Marathon Prep – Party Builds

As I sit in Casa de Zombie, enjoying “Daddy-Ginger Date Night™” (official title of the night each week my wife is in Milwaukee and the puppy and I have a night of dinner and television together), I am left considering the upcoming Marathon Tables for our Extra Life event. Partially due to scheduling conflicts that I have little ability to mitigate and have to rely on others, and partially because of the posts the players are commenting on in the Meetup.

We are currently sitting at 20 players as of this writing. I have opened up a third table, and have offered a fourth, if more people sign in to the waitlist (event is capped at 21 currently). Some of them are posting their plans on characters, with many of them stating, “I am bringing a bunch of different options.” The first cut will be who will be sitting with who – keeping in mind that I am going to be randomly placing people on tables.

As for the second cut of options (that each party will have time to discuss prior to the event, should they wish), below are a list of my suggestions. In order of importance based solely on my opinions…

Cleric (Healer)

I originally thought about putting Healer as the header, but I amended to Cleric in light of most druids and bards (not to mention paladins and rangers) aren’t really healers. They are mostly front line or air support, and don’t focus on healing. The Death Curse is here and is totally a thing, so don’t discount healing and the spare the dying cantrip. Most people have gotten too comfortable rolling the bones on the death saves.

Tank (Fighter/Paladin/Barbarian)

Every party needs at least one. And it is up to the tank’s player to decide the style. You are either tanking by armor (fighter or paladin in heavy armor with a ton of extra water for the fatigue) or tanking through hit points (bear totem barbarian and their resistance to all but psychic damage). These are your characters that will help to protect the squishy ones that every party needs.

Arcane Support (Wizard/Sorcerer)

Yes, I didn’t include warlock in this mix. I came really close to not including sorcerer too. Typically those two classes get their magic by nature of their bloodline or their mentors. So they aren’t as learned in the arcane arts. Bards almost fit this bill better than sorcerers – even if they are only getting their Jack of All Trades on arcana checks. Detect Magic and Identify are invaluable spells over the course of a “one shot campaign” like this. It will minimize your need to return to town. And my need to hand wave the magic items found during your adventures.

Speed and travel spells are also huge. Though I am a huge supporter of the haste spell, I am talking more along the lines of Fly, Teleport, and Teleportation Circle. Speed is of the essence in this campaign, so anything that aids in that is a plus.

Rogue (Trap-Finder)

Yeah, you may want to be that killer assassin, but keep in mind the group really should have a rogue that is focused on trap-finding. And there’s nothing saying you can’t be both. Your dexterity will already be high, so maybe focus your expertise in things like thieves tools, investigation and perception. Stealth will be fine all on its own with just your dexterity modifier if you have to.

Everything Else

While the Rogue and Arcane Support are the two things you could potentially do without, or take in a back-up capacity (like a monk with a criminal background), as long as you have a Cleric and a Tank, play what you want to play. Just know that the choices you make when you sit down at the table will alter the game I (or the other DMs) will be producing for you over those next 24 hours.

Rule 32 – Enjoy the Little Things

Whatever choice you make, know that this is a game and we are raising money for an awesome charity that helps support the needs to sick children all over the country. So have fun with it.


How to Survive a Marathon D&D Game

I was excited to see the amount of response to the event as planned. As I took questions, and looked towards the future of the event, it occurred to me how many people think something like this isn’t possible. So here I am, taking a break from studying for my exam… to bring you some tips on how to make it to the other side.

Dear Mr. Elminster, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole downtime day in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a wizard… and a warrior… and a warlock… a sorceress… and a rogue. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Heroes of Phlan.

Rest and Sleep

The body is meant to get a varying amount of sleep. But it is meant to get sleep. So definitely go to bed early the night before we start. Get to the event on time, but there is no need to be up earlier than intended to get there on time.

Food and Drink

While you might think it natural to go straight for the caffeine and sugar to help stay awake, there is a case of diminishing returns. The crash from those can be hard. So, while it seems counter-intuitive, don’t load up on coffee all night. You have access to a secret weapon – Water! Your body is made up mostly of the stuff, so don’t underestimate the effect drinking it can have on you. Specifically, it can help clear your head. And it will definitely help to keep you from losing your voice. (Which is more for your DMs than for the players.)

You can also consider Gatorade, or a similar type of drink. Be aware of the amount of sugar in it, but those drinks will have the other things your body needs to avoid dehydration.

