asshole cause he was going to get into law school and so they bragged and talked about him and of course his baby sister Leia because she was autistic but doing so well and everyone was so proud of her and Larry guessed that was understandable and all and she was a pretty cool kid especially for someone who had autism but he was the ultimate forgotten middle child plus they heaped so much concern on his cousins Markie Tina and Kayleigh because their dad his Uncle Frank had died last Summer and their poor mom his Aunt Helen was struggling with it so much being depressed and raising the kids on her own and maybe drinking a little too much and everyone was thinking it was soon to be about time she maybe tried to meet someone else as hard as that was with three small kids and all so everyone’s sympathy and pride was in other directions and Larry just got forgotten like now when they gave him their perfunctory congratulations for being the hero of the championship game.

Larry wished there was someone he could talk to about his bedroom failure with Debbie Gloucester but there was no way he was going to admit that to anyone not even his psychiatrist who he’d been seeing for a couple of months since he’d had a couple of panic attacks although Larry didn’t really think he needed a shrink he went anyway and talked anyway because of course his parents were paying for it and they expected it and he did kind of like talking to the psychiatrist even if the psychiatrist barely mumbled in return and maybe he would have to tell the shrink about his failure with Debbie Gloucester as embarrassing as it would be because maybe there was some psychological thing going on that if he knew about he could prevent it from happening ever again and then he’d feel confident and maybe get another chance with Debbie Gloucester of course he could get another chance with her anyway maybe she seemed okay about it not mad or embarrassed or anything probably disappointed but they did kiss a lot and she sure seemed to like it when he kissed and licked her breasts and she said she’d like to see him again so maybe it wasn’t all so bad maybe it would have been her first time and she was nervous anyway after all she’s only a junior and only turned 17 like two weeks ago and maybe everything was all right and Larry should try to get some sleep he could always call Debbie Gloucester in the morning  and see how that went and he’d definitely talk to his psychiatrist on Tuesday about what happened more like didn’t happen.

Gradually Larry’s thoughts grew more confused and mixed with fantasy and he fell asleep and his thoughts/fantasies became dreams and he slept very well all the way until 11:00. After a couple of bowl of cereals he called Debbie Gloucester and they had a really nice conversation and she went out of her way to tell Larry not to worry about last night because it would have been a bad idea anyway because they hadn’t had any form of contraception which Larry never thought about until she mentioned in the phone conversation so he was almost relieved that he didn’t get it up and was downright ecstatic when Debbie Gloucester said that they’d have to try it again and she was sure Larry would do just fine and was so glad they had finally connected because she’d had a crush on him for over a year now and when Larry heard that he was over the moon with joy and imagine feeling so awful the night before and contemplating suicide that was just ridiculous and then Larry did his chores and hung out with his autistic baby sister Leia who was pretty cool and talked on the phone with his brother who was going to go to law school next Fall and his parents took him to his favorite Italian restaurant for dinner than they went to see his Aunt Helen and his cousins and that was a nice time and the next day was Sunday and he met Debbie Gloucester in the park and they walked and talked and walked and talked and when they stopped walking and talking they kissed and Larry just knew next time would be different with her.

And it was.

12 November 2017

In Defense of Woody Allen -- Don't Lump Him in With the Real Sexual Predators

There was a story online the other day about how the actress Ellen Page was joining the many voices decrying the perpetrators of sexual abuse whose actions have been brought to light — thankfully — in recent weeks she made particular note of the director Brett Ratner who is among the accused and outed Ms. Page in front of an entire cast and crew when she was still sexually unsure. However in sharing her story and making her important points about sexual abuse she did what so many and lumped Woody Allen in with the many celebrities accused of abusing women.

Doing so is lazy and more than that inaccurate and more than that a lie. Allen, of course, was charged with molesting his daughter, Dylan, in the early 1990s. In that case there were two investigations but no charges were brought against Allen, he even passed a lie detector test. Indeed there are more witnesses (most notably Allen’s son, Moses) to the fact that Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow coached Dylan. (This was after Farrow discovered that Allen was having an affair with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi.)

In Allen’s own words: “I was a 56-year-old man who had never before (or after) been accused of child molestation. I had been going out with Mia for 12 years and never in that time did she ever suggest to me anything resembling misconduct. Now, suddenly, when I had driven up to her house in Connecticut one afternoon to visit the kids for a few hours, when I would be on my raging adversary’s home turf, with half a dozen people present, when I was in the blissful early stages of a happy new relationship with the woman I’d go on to marry — that I would pick this moment in time to embark on a career as a child molester should seem to the most skeptical mind highly unlikely. The sheer illogic of such a crazy scenario seemed to me dispositive. Notwithstanding, Mia insisted that I had abused Dylan and took her immediately to a doctor to be examined. Dylan told the doctor she had not been molested. Mia then took Dylan out for ice cream, and when she came back with her the child had changed her story. The police began their investigation; a possible indictment hung in the balance. I very willingly took a lie-detector test and of course passed because I had nothing to hide. I asked Mia to take one and she wouldn’t.”

Sexual predators have histories; they have behavior patterns. Jerry Sandusky (the football coach found guilty of multiple acts of pedophilia) was a serial pedophile. The greater majority of the convicted pedophiles have had multiple complainants against them. There is no reliable record of any pedophile who acted but once. Yet no other child or adult besides Dylan has accused Woody Allen of sexual abuse. The accusations come from a woman who had no qualms about breaking up the marriages of Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn marriages, when she was about the same as Soon Yi when she took up with Woody.

