Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dial a Prayer

My Sigma Chi days were short. After accepting my invitation to join, I moved my scant belongings into a small room on the bottom floor--a pile of tee shirts, two pairs of jeans and a Sears cassette player. The window had a view of nothing but a parking lot surrounded by trees, and hardly anybody in the house had a car. I borrowed a VCR from the front room and practiced being Dan Akroyd from a recording of a live Blues Brothers performance. It's a funny thing how easy something looks until it's tried. John Belushi got all the press, while his partner quietly stood eclipsed by his shadow, apparently happy to do so. I learned to appreciate Dan Akroyd as I frantically scissored my feet like electric clippers in an all but impossible attempt to imitate him. Once in a while I could see a dark shadow pass the window after the dull report of a slamming car door in the lot outside, checking me out on the way by and avoiding my gaze as I tried to see who it was. I must have looked like a circus clown to them, bouncing around with sweat streaming in tiny rills.

I refused to sleep upstairs in the sleeping porch with the rest of the pledges, and in general I thumbed my nose at any authority whatsoever. Pledges were supposed to be humble, but I was anything but. The members were getting restless. All along it was as if I had a foot out the door. I never intended to stay, although I never consciously acknowledged this. I just wanted to know what it felt like to belong to a respected house.

But I have to be honest about something. I was drinking too much, and I had basically given up on getting a degree. My grades by now had dipped below a point eight, which means I had an F average. The friends I had anymore only had pity for me, seeing the inevitability of my way. Sigma Chi was my last shot. I was meteor, a bright comet that was about to fizzle. And like a dying man whose doctor has told him to make his final preparations, I was living like there was no tomorrow. I wouldn't be back next year, and only I knew that for sure.

You may remember Conrad, the guy who invited me to join. He and I went to a bar for a few drinks on a Friday night. We sat with Sherrie, who met me for the first time that night, but I remember she had the hots for my friend Jay the semester before, and like all women that approached Jay, she was something to behold. It must have been the Sigma Chi shirt I was wearing, which to me had special powers, like a super suit, that rendered me irresistible. I had a brief chat with Sherrie that I wish I could reproduce, but it ended with her giving me her phone number, then going away with her girlfriend.

Conrad looked at me funny as she left. "You think you did pretty good there, don’t you?"

"Yeah, I think she likes me." I was glowing and it showed.

Conrad shook his head. "No chance. She just got through telling me that guys are always hitting on her and she’s sick of it."

"You're a cute kid Conrad, but a little naive." I said, "Perhaps she just wanted to back you off."

He raised an eyebrow as he motioned toward the bar napkin in my hand, "No way is she going out with you."

"We'll just have to see about that."

I waited for as long as I could, a day perhaps, picked up the phone and punched in the numbers written with such flowing, feminine style. One ring was all it took. My heart stopped as I groped for something to say, but I didn't need to bother. A recording of a man's voice spoke first, kind and understanding.

"Let me ask you a question: have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior? Only through Him can you find eternal sal--"

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In My Country

I saw a great movie this weekend called, "In My Country." Let's just say that we are lucky to live where we do. And let us just further say that being white is a privelege that can't be taken away, and can't be given back. Go ahead and whine. Self denigration, loud protestation and empathy don't change a thing.

I'll say the word, but resist your inner file manager, the one that says, "Ah, this goes right here" in the Shit That Doesn't Affect Me folder. Already your eyes are glazing over, because the phase triggered an unconscious brain mine, your heart rate accelerated and your hand is absently twitching the mouse towards the Next Blog button. It's a choice really, how we live our lives. We all know that bad stuff happens, and some of us are really put out by it. Hell, we might even get indignant and pretend to really care, especially when rightly accused of apathy. But next week I'll have totally forgotten about it, swimming in the Soma of my own petty problems, and my life will continue unabated on it's present course.

What's the word?

Later. I have more to say.

I admire the kind of person who gets up one day, tired of all the bullshit, tired of hearing people complain about the state of the world, tired of talking about the injustice of it all, and takes action.

Do you ever wonder what it must be like to be a field reporter? Someone who doesn't hear it first on the news; rather someone who gets a call at three in the morning. Get your ass to Oklahoma City. Someone who walks through the rubble of an explosion and finds a shoe that fits in his white-knuckled fist with a tiny, gushing foot still in it? Someone who witnesses an execution with the family of the condemned man's victim and his sobbing mother, tendrils of smoke snaking from underneath a metal kippah, the smell of burnt meat wafting and pervasive, like a roasted pig in a pit. Someone who walks through a refugee camp after eating a hot breakfast, and sees the body of an emaciated child, skin pulled impossibly taut over a rib cage like a vacuum sealed freezer bag, with a fly casually cleaning its wings atop a sightless open eyeball. Someone who has consoled and transcribed the events of countless victims and survivors of violent crimes.

I do. But I live right here, in my little office that overlooks my slice of the Shire while the world turns on its hostile axis. I wish sometimes that I would have joined the service, or traveled abroad. I feel fortunate to have shoveled shit, to have worked in the freezing cold, to have rubbed two pennies together and wished them into silver dollars, to have loved and lost, to have tried so many times, to have been told I couldn't do it, to have risen above the caste I was born to.

Maybe if we all had to see the dark side of life, to squirm from its oppressive grip, we would have some respect, for each other and for the lives of people who never even had a ticket in the geographic lottery. Maybe we would have more of a stake in the future.

If I could do it all over, I would live a different life. I'm happy, but feeling a little guilty, like I'm living on the backs of slaves. I'm not rich by my country's standards, but on a world scale I'm living in Graceland. Make that Disneyland.

But like I said, I'll get over it. A movie like In My Country is like a cup of Peets: jolting, but the buzz eventually wears off.

The word? Oh yeah.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Who's Better Off?

Ironically, it was mommy and daddy who couldn't sleep, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring--not even a mouse. Don't always believe what you read, even on food labels. Oh sure, it might say decaf...

Downstairs in the front room, which I believe is called the "living" room--I can never remember which is the family room, and which is the living room, so for arguments sake, the living room is the room classically reserved for the formal china and fancy schmancy table and chairs--is what we classify as our play and guest room, depending on the context. We set up a queen-sized bed for dad's recent visit, when it was only known as the playroom. It also has a fireplace, so we put the Christmas tree next to it and hung the stockings. Jackson and I slept in the bed and waited for Santa. He promised to stay up all night waiting, until we let him know about Santa's ability to know when you are sleeping. Kapow! Fast asleep.

Jackson got up first and saw all the presents. He was excited, but not like I used to be. It wasn't disappointing, just interesting. The world has changed for kids. Maybe I make a little more money than the average Joe--I'm not rich, but when political pundits say there is a war on the middle class, I'm it. Middle: not poor, not rich, just playing the game by the rules.

When I grew up it was different.

I saw a train set in a toy store that I pointed out to my Aunt Bev. "That's what I want for Christmas." She frowned. I was young, perhaps eight or nine. But the look on her face is with me still, not like a photograph; more like a strand of DNA, a twisted ladder whose rungs connect her pain to mine, her desire to provide to my outstretched hands, her disappointment to my dawning comprehension of our place on the food chain.

"Maybe something...” she paused. The words were difficult. "...a little smaller."

"NO! I don't want anything else. I want that."

My dad would have back-handed me over the train table, through three displays and the display window, and onto the front sidewalk, shivering and bleeding. But my aunt just whispered, "I-I'll see what I can do."

She told my step-mother, who talked to me when we were alone. "Your aunt Bev told me you asked her for a train."

Shame washed through me like a chill wind. Mom looked at me with those eyes that see, that could read my thoughts as from a teleprompter. Her expression softened when she saw that I understood. For once she wasn't angry. And I sensed something else too, something I would rarely see from her--a faint wisp of compassion, like a nip of perfume.

I found an old Lionel train set in my grandmother’s basement that used to belong to my father. It was heavy and smelled of oil. It didn't work any more, but I set it up anyway and imagined it did. That was the closest I ever came.

My own kids don't wait nearly so long. They have three train sets, remote control cars and planes, a Game boy, race tracks, Hot Wheelz, board games, figurines of dinosaurs and every genus of animal from the African deserts to the Arctic, and a crate of Disney movies that would take weeks to get through. When my oldest gets up on Christmas morning, he gets back in bed next to me and tells me Santa came, and waits patiently for me to wake up. Sometimes I put toys into the attic, and it takes months before he notices. I was made do with a broken down train set that only left from Dream Central Station. My son can play with a new toy for a day and lose interest.

Who's better off?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas is Upon Us


We interrupt our normally scheduled posting to bring you this breaking news. Check out Moni's new song. She's been telling us about it for a while now and due to much encouragement from her friends, she has finally put it online for us to check out. I am impressed, so drop by, have a listen, and let her know what you think.

Now, back to business...


Christmas is almost upon us. I looked at the mountain of gifts we bought for our kids, and thought, man, this really bites! After wrapping five or so, I got into a groove. Not a wrinkle or tear, and all my lines straight. My mind started wandering to a long ago time when my brother and I couldn't sleep, my eyes drooping like Adrienne Barbeau's breasts, anxious to catch Santa in the act--but I never could stay awake. The morning came and my eyes popped open, the sun cast striped beams through the slats of my window, dust dancing in and out of its swath. I kicked the upper bunk and my little brother jumped to the ground as if jolted with a cattle prod.

"Did he come?" I asked him.

His body was a coiled spring--like a wide receiver waiting for the quarterback's signal. "I'll go see!" And off he shot, through the door, his feet padding through the hallway and stopping at the entryway to the living room--then back again.

"He did come--and he ate the cookies!"

I was already sitting up by now, and my feet found my slippers. "Let's get mom and dad!"

We ran into their room. The air rumbled from dad's snoring, but that ended with a loud report as we jumped between them and announced that Santa had really come, and they had to see.

And even dad, the crusty old crab-legged curmudgeon, couldn't resist our infectious enthusiasm, even though the battle was hard-fought behind those brown eyes.

