The Back Forty, Ch. 2.3

Mary Anne's house

Hearing her scream, Sassy came charging out of the thick trees and ran into Madeline. The puppy began licking her face out of love, then out of hunger as it tasted the raw, rotting offal. Overjoyed to see the puppy, Madeline pulled Sassy to her as she got up and held the puppy tight, kissing him over and over. Madeline rose and put Sassy on the ground. Getting the dog’s leash from her back pocket, she clipped it around Sassy’s neck.

“Never going to make that mistake again, my friend,” she said. Relieved that she had found the dog, Madeline’s repose was short-lived. She still had no idea how to get home.

With Sassy safely back at her side, Madeline walked along into a thick patch of leaves that covered a small drop in the forest floor. She stumbled down a few steps and forward a few more until she reached flatness. She looked up to find that the moon had moved six inches two the right of where it was the last time she looked.

I’m going south, she thought, drawing from her many gazes at the same moon during her walks in Central Park during her years in the city. Since her house was east of the preserve, she knew if she headed in the opposite direction the moon was traveling, she eventually would hit the 2-lane road that meandered back to her house.

She was right. After walking for about 30 minutes, Sassy’s leashed wrapped twice around her wrist the whole time, she came out of the woods and on to a grassy area beside the road. Her knees relieved to be on paved surface again, Madeline turned back north, keeping on the opposite side of the road as her direction so the lights of any oncoming cars would cast directly on her. No cars did come at her, but a few came up behind her. The last one cast light onto a reflector she saw on the road up ahead. She could barely see it, but she could tell that the reflector was low to the ground. It was on a kid’s bike. And there was no other reflectors around it. As she approached, Madeline could tell from the speed with which the reflector grew that whoever was coming down the road towards her wasn’t riding the bike but pushing it alongside them. She walked a little farther until Sassy found a rock on the side of the road and felt the need to mark it. When he was finished, he shook mightily. When he did, he rattled his tags that were on his collar enough that whoever had been coming at her stopped. Madeline continued forward until suddenly whoever had been walking towards her scrambled off of the road side and into the woods.

Considering how late it had gotten, Madeline was concerned that it might be a kid that was lost and needed her help. She jogged up to where she thought whoever it was had left the road, then walked into the trees back in the direction she had just come. Back in the forest now, she banged her shin on the bike’s frame where it lay against a large oak tree. She looked around but saw no one.

“Hello?” she called to no answer. “Hello!” she called again. Nothing. No other sign of anyone. She heard what she thought might be someone rustling through branches deeper in the forest, but she had absolutely no desire to go back where she had been. She had gotten her bearings, thank you very much, and she was going to stick to it until she got home. She walked back to road in the direction of her house until she could see the floodlights casting their glow on her home and she had never been so happy to see it. She turned and walked up the winding drive to her front door and rang the doorbell.

There was no answer.


Light, Laughter and Facebook

I always feel sort of guilty around Christmas. Any cards and gifts I receive the year round make me feel great knowing that another person was thinking of me and I try to return the favor to others. Paying it forward, if you will. I know when another person sends me a card or gift or I do it myself, it is a sign that that person has found their way into my heart and I into theirs and that is truly a special thing.

At Christmas time, though, the pangs of guilt start stampeding toward me because, at this point in my life, I have so little to offer others in return. I can’t afford Christmas cards and gifts en masse and the cloud of guilt and shame descends upon me like swarm of flies (I know I mixed metaphors there. I claim artistic license, okay?) But I barely have enough jack to afford gifts even for my immediate family. Thankfully, this year, as she has done in the past few years, my mom decreed that any gifts should go to the grandkids and that will suffice. And I did send a gift for my niece and nephew, an autographed children’s book by my one of my favorite authors. But there again, Izzy and Jake may only appreciate their gift from Crazy Uncle Andy many years from now. And yes, my family appreciates that I have the last ten years of my life to point to for the reason why I don’t make enough money to get everyone something special. But that doesn’t make it any easier for me, the overly sensitive soul that I am.

Then a couple nights ago I was having dinner at my parents’ house and my mother gave me a hug that was a little longer and little tighter than usual. My family is not big on PDA’s (physical displays of affection), let alone PDA’s (public displays) to begin with. Yet that simple gesture brought the reality that my family and friends are just happy that I am with them at all rushing back to the fore of my consciousness and I was aware once again how happy I was to be in that moment, with my mom, dad and sister enjoying a dinner and simple gift exchange. By having limitless love to give, and receive, and still being around to give it is the best gift I can give those I love.