Medicine and Health

Know your body. Most people with uncommon health issues know their bodies and the signs of an issue coming on. Don’t forget to listen to those signs. Maybe bring some Advil or the like.

For example, I can tell when I have a migraine coming on. If you ever wondered why I will put my sunglasses on inside during game days, now you know. Well, that and they are my prescription glasses that I need to see distances. I also keep Advil liquigels with me so if I feel a migraine starting (as is prone to during marathon events such as this), I know to take a couple with a cup of coffee. It may go against the tips above, but it also highlights the current one – I know my body, and in that situation that is what I need.


My plan is to run sections in about 4 hour blocks. At each 4 hour interval, the table will take a 15-30 minute break for drinks, restrooms, leveling up, etc. Definitely relax during those times, but get up and stretch out. Movement will keep blood flowing and get oxygen through the body. Maybe a late night dance break will be done.

Some people can nap for 10-15 minutes and pop up refreshed. In this type of a situation, most cannot. If you nod off and cannot be woken, that would be the “Standing Eight Count™” and could end your run in the marathon.

Keep Active

I have spoken of this at the various cons I attend to play and not DM anything. I personally find it more difficult to play for 10 hours than to DM for 24 hours. If you do not keep your mind engaged in the narrative, you will start to nod off. Don’t talk over people, but remain present and engaged in the event and you will have an easier time staying focused.

Travel Plans

If you have not done an event like this before, I suggest you have someone drop you off at the store. Definitely arrange for a ride home the next day. 24-28 hours awake takes a lot out of you, and we don’t need anyone nodding off on the drive home. This is really the most important advice of the whole post.

More to Come…

In the coming weeks, I will post some more advice on the event for those attending. This will include my advice on how to survive the module (without giving away spoilers) from my read through on it. Party makeup, character development, etc.


We have 14 players signed up and 1 waitlist at the time of this writing. I will let the waitlist go a little deeper before sending out the links to donate and lock in your seat. In the event the waitlist goes really deep, I may look into finding another DM up for the challenge to run a third table. Keep your eyes on the Meetup.

Extra Life at Pegasus Games…

… Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Sleep Deprivation

Pegasus Games opened its doors 37 years ago, and we are still showing up there twice a month to hold Adventurers League events – though back in the late 70’s to early 80’s it was less about organized play, and more about play in our parents basements. Seriously, for people of my generation Stranger Things is more of a documentary. And I bought my first Player’s Handbook from the aforementioned store the first year it was in business down on State Street. (There’s an import store there now.)

And during my 37 years playing Dungeons and Dragons, I have played with a variety of different DMs. While I can honestly say I have never played with one that could do voices the way Matt Mercer can on Critical Role, I have played with those that infuse a crazy amount of history and mythology into their worlds, and I have rolled at a table with DMs that produce a simple, fun, and consistent game. It is all a question of what you’re looking for, and how much everyone at the table buys into it.

Why do I mention this? Well, thank you for asking, hypothetical player in Adventurers League that is wondering about our upcoming charity event. One thing I know I am capable of is providing a marathon game. A true test of fortitude. 24 hours of gaming with only short breaks for food, drink, and restroom breaks. And no, I cannot do this every weekend, or even every month. The last time I attempted this was Extra Life 2014. But we are doing it again, only this time bigger.

November 4th is the Extra Life 24 hour game event. The problem for the Madison folks is that this is also the weekend of Gamehole Con. Which, ironically, is where the Wizards of the Coast Extra Life games are going on. (At least two of them anyhow.) So we are holding our on our normal game day for November on the 11th, the Saturday after the con.

Pegasus Games Extra Life

Our events that day will be putting all the proceeds towards the charity of the day. We will have four to five tables running standard 4 hour sessions of Adventurers League content. You only need an AL legal character to play. There are two simple changes planned to the format for the charity event…

  1. Donations Accepted for Play: Your DM will be volunteering their time and the content to play. We are suggesting an optional $5 donation to the table’s “fishbowl” to sit down and play. (We won’t turn away anyone who cannot afford to donate for their seat.)
  2. Inspiration Donations: The “fishbowl” will remain with the DM, who will allow players to donate a minimum of a dollar any time they wish to inspire their character, or that of another player. (Limits on these are up to the DM at the table.)

We may have other offerings at the table, but if there are any, they will be included in the morning announcements.

