Thursday, June 30, 2005


In Which I Say What I Meme...

Okay, okay.

Because I've never (to my knowledge) been tagged before...

And because it's Ms. Marvel doing the tagging (I'm a sucker for anyone
with same secret ID initials as me), I will now take the plunge and
give you

Magazine Man's Book Meme
(hereafter known as MM's BM)

Number of Books I Own (by location)

Living room: 827

Under my bed: 46

Guest room overflow: 212

Basement: 1008

At work: 348

TOTAL: 2,441*

(*Not including comics and graphic novels; otherwise, add 17,612 to
total. I only wish I was kidding. So does Her Lovely Self.)

Last Books I Bought:


The Staggerford Murders

Oscar Caliber Gun (by my man Henry. Ordered online. Still waiting)

Last Book(s) I Read:

(see last weekend's post)

Five that mean a lot:

The Case of the Nervous Newsboy
by E.W. Hildick

This was the first book I'd ever read from the McGurk mystery series. Jack McGurk and his neighborhood pals got into very ordinary, realistic, kid-focused situations that always turned into interesting mysteries, such as when the titular newsboy vanishes and the team must figure out what happened to him. The series first saw print in the UK and then was a series of paperbacks over here throughout the 1970s. They were weirdly hard to find and I didn't get what I thought was the complete set of 15 books until I was almost in high school. And then I found The Nose Knows (the prelude to the entire series) at a yard sale. And then I found a book in the UK that was never published in the US, perhaps because the team had to help protect a drunken midget (I'm serious), and US publishers balked. And THEN I found out Hildick kept cranking the books out well into 1998. So now, as far as I know, I have the whole set, and it only took me, what? 27 years?

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

Like, oh, a few million other people, this science fiction farce was a revelation to me, when I first heard the show re-broadcast on NPR in the early 80s. I found the first book shortly thereafter and re-read it only about 500 times. By then, it wasn't the novelty of a funny sci-fi book that had my attention, it was the way Adams put sentences together, made words collide in such a manner that you never forgot those sentences. No writer had so affected me before, and few have since. It was one of the few books I took with me on all my travels, and good thing too, since I had it on hand in grad school when I actually met Douglas Adams (about this more anon).

Of Time and An Island
by John Keats

No, not that John Keats. This John Keats was a well-respected newspaper editor and writer in Washington, D.C. during the post-war years. In 1948, he and his young wife had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy an island on the St. Lawrence River—complete with a main house, bunkhouse, and writing cottage on the point of the island. Price? $4000. That's not a typo: He bought it for four thousand dollars. A lot of coin in 1948, but look what it got him (boats included). This book recounts the Keats family's life in "island time," and the man's decision to become a full-time freelance writer, clacking away on his typewriter in his cottage at the tip of his own little country. If there's a more idyllic way to live a writing life, I'd like to know about it.

by Jon Hassler

Simple and simply brilliant story of a week in the life of a small Minnesota town, as told through such characters as Miles Pruitt, the high school English teacher, and his landlady, the indomitable Agatha McGee. Hassler's one of those gems of fiction not too many folks seem to know about (Garrison Keillor gets all the glory when it comes to charming, folksy Minnesota storytelling), but he's worth seeking out. If I could write a novel half as fine as this one, I think I could die content.

The Lost Continent
by Bill Bryson

Boy, this was a tough one. I was so close to putting Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days here. Or even A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney (which I read when I was 9 and thought it was cool someone could make a living writing down smart-ass remarks). But Bryson's work has probably had the greatest influence on me (in case you couldn't tell), and this was the first book of his I ever read. Everyone makes a deal of what a funny writer he is, and how wittily acerbic he is. He's both of those things, of course, but underneath the snide commentary, you never forget that the guy has got a core of decency, a real heart, and I think that's what makes his writing all the funnier. Also, I just finished re-reading TLC (took it on my road trip), and realized Bryson didn't write it til he was 37, my age. Gives me hope, it does.

Shit, do I really only get five?

One Book I'd Like to Burn

Oh man, that's easy. There's this godawful mystery/adventure novel about a guy who goes on a kind of international scavenger hunt to recover a lost Sherlock Holmes manuscript. It's a caper story that involves all sorts of chase scenes through London, Paris and Cairo (lots of people feinting and dashing, lots of baskets and newsstands falling over). It's set in the 1980s and the guy's a college student, but he's also the star on his school fencing team. Conveniently enough, all the bad guys he ends up running up against are likewise skilled in various forms of swordplay so there are absolutely pages and pages (and pages and pages) of swashbuckling fight scenes up and down assorted castle stairwells, atop moving buses, and even while both opponents are riding camels. It's so stupendously awful, the writer never actually managed to finish the book. I know, because the writer was me, at age 19. I've been looking for that 120-page manuscript for 10 years now, and the moment I find it, it's going to become a charcoal briquette. My great fear is that it actually made its way into the hands of an ex-girlfriend or roommate, where it could become a powerful blackmail tool. Keeps me up nights...

People I'd Like to See Waste Time on This

Nah, I better not. But anyone reading this who'd like to play along at home, feel free to do so.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


In Which There Is Much Unloading...

Dear reader, I'd like you to stand up and then squat for me, as if you were about to sit on a chair and suddenly discovered a puddle of soda in the seat. As if you were trying to use a toilet of dubious hygiene. That's more or less the position my brother was in when last we left him.

If you wish, feel free to make a gun of your thumb and forefinger, and stick your hand in the waistband of your pants. This is optional, of course, but it's the best way to reconstruct the moment the gun went off.

(And if it helps, you should know I'm doing that right now.)

By rights, at this angle, my brother should have pierced at least one of his ample cheeks, should have literally torn himself a new one. But no.

When the .45 went off, the bullet blew out the right back pocket of his sagging jeans, coming out of his pants, then going back in at the back of his knee. The slug hit his shin bone, just below the knee, and traveled all the way down the bone. When it stopped, it instantly increased his boot measurement by a half-size.

So no, he did not shoot himself in the ass. But he DID shoot himself in the foot.

And here we come to the first miracle of the night: At that range--often known as point-fucking-blank--the average slug from a .45 can blow off a limb, even one as hammy as my brother's leg. The fact that my brother had loaded the gun with hollow-point bullets (which mushroom on contact to maximize damage against, say, an attacking bear) should have assured a flying body part. But the hollow-point bullet malfunctioned. It did not mushroom on contact. It simply carved a groove along the length of my brother's lower leg, before causing his foot to balloon like an inner tube.

My brother sat down in surprise, missing the chair completely and landing on his ass. He looked at his right foot, at the boot whose laces were stretching before his eyes. He looked at the gun in surprise, then grabbed his walkie-talkie and turned it to the emergency channel monitored by the town police.

He didn't say, "Shit, like a dumb-ass I've just shot myself in the foot. Please send an ambulance over. And don't call my mom.”

No, all he said was, "I'm shot! I'm shot!"

In fairness, that's probably more than I could have managed in the way of verbal cohesion.

But try to imagine the impact of those words back at the police headquarters of the sleepy little town where we lived.

Oh hell, don't bother, you know I'm going to tell you: Those words mushroomed on impact, in exactly the way the bullet did not. The deputy on duty naturally assumed evildoers--possibly even bears in pick-ups--had raided the lumber mill and had attempted to kill my brother, a conclusion that causes one to formulate a different response than, say, merely sending an ambulance. He called the state police for back-up, the whole shots-fired, man-down extravaganza.

Within 7 minutes, 20 cars with sirens and flashing lights were ramming the security gate and roaring up and down the empty lanes of the lumber compound, shouting on megaphones to theoretical perps and to each other. It's a wonder someone didn't get shot.

Someone else, I mean.

And of course, since there's not much to do on winter nights in our sleepy town, there were plenty of volunteer fire fighter and game warden types monitoring the police scanner when my brother's call came in. Two of them arrived at our house at the same time, wanting to make sure my parents knew what had happened.

I was fast asleep in my Tyvek cocoon up in the rafters of the half-completed house when I heard the telltale sounds of someone coming up the ladder. My mom hissed my name. I was exhausted, from final exams, from driving halfway cross-country, from working with my dad to set up a makeshift shelter. So when my mom shook me awake, I responded, as I often did when exhausted, in pidgin French. "Qu'est-ce que fuck, Maman? Je suis tres fatigue, par consequent...piss off, s'il te plait!"

My mom shook me again, then said, "Your brother's shot himself. We're off to the hospital. We'll call you later." My mom was never one to bury the lede.

Then she was gone, and I muttered a sleepy. "D'accord. Bonsoir, Maman."

Forty seconds later, I sat up. WHAT?

I fumbled around in the dark until I found the ladder, then made my way downstairs. It was freezing in the rest of the house. I was wearing the only clean shirt I had--a mint-green Ben & Jerry's tank top, and my boxer shorts. I couldn't find my jacket or my boots (where the hell had mom put them?) All my clothes were in a giant duffel out in my car, and they all needed some serious laundering, so I made my way to a corner room that my parents had hastily set up as a storage closet. After rummaging around fruitlessly for several minutes, I would have gladly welcomed, say, a Lincoln-green bathrobe and a pair of combat boots. But instead I managed to find a pair of green-colored long thermal underpants that were two sizes too small. When I stuffed myself into them, I looked to be wearing a skintight, waffled leotard. Still, they were warm. So was the set of puffy green slippers I found. I put those on too. No jackets or sweaters of any kind, but I did find my mom's old rabbit-fur hat and donned it for warmth.

