September 19, 2006

September 2006, Vol. 5, Issue 9

1. Can't Find My Way Home By Paul McGuire
The sharp teeth of depression sinks into my skin and draws blood late at nights when I'm sitting alone in a hotel room and there's nothing on TV and I've smoked all my drugs and I have no one to talk... More

2. Grandpa Was a Gambler by Brad Willis
Grandpa's jaw was stronger than I ever could've imagined it could be. As he stood beside a beautiful and buxom woman that would someday be my grandma, Grandpa looked like movie star from 1940... More

3. Five Years After 9/11 by Gene Bromberg
We spent all that blood and treasure going after Iraq, while the people who attacked us on 9/11 still walk the earth... More

4. Dining with a Celebrity by Sean A. Donahue
I always like finding old friends. The only key is will the friendship that we had still strong enough to last through my divorce and her marriage?... More

5. To Lena; I Hate It by Sigge S. Amdal
A promise is superfluous when what's promised is something I intend to do... More

6. Roots - Part I by Doog
When my father and his brothers were going through Leo G's belongings, they came across a satchel containing $25,000 in cash. In the bag was a handwritten note... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Welcome back to another issue of Truckin'. We're on time this month and the September issue features the debut of Gene Bromberg with a touching piece about 9.11. Brad "Otis" Willis also shared a story about his grandfather. We also have a new writer. Doog is starting the first of three stories called Roots. And of course we have contributions from returning authors Sean A. Donahue, Sigge Amdal, and yours truly.

I ask that if you like these stories, then please do me and the rest of the writers a huge favor: Tell your friends about your favorite stories. It takes a few seconds to pass along the URL. I certainly appreciate your support. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you know anyone who is interested in being added to the mailing list.

Thanks to everyone who took a leap of faith with me and submitted their bloodwork this month. I'm extremely lucky to share the same space with talented scribes. I always say that the other contributing authors inspire me, because it's true. You guys write for free and if I could pay you, I would. Your time and effort is worth more money than I can ever afford to pay.

Thanks again. I am grateful that you wasted your time with my site. Until next time.


"Freedom is something that dies unless it's used." - Hunter S. Thompson

Can't Find My Way Home

By Paul McGuire © 2006

Hotels come in two categories for me: clean and dirty.

I've been staying in so many over the past two years that I finally decided upon the proper category. I've stayed in Five Star joints with marble shitters and mints on the pillows and also in places that would make you shiver at the site with caked in semen and blood stains of the wall and things with more than ten legs crawling on the floor of the bathroom. I sleep in my clothes in those places to avoid the flea bites or contracting the bird flu.

Here I am again, sitting in a hotel room, trying to fend off the maids who can't read the "Do not disturb" sign on the door. What's the point of having those if they are gonnabarge in anyway?

The Treasure Island in Las Vegas is a nice hotel and falls under that clean category. I have a view of the moutains and can see Red Rock Canyon from my room. The room has a decent vibe. Some hotel rooms freak me out because I can sense that bad shit went down at some point in the room. Perhaps a hopeless suicide or a vile porn shoot or a shady drug deal gone bad.

Over the past two years, the incessant insomnia has been running its worst stretch through my mind and body. I figured out that part of the reason I can't sleep (well I can fall asleep -- I just wake up and can't fall back) is that I'm waking up in a dfferent place every few weeks. Everything is different. The pillows. The beds. The room temperature. The outside noises.

"Where am I again?"

That's what I ask myself when I'm jarred awake from a dream, in a dark room and totally lost and my mind racing. Am I in Barcelona? Las Vegas? Los Angeles? New York City? Colorado? Rhode Island? Amsterdam? It take me a few minutes to remember where I am. Who I am. What I am.

No wonder I can't fall back asleep. I'm redefining my existenece every night. The most time I spent in one place over the past two years has been in Las Vegas for 2.5 months last summer. My stint in that hell hole made me Fast Food Nation fat and Dostoeveskian crazy. It took me several months, but I shed the pounds and gained back some of my sanity. However, I've been marked for life by the undercurrent of doom in Las Vegas.

The sharp teeth of depression sinks into my skin and draws blood late at nights when I'm sitting alone in a hotel room and there's nothing on TV and I've smoked all my drugs and I have no one to talk to and I'm creatively bankrupt and I'm so friggin' exhausted that I can't sleep. Doesn't matter if it's a clean or dirty one hotel, I still freak out and lose my shit.

Even if it's in Spain or Tennessee, I have the same feeling... I have to get up, pack up, and go someplace else that is not home.

When you have a bad day, an awful bloody day when you're on the verge of a killing spree or on the brink a messy suicide... you still have that comfort of crawling into bed, crying your eyes out, rolled up in the fetal position. That's the last bastion of comfort to save yourself before you slip off the edge.

I haven't had that for two years. And I've had plenty of bad days. When I'm lost... I'm utterly helpless and drifting to God knows where.

