Thirty Years

In Case You’ve Been Keeping Track

Sometime last month – October 2014 – fell the 30th anniversary of my sobriety.  Back in the Orwellian year, a couple of months before my 21st birthday, I put on my best clothes, filled my cigarette case, and drove down to El Paso Cantina at the waterfront (looks like they no longer operate that Ports O’Call location, though).  I got a table outside, ordered a drink, ate an appetizer, smoked cigarettes, got the waitress’ phone number (never did call her, though, what was the point?); having spent close to my last dollar, I went back home.  Turns out, that was the last time I used alcoholic beverages.  Having been merely an opportunistic user of controlled substances, I have no idea when I last used them, but it was some time before my last drink.

30 plus years ago.  In this image taken at the Torrance "Horseshoe" Pier in Torrance, California, I am leaning against a light pole in a state of inebriation and thinking myself very clever vis-a-vis juxtaposition with the message on the sign above my head.

30 plus years ago. In this image taken at the Torrance “Horseshoe” Pier in Torrance, California, I am leaning against a light pole in a state of inebriation and thinking myself very clever vis-a-vis juxtaposition with the message on the sign above my head.

I Didn’t Mind Going to Rehab

Shortly after the events described, I checked myself in to a hospital rehab program, completed the program, religiously attended AA meetings for several years, followed through with the AA program, and amazingly enough, stayed clean and sober.  My family was pretty supportive during this time, and I would say their support was undeserved, considering the way I squandered any natural goodwill and affinity I might have laid claim to.  I couldn’t say how many of the people who completed the hospital rehab program with me are still clean, still sober.  The recidivism rate for such programs is pretty high, and early on, I knew of a number who’d returned to problematic alcohol and drug use.

Staying sober, I didn’t always live smart or behave in ways that I now consider ethical, but I didn’t use alcohol and I didn’t use drugs.  I became employable, got employed, after a number of years ended my forthright rebellion against the Almighty and began live Godward.  I started a couple of small businesses that didn’t last long, I got educated, I married a lovely, younger woman, we became homeowners, we became parents.  I’m still getting educated, I continue to live Godward, I’m active in my congregation, I’m trying to live smarter and in a way that makes ethical sense to me.  In terms of physical fitness, I’m in better physical condition than I was in my twenties – I just look a lot older because I am a lot older.  Thirty years sober – when I was 20, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see 30 years of age, much less 30 years without alcohol and drugs.

Stuff I Learned

Some of things I learned in AA that were helpful were:  Keep Showing Up; Don’t Drink or Use, No Matter What; One Day at a Time (sometimes that was one-hour-at-a-time); Once You’ve Taken Care of Your Responsibilities Everything Else is Boogaloo-Time; You Can Have Anything You Want in Life As Long As You Can Pay For It.

About paying for things – I was greatly helped in life, in my late teens and twenties, by being totally ineligible for credit.  I couldn’t get a credit card, so never did accumulate credit card, or much of any, debt.  Of course, my manner of life has never favorably impressed those who value appearance.  Even when I was a drunkard, I valued substance and understood appearance  was of not much value.

Characterological Progress

At some point, I got tired of listening to my own excuses, so made a real effort to stop making them.  Instead of complaining about the circumstances into which I was born, I recall that I asked God, who transcends time/space (both are made of the same stuff and are part of the created order – duh, people), to give me just what I was born with.  I could no longer whinge about never having asked to be born, etc., blah, blah, blah.  Turned out to be a fairly effective strategy, and one I recommend.

Facing and taking inventory of my own ugly truths has at various times proved transformative.  Of course, if that’s the only transformation one experiences, one’s experience of life, self, humanity, soul, or whatever is pretty truncated.


