Andy and I meet Neil Gaiman

In which we learn just how dry British humor can be when coming from a master

Writer’s note; this story took place more than ten years ago, so many of the details have faded. However, you will get the gist of the story and the punchline is accurate to the last detail.

My roommate Andy, I, and our gaming pal, Rich had acquired tickets to see the premiere of the television adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel; Neverwhere. We traveled to Boston, where Gaiman himself would introduce the show and we would watch several episodes.

Mr. Gaiman told the sold-out venue that after the intermission he would be hoisting a few at a nearby pub and signing autographs. Andy and I agreed that this was more interesting than watching a show we would no doubt be able to see at some point in the future, but drinking with Neil Gaiman probably wouldn’t happen again. So, we left Rich (who wanted to watch the second half) and went to the pub.

After we cozied up to the bar, we talked to his agent (or US representative) and he showed us his newest novel (whose title escapes me) and he was excited that it came in a variety of limited-edition covers. Andy scoffed full of derision and exclaimed, “That’s just a marketing ploy to make extra sales. Stupid fanboys will collect every cover!” He thought he was particularly insightful. Or clever. Or smart. He certainly thought he was smart.

I agreed and filled with self-righteous indignation; we turned back to the bar and found Neil Gaiman standing there with a very smug British smile on his face. Andy removed a book from his coat and after some small-talk (Did we like the show, how did he like America? etc.) presented it to Gaiman to have signed. Neil courteously signed Andy’s book and bid us farewell as he turned to the other fans demanding his attention.

“What did he write?” I asked, craning my neck to see the autograph.


Andy’s lips were squeezed together tightly and he had a look like he was going to sneeze. He opened the title page of the book and there it was- Neil Gaiman’s personal message to Andy.

Mind the gags.

“I guess he heard you,” I said.

Fast Times at N.G.A.

I can hear them as soon I open my car door; the barking and rooing (a combination of howling and singing that is the trademark of the breed) can be heard through the walls and carries across the parking lot. I have arrived for my turnout shift at Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, Vermont. Walking to the entrance, I pass an iron and wood bench engraved with the name Donald Westover.

Donald and his wife Dorothy founded the kennel in October of 2001. For years, he could be found spending his weekends introducing potential adopters to dogs and answering questions about life with sighthounds. His passion for the breed was evident: his enthusiasm was infectious, and many hounds found homes because Donald went the extra mile to make adopters feel comfortable – about the dogs and the adoption process.

Those who met him remember Donald fondly. He was a big man with a big heart, and he continued to carry the torch for NGA even after being diagnosed with emphysema, often attending adoption events with an oxygen mask in tow. His first priority was always the dogs, that was never in question.

He remained active with the non-profit as much as he could, even as his health deteriorated. He made it a priority to bring a greyhound and a donation bin to a local pet supply store every week. Now that he has passed, his devilish charm, his ‘hound companion, and most importantly his donation jar are absent. NGA is feeling his loss in many ways. They need your help and mine.

I am here to let the ‘hounds out of their kennels, in groups, and by themselves for bathroom breaks. This is one of four daily chances for the retired racers to stretch their long legs and for their mini-apartments to be cleaned. While they frolic in the yard and take care of their doggy business, I check their impromptu dens and change their bedding when necessary.

It’s a busy shift letting the forty-two dogs out and keeping the process steadily moving along. I know how cranky I would be if I was dependent on another being to allow me to go to the bathroom. The number of dogs in need of permanent homes swells at times, to as much as seventy. As tracks close all over the country adoption centers like this one must meet the demand of the increased number adoptable dogs.

This humble kennel in northern Vermont has never turned away a greyhound in need.

I have just added another function to my volunteer service; that of a member of the board of directors. A wise woman I know said everyone should sit on a non-profit board of directors. I am now privy to the financial aspect of the non-profit and often I wish I weren’t. The charity runs on the generosity of others, through donations and the other fundraising endeavors of the operation. The coffers are always low and the kennel seems to run on a month to month basis. Rent, utilities, and vet bills take their toll on the threadbare finances and I wonder if some catastrophe would push the charity to the breaking point. The weekend yard sale that lasts throughout the summer has ended, and the long cold winter approaches. The board has frequent meetings to discuss fund raising strategies in order to survive the cold months. The financial survival of the non-profit is a constant struggle.

