Not Really Much of a Basketball Story

The last time I really had anything to do with basketball was 1973. My Parks & Rec team went undefeated and won the regional championship. This was due, in part, to the fact that my neighbor, Mark, was on the team, a natural athlete and a foot taller than almost everyone in the league.

We were also good. And by “we,” I mean the starters. I scored 6 points all season and I might be exaggerating. I was good at getting fouled and passing the ball like a hot potato. The coach gave me the nickname “Gabby,” because I was quiet, at first. But once I got comfortable, I didn’t shut up. If you know me, maybe you have had this experience. Coach Pebbly was one of the adults who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “writer.” He said, “good.”

Coach Pebbly worked at Disneyland and when we won the championship he took the entire team to the Magic Kingdom. Growing up just a few miles from Disneyland, a visit was not unusual, but it was still a huge treat. Later I would work at Disneyland and even later I would hold a season pass. But I have to say, I think this trip, with my championship basketball team, was maybe the best visit outside some visits with my kids.

Coach Pebbly had the inside scoop on everything about Disneyland. He knew which rides to visit when and the best spot for watching the fireworks at the end of the night. He remembered I liked magic and made sure we stopped at both magic shops (yes, there used to be two and they were decent shops). What I remember for sure is that all coach Pebbly’s guy friends at Disneyland called him “Rocky” and what I think I remember is all his women friends called him “Pebbles.” He didn’t seem to mind being called Rocky but he seemed embarrassed by Pebbles but only, it seemed, because we were around. I bought a rubber snake in the gift shop across from the Jungle Cruise.

It’s so odd to think of it now but Disneyland was just 18 years old then.

Seventeen years later I was working at Disneyland when the park celebrated its 35 anniversary. In the way that life happens it was one of the most difficult times of my life but I was also having a great deal of fun. The only thing I want to say about that is that female employees outnumbered male employees three to one and a significant portion of the male employees were gay. There you go.

I don’t know how it works now but back then you started as a part-time employee and you were assigned to an area. I worked inside retail stores in New Orleans Square and Critter Country, formerly Bear Country. After a year or so I was made full-time and that meant I could be assigned to work retail anywhere in the park. I had no idea where I was working for the week until I pulled my time card from its slot in the time card shack. Imagine, real time cards that we had to push into a punch clock. My time card would have a slip attached to it that I would take to the wardrobe department and they would give me my uniform/costume.

I always hoped for New Orleans Square because that was where all my friends were, or Critter Country. Frontierland or Fantasyland were fine as far as the work and guests went. I also didn’t mind working Main Street and I actually enjoyed working the stroller shack. I almost always worked night shifts and there are few places as chaotic in Disneyland at night as the place where all the strollers are being returned. There was no time to think, you just had to act. There was a system, tried and true over many years and virtually flawless. There was simply no thinking allowed. Be nice to the guests and follow the system.

I don’t know what type of strollers they have now but no doubt they are different and the system has evolved along with the strollers.  Back then they were the metal framed folding beasts and the measure of a person in the stroller shack was how fast he or she could collapse and stack a stroller.

I had a mad crush on the manager of the South side stroller shack, a woman with the most perfectly articulated mullet I have ever seen, and she made it work. To my great regret I cannot remember her name. I asked her out but she turned me down. She asked me why I was working at Disneyland. I told her I enjoyed it. She asked me what I would doing if I could do anything I wanted to earn a living. I said, “writing.” She nodded and told me to stack the strollers faster.

The one place I didn’t want to work, the land I would avoid at all costs and actively lobby, cajole, and bribe schedulers to escape, was Tomorrowland. Cursed beast.

Every single retail location in Tomorrowland was unceasingly busy and bombed and full of crazed guests seeking revenge on the future by trying to purchase it out of existence. I always ended up in the gift shop at the exit of Star Tours. I sold so many light sabers.

Even now, when a commercial for the movie Tomorrowland comes on TV I start to twitch.

Fantasyland was much more my speed. I have always thought it would be interesting to evaluate consumer behavior in different lands within Disneyland (I’m sure it’s been done) because I could never shake the impression that the “land” influenced how the guests behaved. Tomorowland guests were frenetic and impatient while Fantasyland guests, just a short distance away, were relaxed and deliberative. Who is in a hurry in Sleeping Beauty’s castle? You? Not me.

