Edmond

Hunting Bear (an excerpt)

August 19th, 2014

Hey friends,

Enjoy the beginning of my latest published story in the Dreamspinner anthology, A Taste of Honey. I’m very excited about this story. It’s only a 17K short story, but it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.

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Hunting Bear

Chapter 1: Pitter Patter

Gather round to hear the tale of a twink who dared enter the urban forest, a young buck named Tyler who trusted his best pal Derrick to be his bear guide, leading Tyler to his one and only hairy love. Tyler and Derrick themselves had tussled once, their own night in the forest, sweating and fucking and grinding together, whimpering and grunting, and together they rained upon the forest and each other a splattering of goopy mess, and then reveled in happy exhaustion.

But it was only one night in the forest.

Who knows why?

Who ever knows?

Their chance for love turned into friendship, and it is a hard magic that can transform a friendship back into love. With Derrick’s assistance, Tyler the Twink (though he disliked that name) crossed the forest, light of step, hunting for bears, looking for love. But he did not seek out all bears.

One bear specifically.

The Great White Bear, though the man was not technically white, but that’s what they called him throughout this Midwestern kingdom, a flavor named Chicago.

And in this kingdom the gays were plentiful, supple and succulent, beefy-strong men who had grown winter hair on their chests, then burned dark in the summer sun. In this kingdom, oft called the city of broad shoulders, its residents also enjoyed the “comes-with-the-broad-shoulders” features. In other words, it was also a city of fat muscles, engorged biceps, and thick waists. Some of them enjoyed a black treasure trail leading from navel to below, wispy black smoke promising fire destined for ignition. The tree-trunk thighs, chunky butts wrapped in ass-grabbing jeans or maybe wrapped in lazy sweats on a Saturday morning in Boystown. These were the blond farm boys come from Illinois’ hamlets. The dark-haired jocks, sweating on their way home from the gym. Balding muscle daddies with a beer belly. Bronze-skinned men standing tall, pumping gas, guzzling beer, holding hands. Men of many colors, thicknesses, and laughs, this kingdom was ripe with these men, strong and big-jawed, a city of bears, otters, and many more forest creatures besides.

Tyler the Twink (who honestly quite resented that name) discussed his quest while dropping off his dogs.

“It’s Bear Coffee,” Tyler said. “Every Thursday night the bears take over a coffee shop on Broadway. I’m hoping he comes tonight. He has to. I don’t have any other leads. I don’t even know his name.”

Looking down at the dogs, Derrick said, “I don’t remember if they’re supposed to get a half cup or cup. Why didn’t you feed them at home?”

“I was out of puppy chow. I picked some up on the way over. Don’t worry, I wrote it down. Everything. The emergency vet and stuff like that.”

“Wouldn’t I just call you?”

“Sure, but after you call the emergency vet. If it’s an emergency. Just don’t let them eat plastic off your floor and there won’t be an emergency. No chocolate.”

Derrick said, “Duh.”

Derrick and Tyler had recently crossed a threshold in their friendship, the “will-you-watch-my-dogs” level, which, as you well know, is something. It is not “airport-pickup-at-2:00-a.m.” friendship, but Tyler trusted his beloved pups to no other human being, even for a few hours. Derrick and Tyler’s fling had been eight months earlier, from which had sprung a tentative friendship, then a more solid friendship, evolving to the point where either could call to announce “I’m not having a great day.”

On those days where the kingdom had worn them down, they listened to each other and counseled as best they could. Tyler’s advice was often “You’re smart. You can handle this and anything they throw at you.” Derrick’s advice ran along the lines of “You’re strong, Tyler. Drink some water. Eat an orange. Maybe a good night’s sleep.” In fairness to this tale, sleep was Derrick’s answer to everything, to stress, to credit card bills, to unrequited desire and occasionally even being tired.

The dog-threshold crossing had literally occurred three minutes earlier when Pitter and Patter, Tyler’s miniature pugs who had tentatively crossed over Derrick’s kitchen doorway, sniffed their way cautiously into Derrick’s second floor apartment. And when Derrick saw their confused hesitation, how long it took for them to actually get inside, and then their accidental skittering across the kitchen linoleum, Derrick’s last bit of dog-sitting-resistance melted. In fact, he found himself surprisingly anxious for Tyler to leave because he wanted to watch pug antics as they explored his home.

Truly this was a surprise, because Derrick rarely wanted Tyler to leave.

“Luck and cranberries,” Tyler said.

The phrase is not worth explaining, gentle reader, just an affectionate good-bye based on a four-month-old joke. You have those intimacies with friends. You know how it goes.

“Good luck,” Derrick said vaguely, his eyes following Pitter and Patter’s pitter and patter pawing around the kitchen, unsure in their step, occasionally bumping into cupboards. It was adorable.

“Wait,” Derrick said, looking up. “Where are you going? Meet who?”

“The guy. The guy I told you about on the phone.”

Derrick searched his memory and remembered he had heard a description earlier in the week, a raven-haired man of solid jaw with a tight buzz cut. A shock of black hair pointing straight up. Some slight gray on the sides, suggesting a man in his late 30’s or early 40s.

Derrick said, “I remember. You saw him near the new Starbucks downtown somewhere.”

“Yeah, the construction site in the Loop,” Tyler said, already lost in numerous fantasies. “I don’t know his name. But he was saying good-bye to his work buddies on the site as I approached, and then I walked behind him for a block and a half until he stopped into that piano bar, the Zebra Lounge.”

“Your puppies are gnawing a kitchen-table chair,” Derrick said, falling in love. “Do they really think they can eat a chair?”

Tyler was used to men falling in love with his puppies, so he ignored his pal. He said, “I had intended to shop for new work shoes, but instead I ducked into the bar because I desperately wanted to see the construction guy kiss another man. Or maybe he didn’t know it was a gay piano bar? He drank two beers and left. He tipped the piano player. The whole place even got campy once or twice and he sat there grinning. So, he knew. He’s definitely gay.”

“Could be a straight guy who likes piano music.”

“But he talked to someone,” Tyler said. “Made two minutes of chitchat with this older guy, a bear with a bushy red beard. After the construction guy left I waited five minutes and then approached Red Beard and asked if I had seen him and his buddy together somewhere, leaving it vague and open, and he said that he barely knew the construction guy who just left. Someone—”

Derrick picked up the thread. “—someone he occasionally saw at Bear Coffee. Right. I remember this now.”

“Yes, which is tonight,” Tyler checked his watch. “Bear Coffee starts in thirty minutes. I’ve decided he’s going to show up. He has to. I think I’m in love.”

Derrick said, “Good. It’ll only take you twenty minutes to get there from here. Come in here and talk to me about your dogs so I don’t fuck this up. Tell me how to get them to stop fighting or chewing and stuff like that.”

Tyler stepped beyond the entryway and smelled his way through the kitchen. Derrick liked to bake things. Tyler liked to sample things. But there was no baking smell tonight, just the reassuring stack of pans and open cookbooks with scribbles in them, doodles, and phone numbers. The whole house felt like you could scribble a phone number anywhere, on a wall, in a magazine cover, which is not to say that Derrick’s home was grubby, but it had this comfortable and worn feeling to it, items in wrong rooms but not messy, just really, really comfy. Open paperback books facedown on the dining room table and Derrick’s reading glasses on top of a stereo speaker for no apparent reason. Tyler had once visited and found fresh tulips in the bath tub. When asked, Derrick insisted he was using the bathtub as a “big vase” and invented a ridiculous statistic instead of admitting he forgot why he put them there.

Derrick’s living room furniture was plush, two overstuffed navy couches specifically engineered for maximum nap-taking comfort, fat pillows and a wolf-fur throw rug so realistic you could imagine a naked wolf at the door demanding its return. But the wolf would be shit out of luck; the pelt was synthetic. Mechanical line drawings of bridges hung in sturdy brown frames on the patterned-wallpapered walls, boring illustrations only an engineer could love.

The pups eyed the navy couch and each other, growing their resolve to scale the front, to reach that naptastic summit they intuitively knew peaked far above them. This couch was their Mount Everest.

Tyler said, “Don’t let them on your furniture. You’ll never get them off.”

He snapped his fingers at Pitter, then Patter, and they ceased their scheming though anyone could tell they resented the master’s interference. In defeat, they padded the Berber carpet, a masculine tweed that looked like a browned cookie warm from the oven but—as the pups discovered—did not taste like one.

Derrick collapsed on the couch, lying on his stomach, and asked questions about the dogs, dragging his hand along the floor so the pups could race up, smell him, lick his salty skin, and run away. Tyler never tired of chatting about them so he stayed longer than intended, trapped by the comfort, the ease of Derrick’s home until he checked his phone and realized he would be late.

He hopped up and said, “Oh.”

Derrick did not move from the couch. “You’re fine. You don’t want to be the first to show up anyway.”

Tyler said, “How do I look?”

Derrick said, “You look good.”

“Duh. I always look good. But do I look great?”

Derrick raised himself on one arm and studied Tyler head to toe. He liked Tyler’s short copper-colored hair, more brown than red, the natural curl that followed the shape of his ear. He liked Tyler’s eager blue eyes, their surprise at so many things and how often they expressed natural curiosity. He liked the big Adam’s apple, a flaw in Tyler’s beauty but Derrick liked it anyway, along with his lithe body and his faded salmon T-shirt tucked into jeans, jeans that were probably named by someone famous.

Derrick spoke with an inflection that did not register with Tyler. “You look great.”

Tyler nodded, satisfied. Derrick would tell him if a hair was out of place. They were buddies.

Derrick said, “Thirty-seven percent of all kitchen accidents happen in coffee houses. Be careful.”

Tyler said, “That one didn’t even make sense.”

Derrick said, “They can’t all be winners.”

Tyler said, “Thanks for watching the boys. C’mere, you hooligans, and give Dad a kiss good-bye.”

They trotted to Tyler.

Derrick said, “Bring me back a cookie or a blond brownie or something.”

Tyler said, “Not doing that. Why don’t you bake something?”

