Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Twilight Lounge

Who the fuck goes out for dinner on Christmas Eve?

It is your first year away at school and you’re working as a waiter at a high-end Italian restaurant. It’s packed with customers right up until you close at 7:00 P.M. You knew that this would be the case and have plans to leave straight from work to make the three-hour trip home to see your family. They must really miss you, or maybe feel sorry for you, because they have rearranged the regular Christmas Eve schedule to have dinner ready at 10:00.

You call your mom as you walk out the door of the restaurant to let her know you are on your way. You’re really looking forward to spending the holiday at home.

The first 90 minutes of the drive are easy. As a matter of fact, you’re making record time and starting to think that you may even be home before 10:00.

Then you hit the Tule fog.

Tule fog is a thick ground fog that settles in certain areas of California’s Great Central Valley. It’s a phenomenon that happens throughout the winter following the first significant rainfall. Within it, visibility is zero percent. As a matter of fact, accidents caused by Tule fog are the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the state. So, you’re fucked.

You’re in the middle of nowhere on a rural stretch of State Route 152 between the towns of Los Banos and Chowchilla. Even on a clear day, there is nothing to see but fields of cotton, vineyards of grapes, and orchards of peaches, pistachios, and almonds. There are no shops, stores, gas stations, or anything else for about 60 miles. So, you’re really fucked.

When you hit Tule fog, it’s like running into a wall of thick, black soup. It doesn’t start slowly and get gradually worse. It just begins and there is nothing to do but apply the brakes, make a U-turn, and hope that you don’t get broadsided by an oncoming vehicle.

You manage to turn around without incident and head in the opposite direction. You have two choices. Knowing that the nasty fog will sometimes dissipate without rhyme or reason, you can either pull over and wait it out, or head back to your apartment and try to make the drive in the morning. You decide to find a place to safely wait it out and start slowly driving back towards Los Banos.

Less than two miles into your escape, you see a commercial building with a small dirt parking lot that you never noticed before. You decide to park there and hope for the best. You call your mom to tell her what is happening and encourage her to not wait. She sounds disappointed. You feel depressed.

Turns out that the little commercial building is a bar: The Twilight Lounge. What better way to wait out the Tule fog than to go inside, get warm, and have some hot coffee? Right? So you venture in and find that it’s full of migrant field workers, all from Mexico. You don’t speak Spanish and very few of them speak English. But soon, you are joining them at the pool table and in and in games of dice. You all laugh and even dance. Your idea of a hot cup of coffee changes as you start doing shots of top-shelf El Conquistador Anejo Tequila and learn a variety of traditional Mexican toasts.

Even if the fog clears, you won’t be leaving anytime soon. Somehow, you understand that everyone at the Twilight Lounge shares the same dilemma. You are all spending Christmas Eve away from your families and you are all a little sad. And in this, you all find joy.


Originally published by Terror House Magazine, July 17, 2019

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Drinking With St. Nick

For many of us of a certain age who grew up in the Little Neck area of New York, one place we cut our drinking teeth was Patrick’s Pub.

My first visit there was in 1970 on my 18th birthday, when my dad bought me my first legal beer. It was a true rite of passage, not only of time but of place, for I would spend many an evening and early morning there over the next decade before relocating to Florida.

In 1964 Frank Mockler introduced his family's Irish coffee recipe at the World's Fair in New York. The concoction got such a great reception, Frank and his brother Patrick decided to open up their own Irish pub.

Once in operation, they buttressed their famed drink with traditional Irish dishes.

Patrons enjoyed burgers if so chosen, but it was the menu items like Shepherd’s pie and black-and-white pudding that became staples. Patrick’s kitchen also offered a steak sandwich on garlic bread that was a fan favorite. Everyone had their favorite dish to help soak up the alcohol. Mine was the ample helping of steak with three eggs, a four A.M. meal I ended many an early morning with after spending the night in Manhattan.

Patrick’s stayed open for nearly 40 years. The building consisted of two adjoined sections, a long bar section, complete with dartboard, that opened out into a well-lit dining room in the back of the building. The tavern in Cheers had nothing on this place.

Naturally, St Patrick’s Day was a major night for the pub. Customers would dive into plates piled with a generous serving of corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes while pipers serenaded them—if one considers the sound of bagpipes as euphonious.

Drink enough whiskey or green beer, and everything starts sounding good.

Another big night—certainly my most memorable—was December 24, 1971. I was in the Navy and home on leave at the time. Visiting Richie, one of my best friends, we hung out at his parents’ house for a while but decided early in the evening to visit Patrick’s. People usually needed a reservation to get in, but since it was only a bit after 10 at night when we left his place and midnight mass hadn’t even begun yet, we took a chance on getting a table.
With money in our wallets and hope in our hearts, Richie and I drove over and found that our luck held out.

I opted to go in uniform that night. Although people in the armed forces weren’t greatly loved at the time, I still ran into a number of veterans at the pub. Being in uniform proved a good way to sometimes score free drinks while there, swapping stories though most of the older guys had the better and livelier ones; I hadn’t been in long enough to gather my own.

“Look at that,” Richie said to me as we walked in. The place was crowded, but he pointed to an empty table in a far corner of the raised dining room that adjoined the bar.

“Great,” I told him. “Go ahead and grab it while I get a pitcher.”

Ordering our beer and an appetizer to justify taking the space in the dining area. I also sprang for a couple of shots of whiskey to make some boilermakers. That seemed a good way to toast in Christmas morning.

Not long after midnight, we—along with everyone else in the back room—heard a booming, boisterous “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merr-r-ry Christmas, everyone!”

There, in the side door that led to the parking area, Santa stood in all his glory. The outfit and beard were perfect, but his basso voice was the real attention-getter.

Our faux Santa wended his way to the first table, sat down between two couples, and started singing “Jingle Bells.” Everyone in the place joined in while Santa sat there conducting the chorus with a mug of beer he’d grabbed off the table.

