Nothing is better than getting a new toy.  Ask any child this time of year as Christmas rapidly approaches.  This child is hoping Santa has something special for him under the tree this Thursday.

A new bike.

Scott Scale 760, light aluminum alloy frame with 10 speed rear cassette, Shimano XT rear and Deore front, Rock Shox fork with remote cable lock out.  29er with disc brakes.  A basic bike.

Scott Scale 760, light aluminum alloy frame with 10 speed rear cassette, Shimano XT rear and Deore front, Rock Shox fork with remote cable lock out. 29er with disc brakes. A basic bike.

My friend Pete, a local bike owner who has been struggling to make his new shop earn a profit, is going out of business.  We have done a lot of volunteer work around the community together, so Pete has reserved one of the last mountain bikes out of his remaining stock for me.  He picked it out with me in mind, knowing that I have been riding a bottom of the line mountain bike that I bought used two years ago, a nice bike but never intended for the hard trail riding I have subjected it to.  Pete has been the mechanic for that bike, one of the reasons why it survived two seasons of hard use.  So the Scott Scale 760 bike he has reserved for me, a step up from my current ride but just a step above entry level, is a nice gesture to me as a loyal customer and friend.  As we shared a beer together the other night and I listened to him talk about the closing of his shop, Pete offered the bike to me at cost.  I took the bike out yesterday morning for a quick trail ride and loved it.

Now I need to find the money.  Here’s hoping Santa is kind to me….

Why a man can’t chew gum while listening to his wife

Constant negativity is something most people, male or female, can’t tolerate.  I read somewhere recently that women need to realize what it does to their man when all he hears from her is negativity and complaints from her — whether it is talking about not having a thing to wear (but your closet is full?), not having enough money for this or that or whatever, how much she hates so and so, what the dog did on the carpet today, the problem junior is having with math, etc… often accompanied by a rapid fire checklist of tasks that need to get done and how she wishes they could get done right away.  The guy wants to solve and when the issues are piling up, he gets overwhelmed.  The complaints can be legitimate, serious or trivial or mundane, but sooner or later it’s going to seem like that is all he hears.

I was out for my usual Sunday morning breakfast with my daughter this past weekend when she told me how frustrated she was the night before.  She had spent all afternoon with her mother and aunt, and her aunt was so negative that she couldn’t stand to be around her any more.  I had noticed how quiet and withdrawn my daughter was when I got home that night, a rarity for her to be that way, and I had guessed that might be the reason for her funk.  I have known her aunt for more than twenty years, have experienced the same frustration at her persimmon sour perspectives, thanking heaven above that she lives several states away.  Alyssa looked like I had felt many times over the years.  As I listened to my daughter talk about her aunt, I had to fight the temptation to talk to her about her mother.  Why?

Let’s just say negativity runs in the family.  Listening to my daughter, coupled with what I had read about how a wife’s negativity affects her husband, made me realize why I am having such a hard time sitting alone with my wife.  She is constantly piling it on me, problem after problem after complaint after issue after failure failure failure.  After a while she makes me feel like a complete failure.  Her life is an utter mess and I have done nothing to deliver her.  No wonder that years ago I quit being her prince.

Our daughter is a college freshman.  I started a new job a few months ago, allowing me an extra hour or so in the morning before going to work, where I can sit for a quiet breakfast with my wife, who also has more time due to a new job and less responsibility around our house with a daughter away at college.  At first, I welcomed those morning moments with the hope that maybe we might find something in those early mornings that will draw us together.  We need that, our relationship so strained that thoughts of divorce are very real.  In the evenings after our daughter left for college we sat down at the table, occasionally sharing a meal together, talking about our day and actually having some good moments together.

Somewhere in those times together, a pattern started to develop, especially as the strain of my wife’s new job started to hit her.  Every conversation started with a complaint that snowballed into a barrage of complaints.  Never one to take responsibility for a task very well, my wife suddenly became unwilling to do even the simplest of tasks herself, instead calling me to come ‘help’ her (do it for her) — even if I am asleep or meditating in the throne room.  One morning, after she had woken me up to complain about our son’s grades and had followed me into the bathroom to talk about that and a few other things while was taking a shower, then continued as I tried to have a quick bowl of cereal, I asked her to stop for a second.

“Please, can we just have some quiet for a few minutes?  I want to listen to you, but it seems like all you are doing lately is complain.  It’s really dragging me down.  I am at the point where you are overwhelming me.”

And she was.  And she was offended.  Angry.  After all she needed to unload.  So she did not stop.  I put my shoes on, grabbed the back pack that I take with me to work, stood up without a word, and walked out the door, left for work early.

