Readers’ Mailbag–Send Questions to keithhoward@gmail.com

 

  1. What’s a typical morning like for you in the Tiny White Box in the Great North Woods?

I will answer your question, but first, isn’t language amazing?  Your sentence ends with two prepositional phrases in a row, yet we could go on adding like phrases forever and the sentence would still be correct and comprehensible, if perhaps bizarre:

What’s a typical day like for you in the Tiny White Box in the Great North Woods without a single human being beside you to warm you on the coldest day of the year of the warmest decade in recorded human history . . .?

I could go on writing that forever.  But I won’t.

A typical day begins with either Sam (is a dog) or me waking up and getting out of bed.  If I get up first, I pour dry food into Sam’s bowl, refresh his water and open the door for him to go outside.  I try to be a good friend to him.  If Sam (is a dog) gets up first, he hops off the bed and stares dolefully at me to get me to do those things.  I then make coffee in a nice and fancy coffee maker recommended by Jennifer, the creator of this website and a real-life barista at Starbucks.  Jennifer would be dismayed by the ground coffee I use—an amalgam of Trader Joe’s, Folger’s and various other brews shaken together in a gallon-sized glass canning bottle.

Once I am properly caffeinated, Sam and I go for a walk.  This time—usually an hour or so—allows us to cover a few miles of path and lakeside, with a little bushwhacking thrown in.  Because it’s fall, both Sam and I need to wear bright orange vests to reduce the likelihood a hunter, fortified by whiskey against the chill, will take a shot at us.  This is nothing personal on their part, but dying personally or impersonally doesn’t appeal to me right now.  Today is NOT a good day to die.  And neither is tomorrow.

On our return to the Tiny White Box, I have oatmeal.  Sam has dog food until I’m done eating, then he has leftover oatmeal licked from my discarded bowl.  I don’t have any evidence either way, but I do think the fiber is good for him.

Then, I put on music, pull out the Small Metallic Box, and start writing.  By then, it’s 9 or 9:30, and I’ve got a lot of work to do.

  1. How do you keep from getting lonely?

I am an introvert.  Although I know little about the Myers-Briggs Inventory (and even less of Karl Jung, on whose work it is supposedly based), I’ve taken it every couple of years for the past 30 years.  (For those of you who believe MBTI uber alles—my scores have been consistent—always either INFP or INTP.)  Always, I am a person who generates energy alone and expends energy in the company of others.  Put simply, an extrovert in my situation would find herself drained quickly, without the charge of human interaction, while I am more like the battery plugged in for perhaps too long.  To answer the question more poetically, I am never l lonely when I’m alone and never more lonely than in a crowd.

No “Program.” No “Groups.” No “Therapy.” Warriors@45 North

For most of my life, I’ve lived where I live because of a what or a who or a why.  I lived in Durham, NH, for the first 17 years of my life because that’s where my mom and dad lived.  While I could have fought for emancipation, I suppose, it seemed easier to complain about the food they gave me, and the clothes they didn’t than to try to live on my earnings as a teenager, particularly as a teenager who was much better at getting jobs than at keeping them.  After that, the Army didn’t take seriously my notion that I should be stationed in Hawaii with unlimited travel vouchers, so I was stationed in Germany and Missouri.  And so it went.  I lived here because I was in college or graduate school, there because I got a great job, over here because my wife and I bought a house and in my office at the great job because my wife and I got a divorce.

Today for the first time in my life, I live where I live solely because of choice.  I live in a tiny white box, a six-foot by 12-foot converted motorcycle trailer lovingly converted into living space by my friend, Gavin Beland, who is talented and patient.  The box provides everything Sam (is a dog) and I require:  a place to sleep, eat and write.  Sam, not surprisingly, doesn’t take much advantage of that third verb.  He is, after all, a dog.

The box is planted for the next year on the property of Jon Worrall, the director of Warriors@45North (http://www.warriors45north.com/), a retreat center for veterans in Pittsburg, NH.  Warriors@45North offers vets a chance to fish, hunt, target shoot, boat and relax far from civilization.  Getaways at 45North are completely free to vets, a double-edged sword:  it means anyone can come, regardless of income, AND it means everyone is suspicious.  After all, you get what you pay for, and if something’s offered for free, there must be a catch.  Honestly, really and truly, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, there is no catch.  The staff and board of 45North work hard to raise money to pay for everything, from heat for the bunkhouse, to food cooked in the main cabin, to fishing licenses for those who need them—everything is free, and nobody tries to sell you nothing.  All any vet has to do is contact the organization through their website, find out when activities are planned, and come for free.  Easy.