Tyler stood and touched his pockets to make sure he had his phone, keys, and money clip. A wallet could make your ass look chunky, and tonight was too important for Tyler to look less than his best. He dropped and kissed his pugs good-bye. Again. He thanked Derrick and started to promise he would return at a decent hour, but if his fantasy man wanted to grab a beer after Bear Coffee, wouldn’t he go?

As Tyler crossed the apartment toward the front door, Derrick spoke from the couch. “Seriously, bring me a cookie. The desserts cookbook I like has small print and I can’t find my reading glasses.”

Over his shoulder, Tyler said, “Your glasses are on the stereo speaker. The one behind the big plant.”

“Thank you,” Derrick yelled lazily, but Tyler had already exited the back door. Derrick didn’t bother to retrieve his glasses. He could feel the dogs licking the palm of his hand as they plotted how to use his dangling arm as a ladder to the pleasures of napping above.

Derrick said, “Okay boys, eighty-one percent of all cute pugs are trained to walk toward the door when they have to take a dump. Yes? Please tell me the stats are that high or higher.”

Pitter and Patter licked their lips.

 

 

 

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Should you feel inspired to read more, check out A Taste of Honey (amazon.com link) or A Taste of Honey (Dreamspinner link). On Dreamspinner’s website, you can also purchase a paperback copy.

Filthy Acquisitions – Chapter 1

July 26th, 2014

As his rental car gently cruised through the three-block downtown, Keldon tried to notice things that would make the town unique to him, local flavor. He mildly hoped for quaint, but found nothing of the small-town charm he expected. Instead he saw a chain gas station, a sad-looking pizza parlor with dirty windows, two chubby kids sitting on a curb drinking from 7-Eleven Styrofoam cups, though he could not spot the 7-Eleven itself. The downtown businesses seemed normal enough, a sewing shop (misspelled with the pretentious and empty shoppe), a tax business, a doctor’s office with beige blinds and—

It was normal. Very normal.

This was his third visit to Monroe, Wisconsin, and he could not reconcile how absolutely ordinary the downtown appeared compared to the strange, repulsive purpose of his visit. He wanted the town to appear vaguely menacing, maybe a sinister machine shop or frowning old people in rocking chairs in front of local businesses, so he could use the material for a later anecdote, something about how the character of the town matched the perverse transaction he headed toward. But the ordinary brick façades with cement ornamentation refused to cooperate. Downtown Monroe was quiet. Sleepy, even. He passed an empty garden space with cow-painted columns and a sign welcoming visitors to come and sit. The garden was barren, too early in spring to contain actual plants or seedlings.

The thought flitted across his brain that even if he could turn this into an anecdote, with whom would he share it? Which friends would he call? None. He didn’t have friends anymore. He had dropped them, or they had dropped him. He scolded himself for getting distracted from his true purpose in Monroe. Keldon Thurman intended to stay only long enough to make the acquisition and leave.

Breezing beyond downtown and into the residential streets, he had no problem finding his destination, having already visited the Turners twice previously. He pulled onto their average street lined with unremarkable two-story homes. the Turners’ trees almost perfectly spaced as the evenly spaced trees across the street and down the block.

The green was gradually returning, he noted. Like birds that had flown south, green flocked to the late-April treetops, resting on small branches, ready to burst into song. The grass was not minty-fresh, exactly, not cheerful spring, but rather a deadish- brown with hints of life and occasional mint-green smatterings. Soon these lawns would reveal themselves to be not dead, only sleeping. But not yet. He was just glad he did not have to deal with boots or a snow-covered sidewalk, which would have impacted how he presented himself.

He wanted to look crisp.

The Turners were expecting him, so when he pulled into their driveway at their white aluminum and brick façade home, he wasn’t surprised to see the front door swing open. The lawn was scattered with a few outdoor toys in various states of abandoned. He had not seen the children on the previous two visits and suspected they had been whisked away, far from the delicate negotiations required in selling and purchasing art created by a serial killer.

Keldon noted this fact—the missing children—and figured he might be able to use that if necessary. Of course, he was only supposed to drop off the check and pick up the art. But he did not trust the Turners. Everything was negotiable. He decided to take his time and make them wait at the front door.

He turned off the engine and straightened his power-red tie while walking himself through various contingency plans—how the Turners might try to back out and how he might turn the situation to his advantage. Or everything might go smoothly. But the first three acquisitions with other art owners had not gone as expected, and he had no reason to expect the one with the Turners would either. These paintings brought out the worst in everyone, he’d discovered. Before the first acquisition he’d wondered, Who wants to own a convicted serial killer’s art? Who wants that? Well, now he had an answer. Donna and Gerald Turner of Monroe, Wisconsin.

He finally extracted himself from the front seat and retrieved his briefcase from the back, pretending not to notice Mrs. Turner waiting inside the front door.

The Turners disgusted him, his wealthy patron disgusted him, everything about this work disgusted him, a low-simmering burn in the back of his mind. But the moment that disgust threatened to evolve into a strong opinion, he reminded himself he did not care, he could not afford to care. He did this for the money. Keldon understood being disgusted with oneself. The Turners had flattered a serial killer for two years of that murderer’s prison sentence so he would give them his original art. So what? For the money he would make brokering all fifteen pieces of serial-killer art, Keldon’s nebulous morality could ignore the disgust, or at least mutter to itself in the corner.

Keldon slammed the car door and walked toward Mrs. Turner, flashing her a grin. He hoped it came across as more sincere than he felt.

She did not return it.

He wasn’t surprised. She had never smiled at him, never extended him that basic courtesy. She stood with her arms folded, her dirty gray hair pulled up behind her head and clipped with a plastic comb. The baggy wrinkles tracing the contour of her face suggested a history of pouting and negativity. He disapproved of her overly orange fake tan. He suppressed the desire to comment on it, even obliquely. He had enough self-awareness to know his distaste for her was influenced by her treatment of him. Everyone wanted to be liked. But she acted as though Keldon were the enemy instead of an envoy sent by a wealthy patron.

“We have a problem,” she said.

Keldon was not surprised in the slightest. “Oh dear,” he said, affecting surprise and disappointment. “That’s terrible. Let’s discuss it.”

She turned and walked through the front door, and he followed. Keldon didn’t care what the problem was. It didn’t matter. He felt confident he would leave with the acquisition. The outcome was not in question.

There it was, propped against a leather recliner, the king’s throne in the living room.

The painting itself was nothing remarkable: a sloppy unicorn with a wavering silver and pink horn, pawing and prancing before a two-dimensional blue lake. Blob fairies hovered in the background like squashed bugs. Merrick preferred small canvases; it would definitely fit in Keldon’s briefcase. The technique was not impressive, sloppy brush strokes and clumsy attempts at adding distinction. Actually, he reflected, the word technique did not apply at all. The finished product contained all the charm of a paint-by-numbers completed by an inattentive ten-year-old. In fact, it could easily hide in a thrift shop unnoticed, forever scorned by anyone who happened to see it dangling from a crooked hook behind a box of jigsaw puzzles in the back corner. Except for its distinction: painted by a mass murderer. Suddenly, the ugly unicorn painting had value.

“Here’s the thing,” Mrs. Turner announced as soon as she had been reunited with her greasy-haired husband and his pointed Brylcreem moustache. She looked at him for confirmation, and he glanced at Keldon with uneasy eyes. “We think it’s worth a lot more than you’re offering.”

Keldon nodded, wanting to give the appearance of seriously considering her. “What makes you think so?”

“Well, some friends of ours said we might get more money if we had an auction for it online. Said other people besides your rich friend might want it. A lot of rich people might want it.”

Keldon studied them, their living room, re-evaluating the assumptions he had made about them and their lifestyle. A PlayStation and its corresponding cartridges and equipment dominated one-quarter of the living room floor, a giant flat- screen television plastered a nearby wall. Plastic knickknacks and faded landscape prints attempted to transform the bleak room into something cheerful and homey. They failed. Keldon noticed the plastic basket of unwashed clothes sitting on the patterned couch and found it depressing. Dirty plates and a pizza box sat unacknowledged on the coffee table near him. Knowing he was coming, they hadn’t even bothered to straighten up.

All these details he recounted, reminding himself to make assumptions and observations but to resist becoming too attached to them. Through assumptions, he might learn how to conduct himself. But through assumptions, he could also misstep, so he constantly re-examined what he thought he knew and how he thought he knew it.

They hadn’t offered him a seat.

“May I?” He indicated the couch.

Donna Turner inclined her head in irritated agreement, though the idea clearly did not please her. From her reluctance, Keldon understood they had planned to explain their decision to renege and then ask him to leave. His taking a seat was a fly in their ointment, a prelude to greater conversation they did not wish to have.

He realized he would have to pry the painting from their fingers. If not literally, then metaphorically.

“Auction where?” Keldon tried to sound pleasant. “No real auction house will have you because the item for auction is so reprehensible.”

“Someone will take it,” Gerald Turner said, finally contributing. “If they think it will get good bids, they’ll take it.”

“No,” Keldon said, “they won’t. Not Christie’s. Not Sotheby’s. Not Bonhams or Fellows. Sure, this painting may create some cash for them, but more important than a cut on an ugly painting is their reputation. Nobody wants to be the auction house that cared so little for common decency that they were willing to profit extensively from a serial killer’s unicorn fantasy painted from death row. They aren’t ghouls.”

The arrow found its mark, and Donna Turner recoiled slightly, enough for Keldon to decide this approach worked. She understood that he had implied ghouls to mean them as well. He assumed the Turners wanted more money but not the publicity, and that would help him prevail. Keldon wasn’t proud of what he was willing to do, the things he would say to win this negotiation. But he wasn’t hired to be polite. He was hired to acquire the painting. His bonus—his future—depended on winning all fifteen paintings on the list. This was only the fourth.

Keldon adjusted the knot of his tie. “Would you take your grandmother’s antique clock to the same auction house that represented serial-killer art? No. You would not.”

“There’s always eBay,” Donna said defiantly, jutting out her chin.

“Yes,” Keldon said, doing his best to look agreeable. “That would work. Of course, it would take months. Maybe a year. You couldn’t sell the painting for full value without a rigorous validation process. You’d have to ship the painting to a laboratory where they could confirm the paint style, the brush strokes, and so forth. Standard wait time is six months depending on their backlog. I’m only estimating.”

