The End

December 12th, 2017

It’s Release Day for my new book–a book series ten frickin’ years in the making. I had planned a huge post about the impact of writing this series, what it meant to me, what it means to me today. Insights, reflections, ponderings on next steps. After all, I devoted a decade of my life to this. However, something more important has come up.

Net Neutrality.

This is it.

This ability to share information, freely, to share thoughts with people around the country, around the world…it could all go away very, very soon. The minute a corporate sponsor decides they don’t like their sales numbers from the east coast, they start messing with the speed of certain sites, boosting their Arizona news sites (because they also own servers in Arizona). What’s happening in New York? Doesn’t matter anymore. They aren’t Verizon customers.

I suppose this could sound like paranoid fantasy, but it’s not. The scenario I outlined is a Tuesday afternoon in corporate information sharing, not the total, unregulated blackout they could do if they felt like it. Why?Because they felt like it. What else could happen? Trump says to a buddy, “Don’t publish stories about the latest thing I said.” Done and done. We lose our ability to organize. To act in support. To even know what votes are on the chopping block!

Today is a day to act, to fight the FCC & the repeal of #NetNeutrality! Thanks to John Oliver there’s a SUPER easy way to do this. Here’s what you can do – takes less than a minute.

1. Go to gofccyourself.com (the shortcut John Oliver made to the hard-to-find FCC comment page)
2. Where it says 17-108 link (Restoring Internet Freedom), click on “+Express”
3. Fill out the form. Be sure to hit “ENTER” (or return key) on your keyboard immediately after you put in your name, so it registers. (They make it a tad tricky there – you may not have to do this…just be aware)
4. In the comment section write, “I strongly support net neutrality backed by Title 2 oversight of ISPs.”
5. Click to Review, then Submit, done. – Make sure you hit submit at the end!
Because lodging that complaint took all of two minutes, please spend an extra seven calling representatives from Congress today.


The only reason I have a book release day is because of the internet. There only reason there’s a home–at all–for my writing is the internet. The only reason an author like me ever finds an audience is because of the free internet. I used to think that when I finished writing this book series, I’d feel tremendous relief. A goal accomplished, ten years in the making! I didn’t realize that we’d be fighting to keep public the very source of information and freedom that makes our modern world work.

Please make time today for something important. And it’s not buying my book.


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.

What is a Warrior?

September 28th, 2011

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”  – Carlos Castaneda

“Only as a warrior can one survive the path of knowledge. Because the art of a warrior is to balance the terror of being a man with the wonder of being a man.” – Carlos Castenada

“We are men and our lot in life is to learn and to be hurled into inconceivable new worlds.” – Carlos Castenada

New readers, these quotes may guide you as to the topics discussed on this Warrior page. To explore the life of a modern warrior, visit the Mankind Project.org.


I Dunno, Pops, What Do You Think?

September 27th, 2011

I haven’t written much on the blog this summer and tonight, the psych 101 revelation dawned on me as to why that is. I say ‘dawned’ but that sounds like I’m chanting in the lotus position when things just ‘dawn on me.’

No, no.

Let me be clear. I was whining on the phone to Ann, which is how most of my personal revelations begin: me whining.

Ann was patient, of course.

Tonight’s whine wandered into me not writing anything new lately, barely blogging. While I’m never sure how many friends read this website, once in a while someone will call, worried, and say, ‘What’s up? No blog entries.’ So I do try to update the content every now and then to say ‘Still trying to figure things out over here. You?’

Ann asked me what I last wrote and then WHAM I experienced this dawning:  my father’s eulogy was the last thing I posted on the Warrior page. I realized that if I wrote something new, his eulogy would get bumped lower. Be less recent.

This is one of those ‘moving on’ moments that seem so obvious when you read about them in grief brochures (doctor’s office waiting room). But then it’s happening to you and it’s like, oh. Right. This is lifelong grief.

If I write something new, it would push his eulogy lower.