I'll just pause a moment and let the image sink in.

So attired, I made my way out of the house and across the frigid yard to the trailer. I noticed my parents' car was gone (ah, the Boy Detective never sleeps). I tried to open the trailer door and naturally it was locked (but I could clearly see my jacket and boots inside).

As I was picking my way back across the frozen ground to the house, I heard a car roll up and suddenly a spotlight was on me, in all my green, rabbit-furred glory.

A deputy patrolman stepped out, still training the light on me. For longer than he needed to, I thought.

"I'm looking for your parents," he said, after we awkwardly introduced ourselves. I explained that they were gone, that my mom had said something about my brother.

"Yep, he shot himself in the foot, all right. He's over at the hospital now. They're gonna get the bullet out, and the doctor says he can save the leg. He'll be fine." There was a pause and I sensed he was looking me up and down. "Are, uh, are YOU gonna be all right?"

I assured him I was, despite my appearance.

I took my own car to the hospital--yes, dressed like that--and the first person I saw was my dad, standing by the entrance, smoking (My dad had switched to smokes after giving up alcohol. Not ideal, but better than his previous addiction). He blinked several times at me. "You dress special to cheer me up?" he asked.

"How is he?" I asked, ignoring his question.

"Better'n he ought to be, I guess. Leg's fine. Hollow point malfunctioned. That was lucky. But he's got half a goddamn pocket worth of denim embedded in his leg. Goddamn bullet dragged the threads into the wound. They're cleaning it now. Middle of nowhere, world's most primitive ER, two days before Christmas. And who do you suppose they got on call?”

I shook my head.

"Fella used to work at a VA clinic. Started his career at a MASH unit in Vietnam. Bullet wounds his specialty, by Gorry. What are the odds?"

"Christmas is the time of miracles," I said, smiling.

"Ayuh," he said, stubbing out his cigarette.

We stood there a while.

"So," I said. "Do you think he's asked for help by now?"

"Mebbe so, mebbe so," he said. "I tell ya, I fucked you both around so much, my inclination has been to leave you and your brother the hell alone, not interfere. But that's enough of that I guess. We'll see if we can't get your brother to sell off some of the ordinance, maybe put the money towards something useful. Like a down payment on a new car. Or mebbe an ounce of common sense."

I still wasn't used to my dad's candor, at least not regarding his treatment of us growing up, so my response was to say nothing. Then my dad's hand shifted there in the dark, and I realized he was holding something. He brought his hand into the light.

It was my brother's pistol.

Despite myself, I tensed.

"It's all right," he said, sensing my reaction. "I made it safe." And I saw that the chamber was locked open, the magazine gone from the handgrip. He handed it to me butt end first. "I didn't want to bring it into the hospital and the cops may want to see it for some reason or other. Why don't you put it in your car for safe-keeping. 'Least you know what you're doing."

I did as I was told, then returned to the hospital. My dad waited for me, then we went in together.

As it turned out, my brother didn't need to save up to buy some common sense. The bullet seemed to do the job for him. He sold off most of his guns (he still owns the riot gun. Bears, you know!). During the winter of his painful recuperation, he also began to pay attention to his health, taking a little better care of his blood sugar, losing some weight. He even quit smoking, a feat my dad has not yet managed. He also gave up his ideas of becoming chef of police and parlayed his culinary arts skills into a management position where he designs kitchens for a certain large home improvement center up in Concord. This had a great impact on his financial life, and also on his social life, since it put him contact with people again, including female ones, some of whom have been crazy enough to date him.

I know that for most people, the phrase "shooting yourself in the foot" is used in relation to folks who do really stupid things that end up scuttling their chances for something better: a shot at romance, a career change, a new life.

In my family, it means just the opposite.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Sunday, June 26, 2005


In Which I Get All the Gun Stories Out of My System...

Today I'll take my cue from my brother, who called a short while ago and said, "Hell, as long as you've gone off the deep end and told them all that teary, dramatic shit, you might as well tell the other gun story."

So I think I will.

Hang this on your irony peg: My brother and I were brought up by the same father, and so had roughly the same exposure to guns and booze. I grew to hate guns, but still take a drink now and then. My brother doesn't drink at all, but he has owned more guns than the New Hampshire National Guard.

He's always had an unhealthy fascination with firearms, and adulthood didn't seem to temper that in any way. When he got out of college and had his first steady, paying job, guess what the bulk of his paycheck went to? For most of us, it would be mundane things: rent, student loans, a down payment on a car, groceries. My brother went straight to the gun shop and bought a massive nickel-plated .357 revolver. Over the years, the armory grew to include a 9mm pistol, two .38 police-type revolvers, a .44 magnum handgun straight out of the Dirty Harry prop room, and an assortment of .22 and .25 caliber handguns.

Let's not forget the rifles, a collection of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, some of which I think have now been banned in this country. Plus a shotgun, a pump-action .22 squirrel gun, and a riot gun.

Like me, though, my brother wasn't much of a hunter (too much walking, and my brother, who dressed out at around 320, was walking-averse). He just liked shooting things. Targets, cans. Like that. The last time I lived at home, just before I went away to graduate school, I was alarmed and then more or less amused (honestly, in my house, you had a choice of only one or the other) by the morning routine that evolved since my brother had returned home himself.

In the manner of some great bird, my brother exhibited a predictable migratory pattern for many years: he would scrape together a security deposit and someone even less fiscally responsible than himself to be a roommate and together they would find themselves the most godawful, low-rent place northern New England had to offer (and that could be pretty bad, I'm here to tell you). This would last for a year, months, and once, memorably, four days. After that, something would happen to drive him back to the nest: My brother would inexplicably find himself $700 overdrawn on his bank account, the roommate would inexplicably find himself detained indefinitely by police in another state. Once--and on this we had to give him points for originality--my brother had to leave his job and apartment and move home because he feel asleep on the beach and developed such severe sunburn that blisters the size and consistency of egg yolks formed from his insteps to his scrotum. He couldn't walk without the aid of family members or large, stable furniture. And naturally he had no health insurance, so the medical bills (the price of gauze wrap alone was staggering) not only forced him home, but kept him there until just after I had graduated college in 1989 and found my own self migrating homeward owing to that meteorological phenomenon known as a recession.

So there we were. My brother and I both worked late-shift jobs, but I was nearly always up first. I'd be in the kitchen, reading the paper, eating something, when I'd hear the muttering and stirring of my brother upstairs. He would emerge a moment later, wearing nothing but a Lincoln green bathrobe and a pair of unlaced combat boots. He'd trudge down the stairs and fish a ring of keys out of his pocket.

The jingle of those keys had a positively Pavlovian effect on my parents' pets. The two dogs we had then would go scurrying for the back bedroom, where they buried themselves under a pile of afghans. The cats fled for the upstairs loft, where they would pace from rafter to rafter, watching my brother warily.

And with good reason. My brother would stare into the darkness of the gun cabinet, like a sommelier might scrutinize a wine cellar. At length, he'd select his weapons. Each pistol had its own gunbelt and he’d pick one or two, looping the belts over his shoulder desperado style. For a rifle, although he favored the riot gun, he sometimes chose the Kalashnikov. Or, if he was feeling dainty, the .22.

He'd lumber out to the porch. In the chill, late fall air, he'd gaze across the pristine valley of unspoiled New England wilderness.

Then he'd light a cigarette, draw his guns and blast the shit out of anything that moved.

At first, he took pot-shots at birds and rabbits. Once he caught sight of a raccoon and spent a good chunk of the morning--and his ammunition--trying to hit it. But to the best of my knowledge he never killed anything. And eventually, I think any wildlife within a 5-mile radius gave our place a wide berth. There were always plenty of trees around, though, so my brother eventually settled for banging away at branches, leaves, knotholes, like that. Whenever my mom would see him engaged in his morning ritual, she'd look him up and down and tartly ask, "Off to quell the tree rebellion, are we?"

I couldn't get out of that house fast enough.

The next summer, I did escape: I got into grad school and moved to Chicago. My brother, meanwhile, became even more obsessed with guns, despite the disapproval of my mother and the best efforts of my dad, who had only those guns he had grown up with and used for hunting.

Part of what fueled my brother's growing obsession may have been his change of career. After several years or studying and working in the culinary arts, my brother suddenly decided he hated cooking. What he really wanted to go into law enforcement.

"Oh, that's a logical career move, food services to law enforcement," I said, when he told me. "Why, I bet if you worked your way up through the ranks, one day you might even be chef of police."

Well, I thought it was funny.

Unfortunately, when you weigh 320 pounds and have type-II diabetes and smoke 4 packs a day and have asthma besides, most recruiting police departments tend to view your ability to meet the physical demands of the job with what I can only call a healthy amount of skepticism. In short order, my brother found that the only enforcement agency who seemed willing to take him one was in the private security industry. In other words, my brother became a rent-a-cop. First, on the campus of a local women's college, and later at the remote warehouse compound of a large local lumber mill. Although both jobs enabled him to wear spiffy hats and key rings that jangled with importance, neither one required the use of a firearm. In fact, both jobs expressly forbade him from carrying weapons.

That didn't stop him from keeping a pump-action shotgun in the trunk. Nor from keeping a holstered .45 automatic pistol in his glove compartment.

I was completely nonplussed. "Why do you need all this firepower?" I asked him one day, not too long before I left for Chicago. He lived in New Hampshire, for crissakes. Not what you'd call a hotbed of criminal activity. Not exactly the landing zone for invaders.

"Why do I need my weapons?" he asked. "Why? Why? I'll tell you why." He paused, then said. "Bears, that's why."


