Panic Room


JJ found the car parked around the corner from the bar. It had a ticket under the wiper (meter expired, never fed) but looked intact. Night was falling and there were people going here and there, young people with hope and a bounce in their steps. There was an expectant Friday night feel. He sat on a bench near the car and strove for a post-binge clarity of his position and state of affairs. There were pros and cons.

Pro: He hadn’t lost the car and it appeared to be undamaged. The keys were in his pocket.

Con: He didn’t know what happened during the past three days.

Pro: Except for a sodden dread and a railroad spike of pain in his head, he appeared to be mostly intact. Dirty, but physically intact.

Con: All his cash was gone.

Pro: He still had his wallet and debit card.

First things first. Find an ATM. There’s a bank right over there with the little ATM booth attached near the side entrance. A swipe, a buzz, and the too bright flourescent light. Check balance? (A dreadful stirring and shadowy memories, much too recent.)

Balance: $1,254.88.

Before he left Massachusetts it was $51,000 and change, the last of his lottery winnings.

He stared at the current number. The digits floated a little on the screen, disconnecting then all lining up. He blinked but the number of digits didn’t increase. It took him a minute to do the math as his heart started to pound. The shadow beasts were starting to emerge from the mist.

He was missing $50,000.

Other memories now, little glimpses of a movie in which he was the slow-moving and dimwitted star. A bank. Bank employee in a suit (never a good sign). Phone calls and … signatures? And… And…

A person with him. A woman? Yes? A young woman. The Mountain Dude? That was later, he was pretty sure.

He stood frozen at the ATM until it double-beeped and threatened to end the transaction. He cancelled the transaction and stumbled back against the wall of the ATM booth. Sliding down to a crouch with his back against the wall, JJ tried to piece it all together and pierce the fog of the last three days. The ride from Denver, a liquor store along the way, a hotel off the highway, drinking and watching a baseball game on TV. Restlessness and boredom. Then the fog thickened. JJ, head down in concentration and shame, trying to keep the panic at bay, crouched there for a minute or an eternity.

There was a knock on the glass of the ATM panic room. JJ startled with a surge of fear and jerked his head up. The demons were trying to get in!

He saw a woman smiling at him through the glass. Was it…? Lila? But, no, just for a second there. The shape of her. The hair. But it was not Lila. JJ opened the door.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “I got my stuff. The camping gear.”


“Are you alright? We’re driving up to see the land.”


“The land we bought?”



“You drive,” he said and handed her the keys. “And help me up, please.”




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Safe in the Woods


Emerging from a blackout, one finds oneself in the midst of the strangest scenarios. You re-enter your body like a time traveler and need to catch up quick lest you are discovered.

JJ re-entered his body, sitting on a park bench in Fort Collins, CO. Sitting next to him, hairy and hulking, was the Mountain Dude.

“I dreamt of a broken safe in the woods, full of acorns.”

“Huh?” JJ was disoriented and wondered what had happened. How was he here? Where did the Mountain Dude come from? And, holy shit, where was the car?

“I was walking down a mountainside. Saw an appliance or something down the hill in a clearing.   Got closer and it was a safe, busted open, with acorns spilling out.”

“A safe? Who was safe?”

The Mountain Dude looked at JJ. “Man, you’re really out of it. It was a safe, like where you keep your valuables. In the middle of the woods, busted open, with acorns spilling out. Hundreds of acorns.”

“When did this happen?”

“Dude! It was a dream.”

A dream. Maybe this was a dream, too. How could the Mountain Dude, who JJ instantly recognized as the Mountain Dude from back east, be sitting here in a park in Colorado talked to him about dreams.

“Is this real?”

“I’m real. I’m really real. The dream? What kind of symbol is a broken safe in the woods?”

JJ looked at the park. Late summer, late afternoon. People walked their dogs and threw Frisbees. The foothills of the Rockies rose beyond the town, sage and brown. He felt quavery and dry, his head too big for his body. Standing would be a major issue. Worse, there were knuckle-dragging beasts, just beyond the fog in his head and heart. Feelings and memories chasing him, making threatening movements, shadows in the fog. If that fog clears…

“Precious things are kept in a safe, locked away,” JJ said.

“Right. Not just documents. Gems and jewels.”

“So maybe the things you hold precious, locked up inside, need to come out. Or they’re already out.”

“So the woods are my soul or unconscious,” the Mountain Dude said. “And I come upon this safe that’s broken open.”

“Full of God’s thoughts.”dsc_0789


“Acorns are God’s thoughts. Simple and perfect, but not too perfect.”

“Dude. I knew you could do it.”

“You knew? How?”

“You told me. In the bar. An interpreter of dreams you said you were. A seeker of symbols. I pulled you out of there before they threw you out of there.” The Mountain Dude stood up. “And I’ve been rewarded.”

