Friday, June 26, 2009

I'm Gonna Whine...

...So deal with it. You want a happy blog? Go to Me, I'm gonna whine because it's Friday night and I'm watching UFC; my second-best friend is probably getting laid as I write this, and a storm has just rolled in bringing marble-sized drops of rain that are crashing against my roof. I don't want to be here. I'm having serious second thoughts about this writing thing, this passé means of expression that I can't get anyone to read, much less buy. I'm tired of being by myself and the people in my corner are bringing scant relief. I want to go back, for one day, to being an adolescent whose greatest wish is to hold a girl's hand, and I want that wish granted.

I don't like being here. I don't like these times. I despise the day-to-day lack of manners, the price increases that yield poorer service and worse goods. I find the growing ignorance terrifying; the dismissal within our society of the common good is a harbinger of even shoddier things to come. The overwhelming duplicity of people, places and things, the disregard for what is acceptable, charitable and candid makes me feel as if I have a rock in my shoe and destined to limp the rest of my days. It shocks me that there are no children playing ball on city playgrounds because it's forbidden--the community must protect itself against lawsuits; our litigious system has taken much of our freedom, our fears have taken the rest.

I am getting the feeling that being here is a cosmic error of infinitely small proportion. I don't understand how things work anymore, if I ever truly did. Love does not conquer all; honesty is at best a second-rate asset. My faith, my attempt to wrestle with Buddhism and have it make sense, has just been pinned to the mat. It may not be down for the count, but neither does it feel like fighting anymore. I am, in a word, defeated.

A friend says he looks at the obits with longing, that he hopes his nagging cough is actually something serious. He is not suicidal; he is fatalistic and in many ways I feel the same. There's no joy in Mudville.

It'll pass; most things do. But right now things are pretty crappy and there's no silver lining in sight, no pink cloud to climb upon. Chekhov once said, "Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out." Yep. That's about right.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


When I was a kid, I was often sent by my parents to spend the night in the house of my aged Tante Thérèse, an amazing lady of minute proportions who lived in St. Germain with her maid.

Tatie--Madame Bertrand--slept with her hat and veil on, bathed once a week, ate only soft-boiled eggs and raw carrots, smelled of talcum powder, violets and mildew. She had a dog, Mathurin, who never moved except when the maid kicked him. The maid, Mathilde, was toothless, irascible and mean, a Bretonne woman who resented children. Tatie and Mathilde detested each other and had been together about 40 years, ever since Tatie was widowed when the natives of Tananarive speared her husband, the governor of Madagascar, through the neck. Tatie witnessed this from the palace where she and her husband reigned. She narrowly escaped the wrath of the Malgache populace and, from that day on became an insomniac. Tatie was persuaded Mathilde would one day either poison her--hence the soft-boiled eggs and carrots, neither of which could be tampered with--or murder her in her sleep, so she locked her bedroom at night and placed empty bottles on the floor next to the door, a primitive yet efficient alarm system which, in retrospect, must have worked.

Spending the night at Tatie's house was a treat. She had African spears mounted on her walls, Buddha heads from Siam, a stuffed leopard cub from the jungles of Brazil. I would sleep on a small settee at the foot of her bed, and she would waken me at two in the morning to start the day with a cup of strong coffee, a day-old croissant, and the music of Shubert on her Victrola. We would walk--or drag--Mathurin until he deposited a small, evenly shaped crotte on the sidewalk. The local flic knew Madame Bertrand well, as did the boulanger and patissier who, if his wife was not looking, would give me a free palmier. The patissier was also an insomniac, a good trait for his trade, and he and Tatie would exchange the latest sleep-inducing nostrum: tisanne with honey, cognac with a teaspoon of laudanum, vaporized eau de rose.

Like Tatie, I have become an insomniac, but my sleeplessness is based on financial and other worries compounded by sleep apnea. I waken 40 or more times an hour, occasionally stop breathing entirely, and, in the end, arise from bed exhausted. Soon, I will wear an odd-looking mask that will force a constant stream of air down my throat and into my lungs. This, much like laudanum, will help me sleep.

Tatie was 87 when she died. Mathilde had preceded her by a dozen year, and when she passed away, my father, while helping to clean the deceased maid's room, turned over the mattress and found more than 100,000 Francs. Mathilde had saved every sou Tatie had ever paid her and since there were no relatives, the money was returned to my aunt.

After Mathilde's death, Tatie slept like a log.

