Halloween is such an interesting holiday, trick-or-treat, the dual nature of things, of people. Candy corn and leering Jack-o-Lanterns, blood red candy apples and blood red devil capes, a ghost walking down the road holding the hand of Snow White. The sweetness and the darkness, played with for one nightmare of the year.

Pleased to meet you, won't you guess my name?

I was watching the clip of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil" from the infamous "Gimme Shelter" movie, filmed at the Altamont Speedway in California, December, 1969, and thinking about real-life nightmares, or the idea of a collective sense of dread, evil, even. Playing with the highest and lowest that lives within people, and this time, losing.

Much has been written about this song, and the film, and its counterpart, the Woodstock Festival, just a few months earlier on the other side of the country. The two massive music gatherings have often been paired as dark and light, violent and peaceful. Nothing is ever quite that delineated in truth, but in this song clip there is such a sense of hopelessness, chaos, and waste. It has been said that Altamont signaled the end of the 60s and the Peace & Love Generation. Maybe it was more that, inevitably, the underside was exposed, something that always existed. Those who wanted to change the world, believed that love was all you needed, believed if all banded together anything was possible, refused to acknowledge the fundamental nature of people, all people.

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
'Cause I'm in need of some restraint

The Rolling Stones were about as evil as a pair of tube socks. "Sympathy For The Devil" hardly expressed their personal feelings; it was a piece of lyrical fiction, wonderings about the concept of evil. But in those days, heavy with the weight of Vietnam, assassinations, race wars, and drug culture casualties like Brian Jones turning up with more and more regularity, people looked at rock stars like gods, having messages of revolution, revelation. Look at Charles Manson and the Beatles' "Helter Skelter;" another nightmare of sickness and misunderstanding. "Yummy Yummy Yummy" plays over the radio while someone bleeds to death.

Altamont was a disaster, in every way imaginable. Look at poor Mick Jagger there: "Ohhhhhhhhm babies. There's so many of you." He stands there, looks, laughs a bit, tries to go into the song. The pale, dirty, dissolute crowd bickers, pushes, the Hell's Angels start smacking away on them. "Keith, Keith, Keith, Keith! Will you cool it and I'll try to stop it." Getting Keith Richards to stop the song, to attempt to calm 300,000 people, Jagger looks tiny, comically useless, his persona and fame powerless against what seems to be, and was, unstoppable.

In "Gimme Shelter" you see a clip of Jagger watching this scene unfold in the film editing room, face implacable, his fingers brought to his lips. I have often wondered what he was thinking there. We know, and he knows, what is coming: after a few more songs, a young man near the stage raised a handgun and was stabbed and kicked to death. The band played on, not knowing the seriousness of what had occurred, and also under the threat of harm from the Hell's Angels. Did Jagger feel responsible? Helpless? Empty? How does one go from singing covers of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters to screaming little girls just a few short years previously, to this? Drugs and death and devils, all too plain the next morning in the cold light, filth and garbage strewn everywhere, everyone just trying to get the hell out.

At the end of the clip of "Sympathy For The Devil" we see a face looking up at Jagger, with a look of great sadness,tears under eyes, nodding to the music still. That is the face of someone who knows, surrounded by all the madness, the reality of a nightmare.

Tell me, baby, what's my name
Tell me, sweetie, what's my name?

Be careful out there, trick-or-treaters.


The question arose last night: should you give Halloween candy to a child who comes to your door with real actual growing facial hair and stands over 6'? What is Halloween etiquette here? My answer was that yeah, I would still toss him a Snickers but I would roll my eyes pretty heavily. The rolleyes would convey to him that he should at this point probably have a job and buy his own giant bag of Fun-Size Snickers. But then I think, ah, it is really no big deal. Keep trick-or-treating, you lummox.

When I was growing up it was terribly uncool to trick-or-treat past the age of 12, 13 tops. It was definitely considered a little kids' activity. I remember my 13th Halloween, and kind of feeling at a loss of what to do. I still wanted to have a cool costume and get candy, but that was not going to happen. I ended up hanging out with the other lost teens that night, just walking around and being obnoxious, I suppose. I think we might've toilet-papered something, yes, but I never got into smashing pumpkins (yes, that is a musical pun). I still feel sad to see the pieces of orange scattered on the road the day after Halloween. It seems so mean.

My oldest son also stopped going out on Halloween at about 13. He then got the job of handing out the candy at the door while we took his little brother and sister for their candy run. He seemed to like that, and it made me smile to see him be so nice to the little ones who would come to the door. I think back to his first Halloween. I put him in an orange onesie and a teeny pumpkin hat, and took pictures of him looking all WHAAAAA? BOO!, kid! HA HA. It probably isn't nice to use a flash on an 11-day-old infant, really. My bad.

When he was three, we had a lovely young nanny named Sherry, who came in enough hours per week so that I could attempt to finally finish college. That Halloween, she offered to make him a costume. I was thrilled to accept her kind offer on his behalf. My all-time favorite costume was a cheetah outfit my mom had sewed for me, so this was all nostalgic and very sweet to relive. And like I would ever be able to sew anything for him anyway (see post "SEW"). She took him out one afternoon and they went to the fabric store, and bought some dark brown fake fur and some pale yellow satin for lining. And thus The Bear Costume came into being, now an item of family legend. It was as cute as could be, all fuzzy wuzzy and puffy and warm to wear in the chill of late-October Colorado. All three children now have worn The Bear Costume, each for multiple years. But the last wearing has occurred -- at 6, my daughter is now just a little too big for it this year. So it will be retired and saved for a grandchild to wear someday, which is both a comforting and mind-blowing thought. I hope The Bear Costume remains packed up for at least another 15 years or so.

So, however old you are, if you come to my door tomorrow, I will give you candy because I like Halloween, and I like costumes, and I like fun. Just don't smash my pumpkin, you little bastards.



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puh-tup puh-tup puh-tup puh-tup

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Construction site concert.


Little Steven quoting a long passage from Albert Camus about the absurdity of life and man's reaction to it, then going straight into playing "CC Rider/Jenny Take A Ride" by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, SIRIUS Underground Garage, Channel 25.


I am glad to have been born in the mid-20th Century. I'm just saying that right up front. My grandparents, born in the NINETEENTH CENTURY DAMN AIN'T THAT SOMETHING!, and my parents, born in the 1920's, gave me a strong sense of history not only through their stories of the past, but in the old things that were still around; family antiques brought over from Scotland, a few toys of my dad's from when he was very small, his WWII uniform, bizarre old farm tools,a huge walnut radio form the '30s, old cracked photographs of men with large and dubious mustaches, one of my grandmother looking so fresh and young and beautiful. Having always had older people around me, the more distant past was always part of my daily experience, and not at all abstract.

I was born in the Jet Age, The Age Of Consumerism, past the Industrial Revolution into postwar boom times. My grandfather's horse-and-buggy linked to my father's tiny 50s MG linked to my Acura RDX, which speaks to me in a pleasant female voice: "Now calculating route." I have seen the last remnants of the agricultural society fade and die, land sold to corporate farms or developers. I have seen whole small towns die off, as the young people leave for the cities and work while the old people stay in whitewashed frame houses with wide porches, curtains closed, attending funerals and visiting doctors at the clinic. I have seen science fiction come to life, then become the norm. I feel like I have been alive far past my age, but cannot cast out a day ahead. No one can.

I lived twelve years of my life in a minuscule South-central Wisconsin town of around 300 people, spanning the 70s to the early 80s. Absurdly enough, the town was split, legally, into "New" and an "Old" parts; I lived in New; Old was about a mile down the road. THE road I should say; there was only one that went through of any size, and not a stop light or stop sign on it. In the Old part of town, was Neitzel's Store. If you are not from Wisconsin or German, let me assist you: pronounced NIGHT-ZLS. Now even to me, even then, this was a place frozen in time. I kid you not: it was pretty much exactly like Ike's General Store on "The Waltons." Our Ike was, of course, Mr. Neitzel, who was quiet but always smiling and friendly, thin, balding with dark hair left on the sides of his head, and he always wore a work apron.

The building even looked old to me, and it surely was, probably one of the first built in the area sometime in the mid- to late-1800s. It was a frame building, tall and flat, with a few steep concrete stairs leading to the door with a bell on it. Memory begins to fail me a bit here; it was painted in a dark color, but I don't know if it was maroon or forest green or something else, and I am not sure if it had an awning or not. Inside, were shelves on the perimeter walls that went all the way up to the high ceilings, stocked with cans of food. If you wanted something higher than you could reach, you would have to ask Mr. Neitzel, who would either grab it with a long pole, or he would climb a ladder. Also, if you handed him your grocery list, he would get everything for you and bring it to the register. This is the way it used to be done; so so far away from the Sentry Supermarket seven miles away.

For most of the years we lived in that town, my family was pretty poor. Bill collectors would call on and off, and we were instructed not to answer the phone. Letters with FINAL NOTICE - PAY IMMEDIATELY written on them would come in the mail from Sears and Penney's, and the worst, Household Finance. We weren't the worst off in my town, that was for sure, but there were times where there really truly wasn't a dime left, and no dimes coming in very soon.We didn't do our regular shopping at Neitzel's because it was both too small to get everything we needed, and a bit more expensive than the big chain stores.

I can remember my mom sending me over to Neitzel's one day, with a small list that included toilet paper, a bag of rice, a couple pounds of hamburger, and a can of corn. She told me to ask that Mr. Neitzel "put it on account." Now, I had an idea of this concept, having seen my dad run bar tabs. But at a grocery store? Why would Mr. Neitzel do that, I wondered, they certainly didn't let you do that at the Sentry. My mom explained that it was OK, that Mr. Neitzel was a good man, knew we would repay him as soon as we could. When I think back on it now, knowing the pride my parents had in not taking any money or charity, my mom must've been desperate. Not even the money to buy damn toilet paper. So I pedaled my bike over there, gave Mr. Neitzel my list rather sheepishly, and he smiled at me as always, found and bagged my items, and wished me a good day and to be careful riding on the main road because of the big trucks. He never asked for money, and treated me no differently.