"Some used to come onto the campus when I worked there. And they're all over the hills near the lumber mill."

My brother patrolled a lot about a square-mile wide, occupied by seven large buildings, mostly millworks and lumber storage. But it was all fenced in. The only way to enter the compound was through a card-controlled front gate. Any bear who wanted to get in would need a pick-up truck and a security card.

"How--?" I began.

"Oh, they can get in if they want, ass-wipe. Trust me, they can get in!"

(No bear ever penetrated the security of the lumber mill.)

Sometimes there was just no arguing with my brother. After all, I'm sure he couldn't bring himself to admit the real reasons he kept guns: The main one being that they were a form of security for him. He has always hated the dark (by hated, I mean sobbed and cried and insisted on nightlights when we were kids). Working nights on campus must have been tough enough. Working in a dark, creepy, empty mill in the middle of the wilderness must have been even more disconcerting.

(The other reason? Why, his small penis, of course.)

Whatever his motivation, it boiled down to the fact that he liked having his guns around. Consequently, I avoided being around my brother (although when I was, I was in the habit of unloading his pistol and his shotgun and hiding the ammunition. It was kind of a thing with me. And it had the added advantage of driving him ape-shit).

Eventually, it was a non-issue. I moved to Chicago and my brother kept on massing his weapons. I was talking to my dad pretty regularly at the time, and would get his take on it. My dad was actually fairly worried about my brother. "He's getting way too comfortable with them goddamn things. It's a big mistake to get complacent around guns," he said (and my God, if anyone would know that by now, it would be my dad, huh?). Unfortunately, my dad was just a couple of years into his sobriety, and running his life according to the precepts of AA. He felt that my brother definitely had a problem, but he wasn't going to be able to accept help until he asked for it.

Which made sense to me if we were talking about, say, booze or drugs. But guns? "So wait," I said. "You mean, you're just gonna stand by and do nothing?" Well of course, my dad was doing more than that. It's just that my brother wasn't listening.

In the winter, I came home for Christmas, and that's worth an interesting digression.

For starters, there was no place for me to really, um, sleep. In late summer, my parents had purchased an 18th century Cape Cod home on the edge of town and set about the monumental task of gutting it and renovating it. I spent my final days of summer helping them tear out all the old plaster and paneling. But by fall, when the lease was up on the old place (where my brother had quelled so many tree rebellions), my parents had managed very little progress. All the wiring and plumbing was done, but the heating was far from complete and the upstairs--where I was expected to sleep--was still an alarming combination of sub-floor and open rafters--not the place to put guests prone to sleep-walking (which thankfully, I am not. Although I do have a tendency to speak French in my sleep). Also, one entire side of the house was still exposed to the elements. I spent a hurried first evening home stringing Tyvek across a gaping hole in an upstairs wall, while my dad hastily soldered pipe to run a heating connection from the furnace directly to the room I would be sleeping in. My parents, and the cats, and the dogs, meanwhile, were all out in our old Airstream, which was heated by seven tiny ceramic heaters. My mom's prediction of living like high-brow white trash had at last come true.

If there was a happy benefit to these slap-dash living arrangements, it was that my brother was at last forced to move out again. He was renting the loft of an old barn with another guy, and enjoying life to the fullest. In other words, he could keep as many guns as he wanted without having to listen to my mom bitch about them, or endure gently prodding lectures from my dad.

What we didn't know was that my brother had also taken to ignoring the express prohibition stated in the terms of his employment at the lumber mill, and had begun wearing his .45 automatic on the job.

He felt he could get away with this for two reasons. One, he was the only person in the compound from 8 to 8, especially during the holiday season. And two, to protect himself against those rare times that a supervisor or the mill foreman might come by to check on him, my brother had taken to wearing a concealed holster--what I came to call his "butt holster" since it clipped to the inside of the back of his jeans and allowed the pistol to nestle comfortably between the denim of his jeans and Marianas Trench that was the crack of his ass.

Considering his stated reasons for needing a gun ("Bears!") you'd think having a weapon close at, er, hand, would be comforting, but no. Evidently, my brother was worried not just about bears, and not just about that rare breed of truck-driving, security-card-swiping bears. He apparently was also concerned with the threat of bears attacking from ambush, one perhaps leaping down from a stack of 2x4s like a great ursine ninja, or tippy-toeing up behind him in size 18 sneakers. How else do you explain that, in addition to carrying his gun, he carried it with a bullet loaded in the chamber? The answer is obvious to any student of ambush-bear tactics: In such a fateful encounter, having a round chambered allows you to respond a few seconds faster, so that all that would be required to fire would be to cock the hammer and pull the trigger.

After freeing it from your ass-crack, that is.

Well, by now readers of my family chronicles must surely see all the signs of wacky disaster mounting.

Two days before Christmas, my brother was completing his rounds at the lumber compound. He was especially jumpy that night. Especially when he heard something land with a "whump" on top of one of the lumber storage barns. Then he heard a slow, deliberate sliding noise, much like the sound his intestines were no doubt making at that moment. Something was coming down off the roof. My brother to drew his weapon and cocked it. He was Locked and Loaded. He watched, training his gun on the edge of the roof.

And then he saw the snow--which had fallen from a tree high overheard--come flopping off the roof and land in a harmless pile in front of him.

He breathed a sigh of relief. If bears were going to mount an all pick-up attack on the fence, with their ninja brethren as back-up on the roof, they were evidently waiting for another day (or perhaps even til spring, bears having that tendency to hibernate in winter as they do).

My brother holstered his weapon and went to the break room, where the coffeemaker had just perked up a fresh pot. He poured himself a cup--more caffeine, just what he needed. He started to sit, but something stopped him. A submarine in the Marianas Trench. As discrete as the butt holster was, as comfortable as it was while walking, it could be quite the ass-poker if you tried to sit with it jammed down the back of your pants.

And so, in mid-squat above his chair, my brother reached behind him and pulled out the gun.

The gun that he had failed to uncock after his encounter with the pile of snow.

The gun whose safety he had failed to engage.

The gun that had a round in the chamber.

The gun that went BANG as soon as his finger brushed the trigger...


Saturday, June 25, 2005


In Which I Take The Weekend Off...

Gosh, so many directions I could steer this weekend in.

I suppose I could do some work. We just closed another issue and instead of getting to the massive backlog that has built up since my roadtrip, I spent Friday sitting around dazed, glazed, feeling that mixture of dizziness and relief that comes after racing at breakneck speed to a distant point on the horizon, the clock ticking, the pressure building, and finally you make it with seconds to spare. Like when you're on a long drive and really have to pee and there's no rest area anywhere and suddenly you see the friendly blue sign and veer into the lot and do your nervous scooting dance across the compound to the Temple of Porcelain Relief. It feels like that.

I suppose I could answer some emails, such as the one from the person who asked if I didn't feel like a "hypnocrite" for "glamnerizing" drinking in my recent absinthe post, especially in light of how alcohol has "bruised my life" (I like that phrase. Makes me feel like a fuzzy old peach with dings and brown spots on me). No doubt I could make quite a long and soulful post out of that, pouring out a great deal of emotion and sharing with you my tearful struggle vis-a-vis the nature of alcohol and my own experiences, coupled with my search for a life in balance and tying it back to the universal sojourn for truth that we all, in our own way, must undertake.

But then I thought, Well fuck that.

So instead, I'm taking the weekend to indulge in one of my worst habits: reading.

No, reading in itself is not the bad habit, it's the way I do it. I usually have about 4 or 5 books going at once (right now I have 6. Seven, counting the comic). This drives Her Lovely Self right up the wall. She's a one-book-at-a-time reader, which is fine. I just get in moods to read different things, and when I do, whatever I'm reading, however good it is, needs to be set aside until I'm ready to give it my proper, full attention. It's no reflection on the writer. In fact, if you've made it into my on-deck circle, consider it a good thing.

So, on the off-chance some of you might care, or be motivated to try one of these titles, here's what I'm reading this weekend:

foop Foop! was written by a novelist and blogger whose link you'll find over at the right. Chris Genoa is spontaneous-incontinence-level funny. For the longest time, his blog was written by the persona of an anthropomorphic Italian mite named Pepino and that lil guy never failed to bring a smile to my face. Chris is back at the blogging reins now, in part I'm sure to promote his book. And it's working: My pal C-Dog bought it for me. I'm on chapter 1 and am digging it mightily. If Ray Bradbury had written "Downwind from Gettysburg" after visiting a dentist who was a little free with the nitrous oxide, it might have turned out something like this. If you hurry, you can audition for a part in the audiobook here (I'm still working up the nerve to email in my audition).

fade10 Fade From Blue #10 is the final issue of an excellent comics series about a group of sisters on the run from...well, even that might be giving away too much. If I had a girlfriend, this is the comic I'd give her to get her to read comics. Excellent characterizations, and a story that really hinges much more on the relationships of the sisters than on any of your standard comic-book action. I especially like the sister who works as a magazine writer. You can find out more about the series (and the upcoming collected volume here.

seabiscuit Seabiscuit is just one of the many icons of pop culture's past that has always fascinated me. I minored in U.S. history in college and was particularly fascinated with the Colonial era and the Depression years. Seabiscuit was obviously a big part of the latter. I don't really have an opinion about the movie, but Laura Hillenbrand is one hell of a versatile writer. She makes history very engaging, especially when she throws in anecdotes about giant piles of horse manure wiping out entire towns (and we all know what a sucker I am for those kinds of anecdotes).

