I have lived in the neighborhood where I live now for just over five years and I have heard about coyotes from those who have seen them here. I have seen their paw prints in the dirt and the snow. My dog seems to have one particular bark he reserves just for passing coyotes. I believe I have, once or twice, heard them cackling away in the distance like they do and like I have heard other places in my life.

I’m not exactly outdoorsy, but I have listened from my sleeping bag on a mountain somewhere, more than a few times, to the sound of coyotes reminding me that I am only a visitor, the way they combine menace with humor, talk about you while you’re still in the room, remain only just out of sight, only just past the turning of your head.

Once, backpacking to Finger Lake northeast of Yosemite in California, I had gained lonesome on the trail with the people ahead and behind out of sight. Climbing a bothersome hill I looked up at the crest of the trail and saw a white coyote. Now, I’m not saying there was a white coyote on the trail, I’m saying I saw a white coyote and then did a full-shake double take and when I looked back the coyote was gone. When I reached the top of the hill I found a small white boulder sticking out of the ground. I kicked at it a bit, daring it to grow legs and ears. It did not.

I did not then and do not now doubt for a moment that my brain conspired with the sweat in my eyes to turn that white boulder, for a fraction of a second, into a white coyote. What I mean is, I have never believed there was actually a white coyote above me on that trail. But I did wonder and wonder still why, of all things, my brain, no doubt bickering with my body at the time about where to feel the most pain, chose to see a white coyote.

Why a white coyote?

I was forced to adopt the white coyote, not as a spirit animal so much as…a spirit animal. I can’t say I actually believe in having a spirit animal, but the white coyote became mine, nevertheless. It was the only rationally irrational response.  For the next few days, each night as I fell asleep, I listened to the coyotes off in the distance, reminding us with their hyena laughter that we belonged somewhere else eventually. And we did.

That was almost half my life ago and just the other day, as it goes. I was in a gift shop one day and found a tile with the image of a white coyote, a Native American image, or so I was told. I bought the tile because who wouldn’t among all of us whose minds had once turned a white boulder into a white coyote.  I still have it.

Since then I have seen one or two coyotes off in the distance, crossing the highway in a desert somewhere near Palm Springs or in New Mexico or while fighting my way across Texas. I once had a staring contest with a coyote at a zoo, before I gave up zoos. I was asking him about the white coyote but he chose to ignore me. That, or he was just an animal thinking about animal things, like when food might arrive.

What I’m saying is my visual encounters with actual rather than imagined coyotes under the 50 yard mark and without a cage between us have been, at least since I was born, zero. Until a recent evening.

I was working at my desk in my home office when my dog started prancing and jumping and generally making a nuisance of himself, which is dog language for wanting to go outside. I let him out and he began to bark. But it wasn’t the people-walking-past bark, or the neighbors-dog-is-loose bark. It was the wild-animal-nearby bark. This was confirmed by dogs all along the street who were all barking insistently. So I grabbed my flashlight and headed out onto the deck to see what I could see for no reason whatsoever.

My backyard is wild, which is how I like it. My neighbors might not agree with my aesthetic preference but I love feeling like those are real woods out back and yonder. I clicked on the flashlight and scanned the brush. About 50 feet out I came across the eye shine, two eyes, reflectors, staring back at me.

I have seen plenty of eye shine in my backyard before, possum and raccoon. But these eyes were further apart and they didn’t sway and fidget like raccoon and possum do. In fact, they stared back at me without flinching or moving at all. Then, without any concern or urgency, the eyes turned away and a coyotes passed across the beam of light. It wasn’t white. For five minutes I listened to what I think was more than one coyote loitering, carefully stepping through the bushes, dead leaves giving them away. I only saw the eye shine one more time, further out, saying goodbye maybe as it headed for the fence line where over the years fallen trees have created many gates.

They’re troublesome during the winter, quietly taking cats like vampires take drunken tourists. And I’m told they can be brazen lately, running across a yard full of children, not in a threatening way but in a taking-the-short-cut way. Still. And the truth is I wasn’t all that comfortable with the size of the animal I saw in my backyard, largish for a coyote I thought.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare enough and only one adult human is known to have been killed by coyotes. They have adapted to nearly every environment imaginable, including major cities like Chicago. And yet the ghost of the prairie is a ghost everywhere. Coyote sightings are unusual relative to their presence. For every coyote you see there are…well, more. The internet can’t make up its mind how many. Estimates range between five and 50 coyotes for every one you see. Coyotes are loners except when they’re not. They run away when you harass them, except when they don’t. They are active at night, except when they’re active during the day. They are blamed for more cat vanishings than they perpetrate. You never hear people saying, “We have to get rid of all these owls.”

