Monday, April 28, 2008

The Three C's

On Sunday I went to a riverfront festival. On the way home I tried mightily to think of something uplifting--it was raining, dingy, and the traffic was intense and impolite. I recalled an old guy--long since dead--whose passing fame came from two statements he liked to repeat whenever he had an audience. One, he would cackle, "There are only two things you need to be alone to do--drink and masturbate." And two, "When dealing with f*cked up people, remember the three Cs. Cause. Control. Cure. You did not Cause whatever is ailing the other person. You cannot Control it. You cannot Cure it."

This is really good stuff to know, particularly when dealing with your depressive/manic/angry/ alcoholic/resentful/inept mother/father/sibling/significant other/spouse/child/boss.

It took me a long time to see that if statement one is somewhat dubious, statement two is painfully true. We spend months and years trying to mold others to our wishes; we categorize their shortcomings and think that our endless love, effort, persistence, kindness and patience will somehow make them better, closer to our ideals. We overlook the fact that they come into our lives toting a wagonful of pre-existing conditions we had no hand in creating. But we will make their issues ours to fix, to patch, to bandage. And when we fail, when the objects of our intentions decide that they like the way they are, when they rightly resent our interference and toss us out for being manipulative, then our hearts break.

Here's installment 16 of Wasted Miracles.

Josie found out about it the next day by walking into a hive of cops.
She’d gotten up early, flagged a cab on Lee Highway and dumped another purseful of money to get back to Herbie’s apartment. This time the cabby seemed to know where he was going, zipped down 66, across Roosevelt Bridge and onto Rock Creek Parkway. They drove up 18th Street, passing all the Ethiopian places and past where Clint Eastwood’s apartment was supposed to be in the movie where he played a Secret Service man. The street was grungy from the night before, there were a lot of homeless people sleeping in doorways and the trash from all the restaurants hadn’t yet been collected. Josie wondered how people could like living there, all the crime and the dirt and the noise.
She was going to surprise Herbie, give him a piece of her mind. Sleep had done little to dissipate her anger; if anything, her rage had turned cold and brittle. She almost hoped Herbie’d been with a woman, almost hoped she’d find some skanky fish with him at the apartment, then she could really cut loose because the truth of the matter was she was getting a bit tired of Herbie. He’d been fun at the start, they seemed to have a lot in common, talked late into the night the first few times together and the fact that he hadn’t tried anything right away had impressed her.
But the thing was, Herbie was fast becoming a bore. She’d wanted to believe his wild tales about their going away together, just the two of them loaded with the cash he swore he’d have soon, be patient. She’d really wanted to believe. But she didn’t, not really. It made for nice daydreams, but increasingly the idea of going anywhere with Herbie, even with a lot of cash, lacked a feel of substance. He was kind of pudgy, he made noises when he slept, wasn’t all that tidy or--and this she hated--clean. He only washed his hair every three days and by then it had a musty smell. When he made love to her with him on top and her nose was stuck in his scalp, it killed anything she felt below. And anyway, he wasn’t that hot in bed, though of course she didn’t tell him, instead pretended he was the greatest.

Friday, April 25, 2008


A young man I knew slightly killed himself three weeks ago. I never learned any details, save that he was unhappy, and had taken himself off his antidepressants.

He wasn't special; a nice guy, average height, curly brown hair, glasses and a fairly good smile. He spoke well, was obviously educated, looked like he might hang out at coffee shops where people still play acoustic guitars. Father of two girls, husband to a woman I've never met. Son, maybe brother, nephew, cousin. Nothing extraordinary, I suppose.

But still.

What prompted him? What pushed him towards this final action? Did he believe in an afterlife, something better than was available to him now? Was he seeking to become one with the universe? Or did something occur that made the very concept of existence impossible to maintain? Were his actions an act of ultimate control, or ultimate loss of control?

I have nothing against suicide. It's an option. I have little respect for those who talk about it ceaselessly, and a grudging admiration for those who quietly make a choice and carry it out. I do not see the benefits of courage or bravery in the face of hopelessness. Why we cling so tenaciously to life is beyond me; I imagine it has to do with the familiar versus the unknown, and I am sure that there must be times when the familiar is so dreadful and unforgiving that the unknown is preferable. So could it be a final desperate act of affirmation? A last shout to say, "This is my life and I'll do what I want with it!"

My mother and one of my sisters died of cancer. In the end they were in terrible pain and had absolutely no control over their environments, so the medical staff in the European hospitals where they died allowed them to overdose on morphine. It was an act of kindness, barely legal, gratefully accepted.

And yet the very doctors who helped ease them into the next stage, those same physicians kill themselves more than any other profession, according to Newsweek. They have the best attempt to success ratio, and nationwide about 400 commit suicide annually.

I have no idea what to make of all that.

Here's installment 15 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 4

The Isadora was a big ship, long as two football fields and at 32,400 tons, the largest of the Royal Scottish Line. Some 510 crew members saw to the every need of both the machinery and 973 paying passengers. Several years ago, the ship had grounded itself near Nantucket, an ignominious event that had occurred in less than 12 feet of water as the Isadora was returning to Boston from a week-long cruise to Bermuda. The fact that every mariner plying this route knew about the Crown and Shield shoals made the then captain the butt of endless jokes. He was an old man who should have been retired years before--the company had a weak spot for its more ancient employees--and, and there had been ample warning that the man’s failing eyesight and proud refusal to wear glasses had caused the incident. He had simply misread the nautical charts. To the Royal Scottish Line’s dismay, the aging captain had added insult to injury by insisting the passengers be evacuated from the Isadora, which had been completely unnecessary--there had been no real danger--but made each and every guest eligible for a refund.
Three Coast Guard cutters, seven salvage tugs, two ferries and two oil-cleanup boats also had to be paid for their time and expenses. The grounding of the Isadora was reported by all the major media, resulting in dozens of cruise cancellations by travelers who, already fearful of the sea, did not wish to tempt fate. It was, all in all, the costliest cruise ever undertaken by a Royal Scottish Line ship.
Captain Roderick Stuart, when he took command of the Isadora, had spent days and evenings reading the details of the incident in the ship’s log. He had asked for and been given access to the company’s records of the event, had paid a visit to the shamed captain to hear the tale firsthand and had pinpointed the almost exact moment of the former employee’s first mistake in a disastrous series of human errors.
Captain Stuart felt, and rightly so, that he had single-handedly rebuilt the ship’s and the line’s reputation. Under his watch, every cruise had been letter-perfect. He had avoided confrontations that might have alarmed the passengers in his safekeeping all the while ferreting out the drinkers and dope users in his crew. Each and every one suspected had been dealt with discreetly and relieved of his or her position. Captain Stuart was acutely aware of his duties as judge and jury aboard his floating nation, always acted with the impartiality he believed should be held sacrosanct by any court, and allowed for the possibility that he might have committed errors during his judicial proceedings. These he dismissed in light of the greater good achieved. Often, during his meetings with his mistress, he sought her opinions on matters relating to laws of the sea. He believed the harshness of the dictates might be tempered by a woman’s empathy.
Today, the eighteenth day of the cruise, he was particularly gratified to have been sought out by an elderly couple who wanted to get married the following day. The gray-haired woman had giggled and explained that they had fibbed on their cruise application. They were living together and not legally wed. Now they would consider it an honor for the captain to officiate the ceremony.
It would be Captain Stuart’s seventh wedding at sea, and he was inordinately pleased.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Please Please Please Shut Up

