“Alexa, Fart.”

The Gambler passed away today and a tiny spark lit up the cobwebs of my memory hole. Around a decade or so ago (holy shit has it been that long?)… my Grandpa was wandering around in a listless fog warbling “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucilllllle” over and over again in his empty house. My Grandma had died a few days earlier, and my Grandpa was to follow her to eternity a few months later. As I rummaged through their smelly basement I unearthed Kenny Rogers’ “TEN YEARS OF SOLID GOLD” on vinyl, along with an album of JFK’s speeches, a whole mess of Bing Crosby and some Polka. I listened to “Lucille” today. It takes roughly 47 minutes to get to the chorus ’cause Kenny got so much storytellin’ to get off his chest.


As a youth I listened to a lot of crap. Other than a few Beatles albums, my parents record collection was filled with hilariously bad ’70s folk and soft pop country beauties. Thanks to the wonders of Spotify, I’ve recently rediscovered my favorite song from when I was 8. A goofball country cover called “Elvira” which has a chorus made up of nonsense words like “Giddy Up, Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow.” For 36 years I thought that number was sung by the band Alabama. Turns out it was by something called “The Oak Ridge Boys”. Whatever. Same diff.

My father has continuously bludgeoned me with Gordon Lightfoot albums for 40 odd years. To this day it’s all he plays in his car and at his house. For his 65th birthday a few years back he took us to see the old bastard at the State Theater. The only time in the last decade where all 4 of his male children were in the same room with him due to various feuds and various distances. I got so plastered that I couldn’t remember which ramp my car was parked in and wandered around downtown Minneapolis in the pouring rain for an hour, completely lost. I thought it was humorous to purchase my father a giant glass of scotch for $26 at the venue and try to make him finish it. Lightfoot’s voice sounded like barbed wire hell, but the tone of his acoustic guitar was like a warm nostalgia bath.

Quarantine sucks eggs. Lucky for me, my work did not start making us work from home until Friday. Which meant my wife had to try to chase two kids around and get her work done remotely for a good part of each day. I got a taste of this on my first day working from home yesterday. To say it was mildly annoying would be the understatement of the century. My head nearly exploded as my kids screamed song requests into the Alexa and jumped off the furniture while I attempted to write my yearly performance review. I don’t know how my wife did this for 4 straight days or what in Hades is going to happen in the coming weeks. God bless every teacher in America, you deserve a million dollar raise.

The Earth is currently a simmering cauldron of denial, fear, paranoia and we’ve decided to horde all the 2% milk. Yet my biggest gripe is getting The Lumineers’ “O-O-phelia” belted into my ear tunnels by children. Clearly we are all spoiled rotten brats. An extremely aggravated Mother Nature has decided to hulk-smash the phantom construct in which we toil.

During my first work from home day I “allowed” my wife to leave for a few hours and run around and do some hoarding herself. She reported in about the various weirdness, ATM lines and missing bread. She also said something that really struck a chord with me. There was a line around the block at the liquor store. Now that I have been sober for awhile, I don’t think about this stuff much. I usually just shrug my shoulders, maybe chuckle a bit, and say “that’s not for me”…but I can’t help thinking about what I would have done had the Coronavirus hit 2-3 years ago. I’d have probably been in that line, grumpy as fuck, trying to get the right flavored IPA that I needed. I’d probably be obsessing with OCD levels of absurdity:

“OK, I need this one for when I am done working from home, I need this one for when I grill, I need this one for the season premiere of Westworld, I need this for when I re-watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the 8th time….no screw that…no beer…I’ll make Rick Dalton whiskey sours for that.”

It really says something about the human condition that when the apocalypse is upon us, all we care about is booze and toilet paper. Really? Not me. Something about that just repulses me. Of course if I go much longer without my Key Lime LaCroix water, I may cut a motherfucker. 