Coyote’s, it seems, are like the world in general, at least the world as I know it. They are less dangerous than I imagine but more dangerous than I think. And my response is basically the same. I’m not going to buy a gun but I might start carrying a stick to the bus stop.



I want to talk about slippers again. I may have mentioned how disappointed I am in my slippers. Even though I did not pay anything like retail, my Rockport slippers, nevertheless, are expensive slippers as slippers go and I expected them to last more than a year. They haven’t.

To be fair, without letting go of my disappointment, I am hard on my slippers. I wear them to the bus stop every day so if slippers are “house shoes” and manufactured to meet the expectations of something called a house shoe, I probably have little room to complain.

And yet, one would think that if the daily trek over 100 yards of asphalt were really the issue it would show up in wear and tear to the sole of the slipper. But no, the soles of my slippers, which are thick and unhouse shoe-like, the reason I chose them, are in good repair, showing little sign of bus stop travel abuse. The problem is that the uppers are attempting to divorce themselves from the soles, threatening a total separation.

Setting aside my disappointment I began a search for new slippers. My slipper requirements are as follows, in summary: The slipper must have a closed heel. I’m not a member of the rat pack lounging around Frank’s pool and I’m not in the hospital. The slipper must have a substantial sole. Cloth sole slippers are, perhaps, one of the most useless things imaginable unless you have wall-to-wall carpet and never wear your slippers outside the house. If you never wear your slippers outside the house your priorities are askew and we should part company before unfortunate words are uttered. Finally, slippers must be a color that will not readily reveal coffee stains. This one is entirely personal and practical.

It is a good time to shop for slippers if you have a “pickers” mentality like I do when it comes to shopping. As memories of the holidays fade and warmer weather is theoretically possible, slippers move to the clearance racks. By mid-February slippers have been marked down more than once. It is the slipper sweet spot. But not this year. When I found an appropriate pair, they didn’t have my size (which is common). When I found my size, they had such a poor excuse for a sole I would hold them up and ask rhetorically if they were meant to be disposable slippers.

Today I gave up. As I stood in a store holding a pair of weak-soled slippers in my hand and contemplated whether they would last through the bus-stopless summer I suddenly remembered I kept a miracle in my tool box. The miracle in my toolbox is a hot glue gun. Can you think of any problem that a hot glue gun cannot fix? Of course you can’t.

I brought my sturdy soled Rockport slippers with a separation problem down to the basement, fired up the hot glue gun, and then slathered. I glued like nobody’s business and turned a fine looking pair of slippers into a pair of monsters…monsters that will last for the rest of 2015, I’ll wager.


36 Decisions – 36 Or Whatever (Decision #3)

So here I am, making a commitment to less stress in my life and so what do I do, I tell everyone I’m going to write 36 blog entries about decisions I make to decrease stress. And what does that do? Stresses me the hell out.

2015, so far, has not been easy for many reasons that are probably not much different from your reasons, so I won’t go into it, but in the middle of dealing with multiple challenges, I’m worrying about a self-imposed deadline for writing a blog about how not to stress and it makes me stress.

And as each 10 days passes without another blog I started feeling stress and guilt until finally I sat myself down and said, “Look, moron, you decided to write ‘em, you can decide not to write ‘em and nobody is going to tell any of your junior high English teachers either way.”

Then, of course, I got to wondering about how much of my stress is self-imposed. On some level, all of it, sure, but I’m thinking more about things like the self-imposed deadline or standards that mean nothing in real life. I mean, I can actually fail to fall asleep thinking about how my basement really needs to be cleaned up and organized. There are dozens of examples and, again, they probably look a lot like yours.

Here’s another one: Write something profound. Okay, well that one can just bite me. I’m not gonna try and do that, I’m just not. I can’t help but write, I just do it and always have, but I can pick what I’m going to write and for the last month or so writing about how I will reduce stress in my life, I haven’t been feeling it. Even though I gave myself permission to write about the mundane and the minutia of life and made a promise to bore anyone who read it, I don’t feel like it.

