To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Alan and the Crazies

Alan was the second of the Masters who began to teach me, and I basically always liked him. He often seemed serious, even stiff--he was genuinely formal and reserved, and his voice was dry and somewhat nasal. I always thought that if he'd been allowed he would have worn a collared shirt and a tie every day of his life. The whimsical school uniform never really looked quite right on him. But Alan's seriousness, like so much else about him, was an illusion he made no effort to confuse with the truth.

Alan was--and is--a psychologist and a stage magician. I think I mentioned already that he was actually hired specifically as the school's magic teacher. He never denied that stage magic is based on illusion, but he also maintained that illusion is magical. I have a friend who was Alan's particular student, just as I ended up working closely with Charlie. My friend sometimes went with Alan to the hospital--Alan did magic shows as a form of therapy, mostly for hospitalized children, to cheer them up. He had also gotten himself recognized as a hospital chaplain, though I'm not sure how he did that, as he was not ordained in any particular religion. My friend told me about one time when Alan, in his capacity as chaplain, sat at the bedside of an atheist who was dying of cancer. The atheist was explaining how he wanted to be able to hope for a miraculous cure, and he wanted to be able to hope he was going to Heaven, but he just couldn't make himself believe in either miracles or Heaven. He believed only in reason, and reason told him he was about to die, painfully, and that would be the end. Done.

Alan smiled, and said, quite casually, that hope has an odd way of showing up unexpectedly--and he opened his hand to reveal, of all things, a live white dove.

The dying man almost leaped out of his bed in shock--he hadn't known that Alan could do magic--and then recovered himself and said "it's just a trick," in a voice that my friend said sounded very sad. Alan readily acknowledged that he'd used slight-of-hand, though he wouldn't explain how he'd managed to do it--doves are too big to hide up a sleeve.

"But," Alan said, "for a second you thought it really had just appeared miraculously, right?"

"Yes," the man told him, "I thought the world had just gotten bigger, or something. But it hadn't. And thank you for the entertainment, but I'm still dying of cancer."

Alan became serious.

"Yes, you are still dying of cancer. But remember how that felt--believing for a moment that the world was bigger than you thought. There's a gap between what you know and the limits of what is real--and in that gap was a white dove you didn't know existed. Can you swear there aren't two white doves in this room? Or three? Can you swear you know so much about the world that there can be no miracles, no Heaven?"

And the man began to cry. When Alan finally got ready to go, the man stopped him and asked how he'd known to bring the bird, since he couldn't have known where the conversation would go, and also how he'd gotten the bird in past hospital security. Alan just smiled.

"I'm a magician," he told the man, and left.

Alan taught a course on stage magic, which I never took, along with Intro to Psychology, which I took because it was mandatory, and a pair of other electives I would not have missed; The Psychology of Illusion and Illusions, Damn Lies, and Statistics. I'll tell you about those courses sometime. Alan was a popular teacher, and he had his group of students who particularly admired him, his own favorite friendly audience and group of willing volunteers. I wasn't one of them, though, like I said, I always basically liked the guy. But I first encountered him not as a magician (I'm not counting that trick with the ring on my first night, since I didn't know him at all yet) but as a group therapist.

Yearlings had to take a year of group therapy, along with our year of zazen. We were put in groups of ten, mostly with people from other dorms, mostly other yearlings, and we met as groups almost every Wednesday. Then, we'd have dinner together. Alan ran the program, but since all four groups met at the same time, he met with each only every fourth week. The rest of the time we had a format to follow.

The first few weeks, though, the meetings were staggered so he could attend all of them and get us going. He taught us group-bonding exercises, ice-breaking games, and the format we were supposed to use when he wasn't there--and he cautioned us against trying to play therapist with each other. Someone asked, why not?

"Because you're crazy," he deadpanned.

"Am I crazy, too?" asked a girl in the corner--Kit would want me to call the girl a woman, since she was over eighteen, and I mostly quit calling women girls because of Kit bugging me about it, but this woman really was a girl. She mostly wanted attention. Alan gratified her by pronouncing her crazy, too.

"I'm crazy, you're all crazy..." he added, and a hint of a smile played about one corner of his mouth as he waited to see if someone would deliver the next line. I can recognize a Lewis Carrol paraphrase when I hear it, so did the honors and set him up.

"How do you know we're crazy?" I asked him.

"You must be, or you wouldn't have come here!" Alan replied, grinning like the Cheshire Cat himself. But then he sobered, and gave a real answer to the question about why we shouldn't practice therapy on each other.

