Feb 192016
 

 

blurred crowdLast week, while in San Francisco for a writers conference, I was walking with my young daughter on Geary Street near Mason, not far from Union Square, when I noticed him: a towering, disheveled member of the city’s vast legion of homeless people, keeping pace behind me.

I deliberately altered my pace—already considerably slower than the rest of the people who were streaming past since I was holding the hand of my toddler—to let him pass. But instead of disappearing into the upstream swim of pedestrians, he slowed, too.

Angling myself to keep him in my periphery, I took him in: 6’4, solidly built, and dressed in a green zippered hoodie with bulging front pockets. With eyes that darted around as if they were tracking an invisible swarm of bees in front of his face, he mimicked my movements. When I walked on, he followed. When I slowed down, he did too. I crossed the street and sure enough, he was right there behind me. It was only when I had stopped completely—pretending to point out something of interest in a store window to my daughter—that he finally seemed to have disappeared. Believing my new unwanted friend to have slipped back into the anonymous flow of pedestrians, I stopped briefly into a Starbucks to buy my daughter a promised hot chocolate before continuing on to Union Square.

Living in Seattle, there’s nothing like a warm, cloudless California day to flush the rainy Pacific Northwest gloom from the system. There was an art fair happening in Union Square, and my daughter and I decided to camp out on the steps in the plaza and soak it all in. But we’re only there a few minutes when I felt a presence behind me. I turned around to find our stalker hovering over us. I sprang to my feet, placing myself between him and my daughter and asked him what the fuck he wanted.

“What do YOU want?” he hissed. His posture changed, and he became aggressive, the ambiguity of his intentions dissolving before my eyes. He was no longer following invisible swarming bugs but was instead focused directly on me. At one point I kicked over my coffee and he laughed sinisterly. Then, looking at my daughter, he asked me if she belonged to me. He actually used the word belong. I looked over to where two women were sitting nearby.

“Excuse me,” I called out to them. “Can you take my daughter for me?” The women only made brief eye contact with me before quickly looking away. A man walking past pretended to be oblivious to what was happening. As a former cop, I’d been in enough fights with the mentally ill and drug-addled to know that I’m outmatched. When you’re psychotic or drugged out of your gourd, the pain is muted. Reason is fleeting. And to top things off, I’d been struggling with my self-confidence all morning ever since it had been pointed out to me that oily White House hopeful and Boston Strangler-lookalike Ted Cruz owned a red-checkered button-down shirt just like the one I was wearing at the moment.

By now, my aggressor was making quick, jerky, jumpy motions toward me like he was about to hit me. He was standing in an elevated position over me and the way I saw it, I could either keep standing there and wait for him to kick me in the head, or I could act now, drag his legs out from under him before he could react and start smashing his head into the concrete.

Just as a physical attack—one way or the other—seemed inevitable, the guy abruptly stood down. As I maneuvered myself up to where he was standing, he slinked away and ran off. Within moments a uniformed Union Square security officer appeared and asked if I was okay. I explained what happened—that the guy had been stalking my daughter and I for blocks—and he took off after him.

When it was all over, I glanced around at the people who were seated nearby when all of this was happening. Whether out of guilt or out of fear, not a single one will make eye contact with me. At some point, the women I had implored to safeguard my daughter have crept away from the scene altogether when I wasn’t looking.

In every plan I was making to do great bodily harm to my would-be attacker in defense of both my daughter and myself, I failed to take the good ol’ bystander effect into consideration. I should have known that rather than have someone do me a favor by safely removing my daughter from the danger at hand, we stood a better chance of having our beating deaths idly filmed by a couple dozen people with their cell phones.

Like it has in Seattle, the lax regulatory policies on homelessness in San Francisco have created a crisis for the city. In both cities, and others like them, the drug culture, mild climate, liberal approach to social services and high cost of housing has created a favorable atmosphere for the homeless. In Seattle; a 100-acre expanse of greenbelt beneath a section of the city’s I-5 freeway known as the “Jungle” has been turned into an encampment of homelessness and crime (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/05/3-boys-charged-with-jungle-murders-were-collecting-moms-drug-debt-cops-say/).

