The Butterfly King (2014) – Book 3 of The Lost and Founds

January 23rd, 2016


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King John (2015) – Book 4 of The Lost and Founds

January 22nd, 2016


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I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That (2013)

January 21st, 2016


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Filthy Acquisitions (2014)

January 19th, 2016


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A Taste of Honey (2014) – contributor

January 19th, 2016

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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?”


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.


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.




Google: How Tell Cat Hitting On Me

November 19th, 2015

It’s funny, the things we Google. Crazy-ass shit.

I made this observation an hour ago while my cat vigorously worked the draw strings of my house pants with his teeth, the fuzzy warm brown ones with skulls. The experience wasn’t very sexy from my perspective, mostly annoying, but it was certainly a good attempt by the Professor to get into my pants.

Of course, he likes string, so maybe that was the real appeal. But, I dunno. I’ve been getting some romantic signals lately.


I haven’t blogged in a while, so I haven’t officially announced this, but most everyone I know already knows: I now own a cat. He is Professor Waffles. We have a complicated relationship.

I want to be a dog person. Not a cat person.

When I told my best friend about my decision to get a small four-legged to share my home, I explained with some resignation all the reasons it was impractical for me to get a dog. I travel too much. I work weird hours. They’re too much effort for a single person. But, you know, they’re dogs, so they’re awesome. I said, “I’m getting a cat.” I’m sure my voice conveyed this as the second best option.

Ann sputtered a laugh and said, “Of course you are! Oh, how did I never notice this before? You’re totally a cat person.”

I was annoyed by this observation.

I want to be a dog person.

But the Professor and I became friends immediately. Within the first five minutes in my home, he confidently meowed his loud presence to every room on the first floor. He scaled the couch and howled his arrival at the summit. I loved his fearlessness. For the next month, he followed me everywhere. Demanded constant attention. I discovered he mewed incessantly. In fact, one summer night while enjoying a drink on the back porch with a friend, my pal interrupted our conversation to say, “Dude, what the hell is wrong with your cat? He talks nonstop!”

This friend happens to own two cats himself, so I was surprised by his surprise.

“Don’t all cats talk a lot?”

“No,” he said with some alarm in his voice, “Not like that. Is he dying? Have you taken him to a vet?”

He’s not dying.

He’s just the Professor. He talks a lot.

I get a lot of lectures in my home.

He is a typical cat, so I won’t say much about that. Aloof, commandeering, demanding. He bears the regal essence of catness. He jumps on counters, then pretends he didn’t. I have squirt bottles all over the house. That little fucker is not getting on my counters when I’m sitting right here. He manages the house all day while I’m gone, and I guess he can do as he pleases. But damn it, I don’t want to be a cat person.

Cat people always freaked me out, their blind devotion and insistence this crazy little feline was a pal, when clearly it was a resentful would-be predator in a body too small to take action. Whatever the cat did was absolutely fine, because, cat. They were mostly assholes. I remember going to particular friends’ home for dinner many years ago. Moments before we ate, their cat jumped on the dining room table where all our uncovered meal steamed in its warm glory.

My eyes bulged out.

“Get off the table,” our hostess said, shooing the cat who returned her insistence with a cool hard gaze. Cheerfully, she said, “Oh, you’re the worst.”

She swung into the kitchen to get the final items. While her husband chatted me up, I stared at that cat–still strolling the table–careful to note what it licked, brushed, and touched with its littler-box paws. The husband finally noticed my fixed gaze, and said, “Get off the table, c’mon.”

The cat never flinched.

He sighed and said, “Cats.”

If you come to my house and I’m making you dinner, the cat will not be involved in the touching of your food.

I am not a cat person.

But, I am a fan of Professor Waffles.

Despite having the aforementioned less-endearing cat qualities, he also owns an impossible sense of expansion, that all is his domain, and it really is. His confidence constantly impresses me, how a creature this small and dependent has the courage to be so grand, so beautiful in his demanding vulnerability. PW oozes cat presumption, and maybe it’s good for me to see that boldness on a daily basis.

He wants to play. With everyone. Every hand is equal because every hand might hold treats. A month ago, I took him to work for the day and restrained him on a twenty-foot leash. He was completely chill, exploring every cube within range and eventually napping for hours on an empty desk. Everyone petted him, scratched him, dangled shiny things for him to grab at. He didn’t just endure it all–he loved it.

