Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Some Things Never Change

Juneau is an island; there is no escape by car. Tourists flock to the Mendenhall Glacier, that tremendous tongue of ice that protrudes from the mouth of a mountain and tastes the bay; a stark reminder of a day when it's like was the rule, and a foreboding of days to come. Ice pockets hundreds of feet deep puncture it's surface, the final stop for foolish hikers, who may someday be uncovered as physical evidence of an ancient civilization.

As a boy I longed to escape to the lower forty eight; I felt hemmed into a fold of snow, ice, rock, and trees, banished to a wilderness tamed by the machines of man, with only the Chinook Wind to warm me. When I graduated from high school my deliverance from island fever came in the form of an acceptance letter to WSU in Pullman, Washington. The state's colleges harbored many Alaskan refugees, so that it was not uncommon to see a familiar face in any Washington city.

Being from Alaska carries a burden. There is a tape recording in the mind of every man, a shared curiosity about the denizens of the nations biggest state, more sparsely populated than Lincoln, Nebraska. Is it always light? Did you live in a igloo? Do you know any Eskimos? Have you seen a polar bear? My answer is no, no, no and no. Not where I lived.

I never looked back once I got out, and suffered nary a regret for leaving. I left nothing behind, and really had no friends to speak of, save for a few. What friends I did have were doing the same as me in due time, going to out of state colleges and getting jobs abroad, such that all of us started new lives and hooked up on special occasions, but never together again in that remote ice hole.

I dreamed of going to my ten year high school reunion, to show everyone how much I had changed. I wasn't popular and still held onto a tendril of hope that I would impress my peers and show them how wrong they were about me.

I caught a flight in Seattle on Alaskan Airlines, and fortune placed me across the aisle from the high school jock, who happened to be sitting with the queen of the prom, and neither flashed me so much as a look of recognition. She sat on his lap and smothered his face with kisses, and he wore a look of smug entitlement. I kept my nose in a book and tried to ignore them.

The captain announced our descent into Juneau, and my ears were having trouble adjusting to the drop in elevation. I popped a stick of gum into my mouth and was rewarded a few chews later with cracks and whistling of escaping pressure in both ears. From my window I saw the most breathtaking scene that was the valley of my old home. The landscape was covered so thickly with verdant green pine as to resemble a lush carpet. The mountains were steeper than I remembered, framing the spectacular view of the Mendenhall Glacier that sparkled like blue polished diamond where it poured into the bay dotted with gigantic bobbing ice shards. My how my perception had changed since the time I had left. In California I thought Yosemite National Park was nature's brightest jewel, and yet here, a place where I spent my awkward teenage years, was a close rival.

Even the trailer park where I lived didn't seem so shabby as I pulled up to Ken's place, where he lived alone now after his parents were murdered after a fashion that I didn't inquire. Ken was a native Indian of Tlinket descent, who shared my interest in music, especially the young Elvis. We hadn't spoken since I left, and yet we fell together like the two last pieces of a puzzle.

We set up cans on his back fence and took turns shooting pellets with his wrist rocket, and as was the way between us, we kept score. I told him of my life since we parted, and let him know that I was a brand new man, that I had changed. I needed to be different now, because the boy who left years ago was not well liked. Or so I thought.

"You say you've changed," Ken told me, "but you don't seem any different to me at all."

I took aim and missed the can. "Shit!" I loaded another pellet into the leather pouch and pulled it back again, concentrated on the target and let it fly. "Bullseye!" I yelled it out and we both laughed. I realized in that moment, taking such pleasure in a childish pasttime, that he was right. But more importantly, I was happy about it.

The reunion itself was a continuation of the old cliques. Faces emerged from the fog of my memory; I was elated and saddened at once as one after another shook my hand with such enthusiasm, so glad to see me, looking for a sign of mutuality, but mostly I couldn't or could only vaguely recall who they were. I had a hard time with myself after that, knowing that I had wished for friends when they were all around me, unnoticed, unappreciated, that I was guilty of the one thing for which I despised in others.

Our prom king was getting married, and threw his bachelor party on that weekend, and the who's who of men from our class were all invited. The old pain, the jealousy, the envy, gripped my chest in a vise as I held my countenance high. I said hello to Dennis in a bar that night, the clown-king of the in-crowd, and monster linebacker on my football team, that occasionally stooped to say hello when nobody else was around. Ken pointed him out as we played a game of pool. I knew I should stay away, but Ken made such a show of pointing him out that I felt like I might say at least hello. He was pleasant enough, until one of his friends, nicknamed Hoss for obvious reasons, walked up and stared at me with no small amount of menace.

"Hey Hoss," I said stupidly.

He just stared back.

"Do you remember who I am?" I asked stupidly.

"NO!" He seemed to grow and inch. "SHOULD I?!"

I turned to Dennis and he just stared like I was a plague victim.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

New Orleans

MagnetBabe over at Field Lines reminded me of a trip I took to New Orleans for a friend's wedding over fifteen years ago. Like San Francisco, New Orleans has it's own unique style, a particular flavor that sticks with you forever. I was sad to hear the news that it might be irreparably damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and am ever so relieved that she altered her course in time. Apologies to those who have been displaced, but New Orleans is a rare jewel.

The wedding was a week before Martis Gras, but some people had already arrived and were priming their pumps. It seemed that everyone was in a great mood. Danny and Val, the bride and groom, had many friends and family in attendance. Vals older brother Teddy was a prominent surgeon, and her family was wealthy and lived in a large mansion walking distance from the French Quarter. Val's cousin Tom was a fireman from the Florida Keys, who I met the night after he and his buddy watched Teddy perform open heart surgery from a glass enshrouded spectators booth.

"You should have seen it," he told me. "First he sawed his chest open..."

"Sawed," I exclaimed, "as in a circular saw?"

"Yeah, it was like a small version of what you would use to cut two by four."

I bunched up my face, "That's disgusting."

He laughed, "Yeah. It was cool."

He, myself and a few others formed a group and spent most of our time together. Our first night in the French Quarter, we drove around to see what it was all about. We were on a particularly dark street, where the poor wandered aimlessly like ghosts, eliciting that unconscious tap on the door lock, when we saw a skinny black man backing his way out of a bar, shooting a pistol back through the door.

"Holy shit!" Tom yelled. "Did you see that?"

"Welcome to New Orleans boys," I said.

Tom asked, "I wonder what kind of gun that was?"

"I think it was a Red Ryder BB gun with a Cumberland stock," I returned.

Tom was the only one that got it, and fell into a fit of laughter, repeating it to himself and shaking his head. I think that was the moment that we became friends.

Danny's best man couldn't make the wedding, so he asked me to stand in. I was honored even if I wasn't his first choice, but I was new to the wedding game, and soon realized that I had to give a speech. At the rehearsal dinner, his cousin stood and gave a warm toast, telling a great story about Dan that recounted of his very essence, the dreamer, the boy who would someday create a billion dollar empire.

I had only one story that I could think of about Dan, one that to me was just about the funniest thing that ever happened. Back then I was still learning that my background was at best racy, and didn't realize how different were my tastes, and that sometimes it's better to keep my mouth shut. I told the following story in front of a family of surgeons and Louisiana elites.

"Dan dropped me off at my trailer one night when we were teenagers, and told me that he was tired and was going home. I went inside and played a game of Space Invaders on my Atari, and had hardly cleared a level when a very large explosion rocked my trailer. I went outside and the entire end of the trailer across from mine was blown out, and out of that trailer door came Danny. Apparently he went straight there to visit another friend, where they played with gunpowder and matches near an open tank of propane..."

Shocked silence, faded smile, one bit wiser, and a moment to stamp: Return To Sender.

Like Hawaii, New Orleans has a magic, one that I will always associate with the people I met during Dan and Vals wedding, despite having to painfully dislodge my foot from my mouth. I was propositioned by two beautiful girls at the wedding, and later that evening by a voluptuous stripper/prostitute--but I thought I was just cool, and more importantly, so did Tom and the gang. I was only there for a couple nights, but it's memory will last a lifetime.

New Orleans. Live long and prosper.

Monday, August 29, 2005


I guess I may be starting a midlife crisis, that stark review of one's life and the future that it must logically conclude, and I see myself without a marketable skill when all of our computer programming is increasingly being done overseas. We continue to make trade fair, which is another way of saying that our way of life is slowly degrading. At one point in California, I was making ridiculous money, and while now I make a generous living that affords my wife to stay at home to raise our kids, our prospects are looking dim; my nose is skimming surface as the price of living rises at an alarming rate, and here I am wearing cement boots.

We've reached the end of an era, the halcyon days of cheap gas; the air in the lungs of our economy. If we don't find another way to breath, we are going to panic, kick, scream and gasp for air. The world hates us and turns it's collective head as China makes overt moves to control the world's oil supply, even going so far as to bid for one of our oil companies, and warning, warning our government to keep it's nose out of it's business. America, and the world, has ignored for too long the radical Islamic threat, and now our children are fighting even harder against an emboldened enemy that watches our fat and naive society argue amongst ourselves like foolish children. We are like Hobbits living in the Shire, protected by a military of Colonel Jessups, that would prefer a simple thank you.

Yet everyday I go to work to pay for what is looking like an endangered lifestyle, and hoping that I'm not rearranging furniture on a ship that is going down. I wonder if we have already scraped the iceberg, and the rest is just posturing. I wonder if even the government understands the threat we are up against, and I have to conclude they don't if they continue to let illegals to flood our borders.

Thanks for dropping by today. Tomorrow I'll be in a better mood.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Rockin' Robin

I met Robin in Houston on one of my family visits. I was living alone in my Lombard Street apartment, and dating whenever the opportunity arose. She wore too much makeup, as all Houstonian women do--to great effect I should add. In San Francisco and in cities and towns abroad, attention to one's personal appearance suffers from extreme modesty, or worse, unmitigated apathy. While I found Robin to be excessively adorned, I could appreciate the pride she took in her bearing.

She decided that she would pay me a visit, which struck me as a fortuitous development until she said, "But don't expect anything to happen between us."

