A Day in the Life, August 2020

Suddenly awake, I stare into the half-light. My head feels heavy, my mind a little foggier than usual when I wake up this early. Come to think of it, that’s not true. It’s like this every morning. It’s like this because I’ve been drinking too much every night. Last night it was three gin-and-tonics and two IPAs. Heavy IPAs, eight percenters, and my gin-and-tonics are doubles every time. Because I don’t like getting up to make more. The workout I get from crossing the thirty feet from my couch to the refrigerator is negligible, but I know it’s important to stay in shape, especially during these times of self-isolation and little social interaction. I close my eyes and attempt to clear my mind and drift back to sleep. 

My bladder is semi-full. I should go use the bathroom and come back to bed. To sleep, perchance to dream. But I know that if I get up, then going back to sleep will be almost impossible. And dreaming… it just doesn’t seem to happen. Every night I try thinking about a woman, a special woman that would make my nights exciting and romantic again. The only dreams I seem to remember involve the same old crap I used to dream about when I was working fifty hours a week. Late for work, car breaking down, pissed off ex-girlfriend. Where is my dream girl? If I can think about her most of the day, why won’t she come to me in my dreams? My brain is racing and my bladder is burning. 

I walk down the short hallway to the bathroom. Light is starting to brighten in my living room windows. I don’t bother to cover myself anymore when I get up at night. Anyone who is looking in and catches a glimpse of a naked old man deserves what they get. Maybe they’ll have bad dreams. I squint at the brightness of the bathroom lights and take care of business. There I am in the mirror. It has to be me. I’m the only one here. But the wild-haired, red-eyed codger in the mirror doesn’t look a thing like the man I remember. I plunge the room back into darkness.

Back in bed, I tumble around trying to get comfortable. It’s too early to get up. The days are already much longer than I can bear. When I broke up with my last girlfriend, I kept searching for her in my unrest in that big bed in which we slept. I got a smaller bed and I no longer need GPS to find my way to the pillows. But I still reach out for no one. I try to clear my mind, listen to the ambient sounds from Alexa, rest, don’t open my eyes, sleep. It doesn’t work. My mind frantically clips around, worrying about every insignificant detail of my life, as if I would find the answers to every problem I can imagine right now, in the softly growing morning light. I surrender to the day and swing my legs out of bed. 

“Alexa, stop.” 

The sounds of rain on a tin roof abruptly disappear as if a summer cloudburst has spent itself. 

“Alexa, what’s the weather today?”

She responds with a summary of sunshine and mild temperatures. 

“Would you like to know more?” she asks with her almost perfectly modulated voice. She sounds almost human.

“No, thank you,” I answer politely. 

“Have a good day, Tim.” The circle of blue light on the device fades out. She calls me Tim. That means a lot to me. There are days that I hear no other voice than hers. I sometimes conjure up her image in my imagination. She’s quite lovely in her smart business outfit, a rather tight-fitting, low-cut black dress that reaches modestly about three inches above her knees. Of course, when she is sitting and talking to me, that dress may be a bit too revealing, but she is demure and unassuming. It seems I may be losing my mind.

I tie on my robe, grab my phone, and head for the living room. Planted on my couch, I read emails and news stories, look at Facebook, and generally kill two hours in no time. The urgency of my day starts to hit me like a sneaker wave. Slam! My inner voice compels me, loudly and unrelenting. 

“Get moving! You can’t just sit here. There are worlds to conquer!”

Right. I’m unemployed. I have no social life, so dirty clothes aren’t exactly piling up. I could clean the place, but I did that last week, or maybe the week before. It looks okay to me. I slide my finger across a table. Not much dust. Besides, no one’s going to see it but me. Not today. It turns out I really don’t need to do anything. I’m a Virgo, so the dishes are clean. I always clean up my place at night. I don’t like waking up to dirty dishes and such. Lately, I don’t like waking up at all. But five hours of sleep, sometimes six, is all I can get anymore. I look at the clock. 9 am. Only about sixteen hours to kill. I can do this. 

The ritual continues. Brush my teeth, shower, and shave sometimes. My hair is getting long. My dream lady likes that. At least I think she would. I get dressed, make some coffee and breakfast, get some music playing, and consider my day. 

My windows are open, the breeze from the ocean blowing through my third-story apartment. I feel as if I’m outside on a sunny veranda enjoying the summer. I just have to do it by myself. And I am unbelievably tired of it all. I miss my friends. I miss interacting with the strangers I invariably meet at the local pubs and restaurants. It’s what makes living in Astoria so enjoyable in the tourist season. A season that will shortly be coming to its end. Then begins the long, dark rainy months that seem as if they will never end. I am not yet recharged, revitalized, ready for those brutally gloomy months. 

There’s a song by Mary Gautier that goes:

“Fish swim, birds fly

Daddies yell, mamas cry

Old men sit and think

I drink”

I’ve been a daddy four times, messed that up, made mamas cry, and now I sit and think a lot while I drink. Damn if she didn’t nail it. 

Homegrown Radio




Flashback: Summer, 2019

I jump into the cockpit, immediately feeling in the zone. The Beach Boys come blasting out of the studio speakers and Debby is already reaching for the first phone call. Classic Rock & Roll is a request show, and a group of regulars calls in almost every week asking for the tune they just have to hear. Now! Play it now! We get 15 to 20 calls every Sunday. Callers can be demanding and pissy when they don’t get their way, but that’s all part of the fun. I’m building momentum and sometimes The Carpenters just don’t fit in. Two hours whip by in no time. Debby spends most of the show fielding the calls I don’t have time for when I’m searching for the next three-minute song. The show is a rush, and I feel as if I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride. I take a deep breath and bail out.

