Haiku: Thanksgiving

Storms of sorrow loom

Eternal night calls me down

Hope pleads. “Child, come home.”

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Kissing the Monkey

I share with you one of my favorite stories about the Buddha. Someone once asked him “Do you believe in God?”

To which Siddhārtha Gautama replied, “Which one?”

To me, this lies at the heart of our relationship with the Creator of the Universe. God is not knowable. Therefore, the concept of thanking God, in my opinion, pigeonholes the concept into a very narrow framework of “Him” and “me”. I wince when people even use the word “Him” when addressing the subject of God. So today, I think about the concept of what it really means to be thankful to God, whoever and whatever God happens to be.

For me, to be thankful means acting on the feeling of being grateful for what I have. I mean, saying you’re thankful for something, you might as well end that sentence with “Yeah, I am thankful for a lot of stuff. Now I’m gonna go grab a pack of smokes.” How does the feeling of being thankful translate into how you live your life? Today, it means I must relish the things that I get to do for others. To, in fact, be psyched about doing them. I mean let’s face it, there’s a place for the touchy-feely warmth of the whole thing. But without a dash of “Whoo! Let’s do this thing!”, the whole concept is pretty boring.

Today, I’m thankful to be an alcoholic (just hear me out). At coffee with a friend last night, after bitching and moaning about feeling lost in my search for a job, often feeling the emptiness of not really having a love interest to speak of, and trying to find meaning in seemingly losing the identity of being an animal lover, which I’ve held onto for dear life these last 9 years, I found myself feeling truly thankful for the knowledge of what I am doing this holiday season.

Honestly, I’m kind of the MVP for a lot of people.

Today is Thanksgiving, and rather than not feeling alone and dejected about not being with my family, I get to help handicapped people travel to celebrate with their loved ones. And I am grateful that I get to do that. But the trick is knowing that that is what I am doing. Feeling a deep sense of satisfaction in and enjoying the contentment I feel in aiding my passengers as they convene with those they hold most dear. And even when they are convening with ones they don’t particularly like. In fact, those are the ones I am most grateful for since I can be a pretty charming fellow when I want to be and for those folks that are not particularly excited about going to Uncle Frank’s for Thanksgiving, I might be the high point of their whole freakin’ weekend.

More than that though, I revel in the happiness I’m bringing to them and their families by helping that whole process along in my own small way. Could somebody else be doing that for them? Sure, of course. But this year, I get to be that someone. Will they forget about me as soon as they are in their son-in-law’s car or safely on the airplane? Maybe. But that is not my concern. That goes against the Zen concept of living only in this moment. For the little patch of time, I get to make their journey as bright and warm as I can. And hey, if I make them chuckle for a minute, all the better  .

Over the Christmas holiday, my parents and sister will be in Rhode Island celebrating with my brother and his family. I will be taking care of their dog and a friend’s dog while she is in the Philippines with her son and his family. And I am truly thankful that I get to do this.  I am thankful in the novel way of the inward feeling of knowing that this is what I am doing and being filled with the joy and fulfillment of this knowledge.

Also, there’s one key element I should not, will not, cannot forget. Sometimes, those family gatherings are a colossal pain in the tookus. This year especially for me because let’s face it, there’s few things more awkward than being single and childless at the family function. Sometimes, people just don’t know quite what to say you. Compound that with being a single, childless, blogging, Buddhist, recovering alcoholic who leaves it all on the field.  I figure I’m kind of doing them and me a favor by being elsewhere.

Then there’s the monkey. And I know He will come. He will come and He will try convincing me that I’d much rather be kissing the bottle, toking the pipe and getting laid. But I know the monkey is there. And I kiss Him and scratch his belly (He hates when I do that). Because that leads me to truly feeling the wonderment in my heart that I am going to miss Thanksgiving and sort of sit this Christmas out so others can enjoy it. And I will be thankful for the fact that this time, this year, it’s not about me at all. It’s what I am hopefully doing for others.

To me, this is being thankful.

The Back Forty (Behind the Scenes)

I lay in my bed reading a book by a Buddhist scholar a friend had sent to me when there came a knockin’ at my door. I opened it to find Cain standing there holding two cups of coffee.

“What are you doing here?” I asked “I wasn’t gonna write about you today.”

“I know, but we have a problem,” he said handing me one of the cups, he sat on a recliner in my living room. “That thing Diane said to you about factual errors in the story. We gotta do something about that.”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that,” I said and sat in the other recliner. “This writing straight fiction is tough.”

“Yeah it is. Especially writing a story as detail-oriented as this one,” He said and sipped his coffee. “And if you want people to take the story seriously at all, you gotta watch everything. Especially since it’s a thriller. I wouldn’t be especially thrilled or scared if there were glaring holes in the story right at the outset.”

“So what do you recommend I do?” I asked.

“Well, you first stated in Chapter 1.4 that Colin had given Sasquatch to the kids as a gift they really never asked for.”

“Madeline renamed the dog Sassy,” I reminded him.