The tune over and all applauding, St. Nick now moved to another table and started in on “Oh, Christmas Tree,” refilling his empty mug from that pitcher of beer. At times, our St. Nick conductor forgot some of the words but filled those gaps by loudly belting out “Da-Dadada-Da-Dadada” followed by “Da-Dadadada-Dada!”

That carol done, he stood and moved to the next table. Once there, he started in with “Silent Night.” Of course, now everyone quieted down to reverently sing when I noticed that the mock Santa, between slurring the words to the carol, was refilling his mug from their pitcher too.

"Check it out,” I nudged my friend and pointed. “Santa’s getting tanked. On everyone else’s beer.”

And so he was.

“Think I wore the wrong outfit tonight,” I noted.

As the night went on, we noticed he never hit any table that didn’t have both an obvious couple and a fairly full pitcher within reach: our Santa spent time with a different group, leading them in song while siphoning—at times spilling—the contents of whatever pitcher was there, pouring a portion into his own glass.

Eventually the crowd thinned out, leaving behind the last few stragglers—including Richie and myself—and one snoring Santa.

The bartender came over to wake him. “Come on, Santa. Time to get back to the North Pole and the wife.” He removed the hat and wraparound beard, then stood back. “Anyone know this fellow?”

His identity was a mystery as none of us still there recognized the guy now collapsed against the side of a dining room bench.

The bartender eventually called a cab after checking his wallet for a name and address. With daybreak approaching, the rest of us left. I left facing the daunting task of trying to wrap presents under the influence. Still, it had been one extraordinary Christmas Eve.

So, join me and raise a glass to the Mockler brothers and people like them. They give us great memories as we move along in years, and those remembrances make getting old worthwhile.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

No Xmas Tree

Just near empty bottles

of very good whiskey

2 women and I drank

during the course

of a week that ended

with us not speaking

to each other since.

I put roses like those

I steal from the neighbor's

garden in said bottles

as a reminder

there is much beauty

in this world.

Even with the women gone.

The knife one of them

threw at me for looking

at her friends legs remains

on the floor where it landed

after hitting the wall and

missing me by a foot.

A  reminder that

any  Christams

even for a man with little

to lose can be more

curious than planned.

When it extends to

New Years Eve.

I/he does not mind

the things they stole

or borrowed with ill


“I'm never fucking

you again,” she said

“and you ain't fucking her neither”

were her parting words

as they stumbled ouside

to the snow

Ending his one affair

since his divorce

three years before.

All the bottles empty

after he downed a double


He found himself

still reaching for

what lingered sweet

long enough to be


Ten years of marriage

most good until

the end..

His wedding ring

lost in a desk

alongside knowledge

his wife pawned hers.

He placed a comically

large seashell to ear

just to hear the sea

scream for the past

like him

on most days.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Just for Tonight

A shot of rum

Some music

More rum

More music


Feel free

And forgetful

For an evening.

Tomorrow will be waiting.

Monday, December 5, 2022


“Happy hour” around here begins quietly enough.

The first arrivals, the greetings, the half waves,

The nods. This group knows all the bartenders

By name and enjoys the waiter who likes to call

Himself, “the medicine man” and asks about

Doses and prescriptions. It begins slowly and

Grows louder, the conversations get to laughter,

Louder voices win out after a time. There’s a jazz

Band that plays some days and drowns out voices.

The listeners nod along to the music, love to hear

Something attributed to Fats Waller or even Count

Basie, but Dave Brubeck numbers get the most

Applause, applause for the most familiar. Happy

Hour lasts longer than an hour and the specials

They offer stay on as long as the crowd is thick and

Easy to please. Then the place starts to clear and

Go their separate ways, some act busy, some act

Afraid to go on to the next thing, and some need

The bartenders to call them a cab. That’s something

They’ll do for you if you are a regular and they know

Your story, the story you told them one Happy Hour

After a few too many.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Hard Drinking Buddy of Mine

That hard drinking buddy of mine

He says he’ll go drinking with me any time

As long as I’m paying

You know what I’m saying

That hard drinking buddy of mine

That hard drinking buddy of mine

I could call him at nine or at midnight, it’s fine

He’ll throw down a shot

Of whatever I’ve got

That hard drinking buddy of mine

That hard drinking buddy of mine

If ever a drink I’d decline

From out of the blue

Would come “you know who”

That hard drinking buddy of mine

That hard drinking buddy of mine

Would time to time drink himself blind

And when he got sober

He’d swear that it’s over

That hard drinking buddy of mine

That hard drinking buddy of mine

Would pester me time after time

Just one little drink

He’s say with a wink

That hard drinking buddy of mine

That hard drinking buddy of mine

Got married now he toes the line

Ain’t it a shame

He’s not the same

Hard drinking buddy of mine

Thursday, November 3, 2022


she used to be my whiskey girl,

always downing Wild Turkey 101 and even after ten drinks

she’d walk straight, hardly showing the effects of the elixir.

Gina would drink anything under the sun, as long

as it was in abundance. I fixed her margaritas and she loved

how I coated the glass with blow.

she was the only one eagerly swilling my hangover cures,

she had no trouble outdrinking me even when she had

to go to work and I stayed inside, draining Four Roses

and waging war on the page.

I haven’t seen her in quite a while; I moved away, to a

different country altogether,

and I still miss her smile—nothing better to kick hangover’s ass

than her full, luscious lips and hypnotizing hazel eyes.

