Friday, September 30, 2016

Ch. 17: Hull



Chicago for me would turn gray, cold, impersonal, cruel. But in the beginning, when I was still in college, it was summertime in the Windy City, and it was very much vast and limitless. Opportunity not yet squandered. Opportunity not yet lost to the bottom of a bottle.

There’s an intern party going on in one of the dorm rooms at the University of Illinois – Chicago campus, where my fellow interns and I are staying for the duration of the Chicago-Kent Law School summer internship program, and I’m sneaking away from the party room back to my own dorm room, where I giddily line up two fresh lines of Adderall to snort off of my wooden desk, which looks out from a brick dormitory tower window to the corner of Halsted and Harrison, where the Sears Tower looms majestically above the steel skyline of great Chicago and the shores of Lake Michigan, the city lights beginning to glimmer in the falling dusk, the sun setting over the redbrick rooftops and steeple towers of Chicago. I snort both lines back to back, one for each nostril. The adderall immediately gives my veins a jolt of electricity and I pump my fists in the air like a boxer before a title fight, amping myself up for Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, a rematch of last year’s final pitting my defending champion Detroit Red Wings and the young guns of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A game seven in the Stanley Cup Finals. Doesn't get any bigger than this. Don't get scared now.

Strange as it is to be away from Detroit and Ann Arbor for Game 7 -- makes me uncomfortable in my superstition -- the whiskey and adderall alleviate the nerves and make me feel right at home. On whiskey and amphetamines Chicago seems very much conquerable.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Autumn Rains

"She began to giggle and he kissed her soundly and later took her to bed and they slept together like spoons. He remembered waking up once, listening to the wind, thinking of all the dark and rushing cold outside and all the warmth of this bed, filled with their peaceful heat under two quilts, and wishing it could be like this forever -- only nothing ever was. He had been raised to believe God was love, but you had to wonder how loving God could be when He made men and women smart enough to land on the moon but stupid enough to have to learn there was no such thing as forever over and over again."

- Stephen King, The Tommyknockers

Sunday, September 25, 2016


As I was going over the Cork and Kerry mountains
I saw Captain Farrell and his money he was counting
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier
I said stand and deliver or the devil he may take you

I took all of his money and it was a pretty penny
I took all of his money and I brought it home to Molly
She swore that she would love me, no never would she leave me
But the devil take that woman! yeah for you know she tricked me easy

Musha ring dum a doo dum a da
Whack for my daddy-o
Whack for my daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar-o

Being drunk and weary, I went to Molly's chamber
Take my money with me and I never knew the danger
For about six or maybe seven in walked Captain Farrell
I jumped up, fired off my pistols and I shot him with both barrels

Now some men like the fishing and some men like the fowling
And some men like to hear, to hear cannon ball a roaring
Me? I like sleeping, specially in my Molly's chamber
But here I am in prison! here I am with a ball and chain

Musha ring dum a doo dum a da
Whack for my daddy-o
Whack for my dadd-o
There's whiskey in the jar-o

Metallica, "Whiskey in the Jar"

Monday, September 19, 2016

Chapter 1: SAWCHUK

Writing update: After finishing up "Summer, Trader's Fall's," I transitioned back to work on the novel by making major edits to Parts I and II. Post edits, it stands at a little over 60,000 words; I figure I need to write another 30,000. I hope to finish the last couple chapters in Part II this Fall and write Part III (the ending) this Winter while holed up in the Marquette snow. As part of the editing process, I made the executive decision to make this chapter the new and current first chapter of the novel. It was previously posted as "Goose Loonies," but I think it conveys the tone and theme of the novel particularly well:



March 24, 1988 – Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan.
Hartford Whalers 3, Detroit Red Wings 2.

My old man used to say that it was the only game he missed as a season ticket holder during the 1987-88 Red Wings season. “It was the best game of the season, though, because it was the night you were born,” he used to tell me on game nights after a couple Labatt's. It was always through sports that he told me he loved me.