I gain strength from the dogs. The mental burden of my role as a board member fades and my excitement rises as I take care of these beautiful animals. My worries and fears diminish as I look into the face of the first greyhound I let out of his apartment. I take a minute to scratch Mallow’s enthusiastic white face. I lean close and say to him, “I missed you, buddy.” He leaps out and runs around the kennel with wild abandon and I have no doubt he missed me too.mallow

Donations can be sent to Northern Greyhound Adoptions, 999 Fairfax Road/Route 104, St. Albans, VT 05478 or online at

Just a Pinch


It is said that split-second decisions can change your life. I didn’t understand how true that statement could be until the winter of 2006. I worked for Macy’s in the cosmetic department. I was a unique feature there; I was a heterosexual male. Therefore, I should have been on my guard.

As I squeezed my way past Marie, I impulsively pinched her squishy, 60-year old tushy with my thumb and index finger. I imagined her silent outrage as I walked away without acknowledging the maneuver, a smug smile on my face. I imagined myself quite the little trickster.

I knew Marie quite well, and she knew me. At least I thought so. We both worked in the cosmetic department at Macy’s, she at the Elizabeth Arden counter, and I in the fragrance department. Our areas of responsibility were close by and we would often help each other unpack shipments and deal with customers, if the other needed assistance. Such camaraderie often brings people closer. Friendships are created, not unlike those that serve in combat. Stress brings people together. I felt we were close enough that the pinch would be considered a funny prank. Hell, I had been to her home! We drank wine and she said I could stay over if I didn’t think I could safely drive home. I certainly didn’t think that was a sexual advance, just as I didn’t imagine she would think my innocent pinch could be interpreted any other way. The innocuous squeeze was meant to be a joke, a cute bit of fun during a boring workday at work. I expected she would chalk it up to typical Jan shenanigans. I liked to call them “Jananigans.”

My youthful exuberance was not always interpreted as such.

I had been in the store manager’s office on many occasions. I was, at one time, a night supervisor and reported directly to him on all things related to my duties. These duties included closing the store during the week, as well as the responsibility of supervising all the associates. The other managers and I called him simply “Matt.” He and I would talk casually about associates and fellow managers, sharing details of my previous evening’s shift. Sometimes we would even get off-topic and talk about movies and music. It was a business relationship, but he made the situation seem to be friendly and professional at the same time.

This time I didn’t sit in front of his oak desk that was cluttered with knick-knacks. Instead I sat at the small, round conference table off to the side of that desk. Instead of his smiling, goateed, forty-something face, I looked into the face of a more serious, almost somber, store-manager. Gone was the good-natured boss. Replacing him was the very severe, store manager of a national conglomerate.

To exemplify this, he was not alone. Sitting next to him at the conference table was a woman I had never seen before. I couldn’t guess her age if you put a gun to my head. Her hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and consequentially the skin on her face appeared to be pulled tight. She could have been twenty five, or seventy-five. She wore a knee-length wool skirt that did not give a hint to her figure. The things I could determine about her was that she was thin, Caucasian, and serious.

“Jan, this is Eileen Scrimshaw. She is from the corporate office in New York,” said Matt, introducing the thin, serious Caucasian.

“Mr. Campbell, have you read the employee handbook?” she asked, getting right to the matter. There would be no back-and-forth in this duel. She was out for blood!

“Not in some time. Not since the turnover,” I said, referring to the Macy’s buy-out out the previous department store Filene’s, the year before.

“Specifically the two pages on sexual harassment,” she said.

My heart began to beat faster. Blood rushed to my face and I was dizzy like I had just been sucker-punched. She had indeed drew first blood.