“It’s real,” Donna said crossly. “He sent it from prison.”

“Absolutely,” Keldon said. “I don’t doubt you one bit. However, if you’re going to sell ugly, undistinguished art where its only value is proven authenticity, you must have it evaluated and validated by credible outside sources. With the artist dead, if they don’t have any valid means of confirming Merrick painted this, it could take longer. The process is expensive, too, several thousands of dollars paid before you even know if they can confirm authenticity. So, hopefully your big eBay auction would recoup those costs. You might. But usually, the people with a horrible fascination for serial-killer art aren’t flush with money.”

“Except your client,” Gerald said.

“Yes,” Keldon said pleasantly. “Except my client.”

He physically witnessed the Turners’ resolve crumbling, but instead of feeling triumphant, he felt nothing but irritation at the inevitable decision they would make. Keldon knew how to close this deal but resented that he had to re-convince them to sell as he had on both of the previous visits. He sensed they were driven by immediate financial gain, and the thought popped into his head that like recognizes like. He felt revulsion, though he could not tell with whom—them, the artist, his employer, or himself for accepting this job.

He smiled politely and did his best to look affable. “Of course, the negative publicity from selling serial-killer art for the most profit will make you media targets. People will come out of the woodwork to hate on you. I mean, what kind of monsters seek profit from other parents’ inconsolable, lifelong grief? Once the media understands you entertained a decent offer but it simply wasn’t enough money to satisfy…”

Keldon felt his stomach flip. It was an awful thing to say to them. He knew it. He definitely hated himself.

Gerald Turner stood up. “That’s enough. You should leave.”

Keldon remained seated. “I should. But have you thought about your own kids? Hand over the painting to me today, and you’ll have money immediately and perhaps be able to pay off that shiny TV in the corner. I suspect you need this money real quick, given the way you have showered me with questions about payment and how soon you could cash the check. I’m guessing you need that money right now. You sell this on eBay and not only will it take time and cost you money, but your kids will grow up under the shadow of parents who sought to cash in on seventeen murdered hitchhikers and other victims, too. It will haunt them. It will haunt you.”

Donna said, “We’ll sell it anonymously. Nobody will know.”

“Donna,” Keldon said in a patronizing tone, and he saw her displeasure at his familiarity. “We found you with very little effort. How long do you think it will take for the media to find you? The whole world will find out. And since the killer is dead, the outrage and disgust will naturally turn to those profiting from his artistic endeavors.”

Keldon had no clue how difficult it had been to find the Turners. He had only been given a manila folder with the Turners’ information and told, “Acquire it.” But he hoped he had overtly threatened them enough. Instinctively, Keldon felt his client would have no problem releasing the Turners’ information to the press.

Donna jabbed a finger in his direction. “Hey, I corresponded with that asshole for sixteen months in prison, pretending to be a fan, an admirer of his lunacy just to get one of those paintings, because I knew it would be worth something one day.”

Keldon nodded. “Yes. And you were right. My client found you and offered you money.”

“I want more.” She snapped her mouth shut. “This ought to be worth something. I spent sixteen months—”

Keldon held up a hand to interrupt. “If you’re trying to impress upon me that you sank to the lowest possible depths of depravity in whoring yourself to a serial killer, don’t worry, I believe you. I have no doubt you were vile in your letters. Trust me, I believe you. Why don’t you sell those on eBay instead?”

She glared at Keldon, but said nothing.

“I wonder”—Keldon paused and gazed at the ceiling— “what you wrote to gain his favor. To make your letters really stand out. You probably pretended to be a teenage girl, maybe in the age range he liked to kill, and convinced him he was just misunderstood. If you two had only met some rainy night when you were walking home and become friends…yes, I’m sure the letters are something you’d be proud to show your kids. Your family.”

“She earned it,” Gerald said, his irritation growing to match hers.

“I’m sure she did,” Keldon said. “So show the whole world. Publish the letters. Show them what small-town America can do when motivated by greed with no regard to decency.”

They said nothing to Keldon but did not look at each other, either.

He feared he pushed too hard. He didn’t know what she wrote, but her slight facial twitch suggested he wasn’t far off the mark. Whatever she wrote, she didn’t want it seen. Keldon didn’t like the hard edge he now displayed, crisp and adversarial. He had said horrible things to the Turners. But they had agreed to the offer and since then had changed their minds, tried to renege. It was his job to see they followed through.

Keldon studied them both. “My client offered you a reasonable amount for the painting. I’d suggest you take the deal.”

Donna Turner sputtered. “Your shitty client is no better than us. You can’t show up here and act better than us.”

“Yeah,” her husband said, “he wants it too. Probably to sell online.”

“Perhaps,” Keldon said. “I have no idea why my client wants it. Today, I came with your check. I will hand it over after you sign the paperwork guaranteeing a full year’s silence on this purchase. The gag order prohibits you from speaking to anyone about this transaction, relatives, friends, media—”

“We know,” Donna said. “It’s not fair. We should be able to talk about it.”

“You may. In one year. As we discussed on my last visit, if you speak to anyone before the year expires, legally you owe my client one hundred thousand dollars. And since the only possession of yours with that value is your home, you’d be making yourselves homeless for the privilege of breaking the gag order. And I should probably impress upon you that my client has no problem pursuing the financial restitution of your home. He may not need money, but he will gladly see you punished. He’s not the forgiving type. And if you think you can anonymously leak your news to a media outlet, remember that my client has the money to pay for investigators to track down a leak.”

Donna said, “Tell Mr. Mercer to give us an extra $10,000. It’s worth that much.”

Keldon said, “No.”

“You’re not the boss,” Gerald Turner said. “You shouldn’t answer without your boss.”

“Mr. Mercer will say no.”

Donna crossed her arms. “We’re not signing your piece of paper or turning over that unicorn shit until you take that offer to your boss and get it approved. You’ll have to come back another day.”

Keldon studied them. He thought about pushing the “what about your kids” angle again, but while they flinched with the perception of bad parenting, they didn’t bite enough to convince him that was their greatest concern. They seemed a little too self- centered for that. It had worked with Acquisition Number Two, a bland painting depicting a sunrise over Saturn, but he did not believe that strategy would work again with the Turners. Still, he felt they were close to caving.

“Okay,” Keldon said. “I’ll ask.”

Keldon had established with his employer that today he would pick up Number Four. She had promised to remain on standby, so he texted his client. Mrs. Maggiarra had insisted Keldon present a fictitious art patron named Byron Mercer as the collector behind the acquisitions, so nobody would suspect her true identity. She pretended to be Mr. Mercer’s secretary. Keldon typed while they watched.

Mr. Mercer, the Turners want an additional 10K. Also, Donna Turner probably defrauded Merrick in prison by misrepresenting herself. If that’s so, the Turners may not legally have rights to the painting. Withdraw offer?

Keldon smiled pleasantly while they scowled. He knew he wouldn’t wait long, and in fact, the reply came almost right away.

Disgusting. Drop the offer by 1K and give them four minutes to decide. If they decline, leave and call the police.

Keldon read the text and smiled. “Mr. Mercer counter offered.”

He rose from the couch to stand before them, showing them the text exchange on his phone.

Within five minutes, he left the Turner home with the unicorn painting in his briefcase. He was glad to leave. He drove through town, past the garden with cow-painted columns, but when he passed the downtown Sewing Shoppe, he could not contain it any longer. He eased into a diagonal parking slot away from other cars, and after turning off the car, Keldon cried into his hands, sobbing for a full five minutes, but he did not know why.

***

Purchase on Wilde City:  http://www.edmondmanning.com/2014/07/26/filthy-acquisitions-chapter-1/

Paperback and e-book to follow soon on amazon.com

 

Dear Kathleen,

June 13th, 2014

When you become a writer and start thinking of yourself as a writer, nobody tells you that the things you care about will change. Yes, you will care about the words–always about the words, careening, laughing, sliding together into fantastical complex, fumbling sentences until they are straightened and punctuation-polished, made presentable to the world.

The words are always great fun.

But other things…like your popularity, and who reviews you, and how many reviews you got on goodreads. These things are less fun to care about. It’s easy to become obsessed with every wave’s dips and peaks in the eternal ocean of Amazon rankings.

As a writer, I learned to care about these things.

And then I witnessed the damage done to my enthusiasm for writing by caring about these things.

I received good advice from published writers to avoid these pitfalls, to not check reviews, to develop a thick skin, to remember that not everyone can love your work. All good advice and yet hard to remember when staring at your first two-star review in which a reviewer says, “This author is terrible.”

Ow.

But the most damage doesn’t come from tough reviews.

It comes from within.

I look at successful authors friends and think, ‘How do they do it?’ I start comparing gifts I don’t possess to the gifts they obviously do. I push myself to type faster, work harder, write more, all the things that take a delightful passion and transform it into drudgery.

I don’t want to pain too grim a picture here. I like writing stories. I do.

And I have experienced a whole lot of online love! So many online friends shower me with love, laughter, and absolute joy that I can only define the quantity as ‘oodles and scads.’ (And I think we all know how much a scad is.)

But “growing up” into authorship for me has meant trading in some newbie enthusiasm for some world-weary acceptance of ‘how things work’ with publishers, popularity, and sales.

This year, an open letter from a stranger named Kathleen changed my perceptions.

Every year, the M/M Romance Group from the goodreads website sponsors a writing contest, one I found completely baffling. Beginning in January, any member of this group my create a “Dear Author” letter. The letter shares a photo (or two) and supposes a few inferences about the scene depicted:

“This guy is lonely.”

“These two just made up after a fight.”

“He’s moving to a small town in Georgia and saying goodbye to his sister.”

The letters are written to authors, to anyone really, inviting them to adopt the photos and story setup. Beginning in February, authors who are members of this group have the opportunity to pursue these letters and if any of them strike that author’s fancy, he/she chooses it and writes the story suggested.

When I first heard of this strange game between authors and readers, I was astounded and baffled. I felt like the Grinch who stole Christmas watching the Whos in their merriment, puzzling outside in the snow. How is this fun? Why do writers accept such limiting challenges? Don’t these authors have their more SERIOUS works to write? Who has the time?

