Edmond

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A Shitty Week

November 15th, 2016

Last week was a shitty week.

Many of us expected a different president, confident in Trump’s loss. We were horrified and depressed not just by the day, but by the vision of the years stretching ahead. And while sat stunned and mourning, his supporters have been celebrating this great triumph, their candidate ascended.

For most of last week, I didn’t do FaceBook. Avoided the news. I didn’t talk to many people. But after escaping the temporary despair enough to talk to a close friend, we shared our election sadness. She told me, “I never thought he’d win. I mean, I couldn’t vote for her, of course, so I voted for the third party. But I never thought Trump would win.”

I was furious with her, throwing away her vote as she did. I’m furious with me. I should have campaigned more. I volunteered for the Hillary campaign and twice when they texted me, asking for weekend time, I texted back, yes. But when they didn’t contact me to inform me where and when, I let it slide. I’m furious with me, too.

I feel belligerent with my countrymen, and I want to protest the future. I’m worried about friends, our economy, the rest of the world, and so many more on the list. But this is not an anti-Trump message.

This post is not about my shitty week.

Cindy and Mike married fifteen years ago and stayed in love for every single one of them. Most of those years, she worked as a police Sargent in a small town. She devoted herself to serving the community. Honestly, I don’t know them. They are friends of my sister-in-law, and I met them at my brother’s wedding. This was a very happy day in our family history, because we love my sister-in-law. In fact, I mostly know this couple from the wedding video. When Cindy and Mike show up on film, we cheer, because they are damn crazy on the dance floor. They’re the kind of couple who go grab people from tables to dance. They lead the chicken dance. They danced the slow dances, entranced with each other. Mike serenaded my brother with a love song, which made us all giggle.

Cindy and Mike made these newlyweds happier on one of the happiest days of their lives. Obviously, Cindy and Mike have a soft spot in my heart. I love to see my brother laugh.

This week, while sitting on a plastic pail in the garage (her favorite enjoy-a-cigarette spot), chatting on the phone with her brother, Cindy suffered an aneurysm. Her far-away brother, concerned by the abrupt end to the conversation, called Mike.

Mike found Cindy unconscious near the overturned pail. He called 911 and administered CPR for twenty minutes. Mike is a trained EMT, which means he also devoted his life in service to others. He kept her alive, but her brain was dead.

Can you imagine? The love of your life is unconscious on the cold garage cement, and you don’t know why. In that moment, Mike did not know her brain was dead–he only knew the dawning horror at the possibility of losing his true love. But he kept breathing life into her because his love was greater than his fear.

He loved her.

They decided to end Cindy’s life support two days later.

Two other things you should know about Cindy and Mike.

First, they vote Republican.

I’m not sure if they voted for Trump–I’m not clear what day and time Cindy’s aneurysm took place. I do not intend to ask. Most likely, they would be  Trump supporters. Right now, I’m so ready to vilify people who support Trump. How could you? How could you? I never had an in-depth conversation with Cindy or Mike, but I assume we disagreed on politics. Then again, maybe they had no intention of voting for Trump. There are flavors of Republican.

When I contemplate Mike’s future, I do not ponder “how liberal is he?” My sister-in-law, who attended the out-of-state funeral over the weekend, reported to our family, “He is destroyed.”

The second thing to know about them is that she donated her organs. She and Mike did this one last amazing dance together. She gifted her body. He kept her body alive–obviously hoping for more of her to live–long enough that her wishes could be honored. Together, Cindy and Mike gave six families in the world a reason to give thanks this month.

Six families changed because of the love Cindy and Mike had for each other.

Puts my shitty week in perspective.

Happy New Fears!

January 4th, 2016

My normal New Year’s Eve routine in Minnesota is to go for a walk around the closest lake around midnight. Like a wino-in-training, I bring a bottle of booze in a brown paper bag (champagne, for I am a classy wino) and at midnight, pop the cork and swig a few gulps to celebrate. I don’t drink much–just a little to make me feel festive. I often meet joggers, other New Year’s Eve walkers like myself, sometimes people scurrying to and from a party. It’s a good tradition as long as the weather isn’t ten below.

