Edmond

Warrior

You Damn, Dirty Apes

January 20th, 2010

The very first weekend I moved to Minneapolis, I met my friend Brian.

We met on a hot June Saturday at the Gay Pride Festival. Brian was surrounded by a half-dozen admirers – a fan club, really – and I thought, “Wow, I wonder how long you’d have to live here to have that many suitors?” Turns out he moved to Minneapolis the exact same day I had:   Friday. Ever since I have known him, people want to be around him to bask.

We became best friends.

The only thing that made this friendship sweeter was the inclusion of Chris, a friend of Brian’s who became a friend of mine. Chris writes thank you notes after everything. From him I learned I could stand to be kinder to others, because Chris was always kinder. For several years the three of us were inseparable. If only one of us went out to a bar, acquaintances would invariably ask, “Where are the other two?”

We created a world of inside jokes, shortcut conversations, and I thought nothing of seeing these men five times a week. We shared the dirt, the hurt, the mundane details about trips to the post office and stray observations which occur sitting at street lights. Brian and I developed a system for getting out of awkward bar conversations: when backed into a corner, we reasoned, just tilt your head upwards and scream, “CAW! CAW!” It was our bat signal. The first time he actually did it, I was a little surprised.

In 2001 after a big fight outside a movie theater, I stormed away from them, outraged over some unforgivable slight (which I can no longer quite remember) because I shouldn’t have to take crap from people who are my family. I vaguely remember that my interpretation of the movie differed from theirs and I did not feel respected. Given that the movie was the Planet of The Apes remake, my reaction seemed extreme even to me.

It took me hours to understand why I was furious.

Chris and Brian were my Minnesota family.

I had heard the words “family of choice” and understood it well enough, I guess. But after our big Planet of The Apes Fight, I finally got what those words represented. Unfortunately, I never have life realizations while I am sipping ice tea or strumming my guitar. Maybe because the guitar has sat in the same spot for seven years, unplayed. No, my life realizations come right in the middle of my being an asshole or lying on the living room floor surrounded by three dozen Oreo cookies with the centers scraped off.

I have a younger brother and nobody compares to him. I have awesome parents and sisters I love, so I wasn’t really shopping for a Minnesota family. But it was too late by that point: Chris and Brian were in my heart in this permanent kind of way. My brothers. I did not understand this until that ridiculous fight.

Last night, the three of us dined together to celebrate Brian’s next grand adventure:   he’s moving to San Francisco.

Dinner was delightful yet twinged with a little sadness, not only because Brian is moving. We three have drifted apart over the intervening years. We don’t call each other first to say, “You’re not going to believe this…”

I have spent a lot of time pondering how we slipped. I have sought the advice of friends, warrior brothers, and talked to a therapist about it once. I can point to a number of critical moments, missed opportunities to fix something, address the distance. I wasn’t always the friend I should have been.
Insert platitudes: people grow apart. Take different life paths. I’m not the same person I was when we met and neither are they. It’s unrealistic to think we’d hang out five days a week with lawns to mow and lovers, nurturing careers and answering emails.

One more platitude: it hurts.

I understand why Charlton Heston broke down at the end of the original movie. Sure he was pissed that he didn’t make it back in time to experience the 1970s. But eventually, I think he’d get used to the banana cream pies, banana steak dinners, banana-flavored dental floss, and banana sushi. He’d eventually settle down with a primate of his own. Maybe Dr. Zaius had a daughter?

But it hurts when the world changes on you and something beautiful you counted on for strength is irrevocably gone.

Last night through dinner, we ate off each others’ plates, interrupted stories but always circled back to hear the rest later. We pointed out hotness in the wait staff and admonished each other to QUIT POINTING when one of us was being obvious. Our anecdotes for each other required more back story as catch up, and in some spots more glossing over, because it’s hard to tell everything. You really had to be there to get the full impact.

Nevertheless, these two have permanently earned the right to call me with their one phone call to say, “Bring bail money and do not ask questions.” For the rest of their lives I am their get-out-of-jail-free card. Perhaps they are the brothers I would call in similar circumstances. (I’m sure some friends have put aside a little bail money for my inevitable incarceration. Whatever the charges, I’m sure I will be completely innocent.)

Chris drove us to the restaurant and on the way home he and I had a sweet, sad conversation acknowledging that time in our lives when we were inseparable, and how that time is not now.

I came up the front steps last night feeling grief.

I did not feel boo-hoo crying sad; this felt like the grief of age.

For me, this grief seems to come through loving people who are not in my life every damn day. Maybe it’s nobody’s fault. Some days, I wish Mom would yell up the stairs, “Get crackin’ up there.” I’d even welcome my younger sister pounding on my bathroom door to remind me OTHER PEOPLE HAVE TO GET READY FOR SCHOOL, TOO. I miss a lot of people. Some days I celebrate how lucky I am to have friends who I love. Some days I grieve how people invariably move to new planets.

Some days the Statue of Liberty is full of sand.

Chris waited until I was inside the house before he flashed his headlights and drove away. He always waits to make sure you’re safely inside. That’s the kind of man he is.

McGriddle Forgiveness

October 4th, 2009

Last Saturday at almost exactly this time, 10:50 a.m., I raced from house to my car. I squealed out of my street parking spot and while I’m pretty sure that the tires didn’t actually “squeal,” in my congealed memory, they did. So, I squealed out of my parking spot and raced to Park Ave. I chased up Park as quickly as the speed limit allowed and occasionally a teensy bit faster whenever I remembered the time-sensitive nature of this mission.

I reached my destination and jogged to the front doors, raced up to the Counter Guy and said, “Did I miss breakfast? Do you have any McGriddles left?”

He smiled kinda extra wide when he said, “You’re the guy from last week.”

He was right.

I hadn’t even realized that, but he remembered.

He laughed outright at me, a rare break in the dull McDonald’s veneer and he said, “You missed the McGriddle last Saturday, didn’t you? You missed breakfast by 1 minute.”

“Yeah, that was me.”

Now, this was just downright embarrassing.

He said, “You missed it again. We just switched over to lunch.”

He had no idea how he devastated me; I have recently fallen in love with the McGriddle.

My friend, John, made me aware that there are websites devoted to honoring our dear friend, Mr. McGriddle, breakfast sammich with syrupy, maple flavor infused in each bite of the pancake and sausage -

Okay. Slow down.

This is the kind of talk that gets me speeding on Park Ave. at 10:53 a.m.

Two weeks ago, John, Brett, and I saw a movie that parodied McGriddle worship, and it made me curious to try one. How good could a pancake breakfast sandwich be?

The movie wasn’t quite my taste but I did find parts to be hilarious, and even more hilarious was to watch John keel over, howling with his strong, staccato laugh. His laugh is itself hilarious, because it comes from so deep inside of him and it’s so raw and joyful. John’s got an amazing sense of humor. He arranged our outing, a movie premier night with a young college crowd, something I would have never experienced but for my friendship with John. Over the past year or more, John and I have grown closer and I would even go so far as to say close.