Taking this idea a bit further, I’ve noticed in many instances this holiday season the presence of the word “light.” In cards and Facebook posts (more on that in a minute) the theme of light is pervasive. What is light? Light is the absence of darkness. More, light represents all that is good and meaningful and joyous. And the gift I am able to bring to others is the light of humor and inspiration (you don’t have to take my word for it. I’m just repeating what others have said to me) I mean shoot, I was even called “an inspiration” by a friend. Said friend might rethink that label if he knew about my love of eating potato chips in peanut butter at 3 in the morning, but that’s none of his business. Through the dwelling on this guilt I feel at receiving so many kind cards and gifts, and the self-induced shame I endure because I can’t respond in kind, it dawned on me that I can and do bring to others my own gifts of honesty, truth and humor.

Again, this isn’t ego talking. I’ve been told this by many so if you want to debate my veracity, take it up with the dealer. I offer my perceptions and the things I’ve learned in my time on this rock on Facebook and my blog. And I have had many people, some I barely know or know only online, come to me and tell me when they identify with something I have written. Whenever this happens, whenever somebody tells me they “get it,” I feel amazing. I know I’m doing something right. Whenever I receive a compliment or a “like” on something I wrote, man … it’s like … it’s like what I imagine beating up your childhood bully or winning the bronze medal in the Olympics feels like. I just wanna stand on a crowded city street with a sandwich board that says “They like me! They really like me!” y’know? By writing honestly and making people giggle, if not chuckle or guffaw, and by sharing the light of humor and joy with others (often with little regard for the “right” and “proper” that I hold near and dear to my heart), I’m giving the gift that I am presently capable of giving.

So, dear reader, I give of myself to you the gift of my service as monk, jester and scribe. I hope I make you laugh and, maybe, think, a little in this moment. Because this moment is all we have. And I’m trying my damnedest to make the most of it. I wish for you the gifts of laughter and love this holiday, I truly do, and I thank you for reading me.

I hope it was enough.

Buddha was a Lush

Buddha statue

Last night, I received a message from my ex. It was the third time she had called me this month. I consulted my friends about it weeks ago and explained to them all the reasons I had not called her back after about 8+ months of absolutely no communication. Then, I told them the minute reasons I might have to talk to her and it pretty much came down to one thing. Unless she had decided to get sober too, there was about a 6% chance I really needed to hear what she had to say. Otherwise it would have been one of those really awkward “catching up” calls ( a fairly common occurrence as I understand it. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never kept up with my exes) that would have gone something like “Yeah, I have a crappy job right now that I am looking to get out of once the opportunity is right, but otherwise I am 100 times happier than when we were together, I have many sober friends that I play cards with once a week, I write for my blog, I chair my home group meeting, I’m thinking of getting a digital piano, I have a mild romantic interest and I’m a practicing Buddhist who meditates daily. How have you been?” And past experience dictates that regardless of what is happening in my life, rest assured things are twice as bad with her. No, but thank you though.

In last night’s message, she asserted that she had spoken to someone that had “seen me drunk” somewhere and she wanted to know if they were lying. I posted as much on Facebook, pointing out that the above activities pretty well comprise my life at the moment, so unless that person was peering through my window to see a hammered Andy sitting at my meditation altar or watching me at the store buying eggs and Oreos in a drunken stupor, I don’t know quite where this mysterious drunken version of me is hiding himself but I would certainly like to talk to him, by golly.

One of my friends pointed out just how ludicrous the idea of meditating drunk sounded. But then I thought about it and it really does kind of make sense (Just roll with me on this one). I mean, think about it. The Buddha always has that little grin on his face, right? Maybe that is the face of the Enlightened One. Or maybe he’s just freakin’ plastered. Before I got sober and before by brain surgery and Him and all that, I was a pretty happy drunk. Honestly, I was affable when tipsy and just a buffoon when I was lit. Many is the friend who could relay stories about many nights I was so gone that I did and said things that were of questionable social, moral and legal taste. But I was almost always grinning when I did them.