(One year, I did my NYE stroll at almost twenty below windchill and it sucks. Never again. Tradition is not worth dying of exposure.)

I intended to skip this tradition for 2015 New Year’s Eve, as I would be vacationing in northern California. I love it there! I love redwood forests, the heavily oxygenated air, the sheer grandeur, the intense spirituality I feel. There’s a spectacular ocean  nearby, to remind you of your smallness and your beauty as a mammal. The small towns dotting Sonoma and Napa valley. Traveling between them on those twisty inland roads, I feel alive and in love with the world.

I was shocked when Ann, my vacation buddy and best friend, asked me earnestly, “What about your New Year’s Eve tradition? Instead of a lake, do you want to go for a midnight walk through a redwood forest instead?”

No.

Of course not.

That would be terrifying.

Due to exceptionally poor planning (and the fact that I can get lost anywhere, anytime, despite holding the Google Maps app four inches from my face) I’ve been lost in a redwood forest after dark. I remember running full speed down a cedar chip path–completely blind to anything physically in front of me–using the visible stars above the tree tops to guide my full-speed run.

Terrifying.

The fact that she even made this suggestion intrigued me. Why would she think that we could do this? We have done brave (and stupid) things in the past, but this…this was…

The park would be closed! It would be dangerous! Everyone knows the forests are full of people-hungry mountain lions and other creature thingees, not to mention serial killers preying on adventurers, and possibly those fast-running zombies. Nobody can be sure. Also, science can’t tell us with any certainty that redwood trees do not come alive after dark and chew people into splinters. Redwoods would be too damn smart to leave witnesses behind.

So, no.

The very idea horrified me.

And yet.

What struck me about her suggestion is how instantly–instantly–my “no” wall went up without any real consideration.

Fear does that.

Fear makes me say no.

Well, let me take more ownership for that statement. I say no when I am afraid.

I feel like I’ve been saying no a lot.

I’ve had some new fears crop up in the past year, fears I don’t love. Fears about aging, dying, and what happens after that. I consider myself a fairly jolly sort of fellow, so new, emerging fears aren’t something I want to welcome. But what do we do when mom can’t live on her own? What if all my professional knowledge is outdated and I become a relic at work? I’m trying to be a good cat owner, but what if my little dude is unhappy and it’s my fault?

Fear is crippling. Or, it can be.

I spoke with a friend recently, a man who has stepped up to some massive responsibilities in life. He’s now twenty-eight and the “fun part” of adult responsibilities has been replaced with the “adult responsibilities” part of adult responsibilities. In near panic, he confided his terror at others depending on him so fully. The mistakes he now makes impact other peoples’ lives. What if he can’t give to his family the way they need him to be strong?

What he could no longer see with clarity–perhaps always easier to see from an outsider perspective–is that his new fears emerged because he dared to pursue a life dream. He dares to pursue something worthy, something amazing, and guess what? That comes with a price tag. Sometimes that price tag is fear. His fear was normal, justified even. And yet, fear was beginning to suck the joy out of an amazing experience.

I get it.

The older I get, the more fears swarm me. Will my teeth last until I’m eighty? Do I want to live to be eighty anyway? What if Trump is elected? Good god. These fears might be justified. Maybe not. I know there are strategies I can employ to reduce and minimize fear. But fear is fear, a house guest sometimes sitting at your dining room table before you even hear the front door close.

After much internal debate, I said yes to Ann’s suggestion.

On New Year’s Eve, we visited a redwood forest close to midnight.

Despite the jaguars, the serial killers, carnivorous redwood trees, and fast-running zombies, we pulled into the completely deserted parking lot. We could see headlights on the lonely road leading to this parking long–another car coming toward us.

“Headlights,” Ann hissed at me, as if the approaching vehicle could hear us as well as see us.

I shut them off.

“Engine! Kill the engine!”

We sat in utter darkness, in silence, waiting for the other car. Before it reached us, it turned around and drove away. While busy sighing with relief and laughing at our guilty reactions, we also realized that without that car–those people–we were truly on our own.

Armed with only our cell phone flashlights, we walked into the forest. Ann grabbed my upper arm. We walked in silence.

Into the dark, dark forest.

