deskjob TNBI chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.

A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.

I drove en route to a one-bedroom cabin set off a lonely road from a remote highway in the north Georgia mountains where I’d have no cell phone reception. The cabin came with a mini-fridge, a shower and kitchen sink, a twin bed, a desk upon which I’d perch my computer, and the chair in which I’d sit to write. The windows looked out on a swath of mixed evergreen and deciduous forest that, in the duration of my stay, would blend into a kaleidoscopic of green and the yellow, orange, and red of fall.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Headed home from Seattle’s annual Drunksgiving celebration. Thought I’d squeeze out a quick story before I leave for the airport.

 

The Kevin Situation

I had a temp job once, in publishing. I spent a whole summer editing college textbooks for a university publisher that had offices on one floor of a Radisson hotel. That meant we enjoyed all the perks of a desk job (sitting down, internet access) plus all the perks of a hotel job (round the clock bar access and a pool). Plus, it was a temp job, so I didn’t have to care if I lost that job. (For the record, I did–lose the job, not care.)

Most of us in the office were temps, and new to the job, so the first week was pretty quiet. But after a couple of group lunches, we found that most of us got along pretty well, and shared more of an interest in boozing it up than editing textbooks. Long “margarita lunches” were soon supplemented with “smoke breaks” at the hotel bar. Often a few of us would hit a happy hour after work, and on more than one occasion we’d close down the bar.

I’m not bragging about the drinking, by the way. I barely drink at all anymore. I don’t think it’s super cool to drink on the job or relate to a group of people solely through alcohol.

But things were different in my twenties. I was moving all over the country–a new state every couple of months. I was single and going out all night, every night, hadn’t become boring yet. The three months I worked in publishing were the booziest three months of my life.

One morning I came into work still drunk from the night before. I wasn’t hungover. I was still drunk. The one guy I didn’t really like in that office noticed my sunglasses were staying on indoors a bit too long and made some sort of wisecrack.

“Shut up… Kevin,” was the best I could come up with in response.

The thing is–that guy’s name was not Kevin. I forget what it actually was, but I know it wasn’t Kevin. And “Kevin” didn’t like to be called Kevin, even after I rationalized, “Well, you look like a Kevin to me.”

I noticed that the more I called him Kevin, the more he hated it. So, of course, his name would be Kevin forever, as far as I was concerned. I’d catch the other folks in the office laughing to themselves when I’d say something like, “Hey Kevin, I’m getting some coffee–you want some?” Kevin would just make an angry noise and try to ignore me, but every once in a while he’d snap and raise his voice.

Stop calling me Kevin!

That day I took a long lunch with the rest of my office buddies, including the IT guy. I wasn’t driving (mostly because I was drinking, but also because I didn’t have a car), so I rode back to the office with the IT guy and he got me stoned in the parking lot. I told him about “the Kevin situation” and he laughed, and then joked that he should change that dude’s computer login so that he’d have to log in as Kevin to make it work. I begged him to do it, for real. He laughed and agreed.

Always make friends with the IT guy. Always.

When Kevin came back from lunch he sat at his desk, confused, entering his password over and over and becoming frustrated at the error message that kept popping up. Finally, he announced to the room, “My computer’s not letting me log in!”

“Are you sure you’re signing in with the correct name?” I asked, sweetly.

It took him a second to understand what I meant. But when he figured it out, he was furious. He stared at me and huffed a little, but I just smiled and pretended to be working on something of my own. He then reluctantly typed in the name “Kevin” with his password and cursed loudly when the login was successful.

We all tried really hard not to laugh–you could see he did not find it funny. Some giggles escaped a few of us, despite our best efforts.

I finally saved up enough money from that job to buy a car, which would have ended my drinking, one way or another. The same day I was planning on purchasing an old Nissan, I was called into my boss’s office to find out that my position there would be ending in a week. I was not surprised. I hadn’t actually had any work to do for days, and I’m guessing the few permanent positions were being given to one of the less-wasted employees.

I went to lunch with the gang, had a few drinks, and decided to move to Los Angeles. I spent the rest of the afternoon making arrangements–I had stopped even pretending to work at that point.

I don’t know what happened to “Kevin.” He had only signed on for the summer and was returning to school full time in the fall. I do know that for the rest of his time at that company–even after I left–he had to sign in as Kevin every day.

 

Family Guy

By Alan Brouilette

Food

The Ideal:

