February 23rd, 2015

It’s easy for us to be outraged these days.

I mean, true, there’s a lot to be outraged by. But it’s also easy to express our outrage in Facebook comments and anonymous replies to angry strangers where we can say, ‘NO, YOU’RE THE JERK” and feel satisfied that we didn’t use the word asswipe instead. Demonstrates some modicum of civility, yes? We have the pleasure of hindsight when we respond online and say things like, “You know what I would have said?” or respond from a compassionate distance to say, “I feel for this person.”

It’s so much easier to comment from far away.

But do you confront the outside world’s daily outrages? Could you do it with compassion and firmness? Not betraying your values but also not descending into asswipe territory?

I don’t think it’s that easy.

Especially when it’s someone you like, or liked up until that second they said something racist. Someone you trust. Someone who you don’t think is a total asshole . In circumstances that are challenging, would you confront an outrage if witnessed?

Michelle did.

She is a coworker of mine.

We’ve worked together for many years, but we don’t work in the same state, so it can be a year or three between our sightings. She’s in our company’s QA (Quality Assurance) department, which means she and her team review the software our team and other teams are building, try to break it, clean up our sloppy words, and sometimes have the dreaded task of saying, “I don’t really get this piece.” It’s their job to raise the flag on anything that’s not functional, inappropriate, or questionable.

I got an email from Michelle last week.

The contents shocked me.

With a professional tone and language, Michelle very courteously told me that she and a coworker had come upon a QA comment I had made some months ago. They discussed it. Michelle decided to address it, because it was so very inappropriate. “It’s not the swearing that offends me,” she said in her email.

I hadn’t actually remember the offending QA comment I made, so my eyebrows were pretty high over my head in disbelief.

What had I said?

She provided a link to the offending comment but due to the space-time continuum (that’s the short version), the link didn’t work. I had checked work email from home, so I couldn’t see the actual QA comment until I got to my work computer, later that day.

I continued to read.

Michelle explained how it was very unprofessional to call out a colleague with such disrespect as I had done in the comment. She urged me to remember that whoever’s words I had criticized with my comment, that person was a coworker, someone we value, someone on our team. They deserved our respect and if that person had made a mistake, then certainly our compassion.

What the hell had I said?

With great heart, Michelle pointed out that she had always thought of me as a very compassionate person and she couldn’t believe I would treat someone this way.

We’re Facebook friends (one of the few coworkers I friended outside the office) and she has read my fiction. She’s an author, too. She first introduced me to National Novel Writing Month. Politically, we both lean left, so we can bitch together. We think Obama got the shaft and we’re angry about it.

She’s political outside Facebook. She’s knows every senator and most house of representatives, in her state and nationally. She writes thoughtful opinion pieces. She advocates for social justice causes in the real world. It was years before I realized her two sons were adopted because they are not really adopted to Michelle and her husband. It’s simple. They are family.

And now she was standing up to me.

Michelle urged me to think of other strategies for communication and gave me a few ways I could have explained my frustration (minus the f-word) with how the original writer crafted the instructions.

It was a longish email, carefully considered, and I was mystified how and why I could say something so horrible to cause her such upset.

I can be harsh sometimes. I know that. But what the fuck did I say?

Was my account hacked and another coworker was playing a joke on me? We tend to joke around.

Had I experienced the worst day of my life and blocked it out of memory?

Michelle is patient and fair. She has to be. People are constantly telling her she was wrong to point out their software bugs and her job is to smile and nod and say, “I’ll do better next time. Thank you.” Even when she is right, she is the dreaded QA expert who finds flaws. It’s not an easy job.

I drove a little quickly to work.

After logging on, first thing I did was to click the link and see my exact words.

There they were, staring at me: “Existing instructions are just terrible. Seriously. Who the fuck wrote that nonsensical bullshit? Use these instead: Click…”

Wow. That was pretty mean.

But would I write something like that? Did I? Something that mean to a coworker? Could I–

I remembered to look at the date the comment was made. Light bulb. From Michelle’s email, I got the impression the comment I made was from many months ago. Many months ago, I had been on a half-dozen different projects. I couldn’t remember which might have driven me to be such an, well, asswipe. But the date of this comment was only January 2015. I had misunderstood – this comment was recent.

And then. Light bulb.

Because I remembered which coworker this comment was directed at: me.

I wrote the original instructions for a computer interaction we built. Two week later, when I reviewed the software, performing my own QA, I reread my own instructions and they seemed like gibberish to me. So I made a QA comment and insisted they be rewritten. I provided the rewrite, but first I chastized myself:  Who the fuck wrote that nonsensical bullshit?

I was bad-mouthing my own words.

