Monday, August 28, 2017

Wrote a Novel

MRAZEK
34



Fleeing the Renaissance Center and the International Alcoholics Anonymous Men’s Conference for a tobacco break, I descend the concrete steps from the glass atrium and walk down to the River Walk along the Detroit River. I stop along the railing, looking down into the river and out across the water to Canada, open my tin of Grizzly Wintergreen, and pinch a pouch of chewing tobacco in my bottom right lip. It is April, now, and things are beginning to come back to life. The river is no longer frozen and several coast guard boats from the U.S. and Canada patrol the waters along with a scattering of small fishing vessels and canoes. Sea gulls caw and wheel endlessly in the smoggy sky.

Walking south on the boardwalk along the river towards Hart Plaza and the Detroit Underground Railroad memorial statue, the view ahead looks out towards the Ambassador Bridge, its twin blue-green pylon towers dangling white suspension cables that form twin triangles of vertical suspenders, the casinos and red maple leaf flags of Windsor on the left, Cobo Hall and the Detroit Princess riverboat docked along the River Walk in the foreground on the right. I stop to admire the Princess. An old school riverboat painted white with navy and red trim, its four decks of picket fence balconies reminisce plainly for the post-bellum South of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi while simultaneously reminding me of the outfield facade of Yankee Stadium; a pair of crowned black smokestacks almost seem at odds with the rest of the boat.

Growing up, Detroit had been the butt of many jokes. As I began exploring other cities and towns my college buddies called home – Philly, Pittsburgh, Grand Rapids, Chicago – I grew to resent the urban decay of my own hometown and its lack of opportunity, its reputation as a violent wasteland. But they were doing good things with Detroit. Besides the Renaissance Center and the revamped River Walk, both of which thoroughly impressed me, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert was leading the surge to revitalize Detroit’s urban core and bringing thousands of jobs to the Campus Martius plaza; soon my childhood friend Steve would be joining its ranks. The previous Fall, Mike Duggan, the father of my St. Michael’s buddy Eddie Duggan and the former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, won the Detroit mayoral election in a bid to revamp the city from the inside out.

Other changes affected me on a more personal level. From Hart Plaza, I gazed out at Joe Louis Arena, its gray airplane hangar box roof rising over Cobo Hall and its rooftop parking deck, the monorail-style People Mover tracks wrapped tightly around the arena along the edge of the river. Forget Mississippi river boats and futuristic skyscrapers; Detroit’s identity was hanging plainly in the rafters there above the ice.  While the official announcement had yet to be made, however, those in the know within the Motor City hockey machine were privy to plans for an extravagant new stadium that would replace the Joe; in June of the previous summer, the Detroit Development Authority approved blueprints for a $650 million Detroit Red Wings arena at the location of Woodward and I-95 as part of a new entertainment and shopping district encompassing Comerica Park and Ford Field as well. Though it still required approval from Wayne County and the State of Michigan, the writing was on the wall: it was only a matter of time before Joe Louis Arena would be coming down, then it would be nothing but another photograph an old building in Detroit for the archives.

All my life I had loathed the urban decay of Detroit, but now that it was changing for the better I suddenly felt estranged from it. I felt one of my restlessnesses coming on, one of those somber states when I walked the streets or sat, aimless and depressed, longing to drive off into another life. I’m overcome with self-absorption; it’s a longing for expression with no pen, a sense of the years rushing by like so many summer fields. I put in a fresh pouch of chewing tobacco and turned to walk back towards the Renaissance Center, anxious over shirking my coffee chairman duties at the IAAMC. Walking back North, Bell Isle rose over the horizon, and behind it, Lake St. Clair where Bob Probert had died four summers ago.

I take the concrete steps up to the glass atrium at the foot of the marvelous GM skyscraper. Inside, the atrium reminds me of Willy Wonka’s factory what with its high glass walls and dome glass ceiling, all of the glass paneled in dijon gold. Majestic palm trees reach almost three stories high to the glass ceiling, while smaller ficus trees and ivy plants adorn the marble floors on ground level. Midafternoon sun spilling in from a cloudless sky, the white marble floor reflected the clean blue April sky so that it appeared almost water-like. I made my way towards the multi-level escalators that connected the atrium to the Renaissance Center, but promptly changed course when I saw one of the boardmembers of the IAAMC descending the escalators towards me; wearing an Ed Hardy button down and his hair in a pony-tail, he creeped me out and reminded me of Alfred the thirteenth stepper, somehow. I had no grounds for this prejudice but wanted to steer clear of him at any rate, and besides, I was in no hurry to get back up to the IAAMC. My anxiety only worsened as I entered the Renaissance Center, feeling ever out of place there.

 I continue on towards the basement level of the skyscraper, where the concrete walls resembled a Goldeneye-level bunker. Further into the interior there were General Motors cars on display like shiny Hot Wheels cars on raised platforms – red, white, blue, black, and maroon-colored SUV’s, sedans, pickup trucks visible from cyllindrical balconies and walkways from upper levels overhead; I wonder if they stayed up year-round or if they are from the auto show in some capacity. I find the stairs, climb them to the ground level, and slip out through the revolving glass doors to the North end of the building to the bustling Jefferson Avenue and across to the Millender Center Building.

Kiddycorner to the Rennaisance Center is the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center at the foot of Woodward Avenue, the masculine yogi – the Spirit of Detroit Statue – perched out front with his palms facing the sky. Heavy traffic in both directions whizzes by on Jefferson, a neverending rush of honking taxi cabs, Detroit transportation buses, emergency sirens. I wait for the crosswalk to change from red to white, then cross Jefferson towards Coleman Young, trying my best not to think about my frequent trips to the records room in the basement when I worked for the law firm last Fall. At the intersection of Jefferson and Woodward, a twenty-four foot stone sculpture of Joe Louis’ fist divides the highway like a battering ram, another true symbol of Detroit’s identity.

Skyscrapers on either side of Woodward – One Woodward Avenue, the Guardian Building, the Qube on the left-hand side; Coleman A. Young, One Detroit Center, and the Vinton Building on the right – form an alley-way leading into Campus Martius Park ahead, where the skyscrapers open to blue skies. I make my way up Woodward, past the restaurants, eateries and pubs at street-level, and into view of Campus Martius, where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument reigns supreme: a multi-tiered granite and bronze monument, the top of the monument features a statue of a victorious Michigan as an Indian Queen – she wears a winged helmet, brandishes a sword in her right hand, and holds a shield in her left.

The park itself takes the shape of a round-nosed bullet pointing South in the direction of the Detroit River and Canada, with six skyscrapers – these are the Compuware World Headquarters Building, the Caddilac Tower, the First National Building, The Qube, One Kennedy Sqaure, and the 1001 Woodward Building, where I worked on the ninth floor at the law firm, clockwise from the top – surrounding it in the form of irregular angles suggestive of Times Square. Campus Martius is bustling with the liveliness in the fresh Spring weather. The Woodward Fountain at the park is flowing, the hot dog vendors are in business again, and pink and powder blue umbrella tables have been set out in diagonal rows across the green South lawn of the park.

