Years later. These woods. The fading sun casting long shadows. In this moment on that bend on a slope you envision your ideal death. You imagine a mountain lion. The beast still existed and in these very woods, albeit rare. They were still here. Avoiding extinction, through guile and guts. Still here.

Again, you hear the rustling. Could it be the wind? No. Everything about you is motionless. Most likely it’s vermin scuttling within the leaf bed. Or is it the great cat, with claws and fangs and yellow eyes?

Could it be?

It comes from deep inside, almost like a prayer, a fantasy or even a nightmare. In a way it is all of those things. Let it be a cougar that takes your life, right here and now, pouncing on you and ripping apart your throat, feeding upon your flesh. You would welcome the pain as penance for everything you’d done. Dying in the mouth of a lion. Such a magnificent death! Your body becomes a sacrament. Something holy. No more fearing the end like everyone else: how it might happen, how might it hurt? Between his claws you would make your peace. Then fall backward onto the ground, bleeding into it, as the lion tore out your heart.

Only a squirrel.

Chattering, it scurries across your path. Unless you slip and fall, you will not be dying on this trail. Your magnificent death remains a waking dream. Yet, you feel an odd lightness. You’ve discovered an idea of death you can live with.

New chapter soon…


Like many introverts, you find serenity in nature. Retreating into the woods, the hills or simply out on the lake fishing. Leaving the company of people. Entering a better place.

Drugs and alcohol once took you away from people. False prophets, malicious guides into dangerous places, they drew you inward. Left you there. Isolated. Like they say in AA, your brain is a very dangerous neighborhood.

So you go outside. Marin County has so many trails. Within minutes you are free. In nature means you’re never alone, even by yourself. It’s both hard to explain yet obvious. Solitude is company. You hike. You walk. You stand perfectly still. You can feel yourself breathe. No more waiting to exhale. Not here. The monumental redwoods and fragrant cypress are profound company. Called “The Sleeping Giant” by locals, Mt. Tamalpais lords over you like a sentinel.

Exaltation. Elevation. No matter the circumstances, if you open the door you will always feel better. It never fails. Misery comes when you forget that it’s here.

To be continued…

The Locker (7)

April 17, 2020


Unfolding the letters again, you remembered their secrets. You were surprised your father had shown no interest in reading them, even after you told him what they contained: that his mother (her name was Mary) had unrequited longings for Jack’s brother, Harry. In notes to Harry, dated earlier than ones written to your future Grandfather, she flirted and pined with him. Though modest by today’s standards, you could tell something was going on. Harry had refused her. You have his letters too. And she ended up marrying Jack.

Upon telling these things to your dad, he said only this: “My father always hated his brother.” That was all you got. Your father changed the subject and never returned to it. You knew not to push.

You consider the estrangement with your brother. Wildly different reasons than with Harry and Jack but the result was the same. You met your uncle once maybe twice and have no memory of it. With each passing month, now years, it seems very possible your daughters will forget their uncle as well. The ridiculous feud with your brother upsets your dad. No doubt he draws parallels to the animus between his father and uncle. Maybe the analogy of a chain is a poor one. At times, it seems your family isn’t connected by anything at all.

Placing back the shoebox, you must reconsider your Grandparents as more than old antiques. They were from a simpler era. Things were easier then, cut and dried. Yet, on this hot afternoon, in this crappy storage locker, you uncovered a truth: Jack and Mary had longings that turned into secrets and eventually became lies. Just like you and just like everyone else.

To be continued…

The Locker (6)

April 14, 2020


One hundred years ago, where you’re standing was more a frontier than a county. The Golden Gate Bridge hadn’t been built yet. Folks still got around on horses. Once a swamp, Chicago had already been drained and laid over with clay bricks that one could still find if he knew where to look. You recall your grandfather telling you about the horse drawn ice truck he worked on, every morning before dawn the sound of hooves clapping over those clay bricks, delivering sawn blocks of Lake Michigan to restaurants and saloons.

Grandpa Jack almost made it to 100. As far as you know he’d been happy through most of it. He liked watching sports on TV (the Bears and the White Sox but never the Cubs), and, in his last years, riding the senior bus to the casinos where he played the slots and bet on the ponies.

As a child, you saw your grandparents periodically, when they were your age now. But you didn’t really know them. Their lives were like dusty books you had no interest in reading. Maybe you’d picked up on your father’s ambivalence to them or, more likely, you were simply too preoccupied with yourself. By the time you became a teen-ager, the last thing you wanted to do was drive out and see them. This would not change, even after siring your own children. Schlepping the kids 40 miles only to watch them squirm seemed like torture. Begrudgingly, you did it, but it was like checking a box. Hit the early bird buffet and have your family back in the city before nightfall. ______’s attitude was better but even she came to view it as an obligation. Your daughters never had a chance. The chain of indifference perpetuated. You marvel how anyone could truly adore his or her elders. Stuns you whenever you hear someone say his or her best friend was grandpa or grandma. Such a different experience than yours, sometimes you think those people were lying.

To be continued…

The Man in Black

March 2, 2020


You sit with twenty or so others around two connected folding tables in the basement of a musty church. The usual cross-section, they’ve nothing in common save for a desire to stop drinking. It’s midday so many of them have coffees from the Starbucks next door.