The childishness of that phrase, “I don’t feel like it,” or maybe, the way that phrase is associated with childishness and adolescence, makes it uncommon among adults. That’s too bad, because I think they are good words for adults to use, assuming we are acting like adults and not shirking responsibility or commitments. When it comes to what I write about and when, in my personal life at least, if I don’t feel like it, well then, that’s just fine. And for the record, I also don’t feel like, for example:

  • Getting all nostalgic about things I liked and did in the 70’s, at least not more than once or twice a month.
  • Watching Walking Dead or Downton Abbey, which is a repetitive statement, I know.
  • Caring about anything Donald Trump says or does or tweets.
  • Smiling when I’m down to my last few smiles of the day (I’ll save them for my kids).
  • Listening to your resume, again, when I have known you already for years.
  • Listening to my resume coming out of my mouth.
  • Feeling guilty because I didn’t call you back when you are not a friend, family member, co-worker, customer, potential customer, business partner or colleague.
  • Guessing at your expectations.

Like I said, for example.


Catching the Squirrel

If you have ever owned a dog in an area inhabited by Squirrels, then you laughed at the movie UP every time the dogs came to attention, staring off at the middle distance, as their speaking collars declared “Squirrel!” It’s funny because it’s true (except for the speaking collar thing).

Squirrels know the difference between a window between them and the dog and no window between them and the dog, which is why they feel free to roam about our deck recovering bird seed, or hanging off a suet cage. The majority of the time, our dog can only watch helplessly and occasionally tap at the glass and maybe bark when it becomes just too much to bare. But sometimes, times I am certain my dog considers blessed times, I am working at my desk nearby and I will stand up, walk over to the door, and let him loose to chase the squirrel or squirrels off the deck.

The squirrels are always a good ten feet ahead of the dog and they go flying off the deck in a full four-point spread hoping some part of them will reach the trees eight feet away. They always make it. Even when one of them decides to double back along the railing, bounce off the bird house and up to the roof, our dog Miles usually doesn’t notice until they are already on the roof. It almost seems like a game the squirrels play, doggy ditch ‘em. Seems like a game for Miles too. In four and a half years I have never seen the dog come close to a squirrel, let alone catch one. Until he did.

I’m not sure what happened. The squirrel just zigged when he should have zagged, or maybe it was an old squirrel who had no business playing doggy ditch ‘em, couldn’t make the leap. In any case, Miles got him. It was over quick and the dog didn’t prolong the event. He got back into the house like I told him.

I felt sad, like I always do when I have watched an animal die. I named him Ziggy and tossed him into the yard where a hawk or a turkey vulture or coyote or some other critter took him away by the next day. I checked in with the vet to make sure all was well. Killing the squirrel didn’t change my dog at all. His eyes don’t go dark now, instead of bright, when he sees a squirrel. He bounces and whines and taps the window and I still get up and let him out to chase the squirrels off the deck, except now I give them a little head start, I tap the window as a warning and then wait a second before opening the glass door. Miles doesn’t get that I’m betraying him. He just thinks I’ve grown more committed to the game.


That Dress Looks Dirty to Me

When I was 15 I had the amazing good fortune to go to work in a magic shop…a real magic shop. Though I was never really much of a performer, I did become a very serious student of magic and learned quickly that I could not trust my eyes. Not only could I not trust my eyes to be looking in the right place at the right time, I could not trust my eyes even when I saw what I saw and was certain I was looking at what I saw when I saw it. In fact, the degree to which we cannot trust our eyes is difficult to comprehend let alone admit. Magicians depend on our inability to admit or even understand how easily, and in how many different ways, our eyes can be fooled.

So it was fun to watch people scuffle over the color of the dress (BTW, I see white/gold and yes it might be because my eyesight is limited compared to those who see black and blue). But then it got a little depressing because clearly there are people on both sides of the eyeball cone count who will never let go of the idea that what they see is “right” and what the other people see is wrong. Even when they learn the reasons behind what, at first, seems so crazy making and weird, they still have a need to cast their perceptions as the right perceptions. In this case, it is over something silly.