Friends Left Behind

When I was 17, my best friend was Bruno, the first guy I ever met who regularly went to a gym. Bruno was a big French kid who worked out religiously and it showed. Where I was spindly, he was massive with huge pecs and biceps that impressed the girls but not his Swedish mother, who regularly beat him with a belt for real and imagined offenses. Bruno tried to run away on more than one occasion but it never worked, except for the time he ended up spending the night at the house of the girl I was dating. Her parents were out of town and he stayed there three days and the friendship never recovered. I don't know where Bruno is today, though I tried several times to find him through the French Minitel system and later, with the Internet.

Bruno, was one of the first person I played music with, the best third of my very first band. He became one of those friends who vanishes but is never really gone. I wonder what happened to him, whether he married, had children, bought a house in the south of France as far away from his mother as he could get while staying in the same country.

There have been others like that over the years, friendships that flourish and wilt. They're occasionally based on mutual interests--motorcycles, sports, shared nationality, music, writing. When the interest wanes, so does the friendship.

I have friends who date from 40 years, 30 years, 10 years ago. They're each different, each very much a part of me; the friendships took decades to build and are made to last.

And then there are the friends who become so almost overnight. You discover what the French call les atômes crochus, the hooked atoms. In a matter of days, weeks at most, something deep and vital develops and life isn't the same as before. A gap is filled, a necessary element that was missing is suddenly realized, completely apparent, and you wonder how you existed without this person. Things happen within the psyche, tectonic shifts, an instant sense of trust and well-being. Emerson said such people are the ones "before whom I may think aloud."

But there is a danger to such friendships. They endow the other with powers; they make one vulnerable, they play upon emotions and take great strength to maintain. They are miracles with a price, yet worth every penny.

The British novelist Jeannette Winterson described it best: "We are friends and I do like to pass the day with you in serious and inconsequential chatter. I wouldn't mind washing up beside you, dusting beside you, reading the back half of the paper while you read the front. We are friends and I would miss you, do miss you and think of you very often.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

And Now the Jeep

Letting go of people is painful, much more so than than letting go of things, but sometimes letting go of things can be difficult too. This week, I'm trying to do both.

This is my 1976 CJ7 Jeep, which has a huge American Motors engine, independent 4-wheel drive, an onboard air compressor for when you're on the trail and need to deflate/inflate your tires, and a winch that will pull down large trees. It also has extra gas jerricans, tow straps, running lights and spots, and a car cover. I took the rear seat out but it comes with the car. I'm selling the Jeep, along with three other cars and a couple of properties I can no longer afford to keep so I don't have to give up the house I live in. Times, in more ways than one, are hard.

This car makes little kids smile and laugh. They love the fact that it's way taller than their mom and that when they stand in it, they're on top of the world. It trundles along faithfully, sort of like a big, not very smart dog, and it eats up snowy roads, backwood trails, ravines, superhighways and sandy beaches. It's not the fastest thing on four wheels, and it doesn't need to be. Hummer owners fear it. It comes with a lot of good memories.

If you're interested, send me an email.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Bruises are more serious than scrapes or rashes, less so than scars, but getting bruised over and over again may leave scars like those found on a boxer's broken brow.

I keep getting bruised, more than likely because I keep putting myself into bruising situations. No mystery there, Einstein said it best, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." It's an addict's behavior.

Addicts keep trying to find a way to the object of their desire and are generally willing to run into many walls--small, tall, thick, brick or concrete--without accepting the very basic fact that walls more often than not are made to keep things and people out, not in. We want things that are not ours to have, and so we get bruised, pounding head, shoulders and heart against imponderables and impossibilities that, just to keep it interesting, from time to time have all the trappings of the attainable.

It's painful, incomprehensible to most, including the well-intentioned. Right now I feel as if I am in the perfect storm--I'm buffeted by fears of financial ruin and the not-so-fleeting sensation that a best part of life is gone, never to reoccur. All these feelings, these intemperate emotions, create a Gordian knot within the gut, a weight of intolerable yet invisible density.

The general consensus is that feelings are categorically not facts. If that is true--and I'm not convinced--then they do a damned good job of masquerading. I suspect that, should we be able to read a history of emotions rather than one of assumed realities, we would be amazed at the number of times feelings have dictated actions.