I have one more day of intense labor in a casino environment. Then I'll have about a week of hellacious deadlines before I can escape from the demons and ghosts of Las Vegas.

"Someday I'll get to go home," I keep telling myself. If I can ever figure out where that is. I love being on the road. But I'm afraid I've been away for too long that I'll never find my way back.

Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.

Grandpa Was a Gambler

By Brad Willis © 2006

Grandpa lived in a house that smelled like pipe smoke and old books. His wife, a one-eyed lady named Ruby, sat forever in the corner of the couch, reading and marking out the author's dirty words.

I thought I knew a lot about the couple. I knew Grandpa had a Navy tattoo and had been a small-church minister. I knew Grandma and Grandpa had been married on Halloween and once had hosted a radio variety show. Frankly, I thought I knew everything.

I did not.

Grandpa died last Wednesday at the age of 89. He had died much in the same way Grandma Ruby had. He'd fallen, broken his hip, had surgery, and never recovered from the trauma that surgeries cause old folks. This past weekend, I was supposed to be in Mississippi at a debutante wedding. Instead, I flew through Chicago and down to southwest Missouri to say goodbye to a man I was sure I knew in full.


I thought I knew myself. Before I reached Vegas this summer, I knew I was a card player and considered myself a good one. I was sure of my discipline. I had little doubt in my resolve and knew that I was in control of myself and my faculties most of the time. My ability to control my emotions--or the willingness to purposefully let loose of that control--has always been among the traits of which I am most proud.

I enjoyed all of this with the belief that all of the qualities were self-cultivated. While I hold undeniable love, affection, and pride for my family, I was sure that my personality was one I created for myself. My life-perspective, my ability to see things in a rational and purposeful way, they were all mine.

Sometime in mid-July, though, a small amount of doubt began to creep in. Something wasn't quite right. I remember sitting with a friend one night and saying, "Six months ago, I was sure of who I was. Now, I have no idea."

There may have been an unintended amount of hyperbole in my statement, but the simple fact was this: I was lost in Las Vegas. Even worse, I was lost in my own head.


Mom was making coffee while I tapped away on my laptop's keyboard.

"You should take a look at those photo albums on the floor," she said.

While I am a sentimental guy, I had made a personal vow to not get sappy while on the road home to Grandpa's funeral. I was there for one reason: to support my dad while he said goodbye to his father. As such, I had little desire to take a five-album walk down memory lane.

I've seen all those pictures before, I thought and continued to peck away at busy work until it was time to go to what was sure to be an uncomfortable open-casket visitation.

After a few minutes, I could see my mom watching me and I felt like I should at least make an effort to look like looking at several hundred pictures was something I really wanted to do.

Five minutes later, I was alone in a world of black and white history that I never knew.


Grandpa's jaw was stronger than I ever could've imagined it could be. As he stood beside a beautiful and buxom woman that would someday be my grandma, Grandpa looked like movie star from 1940. His hair was slicked back. He was a young and tough kid raised in the dirt farms around Garza County, Texas. He was to be the eventual father of nine children, one who would die before he saw five years old, and eight more that would outlive their father.

On the face of one picture, a shirtless John Willis painted commercial signs in the hot Texas sun. Written on the back of the picture in pencil were the words, "A way to make ends meet."

I had always thought of Grandpa as a man who had fought in World War II and gone on to live a life of a minister. As it turned out, both of those pursuits took up less than ten total years of his life. He'd been a sign painter, a father, a radio man, a bowler, a lover of beagles, and, at his retirement, a guy who worked at a paper cup manufacturing company.

The pictures told a lot of stories, but none really meshed with what I thought I knew about the man. Much like I believed for 32 years of my life that my father was born in El Paso (I learned two days ago that Dad was actually born in Houston), I also believed my grandfather had been on a Navy ship around Iwo Jima. Lately, I had come to doubt that story and wondered whether my grandpa had done any more than swab the deck of a navy ship in an American harbor.

As it turned out, there hadn't been an Iwo Jima for Grandpa, but he had seen Asiatic action in WWII. And the story of how he ended up there is the one that has me thinking this morning.


The black and white photo didn't show much. A lamp lay broken on the floor. The rest of the room was a mess. Unlike most of the photos that showed Grandma looking like a 1940s magazine advertising model, this one was out of place. Written on the back of the photo were the words, "The work of an intruder."

Grandma was living alone in New Orleans. She had some money in her purse and a kid to take care of. Once the intruder left, she only had the child. Her family packed her up and moved her back to Texas. Left unanswered in the picture--and in any stories told to me before this weekend--was the location of my grandpa. As my dad would say as we sweated in a 2006 Missouri heatwave, "He was a good father that did the best he knew how."

It seemed everyone believed that. But, if so, who leaves his wife in the ramshackle confines of one of America's roughest cities to be looted and violated in the middle of the night?