When I was 8 I dove deep into my parents music collection. Sure the music was corny, but there was something genuine about the storytelling that made it interesting to me. I loved Kenny Rogers “Coward of the County.” It was a crazy wild story and even more engrossing than the little Star Wars storybook I listened along to with a 45. It felt so grown up, it made me feel like I was in on the meaning of life. But by the time I was 9, I was already rebelling against my parents. “I want to listen to MY MUSIC, not this old man stuff!” …my parents allowed me to buy a cassette of Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry” and wander around our gravel driveway with one of those one speaker cassette players cranked to tinny ear splitting (all treble) levels.

It always feels so trashy and stupid when a celebrity dies. All the social media tributes swirl aimlessly for days. Sweet tributes to the has-beens we haven’t given two shits about for decades. The problem with the cynicism towards these posts, is that music and art tend to burrow themselves deep into your core. Deeper than you can even imagine. It’s the first thing people turn to in times of tragedy. Who doesn’t know someone that has “divorce songs” or that song they played over and over after their Dad died? Who doesn’t remember exactly what song was playing when they danced their first dance at their wedding? Who doesn’t laugh about songs their kids made them play in the car on repeat on the way to school (burn in hell KIDZ BOP!)…

At some point every human needs to be uplifted, I don’t care who you are or what you believe in. That’s why there will be some album that comes out in the near future that will be known as “the coronavirus album” – something akin to Springsteen’s “The Rising” following September 11th. Some people will laugh at this album’s unbearable cheese…but they will always think of this time in history when they hear it. It’s astonishing to think about what sparks the magic of your memory. It doesn’t have to be cool, it doesn’t have to have any relevance to anything, it doesn’t have to have any merit whatsoever. It just is.

So send out your sympathies to Prince, Chris Cornell, Kobe Bryant or Tiny Tim if you need to make yourself feel better. Who am I to judge?  An awful Kenny Rogers song brings me to tears and I can still live with myself.

I wonder what will spark nostalgia from 2020 when my kids are my age?  I hope it’s not paranoia or Donald Trump or lack of Pasta. Fuck Pasta. Who needs that much Pasta?

Maybe they will have nostalgia for all the times they asked Alexa to fart. I know my greatest memory of “The Quarantine” so far is seeing my son laugh when Alexa played Jingle Bells using nothing but farts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another human being laugh as hard as that. Pure joy can come in any form. Remember that when you are hoarding Bud Light Lime, and I’ll remember it when I am wiping my ass with lyric sheets from 70’s country records.


My Funeral Suit.

I’m going to write about death now.

Did you know the 1996 hit song “How Bizarre” has an accordion in it? At least I think it does. I’m positive I heard it in there on my way to buy Bubly water instead of beer. I am about to embark on the annual family vacation to Duluth, MN. My first completely dry excursion there. No breweries, no can beer out of a cooler after a long hike, no flights of beer at Grandma’s Saloon while the kids down Mac & Cheese. Bone. Dry. Sober as a judge.

I am positive that was a damn accordion. But who really listens to the song “How Bizarre”? It’s pretty much designed to be unobtrusive, moderately funky elevator music. However, if you think about it long and hard for some odd reason, like I was about to do…”How Bizarre” is a brilliantly crafted piece of bubblegum pop trash. The annoying vocal inflection of OMC’s lead singer is just slightly off kilter…not too much…but just enough to make you listen about 10% closer. It’s odd without being too weird. The disgustingly catchy hook and idiotic storytelling are just icing on the cake and somehow keep you from nodding off completely. If this song was a smile it would be a wry smirk from on overconfident nerd you think you recognize, but cannot place. Fuck it. I gotta google if this has an accordion in it. This is very important to me at this moment. I don’t know why. I need the answer. I find none. I do find out that the lead singer’s name was Pauly (that’s perfect) and that he died in 2010, just eight days before his 41st birthday. How bizarre.

I received an alarming phone call from my father while I was vacationing in Duluth. His tone of voice took on an inflection that I have never heard it take before. I didn’t just listen to him 10% closer, I listened 600% closer. This was something new. This was something really, really bad. Now five days later I am driving south for Winona, MN. My funeral suit hangs frumpily in the back seat of my 2012 Jeep Liberty. It had just been worn a few weeks earlier. It hadn’t even been dry cleaned.