Actually, this gets interesting. Joanna Bourke, in a recent issue of the History Workshop Journal, suggests that the study of emotions upon history--personal or otherwise--might be characterized as ‘aesthesiology.’ The classical Greek terms ‘aesthesis’ refers to the senses and sense perception, but also to feelings and emotions. Aesthesis is a physical reaction to external stimuli, as well as an emotional involvement with the world. As opposed to anaesthesiology, or the rendering unable to feel, aesthesiology is the emotional reaction of the self to stimuli in lived experience.

Emotions can hurt, can bruise, can wound, can render one incapable of dealing with life's necessities. I am not sure whether anaesthetics as a way of life are desirable, but certainly there are times when I wish I could deaden all feelings. Call it a weakness, a character defect, cowardice, whatever. To me, feelings have enough depth and dimensions to indeed be facts. They are as real as the point of a lance or the impact of a club, and can do just as much damage. They explain addiction--the desire to blunt the impact of unwanted sentiments, the desperation one deals with when sensations are rampaging out of control. You can't get much realer than that.

Here's installment 102 of Wasted Miracles.

The Isadora’s plight made the seven o’clock news. The ship

had sped to Baltimore where medical teams had ambulanced afflicted passengers to city and suburban hospitals.

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, had come up with a preliminary finding it felt confident in announcing to the media. Passengers had apparently ingested minute quantities of mangrove root which, for reasons unknown, had been added to a sauce marienere à l’ail des îles. The dish upon which the sauce was served had proven quite popular among the guests.

There were no fatalities, though one man remained in critical care following cardiac arrest that may or may not have been caused by the poison.

The ship’s physician, Dr. Subramanian Purushotham, was interviewed by the local news channel and quite enjoyed the experience. Passengers who were not ill were put up at Royal Scots Line expense in various hotel throughout the town, their bills for the day in port graciously covered by the vastly embarrassed company.

Colin spotted Mamadou’s limo and muttered, “Shit.” Encountering the Senegalese was not in his hastily formed plans. Keeping out of sight behind a parked truck, he watched as the African held up a cardboard sign. Passengers from the ship eddied around the man and Mamadou raised the sign higher.

Soon, two women approached. Colin saw they were young, dressed demurely. They seemed pleased at first to see the limo, then grew agitated as Mamadou spoke with them. One, a tall blonde, kept shaking her head. The other, a shorter brunette, stood slightly back and fidgeted with her purse. Mamadou opened the limo’s door for them but they refused to get in the car.

Curiosity won out. Colin came closer, heard, “...know what you’re talking about. We thought the school had sent the limo. If it hasn’t, then there’s been some mistake.”

Colin edged behind Mamadou, withdrew Joe’s police badge, held it up in the air. The blonde woman saw him first. She said, “Officer, this man is bothering us. He wants to...”

Mamadou turned and Colin stepped back, badge still held high.

If the African was surprised, he hid it well. “Mr. Marsh! Or is it ‘Officer Marsh’? Perhaps you can be of assistance. I believe these young women are perpetrating a felony, importing a great deal of illicit drugs---”

Clare Drake cut him off. “That’s bull-- nonsense. My friend and I are passengers on the ship and...”

Colin shook his head, stepped past Mamadou. “Your friend Herbie is dead. There’s no one to protect you. Nothing will happen, no police, no authorities, if you just hand over the package. That’s all we want and we’re out of your life.”

Loss, Part Deux (Lonesome Dove)

The dove died. I found its body in the grass under the blue spruce where he and its mate first built a nest. It looked recent, from natural causes--I couldn't really tell, but its feathers were unmaimed--and its eyes had the milky white color something forgotten. I put on gardening gloves, picked it up and buried it under the tree.

The last time I buried a small animal was when I was five years old. I'd found a dead mouse in the kitchen trap my mother set in the old house in St. Germain, just outside Paris. The mouse's neck was broken and there was a small piece of cheese in its mouth. I interred it with great ceremony in the backyard. There were hymns, prayers, an emotional and imaginative recap of its life, a small wooden cross made from two twigs and black sewing thread. This burial was simpler. I dug a hole in the soaked soil, put the bird in, covered it, avoided thinking about all the quotidian symbolism attached. I wondered about its next incarnation, wished it a happier one.

This has been a month of losses both minor and major, a bruising time on the psyche and on the emotions. My expectations, slim though they might be, have proven nonredeemable. I feel tired, despondent, scared of the future or lack thereof, unsure of where to turn for solace. There have been a lot of ashes scattered in the past 30 days, enough to make the horizon somewhat gray and uninviting. It would be pleasant to end this on a note of hope, but today the notes are out of tune.

Here's installment 101 of Wasted Miracles.

