Lazarus and the Prodigal Son Got Nothing on Joe–Recovery Can Work!

Anyone who lives with addiction, writes about addiction or studies addiction knows a lot about failure, a ton about false starts and too goddamned much about death. Today, though, I want to tell a happy story, and one I wasn’t expecting. First, though, I’ve got to go back to a speech I gave on Memorial Day, 2015, at Veterans Park in Manchester, NH. (As it happened (as it was meant to happen), I shared the stage with Senator Kelly Ayotte that day. Later, she entered this speech into the congressional record, something I will cherish for the rest of my days—and would never believe if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.)

So . . . the sermon, errr speech I delivered:

Lives of Purpose, Not Meaningless Deaths—5/31/15

Today we remember our military dead, particularly those who died in battle defending our country.  Each of those war dead raised his or her hand and swore an oath, a promise to every other citizen:  I will die for you.  Think about that.  I will die for you.  Life is what we live for, life is all we have, yet each fallen warrior we remember today offered to die for me and you and you and you.  That promise, ladies and gentleman, whether fulfilled or not, is truly remarkable, for who offers death for the sake of strangers?

You heard that I am a veteran.  It is true. I was no great patriot, just a dumb kid from Durham with a duty to serve my country, so I joined the Army for four years.  Like all veterans, I raised my hand and offered to die for you.  After my enlistment, I did many good things, but also made large and self-destructive mistakes.  So large and so self-destructive that eight years ago, I was living on the street, drinking mouthwash for the alcohol.  Having reached the jumping off point, I no longer wanted to live.  I wanted to be dead.  I wasn’t offering to die for you—I wanted to die for myself. 

Instead of embracing death, I reached out to the Manchester VA medical center.  I was stabilized and introduced to the group that has helped me remain sober ever since.  I was a suicidal drunk, and I got the help I needed.  Today, I am the luckiest man on the face of the planet.  As director of Liberty House here in town, I witness the redemption and return to health of many veterans every year.  That is exciting. What is not exciting, though is seeing the dozens and dozens of vets who are not ready when the lightning strikes, the lightning that might return them to sanity and safety.

I am an alcoholic, and identify myself as such, but I am also a heroin addict and always will be.  I’ve been clean four times as long as I’ve been sober, but I’m always just a needle away from active addiction. 

I’d like to tell you about three Liberty House alumni, representing the certain past, the current present and the unknown future.  Their stories are our stories, and each of them raised his hand to die for you and for me.

First, Ernie, a 1990s infantryman.  Ernie was the first vet I brought to Liberty House three years ago.  Newly clean of heroin, Ernie was a good resident and a good man, but the wreckage of his past landed him back in jail.  When released, he didn’t come back to Liberty House.  Instead, he returned to the arms of heroin.  He is dead.  He overdosed on heroin in February.  His death was not for you or me.  His death meant nothing.

Second, Don, an Iraq combat veteran.  When I met Don sixteen months ago, he was completing treatment for heroin addiction.  He came to Liberty House, became involved with a support group, and began rebuilding his relationships with his children.  Today, he is working full-time, self-supporting and completely clean and sober.  His life is filled with meaning and I am proud to call him my friend.  Just Saturday he came by to help us with a construction project.

The third vet I’ll call Joe.  He lived with us for two months, going to support group meetings, working full time and regaining the respect and trust of his family.  Unfortunately, Joe stopped going to meetings, violated Liberty House rules and is this very second living on the street in Manchester, an active heroin addict.  Just Saturday, he stopped by Liberty House to help out with the project, excited about getting clean.  Last night, while I was writing this speech, Joe approached a current resident on Elm Street, visibly high.  The current resident, clean and sober, became emotional telling me about Joe, and the promise he is throwing away.

You have heard of the heroin epidemic in Manchester, all the overdoses, all the wasted promise, all the death.  I see this every day, see the Ernies, the Daves and the Joes.  Joe, and he may be in this crowd right now, bumming money or cigarettes off you, faces the juncture every junkie faces.  He can choose death—by overdose, by neglect, by violent crime.  Or he can choose life, the path of recovery Dave and I have chosen.  I’m not a praying man, but if you are please pray for Joe and all the other Joes and Janes using heroin today, veterans or not, are offered the real choice of recovery, the choice between a life of purpose and a meaningless death.