Last weekend, as part of Cast and Blast, so called because it’s a two-week period overlapping the end of fishing season and the beginning of hunting season, a vet I’ll call Brad visited. Brad and I had been in the service at roughly the same time, and had a shared experience of abuse, revealed a bit about ourselves and our experiences.  Each of us felt that click of identification, that sense of finding another person who’d tasted some of the same bitterness.  Neither of us had a breakthrough, life-changing moment; each walked away feeling a little better for having talked.  Before coming, Brad had been concerned 45North would require three things, three nouns that drive people like Brad and me crazy.  I guarantee, 45 North offers

  • No “Program”
  • No “Groups”
  • No “Therapy”

Warriors@45North is exactly what it purports to be:  a place where any veteran can come to stay for free and hunt, fish, hike or just read a book.  If you’re a vet, you owe it to yourself to find out more.

Brief Columbus Day Report from the Tiny White Box

Columbus Day in the Tiny White Box in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods, a few miles from Canada, is, to my mind, supposed to be cold, windy and clear, visibility increased because most of the leaves have been blown off.  Not that more evidence was needed, but apparently my mind doesn’t work right.  Today is just-below-balmy at 70 degrees, the air is still and the trees still hold all their foliage.  Also, it’s raining.

Although I’ve been living here for six weeks now, today is the first day I’ve had to live with rain as a factor in the flavor of the day.  It began when Sam (is a dog) and I went for our morning walk, me wearing the North Face raincoat that got me through a week at Hadrian’s Wall in northern England.  The raincoat was very effective at keeping my head, shoulders and torso dry, but also efficiently transported all the water my upper body would have felt down to my pants and hiking boots.  Thus my shirt was kept dry from the outside, the heat made me sweat much more than Columbus Day should allow, soaking it from body outward.  Meanwhile, my pants were as soaked as if I’d swum away from an Alabama jailbreak, and my boots, waterproofing and all, had puddles in them by the time we got back.  (For the curious, I don’t know what percentage of the moisture was rain and what was foot sweat.  I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for breakfast by tasting the goo.)

Sam (is a dog) had it even worse, of course.  While he is a brave and noble creature, he appears to fear rain to begin with.  Since he’s a good-sized boxer-lab mix, there is humor to be found in his dainty dislike of rain.  I mean, I find humor there; Sam can get sullen if I make jokes about it.  After a 45-minute walk with water dripping off him most of the time, Sam’s coat was soaked.  Unfortunately, he can’t change into dry clothes the way I can, so, even after being toweled off, he carried the odor of wet dog for the rest of the day.

There are people staying at Warriors@45North, this being the second week of Cast and Blast, so called because of the overlap of fishing and hunting seasons here, so Sam and I spent a little time in the main cabin.  Unfortunately, Chief’s dog, Charlie, a 10-yea-old cocker has ruled this roost since he was a pup, and he finds Sam to be a usurper, and a particularly annoying one.  Given that Chief owns the property and Charlie owns wherever his eyes fall, Sam and I don’t typically spend more than a bit of time inside.

Still, the sun’ll come out tomorrow and someday soon I’ll curse yself for complaining about summer extending way into fall.

Inductive Archaeologists and Shaun of the Dead

Archaeology has to work with the stuff that gets found.  For instance, much of what we know about Roman Britain isn’t based on written records left lying around for 1600 years, it’s conjecture drawn from types of pottery and crockery exhumed from the earth.  It’s all a matter of inductive reasoning—drawing conclusions from isolated bits of information.  Detectives often use the same type of thinking when examining a crime scene:  what kind of arsonist would “accidentally” leave a signed picture of Lucille Ball at a fire?

In the Tiny White Box, neither Sam (is a dog) nor I have watched much video.  First of all, there’s no internet connection inside.  Second, I have a hard time sitting still to watch a movie even with other people—the thought of regularly watching things alone leaves the taste of aspirin in my soul.  Third, even though we’re in the Great North Woods with autumn closing in, it’s still too beautiful outside the box to spend more time than necessary inside it.  Come January, my tune may well have changed (although if I’m involved in reproducing that tune it may well be unrecognizable).  Still, on the trusty MacBook we do have six movies—the only six movies I own.  Future archaeologists may have a challenge inducing this data to make conclusions about Sam and me.  Detectives will have a field day.