Drugs,” said Comfort. “Heroine.”

“Which you obtained by...”

“Theft. From my boss. From the Zulu.”

“Earlier you said it came from a man named Herbie.”

Comfort nodded. His legs had gone from unbearably painful to numb. “Herbie. Yes, I’m sorry. The drugs came from Herbie, but he got them from the Zulu.”

“Your boss.”


“So you took the drugs from Herbie?”

“No. Yes. No. Herbie stole them from the Zulu. But it was my idea.”

“You’re confusing me, Mr. Okwuike.” The crank turned half a circle. Comfort’s legs spasmed.

“Herbie stole them from the Zulu. I told him how to do it. But he didn’t, not really. I had switched them. He stole a bag of flour. Flour and lactose.”

“Baby formula?”


“What a resourceful fellow you are, Mr. Okwuike.” The man’s voice dripped sarcasm. “And what a stupid man this Herbie must have been...”

“Not stupid. I tricked him.” Comfort tried to swallow, couldn’t. He asked, “May I have some water? Please?”

“In a moment. How did you trick him?”

“I gave him some heroine. From an earlier shipment. It made him very sick.”

“And why was that?”

“Rat poison. A tiny amount mixed in. Less than one percent. It was his first time with heroine. And he thought...”

The man nodded. “He though all heroine might have the same effect.”

Comfort nodded.

The man dipped another cupful of water and this time held it to Comfort’s lips. Comfort drank too greedily, choked, coughed. The man jumped back, wiped at his shirt angrily. Comfort closed his eyes, steeled himself for another turn of the crank. It didn’t come.

“So you sold the heroine, the real heroine.”

“Two former policemen. They bought it. A good bargain for them.”

“And Herbie?”

“Lactose. Flour. He died.”

“From the fake drugs?”

“No.” Comfort shook his head. “No. Zulu. Zulu had him killed. After he found out.” Even in the midst of his pain, Comfort knew better than to admit his participation in a murder, or his role in engineering it.

“This is getting to be a fascinating tale, Mr. Okwuike. I’m enthralled.” He placed his hand back on the crank. Comfort stiffened. “I’ll put this away now.” He unclipped the leads from the generator, let them fall to the ground. Comfort felt his entire body go soft.

“Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome. Please do go on. So the Zulu killed your poor friend Herbie for a bag of flour. There’s something almost Biblical about that, isn’t there? And how did he react when he discovered the subterfuge?”

Comfort tried to stand up straighter but his legs were without feeling or strength. “Will you untie me, please? I couldn’t escape, even if I wanted to.”

The officer smiled but shook his head. “Perhaps in a moment, when you’ve finished your tale.”

Comfort took a deep breath. “Herbie gave the drugs for safekeeping to some other people. The Zulu never learned of the switch. Until it was too late.”

“Your idea, of course.”

Comfort nodded.

“Brilliant.” The officer shook his head in admiration. “Simply brilliant. Now. Let us talk about your foreign assets.”


Thursday, June 18, 2009


Last night I went to the sixth-grade graduation of a friend's son and got to see a bunch of kids with great American names like Nguyen, Eguez, Mahmoodi, Wu, Singh and Yoon parade across a makeshift stage and sing Time of My Life.

I've known the boy since he was four years old. Yesterday, he was the shortest in his class, a straight-A student and a ferocious pee-wee football player. He wasn't thrilled with the ceremonies, threatened not to sing until his father put him right. He scooted across the stage twice and got a medal on a tricolor ribbon, a certificate, a paperback dictionary and vocabulary builder, and a DVD of the school year's highlights. He wore a brand new shirt he didn't like and gym socks with his dress black shoes. He was embarrassed that his father whooped and hollered, really couldn't understand what the hoopla was about. After all, everybody graduates from elementary school.

His parents are no longer together but finally talking to each other in an adult manner, which was good to see, and the gym was filled with their peers--men and women in their 30s and 40s wielding video cameras, putting aside differences for one evening devoted to their kids.

Because, it turned out, a lot of them were divorced or living apart. There were single parents, women who came with their best girlfriends, guys who took off their baseball caps during the Pledge of Allegiance and quickly put them back on after. The foreign-born fathers wore suits and ties. The Americans didn't. After the diplomas were handed out, they all milled about self-consciously in the school's hallways eating popcorn while the kids in their Sunday best tried and failed to look bored. They'd be going to junior high next year and the concept was scary.