I’ve kept learning.  Even as a drunkard, I read every day.  I’ve never stopped reading.  Early on sobriety, I read a lot of AA literature – the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, also 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.  Both are worth reading.  Periodically, I’ve reread them over the years and have found the insights contained in them are still helpful.  I don’t reckon either of these books should be included in the canon of scripture.  I’ve heard religious professionals refer dismissively to the approach Alcoholics Anonymous takes to the problem of self-and-other-destructive use of alcoholic drinks and, by extension, other mind and mood altering substances.  I think therapeutic deism is a reasonable description and find no reason to limit its use to the pejorative.  In addition to AA literature, I continued to read novels, biographies, histories, and anything that interested me.

Imagination and Providence

Most of my life-failures have been failures of imagination, failures of faith, failures to trust God’s goodness and providence.  The former is pretty strange because I’ve got an active imagination.  Perhaps some life experiences contributed to the turning of my imagination to consider and my mind to accept the worst I could imagine as likely outcomes or as already real.  But there was something also about my character or nature that turned my mind in that direction.  The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous provide one way to address characterological deficits.

I also returned to the Christianity of my youth and found the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments had been about addressing my characterological deficits for a long time already.  That has continued through the present, and I continue to both welcome and, at times, struggle and inveigh against the will and intervention of The Almighty.


No, I didn’t drink or use today.  We had supper at my mom’s house and she informed me that the date I checked in to rehab was September 14.  Seems I was in a pretty bad state.  I wonder where I got the idea my sobriety dates from mid-October?

Three Stepford Saturdays

I started writing this post a couple of days ago.

Today 5/27/11


This morning I got up early and mowed the one strip of lawn I wasn’t able to get last night before dark, the strip that runs the length of my driveway beside my next door neighbor’s house.  Then I raked the sticks on the patio and in the driveway that’ve been there since last week’s storm.  Put the sticks and debris at the curb by the mailbox, then got the leafblower and cleaned up everything else.  I mowed yesterday evening because my wife had found a tick on our son’s hand and I figured mowing the grass down from six to three-and-a-half inches would help disrupt arachnid and insect life-cycles.  I finished out there by about 8:30 pm and it was dark, then.  The John Deere 235E’s headlights are functional, and the mowing I’d done last night looked respectable in this morning’s sunlight.

The plan had originally been to spend the day paddling the RZ96 with my friend Daryl, but he hurt his back on the job last week.  Although it is pretty fast and unreal stable, the RZ96’s back”rests” are so so poorly designed that prolonged use would probably result in spondylolysis or similar disabling condition.  I recommended that Daryl take care of his back.

I’ve mentioned it so much on Facebook that I’ve forgotten I haven’t written anything about it here – starlings have infested the enclosed eaves/soffits above the window in the den where I sit as I write this.  I hate the damned birds, and I have done more than, by intensity of thought and speech consigned them to eternal torment.  I have destroyed the nest two or three times, hosed the nest out four or five times with a power-nozzle, liberally sprinkled their nest with moth crystals, times I’ve lost count of sprayed the nest with bird-repellant.  None of that has done more than to provoke angry shrieks.  Each time, the filthy winged histoplasmotic beasts have returned.  The day I had planned to give them minute-rice to eat, it rained.


Determined at last to kill the birds, I ordered a paintball gun with sniper rifle modifications:  18” rifled barrel; scope; offset scope mount; adjustable carbine-style stock; remote-line; Guerilla Air Myth 48/3000 HPA tank, and 500 .68 caliber clear mess-free paintballs (which are on backorder will not ship until maybe Tuesday 31 May); three-point tactical sling (how does it attach at the barrel?  Dunno), and largely decorative muzzle brake that does provide an attachment point for the sling.  Took the seller,, a while to get the order together (drop-shipped from a manufacturer or other source) because the "Flexi-Air” system I ordered was not available to fit the current iteration of the Tippmann 98 Custom Platinum (which is why I wound up getting the Guerrilla Air tank and remote line; CPBG has removed the package I ordered from its site), but the company’s owner, Dan, didn’t know that when I placed the order. 

