Wednesday, June 26, 2013


It's hard to believe it's been three years since my Indian summer in Petoskey's great northwoods. On the bright side, I feel like I'm finally able to write about it with a disconnected vantage point - which is a long way from where I was last summer; whatever happened in my personal life will never be able to take away from the beauty of my Northern Michigan experience and the special spot in my heart the place holds. This is a piece about Petoskey for a larger piece of writing I'm currently working on:

My college sweetheart awoke me with a gentle kiss on the forehead, the type of kiss when you are in love that makes you feel as safe as you’ll ever be. I stretched my arms and yawned, half-smiling in my content as the daylight broke in through the blinds of the sliding glass door that led out to that wooden deck at the feet of the dark Northern woods behind the house. I curled up in the now expansive comforter, reaching my arm over the vacant impression in the bed where her body had been.

When I finally awoke the woodpecker was already busy at work at the large oak in the backyard, my girlfriend gone to another day’s work at the tourist restaurant in town, and the house quiet in the way that houses in the woods get in the early day – not even a creak in the wooden walls. I nibbled on an English muffin in the lonely breakfast nook, reading about some local hero pictured on the front page of the small-town paper. I scrubbed the dishes left behind by her breakfast with lemon dish soap, feeling like some retired old man or a housewife with the kids gone off to summer camp. The bathroom mirror, fortunately, reminded me that I was still, in fact, a younger man with a lot of life before me – disasters far from my wildest dreams still looming in life, joys unfathomable to a 22 year old man still awaiting. I ran my toothbrush under the faucet and brushed my teeth – the flavors of mint and well water reminding me of the taste of Up North – with renewed enthusiasm for my daily hike. 

The driveway winded for a quarter mile through the front woods and heaps of dead autumn leaves, gone unnoticed for years. Out past the neighborhood drive on Hunter’s Ridge, a hilly, country road stretched for miles of wood and farm land, its hilly crescents rising and falling like concrete tidal waves. The gargantuan northern white pines towered above either side of the road– the great red cedar trunks like enormous pillars, and the bows of pine branches up in the air, perching atop the tree like the bald eagle, the king of the northern Michigan woods. Only a sliver of blue sky appeared above the road, the leafy branches above enclosing the road in a canopy. I walked along the edge of the road, feeling the soft, pillowy bedding of pine leaves beneath my feet, the smell of mint and spruce wafting upwards. The great, lonesome hawks floated high above, peering down from a soft blue sky in search of potential prey – chipmunks scurrying across the forest floor, garter snakes peeking out of holes in the earth, field mice hiding beneath the floorboards of hunting shacks. And down the road, in the distance, the trees opened up to reveal the vast lake, water calm and stainless – Walloon Lake in all its pristine Hemingway glory.

Walking down that two-lane country road, Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” tucked underneath my arm, old cabin whiskey in a coffee mug in hand, I looked between the tree trunks for Nick Adams’ ghost, thinking he might be dashing along a trail with his young Indian Pochahontas, or toting his beebee gun at his side, creeping carefully over fallen, rotting tree branches, or laying up against a tree – straw hat draped over his eyes, napping and dreaming of  the Last Good Country. You could feel his spirit up there in the great Northern Michigan woods. It was a calming presence. I felt as far away as possible from Detroit and Ann Arbor, the worries of the day left all those miles behind in Southeastern Michigan. Up here, it was as if the industrial revolution had never happened.

At the lake I walked down the wooden boardwalk steps to the rocky beach shore, Petoskey stones hidden in the puzzle of century-old stones and pebbles, and looked out across the lake to the Scots pines watching over the lake on the other side. Small cottages – secluded log cabins and pastel yellow and pink summer homes – stood at the far side of the lake, hidden between the shade of the pines. I picked up a smooth, flattened stone and hurled it side-armed at Waloon’s glossy surface. The stone hit the surface and skipped three times, creating ripples in the steel canvas, before falling to the depths of the lake amongst the murky seaweed and wise old Trout lurking there.

I looked up from the clean black and white pages of my book, tucked a feather in between the pages as a bookmark, and listened to the cicadas buzzing from the trees – the soundtrack of that summer. I took a look at Walloon spread out before me and thought about the previous years, not feeling like college was over at all but that come autumn my best friends and I would be back together at the college house, preparing in the early hours for a football Saturday tailgate. I knew college was over, but I didn’t feel it. I was blissfully unaware of what would happen come autumn. At any rate, it didn’t seem to matter; breathing in that clean, summer air, it felt like the days never changed up there in the north woods.