The early 1940s were a time of war. It was a time when a man could simultaneously be patriotic and earn enough money to feed his wife and child. Grandpa, like his brother-in-law Grady, enlisted in the military. The black and white photos of the two young men arm-in-arm would make them look like recruitment posterboys. The photos would not show Grady's death at St. Lo, France or the bullet hole through his dog tags.

As Grady made his way toward France's northern shore, Grandpa made his way toward the Navy. He ended up in a shipyard in New Orleans. Combat was certainly a possibility, but, perhaps not a big one. As Grady would die, the simple hope of three generations not yet born would've kept Grandpa on American shores. If Grandpa had run over a dune and into a bullet on D-Day, I would not be here. While that may be no huge tragedy, my son would not be here. That would be depriving the world of something perfect.

I've long known a mischievous grin on Grandpa's face, but it never really made sense to me until my dad ended up telling me the story while my grandpa laid in a casket a few feet away. As it turned out, it was a story that could be my own. The following is not word for word or, perhaps, even all that true. It's how I imagined it as my family recounted the legend. As someone said later in the weekend, "I have full confidence that every story Grandpa ever told at least had its genesis in truth."


Can you hear that sound? It doesn't belong on a ship or barracks, at least as far as the man with the stripes on his arm was concerned.

It was a few whispers, a few louder voices, then a tell-tale clicking. One man shouted, a few groaned. Then it all fell silent as The Man walked in.

Kneeling down on the floor were six men. They surrounded a few small piles of cash and two ivory dice.

Maybe they called it craps. Maybe they called it dice. The Man called it forbidden. In wartime, several indiscretions may have been permitted. Among Granpda and his friends, though, there were two forbidden pleasures. They must not fight. They must not gamble.

Grandpa did both.

As the piles of cash found their way to pockets, there were warnings given and promises made. Never again, The Man said. Never again, the men promised.

The next night they did it again. The Man gave another warning and the men offered more empty promises.

The warning eventually seemed just as empty. The Pacific was a world away and the war would certainly be over soon. And, really, would The Man send them away--send them to war--over a few silly games of dice?

Six months later, Grandpa was in the boiler room of the USS Adair as it set out from San Diego and to the waters around a land called Japan.


A farm field in southwest Missouri is the last place anyone wants to be in August 2006. It was nearly 100 degrees by 11am and the 40 people standing along the fence were sweating faster than they could dry their faces. It had been more than 60 years since Grandpa's ship had navigated the waters around Okinawa and made it back to American shores. It was a mission for which he would receive several medals, among them, ironically, one for good conduct.

I stood in a ten-year-old suit and stared at the flag-draped casket. In the distance, three uniformed men stood with guns at parade rest.

My sister-in-law nudged me.

"Look at the butterflies."

I turned to my right and looked at the 20 acres of purple-flowered weeds on the other side of the fence. I was still struck by the odd placement of the cemetery, but now I was transfixed. Like ten thousand tiny flags, a swarm of butterflies danced and weaved over the purple blossoms. There was nothing particularly poetic about it. It was simply a 20-acre scene of beauty that could not have been created by anything other than the God my grandpa loved. It was haphazard, hard-working nature. There was just enough randomness to make it exciting. There was just enough control to make it beautiful.

The uniformed men leveled their guns and fired in unison. The mourners jumped at each shot, then bowed their heads as one of the men played taps through the humid air. The men then marched in line to the casket. They folded and presented the American flag to my father.

Grandpa may not have been one of the men to raise the flag at Iwo Jima, but he was an American war hero all the same, at least in the eyes of the people who loved him.

More than that though, I remembered my dad's words: "He was a good father that did the best he knew how."

It was not an epitaph worthy of a headstone, but it was my Grandpa's life.


When people die, their life--no matter how mundane--often takes on legendary status. Their stories become bigger than the actual man was in his breathing years. For Grandpa, though, his stories, his tall tales, and his pictures were not larger than life. They were life. From painting signs as "a way to make ends meet," to falling victim to his own mischievousness, to making it back home to love his wife and raise eight children to adulthood, Grandpa lived a regular life of a man who made ends meet until he died at age 89.

I wrote all of this in a South Carolina coffee shop while waiting for my dog to get out of surgery. In about 15 minutes, I'm going to pick her up and take her home to my son. My dog surviving the surgery and my ability to take her home to someone who will love her unconditionally is the reason I woke up this morning.

I am a gambler. I know that now. And regardless of whether the story of my grandpa getting sent to war over a game of craps is true, it's helping me understand myself. I am a man of mischief that I control less than I thought I could. I am rational, but I am not perfect. Youth, or a mind still set in youth, can be a dangerous thing. Still, it gives us--no, it gives me--time to figure everything out.

When Dad told me Grandpa was a gambler, I only responded, "That makes a lot of sense."

What I meant was, "I understand."

I understand that life is like the field surrounding my grandpa's grave.

There is just enough randomness to make it exciting. There is just enough control to make it beautiful.