The alarm goes off at six on Thanksgiving morning. The cook rises and goes to the local greenmarket’s special session, hand-selecting the freshest produce for dinner. There is coffee upon returning, and the work begins. Sweet potatoes are peeled and chunked. The mise is gotten in place. The (home-made) bread is cubed and the (home-made) stock is heated, filling the kitchen with the aromas of stuffing. There is more coffee, light music – Vivaldi – and a very light snack. The best of the wine is decanted, to breathe. Someone laboriously yet lovingly assembles the pan of Grandma’s sweet rolls that are the family’s longest-standing holiday tradition. Dessert work is under way, too — perfect wedges of Granny Smith apples are sprinkled with lemon juice, and the ice cream maker is spinning. The heirloom turkey, which was brined yesterday and air-dried overnight in the fridge, goes into the oven. Family arrives. The children express delight at the smells from the kitchen, and show off the construction-paper turkeys they made yesterday at school. The pans of sweet potatoes and herb stuffing go into the oven. The adults open Champagne and talk about politics (everyone is in agreement), Christmas (everyone is well-prepared) and plans to remodel the kitchen (everyone loves the new island). The turkey comes out, and is moved to the carving-board to rest while the pan drippings become gravy. The sweet potatoes are glazed and returned to the oven, to caramelize, and the foil comes off the pan of stuffing, to crisp the top. The sweet rolls go in. The turkey gravy is lush with bits of fond and shreds of meat. The rolls slip cleanly from the pan, the sides are transferred effortlessly from baking pan to serving dishes, the children eagerly take seats at the table, and someone pours five glasses of wine and two of milk. The cooks change into fresh clothes for dinner. The turkey is expertly carved. Dinner is served promptly at two, and ingested in a leisurely manner. Everyone is delighted by the presentation. There is good hot coffee, and dessert, and a nip of apple brandy to go with the pie and ice cream. The adults team up to do the dishes while the children nap, and then all spend a peaceful afternoon and evening together. There might be a board game, or a walk to look at Christmas lights, or even a small game of touch football. There are turkey sandwiches as a very late snack, and the clamor for the leftovers leads to careful division of all that remains.

(Chorus)

Come with me to the Dogberry Sea

Where you shall not need a raincoat

Come with me to the cellar of the sea

Where you shall not want for a thing

For some folks wander and some folks wane

And some folks gutter the bend in the drain

But the best folks sink to the dregs of the drink

Where they can’t hear the pit-pitter-pat of the rain

 

(Verse 1)

King Cauliflower of Lower Dogberry

What a merry old King was he!

He hung (by their hair) all his wives in the square

And he threw all his sons in the sea

But the realm of Dogberry was old as the sand

And the laws were the lines on his bloody left hand

And the sun and the moon were his birthday balloons

And the ache in his back was a scourge on the land

So once I a-flew like the mockingbirds do

When they fly to their cousins locked up in the zoo

Yes, one day I wandered, a-slipped and a-squandered,

Where peasants jump high when the King says “A-choo!”

And me and the King, we went out carol-ing

And we sang to the peasants and strung ‘em on string

And we combed out our beards, us not being a-feared

Of the red-colored birds with their blue-colored wings

And we sang and we sang till the noonbells a-rang

And you know of the song we were singing?

Oh, the song that they sing when they raise up the King

With his orbs and his scepter a-swinging!

 

(Chorus)

Come with me to the Dogberry Sea

Where you shall not need a raincoat

Come with me to the cellar of the sea

Where you shall not want for a thing

For some folks wander and some folks wane

And some folks gutter the bend in the drain

But the best folks sink to the dregs of the drink

Where they can’t hear the pit-pitter-pat of the rain

 

(Verse 2)

In lower Dogberry, the people were good

And they did as their grandmothers taught them

They were all very kind to the deaf and the blind

And threw out the trash with the flotsam

But according to law, their only known flaw

Was lust for Iguana meat, bloodied up raw

And their druthers a-smothered their storied grandmothers

Who’d taught them to never go burning the shaw

Well, I came to town with a tuft in my crown

And I stirred up their peace and I threw their sin down

And I druthered their nethers with buggers and feathers

And I turned every smile to a gibbering frown

And I handled their baubles and drummed on their tables

And called into question their tellers of fables

And I sullied their bars with my telling of wars

And I covered their candles and flattened their gables

And when I was done, yes, I sat in the sun

On the outskirt of town where the sky was undone

Yes, the sky was a-blackened, the knots all a-slackened

And the tune that rang over the stubble, it rung…

 

(Chorus)

Come with me to the Dogberry Sea

Where you shall not need a raincoat

Come with me to the cellar of the sea

Where you shall not want for a thing

For some folks wander and some folks wane

And some folks gutter the bend in the drain

But the best folks sink to the dregs of the drink

Where they can’t hear the pit-pitter-pat of the rain

 

(Verse 3)

Well, old Jim Crispin had daggers for thumbs

He slept with his hands in a drawer

His bones were all chalky from bleeding malarkey

His typing was like a lawnmower

His wife was afflicted with plagues of the skin

From smelling his rot and from taking him in,

And she plied with her mother to pay to discover

A cure for her lover’s particular sin

So I told him I’d cure him for thirty a week

And his wife signed the papers and kissed on my cheek

But when I collected I said I expected

A bloodied-up dogsbody served on a pike

She ran to the ear of the King of Dogberry

(That man who by women has been known to tarry

And who as a judge is so willing to fudge

Any ruling for tossing his jewels to the prairie)

Well, long story shorter, Jim paid up his due

For a dagger-thumb kills so much quicker, he knew,

Then a man whole of body, all swarthy and ruddy,

With his heart on his sleeve and my foot in his flue

 

(Chorus)

Come with me to the Dogberry Sea

Where you shall not need a raincoat

Come with me to th’cellar of the sea

Where you shall not want for a thing

For some folks wander and some folks wane

And some folks gutter the bend in the drain

But the best folks sink to the dregs of the drink

Where they can’t hear the pit-pitter-pat of the rain

 

(Verse 4)

Well, rich men, they never go down to the tide

And they rarely step foot in the reeds

So when a rich man puts his shoe to the sand

You can bet there’s a corse at his need

And King Cauliflower, (not wealthy nor poor,

As the sky was his banner, the ocean his store)