About ten or so years later, another one of those moments in life that you could never predict because of its total unlikeliness and absurdity occurred when I found myself, now in my 20s, sitting next to my dad, who was driving his brand-new Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible. It was a bright bright red with white leather upholstery and cost more that my first house did. "The best," my dad said, "This is the best made in the world." I felt conflicted sitting there; it was indeed a grand car and most interesting and it was his money to spend as he wished, but it felt like just a colossal waste and so desperate. Who was he trying to impress, driving through these depressed little farm towns in that car? Is that what success was supposed to be about?

He took me for a spin through the countryside in the Rolls, and we ended up driving past Neitzel's. There was a sign on the front door: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. THANK YOU, FRIENDS. Did the times finally catch up with Mr. Neitzel, did he simply just retire, could he not make a living there now? My dad rattled on about his car as I stared at the store, and I felt very sad, although not exactly sure why. Perhaps it was just that this strange little remnant of days gone was finally shuttered, perhaps a sense of time passing, of two very different men living in the same tiny town and how they ended up, and perhaps the cruel, worthless concept of fairness.

I am sure my mother paid Mr. Neitzel back every penny she owed him, and I am sure he never charged her a penny of interest.


I'd like to send a shout out to Bette Durnford, wherever you may be. Mrs. Durnford, a black-haired Southern dynamo transplanted to the rural splendor of Wisconsin, was my teacher for several years in elementary school. Although I think by the time I knew her she had been in the Midwest for many years, she still had a thick Deep South accent, twangy and loaded with all kinds of exotic sayings and homilies, or exotic to me at least. She had a big personality, which I find good in a teacher, which expressed itself grandly in hugs and praise and enthusiasm, or whip-crackin' all-business if someone was screwing up.

Mrs. Durnford had a particular passion, and that was journalism, and this she passed on to me. I have so many times referred back to the basic things she spoke about over all these years, and her lessons had a far greater impact that went past my writing. She got me to think more deeply about words, and the structure and placement of them, and the impact the tiniest changes could have upon a reader, and the tremendous power of the media. I think she saw something in me, a potential, that needed shaping and structure, a home to place all the words I had in me. How grateful I am now for her guidance and interest shown.

A journalism class is like a entry-level tutorial on effective and efficient communication, which goes past the written word. First paragraph, just the facts, ma'am: Marianne, a blogger and laundress, spent $202.98 at the TJ Maxx in Woodinville, Washington, on Friday, October 24th at approximately 3PM Pacific Time. She purchased six items at the store, and was assisted at checkout by Stacey. Marianne went to the TJ Maxx in search of discounted yet high-quality clothing items, and saved approximately $130.25 over full retail price. She paid for the items with a VISA card, which was processed and charged with no incident. So, Lesson One: if you have something to say, say it, give the pertinent details: tell who, what, when, why, and how. Don't waste anyone's time -- get to it right away, and give people the basics of the situation and let them decide if that is enough or they want to dig further. How great is that? No hemming or hawing or shuffling of the feet. TWO HUNDRED BUCKS??? is answered cleanly there.

Mrs. Durnford stressed the apparently-long-gone idea that a good journalist should be completely unbiased and always aware of avoiding emotion or judgment in a piece of reporting, respecting people enough to make their own conclusions. "Fair and balanced" today, from any direction, is rare. The media is now too vast and powerful to be untainted by agendas. Reporting turns into The Persuasive Essay/Editorial. Example: Marianne, in choosing to shop at a discount store, has shown remarkable ingenuity and strength of character. Eschewing the glamour and glitz of Nordstrom, she wades through countless fail garments and oddities to clothe her family in an exquisitely-perfect mix of fashion and thrift. She is perhaps the example to lead this nation out of its recession and into a healthy and balanced economy. VIVA! Someone is going to fall for that. Lesson Two: Be aware of the power your words have to change the way people think, and think about what outcome you wish to make happen, or if you want that responsibility at all.

The other subject that got Mrs. Durnford all fired up was sports, and sports journalism just got her giddy. She taught me that in this sort of writing, while you still had to deliver the factual content, you could also range out and be far more expressive. She stressed how important it was in sports writing to be able to make the reader feel the action; to describe it in language that would make you feel like you were there. Example: Marianne eyed the squat, surly woman to her right with a steely glare. The Guess jeans, hanging in the middle of a long blue line of pants, were practically leaping into her shiny silver cart. But the woman, hunkered down directly in front of the Guess jeans like a midget mule, would not budge. Time was ticking; Marianne had to soon zoom down the streets of Woodinville to liberate her daughter from school; pressure was building. As her watch clicked 3PM, Marianne boldly moved her cart forward, and in an authoritative-yet-attractive voice, spoke: "Excuse me, please!" The jeans troll scowled, and waddled down the aisle. Marianne swooped down upon the jeans, and in a perfectly-aimed arc, threw the item into her still-moving cart. The store employees stood and cheered, confetti rained down upon the heads of the shoppers, and Marianne in triumph, strode confidently to check out. Lesson Three: You have the ability to take people out of wherever they are with your words, and place them somewhere else entirely. A ball field, a battle field, or a shopper show-down, all is possible with the right adjectives and action verbs.

So, again, I thank you, Mrs. Durnford. Your passion for well-written words was my good fortune. I never became Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite or even Perez Hilton for god's sake, but I heard what you said, and it stuck.


Another nice sunny day in Seattle today.

Scene: walking downtown, near the Market. A somewhat-disheveled older man in a gray suit has a sign on an easel that says, "THEORY = REALITY" and he is yelling about his theory, and reality, in that way one often sees in large cities.

Miss Six: What is that man doing?

Me: He is talking about something he is really interested in.

MissSix: Well, no one cares.


It was late in the day but still sunny, so I took my daughter for a quick run to a local park so she could run around and get some monkey bar time. I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte, sat on a bench, and watched, and thought.

I have spent so much time at playgrounds over the past 17 years of parenthood. I see former versions of myself in the parents around the play structure. There is the mother with a newborn in a stroller, fussing over her baby every few minutes: adjusting his blanket, picking him up, putting him down, adjusting the shade or his little conehead hat, and on her face that absorbed look of the newly in love. There is the mom of the New Walker, hovering over her daughter as the wobbly child bravely attempts to navigate a stair with a rise half her size. There is the dad who is trying to reason with a toddler in the running/NO! phase, which I laugh at because it is such a colossal waste of time. Live and learn, sir. There's the dad who is coerced by his giddy blonde preschooler to go down the slide with her 20 times in a row, despite his size making it quite comical and ungainly. There are the soccer mom friends, who watch their kindergarteners pretend to be pirates on a massive ship, while the women talk about school and soccer and kids and food.

I see all those parents just starting out, their children falling and running and crying and yelling and screeching in joy. I sit there, and I feel overwhelmed. My daughter crosses the monkey bars back and forth, confident, solitary. She is not so much playing as working. I am not so much watching her as lost in my own thoughts, solitary.

A jet trail in the bright blue sky catches my eye, and its clean white line echoes a long black shadow on the grass from a light pole. My daughter runs back to the bench, her hands bright pink from the chill and the monkey bars, and snuggles against me for a few seconds, then runs forward onto a wide green space of grass, and does not look back.


After a decent trip to TJ Maxx, including the score of a new pair of jeans to replace the ones that nearly fell off my ass at the mall last weekend , I quickly downed an Iced Venti Latte and picked up my daughter from school. She proceeded to tell me about her day, and the field trip she went on to find and identify spiders. She is not skittish about spiders or snakes or creepy crawlies, which I admire. She was excited about seeing a “European spider,” a “black wolf spider,” and insisted that she shook hands with a tarantula. I suppose that is possible. I asked her if all her classmates shook hands with the tarantula, and she said no, some kids thought it would jump on them and suck their blood out. Now that would’ve made for an eventful 1st grade jaunt.

This week, I was rather stunned to read about a giant Australian spider, which apparently caught and nommed on a bird. At first I thought the bastard had bagged himself a chicken, but it turned out to be a finch:

Nonetheless, LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING! HOLY SHIT! Like my daughter, I too am not particularly bugged by spiders, but I tell you WHAT: if one of those things were in my house, I would scream the most bloodcurdling scream heard outside of a Z-grade horror movie, and possibly burn down my entire house to get rid of it. I think all rational thought would leave me. Bird-eatin’ bug, GIMME A DAMN BREAK! That ain’t right.

The worst bugs I ever had to deal with were from when I lived in Arizona. Deserts make for some unpleasant creatures, and I remember when I had to face down my first black widow spider. There it was, just sitting there on the wall by the kitchen, all evil and black and spidery. Well, I thought. Damn. OK. Damn. Shit. Shit. OK. Hmm. Shit. I got a book and slammed it on the nasty thing and smooshed it until I felt that there was no chance it could be functional. I think I stood there for about 5 minutes, afraid to take the book off the wall and deal with the spider remnants. But all was well, I had indeed killed it, although I think I threw the book away. Book-eatin’ bug.

Worse than that was when I was alone in the apartment, and some GIANT BLACK WASP THING got in. OH CRAP. It was a good four inches long, and wasps, as we know, are MEAN AND SURLY. This was no regular Wisconsin wasp; this Arizona asshole was surely one from the pit of hell. It flew about, making an ugly awful sound, and I dared not take my eye off it. WHAT THE HELL WAS I GONNA DO?

