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Chapter 1. The Meandering Path

Why Am I Here?

It was just about eight years ago that I started a quest that brought me to this very point in my life.

I was at my wits end, a bartender turned reluctant career restaurant manager. I’d gradually worked my way down the food chain from fast casual restaurants to pizza chains. The next stop on the train was the exciting world of fast food. My career, if you want to call it that, was a succession of fast starts and spectacular flameouts. I was a raging maniac. It was not a good time to be me.

In my late forties, I found myself playing out the chain as a pizza delivery driver in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio, The Hilltop. I bided my time. I liked the job. I was a GREAT delivery driver. Hell, I’d been a General Manager of the two largest pizza chains for over seven years. I knew exactly what my manager needed from me and I left it all out on the streets every night. After a year in the shooting gallery, I made a simple request. Transfer me to a safer spot and I’ll continue being the teacher’s pet. The word came down from on high:”

“We can’t do it, Brother T. If we let you transfer, we have to let everyone do it.”

Now you and I both know that this is a bullshit answer. If you can’t reward your good employees, then you don’t deserve good employees. Despite feeling betrayed and unappreciated, I gave my two-week notice and began looking at my options. It never occurred to me to just go. Managing was in my DNA. I knew that I would leave them in the lurch. I remembered the countless times over the years that my employees had done the same to me.

It was time to take stock of my life. Time to stop looking for the most bucks and the best perks. Time to do something to enrich my soul. Time to stop feeding the madman that raged within.

The Bullshit Artist

I’ve always had the ability to walk into a job interview and come out on top. You could same that I’m the ultimate bullshit artist. I‘m a voracious reader. I’m able to learn things on the fly. I’m good with jargon, so I’m usually speaking the same lingo as the interviewer. And I have the ability to get along with anybody.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m a white male, relatively attractive (I guess, I’ve never seen it), with a military background and I was articulate. I seem more educated than I really am. All through school I was an underachiever. I didn’t bother with homework, studying or things like that. I was a test taker. I knew that I had a pretty good chance of scoring well. Job interviews were just like tests for me. Go in there, tell them what they need to hear, report to work on Monday. That’s how I became an internet support rep who had never used a computer before, a supervisor in a factory when I had no mechanical skills, a high-volume restaurant manager who had no formal training.

Looking back on all those interviews, I can honestly say that I was the beneficiary of white privilege. The interviewers didn’t doubt me because I looked like them. They didn’t question my past because I have a nice smile. I was tough. I was a Marine. I’d been a “manager all my life.” I used this phrase in every job interview for twenty years. It worked every time. The only times that I didn’t get a position that I wanted was when I interviewed with someone who knew about my past. That never went well. You can’t bullshit someone who already knows about the skeletons in your closet.

I Went Down to the Crossroads

I quit my job. I was at a crossroads. I was also flabbergasted. I was raised in an era where we were told, “if you work hard enough, good things will happen.” I’d often used that messaging with my employees as well. Of course, mine was often double-speak. In the service industry, especially on the corporate side, we told our people whatever it took to get them to show up and not steal from us. Most times this wasn’t enough for them to keep their jobs, but at least it gave me time to find their replacement. So now pizza world was finding my replacement. What was I to do?

There was one thing I knew for sure. I could not endure another service industry gig. One the one hand, I’d been working in restaurants for so long that self-abuse and the abuse of others was second nature to me. I had done awful things to my employees and tolerated the same from my bosses. Twenty years in the industry was enough. I needed a clean break. I was searching for menial work. I needed zero responsibility for minimal compensation. I looked back on my history. I made a list. Marine, security guard, factory foreman, Jetski salesman (what?), environmental canvasser, retail manager, Internet tech guy, bartender, restaurant manager, multi-unit manager, pizza guy, delivery guy.

