Spiritual Wisdom Distilled from Those Who Have Left Distilled Spirits

In the past 10 years, I’ve spent a lot of hours in church basements, meeting halls and classrooms. This time was shared with other drunks who’ve given up drinking and chosen a more life-affirming way of life. I am my own kind of madman, and many other alcoholics are crazy people; in those subterranean rooms, though, we focus on our common humanity rather than our isolating lunacy. I wish I could tell you the source of the 30 or so bits of insight into the alcoholic condition—I can’t because I don’t remember who said what when or wrote what where. All I can say is these aphorisms, slogans and one-liners align well with my view of life, and have helped keep me away from a drink or other mind-altering substance. I hope you find them helpful—or at least amusing.

Alcoholics are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.

Coincidence is God’s work – when He chooses to remain anonymous

We are not punished for our sins, we are punished by our sins

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

The wise man has many cuts, the happy man doesn’t count the scars.

If you feel guilty – stop doing what’s making you feel guilty.

Life is not painful, it’s my resistance to life that causes me the pain

If you keep doing what you’re doing – you’ll keep getting what you’re gettin

Alcoholism is the total disintegration of the human personality

Turn up a stereo to full volume then unplug it. In 2, 5,10 or 20 years later – if you plug it in again, the stereo will come on full volume. That’s what alcoholism is like.

Alcohol plus damage = Alcoholism.

Recovery is made up of glorious years and some shitty days.

. An alcoholic comes apart spiritually, mentally and then physically. You put him back together again in the reverse order. You can put him back together physically in a comparatively short time. It takes a much longer time to put him back together mentally, and a much, much longer time to get him together spiritually.

You can act your way into the right thinking, but you can’t think your way into the right action

In order to give up my defects of character, I must first give up the benefits of my defects of character. Twenty seconds of ecstasy isn’t worth three weeks of guilt.

You don’t get drunk making mistakes – you get drunk defending the mistakes you’ve made.

God is a comedian playing to an audience who’s afraid to laugh.

Acceptance: What is …IS; what isn’t…ISN’T.

Rule 62…don’t take yourself so God damned seriously.

Although we are not responsible for our disease, we are responsible for our recovery. (

I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you:
The good news is that you’re not in charge;
The bad news is that you’re not in charge.

When you get sober you can write down all the gifts you get…when you go out you can reverse the pencil and erase each gift one by one.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

The problem with isolating is that you get such bad advice.

If nothing changes…nothing changes.

Pain is necessary, suffering is optional!

Feelings aren’t facts!!!

In recovery, first we remove the anesthesia, then we operate.

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.

Take an action, then let go of the results.

Relapse begins long before you pick up the drink/drug.

If you hang around a barbershop long enough, eventually you’ll get a haircut.

Expectations are preconceived resentments.

I thought I wanted to commit suicide, but all I needed was a hamburger.

Take a Left at “Cat Urinary Tract Infection,” Then Straight on ‘til Morning

When the internet came to the Tiny White Box, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, it means I can keep in real-time touch with my daughters and friends, follow national news more closely and browse podcasts and audiobooks without getting in the car and driving to strong Wi-Fi. These advantages are not to be sneered at.

On the other, it opened a huge rabbit hole leading to a time-suck on the outskirts of near-catastrophic distraction. For instance, an hour ago I began to begin this column—which will become focused and on-topic, by and by—and wanted to look up a quote about how everything on the internet comes down to a Star Wars/Star Trek analogy or Nazism. Once I got that first hit of Google, though, I was off and running like a drunk who’d been chained to a radiator and had finally chewed his wrist in two. The first article I looked at mentioned Khan, whoever he may be, favoring eugenics, which naturally led me to wonder about the Barenaked Ladies song “Grade 9” where there is mention of watching “Wrath of Khan” instead of studying. Wasn’t one of them kicked out of a two-person band? Yes and no. Steven Page quit the band, which had five members (and presumably now has four). After reading a couple of self-serving interviews with Page, I remembered they were Canadian—and likely still are—which made me wonder if Bruce Cockburn had ever made an instrumental jazz album, a snippet I seem to remember from a Rolling Stone “Random Notes” page. Since the recollection came from the period of my most intense drug use, I thought about other things I mistakenly remember. Did Richard Nixon actually say, “Sock it to me” on Laugh-In? (He did.) Did Jimmy Carter really battle with a rabbit from a canoe? (Sort of. The rabbit swam toward him.) Did Cher in reality marry Greg Allman? (Yup.) Did Socrates use the euphemism “Corinthian girlfriend” to refer to prostitutes. (He does, in conversation with Glaucon in The Republic.)Did Bruce ever record that jazz album? Couldn’t find any evidence of this, but the search led me to read a few reviews of Bruce shows I’ve seen over the years. I then tried to remember my goal—to look up a quote that seems not to exist.

