Friday, September 9, 2011

Keeping up with the Jones

Out-killing the killers,
out-thrilling the thrillers,
out-drinking the drinkers
out-popping the pillers;

Out-loving the lovers,
out-hating the others,
out-waiting the waiters,
out-brothering the brothers.

Exhausted and bored,
gas pedal floored,
mess with the bull,
get yourself gored.
9 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Family Fun at Valley Fair 1995

Driving home from Valley Fair, August, 1995, about 1:00AM, kids conked out and sprawled: a couple in side-by-side, sucker-sticky car seats, one more next to them, asleep against the window, and the oldest, the daughter, fast asleep in the back of the Seafoam Green Taurus station wagon. No such thing as seat belts. Pearl Jam moans on the radio and bugs explode on the windshield like black bullets. Army worms seethe in the trees.
"Can you find something else?"
"I like this song--reminds me of Seattle."
"we've never been there."
"...Can we find something else?"

Forty minutes later, deer, several of them, appear in the headlights, grazing just off the shoulder, their heads jerking up, fixed on the stabbing white beams.
"Jesus!" he says, adjusts his posture, blinking.
"What was that?" she whispers, jumped awake.
"Just deer. They're everywhere. Like running the gauntlet."
"You want me to drive? You look tired."
"I'm alright for a while. Have to get gas. You can drive after that, if you want."

The moon pours over the parking lot like a yellow, touchless pond. Music in the overhead awning over the gas pumps, Muzak-Meets-Carousel. A perverted version of "Benny and the Jets."
"I've got to get something to drink," she says, stretching, flexing in the moonshadow, her limbs angled gracefully, hair down, a little in her face, in her eyes, veiled, dark eyebrows.
"Go ahead, take your time. I'll be in to pay in a minute."
He watches her walk away and his mouth waters like it always does. She walks like she lives in her body, joyful, but wary, not merely inhabiting it. Like an animal. He watches her pull open the door. She looks back at him and smiles. His mouth waters again. He smiles back.
"Fucking beautiful," he says, then looks into the car, the four miniature him-and-hers sleeping there, chests and abdomens rising and falling in unison.

A dirty blue pickup truck with white trim slants into the parking lot and screeches to a stop at the adjacent pump. Four young men pile out, drunk and laughing, one of them shouting a riot of obscenities into the sky, aimed at no one in particular. His elbow bleeds generously.

In a moment, he realizes that the other three boys are bloody as well, none of them as copiously as the one with the injured elbow, but all have blood on their clothes and are decorated with a various assortment of lacerations, bruises and cuts. They gather next to the truck's gas tank and pull out their wallets, their voices down a notch, but still loud and echoing off the brick of the convenience store. They negotiate gas funds and one of them, seemingly the driver, clutches the cash in his fist and raises it over his head as he slams the nozzle into the gas tank.

"Money!" he yells, "it's a hit! Don't give me that do-goody-good Bullshit!" The others cheer in affirmation and commence to fall about the parking lot, wrestling and jousting--the one with the elbow surprisingly aggressive with his mates.

"Take it easy!" one of them complains. "It's me for Christ's sake..."
The one with the elbow laughs, derisively. "I know, I know," he says. "Fucking pussy."

In the car, one of the kids, the youngest, wakes with a start, "Mom!"
He bends into the open window and attends to his son. "Take it easy, Buddy. Go back to sleep," and the child relaxes, but his eyes remain open, bright, attentive.

The tank filled, he returns the nozzle to its place and draws out his wallet from his back pocket as he walks toward the store to pay, just aware of the young men from the blue truck watching him.

His wife exits as he enters and he reflexively kisses her as they pass, the inside of his cheeks salivating. She smiles and holds out her cup and straw.

"Want a drink?" She asks. "Diet Coke."
He leans toward the straw and she jerks it away at the last moment, leaving him lurching forward, lips pursed, like a sunfish grabbing at a worm.

She laughs softly and apologizes, sliding the straw between his lips. "Take it," she says. "You can have the rest."
"No, I just wanted a sip."

"Nice ass." The guy with the bleeding elbow, out of nowhere behind her, facing him, the other three following gamely.

He watches her eyes widen and her lips draw straight. From her face, he moves his eyes to meet those of the guy with the elbow, which now, angled in a V in order to hold the door, drips from it's downward apex, like a leaking drain pipe.

The two men regard one another. He feels strangely out of place and out of character. In another time and venue, this moment would naturally pile into the next and the next and the next--all following a certain logic and form--culminating with a stimulated exhaustion, post-violence. But this--here and now--too old for fighting in parking lots, too out-numbered to take a chance, too compromised with wife and four kids in tow...his mind reels. Tastes bile high in his chest, like heartburn. Fear spreads in his blood, like dye.