So, a quick update on the three men I talked about in that speech. Ernie is still dead. Don, the Iraq vet and recovering addict/alcoholic, is still clean and sober, still in recovery and still a man of distinction. In fact, for the past couple years, Don has been a member of the Liberty House Board of Directors, not as a token former resident but because of his insights into life as a homeless vet in recovery.

I’d asked for prayers for Joe, the still active junkie at that time—prayers he’d get clean, recover from the horror of addiction, rejoin the land of the living—but I’d honestly assumed, when I didn’t hear more about him or his life, that he’d become a statistic, either in the column of active users or that of the dead. It pains me to reveal that assumption, but in the world of addiction I’ve had to attend a lot of funerals, and the fields are always white with folks to be introduced to recovery.

If you’ve read this far, you want to know the good news, and I’m excited to tell you that last Friday, while I was in a church-basement meeting in Colebrook, I got a text from Joe and his girlfriend. Joe, who’d relapsed off the rails and off my radar, got clean and sober and he and his girlfriend have stayed clean for two years. He’s working, living in an apartment they pay for themselves and still trying to do the right thing. In a couple weeks, when I’m down in Manchester, the three of us are going to get together, catch up and celebrate. Celebrate life. Celebrate recovery. Celebrate that we’re all still alive to celebrate.

I am indeed a very happy man.

And if you’re Joe right now, still above ground but wondering how much longer you will be, the choice is still yours. You don’t have to end up with a toe tag at a morgue. You don’t have to follow Ernie to the grave. You can choose Don’s path or my path or, thanks be to God, Joe’s path.

You, too, can indeed be a very happy man or woman.



Too Smart and Charming for Our Own Good

I just got off the phone with a dear, dear friend. Larissa is in her late 30’s, holds a graduate degree and works as a teacher, where she is seen by her students and peers as insightful, creative and a dynamite professional. Her classroom is always abuzz with excitement, and her students routinely say she’s the best educator they’ve ever had. Larissa has been married for 15 years, has a couple of great kids, and does volunteer work in her community, focusing on the elderly. In that, she is also highly valued and seen as near-saintly. She is smart and charming and any number of other adjectives.

One word in the previous paragraph is wrong, though, and must be amended. “Works as a teacher” is actually “worked as a teacher.” Friday, Larissa was fired from her teaching job—despite all her gifts—because Larissa is also a drunk, an alcoholic. There had been warning signs and written warnings, hand-wringing and hand-holding, pie-crust promises to change and repeated breakage of those pie crusts. Larissa has been to rehab three or four times, during the summer and during the school year. She’s stopped drinking plenty of times, but hasn’t figured out a way to stay stopped. Yesterday, Larissa’s students smelled stale alcohol on her breath, reported it to her principal, and she was fired. As she should have been.

As was I. Fourteen years ago, I was allowed to resign from one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, running an alternative high school program in a dynamic community with engaged kids. I just couldn’t control my drinking, couldn’t stop drinking, and couldn’t stop lying about my drinking. I was where Larissa is today, and it took me another three years of sinking before I finally found myself homeless. Then, I found my solution.

Talking with Larissa was like listening to tapes of me all those years ago.

“I never drank at school.”

(Although I drank enough almost every night to still be legally drunk when I drove into work.)

“Some people just metabolize alcohol in a smellier way than most.”

(Of course, some people just don’t drink, or don’t drink on work nights, or don’t drink enough to worry about metabolizing times.)

“Who are they to judge what I do on my own time?”

(Even if their concern is the ways what I do on my own time affects students, parents and co-workers.)

“I’m going to see a lawyer, because alcoholism is a disease. They wouldn’t fire me for having diabetes.”

(Unless I continued to take too much insulin or refused to eat so I was passing out in the classroom, acting shaky or confused or falling asleep regularly.)

“If it weren’t for my husband/kids/neighbors/parents/ad nauseum, I wouldn’t need to drink.”

