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Archive for the month “October, 2012”


Most of the people in your family and friend circle who are school-aged and up are probably not functionally illiterate. Most of them can probably read and write on some level to communicate messages. But I’m guessing relatively few of those people who can “write” can (or do) actually WRITE with the intent of doing more than simply conveying information.

They can make grocery lists. They can help their kids write book reports. They can even write business letters and work memos. But they’re not “writers.” Not like you, anyway. They don’t know the agony of shaping  a plot, developing a character, falling in love with that character and then killing her. All for the sake of STORY.

Some of them may even be readers, yet they suffer from that same, understandable disconnect lots of people do as they intuitively understand when they read a “good” book versus a “bad” one, but can’t conceive that another human being had to suffer and bleed to create that book.

And those who do get it, can’t begin to understand why you, WRITER, would want to put yourself through that.

The answer is simple.

It’s because writing is like BUTTER.

How do I know? Let me count the (5) ways.


  • IT’S EVERYWHERE. Butter: You bake with it. Spread it on toast/veggies/muffins/the cat. The local paper recently had a story about a local guy who got drunk and spread butter all over his naked self. Butter everywhere, all the time. Just ask Paula Deen. Writing: It’s everywhere too. Print books, e-books, this blog (but ONLY this blog. You’re not reading other blogs, are you? DON’T LIE TO ME!), magazines, pamphlets on STD’s. Everywhere. The written word is alive and well and will keep on kickin’ until human brains revert back to pictographs from everything; sort of like McDonald’s cash registers with pictures on the keys instead of numbers.
  • IT’S CREAMY AND DELICIOUS. Butter: Toast without butter is a cracker. Toast with butter is a party, or at least a satisfying breakfast. Smooth and yummy (coincidentally, my nickname in college), food just tastes better with butter. Writing: I think really good writing just goes down easier than bad writing. You know real butter when you taste it, and you know good writing when you read it. A crappy book is still a book, but it’s also…not. Buttered popcorn versus plain popcorn is like reading Michael Chabon versus reading the script for a “reality” show (There is too a script. No one talks like that.)
  • IT’S INDISPENSABLE. Butter: There are a few things you find yourself always going to the store for, aren’t there? Milk, bread, condoms, whisky. The typical stuff. Butter is another one. You always want it around. Writing: Same idea. When you go on a trip, what do you always take with you? Your most comfy socks. Camera. Family members (optional). Condoms. And a book to read on the plane/in the car/on the back of the burro as you’re lead up the mountainside. Book lovers want their books around ALL THE TIME. Like butter.
  • IT GETS CRITICIZED. Butter: There are all sorts of butter substitutes. Margarine. Cooking spray. I Can’t Believe It Was Made in a Lab and is Now Going in My Mouth. People will tell you too much butter is unhealthy and you’re supposed to believe them just because they’re highly educated and have researched this for years. Others will say that’s BS. Butter has life-giving properties so strong, one dab on your English Muffin will give you eternal life. (I can’t prove that, but that’s what that nice lobbyist told me, so it’s probably true.) Writing: Books and movies and stories are criticized all the time. Whole actual persons make a living doing nothing but giving their opinions about other people’s writing. Some people loved Harry Potter. Others thought it was donkey spit. Some people thought The DaVinci Code was a ripping good yarn. Others thought the book was code for “this sucks!” (see what I did there? Code and code. This is why I blog.)
  • IT’S YELLOW. Butter: It’s literally yellow. What? Have you ever seen blue butter? I don’t think so. Remember when they tried to market green ketchup? Didn’t go so hot. Same with butter. We like our butter yellow, thanks. Familiar is good. Writing: Obviously there are many platforms, print, e-book, blog, columns, whatever. So in terms of layout, different types of writing look different. But still, what readers love, is the white page laid out before them. Words and sentences and paragraphs all lovingly crafted, churned like butter, if you will, to create entertainment and information for the reader.

It’s all so obvious now, isn’t it?

That’s what I’m here for.


Okay, first things first.