I sat on a park bench, finding a fresh pouch of chewing tobacco from my tin, and gazed up at my former place of employment in the 1001 Woodward Building on the corner. I wondered if I’d ever get out, or if I was chained to this city, this town, this team forever. My phone buzzed silently in my khakis pocket. It was a text from Rusty, the co-chair of the coffee committee: “Hey Zac, what floor are you on? You have the receipt book right?”

Anxiously I made my way through the crowds of alcoholics on the third floor lounge. I did not see Art or Rusty anywhere. The idea was to look like I had somewhere to be or something to do, and in furtherance of this notion I was not immune to pulling out my receipt book and scribbling down jibberish. Not knowing anyone else, I pressed the elevator button and took it up to the fifth floor, where I knew I could find more privacy from the masses. I walked down the hotel hallway past a series of interior conference rooms where vendors were selling AA literature, big books, meditation guides, others AA-related tee shirts and sweatshirts, some selling sobriety trinkets and even jewelry. Outside of one of the conference rooms was a small marquee-style sign reading “AA meetings held on the hour, every hour” in white letters.

Figuring it would provide me with a good alibi, I duck into the room and find a seat at a table with several elder black guys, then text Rusty that I’m on the fifth floor in the meeting room. It is only 3:30 in the afternoon, and I have to stay at least through the 7:00 p.m. gala dinner tonight, for which Art had been generous enough to purchase my fifty dollar ticket. Most of the freshly sober guys could not afford it for obvious reasons, so I should have been grateful.

The hotel conference room consists of approximately eight tables, each of which has a candle and a big book on it, but only two of these tables are occupied. There are six or seven occupants seated between the two tables, almost exclusively middle-aged to elder black men who are laughing together like old buddies. They have streaks of gray hair in the beards and hair, underneath an assortment of old English D ballcaps of various colors – black, red, blue. The only other white guy in the room is a middle-aged man with a scarred face in a Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association jacket. He is quiet and subdued, sipping his coffee; I don’t recognize who it is, and in the spirit of anonymity, I pretend not to notice or care.

The meeting is incredible, maybe the best I’d attended since relapsing back in July – October. The older black guys tell riveting stories about growing up on the streets of Detroit around the Detroit Riots of 1967: skipping school, joining gangs, drinking and dabbling in drugs, playing small-time gangster and drug-dealer, in and out of juvenile facilities, in and out of jails and rehab programs, in and out of jobs, relationships, watching the decline of Detroit firsthand throughout the eighties and nineties, mass white flight to the suburbs, urban decay that seemed to parallel their own decrepit lives. I could understand that sensation.

The man in the Red Wings Alumni jacket spoke briefly towards the tail end of the meeting.

“I really struggled after my playing career was over,” he explained, “but through sobriety I discovered that sometimes, what we perceive to be periods ending specific chapters of our lives are not periods at all but rather commas, or semicolons; what I thought was the final page in my story was truly a blank page, the beginning of another chapter.”

THE END

Friday, August 18, 2017

My First Love

My first love was a wicked twisted road
I hit the million mile mark at seventeen years old
I never saw the rainbow, much less the pot of gold
Yeah, my first love was a wicked twisted road

My first love was a castle in the sky
I never thought I'd make it till I had the guts to try
Then I sat up in my tower while the whole world passed me by
Yeah, my first love was a castle in the sky

My first love was a fearless driving rain
Scared to death I thought I'd never see her face again
They say God was crying so I guess he felt my pain
My first love was a fearless driving rain

My first love was a wild sinful night
I ran out with the big dogs
Guess I had more bark than bite
I know I won the battle but in the end I lost the fight
Yeah, my first love was a wild sinful night

My first love was an angry painful song
I wanted one so bad I went and did everything wrong
A lesson in reality would come before too long
Yeah, my first love was an angry painful song


- Reckless Kelly (Willy Braun)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Downstate -- August 1 - 5, 2017

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields
In sixty five I was seventeen and running up one on one
I don't know where I'm running now, I'm just running on
Running on, running on empty
Running on, running blind
Running on, running into the sun
But I'm running behind
Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive
In sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own
I don't know when that road turned, into the road I'm on
Running on, running on empty
Running on, running blind
Running on, running into the sun
But I'm running behind
Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don't know about anyone but me
If it takes all night, that'll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

- Jackson Browne, "Running on Empty," 1977

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Portrait of the Artist as a Catholic Schoolboy

"Then he wondered at the vagueness of his wonder, at the remoteness of his own soul from what he had hitherto imagined her sanctuary, at the frail hold which so many years of order and obedience had of him when once a definite and irrevocable act of his threatened to end for ever, in time and in eternity, his freedom. The voice of the director urging upon him the proud claims of the church and the mystery and power of the priestly office repeated itself idly in his memory. His soul was not there to hear and greet it and he knew now that the exhortation he had listened to had already fallen into an idle formal tale. He would never swing the thurible before the tabernacle as priest. His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders. The wisdom of the priest's appeal did not touch him to the quick. He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world."

- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Camp Log

Porcupine Mountains -- Lake Superior Trail

Biting black flies. Everywhere. That's alright. At least the storm is over. At least it's not snake season, like it was last summer.

It was a relatively easy hike in. Throughout the four mile journey I marveled at how infrequently I needed to stop in comparison to last summer, how physically capable I felt this time around; "I guess I was sitting in an office nine to five back this time last year," I remarked to Beth while crossing the wood bridge over the Little Carp River gorge. We frantically set up the tarp and tent near a heavily-bouldered stretch of shoreline, beating a fierce and frantic storm by seconds, literally. It felt relaxing to hunker down in the tent with our books and watch the storm blow through the screen window of the tent, Superior's gales howling like spirits, its surf crashing like battle ships, until the bottom of the tent started to puddle.

Lake Michigamme -- Van Riper

First air of summer up your nose. Campfire, fresh air, pine needles on the floor. Play camp games, ride your bikes, and pray you don't get old.