Got it.

I miss my dad.

I hate this death situation we all get to share. I would really like to know, how the fucking hell people just smile and nod when one of the most awesomest men you’ve ever met just leaves? Just fucking leaves? Which now means that many of my Minnesota friends reading this will never meet him. Ever.

My goddaughters never met him. Never will.

How can I make them understand that part of the love I have for them is what he shared with me?

Dammit, I need to talk to my dad because I want to ask his advice on this hard life stuff. But I am still very uncomfortable with prayer and I have to get over that, like now, because I think he went into the Catholic heaven and that’s how you reach people up there. You drop on your temporarily-Catholic knees and pray to God Almighty to love your dad and give him a hug that he knows is from me.

It hurts.

It hurts.

On the plus side, I was afraid my relationship with my dad would end when he died, and it didn’t, so that’s a relief. I still talk to him every day, a half-dozen times in my head, telling him to quit giving me his stupid advice and then the next minute saying, “I dunno, Pops. What do you think about this?”

That’s cool.

Every memory is now gently perfect, even the painful ones. We could both be difficult, so some of our memories together just suck. I have a moment from when I was 13 and he would not let me buy a skateboard. I am not trying to be cute – that fight agonizes me to this day. I was a teenage douchebag.

But I can relive memories like these easier now, because I know how this father/son thing ends for us. My father thought I “was a pleasure,” and I loved him on his deathbed. So the painful memories hurt, and suck, but they are softer. We did alright, me and Dad.

Yes, we had our shit. We didn’t resolve it all. But we did alright.

In fact, the only thing that could disrupt our relationship now is new information, like that he had a secret Canadian family.

Oh god, Dad, please don’t let it be revealed that you had a secret family in Canada who you went to visit all those times when you we thought you were sneaking cigarettes in the garage. I don’t want a half-Canadian sister named “Irene.”

I think we’re okay on that front, though. I think he spent all his ‘secret Canadian family time’ being exhausted off his ass with his three jobs, four kids, football coaching, church involvements, extended family, etc.

Ugh. Irene.

One of my real sisters is named Eileen and since Canadian Irene would be quite a bit younger, that means we were the preferred family and they were all named in loving imitation. How awkward for them. There would be this Canadian 32-year-old named Stedman and I would hate his guts.

(Don’t worry, I’m just giving you shit, Pops.)

But I think I’m supposed to write about some other stuff now.

Might be time.

I recently faced a difficult crossroad about this upcoming weekend. My men’s group, New Warriors, are hosting another incredible New Warrior Training Adventure. I’ve written about this experience many times before; check the archives. I need to breathe in the power of these men and in their presence breathe out some of my own unique giftedness.

Sometimes, staffing is like that one time with my Dad when I chipped off the baby angel’s toe from the church’s nativity scene, in that I get yelled at for something by a guy who loves me enough to be angry and he is unafraid to show it.

But wait.

This same weekend, my father is being honored in Illinois by his high school alma mater. As a student, Dad did crazy shit with football, broke track records and was damn good at basketball, I am told. Decades later, he coached the St. Ed track athletes who broke his same records. What kind of man coaches the next generation to be their best, even if it means surpassing what he has accomplished? He coached them on how to beat his records.

This Saturday night during a home football game, he’s being inducted into their Hall of Fame. There will be a ceremony where my mom and siblings walk out on the field.

I can’t believe I was forced to choose between the NWTA (which happens twice a year and I missed the Spring one) and an out-of-state football ceremony where we all get to love my dad in public, so big, so big.

Though I decided to remain on our NWTA staff, I still agonize over this decision a few times a day. I pray to Almighty God on how to best love my Pops. Will he think I love him less if I do not attend the halftime ceremony? But I think this might be my way to honor you, Dad, to love other men who need to experience what it means to be loved with strength.

I won’t ever stop mourning you and asking for advice, then gritting my teeth and asking you to kindly butt out. Don’t go too far.