When my order finally arrived, I was unable to get the local specialty gas/welding supply house to charge the Guerrilla Air tank because their fill apparatus does not connect to the tank’s 1/8” NPT Quik Connector fill nipple (we checked the Swagelok catalogue gas building’s office and their product wouldn’t work with the GA nipple).  Tech-support at wasn’t very helpful.  To the good, once I obtain the adapter, the welding supply company will be able to charge the tank with nitrogen at 3000 psi.  I’ve ordered an adapter from and I’ll let you know whether it works.All of these trifling small hassles, including the fact that my T98 shipped without a hopper, have been a real pain in the arse vis-à-vis my war with the starlings.  

As soon as I informed Dan at ChoicePaintballGuns he sent one out USPS Priority Mail.  The less expensive paintball hoppers are roughly kidney-shaped and look like those plastic bottles you have to urinate into if you’re bedridden in hospital.  The one delivered this afternoon has a lid that pops open when the marker (what the paintball cognoscenti call their guns) is fired, and pops open from the weight of the paintballs when the gun’s aimed at birds in the air.  The more expensive hoppers resemble bicycle helmets.  All of them mar any sort of “mil-sim” realism to the paintgun’s appearance.  I’d almost prefer a 15 round, inline tube sticking out the top right-side’s feed port for simplicity and target shooting.  Another type of feeder called the Q-Loader looks like an interesting solution, but expensive.

A final word about – really easy to deal with and extremely helpful.  A Better Business Bureau A+ rated company, and the guy answering the phone, who’s also the owner, even laughed at a couple of my jokes.

I remember many years ago (20? Has it been that long?) when I lived at San Pedro, California, across the street from a bar called The Spot, my neighbors, brothers whose names will not appear in this blog, and I used my plastic paintball pistol to snipe at cars driving by through their living-room’s slit window that faced the intersection at 22nd Street and Pacific Avenue.  The gun used one of those little CO2 cartridges of the sort used to power drinks spritzers and held 10 maraschino-cherry-like paintballs in a tube above the barrel.  We never got caught, although we had a couple of close calls with angry motorists who objected to the sensation of something striking their vehicles, as well as to the red smears left by broken paintballs.


Paintball guns appear to have evolved a great deal since the early 1990s, but a rifle scope remains a nonfunctional accessory.  My neighbor Jeff, ex USMC, rifle-team, combat veteran and generally smart, capable guy was happy to help me this morning with the chore of sighting-in the scope.  After an hour and a half, we were still much more accurate sighting down the barrel.  We tried the offset mounting option, then monkeyed with the sight mounted along the top-rail.  No joy.  Jeff said, “There doesn’t seem to be enough ‘up’ to this (scope)” in order to make the necessary vertical adjustment.  Shooting at the target, most of our shots hit way low and to the right.


It was clear to me that I probably should have ordered a red/green-dot sight instead of the rubber-armored rifle scope.  The Tippmann 98’s front sight is slightly spring-loaded, small blivit that does not have enough profile for the shooter to line it up with the rear sight.  Jeff and I both shot better sighting down the barrel than using the scope’s crosshairs.

My son came out to observe while Jeff and I (mostly Jeff) were working on the scope.  Later on he came out again while I was shooting at cans and wanted to load paintballs for me.  He also likes playing with the paintballs – tactile pleasure of little marble-like things.  He found the noise of the airgun unpleasant and complained by covering his ears with his hands.  Once or twice he wanted to pull the trigger, but almost immediately changed his mind.

We turned the velocity all the way up.  It’s not like I plan to do much with this gun besides potting at birds and plinking at cans and milk cartons in the backyard.  To that end, after Jeff figured he’d done all he could do to make the T98 serviceable and had gone to visit our other neighbors who were seated near their fishpond, I set up targets.  Two cans and a milk carton out of the house on sticks at the base of a tree like like the severed heads of ancestral enemies displayed made more interesting targets lower to the ground.  Birds make good targets when they’re on the ground, too, but none obliged me this morning.


