Catching the Squirrel

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

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

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

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

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


That Dress Looks Dirty to Me

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

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

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

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

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

Why, Maybe, I Don’t Talk Baseball

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The chaff. The wheat.

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

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

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

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

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


36 Decisions – Haste is Violence (Decision #2)

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Habit of Toothpicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She frowns. “Where are the strawberries?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Edward R. Tilskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo (4)

Why The Flame

Like an ant to syrup I respond to this word
In any context
Even the painfully inaccurate
By seeking to savor and store something
From it
Out of it
Drip it Drip it’s Dripping
Slow love if you’re lucky
Are you lucky
That was a question

What about the moth that runs from the flame
That was a question

When you have always known
You are a teacher
And you hate the idea
Which circle of hell will you flat track

That, too, was a question

Like, Have you seen me lately
Or, Does heaven have a landlord
And, How many white doves does it take
to satisfy the devil

Answer as you would if you were naked and
Cold and


Jacob was the a.k.a. extra heir
Esau was heir enough but sold room in his lungs for food
(one cannot breath and swallow at the same time)
And as far as we know
He lived happily ever after as a hairy man with many wives
(God bless him)

Angels are often depicted as smooth skinned
Aerodynamic ephemeral creatures
(which is why they refer to each other as “the boys”)
Made of the remaining air from God’s intent
After breathing seeds of life into the foundation of time
(which is why God refers to them as the “sons of exhaustion”)

I wrestled Jacob in the shadow of Esau’s forgiveness
He demanded a blessing which was not mine to give
(the text falls shy of truth: he had me by the balls)
But I delivered it yet so God set me aside in his humor
To be the fallen angel of oxygen margins
(is how he said it, and then smiled)

I am all wind over 30 miles per hour
I am balloons
I am the small gasp at the site of someone you cannot love
I am lost hats
I am under every falling leaf
I am 30% of home runs and touchdown passes
I am the snort when laughter snorts
I am a pause on the radio
I am farts
I am on jet planes
I am friend to the woodwinds and cousin to brass

This is an abridged list, of course

But you know me, the angel of extra air

The Monkeys and Who 1997

There’s a dog sitting on the sidewalk near the door of the Fahrenheit coffeehouse. A big dog. Doggie dog. Tom is not a dog person. Not even a little. As he slides quarters into the parking meter, he looks at the German Shepherd. A big German Shepherd with ears. Ruff! Dogs know, damn it, that he’s not a dog person and they resent it. They bully him.

Dogs know that Tom is a coward deep down in his weepy little heart. Oh, Dog. He doesn’t notice anyone else having trouble with the pooch, all tongue and slobber. He worries: slobber on my suit. The dog is laughing at him. He leads with his wrist. Here dog. Pheromone check, yes? See. Not a bad man. Not a danger to myself or others. Smell my hand and do your doggie calculations. Fear, minus intent, equals: pass on by. Coffeehouse sentry. Grrrr! He’s clean. Let him through.


The air conditioning inside the coffeehouse is like a prize. And the winner…boy oh boy that cool air feels good. He was starting to sweat and that wouldn’t really work because he’s meeting someone and she…kiss, kiss. Right! In his dreams.

Tom spots Ruth. He spies her and takes a gander. She is sitting in the corner writing. Writing what? Her hand scoots across the page in a Morse code rhythm: The party of the first part…The party of the second. No. It’s all computer templates now, yes? Of course. Tom always wanted to be lawyer, but he never went to law school and this, then, is what happens. You don’t become a lawyer. Oops! Tom went, instead, to the ICC Technical Institute. The hallowed halls of a converted grocery store where he learned to turn tiny tiny screws with itty bitty screw drivers. Oh, and more importantly, he learned to write computer code. The secrets of the universe, yes? This was, everyone remembers, at a time when people who graduated from technical schools like ICC went on to become customer service technicians for IBM. He could look forward to repairing computerized cash registers or servicing sections of giant main frames that read time cards and spit out payroll checks.