At court had a man with a stain on his hand,

Young Philip, the potentate’s name to restore

So the merry old King disposed of the body

And buttered Phil’s fanny, unbloodied his bloody

And when he had won, the deed was undone

And the salt-watered soul was rechristened “Nobody”

Come the next summer, when Philip’s young daughter

Was fixed to be wed as her father had taught her

Well, here came the bride with a thorn in her side

With the bells all a-stilled, and the wine turned to water

The vicar was bribed, and the bellows untried,

The vows all unspoken, the dowry denied

And when the new missus bent over for kisses

“Nobody” kissed salt to the lips of his bride

 

(Chorus)

Come with me to the Dogberry Sea

Where you shall not need a raincoat

Come with me to the cellar of the sea

Where you shall not want for a thing

For some folks wander and some folks wane

And some folks gutter the bend in the drain

But the best folks sink to the dregs of the drink

Where they can’t hear the pit-pitter-pat of the rain

I was finishing off a bowl of lingonberry porridge yesterday morning when a helicopter suddenly swooped past my window. As it hovered, sirens began to wail. Air horns blared. Whistles whistled. Itching to witness some good old-fashioned gore and violence, I grabbed my camera, favorite Batman blanket and matching gas mask, and sprinted to the normally serene river where I witnessed a scene of profoundly disturbing perversity:



















This was the annual Kaljakellunta or “Beer Float.” It has no official organization and doesn’t actually exist until the first raft hits the water. It’s illegal and theoretically dangerous as hell, since the point of the whole thing is to drink as much beer as possible while floating down a feces-hued river.

Sweating with delight, I sat and waited for the police to arrive and club a few revelers into sobriety. I waited. Then I waited some more. I fell asleep. Because the funniest thing happened: nothing. The floats floated and sank. Drunks imbibed and drank. People flocked and gawked. And the cops didn’t do anything except tell kids not to hurl themselves off the highway overpass (which they did anyway).

And yes, that is an open flame edging ever closer to the trees:








Whereas in the United States and other nations the National Guard would be summoned to corral, contain and eradicate the revelers, the peaceful Finns instead take the opposite tack. Instead of complaining about the trash generated by the ad hoc festival, they simply hire a fleet of dumpsters. Ambulances and medic boats idle by. Motorcycle cops roam the river banks making sure the hordes of tipsy girls are peeing in the grass and not in the middle of the bike paths.

Then everyone vanishes, leaving the riverbanks looking like an exploded carnival:







But volunteers will soon scoop up the aftermath. Because they know what summer is like in Finland: thoroughly unexciting. Finns also understand the best way to cope with hundreds of drunken youths celebrating the zenith of summer is by watching from afar and reminding themselves that in mere months all of Finland will look like this:








Though I’d personally rather give my pet polar bear an unanesthetized neutering than float down a sludgy, pissed-in and beer-stinking river, I enjoy witnessing things like Beer Float. It’s yet another reason why summer in the Republic of Finn is unlike anywhere else in the world.

Indeed, the point of summer here is that there is no point. It’s downright languorous. People take saunas and visit their cottages. Old men sunbathe beside the bike paths in pink undies or none at all. Children squish strawberries between their toes. Seagulls perch on your windowsill and belt out hour-long arias. If you want to entertain your partner with a sexy sunset dinner, you have six or seven hours in which to do so (and if you wait an hour you can cap off your date with a nice sunrise grope session.)

Of course with only a blip of quasi-darkness in the wee hours, summer is, for an insomniac such as myself, blurry and largely incoherent. And from what I gather – based on the ceaseless revving of scooters and smashing of bottles on our street – Finns generally don’t sleep much either. But that’s ok. We have winter for that. And then the drinking won’t be celebratory, but mournful, and the idea of sunburned kids on rafts will seem like nothing but a cruel, distant joke.

My mother was the one who sent me Donald Ray Pollock’s first book, KNOCKEMSTIFF.  She had heard him on NPR, called me that day and told me about the interview.  Then she read the book and it was all over for her, true love.  It’s sort of like my daughter with Justin Bieber.  KNOCKEMSTIFF is a captivating, extraordinary book that will knock you over but, amazingly, Donald Ray Pollock’s second book, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME, is even better.  It was a pleasure to talk to Donald Ray Pollock about his new book.  He is modest, kind, and one of those people whose success makes you happier than it does jealous.

Last Saturday was sunny and hot for the first time all month. This, plus pollen motes churning in the air, tree trunks soaked by Friday night’s lawn sprinklers, and the necessity for sunglasses built the perfect July day. And so, I got up, got dressed, got out the door, market list in my pocket and satchel (big enough for greens, cheese, wine and probably a whole chicken) slung over my shoulder.

I drink too much.

The way I know this is because I often spend Sunday in my living room with the shades drawn, unable to do much more than watch movies and play around on the Internet. Also, my insides hurt.

The problem with stopping is I don’t feel like it. Well, on Sunday I tell myself I’ve had enough, and I abstain until Thursday or Friday, but then one of my buddies calls and says Let’s go, man and by then I’m feeling well enough to start the cycle over again.

I’ve never felt a craving for alcohol, or a thirst, not the way I’ve heard it described. I’m just bored. I didn’t even start drinking until my 30s. When I read literature on alcoholism, it explains how alcoholics have difficulty feeling pleasure because they’re addicted to the dopamine high they get from drinking. Regular activities that normally induce pleasure don’t cut it anymore, not compared to alcohol. But the thing is, I was already bored before I started drinking.