"So how's your girlfriend," asks the fat man I barely know. We'd met him at a party last November. [Oh please shut up.] "Well," I say, "she broke up w--"

"Man, she was gorgeous! Gorgeous!!" [For the love of God, please please shut up.] "Best-looking woman in the room." He laughs, claps me on the back. We're buddies somehow, long-standing pals. "What the hell was she doing with you anyway? I told the wife later on the way home, I said to her, 'Honey, you look like that and we got no problems, in bed or anywhere else!'" [Another word and I will kill you. I swear to God I will!] "Tell her I said hi when you see her!" [I will tear your heart out with my bare hands and feed it to the squirrels.] He turns, walks away. My insides are on fire, melting, running down my legs and into my shoes. I am turning into a puddle; I need a crack in the earth to flow into, to disappear.
The fat man's wife is standing a few feet away; she wears the saddest smile I have ever seen.

Here's installment 14 of Wasted Miracles.

And then there was The Book. Four years in the making, laboriously typed on a third-hand Underwood, reread and rewritten a half-dozen times. It should have, could have, made him famous. Late at night in the basement of his house, as he pored over possibilities and played with conjunctures, he fell to pouring shots of brandy into his coffee. It helped him relax and he discovered that the liquor seemed to loosen his thoughts. He never drank excessively, brushed his teeth before coming quietly to bed so as to not awaken his wife.
When the book was done, 800 pages cut down to 450, he found a small Chicago publishing house that offered him nationwide distribution but no advance. Five months later, he became a bonafide author.
The work’s meticulous research was praised, there were short mentions in both Newsweek and Time and the more literary editors at the Post said of both his writing and style that there indeed was a talented young man whose career should be watched. Then the book had died in the stores. No second edition, no film rights, no nothing.
He opened his eyes, stared at the ceiling. His wife had moved away, then there’d been the divorce. There was irony in that. He’d been sober a year-and-a-half when it happened, when she walked into their kitchen and said simply, “I can’t take this. I was sure I could but I can’t. I never thought I’d say this, Colin, but I liked you better when you were drunk.” She’d left that night, the kids behind her each carrying a suitcase.
Colin stood, went to the kitchen, found a large clear plastic container he’d filled at the Giant Food salad bar three days earlier. He scooped out two fistfuls of green and orange stuff, dumped it into a wooden bowl, added fat-free Ranch dressing. He ate, rinsed out the bowl and fork in the sink, thought briefly of earlier and better meals. Outside it had started drizzling softly and the sky hung low. He wondered if he should follow Joe’s advice and paint the place, make it maybe a bit more hospitable. But if he did, more people might want to come over, and that settled that.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Southern Comfort

In the early 80s when I was unemployed and developing a strong taste for bad vodka, my sole daily meal often was two 7-Eleven hot dogs slathered with free condiment. Once or twice, when I was foolish enough to run out of drink late at night, I would gather my change and hit the same 7-Eleven to buy a bottle of bad wine. I'd get the runs the next day, but that wasn't an issue at the time.

After I stopped drinking, I went back to school to become a counselor so I could use my accumulated and wide-ranging wisdom to save all the addicts. I failed dismally at this, but was privileged to work with drinkers and crackheads, meth and heroin folks, cokers, pot-smokers, Robitussin office boys, vanilla extract housewives, youngsters addled by Xanax and pain-killers, the occasional Listerine lady and one gentleman who, having destroyed the linings of his throat and stomach with booze, found that he could get blackout-drunk by doing alcohol enemas.

While working at the various rehabs, I developed a lecture on the evils of neighborhood convenience stores that cater to every bad habit known to man. Of course they sell alcohol, snuff and cigarettes, sugar-based products, caffeine, and fast food of negative nutritive value. They also have ATMs for quick money to spend on, say, lottery tickets. Or sex magazines. Or legal antihistamines. Or your dealer, for that matter. The stores are open 24/7, are costlier than other shops, offer little or no fresh fares (the one near me now has bananas and an occasional apple), and encourage bad planning. In short, what may be "convenience" for one is relapse territory for another.

Who would have thought the little business created by an employee of the Southland Ice Company of Dallas, Texas, would have such an influence on my life...

Here's installment 13 of Wasted Miracles.

With Joe the Cop gone Colin took stock of his surroundings. They were pretty paltry and he wondered why, all in all, he didn’t really care. He went to the kitchen, fixed a cup of coffee, returned to the living room, let himself fall on the couch. It sagged beneath him with a tired sound.The apartment was meticulously clean, he swept it daily, had gotten into the habit when he worked out in the dojo and his sensei insisted the place be made spotless after each session. He closed his eyes, remembered a less sparse living room in a house that was his home, with a woman who was his wife and two children who, after awhile, stopped speaking to him. He remembered being stretched out on a couch, much like he was now, a large bottle of vodka on the floor beside him, an ashtray smoldering next to his head.He was never quite sure when it started, when he took what had been either the giant leap or small step.In the newsroom in the early 70s, everybody drank, before during and after work. Ed Campbell, the aged copy editor who supervised the lobster shift, had a bottle of gin stashed in his typewriter well and routinely poured a slug or two in the ever-full glass of milk he kept close at hand. Baldy Brudwell drank cheap scotch mixed with 7-Up; Doris Meckler--the only woman on the floor in the very early morning--replenished her half-gallon of Gallo white every other day, kept it beneath her coat with the screw-lid off on the chair next to her. On the floor below the typesetters drank, the tubes that crisscrossed the newsroom and carried copy from one department of the newspaper to another occasionally disgorged tiny bottles of Smirnoff, Jack Daniels or Four Roses. Baldy, who also ran the numbers at night, routinely rewarded winners with a fifth of J&B.There were legendary drunken events retold and amplified on slow news nights, I-was-there-when stories of Small Frank setting off the sprinklers after a binge; of Neville Chanter, the Brit expatriate, pissing on the Managing Editor’s desk after the latter killed a story Neville had spent weeks polishing; of Willard Chambers returning from covering the Olympics in Asia where he had purchased a collection of throwing knives. Once, reacting to an imagined slight, he had hurled the weapons at Doris Meckler with surprising accuracy for one so befuddled. She’d grabbed her half-gallon of Gallo and hid in a stall in the lady’s room, refusing to come out until the day shift arrived.Colin had listened, watched with awe, rarely turned a drink down, joined the others at the Corral or the Post House after the paper was put to bed. It had seemed both innocuous and exciting.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ain't It Sad