One day, I climbed the stairway to the administrative office for Fantasyland retail to check in and get my assignment from whoever was the boss for that shift. I was basically a utility player just passing through. I knew the drill. They would give me the crappy jobs, whatever that meant to them, and then ignore me because I was not a permanent Fantasyland employee. I was like a substitute teacher.

When I got to the top of the stairs I see the area manager is holding court with his team, the folks permanently assigned to Fantasyland. And who do you think this boss is? Yup. Coach Pebbly.

I was shocked into silence by what may have been my first experience of overwhelming nostalgia and memory and sense of time. I recognized him because he was already an adult when I knew him before. He was older and heavier and more wrinkled, like I am now, though he was not yet 40 at the time. He didn’t recognize me because I was a child when he had seen me last. I didn’t say anything. I would be assigned to Fantasyland for a week, so the opportunity would come.

I can’t remember how many days passed and I don’t remember many details but I know we were in the administrative office, the “leads” office when I talked to him. I remember the conversation as awkward. I remember the feeling that he did not recollect me specifically, though he remembered the team and the starters. He asked me about some of them. I told him what I could, but they had all been out of my life for over 10 years.  When I told him he had nicknamed me “Gabby” he seemed, for a moment, to glimpse something. He had coached several Parks & Rec basketball teams, though we had been his only championship team. I could tell it made him uncomfortable that he could not remember me exactly.

I think I said a few things about our trip to Disneyland and maybe my rubber snake.

He stopped to talk to me a few times during the week I worked in Fantasyland.   Usually he had some question about Mark or John or Darren, the guys who had really won us the championship. He never really gave me any reason to believe I was more than a vague impression to him and I could never manage to expect more than that.

Not long after that I left Disneyland to work full time with people who were homeless and mentally ill, and take a pay cut in the process. For a long time I was enamored with the contrast between these two jobs, working at Disneyland and working with the homeless. One day I opened a box of donations from Disneyland and it was hundreds of 35th Anniversary t-shirts from when I had worked there. For months and months there were  homeless people walking around Santa Ana, California wearing t-shirts celebrating a Disneyland anniversary and more than a few of them were talking to themselves.

I watched the last 10 minutes of the last game between the Cavs and Warriors. Like I said, this isn’t really much of a basketball story.





Rust and Wrinkles are Sexy

I like used things. Not everyone does, you know. There is surely much to be said for the new and there are times when new is not only preferred but necessary, or as good as necessary. Toothbrushes.

I have tried to remember when I discovered used bookstores but I am uncertain about it. I would like to remember. It seems like it should be earlier than my memory tells me. I worked in the school library all through junior high, which won’t be a surprise to anyone, and so I had a practically endless supply of reading material. And I was a frequent visitor to the public library because I had a habit of reading everything I could find on a topic. This is how, at age 13, I was an expert on Amelia Earhart and at age 14 an expert on the early history of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I don’t really remember going to bookstores. When I read my first Bob Dylan biography in high school I bought it at the grocery store. Our local K-Mart didn’t have a row of books it had an entire section of the store devoted to books.

My earliest memories of used bookstores are from college. There were three used bookstores in downtown Fullerton, California. One was a small, plain and simple paperback shop, quiet and carpeted, where I started my habit for collecting every edition of Ray Bradbury paperbacks I could find. There was a larger store with tall shelves that required step stools, creaky wooden floors and row upon row of everything, from popular fiction to obscure matter gathering dust. It was a used book shop from central casting complete with a frazzled and twitchy proprietor with aged elfin features who had a seemingly eidetic memory. If you asked him about a book he would close his eyes and tell you precisely where it was in the bookstore. If you asked about a topic he could recite the titles in stock on that topic. The third bookstore was a nerd shop called Aladdin Books and run by twin brothers. Though they carried all kinds of books the science fiction, fantasy, and magic sections were abundant and they also sold movie stills, comic books, and memorabilia, mostly from Star Trek and Star Wars.

The old downtown area of Fullerton was dilapidated back then but on the cusp of a revival of sorts that would eventually drive all three bookstores out. When I returned to live there for a brief time fifteen years ago only Aladdin’s remained. They closed in 2007 but are active on eBay.