My funeral suit is a dull, unobtrusive grey number that I wear with a simple black dress shirt. No tie. Fuck ties. When you are a boring dad in your 40s you are allowed to become Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice if you like. Nobody gives a fuck. You might as well be invisible. This is my “groutfit”… there are many like it, but this one is mine.

This is the 3rd time I have worn the groutfit in the last year and a half. The first of these 3 times inspired my very first post on this here sober blog. When I was in the foggy mist of the first 30 days sober, the big D word seemed like an important monumental thing to write about. After that, I felt like I had written all I had to say on the subject. I felt like I had sufficiently depressed myself, and now it was ok to soberly move on. Clearly though, when an 88-year-old grandma dies…no matter how poetic you make the details sound…this is the “quaint” version of death. I know this now.

I also know that there will be much darker times ahead. Even more terrible then the other 2 times I wore my groutfit this year. Like when someone extremely close to me dies. I know that just around the corner lies the kind of uncompromising sadness that makes you question your very existence, and I know it’s coming for us all. I also know that Bob Dylan said: “death is not the end” and that it may or may not be true. This is okay though, as long as the living are still there to comfort you.

I bought my first funeral suit in 2009 when my Grandpa Lowell died. Actually, it was the first suit I ever bought that had 2 matching pieces. I was 33 years old. My brother was with me and he got one too. A guy at Men’s Warehouse in Maple Grove, MN sold them to us. This guy must have really had a good laugh when we walked out. My first funeral suit was navy blue with white pinstripes. He set me up with a yellow shirt and a yellow paisley tie as well. Quintessential mourning wear.

My brother had the good sense to go with an all-black with white pinstripe ensemble. It looked like a Harlem zoot suit designed by Johnny Cash. When we got to the church to meet our younger brothers, both of them looked like they had robbed Goodwill of mismatched suits 3 sizes too big for them, then paired it with whatever black accessory they could find at Ragstock. My littlest brother still looks cooler than me in the picture though. There are two reasons for this… the first being that he actually IS cooler than me (he played in a band silly), and two he found a skinny tie that looked like Mr. Pink’s in the movie Reservoir Dogs. I looked like freakin’ Nic Cage in The Family Man when his wife buys him the green Armani suit that is on clearance because it’s 10 years old.

As I drive out of the Twin Cities with my funeral suit, I listen to Spotify. I have found what I think is the unofficial soundtrack lineup for Joaquin Phoenix’s upcoming movie ‘Joker‘…lots of depressing heavy music on there. Good. Do your worst. The song “Sweetness Follows” by REM comes on and I drift into hazy highway daydream driving. “Sweetness Follows” is the most epic funeral song ever written. When I drove back and forth from the Twin Cities to Rochester, MN as my Grandpa Joe was dying I played REM’s Automatic for the People repeatedly (yeah the one with ‘Everybody Hurts’…eh…I was a rookie whadya gonna do?). I never cried once in the 3 times I drove down there (my Grandpa Joe practically raised me when my parents got divorced). However, the floodgates finally opened the last time I drove back home. He died that very evening. I wasn’t there. I felt something snap on that ride back. I just knew it was over.

“Sweetness Follows” is one of the most depressing and also one of the most surprisingly uplifting songs I have ever heard in my life. Randomly hearing it at this exact moment in time is like a warm fuzzy blanket. I am deep in thought. I miss my exit. When I come to my senses, Bowie’s “Life on Mars” is playing. Where the hell am I?  Hastings, MN? During the last 4 minutes and 22 seconds, I could have been beamed up and prodded by alien life forms or the puppeteer of ALF for that matter. I could have kept driving down the same road for 18 more hours if that song had kept looping. I could have been crushed by an oncoming vehicle like Elliot, my 16-year-old cousin. He too was listening to Spotify.