Now I have my own family, and my own two boys who wait impatiently for Christmas morning. We've tantalized them further by setting up a bed by the Christmas tree and letting them sleep there on Christmas Eve. Jackson told me a secret that he is going pretend to be sleeping so that he can catch Santa in the act. But I know another secret. Jackson could sleep through an earthquake.

So Christmas morning the kids will awake to cookie crumbs and a thank-you note, and a mound of colorful packages that were carefully wrapped to be thoughtlessly torn open.

Christmas is for the kids--at least that's what I always thought. There is no greater joy than to see your children laugh.


To all my blogger friends: thanks for dropping by with all your words of encouragement. I'm not sure how to wish you the best this Christmas without sounding like a Hallmark card, so consider yourself told. Here's to you my friends, may we still be going strong next year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Captain Caveman

I've been swimming in a sea of new technologies. Was it Darwin that said use it or lose it? That certainly applies to the brain. I'm in the software development business and I can tell you, complacency is the drooling tongue on the back of food stamps.

We've all lived the great hipocrisy, the self-creating lie. You must have experience to qualify, and yet how do you get it but on-the-job. Companies typically keep you working on the same task ad infinitum, until you could do it blindfolded, wrists bound and mouth gagged. They don't want you to learn something new--that would make you a marketable commodity, increasing your value and bargaining position come review time.

So what do you do? Lie of course.

Q: Do you have any experience with Web Services?
A: Services schmervices. Of course I do.
Q: Can you tell me what a Web Service is?
A: I could, but then I would have to kill you. Ha ha ha.
Q: Wow. Smart and funny. Seriously, what is a Web Service?
A: I know what it is, but do you?
Q: I'm not the one being interviewed.
A: That's what I thought.
Q: What?
A: You don't even know what a web service is.
Q: I was hoping you could tell me.
A: Oh, so you want me to do all your work for you?
Q: You are applying for a job aren't you?
A: Yeah, but I was hoping to learn something new here, to live in the now.

You get the picture.

I'm in a customer-driven business--what the customer wants, the customer gets. Mostly. So when a customer asks for the latest and greatest technology, and several others are chirping about the same, we move to learn and adapt our products. This happens every five years or so.

Our CEO is a typical dinosaur that comes from a time when you clubbed your woman over the head and drug her to the cave for a thirteen second bout of unprotected Zug Zug. He still keeps a stack of punch cards in his desk drawer, and has been known to pull one out and fondle it when reminiscing about the good old days, when programmers didn't suck.

He thought the internet was a passing fad, the buzzword du jour. But customers complained, so our products went online. Now customers want to consume our products as web services, and Captain Caveman is grumbling again.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Island

I saw a great movie this weekend, but I will warn you: if you haven't seen it then I am about to spoil it for you. I have to. Otherwise I can't really talk about it.

The movie is called The Island. Did you get that from the title and the image? Remember, I only get to see movies when they come out on DVD, and only after the kids go to bed. I thought the science fiction movie had gone the way of disco, a guilty pleasure nobody can admit to. How many sci fi films have you seen that you can truly call original or engaging? Not many. But this movie gave me hope.

Let's dispense with the disclaimers first. One one level, this film was nothing more than a hollywood action film that John Woo is probably kicking himself for not getting involved with. One scene has the actors falling from a several story skyscraper and landing safely in a net. Visually stunning but insulting to the intelligence. I will say that I hate action films for this very reason. If you are a fan of John Woo, Van Dam, Segal, etc, and love to watch bullets fly A-Team style, cars explode Dukes of Hazzard style--well, this movie is just perfect for you.

What intrigued me was the actual fiction, you know, the story, that despite the intrusion of all these pyrotechnics, really stole the show. The story is set in the near future, where people are cloned as insurance policies to the insanely rich. If you need a new heart--no problem. It will be harvested from your clone and a new clone will be grown to take her place. The insured think their clones are insentient beings, bags of protoplasm with no self-awareness, and the company presents it this way. But the reality is that these clones are living, walking, talking people who think they live underground, protected from a contaminated world. The Island, they believe, is a Garden of Eden, where the lucky few are sent by lottery. Of course there is no Island, and those that are sent there are euthenized when their real function is executed.

It reminds me a little of the Truman Show, another movie that I loved. Because this is a realistic, believable and forseeable future. Money rules. If you have it, you can have anything.

For all you Bush bashers out there, what movie would be complete without a passive aggressive, back handed slap of the president? The president has an insurance policy as well, who Ewen MacGregor refers to as an idiot. If this were Bill Clintons day, he would have been portrayed as the clone who couldn't keep his tool in his tights, even though his sex drive had been removed. I don't understand it sir. We cut it off but it keeps growing back!

Oh, this is funny. I was about to rave about the writer, Caspian Tredwell-Owen, so I googled him and found that there is a suit filed in Federal Court. Apparently this story is a copy of a low budget Indy film called Clonus.


Oh, and Scarlett Johanssen. Nuff said.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Gotta Turn it Off

Sunday was the last weekend of football for me. The Cowboys... got... crushed--by the Redskins. That's like getting beat up by your little brother. It shouldn't have happened, but it did. This was the worst ass kicking the Cowboys have taken since... I don't remember when, and frankly I'm burnt out from thinking about it. It's hard being a Cowboys fan, and it has been for nine years or so. I was like an excited puppy at the beginning of the season, so happy that I hardly had bladder control. But today I watched the total self-destruction of a crew that seemed destined for a division title and a deep run into the playoffs. Now, if they make it, and that's a big if, who cares. They were embarassed like a cheerleader whose top flew open, caught on camera like God created her for the world to see, destined to be wallpaper on computer monitors across the America.

I'd be surprised if Bill Parcells returns as the coach next year. He won't be fired; he's just too old for this shit anymore.

Listen all. I've been busy and haven't been around as much. You know the drill, we've all said it, we've all read it, so you can fill in the rest.

It's late and I'm going to bed. I hope to spend some time trawling tomorrow, but I think I am going to be swamped for some time.

Geez I'm tired. Does it show?

Good night.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Progress Report

Work has certainly kept me away from my blogging responsibilities lately. That's a good and bad thing. Good because I am happily chugging away and my day flies by, bad because I miss my daily labor of love. Maybe someday I can do this for a living and have the best of both worlds.

Keep practicing.

Janey gave me a writing technique book to read called Techniques of the Selling Writer. At first I thought, geez, what a dry, formal, pedantic read--but I quickly got over it. It was written nearly forty years ago, and writers have since then lightened up. But that was only the first chapter. In chapter two, the pace quickened and the advice was golden. I especially liked the section on the use of the word "had." The book advises to avoid this evil word at all costs, because it slows the pace if only for a jarring instant, taking the reader out of the now. I put the book down and reviewed my short story and counted around ten offenses--and I smiled. I learned something.

I'm also reading All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg. I haven't gotten very far, because my time is limited. What was that old saying? If you chase two rabbits you catch none? I can't help myself. Bragg is amazing. His recollection of the tiniest detail is humbling. It's no wonder he was a writer for the New York Times. The book is a memoir, homage to his mother who raised him in the harshest of impoverished conditions. I don't know much more about the book, but my initial reaction is that Rick Bragg has an unpretentious, easy-to-read style that invites the reader to read on. He comes from a humble background, and has risen to the top despite all roadblocks that would stymie the average person.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Happy Fifth

In a clearing amidst a grove of oak trees, surrounded by farms and swampland, lives a cape style, three-story home, red like boiled lobster. Inside, past two young boys jumping from the living room couch onto a stack of pillows and blankets on a dark, wooden planked floor, past their mother folding piping hot t-shirts--softened silky smooth with the fragrance of baby powder--from the dryer into a basket, and upstairs past their father hunched in his office chair, sipping coffee and staring blankly into a computer monitor pretending to work, through the attic hatch that pulls down like a dragon's maw--with a folding ladder tongue--by a retractable string as the springs groan in protest, and into the biting cold, in the farthest dark corner on a sheet of chipboard stretched atop open ceiling rafters stuffed with dirty pink, cotton-candy-like insulation, lies a box marked "Mom's Things" in black Sharpie.

The box is sealed with packaging tape over every crack to protect it from bug intrusion. Inside are stacks of papers, books, and pictures, and trinkets that once adorned her desk at the Houston car dealership where she steadfastly kept herself busy while the cancer spread through her lungs, up her spine and into the brain. A little green book, hardly the size of a palm, could be seen just under top flap of the box if it were opened. Inscribed in plain gold letters is the title, "One Day at a Time." Tucked into the book's pages is a card in an opened envelope, with a platinum and black chip featuring the roman numeral five tucked inside, and a message written in neat black-ink script, "Happy fifth Mom. I'm proud of you."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Almost Out Of Time

What a weekend.

We were heading to Santa's Village until the big snowstorm hit, so we waited until morning when the snow plows and sunshine had made the world safe from dumb ass drivers. Sure, I have four wheel drive, but not everybody else.

On Saturday morning we packed our things into laundry baskets. We have suitcases, but laundry baskets are more convenient for one or two-day trips. Emmett fell asleep at ten in the morning, which is not like him. His eyelids were drawn irresistibly down, and his breathing was labored and shallow. For a week now he coughed and thrashed at night, but so far we thought he had a cold. Beth took him to see the pediatrician, who calmly told her to take him to the emergency room.

"Can I pick up my husband on the way?" Beth asked the doctor.


At the emergency room, Beth filled out a registration form and waited to be called. When she was finally shown to a room, and after chest x-rays from technicians, she waited for two hours for the doctor to come in. By now Emmett was dehydrated and hungry. The doctor apologized, but he didn't know she was even waiting until minutes ago.

I wish I had been there. Think Shirley MacLean in Terms of Endearment. If you haven't seen it, just watch the scene when her movie-daughter has cancer and hasn't had her pain shot, and MacLean goes to the nurse’s station to secure one. Get the shot. I'm sorry maam-- Get the shot! GET THE SHOT! GET THE SHOOOOOOT!!!!!