Don’t eat too much candy. Too much candy is bad for you. Sugar buzzes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It rots your teeth. Makes you fat. And, of course, there’s our friend King Diabetes.


A little candy is a very good thing. Science is even with me on this. Remember all those studies that say a little chocolate every day is good for your heart> A Hershey’s Kiss. A morsel of this. A nugget of that…and you’re living to be three-hundred.


By extension, the industrial drum of candy you can haul in on Halloween with a little plan should pretty much make you immortal, shouldn’t it? Everywhere you turn during the Halloween season, people are shoving their sugary wares in your face. Why not dive in?

Well, because being choosy can pay off. Anyone can shove any random pixie stick and peanut log into their food holes. But what if you fill up on that crap before you get to the good stuff? We can only eat so much, people. Make it count. I say, be discriminating. Scrutinize what the Webbers are offering. And the Petersons. And that creepy old dude at the end of the block. Turn your nose up at fake peanut butter and hard candies with “fruit” goo in the middle. And if the old man offers you pencils or pennies instead, egg his house*. He’s old! He totally can’t catch you!

*NOTE: The blog does not endorse vandalism of any kind. Except flaming poo. That’s always awesome.

“But, Bill,” you say, “there are so many kinds of candy out there. How do I know which candy is worth my daily allotted masticating time?”

Hey, look, what you do in the privacy of your home is – wait! MASTICATING! Like, chewing, right? Sorry, thought you meant something else, entirely. In that case, yours is an excellent question. And I’m here to help.

*Trumpet fanfare*


1. Hershey bars. Alone, awesome. With almonds…MEGA-AWESOME!

2.Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Chocolate meets peanut butter. No greater unions were ever forged that didn’t involve a Kardashian.

3. Snickers. Packed with flavor, Snickers really KICKS ASS!

4. Milky Way. Sure, it’s Snickers poor cousin, but there’s something about a Milky Way bar and a glass of milk that is just…*sigh*

5. Pack of gum. Any kind, except sugarless. I always liked getting gum for Halloween. Sometimes, let’s be honest, you want to take a break from all that chocolate and caramel. Chewing some gum in the off times is like letting your jaw idle while you tend to other things.

6. Smarties Sweet Tarts. Accept no substitutes. These are the little round ones that look like aspirin tables wrapped in a cellophane tube. They taste good and you can eat them all in one sitting and pretend you’re over-dosing on narcotics, just like your heroes!

7. Anything that a neighbor offers you in the full-sized package rather than the fun sized. Bigger is ALWAYS better. Except punches to the face.

8. M&Ms. Plain are okay. Peanut are better. Peanut butter are….omgiomg! NOM NOM NOM!

9. York Peppermint Patty. As with the Smarties, accept no substitutes. There’s just something about that one, round chocolate disk…what makes it think it’s so good it can come in its own package alone. Cool, refreshing mint? Oh, yeah, I forgot. Yum.

10.  Twix candy bar. Smooth chocolate. Creamy caramel. Crunchy cookie. Perfect. The caveat here is IT HAS TO BE A FULL SIZE CANDY. I find the fun sized Twix somehow unsatisfying. It’s probably Freudian. I’ve been afraid to look under that rock.

*Candy manufacturers who are reading this blog, and I know you all do, should, in no way, feel obligated to reciprocate my generous endorsement of your products with massive quantities of free treats. Really, don’t sweat it. Hello? Hello?

So who wants to fight me on this? Pixie sticks at ten paces.


In an episode of “Doctor Who”, the Doctor is in his TARDIS, hurtling through the time vortex when suddenly the bow of the Titanic rips through the TARDIS wall. It’s a nice contrast – the futuristic time machine collides, literally, with the historical, early twentieth century ocean liner.

One morning, my seven-year-old was reading “Ramona’s World”, a chapter book for kids about a precocious 4th grader. I was sitting in the same room and she told me about a reference in the book to, of all things, Moby Dick. It included a fairly succinct summary of that novel’s back story: “A giant whale bites the captain’s leg off.”

She looked at me skeptically.