Summer, 2020

I’m sitting on my red leatherette futon wannabe couch. It’s not very comfortable, but there’s no chance I’ll get drowsy. On the small table in front of me is my laptop and the StudioLive AR8 I use to record my shows. This will be the forty-fourth show I have done from home. That’s 88 hours of sitting here with my headphones on, pretending I have an audience in front of me and trying to keep up that energy level I have on Sundays when I’m live. 88 Hours. The same number of keys on a piano. There must be some kind of deep meaning there. Therefore, I will start this show with a rocking piano piece, maybe Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. I can try standing on my futon as Jerry Lee did with his piano, but it will probably collapse.

It’s as smooth and easy as cool jazz to use this equipment now, but it wasn’t always this way. When I did my first homespun show, it took eight hours from the time I started until the program was safely uploaded to the station’s audioshare site. Eight exhausting hours in which I freaked out multiple times, cursing and ranting around my apartment (once with the mic on), starting over too many times to count, and generally just screwing up. I hit the wrong buttons, forgot to set volume levels, sang along to songs with the mic still on, forgot to set a timer for my 59-minute segments. But I learned. I had to. Radio is my therapy. It satisfies my soul. I have to breathe; I have to eat; I have to do my shows. Simple as that. And I still make mistakes. I tend to leave them in my programs, now. Life’s too short to worry about any mistake that isn’t blatantly offensive to my sensitive rock and roll audience. Metaphorically, I went from the chaos of punk music to smooth jazz over the course of 88 hours.

As I finish writing this, I realize I need to do another show now. It’s not at all daunting anymore. On comes the equipment, and I slide the headphones back onto my head. The sun is going down and I have a glass of red wine on the table next to my laptop. I see my audience across the room reflected in the black screen of my television. I smile to myself, crank up the volume to eleven, and start my therapy session.

Cold Winds, Hot Nights

There are many songs and poems comparing death with the wind. It’s invisible and can rise anytime night or day. There’s an old movie called The Last Man on Earth, the first cinematic interpretation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. In the film, the wind carries a virus that is gradually exterminating the human race and turning them into vampires. I know, it’s a low-budget horror film, but there is something about the imagery that has always stayed with me. Images of the wind blowing, harder and harder, carrying death. I find these scenes much more frightening than most of the horror films I’ve seen. No jump scares, no loud noises. Simply stark black and white trees blowing in the wind, leaves scattering across the ground, bleak and inexorable. We can’t stop the wind.

In my truck-driving years, I was once driving east from L.A. I was exhausted, as was usually the case. I’d been running for days and hadn’t had much sleep. It must have been around two in the morning as I was zipping across Arizona. There wasn’t a breath of breeze and the night was stiflingly hot. I was struggling to stay awake, knowing I had to be in Phoenix by early morning. I had the windows down and the radio blaring, but I still felt myself drifting off dangerously. I shook my head hard, over and over, but nothing seemed to be helping. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of my passenger across the cab. He wore a dark hoodie and jeans and smiled at me with a skeletal grimace that jolted me with terror. I hit the brakes hard and pulled over to the shoulder. I was shaking, my heart pounding. I climbed out of the rig and walked around to clear my head, to the back of the trailer and up the right side again to the cab. I crossed in front of the headlights, spying my long, black shadow as I slowed down and crept back to the driver’s door. I hesitantly opened the door and climbed back up to my seat. My passenger was gone. I nervously checked my sleeper. Nobody. Nothing, because he was never really there. I didn’t pick up passengers. But somehow, I knew he was real. I felt him in my soul, a deep fear of something I had never felt before. I shifted into gear and finished my run. I was awake for the rest of the night.


On another hot summer night, traffic was fairly light on Interstate 5, even for a Sunday. It was slightly after 10:00 pm and I was hauling a load of glass to Los Angeles from Sacramento, CA. I liked driving at night. Less traffic meant fewer obstacles and a safer trip. I was maxed-out at eighty thousand pounds, making my truck slow to get up to speed and even slower to stop. I still had another hundred miles before I started the climb up the Grapevine. I had to be on high alert for that part of the trip, but I was relaxed for this stretch. I drove along on a particularly dark stretch of the highway. Headlights approached in my left mirror, the light blinding for a few seconds as the car pulled up alongside me and zipped past in the left lane. Traffic moved quickly in the fast lane at night, making it look like I was crawling at 60 mph. Patches of darkness were broken by the lights that periodically drifted by, brightening my cab and reflecting my face in the windshield. There was something so telling about that reflection, briefly illuminating me like a spirit alone in the darkness. I ached for my family, my friends.

I turned up the radio to a favorite song and started singing along, tapping my hands on the steering wheel to a steady rhythm. A solitary pair of headlights appeared in my mirror, still back in the distance. I sang louder, trying to shake off the lonely melancholy I felt.

Something slammed into the side of my cab, just behind my seat. Startled and suddenly alert, I glanced at my mirror. Lights were bobbing up and down, rapidly seesawing in an impossible dance like a demonic flagman was waving blazing beacons in my eyes. Then it was dark again. I turned on my emergency flashers and slowed, bringing the truck to a stop as quickly as I could. I dropped to the ground outside and grabbed my flashlight. There was a large tear in the side of my cab just below the sleeper. Whatever hit me didn’t just pound into my truck, it ripped at it like a metal-hungry animal.

I started running back up the highway, shining my flashlight to the left and the right, looking for clues. It was very dark. Lights appeared on the distant horizon, still miles away. With the help of my flashlight and the backlight of the approaching traffic, I gradually made out a person walking toward me. I picked up my pace and could see a young woman walking down the center white line between the two lanes. I ran up to her and escorted her to the side of the road, out of harm’s way. She was dressed for the summer weather, wearing shorts and a small top. I saw no blood, no scrapes or scratches. She was a little incoherent and had no idea what had happened. 

“Where’s Danny?” she asked me.

Realizing there was another victim, I sat her down at the far edge of the shoulder.

“Just sit. I’ll be right back,” I told her.