I never dreamed I’d have these kind of friendships with straight men, the kind where I choose to be vulnerable with my fuck ups and frailties and they understand me, understood better than I thought would be possible. They have their own fuck ups and frailties too, which equalizes us. Perhaps the biggest difference between us is that after a man and woman’s big date, he might send flowers and the gays would rather leave a four-minute, raunchy voicemail. Well, I’m sure some straight men leave their girlfriends sexy voicemails that make their toes curl.

And I have sent flowers.

We may have more in common than we think.

John is a warrior friend and that means we can be furious with each other, be jagweeds (as my friend Mary-Scott likes to say), and sometimes be soft.

The night of the movie, John and I talked on the way back to my place. As we veered into one topic that apparently was sensitive for both of us, the talk became a little tense and by the time we exited my car, we had a full-blown fight on our hands. John was making me crazy. Turns out I was a bit crazy-making myself.

Another thing we have in common.

I will not repeat the argument. Private stuff.

But I can summarize my side:   I was stubborn, I couldn’t listen. I was right and he was wrong and it’s so frustrating when the whole world doesn’t agree that I’m right. We should all agree on something, so can’t we agree that I am the wronged party? I closed down and was an ass.

When the big anger had spent itself and our argument neared its conclusion, someone had to step up and be the bigger man and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be me. John spoke quietly and said, “I love you, Edmond. I’m glad we’re the kind of friends who can argue like this.”

John often melts my heart.

But I was pretty fuckin’ pissed so I told him that I could not say back those words at that moment because I try not to say, ‘I love you’ when I’m angry. It’s one of my quirks, the little rules I make for myself. I withhold the words, giving me a stronger reason to make up later, so I can say those words back and mean it from the very strength and softness of my broken heart.

Some nights will be mine to carry our friendship but this night was his. He hugged me goodnight and he meant it. I hugged him back and I meant it, because I really did melt with his words.

I steamed over the next few days, reflecting on our argument, reflecting on what a good friend he is to me. A week passed, a whole weekend of McGriddles and by now I had had two of them and wanted to let John know that.

This past Tuesday night, John came to a workshop that a friend and I presented because John is the king of moral support. He’s the guy who shows up early on your panicked moving day and says, “I can do anything. Point me in a direction.”   He showed up Tuesday because, duh, why wouldn’t he? He’s the king of moral support.

After the workshop concluded, he and I carried materials to the car. We finally had a chance to talk for five minutes under the dark shade of night trees.

Making up after a fight is easier with other warriors but also harder too. I find New Warriors are less likely to hold a grudge and are willing to let me be a jagweed sometimes. But it’s also expected that I dig deeper and show some understanding as to why I was that way, the story behind the story, the hurt behind the anger. That can be harder, more vulnerable.

Still, I find it less confusing to navigate friendships with New Warriors because if you’re sad or upset and you feel silly for even talking about it in the first place, the friend will likely say, “Tell all of it. Once it’s all out there, you won’t have to worry about feeling stupid.”

And this seems to work.

I told John I was sorry for how I acted. I explained how my shadow was triggered by our fight, how my frustration with him came from a place of feeling inadequate. In a hurt voice, I asked him for feedback on my behavior, wanting to know how I hurt this friend I have come to love. It didn’t take 40 minutes to work through this fight, only five. Tuesday night, I said, “I love you, John. I’m really happy we’re friends.”

I felt joy when I said those words, and it also hurt to say this aloud because I had just finished explaining why I was an asshole to someone I love.

John offered to take me to the airport the next morning, for my work trip to San Diego.

On the way to the airport, I observed that it was 10:13 a.m. and if the security line moved quickly, I could almost make the McDonald’s breakfast cutoff. This prompted my explaining my McGriddle adventures and how the Counter Guy at my nearest McDonalds looked at me in wonder.

John said, “Did you get your McGriddle?”

“Yes! The manager heard me and she totally took pity on me. She touched her employee on the shoulder and said to me, ‘We’ll do it.”

We laughed about it in the car. I think she was amused, basically. I think she and Counter Guy were going to share a laugh right after I left. But I didn’t care:   she forgave my tardiness and I was getting a McGriddle! And, honestly, the crazed desire on my face was probably pretty damn funny.

Airport security line was amazingly light, except for the woman in front of me who remembered she packed a bottle of shampoo in her luggage with 24 zippered compartments.

I called John a few minutes after I got through airport security to inform him I had missed the airport McGriddle by four minutes – just four!

He laughed his strong, staccato laugh. I love to hear that guy laugh.

He said, “I’ll buy you a McGriddle when you get home from San Diego.”

I am forgiven.

Crown Me

August 17th, 2009

After visiting the dentist a few weeks ago, I started thinking about death.

Usually, I think about death before I go to the dentist. An old part of my Catholicism resurfaces, the part that believes in hell. I think my personal hell would be sitting in a dentist chair listening to other peoples’ miseries, root canals and cavities drilled with a Phillips screwdriver, knowing mine would be worse and would begin shortly, as soon as my demon dentist quelled his shaking hands with a few more Long Island Ice Teas.

I don’t love going to the dentist.

But I left the dentist requiring a root canal and a crown and realized that my broken and dysfunctional teeth are the only ones I will know until death. Of course we’ll all die:   life is uncertain, every day is a gift, nobody escapes death, focus on living, yadda, yadda, yadda. But somehow it hit home that these teeth are with me to the end. I might have problems in my 70s due to a lack of vigorous gum brushing in my late 30s. Maybe I’ll have to have many of my teeth removed. A thousand years later when someone digs up my skull, they’ll say, “clearly he lived before toothbrushes were invented, because look at those fuckin’ chompers. Yikes.”

I don’t think I’m going to die next week. Maybe, but, you know, not if I can help it. But my teeth are middle-aged, my feet are middle-aged, and my face has these wrinkles that aren’t laugh lines. They’re just wrinkles.

I guess this hit me harder than I thought because I recently turned 42, and also, Michael Jackson died. I didn’t really think much about Jackson’s death other than to marvel at the weird media circus, but one of my favorite webcomics did a piece on his death and I read a certain line that hit me strong:

“He was your Elvis and when your Elvis dies, so does the private lie that someday you will be young once again, and feel at capricious intervals of a joy that is unchecked by the injuries of experience and failure.”

Ow.

The part of my life where I am young…is over.

I guess it’s useful to think about death when it leads to reflections on living:   how to live, whom to grow into, to ask am I the man who I always dreamed of becoming and will I be him before I die? I like those questions. I’m closer to that man than I have been in the past, but still not as big-hearted as I want. I’m still not quite that man. I’m still selfish and have stuck behavior patterns. I’m working on myself, but I guess I’m going to greet death with a root canal and an invisible crown, possibly a bridge if I don’t brush my gums better and take care of the neighbor teeth.