“That’s a real book,” I said. “That’s really in a story.”

Her eyes widened. “Do whales have teeth?”


“Whales are big. Are their teeth sharp?”


“Wow. He’s lucky that whale didn’t eat all of him. Chomp!”

Full disclosure here: I’ve never read Moby Dick. More importantly, though, neither has my daughter. She’d probably never even heard the name before today. I thought it was an interesting literary reference for Beverly Cleary to make. She could have gone with the Wimpy Kid books or Harry Potter. But…nope. She reached back to Moby Dick. I’m impressed.

I appreciate a good literary mash-up. Ramona and Ahab. The Doctor and the Titantic (The Titanic was real, not a  literary creation, but he’s a TV character so I’m counting it here…No, you shut up.) Sherlock Holmes shows up on the Enterprise’s holodeck. Good stuff. Mash away!

If you’ve produced a book or TV show or a movie that lots of people are already watching, you’ve got a captive audience that already likes your product. Why not give them a taste of something new, something different, something that will stretch their imaginations in other directions?

I imagine by afternoon, my daughter had forgotten the Moby Dick reference. For now, it’s not a big deal. She’s a great reader, well above grade level, but Moby Dick is no light beach read.

But maybe, one day, when she’s old enough and in search of a new book to tackle, something will tickle the back of her brain. “Oh, yeah. Moby Dick…I’ve heard of that somewhere. Think I’ll check it out.” Then she will.

You know, like I never did.

Maybe she’ll let me borrow it when she’s done.

And we’ll both be the richer for it.


TV GEEKS watch every episode of a favorite TV show. They know all the characters. They know all the back-stories for the characters. They remember the plot of every episode of that show front to back. They “cosplay” – wear costumes resembling or representing their favorite characters and shows.  They hang around in living rooms and bars with like-minded fans, endlessly debating the minutiae of every episode of that show.

SPORTS GEEKS watch every game of the season. They know all the players. They know where the players went to school, what teams they’ve played on, and what their stats are. They remember dozens of plays from games played from childhood on up to last Sunday. They wear the jerseys and other licensed apparel of their teams, get team logos tattooed on themselves and paint their faces with team colors. They hang around in living rooms and bars with like-minded fans, endlessly debating the minutiae of every game.

TV geeks got beat up a lot in school.  Movies (“Revenge of the Nerds”) and TV shows (“Big Bang Theory”) mock them.

Sports geeks are frequently the ones delivering the beatings. Movies (“Hoosiers”, “Field of Dreams”, countless others) and TV shows (“Friday Night Lights”) revere sports teams whose successes are made possible by the fans.

Society loves sports fans. We dismiss TV geeks. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to make idle chit-chat with someone you don’t know well, particularly if you’re guys, you’re either going to talk about the weather or whether you saw the game last night. No random acquaintances ever say, “So, did you catch the new ‘Doctor Who’ last night?” The cab driver might ask you if you thought trading the Red Sox most valuable player for a couple good in-fielders (or whatever. Clearly, I don’t follow baseball) was a good call. But no cabbie is ever going to say, “So, the Doctor regenerated at the end of last season. What do you think of the new incarnation?”

And it’s not just TV geeks. It’s computer geeks. Tech geeks. Comic book geeks. Any group that feels passionately about some aspect of popular culture is ridiculed. Even political geeks, the ones who go to the party conventions, are roundly abused (amusingly, I must say) on The Daily Show.

Sports fans can go anywhere, talk to anyone, wear their fandom proudly, literally waving their flags in support of their team. Geeks of most other stripes hide their nerdy lights under their personal awkward bushels, revealing their Superman t-shirt only to the closest of like-minded comrades.

Even I, an adult human being with free will and my own money, am too intimidated to be seen out in public entering a comic book shop to buy the new “MacGyver” comic book series. I’m not a comics reader typically (I’m a geek, just not that kind, I guess), but certain titles will draw me in. What’s a geek intimidated by other geeks to do?

Life is hard.

