Letters to Harrison: 9

I came across a signed copy of Julip Saturday and bought it. Maybe you would think of me as an idiot or maybe you would be surprised that someone would keep such a thing, who knows? What is the point of collecting something just because a person signed it, one that you have never met and never will? Your grave is still a mystery and yet you would visit the graves of those that you admired if you had the chance. I can hope that you had your ashes spread and by chance a part of you is somewhere close, inhabiting the landscape in a way that haunts that which you enjoyed and loved so much. There is a film crew tracking your steps, visiting the bars and walkways you once traveled. I don’t know what they will find along the way or how accurate their movie will be. Everything is about perspective and if they want to paint you in a positive light or make you out to be the crass asshole you could be at times. I personally hope they find a middle ground and point out that you were just a man. Your aversion in being compared to Hemingway is understandable, a high marker that no man should be compared to because no matter how hard you try nobody could live up to the expectations one would immediately have on you. How fair is that anyway? It was a different time, a different world and only one person could possibly live the life is the one that he lived. That mold was filled and it was not reproduced with you. I was tempted to try my hand at ordering off of a menu as you had done, pointing to various items and saying “this… and this… oh and this too” going on until the table was filled and I would have to sit there until my buttons popped and people looked at me like I was a crazed individual that had just escaped from a concentration camp. Instead, I ordered the pork belly BLT and called it good. I’m not at that point yet plus I need a reason to go back and try something else. My life isn’t on the road and if I am to be in towns often that I don’t know I need something to look forward to. The sky finally cleared today, the weekend was clouded in gray and the cold rain hung over like a wet blanket of despair. Winter is not here yet and already I dread the lack of sun and the depression that comes with it. On the other hand, it leaves no option than to sit down and write, something I am lacking these days. I have noticed that once in a while you will mention books that you have read over your lifetime and I’m thinking about starting a list. Of course, I don’t know what exactly you enjoyed and what you didn’t but I have to assume that if you liked something that’s what you would have recalled, if I’m wrong you can always haunt my ass and set me straight. The deer are on the move lately, roaming the streets searching for food to prepare for winter. A giant buck has made it clear to me who owns this neighborhood and I am nothing but a nuisance in his eyes. I have considered going deer hunting this fall and after seeing him I wonder if I could actually pull the trigger this time if the option presented itself. There is a big difference between shooting a squirrel, catching a fish and having that disconnect between yourself and the life you took. The deer on the other hand seems to be a beast that knows you are out to get him and has an opinion about it. I suppose if I was hungry these thoughts wouldn’t come to mind and that could be the trick to a successful hunt. Leave with an empty stomach and you won’t have any qualms about taking a shot and dragging something out of the woods. Sorry bucko, I have mouths to feed and you looked pretty good at the time. It is the nature of things. Would things have been different this weekend if I had to shoot the pig behind the brewery to enjoy that BLT? I would like to say not but I know better. There is something different in a person that can take a life and even though I have been the end to many squirrel and fish I don’t know if I have it in me to take something bigger. That could be the next challenge I face this year. What is the worse that can happen? I have a nice day out in the woods? One couldn’t ask for less on a good day.