Brad Willis is a writter from Greenville, SC.

Five Years After 9/11

By Gene Bromberg © 2006

I worked the early shift on September 11, 2001, arriving at my desk a little before 7AM. My friend Scott was there already, listening to something New Wavy on his CD player. I've mentioned several times that I don't like heights, but having worked on the 38th floor of the US Steel Building for over a year I didn't get spooked looking out the windows at the city spread out below me. I don't remember if I looked out the windows that day--probably I did. It was a beautiful day, practically no one else was on the floor. I probably looked out the window.

I really disliked the job I had at the time, but mornings weren't too bad, not too many calls, and Scott and I talked across the lane separating our cubes. There were two extremely pretty girls who worked in the department next to us, and when the drop-dead gorgeous one walked past he spun around and made a point of saying good morning to her. I vividly remember him looked back at me, closing his eyes, and making an "ooooh" face.

The office filled up, I started getting more calls. Closing in on 9AM, Scott turned to me, his hand pressing the earpiece of his headset, and he said, "My brother said a plane just hit the World Trade Center." I said something along the lines of "Holy Shit". His brother worked in New York City, and in fact had been able to see the first tower burning. But he didn't know what sort of plane had hit it, and I figured, as lots of people did, that it had been a small commuter plane or something along those lines that somehow blundered into the building.

I checked It wouldn't load. And then I noticed something else strange. We weren't getting any calls. Nine in the morning was usually our busiest time of the day, but the phones were silent. I stood up in my cube, and there were several other people prairiedogging, talking about the news that was slowly spreading through the office.

I tried CNN again, and this time the front page loaded. But instead of a graphic-filled page of pictures and headlines, it was blank, except for one picture--a blurry image of a streaking jet about to slam into one of the Twin Towers. It wasn't a commuter plane. It was a passenger plane, a jet. There was a plain headline above it, I don't recall exactly what it said, but it stated the obvious, that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

The word "terrorism" still didn't enter my mind. I thought it might've been some dreadful accident. My wife was home that day, and I tried calling her, but I couldn't get through. We weren't getting any calls either. It was strange, everyone standing in their cubes, not sure what was going on, the phones eerily silent.

I tried Jody again, and this time I got through. I woke her up, told her what was going on in New York and asked for info. She switched on the TV, and I remember how shocked she sounded. The towers were both burning. I think this was the first that I heard that BOTH buildings had been hit. I was one of the few people who could get a call out, and I relayed the news as Jody told me what she saw on TV.

I hung up, and walked a few rows over to make sure someone else knew what was going on. My mother worked on the same floor as me (she worked with the two gorgeous girls) and told her what I knew. People were milling around now, not interested in work anymore. Of course we knew now that this hadn't been an accident. Mom and I talked a few seconds, and then I went back to my desk. Her boss told her to go down to the cafeteria and see what was happening on TV.

Small bits of information started filtering in, and that's when I started to get nervous--really nervous. There was a report that a plane had crashed along the Mall in Washington DC. Then we heard that a plane had struck the Sears Tower in Chicago. Then that a plane had hit the Pentagon. It turned out that only the last of those was true--the Sears Tower had actually ordered a total evacuation. But standing in the tallest building in Pittsburgh, with the World Trade Center hit and the Sears Tower also possibly struck, it didn't take too much imagination to conjure up a terrorist plot to hit the tallest buildings in the United States.

We weren't getting calls. I tried calling Jody a few more times, and eventually I got through again. When she told me that one of the towers had collapsed, I told her she was wrong, there was NO WAY a building that size could just collapse. In a voice almost impossibly calm, she told me that the one tower had collapsed, nothing was left. There was only one tower standing there. The other one was gone.

I relayed the news to everyone around me. Most people reacted the way I did--they didn't believe it. I tried to get my mind around what she'd told me. A building that size...I tried to calculate how many people might've died. It seemed possible that tens of thousands might've lost their lives. At the time I thought the building might've toppled over and flattened other buildings, and getting all my information second hand I couldn't comprehend what was happening.

What happened next pushed the day's events into the surreal. We'd heard reports of other suspicious aircraft across the country (someone said that a plane was ominously orbiting Reagan Airport) and a guy I knew heard that there was a suspicious aircraft in Somerset County. Somerset County? That's where the lake house I write about all the time is. That's an hour or so drive away. An airliner could travel that distance in ten minutes.

In fact, United 93 had already crashed in Shanksville, the message got garbled on its way up to us on the 38th floor. But this is when I got scared. I knew the World Trade Center had been hit, and we'd heard reports of the Sears Tower and Pentagon being hit. If this was a far-ranging plan, it was entirely possible that our building could be a target. And here we were, standing around and looking at each other, not sure what to do.

(In truth, Flight 93 flew directly over Pittsburgh. Had al Qaeda decided to go after tall buildings to maximize the death toll, I might be dead right now. But they wanted to hit symbolic targets, and the Capitol Building and/or the White House have a bit more symbolism than a big office building. Another advantage to living in an underappreciated city like Pittsburgh).