The Buddha reportedly meditated for 7 days or 7 years or something until he achieved enlightenment. But it’s also possible that he was just a blackout drunk and that one just lasted a really, really long time. How are we to know? And a lot of stories I’ve read in Buddhist lore concern a Zen Master giving a student a rap on the wrists or something to prove a specific point. Or maybe those same masters are just surly from a hangover. I mean, I’ve had plenty of day-after bouts when I was so consumed with guilt, shame and regret about the night before that I shuffled off to consume a greasy bacon-and-eggs breakfast before I slept off the rest of the hangover in lieu of a little hair of the dog, y’know? Maybe those Masters just had too much wine the night before and mucked up a floral arrangement or puked on their calligraphy and took it out on their budding scribes. Trust me, I’ve talked to enough teachers that cued up a video in class the next day (hello? The room is nice and dark) to know that this happens with some degree of regularity all over the country.

And what about all the images and statues we’ve all seen of the Buddha over the years? Sure some of them are historically accurate and depict the Buddha as a slim, serene guy. But some are like one at the top. And that man has a big ol’ beer belly if ever I saw one. And I’ve seen one because I have one even 2+ years sober. And that smile? Please. Change those clothes and give him some hair and the Buddha becomes a jovial Irish drunk before he crosses over to a mean Irish asshole (usually about 10-12 drinks in).

I guess the tragic comedy of the whole thing is that earlier this week, I posted on Facebook how happy I am right now to be so busy with everything in my life and how far a cry it is from where I was 3 years ago at this time when me and my ex lived together, I was drowning in the quagmire of misery and self-destruction that is chronic alcoholism and had the sense of impending doom many alcoholics know well. All talking to my ex would do is rouse up old emotions and old scenarios I have labored to bed down like a blissfully sleeping dog.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a blissfully sleeping dog I’m gonna cuddle with for a while before I go to the gym.





He’s a Connected Guy


That title is a quote from Donnie Brasco. This post, however, is not about Donnie Brasco, though it is about movies. See, years ago, my family began accruing movies that we would all gather around to watch on Christmas Eve. As the years went on, though, it got kind of ridiculous.

We started with some of the old classics. I mean, who doesn’t get a little teary watching Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and It’s a Wonderful Life tucked into the buxom of a loving family mere feet away from the newly decorated Christmas tree and yule log, y’know? Thing is, as time went on, it got to the point where if we watched all the movies we planned to watch as Santa hovered over the house waiting for us to retire for a long winter’s nap, the reindeer would get tired and hungry and we’d be glued to the set until Valentine’s Day. By the time my brother and his wife started having children, the list still had It’s a Wonderful Life and the Sesame Street flick, but had grown to include A Christmas Story, Die Hard, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. The load got a little easier to handle when TNT started their “24 hours of A Christmas Story”, with an added perk because it meant that there was a 1/12 chance you could turn the TV on at any time during the Xmas holiday to find Ralphie beating the shit out of Scut Fargus. Particularly handy when at Nana’s house, the heat blasting at 97 degrees, there’s 30 people in a 2 bedroom house and you’re having ham or brisket for the family dinner for the 486th time.


But my family’s all-time favorite Christmas movie was and probably always will be A Lion in Winter. This one had something for everyone. It’s about King Henry II of England and the Christmas Court in medieval times (history for me and my Da) bickering married couples (Mom and Dad) classic actors and compelling story with Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins (my brother), plus deception, humor and dogs (me). And one of the greatest scenes that will always live in family lore is this soliloquy given by King Henry (The part that pertains to our business here starts at the beginning and ends around :50 but the whole speech is well worth the listen):

Now, I told you that story to tell you this story. Through the month of December, I’m house/pet-sitting for my parents’ neighbor and their dog Lucky. My first night at the place, I opened my laptop to go wireless using my parents’ hub but I needed the password to connect to the hub:

WiFi text 1

Because I am my parents’ son, I am instinctively a smartass:

Wifi text 2

As always, my mother responded in kind and drew from that seminal classic of holiday viewing. And, perhaps sensing there might be a blog post in it for me, she added a twist.

Wifi text 3

I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Krazy Kwanzaa friends.


The Back Forty. Ch. 2.2

Mary Anne's house

“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 at random. 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.