Moses Farrow told People magazine the following: “Of course Woody did not molest my sister,” says Moses, who is estranged from Farrow and many of his siblings and is close to Allen and Soon-Yi. “She loved him and looked forward to seeing him when he would visit. She never hid from him until our mother succeeded in creating the atmosphere of fear and hate towards him. The day in question, there were six or seven of us in the house. We were all in public rooms and no one, not my father or sister, was off in any private spaces. My mother was conveniently out shopping. I don t know if my sister really believes she was molested or is trying to please her mother. Pleasing my mother was very powerful motivation because to be on her wrong side was horrible.”

“Our mother has misled the public into believing it was a happy household of both biological and adopted children,” he says. “From an early age, my mother demanded obedience and I was often hit as a child. She went into unbridled rages if we angered her, which was intimidating at the very least and often horrifying, leaving us not knowing what she would do.”

Woody Allen is guilty of having been a terrible boyfriend, but to call him a child molester or lump him in with men who have raped and otherwise sexually abused women is grossly unfair. Ellen Page and others should know better and do better.

10 November 2017


I took this picture last Saturday from Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.
The following blog post was written over the course of three days by a man suffering the common cold.

I’ve decided to title this post, “The.” My presumption is that there has never been an essay titled “The” before. It could be that a grammarian wrote a piece about articles with that name but I rather doubt it. Grammarians tend not to be cutesy with titles. I should here add that I’m titling this writing “The” just for the sake of it. There is no grand scheme, no hidden meaning. The idea came to me on the bus.* Thus ends my titular driven preamble.

I just overheard a couple of my fellow teachers discuss classes in which students are or were bored. They wondered if they were the cause of the boredom.

Let me address that question for them in absentia: yes.

Fact: if adult students are bored in an ESL class the cause of the boredom is most certainly the teacher. There’s no use pretending otherwise.

Observation: If you do not want your students to be bored, stop being boring.

I see teachers abdicate all the time. Their students aren’t interested, they have bad attitudes, there’s nothing they can do. Why bother, anymore? This goes against the essence of teaching. Teachers are in charge, they set the tone, they are responsible. If a teacher “gives up” on a class that teacher has stopped doing her or his job. If you stop doing your job then stop taking money for it.

I have a cold. No matter how old you are (and my god I’m desperately old now, I was looking at pictures I took back when the Rocky Mountains were just forming) when you show up at work with a cold you will get advice. Drink plenty of liquids, I’m told. Have some hot tea with honey and lemon, I’m counseled. Try to get some rest, is proffered. I’ve had more colds than these people have had birthdays. Yet the advice pours in.

I am also offered miracle cures. Sometimes by people who themselves have a cold and have been suffering from it for days despite the sure fire remedy they have in their hand at that very moment. I remember working with two people who once offered me something that “will knock it right out” it had to be good because they added “it’s Chinese.” I assured them that I had taken all necessary measures and that their “Chinese” cure that would “knock it right out” was not needed. My cold was over in a few days. They subsequently both got the cold and shared their Chinese cure. Their colds far outlasted mine. Over and over again through the years they swore by the miraculous Chinese cure that knocked colds “right out.”

You may have gathered that I do not miss work because of a cold. In fact I don’t miss work for any kind of illness because I don’t believe in it. The last two times I had to stay at home from work due to illness I was under orders, once from my boss and the other time from a doctor. I haven’t had the flu in longer than I can remember — and no I’m not going to knock on wood because that’s no more effective than Chinese cures for colds.

This is not to say that I do not miss work days. Sometimes I have a medical appointments and occasionally I’ll take mental health days, which, given the state of my mental health should probably be a daily exercise. But a goddamned stupid cold is no excuse not to work. What, I want to stay home when I don’t feel good? The hell with that, I’d rather stay home while in the pink so I can fully enjoy my leisure time.

Just had a bowl of clam chowder at a famous nearby eatery which is mostly known for its invention of a famous alcoholic beverage. (No names here, I don’t advertise.) It was delicious. One thing I enjoyed about the experience is how it took me back to my youth and going to restaurants with my dear old dad. The waiters and bartenders were older gents wearing white shirts and black vests. They were not minimum wage slaves eking out an existence. The waiter who took my order did not respond to my request by saying, “awesome.” He did not engage in idle chit chat about the weather or local nine, he did not tell me about today’s specials. He was courteous and adroit with the cutlery and the order. One of the bartenders was a silver headed mustachioed man who looked to be in his 60s. He mixed drinks effortless and with a casual sense of boredom. Then he regaled two women at the bar with a hokey card trick. The sly old bartender was really flirting but it was done so obscurely that no one noticed — save eagle eyed fellow geezers like yours truly -- and no harm was done. I liked the restaurant and all those like it in which the workers are professionals who take pride in their work and are good at it.

But I turn my attention now to the recent spate of sexual abuse allegations against the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. (and unfortunately, this is but to name a few). I don’t get it. I really don’t understand how a man can — I mean for crying out loud who even thinks about entering a room naked and masturbating in front of women who have not specifically said, “yeah it would be great if you came into the room bare ass, having a wank. What mind conceives of this as an idea, let alone an acceptable one? And all this unwanted touching. There is satisfaction in that for you? How? What makes sexual contact so stimulating (at least to an old fashioned kind of bloke like me) is that the other party is interested in the same thing you are. The thrill of another person enjoying what you’re enjoying at the same time. What possible fun can it be if the other person isn’t into it? You’ve got to be fucking nuts to enjoy touching someone who isn’t enjoying being touched.

I remember once in college being quite drunk, alone with a woman, kissing. I misinterpreted the moment and made a move to advance the situation and she vehemently protested. I immediately disengaged horrified that I had stepped out of bounds. I felt very bad — and that was when I was drunk.

