Archive for May, 2009

When it rains at night, I wake up to my sister across from me in bed.  She is usually awake and staring and I tell her to go back to her room and sleep.  She tells me that it is too noisy in her room, can’t she just stay in mine?  It happens every time now, every time it rains.

“Where do you think mom is?” she wants to know.

“Out,” I say.

“It’s late, when is she coming home?”

“When you go back to sleep.”

“Shouldn’t she be home?”

My sister goes on like this until I’m up and now I’m up.  She asks me to teach her another card trick.   So far, I’ve taught her the Two Card Flight, the Burning Rush, the Cardeenie Single, and Flipping Aces.  I went through each one step by step and she’ll ask me to do it again and again and she’ll never learn them.  It’s the process, I guess.

Mattie comes into join us and I don’t like when he gets junk in his eyes and he doesn’t like it when I clean it out.  He buries his head in my sister’s lap and she pets his head and looks up at me.  “At least you can see me clearly now, can’t you?” I say and he looks away.

Sometimes on rainy days Mattie hides in my bed just before.

There’s a tree in the courtyard that my sister is afraid of when it’s windy because it scrapes against her window and she says it sounds like ghosts are knocking.  I ask her Why not vampires?  She shrugs.  She likes the tree though, when we are outside.  We used to hang my GI-Joes from the branches and she would throw them around the big ones so that they would be tied up.  She’d put her hands in her pockets and watch me climb the tree.  She’d say sorry and do it again.

I got the impression she always meant it though, the apology.

“Do you want to go to the tree house?” she asks me.

“In this weather?  I haven’t taught you the card trick yet.”

“Please?  We can look for mom getting home.” 

Dad’s old treehouse he built just before he was gone.  It sits out there and it is not quite finished and I don’t know if it is still safe.  But I say that we can go and my sister gets her rain boots on.  

We run outside the raindrops come down hard and hit my sister’s back.  I watch them bounce off between her shoulder blades, hunched over.  She runs and splashes me through each puddle and looks back and mouths Sorry to me and I just push her on to keep running.

We climb the ladder and I tell her Careful not to slip and Mattie is barking at the backdoor.  I wave for him to come over and he runs out with his tongue out, his hair flopping and then matted down, wet.  Under the tree, I grab him between his legs and my finger falls to the part on the side of him that hair doesn’t grow from when my sister hit him with a stick playing fetch.  She cried and it was Mattie who consoled her, bleeding.  I hold him in one arm and climb up.  

In the tree house, the rain is loud and it makes it difficult to talk.  Mattie wags over to my sister and they hug, both wet and now wetter.  The branches rub up against the walls and in big gusts, I’m afraid that they might break through.  My sister takes a peek out the door and into the storm and says, “I don’t see mom.”  Mattie puts his head on her lap.

I walk over to one of the walls to see if it’ll hold and I put my hand on it and it feels wet and shaky.  I try to push one of the screws in that came out a little near the roof.  I can’t quite get it.  I turn to ask my sister and she is asleep on Mattie, looking at me, the rain coming down harder now and the street light goes out.

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timfieldThere was a board of gold stars next to each name in my kindergarten classroom.  I got the star for the finger painting and for the public service when I helped Carlin get her bag to the top cubby. I got the star for being punctual and the star for reading a story to the class. I grew that year and as I did my shoes seemed smaller. I never could get the star for double knotting my laces.  And I would try and I would practice, but I never did get the technique.

My teacher would do it for me. Right before recess, I would do the cross, the take-it-behind, the loop, the bunny ears, pull through, and then I’d freeze.

“This part’s the easiest,” she’d say and I’d say that no, that I saw what needed to happen but I just couldn’t get there.

And I would try and I would practice and again because by the end of the year, my shoes had gotten tighter, and I’d walk into that open field  across the lot at recess, and I wouldn’t feel the sun on my face, nor see the shadow behind me.  I wouldn’t see the grass in waves in the wind, nor feel my arms stretched out wide into the expanse.  

All I had were shoes too tight around me and a knot I couldn’t get out.

And I try and I practice.

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Triple Shot.

typewriter  736Earlier today, I sat at a table at the café right down the street.  At the table next to me a mother was reading the newspaper as her daughter, I’d age her at about six, was swinging her legs, kicking her mom’s chair.  Her mom didn’t react.  The girl said, “Mommy, what is air made of?” Without looking up, the mother said, “Nitrogen and Oxygen,” and the girl stopped kicking mommy’s chair.


I worked in a tea house with a decent sound system in the center of campus in college and my favorite thing to do was early Monday morning, I’d play Carmina Burana as loud as it would go.


I wonder if this ever happens:

“Honey, does this dress make me look fat?”

“Yes.  That dress makes you look fat.”

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ground  736

You think that when you get something replaced, you have that solved for a while.  New couch; don’t have to worry about the couch thing.  New gallon of milk; don’t have to worry about that spoiling for a while.  New tires; don’t have to worry about a blowout on a nowhere Indiana road on Mothers’ Day spinning in circles to smash against the guardrail and be T-boned by a Wisconsin license plate.  See the thing is there, with that last one, apparently I did have to worry.

A near death experience really isn’t, because how do I know where death is and how far I am from it?  It’s been a few weeks and my wife now just says at parties, “Did you hear about his near death experience?”

And I start, “Well, you see the new car out front?  The hybrid?”

And I’m well trained with this and I start the story, “So picture this, Mothers’ Day, 2009, nowhere Indiana…” and later I leave out the part about the angry voicemail messages she left me because I was late for the barbeque, never a concerned one, only angry.  And I leave out the part about how I began to judge people by their license plates.  Wisconsinites were out for obvious reasons.  I’m not getting in a car with one of them.  Indianaians were not going to stop for some Illinois tourist.  Illinoisans were too busy trying to get to and from Chicago with the smallest amount of time spent in Red State Land. And Michiganites, I just crossed my fingers and prayed they wouldn’t stop.  How do you turn down a Good Samaritan?  “Oh no thanks, I’d rather just wait on the side of the road.”

