Who Am I?

Keith Howard, thanks for asking.  And who are you?

Before you answer, let me tell you a little about myself.  I’m taking a timeout from the human zoo and living, effective 9/1/17, in a Tiny White Box at 45 North, a veterans’ retreat about 10 miles from the New Hampshire/Canadian border.  Here, I intend to write a bit, teach a little, hike a lot and figure out my next move.

Before here, I was director Liberty House in Manchester, NH, a transitional living facility for formerly homeless veterans, a distributor of food and clothing to hundreds of people in dire straits, and the best implementation I know of Jesus’ injunction to focus on “the least of these.”  I was fortunate at Liberty House to get a fair amount of publicity for our decision to give up federal funding (fully justified and wise) and my refusal to appear on a stage with a politician (also justified, necessary and worthwhile, but perhaps not wise—depending on how this country goes in the next three or so years).  That man was Donald Trump, and I may have a few things to say about that experience later.

Without going into all the David Copperfield crap, I was raised in Durham, NH, home of a state university and not much more.  Although I came from a college family—in fact, the ugliest building on campus is named after my grandfather—neither of my parents was connected to academe, so I grew up on a cul-de-sac where almost all the fathers were addressed as “doctor,” either Ph. or M., and I had a secret shame that my father’s BA in zoology was the equivalent of a GED.  Whether for this or a simple toss of the genetic coin, I was born an intelligent smartass, sent home from kindergarten for taking my pants down to show the lovely and charming Cathy Palmer what I had downstairs.  That set the tone for the rest of my school years—the need for attention and disruption, not the public exposure of private parts—and I graduated Oyster River High School as a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist (high PSAT scores) in the bottom two percent of my class.  (For those of you fascinated by numbers, I was third from the bottom in my class of 126 students.)  As an aside, more than 20 years later, I was running an alternative school visited by the then-principal of ORHS.  He wanted to follow our model, and I told him he would only get the secret recipe if he would alter my class rank.  I wanted to be last.  He said he would, but I’ve seen no documentation of it.

From high school, I went into the army:

–not because I was drafted (the draft was abolished more than three years before I graduated, and I doubtless would have fled to Canada to avoid it.  My politics at the time saw smoking pot as a revolutionary act, and protesting the war may have ended, but I still had the empty sense I’d missed out on a great generational coming of age),

–not because I was patriotic (I was a social democrat at the time, although there was no such thing in America nor is there now.  Abstractly, I loved the United States; practically, I saw it as the panda of international relations: appearing cute and friendly but able to kill viciously if annoyed)

–not even because I wanted training (had I a desire to be a dental hygienist, no doubt the army would have made sense.  I’d get initial training for free, get free costumes to wear, and learn to handle a spit cup on foreign soil).

No, I joined the army because what the hell else was I going to do? I’d managed to mess up high school, lose a series of jobs in hilarious ways (egging a school bus with a gross of eggs from my employer’s walk-in fridge, dropping acid and laughing at every potential customer who walked into Orange Julius, getting arrested drunk by lake police near the summer camp where I was a counselor), and use up every drop of patience in every adult in my life.  To mangle Robert Frost, the army is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you.  They took me and I took advantage of the opportunity.

I was in the army from 1976 to 1980, working as a print journalist, or newspaper reporter in plain language.  This brought me to Europe, a love of crystal meth, a vacation with heroin, rehab of a sorts and a return to the states, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

From the army, I worked in radio as a disk jockey and news director, telephone bill collector, beer-truck loader, cab driver, English as a second language instructor, actor, writer, director, junior-high English teacher, second-grade teacher and director of a series of alternative schools, each of which had a better reputation when I left than when I took over.

The last of these, K-SOFA, was a program of my own design, so the issue of increased reputation is kind of moot.  Besides, after planning, hiring great staff and helping the school launch, I drank more and more—although never at school—and allowed my dark side to take the lead.  A few shameful examples:

A student claimed he was smarter than a dog, no matter how well trained the pet.  I challenged this assertion by asking the boy if he thought he “could do everything better than a dog.”

“Course I can!  No dog is better than me!”

“Travis, are you sure?  Absolutely positive you’re better than a dog in every way?”

“Yup!  Every single way.”

“Can you catch a Frisbee better than a dog?”

“Easy.  I’m good at Frisbee.”

“With your mouth?”

Pause.  Longer pause.  Cloud passing over face.

“Yep.  I can catch a Frisbee with my mouth!”

Travis then got down on his hands and knees while various students soft-tossed a Frisbee at  his face, encouraging him to try harder to catch it.

  • For a year, I led a group of students on twice-daily “nature walks.”  At the end of each walk, I would let the students continue into a stand of trees, where they smoked cigarettes and perhaps pot, although I never saw them do so.  When the truth finally came out, I confessed—and fully expected a public commendation for having owned up to behaving badly for a year.
  • From the smoking imbroglio, I took not an ounce of learning.  Instead, I wrote a 400-page roman-a-clef in which the good guys were exalted (except for two who died) and the bad guys were brought down (except for two who died).  While there is some of the best writing I’ve ever done in the book, it’s ultimately a kiss-off to education as a career.   A year later I resigned to pursue a writing career.

In the previous paragraph the phrase “pursue a writing career” is code for “finally started drinking the way he wanted, culminating in homelessness, despair and a taste for stolen dollar-store mouthwash.”  But, as always, I digress.

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I am a drunk.  Who doesn’t drink any more.  I haven’t taken a drink in more than 10 years, although by the end I was drinking stolen dollar-store mouthwash for its alcohol (and the lack of security at dollar stores), so I should also say I haven’t used mouthwash since.  I do brush my teeth, or at least the four remaining ones, the rest sacrificed to the aforementioned love of crystal meth, I suspect.