I called my boyfriend in a panic. WAAAHHH MUH MUH MUH BLAH BLAH BLAH WASP WAAAAAAA, was the gist of my communication to him. He kindly and thoughtfully told me that I MUST KILL IT so it didn’t sting the cats. AW MAN! THE HELL! AWWW! What on earth was I gonna kill a giant wasp with?? I kept him on the phone while I secured the cats into the bathroom, and looked around desperately for something to bring total death to this shitpile bug. I ended up going for a two-pronged approach.

On top of the refrigerator, was a novelty item that I had got at a Stuckey’s somewhere in Texas a couple of years before: the Giant Texas Fly Swatter. It was about three feet long, and comically absurd. This would hopefully reach the awful creature so I could beat it to death. In my other hand was a giant canister of hair spray. I figured if I just mercilessly emptied the can on the fucker, it would immobilize or confuse him in beauty product finality. My boyfriend I believe was peeing his pants laughing over the phone at this point.

There it was, poised like a miserable black-winged turd on the ceiling over the couch. It was a face-off. Do or die. I trembled as I stood on a chair, bending forward. It had to be one damn good strike with the Giant Texas Fly Swatter, I thought, or the thing would swoop down and sting my eyeball or something. OK. HERE’S ONE FOR THE CATS, YOU PIECE OF DUNG!

WWWWWHAPP! I hit it as hard as I could, screaming and cringing at the same time. It fell…behind the couch. OH NO. NO NO NO. I could not see it. I picked up the phone and explained the bad turn of events. YOU HAVE TO GO BACK THERE AND KILL IT!, my boyfriend exhorted, with a mix of hilarity and concern. AWWW!, I said. I got my can of hairspray and unraveled a roll of paper towels. Again, a decisive move was utterly necessary: I would have to move the couch quickly and BE READY. I put the phone down again. I think by this time there were about 10 people on the line listening to the drama unfold.

I got on my knees. GO! I practically threw the couch aside (to be fair it was a shitty foam deal that weighed about 10 pounds), and THERE IT WAS, TWITCHING! AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! I took the spray and pressed down on the nozzle as hard as I could and the wasp seemed UNHAPPY ABOUT IT. DRINK THIS IN, CREEP! After a few seconds of lacquering, I took the wad of paper towels and pressed down with all my weight, hearing the crack of its nasty body. AAAAAAAA!, I went. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!, I could hear from the phone a few feet away.

I got back on the phone. I KILLED IT!, I said, exhausted. NOOOO, my boyfriend said, YOU HAVE TO FLUSH IT DOWN THE TOILET!

WHAAA???? AWWWW! I took a few moments to collect myself, gathered up the wad of hopefully very dead wasp and paper towels, ran to the bathroom, let the whining cats out, threw the paper in the toilet, slammed the lid down, and flushed. The horror of the Big Bad Wasp was over.

So, maybe I would not be so freaked out by the Giant Bird Eating Spider. Maybe I would just grab some bath towels and go all Italian grape stomper on it. Provided my daughter wasn’t having a tea party with it already.


I am fascinated by the creative mind. I love thinking about the process, the psychology, the magic that the brain can spin, making new things when you think there must be nothing new to make in human history. Somebody is always coming up with something. Now granted, it is not always good new stuff, it might be something as lame as a Hello Kitty cheese grater, or that hideous song by Black Kids with the whiniest vocals ever recorded, or anything whatsoever from Dr. Phil. Stuff just keeps on coming, and you sort and weed, or in some cases hoot and laugh and toss in the dumpster. In a few cases, someone brings you something you are just thrilled by and that you take right into your heart.

The unique spark that ignites the creative process also can produce the devastating effect of setting off the cruel, smoldering tire fire that is perfectionism. Perfectionism, I think, is a widely-misunderstood thing. In its true form, it is not about the discipline and drive to make something the best it can be; it is the inability to let something go, because it is never good enough, or the refusal to even begin something, because it is never going to be good enough. Here come da judge, here come da judge.

I got to thinking about this as I recently listened to a song by the Liverpool group The La’s. They put out one album, released in 1990, which is probably in my Top Five favorite records of all time. It is pop songwriting at its best; each song so catchy and interesting and so well-crafted, with depth and feeling to the lyrics. The group never released another album. The group’s frontman and songwriter, Lee Mavers, was profoundly unhappy with the production of the songs by Steve Lilywhite, and in fact with all producers he worked with prior to and after the release of the record, despite nearly-universal critical praise for the work. The band very reluctantly fulfilled their obligations to promote the record, and in interviews Mavers came off as bitter, befouled by the music business, with little to no sense of how much people had loved what he had done. He only focused on inadequacy of the sound of the songs, which existed only in his mind, and no other. Twenty years later, he and his wonderful songs are still locked up in his mind and his home, as he records and re-records them over and over, and they in his perception assumably are never good enough for us to hear.

Perfectionism is the cancer of the creative mind, and is a tough, tough fight. The line to walk is sometimes so thin as to be invisible, to make something exceptional or to smash it into pieces. The Judge is merciless, and sometimes needs to be sent back to chambers with a roll of duct tape and a gavel to the head.


Forty years ago this week, the Beatles' "Hey Jude" was the #1 song on the charts, I was reminded by my radio a couple of days ago. Forty years. That is a chunk of time, my friends. As I pondered that, I listened to the song play, and once again marveled at how I heard something very different to it now. Perhaps it is in the nature of words that are strung together in a literary, as opposed to clinical, construction; open to interpretation always, changing with every listener's experiences or mood. I like that.

When you put something artistic out there for people, whether it is a song, a story, a painting, even dance, it is not really yours any more. It becomes part of the experience of others, and they bring their own ideas to it. It is never in your control again, fully, but in hearing how others have perceived the work you almost always get something of far greater depth than you had previously. Sometimes people can pull out details that you missed completely, even as the creator of the work. Sometimes they can mirror something about you from a piece of work that you had never considered, or faced. Sometimes they can be dead wrong, veering completely off your intent, which is still part of it all. There is always something to take from feedback, whether it is a detailed critical analysis or "It has a good beat. You can dance to it."

"Hey Jude" is certainly one of the Beatles' most famous songs. At that time, in 1968, the world was still ravenously hungry for anything Beatle, still looking to them to lead the way both in pop music and youth culture. I remember this song as being a huge big deal, and much excitement surrounding its release. It was a measure of their power and influence that this seven-minute-plus single was played in its entirety on Top 40 radio stations all over, unheard of in a world of songs that usually didn't go past three minutes, interspersed with manic DJ patter, incessant 4-second station jingles, and commercials. Capitol Records did make a radio edit version, but the fans' clamored for the full-length one, so that was what was played, in my recollection. The sheer length of the song forced you to pay attention, it was so unusual.

My strongest memory surrounding the song comes from the promotional video that the Beatles filmed for it. The band had, of course, stopped any kind of live performance a couple years previously, so just to see them play at all was so exciting, I cannot even tell you. I don't remember how I heard it, probably via my little transistor radio, but I knew that the Beatles were going to be on the Smothers Brothers show, and I glued myself to the TV at the appointed time. My parents didn't approve of the Smothers Brothers increasing liberal political comments, didn't really like me watching the show, but there was NO WAY EVER anyone was going to stop me from watching the Beatles.

This appearance made a huge impression upon me, because I never forgot it. Of course, now the "Hey Jude" film is easily available to be seen on our dear internewt, but after I saw this performance, I never saw it again until relatively recently, and I was left for all those years with just these fuzzy pieces in my mind: Paul's face singing into the camera (swoon); the risers; all the people surrounding them and how happy they looked and how I wished to be there; how long John's hair was; how everyone sang together at the end. Because I was just a little bug, I also thought mistakenly that it was a live performance at the Smothers Brothers show, and over the years forget more, and thought that maybe it had been on the Johnny Cash Show or the Glen Campbell Goodtime Summer Fun Whoopee Hey Now Fun Hour or whatever it was called. But I remember the feeling that the song was important, bigger than just another tune.

Paul McCartney has said that the songs' genesis happened as he was making his way down to visit Cynthia and Julian Lennon. John had met Yoko, that was that, and was divorcing Cynthia, and to be honest about it, Julian as well. Paul's idea in "Hey Jude," originally titled "Hey Jules," was to give the little boy some support and love during a very confusing and hurtful time. I think of Julian then, around my age, with his mother in a big country estate, maybe just starting to figure out the enormity of who his father was in the world, and how none of that makes any damn difference to a kid who would just like to have some time and love and attention from his dad. I think of me, laying down on my stomach as close as I could get to the television, hardly blinking so I wouldn't miss a second of seeing the Beatles. Two little kids across the world from each other, trying to capture and hold onto the same impossible thing, in a sense.

The lyrics to "Hey Jude" have been interpreted past being a song for Julian. John Lennon himself thought the song was a message directly to him from Paul. How strange to think that at this point, only a short five years after the blast of Beatlemania began, that communication had broken down enough between them to where songs were the only places to reveal honesty. They continued this form of speaking to each other in songs past the Beatles, as we know, often with vitriol only reserved for scorned lovers, those who had been most close and denied, and to time past that, to songs written after John's death. Still trying to say something in a song, safer than plain words. "Drag, isn't it?"

"Hey Jude," beginning as a hug to a child, probably ended up as more to McCartney, as he too was leaving a long-term relationship with Jane Asher and heading towards Linda Eastman, whom he married a few months after the song's release. We can speculate, probably be right a good bit, and probably never know the rest. My own guess is that Paul left it open somewhat. A message, or messages sent, but an invitation for others to come in and find their own place in the words. That is one reason why it remains a song that touches people.

Julian Lennon had to wait over two decades past the song's release to discover his connection to it. He spent tens of thousands of dollars acquiring an original copy of the written lyrics at auction. If I had owned those, there would have been nothing to stop me from walking up to him and saying, "Here. These are yours," handing them to him with a smile, and walking away.

