Beer Goggles

Or is it Beer Googles? Either way – the closely guarded secret we have all kept in the closet is now out in the open, thanks to the many online merchants who are profiting – majorly – from our alcohol-induced purchases.

The phenomenon has long been recognized by high-end merchants, according to New York Times article “Online Merchants Home in on Imbibing Consumers.” In fact, I have a friend and former student who wrote a book about it. In Stay, author Allie Larkin tells the story of a young woman who, in a vodka and grape Kool-Aid induced haze orders a German Shepherd dog (from Slovakia, of all places) over the Internet. I won’t reveal more of this quite delightful story, but the point is made clear.

After I posted a link to the NYT article on my Facebook page, one friend said he ends all his eBay auctions on a Friday night – now I wonder why that might be?? (Hmm – I have another friend who posts on eBay – I’ll have to give her the scoopage).

An interesting dichotomy certainly exists in this issue. First is the bevy of merchants who want their buyers to eat, drink, and be merry so their sales and profits soar. On the other hand are those whose imbibing leads can lead them into ordering dogs from Slovakia or airplanes from Cessna – these might, of course, not be good things.

Beer goggles anyone??

The Window: A True and Tragic Story

My house is full of warmth and light this solstice day, this Advent vigil. The fresh pine aroma of the perfectly shaped, real  tree, carried in waves by the natural heat of the house. It dazzles us with white lights posing as a million small icicles and snowflakes, magically not melting.  It shines in the window as a welcoming beacon, never ceasing to amaze us with its beauty each time we come home. The fireplace is alit with hardy oak logs perfumed with cinnamon-scented pine cones, and our bellies are full of iced sugar cookies and eggnog. We are sated, we are content, and we are safe.

Somewhere, though, not far, stood a house, full of cold and darkness, empty and dank, dog carcass blocking what was once a hallway full of happy feet, anxious to open the presents under another pine-fresh tree, standing sentinel in the window. Into that house, now haunted by ghosts of Christmases past, the man stumbled disheveled, homeless, and drunk. Two days of wandering. The cell phones of those who cared jammed:

“He relapsed.”

“He relapsed.”

“He relapsed”

… like a cacophonous Christmas carol, out of synch, out of tune.

He was a veteran, and perhaps it was the savagery of Viet Nam that glommed onto his psyche with a grip that refused to let go. And so, somewhere along the line, he lost his soul.

It is sad because there were so many months of sanity, clarity, and sobriety, but as the holidays slithered in the bottle beckoned. It is powerful, that bottle. It is stronger than the lure of a new-found love affair.  It is stronger that the pride of staying clean. It is the bottle, the bottle, always the bottle. On that night, he stumbled, lost in the mist, sleet, and cold; he was weary of body and soul, desperate for a warmth that was always cruelly elusive, yet sadly, a warmth that was hidden inside him all along, only he didn’t know how to find it.

The house was dark, yet had a roof, and offered some meager refuge from the cold and dampness .His clothes were soaked, and he trembled violently, though from drink or cold was impossible to tell.  The smell of the dog’s  rotting flesh was long since gone, and there was evidence of prior “residents” what with empty bottles of cheap vodka and newspapers crumbled up into crude mattresses.  Onto a “mattress” he collapsed, ready to pass out into the welcome oblivion that promised no pain. But first, a cigarette. Always a cigarette, smoked this time only half way and tossed carelessly across the room, onto another newspaper mattress.

It was smoke he awoke to: heavy, smothering, acrid smoke. With whatever grip on reality he had left, he arose in horror and desperation to escape the flames that licked the living room floor, fueled by the papers scattered throughout the room. The way to the front door was blocked by the flames, but the way to the stairs leading to the second floor was clear, except for the smoke.

He read somewhere, or was it in his military training, move low, under the smoke, and put a damp cloth over your mouth. He placed his arm over his mouth, his coat was still wet.  Still drunk, now sane, he stumbled up to the second floor, coughing and choking from the smoke that was threatening to overcome him. He flung himself into a room, a room that faced the street and slammed the door behind him, still trying to escape, trying to live, wanting to love.

“Never again. Please God. I swear, never again. Just save me so I can go to Emily.”

To the window, open it, jump – it was nailed shut.

“Someone help me,” his voice was a whisper.

And in that window he stood. His face pressed against the dirty window pane when the first fireman came. An off-duty fireman who wished he’d been anywhere but in front of that house that night.

“I saw him. He was standing in the window. His face, I’ll never forget it. His lips were moving. He said “Help me.” And then he wasn’t there. He was gone.”

The fireman tried to get in and save the man, but the flames and smoke were forbidding.