All of this makes me depressed and lord knows I don’t need any help in that department. I was such a huge fan of Kevin Spacey, one of our greatest actors. I feel bad for him and hope he finds help but I feel infinitely worse for the people he has molested. Shame on him. But as depressing as this all is I’m glad it’s finally coming out. Hopefully we are moving toward living in a culture in which sexual harassment is so routinely exposed that it happens less and less.

Today marks the 39th anniversary of the first date that I had with a certain young lady who is today my wife. There is no man alive luckier than I am. We have been married for 30 years and have two beautiful, intelligent daughters. The fact that this wonderful woman loves me is all the reason I need to get up in the morning. I'm humbled.

*Speaking of busses, I think we'd live in a much more free and equal society if everyone was required to ride the bus at least a few days of the year and I mean city busses. Imagine the perspective this would give politicians and CEOs and professors and hair stylists and entertainers and everyone else. For one thing there'd be a lot more money funneled into public transportation.

01 November 2017

What Dreams May Come to Tub McAllen

Johnny “Tub” McAllen had been an all conference offensive guard in the Nineties best known for lead blocking RayShaun “Rascal” Jenkins, the top rusher in school history. Tub was a late round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut early in training camp. He spent the next few years trying to catch on with other pro teams, but the best he managed was a three game stint in the Canadian Football League. By 26 Tub was back in college finishing his degree and within a year of that had a job with an insurance firm where he’d been now for 22 years.

He was home alone this Saturday afternoon, sprawled on the sofa, remote control in his hand, beer and chips on the coffee table. He’d been watching Michigan vs. Northwestern when the play-by-play announcer lowered his voice an octave and told the viewers that word had just reached the booth that former great Rascal Jenkins had passed away at the age of 47. In addition to his college exploits, Jenkins had enjoyed a seven-year NFL career, four of which as a Minnesota Viking and the last three with the Miami Dolphins.

Tub reacted to the news with a loud groan and a shake of the head. He felt genuinely sad. Tub had last seen Rascal Jenkins at a reunion of their conference championship team four years ago. It looked like Rascal hadn’t put on an ounce in his playing days and he sure didn’t look a day over 30. Meanwhile Tub had grown an ample belly, lost most of his hair and suffered from heart arrhythmia.

After checking on the internet Tub learned that Rascal had had a drug problem and died of an overdose. Tub immediately drew a conclusion about African Americans and drugs but chased it from his mind. It was disrespectful to the recently deceased and was borderline racist. Tub had spent his whole life fighting off racist thoughts — a legacy of his bigoted father. Tub thought of his southern born and bred dad for a second and winced, every other word out of dad’s mouth had been a racial slur.

There was another damn commercial on the football game so Tub switched over to the History Channel, there was usually something good there. Sure enough they were doing a program on the German invasion of Poland that had started World War II. Tub thought he’d take a break from football and thinking about Rascal and his goddamned racist old man and watch a little WWII history.

Those damn Nazis and especially Hitler, he was the one. Sure others followed his orders but he was the ringmaster.

There was footage of Nazi planes and Nazi tanks and Nazi troops and the whole blitzkrieg into Poland. The mercilessness of their attack would be awe inspiring if it didn’t result in such human devastation. Tub could both appreciate the efficiency of the German army and be appalled at ruthlessness of it all.

Pretty soon it all started to depress Tub and he decided it would be better to go back to good ole college football. Michigan and Northwestern were at half time so we switched to Virginia and Rutgers. It was late in the third quarter and Virginia had the game well in hand, leading 24-6. Tub closed his eyes and recalled some of his good times with Rascal. Tub still had vivid memories from his playing days, like the time he flattened a linebacker and thus paved the way for a 75 yard touchdown run by Rascal. Tub had gotten almost as many plaudits for his block as Rascal had for his run. The great thing about it was that the linebacker in question was Jeff Snorkle the All American who had gone on to have an illustrious pro career. Tub also remembered many of the plays, including the whole last drive, of the big win over Tech in his senior year.

Gradually Tub began to doze. It was quiet in the house what with Letty — that was Tub’s wife — and the kids — Aaron and Gina — gone for the day. They’d even taken Lassoo — the family dog — with them. Yes it was a rare thing for Tub to have the house to himself. Damn relaxing. Tub soon was sound asleep and in full dream mode. There he was racing down the field stride for stride with Rascal but it was he Tub holding the ball running into the end zone and out of the stadium to his grandma’s house. There she was, alive again in her rocking chair, baking cookies in that old iron oven. Grandma smiled at Tub. Then Walter Cooley appeared, he was one of Tub’s college roommates. Odd to see him in Grandma’s house.

A fly landed on Tub’s nose and he awoke from his dream. He must have been out half an hour or so. Rutgers had stormed back and was only down 24-19 and had the ball. Tub got up to take a piss and then get a cold beer, as he plopped back down on the sofa Virginia intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. There was just over two minutes left so the game was as good as over. Tub switched back to the History Channel. The Germans were occupying Poland and invading the “low countries,” easily conquering Holland and Belgium.

Tub took a big slurp of beer and thought how lucky he was to have avoided fighting in a war. Imagine being shot at and having bombs exploding near you. There was so much luck in surviving a war. And if you did survive you could do so with one less leg or arm or paralyzed of blinded or emasculated (that thought made Tub groan). And even if you sustained no physical injuries there was always the psychological trauma of watching other guys killed and wounded. And what if you had to live with killing someone? Even in a war for a good cause that would be a hard one for Tub to deal with. Lucky for him his battles were on the football field, his enemy was just another team and the worst that happened was that someone maybe broke a leg or tore an ACL. Yeah, Tub had to admit he’d had a soft life. Soft like his belly. Sure growing up with an asshole father was rough, but at least dad never hit Tub or his sisters or called them bad names. They just had to listen to the awful things he said about other people. Not just blacks, anyone different. There was no use arguing with dad about it either. He was one stubborn SOB.