I must correct that oversight.

“On the internet, everything comes down to Star Wars, Star Trek or Nazis.”—Keith Howard.

That quote wasn’t really necessary, I guess, since I’m only going to use it as a jumping-off point. Let me amend it.

“In the Tiny White Box, everything comes down to peeing, pooping and bathing.”—Keith Howard.*

Sean McDonald from WMUR’s “Chronicle” TV show visited yesterday, spending three or four hours, and this morning sent me this message: “Thanks for letting us harass you Monday. I didn’t ask . . . but where is the bathroom and shower?”

So, since this concludes every conversation about the Tiny White Box, I urinate into an heirloom-quality, hand-painted detergent jug. I defecate into a human cat box consisting of a bucket, a seat and lots of sawdust. I wash myself with a washcloth every morning and every couple days I wash my hair outside, rinsing it off with water I’ve warmed inside the Tiny White Box. I gave up shampoo when I moved here, and use a slurry of baking soda and water to clean my head.

I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek, I saw the first episode (now the fourth?) of Star Wars in German and have missed the other five or eight or twenty, and I’m strongly against Nazis and very pro-Jew.

Any other questions?

*Typing this quote into Google led to a first hit of “Cat Urinary Tract Infection: Signs and Treatment”

First Notes after the Film Crew Leaves

Sean McDonald was the handsomest man in Coos County for four hours today. By now, he’s back to being the handsomest man in Hillsborough County. He and Paul, the editor and videographer visited the Tiny White Box today for a segment on Channel 9 (WMUR) in Manchester’s “Chronicle” show, a magazine program that profiles New Hampshire notables, notorious and not-yet-indicted. They schlepped their lights and cameras and expected me to provide action, which I did, if action can be described as sitting in a chair telling stories, pontificating and yucking it up. In fact, when my days in the Tiny White Box finish, if I can find full-time paid work doing those three things I will be a happy man indeed.

I may write more about this later, and in a more essayish fashion, but here are my notes from the visit.

–They asked me to read a couple things, so I started with a serious piece about my friend, Joseph, who was a child character called Little Joe in Peyton Place, the story of messed up lives in a small New Hampshire town in the early 1960’s. Joseph and I were both born in the late 50’s to women unready for motherhood, the main difference in our lives being that I was placed for adoption at birth while Joseph had to wait until his sixth or seventh year to be removed by the state and placed in in orphanage. Last I knew, Joseph was homeless again, drinking and living behind the ice arena in Concord. The upshot of the piece was that each of us at birth was a coin tossed into the air. God, the universe, our mothers called us in the air, and I seem to have landed heads up. If the coin flip had gone differently, I might be still living the life of the living dead, and Joseph might be sitting down with a TV show to talk about himself.

–The second thing I read was a list of rejected book titles I found hilarious. Ex.: Negotiating Your Way into Heaven: Loopholes Edition; A Hole in One and a Garrote on the Other: Murdering Siamese Twins; Hypnosis and Property Values: Don’t Snap Your Fingers until the Sale is Final; Crimes You Didn’t Know You Could Commit; When a Spouse Dies and Leaves a Crime Scene: Cleaning in a Flash.

Again, I thought they were hilarious—to see them yourself, I think you’ll need to wait for the Criterion Edition of Chronicles.

–With three adult men, lights and camera inside, the Tiny White Box actually felt small. (Remind me of this if I write about wanting an all-male ménage-a-trois.) Luckily for poor Sam (is a dog), the bunkhouse was open for the day, the pellet stove was heating it, and my friend George was inside making fish chowder for lunch. Sam seemed please to avoid the crowds.

–On a more positive Sam (is a dog) note, Paul the cameraman and editor has a dog much like Sam and gave him lots of attention. Sam is even less photogenic than I, I’m afraid, although he and I did sashay up and down the road for Paul the talented editor to film. (I’m careful to point out how gifted, witty and kind Paul is, because a video editor has the power of God Almighty in making his subjects appear as gentle wise men (or angry lunatics). Paul is to be praised.