(Although I would, because I’m an alcoholic, gifted at finding targets to drink at.)

“They’re jealous of what a good job I do, and how much the kids like me.”

(That may be, but they’re also worried about my judgement and decision making, impaired as I am by booze.)

Larissa will find another job. She’s insightful and gifted and attractive, and that’s what her references will say. They won’t say she’s a drunk. They won’t want to damage her opportunities because “She’s so great when she’s not drinking. If it weren’t for that . . .” Unfortunately, those ellipses never end without change, and that change doesn’t seem to come without work on our part.

No one ever passed on that truth about me, either. After all I was creative and energetic, if not attractive. From that lost job of mine, I eventually got a teaching job at a residential school, until I got fired from there, if not for drinking then for behavior brought on by drinking. Then I got a job as a clerk/salesman. Then I got homeless.

Larissa is cursed by good luck and bad genes. She’s got everything she needs to be successful—except for the ability to stay away from that first drink.

Larissa and I are both smart and charming, too goddamned smart and charming for our own good when it comes to booze. There, all the gifts and talents in the world won’t keep us sober, although they can keep us from getting sober.

(I’ll try to keep you posted on Larissa—I’m driving to see her tomorrow—but if I forget, please drop me an email to remind me.)

I am a Field: What Flows through Me Enriches Me

As a jackass, I’ve no right to use Chinese ideograms. They should be reserved for Zen practitioners, restaurants serving fried rice and college students searching for just the right tattoo. Don’t worry. I’m not going to be deep here, although I do wish I had wisdom and depth as an option instead of a promise to avoid them. Sigh.

In recovery, I’ve learned I always get more out of working with others than they get out of me. Part of this, of course, is because of who I am. Although the Chinese Zodiac says I was born in a year of the dog, I believe my symbol should instead be the jackass, reproduced here for any readers needing a tattoo idea for that uninked place on the back of your left wrist. Despite my jackassery, though, when I spend time with newcomers, they seem to benefit and I know I do. One of the insights I’ve been given over the past 10 years is that what flows through me enriches me. When I channel gratitude, I experience gratitude. When I try to pass on what I’ve been given, I get more out of it than the recipient does. How unintuitive.

Tonight, though, I’m getting together with the group of men, all in recovery, who have helped me build and maintain a moral compass, my consiglieri, the small group of advisors who tell me when I’m full of crap (often) and when I’m steering my life in a positive direction. I’d like to say we’re convening to consider my next move in life ora challenge facing one of the other guys. We’re not. It’s my last night in Manchester, and we’re gathering at Gaucho’s, a Brazilian restaurant, to be carnivores, dining on unlimited servings of dead mammals. (Being only 51% male, though, my favorite is Gaucho’s salmon, with a great caper sauce.) By 8:30 or so, I will have ingested the equivalent of five footballs of flesh, laughed a lot and gotten the meat sweats. Just like a real man.

I apologize for such a short column, but I will try to make up for it in two ways. First, here’s a link to the “Chronicle” show from the other night. I haven’t confessed this before, but I didn’t watch the show when it was live, but I did view it this afternoon, when Sean McDonald sent it to me. Sean and Paul, his cameraman and editor, managed to wipe the weirdness off me and actually make me look fairly normal and sane. Excellent job, there, and something I didn’t think could be done.

Chronicle Link

The second make-up gift is a link to the Chronicle viewers column, which includes links to a representative sample of earlier columns. None of them were hits, or even B-sides, but they do give the flavor of what I do.

ChronicleColumn Link

Tomorrow, I head back home. This weekend, I’ll publish one of the hardest columns I’ve ever had to write. That’s what’s known as a cliff-hanger. Please stay behind the guardrail as you wait.



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.

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.

The Hermit with the Pastor’s Heart (or How I Managed to Avoid Death, Make Some Jokes and Maybe Help a Veteran a Little Bit)

Well, I’m not dead.

That sentence is such a great start it deserves its own paragraph. In fact, it deserves to be said again.

Well, I’m not dead.