"I'm your psychologist, an expert on the human mind--which is bull, of course, because I'm nuts. I have issues, hangups...but it works because my craziness isn't connected to yours. We're not really in each others' lives yet, so I can see things in you I could never have seen in myself, things I couldn't see in a friend. But implicit in our therapeutic relationship is the assumption that I know more about your minds than you do--which I don't. You know that, and I know it. But you'll make that assumption anyway if you come to trust me as your therapist. And for anyone who is actually in your lives, as you are in each others', with all the investments and conflicts of interest that implies, for anyone in your lives to encourage you to believe that they know more about your life and mind than you do is abusive. And I won't have you do that to each other."

It was a bittersweet day when I realized I had become Alan's friend, and could no longer benefit from his keen perspective.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Zen and the Art of Getting Up Too Early

I should, perhaps, have begun with Greg and Zen meditation, or with Alan and group therapy, since both meditation and group were required activities I started the first week. I was their student long before I ever saw Charlie do anything except sit quietly on a dimly lit stage. But of course, Charlie became central to my work at the school, so I wanted to introduce him first. In any case, I'm trying to keep my posts roughly seasonal, and getting to know Charlie is very much linked in my mind with early spring planting and the egg hunt. Group therapy and Zazen both happened indoors where it was hard to tell what season it was.

But Greg was the first of the faculty whose tutelage I actually came under, the morning of my first full day on campus. I would have begun there if I were actually doing what I'd wanted to do when I started out, which was to write this blog like it was twelve years ago and I were writing about these events as I experienced them. But, if I were going to do that, I'd have to wait until next year to start, and I don't know what will happen between now and then. Something could prevent me from writing, and writing is now the best service I can offer the school that gave me so much--this work must at least get started. So here I go, doing the best I can with what I've got.

I never really got to know Greg. I'm not sure any of us really did, except maybe his alchemy students--he taught Buddhist alchemy, in addition to straight Zen Buddhist meditation, though since he never told anyone he did so, he had very few alchemy students. He did have some. He was tall, almost skeletal in his thinness, with iron-grey hair buzzed not quite to his scalp. Although his father was white, his mother had been Japanese-American, and he had been raised Buddhist. Greg had the distinction of being the only one of the faculty who had never changed religions, the only one who had never attended the school as a student, and the only one who had been with the school from the very beginning. He was also the oldest of the Masters, already in his seventies when I met him. I have now told you most of what I ever learned about him--I could tell you the rest in another paragraph, but I've got to get on with this post. All he ever taught me can also be summarized in a single paragraph, which I will write for you shortly.

What I learned from Greg was something else again, and I learned that by sitting zazen for up to an hour a day, six days a week, every week for a year, plus periodic mini-retreats. This was a required activity, by the way--yearlings had to sit, everyone else had a choice. I will try to capture the flavor of that daily rhythm for you, day after day beginning by walking down the steps in my uniform and robe, rubbing the sleep from my eyes and counting my breaths, but to learn what I learned (or your version of it) you will have to do what I did; sit for a year. There's no way to do it but to do it.

So, as you may recall if you read my earlier posts, my first night on campus was February 2nd, 2000, which was a Wednesday. I stayed up late that night, talking with my new dorm-mates and drinking hard cider, but I had to get up early the next morning to go sit zazen. That was not fun, I have to say.

Zazen was at six in the morning, which in early February is not even close to dawn, and none of the campus buildings were ever particularly warm. We heated mostly with wood, and none of us wanted to carry a lot of wood around, so by six in the morning the fire would always have gone out and the air temperature in my room would be around fifty degrees. I was warm enough under my wool blankets--we all had these beautiful hand-woven wool blankets from the school's own sheep--but I never wanted to get out of bed. Plus, of course, that first morning I was under-slept and slightly hung over. As a courtesy to us yearlings, the senior students got up, too, and hauled us out of bed. That actually was a courtesy, and a generous one, since they'd all stayed up late too, and could have slept another two hours, but I don't think any of us really appreciated it at the time.

Sometime I'll have to post some maps of the campus buildings so these descriptions will make more sense. I lived in a dorm on the second floor of the Mansion, and zazen was in a small room on the first floor, and normally you could walk down the grand stairs, into the Great Hall, and through an internal door to the Meditation Hall.. But early in the morning that internal door was closed, and we had to walk out through the Green Room door, around the outside of the building, and back in through a side door. They did it this way so we'd have to step outside into the cold air and the snow for a few minutes, otherwise we would have fallen right back asleep on our cushions.