Michelle both stood up to me and also protected me, though neither of us realized I was the victim as well as the bully. Maybe she’s skilled at addressing conflict as a result of parenting two sons. Maybe her unapologetic respect and compassion is grown from years debating politics with friends. I don’t know.

I wrote her, greatly relieved, and explained that the original writer was me and I thought my developer pals would laugh at my comment when they got into the software to update the instructions. We live for small funnies like that.

Michelle was then flooded with relief because she couldn’t believe she had to call me out the way she did, and the whole situation upset her. We laughed the way you’re permitted via email, exchanging LOLs at the end of sentences.

After a few emails updating each other on politics and writing, we went back to work.

But I was touched, very touched, by her actions that day. She stood up for me. She said, “Nobody can treat Edmond this way. Nobody. Not even someone I like and respect.” (She actually said in her original email that it was hard to confront me because “she liked and respected me.”) She was kind to the bully and unapologetic in representing the aggrieved.

But what if she never confronted me and just lived with the knowledge that I was an asswipe?

What if a client saw it, somehow?

Michelle and I agreed that I shouldn’t joke around like that in the QA software anymore, because of the rich potential for misunderstanding. Now that I think about it, I probably shouldn’t have done that.

But I learned another lesson from this experience, too.

Michelle will not tolerate meanness.

She will stand up to outrages and abuse. She will defend those who need defending.

And not just when it’s easy.



The Best Man

October 2nd, 2014

At my brother’s wedding last Saturday, I gave the traditional Best Man toast. I think I did a decent job.

Unfortunately, while facing almost 250 people and hearing my own voice in the microphone, I stumbled and left out a few key sentences, ways of honoring Matt I wish I had remembered. I also deliberately chose to not share full details of a night important in my life as it seemed to make the toast more about me than him.

In the spirit of second chances, I’d like to present the unabridged toast to my brother and include everything I wanted to say.


Once, when Matt and I were kids, I convinced Matt and my younger sister to race around the house a few times. As a ‘reward,’ I served them glasses of milk. His had Tabasco sauce generously mixed in. I wanted to see the expression on his face. Another time, I sold him a Kennedy silver dollar for $1.50. I also spent five or six years trying to convince him that he was adopted and that his name in his other family, his real family, was Steve.

My point: I was not always a good brother.

But he was.

He has always been a good brother to me. Always.

The night I came out to my parents was horrible. If you have ever been the cause of your parents weeping uncontrollably, you know how earth-shattering and unnerving it is. I was shaking, head to foot, trembling by how much sorrow I had caused them. I knew I was not evil for being gay, but they didn’t know that. They sobbed in their bedroom, believing themselves to have failed as parents. I was the failure.

I left them to their deep grief and walked in a trance downstairs, right into the kitchen, where I found Matt washing the supper dishes. In a daze, I picked up a dish towel.

I had come out to my siblings in the prior month, wanting mom and dad to have support when I shared the news. One sister also wept uncontrollably and bemoaned the fate of my doomed soul. The other sister said, “So that’s why you never liked football.” When I told Matt, he did a double-take of pure shock, but said nothing more than, “Oh.”

But that horrible night while my parents wept upstairs and I appeared at his side, ashen and silent, I picked up the dish towel and he turned to me. He said, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

Do you need anything.

This was the first time anyone in my family had inquired into my well-being while coming out. I was so busy trying to plan for their experiences, providing a six page letter explaining how I knew I was gay, supportive books for parents, religious support, etc., that I had forgotten this experience might be hard on me.

And it was hard on me. One of the most terrifying periods in my life.

Matt knew exactly what had happened in my parents bedroom moments earlier.

He said, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

Keep in mind he was an 18-year-old straight guy from a very religious family living in a small Midwestern town. We didn’t know any gay people, except for Boy George from television. We had witnessed the 1980′s plotline on Dynasty with a gay character and changed the channel whenever the gay man appeared onscreen. Matt found out less than a month earlier that his big brother was a homo. He couldn’t have been thrilled with this news himself. But in that moment, Matt forgot about himself.

At the time, I answered Matt by saying, “No, I’m fine.”

I was not fine. I needed someone to say, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

Even today, he may not understand how significant that moment was.

That was twenty years ago.

He is still the same thoughtful, caring man, but better.

Over the phone, we discuss bosses, work projects, and how to ask for a raise. He was the first person I called when I accidentally stole my neighbor’s credit card bill. Uh…twice. I regularly text him pictures of things I find absolutely disgusting and he often replies, something to the effect of, “Please do not send me anything like this in the future. I know this request won’t do any good, but I feel obligated to beg you anyway.” He visits me in Minnesota and we attend the State Fair together. Last year, he brought Bridget, his fiance, and the three of us ate deep-fried cheese curds together. It was wonderful.