On the surface, it was an unremarkable regular season loss, the box score and newspaper collections in the National Hockey League archives indicating only that Hartford defeated the Red Wings 3-2 at Joe Louis Arena that night in a late season throwaway game, Detroit having already clinched the Norris Division. Russian defector and rookie phenom Petr Klima scored a goal for the Wings, bad boy Bob Probert notched an assist, and the ever-scrappy Joey Kocur amassed a whopping seventeen penalty minutes with his fists alone.

What that box score couldn’t suggest, however, was that underneath the surface, the gears of fate were turning deep within the Motor City hockey machine.

A few weeks later, before I had even left the hospital – an incision stitched halfway across my belly, I was a hospital baby in my first couple months in this world – rumors of a scandal scorched the hockey world. A couple mornings after the Red Wings had been eliminated from the 1988 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Edmonton Oilers, the sports world read the details of what would come to be known infamously in Detroit as “The Goose Loonies Incident” in the morning papers, the press hot with the details of a late night drinking incident involving six Red Wings players. Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t have merited news, but the six perpetrators happened to pull this stunt on the eve of the biggest Red Wings game of the season and perhaps even their biggest game of the nineteen eighties to date – an elimination game in the conference finals against the juggernaut Edmonton Oilers.

Three of the ringleaders turned out to be none other than Petr Klima, Joe Kocur, and Bob Probert – a was recovering alcoholic. The newspaper columnists accused the three of them of organizing an all-night drinking party at a downtown Edmonton bar called “Goose Loonies.” The Red Wings fan base, starving for a winning team, took the Goose Loonies incident personally, feeling a few bad apples had jeopardized the franchise’s best shot at a Stanley Cup in years. It was a big story in the newspapers in Stanley Cup-deprived Detroit that summer, and Goose Loonies became a household name in my neighborhood in the following days, weeks, and months. Even now, twenty-seven years later, I still come across references to the infamous Goose Loonies Incident in the sports section of the Detroit newspapers every now and then.

The oft-troubled Probert must have lost control at some point that night; I of all people should be sympathetic of an alcoholic relapse. No stranger to trouble with the law, Detroit’s notorious tough guy had famously cleaned up his act the previous offseason, and it seemed he had managed to pin down his demons for most of that 1987-88 regular season – 87-88 was Probert’s lone all star game appearance – but even one drink can be the unraveling of a recovering alcoholic. A Red Wings assistant coach found the hotel rooms of Klima, Kocur, and Probert incredulously empty at curfew check, put on his jacket, and went looking for the six missing players in the city lights of downtown Edmonton.

Meanwhile Probert and gang were still sucking down Molson’s in the whiskey hours of the Alberta night, undoubtedly under the hazy spell of Jack Daniels and Canadian women. What a buzzkill it must have been for the six of them, when, to their great infamy, the assistant coach showed up at Goose Loonies, an incredulous look on his face as he imagined what head coach Jacques DeMers would have to say about his discovery. Six Red Wings caught red-handed.

A surely hungover Probert dressed in the following evening’s Game 5 against Edmonton anyways – the Wings couldn’t afford to sit him. He accumulated a tell-tale minus three rating in a lopsided 8-4 loss to that loaded Edmonton team. Wayne Gretzky, Canada’s soon to be departed hero, scored a goal and added two assists for the hometown Oilers. Had it been a victory for Detroit, the details of the previous night might have fallen away into the great chasm of forgettable sports losses. But it was a loss, and a big one at that, so the Goose Loonies Incident would haunt the Red Wings for some time.

Like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Chicago’s “Black Sox,” the six perpetrators came to be condemned as the infamous “six” that summer, the numeral six stitched permanently onto their jerseys like damning scarlet letters. The proverbial last straw broken, the Red Wings then-coach Jacques DeMers stood shame-facedly at a podium in front of news cameras back at the Joe and issued a heartfelt public apology to Detroit fans, calling the incident a “blemish on the entire organization” and “a black cloud on the season”. Fighting back tears, DeMers apologized profusely, looking like a broken man.

DeMers’ public apology, while dramatic, masked much more volatile currents running through Detroit’s front offices. There, hot-blooded internal discussions raged behind closed curtains, Detroit’s management team discussing rehab facilities for Probert and debating the termination of some of the other perpetrators’ contracts. The fault lines beneath Hockeytown were shifting, and some of its big names from the eighties would crumble in the aftermath. The turn of the decade fast-approaching, Detroit’s brain trust wanted to put an end to the “Dead Wings” era, for good.