In so many cases it’s not. The whole dress color thing reminded me of many political disagreements in which I feel I have framed an argument using objective rules of logic and reason and yet not only do I fail to persuade, the person I am debating ends up feeling even stronger in their views. And it becomes quite clear that they, too, believe they have framed an objective, logical and well reasoned argument. The conversation becomes something like two opposing magnets that just cannot come together for some invisible reason. This happens a lot in the world. We say we are at an impasse, or we just need to “agree to disagree.” The danger for me is I am so tempted to believe that I and those who share my point of view are actually right, when the truth is we are and we are not. The truth is usually like interlocking fingers that extend into both arguments and can only be seen as a whole thing from a distance that cannot be achieved in the context of trying to win an argument or an election or legislate.

But I’m talking about intellectual honesty here, which is a lovely thing when you encounter it, even in the context of opposing views. The thing that troubles me, the thing that really and truly keeps me awake worrying about the future for my kids, are the people who see a blue and black dress but say they see a white and gold dress because the white and gold dress manufacturers have bought them and paid them to say it.

Today was a good day because the FCC supported net neutrality. It was as if millions of Americans were crying out, “the dress is black and blue” and the FCC stood up and said, “we believe the dress is black and blue.” It’s a good thing. But don’t be surprised if, when all the dust settles and the money has had its say, the Koch brothers and their ilk have purchased their power, the only dresses you can find on the rack are all white and gold.

Why, Maybe, I Don’t Talk Baseball

I remember where I was with an exactitude that only adheres to the lining of a skull if the moment is among those that will pass before our eyes when we close them for the last time. Awareness of our mortality seeps into our bones like water through the faintest cracks in the pavement and we may not even notice until we look away for a time, which we must do, then look back.

This particular time, the one I’m remembering now, I was heading west on Brookhurst Street in Garden Grove, California. I was sitting at a red light at Trask Avenue and I looked to my right. In an elementary school field several Little League teams were practicing. I recognized every single thing they did, every movement. Although I could not hear anything the coaches were saying, I knew every word. I watched them, breathing their air, feeling their new season soreness, wondering their new season thoughts. I could feel the baseball glove resting on my hip and my face trying to look unconcerned with anything at all, imitating a professional baseball player’s blunt affect as they field the ball and swing the bat. I could taste the bubble gum.

I was 29 and nearly as far from playing baseball as I am now from that moment. But even so, as I watched, I had a hard thought, a thought that for no earthly reason should have been difficult at all but for every unearthly reason was. I realized I would never play professional baseball.


My first baseball glove was a hand-me-down, a loaner actually, from my father. It was roughly the same size as my entire upper body but it served me well my first year in Little League. I played right field and could have done my homework out on the field for all the action I saw. Occasionally a ground ball would reach me or a fly ball landed close enough that I was the first one to reach it and pick it up. I would then dutifully, no matter how close he was, throw it to my cut-off, the second baseman.

The best day was the day the aluminum bat pinged out my name and I realized a fly ball was coming my way. It wasn’t going to drop behind the first baseman. It wasn’t going to fly over my head. It was going to come close enough that I could catch it, if I could remember to move my legs. I started running forward with my giant baseball glove outstretched until I reached the tipping point. My forward momentum combined with the weight of the glove and I tipped headlong, my feet leaving the earth and my baseball mitt hitting the ground, just before the baseball landed in the very same spot.

Even before I came out of the summersault that followed, the ball in my glove, I could hear the umpire yell, “Out,” and the crowd going wild, all 23 of them. From the stands, my battle with the laws of physics, something just shy of an outright trip, had looked like a heroic dive, like skill, like athleticism beyond my years. My diving catch became the stuff of legend for a whole week. “Remember when you flew like 5 feet…like 10 feet…like 20 feet, no kidding, to catch that ball?” I remembered. I remember. That was a good day.

I played baseball for a few years, moving from right field to second base where I mostly stayed. I still think of myself as a second baseman. On the rare occasion I am asked to play softball, I play second base. If someone else on the team wants to play second base, the tension is palpable. Something about the age we are when our bodies are taught certain things fools our muscles and bones into believing they will always need to do whatever it is they are doing and they commit it to memory. I still know how to move at second base, where to move and when and why. The tiny efficiencies of movement that were etched into the joints at my ankles and knees, in my wrists and my hips, remain there, which is different than saying they can still act on the knowledge my limbs swallowed down so long ago. But I am…I am a second baseman.