I know why the door was kept closed in the mornings, but not why we had to sit zazen at all. Some form of meditative or prayer practice made sense, but why that one, and why didn't we have a choice? I never knew--I did not ask. It may have been as simple as the fact that Greg was who we had to lead such sessions. The school never didn't have Greg on the faculty ("never didn't"?), so there is no way to know what it would have been like without the specifics of his interests and skills.

So we came in, knocking the snow off of our pants and our robes before it could melt, and took off our boots--a coincidentally appropriate gesture before engaging in a Japanese meditation form. Greg introduced himself to us and showed us the right way to sit on our little black cushions (you don't need a cushion to sit zazen, by the way; you only need something under your tailbone to raise your butt a bit, as this makes it easier to sit straight) and then he told us something very much like the following;

"Sit with your spine straight, your legs folded, and your hands resting together in your lap like so. Let your arms be like the branches of a tree, hanging from the trunk of your body. Keep your eyes open, and look--don't stare--at a spot about five feet in front of you. This meditation form was developed by samurai monks on guard duty, so your eyes and ears must remain open; be aware of what is around you, but not focused on anything--if you focus on one thing, the attack could come from something else. Count your breath, both in and out, up to ten then start over. If you lose count, start over. If you find your mind has been wandering, start over. If you find yourself worrying about your mind wandering, start over. I will tell you when to stop--it will be two sessions of ten minutes each today, and we will work up from there. If you do this often enough for long enough, you may hallucinate; Siddhartha Gautama did, before he became the Buddha. It is only illusion. Ignore it."

He recommended a few books, my favorite being Nothing Special: Living Zen, by Charlotte Joko Beck, and once a week he gave short talks on meditation and spiritual development. He taught us walking meditation, which was like sitting mediation except focusing on the feet rather than on the breath, and he sometimes lead us on walks. If anyone scratched an itch during mediation, he would say "who is master, you or the itch?" in a loud, startling voice that made the rest of us hate whoever had scratched. Once, my foot fell asleep up to the knee, and I made the mistake of complaining about it to him as I stood on one foot after meditation was over. He came over to me, grabbed my leg and all of its pins and needles, and planted it hard upon the ground. That stuck in my memory. I noticed, when it got warmer, that although he sometimes wore insect repellent, if an insect actually bit him he never squashed it or even waved it away. He let it bite him and he experienced it. That stuck with me, too.

But mostly Greg simply began the Zazen session, watched as a twenty-minute incense stick burned down, then rang a bell, once, to stop the session. Ding! There was no guided imagery, no soothing voice, no soothing anything, just sit until it is time to stop. Ding!

Two twenty minute sessions with a ten minute break between, every morning, six days a week, for a year. It was like putting down a root in my mind every morning.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Our major spring holiday was, of course, not Easter but Ostara, the spring equinox, the previous month. I should, maybe, have described that first, but Easter was on my mind the other day, and I wanted to talk about it.

It was always the eight sabbats that were the major campus holidays--the times when we would have some time off, plus scheduled holiday-related activities. That being said, we didn't necessarily celebrate them as Wiccan holidays. The school had no specific religion overall; the practicing Wiccans held their own celebrations, just as the monotheists, Buddhists, and everybody else did. What the school as a whole celebrated was a unique tradition all its own. We never talked about what, if anything, it meant, it was just what we did, and it was usually fun.

For Ostara, we had a picnic feat, we opened and decorated Chapel Hall, where the classrooms were, and we had an egg hunt. We did not hunt dyed chicken eggs.

Instead, we hunted for actual bird's nests. Charlie was in charge of it, and he handed out digital cameras, memo pads, and good binoculars--one of each per team of two--and told us to go take pictures of active nests. We were supposed to write down why we believed the nest to be active, and where it was on campus. Nests or egg masses belonging to other animals were ok, too. We got one point per nest, an extra point if the time stamp on the picture showed we were the first to take a picture of that nest, and another point if the picture was beautiful or artistically interesting. A point would be deducted for a nest that wasn't actually active, or if Charlie found out that we had done anything to stress the animals. The winning team would get a prize, and the best pictures would be printed and hung in the Chapel Hall gallery.