I've never had children (it's a long story) and after my first wife had a life threatening miscarriage, I got a vasectomy.

Most of the time I don't regret it. I've always been afraid my genes would yield another generation of cancer-ridden alcoholics and dope addicts, and we do not need more people like that in the world. But yesterday, for an hour or two, I regretted that long-ago decision. All the women I've been seriously involved with had children from earlier relationships, and I took joy from the kids, drove them to and from school, attended PTA meetings, taught them some rudimentary French. I've been to more graduations than I can remember, and if I make no claim to being anyone's biological father, I can say I learned a lot from my dealings with small and not so small children. There's a love there not to be found anywhere else, and it is, in a word, wonderful.

I have a friend whose children I used to see briefly once or twice a week, they'd come over to my house and pass muster on an old guys' toys. That was fun and I miss it...

Here's installment 100 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 24

“I am not quite sure that I’m satisfied with your answers, Mr. Okwuike. May I call you Comfort? Of course I can. At this point, I can do virtually anything I want!” The man smiled as if he found the statement amusing.

Comfort breathed through his mouth. He thought his nose might be broken but wasn’t certain.

“Good. Let’s begin again.”

The Nigerian State Police officer was a bulky man with café-au-lait skin. He had removed his Armani jacket, unbuttoned the top of his white Caleche shirt and rolled up his sleeves. He had big hands and two pinkie rings, one set with a diamond, the other with a ruby, and a heavy silver and gold watch on his left wrist.

There was one chair, one table, one lightbulb, no windows, a bucket of water on the floor. The NSP officer occupied the chair. His elbows rested on the table. Between his elbows was a child’s ruled school notebook and a Lacrosse pen. The room was blindingly hot. Comfort was naked and tied ankles and wrists to four iron rings set in the wall. Two wire leads ran from his limp penis and testicles to an old-fashioned crank generator the man held in his lap.

Both of Comfort’s thumbs were broken and his hands had swollen so they looked like winter mittens. One of his eyes was closed, the lid bruised and bleeding.

“We shall begin again.” The policeman seemed to ponder a moment, then gave the generator’s crank a vicious turn. Comfort jumped, moaned.

“My god, that looks painful.” the officer said. “Personally, I don’t think I could take it.” He turned the crank two more times. The shocks made Comfort whimper.

“Now that I have your attention, let me say that you may be Comfort, but my middle name could be Patience. I have all day, Mr. Okwuike. As a matter of fact, I have all week. I’m on leave, you see. The government gives me twenty days a year. I have spent two of those days finding you, which was longer than I anticipated. I would prefer not to spend any additional vacation time in such a hostile environment, but if is to be, Insh’ Allah.

He sighed, turned the crank. “You know,” he said, “your case is positively unusual. People pay me vast amounts of cash so I might help them leave Nigeria, and you come into the country with an extraordinary sum of money—American dollars, no less—strapped to your body. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything quite like it.”

Comfort’s speech was blurred by his thickened tongue. He said, “I’ve told you everything.”

“And I do not believe you, which puts us in a quandary. So we begin again. You’re name is?

Comfort’s breath rattled in his throat. “You know my name.”

A turn of the crank made his back arch.

“Your name is...”

“Comfort Okwuike.”

“And you came from...”

“The United States. Washington.”


Comfort hesitated. The man’s hand pressed lightly on the crank.

“With $136,000.”

“Good,” said the man. He stood, took a cupful of water from the bucket and threw it in Comfort’s face. Comfort tried to catch some with his tongue, got a few drops.

“The $136,000—which, incidentally, is contraband. We have strict laws in Nigeria about that—came from the sale of...”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I've always envied people with large families, those with scads of brothers and sisters--some liked, some not--who share common blood, upbringing, family legends and myths.
I was the only child of my parents, though I had two half-sisters from my mother's first husband. As a kid I rarely saw them, they lived at their father's house and rarely came to mine. When they did visit, they came bearing a dislike for my father, whom they felt had taken their mother from them. The eldest sister died eight years ago; the other, a musician and composer, lives in Paris. I see her whenever I travel to France and we try to pick up the conversations left unended when last we met and parted.

G. Stanley Hall, reputed as the founding father of child psychology in the late 1800s, called being an only child “a disease in itself.” Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author at Rutgers University, says the only child "myth" has been perpetuated ever since. “People articulate that only children are spoiled, they’re aggressive, they’re bossy, they’re lonely, they’re maladjusted,” she said. “And the list goes on and on and on.”