Tub switched from the History Channel to ESPN where the big clash between Alabama and LSU was about to start. That’d be a good one. In the studio the talking heads made mention of Rascal Jenkins’ death. Such a shame. They showed a couple of his long runs and Tub caught sight of himself throwing the block that leveled Jeff Snorkle. Tub had watched enough highlights to be able to pick himself out. Hell no one ever just shows an offensive lineman, although the Snorkle block got some play. The only time your name was called was when you committed a penalty. The most thankless job in sports but Tub had loved it.

Tub got tired of waiting for Alabama-LSU to start so he switched back to the History Channel. More clips of Nazi tanks — Panzers — crushing everything in their wake. Happy, smiling German soldiers — they’ll get theirs, though, Tub thought — more  German planes reigning death and destruction. Hitler — the ultimate asshole — making his wacky speeches or conferring with generals. Tub was at once sick of it all and endlessly fascinated by it. A commercial came on and Tub hit the mute button. Sometimes TV ads got on his last nerve, especially after a day having the tube on. Tub laid on his back and stared at the ceiling, his thoughts returning to poor old Rascal Jenkins. He closed his eyes and fell dead asleep again. This time he was in a war. Tub sometimes dreamed he was a solider but this time he was a German in World War II. He was marching into France and felt damn bad about it, loathing the Nazis and all they stood for. In the dream Tub desperately wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else but he couldn’t risk deserting and besides his fellow soldiers were all friends. Poor Tub was stuck in this battle. He was conscious of it being a dream but it seemed more real than other dreams he'd had. Tub hoped he’d wake up. In the past he could wake himself up from an unpleasant dream, particularly during a mid day nap, but he was having no luck this time, even though he was aware of the fact that the Alabama-LSU game must be about to start.

Tub and the other soldiers had been marching for awhile when they came under fire from French troops. Tub saw men around him fall to the ground hit by enemy bullets. Others, he noticed, immediately started shooting. Tub stood for a second looking around before he headed to a tree for cover. Tub never made it to the tree. A bullet struck him in the chest and he fell hard to the ground. Now Tub could see himself from several feet above. There was blood pouring out of his mouth and from his chest wound. He was struggling to breath. At first Tub could see himself pawing at the ground and trying to call for help, but he soon grew quiet and ceased moving entirely. Why can’t I wake up from this dream? Tub wondered. He was scared. Not scared in the dream, but really frightened. He could not wake up, all he could do was watch the life drain from himself as he lay in a field in France in 1940. Tub tried to scream but there was no sound anymore. His vision of himself on the ground grew fainter and fainter until it turned into white light. Then, contradictorily, it turned black. There was nothing and there was no more and no Tub.

It was 8:30 PM that Saturday evening when Letty and the kids pulled into the driveway at home and got out of the car. They entered the house through the garage, there was Tub’s car, Letty grazed it on the way by. It was cool to the touch, likely meaning Tub hadn’t driven it all day or left the house for that matter. Letty called for Tub as she entered the kitchen via the garage. The children raced past her and yelled for their dad. Aaron and Gina were 15 and 12 years old and deeply attached to their father. There was no answer from Tub and but when they walked into the living room there he was on the sofa. The TV was on but muted. Gina practically jumped on her dad as she gave him a hug. Meanwhile Lassoo sprinted circles around the sofa.

Tub woke up simultaneously scared shitless and deliriously happy to hold his darling daughter. Tub struggled into a sitting position with Gina draped all over him and exchanged a high five with Aaron. Then Letty gave him a hug and peck on the cheek. She’d brought home a pizza reasoning that her lazy husband would not have made anything for himself. The four of them ate in the living room and watched the second half of the Alabama-LSU game. Tub told them the sad news about Rascal Jenkins. In the back of his mind was the last dream he had. It was awful and Tub couldn’t make sense of it. Anyway it was just a dream. He was alive and well and surrounded by his family. That’s all that mattered. But, he wondered, what is this pain in my chest?

25 October 2017

I Conduct a Second Interview With My Depression and it Goes Well

I got a homework assignment from my psychiatrist. I know, seems presumptuous to me to but then again he is trying to prevent my descent into total madness and I am an obliging fellow so….The assignment is not terribly daunting, I’m to conduct a second interview with my depression. The first, which is here linked, led to some discussion betwixt doctor and I and more such discussion may help stop depression from running rough shod over me as it is want to do. Worth a shot.