I’m guessing she’s still dancing in that underground joint,

making money out of sexless, hopeless men.

my third gin and tonic of the day is dedicated to her. and when

I crack Wild Turkey, in an attempt to crank shit up,

I’ll dedicate the first couple of glasses to her.

afterwards, it’ll become a no holds barred match where

no one will be safe.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

One More Beer for Suzi

Suzi O‘Brien was born on the wrong side of the tracks in South Arlington, Virginia and felt like a child of the Great Depression while attending St. Agnes School for Girls (1st to 8th grades), each time she spotted her friends out of uniform, wearing the trendiest fashions from Lord and Taylor and Nordstrom‘s, while she dumpster-dove into the Calvary Baptist Missionary Barrel looking for remnants she could stitch into something vaguely resembling clothes. At Archbishop Denis J. O‘Connor High School, however, she turned outward, stretching her soul and mind away from the harsh realities of Falls Church fashions and mini-mansions, and realized that the majority of Virginians were suffering from a moral depravity they’d never be able to fill. Accordingly, she devoted most of the free time in her junior and senior year to feeding the homeless, mentoring fellow Catholic school illiterates, and briefly abetting the Save the Elephants in Bangladesh Movement. After her priest, Father Chuck, warned her that all Protestants were going to die and go to hell, however, Suzi dropped her affiliation with Youth for Christ and the Billy Graham organization. ―Better safe than rot in hell,‖ she told her x-Protestant friends as she rode her motorcycle to the Blessed Shrine of Immediate Danger to pray for the salvation of wayward Protestants. As an Irish Catholic, Suzi attended mass every day until she ultimately matriculated at William and Mary College. There, in the beat of just one eyelash, she lost her virginity and all her Domino Pizza coupons, while learning to party until dawn, as her Irish roots oozed out of her, three inches longer than her red hair. Within a week, Suzi was declared the freshman class beer-drinking champion and her reputation grew exponentially until she graduated at the bottom of her class. Suzi‘s greatest claim to fame while attending William and Mary was that, in her senior year, she organized the dance hall-sing-along musical revue Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, in which all twenty-two original songs consisted of the words beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer and forty-seven students did nothing but drink beer for two hours and thirty-seven minutes. The show was a smashing success and Suzi was nominated for (and won) William and Mary‘s prestigious "Most Outstanding Drunk of the Decade" Award (a plague that she still holds near and dear to her heart—regardless of those horrible years as a kindergarten teacher when she had to sip beer out of a cocoa mug at her desk and tell her children that dreadful smell was really Ivory soap.) After serving one year, with nothing but a piece of chalk to protect herself from the screaming banshees, Suzi discovered her inner-inner self by delving into her viscera, looking under the tissues deep inside the marrow, snapped open the cartilage and rescued it. Suzi‘s epiphany was nothing more than a realization of her life‘s ambitions. She heard an inner voice telling her it was her life‘s plan to be a tour guide so she could help the trepid travelers find their way. So, for the ensuing fifteen years, she led school groups on tours of the Nation‘s Capitol. Twice, she even ventured away from the Mall—once by leading a group of eighth graders to Annapolis—and once, by successfully undertaking a trip to Baltimore‘s Inner Harbor, thirty-five miles away because, unfortunately, Suzi gave up driving after that freakish beltway accident in which she plowed into an animal rescue truck that hurled twenty-four crates of skunks into the air, half of which ultimately landed on her windshield. The fact that she was only able to salvage the brand new Mercedes for scrap metal afterwards haunts her to this day.

Even today she's terrified of furry critters, coats, and most boots. (Today, most Virginians still avoid the section of Interstate 95, stretching from the Mixing Bowl to Springfield, because, even though the state spent fifteen years trying to de-scent the black-white-black-white-black-white skunk-smelling highway, there is still a lingering odor perfuming the surrounding air.) Now, other than walking to the nearest liquor store to purchase a twenty-four pack of Miller‘s High Life, Suzi seldom ventures far from home. (Summer and winter, night or day, she has no qualms about venturing out to purchase her suds…a decision that she has never regretted.) For the past nine years, Suzi has kept a small pied-a-terre on Capitol Hill, renting the lower unit of 1829 East Capitol Street, which by happenstance is immediately adjacent to Milton Bradley‘s mansion at 1827 East Capitol Street. The two, along with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of William and Mary friends and Comedy Club hangers-on, get together nightly to drink, play board games (and, yes, Suzi especially loves Milton‘s first game Gooses and Mooses), practice mime, and scream at the locals who piss on their houses, as they attend sports events at the ever-decaying and crumbling RFK Stadium. Next to drinking, Suzi‘s greatest skill is screaming, an art form that she says has been greatly enhanced because of the proximity to RFK stadium. ―You try talking above that fat bald-headed trumpet player and 50,000 drunken fans or try walking across Nineteenth Street in the middle of rush hour when 20,000 people clamor into the Metro, and see how long you keep your sanity.

Suzi has had a crush on Milton Bradley for over fifteen years but is afraid of a commitment. "I‘d love to marry Milty, but I‘m afraid I‘ll end up living away from the city, away from the piss smell and the trumpeter who plays, Hail to the Redskins all night long." Suzi knows she‘d also miss the freedom of being able to walk fifty yards and hop on the Stadium Armory Metro (Blue and Orange Line) and be downtown—to the bars and clubs—in less than eight minutes. She‘d also find it unbearable to leave the region and forgo the pleasure of hanging out at Eastern Market, taunting the cheese lady, to smelling the fresh fish (and hurrying along quickly before she vomited), and five-figuring a few of the knickknacks up for sale at the weekend flea market.

Mostly, however, Suzi would miss the opportunity of kibitzing the tennis games and pick-up basketball games that take place across the street at Eastern High School, and she‘d pine in anxiety if she were unable to direct traffic when the signal got knocked down on the corner of East Capitol and Nineteenth whenever a trash truck (specifically the one with the three-foot stuffed bear screwed on the front grill) rounded the corner and bashed against the telephone pole. Suzi longs for the good old days, when life was free and easy and, as a God-fearing Roman Catholic, she didn‘t have to make her own decisions. Life is so less complicated when you don't have to worry about those egregious things like free will and intellectual freedom.