I had been a sucker too many times in the past, and I wasn't looking forward to being one again. To one another, she had made it clear that we were the 'F' word. "Friends," said with a squinched, I-just-ate-a-lemon face. We had just finished discussing the details of the trip, and she cleverly waited to throw the F-bomb until the end, and I was trapped without a plausible way out.

The Queen of Sheba made good on her word and I dutifully picked her up at the airport.

"Oh Scotty, it's so good to see you!" She gave me a "friends" hug, with a couple of pats on the back. "You wouldn't believe the day I've had. The traffic was just awful on the way to the airport and I almost missed my flight. The flight attendants were just so rude! I asked to move my seat because the guy I was sitting next to smelled like sweaty armpits, and they wouldn't let me. I just can't stand a man who doesn't know how to use soap! And then my carry-ons. They wouldn't fit in the overhead bins so those aholes made me check them. This trip has just started out awful. And then..."

She yammered at me all the way to baggage claim and into the car, and my head started to ache like a needle in my brain.

"So," she said with a gasp. She had given coverage to every injustice she had suffered on her trip, so finally she changed the subject, "I have a lot to cover while I'm here. First the sleeping arrangements. I've decided that you don't have to give up your bed for me."

"Really? Gosh, thanks. You are truly one of God's nobler creatures."

She ignored my sarcasm. "So, I'll take the couch. Now I've got a lot of things to see while I'm here, so you'll have to take a few days off work. I'd like to do a wine tour in Napa one day, then take a trip to Lake Tahoe and do some skiing."

We had barely left the airport and I was already scheming to get rid of her. I had a couple friends that were walking hardons, and this little Filly would seem like a wet dream come true, long enough at least for me to get away.

I invited my friend Bob over, who never met a girl he didn't like. He took her out for a quick tour of the city, and was back within an hour. His face was exhausted and his eyes hollow as he preceded her through the door. He mouthed the word nightmare to me, then made a hasty exit.

"Bob, he was so much fun," she said to me. "Too bad he has to go home so quickly. I thought he was going to stay a while. Huh."

I had to switch to evil plan Z: Eric. He lived half way between me and Tahoe, and he loved pretty women, but had a much higher tolerance for bullshit. We drove out that night, and the two slept in the same bed together. He asked me first if it was ok, and I did my best to make it look like I was grappling with the concept. I heard her say as they went towards the room. "Now remember, two people can sleep together and be just friends."

"Of course," Eric said, but I knew he thought it was a game, one that he well knew how to play.

The next morning I pretended to be feeling sick, and asked Eric if he would take her on to Tahoe, which he gladly accepted. I said my teary farewell to Robin and peeled out of the parking lot before my luck ran out.

The were back at my apartment a few days later, and Eric had the same look on his face as Bobs. He tried get me to take her to the airport, but I was way ahead of him.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We Do

Part 1 - We Meet
Part 2 - She's So Lovely
Part 3 - See Me
Part 4 - Here Today
Part 5 - Gone Tomorrow

A little over a month later, with the blessings of her family, Beth sent her things ahead and flew out to start our life together. A year to the day later, we said our vows in front of our closest friends and family in a small chapel at Waleia Hawaii.

We pulled out the checkbook for this one, but we had our wedding at the Grand Waleia, and the reception at the Four Seasons, a pair of neighboring five star hotels that were simply elegant. I had never stayed at any hotel better than a Super 8, so I had no idea what was in store.

There is something magic about Hawaii that cannot be explained. There is a mood that grips you the minute you land, as if you had descended into dreamland. On the road to Hana, rain comes and goes like a camera flash and you hardly seek shelter because it feels so good. We drove around the back roads where tourists don't normally go, where the locals --No Local, No Mahalo-- have junk cars in their front yards overgrown with wild flowers and vegetation, exhibiting the genius of nature's keen artistic side, rendering us mute with awe. We saw wild weasels and pet a goat that was tied beside the road, such a friendly little guy that I wanted to take him home. In a small village we saw what looked like a large megaphone mounted on a metal tower, which turned out to be a tsunami alarm, which drove home for us that we were on a small rock in the middle of a vast and violent ocean.

On our first night there was a message at the hotel from a friend of mine that couldn't make the wedding, but who had spent many vacations in Hawaii. He tried many times to express that Hawaii was a jewel on the ocean band, but what human really knows a thing until experienced first hand?

"Welcome to Hawaii," the message went, "now you know."

Paul, my friend who introduced me to Beth, regardless of his intentions, accepted our invitation to attend. The reception featured a two hour open bar, and my luscious friends, locked arm-in-arm with my side of the family, used it to it's fullest advantage. My brother John had been feeling nervous, dreading his responsibility as best man to give a toast. When his time came he delivered his flawless anecdote, but walked away before actually calling for the toast, which made us all laugh. He came back with his head hanging and finally had us raise our glasses.

Many took turns saying a little something, including my mother, who so sweetly couldn't say much without breaking down and crying. Paul stood up and gave a toast.

"Hi, my name is Paul," he started, "and I introduced Beth and Scott."

Then Eric, read evil nemesis, interjected in When Harry Met Sally style, "And if she was the least bit attracted to him, we wouldn't be here today." Just to let you know, Paul is still my friend today. Eric is too. But there isn't too much love between the two of them.

Our wedding coincided with the weekend of the Pro Bowl, a game that never held an interest for me. By this time, the Super Bowl has came and went, so this game means less than nothing. Although the game is not played on Maui, many of the football players like to stay at the Four Seasons. Since we were kids, my brother John and I loved football. John chose for his favorite the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I the Dallas Cowboys. My dad told me that he saw Troy Aikman jogging on the ocean path, and I had seen John Elway and Mike Shanahan by the pool. I was hoping to see Troy around, although I didn't plan to say anything to him; I feel that these guys get it all the time and I like to think I'm not a mindless lemming.

As luck would have it, Troy was sitting at the bar that was servicing our wedding reception. Paul and my brother, my best man, saw him there and gave him a hard time for not making the Pro Bowl that year. I could have killed them both and would have been acquitted. Neither thought to come get me, and I never saw him during my stay.

So that is the story of how I met and married my wife. There are so many details that I have either forgotten or left out, as the male mind has periodically to clean house to make room for sports statistics. So what's the moral? For all the posturing I've done for the opposite sex, it was being myself that really mattered. I wasn't trying to impress anyone, home alone on a Friday night, when against all probability my future wife knocked on my door. What if Paul were more characteristically possessive and kept her away that night, or if the rain had kept them away, or a parking place hadn't become suddenly available? I've always felt like an angel watches over me, call it luck or divine assistance, but a sense of destiny has been a tangible, almost palpable presence in my life. I'm not a man of faith, but sometimes, as with most people, when I really want something badly enough, I'll pray for a little help. I was walking along the oceanside by Fort Mason on a sunny morning, during the time I was corresponding with Beth via email, wishing that somehow I could be with her, but not feeling any real hope of it happening. I said to myself, on an open frequency, "God, if you send her to me, I'll take care of her for the rest of my life." I'm not one for sappy sentiment, nor have I ever seen a UFO or Bigfoot; I don't hear voices, have imaginary friends, or see things that aren't really there. I know how it sounds, and I wouldn't believe me either, but in that moment I looked out into the bay, and there hovered a tiny circular rainbow above the water's surface, refracted in the fine, nearly dissipated morning fog, so close it seemed that I could almost touch it. It seemed to me like the halo of an angel.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Gone Tomorrow

Part 1 - We Meet
Part 2 - She's So Lovely
Part 3 - See Me
Part 4 - Here Today

I drove home with a heavy heart; the details of the night replayed in my mind like a movie on A-B repeat. I got back to my apartment at three in the morning, and although the rain had stopped, the streets and sidewalks were still mottled with puddles and whispering runoff. The once teeming thoroughfare around me was fast asleep, deserted like an old west ghost town, as if the city had declared last call hours ago and closed it's doors.

I pulled her card from my wallet and made an entry into my email address book, the clicked Create Mail. Although I had no idea what I was going to say, the words came alive of their own accord; my fingers rattled the keys and chattered like the staccato of machine gun fire. My feelings flowed unhindered and without inhibition, words that would have been impossible to express were I to attempt to speak them. When my head lit upon my pillow that night, I slept easier than I had in years.

I didn't know how to retrieve my email at work, so I had to wait an agonizing day before I could rush home to check for her reply. I dialed up my internet service provider and fired up Outlook Express, and my heart puttered in anticipation as I watched the status: Connecting..., Checking..., Downloading 1 Message..., 1 New Message. And there it appeared in glistening bold.

To my great delight, she matched my enthusiasm and depth of feeling. Where the night before she had been guarded and controlled, now she wrote with unfettered passion and abandon. She wanted to know everything about me, and I replied with a dissertation on my life, never leaving a question or point unanswered, and countering with a thousand questions of my own. I always wrote in the evenings, and her reply always awaited my return from work.

Chuck, a coworker of mine, was our resident genius, whose thirst for computer knowledge was insatiable. He was also a wannabe psychiatrist, who liked to dig into my past and diagnose my condition, once even going so far as to give me some of his Prozac, or Zolof, or some other Russian sounding anti-depressant. I was Starling to his Hannibal Lecter. He was a drill sergeant whose goal was to break me down and recreate me in his image. I began to doubt myself, so I went to a psychologist for a single session, and told her of my trouble holding down a relationship for more than a few months, of my various reactions to being treated with disrespect. She gave me the best, most helpful, and the only professional advice I've needed since: "What you are describing to me is perfectly healthy, and I would only be concerned if you didn't stand up for yourself." Chuck was very disappointed, who had been licking his chops as he tried to convince me to confront my father for a lifetime of instability and chaos. He wanted me to need the drugs, like himself, to remove any responsibility on his part to deal with his own problems. I told him one day that I decided to forgive my father, and myself, and move on with life, and thus did our relationship take a turn to nowhere.

But I needed to get my email at work, as the daily wait was killing me.

"Chuck, is there a way to get my home email here at work?"

"Yes." He stared at me insolently, and waited for me to press.

"Ok, will you show me how?"

"You could Telnet and use Pine." He said simply, as if I should know what the hell he was talking about.