In college I tinkered with screenplays and finished a few, and several years ago I found an agent. He took my newest script and convinced a well-known producer to buy an option on it. I remember the joy I felt when my agent called with the news. Alcohol never made me feel like that. Ever. So I do know I’m at least capable of strong emotions. But it’s not like I get a call like that every week, you know?

One of the things I hate most in the world is fishing. Because of all the waiting you have to do. My screenwriting career is like a fishing trip where I got a bite on the first cast and then spent the next four years staring at a cork. A cork that doesn’t move. That doesn’t even wiggle.

And what do fisherman usually do while they’re waiting for a bite? Why, they drink, of course. Ask any angler and he’ll tell you…drinking is half the point of fishing.

This is my first post on this site and I feel funny writing about something so personal. I tinkered with other ideas but I kept coming back to this. I know it’s a very whiny essay about a problem for which the solution is obvious: stop drinking. But what I wonder is why I should stop. Why should anyone stop doing something they enjoy?

Recently I had been out drinking, and at the end of the night I was far too drunk to drive my car home. I called a cab, but after thirty minutes it still hadn’t showed up, and I fell asleep in my car. Sometime later I heard a knock on my window and saw a cop standing there. I had no idea there was a law where being drunk in your car and having possession of your keys carries the same penalty as actually driving your car under the influence. This seems pretty harsh to me, since the whole idea of DUI laws is to keep drunk drivers off the road. Anyway, my license was suspended, and I ended having to go to a class with a bunch of alcohol and drug offenders. The terrible experience of being in that class is the subject of another essay, but the reason I bring it up now is because one part of the course involved a series of questions the student should ask himself.

Is my work suffering because of my alcohol consumption? Has anyone besides me been adversely affected by my drinking? My family? My friends? What sort of penalties have I faced as a result of my arrest? Et cetera.

In my case, other than the sheer embarrassment of being taken to jail and having to sit in that class, the only penalties were monetary. My family doesn’t know anything about it. I was married once but I’m not anymore, and I don’t have any children, so the only person affected was me.

You could make the argument that my quality of life would be higher if I didn’t drink, or that I would live longer, but I guess what I’m asking is why those things are necessarily better. Almost everyone would agree they are better, but everyone used to believe the Sun orbited the Earth, too. Just because it’s the prevailing opinion doesn’t necessarily make it the right one.

I suppose living a good and honest life should get me to Heaven, but I got sick of listening to my priest and the Pope condemn homosexuality, so I stopped going to Mass. And besides, if you’re looking for examples of healthy living, the Bible isn’t really the place to turn.

Substance abuse of any sort carries consequences. I know this. The thing is, I see abuse around me everywhere. I see people taking painkillers recreationally. I see them addicted to prescription sleeping pills. And if it isn’t drugs, it’s food. If it isn’t food, it’s television. In fact I wonder if television isn’t the most destructive substance of all.

These problems are particularly bad in the United States. Here we are, the land of opportunity, wealthy like few populations on earth, and yet we act as though we’re miserable. More than 70 percent of us are overweight. In 2008 the World Health Organization surveyed legal and illegal drug use in 17 countries and found Americans led the world in marijuana, tobacco, and cocaine use. Interestingly, countries with far less stringent drug laws also experience far less use. Although it turns out our alcohol consumption is fairly mundane compared to plenty of nations in Western Europe.

Quoting statistics about substance abuse doesn’t excuse my own. But it does make me wonder what it is about the United States that makes her citizens so desperate to alter their own perceptions. Why isn’t the real world good enough? What exactly are we looking for?

The drugs are only going to get stronger. One day, reality television and video games are going to overlap, and I have a feeling what emerges will be the strongest drug of all.

Maybe then I won’t be so bored anymore.

I recently got the chance to catch up with Thaddeus Russell, this year’s most talked about historian. Russell’s new book, A Renegade History of the United States, offers a view of the American past with an entirely new set of characters. Those names and events that have been kept out of school textbooks for too long are examined as America’s real history. Critics are comparing it to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States –- a thrilling, controversial read with the potential to change the way we view history.

 

David S. Wills: A Renegade History of the United States seems to have generated quite a lot of interest already, with glowing reviews. Why are so many of them are using words like “controversial”?

Thaddeus Russell: The book is controversial for a number of reasons. First, it argues that the lowest, most “degenerate” inhabitants of American society actually produced many of the freedoms and pleasures that most of us now cherish. My chapters on slavery and race have been especially controversial (see below). The book also shows that the enemies of what I call “renegade freedoms” included not only the usual suspects — conservative politicians and business leaders — but also many of the heroes of the left-liberal history that is now dominant: abolitionists, feminists, civil rights leaders, progressive activists, and gay rights leaders. My chapter on the civil rights movement shows that Martin Luther King and other leaders of the movement led the call for African Americans to “reform” themselves, assimilate into white culture, and live up to deeply conservative “family values.” It has already caused quite a stir in academic circles, and led several prominent professors at Columbia to call for my firing from Barnard College, where the ideas for the book were developed. I was in fact let go from Barnard because of my ideas — but that also led me to consider writing A Renegade History, so it might have been a blessing in disguise.