I stood puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler grew sore.

This year, I thought I’d go discover the big fuss. So on the very first day letters were released, I visited the site and wandered around the petting zoo, looking at photos and letters to authors. I stumbled across a letter from a woman named Kathleen.

Dear Author,

I’m a phoenix (pic 1). Unfortunately, I’m a pretty terrible phoenix. I can’t seem to control my fire. I loose my feathers (I could give you my father’s lecture on that word for word, I’ve heard it so many times). And worst of all, my tears don’t heal. I’ve pretty much been a hermit since my clan kicked me out ten years ago.

The other day this man came to my cave claiming he needed a phoenix to help him with his quest. I was so startled I lit half my clothes on fire and scared him away. I can see him climbing the trail towards my cave again. What in the world does he want?

Pic 2 is the third undersecretary to the royal historian (or some similar underling position within the royal court) and discovered something he shouldn’t have. He can’t tell anyone or he will be killed so he has to fix it all on his own…except maybe for the help of one hermit phoenix.

The description continued for another paragraph, how Kathleen preferred plot to sex, the tropes she hoped the adopting author would avoid, her preferences.

I was hooked. I instantly wanted to write Kathleen’s story.

I panicked someone else would adopt this story prompt first because I already knew how to love this broken and hurt phoenix.

I jumped on it, asking (with controlled restraint) for the story prompt to be made mine.

They let me have it.

I  wrote a story called Broken Phoenix. It’s available as a free download to everyone in the world. The link to the story is at the end of the post. But first, I want to end this letter to Kathleen.

Kathleen, thank you for the opportunity to get excited about new characters. Thank you for reminding me that writing is play and play is goddamn fun. Sometimes I need to be reminded to play, how to play with others, and how to celebrate their gifts (and mine) without feeling rancor or jealousy.

Thank you, Kathleen, for the invitation to play. Your story prompt rekindled some of that lost enthusiasm.

I hope you enjoyed the story.

Love,

Author

http://www.mmromancegroup.com/broken-phoenix-by-edmond-manning/

(At the bottom of this page linked to, you will find a .mobi, .epub, and .pdf version)

Gio image

Ow

April 15th, 2014

Recently, a number of online friends have gotten snagged by a curious question, a swirling tornado of debate that has left bystanders and participants standing in the wreckage of hurt feelings and frustrated opinions, staring at the carnage around them saying, ‘What happened?’

The topic is interesting, sparked by one man’s Facebook post that he is sick and tired of being objectified as a gay man. He resents (if I’m paraphrasing correctly), the daily onslaught of photos depicting ripped men, cute gay couples, guys kissing, etc. and perceives it as a fetishization of his sexuality. He wants to be seen as a full person, not just a one-dimensional penisoid. (Okay, fine, he didn’t say that. I made up that word.)

I read his original post and while it did not strike me  personally in a ‘YEAH, PREACH IT, BRO’ kind of way, I totally got where he was coming from and thought he articulated his position well, being careful to differentiate those who fetishized versus allies to the gay community. I stuck around and read comments and reactions. Agreement from some, questions from others. A few of his online friends wondered, ‘Uh oh…am I doing this? I didn’t intend to…but am I crossing a line?’

It was a good conversation.

Something shiny on the internet must have caught my attention because I stopped reading the thread. The conversation only struck me because I’m impressed when people articulate strong opinions in a careful way and others respond in a careful way, everyone recognizing the importance in handling explosive topics.

Apparently, about 30 comments later, things exploded.

I didn’t see some of the ugly, accusatory debate but I saw fallout, folks defending their position as GLBT allies, angry about being called out, and a number of bystanders pleading, “Can’t we just all get along?”

No, we can’t.

No community, GLBT or otherwise, can simply “get along.”

We are destined to argue. We are destined to disagree. Hell, we’re *supposed* to disagree with each other. One  aspect of a thriving, growing community is diversity of opinion. We shouldn’t strive to “get along.” What kind of community would that be if people didn’t express their true opinions? If instead of demanding to be seen, we all just faded into the tapestry because our individual voice didn’t deserve recognition?

It’s not healthy.

I say, go out there and fight. Argue!

And be as gentle as possible with each others’ hearts.

How we handle each others’ contrary opinions is the measure of our personal maturity, the measure of our own emotional resilience.

Years ago, I learned a powerful tool for engaging in argument, especially when there is potential for hurt.

It’s the word, ow.

Ow can be a trigger word to the parties in conversation, a word to let your friend (online or otherwise) know your feelings are bruised. The subtext is, please be careful because I just got zinged, intentional or accidental.

The ow does not mean, “What you said is wrong.”

It does not mean, “You’re responsible for hurting me.”

It does not mean, “My turn to speak and I’m going to debate the shit out of you.”

It’s a plea to the speaker to tread gently. Or even better, stop and help me understand this ow I just experienced.

If the person doesn’t hear your ow, refuses to hear your plea for softer words, stop the conversation. Walk away. If you stay in that conversation after not being heard, you’re likely to turn that ow into a fuck you, motherfucker.

A few years ago, I was in conversation with a good friend when he said, “Ow.”

I stopped and expressed surprise. Surely I hadn’t said anything offensive. If I did, he simply took it the wrong way. Before he explained himself, I felt a number of instant reactions from shame and sadness to mild outrage he would interrupt my opinion. Didn’t I have a right to be heard? If he had followed up with something like, “Ow, and here’s what you said that offended me,” those angry kernels in me could have blossomed into a snark-fest of epic proportions.

He did not. He simply said, “Ow.”

There is something so heartbreakingly tender in the gentleness of that two-letter word, so fragile, so honest and raw, that you’d almost have to be a total dick to say, “Yeah? Well get over it because I’m not finished.”

Despite my growling desire to get his feelings out of the way so I could keep ranting, I asked, “What happened? Where did you get snagged.”

As he explained his hurt, I remembered he was important to me, a friend I could not live without. And when my friend hurts, I feel the hurt too. To participate in conversation with him, I had to get over my shame, my need to defend my position. I had to get over the ‘he took it the wrong way’ and the notion his feelings were an interruption. Sometimes, I am confident if I just *explained again* using different words, my listener would realize they were wrong to feel slighted.

Some days I am like that.

Some days I am better than that.

We all must learn to be better than that.

Our GLBT community is so fuckin’ big right now that we’re adding more letters, like T, and Q, and sometimes Y. Whooo hooooo! What a fantastic problem to have!

Straight, married friends campaign fervently on our behalf for marriage rights. Women authors celebrate M4M romance, blazing a trail to show the world “love is love.”  They help us tell stories, stories that 30 years ago were deemed sick and twisted. Instead of condemning our immorality, clergy are now welcoming us, saying, “We were wrong. Come back.” Gay men continue to grow into greater understanding of ‘who we are’ and now experience some of the same growing pains as other minorities who find themselves tolerated and even welcomed.

All good problems to have, even if they cause some growth pains.

We will argue again. Our community will be tested by strong disagreement. Opinions expressed won’t always be done so with grace and thoughtful intention.

Good.

This will be a perfect opportunity for each of us to demonstrate our inherent power, to show strength through vulnerability.

The power of ow.

 

 

 

An Honest Mistake

March 6th, 2014

People make mistakes. Let’s all nod. Yup.

Embarrassing, innocent mistakes.

I seem to have a knack for taking a mistake and turning it into a thing or the thing becomes an event and then the event turns into “I am the creepy neighbor everyone talks about in the Spring after the snow melts.”

Case in point.

The Post Office took it sweet-ass time in delivering my mail after I returned home from vacation. Twice I wondered, “Where’s my mail?” but the thought was fleeting and Emily Thorne was yelling at someone on ABC’s crappy show, Revenge, so I forgot about the mail until it finally arrived, five days later.

Mostly junk mail, as expected. A wedding invitation. Some mail seeming insurance junk letter to the wrong address and my Comcast bill. And, my credit card bill. I knew it was my credit card from the logo and return address in the upper left corner. Ripped it open.

I noticed the balance which seemed excessive and purchases to places I don’t shop. I saw some part of the bill I’ve never seen before, like wire transfers of cash to maybe it was some phone service line and I thought, “Shit, someone ran up my credit card.”

Which was weird because I had paid my credit card bill earlier that same day and only now did it dawn on me how odd it was to pay your credit card bill and receive the next bill on the same day.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize I was reading someone else’s credit card statement, but it did. I’m not the brightest bulb. Instead of reaching that logical conclusion, I held the bill pondering what I might have done to incur three mysterious phone service charges instead. Eventually it dawned on me to look for the recipient’s name and yes, the bill was intended for a woman who lives on my block.

Ms. Deanna Brigg.

(Name pulled randomly from a Google search a few minutes ago using these words: “Taco John Minnesota open late.” I don’t know, maybe she owns a Taco John’s somewhere. Hers was the first woman’s name I saw. I will protect my neighbor’s true identity since I’ve already violated her mail.)

I hastily shoved the bill back into the envelope and scotch-taped the envelope together like a six year old might do, hoping mom and dad wouldn’t notice. I acted like the bill’s mere exposure to air made my behavior more criminal. I did a shitty tape job and a big tear was visible from my not taking the time to properly line up the seams. It’s obvious:  someone ripped into her credit card statement.

Given my shitty tape job, I couldn’t give it back to the Post Office to deliver. I mean, yes, I could. I should have. But how would you feel when your credit card bill shows up three weeks late and the envelope is ripped open? You’d cancel the card. Right? I mean, someone chose to look at your credit card number and “cleverly” taped it up.

I decided to do the honorable thing and go explain myself.

I got home tonight a little before 9:00 p.m. Based on some internal metric that I can’t explain, I knew I would not knock on a stranger’s house after 9:00 p.m. because that’s just creepy. But I had a good fifteen minutes to get over there and explain how I accidentally ripped her credit card open. She would understand.

The thing that was bugging me was this: it would suck to have to cancel your credit card. Mine is associated with my Amazon account and Pay Pal and a few ongoing bills, sites where I was initially reluctant to share my credit card number years ago but I’ve given up and accepted that this is how the world works now. And while canceling a credit card isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s a pain in the ass.