I wanted to get out of there. We weren't working, we were just standing around talking about what bits of news we were getting, and I started to get edgy as I realized that this was a really, really bad day to be standing around in a very tall building.

The decision to evacuate the building came about like most decisions in a big corporation--slowly. We asked our supervisors if we should leave. That was a mistake--we should've said, "Considering the circumstances, we're leaving. Bye." Instead we waited for the go-ahead to leave. The bosses were gathered in one of the glass-walled offices, talking to the folks who operated the building. My mind started playing tricks on me. The air conditioning kicked on, there was this noisy rush of air, and I felt a wave of panic as I imagined that oncoming roar of jet engines. Around 10:45 the meeting broke up, the bigwigs started talking to the supervisors, and my boss walked over and said we could leave. I was all packed up and ready to go. But when I walked over to get my mom and leave with her, she was standing in her cube and said her boss hadn't given them the OK yet.

"We're leaving, NOW." I said. Everyone else was heading for the stairs and the elevators and I helped her gather up her stuff and we headed for the stairs. Let me tell you, that was a long, LONG walk down. The US Steel Building is shaped like a triangle, not a square or rectangle, and each floor required us going down three flights of stairs, turning, turning, turning. The stairwell walls are concrete, so the sound of so many voice and footsteps became so loud we couldn't if there were any instructions being broadcast on the loudspeakers. And as we marched down, it was hard not to imagine that there had been probably been people trying to evacuate from the World Trade Center the same way we were.

I always liked leaving that building, because I hated the job and leaving meant a brief bit of freedom. But leaving that day brought me another sort of relief. I wanted to get as far away as possible from the building as soon as possible. Mom called my Dad to say that we'd been evacuated and that'd I'd give her a ride home. The streets were filled with people who had been sent home. There were lots of cops around, directing traffic and I guess looking for anything suspicious. We walked to the Strip District and the lot where I parked my car. God, it was a gorgeous day.

Cars were leaving the lot by the dozen. I turned on NPR to hear the news, and I think that's when we learned that both towers of the World Trade Center had been destroyed. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that these two massive building were gone. We drove home and I tried to imagine how many people had died. It seems a miracle now that only 3,000 died, as if that number could ever be preceeded with the word "only".

On the 31st Street Bridge we hit the light, and I looked out the window and saw my building standing out of the Pittsburgh skyline. On that day, it wasn't hard to imagine a jetliner appearing out of that clear blue sky and slamming into it.

The local news did a brief report, and there was a bit saying that local blood banks would be open late to take donations, and my Mom said she'd be going to donate that night. Later that night she called me and said not to bother donating myself--when she went they turned her away because there were too many volunteers. And, sadly, much of that blood went to waste, because there weren't many survivors of the attacks.

Driving up Mt. Royal Boulevard to my parents house we heard about the plane that crashed in Someset County. You can't believe how bizarre it was to hear that the plane went down just short of Indian Lake, PA. Indian Lake is the lake my friend's house is on. New York City. Washington DC. Indian Lake. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone.

Dropped Mom off and headed home. And there I saw the film of the planes hitting the towers, and then the towers collapsing. We sat there all day, watching the coverage, which didn't do much to make what happened seem real instead of a nightmare. A few times we went outside and looked up, and we didn't see any planes or contrails. Except for one time, we heard (but didn't see) the roar of a jet flying way overhead.

I didn't know anyone who died on 9/11. A long time later Jody found out that a girl she'd briefly shared a suite with in college had worked on one of the top floors of one of the Towers and died. It is too horrible to contemplate what those people endured before the end. Equally horrible is how many firefighters and police died trying to save the lives of others.

In the days and weeks that followed, our nation exhibited so much compassion and determination that even now I find myself moved by some of the memories that keep bubbling up as I watch CNN's coverage this morning. I watched 9/11 on CBS last night, which is one of the most remarkable documentaries ever made. I remembered members of Congress gathering on the steps of the Capitol and then bursting into God Bless America. We went to church that Sunday (it was packed, of course) and we sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Not a dry eye in the house. Not mine, anyway.

Nations around the world rallied to our side. "Nous sommes tous Américains" read the headline of Le Monde. We are all Americans. The international community condemned the attack for what it was, an act of unspeakable barbarism. 9/11 looked like it would be a strategic miscalculation on the scale of Pearl Harbor. The sleeping giant had awoken, and a cruel reckoning would be had.

It's five years later. Osama bin Laden is still out there, scrabbling around in a cave somewhere, living in the darkness and depravity he thinks is all this world has to offer. Five years later and the United States is hated throughout the Middle East, in large part because of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, which is...a strategic miscalculation that rivals any in our nation's history. Thousands of our soldiers killed, tens of thousands wounded, hundreds of billions spent...and Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Nothing. We spent all that blood and treasure going after Iraq, while the people who attacked us on 9/11 still walk the earth.