I had originally wanted to write a blog post about a man named Aaron Klein. Aaron was a fantastic human. He had an earnestness for life that I’ve never seen in anyone else before or since. He was so earnest it actually became downright annoying at times. Aaron worked with me at the network as a director and producer for 14 years, including the last few years in which I was his manager. I still remember the exact moment he told me he had some weird back pain. I told him to go to a chiropractor. A year later I was surprising him with a cake for his “retirement” to stay home with his kids. A year after that I was hugging him and telling him I loved him as he lay on his death bed. 36 years old, with a wife and 3 young children. It was hard to put on the funeral suit a week later. The hardest.

That tragedy coming full circle completely gut-punched us for the last month at work. I just couldn’t write about it. Didn’t have it in me. It was hands down the most devastating thing I had witnessed in 43 years on this planet. Until I got that call in Duluth from my dad. My uncle’s youngest son…my 88-year-old grandmother’s youngest grandchild…one of the two teenagers who pall-beared her casket with me on that frigid North Dakota morning in 2018…was now suddenly and shockingly erased from this earth. That was literally the last time I saw him too. When 4 of us (we didn’t have enough people for the usual 6 man crew) hilariously near-fumbled a casket down a flight of stairs in Carrington, ND (see blog post: “Formaldehyde”). Unbelievable. He’s gone? Just like that? What the fuck???

I am at Elliot’s service. I go through the receiving line (a line which would snake forever I’m told and last more than 2 hours). I am barely able to form words when I see my uncle, his oldest son Ian, and Elliot’s mother. I sit mouth agape for the entire service. Probably looking something like the hordes of teenagers that file through the funeral home, jaws on the floor at the sight of all those flowers and the thought of the supreme finality of death.

I can’t cry. Even though I sit directly behind the bereaved and feel a pit in my stomach the size of a beach ball everytime they start crying. I just can’t possibly comprehend the loss they are feeling, it’s unattainable to my mind’s eye. There are words read from my uncle’s hand about “not enough time” and a speech from the poor vacationer who drove the other vehicle. Beautiful words and profound closure of what happened at the accident scene. It is a vortex of pain. It is a wake-up call that is burned like a brand into everyone who walked through the door that day. Death is not the eternal sleep. Life is the slumber and death is the vicious alarm for which there is no snooze button.

I leave immediately after the ceremony. I feel an unstoppable need to drive two and a half hours home through darkness and the world’s biggest river bugs splattering my windshield in order to hug my kids before they go to bed. Like Nic Cage in Brett Ratner’s cheesy 2000 movie The Family Man, this is my “glimpse”. This is the good Lord sitting me down for some cocoa and saying “you think you have it bad because the network laid off 20% of it’s staff 2 months ago….well…get a load of this raw shit you groutfit-wearing fuckhead.”

I better get busy living I guess…life begins at 43?

I read a David Lynch quote recently which bluntly and succinctly sums up the last month for me:

“I don’t think that people accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable. It seems like religion and myth were invented against that, trying to make sense of it.”

We are all one-hit wonders. We all have hidden accordions in us. We grab onto every distraction we can to remind ourselves that we aren’t animals that decay or die suddenly. Every person on this earth is a one-hit-wonder named Pauly or Sugar Ray or Tommy Tutone trying to milk a decades-long career from one flash-in-the-pan melody. In the end, we all end up playing State Fairs and go to a potluck in a church basement after a funeral. I no longer fear this. It is inevitable.

When I get back home my kids are already asleep, all worn out from their 2nd day of the new school year. I find a card in my pocket. Elliot’s family has given out memory cards to everyone at the service. You’re supposed to write down a memory of him and keep it with you always. I couldn’t think of anything to write at first, but then I remember the North Dakota trip and jot down “4 Man Crew.”  I take a picture of it, text it to my uncle, fold it up gingerly and stick it in my wallet.

Another thought floats through my head, fleeting but relevant…something from the service about remembering Elliot’s family on what would have been his 17th birthday on Oct. 1st. I briefly consider putting a note in my phone to remember to call my uncle that day. How the fuck am I not going to forget to do this? Wait…Oct 1st? I check the funeral home leaflet with Elliot’s obituary on it. Then I remember something…

On October 1st I will be exactly 1 year sober.