I did not know Ms. Deanna Briggs who lives on my block, five or six houses down on the opposite side of the street but I thought if a reasonable explanation were presented for her torn bill, she would be spared that stupid life hassle. She could still cancel it – her call. But at least she’d have the option and would know what had happened.

I rang her bell and it was now 8:55 p.m. Cutting it a little close to my self-imposed 9:00 p.m. rule.

Nobody came to the door. Lights were on. Porch light was on. A dog inside barked. Peeking through the front window, the furniture seemed cozy. Nice. I bet she and I could be friends and in the Spring, complaining about front yard gardening chores together, but our side of the street doesn’t much socialize with their side of the street. So, maybe not.

She wasn’t home.

I dropped the ripped credit card bill in her mail box.

I trudged further up my street to deliver the other piece of mail. (Please recall that two pieces of wrongfully addressed mail were delivered to me.) I wasn’t going to knock and explain myself for that second piece of mail because I didn’t take the time to open and read his mail. (Looked like junk mail anyway.)

While walking to his house, I realized how freakin’ cold it really was. It had been warmer earlier in the day. We achieved 20 whole-fucking degrees. Party! Minnesotans everywhere celebrated by going to a gas station and standing outside the car while the gas pumped.

But the evening had gotten cold, very cold actually, and I had forgotten to check the temperature before I left. Point is, I wanted to get inside quickly. I wasn’t dressed for a half-hour walk. But I had also thought about how I shouldn’t have just left that ripped credit card bill at Ms. Deanna Brigg’s mailbox.

She’d notice the ripped envelope and middle-schooler tape job. Then, she’d open it up, see it had arrived almost three weeks late and she would be forced to cancel her credit card. While I was eager to get home, I decided I needed to take back that bill and attach a note to it. I’d write up a note, scurry back in the cold, and all would be well.

As to why I thought it was a good idea to go to a neighbor’s house after 9:15 p.m. and steal their mail, I can only say I am a fan of the ‘sunk cost fallacy,’ the notion that once you invest yourself in a solution, you stick to it, though it be stupid. In the dark on her front steps, I reached into Ms. Deanna Briggs mailbox and tried to find the credit card statement. She had a surprising amount of mail in there and the task took longer than I would have liked. But I found it, evidenced by the credit card logo and address in the upper left corner and yes, it was addressed to her.

So I took her credit card bill and waddled down the icy front walk.

At the end of her walk, I held the bill in front of me for a split second as I made ready to stuff it in my back pocket and was rather impressed by my tape job. I had done a better job than I suspected because I couldn’t even see the tape in this light. In fact, when turning the bill over (twice) I couldn’t see the tape at all. Or the obvious rip. Suddenly I realized I had just taken her latest, updated credit card bill from her mailbox.

Yes, for the second time, I possessed her credit card bill.

I stood on her frozen sidewalk, really freakin’ cold, and thought, “Well, shit.”

The first time you invade your neighbor’s financial privacy, fine, maybe you can explain that away. “We have the same credit card company! How funny, right?”

The second time you walk away with your neighbor’s credit card statement, taken directly from her mailbox at night, well, that just doesn’t look so good. And it’s a federal crime.

I realized I had to return her statement and get the hell off the street.

As I turned around, another light came on in the living room and I saw someone cross in front of the bay window.

Ms. Deanna Briggs was now home.

And in her front yard, a neighbor. Holding her credit card bill. Late at night.

An honest mistake.

I considered knocking but no explanation seemed sufficient. “Look, you don’t know me, but I’ve taken your credit card bill twice. One by accident.” Or maybe, “Hi. I’m the neighbor with the yard monster in his front yard down the block. I opened your mail.”

Nope.

I waddled like a penguin up her icy sidewalk and did my best to sneak her latest credit card statement back into her box without being seen.

Was I seen?

Dunno. Didn’t care at that point.

If it were warmer, I would have walked around the block or at least not walked directly to my front door, but it was cold, really cold, and my toes hurt. So like a dumb-ass criminal, I walked straight from her house to mine. Had she been watching out her window, she would have seen me messing with her mailbox and then walking home.

I guess I’ll just go ahead and skip the neighborhood block party this summer.

 

The Mousicles

February 5th, 2014

Every new year, I make resolutions to grow my compassion.

And in case this sounds a little Mother Theresa-ish, I also make resolutions to clean the bathroom more often and work out four times a week, which seems reasonable considering how much time I spent looking at cat videos and Facebook. I could shave off enough time to train for a half-marathon and still keep on top of the latest, “Write 14 things about yourself,” thing going around. But seriously, I should get to a gym more often.

And I do try to grow my compassion. I like to think of us all as fellow travelers on our own life journeys but then my fellow travelers cut me off in rush hour traffic and I get pissed. I verbally assault the oxygen around me, curdling it into carbon dioxide with a nasty hangover. Not just traffic. I get impatient with coworkers, my friends, myself. Sometimes I am a sea of calm. Other times, well, don’t poke the bear with a stick. It’s not a good day.

However, my compassion toward fellow travelers does not extend to rodents.

Not in my house.

The first time I found a mousicle in my housicle (naming convention thanks to Jason) was fifteen years ago, a blustery November night, two months after I moved in to my current home. A night where Minnesotans look up at the non-existent daylight at 4:45 p.m. and say quietly, “And so it begins.” The night was cold. Windy. Home from work, eager to feel the warm embrace of a preprogrammed thermostat, I clomped into my kitchen, laptop slung over my shoulder.

It’s tiny furry body zipped in front of me along the baseboard and yeah, okay. I screamed like a twelve-year old girl.

Then, I swore vengeance.

I tried to envision the poor mouse shivering outside and think of it all cuddly and shit, but while trying to think compassionate thoughts, I found myself suddenly in my car. Then suddenly at the hardware store. And I kept thinking about compassion as I purchased mouse poison. Huh. How about that. Now I’m driving home.

Oh, I should explain that on the night in question I wore heavy boots, excellent thick tread, which matters to this story because the minute I walked in the front door with that bag of mouse poison cradled in my arm, I stepped on it. I knew I stepped on it because I heard the wet crunch under my boot.

Sorry about that description. I try to stay away from upsetting imagery.

But you have to understand, I was just as horrified  to hear it then as you are to imagine it now. I mean, yes, I wanted the mouse gone, but I didn’t think I would, you know, crush it myself. I looked down and confirmed my first successful mouse killing and felt confused that I felt sad while also holding a bag of poison to accomplish this same thing.

Compassion is confusing.

Compassion is confusing with people, too. I feel compassion for someone’s unique situation and then they say something snotty I didn’t expect to hear and I’m irritated. That person should be more understanding, given their circumstances! Then, I’m irritated with myself for not letting people be who they are, even if it’s not who I think they should be.

People of earth refuse to believe everything I believe. Some days, this is hard for me to accept. I mean, clearly, I think the right way about everything. And when you think you’re right about how the world works, compassion can be hard.

That night, I felt sad for the mouse and yet felt glad he was gone.

Over the years more mice tried to make mine their winter chalet.

No. No way.

Not gonna happen.

I clogged up basement mouse entrances wherever I could find them. I caulked. I laid traps and more of the infamous poison along the basement rafters route. Trouble is, I live in an old house. I guess any house could have mouse problems but old bungalows are the equivalent of EconoLodges for winter mice on vacation. My house may not boast the best amenities but you can always find a room.

Well, a mouse was in the house two weeks ago.

True to our roles as panicked rodent and terrified home owner, he zipped across the floor and I screamed. Yes, twelve-year-old girl scream. Again. The mouse seemed to sense my reaction was not welcoming and turned and fled to the furnace grate where it emerged.

Then, I swore vengeance.

I was working from home that day, so I couldn’t leave and go to the hardware store for more mice poison. Gosh, you’d think my house is rat-infested from reading this post but it’s not. This is the first mouse I’ve seen in my home in three winters. Most of my patch jobs do pretty well at keeping them out. But once every few years…

The mouse taunted me all afternoon by zipping around the periphery of my vision, darting around corners in time for me to see its ass dash away. I stopped screaming, but cold determination raced through me.

The hardware lady promised the biggest thing these days was glue pads. The mouse runs across it and sticks. This seems horrible. It is not the compassionate way to go. But I can’t deal with rodents using my 1920′s furnace grates as their private subway line. She promised it would do the trick, especially if I made a little tunnel by taping a piece of cardboard to the base of my wall and sliding the glue trap under it. Very cozy for mouses hoping to quickly pass through.

I called Jason to complain about my mouse in the house and he suggested we make it more fun to discuss by calling it “The Mousicles.” For reasons not clear to either of us, we keep adding “icles” to words. Let’s have dinnersicles. I bought us treatsicles. I lost my cell phonsicles. Perhaps because everything around us is frozen and icy. Our entire world is a giant icicle, so we rename everything else to match the theme.

We live in a polar vortexicles.

Although I did not laugh in the moment, I do appreciate those who can help me find my humor when I have lost mine. I do. Sometimes laughter helps me find my compassion. By calling it ‘the mousicles’ I found myself less ashamed. Until speaking about this with Jason, I hadn’t realized how ashamed of myself I felt, a bad home owner, that I couldn’t keep out a mouse.

The mousicles did not respond to my glue traps cleverly placed in the observed running path under cardboard tunnels. I placed a glue board in the furnace duct under the grate. Every morning I’d peer down there like a warden staring through prison bars to see if Prisoner #77215 made it through the night. The glue boards were empty. Day after day. My mousicles was too clever.

So I added some food. I was tempted to add a small handful of Cheetos but I know how I get late at night when I’m hungry and am convinced there’s nothing good to eat in the house. Plus, I already suffered hand-to-hand combat with one of those glue boards trying to liberate it from its container and that shit sticks. I lost that battle and spent five minutes trying to pry it off my skin.

In the end, I gave into a mouse stereotype and added cheese to the glue board.

The mousicles was never tempted.