Marley William Morrow sent me an advance copy (ah, the perks of this job) of Marley & Me, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Grogan's memoir of and valentine to his dog. Plenty of male writers have had dogs in their lives and felt compelled to write about it, not always to best effect. But this is one of the better efforts. Grogan's a pretty goddamn good writer.

sedaris David Sedaris sure as hell doesn't need any help from me plugging any of his books so I'll just say this about Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim: It's an enormous comfort to read someone else's work and realize there are families that are so much more fucked up than your own, and yet at least one of the members of that family can find the humor in it. Gives me faith in humanity, it does. Or at least in the fact that I, too, might one day cash in on my dysfunctional relations.

buried Where Are They Buried? was a birthday present from my brother, who remembers well my love for trivia books (or else the book is a sinister hint of some kind). When we went on road trips, I would spend hours devouring trivia tomes and spouting the most inane bullshit. Little has changed since childhood, I'm afraid. What's great about this book is that it not only tells you how assorted famous folks died, but also where to find their bodies, if you're so inclined. That's service journalism, man!

mirrormask With the exception of his very earliest works of nonfiction (such as his Duran Duran bio), I've read everything Neil Gaiman has written. As good as his novels are, I think he's at his best when he collaborates with artist Dave McKean. As a graphic novel, for example, Mr. Punch is probably up there in the top three. And their children's books, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, and The Wolves in the Walls are second only to Jules Feiffer's books in my son's list of favorites. Now they've done a movie together, with McKean directing and Gaiman writing. Much as I wanted to wait and see it, I broke down and got the Mirrormask script book, which is absolutely fascinating, first as a story, and second as a peek behind the curtain. Or maybe I mean that the other way around. And it'll satisfy my Gaiman fix until Anansi Boys hits stores in the fall, so there's that.

And no, I don't get any kickbacks from any of the writers whose works I've just mentioned here. But if they should happen to stumble upon my humble reviews and feel the urge to reward my unsolicited endorsements with signed books or free comics, let the record show that I stand ready to accept them.

So, I'm off to read. Hope you likewise have fun plans for the weekend.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Friday, June 24, 2005


In Which Memory Is Made Safe...

(Sorry for the long post, folks. But if I don't finish this now, I probably never will.)

My heart was in my throat now. "No," I said, fingering the ring of keys in my pocket. The ring that held the key to the gun cabinet. "We're not gonna start shooting at bottles."

I paused again and said it for the first time. "You're drunk." I swallowed, then almost repeated myself. "You're a drunk," I said quietly.

My father stood there, blinking at me, his face screwing up. "You don't give me lip like that. Now up in my bag I've got something. It's quiet, won't make much noise while we practice. My roommate give it to me to pay his rent one month. A little .25. You go get it."

"Come on--" I started, trying to reason with him. But as soon as I protested, he made a disgusted face at me and started back towards the house. If I didn't get the gun, he would.

"All right! All right!" I cried, a trifle desperate now, and ran past him into the house.

I bolted up the stairs three at a time and found the suitcase. I opened it, got out the Crown Royal bag containing the pistol.

Make it safe, I thought, feeling stupid as I did. I wasn't thinking about the gun, I was thinking about this whole shitty mess. How could I possibly make this situation safe? For a second, I froze.

Then I was seized with a powerful urge to run back down the stairs and out the front door, just get the hell away. I could see myself pelting across the street to the woods, maybe even heading across the fields beyond to the little town near where we lived. I had done it plenty of times. It was my standard response when I was younger. My father would go off on some tirade: dishes hadn't been washed, firewood hadn't been stacked just so, the lawn hadn't been mowed when he thought it should. Usually, he'd yell at you and call you lazy and worthless and be done with you. But sometimes he got worse, and started chasing you around the house, whacking you in the back and kidneys and rump as you fled before him. During those times, I'd head out the back door and into the woods, staying out there til I heard my father's truck roar away, or my brother would come to find me.

This was different. Before, even during the worst of my father's erratic behavior, you could always sense that some part of him was there. But not now. Just as I had slipped into my boy-detective persona, my father had slipped--fallen, really--into nothing, a non-persona that was completely unfathomable to me. The wild leap out the window, the crazy yelling, the even crazier look in his eyes. I wanted to get away from that look, those eyes. As far away as I could. I had the baddest of bad feelings that if I stayed, something awful would happen. I didn't know what. I just knew I had to get out of there.

Except...what if a neighbor came over to see what the commotion was? What if Gina came back to see if I was all right? What if my mom came home, with no one to warn or help her, and found those eyes staring back her when she walked in the door?

I knew I shouldn't stay. I knew I couldn't run. There really was no way to make this situation safe.

But I did what I could. I carefully unloaded the magazine, stuffing the bullets in the box with the rest. I dashed into the attic, which was a ramshackle room with an old bricked up chimney in it. There were a couple loose bricks at the top and I stuffed the box of ammunition through one of the brick holes until I heard the box fall.

I checked the pistol a second time, making sure it was completely empty, then I went back downstairs.

I'm not sure what I planned to do. I think I was probably going to tell him I couldn't find any bullets. Or maybe I was stupidly hoping I'd dry-fire the gun a couple times and he'd conclude the cheap little gun was jammed.

I came back outside. My father was standing by the back porch, waiting.

"Here it is," I said, my mouth dry. "I couldn't--"

Before I could finish, my father grabbed my wrist in his viselike hand. I felt a bolt of pain as the bones ground together and the gun fell from my grip. He snatched the pistol up.

I've never written about what happened next, because I think writing about it would finally confirm once and for all that it actually happened, and I spent years trying to convince myself that it didn't. I've hinted at this moment a few times in my writing here, not to turn the incident into some kind of cheap dramatic play for attention or suspense, but more because I was trying to work up the nerve to write about it, and never quite succeeded.

Without a word, without explanation, without checking the gun to see if it was loaded, without checking to make it safe, without any apparent thought or care about what he was doing, my father snapped the pistol to my head, on the left side of my head, just above the temple.

Then he pulled the trigger.

Now, I knew the gun was unloaded. I had unloaded it myself. Had double-checked it to make sure.

But knowing that fact did nothing to blunt the impact of the moment. And despite what my head knew, in my heart I was convinced the gun would go off and my father would kill me. (after all, isn't it the unloaded gun that kills more people?)

I closed my eyes involuntarily when he pulled the trigger. The click the firing pin made when it hit the empty chamber was no louder than the sound of a lighter being flicked on, but it was a noise I would hear--with crystal clarity--for years afterwards.

My mind was completely incapable of processing the thoughts and feelings running through it then. The monumental sense of betrayal, the overwhelming urge to scream "Why?", the insane wrongness of the moment, the way it contradicted everything I knew about how it all was supposed to be. In the event, all I remembered was a single thought, trying desperately, inadequately to convey the weight of the instant. He hadn't even checked it to see if it was loaded. The thought repeated in my mind. He didn't even check it.

It happened in an instant, then it was over. He took the gun away from my head and laughed. He laughed, like he'd just played a fine joke on me.

He turned, gun in hand, and started to walk back into the house.

He didn't even check it, I kept thinking.

It was the last coherent thought I remember having before the blackout.

To be clear, I didn't pass out from the shock of my father putting a gun to my head and pulling the trigger. But shock definitely had something to do with it. I don't know why I remember the moment of not-quite-being shot. Seems to me that should be the memory my mind would choose to blank out. But it didn't. Instead, I lost everything that happened next.

I'm not sure how much time elapsed. Probably not more than 5 minutes, but I can't really say. Over the years, I have tried to make myself remember what happened, and sometimes I think I do remember snippets. But mostly it's a blank. And I guess it doesn't really matter. It's pretty obvious what happened.

The next thing I knew, I was back in the living room, standing over my father. He was sprawled partway across the couch, his head resting on a cushion, his legs dangling off. He had a great seeping gash on his forehead and he was covered with what I thought was dried blood.

Then I looked down at myself and saw that I was covered with it too.

And I was holding a pot in my hand.

It was the heavy metal pot full of gravy and macaroni and cheese and cinnamon sticks, the noxious glop my father had made while he was drunk. I had left it out on the porch. The glop was all over both of us now, and on the walls, the rug and the couch.

My wrist--the same wrist my father had grabbed and squeezed--hurt like crazy. I dropped the pot and knelt over my father. I felt his neck for a pulse, like they did on TV. It was a silly thing to do, because he was clearly and loudly breathing.

I felt panicked, disoriented. What had happened? Had I really hit him upside the head with the pot? I truly didn't--and do not--remember doing it.

In a daze, I picked up the pot and began hunting around the kitchen for some paper towels to and cleaner to wipe down walls. On the way back to the living room, I saw the gun, lying discarded on the floor. I grabbed it, ran out to the back yard and threw it into the high bushes of the yard. Later, I retrieved it, broke it apart, and buried it. It's probably still there at that house.

I went back inside and called my mom at work. I told her to come home as quickly as she could, but it was two hours before she did. I spent the time cleaning up the mess as best I could. I left my father alone, though. If it had occurred to me to call a doctor or make sure in some way that the gash on his head hadn't caused some permanent damage, I don't remember it. In fact, I don't remember having any feeling about him good or bad after that. His presence in my mind, in my life, was like an emotional dead space. Something had shut down. I didn't hate him. But I didn't love him either. He wasn't even like a stranger to me. He was nobody.