The six movies, in no particular order, are:

A Simple Plan, starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda.  A thriller about family, betrayal, greed, friendship, a plane crash and despair, A Simple Plan doesn’t rely on twists to thrill—instead, it’s a dark look at human nature—which is pretty damn dark to begin with.

Reds, starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, a bunch of other great actors and interviews with “the witnesses,” folks in their 70s and 80s who were part of the Left in the 19-teens and 19-twenties.  The sort-of-true story of Jack Reed (10 Days that Shook the World) an American journalist who was a communist here and a reporter in Moscow for the fall of the Kerensky government.

Shaun of the Dead, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.  A classic zombie comedy.  The classic zombie comedy, funny enough for me, who doesn’t care about zombies.

Waiting for Guffman, starring Christopher Guest and his usual ensemble.  This mockumentary about a small-town theater group believing its pageant performance is going to break through to Broadway is my favorite of a long list of Guest classics.

Waking Life, starring a team of animators, an ensemble cast and the genius of Richard Linklater.  Any explanation would sell it way way way short.  Are we sleep-walking through our waking life or wake-walking through our dreams?

The Postman, starring Kevin Costner. Post-apocalyptic delight.. I know it’s way too long at three hours (two hours would have been perfect). I know Kevin Costner the director really likes Kevin Costner the actor. Still, the line “Things are getting better, getting better all the time” from the mouth of (imaginary) President Richard Starkey is worth the time it takes to get to it.

The archaeologist finding this treasure trove of information about me (or, much more likely, a detective investigating my dangerous ideas) would need to find a theme, a through-line to draw some conclusions.  Let’s see, two comedies, one thriller, one post-apocalyptic drama, one historical piece and an animated exploration of existentialism.  Clearly, the viewer of these movies is a communist who hopes to destroy humanity using a crashed airplane filled with community-theater actors as zombies.  Then he’ll wake up to find it was all an animated dream.  Or was it?

 

Tiny White Box Profiled in Vagabond Monthly–Libel Suit to Follow

I’ve always wanted to be interviewed by Rolling Stone, the New Yorker or, even, Foreign Affairs Quarterly.  (In this last, I’d hoped to outline my vision for a future Myanmar that would begin with changing its name to WeUsedtobeBurma.)  Instead, the home I live in is now featured in another, less well-known magazine—Vagabond Monthly:  The Journal for Those Off the Grid and On the Lam.  (This is not to be confused with Vagabondage Monthly, an unrelated periodical devoted to crossing state lines for immoral purposes.)

Vagabond Monthly

The Tiny White Box in Pittsburg, NH, is an exquisite example of the group marriage among necessity and invention, creativity and inspiration, even desperation and isolation.  Regardless, the Tiny White Box is the home of Keith Howard, a former teacher, principal, actor, writer, nonprofit leader and, as Howard so piquantly puts it, “homeless drunk.”  Our profile begins with the glamor that is the Tiny White Box and finishes with a series of what we like to call “evidence shots,” the pictures that will be distributed to the media if Howard is ever brought to justice for the thoughts in his head.  They are what the box looked like before it became The Box.

Howard’s favorite spot to sit and dream is in his study (above left), where he is able to survey the Tiny White Box from a position of comfort and power.

Howard’s favorite spot to eat is in his dining room (above center), where he is able to survey the Tiny White Box from a position of comfort and power.

Howard’s favorite spot to write is in his office (above right), where he is able to survey the Tiny White Box from a position of comfort and power.

Ever self-effacing, Howard claims not to be a coffee connoisseur, but this Cuisinart coffee maker, with unused filters place jauntily atop, makes coffee that Howard says, “tastes fine.  I mean, coffee’s just a caffeine-delivery system.”  What a joker!  Howard brews a proprietary blend of Starbuck’s, Trader Joe’s, Folger’s, generic and store brand.  “Whatever’s around,” he modestly avers.  “It’s just coffee.”  Spoken like a true barista!