We invaded Afghanistan, deposed the Taliban, helped set up a new government...and then we all pretty much forgot about Afghanistan. Five years later the Taliban are making inroads again, poppy cultivation is the basis of the economy, and there doesn't seem to be too much fuss made about it.

Iraq is a catastrophe with no end in sight. Iran has learned that if you're a member of the Axis of Evil, and you have nukes (North Korea), you'll be left alone. But if you DON'T have nukes, you'll get invaded (Iraq). Any wonder why the mullahs are so keen to ramp up their nuclear program?

We have captured a number of high-ranking al Qaeda operatives. And then taken them to secret prisons to be tortured. Or delivered them into the hands of vicious regimes to be tortured at arm's length. Or to Guantanamo Bay to be held without charge for year after year in an unconstitutional legal limbo. In order to keep us "safe" our government has decided that our calls should be open to wiretapping without warrants, even though there is already a law in place for these warrants to be quickly obtained. That the President should have the right to arrest and hold American citizens without charge or access to counsel. And our disgrace of a Congress just goes along with whatever the President says, ignoring it's responsibity to act as a check on unbridled executive power.

What's more, exercising our rights to free speech and a free press are now considered aiding and abetting the terrorists who hit us on 9/11 and would like to again. Pointing out the disastrous handling of the Iraq war and the lies that led up to it is encouraging the terrorists. Demanding that we come up with a plan to resolve the situation in Iraq, or that we not rush headlong into a war with Iran, is "appeasement", the crime committed by Chamberlain when he met with Hitler in Munich.

The fact that so many Americans think we should meekly surrender so many of our rights in the name of "security" is a absolute disgrace, and when this chapter in our nation's history is written we will have much to be ashamed of. The fact that the Bush Administration chose again and again to ignore the Constitution and go with with the lazy, easy, and venal path is to be expected, given their track record. But the fact that so many Americans think that the best way to be "safe" is to hand over power to the government and hope they'll take care of us is profoundly disturbing.

Last night ABC ran Part I of a show called Path to 9/11, which purports to tell of the actions that led up to the attacks of five years ago. If you follow the news you know that there is considerable controversy about this show, because the producers of it decided to "dramatize" the events. As if 9/11 wasn't dramatic enough. Their "dramatization" included things like making up conversations and events that didn't happen--like former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger refusing to give the CIA the go-ahead to kill bin Laden long before 9/11. One problem. This never happened. The producers at first said that their work was a documentary based on the 9/11 Commission Report. As people started seeing advance copies and finding egregious errors they frantically started backtracking, saying that the movie wasn't a documentary at all, that it was based on sources other than the Commission's report, and that it's made-up portions slam President Bush as well as former President Clinton. That's the stage we've gotten to in this country, that so long as you make up lies about one side, it's OK to lie about the other side too. "Truthiness" trumps the truth. It's difficult to conceive of the arrogance you'd have to have to make up stuff about 9/11, which is one of the most extensively examined and documented events in human history, and present it to the world as what "really happened". ABC should be ashamed of themselves. I hope most people had enough sense not to bother watching it, or to see it for the garbage it is, but I'm not optimistic.

The strength of our nation comes from our freedom, our liberty. Our rights as citizens are what our soldiers over the centuries have died to protect. It is an abomination that we should surrender them without a fight. And doubly so when it is our freedom to live as we choose that makes these terrorists want to attack us in the first place. They fear a nation of citizens free to speak freely, think freely, worship freely. They want a nation of slaves, who live with heads bowed, who want nothing out of life except to remain invisible, who tremble at the sound of a knock at the door. This is what we're at war with. We cannot allow fear to triumph over liberty. We cannot allow cowardice to be an excuse to surrender our rights. Maybe today's anniversary to provide a reminder to us all what courage really is, and what America really stands for.

Gene Bromberg is a writer from Pittsburgh, PA.

Dining with a Celebrity

By Sean A. Donahue © 2006

This afternoon I went to go see an old College "roommate" at Denny's. Now the quotes around roommate were for reasons other than the obvious.

You see KristiE and I were good friends, we had become friends in classes and in hall council and when I left the dorms we would still talk. I wanted to get cable so bad, but at that time I was watching my money so I didn't have to borrow any from my parents to live.

So KristiE came up with the idea of sharing cable. We ordered cable for my house and split the cost. She'd come over to watch Quantum Leap among other shows and she had a key to my apartment. Many days I'd come home from classes to see KristiE crashed out on my futon watching some sappy movie. It was a weird yet wonderful relationship.

Years later we both moved on, me with my soon-to-be wife, now ex-wife, her to other things.

Yet recently we just found each other again. We hooked up on e-mail and I told her to call me sometime.

She called while I was driving the kids to Ft. Worth to see my mom. We had a great conversation and decided to get together for lunch.