I didn't win, though my team found two bird's nests, one of them first, which Charlie said later was actually really good. We also found a preying mantis egg case, but it was old, and lost us a point. "Good eye, though," Charlie remarked on our memo pad.

The team that did win (three nests, one of them first, and two really great pictures) got a prize--which I'd expected to be a five dollar gift certificate or a chocolate bunny, but turned out to be a pair of beautiful Faberge-style eggs. Charlie had found them in a yard sale, and and paid for them accordingly, but he must have known they were worth a bundle. The things were exquisite, tiny, precious metals and enamel, and apparently a matched set. Charlie told the winners they could give the eggs away, if they wanted, but could not sell them.

I heard later that the prizes were always egg-themed, always a surprise, and always serious pieces of art. The year before the prize had been seven Ukranian Easter eggs, dyed using wax to resist successive layers of dye until the base color was almost black, but interrupted by a marvelous filigree of flower, leaf, and animal designs. The year before that, each winner got a small silver tree from which were suspended nine tiny ceramic eggs, each a different color and pattern. I saw both the Ukranian eggs and one of the trees (the other had been given to the recipient's wife), since the people who won them were still on camps. No one knew where Charlie got the egg trees.

Did any of this mean anything, besides a fun time outside on a nice day? Was there any intended message or teaching, or was the whole activity simply an example of Charlie's fondness for going outside and paying attention to things? A lot that went on at the school had no explanation, it just was, and might or might not have been intended as meaningful.

I do know I liked the egg hunt. It made me feel both very childlike and very grown-up, like the thing inside me that had liked hunting plastic eggs in the living room had grown up, so the game had grown up, but I liked it in exactly the same way as I always had.

It's hard to explain.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Easter was late in April in 2000, of course, but I figured now would be a good time to talk about both the spring holidays, especially since we're now half-way between then and Ostara.

Easter, surprisingly, was really meaningful for me that first year at school. Surprisingly because, as you might imagine, very few people celebrated the Christian holidays. Campus life as a whole tended to ignore them. My family celebrated Easter, but kind of half-heartedly, and I wasn't too disturbed when I actually forgot about Easter all together until someone mentioned it was tomorrow. There was a non-denominational service scheduled in Chapel Hall, and was I going? Well, I decided to go, mostly so I could tell Mom I went--I knew she worried about me, some. And it was quietly amazing.

I won't describe the whole service--it wasn't long, nor was it particularly unusual as such things go. It was jointly lead by two of the more senior students who happened to be ordained Christian ministers. There were maybe ten or fifteen of us there. To my surprise, three attendees were staff; Charlie, Alan, and Kit. Masters tended to hide themselves when they weren't working. Kit was a particular surprise, since she is overtly Wiccan, and sometimes seemed mildly hostile to Christianity, but there she was, the sunlight from the big chapel windows setting her red hair aglow.

Maybe it was the lovely light, or the once-familiar familiar Scriptural passages and hymns that moved me--I hadn't thought much about Christian teachings, and the old words reminded me pleasantly of childhood. On the other hand, maybe what did it was hearing the words as an adult, with a fresh mind. Either way, what struck me finally was not the Easter story itself, which somehow failed to move me at all, but something else, something I hadn't really noticed before. I couldn't put my finger on it, it was like a light, brighter and clearer than sunlight pierced everything. I'm not sure I can explain it, now.

After the service was over, I just sat there thinking for a while as the others got up and left. When I finally got up, I found that Kit had waited for me at the door of the auditorium.

"Penny for your thoughts?" she asked, falling into step with me.

"I dunno," I told her. "I just don't get the big deal anymore about the tomb being empty. Is that weird?"
"Not to me," she answered, "though I'm probably the wrong person to ask, if you're Christian. What do you think about death?"

I had Kit in class, and I spoken to her a few times, but never in any depth. She didn't know very much about me, nor I about her. I thought she was cute, not to the point of actually being interested (as a professor she was clearly off-limits, anyway), but just a sort of background cuteness that made talking to her about anything pleasant. Even when she asked what I thought of death, it didn't sound morbid or frightening, just another part of a bright, sunny spring day.

"I don't know," I told her. "I don't think about it much. doesn't scare me. I think maybe something would be missing if it didn't exist." She nodded.
"Birth, for one. Movement, time," she suggested. When we came out of the building and found Charlie, Alan, and a student named Sue, I tried not to be sorry that my private conversation with Kit was over.