–It’s easy for me to forget that my current life choice is unusual. I mean, if you do anything for a while, it starts to seem normal, but I could tell my guests felt like they were inside a solitary cell.

–George’s fish chowder was delicious. I ate three bowls and still want more.

–The show will air within the next couple weeks, and I expect it will lead to an upsurge in readership here. Strange that TV has such power but print and radio don’t. I wish I liked television more.

–Although Sean is better looking than I, I’m funnier, unless he was holding back so as not to outshine me at everything.

–Paul, the insightful and creative editor, mentioned he’d gone to “Quaker Camp” as a kid, which led me to ask him if he’d been raised Quaker. “No,” he said. “Unitarian.” Imagine the theological skirmishes that must have led to as he went into enemy religious territory.

–For long time readers, yes, George did educate Sean on the benefits of ginseng and the details of its cultivation.

–If the shots of me making coffee go on air, know this was done at their request. I had no motivation other than the need to show me doing something. If this is entered in a cinema verite festival, demand your money back.

–Hermit vs. pastor was one of the themes, as was my prior life—running Liberty House, always filled with people and relationships—vs. my current life, where many days I see more deer than humans. I’ve gone from carnival/bowling alley to monastic existence.

Brother? Sister? Strangers with Shared Genetic Material

A long time ago, before some of you were even born, I wrote this, but don’t believe I ever formally published it, although I did use it as part of an introduction to a book proposal on adoption. My agent never sold the project, so I never wrote the book, so you can read this essay now.

I will warn the reader this contains my philosophy of life, which may be on the final exam, so do read it closely.

It’s not often that the mail changes my life. I mean, phone bills, supermarket flyers and invitations to further extend my already fragile credit are fine in their way, but they don’t serve as catalysts for introspection and meditation. A while ago, though, I received a letter that did just that, hitting me like a meatball between the eyes.

Oddly, the envelope itself inspired dread, bearing the return address of the probate court in my hometown. Given that my life to this point has been criminally unremarkable, I assumed the envelope contained either a reminder of a long-forgotten debt or the news that my high school had reviewed its records and that my diploma had been revoked.

Instead, I found a pleasant letter from the probate judge telling me that a stranger, or more accurately, the stranger’s social worker, had found that she and I had the same biological mother, that she too had been placed for adoption at birth and that she wanted to make contact with me. It struck me as very odd.

As an adopted person, I’ve never used a phrase like “as an adopted person,” so the whole premise struck me as surreal. I mean, I’ve never really cared who my biological mother was; instead, I’ve been focused on what kind of father my children will have. Still, strange or not, I did have to respond to the request, so I wrote the following letter:

Dear Judge X:

For the past 15 years I have spent my days helping adolescents with emotional difficulties recognize that their existence can offer meaning and purpose. I spend the rest of my life in nurturing and encouraging the search for meaning with my children. Life, for me, is filled with significance and purpose, with meaning pooling up like sunlight on a sheet of foil. Although I am a terrible poet, I do have poetic vision, with an ability to find connections between seemingly isolated objects and events. It is therefore very difficult for me to admit that I find meaningless the existence of a woman who spent nine months in the same womb I had visited a few years before. That womb has less meaning to me than the room my family and I stayed in at the lake last summer. After all, I had conversations with the lake-house landlord, something I never did with my biological mother. I find that I have no particular emotional response to this fact, nor any curiosity about this woman or her mother.

I am not a very philosophical man, at least in the sense of having a systematic belief system. In the choice between immanence and transcendence, I always choose the present and concrete over the ethereal and otherworldly. As H.L. Mencken remarked about philosophy in general, “We are here. It is now. The rest is all moonshine.” Because of the unusual situation presented by your letter, though, I have been led to ponder and outline a rough draft of a philosophy of life; this process has crystallized a number of previously unexpressed first principles by which I lead my life. Please excuse the length of this letter, but I hope to make my intentions explicitly clear to you, the involved party from the State of New Hampshire and, most important, the woman who initiated this series of circumstances.