Over the shoulder of the elbow guy, the others stand in Back-Up mode, two of them smiling like barnyard felines, the other strangely solemn. Beyond them, in the station wagon, the blond heads of his two older children stirring, looking out the windows, waving.

"C'mon," she says to him. "Let's go."
He moves his eyes back to her face. She is resolved. Time to move.
"Go ahead, I still have to pay for the gas."
"I'll be in the car."

As she walks to the car, passed the guy with the elbow, he turns his head and follows her with his eyes, squinting, which she feels, intuitively, a familiar humiliation. She walks on, self-consciously, stiffly, defensively. The others, mimicking their leader, watch her walk, too.

When the guy with the elbow turns back toward him, smiling garishly, he's met with a pounding blow to his throat, collapsing his windpipe. He clutches his neck, like a man choking and staggers backward, against the rough brick of the convenience store, his eyes wide, his knees buckled and shivering, his elbow running with blood.

One of the others, the solemn one, leaps to the side of the stunned man and holds him up, screaming, "Are you okay?" The guy with the elbow shakes his head, No.

One of the others, the one who'd been singing Pink Floyd two minutes earlier, says, "You're fucking dead, Dude" stepping toward him, slowly, his fists raised like a boxer.

"I'm not here to fight you losers. I'm just buying gas. You and your idiot friend over there are the ones looking for trouble."

"And I guess we found it!" he shouts and lunges, throwing a wide and heavy right hand that would have been a real problem, had it connected. But the mix of alcohol, adrenaline and emotion conspire to compromise accuracy and he misses his target entirely, who, sidestepping clumsily himself, trips off the curb and sprawls into the parking lot, surprisingly noisily, he thinks.

"Start the car!" he yells in the direction of the station wagon, pulling himself up off the blacktop.

"Stop it!" she's screaming and behind that shrill sound, he hears the collected voices of his children in various degrees of distressed screaming.

"Just start the fucking car!" he shouts, turning toward the men, the guy with the elbow, still not recovered and still attended to by the one. The other two now make their way toward him, the first--the one who'd taken the swing--leading. In an instant, the second of those two, makes an arching, flanking movement and heads toward the station wagon. The engine revs.

"Hey!" he yells at the flanking man, who briefly turns in acknowledgment, then returns his attention to the car, picking up speed, starting to jog.

Swiveling his head from the jogging flanker to the oncoming, arms-raised boxer, he progresses backward toward the running car and as the three are about to converge at the station wagon's front bumper, he darts to his left, intercepting the flanker's path, tackling him to the ground in a violent thrashing of legs and arms.

"Roll up the windows and lock the doors!" he yells and he can hear the electric windows abiding, hears the locks engage. "Good," he whispers.

His momentum had carried him almost completely over the flanker and he struggles to maintain his position on top of him, knowing it would be seconds before the boxer made his way to them.

With only his his lower left leg still on top of the flanker, he bends his knee so that it rests, momentarily, on the flanker's chest. Using his knee as a balancing fulcrum, he raises up, depressing the man's solar plexus. He hears air expelling. The flanker rolls to his left side to avoid the knee pressure on his chest and as he does, he grapples for purchase on anything to give him advantage: a wrist, an arm, the crotch. Before he succeeds, a handful of gravel is thrust into his face and as he screams, rocks and sand are shoved deeply into his mouth, his tongue pressed down by the force. As he inhales, gravel and dust flow into his windpipe and he chokes, and coughs in a seizure of panic. His hair is gripped as if to be scalped, his head yanked back and he swallows rocks and dirt. More gravel is caught up from the parking lot and raked into the flanker's eyes, tearing the skin of his face. He tries to scream but his lungs are nearly empty; he continues to inhale small gravel.

"Stay away from the car."

By now the boxer is on them and he kicks wildly at his head. He blocks the kick, partially, but the weight of it throws him off the flanker, entirely and he uses the momentum to roll to the rear of the car where he can use the station wagon as a barrier.

Inside the car the children scream, he only now hearing it. However, one child, his oldest son, autistic and beautiful, looks up at him through the window glass from his place where he's kneeling on the back seat.

The boxer is on him again and he runs away, circling the car as if playing a game. As he passes the flanker on the ground still coughing and choking helplessly, he stomps the man's knee, viciously twisting the heel of his boot as he makes contact. The flanker wails like a siren.

"Get away from the car."

As he circles the Taurus the second time, he makes direct eye contact with his son, his yellow hair straight and perfect. "My little lemon," he whispers at him through the glass. "Open the door."