But it ends well--Emmett's infection is viral, a huge relief because I almost died when I was a baby from the same. Not that I can remember. Emmett "called" me from the emergency room, just to say hi. I've never heard him utter a word on the phone, not even a grunt. But I heard him clearly, "Hi dada." In the back of my mind, after we hung up, the eerie thought crept up from my unconscious, "What if that was the last time I ever spoke to him?" I scooped him up when he came home, and he rested there with his cheek on my shoulder--and I didn't tire so quickly.

Last night he woke up while the wife and I were watching the Fantastic Four downstairs. Another first, Emmett got out of bed. Mind you, he's just two years old now, so there are many firsts. The volume on the TV kept it from us for a while, but like a strange disturbance in the force, or a tickle of Spidey sense, we realized something was wrong and I paused the movie. Emmett screamed at the top of the stairs in a hoarse rasp, unique to having done so for a while, which pushed my panic button and propelled me up the stairs in three or four bounds. I scooped him up and he collapsed into my shoulder without so much as a sniffle.

Can you say melodrama?

Oh well. We brought him downstairs and he passed out between us. His sweet little angel face looked towards the heavens, and Beth and I took turns touching his face and pinching his nose, exploring the behind his ears and feeling his soft little neck. Then I thought of Jackson, older now and annoyed with such attention.

There isn't much time left before Emmett won't need us like this anymore.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Good Friends, Good Coffee

It's Friday in New England and we are getting pummeled with rapidly accumulating snow. This is the time of year when I ask myself what the frack I'm doing here. But Jackson is over at the neighbors sledding and drinking hot chocolate, so for him this is just a colder slice of heaven. There isn't much more to wish for than a happy child.

Thanks for all the comments on my book review. Eve made a good point, that I shouldn't be shy about my opinion. It was proffered honestly. I feel a little bad that I'm picking on a dead guy, but then again I don't have to worry about him finding my remarks and putting me on the black list with any of his publisher friends.

Janey gave me a link a while back to a list of questions to consider in a reading-group discussion on the Larry Brown book. After reading through them I felt I had missed some subtleties, of which there is no doubt. But I still didn't care for it, but perhaps it was well crafted, even if the story wasn't personally moving.

I don't know if I mentioned, but our friends Vicki and Richard visited a couple weekends ago, friends I've had since before I met my wife. They were engaged and living together, and I was the single guy who would most likely be so--forever (cue the evil laugh). But of course I did get married and had our first son before they got pregnant themselves. My wife and I became outsiders to them for a while, until they had a child of their own. Vicki gained an immediate appreciation for the trauma we went through raising a child without any help from anyone. After Vicki had her baby, she gained a new respect for us, and we've been good friends ever since.

Back in the early days before kids, we would sit in their small San Francisco apartment and play Euchre and smoke the wacky, laughing, telling stories, imitating our favorite Star Wars characters--as time raced like the Lombard traffic that roared unnoticed outside our windows.

During their recent visit, the most amazing thing happened. The kids played with one another. They didn't need us. Then Vicki said, "Hey, I know. Let's play some Euchre." Whoa. How long had it been? It took us a long time to find two decks of cards to shuffle together, but we did. And we managed to play three full games before the kids finally called an end to our foolishness. They acted like they didn't remember the rules, saying things like, "Now what's higher, the Jick or the Jack?" Yeah right. They stomped us so bad, that when we won our first point somewhere in the second game, Vicki said, "Aww Rich, that's so cute. They scored a point."

The only thing missing was the wacky that we took for granted in those days. I've said before that I don't have any way to get any here, and I'm not about to ask around.

We got a FedEx package in the mail today. Inside was a beautiful framed picture of their boy and ours, sitting together under the canopy of our play set in the back yard, a nice reminder of our time together. Richard is a photographer, and a damn fine one at that. As Jackson and I were looking at it, the phone rang.


"It's Vicki."

"Vick," I said, "we just got your package. I just love the picture."

"Oh," she paused, "are you just now opening it?"


"Have you seen the coffee?"

"No, you sent me some coffee?"

"Yeah, but it's special coffee."

"Like Starbucks? Cool! I just r..." Then it hit me. "Ohhhh. You mean special coffee."

"It's just a little, so don't get too excited."

"You are insane, and unbelievably cool."

"We had such a good time with you guys, and we were talking about it when we left your place that night, and we decided we had to do it."

Like I said, it's the little things in life. It's nice to be reminded that there are a few people out there that so highly of you.

The snow has let up, so it's off to plow I go. Tomorrow morning, if the weather allows, we are off to New Hampshire and Santa's Village. Then on Sunday it's Jackson's birthday.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Review: Father and Son by Larry Brown

The general feeling I get when I put this book down, is that I must be missing the point. I surfed around for other book reviews to get the reaction of other more sophisticated readers, but unfortunately, it seems I am left alone to fend for myself. The jacket builds the expectation that a master is going to take you on a psychological thrill ride; but the reality, at least for me, was quite different.

The story begins with the release of Glen Davis from prison, where he has been for three year years for manslaughter. Glen is a pure force of rage, and has revenge on his mind. His girlfriend Jewel has waited for him faithfully during his internment, and has been raising the child that Glen gave her--a child that Glen refuses to recognize as his own. Glen returns home to his father, Virgil, who Glen hates because of an affair that Virgil had with Mary Blanchard, which hurt Glen's mother, who died while Glen was in jail. To complicate matters, Virgil and Mary had a son, Bobby, who is the sheriff that put Glen away, and who is seeking to have a relationship with Jewel.

Does this sound like a soap opera to you? It does to me too.

There are other characters, whom Brown spends time building. Glen has a brother Randolph, or Puppy as everyone calls him, who picks him up from jail. Later we learn about his failed attempt at running a car repair business, and his strained marriage. In the end, it seems that Puppy was an extra, playing no integral role in the outcome of the story. I can only assume his part fed into the theme of fathers and sons, but served no other purpose beyond that.

It seems that much of the book was spent feeding an artistic theme, but didn't propel the story forward, leaving me wishing this were a short story instead. The ending was done well, but it took an age to get there. Even then, when the story's "Sweet Sue" was metaphorically tied to the railroad tracks, we are tortured with descriptions of the countryside, and treated to fond memories of days gone past.

Make no mistake; Larry Brown is a gifted writer. His scene descriptions are beautiful, and his dialog feels authentic. For my own tastes, I'd like to see more story movement and the art seamlessly woven in. In the end the message is one we've all heard before, with nothing new to add. It really hit home when I described the story to my wife, who summed it up in one word: typical.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Free Writing

I am taking a three week writers workshop from my local community education department. The teacher had us free write, which is writing without correction or pause, in response to prompts she gave. It was a little intimidating, but I was surprised at what came out of me when I let go. Of course I held back a little when my mind wandered down the darker roads because I didn't want to freak anyone out on my first day. Nothing bad. The prompt was, "It was the first day of..." So I went with "...the new year, and I had resolved to never drink again. Unfortunately it was also the night of the bachelor party, and I was the best man." Pretty soon I'm talking about strippers and her hairy knuckled escort. The mental brakes brought me into a tailspin thinking, I have to read this aloud.

The teacher participated in the drill too, and read it to us. I was amazed. She talked about the first day of college, how she wanted to back out once she got there. I can't reproduce her prose, but I remember this line: "I didn't know if I wanted to plant myself in a garden of strangers." She has a background in poetry--and it shows.

My friend Joe sent me a link that pokes fun at Chuck Norris. You can find the whole thing here, but my favorite is this:

Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil for his rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Chuck roundhouse kicked the devil in the face and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn't stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.

I'm almost finished with the book Father and Son, so I'll review it tomorrow. I've been a little scarce on other blogs. I will visit everyone soon.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Hi Sigma Chi

After my aborted attempt at being a Greek, I decided to give the frat life another try--nobody ever accused me of being a quick learner. The only problem the first time around, I figured, was the lack of estro-curricular activities. I just needed to find a cool fraternity whose name wasn't the torn ACL of trivial pursuits.

Sigma Chi had an informal rush, which is to say that you could just join without all the official fanfare. If they liked you, and you liked them, you became a sorta-pledge until you went through basic training with next year's recruits.

I'll have to give him a name, but for the life of me I can't and don't want to remember him. Let's call him Conrad. Conrad was about five ten and a 150 pounds soaking wet, but he had a smug confidence, a cool veneer that I longed to crack with brass knuckles. He was the runt of the litter, but was Rico Suave and boyishly handsome, with a built-in twist of evil that naturally made him irresistible to the fairer sex--at least he thought so.

Conrad represented the house during informal rush. He showed me around the three story affair, not much different than any other on frat row. It had a large kitchen and dining area on the first floor, bedrooms along long corridors on the second floor, and a sleeping porch on the third. And of course the ever-present smell of stale beer chemically fused into the floors and counters.

Conrad told me that Sigma Chi was having a "date" function, and I was invited. "You can get a date, right?"

I knew just the girl to ask. She had a boyfriend at home in Puyallup. Pronouncing Puyallup, by the way, is one of those insider things that only Washingtonians can do. So, for your edification, it goes like this: pew-AL-up. The accented syllable is pronounced like the name Al, as in short for Allen. But I digress. She was a nice mixture of pretty and cool, making her pretty damn cool, and she was delighted to help me out. She belonged to a sorority but lived in the dorms. When I told her it was Sigma Chi, her eyes lit like you see on Star Wars when C3PO wakes up from a nap. I brought her to the house and introduced her around. There really wasn't any sort of function that night, just a few guys in the TV room watching a video--and nobody else had a date. Mine, however, impressed the hell out of Conrad, who informed me that the guys in the house really liked me, and that if I chose, I was invited to join the house. I gladly accepted.