He was still out when my mom finally came home. It was near dark by then, but I found a flashlight and led her out to the car, where I showed her the bottles. Though it was dark and I couldn't see her face clearly, I could see enough and it was obvious that the curtain dropped for her just a quickly as it had for me. My mom is not an emotional woman, but she had a look I'd never seen before. She stood there for a long while, trembling angrily, hissing to herself, "I knew it," over and over. She had left home to get away from two alcoholic parents. Had run away from drunks right into the arms of another drunk. It rattled me to see her so upset. I didn't tell her about the incident with the gun (Even then, I was already trying to tell myself that maybe it hadn't actually happened). All I would tell her was that I couldn't sleep in the house if he was going to be there too. I would sleep out in a shed, or in the back of the car, or anywhere, but not here. To her credit, my mom didn't argue or press me. I have no doubt I looked pretty shaken. She knew something bad had happened and that was enough.

So there was no dramatic moment of intervention, no apologies, no professions of love and support or shame and remorse. When my father came to, my mom gave him a very simple set of instructions: he could go into detox, or he could get the hell out and never come back. She said she didn't really care either way, and frankly neither did I.

So my father left.

He gathered up his suitcase and his collection of Crown Royal sacks (including one that was bursting with Fisherman's Friend cough drops, the noxious horehound lozenges so useful for soothing sore throats and, we would come to find out, masking the smell of alcohol on one's breath). He loaded the car by himself. It was full dark, and we could hear him clinking among the empty bottles we had unloaded. Then I heard him muttering about his keys, and realized I still had them in my pocket. I fumbled with them for a moment, removing and pocketing the key to the gun cabinet and the house key. I threw the ring to the cement floor of the porch, then closed and locked the door. My mom and I stood on the other side of the door as we heard him shuffle back, pick up the keys. There was a soft knock at the door, and I heard him call my name in a quiet, sort of mournful voice. Part of me hoped he was sobering up and remembering what had happened. If it was so, I could only wish that he felt awful. I didn't say that, of course. I didn't say anything. I stood there quietly, listening to him call my name, then my mom's. Then he stopped.

After a few minutes, we heard the old Galaxie sputter to life and watched from the window as he rolled out of the driveway. For a long time, it seemed, we stood there, in the quiet darkness of the kitchen.

Finally, my mom asked, "Are you all right?"

"My wrist hurts," I said. And I began to cry.

It was that awful, chest-hitching, nose-running, chin-quivering brand of crying that you're mortified to find you haven't outgrown at 16 (and that even at 37 are a little embarrassed to admit to). At first it was just involuntary, and then I cried because I was mad at myself for crying. And then I wasn't crying anymore. I was laughing and telling my mom about my father's leap out the front window, and she started laughing too. We didn't have what you would call a good laugh about it, but it was better than crying (it always is).

My father headed east and lived with my brother for a while, then some old family friends. Finally, he ended up in some boarding house in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A year passed. I graduated from high school (and had forbid him from coming to my graduation, although I think he came to the ceremony anyway) and started college.

That fall my father hit rock bottom. I was home for Thanksgiving when he called the house from a pay phone, begging my mom for help. She got a hold of a relative from upstate and they got him into a hospital. All I could think was, it's a good thing mom answered the phone. I would have hung up on you.

I had completely blocked off any feeling about my father, except a certain growing anger and resentment for everything he had put my family through. For a long time, I couldn't talk about him, acknowledge his existence even. After he'd been in detox for a month and started going to AA meetings, they were getting ready to release my father. My mom called me at school. She was driving to New Hampshire to see him. My brother, still at college in Rhode Island, was going to meet them. My father had been asking for me. We had almost no money at this point--I was working three jobs at college just to pay for basics. But my mom wanted to send me some money to get a bus ticket to join them. I refused.

It was just a few days before the end of the term when I got another phone call. I thought it might be my mom again.

But it was my best friend Shawn.

Shawn and I had been pals from our days together in the Midwest. We had written a lot to each other since I'd moved away, but we talked on the phone very rarely, and not at all since everything that had happened with my father. Still, it seemed fitting that he should call. He had been very much on my mind during that time, and not just because of my tendency to slip into boy-detective mode when coping with my father's mysterious behavior. Regular readers may recall that Shawn had a pretty tumultuous childhood of his own, with a single mom who expected him to be the surrogate dad to his brothers and sister. I thought if any of my friends might understand the craziness of impossible family situations, he'd be the one. So when he asked how my parents were, I found myself telling him everything. He was the first person I had told about the incident with the gun.

He let me go on for a bit, and then he was silent. "You haven't talked to him since then?"

"Not if I can help it. Would you?"

Silence again. "I don't know. I never really knew my dad."

This was the first time he had told this to me. Shawn hated talking about his family. It was a real sore spot with him.

"Well," I said, after a moment. "I envy you."

"Don't say that!" he fairly shouted at me. "He may have been drinking, but at least you had a dad to earn money and take care of things, you know. You had someone coming home at Christmas and visiting. He was sick. And now he's in the hospital getting better. And you have another chance. So don't say you envy me because you don't know!"

My face burned. "Sorry," I said lamely. "But--"

“Yeah. He put a gun to your head. That's really the worst. I mean it, it's awful. But that guy is gone." He sighed hugely. "I think I'd want to go see who's there now." In his way, my old friend was always wiser than I was, and had put his finger on something that had been bugging me, a kind of paradox I hadn't been able to articulate.

My father had tried to shoot me, an unforgivable, unconscionable act.

But he had taught me how to handle guns too.

If he hadn't, I never would have gone near the pistol, never would have known how unload it.

But if his drinking hadn't made him crazy enough to mess around with the gun, I would never have been in that position.

He loved me enough to teach me how to protect myself.

But the person I ended up protecting myself from was...him. And I hated him for that.

Except...I didn't. All of a sudden, I didn't know how to feel about him anymore. But a couple days later, I did get on a bus and began a trip that took about six hours. But which has also taken 20 years.

In that time I can't say I've learned a hell of a lot, but I have come to realize that forgiveness is not a natural talent. It's a skill that has to be taught, much like learning to handle a gun.

Forgiveness isn't about wiping away the harmful memories of things done to you. It's about learning to live with them, to handle them in such a way that you control the deadlier, damaging aspects of those memories.

It's about making them safe.

Learning that skill hasn't been an easy process, but I've kept at it.

Ever since the day I headed east to meet my Dad.

From Somewhere on the Masthead


Thursday, June 23, 2005


In Which I Investigate the Obvious...

Somewhere in Illinois, my father had stopped at a motel for the night, then went across the street to a bar for a drink. After about an hour, the manager told him he'd have to pay a cover charge--a band was playing that night and anyone who was staying would have to pay. My father refused. Harsh words ensued and in a display of protest, my father grabbed a large ashtray off the bar--it was about the size and shape of a Frisbee--and winged it behind him. The ashtray whickered across the room and, defeating all odds, severed a chandelier that was above the pool table. My father was arrested for disorderly conduct (later, we found out he was both drunk and disorderly) and put in jail for three days. On the fourth day, he saw a lawyer. The owner of the bar agreed to drop the charges if my father paid damages. So my mom had to wire $500 to him and got him out of jail.

He arrived home a couple days later, a bit shame-faced. He never explained why he hadn't called us, and my mom was furious with him. But he took it and spent the first couple of weeks trying to make amends. He was especially attentive to my brother, who was about to go back to college. But he also took time to spend with me, taking me fishing, teaching me how to drive, essentially trying to make up in a week what he had missed in three years.

I really wanted to respond to his attention. But something was holding me back. I kind of went into my boy-detective mode, as a protective instinct I guess. It's occasionally very useful to imagine you're someone else, and by slipping into my boy-detective persona, I found that I could detach more easily from what was happening around me. So I told myself that I was on a case, that my father had some big secret that I needed to get to the bottom of. I had no idea what it might be, which is so stupid to say, looking back now and seeing how obvious it all was. But as I may have mentioned a time or two, denial is amazing in it ability to cloud your perception. Some part of me saw through it, but not all the way through it.

After the first week or so, my father was gone for long chunks of the day, signing up at the local union hall, hooking up with old colleagues to drum up work, spending time at the unemployment office. While he was gone, I began my investigation. I didn't know what I was looking for; I figured I'd know when I found it.

My father had brought home a ton of boxes in a small U-Haul trailer. These were all up in the attic of our house and I began rummaging through them. I found nothing unusual: old clothes, a portable 8-track player and a stack of cassettes. Lots of small items were stuffed into individual purple Crown Royal bags, such as they sell with that brand of whiskey. In one bag I found a few journals which I thought would prove interesting. But all my father had recorded in them were mileage numbers, which he used for his income tax.

Then I came to one of his suitcases. I opened it up, and there was the usual: clothes, socks, a few baseball caps, and two more Crown Royal bags. Both were heavy. One was full of change. My father was a coin collector and was always finding wheat pennies and buffalo nickels in his change. The other bag was likewise heavy and sounded metallic, but it wasn't loose like the change bag. I opened the bag, and there was the pistol.

It was a small .25 automatic, with an extra magazine and a box of bullets to go with it. It was a shoddy, cheap-looking gun, a real Saturday-night special, and seeing it scared me in a way I can't easily describe, even now. I guess it bothered me because my father had always respected guns, had been brought up--and brought us up--to treat guns like tools. They were for hunting. They were for sharpening a skill. This pistol was too small to be useful for hunting. It was a close-range weapon, not suitable for target practice. Really, it was the kind of gun that existed only for one reason: to kill people.