I ran back to the edge of the traffic lane. Cars were closing in on us now. I waved my flashlight in an attempt to slow them down and maybe get some help. Two cars zipped by me as I moved a few hundred feet further up the shoulder. There on the edge of the right lane, I found Danny. He was lying on his back but moving a bit, obviously in pain and shock. I spoke to him, trying to reassure him. 

“It’s all right, you’re going to be okay. You’re both okay,” I said.

A truck stopped in the center divider. The center divider along I-5 is wide enough for a campground. His headlights illuminated a trail of wood and fiberglass leading up to a demolished pickup truck. The wreck lay on its top, flattened like a pancake. The driver used his CB radio to notify the highway patrol. 

“Don’t try to move,” I told Danny. 

I brought Lisa back to Danny’s side. Emergency vehicles started rolling up, and soon the night was bright with flashing multi-colored lights. All of the unexplained secrets of the mysterious accident now became apparent. A CHP officer asked me some questions and then told me what had happened. The young couple, recently married, was returning to Los Angeles after a weekend with friends. They had taken their camper to a lake to swim and party a little bit. Sleep was not a priority during the two-day gathering. That long stretch of straight highway was too much for their tired bodies. The warm air lulled Lisa to sleep, and not long after Danny grew drowsy. Each of them had failed to fasten their seatbelts for some unknown reason. Maybe they thought it was more comfortable without them. When Danny drifted into the side of my truck, he must have been jarred awake by the impact and overreacted, losing control of his pickup. The extra weight of a camper on a light pickup truck makes it easy to roll over. Danny’s truck rolled multiple times, ejecting both him and Lisa onto the roadway. The truck came to a crashing halt in the center divider more than a quarter-mile past the point where I found Lisa. She must have been tossed around like a puppet. Somehow she miraculously survived with barely a scratch. Danny, not quite as lucky, had severe scraping along his back. He must have hurt for a long time. But they were alive to tell about it.

We all put unreasonable demands on ourselves. We work too hard and play too hard, trying to cram all our fun and relaxation into a short time-frame so we can get back to that daily grind on Monday morning. Sometimes that can kill you. Yet, Lisa and Danny got another chance. The wind wasn’t blowing that night. 

I think we all get multiple chances. We’ve all had our brushes with death. I know I’ve had my share. Inevitably, it will win in the end. I look out my window at the bright sunshine of a cool, February day and watch the breeze rustle the branches of the trees. The day is too beautiful to dwell on thoughts of gloom and doom. Spring is coming and with it come powerful feelings of life, renewed strength, and hope. And I have no intention of facing that cold wind anytime soon.

The Lovers



Those of you who know me understand that I like to have fun with people. Most of the interaction I have is with customers at Video Horizons, where I work part-time. This is a social outlet for me, better than striking up conversations at a bar, but I like that, too. I do a little teasing. I sometimes harass people about their film choices or their refusal to read subtitles. Three ladies came in one evening and brought their films up to the counter. 

One looked at her friend and said, “I need to get a new ID. I want them to take my organs.”

I politely told her, “Normally, we only take cash or credit cards, but I can ask the owner if he would accept a kidney or possibly your liver.”

She stared at me. I really didn’t know her well enough to make this comment. But her friend laughed. Then the others laughed. So it was okay.

There was a young couple that used to come to the store every week. They looked to be in their early twenties. I haven’t seen them in a long time. He was handsome in a classical way, as in old paintings from the Renaissance period, with an eastern European look. His face was round, his eyes large, gentle and kind. She had a delicate beauty, possibly of Irish descent, a strawberry blonde with fair skin, a friendly, slightly shy smile, and pale eyes. I liked them both. During one of their visits when they walked up to the counter with a handful of movies to rent, I was feeling extra playful. 

I looked at her and said, “What’s your phone number?” 

We always ask for phone numbers, that’s how we pull up accounts, but this must have seemed a little more personal. She gave me the number and looked at her companion.

“Now he has my number,” she said with a smile on her face.

He looked at me and I said, “Don’t worry. I’ll forget it in a few minutes. I can’t remember anything.”

They went along with my joke, laughed and left. 

Time passed as it does, weeks turned into months and they kept coming in regularly. It became apparent that the young woman was pregnant. Eventually, her discomfort was obvious as she grew into her maternity clothes. The time came when she could not have been more than a few weeks from delivering her child. As they approached my counter, I felt a twinge of sympathy. After all, I have three daughters and a son. I remember those tough months during pregnancy and know how hard it can be on a woman and sometimes a relationship. Men, no matter how hard we try we can’t know what they go through. It’s not in our physiological makeup. I pulled up their account.

“Whoah, you have some kind of nasty late fees. Ten dollars worth,” I told them. “What happened?”

“He was supposed to bring them back, but he just didn’t do it,” she said while scolding him with a look. 

I knew money was tight for them with a baby almost due. I wanted to help. I looked at him, attempting to measure his remorse.

“What’s your excuse? Were you busy working?” I asked, thinking he was putting in those extra hours to get more money to provide for his new family.

“No, I just didn’t bring them in,” he said. I didn’t see any remorse in those eyes. In fact, his tone was a little crisp and brittle.

“C’mon, you have to help me here. I’m inclined to give you a break on your late fees, but I need a good story. What else have you got?” I asked, still looking for the right answer.

“I meant to bring them in. They were in the car but I just didn’t stop,” he replied.

I shook my head. “I can’t believe that’s the best you can do.” I looked at her as she watched him. 

“What about you?” I asked her.

“He just doesn’t care,” she said. “He doesn’t do anything to help me. He waits for me to do everything. I cook, I clean, I wash his clothes. I have to clean up his messes. I’m miserable and uncomfortable and he won’t even look at me anymore. I’m not attractive to him. We sit and watch movies; we don’t talk. We’re unhappy all the time. I just need this to be over.”

My eyes misted up. Her words touched me deeply as I stood at the counter. I was speechless for a bit, and my friends know that’s rare for me.