After I posted yesterday’s column, a car pulled into the cutout in front of the Tiny White Box around 3. Since he’d first called at 8, I’d kind of expected Adam by noon at the latest, but if he was here to kill me I couldn’t really be angry I’d been given a few extra hours. If I’d known he was really going to come, perhaps bearing weapons and bad intentions, I would have used those extra hours for more than hanging out with Sam (is a dog), reading and eating lunch. I was stuck choosing between thanking Adam for postponing my murder, berating him for being tardy or improvising.

“Hi,” said a bearded guy who got out of the passenger door. “I’m Adam.”

In his late 30s, Adam looked tired maybe, but not like he’d been near a corpse recently. Also, he didn’t appear to have a weapon at his midsection or a killer blind rat-dog secreted on him.

“I’m Keith.” Looking at the frost-tinged windshield, I asked, “Is that your buddy in there? Does he want to get out?”

“No. That’s my lady.”

Unless this car was imported from Bermuda with the steering on the left-hand side, like a VW Bug I’d bought off a driver while hitchhiking back in the 70’s, the “lady” was alive. She got out, a nice-looking woman in her 30’s and, to my quick inspection at least, had no black eyes or bandages, no recent wounds at all.

“Hi,” she said, looking a little embarrassed, “I’m Madeline, but please call me Maddy.”

My detective-novel brain was in overdrive trying to process all this information. The corpse lives! And talks! With a smile on her face! While the murderer shuffles his feet and apologizes for being late.

(Director’s Note: The film Keith has being acting in his head all day is genre-wrong, wrong, wrong. This is no mano-a-mano battle for Keith’s life, the desperate criminal bound for the border. Instead, Keith must now be the gracious host with a touch of profane mysticism. Luckily, Keith is a good improviser.)

We went into the bunkhouse and we talked. Maddy left after a few minutes, to sit in her car and smoke. Sam (is a dog) left shortly after, joined Maddy in the car without smoking himself. Or cigarettes.

Adam’s story, the details of which are private, was like lots of men I’ve known. Hell, except for Adam having been deployed three times and injured by an IED, his story is within hailing distance of half the Liberty House residents I’d known and very similar to mine.

Drugs? Check.

Alcohol? Check.

Feelings of worthlessness? Check.

Suicidal thoughts? Check.

Suicidal actions? Check.

Now, Adam wanted help, but mainly he wanted someone to understand, someone to identify with, someone to be a goddamned friend.

I made him laugh about his shame at crying, asking him if he was ashamed of peeing or blowing his nose. Tears are just another juice that needs to get out of the body. Would he feel more a man if he never urinated? His laughter felt real, unforced, not that high-up-in-the-throat maniacal laugh we get before we explode. He seemed calmer.

We talked about French onion soup, which I hardly order in restaurants. They make it too too salty. (Quick sidebar: T-Bones and the Copper Door Restaurants in Southern New Hampshire are a safe place to order excellent onion soup.) We talked about roasting buffalo bones, scooping out the marrow and making soup. We talked about a chambered bullet and a desire to point it at your head and pull the trigger. Adam talked about cartoons, and I rtold my fear his dog was Taz from Bugs Bunny. We didn’t talk about why he didn’t bring his dog. That’s an oversight that bothers me now. We talked about drinking and about alcoholism.

We went outside to smoke. Maddy and Sam joined us and we went back in the bunkhouse. I made clear I’m not a therapist, not a counselor, that I don’t have any letters after my name. I’m just a guy, a nobody who’s made it through that long dark night of the soul, at least for now. I asked Adam if we could have lunch Wednesday on my way down to Manchester, and got his commitment to still be alive at noon when I come to pick him up. I made him laugh. I hate to eat alone, and didn’t want to drag his corpse to a restaurant. We hugged.

Maddy said something that brought embarassment, and I’m ashamed to repeat it.

“You lied just a minute ago. You said you were a nobody. You’re somebody very special.”

They left. Sam and I turned off the stove and the lights in the bunkhouse and locked the door.

It had been a clean, well-lighted place to reach out the hand of brotherhood.