 

 

 

This is the box where Howard creates oatmeal employing technology called “microwaves,” which shakes up the food molecules until they get annoyed.  Howard claims not to have obsessive compulsive disorder, but how else explain his breakfasting every morning on McCann’s Instant Irish oatmeal with apples and cinnamon?  “I like oatmeal,” he responds, close-mouthedly.  Methinks he doth protest too much!

 

A firm proponent of water, whether for drinking, washing, adding to oatmeal or putting outmost fires, Howard stores his agua in what looks to be an iBottle, perhaps an early prototype of the next product from Cupertino?   Howard is, after all, a strong supporter of all products d’Apple.  “It’s a water jug with one of those decals Apple throws in with almost all their products.  Why in the world would Apple make a water bottle?”  That’s what we call a non-denial denial, folks.  Keep your eyes peeled for Apple to meet your hydration needs.

Here we have the art gallery at tinywhitebox.com, or, more accurately, the collection of beautiful images in the Tiny White Box.  Note the asymmetrical, almost slapdash arrangement of the pictures and the pride of place given to Howard’s degree:  Formerly Homeless Drunk, awarded by the College of Bad Breaks and Misunderstandings.  To our knowledge, Howard is the only recipient of a degree from this exclusive institution.

Here we see the TWB music room, consisting of a harmonica and a wireless speaker.  GivenHoward’s love of music, particularly in the folk idiom, the presence of a “blues harp,” as he calls it, is no surprise, nor is the sound reproduction quality of the Bose speaker.  With his years of diligence and practice, Howard has learned how to use the speaker.  The harmonica, however, will remain forever beyond his ken.

 

Sam (is a dog) relaxes on his very own bed.  During the day, Sam may lay claim to this space; at night, he and Howard share the space, a fact Howard doesn’t bother to deny.  “Why would I deny sleeping with Sam?  He’s my dog and we live in a small space.”  Far be it for VM to sit in judgment on what these two do behind closed doors.  Howard refused to reveal his long-term intentions with young Sam, uttering only, “What the hell are you talking about?”  We’ll leave it to our readers to read between the lines.

When entertaining, Howard uses this space as a combination sitting room and library.  Notethe books in the background.  Vagabond Monthly took the liberty of opening one and confirming its validity. Howard’s copy of Indian Stream Republic:  Settling a New England Frontier, 1785-1842 has real pages that appear to have been read.

 

 

 

This is where Howard lays his head at the end of a long day.  Despite living in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods without other humans in the Tiny White Box. Howard denies being visited by the spirits of long-dead Native-American warriors, witches, goblins or demons of any kind.  Although Howard has a reputation for being friendly and humorous, this was yet another topic that appeared to surprise and upset him.

 

Howard’s home fitness area, where he lifts this weight a number of times each day.  Howardalso claims to walk between 4 and 10 miles per day, but there is no photographic evidence of this.  Howard offered in a defensive tone to show us his iPhone which he claims keeps track of how far he walks.  “For Chrissake,” he sputtered.  “I’ve averaged about 13,000 steps per day since I got here.  How could I show you pictures of that?  And why should I prove anything to you?”

You don’t need to prove anything, Mr. Howard.  We think the lack of photographic evidence tells us all we don’t need to know.

 

 

As promised, here are the evidence shots, useful for future investigating authorities and current Tiny House aficionados.

 

Tonio K to Walker Percy to Ashes to Ashes to Dust to Dust

It’s a great big goofy world, and the internet can only multiply that.  The other day, I wrote a column about my funeral (plans for, not reporting from), including a song I wanted to have played, “We Walk On” by Tonio K.  On a whim, I posted a link to it on a Tonio K. Facebook group, asking other members what song by Senor K they’d like to have played when it’s time to say sayonara.  It was simple fun from a simple man, and got eight or 10 responses—including my favorite:  “I’m Supposed to Have Sex with You.”  Couldn’t figure out whether it was a cry from the terminally celibate or a shout out to closeted necrophiliacs.  But I digress.

In the column, I also gave a secular reading I wanted my friend, Mark Roth, to speak on at the service.  Oversightedly, I neglected to give the source, and should have.  Here’s the quote:

“I don’t quite know what we’re doing on this insignificant cinder spinning away in a dark corner of the universe. That is a secret which the high gods have not confided in me. Yet one thing I believe and I believe it with every fiber of my being. A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best as he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.”