"The thing I miss about smoking," Charlie was saying, "is it gave everyone a reason to stand around outside together. You remember that, Alan? I wish all my favorite vices weren't so bad for me."
"I remember when you smoked," Alan said. "I never did. Hi, Kit, Daniel. Do you go by Dan or Daniel?"
"Daniel, mostly," I replied. "If a vice weren't bad for you, would it be a vice?"
"Vice, from Latin, vitium," Alan answered, "means fault or blemish. So, no, technically, I guess a vice does not have to be bad for you, merely an example of you being bad?"
"But we're not speaking Latin!" objected Charlie.
"Then do we have no vices on Easter?" Kit asked, merrily, ignoring him. "Jesus took them away! I imagine him walking off with all of humanity's dents and dings...though what does a dent look like without a thing to dent?"
"You're confusing levels," Charlie told her. "When the esoteric is treated as worldly, both are distorted."
"But I like the world!"Kit replied, hotly, her teasing, almost flirtatious banter suddenly acquiring an edge. "Look at you, sounding like a Christian!"
"I will not tell God where he isn't!" Charlie replied, with a similar edge. Something was happening.
"Touchy, touchy," Alan admonished, clearly teasing them both for whatever hardened their talk. Kit and Charlie both smiled and the tension eased for a moment. Both glanced at Sue and I, as though remembering we were there.

"It's not that I'm against Jesus," Kit told me, with some slight self-consciousness. "He was a very wise man, and I wish more people really followed his ideas. I have a problem with the concept of sins being paid for by his sacrifice. Forgiveness inherently includes judgment; you can't tell someone their sins are forgiven without telling them they're a sinner, right? You have to buy into the guilt and shame trip--unless the sinner is a rich white man. Then the rest of us are supposed to just be meek and wait to inherit the Earth, because Jesus already paid for the guy's sins. It's just too convenient. I mean, what kind of god sends rain to the just and unjust alike?"
"The kind of god that sends the rain," Charlie answered.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


I approached Charlie for the first time just after Ostara, near the beginning of April. He was one of the six teaching faculty, and I knew I'd have him for the required Introduction to Ecology course--the class had actually met once already, but he'd missed it, I think he'd had a bad cold or something. I'd also seen him on three other occasions: once when he lead a workshop on tracking, back when there was snow everywhere; once when he lead a nature walk on early signs of spring; and more recently, when he lead the school Ostar egg hunt. That hunt was a trip--I'll tell you about it some other time, but I'll give you a hint; it did not involve dyed hen's eggs.

But I'd never actually spoken to the man, except to ask a question in one of the workshops or talks, until the day I saw him planting flowers in the foundation beds around the Mansion.

Charlie was both a professor and the school's lead groundskeeper. I'd gotten a job in housekeeping, since I was anxious to be hired and that was the first position that presented itself, but I'd envied the people who worked with Charlie, because they got to work outside. I'd done some landscaping and gardening as a teenager, and I missed it. So when I came upon him working alone and realized I had time on my hands, asking him if I could help was almost as automatic as breathing.

"I don't know, can you?" he growled at me, hardly looking up. Not answering questions straight was a habit of all of the faculty, and most of the senior students, no doubt cultivated in order to protect the admissions process. Each had their own way of doing it. Greg, the meditation teacher, would just look at you calmly and wait for you to rephrase yourself. Some teachers liked to talk in mysterious riddles, especially with new students. Charlie preferred to be a smart-ass, and growling was his preferred method of talking to strangers. If you weren't willing to deal with his growls, then obviously you didn't want to talk to him badly enough. But I didn't think he was giving me a hard time for saying "can" instead of "may." He really was asking me a question.

"I don't know," I told him, "because I don't know what you want done or how you want it done. All standards are local, and I don't know yours. But I used to work for a gardener, and if you tell me what to do I will do it." He smiled, briefly.

"Which of these plants do you know?" He asked, growling again and gesturing at the garden.

"Only the roses, junipers, and the hydrangeas, and not to species," I told him. "It looks like you plant with natives, not the ornamentals I used before." That won me an approving grunt. He asked me a few more questions, and then set me to cleaning the beds ahead of his planting.

We didn't talk much, except when he gave me instructions or warned me away from the juniper where the wasps were starting a nest. When I asked if he was going to leave the nest there, he told me that "we sting worse than they do. You allergic?"

"To bee stings, no. To people stings? Yeah, kind of." That made him laugh.