So here is the upside of not doing drugs or alcohol: You get your emotions back. Here is the downside: You get your emotions back.
I am terminally tired of being sad. I've been sad for a full month, and I've exhausted the tricks I generally use to cheer myself up. They're not working. Were I still drinking, I would be drunk by now, not necessarily feeling any better, mind you, but at least not having the physical manifestations of deep sorrow. But I ain't gonna. Friends who suffer from mild to deep depression tell me that sleep is their panacea, their drug of choice. I wish I could sleep but that's eluding me. I get up at three in the morning, check emails knowing full well nothing will be there from her. Ridiculous. I spend hours revisiting us, looking for flaws, for clues, for anything offering relief. I watch HBO, porn, Laurel and Hardy at dawn. I stroke my cat, Junkie, who senses that not everything is hunky dory. I put stuff up on eBay. Guitars, amps, Stones autographs, backstage passes. I toy with the idea of listing an unpublished novel for sale. What's that worth? Say, two to three thousand hours of work, and that's being conservative. What's a writer's labor worth these days? Oh Gawd, I'm getting tired of my whining.
Alcoholics are sad people who drink. Depressives are sad people who don't.

Here's installment 12 of Wasted Miracles.

Colin ceased listening. He’d heard Joe’s master plan dozens of times, heard the refinements as Joe came up with them. He busied himself in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher, mostly coffee mugs.
“I guarantee you, with all those assholes armed, in a week downtown is cleaned up. All we have to do is come afterwards with the dump trucks. Think about it. It’d solve all the problems. White flight? With all the assholes gone, the whites come back to the city, real estate values soar, tax base grows, we get regular trash pick up, they fix the potholes, maybe even the baseball team starts winning, who knows? I mean, there’d be some damage, you know, bullet holes and shit ‘cause most of these schmucks can’t aim worth a shit, I got personal experience in that area, but hell, so there’s a few broken windows, who cares? Point is, we’d save ourselves a shit load of problems.
“Guns,” he nodded his head. “That’s the ticket.” Joe lived in the city, a one-bedroom on the Southeast waterfront, complained about the crime and trash daily, made the reverse commute to his job with the Fairfax police.
“How’d they know it was a dealer?” Colin asked. “Couldn’t it have been just some guys? I mean, a gram of stuff, that’s not much.”
Joe the Cop warmed to the subject. “You gonna rob some guy, you don’t have to go into excess, you know? And if you’re gonna rob him, you take the dope. That’s like currency, better, even. And the shit they did to his face, that’s so he won’t be identified right away. Puts a little bit of scare into the street. A lot of those people are gonna be on the phone today, saying, ‘Hey, I’m alive. You alive?’ And then at some point, some guy won’t answer his phone, and the rest of them, they’ll get the point. It’s like, psychology, you know?”
Joe stood, walked to the leg machine, inspected it. “This is what you do for fun?”
Colin nodded. “Keeps me occupied.”
Joe ran his fingers along one of the 50-pound plates. “How does this work?”
He lowered himself into the bench, placed his legs against the sled, pushed. The weights shuddered very slightly but didn’t move. “Jesus! You actually enjoy this?”
He pushed again, got slightly red in the face. “So how much weight is there?”
Colin did a quick calculation. “Eight big plates, plus the sled. About 430 pounds, I guess.”
Joe shook his head. “Imagine that. Almost twice my weight...” He paused, looked around the room, seemed engaged for a moment in a minor argument with himself.
“You know, Colin, I’m not about to give you any advice, but this,” he made a gesture that encompassed the apartment and all its furnishings, “this is pretty shoddy. I mean, the walls are three different colors and it wasn’t done by a designer, right? Most of this stuff looks like it comes from a Salvation Army trash bin, like, even they couldn’t sell it. Whaddya do when you get a broad up here? Doesn’t this place scare ‘em away?” He shook his head again. “Sorry. It’s none of my business. Anyway, They’ll ID him. They know most of these guys, one ends up missing for a couple of days, somebody’ll notice.” He stood, adjusted an invisible crease on his formless pants, tucked his shirt in. “Gotta go. Going to be there tonight?”
Joe was out the door, pushed his face back into the room. “That’s forty-seven of them so far this year, dead bad guys, I mean. We might have a six-month record.”


Friday, April 18, 2008

It' s tearing me up!

Here's installment 11 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 3
Joe the Cop had once been shot at by a drug dealer. The bullet had missed him by a country mile--the dealer was 16 and had never done this before, the gun was a Saturday night special with a bent trigger--but Joe believed to the depth of his soul that the event had traumatized him. First, it wasn’t supposed to happen in McLean, Virginia. Rich people lived in McLean, not wannabe rapper scumbag asshole drug dealers. The fact that the kid was the son of a prominent lawyer proved to Joe beyond a doubt that the world in general and Northern Virginia in particular were going to shit. Second, the gunshot had been unbelievably loud; and third, he could have been hurt. He cited these three reasons whenever someone asked him why he had such a virulent hate for controlled substances and the people involved in their trade. He rarely mentioned to anyone save Colin that he had himself been addicted to such substances for seven years before kicking, and he never mentioned to anyone at all that, when the kid had fired the gun, Joe’s bladder had failed and he’d soiled his pants.
Now he sat on the couch in Colin’s apartment, a carton of milk in one hand and a box of Dunkin’ Donuts in the other.
“So, no,” he said, “the scum hasn’t been identified yet but who gives a shit? He’s dead. Another point for the good guys, one less scumbag for us to deal with.” He smiled, bit down, licked crumbs from his lips. “And you know what? I still get a little jolt of satisfaction when that happens. Hits me right here,” he patted his stomach.
Joe the Cop had the Metro section of the Washington Post opened in front of him. There was a three-inch story in the local news column about the body of a man that had been found shot twice, stabbed several times, his face smashed and unrecognizable. The body had been discovered near the National Zoo in Rock Creek Park by the closed-off exit that led to Klingle Road where the rich people lived. The man’s name was withheld, the paper said, until next of kin could be notified.
“Didn’t bother to hide him,” Joe said, “and there was one tiny little gram of happy dust on him.” He took a bite, added with his mouth full, “Sort of like saying, `Yoo hoo! Message for the scumbags!’”
He drank milk out of the carton, burped. “Did I ever tell you about my master plan?” He looked at Colin who nodded.
“Lots of times.”
Joe the Cop ignored him. “You give ‘em all guns. Every one of ‘em, small, big, young, old. Just empty all the armories, give ‘em all the ammo...”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Promises promises

