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Everything I expected not to happen was happening. I hadn’t altered previous bad behavior, in fact, I vehemently flouted rules, honor codes, basic human truths. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Once again, I found myself facing the repercussions of willful teenage rebellion. Once again, I found myself on the short end of a stick I’d whittled down to nothing.  Snowshoeing through Maine in February with a group of other at risk kids also fanning their kaleidoscopic refusal to face  responsibility. The first night a question was put to me, just like it was put to all the rest of the group. Had I accepted my role in the actions of my past? I didn’t want to answer the question because it sounded like any answer I made would make me sound stupid. What teenaged kid accepts anything, really? The world has yet to fully develop before your eyes. What you know is so far outweighed by what you don’t know, any thought of acceptance is lost in the white matter mountain ranges of our brains that scientists have yet to define. Sure, sure, I said, eager to move on. I am responsible for all the bullshit bad behavior I dished out over the years, next. Once again, I was telling anyone who would listen what they wanted to hear.

I was seventeen, hadn’t made any of the wise choices most of my close friends had. Instead, I found ways to get tossed out of one school twice, which led to me to the kids on the skids place up in Dublin, New Hampshire. On the night in question, all action remains a blur, a drunken ballet performed under the star bright night in the crisp freeze that so often comes after a northeast snow, outside the dormitory where I lived. Faces drift in and out of view, but never find focus. The alcohol- cooking wine and a case of beer-  purloined from the kitchen, and once spent, discarded like a child’s candy wrapper on the ground, leaving a definite trail leading back to me.  You must have wanted to get caught, people have told me over and over again through the years. While that might be so, I don’t speak to it. The real truth of the matter is that I wanted to get fucked up. And I did. And when you’re as fucked up as I was that night, you don’t think about covering your tracks, and if you do, you aren’t bothered, or worried about much of anything at all, let alone getting caught, and so you don’t do anything because, well, you’re too fucked up to care. At seventeen, my worldview was a little myopic. So, in the morning, when the powers that were recognized they had a problem on their hands, I recognized nothing out of the ordinary. Which is to say, I’d grown accustomed to my own drama. By evening the school administrators had set up a meeting with the rehab up the road, Beech Hill.

Instead of cycling through daylong clinical assessments by equally clinical counselors up the hill, they pushed an Outward Bound rehab program. I’d heard a little about Outward Bound. A few friends had taken the challenge a summer before, just for fun. They had sailed in two and three man sloops off the coast of Maryland, to islands that housed wild horses, and armies of gnats and black flies. Lived in tents. Ate toothpaste when they got hungry. Found themselves, and readied themselves to go to colleges like Amherst, and Sewanee, and Stanford. Panic severed any logic I might have had, connecting the experience of Outward Bound with an increase in academic prowess. What I already knew about Outward Bound unfurled into an absolutely blissful picture, an idyllic sailing trip where you ate weird stuff, and came back bronzed, smart, and charmingly sophisticated. I didn’t stir the rehab part of the trip into the mix, and why would I? This was fantasy I was creating, an acceptable image to get stoned on. Someone at school had mentioned an Outward Bound rehab program that operated out of the Florida keys, on sailboats. Now that information came rushing back at me, and I stupidly embraced it. I embraced it until I could embrace no more. Then some reality started to seep in. The trip I was going on would also be a drug rehabilitation, to be billed to health insurance. They were definitely going to have group therapy meetings. And what I knew of group was from 80’s movies, and maladjusted teens looking to vilify any and all process they came in contact with. God, I thought to myself, what kind of lies am I going to have to tell in group?

The thing is, they didn’t send me on that Florida Keys sailing trip. Instead, Beech Hill had cooked up their first winter snow shoeing adventure rehab in conjunction with Outward Bound. A paragon of winter mountain climbing was brought in, a black haired beardo named Rick, or Frank. And Rick or Frank would lead us through the mountains of Maine, in the deep of February, as snow piled three feet high and upwards. That’s what the craggy faced drug counselor Rudy told me when the school administrators brought me to the school owned lodge for our meet and greet.

When he asked me what drugs I’d done, an eagerness to please, to fit in, and took over. I listed every single drug I had ever conceptualized, all the things I’d heard about, all the things I’d wanted to take, and then, the few actual ones I had taken.

What about drinking, how often do you drink?

I was a teenager, born of controlled situations, but still, a teenager. I knew the foul flavor of warm Gin taking straight. Rudy was waiting for a response.

Whenever I get the chance, I said, both bewildered and cocksure.

I sat there, repeating the line in my head. Rudy marked another box on his list. Then he was standing, offering me a hand. That was it.

You’re on the team, he said, breaking into a comforting grin that convinced me this excursion snowshoeing through Maine was exactly what I needed. His confidence took me with it. I was good enough, I thought, to make it into rehab before I turned eighteen. When the logic of that sentence hit me, I crumpled, and started for my dorm room.

Rudy stopped me. My bags had been packed. I was heading up the hill.

The Beech Hill counselors didn’t know what to do with me. They stuck me in a sterile hospital room, with an older fellow. He was out of it, semi-conscious, sweating, sick in mind and body. His nose exploded into a veiny approximations of blisters, almost like a piece of cauliflower. At night he heard voices and spoke back to them. In the morning, I told the nurse about it. She explained, rather coolly, the guy was experiencing the DT’s.

I don’t know what you mean.

She shook her head.

Delirium tremens, she said, tapping her clipboard, and walking away.

My own Nurse Ratchet. Beech Hill was like an infection you couldn’t cure. Everyone either over medicated, or in need of restraints. I showed up with three strikes against me- I lacked clarity, was a teenager, and would be leaving in a few days.  Anyone who might have had some insight as to how to handle the place avoided me. It’s a selfish program, as they say.

At night, the man I shared my room with would moan, float over to the curtains, and return to his bed one hundred thousand times, until daylight finally arrived, and he could sleep, no longer tormented by darkness. I’d never conceptualized physical addiction before. I still wanted to get fucked up, but here I was trapped in a room with someone who needed to get fucked up to keep his mind from turning on him. A wintry month in Maine had nothing on this guy.

The morning we left, Rudy, and Rick or Frank, the two counselors loaded us onto the two white institutional Dodge vans and drove us well into Maine, to the Outward Bound staging offices. There, we suited up- boots, coats and backpacks. Some of us would carry more than the others. Being tallest I was designated to carry more. Cooking equipment, and food. They let us bring cartons of cigarettes, and lighters. They handed us monstrous white paratrooper jump boots for our feet. Lined with carpet. When you get cold feet, Rick or Frank told us, take off your boots, put them in your sleeping bags, and go to sleep. They’ll be nice and toasty in the morning. There were other tricks and instructions, but I didn’t pay attention, I was trying to figure out why there was only the one girl on the trip. There were two, Holly, a short pale wisp of a person, and this other girl, from Rhode Island, only she didn’t like white kids, and told each white kid on the trip that she didn’t like white kids. Right from the beginning we found ourselves couched in racial stereotypes- the black kids and the Latin kids had history smoking crack. In their opinion, us white kids were over privileged long hairs testing high times. Karim didn’t care much about our different skin tone, only that we had to carry more than the rest of the gang.