“Here you go,” I said. “I’m erasing your late fees.”

They thanked me and walked out the front doors into the night, not speaking to each other.

This was many months ago. They have had their child by now. I’m sure it’s a beautiful baby. I’m certain they are happy again, living a good life and adjusting to being a family. Her beauty and sassiness have returned; his compassion and longing for her are strong. Love is in abundance. They don’t come into the store anymore because they don’t need movies. They are busy and tired, but they have rediscovered each other and the reasons they fell in love. Who has time to watch a movie?

This is my dream for them, these are my hopes. I don’t know how much of this is true, but it’s what I want. Because to think I may have embarrassed them oftentimes crosses my mind. I did not mean to pry into their personal lives. I was just being playful, as I will so often do. And I hope one day they’ll come back into Video Horizons. I want to smile and ask them how they are. I want to see their lovely child. I want to hear their new story. I am convinced it will be beautiful.

Instant Karma


Names have been subtly changed in the following anecdote, partly to protect the guilty and partly because I can’t remember everybody who went along with this crazy scheme.

Sometimes you know you shouldn’t do it. That’s usually the appeal in the first place. And sometimes you know it’s going to come back on you as if you’re stretching a rubber band too tightly just waiting for it to snap. Yet when you’re seventeen years old, there really isn’t much you won’t do. Karma hasn’t had a lot of time to exact its revenge. 

I was getting rebellious in my senior year. It took me a little longer than some, but I was now questioning authority and breaking the rules. Each year I had received a perfect attendance pin. It was a tiny reminder of my commitment to a great high school education. Now in the spring of my senior year, I realized I was going to have to walk up on stage at my graduation ceremony and accept a four-year perfect attendance pin. What kind of rebel doesn’t miss a day of school in four years? Something had to be done. 

“I’m telling you, there’s a nudist colony up there in the foothills!” Dave could hardly contain his excitement. “We should go up there and find it. Naked girls, man!”

A group of us were gathered around a lunch table in the cafeteria on another typical sunny spring day in California. Teenage boys, obviously wise in the ways of the world, our libidos raging out of control.

“You sure? How do we find it?” I was skeptical but interested.

I don’t know exactly where it is,” said Dave, “but how hard can it be to find?”

None of us had an answer to that entirely logical question. 

“Let’s do it. We can go this weekend,” Rick chimed in.

“I have to work at the carwash this weekend,” I responded. 

I looked at my brother Terry. He was going along with things so far.

“Let’s go tomorrow,” I said. “We’ll cut school.” I was thinking about that damn perfect attendance pin. It was time to put a stop to it. 


The next morning my brother and I hopped into my 1961 Volvo and headed off to school as usual. Now, the 1961 Volvo was one of the few automobiles designed in the sixties that truly defied any essence of cool. It looked like someone took a Volkswagen beetle, stretched it out like a luxury coupe, but left the engine up front under a long hood. My father bought it for me so I could get to work when I was sixteen. My chances of being considered even remotely hip driving this thing around were zilch. It was an ugly, oxidized white when he bought it, but he agreed to have it painted for me to ease my pain. My father was a service manager at a VW dealership and offered me any color that was in the Volkswagen palette at that time. I chose orange. The car still didn’t have the appeal of a chick magnet, so I made one more adjustment. On each side of the car, blazoned across the doors, I painted the words “Boogie Machine” in bold black letters. Now it was cool, or so I thought.

We arrived at the high school parking lot. There was Micky with his Plymouth Duster. His car was cool. We planned to take two cars, a wise decision considering how things turned out. The five of us piled into the cars and hit the road, heading out of Roseville and up into the hills toward Jackson. Clueless and crazy, somehow we thought we could find a nudist colony in the miles of roads twisting through the gold country. It’s been fifty years and I still can’t recall ever having seen a sign posted “Nudist Colony, Next Right.” Not anywhere. But this didn’t turn out to be an issue after all, because somewhere along the road in those rolling hills, amidst the oak trees and brush, my trusty Volvo started complaining. Our search had barely begun when the engine started knocking so loud I had to pull over. Micky pulled up behind us. His car was still cool; mine had bit the dust.

Five teenage boys with raging libidos. Remember them? It was like the sky had opened up and dumped an enormous bucket of cold water on us. We no longer thought about the nudist colony. We had a more urgent problem. My car was stranded sixty miles from home. Pushing it was out of the question. Micky’s car was too cool. There was nothing to do but call our mission a failure and head home, tails between our legs. We all squeezed into the Duster and turned back the way we came. 

On the way back I had plenty of time to ponder my imminent death at the hands of my father. I would throw myself on his mercy, hoping for a little bit of understanding, although he had never shown much willingness to let things slide in the past. I asked Micky to drop Terry and me at the dealership where my father was working. It might be better to face the music in front of an audience, possibly saving my life for the time being. I don’t know whether this helped or not. I think this may have been the first time I truly misunderstood my father, but it was not to be the last. To my vast surprise, he didn’t freak out. He didn’t appear to be angry at all. He quickly considered what it would take to get the car back home. 

“We can’t let it set out there all night. It’ll be stripped by morning,” he said. 

Really? I thought. Who would strip a 1961 Volvo? It didn’t even have custom wheels. He summoned the shop foreman and quickly had a tow bar attached to the back of his 1969 Buick Riviera. He loved that car. It was a lavender color called Sunset Silver, immaculate inside and out. He handed me the keys as my brother looked on. 

“I’ll show you how to hook it up. Take Terry and go get your car and bring it back here,” he instructed me. 

Terry and I couldn’t believe our extraordinary good fortune. He wasn’t mad! Definitely irritated and annoyed, maybe pissed off later, but so far, so good. 