Here's installment 10 of Wasted Miracles.

Where Herbie was was a mystery; he’d never simply not shown up and she was a little bit worried. Some of his friends were not exactly top grade and there were people who simply did not like him, he’d told her.
At one-thirty, Johnny had agreed to drive her back to the Park Plaza and wait for her while she banged on Herbie’s door again, same results. And the phone was still busy, he must have left it off the hook. So Johnny had driven her home, a nice gesture since it was miles out of his way. But he shrugged it off, said he liked to see where straight rich white people lived. On the way there, he told her he was going to be celebrating five years in the program but still missed the booze, which he had always liked better than anything else, though he’d done everything to his body that one man could do in a lifetime. When she answered that her first anniversary was coming up, he stopped the car right in the middle of Idylwood Road and gave her a big hug. That made her feel better, though not much. Since she was getting two chips, she said, she thought she might make earrings out of them, but Johnny had a better idea.
“What you do, honey, is keep those things in your bag and whenever you want a drink or snort, stick one of them under your tongue. When the thing melts, then you can go back out, get drunk, get stoned, get laid, whatever.”
She’d heard the line before but laughed dutifully.
To top it all off, her mother was waiting up for her, like she was some highschool kid. Josie wondered why she’d ended up in such a fucked up family, she must have been switched at birth. She climbed into her bed, read a few minutes of Ann Rice, fell asleep with the iPod headphones on her head listening to Smashing Pumpkins and rehearsing the scene she’d make to Herbie the next day. The asshole

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bacchus and His Buddies

I stopped drinking 17 years ago; March 10, 1991, to be exact. My mother would die a year later to the day. I also stopped smoking dope and snorting the occasional line of cocaine that found its way to my nose. All in all, it's been a good decision and I don't regret it. I stayed stopped by talking about it a lot to other people with the same issue. In time, I lost the shame associated with this particular disease--alcoholism--and lost, as well, the desire to drink and/or get high every time I needed to celebrate, mourn, be witty, be smart, appeal to women, find courage or simply get along. It was not a burning bush experience. After a while I also found a degree of spirituality, a belief in something amorphous but nonetheless real. I came to believe that there might indeed be a god, and that, more than likely, it wasn't me.

Alcoholism is a fascinating disease. Of all the the chemical addictions out there, alcohol is just about the only one that will kill you directly. It affects every organ in your body from the skin in, and even as your system is slowly shutting down, your brain tells you you're perfectly well and healthy. Alcohol provides a nasty way to die. You get esophageal varices--bursting blood vessels in the throat; cirrhosis, where your liver hardens, shrinks and no longer works; and ascites (also known more archaically as abdominal dropsy), an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity that produces beer bellies in men and a nine-months-pregnant appearance in women. And of course you can be hit by a bus while drunk, kill yourself and others in an automobile accident, or get particularly suicidal and decide tonight is the ideal night to put a bullet in your brain. Friends have done all of these. If you stop drinking suddenly, there's a strong likelyhood of getting alcohol withdrawal convulsions, as well as the DTs, which may include visual hallucinations. Stopping cold turkey is often fatal--the body can't stand the shock. Overall, roughly one alcoholic in ten gets and stays sober more than three years.

The shame associated with the disease is one bourne of bad things done while drunk; unforgivable things, stupid things that alienated friends and family, a boundless selfishness as you protect your addiction. In many ways, depressives, schizophrenics, bipolars, all suffer in the same manner. When your illness controls you, you will do anything to survive, including harming the ones you love most...

I mention all this because stopping drinking may have been the single most important decision I may have taken in my life, dwarfing marriages and divorces, finances, jobs, friendships, writing, travel, spiritual epiphanies, anything and everything. And it is categorically impossible to explain the experience to people who have not undergone it. My lovely and smart SBC (you knew I'd have to mention her sooner or later) could not fathom this, and she cited my alcoholism as a reason for her decision to break things off. A bitter harvest which proves once and for all that doing the right thing does not always pay off in a manner you might expect.

Here's installment 9 of Wasted Miracles.

Josie leaned against the door, turned the deadbolt, stripped off her clothes and dropped them on the floor, took stock of the situation. Herbie, the sonofabitch, had stood her up, never showed at Hannibal’s on Lee Highway where he was supposed to pick her up. She’d waited half-an-hour, forty-five minutes, enough lattes to make her nerves jangle. The dork behind the counter had looked at her funny and she’d flashed him the finger but it hadn’t made her feel any better.
At eight-thirty she’d called Herbie’s place and it had been busy, stayed busy for another four tries at which time she was ready to kill the little shit, he was probably talking to one of his low-life friends which somehow angered her even more. If she hadn’t seen him in her mind with his feet up on the leather couch, bullshitting away on the phone, she probably wouldn’t have dropped twenty-two bucks for the cab fare to his apartment.
The ride took more than a half-an-hour, the cabby, some Rasta guy with dreadlocks, got lost. So she was in a fine state of near fury by the time the driver dropped her off in front of the Park Plaza in Adams Morgan. She walked past the half-asleep security guard, gave him a look that would choke a panther, climbed the two flights and beat on Herbie’s door, which did nothing to calm her since Herbie didn’t answer.
In the hallway she could detect faint traces of his cologne. Brut, he always wore it, found it macho though she thought it made him smell like he dressed at K-Mart. Even the scent annoyed her.
Herbie had eight or ten hangouts in the neighborhood, so she decided to check out a couple, just in case. She saw a lot of his buddies, one even tried to hit on her which would really piss Herbie off when she told him, but she never got to because no one had seen Herbie all evening.
Around midnight she’d run into Johnny D., a gay black guy she knew from the program and he’d bought her a couple of Pepsis, listened while she bitched, commiserated that Herbie was indeed a sorry motherfucker who didn’t deserve a woman like her. Johnny was all right. Some people said he still hung around the drug scene, might even be dealing a little, but he made her laugh, he had a mouth on him that wouldn’t quit and he knew everybody. The other guys left them alone though it was obvious one or two of them found her interesting, which was at least something.
She turned to a mirror bolted to her closet door and inspected herself as she did every night. High breasts, maybe a little bit on the small side but no one had ever objected, certainly not Herbie, the dick. Long legs, nice ass, good hair. She put on the extra-large T-shirt she used as a nightgown, started wiping her make-up away.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Restaurants and other hells

