Sweet n Spicy BBQ Chicken Sub W/ Cheddar Bacon + Red Onion

I’m having a drink. You know where I am. Sometimes, these days, I’m not sure what I’d do without the Penny and my list. It’s become, in a way, like having a job, a place to go to. A purpose. I know, that sounds ridiculous, drinking my way through a list of liquor is like having a job, but it gives some structure, at least to write about, and a respite from the continuing saga of random experiences that I have no explanation for.

I’m at my usual table when I’m alone, in the back of the room, not that the back of the room is much more private than any other table in any other part of the Penny. The Big Guy picked a drink off the list and brought it to me without any discussion. He seems to know that when I’ve got my notebook open and my pen out that I’m not interested in any discussion of the merits of one spirit over the other. Funny that they refer to liquors as spirits, I never thought of that. Funny, yeah, Ha Ha.

(Note to self: When I’m back at my desktop computer, look up the reason they call liquors spirits.)

(Later note to self: After returning to my desk and Googling this question, I found there are a number of reasons for the etymology of the word. I will enter the discussion at the end of this post. It is actually germane, which is frightening as well as interesting.)

As you might imagine, I have been getting comments and emails about these experiences, mostly of the variety: “What the F is going on, Al!?” I can’t really answer this type of question because I don’t really know what the F is going on!, beyond what I’m reporting here. I know most of you think I’m just screwing around with you, but I’m not. I have a feeling that as long as I’m able to keep this authorial distance I’ll be OK. So, back to the notebook. (My daughter Leah buys me these cool Japanese school notebooks that are really beautiful. I’m a notebook whore, having bought blank journals and notebooks over many years, and even made some of my own. After I’m dead, my children will find shelves of these books; I counsel tossing them all in the trash as 99% of the entries and material therein are the jottings of a perfectly normal nature, doodles, grocery lists, lists of books I have recently read or want to read, some attempts at diary-keeping, but mostly just thoughts that sometimes flicker into my head.

This week…

I called Jason Longwell of Longwell Construction. I was told they are the local guys you hire if you are having problems with your house’s understructure. Jason, a small, whip-thin guy, looked like he was not only able to crawl around tight spaces underneath old houses, but that he actually relished it. He listened to my story, not the story about something being under my house, but my story about the various structural problems that had been noted by the inspector when we bought the house. Problems that we had ignored.

“Pillars breaking down, possible asbestos contamination, animal activity, and anything else that might cause the house to fall in?” he said.

“It sounds fairly dire when I hear it coming from you,” I said. How much is this going to cost me, I thought.

The original idea, Mark’s idea, was to get a guy over here to go under the house and see if there was, what? Some sort of abnormal activity going on? Anything strange. I felt a surge of guilt. “You know there’s a lot of bugs under there,” I said. And ghosts, I thought.

He gave me a look that I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of times since I moved south. The look said, oh shut up, you don’t have a clue about bugs, crawlspaces or much of anything else. Most of the time I deserve the look.

“I’m not going under there today,” Longwell said, “Not dressed like this.” He was wearing jeans, boots, and a t-shirt. “I’ll check it from the outside.” He went around the exterior of the ground floor. It turns out there were two entrances of the low wooden door variety on each side, entrances I hadn’t noticed before, plus the main access area where the heating unit is. I tagged along, tying to see around him as he crouched down at the entry doors and shined his flashlight into the interior. His flashlight was much bigger than mine. Finally he stood up and dusted himself off.

“You’ve definitely got some problems under there, but I’ll have to get closer before I can give you any sort of a price about making things right.” He must have taken pity on my new expression, which no doubt said: Go easy on me, I’m a pensioner. Donald Trump is taking away all my safety nets.

“Mr. Appel, I could go under any of the old houses in Hillsborough and find at least a dozen problems that need repair. Does that mean you have to do them all? No. It doesn’t even mean you have to do any of them. You’re going to pay me $100 to tell you what you should do, what you might consider doing, not what you have to do. You decide that on your own.”

I made an appointment for him to come back in a couple of days and investigate. He said he would give me a detailed report. I felt guilty knowing that I was probably not going to take him up on any further services; paying him his $100 fee when he was done would make me feel better. And him as well, I would imagine.

Back at the Lead Penny. The bourbon I was drinking, Noah’s Mill, dragged me away from my notebook. I looked it up on my phone and found it clocked in at 114.3 proof; no wonder it demanded attention. I liked it; readers of these pages know I prefer the higher-octane liquors, especially those, like this one, which had additional excellent flavors. I made a mental note to order it again when I was through with my list and had rejoined the ranks of pleasure-drinkers.