Instinctively, I opened the gun. No bullet in the chamber, but the magazine was fully loaded. I removed it and laid it next to the extra magazine, then looked it all over. I wasn't sure what to do with this discovery, wasn't sure what it meant. Why would my father have a gun like this? I was sorely tempted to take everything, stuff it back in the Crown Royal bag and get rid of it. But if he realized it was missing, somehow he'd know it was me who took it and I'd be in big trouble. Or worse, he'd think my mom took it and come after her. So I left the gun where it was and put everything back just as I found it.

To this day, I'm not sure whether that act saved my life or not. Maybe I'm making too big a deal of it...

After about a month of being home, my father was acting screwier than he'd ever been before. He was 41 years old and unemployed for the longest he'd been in 20 years. We told ourselves this had to be weighing on him (it sure weighed on us. Money was getting tight. My mom had to go back to work, getting a job in a sewing machine store at the local mall). But he also seemed to be having some health problems.

He started complaining of dizzy spells. Some days he would lie in bed, completely incoherent. My mom had one time accused him of being drunk, but we never once smelled liquor on him. So we took him to the doctor. They did a whole battery of tests, including a CAT scan, and all they found was that he had severely low blood sugar. He was going to have to change his diet and keep his blood sugar from dipping. It seemed like a relief. Suddenly, we had an explanation for his behavior, perhaps even his behavior going back to when we were little.

Which would have been nice, had it been true.

Instead, my father got worse. One day, Gina, the girl I was hot for in high school, (and who you recall from an earlier entry), drove me home. My brother had gone back to college just a week or two earlier and my mother was away at work. So we were sitting in the driveway, about to engage in a little light mashing, when there came an ungodly caterwauling from the house.

(I can laugh about this now, and often do. So if you feel the urge, go ahead. It'll take the edge off. And what happened later won't seem so funny, so laugh while you have the chance.)

We turned to look, just in time to see the living room window jolt up. A second later, my father came flying out, taking the screen with him, and landing in the hedge just below the window. His bald head poked up out of the bushes a second later, and he looked around wildly. Bits of hedge and leaves were stuck in his unruly beard, which only added to the overall effect of insanity. He caught sight of me and Gina, staring at him slack-jawed in her car. Then with a cry, he leapt out of the bushes and tore off into the back yard. I can only thank God he was wearing clothes.

I was too shocked to be embarrassed (although having your father do a commando special out the front window while you're trying to get busy with a girl could qualify as a fairly mortifying moment for a 16-year-old). I simply turned to Gina and said, "I've got to go," then ran after him.

We lived in the mid-Atlantic states then. Our back yard was over an acre long and bordered a fairly busy state highway, the main route to a popular shore destination. By the time I caught up with my father, he was panting and lying on his side in the breakdown lane of the highway. At first, I thought he'd been clipped by a car, but when I got to him, I realize he was just catching his breath. I got him to his feet and walked him back to the house, trying to figure out what caused his outlandish behavior. At first he wouldn't answer me at all, but as I pressed him, he muttered things about people watching him, the phone being bugged, people under the couch. It made no sense.

We got back to the house and I saw with some relief that Gina was gone. Inside, the kitchen was a mess. On the stove, a pot was boiling over with some strange glop. As near as I can tell, it was a combination of instant gravy, some macaroni and cheese mix, and about a half-dozen cinnamon sticks. It smelled awful. All I could figure was my father must have gotten hungry and tried to make something, but his blood sugar must have dropped in mid-prep and he just started throwing crazy stuff together. While he lay on the couch, babbling, I made him a sandwich and forced him to eat it. He took a couple of bites, then asked for some seasoning salt. "There's some in my bag," he slurred, pointing to a corner of the kitchen floor, where he had a paper bag of kitchen supplies he'd brought back with him. Inside, he had cutlery, and several jars of spices, all neatly arranged in a series of Crown Royal bags. I pulled out the appropriate one, found the seasoning salt and gave it to him.

I sat in the kitchen, watching him eat. Finally, he finished and laid back on the couch. He seemed calmer. I guessed his blood sugar was normalizing. I caught my breath and stared absently around the kitchen. I shut off the stove and carried the boiling pot of glop out to the back porch, where it wouldn't stink up the house. When I came back in, my gaze fell on the bag of spices.

The question came from nowhere, and it was completely, stupidly shocking in its implication.

Where did he get all these Crown Royal bags?

When the curtain of denial falls, man, it drops like it has 40 sand bags pulling it down. It was like that moment in the mystery books when the detective suddenly solves the case, only in those cases the detective usually had an actual mystery to solve, where my realization was more akin to suddenly waking up after a long sleep and discovering something stupendously obvious. In a flash, it hit me that the blood sugar problems weren't a disease, but a symptom. The erratic behavior made sense. He was drinking. A lot more than we thought he was. A lot more than he wanted us to know, if he was indeed hiding a bottle somewhere (if indeed he had always been hiding a bottle somewhere). I couldn't explain why we hadn't smelled liquor, but everything else seemed to fit.

But where was the proof? In all my rummaging through the bags and boxes, I'd never found anything, except an inordinate number of empty Crown Royal bags. In all my years of growing up with him around, I had never seen him with a bottle anywhere but in the house. Could he really have hidden something like that all this time? Surely my mom would have caught on. Nothing escaped her (and that was one thing I knew about).

My father seemed to be sleeping now. I hunted around the kitchen, found my father's ring of keys and headed for the back yard.

We had four sheds at this house, very much like the ones we had at our house in the Midwest. Two of them were old, with open doorways and windows. But two of them were sheds where my father kept his more expensive tools and welding equipment, and it was these I went to now.

Both sheds were dark, and I wished I had brought a flashlight. But eventually my eyes adjusted and I began looking. For a moment, I was reminded of my detective adventure in the Midwest, and the afternoon my friend Shawn and I had searched a dimly lit bus, looking for a stolen stuffed dog. It was an afternoon that seemed impossibly far away now.

Neither shed revealed anything. There were just too many nooks and crannies to search in the dark. So I headed back to the house, more confused than before. On the way, I walked by my father's old Galaxie, parked slightly askew there in the backyard. I still had the key ring. I wondered: would he have done something so obvious?

I opened the car and rooted around, under the front and back seats, in the glove compartment. Nothing. Finally, just to be a completist about it, I found the key to the trunk and popped it open.

And about a dozen empty Crown Royal bottles came clinking out onto the ground.

The trunk was absolutely packed with bottles, most empty, of whiskey and blackberry brandy, that old favorite. I was astonished by the sheer number (later, mom and I took them out and counted over 70 bottles in that big trunk).

As I stared at the bottles, I felt this awful sinking sensation as I thought, Well, there it is. He's a drunk. My father's an alcoholic. All this time. All this time!

It was like hearing the worst news you could imagine, and although I suppose it's an all-too-common realization for far too many people, it didn't feel like the sort of thing that was happening to other people. I felt like the loneliest person in the world. It felt worse than finding out someone you loved was dead, because this was a problem that clearly had legs, that didn't have any obvious solution. I was so overwhelmed by it, I felt myself starting to cry. I had no idea what to do next.

Then I felt someone nearby, and whirled. My father was standing by the hedges near the back yard, swaying slightly. He looked at me, then at the trunk full of bottles. For a second, I was scared he'd come after me. But then he got this wild look on his face and said, "We gotta get rid of these bottle before your mother gets home." With that, he slouched past me and began to take the bottles out, one by one. I stood there, kind of numb, watching as he took each bottle out. And I remember this: As he took each bottle--and some were covered with oil and gunk from the messy trunk--he would unscrew the cap, and take a pull from it. He did this even with the empty bottle, hoping to get every last drop. It makes me shudder to think about it.

He began lining up the bottles on an old garden fence.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

He looked at me. "We're gonna get in some target practice," he said...


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


In Which We Live In Denial...

Alcohol has always been a part of my family's life. It was my grandmother's first defense against infection. You had a cut, or a rash or a pimple or athlete's foot, her answer was to pour on whatever alcohol was handy, whether it was rubbing alcohol or whiskey. "If it stings, you need it," was her byword.

Evidently, it was a philosophy my father took to heart at an early age. He got into the whiskey one Christmas when he was 3 and though it stung his throat, he must have decided he needed it, and consumed enough to get drunk and dance on a table. To the delight of his assembled family, who were also probably half in the bag.

On my mother's side, booze paid the bills. Her father was a bartender at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in Boston for decades. He brought bottles home by the crate and embraced every cliche of the drunken Irish bastard that he could. He was a mean drunk who beat his daughters and his wife. My grandmother found it was easier to cope with his abuse if she drank right along with him, so she did, becoming such a terrible drunk in her own right that she was an actual hazard to society, especially when she got in the car. I don’t have all the details--to this day my mom won't talk about it. But I do know that when my mom was in college, my grandmother ended up in a sanitarium for a while, where the prescribed treatment for alcohol addiction was electroconvulsive therapy. It wasn't too long after that that my mom dropped out of college and moved up to a lake resort town in New Hampshire, where she and her sister had enjoyed going to camp as kids. She got a job as a waitress and chambermaid at one of the hotels there and ended up rooming with a girl who was good friends with my father. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although you'd think with that kind of history my mom would take a dim view of anyone who drank as much as my father did (although even then she had no idea how much he was really drinking). But if you hear enough of the private histories of children and spouses of alcoholics, you find that many of them have an unerring ability to flee the frying pan and end up in the fire. In my mom's case, she knew my father's propensity for drink, but she also saw what an ambitious guy he was, putting himself through engineering school while still working on the farm. She saw potential. And I'm sure that in him she naively saw a chance to fix him, to change him in a way she could never change her own father.