Tonight at dinner I watched a young couple eating, and the girl gyrated in her chair when the plate of chicken curry was placed in front of her. Her date laughed, reached across the table to touch her shoulder.

Well this just blows. Surely there should be a modicum of politeness demonstrated towards those of us eating alone. What? You think we're doing this by choice? We're not, Bubba. We're single, separated, dumped or divorced, spooning pad thai with our eyes fixated on the plate. We're not dancing in our chairs.

When my second divorce came through, I spent a month eating every meal at restaurants. I thought of myself as wonderfully cosmopolitan. On a few occasions I cleaned myself up, put on a suit and tie and, solo and proud, hit an above-average restaurant. Never once did the maitre d' fail to ask if I wanted a table for two. They don't make tables for one?

My women friends say they never dine out alone. It's too weird, too many people look and conjecture about what horrible accident of fate might have left this poor woman unaccompanied. They say dining alone makes them feel less than, and they can sense the eyes of the waiters on their backs. One friend used to give fifty percent tips just to earn a little respect. Another kept running into her ex and his new mate.

There's a desperation to eating alone. It's like we've been bad, sent to sit in the corner while the other kids are at recess. We seldom finish a meal and almost always ask the waitress to bag the leftovers, which become part of the spoiled food collection in the fridge.

There's nothing worse than eating out alone except for fixing a meal for one.

Here's installment eight of Wasted Miracles.

Later she wondered what he’d done to his body to make it look and feel that way beneath her hands. It wasn’t particularly attractive, all those muscles fighting for space under his skin. When on top of her, he was so wide across the shoulders that she couldn’t span him with her arms, but his hips were hardly larger than hers. It took a while for her to understand that it wasn’t a form of narcissism, he wasn’t proud of his appearance, didn’t even much care whether he was symmetrical or not. He did it to isolate himself, to get outside whatever it was he wouldn’t, couldn’t reveal. He said the exercises made his muscles burn, made him feel real. He said his body was a good disguise.
“From what?” She’d asked.
“From everything.”
Catherine heard a key in the latch, saw her daughter slide quietly into the house.
The girl jumped, turned, made her face into an angry mask. "What are you doing up? Why aren’t you in bed?"
Catherine let the accusation slide, shook her head. "Couldn't sleep, that's all."
Josie stared at her mother, nodded once, turned her back. Catherine tried to catch her with her voice. "Where were you?"
She was climbing the stairs to her bedroom. "Out."
"Anyone I know?"
Upstairs a door closed, a deadbolt turned. Catherine sipped her drink, whispered, "My family's home, safe and sound."
It wasn't supposed to be like this. It wasn't supposed to be like this at all.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Digital Life

Wake up. Pee. Check Smart Mail. Twelve messages on making my penis bigger, three on increasing my breast size. Hotmail, nada. No comments on the blog; is anyone reading this? Ebay. The fucking German who said he'd buy the guitar and amp still hasn't bid. I'm French, he's a Boche, why am I surprised. MegaMillion lottery. I am not a winner.

There. I've now been in touch with the world, and the world has touched me, electronically speaking.

I still have my first computer, a Kaypro "portable" that looked like and weighed as much as a sweatshop Singer. I took that thing around the world twice when I worked for the UN, and often it got a first class seat. It was impossible to operate, needed two discs to boot up and a third one to run any program. I lost so much stuff in that machine it's a wonder I'm still writing. No internet to speak of back then, no email either, but the thing could produce your biorhythm chart, so for a short while I was very popular. First kid on the block and all that.

At the World Bank offices in Washington, where I worked, we first got word processors the size of spinet pianos. Huge floppy discs and working programs made in Holland. For the first six months, only the Dutch could operate them.

I'm not sure we're better off now, really. I run Vista, which has so many safeguards against bad guys and virus that the OS often slows down to a crawl. I have files that I will never recover, simply because Windows decided I probably would not need them again. There are some pictures of doubtful moral value that have simply vanished. I am sure they will resurface when I run for public office.

What I like the most is Spider Solitaire and the Find and Replace function in Word...

Here is installment six of Wasted Miracles.

She smiled in the dark. You shouldn't count on fairness, it wasn't so much that it was unreliable--it was a word without weight to it, without wisdom or conscience.
Josie's first rehab had followed the talk with the teachers. A farm in Maryland, 15 kids there for six weeks, horses, chickens and orchards. The kids, all recuperating druggies and drinkers, spent a couple of hours a day taking care of animals and were assigned chores, learned to deal with responsibilities, with each other. It seemed like a good place, not at all like the ARC where Catherine herself had dried out and rehabed. At the ARC, outdoor activity was all the drunks and addicts taking a chaperoned walk through the parking lot. Things had changed since Catherine's days.
Josie came out of the farm and seemed all right, quiet, less defiant. She went to AA meetings for teenagers, appeared more at ease in her own skin but it didn't last. Six months later the police called, Josie had been busted with three other kids divvying up a couple of grams behind a Thai restaurant. The cops had been good about it, had released her in Catherine and Lars' custody.
The second rehab was all tough love. No more wide open spaces and outdoor sing-alongs; this place was a brownstone in Baltimore and the kids were rougher, a lot of them giant black boys and skinny thirteen-year-old girls from the inner city with kids of their own. Josie's silken blond hair and pale features were the target of endless verbal abuse and petty criticisms. The staff accused her of thinking she was better than the others. Josie had toughened up quick. And stopped talking.
For two weeks, the counselors told Catherine, Josie refused to open her mouth. She ate, sat, slept in a world of silence, watched others around her but refused to participate in the group’s activities. Then, for reasons entirely her own and never explained, she started talking again, told everyone long, invented stories of her childhood, of living in Europe and being sexually abused by servants while her parents watched. When Catherine heard this, she was horrified but the counselors told her sometimes that happened, young people escaped reality in any way available, manufactured a past that only vaguely touched on the truth.
And then there’d been the pregnancy. Of all the dramas Josie had put them through, Catherine thought, that one galled Lars more than anything. It had rendered him speechless with rage for days, he had broken flowerpots and thrown furniture around, an amazing display of anger that Catherine would have sworn was beyond him. But then, how could the girl be so foolish? Schools gave out birth control information, condoms were everywhere, Josie had her own gynecologist, and still she’d gotten pregnant. “Knocked up,” she said, using the words of another generation. And she wouldn’t reveal to anyone who the father was, it’s not the point, she said, it was her body and anyway she was the one who’d fucked him. The word alone had a devastating impact on Lars who turned pale, then red, then gray.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Boys (and Girl) In the Band