Since the incident, I’ve been reading up on aggressive panhandlers and learned that I may very well have been the target of a “soft mugging”; an extortion-like tactic where a panhandler will essentially stalk and follow a target menacingly until the target pays him to go away. In all my experiences with homeless people and/or panhandlers, this guy was undoubtedly the exception, for in all the number of times I’ve been hit up for cash on by panhandlers, I’ve never been straight up menaced.homeless man

I’m not going to pretend to be ignorant to the complexity of issues that ties into homelessness in America. Arguably, better access to mental health treatment and drug abuse intervention would be a great place to start, but I’ll leave the dissection of that social issue to the experts. For this is intended as a cautionary tale.

The radioactive decay of my Flint, Michigan upbringing had no sooner reached its half-life, you might say. I dress more conservatively these days. I’m not as grumpy as I used to be. And on a few occasions, I’ve even caught myself believing that most people are inherently good. But the incident in San Francisco has derailed me from my Doodles Weaver complacency. It’s a fact: we’re a hypocritical society; one that bemoans the changing mores of social decency while being gleeful consumers of its modality. While waiting for a New York City train in 2012, 58 year-old Ki Suk Han was pushed onto the tracks of the subway by a deranged homeless man named Naeem Davis. As the train was bearing down on him, Han’s last images weren’t of helpful bystanders scrambling in vain to pull him to safety, but rather the incessant flashing of a New York Post’s photographer’s camera capturing his final moments of life (http://nypost.com/2012/12/04/suspect-confesses-in-pushing-death-of-queens-dad-in-times-square-subway-station/).

So, you see, it’s important to keep in mind that even when surrounded by throngs of friendly bystanders, you shouldn’t rely on anyone to come to your aid when you’re being pummeled to death for the five bucks you have in your wallet.

You’d be better advised to just smile for the cameras.

Nov 282015
 

Gumwall3

 

It was 1993, and the name Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly drove the sales of flower bouquets through the roof. Sultry alligator wrestler-turned-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian Religious Sect in Waco, Texas. And the whirring, humming automated residential housing algorithms of Michigan State University matched me up with a snag-toothed, pumpkin-headed man-child from suburban Detroit named Mark (for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons, I won’t print his last name here but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes quite symmetrically with oh, smell…).

When I wasn’t knocking over the soda bottles of chew juice he’d left strewn about our floor, or dry-heaving from the rancid, composting piles of soiled clothes he’d leave lying out on his squalid mattress, I was flushing the gurgling mallow he’d left in the toilet or splashing away the dried toothpaste spittle from the sink basin. One night, over a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit in the study room with some other guys from our floor, Mark excused himself. When he returned, he had with him an unassuming shoebox that he set out onto the table in front of everyone. Without uttering a word, he lifted the lid, revealing a Christmas-colored, loaf-sized mound of what looked like fermented moss.

“It’s my booger brick,” he said. Quickly shoving ourselves back from the table, we listened as Mark went on to explain with listless sentimentality that what had begun innocently enough as a few, leisurely booger-wipes against a square of spare cardboard at around age twelve became a lifelong craft he would dedicate himself to building upon, one glistening little mucus-y glob at a time. To the rest of us, he may as well have displayed a severed human head and it was at that moment that I decided Mark was just off enough that I could no longer tolerate living with him and would pay the extra cash for a single room for the remainder of the year. Even though Mark was an extreme case, I pretty much decided from that point on to paint all potential roommates—no, all people, in general—with the same germ-covered brush as gross and vile…and this isn’t even accounting for those who think grossness should have some sort of redemptive artistic value.

Gumwall1

On November 10, city officials in Seattle steam-blasted the city’s Gum Wall; a 50-foot long corridor of brick in Post Alley near the city’s famed Pike Place Market. While standing impatiently in the long lines for a local improv theater to open back in 1993, tactless patrons began pressing their wads of chewed-up gum to the alley’s walls.