“You’re going?”

“I have to go off and think on these images.”

“What about me?”

“You’ll have to carry on and find your own acorns.”

The Mountain Dude walked down the grassy hill toward the foothills beyond.

JJ stared after him, befogged and befuddled.  What now?  Then he yelled at the departing Mountain Dude, “Have you seen a Hyper Blue Metallic Camaro?”


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Go West


Thoreau, in Walking, romanticized the instinct to go West as the human impulse toward the wild, which for him meant to be really alive. The West represents the wild urge inside of us that we need to respect and not fuck with. He was leery of settling down, of becoming smug and lame, and mocked his neighbors who were strangely pleased about being rooted in place by their comfort and real estate. He would abhor most of the US today.

I have often fled West to seek a sense of space and newness, to get revitalized. But I always returned east to get devitalized.

I sit on this westbound plane craving alcohol and trying to (not) look down the shirt of the woman next to me. Forty-five minutes into the flight and she has not acknowledged me in any way though we sit six inches apart. I’m working up the courage to go for a full-on glimpse of her bra. I need to know the color!

When the drink cart comes I buy two vodkas and dump them into my airline coffee. That gets her attention and the distance between us grows to seven inches.

Have you ever been to the Denver International Airport? It is a light and airy place, trying for a mood of a whimsical futuristic Colorado with no shale oil or coal mining, only skiing and taxable marijuana. It has a soaring roof that imitates the snowcapped peaks in the distance. It has underground trains that go to various terminals. It takes an hour to get from the arrival gate to the outdoors.

I take a shuttle to the Hertz building where I enter what looks like an Apple Store highlighted in Hertz-yellow and talk to a guy named Brett about renting a convertible.

“Right on,” Brett says. “We usually recommend the full-size SUV if you’re going into the mountains.”

“Is the full-size SUV a convertible?”

He chuckles in a don’t-be-silly way. “Nope. But it has lot of room.”

“Brett,” I say. “Dude. Let’s cut through the upsell bullshit and get me on the road in that convertible.”

“Right on.”

Chevy Camaro. Hyper Blue Metallic. Enough said.

The Denver metro area is sprawling and vast and it takes a while to get that driving in the west feeling of space and possibility. I head north along the Front Range. There’s this headache and my body is crying for more liquor but I’m determined to hold out for a little while until…

The guy at the liquor store is eyeing my Camaro. “That’s a nice one.”

“Just got it,” I say and grab my bottle of whiskey. “Now I’m gonna christen it.”

“Right on.”

By christen it, I mean take a big hit off the Wild Turkey bottle and keep driving.

There’s two levels to me right now, very distinct. There’s Jason, the part that knows I’m fucked, out of control, headed for something painful and unpleasant, probably involving police or hospital.

Then there’s the other part, exultant, insatiable and free. JJ unleashed. Jason knows that this is fleeting, already slipping away even as I howl into the top-down air. But, it’s so good, this rush of doomed possibility. It just is! So, shut the fuck up, Jason! Shut up about the dwindling lottery winnings. Shut up about Lila and Carl and family. Shut up about finishing the memoir.

JJ reserves the right to revel in this pure freedom of road, mountains, and hyper blue metallic rental Camaro. I accept the deal. Pure bliss for an hour or two before the really compulsive drinking takes over and I blackout or gray-out for a few days and do something stupid.

That’s a bargain!


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The Non-Writing Yurt


It’s clear to me now- I’m no writer. The sitting still! The sustained effort! Not my strong suits.

I’m in Shaboo’s writing yurt. The gracious and generous Shaboo has let me stay here for two months to write my fictional memoir. It’s stalled out and all I do now is drink and walk in the woods.

Yes, I’m drinking. Alone. Yes, I’ve talked to Carl and Lila after my most recent assholery. They’re housesitting for me. Together. “Seriously,” you ask? Yes, it’s true. My on again/off again soul mate and my longtime college bud- my two best friends in the world- are shacking up in my house on my farm. The best part? It’s a little fuzzy, but I think it was my idea! That’s how I am when I drink. I create the conditions necessary for self-pity so I can justify my own destruction. Alcoholism 101.

Shaboo has cranked out some good stuff in this writing yurt in the Berkshires. There’s a little shower and privy outside with plumbing, the only nod to comfort or civilization. No electricity. No wifi. He writes longhand then revises as he types into a computer back in town. That fucker published two novels like that! One was about below-decks love and murder on a whaling vessel. The other was about fascist sleeper cells in the US waiting for a charismatic bamboozler to appear, get elected president and make America white again. Very sinister stuff. Shaboo, successful novelist, is the same guy who wandered campus catatonic on acid half the time, looking hard at things, staring at trees, people, rocks, then wandering off to look some more. I took acid with him once and I was like, “Let’s go holy shit to the cemetery and read the gravestones whoaaaa”. And he just looked at me then wandered off.