Admit it--you've always wanted to play in a band. You've fantasized doing the Jagger cockstrut in front of thousands but you'll settle for playing to a few drunks in a bar in Northern Virginia. The drunks don't pay attention, they're too busy starring at the waitress's cleavage, and the waitress isn't interested because she's seen a hundred bands, she thinks all musicians are assholes, and even if she didn't her boyfriend is the bouncer, and he would break your face just to get blood on his knuckles.

Still, somehow, it's worth it. For 11 years I played in a local band that did mostly bars, private parties and the occasional biker event. I don't think I earned more than $1000 on any given year, and I probably spent twice that on gas, strings and new instruments. The closest I got to romance was when a woman flashed me, then walked away. We once got an extra $100 for playing Country Roads, which we'd never played before but that didn't stop us, we just kept hollering the refrain over and over again while the bar owner nodded off in his beer.

My band, Idylwood, put out one CD. We recorded and mixed it ourselves, finalized it in a local studio, and got it listed on iTunes but, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever downloaded us. Recently, the band split. The lead guitarist and former singer nursed a resentment for five years before leaving and taking the bass and drummer to form a power trio. I'm not sure what that is but it sounds pretty boring. So, after more than a decade, here's what I learned.

  1. Drummers are a pain in the ass and control freaks. No surprise there; these are guys who beat on dead animal skins with sticks.
  2. Male lead singers are almost never as good as female lead singers, and they write atrocious lyrics. Trust me on this.
  3. Most lead guitarists have three riffs they recycle endlessly.
  4. Most bass players have the intellectual stamina of a cicada.

OK, now I've pissed everybody off. Here's installment no. 5 of Wasted Miracles.

Maybe she was doing it wrong. Maybe you weren't supposed to ask for things; but if you weren’t, what was the purpose of a god in the first place? She wondered if those people in India or Tibet, the ones with the prayer wheels, had the right idea. There’d been a show about them on the Discovery Channel, how they turned the wheel endlessly and for each revolution a prayer went wafting up and away, so that if you were really conscientious about it, if flipping the wheel became second nature, then every single day there would be hundreds, thousands, millions of prayers, and how could any god refuse such entreaties?
In the beginning, when she came to accept for the very first time that she couldn’t do everything, control everything, she'd prayed for herself, taking a moment or two during the day to close her eyes and visualize her thoughts going out of her head and into the sky, as if they were winged things. She had prayed during rehab, beseeched god to take the yearning away and it had worked. A miracle. A common one, her counselors had said, but to her beyond comprehension.
Then she had prayed for her marriage but that hadn’t worked at all. Sometimes, her sponsor had told her, God says no. If anything, Lars had grown more distant and critical. They hadn't had sex in two years and that only once after he'd gotten his promotion. She had stayed dry and it had been over in a painfully offensive minute. For a few weeks after that she’d prayed Lars would simply become impotent or, even better, die, but he hadn’t.
And through it all there had been Josie, a willful and secretive child who had gotten high the first time when she was only 12 years old but Catherine hadn't noticed, of course, Catherine had been wrestling with her own genies, trying and failing to stuff them back into the bottle. By the time a Georgetown Day School counselor had called Lars and Catherine in for a talk, Josie was 15, carrying a flask of Stoly and an ounce of dope in her knapsack, turning on her friends and passing out in a toilet stall in the girl's room.
Catherine sipped the ginger ale. It had gone flat in the fridge and she'd come to prefer it that way. She looked at the clock again, thought she heard a car door slam, glanced out the window. The street was deserted. She folded her knees beneath her, held the glass in both hands.
So now she prayed for Josie and that was a constant murmur in her head, just like a prayer wheel. And Josie had been straight for eleven months and seventeen days; in two weeks she'd get her one-year chips from both AA and NA and Catherine asked herself if perhaps the worst of it wasn't over. She wanted desperately to believe it was but the odds were so slim, so many kids out there, all walks of life, swimming in a sea of drugs that flowed through the schools, private or public, it didn't matter, polluted them so it was a wonder they weren't all addicts, unbelievable that the blight struck so few of them, really. What were the statistics? More than 30 million drunks and addicts in the country? And two of them right here in one household. It didn't seem fair.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wasted Miracles 4

Here's more Wasted Miracles

He checked his answering machine. A high school girl’s voice telling him he'd won a trip to the Bahamas; a few words from Joe the Cop, just checking in, see you in the morning; then Catherine’s voice saying she really wanted to but it was impossible, she couldn't come by tonight. He knew that already. If they were to steal an hour or two together, she would have shown up for the eight-thirty. She hadn’t.
He pulled the leg machine out of the closet, found the big plates scattered in the corners of two rooms. The landlord had come to inspect the place one day and turned pale when he'd seen ten 45-pounders stacked carefully in a corner, had told him it was insane to put that much weight in just one spot, the floor would cave in, didn't he know better?
Colin slid eight plates on the machine, lay on his back, positioned his feet, closed his eyes, exhaled, pushed. Soon the rhythm became automatic. He stopped long enough to add two plates, then two more, changed the position of his feet slightly, turning his toes outward. He truly hated this. Tomorrow he'd wake up with shooting pains in his legs and knees, he'd hobble around for an hour and stay in the shower until the tips of his fingers crinkled, just to get the knots out of his muscles. But tonight he would sleep—if not well--very deeply, which was, after all, why he punished his body in the first place--to find that dark and airless refuge where for a few hours he could lose himself.
Catherine Stilwell woke with a start, the wisps of a dream vanishing fast. It was still dark outside, the streetlamps threw jagged shadows across the room. On the table next to her bed the radio she never turned off hummed something classical very softly. She moved her head, saw and heard the indistinct outline of Lars breathing next to her. She sat up, yawned, shifted the covers on her side so as not to disturb him, swung her legs, got out of the bed. Lars stirred, sighed, turned over.
In the kitchen the clock said it was just after two in the morning and she wondered why during the past few weeks she kept waking up at such an odd hour. It must mean something, have a significance that at the moment escaped her. She opened the door of the fridge, glanced past the chilled bottle of vodka Lars kept there as if on display. She knew he rarely touched it, he almost never drank. It was simply a mean, petty thing, having that bottle. There were no other words for it. Or, as Josie once said, "Dad's such a dick!"
Next to the vodka she found an open can of ginger ale. She poured it in a glass, added ice, went to sit in the bay window alcove. Josie wasn't home yet, she could sense it, had been able to ever since the child had disappeared for a terrifying hour almost 15 years ago. It was two in the morning and Josie wasn't home.
Catherine closed her eyes, remembered her daughter as a little girl when both of them could spend hours exploring the wonders of a single question. She wished she could talk to the woman Josie had become, wished the god she prayed to several times a day were a bit more attentive.