Hey Jude don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Hey Jude don't be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

And any time you feel the pain, Hey Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Na na na na na
na na na na

Hey Jude don't let me down
You have found her now go and get her
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

So let it out and let it in
Hey Jude begin
You're waiting for someone to perform with
And don't you know that it's just you
Hey Jude you'll do
The movement you need is on your shoulder

Na na na na na
na na na na Yeah

Hey Jude don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her under your skin
Then you'll begin to make it better
Better, better, better, better, better, Yeah,Yeah,Yeah

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na
Na Na Na Na, Hey Jude.


The lighting in the diner, this particular diner, was just brutal, Nick thought as he sat down in a long black-vinyl upholstered booth. It was fluorescently harsh, bluish-cold, too bright, and gave all the people in the restaurant the pallor of the dead. Fitting, maybe, he thought, all of us here at two in the morning, silent, staring at nothing while sucking down big white mugs of burnt-smelling coffee. Truck stop zombies, gasoline ghoulies, highway to hellers, playing in his mind with all the ghastly phrases he could come up with, pleasing himself for a moment. He slid to the window side, almost touching the wall, and brought his books out from his backpack and set them on the gray-flecked Formica table, tapping his fingers on each book in a pattern.

He didn’t really know why he kept ending up here. Some nights it would be late, sometimes even later than it was now, and he would get restless at home, confined, bored, nervous. Sometimes his girlfriend would be over, already asleep for many hours, and he could not keep still next to her, thinking. So he would grab his stuff, walk out of the house in sweatpants and a Henley, maybe a knit hat and a coat if it was cold, and start driving. He would wind through the curvy roads of his pretty suburban town, past the high school and the post office, past the ball field and the A&P, until he got to the highway, busy even in the middle of the night, feeding endless cars and semis into the city. He would accelerate and enjoy the feel of his head pressing back, the growl of the car engine, keeping up with the barreling trucks, weaving and dodging around anyone slower, unlike the reasonable and moderate way he drove during any other time. He would turn up the radio, sometimes listening to sports talk, sometimes music, depending on what caught his ear, where his emotions were bubbling. His hands would beat in time on the steering wheel to the music, or to the rhythm he would find in the bumps in the road, or the cadence of a steady voice.

He would drive and keep driving, not really intending to go anywhere or do anything. Twenty miles would pass quickly, and then another ten or so, and he would see the diner, as garishly lit from the outside as it was on the inside. He would feel the pull to take the turn-off, drive past the all the trucks sitting dark and silent in the huge parking lot, pull into an empty space, and sit for a minute. It was not a nice place, this one, there was nothing to like about it even in a trashy, camp, retro, slumming way. It was ugly and dirty, the food was mediocre to bad, and the people who stopped there looked like they had stories you really didn’t want to know about. But he would get out of the car anyway, sling his pack over his shoulder, and take a big sniff of the diesel air, listen to the roar of the highway and the buzz of the huge streetlamps overhead, and go inside.

The waitress came over, a woman in her 30s who looked more in her 40s he thought, with her brown hair haphazardly pulled back into a ponytail, deep drawn lines around her mouth, dark grey eyes that seemed to pick up no light at all.

“What can I get for ya?”

He had no need for the menu. “A coffee and the Number Five Breakfast, please.” He looked up at her and smiled, trying to catch something from those eyes, but she never looked back at him.

“Comin’ up.” She turned and walked away towards the counter. He drummed his fingers on the seat of the booth, 1-2,1-2,1-2. The music from the kitchen always blared mainstream 80s music, classic rock. Fill my eyes with that double vision, no disguise for that double vision, ooh, when it gets through to me, its always new to me, my double vision always seems to get the best of me - the best of me, yeah!

He picked up a mechanical pencil, and worked a bit on some problems from one of the books that had been giving him a bit of difficulty earlier in the night. For some reason he found it easier to concentrate here, away from the familiar, away from distractions. He knew no one would be walking in the door here. No one he knew would ever stop here. If his girlfriend or her mother or his mother or his boss or his sister or his friend Mike knew, they would be appalled, as a matter of fact. They would look at him differently, he thought.

He glanced up at the sound of a rattling plate on the diner counter. A fat man with a choppy looking beard stared back at him, red-faced, looking foul-tempered and drunk. Nick knew just the right amount to look back at him before turning away to his books. One second short, you’d look weak and the guy might come over and pick on you for the fun of it. One second too long, and he’d come over and pick on you for the fun of smashing your face in. Just long enough, and the guy would know, not me, I’ve got something to me you don’t want to mess with. Nick had been in enough fights, wiry and baby-faced as he was, and had been smart enough to figure out how to win most of them over time. The best win was never getting in them to begin with. Ting ting-ting ting, his pencil lightly tapped on his water glass.

The waitress brought his plate, and a carafe of coffee. She poured the nearly-black liquid into his mug in one sweep of her wrist. “Cream?”

“No, I’m good. Thank you.” As she walked off again, he stared at his food. Two fried eggs, two sausage patties, a huge mound of cubed fried potatoes and onions, a biscuit. He was very hungry, and began to plow through the meal, even when to his dismay but not surprise he found the eggs rubbery, the sausage gritty with bone, the potatoes cold, and the biscuit rock-like. Oh, well, he thought, they are consistent here. Hit me with your best shot! Why don’t you hit me with your best shot! Hit me with your best shot! Fire away!

The sound of the door clanging open again and a group of men laughing made Nick once again look up from the table. Ah. A bunch of guidos, fresh from the bars, all dressed for the night, pomaded hair, designer jeans, leather jackets. They had a girl with them, who looked to be about 22 or so, skinny and wobbling in her heels, barely held together by her black spandexed dress. She was giggling, pushing on them, smiling too wide. They roared into a booth, slamming into the seats, one of them yelling out, “HEY! HOW ABOUT SOME FUCKEN SERVICE ALREADY?” More laughs. Two of the guys sat surrounding the girl, and looked, Nick thought, like wolves ready to tear her to pieces, smiling with blood on their teeth. He started to feel a burning in his chest, heat rising in his head. Assholes. The waitress dumped more coffee into his cup, showing no reaction to much of anything.

Nick studied the group as they continued to laugh and swear and cause enough of a scene to be obnoxious, but not enough to get kicked out of this joint. He had been that guy a few times. He had taken advantage. It was what guys did, or most of them that he hung around with did. There had been a few girls like her, maybe more than a few, but it was hard to think about. It put creases in his mind, a discomfort that he could not recall their names or faces, just the sound of their voices, body parts, the smell of beer and cigarettes. It wasn’t what he wanted now. He wondered if the girl in the booth wanted what was going to happen to her later or not. Nick noticed his leg was jittering, stopped it, annoyed. Hey, she’s a big girl, he thought, it’s not my problem. He drank down the coffee fast, cringing at its heat, gathered up his books and papers again, slapped a twenty on the table. It was too much to pay, too much to stay. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes it’s not for days, and the people I meet always go their separate ways, sometimes you tell the day by the bottle that you drink, and times when you’re all alone all you do is think. Wanted, dead or alive.

He pulled his hat down reflexively and made his way to the exit. As he passed by the table of the guidos and the girl, their plates of food sloppy and repulsive-looking, their bodies too big for the booth, one of them brayed at Nick, “Hey, take a look at this motherfucking faggot! Hey, how are you, faggot, huh? How you doin’? Everything good there?” Nick immediately stopped, and stared at the shiny white teeth on the smile of the guy, and he instantly wanted to throw a punch and knock them clean down his greasy throat. He looked at the whole disgusting group, all smiling, watching to see what he would do, ready, he could see, to make him the evening’s second feature attraction. Nick glanced at the girl, who was so wasted she was staring off into space, hair messed, face melting.

He turned his body to the group, set down his backpack at his feet, set his jaw tight, eyes to steel. The mood heightened; he saw the men shift slightly, expectantly, ready, so ready to take him down should he move an inch closer. He stared at them a second longer, then spoke.

“Got a cigarette?”

For a few moments, the whole place seemed to crackle, frozen in ice. Insanity laughs under pressure were cracking, can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love one more chance? Why can’t we give love give love give love?

The guido stared at him, then started to laugh, shoulders shrugging and shaking. “Ha ha ha, how about that skinny fucker! Ha ha ha! Here you go, faggot, they’re on me!” He picked up a half-smoked pack of Camels from the table and tossed them to Nick. The rest of the group laughed.

Nick picked up his backpack, said, “Thanks, man,” with a nod, and shoved the Camels in his jacket pocket, and strode out the door, his heart beating in time with his steps, hearing their voices even after the door closed.

He walked towards his car. Two police cars were in the lot, pulled together. One of them turned his spotlight on him. Nick flinched, ready to open his car door, then decided, alright, how about this? He turned and walked further to the curb, sat down, pulled out the Camels and a lighter, fired up a smoke, and watched the cops watch him. “You think I’m a bad guy? Yeah, go ahead. Watch me smoke this fucking cigarette then,” he thought angrily. Only bad people came here, people with bad intentions, and stolen truckloads of computers, and creeps, and rapists, and whores, and monsters.

He sat there, hunched over, smoke swirling through his nose and mouth and lungs, and Nick thought of his girlfriend asleep, her long sandy brown hair spread across the pillow, how she rarely had any trouble sleeping. He had gotten quite a prize in her, snared her young, kept her now for seven years, through his 20s and hers. He wondered if she did know that he left the house and where he went and what he did away from her, and didn’t want to rock the boat. Or maybe it was that she didn’t want him to ask what she did the nights away from him. Neither of them was going to know for sure, because no one really wanted the answers.

If he left her, just kept on driving one night, she would end up here, like that girl. She knew nothing of the world, had hardly been with any other men, she would be vulnerable to guys like that. She would fall for all their stupid lines, and the drinks, they would grope her and laugh and she would giggle. He could not let that happen to her. He would go along with things, they would end up getting married, having children, living in the same town, and he would feel good about what he had done for her.