Another used book store I visited often over 20 years, the Book Baron in Anaheim, California, also closed in 2007. It was a mighty store in its day, huge and always busy. I could count on them to have almost any title but Book Baron was not one of my favorites. It was clean and organized and had helpful staff. That’s okay. But I like dusty, messy, used book stores with stacks everywhere. My favorite of all time, like so many people, was Bertrand Smith’s Acres of Books in Long Beach, California. I was so overwhelmed by this bookstore the first time I visited in the early 90’s I had to leave after 10 minutes.

For 12 years, on and off, I lived just a few miles from this death trap of a book store. I loved it but I knew that being inside during an earthquake might mean the end of me. There were so many books and they created shelving out of every poor excuse for a plank of wood they could find. The shelving itself was a work of art. Despite being designated as a historical landmark Acres of Books gave up the ghost in 2008, just a few months after I visited for the last time. I’m not saying I cried about it but I was mighty pensive on October 18, 2008.

There are so many others, now gone, and I can’t remember their names. I lived in San Jose, California, in the mid 1990’s and there was a small grungy used bookstore downtown that I loved because they had a huge magazine selection and I was just beginning to form an interest in ephemera. They had a large collection of men’s magazines and there was a sign on the wall that read “Shirts must remain tucked in at all times.” From that store I purchased a number of old Forbes magazines, framed the covers and sold them at consignment stores. No, you don’t make a profit doing that sort of thing.

But this is about used things, which means more than books. I don’t think I avoided thrift stores for the first half of my life I just think it didn’t really occur to me to go into them very often. But there was a point in my 20s when I started visiting thrift stores out of necessity. Even still, I went in with a specific target in mind. I didn’t browse. There is a big difference between visiting a thrift store because you need a white dress shirt in good condition and visiting because you collect cast iron skillets.

These days I am a self-designated casual thrift picker. I set aside a very small budget and allow myself one hour total during the week and one hour total over the weekend in thrift stores (including drive time for stores that are not on my way to somewhere else). These sorts of boundaries are necessary as I can become…focused.

I love used things for a few reasons. There is the obvious, paying very little for something relative to its value. That’s the part that’s like a game. I have tried the resale game and though I have a good eye and sold things on eBay for many times what I paid, like framing the Forbes covers you can make money but not profit by simply dabbling. Nevertheless there is something satisfying about buying something useful of high quality and knowing that the “marketplace” puts a dollar value on it that is 10 times what you paid, or 30 or even 60 times.

But the thing I love most about used stuff is thinking about the life a thing lead before it became part of my life. I love opening a used book and finding some random piece of life tucked into it. Receipts, plane tickets, movie tickets, grocery lists, playing cards, pressed flowers. These are all things I have found inside used books. I recently bought a book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes published in 1930 and found a poem, written in pencil, tucked into the pages.

The same goes for cast iron cookware (especially when it is over 100 years old) and now cutlery, even though there is no evidence of their past lives like sometimes found in books. Though I once bought a golf club, a driver for $3 that had sold the previous season for over $200, and examining the face of the club I read the story of how the previous owner must have lost a great many golf balls to the right.

There are times when I buy something for almost no reason at all beyond the story it tells. This is dangerous so, of course, there are rules. I won’t pay more than $5 for something that is not functional but nostalgic or perhaps collectible to others if not to me. For example, back in the day G.I. Joe came inside a footlocker and around the time I was born the footlocker was made of wood. I found one at thrift for $3. In the condition it’s in and without Joe or any of the accessories that came with it, it’s worth about $8. One day, at a garage sale probably, I will ask $8 and take $6. Or maybe I’ll just keep it and use it to store all the different colored 3×5 cards I use for storyboarding. There you go.

Finally, I like used things for purely aesthetic reasons too. I just really like how things look when they have been used the same way I like how people look when they have lived. Survival, endurance, wear and tear, experience, and lots of stories. These are things I find attractive on both people and objects. Rust and wrinkles are sexy.



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

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

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

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

Why a white coyote?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


36 Decisions – 36 Or Whatever (Decision #3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said, for example.


Catching the Squirrel

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

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

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

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

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


That Dress Looks Dirty to Me

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

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

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

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

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

36 Decisions – Haste is Violence (Decision #2)

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Habit of Toothpicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She frowns. “Where are the strawberries?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Edward R. Tilskin

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

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

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

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

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