Ain’t fair, ain’t fair a t’all.

He told me his eyes were buggy because he’d smoked some crack in the bathroom about an hour ago.

Where’d you get it?

I had it crammed up my ass.

He started to show me.

I understand completely, I said, stopping him.

Then, we were on the side of a snow-covered road. Rudy outlined our next three hours, the last three hours of daylight, on a topographical map. Esmeralda, the girl who didn’t trust whitey, trumpeted her disapproval. Rudy stood up at that. Lit a cigarette. Blew out some smoke.

You can stay here, Esmeralda. But the rest of us are heading into the forest. And we’ve got the tents, the food, and the iodine drops to put into the water so you don’t get Giardia.

Esmeralda was a tough girl, I’ll giver her that.

Jardee-fucking-what, she asked with defiance, struggling not to lose face, but we all knew she was coming with us, and so did she. Rudy had been waiting for the moment, ready to pounce. And he stood there gloating. Rick or Frank readied the gear, prepping those of us who knew something about hiking and cold weather on how to take care of those of us who did not. His dog wagging his tail beside him.

The first afternoon of hiking was our first on snowshoes, and it was full of complaints and arguments. By dinner we’d only traveled 2/3rds of the distance the counselors wanted us to cover. Before anyone had a chance to relax, Rudy broke us up into groups. I landed with the long hair brothers from western Massachusetts and Holly. We were to gather up fire wood. The rest would set up tents, and start prepping the camp and dinner. Everyone was overwhelmed by irritation, fatigue and curiosity. The four of us grabbed enough sticks and logs to make fifteen fires, but we wanted to avoid doubling up on chores. Besides, it gave us all the chance to get to know each another.

The brothers were pot smokers, drinkers, acid takers. Holly, too. They were incredulous when I mentioned harder drugs- cocaine, and heroin. I backtracked, seeking approval once again.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like another planet, I told them.

Mostly, I like the way a few beers makes me feel.

The red headed brother, the older one nodded.

But it never ends there does it, he said. All of us turned to him like he’d said our first names, like he’d captured everything we were feeling in one small sentence. I liked him immediately.

I’ve done this before, he told us.

I was sober for almost a year.

Holly and I sucked in the cool air. A fucking year?

He nodded. Somehow, a car and a girl got in the way of it, and so here he was back in rehab, little brother in tow.

Holly told us her story while she dragged the top part of a fallen birch tree behind her, a cigarette hanging precariously from the tip her bottom lip, like they did in Audie Murphy movies. Holly had the same sprouting hair as the Hollywood soldiers, too. But her skin was marvelously white and her brown eyes sparkled with a haunting femininity. There was no mistaking her for a boy.

Her story gave top billing to a trifecta of troubling players- Opium, the Grateful Dead, and an abusive father. She didn’t mention what kind of abuse or how bad, which I knew was code for the worst kind.

My tent mate was Karim. When we rolled out our sleeping bags, after jamming our boots into them, we pretended to sleep until finally, we did. The next day I awoke to the smell of coffee eggs, and the bitter cold. Karim tore out of his bag, dressed in only his white paratrooper boots and long johns and ran off into the bush to urinate. Be careful of bears, one of us yelled after him, but it wasn’t me. I wasn’t worried about bears.

The next week followed the same routine, day in day out. Breakfast, cigarettes, break down camp. Then the counselors marched us through miles of backwoods snow drifted Maine, forcing us through an inclining valley between mountain ranges to our left and right. Noon, we broke for the same lunch- frozen cheese, frozen salami, and frozen white bread. Rudy got one half hour for group, where he pressed us until we were agitated enough to hike the next mountain.

Rick or Frank explained early in the trip  why he thought we fit the Outward Bound program perfectly. He had a term for us- at riskers.

Here’s an example, he said, after lunch one day, the rest of us laying on top of our packs and staring at the newly appeared sun.

One of you is getting water, and you don’t have iodine. The other one doesn’t care, and you both drink it. That’s at risk behavior. Or you’re unwilling to properly warm your feet on your tent-mate’s belly when they start to freeze, because it isn’t cool. Each case has serious repercussions. And each case is avoidable if you work as a team, instead of like the at riskers you’ve become. Suddenly, the rebellion each of us had launched our risky behavior upon didn’t seem so appealing. We were desperate to be a part of something each of us could trust.

That trust came about slowly, individually, in slight shifts of consciousness that eked out of us, incrementally, while Rudy pounded his concept of logic into our skulls, while Rick or Frank seduced us with the power of our own bodies. We climbed a mountain a day for a week and a half. We made our own fires. We cooked our own food. We could survive in snowstorms, and operate snowshoes through dense forests. We had done it all together. Esmeralda no longer called out the distinction between our racial divide. For the first time, expectation lost out to acceptance.

But something happened after the second week. We got cocky. One of the other kids, his name is lost to me over two decades later, knew which clouds meant snow, and which ones meant nothing, which ones delivered freezing rain, and which ones evaporated into billowy photographic epiphanies. He pointed to the group of them gathered over the next range, blowing slowly our way.

I got up and went over to the counselors.

There’s no way I’m hiking up that mountain.

That so, Rudy said, not expecting much more out of me. I guess you’ll have to hike back to base camp then.

I stood up, and lit a cigarette. Blew the smoke onto him, same as he had done to Esmerelda days before.

I know what those clouds mean. They mean snow. I don’t want to hike into any God damned snowstorm. We should camp here.

My face flushed, but Holly was behind me, and Karim, and the rest of them. I was at the head of a mutiny.

Rick or Frank ignored the situation, busying himself around our impromptu camp. Leave nothing but your bootprints, he said.

Are you done, Rudy asked.

I nodded.

He unfolded a map.

You know how to read a map? He stabbed the map with his finger.

That’s where the vans are parked. That’s the other side of the mountain. Which one is less of a hike?

We don’t want to hike to either place, Holly answered.

Esmeralda unbuttoned her coat.

Yeah, we don’t wanna hike anymore today.

We ain’t going nowhere, Karim said.

Rudy folded up the map.

Two ways you can go, he said, holding up two fingers. Two

The van, which if you choose it means you’re off the trip, you’ll have to explain why to your parents. Or over that mountain.

He pulled me aside.

They listen to you. You fix this, or you’re gone.

That’s all he said. He read me. He knew from group I feared my old man’s temper. He had me where he wanted me.