Instead of sitting with her in the morning now, I find myself fleeing out the door.  Most evenings are the same.  As I listen to her, I can feel a tightening in my chest, the stress of listening to her complain making me sick.  There is just too much.  One thing is fine, but how in the world can she worry about so many things at once?  It is impossible to solve everything, no matter how much I want to.  Many of the things she worries about, such as constantly monitoring our high school aged son’s grades to the point of being in daily contact with several of his teachers, I do not agree with — and years ago disagreeing with her became so frustrating that I gave up.  That weakens me and also takes away my ability to solve or offer any type of active listening.

I do not feel like she is reaching out to me.  She never touches me.  She never does anything to try to make me feel special.  Her main focus is our children, her sisters and friends, her job.  I am no where close to the top of her list.  No wonder I feel overwhelmed by her problems and complaints.

No one should ever expect their spouse or significant other to change.  My wife sees everything through an obsessive gray lens.  That is her personality.  I will not ask her to change, but the negativity expressed to me has to stop and I will tell her so.

Geez, I think I have complained enough…..

I Am Not God

I am not god.

While that may be an obvious statement to most, there was a time in my life where I felt the pressure to be god.  Many years ago, I was a church pastor, not a full grown one because I was single and young and a youth pastor, which meant some of the older church members didn’t take me serious.  Some did.  Some came to church and expected me to be, in a lot of ways, god.  Pooh pooh that statement if you want, but think about what how we describe any church pastor who is caught making a mistake.  We describe them as ‘falling from grace’.  In a lot of ways, a church pastor or a priest or a nun or anyone whose vocation is dedicated to serving god, is elevated to the point of being god in the eyes of many.  To many, they are god.  There are standards that must be met, standards that ordinary people don’t have to meet.

Although those outside of believing in god like to set those standards on people who do believe in god.  There is a certain way that any type of believer must act.  It’s a believers’ box and if they don’t fit in, well, ummmm.. god forbid.  Trying to fit that mold can be stressful, the expectations seemingly almost impossible to meet, and I have seen many give up simply because they know they can not meet those expectations, especially young people.  It is tough even when reality, even god says, it shouldn’t be.  Contrary to what I thought at one time in my life, it never gets easier to live as the world thinks a Christian should or even as other Christians think a Christian should live.  You don’t reach certain levels or earn badges as you progress in life.  The challenges are different in each stage of life.

I am not godly.

Or at least I struggle to be godly.  My idea of what is or is not godly has also changed, especially as I break away from the clichés I was brought up to believe (whether those clichés are right or wrong is not important).  I have learned to expect that god accepts me as I am, found out that there is a common sense to what god expects from me, seen that I can still make mistakes and still be accepted by god.  Big mistakes make it more difficult for me to approach a holy god, but even a holy god is my creator who understands the spiritual struggle I am dealing with.

I hate not being perfect.  I despise living in the world and the mistakes that I make.  Sometimes the world seems like a big fishbowl where everyone is looking at me and expecting me to swim straight.  I can’t.

That is why going to church can be so cool.  When I go to church, a place where I am with other Christians escaping from that fish bowl existence, there is an hour or two each week where I do not have to worry about being god or godly.. just with other people who want to be in the presence of god.  A church is a good church when it becomes a refuge.  I know there are churches that are not and that makes me sad,sorry.  Mine is.  Mine helps me to understand that worship (church) is a whole lot more for me than it is for god.

Think about that the next time you go to church or pray, if you are one who does that type of thing.  Going to church or praying or singing a song is for you.  It is not an obligation.  Going to church is not your duty.  It is your time to be with god and with others who are there to approach him, to enjoy the refuge of one who knows you and really doesn’t care who or what you are, in a place with others who mean nothing more or less to him, who leave whatever shortcomings, successes, and whatever else defines them outside as they approach god.

There Is freedom.

That freedom makes me want to dance like David, a man who made so many mistakes, yet knew the freedom that made him one of god’s most beloved.  Don’t worry — I will not dance naked like David did.

I have a shot.

What I Need

You know what I need right now?

Money?  Maybe.  But that would only be a temporary fix.

Sex?  I can answer that one with another question — what’s that?  Once again, only a temporary fix and one that would put me to sleep, like most men, quickly.

A fast mountain bike ride?  Actually, that one might be a yes.  It’s not number one on my list though.  Usually it would be.

Season tickets to the Bulls?  Ha.  Ha ha.  Hahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaa.

What I could really use is a day of uninterrupted video gaming, a Call of Duty marathon.  I need to shoot ‘em up for a while.  It has been months since I have hijacked my son’s Xbox and I miss it.  A totally wasted day would really give me the jollies right now.  Stock the freezer with pizza rolls, warm up the flat screen, slip on the Angry Birds fleece pants, and I am all set.

Too bad there are things like work and chores and adult stuff to do.  I need a break from being responsible.  I want to be my teenage son for a while.  Perhaps it is time for a Freaky Friday type of reversal.  Hmmmmmm.  No.  My son could not handle being me for even a few minutes, especially since there is no way he would be getting access to my credit cards, even if he were me.  On the other hand, he might thank me once the reversal was over.  I am certain he would be in much better shape once the reversal was over.  Chicks would dig him.  He might actually have some muscles he didn’t know he had.  Certainly he would be better looking.