“I know, and I thought that was particularly good. That and making the dog male to go with the name Sassy. Kind of serves to make the whole prospect of “let’s get a dog” a little more ludicrously endearing. Anyway, then you wrote at the start of Chapter 2 that Colin got the dog as a gift for Madeline, not the kids.”

“Yeah. And?”

“Well, you could write that somewhere in between Madeline planting the idea for the dog in Colin’s head and them presenting the dog to the kids, there was some sort of exchange where Madeline suggests that they present Sassy as a gift for the kids when really she was behind the whole thing for her own self-interest. That way, you get some of that “women are smarter than men” mojo, which is especially poetic given Colin’s subtle male chauvinism which she accepts for reasons you have already alluded to.”

“But it’s not really central to my story line.”

“Maybe not. But it’s still problematic for the intent reader,” he said. “Especially since you wrote that Madeline had never shown any interest in getting a dog in 1.4, then suddenly the dog was her brain child all the time in Chapter 2.”

“I see your point,” I said.

“You see my point,” Cain said.

“Hey man, I haven’t written fiction in 20 years. Cut me some slack.”

“Kind of lame excuse, homeboy.” He drank. “You started this story and now people want to read it. Can’t go back now. So what’s the verdict, chief?”

“Well, alright, let’s go with once Madeline gently convinced Colin to get the dog, she then, in an equally sneaky manner, convinced Colin that they should present the dog as a gift to you.”

“Even though I never asked for a dog.”

“Right.”

“Yeah, that’ll work I guess. But how are you gonna write it into the story?”

“I kind of just did.”

“Can you do that?”

“I’m the writer. I can do anything I want.”

“Within reason and the parameters of the universe you create in the story.”

“Exactly.”

Cain raised his lower lip and nodded. “Works for me. You gonna pay us a visit today?”

“Again, I kind of just did.” I smiled.

He shook his head and grinned himself. “Alright. See ya when I see ya.”

“See ya when I see ya,” I said.

The Back Forty, Chapter 2

Mary Anne's house

Madeline crossed over the property line that separated her home from the Mine Hill Preserve. She wasn’t worried about finding her way back. When she and Colin had first married, the two of them had crossed over into the preserve many times and she felt like she knew the terrain of the area that led to the hiking trail. She remembered those days well.

The two lovers had married when she was 38 and Colin was a decade younger. She had been married before that, a period of her life she didn’t like to talk about. With anyone. Not that she gave herself much of a choice in that matter. After she married Colin, the two had settled on a house that was only 90 minutes from New York but for her, it was half a world away from the chaos of the life she left there. The little town of less than 2,000 people was exactly the size Madeline was looking for and Colin was the type of husband she had always wanted. Proper, refined and most importantly, distant. She would never have to worry about Colin having one (or three) too many dirty martinis and making a scene at an art opening, something her first husband excelled at. When he wasn’t drunk, Stephen was a perfectly affable man and a friend to everyone. When he was drunk, he was a buffoon, embarrassing himself and his wife whenever they went out. Right up until the day he died from a massive heart attack, Stephen exemplified the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde behavior common among alcoholics.

Not so Colin. Madeline’s second husband was a work horse. And yet in those early days when they were very much in love, he would still make time for the two to go walking around the preserve, hand in hand, and savor the embrace of the forest in silence for hours. Occasionally they would talk, but often no more than about what either knew about the native foliage or a farmer’s market one had heard about and thought they should try. Walking up to the deck afterwards, both would take off their hiking boots at the back door and Colin would sit in the living room reading the Wall Street Journal or the Times as Madeline made an elaborate dinner she would serve at the dining room table. Things were neat, orderly and simple.

As time went on, Colin became more and more absorbed in the business of making more and more money. This also was a trait Madeline saw coming and had no issue with at all. When she had gotten pregnant a year after the two were married, she began to nurture a domestic side that had been completely foreign to her and that she very much liked. She would peruse interior design magazines and, dutifully, show Colin her ideas for the new nursery or the kitchen she had always wanted. Pleased that he had a wife that embraced what he believed to be her appropriately feminine nature, Colin was happy to approve this idea or veto that one.

Yet more money meant more time away from her husband and Madeline took to walking in the woods by herself. That’s when Madeline had gotten the latent idea of purchasing a dog she could share her walks with. It was serendipitous when one day there was a copy of Dog Fancy (it belonged to a neighbor) in with the design magazines. Colin took note as his wife cooed over the photos and a month after that, surprised her with a card with a picture of a puppy and a directory of breeders he had printed out for her. Madeline believed she had the most romantic husband in the world.

Walking in the preserve with the new puppy brought back to Madeline the rush of getting lost in the woods all over again. And watching Sassy sprint back and forth absorbing all the sights and scents of the forest filled her with the wonderment she had first felt in those days walking with Colin. It was almost like she was smelling the mist of the forest again for the first time. Every so often, Sassy would reach the end of the leash and turn to look squarely back at Madeline.