Me: Thanks for sitting down with me, again.
D: Not a problem, I’m always around.
Me: I’m going to start with the big question, what do you want out of me?
D: I want you to acknowledge my power. I want you to know and to feel….
Me: For the first time your voice seems to be quavering, as if —
D: It is the magnitude of what I’m saying that —
Me: I don’t think so. You’re bluffing. You don’t know what you want or maybe even what you are.
D: I’m you! I’m in you and I am pervasive!
Me: I've struck a nerve. You’re actually quite vulnerable because you have no purpose, no soul. You’ve got no more intellect than a shark.
D: Do you really think this can work? Do you honestly believe that by putting me down you can weaken me in any way? You’re just throwing words and nonsense at me.
Me: But you’re clearly shaken.
D: That is merely your perception —
Me: Horseshit! You’re scared, your beatable. You’re not the mighty monolithic beast I’ve made you out to be.
D: Tell me something then. Are you feeling any less depressed right now?
Me: Yeah okay I’m still a little depressed, but I also feel hope. You’ve clearly been rattled and I believe you can be taken down.
D: Here’s another question: aren’t you a little bit nervous about what would replace me were you somehow able to banish me?
Me: Happiness or at least contentment….
D: You don’t seem so sure of that.
Me: I’m really just confused by the question. Why should anything replace you, you’ll just be gone.
D: Can I ever really leave?
Me: Now you’re clearly just trying to mess with me, you’ve cleverly changed the tenor of this discussion, besides, I'm supposed to be interviewing you.
D: I’m a formidable opponent.
Me: Let’s get back to the fact that you can’t answer the question regarding your purpose. I think because you’re hollow at the core, you have no self.
D: Nonsense.
Me: No, I don’t think it is. You’re a big bully who goes about trying to intimidate. There’s really nothing to you.
D: Oh there’s something to me, there’s all your pain, all those memories of your mother screaming at you, every mistake you’ve ever made lurks within me. All your dashed hopes, all the roads not taken. I’ve got plenty.
Me: That’s all true but you serve no purpose, you have no end game. There’s nothing for you, nothing for you to gain. You’ve got no destination. No meaning. Yeah, that's it, that's what you lack, meaning.
D: Oh and you do have meaning?
Me: Yes, I’ve got a family, friends, work, writing and many more experiences yet to come. You can make me suffer but you can’t have any of those things. You’re envious, you’ve got nothing.
D: You forget, my dear boy, I’ve got you.
Me: We’ll see for how much longer. I can beat you, I can rid myself of you. I don’t have to put up with you forever. You’re not as powerful as I’d thought because ultimately you have no soul.
D: Tell yourself what you want, but I aim to be here for quite some time and all your bold words can’t change that.
Me: No, but I can change that.
D: I don't think you can.
Me: I certainly aim to try and I've got a powerful new weapon to use against your emptiness. You're going down. I'm sure of it.

15 October 2017

You've Got to Know Your Limitations -- A Story of Murder and Betrayal

There was this little place on the corner where I used to like to go for coffee in the morning. Freezing cold, clear and sunny, didn’t matter, the cafe was a nice home away from home. It was small but did a brisk business, a lot of to-go orders but I always sat at the counter.

I liked to go there and read the New York Times or a novel. Sandra owned the place and she’d always be there. I mean always. Maybe sometimes she’d be in the back but only for a second. Sandra was in her mid 40s (she told me) but looked closer to 30. I don’t know how she got such a deep tan given all the time she spent in the damn cafe. It was called Sandra’s, by the way. She had several pretty young women working for her and one skinny, pale gay fella. They were all real nice and would chat with you or leave you alone as you wished. I always exchanged a few pleasantries before I started reading and before I left. I was like that.

It’s important here to add that Sandra and I had sexual relationship, I used to drop back by around closing time and that led to a lot of conversations and eventually to dinner then to the bedroom. She was divorced with no kids and I’m widowed with two who are grown. There were no strings attached, neither of us was looking for anything more than the comfort and closeness that sex provides. I supposed it could have turned into something else someday but I doubted it. We were both too jealous of our privacy. I slept with one of Sandra’s employees once but Sandra found out and got mad. Not because she claimed any ownership over me but because the woman in question was damn near 35 years my junior. I’m 57 but like Sandra I look a lot younger. That’s what people tell me anyway.

I’m retired. I was a professor (English literature) at Colombia for 25 years but three years ago gave it up when I got a sizable inheritance. My wife Edna had died a year earlier from cancer and my heart wasn’t in teaching anymore and with money no longer a concern I just  decided to take it easy for once in my life. I’d worked myself pretty hard, not only teaching but writing. I’ve had a lot of book reviews published as well as scholarly papers on various writers and such. People ask me why I haven’t written a novel but the truth is I just don’t have it in me. You’ve got to know your limitations.

Mostly in those day I just liked to go to the gym, the theater, movies, museums and sip coffee at Sandra’s.

Anyway all of this so far has been preamble to my main story which is about how I killed a guy.  The murder took place about three months ago and the police have no leads so it’s highly likely I’ll ever be suspected let alone indicted.

It’s really a simple story. Logan Ellsworth was Sandra’s lover back when she lived upstate before moving to New York city and opening her cafe. This is all after her divorce. The fling with Logan was one of those rebound relationships for both of them him, Logan having just broken up with his long time girlfriend. As Sandra tells it they were pretty hot and heavy for a couple of months but Sandra cooled off  because other than sex they had zero in common and he seemed to be falling for her. The break up was amicable enough at the time and all seemed forgotten when Sandra took her divorce settlement and moved to the big city.

It was years later that Ellsworth called her out of the blue and said he’d moved to New York and suggested they get together for old times’s sake. Sandra figured why not and invited him to her cafe. According to Sandra they had a nice chat about their few mutual friends and the berg they’d lived in but when it was time for good-bye-nice-catching-up-with-ya, Ellsworth asked if she’d like to go to dinner and the theater some night. Sandra told him point blank that she wasn’t interested. “I enjoyed our time together but it’s pretty clear we’re not meant to be together,” she told him. Logan looked crestfallen, she said, but he said he understood, gave her a peck on the cheek and left. That seemed that.

A couple of days later Ellsworth called and asked if she’d changed her mind. Sandra thought this odd, not to mention annoying, and told him that no she hadn’t and was busy and hung up. He called again two days later and asked Sandra if she’s checked her mail. No and what the hell was he asking for? Just take a look at the envelope from me and call me at the number on the slip of paper, he told her. Sandra hung up thinking Logan Ellsworth had gone off his rocker. A few hours later the mail came and she ripped into this big manilla envelope that just had Logan Ellsworth for a return address. Inside there was the slip of paper with a phone number on it and several pictures of Sandra in the nude.