Anyway, it’s late. We’ll chat more tomorrow. I know that now.


Eulogy For My Father

May 11th, 2011

This is the eulogy I spoke for my dad a week ago at his church funeral.


A few years ago, while at my parents’ house for the weekend, mom fixed a summer’s dinner feast and served it in the gorgeous sun room my parents built off our childhood home. The setting sun was golden, all the neighbors lawns glowed lush green. We smelled fresh-cut grass and felt the cool breeze through the screens. As we dished up, mom said to my three siblings and I, “Dad wants to talk to you about something.”

She turned to him and said, “Dad?”

It’s never a good sign when mom queues up dad for a talk.

We paused while dad cleared his throat, adjusted his glasses, well-recognized signs of a pronouncement.

He said, “The other night when Mom and I were doing this dishes we noticed three pieces of our everyday silverware were missing. Specifically, a fork and two spoons. We we think one of you kids stole them.”

We looked to mom and with the hint of a smile she said, “Actually, two forks and a knife.”

This is how it goes in our family.

I immediately accused my sister Eileen, insisting that she has always had those beady, criminal eyes. Eileen accused our older sister, recounting how Andrea had the perfect opportunity the previous weekend. Mom smiled sweetly to me and said, “It’s hard to trust a Minnesotan.”

While we made more unjust accusations, our younger brother Matt – perhaps the best among us – calculated the price of the missing silverware to be roughly $1.47, so he took two bucks from his wallet and slapped it on the table, saying he would gladly pay for replacements if it would stop our parents baseless accusations. To the rest of us, this looked suspiciously like admission of guilt and we let him know it.

(Later that evening, we discovered the missing silverware between couch cushions, but that’s not the point.)

Our parents never stopped playing with us.

After almost four decades of their kids, they still delighted in us. They never stopped enjoying being our mom and dad. The Easter Bunny still comes every year, as does Santa. Part of our family’s playfulness was dad’s outrageousness.

If you knew my dad for more than 10 minutes, then he may have accused you of something insane or made some absurd comment designed to make your eyes pop open and your jaw drop. Mom frequently would gasp at his inappropriateness and say, “Joe, why on earth would you say that?” But she loved his humor. Although she never knew what he was going to say next, she was still always in on the joke.

Once you got past the shock value, you realized his humor was not unkind.

He did not find racist jokes funny, and he did not enjoy humor that intended to put people down. He refused to gossip and speak ill of others. There was no joy in that and he preferred joyful laughter. If anyone was made the butt of his humor, it was he himself. His humor reflected his personality: gentle, compassionate, humble.

And yes, a little off-kilter.

As my high school English teacher, he introduced The Bridge of San Luis Rey to our junior year World Literature class by cocking his head and saying, “And now, we begin a heartwarming tale about five people who plunge to their deaths when an ancient rope bridge in Peru collapses. Yes, a beautiful, beautiful story.”

I remember some of us giving each other askew glances. Beautiful?

When he retired after 34 years of teaching English and Latin, he reread all the literature he had taught. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he read many of those books again and at last I understood why he taught the same classics year after year: he loved them, and he wanted his students to love them too, to see their off-kilter beauty as he did.

He loved teaching. He gleefully regaled students with tales of the Proto-Indo-European Language theory and would feign deep shock and surprise when we did not share his glee. Despite his sometimes obvious frustration at the inability conjugate Latin verbs (and yes, he got a little growly with us from time to time), despite that,he forgave our shortcomings on a daily basis.

In the reception line last night, I heard from one of his former students, “He was tough and never let me get away with the foolishness I tried to get away with. But he remained one of the best teachers I ever had.” He took great pleasure in hearing in hearing from former students long after they graduated. He sometimes used their update letters as bookmarks.

And there was a special place in his heart for the high school football players whom he coached. Dad’s face would light up when he talked about boys he watched turn into confident young men, and when he would relive their stories, he never talked about their stats or number of games won but about their courage, their endurance. He marveled at their strength to get back up.