“Come on Sassy, come to mommy,” she said as she crouched down and Sassy came sprinting back to her. Madeline could hardly believe it was her who was saying these sappy maternal things and she felt good doing it. Sassy would plunge face first between her legs, then raise up his head and nuzzle Madeline with complete abandon. Sometimes he would immediately run back into the forest and sometimes he would linger there and let Madeline scratch his neck and his belly. After only a week of having the puppy, Madeline added an afternoon walk to their routine and after three weeks, an evening walk. It was on the first night when Madeline took Sassy out right before dusk that something happened that wasn’t unique to first-time puppy owners. But to Madeline, it was just short of terrifying.

After dinner with Cain and Tanny, Madeline rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Cain took to the table in his room and worked on a model airplane he had been absorbed with for a week and Tanny made camp on the floor of her room to work on one of her jigsaw puzzles. Madeline wiped off the kitchen table where she and her children ate when Colin was in the city. It was September when they had acquired the dog, which meant that she had another hour before darkness fell. Zipping up her fleece jacket, she leashed up Sassy and walked outside and into the forest. The leaves on the trees were in their full autumn brilliance and Madeline embraced the peaceful calm her walks with Sassy always brought. She walked to the hiking trail and followed that for what she estimated to be no more than a quarter mile or so. In fact, it was much longer.

When the sunlight reflecting off the trees began to dim, she turned and walked back to where she thought she had started on the trail. As she turned off to walk back to the property, Sassy had begun running to the edge of the leash again. Madeline decided to let him off the leash as she figured they were no more than 100 yards from the back yard. She bent over to unhook the leash just as Sassy had focused on something in the brush nearby. He bolted. Whatever he had trained his gaze on gave chase and within 10 seconds, Sassy was gone.

Madeline’s stomach immediately cinched up like she had eaten bad calamari and for a moment, she couldn’t move. She started to run into the brush after the dog but she had no idea where the beast had gone in seeking his prey. She walked quickly in one direction for 30 paces, shouting his name all the while. As her panic grew, she second-guessed herself and turned 90 degrees and walked in that direction.

“Sassy!” she shouted as she walked. “Come to mommy!” Panic grew with each step and Madeline changed directions again, this time in no particular direction. She had become more concerned about the dog than her location. She could hear the voice of her husband chastising her for thinking the dog could handle being off leash. That made her cries grow louder.

“Sas-ssy! Come on baby!” Her voice cracked and her eyes burned with the coming tears. “Come on girl! Let’s go home!” She stopped and listened. Silence. And apart from the light cast by the harvest moon, it was now dark.

The Back Forty, Ch. 1.5

 

Mary Ann's House 5

 

They called it “the back forty.” But really, the Mine Hill Nature Preserve encompassed a lot more than 40 acres of forest. Within a week of his family obtaining their “family dog” (Cain’s father held his perfect family unit in high regard in terms of appearances), Cain’s mother had readily taken to waking early, putting on her new brand new hiking boots and walking with Sassy in the vast expanse of woods that abutted the back yard. In turn, Sassy (Cain hadn’t objected to the renaming of Sasquatch since he didn’t much care about the name, or the dog for that matter, in the first place) would readily accept her putting on his leash and walking beyond the back yard to the tree his mother once called The Weeping Angel. There she would get down on her knees and retie her boots before venturing into the forest. On the first day she did this, Cain and Tanny were playing with Legos on the deck.

“Okay, now you be good while I take Sassy to do her business,” Madeleine had said. “Remember, I’ve got my cell with me, so you call me if you need to come back to the house, okay?’

“Okay. Bye Mom,” Cain said, not looking up the monster truck he was building. In her excitement to get the dog out and walking, Madeline had seemingly forgotten that the family’s cell phones got sporadic reception at best at or near their own house. Cain wasn’t worried anyway. At 8 years old, he had reached a level of maturity beyond his years. He knew if he kept Tanny building the Eiffel Tower set she was working on, he would have no need to contact his mother. Besides, he knew where the first aid kit and the house phone were in the kitchen.

Madeleine went down the dozen or so steps to the back yard. She crossed to her garden at the very edge of the property. Opening the fenced gate, she examined some of the blooming flowers of late summer and checked on the basil and parsley plants, holding her nose above them and inhaling deeply. Satisfied, she walked back out of the fenced area and to the tree she affectionately called (to herself, anyway) The Weeping Angel about 10 yards past the property line of the back yard. She knelt to retie her boots, then wrapped Sassy’s leash around her hand a couple times and set off into the woods. Sassy bounded this way and that until he got to the end of the Flexi leash and proceeded to slam down in his back. Unphazed, he would stand up again, shake off his tumble, and run sideways in the opposite direction until he reached the end of the leash again and repeated his flanking maneuver.

