Headed for a Scotch Hibernation

Pots scrubbed, food away, and a bottle of Scotch, two thirds full, found on the floor next to a chair.  Maybe half-hidden by a family member to spare the feelings of the nondrinking JJ?  Then left behind, which baffled JJ, who never forgot a bottle of liquor with any moisture inside.  Thanksgiving over and everyone gone, a heavy silence after a day of eating and noise.  A pregnant silence in an old farmhouse, JJ all alone up on this hill with a bottle of Scotch someone left behind.  He should be giving thanks, reflecting on his friends and family, on a big game of touch football with nephews and siblings.  And the turkey, roasted real nice with all the trimmings.  And the teamwork in the cooking and the cleaning up.  It was a perfect day, a true housewarming for his farm that wasn’t a farm.  This day, this Thanksgiving, was an undeserved gift from the great spirit that can line things up for you then tear them apart.  “We tear them apart,” JJ thought.  “I tear them apart.”

An old memory of sitting next to train tracks at night drinking Dewars from the bottle.  Rocker was there.  They were on acid and screamed and danced when the freight train rumbled by.  JJ had to tackle ol’ Rocker from jumping onto the train and they both collapsed, laughing like loons in the gravel next to the tracks.  They killed that bottle of Dewars and JJ remembered the next day, Rocker on the couch vacant and pale, groaning, “Scotch…..Scotch….” over and over, hugging himself and gently rocking.  Rocker rocking.  JJ couldn’t remember his real name, if he had one.  Maybe Rocker was his real name.

JJ remembered another couple bottles of Scotch, packed into the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, near Steamboat Springs.  Carried that dead weight for 9 miles to a beautiful valley at the head of which Mt. Zirkel presided, craggy and inviting. He camped alone and looked at the mountain.  It was calling, needing to be climbed, not that hard, good approaches he could plainly see, just a bit over 12,000 feet.  But JJ sat there for two days, drinking Scotch, smoking pot, and reading a Cormac McCarthy novel, the grim one with the Judge and the Indian scalps.  Not a bad way to spend time in the mountains, but not very vigorous.  Or social either.  But the simplicity and the solitude.  And the huge silence and all that wonderful space.  And the Scotch going down with mountain water.

There was some term for this thinking. Euphoric recall?  Yup, that sounded about right.  He knew, with the little part of his mind that was still his own, that he was leaving out quite a bit.  Like the aftermath and such.  The compulsion to keep going, an all-body compulsion to keep drinking at all costs, an indescribable thirst.  And all the consequences of simply checking out.  The losing of things.  Friends, family, stuff, self-respect, hygiene.  He knew he was leaving all that part out.  But you know what?  “Fuck it,” JJ muttered.  “At least I’ll use a glass.”  Then a dark chuckle.  “You’ve come a long way, baby,” he said to an empty house.  And so winter began.

Prepping the Bird, Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving morn and JJ was up early to deal with the turkey.  Not some frozen supermarket bird but a real live turkey (it was alive two weeks ago) from a real live farm nearby.  “This bird is environmentally sound plus I’m supporting the local economy.” JJ tells himself these things, feeling good, and reaches into the cavity for the giblets.  There they are, wrapped in plastic.  Carl said to save them to help make gravy.  Well, Carl can make the gravy because JJ’s at a loss about this big-ass bird and what to do with it.  That’s when Carl came through the kitchen door, banging in with bags of food.  “You haven’t been humping that thing, have you?”

“I don’t even know where to start,” said JJ and patted the breast.

“Better at one of the ends.”

“You and your thing with food humping.  How are we going to cook it?”

“We’re gonna rinse it, then we’re gonna stuff it, then we’re gonna infuse it with butter and herbs and  then salt it and put it in the oven.”

“How long?”

“A long ass time.  Hours.  Five or six hours.”

“Where’s Anne?”

“She’ll be along.  She’s getting some stuff ready.”

“Like what?”

“Some kinda beet salad.  With goat cheese and pecans.”


“Exactly,” said Carl as he carried the bird to the sink.  “Where’s the roasting pan?”

“Roasting pan?”

“Oh shit,” Carl said.  “Here we go.”

“I thought it just went in the oven,” JJ said.  Though now he could see there would be juices, maybe grease and fire, certainly a mess.

“Please tell me that you’re not really that stupid.”

“I don’t have much of that stuff and you know it.”

“I thought maybe you would acquire some stuff.  Y’know, with your winnings,.”

“I bought plates and silverware and all that.  Pots too.  But no roasting pan.”

Carl took his phone out and called home.  “How soon are you coming…bring the roasting pan…yes, really… what?…No shit,” he said and looked at JJ.  “OK, see you soon.”

“What did she say?,” JJ asked.

“She says you need a lady.”

“No shit,”  JJ said.  “I know that.  What about the pan?”

“She’ll be here with the pan.”

Carl had a cake of butter mixed with herbs that he pushed in dabs up under the skin and into the cavities with the stuffing.  JJ cut some apples and onions into chunks.  They tied the legs together and pinned the wings to the body.  Anne arrived with the pan and they nestled the bird on the rack, filling the bottom of the pan with chunked onions and apples.  Carl rubbed some more butter on the breast and salted the whole thing.   JJ opened the oven door, moved the rack down to the bottom notch, and Carl put the whole deal into the oven.  JJ shut the door and bowed his head, hands clasped, in recognition that this ceremonial killing and cooking of a large awkward bird was taking place all over the country.  Thanksgiving, USA.