I hadn’t seen it in a few days, which unnerved me. Apparently it didn’t like my messing with his subway entrances and hopefully split. But I had a hard time imagining the mousicles seeking refuge outside. Surely he’d been keeping up with the news about the polar vortex. Even he wouldn’t risk that shit.

So we played cat and mouse, me and mousicles, me overly-alert, eyes constantly darting into corners and occasionally falling asleep in a sun beam. The mouse stayed hidden. I would hunt casually for it, pretending I wasn’t really hunting at all. Couldn’t care less. And then I’d jump around a corner and see nothing. The cardboard tunnels began to creep me out. I couldn’t take much more peeking into the tunnel to discover whether they had worked as intended.

I pondered the mousicles situation a little from my sacred throne, the overstuffed Comfy Chair upstairs in my bedroom. But I did not allow myself to ponder too much because this is my Comfy Chair and it is sacred. It was left to me by my scientist father, Jor-El who whisked me away from our exploding planet, Krypton, and I ended up here on earth. That’s how much this chair means so much to me. It is my fortress of solitude.

In the mornings I drag my ass from bed to this fat cushion where I reflect on my dreams and wait for the day to find me. I watch TV and read books in that chair. Before bed, I read comics and drink milk in the Comfy Chair.

And from that sacred spot, my legs curled under me, I witnessed mousicles race across my bedroom carpet and shoot into a duct.

The dude had upped his game, literally, to my upstairs where I have never seen a mouse ever. Never.

My upstairs? My naked room? This was ultimate not cool.

I swore vengeance would be mine.

(There’s a lot of vengeance swearing in my home.)

The Home Depot guy and I spoke so long about ways to kill mice when we concluded our tales I thought we might hug. I did not confess that one of my more successful executions included walking on mice by accident. I purchased three different killing experiences because dammit, that was my bedroom.

A full thirty minutes later, I turned my bedroom into a death trap.

I set the old fashioned kind, wooden traps that will snap the fucker’s neck. Others that were not quite so alarming in their bare-bones appearance yet accomplished the same thing. I poured the poison, creating an all-you-can-eat buffet in likely locations.

After my work was accomplished and I was terrified of my own sleeping quarters, it was time for bed.

I lay there in the dark, staring straight up into blackness with the covers held up to my neck under my clenched hands and waited. Would I hear it? Would it happen as I drifted of, this exploding SNAP meaning the end of a creature’s life? Would it happen in the middle of the night and wake me from a sound sleep, my heart pounding? Would the sound haunt me? Was it running around the baseboard right now sniffing the poison thinking, “This smells like cheesy potatoes to my mouse nose.”

I wondered.

Then I got to wondering about how I will die. Something horrible like a car accident that snaps my neck? A heart-attack? Maybe I should take a closer look at the poisons I eat on a daily basis, Earl’s cheese puffs, second helpings of cake, or the occasional White Castle. Maybe my death is a trap already sprung, waiting for me to sniff it out and walk into it. The mousicles and I had more in common than I thought.

I slept uneasily that night.

And the next.

But the third night, I slept better. Hadn’t heard any sharp snaps in the middle of the night and all traps remained barren the next morning. I made my rounds daily, the subway entrance glue traps, the old-fashioned death snappers, the plastic traps I swear look like shark teeth.

I created sixteen death stations in my home.

Nothing.

No mousicles.

Where did it go?

I tried to think more compassionately about mousicles but I now wore shoes in every room in the house, no longer quite relaxing in my awesome relaxing house. It’s hard to feel compassion when you’re checking your sixteen death traps regularly for corpses.

The other night, I dozed and watched TV on my computer in the Fortress of Solitude, when I felt a scratch on my stomach, right on the side where the cushion meets the chair base. It scratched that vulnerable belly flesh where your shirt hikes up. I ignored it once or twice, thinking it was a tag inside my tee shirt or a dropped chip (I like to eat in the Comfy Chair). Thinking it might be a chip roused me into taking action because I am diligent in keeping counters clean, food contained. I slip up and leave out  cookie crumbs on the floor once in a while, but generally I keep a pretty clean house.

So. The potato chip.

Except it wasn’t a potato chip.

I moved over a little bit and peered down to discover it was a little scratchy yes, but there was fur, grey fur–it was mousicles.

I leapt from the Comfy Chair, the Fortress of Solitude that had betrayed me and yanked up the accursed cushion to find, yes, a dead mouse. I had no idea whether the poison did its job and this is where it crawled to die, but that fucker’s little foot was scratching my naked belly. Even now, I shudder when I type that.

I cleaned up mousicles, vacuumed every crevice, rubbed every inch of fabric with one of this disinfectant wipes. Hell, I turned the Comfy Chair upside down and whacked it with a broom to force out any hidden family members. Nothing.

Fucking mouseicles was under the cushion!

That little fucker destroyed my Fortress of Solitude. I still check under the cushion every night before I lower myself into it, uneasily. I have to ask myself, “Who got the last laugh?”

On the phone, I advanced my dead-by-poison theory to Jason who considered the possibility but then said, “Yeah. Or you smothered it with your ass.”

Oh god.

First my boot, now my ass. Sixteen death traps around my house and still, the biggest threat is me.

I killed mousicles with my chunky butt.

I really need to start going to the gym.

 

 

 

 

 

King Daniel, Chapters 1-7

January 31st, 2014

Didn’t you sometimes resent J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series?

She created this fantastic world that sucked us in and made us care about potions class, an old geezer named Dumbledore, and bewitched furniture. But then we had to wait two years for the next installment. Two years. C’mon, woman, give us a fix! I had always wished she provided a tasty tidbit between novels, like a Harry Potter short story.

I’m a slow writer, so between king novels I’m hoping to provide you with a tasty tidbit.

Roughly six months after the last book release (which hopefully is roughly six month before the next full novel), I will make chapters available from the sixth book in the series, King Daniel.

I know, I know.

It’s messed up. But Vin Vanbly’s tale is odd and the telling of his stories must also reflect this oddness. Just go with it. Part of the grand adventure.

The release schedule:

King Perry (first book) – February, 2012

King Daniel, chapters 1-3 – October 2013

King Mai (second book) – July, 2013

King Daniel, chapters 4-7 – January, 2014

??? (third book) – 2014

Who is the king in Book 3? After reading King Daniel, Chapter 7, you will know. I hope you enjoy meeting Daniel and exploring the world of the Found Kings in 2013, the year this story takes place.

Attached to this web post will find King Daniel, Chapters 1-7.pdf. If you need the .mobi or .epub, please contact me directly. remembertheking@comcast.net.

All my love,

Edmond Manning

King Daniel chapters 1-7 (.pdf)

 

 

Resolutions in Poetry

January 1st, 2014

I resolve, I resolve, I say each January, trying to think forward to next December’s short cold days, a distant mirror.

Will I honor these resolutions come December?

Are they worth a year’s devotion?

Will they change me? Will I allow myself to be changed?

Or are they destined to become discarded, New Year’s party favors like funny hats and horns that unfurl? Will I find these resolutions balled up in the garbage come February and with distain say, “Oh, you. I remember.”

Dunno.

I might.

I love the drama of New Year’s resolutions.

I love the promise of renewal, that I might grow better at being me.

And buried deep in each promise, the dark wriggling worm of betrayal, allowing myself to forget and discard what I value.

2014: renewal or betrayal?

Like salmon swimming upstream each year, resolutions return, leaping gracefully from icy blue water, suggesting growing inner strength, a capacity for greater love, for living with less struggle and more fight. New Year’s Eve, I wade into this frigid stream, a shaggy bear swiping at resolutions, catching some in my meaty paw, delighting to feel them wriggle me alive.

So I resolve, resolve, resolve.

Cook more, say two delicious inventions per week. (More than sandwiches, more than microwaving.)

I will call mom twice a week and thank her for those home cooked meals I now miss dearly.

I will grill, steam, and gnaw vegetables more than last year. Don’t ask me to quantify “more.” We all know what that means.

I will befriend cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and maybe even vegetable smoothies for breakfast, wait–I’m not sure about smoothies. Let’s not make that a resolution, let’s call it a 2014 possibility. I’d rather jog naked around Lake Harriet in January than eat kale whipped into breakfast froth.

I will try to be open. I will try.

Some resolutions must be uncovered, discovered. I resolve to avoid roping every possibility into convoluted knots. I resolve to be open to new things, like kale smoothies, though I may end up barfing.

To start more arguments if I think they will strengthen friendships.

Write more.

Throw away more junk, both in my home and in my head, useless, obscure shapes that do not serve.

Read more.

And when I resolve to lose thirty-five pounds, I skip last year’s failures and shame  to better steel my gaze toward this year’s success, the possibility, hell, probability that I will succeed. One of the things I love best about me is my ridiculous faith. I will use this tired ol’ weight-loss resolution to cultivate ridiculous faith, my optimism, to stretch the boundaries of my power. I may not lose thirty-five pounds. But I will cultivate my faith in myself and I will learn from past mistakes.

Hell, I may lose fifty pounds.

Only next year’s December knows at this point and we are not yet in communication.

One day this summer, I will watch a butterfly for fifteen minutes to study its flight and wonder about it’s airborn life.

Speaking of, I resolve to get interrupted for things more important than me. I resolve to use this interruption to remember there are lots of people and events more important than me. I will do this twelve times, once a month. Who knows? Maybe more. There are many people and events more important than me.

Ride my bike 10 times this summer to feel chill breezes and the green blur whiz past me.

I resolve to make time for ten October walks in the woods. My favorite month. I resolve to gift these ten walks to myself.

I resolve to surprise myself at least five times.

I resolve to say internally “I can’t believe I just did that.”

Say, four times.

I resolve to create opportunities for me to win with myself so I can say the words, “Beautiful job, Edmond. You’re doing your best.”

Three times, I will listen to someone outline my faults and I will say “thank you” instead of arguing why they’re wrong. If I am brave that day I will ask follow-up questions, promising to give careful consideration to what has been said. I will assume they have insight which blinds me. They might be wrong. But I will listen first and decide later.

I resolve to wear my pants less.

I resolve to sleep more.

I resolve to sleep less and use that time writing.