Perhaps I'll go back to the church…Life was so much easier when the Pope made all my decisions.

Pope. Drinking. Pope. Drinking. Drinking. Pope. Drinking. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer.

No brainer.

Now Suzi consumes a bottle of Chablis and a twenty-four pack each evening before turning in (the twenty-four packs are harder to lug than the smaller six-packs, but it gives her a sense of assurance and she no longer has to waste time at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Weight Lifting Academy, located on the corner of Seventeenth and East Capitol Streets, across from the Ho Chi Minh Carry-Out.) Perhaps that‘s why she loves Milton Bradley so much; together they can stock their kitchen with a month‘s supply of groceries (nine loaves of bread, fifteen boxes of Velveeta, two boxes of saltines, four boxes of Rye Crisps, and two packs of those plastic knives—the ones that don‘t cut worth a damn but at least you know you‘ll never be arrested if you accidentally stuffed one in your pocket and jumped on a plane).

Some day when I'm drunk enough, or too afraid to scream, Milton will propose and then… Suzi‘s eyes hazed over thinking of her future, forgetting her past, hating the present, wishing for tomorrow, hoping for Milton, afraid of Milton, hoping for a life, disowning her life, wanting Milton, wanting Milton, wanting Milton.

Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer. Beer.

But the Pope, the Christ, the church?

No brainer.

It's just one more beer for Suzi!

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Plague Poem for Day Eight Hundred and Sixty-Five, Empty

Empties after a while

Become conspicuous

Take up space.

Some to be returned

For the deposit

We paid

And now

Imagine the money

Coming back,

While others end up

In recycling

And we imagine them

Being sorted out


Or at least disappearing.

Empties sometimes

Feel like old friends

With the friendship

Used up

Drained and now

Need to be hidden

And then, and now

Go off to

Their next place

In the greater scheme

Of empty things.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Captain, Baseball, and Me

There are two things needed to understand this: I was born in 1952, placing me in the generation that grew up on television, and I am from New York City. One of the most popular shows of my childhood was the Captain Kangaroo Show, my age’s Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock, and Barney all rolled up into one.

Captain Kangaroo was a character portrayed by an actor named Robert Keeshan. He and a cast of puppets, props, and a few actors taught us citizenship, manners, and other “virtues.” The captain was such an iconic figure that his name was incorporated into the lyrics of the 1965 Statler Brothers song recounting “playing Solitaire ‘til dawn/with a deck of fifty-one/smokin’ cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo.” 

That Keeshan himself worked out of New York affects the other part of the equation here. Being a New Yorker background also means I grew up a fan and follower of the Yankees. In 1978, the Bronx Bombers assembled a roster including Hall of Famers Goose Gossage, Catfish Hunter, and Reggie Jackson. A number of players went on to coach and manage: Lou Pinella, Willie Randolph, Don Gullett, and Sparky Lyle. Ironically, Bucky Dent, hardly a standout name, did so well that season he became known by Red Sox fans as “Buckyfukindent.”

The team was led by captain and catcher Thurman Munson, a player so loved by fans that when he died in a plane crash a year later, there was—almost shockingly—an actual moment of silence in Yankee Stadium.

However, the 1978 Red Sox also had designs on winning the championship, and at the end of June, the Yanks were ten games behind Boston and all but written out of any pennant race. But this was the year of miracles, and the team tied the Red Sox at the end of the season and traveled to Fenway Park for a one-game tiebreaker, which they won in what some baseball historical aficionados have called one of the greatest games ever played.

But what happened to me happened before that October.

I was in Manhattan in August. As my day ended, I decided to wait for my train at the Iron Horse Saloon, a watering hole in Penn Station and a precursor to the sports bar and a favorite for sports people of all stripes: fans, ex-jocks, writers, even some players. Pictures of New York pro athletes hung around like stained glass in a church: Walt Frazier driving to the boards, Don Maynard running after catching a Joe Namath bomb, the Don Larsen-Yogi Berra embrace after the 1955 “perfect game,” Willie Mays making his over-the-shoulder catch.

When I sat at the bar, the place was relatively empty, but it was a midweek afternoon. A few seats over sat an older man sporting a distinctive moustache and thick silver hair cut in bangs. I ordered my beer—something domestic—and this portly gentleman turned toward me.

“Why you drinking that crap?” he asked. “Have a real beer.” He pointed to a bottle of Guinness Stout.

Of course, anyone willing to get me a beer of that quality is always welcome to do so. I moved next to him as the bartender cracked a new bottle and poured a fresh glass.

“Bob,” the elderly man said, holding his hand out. I shook it and gave him my name. Like me, he was headed out to the Island although his destination was the South Shore.

The two of us waited for our trains, drinking and talking about (of course) “our” Yankees and the team’s latest exploits.

“Did you catch that game last month,” he asked, “when Guidry struck out 18 Angels?”

If this was a season of Yankee miracles, perhaps no greater miracle existed than Ron Guidry, a tall lanky pitcher and savior risen from the bayous of Louisiana. He recorded an earned run average of 1.74 and struck out 248 batters, including the 18 Bob had just brought up.

“You bet,” I answered.

“Brutal,” Bob shook his head, repeating, “brutal. But I loved it.”

We continued projecting our hopes to an October berth and prayed to unseat the dreaded Red Sox. Eventually, it was time for him to go. He thanked me for the company and bought me another bottle. We parted company with happy thoughts about our city’s baseball team.

Once gone, the bartender returned for the empties and to wipe down the bar. “You know who just got you those beers?”

I shrugged, admitting the guy looked familiar, but I couldn’t place the face.

The barkeep smiled, leaned forward and said, “For the last hour, you’ve been drinking with Captain Kangaroo.”