“I guess,” I confirmed vaguely. I attempted a parry and quick counterstrike. “It’s bad, right?” My attempt at a joke pulled a dry chuckle from Matt but otherwise there was complete silence.

Ms. Scrimshaw cleared her throat signaling that this was not the time for levity. “Mr. Campbell, Macy’s takes very seriously accusations of sexual harassment and must investigate all claims of such activity.”

“Of course,” I agreed sheepishly.

“You work with Marie?” she asked.

I closed my eyes as the confusion I felt withdrew and understanding advanced in its place. “Yes,” I confirmed.

“She has written a complaint that on October, 11th, 2006 you pinched her on the rear-end while on the selling floor. Specifically, behind the Estee Lauder counter,” the details landed on me like a series of well-placed punches to my stomach. I struggled to breathe. “True, so far?” she asked.

I took a deep breath and said “Yup.”

She placed a clean white piece of paper in front of me and said “I want you to write your account of what happened. Just leave it on the table when you are done.” She and Matt stood up and quietly left the room, leaving me to find the words to detail an incident I had not thought of since it happened.

Ms. Scrimshaw poked her head back into the room and said, “Also, you are suspended until a decision is made regarding your employment at Macy’s.” She was gone again, leaving me cut up and wounded. I had lost the duel.

I felt very alone. Suddenly I was very angry! Why did Marie do this to me? We were friends; she knew I was only playing. Did she think I was coming-on to her? I mean, really! My self-righteous indignation was boiling to meltdown proportions!

I struggled to find the words as I detailed the short encounter. I made sure to indicate that I was friends with Marie and in no way was I making a sexual advance. I made a point to indicate how bad I felt about the incident. It was true, that I had not been overtly sexual to Marie, but I was lying when I said I felt bad. In fact, my only remorse was the fact that it had come to this. My excuses took up more room than the description of the incident.

It was a nerve-wracking couple of days, and the powers-that-be decided that I had not committed an egregious enough offence to lose my job. I suspected they thought I had learned my lesson by having to fear for my job for a couple days.

“What did I learn from my experience?” I ask myself. I learned to choose my words carefully. I learned that a single event can have multiple interpretations, and what may seem innocuous to one, may seem hostile to another. I certainly learned to be professional in my actions, while at work. Most of all, I learned to keep my hands to myself.

Toby goes home.

Image  Hi, my name is Toby. I’m a retired racing greyhound and I lived at Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, VT for years. I had a home, but I was surrendered because my owner didn’t have time for me. In the past few years, I have had two families adopt me, but they brought me back because I have “issues”. Evidently me tearing apart the house and barking for hours when left alone is “frowned upon.”

  The kennel isn’t bad. I see many dogs come in and spend months, or even years, there before they pick someone to take them home. It gets loud sometimes, but I’m used to it. There are people that come to the kennel and let us out into the yard for bathroom breaks. Sometimes people come to take us for walks around town.

  I have known this one guy for three years. He comes to the kennel once or twice a week and lets me (and everyone else) out for potty breaks. If it’s hot out; he’s there. Cold out; he’s there. Snow, sleet, hail and lightning don’t stop this guy! He always brings treats, and sometimes I even get a special chewie. He’s a pretty good guy.

  I often thought he’d make a good person to live with, but he already had a dog. I could smell the boy-dog on his clothes. I always thought this dog was very lucky to have such a loving owner. I was content to enjoy our weekly time together.

  Then one day, this guy takes me out of the kennel and into his vehicle. We go to his home and I wonder if I will get to meet Andy (that’s his dog-friend’s name). We arrive and I explore his house. We sit on the couch and eventually go to sleep in his big bed! It’s a dream come true and I wonder when it will end.

  Everyone brings me back eventually.

  I met the two cats that live there. They seem nice, but a bit nervous. Days pass and I don’t see his dog. I smell him everywhere; the couch, the floor, the bed, and all over the yard. Sometimes I see the guy and his face gets all red and water pours out of his eyes. I know he is sad, but there isn’t much I can do. He simply pets me and sometimes he hugs me, and he stops being sad.