Cain watched as she went. He took a deep breath and felt a tinge of relief. Being beyond his age was good for home security, but Cain had no idea what his mother wanted or needed. He just knew she wasn’t getting it the way things were right now. When Cain’s father was home, the two of them spent many nights sitting and talking in the Great Room. Madeline had been half-heartedly studying for a real estate exam for over a year and she and Colin discussed that and whatever was in the news on TV. That is, when Cain’s father came home at all. Colin often stayed the whole week in a hotel in Manhattan when he didn’t commute to the investment firm he worked for. Those weeks, Madeline took care of the house and the kids by herself, not that that was any different than when Cain’s father did come home. The difference was Colin would occasionally state his final verdict about a remodeling decision or Tanny’s bedtime and Madeline would simply comply. Even when Colin wasn’t there. It was easier that way. His father never offered anything about his life or work outside their house and his mother never asked.

Cain watched as his mother almost jogged to the garden, then the tree, then into the forest. He hoped that whatever she was looking for was in those woods somewhere.

He went back to his Lego set.

The Back Forty, Ch. 1.4

Mary Anne's house

Sasquatch had clown feet. He practically tripped over them as his puppy vigor and scatterbrain led him all around the house, poking his nose into every nook and cranny, and there were plenty of those. Madeleine, Cain’s mom, put together a house that was almost regal in its simplicity. Every room was open to the rooms on either side by great open walkways and there was plenty of well-placed decorum that Sasquatch would get to rooting behind a tall indoor tree, then turn his attention to one of the crevices in the immense brown leather sofa in the family room, then get distracted by the large stone fireplace in the living room and spend a minute or two sniffing around in there. Then he would remember there were people around and come barreling into the kitchen, partitioned off from the other rooms by waist high oak walls with the middle third open between rooms.

“Your father and I knew you had always wanted a puppy.” Madeleine beamed as Cain and Tanny sat on the floor nuzzling the dog in turns. Then, Cain raised his head from the puppy and looked at his parents.

“I never said I wanted a puppy.” Even as a child, Cain had learned from his father to be reserved and guarded with expressing his feelings. He remembered saying “Oh look at that puppy” once when he saw one in town, but the boy had said it the same way he would have said it would be nice if his sister raked the leaves on Saturday instead of him or if the family had spaghetti for dinner.

“Oh come now,” Colin, his father, said. “Every boy wants a puppy.” Colin’s chauvinism was always well hidden, to the point where his mother didn’t even seem to acknowledge it anymore. At seven-years-old, Tanny was certainly too young to recognize it either. Besides, she was too busy squeezing her arms around the squirming puppy until he finally got loose and went tearing around the house again, revisiting each corner and the new smells of the mahogany floors and bookshelves in every room.

Cain thought the whole scene was surreal. His mother had never shown the least bit of interest in the Brockfield Labs when they and the Brockfields, their closest neighbors who lived a quarter mile down the road, walked by the driveway. Madeleine always made a point of waving to them as they passed and they waved back, but he was sure she wouldn’t so much as ask as to borrow a cup of sugar from them even if she needed it. His father rarely showed much interest in anything except his job and his grill in the back yard, let alone a dog. Cain eyed his father, who stared back at the boy as if the brief conversation was now over. The puppy-to-be-named had sprinted back into the kitchen and Cain had resumed scratching his chest, looking back at his father suspiciously every few moments.

“What will we name it?” Tanny broke the tension with the grace that only the lilt of a little girl’s voice can.

“Well, how about Lady?” Madeleine said as she knelt on the floor and called the puppy to her by tapping the floor. He wiggled his butt over to her and flipped onto this back to accept a belly rub. For the first time since Cain could remember, his mother genuinely smiled a big, toothy smile.

“I think Cain should be the one who names it, don’t you?” Colin asked

“Yes, I suppose he should. Since it will be his dog,” Madeleine said quietly, submissively. She resumed scratching the puppy’s belly, leaning her face over the puppy’s to accept a bounty of puppy kisses. Cain had never seen his mother express this kind of physical love to any other living creature. She always had hugs for him and Tanny, but she was awkward and stilted when she did it, like embracing a child was a tedious chore she wasn’t familiar with at all. With the puppy, Madeleine seemed unguarded and open. Cain could tell it was going to be his mother’s dog. But his father had charged him with naming it. Case closed. He thought for a minute, searching for a name that his father would approve of.

“How about Yeti?” Cain said, thinking back on book he had checked out at the library in town called Fantastic Creatures! The book had chapters on all the creatures of folk lore from Chupacabra to the Loch Ness Monster. He knew his father would approve of any name that came out of a book.

Tanny frowned. “I don’t like that name,” she said. “Yeti’s are gross.”

Cain wondered if Tanny even knew what a Yeti was, then remembered his mother extolling him to be nicer to his little sister. “Okay, how about … Titan? Y’know, like that big lizard in that movie we saw last week. The Kraken.”

“Titans are too big,” Tanny said with a frown. This wasn’t going the way his sister wanted.