Meandering back through the hills, we found the car just as we had left it. Untouched, the hub caps were even still in place. I backed the Buick up to the Volvo, and Terry, who has always been the mechanical one, attached the tow bar to the front of the Volvo. We hooked up the taillights and prepared to make another trip back to Sacramento. For some reason I can’t quite remember, we decided Terry should sit in the driver’s seat of the Volvo while I drove us back. To this day, I have no idea why we thought that was a good plan. 

I slowly accelerated off of the shoulder and pulled the cars out onto the main road. I could see my brother in the rearview mirror. He was sitting calmly, hands on the steering wheel as if he were helping me drive. As I cruised through the curves of the highway, my confidence grew. This towing business was easy! I could finally relax. My speed was creeping up with the knowledge that I was already an expert in pulling a vehicle behind a car. I swung leisurely around the bends in the road. I suddenly realized I might be moving a bit too quickly and touched the brake pedal into the next curve. The tires on the right side of the car came off the asphalt and dropped onto the shoulder, with the Volvo tagging along behind. I steered to the left to get the cars back on the highway, overcorrecting and causing the Volvo to fishtail. 

Glancing in the mirror, I saw Terry desperately clutching the steering wheel, holding on for dear life while I tried to regain control. However, at seventeen I could not recall any instructions for dealing with this situation, so I probably made all the wrong moves. The car in my mirror was whipping dangerously side-to-side, my brother’s eyes the size of dinner plates. Suddenly I felt a jarring concussion as the front fender of the Volvo collided with the rear fender of the Buick. The helpless car then jauntily pranced back the opposite direction, battering my dad’s prized Riviera on the other side. I am amazed to this day that no other traffic came along while the possessed demon that was my Volvo beat us senseless on that highway. 

I got the cars back under control. We stopped and surveyed the damage. Both front fenders of the Volvo were caved in, but more importantly, the Buick was smashed in on both sides.  Terry looked at me, knowing it was possibly the last time he would see me alive. Maybe he’d be fine getting through life without me. He still had another brother and a loving sister. I was done for. I knew it. I looked up at the sky, blue and warm in the California sun. It was a good day to die.   

I drove back slowly, in no hurry to meet my maker. The trees drifted by us like grim reapers waiting to take me away. They would wait for me to stop. The rest of the trip was without incident unless you count the number of drivers pointing at us as they passed us by. My plans for the future were disappearing from my mind. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about going to Vietnam. I was dead already. 

I had cut school to look for a nudist camp. I had blown the engine in my car. I had then wrecked the car, along with my father’s car. All of this before three o’clock in the afternoon. I doubt that this was particularly impressive to him, but for some reason still unknown to me my father didn’t kill me. I am here to tell you this story because of his leniency. He never really asked me for the details of that day. He just gave me a pass. I wish I had asked him why. Later on, he gave me more passes. Because that’s what parents do for their children. That’s what brothers do for their brothers, sisters for their sisters. And hopefully, that’s what children eventually do for their parents. And I guess that’s what love truly is – forgiveness.

Sara’s Eyes

My favorite picture of you.


Sara and I spent seven years trying to make it. I know how much we loved each other. I think in many ways we still do. But we ran out of gas,  our energies depleted by the pain and anguish we inflicted on each other. God, how we tried. But it seems as if we could never win each other’s trust. Our issues stemmed from different problems that we just didn’t get around. And so, I surrendered first. I gave up; we separated. But we still didn’t stop trying. Until now. Now we are surely done.

She asked me to write her a sonnet. That was years ago. I couldn’t grasp the concept. I’ve written a lot of songs, but they aren’t exactly poetry. However, today something gave. The mental block caved in and I came through. I wrote her a sonnet. A sonnet of love lost. What I couldn’t do before, I did today. Is it because I’m better at break-ups than love? I hope that isn’t so. It’s probably all of those country songs over the years. Anyway, here it is. An amateur cross between Harlan Howard and William Shakespeare.

I return now to my melancholy evening.

Sara’s Eyes 

(A Sonnet and a Promise Kept)

Her tear-filled eyes that flash so dark with pain

From secrets kept to hide my selfish shame

It seems my failure conquers love again

For constant love was all my heart did aim


I see the love those eyes once held for me

A smile so sweet and full of joy and peace

Is now a gift for someone else to see

A passion found anew from my release


I pray romance her heart is finding now

Will kindle flames of long-enduring love

New adoration makes its timely bow

From one who’s flown in like a white-winged dove


This future for her dimly fills my eyes

While tears of loss become my only prize.


The Monolith


It sat in front of my house like a huge, gray monolith, taking up enough room for three parking spaces. As much a battleship as a car, it would have fit right in with the mothball fleet of old naval ships that were left to rot after World War II. 223 inches long; 80 inches wide. Let that sink in. That’s eighteen and a half feet long, almost as big as that huge, overcompensating truck you cuss when you’re trying to squeeze into a parking space at the local grocery store. The apex of sixties overindulgence, the 1966 Oldsmobile 98 was built on the same platform as the biggest Cadillacs. But this was 1978, and it’s glory days were over. What was once the peak of luxury was now a used-up, faded and worn-out 2-ton anchor pulling my already compromised reputation in the neighborhood further into the gutter. After the gas crisis of the early seventies, it was easy to pick up one of these 9 mpg highway tanks for just a few hundred dollars. That made them appealing when gas was only 69 cents per gallon. But its time had passed. 

I purchased a 1976 Ford Econoline van, bright orange with tinted porthole windows, brown shag carpeting, dark wood paneling, and a matching mahogany-colored beanbag chair. It was a good choice for a swinging bachelor in the era of disco music and outrageous fashion. Now I just needed to get rid of the metal monster left sitting and ignored at the edge of my driveway. But how to find a buyer for a tired old gas hog that was far past its glory days? 