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Letters to Harrison: 8

Esquire has a podcast now where they go back and look at old articles that had been popular over the years and you will not be surprised that they covered your food column The Raw and the Cooked. They discuss your article The Days of Wine and Pig Hocks which I found to be funny and highly entertaining. Having never been on a book tour, only slinging paperback copies at local libraries and different venues where the odds of finding anyone who reads is like finding bigfoot, I have a hard time understanding the dreaded tour. I was glad to see you made a go of it, ingesting anything that looked or smelled good, and bringing a little extra weight back home with you. Bud is doing a gallery at the Lansing library and I have to say I’m excited to go. You must be the one person on the planet that doesn’t have more that five pictures of yourself on the internet but your friend Bud has enough to do a show. Have it be my luck to drive over an hour one way only to discover Bud has five photos to share and no prints. I could try to be less pessimistic but what is the point. Living my life as if the world is out to get me leaves me with a lack of surprise and yet it still finds a way to throw me a curve ball and beam me in the head. I heard that you had a knack for going into restaurants and ordering everything on the menu. I have never tried this for several reasons, for one my wallet would not allow it and I was raised not to waste food regardless of how bad it is. Well, until my parents tried it and almost threw up in their own disgust. I have always played the Guinea pig and while it has worked in my favor most of the time, I have to admit that there have been long days sweating in bed and mornings that drifted into afternoons while sitting on the toilet. This was in the days before cells phones so a good book came in handy. Try to grab something you checked out from the local library and share the love. There is a local Mexican restaurant that serves traditional tacos not far from my house and while I will say they have the best food in this category their service for the longest time was lacking. My wife convinced us to try it out again and forget the nightmare that happened a few years ago. There was only one thing I wanted to do when I arrived and that was to order every style of taco they had and try them all, which I did. I tried this before and I must have had the order that the cook decided was a pain in the ass. Still, how hard is it to make seven corn tortilla tacos with only onions, cilantro, and a wedge of lime? I waited one hour and fifteen minutes before my food arrived and the server never came back to check on me. The tacos were delicious, that wasn’t what left a bad taste in my mouth it was the lack of apathy to the customer. I ate the food and therefore paid for it but when it came to recommending the place years later, I pointed people to their reviews online and I wasn’t the only one. At some point the manager that the place was presumably named after, a tall blonde-haired white man with Buddy Holly glasses, either left or was finally fired, and the place named the Big White Cock in Spanish finally turned things around. I should do this more often, go into a place and order random things, but isn’t that what a buffet is for? Is the buffet just another form of cheating when it comes to good food even when you simply want to sit on your ass and stuff your face? I had a really good Sangiovese from Tuscany last night and slept like a rock. One of the five wine racks in the basement is drying up and I think it’s time to fill it up again. Maybe I will pick up some lunch along the way.

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Letters to Harrison: 7

Your movie Wolf was about cocaine, right? I haven’t read the book of the same name but I have to assume that with your discontent for Hollywood and the drug seen that the reason Jack Nicholson is running around feeling good, able to smell everything, have a boost in unwarranted confidence, and sleeps for 20 hours after a bender isn’t a coincidence. I have never taken the drug myself but know a few who have. The last man I ran into had just received his disability check and snorted the funds up his nose in one day. All of the Narcan training that people had been given was useless, his heart had stopped from the opposite of heroin. The woods visited me last night, a giant two-hundred-pound deer with a rack that would have made Dolly Parton jealous was standing in the neighbor’s yard when I came home.

We exchanged some snorts and he didn’t seem to care about my presence. It wasn’t until a few trucks drove by that he decided to leave. Before entering the swamp across the street, he turned at me and grunted one last time reminding me that he was the boss. I’m surprised that the neighborhood cats haven’t tried to take him down but it would be like the democratic party trying to take down a republican president. Cats do not form an army well and a liberal party with thirty agendas doesn’t accomplish much. When my non-disclosure agreement expired with my old Hollywood job, I wrote a book called Golden. Maybe it was to burn some bridges and not become caught up in the glitz and glory of a false god. Things must have been different back in your day because if I tried to live off of what I was paid I would have been homeless eating an endless supply of Top Ramen noodles. The last two days have been good except for the endless assault of my daughter who doesn’t have an off switch. The terrible twos is a horrible name for this disease. Maybe it should be called the traumatic twos or the terrifying twos, or the Trumpian twos. the last one might be considered a low blow but there isn’t too much to aim for down there from what I have been told. How is a writer supposed to make a living in a world where people don’t read anymore? Even I have been guilty of this, pulling out my voluntary bugging device and looking at the latest mind-numbing content on the internet. Before we clean up Washington, we should do a thorough flushing enema of the internet first. We can start with rotten tomatoes first who gave your movie between a 62 and 43% rating. I guess the audience didn’t see the point. I will have to grab Wolf from the self sooner than later and see for myself what your first novel was all about. These days good literature doesn’t get publish because nobody reads it and if you want to make a buck these days you have to conform to one or several options for prostitution that are available to be exploded by. I’m tired of getting screwed these days. You spend your time and effort trying to create something real and in the end all you end up with is a bill, lost time, and a sore ass in the end. That reminds me, I need to pick up a new cushion for my chair.