In the end, of course, she wasn't able to change him very much, not when it came to his drinking and certainly not when it came to his desire to teach his children about guns.

Despite my mother's protestations, my brother and I learned to handle every kind of firearm we could get our hands on. We moved to the Midwest where it seemed everyone had a pistol or rifle. And when friends and neighbors showed them to my father, he always made us learn how they worked. Revolvers, automatic pistols, shotguns, rifles, even a replica muzzle-loading musket. I learned how to load, unload and fire all of them.

When I was 9, my father enrolled my brother and me in a hunter safety course. I didn't want to go hunting, ever. But it furthered my education about rifles, and I discovered to my surprise that I was a pretty good shot for a kid with glasses. At the end of the course, we were given a chance to fire at some clay pigeons. I was the only one in my age group to nail all three. My father was particularly proud of that fact and made a deal of it to friends and neighbors. But it was also the beginning of a schism between us, because I wouldn't use that skill to go hunting with him. I'm sure he was just trying to be a dad who wanted to do something with his son, but when I would refuse to go hunting, he would become offended, then insulting. It was the beginning of my hatred for guns. And maybe even for him.

At the same time, I saw the value of the knowledge my father was trying to instill in us. When my brother was in high school, he was over at a friend's house and the friend was showing off his father's shotgun. My brother immediately grabbed the rifle and cracked it open. It was loaded, of course, something his friend didn't know. My brother pocketed the shells and brought them home to show my father, telling him, "I made it safe, Dad, just like you showed me." He worshiped the man and always craved his approval, so it was a validating moment. For both of them.

And there weren't many of those. My father was a terribly erratic fellow. Sometimes he could be a very attentive, caring, affectionate father. But lots of times, especially right after work and on some evenings in the weekend, he could be a real bastard. I've written elsewhere about his clandestine trips to the sheds in the back of our house. We never knew what he was doing back there, but he was almost always meaner when he returned. And you never knew what would set him off. Once, after a perfect, Norman Rockwell-style family dinner, I got up to go the bathroom and my father began yelling at me for not taking my dirty dishes to the sink. Before I could say anything, such as the fact that I would have removed them when I returned from the bathroom, my father reached across the table and backhanded me in the mouth. I was 10 or 11 and a small kid. My father was an enormously strong guy. The blow really rang my bell, sending my glasses flying and knocking me flat onto the floor. He and my mother got into a furious argument about his behavior, but sadly none of it was new, not the fighting, and not events leading to glasses flying.

It never occurred to us that my father had a bottle (or two. Or five) hidden in the sheds, because he always drank in the house. Every night he had a couple shots of blackberry brandy. He nearly always had a couple of beers with dinner. Any time someone stopped by the house, it was a good excuse to open the liquor cabinet. In that kind of environment, why would he need to have a secret bottle?

It just goes to show you what a powerful force denial can be, but my family had a whole battery of ready-made excuses for my father's behavior. Mostly it came down to work stress. My father worked in construction, a notoriously precarious job situation. He would work a job for six months to a few years at a time, then the job would end and he'd be laid off with the rest of the staff. As a result, he moved around the country a lot, following the big constructions jobs. Sometimes we moved with him, living at various times in Maine, Kansas, New Jersey, Canada, and other places. But eventually, about the time my brother and I were both in high school, my parents decided that we should stay put, finish high school in one place, while my father worked elsewhere.

During those years, he went to Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Louisiana, California, Iowa, back to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and more. I was grateful not to have to uproot again, and I have to admit it was more peaceful not having my father around. We would see him at Christmas and for a week in the summer, maybe one other week sometime during the year, but that was it. My brother missed him a lot. If my mom missed him, she never let on. At that point, she and my father got along better by phone than in person, and my mom was enjoyed being self-sufficient, forced as she was to take on many household tasks that would have ordinarily fallen to my father. (When the water pump broke, she replaced it single-handedly. When the furnace conked out one winter because the oil line from the tank froze solid, my mom came up with the idea of running a series of hair dryers on an extension cord out to the pipe and crouched there in the frigid cold, holding the dryers at full blast while I held a spotlight on her from the laundry room window.)

I was somewhere between my mother and brother in my feelings. Sometimes I missed my father, especially at baseball games or during other events where my friends' dads showed up. Other times, I was just as glad not to have him around. My father thought I was lazy, and used to be annoyed to find me holed up in a room somewhere, reading or writing. He saw it as goofing off. He thought I wasn't of much account.

So by the time I was 16, we were pretty much strangers, and I was filled with apprehension when he called one day to tell us he was coming home. The job in Washington had ended and there was no further work to be had, so he was going to be unemployed for a while, maybe a month. Maybe more. It was the first time he'd been home to live with us in three years.

He would be driving cross country in an old beat-up Ford Galaxie, and expected to be home in about one week. It was the beginning of my senior year in high school, so I had lots of things going on and didn't really have time to think about what his coming home would mean for me. But as the day of his arrival grew closer, I actually found myself excited to see him again, which both pleased and relieved me. After all, a lot of time had passed, and our brief visits together over the years had been relatively trouble-free. Maybe he was different. Maybe he had changed.

Then the day he was supposed to arrive came and went. And he didn't show up.

Two days passed. No word. We had no way to reach him. There were no mobile phones, and the last we'd heard from him was just before he embarked on his trip. We had no real idea of his itinerary or where he'd be staying.

On the third day, my mom called the police to file a missing-person report. But after a few hours, they called her back and told her the report wasn't necessary. The police already knew where my father was.

In fact, they had him in custody...



In Which I Learn Of Bullets and Brandy...

My dad looms large in my life, and therefore on this blog. And while I may be prone to embellishment, my dad is one of those people who defies exaggeration. He is just as I set him down here on these pages:a genial, good-humored, quick-minded, fearless, coarse fellow.

He was not always this way.

Growing up, my father was exposed to two things early on. The first was firearms. My father lived on a hardscrabble farm and he and my grandfather hunted--sometimes poached--to put meat on the table. He's no gun nut, but he appreciates well-made tools, and that's what a rifle was to him. That, and a connection to his own history. When my grandfather died, there were only a few things my father wanted from the estate (such as it was). Chief among them were a Civil War-era Amoskeag Special Model Rifle Musket that had belonged to great-great-Grandpa John, and my grandfather's Winchester Repeating Rifle Model 1894.

Even though neither rifle worked at the time (the Winchester has since been restored) my father kept these--and three other working rifles--in a locked cabinet that called to my brother and me in much the same way I'm sure that pistol called to those kids in the schoolyard.

My mother was deathly afraid of guns and forbid my father from showing us how to use them. I found out later this was a source of great friction for them. My father believed that knowledge was power and once you knew about a thing, it lost its mystery, and you might just be safer for gaining that knowledge. But my mom didn't agree, so consequently we saw my father open the cabinet only twice a year: during hunting season and in the springtime, when he would retrieve the pump-action .22 rifle or the shotgun and wage war on the pests who would come in the night to destroy his newly planted garden. Woodchucks, raccoons, porcupines, rabbits; they all were the enemy and my father hunted them without mercy (early one Easter morning, he killed a woodchuck that was breakfasting on some greens, then caught a movement in the bushes, whirled, aimed, and shot an enormous rabbit. My brother saw the whole thing from the kitchen window and started bawling. "Daddy SHOT THE EASTER BUNNY!!! BWAHHHH!!!")

When I was 7 or 8, I found a .22 bullet lying by the side of the road and--don't ask why--I decided I wanted to get the slug out of the cartridge. So I went into the garage and laid the bullet on the floor, grabbed the heaviest mallet I could lift and proceed to start whacking the shit out of that bullet. My father opened the door just as I gave the mallet one last smack. There was a spark and a flash and the smell of gunpowder. The bent cartridge caromed off my glasses and went pinging up into the rafters (I'm lucky it didn't put my eye out). The bullet? Never found it.

I did what any 8-year-old boy would do: I dropped the mallet and ran like hell. But my father caught me. I waited for him to come down on me as if from a great height. He had a fearsome temper then, and I was totally doing something forbidden, so I deserved whatever hell I was about to catch.

But instead, my father dragged me into the house, calling to my brother as he went. He was muttering and swearing to himself the whole time. "Goddamnjesushchristlykidalmostshootinghisselflongpasttimewedidthis." And he unlocked the gun cabinet and took out the large shotgun and a box of shells and set them in front of me.

My brother was next to me, eyes as big as saucers. My father hunkered down in front of us. "I'm gonna show you right now what makes these shells work, and then I'm gonna show you what they do when you fire 'em at something and then, by Gorry, you're gonna learn how to handle a gun so you'll know how to make it safe." He exhaled, then grabbed my shoulder and looked me straight in the eye. "Don't EVER let me see you doing what you were doing in the garage. You hear me?"

I heard. I thought he was angry. It was years before I realized just how badly I had scared him.

My father exhaled again, stood up, looked at my brother. "Go get that old piece of plywood from the shed and set it up on the stump out back. We'll use that as a target. I'll be right out." My brother was gone like a shot and I started to follow.

But as I reached the breezeway of our old house, I happened to turn and see my father walking the other way. Towards the sideboard in the dining room. He had the open shotgun cradled in one arm, and with his free hand, he opened the cabinet where he kept the blackberry brandy and set a bottle up on the sideboard. He unscrewed the cap and took a deep, steadying pull.

Which brings me to the second thing my father was exposed to early on in his life...


Tuesday, June 21, 2005


In Which I Tell A Slightly Less Heartwarming Father-Son Story...