“This little guy is going to be very big,” Cain’s mother said. “The nice lady we got him from said he will be as big as a house!” Madeleine poked Tanny in the belly and Tanny giggled. Cain relied on his mother for about two moments per month where she showed tenderness and playfulness towards him and his sister. The puppy must have brought one of those moments to the fore. Cain smiled a little at this, then pulled his attention away and back to his father who had loosened his tie.

“How about … Sasquatch?” Cain offered, pulling a random name from his book again.

“Good. Sasquatch it is then,” Colin said with a quick nod. Cain could see that his father was less interested in the dog’s name than he was in closing the book on this moment of sentimentality. “Madeleine, a drink,” he said as he turned and walked into the living room. He sat in the stiff leather chair next to the sofa and unfolded his New York Times, shielding his face.

“Cain, why don’t you and your sister take Sassy outside for a little walk while I get dinner started?” his mother said and rose to go into the kitchen. And just like that, the adorable little behemoth that was Sasquatch became his mother’s dog with the horrible nickname Sassy. The name stuck.

Him (The Sad Reality of what Could Have Been)

airport escalactors

I leaned over the railing and watched as He rode the escalator up to my floor. He was sitting on one of the steps and jumped up at the last moment. He strolled down to where I stood, took a big drink from the bottle of wine he carried, then leaned on the railing next to me.

“What’s the matter, Tiger? You look beat,” He said.

“I’m sick,” I said and blew my nose with a tissue from my pocket.

“I think you’ve got a bad case of S.A.D.”

“Seasonal Affectation Disorder? No, it’s not that. I have the flu.”

“I don’t doubt you have the flu, but I was talking about Seasonal Alcoholic Despair.”

I turned to Him. He smiled and drank.

“See, that’s when you can go to the gym at 2 A.M. every day, you can meditate, you can go to a meeting every week, but it doesn’t change the fact that you wasted all that time boozin’ and now you’re stuck with what you got.” He hoisted Himself up on His elbows, hocked up a huge mouthful of gluck and spit it over the edge. It landed two feet away from a woman in a business suit’s head.

“Dammit. Anyway, cheer up Ahab. At least you can take some comfort in the fact that you of all people have every reason to be depressed. I mean, if anybody has a reason to blow their brains out, it’s you.”

“I’m not even thinking about that,” I said and turned to walk up the skywalk to the parking garage. He double-timed His walking for a second so He could walk beside me.

“Eh, maybe not, but you are feeling that sting. The one all pathetic burnouts like you know so well.”

I stopped at the elevator and turned to Him, eyes sunken. “Look, I’m just weak today, okay? Because it’s really hard some days. And yes, on days like this, the only thing keeping me sober is knowing how much I’d let so many people down if I went back out. But at least I know that. I’m conscious of that. It would be really nice to have some sort of escape from this feeling, but I can’t. I won’t. I am just really sad today. So that’s what I’m doing. Letting myself be sad.”

“And that’s all well and good, but we both know it’s not the end. I give you a lot of credit, you tried a few things and they didn’t work. Well, actually you failed miserably at them,” He put His arm around my shoulders as the elevator ascended. I shrugged Him off. “You tried going to school and failed. You tried going back to the Humane Society. You screwed that one up royally. But, see, now? Now? You know you’re an idiot and you can’t do anything. And all these people you see passing by you here at the airport? The ones with successful careers and wives and husbands, children and lives? Now you know you’ll never be one of them. You’ll never be that young executive with the killer suit and the pretty wife. Shit, at your age, you’ll never even be the old executive with a wife that hates him and kids who resent him. That’s why this job at the airport is gonna suck this joyous holiday season. You’re gonna be reminded, every minute of every day, that you’re a 39 year-old wheelchair pusher scrambling for their scraps to make your rent. I imagine it’ll be especially sweet for you next month on your birthday. Driving the car your daddy gave you because you’re too broke to afford a car for yourself.”

I walked out onto the roof of the parking garage as the sun started to come up. Standing there with my hands in my pockets, He slid up beside me, never relenting.

“And you can feel good every now and then that you can still write, but what real good is it doing you? Your little blog? That cute little story you’re writing? And you must feel great about the fact that you have the story of a lifetime to write but you won’t do it because it’s too hard.” He put his arm around my shoulders again and adopted a tone of mock sympathy like He was talking to a child. “I mean, it’s awful scary isn’t it? Writing about big ol’ mean and nasty me and the brain surgery that fucked you up for good.” He took His hand off my shoulder and sat down in a cement block. He took a long pull from the bottle.

“Face it buddy boy,” He said. “You don’t work with animals, you have no dog to come home to after a day at your crappy job. And all that noble effort shit you did with school and the Humane Society only served to teach you one thing: That you are the idiot you feared you were and the best you can look forward to is a dead-end job with no future. You have no identity anymore and nothing to look forward to. And you better get used to one of the zero positions like grocery store clerk or professional office monkey you had on that list because that’s all you’re ever going to be able to do. Oh, and that thing you have going with that woman you like so much? Please. Might as well forget about that too. She has her shit together and is realistic about things, and most of all, one of those things is the limited prospects you have, my friend. Go back to Plenty of Chumps or whatever that web site was called, because I guarantee the best you can hope for is a couple dates with a women or too before they realize that despite your charm and your heart of gold, you’re just another guy with limited potential who is really only poor and lonely because he has no other choice.”