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Letters to Harrison: 6

There is something to be said about isolation, the forced disconnect from people that gives you a new perspective on things. I should have known that being in trouble would free up my time and give me a break from my normal routine. Watching the charlatans and shit stains of previous jobs taught me that the worst of us will be promoted, a polite way to say “shut up and just go over here.” Meanwhile the victims have to deal with their mental scars with the same pay and eventually fewer benefits. If women could figure out a way to procreate without us men would disappear and the world would likely be a safer place, except for that time that the full moon was out and then all hell would break loose for a week. I know you didn’t care working for universities but I’m considering a change. There has to be something better out there for a writer. Today was a bout of self-induced cabin fever. Seeing more people than I have to is not high on my list of things to do and maybe less contact with the outside world will be better for my daughter in the end. Afterall she will have her own fair share of disappointments she gets older. I don’t know where the magic age is for teaching this lesson. If I start her too young, she will trust no one, but if I teach her too old then she will trust everyone and that’s no good. Maybe I should leave some books about the buddha lying all over the house as she grows up, a constant reminder that life is suffering. Maybe she will also follow her own path and continue to be the unique individual that I know her to be. The world is good at many things, most of all destroying what makes us special. I have forgotten that lesson so many times you think I would have tattooed it somewhere on my body by now. My current job is to live as a Hobbit and while that would be fun the only part of it that applies is living underground and keeping things tidy, minus the food and drink that a Hobbit enjoys in the meantime. Its been two days and I wish I was back out in the woods. Morning is coming. Sleep is in short supply. Coffee will be my first real friend of the day.

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Letters to Harrison: 5

The clouds are starting to part and the question of seeing a sun or a moon starts to present itself. There are times in one’s life when you don’t know where you are going, how long until you get there, or even know if you are there when you arrive. You can’t see what is ahead of you, swinging your arms into the fog you learn nothing except that you are alone. I wonder when this is over if there will be a new beginning, the three days of Christ being in the tomb. The book would have been more fitting if he had been betrayed by Mary of Magdalene instead of a sissy like Judas. In fall the days start to feel longer even though night comes earlier with each day. Man fights to squeeze more in as he prepares for winter knowing that the clock is ticking. Beer taste better after a long walk in the woods. One will notice the dirty air of the city, the haze that hangs over, and the noise. There is a constant hum building to a roar. The noise never stops, rising a falling, a sea of waves on the eardrums. The roads absorb the heat of the sun pushing it back up to us, cracking and splitting as they stuff themselves in an all you can eat buffet. The city, with everything it has going for it, is not the place for me. The wildlife looks like myself. The dangers are hard to find and sudden. Tribes are a blurry construction and nobody appears to know where they belong. Home is where the wallet is. People collect jobs like trading cards hoping that one will pay off one day only to find out that their collection is a dime a dozen. Family has been traded for faces and voices in a web of lies where everyone wants to be heard and nobody wants to listen. Each day is a question of what will happen next. Pandora’s box has been opened and nobody has been smart enough yet to close the lid.