And there I was, sitting waiting for a tow truck, baked in early May sun, kicking over roadside grass next to my shriveled car.  And here’s the thing; the thought wasn’t, Oh my God, I walked away. It was, who was that actor in the new Indiana Jones?  Shia La-something-French. And I thought kicking the grass would get the blood moving.  I actually thought that.  I should kick the grass, I thought, get the blood moving.

It was then that I saw a car pull over.  North Dakota?  I got nothing for a North Dakotan.  His license plate read “PHEV” and I had no idea what that meant, filed it away for later.

“Tire blow out?” he called walking toward me.

“Yeah, just waiting on a tow truck.” I said.

“Need a ride?” I scanned him and the car for the sadistic killer factor.  None. “Where you headed?”

“Over to Grand Haven,” I said.  “What about you?”

“Not too far from there.  I’ll give you a ride.”

“Thanks, but I think it will be a little bit before anyone shows up.  I’d hate for you to have to wait.”

“Seriously, no problem,” he said.  “I’ve got thirty pages of my book left and I’m parked near a patch of wild flowers.  I’ll wait for you.”

I said thank you and he walked back to his car, rolled his windows down, put his feet up on the dashboard, and opened his book.  A North Dakotan, I couldn’t imagine a better savior.

I couldn’t call my wife.  My phone was on the passenger seat and was crushed when the car hit.  She felt bad about the messages when she found out what happened.  She asked me why didn’t I call and I told her about my phone.  She said, “You should have borrowed someone else’s’.”  And I told her I didn’t think of it.  I went through this conversation in my head as I was kicking grass, waiting, as I knew it was going to happen soon.

The tow-truck came, cleared the car.  I filed a report with Officer Kent Rogers who said that I have to be careful, even when things seemed new.  Seemed? They were a week old.  I told him thank you and that I’d be more careful next time.

The other car?  Fine.  Drove off.  Left me a phone number.

The first thing Clyde asked me, that was his real name, he told me he preferred Rusty, the first thing Rusty asked me after I interrupted his last few pages was if I was okay.  He didn’t ask me what happened.  I told him that it was frightening, the accident, that I saw the car heading right toward me, that I lost control.  He said that he assumed that’s what happened, he had seen the damage, but he asked me if I was okay.

“Honestly, yes.  I’ve been trying to think of an actor’s name.”

“Maybe it hasn’t hit yet,” he said.

“Maybe.  That’s what the say, I guess.  Thanks for waiting.  You finish your book?”

“Five pages left.”

“I’ve never been to North Dakota,” I said.  “I’d really like to see Mount Rushmore.”

“It is beautiful.  And in South Dakota,” Rusty said.

“Oh.  What’s in North Dakota?”

“I will bring you to the front door of wherever you’re going if you can tell me one thing in North Dakota.”


“South Dakota.”

“I’m striking out here,” I said and we went on like that.  We had another two or so hours left and everything and nothing to talk about.  You ask and answer the same questions about work, wife, kids, anecdotes thrown here and there, and at the end, when the door is closed, money is offered, and the bending over wave goodbye, the next day, it ends up the same as a movie montage: a few moments stand out, Rusty laughing through his beard, that I have to google humanist urns in the months to come, that’s his website, it just isn’t up yet, but I have to keep googling it, his story about the bear on his front porch, and why his kid went to school out of state.

“I gotta ask, what is PHEV?” I said.

“I can’t get one quite yet,” Rusty said, his hand out the open window. “Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle.  I figure this license plate is the next best thing.”

He took Lake Shore Drive up from Holland, said he liked it better with the view and all.  I asked him where he was ending up and he said that he guessed Michigan, that he had never been before, did I have any suggestions?  I sent him on a lighthouse tour.

As I was getting out of the car, I said, “Badlands.  The Badlands are in North Dakota.  My father always said that I had to see them to believe them.”

“There you go,” Rusty said and that’s how we left it.

What got me though is that as my wife came out of her parents’ house, almost stomping over to me, the first thing I said was that I really liked people from North Dakota.

She asked me where I was and why I was late, asked rather persistently, and I said to hold on, I had to tell her about Rusty first, how he waited, how he was reading a book called, “What Every Young Gentleman Should Know.”  She just wanted to hear about the accident.

And I get that, but for once, the first thing I told my wife about my day wasn’t about the idiot who took up two spaces at the super market, the printer that wouldn’t print, or the dog who wouldn’t stop barking outside of my office window.  Maybe I got tired of walking on flat ground and needed to start from someplace lower.  Maybe a near death experience doesn’t grant you that glimpse of the other side, but just reminders us that things like death exist.

But that’s not what the story I tell, what my wife tells me to tell, is about.  It starts out and ends up with the new car, about why we now have a hybrid, why we became conscientious consumers.

No one asks how I got out of Indiana, just about what tires I bought because they sure aren’t going to get that brand yet here I am, biking to work and every day, before I open my e-mail, I type in “humanist urns” and nothing comes up yet.

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Maggie with glasses.


Maggie likes the coffee her father makes the best.

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life is life.


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Jackie used to always say that her mom would kill her if she got sunburnt and I thought it was cute until no, I found out it was funny because her mom was dead.


The difference with a mid-life crisis is that you have money.  I have crises of similar proportions and all it means is that sometimes I buy a burrito.  


Walt Whitman (1819-1892) once famously said, “DO YOU KNOW WHO THE FUCK I AM?!”

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