  I feel sad sometimes when he leaves. I cry a little, but he has always come back in the past. Even if it takes days, he has always come back. In his house he is only gone a few hours and he leaves the televison on for me. I feel more relaxed than I have in the past. I have yet to tear the place up.

  It’s been a week and he doesn’t seem to be as sad as he was. He did seem upset when I pooped on the rug, but he just laughed, shook his head, and cleaned it up. Maybe he will learn the subtle nuances of the cues that I need to go out.

  He helped me by taking me home with him. I feel good living in his house and sleeping in his bed. As much as I’m glad to be home and that he made my life better, I can’t help but feel like he needed me more than I needed him. Silly, huh?

  Thanks, other-dog, wherever you are. I’ll take care of him until you can see him again. I know I’m finally home.Image

Loss of a friend

  It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my dog-pal Andy. He lived thirteen and a half years and was active almost until the end. He suffered a sudden onset of cancer in his leg and survived much longer than expected.
  Even when walking was painful, he often insisted on going for a stroll around the block. Most of the time I was unprepared, wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the cold winter air for what I thought was a quick bathroom run. I couldn’t say no to him, so most of the time we went for a very cold (for me) walk.
  It is often customary to talk about the good points of the deceased and my instinct is to say he was a good dog, but that’s not the truth. Like many of God’s creatures, he had his good and bad sides. People often blame the owner for a dog’s bad behaviors and Andy took after me in many ways. He played rough with other animals. Those weaker than him often got unintentionally roughed up. He never backed down from a fight, even when seemingly outmatched and outsized. He was protective to a fault and would bark furiously at everyone who crossed the barrier of his home territory, whether it was prowlers, the mailman, the landlord, a guest, or just a stupid cat. He played rough despite himself. I know he wanted to be friends with Proton. I could tell this by the way he wagged his tail while roughing up the dumb cat. Once, he attacked a skunk and clearly lost the fight. I could tell by the claw marks on his face and the overwhelming odor. He would have killed the skunk despite being squirted right in the face. I never got a thank-you from the skunk for pulling the dog off of it.
  He wasn’t what anyone would call “well-trained”,  but Andy knew some commands, such as “nevermind”, and “game over” when playing tug-of-war. He loved to go for rides in the car and go swimming in the pool. He would always wait for my signal to go in the pool and would obey my orders to “take a break” when doing laps. He even used the ladder to get out, a feat which would delight guests.
  Although we were never certain of his lineage, we were certain of his character. Like me, he was stubborn to a fault. Diagnosing his ailment was very difficult because he refused to show where it hurt. He kept trying to do all his normal activities despite the fact that something was clearly wrong. He was loyal to his friends and those he loved, and sometimes played too rough with potential friends.
  He had a sister at the Humane Society location where we adopted him. They were only three-months old when we went looking for an older dog. My ex-wife fell in love with them as they were behind the front desk when we arrived. The humane society seized the pair from a drug house and suspected they were rottweiler/pit-bull mixes. I think he was actually pit/lab, but that was open for debate. I wish we had adopted his sister, too. We could have named them Luke and Leia. I wonder where her life took her.
  He could be called a foodie, though he was active enough to never have an ounce of fat. He loved to play ball indoors and out, swim, go for walks and play tug of war. He loved all food, including his crunchies, canned doggy food, pizza crusts, cheese, and in his weaker moments fell victim to the urge to sneak a fresh piece of kitty poop- litter and all.
  There are too many memories to share, but some stand out to me. When he was just a puppy, he growled at a pair of earmuffs on the floor of my car. He always barked at thunder, and in later years I realized it wasn’t because he was afraid, he was warning “the pack” of danger as he did when any car pulled into the driveway. More than once I came home to the trash can having been destroyed in the hunt for some tasty tidbit.
  Andy was a good dog and a bad dog. He had personality and even had his own Facebook page (for some reason he had friends that I didn’t even know). He was my first dog. but definitely not my last. There will never be another dog more annoying, vicious, loving, or stupid while simultaneously showing glimpses of brilliance. I just can’t imagine life without that stupid mutt. He was always a rock; he was a stoic figure of constancy during the good and bad times of the past thirteen years. The world will be a little less without my dog-pal Andy Campbell We both love you, you big dummy. I hope you’re barking viciously at the mailman who tries to deliver mail to the pearly gates.
  I write this watching him devour the last rawhide chewie he will ever eat. I hope there’s a God, because I know Andy would be patiently waiting for him to finish his pizza, so he could have the heavenly pizza bones.
  Good dog.