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Letters to Harrison: 4

The woods were silent yesterday morning except for the roar of truck tires on 131 to the west. The sun was hidden by the morning fog over the field as we walked through the grass trying to find a trail. The state park has been doing the best it can to erase our footprints. Two track trails are cut off by fallen trees and streams that appeared out of nowhere, eroded through the soil and sand, etching its way into the swamp below. The shotgun in my hands wasn’t as heavy as I remembered. The squirrels reminded me just how dumb we are. Creatures with the technology to send us to the moon in our pants pockets can be tricked by the slight of hand of the woods. In the early hours of the morning the woods came alive to the sound of woodpeckers, deer snorting at the scent of two men wearing freshly laundered clothes, crickets in the field, and blue jays fighting over the remains of a nest they bullied their way into. The hunting was good, but it wasn’t great. One rabbit slipped past us disappearing into the three-foot-high grass and we found more coyote tracks than we did deer. At the end of the hunt two unfortunate souls were in our bag. Last night we enjoyed wine, a Chianti and a Spanish red I had never heard of. Both were thoroughly enjoyed over much needed conversation. It is during hard times that we learn who our friends are and receive the comfort that we need. There is a magic in air as I walk through the trails and listen to absolute silence and a good drink is one that is enjoyed with friends. There is still joy to be found in the roughest of seas, calm waters do not make a good sailor. The world has a strange measure of perfection that is expected from everyone but no one can achieve. The woods don’t judge. The world is perfect in its imperfect beauty. It is rare that man will create something that will improve on its own. The empty lots and dilapidated houses of my own town remind me of that. This system that we created will fade away on its own, eaten up by its own rules and horrible expectations. The only solution is to castrate the world and let mankind disappear in a low whimper. Life continues to go on. Is there anything more to ask for than good company, a walk in the woods, some wine, and a full belly. Anything more than that doesn’t matter.

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Letters to Harrison: 3

The city smells like urine tonight. The hot humid air and killer mosquitoes don’t help any. I long for the north and it’s simple ways. I overheard a conversation in Manistee where a group of old timers reassured themselves that they had chopped enough wood to get through the winter. Meanwhile my street is dug up and the natural gas lines had been serviced to make sure the whole damn block doesn’t explode one day. I decided to give your French reds another shot today, visiting a local shop and finding something that resembled the Cotes Du Rhone I enjoyed the week before. As a sucker I also picked up some white wine called Novelist in the hopes that it would inspire me to write something great. What was it that made you hug your shotgun so many years ago? I have an idea but times are different now and yet betrayal never changes. The hardest thing to overcome is being our own worst enemy. Once you do kick your own ass enough to straighten out there is always friends and family to fuck you over in the end. Never underestimate a person’s desire to destroy someone for shits and giggles. The neighborhood cats roam the streets tonight. They know what I’m talking about, feasting on anything they can wrap their teeth around. With winter coming there is a mad rush to devour anything in their path. Craws scratch and teeth shred as they fight over what little a city can provide to the wild. I enjoy the possums more, snacking on ticks, making sure I don’t have to check my drawers every night for some blood sucking pirate who stowed away on my ship. Life keeps throwing me punches, something that will never end. At what point do you throw in the towel or do you keep going until you stumble and stutter, no good to anyone anymore? I didn’t get to read your words today, locked away in a cave of my own doing. Be careful of who you make friends with, document everything, be careful who you tell the truth to and if you aren’t comfortable lying then don’t talk at all. This nation needs a war before it eats itself alive.

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Letters to Harrison: 2

Did you finish that last poem? Lying there on the floor, pen in hand, shall it be labeled unfinished? I read an article by a reporter who had met you at a young age. Your advice to a thirteen-year-old boy was to stay away from the Hollywood coke scene. You forgot to mention the booze and women too, or are those okay in your book? I worked on a television show in Seattle and while I wasn’t offered the magic powder to help with my writing, I was given copious amounts of alcohol by a man who was five years sober in AA. Leave it to alcoholics to live vicariously through others. We all do that don’t we? A writer lives the life he wants to live through his characters. He imagines himself with the damsel, doing things that he could not physically do on a good day. And if you are a horrible writer they live happily ever after, because we both know that isn’t true. I have a second daughter on the way, another life I have to disappoint with the truth if I want her to live a decent life. There is nothing worse than living in a world of false expectations and learning later that princesses and fairies are pure imagination. Puberty takes care of most of that for those that are fortunate. High school takes care of the rest. Men with daughters are destined to feel guilty about their desires. What was it that led you to drink? We have opposite taste you and I. I can not touch vodka without ruining my week and have learned that bourbon is my drink of choice. As for red wine I have always been fond of the Italians but will admit that a recent Cotes Du Rhone was a delicious choice last week. Maybe it was the red wine that kept you with us for so long, making up for those American Spirits, removing one nail from the coffin at a time. I made that pumpkin soup today, playing around with cookbooks as you would have done. Its amazing how one can long for food from their past, meals you will never have again. A Muslim friend longed for his mother’s stuffed grape leaves and when I found some and brought them for his lunch break, he never talked to me again. Sometimes it is the gesture of kindness that gets us into the most trouble. It’s the long recipes that discourage me, dozens of ingredients that turn a twenty-minute cook time into an hour of work and a trip to the grocery store. Truth be told, the best meals need little but good ingredients and a little bit of love. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