I resolve to look at the contradictions in my life, which is really all a New Year’s resolution is, a promise to examine contradictions, our personal absurdities and say, “Huh. Look at me.”

To celebrate my contradictions, I think the best way to stratify and organize my bulleted New Year’s resolutions is in poetry. Something ethereal and silly, solid and sing-song, over-long and easily forgotten but using dancing words that zip around my candy cane consciousness.

To remember these resolutions and zipper them up inside me.

This, I resolve.

Dear Penthouse,

December 10th, 2013

To celebrate my new book, I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That (Kindle version here), I decided to showcase a few of the blog entries you’ll find in this book.

I hope you enjoy my stroll down memory lane.

***

Dear Penthouse,

As a chubby teen, I was introduced to your letter column through a high school friend’s sleepover. He titillated our boys club by showing us his father’s stash. We poured over them. The other boys were mesmerized by all the pictures of women spreading their legs.

I was mesmerized by the naughty cartoons and also the letters written by men who experienced surprising seductions. I loved those masculine, sexy letters. I ignored the photos and devoured how the men felt, the raw pleasure of seduction and getting sex delivered so easily, like pizza. Well, sometimes literally through a pizza delivery woman. Later, as the other boys moved to another room to play Atari video games, I remained behind, reading your letters, studying them. So I know exactly how to begin.

Dear Penthouse, this kind of situation doesn’t ever happen to me. (I nailed it, right?) I’m not the guy who gets hit on at parties. I’m the guy you ask, “Dude, where’s the beer?” Hot neighbors don’t wash their Corvettes in tight jeans cutoffs for me and I’ve never had a voluptuous male tutor make sexy double entendres while I was labored over Italian vocabulary. Mostly my tutors spent their energy suppressing frustration because my brain refused verb conjugation.

Penthouse letters are traditionally crammed full of clichés, so allow me to say you could have knocked me over with a feather when my own Penthouse experience showed up at my front door one weeknight after 10 p.m. The pounding roused me from writing in my den, which was the first irritation and as I crossed to the front of the house, I couldn’t help but complain. My porch light and living room lights were already off. Who ignores those obvious signs?

Grumble, grumble.

The pounding resumed a second time, already impatient with me.

I was not amused.

I peered through glass planes like the crabby ass I felt myself to be and was surprised to see Mike. He was one of three twenty-somethings renting the house next door. His two housemates, both women, were bubbly and friendly to me, contrasting his surliness. Maybe they were compensating. I knew he was a homo the day I met him. Shaking hands, he looked at me and his entire face wrinkled into mild disgust, as if to communicate, Ugh. Bear.

Mike dressed casually but with great attention to detail and he affected a beard which looked scraggly on him in his post-twink era. His hair bristled with chemical product and always remained sculpted to look as if it were not. The modern word best describing Mike is hipster but back in the mid-2000s, we had not yet dreamt up that new-fangled vernacular to define someone who tries hard to make you believe he doesn’t care about his appearance. Mike himself would boast he was a hipster before it was cool.

His cheerful housemates and I would sometimes gab if we came home at the same time, twelve-sentence conversations as we lugged our gym bags and groceries to our front doors. Mike never said more than hello and sometimes only shot me a grim nod if he could not avoid eye contact. No problem. Not everybody has to be chat buddies in the front yard but since he had never come to my home in the two years living next door, I was mighty alarmed to find him standing on my front porch.

When I opened the door, he said, “You know, we’ve never really gotten to know each other as neighbors.”

I said, “No, I guess not.”

For him, that must have translated into, Well then, come the fuck in, because that’s what he did, sailing across the threshold and squeezing past me, clearly propelled forward by the thick alcohol cloud surrounding him. I thought I might get wasted by proxy.

He dropped on my living room couch, the big one, and I sat across from him, a three-by-four-foot oak coffee table between us. I briefly wondered if this could be a booty call but that seemed absurd as he made it a habit to scowl at me. He had probably locked himself out and needed to waste a half hour before a housemate came home. If he had just glared at me and said, “Look, I’m locked out. Can I crash here until my roommate gets home?” that would have been fine. In fact, I would have preferred the honesty.

Mike asked, “Got anything to drink?”

I tried to hide my annoyance when I said, “I’ll check.”

My kitchen was a disaster, dirty dishes everywhere and leftover carnage from dinner suggesting I’m not the kind of person who uses my hands to open packages and move things around. While I take pleasure in believing I’m a free spirit who doesn’t mind if my household is cluttered and dirty when friends spontaneously visit, sorry, I’m really not. I do not appreciate chicken gravy on most flat kitchen surfaces and scum-riddled plates piling up like a high-rise buffet for rats. In moments like this, I hear my mother’s voice say, “That’s why we make our bed every morning and do the dishes after each meal, because you never know who may drop by.”

I don’t think she anticipated booty calls, however.

Of course, Mike strolled into the mess right behind me and when he (deliberately?) brushed against me, I inhaled a full shot glass of whiskey breath or something of equivalent proof. He nodded at the vodka sitting on top of my fridge and noted it would serve fine. (I store my hard liquor on top the fridge. Mine is not the classiest house even when it’s clean.)

I grumbled while I found us clean glasses, wondering how long this stupid seduction would take. If it were that. I still wasn’t sure.

It sucks when you’re getting your Penthouse experience, the young neighbor almost twenty years your junior appearing suddenly for a booty call, and all you can think is God, I am turning into my mother.

When we returned to the Mission-style couches in my cozy Minneapolis bungalow, I sat where he was not so he moved and joined me on my couch. He sat very, very close and asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Yup. Booty call.

“Yes, I do,” I said right away. “It’s not an open relationship.”

He frowned. “Oh. I never see him.”

“We mostly sleep at his place.”

As I scooched a few inches away, keeping a more appropriate distance between us, I elaborated. The relationship was fairly new, that delicate stage where no one uttered the word monogamy, but wouldn’t it feel great if we both shared that shy desire? Wouldn’t the timing be nice? I told a sweet tale of my new boyfriend and our potential for being each other’s one true love.

None of it was true. I was very, very single and actually lacking in amorous adventures of late (which is a classy way of saying I was horny).

But when Mike switched couches and I felt the heat of his body as he dropped next to me, I had decided no way and instantly lies poured from my mouth regarding this newish romance while my brain screamed, “For God’s sake, don’t give him a fake name! You’ll never remember it.”

“Things are good right now between him and me,” I said, purring. “Who knows where it will go. You dating anyone?”

“No,” he said staring into my eyes, “Single.”

He moved his hand to massage the back of my neck.

This moment, my lie, was one of those questionable decisions a person makes in life. Why didn’t I go for it? We were both single, he was attractive, just sort of scornful and pretentious. I didn’t like him as a person but he wasn’t proposing six hours of conversation. Why did I invent this big lie? Why not just get laid, consequences be damned?

I removed his massaging hand and realized I truly didn’t want this, not with him. Maybe there comes a point in your life where respecting yourself finally overtakes the need for carnival sex. Maybe. I’m a big fan of carnival sex. I got my hand stamped so I can come back anytime. But I don’t spend my every waking moment wondering about who might be next or thinking about what we might try.

“I’d like to see your house,” he said, “see how it compares to ours.”

The rest of my house wasn’t much cleaner than the food-splattered kitchen, so he wasn’t winning any points with me by demanding to see every room in its natural state. But I wanted us off the romantic couch so I walked him room to room. When we headed through the kitchen toward the sun porch he embraced me from behind and kissed me on the neck.

I froze. Why the kitchen? Couldn’t he see the mess? The chicken gravy? I couldn’t possibly make out with all those dirty dishes mocking me from a foot away.

“I know you want me,” he whispered in sloppy dramatic seduction. “I see you watching me from your house. From your kitchen you can see right into my bedroom.”

I extracted myself and said, “Mike, I don’t even know which room is yours. I’ve never been in your house to know that.”

He pointed to his window and said, “That one. I know you watch me undress. I see you standing right here.”

I pondered this and said, “Huh.”

I had never watched him undress. I really didn’t know which room was his. But I knew why he would think I might have. Mike wasn’t entirely wrong. I did spend a lot of time in this spot, just not for the reason he suspected.

I decided to tell the truth. Another questionable decision.

“Thing is,” I said and I probably blushed a little, “we’re right in front of the refrigerator. I spend a lot of time at the fridge with the door open. Standing right here.”

That was humiliating.

It can be hard to tell your embarrassing truths, like why I spend so much time in front of the fridge debating meal options, or why I am single. Well-meaning friends frequently ask with loving concern why I’m still single, and while my defenses can offer a variety of reasons from “I’m not putting myself out there” to “I’m concentrating on my writing these days,” sometimes the truth is “I don’t know. I guess I don’t really know.”

He tried to kiss me again and I said, “No. No, Mike.”

Man, this Penthouse letter sucked.

We continued the house tour and now that it seemed apparent he wasn’t getting laid, he didn’t fake being impressed by each room. In the den he looked at my festive Christmas lights wrapping a house plant and said with disdain, “Oh. So tacky.”

After we concluded the downstairs, the only part of my house tour available to the visiting public, he strode past me in the dining room and asked, “What’s up here?”

He disappeared up the narrow staircase into my master bedroom.

I followed, not liking where this was headed symbolically or literally. I was sure my imaginary boyfriend would raise his eyebrow when I repeated this part of the story, doubting for a moment whether we were truly heading toward the monogamous thing after all. Thank God, I did not give the imaginary boyfriend a name. I’d never remember it.

I found what I expected to find, underwear and shirts on the floor, comic books strewn about, pomegranate-striped sheets rumpled at the foot of my bed, my pillows slammed and drooping against far walls as if my sleep violence ought to be studied in a lab.

There he was, lying on my unmade bed, flipping through a comic book.

And this is why we make our bed every morning.

The cupboard door to my secret stash of unread comics stood wide open and he had reached in, grabbed a random book. He wore his natural state of disdain on his face, flipping through the colored pages.

My blood hardened in its veins. You don’t fuck with a nerd’s comics, dude. Not cool.

“C’mon,” I said with forced good cheer, “I still haven’t shown you the basement.”