Choose Your Own Adventure

You are a heroic knight, armed only with sword and shield you stand against a rampaging fire-breathing dragon that threatens to destroy your home and family. What do you do?

I am a firm believer in personal choice. Although many events in life happen to us and are beyond our individual control, there are frequent options that we can pick from that dictate the path our lives will take. The choice can be as seemingly inconsequential as which road to take on the way to work, or as important as the choice to fight or run, but those choices can have life-or-death unforeseen consequences. I am often reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I read when I was twelve years old. The books placed the reader in the role of a variety of characters such as spy, race car driver, or dragon slayer. Never did any of those stories place me in the role of a thirty-seven year old, out-of-shape man trying to protect his girlfriend and her toddler son from her own brother hopped up on pain killers and looking for a fight.

I am dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of leather gloves and I am standing in the parking lot of my girlfriend’s condo in mid-January, unprepared for the weather and not expecting to be involved in a fistfight. It hasn’t snowed in a while and the previous snowfalls have been plowed into neat but dirty piles out of the way of traffic and parking spaces.

My girlfriend’s younger brother, Rex steps out of the passenger’s side of a pickup truck and finds me standing there in the way of his destination. Tim, a tall but portly man of approximately my age gets out of the driver’s side and makes his way slowly but determinedly over to Meryl. I understand why Tim is attracted to Meryl. She is a year older than me, but she is stunning. Tall and blonde with a perfect shape, and a confused and helpless demeanor; she has all the ingredients that even a smart guy like me fell for.

I am a roadblock with crossed arms in Rex’s way. I say, “Get back in the truck and go somewhere else,” but all with my eyes. Rex looks at me slack-jawed, hardly believing I would obstruct him. He is not as tall as I am, but what he lacks in size, he makes up in other areas; overall physical fitness, youth, and a circulatory system laced with pain-reducing prescription medications. These facts give him the edge that any Las Vegas bookie would call a ‘lock’.

What my adversary doesn’t anticipate is my proven record of being able to take a beating and survive.

Meryl, has informed me that Rex had stolen money and prescription medications from her when he has stayed with her, in the past. She received a call from her friend Tim, indicating that he had just been released from jail for a crime he committed earlier that night and was looking to stay with her.

“Turn around and go home,” I say, standing my ground. “You can’t stay here.”

“What the…fuck you!” comes the clever response from the thug. “Why not?” he says, laughing dismissively at me.

“Why?! Why?! Because you just got arrested for stealing from Hannaford’s and Tim said you’re high on oxy,” I reply full of condemnation and judgment. Meryl’s friend Tim, a soft-spoken, weak-willed man who was continuously hanging-on, waiting for our relationship to end, waits in the shadows. The symbolism is lost on me.

-If you want to stand your ground and possibly fight a 22 year old drug-addict, turn to page 15

-If you decide to let your girlfriend decide for herself go to page 16

I frantically turn to page 16 and am alarmed at the result of my decision.

16) You decide that it would be best to back away and ask Meryl what she would like to do knowing damn well she will let her druggie brother stay with her and steal money from her wallet and prescription pills from her medicine cabinet and endanger little Luke, whom you love more than anyone you have ever loved. However, you were in a car accident over ten years ago in which your brain suffered damage to your frontal lobe preventing you from feeling the emotion of fear. Due to the fact that you lack the flight part of the fight or flight instinct turn to page 15 and face the guy high on pain reducing drugs who is fifteen years younger than you. Good luck!