Longetudinal clouds like rows of cotton extending to the horizon -- the western shores of Lake Michigamme -- where mountains of blue green were juxtaposed against a sapphire sky. Miniature American flags are staked at campsites throughout (large ones, too), a lone boy fishing at the lake, whiffle ball, swimming, making railroad pennies, up to no good out along railroad tracks. Grown ups lounging languidly in folding chairs underneath camper awnings and mosquito tents, dog sleeping in the heat, retired grandfathers sleeping with beers in their hands. The tugboat choo of the Illinois Central train horn sounds sundown, its smoke above the pines visible before its red head end emerges along the shore, followed by its short tail of black box cars. Once upon a time it carried great loads of iron ore from the mining country to the straits of the Sault and further south. At night, in the tent, distant explosions in the sky echo another American Independence Day.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chapter 29 Excerpt

1 - SAWCHUK
11 - BURR
14 - SHANAHAN
15 - KENNEDY
17 - HULL
21 - YSEBART
26 - KOCUR


VERNON



29



He had gone to bed and tried to get some sleep. Both the pillows and the mattress crackled with every movement. They were all encased in heavy plastic. And he began to sweat. For a moment, he slept, then came the nightmare. That one guy in the lounge had called them St. Mary’s Revenge. About them, another patient had asked, ‘You ever hear of paying the piper?’”

- Barry Longyear, Saint Mary Blue




When I began sneaking liquor out of parents’ liquor cabinets in my teens I was naive to the villainous alter ego of alcoholism. I knew only of fun nights and the sweet buzz of intoxication. Because D.A.R.E. had falsely instructed me to regard marijuana as an evil on the same parallel as heroin, crack, and even methamphetamine, I had discarded all information they had indoctrinated us in regarding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, along with any other useful concepts of alcoholism I might have learned in my “Morality” courses in the catholic schoolrooms of Divine Child High with the queer-sounding Father Ed, a balding priest in monk’s robes; I had stopped believing in God, then, and though I aced most of my mandatory religion courses – always the easiest classes in high school – I consciously refused to retain any of the lessons and outdated notions the priests and nuns may have been trying to impress upon me. As such, it was with dumbfounded horror that I started experiencing the otherworldly phenomenon known in recovery circles as “Saint Mary’s Revenge,” the nightmares and hallucinations induced by acute alcohol withdrawal.

That winter I suffered through some of the worst of those godforsaken episodes; they were amplified by long, unpredictable benders usually bookended by three to four weeks of sobriety. The horrors of the most recent withdrawal episode fresh in my mind, I was routinely able to accumulate upwards of two to three weeks sobriety in between benders, sporadically and irregularly attending AA meetings when it was convenient, discussing the recurring relapses frankly with my substance abuse therapist, but always at some point forgetting. Always at some point the burning memory of the latest bender, and the macroscopic horror of my drinking problem cumulatively would diminish, flickering like a cottage candle down to its last layer of wax.

At such junctures my addiction whispered false hopes in my ear, having cunningly bided its time until my resolve inevitably lapsed. It told that I’d never have an ounce of fun again if I never drank, that it’d be downright impossible to find female companionship without the assistance of alcohol, that I was merely a highly functioning alcoholic, and that there was nothing wrong with that, among other lies. It told me that I wanted a drink, that I always would. It somehow made me forget those wretched withdrawals.

However many days a particular relapse might last, and however many days I pushed off the withdrawal with a misguided tapering regiment, I inevitably faced the worst nights of acute withdrawal each time. During the dark mornings and the long daytime hours I endured deep depressive moods punctuated by paranoia and anxiety, constantly trembling hands and painful bowel movements that could only be eased by long, five mile to ten mile walks which I often went on. But it gets the worst at night. At night I shutter and shake involuntarily, I see shadows moving in the streets, in the windows across the street, in the woods. 

The sports broadcasts at night help a little. The smooth, conversational tone of a late night hockey or baseball game from the west coast quiets strange voices in my head, but past midnight, when even the west coasts games are over, the demons awake. During the midnight hours and the early morning hours that succeed it, I experienced some of the darkest terrors that alcohol withdrawal had to offer: the most vivid nightmares, ghastly hallucinations, doomsday premonitions, the lines between them blurred by a nervous system in shock. I woke from short, lucid states of sleep – if I managed to get any at all – from nightmares so real that I clutched my comforter close, half-expecting an apparition or a butcher-wielding madman to materialize at the foot of my bed, the midnight blackness of my basement bedroom shadowy in the blue glow of Sportscenter, kept on all night to ward off dark forces, my clove of garlic.

Deprived of R.E.M. sleep during a bender, the sudden shift to withdrawal makes for some of the worst of what the human brain is capable of. The most impressionable of the nightmares recurred multiple times: that of my personal Judgment Day in Hell. In it, I am traversing as if on a conveyor belt towards the lair of the devil, which is on the opposite end of the big black stadium that surrounds me, the seating decks and luxury boxes burned black and charred amidst drooping globs of red lava. White skeletal figures and shrouded demons harass me like pirates, as if to warn me of the consequences of a vice-driven life, clawing and heckling along the path to Satan’s Judgment. I never quite get to the lair; I usually wake sweating and shaking with withdrawal just before the moment of truth, red-eyed and wet-brained and breathing heavily. Each time I wake with the Catholic guilt of an alcoholic sinner, knowing instinctively that I’m going to Hell for my hard-partying ways, my continued inability to resurrect myself from them. I should have paid more attention in all those religion courses throughout the years, I lamented, and I shouldn’t have been going through the motions all those Friday and Sunday mornings in church; I should have been internalizing Father Bondi’s preachings instead of carrying on with an endless, imaginary college football season in my head. In my desperation, I prayed to the God I knew in those days for the first time in many years. “I’ll do anything,” I told Him. 

Summer Nights in Upper Michigan

I see birds soaring through the clouds outside my window
Smell the fresh paint of a comfort shade on this new fall day
Feel the coffee surge through morning veins from half an hour ago
Hear the sounds of shots and screams out in the hallway

Spent my last weekend camping out
Again down the roadways
Just me and Joan and a couple of friends on this beautiful trail
Watched the sun slip down behind a mountain stream in these great Cascades
Saw a mighty hawk swoop down upon a stream to devour its prey


- Drive By Truckers, "Guns of Umpqua"

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Soo Canal!



In the land of Hiawatha
Where the Mississippi rises
For his never-ending journey
To the Gulf of Mexico,
Where the falls of Minnehaha
Echo still the carefree laughter
Of the living Laughing Water
When she loved so long ago,
Dwell the blue-robed, white-capped maidens,
Dwell the five great lakes, the daughters
Of the mighty Mississippi,
Father of Waters.

Where the thunder of Niagara
Splits the gorge from shore to shore
Where the shadows of the wigwams
Haunt each river's sandy floor,
In the land of sky-blue water,
Minnesota, Manistee,
Michigan, Wisconsin, Tashmoo,
Mackinac, Sault Ste. Marie,
Dwell the blue-robed, white-capped maiden,
Dwell the five great lakes, the daughters
Of the mighty Mississippi,
Father of Waters.

Where the forest whispers stories
While the flowers all aglow
Listen to Algonquin legends
From the land of long ago,
Where the waves in watercolors
Paint the portrait of the sky
From the faintest blush of sunrise
Till the schools of stars swim by,
Dwell the blue-robed, white-capped maidens,
Dwell the five great lakes, the daughters
Of the mighty Mississippi,
Father of Waters.