 

When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)

So I drink from my flask and the staggering Jasmine intrigues me. I’m her honorable man, the man of chivalry, walking the drunken girl home. She drops her purse and wallet. I pick them up and give them back to her, while salivating junkies stare at the wallet on the sidewalk and wonder if I’m a fast runner. We are in the Tenderloin. It’s my duty to protect this girl, this flower, this woman of intrigue.

I met Jasmine at last call and I scooted to the stool next to her and we talked. She ordered three drinks for her friends, but her friends were already outside. Don’t drink those, I said as she picked up the first one. It was like a junkie telling another junkie they need to cut down on their smack use.

She told me that she got her masters degree in history.

History and philosophy degrees are my favorite degrees. They turn me on. Breasts work as well, but tell me you’re in human resources or business management, and my penis shrinks back into my scrotum. History degree? Can you rub that degree on my ass while we kiss?

Jasmine needs pizza and her friend walks with us. I’m just dropping you off and going home, I say. I like this drunken lady, she’s going to law school. She’s smart and sexy and I want to spend time with her. When we’re both sober. I will come for you and tomorrow you’ll remember me: the gentleman, and the author who kissed your hand at your apartment door. I give my mustache a twist and wonder to myself about the chance of the relationship progressing to the point where I might acknowledge her in my next novel.

Her friend Camille walks with us and seems like a decent lady….I don’t mind that she’s with us because I could seem a bit menacing. I’m okay with it. Girls have to help girls and they don’t know that I’m the last person on earth who is threatening or will take advantage.

I’m still trying to figure it out. This single stuff. The dating stuff. There are some girls I date and there’s no romantic connection and I feel guilty about it. Like I have to break up an engagement.

That’s baggage from my religious past and I’m finding out that it’s okay to hang out and be friends if the dating doesn’t work. I suck at this stuff, but I plunge into the deep end and feel the rush of the ice-cold waters without regard for rejection. Getting phone numbers. Having fun.

It’s like I hit a homerun out of the ballpark. Yet I can only run to second base, and then drift into centerfield somewhere. I lay down on the lawn and dream of meeting a girl who will stick around for a while. Someone where the chemistry just clicks and I know exactly how much milk to put in her coffee. Then, she tells me where I left my pin stripe pants.

Camille is with us and I know that in order to woo Jasmine I should make an effort to be friends with her friends.

Jasmine and Camille tell me to drink more. And I pull out my flask and drink more and they are satisfied. I always bring a flask when I go out. It’s a great way to save a little money while walking to another bar, or an after party….pull out the flask and take a big swig. [Look out for police, they don’t like that.]

I drank and try to catch up with the honorable Jasmine and her drunkenness. My Dulcinea. Later I realize I was already caught up and drunk, I just had a better handle on it. We stumble and I love her hair. And her glasses. And I love our potential.

We get to her apartment.

I start to drop to one knee and go to kiss her delicate hand good night but she pushes me through the door.

I tell Jasmine and Camille that I host a radio show. (Drinks with Tony). Camille asks me to interview her. She insists. And Jasmine plops down on my lap. She has runs in her leggings and all of a sudden Camille’s continued pleading for an interview does not irritate me when Jasmine puts her arms around my neck.

How would you interview me? Camille insists.

Jasmine sits on my lap and it’s like going to first base. I make it to first and the ball continues to sail out of the ballpark, so I appease Camille’s need to be interviewed.

What are you into? What am I interviewing you for? I ask.

Camille responds by asking me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Ask me to take my shirt off….Camille gets adamant, she insists and I’m role playing my real radio show so I tell her, well, I’m more of a Craig Ferguson than a Howard Stern on the radio.

What was I thinking? I love breasts.

It continues and Jasmine rubs my inner thigh, then grabs my crotch and we kiss and kiss while my fake radio show guest waits for me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Camille finally gives up and stumbles onto one of the loft beds in the apartment. Jasmine’s tongue finds my tongue and my hand finds her nipple. The other nipple makes its way out of her shirt and my hand rubs up her thigh until I put light pressure on her vagina, under her skirt and over her underwear. She moans and I pull down her shirt. In a moment of modesty I ask if we can retreat to the bathroom where Camille won’t see us.

We kiss and kiss and clothes come off. She has a bush of hair between her legs. Another reason to really get to know Jasmine. She doesn’t trim the lawn, and I love the running my fingers through the grass.

After about an hour of exploring each others’ areas that don’t see too much of the sun, I give her my information….everything, phone number, email, Facebook, shit, I would have given her my social security number if she asked for it.

I want a tomorrow with you. I want an outdoor kiss across a table at a cafe with you.

Are you staying, she asks. But there’s only one room in her studio apartment and Camille who only wants an excuse to undress for me was on the bed. I decide to go home.

Jasmine walks me to the door. Naked. Her milky white skin in all of its glory.

What was great was she wasn’t planning to get lucky that night. Her legs were stubbled. That made me more excited. Sometimes women are out to get laid and all they have to do is point.

You.

If the man she points to says no, then…

You.

If she has to point to more than three men, the earth will tilt off its axis and we’ll all float to Mars.

It’s been more than a week and she still hasn’t called me. Maybe she blacks out when she drinks and woke up wondering why she smelled like sex. Maybe she found the paper with my information on it and went, oh, his name was Tony, and tossed it in the trash.

I slutted up. My Don Quioxite turned into Eros. Into a Johnny Drama situation from Entourage.