Proving that we live in a vast and diverse world that allows people to be idiots in entirely different ways, the trend caught on. Throngs of germy hippies from around the Pacific Northwest turned out in throngs to leave their own microbial contributions to the wall, leaving a germy, gummy glob of messages, mosaics and various slogans of the cause du jour that would ultimately stretch 50 feet long, 15 feet high, become several inches thick, and weigh a total of 2,350 lbs.

Feeling sick yet?Gumwall2

Considered among the five germiest tourist attractions of 2009 (second only to the Blarney Stone), according to TripAdvisor, it appeared as if the wall’s grody history would be effaced for good. But within hours of having been scrubbed clean, guerilla artists pressed a sugarless rendering of the Eiffel Tower into the wall in the wake of the Paris attacks.

In the popular imagination, art is one of those things that comes about as the product of a diverse range of human activities usually involving imaginative or technical skill. I guess in that sense, whether Seattle’s gum wall conveys some imaginative and workable canvass for artistic expression is still up for debate. Although, if you’re willing to buy that, then I’ve got some used toilet paper to sell you…just think of them as Rorschach imprints.

Jun 112015
 

339181-hourglassLast week, I turned 42. In a society as age-centric as our own, you’d think I’d be freaking out about it. After all, the half-century mark is creeping ever closer. The faint etchings of age around my eyes are slowly becoming fault lines. And the old knee injuries of youth have come back to haunt me. It ain’t all bad, though. I’m actually in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. My vision is still 20/15. And when I look at turning 42 as simply having seven 6th birthdays, I trick myself into thinking it’s not such a hard thing to deal with.

Inevitably, however, there comes a day when the lights will go out. When the flame will get snuffed. When—not withstanding a person’s personal religious beliefs—we’ll all be spending the eternity drifting and tumbling through a moist, black void of non-existence. It’s the worst blow of all to the human ego to think of our minds—our consciousness—as nothing more than the mesh of a functioning brain; our bodies simply a bag of tissue and enzymes.

No artist can ever truly explain the drive to create. It’s a maddening, arduous process to sit there before a blank page and try to give some tangible form to artistic expression. Aside from the hours of thinking and ruminating and spelunking deep into the oft-treacherous caverns of the mind comes plenty of self-doubt and second-guessing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve championed what I thought was the perfect set of paragraphs, only to glance at it the very next day and consider it all just complete garbage. A hobby like golf or stamp collecting would be much easier on the psyche, for sure. But that’s just it: a writer, and I mean one who writes with the desperation of someone trying to take air, doesn’t see writing as merely a hobby. It’s not something you do because you have an hour to spare. It becomes something you must do. A need to be fulfilled. We write to beat the Devil and that’s the point. Whether it’s painting a canvas or writing a song, sculpting a garden or writing a story. It may sound like a stretch but the basic goal of creativity is to compete with the inescapability of our mortality. We long to create something that’s bigger than us. Leave some part of us behind that will, at least in a pragmatic sense, remain timeless. Does that mean that all artists are narcissistic? Who exactly does longevity and timelessness matter most to anyway? The writer, or the reader? On any given day it can be either.

When you nail a sentence, it takes you to euphoric heights. Flub one, and it sends you plummeting to crushing depths. But that’s how it goes. You take the good with the bad. You follow your instincts while not always knowing what the instinct is saying. Because with every valley comes a peak. Ignore the value judgments of others and write only what is truthful. For when you create something you can be proud of, then you’ve already beaten death.