I don’t care how old or decrepit I get: I doubt I’ll ever forget drinking a brew with the Captain—and he bought.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Gay Bar

walking alone along the road, i decided, on the spur of the moment, to go into a gay bar. that’s no big deal; i’ve walked into countless places like this in my life, probably thousands of times, in cities all over the world. but not for many years.

it’s not that there are any rules about going into a place like this at sixty-two years old; there are often old blokes in these establishments. or that i am alone. that means nothing to me; it’s how i often roll. it’s just that gay bars are no longer in my life. i don’t go into them generally, don’t have a reason to.

i hadn’t made a conscious decision beforehand. i was simply walking back to my room after eating an early, and excellent vegan dinner, whilst visiting sydney, and i saw a bar that i was surprised is still operating, that i’ve been in many times before, so i looked in from the sidewalk for a moment before entering.

maybe it was the big haired drag queen doing a show to a gay party anthem, or seeing a ‘happy hour – cheap jugs’ sign, or the friendly bouncer giving me a smile and nod, or the shoulder to shoulder crowd of men of all ages moving to the music, or that it felt appealing to be in an all men queer space again, or seeing an older face that i was sure i knew from somewhere, or the empty stool by the wall that looked like a good place to sit and watch it all, or seeing two young guys, arm in arm, seeming totally in love, taking me back decades to my first boyfriend and i out partying in bars, or that i actually felt like a few beers, or that i wasn’t ready to go back to my room, or just feeling like it was the best thing to do at that time.

while these are all possibilities of why i entered, i don’t know for sure, but i went into the bar and am now sitting on a stool at a table watching the show (and making these notes), with a full jug of beer in front of me and an old smiling friend i recognize and haven’t seen for twenty years making his way towards me and it feels like it’s going to be a fabulous night.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

A Tale of Addiction and Self-Aggrandizement

"A True Life Story of Addiction and Recovery," the subtitle to many a celebrity's memoir goes. These books sold so well that even the commoners began writing them and the publishers published them. So many flooded the market that addiction stories ran the risk of becoming boring, but writers soon figured out that they could still get money and fame if they beefed them up just a little bit. Along came James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and even Oprah fawned over it. Frey swaggered through prison cells, busted jaws, was on police most-wanted lists. A most harrowing tale of addiction and recovery, it was. The publisher was so anxious for a sure-fire best seller he didn't even bother to check the writer's story, which, of course, turned out to be a fraud. It didn't stop the addiction/recovery chronicle train though; so many of them came rolling off publisher assembly lines they soon became cliche. And then someone attempted to uncliche the genre. Nice try, but it still came out as a bunch of solipsistic bullshit.

The Night of the Gun by David Carr (subtitle: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own) is yet another addiction/recovery story without much more to say than the thousands that came before it. What the author did, however, was find a different way to say it. He packed up all his video and audio recording equipment, got in touch with all his old friends from his drinking and partying days and asked, "Hey, why don't I interview you talking about me?" Amazingly, they fell for it and we have a first person story not told in the typically narcissistic first person fashion. Well played, Mr. Carr. Very well played indeed.

Not all of the book is filled with his friends talking about him into his microphone. He, of course, has to take over some of the narration himself. Using bravado similar to the above-mentioned Mr. Frey, he often describes himself as a thug, and once as a "friendless thug." The "friendless" adjective doesn't jive with much of his story—playing Frisbee with his college buddies, phoning people to ask for advice on how to proceed with recovery options, road trips galore, and a family that constantly worried over him (his brother contacted David's creditors and worked out reduced payment plans for him). And of course "thug" doesn't really fit either, Carr was from a middle-class family ("My dad was and is a success by any objective definition," he says at one point, although he also whiningly claims that the $20 check his father gave him when he dropped Carr off on his first day of college bounced).

The machismo bluster gets embarrassing in places. "I can do a threat assessment when I walk into a room. I know how a cop acts when he is trying not to act like one, and that the smoother a bad guy is, the more menacing he actually is." There are times where he mentions slapping his old lady around, applying touches of regret and contriteness in an attempt to conceal the bluster. He makes no attempt at all to conceal the bragging, however, when he says that most people in the party, drinking, and doping lifestyle are wannabees, sometimes even referring to them as civilians, ostensibly assuring the reader that Carr is the real deal here. He even scoffs at someone else's unnamed autobiography, saying, "I knew he made it up."

You've got to hand it to him in one area though—name dropping. He begins one new chapter by telling us about partying with his buddy Tommy. A few sentences later he refers to this same drinking buddy as Tom. Then, he mentions his drinking buddy's wife—Roseanne. Could it be? Yes! Turn the page and there is a photograph of Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr. Well played again, Mr. Carr. Later in the book, after he's gone through more rehab stints, we are treated to a photograph of him and his young daughters with Barbara "Say No To Drugs" Bush. Autographed, of course.

A narcissistic whiner, a solipsistic attention whore, he goes through the endless revolving door of rehab, AA, therapy, and then throws the addiction/recovery memoir on top of it all to boot. AA meetings that start with "My name", "I am", and then endless yapping about yourself is a perfect home for people who believe themselves to be the center of the universe. Many drinkers, maybe even most, have woken up one morning to a "never again" hangover. They don't, however, rush to the phone and tearfully beg friends or relatives (who would very quickly tire of it) to take them to a detox center or rehab facility yet again. Between crying to his friends for help and getting them all 86'd from their favorite bars, Carr appears to be the epitome of the "high maintenance friend."

Carr expresses gratitude to the Minnesota taxpayer for funding much of his treatment. When he flopped into the Hennepin County detox, his caseworker Bob Olander hooked him up with state funded treatment. Many people flop into that particular treatment facility, most of them destitute and nearly wasted, but almost none of them get referred for taxpayer funded treatment. Olander referred his friend for treatment on the state's dime because Carr was a "white guy with skills and family." Poor familyless bastards without a vocation would be shown the door after their 72 hours were up with an encouraging, "Stay off the bottle, son."