To help me grow into my manhood, I’ve invoked specific male archetypes to guide my journey. Right after my NWTA, I invited Warrior energy to help me create better boundaries, to help me learn a new kind of strength, to help me center my life around integrity. I got a tattoo to represent the warrior and remind me who I want to be.

A few years later, I invited magician energy into my life, asked that archetype to dance. (Which meant another tattoo!) The magician represents extremes: big emotional earthquakes and quiet miracles, loud and quiet, rescripting your life into something wild and unrecognizable at times or turning a familiar overlooked part of life into something new. New perspectives, new vision. While focusing on the magician archetype I lived in California, created an enormous career shift, and I uncovered my life’s true mission, just as I had always hoped. And I discovered I had a creepy monkey collection. Weird.

Visiting the magician sometimes comes with a price. I don’t write about everything that happens to me in this blog, despite how I over-share about my dental hygiene, raspberry obsessions, and assorted quirky habits. The last few years have been hard in ways I do not care to share publicly. Some of the downs have been pretty fantastically shitty, quite frankly.

Thank you, Magician energy. You delivered.

I think I would like to get off the wild rides of highs and lows.

With my middle-aged teeth, my emotional battle scars, and my new fervor to be published, I’m reading to invoke another archetype, another passage on this masculine journey.

I’m inviting the archetype who recognizes “days of capricious intervals of joy unchecked by experience and failure” might be over. This archetype appreciates the gifts of the wild magician, the strong gifts from the warrior, and yet strives for balance in these energies, directing them into a power greater than himself. I think it’s time for a greater letting go of ego, as I strive to find a way to serve the world, a world that will go on long after my personal death. It’s time to tend to the kingdom.

Welcome, king energy.

I am ready to serve.

Hard Choices

July 18th, 2009

I’ve been whining (and I do mean whining) about the hard choices I’ve had to make lately:   to stay as an independent contractor or find full-time employment, to sell my house or fix it up, and even the hard choices around smaller life stuff, how to return phone calls when I’m exhausted from traveling and not eager for normal conversation. How do I know when to spend time on me or fulfill my obligations?

Last night I came home from work and felt I needed a night off. However, Tuesday is the night my warrior buddies and I get together, sit in circle and answer the question, “So what’s up?” in the most heartfelt way we can. It’s not always pretty and it’s not always fun, but it feeds my life and helps me grow closer to the man I have always wanted to be.

But I wanted a night off.

I called my buddy Stephen to help me decide, asking him to listen to the story I was telling myself, and asking him to call ‘bullshit’ if it seemed I was actively lying to myself. Okay, maybe I was half-looking for a big, “Awwwwww….you poor guy!” and permission to skip.

“If you don’t show up tonight,” he said, “men in our group will suffer.”

Not exactly the permission slip I was looking for.

“And if you show up tonight just for us, you will suffer. All of your choices will lead to suffering for someone.”

This infuriated me, because after discussing it a few more moments with him, turns out that he’s right. All the hard choices have consequences to someone and even the very best decisions sometimes leave a lasting mark.

When I start feeling sorry for myself regarding the choices I face, I think of a 15-year-old girl named Cassaundra, someone killed at Columbine High School back in 1999. I read about Cassaundra during the media frenzy that followed the shooting. When the two gun-totting killers stopped next to her, one of them asked, “Do you believe in God?”

She said, “Yes.”

They shot her in the head.

The story is horrific of course, one of the many nightmare stories to come from that day. What continues to amaze me is that Cassaundra was faced with a hard choice, one that meant she would not ever worry about a mortgage, or career, or go see another movie. She would never have the luxury of another hard choice again. In that light, all my hard choices seem silly. She could have begged. She could have said something like, “Define God…” because who knows, maybe they would have let her live if she believed in Buddha.

But what they printed about her at the time was that Cassaundra used to practice witchcraft, this high school junior, considered herself a pagan until roughly a year earlier she discovered Jesus Christ. This odd detail impresses me even more because Cassaundra had given conscious thought to her faith, and when she said she “Yes, I believe,” it wasn’t a reflex reaction from being taught in Bible school.

She knew what she was saying. She understood the consequences.
Could I do that?

Would I choose my integrity, my faith, knowing what would immediately follow?

I started this post reflecting on my ‘hard choices’ and now, here at the end, I can’t even remember why I thought my decisions were hard. I struggle with big life decisions:   keep my house or sell it, how to make money, how much to plan for retirement and how much to live in the present. And none of those details seem to matter as much as Cassaundra’s hard decision.

We never met; she doesn’t know the end of her life touched mine. But I do try to honor her, if that’s possible, by trying to say, “Yes” with my authentic self to the parts of my life that require unflinching integrity. Most days, I’m not as good at it as she was, so I try to learn from her. Some days, the hardest choice I make is to keep my heart open say, “Yes.”

Why I Staff

May 8th, 2009

Sunday afternoon I staggered towards my car, the last man out of camp.

(Technically, I was one of the two last men out of camp, but it’s more dramatic to say, “I was the last one.”) Peter and I had been assigned as liaisons to the YMCA camp folks, charged with making sure everything about our rented site had been properly restored and scrubbed clean after our New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) last weekend. We remained behind after everyone else had departed, confirming furniture in its rightful place, mopping the last bathroom, picking up trash.

My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my arms hurt, my hands smelled like toilet bowl cleaner. (Normally my hands smell like The Chipotle Grill, but earlier on Sunday, I scrubbed 9 toilets.) For three days, I hadn’t slept great.   I craved Cheetos and cherry Coke. The weekend experience drained me physically, emotionally, and pressed almost every unflattering psychic button I possess regarding control issues, leadership, and my ability to handle administrative details. At one point on Friday, I wept with a grief so overwhelming I just lay in the grass sobbing, feeling powerless, until everything inside me was spent.

Sometimes I end my New Warrior staffings this way, feeling like I have used up my every ounce of willpower, my heart busted so wide that I cannot stand to feel this loss, giving my every last reserve of energy.

I paid $100 for the privilege to be on this staff. I gave up weeknights for staff meetings, prepared extensively for my weekend assignments, made phone calls, organized materials I needed, and did this volunteer work during a time frame which included work-related trips to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

Last week, my friend Dave asked me last week, “Do you ever get tired of doing this warrior stuff?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sometimes.”

So why bother?

Staffing various NWTA weekends, I have witnessed men cry over lost parents with a grief they could never express, not even at the parent’s actual funeral. I’ve watched men get finally get angry over being abused, allow power to course through their trembling hands as they finally choose to live. I have seen men surrender their griefs, their soul-crushing hurts, back-packed and dragged around their entire lives, and I’ve watched them spill all their messy and fucked up thinking…and then choose to stand differently. I watched men pick up new confidence like an Olympic gold medals, beaming proudly as they triumphed in ways they never dreamed possible.