Years later, while vacationing Up North in Ontario with some of the guys I grew up with, I would read Probert’s own version of the Goose Loonies incident in his autobiography, Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge, over a 24 ounce breakfast beer. It was springtime, the year 2012, and the corn stalks planted in rows behind the schoolhouse we were staying at had barely peaked out of the dormant earth.

Hungover and jittery – unable to sleep – I retrieved my copy of Probert’s book from my duffel bag and tried not to wake my buddies as I snuck a handful of beer bottles out of the refrigerator. Although I drank in the morning all the time with my college buddies back in Ann Arbor, these were the guys I grew up with, and they were much less further gone than I was at the time. As the eldest of our friend group, a role model to those guys, I didn’t want them to catch me drinking so early in the morning.

The previous summer Bob Probert had suffered a massive sudden heart attack and died on his boat on Lake St. Clair in the waters between Michigan and Ontario. The lake where he died was only a few dozen miles of waterway south by Lake Huron from that Canadian schoolhouse where I read his book. The loss of one of the great tough guys of all time devastated the hockey community, if it didn’t surprise them. Probert died just a couple chapters shy of finishing his autobiography, and a local columnist ironically had to ghost write the final pages of Probert’s autobiography. Only a year had passed since his death, and the wound of his passing was reopened as I voraciously consumed his roller coaster of a life story.

As I discovered in the pages of that book, the Goose Loonies incident was only the beginning of a long battle with alcohol and drugs for both Probert and Klima. Probert was shipped off on a flight to the Betty Ford Center in Minnesota for substance abuse treatment following the end of the ‘88 season, but he was unable to maintain any long term sobriety throughout the remainder of his playing career; the Goose Loonies incident must have seemed like small potatoes to him the very next season, when United States customs officials found a hefty bag of cocaine in Probert’s SUV at the Windsor border. To his credit, Probert served his time in federal prison and would go on to find a successful career with the Chicago Black Hawks, but his personal demons would forever be linked to his name, fairly or unfairly. Probert had been sober for some time at the time of his death, but it was hard not to speculate that his early demise was somehow loosely connected to that fateful night at Goose Loonies in 1988.

As for Petr Klima, Detroit police found him slouched over the wheel of his Chevy Corvette not long after the end of the ‘88 season, drunk at the scene of a single car automobile wreck; between Detroit, the minors, and several other NHL franchises, Klima would bounce around from team to team throughout the remainder of his career, even winning a Stanley Cup in 1993 with the Edmonton Oilers – perhaps fitting that he won back in Edmonton – but he never quite lived up to the hype he generated during his rookie year with the Red Wings.

I looked up from the pages of my book and gazed out at the cornfield stretched out below the schoolhouse deck, feeling the strange buzz of a liquid breakfast. Stretched out across the shell-pink horizon was Canadian farmland as far as the eye could see, the fields glowing golden under the early morning sun. Probert’s struggles with cocaine and booze captivated me. I was reading a lot of books about the dark side of alcohol at the time, memoirs of battles with the bottle, probably on some subconscious level knowing that my own toe to toe battle with the bottle was looming right around the bend.

But all that was still in the stars.

Friday, September 16, 2016


On the eve of game day volume III, I think about Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary in 1994 to beat the Wolverines in the Big House, maybe my very first Michigan Football memory, preceding only the Dreisbach to Mercury Hayes miracle on my first trip to the Big House in August '95. I put my head phones on, and I go to battle in my head, getting lost in other worlds. And I try and find comfort in the darkness, knowing I'll see things you'll never see. Outside the window, storm clouds from Superior cast a strange darkness in the early evening. I love it when it rains on the eve of a game day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Tell your children not to walk my way
Tell your children not to hear my words
What they mean
What they say

Can you keep them in the dark for life?
Can you hide them from the waiting world?
Oh mother

Gonna take your daughter out tonight
Gonna show her my world
Oh father

Not about to see your light
And if you want to find hell with me
I can show you what it is

Tell your children not to hold my hand
Tell your children not to understand
Oh mother

