Category Archives: human pair bonding

Sights and Rites

It had been a full day in Nikko.  After wolfing down a late lunch of ramen I walked back toward the inn and just noticed little sights that aren’t in any tourist guide.

Was this a public art installation, or just a manhole access point?

In addition to the public gardens all over Japan, there were many individuals who kept stunning gardens I caught glimpses of them here and there.

Even front doorways were miniature botanical compositions.

These were growing wild. If I tried to grow them on purpose I bet they wouldn’t take.

There were tiny shrines, too.  This one was dedicated to local laborers, I think.

I followed a sign into the woods and found a memorial dedicated to electrical plant workers.  It was too dark in the woods to take a photo, and it was not very exciting.

I didn’t know whether to think this sign, “Buddist Only,” (sic) was rude or within their rights.  How would they know if someone wasn’t buddhist, anyway?  Some tourist must have done something really obnoxious for them to have posted this.

There were signs around Nikko about a Frenchwoman who had disappeared in the area some months ago.  I learned later that she had epilepsy.  I wondered if she had wandered into some of the dark deserted places I’d been, and had a seizure.  I was glad I hadn’t stumbled upon her body at the memorial to electrical plant workers.

I had dinner in a Chinese restaurant that had come highly recommended by the hostess at the Turtle Inn.  Japan is like anywhere else.  It has its native foods and then a zillion restaurants featuring other nations’ fare that is enjoyed by the natives.  The Japanese seem to like Chinese, Korean, Italian, and French food.  In fact according to my sister-in-law, many Japanese like to fly over to Korea for weekends to eat “tasty Korean food.”

I have only tried Korean food a few times, and I was not a fan.  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like every time I order Chinese, it consists of gristly meat sprinkled with a few anemic vegetables and smothered in a gooey sauce.  A lot of people are obsessed with Chinese dumplings.  I also just don’t think they’re very exciting. And they usually contain pork, which I don’t eat.

I walked to where the restaurant was supposed to be, and noticed—not for the first time—how hard it was to tell know if a building was a restaurant.  The place appeared shut.  There were curtains over the door, which I had seen in Japanese restaurants in the US. This photo is from the web.

 

 

It was impossible to see what was behind them without crouching down on my knees or creepily staring through them, so I walked in and—it was indeed a restaurant.  I ordered a chicken dish which seemed to contain every part of the chicken except meat—raw skin, yellow fat, white tendons, maybe a sphincter—all ground up together.  Maybe this was a delicacy to some people.  I picked at it, then smiled and bowed and paid and left.  I had not come to Japan to eat Chinese food, so next time I would not feel obligated to follow the recommendation.

Back at the inn, I spent some hours catching up on work and personal business and sat in the onsen twice.  My Restless Legs was now off the charts; maybe soaking in hot water would help?  Nope.  It was as if the RLS demons had caught up with me and were tormenting me for trying to flee.

But hey, I can sleep when I’m dead.  I wasn’t going to let stupefying exhaustion stop me from getting out there.

The next morning I would go to Lake Chuzenji by bus—a trip within a trip within a trip.

My son got married on Sunday!  There was a stunning venue, perfect weather, and a beautiful couple.  The officiant had his power invested in him by Ho Chunk Casino. There was a memorial to Vince’s friend who died a few weeks ago.  I walked Vince down the aisle then said quietly, “That could have been you.”

“I know,” he replied.

Happy Days

I have some good news.  Last week my son proposed to his girlfriend, and she said yes.  Not that there was any doubt.  It’s just the latest positive development in his life.

The reason I ever launched this blog was because, five years ago, he was in prison. In addition to the predictable emotions like despair, I felt relief that I now would know where his was, and deep shame.  Counterintuitively, it made sense for me to write about it for all the world to read.

He entered prison a drug addled, bloated, overweight, broke, middle-aged chronic alcoholic.  This was just the latest in a 20-year string of bouts with unemployment, homelessness, crime, and broken relationships.

It would have been easy for him to use drugs and alcohol inside, but Vince chose to be sober in prison.  He also started writing alternate posts for this blog.  They were heart breaking, hilarious, and articulate.

He made it through an intensive “boot camp” program, where he worked on self-discipline, attitudes, and thinking processes.  He also started running, something he hated but continues to this day.

He came home a little over four years ago and moved in with me.  That was rough.  He dated a woman but it didn’t work out.  He got a job in a laminating factory and moved in with a couple guys who were also trying—some successfully and some not—to stay sober.  He started his own blog.  He bought my beloved old Mini Cooper from me.  He dated another woman but it didn’t work out.