I still want to meet her again. Fully clothed and we can talk.

Bask in the humor and the embarrassment and fun of our drunken oopsie.

I’m just trying out this sex thing like the animals we are.

My post apocalyptic religious cult belief system is finally squashed. A messy divorce after 13 years of marriage, forgiven. And still, I look for the one.

A one.

When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)

*While Lenore Zion found the retarded kind and Megan DiLullo stumbled upon the sexy type, I only got the violent one.*

I’ve been punched in the face a lot in my life.  My mouth has often made promises that my body wasn’t quite prepared to defend, but that my ego wouldn’t let me back out of either.  A dangerous grouping those three, the mouth, body, and ego.  They never seem to agree on anything.  Not mine anyway, hence that punching in the face part.

I have a list a mile long of things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have, and that list is only slightly longer than the one of stuff I still do that I shouldn’t.  None of the good stories have ever come from playing it safe.  Not one, which is why I’ve always been so quick to leap into the fray haphazardly.

But those are the actions of the young and invincible, I tell myself.  War should not be waged in the physical ways of my youth, but with intelligence and maturity now.  A cleverly crafted phrase, I try to convince myself, is far more effective than a strong right cross.

And yet somehow, despite the best of intentions, I can’t quite shake my former tendencies.

Like that one night, when I may or may not have beat up a midget.

In my defense, the midget did start it.  I was hanging out after a show late one Saturday night with my regular opening act on the road, a stocky black guy named Sam.  The clinking of ice signaled that we were empty, and we ordered another round of James and Jack and got change for another five.  He and I have had an ongoing competition for years now, feeding dollar after dollar into the mechanical punching bags that bars began installing once they realized that alcohol and testosterone were worth a fortune when combined.

Basically, for fifty cents, a little leather bag drops from the machine and registers how hard you punch it.  It is mindless fun and a matter of bragging rights amongst the guys.  With a healthy buzz, I fed another buck into the machine and swung.  As I connected, I heard a voice behind me say, “You hit like a bitch!”

I immediately turned around.  Maybe it was tunnel vision or maybe I simply didn’t look far enough down, but when I spun to look, no one was there.  I turned back around to swing again, and I was interrupted mid-stride by the same high pitched voice.  “You gonna hit it harder this time?  Pussy.”

That’s when I saw him.  Four foot tall on the dot, there stood the most confident midget I had ever seen in my life.  I leaned forward with my hands on my knees and I looked down at him, squinting at him like I was trying to make out fine print.

“What, bitch?” he said, and threw his arms out to the side.  The stubby limbs hung there, taunting me.  Beckoning me.  Challenging me.

“You can’t do it,” Sam said to me, shaking his head.

“Can’t what?”

“You can’t beat up a midget.  You won’t win.”

“You don’t think I can kick a midget’s ass?” I fired back.

“That’s not what I mean,” he said.  “It’s just that even if you do win… you still kinda lose, man.”

“Brilliant,” I replied, suddenly happy to have been saved from the embarrassment of beating up a midget.  “So what then?”

“You have to be the bigger man.”

“Did you seriously just say that?”

Sam laughed.  “C’mon, man.  Let’s go.”

As we turned for the door we pushed past the angry little dwarf, who wasn’t as content to let things slide as we were.  He pushed his little midget shoulder into my leg and threw down the gauntlet.  “Yeah, you better leave, motherfucker!” he yelled up at us.

“What?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“You better leave before you get your ass kicked. Because- “

Now, this is probably where the night turned sideways.  I couldn’t even begin to guess what this little creature’s explanation was going to be for how he planned to hurt me.  His “because” seemed to hang in the air forever.  The only thing I could imagine was that he was going to suddenly pull back a curtain and reveal an entire midget army armed for battle; a thousand tiny goblin soldiers poised to attack with spikes on the tips of their boots and their teeth filed into fangs, while David Bowie sang about a baby.

“Because why?” I asked.

“Because I’m in the UFC,” the midget finally said.

“Unless they paint a number on your chest and the ring girls hold you over their heads between rounds, you’re not in the fucking UFC,” I shot back.

Now you’re allowed to fight him,” Sam said.

I lunged forward, and the midget shot for the door.  I don’t know if you know this or not, because few people do, but midgets are supernaturally fast and they click when they run.  Click click click click click.  Like a beetle.  Click click click.  You can Google it.

“He’s getting away!” I shouted, and pushed my way through the crowd after him.

“Throw your shoe at it!” Sam yelled to me.

“What?”

“Your shoe!  You never saw Leprechaun?”

“Huh?”

“The movie?  With Jennifer Aniston?  Whatever.  If you throw a shoe at a leprechaun, they have to stop and polish it.”

Ridiculous, I thought.  I wasn’t going to beat this thing with mythology.  I didn’t need rumor and folklore; I needed fact.  I had to find a way to do some real damage to this midget.

We made it out through the front door to find the little elf clicking off and away down the sidewalk.  I took off after him on what was, in my drunken mind anyway, a straight line, but was more than likely one of those Jeffy’s dotted line moments from Family Circus.  All I know for certain is that I eventually caught up with him.  As I drew near he turned around and growled at me, little midget juice dripping from its fangs.

“Rawr!”