This past weekend, one staff man invited his adult son (also on staff) to stand with him before our entire assembly of men, blessing him, ending his heartfelt speech with, “I love you, pal.” Two nights ago, I talked to a man who attended our NWTA and over the phone he asked me with wonder, “Why is my head so clear? How is this possible?”

And I don’t just go to watch other men’s stories.

While I did not enjoy weeping with grief last Friday, the bliss that followed remains with me today. My life changed that afternoon, got bigger, by letting myself feel so damn shitty, held in the grass by two of my favorite friends. The question I ask myself is this:   would I choose joy without grief? God, yes. While I would prefer joy came with Junior Mints instead, I accept that grief and joy sometimes go hand in hand, so I guess I will take grief and being spent if it leads to joy.

Last weekend I made such instantly deep friendships that 48 hours after we met, parting was painful. I practiced setting boundaries, I got angry in a clean way, I blessed other men, and I practiced being powerful. Where in the world does a man get to “practice being powerful?”

Of course, it’s not all Oprah moments with testosterone. One of the reasons I didn’t get much sleep on Saturday is because I stayed up late laughing my ass off, watching men pull pranks on each other. On my exhausted Sunday, I zombied my way over to my car to discover someone had jammed a rubber chicken in my tail pipe.

It’s fun to be a man.

I think one of the most thrilling aspects of staffing for me is that for the most part….we’re nobodies. We are accountants and unemployed electricians, students, guys with corporate jobs, men who work in grocery stores and in fast food. We’re gay, straight, old geezers, young bucks, overweight, Christian, divorced, agnostic, long-haired, clean-shaven, thick-bearded, bald, growly, Mother Earth worshippers, and ultimately…average.

Average men who have decided to shine.

While I may get some crap over using the word average in this context, the problem is I keep meeting men from all over the world who have this same insane potential to love the world, so instead of being an elite cadre of super-powered individuals, it turns out every singe one of us is super-powered, which makes having this super power…average.

Besides the locals from Minnesota, staff men showed up from Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Washington state, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Arizona. These out-of-state staffers not only paid their $100 staff fee, but paid for their own transportation to get here. They came to love strangers, men they might never see again. I am fascinated to meet these men and to recognize that if our lives were different, if we lived as neighbors, these men might be my best friends. Instead, we share a single weekend together, hugging each other goodbye and saying happily, “I loved getting to know you.”

By Monday morning, I had slept in my own bed and had my fill of Cherry Coke. I buzzed around my neighborhood lazily, photographing my rubber chicken with spring flowers (it seemed like a good idea at the time), when I came across a child’s sign taped to a fence in an alley near my house. The sign pleaded, “SLOW DOWN KIDS ARE CROSSING THE ALEY.”

The homemade sign filled me with sadness, sad that children have to plead with adults, “Please watch out for us. Please don’t kill us.”

Our world is a scary place for kids and adults alike these days: swine flu, road rage, economic despair, abusive parents, drug abuse, preventable deaths. Life is hard and then you die, right? Sometimes my response to our often-shitty world is to clench my stomach, squeeze out a limited amount of empathy like toothpaste, and then hide in the numbing comforts found within my house.

Who will watch out for the alley kids?

Maybe a new warrior. Maybe a man whose weekend I just staffed.

Every now and then, I find it thrilling to give everything I have to give, every drop of energy, all my physical stamina, to push myself hard while trying to keep my heart open so big, that the only sane response seems to be to drop to the ground in the company of men friends, weak and exhausted, overwhelmed by the world and so happy to be part of it.I’m already looking forward to my next staffing.

alleykids2.jpg

Cookie?

February 18th, 2009

I currently mentor a man who told me he wants more joy in his life.

Joy!

Such a slippery, effervescent quality, so hard to grasp, sometimes hard to recognize. I always seem to spot joy in the rear view mirror as I drive away. I think, “Boy, that was fun.” A few hours later, a softer voice whispers, “Actually, that was joy.” I myself would like to become more skilled at recognizing when joy is in the room, and appreciating that particular presence.

I have no illusions that I can teach someone ‘joy,’ so I am flustered by my mentee’s request. I don’t know how to manufacture it. I have witnessed it, sure. I’ve watched a shitty situation slip off its brown bathrobe and reveal naked joy quite suddenly. Joy can be sneaky. Part of that quality we love is its elusiveness, our inability to command it.

Sometimes, I feel the best I can do is tease it into the open. Maybe if I dance while nobody else dances my goofy movements seduce joy to the dance floor. I have discovered joy in first dates, baking lasagna, and once while cleaning the basement. There are other means of seduction…of course…

…I speak of…

..cookies.

I invited my mentee to my house on Saturday, Valentines Day. Let’s call him Carl.

Carl showed up trusting me because I never explained our purpose. Earlier on the phone, he said he was nervous.
“I’ve heard about you.” he said. “You have a certain reputation.”

“What?” I asked.

“The chicken suit.” he told me. “I’ve heard stories.”

“Oh, that. I wouldn’t worry about that.” I said. “Just show up.”

Carl came over with a sheepish smile, and we decorated four dozen, heart- and star-shaped gingerbread cookies. I baked them the day prior. Mostly were fat and doughy, just like my Mom makes.

Mom’s gingerbread cookies remain one of my favorite Christmas memories. My siblings and I always tease and argue over how to decorate, demanding praise from each other for sprinkling blue sugar on a frosted bell. See? See, Mom? We bitch about the Santa cookies because the cookie cutter is blobby and he never quite looks like Santa. Perhaps tired of our complaints, Mom didn’t make Santa cookies one year, so we complained how Santa had been banished. Poor Mom. I do not envy that woman.

I frosted gingerbread and Carl added sprinkles:   red crystals, purple crystals, multi-colored pink and red jimmies, those tiny little colored balls. Carl invented some new combinations:   half purple and half pinks, an array of different colored sparkling sugars on pink-frosted gingerbread.

We played while we decorated, him asking questions like, “Are we raising money to pay your rent? Are you going to use these as a distraction during a bank robbery?”

At one point, I told him my strategy:   he would sit in a wheel chair with a cardboard sign begging for donations.

“No…” he said, eyes wide. “You’re kidding right?”

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “We’ll make you a good sign. It’s cool.”

We talked about joy, about limitations, about how doing something strange and uncomfortable can sometimes lead to joy. I think that the problem with joy is that it’s too hemmed in:   I won’t do this. I won’t, I can’t, I refuse.

I refuse sometimes. I refuse to play, refuse to ask, refuse to listen. I refuse to bend and I need to be in control. Do it my way, please. I know better. I’ve worked here longer. Joy doesn’t seem to show much at those times.