Nick’s hands shook, from the cold he thought, as he drew the last from the cigarette, stubbed it out on the curb, still staring back at the cops. He walked back to his car, opened the door, threw the backpack on the passenger seat, then saw the flashlight of the cop in the side mirror. He tapped his fingers on his legs. Alright. Alright. He rolled down the window and looked up.

“License and registration, please.” The cop was about 6’4”, short brown hair slicked to one side, cop mustache, grim. Nick pulled his license from his ratty wallet, the registration from the seat pocket and handed them to the cop, who walked back with them to his car, while the other cop, a young guy with a buzzcut, stood on the other side of the car. Nick sat, quiet, watching the people inside the diner.

After a few moments the first cop returned and handed back the items. “What are you doing out here tonight? Lookin’ for some weed?” he questioned with a sneer.

“No. I come here to study some nights when I can’t sleep.”

The cop looked at him with a weary, skeptical eye. “Oh, is that right. You are pretty far from home, aren’t you? This ain’t no study hall, junior. Get out of here before you get in trouble.”

Nick said nothing, rolled up the window, started the car, left and got back on the highway, in a reasonable and moderate fashion, opened it up again when five miles has passed. He’d head back to his pretty town, to his pretty girl, all the pretty things waiting right there for him. The good people lived there.

He blinked his eyes like windshield wipers, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, until his eyes were clear again, and the oncoming headlights of the other cars no longer looked like spreading, beautiful white stars.


Seventeen, I was living life
Chasing dreams and my hopes were high
Trying to get around my fear of
When and where do I go from here

I asked somebody close to me
Who could see a lot further than a boy could see
Oh, oh, oh and he said...

Oh my, oh my, oh my these days are flying by
I still feel seventeen inside, not one day over
Don't let the trials of life, change who you are tonight
Stay seventeen each time you get one year older

I said you're at that time of life when your heart is strong
Your future's bright, you can do no wrong
And don't you let those feelings out of sight
Keep a hold of them as the years go rolling by

-- Simon Webbe, "Seventeen"

My oldest child is 17 today. Overlooking my bias as his mother, he has grown to be an incredibly handsome young man. It takes no effort at all to recall how he looked the day he was born. After an insanely fast and traumatic birth, he looked pretty much like Charles Bronson in Death Wish. He had dark yellow skin from jaundice, a pile of greasy black hair, and his face was so puffy that his eyes were little dark slits. He had a serious conehead going on from the vacuum they used to finally pull his 8 pound body out of me, because his little heart was not doing so well in all the craziness of being propelled out at warp speed. PUSH! they screamed at me. NO! I screamed back.AIIIEEEEEE! I went. WAAAHH! he went. HOLY SHIT! I said, I AIN'T DOING THAT EVER AGAIN! Big liar.

And that was that. I held little Charlie Bronson in my arms, looked down at this wiggling creation in a white flannel burrito wrap blanket and thought, welllllll, not exactly what I thought was going to come out, but I bet I will learn to appreciate his rugged and vaguely-Asian good looks. Silly me. Within a couple of weeks his jaundice was gone, his hair turned brown, his eyes a big bright blue, and he actually looked like he was my child, but cuter. He never slept, it seemed, watched everything, began to laugh and smile, and we began to know each other. It is a particular privilege to parenthood to be able to see a person unfold right in front of you. For all the worry and heartache it sometimes brings, it is an experience of great depth and one I am profoundly grateful for.

This is his last year to be a child. Next year, at eighteen, whether he is working or at college, everything changes dramatically, and should. It will be time for him to begin to figure things out on his own, have his own experiences, his own life. Seventeen is where you stand at the edge of the pool, sticking your toe in, until you jump in or are pushed in, either way. I remember. Frightening and thrilling and daunting and dizzy with possibilities. The feeling of things happening that could be REALLY COOL, or REALLY NOT COOL AT ALL. I will have to stand back, and watch as he takes the machete through the jungle or lets the vines grow over him. His fight and figuring out is his own. I am still dealing with my own machete issues. Damn dull blade.

So tonight per his request, I will make tacos, as I have for many years on his birthday now. He wants a Key Lime Pie, and I will get that too. He will have some nice presents to open, and he will be gracious. I know, and he knows, that next year he might not be home to have tacos and Key Lime Pie and presents and Happy Birthday sung to him. So for the 17th time, I will sing to him, my not-Bronson, and watch the sparkle of the birthday candle flames dance in his big blue eyes.


(This is the short story I mentioned in the post WRITER. It was written in 1994.)

Was she okay? Did something happen? Didn’t things sometimes go wrong? Jay sat tensely on his sofa. He faced the only view in the fourth floor apartment, setting orange sun filtering through the city waste, turning buildings into dark monoliths. He rubbed his hands over his crisp khakis; his palms felt sweaty. Surely she wouldn’t have stopped along the way; no, she said she’d be coming right home. Surely Darcy knew he’d be there. As always, Jay thought, as always.

He wondered, with a panic in his gut, if he should go looking for her. But where would you start in a town the size of Chicago? She could’ve taken the bus or the El; she wouldn’t have been foolish enough to walk. Jay pictured Darcy leaving the apartment earlier in the afternoon – such a tiny girl: tiny bones, delicate mouth, pale skin – dressed in her city armor of Doc Martens and black (always black) clothes. She had smiled slightly at him and said, “Don’t worry; you’re always worrying, “ as she slipped out the door. “Of course I do,” Jay now spoke to himself, “since it seems to be my curse in life to live with a woman who has no sense!” Well, didn’t someone have to watch out for her? But, after today, he knew that things would change. He allowed himself the tiniest guilty thrill of adrenalin, then returned to his distress.

Rejecting the imprudent vision of himself riding a white horse through rush hour traffic to find her, Jay rose. He slowly walked to the kitchen table where he had set the bag from Walgreen’s. He pulled from his pants pocket the list of items she had written for him at breakfast this morning: a bottle of Advil, a carton of Marlboros, and New Freedom Super Maxis. He studied it now and smoothed out the crumpled paper, patted it, and then placed it on the table. Perhaps he’d put this stuff in the bathroom, Jay considered. Perhaps she doesn’t want to have to ask me where they are when she gets back.

He should have gone with her, he should have insisted, he turned over and about in his mind. He had offered, and she had said no, no need. But how could Ed not go? How could that bastard leave her alone like this? Why does she always go for the goddamn bastards like Ed? The preening, self-centered son-of-a-bitch. Jay’s featured contorted in disgust as he thought of the mornings when Ed had deigned to stay overnight with Darcy; strutting, macho, peeing with the bathroom door wide open, bragging about their noisy last night as if Jay were invisible. Darcy would be embarrassed and mouth a silent, “Sorry, Jay,” behind Ed’s back before they returned to her bedroom to do it again.

After putting away her things in the tidy bathroom, Jay moved to Darcy’s room, reverently opening the door. He had always thought it so incongruent the she, all street smarts and shock value, would have this bedroom. There was a collection of stuffed animals in one corner, a handmade afghan draped across a rocking chair, perfume bottles arranged in a semi-circle on a tall antique dresser. Jay had always admired her bed in particular: a beautiful black walnut, ornately carved with grape vines, tendrils gracefully swirling within the wood. Darcy once told him it was the marital bed of her great-grandmother, and that it was the one possession that meant anything to her. He ran a ran over her soft flowered bedspread, deciding then to make the bed, make it look nice, fluff up all the pillows. He pulled and fixed and straightened, for what else was there to damn do?

He daydreamed through their relationship again. They had met through a mutual friend at the ad agency where they both worked – Darcy in graphics, Jay in product research. They both had come to the city, needing the anonymity and energy and acceptance. Darcy was from Peoria (she would always declare, “Need I say more?” and roll her eyes) and Jay’s small town in Ohio had no particular place for Jews. She had suddenly needed a roommate; he needed to save money. He never figured it would be a problem, and it wasn’t, until he realized that every time she left at night he got irritable and depressed. He was unable to read one of the thick classics he treasured; instead he watched something he hated on TV until he fell into a fitful sleep, worry and longing for her seeping into his dreams.

At the beginning, on dateless Fridays, she and Jay would go out to the clubs. She would introduce him to her friends, smiling, “This is Jay, my roommate. Platonic. He’s looking for a girlfriend – any takers?” and reach up to play with his hair, and he would feel like shit. He stopped going with her because he knew he could not bear her asking again if it was okay if he got back to the apartment on his own, while she drunkenly swung on the arm of some scowling degenerate. Jay would study his face in the mirror those late nights, as if were not his own, and ask to no one, “Why not me?”

Jay drew shut the lace curtains in Darcy’s room then left, closing the door tightly. It was getting so late now, and he tried not to yell out loud. His tall, thin frame felt clumsy now; a floppy useless scarecrow, bumping into things, bits of stuffing falling out.

Six weeks ago, Darcy was late. Jay thought she took it well; she did not scream or wail, she did not panic, she did not play martyr, which he respected. What he saw, to his astonishment, was that her eyes were brighter, her step lighter…she seemed happy about it! That night began a series of late evening phone calls that Jay could hear coming from Darcy’s bedroom; muffled, intense, with the occasional piece of a heated word. Then the calls stopped. She became smaller and smaller and turned into herself; she seemed to grieve on some level Jay could not quite understand. She said very little to Jay about any of it after this, mentioning instead that the cable bill was due or that the hall light was burnt out.