Finishing her share is Dallas, a thirty-something woman with black hair striped in purple. Wrapped around her left bicep a tattoo of barbed wire. The tough exterior belies her fragility. A newcomer, she has five long-ass days and longer nights under her belt. But Dallas’s share is less about withdrawal than her rapidly changing world. “Now that I’m not drinking,” she says, “my friends don’t want anything to do with me.” She looks around the room. “But what kind of friends are those, right?”

People nod. They’ve all had to say goodbye to their drinking buddies. It comes with the territory, this new life. Dallas continues.

“Anyway, I decided they can all fuck themselves. My daughter’s the only person that matters to me. That’s why I’m here. Why I’m doing the deal.” She taps the Big Book resolutely. “That’s all I got.”

‘Thank you, Dallas!’ Chimes the group. It’s a good way to end the meeting – a newcomer with grit.

The first time you saw Dallas, at the loft, you didn’t think she’d get 24 hours. Yet, here she was. The secretary rings her bell then reads from the script: “As there are only a few minutes left in the meeting it is now time to ask if anyone has a burning desire.”

No hands go up.

“Come on, people. This is the time and this is the place!”

A pale-skinned man raises his hand. The black shirt makes him look like a skeleton. He wears sunglasses, which if this weren’t AA might have seemed peculiar. Here, it’s not uncommon, especially with newcomers. The second part of the program’s name is Anonymous. He clears his throat. “I have a burning desire.”

“Excellent!” The secretary responds. “The man in black has the floor!” The joke garners chuckles from the group. Why not? It’s Friday. We are not a glum lot is a popular phrase from the Big Book.

The man in black reaches into the gym bag sitting in front of him and pulls out two liters of Jack Daniels. One at a time he places each bottle on the table. “What I desire is for each you to have a drink.”

A gasp fills the room. But the man in black pays it no mind. He begins arranging Dixie cups into a neat row on the table. He opens one bottle and carefully begins pouring the whiskey into a cup, then another. The smell permeates the room.

The secretary rises. Like everyone else, she is stunned but somebody has to do something. This is her meeting.

“Excuse me, sir,” she says, her voice quavering. “But what in the name of God do you think you’re doing? This is a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous!”

Raising an eyebrow, the man in black merely smiles. He could be tending bar.

“Well, I’ve already told you, Mam. I want you all to have a drink with me.” With that said, he slides a full cup to the woman sitting directly across from him. “Starting with you, sweetheart! You look like you could use a pop. I hope you like it neat.”

April, a frail creature no more than 18 years old, looks at the drink and the man with terror. She can’t speak. She is literally shaking.


The man frowns. “What’s wrong, darling? Jack not your drink of choice? Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. I was the same way at your age.”

April whispers. “Please. If I drink again I’ll… I’ll die.”

In the room, shock has turned to anger. A few men push their chairs back. Enough is enough. They rise.

Undaunted, the man in black continues looking directly at April. He casually pulls a large handgun from his bag and points it at her face. Inches separate the barrel from her nose.

Everyone freezes.

“No, no, no darling, you’ve got it all wrong.” He says, clucking at her, twitching the gun. “If you don’t drink then you’ll die.” He looks at the standing men. With his free hand he indicates for them to sit. When they do he returns his attention to the young woman. “Now drink up, darling. It’s damn near closing time.”

With a shaking hand, April lifts the cup to her mouth and sips. It is her first taste of alcohol in almost a year. She grimaces. The man cocks the gun.

“All of it.”

When she is done she places the empty vessel down in front of her. Two tears collapse from her eyes, the mascara making them look like black rivulets. She sobs quietly.

“Like riding a bicycle,” the pale man cackles. “Am I right?”

A couple chairs down from the gunman, an addict named Roberto can no longer hold his tongue. “Please, sir, I beg of you-

The man in black wheels around and points the gun at Roberto. His voice remains calm, sickeningly so.

“Don’t worry, Senor. There’s plenty to go around. Matter of fact, you can drink straight from the bottle. We don’t mind.”

He slides the open bottle to Roberto. It stops alongside of his Big Book.

“I…I… can’t drink this!”

Undeterred, the man in black counters. “Sure you can, amigo. Isn’t that how you got here – drinking this?

Roberto pleads. “But it’s been over eleven years!”

“Then you must be awful thirsty!”

Roberto stares at the bottle. He shuts his eyes. Prays. He reaches for the whiskey but instead of picking it up he pushes it away, slowly, until it is just past his fingertips.

“I see,” says the man in black. “Well, how about we start you off with a shot?”

He pulls the trigger blowing a whole through Roberto’s chest. He’s dead before the blood exits his body, which it does suddenly, gushing on the table as if spilling from a bottle.

“Any other requests?”

The man in black places the smoking gun on the table. He picks up one of the Dixie cups. “Salut!” He says, before downing it. “Now then, who’s next?”

You have been sitting quietly, just a couple chairs down. You reach over and take one of the full cups of whiskey.

The man in black grins, nodding in approval. “That’s right, son. If rape is inevitable you might as well enjoy it!”

He may have said that. Or at least you think so. It doesn’t matter. A centimeter from your lips is alcohol! For years you’ve wondered if there was a backdoor, a way that would allow you to drink with impunity, without regret or shame. Here it was, at last, at gunpoint! You lift the cup.


You are on your back. Breathing hard. You taste whiskey, remembering blood. But it’s so dark. And why are you in bed? Crickets, it’s your iPhone chirping. In the rooms they often talked about these nightmares. Called drinking dreams, they said you would thank God as soon as you realized none of it was real. The truth. Drinking with impunity is both a dream and a nightmare.