"Chuck, you may as well be speaking Farsi, but I would really appreciate it if you would just show me, ok?"

"Hmmm. Why can't you just wait until you get home to check it?"

"I could, but I want it now, see?"

"It must be important, whatever it is."

"Are you going to show me or not?"

He did show me, and thankfully left me alone. I would have told him why, but I didn't want to hear about the odds I was up against, or how contemporary scientific studies clearly proved that long distance relationships are doomed to fail.

Soon, emailing wasn't enough, and we talked at night on the phone, which kept me up until midnight or one, which meant three or four in the morning for her. I asked her one night if I could come for a visit.

"Are you trying to give me a heart attack," she exclaimed.

"I can't help it, I have to see you. I can't take it anymore."

After a long pause, she said finally, "Ok."

I stayed with her at her house, where she lived with her parents. Her sister and two brothers were in close attendance, and I made a favorable impression. Again, not for any reasons I had intended.

We ordered out for Chinese food on the first night. I served myself some rice from a bowl and noticed that it was overcooked. Her mom saw me eating it and commented, "I just hate the rice that they make there."

"I know what you mean," I replied with a slight grimace, "it's a little watery."

She looked quite amused. "I won't eat the rice from the restaurant, so I make my own."

I felt the sparkling warmth spread across my face as I turned cherry red. "Ok, wow," I stammered, "that, hmmm."

Everybody laughed as one of the brothers pat me on the back.

The next morning I slept in. I could hear Beth's mom asking where I was, grousing that I wasn't up yet, so I made my way downstairs. As I came through the kitchen entryway, I leapt through the doorway to make a grand entrance and say 'Ta da!', but instead I crashed my forehead on a crossbeam atop the doorway and nearly knocked myself out. I had a nice imprint to show for it, and again her mom got a good chuckle, and from that point forward, I was a made man.

The night before I went home, I threw all caution to the wind, and told Beth that I loved her. Her eyes glossed as she stared at me speechless.

"I want you to come to San Francisco and move in with me."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Here Today

Part 1 - We Meet
Part 2 - She's So Lovely
Part 3 - See Me

Paul and I belonged to the Bravo Club, a gathering of young to middle aged men and women who pretended to be interested in opera, but in reality it was a way to meet each other. The club sponsored a party that night at the San Francisco Yacht Club, located on the bay at Fort Mason that caught the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge in the late afternoons.

Paul took Beth in his Corvette, and I went separately in my car, a Mazda MX-6 that my mother had managed to secure financing for despite my bad credit history to date, a reliable companion while my friends traded in their old models for the latest and greatest.

The party was bursting at the seams, and all the usual suspects were in attendance. Paul saw the Korean twins he had met at the last club party, and joined them on the dance floor, leaving Beth and I alone for the first time that evening.

"Have you ever dated anyone from the Bravo Club," Beth asked me.

"I've had a few close calls, but it never seems to work out. Some of the girls like me, and I like some of the girls, but it's never mutual. Just last weekend, I had a date lined up, you know, the time and place, and then she went completely radio silent."

I scanned the crowd and saw her, and I was stunned to see that she was not nearly as attractive as I remembered.

"My goodness, she's here," I said.

"Where?!" Beth was intrigued.

I was reluctant to demonstrate my bad taste, but I pointed her out anyway, as if she were in a police lineup. Beth smiled and said, "She's pretty."

"Yeah, right," I laughed.

We got a few beers then I invited her to the dance floor. She insists to this day that I tricked her that night into thinking that I liked to dance. I hate a crowded dance floor unless I am completely hammered, but then the dance floor hates me, so nobody wins. That night however, I had Saturday Night Fever, was Stayin' Alive and was Born to do the Hand Jive.

The music slowed down and I pulled her close. I was tortured to feel her next to me; her sweet perfume filled my head with impure thoughts; my body ached to consume her while my prudish mind urged caution.

We drifted outside under a covered deck, protected from the pounding rain that pummelled an ocean that hardly seemed to notice. A cool ocean breeze tempered with the steamy dreamlike redolence of fresh rainfall suffused the climate of our outdoor getaway. I couldn't hold back any longer and stole a kiss. She put both her hands out and looked dizzy for a moment, then we looked at each other in awkward silence for a few moments. She was going home tomorrow afterall, three thousand miles away on the opposite coast, and this couldn't possibly work.

"Can I drive you home?" I asked.

"But what about Paul?"

"I'll talk to him, wait here."

I found him standing alone at the bar, and decided not to mince words. "Paul, would you mind if I drove Beth back to her car?"

"W-w-why would I care? Of course you can take her!" He laughed a nervous laugh, and I felt awful. But the fact was, I was approaching 35; I wasn't a teenager anymore. Serious opportunity only knocks on your apartment door almost never, and I couldn't see turning it away on a technicality. I was breaking every rule, and was seriously jeopardizing my relationship with Paul, which I valued highly. For him though, this was just another date that didn't work out, for me, this was something more. I had however caused him a great embarrassment, and there wasn't anything I could do to staunch the wound.

All I could say was, "Thanks Paul."

From playing the dating game, I had learned that the more aloof you remain, the more the fairer sex will eat from your palm. But tonight I was all through with that. She was leaving on a plane in the morning and it was time to lay my cards on the table.

"I think you are the most important person I have ever met in my life, and I can't stand it that you are going home tomorrow."

She looked at me seriously. "But I am going home tomorrow, aren't I," she said wryly.

We pulled up next to her car and we sat for a while.

She said, "I've had a really great time tonight, but we have to be realistic about this. We need to walk away, and I don't think we should exchange numbers."

"What if I emailed you? Would you write back?"

She thought for a moment, "Ok." She pulled out a business card and wrote her email address on the back and handed it to me, then gave me a hug and slipped out the door.

Monday, August 22, 2005

See Me

Part 1 - We Meet
Part 2 - She's So Lovely

It was the perfect lie, as that misperception was naturally associated with my character. There was a bar at the corner of Lombard and Octavia where a group of regulars came to drink and ogle the bartender, who moonlighted as a stripper and Sambuka girl. The bar also served as a watering hole for night clubbers on the pilgrimage from one bar to the next, creating a unique environment that was delightfully unpredictable as groups came and went like flash floods.

On one such occasion, I hit it off with a fun bunch of guys that came in with a head start on the evening. New York, New York was playing on the jukebox and we were singing along in a Rockette chorus line, arms across each others shoulders and high kicking as best as our beer battered bodies would allow.

"Listen, I'm having a poker party next weekend if you'd like to stop by," I told one of them. His eyes narrowed shrewdly and peered at me as if he was seeing me for the first time.

"And who's going to be at this party," he asked slyly with the delivery of a police investigator.

"A couple guys I know," I replied simply.

"I see." He rounded up his friends and left.

I saw him six months later at another bar on Union Street, and tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, how are you doing? Long time."

He nodded and smiled. "Hey," he said, scanning the people around me. "Who are you here with?"

Wow, I thought, this guy is a lost cause. My buddy Eric was at the bar competing with thirty others for the attention of two bartenders. His feet were close together and he was bouncing up and down with his hands neatly clasped on the bar on which he leaned, so that his rear stuck out like one of those girls on the old Hauling Ass poster.

Oh well I thought, and pointed in his direction. The guy took a look, then gave me that 'Aha!' expression and melted into the crowd.

The youngest of my two cats was no bigger than the palm of my hand when I got him, a tiny helpless little thing with crossed eyes that couldn't focus on a spot without great effort. When he tried, his head would shake like the coffee jitters. He emitted a volley of faint and high pitched mews on that first day, so cute that I named him for it. As he got older his adorable little mew was replaced with the signature Siamese yowl, but those eyes never straightened out.

Mew jumped onto the couch next to Beth and fixed her in his gaze, and the two became fast friends. "Oh! He's got koogley eyes! He's so sweet." My other cat Johnny, named for one of my early favorite guitar songs, Johnny B. Goode, was the prototype of a beautiful cat, perfect in every way from his fur and eyes to his warm affectionate manner. Almost nobody noticed Mew with his funny little face and reclusive personality. Mew needed to be cajoled, to be treated gently, whereas Johnny loved everyone unconditionally. Beth loved Mew for his quirks.

I suggested that we all go get dinner at a local restaurant called the Brazenhead, a darkly lit and charming place I had the good fortune to live around the corner from. We sat in a secluded corner booth and ordered an appetizer with spinach artichoke dip.

Somehow the conversation turned towards college, and I explained how I had been in a fraternity for a short while, and Beth's eyes darkened slightly.

"You were in a frat?"

I swallowed the oversized hunk of dip soaked bread in my mouth, "Don't call a fraternity a frat, would you call your country a cunt?" I laughed out loud and displayed my pearly whites, adorned now with a pair of neatly lodged spinach fragments between my front teeth.

She burst out laughing and the spark relit in her eyes. I thought I was quite charming, and the truth is I was, but not for the reasons I intended. She saw something that cannot be faked or hidden for long, an evanescent quality that once detected has compelled a few to seek the back way out. She had glimpsed my bare essence, my true and flawed self. Offbeat. Quirky.


Friday, August 19, 2005

She's So Lovely

Part 1 - We Meet

When I was in third grade, there was a new girl named Caroline that I felt a primal urge to impress. At recess, I waited on the monkey bars until she and Julie, who was showing Caroline around, drifted into the best vantage point, then I scampered furiously across the bars, skipping every other rung. That was a manly display I thought, and I turned to see if they had watched. Apparently not. I leapt to the ground and sprinted by them and waited atop the slide, then launched head first and rolled into a somersault at the bottom and stood up. They sauntered by, uninterrupted, immersed in more important matters. I dashed by them again. "What is your problem, Scott?!" Julie yelled to my receding back.

"This is Beth," Paul introduced her. "Beth meet my buddy Scott." I took her hand and held it firm but easy. Her skin was soft and white like Nivea cream, and her perfume was subliminal, a mere suggestion. The tumblers in my brain started to spin.

The apartment was my first experience at living alone. Two years earlier, my relationship with Casey came to an end, and she had left me with this apocalyptic prediction, "Some day you will meet someone who is just as co-dependent as yourself, and you'll have a bad relationship that will end even worse." She bragged that she had lived by herself in a small New York City apartment, and in doing so had found her center. She didn't think I could do the same, that I would always depend on someone else for my sense of self.