It was totally different than being a Fiji. Girls of a wholly different category just hung around, for the fun of it, needing no invitation whatsoever. The house had functions with the well-known sororities, and the house members had girlfriends that made me chew on my open palm. Of course I bought a shirt that advertised my house affiliation, and suddenly the girls were stopping me on the street to have a chat.

My dreams had come true, and I proved to myself that I was "cool" enough to bluff my way into the fold of a good house. But there was the pesky problem of paying the rent. But worst of all, I sucked at being a pledge.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Small Things

It was a nice family weekend. Recent Christmas holidays have brought the deaths of my mother and grandfather, and for one reason or another we haven't been at our own home with our own tree for quite some time. This weekend we dusted off the ornaments and decorated the tree. The last to come out was the train, which orbits the tree stand in a large oval. The kids don't see the train, or the "Ch-choo" as baby
Emmett calls it, but once a year, so the excitement level is extreme.

Our neighbors invited us over for dinner, and we had our best visit yet. Our five year olds are engaged to be married when they come of age, and it is the cutest thing ever to watch them sit close together on a couch that could accommodate six or seven kids across, with their legs drawn up and leaning into each other. A Kodak moment as they used to say.

We've been friends for almost a year now. But this weekend is the first time our personal history with drugs came up in conversation. We had this same talk with our friends in California, almost again a year after we met. If you have any experience living in a neighborhood where you plan to stay for a spell, there are many personal habits you might want to keep to yourself. I'm sure some of my younger blogger friends will disagree, that being yourself is the only way, but life has taught me a few lessons in group dynamics. If a single person in a community with a loud voice takes a dislike to you, the wheels of fate will run you over and plant you six feet under. I promise you. Issues concerning religion, sex, drugs, abortion, political leanings can be your undoing. So naturally, it's best to keep your mouth shut.

And that is hard for me to do.

That is why I am always the ice breaker between us and our newest friends. I don't come right out and ask, or tell; I talk around the issue like a game of tetherball. As the ball travels around the pole, the rope pulls it closer to the pole the more revolutions it makes. I don't keep madly batting at the ball; rather I serve it up for my "opponent" to either hit it back or pass it along in the same direction. My neighbor Tracy decided on the latter, and soon enough we were sharing old college stories. It turns out too that her husband Ian and I have a similar taste in books. So now I have a handful of Terry Pratchet's, which is only a small slice of his collection.

Life is about the small things.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Robert Gregory Browne

I found a new blog from a new novelist, Robert Gregory Browne, who just got a two-book deal from St. Martin's Press. His book, A Measure of Darkness, comes out in 2007. He details the whole process from the beginning, how he managed to get his story in the right hands, the acceptance from the publisher, getting assigned an editor, etc. Reading it I get a bit of a vicarious rush. St. Martins publishes one of my favorite authors, Wilbur Smith. A Measure of Darkness is a cop thriller that has a supernatural twist. Although none of my writing so far, at least on this blog, has ever attempted it, this is the kind of writing that seems to interest me most.

I remember watching an episode of Six Feet Under. Nate's wife was murdered the previous season. He was jogging when a dog captures his attention, beckoning with its eyes for Nate to follow, which he does. The dog leads him to a psychic, who tells him that his wife is trying to reach him. It sent chills through my spine. The show isn't about supernatural activity, but once in a while something unexplained happens like this.

Wilbur Smith wrote a book that just floored me called the Sunbird. I won't explain the story in detail, but the first half is about the discovery of an ancient civilization that had almost been wiped from existence. The second half goes back in time and details its fate. The principal characters in present day, the discovering archaeologists, are reincarnations of the principal characters of long ago. One of old characters communed with the God Baal, and was able to draw from him some magic. It was a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare, and a gripping read.

Anyway, best of luck to Mr. Browne, whose career has certainly begun in earnest. As for me, it's time to get serious and join the party.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


My wife and I watched the first season of HBO's Rome. At first my wife, ever the wimp that she is, couldn't stand the graphic violence, and the overt sexuality of the society that existed in the first century BC. But as the season progressed, we both became fascinated by the complex story line that entwined itself around the actual events leading to the death of Julius Caesar, and the fictional characters Pullo and Vorenus, who always manage to be at the right place at the right time, and are silently instrumental in all major historical developments.

Pullo is an overlarge teddy bear, a little dopey, but loyal to a fault. Vorenus is a stoic man who lives by a strict code of ethics, for which he is willing to die for. He loves his wife dearly, but he can't escape the trap of his societal programming that dictates the place of a woman in a relationship. Vorenus is deeply conflicted, and faces several moral dilemmas throughout the series that pit his sense of duty to that of friendship and love. Pullo is a much simpler man, who often is a victim to his own impetuousness. He lives only to fight and have sex, and to protect his friend Vorenus, even if Vorenus doesn't appreciate him.

Both Pullo and Vorenus are soldiers, and fortune always puts them in the critical midst of the fray, which captures the attention of Julius Caesar, who takes a liking to Vorenus and promotes him eventually to Senator.

There is so much more to it. HBO attracts the best of the best. The actors are outstanding, and the casting is perfect. The actors that portray Julius Caesar, Vorenus, Pullo, Marc Antony, Octavian, Brutus and Cicero are spot on. All the others too for that matter, but these are the key players, and they are simply amazing. The season ends with the death of Caesar, but the actual history of the fall of Rome promises another season that is rife with possibilities. We will see the rise of Marc Antony, and the subsequent war with the young Octavian, who is only sixteen this season, but is played by a brilliant young man who bears the mantel of authority convincingly.

If you saw this series, then you know what I'm talking about. If not, then look for the DVD collection soon; put it on your Netflix queue. I followed a link by Hugh Hewitt once (settle down my liberal friends) to a history of the Roman Revolution that starts with the career of Tiberius Gracchus to Octavian/Augustus, and I highly recommend that everyone read it. It's easy to follow, and easy to leave and come back to. I read the whole thing, amazingly enough, well before I saw the Rome series. When I revisited the history again, just today as a matter of fact, I was amazed at how closely the events of the Rome series followed the historical facts. Plus, with that viewing experience behind me, I was riveted by the read, especially the part concerning what happens after Caesar, and how Octavian becomes the first emperor of Rome, and holds the GNP of Egypt in his personal fortune.

Check it out here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


After I depledged the Fijis, I moved back to the dorm life, where I met Jay, who became my run-around buddy. We saw a lip-sync contest one night. Normally you would think the participants of this kind of venue make love to the microphone and thrash about the stage, making complete asses of themselves--and for the most part you would be right. Real musicians viscerally despise lip-synchers, and had I not participated in this brief fad I would have agreed. But this one night, Jay and I saw a performance that touched me--and slightly amused Jay, like a King approves the antics of his Jester.

This was back in 1985-ish, long before Karaoke entered the scene. Lip-sync gave people without musical talent a chance to feel the vibration of a roaring audience, a center ring spotlight, a vicarious three minute thrill ride aboard the rock and roll fantasy express--and the crowds ate it up.

I don't remember the man's name, so I'll call him Bill. Looking back now, I admire Bill. At the time I thought he was a lying prick. On a whim, my friends and I threw in our lot with the lip-sync contest, where all participants needed to do a song by Huey Lewis and the News, who were performing at our coliseum that weekend. Nothing fancy. We did the basic setup where four guys pretended to play instruments and one gummed the lead, while the others "sang" backup. The song: Working For a Living. Bill told us we were wonderful, and would win no problem.

Then along came Jason.

We all watched in stunned amazement as he performed I Want a New Drug. First, he was stage handsome. Not your normal, hey, that's a cute guy. During the instrumental, he pulled out various drugs, but couldn't quite get them into his system without tripping or sneezing. The audience loved him, and he was an absolutely stunning performer. Of course he won.

I asked Jay to put an act together with me, so I became Mick Jagger and Jay David Bowie. We imitated the video Dancing in the Streets. I did most of the work, which was appropriate because Jay had the looks, so naturally I was the clown. We entered a contest in far away Lewiston Idaho, but it was run by the same outfit. And so I met Bill once again. And much to my chagrin: Jason.

I was stunned by a Madonna look-alike that did Lucky Star, who had the shtick down cold. I knew we had lost again. Jason surprised me with his versatility, doing something other than the Huey Lewis routine. I asked Bill what song he was going to do, and he told me, "Some Chuck Berry tune." Thank God I thought, maybe we'll place second.

Bill knew damn well that the song was Reelin' and Rockin'. Jason was dressed in a red studded sport jacket and had an old Gibson acoustic guitar with an ornate metal plate in front. The song began and my confidence dipped. He looked like he was really playing the guitar, mouthing the words and never making a mistake--his timing was perfect and he paid attention to the littlest of nuances in Berry's speech patterns. There are two versions of this song: one that plays on the radio and the other for night clubs and racier audiences. Jason chose the version that describes a night of hot sex. One line goes something like this: "I looked at my watch and it was straight up eight. She made it so hard that it stretched out straight." Jason accented the word straight by sticking his guitar in the air like an erection, and the audience went crazy. His whole routine was brilliant, and again he won.

I became obsessed, which highlights my competitiveness--I can't stand to lose at anything. Bill told me that the best act he had ever seen came from a duo that did the Blues Brothers, and the John Belushi of the pair was there that night. He even looked like Belushi, and I was not dissimilar to Akroyd. I proposed we get together, so he had me over to his place and showed me a video of him and his old partner doing the routine, which involved a lot of dancing and synchronized back round-offs.

"Can you do that?" He asked me. His eyes had a faraway look, dreamy.

"Sure I can," I said with more confidence than I felt.

He explained to me how his friend had joined the service, and how I would almost certainly make a poor substitute. But I was determined to be a winner, and this was my best shot. He could smell my hunger and took advantage of it. He played coy with me for some time before finally agreeing to give it a try, but he made me kiss his ass all the while.

We took second on our debut, beating Madonna and a few sub-par acts. But Jason with that damn routine of his still beat us. But for the first time, I enjoyed some notoriety as a class act.