He includes a 12-point sobriety checklist of uplifting vacuous slogans. Certainly he would get nods of agreement with obvious maxims like "Don't Drink. Go to meetings." Of course he throws in the old standby "Trust God." However, one of his aphorisms is quite puzzling here, even if it's the most important and relevant one: "Avoid writing or reading junkie memoirs."

What Carr doesn't get, like most rehab/therapy/treatment addicts don't get, is that it is their neediness for other people that is the source of their own misery. The stupid antics they pull when bar hopping with their buddies out of need for attention, the bragging/whining over those same antics that they repeat ad nauseam to anybody within listening distance, and then the desperate need they have for people to tell them, I worry about you, demonstrates their infantile clinginess to other people. Carr wrongly states, "A drunk alone with himself is in a terrible neighborhood." Yet it is these solo drinkers, those who drink for the love of booze alone, not drinking to impress and shock a pack of drinking buddies, that rarely end up begging drug/alcohol counselors to save their sorry asses.

About a third of the book isn't even about addiction/recovery at all. He tells us what a great writer, reporter, and editor he is. To put a veneer of humility on it, he adds that he needed to work on his management and people skills. Still, it's not enough to prevent an eye roll at the full-of-himself strutting around. Other included irrelevant side shows are an overly detailed account of his diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkins lymphoma and a "where-I-was-on-9/11" story.

There are too many moments of embarrassingly laugh-out-loud irony here to list them all. Perhaps the most absurd was when he stated, "Memoirs that ridicule recovery programs make me laugh." Carr himself, after having failed numerous times in recovery programs, can't recommend them heartily enough. Most people get themselves back on track after a bender simply by spending a day on the couch with Alka Seltzer and an ice pack. The downside, of course, is that they deprive themselves of the chance of writing a self-indulgent 400 page addiction/recovery pity party.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Easter Island


DOTTIE, a woman in her seventies. She is losing her memory.

TOM, a man in his seventies, Dottie’s husband. He has retired to take care of her.

WALLY, a man in his forties. Son-in-law to Dottie and Tom.

LOLA, a woman in her forties, divorced and remarried daughter of Dottie and Tom

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

City of Lost Dreams

He stood at the end of the bar. A dissipated

Popeye. A wool cap pulled down to his eyes.

Fat cigar between his lips. This was years

ago, when people still smoked in bars. Still

read newspapers. In print. One opened wide

in front of him. Drinking what I guessed to be

coffee from a bone white mug.


We were the only people in the bar. We had

driven from our small town to Chicago where

we hoped a life might be waiting. The Reader open,

searching the ads for a place we could afford.


We hoped to get jobs or go to school. Or

both. Betting on the come.


Part of it worked out. For her. For me.


Lincoln Avenue changed. Popeye lost the

bar. Died at home with his too-young

bride. Not their home, but the bride’s father’s.

They no longer had the means for a place of their

own. Father and husband almost the same age.

Father only a little younger. Small town girl,

if I remember right.

Monday, October 3, 2022


On the street of broken dreams, she saw

the dyed-blond hipster she’d always wanted

to be. She followed her into the blues club and

watched as her unfortunate role model sat down

at a table. Three older men and a dyed blond



Back on the sidewalk while she waited on the

band, she shared a cigarette with a rail-thin woman.

Her age an unanswerable question.


Apropos of nothing, the woman said, Life’s a bitch.

Static and fluid. Both. Waves aren’t calm, she said.

They ain’t your friend.


How to answer that?


Was it the curse of youth? The times? The ache for

a life unlike the one she sprung from. She, a girl

possessed with small town beauty. An innocence

she actively denied.


She became a regular in the bars on the street where

dreams are only that. When she married the bar

owner everyone called Popeye, who was older

than her father, another kind of life


Saturday, October 1, 2022

Jim, Johnnie, and Jack

These are my buddies,

Jim, Johnnie, and Jack

They’ve been with me each evening

Since the day I got back

Stints in the jungle, stints in the sand

If you had been with me

Then you’d understand

They help me remember

They help me forget

That I’m safe and sound

Though I don’t sense that yet

Each has a purpose

Each has a goal

To make sure I function

Somewhat in control


Jim is my first choice

A real mellow fellow

Quick on the uptake

Quick to say hello

Tan as a Barbie

Left out in the sun

Smooth with the ladies

Always looking for fun


Johnnie’s called Walker

Sometimes just Red

May not know what he’s doing

May not know what he’s said

He’s harder than Jim

The way that he’s used

A little more active

A bit more abused


Jack is much darker

A fighter you know

Always quite ready

To trade blow for blow

An eye for an eye

A tooth for a tooth

Seldom listens to reason

Seldom cares for the truth


Yes, these are my buddies

Jim, Johnnie, and Jack

They bring me courage

When it’s courage I lack

Tell me when I’m right

Tell me when I’m wrong

Tell me when to relax

And to just go along


Jim, Johnnie and Jack

And I all agreed

Jim, Johnnie and Jack

Are all that I need

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

soon there will be one less

the gang was huddled together,
some loud regiment of drunks
that found sanctity in the exchange,
one spoke up: “listen boys” he said
“i got cancer…not the good kind,
the other kind”

they drank their beers in silence

i looked away
because in these moments
people look for god
or a social worker
or a priest or
an audience

i looked away
because i came here
looking for a break
but instead thought
about my own

i looked away
because i saw 
a small fracture 
on the countertop
that looked like
lee harvey oswald

i looked away
because i needed
to write this poem

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Bobby Ray

Do you know Bobby Ray?

Yeah, I know Bobby Ray.

Why you asking? I don’t

know. You believe his shit?

What shit?


Never mind. If you can’t see

the moss on the tree, why bother?


It’s only 10:30 in the am.


What’s that got do with anything?


Sounds like you might have sweetened

morning joe with a thing or two.


There’s only one thing.


Tell me about it.