Because I never was able to get Guerrilla Air tank filled, I bought a couple of cheap CO2 canisters at Wal-Mart and got them filled at Race Connection for six bucks total.  I wasn’t expecting to get many shots out of the tanks, but by the time I was done for the day, I’d fired about 200 shots with one bottle and it still had some left when I put it away.  The orange paint smears hosed off the shed and the tree.  According to the product literature on the box, the paintballs I used have something called Eco-Fill that does not stain clothing or structures and biodegrades easily.  Certainly, I was favorably impressed by the ease with which I was able to clean up the orange smears.

I didn’t kill or harass the starlings today.  One day during the week I found a few minutes to get the ladder out and get up to the nest thinking I would again destroy it or soak it down a harsh-smelling bird repellant, and then stuff some steel wool into the birds’ access gap, but when I got up there I saw about five hatchlings squeaking for worms or whatever it is their parents feed them.  I climbed back down, put the ladder and steel wool away without harming the birds or destroying their nest.  I am told that within six weeks they will take wing and not return to the nest, so I’ll clean it out and stop the hole then.

Last Saturday 5/21/11

Two or three weeks ago while I was out in the back yard playing with Seventy-Six we went over and said “Hello” to our neighbor Deanna, she is Jeff’s wife, and was just then looking after her two young granddaughters, one of whom is a little older and the other a little younger than my son.  He enjoyed playing with them, and Deanna asked me if I had any plans for Saturday morning 21 May.  No, not really, what’s happening then?  Deanna said she and her husband had a couple of tickets for the annual Kiwanis Club Prayer Breakfast at Stepford’s First Big Arminian Church, and would I like to have them.  Sure, I’d be happy to have them.


I invited my friend and congregation’s pastor to attend with me.  We don’t get to hang out much, and he’s a guy who’s much smarter than I am theologically (and maybe full-stop) and whose company I enjoy.  In my very limited experience with things culturally Christian, a prayer breakfast is usually a pancake festival with second helpings encouraged and an early morning, come as you are, more-manly-than-usual church activity.  I wore my favorite T-shirt, a pair of khaki cargo shorts, and those New Balance trail runners.  Upon arrival, I quickly discovered that I was underdressed for the occasion; Theodore, with a wider experience of North American Christian subcultural mores, was appropriately attired for the occasion.  A large number of men present wore suits.

Because I ‘d read again, and while the guy’s lack of insight or depth of character is glaring his comedic prose made me laugh out loud two or three times, the three chapters in Matt Taibbi’s The Great Derangement dealing with his infiltration of blowhard John Hagee’s Texas mega-“church”, I brought my copy along for Theodore’s amusement.  He, in turn, loaned me his copy of Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple.  Maybe more about Roose’s book another time.


I saw one of my neighbors, a local industrialist I like and respect (he’s not from around here), and a retired colleague I was pleased to see.  Theodore saw a couple of his former parishioners from his time a First Big Southern Church of Rural County Seat one county over.  The meal was a one-serving affair of eggs, ham or bacon (I opted for bacon and was given one slice so I asked for ham, instead, and didn’t have to give my bacon slice back), a side I don’t remember, orange-juice and coffee.

The 21st was also the date Harold Camping had scheduled for the return of Christ to take his people out of the world (or Rapture them) prior to the Great Tribulation.  And I wanted to see whether the Arminians had gotten worked up over this much publicized event.  At their most extreme, Arminians believe they are constantly in peril of losing their salvation and their holiness.  Their theological workaround is to narrowly define sin as “a willful transgression against a known law of God.”  Sort of like the common law definition of burglary is, if memory serves, "a trespassory breaking and entering into a dwelling in the nighttime with the intent to commit a felony therein.”  All the elements must be present for the act or omission to act to meet the definition of sin.  Anything less falls under the category of “mistake.”  I can think of no better reason for the average Arminian to avoid Bible reading, because that’s probably a good way to get know the laws of God, in addition to a bunch of other God-related information.  A lot of “end-times” misinformation can be found in garage-sale discards penned by Hal Lindsey, a Joe Stalin lookalike who popularized the Dispensationalist idea of pre-millennial eschaton (have I spelled that correctly?).