The boxer, enjoying the role of pursuer, changes direction in an attempt to gain a step or two, and as he passes the rear door where the yellow-headed son is positioned he hears the door lock unengage. At this, the two men stop in their tracks and look at each other, for the first time, really. The boxer slowly reaches for the door handle.

With an explosion of kinetic energy, he sprints toward the boxer, who, momentarily taken aback, gives way to the charge--an intuitive reaction to things charging. Finding himself directly in line with the now unlocked door, he simply opens it, slides in next to his lemon-headed son and locks the door.


With the exception of his silent son, the car interior is a shrieking hiss of terror. The Ford bounds forward, tires spinning, back end fishtailing as it rounds the gas pumps and exits the parking lot onto the frontage road just as two squad cars, lights flashing, glide by them into the lot.

"Should I stop?" she screams above the din.
"Just drive," he says and she does. "And everyone stop screaming now." And eventually, they do.

Five miles later, he climbs over and takes his place in the passenger seat beside his wife. She is angry and scared and beautiful. He looks at her face as she drives, silently. His mouth waters.

"I'm sorry," he says.
"Un-fucking-believable" she says.
"I know."

Fifty miles later he drifts in and out of sleep. In the midst of a lucid dream he feels himself smile, feels her watching him.

"What's so funny?" she asks, her voice tender, if not altogether calm.
"Siphoning is a lot easier way to get free gas."


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Declaration of Independence

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a person to dissolve the psycho-spiritual binds that have connected him with his particular sense of reality, then...well...then...well then all hell breaks lose. It breaks loose and takes root, like some thorn-filled, evil-blown pollen, in the hearts of those of us, for whom, the distinction between Good and Evil is at first absolute, then subjective and finally, absolutely subjective.

There comes a time, in the course of those aforementioned Human Events, often a time of despair or fear or pain, sometimes in a time of joy or reverence, when our individual sense of evil and good is so intensely personalized, so intensely subjectified, that we're forced to reckon with it, identify it, call it what it is, and after that...troublingly, explain it. Why the evil? Why the pain? Why the addiction? Why the loss? Why the fear, the loneliness, the despair, the broken heartedness? Why?

And, often the answer to this asking is an opportunity for the ever-pressing presence of darkness to pulse through the cracks in our inherent optimism and blacken our thinking...which, of course, is the foundation of our reality. we end up like flock of backwards-hat-wearing college sophomores, asking: "Who the hell is in charge?" "Who is holding the rudder?" "What kind of existence is this if, throughout it, our experience is plagued with pain, heartache, injustice, madness--and at the end of it we die?" And, " for life in the next plane, an afterlife...Why? If there's someone in charge, holding the rudder, steering this ship, why are all these bad things happening and why do we have to suffer through this life to get to the good stuff and why does Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian get to be ga-zillionaires while I get to work in the coal mine...and for that matter, why does my sweet, sweet mother get to die, choking on cancer-filled phlegm, while this-or-that child-killer gets to live the life of Riley, writing books, appearing on talk-shows..." AND SO ON....

And some of us remain in that sophomoric malaise all the days of our lives, our brows knitted in consternation and cynicism, even as we breathe our last.

Which sucks. The ultimate heartbreak: No faith. No hope. No truth. Ouch.

In the end, love can/will/does conquer evil. Love conquers fear and pain and addiction and heartache and loneliness and hopelessness...and all that is black. But the battleground remains strewn with the corpses of those whom the darkness has taken—or more accurately, the battleground remains strewn with the corpses of those whose lives have been given to the darkness. I think that’s more accurate: We GIVE our lives to the darkness, it does not TAKE our lives from us. …

Love remains the fundamental creative power of the universe. But not everyone taps into it. This archetypical “LOVE,” not unlike the more earthly, human-to-human, garden variety love, is, by nature, reciprocal and born of intimacy. Real and selfless intimacy. And intimacy, as we know so well, absolutely demands exclusivity. It's not okay in our earthly relationships to be truly intimate with whomever we happen to run into in the grocery store. Indeed, such intimacy, not to be confused with sex, is by it's very nature, impossible.

So, we can choose intimacy. We can choose light and love. What we can't choose is circumstance. So those ready to cry foul, ready to argue that those wrongly accused, those innocents abused, those for whom suffering is an abomination to the concept of justice--I say to them: you are confusing love with circumstance. ...which are only distantly related and absolutely not synonymous.