After I dropped out of college and moved to Seattle, I decided to do the Chuck Berry act where nobody had ever heard of it. I contacted a guy that ran a contest, and told him I wanted to do Reelin' and Rockin', an act I saw in Pullman done by a local performer called Jason.

"Jason Plute?" He sounded surprised.


"What does he look like," he asked me.

I described him and his act.

"That's him all right. He copied that act from one of the guys that competes locally. It's the best."

"It sure is." I hung up on him and my lip sync career.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Review: The Weight of Water

Post #100 - Wow.

I just finished reading The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve, as part of a reading assignment given to me by my newest friend, Janie Harrison. I need to focus my attention on a particular genre, and my reading selections vary greatly. So Janie is having me read good fiction in order to determine what interests me most.

Shreve's book is interesting. My first reaction from the initial pages was complete awe and admiration for her prose. Shreve sees a person for the thousand details that compose her. One particular passage that impressed me was on page 77, where she describes a photograph that the narrator had taken of herself and her family. Shreve literally captures a moment in time, and reads the expressions and gestures of each person in the picture. I read that passage many times, as I did also with many others. She is a wonderful writer with a gift for scene painting.

This is really two stories told in parallel, but both share a common theme of jealousy and impending tragedy. The first is told from the perspective of Jean; a photographer who receives a commission to photograph the scene of a hundred year old double murder on a small island on the Isles of Shoals thirty miles off the Atlantic coast between New Hampshire and Maine called Smutty Nose. She shares close quarters on a sail boat, captained by her brother-in-law Rich, with her husband Thomas, five year old daughter Billie, and Rich's girlfriend Adaline. Jean's relationship with her husband is rocky at best; whose attention to Adaline becomes increasingly overt, causing a tension that builds to a breaking point that promises to mirror that of the tragedy Jean is investigating.

The second story is that of murders themselves. Jean finds a journal written by the only survivor of the Smutty Nose murders, a Norwegian immigrant named Maren Hontvedt, who lays out the tale from start to finish of what really happened on that fateful night. Maren describes her childhood in Norway, how she came to marry her husband John, and how they were enticed to move to America, where fish were so plentiful one needed only to reach into the ocean and pull one out. But the reality of course turned out to be quite different. Maren was close to her brother Evan, to the point of possible incest, but that urge was never acted upon. Maren and Evan are found in innocent embraces, which are mistaken as inappropriate, which causes others to separate them, and plants the seed of suspicion in the mind of Maren's sister Karen. Eventually, Karen moves in with Maren on the island of Smutty Nose, then so too does Evan--but Evan brings with him his new wife, the lovely Anethe.

And so we have parallel stories running similar course. Anethe is Adaline, Jean is Maren, and Thomas is Evan. Jean and Maren are jealous, and all live in close, cramped quarters in extreme conditions, all in the harsh climate of Smutty Nose. Both stories are heading for tragedy, one of which we know will end badly, and the other, by implication, must also do.

The theme of water, as it seems to me, is a metaphor for guilt, which must in both cases the narrator feels can be shed by sharing the story with others. Maren eventually confesses her own guilt in her journal, which is particularly egregious because she let an innocent man hang for it. Jean on the other hand, doesn't seem to have much to confess. She is convinced that Thomas and Adaline are having an affair, which any reasonable person on this planet would also assume to be true. A storm ravages the sailboat and Adaline is swept overboard. Jean feels that if she had acted instead of hesitating, she might have saved her. That was her big crime. The tragedy of present day is that Billie, Jean and Thomas' daughter, is drowned instead of Adaline, who is retrieved and resuscitated. The affair turns out to be all in Jean's imagination.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The style of skipping between past and present was a little distracting for me, but I understand that we are in the mind of Jean, who is obsessed with the past, and so we follow along with her mind as it flits back and forth. I'm not sure it worked, but the book has been adapted to a movie, so somebody else certainly thought so.

In my humble opinion, Shreve fell short at the end. I think she wanted to trick the reader by dropping the bomb that an affair had never occurred, but the evidence was damning to the accused. Nope. I didn't buy it, and I doubt most readers did either.

This a good read from a great author, but the ending of the present day account was a let down. Historically speaking, this was well researched and a clever fictional interpretation of an actual murder case, one that has been the subject of much debate. The ending was weak, but not so much to overshadow a truly brilliant piece of work.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Lives To Work

It's been an interesting Thanksgiving break. We spent it in Ohio with my grandmother, who lives a mere six hundred fifty miles away. Our gas guzzling SUV still runs like a cheetah with over a 100K on the odometer, and the kids have become acclimated to these long trips.

My initial worry was telling my dad that we weren't staying with him. Never mind that his dog scared the shit out of us when he bit my littlest boy the last time, or that my step-brother, who drinks a continuous stream of beer to avoid withdrawal seizures, is living with them now and occupies one of the two rooms. Besides that, the master bedroom connects the rest of the house to the only bathroom, and to accommodate us the last time, my father hooked up a makeshift porta-potty by the guest bedroom, so that they were basically crapping in a bucket.

But dad took it well, but he did manage a stab of guilt, which missed any vital organs.

Beth got a full dose of Family Dynamics 101 this trip, which as it turns out lasted about one day too long. My closest ancestors and some of my living relatives rose from the hills of West Virginia, like the zombies of Michael Jackson's Thriller video. This is not a knock on a state I have never visited, only on the mentality of a people that haven't been exposed to modern social restrictions, which is good and bad.

I had to chastise my father once and grandma twice for using the n-word, which irritates me more because they know we don't allow it. We were watching Daddy Day Care with Eddie Murphy, and granny was laughing along with us. Then granny said, "That nigger sure is funny." My son was riveted on the television screen and hopefully didn't hear.

"Grandma, not in front of the kids."

"Well, what do you say then? Brown? Colored?"

"I try not to draw the distinction unless it's necessary. In this case I would refer to him as that guy, or that actor, or I would just call him Eddie Murphy."

She just grinned at me like I was a puppy doing a cute trick.

I asked questions. Lots of questions. I need to understand how dad came to be who he is, and of course, the key is my grandmother. She lives in a veritable clean room, and works like a machine. She hasn't a single interest, no hobbies, and doesn't watch television except for the news, nor does she go to the movies. When grandpa died, she had nobody to take care of, which is her sole function. Our visits give her someone to cook for and clean up after. There is a saying my dad coined: grab your plates, mom is done eating.

Her father died when she was two years old. He worked for Goodyear tire, like most of my Ohio family did. I plan to research this, but it happened in 1923 (or 1929). Something came loose and crushed him. The company paid my great-grandma five thousand dollars, which sounds small, but allowed for the house, which was only partially built, to be sealed up and livable. Great-grandma was six months pregnant, and had to go it alone raising three children in a two bedroom house, and so she slept in a bed with my grandma, and my great uncles shared a bed in the other room, which they continued to do until they were old enough to strike out on their own.

Since she was old enough to lend a hand, my grandma helped her mother clean offices and other people’s homes. I think her childhood was cut short, and it affected her in ways she cannot understand. To her, life is work. My great uncle, her brother, is nothing like her. His children are successful, one having played professional basketball in Italy, and now happily married and living in Switzerland. Grandma’s are miserable and sad. I asked my dad how his uncle raised his children. Dad said, "Like you do."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Slowing the Buck

I've certainly generated some visceral reactions towards my father, which of course are well-founded. I'm not a man of faith per-se, but I once read a passage from Kahlil Gibran that managed to lodge itself in the brain of a boy who once thought that all people of Chinese, Japanese and every other flavor of Asian descent looked the same.

Yea, the guilty is oftentimes the victim of the injured, And still more often the condemned is the burden-bearer for the guiltless and unblamed. You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked; For they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together. And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.

This passage has given me comfort, has helped me to forgive myself for some of the bad things I have said, for some of the terrible things I've done. I'm no weaver, but I can still examine a cloth for its flaws, just as a dissonant chord can cause my head to tilt and my lips to purse as if I had eaten a sour grape.

Dad comes from a different time, when the church sanctioned the belt and switch, and people commonly demurred to its moral dictates. Children weren't the treasures that some celebrate today; rather it seems they were a necessary burden that parents had to bear. If a child showed any sign of disrespect to his or her parents, or to friends of the parents, it was expected that the child be punished and otherwise chastened. Paddling, smacking, pinching and kicking the child was only right, deserved, and even godly in the eyes of most adults.

Children had no protection, because there was no such thing as child abuse, only good parenting. Self-help and parenting books and magazines weren't a billion dollar industry yet. What happened in the home stayed at home, and it was nobody's business but your own.

Take a look at the old Andy Griffith show. Andy Taylor, the sheriff of Mayberry, is the model human being. A single father--oops, who was Opie's mother anyway?--who raises little Opie, who would someday grow up to be the biggest director in Hollywood, with all the love and compassion that one could hope for. One episode ends with Opie happily skipping out to take his belt whipping after Andy explains to him why he must. Sure, Opie is scared, but he realizes that he did wrong and must now pay the price. Of course they didn't show the whipping. That would have been counterproductive to the message, nudging a sleeping audience already on the verge of waking up.

So it is no wonder that a spirited child like my father would have to survive until the day that he caught his fathers fist in one hand and pinned him to the shed wall with the other, and told him that he wasn't taking it any more.

If it sounds like I'm making excuses for my father, well, that's just what I'm doing. In my whole life, my father seriously struck me twice, both of which I have described before. And yes, they have made an impact on my self-esteem. But my life in comparison to his is as dramatically different as mine to my own children’s. In his own way, my father has taught me to stop the buck, even if he was only capable of slowing it down for a soft landing into my back pocket.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Lost Shoes

"What were you doing out there?" I asked. Outside a thick mist had settled on the lake, and a chill breeze blew in through the open slider as Brenner pulled it shut behind him.