Sandra was beside herself, for one thing she didn’t ever remember the pictures being taken nor any pictures of her naked ever being taken. After calming down she called Logan and angrily asked him where the photos came from and what he wanted. Logan reminded her of a time they had been drinking margaritas and they woke up the next morning with hellacious hangovers and little memory of the night before. Well, he told her, “I wasn’t nearly as smashed as you were and I decided a photo session was in order. There’s also video of me having my way with you.”

“So what do you want?” Sandra asked.

“The question is,” he replied, “what do you want? Do you want to start up with me again like we were before or do you want me to send the photos and videos around or do you want to give me $10,000? Three choices, not bad.”

Sandra was stunned. She was living an idyllic life and it had been shattered by this bastard who had taken advantage of her. One night of excessive drinking was all it had taken. All of Ellsworth’s choices were unacceptable. The very idea of so much as touching him made her nauseous. Friends and family seeing the type of pictures he had was beyond humiliating. The $10,000 was doable but it would hurt her bank account a little and her pride a lot. Plus what guarantee did she have he wouldn’t come back later for more money?

“I need to think about this for a bit, Logan,” Sandra finally said.

“Understandable. I’ll check back with you in 48 hours but I’ll want an answer then. And if you don’t mind I’d like to suggest that rekindling our affair is your best option.”

“Thanks for the tip, Logan,” Sandra answered sarcastically and then hung up.

That night I was alone in the cafe with Sandra at closing time helping her clean up when she dropped a bowl. It crashed on the floor and shattered and Sandra broke into tears.

“Goodness me, Sandra, it’s just a bowl,” I said light heartedly. But Sandra continued weeping. I sat her down and she told me the about Logan. She was being blackmailed so I suggested contacting the police. “I can’t do that. Logan promised that if he got so much as a whiff of the cops, let alone was arrested his brother would sent out the pictures and video.

That night I tossed and turned for a good two hours, too angry at the scumbag to sleep. Eventually I did doze off and slept deeply for six hours. When I woke up I decided that the only course of action was to kill Logan Ellsworth.

It was easy enough to justify. This was a horrible man who was ruining the life of a sweet, loving woman. It was entirely probable that he was similarly ruining other lives, or would if given the chance. The world would be improved just a bit by his death and would be the worse for his continued existence. Besides, I realized I was falling in love with Sandra. I doubted anything would come from it but I’d do anything for her. Mind you, I'd killed once before, in Vietnam but had never imagined a scenario, other than self defense, that would prompt me to do it again. Love is a pretty powerful drug. With drugs you've got to know your limitations, I knew mine.

Over breakfast I concocted a plan. I had a gun that my brother gave me years ago. I’d taken it reluctantly and it had been in the back of a closet ever since. Now it was going to be put to use. I’d break into his apartment, shoot the bastard and make it look like like a robbery. I wouldn’t be a suspect because there was no connection between us. All I’d need was for Sandra to get his address which of course meant that she’d have to agree to the plan. I wasn’t sure if she would.

To my mild surprise Sandra was enthusiastic about me killing Ellsworth. “It’ll be easy, I’ll tell Logan that I’ve decided that I'll have sex with him again. Then I’ll suggest we rendezvous at his place and he’ll give me his address. Simple.”

I said that she’d have to make the first “date” a few days off so I could, as they say in the movies, “case the joint.”  I wanted to do the deed before Sandra was forced to follow through on her promise.

“Are you sure you can go through with this? You don’t exactly strike me as the criminal type.”

“No I guess I’m not but the way I feel about this jerk will help me overcome any second thoughts. I’d do anything for you, Sandra. I've killed before, albeit in war time, but I can do it again -- for you.”

“Goodness, you’re not falling in love with me, are you?”

I couldn’t tell if she was teasing, or concerned, or hopeful.

To be safe I replied, “I love you Sandra, as I do many others, falling in love is a purely romantic notion and I…” Here my voice trailed off and I could only look at Sandra helplessly.

“You don’t have to say anything more. You didn’t have to say anything in the first place. We’re in a good enough place together without putting labels on it.”

I was never so nervous in my life as I was the night I killed a man in cold blood. The plan was simple. Around the time Sandra was to pay Logan his first visit I’d knock on his apartment door. When he answered I’d stick the gun in his face and tell him to back into the apartment. Once he was in I’d shoot him in the chest. The noise wouldn't be a problem because the apartments were new and Ellsworth was the first tenant on his floor. After doing the deed I’d ransack the place to make it look like it had been a robbery.

Everything went as planned. Ellsworth opened, I pointed the gun, he walked backwards into the apartment and I got ready to pull the trigger. “What the hell man, there’s no need to shoot me, take whatever you want!” The poor guy was in tears and shaking like crazy. “This is for what you’re trying to do to Sandra!” I said loudly and theatrically. There was a second before I pulled the trigger and Ellsworth had a quizzical look on his face. “My why —” he managed to get out before I shot him. Then I gave the place a good going over.

I was exhilarated. I’d taken a man’s life but it had been a bad man and I’d killed him for a good reason. Love for Sandra surged through my body. I did wonder what he was starting to say. “My” for sure, then either “why” or the beginning of a word like “white” or “wine” or “wife.” None of them made sense. I struggled with not caring what he was going to say and being oddly curious. What did it matter what the bastard was going to say? But I couldn’t help but wonder….

I was finishing up when I decided that to make it look good I should take any money in his wallet. He had a big thick wallet with a fair amount of cash, I grabbed all of it. Then I looked at his identification and credit cards. Much to my shock they all had the same name: Peter Lescher.
Lescher was Sandra’s last name.

All the adrenaline that had been coursing through me stopped cold. I felt devoid of blood, of life, of meaning. I felt like an empty vessel with sorrow and despair flowing through.

“My wife…” was clearly what the man — who was not named Ellsworth,  if there was ever such a person — was starting to say when I took his life.

