Saturday, December 23, 2017

Alternative Biographies

"We were dutiful, if not particularly enthusiastic, Catholics. Mass every Sunday, Saturday catechism for me, fish sticks on Friday. Then, around my thirteenth birthday, I received the sacrament of confirmation, becoming an adult in the eyes of the church, and was thunderstruck to hear my parents say I was no longer required to go to Mass. That decision was now mine. Were they not concerned about the state of my soul? Their evasive, ambiguous answers shocked me again. They had been big fans of Pope John XXIII. But they did not, I realized, actually believe in all the doctrine and prayers -- all those Oblatios, Oratios, frightening Confiteors, and mealymouthed Acts of Contrition that I had been memorizing and struggling to understand since I was small. It was possible that they didn't even believe in God. I immediately stopped going to  Mass. God was not visibly upset."

"What could rightly have worried my dad about me and surfing was the special brand of monomania, antisocial and ill-balanced, that a serious commitment to surfing nearly always brought with it. Surfing was still something that one did -- that I did -- with friends, but the club thing, the organized-sports part, was fading fast. I no longer dreamed about winning contests, as I had dreamed about pitching for the Dodgers. The newly emerging ideal was solitude, purity, perfect waves far from civilization. Robinson Crusoe, Endless Summer. This was a track that led away from citizenship, in the ancient sense of the word, toward a stretched out frontier where we would live as latter-day barbarians.  This was not the day-dream of the happy idler. It went deeper than that. Chasing waves in a dedicated way was both profoundly egocentric and selfless, dynamic and ascetic, radical in its rejection of the values of duty and conventional achievement."

- william finnegan, barbarian days: a surfing life

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Grand Island, Presque Isle, and Points West

"Tuesday, June 16, [1840]

We are now in a region where the geologists begin to work. We have parted company with the sandstone, and got among hills as high and as rocky as those of New England. About two miles from Chocolate River we ascended a hill [possibly Mt. Mesnard], and spent all the forenoon examining it. It is composed of primary rock, not granite. At the base of the rock is found talc-slate, horn-blende and several other minerals. The top of the rock is composed almost entirely of white quartz, and is elevated near three hundred feet above the lake.

In the afternoon we traveled two miles farther and fixed our city at the mouth of "La Rivere des Morts," or dead river -- so called because its banks have long been a place of burial for the Indians. Here we had great sport catching trout.

Wednesday, June 17

We have had another rainy day. The storms here seem to be accompanied with more thunder than in any other portion of the state. The doctor says it is a thundering country. We have been confined to our tents the greater part of the day, but caught some trout and killed a duck. We have also seen some red deer, but as they were never known to be in these parts we are not provided with a rifle or ball to shoot them. Heretofore the caribou, or reindeer have been the only kind seen in so high a latitude.

Friday, June 19, 1840

Our encampment has not been changed today. In the forenoon the geological corps went onto Presque Isle and remained until 2 o'clock examining the different strata of rock. The examination is not yet completed, but they found, in what is called the lower sandstone, lead, iron, and sulphate of copper and brought off many very good specimens."