Not about to see your light
And if you want to find hell with me
I can show you what it is
Til' you're bleeding

- Danzig, "Mother"

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Central Florida

Night falls and I'm alone
Skin yeah chilled me to the bone
You turned and you ran
Oh yeah oh slipped, right from my hand

Hey, blue on black, tears on a river
Push on a shove it don't mean much
Joker on Jack, match on a fire
Cold on ice a dead man's touch
Whisper on a scream doesn't change a thing
Don't bring you back
Blue on black

Blind oh, now I see
Truth, lies and in between
Wrong, can't be undone
Oh slipped, from the tip of your tongue

Hey, blue on black, tears on a river
Push on a shove it don't mean much
Joker on Jack, match on a fire
Cold on ice as a dead man's touch
Whisper on a scream doesn't change a thing
Doesn't bring you back, yeah
Blue on black
Oh blue on black

Kenny Wayne Shepherd, "Blue on Black"

Friday, September 2, 2016

Summer, Trader's Falls X


It was a Tuesday, no Wednesday, Thursday? Jackson sat against the brick wall of the New Oakland Psychiatric building, smoking a cigarette while the rest of his group ate their lunches inside. He had made a habit of coming outside to this spot every day at lunchtime, as it was the only alone time he got during the day session. Soon the rest of his group would trickle outside to chain smoke cigarettes and chat through the rest of lunch break, at which point he was under an obligation to try and socialize by therapist's orders. 

Do you know what it feels like to have a bad morning in psych group? Bobby, the resident psych ward veteran in group who does not stop talking, even when the therapist is walking out the door, admitted to the group that he had swallowed a bottle of benzos two nights prior in an attempt to kill himself, then disappeared out the back door mid-session. Rob, the guy who hasn't said a word since Jackson was admitted to group, except to emphasize that he loves the Philadelphia Eagles, stood up and took off his shirt towards the end of the morning session, displaying for group the bullet wound and surgery scars from where he shot himself through the chest in a suicide attempt two weeks ago. It was an improbably powerful moment for Jack, but it also triggered old secrets that Jackson should not have been thinking about. 

It was a beautiful day outside, at least. with great white cotton candy clouds floating across a sky of robin's egg blue. The dog days of summer had set in early in Metro Detroit, and the ninety-five degree heat beat down on Jackson as he wrote in his journal on the blacktop outside the building. He could hear the traffic rushing by from I-96 through the alley. Across from the building there was a two story house with grape vines on the side and a garage out back, where there were always four to five cars parked; the rumor going around group was that the residents were somehow involved with the Mafia. Jackson put his headphones on, and played the same song he played everyday at this time  -- Stand of Oaks, "Heal". 

He picked up a white rock from the concrete and began clawing away at the redbrick wall of the psychiatric building, writing the lyrics to the song. He had already covered the brick wall in several of these chalk-like phrases with lyrics and thoughts during his time in group: "The voices say RUN"; "Hello darkness my old friend"; "I was born in the middle, maybe too late, everything good had been made, so I just get loaded, and never leave my house" (this one had taken him two lunch periods to complete); "the idiotic chattering laugh of a girl unstrung with hideous fear". He had found that last one written upon his arrival, and Jackson loved it. 

He scratched away at the redbrick wall with the white rock, the rock crumbling as he wrote, like a pencil growing dull against paper:

"And we're painted like the Warriors
You gotta Heal"

[the end]


I keep swinging my hand through a swarm of bees cause I
I want honey on my table
But I never get it right
No I never get it right

I keep swinging my hand through a swarm of bees
I can't understand why they're stinging me
But I'll do what I want, I'll do what I please
I'll do it again til' I've got what I need

I'll rip and smash through the hornet's nest
Don't you understand I deserve the best?
'Til you do what I want
I'll do what I please
I'll do it again til' I've got what I need

I try to stick this pin through a butterfly cause I
I like all the pretty colors
It just fell apart, so I flung it in the fire
To burn with all the others

So I'm cutting that branch off the cherry tree
Singing "This will be my victory,"
Then I, 
See them coming after me

But I'll do what I want
I'll do what I please
I'll do it again til' I got what I need cause I
I want honey on my table

Thrice, "Black Honey"