“I’m thankful for you guys,” JJ said.

Anne smiled and Carl said, “Yeah, yeah, same to you.  Let’s have some coffee and go throw the football.”

JJ looked out the window.  Not a single cloud in the pale blue sky.  “OK,” he said.  “Let’s do that.”

Thanksgiving Plans, JJ Style

“It’s pretty late notice,”  JJ’s brother Brian said.

“It’s three weeks from now,” JJ said.

“These things are planned months ahead.  And it’s two weeks from now.”

“You haven’t even been out to see the place.  The girls will love it.”

“I’m sure they will but it’s not easy to change plans like this.”

“You just said you didn’t have any real plans.”

“I have to talk to Jane,” Brian said.  “She wants to serve the meal at the shelter.”

“Plus, Kari and the boys are coming.  I saw them at a soccer game.”

“I thought they were going to the Cape.”

“No Cape.  Betty and Barry are going on a cruise,” JJ said.  “I actually sent them on the cruise.”

“Over Thanksgiving?  How did they agree to that?”

“I said I booked it for myself and a friend but that fell through and they could take it or leave it.”

“Brilliant.  But, wait, were you really going with someone?”

JJ paused.  “No, it was a whim.  But then it seemed perfect for getting Betty and Barry away from us for Thanksgiving.”

“Are you still seeing that girl? Lily? Lori?”

“Lila.  No.  It looked like we might get back together but then a deer got impaled and that seemed a bad sign.”

“Umm…ok.  Well, I’ll talk to Jane but I’m leaning towards coming out.”

“Really? Great.”

“Do you know how to cook a turkey?”

“Turkey?  Don’t you have ham on Thanksgiving?  Or lasagna?  Just like the pilgrims.”

“This oughta be interesting,” Brian said.  “I’ll text you later after I confirm with Jane.”

JJ hung up and looked out the window and down the hill toward the road then up to the hills across the valley.  The leaves were all down and things were revealed, the bones of the earth picked clean and exposed, cold and gray.  William Bradford, a real-life pilgrim, once said of the New England fall, “All things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country full of woods and thickets represented a wild and savage hue.” JJ liked those pious badass Pilgrims and their savage new world.

He dialed the phone and asked Carl, “How do you cook a turkey?”

“It’s gotta be dead first.”

“I’m having Thanksgiving.”

“We’ll come over and help you.”

“Both of you?”

“Yup.  We’ll be there at 8:00 to start cooking,” Carl said.  “That’s 8:00 in the morning.”

“No shit,” said JJ.  “But were you invited?  I don’t recall…”

“No.  But that doesn’t matter.  We’ll go shopping next week.”

“Ok,” JJ said and hung up.  He stood and looked out the window.  He felt like he was on his own pilgrimage, navigating a new world of family and friends who actually wanted to be with him.  But he couldn’t shake the feeling of something lurking in the thickets, some savage, some Wampanoag maybe, ready to strike with spear or arrow.

The other shoe, ready to drop.

The End of a Season

JJ just watched his nephews lose a soccer game.  The end of a season.  “They expected to win,” his sister said and JJ heard a voice in his head.  It was a guy named Doc the Painter from an AA meeting in Sacramento who said, “Serenity is inversely related to your expectations.”  Man, that recovery shit never leaves the brain.

A couple kids on the team cried, at least those kids with the congenital drive to win and step on the necks of kids from other towns.  Most kids seemed relieved and wore rueful smiles.  Lollipops had appeared from somewhere and JJ thought, “That was me.  I would smile and cry later, alone.  Then resent the whole thing for the rest of my life.”

His sister came over and put her arm around him, drawing him into the family.  “Well that’s over,” she said.  People were milling, saying farewell and have a good winter.  November was here, hibernation coming soon, and JJ could feel it.  The sun was warm but the breeze came from somewhere with real cold.  Like Canada.

“Aren’t you sad,” JJ asked.

“Nah,” she said.  The kids approached, sheepish but not defeated.  “It’s all in good fun.  Sports are fun.”

Not for me, JJ thought.  Never for me.  I like Wiffle Ball in the yard and football on Thanksgiving with the cousins.  I like watching on TV.  Or seeing the lights of a night game from the highway, a world illuminated as he passed in the dark, there and then gone, not too close.

“Hi, Uncle Jason.”  Nephew One said.

“Thanks for coming.”  Nephew Two said.

They came to JJ together and gave sideways hugs, one on either side, pressing their heads briefly against his ribs.  “You guys are fantastic,” JJ said.

“Coach said we’ll get ‘em next year,” Nephew One said.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Nephew Two said.

JJ bought hot dogs and sodas for his nephews as his sister talked with some other parents.  Nephew One said, “Can we come to the farm for Thanksgiving?”

Nephew Two said, “I want to play football in that side yard.  We were talking about that.  Can we do that?”


“And don’t you have a turkey on your farm we could eat?”

JJ thought of his hot tub and basketball court in the barn.  He thought of the native forest he was planting in the old fields.  He thought of his lottery money and how he hadn’t thought of his lottery money during the whole game.  It was time to button up for the winter and get closer to these family people.  Thanksgiving would be a good start.

“It’s not that kind of farm.  I don’t have any animals,” JJ said.  “But we’ll definitely get a turkey.”