Birds, plants, spring and all that crap

Went for a walk today in Maryland, hiked a trail that runs along the Potomac River and thought how strange it is that this lovely place is 15 minutes from Pennsylvania Avenue and 16th Street in Washington, DC, arguably the center of the Western World.

But wait! Is that still true? Is this city still relevant? Is anyone paying attention at all? The dollar is crashing, the war(s) go(es) on and one gets the impression that some members of the current administration are hiding in the basement of the White House, desperately plotting how to invade Iran before the election. And where, people are asking, is the Vice President? Indeed, Mr. Cheney has all but vanished from view, which is a lot more frightening than seeing him gun down friendly attorneys while hunting quail.

Ah well. Saw a woodpecker and some deer. The Virginia bluebells are coming out and just a few days ago on another walk, a fat skunk waddled not 10 yards from me with magnificent insolence. There are groundhogs here, and coyotes are now almost commonplace--I saw one last month sniffing a trashcan near a subway station.

OK. Here is the third installment of Wasted Miracles. Enjoy and tell your friends...

Herbie did die then. The first bullet had merely nicked an artery, but the second one cut clean as a scalpel. The young African was vaguely pleased--this was not one of those men who couldn’t die--but whatever satisfaction he derived from this realization was short-lived. Herbie was gone and the information they were supposed to get from him was gone too. This was very bad news, a major screw-up. And the van was a mess. Another screw-up.
Without a word, Comfort got back into the driver’s seat, started the van and pulled away. He drove only a few minutes until he found a spot near the dead end of Klingle Road where barriers had been put up by the city to keep the blacks and Latinos out of the richer Cathedral neighborhood. There was no traffic there and with a bit of luck Herbie’s body wouldn’t be found for awhile. They carried Herbie out, heaved him into a ditch, piled a few dead leaves on top of him and drove away.
But it really was a luckless night for the Africans, the sort to make superstitious men believe in myths and spirits.
Not five minutes later a U.S. Park Police officer stopped his cruiser almost exactly in the same spot. He did this did most nights he was on duty. It was quiet there, the traffic from adjacent residential roads made a low humming sound, and if you looked up, you could see stars. The officer looked forward to a Seven-Eleven Big Bite hot dog and cradled a large paper cup of coffee in his lap. When he reached for the dome light, the coffee spilled and scalded his thighs and crotch. He yelled, leaped out of the police car, tried to pull the fabric of his pants away from his legs, tripped, fell, rolled. And came face to pillow case with Herbie.

Chapter 2

After the meeting a bunch of the men lit cigarettes and stood around in the parking lot looking over someone's new Harley. It was bright yellow, all chrome and hard rubber parts and it gleamed under the lights. Colin wondered how much something like that must cost, fifteen, maybe twenty thousand, wondered whether he should bum a cigarette, decided he shouldn't. He hadn't smoked in a little over three years.
The bike's owner was a big, bearded man, sagging belly and arms like fence posts. Jeans with a studded leather belt, sleeveless denim jacket, bandanna stretched hard across his balding skull. Colin knew him, a lawyer specializing in trusts and wills, the unofficial leader of a bunch of Jewish white collar riders who had named themselves "Kikes on Bikes." They were a half-a-dozen or so, all in the program, all with Harleys and mutual funds, summer homes on the Eastern Shore and Beamer SUVs in the driveway.
Colin wished he had a cigarette, a mutual fund, both. He sat on the retaining wall adjoining the Serenity Club, dangled his feet, nodded at people who waved to him, shook a few hands. In twenty minutes there'd be another meeting. He could attend that, sit in the back of the room and listen to the litany of sins and uncertainties spilled by long- and short-term recovering drunks. Or he could get something to eat across the street at Emilio's, or—last option—go home and hit the weights. He'd done the weights once already that morning so his arms still ached a little but he had skipped the legs. The legs were a bore. He looked at his watch. Ten minutes until someone read the preamble and the "How It Works, from the Big Book." He knew there was a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in the back room, a gathering of Sex and Love Addicts on the second floor. Gamblers Anonymous were in the basement. It struck Colin that an awful lot of madness was gathered in one small building, that had there been a way to harness all that anger, frustration, resentments and pain, one could forge a formidable--if unreliable--weapon. In a few hours the club would shut down for the night and only the parking lot people would remain, desperate men and women who didn't want to go home or didn't have homes to go to. He stood, stretched, opted for the leg machine.
It was a short walk to his apartment, typical Virginia weather, clouds cantering across the sky. It had rained the night before and the air was clean, the light brighter than normal during rush hour when thousands retreated from their Washington offices to the vast suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.
In his apartment he took off his clothes, looked in the mirror. Head on he looked like a wedge of cheese balancing on two toothpicks, that's what his sponsor had said. All that work on back, shoulders, chest and arms, nothing on the legs, you end up a little bit top-heavy, misshapen. Which pleased him somehow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wasted Miracles 2