Three days after that last phone call, he had been absently watching Darcy open the mail at the table, her thin child-like hands slitting open a white envelope. She stared briefly at its slim contents then sat abruptly on the carpet, dazed. Jay had walked over to pick up the piece of paper that had lazily drifted to the floor. It was a check, signed by Ed. Where it said “FOR_________,” the place reserved for a credit card number or a statement of purpose, Ed had his secretary – his secretary! – wrote “Payment in full – termination services.” Jay had really blown it then; he went on a rant about Ed, and did not notice Darcy’s blackening mood. She turned her head and drilled her dark brown eyes into him. “Shut up, Jay! What would you know about anything!” she snapped, and bolted to the bathroom, where he heard her vomit.

Later she quietly moved from the toilet to her bedroom. She didn’t know what she was saying, Jay imagined. Look at the kind of pain Ed’s put her in. When Jay entered the bathroom to relieve himself, he saw the pink plus sign of her home test lying in the wastebasket. Oh Jesus, he thought, she had been saving the damn thing.

Now, on his way to the living room, Jay heard the click and rattle of the lock at last. Resisting the urge to run, he met Darcy at the door, exhilaration leaping inside him. He scanned her face, looking for upset, and found himself surprised that she looked exactly the same as when she’d left.

“Hey, Jay,” she softly tossed off, turning from his gaze, as she threw her fat black purse on the sofa and sat down. He wanted to yell at her, “Where were you? I missed you!” and he wanted to hug her to him, smooth her hair, tell her it would all be fine. But he could not.

“You okay?”


“How was the clinic?

“All right. Clean. They were nice.” Darcy picked at a fingernail and Jay cleared his throat. There was a pause where nothing was heard except the blast of a bus horn and some muted angry exchange between two of Chicago’s worker bees.

“Did it hurt?

“Yeah. Yeah. But they were pretty fast. We all sat around afterwards and had juice and cookies, like a tea party.” She let out a small rueful chuckle and Jay felt compelled to echo her. He stared at her as she looked up towards the windows. The golden old light of the day on her face transfixed him. I would do anything for you, he thought. Jay imagined how he would help her through this, and they would become closer, and she would come to love him.

“Jay, I’m really kinda tired. I’m gonna lay down for awhile, okay?”

“Oh, sure, sure! Go ahead. How about I make you some tea and maybe we could talk or watch TV or something, okay?”

“Sure.” Darcy offered him a wan smile and drifted off towards her bedroom.

Jay busied himself in the kitchen, and steeped her Earl Grey, making sure it was in that chipped, stained mug she seemed to like the most. He was full of energy; expectant, powerful. This was his opportunity. Darcy would see what a kind person he was and that they would be good for each other and he could make her happy, settle her down.

He stepped carefully with the full cup to her room and opened the door. As she heard the cracking noise, Jay saw Darcy quickly turn her head into the pillow and lay motionless.

“Darcy? Darcy?” Jay whispered. “You asleep?” knowing, with a sinking, horrible feeling, that she was not. He tiptoed in, and gently placed the cup on her dresser, and left the darkening room to her. He stood for a moment in the hall and brushed his fingertips lightly down her door, then leaned his forehead on the cool, dark wood.

Silently, he moved to the sofa, not bothering with the lamp. The phone rang, shrill and insistent, and Jay made no move to answer it as it echoed harshly through the place. The last bits of reddened sun burned into his blurred eyes, leaving only the city and the blue bruised evening sky.


Alright, imma gonna call it. I am pretty sure this is the way it is going to go.

What people say aloud to others and what people think inside are often very different things. What they would like to do and what they actually do are often very different things. Good intentions are often overcome by fear.

When facing a decision in a climate of fear and doubt -- troubled times, war, the threat of economic collapse, businesses closing, jobs slashes, home foreclosures -- people say they want and need change. BUT, what they will most often do is default to what they know, even if it is the very thing that caused the problem. A known bad is better than an unknown that MIGHT BE WORSE. It's like a battered woman going back to her spouse. She excuses, and rationalizes, hopes it won't happen again even though she knows it will, because she is afraid to change and her situation, as awful as it is,is at least predictable. Humans crave predictability; it is a comfort when so much seems out of control, even if the predictability is a bad sort. People who are already worried and beaten down and weakened often simply do not have the strength to find a way out of the maze.

So that is why I think America will elect yet another old white guy in a blue blazer and red tie, and a moose-shooting woman with a pregnant teenager and a special-needs infant, both of whom surely could benefit from more of her attention. Sarah Palin's God's wisdom supersedes that obvious idea, huh?

Sometimes, things have to hit absolute rock-bottom before there is revolutionary thinking. Maybe it takes the horror of each and every American losing a job, losing a child to a useless and endless oil war, losing a home to an unscrupulous lender, losing a friend to an act of terrorism, losing life savings to a crumbling market, losing hope in any kind of future for themselves or their children. When there is little left to lose,eyes are opened. There is a kind of clarity and focus that comes only from the need to survive, primal and strong. Some will give up, but some will say NO MORE, and hopefully there will be enough of the latter to rebuild and restructure in light of a changed world.

I hope I am wrong in my election prediction. I will vote for Obama/Biden because although they are politicians as much as any of them, I think they offer at least the hope of change, change I am ready to face now.

When you go to vote, and you should if you can, spend a few minutes thinking before you pull the lever, check the boxes, or push the chads. You are not just affecting your world, you are affecting THE world. I know sometimes it doesn't seem like that, but it is. Ask anyone living outside of the United States, they will tell you.

Remember what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: "RIGHT HERE, FEAR!" Or something to that effect.


How I wish I had a fort. Nothing too grand or military, mind you, just some kind of little protected place of my own. I suppose I could go to Home Depot and buy a Tuff Shed or something and plop it in the backyard, but it would be either too hot or too cold or too damp, it would quickly be filled with spiders, and two seconds after I got in there someone would be banging on my shed door asking for some sort of snack or wondering where a shoe was. I would need a button I could push that would activate a water cannon, I believe.

I used to absolutely love building forts, any kind, anywhere. Because I am both clever and lazy, I could often get other kids to build them for me, to my architectural and Napoleonic specifications. Most often these constructions were some compilation of sticks, branches wrenched from trees, big gray stones from freshly-plowed fields, grass, hay, mud, and leaves. Sometimes we would get piles of sand or dirt hauled back in a wagon from a real construction site, along with scrap lumber, broken bricks, tar paper, bits of copper wire, or metal or plastic tubing laying about. No one put fences around sites back then, so when the construction guys left we kids would pile in, sit inside the diggers, play inside the half-built house, marvel at the fantastic drop from the unprotected stairway to the basement, and at all the nails laying around to give you jaw-locking tetanus death. DON’T PLAY OVER AT THE NEW HOUSE, my mother would shout as I left the yard. Ha ha, yeah right, BYE MOM.

We never had a tree that was large enough for a tree fort, and I was very envious of those kids who had one, even if the fort was nothing more than a shaky wooden platform a few feet up with pieces of wood dubiously nailed to the tree trunk for a ladder. I would will our young trees to grow grow grow so I could build a fort, but my exhortations were for naught. I think they are probably big enough now. I won’t go back to look. I want to remember everything as it was when I was there, including the skinny baby trees, shored up with a metal rod and rope tied to stakes in the ground.

In the winter, it was all about the elusive success of the igloo fort. This was often frustrating, as it was either the wrong kind of snow, or too fucking cold to be out there at all. You needed good packing snow, the heavy wet kind that made killer snowballs, not the flaky powder that fell apart even as you tried to pick it up. Every so often with a team neighborhood effort, some decent snow forts were constructed, more snow bunkers really, and a major Snowball Battle could then ensue. It would continue until everyone was pummeled and soaked, red-faced and laughing with at least one good hit to the head, which was quite hilarious to view. Sometimes some kid would get an ice ball to the gut or face and set up a major wail, and the battle would go underground for another day.

I think the last fort I made was in a minuscule stand of small trees across from my house. There were some rocks big enough to sit on, and enough leaf and weed density in the summer to cover the occasional thrill of a snuck cigarette stolen from my dad’s pack of Salems, before I even knew to inhale. After I discovered that my fort was wrecked up by some rogue neighborhood guerillas one day, I vowed with steely evil determination to protect my castle. I spent a whole weekend alone with my dad’s big shovel, digging random holes in the ground surrounding the fort. Some of them were probably at least two feet down and about a foot wide. After I did that, I gathered up several small but sturdy sticks, got my brother’s Swiss Army knife, and whittled each into a nasty sharp point. I then jammed the sticks into the bottom of the pits, pointy sides up. Next was to get my mom’s old yellow Playtex gloves on, and carefully gather up some poison ivy leaves growing a short ways away, and place the terrible leaves in with the sticks. Finally, masterful covering of the holes with tiny dry twigs, just enough to hold a placement of grass and weeds as camouflage. It was a damn good job, I thought, as I stepped back and looked at my hard work. No one could tell where those holes were but me. Heh. NOW TRY TO MESS UP MY SHIT.

My plan was successful, too much so. My mother got a very irate phone call from one of the mothers of a snot-nosed interloper, whose invasion efforts were indeed met with a messed up leg, a fat lip from the fall, and a decent case of poison ivy. HAH! I thought to myself as I was grounded and sent to my room, HAH! WIN! I was also made to fill the holes back in, with the explanation from my mom of HOW DANGEROUS THAT WAS. I smirked as I dumped the black dirt back in. All’s fair.

The best I can do now to construct a fort is purely mental. It really is not the same as sitting inside some little cave that smells of wood and green and fresh air, ready to collapse at any time, ungainly yet elegant in its child-made simplicity, something unique and silly and private. Who would not want to defend such a thing?


("Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" is playing on the radio.)

Me: This is James Brown. He was known as "The Godfather of Soul."

MissSix: God is not real.


Another drive home from school with the kiddies. The radio is playing "That's Not My Name" by the British group, The Ting Tings. My daughter recognizes the song because I recently put it on her new iPod. She especially likes music with girl singers. We chatter away about it for a bit, and then she said this:

MissSix: I think she is brown.
Me: Brown??
MissSix: You can tell from the voices.
Me: If someone has brown skin or not??
MissSix: Yes.