(Readers may want to view yesterday’s column “Today is Not a Good Day to Die,” for the beginning of this tale.)

Today is Not a Good Day to Die—Waiting for a Murderer (or a really sad man)(or no one at all)

I don’t often write these things in real time, but today I must. It’s 10:08 am, Monday, January 8, I’m sitting inside the Warriors@45North bunkhouse, a space I’ve never been in alone. After talking with Doc and Chief this morning, I came in here, started the fire and now I wait. For what? I don’t know.

For whom? Adam Davis, I think the man said his name was when he called two hours ago. He was semi-frantic, saying he was in Colebrook, needed to talk with someone, and wanted to know if he could stop by. He just needed a friend. Living a hermit’s life, but having a pastoral heart, I said, “Sure. Come on by!” I mean, what the hell? I’ve been in a space where I don’t want to be alone, couldn’t stand to be alone. Then . . .

“I don’t want to go on hurting my lady.”

Domestic abuse, I assumed, and started to put together a plan as I had my first lukewarm cup of coffee. I prefer it that way. Really.

Then, the phone rang again. Adam. His friend needed directions to 45North. The friend who was apparently going to drop him off. The friend who was dropping him off so he could be with me, a friend he’s never met.

“Go North on 3 until you see Young’s Store on the right. Then look for the Lake Francis State Park sign . . .”

Back to thinking. First, I’ll need to ask if he has a weapon. If so, I’ll ask him to leave it outside. Then, we’ll talk things through.

The phone rang again.

“Hi, this is Adam. Do you mind if I bring my dog?”

What the hell, was my first thought. I was planning on some Hemingwayesque encounter—two men, frozen Great North Woods, one a desperado—and he was asking for permission to bring a dog.

“Does he get along with other dogs?” I asked, thinking of Sam (is a dog).

“He’s blind and small.”

Not really an answer.

“Yeah, but does he get along with other dogs?”

“Usually. He’s blind as a bat though.

Now I pictured an angry tiny Taz, barking and spitting piss and vinegar, trying to attack Sam if only he could find him. Sam (is a dog) is a nice dog, but he’s an oversized medium dog, and could likely tear apart the rabid squirrel in my mind.

“Sure. Bring him along.”

“Thanks. Last night I did something I’m ashamed of.”

“Well,” I said, “we’ll talk about that when you get here.”

“Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

Using my gift of pretending I’m gifted, I went back to my encounter with The Stranger with the Gun, the Murdered Girlfriend and the Blind Dog, perhaps the worst thriller title ever.

I’ll ask him to disarm himself willingly. If he won’t, I’ll improvise.

I’ll offer him coffee. If he doesn’t want any, I’ll improvise.

I’ll ask him to tell me a bit about himself. He will. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s getting distraught people to talk.

I’ll guide the conversation to last night, praying he terrorized his “lady” by throwing dishes and bottles, then storming out.

Not bloody likely.

I’ll guide the conversation to last night, praying he only hit her once.

Possibly answered prayer I pray.

If he beat her to a pulp or killed her, I’ll pray for her. Then for him. Then for me.

I’ll ask how he wants to turn himself in. If he says he doesn’t want to, I’ll improvise.

If he says he plans to escape to Canada, I’ll ask for as many details as I can, before letting him know I’ll be contacting the police right away.

If he demands my Jeep, I’ll give it to him. If he demands cash, I’ve got about $15. I’ll give it to him. If he wants me to join him, I’ll refuse. If he threatens me with the gun he denied having, I’ll improvise. If he runs outside for the gun, brings it back in, I’ll improvise.

If he shoots me, I’ll bleed. And maybe die. End of improvisation.

But what about the little dog? Would a violent criminal bound for a life on the run bring a blind dog with him? Maybe he’s improvising. The man, I mean. I don’t think a dog can improvise, even though playing a blind dog wouldn’t be such a stretch. Still, dog actors aren’t known for elasticity in their performances, but for their resoluteness.

Funny, that while I’m writing what may be close to my last words, I can’t stop but be a smart-ass. I don’t want a gravestone particularly, and I don’t want “Smart-Ass to the End” engraved on it, but that might be a good t-shirt slogan for my funeral.