Alone In The Star State

I love it when I come up with a catchy blog title.  This could be the first blog ever to be made into a movie.  I’m thinking George Clooney will win the scuffle to play the lead.

Since May I have seen enough airports to start writing a blog to rate them.  Airports are much improved from the old days, my first experiences flying the pterodactyl.  Negotiating security on this side of the water has improved to a near non-event status these days, pre-check making the process quick and painless.  Entering Midway (Chicago) and San Antonio International took a total of two minutes.  Everything stays in my backpack, including the laptop PC, shoes and belt can stay on, and even if I beg for a body cavity search, it doesn’t happen.  Even writing ‘Helter Skelter’ on my forehead with a Sharpie draws (pun intended) no attention.

There have been headaches.  Mister BooHooIWantToKnockMyselfOff screwed up air travel in Chicagoland by attempting a combo suicide/arson at the Aurora, Illinois radar facility.  The last few months saw average delays for flights to/from Chicago of 2-4 hours or more.  That problem seems to have been solved by speeding things up, apparently, since I had the Mario Andretti of jet pilots this Monday morning.  There was apparently no line for the runway and he didn’t even slow down to make the turn for take off.  I think my loud WHOOP during lift off frightened the girl next to me.  She shrunk against the window and stayed there the entire 2.5 hour flight to Houston.  I experienced having my luggage lost on a return flight earlier this summer, the customer service person insisting I was a obsessed lunatic when I claimed, after waiting an hour, that my luggage had been lost.

She was not correct.  Don’t even go there.

My luggage was found on Elizabeth Perkins’ front doorstep, another one of her attempts to lure me into her web.  It’s OK if you don’t know who she is.  Let’s just say she heard of my undeniable crush on her and is overwhelmed by my charming good looks.  I am resisting.

I found out what car rental service NOT to rent from on this trip.  I waited for an hour in line to rent a car on Monday, then found a dent in the car I rented but could find no one to process the form to document it, then spent 45 minutes circling the San Antonio airport this afternoon trying to find the return center.

My travel week started at 4 AM with the limo picking me up at home to take me to Midway airport in Chicago.  I like Midway now.  At one time it was a hole in the wall airport and I swear I saw pilots wearing leather helmets with goggles there.  Now it is modern, the hub for Southwest Airlines (my fave simply because it is inexpensive).  There is plenty of open area and eating areas to relax while waiting to board.  My flight went without a hitch, although my seat mate offered me gum at one point.  Oops.  I forgot to put mints in my carry on.  Even with the delay at the rental car counter, I made it to my appointment in time to introduce myself and let them take me to lunch.  It was a productive day.  My hotel was close by and I saw several clients.  The evening was quiet, with a good burger and a chance to see Mockingjay (I was the only person in the theater).

Yesterday was an interesting drive from Houston to San Antonio.  I like seeing Texas, an interesting state with unique terrain.  It still feels like the old west in places.

Today was sales calls with one of my salesmen.  If you like visiting waste water treatment plants, then you would have had a good time.  We had to climb the stairs and negotiate the catwalk above 30 foot tall effluent tanks.  I washed my hands a few times when I was finished.

I am in the San Antonio airport now, relaxing and working while I wait for my flight.  Oh, and I do like the long legged women with jeans and boots here.  I may have had a few opportunities to cast a quick glance at a few.  This airport rates high on the ‘creep opportunity’ scale.  The only airport that gets a higher rating in that category is Schiphol.

Which airports are my favorites so far?

1.  Schiphol

2.  San Francisco

3.  O’Hare

4.  Midway

5.  Nashville


1.  Atlanta

2.  O’Hare (yes)

3.  Houston Hobby

4.  San Antonio International (claustrophobic and poorly organized)

I like an airport with ease of access everywhere.  Nice places and space to relax at the terminals.  Refinied security.

Can’t say I am an accomplished traveler yet, but I am getting there.  I can negotiate the details well now and so far, with ease.

OK, I just heard the Southwest ding dong that precedes the cattle call.  Ciao!

Harlequin Here I Come

No one has asked me to share, but I thought I would at least give up a little of my NaNo for this year.  Because I wasn’t prepared to write a November novel, I am taking bits and pieces from what I remember from my own life, embellishing on those memories to make a story.  What I am going to share right now is a bit of one of those memories, a total first draft free write.  I do like the way it flows and the personal aspect of it brings the character out  in my mind.  I can see her like I saw her some 30+ years ago.  Funny, because if I wrote about her with what I know now, it would not be even as close to the fond memory I think shows here.