I found the only apartment in San Francisco that allowed my two cats, on a bustling section of Lombard Street, a veritable runway on the final approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, and eight or so blocks west from the famous serpentine, cobblestone section that tourists find so fascinating. The year I moved in I had a fabulous tax return, that afforded me the money to buy a bedroom suite, an entertainment center, a surround sound stereo system, a set of All-Clad pans, and a host of artwork and knick-knacks for decoration. I took meticulous care of myself and the apartment, and in all respects I had proven to myself and Casey's ghost that I was capable of taking care of myself, and although I was little lonely, I had found the strength and pride inside myself that was there all along. In other words, I was ready.

"You are so lucky to live on Lombard Street," Beth said to me as our hands lingered for a moment and fell away.

"I have a great view from my living room windows. Wanna see?!" I skipped with childlike abandon towards the bay windows and hopped onto the love seat, and she dropped in beside me.

"This is wonderful," she said, riveted by the traffic that tore through the drowning street like rocket propelled speed boats.

Paul cleared his throat and brought my ship back to the planet's surface. We both stepped down and shared an uncomfortable silence.

"Can I get you something to drink?" I offered.

Paul motioned Beth towards the big couch, and they both sat next to one another. "Do you have any beer?" he asked as his easy nature returned.

"I have some Coronas in the fridge. Beth?"

"I'd love a Corona," she smiled.

"Care for a wedge of lime?" They both nodded enthusiastically.

The chattered to themselves while the movie, She's So Lovely played on the big screen TV, forgotten now and droning in the background.

"I can't believe he's single," she whispered to Paul.

"Yeah, well he's gay."

"Oh my god!" she gasped, scrutinizing me through the bar opening connecting the two rooms. I grinned back as I meticulously sliced uniform lime wedges into a ceramic serving bowl.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

We Meet

I was living in my San Francisco apartment, alone on a Friday night, watching a movie on my couch with my two Siamese cats. Outside the rain blew in gusts against my bay windows, which overlooked the perpetually busy Lombard St., where undeterred motorists planed across it's rain drenched surface, spraying sheets of water from their vehicles on either side, spreading from underneath like enormous wings, and hissing like an open air hose.

Paul had a passenger that night, a raven haired stranger on her last night of a business trip. His brother's wife in Boston called him the night before and asked for the favor of showing an acquaintance the sights. "She's my friends' sister, and she is very sweet, Paul, and has one more night before she comes back home to Boston." After determining that she was hot and single, he had the Corvette cleaned and popped a breath mint.

But the night was a disaster. She was only interested in seeing San Francisco, but Paul was only interested in seeing her, preferably in a hotel bed. The night was slipping away from him, so he called a friend who happened to live nearby, and coincidentally at home watching a movie.

"Scott, it's Paul."

"Hey Paul, what's up?"

"I'm showing someone around town and I need a change of pace. Is it alright if we drop by?"

"Is this the same girl that your sister-in-law asked you to t..."

"Yeah," he said with a twinge of irritation, "so can we drop by?"

This wasn't like Paul, to bring any girl around that wasn't already his, and even then. At a party a few weeks back, he had sat at a table with a couple girls and made me and Eric stay at the bar. I confronted him later about it. "Does this mean that any time we meet new girls that I have to go home?" He hung his head, feeling ashamed and said, "Of course not."

The rain beat down harder as they trolled for a parking spot on the blocks circumscribing my apartment. They had given up and had resolved to leave when a car miraculously pulled out from in front of my building.

I answered the knock on my door. She was a head taller than Paul, standing behind him, but and her image burnt into the back of my eyes like an overlong glimpse of the sun. A purse hung from her left shoulder and her thumb was hooked under the strap, and her arm struck me as being perfectly shaped, not buffed like a body builders, or too skinny like an anorexics, but firm and slight, achingly feminine. Her long black hair flowed down and around her shoulders, framing an angels face, her penetrating eyes held mine with a cool confidence and untamed spirit, and inside those swirling brown crystal orbs I could see my future.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Washcloth

"Mom, can I take a shower today?" I was ten now, and had graduated from taking a bath, but as it was still new to me, I still had to ask permission.

She was curled up on the couch, basking in the glow of God's warmth, reading a passage from the Holy Bible. Mildly irritated by my interruption, she turned and peered at me over her teardrop shaped reading glasses, lips squinched together like she had just eaten a grape after brushing her teeth. "Ok, but make sure to wash your ears."

"Ok, thanks Mom."

"I will be checking, so make sure you do it right."

That was her thing lately, my ears. They had to be clean, and try as I did, they never passed inspection; her temperature rose with each successive failure.

The water was heavenly. The steaming jet stream soaked my long moppish hair and trickled over my body like warm plaster, spackling over my goosebumps that popped away like champagne bubbles. I twisted the yellow bar of Dial soap, with that distinct, bright odor, into a coarse red washcloth I held in my left hand. The water saturated the cloth and allowed it to relax from it's contorted shape, freeing it from it's rigor mortis; it was revitalized now with an angry mouthful of soap suds, looking like the gaping maw of a rabid dog.

The sun outside fell past the horizon as dusk banished the world to shadow. I called out, "Ok mom, I'm done!"

She marched through the bathroom door with her arms crossed behind her, one hand holding the other wrist. "Let's just see how you look." She pinched my ear closest to her and peeled it down. She growled, "This is FILTHY!"

She jerked my head around and yanked at the other ear. "My God Scott, what is it going to take!"

Her head whipped towards the back of the shower where the washcloth dangled expectantly on a rung. She pointed and screeched, "Give me that. Apparently you need to be shown!" The bathroom light was occluded by the back of her head, casting her face into a dark mask, but her ears were glowing and transparent like crimson embers. She forced me into the tub basin and sawed back and forth on top of my ear. The washcloth bit into my skin like sandpaper to paraffin wax as she scrubbed mercilessly; she switched to the other ear and repeated her vicious assault.

She was insane, like Lady Macbeth, trying to wash away a terrible blot on her soul. Was she washing away my sins? Hers? My dads? I stopped flailing, as my resistance was only fueling her madness. Both ears were bleeding when her killing fever passed, as her eyes registered her return to control and the auspices of God, who would surely forgive her. I never told my father, nor did I ever forget to wash my ears again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dredge Lake

I've done some thinking about how I concluded yesterdays post. I said that I was looking forward to the day when my kids ask for the keys to the car. Coincidentally, this morning, Jackson, my five year old son, asked me if he could drive the next time we go out. So there you have it, be careful what you wish for.

I worry about Jackson, mostly because he is just like me, which frustrates the hell out of my wife Beth. We took him on an airplane when he was a baby, and he took an interest in the man sitting across the aisle from us. The man looked at Jackson for a split second and went back to his magazine, then looked again, letting his gaze linger longer. This repeated for a couple cycles until he and Jackson were locked in a stare, like two kids trying not to blink; finally, he looked at me with a mix of amusement and bewilderment, "That is unnerving. I've never seen a baby that doesn't look away."

Jackson has always been serious and a deep thinker, is easily distracted and quick to get bored; just like my father, just like myself. Projecting forward, assuming that Jackson has been handed the baton in the family relay, I am in for a wild ride. And such would be my due.

My dad may be many things--frightening by any normal standard of parenting--but he gave me self confidence in my ability to face danger by putting his faith in me; faith in my ability to handle myself with a gun, behind the wheel of a car, riding motorcycles up sheer inclines of bored out strip-mines and narrow mountain roads. When I turned sixteen, he let me drive his Chevy Blazer which I mistook for an all terrain vehicle, with the help of my friends Mike and Danny.

Dredge Lake was an outdoor recreation area where we would go sometimes to hang out. The area approaching the beach was like a sandy mogul field, under which was a hard foundation like kiln dried clay, yielding sufficient traction for driving. You had to stay away from the beach however, an important safety tip disregarded by Mike, who had jumped a dune and stuck the nose of his car in the sand like a harpoon, for which we had brought the blazer to retrieve. I had a full load that night: Mike, Dan, and the girls Heather and Paula.

We made quick work of unsticking Mike's car, which he parked farther up from the beach and crawled back into the passenger seat, not wanting to lose any stage time with the girls.

"Let's do some four wheeling!" he suggested.

I protested. "Man, didn't you already learn your lesson Mike?"

He ignored me. "Dan," he said, "don't you think we should see what this truck is made of?"

"Damn straight," said Dan, chosen from his short list of stock expressions as he spit Copenhagen into an empty Coke can, where occasional misfires had dried onto the lid and pull tab.

He turned to Heather and Paula, cocked an eyebrow like Steve Martin, the Love God, like a Sultan addressing his harem, "Girls, tell Scott he needs to open it up."

"C'mon Scooter," they implored, "don't be so boring."

Whatever restraint I normally would have shown, ahem, was laid asunder for this attack on my masculinity. My manhood was on the line! Don't you get it?! What's wrong with you people??!!

I hit the gas and meandered a bit, careful to avoid any bumps, but pressure from my passengers goaded me into a shark-like feeding frenzy. The tail of the Blazer threw rocks and sand in Tsunami proportions, and despite my initial misgivings, I was having an outrageously good time.

We spun to a stop and faced a dune that made a perfect ramp for a jump, and I revved the engine to the red line. Everyone screamed, "Go for it!" As we flew through the air, gravity taught me an important lesson: the front of the car is much heavier than the back. We hit the ground at a 45 degree angle with a bone jarring impact. The back window fell from it's track and disappeared into the hatch, and the battery detached and fell onto the engine fan, which bit into the battery's plastic shell and burned a groove, emitting an awful grinding sound like an electric saw until I killed the ignition.

"Oh shit," I cried out, "my dad is going to kill me!"

We couldn't fix the back window, but we managed to get the battery back into it's casing, but the groove on it's side was deep and obvious.

I drove everybody home, and nobody said a word. My face was devoid of color, and everyone knew I was walking the Green Mile.