I always like finding old friends. The only key is will the friendship that we had still strong enough to last through my divorce and her marriage? Obviously it was because we got together at Denny's for a quick lunch. She told me about her divorce. We shared war stories and stories of friends in the past.

But now here is the deeper story.

I love Lubbock. It's small enough that if you do great things you are recognized and yet big enough you can hide out in...

Unless you're at the Denny's at 2:30 on a Sunday, which must have been the meeting of the Sean Dillon Fan Club.

I walked in with my sunglasses and got a table.

"It's him," a woman said.

"No it can't be him, why'd he come to Denny's?" another woman said.

"Excuse me sir, you wouldn't be Sean Dillon would you?"

"Yes, it's very nice to meet you," I said, smiling. In a way I am glad that I was recognized and then in a way it made me very self-conscious. Did I dress the way they thought I would dress? Was I polite enough?

I gave the first woman who recognized me a Rock 101 T-Shirt and watched while laughing to myself at the waitresses who were fighting to serve the "celebrity."

Hell, I put my pants on the same way as other men; just have a little radio show.

So KristiE got there and was amazed how I was being treated.

"It's like dining with a celebrity," she said.

"Minor celebrity," I corrected.

So we talked, ordered and ate. I told the waitress I wasn't in any hurry to order.

Both KristiE and I ordered at the same time.

But my order was delivered first.

I waited until KristiE’s order had come and was trying not to laugh as KristiE smirked, "You get your food first, I see how it is when you dine with a celebrity," she said.

We then had to endure the worst dressed woman in the world.

Now, I understand eating disorders and people with metabolism problems, but this one woman eating had to be at least 350 with gusts to 400 lbs. She walked by and dropped a piece of paper. Now it was bad enough that her shirt didn't cover her belly, but it was a little nauseating when I saw the bright yellow thong that glowed as she bent over. I don't mind women who are big; I just have a problem with women who dress inappropriately.

Just ask KristiE about the man who came up to her wearing nothing but spandex pants and she could "just about see the vein."

"If I ever dress that way or get that big you have permission to slap me," KristiE laughed as she saw the look of horror on my face.

If it wasn't right in front of me I could have ignored it. But there was a partial moon at Denny's this afternoon and I had to wash my face and look at a picture of Jessica Biel to purge the spectacle that I'd had to endure.

It was great to see KristiE and we promised to get together more often. But while I was being served like a prince, KristiE was being ignored.

KristiE was talking to the cook and joking that she wanted Rum and Coke instead of just a coke to drink since the waitress didn't check to see if she wanted anything else to drink.

"You'd get your food first," the cook said pointing at me. "Her's would have never come if I had Rum in the kitchen."

I tried not to laugh.

"That's what I get for dining with a celebrity," KristiE said.

It's just another case of Instant Comedy: Just add Sean (scratch that). Just Add Minor Celebrity.

Sean A. Donahue is a freelance writer, radio personality and poker amateur. He is the author of Instant Tragedy a website looking a life, liberty, and the ability to have Instant Tragedy when you just add water. He is divorced with two children and lives in Lubbock Texas.

To Lena; I Hate It

By Sigge S. Amdal © 2006

I hate waiting for the moment
I must disappoint you.
It is not that I am impatient, but I never wait and I never promise.
A promise is superfluous when what's promised is something I intend to do.
A promise puts a context to something that will never occur.
If I decide to do something, I do it.
A promise is by definition a false existent, as it aspires to lay bond on reality.
Consequently, I never promise, no sane man is able to.
But sometimes a smile or a word can carry on, and unintentionally harbor false intentions.
That is, not lies, but intentions I do not have at all, and therefore do not intend to fulfill.
And I fear your enthusiasm and want have brought you to such a state,
as to misinterpret my liking for you as love for you.
If I felt love, believe me, you would know it more concretely than a mapmaker knows the paths of the mountains he draws.
You draw the wrong conclusion.
And now I wait for the moment I must disappoint you.

Sigge S. Amdal is a word wanker from Oslo, Norway.

Roots - Part I

By Doog © 2006

We never really know who we are until we know where we come from. We all (well, most of us anyways) know our nuclear family very well - usually far better than we'd like to, to be brutally honest. And most people regard their grandparents with the kind of reverence usually reserved for saints or WSOP bracelet winners.

Me, I never really knew my grandparents.

Hell, one of my grandparents is still alive, and I don't really know her, nor do I care to. For almost eight years, I lived within five miles of my maternal grandmother, and I saw her only a handful of times. Even at a tender age, I realized that I didn't really care to expose myself to the vile rantings of a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, ill-tempered bigot. Especially now that I married into a family hailing from the Caribbean - people whose complexion is a shade darker than mine.

Thanks, I'll pass.

Her dearly departed husband, my maternal grandfather, passed away from a brain tumor in the 1950's, when my mother was still a girl. Mom's vague recollections of her father are of a gentle, caring provider - just the kind of father every little girl needs; truth be told, the kind of father I hope to be for my daughter. I think I would have liked to get to know him.