- Selections from North to Lake Superior: The Journal of Charles W. Penny, 1840

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

St. Michael's Catholic School

ch 4 excerpt

To get to school, we had to drive north into Livonia: we always drove over the Newburgh Lake bridge at the Nankin Mill crossing, where the lake dammed and emptied into the foul-smelling Rouge, then cut through the subdivision where Jim Rund lived (later we’d carpool to school together) towards Mies Park on West Chicago. From there we made a left onto the street adjacent to the football practice field where I’d spend my chilled Autumn afternoons with tobacco-spitting men who coached JV and Varsity CYO football autocratically (St. Mike’s had won 5 straight in the CYO when I started playing), the first indication of the St. Michael’s campus. Hanging another left onto Hubbard, we soon came upon the blacktop playground and parking lot where I spent thousands of recesses playing two-hand-touch football with my playmates, where I would get my heart broken by Jenn Bechard in fifth grade; an eight-foot chain-link fence enclosed the blacktop playground like a prison yard, stretching to the smaller playground structures and to the school itself – a three story redbrick structure straight from the 1970’s in tan concrete trim, with tall windows under ugly mint-green panels. Two large stone crosses jutted up from either end of the school. The gymnasium and middle school were adjoined in the back of the main structure – the elementary school building – and a wood-fenced garden separated the convent/rectory from our curious eyes behind that. At the northernmost end of the campus, St. Michael’s Catholic Church – the church where I vomited in fourth grade from the incense fumes of Benediction, where I spent every Friday morning Mass in imaginary realms, where I confessed my sins to Father Bondi and genuinely prayed in silent kneeling introspection – pointed its steel rooftop cross towards the heavens, a stone statue of St. Michael the Archangel watching over the corner of Hubbard and Plymouth. It was a world of rigidity and linear thinking that appealed far less to me than the woods of my summers. 

I love you!” Mom shouted from the van on the school blacktop, traitorously deserting us there to another school year at St. Michael’s, that redbrick prison of our collective youth. In our matching cross ties and loafers Patrick and I would walk thence disconsolately, in silence, towards our respective school lines and school doors, where a chaotic frenzy of activity and eager chatter awaited us. If we were lucky, and had drawn a younger, non-religiously-inclined teacher like Mrs. Chelowa or Mrs. Salley, that final march to school might be bearable, perhaps even anticipatory, but if we were among the sad lot assigned to one of St. Michael’s notorious nuns, we knew we were dead men walking.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dark Necessities

Dark Necessities

Coming on to the light of day we got
Many moons that are deep at play so I
keep an eye on the shadow smile
To see what it has to say
You and I both know
Everything must go away
but what do you say?

Spinning knot that is on my heart is like
bit of light and a touch of dark you got
sneak attack from the zodiac
But I see your fire spark
Eat the breeze and go
Blow by blow and go away
what do you say?

You don't know my mind
You don't know my kind
Dark necessities are part of my design
Tell the world that I'm
falling from the sky
Dark necessities are part of my design

Stumble down to the parking lot you got
no time for the afterthought they're like
ice cream for an astronaut
Well that's me looking for weed
Turn the corner and
Find the world at your command
Playing the hand

You don't know my mind
You don't know my kind
Dark necessities are part of my design
Tell the world that I'm
falling from the sky
Dark necessities are part of my design

Do you want this love of mine?
The darkness helps to sort the shine

- Anthony Kiedis

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lumberjack Tavern

"I saw that I had forgotten how beautiful the drive to Thunder Bay was; the towering sighing groves of fragrant Norway pines, the broad expanses of clean white sand, the sea gulls, always the endlessly wheeling sea gulls; an occasional bald eagle seeming bent on soaring straight up to heaven; the intermittent craggy and pine-clad granite or sandstone hills, sometimes rising gauntly to the dignity of small mountains, then again, sudden stretches of sand or more majestic Norway pines -- and always, of course, the vast glittering heaving lake, the world's largest inland sea, as treacherous and deceitful as a spurned woman, either caressing or raging at the shore, more often turbulent than not, but today on its best company manners, presenting the falsely placid aspect of a mill pond. . .

We drove slowly up the main street of the town, past the tourist park on our right, nestled in among a tall grove of pines on the lake shore, past the usual clutter of gas stations, a grocery store, the post office, then two churches. . .Near the end of the long street, on our right and overlooking the lake, stood a large white and attractive three-story frame structure. A screened-in veranda ran along the entire front half and half the side nearest the lake. This was the Thunder Bay Inn, in the barroom of which the proprietor Barney Quill met his death a short time before."

- John D. Voelker (Robert Traver) (UMich Law '28)
Anatomy of a Murder

Legal Docs

Maurice Chenoweth (murder victim) outline

Big Bay

Thursday, October 26, 2017

the beautiful and damned

"It was November, Indian Summer, rather, and a warm, warm night -- which was unnecessary, for the work of the summer was done. Babe Ruth had smashed the home run record for the first time and Jack Dempsey had broken Jess Willard's cheek-bone out in Ohio. Over in Europe the usual number of children had swollen stomachs from starvation, and the diplomats were at their customary business of making the world safe for new wars. In New York City the proletariat were being "disciplined," and the odds on Harvard were generally quoted at five to three. Peace had come down in earnest, the beginning of new days."