I gave an impassioned speech. I waved both hands toward the mountains, willing all of us over them, if not by words, by sheer force of suggestion. One by one, they came around. Everyone that is, but Karim, Esmerelda, and the kid who noticed the storm clouds in the first place.

Rudy looked at me like I was a piece of shit stuck to his shoe.

What about them, he said, pointing at the last of the mutineers.

I should march you off to the van with them.

I didn’t say anything. The vein in his neck was pumping. I could read a face, too. Rudy was so pissed he started for me anyway, when Frank or Rick appeared out of nowhere.

Here’s the keys, he said, placing them in Rudy’s palm.

We’ll meet you at the spot. Tomorrow night.

Tomorrow night, Rudy grunted.

He wanted to scrape my smug face on the icy frost heaved road. I know that because he told me so, right before he hiked Karim, and Esmeralda and what’s his name off into the forest.

Had we not argued over clouds, we would have made it over the mountain free of snow.

Instead, we made the summit in time to meet the storm. The ripping winds and snow drove us into submission. Rick or Frank stopped us, and had us find places to tie down our tent so they wouldn’t fly off the side of the mountain. Since Rudy had to take a large tent with his crew, two of our kids would have to sleep under a tarp, and Rick or Frank would sleep outside, just a sleeping bag for him and his dog. We drew straws. I got a long one. No tarp for me.

In the morning, we skipped breakfast, quickly packed up our tents, and smoked cigarettes as we jammed down the mountain. Everyone hated me. If only I hadn’t opened up my mouth, each glance my way seemed to say.

After that, the trip disintegrated. I didn’t want to share my feelings in group.  At night I sat next to Holly, our hands slipping into each other’s pockets.

Worst of all, I stopped listening to Rick or Frank, stopped paying attention to Rudy. When I went to drink from a stream during a break, I tuned out the iodine warning that trailed after me, slurping greedily straight from the stream.

The next day was dedicated to ice climbing. I spent all of it shitting in the woods, unable to squirt the last of the giardiasis out of me.

By the last week, I let my shirt tail hang out of my wool pants, stopped carrying food for the others, continuing to hike hard only to keep the elements at bay.

Then, with a van ride to Outward Bound offices to give back the gear, and one more to Beech Hill, it was over. We had hiked what felt like a hundred mountains, a thousand miles, discussed innumerable topics, battled all facets of our addictions. Holly and I literally hugged goodbye while our parents pulled us off each other.

I’d led a mutiny in the middle of Maine, reassessed, and coerced my allies in rebellion to rethink our adolescent logic.

There were other things that happened on the trip. We saw spectacular views of valleys and mountains we had to memorize if we wanted to see them again. We took van rides over beat up frost heaved Maine roads, which then broke into ridiculously foulmouthed sing alongs. We stopped at the L.L. Bean outlet and when everyone in the store marveled at the hardcore winter hikers before them, we played it cool and said nothing. Like the rest of the group, I did a solo, twenty-four hours by myself in the woods, alone with a tent, a watch, a bag of nuts and raisins, some matches and a pack of cigarettes. An hour before the counselors came, three birds landed on me, as the cold took into my body. It was as spiritual a moment as I’d had up to that point. But it featured none of the lessons the mutiny offered.

In the end, each of us fell from the hold of sobriety like over ripe maggots from a carcass bone. I lasted longest, going three years and change. But even for me, the concept of having a legal drink a few days after my twenty-first birthday proved too much a lure.

When I ended up back in rehab nine years later, whining to myself about all that wasted time, two things came back to me, the guy with the delirium tremens, and  that month in the woods of Maine. Like some rediscovered postcard reminding me that I’d had a real chance at scouring myself of the demons before I’d graduated from high school, and I’d let it go.

 

I.

I Live in a Seaside Motel

I live in a seaside motel. On nights that the ocean is lively I can lie in bed and hear it murmur midnight elegies. When I’m having trouble sleeping the sounds of the sea’s salty breath draws me out into the darkness with my miner’s torch atop my head. I cross Route 1A, scramble over the Army Corps of Engineer-constructed berm and stand before the Atlantic.

The ocean during the day inspires thoughts of nature’s majesty and human frailty. This does not change at night, but the darkness lends a sense that the massive, writhing body of water is sinister.

After I’ve stood for a spell and looked out over the black expanse I turn and walk back to the Pebble Cove Motel. Every time, as I scramble back over the berm and my feet touch concrete, I begin to run, as if unseen enemies are giving chase. The ocean’s booming and roaring seems mocking, telling me to go back to my little box and carry on being a silly human. In obeisance, I slip back into room 3 and lock the door behind me.

II.

A Modern American Family

When I tell people that I live in a motel, they typically react in one of two ways. They either say something like, “Don’t you get lonely?” or, “Cool, man, you’re living the dream!”

Because I lived at home for over a year before moving into the Pebble Cove Motel, I tend to view my life here as quite idyllic. As for the other residents, I can only surmise, but my guess is that any middle-aged or older person who lives in a motel doesn’t go around asking to be pinched.

When I responded to an advertisement on craigslist offering, “winter studio efficiency,” the man on the other end of the phone suggested I drive down to the coast and take a look at a unit that would soon be vacant. A silver-haired, no-nonsense type of guy named Steve greeted me in the parking lot and gave the tour. At the time, a Chinese business man was staying in the room. Steve said he would be out in a couple of days and that the room would be available in one week’s time.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “We’ll have the place spic-and-span for you.”

I think what he meant was that Chinaman odor would be purged by the time I moved in.

With few other short-term rental options, I decided on the spot to take the room. I gave Steve a check for one month’s rent plus a security deposit and he told me I wouldn’t regret it, that the Pebble Cove was like a little family.

Perhaps, if your family is a group of transients who get kicked to the curb come June 1st so that well-off vacationers can occupy the rooms for the peak summer months. Where the Pebble Cove diaspora goes to I do not know. I will go to Beijing because I have nothing or nobody to stick around for.

Living in the unit to the left of mine is my middle-aged sister named either Jill or Lisa who works at either Pier One or Pottery Barn. On the other side is Ulrich, my 70-something-year-old drunken, heating-man, moonlighting-Nazi of a grandfather.

Aside from them and Steve, the acting father of this little clan, I don’t know any of my other family members except by face and vehicle. There’s “Explorer Chick,” (and also “Mustang Dude Who’s Presumably Banging Explorer Chick”) “Green Honda Van Dude,” “Maroon Honda Van Guy,” “White Civic Lady,” “Young Asian Corolla Dude,” “New Jeep Cherokee Older Guy,” and “Early Model Mazda 626 Dude.”

To them, I am no doubt “Silver Subaru Forester Dude.”

It strikes me as being very American to know one another by the vehicles we drive.

III.