I brushed an ant off of the hairs of my leg and watched him disappear into the jungle of the blades of grass underneath me. I took a long sip of whiskey out of my coffee mug, a ceramic white mug with the Michigan black bear printed in black across the front, and swallowed hard, feeling the elixir work its magic through my upper chest. I stared into the puddle of rusted brown in the coffee cup, feeling like an old man. The previous year had left me drained. The sweet burn of the whiskey brought back a lot of those memories – not of things I had done but of things I had failed to do, wasted hours and frustrated moments and opportunities forever lost because Time had eaten so much of my life and I would never get it back.

I said my silent goodbyes to Walloon and began the long trek up the country road back. Walloon behind me, Petoskey and Lake Michigan hidden below the horizon a dozen miles ahead of me, the sky suddenly turned a shade of gray that foretold of rain. I climbed up the first crescent on my way home, hastening my pace. Amidst the northern woods, the forgiving North sky above me – it was easy to see why Hemingway had chosen this place to heal his wounds when he returned to America from the great war, his skin tattered and his psyche in ruins. The Mexicans say that the Pacific Ocean has no memory. If the Mexicans ever saw Northern Michigan, I think they might say the same thing about this place. As I looked into the deep woods, darkening even more so as storm clouds billowed overhead, I got the feeling this was a place where you could lose yourself in more ways than one.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Too much thinking and too much aching
has put a big strain on my pride
I'm tired of drinking and I'm tired of taking her memory for a ride
I used to think that yesterday, we knew how to spend the time
Then I found out it was her way, of killing hers and wasting mine
And now I know that I should tell her, all that tears are gonna get her is wet
But you know I can't cause she's the best forever yet
And now I know that she don't miss me while she's doing whatever she does
And I know that she wouldn't call me if she knew where I was, even if she knew where I was
And now I know that I still miss her and I'm trying real hard to forget
And I wish somebody new was the best forever yet
I wish somebody new was the best forever yet

- Reckless Kelly, Best Forever Yet

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The 20 Types of Depressed Sports Fans: A Biography

As unhealthily attached sports fans are wont to do, I've oft correlated sports moments with the trajectory of my own life. The big moments in my life all have a sports moment they go hand-in-hand with. When I first moved away from home: watching the miraculous Tigers World Series run in the fall of 2006 in the dorms with my new college friends. The end of college? The debilitating loss to Ohio State my senior year, and sitting in Michigan Stadium afterwards in the freezing cold wondering where the time had went. When my teams are on a hot streak or in the midst of a championship run, it seems things in my own personal life are going well too. More often however, it seems that the bad losses and the dreadful seasons eerily coincide with the streaks of depression in my life - the utter low points. It begs the question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The intersection of sports and life: healthy fans probably never mingle with those streets. But I ventured into the realm of unhealthy sports fan long ago, and I spend a lot of time pining at the corner intersection of sports and life. Maybe it's true that it's merely a symptom of the fact that I feel better about myself when my teams are winning. And, correlatively, that I tend to sink into the introspective blues when my teams aren't performing the way I had pictured it all. That, of course, would be the logical explanation. Sometimes the correlation between sports and life is too coincidental - too spookily similar - for me to believe anything but the superstitious explanation.

Grantland recently published a piece entitled The 20 Types of Depressed Sports Fans, which I read as a sort of evolutionary biography on my fandom. I've probably been just about every type of depressed fan on the list at one time or another. But, for the most part, I've graduated from punching holes in the wall's after losses (#1 on the list), and now would consider myself more the "Fan who suddenly has to go for a walk" (number #17 on the list). Some of the most prominent types of depressed fan I've been through the years:

1. The Fan that Punches a Hole in the Wall

For most of my year in Chicago, solitarily holed up studying law in my tenth floor apartment that desolately looked out above the bustling city streets, the massive skyline, and the lake in the distance, a hole that had been kicked in on my door symbolized the empty feeling epitomized by that apartment. Transitioning from the fruitful world of my ungergrad days at Michigan to the much more complex lifestyle of my post-grad Chicago existence, the hole stood as a constant reminder of the transitory blues that kept me unhappy during those days.

Much like myself - it's impossible to deny the correlation between life and sports, here - Michigan football was struggling with the transitory blues as well. The complacent yet comfortable Lloyd Carr era had ceased, and in his vacated throne sat a West Virginia man - not a Michigan man, importantly - who for his transitory struggles may as well have been a backwoods West Virginia hick amidst the white collar Michigan alumni base. Rich Rodriguez had installed a high-octane offense unprecedented in the midwestern world of Big Ten country, but his scheme notably lacked the meat and potatoes of Big Ten ball: defense and trench warfare.

I stumbled in from one of those autumn Saturdays out at the Michigan bar in downtown Chicago, brimming with too much liquor for a man no longer in the carefree bliss of undergrad. I kicked, or punched - I don't know which - a hole in my bedroom door in one of my sports-triggered self-loathing moments. This would have been a perfectly acceptable action back at my college house; in fact, it was routine to throw liquor bottles at the cement walls in that college basement after a particularly bad loss. What I didn't grasp then, though, was that college was over. It was time to grow up. But my mindset had not yet caught up with the rapidly changing world around me. Nor, for that matter, had Rich Rodriguez caught up with the changing landscape around him. The both of us were setting ourselves up for imminent disaster.