But then came (hold on) the computer boom. Boom! And Tom’s know-how was needed elsewhere…needed everywhere. Fast and in a hurry. He was on the inside. Turns out—who would have guessed—Tom had more than a knack for this sort of thing. Ground-floor shares. Ground-floor millionaire. One wealthy hombre.

Of course, Ruth isn’t one to be impressed by money…is she? She’s pretty, that’s all. When she looks up from her work and smiles, Tom pulls out a dagger and slits his own throat. Not really. Joke! She doesn’t give him a hug. They’re not that sort-of couple. Actually, they’re no couple at all. Strictly business. A business affair. Anything beyond a handshake would be, well, unprofessional, inappropriate, and other multi-syllable words. Wouldn’t it? Ruth is his…or, one of his lawyers. She is not house counsel, but a hired gun. Bang! Take that. It’s the truth. She is here to help him sell his huge little company: RamDex. Everybody has heard of his company and nobody really knows what it does. It’s technical.

Tom left his second ground-floor millionaire job to start RamDex. Those were the days, everyone remembers, when you had to make an effort to screw up in the computer industry. And every day that RamDex made money, he felt like an impostor. This is my manufacturing plant? This is my loading dock? This is my office with a view of the bay? How did I get here? Come on. What’s the joke? Am I on candid camera?

“Sorry I’m late,” says Tom.

“Oh, no problem, just going over my notes.” Ruth smiles again. “They serve soup here. Soup with a roll, I think. I know you probably didn’t get a chance to eat.”

“Soup? Soup sounds good.” He hangs his jacket over the chair.  “I’ll be right back, then.”

Will you marry me? Right! Not a chance. He walks up to the counter to order. The girl at the cash register has a nose ring, a pierced eyebrow, and about—

“Nine,” she says, when she sees him looking at her ears. “Nine ear rings, one nose, one eyebrow, tongue, bellybutton, and one unmentionable.”


“Do you want to order?”

“Please, yes…uh, what’s the soup?”

She points without looking to a sign behind her. “Split pea, no ham.” She sort of turns and bends a little as she says this, like she’s dancing.

“Hmmm. Split pea. You know, I can’t remember ever having split pea soup, exactly.”

The girl shifts her weight, brushes her hair back, and ponders the ceiling. She chews her gum furiously, but without malice. “Tastes like chalk,” she says.


“Tastes like chalk to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong or anything. It’s good.”

“Well, then…give me the chalk soup.”

She walks down to the end of the counter and starts to ladle out his soup. “Anything to drink?” she asks.

“Iced tea, thanks.”

As she hands him his change, her face suddenly lights up. She takes a postcard sized announcement from a stack near the tip jar and hands it to him.

“This is my band,” she says, “Monkey Tongue.”

Tom turns the postcard around in his hand.

“We’re playing Friday night at the place next door, the bar upstairs.”

He looks at the postcard, which reads: The Bar Upstairs Presents Monkey Tongue.

“Monkey Tongue,” he says. “Wow.”

“Yeah, we cover the Monkees.”

Tom pictures a giant cotton sheet bubbling like water on the stage as the monkeys underneath try and escape. Eeek! Eeek!

“You know,” she adds. “That’s your generation, right? The Monkees? ‘Hey hey, we’re the Monkees…’”

Tom remembers. “Right, right. The Monkees, sure. Junior high school. Mickey, Peter and whatever. Yeah, I watched that show.”

“Yeah. Their music is really cool, but we play our own stuff too.”

“Do you sing?”

“Back up. I’m the bass player.” She breaks into an air guitar riff.

“Well, maybe I’ll drop in. I haven’t heard live music in a long time.”

“Cool, yeah. Bring your friends. It’ll be nostalgic and everything.”


He puts the postcard in his shirt pocket and he carries his soup back to the table. Ruth doesn’t look up this time, but keeps writing. “You know, Tom, I honestly don’t think you could have picked a better time to sell RamDex.”

He has the impostor feeling. Poser! “Really? Well, it just feels like time, I guess. I don’t think it’s been much of a strategic thing.”