And so the man died that night. It got him. The bottle. He fought – hard, so hard, but it wasn’t enough. It never could have been enough. Those that knew him will be forever haunted by that man in the window. That man who tried so very, very hard.

Spin City, Spin the Bottle, Spinning Wheel Goes Round and Round


  • The unemployment rate dropped half a point and now we are saved?
  • The stock market is steadier and rising?
  • Black Friday was a roaring success and so everything is now hunky-dorey?

Who’s kidding who?

Now consider this:

  • While driving to work today, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army said the number of people applying for assistance this season is up 40%
  • 2.6 million people entered into poverty this past year, bringing the total to 46.2 million people living below the poverty line – the highest number since the Census Bureau has been keeping records: 52 years
  • A Harvard professor was quoted as saying these last years represent the longest period of stagnant household income levels since the Great Depression
  • The bottom 10th of the population’s median income fell by 12% last year, while the top 90th percentile dropped just 1.5% (these are clearly the folks doing the everything-is-wonderful reporting)
  • There is a mass movement of 25 – 34 year olds moving in with family and friends because they simply can’t make it on their own

Then there’s the “Older, Suburban and Struggling …”:

  • The CB revised its poverty determination formulas and in an updated report (November, 2011) on the “new measure of poverty,” one in three Americans is either living in poverty, or just above the poverty level
  • These people describe themselves as “living paycheck to paycheck”  (sound familiar?)
  • There are 51 million people in this category, and they are said to resemble “The Brady Bunch” (in other words, just like you and me)
  • 49 percent  live in the suburbs, half are white, 18 percent are black, and 26 percent are Latino

Finally, says The Huffington Post: “U.S. Household Wealth Third Quarter 2011: Americans Take Biggest Hit Since 2009

So say economists about the upcoming year:

“This year is not likely to be any better, economists said. Stimulus money has largely ended, and state and local governments have made deep cuts to staff and to budgets for social programs, both likely to move economically fragile families closer to poverty.”

My point in writing and posting this is not to engage in a sparring match with Ebenezer Scrooge, but rather to protest yet another attempt at spinning reality into wisps of cotton candy that do nothing but poison and pollute. 

Bah Humbug!!!

Balmy December Day

I live in Rochester, NY, one of the snowiest cities in the U.S. (not). In truth — this year, not a flake. Not a blessed blizzard-like downfall. Nope — today, another balmy one. I went out for a trail ride, and then took one of the pups, Sasha, out for a walk. In both cases, through the woods and fields, surrounded by lush, green, grass; spring bird songs serenading; everyone dressed in jeans and T-shirts. This is December 4th in Rochester?

I spose when it comes, it will come. That’s cool, because maybe by then I’ll have tired of green grass, spring song birds, and T-shirts.


Sasha loves it as it is now just as she’ll love romping through the drifts and rifts of the first winter blizzard. TBC —-

Texting While Driving

The end of the semester is nigh, and in these last two weeks, I get to sit back while my students take center stage by giving a presentation on a pre-approved topic. They have been working on their topics on and off all semester with the grand finale imminent in the forms of a presentation and a formal research paper. (In case you haven’t guessed yet, I teach writing).

Anyway, one student did her work on a topic that is a personal crusade, and that is texting while driving. Several years ago in my hometown, five young women, former cheerleaders who had just graduated from high school, were on their way for a post-grad blowout at the cottage of one of the girls’ parents. They never made it. They never made it because they were all killed in a horrific accident caused by the driver’s text messaging. Absorbed in her message, she drifted across the center lane and slammed headlong into a tractor-trailer — all of this with both vehicles traveling at 60 mph. This incident made national headlines, and was the impetus for many anti-texting-while-driving programs.

In today’s talk, the young woman presented us with a video the likes of which I have never seen. As I wrote on my Facebook page, if you continue to text while driving after seeing this, then …. well, not only do I not have much regard for your intelligence and common sense, I pray to God I am never on the same road as you.

Too Much Zen?

Is it possible? After my last few experiences doing my “Zen thing” and not experiencing much Zen, I began to wonder. As you may know, my Zen is when I am on a horse, doing anything, but especially traipsing through woods, fields, streams, swamps, (fill in the blank).  The other day I told the story of my backward-bound little pony.The previous weekend, I was out riding on an incredibly spectacular late-fall day, casually jogging up a small hill in the field across the street. I was with my friend, Barb, and she was in the lead, riding her big, bold mare. I was busy “Zenning,” on this ride, or so I thought, until I suddenly found myself facing the other direction, a complete 180 degrees, and had no clue how I got there. Fortunately, I remained on the horse.

“Pepper spooked,” Barb called to me from ahead. Thoroughly confused, I had no idea her horse had shied.