"Nothing," he said in a guarded tone. Goose bumps were spread on his arms like Braille and his cheeks were flushed. My mind raced for a possible explanation, because clearly he was up to something. I decided to look for myself. Brenner stood in my way as I approached, but moved nonchalantly aside as I stood before him.

Visibility was poor due to the morning fog, and so were my powers of observation. We lived in a boat house, so the back porch was more like small lake-front dock, covered by a green, bristly astro-turf. A chrome-metal swimming pool hand rail rose from the water and clung to the left side of the dock, and all around the edges were cleats to which we tied our row boat when it wasn't docked inside the covered garage at the shore side section of the house. There was the usual clutter of snorkeling gear and life jackets, but nothing looked out of the ordinary. And it was too cold to go out.

I gave Brenner my best Clint Eastwood stare and was rewarded with a bug-eyed performance worthy of Rodney Dangerfield as he squirmed under my silent regard.

It was almost time to head out to the bus, so I got dressed and stuffed my backpack with a couple bologna and cheese sandwiches and a thermos of milk. I couldn't find my sneakers so I searched everywhere I might have left them, but still there was no trace.

"Brenner, have you seen my sneakers anywhere?"

"No," he said.

"Oh my God." My heart accelerated. "I'm going to miss the bus." I only had one pair of shoes, of any kind. I was lucky to have more than one pair of pants. Without shoes I couldn't go anywhere, especially for the mile walk to the bus stop.

"Well, that's too bad about your shoes," Brenner said, "but there is no sense in both of us missing the bus. I'd better go."

I let out an exasperated gasp, "Yeah, you'd better go."

A half hour later, I was still searching for the sneakers. I didn't know what to do so I went to dad's bedroom and gave him a shake. "Dad, wake up."

He grunted but didn't rouse. I gave him another shake. His eyes fluttered open and stared at me. "What the fuck are you still doing here?!"

"I, uh," I started. I searched for words that wouldn't sound so lame, but there was nothing else to say. "I lost my shoes."

"Well find them goddammit!"

"But I've been looking. They're not here."

"Well you better find them before you miss the bus."

Uh oh, here it comes. "I already have dad. Now I need a ride to school."

"For Christ's sake!" I left the room as he threw off his covers and I waited on the couch as he came out. He stood before me with no clothes on, looking at me like I had murdered his dog. I had trouble holding eye contact, but I did my best. He stepped towards me and smacked me with an open hand so hard that my head jerked to the side and hit the wall behind the couch. I swallowed hard as heat spread across my face like the feel of a hot water bottle.

"Now find your shoes. And next time you lose them, you go to school in your bare fucking feet!"

The slap should have knocked me senseless, but it had quite the opposite effect. Suddenly I knew where to find my shoes. I opened the slider and poked my head through. Just to the right they sat, soaked through by the morning mist, which by now was giving way to the late morning sun.

Friday, November 18, 2005

False Start

For those interested in what happened to Brenner, there really isn't much to tell. I've thought about looking him up on many occasions, and have even looked him up on Switchboard over the last couple years. I appears that he is now unlisted, but current background reports are available if I wanted to purchase them--which is just a little scary.

Actually, that's not a bad idea. He had my vote as being the most likely to be jailed. I see that he is currently living in a California town where I had once spent a couple months working with my father before I took my first professional programming position (say that ten times fast). A coincidence I'm sure, but a passing strange one.

My dad and Brenner's mom divorced after their short and tumultuous marriage. Like most divorces that I have experienced, they can be likened to a false start penalty in football. Once the flag is thrown, the ball is set back ten yards, but the lost yardage is usually regained--but not enough for a first down. And always the inevitable punt.

The false start happened in a house boat on beautiful Lake Couer d'alene.

"I have some bad news," Cynthia told us. She was sitting on the floor Indian style, facing us as we sat on the couch. "Your dad and I are getting divorced."

"That took longer than I expected," I said. Cynthia was my second step-mother. My first was abusive and Cynthia came to represent the entire institution to me, though she was innocent of any such cruelty.

"That sucks!" Brenner said. "So what's going to happen?"

"Well," Cynthia said, "I guess we'll go our separate ways, and you'll come with me and Scott will stay with his dad."

Finally! I will be free of the little shit.

Brenner's eyes were moist. "But I don't want to go with you! I want to stay with dad!"

My heart stopped for a moment. His cold-blooded comment to his natural mother made me regret my own. I felt like reaching out to her, to take back what I had said, but the damage was done.

Cynthia had trouble speaking, for the words had cut her deep. "We'll just have to talk about it when the time comes." She went to her room and slid the door shut.

But the divorce didn't happen until a few years later, after we had moved to Juneau. They left on a typical southeast Alaskan day, when rain fell like a foggy mist. We saw them off at the airport terminal, no tears, just empty promises to keep in touch.

I talked to Brenner on the phone once, maybe six months later. I don't know why I called. I guess I romanticized him for our shared time in the trenches, which wasn't all bad. But like facing an ex-lover that you wanted to kill but since have remembered only fondly, the memories came flooding back with a single utterance from his puss-spewing lips.

That was the last time we ever spoke, some twenty five years ago.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Momentary Thrill Seekers

"What should we call our club?"

The Thrill Seekers, Brenner argued. I personally thought it sounded perverted, and only branded us a group of kids that hid in the closet flipping through dad's secret stash of Playboy magazines, the ones he kept hidden under his mattress. True of course, but why advertise? Only yesterday I had chased my little brother John around the house with the centerfold dangling open, egged on by his horrified screams.

But Brenner was insistent, and being two years my junior at the ripe old age of eleven, he had a need to assert himself; and I felt, as a benevolent big brother, or step-brother as it were, that I should cede a victory once in a while. So Thrill Seekers it became.

We planned to build a tree house out back, where a perfect roost in a tall elm extended like a friendly hand. I could picture it perfectly, and sold my vision to the members of the nascent Thrill Seekers: we would build a base from which we would fight crime and protect the innocent. I showed them how we could build ladder rungs with scrap 2x4's, nailing them into the tree trunk, how we could hang a knotted rope from the branch as well. The corners of the treehouse foundation will go there, and windows will give us a perfect views of the river and down the street. It was so clear.

Then I realized I was assuming that I was in charge, and everyone else had too--except for Brenner, who looked gloomy indeed.

"I think," I said, "that we should decide right now who will be the president."

Brenner perked up. "Yes, that's a great idea."

There were only five of us. My little brother John, Brenner of course, and two neighbor kids Randy and Chris.

Randy said, "Well, I nominate Scott."

"Well I think it should be you Randy," Brenner said. He wore an expression that only I could read, because we knew each other oh so well. I'm gonna getcha.

God I hated him. His soul was a black, rotten, oily, dripping, gangrenous, festering wound. I wanted to smack his face, grab him by the hair and use him as a battering ram through the glass slider, tear his arms off and club him senseless with his dismembered limbs. He was my brother by my dad's third marriage to an ex-Vegas-wannabe-showgirl, now a disenfranchised bar fly, wandering aimless, waiting for a Prince Charming but settled for the frog. Brenner never had a father, but had borrowed mine for the last couple years. At times I felt sorry for him, but there was something deeply wrong with him, something dark. He was the kind of kid that tortured helpless animals, and liked to really hurt people, but he did so in a sneaky way, always leaving some doubt of his intention. Like the time I was looking through a telescope and he hit the other end with a pillow, driving it into my eye socket like a nail struck by a sledge.

We decided on a Secret Ballot. The candidates names were written in multiple choice fashion. When the votes were counted, I had come out ahead, but Brenner took everyone aside and whispered to them, all the while looking at me in sideways glances, smiling from the corner of his mouth that only I could see. A re-vote was called for, and Randy became the first president of the Thrill Seekers.

I was heartbroken.

"All right," I said to Randy, "what should we do first?"

Randy looked down at his feet. "I don't know, what do you want to do?"

"It's your call, not mine."

Randy shrugged his shoulders. "I'm going home."

The innocent would have fend for themselves.

The Thrill Seekers were no more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Emmett walked into the bathroom today while I was doing my business--the standing up kind. When I was finished, he clapped his hands and said, "Again!"

Jackson found the Toyz R Us insert in the newspaper this weekend. His mom had him circle everything that he wanted. Yesterday I came down for lunch, my wife handed me the section and said, "You've got to see this."

The pages were marked-up like a bad English paper. He decided to shop for his little brother too, and so I found such items circles as Dancing Elmo and Baby Einstein items--the latter being crossed out after consultation with mommy. Jackson wants every remote control truck, boat, helicopter and plane. There are food makers, magic kits, tool chests, robo-raptors, race kits, boom boxes, video games and consoles, even a Gameboy--though he already has one--because it's yellow and has a picture of Spongebob on it. Roughly, we're looking at a ten thousand dollar wish list. Somebody is going to be disappointed this Christmas.

Every year I anxiously awaited the JC Pennies Christmas catalog, and pored over it's pages with the same intensity. Sure, Christmas has become a marketers holiday, and I understand the consternation of my fellow blogger Mr. Schprock, but the holiday for me has always been about just this. My step-mother used to remind me that it was about the birth of Jesus. Every year our nativity set had an empty manger until Christmas morning when my brother and I, alternating every season, would unwrap the baby Jesus and deliver him to the waiting Mary, Joseph, Wise Men, camels, and donkeys. Ultimately though, Christmas was about making a list and checking it twice. And now my own kids get to live the fantasy for a few years, and it is my honor to propagate the sweet lie.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Raking Leaves

My weekend in the late fall in New England was spent raking leaves, in full anticipation of the upcoming winter that took me by surprise last year, when an ice storm layered my steep driveway so thick that I had to get a running start to climb. California was so much simpler.

It's funny how life works out sometimes. Never perfect and yet ever so in comparative hindsight. We left California social pariahs from a matriarchy of mothers group hegemony, where right took a back seat to alliance, and privacy was jealously reconnoitered by neighbors bearing gifts and smiles--and hearts that churned black sludge. Our mortgage however, was a third of what we pay here.