The thing is, sports and TV and comics and all that all serve the same purpose to those who appreciate them: provide a release valve for the weirdness of real life. “Yeah, my job sucks, but at least I didn’t get clobbered like Winston did on that last play.” or “My girlfriend dumped me, but Spock’s entire planet was wiped out.” We all want the same thing. We just find it in different places.

So, can’t we all just get along?

Please don’t give me a wedgie.



You know what it is. You’ve felt it. You’ve seen it on the faces of others. Heard it in a lover’s voice over the phone from across country ostensibly at a librarian convention as the sounds of “Hey, I lost my thong bikini AGAIN” and a conga line are clearly audible in the background.

“Well, you say you had nothing to do with murdering these twelve people, but, I dunno, that bloody axe in your hand…”

“If there’s nothing going on between you two, why is she monogramming her initials on your tonsils with her tongue?”

“For a bunch of really spiritual people, Father Flynn and crew sure got lots of ‘splain’ to do to God.”

Whoops! Sorry! That last one was a mini-review of John Patrick Shanley’s play “Doubt”. And, really, it has nothing to do with this post.

Anyway, DOUBT hangs heavy over everything thing we do. Forcing us to second-guess ourselves and others. This can be beneficial when it brings us greater clarity; it can be debilitating when it makes us question every little thing.

Enter: The Writer.

With the exception of my cat scrutinizing a proffered toy, there may be no more doubting creature on the planet than the writer. We question EVERYTHING. Would the protagonist really do that? I had him turn left, but should it have been right? Does this sentence make the best use of subject/verb agreement? Have I developed this enough? Is this Tweet witty and/or insightful enough? WON’T ANYBODY LOVE ME EVER!

It’s hell to be a creative type. Painters, sculptors, actors and politicians all have the same problem. We all make stuff up, crafting something out of nothing, and we all know what we think will make the audience happy, but we really have no clue. None of us. We fumble around trying this and that until something sticks. Then we beat that into the ground for all it’s worth until it’s time to fumble over something else.

Unlike, say, math, where there typically is a RIGHT ANSWER. For the writer, except for points of fact, there is no RIGHT ANSWER. Writers make choices. Go left or go right. Kill this character in chapter five. Let her live. The book is done. THE BOOK IS NOT DONE. Whatever the quandary, we make a choice. We can never know if it’s the right one.

But we press on. We keep writing and revising. Editing like made. Keep this in! Cut that out! Hate that word! Don’t ever write THAT WORD AGAIN!

Until, finally, we’re done. How do we know we’re done? Instinct. How do we develop instinct? Lots of practice. Lots and lots. So much practice, it’ll make you puke. Wait, that might be the gin & tonics consumed while practicing…

Anyway, even for all this time put in at the keyboard, doubt never really goes away. But if you put in the time and develop your writerly instinct (and really there is no other way to do it than by putting in the time) your instinct can taser that doubt long enough to let you sneak out the side door and finish your project with some degree of confidence, even as doubt screams in your ears, “Don’t tase me, bro! Doubt is your friend….maybe. owowowow! I mean doubt is your friend definitely.”.

Is that all there is to be said on the topic of writerly doubt? Probably not. But have I reached the end of this post? I’m gonna go ahead and say yes.

And I’ll just have to deal with that.


I’m writing a book.

Several actually.

In 2008, before e-books really became a thing, I published in print IN THE ST. NICK OF TIME . This year, I re-released it as an e-book.

And I’m thinking about doing it again.

Soon maybe.

But here’s the quandary: if I’m an indie publisher, do I go print or e-book or both? In 2008, there wasn’t really much choice. In 2012, there obviously is.

If I just go e-book, the production time is shortened. No printing.  Cover designing, of course, but it’s not as extensive. Just format the document and upload it to wherever it’s being sold. The cost to produce the book is lowered, which means the price could be lower (that’s controversial, of course.) But then all I’ve got is an e- book. Readers who prefer print books are shut out. Someday, my kids, or their kids, might only read books electronically. But that day isn’t today.