Between my first and second season as a baseball player, my dad bought me my own baseball glove. I’m going to tell you about this baseball glove because it was the greatest baseball glove that ever lived. My father’s baseball mitt was so big on my hand I could not get my forefinger out of it to avoid the sting of a ball hitting the pocket. So someone suggested I put two fingers in the small finger slot, leaving the forefinger slot empty. This worked great as far as the stinging went, but it left an already floppy mitt even floppier without the extra support of a finger near the web. This was neatly solved with my new and very own baseball glove, the greatest baseball glove that ever lived, because the glove was entirely closed behind the back of the hand. It didn’t even have a hole where you could your stick your finger out. It didn’t matter because I was sneaking two fingers into the pinky spot.

Which brings me to the first reason why it was the greatest baseball glove that ever lived. Nobody else could use it. Putting two fingers in the small finger slot was certainly not unheard of but it was rare enough in my neighborhood and my Little League that I never met anyone else who did it. A kid would ask to use my glove, I’d say sure, and he’d have it on for just a few seconds before his forefinger would get claustrophobia and he’d rip the glove off and look at it like it was a torture device.  And all the extra leather behind my hand not only made up for any lost support due to the absence of a forefinger, it actually provided extra support against my wrist being bent back.

The second reason my baseball glove was the greatest baseball glove that ever lived was how my dad and I worked it in during the off season. After finding a baseball mitt that was, apparently, designed just for me, my dad put a baseball into the pocket of the glove, wrapped it up with a long leather shoelace, and dropped it in the bathtub where it soaked. I don’t remember how long it sat underwater but it was at least a day. I don’t remember every detail after we removed it from the water, but it involved alternating between allowing the glove to dry and rubbing it with oil or saddle soap and working it like a bad masseuse. We oiled and oiled and oiled that mitt. What I do remember is showing up for tryouts and there were a lot of new baseball mitts sitting wide open like bowls on benches. My glove closed flat when I put it down on a bench. It looked new and acted old, which suited me just fine.

I think it was that glove that got me to second base because if I got anywhere near the ball it was going in my glove almost every time. I loved playing second base. I loved taking the field. I loved the moment the ball left the pitcher’s hand and anything, anything at all, could happen and I loved feeling ready for anything to happen. I loved the feeling, a fraction of a second after the bat made contact with the ball, of my body acting without thinking, just moving in the right direction, to the right spot on the chessboard field, my mind catching up like a rubber band snapping back, wherever I arrived.

But I couldn’t hit, could never get the hang of standing there while someone threw something at me. And the older you get the harder they throw. No matter how well I played, or imagined I played, second base I couldn’t pile up enough walks to make a contribution on offense. I did well enough in a batting cage no matter how fast the balls were coming but it was the human element I couldn’t handle. Somewhere out there was a pitcher with a ball that had my name on it and that ball was going to kill me.

The chaff. The wheat.

I couldn’t hit and I also didn’t know how to turn my love of the game from the field into being a fan. I’m not much of a consumer of professional sports and in most cases I can explain why except for baseball. I don’t have a good excuse. But I have my guess.

A friend of mine calls attending a live Red Sox game, “going to church.” In this, he is very religious. I was fortunate enough to attend church with him once, in Boston, the holiest of cathedrals. It was in this place that my suspicions were confirmed, a place where by the simple and pure alchemy of being surround by love for the team one can spontaneously combust into being a fan.

I was enjoying the atmosphere and the company but I was keenly aware of what was happening on the field. Over and over again, the ball would leave the pitchers hand and I would feel a small spark of counterfeit excitement, a morsel set apart for the observer. At the sound of the ball on the bat, my body wouldn’t move, although there was a small rebel muscle far away in the arches of my feet that twitched so very slightly to remind me that not everything fades, not until everything does.

Those Little Leaguers I watched on a field at the corner of Brookhurst and Trask have all had their own red light realization by now and even if one or two of them got to play professional baseball, odds are they no longer do. Inside the odd arithmetic of aging they are only fifteen years behind me now, as they were then, but somehow not. We have so much more in common now than we did then, know so many more of the same things.