Working title of the NaNo is ‘Facing The Ice Age’.  Without further adoodoo:

Tami found me as an open slate. I had so much to learn and she had just the right amount of woman in her, even at 17 years of age, to teach me what I needed to know. Tami was fair, a clear head even when her emotions tried to get the best of her, but she knew how to let me know I was the most special man in the whole world.. well, special boy in the whole world to her. That evening for dinner at the McKay’s, when the sight of Mike Barnett had almost sunken me completely. I had just about turned away, but Tami whispered to me “you are the only one I want to see tonight and from now on.. Mike is gone”. My heart was already halfway there and hearing those delightful words from her lips was a dear gift to me. She could have asked for anything from me and I would have given it to her.

Oh and one more important thing about Tami – she wore a tiny white bikini that night in the pool. Dang. Even now I can see her wearing that bikini in my mind, short wet hair, how she felt as we embraced in the shallow end of the pool, just us as the dim lights in the pool shimmered around us.

I thought I was in love that night.

I stayed that way. I still wonder if I was. The memory makes me feel the same thing over and over and over, endlessly, again. I ache with the enjoyment of the memory. There is a part of me that wants to live that memory each moment I breathe, ecstacy mingled with the sheer joy that she has surrendered herself to me. I am her world and she is mine. We had the ability to create our own world. Instead we created memories for each other.

You know what is odd about remembering Tami? I only want to remember how I felt to her. I don’t want to go back, don’t want to relive that time with her. I think it is also because I also remember the absolutely dreadful months of pain as I lost her. I had gone away for college and she had gone to another college. We came back for the summer and she didn’t want to see me. Something had changed, changed so much that she did not want to tell me right away. It took all summer before we finally went through a tearful break up, a final night of passion together.

She was married a year to the day after she broke up with me.

I want to hurt like that again. I would like to love like that again. Call me odd for saying that. There was something about the pain that revealed how truly in love I was. I grieved, but I willed myself to let her go without a fight. I loved her. I couldn’t fight her. Not after the gift she had given me.   I needed to feel that way, wish I had the chance that feel that way again, feel the pain that comes from loving from deep inside.

She was pregnant when she broke up with me. I don’t understand it. She was in love with me, told me over and over and over again in letters, during our phone calls, as we shared those sweet evenings together kissing until we had to part (and we could easily have kissed forever).   I was still a boy, could not understand how love could change in an instant. It did for her. She decided that being married to a minister was not the life she wanted. Her sister had convinced her of that. I remember when she told me that. It was the first night after I had returned from my first year of college. But she couldn’t tell me to my face. She called me. But she didn’t break up with me. She just told me that she could not marry me, which I suppose was the same way of telling me that she was breaking up with me. I didn’t hear it that way because I didn’t want to hear it that way. I wanted to touch her again, kiss her again, feel her close to me again like I had been waiting for intensely during those last few weeks of the semester. I waited all summer, calling Tami now and then, hoping she would want to see me. I needed to see her, wouldn’t believe what was happening until I saw the truth in her eyes, let her really tell me.

I got the chance.

August. A week before I had to go back to school. I knew Tami was not going back to school. She had told me over the phone, the same night that she told me that she needed to see me again before I left. The news buoyed me even knowing that seeing her likely would be my last, the fact that she did not want to see me but once all summer telling me that she had given up on me. But she loved me. She needed me. A summer without me had helped her to realize that. It did not matter to me that I was in denial. There was hope. She wanted to see me.

I don’t know how to describe that night. Even now I am confused. Love is confusing, an enigma that has no code. No one needed to tell me how to feel. Seeing her was enough for me, the longing for her touch overtaking me. I didn’t know how pitiful I really was, how stupid. Perhaps that was my redeeming grace. Youth is not as creepy as middle age.

I pulled up in front of her house, my red Plymouth knowing where to go, a place it knew so well. She was waiting for me in the front yard of her house. Even now I see how she looked as she waited, forlorn and defeated yet somehow ready to see me again. I didn’t imagine it. It was not something I imagined because I wanted to see her that way. No. She needed to see me.

Why did life have to change her before it changed me?

She wore jean shorts, a nice tee, flip flops. I liked that she was comfortable, laid back, just like me. I had always enjoyed that and I think she enjoyed that about me. I can see her in my mind, sheepish in a way, looking down as I drove up as if she were ashamed but yet when she looked up I saw a smile. In a way, I liked the apparent reluctance as she approached my car. I got out as usual, opened the door for her, something I enjoyed.

Then she did something strange. When I got in the car, she grabbed my hand and held it tight, kissed my cheek, put her head on my shoulder. I looked at her, tears streaming from her eyes. I didn’t know what to think. Was this the girl who had shunned me all summer? What was going on?

Hardly a word was spoken as we drove away from her parents’ house. I took her into Springfield, ten miles away, for dinner. The whole trip we didn’t say much.. until I spoke.

“I miss you so much.” I squeezed her hand, still entwined in mine as I drove with my left hand.

All Tami did was snuggle closer to me. She said nothing. Nothing at all. It was as if she were trying to get as much of me as she could, like she would never see me again. I was in between ecstatic and despondent. Something was both good and wrong. I could feel her tears on my shoulder.