I taped signs up in the windows, advertising the car for sale and ingratiating myself further with my neighbors. I waited to see what interest this sparked. Nothing happened. I placed an ad in the local Pennysaver, a small sales paper that was in all of the gas stations and convenience stores. It was cheap, just like the car. I asked $200 for the car. It ran all right, most of the electronics worked, except for the air conditioner. Air conditioners never worked in used cars in those days. I waited for the phone to ring. Still, nothing. Insert your own cricket noises here. 

A couple of weeks went by. I happily drove my van around, making trips to the clubs with my band. I was now able to carry more equipment and that pleased everyone in the group. I began to despair of ever selling the Olds and started considering whether or not to sell it to a wrecking yard. Then one morning I received a phone call at work. Someone was interested in the car! I arranged for a longer lunch break and left for my house. Shortly after my arrival, a young man knocked on the door. He looked still in his teens, a little nerdy and struggling with skin problems. He nervously kept pushing his glasses up on his nose while asking me about the car.

“Is it still for sale?”

I looked at the dusty, gray slab out front, the windows still covered with fading signs.

“As a matter of fact,” I said, “It is.”

Grabbing the keys, I led him outside. Jumping in the front seat, I mentally crossed my fingers, hoping the battery wasn’t dead. I hadn’t started the car for a few days. But luck was with me, or so I thought. The engine fired right up, sounding strong and ready. I drove out of the neighborhood to the main drag where we could build up some speed and I could show off the vehicle’s raw power. It still ran like a champ. The kid was impressed. I pulled over at the entrance of a restaurant parking lot so he could take a turn behind the wheel. 

“Oh, it’s okay. I already know I want the car,” he said. “My grandmother is giving me the money, but I need to show her the car first.”

I looked at my watch, pressed for time, and headed back to the house.

“All right, here’s what we can do,” I told him. “You take the car to show your grandmother and get the cash. I have to go back to work. I get home around 6:30. You meet me here with the money and I’ll give you the pink slip.”

He excitedly nodded his head and I gave him the keys. Starting up the car, he pointed at the gas gauge. The needle was on the empty line. He had no money until he could get to grandma’s house. I gave him two dollars. That would buy almost three gallons. 

“There’s a gas station right up the road on the corner, just past that little Italian restaurant where we stopped,” I said. 

I zipped back to work, thinking of all the nice things I could do with that two hundred dollars. Maybe I’d get a new stereo for the van or some new clothes for my nights on stage. I would look good. I answered a call around four o’clock. 

“Is this Timothy Allwein?” a voice asked, mispronouncing my last name as everybody did when they didn’t know me.

“It’s All-Wine,” I said. “What can I do for you?” I was in a good mood.

“Do you own a 1966 Oldsmobile 98?”

I experienced a sinking feeling. “Yes, I do,” I responded.

“Would you come get it out of my restaurant?”

I told my boss there was an emergency and I had to leave. He was not happy, but he never was anyway. I jetted across town to the little Italian restaurant near my home. I pulled into the same driveway entrance where I had stopped earlier that day. For the first time, I noticed how the driveway into the small parking lot sloped downhill, with the restaurant nestled at the bottom of the hill. And there at the bottom of that hill, to the left side of the restaurant door, was my big, gray tank of an Oldsmobile. I recognized the rear end of the car, that massive trunk that would easily hold six bodies and their luggage. But all I could see was the trunk because the rest of the car was hidden inside a nice booth within the establishment. They weren’t open for business until 5:30 pm, but they were more than willing to let me in. I slowly walked in the front door. I moved around the front of my vehicle. It had crashed through the front wall of the restaurant, all the way up to the windshield. The fake brick facade had done no real damage to the car. You can’t really scratch up an old primer-gray vehicle. It just can’t look that much worse. Even the headlights were fine.

The owner was polite, even kind of pleasant to me. 

“You want a beer?” he asked me.

“Yes, please,” I answered.

We sat and talked. I gave my insurance information. I later found out that the kid didn’t make it to grandma’s house, which was my guess. He apparently ran out of gas and rolled up to the driveway of that cute little diner. He left the car without setting the parking brake, without even putting the transmission in Park. You see, he really didn’t know what he was doing. He was fifteen years old, with no driver’s license, but he had a dream. A dream of having his own car, even if it was an ugly old behemoth. He walked away from disaster unscathed, so did that Oldsmobile, and so did I. My insurance company was not so lucky. The restaurant was closed for a few weeks but reopened. It’s long gone now. So is that car. And karma has paid me back with a flooded comic book store of my own not so many years ago. But I am still here to talk about it, over a beer, just like I did with that restaurant owner, whose name I can’t remember. He was a nice guy.

Fatal Memory



I can still see him rising to meet me in the headlights. I can’t see his face. He sits with his back to me. He’s trying to get up. Of course, there’s no time. He has nowhere to go in the split-second before I roll over him. And then he’s gone. The car rises as if traversing a small stack of logs, and I feel him pummeled and beaten to death by a cold, indifferent machine, a machine that I am operating.

But this is my memory, imperfect and nebulous. It’s been said that each time we take a trip down memory lane, it’s our last recollection we remember, not the actual event. If that’s the case, then how inaccurate can this memory be? I’ve seen this play out in my mind thousands of times since that night over forty years ago. Has it altered so much that I can’t even find the reality anymore? Maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can still see him in my headlights, rising up to try and turn and beg me not to kill him. 

It was the disco days. I was young, the lead singer in a popular nightclub band and the night was winding down. We had finished our show for the evening. There was no need to pack up equipment, as we were doing a six-night gig, so I grabbed my light jacket, said goodnight to the boys, and headed for the door with my girlfriend Linda. She was a strong, slim woman, a little older than me, sexy, with an imperfect, country girl beauty. 