In his homily during the wedding mass today, the priest commanded Matt to be generous with others and think of their needs as well as his own.

I thought the request was redundant for that is the very soul of who Matt is.

In our family, he is our moral compass. He is quiet and thoughtful. Slow to action at times, because he wants to think everything through. We rely on his good judgment.

I may have the title of “best man” today, but truly, it’s him.

He is the best man.

I almost wish he were adopted so that we could tell the world, “We chose him. We wanted him. He makes all of us better. All of us kinder, softer, more careful of what we say and do. We picked him and we cannot live without him.”

One of the best parts of Matt is how much he reminds of us of dad. Our beloved father died three years ago and we still miss him. He was a great man. If we want to talk to Dad, we can go find Matt on a recliner watching football and talk to him. When Matt grunts out his monosyllabic response, it’s just like talking to Dad.

That was a joke.

Truth is, we know better than to interrupt Matt watching football.

Dad actually played a pivotal role in Matt and Bridget’s courtship. After Dad died, Matt’s friends sent cards or messages of condolences. But Bridget did something unique. She had a mass said for our father. Matt knew Bridget through their volleyball league, but he did not know her well. Her thoughtful gesture, having a mass said for our father, touched him.

She saw his faith.

He began to see her with new eyes. Matt began to see Bridget for who she really was.

I met Bridget a year later, at a party in her home. If you’ve been to Bridget’s home, you know she is elegant. The house is gorgeous. The party was amazing, with fun interesting people, food everywhere, and laughter echoing throughout. At one point, Bridget pulled me aside and we went into a spare bedroom. She had read King Perry and loved it. She asked me a million questions about the narrator, the story arc, events in the story itself, the future books, my vision, how well King Perry was received.

Ten minutes passed. Then, fifteen. then, twenty.

If you’ve hosted a party, you know that as host, you simply cannot spend that kind of time with one person. People need ice for their drinks! What if the cocktail sauce runs out–who will replenish it? Yet Bridget’s relaxed conversation made me feel as if I were the most important person at the party. She made me feel like I was the only person who mattered.

Matt, if that is your future–feeling like the most important person at the party–you are in for beautiful years ahead, brother.

Sorrow will come into our lives as it must, as it will, unbidden. But tonight, we toast the beautiful years ahead.

I ask you to raise your glasses to Matt and Bridget, and the beautiful years ahead.





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.


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.”


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.


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.






May Day

April 29th, 2013

Hi Pops.

Snowed hard again the other day. Mostly melted by the next day. Can you believe we’ve had two blizzards in late April ? Yeeeesh. I know how you like your Minnesota weather updates.

Work is good. Clients are clients. Traveling less these days, which is great.

I’m going to New York in a few days. No, really, dad. I’m going to stay for a month. I’m working on the third book in a series and it takes place in New York. I’m going to live there during May, in the neighborhood of Chelsea. Should be fun. I’m terrified.

I’d like to talk to you about it.

I’m not sure what I’d expect you to say. You’d grunt. Awkwardly assemble some encouraging phrase. You would remind me of times I succeeded in the past and say something like, “You’re good at this sort of thing.”

I could always tell two things about your affirmations. First, they were always hard and angular for you to say aloud. Over the years I definitely got the impression that when you were a kid, nobody made much effort to tell you that you were wonderful. As a parent you sometimes stumbled finding the words, words you never grew up hearing. Mom used to tell you that you were wonderful, but I don’t think anyone encouraged you much as a child.

The second thing I could always tell was how much you meant it, even if the words were angular and unsure. You meant it. You tried hard to show us all your love. It was you, in your fifties, who originated the big hugs, more than pat-on-the-back hugs, squeezing us hard to show us all you loved us that much.

I miss you, Pops.

We all do.

We talk about you all the time. Whenever the five of us eat a meal together, we toast you with milk or cocktails, whatever is available. I don’t know when you talked to Matt last, but he’s dating someone. We all like her a lot. She is funny and smart and they are sweet together. Eileen moved into her new place. She decorated it beautifully. Andrea went to Israel and brought us all water from the Dead Sea. That was cool.

On the phone, Mom and I will often laugh over something ridiculous you said. Not long ago, we remembered the night you smoked three dozen cigarettes *at once* as a prelude to quitting smoking. You couldn’t bring yourself to throw them away because cigarettes were so expensive. Mom recalled the long-ago Sunday you broke the church’s new crucifix moments before it was to be blessed by a visiting bishop. The bishop entered the sacristy to find you holding Jesus’ broken body in both hands.

Legend has it he looked at you, shook his head, and said, “Oh, Joe.”

Good one, Pops.

Then, mom and I get quiet and talk about the things we miss. Your voice. Your absurd expressions, especially feigned innocence. Your quiet.