The end of our life visits the middles of our life. It comes quietly and empties a pause with its quiet and quiet is what it leaves behind. I think it could be sour if I let it be, or overwhelmed and flushed away if no more than a drop of regret is applied, or anger or fear. But what I think, what I want to believe about the many times I have suddenly, without any of the common protections including danger, understood that my life will end is that I should not disturb those times. Do not disturb them. And that, maybe, is one reason I don’t really talk baseball.


36 Decisions – Haste is Violence (Decision #2)

I’m not going to whine about how fast everything moves because we’ve been whining about it for a long time and I’m a little tired of hearing it. Every generation talks about the pace of change and how fast the world is moving these days, whenever their days were. Whether it is entropy or evolution hardly matters. When my great grandchildren encounter history in whatever fashion they will encounter it, and they come across this generation talking about how fast everything moves, I think they will smile the way we smile at people lamenting the pace of change in 1955 or 1915.

I know we are not imagining the speed around us, I am not imagining the jet stream I step into, or fall into, every day. And the decision I am making today is not about speed, it’s about haste. Two different things, for my purposes at least. While I may not be imagining much of the speed in the world around me, I am imaging a great deal of the haste in the world inside me.

For example, why not drive slower, with my mind on helping everyone I encounter on my commute? It might sound nutty to you but I have begun this practice and it removes the haste from my commute. There are a lot of people who could use a little help on the road. For instance, a lot of them are in a real hurry. That person who tailgates? I get out of their way because it’s not a competition. They have a need of some sort, and I really don’t care what it is because my need is to enjoy my drive. The same goes for that person who waits until the last possible moment to merge with traffic or cuts you off or takes their foot off the gas while counting the number of cars in the drive through at Chick-fil-a. Yes, the person on their cell phone in front of me at a green light is frustrating. Yes, what they are doing is wrong and rude and self-absorbed and inconsiderate, all things I am guilty of on a fairly regular basis. What I don’t understand is how the levels of frustration at these moments on the road are so disproportionate to any negative outcomes for me personally. What is all the frustration about? My rights? What’s fair?

Haste is violence so it’s not about stopping to smell the roses it’s about removing the violence from my day, which is not to say I will not move quickly, accomplish things quickly when necessary. But I will slow down. Drive slower. Walk a little slower. Answer a little slower. Breathe a little deeper. Appreciate the wait-a-minute-moments.

A wait-a-minute moments is when I drop my keys, or go to take a napkin from a dispenser and it rips so I am left holding only a corner, or when a website takes an astounding 10 seconds to download, or I forget something in the house or in the car or in the office and have to go back. When I hit traffic, or a long line at the grocery store, or can’t find my phone, or I am interrupted, when I realize I forgot to put napkins on the table after I sit down or forget a password, these are wait-a-minute-moments. I really believe these moments have great inherent value, the forced pause, but sometimes I act like they are the result of evil invisible gremlins and if I’m lucky I might kick one of them…hastily.

So, as much as my decision is about the stress reducing clichés of slowing it down, taking more time, relaxing a bit more along the way, my decision is also about making speed more meaningful. If I need to be hurried, be good and hurried, don’t hurry when it just doesn’t matter.


The Habit of Toothpicks

Bill knows that his wife Pamela really wants more than anything not to care what anybody thinks.

“She’s a bitch,” says Pamela, “no way am I leaving her a tip.”

And he knows that just when you begin to think she believes these words, before you can enjoy her eccentric character, she lets her eyes drift around the room to see if anyone is looking or listening. When she does that, you know she’s just an actress. She cares what you think, so you don’t think much.  It’s like she becomes part of the background noise, a piece of clutter. She’s not even a face in the crowd. She’s just the crowd.

Her name is not Pam, it’s Pamela. Never call her Pammy.

He’s not quite old enough to be her father, but he knows she sometimes tells people he is. “He’s kind, in a quiet sort of way,” he hears her tell everyone eventually.

“She humps like a bunny,” says Bill to the boys at the shop, which is more than he usually says to her in an evening. Now, he tries not to look at her too long. She’s in one of her moods. Shit, she’s always in one of her moods. He begins to feel the pressing walls of the restaurant, the windows growing thicker. The table moves closer, pinning him in.

The waitress brings his biscuits and gravy. She’ll be right back with Pamela’s waffles.

“We can use our Stealth Bomber if we want to,” says Pamela’s son who is ten and not eating breakfast. He rarely eats anything. “The President can always send in the Stealth Bomber.”