“Well, whatever your motivation, now is the time. We’re beating them back with a stick. You’re the belle of the ball.”

But his success doesn’t interest him. Luck. The right place at the right time. Pow!

“You know,” he says, “I think I’ve already sold the company emotionally. It feels like a done deal. I don’t feel invested.”

Ruth laughs. “Oh, you’ll be invested, all right. It’s part of the package we’ve put together.”

“God, more money. It’s all gotten sort of silly.”

Ruth looks up from her papers. She frowns. “So start a foundation or something. We can strategize for the guilt factor if that’s an issue.”

The guilt factor. If only guilt was a factor. He isn’t sure he knows how to feel guilty when it comes to business. A faker? Yes. But, guilt? Guilt is reserved for those who act out of intention. Tom is a walking reaction, a living pinball. Bing! Bong! Whir! He just keeps racking up the points.

“Maybe,” he says. “A foundation might be interesting.”

“Have you given any more thought to what you might do once we’ve put this thing to bed?” she asks.

He’s getting some rare eye contact from her. Is this a personal question? No. She’s fishing for more business, exploring future opportunities. Good for her. Go get ‘em Ruth.

“Well, honestly, I haven’t given it a lot of thought. But I’m sure I’ll end up needing a lawyer or two somewhere down the line.”

“I’ve got to admit, Tom, having you and RamDex as a client has given our firm some prestige here in the valley. The truth is, your name has brought us additional business we might not have picked up otherwise.”

Impostor. Whenever he reads his name in the newspaper or a trade publication, he feels detached, out of body. That is some other Tommy Eisner he is reading about. He prefers they talk about RamDex. RamDex, he likes to think, is the company he works for.

“I think you do great work,” he says. “It’s been my pleasure to recommend you when I can.”

All business. Next on the agenda. Move along. The soup does taste like chalk. Good chalk, though. Green, green. He keeps adding salt. He waits for Ruth to get down to it, and she does. While he dips his roll into the split pea, squeezes lemon into his tea, chews his ice, Ruth fills him in on the offers. Crunch! She details the subtle differences between them. Some are just fat cash offers. Others come with less cash, but are adorned with interesting perks and opportunities which should be considered over the long run.

Ruth’s voice rises and falls with the steam of the espresso machine. Her words fade into the background as he focuses on her teeth. Great teeth.

He realizes she’s paused and it’s his turn to say something, give her his feedback. Now would be the time to say: I’m Batman. If he was Batman. She’s worked hard on this whole thing and her face is all confidence and anticipation.

“Remember the Monkees?” he says.


“You know. ‘Here we come, walking down the street…’ The Monkees.”

“Well, I know who they are, or were. I mean, I guess that’s a little before my time, but I’ve seen reruns. So…you want to finance their next reunion tour or something?”

Ha. Funny. Good. He laughs. Of course not. But the idea of doing something a little nutty with all his play money does appeal to him. He’d like to do something where success wasn’t really the point. Or, at least, success measured by numbers wasn’t the point.

“No,” he says, “it’s just that…well, the girl at the counter, she’s in a band, a rock band or…and they play Monkees music, Monkees songs. It’s a revival or tribute thing, I guess. I don’t know.”

He pulls the postcard from his pocket and hands it to her. She takes a deep breath and looks at it. She’s summoning up her patience. He’s seen her do it before and he imagines she assumes he likes to test her on occasion. She might tell herself that this is how it is with powerful people. They test you, gauge your reactions to things so they know how best to use you. People in business think these things, he knows. They are always looking for ulterior motives, hidden agendas, who controls the most variables, who is in the loop, and what do people mean by what they say. Poof!

“Huh,” she says, and hands the card back.

He looks down at the band’s logo. It’s a spoof on the Rolling Stone’s logo, using a monkey’s mouth. Apart from the name, the logo wouldn’t make much sense. He’d done the original RamDex logo himself, a profile of a human head opened like a box lid on hinges with a floating spool of tape snaking down into it. Eventually, they hired a high-end design boutique in San Francisco to design a new one. They came up with a cube spinning on one corner. They said it represented both speed and order. Well, speed and order. What more could you ask for in this business. Hooray!