Damn that Bobby Ray.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Hooch Affair

longing for the embrace of

bourbon as I’m having an

affair with wine; trying to balance

things out, to find a working medium

between the bottles of my heart.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

A Terrible Death in September

The death of a most beloved person can stop the world in its tracks. Newspaper editors forego the coverage of sports and politics to give the public the details of the passing of a person so adored the reverberations will be felt from the highest duke to the lowest stumblebum. The world was one way just a day ago—now it's another. The poles have shifted, the axis has been wobbled, the old order has been obliterated. Mourning throngs will fill the streets.

No, not Queen Elizabeth, you dumbass. Fred Franzia.

* * *

Byzantine emperor Leo III banned the worshiping of icons in 717 AD. It pissed off a few Catholic priests, bishops, and other idol worshipers, but Leo III was determined that people in his empire would not be idiots. He gave birth to the term iconoclast—a destroyer of icons. More than a millennium later another iconoclast came along and took a hammer to the preciousness of Northern California wine culture. Fred Franzia said, "No bottle of wine should cost more than $10," and brought us Two Buck Chuck. That's been quite a few years ago, too, and now Two-Buck Chuck will run you around four bucks. But still, even a sidewalk wino can afford it (if he can get by the Trader Joe's security guard at the front door).

Fred Franzia was born May 24, 1943. He, along with a brother and a cousin, founded Franzia wine in 1973 and promptly sold it to the Coca Cola Beverage Company. That same year they also founded Bronco Wine Company, best known for its Charles Shaw brand of varietals, more commonly known as "Two Buck Chuck." (The name Bronco was derived from Brothers and Cousin.) The Charles Shaw Chardonnay wine won the double gold at the 2007 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. Franzia told ABC News, "We choose to sell good quality wines at $2 a bottle because we think it's a fair price. We think the other people are charging too much."

Bronco is based in Ceres, California and is the fourth largest producer of wine in the USA. They have 10,000 employees world wide, have the capacity to produce 61 million gallons of wine annually, and they sell about 20 million cases of wine a year. They maintain more than 250 brands of wine including Bad Dog Ranch, Fat Cat, Red Truck, and Down Under. Fred Franzia had a unique way of getting top dollar from crushers for his grapes by directing his employees to scatter zinfandel leaves over inferior grapes in their bins, a process he called "Blessing the load." The feds were not amused and fined Franzia $500,000 in 1994 and forced him to step down from the Bronco board for five years.

One might be under the impression that a man named Charles Shaw is behind the name of the $2 wine, and in a roundabout way he is. Shaw started a Napa winery in the 1970's and won several awards for his vintages until financial troubles forced him to sell his winery. The buyer was Fred Franzia, and it wasn't long until Franzia started putting Two Buck Chuck on Trader Joe's shelves. It was a smashing success. The Wine Spectator Reported that 2 million cases of Two Buck Chuck sold that first year, and 5 million cases the following year. Fred Franzia came to the rescue of many other California wineries too, telling CNN in a 2007 interview, "We buy wineries from guys from Stanford who go bankrupt."

Although no longer associated with the boxed wine that bears his name, thrifty drinkers can raise their glasses of his Chillable Red in toast, grateful for getting 5 liters of wine (about 34 glasses) for less money than an Amazon warehouse worker makes in an hour. Franzia's boxed wine is as perfect for a women's book club as it is for an impoverished pensioner living in a fleabag hotel.

Fred Franzia died at his home in Denair, California September 13, 2022 at the age of 79.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Poopstone Jones

Frank and Buddy leaned their elbows into Pip’s bar, a Northeast Pennsylvania joint where patrons could drink all night on a five dollar bill and still leave a tip.

Buddy said “Hey, you remember Poopstone Jones?”

Frank, his elbow bent and glass of Firestone halfway to his lips, stopped mid-sip, something he rarely did for anyone. “No,” he said. “And you don’t forget a name like that. Don’t think I ever knew him.”

Buddy pointed toward the end of the bartop. “Guy who always sat over there, by the video machine.”

Frank’s eyes flicked over. “Don’t remember.”

“Always drank hefeweizen, everyone gave him shit about it like he was some kind of Euro-snob or something.”

“I’m telling you, I don’t remember.”

“OK fine. Might’ve been a couple years younger than you. Grew up with us in the hill section. Dunno why, but turns out that a snob was the one thing he wasn’t.”

“Yeah? Wasn’t eating quiche all the time or nothing?”

“Nope, was always eatin’ rocks.”

Frank almost choked on his next sip. “Rocks?”

Buddy shook his head. “Couldn’t take him across a parking lot for Godssake. He’d be picking up pebbles and throwing ‘em down the hatch.”

Frank shook his head, drained his glass, and hoisted his empty for the bartender to see. The man filled another, set the new drink in front of Frank and carried off the empty. Frank was a good tipper.

“Hey Paddy,” Buddy waved, “you remember Poopstone Jones right?”

Paddy the bartender scrunched up his nose like he’d smelled something foul. “No, I’d remember a name like that.”

Buddy spread his arms. “How am I the only one!” He watched the bartender return to his corner and go back to scrolling on his phone.

Frank sipped his fresh draft. Good old Firestone. “So, whatever happened to ol’ Poopstone?”

“Actually, he wasn’t called that right away. Used to call him Rocky. Then Stoney, That stuck a while. Stoney’s a good nickname to have. Then one day someone said ‘that must hurt comin’ out,’ somebody called him Poopstone Jones and it stuck.”

“What was his real name?”

“Tommy. Tommy Jones.”

“Poor kid.”

“Brought it on himself. Always eatin’ rocks like that. Washing ‘em down with heff.”

“OK, so what happened to him.”

“Believe it or not he’s still around. Lives over in Meshoppen.”

“Plenty a rocks out there,” Frank said. “Lotta guys we knew are already gone. Maybe ol’ Poopy knows something we don’t.”