I paused, thinking what I wanted to say about that to her. Part of me cringes, as the good-hearted liberal enlightened parent that I try to be, to hear her mention skin color at all, even though I know it is inevitable. I do wish we were all color-blind in that way. It is so silly.

She lives in a much more racially-mixed world than I did growing up, although I think I saw more economic diversity than she does. There were no brown or black people that lived where I lived. Everyone was a white Lutheran or Catholic. All I knew what what I saw on TV, heard on the radio, read in the paper, or picked up from grown-up conversations, that were always quietly unpleasant.

My Racial Perceptions, As A Young Child:

-- all people with dark skin are POOR and live in THE CITY in BAD HOUSING

-- all people with dark skin are SAD

-- all people with dark skin are good SINGERS and DANCERS

-- all people with dark skin have NO RIGHTS

-- all people with dark skin are NOT AS SMART as white skinned people

-- all people with dark skin used to be SLAVES

-- therefore, it is BAD to have DARK SKIN.

All this, with no one ever saying one direct word to me about race, or culture, ever. The only idea I had about Mexicans was the Frito Bandito and Speedy Gonzales, the Indians were all on reservations and were backwards arrow-shooting drunks, and according to "Love Child" by the Supremes, sometimes black people had children WITHOUT BEING MARRIED.

I think about what my daughter said. I, too, used to identify songs on the radio by color, although there was a time period where I thought everyone was black, including the first time I heard "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin. None less black, there.

So, what I end up saying to her is that sometimes singers have light skin and sometimes they have dark skin and sometimes there are characteristics to a voice that does correspond to skin color, but often not. I tell her that we think about all these things, differences and similarities, because we are always trying to figure out who we are in relation to everything and everyone. I then tell her the best thing is that we can enjoy cool music and are lucky to be able to hear so many different kinds because it makes the whole world better.

She agrees, and goes back to arguing with her brother about Pokemon cards.

Her Ting Tings assessment was wrong, by the way.


Oh, here we go again. Gut Spill 4 Cash.

This time, it is Maureen McCormick who played the oldest sister Marcia on TV's "The Brady Bunch." Now in her 50s, she has written her autobiography, "Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice." The title alone makes me roll my eyes compulsively, sigh, and frown. Let me help you out, so none of you have to lay out the $25.95 hardcover price: HERE'S THE STORY -- MARCIA BRADY WAS A COKE HO!

Is this interesting? Really? Another story of a child actor waylaid by Hollywood. FASCINATING. NOVEL. CLASSY. Where's Oprah to pick up on the Misery Train and hail McCormick for her GUTSY LIFE JOURNEY? Oh, yes, pretty teenager on a famous TV show, un-gifted as an actor and singer, can't continue her career and gets sucked up into the 70s/80s California high life. Tell everyone in the world about your drugs. Tell every stranger on the planet about your abortion. Talk more about a dead gay man who played your father who can't talk back. WAAAAAAAAAHHHHH.

Oy fucking vey. This is what makes money for publishing houses. Sell a few mil of Marcia's vomiting confessions, and maybe you have the bucks to publish a few decent books that no one will ever read.

The confessor rationalizes dumping her ugliness on us as a way of letting us see THE TRUTH, so that we may GROW from it and relate as FRAIL HUMANS ALL. Well, gee. I am just not quite sure how to build my character from the story of an entertainment-world casualty. You have to have some kind of respect for someone to begin with to feel for their struggles. She was a kid on a TV show. She wasn't in a POW camp or anything.

Dignity denied, for probably a six-figure advance. A charming message for her teenage daughter. We get nothing of value from your confess, Ms. McCormick. You are just today's pathetic display. There will be a new one tomorrow.

Here's the story of a lovely lady
Who just had to tell us all about her world
Now whenever the young kiddies see her in reruns,
They can think, "well, what a screwed up girl."


In the typing of the title for this, I am made quite hungry for a brownie. I am a fan of brownies. I like brownies better than cake, or ice cream, or pie, but not cheese. Cheese is all. Anyway, I think one of the reasons I really like brownies, besides them being tasty, is a nice memory associated with them. When I was quite little, around three or so, there was a time period where my dad would take me out to breakfast every Saturday morning. This was a huge thing, as my dad was not one of those hands-on dad guys, and seemed very mysterious and legendary and like you'd have to book months in advance to get a hello from the guy.

We'd go to a little coffee shop in town, and the routine was always the same. My dad would bring along the newspaper, we'd sit at a Formica table with shiny silver salt-and-pepper shakers, he'd order a black coffee and a poached egg on toast, and I would order a brownie and a glass of milk. My dad, being a guy and all, didn't think twice about letting me have a brownie for breakfast. It wasn't even a great brownie, just came in cellophane, mass produced Dolly Madison or something, dense and flattish and uniformly chocolate, a little too sweet. But I was so happy every time.

We would sit there, silent,and read the paper as we ate. Sometimes my dad would talk a little to some of the regulars there, but mainly we would just do our thing. I was so thrilled just to be in his company, and to be eating a brownie at nine in the morning. I wonder if he had any idea how nice that made me feel, or that I would remember it so fondly all these years later. I felt so important and grown up sitting there.

But after awhile, we went less and less, and then didn't go at all. I think there were a lot of reasons, none having to do with me, but. It leaves me remembering how important a little one-on-one time is with each of my kids. Really important.

The brownie fondness has remained, although last week for the first time ever I left part of a brownie uneaten on my plate. It was very very good, but I had enough.


There is a kind of personality hiccup that I find seriously annoying: people who compulsively say “I’m sorry.” These puppy-dog-eyed cringing sorts apologize for everything possible, whether or not it has anything at all to do with them, or their actions. Examples:

Me: God, what shitty weather today!
Sorrier: I’m so sorry!
Me: Hah??

Me: Could you move over just a little here, please?
Sorrier: Oh! I am so so sorry! I’ll leave!
Me: No no, I just need like four inches more of butt space.
Sorrier: Oh, no, please, I can go, here, please, SIT!

Me: So you need me to bring a plate of cookies to the meeting?
Sorrier: I am SO SORRY, if you can’t do it, I can, I am SO SORRY to ask you.
Me: Um, it’s no big deal, really. Not at all.
Sorrier: I just hate asking, so sorry!

Me: I think I am getting a cold.
Sorrier: Oh, that is awful! I am so sorry to hear that!
Me: Well, it’s been going around.
Sorrier: It’s SO AWFUL for you!

Me: Do you know what time it is?
Sorrier: Oh god, NO, I’m sorry! Let me go find a clock!
Me: No, wait! I can just ask that guy. He has a watch. It’s just that I thought you might have one…
Sorrier: Oh, I don’t! I am so sorry!
Me: Well, it’s OK.
Sorrier: I really should know. I apologize.

Alright, I would not have said that last line aloud, but I would be thinking it.

I have a theory about the Sorrier. I think this is a trait passed down from parent to child, in the guise of good manners, humility, and compassion. But that is not it. Dig deeper, says my mind. What is it that the Sorrier wishes to get back from constantly apologizing? All actions have some kind of payoff.

The apologizing, seemingly a submissive move, is in fact the opposite. It is a way, albeit very odd and sneaky, to gain favor and power. If I defer to you in every way, you must like me. If I seem weak, I gain more of your help. If I am always asking for forgiveness, you are always invested in my redemption. If I seem passive and meek, insecure and cowed, and you believe me, the day I am not is the day I can push you over with a feather.

Phony. The Sorrier is filled with anger. Count on it.

Of course, compared with all the jerks who should say they are sorry and never do, the Sorrier is a very rare type. To be genuinely sorry for something you have done that has caused some kind of real pain or problem and to be able to convey that fully, meaningfully, and not 50 YEARS LATER, is a big deal, and can make all the difference in the world to someone. It is a really, really tough thing to do. But sometimes, many times, it is the only way to make things right. And even if the problem seems too big for your sorry to cover, do it anyway. It is not always about you or your comfort, or to judge the value. Just put it out there.

Marianne’s Lesson Of The Day: Take more time to say you are sorry, or thankful, or that you love someone. Just not tooooo much. Don’t be creepy or anything.


Dig The Easybeats.


Tonight as I was nomming on some so-so pizza, I was absently watching a Linda Ellerbee political special the kids had on Nickelodeon. Barack Obama and John McCain were answering kids' questions, although it was about as spontaneous as a state funeral. One of the questions was from a boy who asked if the candidates had ever been picked last for anything. McCain answered that he had been picked last at times, and he thought the thing to do in that situation was to fight that much harder, do better than your best, show them that they were wrong for picking you last.

I thought about this. It is not the answer I would have given. It is so...scrappy little guy.

I have been last a few times in my life, not often, but still. It is a really crappy feeling, particularly for someone like ME who wants to be best and first and such just by the virtue of my natural awesomeness. But sometimes, you gonna be last whether you like it or not, whether it is fair or right or whatever. You have to take your turn down at the bottom of the shitpile.

What bothered me about McCain's response was this: what if being last was the honest place you should be? What if trying your hardest and "showing them" would never do a damn bit of good, and you are still gonna suck? This whole "them" thing is just the worst. WHO CARES? Isn't it more reasonable just to do the best you can, and accept that you indeed might just be an awful soccer player or bowler or middle manager or astronaut or matador? Try to do well, try to do better, appreciate your own effort and admire those who are striding past you this time. I find that more graceful than whipping yourself up into a red-faced frenzy of trying to prove something to others.

How much mental anguish is spent during the course of a lifetime thinking and worrying and fretting about what THEY think? So you were picked last. Someone thought your skills were lacking, or they didn't know what you could do, or you looked weird. If you have an accurate understanding of your own value, this should not be such a big deal. THEY shouldn't have that kind of power. YOU should know that you do some stuff wonderfully, some just OK, and sometimes you are just lame.

