Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Christmas Eve at my Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul's in Ann Arbor, the same Christmas Eve with the Cullen's that I remember so fondly from my childhood years, all of my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered to celebrate with presents and food and beer and the warmth of a big Irish Catholic family, the only difference now that there is a new generation of Cullen's tumbling through the house and tearing open presents and that all of us are much older now, wiser and more broken in our own secret individual ways. My cousin Robert is in town, and he tells us stories of his latest adventures to Rio de Janeiro and Thailand and Cape Town; I realize that I have become the other guy -- the one who settles for a job and a dull routine in a nowhere town just so he can buy some groceries -- feel sad. Afterwards I go over to my cousin Frank's condo to watch the game, fantasy football championship on the line -- quality cousin bonding time, the closest kin I have.

Christmas morning at Mom and Dad's in Millwood. Like always, I feel strangely sad returning to Millwood, a sadness that I feel when I look into the woods of our boyhood summers and when I see my dog Rudy getting older and when I see different families in houses I used to know and when I have to leave again. Presents under the tree, John Denver's Christmas album playing on the stereo -- my namesake -- 1st edition Hemingway Death in the Afternoon(!) Get a text from Caitlin: the surprise destination of our trip with her family is to Cuba. Long drive to Clarkston for Christmas dinner with the girlfriend's family, thinking about Christmastime three years ago, when I was going through alcohol withdrawals and I missed Christmas altogether. Seems like a long time ago.

Toronto. Fight in the lobby of Mississauga Hilton. No sleep. Stay up late reading Kerouac in the internet cafe, listen to two young black Canadians discuss their plans to set up a shelter for at risk black youth; listen to three late-twentyish Canadian Muslims discuss the theories of evolution and religion in earnest, and I feel proud to be part of the world for a brief moment in time, proud of diversity and multicultural harmony. Three a.m. wake up call. Pound a red bull, shuttle to airport, in the sky over Buffalo and Pittsburgh and Georgia and Orlando and finally the Keys, over the blue-green waters of the Caribbean and over the red dirt junglelands of Latin America.

Havana. La Floridita -- the bar where my Hemingway began the final draft of "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Eat fried chicken in a backyard restaurant with live chickens walking around the patio picking up scraps, wonder if they're for dinner tonight. Happy to drink two Coca Cola's after sipping on Cuban soda most of the week. Morro Castle, a huge eighteenth century fort where the Cubans used to fight off pirates. Must have found some of Hemingway's muse at La Floridita, spend half the night writing in the poolside bar under the moonlight (forgot to pack my Benadryl). Following morning is day on the catamaran: swim with dolphins, dock at an island for lunch, wade into the clear blue ocean with white sands. Lots of easy time with the girlfriend. I remember the joy in life for the first time in what's felt months, another mini-depression having plagued me for almost all of November and December, it seemed.

New Year's Eve, watching the College Football Playoff in one of the rooms in the resort, surrounded by Spartans: NYE consequently another bust, but it's always been overrated in my book anyways. Last years new years resolution: write one chapter per month. This years new years resolution: write one chapter per month.

Wake up at the crack of dawn on New Year's Day, feeling the old familiar nerves of gameday. Eat breakfast by myself; take a stroll through the resort; swim a few laps in the pool, listening to the fat married couple from Edmonton (Canadians everywhere), smiling deep down because all my life I've loved Canada and Canadians and their mannerisms and non-confrontational worldviews; walk the beach in the early morning hours, getting high off the anticipation of my beloved Michigan Football gamedays. Check the hotel TV: no luck. Find my way to a secret hidden internet cafe to illegally stream the Michigan game on pre-purchased Wifi cards. Chickened out of trying to sneak my dip into Cuba (couldn't decide whether or not I wanted to confide in my girlfriend's parents that I was in fact a tobacco user) and the one tin I carried on was now down to about two heavily recycled pouches, so I snuck into the gift shop that morning to buy a pack of Cuban cigarettes. Five minutes to gametime, head to the huge marble patio in front of the lobby to smoke my pregame cigarette, imagining myself some Cuban drug lord looking off from his plantation veranda over the vibrant green and red dirt farming fields of sun-scorched Cuba.

41-7. Feel guilty for having ever doubted Jake Rudock; excited about the future with Harbaugh.

Reading Kerouac's Visions of Cody by the pool, much of which is direct transcriptions from audio tapes between Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady, the beat hero of On the Road, while they smoke "T," and sitting under the Carribean sun by the pool I get high right there with Neil and Jack, and no one else on that pool deck knows I'm high but me. Whenever I read Kerouac, I wonder how he knows my soul, knows it on a level that is almost spooky; daydream whether I was him in a past life.

Restless nights in my poorly air-conditioned hotel room (shared it with my girlfriend's brother Brendan) (TV is broken(!)(!)) reading more Kerouac, or going down to the poolside bar where I would go back in my head to the year 2005, the last year before I left home for the first time, transcribing memories on notebook paper while somewhere in the distance a Cuban cover band plays Sweet Child of Mine.

Back to reality. Want to shoot myself in the face within a half hour of being back at the office. Time to write -- escape this two-horse world for a while.

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