Mar 122015
 

“You don’t have to,” said Marci, with an affect that made it impossible for Davis to know whether it was being uttered out of sincerity, or more as a disclamation to have to reciprocate such favors some day in the future. Either way, it mattered not. It was a small price to pay to shake off any stodgy reservations that his newly appointed division support assistant might have had regarding her assignment to the company’s Topeka branch. Over lunch (she had had the chicken dumpling soup and a salad; he, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, fries and Sierra Mist), Davis had detailed for her his own odyssey from mailroom clerk in the company’s Boston flagship office, to Administrative Assistant in Danbury, to Administrative Assistant Coordinator and later Client Relations Specialist in Charlotte, to Facility Manager and Administrative Assistant Manager at the Minneapolis branch, before finally landing the Division Supervisor gig in Topeka. Continue reading »

Jan 262015
 

The best way to irritate and alienate other authors is to brag about your accomplishments.

For most of us, however, that’s not a problem. We deplore the self-promotion aspect of marketing our books.

That’s one reason we should have tribes. We need writer cohorts, such as you’ll find here at this site, who don’t just cheer us on, but celebrate our achievements. Which is a ‘round-about way of introducing a fact that I want to scream from the proverbial rooftops of the blogosphere. Continue reading »

Jan 252015
 

TP“Snuffleupagus always kinda freaked me out,” Atkins said, looking out the restaurant window to the street where a cop had just pulled over a guy in a gray Nissan. “Not him, per se. I think it was his entrance music. That sort of dragging, swaying, shambling music that seemed to strike-up out of nowhere. Think about how unsettling it’d be to think that some shaggy, over-medicated, mastodon-ish creature could just appear out of nowhere and address you with this apparent, soul-tingling kind of disinterest. If you watch closely, you can almost guarantee that the other characters had the same oh shit kind of feeling about Snuffleupagus, too. They all kind of stand there for a second with these blank expressions and for just a moment, it’s like they feel some sort of mortal dread to see him standing there. Good old Gordon always had a way of seguing any awkward situation into something that seemed somehow relevant and all-inclusive. It seemed like he could defuse any situation.”

“Man, it was Tiny Tim, for me. Jesus, man. I mean, what the fuck…? That buzzing mosquito falsetto voice. Long, stringy sea-hag hair. There was just something about him that made me feel like I had been, I don’t know, victimized by him in some past life. Like I somehow knew what it felt like to have his hot, rancid breath panting on the back of my neck. Christ.”

“Tiptoe through the Tulips.”

“Nevermind Tiptoe through the Tulips. Ever hear his cover of The Doors’ People are Strange? Or that one song, “Little Girl”? Where he wants to know where some little girl is sleeping and then asks her if it’s in some trees or some shit?”

Each turned to watch the cop as he was walking back to his patrol car with the motorist’s license and vehicle paperwork in hand.

“That guy looks pissed,” Atkins remarked.

“The cop?”

“No, the driver.”

“I don’t know…Tiny Tim, man. And that Dating Game killer guy looked just like him. Some freaky dudes in this world, man.”

“Here’s one for ya: Edward Muscare. Ever heard of him?”

Roberts shook his head.

“Edward Muscare…Oh, Pretty Woman. Google it, you’ll see.”

When the cop returned to the Nissan, each tried to determine if the driver, based on his facial expression, was getting a ticket, but the cop was blocking their view of him.

Yet another one of those things they’d never know the answer to.

Jan 012015
 

SpamBeing relatively new to the whole blogging thing, I’m still trying to navigate my way around the WordPress landscape. Despite the patient helpfulness of my friend and fellow Redwoods colleague, Laura Wilkinson Hedgecock, I still can’t figure out the difference between an “SSO” and an “SEO”. To me, “Users Ultra” sounds like a brand of condoms, and a “Plugin” sounds like something you’d order from an Adam & Eve catalog.

One thing I’ve figured out: you receive upwards of a billion spam messages a day in your spam filter. Some of them are pretty lame, like the tenacious pitches on how to make $1700 a day from home, or how I can buy a new pair of Air Jordans for $75 (written in mostly indecipherable English). Others, however, appear quite complementary. Even if they’re not specific to me, they still warm my cold, December heart.

Nevertheless, I have to remind myself that each of these messages were originally banged out on a keyboard by a pair of tender, caring human hands. With this mind, I’ve agreed to respond to some of them.