Note: We are beginning seating at 10am that morning, so show up early. Feel free to group up into parties of 7 players before we even open the doors. Seriously, it will help me out.

The Marathon Game

The specifics at the core are we will be playing Tomb of Annihilation from the beginning, attempting to complete it within 24 hours. Characters will be starting at level 1. Death Curse is still in effect, and we will have surrogates available in the event of character death. We will seat people at 10am and we will play until somewhere between 10am and 11am Sunday morning when the playground opens up again for the Sunday games.

Please note we are intending to stream the event, so you may be on video while we play. Additionally, we are reserving one seat for Pegasus Games – meaning one of the two DMs are going to have the chance to torture a PegaMinion in game for 24 hours. (PegaMinion to be announced when confirmed, and yes… I said two DMs, so two tables are being run.)

Procedures for signing up for the marathon event are as follows:

  • I will have a meetup set up for the Marathon Tables specifically. This will be in addition to our normal November 11th meetup. It will be set to accept 14 people to it. This will allow for 13 players to sign up, with my RSVP as the organizer to account for the PegaMinion Seat. Waitlist will be allowed for alternate players (in the event of a no-show, emergency, etc.).
  • After the waitlist has hit somewhere between 4-7 players, I will close the RSVP and then send out a link to the DM donation pages through email from meetup (which will go to all who RSVP’d including the waitlist).
  • There will be a deadline for each player signed up to go to the page and donate $10 to Extra Life under the DM’s name. This will secure your spot. At the end of the deadline, I will check donations, and finalize the list of players.
  • Once set, all players (and alternates, if they so choose), will be sent a template of a donation list similar to the ones seen in use by the WotC players in Extra Life. This will include things like donation levels to give a potion, a re-roll, etc. Securing donations for PC benefits is optional, so if you don’t wish to do so, it is not required.
  • Show up on the 11th and play…

We will have a number of special offerings for the marathon table. My intention is to make them available as the event progresses, rewarding those that can last the longest. There may even be a special reward for those able to complete the 24 hours of gaming.

The RSVP will open at noon, Sunday October 15th. (It will likely be up there, but will open for RSVPs slightly sooner.

DMs for the Event

Zombie Joe: The last time I organized this (though my home group), we made it to around 22 hours before I had a player fall asleep and could not be woken up. Not only did I still have the juice to keep going, but I didn’t go to sleep for about 4 or so hours after that. So I know I will make it to the end. Can you join me?

Nick “Moonbeam” Alfano: My son, and a player in my original running of this. While he was definitely tired by the end of the event, he wasn’t running it. We are both of the opinion it is more tiring to play for long periods than run for it. Also, he is a devout night owl – one of the things he inherited from me. So we know he will make it through the night. Especially if mocha is provided.

White Trash Zombie Unchained: an audiobook review

Horror meets humorous urban fantasy in the sixth book in the White Trash Zombie series.

Winner of the 2012 Best Urban Fantasy Protagonist by the RT Awards.

Angel Crawford has finally pulled herself together (literally!) after her disastrous dismemberment on Mardi Gras. She’s putting the pieces of her life back in order and is ready to tackle whatever the future holds.

Too bad the future is a nasty bitch. There’s a new kind of zombie in town: mindless shamblers, infectious and ravenous.

With the threat of a full-blown shambler pandemic looming, and a loved one stricken, Angel and the “real” zombies scramble to find a cure. Yet when Angel uncovers the true reason the plague is spreading so quickly, she adds “no-holds-barred revenge” to her to-do list. Angel is busting her ass dealing with shambling hordes, zombie gators, government jerks, and way too many mosquitos, but this white trash chick ain’t giving up.

Good thing, since the fate of the world is resting on her undead shoulders.

  • Audible Audio Edition
  • Listening Length: 14 hours and 22 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • Release Date: September 4, 2017
  • Whispersync for Voice: Ready
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07577N83G
  • Purchase from Amazon

It is no secret I am a fan of the genre, or the author today. In fact at this past year’s Barbara Vey Reader’s Luncheon, I even acted as her “assistant” in setting up the table for her readers. And yes, Team Zombie (my wife, her co-workers, and one of the women from my gaming group) was the entirety of her table at the luncheon. Other folks got to have breakfast the next morning… So, full transparency, we know each other now, but it didn’t start out that way. I think it was seven or eight years ago.