The Marine Corps was NOT an option. I guessed I could still guard things, but security is hardly a fulfilling field. I could sell things (but not Jetskis). Technically (no pun intended) I could get back into IT customer service. But the field had passed me by. No more retail. No more food. My eyes kept circling back to the canvasser job. I’d had a lot of fun. I’d hooked up with one of the loves of my life. I’d been very good at it. I told you I was a bullshit artist. On a whim, I called the number on Craigslist. I had an interview. I got the job. (Just not the one I have now). That’s what I do.

I picked up right where I  left off. I was one of those guys that walk around your neighborhood and knock on your door, telling you “how bad your windows are, and I can give you a heckuva deal on some new ones.” If you own a house, we’ve probably knocked on your door. It wasn’t my job to sell the windows. I just had to get my salesman into your house and let him rip you off. It was easy. Follow the script and watch your paycheck increase. I was good at it, but I fell into a malaise. I may be a bullshitter, but I felt like I was a con artist instead. And the conning went both ways. I could twist the words to get what I wanted from the homeowner, while giving the bosses what they wanted as well. After a year of this, I needed a change. Back to the drawing board.

The next ad I replied to was for a similar job. The heading said. “Make a Difference. Change the World.” Yeah right, I thought. I called the number. It changed my life.

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A home for old war heroes and the underemployed

From A GATHERING STORM (buy the book):


In Memory of Hank Chinaski


The bar is dimly lit

compared to the

blinding sunlight

that splashes on the sidewalk

just outside the door


I sit down at the bar

allow my eyes to adjust

to the dank interior

as I waited for the forty-something

beauty of a bartender

to notice me

and take my order


Glancing to the right of me

I spy a collection

of dead hi-ball glasses

perspiring their last gasps

on the poorly polished bar top


A peek to the left

reveals the pit-stained


bourbon flavored vestiges

of a blue collar afternoon


I think

Damn what a bunch

of crusty old fucks

are these


I watch as the draft

tumbled down

from the tap to the

ice encrusted glass

crystals gleaming in the foam


The first sip so smooth

that I had to glub glub glub

the rest of it down

its crispness numbing

the back of my throat


Throwing my head back

I savored the heady aromas

of stale cigarettes

flat beer

and petrified perspiration


As the glacial ice floes

ran down the side

of my second glass

I knew

I would soon

call this place home


I think

Damn what a crusty old fuck

am I

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saturday night

There was a crazy,

sixties feel to the place

Dick Dale in the background

wailing on his surf guitar

the smell of scented candles

filling the air.


A few uptight girls

sat in the living room

basking in the artificial glow

of a pair of loony lava lamps

drinking their wine in plastic cups

whispering gossip

giggling the night away


I was standing

in the kitchen

talking with the cool people

about the events of the day

when the fire alarm went off.


Spurred by adventure

We grabbed another stout

and headed outside

to wait for the fire trucks.


It turned out to be a false alarm



we went back inside

opened another beer

smoked another joint

told a few more lies.


It was the best party

we’d had in years.

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creative evolutionary fandango