I have a lot of e- books and I enjoy the convenience. Still, any book I read that way feels less….substantial, less there. Nothing about the content, just the experience of reading. Plus, as the author, I am more drawn to having a printed book to hold in my hands and flash at girls – readers! I meant all readers! Honest! Happily married!

For that reason, I would hate to not have my next book in print. Still, I’m not Random House. If a can sell a quality product as an e- book and not have to ask you to pay as much…well, there’s much to think about.

E-book v. Print. What are your thoughts?


Stuff is leaking out of my ears.

I know, ewww. But it’s not what you think.

Believe me, I wish it was wax. (Think of the second income to be had from personalized candles.) Or monkeys. Or monkeys made of wax. In football helmets. On ginger ale-powered snowmobiles gliding across fields of snow that’s actually cotton candy spun on the same machine debuted at the 1939 Worlds’ Fair in New York.

What was I talking about?

See? That’s the problem. What’s leaking out of my ears are memories. I can’t remember a damn thing anymore. Twenty-four hour TV, computers, e-readers, social media accounts – all feeding me more information than I know what to do with and I still can’t even remember the names of my kids. I only have two, but I never call the one I’m talking to by the right name.

But there’s hope.

It’s called a memory palace.

It sounds stupid.

But memory champ Joshua Foer says it works, so I’m in.

Don’t remember who that is? Well, why don’t you get a memory palace…

So here’s basically how it works. If you want to remember lists of stuff – names, dates, important numbers, whatever – you create images in your mind that you associate with those items. This “memory palace” can be an imaginary place, but the recommendation is to use a real room or building you’re familiar with and associate items in that room with whatever it is you’re trying to remember.

For my memory palace, I choose: the upstairs bathroom in my house. That might sound odd, but even though it’s not huge, there’s lots of stuff in there to attach details too. Also, a lot of my quality time is spent in there. (Mmm. Minty!) So here goes.

Okay, I’m closing my eyes..k3-vmklw4=-30uvl. Dammit! Okay, I’m opening my eyes, but envisioning what my bathroom looks like. I’m mentally linking important facts and names with objects that I see.

Bath toys scattered in the tub = my son’s name. As in, “For pete’s sake, H, please pick up your bath toys NOW!”

Pile of wet towels on the floor = daughter’s name. As in, “For the FOURTH time, S, pick up those towels!”

My personal loofa scrubber hanging in the shower, the only one with a handle = my wife’s name. As in, “Yes, J, I happen to like the one with the handle. Sue me.”

The toilet = the names of the various candidates running for political office this season nationally and in my district. Why? Well, clearly representative democracy is headed down the toilet.

The clogged sink = the names of all navigable waterways that flow into or out of the U.S. in order of discovery by the original settlers. Also, what New England clam chowder looks like.

The toothbrush = the name of comedian Steven Wright since I got it from my dental hygienist and one of Wright’s classic bits is about how he thinks his hygienist is pretty so before he goes in for his appointment, he eats an entire box of Oreo cookies.

The selection of various perfumes = Paris. Ah, Paris…

The shower = rainfall. Specifically, the average yearly rainfall in Portland, Oregon is 37.5 inches.

The mirror = Kurt, which is the name of the monster from an alternate plane of existence I see out of the corner of my eye drooling over my shoulder every time I look in the mirror, but who disappears when I turn around.

Beard clipper = the first application of the term “clippers” to ships, specifically the Baltimore clippers, the topsail schooners developed in Chesapeake Bay in the 18th century before the American Revolution.

Black and White cat sitting on the sink, demanding a drink = Zorro

Multi-colored cat hiding under the sink, daring me to reach in and try to get a clean towel = Sneezer

I close my eyes again nepjrf94;poejflkfpo4[ DAMMIT! Okay, I open them and sear into my mental neighborhood this newly erected (har!) edifice of memory. IT WORKS! I remember everything now! I-

How was I going to end this?