The occasion, it turns out, was an Armed Forces Day prayer breakfast. A presentation was made to the chapter’s chosen Layperson of The Year – a retired banker with whom I am slightly acquainted. A young woman of angelic voice played piano and sang three songs, one of which I recall that my wife’s sister sang at our wedding.  The event’s main speaker was a Nashville TV news weatherman (I don’t think he’s actually a meteorologist).  His talk was a biographical tale of determination and somewhat generic faith that referred to values all in a way that could have been well received by Moslems, Zoroastrians, Mooney’s, Christians, Jews, and perhaps even Taoists.  The weatherman did make a little joke about Harold Camping’s prediction, and none of those present looked at all worried about Camping’s forecast.

At the time I found myself thinking about the practice of civil religion in America and how my life rarely intersects with it.  Also thinking about the “church”-system as what passes for church in North America and about how much money it takes to keep it all going – not just the dyed-in-the-wool thieving televangelists, but also the widely accepted as legitimate mainstream or niche-market/boutique Evangelical church-building set.

Overall, I had a pleasant experience at the prayer breakfast, but I’m glad I was there with a friend who was able to assure me that no, it wasn’t all in my head.  Winsome people doing good things in a pleasant environment as they have been doing for a couple of generations.  But I don’t think it can last and I’m a little sad about that.

The Saturday Before That 5/14/11

I’m not scared of black cats, dates and days, ladders, shadows, or similar frightful things, so I wasn’t afraid to drive like the hammers of mythical Hades toward home over a slightly winding highway at the end of my working day week.  I wasn’t afraid when the car didn’t handle the curves as well as it did just the day before, and thought, “Probably needs shocks.  I’d like to get some heavier sway bars, maybe a strut-tower brace.”  Back at the house, the front right tire looked a little low and I thought it was time I checked the air pressure in all four.  But I went into the house, ate dinner, and forgot about it.

In the morning when I went out to pick up sticks from the yard before mowing, I saw the tire was close to flat and filled it.  Then I drove to the Pot County seat where I knew I’d find a tire store open Saturday.  I had to wait a couple of hours before the service guys repaired the leak.  Instead of sitting around in the waiting room, I walked across the parking lot to look at the Little Waterfowl River that runs beside the store.  No good way to get down the steep muddy hill for a closer look, I walked along the highway in front of the store, past a shack/trailer-like red painted barbecue stand (closed at that hour), and walked up the road to the right thinking maybe I’d find easier access to the river.  I didn’t, but I kept walking along the road as it curved uphill into fairly nice-seeming neighborhood I’d never seen before and would’ve never guessed was there. 

Where the road curved back down the hill to the highway again, I met a man and a woman walking.  The man wore a complicated brace arrangement that involved chest, one arm, and his head.  I said Good Morning to them and they greeted me.  A little farther along and houses looked smaller and less impressively built and well maintained.  I saw a woman sweeping a front porch, little more than a stoop.  Four or five mostly black puppies ran toward me barking, wagging tails, looking happy.  The woman called to them and they went to her.  She apologized for them and I told her it wasn’t necessary.

Back at the tire store, I did finally have a cup of their bad coffee, looked at a couple of issues of Field & Stream, and watched the final fifteen minutes of a John Wayne movie – a Western filmed toward the end of his career, I don’t remember what it’s called.  When tire was patched I paid for the repair and drove home.

A Busy October

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing for another project that has deadlines, so haven’t had as much time to spare for what my wife calls “joy-reading” or, for that matter, free written expression. I’ve also been attempting to research long-term vocational and other life outcomes for child sufferers of post-traumatic stress syndrome – but have found little of use in the journals usually devoted to this sort of thing.