Two years ago, he was offered a cook job at a country club on Lake Minnetonka.  That’s where he laid eyes on Amanda for the first time, and it was love at first sight.  He moved in with Amanda and her two young daughters.  From the start, he has been all-in on parenting.  He can now put “expert in potty training” on his resume.

One year ago he bought a house in the tiny town of Silver Lake. He traded the Mini for a minivan.  He worked with me to publish the first year of this blog as a book.  He applied for better jobs, and in the end was offered a great promotion at the country club.

The girls’ father is under a two-year no-contact order.  Vince has supported Amanda as she has courageously fought to finalize her divorce, custody, and child support arrangements.  Last month Vince and Amanda were awarded full custody.  The three-year-old calls him daddy.

In court, Vince made a statement to the girls’ father—that if and when he gets his act together, Vince and Amanda will work with him to welcome him back into the girls’ lives.  The guy thanked him.  I was very proud of Vince.  A lot of men wouldn’t have done that.

Here they are, at the country club where Amanda works, after the big proposal.

In June he’ll mark his five-year sobriety anniversary.  They’ll be hitched in August.

All of this is to say that very few situations are ever hopeless.  Similar to my own story, it didn’t happen overnight and it took a combination of working hard as hell and letting go.  Vince has plugged away, working his program, trying new things, taking risks, sometimes failing, but mostly moving forward.

In three weeks I’ll be in Japan.  I still feel way behind on the planning.  I created a Google docs spreadsheet to try to keep track of it all and it looks a mess.  I’ve got six out of eight accommodations booked.  I’ve got my JR Rail Pass in hand.  I’m finally able to retain some place names from one day to the next.

Progress, not perfection.  One of the AA slogans that is good to keep in mind whether one is an addict or not.

Last night as I was reading about Japanese baths again (I worry about the baths and the shared bathrooms), I was struck by how many iconic cultural traditions Japan has given to the world: origami, sumo, haiku, sushi, manga, anime, samurai, geisha, bonsai, and Zen.  There are probably more.  Is there another country that has created or adapted so many traditions that are recognized worldwide?

Swimming Holes and Badgers

Heidi and I got on and off the tour bus and walked up and down paths to gaze at ochre pits, gorges, and waterholes.  Lachlan, our guide, talked about the geology, anthropology, paleontology, and other ologies of the area with authority and passion.  We could lob any question at him and he knew the answer, but not in a pompous, lecturing way.

Any question, that is, except ones about the Dreamtime.  Again, we were told that those stories were off limits to non-Aboriginals.

The water holes were what I had been waiting for—I whipped off my clothes, ran barefoot across the blazing hot sand in the searing sunshine and leapt in, then screeched and screamed because the water was, surprisingly, cold as a witch’s tit, as the saying goes.  I ran back to the water’s edge and re-entered slowly.  It was so cold my heart was palpitating, but I did a couple laps around and enjoyed hearing other unsuspecting initiates shrieking as they hit the water.  Heidi sat in the shade and chatted with Lachlan.

I walked to the toilet block to change out of my wet suit, and saw this sign.

They had me at effluent.

As I write this, I am smiling and laughing.  It’s six in the morning; I hope my upstairs neighbor can’t hear me.  It was a wonderful day.  Another wonderful day in Australia.  These are photos of a dry riverbed and a big gum tree that had grown up out of a crack in the rock.

Here is Heidi contemplating another water hole; in the second photo you can almost hear her sighing with contentment.

We pulled into a place called Glen Helen for lunch.  There was a sandwich buffet and it looked beautiful, but it was placed in such a way as to make it very slow going to get through the line.  I thought I’d come back later.  I went outside, kicked off my sandals, and ran down to the water’s edge.

Shoe removal had been a very bad idea.  After cooling my feet in the water and checking out the birdlife, I picked my way back up to the canteen exclaiming, “Ooh aah agh!  Agh argh arrrrgh!” The sand was so hot my feet felt slightly scorched for an hour afterwards.

Back inside, Heidi was sitting at a table with a German guy from our tour who had severely wandering eyes.  He talked nonstop about how he had planned his whole two-week trip by himself.  Well whoop dee doo!  Heidi had planned a whole month. He never asked about our itinerary.  But Heidi isn’t one to one-up, so she simply smiled and nodded.  She is so nice.  Much nicer than me.

There was a tiny gift area and I picked up a book, hoping it would explain the mysteries of the Dreamtime.  However I think the author has been listening to too much digeridoo music, because none of it made sense.  Or maybe I’m just not deep enough to understand.