If I were asked to define myself by coming up with a list of 100 descriptive attributes, the list might begin with:

1. I am a father.

2. I am a teacher.

3. I am an artist.

and so on, moving down toward the following:

37. I am a Red Sox fan.

38. I am a chess player who enjoys playing against superior competition, of which there is no shortage.

39. I am an Army veteran.

and conclude with:

98. I am a coffee drinker.

99. I worked my way through college and graduate school.

100. I am a good cook.

This hypothetical list, though, would probably not include the item “I am adopted,” for this fact forms almost none of my core identity. When I do meet people who view their adoption as central to their humanity, I am vaguely amused, for adoption has had little significance in my life. Since our conversation, I have done a little Internet research into the world of adoption, primarily through reading postings at newsgroups devoted to the subject. I was shocked to find that thousands of people appear to devote considerable energy to tracking down biological parents, children and siblings. Most of the postings have a desperate, Holy Grail tone to them, as if successful detective work would somehow make the searcher whole. Perhaps I have chosen massive denial as a strategy of coping with adoption, but the notion that one’s life is given purpose by the pursuit of another strikes me as pathetic and absurd. Pathetic because this is a sucker’s game: the elusive quarry is almost certainly not going to grant peace and serenity. Absurd because the random occurrence of a blood relationship guarantees no connection more profound than perhaps a certain physical similarity or, perhaps, a taste for salty foods. Many of us have had the experience of traveling overseas and meeting someone who comes from the same state or region; this coincidence forms a short-lived bond that melts fairly quickly if there is no other connection to be made. Thus it is with adoption and me; meeting someone who is adopted or interested in adoption is roughly akin to meeting a fellow New Englander in Vienna; I am interested enough to talk a bit, but the topic wears itself out fairly quickly. I would shy away from someone calling out in Heathrow Airport, “Hey, I’m from New Hampshire. Any other New Englanders here?”; similarly, I am put on guard by people who were adopted using that fact as a calling card.

Although I don’t much like labels, I find I hold some beliefs which might be labeled “existentialist,” although they might just as easily be called common-sense conservatism. First and foremost, I believe that what we do defines who we are; the “I” in each of us is the product of our experiences, those events which life has thrown at us, and, more important, our response to those events. Each situation in our lives offers the opportunity for choice and it is the patterns of those choices which create our identity. Without in any way wanting to sound mechanistic, a human life is that set of patterns and rhythms created by the choices we make; identity is the product of our responses to the chaotic events which life churns up over time.

This identity is being continually created, of course, so it also affects the choices we confront in our lives. As a perhaps too-facile example, a young person who is offered the opportunity to cheat on a test has at least two choices: politely refuse the offer or cheat. If the young person takes the first choice, he discovers that he is becoming the sort of person who doesn’t cheat; likewise, the people around him are discovering this, so they are less likely to offer him the chance to cheat. This self-stoking cycle applies just as strongly in regard to positive options; we are always in a state of becoming who we are. There is no static “I,” there is a dynamic, ever-changing, and, one hopes, ever-improving “I.”

This philosophy leads directly to my feelings about my biological mother. My view of life is that each of us is born with certain biological strengths and limitations; the vast majority of us have “enough” of everything we need to be successful. The secret to that success, though, comes not, except in the case of professional basketball players and midget wrestlers, from the biology with which we are born, but from the psychology and sociology of our parents, which enables us to make good choices later in our lives. In the battle between nature and nurture, my money is on the importance of nurture. For example, I was born with a brain capable of learning a lot of different information. My mother is a voracious reader who encouraged me to read broadly, deeply and until my eyes dried out. Whether I was reading comic books or Kafka, she urged me to read and think about what I was reading. Likewise, I was born with potentially adequate hand-eye coordination and a body that would be capable of running fast. My father, who was a high-school phenom, drove me to baseball soccer and track practice and attended every single one of my childhood and high school games, meets and tournaments, whether I was starting or riding the bench. In each of these examples, and in countless more, I was born with certain potential gifts and abilities but it was the nurturance of my parents and others who breathed reality into that potential.

If we can use the analogy of cards, my biological mother dealt half of my hand and left the table; it was my parents who taught me to play. In terms of influence on my life, my biological mother’s role is considerably less than that of my second-grade teacher, my old soccer coach, or even the friendly cashier at the local supermarket. In fact, if you had contacted me with information about Ben Roe, my elementary-school best friend, with whom I have not spoken since he moved away 30 years ago, my emotional response would have been immeasurably greater than it is under the present circumstances. The difference between my relationship with the people mentioned above and my relationship with my biological mother is that I interacted with them, while I merely resulted from an action of my biological mother, a result which was almost certainly unintended.