Maybe Peter Lescher was the worst human being on the planet, a man who deserved death. But maybe he was a perfectly innocent victim, a man who’d never harmed a fly.  Maybe I’d been used.

Gradually the shock was joined by anger and that anger was directed squarely at Sandra. She’d set me up to kill. But why? I aimed to find out.

I walked the ten blocks to Sandra’s apartment. I pounded on the door and when there was no answer shouted her name. Then I went down to the cafe to see if she was hanging our there but it was closed up tight.

I never saw Sandra again.

The next month was a nightmare. I was in a constant state of depression. A depression that throbbed like a migraine. I ate little, showered rarely, went nowhere and saw no one. There had been a story in the papers about the murder. The victim was Peter Lescher from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who’d been in town on business. He was subletting the apartment for a month. Lescher was survived by his wife Sandra and their three children. Three children! The story mentioned that he was separated from his wife but said nothing of divorce and certainly nothing about her being in New York and not a word about her setting up some poor sap to kill her husband.  I did a google search and found that Lescher was an upstanding citizen involved in various civic enterprises and that in addition to his work as a financial consultant he invested in real estate. Lescher was also his sons’ little league coach and active  in the PTA. This is the man I shot in the chest.

Suicide seemed a reasonable out. I’d lost a lover and she’d turned out to be as far removed from the person I thought I knew as is imaginable. I’d killed a man. A good man. It’s true that Sandra had set me up, but I’d pulled the trigger. Even if he had been Logan Ellsworth and done everything Sandra described I had no right to be his executioner. What the hell was I thinking? I could never again sleep soundly, I could never go a day without thinking about Peter Lescher. I could never not think of myself as a murderer.

I could have turned myself in and a certain justice would be done but I was miserable enough as a “free man” I didn’t need prison bars when I was imprisoned in my own hell.

The depression has never left but it did finally ease up enough that my anger toward Sandra came bubbling to the surface. I became obsessed with her real story and so hired the best private investigator I could find, a man by the name of Seth Dervish. I told him the whole story, omitting my part in the murder, suggesting that she’d done the deed or perhaps had a confederate.

A months later Dervish reported back to me. Sandra Lescher (nee Hopkins) had been married to Peter for 15 seemingly happy years when she suddenly skipped town a few years ago. Sandra had done some work for her husband and before leaving pilfered about $200,000 in investor money. She also raided their savings account. Sandra came to New York and opened her cafe. It took awhile before Peter tracked her down and when he did he offered to take her back with no repercussions for her thievery.  When her husband was killed, Sandra went back to Milwaukee and stayed with her family long enough to collect on Peter’s life insurance policy. Then she cleaned out more of the family money and — without the slightest regard for her three children — took off again. Dervish tracked her to San Francisco but believed that once there she bought a new identity.

Today I'm packing a bag and catching a flight for San Francisco. Once there I aim to track down Sarah. When I do I'll kill again but this time I'll know for a fact that the person whose life I'm taking deserves to die.  Yes, I feel like I'm in a 1940s film noir and I probably won't get away with this murder and I'll probably spend  the rest of my days behind bars, but the only way I can square killing Peter Lescher is by taking out the real cause of his death. You've got to know your limitations and I'm just getting acquainted with mine.

11 October 2017

Virgil in the Rain With a Gun

Virgil stood on the corner of Virginia and Grove streets in the pouring rain with a gun dangling from his right hand. His head was bowed, his shoulders slumped, but his legs were firm and spread the perfect distance to assure maximum balance.

I had just gotten out of Nicky Johnson’s VW Beetle having recognized Virgil as we drove by. I was no more than ten feet from him. I opened my umbrella before doing anything else then took a step toward him and said, “hey there Virgil, what’s going on?”

He turned slowly and looked at me as if I just interrupted something important. His frown held firm and his eyes squinted but he said nothing.

“Whatchya doin’ and what’s with the gun? Need a ride?” The rain was coming down harder. Virgil wiped some from his forehead. He was soaking wet. The gun just dangled. Cold, dark and wet.

Still he said nothing.

It was the part of dusk when it's getting darker every second.

“You okay, buddy? What’s up?”

I’d known Virgil since we were in the first grade together. He’d always been the sweetest, gentlest guy in the world. Everyone liked him and he seemed to have it all. He came from a successful, loving, tight-knit family of seven. Virgil was the middle of the five children and his siblings were just as nice as Virgil and as smart too. Virgil was always a straight A student and a good athlete and popular with the girls. One other thing about Virgil was that he was loquacious and could and would talk about any topic under the sun but without dominating conversations. All this is to say that what I was witnessing was not only bizarre behavior but totally out of character for Virgil.

Eventually he broke into a half smile and said softly, “hi Graham.” Virgil looked like he was actively, physically looking for the words to say next but couldn’t find them. Finally, he just shrugged his shoulders. Then looked toward the VW where Nicky, who’d been driving, was getting out on the driver’s side. Nicky put on a hooded, yellow raincoat that was too small for him. Approaching us he asked, “so Virgil, dude, what’s going on, man?” That was Nicky, littering his speech with dude and man, and other words that made him sound more hippie than the boy genius that he was. Nicky had been accepted to Harvard as a sophomore but decided he didn’t want to deprive himself of the full high school experience. We were all seniors at Berkeley High.

Virgil didn’t respond to Nicky so I tried. “What’s happening, Virgil?”

Virgil looked straight down, his shoulders hunched forward, he emitted a great sigh. Then his head snapped up and he said, “isn’t it weird how you two are trying to act all normal and not saying anything about the fact that I have a gun or that I’m standing outside in the pouring rain? I mean, let’s be honest. I’m sure you’re curious.”

“Okay dude,” Nicky said the lightness gone from his voice, “what’s with the gun?”