It’s a quote from Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, winner, I think, of the National Book Award but not even one of my favorite Percy books.  (For the record, I like Lost in the Cosmos, The Message in the Bottle, Signposts in a Strange Land, The Second Coming and even his collected correspondence with Shelby Foote better.)  (I’m not sure who is compiling this record, or why, but now it’s in there.)  Still, that quote has stuck with me ever since I read it more than 20 years ago.

I was in a motel in Vergennes, Vermont, sharing a room with my best adult friend, David MacKay.  I was directing and acting with an improv theater group made up of “at-risk” teenagers from an alternative school I was running, and Dave was traveling with us and acting as a sort-of chaperone, not so much for the kids, I think, as for me.  Dave was married and had a single son at the time; Dave also had hemophilia and, in one huge dollop of bad timing, had relocated to San Francisco after graduating high school in 1980.  In short, as a hemophiliac he needed blood supply and living in San Francisco he was at the epicenter of what was called “the gay plague,” HIV-AIDS.  In 1994, sharing a room with me, Dave was HIV positive, status he hid from most of the world, and one of the most carefree men I’ve ever known.  As it happened, we had just shooed two of my female actors out of the motel room of a couple truckers—“we were just getting to know them, Keith!  God!  You’re not my father!”—when I came across this passage, read it to Dave, and we talked about it for 20 minutes.

Four years later, I quoted it at his funeral, and kept it close to my heart as his widow, Kathy, and I spread his ashes at his favorite places.

David MacKay has inspired me for the past seven years and will do so for the rest of my life.  As you know, Dave was a tremendously funny man.  Dave’s humor, though, was not an encyclopedia one-liners.  In fact, I can’t remember Dave telling a joke.  Dave’s humor was natural and organic, arising from his ironic and slightly twisted take on whatever situation he found himself in.  Instead of telling jokes, Dave carried humor with him.  No, Dave embodied humor, incarnated humor, made humor flesh.  And made us happy. 

            Dave and I talked a lot–about kids, about marriage, about life and about death.  Every morning for two years, Dave and I had coffee and conversation.  Dave was a stoic existentialist.  The word “stoic,” I think, has gotten a bad rap over the years, and has come to describe a person who takes great pains to let you know about the great pains he is not letting you know about.  David suffered miserably from a number of serious complications and health problems.  He never once, within my hearing, complained; instead, he gratefully accepted whatever life offered him, happy that life was there to offer him anything.  Like the boy who wakes up on Christmas morning to find his bedroom filled with the stench of horse manure, Dave met each day believing that all the crap he faced meant there must be a pony around here someplace.  There must be a pony.

            Dave and I talked seriously about how one finds meaning in a universe which has no God.  Or at least no God who is willing to return our phone calls. David’s position,  basically,  was:  “Life is truly absurd.  We can’t explain birth.  We can’t explain death.  We can’t even explain tooth decay.  All we can do is embrace the absurdity of our existence.  Humor provides that embrace.”  The one thing that Dave did not find absurd was children, especially his own.  Dave loved Dustin and Ryan with a passion, and would do anything to make sure that they were safe and knew they were loved.  And they were.  And they are.

            Although I have some very funny Dave anecdotes, Kathy has asked that remarks be kept at a PG-13 level.  That pretty much excludes the story about the student who brought a BB gun to school  and our manhunt for the boy after he had taken a shot at a first grader.  During our search, Dave remarked, “Just think, 10 years from now I wonder who’ll be playing me on America’s Most Wanted–a special episode entitled “MacKay’s Maniacs:  How One Teacher Destroyed a Generation.” 

            Likewise, I can’t tell the story of that same student three months later, when Dave decided that what the boy really needed was a role in life and that that role was videotaping road performances of the Clearway Improvisational Theater.  Even when we had to drive the boy home from Berlin at 3 in the morning, Dave was still saying that the boy had demonstrated character  in being willing to stand, video camera in hand, outside a girl’s motel room in sub-zero temperature on the off chance that she would be taking her clothes off. 

            Likewise, I can’t tell the story of another trip a year later, in which Dave and I happened to be relaxing in the hotel hot tub.  When two female students innocently approached the tub, Dave said to me, PAUSE  Well, let’s just leave that one off the plate entirely.