The midget’s claim to have a background in mixed martial arts was at least partially true.  In MMA, when an attacker shoots in for a takedown, a standard defense is to “sprawl”, or flatten out forward so that your legs can’t be wrapped up and controlled.  As I got to the little creature, it did just that, except I was in no way actually attempting a takedown.  I just sort of stood there while he dove forward and landed on his bulbous skull like a weeble-wobble that didn’t make it all the way back up.

My gut told me to jump up and land on his head, because everyone knows if you do that gold coins come out.  I remember reading that as a child somewhere.  Maybe the Bible.  Then, I remembered how lopsided and misshapen midget heads can be and thought better of it, lest I turn my ankle.

There’s honestly not a lot you can do with a fallen midget.  It’s a sad truth, really.  You can either watch as they try to pick themselves up, which is like watching an upside down turtle struggle, or you can attack.  It seemed unfair to kick him so I dove on top, twisting his leg into an impossible lock.  A leg lock might not sound that impressive, but consider first how hard it is to actually locate a midget’s knee, and the degree of difficulty becomes much more apparent.

By this point, the bouncers had arrived and begun to pull me away.  As I turned to wrestle with them I saw Sam tee off with a vicious right uppercut to the side of the hobbit’s head, easily lifting him three feet off the ground and knocking him backwards.  He landed with a thud and then, beyond all explanation, popped right back up and ran off.

Click click click.

The only explanation is magic.  Midgets can do magic.  Sam’s punch would have knocked a rhinoceros unconscious.  A forty-eight inch man-child couldn’t have survived it, yet somehow he did.  And as that mystical little man clickety-clacked off into the night, my only recourse, since I could no longer reach him physically, was to throw a final verbal blow.

“I hope-” I yelled after him, “I hope you get eaten by an owl!”

Sam and I shook the dust off and made our way back inside.  “I can’t believe I let myself do that,” I said.

“What?  Get in a fight?” he asked.

“Yeah.  I thought I was grown up enough to walk away from it.”

“Well, look at it this way.  At least your last shot wasn’t a physical one.  You gotta start somewhere.”

“I didn’t think of it that way.  Baby steps, right?  Maybe I’m growing up after all.”

“Nah,” Sam said.  “You did just beat up a midget.”

“Shut up and give me a dollar,” I said.  “It’s my turn.”


Those familiar with my Nervous Breakdown posts know that I’ve long crusaded for a secular alternative to AA. My complaints have been vociferous, my voice loud enough that I might have written each piece in ALL CAPS. Recently, however, I decided that it was time to act. I located a secular group with a philosophy in line with my own, one based on the work of Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. The group: SMART Recovery. The Facebook site, which I invite anyone interested to join: SMART Recovery Fan Page. If AA works for you, continued good luck. If not, I’m here to say you have a choice.

My mission is two-fold. Rather than debate AA — always a useless exercise — I have joined forces with SMART Recovery. Rather than bash the ubiquitous nature of AA, my first goal is to create a meeting here in Sarasota. My second goal, now underway, is to assist SMART Recovery (referred to as “SR” from this point forward) in a volunteer public relations’ capacity. But the latter is not my purpose here. Rather, I come to you as a citizen with a message. If your needs are not met by AA, alternatives exist, and SR is there for you.

First, visit the SR site. Stay a while; there’s plenty to do. You can read how the program works. You can participate in online meetings. If you wish, you can seek a meeting in your location. Such a meeting may not exist…yet. In that case, consider applying to become a facilitator. You can create an SR meeting yourself and do so fully prepared by SR. You will become a local hero for all those like you who searched for a secular meeting but couldn’t find one…now they will find one. Consider the pleasure to be had in knowing that you created an alternative that didn’t exist and which others like you can now access. Furthermore, by becoming a facilitator, you will in turn become steeped in the wisdom underlying SR.

You don’t often read the word “wisdom” in my posts, both because I lack it and because I rarely find it. But Albert Ellis was a wise man and, like most wise people, had two feet on the ground as he reached for new solutions to ancient problems. His approach is deceptively simple.

In short, it works like this: ABC. No, I don’t mean Always Be Selling.

Instead, I mean:

A: Activating event.

B: Belief.

C. Consequence.

Lastly:

D. Dispute.

Let’s apply this to drinking in a very simplified example. This is my description of REBT. For a much more in-depth understanding of the process, see the SR website and/or visit their Facebook Fan Page.

Back to my example. What is an “Activating Event”? In this example, it’s whatever makes you want to drink. For heavy drinkers, virtually everything becomes an “A.” This occurs because heavy drinking by itself produces irrational thinking. It kills rational thinking. No rational person decides to lose control over drinking. So why do they lose it? Drinking causes them to become more and more irrational.

I’ll use a typical “A”: “Today sucked. It kicked my ass.”

Now we move to “B.” What’s the drinker’s belief likely to be? Something like this: “I need a drink, and plenty of them.” Further, the drinker thinks, “Soon, it will all disappear. Here comes euphoria.”

And the “C”? The first consequence is easy to guess: hangover. That’s bad enough. But the consequences for heavy drinkers increase. Not only a hangover but the shakes commence, creating a brand new “A.” The drinker’s belief: “A few drinks will fix that.” In this case, the drinker is correct. Bizarrely, irrationality becomes the drinker’s new rationality. It’s rational to end the extreme anxiety that heavy drinking ultimately causes as part of withdrawal. However, irrationality has led the drinker to this point and without his knowing it. He may have rational moments when he considers quitting, but those moments quickly fade. Irrationality has become embedded in the drinker.