For this title, let’s start off with the cover. Dan dos Santos does amazing work. There is no denying it. And the gritty, stylistic covers he does for this series frame them perfectly. Not to mention he put the gators right there on the cover! (Spoiler: There gators in this here novel.)

This is book number 6 in this series, so not the one to jump in with both feet. There are a few years worth of titles to go back and enjoy. The added bonus is that they are all in Audible and every one uses the same narrator. So there is a definite continuity to them. Which is really a good thing, as the narrator is a solid voice actor and really does justice to the writing. Definitely ranks up there with Luke Daniels who does the work on the Iron Druid Chronicles (one of my favorite narrators – especially in this genre).

I have followed along with this series from the story of a troubled young woman who was ironically saved when she was turned into a zombie, to a story of her evolving into a fully functioning member of society, one that begins to realize her own potential. And in these later installments, there is the aspect of a larger world at play. One where zombies have their own hierarchy and community. Almost like a shadow government behind the scenes. There is even a little bit of hard science behind the zombie parasite that reminds me a bit of the similar nature in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series.

With Unchained we begin to see the effects of unchecked scientists and the harsh consequences of experimenting on zombies. The tenuous balance on the edge of destruction might be hitting a little to close to home these days, but it definitely adds to the tension in the story. Did I mention there were gators? Because there are!

While I am never afraid of the writing style or prose from Diana Rowland, the content of this novel held my attention and took me along for a ride. And it is a ride I will be signing up for as long as she continues to write them. Definitely Zombie Joe approved.

For this story, I will rate it at full on five shambling zombies… or for the non-zombie reader:

Five Stars


Rise Blog… from the depths of the darkness

In the coming weeks, I will be raising this blog from the dead. And no, not just because NaNoWriMo is starting soon. But that is part of it. It will be coming back as not just a reflection of getting to know my own “gorilla” (refer to the why this blog exists),  but a reflection on other people’s gorillas. It is also stage one of an upcoming class project that will involve turning this blog into a fully functional website.


There will still be blog posts on my reflections on writing. The craft, my processes and struggles… all of it. NaNoWriMo, daily writing, critique groups – everything will be gone over. After all, it is the whole reason I started this thing.


The reality is that I spend a lot of time gaming. The diving in happened a couple years back when a friend who was coordinating at the local store took a paternity leave. I stepped up to help out for a few months. Yes, I said a couple years back… you can’t blame a guy for spending time with his wife and newborn son.

This has also led me into writing adventures for some of the conventions and events we are holding. Say what you will, it is published writing. And someone has to post those modules, right? Not to mention, it is fun and the culmination of 37 years in a hobby for me. So, more information will reside here in the coming weeks for our local Adventures League community (also known as MadDnD).


With Wicked Lil Pixie shuddering the windows and doors, I am left with the choice of ending my reviews, or bringing them here. I have chosen to bring them here for now. I had considered taking them to YouTube in a vlog format, but I fully support everyone’s right not to see my ugly mug while discussing books. Also, my guess is there is a time aspect to vlogs (not to mention the tech aspect) that could make it prohibitive to say the least.

My first review will be posting shortly after this. Mostly because I am behind on it, even though it is from one of my favorite authors. And a zombie book to boot! So keep an eye out for it.

Final Notes

Anything coming up I will attempt to post here (mostly as an accountability for myself), and to let anyone who is interested know. Hopefully that will equate to more of my people listening to my ramblings as I stand on the precipice, screaming into the abyss. 😉

Happy International Women’s Day

I saw today in various forms of social media a number of friends posting photos of the multitude of strong women in their family. Which made me wonder how unique this is. I mean, I had never known anything but. Though to be fair, my strongest connections are with the Italian side of my family.


Strong, independent… maybe a little insane.

Specifically, I felt it was prudent to share several short tales from the family lore. In my case, ones that have popped up organically in conversations over the years. I do offer the caveat that I am in possession of a rather dark sense of humor. There are things I find funny that most people are disturbed by. Just ask my wife. After pretty much any rated R movie we ever go see.

Several years back, one of the students in my department took to calling me a “poor man’s Wolverine.” Mostly due to the amount of damage and abuse my body had taken without stopping. I believe his tirade was prefaced with, “Dude, why don’t you just lie down?” So I shared with him the following tale from my family.

Back when my Nona and Auntie Anna were still alive, my parents had traveled to Boston to go visit them. The two of them lived with my Auntie Judy (my father’s sister). One afternoon, while napping in front of the television, they noticed something wrong with Anna.