I have three young daughters, each of whom is wonderful in her own unique way. In a sense, I had nothing to do with which girl would have blue eyes, which would be left-handed and which would have dimples. I could not have chosen different attributes, for I had no choice. In fact, during the act that led to conception, babies were certainly far from my mind. I became my daughters’ father when I started to father them at birth, a dynamic and ongoing process; up until that point, I was merely a sperm supplier. By this light, my biological mother has had zero influence on who I am, for she had no control or influence over which genes she was passing on to me.

As a father, I know that the look I give when smiling into my five-year-old’s face is the same look of love which my father gave me when I was adopted. I love my children because of the time I spend with them and the dreams I have for them and because of the great people they are becoming, not because they are flesh of my flesh or bone of my bone.

In short, my need to find out more about the man who sired and the woman who bore me is nil. Nada. Zilch. With no bitterness or animosity toward either of them, and with thankfulness that neither of them appears to have passed on genes for madness, baldness or early-onset Alzheimer’s, I would say that I have no desire or need to discover these people. You have informed me that both my biological mother and father are dead. May they rest in peace.

Given that my need to establish any kind of contact is non-existent, I must consider those of my biological mother’s daughter, or my biological half-sister. While it is difficult for me to conceive of any questions that my identity could answer for this woman, the fact that she has initiated this process clearly indicates that she believes that finding me will be helpful to her. My first response is that if she wishes to discover more about herself, she should start with a mirror. Likewise, if she wishes to discover more about her biological mother, that same mirror could be used to search for her biological mother’s effects on her. Still, as long as no harm is likely to accrue to me, I have no objection to some minimal amount of contact, as long as the following requests are accepted. I request that my biological half-sister

1. Understand that I am not her “long-lost brother”; I am merely a person who shares some genes with her,

2. Understand that I have no desire to enter a long-term relationship with her or any of her relatives,

3. Understand and respect my desire for privacy, and

4. Understand that I am a writer and that I may choose to write about this experience and publish these writings, promising to protect the anonymity of her and her biological father.

Each of these conditions uses the verb “understand”; it has crossed my mind that my biological half-sister may have been judged incompetent and that the request you received may have been initiated by a case worker or guardian. If this is the case, I am still willing to meet her, with the understanding that her legal guardian accepts these conditions.

As a practical matter, I would prefer that you forward me this woman’s name, telephone number and a convenient time to call. I will make every effort to place a phone call and to try to arrange for at least one face-to-face meeting.

Thank you, Your Honor, for your interest in this case. Until I hear from you, I remain

Sincerely yours,

Did I contact this woman? Yes. Did we have a pleasant conversation? Yes. Did I rethink my position as stated above, and become friends with this woman? No, not at all. In fact, that is how the letter changed my life: it showed that I didn’t need to change my life all that much.

A Regional Distributor of Gratitude

Last night I talked with a friend who’s struggling to stay sober. Larry, as I’ll call him, still has a house, a relationship, money in the bank and good looks. He just lacks a non-alcohol way to fill the emptiness inside him. I’ve cried out in that cavernous space, and I know the heavy reverberation of the echo. I wish I had a formula to help him stay sober, but the only magic words I know are, “Thank you, God.” Let me explain.

Ten-and-a-half years ago, when I was still drinking mouthwash, not for the bouquet but the buzz (and the minty-fresh vomit), I’d plotted my suicide and was taking actions to make it so. Luckily, I had a moment of clarity, went to the VA Medical Center in Manchester and approached the receptionist at the Urgent Care desk.

“Hi. My name’s Keith Howard, and I don’t really want to be alive anymore.” (A brief aside: that particular sentence is guaranteed to move you forward in any queue for medical care.)

Immediately, all the resources of the United States government were brought to bear to help save me from myself. Unfortunately, not all alcoholics and addicts are veterans, so untold thousands daily, gripped with a fleeting desire to get clean and sober, are told their names will be put on waiting lists, manifests of deaths in many cases. That clarity can be like dew on an August morning, evaporated with a drink or a drug.