After lunch, another water hole.  I sat in the shade next to an weathered old man wearing a cowboy hat.  He pointed out a long line of ants and warned me not to get too close or they’d “set ya skin on fi-ah.”

Back in Alice after the tour, we stopped into a supply store so Heidi could find a fly net hat.  We found one, artfully displayed with beer goggles.

We ate some leftover cheese and crackers for dinner and Heidi flipped on the TV while we got ready to go to the laser light show.

We never made it to the light show.  We became riveted to The Bachelor—Australian version, which is exactly like the American version but with Australian accents.

The bachelor in question was called the honey badger.  He was a former rugby player.

I was fascinated and repelled. “What’s with the eighties hair and mustache?  I hope he’s being ironic?”

“I’ve never seen the show,” Heidi whispered, mesmerized and horrified.

“Yep,” I replied.  “They’re not allowed to say god—only gosh.  But then the guy is screwing two women at once on national TV and telling each one, ‘I’ve never felt this way about any woman.’”

Thank You

In real time, Happy Thanksgiving, if you are American.  Happy Thursday, if you are not.  I have some news items to share at the end of this post.

Day four in Australia.  Day four?!  It felt like I’d been here forever, in a good way.

We alighted from our bus for sunset viewing of Ularu.  I walked around snapping photos of other tourist vehicles. I have spent many hours in these heavy-duty Toyotas in Kenya and Ethiopia.

There was this crazy sardine-mobile, some kind of motel on wheels.  I’m all for budget accommodations, but this beat even the bunkhouse for the claustrophobia factor.

There was this dusty, Mad Max BMW motorcycle.

A group of barefoot Aboriginal women sat on the pavement selling paintings.  I felt a sharp, uncomfortable contrast as Meg poured sparkling wine.

But then I was distracted by food.  “This is kangaroo jerky,” she indicated, “this one’s emu pâté  and this here’s croc dip.”

“The kangaroo is delicious!” I commented.  “It’s like venison.”

Heidi didn’t touch it.  “I can’t eat it. The kangaroo and the emu—they’re our national animals.”

“They’re animals that can only go forward,” explained Heidi.  “Like our country, I reckon is the idea?”

“I guess I wouldn’t want to eat a bald eagle,” I replied.  Well, all the more emu and kangaroo for me!

The members of our group began introducing ourselves.  Trevor and Gwen had immigrated to Australia from Nottingham, England, 20 years ago.  They were here with their 14-year-old daughter, Tiffany.  Kris and Melanie, a young Swiss couple, never spoke unless spoken to, so I didn’t get to know them at all.  Brenden and Stefanie were another young couple, from Canada.  Johannes and Sandra were a middle-aged German couple who took elaborate tripod-assisted selfies of themselves jumping for joy in front of every landmark.  Mia and Nora were also German; both were around 22 and they were student teachers in a German school in Melbourne.  There was a Chinese couple—father and daughter?  Lovers?  They stood apart and avoided all eye contact.  Another couple, Darren and Kylie, were also a May-December pair.  They said their names and that they were from Melbourne, then also kept to themselves.

I spoke with James, a 30-something Korean guy who spoke confident but almost-impossible-to-understand English. He was an out-of-work cook from Adelaide, blowing all his savings on a last hurrah in Australia before going home to an uncertain future.  He reminded me of Vince.  Because he was a cook, but mostly because there was a soulfulness about him.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it doesn’t involve decorating the house inside and out, buying presents, or any Christmas/Hanuka dilemmas.  You just eat a lot with your family or friends, then fall asleep in front of the TV watching The Hobbit for the millionth time.

Thanksgiving is about—as the name implies—giving thanks, and I have a lot to be grateful for this year.  As I sit here at my writing desk and look out the window at the grey sky and freezing drizzle, I am grateful for a warm home.  I am healthy.  I have friends and family.  I got to spend a month in Australia!  I wish I was there now.

And, some big news: I quit my job last week.  More on that later, but I already feel 10 years younger.

And another big development: Vince and I started this blog together four years ago.  We just published the first year of the blog as an e-book.  It chronicles his time in prison, his recovery, and my ride along with him.

Besides providing insight into why people turn out the way they are, we’ve been told by many readers that it’s just a good read, a page turner.  So if you’re looking for something to binge read over the weekend, or holidays, consider buying a copy.  Only $3.99!