Why did I have to know she loved me? Why did she have to leave me to live a life without her? That night I just needed to hear her say that she loved me, that she was sorry about the summer, that she wanted to be with me forever. I was ready. I would have asked her to be my wife. I would have been happy. I knew she would have been too. I would have changed my entire life, my entire destiny, just to be with her. I would do anything, give up anything, just to feel her holding my hand for eternity, her head on my shoulder. It—felt—so—good.

We didn’t feel like eating, so we didn’t. Tami asked me to take her to a quiet place where we could park and talk. I didn’t argue. I wanted to be alone with her. So we went to a city park, found the parking lot and went to the back of the lot, far away from where we could be seen. I parked, shut my red Plymouth off, released my hand and put my hand around her head as she rested against my shoulder.

“I still love you.”

She said nothing. Nothing at all. Her right hand went around my waist.

“I have missed you so much. This has been the worst summer of my life.” Such a contrast to the summer I had spent with her before, the best of my entire life, still the best of my entire life. Tami lifted her head, looked me deeply in the eyes, kissed me on the cheek, then moved to the other side of the car, her back against the passenger door while she faced me.

“I don’t want to tell you this.” Resignation.

“Then don’t.” I reached my hand across to her. She held my hand. Why did it have to be this way?

Tami leaned across the car, put her hand behind my head, pulled me to her and kissed me. It was the most passionate kiss I had ever experienced, even on the most passionate of nights with Tami, which had been extremely passionate. I don’t think any woman has been able to match her passion yet, none, not even starved Jodee. But the kiss that Tami gave to me had a sadness to it. I could feel it as I looked in those beautiful green eyes. I knew what was coming, yet her kissing me told me everything I needed to know. But why did it have to be this way? Why? It just did not make sense.

You need to know something about Tami. When we realized how attracted we were to each other, not long after our night together in the pool at the McKay’s and after Mike Barnett was out of the picture, Tami asked me one of the questions that shaped my young perspective – how far should we go sexually? I had never been asked that question, had never thought of it. But that day we agreed to never have sex together until we married, a promise to each other that we kept no matter how difficult it became. It was difficult. Very difficult.

And it made Tami the most special woman I have ever been with. She set the standard that I tried to meet with Sylvie, a standard I thought Sylvie passed and exceeded.. until it came to passion. Until it came to putting herself aside, something Tami did until the end of our relationship came. Sylvie has never been able to get past herself enough to really want to please me.

But that night, as we kissed, Tami had a different look in her eyes, a surrender that was different than what I had seen before. She pulled away again, this time pulling her shirt over her head, revealing tiny breasts but perfect to me. It was my first time to see a girl’s breasts, ready for me, surrendered to me. Tami sighed as I pulled her closer, then pulled my shirt off as I took her in. That was far as we went, still not breaking our vow. And we stayed that we for hours that night, greeting the dawn together, holding each other. We both cried, my chest wet with her tears. She waited to tell me, knowing full well that I knew what was coming.

Do I need to say what happened next? Maybe you know. I don’t remember what she said, but it was not what I wanted to hear. All summer she had been seeing someone else, someone she had known before me, a man several years older and a farmer in the area, someone she had worked for walking beans during the summers. Apparently she had walked more than beans. She didn’t say she was pregnant. I didn’t know it then. But she told me about him, told me that he was good to her, told me that she loved me but did not want to spend her life with me.

There is something I have left out of the story. I have a tendency to do that as I demonstrated when I failed to immediately mention that I had met Jodee through an adult dating web site. In the case of Jodee, it just made my taint even stronger. I am a good Midwestern boy, churched from birth, and I don’t want that taint to be hung on me. There is something I have failed to mention, the reason why Tami could not see herself married to me. The college I went to was a bible college, intended to train men and women to be Christian ministers. I went there hoping to escape the moral weakness I knew existed in me, certain that I would be too vulnerable at college to avoid the temptations available. When I got to bible college, I found that it suited me. I had been a leader at my church youth group when I was in high school, something that Tami liked after she started seeing me after that week of camp. She liked my faith in God, but she didn’t like the idea of the serious commitment it took to be a minister’s wife. When I decided to stay at that bible college another year, maybe even try to be a minister, she knew she had to weigh her future with me. She wanted to be with me, but my decision had forced her to make a decision about me.

But I still held her that night. I didn’t want to let her go. God, I wish I could have held her forever, keep her from making the mistake of marrying that farmer. She would have been so much happier with me. Had she not listened to her sister, she may not have been with him. But she was. And I hated it.

Listening to myself say that seems a bit insane. An insane man says that a woman who has rejected him would be so much happier with him.

Tami’s mother, more than thirty years later, saw me at my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary party, told me that I was the best man Tami had ever dated, that Tami had made a big mistake letting me go. Insane statement confirmed.