Excerpts From the Diary of the Woman Next Door as Imagined by Me When I’m Feeling Conscious of How Thin the Walls Are

6:34: Dear Diary:

Well, so much for sleeping in on my only day off this week. The guy in room 3 is awake and packing his dishes away as he does first thing every morning. He apparently doesn’t realize how paper thin the walls are. That or he doesn’t care. So that means he’s an idiot or a jerk off…an idiot or a jerk off with OCD. It’s bad enough that I have to talk about dishes and cookware and cutlery and wine glasses at work all day. The last thing I want to do is wake up in my goddamned pathetic motel room of an apartment and listen to the sounds of that little OCD neat-nick asshole rattling kitchen wares around. Oh well. Since I’m awake I might as well pleasure myself.

8:08: Hello Diary:

So much for falling back asleep. I was hoping he’d take a day off from the weights but his compulsive little self is back at it. I mean, I’m assuming that he’s lifting weights vigorously. That or he’s masturbating in a suit of plate mail. I really think this guy is some sort of psycho. There are probably dismembered hookers hanging up in his shower. He probably eats hooker jerky for protein after workouts. And there he goes with the music. What the hell is he even listening to? Die Die My Darling? Your Own Personal Jesus? What kinds of lyrics are those? Oh God, now he’s singing along. What, is he serenading the hookers? But he must have a pretty sweet body from all of that working out. Mmm…the thought of his young, engorged body dripping sweat all over his little box is making my little box drip. I’m going to pummel my unfruitful womb with the Black Emperor for a little while and hopefully he’ll be done by the time I get off.

2:24: Hey Diary:

What is he yelling about? Every hour or so it’s “fuck” or “shit” or “cunt” or “fuck shit cunt.” Is he playing video games? Is a hooker trying to escape? Does he have Tourette’s? One thing he obviously doesn’t have is a job, because his silver Subaru just sits there all day.

Life isn’t fair, diary. Here I am breaking my middle-aged ass working at an unspecified home furnishing store while he gets to hang around and work out and play video games and fillet prostitutes. I’d masturbate again but I’m too goddamned depressed. I think I’ll go to Burger King, order two doubles with cheese and hope I choke to death on a piece of mechanically separated beef.

11:46: Hiya Diary:

You’d think that somebody who gets up at the crack of dawn would go to bed early, not stay up all night watching TV. His “friend” in the black car just drove off. I could smell the dope smoke billowing out the door as he left. They probably had drug-fueled unprotected man sex, the sounds of which were masked by a sports broadcast played at high volume. Sometimes I can hear what sounds like German coming from his place, and last week there was that strange incident where a woman left his room shouting, “You’re fucking crazy!” And I’m inclined to agree. Only a maniac would stay up all night getting stoned, flipping back and forth between science fiction thrillers and Mother Angelica. Weirdest of all is the way he sometimes disappears into the dark with a light perched atop his head, only to come running back a bit later and slam the door shut. Meh. I guess if I’m awake I may as well diddle myself one more time.

IV.

Just Another Saturday Night Blitzkrieg

I should have suspected that Ulrich works in the trades by the way that he backs into his parking spot every evening. All of these handy types of guys—men’s men—back into parking spaces.

Ulrich is a heating man. I’m pretty sure I heard him say, “Hello, this is the heating man,” on the phone. He might have said “beating man,” though. Or “eating man.” Maybe even “cheating man.” I’d like to think he said “fleeting man” but Ulrich doesn’t strike me as much of a poet.

It must have been a tough day at the office, whether heating or beating or eating, because ol’ Ulrich moved straight into the fleeting, into the beer, and is finishing them off at a clip of roughly one per 12 minutes.

I hear the fridge door open and the rattling of bottles inside. I hear the “psssst” of a bottle top popping. I hear Ulrich’s bed sag as he falls onto it. I hear the clanking of glass as the empty gets tossed into the bin. I hear the TV growing louder with each successive brew as the alcohol insulates him to his neighbors’ desires for quiet. I know where this night is headed.

I should probably jet before it gets there. There’s that new martini bar down the road where the older women hang out. It’s no secret that I’ve been coveting older women of late. It seems like all of the women my age around here have this creepy faraway look in their eyes which is their biological alarm clock going off, demanding a baby stat. I feel like I’m wasting their time. I’m most certainly not that guy. I mean, Christ, I live in a motel. I’m hardly father material.

But the older women aren’t biting tonight. Something about the blonde girl in the corner screams she’d go home on the first night. Availability is smeared across her face like too much foundation.

Just a few years ago I was flummoxed by women. Now, I obey the simple fact that most people have a hard time saying “no” to anything. Especially when alcohol and licentiousness are involved. It’s just a matter of getting her to say, “yes,” to the right series of questions, starting with, “Can I sit down?” and culminating with, “Do you want to get out of here?”

When she asks where I live I say the Pebble Cove, because it sounds like a charming little place where successful people live, not a brick motel built in the early 1970s that rents to a collection of Recession-products during the off-season.

When we arrive there she says, “You didn’t mention that you live at a motel.” I say, “That’s because you don’t seem like the kind of girl that would come back to a motel on the first night.” This is a lie, however, as she seems precisely like the kind of girl who would come back to a motel on the first night.

But she thinks what I said is funny and this provides an opening to kiss her, which I do, and we stumble around drunkenly while making out until we fall backwards onto my bed. Once her top is off it occurs to me that I don’t want to have to wash my sheets on account of sex stains so I pick her up and move her to the smaller double bed that mostly serves as a hamper and magazine rack.

As the magazines and books and fall to the floor with a racket she giggles and Ulrich cranks his TV up. I hear the sounds of strafing machine guns and a narrator’s voice saying something like, “Hitler’s forces turned upon France in May of 1940 and using Blitzkrieg tactics were able to occupy Paris by June.”

Hitler’s voice rattles, distorted, through the flimsy TV speakers as my tongue encircles nipple. Then come the sounds of artillery being fired, the narrator’s voice, a portion of a Wagner composition, boots marching in step.

“What is that?” she asks, sitting up.

“My neighbor likes to get drunk and watch Nazi documentaries,” I say.

“Oh. Like, a lot?”

“Like every weekend.”

I had a small window to fire her up to the sexual point of no return, where she could ignore the fact that she’s gone home with a stranger to his motel room. Now I can sense that there’s some serious doubt creeping in, doubt that’s compounded by the sounds of Nazi war propaganda.

The way she looks around the room tells me this thing is doomed. I give her nipple one last lick.

“What did you say you do? You’re a writer or something?”

“I write advertising copy.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I try to convince people to buy things they don’t really need.”

“Oh. And you do that from here?”

“Yes.”

“That must be kinda lonely.”

“Sometimes. That’s when I go to the bar and pick up a woman.”