How Bizarre.



I am standing next to a newish, extremely sleek, jet black hearse. It is negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit and I am hungover. Not the kind of hungover where I am incapacitated or violently regurgitating whatever concoction I ingested at 2am last night. Nope…just enough to be mildly irritable. I’m kind of caught in the nebulous grey zone between slightly nauseated and a touch “hangry” for corn beef hash.

I am waiting for the young heir apparent to the Carrington, North Dakota (pop. 2,014) undertaking business to roll out a silver coffin from his gleam-mobile. In it rests the remains of my grandmother. We have traveled nearly six hours from Minnesota to bring her back to a place she hasn’t lived since 1978.

I am a pall bearing expert by now, having carried all 4 of my grandparents to their final rites. This one is different though. It’s a 4 man job. Myself, my older cousin Davy (who used to be in the Navy) and two skinny teenagers who are my Uncle Ed’s kids. As the casket is slowly wheeled into our arms, I think “this isn’t so bad,” I just gotta get this thing up that steep icy staircase and just past the lobby for the viewing. Then the entire weight of the thing seems to drop out of the clouds and onto my forearms. “Jesus Christ!”, I think to myself …wait… did I just say that out loud? I hope not.  Why is this thing so fucking heavy?  Oh yeah…all the other times I’ve done this there have been 6 people. Not 4.  I remember carrying her husband out to his hearse and thinking…wow, this is nowhere near as heavy as I thought it would be. It was the same for the other two grandparents I’ve carried as well. I just figured it was due to the fact that they were all so frail and old when they passed.

Last night was one of the greatest nights I’ve ever had in a strange town. We got in about 1:30pm. My uncles, my cousin Davy, and a few others were there. It has just snowed about 6 inches and had literally stopped only about 15 minutes before we got there. Around 3pm, my Dad and his brothers were already contacting all the shirttail cousins from my Grandmother’s side of the family and preparing to go have beers. That’s what you do in small towns in the middle of nowhere. You go have the beers. We pull up to “The Shamrock”, a legendary local saloon. It is a Sunday. The whole town seems to be shut down like it’s 1955 and everyone is at church.

Kitty corner from the bar is a tiny police station. A female cop yells to us from across the way in a cartoon Marge Gunderson voice: “OOOH you must be looking for so & so, he closed up late last night and may not be in to open up until 5 or soooo. Head down the block to Finch’s Five Spot if you want some beer.”  We all stand ankle deep in the new fallen snow…jaws agape to the permafrost below…speechless. My dad’s brother finally breaks the silence – “Ok! Thanks!” he says merrily.

We see a Ford Truck with a giant plow attached to the front of it furiously pushing powder all over the place. The guy yells at us from the driver side window. “Oh it’s my cousin Scotty!” my Dad says. My dad is pumped. They exchange pleasantries…their voices boomeranging off the decrepit downtown Carrington brick buildings. Something about making sure we stay there and wait for him?  I don’t know…I don’t care… I just want to jump into my escape hatch of Coors Banquet Beer and swim around until this becomes fun. And it will. It always does.

I am sitting in a 2nd-row pew in the Carrington Federated Church. I think this town is so small they just mashed all the religions together into one church and called it good. The casket is pushed down from the back by the undertaker heir. “Damn.”, I think. “That casket spray is pungent.” The smell gets stronger… and stronger…until I am suffocated by it. Then I remember. This is the 4th time I’ve thought there were “too many flowers” on the casket. This isn’t the fucking flowers. It’s the embalming fluid or maybe some disinfectant they have used to clean the body. I hate that smell. It’s like rotting plants mixed with Windex and vinegar. This seems worse than normal. Is the hangover worse than I thought?  Am I just being a wuss? BE STRONG. BE A MAN GODDAMNIT. YOU ARE 42 FOR FUCKS SAKE. No…this is an insane amount. I am smelling it from 15 feet away. Usually, you just get a slight whiff of it when you are carrying the casket. Holy hell. This shit is intense. Like that one dude, the doofus you knew in high school who doused himself repeatedly with the bottle of Drakkar Noir that he kept stashed in his locker. You know, the dude you can smell coming from three counties away? Or the lady who stinks up the elevator with her overpowering old person perfume. Did they give grandma a double dose because they have to store her in an igloo for 4 months until the ground is thawed out enough to bury her this spring? Did she get a full body chemical bath like Vladimir Lenin gets every year? The undertaker heir is not taking any chances.