Seven years after our break up, while I was a youth minister at a church not far from where I was born and raised, Tami called me. It would be nice to see me again, she said, and we could catch up. We picked a night to get together, so I picked her up at the apartment she had rented near the city hospital. Tami invited me in and greeted me with a hug, nervous and unsure, friendly but unsure. I had a sense that maybe her mother had encouraged her to give me a call. The apartment had very little furniture in it, as if she had only been there for a short while, we talked for a few moments at her dining room table, then she excused herself to finish getting ready.

When she came back out, a little brown haired boy followed her. I didn’t have to do the math. I could tell how old he was and knew that his age would correspond closely with our break up. He wasn’t mine, I knew. That was impossible.

“John, this is Steve. He is an old friend of mine and I know he wants to meet you.” I am not so sure John wanted to meet me. He was ready for bed, flannel footed pajamas, and he refused to look at me until Tami asked him to.

“Hi John, I knew your mom when she was really young.” Tami smirked at me. “How old are you? Do you go to school?”

John didn’t have any problems looking me in the eye and answer my questions. “I’m six. I go to school at Monroe. My teacher is Miss Pekar. She is pretty cool.”

“It’s good to meet you, John. I bet you are getting ready for bed, eh?”

“Yeah. It’s past my bed time, but mommy said she wanted me to see you.”

“OK. Well, maybe I will see you again.”

“Maybe…. Good night.” John led Tami down the hall to his bedroom, waving to me as he got the doorway. Tami mouthed silently that she would be out in a few minutes. I heard her urge him into bed, tell him that grandma would be here for him if he needed her, and that she would see him in the morning. They recited the now I lay me down to sleep prayer together, then the sound of a kiss on the cheek, and the bedroom light shut off. Tami hummed to him for a few minutes, then I heard her tip toe across the bedroom floor.  She continued to tip toe as she came to me down the hall, then quietly pulled up a chair next to me at the table. I sensed an awkwardness. Neither of us knew what to say.

“He’s a little man, isn’t he?” I tried to smile as I asked the question, an attempt to reassure her. I knew she had to be self conscious about the little boy I had just met. “And don’t worry. It’s OK.”

“You don’t have to be a genius to figure this one out, do you?” She was the same confident girl I had known some seven years before. Tami wasn’t afraid to meet my eyes, something I was grateful for then. A lot of the awkward went away as she looked at me. When we had known each other, she said that I relaxed her, made her comfortable. As she looked at me, the tension visibly began to melt away.

“No. Were you pregnant when I saw you last?” Might as well get straight to the point. I didn’t really want to know for sure, but asked any way. I sensed she needed to tell me. “It doesn’t make it any easier for me, but I do want to know. You don’t have to tell me.”

“Yes. I had just found out the night we said good bye. I didn’t know how to tell you, so I didn’t. I’m sorry. I really am.”

“I wish I could say it’s OK. I needed you. It took me a long time to get over you, if that is even possible.” I felt wrong for telling her that. I didn’t need to tell her that. How do you tell someone that when she was gone, there was no sense of freedom, not for a while. Yet that wasn’t completely true. I dated. I had other girls. But no one lived up to Tami. No one was her and I wanted them to be.

“Your dad told me you have dated a lot of girls. You must have gotten over me.” Dad had always been infatuated with Tami, had told me after I had dated her for two years that if I didn’t ask her to marry me soon he would do it for me. It was no surprise that he had talked to her. My guess was that he was one of the reasons I was sitting in Tami’s apartment tonight.

“Not one of them was you.” I had said too much and tried to change the subject. “So tell me about your life. Tell me about John’s father.”

Tami did tell me about her marriage. Her husband had indeed been a farmer, eight years older than her, expected Tami to be a farmer’s wife and give up her education. Knowing Tami, I doubted that had sat well with her. That was one reason why she had given up on me. Any threat to her independence would be rejected. But she was pregnant and Tami was also honorable. She wanted to give her son a name. But there was also another problem to being a farmer’s wife – she was allergy ridden. When it all came down to it, she was miserable. All she and her husband had done during their marriage was fight, abuse involved, so eventually she had left him and filed for divorce. Now she was completing a psych degree and working at the hospital across the street from her apartment.

“I don’t suppose you would want a beer, Mister Minister? I am going to have one.” I nodded a yes to Tami as she pushed away from the table to grab a brew from the small refrigerator in the kitchen.

“I don’t drink often but I can make one concession. Watch out, I may have to crash on your couch.” Her eyes instantly lit up at the little joke I had made, a cute little chuckle as she laughed at my attempt at humor.

“You haven’t changed at all. Always have to make that little joke.” She handed me a bottle of light beer, foaming as she popped the top with an opener, “Except I don’t think I ever saw you accept a beer.”

“I’m a wizened old man now and I’m thirty miles away from the church. No one will see and I don’t think God cares.” I hadn’t really changed a whole lot. I was still a boy in a lot of ways. “You would be surprised at what I will accept and what I won’t accept.”