“Tom?” Ruth looks expectant.

“Sorry. Tell me, what do you recommend?”

“At this point, almost any one of these deals looks good to me. Your people will be taken care of, which I know is your priority. The offers we didn’t like were eliminated weeks ago.”

“Still, tell me which one you favor?”

“Me?” She flips through a few pages, but he knows she is stalling somewhere between her mind and her gut. Tick! Tock! She closes the file and looks up. “Take the money and run.”


Ruth stopped reading the proposal summary in front of her to watch Tom. He was standing in front of the coffeehouse, offering the back of his hand to a German Shepherd. The dog sniffed his hand briefly and then looked away, uninterested. But Tom remained stooped over, his arm outstretched. He didn’t try to pet the dog. What was he waiting for? Finally, straightening up, he walked into the coffeehouse.

He was, she thought, nice looking in the way that money can only improve. That’s not to say it was his money that made him attractive. It’s just that he was always wearing a nice suit. He always had a nice hair cut and expensive glasses. She imagined he could look sort of awful. Like me, she thought, he isn’t a natural beauty. Good grooming can never be overrated.

As he looked around for her, she went back to her work. Best to look busy. It had occurred to her that these sorts of moves were not needed with Tom, but these habits were as old as her first homework assignment. She was a little worried that her suggesting they meet in such a casual atmosphere might have been a bad idea. But when she looked up and read the smile on his face, she decided her instincts had been right. She guessed that conference tables and battalions of lawyers were exactly what he was trying to leave behind.

Keeping with the casual theme, she suggested he try the soup. As he stood at the counter she allowed herself to check him out. Though she knew it to be an unreasonable notion, she couldn’t help but imagine that men with nice butts would be good in bed. Tom, she decided, would be good in bed, assuming, of course, he wasn’t still a virgin at 44.

She laughed at her joke. He wasn’t married and never mentioned a girlfriend. The gossip at her firm was that he rarely dated. He’d been known to show up at industry events alone. No time? He didn’t strike her as the asexual type. Gay? She watched his body language with the girl behind the counter. Like most women she knew in San Francisco, she liked to consider herself something of an expert in this realm of speculation. In Tom’s case, she would bet against it. But the categories had begun to blur in her mind over the last few years. Maybe he was one of the growing numbers of undefinables who felt free to slide up and down Dr. Kinsey’s scale of sexuality. Ah, the rich.

Her mind always worked this way, always looking for the angles, options, opportunities. It made her a great business attorney, but sometimes it was exhausting.

Tom sat down at the table with what looked like split pea soup and she wondered how his mind worked. He was occasionally elliptical, but knew how to get to the point when necessary. She thought he was probably always thinking of new product ideas, new marketing plans. The computer industry viewed him as some sort of hybrid, difficult to figure. He seemed equally at home (or was it equally uneasy?) with tech-nerds and marketing mavens. How does a mind like that work?


Hamburger. Munch! Eating soup always made him wish for a hamburger, something to chew. Take the money and run? Ruth is being honest, it seems, projecting her real opinion into this situation. Good.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll take the cash, Monty Hall.” (I’m Batman!)

He expects her to smile, but she raises an eyebrow instead. “Tom, that’s just what I might do, but I can’t say it’s the best option. Actually, I think, as a firm, we were going to recommend the B.R.H. offer. The consulting deal keeps you in the game. It’s not as much cash up front, but it’s quite a bit more over the long run.

“You know, I’ve been pretty sure from the start that I wanted to make a clean break, get completely free of the whole thing. Besides, I like their attitude over at Delcom. That whole Gen-X thing feels right for RamDex.”

“Well, I admit I was thinking the same thing.”

“Then it’s a done deal.”

Ruth leans back and crosses her arms. “Hardly. Now it’s time for Eric Dobson, our negotiator, to take over. Have you met him?”

“No. Maybe. Let’s go see the monkeys.” Zoom!


“Yeah, the band…the monkey’s tongue or whoever they are.”