I stared down at the driveway outside the airport 6 floors below. I turned to Him. I was tired, really tired. I had decided to go home early. But not before I did something very important.

“You’re not real, neither you nor the temptation you bear,” I said. “All you are is an illusion of the solution of going back out, of the false reality of drinking my problems away one more time. An empty shell of temptation. You bring all this shame and disillusionment to me and present it as reality, as my reality. You are right about two things, though. My heart is filled with despair now. And the thing keeping me sober at the moment is my friends, my family, the woman, my sponsor. And thank God for them, they will keep me sober again and again. Right now, here, on this rooftop, I face you alone. And you terrify me. But you are not the reality I ultimately choose. You don’t get to win. Remember when I told you over a year ago that I need you? Well it turns out I need you for quite a few things. One of them is to remind me how thankful I am to have the people that like me and love me that I do.”

Tears began streaming down my face. I wiped my eyes and nose with tissue. I sniffled a couple more times and swallowed.

“You’re not real. Neither you or the despair you bring into my heart.”

Sex: A Layman’s Guide to Bedroom Novelty

Okay, let’s get this outta the way. I do not intend for this to be a sensual, erotic, mildly or severely dirty, or even suggestive post in any way. This is truly only meant to ridicule the author. And the only reason I’m doing that is because the following is a sampling of the text I received from one of the several online dating sites I’ve come and gone from in the last few months. The article was I believe intended to appeal to the stereotypical single person’s modest yet slightly risqué views on the realm of sex and sexuality.

Come on kids. We’re all adults here. Every one of us has this thing or that thing we like or love when it comes to romance and intimacy. But this even makes the advice columns of Cosmo read like Dickensian tragedy. This sample is like the instructions to a piece of IKEA furniture trying to pass off as a description of a Starbucks drink. So, let’s get started:

  1. If [attraction] isn’t automatically there for you, it is possible to create it, and here’s how: Find a few little things about the person that you like, and then try to feel turned on by those things, rather than the person as a whole. Such as, “Ooooh, this person has the greatest eyes, and that really gets me hot.” Your sexual feelings may grow from there.

Umm, no they won’t. In fact, it’s the reverse. Being attracted to someone isn’t about finding a few things about them you really like and forsaking the rest. “Bill is hideous, but he’s got great earlobes. We’re going out again Friday night,” said no woman ever. Likewise, “Cynthia is loud and obnoxious but man, she’s got a great set of ankles” is not something you hear around any locker room. Ever. In the history of men. Or locker rooms.

Q: Is it true that men reach their sexual peak at 18, and women at 30? If so, should younger guys look for older women, and older women look for younger guys.

A: These stats have been bandied about like crazy but have little foundation in fact. The truth is that if you define “sexual peak” by your level of sexual satisfaction, then time is on everyone’s side.

Don’t mean to burst the bubble here, but if my married friends and their stories are a good indication, and they are, time is never on your side (especially if you have kids). And again, from what I hear, at some point in the relationship, “level of sexual satisfaction” doesn’t have anything to do with “sexual peak.” It has to do with finding 17 minutes (preferably consecutive, but not mandatory) to devote to sex. As far as “peak” goes, I can only speak for the men here, but 92% of the time, “peak” refers to peak time. As in that swatch of time where libido, stamina, priority of interests and obligations, and disposable time come together like a solar eclipse.

Q:  Help! I’ve had very little sexual experience and have started dating a woman who’s very    experienced. Should I tell her my situation?

A: Confessing to your lack of experience is probably a good idea, and here’s why: If you keep mum and your performance ends up being sub-par, then she may assume that you’re bad in bed versus just inexperienced., since you come across as a nice guy who she gets all to herself. You can play up this angle by telling her it was your choice to not sleep around, explaining “I’ve had my opportunities, but I don’t like having sex with someone unless it’s serious.” This statement will make her feel like a million bucks-and you haven’t even hit the mattress yet

Okay, let’s break this one down piece by agonizing piece. “Confessing to your lack of experience is probably a good idea, and here’s why: If you keep mum and your performance ends up being sub-par, then she may assume that you’re bad in bed versus just inexperienced.”

Honesty and the quality of being forthright. So far so good.

“By telling her, you and she can work together to discover what you can do to be a great lover. She may even get a kick out of finding out you’re a sexual novice!”

This starts out with good intentions, then goes horribly wrong. Maybe there’s men far more evolved than me out there, but a woman smiling and giggling at my inexperience is on the same level as clawing off my fingernails in Buffalo Bill’s pit or changing a tire in a blizzard without a jack.

“You can play up this angle by telling her it was your choice to not sleep around, explaining “I’ve had my opportunities, but I don’t like having sex with someone unless it’s serious.”