John McCain's answer told me a lot about him. Just that one small thing. Last sometimes lasts a lifetime inside.


As I was plucking my eyebrows with my cool new red Tweezerman tweezers, the TV was droning in the background. Two gentlemen were arguing about the stock market, imagine that. Man A, Stockbroker, claimed that he had studied the stock market in incredible detail and had devised charts and formulas to accurately predict the rise and fall of the markets. He claimed that his company, for the last three years, had been able to outperform the market consistently. Man B, Statistician, claimed that Man A was full of hoo hah, and that the market by nature would have ups-and-downs no more predictable than the flip of a coin, and that to follow Man A's advice would be to seriously risk the toileting of your money.

Sometimes I think television was really only devised for argument. I put my tweezers down, and held my hands in a Point/Counterpoint pose.

BLAH BLAH BLAH, snapped Left Hand to Right Hand

WELL, BLAH BLAH BLAH, sniped Right Hand To Left Hand.

The female narrator of the television program, as I finished my very brief one-act Hand Play, caught my ear with this:

"In anything, if you look long enough, you can find justification in statistics."

Ain't that the truth. What cannot be manufactured as truth in the comforting logical guise of numbers? HEY, you can't argue with them! Numbers are non-subjective! Indeed. Not so for the people who manipulate them, though.

It kind of reminds me of being in my Abnormal Psych class in college. As the professor went the through all the major diagnoses, you could see the faces of the students drop here and there, thinking, WHOA! THAT ME SHE TALK 'BOUT! Well, no, in reality probably Cutie Pie Freshman Girl was not a schizophrenic and Inexplicable Rugby Scholarship Boy was not a bipolar with compound issues of OCD, ODD, ADD, BPD, NPD, and halitosis.

My point is, go looking for trouble long enough and you will surely find it. My counterpoint is, go looking for rationalizations long enough, and you will find those too. Numbers are natural, but also a concept made by man to squeeze information into patterns that may or may not be exactly truthful. God is a concept by which we measure our pain. I didn't make that last one up up, John Lennon did.

The intentional misspelling of the title of this essay is in reference to the fact that for the life of me, I cannot pronounce the word, "statistics."


I have been fortunate enough in my life to have had the time to enjoy one of my most favorite things: reading. I never have had to spend my days in a muddy field digging potatoes, never had to ponder the intricacies of making a bomb-dismantling robot, nor was there any need for me to do any jail time. I am of the modern leisure class, or what surely would pass for it from the perspective of Medieval times or a current-day refugee camp or any Arby's kitchen worker. I have been lucky to be able to choose so much of how I spend my precious time.

I am a consumptive, compulsive reader; I must read, and it has been this way since I could barely put together a spoken sentence. Words are mine, and I want them all. My problem is that I must finish a book or magazine in one go. This is usually very impractical. I get very irritated if I have to put a book down, irrationally angry at the interruption. But my life is now a series of choppy time blocks, like it or not. The outcome is that I am surrounded by books I am dying to get to, yet they collect dust because I want the stretch of time to one-go them. I look at one and think OH! YES! YES! and then realize the book has sat there, unopened for four years. I often think, as I hear so many others do, that the ideal vacation would be to be alone on a quiet beach, with some shade, a drink, and a pile of books. Nerd heaven. I need to find a way to get back to my books somehow, and to stop saying the former part of this sentence and actually do it. Maybe I need to schedule a Book Day, do nothing else. Leisure class people should be able to do that, huh?

It is hard to explain to people who do not love to read what that thirst is like. When I was a kid, I read every word that was available to me. That is hardly an exaggeration. My mother tells me I would spend hours as a toddler and preschooler, sitting in our big stuffed red chair, with stacks of magazines and books, quietly going through each one, silent and happy, and I remember that very clearly. At breakfast I would read the Milwaukee Journal in careful order, the cereal box, the bills sitting on the table. I would read the labels of food cans, shampoo bottles, clothing tags, medicines. I read through the 1968 World Book Encyclopedia, volume by volume, at least 3 or 4 times. The dictionary. Car manuals from the glovebox. Yearbooks from 1944. LIFE and LOOK and The Saturday Evening Post and Reader's Digest and Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal and 16 and Tiger Beat and Popular Science and National Geographic and Highlights and EVERY DAMN THING THAT HAD A WORD ON IT. I read every single book we had in the house, got more from the library, burned through them all like fire.

When they didn't know what to do with me in school, they sent me to the library. I read it. It became a challenge, a focus.

I would spend my days overloading my little optic nerves so much that at night, when the lights were off and I was in bed, I sometimes would "see" blocks of text floating in front of me that would get larger and smaller, like some kind of word ghost. It would stop me from sleep, uncontrolled, and it frightened me. Sometimes it would go away, sometimes I would call my mom into my room and cry, while she sat there on the edge of my bed and held my hand, trying to understand.

When I was eight, I finally got glasses. Big surprise, huh. Then the exterior matched the interior. I was stuck with some horrid brown tortoiseshell cat-eye glasses that I hated so much, but I was too intimidated to ask for the cool round metal John Lennon glasses I really wanted. No one really listened to what kids wanted back then anyway, it seemed. You just did what you were told, took what you were given. Here are your ugly ass glasses. Go to the library.

Later on, when I was a teenager and had moderately-cooler glasses, I fully absorbed myself into the land of rock n' roll, which, sitting in a mosquito-filled rural Wisconsin swampland, was only available to me through records, radio, and the burgeoning rock magazine world. Gimme gimme gimme. CREEM, Circus, Trouser Press, Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, ROCK. I would special order Melody Maker and NME through the bookstore in the next town, thrilled to get the call that they had arrived for me.I would read them all, cover-to-cover, some of it silly and gossipy, some of the writing incredibly good. Fuck school, I want to read Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe and Ira Robbins, think about Max's Kansas City and how someday I was going to leave my room and my books and my stupid stupid town, and DO rather than READ ABOUT DOING.

And I did.

When I came back to books, it was for college, and for the most part what I read was dull and just served to help me jump through some easy hoops. I was in an Intro To Biology class, which I liked as I had an interest in human biology and anatomy, and the professor was getting increasingly concerned with the class's test failures. One day, in front of everyone, frustrated and seeing me there, said, "Marianne, you are getting an A in this class. Could you please share with the class what you do to study and prepare for tests?" I looked at her and raised my eyebrows.

"Are you sure you want me to say?

"Yes, perhaps it will help the class. What techniques do you use?"

I thought, well, OK, you asked.

"I don't take any notes, I don't read the textbook until the night before the test, and I only skim it for major terms. Sorry."

She looked a little stunned, and the class laughed. Then she laughed, shrugged.

She didn't know. I was a professional reader girl.

The best book that I read in college was a tiny tome called "Ways Of Seeing" by John Berger. I have thought about this book many many times over the last 15 years or so, and how its message and style have truly impacted me. This week, I bought "Selected Essays" by Mr. Berger, a thicker and more dense work that I both cannot wait to eat up and worries me. His words are so rich that they must be read over a few times to gather up his full meaning. Will I ever make the time to do this? Can I invest into a book like that now? Or is my focus, my brain, choppy and divided, like my time and my life?

I open the book now, randomly, to page 497, and my eye hits the last paragraph of an essay Berger wrote called "Mother." It reads:

"Love, my mother had the habit of saying, is the only thing that counts in this world. Real love, she would add, to avoid any factitious misunderstanding. But apart from that simple adjective, she never added anything more."

I am a reader. I will again make time to take the gifts of others' words.


Today's news included an article which contained a list (because we all know that PEOPLE LIKE LISTS) of CNN's Top 10 Heroes of 2008. Here's the link:

Before I even read a word, I knew what the list would look like. Ten individuals who have gone to great lengths in service to others. All of them have impacted many others through their selfless actions, and who all no doubt inspire other people to do the same. It is all good and noble and without question what more people should aspire to.

Then why, I wonder, am I left with a sort of hollow feeling after reading the article? Why?

Maybe it is that this is a media-driven list, made to attract attention, which attracts money, which fuels the corporation that published the article. Maybe it is that I find little value in Kristi Yamaguchi's opinion about what makes someone a hero. Maybe it is that all ten of the honorees are now put up on pedestals, yet we really do not know them. There are no saints, and maybe there are no heroes.

For the longest time, this is what I thought, that last statement. The idea of having a hero seemed simple-minded and slavish. No one could be that good, to idealize that much, to trust. Heroes, by nature, must be a kind of perfection. There is nothing I have seen in my life that has not conformed to this: there is no high without a corresponding low. Nature is all about homeostasis, the process of returning to normal, average, expected, stability. Nothing is free, there is always a cost. We just sometimes cannot see what that is. I expect the ten heroes know exactly what I am talking about.

I will be the first person to say that I think that service to others is a necessary component to what it means to lead a full and meaningful life. We really are all interconnected, and what you to do help (or hurt) has impact that reaches past your life, past the lives you touch into some kind of infinity. There is no individual who does not have something to offer of value to others, whether or not he or she thinks so. Sometimes people are afraid to take the step out to help. Sometimes it all seems so useless. It kind of is, but kind of not, and you just don't have any control over where your actions will land sometimes. But the effort, even just that, is important.It just is.

I very much admire each of CNN's winners. Perhaps that is the better word to use. Top 10 Admirees doesn't read as well, though.

What I find heroic, now, is less the grand and more the individual, the internal. I don't even know my heroes, but I know they are out there. There are people who fight back fear, apathy, dishonesty, weakness, cruelty, hopelessness, the things in life that are ruinous on every level. Heroes, to me, are brave and strong when there is no one around to see, or help, or know, or nominate to a list. They fight for their truth, from the core, and for more than one day, for a lifetime. One shot, one chance.

Be your own hero.