I read an article in the paper this weekend that many New Englanders are living above their means, and plan to move away from the state. So too with us, as we consider moving south to Houston where houses are bigger for less, thanks no doubt to the low cost of building homes with illegal immigrant labor, and where resides the majority of my imperfect but loving family.

But here in New England we have a house surrounded by trees, from whence comes the occasional fox or coyote. Two or three groundhogs live in our woods and under a boulder in our back yard, and we make a sport of giving them a spook, then laugh as they strain under their weight, comically waddling away. We have birds, turtles, snakes, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, an occasional skunk. The kids love it here. My littlest boy even learned to hold out his hand for the dragonflys, that land on his makeshift perch without a care, as he says, "See, see?"

The neighbors respect each other, and social life moves slowly. Nobody cares how much money I make, or feels inadequate because my lawn mower has a higher CC engine. Across the street is a subdivision of custom homes connected by a single-lane circuitous private road, beyond with is a swamp where duck hunters roam for two weeks of the year. There are no fences, reminiscent of a sweet expanse of childhood memory, when I could run across yards and get a smile from resident families barbecuing on back porches. The collection of yards forms a patch of green heaven, where kids have the length of a football field to roam, where dads play catch with their boys, and girls run and do somersaults, and borrow the neighbors dog for the day.

And slowly, but as steady as the incoming tide, we have friends, the kind that mean what they say and say what they mean. Gone are the automatons of yesterday, replaced by real and feeling people, whose only interest is living together and living well.

For the first time since I was a little boy, I understand full-well what I have to leave behind.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Like I said before, I wasn't at school for the education, though ostensibly I was an aspiring computer science major. At Washington State you needed to be accepted into the program based on performance in non-core classes during your freshman and sophomore years, which meant a minimum grade point average far in excess of mine. My first semester at the Fiji house, I earned all of a .8 average. I was spindling out of control, and more often than not, I just stopped going to class.

The proverbial snowball was still just a flake until the day I sat in Calculus class as the professor handed out midterm exams to the students--except for me; I missed the previous class. "Oh," I thought, "this is just one of those dreams." But it wasn't. The professor wouldn't let me make it up, and I had no choice but to take it again the following semester.

Assembly language. The class could have been called How to Talk with Your Computer with Just Ones and Zeros. If it sounds complicated, you're not alone. I was on my second iteration through the class, and determined not to fall behind again. We had to build over the course of the semester what is called a compiler, which converts a computer language into binary, or the ones and zeros that the computer understands. Not only that, but we were inventing the computer language too, and the work we did each class depended on the combined work from all previous classes. So if you fell behind, or did badly on an early portion of the project, you were guaranteed to be exponentially worse off as time bore mercilessly on.

"What was that?" I blurted a little too loudly as I popped my head up. Drool had started to run down my chin into a dropper-sized pool on the desk. In a smooth motion, so as not to attract attention to it, I ran my chin along my shoulder and wiped it off on the way up.

The teacher was staring at me impatiently. "I asked you to explain to me what a FIFO stack is."

"Ok, I know this one." I ran my fingers through my hair like Jim from Taxi.

She looked disgusted and pointed to a girl sitting behind me. "Terri, can you answer the question for our sleeping friend?"

"First In First Out," Terri said.

And so another semester of Assembler was ruined. My school loan would last me through the rest of that year, and with my sub-arctic GPA, it wouldn't be granted for the next.

At the Fiji house, I had what was called a Big Brother, somebody that I was supposed to look to for guidance. I don't remember his name if you can believe that, but he was very excited the day our names were put together. He wanted to help me, wanted to integrate me into the house, but his enthusiasm had its limits. He told me happily that my skirmish with two house members in the sleeping porch came to nothing.

"Don't worry," he said, "the members of the house have talked about it and have decided that you did nothing wrong."

"How very generous of them," I said. He looked at me with dawning surprise.

"It could have gone badly you know," he said. "It's serious business when pledges tangle with members."

"I don't give two shits what the members think. Right is right, and I don't need them to do my thinking for me."

A month later I was in his room to give him the news.

"Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I de-pledged."

"I see," he said.

"Sorry, I know you tried with me, but I'm not put together for this business. I can't take the bullshit."

"It's funny, but I know what you mean."

I should have just left, but for some reason, I felt bad that I had let him down personally. I patted him on the shoulder. "Listen, you're still my big brother, ok?"

A wry smile curled up the side of his mouth. The lie reflected back at me from his eyes, and the elastic of my tee shirt felt conspicuously tight as he stared. On the other end of the gulf that sprang between us, he turned his back without a word.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Five Easy Pieces

Just when I think Dad is a lost cause, he reminds me why I love him so much. He and my step-mother Di are both making enough money to pay the bills, and a little bit more. As it was in the old days, so it is today, that when Dad has money, we all have fun.

Jackson couldn't wait for his Grandma Di to come for a visit, and even compared his mother to her with unfavorable results.

"You should be more like Grandma Di, Mommy. She plays with me."

And so it begins. I remember when my grandparents came for a visit, like Mr. and Mrs. Claus they bore gifts and had the patience of the earth. They laughed when I was naughty, understood when I was mad, let me have treats when mom and dad weren't looking, and basically revved my little engine and left my parents, who looked on with that veiled promise of future retribution, to slow me down. Like Mustafa's circle of life--with a slight twist.

They arrived with a stuffed animal in the likeness of a St. Bernard, which Emmett thoroughly enjoyed for all of five minutes. His grandma and grandpa took Jackson to Toys R Us and bought him a couple of Hot Wheelz sets, then Grandpa set it up for him on the back porch, and both kids were consumed for the weekend.

Emmett is two years old and is basically a momma's and poppa's boy. If a stranger comes around, or even family, he clings to us until they leave. But something about my Dad got his attention, and within minutes he ran to him and yelled, "Up, up, up." Dad and Emmett are best of friends now. Emmett sat on his lap facing him and slapped Dad's face continuously, and Dad just made a funny face and pretended that it hurt--which it probably did. Now we have to break him of the habit.

They say you can take the boy from the farm, but you can't take the farm from the boy. Dad is a great example. He was on his best behavior for most of the weekend, and even decided to treat the family to some Seafood. When I was a kid, Dad's role model was Jack Nicholson from Five Easy Pieces. I didn't know that until I saw the movie.

The following scene happens at a restaurant, where Jack and three others are ordering breakfast at a roadside diner. Jack plays a character called Bobby:

BOBBY (looking at his menu): I'll have an omelet, no potatoes. Give me tomatoes instead, and wheat toast instead of rolls.

The waitress indicates something on the menu with the butt of her pencil.

WAITRESS: No substitutions.

BOBBY: What does that mean? You don't have any tomatoes?

WAITRESS (annoyed): No. We have tomatoes.

BOBBY: But I can't have any. Is that what you mean?

WAITRESS: Only what's on the menu... (again, indicating with her pencil) A Number Two: Plain omelet. It comes with cottage fries and rolls.

BOBBY: I know what it comes with, but that's not what I want.

WAITRESS: I'll come back when you've made up your mind...

She starts to move away and Bobby detains her.

BOBBY: Wait, I've made up my mind. I want a plain omelet, forget the tomatoes, don't put potatoes on the plate, and give me a side of wheat toast and a cup of coffee.

WAITRESS: I'm sorry, we don't have side orders of toast. I can give you an English muffin or a coffee roll.

BOBBY: What do you mean, you don't have side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?

WAITRESS: Would you like to talk to the manager?

BOBBY: You have bread, don't you, and a toaster of some kind?

WAITRESS: I don't make the rules.

BOBBY: Okay, I'll make it as easy for you as I can. Give me an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast -- no butter, no mayonnaise, no lettuce -- and a cup of coffee.

She begins writing down his order, repeating it sarcastically:

WAITRESS: One Number Two, and a chicken sal, san -- hold the butter, the mayo, the lettuce -- and a cup of coffee... Anything else?

BOBBY: Now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, charge me for the sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.

WAITRESS (challenging him): You want me to hold the chicken.

BOBBY: Yeah. I want you to hold it between your knees.

The other three laugh, and the waitress points to a "Right to Refuse" sign above the counter.

WAITRESS: You see that sign, sir?!

Bobby glances over at it, then back to her.

WAITRESS (CONT'D): You'll all have to leave, I'm not taking any more of your smartness and your sarcasm!

He smiles politely at her, then:

BOBBY: You see this sign?

He reaches his arm out and "clears" the table for her.

So, my theory is that Dad saw this and took it as validation that every waitress on this planet is out to screw up his order, and he made me nervous every time we went out to eat. He once squirted a waitress with ketchup for delivering his sunny-side-up eggs upside down.

At the Seafood restaurant, our waitress misunderstood my father and didn't bring a glass of wine for his wife. When she came back by the table, his old self bubbled to the surface.

"Uh, miss?" Aggravation was splattered on his face as if painted by a three-year-old.

"Yes sir?"

"Are you going to bring out the glass of wine?"

"Oh, I thought you cancelled that."

He cocked his head and said with tight lips. "No, I didn't."

His wife looked over his shoulder from beside him. "Now John, it did sound like you changed your mind when you ordered the pitcher of beer."

The waitress didn't seem to notice the tension. "Well of course I can bring you a glass of wine. I'll be right back."

When she arrived, Dad had realized his mistake and, like the big fella he is, admitted it to the waitress.

"Sorry about that. That was a misunderstanding." This was said with the sincerity of a forced apology between siblings.

"That's ok," the waitress said, and went into the kitchen.

"Have you been taking anger management courses?" I said to Dad. "That's not the guy I remember." Then I told them all about the ketchup story.

"You were there for that?" Dad asked.

After we finished our main course, the waitress started to roll up the paper table cloth, which upset Dad's beer.

"Ma'am!" Dad yelled. The waitress, far from being startled or offended, seemed amused. "I'll let you know when I'm ready to go!"