The eulogies are given by my dad, my Uncle Ed, and cousin Davy (formerly of the Navy).  Dave is standing in for my other Uncle who lives in Atlanta. He is a retired Naval Commander of some distinction. He cannot travel because his wife just had some pretty hardcore spinal surgery. I bring this up because I am a bit disappointed that he couldn’t make it. 9 years ago when my Grandfather passed he gave the single most inspirational eulogy I had ever heard. The entire thing was about not being afraid to “participate in life” and to not be a spectator on the sidelines or some shit. Real Knute Rockne type stuff. I remember feeling bad because my dad’s eulogy (a quieter, more abstract tome comparing his father to the prairie wind of North Dakota) was seemingly lost in the shuffle. I still remember it vividly though, I remember being mildly impressed because I’d never seen my Dad speak in public before.

My Uncle Ed goes last. Batting clean up. He is holding a whistle and talks about all the shit he got into when he was a kid when they lived across the street from the Carrington Federated Church. Ed is, and always has been the black sheep of the family… and usually the drunkest. Not this time though…not with the skinny teens tagging along. Don’t get me wrong, I still texted him last night after cousin Scotty said the teens could go to his house and play video games with Scotty’s teens (while we drank 7,000 liters of cheap beer).  Eddie came to The Shamrock and polished off his fair share, but the mythical “Fast Eddie” never came out. This seemed like a different Eddie. A somewhat fatherly Eddie.

Eddie is now blowing the whistle around his neck and telling his mother to come home, not unlike she used to for him. The casket sits stoically beneath him. Not a dry eye in the house. My Dad is once again overshadowed in the parent eulogy sweepstakes…this despite giving a surprisingly heartfelt, earnest speech about how he was shy around girls at his high school parties and she taught him to foxtrot.

As the Pallbearers gather at the back of the church, Davy reminds me he needs to be on a certain side of the coffin on account of his missing finger from a Naval accident. I am suddenly uneasy about our descent down the steep, frozen staircase. I am now lined up next to the youngest teen, and let’s just say he is providing very little lifting power.  Holy shit we might actually drop this thing! I hear a feeble “lift, lift, LIFT!” coming out of the other teen in the back. This gives me a tiny surge of adrenaline and we make it back to the hearse with chemical-coffin and my grandmother in one piece (though I suspect all the real lifting power was coming from 9 finger Davy).

Less than 12 hours earlier I was sitting in The Shamrock next to a crane arcade game. One of those kids games in which they operate a giant mechanical claw and try to use it to pick up stuffed animals and drop them into a hole. I look closer at the machine. Mixed in with the various cheap children’s toys is a metric fuck ton of sex toys. Full-sized dildos, Porn DVDs, and other assorted deviant delights. Fucking North Dakota man.

I hear a story that night about a man who rode through the Shamrock buck naked on a horse during the “streaker craze” of the 1970s. I hear a story about my Uncle Ed stealing a bird from a pet store when he was on a field trip to Winnipeg in high school. This being the 70s, he named it “Free Blatz” (after his favorite Skynyrd song and favorite beer) and then brought it home as a pet. Eventually, my grandfather stepped on it and accidentally killed it. Fast Eddie buried it in the yard under a tree, cut out the Blatz logo from an old beer can and hung it as a gravesite marker. 40 years later during an “all class” reunion, the brothers took a stroll to their old yard and found the Blatz can gravestone still hanging from the tree in all its faded glory. Do they even make Blatz anymore?

We are drinking Kona Longboard Lager from a tap behind the bar. This is treated as a fine delicacy and all the town’s folk talk it up like it was hand delivered from Mars by a space alien. Hey, it beats the canned Coors they serve at Finch’s down the street I guess. Our small impromptu family reunion drains the entire keg.