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Letters to Harrison: 1

I still remember the day you died, now three years ago but feeling like yesterday. Out of all the deaths I could imagine yours was the one I had the most respect for. It wasn’t the suicide or drug overdose that we hear so much about, although you did flirt with those from time to time. I dread the care facility, the place where you rot away and people forget about you while they steal your stuff. Bedpans and seated showers are not the place for me. You died doing what you always did and weren’t going to stop from old age or loneliness, I know your wife died six months before. It seems like we all have someone waiting for us on the other side. How was it greeting Anthony Bourdain to the other side? I can imagine the feast you had prepared of duck breasts and pigs cooking in every way possible. They are selling his things now and I have seen some of yours. You are scattered around the country now, autographed books, your photo at Dick’s Pour House, French wine, and people still complain that you owe them money. Have a check ready for when they arrive. Tomorrow I will be cooking up a batch of pumpkin bacon soup from one of your favorite cookbooks by Fergus Henderson. The house will smell of bacon and garlic, and I will become fat as I prepare for winter. Hunting season is here and while we don’t have dove or quail in these parts it is calming to be in the woods and clear one’s head that the world always tries to fill with someone else’s gibberish. We all need to get away, even the crickets are singing their song in the city longing for a time that there wasn’t a city, when all of this was theirs and the only concern they had was what to eat and who to breed with. Humans were like that once until things became so damn complicated. What is it about our nature that causes us to destroy the little bit of good that we have? Are we all greedy? Is it some kind of lustful thirst that we can not satisfy pushing us toward our own demise? The empty bag of potato chips beside me might hold the answers. We continue to take until there is nothing left.