- William Ratigan

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Up Here on Rehab Mountain (Detox Mansion)

I lived with them on Montague Street
in a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafes at night
and revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
and something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
and she froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
was to keep on keepin' on
Like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

- dylan

Friday, June 16, 2017

Return to the Porkies





"There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes, 
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more"

- Lord Byron

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Vampire Mausoleums

"Sands strolled into the red-light district -- Angeles consisted of little else -- the slop, the lurid stink, the thirsty, flatly human, open-mouthed stares of the women as he passed dank shacks beating with rock 'n' roll music, as hot and rich with corruption as vampire mausoleums. The wanton mystery of the Southeast Asian night: he loved it as passionately as he loved America, but secretly, with dark lust; and he admitted to himself without evasion that he didn't care if he never went home."

- Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lightning Bugs Like Polaroids



How did we get on the topic? Drugs and dreams. "That's what my book is about," I explain to Bryan excitedly -- "Visions of Yzerman. About the nightmares and hallucinations induced by alcohol withdrawals."

I had been telling him about the nightmares I'd been having the last couple weeks Up North, bad dreams seemingly caused by a ten-day prescription of powerful antibiotics for a double ear infection, undoubtedly contracted at one Upper Peninsula classroom or another. Nightmares about being back in jail, about withdrawing from drugs in some detox ward, being trapped in the charred hallways of the St. Michael's Catholic School of my early years during some sort of apocalypse, drinking again. These are a few of my worst fears. Maybe they're occurring in part because I've lately been brainstorming for chapters twenty-nine and thirty, corresponding to the winter of 2013 in terms of my life's narrative, that winter that I was hospitalized for withdrawal and subsequently went to outpatient rehab for substance abuse. 

"G-R-E-T-Z-K-Y," Wayne Gretzky spells out his name in a chilling Stanley Cup promo prior to Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals, "F-E-D," "Y-Z-E," "L-I-D-S" -- those letters alone taking me back to a summer night almost twenty years ago to the day. Though it's the first year the Red Wings have been absent from the playoffs since I was three years old, I've been following this year's playoffs as closely as ever, as I have little in the way of entertainment other than my radio Up North. The Tigers sure aren't much fun to listen to anymore. 

Wednesday had been a long one. In the course of a seven hour drive it felt like I had driven back into another life, from my Upper Peninsular world into the past. I woke Wednesday morning on little sleep -- worked the evening shift at rehab until 11:00 p.m. Tuesday night, during which I was delighted to have my first moose encounter -- to a cold, rainy Marquette morning that felt much more like April than the eve of June, packed my travel bag and met Beth at the Marquette Starbucks for coffee before hitting the road at 8:30 a.m. All across the Upper Peninsula it rained, both Lakes Superior and Michigan dreary, with white caps being hurled inwards towards the shores along their respective two-lane highways, and I spent the first leg of the drive listening to my Gone With the Wind audiobook -- stories of the early days of the Reconstruction-era postbellum South -- until "high wind" warning signs in advance of the Mackinac Bridge prompted me to check the radio for weather conditions.

Crossing the bridge, I was bemused to find that the speed limit on 1-75 South had increased from 70 mph to 75 mph since my last trip home, and though the northernmost towns in the tip of the Lower Peninsula more resembled the Spring season the Upper Peninsula seemed stuck in, what with many of the trees and flowers still in bloom and the rainy weather of late, driving further south, especially as I made my way down into the Bay counties, I had to roll down my windows in amazement of the 75 degree sunshine. The trees there were the dense green of full-fledged summer mystery. Of course, the headlights and streetlamps are far too numerous for my liking (full blown yooper now, eh) on the drive home from Farmington Hills to Westland, but my childhood neighborhood at dusk is quiet in a majestic way beneath the most perfect sky of midnight blue, the silhouette of the treetops enveloping Millwood casting shadows across the front lawns, the first inklings of lightning bugs appearing and disappearing in flashes like Polaroid snapshots in the blackening woods. It all reminds me of magical summer nights twenty years ago, neighborhood-wide barbecues, block parties, playing Ghosts in the Graveyard and catching fireflies, neighborhood boy chasing neighborhood girl, those summers the Red Wings won back to back Cups. Isn't that what we come home for? 

Today I'm writing and sipping Caribbean coffee on Frank's balcony, tanning in the sun, trying to channel my inner Hunter S. Thompson in my seersucker shorts, cut-off Churchill Chargers tank and wayfarers. I can hear the harsh rush of traffic from M-5 and the corner of 9 Mile and Farmington, the whir of lawn mowers making fresh grass smells in the air, the songs of little blackbirds playing games in the treetops. Tonight it'll be dinner with the family and probably Game 1 of the NBA Finals with the guys (nostalgically recalling that I listened to the Finals last year in a cabin in the Porcupine Mountains), but then tomorrow it'll be back to the Upper Peninsula, into another life. I wonder if it'll be summer there. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Peach Blossoms and Dogwood



"They looked out across the endless acres of Gerald O'Hara's newly plowed cotton fields toward the red horizon. Now that the sun was setting in the welter of crimson behind the hills across the Flint River, the warmth of the April day was ebbing into a faint but balmy chill.

Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody gory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues. The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermillion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf. For here were no long, straight furrows, such as could be seen in the yellow clay fields of the flat middle Georgia country or in the lush black earth of the coastal plantations. The rolling foothill country of north Georgia was plowed in a million curves to keep the rich earth from washing down into the river bottoms."

- Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind

Monday, April 17, 2017

Michelangelo Bio Update

Michelangelo the sculptor/painter was the Raphael of the Ninja Turtles -- solitary, anti-authoritarian, combative, self-destructive. Willing to stand up to the pope when literally no one else would. Like me.

#thingsthecomicbookgotwrong

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sailing to Philadelphia

I am Jeremiah Dixon
I am a Geordie boy
A glass of wine with you, sir
And the ladies I'll enjoy
All Durham and Northumberland
Is measured up by my own hand
It was my fate from birth
To leave my mark upon the earth

He calls me Charlie Mason
A stargazer am I
It seems that I was born
To chart the evening sky
They'd cut me out for baking bread
But I had other dreams instead
This baker's boy from the West country
Would join the Royal Society

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
The Mason-Dixon line

Now you're a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you'll make me mad
The West will kill us both
You gullible Geordie lad
You talk of liberty
How can America be free
A Geordie and a baker's boy
In the forests of the Iroquois

Now hold your head up, Mason
See America lies there
The morning tide has raised
The capes of Delaware
Come up and feel the sun
A new morning has begun
Another day will make it clear
Why your stars should guide us here

- Mark Knopfler

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Bacchus

Michelangelo's "Bacchus," the Greek god of wine

"Because [Michelangelo] would take no time off for friends, rest or social life, Balducci accused him of trying to escape the world by fleeing into marble. Michelangelo admitted to his friend that he was half right -- the sculptor carries into the marble the vision of a more luminous world than the one that surrounds him. But the artist was not in flight; he was in pursuit. He was trying with all his might to overtake a vision. Did God really rest on the seventh day? In the cool of that long afternoon when He was refreshed, might He not have asked himself, "whom have I on earth to speak for me? I had best create another species, one apart. I will call him artist. His will be the task to bring meaning and beauty to the world." 

- Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

She was fair skinned and golden haired, full-blooded Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves.

- Dylan, Chronicles Volume I

On This Date in History


My family's comically oversized computer, brand new in 1994, came with a complimentary Sports Illustrated: 1993 Year in Review CD-Rom. The images from that video compilation are as fresh in my mind today as they were in '94, for I watched that video hundreds of times, truly fascinated with this sports thing: Bama's George Teague stripping the ball from Miami in the Sugar Bowl -- "He takes the ball away from him! He's got the ball!"; Mario Lemieux announcing his diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease; "Marty McSorley has been playing with an illegal stick"; America's Team, and the team of grade school boys across America, The Cowboys, winning the Super Bowl. But most prominent is the incredulous cry of the announcer, "He takes a timeout! They Don't Have any timeouts!" as Chris Webber found himself trapped in the corner amidst defenders cloaked in Carolina blue. The seconds ticking away on the Fab Five era and on the national championship game, Webber had formed a "T" with his hands whilst tucking the ball under his arm. "Technical Foul! Technical foul!"

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reasons to Work Harder

1. Today, my therapist, who failed to remember that I had graduated law school for the second consecutive meeting, told me "there's only one JK Rowling".

Friday, March 24, 2017

Kubla Khan



(this is a great book)

"An old chinaman -- he must have been sixty -- shuffled by me hastily with a hop layout and spread it out in a nearby bunk. He was shaking with the yen-yen, the hop habit. His withered, claw-like hands trembled as he feverishly rolled the first pill, a large one. His burning eyes devoured it. Half-cooked, he stuck the pill in its place, and turning his pipe to the lamp, greedily sucked the smoke into his lungs. Now, with a long grateful exhalation, the smoke is discharged. The cramped limbs relax and straighten out. The smoker heaves a sigh of satisfaction, and the hands, no longer trembling, turn with surer touch to another pill. This is smaller, rolled and shaped with more care, better-cooked and inhaled with a slow, long draw. Each succeeding pill is smaller, more carefully browned over the lamp and smoked with increasing pleasure."

- JB, You Can't Win

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

St. Louis Frank

"I know nothing about it, sir," I answered very decently; I was afraid. Like a flash one of his hands went to my throat. He pinned me to the wall, choking me, and brought something down on my head with the other hand that turned everything yellow and made my knees weaken. Still holding me by the throat he lifted me clear of the floor and threw me into the cell like a bundle of rags. There was about a half an inch of water on the cell floor. I lay there, and looked about me by the dim light of a gas jet out in the corridor. There was nothing in the cell but a wooden bench. After a few minutes I crawled over to it, and, pulling myself up, stretched out, more dead than alive. If people can be corrected by cruelty I would have left that cell a saint.

St. Louis Frank, in another part of the jail, got a worse beating than I did.

From that day on St. Louis Frank smiled no more. He became snarly, short spoken, and ugly. We got our money and parted. He went out on the road, "bull simple," simple on the subject of shooting policemen. The stories told about him are almost unbelievable. Years later I saw him in the San Francisco county jail waiting trial for the murder of a police officer in Valencia Street. The day he was sent to San Quentin where he was hanged, he sang out to me, 'So long, Blacky. If I could have got Corbett I wouldn't care.'"

Jack Black, You Can't Win

Monday, March 20, 2017

Fresh Spring

"It was Springtime. Sundown found me miles away on a country road, walking westward. Yes, I was going in the right direction. There was the sun going down away off in front of me. Darkness was coming on, but it did not strike me as unusual that I had no supper or no room for the night.

I came to a bridge and stopped when I heard voices below. I looked over the side and a voice came up: "Come on down kid. Don't be leary, we're only a couple of harmless bindlestiffs."

I picked my way down to the level place beside the creek where they were. One of them was unrolling a bindle of blankets, the other was washing a large tin can in the creek. "Throw out your feet, kid, and fetch some wood, we'll have a fire and a can of Java anyway."


Dodge City, KS

"I walked uptown and into a lunch counter. The waiter was idle and talkative.

"Travelling?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Which way?"

"Denver."

"Beating it?"

"Yes."

"Listen here, it'll take you three to four days to get to Denver that way. You'll ruin your clothes and might get thrown off a train and handed a thirty day sentence at Colorado Springs. Big chain gang there. They're cleaning up the streets. If you can dig together five dollars I'll give you a card to a porter on the Overland tonight. Give him the five and he'll do the rest."

"Thanks I'll try it."

Jack Black

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

You Can't Win



"Looking back at it, it seems to me that I was blown here and there like a dead leaf whipped about by the autumn winds till at last it finds lodgment in some cozy fence corner. When I left school at fourteen I was as unsophisticated as a boy could be; I knew no more of the world and its strange ways than the gentle, saintly woman who taught me my prayers in the Convent. Before my twentieth birthday I was on the docket of criminal court, on trial for burglary."


"I also learned to play ball (football), marbles, and, I must admit, hooky, the most fascinating of all small boy games. These new games, and so many other interesting new things, soon crowded the prayers into the background of my mind, but not entirely out of it. I said them no more at night and morning, nor any other time, but I still remember them, and I believe now, after forty prayer-less years, I could muster a passable prayer if an occasion required it."

- Jack Black, You Can't Win

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Plane Crash Boys

Fri. Mar. 10

Woke at dawn, turned off the appliances in my apartment and packed my Caliber in the bone-chilling cold of a Marquette morning -- phone says four degrees with a wind chill of minus eleven -- then drove into historic downtown Marquette on the bay, all view of the lake drowned out by a whiteout, lake effect snow; parked in the shadows of St. Peter Cathedral's massive twin sandstone steeples. I walk west down Washington Street, headlong into the bay, searching the icy storefront windows for address numbers, literally experiencing a brain freeze as Superior's gales howl off the frozen lake. My therapist's office turns out to be right off the lake, at the intersection of Washington and Lakeshore Drive, and I open the big brass door and stomp my boots on the landing as I warm my bones from the cold. The directory hanging on the wall tells me that my therapist's office is upstairs on the first floor.