“The President’s an asshole,” says Pamela, and then searches the room.  Her words begin no deeper than her throat. She contradicts herself a dozen times every day; if she thinks of them at all, she must think of her lies as pretending.

She frowns. “Where are the strawberries?”

“You wanted strawberries with that?” asks the waitress.

Pamela pretends. “No, no, never mind. It’s okay.”

The waitress doesn’t roll her eyes, but her arms are crossed. According to Reader’s Digest, she is either giving herself a comforting hug or fending off an enemy.

“I’ll get you some strawberries,” she says.

“Oh, great,” says Pamela, and this is the first thing she’s said in some time without looking to see if anyone is listening.

     In her daydreams, Pamela is a Country Western singer and speaks candidly with a talk show host. She feels her thoughts swimming in profound waters.

     “What I really believe in is individuality,” she says. “I believe you should just be yourself.” Her eyes do not drift to the side.

     “What a powerful and moving statement,” says the talk show host.

Pamela leans toward him, as if to whisper, but her voice is as invasive as ever. “Doesn’t our waitress remind you of that barmaid, Alice, over at the Silverado, the way she wears her hair in a ponytail, trying to look so young?”

He doesn’t answer. Alice is the owner of the Silverado and hosts an annual talent show. Pamela has entered four years running and never even placed. He remembers not to look at her. She’d be scowling, drumming her fingers, trying to think of something to say, something to get a reaction out of him. He continues to ignore the pain he’s been ignoring since before sunrise when it woke him. He glances at the ceiling. It is descending slowly.

Pamela’s son is drawing a battle scene on the back of a paper place mat and making war noises. He had gone by himself to ask the cashier for a pencil. His name is Thomas, but you can call him Tommy when his mother’s not around.

“Thanks, hon,” Pamela says when the waitress delivers her strawberries.

     In her daydreams, she wears all black except for her cowboy boots which are dyed white snake-skin.

I’m really a fairly shy person,” she says. “Singing and being on stage is like therapy for me. It beats paying a shrink.”

     The host chuckles, the co-host lets out a hearty laugh, and the comedian who was on before her nods approvingly.

When he finishes eating, Bill gets up and walks over to the cash register to get a toothpick. The dispenser is empty. He asks for one and waits patiently while the hostess goes to find more. Patience is something he has in reserve. He knows this to be virtue, but he isn’t quite sure what a virtue is or how he can cash in on it. The toothpick pacifies him some, but as he walks past the doors of the restaurant he hears them lock and the air being sucked from the room. He feels like he’s breathing through a pinched straw. To avoid looking at Pamela, he looks at the floor. The carpet is a dark shade of orange or a reddish brown. He can’t remember what the color is called.

“Is that gravy any good?” asks Pamela as he sits down. She’s finished her waffles and wants the one biscuit he didn’t eat.

He wants to say go to hell. “Fine, help yourself,” is what comes out. He looks over at her plate and wishes he hadn’t. She didn’t touch her strawberries.

Thomas has finished drawing and instead of making a paper airplane he’s making a paper helicopter, something he learned from a library book.

     Because they never got along, Pamela always tries to say something positive about her mother during the talk show.

     “My mother,” she says to the host, “was a character, but a very good cook. Even though we didn’t have much money, we always had a good meal on the table. She was very creative with food.

Pamela forces out a loud, husky sigh. “You’re not going to leave that woman a tip, are you?” He has his wallet out.

One of the many things she’s never noticed about him is that he always leaves a generous tip. Of course, she doesn’t know about his first love, a waitress in his hometown. She worked at the diner where he picked up the habit of toothpicks. Her hair was long and deep red, almost brown. She wore a ponytail.

Their love had been what a nineteen-year-old might deserve from love: naive, frightening, and overwhelmed with laughter. They made love quietly, in the dark, with the windows open to summer. Her small gasps and desperate grip on his arms spoke more than Pamela’s wild moaning ever could.

“I don’t even know where Vietnam is,” she said, when he told her he’d been drafted.

Bill went off to war, and Carolyn died in a car crash on a winter road.

When he got the news, his insides collapsed and then vanished. He doesn’t believe they ever returned.

“I wouldn’t leave her a tip,” says Pamela, loud enough for the waitress and surrounding tables to hear.