Every addict, every liar, every killer, rapist, child molester, etc., as well as every innocent victim always has a choice, whatever the circumstance, we all have a choice, up until I stab that vein, tell that lie, pull that trigger, hate that hater, fail to forgive that sinner, dismiss that offender, etc. The compulsion to choose darkness may SEEM irresistible, but that’s a lie. We all know folks who DO resist. We all know folks who DO choose life, light, love...And to pretend our addictions, compulsions, pains, injuries, victimizations are stronger, more important, than the next guy’s…that’s just arrogance.

Fact is, evil, like love, is a choice. Life, or lack thereof, is a mere consequence.


Friday, July 8, 2011

The Less Popular Side of Grace

Grace, as everyone knows, is that "gift received, undeserved." While this understanding is useful, indeed, it is also limiting and, ultimately, deceiving.

Unfortunately, we've come to know grace as something that "blesses" us...and we leave it at that. We're thankful for it, the same way we're thankful for any gift that we receive. Further, we reserve a special kind of thankfulness in cases of grace precisely because we recognize that we don't deserve it, haven't earned it. ...In 21st century American culture (among others), the primary ethos around "receiving gifts" is to have somehow "earned" it. We get gifts at Christmas only if we've been good all year and have made Santa's Good List. ...if we get a lump of coal in our stocking, presumably, we've little creeps. And so on.

So, it is understandable when we receive measures of grace, we feel thankful, forgiven, blessed, etc. Essentially, this dimension of grace, for the receiver of it, is passive. We simply GET it. We simply RECEIVE it--sort of by definition of what have learned grace to be.

But another, critical element of grace is it's transformative nature. That is, Grace not only blesses us, but Transforms us, changes us. Makes us different. But only if we want that. ...But, without the transformational element of grace, grace itself is shortchanged. ...a large piece of the value of a gift received is in the opening of the gift and the USING of the gift, once opened. ...yes, an unopened package under the Christmas tree is still a gift. But the gift, opened and THAT gift has the power transform the receiver of the gift.

In seventh grade, when I received my new, Getzen Eterna (Doc Severenson Model) trumpet, I was very much transformed as a trumpet player. The old, hand-me-down Conn was dented, uninspiring, limiting and just not cool. This new horn was impressive, whacked with potential, intimidatingly shiny (much to the chagrin of Kris Koneitzko) helped me to be a better player because I wanted to play it more, wanted to show it off (along with my High C). It was confidence inducing.

If I'd have left it wrapped up under the tree...well, you get the point.

So...when you identify a bit of grace in your life. Challenge yourself to fully engage it. Change. Transform. Grow. It's why grace is given in the first place.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Copper Hair Blowing

His copper hair now blowing,
his mind no longer knowing,
eyes no longer showing
recognition, pain or love.

In my lap his head hangs heavy
as my heart breaks like the levee
holding back the tears of every
painful secret known and kept.

I will miss you, copper friend,
selfless, loving to the end,
our forevers we will spend
loving, remembering you.

("Go slow, Willie. Go slow...")


Friday, April 15, 2011

This Promise Sweet (for Mike and Jess)

This promise sweet, we duly make,
This wondrous day, we do forsake
All counterfeit loves, to favor ours,
This one, our own, reflects the powers
Of the Love of Loves, whose boundless care
We pray to emulate, long to share.

4 15 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Whenever the Monsters Come

Whenever the monsters come, they come,
directly to my head.
Whenever the monsters say my name,
they fill me full of dread.
Whenever the monsters show their fangs,
I shudder in my bed
And whenever the monsters never leave
I pray that I’d be dead.

Whenever the angels come, they come,
directly to my heart.
Whenever the angels sing my name,
they tear my fear apart.
Whenever the angels show their faces,
I awaken with a start
And whenever the angels always leave,
my prayers my fears do thwart.


1 6 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011


My dad's Honda Trail 90.
Cuddles on the back.
Mrs. Thompson's Little League baseball team.
Dennis Horn's crack of the bat.

Greg Leno "acting" like fireworks
in the front yard, 4th of July.
Mom in her cut-offs, smoking Pall Malls, laughing,
classic as apple pie.

Hockey on the back yard ice rink.
Scalloped potatoes and ham.
Carol Burnett on Saturday nights,
First Communion at Panger's with Pam.

...recognition of Life-Perfect in fracture,
Suspension of disbelief.
Constructing foundations for coping, deceiving,
investment for payment in grief.

2 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



Sweet, sweet, beautiful boy,
what made you make that choice?
What compelled you?
What hell befell you?
Who's was that lying voice?

Who convinced you hope was lost,
that your life would be the cost,
for peace like you never dreamed.
That liar's voice that seemed
was exactly that, a "seeming."

Get on with your dreaming.

Rest in peace, sweet boy.

9 2010