              No, none of those stories would be appropriate, so I’m not going to tell them.  Instead, I want to leave you with a quote that Dave and I talked about a long time ago.  It’s from a book called The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, and I think it sums Dave up pretty well.

“I don’t quite know what we’re doing on this insignificant cinder spinning away in a dark corner of the universe.  That is a secret which the high gods have not confided in me.  Yet one thing I believe and I believe it with every fibre of my being.  A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can.  In this world goodness is destined to be defeated.  But a man must go down fighting.  That is the victory.  To do anything less is to be less than a man.”

David MacKay was that man.  I loved him very much.  I always will.

And I do.

 

 

 

I Wasn’t an Alcoholic–I Just Drank to Stay Sane

Before I got sober, I’d only gone without alcohol for more than seven days three times since I was 13.  The first two “extended dry times” led me to attempt suicide and end up in psychiatric hospitals—the third included talking mice, fireworks and long conversations with princesses.  Let me explain.

In March of 1978, I’d been stationed in Germany for a little more than a year and had quickly progressed from smoking hash to smoking opium to snorting speed to shooting speed to shooting heroin.  Through each of these promotions, alcohol was my loyal aide-de-camp, always at my side offering comfort and condolences.  By the brass ring of heroin, I recognized it was time to leave the drug merry-go-round, but dope has a funny habit, like gum on your shoe, of not wanting to be left behind.  I went to my company commander, Captain Baines, a nice enough man I’d not spent much time with, and asked for help. Luckily the military’s pendulum regarding drugs—the brig or rehab—was firmly in the “get this soldier some help” position, and I was sent to a rehab program at Landstuhl Army Hospital.  The SHARE program was a lot of things, but effective it wasn’t, at least for most people.  I was one of the lucky ones, and I have not used any opiate since 1978.  Unfortunately for me, alcohol was also verboten at SHARE.  I knew I had a minor heroin problem, but banning alcohol seemed harsh.  At the time, I didn’t recognize alcohol as an issue, but being separated from it seemed to make me go mad.  Literally.  After a couple weeks at SHARE, I decided I was in love with my married therapist and, while her husband was visiting, brutally slashed my wrists in a bathroom to demonstrate my love.  It didn’t work on any level, and I was put in the psychiatric unit for a couple weeks, tested and determined fit for duty.  I was discharged, returned to my home unit and dramatically increased my booze intake for the remainder of my tour.  No heroin, though, so I was a success.

Eight years later, I was a seminary student at a conservative graduate school and Baptist youth minister, two roles that make secret drinking a necessity.  I’d struck a balance, living 10 miles from seminary and 45 miles from my church, so I could still claim sanctuary and drink in the privacy of my own bedroom.  The church, though, thought it would be great to have me closer, and helped us find a place to live right in that town.  Now, I was stuck.  Baptists have a finely-tuned sense of smell when it comes to booze, fellow students at seminary were similarly attuned, and I’d made a vow never to actually drink in a car.  I had to stop altogether—except when I could get away for a couple days and get sloppy drunk.  Still, between church and seminary I couldn’t drink the way I needed to, much less the way I wanted to.  I quit . . . and slowly went insane.  After a few weeks, I had invented a new sport—stair surfing I called it—that involved throwing myself face-first down flights of stairs and body-surfing to the bottom.  Soon, I was back to slicing my wrists—not as horrifically as at Landstuhl, but still leaving wounds difficult to explain to fellow students or parishioners.  Finally, I was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital for two months, where I was diagnosed with depression—yuh think?—put on medication and discharged.  I resigned from the church and withdrew from seminary, found new work and returned to drinking like a gentleman.  A gentleman who drinks too much, but a gentleman nevertheless.

The third time, with talking mice and rolling pumpkins and princesses?  As a single dad, I took my three young daughters to Disneyworld, where we spent a week busy from dawn until near midnight.  I’d just been fired from a job for drinking—and behaviors related to drinking—and needed to convince myself I wasn’t an alcoholic.  Proving to yourself you’re not an alcoholic is one dead-sure sign you are, but I determined not drinking at Disneyworld while alone with three kids under the age of 13 for seven days was proof enough.  We returned home with me as a certified, in my mind, non-alcoholic, and I embarked on a six-month bender.  But at least I wasn’t an alcoholic.