Breaking Free: A Mother And Son Journey From Addiction, To Prison, To Redemption https://www.amazon.com/…/B…/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_AbI9Bb9K1SXQM

Please feel free to share this on social media, and thanks for reading—we know it can be difficult stuff but addiction and all its consequences, including imprisonment, are a reality for hundreds of thousands of people every day.

A Good Sport

Lest you conclude from my last post that I hate men and think they’re all groping, drooling, creepers, that’s not the case.  In fact I joined a dating website recently.  I’m not optimistic about my prospects.  I will let you guess which of the photos below are from the ads for the company, and which are actual personal ads once you join the site.

Now, you know me—I’m not one to judge.  But 85% of the men on this site are looking for a woman to share their interests, which are hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and watching sports.  So they’re not really looking for the 85% of us women who have no interest in those things.  They’re looking for a buddy.

I don’t expect a man to go thrift store shopping with me.  In fact I wouldn’t be caught dead with a dude who would shop where I shop.  But if I can put myself in men’s shoes and know—in general—what they would and wouldn’t be interested in, why can’t they?

And here’s a tip: Don’t use a handle like “qualudes57” or “weirdo2u” or “chestypuller.”  What the hell? 

Looking for a nice backdrop for your personal ad photo?  Why not use a $1.99 plastic shower curtain from Walmart?

It’s nice to know there is someone out there who takes worse photos than I do.

This website is called Our Time.  It should be called Ouch Time.

But I tried. You never know.

The weekend after my day trip into London, I met up with my friend Heidi.  Heidi is Australian and has lived in London for over 15 years.  She teaches Under 5s, which we in the US would call preschoolers.  She’s also a never-married female, although she’s 15 years younger than me so she may still stand a chance.  We met on the way to Greece, where we went with another Australian woman and Sam back when I lived in the UK.  Since then, she and I have met up in France and Berlin and she visited me in Minnesota.

Heidi had to return home to help her parents out, but she was in the UK to take care of some business with her flat and her job and just enjoy the English summer.

She messaged me to ask if I wanted to go to Wimbledon.  “Uh, no,” I replied, “I’m not a sport person.”

“But it’s the scene, Annie!” she messaged back.  I’m so glad I gave it a go.

Heidi and I met at Putney station, from whence we took a bus, then walked to the venue.  We were handed a queue card with lots of instructions front and back, most importantly, “Queue jumping is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The alcohol limits were “one bottle of wine or Champagne (750ml) or two cans of beer (500ml) or two cans of premixed aperitifs per person. Bottles of spirits or fortified wines will not be allowed into the Grounds.”

These limits were per person, and there was alcohol for sale on site.

It was a rainy Thursday afternoon so there was no queue, which Heidi seemed a bit disappointed about.  Apparently that can be a scene of its own.  The Centre Court tickets were £58.  We bought the £20 lawn tickets.

The rain held off so we were able to watch the youngest and oldest players in exhibition matches, which were fun.  The two “oldies” were Aussies nicknamed The Woodies.  They kept up an amusing banter which kept the crowd laughing while they played.

I was fascinated by the officials’ uniforms and stances.

We walked up to a high lawn where in theory you could watch the super star players on a big screen.  People queued up politely to look over a hedge at the screen.

We spread an oil cloth and plunked down on the ground to drink talk.  We never saw the big match, but we had a nice view of London in the distance and the people watching was good.

There were men in pale yellow suits and hats and women wearing flowery dresses, so I fit right in.

It was a fun day with my buddy Heidi. I guess I do watch sports!  But I draw the line at hunting.

 

 

My Day With a Dentist and Thoughts About A Lawyer (Almost)

VINCE

 

I have been waiting for this day for about five years. I was working in a Mexican restaurant, eating a delicious burrito when I crunched down on something very hard. It was a fork. I felt kind of like an idiot because I’d been eating food by myself for roughly 30 years at that point and thought myself quite capable of using a wide variety of utensils without any trouble. Well at that time I felt my teeth with my tongue and discovered that my number nine top left front tooth had broken off. Shit. I was already self conscious about my smile although my teeth aren’t too terribly bad, and this just made things worse. I had no insurance and all of my money at that point went to drinking, smoking weed, and gambling, and nothing would change that for quite some time as you may have read.