Now back at home in front of my computer typing up my notes from my notebook… As promised at the beginning of this entry, I looked up the reasons the word “spirit” has come to refer to alcohol. I’m going to mashup several articles and carve it down to manageable length. Here you go.

“Most believe the word “alcohol” originated in the Middle East since the prefix al is a definite article in Arabic–the debate is about which word it stems from, either al-koh’l or al-ghawl. This is the most straightforward way to link alcohol and spirits, as the word means spirit. The Qur’an–verse 37:47 mentions al-ghawl to refer to a demon or spirit that produces intoxication.

The word also translates as “ghoul.” (!!!!) ((That’s me adding the exclamation marks.))

“This may be a credible theory, as The Oxford English Dictionary lists al-koh’l as the origin for “alcohol.” It notes the word was incorporated into the English language during the sixteenth century. During that same century, “spirit” began to be used to refer to the intoxicating beverage.” And this from another article… “The word “Alcohol” comes from the Arabic “al-kuhl” which means “BODY EATING SPIRIT,” and gives root origins to the English term for “ghoul.” In Middle Eastern folklore, a “ghoul” is an evil demon thought to eat human bodies, either as stolen corpses or as children.” So there you have it, make of it what you will. I’d be happy to see comments if anyone has an opinion on how the two words – alcohol and ghoul – became linked.


Later that afternoon I tracked down the elusive Rafe.



OBAN                 LAGAVULIN

Turkey Burger, Habanero Cheddar, Grilled Onion, Tomato, Pickled Jalapenos

Mark’s home. Good, I was getting tired of drinking alone. Because I’m through with my no drinking experiment. Epic fail. Seeing the little girl, hearing her speak, feeling her brush my leg as she passed was real, or at least it was real to me. There’s one thing I’m sure of: I wasn’t drunk.

The Penny was in its usual dull roar around us. It was a bonus day, as far as the 69 drinks were concerned. I had a comment on an earlier blog from an old pal, Gordon Chaplin, professing his love for Lagavulin scotch. Since it was on the list, I ordered it. When the server showed up with our drinks he said that there hadn’t been enough left in the Lagavulin bottle for a reasonable pour, so he brought me what he had, gratis, and would bring me another, maybe the Oban 14-year-old. I agreed, so I was knocking off two drinks with one visit and one payment. Good thing, because both of them were $16 drinks.

Mark took a drink of his beer and made a face. Not a happy face. He’s a fan of sour beers, which I am training myself to like. He slid his glass over to me and I took a taste. I understood the face. It was the sourest beer I had ever tasted and had the additional overtone of road tar. The Lagavulin and the Oban were both superb.

I told him about my time when he was gone, cowering in my bed at night, my talk with Tom at the Ashburn House, and subsequent brush-off. My chat with Betty. Mark nodded through all of it, looking at me with that small smile that said he thought I was full of shit. But probably not crazy. Then he threw a real loop at me.

“The little girl,” he said. He pulled out his cell phone and hit a few buttons. He turned the phone toward me. “Is this her?”

I’m not sure how many more serious lurches my heart is going to give before blowing a valve. There she was, the little girl, only in my versions she has dark skin and the face is a little different. But not that different.

“It seems,” he said, “by your expression, you’ve answered my question.” He put his phone on the table. “That’s your little girl.”Sally Pic

I was stunned. I took a sip of my drink. It could have been ashes in my mouth for all I could tell. “I don’t know what to say. I feel like an idiot. I don’t know why I didn’t make the connection. That’s Sally, from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas.



By now I think Mark was aware that I was nearing the edge of some sort of pit. I had dug my own grave (why do all of these ghost clichés seem so apt?) with the no drinking experiment. I said that if the visions weren’t a product of too much alcohol, that left two choices, 1. I’m crazy, 2. It’s real.

“How’s my hair look, Mark?”

“Your hair? I dunno, fine I guess.”

If you’ve been reading these blog posts in order you know that in a previous one I said I had always noticed that all the really crazy people I’ve known over the years stopped washing their hair at a certain point as they descended into their various forms of madness. I had washed my hair this morning, so I must be ok. I know this observation and diagnosis didn’t have a lot of provable science behind it, but I still think the theory is sound.

“Where did you get that picture?” I asked. “How did you make the connection?”