In a flash, he is on me. I am unprepared for his sudden attack and he pulls me to the ground and starts to punch me in the body and head. I decide not to fight back, because even though the punches are raining in on me I feel that my girlfriend, or her friend Tim, will pull my attacker off me any second now and talk some sense into him. I wait as he grips my head in his very strong hands and slams it against the cold pavement of the parking lot that has been chilled by the January air.

I did not anticipate the situation being resolved in this manner. I thought he would back down when faced with my stern and heroically unwavering demeanor.

The beating continues. Help does not seem to be coming.

-If you want to survive you had better start fighting back! Grow a pair and turn to page 21.

-To beg for mercy or lay down and die, go back to page 1 and start again.

I do not wish to die here.

21) From the ground, you push Rex off and get into a position where you can land some punches of your own. Wham! Wham! You punch him twice in the ribs. He continues to struggle and attempts to get you back in a vulnerable position. You decide that punching him in the balls, an effective, if not manly attack, will take the fight out of him. BAM! BAM! BAM! Three solid strikes to his softest part and you roll out of the melee and to your feet.

Rex and I rise rapidly and he stomps away from me. I am amazed that he is still functioning, much less on his feet, considering the punishment I have unleashed upon him. I stumble bloody over to Meryl who stands confused in front of a crowd of people who have ventured out of their condos and into the parking lot where our battle is taking place. The crowd resembles spectators in a gladiatorial arena in ancient Rome. They laugh and carry on as if this were an event staged for their amusement. Meryl is just as useless.

I turn to face Rex who is advancing on me again. This time he has a set of keys spaced between the fingers of his clenched fist creating a more deadly attack. I hear Meryl scream as I back-peddle away from his repeated wide swings at my face. Like some paraplegic ninja, I throw a half-hearted kick that does not find its mark nor does it force him back.

-Seriously, dude. No one is helping you! Turn to page 35 to get in your friggin’ car and drive away.

Surrender and retreat are options, but they do not occur to me.

Rex is pacing back and forth on the other side of the parking lot. I imagine steam rising off his body as he punches his fists in rage. I yell out to the crowd, “Did anyone call 911?!” Someone mumbles an unconvincing positive reply.

“You better hope they come soon, because I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you!” Rex yells at me from across the lot.

-If you want to wait for the police, go to page 32

-If you want to respond to his threats, go to page 33

I have taken a beating. Now it’s time to give one.

33) You stride determinedly toward the injured man as he raises his right arm to attack you. With your left hand you bat aside his fist and land a solid blow of your own on his unprotected nose. It collapses in a spurt of blood and crunch of cartilage.

He does not fall.

Instead he comes at me with fists flying. Only the swirling blue lights that are the harbingers of help put an end to the fight. A disappointed sigh escapes from the crowd like the last gasp of a dying animal and they return to their homes.

There are many choices I could have made after the police questioned all those involved in the fight and the witnesses. As the cops try to work out whom they should arrest they jokingly say they should arrest whoever is least beaten-up, because that person is likely the instigator of the fight. We both look beat up. I am covered in blood that is all my own. My skull and face are lacerated and bleeding. Rex’s nose is broken and his face and shirt are soaked in his own blood. His internal injuries are invisible and he cannot feel them.

I hold my breath, not sure whom Meryl and Tim will accuse or whom the police will think has taken less damage.

My luck holds and the police take Rex into custody. Later, they take him to the emergency room for internal bleeding. Had those less-visible injuries been more evident perhaps I would have been the one incarcerated.

The one life lesson I learned from those Choose Your Own Adventure books was that it is possible to make all the right choices and still lose and often the unexpected option leads to defeating the proverbial or literal dragon and getting the treasure.

There was no treasure in this particular story and I didn’t feel like I had defeated any dragons. For the months that followed, the princess I was trying to save instead blamed me for fighting and injuring the dragon. I was trying to be the hero, but instead I was the villain.

Often, as in real life, there is no way of winning and the right choices are not always the correct ones. The great thing about the books was the ability to take a different path if you didn’t like the ending you got the first time.

I wish real-life had the same option.

                               THE END