4. The Superstitious Fan

College summers passed by like a brook through a forest: time standing still, hot and serene, idling leisurely by. There was limited work to be done, a more calm presence in Ann Arbor with most of the students gone home, and an abundance of leisure time. The days moseyed by without a care in the world: sun-bathing in the front lawn with some tunes playing from the stereo, full-day keg parties at the fraternity houses next door just out of sheer boredom, walks around campus in the heat, grilling out and playing cornhole at the neighbors', and lots of lazy days watching crappy movies sweating in the living room while whatever fans left in the house failed to cool us down. There was such an abundance of time that we almost believed it would never end.

Like it is to a drug addict, an abundance of time for a sports fan is playing with fire. Time to dwell on bad losses, time to over analyze a bad call or a bad bounce from last game, and, worst of all, time to anticipate the next looming game. The college summers when the Red Wings went to back to back Stanley Cups, there were whole days for those of us who stuck around the college house to prep for the night's Wings playoff game. Often the drinking commenced early, yet slow: beers with cornhole and a barbeque early on, followed by beers in the evening to calm our nerves in the late afternoon, and then the worst time of all for a sports fan: the hour or two before the big game. That hour or two prior to the game was when we lubed ourselves up with liquor, jacking up our excitement levels, blasting the stereo and mentally preparing ourselves - as if we were in the locker room gearing up to take the ice.

A superstitious ritual developed in those summer days and in those hours just prior to puck drop. Forties of malt liquor, a bottom shelf bottle of vodka, and a cheap 2 liter of Faygo soda as mixer were purchased at the liquor store, jerseys were thrown on, we grabbed our lucky mugs (novelty mugs purchased at the Salvation Army, i.e. the Tazmanian Devil mug I had during the '08 Cup) and we plopped ourselves in front of the one television set with a built-in VCR to consume yet another viewing of the '97 Hockeytown Stanley Cup video. And if we really wanted to jack ourselves up for a game, the adderall was crushed up and in no time we were walking on airs with liquor and speed flowing in our veins. In those back-to-back Cup years, I rarely missed a pregame viewing of that VHS; by the time the '09 Cup was over, I could recite the video on demand. "In the early nineteen-nineties the Wings seemed to assemble a team that could challenge for the Cup, but the following seasons only brought more heartbreak"; "This is the Stanley Cup, and you do what you have to do to survive". By game time, we were ready.

5. The "How?" Fan

When you're young and away at college, you naively and pretentiously feel like you rule the world around you. That things will never change, that the world outside your campus matters not, that not an issue in the world pertains to you. Nothing paints the picture of that naive pretense better than the image of myself, clad in fraternity-themed oxford shirt and school colors tie, pounding a cheap beer while standing on the ledge of my massive fraternity house on State Street, towering over the tailgate scene spread out before me on the fraternity lawn.

Things were perfect for me. I grew up a privileged Catholic school boy in suburbia, enrolled at a prestigious university and my dream school in Ann Arbor, had coasted by my first collegiate year while making new friends and partying every weekend, and now congregated with the university's elite as I lived in a fraternity mansion and mingled with equally privileged sorority girls at mixers at massive fraternity parties. The pinnacle of those days, of course, was the football Saturday's, when the entire campus put aside academia for a morning and flocked towards State Street in pursuit of the liquor that flowed through that street from one pre-party to the next.

We were the sophomore live-ins at the fraternity house, believing full-well that we ruled the fraternity social scene. We held a monopoly on the pillared ledge that towered above the rest of the scene - making room of course for any sorority girls wishing to dance alongside us up there, hoarding our own personal liquor bottles and freely dispensing beers to anyone who asked. Moreover, Michigan seemed primed for a special season - maybe even with a Rose Bowl birth awaiting us down the road. During that first tailgate as a sophomore, everything seemed within our grasp. What could go wrong?

But hours later, after the game known to Michigan fans as the game that will not be spoken of, everything had crumbled. Michigan had somehow blown a game to a team half the campus had never heard of, and afterwards the pregame crowd had all dispersed, leaving me and a couple of others who ruled that fraternity ledge to drown our sorrows with the last sips of whatever was left from that morning's liquor bottles. Mere hours ago everything had seemed to be flawless. Yet after the game, the campus immersed in a somber and ghastly silence, everything seemed a shade of gray, and not even the prospect of a Saturday night bash could raise our spirits. The only thing left to do was to commiserate with the hard stuff, and wonder, "How?".

To be continued