Virgil took the gun in both hands and, standing perfectly erect, pointed it at the space between where Nicky and I were standing as if he were aiming at a target. “Pow, pow,” he said still holding the gun.

I don’t know why but I wasn’t scared. As strange as Virgil was acting I knew him well enough to believe with all my heart that he wasn’t going to do Nicky or I any harm. He just pointed the gun into the distance occasionally saying “pow, pow” in a soft voice.

“Dude, maybe,” Nicky finally suggested, “you should put the gun away. Someone might see you pointing it and call the cops, or for that matter a cop might come along.”

Virgil looked at Nicky and smiled obligingly, lowering the gun to his side, but then quickly raised it again and put the barrel in his mouth.

“What the fuck, Virg?” I said a little too excitedly. Nicky, meanwhile, remained calm and said, “cut the shit, man, what are you trying to prove?”

Again Virgil put the gun to his side. The wind picked up and neither umbrellas nor raincoats was going to keep any of his dry. Didn’t matter to Virgil, he was soaked to the bone. We just stared at him and he stared straight into the distance.

“Graham, man, I’m getting wet and cold, let’s get the hell out of here and leave Virgil to his fate, whatever the hell that is.” I could tell Nicky didn’t really want to split, he was trying to get a rise out of Virgil, but I could also tell that Virgil was not about to fall for any mind games. The proof followed when Virgil said, “yeah, what about I see you guys later, no use you hanging around here getting wet. Plus it's a goddamned school night.”

That was the first time I’d ever heard Virgil swear, it was damn near as shocking as seeing him with the gun.

“Dude, Virgil Morton cussing, I never thought I’d live to see the day, man. This really is a special occasion. Come on, Virgil let’s go to Oscar’s and get a burger and fries and talk things out.”

“No dice, Nicky. Anyway, I’m not hungry,” Virgil replied.

I’d been growing increasingly irritated with the whole scene. I had a raging alcoholic mother at home, an emotionally absent father and a brother fighting in Vietnam, so emotionally I was always pretty strung out and ready to snap. I’d held it together because it was Virgil and he was a stable influence in my life. He was one of the last people on earth I needed to see wig out so I wanted to believe this would all be over soon with a simple and logical explanation. But it kept stretching out and I couldn’t take it.

“Enough!” I yelled. “This bullshit has gone on long enough. For crying out loud Virgil, tell us what the hell you’re doing with that gun and come in out of the rain. This is just too fucked up and it’s not right and it's not you.”

Virgil turned to me and he pointed the gun at his temple and pulled the trigger. There was a loud click. “The first chamber is empty the rest have bullets in them,” he said calmly. “I’m thinking of putting one of the bullets through my head so that I’ll be dead. Clear enough?” I couldn’t believe how calm he was and how matter of factly he spoke. He was staring straight at me, eyes locked to mine as if to demonstrate how serious he was.

“But why?” I asked meekly.

“You’ve no idea what goes on in my brain. That’s all I’ve gotta say to you or to Nicky or anyone else. I really appreciate your concern but you can’t be any part of this anymore. I need to sort this out myself.”

“But you can’t kill yourself,” I pleaded.

“The hell I can’t. If that’s what I decide to do — ”

Virgil was so focused on me that he hadn’t noticed Nicky who’d snuck behind him, the wind and rain being perfect covers for his stealth. Nicky grabbed the pistol and with the element of surprise easily wrested it away from Virgil. He ran up the street half a block and tossed the gun on the roof of a house.

Virgil stood helplessly and started to sob. It had all happened so fast. The situation was diffused but now Virgil was crying his eyes out.

Nicky led him by the arm to the VW and I followed. Nicky forced Virgil into the passenger seat and I got in the back. Virgil was steadily sobbing. “I’ll take you home dude, if you wanna talk a little bit first you can.”

“You're not going to tell my parents about this, are you?”

“It’s none of our business to say anything to anybody, but listen dude, you’re going to need to talk to somebody about this.”

Nicky started to drive, it was only a few blocks to Virgil’s house. We took a right turn on Hearst when out of nowhere a station wagon came fishtailing toward us. Nicky tried to swerve his VW stalled. The station wagon slammed right into the front of the VW. Nicky was killed instantly. Virgil died in the hospital that night, never having regained consciousness after the crash. I came away with a broken collarbone and a fractured wrist.


We were seniors in high school seniors four months from graduation. Nicky was finally going to go to Harvard and Virgil had been accepted at Cal on a football scholarship. I was headed for a state college.

I’ve lived with the remembrance of that night for 47 years. Sure I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories of growing up with Virgil but I’m haunted by that night and the unbelievability of him thinking of offing himself and of his being tortured by demons. There’d never been a clue. Afterwards, I didn’t discuss it with it his family. It never seemed my place. Whether they knew about the gun and whatever was torturing him I’ll never know. What’s the point talking about it?

I remember Nicky too and how cooly he handled the situation, disarming Virgil so neatly. Of course I think of the lost potential of Nicky who everyone agreed was headed for great things. How could he not be with a brain that mastered calculus as a high school freshman and had understood basic economics in junior high.

The mystery of Virgil’s behavior and the accident added to the misery I lived with at home and made escape to college even more welcome. Of course I couldn’t bury those feelings with distance so I took quite quickly to the drinking scene at college and later delved into drugs. I managed to graduate and get a job but it was years before I was able to straighten myself out through 12 step programs and psychotherapy.

Certain pains never go away. I think of Virgil spending his last moments, crying uncontrollably over a torment known only to him. I think of Nicky doing a good deed and dying in the process. I think of how weird and unfair and cruel and capricious life is. I think about Virgil and Nicky and never make sense of it.  Maybe I'm not supposed to.