“Wasn’t always that way. There was this one night…”

Frank rolled his eyes. “Here it comes.”

Buddy dripped indignity. “What?”

“Nothing. It’s just, you’ve collected a story for everything. You’re the oldest young man I know.”

“You wanna hear this or not?”

Frank waved his glass lightly. “Sure, why not.”

Buddy took a breath. “One night, we’re out camping. About ten years ago. Sitting around the campfire, belly laughing, you know…”


“And Jonsey, he’s drinking his heffs, and pretty soon he says he’s gotta use the latrine.”

“Probably gone for an hour,” Frank teased.

“Two,” Buddy said. “Two hours. Finally, we got worried. Maybe he’s fallen asleep. Or a bear got ‘em. So we went lookin.’ Go to the latrine. No Jonsey. Trail of heff cans leading out to it, but no Jonesy. So we grab flashlights, walk off into the woods. Half an hour later we find him. There he is, sitting beside the creek.”

“He OK?”

“He’s gulping water, right outta the stream! He sees us. You know what he says?”

Frank waited.

“Says ‘ran outta beer. Gotta stay hydrated boys, you wanna have a gut works like mine!’”

“He’s found a way to adapt to eatin’ rocks,” Frank said.

“Shale, sandstone, that crumbly stuff that’s like dried clay. Guy was a connoisseur. But you wanna hear the upshot?”

“Of course.”

“Ol’ Stoney was traveling the world. And he’s in some place, I don’t know, some country has a quartz mine or something. And when he thinks no one’s looking he takes a small piece and swallows it. And this woman, she sees him do it, and BAM. He looks at her, she looks at him, instant love.”


“They’re still together.”

“Out in Meshoppen.”

“Out in Meshoppen,” Buddy nodded.

Frank shook his head. “People look their whole lives for their one and only and somehow these two rocks eaters sniff each other out.”

“That ain’t all.”

“Course not,” Frank said.

“They had a kid.”

Frank nodded. “Eats rocks too?”

“Damnedest thing.”

“Poopstone Junior,” Frank said.

Buddy said “no one calls him that yet.”

Frank reached in his pocket and paid his tab, left a few extra bucks for the bartender. He got off his stool. “Give it a few years,” he said. “Before you know it they’ll be in here drinking heff together and chewing on the Spanish tile.”

“Probably,” Buddy half-heartedly agreed.

“Then again, you never know. Ol’ junior could go off to college, start drinking Old Latrobe and outgrow his rock habit. Then you’ll have to call him something else.”

Frank pushed the front door open. Buddy called at his friend’s back. “I don’t know. Thing like that ain’t something you just outrun in a generation.”

Frank, with a hand on the door and a tone of finality, said “kids in our neighborhood used to call me something until I was twelve or so.”

“What? How is it I never knew this!”

Frank shook his head. “And you never will.” He went through the door, into the night.

Buddy turned to Paddy, his lone audience. “How do you like that! Know the guy for years – decades and I’m just now finding out he had a nickname?”

The bartender nodded, scrolled. He said “I know what it was.”

“What! Tell me,” Buddy leaned into the bar.

Paddy put his phone down and sighed. “First things first,” he said.

Buddy gave him a look. “What?”

“Here’s an inside scoop for you, OK? If you’re a regular at a place, you can be sure you’ve got a nickname. Maybe the staff all call you Bud Light Buddy,” then Paddy gestured at the front door, “or Firestone Frank.”

“Is that what you call me, Bud Light Buddy?”


“What then?”

Paddy lifted a stack of receipts from beside the register and set it next to Buddy’s wrist.

“Tabs,” he said. “Sometimes it’s Tabs McGee, but mostly it’s Tabs.”

“Because - ”

“Pay up,” Paddy said. “Break out a credit card, ATM, cash, Venmo, whatever. Then we’ll start calling you something else.”

Buddy shook his head. He reached in his pocket and slid out a Visa he knew was good for a few thousand. “So long as it’s not as bad as Poopstone,” he said.

Paddy waved the card in the air. “So long as this goes through, and you add twenty percent - ”

“Twenty percent!”

“To divide among the staff. A staff’s been very patient I might add. If that all goes through, I’ll make you a deal. You get to pick your own nickname.”

Buddy leaned against the bartop. Paddy turned and ran the card. The slip soon printed out. He put it on a plastic tray with a Bic pen, ready for Buddy’s signature.

“Storybook,” Buddy said.

Paddy looked at him “Storybook,” Buddy repeated, “Frank just finished saying I’m always collecting everyone’s stories. So maybe Storybook Buddy.”

Paddy shrugged. Buddy smiled, then it fell and he shrugged too.

“Guess it doesn’t work that way, does it.”

“Nope,” Paddy said.

Buddy nodded. He pointed at the bar. “This requires some Thinking Juice,” he said. “Have a shot with me, buddy.”

Paddy turned and reached for a bottle, his customer’s final word echoing in his head.

Buddy. Yep, Paddy thought, and poured fresh shots. Some things you can’t force, because they’re fine just the way they are.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022


We used to loaf

parts of random

Friday nights

in a dirt lot behind

Prospect Heights

Federal Housing

where we’d grown up.

Sipping Narragansett

Giant Imperial Quarts,

a 20% bonus provided

more than forty ounces,

we were steadfast

in our faith that our choice

left Bud, Miller and Coors

in a cloud of choking dust.

Fifty cents the cost,

a nickel back for

return of the corpse.

Bill was the barkeep.

He was a master

of the bottle cap,

could pop one

using his teeth

as easily as biting

a sissy filter off

a bummed cigarette.

Army and Navy

lore was the drill

until childhood

tales kicked in.

We spoke of kids

we’d never see again

and toasted them with

our hefty bargain brews

and judged the clunks

were percentages sweeter

than the clicks of society

Champagne flutes.