Was walking past a playground the other day. It was really hot, in the way that it is in a city, where you can see the heat rising off the road, where you can feel the weight of the air.

Despite the heat, despite the fact that school was out, kids were playing by the dozens over at the jungle gym and swing sets. And the heat, the feel and smell of the air, the noise of the kids, it suddenly transported me back about 15 years to a time when I lived in Chicago, just down the street from an elementary school. I was walking to the El one day in late spring. It was an unseasonably warm day, feeling almost as much like summer as this summer day did now. It was the same kind of heat, the same background noise.

Except that all of a sudden, on that day 15 years ago, the playground got really quiet.

I slowed up and saw that a few kids who had been out for recess were in a silent semi-circle around a distant corner of the fenced-in playground. More kids were murmuring and some were running to the corner. A couple of the monitor moms were running that hard, fast, ungainly-yet-fearsome run of mothers-detecting-trouble. These were my neighbors. I knew these moms and their kids, at least to say "hi" to, and it troubled me to see them so worried. But it wasn't clear what the problem was. It wasn't a fight; the kids were too quiet.

Then I was one mom mouth a very clear word to another mom. A simple word, one syllable, three letters.

I hopped the fence and ran after them. I beat the moms and most of the kids to the corner of the lot. And then I saw the gun.

It was a little black pistol. A .25 caliber of a style I was all too familiar with. This wasn't a bad neighborhood in Chicago, but that wouldn't stop someone from driving by and pitching it out. Or worse, maybe one of the kids had dumped it there. For other kids to find.

The two playground monitors were white-faced when they saw it. They were acting like it was a ticking bomb. A few kids were standing there, staring at it, hypnotized in that way kids are when the Great Forbidden calls to them. More kids were coming.

Make it safe, said a loud but familiar voice in my head.

Without thinking, I snatched the pistol up, being careful to keep it pointed at the ground. One of the moms stifled a cry. I found the catch that released the magazine, yanked back on the chamber and locked it open. There were three bullets in the magazine. And one round in the chamber. It popped to the ground.

By this time, the principal had arrived and I handed her the loose bullet, magazine and empty gun for safekeeping, but she had that look that said, Oh God, we're all in trouble now. And I was kinda thinking the same thing.

I had to hang around for the cops to come collect the gun. The moms stayed too, to back me up (I think they thought I was going to be arrested for handling the gun or something. These were not people who grew up around firearms, so everything about the experience felt scary and foreign to them). When the police finally arrived, I explained that I handled the weapon only to make it safe because there were too many curious kids around. I was sort of expecting a lecture about mussing up fingerprints or contaminating a crime scene, but it never came. And now that I think about it, why should it? What crime scene?

Anyway, the cops were pretty sanguine about it (I was going to ask one how often they responded to these kinds of calls, but I really didn't want to know the answer). They didn't lecture me. Just asked a few questions about how I came to be on the playground, took my name and address down for any follow-up, and now that I think about it, they may have called me back a couple days later. It's surprising how much of this I've forgotten.

What I do remember is a moment when one of the cops looked at me and asked, "Do you own a gun?"

I was a bit taken aback. "Me? No. I hate 'em."

"Then how'd you know how to unload it?" he asked.

"My dad taught me how to handle guns. He had one just like that," I said.

What I didn't say was, He almost killed me with it once...


Sunday, June 19, 2005


In Which Father and Son Find Jules of Wisdom...

My son's name is Thomas. As in "Doubting Thomas."

I don't write about him a lot, certainly not compared to the press his sister gets here at the Masthead. Which is ironic, actually, because I spend tons more time with him than I do with The Brownie, but the stuff we do together tends to be pretty ordinary guy stuff. Whereas my interactions with The Brownie always seem to border on being An Event, and so therefore worth a blog.

But I think about Thomas a lot. Worry about him. Maybe even more than his sister. When I was younger I remember accusing my mom of favoring my brother over me, because he always seemed to get loads more attention. There was always something going on with him that she had to see to, and it probably skinned my nose a bit. I expected my mom to tell me I was being stupid and that she loved us both equally, but what she ended up saying was something to the effect that, yes, it probably seemed like she didn't pay as much attention to me because she didn't have to worry about me as much as my brother. That she trusted me more. That she knew I was going to be just fine, no matter what. Quite a thing for a younger brother to hear, even if I didn't quite understand what she meant.

Now I'm starting to. The Brownie is just a fount of confidence and self-possession. The other day, I asked her if there was anything she was scared of. She thought a moment, then said, "Bears. But that's a good thing to be scared of because there are none around here."

"But what if there were?" I asked. "What if they had a cave in our back yard?"

She thought a moment, then shrugged. "Well," she said. "We'd just have to live with it, Dad." This from a 4-year-old.

My son, who is 6 and a big, smart, strong kid, is full of self-doubt and scared of everything. Loud noises. Empty rooms. The basement. Being in the bathroom by himself. He's a very intense, anxious kid. Much like my brother. He's very hard on himself and has almost no self-confidence. Much like Her Lovely Self. He also has a hard time focusing, and probably has inherited some of those ADHD genes which my brother has in spades (and which I have in smaller measure). Sometimes he gets so wound up, he's like a poodle, just sitting there at the table, or in bed, trembling and worrying. About nothing. About everything. Some days, I fear that he got all the worst tendencies both sides of our family have to offer. And then I feel enormous guilt, which is always a surprise. Before I became a dad, I had always assumed guilt flowed one way: from the parent to the child. But now I've come to realize whatever guilt trips we may lay on our kids (or had laid on us) are nothing compared to what parents feel just in the normal course of a day.

I spend a lot of time with my son, not because I feel this guilt. I just find that he's at an age where I CAN do a lot of things with him that I can't do with his sister. And it seems that the more time I spend with him, whether it's reading Dick and Jane books, or drawing pictures together, it helps him. When he was littler, he would get so frustrated if a drawing didn't turn out like he saw it in his head, he'd rip it to shreds. Now, at least, he gets that he needs to practice and he sees how he's improved. He's an amazing artist for 6, and will draw all day if left alone. It seems like a good thing to encourage, so I do.

And every so often, it seems to pay off. I see some glimmer of a stronger, more confident nature.

Case in point: We were noodling around the Web a while back and we came upon the Web site of Jules Feiffer. The guy has pretty much done everything. He started in comics, working with one of the masters, Will Eisner. He's won an Oscar for animation, a Pulitzer for cartooning. His stuff is shown in the galleries and museums like the MOMA. And the guy also writes and draws children's books. Two of Thomas' favorites are Bark, George (about a dog who meows and clucks and moos, but can't bark) and Some Things Are Scary, a book that my son naturally gravitated to.

At Mr. Feiffer's Web site, you can send an email. When Thomas saw this, he begged me to help him write a letter. "I can tell him about my drawings and maybe send him some," he said. Well, we couldn't upload images of his drawings, and I was pretty sure the email would just go to a Web administrator, but I didn't want to discourage him. And after all, I had done something similar with Carlton Fisk, so who knew? Maybe he'd answer.

So we wrote a formal letter, complete with our address. Thomas said how much he liked Some Things Are Scary and how much he admired Mr. Feiffer's drawings and how he hoped to draw books like Mr. Feiffer some day. It was a nice little letter from a 6-year-old. I added a little postscript as the dad, we hit "send" and didn't think anything more about it.

Til this came in the mail four weeks later:


"I'm glad you don't find writing letters scary -- and since you don't and your Dad says you draw every day, I'd love to see something by you."

That weekend was a flurry of activity for Thomas. You'd have thought he was preparing for his own gallery showing. He couldn't decide what to send him (and my God, he's got a lot of drawings to choose from). In the end, we settled on a picture of a dinosaur fleeing an exploding volcano (dinosaurs are a favorite subject), and a watercolor of a wolf in a field of flowers.

Thomas dictated another letter, in which he explained he didn't do many paintings because his mom thought it was messy, and did Mr. Feiffer's mom bug him about getting the kitchen table messy?

He wrapped up his letter with this sentence:

"Hope you like my pictures. Now it's your turn. I would love to see you draw a dinosaur."

I sighed and stopped typing. I tried to explain to Thomas just how important Jules Feiffer was. That the man's sketches sold for hundreds of dollars at exhibits and shows. That it might be inappropriate to ask such a man for a sketch of a dinosaur.

And Thomas had this look on his face that I can only describe as pure confidence. "Why not?" he asked. "We're both drawers. He'll trade with me, I bet." So I included the line, along with more copious thanks for his attention, and we sent the drawings off.

Three weeks later, the reply came back. It was a large package.

Inside was a signed copy of Bark, George, and this letter:


Thomas was walking on air for days, and a copy of the letter is on his bulletin board. So is this, the last item in the envelope:


It's hard to know who to be more impressed with: Jules Feiffer, for his kindness and encouragement to a young boy who really needed it, or my son, who for a brief, wonderful moment, abandoned all doubt, and saw himself as a peer with one of the greatest of modern cartoonists.

I'm very proud of my son. But I'm also grateful to him. Because he's allowed me to experience these moments. Because there are so many more to come.

Because he made me a father.

It was an occupation I wasn't at all sure I was ready for when it happened, but once it did, I couldn't--and still can't--imagine doing anything else as fulfilling. And that includes writing.

This is the sort of thing I think about on Father's Day.

"You can be very neat or you can be an artist, but it's hard to be both...Anyhow, life is often messy. So go figure."

Something we would all do well to remember, no?

From Somewhere on the Masthead

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