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Searching for Jim: Part 5

Tacos was the mission for the day. Sarah had seen a place on Front street where food trucks parked for the day and sold a variety of food with a bar located nearby. The Fleet is a year round bar that uses the parking lot outside for a seasonal food truck rally. After we parked several blocks away at an affordable parking lot, $1.20 for two hours, we found the food trucks and roamed around seeking the most creative menu items we could find. At Happy Tacos we found our lunch and placed the order. I had the lamb patty cheese burger taco, crunchy shrimp taco, and the Korean spicy pork taco. At four dollars a pop they didn’t disappoint and left me full the majority of the day. Sarah had a similar menu.Once lunch was over we traced our steps back down Front street and found two shops we had spotted along the way. Sarah took Zoey with her in to the basement shop filled with local arts and crafts while I went a few doors down to Nolan’s Cigar Bar. This was the only place in Traverse city where a person can sit and have a drink while enjoying a cigar. I went to the room next door and immediately found a wall covered in tobacco pipes and jars sitting on shelves filled with pipe tobacco. Two young men smoking cigars asked me if I needed any help and I replied that I was looking for something unique, something that was blended specifically for the shop. They had an entire case that filled the bill. The man had me smell the blends one at a time and I chose the most popular blends that they offered from Cherry festival to their Downtown Blend. I went home with four bags. Looking on the wall before I cashed out, I said to myself that I didn’t need a new pipe. I had no use for a new pipe. I really like that red pipe. I think I will buy that red pipe. That was what I did, I asked to see the red bent stem Italian hand crafted by Lorenzo pipe and it was added to my order. A handful of matches were added to the bag and I was out the door.We passed by Horizon books and afterwards regretted not going in but time was limited. I found online that they had several first edition and autographed books by Jim in their stacks. We visited a few shops and I found myself in Brilliant books looking for some books of poetry by Jim. They had a decent selection and I bought the two that I felt would be the hardest to come by. At the counter I asked the clerk if he had anything else by Jim that I didn’t see and he proceeded to tell me a story.
“We had a memorial display for Jim after he died. We found a nice smoky picture of him with the dates of his birth and death and set it up in that corner. We thought it would stay out for a month or so but three years later it was still there. We had people coming in several times a week to see it. Then one day someone came in and stole the picture, sneaking it out the door.”I paid for my books and the clerk asked if we had seen Jim’s house out in Leland. I had to confess that we had not, we only stopped at Dick’s Pour House and had gone the wrong day to Blue Bird Tavern. The clerk told me another story about his mother coming to visit and being from the area. She had taken her son to Dick’s and said she knew the owners. He though she was making stuff up because of her age but it turned out she did know the second generation of owners of the place.
Once we left I went into The Franklin, a well known establishment who catered to a small but well known group people, Jim being one of them. Marilyn Monroe was on the wall along with Sean Connery and Albert Einstein. All of these people had eaten or drank at The Franklin at one time or another. Jim’s face was plastered on the wall right in the middle with his cigarette in his mouth and his eyes squinting as if he was thinking “what are you staring at?” I didn’t get to take the place it with the few minutes I had but I did notice the girl working the front desk who barely spoke English and had a French copy of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. Maybe one day he will be added to the wall and I will have another reason to go back and enjoy an old fashion at the bar.
Our last stop was at The Cheese Lady and once my wife picked out a few flavors for her mother we left Traverse city happy to not see it again for a while. The traffic, even in the off season, was thick and sticky like a weird fungus you can’t get away from. The cars come to a halt and you sit there wondering when you will be able to move again. The city, like the old insane asylum, is a prison in a way. The only way to really get around is in a helicopter or a small bike where you can weave in and out of traffic and hope to not be caught by local police for riding on the sidewalk, a ticketable offence.
We went to sleeping bear dunes and took the Empire trail to the lookout. The idea was to have Zoey walk the three quarters of a mile to the lookout and ware her out so that she would sleep good overnight. Instead she fell asleep in the car ride there and continued to sleep as I carried her to the lookout, uphill.
Zoey eventually woke up and proceeded to hoot, holler, and cry at every little thing. The walk back was just like the walk in, me carrying her in my arms while I went up and down the hills to the car. The final hundred yards, all of it downhill to the parking lot, was where Zoey decided to walk the rest of the way.In town we stopped at Joe’s Friendly Tavern to enjoy some Cherry burgers. I asked the waitress if this was a place that Jim had ever gone to. She went into the kitchen where a cook named Matt was working and had been there long enough to remember Jim. Joe’s was a known Hangout but we were also told he preferred to go to Art’s Tavern instead. I wrote off the stop as a success considering how delicious the burger was and seeing that Jim would go here.
The beach in empire reminded me of Lake Superior with large stones lining the shore. People walked along the water picking up stones and tossing them back as if it wasn’t up to their standards.
The drive back to the cabin felt long and in the end all we wanted to do was enjoy a fire our last night here and drink the bottle of Cotes Du Rhone I bought a few days before.That night the wind howled and once the fire was burning red coals shot into the air with each gust. Half an hour in and half of the bottle gone we went inside to call it a night. A storm rolled through and the roof shook as sheets of rain slapped down and still this was the quietest night I had enjoyed in a long time. There is something calm about the north, the lack of cars driving past, no sirens in the night from a car crash or shooting, no neighbors leaving at all hours of the night, the only lights that are on are the ones you didn’t turn off. I can understand why people flee north into the solitude of a remote country. The few nights of good sleep I have had in the last two years were not at home but in the north in a foreign land that I barely know. I hope to be more familiar with it, learn what it was that kept Jim there for most of his life. Its not difficult to figure out. Life is slow, calm, people live with the seasons and on the lake it is no different from a town on the sea. Cabin fever is a real phenomenon. There are five radio stations to choose from and people still read books. The north is a time capsule to a better time, when people thought about what mattered and sometimes it tortured them to the end.

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