Mark fiddled with the phone on the table. “You know I was at a big rare book fair in New York. Sometimes at these things they have an ancillary fair where people sell antiques other than books. I was looking through those aisles and came across an antique doll seller, and she had two modern dolls,” he tapped the phone, “in their original boxes. One was a girl doll and one was a boy doll. I was struck by how this one looked like how you described the little girl who may or may not live under your house. Particularly how the lips were sewed up.”

I’ll bet the other doll was Jack from the same film. When my kids were little, they saw the movie, and for Christmas we got Charlie the Jack doll because he seemed fascinated by it. Turns out that what we saw as fascination, he saw as terror. He hated that doll and never opened the box. It’s not exactly my little girl, the little girl I see in my backyard. She has some Raggedy Ann visual features thrown in as well. I conjured up an image of her in my mind. Yes, clearly a mix of the two dolls.

Mark continued. “So let’s just agree that you have more than a passing knowledge of the Sally character, and many hours logged watching a Raggedy Ann movie with your daughter, and somehow…”

I stopped him with a raised hand. “And somehow I’ve mashed up these two images in my mind. And…?”

“Well, you’re using them as a basis for… I don’t know.” He looked as baffled as I felt. “What you’re seeing under the house and in the shed.”

“I don’t know either. What am I going to do? This is clearly my mind making up an image and convincing me that it’s real. Real. Listen to me. It can’t be real.” For a moment I remembered the little girl running past me in the shed. I felt her brush my leg. Then what is it?

“I guess if we’re going to rule out the possibility that you’re bat-shit crazy we’re — you’re — going to have to keep trying to figure out what’s really going on. What’s Sherry say about all of this?”

“She doesn’t have any idea what’s going on, and I’m not going to try and explain it to her. This morning she asked if there was something bothering me, that I looked kind of pale and tired. I told her I was working on my blog about the 69 drinks. She understands when I’m working on a big project I wander around the house at night thinking and writing. I lose a lot of sleep. She’s used to it. Look, she knows I get kind of crazy when I’m writing a novel. The blog isn’t a novel, but I’m still immersed in two worlds.” I gestured around me at the crowded bar. “The 69 drinks and the rest of my everyday life is one world, lets call it World One, and whatever world it is where this doll exists, World Two. When I’m not in World One I’m sitting in a chair at 3:30 AM scaring the crap out if myself. So, maybe I’m ‘situational crazy.’ I just invented that term. It means sometimes I’m in a situation where I’m going to be at least a little bit insane, where maybe I have to be a little insane to succeed with the writing. I must have imagined the little girl as looking like something I knew, in this case a combination of Sally and Annie. The operative word here is imagined.

“But you didn’t imagine the light going on and off,” Mark said. “Or the shovel. I’m the one who found the shovel. I think we can both agree that I’m not crazy. And now the shovel has gone missing and you’re hearing someone, or something digging under your house. And you were saying about Sherry?”

“She’s going to go to her sister’s house sometime soon for a week or two, so I’ll have time to look into this stuff without worrying her. Meanwhile, I’ll go over to the historical society and try to find the records on my property and the house, and I’ll go back to the Ashburn House and find that guy Rafe that Betty told me about. Maybe he knows something.”

Mark took a sip of his beer. He was really having to work to get it down. “Here’s another idea” he said. “Since I’m not going back under the house, and I assume you aren’t either,” he paused long enough for me to give a shake of my head, “then why not hire someone else to go under there and see what’s going on?”

“You mean hire a kid and send him under there to his death or something?”

“No, don’t be ridiculous. A crawlspace professional. Someone in the building trades who does infrastructure diagnosis and work.”

Not a bad idea. Before we bought the house we had an inspector go over it from top to bottom. He pointed out that some of the pillars underneath were crumbling and should be replaced. And there was a possibility that one of the pipes had asbestos insulation wrapped around it. At the time, it hadn’t seemed particularly dire. I asked the inspector how long it was going to last if I don’t do anything? “Two years?”

“Maybe,” he said.

“Twenty years?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said.

That was close enough for me. I’d get to it one of these days. Or maybe I’d die first and it would be someone else’s problem. But Mark’s idea would kill two birds with one stone (another death cliché). I’d get an opinion as to what was going on under there and an estimate for work that needed to be done at the same time. If the inspector didn’t notice anything odd, then we were back to square one: I’m batshit crazy.

“Good idea,” I said. I raised my glass in Mark’s direction. “Welcome home.”