Although mountain lions mostly feed at dusk and dawn (a factoid people must learn if they accidentally end up in a forest close to dusk) and generally avoid people if possible, we now sauntered into their forest during their custodial time period.

What shocked me most of all was how impossibly dark it was. We could see a meager three or four feet before us, but beyond that, infinity beckoned. Straight in front of us–a black hole. Above us, thousands and thousands of stars. We gaped in silence, staring straight up.

After we had gone less than a half-mile deep, we decided to turn off the cell phone flashlights and experience the dark.

I have never known a darkness like this.

All of my terrors emerged, all the fear. Staring straight up, I felt insignificant and alone, worried about death and worried about never having lived at all. I felt the very realistic mountain lion fear, and the slightly-unrealistic carnivorous redwood tree fear. I felt fear that the strongest light source seemed to be millions and millions of miles away. The stars would not hear our screams if we were ripped to death by a family of hungry jaguars who could not believe their good fortune human meals were delivered to their front door.

The fear was paralyzing.

Then I realized something. I wasn’t alone.

My best friend gripped my upper arm, fingers wrapped around me like a wrench.

I wasn’t alone.

I think the worst thing about fear is assuming I must face this alone, that no one will understand fear’s impact on my self-confidence or they won’t “get” that sometimes even irrational fears take over, silly as they are.

But I wasn’t alone.

Staring at the stars, being gripped by my best friend, I felt a surge of peace co-exist with fear.

I’m not alone.

I basked in this sensation, stored it for when I need courage again. I may not be able to entirely stop fear. I may have to welcome a few fears into my life. But I don’t have to face them alone.

I turned to Ann and said, “Had enough time in the forest?”

She said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Confronting fear is good. So is eating chocolate in your northern California cabin next to a New Year’s fire.

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King Tony the Defender

September 10th, 2015

The first email correspondence I received from Tony was in May of 2008. He had read a story I published online, a crazy story I wrote about a gentlemen named Vin Vanbly. Tony, like others, had found the free story quite by accident. He decided to take a moment to email me. He wrote:

“Thank-you so much for the deep tissue massage to my sexual psyche. You’re clearly a person of high emotional intelligence whose ability to manipulate others is quite frankly, a little scary. I hope in your real life you have as powerful and caring an impact on people as you do in your writing and would LOVE it if you have the time and the inclination to write more.”

This initiated our email correspondence. Tony was an insightful reader, easily making connections I thought were invisible to readers. He understood what I was trying to accomplish. He got me. We furiously scribbled twelve-paragraph emails to each other about love, about life, about how hard the world is sometimes. We wrote about unexpected moments of brilliance and the beauty of small gestures.

He’s not the only one who wrote me.

I received quite a bit of email in response to that story, enough positive feedback that I decided to write a few books about this strange guy, Vin, and how he came to be who he was. At that point in my life, I had been writing fiction for decades, but never anything I thought good enough to print. (Sell digitally. Whatever.) No, my writing was mediocre at best and I did not want to subject the world to more mediocre fiction. However, writing about the oddball Vin Vanbly sparked my writing to a new level.

I made a half-dozen lasting online friends from that experience, all of whom were mildly irritated when I yanked the free story from that site, having decided to turn this short-story silliness into a proper novel. In fact, I had decided to write a series of six books, The Lost and Founds, and rework this freebee story into Book Five.

Tony supported me.

He believed in me.

He called my story a “book of spells” and never tired of digging for the clues and philosophies I’d hidden within. Every riddler wants someone to solve the riddles, or at least have a blast investigating. Tony investigated. We played together! We laughed and goofed, shared websites or YouTube clips we loved, and revealed our life-shaping experiences. He always returned to Vin’s tale, telling me I must publish it and share it with the world.

I did. I published.

As the months turned into years, Tony remained one of my biggest fans, greatest cheerleaders, and grew as a dear friend. He preferred to keep out of the spotlight with my growing readership, but we corresponded privately, sometimes every single day for a month at a time. (While this may not seem extraordinary to some, for an introvert, this is marathon communication.) Tony emailed me articles about Found Kings and Queens he discovered out in the world, doing good, making the world better.