Back to the present.

Although the heat has been on for almost an hour now, it’s still cold inside the bunkhouse. The Tiny White Box is warmer, and homier than this room, but I don’t want Adam Davis and his Amazing Blind Yipster there. A thought strikes: the box is right next to here—Adam and his friend will make some kind of noise, and even a blind dog finds a bark now and then. Sam and I are going back inside the box. Now.

11:09 am

Sam and I are back in the box. Coffee is brewing, and Tonio K.’s Yugoslavia is on the box—“Student Interview (with the third richest man in the world)” right now. God, I love Tonio and his music.

Still no Adam. Could’ve gotten lost. Could’ve gotten cold feet. Could’ve gotten arrested. Now that it’s been more than an hour I’ve been contemplating my imminent death, I’m feeling much better. If Adam comes and pistol-whips me or shoots me, I may feel differently. If I die, I guess I’ll feel nothing at all.

Knowing I may have minutes or years left to live, I’m wondering about “pistol-whipping” and what that phrase actually means. Does the whipper hold the barrel of the pistol, turning the weapon’s handle into a hammerhead? I mean, holding the stock and whipping someone with the barrel would be like slapping a man with a kosher hot dog—more embarrassing than threatening. It’s good to be back to full smart-ass, knowing even at the moment of my imagined death, smart-ass never left me.

The title of this column, “Today is Not a Good Day to Die,” is a callback more than 10 years ago, to the day I got sober, even though I didn’t know it. My journal entry that day:

May 21, 2007


When I got out of bed this morning, I had a plan.  Not a perfect plan.  Not a foolproof plan.  Hell, my plan could have snapped apart like a small tree branch trying to support a bear cub across a swollen May river.  Still, it was a plan.


I was going to take a bus to Dartmouth College, start heading south on the Appalachian Trail and not stop until Georgia.  With just dried fruit and oatmeal to sustain me, I would walk the bottom four-fifths of the AT in two pairs of sneakers and a pair of sandals.


Every plan has loose ends, space for contingencies, room left to breathe in the design.  In an excellent plan, the paragraph above would present the final problem:  How will I equip myself for this three- or four-month journey?  The perfect plan would include the application of a credit card or cash to expenses at an outdoor apparel shop.  A good plan would answer the question in a thornier manner, involving difficult budget decisions and a willingness to compromise on any given food’s flavor for calories.  


Now that we’ve covered what that second paragraph would be in a perfect and a good plan, let me now share with you what living on oatmeal and ending up walking a hundred miles barefoot is in a truly fucked-up, horrible, wretched plan–it is the heart, the clockwork, the settled part of a doomed plan.  That was my plan.


I was going to walk away from everything I’ve known, take on a fake identity, a “trail name,” and, eventually, kill myself out on the trail, thereby saving my three beautiful daughters from the shame of being related to a suicide.  Instead, they would have been related to one of the disappeared.  That was my plan.


Instead of following out one of the stupidest plans I could have come up with, I checked into a VA hospital for treatment for my depression.  I had tentatively called my trail journal, “Tomorrow is a Good Day to Die:  the last days of a suicide.”  I’ll now have to come up with a new title, something with a similar pizazz and, dare I say, optimism. 

Now it’s early 2018. I await my murderer—or a sad man who wants to cry before I convince him to turn himself in. Or a no-show. Regardless, I’ve sat with my death for an hour, a death I neither summoned nor desired. If I were starting a new trail journal, I think I’d title it: “The Future is a Big Place—and it needs my smartassery!”

Afterward: It’s now 12:50 pm and Sam (is a dog) and I need to drive to Treats and Teasures, the convenience and gift shop that has great Wi-Fi. Adam Davis, or whatever his name really is or was, never showed. At least not yet. I suspect he won’t come at all, which makes me sad, if I could have helped him, or glad, if he were going to kill me. Either way, I’m posting this. If anything happens, I’ll improvise.

If this turns out really horribly, I’ve loved my life, especially the parts with my daughters, and I’ll miss it. I’ve already published my funeral desires.