I like his equanimity regarding age, race, and belief system: every hand might hold treats. Every hand is equal.

He doesn’t use his claws. Various friends have remarked on this, his patience and refusal to pull a Wolverine during aggressive cat play. He knows the damage his claws can do, but he chooses restraint. I like this quality of his.

Also, he never gives up.

Every single time I come in from the outside world, he tries to escape. I stop him. I nudge him with my boot until he gets the daily message, “Not today.” He scowls and wanders a few feet away, allowing me to come in, drop my belongings. I greet him in my special voice. “‘Alloooooo, Professore. Hows arez youz? You arrrre good, no?”

Waffles stretches for me, not-too-subtly reminding me how awesome it is to nap all day, and then he consents to petting. He mews, complaining about his lack of food. “Are youz reaaady for your rubssingz, Professor?”

In the last few weeks, he’s taken to jumping into my lap, climbing up my chest and staring deep into my eyes. He blinks slowly (which I now know means, “I love you” in cat communication) and kneads my upper chest while I stroke him from head to tail. He likes every part of him touched and rubbed, and after he’s exhausted this position, he rolls onto his belly so I can stroke his furry belly like a guitar. Touch means everything to him and he cannot get enough.

But this eye-staring business makes me nervous.

When he hikes his paws around my neck and comes at me like I’m his prom date, I feel like whispering, “I like you but as a friend.” He bumps my head and mine together a lot–and I mean, a lot–which makes me think this must be cat foreplay. His wet nose constantly nuzzling mine, purring softly the whole times.

C’mon, man. You’re weirding me out.

Nevertheless, I pet him and stroke his skull and then rake my fingers down his back while he tries to make out with me. I admit, I find his purring soothing after a long day. I find this dog-like welcome delightful. However, I am equally pleased on those other days when he sees me at the door and turns–tail pointing straight up–so I  notice his casual dismissal of my arrival. I don’t always feel like being snuggly every day either, so fine by me.

We seem well-suited.

Last weekend, friends came over for dinner. One friend was allergic, so the Professor enjoyed some alone time in the den, complete with water fountain, scratching posts, a warm bed, multiple climbing surfaces, and, of course, a box for his turds. (Yup. Let’s just put it out there. I now clean turds out of a box.)

My new-parent friends brought their one-year-old, who conveniently napped in my guest room, giving them a welcome respite. We celebrated this break from grabbing hands and swatting paws by using wine glasses–actual wine glasses with stems–the kind that easily get knocked over. None of us were drinking wine. We laughed at how luxurious and foreign this felt, drinking out of an actual wine glasses without worrying about them being knocked to the floor.

I explained how I didn’t want to be one of those “cat people” who let their cat touch the food. I told about my ongoing battle to keep Prof Waff off my food-preparing counters and the dining room table. I explained what he eats, how often, how I had to learn about the right amount of food for him. But I worry I’m underfeeding him anyway, not from his size, but his constant complaining, whining about how I never feed him anything and he’s wasting away.

He talks less than he used to a few months ago, now that he knows I’m listening. At least he knows he is heard. I rub his face and pull his ears back while I say, “Noes, liddle kidden. No outsidez for youz today.”

At the dinner party, I suddenly realized I had been talking for almost twenty minutes about my relationship with my cat.

With that grim realization came another: it’s too late.

I’m already a cat person.



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.


Fruitcake from Tony Ward

The Wedding Poem

July 21st, 2015

A few months ago, Emme, a reader-turned-friend, asked me if she could pay me to write a short story for her son, something she could give him as a special wedding present. I considered the very cool opportunity but declined. At the time, I was in the throes of researching and writing my big 2015 novel (King John), and writing a short story could prove too potent a distraction. I needed to focus.

I countered with a proposal:  what about a poem?

She was equally delighted. When I declined payment, she insisted on donating money to charity instead, which made the happiness of a wedding poem that much sweeter.

I wrote a questionnaire for her son (Anthony) and his betrothed (Mike) asking them questions: what kind of kid were you? How would you describe your love? What is your favorite color? Where is your favorite place in the world? She forwarded the questions and they dutifully answered. Some of their responses challenged me.