"What do you mean the window just fell!" my father screamed at me, staring into my eyes, looking for the crack in my plaster, his nose sniffing for the distinct musk of fear. I wore my mask perfectly as he railed me from all directions. He didn't believe me of course, but that microscopic seed of doubt was in his eyes, which saved me from a severe beating that he was itching to deliver.

Then he found the groove on the battery.

Ah, such fond memories. As the expression goes, we reap what we sow, and my garden was well fertilized.

But what really saved me from my father in those self absorbed teen aged years was what I am sure was a connection, a recognition on my father's part of his younger self.

Note to self: brace yourself, and always remember who you were.

Monday, August 15, 2005

What's So Good About It

It is by far easier to bitch about changing diapers and sleepless nights than to describe the intangible riches of parenthood. But for the sake of those who were persuaded to sterilize themselves after my last post, it is my duty to try. We're all selfish by nature, and expect a return on every investment we make. So why would anybody willingly subject themselves to such a lopsided agreement?

Sometimes we're not so willing, eh? But I digress.

We all know that someday we are going die. Having children is an instinct embedded into our base operating system, put there by the programmer to insure that we will forego the obvious disadvantages of child rearing. If we resist our true nature, we pay a price and act out in a variety of ways; but having children satisfies that primal urge.

For some reason, humans give birth to helpless blobs, while the rest of the animal kingdom has children that can move and play, that have some sense of their surroundings and can interact with others. Our children are born helpless, defenseless and blank, like little computers without any pre-installed software; as parents, we stare into their eyes, portals to their persistent storage, and imprint ourselves with our words and actions. In other words, we give them a part of us, such that how we feel about ourselves is how we feel about our children.

And that really is the key, and the reason that some people should wait.

The first smile, a pale reflection of a nitrous intake, pure euphoria. My son Jackson was probably six months old, lying in the valley between my legs as I lay with my head propped on my pillow and my knees drawn up so that our noses could almost touch. I clapped his two little hands and cheered, "Yay!" And he laughed! A magical combination of sounds that made my heart flutter and pound in my chest. I did it again and he laughed again, and I yelled for my wife to come see. It sounds silly, but that's what being a parent is all about, exhibiting behavior that would have gotten your ass kicked in high school, and not caring a wit.

The first word. For all you guys out there, this one's for you: Dada. It's always Dada; and herein lies that little gray area, that place where life proves once again that it just isn't fair. As fathers, let's face it, we get the easier of the two jobs. Need I explain it? If life had any sense of justice, Mama would get top billing, but that is not the way of it. Disclaimer aside, there is no greater joy than that first glorious, decipherable word, which quite possibly is the moment where most fathers discover an interest, kick up their game and become most involved.

When I come home from being gone for even part of a day, my children scream "Daddy!" and smother me with hugs and kisses, like Dino in the old Flintstones cartoon. As parents we're needed, and for many, this could very well be a first time experience. Children are their own reward, on one hand more work than we have ever done, but on the other an expression of the truest form of love on earth. We experience for the first time an urge to protect another at the expense of our own safety.

My oldest boy is only five, and my youngest two. Our time together has only begun. They're not old enough to have wrecked my car, but I look forward to the day when they ask for the keys.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Yeah Baby!

When a couple is having their first baby, I love to ask them about their expectations, to get a feel for just how out of touch with reality they are. It's a sadistic pleasure of mine you see, because up until the very moment that the first labor pain strikes like a red hot, electric cattle prod dipped in sulfuric acid, the blissful couple still believes they can catch a movie the next day.

A baby, that little bundle of joy, hardly bigger than the span from your wrist to your elbow, is more devastating than a twenty megaton atomic bomb, a road runner to your coyote, spy vs. your spy, like McCauley Caulken home alone. Everything you knew has been stripped away like leg hair on a wax strip. Your friends become your old friends, replaced with other wild eyed, fledgling parents, who like yourselves, have swam too far under water to get back to the surface.

Sleep? We don't need no stinking sleep!

The laundry piles up, the house looks like a warzone. Unless you are one of the lucky ones, the baby cries for a variety of reasons: dirty diaper, gas at either end, hungry, tired, uncomfortable, wants to be held, wants to be put down, scared. The list goes on, but the worst part is, you never really know for sure. So you go through your list of remedies. For gas I patented the bicycle leg pump, which works like a charm every time. No two babies are the same, and what one finds soothing sends the other into a tiny tantrum. We've tried swings, rockers, placing the car seat on a running clothes dryer, running the blow dryer in the room for white noise, CDs of lullabyes, bird calls, and waterfalls, singing, cooing, talking silly, making stupid faces, tripping on imaginary banana peels. You name it, we've tried it. When the baby finally falls asleep, mommy and daddy collapse like discarded marionettes wherever we happen to be standing.

Sex? No unless you are both insomniacs.

My friends Vicky and Richard were our next door neighbors in San Francisco, and were one of the first to disappear once we became no fun. They invited us to a party once, but our youngest son, who was only around sixteen months at the time, nearly fell from a drop off in their back yard which could have killed him, so we had to leave to avoid the danger. That was the last we heard from them until Vicky got pregnant.

By this time my wife and I had moved out of the city and into our first house, and Richard and Vicky had moved into a house only ten miles away. Vicky and I commuted into the city together on the Ferry from Vallejo.

"So, are you ready to have this baby Vick?" I asked her.

"Oh sure, no problem," she said with swagger. "I have a dog, so I feel like I'm ready."

"Oh really," I laughed, "You think raising a dog is the same thing, huh?"

"Well, it will be a little different. But come on! Have you ever had a dog?"


"Well, Charlie cries to get out, and you can't leave him alone. He always is begging for attention and we have to walk him. He's a huge pain in the ass."

"Ok, whatever you say Vick. But do me a favor and bookmark this conversation in your head, because we will revisit."

She gave birth to little Elias, affectionately known as Eli, a beautiful little boy that was a perfect blend of his parents. He had a devilish personality, and his parents let him do almost anything he wanted to do. For instance, they let him draw with markers on the floor, thinking that it would give a cute modern art feel. But as he grew up, his liberal upbringing made him hard to control. Vicky became exasperated and turned to my wife Beth for advice, and the two became great friends, as both were parents of wild boys. And nobody on the planet knows what that means until they've experienced it first hand.

Vicky had an epiphany one day and told Beth, "You know, I am so impressed with you for raising your son with no help at all. You didn't have any family around to help you, or any," she paused with an abashed expression, "friends. I wasn't there for you and I'm sorry."

After Vicky had a reign on motherhood, and her son and mine were playing together nicely, I finally reminded her of our little conversation.

"Eli has been a lot of work, huh?"

"He drives me crazy sometimes," she said affectionately, looking at the two boys with a dreamy far off look.

"No nearly as difficult, say, as raising a dog?"

Her laugh burst out, as if escaping. "Ok, you got me on that one."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Party Naked

Friends have a way of peeling away like old paint from a pressure washer when a guy meets his future wife, but the ones that are still around when the steam clears are the good ones, like my buddy Whit, in it for more than the party.

Whit had an apartment in the Polk district of San Francisco, near Greens Sports Bar where I went on Sunday mornings to watch the Dallas Cowboys with my fellow dedicated cloister of fans, here because the only televised games were the Forty Niners or the Raiders, unless there was a black-out for non-attendance, and even then the odds weren't very good. Whit invited me to a party, the likes of which I hadn't attended since before my soon-to-be finance moved in with me. Frankly I didn't miss the single scene too much; parties like this one usually involved the same conversations, a lot of how-do-you-do's and what-do-you-do's, loud pounding music and the occasional connection with someone interesting.

The night went by according to expectation. As is my wont, I was one of the remaining stragglers at the party. The empty keg floated in a barrel of nearly melted ice, and orphan plastic beer cups littered the available shelf, cabinet and table space, and the stuffy apartment air was thick with the smell of smoke and stale beer.

I was talking with Mike, a mild mannered boy from the deep south, who found the San Francisco scene to be quite different from his hometown in Kentucky. He had an innocence that could illicit the maternal instincts of an jaded school marm or a the most hardened employee of the DMV.

"There are a lot of bums here," he told me.

"Yeah, like at every street corner." I replied.

"I don't have much money," he continued, "and I can't give it all away, can I? I feel so guilty all the t-" His eyes widened and his mouth stopped moving. He stared in total shock through the entryway behind me. I turned around and followed the line that his eyes described. Standing five feet away was a tall, well muscled guy, looking at Mike like a hungry lion, wearing nothing at all, standing with his arms crossed in front of his chest and his legs apart, like an artists' rendition of Mr. Clean with a curly mop of hair.

I turned back to Mike, who looked at me bewildered, then looked back at towards the circus freak. "Trevor," he gurgled, "what in the hell are you doing?"

Trevor said nothing, uncrossed his arms and walked towards Mike with the same prowling countenance. I stepped back into the corner of the living room and willed myself to be invisible. Trevor gave Mike a shove with one arm, which Mike absorbed by twisting his shoulder back and snapping back to hold his ground.

"What's your problem man?" Mike asked with an embarrassed smile.

"I don't have a problem," said Trevor as he shoved him again. "Why? Do I look like I have a problem?"

Mike shoved him back, and it occurred to me by the look on his face that he was enjoying this. "C'mon man, cut it out!"

Trevor got Mike into a headlock and pulled his head down to his belly, with Mike's face towards his flapping manhood. Mike screamed and I thought that now was the time to get out before Trevor turned his attention to me. I felt my chances were good that I could win out in a wrestling match. Although Trevor was big, he wasn't that big, and I would be playing a whole different game, where the loser would be missing a few teeth. It was the embarrassment factor that chilled my heart; what if somebody walked in while I was wrestling with a naked guy? But curiosity is what froze me like a palace guard; this was better than anything television had to offer, not scripted like the WWF, and I had to know how this was going to end.

Trevor forced him to the carpet and announced. "I am now going to place my balls on your forehead," and Mike's scream could be heard across the Golden Gate Bridge. "Noooooo!"

And that is just what Trevor did. He roared, "My BALLS are on your FOREHEAD," and repeated this until he was satisfied, until the lion's hunger was sated. Trevor unwound himself, stood up and left us alone to sort out the details.