In the beginning

Jah created the heavens

And the Vibe

With one snap of her fingers

Allah set in motion

One big fucking bang

New entities sprouted

From the Tree of Life

And with a wave of the hand

Jehovah sprinkled the earth

With beings large and small

In tune with Mother Nature

I’m not getting

Into the argument

Of creationism versus evolution

It’s all one God to me

creative evolutionary fandango


First sentient beings

Lucy’s Ethiopian earth tribe

Climb down from trees

Walk on two legs

And evolve creatively

Paint original Sistine chapels

On the domes of their caves

Symphonized orchestration

With sticks and stones and skins and bones

and most of all

Musical laughter

epiphanies of imagination

Creating one great human vibe


Fast forward

Three and a half million years

To the new earth tribe

The Eternal Vibe

Continuing the tradition

Of rhythms and rhymes

Percussive discussion

Creative evolution

Swirling a magical elixir

Two parts love

Two parts imagination

And two parts love

A hearty vibological stew


I’m still not arguing

creationism versus evolution

it’s still one God to me

creative evolutionary fandango

We create

We love

It’s a win-win situation



In the beginning

Jah created the heavens

And the Vibe


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flamenco sketches

my fingers play over

the scarred bartop

like miles

pressing down on the keys

his horn moaning

throbbing painfully

stabbing phrases through the air

like so many voices

in a gospel choir


bill evans

tinkles the ivory restrained

and masterful

filling the space

like raindrops

on a warm spring night

while the great man takes a blow


miles starts in again

sweet sweet horn

taking my breath away


i play with the sweat

on the rocks glass

take a sip

of smoky scotch

inhale a lungful

of kingstown’s finest


i run my fingers

across your bare shoulder

texture as smooth

as the bartop is rough

hoping i can play you

like miles played that horn

cool and effortless


through the night


It’s 1959

we aren’t born yet

but miles knew

we’d be listening

played this song for us

best make the most of it

he’d like that


sketch the dance flamenco

all through the night

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Of Tigers, Bullets and Butterfly Nets

Once upon a time

Nay, thrice upon three times

I have ventured forth

Big game hunting

Armed only

With the flimsiest of butterfly nets


The first time it happened

I was walking down a jungle path

Stalking a beautiful Leopard

When a tiger

A she-beast of uncommon strength

Lit into me with steely claws

Before I could escape

Like a gazelle

Into the savanna


The results were carnally exquisite


The tigress

Sated on my tender flesh

Stalked off to trap other prey

While I lived to hunt

Another day


The second time

I ventured forth

Butterfly net in hand

On concrete

City street

When I came upon

A heavily armed assassin


I swiped at her with my net

But soon went down

In a hail of sexual bullets

Imbedding deep into my flesh

To the heart where the emotions lie


The results were carnally exhausting


And when the dust settled

I was left with only

The dream of an unborn fetus

To keep me company

In the dark and lonely night


Wounds heal

I swear they do

And soon I found myself

Hunting the most elusive

And beautiful of all butterflies

The Ethiopian Amhara


She, all 90 pounds of her

Wrestled me to the ground

Tied my senses in knots

Painted the dreams

That happiness is made of

Left me a quivering mass

of questionable humanity


the results were psychically debilitating


I still go out hunting

With my butterfly net

Searching for the one true creature

Maybe it’s you

Who will see me

For the gentle being that I am

And behave accordingly


I still go out hunting

With my butterfly net

But now I wear Kevlar

Carry a shield

And a stoic sensibility


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concrete buddha

he sits
eyes cast down
head imperceptibly rocking
to some unknown tune
lips moving in silent mantra
on a frozen patch of concrete under institutional blue scaffolding

he sits
bundled amongst slipshod blankets
great black plastic bags
random chunks of styrofoam
and corrugated cardboard
untold layers of socks and shirts
pants and grime
oblivious to cacophony
of city streets
that dance in delicate brutal choreography all around him

he sits
like himalayan monk
whose mountain is reduced
to a slab of broken concrete
in the hub of the wheel of the world

morning brings his absence

gone to nirvana
or to sit
on some other mountain to bless
some other traveler

he sits

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The Most Important Thing In Life Haiku


musical laughter

of happy playing children

fills my heart with joy




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My Brother’s Keeper

“And the LORD said unto Cain,

Where is Abel thy brother?

And he said, I know not:

Am I my brother’s keeper?

And he said, What hast thou done?