“Our love is like a boulder.”

“My favorite color is blue with green a close second.”

“Our love is like a redwood.”


I wondered how to create something to honor them both and their love. After all, I’m no poet. Sure, I love poetry but I’m just a dabbler. That’s not false humility. It’s true. Also, I am a terrible dancer, but I love to dance. I sing off key, but I sing. I think we should all attempt creative talents we do not possess because it helps us admire those who excel in these areas.

Plus, it’s damn fun.

While crafting their poem, I learned of their courtship: their first date (Mets game), the things each one does which drives the other nuts, a description of the park where they were to marry, and their special wedding clothes. Emme sent me links and background information. I studied their photographs. They seemed like lovely men.

They were married at the end of June. At the reception, Emme presented them with a wedding poem.


Mike, did you ever dream,

as a child, when you thought you knew everything,

did you dream that love would come for you, like a family of redwoods,

standing tall and strong beside you, the fresh, clean heady scent of holiness

swimming inside you, reminding you to love?

Did you dream,

that he would forgive your papers left everywhere,

and that he would love you tenderly, with grace and humor, this man of great integrity?

How could you know?

How could you know that one day,

when asked about your favorite place in the world, you would answer,

“Anywhere he is.”


Anthony, did you ever dream

that love would stop you in your path like a boulder,

relentless in its desire to be loved, to be recognized as loving,

you, who spent your childhood wrapped in book after book, fact after eager fact,

Waiting impatiently for someone to listen to your hard-won knowledge?

And already, someone interested in knowing you, in loving you, was walking his path to you.

A menschlichkeit, a man you would admire for his openness to the good in humanity.

A man who cherishes your clever jokes, your amazing intellect.

Your hard-won knowledge is now fully loved.


As you come together in Preservation Park,

proud Victorian homes admiring with silent majesty two kings in love,

When you catch each other’s gaze,

will you remember the past?

Your first date at Shea Stadium, the day Anthony recalls,

“The Mets lost, but we won.”

In front of the park fountain, on the gorgeous lawn,

will you flash to your future?

Lives pursuing justice, and music, and faith, with gray in your hair?

Living in your own home, a family of two, or four, or possibly so many more?

Or will you see each other in the present on your wedding day?

Anthony in his kittel, dancing with birds, crowns, grapes and vines,

pomegranates, too.

Michael in a clever gray suit, grinning and hungry for this new chapter to begin.

Will you see each other as the men you are today?

Will you say yes to that man, today’s man, and yes to that tomorrow man, too?

Each day you say yes, the sky will be blue, with green a very, very close second.


Did you ever dream, Mike?

Could you have known, Anthony?

That one day, you would love this way?




wedding 1

Sure Enough

May 6th, 2015

I have a cousin, third cousin, a young kid, and the extended family has been worried / not worried about him. He had been developing his toddler abilities a little off the bell curve. For a long time, he didn’t talk.

Nobody knew why.

He just didn’t seem interested in talking.

Personally, I’m totally behind this kid keeping silent. Talking is a racquet, kid. Once you start, you never stop. They get you hooked by just teaching you a few words. Easy ones. Useful, even. You’re a wide-eyed tyke, who thinks, ‘This is handy. Now I can finally ask for one of those chocolate chip orbs they constantly pass to each other.’

And you think, ‘Words good.’

Years later, you’re fighting with a lover at 1:00 a.m., rehashing the same argument from six hours earlier but now having spent six hours simmering in angry silence, it’s even more furious, and the ocean of words spit between the two of you will flood the room, drowning you both, and you think, what kind of idiot invented talking?

It’s safer in the world of no-words.

So this third cousin, call him Buck, was not vocalizing or showing interest in words. He wasn’t deaf. Seemed like a smart kid. His parents took him to specialists who advised strategies and non-verbal games to evoke the magic of speech.

As extended family bystanders, we worried, and reassured ourselves that kids develop differently. If he didn’t feel like talking, okay. We also did not worry. Whether Buck spoke (or not) might not matter.

That is to say, we already loved Buck with big hearts.