After being ambulanced to White River Junction VA Hospital, I was treated for depression (duh), detoxed off alcohol and introduced to a program of recovery that remains central to my life. While I didn’t go through “rehab,” I learned at the meetings I attended that I didn’t ever need to feel again the way I felt. All I had to do was not drink, go to meetings and ask for help, a simple prescription and one that’s made it unnecessary for me to take a drink or mind-altering drug since May 21, 2007.

After a week or 10 days in the hospital, I moved into transitional housing for formerly homeless veterans in Nashua, NH. As it happened (as it was meant to happen), Buckingham Place—the homeless facility—was a two-minute walk from a noontime meeting at a local Episcopal church. I worked a second-shift job, attended meetings, found a guy who’d been sober awhile to advise me and picked up chips awarded for various lengths of sobriety. Twenty-Eight days. Two months. Six months. Eight months. One years. Five years.

Last May I got a 10-year medallion, and if I keep on doing what I’ve been doing, four months from now I’ll get an 11-year coin, simply by not drinking, going to meetings and asking for help. Oh, and one more thing, at least in my case—thanking the God-who-may-or-may-not-exist a hundred times a day. (That’s roughly seven times per waking hour, a description not a prescription.) All day long, whatever I’m doing, I’ve trained myself to be a transmitter of gratitude. “Thank you, God,” gets sent out into the universe, and being a conduit of thanks seems to help me stay sober. Go figure.

When I talked with Larry, he was drunk, of course, although he said at first he’d only had a couple drinks. (As a brief aside, “a couple drinks” was my description of two quick beers with pizza and friends or the alcohol intake that led to lying on the floor passed out with the nozzle from an empty wine box pointed at my face.) From my experience, alcoholics who have been drinking have a difficult time experiencing gratitude, except for inflicting it on others in a weepy, “Thank you so much for being the best friend I’ve ever had. No one else has ever understood me the way you do. What was your name again?” I’ll wait until the next time I’m having a meal with a sober Larry before springing this idea on him. Until then, I’m just grateful he’s alive and still has a desire to stay sober.

Culturally IIlliterate—TV Shows I’ve Never Seen

Norman Mailer, I think, said television is something to appear on, not something to watch. My television appearances have been miniscule compared to Mailer’s omnipresence in the 1970’s, but I do understand the sentiment. I wish I could watch more TV, but I just can’t find the time. There’s always something I’d rather do than look at that “small and modest malignancy, wicked and bristling with dots,” even if that something is staring out a window and considering anchovies and their place in my universe.

Still, to be culturally aware, a man should know the forces that shape that culture. I don’t, and I feel sort of guilty about it, guilty enough to confess my sins without seeking absolution or forgiveness. I brainstormed a list last night of 20 or 30 very popular programs of the past 30 years, a list of shows of which I’ve never seen a single episode and of which I don’t necessarily know the premise or theme. Here are some of them, along with the bits I think I know.

Three shows head the list of “I can’t believe you’ve never seen X!” First, Star Trek in any of its television incarnations. Even though my parents watched the show when I was little, my friends believe a whole theology underlies it, and it is a huge cultural force, I missed all of it. I believe it involves a space ship, a Captain Kirk, a Mr. Spock and something called Wookies. The space ship lands on various planets, has adventures and returns with a message of humanism and hope. Oh, because Spock is a Vulcan, I guess Vulcanism too. Second is Friends, a show that aired between three and 30 seasons and was set in a coffee shop with four very attractive friends who slept with each other, and a monkey who was celibate. It may have had guest stars playing parents. I assume the parents slept with each other as well, but don’t know if they brought along guest mammals. Third, The Wire, always described as “gritty” and “realistic.” This program may have been set in Baltimore, may have involved people being bugged and likely showed Peckinpaughish slow-motion bleeding, hence its realistic grittiness.

Among the other science fiction/fantasy programs I’m ignorant of are Lost, which involved an island and plot points that drove people crazy, Twin Peaks, which involved someone named Laura and plot points that drove people crazy and The X-Files, which involved aliens and plot points that drove people crazy. Someone named Buffy had it in for Vampires and The Walking Dead has zombies, although I’m not sure whether they are heroes or villains.

Situation comedies have always struck me as one liners strung together at a certain frenetic pace, sort of a Henny Youngman/Rodney Dangerfield/Don Rickles/Joan Rivers chowder. A dip into my sea of non-watching here are Will and Grace, which was brave and groundbreaking, although I don’t know why, The King of Queens and Everyone Loves Raymond, which has the surrealistic ability to seem like the same show although I’m not sure what it is, The West Wing, which I imagine has slightly more political jokes and slightly fewer sex jokes and 30 Rock, which is different from 3rd Rock from the Sun only because I saw John Lithgow play Willy Loman once.