"Dad," my wife said as she leaned over the table. "They always do this before they hand out the dessert menus."


Later that evening Dad and Di had a fight, and Dad decided to let us in on what it was about while Di smoked a cigarette on the front porch. I won't bore you with the details, so let's just come in at the end.

"It's all my fault," he concluded, looking at my wife Beth, "and I don't want you to be mad at Di."

"Oh, I know it was your fault. Why would I be mad at Di?" Beth said.

I laughed as Dad shook his head, hoping that something witty would fall out. But nothing did. He just doesn't get this crazy thing called life, but thank God he has a sense of humor about it--sometimes.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Ceiling Didn't Crumble

Dad was honored when I asked him and his wife to be god-parents to my son, and it didn't matter that he hadn't been inside a church since he himself was baptized some 55 odd years ago. Some would say it defeats the purpose, that a god-parent is supposed to be the child's spiritual guide on the path to Jesus; I say however, that if somebody needs to be sitting next to me in that pew, it might as well be my dad.

Uncle Jim summed it up when he said in the background, "Don't let him near that church, or the ceiling is going to cave in." I had to pull the phone away from my ear because the laughter in Grandma's kitchen where Uncle Jim and my aunts and cousins eavesdropped exploded in my ear.

The ceremony was nice, and Deacon Dan performed it with passion and care. Dad sat to my right with a furrowed brow, clearly uncomfortable as Deacon Dan said, "...and next I will ask the god-parents a few questions..."

I said to dad, "You do remember the names of all the saints, don't you?"

He shot me a panicked look, and I patted him on the shoulder. "Joking, ok? Just do what the other god-parents do."

He lifted an eyebrow and jerked his head back towards the Deacon.

The flock chanted "Lord hear our prayer" in a ritual volley with the Deacon Dan. Dad's lips were pressed tight till they were bloodless. I nudged him. "I can't hear you."

And unbelievably he started saying it, albeit with the enthusiasm of a groom at a shotgun wedding. A couple minutes later he nudged me back. "I can't hear you either." We both laughed and attracted an angry glance from a stern looking church mother sitting side-saddle to the right hand of Deacon Dan. We were already on her shit-list because we refused to sit in the prescribed order of mother, father, baby then god-parents--our oldest son felt left out and sat between us, so f--- her. When I told her that, sorry, the kids were in charge, she said, "Apparently." That's right be-atch, we do spare the rod.

Where was I? Oh yeah.

The god-parents gathered at the front of the church and dad was asked the dreaded question, which turned out to be multiple-choice. So he chose what the other god-parents chose and got an A+.

So now both of my kids are safe from eternal damnation, even if their father and grandfather aren't. The ceremony went off well, and even Dad had to admit that it was quite beautiful. We might even start going to church on Sundays, with the understanding that we are joining a community of people that wish to do well by others, and that what we believe in our hearts can still be personal and protected. Maybe I'll turn a new leaf, and be a positive force in my small town, and be a shining example for all mankind. I'll donate half of everything I make to the church and make it my personal mission to stamp out homelessness and hunger, so that one day my name will be recorded in the same chapter as Ghandi and Sister Mary Elephant. The world will sing my name, in perfect harmony, from every rooftop, sharecrop and slum, each year from the anniversary of my passing. Maybe I can make a difference!


Now scram!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Irkle Finkle Butt

Work is going to be intense for the next couple days, so I'll resume my college thread soon. One of our customers hit us with ten times the load that we ever expected, and yours truly has to do some fancy programming and slide it through the back door, under the radar so to speak, before the customer pulls out.

Yesterday morning, my five-year-old Jackson came into our bedroom at six in the morning. My wife and I were playing dead for our two-year-old Emmett, who was thrashing about and scrutinizing our faces for signs of being awake.

Jackson said, "Irkle finkle butt." In his hand was a racecar toy we bought him a couple years ago that long since stopped working, but had been the source of many strange noises in the past. A while ago, I heard an eerie bell, the kind of ringing that plays off the walls making it almost impossible to find, especially because it was intermittent and random. Of course it was the race car, which had another toy splayed over the top of it, triggering the bell to ring at odd intervals.

"Irkle finkle butt," Jackson said again.

Beth and I gave up our sleep charade as Jackson jumped up in bed with us and jockeyed with Emmett for a space between us. Jackson propped himself on a pillow and put the racecar on his lap, then pressed a button. The batteries were nearly dead. A recording of a man's voice struggled to be heard, and what resulted was probably every other syllable, as if over a phone connection that cut in and out, "...irkle ...finkle ...butt--"

Jackson had reproduced the sounds perfectly. We replayed it over and over again and laughed at each others immitation, the best of which was mommy's. Now we are saying it all the time. I have a feeling a new phrase has entered into the family lexicon.

I'll have this to refer back to when someone asks me what it means. It's one of those you-had-to-be-theres.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I was buried.

My dad has always loved me, I think more than anything in this world. If it came to it, he would sacrifice himself so that I could live another day. But dad most likely suffers from Adult Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which causes the most well-intended person to hurt those around him. At the start of college, I was in many ways a newborn, a Hobbit on his first journey away from the Shire. All my young life I hoarded my essence, guarded it against all assailants. My dad couldn't touch it, not my mom, my step-mothers, the bullies at school, my teachers, the apathetic and bitter women I looked to for solace--nobody. At times they seemed like devils, scratching, clawing and digging for the secret place, trying to tear me down and remake me. So down I sank, down in a burrow where I waited for the long winter to pass.

My first day on my college campus, I felt a surge of euphoria, more than any drug can induce. I was free, free from the shackles of my family, free from the perceptions of my high school classmates, free to be whoever I wanted to be.

Nobody could stop me.

I didn't go to college to study, or to become anything. My only motivation was escape. And girls. My first year at Goldsworthy was a wash. It was an all-guys dorm and we all sat around and talked, played D&D, smoked pot and complained about the lack of opportunity. I moved to Stephenson Hall the next year into a co-ed environment, and that worked out a little better, but still I wasn't satisfied; I needed an edge. And that is when the brilliant idea of joining a fraternity hit me.

I rushed informally the latter part of the year at a few houses that had good reputations, but I committed a few critical faux pas that I do not wish to share. Let's just say, that "cool" for me was an act, and like my beloved Cowboys, I was good for 58 of a 60 minute game, and then my defense gave up the long ball.

So the next year I entered into the formal rush process, and as I described in previous posts, I became a pledge of the Fiji house.

And life there was good for the most part. I had a sort-of girlfriend almost from the start, but she dumped me cold, like she dumped the guy before me, and left me comatose on the couch for a few days, attracting a few God-He's-Pathetic looks from my brethren. Jeff introduced me to a friend of his girlfriend, and that worked for one night in a hot tub, then she dumped me because I was too chicken-shit to go all the way--I was practically if not technically a virgin, believe it or not. In fact, I was doing quite well at this point, meeting lots of girls--but I still wasn't satisfied. Now I was complaining about the talent level, like suddenly I was Don Juan.

I had one case of fatal attraction, a sweet girl from a sorority that shall remain unnamed. They were pretty much the only house that looked up to us and wanted to have joint functions. We had a dance with them and she took to me like a duckling to its mother, and I spent the dance with her. I walked her home and she obviously wanted a kiss, so I obliged, but only in a friendly way, minus all the mashing and grinding. She called to thank me the next day, and then called the next and the next. I finally told her that I had a girlfriend. If you have ever had to do this, you will understand what an awful feeling it is. I was awash in guilt.

From talking to members of other houses, and seeing the girls that hung out at and around their houses, I felt like I was really missing out. My impatience grew with the smallest of annoyances from my house. It was getting close to the time where pledges would become members, and little rituals were starting to occur. Each pledge had to face the entire membership that sat in the dark with candles lighting up their faces, as the president spoke in monotone and the mindless crowd intoned their ritualistic replies. It felt like a cult.

Little things, like getting us up at one in the morning to wash dishes, started happening. The pledges had to answer the phone when it rang, and we had duties to perform, such as waking up our brothers at times they sign up for, like a wake-up call from the hotel desk. Rituals became more frequent, and each made me feel just a little more stupid. I started fighting with the members.

We all slept on what we called the sleeping porch, which was basically what would normally be the attic. Dormers opened up to the outside, which had to be kept open according to fire code, so winters were quite cold. Two members tripped up the stairs and into the sleeping porch, drunk and stupid. I was fast asleep with most everyone else until they decided to talk to one another from across the room.

"So I fucked this bitch, and she had whopping hooters," Chris said.

"Nice!" Bill laughed like the over-loud drunk he was.

"Guys," I interrupted, "People are trying to sleep; can you hold it down?"

"And," Chris continued, "I told her I had a vasectomy, and she got all worried when I came. She was all like," his voice went falsetto, "'I thought I felt something.' So I told her 'it's ok, even though I've had the operation I still produce the fluid, only it doesn't have any sperm.'"

"And she bought it?"

"Shut the hell up!" I said. Charlie, on the bunk next to me opened his eyes and looked at me with a grin that said go get 'em.

"Hook, line and sinker," Chris said as he laughed.

"Oh MAN! What a stupid bitch!"

I got up, went downstairs to the kitchen and got a pitcher of cold water and brought it back upstairs.

"Ok, who wants to talk now?" I heard Charlie giggle, but Chris and Bill had suddenly lost their rapier sense of humor.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Chris said. I walked over and turned the pitcher at an angle over his head and let a single drop fall on his face. He slapped at it and looked me a warning.

"Pledge, you are making a huge mistake."

"There are no pledges or members up here, only a bunch of guys trying to catch some sleep. Instead, we have to listen to your fascinating story about inpregnating some girl that was stupid enough to listen to your bullshit."

Charlie laughed out loud.

"You better walk away or you are going to regret it."

"And I better not hear another fucking peep out of you tonight, because there is plenty of regret for everybody."

I suppose that was the beginning of the end.