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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The day appeared to be a bust. For some reason I thought that Dick’s Pour House was in Traverse City but I was horribly wrong. Our mission was to hit the peninsula with all of the wineries visible from Traverse City. For years I had heard stories from people about going to Traverse City and how the wine was “soooo amazing.” I had gone on the south west Michigan wine trail several times and found most of the wines to be far superior than anything I had tried from up north. Harrison on the other hand had a different opinion. “I have yet to find a domestic red wine worth drinking.” His taste stayed with the French reds and I had to admit a fondness for Italian reds and the occasional Cotes du Rhone. I found no harm in exploring a region that has been working on creating tasty wine and thought maybe Jim was selling himself with not exploring what was available in the region.
The day started out with breakfast at the Flap Jack Shack, a retro establishment that looked like it was straight out of a 1970’s film with wooden beams holding up a cathedral ceiling, orange seated stools around a bar with a marble top and glass tiled side. The only thing missing would have been shag carpeting but that was likely removed years before due to health code violations.
I chose a sausage gravy omelet while my wife ordered a skillet meal. Zoey had a banana sushi dish coming her way. The place was packed when we walked in. the day was 9-11 and the television wouldn’t let me forget what the day was. For days now I had gone without a television and the one day I try to forget for my own sanity I have to see images of the trade center towers and the pentagon building on fire. Meanwhile the current president is on record stating that trump tower is now the tallest building in New York city on the day that it happened.
After filling my belly and watching zoey cover her face with peanut butter and whip cream we drove through town and went up the county road into the peninsula in search of some good wines. Our first stop was an old school house, Peninsula Cellars reminded me of a few places back home, specifically Texas Corners brewery that also used an old school house for their place of business. The tasting was cheap, $5 for five wines and everything on the menu we tried was to our liking. Not wanting to spend all of our money at one place we bought one bottle and went about our travels. I will say I am looking forward to having Detention again at some point and the Foreign Exchange Student was a delight on my tongue. Take that as you will.
Next on our travels was Bonobo Winery, a scenic place that over looked the wine fields and had a deck that people could enjoy with a glass or five. From the start there were a few things that were odd. It was $12 to try five wines and there were only five wines to choose from. The wines were nothing to brag about and their prices said more about the owners than their quality. As we went through our tasting more people came in and they appeared to be models straight out of a mall shopping catalogue. All the women in this place were blonde and tried to fit some kind of breasts, waist, bust ratio that I was not too impressed with. Hair was blonde and cut to a specific length that wasn’t too long or too short. Blue eyes were either fake or real. Tans were fake, sprayed on by some latin American pool boy.
A storm rolled in and while we were waiting for our last couple of glasses two guys that could have been fill in for the movie Sideways walked in. the mouthy good looking guy kept making comments and asking to do things that were not only never done but also illegal under the law. No, you can’t grab your flight of wines and sit on the deck watching the storm roll in. none of the wines appealed to us and in the end we raced out of the tasting room to the car in down pouring rain to find an antique shop next door to de-douche from the experience.
The antique shop was amazing. A three story barn with tons of things to look over and Zoey found an old metal doll house to test her tetenous shot against. Downstairs I found a copy of Hemingway’s By-Line: a collection of correspondence and articles written by the man over four decades. This was put together after his death but considering how hard it is to find his non-fiction I had to dish out the $16 for this hard cover edition with the dust cover.
Next in line was Bower Wines, the second oldest winery on the peninsula and featuring dogs on many of their bottles. The place was busy and to do a tasting there was to spend an hour waiting for a spot to open at the bar and to wait for the drinks to eventually be poured. I ended up enjoying a 2018 wood free Chardonnay and bought a bottle to take home. I learned a little history of the wine industry for the area but nothing spectacular. Before the 1990s the wine trade did not exist here, so maybe in Jim’s defense they did not know what they were doing at first and his opinion was correct for the time.
The rain cleared and we were on our way. 2 Lads were waiting for us and the place did not disappoint. The view over the lake was spectacular and at first the tasting was a bit of a disappointment. $12 a piece to try five wines and there were a few snacks to enjoy with it. Who ever had the idea of adding a spicy dip to the snacks is a fucking idiot and should be taken out back and beaten. Regardless, the wine ended up being good and I had the pleasure of trying a Cab Franc that was so tasty I paid the $35 for a bottle that I never could justify otherwise.
On our way out of the peninsula we stopped at Brys wines and by this point we didn’t want to do a tasting, burned out on bad wine and over priced samples that said “our stuff is so good you should be pleased that you tried it.” I found the more a place charges the less confidence they have in their product and for good reason. Brys was also $12 for a tasting of five wines and at this point we decided to just buy a glass and sit on the deck. I was a nice view but the point to was to figure out where to go from here.
We had not thought that for ahead and decided to hit Dick’s Pour House regardless of the drive. Dick’s was on Leland Lake and we had 30 minutes of driving to kill. We pulled up to Dick’s and found a small one story diner that had been remodeled several times over the years. There is a famous photo of Jim playing pool in this place and these days there is no pool table to be found. The two lights with green domes still hang from the ceiling but a table top bar now sits under it for people to congregate. Hear heads hang on the wall. The bar has an art deco design from the 1920s or 30s. next to the bathroom entrance hangs the picture of Jim playing pool.
Its easy to see where the table once was and who knows why they decided to get rid of it. I ordered a blue cheese and bacon burger with Horny Monk beer from petosky while my wife ordered a salad. I would learn later that Dick’s was on its third generation of owner and that the people running it still knew who Jim was. Instead of talking to anyone we ate our meal, paid the tab, and left. Dick’s had a similar flare as the Dune Saloon with the taxidermy and old wooden bar, it was easy to see that this was the kind of place Jim would go to. In the corner of the place was the old wooden booth that the payphone would have been in.
We left Leland and went home. The day had been long and involved, and in the end, even Zoey was eager to be done with the day. You know you have done too much when a two year old feels like it had its butt kicked.