Sometimes I call home when I think mom won’t be around so I can hear you on voicemail. We persuaded mom not to change the outgoing message so we can all hear your voice from time to time. Your wrist watch alarm still goes off at 1:00 p.m. every single day. The watch alarm you never discovered how to disarm is now important to us. Whoever is in the house when it starts beeping yells out, “Hi Dad!”

Mom considers it your daily check in.

Mom’s doing good.

She keeps herself busy with church work, volunteering and many house projects. She still works in the yard and washes the kitchen floor on her hands and knees. She hosted Easter brunch for all the families a few weeks ago. She made the egg dishes, ham, salads, and the yummy apricot coffee cake dribbled with frosting and carefully-placed jelly beans. Everyone brought the usual dishes and they loved it.

Your church friends miss you. They tell stories about you after mass each morning. Mom recently told me how, years ago in front of your morning mass group, Father Garrity said, “Joe, tomorrow  it’s your patron saint’s day today, St. Joseph the Worker.” In your dry voice you said, “He’s not my patron saint. I follow St. Joseph the Idler.” Aunt Barbara and mom recently remembered that line together and shared a good laugh at the conversation that followed.

I know Clarice and Ed miss you. They plan things for mom to do – trips, dinners, prayer groups. They keep her busy.

I remember the last time you were in the hospital, two months before your death. I walked in Sunday morning and you were laughing heartily, your face shining. I was a little shocked and, for a second, I believed you might get better. I could hear other laughter as I came into the room and soon saw  Ed and Clarice, yours and mom’s two best friends. They were chortling.

I kissed you on the head and said, “You look good. You must have had a energizing visit from great friends.”

You beamed and said, “I did. But they left. Then Clarice and Ed showed up.”

Ed howled with laughter.

I say shit like that sometimes.

Pops, I think I may have inherited your obnoxiousness.

Hey, want to hear a weird coincidence?

I have had it in the back of my head for weeks now to send mom a huge bouquet of flowers on May 1st. It’s May Day and mom used to make May Day baskets with flowers for grandma and all her friends. Do you remember? Little construction-paper baskets with fragile Spring violets and lilies of the valley pulled from our yard. Home baked treats. Love notes to grandma’s octogenarian friends, reminding them we were happy they were part of our family.

May 1st is also the first day I’m going to be in New York City. It’s a big day.

I thought of sending flowers to her for Easter but something in me said, “No, wait until May Day.”

The flowers would be my way of reassuring mom while I am in New York.  She’s nervous about my upcoming trip. The flowers would say, “Don’t worry about me. I’m going someplace new but you will see me again. In the meantime, I’m having an adventure.”

Yesterday I called mom to update her on the April blizzard (she likes the Minnesota weather updates too) and on the phone, she reminded me that May Day, May 1st, will be the two year anniversary of your death. You died two years ago.

Well, shit.

I don’t know if I blocked the offending day from consciousness or perhaps I genuinely forgot. I have too many thoughts in my head; some dates are bound to slip. I dunno. When I realized I forgot you died on May 1st, I immediately got sad, wondering how I could possibly forget the miserable day you left us.

But then I was comforted by the thought that maybe I didn’t exactly forget. Maybe the strong, insistent notion to send mom flowers on May Day was actually a subtle communication from you.

Maybe you wanted to send a message to mom, saying,  “Don’t worry about me. I’m someplace new but you will see me again. In the meantime, I’m having an adventure.”

I signed the florist card, ‘From all of us who love you.’

The wording is a little awkward, I know. But it’s sincere.

I learned from the best.




New Comics Day

January 9th, 2013

I hate being ill.

You do too, I know. Nobody loves it.

The intense vulnerability, fever dreams, the confidence that this last cough dislodged a necessary chunk of your lung, the temple-pounding throb reminding you that every internal system hurts. Spread eagle on my back, bleary-eyed and staring upward, it’s possible for me to believe life will always be this miserable. I forget what it’s like to actually want food.

I spent the last days of my 2012 holiday vacation tormented by the flu, including several memorable nights lying awake all night, watching the hours tick by. One night in particular everyone else in the world was doing that too, since it was New Year’s Eve, but my countdown continued until roughly 7:30 a.m. when I finally decided to end this sleep charade and drag myself out of bed.

I did so, and feeling weak, lay on the floor four feet from the bed where I finally fell asleep.

On January 2nd I decided to visit the doctor and find out if this was the flu or ebola. I wasn’t sure anymore.

They made me wear a mask as soon as I entered the office, which I understood but seemed a little absurd since I was the only one in the reception area. I knew I was feverish but hadn’t appreciated just how feverish until the woman taking my height and weight asked me if I were finished.

I said, “Finished what?”

“Finished arguing with the wall,” she said nervously.