My father went to work tending to her, while someone else went for help. Notibly the nurse and cop that lived across the street. Between the three of them, they got her heart started again, but she kept slipping away. And then the ambulance pulled up.

The EMTs went to work as well, getting similar results. By that point they were pretty sure that was it, so they needed to get to the hospital for the doctor make the call. She was on the stretcher, in the back of the ambulance, with the EMTs packing in their gear so they could head out.

Anna came to (I remember hearing “sat straight up”, but I’ve done the stretcher ride before… there ain’t not “straight up” in those things), and proceeded to bitch out the EMT for tearing her house dress. You guessed it, she was fine. The EMT was probably fine too… after some therapy.

My student laughed like it was a good story. Before I told him, you think the mafia are the Italians you need to be worried about? There ain’t no boss in the world that’s gonna “talk smart” to his Nona. She’ll whoop his ass without having to lift a finger.

You want to know why I don’t just lay down? When you have a great aunt in her 80’s flatline five times and still get up to bitch at the person trying to save her for ripping her house dress? That set a standard to be met. A little TBI is nothing compared to that, yeah?

Keep in mind that the woman that raised Anna (and my Nona) was as tough as they come. She held the family together and provided for them. I hear stories about the farm she ran (which apparent is now where the Braintree Mall is). And more so, the description of her wake at the house. The same house I had been visiting at since I was a baby. Senators, Mayors, police chiefs and more came to pay their respects. I never knew her, as she passed before I was born, but I damn sure knew the legacy she left behind. It was now our legacy.

And it doesn’t stop there.

About a year after my spinal surgery. I was walking with a cane still as it didn’t 100% reverse the damage, but it definitely kept me walking. We were back out in Boston to do some genealogy searches (of which a gamer’s brain is well built for apparently), and visit family. Another aunt had just turned 90 that year, so we stopped by to visit. She was living with one of her daughters, but we were visiting during the day, so it was just us there with her.

My father opens with, “So, how are you doing, Madeline?” To which she answers, “Well, you know… if you stop moving, you die.” And here I was in my late 30’s with a cane. One I could honestly walk without, but not without discomfort. Again, there was a standard set.

I remember leaving to head back to the house and telling my mother, “Well, now I have to ween myself off this damned cane too.” They assured me that wasn’t the case, but the reality is that 95% of the time I don’t really need it. But it does usually stay in the back of my truck in case I do have need of it.

I really feel that these (and other) women that I grew up with are what helped shaped me into the man that fell in love with my wife and married her. She has faced quite a bit of adversity, but has come out the better for it. Not only is she the main source of income for our family (as I am a state employee and therefore not paid a fraction of what corporate America makes), but she also does most of the tool-related things around Casa de Zombie, while I do most of the cooking and baking.


Not as independent, but she’s definitely one of the ladies in my life.

Yes, for those of you in Adventurers League who just experienced the Iron Druid Cupcakes last month… that actually was my work. Decorating the cupcakes… now that is her gig. I just make the frosting and the cakes. Piping and decorating is not really my thing.

My only hope is that our grandchildren learn from her example as I did from my Nona before me. They learn and grow up to become strong and independent like her. Or find women to have in their lives who are.

Take Your Broken Heart…

This blog has been rather anemic for a very long time. This past year the only thing that held the forefront of my mind was politics, and nobody wants me spewing about politics. In fact, I had been told that as a writer (even an aspiring one), it is best to not discuss your politics in social media as it could turn away potential readers. And I’m not sure I agree with it, nor care if it is true.

But this is only about politics in an ancillary way.

During the Golden Globes this year Meryl Streep gave a speech that touched on politics. It was about the despair and pain she felt at the outcome of this past year. It put out a call for compassion and understanding, and for those with a voice (as she was losing hers in a literal sense) to join in with protecting the press who would face a more difficult job during this incoming administration.

This isn’t about her speech, or the politics behind it. It has nothing to do with my feelings about her motivations – even though I agree with everything she said. No, this has to do with the quote she gave as inspiration towards the end of the speech. It came from her friend Carrie Fisher, or as she said, Princess Leia. Being an old school Star Wars geek, I have been inspire by those characters – not to mention their actors and writers – most of my life. So I wasn’t shocked when this statement held meaning for me. I’m a sucker for a good quote…

Take your broken heart. Make it art.