Carl and I talked about boundaries and how useful they are, as well as how they sometimes get in the way of bigger love. We chatted about our backgrounds because we’re still getting to know each other. I showed him a great quote about joy I had just received from a warrior monk friend and we finished our cookie ministrations, packing them carefully in boxes.

“When do I get to know what we’re doing?” Carl asked.

He had been more than patient, so I finally confessed that I had picked a location in town for us to show up and hand out Valentines Day cookies. Just offer them to strangers as they went about their Saturday errands. No fee, no real message or lecture, just a single question:   want a cookie?

Carl suggested we go somewhere that housed people who needed it, like old people in a retirement home. While they might be a great audience, I explained that there’s a subtle difference in giving a gift towards some charitable end versus offering it to strangers on the street. Considering people as “charity” invites condescending presumption.

Offering a cookie to a street stranger invites personal, awkward rejection. They might ignore us, scowl, cross to the other side of the street, pretend they didn’t hear us, etc. To be truly vulnerable, we need to risk that rejection.

Accompanying rejection, who knows what we might find?

Carl embraced the idea quickly, admitting that this will indeed be difficult for him. Carl is not exactly shy, but he’s also not a guy who stands in a room and says, “Can I have your attention?” Actually, I’ve seen him do that and he does it well. But he blushes furiously and stammers a little because he forgets that he’s powerful. Carl expressed willingness and even suggested we head to the nearest dollar store to decorate ourselves.

Awesome.

By the time we hit the mean streets of Minneapolis, we had decorated ourselves in red-shiny garland. You’ve seen the stuff: it wraps around anything and molds to that shape, perfect for table decorations and maybe even ribbon around a red-wrapped gift. Carl wrapped some garland around his head and down his winter-coat arms. I tore the shamrocks off some feathery St. Patrick’s Day head decoration and wrapping it in the same shiny hearts.

We looked like Cupid’s trailer-park cousins.

A woman parked nearby laughed at our invented costumes, and shook her head. Before she drove away, I grabbed her a cookie because, hey, she laughed.

We stood outside for more than two hours, offering cookies as well as those little candy hearts and chocolate-covered cherries on beautiful platters. Valentines day boasted 15 fat degrees here in Minnesota, so we regularly returned to my car to restock our platters, warm up, and swear in loud voices. Fucking cold! We walked around Lake Calhoun part way to offer sweets to intrepid walkers, men and women who braved the cold to stand in the sun.

Reactions were fascinating.

Most people were gently surprised and after a shy smile, said, “Sure.” We met a woman vacationing from Italy, new parents, and goofy, friendly people, eager to stay and chat for two minutes.

Plenty of people said, “No,” abruptly and hurried away. Some offered a cheery, “No, thanks!” Others asked “where are you from” and when they discovered we represented nobody – just two guys handing out homemade cookies – their eyes sparked a greater shine. One woman photographed us for her Facebook page.

Several cars stopped us in the parking lot, asking for a cookie. I remember one SUV, where a kid’s hand flailed desperately from the back seat, worried his front-seat parents would forget that he, too, liked cookies. Carl made sure to give him one of the biggest.

Folks asked us if our cookies were “gluten free.” (Considering we stood in a Whole Foods parking lot most of the time, we probably should have expected that question.) Others delighted to taste homemade gingerbread and complimented us on our decorating. I deferred all compliments to Carl.

Best part:   the strange innocence of that single-word question:   “Cookie?”

It’s an offer to break bread together. I invite you to tear down a very practical boundary between us. It might not be street-smart to take food from strangers, but some rules can be broken on cold-ass holidays. There’s something oddly vulnerable about offering a cookie you decorated. There is something oddly vulnerable in saying, “Yes.”

Towards the end of our adventure, one woman excitedly stayed to chat. She explained that she and a cashier had just joked how neither one had a special sweetie and the bottle of red wine she just purchased was her Valentine to herself.

“I wasn’t expecting anything.” she said. “This is the only Valentines I’ll get today!”

She was mid-30s, a beautiful woman with rich, dark skin, and this fantastic smile. Well dressed, pretty voice, smart green eyes. I found myself surprised that she’s single. Then again, I’m always surprised that I’m single too. I mean, I’m not as hot as she was, but I make a damn good lasagna and have other good qualities, I think.

She was not the only person to tell us “this cookie is my only Valentines.” Hell, I would have liked a snuggle buddy on Valentine’s Day, too. And yet, behind this sadness lingered a little bit of unexpected, gingerbread joy.

I could see it in her eyes.

I bet she could see it in mine, too.

gingerbread.jpg

Taxing

February 8th, 2009

Sunday afternoon.

I’m throwing a party in 20 minutes.

If I were my Mom, I’d be re-evaluating whether I ordered enough ham and worrying about where people would park their cars. But instead, I’m sitting at the computer blogging while worrying about where people are going to park (there are some huge melting puddles out there) and evaluating if I bought enough cake. See? We’re totally different.

The party is for a friend. I really didn’t have the energy to throw a big party, some big thing, but my friend Snake deserved one.

Over the past few years, he’s been on a powerful life journey and recently came back to a familiar and new place. I know, I know, I’m being vague but he should get his own damn blog if he wants to tell his story. Point is:   a powerful, golden man, has come back to some beautiful home within himself and deserves recognition for looking hard at himself, the world, and turning himself into a man who is a necessary part of our evolving future.

Since I didn’t have the energy or resources for a big bash, I called him the other day and said, “Hey look. How about I throw you a cake party, say, 1-3 p.m. on Sunday?”

“Yeah.” he said. “That’s nice. Thanks.”

“I’ll send out some emails.” I replied.

“Cool.” he said.

“Great. See you then.”

There. Party planned.

Some days, it’s awesome to be a man.

I sent invites to a bunch of guys I knew, men who love and respect Snake, and appreciate how he lives in the world. I told them to invite anyone who you think might want to come. Anyone.

Did I get enough cake? I should call Mom. She’ll know.

The thing is, I also consider it a party for me as well.

I got my taxes done yesterday by my guy, Tom. Tom has been my tax guy for an uncountable number of years now, except that Tom counts the years and always reminds me in his round, jovial voice. His voice really is round and jovial and he explains all the electronic forms, his own running commentary, while I nod nervously in his home office, awaiting my tax fate.

There are pictures of kittens on the walls, inspirational posters, piles and piles of books and papers, none of which are tax-related. No tax records sitting about. Those are filed and locked. He doesn’t mess around.

He had some news for me yesterday towards the end of our annual sociable.

“You owe the federal government roughly $10,050 dollars, which includes fees.”

“YES!” I shouted, arm automatically clenched in victory and pumping the air above my head.

Tom was confused.