The doctor’s diagnosis was ‘flu’ although he is gay and therefore preferred to use the much more dramatic medical interpretation, influenza. It’s just a dramatical sounding word, right? (Yes, I used the word dramatical.)  Influenza sounds like a sexy, intimate Spanish dance but with heavy coughing and mucus.

You’d think after shuffling through the doctors’ offices and my feverish disposition that I would head straight home. Of course, that would be the sane, sensible thing to do. Go. Home. But the problem was that January 2nd was a Wednesday, and everyone knows that Wednesday = New Comics Day.

It’s the day that the week’s new comics are available on the shelf. You walk in, greet the other comic book nerds, and head to the New Books section of the store to see which of your favorite titles showed up. Is there a new Walking Dead? What about Avengers Versus X-men? Did that new story from Locke & Key finally ship? I once had a friend interrupt my explanation of New Comics Day to say, “Wait, you’re telling me new comics come out every single week? Isn’t that overkill?”

We are no longer friends.

I am at a loss to explain what New Comics Day means to nerds like me. I thrill at pulling the brightly-colored copies off the shelf. Each darling book is eye candy and I experience some hard-to-explain tickle to be a responsible adult with this child-like hobby. Yes, this excitement could be saved until Saturday afternoon but showing up on Wednesday is the difference between watching the football game in real time and watching a recording of it later.

I’m not the only nerd to feel this way. The store is packed on Wednesday, all over us concentrating solemnly for five minutes finding our desired books and then suddenly jocular with our neighbors as we delight in the reading feast ahead.

Feverish and focused, I showed up last Wednesday wearing my illness-prevention-spreading mask.

The store employees whom I love razzed me about my mask and asked me the obvious, ‘You sick?’

In my only good zing of the day, I cocked my head and said, “Didn’t you guys read the paper this morning?”

For a split second they fell for it and their faces went blank. Visions of holocaust fallout danced in their heads.

I snickered behind my mask and they called me an asshole. These comic store men are a necessary part of my Wednesday experience.

I picked up my books, paid for them, and headed out with less than the normal fanfare and verbal abuse. They cut me some slack.

On the way out, I encountered a man roughly my age, dark beard. He leaned heavily on a cane. He was helped through the front door by two people who seemed obviously to be his parents. They smiled at me sheepishly and he made it through the doorway. I backed away. Whatever his health issues were, he didn’t need them compounded by the flu and I found myself glad I had continued to wear the mask.

They walked him through the store slowly, an arm on each of their son’s elbows.

Who was he? What was his story?

Two days later when I was mostly healthy, I called my friend at the comic book store to find out. I was right — the guy was my age. He has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He is gradually losing muscular control. One day, he won’t be able to chew his food or speak. He will be unable to turn the pages of his own comics.

I keep thinking about this guy and his parents specifically. They fascinate me. I’m assuming they are his primary caregivers. As primary caregivers, they are responsible for everything — food, medicine, adjusting his pillows, getting him to the doctor’s office/hospital as necessary, every trip to the bathroom. There are vital trips for his care, and non-vital. I would imagine getting him to “New Comics Day” is not a vital trip in their mind.

Yet, they came. They brought him.

Somehow, they understood his desperate need to be part of New Comics Day.

They love him.

January 2nd was icy and cold. The man was frail and using a cane. The three of them had to maneuver icy sidewalks and mini-snow banks to make it to the front door. I know, I did too. Even more reason to stay home or at the very least, having him wait in the car while they conducted his business inside.

But that’s not how New Comic Day works. As a nerd, you have to see those sparkling beauties on the shelf and feel the thrill of pulling them off the shelf yourself.

I kept visualizing the way they carefully shepherded him through the door. Perhaps this was less a hardship on them than I imagined. Maybe they are happy he wants to leave the house. Maybe they anticipate a day when he is no longer around and they want to make sure they did everything in their power to show him their love.

“He’s kinda declining fast,” my comic book store friend told me. “Four months ago he would come in without help. But in the past couple of months, he’s always with a friend or his parents picking up new books. They have to carry the new books to the front counter for him.”

When I get sick, I feel nobody in the world has been sick like this. Nobody understands suffering like me. And yes, having the flu sucks.

But I forget about the world of ongoing suffering, people whose lives aren’t interrupted by illness, they are dominated by illness, thrown into a life trajectory from which there is no ‘getting back to normal.’

There are living rooms out there converted into makeshift bedrooms. Rented hospital beds that will not get returned until there has been a death in the family. Parents who had hoped to escort their son down the wedding aisle now find themselves on a Wednesday in Richfield, Minnesota, summoning the physical courage to walk their son into an ordinary hobby store.