 

onlinecigarettestoreus wants to know:

onlinecigarettestoreus.com/x
antonionoma@mail.ru
62.210.83.64

“Great looking website. Assume you did a bunch of ace discount cigarettes your own html coding.”

Yeah, I considered that; just didn’t seem like the right time.

 

Here’s one from scsuhuskies:
scsuhuskies.com/prada.aspx?pid=17961-purchase-Pra…x
mozkxvestxf@gmail.com
98.143.144.143

“saffiano leather for sale”

You better not be joking…

 

Gay porn writes:

gay pornh8vn.com/xawqlgm@gmail.com 77.81.105.38

“Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very helpful info particularly the closing phase I deal with such info much. I was seeking this certain information for a very lengthy time. Thank you and best of luck.”

I’m glad you enjoyed the post, gay. I’ve actually had quite a few people remark on the closing phase section as well. I’m just sorry that it took so much time for you to find it. Check back next week when I’ll be providing some helpful tips on farcy garages and kedge tarhood.

 

And then there’s this writer’s two-cents:

Marcelo
Engeecon.com/mathematics/x
marcelo_layman@gmail.com
64.182.17.60

“Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. You could give yourself redirection.
However just imagine if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more,
“pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this website could definitely be one of the best in its field.
Amazing blog!”

-Solid advice, coming from a guy who can’t even spell ‘red erection’ correctly.

Nov 042014
 

 

exlaxI like to write early. And by early, I mean that knife-edge, where-does-the-night-end-and-the-morning-begin? ass-crack-of-dawn kind of early where everyone’s still asleep and the house is quiet and even the dogs look as though they’re trying to sleep off the remnants of a ruff night (har har…get it?). The smell of coffee wafts through the house and it’s the time of day when I’m at my least self-critical. Early in the morning, everything seems in place. Distractions are limited. All I can hope for is that once I finally sit down at my laptop, my expectations don’t go slamming head-on into a wall.

I once had an idea for a novella about a long-haul truck driver who, at day’s end and by the glow of a map light in his sleeper cabin, commits himself to writing a poem a day. Its working title was Road Scholar and I’d kept detailed notes on everything from semi-truck mechanics and nomenclature to radio jargon and trucker lifestyle (with two subsections devoted entirely to trucker gastronomy and lot lizards). I’d given my salty dog protagonist a Kris Kristofferson-look and had even sketched out a limited backstory that included a dishonorable discharge from military service for having killed the pimp of a Laotian prostitute.

flower between rocks

It was a sure thing. Something easy and fun. The intellectual equivalent of ordering-in. But in those precious, waning hours of early morning silence and concentration, I found myself barely able to squeeze out even a few sentences. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. Weeks passed, and nary a page came and before long I had all but aborted the project.

I suspect that, like most writers, the turbine that generates my creativity comes from some precinct of my unconscious; a place that can never be charted or mapped by even the most sensitive of neuro-imaging instruments. It can be an ornery and complicated thing. A frigid lover. And you have to ready yourself to accept that inspiration might just reject you when you’re most ready for it, only to come pounding down the door of your unconsciousness at 3 am when you should be asleep.

Personally, routine is what seems to be the best companion for writing (I like to write in the morning…rarely do I ever write past noon). But on a bad day, when I’ve squandered my time with self-doubt (which is the inevitable by-product of non-performance), I find myself feeling as if it’s necessary to work past my “normal business hours” until I can find just one sentence I feel good about ending the day with. Perhaps it’s no different than a gambler at a blackjack table who feels he’ll win it all back if he just hangs in there. It doesn’t help, of course, when you compare yourself to other established writers who seem capable of churning out one work after another with little to no effort. In a swelled and euphoric state, you may produce a good six or seven pages of what might seem keepable material one day only to scrap it all the next; perhaps no different than bedding someone one night only to regret it the next morning.

Inspiration can strike at any time.

Inspiration can strike at any time. Have your coffee ready.

