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