How to keep from getting to that point? And what should you do if you’ve already gotten to that point? In the latter case, you may need medical care. Seizures become a real possibility. Worse can happen. You may need to face detox. At the very least, you require supervision in case you do have a seizure. These medical issues lie well beyond my purview. Consult a loved one. Ask for their help. You need someone rational at your side and to help you find the best care available if you do require hospitalization.

If you’re not to that point, or you’ve gotten past that point, it’s time for “D.” The “D” is going to become your best friend. You can turn to “D” at any moment of crisis, anxiety, difficulty, irritation. “D” refers to disputing your irrational beliefs.

Going back to the example of a day that kicks your ass, the process of disputing your beliefs might go like this: “Sure, I’ll feel better for a while, but I’m going to feel like hell tomorrow and for much longer than I feel better tonight.” Run a cost/benefit analysis. How many hours does alcohol improve your life compared to the number of hours it ruins your life? If you’re a heavy drinker, or approaching the trouble zone, I guarantee you won’t be able to deny that the ratio does not weigh on the side of making you feel better. In fact, the day may well have kicked your ass because you drank the night before it.

A person can avoid the worst outcomes of heavy drinking by beginning this process now and working on it. Again, consult the SR website and/or their Facebook Fan Page for more information. I’m trying to get you to hope and the idea that there are alternatives to the “treatments” many of us simply cannot find our way into or around. For those who believe in reason and rationality as a means to overcoming problems, an alternative is required, unless, like some, you can find your way to a higher power through whatever means avail themselves to you. That’s your business. I’m not here to dispute your beliefs.

I’m also not here as an official representative of SR. I speak for myself and from my experience. REBT smashed my once-crippling anxiety and has reduced my melancholic as much or more than any anti-depressant. Is every day a pleasure? Hell, no. And I no longer expect every day to be a pleasure. In surrendering an insane demand, I surrender my insanity.

There is a secular alternative available to you. In fact, there’s more than one, but I happen to believe in SR’s approach because I know REBT is simple, effective and easy to put into practice. The rewards can be almost immediate.

When it comes to drinking, a lot more work will be required. Returning to the ABC YouTube link, will you do the work? Will you? Will you do the work? Or will you go to a three-cocktail lunch?

One night, Tony went to a bar to have a drink.

That drink lead to another drink. Then to another bar. Then people bought Tony drinks and Tony can never say no to drinks. One bartender refilled his beer without even asking, and Tony, one never a fan of wastefulness, made sure to keep drinking.

Tony decided to go to another bar and another bar, then Tony took a cab home. On the way he realized that he didn’t want to pay more than $5 for a cab ride, so he stopped the driver at $4.40. It happened to be at an intersection of a bar where Tony knew friends and he drank more.

The next thing Tony knew it was noon the next morning and he was in bed, sleeping next to The Herring Fairy. The Herring Fairy surprised Tony with a tale more embarrassing than David Hasselhoff trying to eat a hamburger on the floor.

The Herring Fairy woke up hours earlier at 2:30am to witness a stumbling Tony. She filled in the gaps from his alcohol soaked memories. She saw Tony taking off his rings. He was bent over the table, with his face two inches from his hands as he negotiated the intricacies of removing his four rings. The rings fought with him and dared to stay on until The Herring Fairy lifted Tony’s head to help him. A string of drool finally broke from the table to Tony’s open mouth.

They gave me free drinks, Tony said.

You need to learn how to say no, The Herring Fairy said.

Tony paused and stared at The Herring Fairy and said, I don’t know how.

There was sadness and desperation in Tony’s reply.

I’m hungry, Tony said. I haven’t eaten all day, Tony said. And said. And said. And said.

After The Herring Fairy listed the meager food inventory in the cabinets, Tony chose Herring and crackers.

The Herring Fairy fed Tony a full cracker with herring. Tony was too drunk to chew. The Herring Fairy pushed Tony’s chin up and down to help him eat.

You need to chew, you’re going to choke, The Herring Fairy said.

After repeated use of those pesky, alcohol saturated jaw muscles, the cracker and herring finally went down.

Whatever happened to that writer who died? Tony said.

What writer? The Herring Fairy said.

The one who choked on a cracker, Tony said and laughed as The Herring Fairy decided to bypass the crackers and just get herring into Tony’s stomach.

Down the long hallway Tony walked, gripping onto the walls, like he was Samson between the pillars. Then he did a face plant onto the bed, giving The Herring Fairy enough space to work at taking off Tony’s shoes and pants.

She finally rolled him over and he fell asleep.

At 5am, The Herring Fairy heard a huge thump. Tony sat on the floor next to the bed.

Did you fall? The Herring Fairy asked.

I have to go to the bathroom, Tony replied.

Hoping Tony meant to use the actual facilities and not go on the floor, The Herring Fairy was relieved to see Tony hold onto the walls and chairs as he stumbled to the bathroom.

Tony learned a valuable lesson that night. A lesson that may help others if they chose to accept help. A lesson that he’ll forever be thankful for.

Tony learned that everyone should have a Herring Fairy.

The End.


Starring

Lia Garcia as The Herring Fairy
Tony DuShane as himself

I’ve only truly felt like a writer a couple of times.

I guess a lot of that has to do with the fact I’m not really a proper writer…