Thomas has already made his way over to the bubble gum machine where he is spending money from his paper route on jawbreakers and a miniature yo-yo.

“Shut up, Pamela,” he says. But he’s not sure she can hear him. His voice sounds far away. The table has started to rise and is pushing against his chest. It’s very difficult to breathe. He tries to stand, bending over because the ceiling is so low, and the pain is so loud. Someone is speaking to him, touching him. He swats at the hand, afraid to look for a face. Don’t look, he remembers. He can hear his breath against the windows. They’re too damn close. The sun is too bright. There is a scream and there is falling. He doesn’t know which comes first.

He watches a kaleidoscope of movement, his cheek pressing hard against the floor. Was it the scream or the fall that came first? This is the only thought to occupy his mind until the last one, when he remembers the color of the carpet.


Edward R. Tilskin

Edward R. Tilskin, aka Eddie the Stilts, aka Rupert Stiltskin, aka The Rumpler, aka Stumple Riskin, died Wednesday at the state correctional facility. He claimed to be 90 years old.

Although no birth record has ever been found, Tilskin was the name used at the time of his trial on multiple counts, including fraud and kidnapping, and it is the name that appears in his prison records. Many aliases were entered into the transcript during the trial, the above list being only a sample. However, the most common name used by his criminal associates was Eddie the Stilts, clearly an ironic nickname given his diminutive stature.

Due to the confusion regarding his true identity, little can be confirmed about Tilskin’s early life beyond consistent reports that he was known as a grifter even as a teenager. Several people who claim to have known him when he was a young man say he spent most of his years before age 40 in prison. He then had a run of good luck selling get-rich-quick schemes, not all of which were obviously illegal. He even appeared in a series of infomercials inviting viewers to invest in hay farms for a near 100% profit overnight.

For reasons that remain in dispute to this day, Tilskin kidnapped the child of one of his get-rich-quick-with-hay customers, a well-known heiress. The investigation following his arrest revealed the scam behind his operations. Though he often made references to being “blackmailed” as his motivation for kidnapping the child, who was returned safely to her parents, he never provided details.

The inconsistencies around Tilskin’s case spawned a small cottage industry of conspiracy theorists who were disappointed to learn that his last words were a simple conglomeration if his aliases: “Rumpelstiltskin.” He had no known family.

36 Decisions – Far From Death Experience (Decision #1)

Tuesday night I spent the night in the hospital for the first time in 40 years. I wrote about it here. I don’t want to write about it again except to say, not only was it not a near death experience, it was a far from death experience. I learned I have a healthy heart and, in the words of the doctor, “nothing life threatening going on.” It wasn’t a close call.

So this isn’t a second chance thing (I’m still working on the first one I guess), or a big wake-up call thing, or even really the doctor looking over her specs and telling me to get my act together kind of thing. It is, in fact, a very mundane sort of thing.

If you know me a little there is a good chance you consider me relaxed, laid back, easy going. If you know me a little better than a little, you know that like many apparently easy going people, I’m a big freaky stress cadet. I need to stop it.

So, every 10 days for the next year I am going to make a decision intended to reduce the stress in my life, and write about those decisions, all 36 of them, here. I make no promises and I certainly am not making any resolutions. These decisions might be big, they might be small. A great many, if not all of them, might be boring.

And to tell the truth, I’m happy if you’re reading this, but I don’t care if you’re not, and I won’t care too much when you do or you don’t. That’s not one of my decisions, by the way. That’s just how I feel. I don’t understand why I need to do this, but I’m not going to worry about it. That also is not one of my decisions. You’ll know them when you see them. I’ll number them.

My first decision, number one of 36, is to start these blog entries. Mundane, right? The mundane gets a bad wrap but I think it’s undeserved. Long before one of my favorite business quotes was Tom Peters: “Advantage comes not from the spectacular or the technical. Advantage comes from a persistent seeking of the mundane edge.” I had a sneaking suspicion that secrets were hidden inside the mundane, inside the everyday details of life, maybe even a secret one could understand as the secret, if one believed in such things. It just might be true that enlightenment is life’s last great disappointment.

But I’m not looking for secrets or enlightenment. A little less stress, a little more inside what people usually see outside. That’ll do. Also, I know, technically, it should be 36.5 decisions, but I’m going to let it go for now. We’ll see what happens. See you again sometime before January 20th.

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