I’ve never watched any of the popular crime/law/medical shows. While in real life, these categories are distinct, in my mind the shows here feature attractive young people either standing in court or standing beside a hospital bed. Hence, no NCIS, Law and Order, LA Law, ER, Hill Street Blues or Grey’s Anatomy, although I hope on all of the bad guys get caught and the sick get healthy (unless they’re bad guys). In my defense, I have seen Perry Mason and Marcus Welby, not that that’s much of a defense.

I did watch a season-and-a-half of American Idol with my daughters when they were little, but my reality show obliviousness is also vast. The Apprentice? Nope, although I believe its host went on to other things. The Bachelor? No—did he have to get married at the end of each season, and was it the same man year after year? Cooking competitions? Nope. Other categories? Nada, zilch, nothing.

As I said earlier, I don’t seek absolution or forgiveness, just understanding. I’ll stare blankly at you when you make reference to “that Big Bang Theory episode where they made a lot of sex jokes”; you look at me uncomprehendingly when I refer to Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” Then we can go eat pie.

Telegenics Alert—I Need a TV Makeover. STAT!

I’m mainly happy with the way I look. Oh, sure, I wouldn’t mind being six inches taller, more muscular and having rugged good looks. Still, for a slender shortish man with a slightly effeminate manner, I look fine. I’ll never make women dewy with my matinee-idol good looks, but no blind date has run from the room upon meeting me. They stay until I open my mouth and hear my sonorous voice utter the kinds of nonsense you read in this column every day. They are driven away by the content of my character not the non-comeliness of my skin.

In my mind, I bear more than a passing resemblance to Matthew Broderick, although I’ve never had anyone else point this out. Speaking at a meeting last week, I was compared by someone in the audience to “the brother on Two-and-a-Half Men.” I’ve only seen the show while walking through the living room at Liberty House, so I assume the comparison is to Charlie Sheen, who I believe is considered attractive if insane. Still, I’m okay with my looks. Until.

Next Monday, the Tiny White Box will host a visitor, Sean McDonald from Channel 9 News in Manchester. Sean hosts the morning news and a TV magazine show called “Chronicle.” For the latter, he and a crew are driving to the Tiny White Box, likely for a segment to be called “Eccentrics of the North Woods—And Why They Should be Kept There.” Sean has asked me to be prepared to do some things while he’s here, the sorts of activities I naturally perform—walking with Sam (is a dog), shoveling snow, cooking lunch, rescuing small children trapped on an ice floe. (That last is one we didn’t discuss, but I think it’s a made-for-TV moment. If you live in the North Country and have a couple of little kids who want to be televised, please contact me. I’ll do my best to get them back to you at the end of the day.) Apparently, a segment consisting of me sitting in a rocking chair, typing on a computer while Sam sleeps on my bed is not captivating enough for his viewers.

Sean strikes me as an intelligent and kind man, but he is also ummm . . . handsome. I’ve got “never-going-to-be-the-ugliest-guy-in-the-coffee-shop” looks while Sean has often been the handsomest man in the arena, the coliseum or the county. I don’t (much) begrudge Sean his good looks, I just know his sun will darken my penlight by comparison. Since I’m the segment’s subject, I can likely set up the shoot so Sean and I are never in the same shot, or at the very least I can stand on an out-of-camera milk crate. Still, I need to do something to improve my look. As they are currently, I could get by on a tiny black-and-white screen in a camping outpost, but I understand a number of people have televisions larger than medicine chests, and capable of seeing inside facial pores.

If I were in Manchester, I’d go to Bethany, my hair stylist at Michael Anthony Salon. The first time I met Bethany, I asked her to make me 10% handsomer. Magically, she accomplished that, as she has each time since. Granted, trimming eyebrows and ear hair accomplishes a 10% improvement in the looks of a man pushing 60; still, Bethany is great. And in Manchester. And I need more than 10%–Sean McDonald is easily twice as handsome.

So, constant reader, I am open to any and all self-improvement tips that can be effectively implemented in five days, even a movie-quality Matthew Broderick mask from Amazon Prime. Please send me your suggestions. Right away.

Have I mentioned how much I like radio?