If you look back through my archives I have blogged next to nothing this year. The past couple really. Mostly reactions to the deaths of artists that inspired me. My Twitter feed features more photos of our puppy than any real writing. I know the reason why, though I never speak of it. Until now. Now, I will make it art.

Before we adopted Ginger, Aladdin was our family dog for over fifteen years. When his cancer was so bad we could physically see him struggling even though he’d never show any signs of pain. That was his personality. Part of me felt like he didn’t want to show any reason to leave us, as he was always looking out for us. So that July, while in the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had to make a call to have a vet come out to our house for his last walk. And it broke me.

I have done that walk before. My childhood dog when I was 21, married and not living at home. She had been my best friend through my childhood. And I took it with as much stoicism as I could. I was there when she entered my life, I would be there when she left it. I felt it was my responsibility. I did that with our cat, even thought he was arguably my wife’s cat. I brought him home and allowed him to get used to the house before the kids came home so he wouldn’t freak out. We were the ones that took him for his last ride.

But this was the first time I had to make the call. Nobody was with me, and I had to apologize to the vet because it took me several tries to get the words out. After several curse words under my breath.

We gave him the best last day we could. Gave him steaks we had intended to take camping that weekend. Gave him pets all day long. Let him take one more nap with his boy. Pet him to sleep one more time like I did when we adopted him as a 9 month old puppy.

After that first weekend, I still had a deadline ahead of me. I held on to a line from the Walking Dead delivered by Scott Wilson as Hershel. “We’ve all got jobs to do. This is mine.” So I finished writing the short stories through the end of the month. I hit the word goal, but not the story count (which really was my own goal, not the challenge).

After that I felt broken. Like I’d lost my voice, but not the physical one. The one that whispered stories into my ear at night. The one that fed the gorilla (as the branding of my site from a different quote would call it).

In a sense, that is part of the reason we discussed adopting another dog. During the nights, with our son moved out (especially on the nights when my wife was in Milwaukee), I sat in a quiet house. There was a hum to the rooms once the television was off. Like it was hiding a secret from me. But the secret was the voice that would fill that space was gone. At the very least it had turned down the volume to barely a whisper.

With Ginger in the house, my nights became about her. She had such a hard life for the first year to 18 months, that she needed someone to show her how to live. So I trained her, and bonded to her. She learned to not fear touch. Her tail spent most of its time in the upright curled position and not between her legs. She found her voice – and promptly scared the shit out of my wife with a single bark while standing right behind her.

Now, with Ginger being more of a real dog, waking me up by playing the way puppies do (something she never had before), I am still working my way slowly into a writing routine. I still feel that loss from two and a half years ago. The hum of the empty rooms rings in my ears from time to time. Especially when the power goes out in the Door County house and I’m the only one awake.

I’ve lost loved ones before. The first was a friend at the age of 11. My grandfather when I was 13. Most recently a friend who wasn’t yet 30. I remember buckling a bit during the funeral for my uncle – military services cut through my armor pretty well. But most of the time I feel the eyes on me because I’m oddly cool or detached during those times. I held it together during my Nonna’s funeral. So how does that guy admit that something broke his heart to the point it has altered him?

Maybe it was just  a breakthrough game like from Arkanoid or one of the levels of Tron (for you old school video gamers). Eventually enough of the blocks in my wall were broken out and one hit home. Or possibly the closeness with which I bound to Aladdin made it hurt all the more. I do know the guilt I felt that due to my spinal injury there were things I couldn’t help him with. I couldn’t lift him in the end.

The truth is the loss of Aladdin, the first dog we chose as adults, has broken my heart. It has left me concerned with the closeness I have with our current puppy, Ginger. Can I survive this again? My answer has always been that one moment of hurt doesn’t invalidate the years of joy.

When we went to Cave Point County Park in Door County on Christmas morning (now that we have a place up there, we can holiday up there), I saw him as he would run along the beach chasing the gulls. Climbing up the rocks as he loved to do with Robin. Cave Point was his favorite place, and now its ours. Would it mean that much to me if I hadn’t gone through everything with my dog? Maybe. But it means so much more to me now that it’s his spot.

So, like I am standing at a podium in a community center with burnt coffee and stale donuts on a folding table at the back of the room, I am testifying. “My name is Zombie Joe, and I have a broken heart.”

But thanks to Carrie Fisher and Meryl Streep, I now know what to do with it. I’ll wrap it around me like a warm blanket (even though I hate to many blankets). I’ll use it. Make it into art.