National Novel Writing Month starts November 1. Sponsored by the Office of Letters and Light, a nonprofit group, writers get REALLY excited about NaNoWriMo (yes, it has it’s own shorthand.), either to do it or to complain about it. So excited, in fact, the website even has a countdown clock counting down the days and hours until the thing starts. Find out more here.

The game…? Contest? Workshop? Writing prompt? I’m not sure what to call it. Whatever it is basically works like this: you have thirty days to write 50,000 words of a brand new novel. That’s all there is to it. Simple enough, right? The website gives you writing prompts and encouragement and a winner’s certificate at the end of the month if you upload the book to them so thy can verify you really wrote all those pages.

And that’s it. Voila! A pat on the back for a job well done. No publishing contract. No money. No editor critique or agent pitch. Despite the apparent lack of reward, the website claims 257,000 people participated last year, from which 37,000 winners were crowned.

It’s a nice idea. The idea of NaNoWriMo is part persuasion (Come on! Turn off the TV! Write that book!) and part pressure cooker (Come on! 50,000 words! That’s almost 1,700 per day, buddy. Get to work! You don’t want to get a visit from the Pixie of Derisive Comments who beats you about the head and shoulders with sweaty gym socks if you fail, do you?) Okay, I don’t exactly know there’s a pixie, but I kind of like the image.

But I can’t decide what to make of this. I like the idea of wannabe writers dropping the wannabe part and actually doing it. I worry though that this contest (is that the right word?) is not going to be much help to writers who want to do this for a living, but rather book lovers who just think it would be fun to take a whirl at writing a book. They play around it with it, get excited about it, but don’t really care if they finish it. The 14% completion rate last year would seem to bear that out. Participation has grown every year since 2000 when 140 people joined in, but only 29 “winners” were tallied (20%).  The completion rate peaked that first year. Every year since has ranged between about 12 and 19%.  Granted, there could have been a few people who finished their 50,000 words and just didn’t upload it for recognition, but it seems like if yu go to all that work, you would at least want your free winner’s certificate, wouldn’t you?

The problem, I think, is the huge potential for disillusionment. A lot of those writers who really get excited about NaNoWriMo discover it’s hard as hell to write that many words. In  a month. With actual life going on around you, competing for your attention. Coming up short is NOT a failure, but it could sure feel like one.

Worse, a lot of those who have their 50,000 words on November 30, will think they have a finished book. They don’t. If you can write a publishable novel in that amount of time, you don’t need NaNoWriMo. You’re some sort of prodigy. More realistically, at most, you’ll have a first draft, maybe even a good one. And maybe that’s enough to keep you going past November 30 to go on and finish it, but I suspect a lot of the participants are disappointed to have only gotten that far and just drop the whole thing, certificate or not. Again, see the fourteen percent completion rate.

I do see how self-starter, motivated writers who don’t have a writers group or other writer friends to commiserate with and be inspired about could use NaNoWriMo as an elaborate writing prompt, a boost, a reminder they’re not alone. Just don’t expect more than the game can offer.

And if YOU do manage to complete a polished, finished product in only 30 days, bottle up that writing mojo and sell it. I’ll take two.


Some advertising geniuses a while ago came up with the concept that you should “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” The idea of course, is that to make people buy something, you have to make them crave it. Looking at a slab of meat isn’t what gets the saliva flowing, it’s hearing the sizzle as it cooks. Thank you, Pavlov.

Science note: Pavlov was a scientist who showed that he could get dogs who had been conditioned to equate food with the sound of a bell ringing to salivate just from hearing the bell, even if he didn’t give them any food.

Pavlov was sort of a jerk.

Anyway, the same idea works for marketing. Whatever it is, if you can convince people they need it, they’ll buy whatever piece of crap you’re pushing.

“May I hit you with this bat?”

“No way!”

“Well, then can I offer you an enchanted evening featuring a reenactment of a scene from legendary director Brian DePalma’s  even more awesomely legendary film ‘The Untouchables’?”