- f. scott fitzgerald

Friday, October 20, 2017

Summer 1994

That summer, I watched "The Lion King" on the big screen at the Quo Vadis Theater, an old school style movie theater with checkerboard-patterned tile floors and vast red carpeting in the halls, vaulted ceilings, an arcade and popcorn stand. On rainy days I played "Putt Putt Saves the Zoo" and "NHL 93" on the heavyweight desktop computer in the dining room, and I watched the Sports Illustrated Year in Sports CD-Rom endlessly, which included Michigan's Chris Webber calling an inopportune timeout in the National Championship game, Alabama's George Teague stripping the ball from Miami Hurricane's wide receiver Lamar Thomas in the Sugar Bowl, Joe Carter, the Dallas Cowboys, and former Red Wings coach Jacques DeMers calling Marty McSorley on an illegal stick, which led to a Kings penalty in the Stanley Cup Finals that helped DeMers and Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy win a Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, Bob Probert continued unraveling at the seams. On July 15, 1994, while an unrestricted free agent, he crashed his motorcycles and flipped forty feet over a Lexus at the intersection of Middlebelt and Keego Harbor Road in West Bloomfield Township, a posh Detroit suburb. Probert suffered minor injuries and was transported to a Pontiac hospital, where sobriety tests determined that he was under the influence of both alcohol and cocaine. Four days later, Red Wings senior Vice President Jim Devellano officially declared an end to the Bob Probert era in Hockeytown. "This is the end," he declared to the press, "in my twelve years with the organization. . . we [have] never spent more time on one player and his problems than we have on Probert." Chicago later signed Probert, but his debut in the Windy City was delayed when commissioner Gary Bettman suspended him for his drunk driving offense and ordered him into rehab, again, at the start of the 1994-95 season.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Visions of Probie

Probert channels Jeff Spicoli in his autobiography in recalling that ['88] summer: “after the Goose Loonies incident, the team was telling me I had to go into rehab again. I told them, ‘No way. I just got a boat and a new car and I’ve been in rehab three summers in a row!’”

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Montana, 1948"

"Wildness meant, to me, getting out of town and into the country. Even our small town -- really, in 1948 still a frontier town in many respects -- tasted to me like a pabulum. It stood for social order, good manners, the chimed schedules of school and church. It was a world meant for storekeepers, teachers, ministers, for the rule-makers, the order-givers, the law-enforcers. And in my case, my parents were not only figurative agents of the law, my father was the law."

"With my friends or on my own, I spent as many of the day's hours as I could outdoors, usually out at my grandfather's ranch or along the banks of the Knife River. (How it got its name I've never known; it's hard to imagine a duller body of water -- in dry summers it could barely keep its green course flowing and sandbars poked up the length of it; it froze every year by Thanksgiving.)

I did what boys usually did and exulted in the doing: I rode horseback (I had my own horse at the ranch, an unnaturally shaggy little sorrel named Nutty); I swam; I fished; I hunted (I still have, deep in a closet somewhere, my first guns from those years -- a single-shot bolt action Winchester .22 and a single-shot Montgomery Ward .410 shotgun); my friends and I killed more beer cans, soda bottles, road signs, and telephone pole insulators than the rabbits, squirrels, grouse, or pheasants we said we were hunting; I explored; I scavenged (at various times I brought home a snakeskin, part of a cow's jaw bone, an owl's coughball, a porcupine quill, the broken strip of tree bark with part of a squirrel's tail embedded in it, a perfectly shaped cottonwood leaf the size of a man's hand, and a myriad of river rocks chosen for their beauty or odd shape)."

- Larry Watson, Montana, 1948

Monday, August 28, 2017

Wrote a Novel


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 sense of conflicted nostalgia.

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.”


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

11 - BURR
17 - HULL
26 - KOCUR



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.


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


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