When he was a high school student himself, dad broke records at St. Ed’s, and went to Loras college his first two years on a football scholarship, but rarely talked about his glory days. He preferred to reminisce about the men who brought joy to his love of football. He was deeply honored when former players became lifelong friends.

Despite the fact that he loved coaching, reading Shakespeare for fun, and agonizing over each Cubs, Bears, and Bulls game, I honestly believe that he would prefer to be remembered for two things primarily, the first being that he was a Christian.

He loved God.

He loved Jesus Christ.

He and mom prayed the rosary every single day. Dad loved the life they made for themselves in this faith community, and though I live out of state, I’d have to say that I met most of their prayer group and the morning mass crowd through our extended phone calls. Mom and dad would take turns telling me about how these friends had touched their hearts. The Monday coffer countings, the weekend retreats, what Father Steve said, who was at mass on different week days and what new horrible thing dad said to make everyone laugh.

Dad studied in seminary and although he did not take final vows, it sometimes seems like he did. Church was not just a Sunday pre-game show. He was a Catholic who eagerly loved many facets of his faith. When the going got tough, he prayed.

I think the second way he would very much want to be remembered is as Peggy’s husband.

When I was 11, we vacationed to South Dakota to visit Mt. Rushmore and see the legendary corn palace. In the Keystone motel at the base of Mt. Rushmore, Matt and I shared a double-bed in the same room with mom and dad. Andrea and Eileen slept next door with Dad’s great card playing companion, our mom’s mom, Mabel Hemmer. Dad didn’t just like his mother-in-law, they were great friends.

That night, I secretly stayed up late and furtively watched the 10:00 news, the defiant gesture of a soon-to-be teenager. After the news and nightly prayers, they turned out the room lights and after a few moments of stillness I heard mom say softly, “I love you, Joe.”

And he replied, “I love you, Peggy.”

And I remember thinking, “Ewwwww.”

C’mon. I was 11.

But that moment stayed with me, and as I matured, I came to realize what they were really saying. They were well past the blush of newlywed years. Something tells me after traveling across a few states with four young kids hopped up on fast food and manically fixated on getting to the next motel swimming pool, they had probably moved beyond the thrill of early child-rearing years.

No, what mom really said was, “I love my life with you.”

And in his reply, he meant, “I love my life with you.”

Mom was his partner in all things, his confidant, his adviser. She screamed hard at his every home football game and warmed up dinner when he got home late from away games. She helped grade multiple choice papers. For every school event where she provided a dish, he took the credit, and she let him. It was just Joe.

In later years, you might see them power walking around Huntley, picking up trash and saying the rosary. Whenever they found change on the sidewalk, they put it in a special mug at home, and used it as starter money for each Lenten season’s rice bowl or some other charity for children. Only my parents could pull off an environmental, spiritual fundraiser while losing weight.

They’re a tough act to follow.

When dad first learned of his widespread cancer almost 15 months ago, I sat in his hospital room and we wept together. He told me that these retired years with mom were some of the happiest of his life and he just wanted more time with her, their church friends, and our amazing extended family. We got that time, a wonderful year to savor him and our family life.

This last year on Valentines Day, we were back in the hospital again and when he presented her with a Valentines Day gift from him, mom said, “Who did this?”

Dad said, “I have people.”

Inside her card, in faltering pen, he had written, ‘My hand is shaky but my love is not.’

I have to believe that all sons and daughters who had a good father, a wonderful father, want a public statue erected in that man’s honor, to show the world a great man walked among us. How will the world know how much we loved him, how much he gave? But sometimes we must be content with the statues we create in our hearts.