Sometime during the month of October, 2009, fell the anniversary of my 25th year of sobriety. By no means have I lived all of the past 25 years responsibly or even in the way that made best sense to my thought processes that were occasionally impaired by rigidly held conceits and residue of a less than idyllic childhood. To the good, however, I never did go all Heathcliff, criminal; nor did I continue to actively seek my own destruction. I can only credit the faith of Christ for this.

In the Orwellian Year, in the cool early afternoon of a sunny October day, I dressed in my best clothes and made my way, I do not recall how, to a restaurant called El Paso Cantina located at one end of Ports O’Call Village in San Pedro, which is the port of Los Angeles. I had a bout five cigarettes in a shiny metal case, a Zippo lighter, and maybe five or six dollars. I was an underage drinker, but was rarely carded. I ordered some kind of mixed drink. The waitress, a young woman named Vlasta or Vlosta, of Yugoslavian ancestry, brought me my drink and gave me her telephone number. It must have been the next day that I checked myself in at San Pedro Peninsula Hospital’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit, thinking that I would there learn to control my drinking as a preliminary means to regaining some self-control and self-direction. I had become a sort of monster. I was about two months shy of my 21st birthday.

The recidivism rate for programs of that sort are high, and I do not know whether any of those in-patient with me , or even any of the program’s counseling staff, have remained clean and/or sober during the intervening years. During the course of my life I have, for the most part, turned my back on the acquaintances or ‘friends’ of my time as a drunkard. The people with whom I have kept in touch are the people who, for a number of reasons, matter to me. Along the way, I have met and both befriended and been befriended by other people who matter, and I wish I could have kept in touch with all of them. Even among those who matter, I have found it best to distinguish between those experience has taught me are best kept at arm’s length and those who generally tend to live and speak out of a truth that imbues them with a greater value.

I recall a dream I had sometime shortly before my 30th birthday. I was on a paved-over embankment sitting with my back against a chain-link fence feeling the warmth radiating up from the asphalt covered ground and metal of the fence, looking at the playground and buildings of Crestwood Street Elementary School – another of many places of unhappy memory for me – and was aware in that instant that everybody I loved knew that I loved them, whether I’d been in touch with them or not. When I awoke, I accepted the dream-world knowledge as fact, and went on.

My family and I had a good Halloween. My wife dressed our little boy as the cartoon dog, Blue, and we took him to visit family and friends. As we were leaving our neighborhood, I was incensed at the fact that people who appeared to be of the tax-consumer class were bringing their children in carloads. I thought that it is bad enough the government steals my money to pay their rent, buy their groceries, pay their utility bills, and now buy them cellular telephones and “minutes,” now I am supposed to give their children candy? Of course, none of that’s the fault of the children, and I normally have some charitable feeling for children regardless of their class. We ate supper at my mom’s house in another neighborhood, and our son was frightened by the orange Scream mask worn by a polite child who came to the door seeking candy. Seventy-Six ran off crying, and later, during the meal, seated in a place where he could see the front door, kept looking apprehensively over there saying, “Door?” We didn’t let him have any candy, but I think we did let him have some frozen yogurt.

My work has required me to travel to a county I’m not usually tasked with visiting, and the driving involved has been tiring.

Our house is situated among a number of mature trees, and a million leaves have fallen on our yard. Another million or so are poised to fall over the next couple of weeks. I have discovered raking. My other strategy for coping with fallen leaves is even more primitive and ignorant, although it involves the use of an internal combustion engine and moving mechanical parts: I drive the lawn mower over the leaves repeatedly until they are ground up to the point where my conscience isn’t bothered by leaving (har) them where they lie. Even if that’s not correct, it is euphonious. Three of my nephews recently came over and, in exchange for a few dollars, helped move the piles of leaves to the curb. The youngest of the boys worked the most diligently. The older two combined their work with squirrel-like silliness.

We got a contract on our old house with a buyer more qualified and more committed to its purchase who is using a realtor and a mortgage company capable of performing the functions necessary to complete their assigned tasks.

That’s all I know good, right now. My great adventure is living the ordinary life in an ordinary way.