I’m not doing so good here in the yurt. Peanut butter, crackers and Blue Label Smirnoff is my main fare. After I won the lottery, this was my fear: grinding to a halt, fog rolling in, a destructive inertia like a resigned wildebeest stuck in the mud.

The news from the outside world can’t be good. Here are some of the words and phrases I glimpsed on newspapers the last time I went to town: Death Toll, Rampage, Police Anguish, Coup Attempt, Supreme Court, #deflategate. I tried not to look any deeper. Clearly the world is going mad. It begs the question: Why even try?

“Why even try,” I asked Shaboo the other day when he came to check on me (check on the yurt).

“You have to cooperate in your fate,” he said. “Otherwise, the symptoms appear.”

“What symptoms?”

“Drinking, chronic masturbation, eating like shit, palpitations, Shadenfreude…”

“Shay done who?”

“That’s German for taking pleasure in the failure of others.”

“That’s a symptom? I thought that’s just the way of life.”

“Not everyone feels that way.”

It looks like I got me some symptoms. The diagnosis?

“You have soul sickness. You need to care for your soul,” Shaboo said and glanced around the yurt. “Maybe a trip away…”

“Out west! Back to Colorado!”

“That sounds abrupt but good,” he said.  “Maybe you can rediscover yourself.  Or even find that old love of yours.”  He pulled an empty vodka bottle from between the sofa cushions. “I can drive you to the airport right now, pardner.”

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JJ’s Memoir-Getting High in Mork’s House


Now that marijuana is ostensibly legal most everywhere, and stensibly legal in Colorado, it seems quaint to think back to the sneaking and code words and blowing one-hitter smoke into exhaust fans. Nowadays you walk down the street and get a whiff of smoke from houses, cars, daycares. I guess They’re allowing us a little salve for the pain They caused when They crashed the economy. You know Those guys? They’re the ones who really run the country, the Ones who get rich off a rigged system and ruin shit for everyone else. Those motherfuckers.

Anyway, here’s the next part of the memoir:


When I look back, I wonder at my petty and mean business acumen, my instinct to make money off people who had no thought about money. Today, I am completely lacking in guile and I sometimes feel neutered by my honesty. Life in Twelve Step programs ruins dishonesty for people whose first instinct is to lie, cheat, and steal. But, healthy honesty has saved my life and I can now move toward death in a slow peaceful descent rather than on a rollercoaster.

Do I sound a little bitter? Writing and recalling my days as a budding, opportunistic, and anything-goes pot dealer has opened a spigot of impure but tasty juice that leaves me edgy and restless. In short, I miss being an asshole. Oh, it comes out from time to time. After all, I am in a relationship (on again, off again, limbo right now). But, as I write, I miss the charge, the certainty, and most importantly, the lack of regret. I really miss the lack of regret. Too much empathy does not get it done in the 21st century USA.

So, after landing in Denver, I went with Kyle to smoke some pot in Boulder.2000px-Cannabis_leaf.svg

Of course, it was super sticky and super dank and I wanted to know where it came from. We smoked some and sat back in the upstairs living room of this massive Victorian. “My sister lives downstairs,” Kyle said. “My parents actually bought this place so we could live here. This was Mork and Mindy’s house.”

So, Nanoo Nanoo. I had heard of such things and, back East, it was very common for parents to buy cars for their kids. But a house? “What do your parents do?”

Kyle exhaled a long plume of pot smoke so I couldn’t tell if there was a sigh there. “He’s into drilling, natural gas extraction. He rapes the planet to get rich.”

“So this place here is the fruits of his planet rape?”

Kyle laughed, “Dude, I gotta use that one. Next Thanksgiving, at the dinner table.”

“Yeah, “ I said. “At grace. And thank you Jesus for this food, the fruits of our planet rape.”

We laughed about the rape of our planet.

Someone was coming up the stairs. “That’ll be Sissy,” Kyle said.

And Sissy’s friend.

At first glance, she was not much to look at. Rosy cheeks, shortish, and almost plump, (she would become very plump in middle age. I checked on Facebook). Almost milk-maidish or peasant-like. But she had a gleam in her eye, a troublemaker with something loose and wanton in the way she moved. She looked at people frankly, daring them to say something or do something for her amusement. Her name was Camille.

“Not Cammy,” she said. “Got that?”

“No problem, Not Cammy,” I said from a stoned place a hundred miles from where I sat.

“Now get us high,” she said and sat down next to me, moving me over with a swing of her hip.  Did I mention wanton? That was the first word that popped into my head. Not sure I even knew what it meant.

“If I could bring this pot back East I could sell the shit out of it. We smoke dirt out there.”

“Why would you want to commodify something so beautiful,” Camille said. She pulled a massive bong hit. Nice lungs.