What with its nineteenth century style heat vents and narrow, boarding house hallways with hardened green carpet laid over the creaky wood floorboards, the staircase and indeed the building in general remind me of Paul Biegler's Ishpeming law offices and the Marquette county courthouse on the bay in Anatomy of a Murder -- ' just a stone's throw away from the world's largest inland lake, as dark and deceitful as a spurned woman, either caressing or raging at the shore, but today on its best company manners, presenting the falsely placid aspect of a mill pond' (as a substitute teacher, I had employed that as my daily quote to my students at a local high school up there on Monday, and my mind momentarily went back to them). I find my therapist's office at the end of a long hall with ficus plants scattered throughout, behind another big wooden door that reminds me somehow of the old Burt Lake cottage with its boarding house style rooms. Inside the office, I'm dumbfounded with serendipity as I run into Angel, the hero who salvaged Adam and I's camping trip to Copper Harbor when Adam visited back in November of last year; I'm certain he recognizes me in the same way I instantaneously recognize him, as certain as I am that I will see him again soon.

Whiteout conditions dominating the Upper Peninsula landscape, I drive cautiously and anxiously across Northern Michigan listening to some of the Dan Lebatard show, only to find M-28 along Lake Superior closed due to strong winds/waves over the road. I turn around and take a detour South, lose the Marquette ESPN station and put on my new audiobook The Agony and the Ecstasy, a fictionalized biography of the Italian artist Michelangelo; get lost in the first four chapters of Michelangelo's apprenticeship to Ghirlandaio in fifteenth century Tuscany. The book is written by the same author as the Van Gogh bio -- his final, one-eared years were largely spent in an insane asylum -- I just finished, Irving Stone. Stopped for a piss break in the one-stoplight town of Engadine, where I parked my car next to an Amish horse-drawn buggy.

By the time I hit U.S. 2 along the Lake Michigan underbelly of the Upper Peninsula the weather had let up, opening my windshield to a vast portrait of snow-capped evergreens along the frozen shores, where the hilly sand dunes are coated in thick layers of ice, and to my incredulous bemusement I found the Michigan basketball game coming in from a Traverse City station just in time for the second half, the Wolverines holding a one point lead headed into the locker rooms despite a half court buzzer beater by Purdue. The game has me mesmerized through Gaylord, at least (the teller at the Mackinac Bridge, an older gentleman in yooper cap, hearing my radio, asks me the score, and I joyously relay the Michigan advantage to him) the Boilermakers and Wolverines going back and forth, Michigan's young bigs in Mo Wagner and DJ Wilson more than holding their own against Purdue's twin towers in B10 Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. When Michigan pulls away in overtime, I pump my fist to an empty gray sky, nary a car in sight going North or South on 1-75 in the middle of nowhere, Northern Michigan. What had heretofore been perhaps my least favorite senior class in Michigan Basketball history in Walton and Irvin, the duo suddenly seemed bent on rewriting their legacies in Michigan Basketball lore, a legend that was growing in lieu of the team's plane crash mishap en route to the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C.

It would be dishonest for me to say that I didn't revel in the following game, too, rolling through the flat farm lands of mid-Michigan towards the industrial smokestacks of Saginaw -- a low scoring, old-fashioned Big Ten battle between Michigan State and Minnesota, which the Spartans wind up blowing late. Maybe I'm really becoming a Yooper, because I can barely fathom the rush hour traffic on the freeways as I reenter the familiar confines of  the Metro Detroit area; suburbanites drive like maniacs.

Pulled into Frank's Farmington Hills condo shortly after six o'clock, an eight hour drive in total; not bad considering the shitty conditions in the Yoop. Knock on Frank's door -- no answer -- let myself in and greet Deek, then find Frank napping. Turned on the TV and watched basketball by myself for three hours, journaled, drifted off to distant galaxies, and watched most of the Duke-Carolina ACC Semifinal solo, until Frank finally woke up, Bryan arrived, and later J, too, Duke capping an epic day of college hoops with an historic comeback to beat the Heals and advance to the ACC Championship. That night, I inwardly reflect on how much of a Yooper I've become while listening to the three of them talk about their upcoming Vegas trip with Steve and Jim, how we lead very different lives, now. Bryan tells us about his most recent speeding ticket and his misadventures at Twin Peaks. Like de ja vu.

Sat. Mar. 11

Saturday morning I showered and went digging through my childhood bedroom closet for my brother and I's old Michigan basketball jerseys, found the old number five Deion Harris jersey (I used to tell people it was a Jalen Rose jersey) and put it on over a long sleeve tee, then ventured over to Frank's to meet Bryan before the Big Ten Semi Final against Minnesota. From there, Bryan drove to the Lakepointe Yacht Club on Newburgh Lake, where we were meeting Steve for a reunion of sorts, along with Bryan's brother and buddies.

"I used to come here every day last summer!" Bryan boasts jokingly.

"I did a lot of writing across the lake in the woods last summer," I respond, laughing hysterically, reflecting on those hot summer afternoons after my day program, when I would sit out at the docks writing; we lead very different lives now indeed.

We order lunch and drinks (beers for them, cokes for me) at a high top wood table in a sea of middle-aged men; been a long time since I've been to the Yacht Club -- probably not since my drinking day, I speculate. The Plane Crash Boys take another, carried by now-undisputed team leader Derrick Walton Jr.'s career high twenty-nine points and nine assists, advancing to the Big Ten Tournament Championship tomorrow, but Steve, Bryan and I are largely distracted. I scribble down notes and corrections for chapters twenty-six and seven of my novel as Steve and Bryan recount their version of events from the spring, summer and fall of 2012; the height of my drinking, I guess my memory of events isn't exactly the greatest.

Sat. night is de ja vu all over again. Is it ever any different on a trip home? Frank calls me over late after he gets off from work, and though I'm already in my pajamas I head over.

"I work every day, literally," he tells me with a dumb smile on his face when I ask him if he has to work again tomorrow.

Bryan is over, too, but he is passed out on the couch; don't think he's been home all day.

"I have to bail someone out of jail later," Bryan mumbles from the couch before rolling over to sleep some more; I'm not sure if he's serious.

"I'm about to pass out, dude," Frank tells me about ten minutes into "Being Charlie," a film written by Rob Reiner's son about an eighteen year old drug rehab runaway that initially reminds me of students at the rehab facility Up North. A few minutes later, however, I realize that Charlie is clearly me, and I suspect that Frank left me alone to watch this movie for a reason. When it's over, I'm left with the deeply profound impact that any addict feels when another addict shares his story, the connection and how it relates to me on a personal level.