Tami had relaxed considerably, her expression warm and loosened, the distance I had felt between us when I walked through the door a few minutes prior growing closer. We leaned in towards each other, not so close that there was a temptation for contact, but close enough that I could feel the connection as the wounds from years before began to soothe. The distance had been there that last summer when I so desperately wanted to see her, wondered why she didn’t want to see me. It had been there that last night, the two of us so determined to come close that one last time, a real love that had been destroyed by a man who had taken her from me by turning my girl into a woman.

That distance slept in a child’s bed just a few feet down the hall.

It’s the middle of the month

Captain Obvious strikes again.  For those of us who do that whole write a novel in a month thing, we know it’s the middle of the month.  We have two weeks to go.  Some have room to experience writer’s block because we’re ahead.  Some of us are sweating because we are behind on our word count.  50,000 words is a lot more than it seems.

I am a little behind but not because of writer’s block.  I keep finding other things to do, mostly to do with turning the pedals on a bike.  Last week, I took a few days off to ride the dirt singletrack trails of Brown County State Park in southern Indiana with a few friends of mine.  Guy trips must take priority over writing a NaNo novel.  If you are a FB contact of mine, you may have seen pictures and video from the trail.  We had a blast.

This year I was not real sure I wanted to NaNo.  NaNo feels a little silly now that I have participated and ‘won’ a few times, but I resist the urge to actually call it silly.  It is motivation to write, a good thing, and it’s actually the type of motivation I need to get writing again.  The words are flowing freely, my voice sounds good to me, and it feels good to me to be writing again.  There is one aspect of writing NaNo this time that I do not like, however.  I did not plan to write, went into the month without a single planned character, no real plot.  Strangely enough, the story is writing itself nicely, although unplanned writing tends to lead me into dark places, dredging some memories from inside of me that I probably should not be writing about.

One old friend calls me ‘COD’ and this NaNo.justifies that nickname (it stands for ‘Creepy Old Dude’).  I guess what I am writing does not qualify as totally creepy, but it is having its moments.

My daughter is writing NaNo again this year, another motivation to write.  She asked me on October 31 if I was writing this year.  How could I say no?  Also, my old friend, the one who gave me the COD moniker, also announced that she is writing.

So I write.  And I ride, even in the cold weather we are having here.

Happy NaNovember!

November: Blue Light Special Month

Kmart was a weekly event for my mom, part of her routine.  She dragged my brother, Mark, and I out for groceries and supplies with the hope that we wouldn’t kill each other in the wide open spaces of the aisles.  Mark and I are a year apart in age, two spark plugs filled with the electricity of youth and the conflict of sibling rivalry.  Mom was an expert at keeping the two of us occupied, giving us little tasks to do at the grocery store, like go find a box of strawberry Pop Tarts (it was safe to send a boy off those days).  Inevitably we came back with not only the box of Pop Tarts, but whatever else caught our eye along the way.  I don’t think she minded the extra articles in the shopping cart as long as we weren’t tearing each other’s throat out.

And then there were the Kmart blue light specials — a flashing blue light placed strategically inside the store next to the deal of the moment, an announcement over the intercom proclaiming the hoagie deal of the day.

“Get it now while they last!  No better price any where!”

My brother and I were suckers for that blue light.  Our nights with mom at Kmart were filled with the special events brought to us by that flashing blue light on a pole.

November has become blue light month for me, a month filled with special events.  November 1 brings NaNoWriMo, the writing event designed to give each participant a freely written novel manuscript.  The goal is 50,000 words with a certificate for those who make it to that milestone.  I plan before the month of writing begins with character sketches, rough outlines, background stories for each character, even a PLOT.  If I don’t plan, I don’t reach the 50,000 word goal.  It is November 2 and I am over 4000 words already, a nice start.

And I need to start quickly.  There will be two days this week where I won’t be writing at all.  Why?  Because the second event of November will be happening — BROWN COUNTY.  For two days, I will be banging around the woods in southern Indiana with my friends Jim and Jon on our mountain bikes.  This year we enticed my friend, Mike, to join us.  It is guy time, a time when we risk life and limb while riding ourselves past exhaustion on the dirt and rock trails, tired but with smiles of satisfaction.  My friends are the medicine I always need, drama free and the kind of friends any guy should have.  We don’t drink because our poison is riding a bike, one of the reasons our wives love that we go on this trip!

Then there is Thanksgiving, not really a blue light special, but probably my favorite holiday of the year!

Follow the light.  It’s blue light special month!blue_light_special


Back row: Mister Handsome, Wayne, Kristi Front row: Bonnie, Regina, Laura, Mary Kay, Sara

Back row:
Mister Handsome, Wayne, Kristi
Front row:
Bonnie, Regina, Laura, Mary Kay, Sara

Bonnie has aged much better than that guy in the picture.