The night was balmy and the streets were crowded with late-night revelers. We had taken her car that night, a Toyota Celica, and I was driving. We navigated our way through the tangled side streets until we reached the freeway. I turned onto the onramp, pushing the gas pedal hard to get up to speed and merge with the heavy traffic. I moved over to the left lane, traffic bumper-to-bumper but moving at a high speed. A minute later we would merge into the 880 freeway, which caused a confluence of six lanes of traffic, a nightmare in the best traffic conditions, but entirely chaotic at two in the morning with a bunch of tired, partying travelers. 

As we reached the junction of the two major freeways, cars started weaving across lane after lane, drivers trying to get to the next exit, some with five lanes to cross, jetting through traffic, suddenly in front of me, then as quickly cutting in front of the car next to me. Very few turn signals were visible to indicate what move the drivers would make next, leaving me to divine what was in their minds. The car in front of me suddenly lurched to the right, and there he was. In my headlights. And there was nothing I could do. A second passed and he was under the car. And then he was gone. 

Shock. Pure shock for a second or two.

“Was that a man?” Linda asked. “That was a man!” she screamed.

I had to think, to focus. What to do? Cars were now pulling over at the right side of the freeway. Linda was shrieking hysterically. I moved over carefully, joining the procession of vehicles stopping on the shoulder. There were cars in front of us, in back of us, still pulling over, so many automobiles. I tried to calm Linda, but I don’t think she could even hear my voice. She was temporarily lost to me. I just sat there in the car seat, stunned and disbelieving, trying to reach Linda. The din of screams was paralyzing. 

I am not certain of this part of my story. My memory is full of holes. I think someone tapped on the window. She must have asked if we were alright. I think she said she was a nurse. I got out of the car and followed her back to the accident. A small group of people was gathered around the man. She knelt by him. I couldn’t move any further. I didn’t see a man. I saw a bundle of wet, greasy clothes lying in the dark. I saw no human shape. She must have said there was nothing to be done, that he was dead. Somehow I found my way back to the car and Linda. She was alternately crying and screaming. She couldn’t stop. We waited. The California Highway Patrol arrived. An officer asked me questions, told me to wait while he interviewed other witnesses. I don’t remember Linda having ever stopped screaming, but she must have by that time. But not the crying. The crying didn’t stop. 

Eventually, the officer returned. He explained to me that it appeared the victim was trying to push an old car off the road. He had an old mid-fifties wagon that had died in the middle of the freeway. I imagine him getting out of his car in traffic. I picture him slowly pushing the heavy wagon, trying to steer with his right hand as he walks along the left side of the car with the driver’s door open wide. That’s just my nightmare image. I couldn’t possibly know that. What I do remember is the car was found about half a mile up the road on the left side of the freeway, having rolled all that distance after it was hit from behind. It then makes sense that he was thrown into the lane of traffic in which I was driving. The car in front of me saw him in time and veered, leaving me in line for disaster. Other cars then followed. I don’t know how many cars were involved, how many times he was hit. But I believe I struck the deadly blow. I guess it’s easier to believe that than to think of him feeling each blow from every driver that came after me.

I took Linda to my apartment. I lived with my cousin, but Linda stayed with me much of the time. Mike was a huge help. Linda was still semi-delirious, exhausted from crying and screaming. I calmed her as much as I could before getting her to sleep. I told my cousin what had happened. He may have a clearer memory of this than I do. At least he may remember what I told him. I do know that sometime the next morning Mike cleaned the car. The front end was a grisly reminder of that poor man’s last moment, and Mike took care of it. By the time I saw the car, there was no more blood, no more hair caught in the license plate or grille. Mike wasn’t too fond of Linda, but he took care of her that morning. I love my cousin still. As for Linda, I got her car repaired and we drifted apart over the next year. I miss her sometimes. But there were a lot of girls. After all, it was the disco days.

A year or so after that night, I received a letter notifying me of a lawsuit filed by the family of the man I had hit. I was named as a defendant with approximately twenty-five other drivers. Now twenty-five drivers had to live with this death, all accused by his family’s lawyers. I wanted to tell his family how sorry I was, how much I wish it hadn’t happened, how much I wish I had stayed behind and lingered at the club just ten minutes longer. But I never met the family. We never went to court. Because how can you blame anyone for such a terrible accident? I’m sure each of us who was there that night has suffered long for what we couldn’t help, for what we couldn’t change.

I believe we may have multiple forms of memory. We have our obvious mental memories, but what of muscle memory and emotional memory? We can feel pain related to old injuries that have long since healed. Now as I sit at my desk and stare at the darkening city night, I feel the weight of the emotional memory of that night so long ago. It’s still a heavy burden. Sometimes when I tear up or start to cry for no explicable reason, I think that it’s these old emotional memories rearing their ugly heads. As I reach the final phase of my life, I acknowledge that maybe this is the price I must pay for the wrongs or rights that have scarred me. For forty years I have seen him in my headlights. Get me on a dark road at night and I look for him. Maybe that’s part of the reason I don’t like driving anymore. 



Old Friends

Kevin Greene must have been about 12 years old when I met him. My parents had dragged my brother and me from the only home we had ever known to this new and strange place. Our new house was beautiful. Terry and I each had our own room. But all of our friends were gone, left in the San Joaquin Valley dust, to become distant memories. Kevin was quick to approach us, his new next-door neighbors. We became fast friends and spent the next six years growing into the adults we were to become. Life took us on very different paths, and we lost touch in a world before cell phones, the internet, and Facebook. Kevin became another in that huge group of fading memories.

Facebook, for all its faults, is a great way to seek out and rekindle old friendships. I’ve been able to find old friends and make new ones, people I would have never met without the omniscient eye of the internet. Today, I find myself in a melancholy mood after receiving news of another lost friend. I think of the many people from my youth with whom I would dearly love to speak. My best friend Hank Sahota, lost to us many years ago now, a victim of that insidious and brutal killer AIDS. How I have wanted to talk to him again, to tell him how sorry I am. And Rick Watkins, run over by a careless driver while he took his evening walk. We navigated the treacherous waters of adolescence together, sometimes fighting, sometimes laughing, but inexorably tied together for life because of those experiences.