It is roughly 4 months later. June. I make the trek back to Carrington for the burial. The ground has been deemed sufficiently thawed for our grandmother to finally be laid to rest next to my grandfather. This time, since school just got out, I bring my 7-year old with. We have never been on a road trip together. It is glorious. We stop to see the albino buffalo in Jamestown, ND (pop. 15,387) and do all sorts of fun touristy stuff. She gets to see her cousins from Georgia and we are able to visit the old stomping grounds of our ancestors in Grace City, ND (pop. 63). I marvel at the fact that 2 families in the middle of nowhere somehow came together and shot out spawn all over the United States. We visit the abandoned gas station my Great Grandfather (and namesake) used to run in Grace City. A ghost town. Nothing there.

I am standing in a cemetery with my daughter and my brother. It is windy as fuck and unseasonably cool for June. One of the locals sneers, “It ain’t windy in North Dakota unless the potholes have whitecaps!” That’s a good one I think, I am going to use that on my Facebook check-in. I am wearing a short-sleeved polo with little sailboats all over it in a cheeky tribute to my grandparents who loved sailing. Yeah…there are actually places you can sail in North Dakota (they also sailed in many other places of course). It is too cold to be in short sleeves and the wind is howling across the barren plains like some two-bit 19th-century novel.  The Naval Commander gives me one of his old beige coats, I think it is probably a boy’s small. I look like a supreme douchebag from hell who was dressed by Cosmo Kramer. My hair is a windswept Picasso.

We are waiting for everyone to get there from town…it is a bit of a hike into this no man’s land. My daughter is having the time of her life chasing her cousins around. I scan the cemetery and realize that there are probably more dead people buried here than the entire living population of Grace City, ND.  I see my Great Grandfather’s tombstone. I’ll admit that it is a bit odd seeing a tombstone with your name on it (even if the middle name is different). I have 2 sets of Great Grandparents buried here, and now both Grandparents as well. I see my father’s and uncle’s names on their tombstone. My father has told me he wants to be buried here too…but only as some sort of dark joke to be played on the rest of his family. He shows me the plot he has bought for himself (he is currently unmarried, thrice divorced). “I just want to make everyone drive all the way out here again, heh heh heh.”

I begin to smell something vile behind me and I immediately know the casket is near. Fucking formaldehyde. I stand next to the casket with my daughter moments before they lower it into the ground. The wind is whipping the putrid, wilted-flower Windex stink directly into my nostrils. I am not hungover. Not even close. I had a few beers with lunch yesterday, but just mostly chilled with my daughter that night. Maybe 2 beers with dinner…I can’t remember. We stand silently as some of the women lay roses on the coffin. It lowers. Everyone is solemn. I think about how I am going to explain what is going on to my daughter on the way back to Carrington. But she seems oblivious, just happy to be on an exotic adventure in a foreign land.

That night I knew every damn relative I had within a 20-mile vicinity was going to rage all night at the local Carrington watering holes. There were even more relatives in town than the last go around. We all drink light beer in the hotel bar while the kids run around after the service. After a few hours, everyone goes back to their rooms to ready themselves for the big night out. Uncle Ed has a big shit-eating grin on his face. No kids this time. I feebly attempt to get my cousin from Georgia to let my daughter hang out with her kids for a spell that night. No dice. They are going to bed early while her southern gentleman husband gets treated to a proper North Dakota shellacking. Waves of jealousy pour over me…but at the same time, some sort of animalistic instinct to protect my daughter overpowers my wants and needs. Funny how that works.

Later, just before my daughter’s bedtime, I decide to try and have the best of both worlds. I drive over the hill to the edge of town to the world’s tiniest liquor store. They have the worst beer selection I’ve ever seen. I am very particular about beer. I am a snob. I ask them if they carry Drekker, the hippest new brewery in the midwest. They only deliver to the Twin Cities twice a month and beer dorks wait impatiently outside liquor stores for the beer truck to pull in around 3pm every other Thursday. Drekker is building a giant new beer hall called “Valhalla” this summer and hopefully upping their deliveries to Minnesota. I am obsessed with this beer like I was obsessed with finding an Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card in 1989. I need a goddamn Brain Freeze Raspberry Lime Smoothie Sour, or at least an Ectogasm IPA. I’ve been drinking shit beer for two days.