Bonnie has aged much better than that guy in the picture.

I hate it when people age a whole lot better than I do.  It sure seemed that way today.  Had I been vain enough to care, I would not have had such a good time.

Today was a little lunch time reunion, impromptu, mostly for the small group of sketch actors and writers who worked together to start a little theatre company at a new church in Naperville, Illinois over 25 years ago.  The group started with three of us as the nucleus — Mary Kay (writer/director, occasional actor), Bonnie, and yours truly.  A lot of people credit us for helping to grow a group that spawned a large creative arts group that is flourishing in a church that now boasts over 5000 people in attendance each weekend.  We were just having fun.. and we gave a lot of blood, sweat and tears while having that fun.

When we started our theater group, we performed sketches for every weekend service.  Until our group grew in size, Bonnie and I were on stage almost every weekend.  That is a lot of memorized lines, a ton of rehearsal time, and a lot of time spent at church.  I was like a brother to Mary Kay and Bonnie, we did a lot together.  Bonnie and I were constantly teasing each other.. like siblings do.  She even took me to family get togethers, her family like my own.  We shared a lot together.  And seeing her today was real special to me.  We picked up right where we left off some 10 years ago or more.  As you might be able to tell from the picture, we were inseparable today.  It was so much fun!

And it was great to see everyone.  Lives had changed but everyone, honestly, really was the same.  That made it so good.  No pretentiousness.  No one competing.. something that made our group so special 20 some years ago.  There were a lot of people missing from our group, cogs who added something more when they joined.  There was Thom, an advertising exec from New York who wrote some of the funniest scripts I have ever read or performed.  Eric, a professional theatre producer who eventually joined staff at the church and who is an incredible talent.  Anne Marie, who brought backstage experience and enthusiasm to our team.  Vince, a fun geek with a gift for comedy.  Gary, a humble savant who became one of my favorite actors to share the stage with — so much that scripts were written specifically for the both of us.  The list of people could go on simply because we had a good thing going that made people want to be a part of it.

I could still feel that today as I shared with some of those friends.  One of my favorite moments was when Mary Kay told about her favorite sketch, one she wrote for Gary and I — running characters that we performed many times after that first sketch.  We were Vern and Elmer, two retired factory workers who hung out on the front porch and talked about the neighbors as they walked by.  For the first sketch, Gary (Vern) learned to play the harmonica and played it as my gruff Elmer complained in patriotic snobbery as the young mini skirt clad school teacher who drove a ‘fer-in’ car walked by our porch.  In later sketches, Bonnie and Mary Kay played our big butted wives, Vernetta and Clara.  Honestly, it felt great to hear the appreciation for those characters that I enjoyed playing during what really was a magical time of my life.

Bonnie lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband now.  Mary Kay is in Indiana, although she produces for a theatre company in Chicago, asked me if I would consider a role in a production (yes).  Wayne and Regina live close by, as does Sara and Kristi.  I am the only one still going to the church where we we started.

Reunions can be fun.  I loved this one.  I am going back to the first church I served after I graduated from college.  That visit will be next Sunday.  It has been thirty years since I have been there!

You Are Never Alone

I am incredibly infatuated with you, Miss Internet.  You look out for me, you entice me with your charms.

And because of you, I am never alone.  You help me to feel good about myself by making it oh so easy to discover that there are plenty of screw up doofs just like me.  Thanks to search engines.  All that I have to do is confess my sin to Google and I see that there are indeed plenty of others with the same affliction.

Take today, for instance, when I typed “2010 VW Key Fob Washing Machine”.  137,000 results.  Forums with numerous thread posts involving VW key fobs left in pockets and washed in the laundry, more than one individual confessing that they had performed that operation more than once.

Nifty little pieces of tech.  There is no such thing as a simple car key any more.

Nifty little pieces of tech. There is no such thing as a simple car key any more.

I don’t feel so bad now.  Especially since there were many solutions posted to repair the malfunctioning key fobs.  Thanks to other industrious miscreants such as myself, I was able to find a cheap fix — a new battery.

Yes, I left the key fob for my VW in the back pocket of my bicycle jersey when I got home last Saturday morning.  My ever laundry industrious wife threw the sweat soaked jersey immediately in the washer.

A few minutes later, I wondered why I heard a clunk inside our clothes washer.  It didn’t register right away.  As a matter of fact, it didn’t register until Nate asked me for a ride to the school.  Where was my car key?  Oh yeah.  Clunk clunk clunk.

The key fob worked until yesterday, when I could no longer use the keyless entry function on my car.  Oops.

But it works now, so I am not totally stupid.  Only partially stupid am I.

I wish the solution would have been as easy to fix my 64 gig iPod Touch when I dropped it in the toilet.  Ouch.  I did find out I was not alone then either.  Plenty had made the same mistake.  Plenty had found out that iPods and water, especially toilet water, are not compatible.

Thanks to the internet, I will never be alone.