Even as I let these sorrows wash over me, feel the love and pain swirling together in these families, I am oddly heartened by the notion that even muscular degenerative disease cannot stop the thrill of  New Comics Day. Until he can manage this no more, this man will show up on Wednesdays in sheer defiance. This Wednesday, he was alive, participating in the world.

Never underestimate the maniacal perseverance of a comic book nerd.





August 27th, 2012

Tonight I am wondering why I do the idiot things I do.What on earth compels me to open my mouth when clearly, the situation calls for the exact opposite?

An hour ago I passed a twelve-year-old girl on the sidewalk, a complete stranger. It was dark.We were illuminated only by a streetlight fifty feet away.

As she prepared to pass me in the opposite direction, she pointed at a group of nervous nearby twelve-year-olds clustered near the alley and said, “Those girls thought you were someone scary.”

Without hesitation, I said, “I am scary.”

What the hell is wrong with me?

I think I know why this happened.

I broke my routine.

I normally walk super late at night. I nestle my ear buds comfortably into my skull and crank the iPod. I half walk, half dance-walk while I work through plot problems and rewrite sentences for the next book. Leaving the house at midnight to walk around my neighborhood is not uncommon. Last week it was 1:30 a.m. and I thought to myself, “Time enough for a quick walk before bed.”

But we’ve reached that critical time in August when days are growing noticeably shorter, summer’s last hurrah. Every sunny day seems to beckon, shouting, ‘Come out! Come out and soak up the pleasurable humidity. Soak it up. Winter is coming.’ I am no friend to humidity, but even I couldn’t resist tonight’s twilight.

I sauntered out into the neighborhood around 8:30 p.m.

First, I visited my gas station. They’re part of my nightly ritual. The Pompadour Man who works the counter raised his eyebrows and said, “You’re early.”

I usually show up two minutes before they close at 11:00 p.m. Because of this, White-Haired Mop Guy kinda hates my guts and lets me know non-verbally what he thinks of last minute customers. He doesn’t speak much English, but his meaning is clear. Over time, he has developed a glum tolerance for me and he nods with resignation when I come in right before they turn off the lights.

I like to think we’re working up to a hug.

White-Haired Mop Guy saw me tonight around 8:40 and frowned. I am messing up his world. Over the summer, he revised his mopping pattern based on my predictable thirst for milk at 10:58 p.m. He doesn’t mop the milk aisle first anymore. I came into the gas station early tonight and the whole world was thrown out of whack.

I strolled back to my house, put the milk on the front steps and left. I could have put the milk in the fridge but normally I’m walking late at night. There aren’t a lot of milk thieves out that late. I trust my neighborhood. The milk will be fine.

Funny thing I found on tonight’s walk:  people. Lots of them. I passed neighbors in their yards, others walking dogs, some pushing babies in strollers, and came upon an informal gathering of 45th and Oakland neighbors around a fire pit in someone’s front lawn. I watched people leave their homes to come to the fire pit. I like my neighbors.

Oh, and teenagers.

Holy cats, who knew so many teenagers hung out by their cars in the early night? Huh. I guess that’s been going on since the 1950s, but it’s been a while since I was a teenager. I forgot the appeal of hanging out in front of your car.

I kept getting surprised by all the people out watering, chatting, and generally delighting in the post-sun glow. I never see people on my midnight strolls. It’s me and the feral cats wandering the hood. Tonight, I heard a mom yell at the kids to come inside and they ignored her, kicking a ball around the yard a few last times before it was pitch black.

Then, the girls.

I swear, dozens of girls all under the age of thirteen. Where did they all come from? I could not see any adults around, no chaperones and we’re talking easily thirty young girls. No school was nearby. Halfway up the block, I could hear them squealing and overtalking each other.

What if they ganged up on me? Heroically, I decided not to be afraid of twelve-year-old girls screaming in the first-dark of night. I reassured myself that they were more afraid of me than I was of them.

Turns out, I was right.

As I hulked down the street in their direction, some of them screamed and ran away. That’s when I truly understood their numbers, when they moved in a flock. I heard seven unique pitches of screeching, witnessed assorted purse-clutching and hand holding, and then watched the the firefly lights blink on and off in the backs of their shoes. Those who weren’t wearing sparkly shoes ran in clogs, creating a ker-thumping echoing off the nearby houses.

Where did they all come from?

It was a sparkling tweener mess.

They turned, en masse, and raced into the pitch-black alley. I was horrified, thinking of all these girls running down a south Minneapolis alley at night, but I relaxed a few seconds later. Roughly sixteen to twenty of them were running and screaming together and I realized  I should spend more time worrying about whoever they encountered.

The funny thing was, they weren’t even aware of their power. As a group, they were unstoppable.

I passed a few of the girls who did not run in the pack and I nodded in acknowledgement or muttered a cheery hello.