“Sa-ssy! Come on baby!” Her voice cracked and her eyes burned with the coming tears. “Come on boy! Let’s go home!” She stopped and listened. Silence. And apart from the light cast by the harvest moon in the gaps of a thick layer of clouds, it was now dark.


Madeline took a deep breath as she surveyed the dark forest around her.

You should have brought a flashlight Maddie, she thought. To her husband, she was Madeline. To her children, she was Mom. She called herself Maddie in the moments she had to get her own attention. Stephen had called her that when he was three drinks into his tippling for the evening and at first it annoyed her as much as his drinking. She wouldn’t have minded the nickname if he had used it when he was sober but he never did. It was only when he had lowered a few barriers that he decided to get overly friendly with her. Or anyone. After the divorce, she found herself calling herself Maddie more and more and she found she liked the name when it wasn’t coming out of her ex-husband.

Judging from where the moon was, she roughly knew the direction back to the house. Kind of. She walked for 5 minutes in what she thought was the right direction, all the while keeping an eye and an ear open for Sassy. Looking up at the moon again, she gauged she was walking in the right direction but shifted 15 degrees to the left when she should have turned right. She walked for another 10 minutes before deciding she was no less lost than when she started when she heard a rustling in the leaves to her left again.

“Sassy! Is that you?” she called. The rustling had stopped. Then it started and stopped again.  Madeline walked towards where she thought the noise had come from. As she walked, she heard a crunch under her boots. She bent down and brushed back a thicket to reveal a large disemboweled deer rotting in the brush. The sight and the smell of the animal hit her at the same time and she immediately bent over, pinched her eyes closed and dry heaved. She opened her eyes, saw the deer’s rotting entrails in a path leading away from the body where something had made off with its recycled dinner and retched again. This time though, it wasn’t dry. She vomited most of her own dinner onto her boots. She immediately stumbled away from the deer, vomited again, and walked further away from the carcass and further into the woods. Once she was far enough away from the sight and the smell of the animal, Madeline took a roll of Wintergreen LifeSavers from her pocket and put the last two in her mouth.

But there’s no one out here to see the spark, she thought as she bit down on one, crunched it up and swallowed. She walked for another few minutes, then stopped again. At this point, two things were certain. That was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen. And she was very, very lost. She looked at the sky again but the moon had hidden behind clouds. She looked at the forest around her, searching for anything that looked like a trail. She found none. About ten feet from her, though, she saw what looked like a path of matted down leaves. She followed the path to a clearing. In the middle was a make-shift fire pit with a pile of large, burned-out branches.  Surrounding the pit were five empty bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 and Boone’s Farm wine, with other, upright bottles in a circle around the pile, each with candles in the necks and melted wax holding them in place.

Madeline walked around the fire pit, kicking one of the empty bottles into the brush where it clinked against a rock. Feeling a pang of guilt, she walked over and bent down to grab the bottle and throw it back towards the pit when she noticed something. Underneath the rock were two books. She crouched down, lifted the rock and pulled them out. The clouds parted long enough to cast a ray of moonlight on the covers. The first was Magic Spells and the Occult. The second was Human Sacrifice and the Supernatural in African History. The first had a Barnes and Noble receipt marking a page about how to prepare for a séance. Madeline stared at them until clouds engulfed the light again. Instinctively, she raised her gaze up at the forest around her, shifting her glance from one direction to another like a child frantically checking the perimeter for grown-ups. Silence and darkness surrounded her. Her hands trembled as she slowly crouched down and returned the books to their place beneath the rock. She stood again and wiped her hands together. Walking back in the direction she had come, she looked over her shoulder at the clearing several times. As she looked back one more time, her foot caught on the head of the deer she had found moments before and she fell face-first into the corpse. She screamed as her open mouth planted into the animal’s torn-apart stomach.

Hearing her scream, Sassy came charging out of the thick trees and ran into Madeline. The puppy began licking her face out of love, then out of hunger as it tasted the raw, rotting offal. Overjoyed to see the puppy, Madeline pulled Sassy to her as she got up and held the puppy tight, kissing her over and over. Madeline rose and put Sassy on the ground. Getting the dog’s leash from her back pocket, she clipped around Sassy’s neck.

“Never going to make that mistake again, my friend,” she said. Relieved that she had found the dog, Madeline’s repose was short-lived. She still had no idea how to get home.