“You don’t have Drekker?” I ask incredulously. Fucking heathens. How is this possible? It’s made in Fargo, a mere 2 hours away! I find some shitty New Belgium raspberry summer beer and a six-pack of Voodoo Ranger. Later I text a picture of the haul to my next door neighbor back home…a beer connoisseur of the highest order. “Look!” I mock…”The best beer I can find within a 150-mile radius!”  “Yuk,” he responds. This is his standard response to just about any beer that isn’t meticulously crafted in small batches by humble independent local beer artisans.

I am awoken around midnight to loud mumbling outside the motel window. Ed is back. Yep, we are sharing a room with him tonight. My daughter is in a dead slumber next to me. Ed comes barrelling in hammered to the nines and still bellowing at bar level volume. Every other word is a swear. He is yammering on about some “younger bar sluts”…I think that he thinks they were actually hitting on him.  I gently remind him that there is a 7-year-old sleeping in the room. He gets marginally quieter but is still stumbling around loudly in the dark. Uncle Ed is in his 60s now, he’s reached the “oh he’s just a funny old man” stage. I look at my daughter…she is still sound asleep. Probably dreaming about buffaloes and horses and running around with her cousins.

“Where the fuck’s my machine?!”, Ed warbles in a wry self-deprecating way. It’s still kind of dark, I think only the far bathroom light is on. I have no idea what the fuck he is doing. He is pulling out a giant box and fumbling with knobs and cords. Oh wait…is that a CPAP machine?  Am I watching a drunk guy try to hook up his CPAP machine in the dark?  This is amazing. I am giggling silently. He finally gets the apparatus running and it sounds like a fucking spaceship is taking off. My daughter sleeps through it all.

When Fast Eddie was my age we would hang out sometimes and drink beer. I remember going over to his little-rented house and watching the OJ chase the summer after my senior year of High school. Ed introduced me to Neil Young, The Who, and other classics in a time when I only cared about Grunge and Gangsta Rap. He was the first person I ever knew who tried to make his own beer, back in the early 90s. He had a friend named Slug who tried to get me to smoke weed out of a Mountain Dew can when I turned 18. Jesus, there was so much fucking paneling in that little shithole house. His beer turned out awful. All sediment on the bottom like gravel and pure alcohol on top. I drank some anyway.

In the morning we wake and eat breakfast. Everyone goes their separate ways, a few of us start the long journey back to Minnesota…a few more stay behind for a couple more days. On the way home I talk my uncles and my Dad into stopping in Fargo for lunch. I take my daughter to a record store and I stop at Drekker. After eating lunch in a hip remodeled old building, now turned restaurant/bar, and named “The Boiler Room” …we say our goodbyes. My uncle and my Dad heading back to the Twin Cities…and my Dad eventually having to drive another 2.5 hours (8.5 hours total) back to his home in Winona, MN (pop. 26,928).

As I cross over the river from Fargo, ND (pop. 120,356) to Moorhead, MN (pop. 43,122) the sun is beating down. It is a perfect June day. Summer is here. For real this time. No more overcast, windstrewn North Dakota cemetery weather. I look back at my daughter. She is happily playing with her iPad, faux Beats headphones emblazoned with characters from the movie Frozen rest upon her ears. She looks like a cute little Dr. Dre. As I drive I see a billboard that just says “Smile.” I smile at the Smile billboard.  My Jeep is filled to the brim with scrumptious 16 oz. silos of Drekker beer, Drekker pins, Drekker hats, and even a Drekker Brewery sticker that I will proudly place on the back window of the Jeep when I get home.

I am dumb and happy, like an American.

That was 143 days ago. The last 25 of those days, I have been sober.