Mike got off the ground, made sure he was gone, then gasped, "OH MY GOD!"

I rolled my eyes. "Ok, that is the wierdest thing I have ever seen."

He let out a small nervous laugh. "I'm glad that my friends back in Kentucky didn't see that. The would NOT understand."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Barrel Tipping

My step-mother cleaned out the apartment and left with my brother and unborn sister for Cour d' Alene. Dad was screwing the neighbor, a thin blonde named Leanne, who was in the process of her own divorce, and had a son, Freddy Jr, who was two years my junior.

The smoke from my step-mom's squealing tires hadn't yet dissipated into the Hayden Lake sky when Dad announced his impending marriage to Leanne. Instantly I was part of yet another family, an older brother to another idolizing youth, and surrogate son to a fawning hopeful.

Leanne was one of the smart ones who saw early on the true face of the stranger to whom she was engaged, and decided to call it off. But she showed her true face too, the face of an angel, and tried to take me away from him, to give me a chance at living a normal life.

Leanne took me into her bathroom and shut the door. I sat on the toilet, the cover of which was down, and she kneeled in front of me and put her hands on my knees. Her eyes had crimson rings and tears flowed in winding rills.

"Scott, I'm leaving your father and I want you to come with me."

I was stunned, and normally would have laughed at such a gesture, for surely she couldn't be serious. Clearly she was, and I didn't know how to respond.

"You are such a good kid, Scott, and I can't bear to see you live with that man any more. You need a mother, and I want so much to take care of you."

"I don't know what to say Leanne."

"He is CRAZY Scott. There is something seriously wrong with him, and it isn't healthy for you to be with him any more. Come with me. I'm going back to my husband, and I've told him all about you, and he is as excited as I am. And Freddy is crazy about you."

I started to cry. How could I tell her no, and at the same time the life she described sounded so pleasant, so stable. At least it seemed so at the time. I didn't ask myself why a man would want to adopt the son of the man that was laying with his wife, or how a woman could be so attached to a boy she barely knew. This was Hayden Lake, the capital, as I would find out later in life, of the Arian Nation. Anything and everything was not as it seemed. But for all that, the little boy in that bathroom only knew one constant in life, and knew what he needed to do.

A violent pounding erupted at the front door. "Where the fuck is my son, Leanne!?"

She looked at me like a rabbit in a snare and shook her head, and her tears redoubled. "Don't go, I beg you."

"I-I-I'm sorry Leanne." I got up and left her on her knees, sobbing into her cupped hands. Her brother Tom was in the living room with a shotgun trained at the front door. "Don't open it," he warned.

"Scott?! Open this fucking door," Dad yelled in his most serious and deadly voice. I was compelled, by years of training, like a duck drawn by instinct to it's mother, and unlatched the deadbolt and stepped out into the night. "Good boy, now get in the truck."

Tom stepped into the doorway and aimed the shotgun at Dad's head. Dad walked towards him like a prowling lion.

"Get back," Tom said with forced conviction, but fear produced a warble in his voice.

"Put that gun down now or I'll take it from you and bash your fucking head in."

The gun barrel turned nervous circles for a moment, then slowly lowered.

Dad yelled past him through the doorway, "He's MY son, and nobody, NOBODY can have him." He turned on his heel, strode to the truck, hopped in and tore out with a deafening roar.

He looked at me. "What took you so long to come out?"

"Leanne wanted to keep me; she told me you're crazy."

"And you believed her."

"Well, I already knew that." We both laughed.

"Nothing else in this life matters to me, you know." Dad reached over and gave my shoulder a squeeze.

"I know dad, I just felt bad for her."

"I understand."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Letter

My mom showed me a letter a few months before she died that I had written her when I twelve. She told me that it broke her heart.
Dear Mom,

I'm glad I finally sat down to write a letter, but at least I'm writing one now.

My mom just had a baby, Sept. 15, 1977 at 5:15, named Adessa Marie. She's about as cute as they come and that's real cute.

I've already seen the movie 3 times (Star Wars) because I really like it. My Step brother Brenner and I have seen it together every time. Everytime I went, I said I was eleven, so I could get in for a dollar, but the last time I went, I slipped, and I had to pay $2.50.

I'm doing fine in my new family, but I much rather prefer that dad never got divorced. Brenner's not too bad of a brother, but he's too sensitive, and scared of lots of things because of movies, and he's 11 years old. But otherwise, he's a good brother. I like Cynthia, and I love her, but I'd rather live in my past families. It's not that she's a bad person, and she's not, I just don't enjoy this family.

I hope that one day that you and I can come visit one day, because that's what I truly wish.

Tell Jean and Lorrie that I said, "Hi!" and I'm sorry that their father and (or) husband died, unless it would hurt their feelings.

I love you very much, and I'm glad I wrote you a note. And I hope you like my picture.

Your Son,


P.S. Tell Mike that you two better get married, and also that I said Hi.
I enclosed a blue ink-pen drawing of R2-D2, labeled R2-D2's father. I really should hook up my scanner, to illustrate the meticulous yet childlike cursive script that our schools so meticulously taught us throughout our early education. I can't even write cursive anymore, except to sign my name.

I don't even know where to begin with this letter. At first I am touched by this glimpse into my earlier world, when life was about how many times I had seen Star Wars. But other parts bite. I refer early on to my step-mother as mom, with no regard for my own mother's feelings; over time I would come to know just how she felt about that moniker being assigned to another woman, when she decided that I should call her husband Scotty dad.

"No way, mom, he is not my dad."

"But you call other women mom!"

"That's because I was too young to think on my own, and my father forced me to do it."

Her lower lip jutted in an exaggerated pout.

"Mom, I promise you, I was too young, but you are my mom, my only mom, and all the others have an empty title, one that no other woman will have from now on. I can't change the past, and neither can you."

The letter illustrates a point that I had completely forgotten. The hallmark of my childhood was my summer visits with my mother, but in this letter, I am lamenting that I haven't seen her; and I realize now that, at twelve years old, I hadn't seen her since I was six, when she sent me away, from the back seat of my grandmothers car.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Stop This Crazy Sting

We bought a Rainbow swingset for the boys, some assembly required. For an ex-carpenter, buying a set like this is a direct assault on my manhood, sort of like getting passed on the freeway (it's a guy thing). There isn't a whole lot to it, simple construction techniques that any do-it-yourselfer could put together on his own. But according to Rainbow's literature, using their product is the environmentally safe choice because they use America's greatest renewable resource: wood! Hold on, I have to get a tissue to dab my eyes.

So I went on Saturday to pick it up in my gas guzzling Ford Expedition. Nobody but an office admin works on the weekends, so I had to load the pieces myself. I was led into the back lot where a large pile of various length redwood timber laid in an enormous pile, along with two four-by-six preconstructed panels, boxes of nuts and bolts, a couple lengths of chain, a tire swing wrapped in plastic, and a ten foot, half-pipe yellow slide; all of which, amazingly enough, fit into the back with only one length of beam sticking out of my back window, which I tied shut with some twine that I had uncharacteristically thought to bring beforehand.

I checked out with the office admin, and saw off in a side office, what must have been a septuagenarian, clad in nothing but a pair of red gym shorts and a pair of Nikes, surfing the net, completely absorbed and oblivious to my presence. Gravity was winning the timeless battle with his sagging chest and stomach, which was sparsely covered by a thinning gray pelt and a sheen of sweat nearly evaporated into the air conditioned office clime.

I flipped my thumb in his direction and asked the admin, "Who's this handsome fella?"

She grinned and waved her hand dismissively, "That's just Bob."

Perhaps he was the Bob from the old commercial, that ends with a handsome police officer leaning into the drivers window, who he has ostensibly pulled over for speeding, and realizing who the driver is, smiles and says, 'Oh, it's you Bob.'

"Of course," I laughed, "I didn't recognize him from this angle."

The family was excited when I got home, and helped me unload, at least my wife Beth did. My two year old climbed on the forming piles in the garage, while my five year old donned his helmet and zoomed in circles on his scooter around the truck.

In order to build the new set, we have to clear out the old garden, which the previous owners tended and we have ignored. Prior to this weekend, a fence was built around it, composed of six metal stakes drove deeply in the ground with barbs that grab tight and hold them fast, and a three foot high wire mesh attached to the posts, and bound to wood beams laid around the fence perimeter.

I took out a shovel and bit into the ground at the base of one of the posts and pulled out a chunk of earth crawling with bees. The bravest got me on the leg, so I dropped the shovel gave it a quick swat.

"I just got stung." I said to my wife who was standing nearby. My oldest son Jackson was standing just outside the garden nearby.

He no sooner got the words out, "What does it feel like daddy?", when he found out firsthand. He screamed like a burn victim and pulled red rills into his arm, where a bee attacked him like a jackhammer on pavement. Beth, who is allergic to most everything started screaming too, and I watched as she and Jackson scrambled towards the house. My two year old Emmett walked up next to me, and by this time the bees were getting organized and buzzing all around my body. I snatched him up and joined the others. By now, all three of them were carrying on, but little Emmett was untouched, just scared by all the commotion.

In the end, nobody was really hurt badly, although Jackson had been stung four times by the same bee, but his arm was worse for his frantic clawing.

"Jackson," I said to him once he calmed down. "I want you to notice something about what happened. It hurt really bad didn't it?"

"Yes," he said as his tears started to well again.

"But now you are ok, aren't you?"

"Yes," this time a little calmer.

"Next time a bee stings you, as much as it hurts, keep your head and slap the bee first. It will not sting you again. And remember that afterwards you are going to be ok."

"Ok daddy."

We went to Home Depot and bought a tow chain and hooked it up to the fence. I let the kids ride in the front seat, which pleased them more than any carnival ride will ever do. With the windows moving up and down, and the radio oscillating between ear splitting and a whisper, we pulled the fence out post by post, and then, because it was so much fun, we pulled out a few pesky stumps that won't be getting in my way anymore.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Why Did I Laugh?