“When…I mean, where is that?”

“Tomorrow, next door to this place.”

He watches her. Dope! She was completely unprepared. He stops himself from saying never mind. He puts his spoon into the soup bowl and leaves it there. He wants to tell her something secret, something private, something he’s never told anyone. Nothing comes to mind. Hello! She is telling him it sounds fun. Sure, she’d like to go. She is leaning forward in an effort to look earnest, eager, excited, or some other ‘e’ word. He understands that she is a little uncomfortable and that until a few years ago he would always forget to clean his glasses. His comic book collection is worth more than his car. He keeps them in a special room. She probably reads The New Yorker and runs three miles every morning. He could spend thousands of dollars every day and still not spend all of his money in his life time. There should be a law.

“We can meet here for coffee before,” he says, trying to make it all seem a little more casual.


For a moment, all she could think about was how he got the name of the band wrong. It’s Monkey Tongue, not The Monkey’s Tongue. But then she noticed her pulse. She hadn’t seen it coming. She tried to remember what she’d done to make him ask her out, but then stopped herself. That was silly, to always think that she somehow invited the invitation. Not that she wishes he hadn’t. It was Tom Eisner, for one thing. And she was interested in him…generally. Maybe specifically. She wasn’t sure. Of course, she’d assessed him in that way, but she did that to most men she knew. God, was she really using the word “assess” in reference to a man?

She hadn’t really thought about Tom as a possibility. There were nagging thoughts about business and pleasure, but then she had to laugh at herself. The reason she had hesitated when he first asked was because she was supposed to go out with Eric. Negotiator Eric from her office. She would have to cancel.

Tom pulled the band’s postcard from his shirt pocket and fiddled with it while suggesting they meet for coffee before. She glanced at the card and saw that the band didn’t start playing until ten o’clock.

“The band goes on late,” she said. “Let’s make it dinner.”

Then the doubts lined up in a neat little row. Maybe this was just a business celebration get together. She should have kept her mouth shut and followed his lead. He even winced when she mentioned dinner. She’d blown it. She couldn’t believe how, in a matter of seconds, she’d gone from not even considering the possibility of dating this man to being disappointed that he wasn’t interested in her as more than a business associate. Wait. She had to slow down, take a breath. Breathe, Ruthy. Now she was angry. Her mind was racing, and for what?

Turns out his wince was due to the fact that he had plans for early in the evening. She must have still been a little angry as he explained about needing to look at a few homes with his real estate broker because her first thought was that she might still be able to sneak in dinner with Eric. She and Eric had been sort of dating for a few months. But they were seeing other people. Weren’t they?


Oh, dog. Still here? The German shepherd lifts its head when he and Ruth step out of Fahrenheit. Let me out? Whew!

“Okay, so,” he says. “Okay, then.”

“Coffee at nine and then monkey music,” she says.

“Right, The Monkees. We’ll see you then at nine.”

He watches her walk down the street as he unlocks his car. Hot! The car is hot. He’s wishing he didn’t have to see Cindy tomorrow night. If she was just his real estate broker, he could cancel, though he is anxious to finish up the house hunting. But he and Cindy have been seeing each other socially. It isn’t anything very serious, not real serious. They hadn’t slept together. Yikes! He found her attractive. Sure, sure. But, what?

This is the thing. The thing about it is, Cindy is good company. She understands his schedule, yes? She doesn’t call…very often. But what if she did? Would he mind? Probably. Would he mind if Ruth called all the time? Every day at eleven, two and four? All the time. No way Jose. He’s got eyes for her. Eyes, eyes. Likes her attitude.

Yes, Delcom and their big pants. That would do. Ruth and her white teeth. He doesn’t remember ever trying to imagine any other woman with her hair down. Would she wear her hair down tomorrow? He’s not usually one to ask himself these questions, is he? Cindy always wears her hair up…or…no. Cindy has short hair. Yes, yes.

Anyway, there’s no understanding between him and Cindy. Right?

He rolls down his window as he pulls away from the curb and sings words to a song he didn’t know he knew: Then I saw her face…