It wasn’t always about me. He shared dozens of favorite classical music clips from YouTube and noted the exact minute and seconds when Pavarotti’s voice made him cry. He adored Barbara Streisand and loved educating me on her best moments in song and in movies. His tastes were sophisticated and yet playful. He described exquisite meals he prepared. He explored the globe photographing animals, documenting his journey with his best friend, Denise.

While traveling, he emailed dazzling photos of icebergs, penguins, gorillas, exotic resorts, and once a picture of their group approaching Mount Kilimanjaro—a photo so breathtaking I made it my desktop wallpaper for three months. I used one of his penguin photos for the entire summer and autumn as my desktop. He drank expensive wines in Eastern Europe and saw Russian Opera. In Africa, he stayed in a bed and breakfast where giraffes came to wake you in the morning by poking their heads in your second story window, demanding breakfast.

Through Tony, I got to know Denise. I never met her, and we never emailed directly, but he told me about Denise’s horse ranch in California, how she loved her animals, particularly her dogs, how Tony celebrated Thanksgiving with Denise and her family every year. He belonged to their family as well as his own. He sent me pictures of the dazzling table setting and feast.

He was not wealthy. Oh, he liked nice things and I guess he was affluent. But he worked very hard at his job and—to my understanding—was much beloved in that environment. He successfully managed big integrations of monster computer systems (something like that), so I don’t think anyone at work begrudged him time off to explore the world.

We talked about his struggles and the times when he felt like giving up. We discussed the hard time, when he felt he had hit rock bottom. There were some pretty awful rock bottoms for Tony. Sometimes he lost the battle to his inner demons. Sometimes he won. After one such victory, he excitedly told me he knew his king name.

King Tony the Defender.

He explained he sometimes needed to defend himself in this life. He had allowed his good nature to be taken advantage of in the past. A highly visible profile at work meant he attracted some negative attention because, well, just because: high profile.

He knew that sometimes he needed to defend himself from himself. Tony was a man who “did his work” and stared unflinchingly at his own inner pain, the ugliness we all share and don’t want to witness. The negative voices in his head could yell and scream in his ear, and with his king name, Tony now possessed a sword to cut through those whispering ghosts, and cry out, “Enough!”

Tony and a group of work colleagues volunteered once a week reading to toddlers. Tony felt very protective of them, their vulnerability. Reading aloud to a small kid in his lap is the exact moment when he realized his king name was perfect for him.

When he was excited and proud of some healthy choice made or endured a hard work week while remaining positive and focused, he would sign his emails to me, Tony the DEFENDER. Sometimes he defended group morale. Sometimes he defended his family history by telling the absolute truth about his mother and father. He took his king name seriously and invented shades of meaning for the word ‘defender.’ His king name mattered to him, representing something powerful and beautiful.

Tony and I met only once.

In 2011, I threw myself a release party for King Perry, and Tony flew to Minneapolis  to attend. It was my first book and I was proud, so I reserved a pub’s side room, proclaimed an open bar, and allowed my friends to show up and spend the evening partying. I had no idea what I was doing. The intense, extroverted energy of this party exploding for almost six hours. I talked non-stop to everyone, hugging people who loved me and were genuinely happy for this measure of success.

And Tony—who had flown from Canada to share this experience with me—sipped his drink quietly somewhere in the background, completely accepting that his night was to be shared with every person in the room. Despite the personal cost and the effort he’d made to be there for me, he gave me every inch of space I needed, and then some. He brought me water a few times and when I apologized profusely for not having enough time for him exclusively, he reminded me this was my night. Then, he’d wander away so I could socialize more.

Plus, he was spending the weekend, so we’d eventually have our chance to hang out.

We had a great weekend. My brother surprised me by coming to town for the party, and the three of us ate dinners together and took long walks around the lakes. Tony and I spent hours reviewing his Antarctica scrapbook full of incredible photos. I showed him Minneapolis. We walked by Minnehaha Creek as the spring buds began to green the bushes along the gushing stream.

The next year, for King Mai’s release, Tony mailed me an expensive bottle of champagne and suggested I save it for a very special occasion. I looked up the label once. I would never buy a bottle of anything this expensive, not ever. It’s that expensive. In fact, I’m still saving it. I was hoping Tony and I would drink it together at some point, possibly during our trip to Italy.