According to a recent article in MedIndia, which tracks family health in a nation where more and more families are opting to have only one child, " ‘onlies’ become extremely independent and take on responsibilities very soon in life. They take on more than they can handle and rarely or never ask for help. Pleasing parents and devoting almost an entire lifetime trying to live up to expectations weighs them down heavily, but in most cases the expectations are usually theirs and not imposed. Singles have a strong desire to succeed, mostly for self-fulfilment, and studies also show that single children are rarely dreamy; they like things straightforward, tend to get one thing done at a time and generally like their lives uncluttered.

Hmmm. Doesn't much sound like me.

I wonder if single children seek to unite with established families. I've been doing this--without success--a large part of my life. I like being involved in families, listening to their histories, watching their dances of joy and sorrow. I fantasize about having someone who has known me from childhood. I wonder what it's like to have a sister getting engaged, or divorced, or bearing a child. I wonder what a brother would have been like, whether there would have been shared interests or immediate competition. Most likely, a little of both.

But then I know families where siblings have not spoken to each other for years, where parents are reviled, and family reunions that have all the trappings of Greek tragedies, so it's all idle speculation.

Here's installment 99 of Wasted Miracles.

When Mollie got to the airport a stream of gaily painted cabs was disgorging passengers. She’d planned it that way, had made it a point to get there when traffic was at the highest. The ten pound package weighed much more than she’d anticipated. It was in the carry-all and the strap pulled at her shoulder so that she felt lopsided.

When someone bumped hard into her, she stumbled, almost fell, felt herself being pulled around. Then the strap of the bag broke. She yelled but someone pushed her again and this time she did fall, landing on her hands and knees. She heard the sound of feet running, looked up from the floor to see a pair of worn Reeboks weaving through the crowds. Then she heard a police whistle. Four sets of uniformed legs dashed past her, a shiny military boot barely missed her head. She struggled to a sitting position on the floor, felt hands on her neck, on her shoulders.

“Miss? Miss, are you all right? Miss?”

Not much later, as she sat on a hard plastic chair in the congested office of the airports customs office, it struck her that her luck hadn’t held out, that no matter how things worked out, she was in a great deal of trouble. She stood, put her hand on the doorknob, tried to turn it. The door was locked. She sat back down, looked at the tourist posters advertising a much more pleasant country than the one she was in. She lowered her head into her hands and started crying.

Two door down from the office in which Mollie was sequestered, Major Charles Townsend opened the travel bag. He was a tall black man of military bearing, born and raised in Freeport and proud of the services he’d provided to his country. His men had cornered the thief—a mere boy— in a toilet, thoroughly pummeled him and whisked him away to a small holding cell usually reserved for quarantined animals. They had deposited the travel bag on the Major’s desk.

He unzipped it, reached in, felt a heavy parcel wrapped in paper. He pulled the package out, slit the paper with his pen knife, found a layer of plastic, slit that. The white powder gleamed at him. He moistened a finger, poked it into the powder, brought it gingerly to his lips. He frowned, did it again.

The Major was due to leave the Customs Services in a week. His good-bye party was already planned. He thought about the paperwork involved in this particular seizure. It might take weeks to interrogate the suspect. He had already purchased two airplane tickets to New York for the day after his retirement so he and his wife could visit their eldest son who was living there.

He found that morning’s newspaper, spread it carefully on his desk. Then he slit the parcel completely open.

He tasted the powder again.

He flattened the mound of powder across the newspaper with a ruler, poked his finger here and there throughout. He smelled it, tasted it again a half-dozen times. He inspected the powder, used the eraser end of a pencil to push it around, looking for anything that might have been concealed there.

After a while he gathered the corners of the newspaper, folded them together, used several feet of Scotch tape to wrap the bundle tightly.

In one of the bag’s sidepockets he found Mollie’s wallet, opened it. There was $318 in cash, plus change. He took $250 out, folded it and placed it in his shirt pocket. He dropped the parcel in his trashcan.

Mollie had stopped crying when he opened the door but her face mirrored her thoughts. He handed her the travel bag, led her out of the room. “I’m afraid you’ve missed your plane, Miss. You’ll have to make other arrangements.”

She nodded, not really hearing him.

“I’m very sorry this happened,” he said. “I hope it won’t stop you from visiting Nassau again.” He pointed towards one of the airline counters. “Delta has a plane leaving in two hours. If you hurry, you might be able to get a reservation.”

Mollie nodded, still not hearing.