“She stepped out sisdeways,” she added.

Well, Buzzy certainly has his issues, but spinning has NEVER been one of them.

“He saw her spook.”

“Yep,” I muttered.

So there I was, Zenning up a storm — drinking in the sights, smells, and sounds of a field in late fall. Yep — Zenning, and fortunately, securely ensconced in the saddle. Zenning, while I had idea what my horse did and why. Zenning? Try oxymoron.

Anyway, I was at the barn this morning, drinking in the musky smell of warm horse flesh, brushing the now fuzzy coat on Buzzy, listening to the other horses crunching their hay. I rode, and it was good. Not quite “Zen” as I had come to know it, but good nevertheless. Today I backed off from the big, cross-country trek and left it at a small, manageable roam followed by some basic work, as coached by barn Mom Linda. I brought Buzz back into the barn when we were finished and Barb was there brushing her big girl, so we chatted a bit. We chatted about Zen.  Or rather, she kidded me about Zen. I mean, I wrote the book, right? Zen and the Art of Horseback Riding. And like I said, I was Zenning up a storm during our ride in the field across the street, just lollygagging at sights, sounds, smells, all around. So, in her indomitable, kidding way, Barb “chastised” me for not Zenning on her horse’s ass (and it is a BIG one). Can you imagine using a horse’s ass as your point of being?

Well, I proceeded to laugh my way all the way home, only I got just half way when suddenly ….

WOW — she was RIGHT!! Her wisdom got lost in her wry humor, but never-the-less, there it was. Zen is about being in the moment, and “being” on a horse means “being” in pure and complete synchronization with that creature, which means a melding of two beings such that what one does, so does the other, without question, resistance, or surprise. If I had indeed been focusing on Pepper’s ass, I would have seen that quiver of horse muscle that precedes a major side-step spook. I would have been in synchronous movement with my own horse.

And so we come full circle — can there be too much Zen? No!! But there can be  Zen practiced improperly or without art. So forever hence, when riding alone — it’s my horse and me as one; when riding with another — it’s staying aware of not only my boy, but also of the body language of the horse in front, in other words, focus on the horse’s ass to prevent being, well, do the math …

One Wild Ride

Whoa!! And so it went today while mounted aboard my little gelding Buzzy. Something’s up with Buzz these days — maybe the hunters and the echos of gun shots? Perhaps the floating cloud in his eye obscuring more of his vision than in the past? Or maybe the approaching cold front? Whatever, something’s going on and today things approached danger zone. For a few months now, he’s been balking, shying, and generally hyped up. Our “discussions” have increased in frequency and intensity. Mostly, though, I have prevailed and we do indeed go forth instead of trying to double back around, we do indeed forge through the chest-deep pond, and we do indeed walk, instead of charge, up suicide hill. But little by little there are an increasing number of chips in the armor that otherwise harbors my Zen treks through the countryside with Buzz. The other day was the spin from out of nowhere where I suddenly found myself facing the opposite direction (fortunately, securely in saddle). Now there are the racing-speed paces (Buzz was a harness racehorse and his pace/trot rivals the gallop of any other breed) up suicide hill.  And much to my chagrin, today was the absolute refusal to go forth in any manner — except, of course — BACKWARDS!!

This is Buzzy’s avoidance tactic — go backwards with complete disregard for his life, or the life of any poor soul who might be aboard. That would be me. I spent a good five minutes getting no where — forward, that is — and then he began backing into a perilous spot filled with ladders, fencing materials, and other assorted, not-to-be-backed-into, farm kind of stuff. It was at this point that Linda, our dear yet tough barn Mom screamed at me to smack Buzzy in the butt. In a state of horror, I simply sat there. She then snatched the crop from me and nailed him good and hard. I then felt like I was being shot out of a canon as my horse and I catapulted forward.

After this demonstration of Buzzy’s inanity and my paralysis, Linda “made” me keep working him until it was clear, in his mind if in no others, that I was in charge. And so we took baby-steps, heading out in the forbidden direction and turning around, at my command, just before I felt the twitch of horse flesh wanting to resist. We did this several times, and when I had reached my limit of adventure for this day, Linda climbed aboard and lengthened the trek. Now, mind you, this path is one I travel 4 to 6 days weekly with Buzz and it is just as peaceful and calm as can be.

Except today.


Is hunting season almost over?

The Fog

Yep — that’s what it seems like when I look out of my left eye. It’s one, big blur. Okay, comes with the territory. But that’s not the fog, blur, blend I’m really writing about. My musings today are about when the past, present, and future sandwich into a seemingly amorphous twirl of hopes, losses, memories, dreams, and an endless combination thereof. How quickly things change, how rapidly life deals the hand that causes the cards to collapse. It can be something as catastropic as what happened to everyone involved with Diane Schuler, or it can be as innocuous as a simple note — both of which inflict scars that never go away.