Tony wanted us to take a big trip together. He wanted to share his love of global travel with me. We agreed to tour Italy sometime in 2016. (Trip to be planned in 2015.) Back in 2014 when we first started planning together, I told him I needed a year or two to save up the money. He had no problem waiting. He and Denise had other fabulous trips scheduled.

But we’re not going to Italy in 2016.

We’re never going.

Earlier this year, one February afternoon, Tony disappeared.

He’s gone.

He left a note asking a few friends be notified. I was on the list. He left behind his cell phone and computer. As far as the police could tell, he did not pack a bag.

Seven months later, he’s still gone.

Nobody understands what happened.

Suicide seems like the obvious answer here, but nobody realized he was suicidal. If he was, he hid it well. He gave away a family heirloom to a beloved relative the month before he disappeared—classic sign of someone planning on checking out.

Yet, he didn’t give away everything. Not all the family heirlooms. And Tony was regularly generous. While working in India years ago, he befriended a local man, someone assigned to take care of his American corporate charge. They became friends. Tony ate dinner in the man’s home. Met his family. Almost a year after he returned to Canada, Tony heard from his Indian friend who explained that without money for a lifesaving operation, he would die. Tony paid for the operation. He also paid the family’s living expenses for the next six months while his friend recovered. As far as I know, they kept in touch long afterward.

Tony defended that man’s life.

Tony defended the integrity of that family. He kept them alive. Together.

The day before Tony disappeared, he bought several pair of hand warmers and a coffee. In his apartment, they found printed maps of state forests hundreds of miles from where they eventually discovered his car.  Did he walk into the Canadian wilderness to freeze in the winter? If so, why didn’t the professional search teams—experts in finding suicides and missing persons—find him anywhere within the two mile radius from the church parking lot where he abandoned his car?

The police investigating his disappearance seemed incredibly thorough and competent. I have never been through a missing person experience with a fellow American, but something tells me Tony’s case got more hours of careful attention than would be allocated here in my own country. I think they did their very best.

But nobody knows.

All of us who loved Tony must go forward without knowing.

After his disappearance, Tony’s sister did an amazing job keeping us updated on the investigation details. The night he left, she and I wept together on the phone.

For weeks we sweated through every lead, every possible hint of a clue…but nothing turned up. The emails became less frequent as there was less to report, less new leads. Lately, Denise and I have emailed each other to say, “Are you thinking of him? I am. This is kind of horrible, actually.” She and I have never met but we are forever bound by the burden of not knowing, of our unresolved love for him.

Where are you, King Tony the Defender?

Did an experienced world traveler decide to start over in some exotic foreign locale? Maybe. But he loved being part his extended family. He loved living close to his aunt and uncle. He loved Denise. He was eager to see the next king book. I’m not sure that makes sense.

Did he commit suicide? Yes, that seems plausible. But how did he disappear so effectively? Was he really suicidal? Could have been. The last time we talked at length, his life was in a good place, so I believed. He asked me if I wanted a Christmas fruitcake. I said, “Fuck yeah.”

Tony is also a gourmet cook.

Was a gourmet cook.

He mailed me gorgeous fruitcake, a work of art. A thing of beauty. I photographed it in sunlight and posted the picture to my Facebook page in December.

On Christmas Eve, after a fireside dinner with my dear friend Ron, we munched fruitcake and discussed its undeserved reputation. Still, we agreed that fruitcake was rarely this delicious. Over particularly good whiskey, Ron and I toasted my friend, King Tony. I shared the story of how I had come to feel very close to someone I had only met once.

The world is like that now. We love people far away. They get stuck in our hearts.

I refuse to throw away the last bit of unfinished fruitcake. I can’t. Tony made it. Besides, I think it’s still good to eat. Last I checked, no fur had grown on it. I’ve decided to finish it on the day King John releases. The book is dedicated to you, Tony.

I hadn’t told him that I planned on dedicating one of the series to him. I wanted it to be a surprise. For the years before I had a single Goodreads or Amazon review to remind me my stories might be worth telling, there was Tony. He nurtured me when I had little faith in myself.