One girl yelled to the alley-flock, “It’s okay….it’s not him.”

As she prepared to pass me in the opposite direction, she pointed at the alley-flock who were giggling and returning. “Those girls thought you were someone scary.”

Without hesitation, I said, “I am scary.”

Again, I ask, who says that to a twelve-year-old girl on a dark street? I need better people skills.

Quickly I added, “But ultimately I’m harmless. Just a fat guy listening to his iPod.”

I really just need to keep my mouth shut.

The chittering flock and I passed each other, most of them giggling and nodding at me, relieved I was somehow not the object of their fear. I wonder who they were afraid of, who they thought I might be? I mean, those girls fled down that alley, their shoes blinking furiously. They trucked.

Maybe they thought I was that creepy guy who is always walking the neighborhood after midnight?

As the last girl passed me, she said with relief, “Thank you.”

Uh…for what? For not murdering you?

No problem, kid. I wasn’t wearing my murdering shoes anyway.

Besides terrifying an entire entourage of Hannah Montana groupies, the other productive outcome from my evening constitution was that I ran into the cool lady who grows amazing fruits and vegetables in her front yard. I re-introduced myself and reminded her that three years ago, I stopped by and traded her my homemade raspberry jam for some of her delicious cherry tomatoes.

She said, “I remember you! I’d definitely be up for that trade again this year.”


I’m delighted that I’m not scary to everyone.

When I returned home, the milk was still on the front porch.

The Other Life

March 17th, 2012

Last week on a work-related trip I journeyed to San Francisco. After checking into my room and unpacking my suitcase, I strolled to Dolores Park to sit in my tree.

When I lived in Duboce Triangle during 2008, I found a tree at the top of the park, one that commanded an impressive view of the mighty San Francisco, and like a conquistador, I claimed it as mine. I knew it wasn’t really mine because I would sometimes have to wait for some squatter to crawl out of its branches, undoubtedly claiming my tree as their own. GRRRrrrrrr.

Nevertheless, the tree and I had reached an understanding that we belonged to each other. Though I had decided I would not remain a full-time San Francisco resident, this one tree would be my sole claim on the fabled fog city. For a few months in 2008, I would sit in my tree and wonder about The Other Life, the life where I stayed.

I’m sure all of us have another life, a dozen other lives, where we wonder about our world if we had accepted a different marriage proposal, pursued that inspired and ridiculous dream of forest ranger in Hawaii, if we had said, “Yes,” to some life invitation instead of “No.” I’m not sure that these are always regrets, because even today I could reverse my decision and live in San Francisco, but that’s not what I want. I just want to wonder about The Other Life and how SF Edmond lives.

I think SF Edmond has a lover named Tyler and they argue about laundry and money. Tyler never shuts off the basement light after getting clothes out of the dryer and it bugs the shit out of me, but I have to accept that it’s just one of “his things.” But c’mon, man, turn off the fucking light. I also believe that resentment dissolves when Tyler strokes the back of my head while we’re watching TV and when he makes me lasagna because he knows it’s one of my favorites.

I wonder about this Other Life and if I am happy there, satisfied.

There’s a guilty pleasure in wondering about those roads not taken. Maybe the pleasure is actually dangerous, to live wondering if there’s a “grass is greener” life that was not selected. To spend too much time with these wonderings is to shit on this current life, to not witness its miracles and opportunities to grow something real.

In The Other Life I probably have a house payment, crappy job situations, fights with friends, and I’m guessing cancer, aging, and grief. But I bet The Other Life also has best friends and surprise birthday parties, too. Probably black licorice. Most definitely cheese fries.

I walked to Dolores Park last week to sit in my tree and visit SF Edmond. Gotta catch up on the news about Tyler and gigs I’ve played in clubs. (In The Other Life, I play the piano like a madman.) But when I arrived at my spot, my tree – my tree – was gone. The bastards cut it down. Even in The Other Life, shit happens.

So, I choose mine.


Something’s Gotta Give

February 24th, 2012

I don’t know if everyone else struggles with inanimate objects, but I do.

There’s the desk I love that needs to be repainted, chiding me whenever I cross the living room. The oven is bitter about never being scrubbed clean. The plants greet me with a chorus of objections: not enough water! Too much water! More sun! Less sun – yer frying my green ass!

Yes, I have problematic relationships with items in my home. We’re working it out.

One of my greatest adversaries has been the back door.

The door sags in its frame as often happens in old houses. Every few years it gets a little tougher to lock. The last year and a half required a healthy hip check to secure it at night and it’s no wonder I developed a permanent bruise: battle scar. Two months ago, the door got even more impossible, requiring more jiggling, harder hip punching. One month ago, I stood at the back door for 20 minutes swearing, jiggling, and then ultimately praying for it to lock.