Diane Schuler’s Ghost

Here we go again. The horrific story of the woman who, with five small children in her car, at 75 mph, drove a minivan the wrong way down a major New York expressway and smashed head on into an SUV, killing herself and four of the children in it as well as the three men in the SUV; the story of the woman who, according to two different investigations, had the equivalent of 10 shots of vodka and a significant amount of marijuana in her system; the story of the woman who, according to her husband,Daniel Schuler, was the perfect mother, worker, wife — simply put, the perfect EVERYTHING: this is the story that has come back to haunt yet again.

Will Diane Schuler’s ghost ever find peace? Will we ever be able to let go of this story, her ghost, that so consumes and haunts us? A recent HBO documentary produced by filmmaker Liz Garbus resurrected the story and made a valiant attempt to help Diane’s anguished spirit find its way home, and our psyches to understand the unthinkable. Did she succeed? Almost. Several years ago Steve Fishman wrote the piece I Dream of Diane for New York Magazine that told the story with a particular focus on her husband, Danny.

Let me recap some of what I saw of the highlights of these pieces. First — Diane was a mega-control freak. She took care of everyone and everything. She was type-A to the max. She honked her car horn, she went to the grocery store and came home with cars, and she mothered her husband. She would not go to doctors or dentists (the latter after a painful and unsuccessful root canal from which she jumped up from the dentist’s chair and simply would not return), she worked her way up from a low level job to a high level management position in a cable company. Speaking of which, she made three figures, almost triple her husband’s modest $43,000 annual salary. She also smoked marijuana on an alleged daily basis to help her unwind from this impossible retinue. As for Danny, he idolized his wife to where she could do no wrong. She was perfect, the marriage was perfect, they had no problems, they agreed on everything, blah, blah, blah and a generous portion of malarkey!!

As all great protagonists, it is clear that Diane was cursed with a fatal flaw. I humbly submit to you that hers was her overwhelming controlling nature. On that day, as is most generally known, she had a toothache from hell, no doubt the ongoing story of the unfinished root canal. It is also known that she stopped at a gas station store for analgesics. They had none. Liz’s documentary does a wonderful job of suggesting that because of Diane’s controlling nature, she wouldn’t admit to her pain and set about self-medicating. Perhaps, the film postures, she might have swigged the vodka without a clear sense of how much she was ingesting and before she could get back in control, it was too late. Yet, staying on that fatal controlling path, she would not let go, and with greatly compromised physical and mental capabilities, well — the rest is in the annals.  Do I think she was innocent? Oh my God, no. I do think she made poor choices and those choices were the result of her fatal flaw.

The accident is over, and the lives lost will be forever mourned. But a true demon, even worse than all the worst we can think of Diane, is in the way of her peace, and of ours. That demon is in the human form of Danny Schuler. Listen to Danny in the documentary. Read about Danny in Fishman’s piece. I haven’t yet decided if Danny is delusional, ignorant, or a liar. Perhaps he is a combination of all three. And what the heck is his brother’s sister doing taking a stage center role in all this? Let it go, for God’s sake, Danny. Tell the truth, or at least acknowledge ours. This woman, your wife, was not perfect, your marriage was not perfect, she was a drug addict, and most probably had a drinking “issue.” She did not have a stroke. She did not have a catastrophic medical crisis. Her system was loaded with drugs and alcohol that perhaps hit her extra hard because of the tooth infection. The fact is, Danny, until you admit to your stupidity, naivety, or lies, no one, not the Hances, (God bless them — I cannot fathom what they have been through), the families of the men in the SUV, the rest of your and Diane’s families, and the thousands of us out here who seek the closure you refuse for anyone to have.  Let it go, Danny, and allow your precious, perfect Diane the freedom to rest in peace at last.

Penmanship — Mourning Its Loss

Here’s yet another commentary. The Net is rife with them these days because the collective curricula of our nation’s schools      is relegating the art of penmanship to the dinosaurs. This is a tragedy of maximum dimension! I urge you to take a read of this op ed piece on the topic. Robert Errera not only laments the cultural and artistic ramifications of penmanship’s demise, but he also notes the most critical issue that without a grasp of the art, future generations may not be able to decipher our past — social, scientific, historic, government, and so on. Does the current to the past then fall and become iron? Or are we just being silly in resisting yet another change to cement our commitment to the world of blinking lights, clicking keyboards, and cacophonous phones.

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