Perhaps we loved him even more in his silence, if that were possible. He was a miracle baby, and we thrilled he stayed on earth. Whether he spoke or not, we loved that kid. At family gatherings, Buck was like electric lightning–racing constantly–crashing into your leg, laughing as he grinned up at you. But he couldn’t be bothered to stop for conversation, as he was off to explore somewhere else.

Somewhere exciting!

His parents were baffled where his energy came from, this bright yellow Tonka truck of unstoppableness, this child with the energy of seven kids crammed into one.

We love Buck.

It’s strange, loving second and third cousins who you rarely get to see. Many, many years ago, we held those second cousins when they were infants. Demanded to see their missing teeth and begged to hear them play the violin or sing or dance or tell a story. They often complied at family gatherings, Christmas at Aunt Mary Beth’s or Thanksgiving at Aunt Barbara’s.

But then they grew up.

Got PhDs.

Got married.

Had kids.

They were once our yellow Tonka trucks, racing through my mom and dad’s home on Easter with soon-to-be-spilled soda, laughing and chattering and then suddenly turning so unbelievably shy they could do nothing but bite the tip of their finger, because that’s all you can do sometimes when you’re a kid, is gently bite the tip of your finger.

When one second cousin produced her own professional singing CD at the tender age of fifteen, we all gossiped about her for months, admiring her talent, discussing her next steps. Will she take her band on the road? Record contract? That Thanksgiving, we played one of her songs after dinner and she was so embarrassed by the attention she fled the room.

We couldn’t stop ourselves. We love her. (In fact, two days ago, I listened to her music again on the way to work, singing along at the top of my lungs.)

Though we don’t see them as often, the second and third cousins, we want to know the details of their lives. See fresh pictures. Hold their kids. When I speak with mom, part of every conversation is devoted to family updates. She provides what she heard from her Aunt Barbara who heard from Anita who is visiting her parents while her husband is away. Where is he you ask? Interesting story. Apparently for his next research project…and so the family stories unfurl. The news. Who visited whom. New jobs.

Eventually, I get most of the details.

But we miss the day to day victories in their lives and that’s sad. They’re having lives. They’re having friend-filled, career-rich lives. They watch Netflix and have outrageous game nights, do laundry on Saturdays. Good for them. But hey. The older generation who adored you from the beginning of your life, well, we miss you. We miss your big smiles. We miss your insane energy, running constantly from room to room. We’re glad you grew up so beautifully, but we miss you.

I spoke with mom the other night and got some family news.

Guess who started talking?

“Well, this is what I heard,” Mom said. “He says ‘no‘ really easily but they were struggling teaching him the word ‘yes.’ It’s very common in any kid to learn yes later than no, but he kinda refused. Buck kept saying ‘cerna.’”

I said, “What does that mean?”

“Well, nobody knew. He just said, cerna. Cerna. They couldn’t get him to say yes.”

I waited for the rest of the story. Mom’s a good story teller.

“They worried a little,” Mom talked a little slower to keep me in suspense, “Wondering if he was inventing his own words, his own language. What if he didn’t talk normal English? What if that word, cerna, revealed some mental problems ? But they listened more carefully to what he was saying and it turns out he wasn’t saying cerna exactly. He was saying the words so quickly. He was saying soo nu.”

“How is that any better?”

Mom said, “They realized that their nanny, I think she was from another country, that word, au pair, maybe. I don’t know. I heard this from Mary Beth who talked to Barbara yesterday, so I’ll call Barbara and ask her. Anyway, the au pair had an accent.”

“Yes,” I said, a little impatiently.

Mom said, “This nanny never said yes, when she agreed with something. She always said the same two words. ‘Sure enough.’ Buck has been saying sure enough. Cerna. Cerna! He’s fine!”

We laughed. Love that kid!

“Sure enough,” Mom said and she laughed happily. “We’re adopting it as our family slogan. I think we should. We all just start saying ‘sure enough’ instead of yes.’”

After years of playing with cousins and second cousins, you end up feeling very attached to people who do the discourteous service of growing up and moving away, permitting you to only glimpse the lives they have carved for themselves. You end up missing them more than you thought you would. You wonder about their kids, their struggles, and reminisce about when they were tiny little balls of energy.

But is it worth it? Loving those family members you now only see twice a year?

Sure enough.