Wednesday, October 23, 2013


       I’m an anomaly among writers. I’m not an alcoholic. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m far from a teetotaler. I enjoy a drink as much as the next guy with a modicum of self-control. I love a quality craft beer brewed with love and faith by Trappist monks and suckled by a rolling Aeolian chant. A good single malt scotch like Balvenie or Dalmore has the power to elicit in me near sexual satisfaction and childlike awe. And yes, I will on occasion go beyond tipsy, cross over buzzed, and land squarely in the province of drunk. I’ll enjoy it there too. I’ll happily slur my words, absently sway to and fro, and delight in my regression into stupid. But it’s been years since I’ve been smashed, wrecked, hammered, obliterated, fucked eight ways from All Saints Day, or any other charmingly violent colloquialism. I no longer possess the will or stamina to drink like there’s money on the line. When you’ve gone as far as I have into uncharted spirits, you eventually lose interest in crossing the Rainbow Bridge, burning it down, and setting up camp in the heart of Valhalla.
In high school, when most kids’ relationships with drinking go from innocent flirtations to codependent depravity, I was too big a chickenshit to risk incurring my parents’ wrath. So when I got to college and my testicles dropped with a booming clang, I took to booze like Kanye West to the sound of his own voice. I liked walking through the doors booze opened. I could open my mouth around strangers. I had the guts to crack jokes, to chat up girls, to try new things like cracking jokes and chatting up girls. It was honest-to-god liquid courage concentrate. It wasn’t too long before I was looking for excuses to drink. “I got a B on my final. I need a beer.” “Hey, that was a great joke. Let’s drink.” “It’s Wednesday. Close enough.” One night I went to a friend’s party, drove home drunk through Los Angeles on a Saturday night, sobered up, decided I wasn’t ready to call it a night, went to another friend’s party, and drove home drunk again. It was only a matter of time before I had The Night. You know what The Night is, that night where you take partying far beyond the realms of both common sense and self-preservation. Fittingly The Night was December 31, 1999.
I was home from L.A. for the holidays. My friend John had learned of a New Years party at his college in Trenton. It was being thrown by a few sorority sisters of his friend’s girlfriend. Is that circuitous enough for you? It wasn’t for us. You could’ve added half a dozen degrees of separation. As far as John and I and the rest of us were concerned, we were invited. Brian and Scum had already headed up to Trenton, but I was driving by myself because I had to be at the video store for work the next day at 11. I was going to this party with the intention of drinking myself into oblivion and full awareness of the professional responsibilities I had the day after. At twenty-years old this didn’t concern me.
I reached the house in Trenton around 9:30 and walked in. I was greeted by that scene of a couple of dozen faces turning to look at you, not recognizing you, then returning to their conversations. I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to make friends. I had friends, and they were waiting for me to start drinking. I found them all in the kitchen. Brian was already decently buzzed, but Scum wasn’t fazed yet. This was when Scum was a marvel of modern science, when he could put away ten beers and still drive. John was talking to his friend Vinnie – because only John liked Vinnie – and a girl he introduced as one of the party’s hostesses. I don’t remember her name, but she was very cordial and welcoming. She then introduced me to her roommate and co-hostess. I found her to be especially attractive, but any interest immediately dissipated once she opened her mouth and let loose the shrill clipped caw of Queen Shit of I-Don’t-Have-Time-for-You. In retrospect she probably was starting to realize that she had opened her home to the inevitable onslaught of destructive merriment, but at the time I just thought, what a bitch, and actively rooted for her home’s annihilation. 
After those first three minutes I realized that it was time to start drinking. From 9:30 pm on December 31, 1999 to, let’s say, 4:00 am on January 1, 2000, I imbibed a twelve-pack of Corona, a six-pack of Heineken, three Yuenglings, two shots of Jack Daniels, three glasses of champagne, two liberal swigs of Bacardi 151 (because by that point, what did I care?) and more that I can’t clearly remember. I remember watching John and Vinnie lie down in the street and launch fireworks from between their legs. Right next to their balls. Because the fireworks were dicks. Get it? I remember making out with a girl I had met about an hour earlier. Let’s call her Stacy. I remember Scum getting angry because people weren’t as drunk as he thought they should be and vocally challenging them to drink harder. I remember the bitch hostess running around screaming because people were desecrating her house. I remember Brian and I laughing at her. I remember availing myself of her refrigerator and making a sandwich. I remember John passing out on the hood of a car that didn’t belong to anyone we knew. God knows what I don’t remember. But all inebriated things must come to an end. Around four in the morning I went to the basement, found an empty spot on the floor next to a bed, took my coat off, folded it beneath my head like a pillow and passed out.
At some point I woke up in total darkness, shivering and still nine sheets to the wind. I reached for my coat pillow and found that it too was cold. And wet. Too inebriated to call forth any semblance of deductive reasoning, and far too inebriated to get up and go to a lighted area, I pulled the coat from behind my head and allowed myself to fall back asleep, my head now lying on the cheap flattened carpet between it and the concrete floor.
When I woke next, I was still in complete darkness, but I heard a few muffled snores around me. Obviously everyone else was now passed out as well. Knowing that I had to go work, I stood up and realized I was still drunk as a surfeit of skunks. I grabbed my still cold and wet coat and tiptoed my way through the unseen bodies sprawled across the floor. Just as I reached the stairs, I accidentally kicked what felt like a person, and ran up the stairs to avoid a confrontation.