And it did. It locked!

I decided to leave it locked until I figured out my next move.

Instead of working toward a solution, I ignored the problem, because I think we can all agree that ignoring problems is a fine strategy that usually turns out well.

For the last month, I exited only by the front door. I stopped putting my car in my garage at night so that I wouldn’t have to trudge around the icy, uneven yard to get to the front door. I let garbage pile up by the back door because it’s such a hassle to drag it out the front, around the house, back to the alley. I’d take it out eventually.

The garbage and recycling piled up. Almost broke my ankle in the yard one night.

Recently a guest in my home – who did not know better – unlocked the back door. Once unlocked, I could not slam/wriggle/beg/surprise attack the lock back into submission. Several nights I went to bed with my back door unlocked, lying in bed listening for sounds of intruders.

Sometimes I lose the battles with inanimate objects.

My buddy Snake agreed to give me an estimate on a new back door and he brought a really good friend of mine, his son, Erik. They mused over the door quietly, muttering things and Snake decided there was no need for a brand new door: just move the door plate and replace the square spindles. (I kinda broke off the door knob in one of my battles.)

Erik raised his eyebrows to show me his agreement with his father’s assessment. This is how Erik often communicates; he’s a quiet man who speaks when it really matters but generally his eyebrows will let you know what he’s thinking.

Snake has been a friend for years now, and we have stories together, which I think is the best way to describe someone you love: we have stories together. I love both of his adult kids. He recently fought cancer and lived. In the mens’ work we do, he has touched thousands of lives. He sculpts and writes poetry, he listens like a mutherfucker, and his wicked humor manifests itself in practical jokes. At his beautiful daughter’s wedding, I lifted her chair with other friends in the Horah dance, a true honor. I love his daughter, love her husband.

I just love that whole damn family.

Three months ago, Snake and Erik invaded my home to tape 50 photos of Snake’s son-in-law, my buddy Kyle, everywhere: under my toilet seat, under furniture, in my kitchen cabinets, in couch cushions. They replaced photos in frames with Kyle’s scowl. I found one under the bath mat. Three months later, they’re still turning up in surprising places.

Shortly after that when I ran into Erik, I sarcastically referenced my surprising new photo collection. Erik lifted his eyebrows to say, ‘Did we go too far?’

Snake came over last week and fixed my back door. One short trip to the hardware store and 30 minutes later, the door was fixed!

Saturday afternoon, I came in the back door and the bolt slid in effortlessly, a sexy, silky mechanical pleasure. The sound and tactile sensation in my finger tips was so pleasing, I called Snake immediately to re-express my deep gratitude and tried to describe how much joy I derived from my new relationship with the back door.

“You don’t know how long I’ve lived with this,” I said. “It’s been years of fighting that damn door, and today was the first day I trusted it would lock easily. I trusted the door.”

It’s sad when you call a friend to brag about working through “trust issues” with a door.

But Snake understood.

“Men live like that,” he said. “Your door is the metaphor. We live with broken shit, and we think, ‘Well, it’s gotta be this way, gotta be this hard.’ The house falls down around us while we’re standing there in the middle, thinking ‘how did this happen?’ You let it get worse and worse until one day you realize ‘This is it. Something’s got to give.’

This is it.

Something’s gotta give.

I love those simple words.

After we got off the phone, I thought about how perfectly the metaphor matched problems of the heart: I spent years ignoring the door, hoping the problem went away. It didn’t. Problem got worse. More ignoring. Finally locked the problem tight (literally) and lived life around it, making other aspects of my life harder, consequences be damned. Hell, garbage piled up. Metaphor much?

But something’s gotta give. A man can’t live that way, not forever.

Then, someone who didn’t know better unlocked my problem and once unleashed, I was forced to deal; no going back.

The solution was easier than I had dreamed; I just had to ask for help.

I love having relationship with inanimate objects; I always end up learning so much about myself, my biases, my shortcomings, where I am patient and where I am not. I love my dining room table and what it has taught me about food. The stained glass lamp in my bedroom is the perfect pattern for me, a nightly reminder how well my parents know me.

As Snake and I ended our conversation, I tried to convey how much this meant, how I’m not skilled at around-the-house carpentry stuff, so this meant a lot, to have help when I felt vulnerable. I tried to say not just ‘Thank you,’ but  ‘Thank you.’

Snake said, “Glad to be of service.”

I wasn’t sure he understood the depth of my gratitude, how much this meant to me, so I re-initiated my grateful chorus until he cut me off.

Edmond,” he said, in the tone one uses when one wants to be heard. “Glad to be of service.”

I love being loved by my men friends.

I suddenly feel like scrubbing the oven.