Daylight savings robbing us of an hour, I drove home a round three in the morning through the relatively empty streets, listening to the Michelangelo audiobook to get my mind off of "Being Charlie" briefly -- Michelangelo befriends another apprentice named Granacci -- before going back to the radio, when I'm astonished at how closely I can relate to a song I've heard hundreds of times in a way that I never could before, how I've never quite been able to feel it as I feel it in my soul tonight:

"And you can't fight the tears that ain't comin'
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah you bleed just to know you're alive

And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's meant to be broken
I just want you to know who I am"

After catching a replay of the PAC 12 Championship game and getting some writing done, I finally went to bed around five in the morning.

Sun. Mar. 12


This weekend, I've been explaining the theme of the novel I'm writing to various friends: "It's like fate," I told Steve yesterday at the Yacht Club. It was your fate to go to Michigan State like it was my fate to go to Michigan. My book is like that, with the Red Wings." It never sounds as good as it looks on the page, I reflected.

When I told my brother about it during halftime of the Big Ten Championship game, it dawned on me that I was living in yet another of those fateful sports weekends: "Michigan went on that run as soon as I went to rehab in 2013. I watched every game at your house, including the Trey Burke buzzer beater to beat Kansas," I waxed nostalgically, "and this weekend it feels like I was meant to be home watching this Big Ten tourney run with you guys." Following the plane crash in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, Michigan basketball did seem to be getting the bounces of destiny in recent days.

"I can't wait for you guys to read it," I said to Bryan and Patrick as the Michigan Basketball team emerged from the locker rooms for the start of the second half. I opened the curtain of the sliding glass door for no reason other than to temper my anxiety, looking out at the steel gray Farmington sky. There were two ducks flying in disregard of the coming blizzard.



Monday, March 6, 2017

Ending of Chapter 26 (rough draft)

(seven chapters shy of a finished manuscript)


KOCUR


26






Grandma Fideler’s beach cottage sits on sandy, pine-needled ground just off the shore of Lake Michigan and adjacent to the Pentwater Channel, the last house on the left at end of W. Lowell Street. If Lowell Street extended any further, it would have to run out along the heavily-bouldered jetty protecting the channel until it dead ended at the pierhead lighthouse, a cyllindrical white structure with a single nautical green stripe. After arriving late on a blistering hot July afternoon, Steve, Bryan and I drop our bags off at the cottage before anxiously hurrying off to explore the public beach across the street, where lifeguards in aviator sunglasses watch over the beachcombers like tanned statues in their wooden towers.

You think those girls are eighteen?” Bryan asks impishly as we pass a concupiscent group of summer girls tanning on beach towels; classic B.

Why don’t you go up to them and ask?” Steve retorts mockingly. “I’ll give you five bucks if you can get one of their numbers.” To this, of course, Bryan refuses. 

We crack our first beers of the weekend back at the cottage and bring them out along the pier, watching the waves crash against the boulders on one side of the jetty and the comparatively placid waters of the channel on the opposite side. Miniature white sailboats float out on the horizon like cocktail flags; a yellow speedboat sputters slowly into the channel in observance of the multiple “no wake zone” signs posted along the channel. The smell of watercraft gasoline wafts pleasantly in the air, bringing me back to the Indian River Harbor of my boyhood summers, the magic and the wonder.

After our third round of beers we decide to walk into town for dinner and drinks. Steve leads the way down the pier and around the harbor boardwalk, where golf course style mansions with columned porches and cottages with vast verandas watch out over the harbor from behind perfectly-manicured lawns, weeping willows and cherry trees. American flags wave proudly atop flag poles on nearly every lawn. Farther into the harbor, we hang a left at the Pentwater Yacht Club, where sailboats tower majestically over the metal docks, and wander our way through Village Green Park to downtown Pentwater.

Hancock Street runs North-South along the Lake Michigan shore, serving as the little main street to downtown Pentwater that was like every other little main street in every beach town along Michigan's west coast, with its outdoor clothing shops, tourist stores, post office, antique shops, ice cream parlors, pubs, cafes and eateries. Steve recommends The Brown Bear restaurant; we enter and a long-legged brunette in tight jean shorts sits us at a high top rustic wooden table under a flat screen displaying the Detroit Tigers game. The three of us order beers and burgers and pick up where we left off with the drinking while staring intently at the Tigers – Indians game from Comerica Park.

Most of the Brown Bear's patrons are similarly glued to the Tigers game, many of them sporting old English D caps and Tigers tee shirts. In lieu of the Red Wings post-2009 paralysis, the Tigers emerged in the following decade as Michigan’s best shot at a sports title, becoming, in the process, Detroit’s favorite team again after decades of irrelevance. Following Justin Verlander’s AL MVP and AL Cy Young campaign in 2011, all eyes were on Miguel Cabrera that summer as he tore his way towards baseball's first triple crown since 1967, when Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski accomplished the feat. Like bars across Michigan, the Brown Bear was filled with fans hoping Miggy’s historic season would culminate in Detroit’s first World Series title since the magical “Roar of ‘84” season, many of whom, including Steve, Bryan, and I, were not alive then but had long been accustomed to seeing the famous photo of Kirk Gibson jumping for joy after hitting a three run bomb in Game 5 that series.

Following dinner and another round of beers we paid our tab and crossed the street to the Antler Bar, where we met Steve’s mom and aunt for drinks on the second floor outdoor seating area, New Orleans style. Steve’s mom and aunt had managed to grab a railing-side table overlooking Lake Michigan, and we toasted shots of lemon drops and Jaeger bombs while watching the sunset – not much in the Midwest more beautiful than a summer sunset from the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, lavender horizon over a pink-reflected lake, burnt orange ball sinking behind broad brush strokes of mauve, periwinkle and rose. Feeling the mystical stirrings of drunkenness in my soul, I admired this all with a smile on my face, basking in the company of good friends and summer nights. Clouds of gnats were gathering around the golden orbs of hanging lamps.

Back at the cottage, Steve, Bryan and I smoke a joint from the end of the pier, our bare feet dangling from the concrete pier over the rough black waters below us, passing a bottle of tequila between us. A golden gibbous moon hung in the midnight blue sky along with thousands of stars, and streams of liquid moonlight seemed to be coursing and flowing across the endless expanse of black glittering lake; the drunken scene was invested with a kind of awesome otherworldly grandeur.


The following morning I’m woken by Steve and Bryan marching down the creaky linoleum steps, the two of them bitterly contesting first dibs on the shower. I sit up in my sleeping bag and rub my eyes, waking from a dreamless, drunken sleep.

Hey Z’s up,” Steve announces as if I’m not in the room. “Wanna go to Meijer?”

How long have you guys been up?” I ask groggily, never the morning person.

Bout half an hour. We just had breakfast. Going to Meijer to get Mojito ingredients,” Steve says with his waggish flare. 

Are you guys hungover?” I ask, hoping I’m not alone in my misery.

Make it quick lardass,” Steve jostles Bryan as he enters the basement bathroom with a clean towel. “Uh, I was kind of hungover but I chugged a water and ate a bagel and I feel better now,” he says, turning his attention back to me. If only it were that easy for me.