“Totally worth it!” <Passes Out>

Anyway, it’s clear that whatever you’re selling has to sound way better than it actually is if you want to make money. A lot of companies have been phoning it in. Consider:

Coca-Cola’s campaign “Have a Coke and a Smile” was okay, I guess. How much more fructose corn syrup in a can would they have sold, however, if the slogan was, “Have a Coke and a Screaming Orgasm”?

McDonalds has long said, “You deserve a break today.” Fine, but wouldn’t it be better to propose, “You deserve your own private island wrapped in a bow with Justin Bieber as your cabana boy”? It’s true eating a Big Mac probably won’t really get you that, but the odds can’t be any better by NOT eating a Big Mac, can they?

Recently, driving on the Interstate, I passed (note, I didn’t “stopped at”) a motel called “The Pleasant Stay Inn”. Sounds okay, doesn’t it? The pleasant stay. Peaceful, unhurried. Fresh flowers. A friendly wave from the staff. The beds probably even have clean sheets. But still pleasant can be boring. Why not take it up a notch? “The Bitchin’ Stay Inn” or “The Rock ‘Till You Drop Inn” or “The Condemned by the Board of Health, But Still Partying, Inn”.

My father always said, “Never stay at a motel called ‘Lakeview’ because there won’t be a lake anywhere near it.” Good advice, I suppose, but I think it kind of misses the point. The Lakeview Motel doesn’t have to sell you a lake or a view to make money. It just has to make you think whatever view they DO have is something you can’t live without.  Perhaps call it “Lake of Golden Egg Laying Unicorns View Motel” or “Lake That Time Forgot, But These Hot Nudist Cheerleaders Didn’t, View”.

No need to thank me, business owners. Checks made out to me will do fine.


I had an opportunity to spend a little time recently with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He’s about ten years older than me and neither of us are kids anymore. He’s a lot grayer and my hair is increasingly speckled with gray flecks.

Conversations these days move a bit more toward dietary, exercise and medical needs than politics and art.

We’re getting older, he and I.

But it wasn’t that other stuff that made me realize this. What most made me notice the advancing of our years, the passage of our relationship through time, was what my friend was drinking.

Gin & tonic.

A mixed drink.

For as long as I’ ve known him, my friend drank beer. At first, Bud or other pilsners. More recently, but still a long-term commitment with more or less exclusivity, he has hewed closely to the IPA’s. He’s also a big (cheap) red wine drinker.

But this? Gin & Tonic? This was something new. A special drink glass. A twist. It’s all very classy at least for a guy who shops exclusively at Goodwill.

But there he was. Cocktail napkin and all. It looked weird. I don’t think he drinks gin and tonic a LOT, mind you. He’s not an alcoholic and he is frugal (not a tightwad, just not a spender). Mixed drinks, relatively, are expensive. It was out of character financially and otherwise, even though this was a special occasion.

So what do I make of this? Has he matured? I’m not sure adding new alcohol to your playlist reflects maturity. If anything, it would seem to suggest the opposite; a little like adding another pack a day instead of quitting your cigarettes.

That’s not quite what I’m getting at anyway. He’s still my friend, the same guy. Other than the G & T, he was pretty much the same, personality-wise. Smart and funny and unpretentious. That hadn’t changed. He was maybe a whiff more wistful for the past, but so am I. He was a bit creakier, but so am I; which is probably why I was less struck by these things. Side by side, the gin & tonic seemed that much more odd.

But so what? Really, who cares? On reflection, I think the drink isn’t significant. It could have been grape Kool-aid. What’s important is I didn’t know he liked gin & tonic. My good buddy has been off developing new tastes and interests without me. Our lives have, of course, continued in the time between our meetings. It’s just not something you always think about. It’s sort of like “out of sight” doesn’t just mean “out of mind”, it also means “no longer exists until we see it again.” I got all that from a ten-dollar (I’m guessing) well drink at a hotel bar.

This was my first alcohol-related epiphany that didn’t require a hangover.

If life is a river that ebbs and flows, that gin contained the few drops that differentiate my friend’s path from every other tributary, including mine, which seems to be flowing into an entirely different ocean. I get that, but I’m not sure I like it.

Who’s thirsty?

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