The sun was pouring through the windows. I looked at the clock on the wall. 8:45. I had plenty of time, so I took a moment to examine my coat. Vomit all over the right side. Joy and rapture. I trundled out of the house, through the snow to my car. I threw the coat in the backseat, cranked up the heat, and drove away. Before I even got out of the neighborhood, something dawned on me. I had no right to be driving at that moment. As drunk as I’d ever gotten previously, I’d never woken up still drunk from the night before. It was a new kind of disconcertion, and I wasn’t all that fond of it. Every manageable area of my brain told me not to drive. But even then I took pride in having never missed work no matter what I’d done to myself the night before. 
I drove home in abject terror, knowing that State Troopers would be out on 295 in magnum force to catch drunk drivers. Somehow I eluded them. I pulled into my parents’ house around 9:30 in the morning. I have no doubt they took one look at me lumbering through the front door and drew all sorts of conclusions that were not far from the reality. I grabbed a quick shower, changed, had some eggs and toast (I don’t know how I was able to hold anything down), and headed to work. I remember pulling into the parking lot, walking into the store, greeting my boss, walking behind the counter, then nothing. From that point forward January 1, 2000 ceases to exist for me. 
The day after that I spoke to Brian and Scum. They had enjoyed themselves as much as I did. Brian made fun of the angry host to the point where she was going to kick his ass. John slept with his ex-girlfriend. Let’s-call-her-Stacy ended up having sex with Vinnie in the bed right next to where I was passed out. Scum stayed up to see the sunrise, because he’ll drink until he is physically incapable of lifting a beer to his lips. And thank god he will. If he had passed out earlier, I’d be dead right now. 
Scum said that he’d found me passed out in the basement with vomit dribbling out of my mouth. He turned me on my side, allowing the puke to land safely on my coat and saving my life. Since then I’ve lost my drive to drink myself into oblivion. It’s hard to top dancing with Bon Scott and walking away from it. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


     The last time I sent you News from Rome, I wrote that I wanted to do so on a fairly regular basis. That was on February 23, so I guess we know who the asshole is. Well, life got in the way as it often does. I wrote “Immortal Anonymous,” which is the most popular story I’ve put up here. Once it was finished and I got over feeling good about it, I got back to writing The Trial of Marcus Aurelius. Then life hit me in the face like a grapefruit from James Cagney. My grandfather got cancer, and I helped take care of him while he died. Some of you don’t particularly care about your grandparents. More’s the pity as far as I’m concerned. For those of us who do care, it hurts when they leave. But eventually the hurt started to recede, and I dove back into Marcus Aurelius. But it had been months since I put a new story up here, and I wanted to write a new one. I latched onto an idea and started plotting it out. I figured out who my protagonist was, what he wanted, and what his obstacles were. I mapped out a beginning, a middle, and an end. I had the tone, the style, and the point of view. This was going to be good.
     NOW, writers, pay attention, because this happens. I started writing and loved the first couple thousand words. Then I ran into problems that kept compounding themselves. I wrote to the point where the story unleashes its first big reveal, and our hero has to make a key choice. But approaching that point became tougher and I started caring less about what was happening. I’ve had this problem before, and I know that it means I’ve made a wrong turn in the narrative at some point. So I backtracked and found my mistake. The problem was that my buildup to that big reveal was too diffused. I wanted the story to be drum tight, so I condensed the action, cut little bits out here and there. But now the piece’s rhythm was screwed up. I fixed it by inserting one little detail that I hadn’t included in my earlier drafts. It was a huge improvement to the story and the tone, but that one bit of data now prompted a big question concerning logic: why wouldn’t our hero already know about this big reveal? Sure, I could just shoehorn in some background exposition, but I want to be a GOOD writer. I had to find a way to organically work this explanation into the couple thousand words I was happy with. But if I did this, the character’s entire motivation was shot. His whole arc would disappear, and there would be no story worth telling. 
     I was going to have to rewrite the entire first act of the story, and at that moment I didn’t know what to do with it. A setback like that can really crush your enthusiasm for a story, and I’ll be honest. That one stepped on my nuts a little. I had a choice to make. I could either slog through a story I was quickly losing perspective on, or I could shelve it. If I slogged through, the story would likely blow. If I shelved it, I ran the risk of losing all passion for it and never finishing it. That can happen. But I knew that even if I did lose the story forever, I could always recycle elements and put them into a future story as I have before and will again. So I shelved it. 
     I hate when a story beats me, but the good news was defeat prompted me jump back into Marcus Aurelius with, as the cliché goes, renewed vigor. I attacked that son of a bitch like it was Lynn Swann and I was George Atkinson. I tightened up the story, came up with some nifty little devices that advance the story and illuminate character simultaneously (you’re gold when you can do that), and deepened some of the secondary characters, who I think should be as rich as the leads in their limited way. The other good news was I ended up starting a new short story. It’s an idea I’ve had percolating for a while, and I finally figured out how I wanted to write. I just wrote half of it, and it’s growing into quite the little badass. We got the post-apocalyptic thing going on, Western conventions, zombies, sadistic pricks, desperation, and a female anti-hero who will fuck shit up like Adrianople. I should start posting the short story in early November, and with any luck The Trial of Marcus Aurelius will be finished by the new year.
     So that’s this News from Rome. Thanks, everyone, for your patience, and I’ll try not to keep quiet for so long. ‘Til next time, “An easy existence, untroubled by the attacks of Fortune, is a Dead Sea.” – Demetrius the Cynic