Because it took more to get me drunk, it might have appeared outwardly that Steve, Bryan and the rest of the guys were usually playing catch up with me in terms of drinking, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. In reality I was the one struggling mightily to keep up the facade of my social drinking, to keep up the charade; Saturday morning, when Bryan and Steve wake up fresh and raring to go, I have to sneak two morning beers into the shower for consumption before I start the day, just to maintain steady hands and level out my nerves. Even then, I anxiously endure the half an hour round trip to Meijer in the next town over, biding my time until we were back in Pentwater for socially acceptable drinking hours. Fortunately, drinking was in the plans for the rest of the afternoon.

That afternoon, we wander into downtown Pentwater for the Michigan State-themed tailgate before the homecoming parade. We drink beer, snack on M&M’s, and mingle with current members of the Michigan State Marching Band, who are at the tailgate preparing to march with their instruments in the parade – many of whom Steve still knows from his time in the MSU Marching Band. Tom Izzo even gives a speech as the parade’s master of ceremonies, an event which even a Wolverine like me could appreciate being in attendance for.

Captain Dave, a sailing teammate of Steve’s grandfather, invites us to a homecoming party out in the rustic interior woods of Pentwater on Saturday night via Steve's grandpa, whom we meet at the tailgate in town. Steve’s grandfather, an avid sailor who also invites us sailing Sunday morning, is already tipsy by the time we arrive, the life of the party; I can finally see where Steve gets his gregarious charm. Later on, following the uneventful parade, he drives us over to Captain Dave's with a beer in his lap while telling us outlandish stories about his glory days drinking and carousing with summer babes at various sailing ports around the great lakes. Outsiders, the three of us casually drink off to the side of the lawn when we first arrive at the party, making frequent trips to the fully-stocked self-serve bar on the wooden deck until liquid courage motivates us to socialize.

Captain Dave encourages us to eat up: “plenty of food to go around: cajun sausage, smoked sausage, oysters – you guys ever had oysters?" he asks, chewing on one. "Oh and the crawfish boil is almost done!”

Middle-aged, unmarried, and sporting a solid beer belly, Captain Dave kisses his female companion on the cheek and introduces us to a slender red head of about thirty (a full few inches taller than Captain Dave) who seems to me to be out of Dave’s league. “This is my fiance Merideth,” Captain Dave announces, beaming, “she’s been my rock the past couple months.”

Yeah,” Steve says nonchalantly, taking a sip of his Mojito, “grandpa says you quit drinking a couple months ago.”

Yes sir,” Captain Dave mutters stoically, “I had to take it easy on the drinking for a while – I was going a little overboard on the rum."

His honest admission beguiles me. Believe it or not, Captain Dave is the first person I’ve ever met who has openly admitted to struggles with alcohol, the first person to voluntarily suggest in a social setting that he was willingly avoiding it.

Couldn’t have done it without her, though,” Dave adds, again pulling in his fiance for a kiss – this time on the forehead. I tried to picture Captain Dave on sailing trips, swigging a bottle of rum while manning the mainsail from the hull of the boat in a violent Lake Michigan storm, shouting drunken orders to the other crew. I couldn’t help but wonder how he had quit drinking – did he go to AA, or quit on his own? Had he struggled? Had he met the girlfriend through AA, or before he quit? – and I yearned to ask him, perhaps again subconsciously knowing that my own battle with the bottle was looming, but in my burning denial I had neither the wherewithal nor the fortitude to do so. For the time being, I was content to get drunk at the barbecue and watch fireworks – mistakenly (and quite ironically) grateful that I wasn’t one of those pour souls like Captain Dave who had to fool themselves into thinking fun could be had without booze; at least not yet.

Sunday morning dawned gray and cloudy, an ugly day that mirrored the state of my soul upon waking that morning in the basement of the Pentwater cottage, the old wood box TV playing early morning cartoons from whatever channel it was left on last night during our drunken, nostalgic television reminisces; no way to hang my head that didn’t hurt, My head felt like the inside of a blender of dead brain cells and hot ice, like I might have trouble reciting the alphabet or solving simple multiplication problems. I lay awake in my sleeping bag for several minutes, listening to Bryan and Steve eating breakfast upstairs with Steve’s grandmother. Through the floorboards I overheard them mention the sailing trip we were supposed to take today. Shit; I had forgotten about sailing, and my thoughts raced to how I was going to get a few beers down before heading out.

In the bathroom I turn on the shower and attempt to swallow down my first beer, but the process moves slowly. Dry-mouthed and dehydrated, each sip of beer feels like swallowing a horse pill. About halfway through, I take a sip that causes my stomach to lurch. Gagging, I brace myself on my knees in front of the toilet and throw up.

Post-vomit I manage to get down one beer in the bathroom, but I still feel like shit. My hands are trembling and there are dark bags underneath my swollen eyes, which is to say nothing of the psychological and physiological impacts of the withdrawal. Steve and Bryan still upstairs, I dress quickly and forage around the basement laundry room refrigerator for another beer; at this point the beers we bought for the weekend are gone, and I have to take one of Steve’s grandpa's beers from the fridge; I also find a couple jello shots, which I pocket for later. Like a junky, I would take anything to quell the withdrawals when they came. Listening carefully for the sounds of footsteps emerging down the basement stairs, I take large slugs of the heavy beer, each swig bringing me ever so slightly out of my withdrawn haze, hoping I might get one more down before Steve and Bryan came down. Then, quite suddenly, the exterior door to the laundry room swings open from outside. I turn to face my best friend of almost twenty-two years, caught red-handed in the act.

I feel like shit,” I try and explain, but there’s really no explanation when you’re caught in the act of morning drinking at nine on a Sunday at your best friend's grandmother's cottage in Pentwater.




When Bryan and I finally returned to Millwood later Sunday evening, I told my parents I was going out to put gas in my car, stopped at Marco’s Party Store and bought a pint of bottom shelf whiskey. I snuck it into the basement in the pocket of my shorts and proceeded to get drunk that night, as well as most of the next day. The withdrawals from the weekend are bad, and my intentions of tapering fall by the wayside as I eventually cross the line into drunkenness, at which point I no longer care about how shitty I'll feel the next day; such are the risks of tapering as opposed to cold turkey. 

We had a lot of fun that summer, but the memory of Steve catching me drinking that Sunday morning in Pentwater sticks with me for a long time. I guiltily wonder to myself during subsequent bouts of withdrawal what Steve must have thought of me that morning, how embarrassing it was for the both of us. It represented an undeniable truth that I seemed to be skidding wildly towards -- on a collision course with: it was becoming harder and harder for me to keep up the mirage of social drinking as I became increasingly dependent on alcohol, increasingly difficult to hide it from friends and family.