The statue I would make has him walking across our steeply-pitched roof on Myrtle street with a storm window in his hands, nails in his mouth, and a hammer swings from his belt loop. He’s wearing the Huntley High School Redskins jacket he sometimes wore when he coached games and on his head perches a maroon knit cap holding down his comb-over. Mom waits inside a few feet away, inside the house, ready to hook it into place, partnering with him once again. Dangling from one back pocket is his rosary and in the other, two forks and a knife. The inscription underneath is the last line from The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which reads:

“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”




When We Were Brave

April 1st, 2011

Last week, as I snorkeled out to a sunken ship in the Caribbean Sea, I had two thoughts:   first, I think this is the bravest thing I have ever done, and second, I can’t wait to get home and write a blog post that begins: ‘Last week, as I snorkeled out to a sunken ship in the Caribbean Sea…’

Ann and vacationed to Mexico, a real beach vacation along a remote spot of the Yucatan peninsula. She is much braver about travel and committing to plans, so in January I took her seriously when she said with excitement, “Mexico, baby!”

She travels the world because she’s interested in other cultures, other cities, other people. I’m interested too, but it’s easier to look things up on wikipedia. I find traveling requires a certain type of bravery, a confidence that details will simply work themselves out. Almost 15 years ago as I fussed over what to take with me to Italy, Ann told me, “The only things you need are good walking shoes and a Visa card. Everything else you can buy.”

She was right.

Last Sunday, when we didn’t find each other at the meeting spot in the Cancun airport, I panicked. When I finally got ahold of Ann, she answered her phone cheerfully, saying, “Hey, how ya doing?” She wasn’t flustered in the slightest. Everything would work out.

Four days later, we found ourselves taking our resort owner’s recommendation to drive deep into a Mexican jungle, find a certain unmarked road to a deserted beach, park our rental semi-legally, and then walk down the beach far enough to snorkel our way out to a sunken ship.

Marsha, our resort host, promised that no people would be around. She said this as if it were a good thing, whereas I could only picture me being dragged into the ocean by a giant squid and Ann yelling, “Shark! Shark!” but nobody would be around to help.

(The point may have been moot, but I was hoping Ann would have the common sense to yell “Shark! Shark!” because, really, who’s going to come running for “Squid! Squid!”)

Despite Marsha’s description, we decided to be brave, to have this adventure.

As we drove deeper and deeper through Mexican jungle, we laughed ourselves silly about how if we got lost, nobody would ever – could ever – find us. After all, our hotel location was located 18 kilometers down a gravel road in an already-sparsely populated part of Mexico. No cell coverage, no nearby convenience stores, no neighboring towns. The hotel enjoyed electricity for only six hours a day and we showered with collected rainwater. So when Marsha described the sunken ship spot as “remote,” Ann and I glanced at each other nervously.

On our drive, Jurassic Park did not seem like a far-fetched concept, so much as a logical extension of the landscape. Several times, as the car bounced along a road that can only be described as “tire ruts” trees and brush pressed against the car and we grew quiet.

We kept our eyes peeled for crocodiles, iguanas, small foxes, car-eating snakes, and other creatures. Aloud, we wondered what would happen if we actually saw something. I kept promising that I would most likely hop out of the car and punch said crocodile in the head repeatedly, just to show him who was boss. Ann would listen politely, point out the drivers’ side window, and exclaim, “Croc!” just to make me swerve the car in terror.

Studying Marsha’s homemade map, we counted kilometers until we found the unmarked turn off, and parked the car near an assembled collection of assorted wood and aluminum that is best described as a ‘murder shack.’ Two growling, snarling dogs greeted us, and we looked at each other dubiously. Although I do not speak Mexican dog, I caught the gist of the message: drive away now or we will rip your fucking calves off.

We could see half the ship sticking out of the water, a good quarter mile away from us.

“Still want to do this?” I said.

“Sure!” she said.

Of course she did.

Reasonable people would agree to lie to all their friends back home. Take pictures from the shore, swear we swam out there, talk about how great it was, so many fish, etc. But reasonable people wouldn’t make each other, you know, actually do it.