The fact is, 2008 was an odd employment year. I waited the whole year for a job that turned out to be, oh, not what it seemed. I had no authority to influence events, no ability to be more than an Idea Bitch and that was made clear to me. And you know, I’m good at being Idea Bitch. I did that for 17 years as a consultant. But I thought this job opportunity was for something more, so I left with disappointment.

I didn’t pay my federal taxes for most of the year as my earnings were a little slim; I held odd contractor jobs and wrote fiction furiously. The joy of the writing overshadowed those nasty longer-term thoughts like taxes, health insurance, etc. Saturday, I was expecting this horrible tax outcome where I would feel obliged to burst into tears, pleading, “But I don’t have that kind of money!”

I steeled myself for drama.

Wait – perfect timing. It’s 1:00 and the doorbell rang. Cake party. Gotta go.

Okay. I’m back.

Hours and hours passed in the time it took you to leave that last sentence and get here.

So anyway, where was I?

It really is taxing being a man sometimes. Not to complain, because, hey, thanks for the penis and stuff, but I know I have being-a-man issues just because of my gender. I feel an odd extra weight around taxes, car ownership, storm windows, and dripping sinks. I am a decent cook, but I barely fret over my cooking skills the way I have upbraided myself for not knowing enough about the engine of my car. There is definitely man shit that crops up every now and then.

Some of it is not small.

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

Recently I complained to a friend my fears around money, and living within a very limited means. I think of myself as Mr. Middle Class Employment. I explained how I am not built for this kind of existential stress.

“Well, that’s one way to look at it.” said Stephen. “Another way to look might look at your financial situation is that you’re living your dream. You’re writing. You produced a novel you love. You’re right now living the life you wanted.”

Holy shit! He was right!

I just didn’t like the price tag. Shadow is that which we deny, hide or resist. I’ve been doing all three. And some of that shadow is just generic man shit.

It’s great to have men friends, guys who can cut through the crap. And maybe any best friend can just nail it like that. My friend Ann nails me all the time. So it’s not that a dick is required to be an amazing friend, but some of the bumps in me are crooked man-shaped nails. And only another loving man with his man-hammer… okay. Forget that.

Time for a new metaphor.

I think my point is, hearing this casual flip from a steely friend made me realize that, I am in fact, living a dream right now. Holy shit. Didn’t see that.

In short, good news:   my taxes were less horrible than I thought they would be.

While I bounced around excitedly about writing the largest check I’ll never see again, Tom my Tax Guy sobered me up.

He told a sad story about breaking news to a young married couple. Tom knew enough from their tax records to see they had been swindled and would now pay for it, financially at least. They looked at him eagerly, expecting a large refund. They had been promised that by the man who swindled them.

Their grief, especially hers, was so heavy that Tom almost quit that day, as soon as they left him. At the time, he worked for that one big tax company, and he told his manager, “I’m done for the day. I’m leaving. I don’t know if I’m coming back.”

I love thinking my tax guy gets upset delivering bad news.

That he almost quit his career, years ago, because he did not think he could bear the grief that sometimes comes being the bearer of such upsetting tidings. Every time he does a tax return, it could go either way:   good news. Bad news. One day long ago he struggled with questions like, ‘Can I handle this burden? Am I strong enough?’

Retelling the sad stories, and celebrating the homecoming are ways to balance that wonder/terror thing.

At the cake party a few hours ago, after a polite 15 minutes of chatting, Stephen suggested, “C’mon. Cut the damn cake.”

Without song or preface, speeches or ritual, we chopped out a few squares and devoured them right away.

The men who showed up (and Snake’s hilarious daughter) laughed and told stories. We teased each other in hard ways, told sex jokes, and recounted some of our crazy adventures doing mens’ work. Anna had plenty to contribute and she gives as good as she gets. We told some sad stories, too. They are also part of the wonder.

And right now, there’s a row of chocolate cake waiting for me on the dining room table.

It was a good weekend.

Congratulationsssssssssss, Snake.

I (heart) Las Vegas?

January 30th, 2009

I try to.

I try to like Las Vegas.

Yet, every time I go, I end up feeling worse about humanity. There are lovely people in Vegas, undoubtedly. I’ve actually met some wonderful people on previous trips. And the class I taught this week was fantastic – I had a great time with them.

And yet.

My every trip to Vegas ends in a promenade of life’s buffet of downtrodden and troubled.

My Vegas adventure began Sunday on the airplane after I had settled into my aisle seat and made the obligatory small talk with my middle seat neighbor, “Oh goodness is this your buckle?” She leaned over to me and confided in a light tone, “I’m probably going to throw up at some point.”

“Oh?” I said, a bit surprised.

“Yeah, I get sick on planes. But only if there’s turbulence.”

I couldn’t decide if I was glad for the heads up. I suppose it was better to know. I could jerk my computer away if I anticipated her chunky spray. Then I began to wonder if in telling me she had subtly assigned me the job of getting a vomit bag ready for her. Was her confession to put me in a state of readiness, like Vomit Orange Alert?

Most of the flight she read a magazine or napped and I mostly worried about her vomiting on my legs. Once during the flight, I caught the uneasy glance of the guy in the window seat and confirmed in his eyes that she had told him too. He was a little jittery. Whether she had meant to assign me a job or not, I had the barf bag ready and always made sure my left hand was relatively free and nearby, ready to snatch it up.

As the plane descended into the Vegas airport, we bumped around a bit in the air. Minor turbulence. I have no love of turbulence but this was nothing compared to some of the flights I’ve taken.

Nevertheless, she made good on her promise and started barfing. I had snapped my bag open immediately. But she was ready herself for what must be a familiar ritual in her world. That made me sad. She wasn’t having much fun herself at the moment. I flipped fresh air nozzle toward and the window seat guy said calming things like, “You’re okay. You’re done now. We’re practically on the ground now. You’re done.”

She ignored his comforting lies and kept retching until the plane slowed its speed on the taxi.

Welcome to Vegas.

After the first day of teaching, I navigated the screaming slot machines and heavy drinkers. By the time the elevator screamed to the 11th floor, I happily anticipated room service and TV on the bed. As I walked the enormous casino hallways (which always make me think of John Goodman in Barton Fink), I overheard a conversation.

In the hallway, I passed a gentleman in his late 70s wearing a thin rumpled jacket that hung off his shoulder blades. He looked a little rumpled all over, actually. I heard him say into his cell phone, “We’re not leaving until we get back up from down under. What’s that? Oh, I guess a couple thousand or so.”

Ugh.

I felt sick immediately.

Perhaps he owned millions, but that wasn’t the impression I got. I felt like I was witnessing the last desperate phone call before someone makes a big, big mistake and loses everything.

Later that night as I pondered the chance hallway encounter, I wondered if perhaps it was a scam and I was the mark. After all, those two sentences told a whole story and it was awfully convenient I walked by to hear those remarks at that moment. Paranoid? Maybe. I don’t like thinking about the world that way, even if it sometimes happens.