She laughs awkwardly, probably hoping it’s a joke. I made the comment because I really want her to leave now that I know she’s not going to fuck me. I could probably cajole my way back into a tug job, but despite my targeting her on the assumption that she’d come home with me on the first night, I’m actually disappointed that she did. I think I can do better than a woman who comes back to a motel with a guy on the first night. I tell her this.

She gets out of bed and puts on her clothes to the sound of Hitler’s fiery oration.

“You know,” I say, “I’ve always suspected that German men of a certain age take great pride in the whole Nazi thing. Even though they can’t admit it, I bet you some of them view World War Two and the Holocaust in particular as the ultimate expression of German intelligence, industrialism, orderliness, thoroughness, and efficiency, which are the very cultural traits that make Germans proud, some even arrogantly so. What do you think?”

“Um, I’m Jewish,” she says as she buttons her blue overcoat and pulls on a pair of brown UGG boots.

“So what? You must still have an opinion on the matter.”

“You want to know what I think? I think you’re fucking crazy!”

She slams the door and leaves in her Volkswagen Cabriolet. Imagine that, the indignant little Jewess in her German coupe. It reminds me of those rich Jews who drive around cars made by BMW, a company that once upon a time made Nazi war machines.

I hear gravel crunching under her tires as she pulls away and then the only sounds are of alcohol abuse and German domination.

V.

Of Troglodytes and Men

I know how much forklifts cost. Warehouse forklifts, narrow aisle machines, telescopic, telehandler, straight mast, electric, internal combustion, fuel cell, with inflatable tires, pneumatic tires, heavy-duty off-road tires. I know all of the major suppliers of phone systems and how much they cost, the difference between PBX and VoIP systems and how each can help your business streamline its communications, improve customer service, and boost its bottom line. I know how much point of sales (POS) systems for night clubs, restaurants, retail stores and pizza shops cost, that Comcash has been a leading provider of POS solutions since 1996. I know how much air compressors, ATM machines, trade show displays and digital copiers cost (although individual prices may vary based on location, requirements, and individual vendors). I can give you price quotes for home improvement projects ranging from plumbing to construction to hiring an interior designer. I can explain the benefits and drawbacks of various countertop, roofing, fencing, and flooring materials. I can explain seven projects for a Japanese wood saw and why you should insure your Golden Retriever. And I can tell you without question that if the negligent actions of another caused your injury, you may be entitled to compensation.

What I can’t tell you is how the people reading this information would react if they knew it came from a guy in a motel room who neither owns nor can afford nor has any use for any of these goods or services, who is wearing only a pair of frayed soccer shorts.

“Fuck.”

The computer cursor lags on the screen.

“Shit.”

It stops completely.

“Cunt.”

The computer is frozen again.

I can tell you how much it costs to repair an overheating computer, but I can’t tell you how I’m going to come up with the money to have mine repaired.

“Fuck shit cunt.”

I shut it down, close the lid, and decide to go for a walk.

As I step out of my front door I shoo away a male cardinal who is attacking himself in my car’s passenger side mirror. When I first moved in to Pebble Cove I thought that the handsome red bird perched atop my passenger side mirror was a good omen. Now, it mostly annoys me because he scratches the glass and poops all over the door. But I also feel bad for the bastard. He doesn’t realize that persistent rival male is actually himself. The instinct to protect his turf has failed him.

I nod to Green Honda Van Dude as I make my way out to the road and walk the ½ mile to Odiorne Point State Park. It is the site of the first permanent European settlement in New Hampshire, founded in 1623. The U.S. government seized control of the land through eminent domain in the early 1940s to construct a battery that could adequately protect nearby Portsmouth Harbor. It never saw any action save for the firing of practice rounds and in 1961 the land was transferred to the State of New Hampshire for use as a state park, with all military structures demolished or exhumed except for the concrete casemate. The displaced millionaires never had a chance to reclaim their land, an enduring source of bitterness in a part of America where people don’t need much of an excuse to be enduringly bitter.

I come upon the remaining concrete fortifications which are mostly buried now under fill and secondary growth. The grey stonework peeks out from under fresh spring greens like a confused old man among a gathering of teens. Graffiti stains it in its usual forms of louche wisdom and second rate artistry.

Passing under the entombed structure I notice a breach in the metal door that leads into the casemate. I stick my cell phone into the hole and attempt to use its light to see what lies beyond, but am afforded a mere foot of visibility.

At that very moment two 20-somethings on bikes pass by and the curly-haired lead rider says, “Hold on a minute bro, we’ve got lights.”

I follow them into the hole, squeeze through the jagged-cornered opening with care and step into an environment that is dark, cold, and musty, in stark contrast to the bright, muggy day outside.

The men pan their flashlights from side to side, revealing rusted pipes and ceiling tracks that were used to roll artillery out to the guns. Duct work, beer cans, bottles, and other debris is strewn across the ground, requiring that every step be taken with care. But it’s a challenge to focus on anything except for the walls covered in charnel imagery, made more ghostly by the vertiginous shifting light and amplified sounds of the dank, asbestos-ridden chamber.

“This place doesn’t open up very often. Maybe every 10-15 years somebody finds a way in,” says the curly-haired guy. “You can tell by the dates on the walls and the can designs.”

His friend, with a dark complexion and a thin beard, mutters something about the place being like the Mines of Moria.

Off of the main hall are several rooms, one of which leads down into a wide-chambered basement. I can see my breath in the nebulous light. We descend an oxidized ladder into a small passageway that we waddle through in a squatting position. Only when crammed into a dirt-floored boiler room of approximately 4 feet tall by 8 feet wide by 8 feet long do we introduce ourselves.

When I tell them I live at the Pebble Cove Motel the dark-haired guy says, “You live in a motel? Cool, man. It’s like a movie or something.”

This is the only room where a dedicated mural exists. The rest of the bunker is a cacophony of visions that overlap and choke out any attempts at artfulness. I think about the artist who spent hour upon hour hunched in this cramped chamber, inhaling toxic air and paint fumes, to create a sepulchral work that few eyes will ever chance upon. Could their endeavor be the result of a failed instinct?

This place brings to mind prehistoric caves and how scientists try to glean those peoples’ cultural knowledge from the images drawn on the walls. If nuclear Armageddon or another endgame of humanity transpired this wartime structure would likely survive. At some point it would be discovered and the eggheads of the day would begin to surmise its meaning and what it says about its creators. They would be forced to conclude that our race was obsessed with death and fermented beverages, that we were sacrilegious, contrarian, perverted, resentful of authority, immature, would-be soothsayers, false prophets, plagiarists, charlatans, hopeful yet pessimistic all at once, that we possessed a darkness of spirit that was given expression by our creative impulses. If those surveying this relic of 20th and 21st century Homo sapiens didn’t know any better, they would swear that we were somehow rooting against our own cause, that like a cardinal pecking itself in the passenger side mirror of a Subaru, some instinct of our race had collectively failed us.