But Ann is brave.

That’s not to say she doesn’t get scared – she does. We talk on the phone when she’s afraid and she tells me about these fears. And yet, whatever it is that’s scaring her, she often does it anyway. After 15 years of marriage, she started life over in Iowa to pursue a PhD. Upon completion, she started over in North Carolina. Professionally, she keeps extending herself, risking, challenging, pushing. In her personal life, she examines her own motives and actions with an unflinching flashlight, and when she finds answers she does not like, she says, “Well, shit.”

Some days, when she is tired of pushing the world to be a better place, or tired of pushing herself, she can’t see it. When we talk on those days, she feels broken. But I am not fooled. I recognize bravery when I see it.

When we refused to back down, the snarling dogs relented. Like so many of us in life, they used their bark to mask that they wanted love and were afraid we would not give it. One trotted closer, head bowed, asking for forgiveness. Instantly, we loved Scooter. (And if you saw this adorable beach mutt, you would know right off his name had to be Scooter.) He had happy eyes and a deep scar across his schnoz that made me feel sad for his past fights. When we invited him to accompany us on our walk down the beach, he wagged his tail eagerly, zipping between our legs and running ahead of us, looking back as if to say, ‘C’mon! This way!’

I fantasized smuggling him back to Minnesota.

Soon, it was time.

We attached our flippers with typical comical results, falling over in the surf, more sand in our butt cracks while gurgling salt water and laughter out the breathing tubes. Scooter raced around our belongings on the beach, as if promising to protect them. In return, we promised him pretzels and water upon our return to the car.

As we dunked into the water I wondered if Ann felt this was brave or was this no big deal. I kinda thought she might call this brave because right before we started swimming, I removed my breathing tube and said, “Marsha said that it was unlikely sharks come into water this shallow.”

Ann said, “Let’s hope the sharks remember that.”

Yes, we were a little scared, but fear quickly met beauty. In the clear water, we swam near fish with neon blue ridges, shimmering spectacles that darted away easily, tiny silver sprinters, and big fatties that looked at us with surprise. What the hell are you doing here? We pointed out favorite fish to each other, and as Ann swam steadily toward the ship, I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t even phasing her in the slightest.’

The further we swam out, the waves pushed harder and the water got deeper. But we kept going. Beautiful coral met us, delicate purple fans of exquisite underwater lace perched on orange reefs. We met orange fish, fish with green stripes that blend into the grass nearby, blue and yellow-stripers, and really, where the hell was Sebastian from The Little Mermaid?

I forget there is a payoff for bravery.

As we swam out further, I thought of when I was brave: quitting a job, saying “No,” to a boss, telling a friend, “I think you’re messed up.” I have been brave with cancer, brave in the grocery store, brave with strangers, and even with lovers, brave enough to say,”I’m not happy.” I remember having a huge fight with Ann many years ago, and we had to be brave as we negotiated our reconciliation, both of us reeling in hurt and surprise.

We reached the ship.

I faced my disappointment in not finding a skull and bones chest spilling over with golden treasure. An enormous pelican – big enough to sit on my chest and make me gasp for air – perched on the stern, eyeing us with suspicion. Though we splashed around pretty close, it refused to surrender its position. I swear I could see its feathers trembling and I thought, “It’s brave, too.”

With the surf pushing us harder toward shore and simultaneously trying to seduce us deeper, it did not take long for Ann and I to say, ‘Okay, we’ve seen it.’

We snorkeled back, stopping to swim around coral reefs and admire our swim mates.

Once on shore, we were disappointed to find that Scooter had deserted us. As we collected our flippers and headed back to the car, I asked Ann if she thought this was the bravest thing she had ever done.

“Yes,” she said immediately. “No wait, getting divorced was first. This is second.”

Today, sitting in my comfy chair upstairs in my home with a Diet Coke at my side, I look at the photo of our sunken ship and I think the caption should be: When We Were Brave.