The voice of thy brother’s blood

Crieth unto me from the ground.” -Genesis

And thus Cain was cast out

Troubled spawn of Adam and Eve

Perpetrator of the second sin

His destiny to wander

Alone and without direction

In the land of Nod

Somewhere East of Eden

The original Bedouin

Sometimes I wonder

At the heinous sin

That I must have committed

To be censured by God

Cast out to wander

In the land of Nod

Somewhere West of Alpha Centauri

The ideological Bedouin

Surely I have sinned


Lived a life none so righteous

Of excess, rage and hatred

Wastrel of dogmatic sensibilities

Philanderer of potential

Addict of self-absorption

I find my head

Full with grandiose ideals

Of healing the world

Recreating Eden

Carrying some holy grail

Upon shoulders
strong like Atlas

Leading by example

Of Humanistic common sense

You see

I long to be the keeper

Of all of my brothers and sisters

Yet I find myself hobbled

By frailty of will

And cowardice of spirit

I long to be the Abram of the age

Sire long lines

Of staunch individuals

Ripe with religious freedoms

One son Rasta

One daughter Shao-lin

Grandchildren following 10 commandments

In search of THE WAY

Methinks my best plan

Is to be my own keeper

And then get a date

With a girl-child of destiny

For it is always best

To at first kiss

Before planning the baby shower

Until then

I wander alone

Amidst nebulous swirl of ideals

Walkabout in the land of Nod

Searching for a star

To eclipse the moon

And somehow light my way


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The Missing Chapter



The Amtrak train pulled into Pennsylvania Station after the ten-hour journey from the Piedmont Triad to New York City. The new Mr. and Mrs. Joe Calloway rode up the long escalator to the main terminal. Qi looked around in awe. She’d been to New York many times, but this was her first time inside the vast terminal. The sheer mass of people both thrilled and terrified her. Joe felt her nails digging into his palms. They stepped aside at the end of the escalator and looked around. Joe spotted his smiling cousin a few feet away.

Déjà vu rushed over Joe in waves. He remembered a time when he was around six and standing on this very same platform. Fiona knelt down in front of him and pushing his cowlick down on his head. She’d said, ‘Now remember, Joey. This is our special secret. Not a word to your dad, okay?’

“Hiya, Joe. Welcome to New York.” Conor O’Brien stepped forward and wrapped Joe in a bear hug. He turned to Qi and did the same.

“Thanks for meeting us, Cuz.” Said Joe. “We’ve been here before, haven’t we?”

“We sure have. You were about five or six.”

“I remember now.”

Conor stepped back and put a hand on a young girl’s back pulling her towards the couple. “Guys, this is my daughter Charlie. Charlie, these are your cousins, Joe and Qi.”

Charlie stepped forward and held her arms out for a hug. Qi grabbed her first and kneeled so they were the same height. “Hi, Charlie. You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.”

“Thank you. You’re beautiful too.”

Joe bent down and did the same. “Hi, Charlie. It’s wonderful to meet you.”

“Hi, Cousin Joe. Welcome to New York.”

Joe stood back up. Conor pulled a young woman forward. “This is Charlie’s Auntie Sophie. Charlie’s mother couldn’t make it today. Sophie, this is Joe and Qi.”

Joe waggled a finger between the two of them. “Are you two…?

They both looked stricken. Conor said, “Oh no. Just friends. Sophie’s my ex-sister-in-law.”

Sophie stepped forward and shook hands with Qi and Joe. She quickly changed the subject. “I know your work, Qi. I’ve read your blog. I’m a big fan.”

“I’m retired.”

“I heard that.” She looked between Qi and Joe. Her grin indicated she was in on their secret.

Conor smiled. “We should go. We still have a long drive ahead of us.”

The past six weeks were a whirlwind. Joe and Qi flew back to Denver, where Joe tidied up his exit from the bank and Qi combined her wedding shower with one last show at the Foundry. The only thing she didn’t do was Party with Her Shirt Off. Apparently old married ladies don’t do that. They packed up their house in Denver, hired a moving truck and then drove Joe’s car across the country. It might be their only chance to make such a trip, so they spread it out and saw the sights of Austin, New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. Then it was time for some serious wedding planning.

The ride out to Long Island was a long one. Qi sat up in the front seat of the SUV. She was now four months pregnant and prone to car sickness. Strangely enough, she was fine on the train. Conor could just smile and nod as she kept a running banter going. Joe, Charlie and Sophie sat in the back, taking turns playing a game on Charlie’s iPad. Joe was enchanted with his little cousin. He was also intrigued with her beautiful auntie. The woman was economical with her words, but when she did speak it was with a spirit that reminded Joe of Fiona. It was November on Long Island. The last half hour of the journey was along the coast. The Long Island Sound was on the inland side of the island, with Connecticut on the other side. Squalls were sweeping across New England and the wind and waves were battering the shoreline. The water was still choppy and forbidding. It was dusk by the time they got to Rock Haven.