Keith Henwood, who booked my band in the early eighties, remained a good and loyal friend forever. I missed my last lunch date with him. Death couldn’t give us just another couple of weeks. Cancer took ten years to torture my friend, but he had those ten years thanks to the doctors who gave him that time. There is that. We expect to lose our parents. Somehow, that is easier to deal with, the idea that the day will come when we have to say goodbye to them. It’s the order of things. But our friends? Those kids we still see in our minds, running along with the childhood memory of ourselves? This is hard. Our children? Impossible. My entire being shakes with the torment of that possibility, a torment I know some of you endure on a daily basis.

On October 22nd, I was rushing to get myself ready to fly back home the following day. I’d had a great trip, but hadn’t got to see my friend Kevin yet. I couldn’t leave Las Vegas without seeing Kevin.

My son-in-law, Charles, bravely put on his game face and said, “Let’s go out and have a beer with him.” Charles is still recovering from multiple surgeries on his foot. It’s not easy for him. He and Harmony were happy to take me to meet Kevin.

We met at a sports bar and had an enjoyable couple of hours talking about everything under the sun. I had seen Kevin at Christmas when I made a trip with Sara and the kids. Kevin and I talked about relationships, their pitfalls and rewards, and how difficult it can be to love someone. We were both struggling with that portion of our lives, but optimistic. We agreed that we would sort things out and see each other again when we had more time.

More time… There isn’t any. Kevin died last Friday while inspecting a house, He just collapsed. I spoke to his wife this morning. I  couldn’t find the words I needed. And this has made me realize something. There will never be enough time. There will always be things left unsaid. I need to apologize for some things I’ve said, for some things I’ve done. How can I do that now that you’re gone? So I speak to the walls, the ceiling in my apartment. I don’t really believe you can hear me. Do I? Somehow, it feels right. It is cathartic. I am struggling to get used to the fact that I will never hear Keith’s voice on the phone again, or have that pastrami sandwich with him at Canter’s. No more Late Night Radio requests. And now, Kevin’s stopped calling. No more thinly-disguised political attacks on our current regime through sixties protest songs. Damn it, you guys. You can’t be gone. My life has you in it.

I will keep you in my heart and in my mind. You are a part of me. Even if my mind goes and my memory is lost, you will be there in my soul. To all my dear friends, my family, all of those gone, and to those still here. I love you. And I’m sorry that those words aren’t spoken as they should be. We are all here for each other. I am here for you. Reach out. It’s okay. It’s necessary sometimes. That’s the real meaning of life.

Dear Aimee

How do I begin to describe what she meant to me? I’ve made a lot of friends in this life. They come and go through the doorways of time like a flickering nickelodeon in my mind. I cherish their memories, all of them. But some stand out; some leave a heavy imprint on my soul.

She was introduced to me by friends who have since vanished from my life, friends who chose to remove me from their lives, much as they did her. She was tall, statuesque, and beautiful. She displayed so much confidence and was quick to cut down anyone who was the least bit phony or insincere. She called you on your bullshit. There was no getting anything past her.

We became fast friends, casual, no chance of a romance. She was wild and just a little scary, and I was definitely not her type. No, we were friends, and that’s all we ever could have been. When I introduced her to Sara, they took a quick liking to each other. I couldn’t see it then, but now I see what kindred spirits they were.

We both liked to drink, and we drank a lot. I’d run into her around town and eventually we would get tired of our friends and end up sitting at a bar, where she would begin amiably enough, teasing and joking. Invariably, a rugged, handsome man would enter and catch her attention. If a group of Coast Guard men came in, she always became interested. And they were always interested, too. She was an eye-catcher. But soon, the effects of too much alcohol would often turn her mood ugly, and she would become angry and lash out at those around her. The men that first attracted her became a nuisance and offensive to her. Her acerbic comments, sometimes witty, sometimes cruel, could turn a pleasant evening into a dark and slightly dangerous experience.

I saw less and less of her as the time passed. Sara and I built a life together, of which she became a small part. Looking back now, I wish we had spent more time with her. She helped Sara and I put our broken pieces back together during a very dark time for us. She was there for us, always with a cutting comment tempered with love.

Her search for that rugged, handsome man led her into a relationship with a dangerous man who beat her and abused her. She fled the peninsula in order to escape him, to protect herself and her daughter. She disappeared from our lives, moving away from the peninsula. Sara and I have often talked about her, about how much we miss her, wondering how she is, speculating on where she is and what she’s doing. Her daughter was the same age as Bailey, Sara’s girl, almost grown into a lady. When will we ever see her again?

I am painting a house out in Long Beach for a good friend. It’s a beautiful sunny day at the beach, cool with a soft breeze, and I am enjoying the solitude and quiet. Sara and I once again find our lives in turmoil and are trying to find solutions to our various truths. My world is about to change again, and the work outside is soothing my anxious heart.

My cell phone tells me I have a message from Sara. I stop to check my phone as we all do a hundred times a day. The message is short and blunt.

“Aimee McFadden is dead.”

I feel the wind knocked out of me as if I’ve been sucker-punched in the stomach. I’m dazed, a little dizzy, and I have to sit down on the steps at the door. Did he find her? Was all of her hiding, her disappearance from our lives, all for nothing? Did that bastard kill her? Sara fills in the details as I sit in disbelief. She had started having seizures, and by the time the tumor was found it was too late to save her. Aimee died eighteen months ago, and I couldn’t be there for her like she was so many times for me. I couldn’t have saved her, but maybe I could have held her hand, made some bad jokes, and made her smile again. And now there is a hole deep in my soul. Because I will never see Aimee again or raise a drink with her.

Aimee McFadden was my friend, another flawed and damaged human being just trying to navigate her way through this maze of pain, love, and confusion we call life. There will never be another like her. I will miss her for the rest of my life.