“Camille is taking some class about the commodification of culture,” Sissy said.

“Who are you, anyway,” Camille asked me.

“Jason. From the plane.”

“We sat together on the flight,” Kyle said. He packed another hit and handed it to Sissy.

“So, he picked you up? On the plane? You guys didn’t do it in the bathroom, did you?”

“It wasn’t like that,” I said, too quickly.

“So, a culture commidifier and a homophobe,” Camille mocked. I could feel the armor of my self-consciousness rising. I wanted to withdraw inside that armor, shut it down. Pot was never my favorite. Too much meaning.

“Fuck off,” I managed.

Camille punched my arm. “Don’t be sensitive,” she said. “You’ll learn that I’m never serious. Except when I am.”

“Oh, Shazbut,” I thought (or should have thought). I had already fallen for her.


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JJ’s Memoir- The Trustafarian


I recently read a memoir by a very funny author named Gary Shteyngart. His family came to the US from Russia during the Cold War and he has to deal with identity crises, culture clash, and daddy issues. Gary’s family was allowed to come to the US during the Cold War because they were Jewish. From the little I know about history, Jewish folks are always moving on from one place or another, sometimes by choice. These events made for interesting writing. Me, I come from suburban Connecticut. Coming from suburban Connecticut does not make for interesting writing, unless you want to write about traffic, snobs, or business parks off of exit ramps. Business parks are not the fun kind of parks, despite the grass and trees. Anyway, here’s the next part. I’m leaving, on a jet plane…

On the plane out I sat next to some well funded pseudo-hippy named Kyle. Kyle was a Trustafarian. A Trustafarian is a rich kid, funded by parents, who gets to live without working. Predictably, he then stops bathing, gets dreadlocks, skis or snowboards or climbs or hang glides or just sits around talking about all those things while smoking copious amounts of pot. In other words: Person, in early twenties, with lots of money, who doesn’t have to work. Trustafarians would be my most lucrative customers when I started working for Matias and the Rocky Mountain Mafia.

“Right on, dude,” Kyle said when I told him I was leaving my troubles behind to live in Colorado. “Me, too.”

“Did you run from the cops, too?”

He looked at me. “Uh, no, not really, dude. My parents were after me. To

finish college. What a racket, man. Corporatized education. I won’t become their robot.”

“Do you work out there?”

“Work? Like a job?” Kyle smiled and rubbed his hands together as we cruised 40,000 feet above Iowa. “Working is not the way for me.”

“So, help me out here. How do you live? I mean, are you in a commune or something?”

“I live in a house. In Boulder.”

“Are there others like you?”

“Dude, that’s a weird question but, yeah man, we’re everywhere out there.”

Kyle was getting a bit tense with all the questions so I let him nap. But his insouciance, his pothead with money and not a care in the world demeanor, it was stirring something in me. The flicker of an idea. Who sells weed to these lazy, well-funded, and nonviolent freaks? Also, where does Kyle get his weed? Because I wanted to smoke some as soon as we landed.

“So,” I said as we started our descent into Denver. “When we land, where can I get that good bud that you so obviously partake of and are so obviously a connoisseur of?”

Kyle looked a bit alarmed but then a sly smile, a little coy, crept into his face. He was proud of his connections and his connoisseur status. That’s the way into these Trustafarians’ hearts. Like some high powered businessman with a bimbo on his arm. He wants you to stare, but not too much, just enough to acknowledge his superiority. For Trustafarians, you compliment their taste in marijuana, Frisbees, and old Volvos. Then they can’t help but let you into their secret.

“Where are you going when we get there?”

“Wherever you are,” I said. “For a little while.”


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Spring’s Coming


Driving home from work, the face of my son popped into my head and I cried for the years gone by. There was a song on, Sloop John B, and I cried for him and me and the passing of time.

Later, waiting for soccer practice to end, I sat in a Starbucks and watched a few teens, one with green hair, drink their drinks and caper in an artsy way. They languished on couches, taking up too much space, limbs all stacked and crossing, like fallen trees in a forest. They didn’t laugh (uncool), but they talked earnestly and glanced around. They glanced at me but didn’t see me. A boy said something about the snow and moving to a tropical island.   The girl with the green hair said, “Brett, you would die on a tropical island. You love this shit.” And they all laughed without smiling, nodding and glancing around, peering really, to make sure no one was listening. I looked away just in time.

I moved the kids’ bed last weekend and found all these toys we hadn’t seen for years. A monkey named Boots, a glow-in-the-dark ball, a foam sword covered in dust. The kids unearthed these lost items like archeologists, dusting them off, and discussing their uses like they were the implements of a vanished civilization, which they kind of are.

This is the thing. Sadness is upon me a lot these days. Even when I laugh, there is a hole, just above my gut, that doesn’t get filled.  Spring is coming.



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