 

Flash forward to the future! A.K.A. now. Ugh. This computer keeps freezing up. Anyhow, I took the morning train to Minneapolis to the U of M School of Dentistry where I laid back in the hydraulic chair and let my student dentist practice making a plastic tooth in my mouth for about two hours. I felt pretty cool because she let me be in control of the suction wand thing but I still ended up drooling on myself quite a bit, not uncommon to any other day, right? I asked, I believe more than once, if we could make teeth other places like on my forehead or in my armpits. We laughed at that and a few other ideas I had like sticking the suction wand in my nose. Actually, that may have been in my head. In the end, she did a great job and I give her complete credit for my new smile which I plan to show as much as possible. I love to laugh and smile but for five years, I simply wouldn’t open my mouth to do either. I was embarrassed, and I thought about my appearance constantly. I’m happy. Thank you, Lauren. Someday when you’re a REAL dentist, you can help me put gold teeth on cats. Gangster kittens!

 

I had discussed my blog and my history with her on previous visits and again today and I decided to let her read one of my posts, Camp Heartland. It is, in my mind, a very moving post, and I could see her reacting to it as she read. The first time I had seen that first hand. As far as reacting to me telling her about my history with drugs and alcohol, she acted as professionally as I could have hoped for. She was inquisitive and sympathetic. It was a good day at the dentist.

 

I also told her about Chelsie Toaster, who I will now call by her real name, Mollie. If you haven’t read the post The Toaster Situation, Mollie is the girl I met and have been doing my best under my restrictions to see as much as possible. We have been limited to seeing each other on our way to and from and at meetings because all of my visitors need to be approved and that takes some time. Well today at work my agent, whom I had asked on every visit previous about the status of her approval, walked in and said, “Mollie is approved, Dude!” I threw my arms up in victory.

 

Mollie is sweet. As I’ve said before, she is the first female that spoke to me at a meeting, and I hoped she would talk to me every time after, and she did. She’s smart. She’s a graduate of Wm. Mitchell School of Law and takes her Bar exam in February. We joke about me needing legal advice in the future. I hope I don’t… She’s from Tennessee, and you can tell because of her ridiculous accent. And, she is beautiful. I haven’t been in a relationship for years. Too many years. I don’t want to push things or move too quickly, but I know that I like her, and I will do what it takes to keep her in my life.

 

Also, she’s a ginger.

Scattered thoughts of a recovering addict

VINCE

I’m staring at the screen and nothing is coming to my mind.  I’ve started a few paragraphs and then erased them.  It’s almost 10pm and I’m very tired.  get up at 6:30 to get ready for the day by drinking coffee and making my lunch for work, then head out at 7:30 to catch the bus then the train for my ride in.

Yesterday the first thing I did at work was smash my foot under a very heavy (we guessed 3 maybe 4 hundred pounds) spring loaded loading dock ramp because the truck I  was going to unload supplies from was filled to capacity and when I pulled up the ramp from the floor and it went where it was supposed to but I couldn’t move.  I tried to move my other foot as it smashed down but there wasn’t room so I actually had to step on the ramp itself adding my weight to the pressure.  I have not experienced that much pain for as long as I can remember.  At that point I thought for sure that I had broken it.  I felt the urge to throw up from the pain, something I have never experienced. I got my foot from under the foot-wrecker and took a few limps around the production floor.  It was the seeing spots kind of pain.  I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I went back to work trying to hide the limp as best I could.  I told my friend about it and he was quite sympathetic to my injury.  Fortunately for me the pain dissipated within a few hours and when I got home and pulled off my socks I still had all five little piggies.  There was blood around my big toe and the one next to it (does that toe have a name?) and a little purple bruising but that was it. That’s the whole story.

Starting to build any kind of relationship while on I.S.R., especially the one I’d like to have with Ms. Toaster, is difficult.  My life is so restricted right now that the times I do get to go anywhere it’s for a specific reason.  I get to see her at meetings, and if I go out for shopping or during my exercise time.  Tomorrow I’m going to run with her, I think that’s a very healthy way to be alone with her, but again, it’s only for an hour and she’s not yet allowed to be a visitor at home.  On the flip side, I think it’s a good thing to not be together every waking moment in the beginning of a relationship.  Not that I would get sick of her, but it adds the elements of anticipation and excitement in seeing each other, if only briefly, every other day or so.  The other day she came to meet me after work just to walk me to the bus stop.  I thought that was nice.  I mean, she walked from her place and back just to see me for maybe 20 minutes.  It made me feel good.  Somebody desires my company, something I haven’t thought in years.  Thank you, Ms. Toaster.  I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.

Alright folks, that’s all for tonight.  I’m tired and I’m going to bed.  Thank you to all of my followers and readers for your feedback and comments.  If I don’t reply, it’s because I don’t know how.  I will figure that out someday.  Goodnight everybody.