Consider horror maestro Stephen King who was, at one time, contracted to produce three books a year. Norman Mailer’s series of child support payment books were written quick and haphazardously just to keep the Friend of the Court off his ass. Literary jokester David Foster Wallace once famously said of John Updike that “…he’s never had a single, unpublished thought.” Each writer I’ve just mentioned have themselves struggled with productive droughts. Yet, between the three of them, the words produced would probably rival the number of stars in our galaxy.

So, is it still possible then to plod through and produce volumes of passable material in a relatively short time? I guess the answer is subjective. If you think what you’ve written isn’t entirely shit, then it shouldn’t matter how much time or effort you’ve put into it, which brings me to my own self-evaluation. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if I acquiesce too much to the ebb and flow of inspiration to begin with. Perhaps the advice should be to just ram through any future creative roadblocks and keep…writing.

That’s the thing about advice, though. It’s much easier to give, than follow.

Oct 022014
 

With just the right amount of momentum, you could go tearing down Westcombe, jump the curb into Mott Park, blaze across the rickety footbridge that spanned the Flint River and make it halfway to the golf course clubhouse without pedaling. The tricky part, of course, was in safely clearing Sunset Drive; a 25 mph street, which ran perpendicular to and had no stop signs where it intersected with Westcombe. I’d done it once before and what a rush it had been. Descending Westcombe’s steep incline (the longest steep street in Flint) was like skydiving with a Huffy bike. But unlike my friend, Jason, I was cool with having tried it just once.childhood friend dies

Every day after school, we’d ride our bikes from where we lived on Bagley Street, cut through Mott Park, and huff our way up Westcombe to its intersection with Beecher Road where we’d play a few games of Double Dragon at a party store. So absorbed were we with our daily dosage of video animated violence that we once played on obliviously while the store clerk was being robbed at gunpoint.

Let’s face it: Jason wasn’t exactly the kind of kid you’d ever spot at a Mensa Youth Scrabble Meet. He looked and acted like a young version of Axl Rose from the Appetite for Destruction days and would stare down total strangers without provocation from the passenger seat of his mother’s car as he passed them by. The undefeatable cowlick in his red hair frustrated him. He had an allergy to breakfast cereals and misinterpreted the shit out of the most basic song lyrics. He stole cigarettes from his stepfather, inexplicably called his mother “chon-chon”, and, at age 12, got caught shoplifting a box of condoms from a pharmacy by an off-duty cop. We knew where to buy illegal fireworks and knew the best hiding places to snowball cars from. We hopped trains to the Genesee Valley Mall and got banned from the campus of GMI. We discovered the Beastie Boys together and watched Friday the 13th together and although I can’t be certain, let’s just go ahead and say he was the first guy I ever smoked weed with, too. In other words, we were perfect for each other. But as if not trusting his own ability to filtrate trouble or danger, he almost always deferred to me when it came to considerations that required some element of sensibility. So when he quietly nodded when I told him I wouldn’t be taking the “Westcombe express” anymore, I took it to mean that he would give it up as well. So I was a little more than surprised when suddenly, after flashing a quick, reptilian grin, he shoved off, waving a two-fingers-and-a-thumb devil’s salute up into the air as he quickly shrank away and disappeared down Westcombe.

Jason moved onto my street in early summer of 1983. I was ten and he was nine and like most every other kid who encountered him for the first time, I couldn’t stand him. Even at that young age, he was full of attitude. He picked fights with anyone who so much as made eye contact with him and he did this infuriating thing where he would call your name from all the way down the street just so he could flip you the middle finger when you looked his way. We were enemies in June. But by July, we had somehow become the best of friends. I learned that he had moved to Michigan from Louisiana with his mother following his parents’ contentious divorce. He was one of the first kids I knew whose family owned a VCR. Most surprisingly, he possessed some of the greatest natural athletic ability of anyone I’ve ever known. He was as quick and agile as a jackrabbit on the soccer field and was lightning fast and damn near untouchable on ice skates. He used to tease the hell out of me as he watched me lumber around on my own skates, ankles wobbling and arms flailing like a guy trying to sturdy himself on a tightrope. But on a frigid afternoon in December, he called me up and told me to come down to his house.