I hope this part of me stays in Vegas.

The class I taught was fun and we all went to an Irish/Brazilian themed bars after class and laughed quite a bit, celebrating our limited time getting to play with each other. Las Vegas offered some nice moments too.

While on this Vegas trip, my Dad called and in a quiet voice explained a cousin committed suicide. This is one of my father’s blood nephews, and while we certainly weren’t terribly close, this cousin was someone I admired when I was a kid because he was an adult and that was reason enough. As a kid, I believed he had achieved this thing, adulthood, and had figured everything out.

My father communicated the details quietly as if trying to be discrete, although it was just the two of us on the phone. Mom knew everything he did. I couldn’t quite gauge his reaction or read what he was feeling, so I didn’t even realize the extent to his sadness until we were getting off the phone.

“We love you,” he said. “We may not say that often enough, but we love you.”

My folks actually do a pretty great job at letting me know I am loved, so this surprised me a bit.

“Please don’t do anything…” he said.

“Dad, I’m not suicidal. And I love you guys too. Tell Mom.”

“Okay,” he said and we made our goodbyes.

Granted, this wasn’t good news no matter which state am in, but being in Vegas and seeing the glittering spectacle of slot machines and lost dreams made the news harder to bear. What is it with this town? I watched Law & Order in my hotel room and thought about  relatives I barely know.

On the flight home, I remembered that my friend Chris had dropped off molasses cookies. He called me while I was in Vegas to suggest I check my front porch. homemade cookies! On my front porch! This gesture affirmed for me how great the twin cities are, the kind of people who would brace below zero weather to put fresh cookies on your doorstep as if it were June.

While visions of soft cookies danced through my head, I heard a familiar sound and looked up just in time to see the guy across the aisle in their window seat toss his cookies with exuberance. He barfed against the seat in front of him and then again into his own lap.

I snapped open a barf bag instantly and flung it to the aisle seat woman across the aisle.

“Here.” I said without much emotion. “Get this to him.”

The second giant stream of vomit made it into the bag. Towards the end of the flight, the woman in her aisle and I started chatting. She and her husband had been making “What the fuck?” eyes at me for the previous ten minutes. She had the scoop. Turned out the sick guy was just really, really hung over.

We giggled and stole glances at him. He still didn’t look too happy, despite the fact that we were about to touch down.

“You were really quick with that bag,” she whispered across the aisle.

We laughed because, honestly, I was Ninja-like with my barf bag response.

I explained how I had recently acquired a several hours of experience at Vomit Level Orange on the trip out to Las Vegas.

Neither of us had ever sat next to someone sick on a plane in all our years of flying. And here I had encountered it twice in the same week.

“What’s wrong with you?” she teased me.

“It’s not me!” I protested as the landing gear came down, bringing me back home. “It’s Las Vegas!”

I’m sad.

January 9th, 2009

I’m not great with sadness.

When it sneaks up on me, I often try make it vanish:  DVDs, M&Ms, online surfing, laundry. I know that ‘drink heavily’ should be on the list of distracting vices instead of laundry, but after I lurch down the basement stairs with dirty clothes and then an hour or two later, trudge up with warm, clean, clothes, I say to myself, “Well, it sucks to be sad, but at least I have clean socks.”

Who doesn’t like clean socks?

There’s a part of me that wants to analyze and interrogate sadness as opposed to feel it. My theory is that If I can just root out its known causes, I can figure out how to make it go away. Is this sadness based on the economy? People losing homes? State of the resource-drained earth? Or is this more personal, like revisiting an old relationship that did not last or pondering on the ‘what ifs’ in my own life?

Through my work in New Warriors, I’ve conducted a few workshops on the Basic Guy Emotions and one that seems universally tough just let sit there is sadness.

Men like to fix things.

Other emotions (anger, fear, shame, frustration with Lost reruns, and even guilt) all have inherent action-items built in:  justify the guilt, make a bulleted list of how to overcome fears. With anger, my brain can devise clever scenarios about revenge, righted wrongs, weeping perpetrators who finally understand the horror of their deeds…junior-high fantasies, of course, but it still feels like *doing* something. The brain takes a certain pleasure in saying, ‘Well, at least there’s action to contemplate!’

Sadness just kind of sits there and bleeds.

Ironically, joy is another feeling that is hard to just *feel.* When I am full of joy, I want to channel it into calling friends, being goofy, or maybe tackling projects I don’t particularly enjoy, like laundry. (Note to self:  look at the correlation between my emotions and dirty laundry. Maybe I invent joy or sadness in my life when I’m out of clean shirts?) Joy demands expression sometimes, and very often, I’m okay with that.

Sadness requires…sadness. I don’t necessarily need to cry, but it might feel better if I did. No, this is worse:  just feeling it. Letting it pass through. Sadness is usually about loss – having lost something and what it feels like to be lost. Sadness is quite wonderful, actually, if I let it remind me about loss and others who have lost. This feeling might help me become more compassionate or more understanding. I love writing about sadness – that’s incredible. But feeling my own sadness head on, well, that’s another story.

I’ve been feeling sad the last two days and I’m working through it with the help of a Season 3 episode of My Name is Earl. I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t look to NBC Thursday sitcoms for therapy, but in one prison-themed episode, a gang leader who did not like having feelings glumly kept repeating, “I’m sad” completely without expression. Then seconds later, he’d make another stone-faced utterance of, “I’m sad.”

I liked that approach; it’s honest. It’s not a problem to be fixed or a bulleted item on a list.

I think it’s good work for me to just say those words aloud every now and then when I’m feeling sadness. “I’m sad.”

Saying this aloud reminds me that I’m doing this warrior thing:  feeling a thing instead of letting it drive my shadow behavior. If I’m not clear about my feeling and intention, I could call a friend for support and end up picking a fight because anger is easier than sadness. (For me.)

To be crisp an clear in my intention does not mean banishing emotional energy, but letting it come up and out when it needs to, even when it’s something I don’t want to feel.

But on the plus side, I have clean socks.

Creepy Airplane Guy

November 16th, 2008

I’ll cut to the chase and get to the end of the story’s big reveal:   the creepy airplane guy is me.

Yesterday I enjoyed 12 hours of airplane travel madness. I left my Washington D.C. hotel at 6:14 a.m. so I could fly out at 8:00 a.m. Our plane circled a fog-blanketed Atlanta a few times and I must admit I was enjoying seeing the downtown skyscrapers poking their reluctant peaks out of the snowy blanket of clouds, like a Victorian Christmas village. Pretty cool.

Well, cool until the Captain announced that the auto-land wasn’t functioning correctly and we didn’t have enough fuel to make another wide berth of the city, so instead we were heading for Nashville.