He gave her a gentle push in the direction of the Delta counter. When she was a few feet away, he said, “Miss?”

Mollie turned, faced him. He wore a stern look.

“I believe U.S. laws expressly forbid the importation of foodstuff from the Bahamas. That includes fruits, meats... and flour.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

For Gearheads Only

I'm selling my Ferrari. This is meaningful because for a short while, the car was manifest proof that I had made something of myself. It's red, it's beautiful, it's a 12-cylinder Testarossa (nothing to do with testosterone, thank you. Testa Rossa=Red [cylinder] Head) and the entire interior is covered in glove leather. It goes like a bat out of hell and kids love it. So on the off-chance that someone in your family has a few extra dollars to spend, here are the particulars. The car is listed on eBay, item no. 310149228132

This is a 1990 Ferrari Testarossa in classic red with tan leather interior. I am the second owner, and it has always been garaged and never driven in the rain. Both exterior and interior are in excellent condition. The car has a new battery and starter, installed three months ago, as well as a new clutch put in by Ferrari of Washington when the car had 15,000 miles.

Tires are in excellent condition, and all engine and belt work was done prior to my purchasing it from Ferrari of Washington. I have driven this car sparingly, and it has been maintained by marque experts. Included are a car cover, original manuals and leather case, all original documents and bill of sale, and a hard-to-find wiring diagram. A full leather tool case comes with the car as well as the Ferrari ‘donut’ spare tire

The Testarossa is a two-door coupe with a fixed roof that premiered at the 1984 Paris Auto Show. All versions of the Testarossa had the power fed through the wheels from a rear-mounted, five-speed manual transmission. The Rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout (engine between the axles but behind the cabin) keeps the center of gravity in the middle of the car, which increases stability and improves the car's cornering ability, and thus results in a standing weight distribution of 40% front and 60% rear.

This Testarossa sports a 4.9 litre (4,943 cubic centimetres/302 cubic inches) Ferrari Colombo Flat-12 engine mounted at 180 degree mid, longitudinally. Each cylinder has four valves, with forty-eight valves total, lubricated via a dry sump system, and a compression ratio of 9.20:1. These combine to provide a maximum torque of 361 ft·lbf at 4500 revolutions per minute and a maximum power of 291 kilowatts at 6300 revolutions per minute.

This Ferrari Testarossa can accelerate from 0–100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) in 5.8 second and from 0–97 kilometres per hour (60 mph) in 5.2 seconds and on to 161 km/h (100 mph) in 11.40 seconds and can complete a standing (from stationary) quarter mile (~400 m) in 13.50 seconds or a standing kilometre in 23.80 seconds. The maximum speed of this Testarossa is 187 mph.

There is a slight road rash on the rim of the left rear wheel. The driver and passenger side carpets have been replaced but the originals are included.

Recently, a 1990 Testarossa with comparable mileage and in the less popular white/tan leather combination sold for $82,000 at Barrett-Jackson auction held in Palm Beach, Florida. I am offering this car for far less as I need a quick sale.

Tell your friends.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Faust, Revisited

Over the years I've made many friends involved in one 12-step program or another, and if there is a commonality to be found among them, it is that their lives changed drastically once they started practicing the principles involved in whichever program they undertook. These remain the same, whether the addiction is narcotics, alcohol, food, sex, gambling. An odd mixture of acceptance, spirituality and a willingness to accept assistance from others who share a common ill can have miraculous results.

Several of the friends I have who are members of Al Anon, NA and AA in the past three years have divorced their husbands/wives or abandonned their relationships with their mates. In some cases, the reasons for such drastic actions were obvious: the significant others were practicing drunks, abusers not above using physical and emotional violence. But many, a surprising number, really, left because relationships had ground to a halt and they were no longer capable of maintaining what had become a charade.

When we become members of a recovery program and truly work it, we unwittingly make a deal with the devil, though we're probably not aware of it at the time. We decide that our lives, boundaried as they are by our addictions, are no longer satisfactory. On the promise of better, more fulfilling times, we break with the past, change our habits, espouse new and better ways of dealing with issues that may have baffled us. Often, we do this with a sense of excitement, almost elation, as we realize that what seemed impossible--abandoning the very stuff of our addictions--is now within our grasp. And as we transform ourselves, as we adopt new thoughts and practice new actions, we find that often the people closest to us also change. Far from being pleased by our progress, they develop resentments; they are bewildered, stubborn, angry. They may not have liked who we were before, but at least they knew us. Now the person who shares kitchen and bed is a stranger with new friends, opinions, thoughts of his or her own. We are no longer easily bullied. We want to re-assume the responsibilities our addictions took away.