As for my own instincts, it seems that at least one of them favors driving me into small, claustrophobic spaces that I share with the company of strangers. The first of June is nigh, and when I turn the page on the calendar I will also turn the page on the next stage of my life. As the vacationers arrive to enjoy the finest New England months the troglodyte slinks into the shadows, holes up in a Chinese ghetto to fester in the heat of summer. The instinct that tells me to do this is the same one that told me to leave Her behind and stare down the barrel of life alone. Only in time will I be able to judge whether this instinct has failed me.

***

It is a humid late-May evening and I am unable to sleep. Listening to the ocean hum and haw in the darkness I decide to head back to the bunker.

With my miner’s torch secured atop my head I proceed to Odiorne Point State Park. When I get to the bunker I find that the opening has been sealed, consigning the paint-splattered interior to memory and posterity. I sit down there in the darkness under the bunker’s arch with my flashlight and my flesh and my instincts and wonder why the hell I can’t sleep, and decide that it’s the same reason why the ocean can’t sleep.

On the way back home I stop at my usual midnight overlook and see a sliver of moonlight break dancing the heaving chest of the sea. When I turn around and head back towards room 3 at the Pebble Cove I don’t run this time.

Click to view a complete photo gallery of The Bunker

I am freaking right out.

The news is coming at me from so many directions, I can hardly absorb any of it. It’s like drinking water from a fire hose. As soon as one story runs, three more update, clarify, and supplement it.

And no, the subject is very likely not who you think it is.

It’s Christina Aguilera.

You see, she had too much to drink.

I was sitting on the front steps reading, within ear but not eyeshot of the driveway, when I heard my mother talking to a woman with a slightly-crude voice. I thought it might be the woman who lives next door. I’ve never met her, but I know her husband, Al. He regularly drinks Natural Light beer with his shirt off in the middle of the day, so it’s fair to assume he’s married to a woman with a slightly-crude voice.

The woman asked if she was at 85 Joalco Road.My mother confirmed this, and then the woman explained she was here to administer an interview on behalf of the United States Public Health Service, that my brother, whom she referred to as “the 21 year old male,” had been randomly selected for the study and stood to earn $30 should he participate. She wanted to know when the 21-year old male would be home, because she had quotas to meet with regard to particular demographics.

“Too bad you couldn’t pick my other son. He’s a 28 year old male and he’s home right now,” said my mother.

When she said this, I decided not to stand up and have a look at the woman with the slightly crude voice, even though I very much wanted to. It occurred to me that the interviewer and I could help each other out, seeing as she has quotas to meet and I’m broke, unemployed and living with my parents.

But being broke and unemployed at your parents’ house isn’t all that bad. You get to do things like walkaround in a bathrobe outside at 10 a.m. bird watching and drinking coffee.

That is what I’m doing when a navy blue Jeep Cherokee pulls into the driveway. A woman gets out, smiles, and says, “You must be the 21 year old male.I spoke with your mom the other day.”

She doesn’t look the way I imagined her to, which was short, older and graying. Rather, she is tallish, oldish, dyed too-auburn.

“Yeah, she told me about you. You’re in luck. You caught me on my day off,” I say, opening the gate to let her in. “What a morning.”

It’s about 70 degrees. The birds are giving their morning recital. Early daylight spills over the top of early-spring-green leaves. Bands of clouds drift lazily overhead on the slightest of breezes.

We decide to work outside at the picnic table. I quickly go inside and pour myself a fresh cup of coffee then take a seat across from the stranger.

“Where do you live?” I ask her.

“Middleton,” she answers.

“I’m not sure where that is exactly. Near Concord?”

“Not really. It’s next to Farmington.”

Farmington is a very sleazy town, so Middleton is probably at least a little bit sleazy by association. I wouldn’t say this woman is sleazy, but there is a hint of sleaze. The voice…the dye job…the pack of Virginia Slims menthol extra long 120s…

“Do you work for the census department?” I ask.

“No, I work for a company subcontracted by the government,” she says and hands me a brochure.

The cover says: National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Answering your important questions. I open it up and read the first page:

What is the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)?

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is the Federal Government’s primary source of national data on the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances. The survey also contains questions on health, illegal behaviors, and other topics associated with substance use. The study was initiated in 1971 and currently is conducted on an annual basis. This year approximately 70,000 individuals, 12 years and older, will be randomly selected and asked to voluntarily participate.

The woman finishes setting up a computer and some papers and explains that the interview will take about an hour, the bulk of which will be completed anonymously on a laptop and afterwards, she’ll ask me a few questions.

She then asks me my date of birth.I take a long sip of coffee, hurrying to calculate the year my brother was born.

“You stated your birthday as October 3, 1987, making you a 22 year old male.Is this correct?”

She has to say this according to protocol, but obviously it’s not correct because I am a 21 year old male.I fix my mistake, hastily adding the excuse that I suffer from dyslexia.

“I’m just awful with numbers.” I say.

She gives a half-laugh, half-sympathetic sigh and at this point I highly suspect she knows that I don’t have dyslexia…that I am not, in fact, a 21 year old male, but rather, the 28 year old male my mother mentioned.

“OK,” she says. “Ready to begin?”

And so, on a perfect Wednesday morning, outside at the picnic table, in the presence of a complete stranger, using a slate grey laptop, I anonymously reveal my entire history of personal drug use.

I thought I’d tried most things.I was wrong.There’s a book I have to look through and answer things like list all of the drugs from Box A you have tried in:

A.the last 3 months

B.the last 6 months

C.The last year

D.At any point

The boxes are divided by drug category, such as opiates, hallucinogens, amphetamines, sedatives, etc, all with an accompanying photo and ID number.Every drug imaginable is listed.There are a lot that I’ve done.But also many I’ve not done…or even heard of.

I take mental notes of the drugs I’d like to try.It’s like the feature on iTunes when you’re searching for a band and they show you what Other Listeners Bought.Well, I love amphetamines, so I’ll probably like lisdexamfetamine as well…and all the other drugs in Box C for that matter.

It all reminds me of the D.A.R.E . (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, which most Americans over the age of 27 probably were forced to take part in.Like D.A.R.E., this survey is opening my eyes to all sorts of wonderful substances.

I recall the first day of D.A.R.E. distinctly.The entire 5th grade gathered in the library and a police officer came in with a display board containing illustrations of all these different drugs and explained how they had horrible side-effects and we should never even consider trying them.The cop told the story of a man who, in a PCP rage, took 18 rounds from police officers before going down.

As a 5th grade boy, I figured if I could get my hands on this PCP stuff…well, I could rule the neighborhood.Nobody would fuck with me.

The D.A.R.E. curriculum consisted largely of role-playing where, in a typical scenario, one student played the drug dealer and another an abstaining youth who employed the proper version of “Just Say No” to reject the dealer’s advances.