He defended me.

King Tony, I miss you.

If you’re alive, you don’t have to write. You don’t have to explain. Just send another fruitcake. I will mail half of it to Denise and we will eat it together, chewing into the phone, thrilled to know you’re out there in the world.

Probably defending someone.

Somewhere.

Fruitcake from Tony Ward

Michelle

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.

 

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Ow

April 15th, 2014

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

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

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

It was a good conversation.

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

Apparently, about 30 comments later, things exploded.

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

No, we can’t.

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

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

It’s not healthy.

I say, go out there and fight. Argue!

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

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

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

It’s the word, ow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He did not. He simply said, “Ow.”

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

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

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

Some days I am like that.

Some days I am better than that.

We all must learn to be better than that.

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

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

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

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

Good.

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

The power of ow.

 

 

 

An Honest Mistake

March 6th, 2014

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

Embarrassing, innocent mistakes.

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

Case in point.

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Deanna Brigg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wasn’t home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Deanna Briggs was now home.

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

An honest mistake.

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

Nope.

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

Was I seen?

Dunno. Didn’t care at that point.

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

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

 

The Mousicles

February 5th, 2014

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

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

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

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

Not in my house.

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

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

Then, I swore vengeance.

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

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

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

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

Compassion is confusing.

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

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

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

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

No. No way.

Not gonna happen.

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

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

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

Then, I swore vengeance.

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

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

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

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

We live in a polar vortexicles.

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

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

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

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

The mousicles was never tempted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I swore vengeance would be mine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wondered.

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

I slept uneasily that night.

And the next.

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

I created sixteen death stations in my home.

Nothing.

No mousicles.

Where did it go?

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

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

So. The potato chip.

Except it wasn’t a potato chip.

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

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

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

Fucking mouseicles was under the cushion!

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

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

Oh god.

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

I killed mousicles with my chunky butt.

I really need to start going to the gym.

 

 

 

 

 

I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That

December 5th, 2013

Hey, guess what? I wrote a book.

It’s a book of mistakes.

Well, maybe not mistakes. Say instead, gaffes. Well, I’m not comfortable with that word either. Some of my best stories and life experiences come from taking “the road more stupid.” So I collected some of my best mistakes (many documented right here on my blog!) and put together a collection of 25 essays about strange things from my life. Included in this collection of delightful humiliations:

* My ongoing personal history with a blow-up doll named Plastiqua

* The day I spent pretending to be homeless in New York City

* How I celebrated my Moon Recession Birthday

* My very own “Dear Penthouse” experiences

* My domestic abuse fight in front of the Chicago bar known as The Manhole.

* My creepy monkey collection.

Ah, good times. Good times.

Who will enjoy this book? Well, let me see if I can give you some suggestions.

* You’re hilarious cousin you see twice a year. You’d be much closer buddies if time and distance permitted, but all the same you have a sweet connection at family gatherings, share the same weird humor.

* Your ‘naughty’ friends from college. The ones who you used to have adventures with. (Yes, I ended the sentence with a preposition. Get over it.)

* Your best friend.

* Friends who enjoy a good cry. Some stories in this are funny. Some are heartfelt.

* The friends who understand your wild side.

*A bored-reader friend. Someone who complains, ‘There’s nothing new to read out there…’

* Carl Maldenburg of Elmhurst, New Jersey. (Wow, that’s specific, isn’t it?)

With Christmas right around the corner, you can still snag a paperback copy of this book and receive it in plenty of time! In fact, here’s the link to the paperback copy of I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That. ($9.50 for a paperback book suitable for framing? Wow. *enthusiastic crowd noises go here*)

And if you prefer the Kindle version, here you go.

Thanks for considering the purchase. You won’t regret it. Well, yes, you might. I shouldn’t lie. You might think it’s one of the worst things you ever read, tales assembled by an overweight narcissist who spends too much time looking in the car’s rear view mirror practicing his ‘surprise’ face in case he ever wins an Oscar.

Yes, now that I think about it, this is probably a terrible purchasing decision. You might better spend your dollars going to Arbys and super-sizing their Beef and Cheddar combo.

Crap.

I probably shouldn’t have said that.