When my tour completed its run and I walked us to the front door, he resisted and flopped onto my living room couch again for one final attempt at seduction. He patted the seat next to him and I murmured, “My boyfriend.”

In a bored voice he asked me what I did for fun and I said, “I write.”

He said, “Me too. I’m a blogger.”

This became the only I’ll show you mine if you show me yours moment of the night, for we each whipped out our home pages on my laptop and ogled them, right there on the oak coffee table. As expected, he saw my homepage and said, “Yeah, that’s nice. Here’s mine.”

I never expected any real interest from him. I was a booty call.

“I’m new to blogging,” he confessed.

His blog had two entries on it, only two, and both began with rants against junk food manufacturers and their stupidity. His written attitude was a mixture of confidence-without-facts and everyone-is-stupid, so while he explained his theme for colors and layout, I grew more irritated with him and felt a resolve in myself to get rid of him within the next five minutes.

“I’m anorexic,” Mike said. “Well, recovering anorexic. Not many men get diagnosed with anorexia compared to women, so I felt my voice needed to be out there.”

I looked at his blog posts again and instead of seeing smug confidence I saw a defiant, wounded man still struggling to succeed. When you uncover a vulnerable dimension to a late-night booty call, it’s suddenly harder to think of him exclusively as a booze-guzzling jerk.

I listened to him describe his relationship with food and I told him he was brave, which he was, and he responded with a knowing smile to suggest, Yeah, I really am. Okay, I still didn’t like him. But I could appreciate before me I beheld a man on a journey, same as me.

Dear Penthouse, I sent Mike home a few minutes later after he suggested my imaginary boyfriend never had to know about this. Mike let me know we didn’t have to do everything, but maybe just some things. I made sure he crossed safely to his own front door and made a mental note to spend less time at the fridge. Jesus, what if he gave me a deliberate striptease while I was salivating over leftover lasagna?

The next morning after the Penthouse seduction, the UPS man asked if I could sign for an important package for my female next-door neighbors. Working from home as I did, my signing for neighbor packages was not unusual. I left a note taped to their front door to come over.

I considered he might be the one to come, but the odds were against it. Besides, it might be healing for both of us to acknowledge the previous night’s awkwardness, laugh about it, get it out there, and—crap. I couldn’t remember if I had assigned my imaginary boyfriend a name. I hoped not. I hope I had taken my own advice, but I don’t always listen to the voice inside me which says, “Not a good idea.”

Two hours later, I recognized Mike’s impatient pounding on the front door, like a British soldier checking American homes during the Revolutionary War.

I opened the screen door wide so he could enter and in a sheepish voice, I said, “Hi.”

He took the package from my hand and flashed me the familiar scorn: Ugh. Bear.

In a bored voice he said, “Thanks for signing for this.”

Mike turned and plopped down the front steps in a casual way. Obviously, last night’s rejection did not scar him.

That was it. That was the end of our rich, meaningful relationship. A year later, he moved away.

Dear Penthouse, nothing happened.

Okay, well, not technically true. The prior night, we made out for a minute by my front door as I was sending him home, but then I whispered, “I can’t. The boyfriend,” and kicked him out.

What? Don’t judge me.

I’m not made of stone and this was probably going to be my only Penthouse experience.

Fond Memories of the Manhole

December 6th, 2013

To celebrate my new book, I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That (Kindle version here), I decided to showcase a few of the blog entries you’ll find in this book.

I hope you enjoy my stroll down memory lane.

***

Despite the ominous title, this essay is rated PG-13 for strong language. No nudity. There is one furious drag queen screaming in front of a Chicago leather bar, so yes, adult situations.

Two weeks ago, on a return trip to visit family, I wandered up and down Chicago’s Halsted Street, lost in reminiscing. I remembered dining at that narrow but long restaurant when it was Italian and not a French/Vietnamese cafe. I hung out a few times in that cruddy little bar when it proudly bore the name of the previous bar owner. It was a cruddy little bar then, too. I remembered some first dates, some last dates. A couple landmarks changed over the years but The Alley and that excellent comic book shop remained, as well as the Belmont Street Dunkin’ Donuts.

Glad to see that.

I was disappointed to observe the Manhole, a raunchy leather bar, had gentrified into something classier and pastel sounding: a bar called Hydrate. Although it was never a hangout of mine, still, I missed the Manhole. One sunny afternoon, I fought the most wonderful, physically abusive, domestic argument outside that bar.

At the time I lived in a northwest suburb and on weekends volunteered for a Boystown group called the Pink Angels. In response to that late-80s take-back-the-city movement, Chicago’s Pink Angels copied other successful groups’ mission and patrolled the predominantly gay neighborhood. Pink Angels jogged down dark alleys reporting drug deals to cops, helped drunks find cabs, and ran like hell toward any cry sounding like “Help!”

It takes a unique flavor of compassion to love people this way, to race to their aid down a dark alley. Groups patrolled from about 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. For one summer, I was a member but it turns out I am chunky and there was a lot of running involved. Still, for one summer, I ran the streets of Chicago.

We wore pink T-shirts and matching berets. I thank Hercules this happened prior to phone cameras’ popularity for I did not project “sexy strong gay” in my pink beret. I was a pink-tinged, jolly cake topper you’d stick on a German chocolate cake for a child’s first communion celebration. We never engaged in true fisticuffs that summer (which is smart—some of us undoubtedly imagined West Side Story and would have been mightily surprised when our attackers did not bring tap shoes), but I felt brave among them. I felt safe.

In the heat of August, we conducted training for the new recruits. After morning workshops on walking tough, non-confrontational de-escalation and how to observe street-smart nuances, the experienced volunteers broke into small groups to enact training situations around a ten-block radius.

My assignment was to stage a domestic argument in front of the Manhole. Our training director set the scene: I was to be witnessed verbally harassing and physically intimidating my assigned boyfriend in the bar’s front entryway, screaming at him, and he would, in turn, give the appropriate signs of intimidation, subtle and skillfully done. The Pink Angels would approach and demand to know if everything was okay.

Portraying the brutish thug, I would execute my line with menacing undertones. “He’s fine. Go away.”

The Pink Angels would insist on hearing from my partner. He would respond by saying, “It’s okay,” in an unconvincing tone. They might ask again for a clearer answer. I would stand close to him, pinning my boyfriend against the Manhole’s exterior, my arm blocking a view to his face. When they reluctantly withdrew and moved a few feet away, I would give him a hearty shove, which would trigger scene two: the dramatic return and de-escalation to remove me from the man I intended to beat down.

Our roles clear, my new life partner and I looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “Sure. We can do this.”

As we walked toward the Manhole together, we exchanged names and short bio information. He lived in Chicago proper and while he expressed admiration for the greatness of Arlington Heights, he clearly looked down on me as a suburb dweller.

North Halsted was crowded, the regular Saturday flow of people living in north side Chicago, shopping, strolling, jogging, or generally fucking around under the hot August sun. The Pink Angels would not show for a few minutes, so we practiced my pushing him in a way that didn’t hurt but still looked realistic. I practiced yelling mean things. About three minutes before our patrol was due, during a faux shoving, we both jumped to hear a rich baritone voice four feet behind me.

“Oh bitch, you did not just shove that man.”

We both turned sheepishly to find a 6’2” African-American drag queen with her hands on her hips. She wore a leopard print miniskirt and had big RuPaul hair. She would claw my eyes out for not remembering her top, but I was so stunned I forgot to check out her breasts.

I was about to get my ass kicked.

“He’s fine,” I said in a pleading voice. Thinking the patrol could be here at any second, I added, “Go away.”

When she started yelling at me, threatening me, moving closer, I turned to my temporary boyfriend and said, “Tell her.”

In a completely unconvincing tone, he said, “It’s okay.”

On the plus side, we had accidentally practiced our lines and he hit the mark perfectly as unbelievable and in danger. I, on the other hand, could have used more authority in saying, “Go away.”

One or two people stopped to watch as she swore loudly. I tried to explain we represented the Pink Angels training team and could she please not let them find me spread-eagle on the sticky, scalding sidewalk with her black stiletto heel jammed into my fleshy neck. She was furious. Nervously, we did our best to persuade her.

Our furtive glances down the street in the direction of our soon-to-be-arriving patrol apparently lent more credibility than our actual words and she reluctantly agreed to step back a few feet. But she let me know she was not departing until this alleged training scenario played out and if I thought I could outrun a bitch in heels, I had another thing coming.

“Please,” I begged her. “Stand far enough away. Over there.”

She skulked away, but not far.

My partner and I got into position and we took a few deep breaths because the lady was not shy with swear words and could threaten some explicit possibilities. It takes a different kind of courage to be a Chicago drag queen.

“They’re almost here,” my faux-boyfriend said, eyes wide. “Go. Do your thing.”

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do you piece of shit,” I yelled in his face, jabbing a hard forefinger two inches from his eyes.

The Pink Angels appeared at my side and we played out our scene. My partner was said he was okay (unconvincingly, of course) so they reluctantly retreated. I shoved my faux-boyfriend with faux-rage. They returned and dragged me away using the proper techniques, though I had a few critique notes to pass along once we debriefed at headquarters. If anyone on the patrol team paid deeper attention, they would have noticed I was probably the more rattled of the two actors.

By the time the Pink Angels had resolved our drama and began jogging to the next scene, our drag queen had silently slipped away.

This is what I love about Chicago.

If you’re in a shop and overhear a conversation that’s not meant for your ears, chime in. It’s still your fuckin’ business. This city is where I learned to tell drunks, “Get out of my face!” and how to get seen when howling for a cab. If you think you’re gonna knock your boyfriend’s teeth out, you may have to answer to a self-policing pack of homos in matching pink berets or an African-American goddess who is not going to stand for any shit.

On the day I walked Halsted reminiscing, my fond memories from the Manhole were enough to make me want to stand at the corner of Belmont and North Clark, and, ala Mary Tyler Moore, throw a pink beret into the air screaming, “Fuck you, Chicago.”

I have no doubt someone, whether in a brownstone, at the Dunkin’ Donuts, or from the back seat of a cab, would yell back, “No, fuck you! What’s your fucking problem?”

And they’d really want to know.