"You and me both," he told me. And we kept working. The day was sunny and warmish, and the dirt and the plants felts good on my hands. Charlie had taken his shoes off, and I followed his lead. The grass and leaf mulch felt good on my toes.

Towards the end of the afternoon he introduced me to the plants, pointing out one or two details from each that would help me identify them, and a few words about why each was in the garden where it was. I've never met anyone else so efficient at explaining such things, or anyone anywhere near as good at guessing which details would best stick in a student's mind.

"We'll see how many of those you remember," he told me, which seemed like a good sign. I'd already decided I would try to work with him again, and if he growled at me that was just too bad.

But that was not the only time that week I spoke with him.

As first-year students (or, in school parlance, "yearlings,") we were required to do a lot of things besides take classes--there was meditation in the mornings, group therapy Wednesdays, dinner with our dorm-mates on Fridays, and so forth. One requirement was that we attend at least five meetings each of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, preferably within a three-month span. I'd intended to get as many of them out of the way as possible before classes started up, but I hadn't gotten my act together, and at first most of the meetings I found out about turned out to be a good distance away. There were meetings of various 12-step programs on campus, but they were all closed--you had to actually think you had the problem to go.

Finally, I borrowed a bike and got myself to an open AA meeting at a church in town, about two miles from campus--and Charlie was there, looking odd dressed in street clothes. He nodded to acknowledge me, once, and then we ignored each other. I didn't really know what I was supposed to do, there were so many layers of privacy--and curiosity--involved.

The meeting itself was interesting, and a little surprising. I don't know what I'd expected--I'd seen TV shows and movies with scenes set in AA meetings, so I knew to expect the ritualized introductions (Hi, I'm So-and So, and I am an alcoholic), and I knew not to tell anybody who I'd seen there--and I guessed that it wasn't my place to say what Charlie did for a living, either. But I hadn't expected how normal everyone would look, or how happy and friendly a lot of them would look. I guess I'd expected a lot of shame and grief, and I saw that at some of the other meetings I went to later, but that first meeting was kind of light-hearted. We laughed a lot. The meeting closed with the Lord's Prayer, and everyone milled around for a while, finishing their coffee.

I stood around watching. I'm not normally shy, but I felt very out of place and I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Charlie came up to me, and I half expected him to greet me, or give me some word of approval or encouragement, but all he said was "I'm telling my story at the speaker's meeting on Thursday at the Episcopal church, if you want to satisfy your curiosity, but don't satisfy anyone else's." And he turned to go.

I was hurt, at first, that he would think he had to tell me not to gossip about him--though surely I couldn't be the only student who knew? But then something in me softened towards him, and I followed him and caught his arm.

"Do you actually want me to go to that meeting?" I asked him.

"You can go to any meeting you like," he replied, but I persisted.

"No, I asked you a direct question. That's the rule, isn't it? You can be as evasive as you like, but if I ask you the right question, you've got to answer me." He could have told me he wasn't at work and so didn't have to do anything, but to my surprise, he sighed, and for the first time I saw him completely drop his mask.

"Daniel," he told me, "if you're an alcoholic, or if you think you might be, I'll tell you anything if it will help save your life--or mine. I have no secrets in these rooms. But otherwise--no, I don't want you to know." I let go of his arm and he turned and left.

We had spoken in half whispers, so no one had heard us, but we had been seen talking. I guess a lot of people knew him. An older man with long, lanky hair came up to me after Charlie left and told me that if Charlie was my sponsor I was in good hands. I explained that I wasn't actually a member.

"I mean, I'm open-minded about it, but I really don't think I drink too much," I said.

"Keep comin' back," the man told me, and turned away. Apparently, a lot of newcomers say that they don't have a problem, and a lot of them are wrong. A trio of women, all older than me, maybe about my mother's age, approached me and invited me to lunch. I explained again that I wasn't a member, but they said that was ok, so I accepted. We went to a little cafe tucked into an alley a few doors down. I mostly listened as they talked about their children and their husbands and an upcoming AA convention they were helping to organize, but we had a good time. The oldest of them told me she hoped I came back because the program needed more handsome young guys like me. I think she was joking, but it made me smile.

In the end, I decided not to go to the Thursday night speaker's meeting at the Episcopal church. Though Charlie eventually told me most of his story, I never did ask him for it. And though I'm sure, now, that almost everyone on campus knew that Charlie was a member of the "Drunk's Club," as he usually called it, and everyone knew he did not drink, I have never once told anyone anything about his personal life without his express permission.