I took Heather out for my high school graduation celebration. There were two different parties that night, depending on what crowd you ran with. I wanted to go to Serendipity, the mainstream party, partly because I was a glutton for punishment, preferring the company of people I wanted to be like than the people I was already like. Heather went to private school and preferred the burn out party at Auke Lake, so of course, that is where we went.

When we got there, she struck out on her own, so I wandered alone attempting to talk with a group of guys that tried to stuff me in a garbage can when we were in ninth grade. One of their number was our heavy weight wrestler, a red headed blubber ball nicknamed the Killer Tomato. I was soft spoken in school, but when I played football, I felt the equal to anyone, but he hadn't played football, and I had a few drinks in me.

"How come you never played football?" I asked him.

"I didn't want to."

"Well, that's too bad. It would have been interesting to see what you had."

His expression darkened. "Is that right? So if I were standing in your path with the ball, you would have..." he trailed off.

"... ran you straight through, just like everybody else." I finished.

He started to stand up, but buddy Rodley, stepped between us. "Now, now, let's keep it civil boys."

I walked away with my head still attached and looked for Heather, and found her across the blazing campfire in the arms of some long haired dope head I'd only seen around, probably hanging out at a gas station. I started for the car, when I felt compelled to at least let her know I was leaving.

"Heather!" I yelled across the span between us.

She looked at me and smiled her signature innocent smile. "Hi Scooter!"

"I'm leaving."

Her expression went slack, but her eyes were guarded. "Where are you going?"

"Serendipity," I said with a shrug, then left without waiting for a reply.

I didn't see her again until my first spring vacation from college. I was great friends with her mother, and many was the Friday or Saturday night that I would spend talking with her until evening expired, while Heather was out living the vida loca. Vivian was one of the good ones, who taught me that helping people in need was the best way in life to make a living. I miss her still today, a sentiment that has survived long after my unhealthy codependence on her daughter withered at the pace of an hour hand on a broken clock and died.

I called Vivian on the phone to arrange a visit, and she asked me for a ride to the airport to pick up Heather, who had spent some time in Seattle, and experienced for the first time a dose of humility, like a salmon that trades the relative security of a narrow river for the perils of the shark infested waters of the open ocean.

I agreed to help Vivian because she didn't have a car, but I had no conscious desire to see Heather. I too had been away, and had moved on--or so I thought. When Heather saw me waiting in the airport beside her mom, she dropped her carry-ons and jumped into my arms and kissed me with passion I had never felt from her, and my iciness turned to slush. But I remained aloof, but she was undaunted and persisted on seeing me. I had to study so I offered that she could come with me, and she accepted.

At the library, she looked up from her book.

"Do you have any girlfriend, or girlfriends at school?"

"I've met a few, nothing serious."

"Are they pretty?"

"Of course."

"As pretty as me?"

"I'd say so."

She smiled that smile again, the one that I find so hard to resist, and with all of her charm she said, "But they don't have that special something that I have do they?"

I wanted to lie so badly. "I will never meet anybody, ever, that has what you have Heather."

Her eyes were glowing like emerald sapphires. "I want to visit you at school."

I didn't say anything, and returned to my studies, but I couldn't comprehend the words anymore.

She reached out and touched my hand. "I want you to come over tonight. Bring some champagne and we'll watch a movie together."

The image of her across the smoky bonfire came back to me, and all the promises she made; she sounded earnest then as she sounded now. "I'll think about it."

"Ok, I'll wait."

My friend Eric called me when I got home, and asked me to go out with him that night, so I decided against my engagement with Heather. Eric and I bought our usual half rack of beer, and took it to a basketball gym where he was working at the time.

After we finished it off, we were so totally drunk and stupid that we couldn't make a simple lay up. I told him how I had blown off Heather, and it popped into my head that I should have called her to tell her I wasn't coming. I stumbled to the phone and attempted to dial her number, but I was too drunk to operate the old rotary phone. Eric, ever the valiant hero, dialed it for me, but kept the phone to himself.

"Heather?" he asked, then looked at me and grinned. "Scott wants to fuck the shit out of you."

Did I get angry at him? I should have. But what did I do? I laughed.

I snatched the phone from him and tried to explain, but she was livid.

"I heard you laugh Scott. Why did you laugh?"

I don't remember what I said, but to make matters worse, I drove to her house and talked my way in, and made a bigger ass of myself, until finally, her mom came out from her room and told the back of my head, "I think you should leave."

Shame washed over me like hot oil. I turned without looking at her lest she see me for the creature that I was, got in my car and weaved my way home.

That was the last time I ever saw Heather. I've ran it over in my head a thousand times. I'm embarassed for exposing my dark side to her mother, for disrespecting her home and her daughter. I regret so many things about that night, but in my drunken stupor I did what was best for me in the long run, cutting myself free from a woman that would have made me a miserable boy friend, much less a husband. She broke my heart a thousand times, and now her time had come. Whenever I have felt doubt, I ask myself the question that I have asked myself time and again: Why did I laugh?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Double Dump

My group of friends in high school included two girls, Heather and Paula. They were both attractive in different ways. Paula was short with blonde hair, and had a highly celebrated derriere. Heather was more of an obvious beauty, with long flowing hair, fair elven features, and an arresting feminine attitude that beckoned on the one hand, and was forbidding on the other.

I had a car and the girls called me to run them on the slightest of errands, and I was more than happy, grateful even, to oblige. Paula kissed me, a quick peck on the cheek, as I dropped her at Heather's house one day. My friend Mike witnessed it from the passenger seat, who thought of himself as a modern day Casanova and wore underwear that said "Home of the Whopper" on the crotch.

"I can't believe she kissed me!"

Mike smiled, "Why not? You're a stud."

My mind was swimming and my stupid grin lasted the evening. The next day, I knew what I had to do. I gathered my courage, dialed the phone, hung up, dialed again, etc. Finally I let it ring, and she picked up.


"Hi Scott!"

"Uhhh. How's it going?"

"Good, how's it going with you?"

"Good." Long uncomfortable pause. "So, er, I was just wondering, you know, if maybe you might, uh..."


"Uh, would you like to, you know, go with me?"

"Yes I would."



"Ok. So I'll see you later?"


Paula's was the first breast that I ever touched, and that only happened because she grabbed my hand and put it there. I was like a kid with a new toy, but it took me a full minute to realize what I held in my hand.

As I had encountered before, as sweet as it may seem to some girls, my innocence was a novelty at first, but it didn't take long for her to get bored. My best friend at the time, George, looked like the inspiration for a sculpture of an ancient Greek athlete. He had olive skin in the dead of winter, and was a top student. Rumors surfaced that Paula and George were sleeping together, but I didn't believe it. Eventually I couldn't ignore the rumors anymore, and confronted Paula, who assured me they weren't true.

"You know what is sad?" Paula asked me once. "After people break up they never seem to remain friends."

"Well, we don't have to worry about that, we're never going to break up, right?" Hello? McFly? Is there anybody in there?

Heather called me as a concerned friend, "Paula is making you look like an idiot. She and George are together almost every night." Which was plausable, since Paula was always busy, and never by the phone anymore.

"You're probably right; I don't know what to do."

"I'll tell you what to do, come over here and be with me."


"Are you saying that you don't want me?"

"No, but I'm not broke up with Paula yet."

"Well that's just a formality. Paula doesn't give a shit about you, but I love you. I want to marry you; let's go to college together and become lawyers. We'd make a great team."

I couldn't believe my ears; in my heart knew that Heather wasn't being real. She was terribly competitive with Paula, and lately Paula was all the rage while Heather was barely on the radar. But still, I liked Heather long before I did Paula, but never thought I had a chance. She was seductive and beautiful, and it was easy to let fantasy overshadow reality. Soon I was spending all my time with her.

Our incestuous group went to a video arcade together, and that is when the hammer finally dropped. Paula took me aside and told me point blank: "It's not working out between us. I think it's time to end it."

"Ok, Paula, good luck with George." She didn't seem surprised that I knew.

Heather took her place like a billiard ball with perfect backspin.

"I'm sorry Scott, but things aren't going to work out between us after all."

"That's ok Heather," I said with a smile I didn't feel, "Good luck with George."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Gay Perception

"I remember that you and dad went to a marriage counselor for a while," I said to my step-mother. "How did that go?"

"Oh, he thought it was all bullshit because he couldn't face his own shortcomings."

"That figures. So you stopped going?"

"Yes, no, I mean he stopped, buy I kept going for a while." She looked at me and paused, considering what she was about to tell me next. "Your dad wanted the counselor to test you to see if you were gay."

I was only in fifth grade at the time, ten years old. In today's world, kids that old have been exposed to sex on television, from their peers, internet porn and chat rooms. The age of innocence creeps down every year, but in those days, sex education was a hotly debated topic, and was only brought up as a lightly broached subject in our school that year. They told us about how dogs mate, hoping apparently that we would make the logical connection, but we didn't. I remember saying in my class that I would never stick my peter in a woman's vagina, and the whole class burst out laughing and the ridiculousness of the idea.

I certainly never got the "talk" from my dad. My step-mom thought sex was a duty she performed for her husband, not recreational, an experience to enjoy. I learned early thanks to my Catholic upbringing to keep "impure" thoughts to myself. It became part of me, and manifests itself even today in my marriage.

Amy Cottle. My first crush with an older woman. She was in sixth grade and I was in fifth, and she was best friends with my neighbor Cindy Miller. I confided in my friend Darin my feelings for her, and soon enough Amy knew.

For school lunch, you stood in line with a tray and collected your plate, silverware, food and drink, then sat in the next available seat at tables that spanned the length of a gymnasium, so that the people that sat across from you were random. I would always sit with Darin, and look around furtively for Amy, who reminded me of a country singer I had seen on Hee Haw, singing Lizzie and the Rainman, perhaps Tanya Tucker. One day however, to my absolute horror, Amy and Cindy sat directly across from us.

"Scott," Darin called playfully, long and drawn out, like you would call a hiding kid, "Amy's here."

My face flushed and I poked him in the ribs and said to the floor, "Stop."

Cindy added, "It's all right Scott, Amy knows."

I finished my meal quickly, without looking up. That night my dad found me in my room with my face buried in my hands.

"What's wrong?"