I probably knew my paternal grandmother the best out of all of my ancestors. She was a British immigrant, a sweet, tender woman who liked her tea and loved her gin (though not usually mixed in the same cup), and she was an avid card player. Cribbage, gin, euchre - you name it, she played it. Even though she lived on the opposite side of the country, we regularly spoke on the phone - as often as twice a week, depending on the direction life's winds were blowing.

She passed away when I was 14. Even though I had spent a cumulative total of a handful of weeks in her physical presence, I loved her dearly. Whenever I serve as a shoulder-to-cry-on when someone close to me is grieving a loss, I always think of my Grandma Jan.

The most colorful character in my family, by far, was my paternal grandfather. Leo G stood over six feet tall, with a barrel chest, Popeye forearms, and a ready grin permanently adorning his face. Extremely generous (some would say overly generous), he wouldn't bat an eye at dropping wads of cash on a complete whim.

As an example - during one summer vacation with Grandpa Lee and Grandma Jan, Leo G heard that my older brother and I had listened to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack for the for the first time at my uncle's house, and that we really dug it. The very next day, we were winging to LA, where we lodged at the Universal Sheraton, farted around at Universal Studios, had a nice prime rib dinner, and caught the evening showing of the Phantom at the Ahmanson Theater.

That still stands as one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Leo G died eight months after Grandma Jan did. The official reason was recurrence of prostate cancer, but I know he really died of a broken heart. When you lose your life partner, your soul-mate, your singular joie de vivre, what's the motivation to keep fighting?

When my father and his brothers were going through Leo G's belongings, they came across a satchel containing $25,000 in cash. In the bag was a handwritten note, which read:
This is not to be used for bills. This is not to be used to buy 'things'. This is for fun. Take your families to Disney World, or Hawaii, or Europe. Rent the most expensive car, stay in the nicest hotel, and drink the most expensive wine, and remember me the whole time.
Grandpa Lee, you're impossible to forget.


It was many years after his death that I first heard the full story of Leo G. I would sometimes catch snippets of conversation between the adults, references to a turbulent past, but I always thought they were overblown exaggerations. The man was, after all, larger than life; I simply figured his legend was growing over time, as legends, fish tales, and bad beat stories always do.

Then came the night. I'll call it the Revelation.

My wife and I hosted a home game that night. It was late in the evening, and everyone had left except for my uncle, the youngest of Leo G's three sons, and the only son who still lives in the area. Over the course of the next two and a half hours of shuffling cards and trading chips, my uncle revealed to me for the first time the true story of Leo G...

Leo G was born in 1925 in New York City, the only child of a Polish Jew who immigrated after World War I. His father, my great-grandfather, was a chef, and soon after arriving in the States began working at a relatively upscale restaurant. This restaurant happened to be a favorite eatery of Joe Masseria, the preeminent mobster in New York City in the 1920's.

One evening, after devouring a particularly scrumptious sampling of my great-grandfather's cuisine, Masseria asked to speak with the chef, whereupon my great-grandfather was offered a job. From that time on, he was the personal chef for the biggest mob boss in Gotham.

It took a while for that to sink in... my heritage, my roots, that from whence I sprang, is the prohibition era mafia.

What. The. Fuck.

The next mental leap was to my grandfather. My memorialized mental image of the big loveable teddy bear, the infectious laugh, that fun-loving free spirit... he was a mobster. Scarface. Capone. Gotti. Paul Vitti in "Analyze This." My grandfather.


My uncle continued to tell tales of his father's childhood. Like how Masseria and his goons would gather around my great-grandfather's kitchen table, plotting and scheming while my great-grandparents cooked up a "killer" meal. Then there was the time that my great-grandmother (whom I knew before she passed away some five years ago) put a fresh-from-the-oven pie on the window ledge to cool, and one of the goons who was outside reached up stealthily to grab it from the window, and my great-grandmother grabbed one of those big-ass two-pronged forks that you use when you're carving a turkey and pinned the guy's hand to the window sill.

Good times.

I can say without qualification that that was the single most memorable poker session I've ever experienced. I can't recall a single hand played, though, or even who won. The speed of play was glacial - at times, there were 20-minute breaks between hands as a particularly enrapturing story unfolded. Of course, poker wasn't exactly foremost on anyone's mind that night.

Oh, the stories. Like the time Leo G went to federal prison for stealing a military aircraft. Or the events leading up to his other three stints in the clink. Or the circumstances surrounding the family name being changed due to Leo G's participation in the witness protection program after going State's Evidence on his - ahem - business associates.

But, those are subjects for future posts...

Doog lives in California, is married with two young children, is a complete donk of a poker player while being a kick-ass poker blogger. He’s also the most modest, humble person you’ll ever meet, should you have the esteemed privilege.