Not once in my adult life has a drug dealer materialized out of thin air and tried to push their goods on me like in D.A.R.E.There were plenty of times I wish they would have, but to no avail.The closest I’ve gotten is in tourist hot spots where drug dealers whisper, “marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy” as you pass by.As an 18 year old in London, I tried to buy weed from one of these guys and ended up with oregano.Since then, I’ve learned you don’t buy shit from drug dealers on the street in an unfamiliar area.You go to a university area and ask around at bars.

Back in the 5th grade, I even starred in the D.A.R.E. play, which was the culmination of the ten week program. I can’t recall much about the production, except that I had a lead role.The character I played, due to some unholy cocktail of substances, collapsed.My line was “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” (That’s right-Steve Urkel style.)

Between then and now I’ve done a lot of drugs and never once have I fallen and been unable to get up. Quite the opposite: When I get up, I don’t want to fall down.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education was started by members of the Los Angeles Police in 1983.Today, 36 million children around the world and 26 million in the U.S. participate.

Over the years, a number of studies have been conducted to ascertain the efficacy of D.A.R.E.Some particularly interesting findings include a 1992 Indiana University study that found students who completed D.A.R.E. used hallucinogenic drugs at a higher rate than students who didn’t enroll in the program.In 1998, Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum reported D.A.R.E. graduates were more likely than non-graduates to use alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.Also in 1998, Psychologist Dr. William Colson claimed that exposing young students to drugs encouraged and nurtured drug use.He wrote: “…as they get a little older, students become very curious about these drugs they’ve learned about from police officers.”

In 2001, the Surgeon General of the United States placed D.A.R.E. in the category: “Does Not Work.”The Association for Psychological Sciences (APS) put D.A.R.E. on a list of treatments that can potentially harm clients in 2007.

D.A.R.E. reflects the U.S. drug control policy of zero-tolerance.It was adopted as part of the control strategy of the U.S. government’s War on Drugs.Last year, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, stated the Obama administration would not use the term “War on Drugs,” claiming it to be counter-productive.

After 40 years, $1 trillion dollars spent and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, it seems the War on Drugs is counter-productive not only in name.Comments by Mr. Kerlikowske suggest as much.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful” he told the Associated Press recently.“Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

This month, President Obama made a pledge to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” through a revamped policy that treats drug use as a public health issue, focusing on prevention and treatment.Despite his promise, the president has increased spending on drug prohibition through law enforcement, which accounts for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget, a record in total dollars and as a percentage of the drug-control budget.Obama’s drug-fighting budget is 31 times what Richard Nixon’s was (including inflation adjustment) after he signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in 1971, which effectively began the War on Drugs.

The Associated Press has tracked how taxpayer money has been spent to combat drug use over the past 40 years.Here’s what we’ve been billed for:

  • $20 billion to combat drug gangs in countries like Columbia and Mexico.Annually, 330 tons of cocaine, 20 tons of heroin and 110 tons of methamphetamine are sold in the U.S.Almost all of it is imported from Mexico.
  • $33 billion to promote prohibition-style “Just Say No” messages and prevention programs (like D.A.R.E.)to young Americans.Reports indicate that high school students today use drugs at the same rates they did in 1970.
  • $49 billion for enforcement measures along America’s borders to halt the flow of illegal drugs.This year alone, 25 million Americans will use illicit drugs, around 10 million more than in 1970.Almost all of it comes in across the borders.
  • $121 billion to arrest over 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, roughly 10 million of them for possession of marijuana.Studies reveal being locked up has a positive correlation with drug abuse.
  • $ 450 billion to lock up these nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons alone.Half of all federal prisoners last year in the U.S. were incarcerated for drug offenses.
  • $215 billion per year, estimated by the Justice Department, for “an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity and environmental destruction.”

And I thought I’d spent a lot of money on drugs and had nothing to show for it.

When I’m done with the computer the interviewer asks me a few questions about my employment, insurance, household income, etc., and then we’re done.I sign an interview payment receipt and the woman counts out 3 crisp 10s and lays them in my hand.My time as a 21 year old male is officially over.

I walk the interviewer to the gate and wish her well.

“What an interesting job you have…traveling to people’s homes, setting your own hours.” I say.

“Yes, I enjoy it.” she says.“I get to meet many interesting people.The only thing is that if I ever run into somebody in town or at the grocery store or something, I don’t know their name.”

“Well, if I ever see you, just call me 21 year old male.” I say

It’s now around 11 o’clock, giving me five hours before my mother comes home.I should probably go fill out some job applications.But it’s an awfully nice day.And I’ve got a lot on my mind.

Had I taken D.A.R.E. more seriously and never used drugs, would I be a broke, unemployed 28 year old male living at home?

If the War on Drugs has failed, then who is the victor?Drugs?Drug dealers? Drug users?

What, precisely, is implicit in the reality that America has 5% of the world’s population but uses 50% of its illegal drugs…and has 25% of its prisoners?

Is Middleton a sleazy town?

Such matters deserve a deeper consideration.

But I’m all out of weed.I have no car.And unlike in D.A.R.E., drug dealers don’t just materialize while you’re walking down the street.Especially not on Joalco Road in Strafford, New Hampshire.

Besides, while drug use rates haven’t changed much after 40 years and $1 trillion spent, the prices have.I’ll be lucky to get a few joints from $30 of today’s hydroponic shit.As a generation of D.A.R.E. – mockers know: Drugs Are Really Expensive.

But there are other options.

I hear Al whistling from his porch.His shirt is off.There’s a koozy on the railing.

“Yo Al, I’m comin’ over buddy.You owe me from last time.”

On Thursday, February 25th, the power went out in my parents’ New Hampshire home. We weren’t alone; more than 350,000 residences and businesses statewide reported outages in the aftermath of a wind storm that ripped through northern New England, bringing gusts of up to 90 mph in places. The resulting damage was reported to be second only to the ice storm of December 2008. I fortunately wasn’t in New Hampshire for that particular storm, but after more than a year it is still a common topic of discussion. It has emerged as a prototype of the kind of awful winter weather that can befall New England. Many people, including my parents, were out of power for nearly a week in the wake of the ice storm. Talking to them and others it becomes clear the incident will continue to live in infamy for years. Apparently, it was so bad that my folks had to draw water from a stream and resort to going to the bathroom in the woods. (Though I suspect my father secretly cherished this.) People’s reflexive attitude towards the ice storm is indicative of the mindset of a New Englander: on the one hand self-pity for living in such a dismal climate, on the other a feeling of pride from toughing it out.