Of course, this rules out the possibility that the man hasn’t had his opportunities for whatever reason, in which case now he’s a liar and will be forced to concoct completely fictional encounters where he was the one who threw on the brakes. Endearing? Maybe. Likely? Please. Find me a marginally normal heterosexual male who hasn’t been at least somewhat tempted to try and get some since he was about 15 years old. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

“This statement will make her feel like a million bucks!”

Or she may find the sexual role reversal appealing for about an hour, proceed to get her jollies off on the idea of having her way with her new boy toy, then decide she really isn’t “that guy” and let him down easy. Or not easy. Take your pick. Girls can suck too.

Q: How can I bring up the topic of using condoms with someone I’m dating

A: This necessary conversation can indeed be awkward to broach: Waiting until the last minute is definitely not a good idea, but dropping a “safer sex” lecture into the middle of your dinner out can kill the mood. The best time is somewhere between these two extremes-for example, while you’re making out on the couch and have pretty much decided you want to have sex with this person sometime in the future. To keep the conversation from sounding too clinical, try throwing a compliment in there, such as: “I’m really into you and am pretty sure I’d like to have sex with you at some point. If we do, we need to use condoms. O.K?”

 

Once again, let’s break it down shall we? This is where the grammar gets tricky, so stay with me. “Dropping a “safer sex” lecture in the middle of your dinner … The best time …”

Inherent in this statement is the sentiment that giving a “safer sex lecture” is okay at all. Maybe it’s me, but I like for me and my girlfriend to have talks. Lectures are given by college professors and you take notes.

“… is somewhere between these two extremes-for example, while you’re making out on the couch and have pretty much decided you want to have sex with this person sometime in the future. To keep the conversation from sounding too clinical, try throwing a compliment in there, such as: “I’m really into you and am pretty sure I’d like to have sex with you at some point.”

Wow. Okay, I appreciate the author’s attempt to not sound too clinical, but they failed miserably. Once again, maybe it’s my Y chromosome rearing its head, but I rarely think to myself that “I want to have sex with this person sometime in the future.” Usually, it’s more like “I wonder what time her roommate/children/plumber is getting here.”

“Try throwing a compliment in there, such as: “I’m really into you and am pretty sure I’d like to have sex with you at some point. If we do, we need to use condoms. O.K?”

I don’t know about you but I’m hot. Jesus, this one’s pretty simple. Buy condoms and keep’em on you. Go from there.

Q: The guy I’m dating tells me that he gets turned on by dirty talk, but I feel stupid when I try to do it. Any pointers?

A :Don’t worry; talking dirty doesn’t mean you have to start reeling off a string of four-letter words like a porn star. One easy way to get the ball rolling is to merely describe what you’re going to do to your lover right before you do it, as in, “I’m gonna unbutton your shirt now.” Or, tell your lover what to do to you, like “I want you to kiss my neck then move all the way down my body.”

I don’t mean to be a buzz kill or anything, but no, you don’t have to a use a lot of four letter words. You also shouldn’t talk to your lover like an air traffic controller trying to bring in a 757. Listen, I’m all about communication, sensitivity and even some instruction when it comes to erotica, but good God. The whole point is talking dirty. You’re not a candidate for poet laureate. You’re trying to turn’em on. Sheesh.

“To find words and expressions you’ll be comfortable using, take a peek in a copy of Penthouse Letters or a book of erotic short stories like the annual Best American Erotica anthologies. They’re filled with dirty dialogue that should give you some good ideas. The trick is to say things that turn you on-not just your partner”

This is one point me and the author can agree on. In fact, don’t just take a peak. Study them. For hours. Have a friend write you quizzes.

I’m not going to include the sections on sexual stress, orgasms, or S&M/B&D. My mom reads my blog. This is just one example of what Dave Chappelle, Ron White and a number of other people have already riffed on. I’m certainly no expert. Hell, my doctor recently asked me how’s my libido and I naively replied that since I wasn’t having sex, I assumed it was just fine.

 

Going it Alone

path in the woods

Never underestimate what a simple act of kindness will do for another person.

After years and years of honing in myself a survival instinct that has manifested itself in my now innate ability to handle most things by myself, I don’t need much. After many years of doubt in myself, and consuming mass quantities of mind-altering substances to numb that doubt, I finally have faith in myself. On a given day, to varying degrees, I’m generally good at keepin’ on with the keepin’ on.

Yet I do have stretches where I get lonely. I grow tired of having to constantly remind myself that feelings of personal isolation and having to “go it alone” shall pass and I’ll be up again in no time. I know I will. But that sometimes brief, sometimes lingering moment of isolation can be a tough row to hoe. Often it compels me to go to the gym again (I haven’t been on this rigorous of an exercise schedule in my entire life). Sometimes I plunge neck-deep in a book to forget about it.  But it’s always there. Like I said, sometimes it’s fleeting and sometimes it sticks around for awhile like that annoying kid down the street that won’t go away and just let the cool kids have their fun. I know. I was that annoying kid.