“Bring your skates,” he’d said.

When I arrived, I found that Jason and his stepdad had converted a section of their backyard into a miniature ice rink so that he could spend some time with me teaching me how to be a better skater.

The pivotal event in our lives happened when we were 14 years old. Jason and I had started hanging around with a new group of kids from across town. We spent our summers at a weed-overgrown park off Bradley Hills doing all sorts of naughty things and shooting hoops. One morning, we all met up on some railroad tracks near Bradley and Court Street. Within minutes, four Flint police cars swooped in and we were forced down to the ground at gunpoint. In a flash I was lying facedown, handcuffed, with a boot planted on the back of my neck. When I meekly asked the officer what was going on he ordered me to shut-up. I did. But Jason didn’t. I watched as the cop hauled him up from the ground then slammed him back down over a track rail. Unbeknown to Jason and I, two of the older kids in the group had robbed a party store about a half-hour earlier using a toy gun. We were all hauled away to the youth home on Pasadena Road where we remained until the matter could be sorted out. When it was ultimately determined that Jason and I didn’t have any involvement in the incident, we were released. I quit going to the park after that but Jason didn’t. And when the school year picked up again, we gradually began to fade from each other’s lives.

During a brief stint of academic eligibility, Jason made an appearance in our high school’s hockey program. During a halftime team congress in the locker room, Jason and I had words with one another. Given our mutually vitriolic demeanors, things quickly devolved into a fistfight between us. Grabbing him by the collar of his shirt, I repeatedly pounded him in the face until my teammates pulled us apart. By the next semester, his poor grades had forced him off the team and within months, he had dropped out of school altogether. At some point, he and his mother moved away.

We never made peace with each other.

Just a day before Christmas in 2012, my mother called to tell me she had happened across Jason’s obituary in the newspaper. It contained a recent photograph of Jason. Fuller in the face and sporting a mustache. He still had his cowlick. I was happy to read of his life’s accomplishments and aspirations. His goals and interests. He had a daughter named Jessica.

On a blustery, snowy afternoon, my wife, daughter and I made the drive to the O’Guinn Funeral Home in Clio so that I could pay my respects to my old friend. His mother, ever sweet and warm, embraced me and, with tears in her eyes, thanked me for making the visitation. She was surprised to learn that I had become a police officer.

“You always did know when to keep your mouth shut,” she said. When I asked her what had happened with Jason, she told me about his lifelong struggles with addiction and how he had, just within the past year, overcome a lengthy alcohol addiction. But one addiction soon gave way to another and before long Jason began abusing prescription pills. “He always needed a high,” she told me, shaking her head.

Standing at his casket, I took his hand into mine and said the words I wish I had said to him so many years before. I apologized for how things had ended between us and for the years of distance and separation that had grown between us. In some ways, I suppose I knew that the separation had been necessary, at least at that particular time in our youth. But I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I hadn’t tried harder to get him to once again follow my lead, just like he had so many times before, only this time down a better path. It occurred to me that if his essence was present there in the room, he was watching me with his characteristic smirk and making fun of me for showing up in a suit. It would have been his way of expressing forgiveness.

I found his daughter and introduced myself, offering her a few anecdotes about the youth her father and I had shared. Then, giving his mother a final hug, I scooped my daughter up into my arms and gave her a kiss.

Aug 152014
 

Grave

Now that there is time you feel as if you have none.

But ignore this. Keep your pace. And take in the serenity of your surroundings.

You don’t realize how absurd it seems until you try explaining it to your child: the concept of cemeteries.

“You mean there are dead people…like, in the ground?”

You nod matter-of-factly and watch as she glances around at the serene and perfect symbiosis of garden and stone. Gentle slopes of green cascade down from hills dotted with statuary and there, against the gathering velvet of dusk, you can make out the coifed gothic structure of a mausoleum on a hilltop. Continue reading »

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