Chapter 1

The two African guys grabbed him, real Africans from Africa, you could tell by their kind-of British accents. They knocked on his door and he opened it while talking on the cordless. He thought it was the paperboy come to collect. The taller African hit him a quick, vicious blow just below the chest and Herbie let go of the phone; the second guy caught it before it hit the ground. Then the first guy hit him again three, four, five times in the face, breaking his nose and opening a gash over the right eye. Then Herbie passed out.
The Africans found a pillow case in the linen closet, a garbage can bag in the kitchen. They slid the garbage bag over Herbie’s head, left it loose so he wouldn’t suffocate, slid the pillow case on top of that. They carried him down the service stairs to the alley behind the building and dumped him in a battered Chevy van with a magnetic sign that said Mr. Ratchet! Plumbing & Heating.
They drove Herbie through Rock Creek Park towards Beach Drive to do what they had to do, which was extract one or two pieces of information from him prior to finishing him off. But then things went wrong.
First, the tall African accidentally stabbed Herbie in the chest when he was just trying to draw a little blood but the van hit a giant ragged crater of a pothole. The knife, thin as paper and sharp as cut glass, slid in. It caused more pain than damage and Herbie roared through the pillow case and garbage bag. This shook the tall African. He was new at this, barely 20 years old and the whole thing was supposed to be a trial run. He hadn’t anticipated any difficulties, had paced through the assignment a hundred times in his head. But Herbie’s scream unnerved him and Herbie’s blood made him squeamish. So he stabbed Herbie two more times trying to quiet him down. Herbie roared again, kicked out, somehow got an arm loose, flailed and connected with a wild right fist that knocked the young man down. The driver, Comfort by name, an older man who’d done this type of thing in eight cities on three continents prior to coming to Washington, stopped the van and clambered back to help his colleague. Herbie, acting out of rage, instinct and primal fear was now trying to claw the garbage bag from his head. In the confines of the van, his struggle took up a lot of space. He was moaning and spraying blood, displaying an awesome strength for such an inconsequential man; the van was beginning to smell like a Third World slaughterhouse and rocking on its axles. The younger African took out his gun, a slim Beretta he’d never yet fired.
Earlier in the day, as he and Comfort were reminiscing about their respective childhoods, Comfort had told him how, when he was a small boy in his native Nigerian village, there’s been men who wouldn’t die no matter the harm done them. The youth had listened wide-eyed, dry-mouthed. Now, right here, there was such a man. He fired the Beretta point blank into Herbie’s chest. The sound was enormous inside the van, louder than anything the men had ever heard and for what seemed like an eternity all three were frozen in place. Then Herbie made an unearthly howl, a banshee shriek that tore their ears. Comfort cried: “He is one of them! He cannot die!” The young man shot Herbie three more times without aiming.

Epiphanies, epiphanots, epiphanettes

An epiphanot is an epiphany that's wrong. An epiphanette is what some people call an ah ha moment, except that it's a small one that won't have a major impact on your life. Or maybe it will, who knows. I've had a bunch of 'nots and 'nettes lately, but for the most part they're boring.

Epiphanette no. 1. Do not trust a woman who says she is depressive but laughs a lot.

About me. I'm 62, look younger. I'm single. Divorced twice. No children. I live in the US, east side, near Washington. I came from France in my early teens with my parents. They went back, I didn't.

I am a writer, a good one, trying to publish the fabled third book. I've done a bit of everything, worked for the Washington Post for several year, the World Bank for even more years, edited an in-line skating magazine and worked on the Time-Life How To series. You remember those--build your own house, wire your garage, add a closet for the old lady. Now I work from home. I run a small mail-order business. I write. I write songs. Mostly sad shitty ones. Since I have just had my heart broken by epiphanette no. 1, the songs right now are even sadder and possibly shittier.

Up until recently I played in a local band called Idylwood but that broke up last week. No more performing the sad shitty songs, at least for a while.

So epiphanette no. 2, never trust a part-time musician with a bad voice and high ambitions. No, no, not me. I actually have a pretty good voice. I am talking about Idylwood's co-founder who recently bailed and took the drummer and bass player with him leaving behind a very pretty female lead singer and... me.

What I plan to do with this blog is publish a book, page by page. It's a novel, a pretty good one, written some years ago when I got my head out of the bottle. Before every installment, and sometimes after, there will be some random thoughts, memories, needless bitching and occasionally whining. The name of the book is Wasted Miracles. Let me know what you think.

Wasted Miracles
Chapter 1


It would be a good voyage. The Isadora’s captain, a tall graying man who looked like a captain and took full advantage of it, had a knack for knowing such things. His ship was five days out of Glasgow and he’d spent the better part of that time inspecting the passengers. Two meetings with his officers had confirmed there were no troublesome drunks aboard, no professional card sharks, no scam artists. At least, as far as anyone could tell.
The captain’s name was Roderick Stuart, never Rod, never Stu, and he detested everything about life on solid ground. Pathways, roads, paved surfaces, the very smell of soil, diminished him. His wife was a shrew, his two daughters seemed headed for a gloryless existence with dullard husbands and ugly, freckled children. Mr. Winfrey, the smug and sallow tenant they kept (at the insistence of his wife who felt safer with a man in the house when the Captain was at sea), was a local teacher whose presence often drove the Captain from his own living room. Now he was back where he belonged, aboard his real home, a place he could and did rule like the benevolent and smiling dictator of an unthreatened realm. Everything was in order and he basked in the familiar.
He loved his ship. He had recently celebrated his twentieth anniversary with the Royal Scottish Line--the company had given him an exquisite Vuiton watch with matching studs and cufflinks--and this would be his seventh world tour with the Isadora. He looked forward to the six weeks at sea; his last shore leave had been disastrous and from the moment he’d entered the ill-fitting house he and his wife maintained just outside Inverness, his only thought was how to cut his stay short.
From where he stood on the deck, he could see virtually the entire ship by merely turning his head. The sea was calm; the Isadora’s engines were a soft background hum. He could hear the faint booming of skeet shooters, the cawing of gulls, and the splashing of sweet saltwater against the massive bow. He looked forward to dressing for dinner, still anticipated with pleasure the time spent with that night’s properly awed guests at the captain’s table. He thought it marvelous that a man could spend a lifetime abovedeck of such a magnificent vessel and be paid handsomely for it. He was not a deeply religious man but the years at sea had granted him a certain spirituality, and rare was the day he did not give thanks for the life he was so fortunate to lead.
In a moment, the woman whom he had promoted to Director of Activities would come to his cabin. She was his mistress, he loved her deeply, believed she loved him as well, and she would have married him had he not already been another woman’s mate. They would spend an hour in bed together and after that share a small snifter of Grand Marnier. This they would do three times a week for the entire length of the voyage.
Life was good. He was blessed and he knew it.