I am back home visiting my parents and have not had to endure a New Hampshire winter for several years. Since escaping the seasonal plight I have come to regard living in a warmer place akin to getting out of an abusive relationship. Now free, I look back and wonder how I allowed myself to be treated in such a brutish manner. But like revisiting a past relationship, there is also an affectionate familiarity to being home for winter. I fell back into my old hibernation habits without missing a beat, holing up and finishing a number of projects I never got around to in sunnier climes. One has to wonder if the Puritan work ethic would have ever come into existence had the pilgrims landed further south.

When the power went out it was approaching midnight and I was lying in bed watching basketball. The lights had been flickering for several hours as huge gusts of wind assailed the area. I wholeheartedly expected some sort of power loss and so when my room went black I didn’t wait for the lights to come back on. I settled in for a slightly earlier than normal bedtime, hoping that morning would see the restoration of electricity.

It didn’t.

My first action upon waking is to check my bedside light. Nothing. After that I get up and groggily stomp into the living room where as usual I receive a warm welcome from my parents’ three dogs. Before this anecdote continues it is necessary to point out that I am not a morning person. I’m not even an early-afternoon person.   For me, the only way to get through the early part of the day is to drink several cups of coffee in relative peace and quiet.

I scoop fresh grounds into the machine, pour the water in the back and press power. Nothing. This is because making coffee, like turning on a light, requires electricity.

I go downstairs and look for the box of camping gear I know contains the burner and percolator that will allow me to brew up a pot of coffee. This is already far more energy than I’m used to expending in the morning. I can’t find the box. I pick up the phone to call my mother. Dead. No electricity means no phones as well. But there’s still my cell phone. I dig it out of yesterday’s pants. Dead too. I plug it in for a quick charge before remembering that this also requires power. For those who would think me daft or who have never lived a day in a house without power, it is quite normal when it goes out to still try and activate all those items which require electricity. Our whole lives are so dependent upon certain things working that it’s almost unfathomable to flick a switch or push a button and not have those things work.

I scuttle from closet to closet looking for the camping gear. My parent’s golden retriever follows me around. His propensity to always be by my side is usually cute, but then again I’ve usually had my A.M. fix of legal stimulants. In my haste I almost trip over him. I cock my fist back halfway before catching myself.

“You are about to punch a golden retriever,” I think.

I am a calm, non-violent person and this dog is even more of a lovable lump than most Goldens. He is the Gandhi of Golden Retrievers. I almost punched Gandhi in the face because I haven’t had my morning coffee. I realize the implications of this abstractly but there is still only one order of business on my mind.

I slip on a coat and a pair of boots, grab my car keys and step outside. I’m shocked to see all of the down branches and other things that have been blown around the yard. Driving towards the store I see more devastation: branches are all over the road….huge branches…the kind that take down power lines…the kind that could signal no coffee at nearby establishments.

The local village shop displays zero signs of life. I continue to a nearby gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts inside. I see no lights, but there are a few cars in the parking lot. A man comes out with a box of doughnuts. I resist the urge to grab him and ask, “Is there coffee?” I’m afraid of how I might react if he says no.

As I reach for the door it opens and a clerk ushers me into the darkened shop. It feels like I’m entering a speakeasy; I look behind me to see if I’ve been followed.

“We’ve got doughnuts and all baked goods as is and anything else in the store, cash only.” she says.

“Coffee.” I say. “Have you got coffee?”

“No.” she says. “Believe me, we want some too.”

Her voice trails off, as if she’s leaving it open for me to somehow come through with a connection. I feel like I’m in high school trying to buy weed.

I get back in the car knowing it’s hopeless to suppose any shop in the area has power or coffee. Back at home I turn on my laptop to see the latest news about power outages. I stare at the “This webpage is not available” message for several long seconds before I put two and two together. But what about my email? What if somebody left a comment on my blog that is going unanswered? How did my fantasy basketball team do? Has anybody “liked” my witty Facebook status from last night or replied to my epigrammatic Twitter post?

I sit at the dining room table, distraught. The dogs lie at my feet, seeming to sense that something is off. They obviously don’t appreciate the dire straits we are facing, but then again, sniffing each other’s crotches and digging up the backyard doesn’t require electricity.

When the lights go out, it feels a little bit like camping. Camping is great. I regularly set off into the woods to live an ascetic life for a few days. The difference is that when I camp, I brace myself for withdrawal from modern conveniences, even readily welcome it for a short spell.

This is not camping. This is me, at home, without coffee, without internet, without TV, ready to punch the King Charles Cavalier Spaniel if he keeps staring at me.

“Calm down.” I instruct myself. “At least it’s light outside. You can get some writing done.“

I sit in my customary chair, notebook open, pen at the ready. The words don’t come. It feels all wrong. There is no steaming cup of coffee by my side. I can’t read online news and make biting remarks to total strangers on comment boards when I reach an impasse. I’m totally lost. There’s only one thing I can do: sleep this day away….sleep until the power is back and life can resume…

I eat some plain bread and crawl into bed. The dogs join me. I rip off about an hour at a time of sleep. Each time I wake up I try my bedside light and each time the unsuccessful effort prompts me to go back to sleep.

At around lunchtime I manage to rouse myself. I eat some more bread and scour the pantry for caffeinated beverages. There is an old, flat bottle of Pepsi in the back. I drink most of what’s left. The caffeine injection rejuvenates me enough to read an issue of Newsweek. An editorial by George Will incites the desire to email the pundit a vitriolic response peppered with big words I find on Thesaurus.com. Then I remember…
Back to bed.

At about four o’clock I wake up. My mouth tastes disgusting. Brushing my teeth doesn’t require power but I couldn’t be bothered. My will to live has been diminished. Soon it will be dark. My parents will be home from work and we’ll be eating dry bread together by candlelight. It’s a lucky thing my father doesn’t keep firearms in the house.

But more worrisome is how long we’ll have to go without power. Judging by the destruction outside, it could be days….maybe a week. Can I possibly sleep away the entire time? I think of family in the area who wouldn’t be affected by the storm. I have distant cousins in upstate New York. If I start driving now, I can have internet by midnight…

The dogs leap off the bed, excited at somebody’s arrival. My dad walks in and sees me lying down.

“What are you doing in bed?  Are you alright?  It smells like farts down here. What, have you been lying in bed all day farting?” he says.

It doesn’t seem worth denying.

“Well get yourself out of your farty bed and help me with the generator.” he says.

“Generator…you have a generator?” I say, barely able to contain my joy.

“Of course we do.” he says. “I learned my lesson after that goddamn ice storm.”

I leap out of bed, dress myself and join my father in the shed. We drag the generator out and fire it up.

“Let there be light.” says my old man. And so there is.

Back inside, I brew a pot of coffee, extra strong. The internet and cable may be out, but I’m at least able to play X-Box. I slip in Grand Theft Auto IV. While perhaps not as satisfying as an anonymous, impertinent email to a member of the right-wing media, there is really something to be said for having sex with a hooker, blasting her with an automatic weapon then running over her corpse with the vehicle of your choice.