“This is us.” Said Conor, looking at Joe through in the rearview mirror. “You guys picked the wrong time of year to honeymoon on Long Island.”

“It’s fine. We just need to decompress from the last two months of mayhem. We appreciate you, Con, and your generous offer.”

“Our grandparents built this house for all of us, Joe. Feel free to come back any time.” Conor pulled the latch on his door. “I’m going to get the place unlocked so you guys can go straight in. No sense getting soaked if you don’t have to.”

“Thanks, Con.” Conor ran up to the massive oak door. He opened it and lit the front of the house. He came back out and waved them in. “Why don’t you ladies head inside? I’ll help Conor with the bags.” The remote hatch started beeping on cue. The girls ran inside. The guys grabbed the bags. They were just in time. Conor closed the heavy door as curtains of rain started belting the house.


“So what the hell happened?” Conor was sitting on the hearth of a huge stone fireplace, nursing a budding fire with a poker. Sophie and Qi were folded up on opposite ends of the couch. Joe was lounging in a leather recliner and Charlie was sprawled out on the floor with a book.

“We’ll probably never know. The bottom line is this. Three known drug dealers and two Cormack cops ended up dead. The cops killed the first guy, the guy whose car hit Fiona, and then the cops killed the drug dealers and some unknown shooter killed the cops.”

“So what’s the deal with the unknown shooter. And why did they kill Fiona?”

Joe shrugged. “It could have been about the redevelopment. It could have been as simple as him being angry for being kicked out of the bar. It could just as easily have been an accident that they covered up. We do know that Hickman and Dalton were crooked as hell.”

“Follow the money.”


“Follow the money and you’ll find the shooter. You’re a forensic accountant at heart. Look into their finances, see where the money came from.”

“I don’t do that anymore. I’m just a humble bartender.”

“Bullshit.” Conor looked over at his daughter. “Sorry, Charlie.”

She didn’t look up from the book. “It’s okay.”

Sophie laughed. “You two.” She looked at Qi, pointing to Charlie and Conor. “They’re always like this.”

Conor picked up where he left off. “Enough with the humble bartender crap. You’re a free agent, a five tool player.” He was an old athlete, with sports analogies for days. “People will pay good money for what you know, what you can do.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“What about that girl? What was her name?”


“Yeah, Vivienne. How did that feel when you saved her?”

“I didn’t save her. She still had to make it through a gun battle.”

“Yeah, but you gathered all the info and got there when you needed to be. Any earlier and you might have been one of the casualties.”

Qi raised her voice. “Joey, you didn’t tell me that.”

“I wasn’t in any danger. It was all over by the time I got there. Besides, I was with Ethan and Parrish.”

Whatever.” Qi did a perfect impression of Joe. He stood and went to the window. The rain was still coming in off the Sound. Countless bolts of lightning struck the surface of the water. It reminded Joe of tornado season in Denver.

“It’s nasty out there. Are you sure you guys don’t want to stay tonight?”

Sophie said, “We can’t do that. It’s your wedding night.”

“Our wedding was two nights. And Qi wore me out on the train today.”

“It’s true.” Qi said matter-of-factly. “I can’t let him get out of practice while I’m pregnant.” Four sets of eyes went to Charlie, but the eight year-old wasn’t paying attention.”

Sophie sat up on the edge of the sofa. “I want to know about the pictures. How did that happen.”

“My assistant’s boyfriend stole my phone. He uploaded the pictures because he was jealous of my success.”

“How did you find out? I mean, did he confess.”

“My assistant confessed when I shut down the websites. It was horrible.”

“Did you fire her, the assistant?”

“I fired him. Though he really fired me. He was a real drama queen anyway. It’s okay. I was ready to get off the road.” A clap of thunder rattled the chandelier. “You really should stay tonight. It’s dangerous out there.”

Conor looked at Sophie and they both shrugged.

“Well I guess that settles it.” Conor said. “Hot chocolate, anyone?”



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