I spilled the whole story in a rush, except I didn't admit that I liked Amy: "I told Darin that I thought a girl at school was interesting, then he told Cindy, who told Amy, and now I'm accused of liking her!"

Dad tried to suppress a smile, and offered some parental guidance that blew through my head, then left me alone. But this is right before he and mom went to the counselor.

Mom continued, "He thought your were gay because you didn't want to play football anymore. And where was he? Out fucking some whore while I had to take you every day to practice and you were absolutely miserable."

"Yeah, I remember."

"Well, I finally had enough and asked you if you wanted to quit."

"And I said I did."

"That's right, and that was it. And boy was your dad ever mad at me."

"And me."

I decided on my own to play again in high school during my senior year, and was sorry that I hadn't played sooner. Dad was so happy that he volunteered as an assistant coach. The tough guy of my grade, our ferocious linebacker Dennis, once asked me, "That's your dad?" He motioned towards where he was taking a leak fifteen feet away from our huddle.

As I was about to leave for college, years of wondering had finally gotten the better of him, and he asked me outright.

"Son, I need to know something."

"Shoot dad."

"Are you gay?"

"Are you serious?"

"As a heart attack."


"Then why don't you ever bring any girls around for me to meet?"

Now there was a question that had many answers, none of which he would have liked. We lived in squalor, and I was ashamed. It's not that we lived in a trailer, although that was part of it. We had a St. Bernard whose water bowl was the toilet, that shook drool worms like schoolboy loogeys onto the walls and furniture, that dried and were rarely cleaned. We had no pride in ourselves, how we dressed and how we lived. To dad, women existed to wash our dishes, but what he got was a lazy, loud mouthed, barroom floozy that couldn't be bothered to get off the couch. Thank God we didn't have remote controls back then, or she never would have gotten any exercise. The tension between them was palpable, and their fights started promptly at eight. Everyone was miserable, and college was my glorious escape. I disagreed with almost everything dad believed in. He was old school from rural Ohio, where being a gay was second only to being black on the list of taboos. He never went to college, and was always surrounded by like minded people, but unlike his parents, he had a sense that his way was wrong, but was helpless and unwilling to fight it.

"I'm just private dad, what can I say?"

"There's nobody?"

"I think about Heather," I offered. "Would you come to my wedding if I married her?"

He laughed a little too loud, and replied with the most magnanimous and giving offer that his sheltered, monochrome upbringing could afford, "I'd even come to your wedding if you married a nigger."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Oh Brother!

I can't resist a good joke, even if I am the only one that thinks it's funny. I don't go out of my way to create a situation, but once the thought gets into my head, it's like holding in a sneeze, or stopping myself from urinating in midstream. For example, I went out on a date with an older woman, one that was my current age fifteen years ago. We stopped for a drink at a local bar and the doorman checked her id, then, offering no explanation, lightly pinched her wrist between two fingers and his thumb. She gave me a puzzled glance, and I promptly said, "He's checking for a pulse."

She didn't think it was as funny as I did.

My step-mother made blueberry muffins when I was nine. There was one for me and one for my four year old brother, but I had already eaten mine. I was washing dishes when my brother discovered that he still had his, and was delighted to find out that his was the only one left. He held his blueberry muffin aloft and paraded around the house, chanting, "I got a blueberry muuuuu-ffin, and you don't got one." He walked past me several times, and through the living room where mom was watching television, thoroughly enjoying himself, and never took a bite.

I was getting annoyed, and told him to just eat it, which had the effect of a half twist of the volume knob. He toured the livingroom once more and headed back to the kitchen, holding the muffin before him like a candle at Christmas mass, which brought it to the level of my rear end, which coincidentally was reaching critical mass. A poetic rebuke occurred to me then, like sweet lilting music or a Shakespearian sonnet. Never had the fates been so kind. As he passed by me, his muffin in perfect position only inches away, I let it go with astounding force, and the impact was more than I could have hoped for.

He screamed, "You farted on my blueberry muffin!"

I was laughing too hard to respond.

John ran into the living room and yelled, "Mom, Scott farted on my blueberry muffin!"

She ran into the kitchen in mock rage, but I thought it was real. She stood at the entryway and yelled at me, "Scott, did you fart on John's blueberry muffin?"

I started with my dopey, I'm in trouble voice, "Yeeees." But then I saw that she could barely control her laughter, and knew that I was ok. Whew.

Ok, so I was a little mean, but that's what big brothers are for. One day, around the same time, I decided that for a whole day, I wasn't going to torture him once, and would look the other way no matter what he did to provoke it. No scaring him by sneaking around the corner and jumping out when he followed, no playing piano on his chest, and definitely no wonder punches, which is just another form of tickling, with a balled fist dug into his belly. Today was his day off.

I told him about my plan, and he was all for it. We watched a TV show together. He started poking at me, on my chest and stomach, and I was annoyed almost immediately, but I kept my cool and told him nicely to stop. Poke. I looked at him and he just smiled, but it was a sly smile.

"I'm not picking on you today John, but you need to leave me alone too."

Still the sly smile.

Poke. Poke. Poke.

"John, I'm warning you, you'd better stop."

Poke. Poke. Poke.

I looked at my shirt, which was a plain white T, and it was covered with bugars and snot.

And so ended our first and only day of peace.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Little Big John

My brother and I have different mothers, but to us we are not half brothers; we don't feel the need to make the distinction like one does when introducing a step-mother. We are simply brothers, separated when I was ten and he was five -- doomed to only see each other on summer breaks -- with my unborn sister sleeping in my step-mothers' womb.

I didn't appreciate my brother when I was a boy. At five years his elder, I was the focus of his life. He was my shadow -- every aspect of living was dominated by the presence of this little kid that wanted to do everything I did, to be treated fairly, as an equal. My point of view however, changed one early summer, at a Cleveland airport terminal.

"This is your final boarding call for all passengers flying Continental non-stop service to Houston," the practiced voice over the terminal speakers announced. I was impatient to leave and quickly said my goodbyes to my step-mother and dad. I don't remember what advice they imparted, my memory fails me now. I turned away but my step-mother stopped me, "Aren't you going to say goodbye to your brother?"

Oh yeah, him. This vacation was a vacation from him, time to spend all by myself worrying about only myself. To be pampered by my mother who missed me and rigged the entire world to dance to my music for a summer. I hadn't forgotten to say goodbye, I just wanted to get away, and were I to say anything, it would have been good riddance.

Annoyed, I turned around slowly and looked down to say something, anything, only to be taken aback by the sight of a little boy with tears streaming down his face. I saw it then, who I really was, a shallow selfish boy. My perception of the world melted like ice cream in a blast furnace, and the dismissive words evaporated in my mouth, leaving me with nothing to say. I hugged him and he held me tight, as if I were teetering on a precipice. My eyes began to water, so I turned away before he could see me and ran through the gate.

With such a head start in life, I was substantially bigger and stronger than my brother, who we all called Little John, a title he was happy with until his late teens. He however wielded the power of his mother, and could invoke her like a warlock summons a demon whenever I pushed him too far, or sometimes out of pure spite. It was thus that we struck a balance.

As a little boy, John was fascinated with his naked ass, and it wasn't uncommon to walk around the corner to be greeted by his winking brown eye. Sometimes I would be outside with a group of friends playing tag or hide and seek, and John would be in the middle of it all with his pants around his ankles and palms down on the grass, frozen like a sculpture until somebody acknowledged it by kicking him over or yelling at him to pull his pants up, which was usually me. This drove his mother crazy, who decided enough was enough. One morning I was getting dressed for school and John did his trick, and mom walked into the room and slapped him on the rear so hard that it tumbled him over into a somersault. When he recovered he saw mom who had retreated to the doorway, and me in the corner trying desperately not to laugh.

"Mom, Scott hit me!"

I couldn't help it, and my laughter escaped in a loud report.

"Scott!" She looked at me in warning.

But that is the way it always was, one of us getting in trouble and the other one barely in control, which usually resulted in both of us in trouble.

Eventually, all little brothers keep growing after the big brother stops, and the old rules don't work anymore, and new ones have to replace them. We were working for dad on a rooftop when he made me mad and I told him how it was going to be. He looked me defiantly in the eyes.

"I'm not backing down to you anymore."

"Really." I stepped in front of him and tried to look mean. "All right, take your shot then." I gave him a shove, but he stared back at me, not a trace of fear in his eyes.

He didn't fight back, but we both stood there like Zaxes, the two Dr. Suess characters that traveled in only one direction each, opposite one another, refusing to move or even blink. I said something stupid like, "That's what I thought," then backed down after an intolerable wait.

Later that night, I apologized.

"John, listen, I'm sorry for treating you like that. You're grown up now, and I can't keep treating you like a kid."

"It doesn't need to be that way between us," he said.

"I guess I'm a little like dad sometimes, huh?"

He just smiled.

Every summer that John would come for a visit, we had an arm wrestling match. Unlike myself, John had a fire within, an urge to win that consumed him. I beat him every time, but he screamed and kicked like a mule on the way down. As I got older, I didn't care much about arm wrestling any more, and my career changed from carpenter to software engineer, and time spent at the gym was phased out for other less strenuous pursuits. My brother though, was in his prime, working as a home builder and getting bigger by the day.

He motioned me towards the table. "A little arm wrestling bro?"

"Sure, if you think you got what it takes," I said confidently.

We locked hands and his grip was surprisingly strong, and his skin was like sandpaper. He exhaled in short bursts like a steam powered train leaving the station, and when we started, he growled like a grizzly, pulling me over with ease.

And here we were, somewhere we had never been before. I was ashamed, and looked to the floor, trying to find something smart to say, something gracious and dignified. I reached out and shook his hand.

"Congratulations John, you beat me fair and square."

I could see the battle lust and elation swimming in his eyes, but he tried to hide it. All those years of being my little brother, of always being second best had come to an end, and now he had finally, finally, bested me. One of his lifetime goals had been achieved, and surely he wanted to celebrate, to rub it in and dance Mark Gastineau style around the room, but something in my eyes must have affected him like that tear soaked face in that airport terminal did so to me long ago. He hugged me and whispered in my ear. "You're still my big brother."