I know you’re thinking “Okay, so why should I care? what does this have to do with me?” I’ll tell you if you would just let me finish, Jeez. Last night, I received a simple 7-word text message that let me know that someone was thinking about me. That’s it. With those 7 complimentary words, the feelings of Isolation and loneliness washed away from me like a bad case of fleas. All at once, I was back on my game.

So my message for you today  (yes, that’s right, You there still in your pajamas, I see you) is this:

That text/email/PM you’ve been meaning to send but haven’t? Do it today. Or send one to somebody you haven’t even thought of for awhile. You might make their day/week/month/year. But one thing I can almost assure you is that you will feel like a million bucks. Well, at least a couple hundred and change.

The Back Forty, Ch. 1.3

Mary Anne's house

Cain sat on the bench for 10 minutes, staring at the clouds as they swirled to the south. Then, as if broken from a trance, he stood up abruptly and walked around to the other side of the house from the one he had taken to the back yard. He pressed down and lifted up the overgrown bushes that had muscled their way onto the path that led to the front yard until his boots crunched on broken glass.

Squatting down, he pulled away the brush to find what had been the window to his father’s study, along with a pile of shattered LP’s on the ground. He pulled up the first shard that had a label on it. It was Someday My Prince Will Come, one of his Dad’s old Miles Davis records. Whoever had started the project of hurling his father’s beloved jazz and blues records out the window had apparently tired of their game quickly and started flinging empty beer bottles too as they were at least two dozen mostly empty Busch Light bottles sprayed among and around the shattered records.

Cain had been sometimes dry, but mostly not, for over five years. He attended AA meetings with the same lack of commitment with which he approached staying dry. Sometimes he went to meetings and left with such a high that he would vow to never drink again. Of course, he had heard all of the conventional wisdom about never saying never, that it’s an almost certain one-way ticket to “going back out.” But try telling that to an addict or alcoholic in the leathery embrace of false confidence. But it seemed like he didn’t require much of a trigger at all to suit up, get pretty, and go out to one of the 19 million bars that populate the north side of Chicago. If he was on his game and having a good sales month, his mood reflected it. He shot great pool. He was charming and charismatic and he always went home with a pretty girl 10 years his junior. When sales were down, he would, subconsciously or not he didn’t really know, go out to with the express purpose of getting hammered. He would inevitably succeed and, libido sufficiently quelled, stumble to the street and catch a cab to El Norte to eat chips and salsa and burritos until he stumbled out to the alley to puke it all up.

Often (more times than he cared to admit, actually) Cain would blame genetics. He was an Irishman, for Christ’s sake. Asking an Irishman why they drink is like asking water why it’s wet, his thinking went. Even when he was talking to Luther, the sponsor he consulted about as often as he went to meetings, he insisted that it was in his blood. When that didn’t sate the old bastard, Cain would switch it up and pull out one of the other 20 excuses he kept in his Alcoholic But Trying goody bag. Growing up, it was unthinkable that every family gathering wouldn’t have a wet bar, every wedding an open bar, ever wake Irish. Sometimes he would draw from his history of drug and alcohol abuse, insisting that what he was doing now was way better than what he did 1 or 10 years ago. The excuses went on and on and Luther, with 23 years of sobriety in his corner, had heard every one. Cain was made painfully aware of when that time had come because Luther would hang up in the middle of his sermon. Sometimes Cain would call him back, apologize profusely and promise to go to two meetings tomorrow. Sometimes he didn’t and got drunk instead. Inevitably, the next day, the two would meet for breakfast (Cain would just have coffee as John Barleycorn was still having his way with Cain’s intestines) and they would go through the Why’s and Who’s of last night’s bender. But no matter what he offered, at some point, he and Cain would look each other in the eyes and silently acknowledge the truth. Cain was chasing a buzz he would never have again. That all those years of the good and great times he had drinking and doping were gone and he was never going to get them back. Than these days, he was nothing more than an adequate salesman and substandard boyfriend, brother and son.

This last one always stung the most. His mother and father had never drank to excess, at least in front of him and his sister. As far as they were concerned, Cain and Tanny were the products of a loving, if distant, household. Their father worked diligently doing whatever it is you do at a top New York City hedge fund. Cain never really bothered to ask his father what he did for a living and his father never offered it up. Really, his parents never offered anything up. That was kind of the problem. Cain and Tanny never lacked for anything. There was never a baseball glove he wanted but didn’t get for Christmas and Tanny’s playroom was riddled with enough dolls and stuffed animals to keep Toys for Tots stocked for 10 years. That’s how Cain’s parents thought they were supposed to do it. Keep the kids happy by buying them everything they wanted so they could play with their toys and leave the adults alone. On that rare occasion that his father would have three Manhattans instead of his usual two, he would go into his study after dinner to read and listen to jazz.

And things kept on that way until Cain was 8. On that birthday, his parents surprised him with a Burnese Mountain Dog puppy who Cain named Sasquatch.