I’m not sure why the Captain needed to tell us “there’s not enough fuel” at the same time he’s informing us of an equipment malfunction that should have been caught before trying to land the plane. All around me, my co-flyers sat up straight. What was that about not enough fuel? Even the iPod folks pulled off their headphones and asked their seatmates, “What just happened? Why did everyone flinch?”

Maybe our Captain didn’t realize how he said it. But to the layperson, “We don’t have enough fuel to make one more lap, so instead we’re going to head to a different airport in another state” is not comforting. I found myself wishing I had paid closer attention to those story problems with two planes.

So we clutched our side arms and pretended it was only a huge inconvenience and we weren’t terrified of crashing into the Smoky Mountains. I saw the movie Alive, I know how this goes. Personally don’t think I could eat human flesh if it came to that. Well, maybe. But it would have to be like, with a dipping sauce. Honey mustard. No way could I eat human flesh with a blue cheese or watery dill sauce.

In Nashville, we exited the plane and no longer confident in our cheerful Captain’s promise to “get that landing gear fixed before we try for Atlanta again,” I rebooked myself on another series of flights.

From Nashville, I flew to Cincinnati next and from Cincinnati to Minneapolis. With each new city, I got more and more irrationally nervous about never making it home, experiencing a new weather delay, equipment malfunction, a zombie invasion from Russia that immediately kills all airplane travel. I’d be stuck in the Cincinnati airport when the zombies attacked and the people who worked in the airport Cinnabon wouldn’t let me into the Employee Area with the other survivors because I wasn’t one of their own, just a traveler, and they were worried they’d run short of rolls and frosting leaving me to become an airport zombie, the worst kind of zombie.

If I’m going to be a zombie, I’d at least like to stay in my own neighborhood. I would totally go bite on those neighbor kids who keep stealing my raspberries and I wouldn’t even need honey mustard sauce.

I arrived in Cincinnati a little haggard. By now I had survived two airplane trips and had yet another to get through. I was getting a little unraveled. I’m not big on flying. I already knew my luggage was going to take a few twirls at the Atlanta airport before someone recognized its revised destination. I didn’t care; I just wanted to go home. Home.

In Cincinnati, my name was paged over the airport intercom, which always makes me nervous. (I always think my name is going to be followed by, “…you left an oven burner on at home. Your house burned to the ground.” Everyone will glare at me with angry pity and also a seething, ‘well what did you expect?’)

The friendly woman behind Delta’s gate confirmed it was me.

“Yes.” I tried to keep it cool.

“Do you have a seat on this plane? We’re not showing you with one.”

“I do! I do! I switched in Nashville, see the plane didn’t have enough fuel to land in Atlanta! So we…”

I rambled for a moment before she said, “Sir, because of the rebooking they didn’t give you a seat number like 11A, did they? Doesn’t your boarding pass say, ‘SEAT UNASSIGNED in big block letters?”

Oh. Right.

Yeah, that’s no big deal.

The last leg of the journey home was another small jet:   total of four seats across, can’t stand up straight, no beverage service because if the small plane lurches, an airline attendant could take out someone’s eye with a straw. Every lurch is stronger on a small plane. I wasn’t eager to crawl into another of these coffin-like cylinders. They assigned me to one of the back few rows, window seats. I crushed myself in and my seatmate crushed himself in and this is where it got weird.

I was feeling warm, tight, trapped in an enclosed place, and when I tried to turn on my overhead air jet, it didn’t work. He snickered a little in that, ‘airplanes, huh?’ kind of way that suggested a friendly sentence might be okay.

“This enclosed, warm space sure isn’t helping my claustrophobia.” I joked (but not really).

If I really want to chat with someone on a plane, which is rare, why must I say such odd things as an initial greeting? What’s wrong with a safe, “I bet the overhead light doesn’t work either.”

He grunted a little in solidarity but looking back, I think I had already shared a little too much by this point. I probably should have explained that I got up at the Central Time Zone equivalent of 4:30 a.m. this morning because my wake-up call was 20 goddamm minutes early. Or that I had kinda lost my normalcy around air travel for the day. Nope.

At the time, his slight guff was enough encouragement for me to continue.

I then looked at all the blank lumbering figures, slowly trudging back towards their seats amongst us and I said, “Boy, if these people were dressed nicer than they are now, this could be my funeral.”

To his credit, the gentleman completely ignored me. Just pretended he didn’t hear a single word.

Through his silence, I instantly realized how creepy that came across.

Why would I say that?

I blame the captain and his fuel comment thing. I blame the weather, of course, my frazzled nerves, but mostly I don’t take responsibility for that statement. I had had four caffeinated beverages by that point in the day.

Oh, and I also directly gestured towards these airplane zombies while casually remarking on their substandard attire for my funeral vision. So it wasn’t just words – I delivered this zinger with a flourish.

I knew he heard it; I’m not a mumbler. I was loud. He was open to hearing a friendly hello sentence; I know how to read my fellow travelers. But his complete refusal to acknowledge me was my first inkling that something was off.

Tonight I told my friend Michael this story and he burst into laughter.

“He thought you were a terrorist!” Michael laughed.

“No…no…”

Michael clearly didn’t understand. I wasn’t saying I wanted to die or that the plane was definitely going to crash. I was just saying that being here was like being at my own funeral and they would be part of my funeral. I uh…yeah, I guess maybe there was a creepy implication there.

We howled with laughter.

I then reflected on how many little non-verbal signals were confirmed by this Terriorist theory. The rigidity of my neighbor’s posture, the immediacy of turning on his computer and putting on headphones. He was powering up his computer and already wearing his headphones by the time the attendant had finished that ‘safe altitude’ message. He thought I was exceedingly creepy.

If the freedom-hating terrorists wanted another crack at our national air carriers, they’d be smarter to send a chunky blond guy to do their dirty work. Someone who looks like me, all innocent and doughy.

Michael was fascinated with our interaction and demanded to know if I said anything else weird or threatening to my neighbor the rest of the trip.

I explained that no, this was not a problem after the first twenty minutes because I asked the airline attendant if I could move to the nearby exit row where there seemed to be an empty aisle seat.

Michael’s eyebrows shot up.

“No,” I explained, “I just wanted the extra room so I could work on my computer.”

“What kind of person wants to sit in the available exit aisle seat? Who also comments that the fellow plane-boarders are his funeral procession?” Michael asked.

“Terrorist.” I said glumly.

I’m not sure why I say some of the absurd things I do. Or why I find it so amusing to alienate perfectly nice strangers through unconscious creepiness. While jump starting a car some winters ago, the very grateful lady pointed out that she could see a half-eaten bagel in my engine. Instead of saying, “Huh, that’s weird.” I turned to her and said, “Did you notice any cream cheese?”

I have to work on my people skills.

“Also,” I said to Michael last night and pointed to my pants. “I was also wearing these.”

Camaflague pants.

Michael looked at me wearily. “Of course you were.”