We do not, initially, want an end to the relationship--we want the other party to grow with us, join in the adventure, and we assume this will happen in time. After all, our changes have been for the better, and who wouldn't want to improve his or her lot? We suggest the other also join a program. We go to couples counseling, see shrinks together and individually, we make efforts and forget a basic fact: our SO, if he or she is not an addict of some stripe, may not in the least be eager to change.

Quandary... What to do?

When I got sober, my then-wife told me she was not interested in participating in any program that involved group discussions and explorations of ourselves and our relationship. She did not want to thrash out our problems in public; she was indifferent to the opinions or experiences of others. Our life was private and not open to the examination of others. In time, she and I parted ways. It was as friendly as such things can be, tripped up only when it came time to divide conjugal property. But we got past that too and remained, if not fast friends, at least good acquaintances.

I have known a few couples who have survived the 12-step traumas, but not many. I am not sure whether it is possible or not, but I do know it's impossible to unring a bell, and once a better way to live life has been found, most are loathe to return to the old standards of guilt, anger, fear and distrust . So what's the solution? Suggestions, anyone?

Here is installment 98 of Wasted Miracles.

The first passenger to report to the infirmary complained of acute stomach cramps and, while she was being given a tiny cup of Pepto Bismo, vomited on the attending nurse’s shoes. Two more passengers, a first-class couple, came in shortly thereafter. They were pale, their hands were clammy and they also suffered from cramps. The nurse logged these complaints, and when twelve more passengers appeared in a twenty-minute span, she called the ship’s physician, Dr. Subramanian Purushotham.

Dr. Purushotham was a regular at the Captain’s table. Tall, graying, a urologist by training who had studied in Delhi and the United States and come to despise his specialty, Dr. P., as he was known, inspired an effortless confidence. He had been serving on the Isadora seventeen months and, prior to that, had attended to passengers’ needs on two other Royal Scottish Line ships.

He had seen every conceivable manifestation of sea-sickness, agoraphobia, and motion disorders. He had set broken bones, treated fibrillating hearts, purged gastrointestinal parasites, and closed the eyes of more than a dozen cardiac arrest victims. He could and often did prescribe antidepressants, beta-blockers and, on rare occasions, opiates. He had never, in his long sea-borne career, witnessed anything like the tumult that soon took over his infirmary.

The first patient had come in shortly after one that morning. By five a.m., more than three hundred passengers were clamoring for Dr. P’s attention. The corridors reeked of regurgitate and other effluvia he hardly dared name. Three of the ship’s four nurses were as ill as the passengers they were trying to treat.

Dr. P. knew that, 24 hours earlier, the ship’s sous saucier, Jean Marie Berger, had complained of agonizing pains in his bloated stomach. Dr. P. had diagnosed an inflamed appendicitis in need or urgent removal and remanded the man to Freeport’s community hospital. Perhaps the diagnosis had been wrong.

Captain Roderick Stuart, made aware of the pandemonium, checked in by phone every 15 minutes. As the news grew worst, he consulted his charts. By seven that morning, 417 passengers at last count were seriously ill. One elderly woman had lapsed into a coma, three tourist-class fares were vomiting blood. Few crewmembers were affected, which was a blessing. All hands not crucial to the immediate running of the ship were on clean-up detail, swinging mops and buckets throughout the four decks.

Shortly before eight, Captain Stuart, having explored all available alternatives, changed the ship’s course. They were twenty hours out of Nassau, so turning back was not an option. Even had it been possible, Freeport probably did not have enough hospital beds to treat the epidemic.

Even at maximum steam, the Isadora would not reach New York

for twenty-five hours. He consulted his charts again.

His mistress had joined him. “What does Dr. P. say?”

“Food poisoning, almost certainly. Perhaps botulism. Two more passengers are in a coma. ” He massaged his eyes. “Nothing like this has ever happened.”

She stood behind him, rubbed his back. He was standing erect at the chart table and she thought she could feel a slight tremor beneath her fingers.

“A Coast Guard helicopter is on its way to ferry the coma cases out, and the cutter Seawitch is on its way with half a dozen doctors. There aren’t enough helicopters to take everybody. “

She kneaded his shoulders, the muscles unforgiving as stones.

Captain Stuart said, “Baltimore. It has to be Baltimore.”